Category Archives: COVID-19 Diary

Processing the Pandemic

We are starting to see more books by well-known novelists that take place during the pandemic. Pulitzer Prize winner Elizabeth Strout offers Lucy By The Sea the fourth volume in her series about a writer named Lucy Barton.

I have read the previous Lucy novels as well as Strout’s two Olive Kitteridge novels so I am familiar with her characters and am a fan of what some reviewers call ‘the quiet realism’ of her writing style.

At the start of the pandemic, Lucy is whisked from her home in New York City to a small rented house in Maine by her ex-husband William, a scientist who understands the real threat of the COVID virus.

Lucy’s story brought back many memories of those first months of the pandemic for me. I thought about how we were cut off from almost everyone and everything familiar. How our days revolved around routines we managed to establish for ourselves with those who shared our lockdown.

Illustration by Marie Larrivé in the New Yorker review of Lucy by the Sea

Lucy by the Sea does not avoid pandemic politics and includes the Black Lives Matter protests and the January 6 events in Washington DC. Lucy encounters people who are Trump supporters and tries to understand their mindset. But…… primarily this is a story about how the pandemic impacts Lucy’s family and her personal life and…… changes everything.

Illustration by Victoria Maxfield in the New York Times review of Lucy by the Sea

This really resonated with me because I’ve been thinking about that a great deal too. Many things about my family have changed since March 2020 when the lockdowns and quarantines began. If I look at my family then and my family now I sometimes can hardly believe how different it is. I wonder if I am only just processing much of that change because I wasn’t given an opportunity to do so incrementally during the pandemic when my interactions with family were so curtailed.

Just like in Lucy’s family- members of mine have moved, bought new houses, changed jobs, died, begun new relationships, had shifts in ideology and worldview, aged, encountered major health issues, found new areas of interest, and had children.

As Lucy processes this all in author Elizabeth Strout’s humane and compassionate way she helped me reflect on how the pandemic has changed my family too. Elizabeth ends her novel surrounded by the love of others, but still not free of the ‘sliver of foreboding’ about the future implications of the pandemic for her family and the world. I could relate.

Other posts………..

The Light We Carry by Michelle Obama

Harm Reduction and the Last Photo

Designer Masks, Libraries, Tatami Mats and The Strangest Dream

Swimming Down A Different Canal

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Boosted Again

I got my fourth vaccine for COVID 19 this week. Some people have asked me if I intend to get an endless number and I’ve said as long as health experts recommend another vaccination I’ll have one. Yesterday I saw a social media post by Dr. Joss Reimer Chief Medical Officer for the Winnipeg Regional Health Authority and former medical lead for Manitoba’s COVID-19 vaccine task force. She said……

Dr. Reimer posted this chart……..

It shows that for folks in my age range the death rate is 7 out of 100,000 for those with booster shots who get COVID while for the unvaccinated who contract the virus the death rate is 156 out of 100,000. It clearly shows the value of booster shots of the vaccination.

Throughout the pandemic I have respected Dr. Reimer’s measured and practical approach, her calm manner and her straight forward messaging. If she is recommending we get a booster shot I’m going to take her advice.

Other posts……….

Admitting I’m a Mennonite on the Golf Course

Could You Get a Vaccination for My Dad?

This Grandma is Happy

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Grandma- Your Mask

My granddaughter likes playing with the stones that surround the planters on the second floor of our building

My granddaughter and I were on our way out into the hallway of our condo on Sunday. She likes to play with the stones that surround the beds of plants on the second floor of our building. She is always excited when we are heading there. But despite her excitement as we neared the door of our suite she took my hand and said, “Grandma- mask.”

She is only one and a half but she is a pandemic baby and from her life experience she has learned that when adults are leaving their home they should be wearing a mask. This is not the first time she has reminded me to put my mask on as we’ve headed out the door.

This morning’s newsletter from the New York Times has an article that suggests mask mandates aren’t helpful. While research continues to show that wearing masks reduces the risk of getting any strain of COVID, mask mandates don’t lower the incidence of COVID in communities.

Strangely wearing masks helps, but forcing people to wear them doesn’t. Government mandates may not be helpful in getting people to wear masks but in my case granddaughter mandates certainly are.

Other posts……….

Pandemic Grandparenting

They Wore Masks Too

Celebrating Family Roles

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Wish You Were Here- The Latest From Jodi Picoult

When you read a Jodi Picoult novel as I did this last week you know several things about the book even before you begin.

First of all, you will learn a great deal about a couple of topics you probably didn’t know that much about before you read the book.

One of the settings for Picoults latest novel Wish You Were Here is the Galapagos Islands and so you learn about the geography and climate of that famous place as well as the amazing animals that make their home there. The Galapagos is on my travel bucket list so I was very interested in this aspect of the book.

The second thing you learn about is COVID 19. Another setting for Wish You Were Here is a hospital in New York City in the early days of the pandemic before vaccines, before doctors really knew how to treat COVID, when people were dying in droves and no one was sure how the disease spread. Picoult as always has done her research impeccably and we learn in detail just how COVID impacts the body both at the height of infection as well as during the often long recovery process. Two years out it is sometimes hard to remember the fear and isolation and disruption that the pandemic brought to our lives when it first began. Wish You Were Here brings it all back in vivid detail.

Jodi Picoult

The second thing you can expect from a Picoult book is that there will be multiple narrators and in this book we experience the story through the eyes of a young woman named Diana who works for the art auction house Sotheby’s in New York and also the voice of her partner Finn who is a hospital resident dealing with the pandemic. Finn’s voice comes to us courtesy of letters he writes to Diana who is trapped in the Galapagos because she was holidaying there just as the pandemic began.

The third thing you can expect from a Jodi Picoult book is some sort of surprise ending or a twist of the plot you weren’t anticipating. Wish You Were Here delivers in that department as well.

Jodi’s books always address the big social issues of our time medical ethics, racism, bullying, assisted suicide, abortion, sexual orientation, school shootings or spousal abuse. I am not surprised then for her to be one of the first authors out of the gate when it comes to writing about the pandemic.

The rights to Wish You Were Here have been purchased by Netflix and they will turn it into a feature film. Producers have already been hired. So if you want to read the book before the movie comes out you might want to put it on your reading list now.

Other posts……….

Jodi Picoult- Fan Fiction Writer Today-Classic Writer of the Future

A Spark of Light

A Novel So Long It Took Us Through Eight States

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A Different Kind of Puzzling

My latest puzzle. It was completed just this week.

I follow the blog of Canadian writer Carrie Synder and lately she has been posting about her obsession with jigsaw puzzles. Carrie says by now it is definitely an addiction. Carrie is part of a current Canadian trend and although I don’t complete puzzles with her speed or tenacity I’ve just finished my 25th pandemic jigsaw puzzle. I have been averaging about one puzzle a month since March of 2020.

Thank You to Essential Workers Puzzle I did a year ago

My two favourite places to shop for puzzles in Winnipeg are at McNally Robinson Booksellers and Kite and Kaboodle a toy store in the Johnson Terminal at the Forks. Early on in the pandemic, I noticed their stocks were sometimes pretty depleted. Jigsaw puzzle manufacturers have struggled to keep up with the demand for their products during the last two years.

Puzzles have taken off during COVID 19 with sales rising by 400%. Apparently the last time there was such a major spike in sales was during the Great Depression.

According to Marcel Danesi, an anthropology professor at the University of Toronto in stressful times, jigsaw puzzles are a form of escapism. He says that “not only do puzzles take one’s mind off of problems and dangers, they also provide a means to accomplish something, as its own reward.”

A puzzle featuring female artists I finished in December

I feel that way too. If I don’t have a puzzle on the go I almost panic. I need it there to give me brain breaks from my writing assignments and soothe my spirit often edgy from isolation or panicky in response to what is going on in the world.

My Mom and my niece working on a puzzle at our family cottage

In the past, I puzzled more as a social activity as did the rest of my family. When my mother’s sister Viola came to visit Mom in Manitoba from her home in Saskatchewan they almost always did a puzzle together during Viola’s stay. My sister and I like to puzzle together too especially when we are on a vacation together. A family puzzle was often on the go at our family cottage and everyone contributed to finishing it.

Our sons working on a puzzle at Christmas

Puzzles are a staple of our Christmas get together as a family. Since our grandchildren can help with puzzles now I often get a family one with three different sizes of pieces so we can all work together.

I have a group of friends I get together with regularly for an activity of some sort. At one of our meetings, we did a jigsaw puzzle together as we visited.

However, in the last two years, during the pandemic, I’ve been puzzling on my own and there is something about that I appreciate as well.

If it’s too cold to go to the beach you can puzzle your way there.

Puzzling alone gives me time to think. I can work through the plot of my latest novel, dream up the topic for a talk I am scheduled to give, run through the information for my latest tour at the art gallery or figure out the title for my next blog post.

And…………… puzzling alone also provides an opportunity to simply zone out if I want to or need to. To just focus on my hands and the shape of the pieces and spaces in my puzzle.

I got a little nostalgic doing this puzzle of Hong Kong where I used to live.

I am looking forward to a time when I will be able to puzzle with friends and family again. But for now, I am content to puzzle alone. I have learned to appreciate a different kind of puzzling.

Other posts……….

Life Lessons From Puzzles

Bopping Around My Condo

Lagom- Just Right


Filed under COVID-19 Diary

How Can You Think About Anything Else?

This mural by Norval Morriseau was on display at the Winnipeg Art Gallery in 2019. He said it articulated his vision for a united Canada.

A few days ago I shared a post in a Facebook group where Anabaptists dialogue about their religious and theological ideas. My post had nothing to do with the current convoy situation. One respondent was quite upset with me. How could I write about anything else than the protestors when the very foundations of our democracy were being threatened?

I tried to answer him in a polite way, but he kept on telling me that anyone who had a public forum needed to be addressing the situation. Obviously, the man was very frightened about what was happening and could think of nothing else. He didn’t see how I could be either.

At the time I thought he was being overly dramatic but it turns out he was right. The developments in the protests yesterday frankly had me scared and anxious and I could think of little else, scrolling through social media feeds and checking the front pages of newspapers I trust to see if the Ambassador Bridge was open or any progress had been made in defusing the crisis.

I was supposed to be preparing a sermon, developing lectures for a course I’m going to be teaching, and writing my newspaper column. None of it happened. I couldn’t concentrate.

I do hope things will be resolved in a peaceful way and that my country will remain a place where the results of democratic elections continue to be respected and guide what happens in my city, province and country. But I have to admit my faith in that belief was shaken yesterday and I could think about little else during the day or pray about anything else before I went to sleep.

Note: In reading this over I realized I’d referred to the proverbial ‘thoughts and prayers’ in my last sentence of this post. Today I need to figure out a way to do more than that.

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Thoughts On the Freedom Protest at the Steinbach High School

I used to teach English at the SRSS in Steinbach where yesterday a small portion of the total student body walked out of the building to engage in a Freedom Protest on the school grounds. They said they wanted to be free of COVID restrictions, masks and mandates.

Of course, COVID restrictions, masks and mandates are inconvenient and students are understandably tired of them but do they truly impinge on their freedom? I kept thinking yesterday of the literature I studied with my students at the SRSS.

Two novels we read were The Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini and The Breadwinner by Deborah Ellis. Those books helped us understand all the freedoms that were lost, particularly by women once the Taliban took over in Afghanistan.

Children at the Brandon Residential School

For a Hanover divisional exam, my students had to read a short story about a young person’s experience in a residential school. This was at a time when the truth about residential schools was only beginning to come to light and my students didn’t want to believe that kids and their families were not given the freedom to choose whether they wanted to attend residential schools.

A cover for To Kill A Mockingbird created by one of my highschool students

We acted out parts of To Kill A Mockingbird by Harper Lee and learned how being Black in America not that long ago meant you weren’t necessarily afforded certain fundamental freedoms like the right to a fair trial.

Mennonite families at the Lichtenau Train Station fleeing Ukraine

In a unit where artwork inspired our writing we looked at the pieces Manitoba artist Wanda Koop created for her exhibition about her mother’s life called In Your Eyes. We also watched the accompanying film where we learned that like many Mennonite families Wanda’s lost everything in Ukraine when bandits raided her grandparents’ home, killed them and confiscated their house. Soon after that, the remaining family members including Wanda’s mother fled to freedom in Canada.

I could give many other examples of poetry I read with my students, music lyrics we listened to and films we watched that helped us reflect on the meaning of freedom.

The majority of Canadian citizens are happy to make sacrifices to help their neighbours and realize any freedoms we may think we have lost simply pale in comparison to the loss of freedoms millions have experienced in other places and times.

I am sure the English teachers at the SRSS continue to use literary texts that prompt important conversations about the real meaning of freedom. The students outside protesting yesterday needed to be in school participating in those conversations.

Other posts………

A Station of Tears

The Berlin Wall in Toronto- Only in Freedom Can the Human Spirit Soar

I Am Freedom’s Child

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Filed under COVID-19 Diary, Education

Neil Young, Spotify and The Shopping Mall Geese

Neil Young photo from Wiki-Media

On February 3 a letter to the editor in the Winnipeg Free Press from Kim Trethart criticized musicians like Neil Young and Joni Mitchell for removing their music from Spotify because the service also streams a podcast hosted by Josh Rogan. Neil Young and Joni Mitchell say Rogan is spreading misinformation about COVID-19. Rogan has also been accused of making inappropriate racial comments.

Trethart’s letter to the editor says that artists like Young and Mitchell who have sold their catalogue of music no longer have the right to dictate how it is used. A subsequent letter from Dan Donahue points out that Trethart is wrong. Even after artists sell their creative work they still maintain the legal authority to dictate how, when and where it is used.

My husband Dave looking at Michael’s Snow’s sculpture

I know Donahue is right because of some geese in a shopping mall. My husband Dave and I once took a guided tour of the Eaton Centre in Toronto. Our guide pointed out an art installation called Flight Stop. Created by Michael Snow it shows a flock of migrating Canada geese.

Our guide told us the geese represent a landmark judicial decision that allows artists to retain the right to dictate how their creative work is used. Back in 1982, the Eaton’s Centre decided to put red bows on all the geese in Michael Snow’s sculpture for Christmas. He objected saying the bows distorted the integrity of his work.

Photo of Michael Snow from Wikimedia Commons

When the shopping centre refused to remove the bows immediately he took them to court winning an injunction that required the removal of the bows. Although the shopping centre had bought Mr Snow’s geese sculpture he still had the right to dictate how that creative work was displayed.

Just as Mr Snow had the right to make decisions about how his creative work was used Neil Young and a growing number of musical artists have a right to make a similar decision about their work.

Other posts………

Red Bows For Michael’s Geese

Eating With the Stars

Music Snobs

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Filed under Art, COVID-19 Diary, Music

The Death of Expertise

Is trust in experts a thing of the past?  It would seem that way at least for some Canadians. The protesters I saw amassed at the end of my street at Winnipeg’s City Hall last Saturday had signs promoting an end to vaccine mandates and a moratorium on mask-wearing.  

They obviously had little faith in experts, since the majority of scientists and medical professionals are still telling us that it is premature to lift restrictions because our already struggling health care system might break down further under the resulting strain.  The protesters in Winnipeg were part of the larger so-called freedom convoy that sponsored a major ongoing rally in Ottawa and smaller ones in cities across the country. 

Dr Tom Nichols authored a popular essay for the magazine The Federalist, and a book, both titled The Death of Expertise. He says while democratic countries strive to give everyone equal rights that doesn’t mean all citizens have equal knowledge or that all opinions on certain issues have equal merit.

The world still has a wealth of experts, those who dedicate their lives to learning everything they can about their particular field.  Nichols claims there is danger in the fact that a growing number of people no longer acknowledge experts might know more about a topic than they do or have their best interests at heart. Sometimes experts get things wrong, but for the most part, they have a  superior track record when compared to laypeople. 

A lack of faith in experts often stems from our current ability to surf the internet and find conspiracy theorists and bad faith actors who counter what the majority of experts in a certain field say.  

Gillian Tett in a Financial Times’ essay says we used to trust people who had more knowledge and education than we did but now we tend to trust our peer group and get our ideas and advice from them. 

Many protestors are listening to their peer group rather than to experts– (photo in the public domain)

It seems the people involved in the convoy are listening to their peer group rather than to experts.

Political science experts could tell them that most of the mandates they want to have revoked are provincial ones so demonstrating at civic and federal buildings isn’t relevant.  

Event planning experts could explain the importance of experienced leadership, good organization, financial transparency, and clear behaviour guidelines for an effective protest.

Constitutional experts could point out the convoy’s goal of unseating the democratically elected House of Commons via the Senate and Governor-General is impossible.

Listening to trade experts could remind them that even if Canada lifts its vaccination mandates for cross-border truckers it will be meaningless because the United States has identical restrictions.

Public opinion experts could explain the futility and unpopularity of their protest given it is out of sync with the ideas of the majority of Canadians and even 90% of truck drivers who are vaccinated and working.

Paying heed to medical experts’ advice about large gatherings, mask-wearing and social distancing could reduce the demonstrators’ chances of becoming ill or making others ill. 

If any society wants to make forward progress there has to be healthy discussion and disagreement but that process must be informed by those who have expertise on the topic in question.  The members of the so-called freedom convoy could benefit from consulting experts but clearly, many of them subscribe to the notion that expertise is of little value or is dead.

Other posts……..

Ten Things About Those Protesting Truckers

Why People Don’t Trust Scientists

Gandalf is Right

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Ready for Some Respair?

Grass sprouting on dead wood -photographed on a beach in Tofino British Columbia

What in the world is respair? It’s a really, really old word that the Grammarly application on my computer doesn’t even recognize. Etymologists who study the origin of words say respair was coined by a Scottish poet and historian Andrew of Wyntoun who lived sometime between 1350 and 1423. Respair comes from Latin roots meaning “again” and “hope.”

In 2017 the Oxford English Dictionary still listed the word respair saying it could be both a noun and a verb. But…….. the most recent example of someone using it they could find was in a work written in 1425.

The word respair’s long-languishing in obscurity ended in May of 2020 when blogger and author Paul Anthony Jones who specializes in the study of words used it in a tweet that went viral because it was the perfect word for how people were hoping they would soon be able to feel despite the pandemic. Jones’ tweet said……..

RESPAIR is the little-known opposite of ‘despair’: a word for a renewed or reinvigorated hope or recovery from anguish or hopelessness.

Another definition described it as ‘a return of hope after a period of despair.’

Lone flower blooming on a rocky hiking path – photographed in the Algarve in Portugal

Respair seems the perfect word to inspire people exhausted and spent by the hopelessness of the pandemic.

What actions can we take that demonstrate respair? It is after all a verb as well as a noun. Here are five ideas I had this morning.

  • Reach out to someone you have lost connection with during the pandemic. Have a good phone conversation. I can think of two friends I haven’t talked to in ages I need to call. I am going to do it first thing tomorrow.
  • Plan something for the future whether it’s a trip or a family get together and act as though it really will take place. I am busy getting gifts ready for a postponed family Christmas gathering we are planning for the end of February.
  • Get outside and enjoy nature. My friend Millie just sent a text extending an invitation for a walk with us on the frozen path along the river near their home. What a great idea!
  • Create something. During the pandemic I’ve tried my hand at embroidery a skill learned from my paternal grandmother and I’ve completed a paint by number picture something I saw my maternal grandmother enjoy. Both these woman loved to laugh and remained hopeful even though life sent some awfully tough things their way.
  • Spend some time with children. Last weekend I went for a walk with my grandchildren in Saskatoon and was able to chat individually with each one of them. Those conversations have lifted my spirits all week. I did childcare for my granddaughter in Winnipeg twice this past week and holding her close as she fell asleep each afternoon had me awash in respair.
Tree growing on Cathedral Rock- photographed in Sedona, Arizona

Respair. What might you do to bring some respair into your life?

Other posts……….

Learning A New Word

My Grandmother’s Epitaph- Words to Live By

Words of Wisdom on A Wine Bottle

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