The Winter of Our Discontent – The Corona Diaries – Part Four

For this latest quarterly installment of The Corona Diaries, I’ve borrowed the title from a 1961 novel by the American writer John Steinbeck, best known for his masterpiece, The Grapes of Wrath.  The Winter of Our Discontent, centers around a protagonist, Ethan Hawley, who labors as a grocery clerk in a store once owned by his rich and illustrious Long Island ancestors.  A man of honesty and integrity he sells his soul in a series of successful but unethical get-rich schemes, hoping to satisfy his restless wife and teen-aged children who want more material goods than he can provide.   He becomes suicidal, but is saved at the end by a talisman his daughter slips into his pocket.

No idea why this was on my basement bookshelf, but Donald Sutherland looked young in 1983.

I read this book in high school, because our strict but otherwise excellent English teacher required a monthly book report on one of the classics.  I’m not sure why I chose this one.  Perhaps the title appealed to me, as Canadian winters tend to be long.   Certainly, as a 15-year-old I found it hard to relate to, as nobody in my world was suicidal, (young people weren’t back in the 70’s), but in truth all I remember about it was there was something about a grocery store and the scene of his despair was near the ocean, which I wanted to view some day. 

Steinbeck in turn borrowed the title from the opening speech of the Shakespearean play, Richard the Third, from which the English teacher thankfully spared us.   

“Now is the winter of our discontent, made glorious summer by this sun of York;  and all the clouds that lour’d upon our house. In the deep bosom of the ocean buried. Now are our brows bound with victorious wreaths…..”

A catchy opening phrase, but the subsequent lengthy passage deals with politics, war and who gets to be king, and while I’m sure it was profound, I disliked Shakespeare too.   

None of this has anything to do with COVID, although I suppose you could spin a connection that Ethan Hawley was an essential front-line worker, there’s still a lot of political divisiveness raging, and mental health issues are becoming epidemic the longer the pandemic drags on….but basically I just liked the title.

For many people it has been a winter of discontent, but I’m an introvert so I’m still doing okay…keeping busy….reading lots…..walking every day except for one brutally cold week in February when I could not force myself to leave the warmth and comfort of the house.  (Skin freezes in twenty minutes in sub-zero temperatures.)   Cocooning in the winter is nice, but I’m wondering if I’ll remember how to interact with other people in person.

But I have to admit I’d be a lot happier if I could get a COVID vaccine.  The vaccine roll-out here has been slow, as not having any vaccine manufacturing facilities left in Canada, we are at the mercy of the EU supply chains.   

Turtle by Joni’s mom

It’s a case, of slow and steady does NOT win the race…..against the variants. 

While I’m grateful that my mother, in the over 90 group, was able to get her first shot in early March, with her second booked for five weeks later in April, unless it’s cancelled, I’m not happy that the government recently decided to stretch the dosing interval to FOUR MONTHS, for everyone else in an effort to get more people vaccinated, including for the 80 plus group. While they were able to give the nursing home residents and workers, and health care staff two doses initially as recommended, everyone else has to wait until July for the second dose.  While I understand the rationale behind this, it’s a big gamble, especially with new studies showing that immunity in the older population is substandard to begin with and may not last as long.  Every day now, so much new information is emerging, it’s hard to keep up with it all.

Sea turtle (by Joni’s mom) drowning in a sea of COVID information which changes with the tides…

As for the vaccination clinic itself, well…..that’s a rant best left to Facebook, if I was the kind of person who posted on Facebook.   Where else but in Canada would you have to wait until the ice came out of a hockey rink before you organized a mass immunization clinic.  The general inefficiency of the previous set-up has now been replaced by a new model involving pods of 15 (maximum of 60 in the now ice-free arena) where you register and sit in your pod and the immunizer person comes to you, aiming for a goal of one patient per minute. A great idea, and I’d give the local health unit credit, but they stole the (hockey hub) model from the Gray-Bruce Health Unit.

Unfortunately I was disqualified from getting the vaccine as an essential caregiver, as I do not share the same residence as my mother, even though I am there almost every day as she is 95 now, BUT if she was in a nursing home and I visited her once in awhile, then I would have qualified? (Ministry of Health rules) But at least I will not worry so much now that she will have some level of protection. Otherwise I am waiting patiently for my age group to come up…..they are decreasing by fives.

On to more pleasant things, like food.  There has been entirely too much dessert eating going on here lately…

I had to use up the rest of the spy apples before they spoiled…

So many English trifle parfaits were consumed that we ran out of peach and strawberry preserves.  I felt like the pioneer woman who ran out of provisions before the end of winter.   

Next year make three batches of freezer jam…

I’m still doing the every 2-3 week grocery run, as we have basically been in various stages of lockdown since Christmas.   We had two weeks in the orange zone in late February, so I was able to get a haircut, but locked down into gray again shortly afterwards.  Lots of cases and variants rising – we’re just starting the third wave.

When will the third wave melt?

I fear that by the time I get the vaccine, (and then which one, which is a whole other topic), it won’t work as the strains will have mutated so much we’ll have to start over again.   The Spanish flu took four years to die off, (1918-1922) with the first two being the worst due to WW1 troops spreading it between countries. Sorry to be so depressing….

Where are you my old friend mRNA?

I still have my old biochemistry book in the basement somewhere, but I’m grateful I no longer have to study it. I remember it as a killer course involving stuff like memorizing the Krebs cycle. I’m happy I can now keep my brain active by doing jigsaw puzzles.    

Lots of color and nothing over 500 pieces please….

Someone gave my mother one of her paintings as a puzzle (a great gift idea – simply upload a photo and order online at piczzle.com) and I helped her out a bit and found it fun. The store shelves were empty of puzzles after Christmas, but I managed to snag one on sale at the bookstore.  It’s the kind of mindless activity which is meditative and addictive at the same time….you sit down to do a few pieces and soon an hour has passed.

Speaking of paintings, her art exhibit comes down mid-April.  It’s been up for five months, but the museum has been closed for 3 ½ of those, so very few people had the opportunity to see it, which is a shame as it was such a nice display.  Another museum called last week and asked if we wanted to do a show this year as they will be re-opening soon, but I think I’d rather wait until next spring. I really can’t see going to all the work of setting up another show, until we climb out of this mess.  

Winter’s Swansong

Winter is over and spring, my favorite season, is here. I don’t want to miss it this year, so the blogging schedule may be a bit erratic.  This past month has been pleasant walking weather, with the grass greening and flowers popping up all over.  The robins are back, bringing with them the promise of warmer days ahead…..after Thursdays snowstorm!   

They are playing this song every time a COVID patient is discharged from the hospital.

A COVID Christmas – The Corona Diaries – Part Three

Bah Humbug!

            Like many other people, I’m just not in the mood for Christmas this year.  Call me Scrooge, call me the Grinch – let’s just fast forward to January.

Many years ago, I read a book called Skipping Christmas, by John Grisham.  (goodreads link) It was a departure from his usual legal thrillers and in this short novel, the protagonist, fed up with the fuss and expense and drama of their elaborate and ever-expanding Christmas celebrations, announces to his wife his intention to skip it altogether. Spoiler alert – of course, he didn’t really skip Christmas, they just had a scaled down version of it, a simpler celebration, more in honor of the true meaning of the season. 

Many people will be having smaller Christmases this year with just those in their immediate bubble, and some people will be staying home alone.   While it’s nice to have a bit of a crowd around at Christmas there’s something to be said for quieter times too.  Christmas is often a sad time for those who have lost loved ones or who are alone and lonely, but pretending to be jolly when you’re not, can be exhausting too.   If you have to get in the Christmas spirit, because other people are depending on you to be a merry little elf, this song may help, because we all need a little Christmas, even if it’s just in small doses.

For I’ve grown a little leaner, grown a little colder, grown a little sadder, grown a little older….

I love the lyrics to this song, “Haul out the holly, Put up the tree before my spirit falls again, Fill up the stockings, I may be rushing things, but deck the halls again now.”

Feeling better now…perhaps a bit more gleeful?

Part of the problem with getting in the festive mood this year is that so many of our yuletide traditions have been modified or cancelled.   Who would have predicted this time last year that we’d be in the middle of a pandemic, and simply singing a Christmas carol would be forbidden – all those droplets spewing forth possible germs – yuck.   Other activities have adapted, so in Part Three of The Corona Diaries lets take a look at a few of those old favorites and see what’s changed and what’s stayed the same, or maybe even improved – yea more cookies for me! Fortunately the parts of Christmas I love the most, the lights, the decorating, the music and the food, tend to be COVID-resistant.

The Festive Special: 

Swiss Chalet has been offering their Christmas Special for over 30 years now.  It usually starts in mid-November as a kick-off to the season, in order to capture those hungry shoppers smart enough to do their shopping early.   This Canadian restaurant chain is known for their rotisserie quarter chicken dinners, and for three dollars more the Festive Special gets you a small scoop of (box) stuffing, a thimbleful of cranberry sauce and a gift box of five Lindor/Lindt chocolates.

Hey it’s a family tradition…..

This years TV commercial features a little girl excited to see Nana and Papa and then a shot of the family dining inside the restaurant, cut to the Door-Dash guy delivering a meal to the grandparents, and then the family zooming with them via an I-Pad on their respective tables.   Creative marketing at it’s finest.   Ours was take-out this year, and the cranberry sauce was as skimpy as ever, but the chocolates were good.  You can’t go wrong with Lindt Chocolates, even if you have to pay for the the free ones.

Musical Interlude – because mid-Nov. is still a bit too early for non-stop Christmas music. Anyone remember this song by the Queen of Soul? (youtube link)

 Nov 25 – Santa Claus is Coming To Town:

Last year’s nighttime parade….

The Santa Claus parade may be canceled, but Santa’s coming to a neighbourhood near you!   While many Santa Claus parades have become stationary drive-through events or are being conducted on football fields sans spectators and broadcast live (the annual Toronto parade), in the smaller cities and towns, the parade may come right to you.  I had forgotten all about this, until I heard the sirens and looked out and saw all the little kids in the neighborhood running down to the corner.   Kind of negates the idea of not congregating, but Santa can’t cover every street in town.   This year’s parade was really scaled down, only one float and two firetrucks, but Santa was on one of them.  Go Santa!         

Christmas Charities:

The Salvation army buckets are out in full force, but not manned this year, although some had the new tap and pay feature. Other charities have adapted too. Although there were no toy drive drop offs, just cash donations, Christmas for Everyone is still doing food and toy hampers, as the need is greater than ever this year.  The Legion and church offered take-out turkey and roast beef dinners as a fundraiser and sold-out in days – because who isn’t sick of cooking?   

Christmas Shopping: (or you’re a mean one, Mrs. Grinch)

I remember one year buying presents for 32 people – talk about insanity.  Only half of those were for family and the other half, friends or employees.   I was a department head and decided I would buy my staff a small gift, personally geared to their interests – I ran myself ragged shopping, and I don’t like Christmas shopping at the best of times.   I only did that one year, the next everyone got the same holiday candle and Tim Horton’s gift cards.  Work was always so busy that time of year that eventually I learned to shop early in the fall and would not go near the stores at all in December.  A hospital can be a sad place at Christmas and I can’t imagine how the staff are coping now, burnt out and exhausted, with all time off cancelled due to lack of staffing.  

I didn’t do ANY Christmas shopping this year – a few small gag gifts from the dollar store, but I did not go to any store for anything other than essentials.  Being retired now and our stats still good, I thought I had all kinds of time, but I left it too late and by then the numbers were ticking up and they were telling people to stay home. The few things I bought online had to be returned, so I just gave up, as Canada Post couldn’t promise delivery after Dec 3.   I don’t like online shopping anyway, preferring to actually see the item first, and on my one return-and-dash trip to the mall, it was so crowded I felt unsafe and left after half an hour. So this Christmas will be money stuffed in an envelope – not even gift cards.  I didn’t realize until recently that Visa gift cards expire if you shove them in a drawer and forget about them – yes after a year they start to subtract a monthly fee.   There’s nothing wrong with cash, you can take it to the bank and deposit it, and I had cash lying around I hadn’t used from the spring – so now it’s used up!    Easy-peasy!      

Dec 1 – Mad for Plaid:

My sole purchase for myself, as you need to treat yourself at Christmas too, was these plaid face masks.

I asked a neighbour where she got hers and she said Old Navy and she liked them as most masks were too big for her narrow face and these have side loops you can adjust, so I got a pack of the Christmas plaid ones on sale – $11 for 5.    Plaid is festive at Christmas and matches my plaid scarves from those new coats I blogged about last year, now sitting in my closet with no place to go.  (link to Joni and the Amazing Technicolor Coats).   You might think it’s too much plaid but style icon Kate Middleton wore one, so that’s good enough for me, and I find anything plaid immensely cheering.

Dec 9 – Baking:

Speaking of treats, we all have to eat, so why not treat yourself to Santa’s Favorite Chocolate Cookies (link to blog).  I only make these rich decadent cookies once a year at Christmas and normally would make several batches to give away, but this year I don’t have to!   I made my first batch in early December – 28 cookies I don’t have to share!  Well, I shared some…..but still…more for me!  Baking is also a good way to use up all that flour you stockpiled in the spring with the best of bread-baking intentions.

Dec 12 and 15 – Deck the Halls:

I was late putting up the decorations this year, so I didn’t put up as much, either inside or out, as in a few weeks I’ll just have to take them all down again, and that’s always a downer. I’m keeping it simple.   A few wreaths outside, no lights, but candles in the windows.   I know everyone is going overboard with lights this year but they sold out early and I forgot to ask the electrician when he upgraded the hydro if I could still use the front outdoor socket.

Instead of buying those overpriced pine arrangements  I stole this idea from my neighbor, after watching her out my kitchen window one morning, hacking branches off her pine tree with pruning shears.  Saves money ($35) and the rustic look is in.   I just love the plaid ribbon, and the cattails were from a ditch. 

My mother’s evergreen tree willingly donated some branches,

It needed a trim anyway….

 so I did one for her with a few dollar store decorations from previous years.  

And then one for my front porch.

Personally I think there should be a law against those blow up decorations – if you’re already feeling deflated this Christmas, a sight like this doesn’t help.  

Charlie Brown looks so sad….

Someone in my neighbourhood has so many of them on their small lot that I lost count after thirty. There should be a bylaw – two per household, and only if you have little children.   

 A Charlie Brown Holly Bush:

My holly bush is keeping it simple too.   I planted four of these one year, one male and his harem of three, but two died and the surviving one is really just a Holly Golightly twig.   As they’re sandwiched in between a row of lavender and a row of rose bushes (not one of my better landscaping decisions) they never really did well.  But one sprig of holly is all you need for atop the store-bought Christmas pudding. 

Holiday Movies:

The Sound of Music (check), White Christmas (check), that one with the annoying kid with the BB gun (check) – my mother loves A Christmas Story, it reminds her of growing up in the Depression. I haven’t watched Scrooge or It’s A Wonderful Life, but they’re always on Christmas Eve day.   

Holiday Music:

I started listening early, as motivation to walk – fresh air and music.  As well as the usual Christmas favorites, I’m enjoying some of the old Christmas hymns I remember from Christmas Eve services.  (link to blog – Joy to the World – Christmas Playlist)   There won’t be any midnight mass here this year, certainly no choir, just an early service you have to register for online, and a video broadcast link later. We usually tune into the church channel with the Basilica from Washington DC, if they are allowed to have it this year?  

I always enjoyed this Christmas reggae song by Boney M – very uplifting.

The Reason for the Season:

If you’re feeling frazzled, like the jolly guy here, clinging to the tree, remember this too shall pass, and remember the reason for the season.   Keep those traditions you can and those that have meaning for you and let the others go for this year.   Peace and goodwill to all.  Wishing everyone a Merry Little Christmas!

PS.   Will you be staying home for Christmas? Are there any Christmas traditions you are especially missing? Any new ones you have started?