Tracks

This photo, taken in 2011, came up via the “On This Day” feature of Apple’s photo app. It shows Catriona at a local elementary school participating in a track and field meet.

When Camren was out at UPEI recently participating in what the swim team calls dry land training, I decided to take the opportunity to go for a long run on the trail that conveniently passes through the back of the school. When I returned 50 minutes later, knowing he was still training, I wanted to run a few 1k loops around the UPEI track for time. But when I sauntered over to the track I discovered that it was surrounded by a high chain link fence and only accessible by express permission of the university. I find this extremely odd for a public institution and rather disappointing, particularly since it’s the only such track in Charlottetown. Stonepark has a prepared surface on their soccer field but it doesn’t compare.

Incidentally, UPEI has one of the only two available pools, suitable for swimmers on Prince Edward Island, and it has been inaccessible for months. Charlottetown is definitely a hockey town.

It’s one of a multitude of differences between our current and former home. Every school had a rack comparable to what is found at UPEI, and they were used by all, from serious runners, to those looking for a place to walk and talk. Basketball courts were popular and also something you don’t see much of here.

Thankfully we have a great trail system, and with the exception of some crosswalks a safe environment for walking and running.


Weekends

My weekend activities are generally a continuation of what I do during the week, though lately at less frenetic, more God why am I sitting at my desk, pace. The exception being that Saturday and Sunday morning are for exercise.

Saturday I run to Court 6 CrossFit out by the airport, in what often feels like an attempt to explode my heart. A quick consult with a physiotherapist reveals that I am too weak and am forcing my heart to work too hard.

Sunday morning is for long runs, which I often refer to as going to Church, as being in nature is a far more spiritual experience than the interior of an old building.

It’s taken me many months to get over the mental hurdle required to constantly enjoy the long run. Running for an hour is fine, but being inside my head for two, tends to get very boring and the focus shifts to how sore my feet are. Lately, I’ve abandoned the meditative aspects of running in favour of listening to more podcasts while I run.

My original goal was to run to Cavendish beach every Sunday, equal to a marathon, but I have only been able to make it to the halfway point. It’s again more of a mental hurdle than a physical one. That said, I’ve finally reached my weekly milage goal of 80kms a week without any injuries other than sore hips.

When fall started, I stopped to take some pictures of the route. Below are some of those photos.


A day off

This is for me the defining feature of PEI. Deep blue skies, fluffy white clouds and no pollution.

Sheryl and I took a short respite yesterday from work and the kids to spend a day outside in the sun. We haven’t spent ay significant amount of time together not working in many months, so this was long overdue, and has proven to be an antidote to my general feeling of downtroddenness.

The day started with a short walk through one of the many short trails that dot Stratford, then followed by a gentle 5k run and back home.

Sheryl and I then drove out to Greenwich a place we both have never been and spent the afternoon walking through the well maintained trails that take you through the property. The trip to and from of which required a stop in Saint Peters Bay for refreshments. Saint Peters Bay Black & White Cafe and Bakery sells receivers coffee and seems in desperate need of customers.

We ended the day with dinner in Georgetown at the Wheelhouse. Sheryl had chicken and I had fish chowder and their version of a lobster roll. The chowder was excellent, though ideally twice the size. The lobster roll was interesting; I love lobster and I love melted cheese but I think the two should never meet. Service was great.

All told I was on my feet for well over 21k yesterday which is a good way to relax I think. I guess there is some truth that fresh sea air and sun cures what ails you.

Not sure where else you could be practically alone on a beach of this quality.


Grass cutting

One of the many things we missed in the 20 odd years living in Taiwan and elsewhere was the summer tradition of the smell and sounds of fresh cut grass. There is something inherently satisfying about the distant hum of the lawnmower and the sweet smell of grass. It goes hand in hand with fresh strawberries and ice cream, BBQ meat, trips to sandy beaches and wearing shorts to signify the start of the Island summer.

Where we live now, a former farmers field turned soulless neighbourhood, in otherwise beautiful Stratford, people don’t seem to enjoy this summer tradition. This is likely in part due to the number of apartment buildings, multiple family housing, and the general transience of the people who choose to move here. Instead of the weekend morning or afterwork yard work that you see elsewhere, what you see here is leagues of workers descending on the neighbourhood with large noisy machines zipping around trying their best to work as quickly and as noisily as possible. If there is a pattern in terms of when they might arrive I have yet to see it. It could be early Saturday morning or during dinner through the week. Or like today, as we were about to record some voice over, they descended like monsterous sounding bees reverberating sound through our building.

It’s not nearly as romantic as the memory we had held while we lived elsewhere.


Why isn’t everyone wearing a mask?

Peter writes:

Picking up groceries at Sobeys this afternoon, an environment that clearly qualifies as one where “physical distancing cannot always be maintained,” only about a quarter of shoppers were wearing masks (and, additionally, any pretence of social distancing was abandoned by many).

I think one answer to that question could be risk perception, whereby others don’t see the same risk as I.

The degree of risk associated with a given behavior is generally considered to represent the likelihood and consequences of harmful effects that result from that behavior. To perceive risk includes evaluations of the probability as well as the consequences of an uncertain outcome. There are three dimensions of perceived risk – perceived likelihood (the probability that one will be harmed by the hazard), perceived susceptibility (an individual’s constitutional vulnerability to a hazard), and perceived severity (the extent of harm a hazard would cause). Risk perceptions are central to many health behavior theories.
Source

Add to that perhaps a little bit of group think, we are more willing to do something when those in our tribe are also doing the same. When beliefs become shared by social groups they are very difficult to change, even in the face of scientific evidence. There are a great deal of people who think the pandemic is largely fiction, even here on this beautiful Isle.

Wearing a mask is only one of the many things you should do to mitigate the risk of virus transmission, but it’s possibly the easiest. How many people are religiously washing and disinfecting their hands?

See also: What Happened When Americans Had to Wear Masks During the 1918 Flu Pandemic


An hour or two in the big city


The streets downtown were only moderately more busy today at early afternoon than the last time I walked through this street. I wish there were more streets like this, pedestrian and bike friendly, and devoid of cars. Unfortunately, city gov. moves in slow motion and at times seems resistance to change that might bring life to the downtown.


The market was anemic. This should be viewed as an opportunity, as the best markets I have been to have all been for the pleasure of locals, not tourists, which has the unintended consequence of giving visitors the kind of authentic experience many are looking for.


This is a welcome sign. I hope we will see more businesses putting up these hand sanitizing stations to not only fight covid, but the myriad of other viruses that make our lives less full of joy.


Diarrhea of words

I guess this is what it means to be in government.

The Green Party of Prince Edward Island has released their so labeled Return to School Framework yesterday which if you remove all the excess verbiage is nothing but a simple list of questions that most of us might have been asking around the dinner table. No deep insights, plans, or ideas from what are a highly educated and well paid group of people.

And I would argue that their priorities are wrong. The mental health and social well-being of all students, teachers, and parents is not the priority. Returning kids to school, whereby they can enjoy rigorous academic learning and physical activity, with minimized risk, is the priority. The main source of stress in families is the simple fact that kids are not in school. The Green Party should be aware of this.

These people are paid to come up with solutions, but between them and the nebulous plans of the department of education, I fear we will be left waiting.


An anniversary of sorts

The still waters of the Charlottetown harbor

The beautiful beaches at the North Shore

The quiet of Clyde River

DayOne has reminded me via their “On this Day” function that it has now been just over 2 years since I moved back to PEI, a place that I have always referred to as home, despite spending much of my life elsewhere.

With a pandemic, being a single parent for a year, trying to find my way, and adjusting to what at times seems like a foreign culture, it’s been a dramatic couple years, to say the least.

It was a risk for us to move here, particularly due to the lack of employment for us both, but a life with risk is a life worth living and I think there have been many positive experiences since I/we have arrived. It doesn’t feel like I come home yet, but that may come if we put down more permanent roots. Also, despite being born here I feel a little like an outsider, it’s like you can only belong on the Island if you were born here and never leave. There is no place where who you know, and being a part of the system is more important than PEI.

A friend recently asked if I planned on staying. In retrospect it was a bit of an odd question, but perhaps he knows my nomadic nature. My answer was and is, I don’t know. Last year, I would have unequivocally said we are staying, but that we would be returning to my children’s home for extended stays. A somewhat reversal of my long held plan of spending time on PEI, while living elsewhere.

These days its teetering towards leaving, due primarily to the afore mentioned lack of employment. I’m fine with my almost lifelong quest of avoiding stifling work environments, unless they are of my own making, and some days I like the personal challenges that working independently bring. This has meant our lives have been primarily about rich experiences vs. equity and ever more stuff. But Sheryl wants to teach children until the day they lock her out of the building, and our way of life has often depended upon the stability that her life’s work brings. Risk is easier to accept when you know there will still be a roof over your head and something to eat. We knew it would be challenging to find our way here; patronage and arcane union rules are frustrating to navigate (imagine running a business whereby you are not allowed to interview a talented recent graduate, or highly experienced professional, or someone from abroad because they haven’t worked as a temp and paid union dues the requisite number of days) and PEI is not near as diverse and inclusive as it might wish to be.

When I get aggravated by situations like this invariably something will happen to stem the tide of negativity. Like running into an old classmate, or yesterday when a young child said hello and wished me a happy day. Or the fantastic blue skies, clean air, and serene countryside. Or the idealistic talk of a 4 day work week.

The coming months will be key, but with the pandemic and all, staying put might be the only choice.


Signs of life

Though it’s still early in the season, Charlottetown seems so devoid of life without tourists. No families walking the streets, no kids, no one outside eating, none of the usual cacophony that comes with people on holiday. Sadly we have far too many restaurants and small business that such a small place can support, and many may fail or find their fortunes greatly diminished.

Perhaps, the government could take this as an opportunity to get Islanders to come downtown again. To be able to ride their bikes safely and walk the streets without worry of collision. I love dense cities, I lived in them for over 20 years, and it would be great to see the downtown become a place for people to congregate other than avoid due to lack of parking or whatever grievance people have.

It will be hard, as Islanders love of soulless big box stores seems to have no bounds (and pining for whatever Moncton has), but I would love the opportunity to make the downtown my one stop and to leave the car at home.


Dave’s Service Center to the rescue

With yesterday possibly being the best beach day of the year, I decided to try to finish up my days work and speed out to the North shore for sand and sun.

Unfortunately our car had other plans, and once we reached the QEH we pulled over to see what was banging on the inside of the car engine. I was thinking perhaps fox, cat or some large metal object left on the road. Luckily we saw nothing on the inside but the sound remained.

My understanding of the inner workings of a car is limited to the knowledge that when you press on the gas pedal it goes forward and you have to put fuel in it far too often. Something I’ll likely never get around to rectifying.

After a quick call to Daves Service Centre we slowly limped to their shop where they agreed to identify the problem so that I could go elsewhere to get a fix. They were already booked for the day but I trust them more than some other shop.

It was a “belt” that apparently seldom needs replacing, except in my case. They managed to fit it in and though it cost a bit, we were able to continue on our way a couple hours later with just enough time for my first visit to Richards for fish n chips.

Incidentally, I posted the above photo on Twitter and a friend DM’d aghast at all the people so close together without masks. My experience of late has been wherever I go most businesses have been following CPHO guidelines, but people have not changed. Most people do not use hand disinfecting stations, wear masks when in enclosed spaces, nor practice social distancing. There is little risk at preset but despite having all this time, I worry that we are still unprepared for when COVID-19 arrives on our shores in earnest.


The weekend

This was the first weekend since we were in lockdown/stay at home* that I wasn’t working. It was a long cycle of work, I usually prefer short bursts of activity or 6 week cycles ala Basecamp but work I find is a great way to get through periods of uncertainty, and if I have the rare pleasure of working on something I like, it’s fun.

Other than running, I didn’t do anything, it felt odd, and I had these periods of mild anxiety from the belief that I should be doing something. With the warm temperatures we could have gone somewhere, though I have no idea where that somewhere would be. My kids seem to be at an age that suggesting we drive to Georgetown for fun would illicit strange looks. Actually if suggested, I might give strange looks too.

*there are so many terms I get confused.


Emptiness

Receivers Operator Blend is still the best deal in coffee around these parts. Only slightly more expensive by weight than store bought, but it’s fresh (roasted within a week prior to purchase), and importantly local. And while the taste won’t appeal to all, I think it’s great.


The PSB’s Reality Distortion Field

We have been very impressed with the work of our teachers, who have migrated to home learning platforms with tremendous efficiency and creativity during this global pandemic. Teachers have been very busy preparing lessons, providing feedback on learning, connecting with students, working through year-end transition processes and supporting the social and emotional well-being of students. Teachers have and continue to be available to students and families through various means of communication.
Parker Grimmer – PEI Public Schools

The public school boards messaging across all the platforms its engaged in usually espouses the outmost in positivity. It’s all rainbows and sun, and “everything is beautiful, in it’s own way.” I get it, this is part of their job to highlight the good work that the teachers do throughout the province.

Generally most of the email communication from the PSB is long winded and difficult to read through, particularly when it comes after an evening meal and I feel like having a nap, but last nights email caught my attention immediately, particularly because of the first paragraph which seemed to come from a different reality all together.

In fact, when I first read it, I yelled out, “what nonsense is this!”

While there has been “learning” occurring during this time at home, there has been no “schooling”. It was my understanding that teachers were under strict guidelines to not attempt to teach, how else could we explain what has been occurring. Nothing new has been attempted at the intermediate level, with review worksheets sent out with the answers attached, and little to no communication from teachers at all levels. Having kids watch a video is not teaching. Some teachers of course, despite instructions to the contrary, have been communicative, giving new material and immediate replies to questions. They have been wonderful.

The PEI Home and School sent out a question to parents recently, asking for our experiences during the pandemic, in my reply:

  • I commented on how teachers were not allowed to experiment with various online teaching methods and how that seemed like a terrible mistake. What better time to try, and fail, when it’s all review and no marks are being counted.
  • I shared how my kids couldn’t even reach their teachers with questions and how many teachers would simply send out some simple worksheets with the answers attached. Kids see this for what it is and realize it’s largely a waste of time.
  • What has happened as that parents have had to fill in the role of teacher, which most of us are unprepared for, and while trying to work from home.
  • There was an overwhelming theme of not wanting to “stress” the kids with work, or a trend of taking time together as a family. I countered that sometimes keeping kids minds occupied with schooling reduces the stress from what is happening around them. Working hard, or working in general, is not a bad thing, even during an outbreak.
  • I noted that the most stressful part of this whole pandemic, after the initial shock, was trying to play the role of teacher, while knowing that our children were being let down academically.
  • Lastly, I also stated, based on our unfortunate experience with viral outbreaks, that I had little confidence that any plans were being formulated to return kids to school and deal with the inevitable return of COVID-19. Have they started training teachers? Any negotiations started to change the length of the school year? Virus mitigation procedures?

I’m writing this in a hurry as I do with all my blog posts. Issues like this require more articulate responses than I have time for, or talent to give. But the PSB’s eagerness to bend any fact to fit the communication purpose at hand required some kind of response into the abyss.


“Unfortunately not everyone is on board”

We went out to run some errands today at noon, which included a stop at NoFrills, the Post Office, and Receivers.

The Island being the Island one stranger shared that they were now on a diet and not eating meat. Another, showed me their feet (they had shoes on) in order to detail their injury and I shared that I have forgotten how to wear pants.

With the exception of Receivers, no one was social distancing, wearing any kind of PPE, nor utilizing what little sanitizing your hands apparatus was available. It’s like nothing had happened; nor was still happening.

We can’t stay inside forever. We need to eat, and not everyone has the opportunity to work remotely as a programmer or other desk bound occupation.

Islanders have from my vantage point been great, at least until it was decided that people from away could come to their summer residences (I don’t think they should). Real leaders make unpopular decisions based on the available data and experience, it’s hard.

Living through viral outbreaks, or in this case, hopefully a once in a lifetime pandemic, requires a massive cultural shift for Islanders. Washing your hands, carrying antiseptic wipes and hand wash, wearing a mask, using store provided antiseptic hand wash, installing antiseptic matts, and on and on, must become an ingrained habit. It is elsewhere; they’ve been screening travellers in Taiwan and elsewhere for over 15 years. Arriving from a region known to have an outbreak? Step aside sir while we ask you a few more questions. Have a fever? Off to quarantine you go. Not wearing a mask? Please leave the building. Kid sick? Isolation and then a call to come collect the child.

These are the things you do. Take matters into your own hands, complaining about people coming in from outside the province is not enough.

Via Ruk.


Blue

I went for a walk Monday evening and while this section of Stratford has that lack of life feeling that comes from quickly building houses on a farmers field, the blue skies and clean air can’t be beat. I could stare at the skies on PEI for hours on end.


Back to the classroom in Shanghai

This was shared with me by Sheryl from a friend who posted it on Facebook. It’s for a school in Shanghai and though I wouldn’t characterize it as new (whenever there is an outbreak these procedures are put in place), it represents in part how schools elsewhere are returning to the classroom.

It’s the new “normal”, returning to school after 15weeks of home schooling. Every day at school Mr F will:
– have to wear a face mask all day
– take his temperature before he leaves home
– have his temperature taken at school before entering
– sit with 1.5 meters between each school desk.
– take his lunch to school
– not wear a tie (considered germ catchers)

With the addition of 1.5m rule, all other steps are the same ones taken during SARS. We can do this! And he is very happy to see his friends again.

I would be very surprised if we had similar procedures here. Not because of science, but because my impression thus far is, that unlike the leadership exhibited by the Chief Medical Office and the Provincial Government, the Public School Board hasn’t been exhibiting the kind of leadership required to institute these procedures.


A visit to Deckers in Cornwall

It was a beautiful crisp day yesterday and after a finishing the days work and a quick run we finally had the chance to head out as a family for a sojourn to the wilds of Cornwall.

The main attraction in Cornwall, and a summer tradition, is Decker’s which is now open for take out, with some common sense initiatives in place for social distancing. The main attractor for me is the ice cream, but the temperature though much improved, still feels far to akin to winter to start that summer habit. So we opted for some burgers and fries, which we shared with my uncle who lives just around the corner. It’s been a long time since he has had so many visitors, or any visitors at all, due to all the restrictions in place at seniors residences. He also shared that he has now lived in Cornwall for 12 years, which is “longer than he expected to be alive”.

The taste of the food is fueled by nostalgia, which is to say that when I got the bill for $80 I laughed, and ate the burger, which came devoid of any of the salad inside, a little more slowly that I might normally eat.

It was money well spent as finally getting outside as a family led to laughs, and a much needed break from the confines of our too small abode.


What do you like about the place where you live?

Oliver Rukavina is organizing an unconference, in Zoom, today. Unfortunately I can’t attend but I have been pondering the two questions he posed for the unconference all week

What have you learned from the pandemic that you want to keep for the future?
What do you like about the place where you live?

The first question I have seen posed in a number of places and it requires a lengthy response. The second question is much easier. The response comes to me from simply looking out our patio doors this AM.

The lovely clear blue skies.


Just buy Receivers

I have since returning to PEI ventured to try every coffee bean brand that I could find in the local stores and on Amazon. With the exception of Kicking Horse coffee’s Hola Light Roast, all have proven to be a disappointment. The Hola Light Roast proves to be a value only when on sale, it’s regularly $9.99 for a 1LB bag on Amazon. I can’t imagine paying the prices in local grocery stores. Even Lavazza, which I’m drinking now is nothing deserving of their heritage and the small batch roasters located in Nova Scotia and Toronto are nothing to get excited about.

One of the main factors for this other than the industrial sized roasting that many brands do, is simply that by the time that bag of whole beans arrives at your door it’s already stale. You taste a huge difference when you roast your own, or buy from a local roaster.

Considering the cost of coffee here in the stores you would be far better served buying Receivers Operator Blend, which tastes great, and importantly is roasted less than a month from your date of purchase.


Dinner at Phinley’s

We ate out for the first time in 6 weeks last night and opted for a restaurant nearby, which gave Phinley’s the win by default. Camren wanted Vietnamese food but we overruled as Sheryl wanted a burger and I never go against a chance to eat red meat. Though it’s a short walk away this was our first time experiencing their food, though we have visited their dairy bar a couple times during summer.

The service was amazingly quick and the food was … fine. We may go back sometime when sit down service is allowed again.

While the food was not “lets get on Yelp and leave a 5 star review worthy” it was a good way to mark the restart of normal life on the Island.


Day 3,679 or so it feels

I never thought I would say it but I miss our daily rush to get the kids out the door in the morning and the nightly rituals of taking them to swimming, jujitsu, and choir. And as much as I’ve had mixed feelings about it, I miss the shared suffering of our night time CrossFit classes.

Staying together in a tiny apartment day in and day out is a challenge, as are the neighbours who seemingly are having the time of their life, but that has thus far only meant more time than usual with headphones on, tuning out the world.

Life right now seems otherwise rather ordinary. There is an undercurrent of stress brought on by the uncertainty of work and the concern that we may find ourselves without any income by June. Somehow I feel this #StaySafeAtHome experience would be easier to handle if there was an air of emergency; living in the sedate suburb that is Stratford tends to isolate you from the horrors that people are experiencing elsewhere.

That kind of isolation is something to be thankful for.


Thankful for simple pleasures

My coffee intake has spiked to record levels this past week and I have been finding myself dreading drinking each cup of stale store bought beans. So being able to buy a couple of bags from Receivers was a welcome respite and treat.

I have a lb. of unroasted beans arriving today, so I expect our place to be filled with the smells of roasting coffee beans shortly after their arrival.


Madness

These are fairly mild compared to the scenes that are being shared endlessly throughout social media.

This was the scene at NoFrills last evening. People on the island have joined with many others around the world in abandoning community and retreating to their base instincts. It’s one thing to ensure you have a 2 weeks supply of the essentials, it’s another to hoard, thereby denying availability to others.

Hoarding is easier I suppose, to choices that have greater effect; choosing competent leadership and living a healthy lifestyle are a couple that come to mind.


Bus vs. Taxi

The bus I take from Stratford to the downtown and return, is quick, inexpensive, and features a friendly helpful driver. So helpful that the driver will even drop me off at my door when I am taking the return trip. People talk and share stories.

It’s such a contrast to the taxi experience on the same route, which is slower, far more expensive, and generally not as social a drive. Taxi’s don’t feel as safe either.

I only see growth for public transit in Charlottetown, fuelled in no small part by the bus drivers themselves. I see only decline for taxi’s, especially if ride sharing ever takes hold, which despite the negativity surrounding the gig economy, is incentivized to provide a good experience.


Kudos to Silver Streams Restaurant

Last week was Camren’s 14th birthday, and keeping with tradition there was a pancake breakfast replete with balloons and a later dinner out at a restaurant of his choosing. Our weekday evenings are full of activities, so the dinner part of the day had to be delayed. One part of our birthday tradition that was missing was the Daddy Cake. Camren elected to have cheesecake, surprisingly difficult to find in Charlottetown, instead of the monstrosity that I would create.

His choice for dinner was Silver Streams near the 1911 jail. With all the decent Asian style restaurants in Charlottetown, it’s hard to understand why this place has become his favourite, but it has, and so off we went.

Their buffet is about what you would expect, but I managed to find more protein than starch for my plate, and the sweet and sour chicken balls reminded me of the Chinese food we would have when I was Camren’s age.

The staff were new, I believe the restaurant has new owners, and were friendly and kept the food fresh.

At one point Camren coughed, he has a cold, and an older couple looked at him with a look of horror on their face for seemingly a long period of time. Hopefully it wasn’t a sign of early Covid-19 hysteria. This I believe led to a conversation as to how Sheryl was pregnant during the SARS outbreak and how that has changed our habits since.

As we were leaving I asked Catriona to mention in Chinese that it was Camren’s birthday and they graciously gifted his meal. An unadvertised special.


The Precariousness of life on the Island

When I read this thread on Twitter I found myself nodding in agreement. Since moving here there has been a general sense of anxiety that we were always close, or one malady away from being out on the street. I thought at first this was just a response to having to look after the kids alone for the first time, but the feeling hasn’t gone away. This despite Sheryl being here, and her good fortune in finding long term subbing work.

I don’t recall having this level of concern in the 20+ years we lived in Taiwan, in spite of the fact that we were not citizens, and as such had little in the way of rights. If you lose your job, you need to find another quickly or you’re out of the country. There is no EI or gov funds for retraining, or much of anything. You are on your own with no social safety net but for the one you construct yourself.

Part of the anxiety may stem from the fact that the cost of living on the island has proven to be far higher than our wildest estimates. With few exceptions, we pay 2x or more to live here with a far more conservative lifestyle than years past. Net income is also far less. I also don’t have much confidence in a social safety net being there to help us. Medical care is top notch but access severely constrained.

I’m sure winter has some effect as well.