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Pandemic vacation in Quebec

That it did wonders for my mental health, there’s no doubt. Despite the constant consideration of risk to physical health in everything we did.

Jean wanted a vacation that actually felt like a vacation, which to him, meant getting out of the province. We weren’t up for flying, though, and of course didn’t want to go to the country to the south even if we were allowed to, which we aren’t. In a week, the only “outside Ontario” destination that was possible was Quebec.

We did start in Ontario, with a couple days in Ganonoque. Then it was three days in Quebec City, and two in Montreal to finish. In the days leading up, I became obsessive about reading the daily covid case counts—which at that point, were actually pretty good. And while away, Ontario trended up a bit, but Quebec was still on a downswing.

It did feel like a vacation. Though one unlike any other. (Including the slightly uneasy feeling about blogging about having managed a pretty good vacation in these times… )

Restaurants

Food-focused travelers that we are, definitely the weirdest thing was taking into account whether the restaurant had an outdoor patio. Any that did—particularly if they had a covered one, which meant dinner couldn’t be rained out—immediately vaulted to the top of the consideration list, when previously that didn’t factor on the list at all!

We sat outside cafes. We dined at the tourist traps on Crescent Street and Place Jacques Cartier in Montreal. I finally ate on a roof-top terrace in Montreal (Jean had done it once before). We ate at Quebec’s Cafe du Monde for the first time, despite the warning that we might get rained on. (We did not.)

Cheese plate on patio
Cheese plate on Terrasse Nelligan in Montreal

We had one of the most memorable dinners ever, during a thunderstorm, on a covered patio attached to a food truck at one end, and a winery at the other, on Ile D’Orleans.

We did not go to some of favourite places, because they were not open, or had only limited opening days, or… had only indoor dining. Hence our best meal of the trip was probably in… Ganonoque, at Riva, on their lovely back patio.

Riva Restaurant in Gananoque, ON
Riva dessert

Obviously, nobody needs to feel bad for us about all this al fresco dining in August. But it was a really weird thing, this focus on the open air. (And also, how early we were eating, with the thought it would just be less crowded then. Which was generally true.)

… Also, it has to be said, we did have one dinner inside. That was not the plan! The place had a patio, we had requested that as part of reservation, and it was not raining. But they just informed us, when we arrived, that the patio was not open that evening. Oh, and did I mention that, had we turned and left, they would still have charged us $50? (This “no show” charge, we had been warned about. The possibility of not getting our preferred seating, we had not.)

My thrifty side kicked in and we stayed, though I spent a lot of the evening feeling uncomfortable, huddled inside the sheets of plexiglass on either side of me. Jean would start anytime someone walked behind him. (Mind, he would do that pre-pandemic, too.)

Food was good. Very creative. But if we were going to eat one place inside, maybe it wouldn’t have been this one, you know? (I mean, we didn’t go to the St Amour!)

Restaurant roll call

In Gananoque, we ate at Riva twice: dinner the first night, then lunch the next day. As already noted, these were likely the best meals of the trip. Lovely weather both days. They were careful about screening and getting contact information, as well.

Riva Restaurant in Gananoque, ON
Riva entree

Dinner the next night was takeout from Sushi Sun, as they had no patio and were not offering indoor dining. We ate it on the beach, sitting at an absurdly small picnic table.

On the drive to Quebec City, we stopped at Rose Cafe in Drummondville, which turned out to be lovely. They had a patio, but it was heavily raining at this point, so we were directed to their greenhouse instead. A bit of warm lunch, but quite nice!

Our first dinner in Quebec City was at Le Lapin Saute, who had warned us that in case of rain, they would not be able to move us inside. But that they did have umbrella coverage. At any rate, the rain had stopped by dinner time. It was a neat location and we enjoyed their sampler platter of duck and rabbit specialties.

Duck and rabbit sampler plate

On Ile d’Orleans we did more snacking than proper lunching, but particularly enjoyed our stop at Cassis Monna & Filles. The weather forecast had called for rain all day, but it didn’t rain much, and was very sunny by the time we reached the lovely Cassis Monna & Filles property. Things would change for our afore-mentioned dinner at Panache Mobile au Vignoble de Sainte-Petronille, which was just a hoot.

Water on patio with view
Before the storm, at Panache Mobile

We had a great view of the falls from there, and the service was really excellent. For wine, we went into the winery and purchased a bottle, which obviously meant a better price. Food was quite good–chicken pate, pulled pork taco…

Chocolate pana cotta
And chocolate pana cotta for dessert

Lunch the next day was at the deservedly popular Cafe du Monde, in the Old Port area.

Cafe du Monde

Then our “scary” indoor dinner at Bistro l’Orygine. They offered five-course chef’s menus which likely would have been interesting–I would actually have gone for the vegetarian (other options were vegan and non-vegetarian)–but I wasn’t sure I was hungry enough, and also thought that we might end up being there too long. But we didn’t have trouble selecting the recommended four sharing dishes from the regular menu. And as noted, they were quite inventive and tasty.

Tomato dish and wine inside restaurant
Took a while to get a spoon for this dish, but the broth was worth the wait. That BC Pinot Grigio was also terrific. (Also note the plexiglass divider.)

First lunch in Montreal was at a decent but somewhat overpriced patio restaurant in Old Montreal, near our hotel. We had our first dinner at the Labo Culinaire Foodlab, on their rootop terrace. Given the name, I was expecting some sort of molecular gastronomy thing, which we didn’t get. But it was creative, well-prepared food, and good service (except for suggesting their tea options were listed on their online menu, which they were not. Lots of online menus this trip! Bring your phone or you can’t order!)

Three plates on picnic table
Grilled oyster mushrooms, shrimp roll, and tomato / buffalo mozarella grill

We skipped dessert here in favor of getting some ice cream later, in Old Montreal.

Lunch the next day was at on OK Italian place on Crescent Street. We talked to a couple a table over, who were from London (Ontario, not UK), and here on their Honeymoon–the originally planned honeymoon destination being out of reach. In their case, Quebec City was the next stop.

Wine on Crescent Street patio
“Fantastique, tout le weekend”

Then dinner was on Terrasse Nelligan, a very popular rooftop restaurant that didn’t take reservations. We arrived early to get a seat, then bought some time (to get hungry enough for a meal) by starting with a cocktail (virgin one, in my case). We then shared a cheese plate, and Jean had a half-chicken dinner (which he really needed only a quarter of). I had some well-prepared salmon tartar.

Terrasse Nelligan
This “terrasse” would become more busy as the evening went on

Activities

For the hours we had to kill in between meals 💁, we didn’t make too many plans in advance. In Gananoque our main accomplishment was a three-hour hike on a humid Sunday at the Marble Rock Conservation area. We hadn’t expected it would take that long, but we survived! It was a pretty interesting walk, but didn’t make for the most compelling photos.

In Old Quebec, we just walked around, and visited a number of shops. Masks were mandatory in all indoor spaces in Quebec (you were allowed to take them off to eat inside restaurants, of course, but had to put them back on once circulating) and I have to say, I don’t think I saw a single adult inside not wearing one, the whole time. Most kids were too, though the law said they didn’t have to. And, stores were very insistent on you using hand sanitizer upon entry. This started to seem excessive when visiting one shop after another for just a few minutes each, but… I’m not really complaining. Overall I was impressed.

View of Quebec City, with Chateau Frontenac
Quebec be pretty!

We spent one day driving around Ile d’Orleans, stopping at places of interest, which somehow included three wineries (apart from the one we had dinner at)… I discovered that I was quite the fan of Quebec rose. But we also found a few whites and reds we enjoyed. And one dry pear wine.

Six wine glasses with cheese
Vignoble Ile de Bacchus did their wine tasting outside

I felt we had to stop at a jam place called Tigidou because I just loved the name, but it turned out that their jams were pretty great, also. We sat outside to enjoy some with scones, which attracted the attention of local residents…

Chicken seeking scone
Don’t think I’ve ever been this close to a chicken (who wasn’t food)

Museums

We had hoped to see the Boat Museum in Gananoque, but it was not open this year. We did visit the Parc Maritime du Saint-Laurent on Ile d’Orleans, where we were a bit stymied by the screening question of whether we had traveled outside Quebec in the last month. I guess the honest answer would be no, since we had only traveled to Quebec. But we responded that, well, we hadn’t traveled outside Canada, and that seemed to do. (Guess they aren’t getting that many out of province visitors?)

It was a nice waterfront spot. (Jean’s one complaint that day was that, for an Island tour, we didn’t see the water that much.)

In Quebec City, we noticed signs for the Imagine Van Gogh Immersive Exhibit, and thought that sounded interesting, so we got tickets. It wasn’t showing original Van Gogh paintings, but large projections of some of his works (or close-ups of parts of them), set to music. There were some interesting sequences, though it doesn’t quite match seeing actual Van Gogh’s.

In Montreal, we visited the Museum of Fine Arts. The permanent collection was still closed, but you could get tickets for a special exhibit on Paris in the Days of Post Impressionim. This was just a beautiful collection, with pieces by some big names (Picasso, Matisse, Degas), but mostly featuring lesser-known but also supremely talented “independent” artists.

The only problem was that, despite the controlled number of entries at timed intervals, the first couple rooms felt uncomfortably crowded to me. It was like one of my covid bad dreams–except that everybody was wearing a mask. But just as I starting to wonder if I should leave, I moved on to the next room and found fewer people in it. And it remained less crowded for the rest of the visit. Too many people spending too much time at the start of the exhibit, maybe…?

Hotel life

Unlike our July vacation, we didn’t upgrade our rooms this time. In Gananoque we stayed at Comfort Inn, which was pretty much what you’d expect from a Comfort Inn. (Good location, though.) In Quebec City, the room at the Hotel Palace Royal had more charm, but not much more space. The Marriott in Old Montreal was the best experience. They had just reopened and seemed happy for the business. We got upgraded to a suite, which was really nice.

Chateau Frontenac
A more picturesque hotel in Quebec City than the one we stayed at

No hotels were doing room cleaning during the stay, which was fine, except for having to go to the front desk to get more toilet paper. (At the Comfort Inn, this request took a surprising amount of time to fulfill.) The Comfort Inn and the Montreal Marriott had brown bag breakfasts, which did the trick. In Quebec, we were very close to many cafes and other restaurants, so finding breakfast wasn’t a problem.

Remembering to wear a mask in the hotel common areas was tricky at first. Not when walking in from outside, but when leaving your room, where you of course weren’t wearing one. But by the end we were used to it, to the point where it seemed slightly odd to get home and not have to put on a mask to go in.

Elevators were the main problem, and only at the Quebec hotel. At the Comfort Inn, we were just on second floor anyway, and the Montreal hotel wasn’t that busy, so it was easy to get an elevator to ourselves. But the Quebec one was more hopping, and we were on the fifth floor, so trying to not crowd in there was a daily challenge.

Yes, sometimes we resolved it by taking the stairs. One day, all the lights were out in the stairwells, so that was fun! But when luggage-bound, we just waited and waited until one came by that had room. Something to consider when hotel booking…

Book, TV, movie

I, Tonya poster

The earlier dinners and less stuff being open led to more time than usual lounging at the hotel in the evening. We made our way through Netflix’s The Messiah series, which was really interesting! Also on Netflix, we watched the movie I, Tonya, which was much better than either of us had expected. Watch I, Tonya! You do not have to be a figure skating fan. Just ask Jean.

On the drive, we listened to the audiobook of The Alice Network by Kate Quinn. Very engrossing novel; a recommended read.


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Local patio

Loloan Lobby Bar was not one of those restaurants that offered takeout during the shutdown, so we did prick up our ears when we heard that it would reopen once patios were allowed. In this, they were aided by City of Waterloo deciding to block off Princess Street for pedestrian use.

Our experience with Loloan in the past has been a bit of mixed bag. We’ve never had a bad meal there, but have had a number where the food didn’t seem quite outstanding enough for the price. On the other hand, we were fairly blown away by their New Year’s Eve dinner. As that was a fixed menu, Jean suggested that maybe we weren’t good at picking the right things at Loloan.

Their online patio menu had a fairly minimal number of items, but they looked good. They were not taking reservations, so we decided to just head there right after work on a not-rainy Wednesday.

The first surprise was their notice that they weren’t taking any credit cards, just debit or cash. Interesting choice.

The second was that the cutlery we received, once seated, was distinctly… plastic (and wooden, for the chopsticks). The glasses, however, were glass.

And the menus were literally hot off the presses: we had to wait for them to be printed (not excessively long, or anything). We didn’t have trouble choosing items of interest from the short array. We went with pork satay and pork / vegetable dumpling appetizers, lemongrass cod with rice and cucumber salad as the main, and the only dessert, which combined a variety of tropical ingredients. We shared everything.

The list of wines by the glass was modest, and Jean asked which one might work best with the variety of food we’d selected. The waiter returned with a Chenin Blanc that wasn’t even on the menu, but was fantastic. Later, when I’d finished a kir, they returned with an off-dry Semillon/Sauvignon blend that we also really enjoyed, and that was also not on the list. Nice touch.

The two appetizers were very delicious, though also served in more “disposable” containers. The waiter at one point commented that a lot of their dishes were still in storage… The mains and dessert came on actual plates, though, which we were very excited about. Even better, they were also delicious! This time, we did feel we got value for the money.

The side dish part of the main course (with my main dish, Jean)
Dessert included coconut sorbet, mango gel, and lychee gelee

I’d had the impression that Princess Street was supposed to shared by several restaurants, but Loloan seemed to be the only one operating this day, and they had quite a few tables available. I noticed they did some of the cooking outside the restaurant, on a barbecue, and that all the staff were wearing masks.


Speaking of masks, I had recently tweeted this tidbit:

I know it could just be correlation, and not causation, but it was still great to have three days of 0 new cases locally this past week.

I haven’t done a ton of shopping, but for what I have, I am finding that almost all customers are respecting the mask bylaw. What confounds me a bit are places where the salespeople are not. For me that’s only been two places, but others report…

What do you do about that? Because I feel like something should be done. I’m good with not confronting another customer who’s not wearing a mask. But the staff? I realize they could claim the same “medical exemptions” that customers do, but hey, how about wearing a face shield then (as I saw one grocery worker do, and I’m cool with that).

And, I also appreciate that it’s a lot harder to for them to wear a mask for a whole work shift than it is for me on my short shopping trip. Some masks are more comfortable than others, and would be nice if employers (or the government?) supplied those.

But before we can come up with solutions, we have to draw attention to the fact that there’s a problem. And I don’t know how to do that.


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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.

The mood

I called last summer my “lost summer”, as I spent so much of it battling anxiety and depression, and therefore struggling to really enjoy anything—or even leave the house. This summer, of course, there are so many external reasons it’s hard (or at least unwise) to leave the house.

But weirdly, my mood is so much better this summer. (Mind you, the cat conflicts were really stressing me out last summer, and now my cats are super happy to be getting so much attention. Maybe all I really need is contented pets.)

Not that I’m super cheery all the time. And of course, early on, I was definitely battling anxiety. Like anyone else, I was scared of getting the disease, and virus seemed to lurk everywhere. Now I’m not thinking about it as much–though I still have the occasional, vivid, coronavirus-related bad dream about finding myself in crowds of maskless people.

And I certainly have cranky days on a semi-regular basis. The difficulty in acquiring goods–slow and unreliable Canada Post delivery, shortages, the need to preorder everything, limited store hours–definitely put me in a bad mood at time. And at some points, I was getting super irritated with the government response: that for too long not enough tests were being done, that the testing criteria was too restricted, that contact tracing wasn’t happening fast enough, that the province wasn’t taking a regional approach to reopening.

But on both counts (goods and governance) thing have improving. I still get the crankies, just not quite as often or for as long.

Gratitude can help with these things. Thank God I’m not going through these troubled times while in a dark pit of despair and fear.

Travel

And, getting away can help too. After a few stay-cations, we hoped to go somewhere for our July vacation, albeit within this province. At least it’s a big province!

But planning it was tricky. The final regions of the province had just moved into stage 2, with no indication when stage 3 would happen. We’d think of places, like Manitoulin Island, then find they didn’t particular want visitors or, like Tobermory, that their hotels were priced such that well, maybe they didn’t want visitors, either. Restaurant-wise, we’d be limited to patios and takeout.

So it became mostly a family-visiting trip, but as the drive to Timmins is long, we added a stop in Orillia on the way up, and a stop in Sudbury via Muskoka on the way back.

Hotels

Jean’s Mom was quite suspicious of hotels, doubting they could possibly be kept clean enough. I was considerably less worried. As we’re learning, it’s not so much surfaces that are the issue, but people (and their moist breath). Hotels aren’t particularly crowded these days, and of course, you get a room of your own.

Thinking we might be eating takeout in them, we decided to upscale our rooms a bit and get a suite. This proved a bit disappointing in Orillia, where we stayed at the Stone Gate Inn. Certainly the room was big enough, with the extra kitchen and living room we wanted. But it also seemed a bit old and shaby. And covid protocols there meant no coffee maker, no dishes at all (not even wrapped plastic cup), no complimentary newspaper. While I believe these items were available upon request, it was kind of odd.

The complimentary breakfast was handled by having us call in the night before with what we wanted and what time. The next morning, they’d call when it was ready, and we’d go to the lobby and pick it up to bring back to our room to eat. That, we actually liked–preferable to the usual buffet breakfast!

But in general, we were happier with the Sudbury Homewood Suites by Hilton. The suite there was basically the same size and layout, but just a bit newer and shinier. (They made a point of noting that the TV remotes had been sanitized.) And, it included a coffee maker, dishes, and newspaper. Whether that was because we were there on the first day of stage 3 or just a difference with that hotel chain, I dunno.

There we could have eaten breakfast in the dining room (turned out to be the first day of stage 3), but we decided to just bring it to our room anyway. It was a pick up your own food deal, but with everything cold individually wrapped, and hot options served by staff wearing gloves and mask, and not via a common utensil.

Restaurants

We had been thinking of just doing takeout in Orillia, but the uninspiring hotel room, combined with the fact that patio menus looked more interesting than takeout ones (for the same restaurant, I mean) led us to eat at a restaurant for the first time since March.

Oh my God, it was so great.

We had fine weather for our two suppers there, so that made outdoor patios appealing. We ate early the first night, and thus were able to grab the last available table at Rustica Pizza Vino. (Then they had to get our contact information, just in case.) I did feel that the tables were nicely spaced, and the breeze was comforting. We had to look at the menu online, on our phones. All the waitstaff wore masks.

So we weren’t feeling especially stressed as we were served wine, and very fresh salad, and tasty pasta, then dessert (affogato!). It was glorious.

The next night, at The Common Stove, was even better. (We made a reservation the day prior.) They used an alley between buildings as their “patio”, putting a covering over it with lights, that actually gave it a really nice atmosphere! They had quite a creative menu that was delicious, from starter to dessert.

Eating out for the first time since March. Table service, I’ve missed you so.

In Sudbury, we made patio reservations at another Italian place, Verdicchio Ristorante. Our Timmins friends were wondering what said patio would be like, given that the restaurant was located in more of an industrial mall. But they had also done a lovely job of fencing off a patio area, adorning it with vines and grapes. We enjoyed the food and wine here as well.

A lovely patio in a parking lot

We’re now inspired to finally try a local patio as well. (Think we’ll still hold off on indoor dining for now.)

Answering the call

The pandemic also spotlighted the fact that when all restaurants close, it becomes really tricky to meet certain biological needs while traveling. On this trip, things had opened up enough that it wasn’t too much of an issue, but I still wanted highlight:

  • The truly lovely facilities available at the Scout Valley Loop Trail site in Orillia. (Pretty nice walking there, as well.)
  • The remarkably good facilities at a little restaurant in White River, just outside Sudbury. This stop allowed us to enjoy our hike on the AY Jackson trail.
Falls at the AY Jackson trail

Shopping

In Orillia, we did another thing we hadn’t really done since March: Casually browse through some stores for fun. It was a Monday, and none of the stores were busy—in fact, we were generally the only customers. As well, Orillia’s new mask bylaw had just come into effect. So it felt pretty comfortable. I got a nice new pair of walking shoes, and some earrings from a really cool art store.

A social circle

Timmins, we had to conclude, was looking kind of sad, and we weren’t particularly enticed to either shop nor dine out. But of course, that stop was mostly about seeing people.

Ontario has this guideline about creating a “social circle” of up to 10 people that you agree to be close contacts with. No one’s to belong to more than one social circle. Well-intentioned, but kind of complicated, and also impractical for large, geographically distributed families. So we have not formed any formal “social circle”, but are just winging it.

We did visit indoors with my Dad and Jean’s Mom, but avoided hugging–though I don’t know how much sense that made. We visited with the brothers (mine and Jean’s) mostly outdoors. We visited with friends in their outdoor gazebo–though they thought it was absurd (and hilarious) that we brought own beverages. We did visit the interior of Jean’s sister’s house in Sudbury (but still no hugging!). And on the way home, we stopped in to see my sister and family at their rented cottage in Muskoka, mostly hanging outdoors.

Rented cottage living…

It’s going on two weeks now, and everyone seems to have survived these encounters.

Of masks and men

As we were traveling, masks were becoming mandatory in more and more communities in Ontario—even in northern ones, where I had figured the low case incidence and less crowding would cause them to give it a pass. But as in Orillia, we arrived in Sudbury just in time for their mask bylaw, and in Timmins it was to go into effect the following week.

Sign in Orillia (with its own sense of justice)

The provincial government’s approach of being all in favor of face masks but requiring every city and town in the province to decide for themselves whether to make them mandatory is bizarre. Super inefficient, for one thing. And obviously leading to each place in the province having their own little twist on the mask mandate, even if they’re only five minutes apart. Some examples off the top of my head:

  • Toronto has no enforcement. Waterloo Region has fines up to $1000.
  • In Sudbury, you only need masks if moving inside a restaurant. In Waterloo, you need to wear them on restaurant patios as well, until seated.
  • In Toronto, until recently, you had to wear masks on the municipal subway and buses, but not on the provincial Go trains and buses they connect to.
  • A number of work places are not covered by the Waterloo bylaw, including day cares (for the workers, not the children).
  • In Guelph, stores and restaurants themselves have to enforce the mask mandate. In Waterloo, it’s enforced by the municipality.

It’s just all muddled and stupid and confusing. But, at least most places seem to be getting there, and best I can tell, compliance is reasonably good.

Reading list

Libraries reopened, sort of, a few weeks before we left, and I decided to acquire physical material (book books) before leaving. You have to reserve what you want online, then go pick it up. At my local library, for some reason, it’s a drive-through pickup. I’m not a fan. It was quite a line-up of cars, making it slow, and all that idling is not environmental. At the pick-up spot, you called to give your library card number. The loan was then brought out and placed in the trunk, in a paper bag, with a note assuring that the book had been “quarantined” for at least 72 hours prior.

A bit excessive, maybe? And I’m still left wondering how someone without a car (or a cell phone) is supposed to borrow books. (Normally, I walk there myself.)

I also borrowed a few items from the Kitchener Public Library, and that pickup process was much better. Go in on foot (limits on the numbers, but there was only other person there when I arrived), wearing a mask, hand over your card to the employee behind the plexiglass, and your books are brought out to a table. Faster and less carbon emission-y.

With both libraries, items are now checked out for six weeks rather than three–very good for me.

But I’m making good progress on all of them. From Kitchener, I got a series of Buffy the Vampire Slayer Season 10 comics. I’d been rewatching a lot of Buffy lo these many weeks, but as it was moving along into Season 5, I stopped, feeling that I just didn’t want to get into [Spoiler alert!] Joyce dying, then Buffy dying…

But in Season 10 Buffy comics (I learned via Google alert), Buffy and Spike finally have the mature, loving, healthy romantic relationship they never quite around to on the actual series. I then learned (via Google searching) that these comics are out of print and rather impossible to purchase anywhere at a reasonable price. So I was rather pleased the library came to my rescue!

Spuffy smoochies!

From Waterloo I acquired Jan Wong’s Out of the Blue. I’ve been meaning to read it for some time, but I’m finding it especially interesting now–likely more than I would have before last summer. Because it’s about how she uncharacteristically responded to some work stressors with a severe bout of anxiety and depression. In between describing what was happening with her fairly public career as a Globe and Mail columnist, she provides research into the nature, cause, treatment of, and prevalence of depression. Some really good stuff on a topic I didn’t know as well as I thought I did.


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About that new normal

Things are tentatively reopening in Ontario—parks (not for camping yet), stores (but not the ones in malls), some medical and veterinary procedures (excluding dentists and optometrists).

But Ontario simply hasn’t been testing enough. So we just don’t know what the real levels of community spread are. The only certain thing, at least in my part of Ontario, is that there is some.

So you really have to do your own risk assessment to determine what newly possible activities you want to take advantage of. The blog post The Risks – Know Them – Avoid Them has been really influential, with a lot of newspaper articles covering similar points. What’s the gist?

Successful infection = Exposure * Time.

The worst cases occur with a group of people close together indoors in a building with poor ventilation who are speaking loudly (or singing) and sharing food. So it’s safer to be outdoors, and when indoors, best to be able to keep some distance from others, and not stay too long.

This means that some activities that many of us have been worried about—because it’s the only ones we privileged types have been going out to do—aren’t actually that much of a risk. Walking (or riding or jogging) past people outside, even if it’s a bit less than six feet away—is not that risky because the interaction is so brief and the virus doesn’t transmit that well in open air.

Going to the grocery store? Also not that bad, because you’re not there that long, the number of people is restricted such that it’s not crowded, and you’re moving around fairly quickly past different people. Plus with the lone shopping, not so much talking going on. Wearing a mask is a nice gesture also, mostly to protect the store workers from you.

So it will be with other stores that can now open but with restricted occupancy. Plan what you want to buy there, get it efficiently while keeping space, then get out. Wash your hands, and wash them again after unpackaging whatever you bought. (And wash your mask if you wore one.)

Odds are you’re going to be all right.

Working 9 to 5

But what about working in our own offices for 8 to 9 hours a day?

I would note that I have not been asked to do this, so this is merely hypothetical musing.

Atul Gawande, in the New Yorker, notes that hospitals have done a pretty good job of preventing spread among healthcare workers there, and wonders if some of there approaches can be adapted to other workplaces: Amid the Coronavirus Crisis, a Regimen for Reentry. The four-point plan is basically:

  1. Employee screening, with orders to stay home if you’re sick

Gawande notes the issue with relying on temperature checks only: Apart from the fact that some with the disease never do develop a high fever, for those that do, the onset is typically later than with other, milder symptoms. So you really want people with scratchy throats or body aches staying away, even if they’re fever-free. That would need to be made clear.

2. Frequent hand washing

Great, as long as there is copious hand sanitizer about. Otherwise, there would be serious sink lineups happening.

3. Keep distance between employees as much as possible

Definitely a challenge in my office, which (like many) has gone for cramming more cubicles into less space, and even some “banquet table” style seating (side by side and facing, with no separation at all). Many of us having standing desks that put us above divider height (as lower dividers were installed to encourage collaboration). Is it possible to rearrange everything to actually seat everyone six feet apart, with higher dividers? Dunno.

4. Wear masks

Yeah, it’s one thing to wear a mask for a brief shopping trip or transit ride, but quite another to wear one for most of an 8-hour work day. Yes, healthcare workers do, and thank you to them: I’ve seen the photos of how uncomfortable that is. But surgical masks, at least, are better masks than the ones we can get (per the Gawande article); less hot, more breathable.

Furthermore, what about my drinking habit? Seriously, at work, I drink all day long. First coffee…

Then water, then maybe a tea, a decaf, some more water… I think it somewhat defeats the purpose if you’re constantly taking the mask off and on (and so is everyone else). But working dehydrated and with a caffeine headache, with a sweaty face and foggy glasses, does not sound like a recipe for great productivity. (And what about lunch? My afternoon snack?)

So I think some thought needs to be given as to the purpose of actually returning to work at the office.

Environmental factors

For me, though I’m slowly working on it, it’s still true that my office setup is more ergonomic than my home one; my desk there is just better For some people, home might not be a particular good workspace due to noise, pets, lighting, other family members, etc. For those purposes, it could make sense to allow a certain percentage to work at the office each day, as potentially the numbers could be kept low enough that spacing is fairly easy and masks less necessary.

Social factors

Seeing people, and the ease of talking to them. Team building. Building culture. All being missed, but how easy to get back?

You can’t be cramming people into small meeting rooms to have discussions like we used to. We can’t have fitness classes with the previous numbers of attendees. The communal kitchen is a bit of a hazard. Coffee machines might be have to be disabled, so more chats there. Going over to talk to someone might be less welcomed. We can’t open windows. Outside meetings could be nice in July, less so in January. The elevator could become a scary space. Also, the bathroom.

Basically, it’s hard to build warm and fuzzy feelings toward your coworkers when they seem like disease vectors.

And what about leisure activities

The Saturday Globe and Mail featured a list of 46 changes they predicted for the post-pandemic world. (Most of these items are not available online, I’m finding—so no links for you.) I didn’t find it too depressing til I got to the Arts section. (Whereas, the point that flying might not be that fun—or cheap? Not exactly new, right? And at least we might finally get more space.)

But it wasn’t the one about rock concerts likely moving toward smaller venues with sky-high ticket prices. For one thing, there aren’t that many bands still on my “must-see” list. For another, if I did feel I could indulge in such an experience, it could be kind of cool. The article also postulated a cheaper streaming option might be available—which doesn’t sound bad.

And the one claiming that movie theatres would only play blockbusters seemed doubtful. Wouldn’t your little art movies, attracting only the smaller crowds you want, be more feasible?

No, it was the one about theatres moving more to one-act plays, because:

a) They’re cheaper, so the crowd can be smaller

b) Makes it way easier for the actors to keep distance than in a big musical

But not because of plays themselves, which I don’t go to that often anyway.

It’s that it made me think about symphonies.

By their nature, that’s a whole lot of musicians crowded together, some of them playing wind instruments. (Which sometimes need to be cleared of spittle mid-concert, as I recall.) Let alone when it’s a special show with singers or dancers or trapeze artists, or what have you.

And how close the audience seats are? And the crowded lobbies before? And the bathroom lineups? How do you get this to work?

This might not be feasible

Is it viable for a symphony to play with the musicians spaced apart on the stage, to a 25% capacity house, if that’s what’s needed?

I’m doubtful. And it makes me really sad.


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No escape from reality

Ooh, Buffy‘s on. Could be a nice distraction.

Xander: She fell.
Willow: The flu.
Cordelia: She fainted.
Xander: The flu, fainted and fell. She’s sick, make it better!

Giles: Death and disease are, are things, possibly the *only* things that, that Buffy cannot fight.

Killed by Death

Huh. Well, how about some tunes.

I can’t stay on your life support
There’s a shortage in the switch

I think I’ll get outta here, where I can
Run just as fast as I can
To the middle of nowhere
To the middle of my frustrated fears
And I swear you’re just like a pill
‘Stead of makin’ me better
You keep makin’ me ill

Pink, Just Like a Pill

Jesus.


But hey, y’all, we’re doing all right. Feeling healthy, first of all, which is the main thing. Both still employed full-time, which is certainly something to be grateful for. Managed to get toilet paper this week, which is good, especially since they were all out of Kleenex.

And yes, they had no bananas.

Which leaves me with my final words of wisdom for now: Plantains are not at all the same thing as bananas. Do not put raw plantains in the chocolate cream pie!


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This is my brain on perimenopause

Saturday there was a light dusting of snow on the ground, which is not what you want to see in April. The day was gray and cold. The hopes that spring had sprung were somewhat dashed.

And yet, I felt great–optimistic, even chipper. I had slept well. I was able to focus on my tasks, enjoy my food. Appreciate the comic stylings of Crazy Rich Asians (the film, available from your local library).

What struck me in particular was how long it had been since I’d felt that good. And yet, in terms of what’s going on in my life, there’s no real reason not to feel generally content.

The good feeling must have sensed it was in a foreign host, for it fled in the night. I took a while to fall asleep, than awoke with various worries, at 3:00, 4:00, 5:00. Once up for good, I met a day that was still cool but quite nice and sunny, so I pushed to do things I thought might help. Take a walk in the sun. Play the piano. Listen to my “Get Happy” playlist.

It was in the middle of the song “Happy” (by Pharrel Williams) that I became weepy, overcome by the thought that some injury or illness 10 years hence would interfere with my retirement plans.

For freak’s sake. It’s ridiculous.


I bought a book about menopause. It’s most definitely not happening yet (though I’m pretty excited to have made it all the way to day 29 without a period). But there is this “perimenopausal” stage? And I’m in that.

One of my emotional issues is that I can get fixated on worries about my health. I thought that if I could read about what symptoms I could attribute to a perfectly normal process of aging, that would help. Only then I got worried: what if some of my symptoms can’t be ascribed to that?

So I actually made an appointment with my doctor to discuss any physical changes that I had noticed, just to make sure they didn’t sound like anything bad. (Like endometrial cancer.) Which they didn’t. So, thanks Canadian healthcare system, now I can read my book. (And hey, the itchiness is a symptom of pending menopause! Who knew?)

From the “Moods and you” chapter:

The mood swings associated with menopause often aren’t predictable. One day, you’re laughing with your partner as you make plans for the future. The next day, you’re crying over a greeting card commercial and snapping at your partner over, literally, spilled milk.

Stephanie S. Faubion, MD: The Menopause Solution

(Jean still has a bit of post traumatic stress over my (over)reaction to his crime of eating the last banana. Maybe someday he’ll be able to tell you about it.)

Now, it’s not exactly unknown to me to gets fixated on strange worries–I recall once that a series of stressors led me to somehow get into an emotional spiral whenever the Canadian dollar fell in value. Admittedly, we were about to go to Italy, but it wasn’t exactly a Venezuela (hyper deflation) situation. Plus, we were about to go to Italy! That’s a good thing!

But that was actually a long time ago, and this whole moodiness thing has been happening for months, though sometimes more acutely than others. And it’s not always related to some logical event. Like, McSteamy’s death obviously made me very sad, but that was a normal response, and I didn’t get to wallowing in depression afterward. Instead I’m raging about bananas, worrying about what I’ll do if I have a stroke or something when I’m 72 (and to top it off, my math was all wrong on that worry), and feeling anxious about Jean going away on business for a few days (something I’m pretty used to? And he calls me daily!).

In fact, research suggests that some anxiety symptoms, such as nervousness and worry, occur more frequently during perimopause than at any time before it.

Stephanie S. Faubion, MD: The Menopause Solution

Huh. This is my brain on perimenopause.


And that could go on for years, I guess (seguing into whatever wonders menopause itself brings), so what do I do?

Back to the book.

Which tells me that I’m exhibiting all the symptoms of stress, at least to some degree: Eating less. Lacking focus. Short fuse. Sleep problems. Control issues. Aches and pains. Motivation issues. And those overlap with some depression symptoms. I don’t think I’m full-out depressed yet, but it’s threatening.

The book reminds that exercising regularly is important, something I haven’t been quite as good about as late. And that mindfulness can help, while I haven’t meditated in ages. “Practicing gratitude” is another concept I struggle with. Not that I don’t realize I have many things in my life to be thankful for, but thinking about them doesn’t seem to bring me comfort. Maybe because I don’t think I’ve done much to earn them. Maybe because I then become worried about losing them.

Then there’s the whole “talk to someone” idea. Which I also generally suck at. (They’re my problems. Sharing them with you will make me look weak.) But here I am telling you, anonymous (and not-so-anonymous) blog-reading people. (If you actually scrolled down this far, congratulations!)

But, maybe I should find a group. Maybe I should tell a friend (like, in person). Maybe I should explore cognitive behavioral therapy.

Cause it may be perimenopausal, but it’s the only brain I got.


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A cat’s life

Spring 2007: Our recently adopted tabby-Siamese cross cat has his first ear infection (at least, with us as his owners). Symptoms are a weird smell from his ears and dark discharge. It’s handled with ear drops (that he is not thrilled about).

2008 to 2014: McSteamy continues to periodically get ear infections, with the usual treatment. (That he remains not thrilled about.)

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Our handsome Mr. McSteamy

2015: The vet starts to wonder if McSteamy’s ear infections are due to an allergy. We trial him on this fairly awful food made with “hydrolized chicken”—and the other two cats, who definitely don’t have allergies, have to go along. None of them starve, but there’s absolutely no improvement to McSteamy’s ears, either. Finally an oral antibiotic clears those up.

And the cats return to their previous diet.

2016: The vet notes that McSteamy seems to have ear polyps—small purple growths in the ear canal. “That’s a chronic problem,” he notes, though that McSteamy’s ear issues might be chronic doesn’t seem like news, at this point.

August 2018: We’re away for the weekend. Instead of the usual “Everything went well with the cats” report, the catsitter emails that McSteamy’s eye “has rolled up into his head.”

Huh. That doesn’t sound good.

We get home to find that the inner eyelid on McSteamy’s left eye is staying shut, giving him something of a one-eyed zombie cat look. He seems OK otherwise, though.

“Is your cat missing an eye?” asks one of the guys working on our bathroom renovation.

Our local vet visit diagnoses it as Horner’s syndrome, wherein the pupil of one eye contracts more than the other, making that inner eyelid think it’s time for sleep, or whatever. The cause of Horner’s is varied: It’s a response by the nerve that runs from the eye to the ear and down the chest, and the issue could originate anywhere along it.

But with McSteamy, the guess is an ear problem, and he’s back on ear drops.

September 2018: The drops have improved the situation enough that the left eye is now just slightly more shut than the right, its pupil just slightly more contracted. But the root cause might be those polyps. These are not overly common in cats, and our vet isn’t well equipped to deal with them. She suggests a referral to a specialist—a dermatologist.

There are cat dermatologists? (“Must be a very smart cat!” says a friend.)

There are, albeit not in Waterloo. When I get the referral, I find that I have to drive him to Guelph, home of a Veterinary College, about 45 minutes away.

The doctor, whom I’ll call Dr. S, is very nice, though. He suggests laser surgery to remove the polyps. But first, McSteamy needs to take medication to reduce the swelling as much as possible. And, just in case allergies are involved, he’s put an rabbit food diet. (No, I don’t mean vegetarian—cats are obligate carnivores. I mean rabbit meat cat food. Which is not cheap.)

I mention the ineffectuality of the hydrolized chicken food trial, but Dr. S says that subsequent studies have it’s not always an effective test for cats with chicken allergies.

At least the cats (now we have only two) seem to like the rabbit food.

We remember that we didn’t get an estimate on the cost of the surgery. We ask for one and… Yowsa. And here I thought the rabbit food and consultation was expensive.

October 2018: Due to our vacation and Dr. S being away at conferences, the surgery isn’t scheduled til November 1. The week before it, McSteamy doesn’t seem great. He’s isolating himself more, and seems to have developed a sneeze. Is he even up for surgery?

But it seems hard to back out now.

November 1: McSteamy had to fast Halloween night, and I have to get him to Guelph for 9:00 AM, which means driving there in rush hour. (I’m able to get some time off work for this; Jean is not.) Both cat and human are stressed on arrival.

I’m told that they will call with how it went. But the hours tick by… 10:00, back home; 11:00, no call; 12:00, nothing; 1:00, 2:00, no call, no call… At 2:30 I call them; no answer, leave message. At 2:45 I call again to say that I’m leaving to go pick him up.

On my way, the phone rings. I don’t have hands-free set up, so when possible, I pull over to listen to voice mail. He’s fine, they say. It went well.

On arrival, they apologize for not calling sooner. Short of staff. And also, unexpectedly, the surgery took three hours. Three!

They put me in a waiting room with McSteamy, who’s bouncing around like crazy cat, still under the effect of the painkillers and anesthetic. Dr. S comes in to go over what was done. The surprise was a very large polyp, deep in the left ear. Somewhat complex to remove, apparently.

I’m sent home with pills to give him daily, things to watch out for, and a plan to bring him for a recheck in about 8 weeks.

November 3 to 4: After initially seeming fine, McSteamy is slowing down. Moving very slowly, sleeping a lot (even for him). Is this normal? I resolve to call and ask about it, if he’s not better by mid-week.

November 5: Home from work to find that McSteamy has been bleeding all over the bed he was sleeping on. We clean up his ear, requiring an alarming number of ear wipes to do so.

Excessive bleeding is one of the things to watch for. We take photos and, as it’s after hours, I email the Dr. S’s clinic with what’s been going on.

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That’s a lot of blood…

November 6: McSteamy and I have a ritual: Every morning, he jumps on the bed for a cuddle and purr session. (He’s better at purring than I am.) He’s not Mr. Punctuality, so if I’m already up when he shows up for cuddle time, he insists I get back in bed. Really, not a bad way to start the day.

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It’s so nice, we sometimes do this later in the day as well

But this day, when Jean has to be up early for a work trip, he sees McSteamy start up the stairs for the cuddle… Then give up and head back to his hiding place in the basement.

Uh oh.

I make this a “work from home” day. McSteamy seems miserable. He’s withdrawn, lethargic. I’m thinking he’s dying.

The clinic calls around 10:00 in response to the email. I give the update. They want me to bring him in the next day. In the meantime, he appears to be in pain, so they prescribe opioids, which I can pick up from my local vet. I give him some that evening.

November 7: McSteamy jumps on the bed for a morning cuddle, seeming completely himself. Yay, opioids!

dav

Terrible picture, but very nice to see him happy that morning!

Jean’s still away, so I’m off to Guelph again. (At least not in rush hour.) On arrival, they take him into the back room. Eventually, the bring him back. “That was much more bleeding than I was expecting.”

But they’ve cleaned him up, and re-cauterized his wounds.

“Can you bring him back Friday?”

November 8 to November 28: With all the trips to and from Guelph, I’ve done more driving this month than I typically do all year. Google seems to suggest a different route each time, so I’m not even really learning the way.

I has to be said, though, that Dr. S has been great, giving up his lunch hours and such, and not charging me for his time, only for materials (and sometimes not even that).

But McSteamy is in a bit of cycle: The wounds heal, dry up, fall into the ear (they call that “necrotic debris”), which gets itchy, so he scratches, thus wounding his ears again. They suggest an e-collar, but I can’t bring myself to make him wear one of those all the time. (How will he eat? How will he groom?)

cof

Except for this photo op, we didn’t make him wear this

But I’m also fearing he’ll never heal up.

I Google. I find a suggestion: Gluing Soft Claws—little plastic caps—on his back claws. This is no easy task, even with a fairly placid cat like McSteamy, but in the interest of de-stressing his wife, Jean gets it done (while I hold the cat), with tweezers and crazy glue. McSteamy looks pretty cute with his sparkling toes.

soft-claws

Some other cat in soft claws

These caps are supposed to stay in place for six weeks. I’d say it was more like one week. But, it worked! That seemed just enough time to get the ears to heal.

The visits to Guelph get farther apart. McSteamy seems to be recovering well.

December 6 to 14: Zoë, my other cat, is in for a routine checkup. She seems fine, but she is 14. And the vet notes that she’s been losing weight.

Zoë likes variety, so eating only rabbit meat hasn’t entirely agreed with her. But also, the blood work says, her liver values are “off”. She’s prescribed antibiotics and supplements.

But of course.

I’m expecting more pills, but am handed two liquid antibiotics. When we give the first to Zoë, she starts foaming from the mouth as though poisoned. Then she has to get another. I call the vet.

“Normal”, apparently. Medicine is very bitter, and that’s how cats react to bitter.

She has to get this stuff twice a day, for five days with one, seven with the other (which isn’t quite as bitter but apparently still not a treat).

Oh, and Jean, who was supposed to get a break from work travel in December… Suddenly hHas to go away on work travel. All week.

I am not coping well. But at least Zoë forgives me for poisoning her twice daily. Maybe because, with Dr. S’s blessing, I also expand her food horizons to other low allergen foods: venison, duck, pork, kangaroo (!).

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Zoë will only lie on you if you have a blanket barrier

December 26: Christmas break was excellent, and much needed. On our return, McSteamy seems in great shape, very active and playful and happy to see us. Zoë is also fine; well done her with meds now and enjoying the food variety.

December 27: “Don’t mean to alarm you,” says Jean. “But feel this lump on McSteamy’s jaw.”

December 28: I bring McSteamy to the local vet. She notes that the lump is exactly where a lymph node is, but that none of his other lymph nodes seem affected. She does a needle aspiration to send to the lab. But with the holidays, we won’t get results for four days. McSteamy is put on antiobiotics—just pills, not nasty liquid.

January 4, 2019: McSteamy still seems fine, but the antiobiotics have had no effect on the lump—in fact, it seems to be spreading. The lab results are that it’s a “reactive lymph node”, but what is it reacting to? We see a different vet at the local clinic, who says to consider that this could be cancer. We’d have to get a biopsy done to find out more. That’s an expensive surgical procedure—also painful.

McSteamy has an appointment with Dr. S the following week, but this vet seems doubtful the ear has anything to do with this. She suggests postponing that appointment.

Dr S’s office is closed til Monday, but I email them about the situation and ask if it makes sense to bring him in, and that if not, that we’ll cancel (and give Dr. S his lunch break back).

January 9: We decide against putting McSteamy through another surgical procedure (the biopsy), and instead try upping the dose of the steroid he’s been on since his ear surgery. No reply to my email so I call Dr. S’s office, but I just get the machine.

I don’t bring McSteamy to his appointment.

January 10: By email, I hear from Dr. S’s office, a day late, that it would have been good to bring him in for a check. That’s unfortunate to find out now, I reply. When I get a new appointment?

Not til January 23.

January 11 to 12: McSteamy is slowing down, the swelling spreading. The steroids haven’t really helped; the local vets seem out of ideas. I’m thinking it’s cancer, he’s dying. (The cancer treatment options for cats aren’t great.) We’re wondering how long we can keep him comfortable. Every time I suspect he’s nearing that point, I fall apart.

Just in case, I pick up more cat opioids from the vet. Maybe that will buy more time.

January 13: McSteamy’s behavior on opioids is odd this time. He seems skittish, hyper, confused.

January 14: I talk to the vet. McSteamy seems to be experiencing “euphoria”. Try him on half a dose of the opioid, she suggests. We do, and that’s better, but then we figure… Perhaps he doesn’t need a painkiller at all (yet). True. That is good.

However, now he’s having trouble eating dry food, and he’s starting to lose weight. His left ear has developed a weird smell, and some bleeding, possibly from him scratching at it again.

January 15: Bring both cats to the original vet. Zoë seems great, gaining weight. McSteamy… not so much. The vet doesn’t know what else to suggest. She says she’ll write up a full report for Dr. S, and see what his advice is. She hopes to hear back in a day or two.

Thinking comfort, I ask for ear drops and for high-fat “recovery” can food typically given to sick cats. The drops (which McSteamy remains unimpressed with) do seem to help the ear somewhat, and both cats like the food.

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McSteamy, hanging in there

January 21: No word from Dr. S’s office still, but Jean suggests that I bring McSteamy there anyway. I contact them to confirm the appointment, and they say they haven’t heard from my vet, but will ask her to send the report again.

January 23: Weather is dodgy, so I take an Uber to Guelph. The driver is very friendly; turns out his wife is a catsitter! The driver wants the job of driving me back to Waterloo, but Uber doesn’t make this easy to arrange. We eventually figure it out, and he waits around at the clinic while I take McSteamy in to be seen.

Turns out the local vet did send the report on January 15, but due to a fax malfunction (fax?!?), they didn’t get it until the following week.

McSteamy has lost over 1 kg of weight. And the swelling in his jaw is… significant.

They take him into a back room to scope his ear and do a needle aspiration. The results:

  • There is new polyp in his left ear, where the lymph node reacted.
  • It seems to have caused an abscess (the swelling) that can be treated with an injectable antiobiotic.
  • While not definitive, the needle aspiration showed no sign of cancer.

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Texting Jean from Dr. S’s clinic

January 25 to 27: Planning to be away for the weekend, and I’m beside myself on how to get McSteamy to eat enough given that he’s only eating can food, which dries up quickly once left out. We arrange to leave later on Friday, and get back earlier on Sunday. I hire not one by two catsitters so he can get three visits a day, and I leave them crazy complex instructions on how to encourage eating.

Both catsitters assure me that he eats at every visit.

January 27: Back home, McSteamy’s jaw swelling seems to have shrunk somewhat, though certainly not gone. I Google “Best dry food to get cats to gain weight”. The suggestion is Iams kitten food. High fat, high protein, with little tiny kibbles (“for tiny mouths!”). That might work.

And hey, they sell it at Walmart, which is open Sunday night.

January 28 to February 1: It’s a relief when McSteamy takes to the kitten food (and Zoë likes it, too). I can happily refill their dishes at will, with food that will stay fresh all day. McSteamy still seems awfully thin, but has regained some energy and resumed imperiously walking around the house, meowing for attention.

And continues jumping on the bed for cuddles.

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Zoë, meanwhile, continues to gain weight, and a new blood test shows that her liver values have improved. Who would have thought that a liver condition is so much easier to deal with than ear polyps?

Up next: McSteamy gets a repeat of the injectable antibiotic and an ear treatment next week.

The week after that, another consult with Dr. S. One decision to make: Whether to do more ear surgery, to remove the new polyp.

(What could go wrong…?)


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Reservations about resolutions

Angela: [voiceover] What I was thinking, as like a New Year’s resolution, is to stop getting so caught up in my own thoughts. Cause I’m, like, way too introspective… I think.

Generally, I find the whole ritual of trying to think of something to change about yourself or your life just because it’s January 1 is silly. Sure, sometimes a change is a very good idea—but it doesn’t need that kind of schedule. Deciding that something in your life just isn’t working or could be better shouldn’t be a once-a-year event. Whenever it needs to be happen, you should try to make it happen.

But, what does occur annually, just before January 1, is that you have down time. That time before and between Christmas and New Year’s when everything just… slows… down…

OK, not everyone gets that down time. Jean is in a line of work where they get super-busy from Christmas Eve to New Year’s Day.

But, I get that down time. Most people do. Even if you are at work, it’s so quiet and slow-paced. But likely you’re off and you have all this time to read… And to think…

Angela: [voiceover] … but what if not thinking turns me into this shallow person? I better rethink this becoming less introspective thing.

All that reading and thinking can lead, sort of organically, to maybe deciding to try to change something about your life, about now.

I got a bonus dose of that sort of time this year, because Jean wasn’t feeling well in the days before Christmas, so we did fewer activities than we otherwise would have. That meant I upped the amount of reading I did. I got through a number of books, including In my humble opinion. My so-called life by Soraya Roberts, a nice refresher of essays about that beloved series, and suppliers of handy quotes for this post.

But I was also keeping up better with online news, and newspapers, and magazines, which led to some pondering about how I could more routinely keep on top of my reading? But I haven’t quite cracked that nut, given that the biggest obstacle seems to be my job, which is probably wise to hang on to for the time being.

Angela: [voiceover] …okay, so I’ll stay introspective.
But I do resolve to stop doing Jordan Catalano’s homework.

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Angela doing Jordan Catalano’s homework

One Globe and Mail story I read then was called Minimal carbs, lots of fat, incredible dieting results – but not enough science. It was about all the anecdotal evidence that people with diabetes often do really well on a high-fat, low-carb diet—though the point of the article was that there wasn’t scientific study of this, and there should be.

I am not diabetic, but my husband is, and I do the cooking. This got me wondering: Is this how I should be feeding him? I found another article, Low Carb-High Fat Diet And Diabetes: A Detailed Guide For Beginners, whose prescriptions were not only mind-blowingly different from what I thought of as a “healthy” diet, but also sounded fairly gross: pile up on meat, eggs, and high-diet dairy. Don’t eat much fruit or grains, and even limit root vegetables. And beans and lentils.

So bacon is the health food, and apples are the villain now?

There was no way I was going to eat this way. For one thing, I seemed to be keeping myself pretty healthy, and I somewhat feared that switching over to more saturated fat and less fruit and vegetables might be detrimental to me. Plus, there were all those ethical and environmental issues around meat eating.

(As an aside, I once told Jean’s Mom that we ate vegetarian twice a week, and she reacted with stunned amazement that such a thing could be possible. “Deux fois par semaine!” Funny.)

Anyway, I was rather relieved when Jean seemed equally unenthused about this approach. “I don’t like meat that much, ” he pointed out. “I get sick of eggs. I like fruit. I like potatoes. And this granola is actually really good!”

The funny thing is we’re discussing this at Christmas time, when we’re busily eating things like sticky toffee pudding and tourtière. (Hey, we still gotta live.)

Angela: [voiceover] The thing about resolutions is, it’s hard to remember them around somebody like Jordan Catalano.

Once back home, I experimented with moderately increasing Jean’s protein and fat intake, like giving him back bacon (organic and “humane treated”) as side dish on vegetarian night, while he rethought eating five tangerines in one go (“But they’re so good!”).

Then the Globe and Mail ran a follow-up on their “we need to study high-fat diets for diabetics” story with A diet high in fat is best – with the right kind of fat. It said that, no no, we have studied this thing, and the best diet for diabetics isn’t a high-fat, low-carb diet; it’s really the Mediterranean diet. I found a more full report on that here: Best Diabetes Diets.

Jordan: This is wrong.
Angela: What?
Jordan: You, doing my homework, it’s wrong.
Angela: Well I was just trying to help.
Jordan: It’s like I’m taking advantage of you or something.
Angela: You’re not taking advantage of me.
Jordan: Yeah I am. It would be different if we were like… but now you’re just… you know, a friend or whatever. [pause] I can’t do this anymore.

“So what is the Mediterranean diet?” asked Jean, by now pretty weary of my dietary resolutions du jour.

“Lots of fruits and vegetables. Fish, lean meat, and low-fat dairy. Plenty of healthy fats like olive oil. Nuts. Wine. Whole grains. Limit red meats. Avoid sugar and simple carbohydrates.”

“So,” he said. “Pretty much how we were eating before?”

“Uh huh.”

Angela: [voiceover] I couldn’t believe it. For the first time in my life I actually stuck to a resolution.


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Christmas 2017

The Christmas season started with a lot of dancing. Mid-December, our dance class event in community centre gym was very well-attended. For Jean and I, it was one of those nights where our dancing was just clicking and we were able to move around the floor with ease. (Which we could bottle that.) We also enjoyed the music choices (our dance instructor played DJ), which included a slow-fox version of Prince’s “Purple Rain” and a strict-tempo jive of Queen’s “Crazy Little Thing Called Love.”

The following night was a fancier dinner/dance at The Victorian Park Pavilion, which is a beautiful venue. We forgot to request seating with people we knew, though the people we ended up with were fine—until one lady started bending Jean’s ear about the wonders of raw-food veganism, or some such.

The meal served was not raw-food vegan, though, but a traditional turkey dinner—and quite good, particularly considering the $35 per person fee. No booze on offer, though! Since we couldn’t bottle it, our dancing didn’t click quite as well that night. Music was a bit more “traditional” as well. But still a nice night out overall.

Finally on this theme, one couple in our dance class hosted a house party that did not feature dancing, but was still a very enjoyable evening of food and conversation. Amazing what these dance classes have done for our social life.


Jean and I did not do a gift exchange with each other this year—though a few new kitchen gadgets still trickled in, as Jean had planned ahead in case, and figured we needed them anyway. But we did do a Christmas dinner à deux, featuring roast duck, wasabi mashed potatoes, broccoli with tahini, and cranberry-pear sauce. Served with a nice California Pinot noir. Then, sugar pie for dessert.

Though we haven’t had the greatest luck with Christmas air travel in the past, we decided to book flights to Timmins this year. Our departure was set for 11 pm the night of December 21—we thought that the airport would be less busy at that time. I had that day off, but Jean was working. Or, he was until about 10 am. At that point he called me to come pick him up at the office, as he was experiencing the serious low back and abdominal pain that indicated kidney stones.

At home, he sat in the tub and drank tea until the worst of it passed. It would still be a few more days, though, until he really felt right again.

It was snowing, and Christmas, so we allowed for a lot of time to get to the airport and check our baggage. Everything went really well, though, so we had a lot of time to wait. At least I got plenty of reading done.

We boarded the plane pretty much on time, but then had to wait in a lineup on the runway for de-icing, for what turned out to be an hour. After about 45 minutes I finally turned airplane mode off on my phone so I could email Dad that we were still in Toronto, so maybe he didn’t want to wait up for us. He agreed that he didn’t.

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Ornament from Dad’s tree

Timmins was nippy when we arrived, but our rental car was already running and setting out front of the airport exit. (And boy was the rental guy happy to see us. We were his last customers, at about 1:30 am, and he’d started at 7 am that day.) Dad didn’t even hear us arrive; the next morning, he wondered if we even had, until he noticed that the guest bedroom door was closed.

Friday and Saturday were pretty mellow, partly because Jean still wasn’t feeling up to snuff yet. We did visit with his Mom, of course, and saw some of his other siblings at her house. And Neal and Sarah-Simone came over to Dad’s for a visit on Saturday. We also tested out the Skype connection with Joanne and Jon ahead of Christmas morning, and ran an errand at the LCBO (booze store, for non-Ontarians). But that was about all the excitement.

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Though this might have provided some excitement, had Dad’s brownies actually contained the ingredient suggested on the lid! (Hilarously, Dad stores his homebaked brownies in a container that previously contained hemp products.)

Christmas Eve morning Michelle, Jackson, and John arrived—Hugh decided to stay in Toronto for the Macphie family Christmas this year. That livened up the house a bit. And in the afternoon we paid a visit to our friends Paul and Sylvie, which is always nice. We got tales of their new cottage, and Jean and Sylvie exchanged photography tips that Paul and I pretended to understand.

We had a nice salmon Christmas Eve dinner at Dad’s that night, then they went to church while we got ourselves (eventually; we did get a bit lost) to my cousin’s for Réveillon #1. Fewer people in attendance this year; my uncle Gilles, for one, was not feeling up to going. But that made for a nice opportunity to talk to those that were there—my cousins, their kids, and their kid’s kids, and my aunt and uncle.

We did have to leave before the game portion of the evening to get to Réveillon #2, at the Lefebvre’s. And now I have to apologize because Jean was kept so busy at this event—first playing Santa to hand out the kids’s gifts, then reciting the left/right story for the random gift exchange—that he didn’t take any pictures. And it just didn’t occur to me to do that instead.

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Ornament from Jean’s Mom’s tree. Not taken on Christmas Eve.

And this year’s gift theme was hats, so that would have made for a lot of amusing photos! Jean, for one, got right into it and provided a whole collection of ridiculous hats: a poop emoji mask, three pucks in a nylons (a hat trick! Think about it), and so on. I supplied this book:

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Which did greatly amuse the recipient, niece Natasha.

A large-format version of the following photo from our anniversary party was provided as a family Christmas gift to Jean’s Mom.

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The Lefebvre family (with part of the McNair family in the background)

The McNair Christmas gift exchange was still the stealing game, but with a couple differences this year: The price limit was set at $30, and the number of gifts to be bought was divided up such that Neal and Michelle didn’t have to buy extra just because they had kids. So each family bought three and Dad bought two, and that covered everyone…

(Except that Michelle was so busy she didn’t quite read all the rules, so she caught the $30 limit but not the fact that she didn’t have to buy as many as item, so we had a couple extras, but that’s OK.)

So we Skyped in Joanne and Jon for the whole thing. Jackson got Hugh in on Facebook on his phone, but only as required—that is, only when Hugh had to pick or was involved in a steal. Otherwise Jackson would just hang up on him. This turned out pretty funny, because I don’t think anyone was involved in more steals than Hugh! So he kept have to be reconnected and then brought up to speed on what exciting new items had arrived since he had last been with us.

The most laughs, though, were courtesy of Jean’s contribution, a leftover ridiculous hat.

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Jackson modelling the hat along with a VR headset, another contributed item

Also somewhat amusing was that Thérèse had accidentally grabbed an individualized gift (slippers for her grandmother) instead of one for the exchange. So we had to imaginarily include what was intended.

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Isaac with his “invisible” hammock

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Some of the kids, mid-play

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Caleb’s cozy gift ends up with Michelle

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And there were a few “Godchildren” gifts to hand out at the end

That afternoon, the temperature hadn’t quite plunged to the depths it was about to in the coming days, so we finally got outside. The snowshoe trails weren’t open at the Ski Club (not enough snow!) so we just walked on Carium Road.

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Outside!

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Winter wonderland, I guess?

The rest of the afternoon was mostly about food prep. Late afternoon Jean headed to the Lefebvre family dinner. Happily, Gilles had recovered enough to join the McNair supper, along with Terrie.

After dinner and cleanup, we played a game of Telestrations, which was one of the items Jean and I had contributed to the McNair gift exchange. It’s like the telephone game, except that you had to draw what the word was and then the next person had to guess what you had drawn. Very simple, but absolutely hilarious, some of the results. (Though should be noted that Neal’s family has enough talented artists that a number of items got through 8 people successfully.)

Boxing Day we were scheduled to fly out at 10:20 am; Jean had to work on the 27th. All seemed good as we boarded the plane and took off on schedule. It didn’t seem we were elevating as much as usual, and drink service seemed a bit slow, but I didn’t think too much of that until the captain came on and said: “I’m sorry for what I’m about to tell you.”

There was a mechanical problem with the plane. The good news was, we weren’t all about to die. The bad news was, we had to fly back to Timmins. The wheels of the airplane weren’t elevating into the plane as they needed to. The drag that caused on the plane meant there wasn’t enough fuel to get us to Toronto.

Then it was a waiting game. They did first try to see if the plane’s problems could quickly be repaired, but that turned out to be a no, and then it was flight cancellation and rebooking time. We recalled that we had purchased On My Way travel assistance for this flight, which was supposed to give us priority in being rebooked. When we called that number, and they suggested that we should be able to get on the 4:00 pm flight that day, but weren’t able to do that immediately as the flight was “frozen” while all passengers were processed. When we finally got our rebooking email, though, had us on a 5:20 am (AM!) flight the next day. We called again, and they said there was nothing they could do.

So we’re following up with Air Canada about that.

Meanwhile, we took a taxi back to Dad’s (who then had to dash out to the grocery to get more food for his now larger number of dinner guests). One upside is that it did give me a chance to visit with my Aunt Irene, who is 88, and my cousin Monique and daughter Simone. They dropped by at Dad’s on their way to bringing Simone to the airport. It was also nice having more time with Dad, Michelle, Jackson, and John. And the lasagna dinner was very delicious.

Getting up at 3:00 am for our next flight was less delicious, particularly as it was -35C at that point, but we did it. Dad very kindly drove us to the airport at 4:00 am. And yes, that flight took off in time, and managed to get all the way to Toronto. Where it had snowed considerably and was pretty darn chilly!

Wishing everyone a happy new year.


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Performances tinged with nostalgia

About ten years ago around this time of year, I was scrambling to get myself to get myself to Centre in the Square. Jean was away—canoeing, I assume—and I’d made a last-minute decision to get tickets to the introductory concert of the KW Symphony’s new conductor, Edwin Outwater.

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It was busier than I expected—symphony concerts just hadn’t been very well-attended that year—so I had to park further away than expected and made it to my seat just moments before the show started. Which was all very awkward, because my seat was front row centre.

So my first look at the young, handsome conductor from California was a close-up one. He was very personable in talking to the audience. I believe they played Beethoven’s Fifth, and he dared us to be rebels and applaud between movements if we felt like it.

We originally didn’t have tickets to the final performance of Edwin Outwater as KW Symphony principal conductor last weekend, but it seems apropos that we did attend in the end. The symphony was not in a good place, artistically or financially, when he took over. It’s been great to watch the crowds grow over the past 10 years in response to his efforts to present classical music in innovative ways that still respect the tradition.

But if we hadn’t jumped on tickets for the final show immediately, it’s because it was definitely Outwater-ian: Not just a set of classical music’s greatest hits, but something that would challenge the ears.

We made it to (most of) the concert prelude that explained what we were about to hear, which is always helpful. The first piece was a very short number composed for (and about) Edwin Outwater by Richard Reed Parry of Arcade Fire. That was followed by a longer choral piece by John Adams called Harmonium, featuring two full choirs singing music inspired by poetry.

It was very strange-sounding. At intermission, one Jean’s friends we ran into commented that some of the harmonies hurt her eyes. But from the prelude, we had some appreciation of how hard it was to sing. And I just found it riveting to listen to (though I wouldn’t buy the CD).

We were kind of worried about retaining focus through a 53-minute Mahler Symphony in the second half, but we needn’t have. Mahler writes beautiful and lively music. We agreed with the prelude commentary that the third movement was the most interesting, a mournful one built around the melody of … “Frère Jacques”, and interrupted by other bursts of whimsical sound that undercut the tragedy with comedy. Then the fourth movement is full of grandiosity.

There was rather a resounding ovation at the end.


As a teenager, I was really taken with the story of Terry Fox, the young man who tried to run across the country on one leg to raise money for cancer research, only to be stopped when the cancer returned. I followed the story on the news. I kept a scrapbook . I read books about him. I saw The Terry Fox Movie.

So when I heard they wrote a musical based on his life, I wanted to go. I missed the initial run in Waterloo, but we managed to get to the shorter one in Cambridge.

It was quite well done. Admittedly, the songs aren’t the sort you’re going to be humming for days—this is no Hamilton or West Side Story. But the story is just so compelling, and they found an effective way to fit it into a two-hour stage narrative. I don’t feel that any other medium, really, as well gave the sense of just what it meant to do so much running daily under the physical challenges he faced.