Tag Archives: Coronavirus

A Photo Essay of Toronto in January

A weak January sun shining through bare tree leaves in a park. There is snow on the ground and an empty bench in the foreground. Each month I share photos from one of the parks in Toronto to show my readers what our landscape looks like throughout the year. This is the twelfth instalment of this series.

Due to reader demand, it will not be the final one! Keep an eye out for another update on our two damaged tree friends a few months from now once we know how they fared throughout the winter.

Click on February, MarchAprilMayJune, July, August, September, October, November, and December to read the earlier posts.

It was 3 Celsius (37 Fahrenheit) but felt like 0 Celsius (32 Fahrenheit) on this month’s visit. Once again, this temperature was warmer than we’d usually expect for this time of the year thanks to climate change. Typical January temperatures here generally remain below freezing all month long even before windchill is factored in. The somewhat sunny sky on this visit was also a bit out of the ordinary.

If you do decide to visit Toronto in January, pack warm clothing that you can easily wear as multiple layers and bring a pair of slip-resistant boots along with the usual hat, gloves, scarf, and a warm winter coat. Frostbite is a real risk here on much chillier days than this one, and it can happen quickly on the coldest days.

The weather was decent at the park this time. We really got lucky this year.

Shot of a World War I statute in an urban park. The skies are partly cloudy and the ground is mostly dry.

There is beauty to be found at the park now when everything is dead or dormant if you have a poetic mind. For example, such blue skies are a rare, precious gift in January!

A muddy, half-frozen running trail in a park in January.

The running and walking trail is once again unusable. This was one of the driest sections, and even it was muddy and filled with patches of slowly-melting ice.

A dirt running trail covered in ice.

This is a more accurate representation of the state of the trail in general. It’s icy, slippery, and muddy in the few places where the ice has begun to melt. Even people who don’t have any mobility issues must take care when walking on it. Running on it is nearly impossible now. The few joggers I noticed had switched to running on the sidewalks instead.

A landscape photograph of an urban park in January. Snow covers part, but not all, of the grass.

Some days are much snowier and slipperier than this one was! It’s common to see layers of snow and ice on all surfaces now. We were lucky to have mostly dry sidewalks on this particular day.

The snow is gorgeous when it sparkles in the winter sunlight in those moments, but anyone could easily slip and fall on the ice that is often hidden beneath all of that enticing snow.

There are other dangers in January park visits as well. We saw dozens of other visitors this time due to the nice weather, but this area can be isolated on colder, wetter days. Speaking as a woman here, I wouldn’t feel comfortable visiting the park alone then. This is a very safe area of the city in general, but it’s far enough away from busier streets that finding help could be a little tricky if I slipped on the ice and got injured or if a stranger tried to harm me.

Do keep these things in mind and be cautious if you’re ever in southern Ontario in the dead of winter and decide to visit any of our lovely parks. The chances of anyone getting hurt are low, but it’s always best to be prepared.

A black squirrel running on a patch of dead grass in January.

In happier news, the squirrels were running around doing cheerful rodent things on this warm winter day.

A mostly melted snowman in a park.

And I wonder if this hunk of melting snow was once a snow person?

Snow lying on the grass in an urban park.

There certainly would have been enough snow for that before it started melting.

A skyward shot of bare tree branches against an overcast but somewhat blue sky

This scene is virtually identical to the one from last month.

A sapling that is still holding onto its brown, crunchy leaves in January

This one also seems to be the same as it was last month. It’s interesting to see leaves, brown and dead as they may be, in the middle of winter.

A petite woman bundled up for winter and standing next to a large tree
Yours truly all bundled up for winter. Tree for scale.

 

Another big change from our last visit had to do with how many layers I needed to be comfortable outside. I wore everything recommended at the beginning of this post other than the boots. I run a little cold in general, but boots would have been a bit much for the dry sidewalks I knew I’d be sticking to for the most part. People whose bodies run hot and who love winter might have been able to do without the scarf and gloves on this particular day if they don’t linger too long.

Face masks aren’t mandatory outdoors in Toronto, but they do help keep you a little warmer when that icy cold wind blows. I also find it easier to keep my mask on than to fiddle with it before going indoors again. The Covid-19 numbers have skyrocketed here this winter, so that’s yet another reason to be cautious and leave the mask on until I’m safe at home again.

A tree that lost half of its branches in a 2020 winter storm. It is now dormant for the winter of 2021.

Here is our tree friend who lost half of its branches in a storm from last winter.

A tree that lost a third of its branches in a winter storm last year.

Here is our tree friend who lost a third of its branches in a storm from last winter. This part of the park has many massive trees in it and therefore seems to hold onto snow a little better than other sections.

It’s still too soon to say how either of them are faring this winter. Let’s keep our fingers crossed!

A stone walkway in a park. there is one evergreen and multiple deciduous trees lining it.

Finally, here is what the walkway looks like on a warm January day when most of the ice has had a chance to melt. The evergreen trees that provides such nice shade in the summer can keep this area slippery for quite a while after big winter storms, but it was pretty walkable when I visited this time.

Thank you all for taking these virtual walks with me over the last eleven months! You’ve now seen the park during every month of the year.

We will visit it one final time this spring when I check in on how those two damaged trees survived this winter after being so terribly damaged last winter.

Be well, friends.

On Finding Scope for Imagination During Uncertain Times

“Isn’t it splendid to think of all the things there are to find out about? It just makes me feel glad to be alive—it’s such an interesting world. It wouldn’t be half so interesting if we knew all about everything, would it? There’d be no scope for imagination then, would there?” – Anne of Green Gables by Lucy M. Montgomery

Anne Shirley has been on my mind recently. When I was a kid, I only ever read the first three books in the Anne of Green Gables series. It wasn’t until I became an adult that I discovered what happened to her in Windy Poplars and beyond, so her childhood to teen years made the biggest impression on me.

She was an imaginative girl who often flipped between bubbly enthusiasm and being in the “depths of despair” depending on what sort of trouble she might have accidentally found herself in.

stylized black and white drawing of woman in white dress touching butterflies the size of large owls. the blue, green, orange, and pink butterflies are the only splashes of colour in this scene.
This isn’t Anne, but I think she would have found scope for imagination in this sketch.

I’m fortunate to live in a walkable neighbourhood, so I can get nearly anything I need here without stepping onto the subway. This has been wonderful during the pandemic as I can walk by a nearby shop and see how busy it is before deciding whether I should buy groceries and other necessary supplies now or wait a day or two when there are fewer people there. photo of man walking down steps. Upper half of photo shows him walking upside down and up a pair of steps. image might be mirrored or something?

It also means that the days bleed into each other. I’m being so conscientious about where I go that I tend to see the same trees, shops, strangers, and even pigeons that I did last week, last month, and approximately a million years ago in March when the first wave of this pandemic hit Toronto.

(No, I’m not joking about the pigeons there. We have a flock of them that has chosen a specific area as their home and always returns to it after foraging elsewhere. I affectionally refer to them as our “pet” birds).

I used to find scope for imagination in things that I only saw and heard occasionally like attending specific street festival or planning an afternoon trip to a park in a different part of the city that requires one to ride the subway or take a streetcar with a multitude of strangers.

Now the only differences are changes in the weather and maybe the occasional new coat or pair of shoes a neighbour might want to show off if we pass each other on the street.

Like most of you, I’d imagine, my world is small, yet there is still scope for imagination here. The outside world might remain more or less the same from one day to the next, but that doesn’t mean your mind must do the same.

Even the smallest changes in a community can be attention grabbing now. The first autumn leaves that peeked out from a sea of green were prettier than they’ve been in years.

Bananas that are submerged in a bright yellow landscape.There are books to read and movies to watch that will take you anywhere you want to go, including places that weren’t accessible to mere mortals at all except through our imaginations!

Art museums themselves might be closed or scratched off many of our visiting lists, but art itself remains.

This is our new normal.

Someday future generations will ask what this time period was like.

I’m taking notes of my experiences. Some of them end up as blog posts here, while others have been scribbled down into a private journal I may pass down to my nephews someday.

Pretending to be a time traveller is another way to find scope for imagination. What is perfectly ordinary to us may be fresh and interesting to someone a century from now.

How would you explain the idiosyncrasies, irritations, and immeasurable moments of our era to them?

That one question in and of itself makes my mind tingle with possibilities.

Where have you all found scope for imagination recently?

A Photo Essay of Toronto in September

A red leaf lying on the ground. Each month I share photos from one of the parks in Toronto to show my readers what our landscape looks like throughout the year. This is the eighth instalment of this series.

Click on February, MarchAprilMayJune, July, and August to read the earlier posts. It was  13 Celsius (55 Fahrenheit) and slightly cloudy during this month’s visit.

September is a wildcard month like March. This was one of the cooler days in it so far, but we’ve also had days that were about 30 C (86 F). Last year, our September was just as hot and humid as August was.

If you ever visit southern Ontario in this time of year, remember to pack for both extremes of temperature. You might shiver one day and perspire the next. Even locals can’t assume anything about next week’s weather based on what we’re wearing today which is why my wardrobe currently includes everything I own other than my thickest winter sweaters in it. Ha!

Two things make September look and feel different from August other than the unpredictable temperatures swings that happen as the seasons change. One, the humidity generally goes down. Two, a few trees begin to change colour before the dramatic shift that will come in October.

But before we talk about that, I sadly must show you our Covid-19 protests. This shot was taken at a distance so you can also see the greenery at the park.

Landscape portrait of a park in September. There is a road in the foreground and green trees in the background.

Are they protesting for better wages for the doctors, nurses, and other hospital workers saving lives? More personal protective equipment for frontline workers? A stronger social safety net for everyone who has suffered financially during this pandemic? Free counselling for anyone who needs it?

Shot of World War I memorial at a park. Sign on the memorial says "Covid-19 survival rate 99.8%"
The sign said: “Covid-19 survival rate: 99.8%.”

No, they’re protesting because they don’t want to wear masks, prevent the spread of disease, or listen to the experts on public health, epidemiology, and medicine. I respect everyone’s right to protest, but please note that most of us are taking this pandemic seriously and are embarrassed and annoyed by the small percentage of Canadians represented here.

This shot was taken from a distance in order to protect the identities of the protestors. May they and their loved ones stay healthy and never learn the hard way just how dangerous this virus is.

In more cheerful news, look how green the trees remain!

A tree-lined running path in a park.

You could almost think it’s still August here. The running path remains as busy and dusty as always for this time of year.

A park filled with green, lush trees.

Many portions of the park look as green and lush as ever.

A thick, green canopy of leaves under a blue sky

The canopy of leaves is nearly as thick as it was last month. Have you noticed any of the subtle changes yet?

A humongous tree whose leaves have just begun to turn yellow.

Maybe this will help. Most trees are still 100% green, but some of them are showing the first signs of their autumn colours. It can be fairly subtle like this tree…

A sapling whose leaves are 70% green, 30% red.

Or a bit more advanced like this sapling whose leaves seem to be about 30% red…

A tree that is more than 50% turned into its autumn colours

Or well ahead of the curve with about half of its leaves changing….

 

A tree with one-third bare branches, one-third red branches, and one-third green leaves still on it.

Or even like this oddity that is simultaneously bare, covered in red leaves, and still hanging on to the green ones. My spouse and I wonder if this is normal for large, towering trees in a forest. Maybe they get the lion’s share of strong winds that rip off their leaves as soon as they’re the tiniest bit loose?

A tree that had half of its leaves shorn off in last winters storm now growing strong in september

Our tree friend that lost half its branches last winter seems to be thriving. All of its leaves are still green, and its trunk looks as solid as can be expected given the damage it sustained last winter.

A tree that lost a third of its branches. It's remaining branches are drooping, and the trunk looks like it will split in half

But the tree friend that lost about a third of its branches doesn’t seem to be doing well. Many of its branches are bent over now, and the crack in its trunk seems to be widening and creating new, smaller cracks in its wake.

I’ve avoided walking underneath its branches for some time now. Many of them are large and quite heavy looking.

Close-up shot of a badly damaged trunk of tree with deep cracks in it.

This was as close as I dared get. As I’ve said before, I’m not an arborist, but this tree really doesn’t look healthy to me. I hope I’m wrong about that and it wakes up stronger than ever next spring.

A bare tree against a green one

On a lighter note, this is the time of year when you can see a tree that has lost all of its leaves right next to one that’s still green. That juxtaposition always makes me smile.

A bush whose leaves have begun to turn red.

Do you remember how I told you all to look at the ground six months ago when seeking out the first signs of spring? That rule doesn’t really apply in the autumn.

Bushes and trees alike are showing the first hints of their autumn colours. Whether you look up, down, or all around, you’ll find them with a little bit of patience.

A shaded stone path through a park.

The famous stone walkway remains more or less the same shady, green spot its been since May for the time being.

Ontario seems to have entered our second wave of Covid-19 infections, but I don’t expect that to interrupt this series.  Our parks always remained opened for socially-distanced walkers and joggers even when the first wave of cases was as its highest and all other park amenities were closed (including benches for a brief time last spring!) If I get sick or if Toronto’s bylaws unexpectedly change in ways that require this series to be paused, I will let you all know about it as soon as possible.

Next month will bring dramatic and, in my opinion, breathtaking changes for our foliage. I can’t wait to share it with you all! Stay safe, friends. I cherish these virtual walks with all of you.

Why I’m Starting My Light Therapy Sessions Earlier This Year

A hand reaching up to touch a bright lightbulbI am not a doctor, and this post is not intended to be taken as medical advice. Please talk to your healthcare provider to see if light therapy lamps are right for you.

Last winter I talked about how much light therapy helps me with my winter blues.

When I stopped using it during our sunniest months here in Ontario, I wondered when I should start up again but decided to defer that decision until autumn.

This spring and summer were filled with the glorious light that lifts my mood every year. Like life for almost everyone else on Earth, they were also filled with the cancellation of many long-anticipated events thanks to Covid-19.

I smiled and made the best of the outdoor, physically-distanced activities that were still safe to do, but with autumn coming up I wondered how my mental health would fare once it was cold and dark here once again.

This isn’t meant to sound like a complaint, by the way. Cancelling all of those festivals, parades, and events was absolutely the right thing to do from a public health perspective. I’m also grateful for my good physical health, safe home, and all of the other advantages I have that so many others do not.

And yet there is also something sad about missing out on almost everything you love about spring and summer only to begin the plunge into another long, dark cold season. This became even more true as I read about the cancellation of Halloween on Church and our mayor discussing the possibility of cancelling trick-or-treating as well. My favourite holiday will either be cancelled altogether or is going to be nothing at all like it was in the past.

At this point, I suspect every upcoming holiday will be celebrated virtually, within the same household (or small social bubble), or not at all until enough people have been vaccinated against this disease to stop it in its tracks.

There’s nothing I can do to change things like these. What I could do was start using my light therapy lamp earlier this month as soon as the first faint whispers of autumn appeared in the form of dark, cloudy days.

A blue lamp that is turned on and releasing light against a plain white wall. I’d forgotten how bright it was. That one little lamp fills the whole room with light and still has some left over to spare.It doesn’t emit heat the way the sun does when you’re outside on a bright summer day, but it otherwise feels something similar to that experience.

(Yes, I purposefully picked photos of dimmer lights for this post. I didn’t want to hurt anyone’s eyes).

It’s still a little too early for me to feel the effects of it, but that also means it should start working long before November arrives and we start seeing sunsets before 5 pm.

What creative ways are you planning to celebrate upcoming holidays?  If you also have a light therapy lamp, when did or will you begin using it this year?

5 Homeschooling Tips From a Homeschooler

A toy apple sitting on three textbooks in front of a blackboard. The toy apple has a door, window, and lantern painted onto it so that it looks ilke a litle house. I recently read that there has been a surge of families interested in homeschooling thanks to the Covid-19 pandemic.

As someone who was homeschooled for several years, I have some tips to share for anyone who is planning to or thinking about homeschooling their kids this year.

Before we dive into the meat of this post, please note that homeschooling during a pandemic or other crisis is much more difficult than it is in ordinary times.

My parents had the luxury of time to research homeschooling thoroughly before choosing it. Their main concern was which curriculum to use and how closely to follow it, not whether any of us would catch a dangerous illness during our weekly trip to the library or grocery store.

Please go easy on yourselves. There are many different ways to learn, and most children are adept at soaking up knowledge no matter what’s going on around them. I know that my siblings and I did quite well once we transitioned to public school. In fact, we were ahead of our peers in certain areas like math and reading.

Tip #1: Discover and Pursue Their Interests

Child reading a book while sitting on brown grass and wearing a wreath of flowers in her hair outside
This isn’t me. I simply enjoy the peaceful imagery in it.

Whether they love computer games, sports, poetry or something else entirely, there are ways to tie many different interests back into academic subjects.

To give one concrete example, a kid who is obsessed with Minecraft might also enjoy learning about coding, computer science, history, problem solving in math, or environmentalism if it can be tied into his or her favourite game in some way.

Tip #2: Look for Non-Worksheet Learning Experiences

I must confess that I actually enjoyed our homeschooling worksheets, but that was because they were limited. We did a few of them a day and then moved onto other types of learning. Daily routines can be filled with learning opportunities for students of all ages.

Children learning how to cook
Also not me, but great hands on learning!

Doubling (or halving) a recipe is a fantastic way to practice fractions and mental math in elementary school. Older students could figure out the cost per ingredient, serving, or entire batch of food, and that’s before we get into the cost of substitutions or how many batches of chocolate chip cookie dough they’d have to make to fill their entire room with cookies.

This same pattern could be followed for home repairs, automobile repairs, gardening, doing laundry, cleaning, and so much more. One of the things I didn’t enjoy about public school once I eventually switched to it was how much harder it was to translate all of the knowledge they expected us to learn into anything that was relevant to my daily life.

Homeschooling makes it much easier to show why it’s important to understand chemistry when deciding if you should mix bleach and ammonia* or how quickly compounding interest adds up when you’re deciding how much to charge to your 30% interest credit card or thinking about saving for retirement.

*Never do this!

Tip #3: Go on Field Trips

A cemetery filled with gravestones on a warm, sunny day. No, this doesn’t have to involve being around other people or visiting museums.

There were times when our “field trips” were a walk to a local park and a conversation about the plants and animals that we spotted there. This doesn’t have to be complicated or cost much (if any) money at all.

Some of my favourite field trips growing up were the ones we took to cemeteries and bigger parks in rural areas. My siblings and I had so many questions during these excursions:

  • What do butterflies eat?
  • Why did so many people die young in the 1800s?
  • Why does this stone look nothing like that one?
  • Who was the first person who ever decided to drink cow’s milk?
  • How do trees know when it’s time to drop their leaves or grow new ones?
  • Why would someone build a house out in the middle of nowhere?

Mom and dad answered our questions when we were very young. They also encouraged us to look up the answers on our own, especially as we grew older and could do things like read an encyclopedia or search the Internet.

Some of our questions didn’t have straightforward answers, but many of them did. The more we learned, the more we wanted to know. My lifelong interest in history came in part from the many historical sites my parents took us to when we were on vacation or even simply bored and wanting to explore local history.

Reading about historical events became more appealing to me in middle and high school, but I really liked being able to tie that chapter or book back to my memories of visiting places that were somehow connected to that era.

Tip #4: Offer Many Different Types of Books and Audiobooks

Young boy wearing black, Harry Potter style glasses reading a comic book
Still not me. You all know the drill by now.

Think fiction, non-fiction, bestsellers, classics, graphic novels, and more. I was the sort of bookish kid who happened to enjoy a lot of classic novels, but it always bothered me when adults used me as an example for kids who maybe struggled with reading, didn’t enjoy it in general, or who simply found the classics uninteresting.

Not everyone will enjoy the same stories or subjects, and that’s totally okay. If someone wants to listen to an audiobook of their favourite Spiderman graphic novel, good for them! Their minds are still processing that information, maybe learning some new vocabulary words, and (hopefully) following the storyline closely to see what happens to their favourite superhero next.

Tip #5: Let Them Get Bored 

Bored dog lying on a carpeted floor in front of a couch
I’ll leave it up to all of you to decide whether this is me. 😉

As you might have already guessed, my parents slid closer to the unschooling side of the homeschooling continuum than they did the traditional one. That is to say, we had a lot of say in what we learned and how far we followed each rabbit trail as we discovered new interests.

Yes, of course we learned how to read, write, and do math. But our brand of homeschooling was a pretty casual one beyond that point. We went to the library about once a week to stock up on whatever books looked interesting, and then we were given a lot of freedom to decide what we learned and when.

Given that we lived in Wyoming for most of our homeschooling years, this did lead to times of boredom when snow was falling heavily outside. We either had to read books, write our own stories, study topics that interested us, or try to get one of the few channels on the TV to work.

These hours of freedom created kids who knew how to entertain themselves, teach themselves, and carve out their time wisely.

And, honestly, that’s been a real advantage for all of us in our adult lives.

If you were also homeschooled, what other tips would you give homeschooling families as the school year starts up again?

I’ll Show You My Drafts Folder If You’ll Show Me Yours

Why, yes, I did write the same sort of post last summer! It was such a smashing success that I’ve decided to do it again. Last year’s peek at upcoming posts has since been edited to include links to everything that I ended up writing. Some of the stuff listed below are ideas from last… Read More

A Summer Without Tourists

There are a few things about Canadian and, more specifically, Torontonian culture that I should explain here for anyone who isn’t already familiar with them before diving into the meat of this post. I am speaking in broad generalities here and this is a large, diverse country, so please make friendly allowances for that if… Read More

A Photo Essay of Toronto in June

Each month I share photos from one of the parks in Toronto to show my readers what our landscape looks like throughout the year. This is the fifth instalment of this series. Click on February, March, April, and May to read the earlier posts. It was 20 Celsius (68 Fahrenheit) and sunny this time which I think… Read More