Despite the pandemic, it’s without a doubt the best time ever to be alive!

How can I say such a thing when this pandemic continues to wreak havoc on our daily lives?

Well, here’s how…

1) Technology has opened doors to endless new choices available to us. It’s never been easier to keep in touch with old friends, new friends, and extended family. For those of us who grew up during a time when the only forms of communication available were to (A) mail a letter, or (B) use the one corded telephone that we shared with everyone else in the household, the options we now have today are magical. FaceTime, Zoom, Skype, Facebook, Instagram, and so on, are the communication tools of our science-fiction dreams. We can blog, text, video conference, and chat on the phone no matter where in the world we happen to be.

We can shop for pretty much anything we need online and have it delivered to our doorstep. We can find answers to just about any question that pops into our mind simply by calling out, “Hey Google, Siri or Alexa.” Many of us can work from the comfort of home without having to tangle with rush-hour traffic. We can fix a plugged drain or build something in our basement workshop just by watching an instructional YouTube video.

I could go on until tomorrow, but I’m sure you get the message. Sometimes we forget that life is so much easier today in so many ways.

2) The municipalities where we live do a great job of keeping conservation parks and forests welcoming places where we can meet up with family and friends for a walk together while immersed in the great glory of the outdoors. Opportunities to connect with nature are never far away. There is no better conductor than fresh air and nature to fill the soul with the most heavenly music on earth.

3) Public libraries are the most precious resource within our communities. Library systems are set up to make it easier than ever for all of us to simply sign in and borrow electronic reading material from a massive database of books and magazines—whatever your heart desires is available for you to download right onto your computer or reading device for FREE. You can choose to satisfy your interest about anything that stokes your fancy, or be entertained with your favourite story genre, 24 hours a day, 365 days a year… and did I mention that it’s COMPLETELY FREE?

Pandemic (or anytime) Pastimes

You can choose to view these times through a lens of optimism… we’ve been given the gift of more free time than we’ve ever had before, which means that we have an opportunity to enjoy activities that we might not have considered doing pre-pandemic…

1) Immerse yourself in an afternoon of creativity that takes you back to your childhood. Think popsicle sticks and Elmer’s glue, finger paints and huge sheets of paper, Ivory soap bar carvings, paper mache with a balloon, newspaper strips and paste. With a Dollar store around every corner, materials are inexpensive and easy to find. Need some inspiration? Check out Pinterest for endless ideas, or try an instructional video on YouTube. 

2) Look for an online class at your municipal website, or on the site of any college/university in your vicinity. Scroll through the many course selections and choose something that you never thought you’d ever attempt. Of course, if you visit your public library website, you’ll also find an educational selection filled with free courses on more topics that you could begin to imagine. 

3) Embrace nature. It’s winter and you probably feel more cooped up than ever. So put on a warm coat, hat, scarf and boots and try snowshoeing or cross-country skiing. Go for a hike on a groomed forest trail in a regional forest or conservation park. Take a few sandwiches and a thermos of hot chocolate and turn it into a winter picnic. 

4) Has it been eons since you’ve attempted a puzzle? Next time you have to pick up something at the store, also pick yourself up a crossword or Sudoku puzzle book. Or challenge yourself with a jigsaw puzzle. I recently finished my first jigsaw puzzle in a long time—talk about being completely absorbed in something. At times, it was hard to tear myself away! 

5) Go on a journey with your memories. You once made the effort to put together all those photo albums that are collecting dust in your cupboard. Now is the time to dig them out and look through them. Have old vacation videos? Watch them all.

6) Dust off your collection of old recipe books and try choosing some new dishes to try. Select a different one every week. You just might discover something new to love.

7) Increase your capacity for joy. Get a blank notebook and make a point, every day, of writing down one thing that you feel grateful for. Just one thing. When you look back at your notebook a year from now, you will be impressed at how much you have to be thankful for.

8) Seek out someone you’ve lost touch with and call them for a chat on the phone. 

Treasures to give thanks for no matter how dark your day has been:

1. Standing before an open field at dusk, watching sunset’s cocktail of colours spill across the sky. 

2. Gazing out over any body of water: a pond, a river, a lake, or an ocean. Water is life.

3. Deeply inhaling the fresh scent of pine as you meander along a groomed path in an evergreen forest.

4. Lounging before a picture window with a hot cup of tea while watching the flutter of snowflakes as they fall to the ground.

5. Absorbing the unconditional love of your pet as you run your fingers through its warm fur.

6. Having even one good friend that you can chat and laugh with.

7. Two legs that enable you to walk, two arms that enable you to hug, two hands that allow you to hold a book or cook a meal, two eyes that enable you to see that a whole world of beauty still exists around you.

8. A roof that shelters you, a warm bed to sleep in, food in your cupboard.

9. All of the simple things in life that we take for granted.

If I still haven’t convinced you that you’re living in the best of times, just imagine living in…

536 AD: Apart from falling empires the world over and general political chaos, the year 536 also marked one of the worst global famines in human history, thanks to a giant volcanic eruption in Iceland that resulted in an ash cloud that kept the northern hemisphere in the dark for 18 months, and dropped temperatures to their coldest period yet, leading to mass crop failure and starvation. 

541-542: The plague that ravished large parts of the world between 541 and 542 led to an estimated 25 to 50 million deaths. A quarter of the world’s population was wiped out within two years.

1316: Most of Europe’s harvests failed, leading to widespread starvation and death.

1347: Welcome to the peak of the bubonic plague, with about 60% of all Europeans dying swift, but agonizing deaths.

1520: Europeans brought smallpox to the Americas, wiping out most of the indigenous population.

1816: This was “the year with no summer,” as millions of tons of volcanic ash and sulphur spewed into the skies from Mount Tambora in Indonesia, causing temperatures around the world to fall below freezing in July.

1918-1919: The Spanish flu epidemic infected approximately one-third of the entire human population, with total casualties somewhere in the ballpark of 20 to 50 million. The virus acted so quickly that in many cases, victims would die within a few hours of infection. Of course, doctors back then simply didn’t have the capability to respond effectively.

1933: The great depression reached its peak, with some 15 million Americans unemployed (one-in-four adults) and half the nation’s banks defaulting. Unlike today, there was no unemployment insurance or welfare or gazillions of social services for the taking.

1939-1945: We all know about the horrors of WWII. Actually, any year in history stained by war would have been a devastating time to live, wouldn’t you agree? Let’s just pray that our world leaders have learned some valuable lessons from past history.

Bored shitless? Here’s a short story for the current times…

Better Get Betty Some Butter

Betty ran a hand through her silver-white hair as she stared down at the baggie on her counter. That baggie contained a thing most precious to Betty—a single slice of Wonder bread. There was a time when her freezer had been jam-packed with loaves of that good old, plain white bread and pound after pound of Gay Lea butter. But that was before the virus had turned the country into a wasteland of food stores with no food—just aisle after aisle of dust-laden shelves scattered with battered tins bearing no labels and perhaps some packs of cat treats.

Betty glanced between her toaster and the appetizing slice of bread nestled in ziplocked safety. Closing her eyes, she swooned at visions of golden brown toast dripping with real butter. Her last bit of butter had run out long before the loaves of bread, and she’d been forced to switch to the government-issued margarine, which was comparable to eating toast buttered with candle wax. Now, she was down to her last precious slice of Wonder.

Last week, she’d ventured outside and onto the doorsteps of some of her neighbours, yelling through their locked doors in an appeal for a spot of butter that they might like to trade for perhaps a tin of sardines? All she’d heard in response were a few muffled “fuck offs.” She’d never much liked any of the assholes anyway.

Betty was tired through to the marrow of her bones. The world had changed in the most terrible of ways and, after well over a year of social distancing with thousands of deaths reported every day in the news, she didn’t have much hope that she would live to see the world change back to how it once was.

Every Monday, government officials in hazmat gear performed a door-to-door delivery of a few essential dry goods, left in a sterile box on the front doorstep of each house. Stale bread. Pats of margarine. Well screw this, Betty thought to herself, I want a goddam piece of toast with butter.

Betty wrapped a bright fuscia scarf around her neck, then shuffled to her front closet and yanked out her sunny yellow spring trench coat. She shrugged into it, hung her purse on her arm, then out the door she went into the quiet of the new badlands.

The supermarket was only two blocks away. Residents were not permitted to go there unless they needed emergency essentials, which was why she was going. She needed butter.

Betty kept her head down as she marched along the sidewalk. She was in no mood to make eye contact with any of the jerkoffs peeping out their windows at her. Her arthritis had done a number on her hands—she couldn’t even give a proper middle finger any more.

The fresh air had Betty feeling slightly more chipper by the time she began to cross the empty supermarket parking lot. There were two cars parked up near the front door. She remembered the days when she would curse the fact that finding a parking spot was like panning for gold in the Don River. How she longed for those days again.

Betty entered the store. Most shelving had been dismantled, and only about a quarter of the store was now being utilized. It was really more a bodego than a grocery store. The proprietor stood behind the only cash register, glaring at her over his face shield.

“Lady, you should be wearing a mask,” he barked.

“Mask, shmask,” Betty snapped, “I’m 88 years old and more than ready to leave this hell-hole of a planet anyway. But I do need to purchase something first.”

The man shook his head and went back to wiping down the counter.

Betty made her way down the one aisle and around the corner to the dairy cooler, where a small, stooped figure draped in a long rain poncho and what appeared to be a beekeeper’s headgear stood peering through the glass doors. As she approached, the figure started, and turned toward her.

“Why aren’t you wearing a mask?” It was the gruff voice of an elderly man, whose features she could barely see through the thick black mesh covering his face.

“Why are you dressed like an apiarist? I don’t see any bees around here,” Betty replied, tightening her hands on her purse handle in case she needed to swing it at him.

A guffaw burst from behind the mesh hood. “How the hell do you know what an apiarist is—which is what I once was, actually.”

“Because I’m smart,” Betty said. “That’s how I know.”

“More like a smart ass,” he snarled.

Betty glanced at the cooler and gasped. “Butter! There’s a pound of butter in there!”

“Yep. And it’s mine,” the man said. “I was here first.”

Betty scowled. “Oh yeah? Beat it, buster.” She yanked the cooler door open and reached for the foil-wrapped treasure.

The man’s gloved hand swatted Betty’s hand aside, and as he grasped the butter, Betty coughed repeatedly on him. The man shrieked, dropping the butter on the floor as he hurtled his body away from her.

“Thanks! Don’t mind if I do!” Betty said, snatching up the butter and digging a five-dollar bill from her purse as she hurried toward the cash register. “Here,” she said, tossing the bill at the proprietor. “Keep the change.”

That evening, Betty savoured a large bowl of her favourite split pea soup…

along with a perfectly toasted, golden-brown slice of Wonder bread slathered in real butter.

A change of perspective might help. Try seeing this as an Isolation Vacation

With all social activities shut down, most people working from home, and everyone holed up in their homes 24/7, the words “I’M BORED” are becoming the most-repeated words in the English language (second only to “pandemic”).

BORED is just another word for OPPORTUNITY.

As an introverted type who is quick to choose seclusion over socializing (unless my spouse drags me forcibly out of the house), I have some suggestions to help you bust through your boredom. Even if one of these isn’t typically your thing, give it a try. You might discover a new interest that you would never have believed you’d enjoy so much!

Give your inner child a chance to come out and play.

When you were a kid and there was nobody around to play with, what did you do? Draw pictures? Make paper airplanes? Work on a jigsaw puzzle? Bake cookies? Write a poem?

I remember sitting in my room as a kid with a department store catalogue (remember Eaton’s?) and a pair of scissors, cutting out the pictures of models and turning them into paper dolls with different outfits, also cut out of the catalogue. Nowadays, I’ve seen some awesome projects online where people have used pieces cut from magazine pages to make art collages—there are so many inspirational ideas out there, even if you don’t consider yourself to be creative, some of these ideas may pique your curiosity. We all have some form of creativity buried deep inside, ready to be released with just a bit of encouragement. When you were a child, you did this without even thinking about it. Go online and check out what other people are doing. The ideas there are endless. Try to see self-isolation as an opportunity to meet up with your long-lost inner child and allow yourself to have fun playing again.

It’s never too late to learn something new.

Is there something new you’ve wanted to learn, but never had the time? Well, now’s the time! Thanks to YouTube, there are endless instructional videos online covering just about any topic. Think of a new skill you might like to learn, and look for an online video tutorial. Try learning a new language, a new recipe, tackling a small home repair yourself… the options are infinite.

Get a jump on your spring cleaning.

It’s definitely an ideal time to clean out and organize your closets and cupboards. Or tackle some early window cleaning. Or dismantle and wipe down your light fixtures. My window blinds throughout the entire house had about an inch of dust on them, so I took an afternoon to clean every one, as well as all my light fixtures. I need to wear sunglasses inside my house now! Put your confinement to good use, and by the time this pandemic is over, your house will put Martha Stewart’s to shame.

Here is—hands-down—the BEST way to relax…

Indulge in the extreme pleasure of curling up on the couch with a cup of tea or coffee and a really, really good book. There is no better way to unwind. The public libraries may be closed, but their online resources are not! If you have a library card, go online and check out your public library’s database of ebooks and audio books. You’ll be absolutely amazed by their selection of everything from fiction to memoirs to DIY manuals and so much more. There are no late fees like there are with hard copy books, and best of all, EVERYTHING THERE IS FREE! If you don’t like the book you borrowed, just click on return and borrow another one. As long as you have an electronic device (laptop, tablet, phone), all you have to do is download the borrowing app (you’ll find easy instructions on your library’s website) and start borrowing.

Your public library doesn’t just lend books—you can also borrow online magazines as well as music and videos! They even offer an incredible selection of learning resources and correspondence classes on just about every topic—all electronically. Again—everything is FREE. I’ve always said that most people don’t realize the great value they have at their fingertips in our public libraries; well now is a good time to make that discovery.

I’ve recently developed an addiction to audio books that I listen to while going for long walks outdoors. It’s like being a kid again and having somebody read stories to you—it’s honestly the most zen way to spend a chunk of time.

Get back to nature.

And speaking of being outdoors—you won’t get COVID19 by getting outside. Go for strolls around the neighbourhood (keeping social distancing in mind as you pass by other walkers) and clear your head with some fresh air (one good thing about this pandemic is that it has had a positive effect on the environment, since most cars are now confined to their driveways instead of clogging the roads and the air we breathe). Slip on some boots and go on a trail hike in a regional forest. There’s nothing better for the soul than getting out into the great wide open; it’s the most natural pick-me-up you can treat yourself to.

You can still enjoy lots of social time with friends.

Are you going crazy without face-to-face social interaction? That’s the beauty of Skype and FaceTime. A few times a week, I get a cup of tea and sit down in front of my computer for a FaceTime session with my girlfriends. It honestly feels no different than if we were sitting in the same room together. Sometimes we hang out on-screen for a couple of hours at a time. It’s so much fun… and I don’t have to clean the house before they come over 🙂

P.S.: The phone isn’t just for texting—you can also call people and actually talk to them!

Music is medicine for the soul and body.

To me, music is the ultimate mood lifter. When you’re feeling antsy, put on some of your favourite tunes and dance! Not only will your spirits lift, you’ll get in a great workout too. A friend of mine dug out her old skipping rope and plans to skip every day to burn off some of her restlessness. I have a bunch of old workout DVDs collecting dust in a cupboard. I may just dig them out and try different types of workouts for a change. Getting yourself into the habit of some form of daily exercise is guaranteed to give you more energy, improve your mood and boost your immune system. You will also sleep better than you’ve slept in years.

There are still many reasons to count your blessings.

No matter how bad things get, there will always be something to be thankful for. In the face of all of this doom and gloom, I challenge you to write down at least one thing that you’re grateful for every single day. There will always be something. You are alive and in good health? Be grateful for that. There are still sunsets to watch, and flowers that will bloom, and birds singing their songs, and people who love us, and there’s always hope if you keep the faith. I wish I could remember who wrote this impactful saying—I’ll leave you with it now: “The best often comes after the worst happens. You can either move on, or you can dwell on the things you can’t change. Either way, life will go on.”

F.Y.I.: I highly recommend the books below. They are among some of my favourites:
An Embarrassment of Mangoes – Claire Bidwell Smith

Around The World in 60 Seconds – Nas Yassin
The Light Between Us – Laura Lynne Jackson
Behind The Beautiful Forevers – Katharine Boo
Falling in Honey – Jennifer Barclay
From Broken Glass – Steve Ross
The Gratitude Diaries – Janice Kaplan
After This – Claire Bidwell Smith
I Heart My Little A-Holes – Karen Alpert
Humans: A Brief History of How We F—-d It All Up – Tom Phillips
Man’s Search for Meaning – Viktor Frankl
Messages – Bonnie McEneaney
Our Kind of Cruelty – Araminta Hall
Pandemic – Sonia Shah
The Accidental Veterinarian – Philipp Schott
The Afterlife of Billy Fingers – Annie Kagan
The Cow in the Parking Lot – Susan Edmiston
The Five People You Meet in Heaven – Mitch Albom
The Joy Plan – Kaia Roman
The Killer Across the Table – John Douglas
The Noticer – Andy Andrews
The Pull of the Moon – Elizabeth Berg (ALL of Elizabeth Berg’s books are AWESOME)
The Rabbit Effect – Kelli Harding
The Secret Life of Bees – Sue Monk Kidd
The Sex Lives of Cannibals – J. Maarten Troost
Getting Stoned With Savages – J. Maarten Troost
Messages From the Masters – Brian Weiss
Many Lives, Many Masters – Brian Weiss
Lessons from the Light – Kenneth Ring
An Invisible Thread – Laura Schroff
Freakonomics – Steven D. Levitt
The Geography of Bliss – Eric Weiner
The Glass Castle – Jeannette Walls
The Last Lecture – Randy Pausch
Night – Elie Wiesel
Quiet: The power of introverts in a world that can’t stop talking – Susan Cain
Sht My Dad Says – Justin Halpern
The Soul of an Octopus – Sy Montgomery
Until I Say Goodbye – Susan Spencer-Wendel

And there are so many more. I would need thousands of pages to list them all.

 

Pandemics exist thanks to financial greed, corrupt governments and inept leadership. Here’s the proof…

The book, Pandemic: Tracking Contagions from Cholera to Ebola and Beyond by Sonia Shah, is essential reading for every person on this planet.

It’s one of the most important books for the 21st century and beyond. The prizewinning science journalist, author Sonia Shah, provides a compendium of brilliantly researched information that leads you on a journey through a history of world pandemics (unfortunately, it’s nothing new), along with lots of solid proof of why the human race does not seem to be capable of learning from past mistakes—and I don’t have much hope that we ever will, thanks to our global connection to those corrupt governments who lead first and foremost driven by financial greed and hunger for power, with little or no value placed on human life.

The only thing that we, the little people, have the power to do is to simply continue living our lives and building in habit-forming, common-sense precautions such as lots of hand-washing with soap and water (water alone doesn’t work—the soap binds to the oil in your skin thus causing the germs to slide off as you’re washing), and avoiding large crowds when possible. Most important, we must educate ourselves about why events like this happen and what we must do to keep ourselves as safe as possible. This book will do that for you.

With that said, I thought long and hard about the way the world is evolving these days, and it’s making me feel sad that so many people are living so fearfully. The piece I wrote below is how I feel about it all, and I hope it helps add a little positivity to all the negativity happening in the world right now.

LIVING IN FEAR IS NOT LIVING

The Coronavirus is frightening. No doubt about it.
BUT… wasting even one day of your life in the constraints of fear is not living.

Bottom line: when your number is up, it’s up. I do believe that those of us who haven’t yet completed what we were put here on earth to accomplish, or haven’t yet learned the lessons that we’ve been put here to learn, are not going anywhere, any time soon. But if the ‘powers that be’ have deemed our mission here to be finished, whether we depart by Coronavirus or are hit by a bus is a moot point. So why waste one more precious day living fearfully?

Instead, embrace the choice you have to live your life unafraid.

Naturally, you want to approach each day using the same common sense precautions that you would have whether or not you’d heard about the Coronavirus in the news. Do that.
Then go on and live.

Life is the greatest of gifts—to live it fully is an act of gratitude.

BOOK DESCRIPTION:
Prizewinning science journalist Sonia Shah presents a startling examination of the history of viral infections that have ravaged humanity―and how that knowledge prepares us to stop the next worldwide outbreak.

Over the past fifty years, more than three hundred infectious diseases have either newly emerged or reemerged, appearing in territories where they’ve never been seen before. Ninety percent of epidemiologists expect that one of them will cause a deadly pandemic sometime in the next two generations. It could be Ebola, avian flu, a drug-resistant superbug, or something completely new. While we can’t know which pathogen will cause the next pandemic, by unraveling the story of how pathogens have caused pandemics in the past, we can make predictions about the future.

In Pandemic: Tracking Contagions, from Cholera to Ebola and Beyond, Shah interweaves history, original reportage, and personal narrative to explore the origins of epidemics, drawing parallels between cholera, one of history’s most deadly and disruptive pandemic-causing pathogens, and the new diseases that stalk humankind today.

To reveal how a new pandemic might develop, she tracks each stage of cholera’s dramatic journey, from its emergence in the South Asian hinterlands as a harmless microbe to its rapid dispersal across the nineteenth-century world, all the way to its latest beachhead in Haiti. Along the way she reports on the pathogens now following in cholera’s footsteps, from the MRSA bacterium that besieges her own family to the never-before-seen killers coming out of China’s wet markets, the surgical wards of New Delhi, and the suburban backyards of the East Coast.

By delving into the convoluted science, strange politics, and checkered history of one of the world’s deadliest diseases, Pandemic reveals what the next global contagion might look like―and what we can do to prevent it.

“The power of Shah’s account lies in her ability to track simultaneously the multiple dimensions of the public-health crises we are facing.”―The Chicago Tribune

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