Safe & happy holidays

And, suddenly, it’s December. It’s Winter Solstice today, and the final weeks of the holiday season are unfolding unlike any other before.

Many of us are in, or about to go into, lockdown. Favourite holiday traditions, family gatherings, shopping and outings have had to be cancelled or rearranged to follow public health protocols and local bylaws. Some will have to resort to seeing family onscreen this holiday season, as many aspects of our lives have been relegated to the safety of the digital space. It’s a huge sacrifice, but we do it to keep each other—and our beleaguered health care system and workers—safe.

I’m now on day 12 of my 14-day pre-holiday self-isolation period, an added safety measure for my Christmas visit with my parents. This means no errands, no laundry room visits, and only leaving my apartment for daily walks (weather permitting). I can easily keep my distance and avoid others along the quiet side streets of my neighbourhood as I take in some fresh air, exercise and, hopefully, some sunshine.

I’m equal parts nervous and excited. It was heartbreaking to miss Thanksgiving, and then my youngest brother’s 50th birthday (the latter I was at least able to Zoom into for a bit)—most of my immediate family live in lower risk regions of the GTHA—and I’d been hoping against hope that we’d be able to see each other for Christmas. Normally, my parents would be in Arizona right now, so I’m grateful for the chance to see them this year. I live alone and have been living a largely stay-at-home lifestyle during the pandemic. I’m very grateful to have my furry four-legged friend Camille for company and cuddles; but the lack of in-person human contact has been challenging—even for an introverted homebody like me. I really, really miss the hugs.

My parents and I have discussed detailed safety protocols for our visit, including for when they pick me up and drive me home (many of these were worked out previously, when my parents hosted small family gatherings in July and September—mostly outdoors, where we were always distancing, wearing masks indoors, and had individual servings of snacks and one person plating food at dinner). My mum was a nurse and my dad is a retired Professional Engineer (chemical)—so they know from health and safety, and disinfecting—and we’re all on board with public health rules and what we need to do to keep each other safe. I acknowledge with gratitude that we’re able to do this; and that we have the privilege of having homes that allow us to keep our distance and stay safe.

As vaccines are starting to roll out, there is hope for the New Year. We just have to persevere and hold on a bit longer. Keep keeping each other, and our health care system and caregivers, safe. It will be a very different kind of holiday this year, but I hope we can all find comfort and joy in keeping with the season, and connect and celebrate with loved ones safely.

Have a safe and happy holiday—and all good things for 2021.

COVID-19 marquees 2

Well into the second wave, we’re all so very tired. But we need to keep going. We need to keep ourselves and each other safe – and protect our health care system, our most vulnerable citizens and our already exhausted health care workers.

Every week during the pandemic, I continue to create marquee messages and post them on social media, in the hopes of encouraging participation in public health measures, spreading hope and inspiring resilience.

Here’s the second marquee collage.

Please continue to take good care. It really takes a village to get this virus under control – so we all have to do our part. And the sooner we do so, the sooner we can plank the curve and get to the other side of this pandemic.

DIY mask design

One of the ways we’ve been keeping ourselves and others safe during these days of COVID-19 is wearing masks. Masks have become a topic of controversy, debate and protest—but I want to talk about masks from a creative perspective. As a means of self-expression, creating wearable art/fashion accessory and having fun.

When it became evident that mask wearing was going to be a thing for a while, I figured it was time to purchase some reusable cloth ones. My first mask purchase was a gorgeous Van Gogh-inspired Toronto skyline designed by Alumnae Theatre friend, graphic artist/designer Suzanne Courtney, who you can find on Redbubble.

Starry Toronto Night, by Suzanne Courtney

While I love supporting artists by purchasing their art, as a freelancer navigating financially uncertain times, I also had to watch my budget. So I found some inexpensive, plain solid colour cloth masks (in this case, at Old Navy) and decided to do some DIY wearable art.

Ideas became sketches; from there, it was a matter of opening up the mask and mounting it on a Styrofoam wig head, chalking the design onto the mask, then painting with fabric and/or craft paint. It was an inexpensive way to have some creative fun and exercise self-expression.

Since being out in the world with them, I’ve received a few compliments—and this sparked some pleasant, positive conversation about wearing masks, masks as the new fashion accessory, and how fun and easy it is to paint your own. When I was chatting with the sales clerk in the Wine Rack this week, I even suggested making a painting party out of it, with your kids or roommates/household members. You could even do a DIY crafting Zoom party with friends and family outside your household—a safe way to connect and have some collective good times.

Like health officials have been saying: this is a marathon and public health measures will be with us for a while—so let’s make the best of it and have a good time putting our own personal signature on an item that will keep our loved ones and community safe, and avoid stressing the health care system.

Here are the three masks I painted: a sunflower, the redesigned Pride flag, and a seagull flying across the sun.

For info on building your own non-medical, reusable cloth masks—including instructions on adding a third/filter layer—check out the Government of Canada masks page.

List of firsts, interrupted

During the last week of August, I started a “list of firsts”. That list has since been interrupted as Toronto residents, among others, return to more cautious public health measures—notably not venturing into other households—now that we’re into wave 2 of the pandemic.

It’s not a huge list, but it’s a meaningful one, and stretches back to the end of June.

  • First time seeing friends in person (June 28): Physically-distanced visit with Lizzie, Zoltan, Val and Laurie (drive with Laurie, masks, me in the back passenger seat) on backyard patio at L, Z and V’s building (again on Aug 16).
  • First time seeing family (July 26): Physically-distanced visit at my parents’ place—masks indoors and distancing in the living room/dining room and out on the patio, by household pod.
  • First time back on TTC (July 31): Short bus trip to/from Camille’s annual vet checkup/rabies shot (TTC good).
  • First walk with a friend (Aug 1): Physically-distanced, with friend Brenda, on the Cedarvale Ravine trail.
  • First dinner with a friend (Aug 1): Thai delivery, with my neighbour MC, as we both sat inside our respective doorways across the hall (then, a doorway coffee on Aug 9).
  • First trip downtown (Aug 4, to Yonge/Bloor): Second TTC trip (YUS subway), to pick up printouts of two large reports from a freelance client (TTC good).
  • First hair cut (Aug 7): Third TTC trip to see Rhonda at Top Cuts, Avenue/Lawrence (salon excellent, TTC not good). People on transit not wearing masks properly (not covering noses, or pushing mask down to chin to talk on cell or eat) and not practising physical distancing when they had opportunities to do so.
  • First Tim’s iced cap (Aug 11).
  • First coffee in a park with a friend (Aug 22): Met my friend Kerri in a park in my neighbourhood, picking up coffees on the way.
  • First hug (Sept 6): At my mum’s 80th birthday party—distanced indoors/outdoors, masks indoors, and one person (me) wearing mask/gloves plating food for everyone. Mum was determined to hug everyone, so we all wore our masks and washed/sanitized our hands, and she got her birthday hugs. [She also gave me a quick hug on July 26—but I was so shocked, I didn’t hug back.]

Largely due to the careless actions and negligence of fellow citizens, our COVID-19 case numbers have shot up—and those who have been most vulnerable during this pandemic are once again at great risk. It’s not like we weren’t expecting a second wave this Fall; but it came early, hitting hard and fast. And it didn’t have to be this way; so many of our new cases were completely preventable—but some folks and businesses decided to ignore public health guidelines, experienced infections and infected others.

October holiday festivities have basically been cancelled, especially in Ontario hot spots like the GTA. It reminds me of when I was in grade 8, when the behaviour of a few classmates forced the cancellation of our class trip to Washington, D.C. Most of us have been following public health guidelines and city bylaws, and making great sacrifices along the way—and because of the actions of a bunch of idiots, we’re now all in detention. All are punished.

This makes me extremely angry and deeply frustrated; and I struggle with how I’m going to navigate this second wave, especially from a mental health standpoint. Many of us live alone, in a household of one, and are now facing the prospect of ongoing solitude during the holiday season. I get that people want to socialize, that masks can be uncomfortable, and that it’s exhausting to be continually careful and vigilant. We’re all tired. Like numerous public health officials have told us: this is a marathon. And we need to keep on top of the situation and take good care—of ourselves and each other.

I also realize that I can only control my own actions and responses. So I will continue to follow public health guidelines and city bylaws—for my own safety and the safety of others, especially my loved ones—and hope that those who haven’t been doing so, or let their guard down, have a change of heart.

And, one day, I will resume my list of firsts.

What’s on your list of firsts? What are you missing the most during wave 2?

Random acts of kindness

This is the true story of some random acts of kindness during COVID-19.

Out of the blue, a woman gave a friend $50, to be used however she wanted or needed.

The friend was surprised and grateful. Finances had been a concern during the COVID-19 pandemic, but her work and income had picked up recently, much to her relief. She didn’t really need the $50, and she kept this in mind as she pondered what to do with it.

One day, she decided to go for a walk and stop by her local pub to pick up some takeout along the way—mindful that it’s important to support local businesses, especially during the pandemic and subsequent recovery. As she waited outside the pub for her order to come out, she noticed two people sitting outside the drug store a few doors away. One was a young woman with a dog; the other a man of about 50-60—they weren’t together. She let the pub server know she’d be right back and walked over to them.

She gave the young woman $20 and chatted with her briefly. The young woman and her dog were camping out in a tent in a ravine with her boyfriend. She asked the young woman if the place was shaded and safe—the young woman said yes, and also mentioned that the money would come in handy, as it was going to be her birthday the next day. She wished the young woman happy birthday.

She moved on to the man and gave him $20, and asked him if he was doing okay in the heat and staying hydrated. He said he was doing okay. He didn’t seem to want to chat, so she wished him well and walked back to the pub to pick up her takeout order.

Because of a friend’s unexpected gift, she was able to treat herself to a cider with her meal, include a generous tip, and help out a couple of fellow human beings (and a dog). That first random act of kindness grew—and may have grown since then.

Acts of kindness don’t have to be about giving money. It can be about helping a neighbour with errands. Actively listening to someone’s troubles. Smiling at a stranger. And these seemingly small moments of kindness and connection have a way of rippling outward. And while you may never know if or how your kindness was passed on, you can be sure that you brightened at least one person’s day.  

Try it for yourself and see.

Clouds

When I was a kid, I used to lay in the summertime grass in front of our house and look at the sky, watching clouds go by, and finding shapes and images up there.

As an adult, I still appreciate the beauty of the sky, especially during the golden time as the sun prepares to set, the colours as the sun goes down, and that deep blue before the sky goes dark. I’ve found a renewed appreciation—and even a state of grace and calm—looking up there these days; sometimes from my living room window, sometimes during a walk. It doesn’t always have to be about making out the shapes. But just being there, present, watching them go by. Like thoughts during meditation.

Here are some photos of clouds, taken during the pandemic. And a song by Joni Mitchell.

Art @ home

As we gradually begin to emerge from “stay at home” to a world of increased contact with others—including mask wearing and physical distancing—we may have come to know and appreciate our own surroundings with renewed hearts and minds.

While waiting for the green light to safely visit a museum or attend a performance event, many of us been engaging with the arts at home, through the pages of books or on a screen of some sort. And maybe you have some art on your walls that you’ve come to view with refreshed eyes.

In the spirit of sharing and engaging with art, here’s a little tour of the art that hangs in my apartment—in alphabetical order, by artist (with links, as available). These are not professional photos, and they’ve been taken where the pieces live, in their natural habitat—so there will be some glare and reflection in the glass.

Little Cruiser Lake (canvass-mounted print)—Cecilia Booth. A gift from the artist, who is also a friend. I love the peaceful calm of nature in this piece. There’s also a magical, fairy tale-like quality—of emerging from a dark forest, into the light.

Drowning Girls (poster print)—Suzanne Courtney. Suzanne is an Alumnae Theatre friend/colleague; and I had the pleasure of working on this production (on set painting, with designer Ed Rosing). I love how she combined the beautiful with the macabre, giving the design a haunting Gothic vibe. You can check out her art here and graphic design work here.

Celtic Camille—Laurie Fredheim. Another friend and gift from the artist, who drew this from a photograph, then added the traditional Celtic costume in a personalized, whimsical touch.

Angel Over the CityJennifer Hosein. I first saw this multi-media collage/painting on a tour of Jennifer’s apartment during a party she hosted. While still a work in progress, I asked her to put a hold on it for me. There is comfort in this guardian angel image—and I’m drawn to the blues.

Heart Comes Alive, from the animated short LabyrinthPatrick Jenkins. I met Patrick through his partner, photographer Pamela Williams (see below). When I lived in Little Portugal, Patrick had an exhibit at (former) loop, a local gallery. I was already a fan of the film and love this image of the awakened heart.  

Guardian cats quilt—Martha Leonard. A gift from the artist’s daughter, my friend Kat Leonard. It reminds me of the Celtic faerie cats knot design. The cat is the guardian of the underworld.

Multimedia text piece—Steve Rockwell. Can’t recall the exact name of this piece, but I saw it at an exhibit at the (former) Fran Hill Gallery and loved it. The text comes from an actual conversation he had with a gallery owner; hilarious in its dry humour. Also love the colour and design; it reminds me of a heraldic banner—and is meant to hang from the space where its mounted.

My love is like a red, red roseLeon Rooke. I brought a bouquet of roses to a salon that Leon and Fran Hill were hosting at home in the Annex, prompting Fran to request that Leon gift me this painting. It evokes the lyrics of the famous Robert Burns poem in a whimsical way.

On Some Faraway Beach #20—the late Blair Sharpe. I met/befriended Blair, the partner of friend/Environics Research colleague Brenda Sharpe, at an Environics winter holiday party and we hit it off immediately. This painting is another Fran Hill Gallery exhibit find; it makes me think of Adirondack chairs, and the brilliance of colour in the spaces where beach, water and sky meet. Sadly, Blair passed away a year ago; I’ll miss his creative spirit, his edgy sense of humour and his sharp, questioning mind.

Party for OneAndrea Stokes. I saw this hanging in an exhibit 10 years ago at (former) Ottawa restaurant ZenKitchen, where friend of a friend Caroline Ishii was cofounder and chef; I never met Andrea in person, but we chatted over email as I arranged for shipment. I love the sharp colouring and melancholy whimsy in this piece—especially pointed right now during these times of isolation.  

Cemetery sculpture photographs; clockwise, left to right: Water Nymph (Buenos Aires), Siren (Italy) & Dove (Italy)—Pamela Williams. I met Pamela years ago, at the Toronto Outdoor Art Fair. I’d seen an image of Siren in a NOW Magazine promo piece for the show and made a point to visit her booth. We became friends; and since then I’ve taken a digital photography workshop with her, and attended a lecture and exhibits at her home gallery.

What art do you love? What’s hanging in your home?

Practising gratitude

As we head into week 17 of public health measures to protect ourselves, others and our health care system during the COVID-19 pandemic, there’s hope for a shift into stage 3, being reunited with loved ones, and looking forward—with both trepidation and excitement—to what the world will be like when we come out of this.

Right now, many of us are also dealing with a prolonged heat wave and dry spell—and, if like me, you don’t have a yard, balcony or air conditioning, it can be particularly oppressive. And my fridge is now on the fritz; luckily, the apartment next to me is vacant, so my super gave me the keys and I’m using that fridge. Building management has been notified, and now I wait to see if it will be repaired or replaced; it’s an older second-hand model, so it will likely be replaced. And I’m grateful that I was able to salvage the contents of my fridge (freezer is still working, thankfully).

With all the recent upheaval and so many things out of our control, it can be hard to stay positive and keep the faith, as it were. And if you struggle with anxiety and depression (I do), times like these can make you feel even more fragile than usual. I’ve been feeling particularly vulnerable this weekend, as I write this post. I’m extra gentle with myself at times like this; I tell myself it will pass. And I remind myself that I have a lot to be grateful for.

Here is my gratitude list:

A cozy, comfortable, safe home

Access to safe, clean water and good, healthy food

Access to cellphone, Internet and cable TV

Access to amenities within a 10 to 20-minute walk from my home

Some work coming in

I’m well, as are my family, chosen family and friends

I have supportive family, chosen family and friends—so I’m in solitude, but not alone

We have a great combined, cooperative federal, provincial and municipal effort on COVID-19 and its impacts

Time for art projects, reading, reflection, playing Scrabble against myself, doing online word search puzzles

My beautiful, playful four-legged friend Camille (cat) to keep me company

Ability to take daily walks, with pedometer to count my steps

Access to stories on Netflix, TV, movie collection, books, Internet, social media, online performances

Being able to see beauty and kindness in the world during these uncertain, heartbreaking times

A neighbour and I helping each other out with groceries, errands, laundry change

It’s a good, insightful exercise: reflections on gratitude. Give it a try and see for yourself.

Signs of hope

Each week since we started our pandemic public health measures of staying home, physical distancing, washing hands, wearing masks and looking out for each other, I’ve posted a marquee message.

Here are the ones I’ve created to date. My aim is to provide hope, inspiration and food for thought.