2020 — I guess the best title would be the year of COVID-19

I write this as we head back from the lake, Wednesday July 1. Our first visit to our cabin this year was our trip there this past Saturday, and with Monday and Tuesday off for vacation, eat day.and today of course a holiday, we just completed a pleasant half week of holidays at the lake.

Doesn’t July 1 seem like quite a late time of year for our first trip to the lake though? If you’re reading this sometime between now and the next few years you’ll probably have no problem understanding why this first trip was so late, but I suppose in some ways I’m journalizing this trip for the reader 10 or 20 years down the road. Why is our first trip so late? COVID-19. What’s that, let me tell you.

Our year (well, the world’s year) started pleasantly enough. Kayla was in grade 7, Melissa in grade 5. Our relatively new hamster, Atlas, was amusing the girls at home. Kayla was taking piano lessons, Melissa accordion lessons. We were having a great year of winter sport, the girls and Glen getting up to Mount Seymour basically every weekend for snow skiing, and often snow-shoeing and/or snow tubing. Melissa had her good friend Sylvie along one weekend (she too had a seasons pass). In February and March, Glen was thoroughly enjoying getting to go skiing twice a week, also going with Kayla’s school class on Monday’s (and he was taking days off — well worth it to get these extra days).

The last day of skiing with Kayla’s class was on Monday, March 9th, the last Monday of school before spring break was to start the following Monday (for 2 weeks). It was a very nice day of skiing at Mount Seymour. A couple of days before the three of us had spent a single day of skiing at Cypress Mountain. A gorgeous sunny day, and even spent about 20 minutes stuck on the Sky Chair when it broke down. We even spent a few minutes almost alone at the top of Mount Strachan since the chair was shutdown for about 20 minutes after they ran it long enough to get the people off who had been on it (like us).

That last week of school an item that had been in the news started to ramp up as a major item, and that was the Coronavirus. The Coronavirus was a virus that had seemed similar to H1N1 or the Avian Bird Flu from years before. When first in the news late in December 2019, the virus was getting news for starting in China (similar to the others mentioned before) and had caught like wildfire and had shutdown a a province in China called Wuhan. The Coronavirus became a bit bigger in the news when it got onto a couple of cruise ships in January and February and the cruise ships were somewhat overwhelmed with people getting sick, sort of like how the Norwalk virus the last 10 or 15 years had been in the news for infecting ships filled with passengers, except that the Coronavirus killed probably a few more people than the Norwalk had ever. Also different than the Norwalk was how a number of countries near China in January and then spreading even more in February and into March started to close down their borders. So a few particular ships were hit especially hard, such as the Diamond Princess which had an outbreak and wasn’t allowed to dock in any country, and spent weeks in the port city of Tokyo Bay.

For us, most of the news seemed relatively remote. As we headed into spring break in the second week of March, North America was starting to be more seriously hit with the Coronavirus. New York and California were particularly badly hit, sort of doing a bit of shutdown in the same way that Wuhan province had back a few months earlier. It seemed a bit of an American over-reaction when Whistler-Blackcomb shutdown late that last week of school. The BC Provincial Public Health Officer, Dr. Bonnie Henry made a statement that although we should maybe be cautious about spending times in large groups indoors, she encouraged the province to get out and get lots of exercise, and explicitly mentioned we should go with our families out to local ski hills where the spaces were wide and we could get good exercise.

The endorsement was good for us, as we had a half week holiday planned to go to the Bulldog Inn in Silver Star. We were booked in to the one hotel that allows pets, so we were looking forward to taking Atlas our hamster. Surprisingly, Cypress Mountain, another American owned ski hill, shutdown as the school week came to a close. We had some slight apprehension about our planned holiday due to the fact that Silver Star had been bought by an American early in the season. I heard rumours that a number of companies were starting to tell employees to work from home. In some ways Glen’s company, Change Healthcare, seemed surprisingly reluctant to take that step as it would have been easy, since Glen’s department already were working from home a couple of days of the week on normal operations.

Glen and the girls went up for another gorgeous day at Mount Seymour for skiing and snowshoeing as Spring Break started. I saw Eddie Wood, the owner of Mount Seymour, and was tempted to stop him and tell him thank you for such a good year, and to not overreact like the Americans seemed to be doing. A few weeks earlier Glen had got some tips from a friend with a 10 year old daughter who had a seasons pass at Cypress Mountain for our visit to Cypress. He phoned me and got some tips for Seymour since he had been locked out of course at Cypress due to their closure.

A couple of days later mid week, news of more closures started to roll in. Since we were mostly focussed on ski hills that’s what I’ll report on. Silver Star reported closing and would maybe reopen depending on how Coronavirus unfolded in the coming weeks. Then almost every ski hill reported closing for a few weeks, including our very own Mount Seymour. I remember feeling almost indignant, didn’t people listen to the public health officer the week earlier on how we should all go skiing?!!?

I remember looking around to see if we could salvage a ski trip somehow, and gave a teeny bit of thought to going to one of the very few hills that hadn’t said they had closed, such as Mount Baldy. I checked and it seemed we could get a place. But in the following days, everything really did shutdown, and pretty well everyone everywhere, even people who wouldn’t efficiently be able to work from home were either laid off, furloughed, or for those lucky people in roles like ours who could efficiently work from home, we were told to work from home. So life changed and we spent time around home with the ocassional weekend hike.

So as the first week of spring break came to a close, and it sounded like we would be all at home for a few months (Ontario while school was still open said they closed their school for the rest of the year), and during spring break the BC Ministry of Education said that something would be worked, probably online, to close out the rest of the 2019/2020 school year. Melissa and more so Kayla returned to looking at pets, as for a few years they had wanted a dog, but we had never got one due to the fact that we wouldn’t be able to spend time around home to take a puppy out every few hours to go for a potty break. Kayla was looking at various dogs on the SPCA site, who were running a half price adoption program. A blue healer was a push for a day. After pointing out that Glen had a bit of a scar in the back of his hand due to a very strong blue healer bite, the girls started to look for something a bit smaller, and saw a cute set of triplet Cockapoos who had been born 9 weeks earlier in Williams Lake. The litter was a black female who had already been adopted, and 2 brothers, a white/brown/black pup who we initially had our eye on and a white and black little guy who didn’t seem as photogenic as his siblings (he didn’t seem to pay as much attention to the camera — or person taking the picture).

We sent a message to the lady who had the pups up for adoption, and she said the brown/black/white guy had been spoken for, but the black and white guy was available. Much discussion over the next 24 hours saw us discussing whether we should make an offer on the guy, and we decided we should. We decided we could take the 6 hour drive to Williams Lake in a day, but when we contact the lady about picking him up, she asked where we were (the lower mainland) and could we just meet in Merritt the following day (the last Saturday of the month), and we agreed.

Since long car drives can be tough on Susan’s back, just the girls and Glen drove to Merritt and fell for the little guy. Glen’s parents and Rebecca drove to Merritt for a few minutes of visiting (at a distance).

A bit of a detour to the story, up until that last paragraph I believe it was as mentioned all written on July 1. I didn’t get more time until now to continue the story until today, Sunday December 6 (yes, 6 months later!). But I’ll get on with the story (and admittedly probably speed up since there’s now even more to catch up on).

We fell in love with the little guy, and soon enough had named him Spot. The “breeders” seemed reluctant to have anything to do with his name, wanting to have his new family fully open on what he was named. But on being pressed, they in a lighthearted fashion did mention they had taken to calling him Spot due to his spots.

On the way home, we stopped in at Jim and Ellen’s to show off the little guy, so Ellen got to meet him before even Susan did. The first night he was whimpering and whining quite a bit due to being moved to a new house, and Susan stayed up quite late with him finally going to bed around midnight. Melissa got up about 4:00am for a brief bit to console him as he was whining.

Our second night also had him whimpering, but were done a little differently. Kayla kept him on her chest and slept in the living room with him on her chest for the full night. A bond was made! I’m not saying doing it was a mistake, but boy did that make an impression. Ever since, Kayla has been adored and if there’s any decision on who he goes to, it’s 100% always Kayla. Even Glen spent the next few weeks in the living room sleeping on the couch near Spot’s training cage, but Kayla is forever Spot‘s love.

Notice how we had been describing Coronavirus in this blog entry, then suddenly we have a dog? We were probably at the height of spring social distancing which means for weeks we never got near anybody (showing him to Ellen as we brought him back was probably our last outside-our-house interaction for a good month). You know what else they say about puppies, make sure they are socialized in their first 4 month. Hmm, we got Spot as he was about 2.5 months. Then it was also the standard advice, don’t let your puppy near other dogs until they’ve got their 14 week shots. Shots? We probably shot ourselves in the foot following this advice.

As Coronavirus progressed in the world and we all started to understand how social distancing would be with us for a while, and BC’s public health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry with her advice of “Few Faces and Bigger Spaces” meant that maybe some dog interaction outside might be reasonable. What we found is that our little unsocialized-before-4-months puppy was turning into a terror. We were watching dog training videos every single day on YouTube, but were finding it tougher and tougher to keep the little guy under control. Very few dog trainers were running programs where the dogs got to interact with others, which was exactly what Spot’s problem was turning out to be.

We got some recommendations from friends who had used an e-collar training method, and Marilyn the local trainer with the company seemed confident she could help. We paid the money, got 3 personalized lessons and then as much group training as we want for the life of Spot. Here we are 7 months later being able to say yes, we have a very well trained dog. He however is still a bit of a grenade around other people, and even dogs sometimes. He loves us, but can go off around others. We’ve learned from Marilyn how to recognize his tells as to when he might explode (OK, I’m exaggerating slightly, but not much). We’ve also gone to the outdoor training almost every week since, most often to group training that happens in a park near us here in or Burnaby, or in one case to a park out in Maple Ridge.

So after spring break school resumed as fully online courses. Both girls spent their school days sitting at computers, using Microsoft teams and Office 365 doing school assignments. Kindergarten and lunch play time were spent playing online games with their classmates.

Bonnie Henry, the (wonderful) chief medical officer for BC, said that we should all stay close to home, and hopefully by the end of summer things would be under control enough that as British Columbian’s we hopefully could maybe visit smaller places in BC such as our cabins. In many ways things went quite well, and for the July long weekend we did get to our cabin (as mentioned above).

Early July we tried to send Spot for his first clip, but while at the groomers his tendency to not get along well with people, and his anxiety at being away from his pack (us) caused him to raise quite a ruckus and after 45 minutes received a phone call that the groomer couldn’t deal with him and we had to come pick him up (without getting clipped). So for the first portion of summer, he was a pretty shaggy dog.

For summer holidays the girls spent their days at home, easy enough since Glen too was working from home 5 days a week. With Susan having one day off per week, they would generally get to go somewhere (usually outside) on her day off. Since trips within the province were now allowed, we booked one weeks of vacation at our cabin the final week of July that lead into the August long weekend. The holiday didn’t unroll quite as planned though… The second to last week of July Susan was taking a level 2 first-aid course (mostly for being the first aid attendant at her workplace). She finished the course by not only getting 100% on the written test, but also 100% on the practical portion, congratulations were given by her instructor who says they hadn’t seen somebody get 100% on both portions. HOWEVER, as we headed into the weekend we had planned to leave to the cabin, Susan reported that she had a sore throat. In Covid world we are in (“Covid world”, that’s what I’ve taken to calling the strange new life we all live), a sort throat means one should go get tested for Covid. So after isolating living in the basement, and eating separated from the rest of us (thankfully the weather was nice so we could all generally eat outside with Susan sitting about 10 feet away from the rest of us), Susan drove to Central Park on Saturday morning, got in a very long line-up, had a long q-tip put up her nose (which at the time was the collection method for the test for Covid). Over the next few days Susan’s sore throat went away, and 3 days later we were relieved to hear that the test reported she didn’t have Covid. Due to the possibility for both false positive and false negative testing meaning that even if a test showed negative results, it is recommended to socially isolate, we decided to make the trip and reasonably isolate at the cabin so we could be somewhere different. Over time we became more confident that Susan didn’t have Covid (she really didn’t), and had a good holiday swimming and boating and hiking. Near the end of our time on holiday (well proving Susan didn’t have Covid) we had some interaction with Glen’s parents and brother Jim’s family at Glen’s Uncle Earl’s cabin, as well as with Glen’s cousin Colin and his daughter and niece’s and aunt Laura who came out to Earl’s cabin for a long weekend of visiting (and water fun of course at the lake).

With our primary summer vacation over, we were back to work at home (with girls spending their days around home as well). Susan was in at her office a few days a week, working from home the rest of her days (and 1 day off of course, often going somewhere with the girls). Spot went for a trip to the vet to be clipped (well, shaved a better word) while under the effects of anesthetic. Kayla and Glen drove back to the cabin the weekend after the August long weekend in order to get some focussed time on cleaning it up (throwing out old stuff we had thrown into storage and no longer needed). Jim came out for the day on Saturday to help out, as he had been in Kamloops helping to prepare for Jessica moving to Kamloops to start school at TRU in the fall. It wasn’t all work, we pulled out Glen’s old drumset from storage and set it up on the deck and had a bit of fun playing it. It wasn’t to be one of the things to be donated/discarded, although it has gone back into storage.

Due to continuing social (somewhat) isolation, we got ourselves a VR headset, and the girls spent time exploring a virtual world (mostly boxing and dancing), and Glen too has had fun (mostly playing ping-pong) in this amazing new virtual world.

For the third week of August, Glen met Glen’s parents at the old toll-booth on the Coquihalla and the girls transitioned and then spent the week in Kamloops at their grandparents, seeing sites and having fun recreation.

During the week they were in Kamloops Susan and Glen rather suddenly decided it was time for a new car and bought a PHEV (plug-in hybrid electric vehicle), a black Kia Niro. Finally we have a car where with the push of the button the seat adjusts for Susan’s 5’3¾”, and the push of a separate button and it auto-adjusts to Glen’s 6’3¾” frame. We decided on a PHEV rather than a true EV because for the majority of our “car” driving, we only drive around town etc, and so the 45km range of this PHEV is no different than if we had an EV. For those people who then take one or two hundred kilometre trips as their “big” trips, an EV with their 3~500km range makes total sense. But for us, if we take a “big” trip, we not uncommonly have it being a 1000km+ trip, and the refuel time for a PHEV (gas) versus refuel time for an EV (electric), makes the PHEV the right choice. We’ve been happy with having to buy very little gas.

The fourth week of August had us joining up with the girls at the lake where we spent another week at our cabin. Jim’s family as well spent their time based out of Earl’s property. We had a very nice week at the lake, one day even taking the boat and hiking to the top of Copper Island, and another day hiking the falls at Albas. We took Spot around for more socialization, spending some time in the school yard in Celista.

September saw us returning to home, returning to work, returning to school. Melissa entered grade 6, still at Montecito Elementary School. She got a teacher who was new to the school, who seems like a good guy. The changes due to Covid in Elementary don’t seem that different than from past years. They have to wash their hands a lot more, the different classes in the school don’t all get let out at the same time for breaks nor do they start and end school at the same time, they do have to wear face coverings (“surgical masks”) when they are outside of their classroom, but inside the classroom they are allowed to take off their masks and interact with others. The concept of a bubble is big this past year, with the people in your house of course being most in your bubble, but the health recommendations puts people in your elementary school class also in your bubble (or more correctly the student’s bubble). Kayla entered High School, attending grade 8 at Burnaby North. Since high school traditionally has been 8 different courses with 8 different teachers and a good majority of different students in each different class, that doesn’t work well at all with the health recommendations because of Covid, so they are doing things significantly differently. To make it work, grade 8 and 9 this year are running by putting students into one classroom bubble, then having that classroom of student taught intensively on two different subjects with two different teachers for a very focussed two and a half months (basically one class for 2.5 hours each and every day and another class for 2.5 hours each day). Then at the end of the “term”, that classroom moves on to another 2 new classes for another 2.5 months. Doing it this way allows achievement of the recommendation of smaller/consistent bubbles, at the main cost of in a few cases some kids not getting their first choice of elective. Thankfully Kayla’s first term had her doing English and Art (her primary choice of elective), and in her second term doing French and ADST (Applied Design, Skills, and Technology — doing home-ec and woodwork/metalwork etc). Generally she says that all kids do wear masks even when in class. Thank goodness, similar to how the start of our July holidays had a wrench thrown in by Covid with slight concern that maybe Susan had it, the start of winter break is similar in that one of the students in Kayla’s class who was in her classroom early in the last week of school tested positive for Covid. Burnaby North is the biggest school in Burnaby (approximately 2000 students), and so we had been used to getting a notification letter every week or two that someone with Covid had been at Kayla’s school. As winter break started we received a notification letter one step up telling us to self-monitor Kayla for signs of Covid. Thankfully we didn’t receive the top letter which tells the person to go for Covid testing due to high suspicion of having chance to catch the virus. We’ve heightened our social distancing a bit, but thankfully so far things seem fine (we’ll be fully “out of the woods” just past Christmas).

Fall saw Kayla returning to weekly (remote via Skype) piano lessons, and Melissa returning to accordion lessons (also via Skype). With a dog we get out for a lot of walks, with sometimes going further such as a walk on the Vancouver beaches or out to Langley to visit a dog park. We’ve been happily driving around in our new car, using next to no gas. After charging nightly by simply plugging into a regular 110V outlet, we upped the ante and actually had a EV charger installed making charge times significantly less.

We were saddened in September to learn that Glen’s Uncle Earl had passed away in Southern Chile. There was some concern initially that it may have involved Covid, but further time enlightened us that it was heart problems after a surgery to repair a broken leg. I’m sure we’ll continue to call the cabin place “Uncle Earl’s”.

After 18 years of ownership, with an odometer just a bit past 300,000km, I was slightly saddened to sell our Jetta which had been bought new in 2002. We actually just sold it to a guy down the street who wanted to teach his grandkids how to drive a standard, so funnily enough we occasionally see the car drive by.

In late September Glen, Kayla, and Melissa took the new car for the weekend to Kamloops to celebrate Glen’s parents 56th wedding anniversary. Susan stayed home as she found the idea of a 3.5 hour drive one day followed by a 3.5 hour drive the next day a bit much for her back. While in Kamloops not only did we enjoy dinner out celebrating with Glen’s parents and the Kamloops based nieces, we also had a good hike around Kenna Cartwright park.

Thanksgiving saw us back at the cabin one last time for the year to shut it down. We had dinner with Glen’s parents and brother’s family over at Uncle Earl’s. There was some initial concern about going due to Covid cases starting to ramp up in (a somewhat expected) second wave, but we got the trip done without any problems before it had ramped up so significantly that recommendations were to stay really close to home.

Not only do we take Spot out for multiple daily walks, but most weekends we squeeze in an extra long walk or two.

As we have got into December, the local ski hills have opened (thankfully, as travelling outside your geographical region is discouraged) and Kayla, Melissa, and Glen have made it up for (socially distanced) skiing a number of times. This afternoon (it’s December 21 as I write this) we’re going up for some snowshoeing.

The girls and Glen have two weeks off, Susan has one week off. We’re looking forward to spending time together close to home (regular outings to walk the dog and go take part in snow sports).

I haven’t yet managed to write a Christmas newsletter, but hopefully I can get that together in the coming days and get it out before it’s too late (well, it’ll be too late to get it to people before Christmas, but maybe by New Years).

2020, the year of Covid.