Our first 16 weeks

As March began, Canada was alert to the threat of the COVID-19 (“corona virus”), but not under the lockdown imposed in so many other countries. We were reading about it, and our governments and health care systems were preparing for what we saw in China, Italy and other countries. On Thursday March 5th, our families in the GTA all gathered at a funeral home and crematorium in Etobicoke to pay our respects and bid farewell to Lisa’s father-in-law (Shamir’s dad, Uncle Shado). There were close to 500 people gathered in that room. There was an abundance of  hand shaking and hugging. Then on the next day, Friday March 6 and Saturday March 7, Bob attended the Ontario Liberal Party Leadership Convention. He said he had no intention of going to any of the hospitality parties where he would be in close contact with hundreds of people for a few hours. I was quietly relieved. After that weekend, however, things began to change quickly in Canada.

Week 0: March 8 to 14

How quickly things changed! The number of suspected (“presumptive”) cases in our province began to grow, and other provinces began to experience their first cases. While most of those cases were linked with travel, or contact with affected people who had traveled, British Columbia and Ontario both saw cases of local transmission. By Tuesday, Bob told his political colleagues that he was glad they got the convention done when they did (and thus far there is no indication that anybody carried the virus into the gathering or was affected there), because if it had been a week later, it would likely have been postponed. He was prescient.

At mid-day on Wednesday, Bob went to his weekly hockey game. I’m not too concerned about Bob being infected at hockey, even with a common cold, because as a goaltender, he doesn’t sit on the players’ bench among panting players getting off a shift. Not to mention, they all spit like the devil was after them! He said the COVID-19 issues was a topic of conversation in the dressing room, where most of the guys are consulting engineers. Though none had been at a giant prospectors and mine developers convention in Toronto, a few said they knew people who were there, though hadn’t had contact with attendees. On a lighter note, Bob said that the liquid refreshment after a grueling game is usually beer. After that game, the beer of choice was Corona! There were later confirmed cases of COVID-19 infection at that convention. Bob said one of the players asked him if he’d be available for goaltending in that person’s biweekly Saturday night game. Bob said he would confirm later in the week.

Meanwhile, out of an abundance of caution, we thought we would ensure we had a few days supply of the usual food basics. I noticed I was down to the last few Tylenol caplets. I went to Costco, and was shocked at the crowds and frantic (I will stop short of ‘panic’) buying of things that made little sense. I just bought one large bottle of Advil, and my normal quantities of other food items.

Being from Guyana, I grew up with protracted scarcity and  shortages of everyday items. Bob implored me not to be stampeded into buying paper products and other non-perishables, and I did not. We are okay at our house through spring with staple items we bought on sale a few weeks ago. But I did restock the freezer downstairs, and picked up a few extra cans of some of our favourites. The cats were down to their last few cans of cat food. Bob and Merlin went to the pet store, and Bob reported that there was no panic buying of pet food. Curious at how the mass psyche places a premium on human bathroom hygiene, but less so at whether their dogs and cats would have enough to eat. We bought twice as much pet food, because, as I explained to Bob, I can capably cook for people while we are in lockdown, but not for cats.

Pandemic to nationwide lockdown

That day, COVID-19 was declared a global pandemic, and by evening, Canada, our provinces, territories and communities started their rapid lockdown: pro sports, museums and municipal recreation facilities, cultural events, conventions and other mass gatherings were postponed or cancelled. It was quick and orderly. The political convention Bob had attended just 120 hours previously would have been postponed if it had been scheduled only one weekend later.

A few lonely packages of toilet paper were still on the shelves at Sobey’s in Churchill Meadows, near our home in the first week of the COVID-19 lockdown. No, we didn’t buy this package. We didn’t need it.

The grocery stores remained open, and well-stocked – including with paper products. It took perhaps a few days too long, but various governments, and vendors of products for which people lined up to bulk-buy offered assurances that there was no shortage of anything vital, especially toilet paper, paper towels, over-the-counter medicine, and cleaning supplies. The profiteers and hoarders were being excoriated on social and mass media, and properly so in our opinion!

By Friday, Bob’s friend from hockey had messaged him to say that the city (which runs most arenas) had informed all hockey organizers that their contracts for ice were cancelled until further notice. This meant no Saturday hockey for Bob, who would have declined anyway. Bob says he needs to get his skates sharpened before playing again anyhow.

We cooked and cleaned on the weekend, and I made a delicious soup of a frozen turkey carcass, some leftover barbecue chicken and a variety of other things I found in the fridge and freezer. We are going to vacuum and then roll up some of our rugs and runners in the hallways to make it a bit easier to clean the floor more often and more thoroughly. Bob did some cleaning and a few household chores, and we spent a pleasant Saturday night together on the sofa watching some of the shows we had ‘time-shifted’ over the past few months.

Both of us are in fine health, as are the cats. We don’t believe we have been exposed to the virus in our limited local travels. It is looking like we are going to be homebodies for a while. We plan to go to the store to get what we need and when we need it, and have a small reserve. However, this is not the 1962 Cuban missile crisis, and we won’t be hoarding or gritting our teeth wondering if Armageddon is upon us.

Week 1: March 15 to 21

Beware the Ides of March! Well, we hope not. Sunday was uneventful. We passed the day at home, did some nice cooking, caught up on a few chores, watched a few old movies on TV and went to bed early.

On Monday and Tuesday, the news got steadily more ominous as the cases in North America climbed, and Ontario and B.C. seemed to be the focal point. The Prime Minister announced a set of sweeping measures intended to help Canadians stuck at home and unable to earn money with such measures as a six-month break from having to pay mortgages. We expect other such fixed expenses as property taxes, utilities, phone and internet will shortly follow suit.

Bob went out to the grocery store on Wednesday morning. While there was sufficient supplies of toilet paper, paper towels were fresh out (though expected shortly). The only things he didn’t manage to get from our list was bran muffin mix and frozen peas. Though bread itself was available and abundant, flour was out of stock. We had planned to make bread, and had plenty of flour at home. We got everything else, and Bob said the store personnel were bearing up well, though the manager was pretty frustrated at the behaviour of the hoarders. At Longo’s the grocery items being purchased in unnecessary bulk were now rationed at one or two to a customer. Bob said one of the store employees chuckled and said, “I hope nobody even thinks they will be able to return toilet paper or cleaning supplies for a credit.”

The good old plastic bag has made a comeback, and cashiers won’t touch customer-supplied reusable bags. If you wish to use those, you need to pack it yourself. Gas was selling for 77.9 cents per litre. Wow. We both filled up our cars last week, at about 90 cents per litre.

We made our homemade corn bread, which filled the house with the aroma of fresh-baked bread, and finished up some soup I made on the weekend with fresh-baked bread.

Week 2: March 22 to 28

Bebe and Andrea

We called Bebe our ‘cuddle bunny’ for a reason. She adored me, and spent time cuddling every day.

For the past week, our dear Bebe cat has struggled with health problems, which became sharply worse this week. She had become thin, and was now having problems eating. We had put her back on a drug for her urinary tract, which the vet had prescribed. After some progress, she began to have trouble eating again. By the weekend, she was visibly uncomfortable, losing weight and suddenly frail, and exhibiting the symptoms that suggest a cat is near the end of its life, such as going into an isolated corner of the house and staying there. The vet took her in at mid-day on Monday, and the news after her exam, x-ray and lab tests, was what we feared: Bebe was dying.

Bob and I returned to the vet’s office, which relaxed their quarantine of outsiders while we re-united with Bebe for a final tearful visit before her suffering ended, and she was reunited with her late idol, our faithful cat Obi-Wan, who left us in 2015. The following day, our vet confirmed that Bebe had a large cancerous tumour on her bladder, and died of cancer and kidney failure. Bebe was eight days short of her 15th birthday.

Bebe’s story, in more detail will shortly be on this web site. It is a week of deep sorrow for us. All we can say is that Bebe died in the arms of the people she loved, and did so quietly and peacefully on a day when so many others around the world died of the corona virus: alone, fighting for their final breath and in terror with no family able to be near them at the end.

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Bob stocked up the the next week or ten days with a grocery run to Longo’s. Paper products were again plentiful. Fairly few grocery items were sold out. Many items were on sale. Bob was unable to find only two optional items on his otherwise complete list: unbleached flour and yeast, both for bread-making. He noticed that dried pasta was still scarce, but that just about everything else was on the shelves. We are hoping the illogical compulsion to hoard is subsiding. Longo’s signs read Sharing is caring. Limit 2 per customer.

Bob helps the local Caribbean church with their web site. They are shut down, like all the other churches should properly be while we all stay home to avoid contact with the virus. He helped them set up YouTube live webcasting and on-line donations on the web site he built for them after his 2018 election campaign was over. We watched the first webcast. Bishop Lennox Walker spoke very well. The quality of the webcast, which we streamed on our TV, is excellent, and I think I will use this capability in my business.

Bob got our information to our accountant to get our taxes done for 2019. Merlin got lots of attention during this sorrowful week. He slept with us each night, patrolled Bebe’s old routes in the yard, and sniffed her scent in some of her traditional places. It’s been a tough week for everyone.

Our Week 2 dinners

  • Sunday: Chicken curry and rice with homemade rock buns;
  • Monday: Second time round with the chicken curry;
  • Tuesday: Homemade hamburger;
  • Wednesday: Spaghetti with our very own meat sauce recipe;
  • Thursday: Andrea’s stewed pork with eggplant served with Trinidad-style roti;
  • Friday: More of our spaghetti and meat sauce;
  • Saturday: Finished up the stewed pork and eggplant.

Week 3: March 29 to April 4

After a nice Sunday breakfast of our famous home-made pancakes (recipe on this site), we watched our friends at Praise Cathedral bring the Sunday service to YouTube Live. Bob helped them connect it all together on the web site, and wanted to watch it live and be available on the computer to make sure there were no technical glitches. There were not.

While we ‘grazed’ the old movie Love in the Afternoon with Maurice Chevalier, Audrey Hepburn and Gary Cooper, it was time to bake two fresh loaves of bread. We didn’t stay with the movie, switching it to the old 1970s classic Abba movie, which brought back memories of what’s now a distant century on the other side of this global plague.

My brother said something amusing on the phone about this stay-at-home period: “At a time like this, what difference does it make if Sunday falls on a Monday.” I don’t know if it was original, but we both enjoyed the observation. During the week, the yard ornaments gradually came out of the shed and onto the grass, which Bob raked in the back yard. Why not the front yard as well? So that we would have something left to do next week, I suppose.

Bob went to get Bebe’s ashes in her urn from the vet on Thursday. The emptiness in the house is still palpable. We can’t help but look for her in her old favourite places: on the chairs under the dining room table, perched on the sofa arm, in the desk cubbyhole, in her bed in the study, or even downstairs at the back of the basement. Bebe’s morning routine of a quick snack of breakfast, followed by one or more back yard patrols, and then some more breakfast, followed by a cuddle with me in the study at the computer are still fresh memories. The vet called and spoke with us at length about her cancer, reassuring us that we had been vigilant in bringing Bebe up for her examinations ever since we began to notice a change in behaviour when she was trying to tell us something was wrong with her last summer.

The weekdays tend to blur into one another. I have been working with clients, helping them get ready for when people can travel and relocate again. Bob has been helping out our friends at Praise Cathedral Worship Centre with their web-based outreach.

Our Week 3 dinners:

  • Sunday: Chicken stir-fry;
  • Monday: Fish and chips;
  • Tuesday: Homemade New England clam chowder;
  • Wednesday: Spaghetti with our custom meat sauce recipe;
  • Thursday: Chicken stir-fry;
  • Friday: Homemade New England clam chowder;
  • Saturday: Fresh trout with baked potato and veggies.

Week 4: April 5 to April 11

The patio table was uncovered, and we carried it out from the gazebo to the patio to begin the transition to 2020’s ‘silent’ spring. More of the yard ornaments are now in their familiar places for the 2020 season. The yard again tinkles with the sound of our wind chimes.

On Wednesday, we took my car out for a short spin to make sure we kept the battery charged. We picked up my prescriptions at the drug store, and on the way home, took advantage of nearly no outside lineup at Longo’s to top up on groceries. Bob went in. I stayed in the car. Other than yeast (there seems to be a global surge in bread-making) and his favourite chocolate cookies, Bob got everything else without a problem. From last week, there was ample flour on the shelves, and the manufacturers had replenished the dry pasta. Paper products were on the shelves. The hoarders continue to do it all for nothing.

At our neighbourhood Pet Valu in Meadowvale, you can’t go in the store any more. You e-mail or phone in your order, they pick it for you, and then you pay at the door, maintaining that 2020 buzzword, social distancing. Merlin won’t be making his trips to the pet store from which we adopted him for a while. He misses the outing, and they miss him. Bob e-mailed in our order on Thursday morning, and picked it up after lunch.

Our Good Friday was spent quietly. Bob and I watched our friend Bishop Walker conduct his service at Praise Cathedral, we did some household chores; Bob checked out the grounds after a day of high wind, and took down the front yard flag until the wind died down. We each talked with friends during the day, had a nice dinner, watched a film noire on TCM, and called it a night.

Our Week 4 dinners:

  • Sunday: Finish up Saturday’s delicious trout with a fresh baked potato and veggies;
  • Monday: Homemade hamburgers with cucumber salad;
  • Tuesday: Chicken biryani and cucumber salad;
  • Wednesday: Meat Tourtiere with homemade salsa sauce;
  • Thursday: Finish up the chicken biryani;
  • Friday: Fish and chips with summer green peas;
  • Saturday: Chicken curry with rice and roti.

Week 5: April 12 to 18

Easter Sunday started with watching our friends at Praise Cathedral conduct their service over YouTube Live again. Bob’s web site he created for them back in mid-summer of 2018 turned out to be a strategic asset, as it was completely ready to help the church move to the web. They had nearly 700 separate connections watching on Easter Sunday, which is probably close to the 1,000 or so people who would have been in church personally.

Sleepy Merlin

April’s unseasonal cold led Merlin to spend quality time in his bed in front of the fireplace in the living room doing what cats do best: napping.

The weather turned cold again. Through Monday, we had a windstorm which meant Bob took down the flag so that it would not get blown into rags, and took down some of the win chimes so that they would not break. Nights have been cozy with Merlin cuddling up next to his people in bed.

Much of my own business happens from my home office anyway, and work was pleasantly busy all week. Folks all over the world are looking past the pandemic, and toward resuming their lives and careers. Those looking to Canada are contacting me and getting down to business.

Bob has made a dent in the backlog list of household chores. He changed the furnace filter, and got Merlin’s flower pot ready for a new crop of cat grass until he can graze on grass outside, and lick catnip leaves in the garden. That turns him into a very relaxed cat who goes into a contented sleep for an hour. During the week, Andrea made tapioca pudding. We had it for dessert most evenings.

Our Week 5 dinners:

  • Sunday: Andrea’s Easter special shrimp pasta with onions, garlic, peppers and veggies;
  • Monday: The shrimp pasta was so good on Sunday that we had it again;
  • Tuesday: Bacon, lettuce & tomato sandwiches with a toss salad, tapioca pudding for dessert;
  • Wednesday: Stuffed chicken breasts with rice and veggies, tapioca pudding for dessert;
  • Thursday: Cannelloni (from Longo’s), with tapioca pudding for dessert;
  • Friday: Ham and lentil soup with noodles and a garden salad;
  • Saturday: Fish and chips with cucumber salad.

Week 6: April 19 to April 25

The week began with a Sunday that dawned dull and overcast. Even Merlin wasn’t enthusiastic about going out in the morning. We had some of the lovely bran muffins we had made during the week for breakfast. I had a dull headache, and generally rested through the day. Bob set about making minor repairs to some of the wind chimes that for reasons we have forgotten had broken over the years. It isn’t that they are family heirlooms or even expensive, but they’ve hung in our garden for years, and a bit or Gorilla Glue gave three of them another year of life handing from the branches of our back yard trees.

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April has been continuously cold, as if Mother Nature was doing her part to help people maintain the all-important social distance during the corona virus period. If so, it was a successful strategy. Ontario’s period of cases doubling swiftly moved from a few days to more than two weeks as April progressed. By Saturday, however, the weather had warmed up enough to resume the yard work that we hadn’t been able to do for a few weeks. Bob got the lawn raking done in the front year, leaving just the side yard to be done.

Merlin took it all in stride, and continued to demonstrate that the nap is a carefully-cultivated feline art form. He comes onto the bed at night for a long cuddle whenever it is cold, which means there is usually a warm cat to cozy up to on a cold and blustery early-spring night.

The patio table and its six chairs are now out. The coffee table in the gazebo is back for the warm weather of 2020. The back yard elves, leprechauns and pixies again adorn nooks and crannies in the bushes. During the past couple of weeks of gusty winds, Bob had taken in the flag, so emblematic of our home, so that the spring winds wouldn’t blow it to bits. Over the year, the flag will be claimed by the weather in due course, but there is no point in sacrificing the flag before the good weather even gets started.

Business has been brisk during the week, and much of my days was spent on the business end of the computer and the telephone. My immigration consulting business normally operates from home much of the time anyway, so the corona virus separation has affected my clients’ ability to plan, schedule and provide documents and information than it has my own ability to work on their behalf.

Our Week 6 dinners:

  • Sunday: Andrea’s special chicken stew with potatoes, tomatoes, onions and garlic, served with special Guyana Bakes bread. Bob had never tasted it before;
  • Monday: Spinach with paneer, seasoned rice and stir-fry chicken;
  • Tuesday: Rainbow trout served with sweet peppers and rice. Bake a chocolate bundt cake for the week’s dessert;
  • Wednesday: Finish up the delicious rainbow trout;
  • Thursday: Pasta with Marinara sauce and meatballs; chocolate cake for dessert;
  • Friday: Fish and chips with cucumber salad; chocolate cake for dessert;
  • Saturday: Second-time round with our pasta with meatballs and Marinara sauce. The chocolate cake is just about finished, so I made some more tapioca pudding.

Week 7: April 26 to May 2

Wet, windy weather resumed on Sunday. We slept in an extra hour, and began the day with our custom pancakes for breakfast, served with bananas, fresh pineapple and sour cream along with the usual butter and maple syrup. Lunch was breaded eggplant served with salsa, which was very yummy. Bob found a TV replay of the 1993 Stanley Cup finals, which was the last time a Canadian team (Bob’s beloved Montreal Canadiens) won the Stanley Cup. April 28 also marked the one and only time Bob himself ever won a hockey league championship playing competitively. In 1979, with a team called the Sutton Canadiens, Bob’s team defeated their rival Aurora Bruins in the same week that the Montreal Canadiens defeated the Boston Bruins en route to their own semifinal series victory. Montreal would go on to defeat the New York Rangers that spring of 1979, and capture its 22nd of 24 (and fourth consecutive) Stanley Cup.

Monday was our errand day for the week. Bob dropped off Merlin’s fecal sample at the vet. All tests came back negative, and he remains a healthy cat. Bob then went to Pet Valu to pick up Merlin’s grocery list: cans of cat food, and envelopes of his favourite soft food. On the way home, Bob saw no lineup at Longo’s and went in to pick up all the items on our grocery list: mostly fresh vegetables and fruits. There were again no shortages, except for the usual lack of yeast. The flour is apparently available in supply, but the manufacturers report a shortage of bags for grocery shelves as their bulk purchases by commercial and restaurant customers are down, but retail sales are way up, leading to a disconnect in the type and amount of packaging they have available. No matter, we have enough yeast for several more weeks, and we are okay on flour.

The balance of the week was pretty routine. Other than work, which continues busy, Bob kept opening up the yard. The raking in the front yard was finished, and most of the lawn ornaments are now out of the boxes. As the weather finally warmed up during the week, we were able to enjoy the outdoors a bit more. Merlin likes having Bob out with him when he goes to explore the back yard, sniff around to see who else has been in his territory, and mark key points in his back yard.

Many parts of the USA, plus Quebec in Canada began plans to open up again. States such as New York and California, plus about a dozen others: mostly those hardest hot by the virus; and most Canadian provinces have adopted a go-slower approach until the momentum of new corona virus cases, plus the pace of recovery of existing cases, suggest that allowing social mixing is sufficiently safe. After nearly two months of staying home, it would be hard to accept that opening up too early might lead to a re-ignition of COVID-19 infections. For the weekend, it is time to finish the raking along the side, and maybe get the grass cut for the first time in 2020.

We have not been to Costco in almost two months. Our reserves in the downstairs fridge and freezer are dwindling down low. It may be time to risk a trip to Costco this week to replenish our stocks. We have a very focused list, organized by store section, to get in, shop efficiently, and get out as quickly as possible.

Our Week 7 dinners:

  • Sunday: Monterey chicken breasts in cream of mushroom sauce with rice;
  • Monday: Shrimp creole with rice with tapioca pudding for dessert;
  • Tuesday: Finish up the Monterey chicken. Made fresh corn bread;
  • Wednesday: Finish up the shrimp creole. Strawberries and cream for dessert;
  • Thursday: Custom pepperoni pizza with mushrooms, onions and tomatoes, with cucumber salad. More tapioca pudding for dessert;
  • Friday: A hearty soup from stock plus a turkey carcass in the freezer and various vegetables, along with fresh bread and cucumber salad;
  • Saturday: Fish and chips with creamy cucumber salad. Strawberries and cream for dessert.

Week 8: May 3 to May 9

Mid-week was the first time in two months that we visited Costco. We had our list all ready. Surprisingly, there was no problem parking in the middle of the day, and we found just about everything we went in to buy. The list was organized by aisle, and we got in and got out. It worked out well. We wore our masks, as did most, but not all shoppers.

On the first weekend of May, we got the grass cut for the first time. We went out and attacked the early-season weeds, filling about half the yard waste bag with dandelions that sneaked onto the lawn from our less-diligent neighbours’ yards. The property is just waiting to get the plants outside. Then the weather turned suddenly cold – very cold – early in the week. The plants that normally come out on Mother’s Day weekend just had to wait an extra week inside. Merlin had been looking forward to going outside to nap in the gazebo, and he spent the week curled up in one of his beds dozing through the polar vortex that has surged through central Canada and the U.S. eastern seaboard.

Our Week 8 dinners:

  • Sunday: Angel hair pasta with chicken and veggies;
  • Monday: Breaded pork with scalloped potatoes and oriental steamed veggies;
  • Tuesday: Angel hair pasta with chicken and veggies, our neighbour’s cookies for dessert;
  • Wednesday: Mexican tacos with sour cream, salsa, refried beans and grated cheese, Jello and cookies for dessert;
  • Thursday: Roast chicken with scalloped potatoes, Jello for dessert;
  • Friday: Finish up the tacos, Jello for dessert;
  • Saturday: Homemade burgers and Jello for dessert.

Week 9: May 10 to May 16

On Tuesday, Bob went to Longo’s for the biweekly stock-up. No lineup at all. Longo’s now insists that all its shoppers wear masks. They have a person out front to give you one if you don’t bring your own, which is a classy touch. The shopping carts are fastidiously cleaned before each shopper takes them, and people are offered a squirt of alcohol-based disinfectant on the way in. Bob does the shopping very well, and found everything except yeast (again!) and cilantro. They get shipments of yeast, but it seems to be the luck of the draw, as the staff report the yeast is usually gone the first day it arrives.

However, our supply issues with flour are now a thing of the past! Longo’s offered a 20 kg bag of unbleached flour for only $18.79. That’s the equivalent of eight of our normal bags of flour, and at a terrific price too. We’re good to bake our lovely, homemade bread well into the summer. We also tried out Bob’s new system of letting me help with the shopping from home. Longo’s offers its patrons free Wi-Fi, which is also pretty fast too. So Bob paired a never-before-used bluetooth headset to his phone, and logged onto the Longo’s network before connecting with me via WhatsApp video, and I was able to direct him to specific shelves where I wanted to see what was available. I even picked out the fish in real time, and was able to talk to him at the store while checking what we had downstairs on the storage shelves. It worked great!

Over the weekend, we did some wonderful cooking. I made two pies from cottage cheese, which turned out terrific. We will be eating them gradually for days. Bob made a fresh loaf of bread, departing from our usual favourite corn bread recipe to make a sort-of-sourdough loaf from a container of sour cream instead of milk in the recipe. It turned out great, and is definitely a make-again recipe. You can find it on this web site. And for Sunday dinner, we went all out with a roast pork with all the trimmings, and just about finished up our batch of scalloped potatoes from the past week.

It wasn’t much of a weekend to go out and do much of anything, though the weather forecast suggests the polar vortex that has kept everyone safe from COVID-19 because it is just too cold to go outside and mingle seems set to lift by late in the week, returning southern Ontario to more normal temperatures.

By Friday, the showers we never got in April had begun. Most important, the weather actually turned warm! Bob turned off the heat, and opened the windows for the first time this year. We will have all the plastic film that forms such an effective insulating layer of air between the house and the windows all taken down by the end of the Victoria Day long weekend. And at long last, the first of the plants were able to go outside and get a little rain on Friday. We got the grass cut on Saturday, and some other yard work done. With social distancing, Zach came over and helped dig up some of the plants that had had their time. Good thing too, because as Saturday wore on, the weather turned cooler and the wind picked up. While the sun shone on our one good day of the Victoria Day weekend, the house and yard looked trim and well-kept.

Our Week 9 dinners:

  • Sunday: Roast pork and scalloped potatoes, with cottage cheese pie for dessert;
  • Monday: Roast chicken with fries, Jello for dessert;
  • Tuesday: Salmon stew with spinach and rice, strawberries and sour cream for dessert;
  • Wednesday: Roast pork with scalloped potatoes and zucchini gallette;
  • Thursday: Last of the salmon stew with spinach and rice, plus cucumber salad. Friend’s banana and chocolate chip loaf for dessert;
  • Friday: Fish and chips with garden peas. Cheesecake with strawberry sauce for dessert;
  • Saturday: Longo’s cannelloni, with the last of the cheesecake for dessert.

Week 10: May 17 to May 23

The Sunday and Monday of the 2020 Victoria Day weekend turned cold, wet and windy. They were good days to watch some TV inside, listen to the rain beat against the windows, do household chores, get cooking done, and otherwise share Merlin’s propensity to ride out the nasty weather by taking a nap. We didn’t need to go anywhere this weekend, and other than dropping off the fresh baking at Zachary’s place via a quick hand-off, we stayed home.

Monday was cooking day: we made a fresh loaf of buttermilk corn bread. Instead of the usual two loaves, we made one, and used the balance of the dough to make Zachary some sub sandwich loaves, and ourselves some hamburger buns, which are really good. I baked a banana cream pie with some raisins and cherries in it, and we used some leftover roast port and veggies to make a really good pork and eggplant stew, which was dinner. Check out the cooking video below.

The plants got outside, and only one of the tropical plants had to come back in because the wind, cold and rain was just too much of a shock all at once. It will recover. The rest of the plants seemed to take in the rainfall very well, and got started on their summer in the outdoors. With the strong wind blowing all night long, Merlin came straight to bed on both Sunday and Monday nights, and cozied up to his warm people all night long.

Tuesday was Bob’s weekly shopping run. Longo’s has its summer gardening stuff in, and we will visit there together later in the week. Other than the continuing shortage of yeast (we’re okay for the balance of May), we got everything else on the shopping list. The hoarding panic seems to be over, and the prices are in line with what they should be. As usual, I participated in the shopping trip over WhatsApp.

On Thursday, Bob and I drove over to Longo’s to pick out some flowers and get some garden soil for the summer garden. It wasn’t the same range of selection that we normally find at our favourite nursery, Terra, but it will do this year.  We went to another Longo’s location to find a few more plants that were not at the Thomas Street location. Saturday was garden day. Bob’s routine is the weed patrol, the edging and then the grass cutting. I got to work planting the urns, and cleaning out anything remaining of the 2019 annual plants. My son Zach came over, kept his respectful distance, and assisted with the planting by trimming some of our evergreens. He cooked some sausages on the barbecue, which we incorporated into a nice pasta. That was as close as we have come with contact with another human being in almost 11 weeks. It was also time to make the changeover from the cozy winter flannel bedding to the cooler summer cotton sheets and lighter-weight blankets. Just in time too: it was downright warm for the first time this year at night.

Our Week 10 dinners:

  • Sunday: Garofalo pasta with mushrooms, smoked salmon, olive oil, onions, garlic and fresh herbs;
  • Monday: Eggplant and pork stew with rice and cucumber salad;
  • Tuesday: Pasta from Sunday with banana cream pie for dessert;
  • Wednesday: Cobb salad and banana cream pie;
  • Thursday: Butter chicken;
  • Friday: Our homemade burgers, served on our homemade buttermilk corn bread buns;
  • Saturday: Zachary’s pasta with sausage.

Week 11: May 24 to May 30

Sunday began with a small and pleasant surprise. One of Bob’s former undergrad classmates knew we had been looking for some yeast, which we have not been able to find at the grocery store, and were not interested in buying on-line. They found us a couple of bottles of yeast at their cottage location in Port Colborne. Scratch one of the very last lingering items on our COVID-19 shopping list! We have never yielded to panic buying or hoarding, and just as Bob had predicted, we have found absolutely everything we have needed.

On Sunday, we tried a hearty breakfast we had seen demonstrated on YouTube: Spanish eggs and potatoes cooked with tomatoes. The recipe itself used mostly salt (too much in our view) and pepper as seasonings, so we adapted it a bit to make a lower-sodium version. It’s on this web site. Try it out.

The week’s weather was hot and humid, leading us to one of our earliest-ever uses of the air conditioner. We had it on to cool down and dry out the air in the house so that we could sleep at night. Otherwise, neither of us really like air conditioning. We both feel that we wait about eight months through cold weather, and want to breathe outdoor air during as much of the spring, summer and early autumn as we can.

The weekend tasks were to get as much of the summer planting done as we could. In this COVID-19 period, we economized, and spent not nearly as much as we normally did on annuals, but many of the perennials made up the difference. We got some potting soil, garden soil, triple mix to do the annual lawn repairs, and some mulch for parts of the garden. After a Saturday and Sunday spent getting the yard ready for the good weather (and hoping some friends will be able to safely join us and enjoy the garden), the heat, humidity and rain settled in for the first part of the week. It took until Friday to finish the planting. The grass on the lawn just exploded upward with the cloudy, humid and wet weather.

I had a busy week working with clients, and Bob kept on studying his Wealth Management Essentials course so that he can write the exam whenever in-person exams are possible again. We had one of our very rare batches of bread dough that didn’t rise fully. Sometimes that just happens. It made a delicious bread pudding with raisins and dried cherries, and we ate it as toast at breakfast for a few days during the week.

Our Week 11 dinners:

  • Sunday: Butter chicken curry;
  • Monday: Fish and chips with garden peas;
  • Tuesday: Pork stew with whole-grain rice and steamed carrots;
  • Wednesday: Chicken pot pie with cucumber salad and bread pudding;
  • Thursday: Finish up the pork stew with cucumber salad and bread pudding;
  • Friday: Sandwiches and a big Cobb-style salad;
  • Saturday: Thin-crust pizza with extra cheese, mushrooms, tomatoes.

Week 12: May 31 to June 6

The garden is finally productive again. It was time to harvest about a dozen fresh rhubarb stalks, and on the weekend, we made the season’s first rhubarb crisp with cherries, strawberries, diced apples and topped with with a crunchy crust. We ate the crisp for dessert much of the week. The planting was just about done this week. Only a little garden and lawn soil needs to be finished. The grass has been growing briskly, and by Saturday night, we were just bushed, but the house looked like its early summer best.

On Monday, Bob went shopping for groceries. Our system of having me help pick the fresh fish and meats by WhatsApp video from within the grocery store has been working to perfection. Bob and Merlin visited Bob’s friend John to pick up some instant yeast he had bought for us near their summer house in the Niagara area. Now we have flour and yeast in extra abundance, and can bake to our heart’s content for the balance of the year.

The abundant rain throughout the week gave us a lush lawn, though one that really needed cutting. Saturday, we took a deep breath and went after the yard work: Bob got the grass cut after we both finally emptied the overstuffed shed, a task we had not got to last year. Lots of stuff went into the garbage or recycle, and we found some yard ornaments that went missing for some time. It’s a much better-organized storage area now. The yard looks terrific. For all the COVID-19 challenges, the property is the summer paradise it normally is.

The baby birds born during May have left their nests, and Mom and Dad are teaching them to feed and fly from the safety of our lawn and our trees and bushes. The myriad of birds of various types: robins who breed here, sparrows, blue jays and a few blackbirds all enjoy the bird suet we leave for them to feed, and serenade us and the neighbours with their singing all day.

Our Week 12 dinners:

  • Sunday: Beef stir fry with a medley of veggies. Rhubarb crisp for dessert;
  • Monday: We liked the beef so much, we had it again the next day. Rhubarb crisp for dessert;
  • Tuesday: Thai chicken curry with rice, eggplant, tomatoes and spices; cucumber salad to add to the experience, and rhubarb crisp for dessert;
  • Wednesday: Rainbow trout grilled with veggies, and fresh cucumber salad garnished with mint from the garden;
  • Thursday: Stuffed chicken breasts with rice, steamed asparagus, and cucumber salad;
  • Friday: Fish tacos with sour cream, avocado, lettuce, tomato, grated cheese and taco sauce;
  • Saturday: Homemade hamburgers and fried with the first of our second-harvest berry-rhubarb-apple crisp.

Week 13: June 7 to June 13

We had the second harvest of our rhubarb this week, which meant desserts of homemade rhubarb crisp much of the week. Nothing like it when our rhubarb is fresh. This batch was made with a topping of apples, raspberries and some dehydrated cherries. It was just great! Once the annual harvest is gone, that’s it for the season. We should have at least one more harvest of rhubarb before the end of June. The yard is approaching its late-spring glory. The trees were in full flower, which for Bob meant a few days on antihistamines.

We had a major cleanout of the garden shed during the week, and managed to find plenty of old or broken stuff to toss out, and also some yard ornaments we had lost track of, and are again decorating the yard. During the week, Bob made his terrific meat sauce for spaghetti, which means a couple of dinners with little advance preparation, which is nice at the end of a day. My days in the office at home are very busy ones. We have been figuring out ways of marketing without needing a physical office. Bob and Merlin made a trip to the park, which they had not been able to do in the recent heat and humidity, which broke with a strong thunderstorm during the week as the remnants of a tropical depression brushed past us.

The week ended as it began: with a full day spent in the yard. We got the grass cut, and some of the trees trimmed. I cut back the kiwi vine in the back yard, and made the areas where the spring tulips had blossomed look neat again. Bob pruned the annual crop of dead branches on some of the trees. We spent Saturday outside working to make our back yard oasis as complete as we could. The COVID-19 restrictions and very cold spring not withstanding, the yard is ready in 2020 on exactly the same weekend in June that it has ben in the past. A few weekends ago, we saw a pair of iron planting urns discarded on the roadside on our way home from shopping. We returned after we had unpacked things, and took the two urns home. Though rusty, there wasn’t anything wrong with them. It took Bob about an hour with a stiff wire brush to scrub off the rust. Once repainted with Rustoleum paint, they looked brand new.

Our Week 13 dinners:

  • Sunday: Cannelloni pasta with cucumber salad and homemade rhubarb crisp for dessert;
  • Monday: Beef stew with spinach and eggplant and whole-grain rice. Rhubarb crisp for dessert;
  • Tuesday: Fish and chips with steamed asparagus, and more rhubarb crisp for dessert;
  • Wednesday: Spaghetti with meat sauce;
  • Thursday: Hamburgers with rhubarb crisp for dessert;
  • Friday: Beef creole soup with coconut milk;
  • Saturday: Spaghetti and meat sauce.

Week 14: June 14 to June 20

Sunday was a day to bake bread. We had bought a few loaves from the store in the past two weeks, and wanted our own buttermilk corn bread again. Bob made two loaves, and we brought one hot from the oven for Auntie Ione and the Shadir family nearby, as we made our first visit to friends since early March. Masked and socially distanced though we were, it was nice to see folks we knew again. Earlier in the day, I baked a cheesecake, and topped it with a blend of blueberries and cherries. Bob loved it! That will be our go-to dessert during the week.

Bob gave Merlin his grooming on Sunday morning in the gazebo. One of Bob’s staff once observed that it is not as if Merlin merely sheds hair. He radiates it. It’s true. Doing Merlin’s grooming outside means a little less cleanup inside. Merlin gets his claw tips trimmed if they need it, and settles in for a few minutes of what is in effect an extended back scratch with the grooming brush. He seems to enjoy it, and Bob comes away with enough white fur to make a new kitten. Early in the spring, we can leave Merlin’s fur outside for the birds to use in making nests, though these days we are looking at the baby birds learning for to get along in the world after they have left their nests. There are at least three families of robins who know that our yard is a safe place to hunt for worms and practice the lessons of bird life.

During the week, we made steady progress on the yard and the planting. Bob spray painted the two urns, and now they look as if we had just brought them home brand new. I worked in my study on my business year-end, and did client work. By Saturday, we needed another full day in the garden to get the grass cut, more trimming done on the trees and bushes, remove some of the early spring plants that are now done, spread some of the lawn top soil and garden soil, finish potting and generally spruce the place up as we celebrated the weekend of the summer solstice. The area was daylit still at 9:00 p.m. Remembering our long and cold Canadian winters, we paused to celebrate how this was the calendar year’s longest day, and high point as spring turned into summer.

The temperate days of midweek yielded to high humidity by weekend, which meant keeping hydrated while we worked outside. Bob also managed to drill out the broken wood from a garden fork that we snapped last year. He found a replacement handle on sale, and replaced the handle on Saturday, giving us back our garden fork. The birds in the yard continue to devour our offerings of suet, and we may have to get a new box this coming week. It is rewarding to see them feeding, singing and using the bird bath to drink and get clean.

There are at least three families of robins that have grown up in the front and back yard this year. The babies have all taken to flight well, and learned to hunt for food under their parents’ guidance in the safety of our yard. Merlin seldom even watches any more, even when he is outside in the gazebo. Bebe took an active interest in who was in her yard, but was not a bird chaser. We miss her still, and always will. Much more so than Merlin, and the late Obi-Wan, she had a very active routine in the good weather: an early morning patrol of the perimeter of her yard; her first breakfast; another one or two trips in and out through the cat port; her second breakfast; and then a nap somewhere. After a few hours, Bebe would reappear and take another look or two around the yard and then ask for lunch. Throughout the day, Bebe would regularly visit with me in the study: sometimes sleeping on the floor or in the desk printer cubbyhole; and often coming on my lap for a cuddle while I worked. From time to time she would get down, go to the litter box, take another patrol around her yard, and check up on where Merlin was (and Obi-Wan before him). Outside, Bebe tended to nestle beneath the waterfall Japanese maple by the gazebo, or take up a covered position behind the gazebo where she could survey who was coming or going on the patio and in her yard. We only wonder which animals are getting away with what now that she is only among us in spirit.

Our Week 14 dinners:

  • Sunday: Butter chicken with eggplant, spinach, and whole-grain rice. Cheesecake for dessert;
  • Monday: Beef creole soup and fresh bread with homemade cheesecake for dessert;
  • Tuesday: Butter chicken and yoghurt flatbread with baked ripe plantains;
  • Wednesday: Stuffed chicken breasts with steamed broccoli and carrots, rice and gravy. Homemade cheesecake for dessert;
  • Thursday: Barbecue pork chops with homemade garlic bread, roasted mushrooms, fennel and zucchini;
  • Friday: Fish and chips with roasted mushrooms, fennel and zucchini. Cheesecake for dessert;
  • Saturday: Spaghetti with meat sauce and cucumber salad. Rice pudding for dessert.

Week 15: June 21 to June 27

We began the new week with a hearty Sunday breakfast, after which we went to Terra to get the plants to put into the newly-painted urns. Once we got home, we did the planting, and now our urns look just great! We celebrated the new week, and the start of summer with a special shrimp and angel-hair pasta for dinner. Our batch of rice pudding from late last week will be our after-dinner treat for the next few days.

Over the weekend, I made the filling for some Jamaican patties (a.k.a Cornish pasties), and on Sunday made the pastry and baked them. We had a dozen patties, spiced up with a couple of wiri-wiri peppers in the filling. They were very yummy, and made for a late lunch for us on Sunday. The week began hot and humid, with a suggestion of rain for mid-week in the forecast.

During the week, we tried to make rye bread for the first time, including two rye bread burger buns, which we had fresh the same day. The recipe was mostly a success, though the loaves were denser than we thought they ought to be. This is an issue we’ve overcome with practice on each variety of bread we’ve learned to bake. The recipe obviously used some rye flour and honey as sweetener.

Merlin returned to the park on his leash with Bob for a couple of leisurely strolls to check out the other wildlife. He and Bob were alone for the walks. Bob said Merlin (at age 17) had the stamina and the desire for a full-length walk through the park. Merlin remains in apparent good health, with a fine appetite. It is surprising how much less cat food and litter we go through with only one cat instead of two. We don’t know if Merlin misses Bebe, but three months after her passing, we both certainly do. We know Bebe has given us some signs that she is okay in the hereafter: the white cover on her bed at the top of the stairs often looks slept-on when we walk past it in the morning, even though we know we have straightened it, and Merlin does not use it. Two rabbits came to the front yard, and lingered in the open by the front door one evening during the week, even allowing me to go outside and make eye contact while I watched them. Bebe’s nickname was ‘the cuddle bunny,’ and we are certain that these two wild creatures meant to tell us that Bebe and the late Obi-Wan are both okay and together again.

The week ended with a Saturday spent getting the yard to its peak condition. There is very little of consequence left to do now, and our activities outside are in the realm of the nice-to-have, and in overall improvements. We hope somebody else can come and see the yard while it remains at its prime. It is truly lovely now.

Our Week 15 dinners:

  • Sunday: Angel hair pasts with shrimp and veggies. Rice pudding for dessert;
  • Monday: Burgers with rye bread buns and rice pudding;
  • Tuesday: Just had to finish up the yummy angel hair pasta from Sunday. Rice pudding for dessert;
  • Wednesday: Barbecue chicken with garlic toast, roasted eggplant, zucchini, mushrooms and onions;
  • Thursday: Chicken curry with brown basmati rice and cucumber salad. Rice pudding for dessert;
  • Friday: Fish (cod) and chips with asparagus;
  • Saturday: Pizza night with all the toppings, including fresh herbs from the garden.

Week 16: June 28 to July 4

This week included one of our rare trips to Costco. The line-up to get in was reasonable. Everyone wore masks and stayed apart. All in all, people behaved as if they were taking the COVID-19 threat seriously, unlike the situation in the USA and other places where people mingled in crowds unmasked. It was as if they didn’t believe that the COVID-19 virus would be attending those events, which it did in every case.

The yard has hit its stride for 2020. It is again our lovely haven where, if you turn your back to our neighbour’s yard, it looks like the back yard is a flowering clearing in the middle of a forest. On Canada Day, Zach and Nick came over. Though they kept their distance, we were able to have dinner together for Canada Day. Zach made his paella, and everybody went home with food for the balance of the week. And it also got hot! We had to break down and turn on the air conditioning again. Daytime highs were well into the 30s, with humidex values closer to 40ºC. This means one important daily task is to thoroughly water all our carefully-nurtured plants. Our neighbours and the local parks have lawns and grassy areas that are scorched brown. Our grass is feeling the heat, but trying to stay green with the in-ground sprinkler going on daily during the heat wave. By week’s end, we had not seen a drop of rain in almost three weeks.

We continue to explore new dishes in some of the household cook books. While our monthly grocery bills are up, our countervailing take-out and restaurant tabs have dropped to zero! We both miss some of our favourite restaurants, though even at that a dinner out once each week would have been a lot. It’s my business year-end at the end of June, so now there is a lot of year-end work to get expenses reconciled, entered into the computer and start pulling information together for the annual audit and corporate tax filing.

The week ended with our normal summer Saturday of yard work. Bob fixed a break in the fence where, to our unpleasant surprise, Merlin figured out how to get his plump, white body through. On Friday, we found him watching the world go by on the front walk when we thought he was safely napping in the back yard gazebo. We have always gone to great (almost ridiculous) lengths to keep our cats safe and secure in our yard, and other animals outside the fence. The household rabbits and skunks are nocturnal, and don’t bother us, so we generally don’t bother them.

Our Week 16 dinners:

  • Sunday: Penne pasta with olive oil, grilled asparagus and ham;
  • Monday: Curried chicken with brown rice and dhal. Ice cream cone for dessert;
  • Tuesday: BLT sandwiches and toss salad;
  • Wednesday (Canada Day): Barbecue pork side ribs, grilled vegetables: asparagus, yellow peppers, zucchini. Seafood paella. Special homemade banana chocolate bars and peach-blueberry fruit tarts;
  • Thursday: Finish up the vegetable pasta and ham, as well as the fruit tarts;
  • Friday: Fish and chips;
  • Saturday: Barbecue sausages with grilled asparagus, potatoes and mushrooms.

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