Sunday, September 20, 2020

A Retirement Gift to Myself

Livin' the Dream
Last weekend I bought a present for myself -- a retirement gift. I retired three years ago, so this gift has been a little slow in coming. In fact, I have waited far longer than I can believe for this.

I bought an ocean kayak!

I am now the happy owner of a beautiful Seaward Costa Grande. She's named "Sunny Side Up."

Sunny Side Up

First Launch

There it is, loaded into the back of Rob's pickup truck on the day we brought it home. It's a fibreglass kayak, gently used: 16.2 feet long and 52 pounds. I was looking for a kayak suitable for a smaller paddler, and lightweight enough that I will be able to manage loading and unloading it.

Seaward is a local Vancouver Island company. Today I took her out for her maiden voyage.  

Heading out into the Bay

Rob helped me launch at a favourite beach not far from where we live. I spent about an hour paddling along the shore and around some little islands. I cruised past a sea lion up on a rock, who watched me with a wary eye. Porpoises were swimming at a distance. It was really fun.

When I say that this purchase has been a along time in coming, I am not exaggerating. I first tried kayaking 35+ years ago in the early 1980s when I lived in Vancouver. I instantly fell in love with the sport. Two of my close friends bought themselves kayaks around that time and began going on expeditions to remote locations along the west coast of BC. 

My Friend W out for an Evening Paddle

 As much as I wanted to join them, I did not because year after year, there was always something that stopped me. I had no money. I moved to the prairies to accept my first career job. I moved back to the BC coast and had a baby, and then two more. I moved up north to the interior of the province. I became a single parent. I worked long hours at my job -- 60 or more hours a week. I became an empty-nester and almost immediately moved to the prairies again. Because of these various circumstances, it never seemed to be the right time to invest in a kayak. 

Bowron Trip: First Portage

But whenever I had a chance, over the years, I rented or borrowed a kayak and went out on the water. 

My friend W, one of the two friends that bought a kayak in the early '80s, has lent me her kayak many times over the years. I rented a kayak and went on a overnight expedition with W and some other friends in those early years. 

In 2009, Rob, my son, and I paddled the eight-day Bowron Lakes loop with friends B & V and two other people. In fact, Rob and I were in an 18-foot freighter canoe set up with oarlocks, and we rowed the Bowron.

Bowron Trip: Enjoying the Sunshine

Three of our party were in kayaks and the two others were in a canoe as well. My son used a kayak borrowed from my friend B, the red kayak in the header photo for this blog post. Sometimes my son and I switched for a while and I kayaked while he rowed the canoe with Rob. 

In the photos to the left, top to bottom, you see our group beginning the first portage. In the middle photo, we've stopped at a sandy beach for lunch and to bask in the sun. Our freighter canoe is in the foreground. In the bottom photo, my son is paddling down the Cariboo river.

Bowron Trip: Son Paddling Down the River
This was a five-mile stretch of river that connected two of the lakes. For this part of the trip, Rob and I paddled rather than rowed the canoe. It was a very special trip, and it reinforced my desire to get a kayak. But then I moved to the prairies, again.

 In 2015, Rob and I went on another fabulous trip -- an eight-day sailing trip on a 75-foot schooner in the ocean waters around Haida Gwaii (Queen Charlotte Islands). We travelled from Moresby Camp down the east side of Moresby Island through the Gwaii Haanas National Park Reserve to SGang Gwaay Llanagaay (Ninstints) and back. Ninstints is a Haida village site that is a UNESCO World Heritage site. 

Burnaby Narrows: Sea Life

I had always intended to write about this amazing experience here on my blog, but still have not done so. The schooner had two kayaks on board, so I had several chances to paddle around.

I spent a lovely afternoon paddling through Burnaby Narrows on Haida Gwaii. It is an area with incredibly rich sea life. I took these photos with my phone looking down through the clear plastic viewing window on the kayak. The photo below is of a moon snail egg casing -- it looked like a rubber tire.

Burnaby Narrows: Moon Snail

Morning Paddle

While I was paddling around in Burnaby narrows, a group of kayakers came through. I chatted with them and found out they were members of the Nanaimo Paddlers. I said to them, some day I will move to Vancouver Island and join a paddling group!

In the photo to the right, I was out for an early morning paddle. I saw a commotion onshore and paddled in to see a raccoon in its natural habitat. Haida Gwaii is a very special part of the world and I feel very lucky to have spent time there. 

Since retiring to Vancouver Island, I have made a couple of friends here who are kayakers.  I have joined a small kayaking group.

This is a story of delayed gratification -- 35 years of waiting.  And now I finally have my own kayak!

Saturday, September 12, 2020

Entertaining in the Age of COVID-19

As the pandemic drags on and on, many of us are trying to find ways to live our lives again, while still following COVID safety guidelines. I'd like to share some of my strategies for hosting friends and family during these very strange times. 

Sunset at Parksville Community Beach

 Following Public Health Guidelines

Before I write about some of my strategies, I'd like to emphasize that I always look at our provincial public health website (BCCDC) first, and follow the guidelines there. In British Columbia, we have been successful at flattening the curve and reducing the infection rate, although during the last three weeks the number of new cases per day has begun to rise alarmingly. Lately, we've had upwards of 100 new cases per day identified, whereas a couple of months ago we were down to as few as 4 new cases a day across the whole province. On Vancouver Island itself, as of today, we've had a cumulative total of 190 COVID cases since the pandemic began.

During the flattest part of the curve, and in congruence with the advice of Dr. Bonnie Henry, our Provincial Health Officer, Rob and I felt comfortable gradually increasing the frequency of our outdoor socializing, and have hosted a number of outdoor get-togethers.

Knowing our Risks and Risk Tolerance

How we have evaluated our personal risk and the risk we pose to others has changed gradually as more scientific knowledge about the virus has become available. So our practices have slowly changed, and might change again should we need to adapt to an upsurge in infection rates. 

We have educated ourselves about what we need to do to stay safe and keep others safe. (See BCCDC  website linked above.) We are fortunate that we live in a semi-rural area and we're both retired. Therefore, we're not subject to possible exposure in a workplace. As well, neither of us has a pre-existing medical condition that puts us more at risk. Our biggest personal risk factors are our ages (64 for me, and 71 for Rob), and the fact that Rob is male. Neither of us is a caregiver for someone with fragile health.

Of course, other people have different risk factors to consider, depending on where they live, their personal health situation, work status, and their household members' circumstances. So consider nothing that I write here as a recommendation; it might not apply to you. Follow your local public health advice instead!

 Where to Meet

Mothers' Day 2020

The short answer to this is -- outdoors! We live in a climatic zone where May through September weather is usually quite lovely, and fine for gathering outdoors. 

One of our first get-togethers was with our daughter and her family for Mothers' Day in May. We met at a local beach. We brought separate food for ourselves and they brought their own picnic. We made sure to maintain two meters (six feet) of distance. 

Over time, we formed a bubble with our daughter, son-in-law, and two grandchildren, so we now share food, sometimes meet indoors, and are more relaxed about the the two-meter distancing.

As well as meeting at parks, we have hosted people for gatherings on our deck. We have a large outdoor deck, where it is possible to have 10 or more people and still maintain appropriate social distancing.

Service Group Meeting Outdoors
For example, we hosted a meeting of our service club on our deck. I forgot to take a photo of any gatherings on our deck, but have included one here of our service club meeting outdoors at our local community centre, where physical distancing was possible. (Note that members of the same household were able to be seated close to each other.)

We've also continued to make good use of local parks. For example, my son and girlfriend met us at a popular picnic site at a lake. They drove separately and I brought my grandsons in my car. Although other families were at the park, we had no difficulty maintaining a two meter distance from them.

Picnic at a Park

We shared the same picnic, but used hand-sanitizer liberally. 

Finally, in our jurisdiction, public gatherings are legally limited to 50 people. However, for us, practically, we have limited gatherings we've hosted to a handful of people, and never more than a number that can easily keep a 2 meter distance on our deck.   

Cleaning and Sanitizing

People who know me well know that housecleaning is not my favourite activity. Nevertheless, I have done a lot of cleaning during the pandemic. 

When people come over to our deck, we clean the table and chairs with disinfectant. If no-one has used the deck for a number of days, we leave it at that (because the virus cannot survive for long outside in the UV light). But if it has been used recently, we also clean and sanitize the railings and any other surface that might be touched. When guests come, they select a chair cushion from the storage box, so that they are the only person who has touched their cushion.

We are fortunate to have more than one bathroom. So if we are expecting anyone to come over, we designate the main bathroom as the guest bathroom and do not use it. I clean and sanitize the entire bathroom, paying particular attention to high-touch surfaces such as light switches, faucets, door knobs, and the flusher handle. I provide single use towels, soap, and a spray bottle of disinfectant. I leave the lights on, toilet over up, and door open. After the gathering, I leave the bathroom to rest for a couple of days, then clean it again. 

We provide bottles of hand-santizer placed within easy reach of the guests. When cleaning up afterwards, I wash my hands with soap or sanitize them after handling anything someone might have touched.

In the cases when a family member has come to stay with us (my son or middle daugh

Wearing a Mask my Friend Made Me

ter), I cleaned the spare bedroom and then left it to rest for 2-3 days before they came. They had the main bathroom for their own separate use. Although they were inside the house,we practiced physical distancing during their visit (mostly). 

Food and Drink

As I mentioned above, early in the pandemic, we did not share food. Everyone brought their own. But as we've decided to once again offer guests food and drink, I have developed the following methods to reduce risks. I don't use all of these suggestions at the same time. It depends on who is present and their comfort level, as well.

  • no potlucks. I am the only person preparing food
  • drinks in cans and prepackaged items (although too much packaging is poor environmental practice, and the virus seems to be able to live longer on plastic packaging than on food)
  • only the host pours drinks
  • separate serving bowls and serving implements for the other couple
  • separate condiments for the non-household members
  • pre-plated desserts rather than self-serve, or only the host serves
  • provide hand-sanitizer and explicitly ask everyone to sanitize their hands before and after serving themselves
  • only one person or couple goes to the food table at a time
  • maintain 2 meter distance between people
  • compostable paper plates and compostable disposable cups
  • mask wearing except when eating
  • as the person preparing the food and setting out the dishes, I wash my hands before and after touching anything
  • guests not allowed to help with clean-up

Another thing we keep in mind is being prepared to cancel on short notice if either Rob or I don't feel well, or if the weather doesn't permit gathering outdoors. And, similarly, it's necessary to be understanding when a guest cancels, or doesn't feel comfortable gathering with others. I think it is good practice to explicitly remind people not to attend if they are not feeling well.

I will be interested to hear what others are doing in terms of hosting gatherings in places where the health standards permit some degree of social gathering.