From Susan D. in Ottawa, Canada: Aging in place

a piece of Paris

22 April

 Snow still

The wind is howling and the snow is descending in gusts and blowing from the rooftops. Perhaps this wild April inclemency has been sent not from cruelty but rather from compassion, to divert us, to ensure a topic for conversation, to make us happy to huddle together in the warmth of our homes.

Ontario modelling

The grim modelling released earlier in the month was replaced on Monday by new data indicating that Ontario has appeared to have peaked ahead of the forecasts. The earlier projections had called for 1,600 deaths by April 30, and 80,000 cases. On Monday, there were 11,184 confirmed cases, 802 people in hospital and 584 reported deaths. Hospital resources have not been overwhelmed. People without COVID-19 related symptoms have even been urged by the hospitals to “visit us”, and not stay at home until they are desperately ill.

Nonetheless, we older souls must heed the advice of the Ontario Premier: “Until a vaccine is found, the best way to protect those over the age of 70 and those with complex medical conditions is to ask them to self-isolate at home.” And that will be for some time as experts constantly reiterate.

Our old age home

We remind ourselves daily how fortunate we are to have our lovely spacious home in which to self-isolate. When we returned to Canada in 2010, we were both very unhappy about leaving Paris and found it very difficult to appreciate either Ottawa or the house we had kept for our almost 20 year absence. We needed a new adventure. When the house across the street came up for sale we launched ourselves – me with a little trepidation, Drew with none – into a project that would consume us for three years, to create a house that would allow us to age in place.

The renovation saga that followed is banal: the foundation was rotten, there was fire damage on the first floor ceiling that compromised the entire four-floor staircase, there was asbestos in the attic along with some water damage, and on and on, mostly unidentified in the inspection. We engaged an excellent architect, and I researched universal design to make sure we chose items like door handles that are easy for arthritic hands, a shower accessible to a wheel chair. But we failed in our choice of a contractor who bolted for Portugal before the work was fully completed, another banal renovation experience. Our neighbour and former friend sued us to keep land he had encroached upon. We won the legal battle, but it was extremely unpleasant and detracted for some time from the pleasure of being in our new home.

We had very few bits of furniture from our years of living in tiny Paris apartments when we moved in. Furnishing the house to overcome the extreme minimalist effect took us some time, and all the while the architect who wanted to put his work in the annual Ottawa award ceremony was nipping at our heels. When he finally decided that our furnishing efforts would not disgrace his design and that he could Photoshop the limited landscaping efforts, he submitted his work on “A Piece of Paris” (his submission photo above). To our amazement he won the awards for both best renovation and best kitchen and one of the little plexiglass awards now sits in a bookcase along with a couple of folded up newspaper articles.

It has been only recently that we have felt truly happy and pleasantly comfortable in our old-age-home-to-be, having found our own favourite places in it and having space for our family when they come to stay. Our enforced isolation, which is unlikely to end for some time yet, has proved a very good test of the design. We could not have known how soon we would need it.

from Susan D in Ottawa, Canada: more snow

Spring time snow in Ottawa

21 April. Snow again. This morning it snowed again. Surely it is time for the third Winter to be over and done, and if not, it needs a new name – third Winter of Despair.

Yesterday near noon, just as we were returning from our brisk walk in the Farm in brisk temperature, my favourite (unacknowledged of course) young neighbour roared out of the little lane that joins our street just across from us and stopped to say hello. On her bicycle and with her helmet, she might not be recognisable as a senior bureaucrat tasked with working on the federal government COVID-19 Economic Response Plan. She explained that now she had someone on her staff covering for her in the mornings and Saturday, and that she was working at the office from noon till 8.00 pm or so the rest of the time. I congratulated her on the very positive public response to the release of the Canada Emergency Response Benefit that provides a taxable benefit of $2,000 every 4 weeks for up to 16 weeks to eligible workers who have lost their income due to COVID-19. “Hmmm, yes” said she “but we are digging deeper and deeper into the bucket as we keep expanding coverage and support”. Then she brightened up, “But it is very interesting” and sped off. It was very heartening to know that her bright cheerful self was devoted to “saving Canada” (words of her husband).

20 April. Up then down. I feel unmoored today, although thankfully not unhinged. The daily list of chores did not serve as a framework for the day, just gave me a vague sense of ennui as I moved from one to another finishing one but not others. I feel like I am wandering aimlessly about the house and not sure where I misplaced my compass.

Yet yesterday was the opposite, with a most enjoyable first crack at not-quite-Spring garden clean-up. Lovely to be outside and not worry about anyone nearby coughing or sneezing or just getting too close. The sun was out (obligatory weather comment) and after a bit of strenuous raking, it was even possible to exchange the winter down coat for a lighter one. And in the evening we took a quick look, and then stayed till the end of the 25th year celebration in the London Royal Albert Hall of The Phantom of the Opera, offered free online. We may be closed in, but if we have Internet access there are so many offerings to help take our minds off the restrictions and the news – theatre, opera, concerts, movies, series, virtual museum and garden tours, e-books and so on.

17 April. Snow. The snow did melt a couple of days ago, but yesterday and today Nature provided follow-up reminders of Spring’s absence with little ice pellets and small snow squalls. Our walks some time ago in plus10 degrees seemed quite balmy for Spring, much as minus 10 degrees in winter seems, if not quite balmy, at least bearable. There is something most Canadians seem to need to talk about, no matter what – the weather. It might be, as some humourist has suggested, that we have been given extra seasons: Winter, fool’s Spring, second Winter, Spring of deception, third Winter, mud season, actual Spring, Summer (some descriptions substitute “road work”), False Fall, Second Summer and actual Fall.

Why do we have to have this inclement third Winter when reading the COVID-19 news and watching the escalating numbers could be ever so slightly more bearable if we were able to go outside without a parka and wave from correct distance to our wonderful neighbour-friends.

from Susan A. in Ottawa, Canada: April snowfalls and fines for dawdling …

15 April. April is the cruellest month.  When I awoke this morning just after 5.00, the little park behind our house looked strangely light.  Although the sky was clear, there had been a snowfall in the night!  It will surely melt during the day, but it was Nature’s rude reminder not to think about Spring just yet.

And then, checking Facebook while having a first cup of coffee, there was the sad news that the husband of one of my former colleagues at Statistics Canada has died from COVID-19 and that she herself is in critical condition in the hospital.  We had planned to get together after they returned from their stay in Toulouse and ours in Paris.  We returned at the beginning of March but they seem to have stayed till the end.

14 April. And that exchange with my daughter sapped my energy for the week as I waited for a decision.  In the end it was good news, for the time being, and she is at home with her husband and girls, tending her garden.

Now for a little recap of the week that was. 

Fines for dawdling in the parks. Last weekend was quite lovely as mentioned earlier and people were out and about in numbers, but parks had already been closed except to walk through.  Early in the week it was reported that a man had been fined $880 for walking his dog in one closed park, and a man playing with his autistic child in another park had been given a warning.  There were some subsequent negative comments in the press about the harshness of the action, but the mayor noted that warnings were not working.  Still, the communication about what is OK and not OK is as vague as the fines are steep.

Masks. One of my sister’s sons works for 3M Canada, a manager in the Personal Safety Division.  He was slated for a new job just before COVID-19 came to Canada.  Now he remains in his job, is one of the only workers in the offices, and seems to be working all his waking hours.  As one of his self/US protective measures, Mr Trump invoked the 1950 Defense Production Act allowing the government to stop 3M exporting N95 respirators to Canada and Latin America.  In response 3M cited global humanitarian issues as a reason to continue its supply to other countries.  Canada noted that some of the materials used in the masks come from Canada.  Eventually an agreement was reached after the sword rattling and subsequent diplomatic efforts.  That nephew of ours must be learning a good deal about business in a pandemic with an overlay of politics.

Street cleaning. On Monday evening our street was posted with the no parking signs which usually signal that it has finally become almost impassable due to snow banks and the impressive show of heavy equipment would restore it, albeit temporarily, to its two-way status.  Early the next morning there was a very impressive show of heavy equipment, this time to remove winter debris and all the salt and sand that accumulates over the course of an Ottawa winter.  The usual routine of a truck with a sweeper and water spray proceeded up and down the sides and the middle of the street and all quieted down for a bit, then there was a heavy rumble that put in mind the parade of tanks down the Champs Elysees for July 14th festivities.  The rumble was caused by a line of eight trucks spraying again, a sight never seen in previous years.  Later a neighbour told us that it was chemical disinfectant that was being sprayed.  Not confirmed by any press, but very unusual if true.

Easter. Easter Sunday was drab and drear, and we felt sad even though our dear youngish neighbour delivered home-made hot-cross buns for our breakfast.  We had a long phone conversation with our daughter, and caught up with the girls who are at home completing their school years.  The cheerful multi-coloured arrangement of tulips I had picked out to send to them was replaced by the florist with some blue bouquet of odd flowers.  Perhaps it was a representation of the mood of all of us – a little blue.

On Easter Monday we had a Zoom session with a group of our neighbours who we used to meet regularly for dinner or movie nights.  We are four couples, – all retired but one from interesting jobs, and we have a fine time together.  We were immensely cheered by one couple who appeared in large pink bunny ears and related their morning walk wearing same.  They had passed a mother with a little boy, at a six-foot distance of course, and the mother had said to the child “Oh look dear, it’s the Easter bunny.  “Thank you for my chocolate rabbit” said the little child.  The Easter bunny said it had cheered his day!