I’m shell-shocked. As is everyone else. So much has happened so quickly. Each day brings new information about what we should, and should not, be doing. It’s mind boggling. And now we find ourselves in the fight of our lives.
Two weeks ago, we were preoccupied with railroad blockades and Indigenous rights in Canada and the Democratic primaries in the United States. Our son living in Whitby sent an email asking when we were coming home. Our other son living in Petawawa encouraged us to stay in Vancouver as long as we could. That Saturday, our house-sitter called to say she had just cancelled her April trip to California and could stay in the house if we wanted to delay our return. At the time, we’d never discussed how long she could stay; we assumed to the end of April. She has since assured us that she will look after our house and the cat for as long as it takes… which is well over and above what we can really expect.
My husband and I are both 75 years old and, like most people our age, have co-morbidities. Neither of us were keen to go through YVR or Pearson, nor to spend four to five hours in the petri dish of an airplane returning to Toronto. It was my husband who first proposed that we stay. Uncharacteristically, for the blue-stocking BC chauvinist that I am, I was plagued with doubts and worries. For ten days, we dithered (“I dithered” may be more correct) about whether we should take our return flight to Toronto which was scheduled for March 26th. That would have been yesterday.
Last Saturday, Air Canada sent an email telling us that our 1:30 p.m. flight was changed to 6:30 a.m. because of “a government travel advisory.” They also offered us an opportunity to upgrade to another class of seat. I had had it. I pressed the button to “Cancel Booking” without waiting for the later instruction which told me how I should have proceeded if travelling on Aeroplan. Maybe I will lose those points. Maybe I won’t. But If I do, it won’t compare to the exorbitant airfares countless others have now had to shell out for new tickets home.
Having made our decision to “stay in place,” I thought that the hard part was over. We have a nice two bedroom, two bathroom apartment in an old rental building in West Vancouver. It has a balcony and a view over the water. Our “cottage in Vancouver” (which I’ve written about before) seemed a perfect spot to sit out a pandemic.
How hard could it be? We are bloody lucky to have the place. The Sunday before the library next door closed, I took out some books. Among them, three volumes of stories by Alice Munro and Rohinton Mistry’s A Fine Balance, Canadian classics I have never read. I figured that would tide me over.
Alas, on Sunday evening, I discovered that our fifteen-year-old-plus television was on the fritz. How could we survive here in isolation without a tv? The story of the tv will be a blog post in itself, but by Tuesday morning, we had a new television. Had not yet set it up. Too tired.
By now, there were many more pressing priorities at hand. Like what do we do if one of us were to get the virus? How would we self-isolate or go into quarantine in this apartment? The reality of the existential danger facing us sank in. We had to think seriously about our living arrangements, our standards of sanitation, our interactions with each other, and how we were going to survive.
I wanted to get Effervescent Bubble going again, and dear friends encouraged me to do so. But how to get it going when all was doom and gloom and I felt anything but effervescent?
I certainly don’t want to dwell on the hard news which dominates the media. I want (no, need) some good news, some levity, some practical instruction about how to survive. I also yearn for more efficient contact with the people I love, both those in my family, and the many friends across the country and around the globe who are already part of the Effervescent Bubble community as well as those who may choose to join us in the future.
Last Thursday, Mike Crisolago’s article entitled “Beat Isolation Blues with Virtual Concerts and More,” published on everythingzoomer.com, appeared in my Inbox. Apparently, the New York Metropolitan Opera is streaming their Encore opera repertoire free of charge. That night, I watched La Traviata and loved it. (Another blog post to come.)
Lori Myers, my EB editor and friend in Toronto, wrote an email telling me about a virtual “family birthday party” planned for Saturday night, using Zoom. I had never heard of Zoom. My two daughters-in-law (the technologically gifted members of our family) hadn’t either, but they suggested that we form a Video Chat group on Messenger. And then there is FaceTime and Facebook and all the other social media that bring people together when they are physically apart. (Another obvious blog post.)
It occurred to me that if we are to endure a pandemic, we have all the tools at hand to meet many of our basic social needs even while in isolation. Many already operate in a virtual world. For others of us, this pandemic is going to be a crash course in modern technology.
On Sunday night, Lori sent me a long, long email setting out dozens of topics that would be of interest to people who have followed my blog. Clearly, it’s time for The Effervescent Bubble to get off her duff and reconnect.
It feels good to be back on board. I look forward to our ride together. Keep safe.
When I first came to Toronto as a graduate student, I found the city exciting but lonely. My fellow students met weekly for short seminars and then scattered. Hart House excluded women, unless accompanied by a man. Massey College did not admit female students. I met a law student and we decided to share a flat near the Danforth. Apart from my new housemate and my landlady, I knew no one else, did not know the city, and spent a dismal year.
Today, newcomers to both Vancouver and Toronto needn’t despair. Meetup groups exist in both cities to bring people together around specific interests. It could be hiking, music, photography, local area groups, young mothers’ groups; options are broad and enticing, all described on the internet. Some Meetup groups are free; others have a small fee, to pay the facilitator and cover costs.
Meetup groups are not just for newcomers or young people. Anyone can take part. It occurred to me that the West End YMCA Walking Club, which meets Sunday mornings at the College Street West End YMCA, is like a Meetup group, although not structured the same way. Lori Myers, a dedicated and knowledgeable fan of Toronto, facilitates this particular group, maintains the webpage, and leads the walks. Participants can join in whenever they want, just by showing up at 9:00 a.m. The walks provide good exercise, interesting conversation, and great camaraderie. An internet search of “walking groups in Toronto” lists many other options in the city, including a power walking group, and groups that walk in malls.
I have a friend on the west coast who joined her local Meetup Walking Group in Maple Ridge in the Fraser Valley. Her membership is free of charge and gives access to all the other Meetup groups in the entire Lower Mainland. She receives notice of upcoming hikes by email and need only pre-register in advance by internet for each hike. She now hikes two or three times each week with different groups, each time exploring new areas of the city that she does not know, in the company of others.
Last month, I joined the Vancouver Walking Meetup group and, with my friend, explored the south end of Pacific Spirit Park near the University of British Columbia. A forest of trees, some old growth, intertwined with paths, Pacific Spirit Park has lots to offer. It is, however, a large area, and, even with a map, people may not feel comfortable exploring the park alone. The Meetup group is an ideal solution. An experienced guide with particular knowledge of the area led a small group of only fifteen or so hikers for two hours one Sunday morning. It was a perfect introduction to a wilderness area in the heart of the city which I had long wanted to visit and never had done.
The Sunday we went, it was raining hard. Hardly ideal hiking weather. But the trees in the woods shielded us from the rain, and the trails are well maintained so that footing is not a problem. The trees and the greenery are lush, and so aromatic. In the breaks in the weather, we stopped to dwell on the ferns, underbrush, hollowed out logs, evergreens, and pools of water. After two hours in the out-of-doors, we revel in our physical well-being and in the revival of our senses. Altogether a most delightful experience.
It’s Easter Sunday 2015 and those of us who live in Toronto woke up this morning to a glorious red sunrise and a fresh fall of snow on the rooftops and the cars. No kidding. And this afternoon, the snow has continued. Not a heavy snow or a blizzard, but an intermittent, gentle sprinkling of something more than rain but not as harsh as sleet. It doesn’t last, but it is a reminder that winter has not yet given up, and spring has not yet sprung. How we long for the weather to change. In the meantime, we take what solace we can from the knowledge that spring flowers can’t be too far off.
The first set of photos I have included in this post were taken on February 8th at the home of my in-laws in Vancouver. Fred and Shirley are avid gardeners who love their palms, their flowering shrubs, and their year-long display of ever-changing blooms that provide perpetual colour to the local scene. Fred tells me that the palms, which they planted years ago, grow in Vancouver now only because of global warming. I’ve always thought of Vancouver as coastal, but never as tropical. When I took the pictures, I thought it too cruel to post them when Toronto was in the midst of the coldest February in history. I had planned to put them up to mark the first day of spring. But even that was too cold.
Last Sunday, at the suggestion of our coordinator, Lori Myers, the West End YMCA Walking Club took in the spring flowers at the Centennial Park Conservatory in Etobicoke. That suburban greenhouse of tropical plants, and Allan Gardens downtown, are featuring an Easter Flower Show which extends until Sunday April 26th. It was just what we needed to lift the spirits and warm the soul. Apart from the profusion of flowering tropical plants, there is a resident Australian cockatoo who dances when onlookers sing, and the occasional red cardinal, attracted inside by the lush greenery and the warm temperatures. The Easter Flower Show features an assortment of hydrangeas in colours to die for, lilies, tulips, daffodils, pussy willows, winter roses, and decorated Easter eggs hanging in the windows and from the trees. Maintained by Toronto’s Parks, Forestry and Recreation, the conservatory is a labour of love for the local volunteers who help tend the gardens and feed the birds. For those of us weary of what seems like endless winter, the garden is a welcome respite from the cold and a promise of spring that will come, eventually. Check out the blooms that exist in Toronto at this very moment. They may not be in our gardens, but they are only a TTC ride away. And whether you are celebrating Easter, Passover or a secular family time together, may the season of renewal bring you all the best.
This blog has become my constant companion and one of my favourite activities. Wherever I go, whatever I do, whomever I meet, whatever I hear of, I ask myself if readers might be interested. If so, I make notes or take photos, and file them where I can find them for potential future use. Thanks to everyone who has made suggestions and shared their stories with me over the year. It is these personal stories and suggestions which have been most popular. Keep them coming and the blog can continue forever. Well, maybe awhile, anyway….
When we (and I say “we” because the idea was not mine) launched this blog, I had no idea what benefits I would gain from it. On so many levels. Curiosity is a blessing; being able to indulge it a gift beyond measure. That’s precisely what the blog has done. It has opened my eyes and given me license to engage with everything and everyone around me to the extent my energy allows. Attending City Council meetings, scanning daily newspapers, reading books, seeing films, walking around the city, enjoying cultural and community life, working out at the Y, on vacation; preparing posts for the blog provides a purpose to help make life more meaningful for myself and, perhaps incidentally, for others.
The blog has also been a vehicle for my personal re-education. I wanted to learn to write. That is happening. The more I write the blog, the easier it becomes, the more I want to write, and the more I actually can write. I have complained that writing the blog detracts from other “more important” writing. I’ve changed my mind about that. The response from readers indicates that my blog fills a niche. That others find it useful, occasionally funny or touching or provocative, has been very valuable feedback and an incentive to continue. Adding pictures that might attract my grandchildren has lightened the task of actual writing, a bit, and given the posts more “pop” for everyone. Pictures also enable me to use many of those photographs until now languishing in my iPhoto Library.
On a technical level, the blog has taught me much about modern technology. Lori Myers, who set up the blog, remains my editor, and has been a mentor par excellence, teaching me about WordPress and much else, as issues arise. I stay totally indebted to her for the rich collaboration we have enjoyed, and for animating the West End Walking Group which has been the source of so many ideas for my posts. “Learning by doing” sounds trite, but is true. If not for the blog, I would never have learned the lingo, mastered the art of inserting media, or developed the confidence to know that even I can telephone the Apple Help Line and get answers to computer problems that arise. I now understand the incredible utility of multiple computer devices and how one interacts with the others to make life easier and more productive. Ditto re: the social media. Although my own efforts to master Facebook and Twitter are sputtering, I now know why they are so useful to the world at large, and the media, and that’s a first step. There is much more to learn… but no rush. As the blog requires more skills, they will come.
I had intended to use this occasion to do an update on posts featured over the past year. I will save that for next week… after the Toronto Municipal Election, including the election for mayor, which occurs on Monday, October 27th. We are down to the wire, and every eligible voter in the 416/647 area will need to cast their vote. It’s time for a change and, hopefully, we can continue our celebration next week.
Hallowe’en has come and gone. The Santa Claus Parade was two weeks ago. And now it is early December. Even those of us who refuse to get caught up in the commercialization of Christmas are getting into the mood of the season. Although the dark comes earlier, the city lit their lights last weekend, and the neighbourhood is aglow with the decorations which always make me feel warm and cosy.
Christmas baking has been a traditional harbinger of the season. When our children were growing up, I and several friends used to start the season with an all-day Christmas baking bee. Each person would bake double recipes of their favourite family treats, we would cook them together in a marathon session, and then we would spread them out on the dining room table, tally them up, and divide the product of our day’s labours equally among us. Our time together was always great fun; lots of white wine, and a chance to catch up on all the news as we decorated the gingerbread. filled the tarts with mincemeat, or cut the shortbread. Because there were five or so families involved, we always left with a great variety of goodies which we packed away into our boxes. Some people used the baking for gifts; others stored it away in the freezer to keep the family supplied with sweets throughout the season.
Over the decades, we marked the fact we were getting older by the number of recipes we baked. Initially, we actually did three double recipes on our baking day. Those days stretched late into the evening. Then we reduced our expectations to two double recipes. A few years later, we changed to bringing one recipe already baked, and only baking one together. Then we could not believe that we had once actually done all that baking on a single day.
Our all-day baking bee is no more. Friends have passed away. Children have grown up. Health issues put a damper on eating fancy sweets. Treasured family recipes seem obsolete beside the light cuisine now in favour. The time has come to create new traditions, preferably ones that don’t involve food.
The West End YMCA Walking Club, organized by Lori Myers out of the College Street (West End) YMCA four months ago, typically walks to and from lesser known attractions in the city. On Sunday, we visited the opening of the Allan Gardens Christmas Flower Show. Allan Gardens is a downtown park, between Carlton and Gerrard, Jarvis and Sherborne, in the heart of Toronto. It features, among other things, a complex of glass Victorian greenhouses, including one that was moved from its original site at the University of Toronto. The conservatory is filled with lush tropical plants, ferns, orchids, violets, succulents, cacti, all manner of greenery to warm the soul when the weather is cold or damp outside. As of yesterday, the greenhouses are replete with colour: poinsettias, azaleas, anthurium, kalanchoe, cyclamen, croton of all shades and varieties, people fashioned from plants, a Christmas tree decked with oranges and cloves, wreaths of evergreen with the freshest holly, tropical plants blooming chartreuse, orange, yellow, and the reddest of reds.
Sunday there were horse and carriage rides, Victorian carollers, hot cider and cookies to mark the beginning of the season. On December 7th and 8th, 14th and 15th, 21st and 22nd, the conservatory will be bathed in candlelight from five to seven o’clock. I cannot imagine anything that could be more magical than to visit Allan Gardens by candlelight in the dead of winter. We had an absolutely lovely visit to the Gardens. Maybe this is the beginning of a new tradition.