Cover photo by JR P, used under Creative Commons license

Outdoor space. Thank the maker.

We’ve reached an exciting time of the year. I’ve always loved spring, both the maple-ness of it when I was a kid, but also the transition into warmth after long grey winters. I don’t know that I clinically suffer from S.A.D., but by March I’m usually pretty desperate for sun & warmth.

Luckily, we now have a house with a backyard. We’ve gotten furniture delivered, and have set up the table and 2 of the chairs — just enough to sit outside if it’s nice, which it has been on exactly ( *checks notes* ) ONE day so far this year.

Still…we’re excited.

.:.

Cover photo by JR P, used under Creative Commons license

From worry, to frustration, to despair

Yesterday was hard. It was hard to see the premier and other politicians elected to represent and protect Ontario’s citizens, presented the opportunity to finally — if far too late — do the right thing in the face of skyrocketing (but entirely predictable) COVID case numbers…and then bungle it so spectacularly. Instead of reinstating paid sick days, or any other protection of Ontario’s most vulnerable workers, Doug Ford chose to ignore science-based medical advice, and impose largely unhelpful restrictions on Ontarians. He denied them outdoor spaces, like playgrounds or campsites, even though the risk of outdoor transmission is very low and a generally-agreed-to-be-worthwhile risk given the physical and mental health benefits. He gave the police more power — likely unconstitutional power, mind you — to stop and question anyone they see on the street. Many municipal police forces have said they won’t use it, but if I were a Black person in this province, I would be very afraid indeed.

The Toronto Star’s front page today neatly sums up the frustration, shock, and rage at these latest moves. Not from people on the street, or on Twitter, but from medical and civil liberties experts.

Also yesterday, in an overtly political move, Ford declined an offer of Red Cross support from the federal government, saying “We do not have a capacity issue, we have a supply issue.” Both parts of that statement are false; on the same day his office issued that statement, Ford asked other provinces for help with capacity, equipment, and expertise. Meanwhile, vaccine doses go unused and appointments remain bafflingly difficult to book. Further: questions continue to swirl about why some postal codes were declared hotspots over others, when the data did not bear out such prioritization, and the aberrant data has some damning correlations to Tory minister ridings.

The province’s haphazard response a year ago could be blamed on confusion, the initial scramble of COVID panic and uncharted waters. Now, a year later, the premier and cabinet’s response can only be seen as inept and petty at best, dangerous and negligent at worst. Or, put another way:

To be clear, I feel all this frustration and rage out of empathy for my fellow Ontarians. I interact with this clusterfuck of an administration from the privileged vantage point of an affluent white man. I own my own house, with my own backyard, in a nice neighbourhood. I am not an essential worker, and I can work effectively from home 100% of the time. (Also, my employer provides paid sick days.) I have no kids climbing the walls, or other dependents. I have no pre-existing health conditions and, now that I’ve had COVID, I probably have some antibodies stored up. In the unlikely event that some cop stops me on my way to the pharmacy, my skin color will almost certainly keep anything bad from happening to me.

So if I feel all this, and I’m in quite possibly the most privileged state possible for an Ontarian, imagine how a front-line worker living in a poor or racialized neighbourhood feels. Imagine living at Jane & Finch, where you’re 9x more likely to be hospitalized but 4x less likely to be vaccinated than someone living in wealthy Moor Park (source) and FAR more likely to be targeted by police for the colour of your skin. Imagine the terror, and helplessness, felt by the most vulnerable Ontarians, as this doctor eloquently describes.

Of course, everyone I know with a brain in their head and a shred of empathy is already sickened by this, and feels something must be done. Unfortunately, both brains and empathy seem to be in short supply at Queen’s Park. Our outmatched premier has unnecessarily consigned hundreds of Ontarians to death at the hands of this virus, deaths which could have been avoided but for his incompetence and indifference.

.:.

In Macleans yesterday, Justin Ling got at why this is happening not just in Ontario, but effectively everywhere west of New Brunswick:

Scaremongering about outdoor transmission, and instituting curfews is a feat of social engineering. This an effort to ignore the data, withhold information, and twist the facts to scare us.

The conspiracy-minded will see that as an exercise in population control: Politicians getting their jollies off by playing dictator. 

The reality is more mundane—governments are doing this because they are frozen with indecision. Actually acknowledging the reality of the data means acknowledging this catastrophe was caused by governments’ idiotic reopening plans: Plans that were warned against by public officials at the time. Doing that means taking action that will hurt employment numbers, which could hurt our politicians fragile egos. Confronting this data and science also means admitting that all of our advice about washing your hands and not touching your face has been useless. And accepting that reality means provinces requiring sick leave, so people can go home if they’re ill.

Governments are loath to do any of that. They would rather shower us in meaningless pablum about how we, as citizens, need to do our part. The implication, of course, is that we are to blame for this crisis. That it’s us wayward youth who are driving this pandemic. Our lack of personal responsibility means they have to ground us to our rooms. Stay home, for god’s sake!

If our politicians stop blaming us for outbreaks, we may start blaming them.

Pull it together, Ontario

True to form (which is to say, consistently formless and unpredictable) the Ontario government on Friday announced restaurants and bars could open their patios. With no warning.

First of all, in my opinion, we shouldn’t be opening up anything right now. There were 1,791 new COVID-19 cases in Ontario yesterday, and 18 people died. There’s a “growing consensus among medical experts that the province has entered a third wave of COVID-19 cases” in Ontario. (source) I get that businesses, especially small businesses, want to re-open. But re-opening early just prolongs the pain of this half-measure. Is it really worth it?

Second, if you’re going to make this decision, you don’t drop it on all these beleaguered business owners with less than 24 hours notice.

I don’t know why I expected anything else from this clown car of a government who is clearly prioritizing the economy over lives — as if the economy doesn’t count on alive-ish people.

Meanwhile, in Canada’s New Zealand:

Source: https://twitter.com/gmbutts/status/1372496677769207808

Cover photo by Dominik Scythe on Unsplash

A sniff of Spring

Wednesday night we went for a walk around the neighbourhood. When we got home I made us an Old Fashioned each and we drank them on the back deck. We were so delirious from getting that much fresh air that we fell asleep early. Alas, the warm weather didn’t last long, and the coming days will dip well below zero, but it feels like spring is around the corner.

In the meantime, we’ve no end of great TV to watch while we wait it out. Last Week Tonight (imdb) is back. We’re nearly through all three seasons of Easy (imdb) which has been excellent — when a show can bring things as complicated as relationships to life by showing you and not telling you, you know it’s very well done indeed. We’re also about to wrap up WandaVision (imdb) which has been catnip for a nerd like me. Speaking of nerdery, I’ve been catching up on Clone Wars (imdb), a part of the Star Wars universe I’d never bothered to consume until now.

.:.

Cover photo by Dominik Scythe on Unsplash

Cover photo by Ray Muzyka, used under Creative Commons license

Torpor

Yesterday was a bit of an exercise in staying still. Sleeping in ’til 9. Staying in bed until noon, save grabbing coffee from downstairs. Walking across the hall to the guest bedroom to start season three of Line Of Duty (imdb), eat too much food delivered from Yum Croissant, and drink a bottle of Raventos i Blanc 2017 “Blanc de Nit” cava rosé. Finally walking downstairs to watch an episode of Think You Know Wine whilst cracking a magnum of Tiny Batch Wine Blaufrankisch. Making pork chops & salad for dinner and finishing the mag. Heading back to the bed to finish (!) season three while Kramer slept hard at his end of the bed.

Today will be busier. But yesterday we accomplished so little that, frankly, it felt like quite the achievement.

.:.

Cover photo by Ray Muzyka, used under Creative Commons license

Jules Bistro

At least once each weekend we try to set aside an evening as date night — fancy delivery, dinner table, proper place settings, music, etc. — and our go-to dinner spot lately has been classic French: Jules Bistro. Twice we’ve ordered the Cote de Boeuf for two, and last night we got the Magret de Canard. It’s hard to find places that can deliver high-quality food in a car in the winter (see also: Terroni) so, as long as the pandemic continues, they’ll probably be a mainstay for us. Because let me tell you: damn, the food is good.

Also: these dinners provide an excuse to pull a pretty exciting wine out of the fridge. So far it’s been a 2012 Le Vieux Pin Equinoxe Cabernet Franc (steak), a 2013 El Enemigo Gran Enemigo Gualtallary Single Vineyard Cabernet Franc (steak), and a 2011 Bodegas Raul Perez Bierzo Ultreia Valtuille (duck).

.:.

Cover photo from the Jules Bistro site

Cover photo by Farzad Nazifi on Unsplash

Fun with screens

While normally we find it exhausting to look at screens, yesterday they were the underpinnings of a pretty good day.

Somehow yesterday I became aware that Bar Volo, and its College Street sibling Birreria Volo carry Gueuze Tilquin, one of my all-time favourite beers but heretofore extremely hard to find in Ontario. I jumped on the laptop, ordered a bunch from Volo (including the new-to-me wild blueberry Tilquin, and a bottle of the Rullquin stout, and a bottle of Cantillon for good measure), followed by an order from the Birreria of 6 (!) bottles of their standard gueuze and 2 bottles of the cassis. Turns out they can’t deliver it without food, so we grabbed some sausage, manchego, and a baguette too.

After that was all put away, and as I cleaned up the kitchen, we watched two episodes (one from last week, the other live) of Think You Know Wine, the virtual blind tasting by four of the WineAlign wine critics. It was Lindsay’s first time watching, and she could barely stand the humbling the critics took these last few episodes, but I loved it. Made me feel better about my own tasting endeavours. We finished them up as we sat down to dinner.

Not long after said dinner we jumped on a Jitsi call with some friends, and ended up chatting the night away for four hours. I kept the TV on in the background, and watched the Habs blast the Canucks for the second straight night. We finished some wine and tackled some of the excellent new beer. Kramer saw some raccoons walking through the backyard and freaked out. By the time we went to bed we’d been drinking and eating for about 8 hours, so we woke up this morning feeling a little overindulged, but nothing a lie-in, some coffee, and some greasy breakfast couldn’t fix.

.:.

Cover photo by Farzad Nazifi on Unsplash

Cover photo by Tran Mau Tri Tam on Unsplash

Comparing my discretionary spending pre- and post-COVID

[Cross-posted from LinkedIn, with some revisions]

Prompted by my colleague Kat’s post “How COVID-19 changed my spending habits“, I decided to piggyback on her idea. Here’s what I found.

[But first, the mechanics: I analyzed my spending by week, and the dividing line I chose for pre/post-COVID was the end of week 12 — March 21. I worked my last day in the office earlier that week, and that’s pretty much when my spending habits changed. Also, I have to acknowledge how lucky I am that my income was unaffected by COVID-19, so I had the luxury of keeping my spending the same if I wanted to.]

Overall, my spending stayed mostly flat. Week over week my spending was only 2.2% higher post-COVID. I actually expected it to be more than that; not sure why. Maybe it’s all the boxes showing up at my house.

A few expenses, unsurprisingly, stopped dead. I’ve not been to the office since March, so my transit expense ended abruptly. Working from home also meant no more dry cleaning bills – you don’t need to dry clean t-shirts, right? – and I stopped buying lunches around the office. I’d also used a house cleaning service prior to COVID, but in a pandemic that’s a no-go, so apart from a one-time clean I had them do on the new house before I moved in, that expense also went to $0.

My Uber spending dropped more than I would have thought. That’s Uber ride share, mind you, not Uber Eats. Very, very different story there. Anyway, I guess I just had nowhere to go, so this (relatively small) expense line dropped 72%.

Oh, hello Peloton. I am charging, I can charge, I will charge, I do charge. Monthly, since May, when I got my bike.

The main event: food & drink. All told, this top-levelcategory was up ~12.5%, but there were several puts and takes in there:

  • Dining out at restaurants dropped by 92%, and I’m pretty sure all that’s left in that category is the odd visit to a coffee shop.
  • Ordering in / picking up food jumped plenty though, up 109%.
  • My weekly spending on groceries (including Goodfood boxes) doubled. Like, exactly doubled.
  • Spending on alcohol tripled post-COVID. *cough cough* Sorry mom. Now, I should qualify this: in raw numbers, alcohol spending increased just less than my combined dining (restaurants + ordering in) expense decreased. So I’m probably drinking more wine, but paying less restaurant markup.

Cash is effectively dead to me. Since mid-March I have used ATMs exactly twice, both times to withdraw cash in scenarios where I knew I’d need to tip people on the spot. Otherwise I’d be perfectly happy never to visit another ATM. (Again, I have that luxury. A cashless existence is, at the moment, more available to affluent segments than lower-income; in a world where we’re suddenly very aware of how germ-ridden physical cash is, we need accessible alternatives.)

And now for the completely obvious: I did not travel. Since writing this for LinkedIn I realized I missed one major category, largely because I budget for it separately: travel. That expense went down 89% in 2020. The only trip I took was to Madrid & Cairo in January. Other than that we had a single weekend away in Elora this summer. C’est tout. Pretty safe to say all that money went straight into the new house, as the back yard is as exotic a locale as I’ll see for the foreseeable future.

.:.

Cover photo by Tran Mau Tri Tam on Unsplash

The switch to repose

Now, a week after I posted about starting vacation, it feels like we’re probably able to relax. On Sunday of this week we drove out to Oshawa to pick up my niece, as she can’t fly home to NS. The early part of the week was filled with errands and Christmas prep (and a bit of work) but also some games, like Pandemic and crib and Snakes & Ladders / Climb to Emotional Maturity.

On Christmas Eve we made sugar cookies from XO Bisous, then roasted a duck & sides that came in a kit from Avling Brewing. I didn’t get the duck quite right, but the Bouchard Père & Fils 2011 Premier Cru Pinot Noir almost made up for it.

On Christmas Day (a white Christmas, for the first time in recent memory) we baked scones, opened gifts, chatted with our families, played Mario Kart on the niece’s new Nintendo Switch, and roasted up a pretty damn good chicken.

Today we did…nothing. Pretty much, anyway.

Finally.

Let the final phase of this bullshit year begin

I’m on vacation now, more or less. While I might work a bit more between now and 2021, I’m pretty much shut down.

We obviously couldn’t go home to NS this year, but we have a bit of NS here — my niece is staying with us for a couple of weeks. We picked her up from school today, and have hunkered down. There’ll probably be some Pandemic tonight.

I’ve set up our new Samsung QLED TV. I’d made Lindsay watch Star Wars and The Empire Strikes Back, so now we’re watching Jedi. I plan to binge season 2 of The Mandalorian as soon as possible. That is all the planning I, uh, plan to do in 2020.