Reflections on Day 15 of isolation: settling into home life and thoughts on returning to work

It’s a Saturday and it does feel a bit different given that my husband isn’t working full-time in the home office, and we aren’t so closely tied to the daily schedule. My older daughter is the schedule’s biggest fan, but she’s showing flexibility today and allowing us to set other boundaries around screen time (we all know that’s the major point of contention, right?).

In a lot of ways, we are settling into isolation life over here, and this is the impression I’m getting from other people too. Meal planning for seven days – check; enough flour to bake every day for 4 months – check; toilet paper to get us through until May – check; finding all the incredible craft supplies and/or getting creative with what we have – check; Messenger Kids installed – check; wine and beer supplies – check (well…the wine is disappearing quickly, but hey, BC wineries are currently delivering for free, so – check); dancing in the laundry room to live Instagram DJs while drinking wine – check; not worrying about the scale but well aware that I’m on my way to gaining the Covid 15 (like the Freshman 15, but less fun?) – check.

Baking is typically my domain here, but I’ve passed along the reins to my husband so I can have a break and he can spend some time with the girls (click here for a recipe for awesome Chocolate Crinkle Cookies). I encouraged them: “Daddy will be great at baking! He’s so good at following instructions!” to which he responded: “Ya, I’m good at following the rules”. I don’t think it was a correction, but it does make more sense that he is rule follower over an instruction follower (read: my instructions often go in one ear and out the other, but if it’s a rule…). But truly, he has been a hero in this crisis, doing the groceries, installing the bike rack, taking a few hours off on the sunny days to spend time with us, and putting up with my wine “meetings” that last from 5-10 p.m. on Thursdays (yes, you read that right, 5 hours). I eat grilled cheese and chips while sipping red wine, so I guess in a lot of ways it is like university.

Granted, this has been my Spring Break from teaching high school, so next week is going to be a whole new adaptation. I’m a little nervous, but feeling supported by my district and peers, and just really looking forward to hearing my students’ voices, even if it’s only through the written word. To be honest, although I really enjoy the face-to-face interactions and camaraderie of the classroom, writing is one of our greatest communication pieces in English/Social Studies classes, so we will continue that significant connection. The provincial message to educators primarily focuses on well-being, health, and connection with students as we navigate this new territory in education. Planning will come, but first, let’s evaluate what’s most important as a team.

I know that my students are resilient and creative, and I’m looking forward to hearing their opinions on what has manifested during this uncertain time: what have they learned about themselves? About others? How do they think life will change once this is all over? I’ve asked them to keep a journal (optional) of these events to look back on, and I’m curious to see if any of them decided to write over their Spring Break. I’ve also been posting positive stories and funny videos on Google Classroom for some much-needed distraction from all the noise and statistics that can feel terrifying. Hopefully it helps, but posting on Classroom can feel a bit like writing into the void, so maybe I can establish more discussions as we move to online learning.

A new home schedule will be put in place, and my husband and I will need to take turns on the childcare front. This will inevitably put stress on the entire family. If anything, my own children have been examples of adaptability in all this. They still get rangy and in each other’s faces several times throughout the day, but overall they have adjusted to this time at home. My younger child is getting unprecedented attention from her older sister, and is over the moon with their continued imaginative play. My older daughter is connecting with friends on her device, and I don’t mind the silly video games and videos for now. She did comment this morning that if she could have three wishes they would be: that coronavirus didn’t exist; that she could have playdates and sleepovers with friends; and that the playgrounds weren’t closed. Sigh.

I haven’t finished a book or television series* in these two weeks, which might come as a shock to those who know me well. I do miss this quiet time, but I have replaced it with writing, coursework, painting, dancing, and going on trips (by speedboat) to New York with the kids in our imaginations. And yes, perhaps spending a bit too much time on social media or news sites (thanks iPhone, but I don’t need to know that my screen time was up 400% last week), but that has dwindled a little as each day passes and I get more comfortable with my circumstances.

Hope you’re coping okay with the change in circumstances wherever you are, or whatever those may be. Thinking of all the essential and healthcare workers out there who are making incredible sacrifices to keep the rest of us safe. To the rest of you, keep poking your heads out with pots and pans at 7 p.m. to cheer them on!

On a final note, send me a PM if you need toilet paper. I’m happy to throw it out my window as you run by.

*with the exception of episodes of Ozark – there’s always time for Jason Bateman’s priceless facial expressions and acting in that show. SPOILER ALERT: Here’s a great video summary on his genius (has SPOILERS up to first episode of Season 2). And let’s not forget Julia Garner (pure acting genius) as Ruth Langmore (expert character writing).*

Reflections on Day 11 of isolation

The kids are (mostly) alright, and surprisingly haven’t said much regarding lack of playdates or playground time. They do miss their friends, of course, but are happy to be at home rather than the busy schedule of daycare and school. There are several minor altercations throughout the day over sharing toys, giving each other “looks”, saying something like “I’m a banana”, and who gets to wash their hands or stir the batter first.

In some ways, I’m more patient, recognizing we’ve got time to make mistakes or do things at a snail’s pace; at other times, the cacophony of screaming children (fighting or not) puts me right back into panic mode, where I tend to yell. I’m trying to be easier on myself given the circumstances (this also applies to consumption of baked goods and wine, in case you’re wondering or asking for a friend).

There’s rumours that people’s houses have never been more organized, and kudos to those who have done that! But over here, I’m taking it easy, not worrying too much about laundry piles, and reminding myself that when the kids entertain themselves for a half-hour, self-care is just as important as tidy countertops. And I think about you too, exercise (we all know mental health is closely tied to physical health) and I promise you’re first on my list once my body heals!

We’re lucky that both kids are at an age where they can be somewhat independent, and that the older one (age 7) is creative and often comes up with her own projects and ideas for adventures. Last week, she suggested we make “Explorer goggles” with toilet paper rolls, which we painted silver and gold, tied together with brads, and then attached ribbon to hang around our necks. When I stumbled across a Family Photo Scavenger hunt by @hellopeachphotography (pictured below), posted by a friend on Instagram, it was the perfect fit for our homemade binoculars.

I magically printed off one copy for each kid (otherwise – fights), from my phone, just one example of how technology has been the saviour of this isolation. Each kid got their own little explorer book, which we took with us on a walk through the neighbourhood and some trails. We explored (walked) for almost an hour, which is relatively long for my four-year-old.

We used a shadow as a reflection of yourself

This activity happened last week, when playgrounds were still open, so we did end up at the local school play area during our exploring. Even then, I was nervous, admonishing myself for not bringing hand sanitizer, and cutting off their play after about 10 minutes.

“Secret Park” or Rockland Park, as of this morning, March 24.

It was no real surprise when they closed the district playgrounds and parks on March 20, but my reaction showed otherwise. It was the last piece in a week full of stressful situations arising from isolation, where one of the only respites was playing at the park with the kids. I didn’t react right away, but I know it led to the big blow out that evening with my partner. But times of isolation call for quick resolve, and although arguing with one of the few people you are in contact with is normal, it can’t last if you want to retain some sanity.

We worked it out and have changed our focus on what we can do during this time. As the shops around us began to close quickly last week, we managed to sneak in two important purchases (purchased in small shops, and book-ended with much hand sanitizer and hand washing): one, a bike for me to complete the family bike crew; two, a bike rack so that said bike crew can go explore. The girls still have training wheels (and I have finally accepted that this doesn’t matter, even as younger kids roll by without them), but we are fostering a love of bike riding, not forcing the skill. Biking as a family has always been on our radar, but we didn’t prioritize it. Now we can be active together while enjoying the great outdoors, which should really always be a priority.

Other things that keep us active are Cosmic Kids Yoga and GoNoodle on YouTube. The seven-year-old is really into it, but keeping the four-year-old’s attention for more than approximately 8 minutes is more difficult. She lies down and says she’s tired, and then 2 minutes later is upside down or using the furniture as parallel bars (I *may* have asked her to do her “gymnastics move” for this photo).

Not okay/I’m tired.
2 minutes later

Whatever you’re doing in your respective corners of self-isolation is great. Don’t be hard on yourself and find ways to keep your sanity (I find Zoom “meetings” with girlfriends or family and a glass of wine to do the trick ).

Reflections on early days of self-isolation

“I sent you four emails,” the salesperson from Trail Appliances tells me, but they’re not in my Inbox either on my phone or laptop.

“That’s strange,” I reply. “Okay, well I guess we can try my work email…”

I’m trying not to panic, but I can’t help thinking of the scene in the television adaptation of The Handmaid’s Tale where June comes home to her husband and child complaining that her bank card isn’t working. With the flip of a switch, June finds out that she no longer has access to her money. And so the story begins…

I realize that Atwood’s fictional world where an archaic government takes over, reverting society back to times of ignorance and injustice is not the same as what’s happening here with CoVID-19, but the swiftness with which things are changing feels familiar.

Schools were quieter than normal for the last day of classes before March Break amidst fears of this new disease; at the time, I couldn’t help but feel that this was just another ploy for students to miss school, but now it seems like the right move taken by cautious parents.

The day before, Dr. Bonnie Henry, Provincial Health Officer in British Columbia, had announced that all travellers to Canada, or coming home to Canada, were encouraged to self-isolate. Even from the United States. When I broke this news to my parents, who were in Washington State on vacation at the time, they were shocked. They had been offline since the morning and were not aware of the developing situation.

“So what you’re telling us,” they said, “Is that the situation has changed in the last six hours?!”

An urgent, “Yes,” I replied, telling them to go straight home to the island rather than make a pitstop to visit us in North Vancouver for the weekend. I ended the call with my cautious mother and conflicted father, relieved when they sent an email detailing their new plan to take the ferry from Port Angeles to Victoria instead.

I reassured them, “Missing this weekend isn’t a big deal. We’ll see each other at Easter. And it will be great.”

Now I’m not so sure.

Easter is just over three weeks away, and I’m not convinced things will have significantly improved by then.

Since the end of school on March 13, self-isolation has been the order of the day. Non-essential travel is no longer allowed, and now even the U.S. border will only be open to trade and for essential travel purposes. Canadian travellers have been urged to come home immediately.

March 17, bars and restaurants in Vancouver were ordered to close. The College of Massage Therapists has ordered its members to stop practicing for two weeks. My physiotherapist has been cancelled. Every day my inbox is inundated with messages and updates from retail stores closing, many for two weeks, some indefinitely.

Schools are closed until further notice in Alberta and BC.

People have been told not to hoard since it’s really not necessary, but when you go to the grocery (and liquor!) stores, the shelves are starting to look empty. This exacerbates the problem, because when you see these yawning blank spaces, you might think “I better stock up now while there’s still stuff left.” It adds to the hive mind that this is going to get worse before it gets better (which it very well might, but trade routes are still open and working).

There is a lot of negativity online, but also a lot of positivity and support. Find your support groups, start a group chat, plan for video calls and meetings with friends. Share ideas for keeping the kids busy and entertained, loosen the rules around screen time, and try to take time for yourself if possible.

Revel in the small moments and the wins, like this story out of Venice, where swans and dolphins have returned to the canals typically rife with boat traffic. The water is clear and Italy’s air quality has improved significantly with social and work life coming to a standstill.

The natural world is improving.

Start a new hobby or go back to an old one. Create something new and just for you or something to share with others. Organize your photos and make albums. Call someone on the phone you would typically just text or email. Or just sit back and relax, with no expectations at all.

Onwards and upwards…

Book Recommendations for Spring 2020

I’m currently struggling with my own reading choices right now, so I wanted to share some of my favourite recent titles with you in case you’re feeling the same way. There is quite a range of genres here; diversity in reading material has always been appealing to me. A lot of these titles push the boundaries of novel writing in some way, forcing the reader to get a bit uncomfortable at times – but this is good for you, I promise!

If you would like, please comment with book suggestions at the end of this post.

This post is not sponsored.

Heartbreaker by Claudia Dey

This novel set in an off-the-grid town where a teenage girl, Pony, is trying to figure out why her mom left, how to navigate new love, and how to best rock 1980s fashion. This book is definitely “out there”, with chapters narrated by Pony’s dog, and a sci-fi undertone of blurred ethics and morals. For me, the 80s references, plot twists, and spot-on character development of the teenage girl trying to navigate her strange, small town full of secrets, made this one a page turner. It also showed originality in its narrative structure, and takes risks with the best results. Going to re-read this one soon.

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The Magpie Murders by Anthony Horowitz

This one is for the murder mystery fans, and especially for readers who love a good British crime story (Midsomer Murders, anyone?!). Anthony Horowitz is a prolific author responsible for writing narratives for both screen and print, including the beloved Sherlock that stars Benedict Cumberbatch, and the Alex Rider series for young adults. An esteemed author in his own right, Horowitz writes in the vein of Agatha Christie, and is a master crafter of plot and character. This somewhat epic tome will keep you entertained for hours, as you barrel towards the final reveal. I’ve read this one twice already, and will likely pick it up again!

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Alias Grace by Margaret Atwood

This is one of my favourite books of all time. Part historical fiction, part murder mystery, this is based on the true story of Grace Marks, a servant who was accused of killing the head servant and master of the house in small town Ontario in the mid-1800s. The novel moves back and forth between the present day in the story, where Grace is being analyzed by a mental health doctor (a relatively new profession at the time), and the past, with flashbacks of Grace’s life as a newly arrived Irish immigrant who works as a servant in various households.

From tales of innocent (and more serious) superstitions, to the overarching symbolism of quilt making, to the fine details of a simpler life in early Canada, Atwood’s retelling of this story is both intriguing and entertaining. Grace’s guilt in the murder is the central question in the narrative, a question with an ever-changing answer as you make your way through this formidable novel. It looks like the original print cover (left) is no longer available through Indigo, which is a shame!

Daisy Jones and The Six by Taylor Jenkins Reid 

This fictional novel reads like a non-fiction account of singer Daisy Jones and how she came to work with the wildly popular rock band The Six in the 1970s. Taylor Jenkins Reid has achieved a tour de force with the structure of this novel – written as interviews with individual band members that have later been woven together to give various perspectives on events, there is a seamlessness and tension that develops characters and conflict with expertise. At times difficult to read given the self-destructiveness of the main character, I still found this novel very rewarding and entertaining.

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The Fishermen by Chigozie Obioma

I picked up this novel in the Book Club section of our local library a few years ago. It is the tale of four brothers growing up in Nigeria in the 1990s, and how they accidentally get involved in various controversial and political events, with some unfortunate outcomes. At times it reminded me of A Fine Balance by Rohinton Mistry, another great read, but a challenging one emotionally.

The writing left an impression on me, but it’s been awhile since I read this one, so I’ll insert this summary from Amazon: “Told by nine-year-old Benjamin, the youngest of four brothers, The Fishermen is the Cain and Abel-esque story of a childhood in Nigeria, in the small town of Akure. When their father has to travel to a distant city for work, the brothers take advantage of his absence to skip school and go fishing. At the forbidden nearby river, they meet a madman who persuades the oldest of the boys that he is destined to be killed by one of his siblings. What happens next is an almost mythic event whose impact-both tragic and redemptive-will transcend the lives and imaginations of the book’s characters and readers” (Amazon.ca).

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The Feather Thief by Kirk Wallace Johnson

I was obsessed with recommending this book after I read it. It is a non-fiction work that follows the true crime story of Edwin Rist, who broke into the British Museum of Natural History and stole hundreds of priceless bird specimens. Some of these birds had been collected by Darwin’s contemporaries under dire circumstances, with no chance of ever being replaced.

With ties to the traditional fly-fishing “flies”, lures made through pain-staking hours of technique and sourcing of rare materials, this is a fascinating story of greed and obsession with perfecting the art of the “fly”. Give this one a chance – I found the first 80 or so pages difficult, but once you’re in, you’re hooked. Not unlike the fish lured by the master fly makers of the 1800s…

Moon of the Crusted Snow by Waubgeshig Rice 

Written by rising First Nations author Waubgeshig (Wab) Rice, this is a beautiful and devastating novel that leaves an indelible (unsettling) impression after reading it. The story is set in an Indigenous community that survives outside of typical metropolitan life, so when the apocalypse hits and people start moving North to seek food and shelter, chaos ensues in this small community.

Yet, this is a beautifully constructed story about family, love, and coming together as a community to help each other through difficult times. The central character, Evan Whitesky, has such a tenderness for his family and becomes a true leader throughout the story. The main conflict is also a caution to trust your instincts, especially in the face of the unexpected. If you’re feeling sensitive to world events right now, this may not be the read for you.

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Warlight by Michael Ondaatje

I struggled a little with this novel at first, but like many good literary masterpieces, the rewards take time. A post-WWII story set in London, this revolves around two teenagers who are abruptly left behind by their parents, given a vague and unlikely explanation for their move to Singapore.

Forced to grow up too quickly amidst a group of criminals and misfits, the narrative follows the lives of Nathaniel and Rachel, but focuses more on the former. As the story unravels, Nathaniel aims to uncover his parents’ secrets and grapple with an absent mother, even though she has returned to them physically. In typical Ondaatje fashion, the prose reads like poetry, full of moving imagery, extended metaphors, and symbolism to satisfy any literary guru and delight the general reader!

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