Tuesday, March 31, 2020

When the Cracks Start to Show

Cracks Appearing*
Like many of you, dear readers, I am sheltering in place as ordered by our provincial Public Health Officer, Dr. Bonnie Henry. Rob and I closed our doors starting the afternoon of Monday, March 16. Since that time more than two weeks ago, we have both stayed home. I went out once a few days ago to buy some groceries and Rob went out yesterday to buy pet food. We picked up takeout food on Saturday. (At least I think it was Saturday. All the days and dates have become a blur.)

Other than that we haven't left home and our immediate neighbourhood. We haven't seen friends or family members.

We are very fortunate in that we are both retired, and therefore not worried about having to work or about loss of pay. We have a roomy home and yard, and because we live in a semi-rural area, we can walk on the streets and trails nearby, seldom encountering anyone.

Also, we are both people with many solitary interests. During normal times, neither of us has any difficulty entertaining ourselves for hours and days at a time, for example, me with writing, reading, gardening, and academic work, and Rob with woodworking, reading, outdoor projects, and watching movies.

And yet.

These are not normal times. We are living through a cataclysmic event affecting the whole world -- a pandemic. There is an ongoing media barrage showing us the mounting number of cases and deaths around the world. It is frightening as we contemplate the extent of human suffering; worry about health care workers, family, and vulnerable friends; and wonder whether our own lives are at risk.

I have found it hard to pull myself away from reading and watching coronavirus news stories. I have an irrational feeling that if I'm not tracking the news constantly, it will get worse the minute I look away.

Witnessing the progress of the pandemic, while also being sequestered at home and having all of our usual activities come to a halt, is stressful. It's also hard on relationships, and on individual mental well-being.

J.P. Sears recently posted a funny video called How to Destroy Your Relationship During the Quarantine, which you can watch by clicking here.

The video is funny, but the stresses on relationships are real.

Parents staying at home with children who are not in school or daycare may be trying to work from home while also finding ways to keep the kids who have been cut off from their friends and usual activities engaged, or at least not fighting with each other. Grandparents who otherwise could provide respite are in the demographic most at risk from the virus.

Children absorbing bits of the news may be anxious and fearful, and express their feelings by acting out.

Young people who are dating but not living in the same household may be struggling to hold their relationship together or tempted to ignore physical distancing.

The sandwich generation may be worried sick about their elderly parents on the one hand and their kids and jobs on the other.

Couples may find that the texture of their relationship has changed. Many of the activities and routines they enjoyed together are no longer available. Each may be responding to the crisis in a different way, or be in a different stage of coping. For example, one may be in avoidance mode while the other is seeking extra closeness and reassurance. Or one may be full of plans for new activities while the other can't drag him/herself off the couch.

The stresses can be extreme when struggling to work from home, or if a loved one is ill, or if the financial consequences for the family are dire, or if one or both are health care workers or in another essential service that puts them at greater risk.

People who already live alone may find self isolating especially hard, as their usual social resources are no longer available. 

The little voice in the head might start saying things like:

I've discovered I actually don't like my family at all.
Why can't these little fiends give me even one single minute of peace and quiet?
He/she spends every single minute staring at their computer and doesn't even talk to me.
We have nothing in common.
He/she turns everything into a big emotional drama that is all about him/herself.
What's wrong with me -- I can't concentrate on anything!

It's normal to feel strong emotions during a crisis situation like this. And, as strange as it may seem, the challenges we are all facing present an opportunity.

We have the opportunity to be kind to ourselves and to be kind to each other. We have the opportunity to open up to each other and deepen the relationship with our partner in ways we may not take the time for during our regular schedule. We have the opportunity to really enjoy being with our family members rather than passing like ships in the night as each one races off to work, school, or other activities. Children have an opportunity to learn to be more considerate of their parents and to develop a more caring relationship with their siblings. We all have an opportunity to reach out to people we know, and especially to people who may be lonely or in need of extra support.

With a heightened sense of the value of life we have now that our mortality is staring us in the face, each one of us can pause and take a long look at this beautiful planet we inhabit and be grateful for the life all around us right now.   
Life and Creativity Thrive in Cracks*
*Photos are free Shutterstock images from pixabay.com. 

Monday, March 23, 2020

Twelve Things To Do That Don't Involve Screen Time

The Pond on a Sunny Day
The other day, a notification popped up on my my screen that kind of shocked me. Apparently, my average screen time last week was more than seven hours a day. Wow!

That was for my phone and tablet alone, and didn't count my computer time (which was quite limited last week) or my TV time (which was, in fact, zero*). Although some weeks I spend a lot of time on my computer if I'm working on writing or revising my novels or on academic work, I do try to limit the amount of additional time I spend staring at my phone or my tablet. More typically, my daily average is between one to two hours on the phone and tablet.

Some of the things I do on my phone and tablet are good, useful things. I am learning a second language, and I spend up to an hour on Duolingo doing that each day. I do all my blog reading and commenting from my tablet. I use the map program on my phone to navigate. I keep in touch with groups I am part of via email.

But seven hours is far too much time to spend staring at a little screen. No wonder I have had tired eyes and a slight headache.

I admit it. I have been compulsively looking at news websites for hours every day, reading and watching updates and reports about the COVID-19 pandemic. Although it's good to be informed, I've been overdoing it. It's not psychologically healthy to be as immersed in the pandemic news as I am. It makes me feel anxious and scared, and it eats up time that I could be using in more productive and healthy ways. To get my mind off the pandemic, often I end up watching an episode of a series or some TED talks or author interviews to divert my mind with other stuff. More screen time. 

Perhaps some of you are having a similar experience? Sheltering in place, anxious about the future, unable to participate in our usual community activities and groups, and physically separated from friends and family, suddenly we are filling our time with -- what?

Homemade Soup and Biscuits
Here are a few ideas. These are some of the things Rob and/or I have been doing that don't involve screen time.

1. Lots of cooking and baking. Using up those items way in the back of the cupboard.

2. Cleaning the house. Goodness knows I am not a housekeeping role model, but cleaning has the useful property of being something you can do that doesn't take a lot of concentration. My house certainly needs plenty of cleaning; it could keep me busy for weeks! The added bonus is that I can feel as if I'm doing something practical related to COVID-19. Doorknobs disinfected.

Evening Walk
3. Going for walks. My wearable fitness device tells me that I have been far more active this week than usual in terms of steps taken, kilometers travelled, and calories burned. The dog likes lots of walks too, and sometimes I've been able to talk Rob into coming along as well.

4. Read a book, an actual physical book. Presently I'm reading Radicalized by Cory Doctorow, which is on this year's Canada Reads shortlist.

5. Start a new project. Rob has been busy in his workshop building a new set of speakers. I have started keeping a daily journal while sheltering in place.
One of the New Speakers (with Green Baffle)


Daily Journal
6. Phone family and friends, and anyone you know who's on their own. I have been phoning my three kids a lot. Although I can't be with them physically, it's good to hear their voices and talk through the challenges we are facing day by day as we all practice social distancing and sheltering in place. I've talked to my grand kids too several times, and I've enjoyed chatting with a number of friends and other family. We are healthy and well, and very fortunately, so is everyone I know, thus far.

7. Yard work. Last week, we had lovely weather, and I spent quite a bit of time in the yard raking up branches and evergreen cones, sweeping the driveway, and digging up my vegetable garden in preparation for planting when the soil warms up a bit more.
Spring Flowers are Popping Up in the Garden
Sweeping the Walk



















Washing the Truck
8. Wash the car/truck. This is allowed where we live; there are presently no water restrictions.

9. Get out in nature. Although sometimes I walk along the streets of the neighbourhood, most days I go out for a short hike on the trails. It is very soothing to the soul to be in green spaces, and to be among the animals and plants as spring makes its glorious appearance.

Hiking Along the Shore

10. Meditate or do yoga. Tara Brach does amazing guided meditation podcasts that she makes freely available. Appreciative followers can donate.


11. Play cribbage, card games, or board games with your housemates, or solitaire if you live alone. Rob doesn't play cards or board games, although he'll sometimes play crib with me to humour me.

12. Write an actual letter with pen and paper, and send it to someone special via the actual postal service.

13. Stress eat, guzzle wine, and compulsively touch your face. No. Wait. Don't do any of those things!

You'll notice that I have not included creative writing or painting on the list. Somehow I can't settle my mind enough to concentrate on doing either right now. But I'm hoping that will change soon, as we adjust to this strange "new normal."

Take care, my friends.

*As many of you know, I scarcely watch TV at all. When I do watch a newscast, film, or episode, I usually do it on my tablet, unless Rob and I are watching a movie together. 

Tuesday, March 17, 2020

Reflections During the Pandemic

A Maui Sunset
 How quickly things can change.

In mid-January, we went to Maui for a lovely family holiday. We swam, snorkeled, kayaked, hiked, toured the island of Maui, and enjoyed spending time with our daughter, son-in-law, and grand kids. We took a break from the news.
On a Dinner Cruise out of Ma'alea Bay
 Returning home on February 2, we heard on the news about a mysterious new strain of virus devastating China, especially Wuhan City and Hubei province. Tragic and scary, but also far away.

We followed the story of the Diamond Princess, the tourists quarantined on board, and the efforts to repatriate Canadians who had not tested positive for the disease.

And then cases of coronavirus began appearing in Canada. I live in British Columbia (BC), where some of the first cases were identified and where the most deaths have occurred in this country to date.

Today, Tuesday March 17, the BC government declared a public health emergency. There are 186 identified cases of COVID-19 in this province, and there have been 7 deaths (6 of which were residents in a North Vancouver care home). There has been an eighth death in Canada in the province of Ontario.

Social distancing strategies are being recommended and mandated here in BC. Gatherings of more than 50 people have been banned. All bars, nightclubs, and pubs have been ordered to close. Businesses that stay open must implement social distancing (e.g., takeout at restaurants; provide for one to two meters (3-6 feet) of distance between people). Schools are presently on spring break, and following spring break, the K-12 schools in BC will remain closed indefinitely. BC universities have closed face-to-face classes and are transitioning to online and other forms of distance instruction this week.

As much as possible, people are being asked to stay home, work from home, and shelter in place. Travellers who have returned from other countries are asked to self-isolate for 14 days, as are people who don't feel well or who have less acute symptoms of the virus.

Meanwhile, the federal government has announced a financial assistance package for individuals and businesses critically affected by the economic slowdown -- for example an opportunity to defer mortgage payments. Canada has closed its borders to visitors from around the world and is in the process of finalizing an agreement with the United States to close the border between our two countries to non-essential travel.
A Hike by the Ocean on Sunday
 How has the pandemic affected me, personally?

Last week, I watched all the events on my calendar disappear, one by one -- meetings, art show, writers' events, a presentation I was scheduled to give, yoga, and volunteer commitments. The ski hill closed. The library closed.

I wondered whether people were over-reacting. I pored over the news reports; read the website of the BC Centre for Disease Control; watched newscasts such as those given by the Prime Minister, the BC Minister of Health, and the Provincial Health Officer; and read academic papers by epidemiologists and other scientists. And I concluded that the social distancing and other measures they have put in place are our best chance to flatten the curve and reduce cumulative mortality.
At the Ski Hill in March

I am grateful to live here in BC, and in Canada, where our politicians and health officials have worked hard to make the best decisions regarding this pandemic and people's lives. I am grateful for our excellent health care system that serves all Canadians. I appreciate the forthright, clear communication we get on a hour-by-hour basis.

As new recommendations have emerged, I have complied with them. Although last week we were still going out socially (but with precautions), this week Rob and I are staying home. We aren't seeing friends, or even our grandchildren. We're not going to restaurants. We have enough food and supplies to last for a couple of weeks so we don't need to visit stores.

Trail Through a Garry Oaks Meadow
We are very fortunate that we live in a semi-rural area, so we can still go outside in our garden or for hikes on the trails.

It is strange how quickly a person's priorities change in the face of a true emergency. The everyday plans and preoccupations fall away, and suddenly seem not so very important.

It has been heartening to see how so many people across so many countries and jurisdictions around the world have worked together to take the necessary steps and to help each other in the face of this pandemic. (Although it's also disappointing to read about the toilet paper hoarders and people re-selling disinfectants at exorbitant prices.)

It gives me hope that the human race will also find a way to work together on global warming and the climate crisis before it's too late.
Enos Lake Through the Trees

Sunday, January 19, 2020

Why It's Worth It

A Beautiful World and I'm Grateful to be Here
I think everyone asks themselves this question from time to time. "Why is it worth it?"

The question can take on a different shape depending on circumstances. It can mean: why is it worth persisting with this hard thing I'm trying to do when at the moment it seems so unrewarding and difficult or even hopeless, and nobody seems to appreciate it? This version of the question is about taking on challenges that help us grow, help others, and help make the earth a better place. It takes commitment to persist with an intention or goal when we find ourselves seemingly inadequate for the task, the way forward isn't clear, or when others obstruct our efforts or fail to acknowledge us.

Or it can mean: Why is life worth it? Am I really here on this earth just to shop, pick up dog poop, fill out this form, and drink beer in front of the TV? In this incarnation, the question really is about the deep inner sense of one's existential purpose. Depression, illness, or discouragement sometimes might be a cue to examine inner needs that have been ignored and repressed. Existential purpose is hard to nail down and it seems to easily get derailed. We find ourselves using our time up instead on trivial matters, comfortable routines, or self-gratification. Or, perhaps some of us fill our time up with busyness and daily obligations as a way of running from an examination of the inner self and life purpose.

Or "why is it worth it" can mean: What's in it for me? On the surface, this appears to be a selfish concern, a desire to put oneself first, rather than thinking about others or broader life goals. Often, a person's answer to this question never goes beyond the level of personal material reward -- the paycheque, the ego stroke, the better fitness score, or the tit for tat exchange.  But, underneath, everything starts right here, right now, with the person you are inside. All important work a person does has to start internally, by recognizing and accepting the person you are, and checking in to make sure that your external efforts align with your core values. I'm coming to learn that when I run away from my inner self, then my commitments, efforts, and daily pursuits may become unsatisfying or even harmful.  

Lately I have been writing quite a bit about the climate crisis, and how it has motivated me to take various actions.

Although I cannot put into words what my core life purpose is, one part of it is the desire to make a positive difference in the world. Putting personal effort into educating myself about climate change, communicating about it to increase others' awareness, and taking personal actions to reduce my carbon footprint, all help, in a small way, to make a positive difference in the world.

It's worth if because of my beautiful children and grandchildren, and the future generations who will inherit the earth. I've written about this here, and here.

It's also worth it because the earth, its systems, and the living plants and animals are beautiful, amazing, and inherently worth preserving. Here are a few photos of the area where I live that I've taken over the last three months. They show the beauty of our world.

An October Afternoon in My Neighbourhood
Sunshine on the Pond
Snow Encrusted Trees at Mount Washington
Mount Washington at Four O'clock

Rock on the Forest Floor
Tiny Mushrooms in the Moss



















The Backyard With a Foot of Snow
We live in an amazing world, and I'm grateful to be a part of it. It's worth it.

Sunday, January 12, 2020

Six Months Later

A Shopping Moratorium


Regular readers will remember that a little over six months ago, I wrote a post declaring that I was going to embark on a six month moratorium on buying any clothing, shoes, or jewellery for myself.

The reason I am concerned about shopping is that our North American materialistic lifestyle is not sustainable for the Earth. Every item of consumer goods that we purchase has a high carbon cost, which comes from obtaining the raw materials for the item (mining, logging, growing cotton, etc.), deforestation that ensues from activities like mining, logging, or growing cotton, the manufacturing process which uses energy and often environmentally toxic chemicals, the non-reusable packaging of the goods (often in plastic), and the transportation of the item to the end user, often from the far side of the world (burning fossil fuels).

When people buy things, they're often replacing items that are still serviceable (if no longer fashionable), or repairable (but who knows how to darn socks anymore? And what about the built-in obsolescence of iPhone batteries which can't be replaced?). The unwanted items typically end up in landfills. The carbon footprint from unnecessary consumption contributes to climate change.

So how did I do in these past six months?

Well, I'm not a really big shopper in general. But I do have a lot of clothes, which are mostly office wear left over from my work life before I retired. So I thought I wouldn't have much difficulty cutting myself off from shopping for clothes, shoes, and jewellery.

I announced my shopping moratorium on June 28, which meant it would be in effect until the end of December, 2019. In fact, I posted the blog article in the airport, as my daughter and I were waiting to board a flight to Crete. We were heading off together to a yoga retreat!

And wouldn't you know it -- the airline lost our luggage. We were going to spend a week-long retreat at a remote location on the edge of the Libyan Sea and we had nothing to wear but what we wore on the plane. So, only two days after stating my intention to not shop for six months, I was running around Heraklion buying clothes. You can read about it here

 It was a truly wonderful holiday. More pictures here.

And so, I thought I would just shift the end date of my moratorium from December 29 to December 31 to complete six months of no shopping. (Note: I still allowed myself to buy clothes for others -- e.g., souvenir T-shirts for the grandkids).

But on the second-last day of our Cretan holiday, after we finished the yoga retreat, the whole group did a shopping trip to Rethymno. Then, my daughter and I spent one more day in the city of Heraklion on our own. Sad to say, in Rethymno, my will power wavered, and I bought myself a slender handmade silver bracelet as a memento of the trip.

Exploring Rethymno With My Daughter
Tempting Wares


Street Art in Rethymno
All the Retreat Group (Except Theo)
Restaurant Where We had our Last Dinner Together
So, you guessed it, I shifted the starting and end dates of the shopping ban again. It started on July 7, 2019 and ended on January 8, 2020. I am happy to report that I did not buy any clothing, shoes, or jewellery during those six months (in fact, I haven't gone shopping even yet). I wore out three pairs of shoes, and several clothing items. And, next time before I impose a shopping ban on myself, I will make sure that I have a good supply of non-ragged underwear before I start.

Carbon Offsets

All my life, I have wanted to travel to see other parts of the world. Yet, throughout most of my adulthood, my travel has been quite limited. Although I did travel for work, it was rarely to places that I would have chosen as a destination, and my time in each place was mostly spent working, not sight-seeing. Finances, parenting, and the time demands of full-time work limited my opportunities to travel.

So one of the top goals I had for retirement was to travel.

But, since I have begun learning more about the climate crisis, I have realized that flying causes a lot of CO2 to be released into the air.

It is important to reduce material consumption, shift from a high meat diet to a more plant-based diet, avoid wasting food, divest one's portfolio of petroleum stocks, burn less fossil fuel (in cars and in home heating/cooling), waste less water, garden organically, use less toxic household products, vote for environmentally focused political parties, speak out about climate concerns, and refuse plastic packaging. These are all lifestyle changes that I am trying hard to incorporate into my life.

But I undermine my own efforts to be a good climate steward when I do a lot of air travel. One solution is to fly less.

As much as I can,  I have eliminated taking domestic flights. For example, I live on an island. There are two main ways to get off the island -- by air, or by ferry. So I have been choosing the ferry. I was excited to read that a local small airline hopes to put an electric airplane into service within the next two years for short trips from the Island to the mainland.

This summer, Rob and I vacationed close to home, camping nearby on Vancouver Island. That way, we didn't have to fly anywhere, or burn a lot of gas on a long road trip.

But I haven't yet eliminated all air travel from my life. Although I feel guilty about flying, I also am not ready to give up my lifelong goal of travelling to other parts of the world.

So along with flying less, my solution is to purchase carbon offsets for every flight that I do take. Although there are a number of organizations one can use to do this, I use Gold Standard. A video from their website explains the concept of joint action on climate change, and how purchasing carbon offsets makes a difference.

The first step is to calculate your emissions. Gold Standard provides a way to calculate your annual emissions.  However, for calculating flight emissions, I prefer to use the calculator provided by myclimate.

As an example, I calculated that my return flight to Crete created 3.4 tonnes of CO2 equivalent emissions, and an upcoming trip will create 1.6 tonnes of emissions, so 5 tonnes in total for the two trips. I purchased carbon credits equivalent to my flight emissions, and chose to apply those credits to a project that provides clean water to Cambodian communities. It cost me $81 CAD.

Maybe some day I will go that extra step and stop all air travel. But, not yet.