Monday, June 28, 2021

#MicroblogMondays: Group hugs and Kleenex


I watched the second and final episode (two parts, four hours) of the screen adaptation of David Nicholls's novel "Us" on PBS Masterpiece last night. (I read the novel last month, reviewed here -- and Mel mentioned it in the latest Friday Roundup.)  The New York Times had an interesting review/story about the show, how it was filmed (pre-covid) and the experience of viewing it during the pandemic. Travel wish fulfillment, anyone? (Quote from the article:  “Rather than a love letter to Europe,” Nicholls said ruefully, “the series became a love letter to leaving the house.”)

I thought it was extremely well done -- the author wrote the screenplay, which probably helped -- especially the scenes involving  the couple's first baby, Jane. The scenes at the hospital had me in tears, which I expected. And the scenes involving that precious little box of memories -- Connie, alone in the house, opening the box;  curious little Albie, pulling it off the shelf;  Douglas offering it to Connie in the end, asking only for copies of the photos. 

What I didn't expect was bursting into sobs near the end, when Douglas, Connie and Albie embrace in a group hug in Albie's college dorm room. It was a big emotional payoff for the entire story -- the family together at last in a moment of genuine love and emotion, before heading their separate ways -- but it also hit me (as it still does, from time to time) that it was one of those moments I've missed out on and will never experience with my own daughter. (The big family group hugs, in the college dorm room and/or elsewhere.)

One of so many moments. 

You can find more of this week's #MicroblogMondays posts here.  

Saturday, June 26, 2021

"Anxious People" by Fredrik Backman

Perhaps a book titled "Anxious People" is not the greatest reading choice when you have anxious tendencies yourself  -- at first glance, anyway, lol. I have to admit I felt a little jittery at times as I read this book. Something about the staccato prose, the repetition, and reading about the personal anxieties of some of the different characters (particularly Zara). 

But I was compelled to read "Anxious People" for several reasons -- first, because it's been on my "to-read" list for quite a while;  second, because it's by Fredrik Backman, who wrote "Beartown," one of the best books I read in 2019 (review here);  third, because it was the June pick for my "Clever Name" online book club. (We'll be meeting via Zoom to talk about it tomorrow.)  

And finally, because one of my friends, in her review on Goodreads, wrote: "Read this book. Stick with it. Seriously won’t regret. There. That’s my review. LOL."

And so I stuck with it -- even though I will admit I struggled a bit, particularly through the first half/two-thirds of the book. There are so many different characters featured (many of them unlikeable -- especially at first), with different back stories, and the time frames shift back and forth between the present and the past. It was hard to keep track and remember all the details -- especially after a day or two or three away from the book.   

But I will admit -- like "The Midnight Library" by Matt Haig (review here), this book slowly grew on me, and ultimately won me over.  The closer I got to the end, the more I wanted to keep reading.  Huge props to the author for how he drew together all the different storylines, wove connections among the different characters (who slowly became more likeable as the book went on), and resolved some outstanding questions/mysteries. (I may have to re-read the book just to make sure I caught them all.)  There are some wonderful messages about mental health and kindness, too. 

Oh yeah -- the plot (lol): as the book jacket blurb explains, it's "a poignant comedy about a crime that never took place, a would-be bank robber who disappears into thin air, and eight extremely anxious strangers who find they have more in common than they ever imagined."  

The Goodreads description adds:  "Viewing an apartment normally doesn’t turn into a life-or-death situation, but this particular open house becomes just that when a failed bank robber bursts in and takes everyone in the apartment hostage. As the pressure mounts, the eight strangers begin slowly opening up to one another and reveal long-hidden truths."  

I think that's enough information. :) 

I wound up rating "Anxious People" 5 stars on Goodreads. Maybe more like 4.5, rounded up -- it did give me some jitters, after all.  ;)  But my friend was right. I am glad I stuck with it. :)  

This was Book #34 read to date in 2021 (and Book #2 finished in June), bringing me to 94% of my 2021 Goodreads Reading Challenge goal of 36 books. I am (for the moment, anyway...!) 17 (!) books ahead of schedule. :)  You can find reviews of all my books read to date in 2021 tagged as "2021 books." 

Monday, June 21, 2021

#MicroblogMondays: Odds & ends

  • Vaccine update: So (to recap) it’s been a full week since we (finally!) became eligible for our second shots... and we haven't heard anything from the Rexall pharmacy where we had our first shots, aside from an email  last Monday, asking us whether we'd prefer AstraZeneca again, or Pfizer. Meanwhile, I’ve been on the provincial & regional portals at least once a day to see if we could book anything there right away/earlier, but I've had absolutely no luck. (Our appointment booking system is ridiculous.)
    • Today, I called the Rexall pharmacy where we got our first shots (11 weeks ago today) and spoke to a pharmacist. She said they ARE doing AZ shots right now (!) -- but they have NO Pfizer in supply. They think they MIGHT get some next week.  
    • After that, I tried calling the Shoppers Drug Mart where we get our prescriptions filled -- and could not find a way to talk to a real live person. (eyeroll) I eventually found a website showing all the local Shoppers (it's the country's biggest drugstore chain and there are 3 or 4 within an easy drive) that are doing vaccines and indicating what they have available. Most of them say they have AZ -- but NOBODY seems to have Pfizer right now.  
    • Then I remembered there was a news story this weekend that this week's Pfizer shipment has been delayed (!) -- and so all the provincial clinics that have been offering Pfizer are using Moderna instead – and some people are turning up their noses at that. (You can’t really blame them, after being jerked around with AZ so much!) 
    • There has been a sudden influx of stories encouraging people to take the Moderna -- it's (essentially) exactly the same as Pfizer.  There ARE a few smaller pharmacies in the area that are listed as offering Moderna.  I am tempted to try for that -- but I'm afraid my mother -- who was supremely pissed off when we took AstraZeneca as our first dose, and is the main reason why we asked for Pfizer for our second shots -- would freak out over that too. (eyeroll)   Dh is inclined to wait & see if the Rexall gets any Pfizer by next week -- and if not, then look for Moderna shots elsewhere. Sigh... It will be 12 weeks since our first shots next Monday, and we just want to get these second doses DONE. 
  • Sunday was Father's Day. Stores reopened last week, but we knew they'd be swamped with pent-up shoppers, and weren't anxious to join them just yet.  And so, for the second Father's Day in a row, I used a blank notecard as a makeshift card for dh (thank heaven for my obsession with pretty paper and notecards, lol -- and that I didn't get rid of all of them when we moved...!) and called my dad, and that was about it. (Dh's dad/my FIL died in August 2018.)  I told dh dinner was his pick, which turned out to be... macaroni & cheese??  (Whatever turns you on, right?)  
  • Also on Sunday afternoon: another fabulous gathering of Childless Elderwomen, hosted by Jody Day of Gateway Women. Recordings of this and other past gatherings are available on the Gateway Women website. If you haven't attended/watched one yet, you are in for a treat!  :)  These sessions are timed to coincide with the seasonal solstices/equinoxes;  next one will be in September, during World Childless Week. :)  
  • Jody also appeared on another podcast recently, this time in conversation with Sara Avant Stover. Excerpt, link to the full podcast and transcript available here. (I haven't listened to the podcast yet, but I did read the transcript.) 
  • Interesting first-person article (by a pregnant woman) in the Toronto Star:  "Why the image of a glowing, round-bellied ‘earth mother’ is not as benign as you might think." If maternity shoot photos (including Beyonce's) are triggering for you, you might want to pass on reading this one, but there are some thoughtful observations here. Sample passage: 
Part of the problem with this sort of glorification is that it allows us, as a society, to avoid taking concrete actions to materially support what we glorify, as if the praise and the pedestal are support enough. Just as saying “being a mom is the most important job in the world” doesn’t make that job pay — and yet still makes us feel like we’ve somehow supported mothers — so revering rosy-cheeked, round-bellied, earth-mother images makes us feel like we respect what pregnant people do for society, without actually having to do anything tangible to support them...

The other problem with glorification is that it always has a flip side — for every revered virgin, there is a whore: opposed to the untouchable virgin on her pedestal, the whore is reviled and desired, but never glorified; she is intended, in fact, to be disposable. This two-sided coin of glorification and vilification — of the virgin and the whore, the earth mother and the welfare mom — leaves little room for real women living real lives, little room for humanity.

(I would suggest that perhaps the flipside of the revered earth mother is not the welfare mom, but the much-vilified childless/free woman??) 

  • The New York Times had a really interesting piece on "Why American Women Everywhere Are Delaying Motherhood." Among the reasons cited:  prioritizing education and careers; the high costs of child care and housing; high levels of student debt; better access to birth control, which allows women today to control their fertility and their lives more than their mothers could;  lack of meaningful support from governments and workplaces; and today's high-stress "intensive parenting" style, which places greater demands on parents. 
    • Even more interesting, however, was the comments section, where (among other great points) quite a few women took the article to task for not mentioning one huge unmentioned reason:  the lack of suitable partners to have children with (and why aren't people asking MEN about why THEY are delaying fatherhood??).  I normally caution "beware the comments section!" (and there are always a few that make you roll your eyes and throw up your hands...!), but I actually found the discussion here pretty fascinating.   
You can find more of this week's #MicroblogMondays posts here.  

Thursday, June 17, 2021

Odds & ends

  • Season 4 finale of "The Handmaid's Tale" -- who saw it?? And what did you think?? I understand there is (at least) one more season coming... not sure what they can do to top this, although I guess there are still unresolved matters to build stories around (e.g., what happens to Serena and her baby, and to Janine, still in Gilead...).  The producers have also bought the rights to "The Testaments," Margaret Atwood's sequel (which I reviewed here), which takes place 15-20 years  later, so... 
  • I caught the tail end of a documentary on CBC News Network last Saturday night called "The World's Biggest Family," about one man (filmmaker Barry Stevens)'s discovery that he was born from donor sperm -- and that he might have up to 600 (!!) half-siblings. I've seen some of Stevens's previous films on the same subject, and may go on the CBC Gem streaming service to watch the whole thing. (Spoiler alert: he is pro-disclosure and openness.)  
  • It's Father's Day this weekend.  Thank you to Melissa & Erik at Live Childfree for flagging this article from the Washington Post: "Father’s Day often dredges up painful feelings for childless men like me." 
  • Little Great-Nephew is (finally!) warming up to us!  He is so frickin' cute. (Not that we're prejudiced or anything, right?) On the days we visit him and his grandma (SIL), we set the alarm clock, get up early, and go over mid-morning for an hour or two before he has his lunch (he naps for a few hours after that).  
    • Dh said, "Is it weird that I think about him all the time?"  I said, "Do you think anyone would ask that question if he was your grandson instead of your great-nephew?"  
  • More vaccine frustration (of a different sort): a recent Toronto Star headline set my teeth on edge: "Burn in the U.S.A.: Canadians who got the AstraZeneca vaccine can’t see ‘Springsteen on Broadway.'" (Or tapings of “Saturday Night Live,” or “The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon,” apparently.) 
    • Anyone attending the show, which starts on June 26th, must be fully vaccinated with an U.S. Food and Drug Administration-approved vaccine -- i.e., Pfizer, Moderna or Johnson & Johnson -- and provide proof. AstraZeneca was approved by Health Canada -- and has been widely used elsewhere, particularly in Britain -- but is not approved not by the FDA.  
    • Quote: "It could also be just the beginning of bureaucratic vaccine woes, as the world starts to reopen with a patchwork of different approved shots... The no-AZ policy touches on a larger problem...: the lack of international co-ordination on a registry of acceptable vaccines, that will become more of a problem as countries start to open up again." 
    • Dh & I (and more than 2 million other Canadians under the age of 65) took AZ as our first dose in good faith back in early April -- despite growing concerns about clotting issues (not to mention the disapproval of my mother, lol) -- at the urging of doctors & politicians who were worried about a rapidly rising third wave of COVID-19, and who told us "the best vaccine is the first one you can get in your arm." For us, that was AstraZeneca. Our prime minister, deputy prime minister, both federal opposition party leaders and several if not all of our provincial premiers all had AstraZeneca for their first shots too. 
    • Clotting issues aside, AstraZeneca is highly effective. Maybe not *quite* as effective as the mRNA vaccines, but still pretty damned good protection. 
    • It's all kind of a moot point (for now, anyway), because the U.S./Canada border has been closed since March 2020 (although there's increasing buzz on both sides about reopening soon). (And heaven knows, Springsteen tickets are hard to get at the best of times...! -- getting a second shot will probably be easier than snagging those, lol.) But it's the principle of the thing. I know there are bigger fish to fry at the moment, but our governments will have to revisit this, eventually, and work something out.
  • Still no contact from the pharmacy where we got our first shots. I've popped on the provincial & regional booking sites a few times over the past several days, without success. I've heard a few people have had success simply by walking into a drugstore and asking if they have any available appointments. Perhaps we'll try that next...??  I hear there's a whole bunch of Pfizer being delivered next week, so...?? 

    Wednesday, June 16, 2021

    "Emily of New Moon" by L.M. Montgomery

    Our summer read for the L.M. Montgomery Readathon group on Facebook is "Emily of New Moon," first published in 1923. "Emily" and its two sequels may not be quite as well known as Montgomery's "Anne" books, but some critics prefer them, and Montgomery herself said that Emily was more like her in character than Anne was. 

    It's been quite a while since I last read the Emily books, but as I happily dived into the pages, the details of the story came flooding back to me. Emily Byrd Starr, age 10, is living a happy life with her widowed father and her beloved cats in a little house in a hollow near Mayfield, Prince Edward Island. 

    And then, she learns he only has weeks to live. 

    Now an orphan, she is taken in by her late mother's family -- the "proud Murrays" of  New Moon Farm at Blair Water -- haughty, strict Aunt Elizabeth, timid but kind Aunt Laura and quirky Cousin Jimmy. Emily struggles to adjust to her new life in a strange place where few people seem to understand her, and finds catharsis by pouring out her heart in letters to her dead father. Gradually, she learns to love New Moon and her new family, make friends, and to find her voice as a writer. 

    Reading the story again for the first time in many years, I remember what an impact these books had on me when I first encountered them as a pre-teen. They were darker and more intense than the Anne novels (which I adored) -- but I felt that Emily, too, was a kindred spirit. I especially related to her outsider status among the girls at school, her fierce friendship with the doctor's daughter, Ilse, and her love of reading and writing (if not her atrocious spelling, lol). It was Emily (and also, I think, Anne Frank, who would have turned 92 last week, and whose diary I read around the same time I first discovering Montgomery), who taught me the cathartic power of writing -- a gift that I've carried with me my entire adult life, including in this blog (among other places).  :)   

    It's not my absolute favourite Montgomery novel -- but it's still a wonderful book with a vividly drawn heroine. I am so glad to reacquaint myself with Emily and her friends. :) 

    4.5 stars, officially 4 stars on Goodreads.  
    (I will count this book as a re-read when we are finished our discussion at the end of the summer.) 

    Our Readathon group just began reading & discussing this book on Facebook on Monday, June 14th, and we'll continue to do so through the summer months. If you're an Emily/LMM fan, please join us!  :) I don't know if we will continue with the sequels? -- "Emily Climbs" and "Emily's Quest" -- I hope we will!  (and even if we don't, I will read them myself!)

    This was Book #33 read to date in 2021 (and Book #1 finished in June), bringing me to 92% of my 2021 Goodreads Reading Challenge goal of 36 books. I am (for the moment, anyway...!) 17 (!) books ahead of schedule. :)  You can find reviews of all my books read to date in 2021 tagged as "2021 books." 

    Monday, June 14, 2021

    Diary of a desperate vaccine hunter

    Monday morning, June 14th:  Dh & I are both 10 weeks post-first vaccines (AstraZeneca). The time between first and second shots (of any COVID-19 vaccine) was originally set at 16 weeks, then shortened to 12 weeks (which, for us = June 28th). But over the weekend, the provincial government announced an accelerated vaccination schedule, hoping to ward off a new surge in cases caused by the Delta variant. Anyone 18+ living in certain COVID-19 "hotspot" regions (including ours) who received their first shots before May 9th (including AstraZeneca -- we got ours on April 5th) may now book appointments for their second shots, as of 8 a.m. this morning. 

    This is Ontario. We are several (six?) months into vaccinations, into the second round, and -- still -- nothing about booking them is simple or easy. Some on Twitter have dubbed it "the Ontario Vaccine Hunger Games 2.0."  (One tweet I saw quipped something to the effect of, "What's going to kill me first? -- covid or the stress of trying to book a vaccine?") Anxiety and stress levels are running high. 

    My options: 

    • Try the provincial vaccinations portal. 
    • Try the regional vaccinations portal. (Yes, each region has its own portal on top of the provincial one. Don't ask me why??) 
    • The pharmacy where we got our first (AstraZeneca) vaccine on April 5th assured us at that time that they would contact us when second shots became available??
    • I could also enter our names & contact information on the wait lists for second shots at as many other local pharmacies offering vaccinations as I have patience to register at, and hope that one of them pans out. (I read a post from one woman who printed off 23 pages (!) listing local pharmacies offering the vaccine and started driving around to them in person. Luckily, she was able to book vaccines for herself and her husband at the first one she visited!) 
    • Try to find out if there are any pop-up sites in our area. 

    Here's how my day went:  

    • I logged onto the provincial portal shortly after 8 a.m... and learned I was 100,000th+ in line, with an estimated wait time of an hour & a half. So I spent the next hours & a half keeping an eye on the little man striding purposefully toward the edge of my screen (reminding me, curiously, of trying to buy tickets online for "Hamilton" -- which, of course, never got used, because, pandemic).  
      • I finally made it in... entered my health card number, birth date and other info -- and... got a message that there were no available appointments. (eyeroll) 
    • I decided to try the regional portal. Several of the sites listed already showed "No appointments available." I clicked on the site closest to us that was supposedly offering appointments (a new hospital). Estimated wait time: 2 &1/2 hours. (I closed the window and tried not to swear.) 
    • I checked the website for the local pharmacy where we'd received our first shots. I learned they're offering Pfizer as well as AstraZeneca. The website assured me that if I'd received my first vaccination there, they would be contacting us when supply/appointments became available. (But when??)
      • I called the phone number and got a message reiterating the same as the website. I debated whether to zero out and try to speak to a pharmacist, but decided they were probably swamped with calls and that I shouldn't be an a**hole. So I hung up. (I reserve the right to be an a**hole in the future if I start getting really desperate, lol...)  
    • Around noon, dh & I were delighted when we both received emails from the pharmacy, asking whether we had a preference for second shots -- AZ or Pfizer?  Oh boy, decision time. I wish they would have told us which one (if any?) would be available first, because that's the one I would have picked. 
      • We ultimately decided to go with Pfizer, despite the lack of hard data on its effectiveness and safety when mixed with AZ -- mainly because my mother (who was NOT happy that we'd had AZ before!!) had nagged me about it the last several times I spoke with her! (eyeroll again)  
      • We both received confirmation emails saying... they would be in touch when appointments became available. Well, okay. At least we know we're in the queue.... (With the first shots, it was 2-3 days between when we signed up for the waiting list and when we got appointments -- which were for the following day.) That helped to ease my anxiety a bit. 
    • A FB friend (living in another region in the Toronto area) posted that she'd been successful in booking appointments. Told her about my morning, she looked at my region's website & mentioned that there seemed to be several different sites/clinics with appointments available. I checked it out. The list of sites would show "Appointments available" -- but when you clicked on the link to try to book, no appointments were available on any of the dates shown. 
      • However, there was a message on some sites that new appointments would open up at 3 p.m.
    • 3 p.m.:  Tried the provincial portal (again). Got through almost right away and was shown two sites which supposedly had available appointments... both of them in Hamilton, 80 km (about 45-60 minutes) away. Pass. 
    • Tried the regional portal & clicked on all the (supposedly) available sites/clinics, both near and far. Every single one had NO available appointments listed. The one at the hospital closest to us said, "New appointments at 3:15." Okay, sounds promising... Tried at 3:15 and was taken to a completely blank screen. Refreshed the screen several times. Nothing. 
    • 3:45 p.m.:  Tried refreshing the screen again, on a whim. New message: "You are now in line. Thank you for your patience. Your estimated wait time is more than 7 hours." I left the window open. A half hour later, it was down to 2 hours. 
    • 4:30 p.m. (about 45 minutes later):  I'm in!! Asked to pick a date up to two weeks away. Would you believe I clicked on ALL 14 DATES and not ONE appointment was available?? 
    • Closed out the window and decided to call it a day. ;) 

    Seriously... is this any way to run a booking system?? I mean, who has the time.... ??  (Well, okay, I guess we do... ;)  -- childless, retired, etc.... -- but who WANTS to sit on a laptop all day, clicking around and refreshing screens and stressing out?? And really, why should we have to? Other provinces/countries don't seem to have these issues.)

    I will try again tomorrow.  And cross my fingers that our original pharmacy comes through with appointments soon...! 

    #MicroblogMondays: Small pleasures & annoying things

    Small pleasures: 
    • The windows of our condo building were recently professionally washed (they generally get done at this time of year) -- and then this past weekend, I washed the outside balcony door/windows and ALL the inside windows myself.  (We even took off the screens & cleaned them in the bathtub.) Clean windows make SUCH a difference to my mood (especially when the sun is shining through them!).  I keep stopping what I'm doing to admire them all over again, lol.  :) 
      • (I'm embarrassed to admit this was the first time in the five years we've lived here that I've done the inside bedroom & office windows. I don't think the previous owners had washed them either -- meaning they hadn't been washed since they were installed while the building was being constructed, 6-7 years ago. Erk.  You might *think* they're not that dirty, but trust me, they are!) 
      • Another small pleasure: using my nifty new squeegie kit, as recommended by my housecleaning guru at @gocleanco on Instagram, lol.  Our condo windows are floor-to-ceiling, and I was very happy to use the extension pole and not have to get up on a stool to reach the window tops!!  -- especially outside on the balcony! (We're four storeys up.)
    • Weather that's nice enough to leave the balcony door open all afternoon -- especially since it follows a spell of extreme heat & humidity. 
    • Getting to spend time with Little Great-Nephew. We've been going over to see him one or two mornings a week (mostly outside) since mid-May (when his mom returned to work after maternity leave and SIL retired to look after him), and I think he's finally starting to get used to having us around. :)  (We go mid-morning because he usually takes a nap after lunch.) 
      • Bonus small pleasure: we will sometimes swing by the nearby supermarket after our visit and pick up some of their delicious soup or pizza for a takeout lunch. We used to have lunch there once or twice a week, pre-COVID, and it's a treat to enjoy their fare again! 
    • Looking forward to visiting the bookstore again soon, now that non-essential retail has been allowed to reopen (at 15% capacity, as of Friday). (Restaurant patios were also allowed to reopen, but we have no desire to visit one yet, at least until we're both fully vaccinated.) 
    • Knowing we will be getting fully vaccinated sooner versus later:  those of us who received our first shots of AstraZeneca may now get our second shots (of either AstraZeneca or an mRNA vaccine) 8 weeks after the first -- versus the previous 12-week interval, which itself was stepped up from the original 16-week wait. (We had our first AZ shots on April 5th, 10 weeks ago.) People who got Pfizer or Moderna were allowed to start booking second shots after 8 weeks last week. Appointments open this morning --wish me luck! (We're already on a wait list at the pharmacy where we had our first shots, but it's unclear how the new accelerated schedule will affect that. I'm going to call them -- or try to, anyway...!)   
    Annoying things: 
    • My mother, who wasn't very happy about us getting AstraZeneca for our first shot, and is now lobbying/nagging us to take the Pfizer for our second shot. Sigh... (and eyeroll...!). 
    • The new, shorter timeframe for vaccinations was implemented to help ward off new cases of the highly contagious and lethal Delta (Indian) variant of the COVID-19 virus, which is now making inroads hereabouts -- just as we're coming out of Wave/Lockdown #3 and things are (finally) starting to gradually reopen after a very long lockdown. It's kind of a race against time to get more people fully vaccinated/protected before Wave #4 is triggered...  
    • People who are acting like the pandemic is over, now that a few restrictions have been lifted (as of this past weekend).  (It's not. See above, and see this article.) You give some people an inch, and... I know, it's been a very loonnngggg 15 months, but... 
    • My COVID hair. ;)  Okay, I know I sound like a broken record (you've all heard this song from me before...!), but it's the ONE THING about this pandemic (other than not seeing family) that I've found hard to endure -- especially now with the warmer weather. (Southern Ontario's hot, humid summer weather was what prompted me to cut my thick, heavy, shoulder-length hair short when I was in journalism school, 38 years ago, and it's been short ever since then.) 
      • I haven't had a haircut in 13 weeks (I usually go every 6 weeks like clockwork);  hair salons will not reopen until stage 2 (at reduced capacity, with masks worn). That won't be until early July, at least 16 weeks after our last trims (and who knows how long it will be after that until we can get an appointment?? -- our regular hairdresser only works three days a week too...). Previous record was 17 weeks (after our first lockdown last year);  it was 12 weeks before this last haircut (after Lockdown #2 ended but before Lockdown #3 kicked in). 
    • My parents recently went to the dentist for the first time since the pandemic began. Even before then, my dad knew he needed some work done -- but he was not prepared to be told that he now had a mouthful of cavities, and fixing it all was going to require several thousand dollars' worth of work over several more visits. :(  Don't put off those preventative care appointments, people!! 
    • We went to visit Little Great-Nephew last Monday morning, and he had a bit of a cold -- runny nose, etc. When we went back on Wednesday morning, he was fine -- but his dad (Older Nephew) was home from work and feeling miserable with a cold.  And then Thursday morning, dh woke up sneezing and sniffling (and still is...)!  (We're pretty sure it's just a cold and not... anything else.) When he talked to BIL this weekend, HE had a cold too!!  LGN sure is adorable -- but he's a little germ magnet/superspreader, lol.  
    • Blogging drought: after a productive (possibly record -- I haven't checked) month in May, with 24 posts published, I've slacked off. This is my first post since #MM last Monday. I just haven't been feeling the muse. I haven't even had any book reviews to write, lol. Which brings me to... 
    • Reading drought:  well, not exactly a drought. I have started three books over the past two weeks for three different book clubs/reading groups, but haven't finished one yet. I read 9 books in May, and I know that's not going to happen every month. Still, it would be nice to get at least one finished soon... 
    You can find more of this week's #MicroblogMondays posts here.  

    Monday, June 7, 2021

    #MicroblogMondays: Odds & ends

    • Re: the sad discovery of the bodies of 215 unidentified children buried in unmarked graves on the grounds of a former Indian residential school in Kamloops, British Columbia... I was watching the news last week, about the debate in the House of Commons on this discovery, and... there it was! (eyeroll) I give you Erin O'Toole, Leader of the Opposition/Conservative party:  "As a parent, it's devastating to think that 215 children were buried by their school and lost for decades." Ummm, how about as a human being?? (He may not be the only one to have made that remark, but this is the only such comment that I've found in the news stories so far.) 
    • I know the news of the birth of Lilibet Diana Mountbatten-Windsor this past weekend has sent some of my loss/infertility/CNBC friends into a tailspin. These celebrity birth announcements don't affect me *quite* the way they used to... and yet I'd be lying if I said I wasn't just a little bit envious/wistful. Lilibet's grandmother, Diana, Princess of Wales, was just six months younger than I am -- and I can't help but think about how much she would have loved being a grandmother. And about how so many of my peers are becoming grandmothers these days... 
      • On a somewhat related note, we've been spending an hour or two with SIL & Little Great-Nephew, one or two mornings a week lately. (He takes a nap after lunch, so mornings are better than afternoons for visits.) His shyness around us is starting to wear off -- but it's clear that Grandma/Nonna and (especially!) Grandpa/Nonno are his favourites! 
    • Our stay-at-home order officially ended on June 2nd (it's been in place since mid-April -- although we were also under a stay-at-home order from mid-December through mid-March before that!) -- but just about everything remains closed, aside from essential retail (supermarkets, pharmacies, etc.) and restaurant takeout. We were told that, under stage one of a new, staged reopening plan, some things (including outdoor dining, and non-essential retail at 15% capacity) would begin to reopen on or around June 14th, depending on whether certain metrics were met. Not all of the metrics -- such as case numbers and ICU capacity -- have been made public, but we already met the vaccination target (60% of adults with one vaccine dose) some time ago. 
      • Today we heard that things will start reopening on Friday -- three days earlier than expected. Fingers crossed that people stick to the guidelines, and this doesn't trigger Wave/Lockdown #4...!  (especially with the Delta/B.1.617 variant from India beginning to make the rounds locally...) 
      • The province had 525 new cases today -- the lowest number since last September. 
      • If things continue to go well, case levels remain low and higher vaccination levels are met (70 per cent of adults with one vaccine dose -- which we've already exceeded -- and 20 per cent of adults with two doses), we could enter stage 2 of the reopening 21 days later, around July 2nd. That stage includes reopening of personal care services (with masks worn) -- including haircuts!!  (Let the countdown begin!! lol) 
    • We heard today that the 20-year-old son of one of dh's cousins is recovering from COVID-19. He went to a friend's house to hang out -- the friend works part-time at a local supermarket where there have been several known cases -- and both of them came down with it. Fortunately, his case was not serious. He had a bad cough and a fever for several days. He holed up in his room at home and his mom brought him his meals on paper plates. His parents have both had their first vaccines, and they and his sister all tested negative. 
    • My parents are booked for their second doses of Pfizer at the end of the month.  Dh & I should be getting our second doses around the same time (of what, we're not quite sure yet -- first doses were AstraZeneca, and we have the option of getting that -- assuming supplies hold -- or an mRNA vaccine. Government communication re: how/when/where/etc. to book second doses is clear as mud here right now, as per usual -- eyeroll -- and everyone is scrambling).
    • It seems like we went almost straight from winter to summer, with no or very little spring in between. Our temperatures the past few days have been above 30C/87F, with humidex values in the high 30s/near 100F.  (The normal temperature at this time of year is about 22C.)  There must be a happy medium...!  
    You can find more of this week's #MicroblogMondays posts here.  

    Wednesday, June 2, 2021

    A tale of two pandemics

    I've seen a tweet/meme circulating on social media over the past few days, moaning that 95,000 mostly maskless people were in the stands at the Indy 500 (in Indiana) this past weekend, while we in Ontario still can't even go to a store to buy underwear, and how embarrassing is that??  

    (I think the actual figure was more like 135,000) -- and that was 40% of capacity!!) 

    With great effort, I bit my cybertongue -- because my first reaction was that ummm, maybe there shouldn't BE 95,000-135,000 mostly maskless people in the stands right now?? (hello, pandemic? hello, highly contagious and lethal variants?) 

    Then I thought, well, okay, maybe more of them are vaccinated than we are?  And (to be fair) it WAS an outdoor event (and outdoors is better than indoors) -- although 135,000 people close together, even outdoors, is not exactly my idea of social distancing...! (I'll be curious to see whether there is a significant spike in cases/deaths in Indiana over the next two weeks or so.)  

    Anyway -- I did a little digging.  I'm not a statistician, and sometimes finding comparable stats (apples vs apples, etc.) was a bit tricky, but I think I've interpreted things correctly here.  Among the sites I consulted were the New York Times coronavirus tracking site for current stats for Indiana, the Globe & Mail's covid stats page and the Toronto Star's home page (for vaccine info), the Ontario government covid site, as well as Google (for population and specific May 31st case & death stats).  As of May 31st/June 1st, here's how things stack up (more or less): 

    • Population (2021):  Indiana: 6.8 million/Ontario: 14 million 
    • New cases (May 31st):  Indiana: 0/Ontario: 916
    • New deaths (May 31st): Indiana: 0/Ontario: 9
    • 7-day average daily new cases (per 100,000, May 31st): Indiana: 7/Ontario: 7.40
    • 7-day average daily deaths (per 100,000, May 31st): Indiana: 0.14/Ontario: 0.1
    • All-time total cases (per 100,000):  Indiana: 11,096/Ontario: 3,601
    • All-time total deaths (per 100,000): Indiana: 202/Ontario: 59.3
    • Percentage of population with one vaccine: Indiana 41%/Ontario 57.4%
    • Fully vaccinated: Indiana 35%/Ontario 5%
    In summary: A greater percentage of Indiana's population is fully vaccinated. (So far.)  Of course,  Ontarians started vaccinating later than they did in the U.S., and we're only just starting second vaccinations for most people. I have no doubt we'll be catching up on that front soon. 

    In terms of the recent 7-day average of daily new case numbers and deaths (per 100,000 people), the stats for both places seem to be roughly even.  (In terms of one-day stats, it's been quite a while since we've recorded zero new cases or new deaths here in Ontario...!) (ETA: I suspect that perhaps Indiana just didn't release any stats that day?)

    But in terms of the pandemic totals to date -- sorry, Indiana, but there's just no question that overall, Ontario has a better track record, with far fewer cases and far fewer deaths over the course of this pandemic to date. 

    The lockdowns/stay at home orders/mask mandates and other restrictions we've endured over the past year have been tough, no question. But -- they've worked. They've kept people alive and healthy.  I'm not saying our stats are great, mind you -- 539,000 sick people and 8,700 deaths over 15 months is nothing to brag about. And I shudder to think of where we'd be right now if we hadn't locked down when we did -- and of course many (including me) will argue we'd be in a far better place right now if we hadn't lifted restrictions prematurely back in March -- and/or been quicker to reimpose them -- thus launching the third wave.  And of course, there will always be people (on both sides of the border) who ignore whatever restrictions are put into place, for a variety of reasons. 

    I suppose some might argue that, current case/death numbers being equal, and vaccinations going well, if they can gather in such large numbers without masks, why can't we? (or if not that, at least go into a store to buy underwear?)  There is a case to be made that you're less likely to encounter COVID-19 in a smaller retail outlet (especially if it's operating at partial capacity) than in, say, big-box stores such as Costco or Walmart (which remain open at reduced capacity, but are currently prohibited from selling non-essential items... like underwear).  

    But look at the numbers. Within about two weeks after the last lockdown/stay-at-home/school shutdown order was implemented in early April, the numbers peaked at an all-time high -- and then, FINALLY, began heading in the right direction. Earlier this week, daily new case numbers dropped below 1,000 for the first time since March, and the last time we hit yesterday's one-day case numbers (699) was in mid-OCTOBER. 

    It's taken us a long time to get here -- longer than it probably would have taken if we'd stuck longer with Lockdown #2 and not been in such a hurry to reopen in March (against most medical advice -- thus triggering Wave & Lockdown #3). But we've still got some distance to go before we get down to zero.  And who wants to risk triggering Wave/Lockdown #4? especially with summer just starting? 

    The provincial government has announced a staged reopening plan, with some non-essential retail and outdoor dining scheduled to reopen around June 14th.  There's been a LOT of grumbling about that. It's hard to be patient -- especially when we see the rest of the world starting to open up and normalize. But, given the variants in circulation, the current (still high) ICU numbers and the small number of people here who are fully vaccinated, I think we need to hang on just a little bit longer, keep following the guidelines, and get vaccinated when it's our turn. Then, hopefully, we can all enjoy this summer a whole lot more than the last one (if not the ones before COVID-19). 

    (steps off soapbox) 

    Tuesday, June 1, 2021

    Right now

    Right now...* 

    *(an occasional (mostly monthly) meme, alternating from time to time with "The Current"). (Explanation of how this started & my inspirations in my first "Right now" post, here. Also my first "The Current" post, here.)

    Pandemic update:  (This almost deserves a separate post of its own...!)  May was Month #14 going on 15 (!) of living with the COVID-19 pandemic.  The rollercoaster ride continues...!  The U.S. is opening up and abandoning masks (whether they should be is, I suppose, debatable...), and my social media feeds are full of my American friends & relatives, mostly maskless, gleefully meeting up with & hugging each other, toasting each other in bars, eating out in restaurants, etc.... 

    Meanwhile, north of the border, it feels like we have been under lockdown since well before Christmas -- hereabouts, if not province- or country-wide:  the region I live in entered a lockdown on Dec. 14th, joined by the rest of the province on Dec. 26th. This ran 10 weeks until Feb. 22nd (and probably should have gone longer, but didn't -- thus setting the stage for Wave #3...!). Our most recent lockdown/stay-at-home order, which began April 8th, was initially scheduled to end on May 20th (after six weeks) -- just before our Victoria Day long weekend -- but was extended until June 2nd. 

    Then, on May 20th (just before the long weekend), the provincial government announced  a new, staged reopening plan, tied to specific metrics (finally!!), including increases in vaccination rates (which I mentioned here). Assuming things go well and the metrics are met, some things will start to reopen in mid-June, including outdoor dining and some non-essential retail. (Unfortunately for me, hair salons likely won't reopen until stage two of the plan, i.e., probably not until sometime in July. Heeeellllllpppppp....) 

    After hitting an all-time high of 4,812 on April 16th (shortly after the latest restrictions began), daily new case numbers have been declining. Yesterday, they dipped below 1,000 for the first time since March, with 916 new cases reported. A big improvement, but still...!!  Hospitalizations and ICU numbers remain too high for comfort, however.

    Unfortunately, things have not been much better in some other parts of Canada.  At one point this past month, the city of Calgary (in Alberta) had a higher per capita case rate than INDIA.  My home province of Manitoba -- which has fared relatively well for most of the pandemic -- is currently a global COVID-19 hot spot and under its own strict restrictions (and the region where my parents live is one of the province's hot spots, outside of the city). New case numbers there reached a record high of 560 on May 13th -- the equivalent of 5,992 new cases here in Ontario (!). Cases in hospital ICUs are also at record levels, and some patients have been transferred to hospitals in neighbouring provinces to receive care. Needless to say, I (still!) won't be heading there to see my family anytime soon... maybe in the fall or for Christmas, if I'm lucky...  :(  

    The one bright spot:  vaccinations, which were (very/agonizingly) slow to begin rolling out, are now galloping along... to the point that Canada has now surpassed the U.S. in terms of the percentage of people who have received at least one dose of vaccine!  (Who would have thought THAT, back in early March??)  As of yesterday (May 31st), 56.5% of Canadians (56.8% here in Ontario) have received at least one dose. 

    Just 5.3% of Canadians (including 4.8% of Ontarians) have received both doses ( = are considered fully vaccinated), but second vaccines for the general population are now beginning to happen. Until just recently, the protocol was to wait 16 weeks/four months for second shots of all vaccines, to give more people the opportunity to get those critical first shots and receive at least some measure of protection from the virus. Last week, however, the government announced it will revise that timeline to 12 weeks in most cases. 

    Dh & I happily received our first shots of AstraZeneca on April 5th (and BIL & SIL got theirs the following day -- also AstraZeneca). Since then, my parents, sister & her partner in Manitoba, and both nephews and their wives here have all received their first shots (all Pfizer). Most Canadian provinces have paused using AstraZeneca for first shots because of the risk of blood clots (and also because enough Pfizer was becoming available to meet current demand, as well as some Moderna).  After some dithering by both federal and provincial governments, it's been decided that those of us who received AstraZeneca for our first vaccinations *may* receive AZ for our second shots, 10-12 weeks after the first, so as not to waste any of the AZ currently in supply or due to arrive shortly. Whether there will be *enough* AZ vaccine to give a second shot to everyone who wants it remains to be seen. (It also remains to be seen whether AZers will be offered Pfizer or Moderna  for their second shots, as some would prefer (and assume will be possible) -- the governments are still waiting for more study data on the side effects, efficacy, etc., before making a decision on that front.)  

    Under the 16-week protocol, dh & I would have received our second shots around July 26th;  now it's possible that might happen before the end of June. We would both be more than happy to receive the AstraZeneca again, versus the prospect of "mixing" (especially if, as with our first shots, it means we can get vaccinated sooner). Apparently the risk of clotting drops dramatically with the second AZ dose. But will there still be enough AZ supply by the time we qualify for our second shots? I guess we'll see what happens...!  

    *** *** *** 

    On top of dh's usual (once or twice weekly) trips to the supermarket for groceries and for takeout dinners on Saturday nights, this month, we went (together -- with some trips including multiple stops): 
    •  To BIL's three times:  
      • On May 8th (Saturday of Mother's Day weekend) to drop off cards for the nephews' wives (who share a birthday -- same day, same year! -- what are the odds??). It was just BIL, SIL & Little Great-Nephew at home -- we've all had our first shots (the adults, anyway), SIL has stopped working, and the weather was nice enough to have the balcony door partly open, so we figured the risk was minimal, and we wound up staying for coffee (despite the stay-at-home order -- cough...!). We hadn't seen any of them in 4+ weeks, since April 6th. :( 
      • Back again on the morning of May 19th to visit SIL & Little Great-Nephew (and the dog, lol). 
      • And again on the morning of May 26th. :)  He's still pretty shy around us (much to dh's dismay) -- hid behind Grandma when we arrived! -- but waved and said "Bye!" when we were leaving. (And closed the door on us!  lol) 
    • Before heading there on May 26th, we stopped at the bank to make an ABM deposit. 
    Otherwise, we've continued to stay close to home (both by edict & by choice).  

    *** *** *** 

    Reading: I read 9 (!) books in May (all reviewed on this blog, as well as Goodreads, & tagged "2021 books"):
    This brings me to 32 books read so far in 2021 -- 89% of my 2021 Goodreads Reading Challenge goal of 36 books (!!). I am (for the moment, anyway...!) 18 (!) books ahead of schedule. :)  (Dh is currently at 62 books (!) -- albeit he stopped tracking on Goodreads for a while in April, so the real number is likely higher.)  

    Current read(s): 
    Coming up: 
    A few recently purchased titles (in both paper & digital formats, discounted or purchased with points):   
    My "Clever Name" virtual book club discussed "The Thursday Murder Club" by Richard Osman (which I already read & reviewed here --and thoroughly enjoyed!) at our recent May meeting. Because I'd already read the book fairly recently, I did not re-read it for the book club. 

    • I finished watching "Atlantic Crossing" on PBS (8 episodes). It's based on the true story of how the Norwegian royal family fled the country after the Nazi invasion of 1940, how Crown Princess Martha and her three children wound up spending the war as refugees in Washington, D.C., and how her friendship with  U.S. President Franklin D. Roosevelt helped influence U.S. policy during the war. I'd give it 3 stars overall. Interesting to see WWII from a different (Norwegian) angle, lovely sets & costumes -- and I loved the period film footage shown at the very end of the last episode -- much of it filmed by Martha herself. But the scripting was a bit clunky and soap opera-ish at times, with plenty of historical embellishments (e.g., a tearful Martha singing "Happy days are here again" to an ailing FDR on his near-deathbed in the final episode?!). 
    • Dh often rolls his eyes at my Masterpiece Theatre dramas ;)  -- but he was hooked within 10 minutes of watching "Mrs. Wilson" with me -- a three-part British drama, based on a true story. Actress Ruth Wilson plays her own grandmother, Alison, whose grief over the death of her husband in 1963 becomes complicated when another woman claiming to be his wife shows up on her doorstep... and that's only the beginning! This was originally shown on PBS a few years ago but I didn't watch it then. I'm glad I had the chance to do it now in reruns.
    • I've now watched 7 of the 10 episodes of season 4 of "The Handmaid's Tale," which is airing Thursday nights on the CTV Drama channel (formerly known as Bravo). Most of the action and characters have moved to Canada this season, which has been kind of interesting...! 
    Listening:  To a lot of great podcasts (and wrote about some of them here). 

    Zooming: Among other Zoom chats recently, I caught up with two of my former coworkers, including one I only recently re-connected with on social media (all of us childless, too!). So nice to chat, and we're looking forward to doing it again soon!  

    Buying (besides books, lol):  Not much!  Most stores here (aside from supermarkets and drugstores) are still offering curbside pickup only right now. I did order a few pairs of earrings and a necklace from my favourite sterling silver jewelry crafter when she had a flash sale to get rid of inventory before moving everything over to her new website. Always happy to oblige, lol. ;)  They were delivered yesterday. My squeegee/window cleaning kit, which I think I mentioned last month (ordered in April) should finally arrive this week too. And I ordered my 2022 Filofax datebook insert from Amazon last week.  

    Appreciating:  The ability to order a wide variety of merchandise (especially books, lol) and have it delivered to my door while so many stores are closed right now. But also appreciating the efforts of those in the warehouses, etc., who are working (and in many cases endangering their own health and safety, and that of their families) to bring it to us.  :(   (These kinds of workplace settings are a leading driver of new cases here.) 

    Eating/Drinking:  Our usual rotation of favourite takeout choices, including amazing thin crust/wood oven pizza (twice!), spaghetti rapini agli e olio, rotisserie chicken, and chicken fingers and fries.  

    Wearing:  Bare feet in the house (finally!). (Dh goes barefoot year round, while I'm generally wearing both socks AND slippers during the winter months -- and still freezing, lol.)  (I did have to put on slippers again when the weather turned chilly again last week!)  

    When our weather turned warmer during the week before the Victoria Day long weekend, I screwed up my courage, brought out my capris from the depths of my closet, and tried them on. They still fit!! (Well, they're maybe a *little* tight... but still wearable!)  :)  (I also tried on my shorts, with similar results!)  Not having to shop for new ones during a pandemic (with stores currently closed, and changing cuts and uncertain fits making online shopping a gamble...) was a big relief. 

    Celebrating: Older Nephew and his wife take possession of their new house today!! BIL is on vacation this week, and he's enlisted dh to help move some of their things up there over the next few days. They are painting and having a new kitchen and some built-ins installed before they actually move in, though. That likely won't be until later this month. 

    Wanting:  To wash (the rest of) our windows, now that the weather is nice (but waiting for the squeegee kit I ordered -- see above). The condo board hires window washers every spring -- and they just got done last week -- but they won't come onto our balconies -- so the balcony doors are ours to do, as well as the inside windows. And they really need doing!  

    Once they're done, we'll bring up the patio chairs & little table from the storage locker. I'm looking forward to spending some time out there with a book and a glass of iced tea. :) (Before the weather gets too hot & humid...!) 

    Loving:  The days when the weather is warm enough (but not overly hot/humid) to have the balcony door open all day, letting in the fresh air! 

    Feeling: Mostly happy lately. :)  The warmer weather and sunshine really helps (as do the visits with Little Great-Nephew, lol).