Thursday Tidbits

Posted on August 6, 2020 under Thursday Tidbits with no comments yet


Free! Free at last.


Self-isolation: Round 2

Have you ever had dreams about becoming really good at something, maybe even an expert? Gardening, sewing, music, sports, an artist? The list is endless. We’re not talking about perfection here but merely striving for excellence. Perfectionists are not much fun to be around in my experience.

For the second time in 4 months, I am doing the self-isolation thing, having left the comfortable confines of my pandemic pound inducing apartment to my other home away from home in Northern Quebec. I arrived here last weekend and have settled into another routine in order to fulfill my 14-day isolation obligation.

So far, I have managed quite nicely. I’m doing a lot of reading. I am completing a 1000-piece puzzle that I started last March but had to abandon in mid -stream when Covid forced us to leave the community rather abruptly. I have done a bit of baking but am trying to scale back on my sugar consumption. I plan to start doing the P90X workouts soon. I had my cable and internet reconnected. Unfortunately, my internet signal is not strong enough to stream Netflix and Crave so I’ll probably cancel these services. I am taking part in daily online orientation sessions with my school board. I feel like a grizzled veteran after my 5- month stint this past winter. I have also taken this opportunity to start writing my 7th book which will chronicle events of my life in the north. Similar to my previous confinement (it wasn’t a pregnancy!), I plan to write 1,000 words a day for the month of August.

This where the similarities end.

Back home, I live at the end of a dead-end street. It is uncommonly quiet most of the time. Many university students live in the neighborhood and a handful of times each year, things can get a wee bit crazy. Stands of very large trees encircle our buildings providing a natural sound barrier. You get the picture. It’s very peaceful.

Pretty well everyone in our village up north gets around on 4 wheelers in the summer and skidoos in the winter. When you’re buried under snow and ice and it’s -50, most people go outside only when necessary. I have discovered that summer has a much different vibe. New York is known as the city that never sleeps. Move aside, Big Apple – I have a worthy opponent for this title. In the land of the midnight sun, people are out and about seemingly around the clock. Because of my location, only a handful of yards from the tundra, on a road that might be considered a circumferential highway, I see and hear a lot of traffic. Without the buffer of winter’s deep silence, the 4-wheelers are quite loud. I’m being polite. One other observation (not a criticism) but there doesn’t appear to be any speed limits as far as I can tell. When you’re in isolation 24 hours a day, you notice these types of things. At my age, everything seems to go too fast… especially time.

Like many school jurisdictions, summer is a time for renovations and construction. Our board has embarked on several ambitious projects this summer. Some of it is Covid related, some due to an increase in student population (portable classrooms) and regularly scheduled maintenance to Board owned properties, including my apartment building, an aging four-plex. This has resulted in an influx of construction workers. It is a perfect time of the year to get this work done with endless hours of sunlight. Unless of course, these workers are doing a major renovation to YOUR building while you are self-isolating.

The work crew arrived bright and early on Monday (7:00 a.m.). I’m an early riser so that wasn’t an issue. Scaffolding was erected outside my bedroom window and the work commenced. At first, I was charmed by the incessant pounding of hammers and the whir of saws… for the first few hours. When you can’t leave your apartment, the noise has a way of compounding. Actually, it’s exponential. These guys mean business and other than a few short breaks for meals, they work 14 hours a day… 14.5 last evening but who’s counting! For some reason, probably my imagination, the hammering and sawing seem to be getting louder by the day. Having wielded a jackhammer during a summer job in my youth, I am familiar with the sound and the vibration it causes. I swear to god that they were jackhammering the exterior wall of my building, as ridiculous as this may sound. One summer, I worked in a sawmill in Victoria. The sound of massive saws ripping into large Douglas fir trees is a sound I’ve never forgotten. Working close to these saws, I had to wear high grade ear protection. I don’t know if they were trying to cut my building in half yesterday, but the howl of the saws brought back pleasant memories! I wanted badly to go to bed at 9:30 p.m. but one keen worker was still pounding away inches from my bed as the staging was right outside my window. He was close enough to hear me breathe if he had stopped hammering.

I don’t want to be a pessimist, but something tells me that this may not be my last self-isolation. The question of Christmas was brought up at one of our orientation sessions. Will we be allowed to leave the community while the pandemic persists? A definitive answer was not forthcoming which was hardly surprising.

So, I’ve been mulling this over. Self-isolation gives you ample opportunity to think about imponderables. If I fly home for Christmas, I may have to spend the holidays in quarantine. Ho! Ho! Ho!. Upon my return to the north, I would have to self-isolate again. Ditto for spring break and the end of the school year.

I have tried to achieve excellence in everything I do.

I don’t seek to become an expert in self-isolation… unless it’s on a quiet island somewhere in the South Pacific.

Have a great weekend.

P.S. As you read this, I will be walking out on the tundra (pictured above). We have the blessings of the community to go for solitary walks on the land. I might pack a lunch and walk for 14 hours!

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Thursday Tidbits

Posted on July 30, 2020 under Thursday Tidbits with 3 comments


So long, Halifax


Traveling in a Covid world.

I’m on a slow boat to the north. Actually, taxis, buses, and airplanes will get me to Kangiqsujuaq on Saturday. I hope. Nothing is assured in a Covid world except masks and overeating!

This might arguably be the most boring post I’ve ever written… 1,132 and counting.  There are many boring stories from which to choose.

On Monday, I took a Maritime Bus from Antigonish to Stanfield Airport in Halifax. A note to Antigonishers. The bus terminal is no longer at Bloomfield Center. It’s out front of the Millenium Center. I was sitting in the Bloomfield parking lot and decided to go and see if the bus would be on time. There was a note on the door about the change in location. I would have missed the bus if I hadn’t checked this out.

If you can visualize a funeral home with no mourners, then you will have a good idea what the trip was like to Halifax. The bus was about one-third full. Everyone was masked of course but I’m not certain if anyone was actually breathing. The only audible sound was the wheels of the bus. They go “round and round”.

I had been convinced by a friend to stay at the ALT Hotel right at the airport. My Scottish ancestry has, in the past, prevented me from staying there.  I just can’t see paying $175 (+tax) to lay my head down for a night. I decided to sell some beer bottles and go “all in” and stay there for convenience. I’m still old fashioned and like to book my room by calling the motel and speaking with a human. Jessica was a joy. Actually, she was a Jessica! When she quoted me the room rates, a special for Nova Scotians, I audibly gasped and asked her to repeat the rate. She told me the rate was $109. Now unless you’re flying somewhere, it probably doesn’t make sense to book there as part of your staycation, but I can’t say enough about the hotel.

After checking in, I walked out of the hotel and walked across the street to a Halifax Metro bus stop. The #320 bus stops there and will take you into the city right next to the Metro Center. Until July 31st there is no charge. I think the fare is between $2-3 under normal circumstances. The bus makes about 5 stops but you arrive downtown in 45 minutes. There were only a small handful of people on this bus. Everyone was masked.

My third bus of the day took me from downtown to Spryfield to visit my daughter and granddaughter. Once again, the bus was free. This is where the Covid rules took a nosedive. Everyone was in possession of a mask. I’m guessing that 75% were wearing them. There was a gaggle of young people who blatantly disregarded the protocol. There was a man sitting less than three feet from me who had his mask around his neck. Half of the seats on the bus were restricted. I get that. But when all the seats were full (it was rush hour), then hordes of people were standing inches apart. Sorry, Halifax Transit. I am issuing a failing grade.

I will skip merrily to my second day in Halifax. Oh my god, Len. This is worse that listening to an old relative talk about the old days or a neighbor regaling you about the vacation they had in Provence 5 years ago.

I had one of the best sleeps I can remember in one of the most comfortable beds. I awoke with a start at 7:00 a.m. Startled, I immediately checked the obituaries and then checked my pulse. I NEVER sleep in this late.

It is a two- minute walk from the ALT to the airport. I thought I would go over early and get my boarding pass. This is not a word of lie. I was the only passenger in the airport. There had been a few early morning flights, but none expected until noon. When there is no one at the Tim Horton’s, you know something is radically amiss.

I’ll skip all the boring parts of my day in the city. The ALT allowed me a late checkout of 3:30. That tells you everything you need to know about the state of the hotel industry. I honestly didn’t see another guest in the hotel during my 24- hour stay. Check in at the airport was a breeze. I was the only one in the queue. I was carrying a large map of the world rolled up in a tube. The guy at the end of the scanning machine was so bored that he engaged me in a 10- minute conversation about maps. Covid makes strange bedfellows.

While waiting to board my flight, I realized that I had left my charger at the hotel. It is an Iphone charger. It is white. The bedspread in my room was white. I missed it when I checked out. Normally, this would have been a bit of a problem requiring me to purchase a new one in Montreal. In Covid world, this scarcely registered on my worry meter. I simply called the hotel and by the time it took me to go back downstairs to the Tim Horton’s, our arranged meeting place, a member of the housekeeping staff was there to meet me. It was probably the highlight of his day. I had to go through security again but when you’re the only one in line, this is not a hardship.

The flight to Montreal was half full and uneventful.

I took a cab to my hotel along with another teacher who was flying north later in the week.

Check-in went smoothly with all the precautions that one might expect. Prior to leaving home, we had to complete our menu choices in advance for the three days that we would be staying there. The dining room was off limits. Meals are delivered in brown paper bags to your room, left out in the hallway. I was hoping that the brown bag would contain a nice bottle of Ruby Rouge. (If you’re under the age of 60, Google this fine plonk!).  It would just seem to be appropriate! Supper is delivered at 5:00 p.m. I arrived at the hotel at 6:30. Do you have any idea how 90 -minute old, cold, dried out grilled hake tastes? Actually, not too shabby if you wash it down with a glass of red wine from a 375 ml bottle costing only $27. In case you don’t pay attention to things like liquid volumes, this is a half-bottle of wine. I plan to go on the wagon.

The center piece of my three day stay in Montreal was my Covid-19 test which took place yesterday. Women tell me that a mammogram is quite unpleasant. A rectal exam for prostate in men is an amusing piece of medicine. I can now add a Covid test to one of those things that rates right up there in “necessary but uncomfortable” procedures. They do a swab of your mouth which is straight forward unless you are subject to a gag reflex. The nasal examination is another matter. A lovely nurse places a swab in your nostril and as far as I can tell, the object is to have the swab reach the Northwest Passage. “Count to 10, breathe easily, and relax.” Yeah. Right. I’m kind of overdoing it but it’s a few seconds in your life and it is critically important.

As I write this, I breathlessly await my lunch. I can’t remember what I ordered. There is a liquor store nearby.

I just might have to go on a liquid diet until I reach my final destination on Saturday.

Have a great weekend.

P.S. If I survive the hotel food, I might do a “Northern Pillow Talk” Saturday evening.

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Thursday Tidbits

Posted on July 23, 2020 under Thursday Tidbits with no comments yet


One of my many hikes with Pete


What I did on my Coronavirus vacation.

I’m heading back to school next week. You remember when you were a child, there was a great deal of anticipation about the return to school. You knew you were going to get to meet up with your friends. There would be some butterflies as you and your mom went shopping for back to school supplies. In our part of the world, it also signaled the arrival of the Exhibition or what is affectionately known as the Fall Fair. Invariably, on the first day back, your teacher would ask you to write an essay summarizing your summer holidays.

I am not making light of the pandemic when I refer to the last four months as a vacation but for a handful of us, this hiatus from the normal rhythm of life, provided an opportunity to do some interesting things.

Like so many others travelling back home in March, I experienced self-isolation for the first time. Truly, it wasn’t a hardship for me whatsoever. Family, neighbors , and friends couldn’t do enough for me. Other than not being able to go for walks, being in quarantine was a mild inconvenience.

In the time given to me, I was able to write a book, produce 50 episodes of a live Facebook show called Pillow Talk, take care of some estate planning matters, and learn the art of making cream pies.

I took part in educational Zoom meetings taking Mindfulness training. Other Zoom meetings were an opportunity to connect with family in various parts of the country. Even though we were apart, we learned to connect in a new way.

The real gift for me was a chance to spend time every day with my son, Peter. Once the notion of the “family bubble” became a reality, we walked or hiked 6 out of 7 days, usually followed up by a cold beverage or a meal. Rarely at this stage in life, do we have the chance to spend quality time with our children.

I got to reconnect with an old school mate, Keith Currie, a talented artist who painted an original piece of art for me. Social media kept me connected with friends around the globe. For the better part of two months, I had a weekly Whatsapp video call with my friend Enrica who lives in Bergamo, Italy, once the epicenter of coronavirus.

I’m still amazed that at an advanced age, I continue to meet new people including the Purcells and the Bonvies who I met at Cape George Point on one of my long walks.

I sat on the deck of a cottage overlooking Lochaber Lake chatting with an old friend and had lunch on another occasion with the irrepressible Merle Taylor.

The greatest lesson I learned over recent months is the importance of essential workers. I think most of us have always appreciated those folks working in the health care sector. Especially during this pandemic, they have put their own lives on the line every day. However, this crisis has shown us that many often overlooked and underappreciated workers who keep our facilities clean and our grocery shelves stocked, are to be respected if not revered.

The pandemic has caused death, illness, anxiety, untold family pressure, financial hardship, dislocation, and isolation. It has also brought many people closer together and made us realize that the simple things in life are to be cherished.

I think I can say that I am a reasonably optimistic person but I feel like we are still in the early innings of this health crisis and that things are not going to be normal for some time to come. This does not mean that life as we know it has gone forever. We have a new normal in front of us and we can either curl up in a ball and worry ourselves sick or see it as an opportunity to move forward in a different way.

Have a great weekend.

P.S. One of Antigonish’s most beloved citizens has died. Hamish MacGillivray was a fixture on Main Street for decades. Here is a story I wrote about Hamish a few years ago.

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