Thursday, February 18, 2021

Life in the Time of the Covid: The First Year

Oh my God. What a year it's been since Covid changed everyone's lives. We went into Covid lockdown on March 15, 2020. It's felt like we've been holding our breath ever since.

Six people in my extended family have or had Covid. One of them died.

It feels like life itself is on hold.

But, actually, quite a lot has happened in our lives since last March. Since I haven't been writing many posts, I thought I'd just give you an overview of what we've been up to, the good (Beau's business), the bad (emergency surgery), and the ugly (an American insurrection), as well as the silly (crows), the pretty (jewelry), and, well, just getting by the best we can. I'll try to go through it all chronologically, when that's possible.

Even when I don't talk about Covid, I'm sure you know that it was underlying everything I've done in this past year, and it underlies everything I'll tell you about the year. Covid, and the story of Covid, is omnipresent, terrifying, horrifying, heart-breaking, and, at times, infuriating.

I hope this post reminds you that, however you're coping with Covid, you're not alone. We're all struggling, and we're all finding ways to stay as sane as possible in a crisis that's putting a strain on the mental health of every single person in the world. Including yours and mine.

Before I start, I want to say that, just because you haven't seen as many blog posts from me lately, please don't think Sublime Mercies has disappeared. You see, I've started a youtube channel! It's been really fun. I'll tell you more about my channel later in this post, and I'll include some of my videos when they're relevant, but the main thing is this: I'm not gone! I'm just expanding my venues for creative expression.

Besides, it's not like I've had a lot of opportunities to wear outfits to feature in my blog lately! I've been existing in onesies, and you're going to see a lot of them in this post. Does anybody even remember how to wear a bra?

A local playground, taped off, in March, 2020

Reaction to Covid's Arrival

We went into lockdown on March 15, 2020. I had a big, meltdown of terror on March 16. Every post-apocalyptic novel I'd ever read, every terrifying, pandemic movie I'd ever seen, was flashing before my eyes. 

Stalking up for the disaster

But so were all my experiences as a sexual abuse victim in fucked up, off the grid, hippie communities. They were so remote and unreachable that drug use, child abuse, and even murder could go on completely unnoticed by authorities. I have witnessed and been the victim of the depraved things people can do to the vulnerable they know they know they can get away with it. When the veneer of civility, and the checks and balances of an infrastructure have fallen away, the unspeakable becomes possible. I know this. My body knows this.

Was this going to happen on a large scale now? Would so many people die that civilization itself would crumble? Would be the vulnerable become victims? I'm just a little, disabled, middle aged woman. I have no defenses!

Remember too that I've been doing my genealogy and learning about the chaos and cruelty of the Holocaust. 

My fears about the effects of Covid did not seem so very far fetched in the face of refrigerator trucks used to store bodies, and prison inmates digging mass graves. Nobody knew what was coming. We didn't know what to fear, and what was safe. We didn't know how many people would die. We knew nothing, really, except that it was bad, really really bad.

As time passed, I calmed down a little bit. There was a lot of tedium, a lot of cabin fever, a lot of feeling like we were all living in a surreal limbo. 

But there was not the blind terror I'd feared, not quite, not yet, not right here. That's all I knew. 

It became clear that a big part of living in a pandemic was going to be just hunkering down, staying away from other people, and waiting for an uncertain resolution to the crisis. In the meantime, we all had to find ways to stay sane in a situation that would strain the mental health of every human being on the planet.

Beau, with berries from our yard

Beau and I are extremely lucky that we like each other so much. We've been each other's constant, and virtually only company since March, and we still get along wonderfully! Aside from when I was in the hospital, Beau has been my only, non-distanced company for a year. Our love for each other has been a huge blessing and comfort throughout.

When this all began, we were pretty sure we'd continue to get along well, since, in some ways, lockdown wasn't as huge a change for us as it was for many others. Beau already works from home, and, being too disabled to work, I was already home a lot anyway. But we did used to have our own lives, at least a little, and all that's gone right now. 

(During Covid, disabled people have talked a lot about how abled people now understand our lives a bit better. Disabled people were, in some ways, emotionally better prepared for lockdowns, isolation, distancing, etc.) 

The isolation has been harder on me than on Beau. We're both introverts, but Beau's a lot less social than I am, and, mostly, I think he's thriving on being a hermit. But even he's chafing a bit by now. He's starting to miss casual outings, and lowkey, social time with friends. Of course, he's also got his work to keep him occupied, so that helps him too. 

Me, I miss the world!

On a practical level, Covid has made Beau's life busier and more tiring. He usually has a few people working for him, but safety guidelines have meant he's been working short-staffed through huge chunks of the past year. We also usually hire help to clean the house, since I'm too disabled to do it, and Beau can't keep up on his own. We're incredibly lucky that we can afford to have that help, but it's not safe right now.

So the house is a bit messier and dirtier than usual, Beau's tired and overworked, and I'm stir crazy. And there's the stress of, you know, a global pandemic! It would hardly be surprising if we weren't getting along all that well. But we are. If anything, we're getting along even better than ever. Of course, there are the odd, stress-related squabbles, but, after nine years together, we're still pretty much besotted with each other. I feel so lucky!

Financial Security

Beau and I are in the unfamiliar position of being financially secure. That's helped immensely through Covid. Neither of us has had to work outside the home to keep a roof over our heads. Beau already works from home, and I still collect my tiny, regular, disability pension. (To find out why it's so tiny, read this.) This means that, unlike so many others, we haven't taken a financial hit through Covid. We can pay our rent, afford to get necessities delivered, and even treat ourselves here and there. Because we never go out now, we're actually saving money.

We both know poverty. I left home at 17, and have supported myself ever since. I put myself through three degrees, though God knows how. Beau lived in Sri Lanka for ten years, founding and running a charity school. Upon his return to Canada, he suddenly found himself a single father of two, starting a business from scratch, and putting himself through a PhD. 

We're both startled and delighted by how well Beau's business is doing, and the comfort that financial stability brings. We feel very fortunate that we attained that stability before Covid hit, and we're aware of how different this whole crisis has been for people, especially disabled people, who don't have that stability.

Me in my study. Note the Cyrillic alphabet and map of Lithuania on my cork board. 
Online Community

As a disabled person often stuck at home, and often alienated by ableism, I long ago discovered the rewards of online community. But I've definitely been more active online since Covid hit. It's been a godsend for me, and, I'm sure, for most of you reading this. It doesn't fully fill the void left by real life contact with friends, but it definitely helps. 

I've even formed a close bond with a woman I've never met in person, a fellow sex trafficking survivor, who, like me, is now crippled by fibromyalgia. (I wish to God more attention was paid to the causal link between severe child abuse, and adult, chronic pain conditions.) When I was in the hospital, she checked in on me every day, and that really sealed our friendship. We now chat online almost every day, about everything from makeup tips, to surviving violent rapes.

What would people like us do without the internet?!

Our boot room before

Sprucing Up Our Home

Like a lot of people who were suddenly spending more time at home, the Covid lockdown caused us to start looking around around us and seeing changes that we wanted to make in our home. We transformed our ugly boot room ...

Our boot room after

... into a sunroom where I could lie down and enjoy the view of the outdoors. Of course, the cats immediately decided that we'd made it just for them. We're okay with that. That's their little cat door to their catio on the right there. Old man Milo doesn't use it, but the youngsters do.

We gave our bedroom a bit of a makeover ...

... and we're both happy with the results. 

Yes, I have a lot of jewelry. No, it's not a problem. 

I got a new cover for my daybed in my study ... 

.. and I love how it's transformed the room.

Even though we're still renters, we hired two gardeners to tame the weeds in our back yard and put in a few bulbs. I have so many dreams for that backyard that I'll make real if we're able to buy this house!

I love our cozy little home.

The cats feel the same way. 

No, the difference in size between Milo (big guy), and Chuti (tiny girl) is not an optical illusion. Yes, they are both full grown.

Entertaining the Neighbours

As with everyone, Covid restrictions suddenly cut us off from our neighbours, some of whom have small children. Sometimes we hear parents outside with their kids, doing a good job, but sounding a tad strained. So we started putting surprises in our window each night, for the local kids to discover in the morning.

We got more and more creative with the surprises.

If I couldn't dress up, at least I could dress up our stuffies!

Soon after I returned from the hospital, and still needed a lot of extra care, Beau realized that this nightly routine had stopped being fun, and was instead adding to his exhaustion, so we sadly cut back to a few surprises in the window from time to time ...

... like this Trump, toilet bowl cleaner ...

Our Hanukkah candles on the fourth night of Hannukah

... and our Hanukkah candles for each night of Hanukkah. No neighbour kids could come over for Hanukkah this year, but at least we could share it with them in a small way.

Made with blueberries from our garden!

Home Cooking

Like many around the world, we've been trying new recipes. Because my disability prevents me from preparing meals, Beau and I had gotten into the habit of doing takeout quite often. We did our best to keep it healthy, but I sometimes felt it wasn't the greatest.

When Covid hit, nobody really knew if it was even safe to get takeout, so we just stopped doing it altogether.

By the time we knew it was okay to order takeout, we'd come to enjoy "our" own cooking so much, we decided to keep it up. Now, we only get takeout once a week, for Shabbat. Usually it's sushi, a great treat.

Obviously, Beau is the one doing the actual cooking. My disability long ago robbed me of my ability to cook. But it didn't rob me of my knowledge of cooking, and my recipe ideas. Beau is fine with doing the cooking, but he hates deciding what to make. So now I come up with ideas (which he's free to veto, of course), and then he makes them. The arrangement is working well for both of us, and it's been really quite delicious. 

It helps that, since my surgery, I'm able to eat and digest a much wider range of foods again.

In the Emergency Room, closer to death than I realized at the time

Emergency Surgery

This is very painful to talk about, but I did finally find it in me to write a post about the entire ordeal, entitled How Sexism and Anti-Semitism Almost Killed Me. So, if you want the long, brutal version of the story, you can read it here. I know a lot of people will be able to relate to parts of my experience, so I felt it was worth sharing both the details, and my reflections on the experience.

But the short version of the story is this. 

One midnight in May, I was rushed to the Emergency Room in excruciating pain. This had been one of my worst fears when Covid hit: being in the ER in the middle of the pandemic. But there was absolutely no choice. 

It turned out to be severe, acute pancreatitis, which is caused by gallstones. They kept me in the hospital for a week, on morphine and a starvation diet, before my condition was even stable enough for me to be able to withstand surgery. 

Because of Covid, I was alone in my own room, and no-one, not even Beau, could not visit me.

Were it not for the excellent care I received from my nurses and other medical staff, I think that week alone in the hospital would have been unbearably frightening. They were very kind, and they took my PTSD into account in the care they gave me. 

God bless our Canadian, socialized, health care system!

At the end of the week, they took out my gallbladder. The surgeon told me afterwards that my gallbladder was "a mess." It was actually fused to my liver! It was clear that I'd been having pancreatitis attacks for years. I'd been very sick for a very long time

She couldn't believe I'd gone on in that much pain for that long.

A day or two after my surgery, incisions still bandaged

After the surgery, I was in a lot of pain. A lot. It took a little over a month for me to be well enough to go off opioids, and a lot longer than that to fully recover. I'd say it took about six months total. 

The pain was terrible, but, you know, I'm used to pain. In a way, the hardest part of it all was being on opioids. As a child and young teen, my smother forced me to take heroin as a way to subdue and control me while she pimped me. I quit, on my own, at 17. It was not easy, not being on it, and not getting off it.

Ever since, I've been terrified of opioids. No matter how much pain I've been in, no matter how much doctors have felt I needed them, I've refused them. But the pain of pancreatitis, and the surgery to cure it, made that impossible. I've since had three women tell me that severe pancreatitis hurts more than giving birth.

So, there I was, in pain, on opioids, triggered as hell, and afraid I was going to become a drug addict. I didn't. Getting off them was not actually difficult for me. Thank God.

My first outing after surgery, just around the block. It was painful, but I felt victorious.

Once I had recovered a bit from the surgery, my health began improving dramatically. Because I no longer have a gallbladder, I will have some digestive problems for life  But, so far, these digestive problems don't hold a candle to the ones I'd been having for years before my surgery. I just feel so much better!

As part of my improved health, I started rapidly shedding pounds with no effort, and no dieting. It seems that my years of weight gain were not, as I had thought, caused by middle age, and the inactivity of disability. Instead, my weight gain had in large part been caused by illness. My body had simply not been able to digest food properly. 

From the end of May, to the end of August, I went from this...

... to this. Pretty dramatic, eh?

A recent photo of me, in a onesie, of course

Though not as quickly as at first, I find that I am still losing weight, and it is giving my self-esteem a much needed boost. I don't mean that there's anything wrong with being larger, but there is something wrong with being larger because you're sick! It wasn't natural for me. 

I feel "me shaped" again.

As my health was improving, I made a little video, ostensibly about vintage, Red Cross pins, but also in large part an homage to the Canadian health care system, my improved health, and health care workers in general. Covid has us all thinking about health care workers a lot, and my health emergency made me think about them even more. 

Bless them.

But here's the thing about my illness: But for sexism, all this suffering could have been avoided. Six years before that fateful night in the ER last May, I'd been to the ER with exactly the same symptoms. The male doctor had sent me home with Tylenol. Tylenol! Que six more years of terrible suffering.

Sexism almost killed me.

Antisemitism almost killed me too. 

You see, after my surgery, I asked all the Jewish family I'd found if they've had any gallbladder troubles. Oh yes, they said from around the world, they have gallbladder problems too. Turns out, it runs in the family! 

I'm by no means the only one in my family to have been rushed to ER with unbearable pancreatitis. I'm not the only one to have needed this emergency surgery. 

If our family hadn't been torn apart and scattered around the world - by the pogroms, by antisemitic immigration policies, by the Soviet regime, by the Holocaust - we all would have known about this family problem. How many of us would been diagnosed earlier? How much suffering would have been avoided? Would lives have been saved too?

I'm not sure if I would have come to understand the effect that antisemitism had on my health if it hadn't been for the Black Lives Matter movement, and its attention to systemic racism, including in medicine. 

It's not the same as racism, but the legacy of antisemitism carries down the generations in unexpected ways. 

This realization, that sexism and antisemitism came very close to killing me, has been sobering and difficult to process, which is why it's taken me so long to write about it all.

But the upside is huge. I'm very much enjoying my improved health. I can eat a much more varied diet again. I just feel so much better. 

And it really is nice to have a waist again.

A socially distanced, Black Lives Matter demonstration in Vancouver

Black Lives Matter

George Floyd was murdered by police two days after my surgery. I was still in severe pain, barely able to move, and barely able to think because of all the morphine. Though I usually follow the news, and have strong feelings about it, in late May, I could barely follow the plot of a CSI episode, let alone the trajectory of world events.

A yard in my neighbourhood

In other words, the trigger point of last summer's Black Lives Matter was a blur to me. I'm not sure exactly when I surfaced enough to see what was going on in the States, but, when I did, I was terribly alarmed by the response to BLM by Trump, the police, and white nationalists, as well as garden variety racists. They were reacting to BLM protests as if people fighting for racial justice were creating a war zone. In other words, their reaction was racist.

This was the first time I started hearing the terms "systemic racism" and "systemic oppression" used in common parlance. They're not terms that will leave my lexicon - ever. They really helped me get a handle on what BLM was fighting. 

In many ways, BLM is not my story to tell. But I will say this: If you're a white person who never finds yourself talking about racism with other white people, including your own children, you need to give your head a shake. If you're a white person who never calls out racism when you witness it, you really are part of the problem. If you're a white person who thinks racism is not your problem to tackle, you are the problem.

My cousins, Lazar, Ilya, and Sarah. Lazar and Ilya were murdered in the Holocaust. Sarah survived a concentration camp.


When we went into lockdown, I was working on a blog post about my family in the Holocaust. I'd done a lot of genealogical research, and I'd discovered the fates of a lot of my relatives. It was more like a book than a blog post and, as you can imagine, it was completely devastating. 

My cousin, Abram, and his wife, Dora. They were both murdered in the Holocaust.

I wanted to finish the post for Yom HaShoah (Day of the Catastrophe, ie Holocaust), on April 20th.

This meant immersing myself in hell, reading reports of Holocaust murders, the murders of my own cousins, from babies to grandmothers. It meant reading about Dachau, Stutthof, ghettos, starvation, massacres...

My cousin, Ilja, presumed murdered in the Holocaust. He looks so much like me, it takes my breath away.

My family. Massacred. I was able to find some more photos of family, and what I saw were my own eyes staring out at me from the past, begging me to save them, even though they were long dead. Since I couldn't save them, I wanted instead to carry their memories forward in my writing.

But I couldn't do it. Not now, not during a global pandemic. I was already filled with present day terrors and horrors. My heart could not carry both burdens at once. 

I wrote to the living family I'd found, and asked if they were okay with my writing about it all for another, future, less upsetting year. They were. Just as I couldn't write it, they said, they doubted if they'd be able to read it.

But I have kept doing my genealogy. This is my great uncle Chaz. Such a handsome, promising young man, very happily married, and a new father.

Note that his cause of death is pneumonia. I don't know if this was a tactic to make Influenza Pandemic death numbers look lower than they actually were.

This is the record of his death in the 1918 Influenza Epidemic. Obviously, I've been thinking a lot about him.

But then, through a DNA match, I found Allen, my maternal grandfather's nephew, and learned that my great-grandmother, Jennie, had also died in the Influenza Epidemic.

That explains a certain sorrow and inwardness I always felt in my grandfather.

But, for every sad story I discover, there are also joyful stories. My gentle, loving grandfather found love and happiness, and I can now understand and appreciate him even more. And I'm keeping in touch with his nephew. Through Allen, I am learning more, about history, about my family, and about myself.

The old woman in this photo, is the young girl on the left in the photo of my grandfather as a child.

And Allen's finding long lost gems like this one of me with his parents, whom I adored, and who adored me. If we had not found each other, Allen would never have known who the girl in this photo was, and I would never have known all that I now know about my grandfather and his family, my family.

More amazing news? I finally found Russian family! I've known forever that they must exist, but they were so hard to find. (Tip, learn enough Russian to be able to Google your family in Russian. Seems obvious, but I'm a bit slow.) Of course, in finding them, I found more horror stories. Michael and Leib, the boys in this photo ...

... were executed by Stalin on trumped up charges of treason. The truth of their story was only fully revealed after the fall of the Soviet empire. (I have at least one other, Russian cousin who was "disappeared" in the 1930s, whose story has yet to be revealed.)

But finding their story led to my finding more living family too - in Russia, and in Israel. This is my long lost, newfound cousin, Olga. We don't just look alike. We are alike. I consider her a good friend now, even though we can only communicate through Google Translate. I'm even learning a few Russian words, and a bit about the Cyrillic alphabet.

My Hebrew is improving too, as I communicate with Israeli cousins. That's so cool!

It's not just Russian family I've found. I've found two (or is it three?) more family branches in New York. I've found a Russian branch now in California. I've made contact with a branch in Argentina... It just goes on and on. It's been so cool to talk to all these newfound cousins around the world, and to help each other solve family mysteries, and fill in blanks on our family trees. 

It has, of course, also been heartbreaking at times. I've heard more Holocaust stories, displaced persons stories, refugee stories, persecution stories than you'd think any heart could bear - all in my own family. Some cousins merely hint at the stories, while some practically yell them for need of being heard. Some have never told anyone but me, and swear me to secrecy, while others have spoken and written about them publicly. All these stories feel like a heavy, but important burden. They should not be forgotten.

But the most amazing thing of all? I found my 95 year old cousin, Itzhak, a Holocaust survivor, who is alive and well in Israel! 

It feels like a tremendous miracle to me, an honour, magic.

He looks just like my grandfather and his brother, don't you think?

Itzhak saw this photo of me and my father and says I have "the family hair colour: auburn." To know that he looks at me and sees the women in our family, before the Holocaust? I have no words. It's like touching a lost world.

I'm also learning fun family trivia, like that I'm related to Mr. America 1950, all 5'6", 145 pounds of him. How cool is that? This both is and isn't a surprise.

I mean, I was only a weight lifter myself for nearly 20 years. 

After I got the flu shot.

Even completely crippled up as I am, I'm still very muscular. Using a walker for several years has especially built up my shoulders and arms. Sometimes I feel like Rosie the Riveter!

My whole family is like this. We build build muscle just thinking about heavy things. Seriously. Why shouldn't one of us have built a career around it?

I've also been learning more about my cousins who were official photographers to the families of three Czars! That's kind of a big deal. The man who took this photo was my great-grandfather's first cousin. Cool, eh?

There's also this: just a normal day for my family in the 1930s in Denver, Colorado.

Learning about my family's history has made both history and my family real, not abstract. Knowing all these little details of one family makes all the big facts of wars and diaspora human, down to earth, day-to-day. It's not just history now. It's my history, our history.

The day Beau converted, and I made it official. My hair is still wet from the mikvah.

Conversion, or, Making It Official

For Beau, converting to Judaism was a really big deal. Me, I've always been Jewish, and this was just making it official.

You see, I'm a patrilineal Jew and, traditionally, Judaism is matrilinial. So, even though my father was Jewish, and even though I've been "doing Jewish" for 25 years, technically, in the Reform tradition in Canada, I had to convert to be officially Jewish. So, when Beau decided he wanted to convert, I decided to do it with him. 

The first rabbi suggested that, since I was obviously already Jewish, I could just do something small, and symbolic to convert. But I decided to join Beau in the full conversion process:  a nine month course of intensive study, class attendance, written work, and meetings with rabbis and cantors. 

We began in September of 2019.

The course itself was very interesting, with lectures, Hebrew study, readings about Jewish history, a thorough overview of Jewish holidays, a lot about Jewish practice, a dive into Jewish theology, and more. For the most part, I'm glad I took the course, though I took issue with some of the teachings, and the weekly deadlines were hard on my body. 

We had one more class to go when Covid hit. Our very last class was my very first Zoom meeting. 

After that, we had a few more steps left. We had to write thoughtful replies to a series of difficult questions about our faith, intention, and feelings about Judaism. Then we had to have a meeting with a rabbi. Then we had to meet with the Beit Din, a group of rabbis. Then we had to do the mikvah, a kind of ritual cleansing.

All during Covid.

As you can imagine, things got in the way. Covid, for one. And then my hospital stay. And then my recovery. And coordinating online meetings. And figuring out how to do a religiously kosher, accessible mikvah during Covid.

There were more than a few delays.

But we did it! We are both officially Jewish now. For me, it was just a formality, but something I'd really wanted to do for myself, and, even more, for my family who did not survive the Holocaust. 

For Beau, it was and is huge! He's so into it, it's adorable. 

Beau likes to make the table fancy for Shabbat.

My favourite thing about it is having someone to celebrate Shabbat with each week. I've always wanted that. 

Once Covid is over, we'll be doing our best to do more within the Jewish community, including going to synagogue more. The only reason I stopped was because of my disability. I plan to get a motorized wheelchair so I can get around in large, indoor spaces without hurting myself too much, and that will help.

I do fear that ableism, including a lack of accessibility, will be an alienating problem in the Jewish community. Everywhere I've gone, this has been the case, and I don't expect the Jewish community to be any different. If it were, the one mikvah in the entire province would be accessible! But I'll try, and we'll see how it goes.

Of course, throughout this whole process, Beau and I celebrated the Jewish holidays alone, because of Covid. That was really sad.

Passover began on April 8th. We'd assumed we'd have lots of time to prepare for the seder and might even have one at someone else's home. So, one of the first things we found ourselves having to do under Covid restrictions was improvise a very pared down Passover seder. I can't say we did a great job, but it was fun.

I still hold a dream of someday creating a Passover Haggadah for child sex trafficking survivors like myself. After all, if ever there was a holiday for us, Passover is it. It's all about liberation from slavery! But I've put all "heavy" projects aside for now, to face the heavy projects of surviving Covid, Trump, climate crises, emergency surgery... and whatever else life throws our way in these incredibly trying times.

Hanukkah was pretty lonely too, but it did add some much needed light and beauty to a very dreary month.

Next year things will be different, thank G-d.

Useful Charts

While we're on the subject of the things that bring Beau joy, Beau published a book! A book! And it's already sold out! 

Beau is one of the most modest people I know. In fact, when he defended his PhD thesis, their only complaint about him was that he's too modest. I agree. But he is proud of this book. I've never seen him look so proud.

Meanwhile, his business is doing extremely well. He just passed 500,000 followers on his YouTube channel (aptly named Useful Charts). His charts are selling like hotcakes. He has employees. It's amazing.

I'm very proud of him.

His success hasn't done me any harm either. We're better off financially than we've ever been before. And he's helped me out by promoting my YouTube channel. We even did a collaboration! If you want a good sense of our relationship, watch this video. Apparently, we're cute.

Birds, Especially Crows

As anyone who knows me or reads my blog knows, I love feeding the local birds, and doing so has continued to give me comfort (and lots of laughs) as it always does.

A male and female House Finch, and a male Gold Finch in our yard. The males are in their bright, mating plumage.

In the spring, it was strange to see the males growing into their mating plumage ...

A male and female, Northern Flicker in the back alley

... and birds pairing up to bring babies into the world, as if everything was normal. Didn't they know there was a global pandemic? Didn't they know the world was ending?

A Cooper's Hawk (I think) in our back alley

But, of course, the world wasn't ending for them

Nevertheless, I was worried about the crows. With everybody staying inside, would the crows find enough to eat? So, on March 16, the day after we went into lockdown, I threw some peanuts into the backyard.

The crows showed up within seconds! I hadn't even known any were nearby. We'd kept water out for them in a particularly hot summer, several years ago. Was it possible they remembered us?

I did a bit of research to make sure I would not attract hoards, and learned that each crow family has its own territory, in which only that family is welcome. So I happily started feeding our guys at the same time each day. They caught on immediately.

At first, we put the food down far away from us in the backyard. But, over time, they grew to trust us more and more ...

... so we created a feeding platform for them on our balcony. 

They carefully pick out the things they don't like, and leave a telling mess. No peas, please!

It didn't take long for us to know which foods they love (eggs, tofu, peanuts), and which foods they hate (vegetables, peas). 

They're still unsure about Beau, sometimes coming when he's there, and sometimes waiting till it's just me. We speculate about why this is. Beau is big and I am small. Beau moves quickly and I move slowly. Beau is male and I am female. It might one of these things, or all of them, or none of them. Who knows?

But they'll let me get very close, close enough to see the darks of their eyes, and I love it.

Looking in our kitchen window, telling us they'd like a snack now.

We're now at the point where they'll peer in our kitchen window to remind us that it's time for their snack, just in case we've forgotten.

They'll also sit on the wire and peep into my study window. One is doing that right this minute, as I write about her!

Sometimes, they even play peekaboo with me!

We've learned a lot about how smart and social crows are. This past summer, one of the crows in our local family died, and they had what can only be described as a funeral. They sat in the tree with their deceased, loved one, and cawed and cawed, endlessly, for about three days. Not only that, but other crows joined them, presumably relations from their larger clan.

It was heart-breaking. The neighbours and I were extra kind to them, talking to them softly and giving them special treats.

The love eyes. They kept this up for about 45 minutes this time.

I now have no doubt that crows feel love. Over the summer, we often saw the patriarch and matriarch of our little family grooming each other, giving each other the love eyes, and even locking beaks like this. They'd go on like this for half an hour or more.

We're pretty sure they were doing this after they had mated, so it doesn't seem to be a "mere" mating ritual.

Besides, sometimes, now they give me the love eyes too! 

Anyway, in due time, they started bringing their very clumsy, silly young to the feeder too. They were two beautiful, blue eyed ...

... gummy mouthed babies, still sitting on their elbows (knees?). They were very curious about us, and would ask us to feed them. At first, the parents and older siblings of the babies kept close watch on them, letting them get quite close to us, but scolding them if they got too close. Over time, they gave the babies more and more freedom, so it was the babies deciding how close was too close.

I can't be sure, but I think it's one of those babies who has recently taken to hopping closer to me and just looking into my eyes when she's at her feeding platform. I really feel like we're friends. I don't think that's crazy.

I think there can be no greater honour than gaining the trust of a wild creature.


Now, speaking of creatures, of course we've enjoyed our cats through all of this too. We have three. 

Eighteen year old Milo is the biggest, grumpiest, loudest cat I've ever met. Milo does not like sharing, and, for years, this included sharing Beau's affections. You see, he was Beau's cat when Beau and I met nine years ago, and, as far as Milo is concerned, Beau is his human ...

... though he would deign to hold my hand from time to time. He loves holding hands.

It's only been in the last few years, as Milo mellows with age, that he's realized I'm okay too. Now, every single morning, without fail, he demands that I haul him up into the crook of my arm ...

... and give him a big snuggle before breakfast.

He's finally got it through his stubborn, little head, that two loving humans is even better than one! He still loves Beau best though.

Meanwhile, three year old Chuti's still working on fully taming Milo. It's one of her many projects. Milo's very very fond of Chuti. They make a very funny, mismatched pair, as they chase each other around the house, or just sit near to each other, resting in their companionship.

Chuti and Ketsl are litter mates, born to a rescued stray, around Valentine's Day three years ago. As kittens, they took to my walker right away and they still jump on it when they want my attention, or just want to go for a ride.

(While we're on the topics of rescues, the feral cat, rescue group, Tiny Kittens got me through the early days of quarantine. As I anxiously waited for a rescued, feral cat to give birth, I checked in on their live feed obsessively. I still check in on them fairly regularly.)

Ketsl (which means "kitten" in Yiddish) is our pretty boy. He's very handsome, and really not very bright, poor chap. He's also very timid. He's afraid of the doorbell, and sneezes, and... well, all sorts of things! Probably because of this, he likes to cuddle up in hard to find places. We often have no idea where he is, even though they're all indoor cats.

But, when he's in the mood, he's the biggest cuddle bug you ever met. He loves to toss himself over our shoulders, always our left shoulders, and snuggle in for the duration.

But his absolute favourite thing (aside from food) is to wrap his arms around my (or Beau's) forearm, and smoosh his face into my hand. I think it makes him feel safe. If I try to pull my arm away, he grabs it with both paws, and pulls me back to him. It's adorable!

Watching Beau cook

Teensy, tiny Chuti is our resident rascal. She is, by far, the tiniest, full grown cat I've ever met. She's about 5.5 pounds! She is so cute, it hurts. It's also great for me, because, even with my disability, I can pick her up without hurting myself. It's sheer coincidence that we picked the name Chuti for her, which means "teensy" in Sinhalese. We did not know she'd grow up to be so small.

Chuti is very smart, totally fearless, and curious about everything. She loves to watch humans doing things, any things. While Ketsl will run away when the doorbell rings, she'll run toward the door to see who it is. She'll even run toward someone using a power drill. As you can imagine, she gets in trouble a lot.

It's mostly for her that we built our catio and this little window box. And she's mostly the one who uses them, watching the world with endless interest.

She's also very affectionate. If you touch her, she purrs, always. She likes being near us, and loves lying on us during TV time. 

Did I mention that she's a goof?

Covid hair

Neither Beau nor I has had a haircut since March, 2021. True, during the summer's relaxed, Covid restrictions, we were allowed to do so, but it just did not seem worth the risk. 

I've had long hair, really long hair, for most of my life. My recent bob is a new thing, about which I have been quite ambivalent. So growing my hair is no biggie for me. I'm thinking of leaving it this way after Covid. It feels more me than a bob does.

But for Beau? This is a brand new thing. He has beautiful hair. I've always known that. But now he knows it too. He's becoming quite hair proud, and why not? Look how handsome he is with longer hair!

And how silly.

Meanwhile, my hair has been growing up ...

... and up ...

My cousin, Hyman

... something that very much runs in the family ...

... but I can wrestle it into some kind of submission when necessary. It's finally getting long enough that gravity helps me out with that. 

I'd gotten it into my head that my hair no longer looks good longer. I'm wondering if that was really true. I'm hoping to leave it as long as possible when Covid is over.

A socially distanced, summer, birthday party for the boys, who were turning 16 and 19

The Boys

As you know, I write and say very little about my two stepsons. Their privacy is extremely important to me. Now that they're 16 and 19, if they give me permission, I write about them occasionally, but still very little. But I do want to say that Covid has created a very difficult, and unnatural situation for all of us.

When I first met the boys, nine years ago, they lived with Beau, and stayed with their mother on most weekends. A few years later, we switched to them living with their mother half the time, and with us half the time, in a 50/50 situation. It seemed to suit them. 

I had thought they might want to settle in just one place once they were in their teens, and that did eventually happen. About a year and a half ago, they started living with their mom full time. The switch was all very amicable and relaxed.

After all, they're not far away, and they were still here a lot. They'd come for dinner at least once a week. They'd stay over at least one weekend a month. They'd drop by whenever they wanted to, which was often. They were still very much a presence in our lives, and we in theirs - and that was as it should be.

But then Covid hit. Their mother and stepfather work outside the home, as does my older stepson, who is an auto mechanic. Given that, their going back and forth between the two homes would break Covid, safety regulations. So here we are, in this extremely unnatural situation, where Beau can't even hug his own children. 

Our older boy has always wanted to be an auto mechanic, and he set himself on a path to achieving that goal in high school, getting into highly competitive program in grade 12 that qualified him to work in his field as soon as he graduated. So now he's an essential worker. He is doing very well at his job, getting raises and promotions as he goes along. We are so proud of him! But we do worry, with him out in the world nearly every day.

Meanwhile, our younger boy is still growing and maturing almost daily, and we're not with him to see that. He's very self-motivated, and has set himself computer programming goals well beyond the skills of his age group. That's keeping him busy. We're proud of him too!

But his school life and education are not at all as they should be, as they would be under normal circumstances. His teachers do their best, but a certain amount of chaos and confusion are understandable and inevitable. Everyone knows education isn't really what it should be right now. It is looking like he'll be able to graduate with his classmates though, in person, so that's really good.

It's frustrating to watch both boys emerge from their cocoons, wings unfurling - with nowhere to go! 

Beau still has constant contact with the boys, of course. They still turn to him for support, love, advice, and just comradery. We have facetime with them online. We talk on the phone. They text. But it's all very strange and sad. Even outdoor, distanced socializing is restricted right now.

We had a socially distanced birthday party for them in the summer. Now, with increased restrictions, we couldn't even do that. We missed them so much at Hanukkah.

But our situation is not unique. Families all over the world are going through exactly the same thing. We all know that, in the long run, this is the right thing to do.

One of my jewelry hauls, all good deals


We've all been advised to find hobbies to keep us sane during Covid. I already have a lot of hobbies, but some of them are pretty heavy and emotional. But not vintage and antique jewelry! I've let myself sink into this hobby with wild abandon.

What does this mean? Well, I've joined several online jewelry groups, where people post their pieces in hopes of learning more about them. I've written a two part blog post: The ABCs of Collecting Vintage and Antique Jewelry, which you can read here, and here

I've started following jewelry sellers on YouTube, mostly watching them unbag or unjar their new finds, and sharing their surprise, disappointment, elation, and bemusement as they see what they have. I made a few reaction videos to these unbaggings, because it's just fun. 

I've even made a few unbagging videos myself.

Sometimes jewelry sellers go live on YouTube, and I can chat with them and other jewelry lovers. That's some fun, light, social time that we all crave.

And I'm spending stupid amounts of time on Etsy, searching for finds and steals. Mostly, I do this at night, after my bath, as a kind of relaxing, almost meditative thing. Mostly I just look and learn. But I am buying more than usual. We're saving so much money not going out, anywhere, ever, that it's not breaking the bank at all. And the arrival of sparkly, little packages at the front door definitely cheers me up.

Probably my most amazing find was this antique, gold and diamond brooch for $5. I made a video about it, so I could share both the sparkles, and my secrets to success.

Youtube Channel

Yes, I've started my own, educational, and sparkly, YouTube channel about vintage and antique jewelry. That's been fun too, as I noodle about, trying this and that, to see how it works. Some of my videos have been viewed quite a bit, for a newbie anyway, so that's nice. 

As with my written work for Sublime Mercies, I end up digressing into other, related topics, including some heavier topics. 

When history, or disability, or anything else is relevant, I don't shy away from talking about it. 

But I always come back to beauty. 

Beauty is therapy for me. If you read my blog, beauty is probably therapy for you too. That's why I started the channel: to help us all get through these tough times.


The main thing about summer was that Covid restrictions were relaxed a little, and Beau and I were able to get out and about a bit. 

About once a week, we'd walk/wheel down ...

.. to our favourite cafe and sit outside. I'd stay in my mobility scooter, and Beau would place his chair in such a way as to make it hard for anyone to forget about social distancing. It was clear that some people were not taking Covid seriously, so we had to be pretty careful.

It was scary, but it was also so nice to see other people, and just chat in my usual, neighbourly way. 
Honestly, I felt more alive than I'd felt in a while. Remember, I was also still recovering from major, emergency surgery, so getting out again was doubly refreshing for me, though it did still hurt my internal wounds and incisions.

Of course, it was also nice to wear pretty things again, like this summer dress ...

... with these, antique, guilloche, lingerie clips as pendants ...

... or this, new to me, diamond brooch on a sundress strap (what would I do without Old Navy sundresses?) ...

.. or my new opal ring with... well, anything, really.

I got to enjoy my transforming body, and get a little bit brave about it too. This outfit, with its transparent top, is something I would not have worn before my surgery. Now, I had a waist again, so I was recalling how to style outfits for a waist. Plus, if you looked really hard, you might be able to see my surgical scars here, and I'm actually kind of proud of them. 

It was also nicer even when we were at home. We could sit outside on our balcony and just enjoy the air, the wind, our yard, the birds, and the constant company of the crows, and their summer antics. Here, one is giving the other the love eyes again.

This was a clear, sunny, summer day, or it would have been if not for the forest fire smoke.


Then west coast fires hit, and blew smoke up across the border. Our whole city was so filled with smoke, it obliterated the sun, and we were all cold - in August.

You could barely see across the street.

I wrote a blog post about the experience, so I won't go into a lot, but, my God, it felt like the apocalypse. Trump was still destroying his country and doing his best to destroy the world, police brutality against Black Americans was on full display, huge clouds of smoke were making our heads ache, there was a global pandemic...

No filter. The eary, yellow tinge to the air is from the smoke.
What next? 

If we'd only known.

Summer Ends

And so, with the smoke hiding the sun, summer was over early, or that's how it felt. We knew another wave of Covid was on its way. We knew we were going to have to go into full, self isolation again soon. 

Besides, even if the province didn't order stricter restrictions, it was getting too cold to hang out outdoors as much.

Our outfits were getting warmer ...

.. and warmer.

But there's only just so much bundling up you can do before Autumn says, "Nope, no more outdoor coffees for you." W
e could still go for walk/rolls, but those are cold too when you're on a mobility scooter and generating very little body heat. There's only just so long I can do that if I don't have a warm destination.

The sense of being cooped up was returning.

Trump and His Cronies Get Covid

Yet again, we all held our breath. What was going to happen? What would happen if he died? What would happen if he didn't die? Either way, how would his crazed followers react?

A lot of people thought, "Okay, good, now they'll finally take Covid seriously." They didn't.

I don't know if I've ever seen anything more disgusting in its selfishness than Trump whipping off his mask, gasping for breath, and then walking maskless past the secret service guards, endangering their lives.

In the weeks that followed, more and more Republicans fell ill, as did those who worked for or near them. We learned of their super-spreader events. We saw the footage. We were outraged.

But nothing really changed.

It was beyond surreal. Over and over again, I thought of past dictators and their cruel indifference to human life. The parallels were clear.

Turning 50

And I was about to turn fifty. Fifty! My God, what a victory! The average life expectancy of a sex trafficked person is seven years. So I guess I was supposed be dead by ten, or earlier. I can't know for sure, because I can't remember my infancy. But you get the idea. I was supposed to be dead long before I even reach adulthood. 

Yet, here I am, well and truly middle aged. Badly battered, but still here, and still kicking, if only metaphorically.

I wanted to celebrate this victory. But that was not possible, and I did feel pretty down about it. I told Beau that we'd have to brainstorm a way to make it special or I was going to fall into a bad funk. 

My dear, sweet husband came up with the best idea: 50 presents for 50 years! I thought he was joking, but nope. In the weeks leading up to my birthday, there was a lot of Beau sneaking packages to his office downstairs, a lot of crinkling paper, and tape sounds as he wrapped things up. He was having fun, and I was actually looking forward to my 50th.

The day arrived with much fanfare, all Beau's doing. 

Since my birthday always falls on or near (Canadian) Thanksgiving, I always have a birthday pumpkin pie, with enough whipped cream to drown each slice.

nd, oh my God, so many presents! I'll tell you now that it was the best birthday of my life.

Some gifts were just plain silly.

Some were heart-breaking, like this vintage map of Lithuania, my family's home country, during the Holocaust.

Some were a dream come true, especially this gem tester! Yes, a gem tester!!

The last present of the day? A jar of mystery jewelry! So it was like a bunch more presents.

I have the best husband ever. I feel very lucky to have him.

Trump Lost

The relief was overwhelming. It was the first time I'd felt like I could breathe in a really long time. There was finally hope. 

Sure, Trump was spreading lies that the election had been rigged, and that he had won. Whatever, blah blah blah. Who cared? The important thing was that he was out, and he couldn't do much more damage.

We didn't know what was coming.


Our very dark, very wet winters have never really bothered me before. But, as the Covid deaths increased, and we were all in full lockdown again, winter felt, and still feels, very oppressive. It's so dark! The clouds descend. The rain persists. The days got shorter and shorter. And, with Covid on the rise, there's nowhere to go. Everywhere there is danger.

On the rare days when the sun emerges, we try to get outside. We just kind of roam around the neighbourhood, trying to stick to streets and alleys with the fewest people.

We've made a few fun discoveries, like this urban chicken coop in a back alley.

But it all feels kind of aimless, futile, and scary.

Most people are being careful and social distancing. But not everyone. This is especially scary for me because, when I'm on my scooter, I can't easily or quickly distance from those who themselves are not distancing. 

On one outing, two snotty, maskless teenagers walked straight toward me as I tried to back away from them to stay safe. I got my wheels stuck and they just kept coming. Beau started yelling at them as they passed, far too close, and they said something like, "Whatever. We don't have time for this." When he pointed out that the disabled can't get out of the way quickly, one of them replied, "I don't give a fuck!"

That felt lovely. I like being smacked in the face.

I remembered that, when this is all over and I rejoin the world, ableism will be right there to beat me down all over again.

The encounter definitely made me even more nervous about going out. Mostly, I'm just at home, for weeks on end, with cabin fever.

Meanwhile, the Covid death tolls rose, and rose, and rose. I felt numb to the numbers. I think we all did. 

Americans gathered for Thanksgiving. Young people partied. And the death tolls kept rising. My disillusionment with humanity grew proportionally.

Margaret Keenan, the first person to get the vaccine

The Vaccine

I cried. And cried and cried. 

My God, we can finally see the end in sight. This really will end. Not for a while, but it will end.

Thank God.

The next part of the long wait has begun.

Please, for the love of life, don't let your guard down yet.


I have never in my life been happier to usher in a new year. I banged that pot like it was 2020 itself, and I was telling it just fuck off already!

I stood on our front porch, full of joy, and yelled, "IT'S OVER, BABY!!" 

The year was over. The vaccine was here. Trump would be out in a few weeks.

Things were good.

We were all naïve. Times were simpler back in early January, 2021.

The Attempted Coup

Then there was this.

And this.

And this.

And this.

And this.

And this. 

Yes. This.

My cousin, Itzhak, in Dachau

The very day this happened, I found the nazi document proving that my cousin, Itzhak, had been in the Dachau concentration camp. This is him, then.

The same day, I received a letter from another cousin, born in a Displaced Persons camp immediately after WWII. Both her parents were Holocaust survivors. She told me things they'd told her that she'd never told anyone else, stories so heart-breaking in their personal details, I can barely carry them in my heart.

If you don't see the connection between the attempted coup in America, and what happened during the Holocaust, you're not paying attention. The connection was literally emblazoned on the clothing of the rioters.

Sometimes even on their skin.

My heart hurts.

And I hope to God that you can see racism...

... in the dichotomy between ...

... the police and military reaction to Black Lives Matter ...

... and their reaction to the 
insurrection on Capital Hill.

In the immediate wake of what can only be described as an attack on American democracy, Trump was banned from Twitter, and that did bring brief elation.

But what next? 

Good God, what next?!


And so we all trundle forward, not knowing what to expect, not knowing whether or not it's safe to breathe.

I do have hope. Trump did still lose the election, and, with 25,000 troops in Washington, the transfer of power was not exactly peaceful, but it was free of violence. 

And the vaccine really is here. 

The days are getting longer. The snowdrops
 have made way for the crocuses in our very own backyard. And I still have my small beauties and joys to keep me sane. 

I think the worst is over.

But I can't be sure.

And that's where I leave us all: in uncertainty. Because that's where we are right now. All we can do is hold onto hope.

There is hope.