The Corona Diaries – Part Two

As Jane Austen famously said, “Where shall I begin?  Which of all my important nothings shall I tell you first.”

Jane Austen quote re nothings

(Jane was writing to her sister Cassandra, who fortunately saved 160 of her letters, for they tell us much about her life in the early 1800’s.   Unfortunately, she destroyed the majority of the correspondence, reputed to be in the thousands, after Jane’s death, likely to protect her reputation.   Jane’s witty and barbed comments make for amusing reading now, but may not have if you were the subject of her satire.)  

Caught up in the minutiae of her daily existence, Jane probably felt there wasn’t much to write about – much like my life at present.   First there was the spring that wasn’t, then the summer that wasn’t and I’m sure the rest of the year will be more of the same.   It feels like things are in a holding pattern, but this is the new reality of living in the time of COVID.    

I started the Corona Diaries in May (link to first installment), back when the pandemic was still fairly new, with the intentions of recording a personal history of life during lockdown.    Here’s a recap of what’s happened in the not-terribly-exciting months since then.

THE SCAVENGER’s MISTAKE: (otherwise known, by the grass-cutter, as that damn table….)

Table patio

Before plastic surgery to fix the sagging side…

May 21 – While out for my daily walk I noticed a discarded table put out for pickup.   It was at the end of a driveway along the river McMansions, so it was of high quality, solid cedar wood with a hole in the middle for an umbrella.  (I live at the poorer end of town but like to walk there for the shade trees).  Now, I’ve been known to scavenge the odd thing or two on garbage day.  It’s truly amazing what people will throw away, like this corner picket fence, which ended up sheltering my rose bush from the snow plow,  

Corner Picket Fence

They threw out the $300 arbor too?

and a wrought iron cart which found new life in my garden after a coat of paint.  

Lime green spray paint

Lime green spray paint

Nobody seemed to be around but I noticed my mother’s grass-cutter doing a lawn nearby with his riding lawn mover, so I waved him over and enlisted his help in carrying this perfectly good table three doors down to his truck, and then later from his truck to my back yard.   I did hesitate, because I remembered “The Summer of the Patio Stones”, but that was ten years ago and my back had been fine since and he proclaimed that it wasn’t very heavy and I didn’t want to be a wimp and I really wanted the table.  I could envision it painted light blue under my shade trees, and a Jane Austen tea party in progress sometime in the COVID-free future. 

table outdoors Pininterest

(photo sourced from Pinterest)

 (Maybe Serene Blue, like this chair I painted in chalk-paint?)

Was it worth it?   

Jane Austen illustration

No! No! A thousand times No!   I spent a miserable month with back pain, living on Tylenol Arthritis around the clock.   As I could not sit or lie down comfortably, there was no blogging done and little computer time.  I could not even focus on reading, so I lay on the couch like a tragic heroine from a Jane Austen novel (possibly the overly dramatic Marianne Dashwood, from Sense and Sensibility) and felt sorry for myself.    Well, at least it isn’t COVID, I thought, trying to cheer myself up.       

A COVID TEST IS MORE PAINFUL THAN YOU MIGHT THINK:  

By early June I was dealing with a couple of other health issues, one of which involved a fever – intermittent low-grade when the Tylenol wore off.  Despite a fever being such a rare occurrence for me that I can’t remember ever having one, even when I had the H1N1 flu, I was not worried about having COVID – fever, headache, fatigue and some abdominal pain, but no chest, SOB or cough and I could still taste and smell food.    

Coffee beans

Any day you wake up and can smell the coffee is a good one…

On Day 4, after doing the COVID assessment test online and speaking to as assessment nurse, I booked an appointment at one of the drive-through testing centres – way more painful than I thought.   It’s supposed to hurt the nurse said, when I complained, it means you got a good sample.  It felt like he scraped the inside of my nose for ten seconds.  I had to pull over on the drive home to see if it was bleeding.  It wasn’t, but it hurt for about half an hour more.   Luckily, the test results were available online within 48hrs – negative. Well, that was a relief.

A few more days of misery ensued, in which I suffer from both back pain and mystery illness, which seems to be getting worse.   On Day 7, I started an antibiotic and felt much better after 48 hours, so likely not COVID as the response to the antibiotic was so quick.    

Still, there was that nagging worry, reinforced by a nurse who said, everyone presents differently and my neighbor who casually remarked, how do you know you didn’t test too early?   Is that the kind of thing you say to an already paranoid person?   So, I got retested on Day 14, mostly for peace of mind so I could visit my elderly mother whom I had not seen for several weeks, and it was negative too.   The second test hardly hurt at all, a mere pinch, by the exact same tester. 

Whatever I had was certainly strange and unusual, as I never get headaches or fever.   While I was not sick enough to go to ER, and felt well enough to drive the fifty minutes to the testing center, what if you weren’t?   It’s definitely not ideal for someone to be in the car with you, especially if there is a long wait time.   If the tests only have some degree of accuracy,  depending on viral load and whether you are testing too early or too late, is a negative test a positive reassurance or a false one?   Even antibody levels may not be all that reliable as they are reputed to wane quickly after a mild case.  Ten days seems to be the critical time period for many patients, where you’ve either recovered or end up in the hospital on oxygen.   If my antibiotic response was just a coincidence at the ten day mark, and I did have a mild case where did I catch it?   I had been at the hospital lab a few days before for thyroid blood-work, the grocery store and the hardware store where the teenage clerk sneezed behind the plexiglass before shoving my receipt into the bag.   So many unknowns, it’s mind-boggling.  At any rate, I slept a lot and was lethargic for another few weeks but am now back to my regular low energy-normal and grateful to be recovered from whatever it was, plus the back pain had departed by then too.       

With the back pain/health issues/general lethargy/hot weather, there was no daily walking, no gardening and no flowers bought at all, as I couldn’t even lift a watering can.    Also no table painting, or other painting projects, or deck cleaning or window washing either, and certainly no house work!  Freedom 55 in a sense…it was a month of nothing.    

THE VICTORY GARDEN WAS A BUST:

My total Victory garden expenditure was $8 – for three types of lettuce and one tomato and cucumber plant.   The cucumbers were stunted, tough and full of seeds, but I still have hope for the beefsteak tomatoes.   I harvested two of the lettuces, the third unknown variety was so bitter even the rabbits wouldn’t touch it.   I prefer romaine but couldn’t find any, nor asparagus which I had wanted to get started this year but I was able to harvest my rhubarb for the first time.   When I went to pick more, there was a nest of baby bunnies underneath the rhubarb leaves.  As there was a lot of rabbit fur lying around and I’m not into sharing with the wildlife, I left the second crop for them.  They eventually hopped away, but next year I need to replace the fence.  

rabbits baby bunnies

Poor little things sheltering in place…

We had some pleasant days in June, perfect for reading outside on the swing, but I had nothing good to read, so I looked at pretty pictures in Victoria magazine.   (I collect the back issues, as I find them inspiring.  In my next life, I would like to work for this magazine.) 

Victoria Magazine

And then Hallelujah!  Hallelujah!  Hallelujah! 

THE LIBRARY REOPENS

June 9 – the Library reopened for Curbside Pickup and I got 6 books the first week.  They brought them out to you in a little paper bag to minimize handling, so I now have a collection of paper bags to recycle.   I miss the librarians, but it’s too hard to chat through a mask through a car window.  I was still too miserable to read then but am back to reading one book a week.  

Library books

It was like Christmas in July…

STRAWBERRY SEASON

June 21 – I had recovered enough by strawberry season to drive an hour to a  farm to buy a flat of berries to make two batches of freezer jam.  Normally I would go to the Farmer’s Market, but it’s overcrowded at the best of times.   I took my mother along for the drive, as she needed to get out of the house.  She enjoyed the drive through the countryside and remarked how green everything was, and I felt guilty for not getting her out more often, but where exactly is it safe to go when you’re 94?   She misses going out for groceries.  At least she still lives in her own home.  Imagine all those seniors confined to the same small room in nursing homes for months on end, and the amount of cognitive decline.   The retirement home we had toured last year, ended up with ten COVID deaths this spring and it was one of the better ones.   

                                (pioneer provisions for the winter)

HAIRDRESSERS SHOULD BE DECLARED ESSENTIAL WORKERS:

June 26 – I was reunited with my hairdresser.  We were both happy – I was happy I could see out of my eyes again, and she was happy to be out of the house, but as I was her only client for 2 ½ hours (cut and color) she can’t be making any money.   The price went up by $10 to $75, but I would have paid much more.   They’d only been open a few days so she did have to remind the other stylist not to come near the sink with her client while I was rinsing, and informed two customers, who walked in ignoring the sign, that masks were required.   No more waiting room – you stay in your car until they come and get you.  I do appreciate a strict business owner.      

PORCH VISITS RESUME:

On July 1 Canada Day, I was well enough to receive my first porch visitor, (unless you count the bunnies).  I brought out my blue Moroccan dishes and served key lime pie, chocolate chip cookies and a pineapple punch. 

It was good to entertain again, even if not at a table.   We sat on the deck, socially distanced, for four hours, as it was a perfect summer day, warm with a nice breeze.    The remainder of July was so hot and humid you couldn’t even go outside, let alone entertain there.   We’ll meet again someday, when it’s cooler… 

(This song by Vera Lynn, who died recently at age 94, was popular during WW2 and could be our new COVID anthem.) 

THE WEATHER:   (every diary should include a good dose of complaining about the weather.)

Since then hot and humid has ruled the day.   The majority of days in July were over 30 C (90 F), with humidex often close to 40 C, and not much cooler at night when the mosquitoes reigned.   Two weeks of no rain meant I had to lug the garden hose around one evening, thus ensuring several itchy nights.  What did we do without A/C?    We wilted like Jane Austen heroines…..

Jane Austen quote re hot weather

 SHOPPING RESUMES:    (sort of….)

Speaking of inelegance, I’m still schlepping around in my yoga pants and t-shirts.   I haven’t dressed up once this summer or been fun shopping, but I’ve expanded my repertoire of stores to include Michael’s (framing, but still out of canvas boards), the hardware store (home of the sneezer and special lightbulbs), Winners (had to use the washroom, one of few open) and the Dairy Queen (twice, once with my mother who enjoyed the treat), where the  young man making my milkshake told me he liked my mask with the paw prints.   (I didn’t even know they were paw prints, as it’s reversible).  But horror or horrors, a visit to the Beauty Boutique revealed that they were out of Estee Lauder Night Repair, a product I have used for over thirty years.  (Thankfully that face mask hides wrinkles too.)   In common with so many  other things, once it’s out of stock, it’s out for months.   Lesson learned, I scooped up the last eight boxes of my favorite Yardley English Lavender Soap at Dollarama, and noticed a lot more bare shelves since my last visit there in March.    I also popped into Reitmans to check on my missing (capris) order, before they go bankrupt, but I didn’t try buy or try anything on, although I saw some cute summer face masks.    I resisted as summer’s already half over, and surely we won’t be dealing with this next year? 

I’m still being cautious, mask and gloves and disinfectant, but am not as paranoid about going out as I was in the early days.  I still hate grocery shopping, even more so now that the hot humid weather makes the mask more suffocating, but I’m going weekly now to take advantage of all the fresh summer produce, instead of every 3 weeks.   I speed walk through the aisles during the off hours and try to avoid the nose-wiping-with-hand/nose-blowing-but-failed-to-disinfect cashiers.   I know it’s allergy season, but medical-me is horrified by these things. 

THE GREAT MASK DEBATE:

We can turn to Jane’s wisdom again for advice on this thorny topic.

Jane Austen understand quote (2)

An adaptation of Jane Austen…

Perhaps the matter can be simplified into two camps – worried pessimists (I’m sure I’ll get it and die), versus sunny optimists (the odds are against it and I’ll live).   This debate has been settled recently by city council finally mandating mask wearing indoors in public spaces, with the inevitable protest ensuing outside city hall.

TO EAT IN OR OUT? 

I’m tired of cooking and eating the same old thing.   We’ve had takeout a few times but have not been brave enough to visit a restaurant patio yet…likewise dining in when that happens.   One, it’s way too hot, and two, you can’t convince me (see above scenes) of the safety, when so many people have hygiene fatigue.   Many of the pop-up patios seem crowded, and being surrounded by ugly wire fencing, barrels and a few potted plants in some parking lot is not my idea of an appealing atmosphere.   Now I might be tempted if it was more like Paris, with bistro tables and a red awning, or something with a water view.   

coastal living table

Coastal living photo

THE NEW VIRTUAL REALITY:   (or think like a millennial)

July 16 – The museum curator emailed that my mothers art exhibit is still on for this fall, and she’d like to hang it earlier than planned.  I’m surprised, as I had assumed it would be on hold until next year, but as we’re going into Phase 3 they are planning ahead on having galleries and museums open soon.  (This is a 3 month show we had committed to last summer, as these things book up well in advance).   I had already completed most of the prep work back in January and the paintings are finished, but I still need to do some framing and art cards, after the curator makes the final selection.  (There is only space for 25 out of 40 paintings so I’m glad it’s not me choosing).   Of course, thinking like an old-fogy, I can’t imagine anyone going to a museum right now, but she assured me that if we have to lockdown again in the winter, the exhibit will go virtual.   Spoken like a true millennial!   So, that’s something for my mother to look forward to – although there won’t be an open house, she might even get more exposure online.    (For readers unaware of my mother’s amazing story, she started painting again at age 87 after she gave up driving.   I entered her in a gallery contest for local artists and she was one of three selected, so she got to show her work for the first time at the age of 90. This will be her third exhibit since then.)

We have been lulled into a false sense of security here, not having had any COVID deaths or hospital admissions since June, and relatively few active cases.  We were down to 5 cases, but recently climbed to 25 as more things reopen, but it is still manageable with testing and contact tracing.   All of the nursing home outbreaks are over as well and visits have resumed.    While things may be better stats-wise, it could flare up again at any moment.  The very  randomness of this virus is the scariest part – once it stealthily enters a place, one case can become ten and then a hundred and soon it’s snowballing out of control, and now the dreaded back to school decision is looming and with it cold and flu season not far behind.  

DOMINOES  

July –  All spring, appointments have been falling like dominoes, one after the other.   I’m now in the process of standing them back up again – hearing, vision, dentist, medical tests.   A trip to the hospital’s ambulatory care for a minor skin procedure was so efficient it should run that way always.   (Absolutely zero waiting – screened, registered, escorted to room, doctor there two minutes later).   I’m trying to take advantage of this little lull to get things done, as it’s better to get all these appointments in now before the next wave hits….because we know it’s coming.  

waves  The Second Wave

Finally, if we have to go into lockdown again, after enjoying this bit of summer freedom, remember Jane’s words of wisdom….

Jane Austen Quote re staying home 

Dear Readers:  Thank you for still reading…..next week’s blog will be much much shorter, but Jane may be making more guest appearances in my blog, for she really has a quote for everything!  

(All Jane Austen quotes and illustrations sourced from:)

Jane Austen Wit and Wisdom book

 

     

 

 

 

Hermit Cookies – A Pandemic Recipe

Since many of us are still living like good little hermits these days, I thought Hermits cookies would be a good topic for this weeks blog – which might also be my last blog for awhile depending on how well it goes with the new WordPress editor next week.  I didn’t like the new Block editor when I tried it last spring (see Blockheads post) and am not in the mood for a new learning curve.   Wordpress might think this is a good time to switch (or begin the migration as the Happiness Engineer called it), because we are all stuck at home, but call it computer fatigue or lockdown fatigue or whatever, I need less not more screen time right now.    

Back to the Hermits – Webster’s dictionary defines a hermit as:  “a) one that retires from society and lives in solitude especially for religious reasons : recluse,   b) a spiced cookie.

Hermits are an old-fashioned recipe dating back from to the mid-1800’s in North America, or even earlier, possibly originating in the hermitages of the middle ages.   They refer to any kind of spiced cookie containing dried fruit such a raisins, currants or nuts.  They may have white or brown sugar and come in either bar, square or drop cookie format.  They’re made from  ingredients you might already have in your pandemic pantry, which along with the addition of cinnamon, cloves and spices produces a soft cookie which keeps well.   Nutritionally, their sweetness comes from raisins and dates, and nuts are a good source of omega-3’s and protein. 

There are various theories about the origin of the name.   Some sources say they were called hermits because they looked like a hermit’s brown sack cloth, (the ones containing molasses).   Others say the spices become more distinct with age, making the cookies taste better if they have been hidden away like hermits for several days.   Very likely the oldest recipe goes back to the 12th or 13th century religious hermitages, where the basic ingredients would have been in common use at bakers’ tables.   The terms for those abodes— “hermite” from the Old French or “heremita,” from the medieval Latin — may have been assigned to this treat by their inhabitants.   Another possibility is that the Moravians, a German Protestant religious group known for their thin spice cookies in North Carolina and Pennsylvania, were sometimes called “herrnhutter” in German or Dutch, and that might have sounded like “hermits” to an English-speaking cook.   At any rate, they are spiced cookies based on raisins and nuts…..so let’s get to it!

My recipe today will be from my mother’s bible of country cooking, the Purity CookBook, first published by the Purity Flour Company in 1911.  Her edition dates from 1945 and is well stained, and is in fact held together with that old Canadian standard – duct tape.  

As well as main courses and desserts, it contains a large section on canning  vegetables and making various jams and jellies.   Nothing of course is low in fat or calories as those were not deemed important back then.   When it was re-issued in 2009, I bought a copy for myself, which you can see is still in quite pristine condition. 

Purity recipe cookbook new

Here’s the recipe:

Hermit cookie recipe

Hermit recipe

This did not make 5 dozen….more like 30 cookies….

and the ingredients…nothing fancy, although this version includes dates. 

Hermit cookie ingredients

I used butter instead of shortening, and not as much, 1/3 cup.   My Allspice container said it was a mixture of cloves, cinnamon and nutmeg, but allspice can also be a spice (from a plant berry) on its own.   If Allspice is not in your spice rack, Google has plenty of references for substitutes, including one on one cloves, but I find cloves strong, so best not to overdo it. 

 The finished product:

Hermit cookies

My mother was not much of a cookie baker, as my dad preferred pies and cakes, so I don’t remember her making these very often when I was growing up but I always enjoyed them when she did.  (She was more likely to make peanut butter or chocolate chip).    Back in the 1990’s, I worked at a rural hospital where the dietary department still made much of the hospital food from scratch.   Hermits were often on the cafeteria menu for morning coffee break, as were scones and homemade cinnamon buns.  I hadn’t had hermits in years, so imagine my delight on seeing them at the bakery in my  local grocery store last year.   They’re baked up fresh, although from a mix ordered in, according to one of the staff, and they have regular customers, mostly older folks like me who remember them from childhood.           

Hermit cookies Of the three versions I’ve sampled, they’ve all have been a bit different, mainly in the spices department, but I think the bakery’s is the best, and probably comparable in price to homemade, ($5.49 for 12 large cookies), nuts and raisins being fairly expensive here unless you go to one of those bulk bin places.  The key is the right combination of spices.  Despite buying two dozen from the bakery, we ran out before the next grocery run, so I had to resort to making them from scratch.   Mine did not taste the same as the last time I made them but I suspect my nutmeg was too old.   That would have required a trip to the store, and I’m more like a hermit crab these days, scurrying around doing my essential errands quickly so I can return to the safety of my own home. 

Hermit crab

Stay in your home and stay safe!

We all might be getting a little crabby these days from too much sheltering in place, but a sweet treat always helps!   Remember to savor – according to the Petsmart website, hermit crabs take small bites and eat very slowly, usually at night.   Enjoy! 

Postscript:   Do you have a favorite cookbook you use or may have inherited?

 

A History Lesson – Throwback Thursday

1918 flu ladies with masks

A friend sent me this in an email so I can’t credit the source, but it’s deja vu a hundred years later.   In 1720 there was the plague, in 1820 a cholera epidemic, in 1918-20 – The Spanish Flu, and now 2020 COVID-19 Coronavirus.  It seems history repeats itself every hundred years.

Spanish flu

Spanish flu

Spanish flu

Spanish flu

The Corona Diaries – Part One

If someone had asked a few years ago when I was an exhausted stressed-out worker bee, if I would like a couple of months off, to read, write and catch up on sleep, I would have thought it was the most amazing gift.  But as the saying goes, be careful what you wish for….

Now that I’m retired and used to staying home more, my current COVID existence isn’t as dramatically different as it might be for someone accustomed to being out and about every day.   I’m coping okay so far – reading, writing, blogging, cooking, exercising, checking on my mother – but at seven weeks into lock-down, even the most contented of homebodies, may be starting to develop some degree of cabin fever. 

A friend suggested I keep a diary to record this tumultuous time.  I haven’t so far, but as my blogging topics seem to have dwindled to books and baking, (and even baking is on shaky ground now that the grocery shelves are empty of flour), perhaps a few observations about life in COVID Country might be in order.

Wheat field two (2)

A wheat field can be a beautiful thing……maybe I could grind my own flour?

And speaking of the country, it’s much easier to social distance in a rural environment than in a densely populated city like Toronto.  Our cases here in Canada reflect that, as the link below shows, with the more rural provinces, Saskatchewan, Manitoba, and the islands PEI and Newfoundland having far fewer cases than more densely populated Ontario and our pandemic hot spot Quebec.  As well as having more people, these provinces are home to two large international airports.  PEI and New Brunswick have had no deaths.  Saskatchewan and Manitoba have had only 6 each and have scheduled a staged re-opening.  

Link to Canada’s Pandemic Map.

As a country of 37 million, we have 62,000 cases and 4000 deaths (as of today May 6).   Locally, we’ve had 189 reported cases and 14 deaths, but none since April 20, out of a population base of about 100,000.   Forty of those cases and six deaths came from the same upscale retirement home, where a resident who was in contact with a church group which had traveled to Europe in March, is thought to be the seed case.   The situation in some of the nursing homes in Quebec and Ontario is so out of control that last week the government called in the army to help feed and care for residents in some the worst hit homes.  I’m extremely grateful my 94 year old mother is still living in her own home, and has her painting hobby to keep her busy. 

Was it only last summer we went to see The Tall Ships?  Who would think we would now be in such uncharted territory, trying to navigate this strange new world, where unknown danger lurks in every grocery store.  Well, you get the picture…

The Tall Ships - AMc - 2020

My mother has been painting ships.

Of course, there are things I miss – socializing, eating in restaurants, shopping.   We finally got a Homesense and Marshalls here, set to open the end of March, and I drove by it the other day and mourned all the unseen merchandise sitting there behind locked doors.  (And yes I know it’s selfish and shallow to be thinking about this when so many people are wondering how to pay their bills, but I’m thinking it all the same because shopping can be a pleasant distraction, even if you’re just looking at all the lovely things, and a little retail therapy may help to restart the economy).   By the time it’s open will we even need spring clothes….summer clothes….or will we be back into fall?    Let’s face it, we know we won’t be getting out of this any time soon.   It will be a summer of no music, art, or food festivals.  The local theater season and Canada Day celebrations have been cancelled, even the fall fairs are on hold, and if and when things do open up, will we be brave enough to go out or will we have developed agoraphobia?

Of course we can take solace in nature,

Daffodils

Even the daffodils are looking dejected….

but even your own backyard can get a little claustrophobic after awhile, especially in the hot hazy days of summer when you might wish for a cold dip in the lake.

sailboat race

Something to look forward to…

I’m also looking forward to gardening season and planting a Victory garden, especially the fresh lettuce.

romaine lettuce

Although it’s nice to have the time to do all the things you always said you’d do when you had the time……what if you don’t feel like doing them?   I have not yet resorted to spring cleaning my house – it’s dusty and the windows need cleaning but it’s still too cold outside for that.   The deck needs hosing down and while the patio furniture is out, no one has sat in it, as the whole month of April held hardly a day over 50 F.   The cool weather has extended into May with more of the same, and we may even have wet snow on Friday.    Some sunshine would be enormously cheerful.     

blue forget me nots

The pretty blue forget-me-nots are out.

I spend a lot more time on the phone these days.  In fact, I haven’t talked this much on the phone since high school, when those princess phones were all the rage….

Princess-Telephone

Sadly, I’ve also become a News Addict.  I always watched the 6pm local news, but now I must watch the 11pm National news too, and check the online paper and social media during the day for constant COVID updates.   No wonder so many of us are having COVID nightmares.   While we can distract ourselves during the day with activities, at night our brains are trying to process this constant bombardment of new information.  

I need to tune out and go back to reading before bed.  I’m thinking there may be an e-reader in my future, even though too much screen time makes my eyes sore.   I’m slowly working my way through those 18 books from the bookoutlet in January, but they’re all non-fiction and I’m dying for a good  distracting novel.   I’m hoping the library will be on the list of first places to open, that and hair salons.  (If you saw last weeks post on pandemic bangs, you’ll know why).  

My daily routine still includes mascara and under-eye concealer (otherwise I resemble a raccoon), clean but comfy clothes, and hair washed at least every 3 days.  I will not succumb to sloth….. 

I’ve been walking every day, missing just two in the past month – one where I did a 4-hour-2-grocery store marathon (does pushing an overloaded cart count for building arm muscles?) and one so windy with flurries that I just could not (April 21 – this is spring?).   There’s really no excuse not to now, as it gets me out of the house and into the fresh air.   Exercise also helps me sleep better, so I have more energy during the day to do nothing.  Plus, as I usually walk around my subdivision, I’ve met more of my neighbors, including several I worked with years ago who I never knew lived nearby.   It’s too bad we can’t have a proper visit, as we’re all social distancing of course.   

I cook more, spend less on food and eat better.   I wonder how many families have discovered just how much money can be saved by eating at home, saving restaurants for an occasional treat and not a regular occurrence.

Shrimp and Scallop Pasta

Shrimp and scallop pasta

While many of my daily routines may be the same, other things just seem bizarre – but bizarre is now the new normal.

In the past month I’ve been to the grocery store twice, the bank once, the full-service-no-way-am-I-touching-the-pumps-gas station once, and one restaurant for takeout.   The car was sluggish so I drove to the nearest city for the takeout, as it needed a good run and we were craving Swiss Chalet (rotisserie chicken).

Usually I enjoy grocery shopping, but am finding it stressful now that it’s become a marathon event.   I have a master list, written in order of location as with most of the aisle exits blocked off and one-way arrows on the floor, the grocery store has become a maze.   If you forget the butter, you don’t want to have to backtrack to dairy through the whole store.    My cart is loaded with enough “provisions” as my dad used to call them, for two houses for 3 weeks.   I find the customers polite and patient, but some of the staff are kind of rude.   One store is very lax, a box of gloves at the entrance if you want, and social distancing stickers on the floor, Plexiglas for the cashiers, but otherwise you’re on your own.  They trust you know how to behave like a responsible adult.   At the other store, it’s command central – the deli workers are now the traffic cops at the front entrance, barking orders right and left.   They even have a portable hand wash stand outside the store.   I was told (and not very nicely), that my own disposable gloves could have COVID germs on them and could not be worn inside, I had to use theirs.  I always try to pick the line with the nicer cashiers.   Nice people tend to stay nice in a crisis, but stress can bring out the worse in the others.  

I don’t know how they decide these things but at my mother’s bank I had to stand in the vestibule, while the people accessing the ATM machine walked right by me, closely by me.   Only one person was allowed in the bank at a time.   When it was my turn, I was escorted in by the normally cheerful teller, who was obviously tired of explaining the procedure.   My bank had a better set-up, kind of like a dance routine.    The teller stands back six feet behind the plexiglass while you step up and enter your pin, then you step back six feet to the spot on the floor and let her do her stuff on the computer, then she steps back again and you step forward to take your paper.   Normally I do online banking, but Income Tax was due, (Death and Taxes being the only two certainties in life).     

I’m grateful not to be working despite those emails from the college asking if I would like to reinstate my license to help out, just send $2000 and an application form.   No thanks – I’ve done my time.   My immune system is not great, I need to stay healthy to look after my mother and when I got H1N1 (2009 swine flu) I don’t recall anyone serenading me from their balcony for my months of service.   All I remember is the complaints –  we were so swamped with Tamiflu prescriptions coming in from ER that we couldn’t get to the regular work and there was no backup staff to call in, or even any backup plan or any masks or PPE at all, which is how I got H1N1 when someone coughed in my face.   And BTW, Tamiflu, which had to be started within the first 48 hours, only shortened the duration by a day or two, it was NOT a cure, although the government was happy to provide it free to everyone and their dog.   I don’t remember ever been scared to go to work though, as it was not as contagious or as deadly (only 428 deaths in all of Canada).    My colleagues now are dealing with complaints about the 30 day limit, instituted to preserve the supply chain but in the process tripling their workload, and trying to source back-ordered drugs such Ventolin, insulin and sedatives used in ventilated patients.   If the wholesaler only sends you two when you ordered twenty, how do you decide who to give it to?   Did I mention I’m glad I’m retired?     

Like everyone else, I’m grateful for all the dedicated medical and front line workers, especially the highly trained doctors and nurses who are risking their lives fighting this beast.   But I’d also like to include the unsung heroes who never get mentioned, like respiratory therapists, X-ray technicians and the hospital cleaning staff.   Recently our provincial premier announced a $4/hour pandemic wage increase for front line health care workers and yes, he forgot the respiratory therapists and the paramedics, two groups with the highest exposure.   I also worry about the people not getting needed surgery or treatments and those too afraid to go to the ER when they need help.     

I’m not surprised many of the nursing homes are struggling with not having enough personal support workers.   It’s a chronically understaffed, unappreciated job of mostly part-time hours.   Most homes are privately owned and don’t pay full time benefits, so they wonder how it spread from place to place?   The government enforced the one worker/one home rule way too late, the damage was already done.  The sheer number of deaths in long term care institutions has been a national tragedy, a wake-up call about a system which has been underfunded and understaffed for a long time.  (While PSW’s here make from $18-23/hr, the minimum wage in Ontario is $14/hr, and $18 is considered a living wage).     

Of course I’m lucky to be retired, and not to have lost a job.   But I wonder if this isn’t a bit of a wake-up call regarding the debt levels in our society, about having it all when you really can’t afford it.   Needs vs wants.  Living within your means.   The old standard financial advice about having 3 to 6 months savings set aside for emergencies.  And I’m not talking about the working poor who live paycheck to paycheck and can never get ahead, but middle class workers with good jobs, nice houses, new cars, annual vacation trips,  who drink $5 lattes everyday but have zero savings.  But then maybe I’m old-fashioned and grew up in a different era where credit wasn’t as easily available.  Having lived through a few recessions makes you wiser.

We’re lucky to have more social safety nets here in Canada, as well as free health care.   Not just Unemployment Insurance, but a Canadian Emergency Response Benefit of  $2000/month for 4 months, which was set up in April for those laid off as the UI department could not process the number of claims in a timely fashion.  Every day our prime minister comes out of his house (where he’s been self-isolating for well over 6 weeks now as his wife tested positive), and announces another plan – the Wage Subsidy plan for business – government will pay 75% of salaries if they keep employees on up to $847 per week per employee – money for students unable to find summer jobs ($1250/month, $1750 if they have dependents, $5000 if they volunteer for a charity or do farm work) – an increase in GST and child tax credits – loans of up to $40,000.   Last week he announced they’ll be paying 75% of the rent for small businesses and also helping charities with rent who have had to postpone their fundraisers.  What will be next – subsidizing Girl Guide cookies?   While many small restaurants and shops with short cash flow may need immediate relief, other larger, more established, profitable businesses may be able to ride it out for a few months, especially if they don’t want to lose their valued employees.  (The employees at my bank said no one had been laid off, and all continue to be paid for full time hours even if their hours have been reduced).   It might have been prudent for the government to see how many people and businesses actually required help at this early stage, before making such broad based decisions.   Note the Depression went on for a whole decade of poverty and unemployment – is a few months of restrained spending worth a $300 billion bailout, even if unemployment  temporarily increases from 5% to 9%?   Many recessions over the past 30 years had at least that amount, and they all bounced back.      

Lately I’ve been thinking about John F. Kennedy’s famous speech – “Ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country.”

While there have already been reports of abuse of the programs, (such as people enrolling their kids in the student aid program who have never worked a day in their lives), there are also those who always step up to help out.   When essential charities like the food-bank sent out a request for help, people were quick to respond.  Some health care workers are donating their bonus pay.   When the Toronto Zoo asked for help feeding the animals for six months the public donated $500,000 far in excess of the $100,000 they actually needed.   These were all public or corporate donations.  

And then there’s the CFL  – The Canadian Football League who asked the government for a $150 million handout as the football season will be cancelled, although they would settle for $30 million if it’s only delayed, not a loan mind you, no plan or promises to pay it back.   Does anyone even watch Canadian Football?   Every sports team with lost ticket revenue is waiting with baited breath to see what the answer will be…    

While all these government programs may be a necessary and welcome thing, I’m wondering who’s going to be paying for it all?   My dim recollection of Economics 101 is that you can’t just keep printing money, but maybe things have changed?   Many people don’t seem to get the connection between all the freebies and income tax.   Of course these are extraordinary circumstances, but we’re already a highly taxed nation with a high national debt load and saddling the next generation with even more debt isn’t exactly fair.   The millennials already resent us enough…(they think we had it easy, we didn’t – we just had less stuff), maybe they’d be happy to see a few of us die off.   While it may be popular to bash baby boomers, most of us didn’t start out with expensive houses either.  There was a thing called a Starter Home, a modest bungalow, and once it was paid for then you traded up.   (There was also a Starter Car – something second hand, fixed up).   Should I feel sorry for a double income couple living in a mansion who now can’t make their sky high mortgage payments?   While you might think I’m lacking in sympathy, I grew up on the poorer side of middle class, so if you’ve not had money, you’re more appreciative of  the safety net of having some in the bank for a rainy day….or a hurricane.  

One permanent outcome of this pandemic might be that people will reassess their current lifestyles and spending limits.  Will they be happier with less money but more family time?  Will working from home become the new norm?  How much stuff is really truly essential? 

It can be interesting observing people’s reactions to this crisis.   There are those who are carrying on as if everything is the same, the ostriches who seem oblivious and never turn on the news, (including the poor old man at Walmart who thought there was a sale on TP, and when told about the virus, asked if diarrhea was a symptom), the angry deniers proclaiming this is all a hoax, the protesters screaming about their rights and freedoms, and the Short-Fuse Freds who are always in a bad mood and take it out on anyone and everyone who will listen.

Our own opinions of the crisis can change over time.   Is the elderly lady with the shopping cart full of ten loaves of bread and 3 frozen apple pies, a hoarder?  In the early days, back when we thought this was just a two week quarantine, I might have said yes, but now – no – she’s just shopping for the neighbors in her seniors building.    Not sure about those pies though, they’re not good at the best of times, let alone for a Pie Pity Party. 

Older people who have the life experience of living through the Great Depression, WW2, rationing, outbreaks of scarlet fever and polio, a couple of recessions, double digit inflation and stock market crashes – have seen and survived a lot.   It seems horribly unfair that they are now dying in  nursing homes without a loved one there with them.   I feel sad for little children also, and hope their parents are able to maintain some sense of normalcy for them in these scary times.

The good news is – we’re not all going to hell for missing mass on Sunday.  The Bishop said so in the parish email cancelling all church services when “he granted the faithful dispensation from their Sunday obligation.”  Is there a Catholic alive who still believes this?   I hope they eliminate that hand shaking bit at the end permanently, worse germ spreader ever.

Even those of us who are introverts and prefer a quiet life, are in need of  some social interaction other than Zoom.   In the early days before the lock-down, I managed to avoid a screening of Parasite with subtitles, as the 300 seat theater just might be a breeding ground for the virus.   Now, with everything closed, you don’t have to make those excuses er…..decisions!  But on the flip side, we also don’t have anything to look forward to.   I’m wondering how I’ll feel after another month or two of this…and when things do open up, will the constant fear of catching it, be worse than staying home and being safe but bored.

I’ve been watching a new CTV series Transplant. – about a Syrian doctor transplanted to a Canadian ER, a world of contrast between a modern hospital and one in a war zone.   I’m also watching World on Fire – a British miniseries about WW2.   Although we may be at war with this horrible virus, we’re not in a war zone.  It’s all about perspective.  This too shall pass.   Just like Columbus, we need patience and perseverance to steer the course.  Calmer seas are ahead.  

The Tall Ships - AMc - 2020

PS.  If you have your health, and food and shelter, family and friends,  sprinkled liberally with books, music and nature – then you have everything you need.

PS.  My apologies for the length…..if anyone’s still reading.  Hopefully there won’t be Part Two.    I’ll leave you with an oldie but goodie…

Song of the Day:  Duke Ellington – Don’t Get Around Much Anymore

 

 

 

#April in Paris, #Pandemic Bangs – Wordless Wednesday

Let your photo(s) tell your story.

Pandemic Bangs -April in Paris

My neighbor made me a mask which happened to coordinate with my French striped top….so it’s time for my annual Parisian blog.

Pandemic Bangs

A mask can be useful as a guide when cutting your own pandemic bangs – just cut straight across, a quarter inch above the mask.

April in Paris - Macron

You cannot however eat a macaron wearing a mask….

Coffee

or sip a cafe creme….but you can save money on red lipstick.

Pandemic Bangs

Or you can just let your bangs grow and go out on Halloween as Cousin It!