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?

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