Cultureguru's Weblog

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


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Christmas season 2022

I’ll blame Gus the cat for my slowness in getting into any kind of Christmas spirit this year. A few weeks after his pretty speed recovery from the injury above his eye, he suddenly come down with something… He stopped eating, grooming, or doing anything other than shuffling uncomfortably from one sleeping spot to another. It was a weekend, and the vet was open only for supplies, not medical appointments. They suggested taking Gus to the emergency veterinary hospital.

There he got tested for everything imaginable. He had some neurological symptoms—asymmetrical eye pupils, inconsistent results on the “knuckling” test—and few slightly abnormal results on the blood test. Could be infection, could be tumors… He was admitted and hydrated, appetite stimulated, given pain killers, and started on antibiotics. I went home to fret.

Gus responded quite well to the various ministrations, though, and we were able to take him home the next day. He seemed pretty good from that point, though lower energy, and with the uneven pupils persisting a while. We continued the antibiotics for seven days, and a few days later, the eyes improved, the energy back. I brought him in for a final check from our vet, who found that all seemed good, except for the eye on the injured side looking a little irritated.

Black cat in bed
Gus feeling better

So she suggested a week of twice daily eye drops. Gus was much better about letting us give him those than we expected. What seemed much more upsetting to him was if we had to chase him down first; he’d sometimes hide for hours afterwards. So we took to surprising him with eye drops. Those done, he continued to seem quite fine.

And I finally had some brain space for Christmas.

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Bit of a rocky road north

Jean’s Mom, who’d never been quite the same after a stroke in February, passed away in late August. The family decided to have a small memorial service. The date selected was Saturday, November 5.

Wednesday

We left around 10:15 AM, intending to stop over in Sudbury on the way to Timmins. The drive started uneventfully enough; we were diverted by the audiobook of State of Terror, by Hillary Rodham Clinton and Louise Penny.

But after an hour and a half or so, Jean noted that the car seemed to be losing power periodically, during which it was quite reluctant to accelerate. Maybe just gas quality? he suggested. As we Googled to find the nearest gas station, I suggested options. We still had time before we really had to be anywhere. Maybe we could get the car looked at. Maybe we could rent a car for this trip.

Well, let’s just try gas first, Jean suggested.

And indeed, filling it up did make it run smoother.

For another couple hours, anyway. But then it started doing the losing power thing again. Hills were a problem.

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Corsi-Rosenthal, Elvis, & Juliet

February 2022

American Express “Front of the Line” offer: Elvis Costello and The Imposters, live at Massey Hall in Toronto in August. Sure, why not get tickets to that? Massey Hall is a great little theatre. And surely everything will be fine by summer.

March 2022

Tickets now on sale for & Juliet

Created by the Emmy®-winning writer from “Schitt’s Creek,” this hilarious new musical flips the script on the greatest love story ever told. & Juliet asks: what would happen next if Juliet didn’t end it all over Romeo? Get whisked away on a fabulous journey as she ditches her famous ending for a fresh beginning and a second chance at life and love—her way.

Juliet’s new story bursts to life through a playlist of pop anthems as iconic as her name, including Since U Been Gone‚ Roar, Baby One More Time, Larger Than Life‚ That’s The Way It Is, and Can’t Stop the Feeling—all from the genius songwriter/producer behind more #1 hits than any other artist this century. Break free of the balcony scene and get into this romantic comedy that proves there’s life after Romeo. The only thing tragic would be missing it.

Well, that sounds fun. And hey look, it’s playing in August. We’re going to be in Toronto anyway. Why not get tickets for this the day before the Elvis Costello concert?

July 2022

“What are we going to do with this?” Jean asked, about the Corsi-Rosenthal box that he’d agreed to build, to humor me. And which had turned out much larger than we’d expected.

Corsi-Rosenthal box with teen builder
A Corsi-Rosenthal box, with the teen who built it (because I don’t have pictures of ours, but it looks pretty much like this one)

Literally four MERV-13 furnace filter duct-taped to a floor fan, a Corsi-Rosenthal box is a kind of homemade HEPA filter. Viruses and other nasties get trapped in the filters, and the fan blows out clean air. Thus replacing bad room air with cleaner air.

I mumbled something about it being useful when we had people over, but had to concede we don’t really have much by way of visitors these days.

“It could also be useful if we ever have to isolate from one another,” I mumbled.

One week later

“Where did you put that Corsi-Paranoid box?” Jean asked, using his “affectionate” nickname for it.

“In the closet,” I said. “Why?”

“We might want to run it for a bit…”

We had a plan (of sorts) that we executed. Jean got the upstairs rooms, running the C-R box. I got the downstairs. Main floor was the masking zone. Windows open. Doors closed. Cats rather confused.

His symptoms started two days after exposure, and were confirmed by rapid test after three. Thanks to four vaccine doses, the worst of it was two days spent in bed, feeling achy and exhausted, and the only lingering symptom a bit of cough. With ongoing positive tests, though, the isolation had to continue quite a few days after he was on the road to recovery.

One week later (August 2021)

Jean gets a call from his sister, reporting that she’s not sure how much more time his mother has. (She had a stroke in February.) He reconsiders his plan to wait until Labour Day before visiting her again.

We’re both tired of the in-house Covid protocols, but having stuck with them this long, it seems important to continue. It would just suck to get infected at the very end, after making so much this effort to avoid it for so many days.

One week later

Finally his test is negative. I have never developed symptoms, and the tests I subsequently take are negative as well. Jean thinks he should visit his Mom.

I had a nice visit with Jean’s Mom in June. (Jean was there too, to be clear!) He’s OK with me not travelling with him this time. I’m OK with doing my Toronto activities with my sisters instead of with him. Brief first hug in two weeks, then we’re each off to different parts of Ontario.

Elvis & Juliet

I’m not one to drive myself to Toronto, so I have to research what transit options have survived the pandemic. It’s pretty sad, people! Via Rail has only a single train running on Sundays, and it won’t get me there in time. Go Bus is a possibility (Go Train does not run on Sundays, why would anyone want to go to Toronto on a weekend), though it’s a convoluted route. Then I find: Flixbus! It’s cheap, the stop is nearby and reachable by local transit, and it’s a direct route to Toronto that gets me there in time.

CO2 reading of 78
Bus CO2 reading is pretty good, too. (Did I mention Jean was infected in a car?)

It’s the first time I have taken transit since early 2020. Except for a bit of trouble finding the actual Flixbus stop, everything went well. Local bus to Ion to and Flixbus, all stops were close to one another (and to my house)., and all were on time. And no big traffic tie-ups on the way to Toronto, either… We actually arrived early.

Despite the heat warning that is to persist all weekend, I do the half-hour walk to my hotel. So many people on the streets! So many people in the hotel lobby! It’s all a bit mind-bendy after two weeks of studiously avoiding everyone, even my husband.

The hotel room is fairly uninspiring, despite its high cost (cheapest decent hotel we could find; Toronto is not a cheap city normally, and it’s still not quite “normal” times), and slightly high in CO2. Can’t do anything about the price, but I am able to quickly improve the CO2 reading by opening the patio door for a bit, letting in all the steamy, humid air!

But then I have to be off. Juliet, and my sister, await.

I grab some lunch on the way. We mwet up at the Princess of Wales theatre (six air exchanges per hour, MERV14 filters, yes I asked). I soon forgot about all that, though, because we have excellent orchestra seats, and the show is so freakin’ fun!

It’s all music by producer / writer Max Martin, so that means songs by Britney and Katie and Backstreet Boys and Bon Jovi and Kelly Clarkson and even Adam Lambert...! Between that, and the Shakespearean premise, and the themes of girl power, and being your authentic self, and… I don’t know, I was just so entertained. I would see this musical again in a heartbeat.

Then it’s a nice family dinner with my sister, then a call with Jean back at the hotel. His trip is less entertaining than mine, but between naps (hers), his Mom is happy to see him.

Next day

After my hotel patio breakfast, with pigeon companion, I had planned to go to the AGO (Art Gallery of Ontario). But I checked first, and learned that it’s only open on holiday Mondays, not regular Mondays like this one. It’s another steamy day. I decide to just amble up to the Yorkville area, and take in some of its nice shops, plentiful park seating, cafes, and gelato shops.

Meanwhile, my other sister and I are emailing, trying to figure out dinner plans. Rain was threatening later in the day. I came across a list of covered patios, and found that one was near Massey Hall: the Rabbit Hole, and make a reservation there.

Sis and I meet at the hotel, and walk over. I “convince” her that we want to sit outside, despite the steamy heat. After some water, and sitting, it’s not so bad. And hey, we’re in time for “happy hour” $5 glasses of wine! We both settle on fish dishes: mackerel for me, salmon for me. They are really good! And are their nice, light desserts: the lemon posset, and the strawberry rhubarb trifle.

Then over to Massey Hall for Elvis Costello and the Imposters, with special guest Nick Lowe. Rather good seats for this show as well! (And I’ve finally stopped thinking about air exchanges—mostly.) And it all starts quite promptly.

Though I’m not as familiar with Nick Lowe and his oeuvre, he and his band (who did a few familiar instrumentals) were very good. And he did conclude with “Cruel to Be Kind”!

And Elvis Costello was just fab, and far more chatty than he had been when I’d last seen him live, many moons ago. He praised Nick Lowe, reminisced about previous trips to Toronto, mentioned the El Mocambo, talked about his musician father… And he played plenty of old favorites along with some from the new album and few others he just felt like including (Set list). His voice was still good, his band terrific, and his stage presence compelling.

And yes, he played Peace, Love, and Understanding with Nick Lowe

Tuesday I was on the early Flixbus back to Waterloo. And I had it all to myself! (Except the driver. Which is good, because I can’t drive a bus.)

Two days later

Jean back, me still testing negative, we go out with a couple friends to the local Babylon Sisters Wine Bar. It was great to meet with them, and we were very impressed with the venue, both with the interesting wine selections (very flexible on how you can make up a wine flight), and the delicious food (supplied by Little Mushroom Catering).


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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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Traveling to all the hot spots

Remember when a place being a hot spot was a good thing? Lively and exciting? (Or possibly a way to connect to wifi?) Now it’s describing villages with abnormally hot temperatures caused by global warming “heat domes”, and in COVID terms, regions with a large number of cases.

Ontario so far is having a relatively normal summer weather-wise, with a mix of hot, sticky days and cool, rainy ones—along with a few exciting thunderstorms, sometimes with hail. (Ontario is not the place for people who enjoy weather constancy.) And COVID-wise, Ontario—with definitely the slowest reopening plan in North America—is doing pretty well. Except for a few hot spots.

One of these was my original home town of Timmins, which until recently had weathered the pandemic really well. But the Delta variant just tore through the place—and more alarmingly, through the remote northern villages up there—in May / June time frame.

We nevertheless decided to visit. Their plight had led to an extensive local vaccination effort, and as a result, almost all our family ended up fully vaccinated sooner than expected. And we hadn’t been there in nearly a year. Felt like time.

Also felt like a bit of déjà vu of last summer’s July visit…

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Running ahead of the herd

Nothing much to do today
I think I’ll do my hair today
Can’t do a thing with it, look at it, this way and that..
Then we’re on the phone, hear the news
It’s all grief and gloom!
Yes, things are bad, really bad
We’re clearly immune
We lead charmed lives

Charmed Lives, Boomtown Rats (songwriter: Bob Geldof)

Been doing a bit of binge-listening to The Boomtown Rats lately. “Charmed Lives” was written in 1982, so is in no way is commenting on the world of 2020–21. But the lyrics certainly struck me in a differently than they had previously. Here we are, all empty social calendars and overgrown hair and terrible news, and yet…

Cathy with band aid and vaccinated bracelet
Post-vaccination photo (the bracelets were part of a hospital fundraiser)

… On our way to immunity, and all the charms that can bring.

I recently received my second dose of the Pfizer COVID19 vaccine. I won’t get into why this is so, but I did qualify for it, no lying or cheating. The timing of both my doses made me something of an outlier at the vaccine clinic. First visit, it was me and a bunch of 80 year olds. Second visit, I was a second dose person in a first dose world: Agreeing to complete a post-vaccine survey only to find I didn’t qualify for it, because my first dose was too long ago. Having to stop the person checking me out from booking me for yet another vaccine appointment, 16 weeks hence.

For what’s it’s worth, I do agree with the delayed second dose strategy, but also wish they’d get a bit more of a move on now in doling them out to those who qualify (like frontline healthcare workers) and in offering them sooner to more people, notably those over 80. Still, it really looks as though enough supply is on the way that few will actually have to wait a full 16 weeks for dose 2. Most will likely get it within 3 months—which studies are indicating is actually better than getting it after only 3 weeks.

In the meantime, what difference does being fully vaccinated make to me? Well, mentally it’s nice, knowing that I’m building even better immunity and becoming less likely to infect others. But otherwise, not much has changed. I still can’t go to a restaurant, salon, movie theatre, or concert hall, because none of those places are open yet. Travel’s not really a practical option, either. And any indoor spaces that are open, masks are still mandatory for all.

So, I’m not relating to all those American articles on the challenges of rejoining society. (Though for the record, when the time comes, I won’t have to adapt to brushing my teeth and taking showers again, or to wearing jeans and other zippered pants and shirts with buttons, because I never stopped doing those things, and can’t really comprehend why anyone else would have…?!? I even kept up with makeup most days—that one, I’ll admit is bizarre—but it’s fun for me, and I don’t care that it doesn’t impress my cats much. On the other hand, wearing shoes with heels, or wearing any sort of fancy dress at all, is something of a distant memory…)

Is this the new evening wear?

But you know, I agree with the slow reopening, because I want this one to stick. What’s true now is what’s been true all pandemic: no one can beat this thing alone. There’s little benefit to being vaccinated if everyone else around keeps getting ill. It’s a group effort. And fortunately, it’s going well.


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The incredible shrinking vacation

Jean hadn’t had any time off since October, and the last week of April was appearing to be the first opportunity to take some. Clearly we weren’t going to be traveling to any distant shores, but this long enough ago that we at first thought we might be able to visit some family. When doing that started to seem unwise (even despite our vaccination status), it still looked as though we could take ourselves somewhere in Ontario.

And then, given increased restrictions amidst rising case counts, we thought maybe just staying over at a local inn (that has great food, to be served in our rooms) for 2 or 3 nights could be possible.

And then, there was the stay-at-homes order amidst still-rising cases, and the inn moved to offering takeout only, and we thought, well… Time off work would still be nice. We can do day trips to hike. We can get some interesting takeout.

And then…

But I’ll get to that.

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Christmas 2020

This year, like most other people, we weren’t able to do what we normally do at Christmas time. A chance to develop our new traditions, perhaps? Except… Will we really want to nostalgically recall anything from 2020?

So hey, best to focus on the now, and on the “what you can do” vs. what you can’t. In 2021 and subsequent, we’ll see if anything sticks.

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The cats’ perspectives on 2020

For most humans, 2020 just hasn’t been the best-est ever. But for the pets of the new work-from-home cohort, I think it’s been a happy time. Cats might be more independent than dogs, but I believe they still enjoy having more opportunities to make demands of their humans.

March 2020, and no stress for these guys at all
Whereas I had to adjust to my new office-mates being a bit on the lazy side

Doesn’t necessarily mean that everything‘s coming up roses for them, however.

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Moving through the stages

It was rather heartening that as Ontario moved more and more regions to stage 2 of reopening, that cases continued to trend downward. In stage 2, restaurants could serve food and drinks on outdoor patios; one could get haircuts, manicures, and tattoos (but not facials); and malls could open their doors.

Now areas are moving into stage 3: indoor dining (with spaced tables and occupancy limits); bars (!!!)—though only seated, no dancing, live music only behind plexiglass; gyms; and facials (for those who care, which isn’t me). Indoor limits increased to 50, not counting staff. And the case trend? Has become a bit of a roller-coaster.

No doubt this is all rather trickier than the earliest stage of, basically, hiding in your basement.

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