Cultureguru's Weblog

Of food, technology, movies, music, and travel—or whatever else strikes my fancy


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Ontario election dilemma

Ontario’s having an election in a few, and I’d rather Doug Ford’s Progressive Conservatives not win the most seats. The main reason is that climate change remains our biggest problem, and this party has been and will continue to be terrible on the environmental front. We can’t really afford that for another four years. Not only are they not trying to reduce emissions, they really seem to want to increase them. Their main campaign point is that they more people in more cars on more highways, producing more greenhouse gases on the paved-over wetlands.

But, the PCs also weren’t great on (just off the top of my head):

  • Healthcare—Freezing wages, cutting public health
  • Long-term care—Failing to protect seniors in care (like, seniors died of starvation and neglect, not Covid…)
  • Autism—Cancelling the Liberal autism program because the wait list was too long, and replacing it with nothing but an even longer wait list
  • Opioid addiction—Arbitrarily capping the number of needle exchange centres in the province while overdose deaths soared
  • Open government—Paying lawyers to keep secret information citizens have the right to know, such as ministerial mandate letters and taxpayer-funded reports on municipal amalgamation
  • Municipal government—Cancelling the ranked ballot option (why?), changing the number of Toronto city councillors mid-election (!)

So, clearly I would like people to… well…. do what exactly?

Vote for a member of another party, of course. But that’s the issue: which one? This ain’t a two-party system. And none of the other main alternatives—NDP, Liberal, or Green—are clearly the best choice. At least to me, anyway. But I think to a lot of other people, also.

Which is why we have this split. A chunk who will vote PC, because you always have a minimum 30% or so who will, with the remaining majority of voters dividing up support in such a way that the PCs are well on track to win more seats than anyone. Quite likely a majority of seats overall, which will allow them to govern and do whatever the heck they want.

PCs at 36% vs Liberal at 28%, NDP at 24%, and Green at 5%.

The other parties should combine and stop this from happening

I keep hearing this, even now, from people whom, I guess, don’t really know how our political system works?

The election has started. The ballots are printed. Heck, people have already voted! It’s too late for the Liberals and NDP to collaborate and agree to split the ridings and govern as a coalition—which is not really how our system works anyway…?

In the end, after the vote, if the non-PC parties have, combined, more seats than the PCs, they could look to eventually defeat that government and indeed, offer to govern in some sort of partnership as an alternative to making everyone go to the polls again. But not before the vote.

(Also, you know, you can’t just assume that people who like the Liberals like the NDP second best and vice versa. If those parties were to collaborate ahead of time, it could well annoy loyalists into voting for some other party entirely…)

Strategic voting

Is the other big idea, and is at least is in realm of possibility (unlike the fantasy of an NDP-Liberal coalition forming mid-election campaign). But it’s not as easy as it seems, even despite all the tools and movements to help, such as https://votewell.ca/ and (for Toronto) https://www.notoneseat.ca/

The idea is that you vote for whichever party your riding is most likely to defeat the PC candidate.

The problem is that it’s largely based on polling at the local riding level, which is simply not accurate, mainly because it isn’t done! At least not on any mass scale. Polling is mostly done provincially, and then they try to extrapolate to the local level to estimate how the seat count will work out (considering historical data for that riding, etc.). It gives you an idea, but that’s it. It’s not really solid data.

Squaring my own circle

All I can 100% control is my own vote, so what are the considerations?

Party leader

My favourite for sure is Mike Shreiner of the Green Party. He’s smart, he’s likeable, he’s been a constructive presence in the Legislature the last four years, and in my opinion, he was the best at the Northern Ontario leaders debate (one of the better debates I’ve seen a while, actually).

Steven Del Duca (Liberal) and Andrea Horwath (NDP) also seem smart and reasonably likeable, but do somewhat lack in charisma. Del Duca was somewhat better in the debate, in my opinion, for what that’s worth.

Platform

If you look at my Vote Compass:

Liberal 73%, Green Pasrty 64%, NDP 63%, PC 43%

The Liberals have it.

But, I feel like each of these parties has some promises I really like, some that I’m meh about, and a few I’m not quite on board with but, overall, any one would be an improvement over the PCs.

Local candidate

The only local candidates I know anything about are incumbent Catherine Fife of the NDP, and Shefaza Esmail of the Green Party, whom I talked to briefly on the phone. I’ll have to nerd out and watch a local debate to see how the others are, but Catherine has been a good MPP: smart, engaged, well-spoken. At this point, she certainly seems like the best local option.

In sum

I have my own three-way tie: Green, Liberal, NDP.

If the election were held today…

I’d likely vote NDP, to support Catherine Fife, and because, despite my serious doubts about strategic voting… She still seems like the smart choice if you’re going to consider it at all.

(For what it’s worth, VoteWell has Waterloo pegged as more of a Liberal / NDP battleground, and says you can therefore vote for “the candidate you prefer”. I dunno. Last time the PCs did come in second, but that was also the Great Liberal Collapse election, so… Who knows. Strategic voting is a mug’s game.)

Anyway. Making up my own mind isn’t really the problem.

The problem is how to you chip away at the soft part of the 37% currently planning to vote PC, and try to get them to vote some other way?

… When you can’t even quite tell them what that other way should be…?

I do still love this ad…


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A quick one about movies

Yesterday we went to see Everything Everywhere All at Once, in a theatre, and—wow! I was just riveted. It was one of the most original movies I’ve ever seen. And so funny! And even makes you think of about the big questions: the meaning of life, the universe, and… everything.

Jean, who is not as into surrealism as I am (did I mention I’m also rewatching Russian Doll?), wasn’t quite sure what to think. But I assure you he wasn’t bored, or complaining about lack of plot. And he agreed it was quite funny.

(Much to my annoyance, I forgot my CO2 monitor and so am not able to add Landmark Cinemas to my list of ventilation ratings. Being in a newer building, and given that the high-ceilinged theatre was not at capacity, I suspect the reading would have been fine. But it will have to wait til next time to confirm. This time, about 40% of movie attendees were masked.)

A few other movies Jean and I have watched at home recently-ish, and both enjoyed:

Trainspotting 2—No idea if this would hold any appeal to people who haven’t seen Trainspotting the first, but Jean and I enjoyed this “20 years later” revisit of the characters, with its clever callbacks to the first film.

Empire Records—The script for this 1995 flop kind of is a mess—a story intended to take place over two days was edited down to appear to all happen on one, and it’s not entirely coherent. But it is fun. And the soundtrack is great. And the cast and characters, especially the women, Renee Zellweger, Liv Tyler, Robin Tunney, are appealing.

Palm Springs—Also surreal-ish, this romantic comedy has a different but appealing take on how the couple ends up stuck together. Stars Andy Samberg and Cristin Milioti.


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Tired of doing the government’s job

My calendar is not especially full, but there are events in it here and there, and as each one comes around, so do the questions…

  • How many people will be at this event?
  • How close will be they be to me?
  • How bad does the current transmission rate seem to be?
  • Is the venue doing anything to mitigate risk?
  • Can I do anything to mitigate risk?
  • Should I stay or should I go?

And it’s Just. Bloody. Exhausting.

So I can definitely see why most people find the current government messaging very appealing:

Everything’s fine. Just do all the things. Don’t worry about getting infected. Live your life! Even if you do get infected, it will be fine! It’s all fine. Everything’s fine.

It does sound lovely. I wish my brain would let me join you in the “everything’s fine” camp. (But I just know too much!)

And I get the government strategy, politically. Gosh. Managing pandemics is not fun. Not what they were elected to do. Giving up on pandemic management lets them focus on their other priorities, like building highways on environmentally sensitive land, going to court to keep their plans a secret from citizens, and denying treatment to autistic children. I care most about Ontario, as that’s where I live, but almost all the governments are currently aboard the ” let’s do nothing about Covid to focus on other issues” train.

Problem is…

Unfettered Covid is still a problem. Ignoring it doesn’t seem that effective at making everything fine.

For one thing, a lot of people are still dying of it.

Yes, this is US, and Canada has tended to not be as bad. But Canada is also slower at counting its dead. And is now following US policy much more closely.

And if the main goal/rational was preservation of hospital capacity, well, these are all recent (Ontario) news stories:

So that’s a Big. Epic. Fail.

All of this mass infection will put an end to this wave at some point, as the virus finally runs out of hosts. But it does little to prevent the next wave, because the virus keeps mutating, and Omicron infections in particular do not confer long-term immunity. And it appears that risk of hospitalizations increases with the repeats (PDF).

Vaccinations help tremendously; the tragedy of this much infection would be unimaginable without them. And yes, maybe this variant is “milder” than some past ones, even for the unvaccinated. But Long Covid afflicts somewhere around 10% of patients, and it has no cure (though sometimes does improve with time). And Covid has long-term effects on many organs, even in mild cases.

Basically, it’s not good to have sickly population. Even if you don’t care about the ethics of allowing unfettered mass infection, it’s also not good for the economy.

Everyone is so happy about having schools open, not only to benefit the kids, but also to benefit working parents and their companies. But Covid is absolutely tearing through schools, to the extent that many of them can’t stay open.

But it directly affects businesses, too, per the Business Journal: Omicron sharpens labor pains for short-staffed businesses. And the Financial Times, looking longer term: Long Covid: the invisible public health crisis fuelling labour shortages. Sick people just aren’t your best bet for achieving maximum productivity and growing your economy.

Government can’t just pawn this off on us

The whole point of Public Health is to avoid the problems just described. Saying “you have to learn to live with it” or “make your risk assessment” is not Public Health! It’s an abdication of responsibility. It’s government not doing their job.

What if governments treated other public health threats the way they’re currently handling Covid?

The smooth taste expectant mothers crave!

Smoking: Given that lung cancer and emphysema rates are currently declining, you are once again permitted to smoke in all indoor spaces. Yes, we do expect that this will cause lung cancer and emphysema rates to rise again, but it’s OK; we have plenty of room in the hospital for these new patients!

We all have to learn to live with smokey air. For most people, the effects of second-hand smoke are mild, and not much worse than a cough caused by the flu. Those worried about long-term effects can consider attaching a HEPA filter to their face. If you are at immediate risk due to severe allergy—stay home!

Drinking and driving: With so many people drinking so much alcohol, our Ride programs are getting overwhelmed, so we have decided to stop checking blood alcohol levels. If you think you’ve been around alcohol, and now feel dizzy, assume you’re drunk, and don’t drive for, let’s say, 30 minutes?

Hard hats, steel-toed boots: Data has shown that these protect workers at construction sites, but they are annoying: so hot! so uncomfortable! So, it’s now your choice what to wear while working. It’s so lovely to see everyone’s bare heads and feet again!

Asbestos in buildings: Some buildings have asbestos leaks; if you breathe in the fibres, you could damage your lungs. If concerned, you might want to avoid going into those buildings.

No, we’re not going to tell you which buildings those are. No, we’re not certainly not going to make any effort to remove the asbestos from those buildings. What are you even talking about?

If you’re worried about breathing in asbestos, just wipe down the tables and wash your hands.

Car seats for infants: Optional.

So what should they do?

Doing something instead of nothing would be nice. That something does not have to be business or school closures, capacity limits, or restrictions on public gatherings. How about just reversing some of the stupider decisions and actually promoting vaccination again, for a start.

Change the isolation period back to 10 days

My God, the government was eager to put this 5-day isolation rule in place, even though this Delta-variant data was never true for Omicron. People are at peak infectiousness at 5 to 8 days. The standard must go back to isolating for 10 days when you’re Covid positive. Ideally with people using rapid tests to ensure they’re no longer infectious before they go back out in the world.

Get adults and teens fully vaccinated

Two vaccination doses are much better than one or none, but this is a three-dose vaccine. But the messaging around the third dose has been so muddled that third dose rates have stagnated at about 50% in Canada, even in light of evidence that two doses no longer protects as well against hospitalization.

The Federal government could help here by changing the terminology. Stop calling that third dose a “booster”, which definitely makes it sound “optional”. Redefine “fully vaccinated” to mean three doses. And extending everything for which you need vaccination proof (travel, federal jobs) to now mean three doses.

Get children vaccinated

Children are also very under-vaccinated, many vaccinated parents apparently having concluded that vaccine isn’t necessary, since they keep hearing that Covid isn’t very dangerous for kids. When in fact it’s children under 4 who are the most hospitalized age group for Covid, after those over 70. And children can also get Long Covid, which vaccinations reduce the likelihood of.

Adding the Covid vaccination to the school vaccination requirements would be good idea, but I would also note that a great education campaign can go a long way. In Newfoundland, they made a concerted effort and achieved a 75% rate of vaccination among children.

And yes, bring back the mask mandate

Two-way masking works better than one-way. If you’re the only one masked for a longer period in a poorly ventilated space with Covid-positive people, the virus might very well through. I’m not saying masks need to be mandatory “forever”, but they are needed at times of high transmission, like now.

And masks don’t stop you from doing anything. You’ve always been exempt from wearing them when you want to eat, drink, or exercise in public. What’s the big deal about wearing them to shop, go to a concert, or ride transit. And I would note that not doing so, at least in essential places, is a human rights violation:

My suggestion: Get this decision out of the hands out the hands of politicians and give it to a more independent authority (which politicians can then hide behind, the bunch of cowards). Here, that could be Ontario Public Health and the Ontario Science Table (which is now part of OPH), who have clearly stated that lifting the mask mandate made this wave bigger than it needed to be, and that it should be brought back.

How much longer, Papa Smurf?

OK, masks, needles, and being all alone when sick are not fun. Those tactics won’t be needed forever (hopefully!).

But some changes we could make because of Covid should stay around for good, because they are nice things that would permanently benefit everyone.

  • Paid sick days for all. And a reasonable number of them too, like 10. Who wants to catch colds, flus, or any disease from their coworkers? Which companies want to have a bunch of people off sick when they could stop it at one person? (And frankly, even if a coworker has something non-communicable, I don’t want them at work suffering. The moaning sounds are very distracting!)
  • Cleaner indoor air. Outdoors is great, and very Covid-safe, but we are an indoor species. Having cleaner indoor air—everywhere—not only reduces transmission of all airborne diseases, but also reduces headache, fatigue, nausea, skin irritation… It’s just generally better for our health. And our productivity! We be so much better worker bees with more air exchanges per hour, breathing in fewer air pollutants.

    Governments could start this by measuring CO2 levels everywhere (Belgium is doing this!) and including air quality as part of health inspections (Niagara, Ontario is doing this!). That way everyone can know which places have good indoor air and which don’t. Next step: improving it. Like the US EPA is proposing to do. And also the City of Toronto!
  • Restructure the healthcare system. The Globe did a big story on this recently that is difficult to summarize in a bullet point. But it’s not about more money; it’s really about spending the money better by integrating all aspects of health into one system instead of funding only doctors and hospitals. This is exactly what the 300,000 or so Canadians with Long Covid need—but it’s also what we all need, to treat every ailment!
  • Longer Christmas break. Happens every year, previously with flu and now with Covid: Families gather at Christmas, infect each other, then all go back to work and school and pass it on further. Reduce that risk by making that a longer school break for kids, with the time made up by extending the school year. Wouldn’t that also help reduce learning loss from the long summer break? More people would surely take more vacation time at Christmas, too, further reducing spread in workplaces. (While at it, how about: More vacation days for all.)

And I leave you with…

Cute animals for when you are stressed


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Wining and dining while trying to avoid cooties

I promise this won’t turn into a big politic rant, but it’s just a fact that the Ontario government no longer cares if I (or anyone in Ontario) gets Covid—as long as not too many of us end up in hospital with it. (And even there, they keep mumbling about how they have some spare hospitals beds now.)

Stubbornly, I’d still rather avoid it, if I can. Even for the triple-vaccinated, it seems unpleasant to have. And then there’s those possible long-term effects: Long Covid. Early dementia. Diabetes. Higher risk of heart attacks and stroke.

Happily for privileged me (and here I could do a rant about how the government has abandoned the less-privileged and the more-vulnerable, but I won’t), I do have considerable ability to, well, just stay home and avoid people. And the temperament to not mind it all that much.

But it is nice to leave the house once in a while. And I do have vacation days to take. We’d really enjoyed our time in Niagara-on-the-Lake in November, so earlier in the year, we planned to spend a few nights there in late March.

Then the government dismantled everything that had made that fall trip feel comfortable: Capacity limits—lifted. Vaccine passports—gone. Mask mandates—history. Meanwhile, the Omicron BA.2 variant, the most contagious one yet, makes its inexorable rise.

And thanks be we weren’t headed to Ottawa, which has already reached historic levels of Covid infections

Still, most of our planned activities seemed relatively low risk. The outdoor hiking is obviously not a problem. Wineries offered private tastings. We could mask in the common areas of the Inn we were staying. But what about dinner???

Spring has not really sprung in these parts yet, so patios weren’t an option. And sure, you can do takeout. But we didn’t want to. Niagara-on-the-Lake has some terrific restaurants. And we love the whole multi-course, wine-matched, lingering indoor dining experience. But Covid-wise, there’s so little you can control when in a restaurant: you can’t mask, you can’t know in advance how well-ventilated the restaurant is, you can’t prevent other people from being seated near you.

And then I got an idea…

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Eating in, out, and around

There are Big Things going on in the world that I am certainly reading about, am in some cases being affected by, and likely have some sort of opinion on. But here, as is often the case, I’d rather write about those times when I’m distracting myself from the news.

Like hey, you still gotta eat. Might as well enjoy it.

Bougie burgers

During the last round of restaurant closures in January, I took S&V Uptown up on their offer to deliver me a surprise pack of three wines with matching recipes. I ended up with an Ontario Riesling, an Italian Pinot Grigio, and a California Cabernet Sauvignon. That one came with what looked like the most interesting recipe: Bison burgers.

People are always thinking burgers with beers but you are not most people. You bougie. Sniff and swirl that Cab and pair this with Beyoncé on loud.

S&V Uptown recipe notes

I mean, after reading that, how could I not make the burgers? Me am bougie! I adapted the recipe slightly, the main difference being using only ground bison, no ground beef (not bougie enough!). I also simplified the already simple instructions (bougie and lazy). Resulting in:

Cedar Rock Vineyards 2018 Cabernet Sauvignon
  • 1 pound ground bison
  • 1/2 cup minced onion (I used frozen minced onion)
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 Tablespoon fresh parsley
  • 1/2 Tablespoon coconut oil
  • 1/2 Tablespoon onion powder
  • 2 Tablespoons ketchup
  • 1 Tablespoon Worcestershire sauce
  • Salt and pepper

Combine all ingredients in a large bowl. Divide into four patties. Heat a large skillet over medium-high heat with olive oil. Cook patties roughly four minutes per side.

Lordy, it was delicious. (Now I get why so many people order burgers.) And the Cab Sauv, not always my favourite wine, was just lovely!

Winter interferes with Winter House

Langdon Hall, meanwhile, coped with the closure by offering to feed people outdoors, in what admittedly looked like a pretty awesome setting:

Langdon Hall Winter House

A couple friends agreed to meet us there, weather depending. And honestly, the weather much of that planned day wasn’t great. Started off quite blowy and snowy. But we were planning to go only later in the day, anyway, and by then, it was sunny and calmer.

Jean and I decided to stop in and see the Ronnie Wood Art Exhibition first (yes, that would be The Rolling Stones bassist). When we got there, however, the museum was actually closed due to weather (even though, to be clear, the art is exhibited indoors), so we thought, huh. Better call Langdon Hall to make sure their Winter House is still in operation. Yep, they said, it’s open! No reservation required.

So we coordinated with our friends to meet there—it’s about a half hour drive. Only to be told on arrival that, oops, sorry. Closed after all, due to wind.

I mean. The closure was understandable. But they had decided to close it at 1:00 pm that day, and we called them around 4:30 pm. So…

We grumbled, but moved on. Upon discussion, this became a meal of takeout Indian at our friend’s house (courtesy: Vijay’s). And you know? By this point of the pandemic, it was actually much more exotic to be eating indoors at someone else’s house than be at a restaurant’s cool patio. The food was good, the beer was great; their house has many cool features; it was a fine evening.

And we got to the Ronnie Wood Art Exhibition the following weekend. He’s a talented guy!

Breathing easy at Loloan

Restaurants are back at full capacity now (if they want), and as of Tuesday, won’t have to ask for vaccination proof anymore (unless they want to). We decided to take the vax pass for one more spin at a day and time we thought wouldn’t be full capacity: Thursday at 5:30 pm. And we selected Loloan Lobby Bar both because we like their food, and because they’d made the point that they’ve worked to improve their ventilation.

Ventilation is key to indoor spaces being safer, especially those places where you can’t mask, but how to know what public places are well-ventilated? I decided to a buy a portable CO2 monitor to give me an idea. Outdoors is about 400 ppm, and levels above 1000 ppm are considered hazardous to health. You’re looking for indoor space to be under 800; under 600 for places like gyms, with a lot of exhaling going on.

I haven’t been to too many places since I got the monitor, but these are the results to date (rounded measurements, since the levels bounce around):

  • Outside my house: 400
  • Inside my house: 600ish
  • My grocery store: low 500s (quite good!)
  • Loloan: low 400s (even better!)

I plan to keep tracking this for a while, keeping the results here: Ventilation project.

Also, the food at Loloan was delicious! (But we forgot the camera…)

Promoting induction

I’m actually a bit appalled that my house doesn’t have better ventilation than my grocery store, but whatever the reason, it’s not because of a natural gas cooktop. Those, I’ve learned, are really bad for indoor air, as well as contributing fairly significantly to greenhouse gas emissions. So the use of induction cooktops is encouraged as an alternative.

Fun fact! I first learned about induction cooktops from this Samantha Bee story

I’ve recently acquired one of these. Mine replaces an electric cooktop, so shouldn’t make much difference to my indoor air quality, and only a minor improvement to my greenhouse gas emissions, as it uses less electricity. But I’ve grown quite fond of it, enjoying these benefits:

  • Speed of heating pots and pans: Water boils so fast. Pans are ready to fry foods so quickly.
  • Fine temperature control: This took some getting used to, but you can really quite finely set the controls for the level of simmering, boiling, or grilling you want to achieve.
  • Easier to clean. The element itself doesn’t get hot, so items don’t burn on it as much. Everything is flat, so no knobs to clean around.
  • Safer. The elements don’t heat unless a metal pot is on it. They will not burn cat paws. They won’t start a fire.
An induction cooktop is perfectly flat like this; the controls are push buttons on the surface. Photo by Rachel Claire on Pexels.com

Downsides are that induction cooktops cost more, and they only work with magnetic pots—stainless steel, iron, and so on. Some of our previous stock of cookware worked, but we did have to replace a number of items. For me, though, the investment has been worth it.


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This is where we are today

This is the second year in a row we didn’t travel north for Christmas. We made the decision pre-Omicron, so it wasn’t because of that. It was related to work; namely, Jean’s inability to get time off—company policy for everyone at Christmas, at least for this year.

I was fine with it, basically. It was early enough that I had a lot of time to get used to the idea. And it is always kind of stressful travelling north at Christmas, given the crowds and the weather and the scramble to get a catsitter. We figured we’d visit family a little later.

But I definitely lacked in Christmas spirit. Last year, when we were all under health advisories to stay home in our family units, as compensation I really wanted to do all the things: Send out the Christmas cards and letter. Put up the lights and decorations. Play the Christmas songs. Watch the Christmas concerts and movies. Prepare the fruitcake, make soup out of the chicken bones, heat up the Christmas morning croissant.

This year, I felt no compulsion to do much of any of that. Now, I did do some of the cooking—we gotta eat anyway and I like tourtière, and cabbage rolls, and roast chicken, and chicken pot pie. And we did watch one (mediocre) new Christmas movie. And sure I played a few Christmas songs on the key days. Zoom family gift opening and game night were fun. And we did put up a tree, but then one cat ate a sharp piece and got an upset tummy, so then it was, bye tree.

Three cats and tree.
The tree that the cat ate (not the whole tree; just, like, a needle. We think)

Though Jean had no time off, I still took some. I had no big ambitions for what to do with the near two weeks, but no concerns that I’d be bored, either. There are enough chores, books, TV shows, cute cats, fitness breaks, and doom-scrolling sessions to fill days at home.

But we also got out a bit—most notably to the Rolling Stones: Unzipped exhibit at The Museum. It was really quite something to see, even if you’re not especially into the Rolling Stones.

Ladies and Gentlemen...

So it’s really too bad that it’s about to be shut down for three weeks as a public health measure. (This was not a cheap show to bring to town!) I mean, it’s safer than the malls that have been left open—to get into this exhibit, you had to be be vaccinated.

Otherwise, we did outdoors stuff, like trying out the ebikes we got each other for Christmas. Yep, it’s winter, but it’s been a pretty mild and not terribly snowy one so far. And the ebikes are “fat tire” mountain-bike style. Jean has really taken to it, getting out on longish rides on roughish trails. I’ve been more tentative (you’re shocked, I know), but kind of surprised I’ve done it at all. More than once, even.

We had been indoor dining through the Fall, which has been lovely, and originally hoped to go out for a nice dinner on New Year’s Eve. But by mid-December, that just didn’t seem smart. (And a few of our favourite places proactively closed anyway.) So we went for the New Year’s Eve takeout, courtesy of Sole Restaurant and Wine Bar. (And we also got a lovely pastry box from Loloan Lobby Bar.)

New Year's Eve takeout dinner.
Baked brie and duck confit in a box

So I don’t particularly have the new year’s “spirit”, either. Not inclined to think back on the year that was, nor motivated to set many aspirations for the year ahead. Except maybe this idea, which I like:

Things have changed since March 2020, and they’re not all going to go back to how they were. And that’s OK—the pandemic has only amplified the fact that a lot of things were terrible. So there’s no point in just longing for the past. We gotta go forward. We gotta make the best of it now, then do what we can to make it better later.


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The Blue Rodeo risk assessment

My Twitter feed is a terrifying place these days.

My timeline is stuffed full of doctors, epidemiologists, public health officials, and health journalists, and they are not an optimistic bunch of late. While Ontario / Canada seemed to have had a reasonable handle on Delta, the two-week’s worth of data on Omicron is not looking promising. Seemingly quite contagious, seemingly fairly evasive of both vaccination and prior infection, it looks poised to spread at exponential rates in the coming weeks and months, once again threatening to swamp Ontario hospitals whose already limited capacity is actually worse now when this happened last year.

Potential impact of Omicron could be substantial
One of the slides from the Ontario Science Advisory Table’s latest update

Meanwhile, I had tickets to my first crowded indoor event of the pandemic: a sold-out Blue Rodeo concert at Centre in the Square.

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Yet another Ontario vacation

I had more vacation days left than I needed for Christmas time, and there seemed little point in carrying them forward into the first three months of next year. So we took the first week of November off, and visited Niagara-on-the-Lake and the north shore of Lake Erie.

Beautiful tree on a sunny day in Niagara
This is November?

Fortunately the weather proved cooperative. We had a warm late October in southern Ontario, and while it got cooler this first week of November, it was very sunny—and that warm October meant that a lot of trees still had their colourful leaves. So not a “dreary” November week at all.

In Niagara-on-the-Lake, we stayed at Harbour House, which is a pretty nice spot. It was not a huge room, but the space was very well organized, and it came with little perks like a bathrobe and a wine-and-cheese hour. I was a bit surprised that we had to show proof of vaccination upon checking in, but that was for the included indoor breakfast, which was quite good—granola, fruit, and yogourt, followed by a hot item such as quiche.

It was also on the lake, which meant some great walks were right there.

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Taking the vax pass for a spin

After categorically stating (and repeating) that there was no way, no how that Ontario would require proof of vaccination to access certain public spaces, Premier Doug Ford announced that Ontarians would be required to show proof of vaccination to access certain public spaces. The change of heart itself was no surprise to most Ontarians, who’d by now witnessed many similar policy pivots, but its timing was: early September. That is, before the COVID case count was terrible and inevitably about to get worse before it could get better.

Ontarians were then surprised again to find that from roughly that point on—before the policy actually took effect, and despite the start of school—case numbers have improved. Just slightly improved, and still not as good as last summer, but definitely on a downward. Something that it not happening everywhere in Canada.

The avg. of daily COVID-19 cases has fallen from early September
And locally, the numbers have been a little better than the provincial average (after our “fun” Delta spike in June).

So Jean and I have been getting out there. A little.

I wanted to see the new Marvel movie, Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings—mainly because I was a fan of the lead actor, Simu Liu, from Kim’s Convenience. But I also liked that it was an origin story, so it wouldn’t matter that I wasn’t versed in all the intricate details of the Marvel universe. That it was both a critical and box office hit also seemed promising.

I figured that seeing it at the Cineplex VIP theatre would be good, because then we could get an actual meal. Made it quite manageable to go there after work for the early evening showing, even though the VIP theatre is kind of across town from where we live.

COVID protocols in place when we went: They checked for vaccination proof (and mask wearing) at the entrance to the building. Then at the entrance to the VIP theatre, they did contact tracing. Each theatre was limited to 50% capacity; when we bought our tickets in advance, we selected our seats, and the system then blocked off the ones to either side of us so we knew no one would be sitting there.

Mind, the movie had been out for about four weeks by then, and it was week day, so though the 50% capacity of that rooms was 35 people, I think there were only about 10 there? And nobody else in our row.

So we felt pretty OK about unmasking to eat our dinner. We don’t get to the VIP theatre often. I still love the novelty of ordering food and wine (!) at my extra-comfortable, reclining seat. My edamame, fish taco, and Kim Crawford Sauvignon were all quite fine. Jean also liked the edamame and his Malbec, but was a little less impressed with the pulled pork.

As for the movie, I found it really fun. Jean complained about how many fight scenes it had. He’s right—so many fight scenes! Normally, this would bore me. But I thought these were quite well-choreographed fight scenes that did move the plot along. It was too bad Simu Liu didn’t get more funny lines—Awkwafina (who was great!) got most of those. But he looked good. I was diverted. Nice night out.

The following Monday, we went to see a different sort of film at a different sort of theatre (but with basically the same COVID protocols to follow): I’m Your Man, at the local art cinema, The Princess. The premise of that one is a woman scientist tasked with testing a humanoid robot designed to be the perfect partner for her.

Tom, the robot, is endowed with artificial intelligence that causes him to adapt to whatever his “partner” wants, though in case he has a partner who’s skeptical of the whole idea and trying to maintain objectivity. As he dials down the romantic gestures and ramps up the practical assistance he can provide, she gives him more mind, and then more heart…. It was quite engaging and thought-provoking and—though Jean thought they could have done even more with the premise—we both enjoyed it.

Then later in the week, we decided to try some more indoor dining, back at S&V Uptown. It’s our third time there since they moved to uptown Waterloo, and again we were really impressed. In terms of consistent food quality, I think it’s the closest we’ve come to Verses—the only issue is the tendency to sometimes over-salt the sauce, at least to our taste. But even that never ruins a dish, because nothing is ever drowning in sauce.

They had just launched their Fall five-course menu, and that’s what we had, again with shared paired wines (1.5 oz each per serving). Fried oysters, halibut with mushrooms, beef cheek, sponge cake…

(I also finally got to wear my new pantsuit.)

Meanwhile, in another bout of optimism, I’ve acquired tickets to a number of events at Centre in the Square for the coming months:

  • Blue Rodeo (in December)
  • Letterkenny Live (in February)
  • Billy Joel’s The Stranger by Classic Albums Live (in April)

These all depend on lifted capacity restrictions—which the government has just announced (albeit not yet for restaurants and gyms). So we’ll see how that goes.

What’s next?

I will mention that the rapid testing program that I blogged about previously has been shut down by the Ontario government. Not entirely—it can still be used by the small businesses it was originally intended for. But Communitech’s extension to community groups and individuals was making the province look bad, I guess, so they put a halt to it.

Meanwhile, there is some opinion that wider deployment of rapid tests are key to ending the pandemic. Until the Ontario government comes to agree with that, here are a few options for getting them:

  • The tests are available free to businesses, who can then make them available to their employees. So talk to your company about it. (If you own a business, get some on that basis.)
  • The Canadian Shield now sells them. About $10 each, so not exactly cheap, but better than the $40 each at Shoppers Drug Mart.
  • Travel to a place like the UK or Nova Scotia, where they’re widely available and cheap (though I have no idea if it’s just as easy for tourists to acquire them)?
Play safe going out (rapid tests) and going in (condoms)
Nova Scotia public health campaign

Now for a bit of trivia: What would you guess is the most highly vaccinated age group in Waterloo region? The over 80s, perhaps?

Nope. It’s the 18 to 29s. Followed not far by the 30 to 39s. (Frankly, my age group are a bit slackers here, at possibly the lowest rate of “at least one dose”?)

Percent vaccination coverage for WR Residents by Age Group
Source: Waterloo Region COVID-19 Vaccine Distribution Task Force

The kids are all right—and they’ve earned their way into bars, restaurants, gyms, and concert halls.


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Killarney Mountain Lodge

Originally we’d been thinking about flying to Nova Scotia in August, but then noted that there wasn’t a single car available for rent in the entire province that month. (This is due to the pandemic-caused chip shortage.) Then, we considering going there in early September, but we ran into the issue that our catsitter had a similar thought, and was flying to New Brunswick. Scary Covid projections for Fall were also starting to fly about then as well, and we got a little weirded out about being reliant on airlines to get us back home.

So switched it all up and decided to just drive to Killarney Mountain Lodge for four nights.

Killarney Mountain Lodge at night
Killarney Mountain Lodge at night
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