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Hamilton, July 2021

My first trip outside of Toronto's city boundaries since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic was this Friday, to Hamilton. The closest CEBL basketball team to Toronto, the Hamilton Honey Badgers 1, opened up their stadium to fans in the past week, so I took advantage by buying a ticket to Friday evening's game. I had a dentist's appointment in the morning, work after that, and a surprisingly busy afternoon, so I just barely made the 4:30 PM GO Train out of Union Station. My trips in previous years to Hamilton were by bus, and this was the first time by rail. I have a longtime preference of taking rail transportation when the option presents itself (I can't believe I live in Toronto, the downtown core of which is served by streetcars), so I was glad I took the opportunity this time. I wouldn't say it's the most scenic train ride in the world, but the entry into Hamilton is pretty epic, with great views on both the left and right as it winds its way into Steeltown.

I didn't have much time before the game to have dinner, so I was glad I knew my way around a bit from previous visits. I had the presence of mind to avoid a dive bar and land at Merit Brewery, which I knew had a good macaroni and cheese, though I'd forgotten just how good it was. And it's on the snacks menu! The only regret was that I didn't have time for a second beer there, as I had hoped to try their key lime sour beer.2

Macaroni and cheese at Merit Brewery in Hamilton, Ontario.

The game was fun! You had to wear a mask at all times except while eating, and seating was limited and spaced out, but the atmosphere was terrific. It was my second time seeing a Honey Badgers game at Copps ColiseumFirstOntario Centre, and it was a back-and-forth affair. My type of basketball. It concluded with an Elam Ending, where if a game is close near the end of the 4th quarter, an algorithm determines the target score, and the first team to that score wins the game. The game clock is turned off, and the ending eliminates the situation where the team that's behind in the score tries to foul to get the ball back. It's a common complaint about NBA games that, combined with the timeouts, 2 minutes of basketball can take a half an hour to play. The Elam Ending gives the team that's closely behind the team with the lead a chance to win, with an advantage to the team that is already leading. The risk is that a game ends on a free throw, but the easy solution to that is to not foul and send anybody to the free throw line in the first place. And if it does happen, the incentive is to stock a team's roster with good free throw shooters.

The Honey Badgers-Bandits game, it turned out, ended on a free throw, but in quite spectactular fashion. And controversial! (Or at least as controversial as a Canadian professional basketball game can get.) The defending Bandits player, on the free throw that would have won the game for the Honey Badgers, was blocked before it got to the rim. Initially the referees called it goaltending, but since no player seemed to have been in a game where that particular event happened, there was confusion on the court. The referees conferred, and the call stood. The Honey Badgers won!

To get back to Toronto, my plan was to take the bus, but I seemed to have forgotten that the Hamilton GO Station locks its front doors after hours. After a moment of wondering whether I'd be trying to find a hotel room, I confirmed that indeed busses were still running, and boarded the 16 bus back to Union Station. While it took the freeway initially, I was surprised (as I was on each of my other bus trips to and from Hamilton) that it took detours, driving through Oakville and on roads running parallel to the 403 and the QEW. Road signs I saw along the way: Dorval Rd., Cornwall Rd., Trafalgar Rd., Sheridan Way. I was 100% sure we were going to Toronto, with just no strong sense about what roads we'd take to get there.

Arriving in Toronto, I got my first taste of the new Union Bus Terminal. I wasn't taking the subway home (I had already decided to walk), but I would definitely have asked the attendent directing passengers on how to get there if I had.

It was a pleasant evening trip. I'm hoping to spend more time Hamilton, including an overnight stay, since it's a place in the GTHA (along with Etobicoke) where I feel like I can breathe.

See also:


  1. How can you not be charmed by a basketball team with the name Honey Badgers and such a fierce logo? ↩︎

  2. I try the key lime pie, or the key lime-flavoured version of something, at a restaurant if they have it as an homage to the TV series Dexter↩︎

Reflections on a Year of Studying Mandarin Chinese with Duolingo

The impetus for my interest in all things China came from a woman in my high school that I admired, who thought I was a communist. She was part of a conservative family, my being part of a social democratic family was a source of debate between me and her, and as a graduation gift, she gave me the controversial book The Private Life of Chairman Mao: The Memoirs of Mao's Personal Physician by Li Zhisui. Little did she know that I would devour it, and it would propel me into studying Chinese history, politics, and language in university, and stay in the country for two months (and visit for work a few years later).

When studying Chinese in my twenties, I found that the cue cards available at the time a) didn't match the textbook created by our teacher and b) didn't match my learning style. I would go on to create 4-sided cue cards (folded in half with the simplified character (which we were learning), translation, pronunciation and traditional character (which is more prevalent in North American Chinese communities) to help me memorize. I did well in those classes, and wanted to purse it post-university, but I found my interest waned as other events like starting my career and shacking up with someone taking over my time. (Also as a result, I don't have a strong sense of the history of the country from 2008 or so on, so I'm on the lookout for a book-length treatment of the Hu Jintao and Xi Jinping eras.) I had intelligent things to say about China thanks to that part of my education, though.

Years later, as a way to pass the time in the COVID-19 pandemic era, I started practicing through Duolingo. It is definitely not the same as in-class participation with homework, writing exercises and practice partners, that's for sure. It's definitely fun, but Duolingo is not a strong way to learn a language. Having someone to speak with and continuously practicing writing (memorization being especially important for a language with so many characters) is essential in learning a language. I found some classes at the continuing studies department at Canada's largest and therefore best university, though I'm waiting for them to have an in-person component1, and Clubhouse (and their clones) seem to offer an interesting way to deliver lessons over voice-only medium. While I don't think I learned much beyond a few grammar points (I now know how to ask "Where in [city name] do you live?"), it did help bring what I learned in university back to me.

Today I'm celebrating a year of daily lessons, making it all the way to Diamond League. Maintaining a streak of its own sake can be motivating, and this is no different. It got me thinking of taking French lessons again (not through Duolingo) and while I don't think I'll ever return to China, I'm going to continue my long-held interest in the country and its people.


  1. I'm not holding my breath. ↩︎

Sixteen Months of Sheltering in Place

Checking out Toronto Vaccine Day

I knew Toronto was trying to set a record for most COVID-19 vaccinations in one day at a single venue, but signups were so popular that I couldn’t get an appointment. I had managed to get on the waiting list for a pharmacy beforehand, and on the actual day, Toronto Vaccine Day, I walked by Scotiabank Arena mainly just to see the crowd. By the time I got there, the line had dwindled, but it wasn't obvious that I could waltz right in, so I walked back home and felt happy about the exercise I got. About 15 minutes after I got home, I saw a tweet1 that said they were taking walk-ins. So I biked back down, and bada bing bada boom, I now have the Moderna shot as my second shot. I couldn't believe how efficient and fast the whole process was. The only thing that seemed to have gone wrong was the music outside the stadium, in order to make it feel like a party atmosphere, made it hard to hear the attendants. This wasn’t the venue I most wanted to get a vaccine at (Rogers SkyDome was), but this’ll do just fine.

Relating the story to my America co-workers later, they thought it was awfully Canadian of me to get a vaccine in a hockey arena.

I've always liked the British expressions for things, and "the jab" as the term for the vaccines always gave me a smile to my face. As a result of that, and influenced by the UK bot that preceded it, I created the Twitter bot Fully Jabbed Canada as to track second shot uptake as they started to become available to Canadians.

It's been two weeks since that second shot, meaning Canada considers me fully vaccinated. As a result, my morale has improved significantly. Ontario had already started allowing dining on patios (which have been taking advantage of at the diner next to my place) and in-person shopping since my last report, and as of this coming Friday, the provincial government is lifting more restrictions a few days early than planned, like they did the last time. The plan had been well-received (somewhat shocking for how it had handled the locking down in the first place), and I get the sense that they are learning to underpromise and overdeliver. The pandemic doesn't feel over for me. I'm making plans to go hiking and meeting up with local friends again, and visiting art galleries and museums and planning day trips with more confidence.


  1. Actually I got notified by Nextdoor, which linked to that tweet in a post, so it seems a bit lucky that I saw it in time. ↩︎

Toronto Islands July 2021

Planning ahead for the July 1st long weekend, I took the 2nd, a Friday off (which it sounds like a lot of people did), as well as today, a Monday, with tomorrow off as well so that today isn't my Sunday. It was the perfect opportunity to go to Toronto Islands.

Toronto

In my previous two visits, I was able to have a hot dog at the Riviera Pub, but this time I was denied on the grounds that it was on the kids menu. (Which was true.) The burger, which did take a half an hour to arrive, was delicious, at least.

The trip was a bit hastily arranged, as I do have something that will keep my iPhone on my person when I go swimming, but I didn't bring that nor did I have a beach towel. No dunk in the lake this time, but maybe next time, as I have a weekday vacation day coming up in August.

Boardwalk

Bike rentals were available today, and that would have saved me some of the money I plowed into a Toronto Bike Share bike. As I thought would happen, someone asked me where to get them, and I told them it was "from the mainland" but also pointed out that there were feedback QR codes all over the island for them to make that request. I still think it would be way more convenient to have bike share on the Islands. (I've already made my voice heard.) I noted that I wasn't the only one who had taken a bike share bike on the ferry today.

I played the usual location-based games while there, gaining some newly capture portals to my stats, as well as cleared some fog from Fog of World and checked in via Foursquare's Swarm to each of the places I stayed at for more than a few minutes. I couldn't get close to any new microconfluences, though, since the ones I had wanted to document were more than 100 metres into the water on the south side of the islands.

There were a lot of people on the ferry today, including a kids camp group. I would later find out that there were quite a few kids camp groups there. All told I biked for about 2 hours, and I'm looking forward to doing it again this summer.

Spring Stations 2021

I've taken in every Winter Stations since 2017. It's an art exhibit usually held on Woodbine Beach during the colder months at the start of the year in Toronto. Generally, the art pieces are large, often inviting people to interact with the art directly by going inside it or using the controls to make something happen. I attended last year's event just as the COVID-19 pandemic started, keeping the streak alive. This year, the exhibition was scaled down in number (but thankfully not in size!) and held in Toronto's Historic Distillery District during May through July, and dubbed Spring Stations for the occasion. I love art you can touch or site on or walk inside, and did so with all of the art exhibits this year.

"Throbber" at Spring Stations 2021

"From Small Beginnings" at Spring Stations 2021

"Arc de Blob" at Spring Stations 2021

"The Epitonium" at Spring Stations 2021

I posted more photos of the exhibition on a set at Flickr, and see also 2018 and 2019.

Fifteen Months of Sheltering in Place

Toronto feels like a city gain.

On Friday, Ontario opened up retail businesses to limited capacity and allowed outside dining on patios, and while I managed to avoid the lineups and had breakfast by my lonesome outside my favourite diner, it felt like a breath of fresh air had swept through and that we could breathe again. There was also the late-breaking news that a second dose of the COVID-19 vaccine would be offered to those a part of Generation AstraZeneca (which includes yours truly) 8 weeks after the first dose instead of the customary 12 weeks, and that we could pick our brand. There are several (thankfully short) articles on the tradeoffs involved, though it must be said that the necessity of what really amounts to flow charts is the result of public policy and messaging. How hung up am I on it? I wasn't going to vote for the political party in power the next time an election rolls around anyway, and I don't know anybody who is, so I'll take it as a win that I have some agency in the decision.

The better weather means eating outside on my balcony more, and I aim to eat all three meals there as many days as possible.

I've been listening in on Clubhouse, the drop-in audio voice chat mouthful application, and heard one person says "we've spent fifteen months inside," and until then it didn't sink in how long it has been since I've attended an in-person event. My American colleagues are returning to the office as to weeks ago, and we're treated to scenes of fans at sports games while all events in Toronto have been cancelled until at least after Labour Day.

I did get to see illegal fireworks on the May Two-Four long weekend, which made me feel like a real Torontonian. That weekend also featured a one-day-only edition of the Lakeshore Boulevard Activeway, which I caught the very end of. No more for the rest of the summer, so I've been taking an hour-long walk on weekend days. It has been impossible to plan more than two weeks ahead, but with vaccine uptake what it is, I now expect that time horizon to expand for the rest of the year. I have vacation coming up, making day trips a lot more feasible. I expect to spend most of my waking hours at home still, but this feels a lot better than the previous 14 months.

There's a Frood Who Really Knows Where His Towel Is

The earliest memory I have of reading Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy was actually through the text-based computer game. My dad got it for the ASCII-only computer we had at the time, and it came with a "Don't Panic" button and a piece of fluff, which I would much later learn was called a "feelie" inserted into Infocom games of that era. I didn't get far in the game, but I would subsequently read all 5 of Douglas Adam's increasingly inaccurately named trilogy, plus the Dirk Gently books, plus Starship Titanic, plus Last Chance to See, including the later TV series where Stephen Fry plays the role opposite Mark Carwardine that Adams played in the book and radio series. I was only really a few years into being "very online" when Douglas died. (I was just starting to recover when Aaliyah, my favourite R&B singer of all time, died as well.) In the passing years, I accepted that he might have ceased writing had he not died then, because he had notorious bouts of writers' block, but it still hit hard because he was someone, as a person who could be intelligent and silly at the same time, I admired greatly.

In 2010, somewhat controversially, the Vancouver Public Library chose Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy as the book to read in a city-wide book club. (It was unclear to many why a Vancouver author was not chosen.) For me, it was not only a chance to read the book again, but to get cool swag in the form of a white towel with the whale from the novel and "DON'T PANIC" in big letters. Every May 25th, a celebration of Adams' work takes place online, marking two weeks after the anniversary of his passing. On that day, I take my towel with me, hoping to see someone else on the street with a towel on their shoulder. The last couple of years have been mired in the COVID-19 pandemic, so I've only been able to celebrate at home and send out a tweet.

This time, the day before, I had a mild panic because I didn't know where I had stored it. After searching through every box in my storage area, and rustling through every nook and cranny in my apartment (with a pleasant side effect of tidying up as I went), I went back into storage and did a closer inspection of the boxes and found it in the "Whale Stuff" box. So, going forward, that is its spot. That means I'm now a frood who really knows where his towel is.

Fourteen Months of Sheltering in Place

This month was uneventful except for one day. Up until then I had spent a month wondering when I'd get a vaccine. I had registered with UHN when they offered appointments to 18+ in my postal code, and quickyly shut it down after getting too many registrations. I also registered with my local Shoppers Drug Mart and with Rexall, thinking that while it didn't cover all the bases, at least it covered some.

That was in late March. Hoping for the Moderna or Pfizer vaccine, but willing to accept the AstraZeneca vaccine, I waited another month, with the messaging from health authorities being "Get the first vaccine you can." In the meantime, I made sure my email filters didn't sent the drug stores' emails to my spam folder, and started accepting every call that rang my phone. On Sunday, April 25th, intending to sleep in that day, I heard my phone's text message and email notifications chime almost simultaneously. That could only mean one thing, so I leapt to my computer and filled out the appointmnet form. It being 10 AM and the next available appointments being available at 10:45 AM and noon, I decided I wasn't so anxious for it that I couldn't have a relaxing breakfast and watch an episode of the Icelandic political drama The Minister before making my way a couple of blocks.

They pharmacy asked me to be there no more than 10 minutes early, but since I'm early for everything, that was too much to ask. I arrived 20 minutes before my appointment, and 10 minutes later I had a shot in my arm. I took a vaccine selfie, but only posted it to Facebook, thinking by then it was a widespread enough phenomenon that nobody needed the inspiration anymore. (I do regret that I didn't post to Twitter, since I would have enjoyed the wave of likes there.)

The late-breaking news is that the Ontario government paused the distribution of the AstraZeneca vaccine, and that came on the heels of the National Advisory Committee on Immunization making a preffered vaccine recommendation, which gave a lot of people the feeling that there was mixed messaging around the "Get the first vaccine you can" messaging. I don't know exactly what to expect for my second dose, but I do feel a lot more protected than I did two and a half weeks ago.

The King-Liberty Village Pedestrian/Cycle Bridge

On a Jane's Walk in 2019, we were walking Wellington Street, which changes to Douro St. at Strachan Ave. and I beheld the King-Liberty Village Pedestrian/Cycle Bridge1. Construction, said the sign, would to complete in Spring 2020. My first photograph of construction was in May, 2019:

King-Liberty Pedestrian Cycle Bridge under construction

Construction, as was just about everything, was delayed by the COVID-19 pandemic, so every two weeks, I visited the City of Toronto's website on the project, hoping for a new completion date. I took a couple more trips, one in mid-August of last year to see for myself how construction was going, and another during a January day where I needed a long walk, but no word on when it would be ready to cross.

A few days ago, I caught wind through my councillor's tweet that April 19th, today, would be the opening day. I took a bike ride over to see it, and walk across it. It's very spacious inside:

Inside the King-Liberty Pedestrian/Cycle Bridge

And offers a tremendous view of the CN Tower:

The view of the CN Tower from the King-Liberty Pedestrian/Cycle Bridge

Not to mention, railfans could spend a lot of time capturing the commuter and passenger trains that roll by:

GO Train passed under the King-Liberty Pedestrian/Cycle Bridge

It very much needs to have its elevators operational for it to be accessible to all users, but this is a start.

No Wheelchair Access at Stairway

No Elevator Access

People in Liberty Village either got the memo that it was open today or learned that fact when they came up on it, like the woman who asked if it was crossable now. I don't imagine myself going to Liberty Village often, though I'll take every opportunity I get to take a look at the views from it when I'm nearby.


  1. The official name of the bridge doesn't have "Village" in it, but in my mind it does, so that's where my typing fingers always go. ↩︎

Thirteen Months of Sheltering in Place

The March weather was unseasonably warm, and restaurants were allowed to open their patios, so extroverts were happy to see each other again. I was happy to get out of the house and break out my lawn chair and sit in the park. The one closes to me is under construction until at least September of this year, so I am walking 10 minutes to a park nearby. It does not have a closed-off dog off-leash area, so dog-owners have taken over the middle of the park for that. That said, a little over a week ago, the Ontario government declared its third state of emergency, and this time all patios are closed province-wide. Still not much change in the way I do things, at least, but the mood in Toronto is quite dour, especially after extreme uncertainty about when people are going to get their vaccine.

To help pass the time, I'm taking a course on Moby-Dick, the classic American novel by Herman Melville. It's been a dream of mine to read the book, having long been a fan of whales. I'm halfway through the book at this writing, and only now do we meet the namesake of the book, if only briefly. There's a lot going on in the book, the changes in styles, the copious references to the Bible and Shakespeare and other literary works, helpfully explained in the footnotes of the Third Norton Critical Edition edited by Hershel Parker. I've been to the Whaling Museum in New Bedford, having made a day trip there while on a business trip to Boston so I'm already primed for some of the references in the book.

Just before the declaration of the state of emergency, I did an architectural tour and made a trip across town to buy DVDs. I'm hopeful that the vaccination situation will improve by the warmer months, and so I'm planning day trips, with the hopes of Kinmount being one of them. I have renewed interest after the Icelandic Canadian Club of Toronto (which I'm the secretary of) produced two episodes on the failed Icelandic-Canadian settlement there, the first one documenting the history of the settlement and the second one documenting the research and monument that stands in honour of the lives lost there. We plan on making those episodes available at our Saga Connections page later this year.

I'm looking forward to biking more as the weather warms in Toronto, both as a commute to the office and for activity. April seems to be a critical month of the pandemic for Ontario, with the hope coming from the effective vaccines dashed by a confusing rollout. I continue to do the things that I have control over and try to let go of the things I can't, and to continue doing what's asked of me even if we haven't gotten what we've asked for from Ontario's provincial government.

Grange Park Heritage

12 degrees Celsius and sunny during “Spring” in Toronto was the perfect weather to do a tour from the book Toronto Architecture: A City Guide by Patricia McHugh and Alex Bozikovic. Ontario lifted its "strict stay-at-home order" last month, so I no longer felt guilty about wanting to visit the neighbourhood adjacent to mine. Grange Park is a neighbourhood in downtown Toronto that feels like a neighbourhood, with mostly two- or three-level detached houses and apartment complexes (especially "The Village" on McCaul St.). It was striking to see a residential neighbourhood inside the downtown core that is 3 storeys or less for the most part. From what I gather about the cohesiveness of the neighbourhood, that's no accident.

This walking tour had me starting out in Grange Park, which acts as the Art Gallery of Ontario's backyard. Today I saw a busy dog off-leash area and a number of small groups of people taking advantage of the sunlight and cool breeze. (I can't get agitated about the safety of outdoor groupings during a pandemic because there have been so very few cases of COVID-19 associated with visiting in the most ventilated place possible.) Before I could get to the park, however, the horns of the legendary Big Smoke Brass band performing lured me to Soho and Queen, where I heard covers of funk Lettuce and TK Having not attended a concert in quite some time and having been looking for a way support live (in-person) music, I dropped $20 in the donation bin.

The Legendary Big Smoke Brass

I've already seen much of The Grange by walking through it on my way to other places, especially the AGO, but there were some spots new to me. That included the parklet behind St. Patrick's Market (that building now controlled by the City of Toronto after the private lease was terminated), itself called St. Andrew's Market Square, and only because I decided to take Renfrew Place from John St. to McCaul St instead of the busier Queen St. I walked up McCaul, hung a left on Dundas, and then up Beverley St. to Cecil St., cutting through on Ross St. to College St. (closed partly for emergency road work), then back down Spadina, returning to Cecil and making my way down Huron all the way down to Phoebe. I tracked the walk on Strava:

Though having walked by it dozens of times, the highlight of the walk was still the Ontario College of Art & Design University (which everybody here calls OCAD), and to read from the book about the architectural principles, where I learned that the elevator shaft bears a great deal of the load for the addition.

OCAD University

I wanted to go inside the Cecil Community Centre, since the sign was so inviting, but I'm sticking to essential visits to buildings for the time being.

Cecil Community Centre

One photo I didn't take was of The Grange itself. I try let people pass by my framing when I'm taking a photo (and, unless they're the subject of the photo, I try to blur their faces). I couldn't this time, as there were two friends sitting on the steps.

I've posted the photos I took as a set on Flickr.

A Year of Sheltering in Place

First, the summary for March: Ontario only recently lifted its “strict stay-at-home order” for Toronto, which most people interpreted as a strong request. Retail shops opened to limited capacity while restaurants still cannot accept dine-in patrons. The vaccination effort in Canada has only really gotten off to a start. While the government had set that expectation, it has been frustrating to see the United States jump out to a 30% to 7% lead as of today, March 13th, though we are told that this week marked the first major delivery of vaccines to provinces. If critics of the Ontario government are to be believed, the provincial authorities had planned on the federal government not delivering on its promise, and thereby blaming them for the ensuing mess. All signs point to that not being the case, with the feds more or less meeting the expectation and municipalities picking up the slack of setting up the infrastructure.

I didn't run much in the last two weeks of Feburary/first two weeks of March due to some achs and pains plus cold weather. I did set out to walk for an hour every Saturday and Sunday with shorter walks during the weekdays.

A Year of Sheltering in Place

My pandemic "anniversary" is today. The February 29th, 2020 headline that helped me realize that COVID-19 was here and a serious threat was the Toronto Star's “The Wayne Gretzky of Viruses” (see below).

Headline in the Toronto Star on February 29th, 2020: The Wayne Gretzky of Viruses

Even so, at work, for the first two weeks of March, we would wash our hands when entering and leaving, and we had the feeling was we were doing enough. I worked from home on Friday, March 13th, as I normally would do so once a week or so. That day the rumours inside the company that they would assess the situation in a week after that, but my direct manager called it right away, urging us to work from home the following Monday. Every month on the 13th of the month, I would write a summary of how I felt and what I did. I've collected them all in once place, in chronological order, at justagwailo.com/sheltering-in-place.

Up until then, I was planning a big trip though the United States. It was to start in Kansas City, to catch a Royals game, visit the Negro League Hall of Fame, and stroll through downtown. Then I would go on to Las Vegas to take in a show (Penn & Teller) and a baseball game, and more or less that’s it. Then on to Portland, OR to visit co-workers and friends, with the possibility of swinging through Vancouver, B.C. on my way home to Toronto. Luckily I didn’t buy any tickets or book any hotels, as airlines in particular struggled to figure out how to compensate travellers who weren’t going on their planned trips.

My last haircut before sheltering in place happened a week before, so I had a couple of good hair months while many people were upset that barber shops and hair salons were closed. I joked to my sister that I was growing my hair out, though I realized this was a good opportunity, as not many people would be interacting with me for a while. I haven't gotten a haircut since. The current plan is to celebrate receiving a vaccination by waiting a few weeks and getting my mane shorn.

Things that have kept me sane:

  • Watching a movie every Saturday night with co-workers, organized by one of our line managers at work. That was an inspired decision by her, and helped us get to know each other a bit better.
  • Keeping active through #ActiveTO by biking the Lakeshore Boulevard Activeway in the warmer months and kickstarting running in the colder months.
  • I initially doubled the amount of cooking I did per week, but reduced it slightly when it emerged that I was bored with 6 servings of a meal. I still cook more than pre-pandemic times, in part to eat healthy, but also as a way to pass the time because there are no events to go to.
  • Weekly calls with my parents and getting closer acquainted with my siblings, all of whom are in British Columbia.
  • Doing architectural tours of Toronto when the "strict stay-at-home order" was not in place.
  • The two trips to Toronto Islands.
  • The time fixing my blog (the one you're reading!) was worthwhile.
  • Studying Chinese through Duolingo has been fun, with much of what I leared in university coming back to me. Don't worry, I'm aware of the implications of a white guy learning Mandarin, and my motivations are a bit different than the criticisms levelled against doing that.
  • While not something I talked about much publicly, I have an interest in mindfulness, and a perk from my employer is a free account on Headspace. It has helped calm the nerves and give me strategies to avoid thinking about COVID-19 so much.
  • Something I go back and forth about is drinking alcohol. My rule before the pandemic was no alcohol on a day before a work day. I've bent that rule to one beer an evening, and it has to be an Ontario craft beer. At the outset of the pandemic, I worried about having to go to the LCBO to stock up, but I caught wind of the Ontario Beer Delivery Index (after relying on a poorly-maintained page by a running group). A recent article in The Globe and Mail on Canadians' relationship to alcohol, especially during the pandemic, has put my decision in perspective.
  • Two great purchases during the pandemic:
    • Good speakers for my work area, though it will be my last Sonos purchase, most likely, as I'll replace the system entirely in the years to come.
    • A sturdy lawn chair for sitting in the park. If I wasn't going to venture far, I still wanted to sit in the neighbourhood park and relax during sunny days, which Toronto has an abundance of.

Things I avoided:

  • I didn’t attend many virtual events. At work I was on an always-on Zoom, so I didn't want to be reminded of that. That said, I don't think I suffered Zoom Fatigue, because videoconference has been a normal way of communicating for a while now. I did attend a virtual meetup or two, but I generally avoided lectures or live musical events, because they reminded me of missing the in-person events.
  • I didn’t start any new hobbies. No sour bread baking for me. I attempted to commit to PC gaming with mixed results.
  • I didn't binge-watch anything. I almost always had a full day at work on weekdays, plus an apartment to keep tidy, plus other volunteer commitments, so I was busy enough that I didn’t watch several episodes of TV shows. That’s to say I didn’t watch any episodic series. I watched all of The Crown one episode per day, and restarted watching The Expanse, also one episode per day. I plan on restarting watching Westworld, having forgotten where I left off (DVDs don’t keep track of the episodes you’ve watched like streaming services do). I assumed I would watch more movies during the week. The aforementioned Saturday movie night helped with that.
  • I avoided bringing COVID-19 to somebody. Living alone means there was nobody in my household to bring it to, assuming I ever carried it. (The truth of the matter is I don’t know until I get an antibodies test, which I hope to get sometime before receiving a vaccination.)
  • I did not go home for the holidays for the first time ever. Staying in Toronto over the Christmas holidays was the right decision. My family kept a Christmas Eve tradition alive, and I even cooked Christmas dinner!

Surprises:

  • How busy the Icelandic Canadian Club of Toronto would be in hosting virtual events.
  • How inactive the neighbourhood association became. We made our voices known in a virtual setting, though there was less activity in the neighbourhood to respond to. The local park’s redevelopment was postponed until this year, and few new developments were announced, though all developments proceeded, so we kept aware of those as best we could.
  • I thought I would spend more time gaming, but that has not come to pass.

Frustrations:

  • The way people were talking about the virus was as if COVID-19 were a death sentence. I don’t want to quote “survival rate” numbers because a) I don't think they're real and b) every single person who talks that way never cites their source. That said, at times, it felt like some people believed it killed everybody on contact. Also, we won’t know for some time what the effects of someone who has tested positive for it are.
  • Dating felt next to impossible. I matched online with some women over the course of the year, but with no desire on my part to meet up.
  • Having experienced a rough Valentine's Day just before the declaration of a pandemic, I set out (yet again) to do something about the isolation. An in-person counselling group was just the ticket, and after a few sessions, my mood improvded tremendously. It moved online due to the coronavirus, and was for the most part about coping with the anxiety introduced by the pandemic. I decided to skip it, joining the virtual sessions for guest speakers only.
  • Not owning a car meant braving public transit, which at the outset was a great unknown, to venture out farther than city limits. I took transit maybe 2 or 3 times, just to run a couple of errands. I didn't get the sense that any other town had much to experience anyway, but I decided against hiking trips because I don't drive. Maybe I might be more comfortable this year as vaccines increase in uptake.

Regrets:

  • I regret not joining a mutual aid society. That would have been quite the learning experience.
  • A course on urban planning for non-planners that ran late at night in my time zone would have been bearable for the one day a week it happened, but I decided not to enroll. At least the course is recurring.
  • Beyond the Black Lives Matter protests of the summer, which were eye-opening to me (someone who considers their eyes open), I don't think I learned much else over the course of the year. I read fewer books than hoped for, and even work seemed to stagnate (though my manager doesn't fully agree, and he has a point).

I had time to reflect on the things that were shut down that I missed, and what the pandemic revealed to be the reality:

What do I think I miss Reality
Concerts I attended them alone, and never met anybody. It was annoying when someone nearby would be talking, or would walk in front of me (thankfully I’m tall), or would bump into me (I would be constantly making way for people).
Dining in restaurants I dined alone about 95% of the time before the pandemic anyway.
Going to the pub I do miss the pub nights when it would be a watch party or a meetup, especially if it was a basketball pool draft. One pub in particular was my go-to for a first date, since it was a public place with the privacy of the surrounding din.
Working in an office I definitely miss that, having moved to Toronto for that experience. I’ve spent most of my career working remotely and it’s very isolating. None of the objections to aspects of working in an office have been compelling to me.

I didn't come out of 2020 stronger, nor did many people I know. It was a downgrade of a year. There were signs of hope at the start of the pandemic and they've only grown in number. 2021 looks to be quite the improvement over the last one.

Eleven Months of Sheltering in Place

We are still in lockdown. The previous weekend, the Ontario floated two trial balloons, one suggesting the province would reduce restrictions, another to say they would go on for longer. I've done more or less what I've been able to do since the outset of the pandemic, which is to say go for daily activity (and, now, thrice-weekly runs) and get takeout from restaurants in my neighbourhood. To help pass the time, I have long active streaks in the Duolingo app (language learning), Headspace (mindfulness practice), and Timehop (years in review). If I worried about not being able to do a Toronto Architecture walking tour for a month, the cold weather and icy sidewalks might have dissuaded me anyway.

I started taking my dental health seriously just before the pandemic started. My first appointment during the pandemic was like a scene out of E.T., the Extraterestrial, with doors having zipped plastic and everybody wearing masks. It turns out the dentistry was renovating their practice anyway, and my recent appointment was a lot more comfortable, with glass doors while still undergoing the same precautions.

I finally replaced my 2010 MacBook Air, which barely runs Zoom, with a 2020 M1 MacBook Air. It's the fastest computer I've owned, by far. I plan on trying out the Cloud Ready operating system to turn my old MacBook Air into a Chromebook, mainly to see what it's like. I haven't touched my PC gaming laptop much since buying it in October, though that should change soon with the purchase of a controller. I've only opened the box of the Raspberry Pi 400 I bought in November and haven't turned it on yet.

Since last month, I've kept busy, as usual. I still have a full-time job, my two non-profit board positions. The Icelandic Club is about as busy as ever, with events shifting to online. We are getting good at it, starting a speakers series and keeping alive our movie nights.

I've spent time reflecting on the fact that I'm the sole member of my household. It has been nice not to worry whether I'm bringing the novel coronavirus to anyone I live with. Not in any way to diminish the work that goes into taking care of a family, not by any means, but living alone is a lot of work. If I don't keep my living area not only tidy but clean, and don't do all the dishes, and don't do the cooking, nobody else will. I've lived alone before, and I did much less around the apartment than I do now. There have been cartoons and discussions about how the pandemic made it harder for those living alone, and that is definitely true to a strong extent. I've been careful to deal with what I can control, and try to let go of what I can't. Now that every day in Toronto is longer than the last for the next few months, I'm hoping to get more sunlight each day and get psychologically ready for whatever we're calling the era after COVID-19 vaccines are widely distributed.

Ten Months of Sheltering in Place

Christmas came and went. For the first time in my life, I did not go to Vancouver Island for the holidays, and did not go to Vancouver to see friends. I kept the family tradition of eating Pizza Hut pizza on Christmas Eve alive, as did my family. On Christmas Day, I cooked Christmas dinner for myself. Turkey (though fried, not baked) with Brussels sprouts, mashed potatoes and stuffing and gravy. With that under my belt, I'm hopeful that for Christmas 2021 I'll be able to help my family cook it. I spent New Year's Eve wandering around my apartment looking for fireworks, and instead finding people on their stoops and wishing them a Happy New Year, then staying up to watch the replay of CNN's NYE coverage.

Before the holidays started, the Province of Ontario announced that enhanced lockdown measures would start on Boxing Day. While Toronto stores were open for curbside pickup, York Region stores and malls were open, and the predicable happened. Currently, as of this writing in the second week of January 2021, all of Ontario is subject to a "stay at home" order. (I wish it was a "shelter in place" order.) This is different than a curfew…somehow. I had read that theory about Quebec's 8 PM curfew was to cut down on people visiting for dinner and staying late. It seems unclear to Ontario's police forces what reasons people will be allowed to claim for not being home. I interpret the exception for exercise allowing me to continue running, though I expect not to be able to take a self-guided architectural tour of Toronto without being asked what I'm up to. Beyond that, not much has changed for me, since there's nowhere for me to go except the grocery store and restaurants for takeout. I don't expect a supply chain disruption this time, since it's at a pandemic equilibrium. I still have years' worth of soap and toilet paper, and that was from not wanting to have to go to the store for it so often pre-pandemic.

Vaccination is taking place, happening slower than expected at the outset. I don't expect to get mine until well after older, higher-risk and essential groups of people get theirs. Though I normally favour American terms, I've taken to calling it "the jab" after the British term for it. While I wait, I'm getting ahead of the anxieties around vaccines by listing them and adding to a thread of anxiety-causing headlines I come across.

It feels like end-of-March/start-of-April again. I'm re-visiting an infographic of things that I can control and things I can't control on a daily basis again, though this time around, toilet paper is plentiful, both in stores and in my own storage. I expect this two-month period to be the worst of it, but I don't know what to expect afterwards.

University of Toronto Heritage

To ring in the new year, I completed the University of Toronto tour from Toronto Architecture: A City Guide by Patricia McHugh and Alex Bozikovic. It took place over 3 separate days, the first day cut short by the need to return to attend a virtual event, and the second day cut short by snow. (I didn't want to get the book wet.) The University of Toronto is located in Downtown Toronto, next to several museums and art galleries, the legislature of Ontario, and a hospital district. To say it's where much of the innovation, just in general, in Canada happens would be an understatement. It's a short bike ride away from where I live, and It's about a 25-minute walk, which I found out today because I wanted to drink a coffee en route.

University College

There's much I learned about the university on this tour. Their varsity basketball team arena is below ground, and features of the university that I hadn't noticed before, like Perly Rae Gate, were brought to light for me. As large a campus I imagined it to be, it was even larger, requiring at least 2 hours, like 3, to complete the walking tour outlined by McHugh and Bozikovic.

I couldn't visit any interiors due to restricted access during the COVID-19 pandemic. My access would have been limited as a non-student/non-staff member anyway. One day I hope to see some of the grandeur that McHugh and Bozikovic describe in the pages of their book.

I logged my walks with Strava. There was GPS garbage in the last one. I was prepared to fix the GPX data and re-upload it, but that would have required deleting the activity.

Part 1, on December 13th, 2020, cut short by having to go back for a Christmas event:

Part 2, on December 19th, 2020, the one cut short by weather:

Part 3, on New Year's Day 2021:

For more photos, see the full set on Flickr.

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