Welcome to 2021 – I think!

Like so many people, I couldn’t wait for 2020 to be finally in the rear view mirror. Like so many, I looked forward to the year 2021 with anticipation and hope.

Just 10 days in, I have to say I had not yet felt the best of vibrations. A couple of entries from my daily journal might explain….

January 4th

I bought beer today. Normally putting them away in the fridge would be a casual effort. Not today. A bottle next to the one I had in my hand exploded. With a startling loud bang, the flawed bottle neck with cap still on, as well as a large piece of glass, rocketed up and out of the box ending up on the floor below.  The shard of glass went dangerously close to my hand. It scared me and my partner who was also in the kitchen at the time. We cleaned up the mess with a lot of trepidation thinking that if there was one bottle with a flaw, what is to say there wasn’t another bad bottle in the box. It made for a tense time as we carefully picked out and wiped each bottle sticky from the shower of beer that had drenched them all. For a few minutes we wondered if we shouldn’t just throw away the whole box, beer and all, rather than take the risk that another bottle might be ready to explode.

A few days later I decided to let the beer company know about the incident. I did it under the rationale that I would be doing them a favour around the concept of helping them with “quality control”. Deep down inside, I was really hoping they might send me a coupon for a free box. I guessed that they had insurance for that kind of issue and they might want to offer me a few free bottles to allay any possible liability they might have had if I had been injured. A week later I had a nice note from a lady saying she was putting a cheque for $30 in the mail.

January 7, 2021

I received a wonderful gift over Christmas. An Atlantic treat called Ganong Chicken Bones! Anyone who has had one knows that it is hard to just suck on one of these “dark chocolate on the inside hard cinnamon candy on the outside” mouth-watering treats. Sooner or later, despite knowing the danger, you always crunch down on the candy. The gap in my mouth that had not been there just a few minutes before told me I had made a mistake. Upon closer examination, I discovered that the “not recommended” crunch had dislodged a large chunk of one of my molars. Only a few years ago I had discovered I was paying around $1200 a year for dental insurance and only using it once a year for a $250 cleaning. I had decided to cancel dental insurance and go with the pay as you go plan. Supposedly saving over $900 a year! On this fateful day, all the money I had saved (but not put away) would go into a new capped tooth. Life lesson….. Money saved by the self-insured is only good if you actually put it aside for things like “chicken bones”.

January 10th

The Town had sent out notices a few weeks ago. Overnight parking was not permitted on the square during wintertime. There was space at the back of the post office parking lot across from my condo that looked safe, so I began to park under the eves of the building in what I thought was a  convenient free space.. Coming back from a walk, I glanced over at my car which had been parked for a few days only to see the windshield smashed. On further inspection the hood and the side of the car were also dented. It was apparent that two large chunks of ice/snow had fallen from the second-floor roof of the building onto my car. Over the course of the next two weeks, I would get an estimate of the total damages. Over $9000! The insurance company was going to explore the liability of the owner of the building. Did they do enough to warn me that there might be snow/ice falling from the roof? I was told that “insurance is all about “policies and liabilities”. He hoped I understood. I did, but I was not as sure that my friends who owned the post office building or the post office itself would. The decision to use insurance companies and lawyers to decide on simple issues of kindness is a big business. I get it that sometimes people are negligent and should be held accountable. But for a great many situations, things happen, and no one is at real “fault”. Expect in the eyes of lawyers and insurance companies. I’m not sure how this will all work out in the end but it has been an eye-opener.

And so, it is, just a few short but eventful weeks into 2021, I have faced some drama and some reasons to think of insurance from all angles. From the sublime trust of the “self-insured” to the casual “why not” to the extreme of not being able to do without it for catastrophes. It would appear, that insurance has become a game of chicken. In one of my cases, of “chicken bones”! Sometimes you win. Sometimes you lose. What concerns me is that the insurance and legal industry may have created a world of protectionism against the larger wrongs – that has permeated its way all the way down to the one pertaining to a single exploding beer bottle. Could it be that, regardless of the risk, all liabilities are now all being treated the same.

All I know is that I would rather let my January experiences stop at the count of three and that 2021 get on with being the year I looked forward to again.

Will that be one marshmallow or two?

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HAPPY HOLIDAYS!

A teacher puts a marshmallow on the desk of every student in her classroom. She then tells them that she is going to leave the room for 30 minutes. She tells them that they have a choice of eating the marshmallow while she was away or waiting until she returns. She promises that every student that can wait until she gets back, will be rewarded with a second marshmallow. As you may have guessed, a number of the students ate the first marshmallow without waiting for the reward of a second. Several years later, a study of the students in the class, showed that the students who waited for the teachers return, and the second marshmallow, were the more successful in their eventual professions. The moral of the story could be – patience pays off in the long run….. But does it?

The Covid-19 pandemic is an extreme reverse twist on the marshmallow story. COVID-19 strikes most dramatically at the older and often weaker members of our population. It attacks this “classroom” of people who have statistically less time to ponder the payback of the longer term reward – the second marshmallow. Some people, especially the young, might say most of the people in this group really only have one marshmallow left – so why not eat it while they can.

This irony of the pandemic is that the young and healthy “classroom” of people in this world are also being asked to forgo their one marshmallow now in favour of getting two down the road. This should not be taken lightly. This group is often more energetic and dynamic than the elderly. They are not known for their patience. And why should they be? This group has jobs to go to, houses to buy, rent to pay, kids to put through school. This groups “classroom” is more likely to believe that there are lots of marshmallows left in their lives and that, when you run out of marshmallows, you simply go and buy another bag. How can we ask this group to be patient?

We have never thought as much about how we meet and keep friends as we have since the appearance of COVID-19. We are a couple in our seventies and as such we are among the most vulnerable sector to the deadly aspects of the disease. Like it or not, feel it or not, we are in the older “classroom”. Perhaps because we are in relatively good health (for our age), we still feel we have more marshmallows left in our future. And so it is that my partner and I wear masks and infrequently go into retail stores, restaurants, and grocery stores. When we do, we watch for signs of proper distancing and mask wearing and safe sanitizing practices.  We still believe we have enough time to wait for the second marshmallow – but do we?

Early in the pandemic, we read that dining inside is one of the more dangerous things you can do. With that as our guide, despite having friends in the industry and living above a restaurant, we chose to order take-out on all but two very special occasions. Despite all the safeguards by the shop keepers and restaurant owners, shopping and eating has us worried the whole time we are inside a public space. We worry to the extent it takes most of the pleasure out of what should otherwise be, a nice experience.

While we are cautious, we have watched many people, even those in our age group classroom, continue to go about their lives with less concern. It seems that Covid-19 is asking all of us to choose between having one marshmallow now or waiting and perhaps having two next year. The request to wait is far more cruel and demoralizing on the younger classroom and on those in our older age group classroom who may have underlying conditions.

Pre-Covid, we had friends that we caught up with for lunches or dinners, others we would see in social and arts type occasions, and still others we would join at sports venues like the golf course. Looking back pre COVID-19, we saw close friends, relatives, and a variety of people at various times and when we did, it was as easy as a phone call to arrange a get together. Now, layered on top of these social relationships comes our friends perceived adherence, or lack thereof, to COVID protocols. Because of being in the riskiest group, we feel it’s our personal responsibility to lean toward those that appear to adhere to distancing and wearing masks (the two marshmallow group). But who are we to judge? When someone bends or breaks the rules the question becomes…do we take them off your list, or do we look past their choices? After all they are nice people, and especially in our region, they are probably not taking too big of a risk. Who are we to judge them on their choice of how they decide if they want one marshmallow or two?

Keeping friends during COVID is complicated. You read about terms like your “bubble” group and your “Steady20” group. Each Covid colour phase has all kinds of terms that are ambiguous about who to be with and who to somehow exclude from our daily life. Anyone who has tried to do this has found that is just isn’t that easy.

And so it is that we look forward to a day without so many Covid-19 restrictions.

When that happens, we are going to go out and find the biggest bag of marshmallows we can buy! We are going to invite as many of you as we can (from all classrooms) over to our deck to collect that second marshmallow.

Oh, and maybe we can offer you a glass of wine to wash it down.

Happy holidays —

What’s on your bucket list?

A COVID-19 vaccine now sounds like it might be only months away. Dramatic improvements in the treatment of COVID patients has also resulted in fewer deaths. With theses two tidbits of good news, we decided almost one year after our last trip, to book our first travel plans post pandemic. Even then, the trip is still scheduled for over 10 months away in September 2021.

Like so many others, our travel plans have, for the first time in our lives, become a question of IF and not WHEN. For many of us over 70, travel is also a question of how much time we think we have left to travel? How long will we remain healthy enough to enjoy the journey(s).

One of the books on my bookshelf is called “1000 places to see before you die”(Patricia Shultz). I am grateful to look back and see that my travel life has been one of many blessings. I have had the privilege to see dozens if not hundreds of the places listed. Yet even with my many experiences there are many more oceans to cross, many more places to go, and many more cultures to see.

Still, if I could see as many as a dozen places a year, and could live and travel for another 10 years, the chances of me being able to see EVERYTHING is highly unlikely. Given the circumstances, the chances that I would even want to go to some places is highly unlikely. For some of us, the political and human rights beliefs in some countries is now a turn off and even a danger. For some of us the poverty, that we once might have been able to ignore, is no longer something we can ignore. The pain of others seems to hit us differently – more personally. For some of us the distance, or the mode of transportation, is now a barrier to mobility. Old backs do not appreciate cramped plane seats. Old bladders do not appreciate buses with no washrooms. Old joints do not appreciate springless trucks on bumpy off-road historic sites. Cruise ship tenders can pose balance problems.

I am generally speaking a very positive person. Never very good at math and even less good at looking at things in any kind of negative way, even in my sixties, I was naïve about how quickly life’s circumstances can change. I had always resisted the idea of a bucket list. I denied for the most part, that there was a possibility that I might not be able to do anything/everything I wanted. It was just a question of when I got around to it! Now, in my seventies, and under the “COVID cloud”, I am, for the first time, writing my travel bucket list. And I am surprised at how short it is!

With age (and aging bodies) plus geopolitical issues plus COVID-19, there is also a reality that, even if we had all the money it would take to see the remaining list of the world’s most wonderful places, time and circumstances may have taken its toll and some of the places may have to come off my list.

With my limitations in mind, I now find myself creating a bucket list of things to do – while I still can. The list is not as big as it once was. The list is much more prioritized toward the destinations I would like to see as soon as travel is considered prudent and safe again. To many of the people I know, trips to see family that we haven’t seen in over a year is their first order of priority. To many others, it is a trip back to their warmer southern second winter community.

We all still live with a small bit of fear that the travel postponements caused by COVID, which were once thought to last six months have now turned into a wait of more than a year. Should the second or even the third wave of COVID happen, who knows when we might travel.

And so, today, despite not knowing when we will get back to our winter home, and despite not yet knowing when we will see our kids, we booked priority number three of our bucket list. The trip is scheduled for September 2021. Like so many others, if the trip has to be delayed, we can get a future travel credit but not our money back. Looks like, as with many others, like it or not, we have become the interest free money lenders to the airlines and cruise ship companies.

Reality has set in – travel is likely to be flagged with a question mark at least for the foreseeable future. But when it happens again, the question on many of our minds is – To paraphrase a well-known credit card company

“What’s on your bucket list”?

Fences, walls, and perspectives on aging

walls and fences

There is a story that goes… On the first day of school the grade one teacher asks the class  “Everyone in the class who is an artist, raise your hand”. Every student enthusiastically raised their hand. Some raised both of their hands. A year later the grade two teacher asked the same question. “Everyone in this class who is an artist, raise your hand”. And only half the class raised their hand. In grade three, in response to the same question, fewer still raised their hands and by the time they got to the fourth grade, only a couple of kids raised their hand. In these few formative years, children were being made aware of stereotypical limitations.  “Fences” are starting to be built around them.

When circuses were popular, baby elephants used to have a similar story. At an early age, they had an ankle bracelet attached to a short strong chain linked to a stake that was pounded a foot or so into the ground. As it grew up, it never occurs to the elephant that they are strong enough to move trees over a foot in diameter let alone pull out the stake in the ground. Their life’s circumference was defined by the “fence” of that tiny chain.

As we grow, our spheres of influence are like that stake or the definition of an artist. We experience life through our families and through communities within our church, schools, and jobs. We seek out relationships based on our intelligence, athletic ability and even how attractive we feel. Each community brings with it opportunities and also the potential of new fences. Many of our early aspirations can be stymied by new rules, and the new fences we never knew existed. Many of us, as we grow up, experiment with relationships and substances and we push envelopes of behavior. We test the fences for weaknesses. We create gates that we are comfortable going through – maybe only on vacations. We watch for people who might breach our fence. The fence is no longer a fence but a wall we feel protects us. If we are lucky, the breaches turn out to be minor and our entry and exits allow us to grow and greet each new fence/wall with excitement. Depending on our perspective, the limitations can be fences that define us and make us comfortable or they can be walls, like gated communities that are supposed to protect us from others we do not know and do not trust.

There comes a point in our lives where we have children or employees, and we not only work on our own fences but also on other people’s fences. We begin to define for others what appropriate expectations they might have. We build them a fence. In some cases, we tie them to a virtual stake and create for them what amounts to a wall.

We are greatly influenced by our first decades of fence and wall building. Some of us want to repeat the fences we experienced for our families. We thought the fences were great. Some of us feel the lessons learned, the fences that had been built for us, were too small. We try our best to build larger yards for our kids. We are both the builder of new yards for ourselves but also the builder of walls. We are testing our limits while setting limits on others.

Before you know it we have lived a half a century. We are the old people our parents were, and our body’s fences, once so nice and smooth begin to look a bit rickety. Our skin, once one of our better “fences” does not fit as tightly to our arms, and chins. Our middle section develops “love handles”. Our body’s fences, like our opportunities in our business and personal lives begin to weaken. Maybe we have gone as far as we can. It is also the time when the fences we built for our children are being tested. It is a time when our bodys and our jobs seem to be going in opposite directions. So many fences in and around our yard. Suddenly our lives are surrounded by a number of walls and fences that we would once upon a time have seen as inconsequential. Now they blot the landscape and test our stamina. A hinge falls off, a picket stake gets broken and a gate needs oiling. It is harder to look forward with so many fences in the way. The fences in fact begin to look like walls. It is hard to see who the enemy is behind the walls we have developed.

About the time we reach our 65th birthday we may feel like we did when we were only six or seven. Retirement age hits us and we once again believe that we can become artists. The difference this time, is that we do not listen to those who might tell us we can’t. After all we have lived through six decades to get to the point where new fences are not in our vocabulary. At least not fences or walls being constructed by the very people we helped get ahead in the world. Oh, what a treat it is to watch grandchildren give their parents, (your children!), the gears. We are the ones who will try to expand their little fences despite what our own kids say.

A very good friend, and doctor used to bring the measuring tape out at dinner parties. He would extend it out on a table until it reached 78 inches. He then would say, this represents the average statistical age we will live. Please put your finger on your current age. It’s humbling to see how far you have to go along the tape until you reach your current age. When you are in your sixties, you can see the dramatic length of the life you have lived, but worse than that, you can see the dramatically short distance between today and the average end of life. You see the 60+ years you have lived and the 15+ inches you have to go. You think less about the fences and walls you have built and see only new walls developing in your limited future. Perhaps the ultimate wall of death showing up on the horizon. Each decade we live, generates milestones in our lives that take on a to new meaning. It seems that in the first decades we are constantly looking forward and if not defining the fences, and least testing them, we are working on expanding them. We look ahead with mostly wild-eyed enthusiasm for what will or might be.

As I enter my 75th year, life these days has become complicated. Fences are everywhere, some physical and some mental, all of them making everything we do and all celebrations in life more important and mindful. It used to be a birthday was just a number. Birthdays are no longer just numbers but milestones. Milestones that are not just a numbered birthday but the day someone died, or someone retired, or someone had a grandchild. The days become events and it is often easier to look back on then ahead. A time to reflect on the yard and the fence we have both lived in and built. Hopefully, also a time to take pride in our accomplishments.

Some of us still have a few yards we want to visit, a few walls we want to break through. Recently the Covid-19 wall is putting a crimp in our plans. COVID is not a small fence, it is a high imposing wall pressed up against our nose. It is the mask against our face. Those in the first five or six decades of their life look upon this lost year as merely a blip in their plans, those of us with statistically only 10 or 15 “ticks on our ruler” left, are experiencing anxiety that the fence is really a wall and it is being moved out beyond our ruler of time. On bad days, when we observe them carelessly breaking the rules, and jeopardizing our “ruler” of time, we might be forgiven for thinking of them as a bit thoughtless. Don’t they see they can impact us on our shorter runway?

Music is a great healer and many of us turn to music when we need some comfort. We seniors are singing that a lot more these days and with a lot more meaning. Some old songs have a lot of good messages. Recently a tune keeps popping up over and over in my head.

“Give me land lots of land under starry skies above, don’t fence me in!

ON THE ROAD AGAIN? Long range planning during COVID-19

 

On the road

A recurring discussion in our household these days is about when we think we will feel safe enough to travel again. More often than not, we vow it will only be after they announce a vaccine for COVID-19. When that seems too far off, we say it will certainly only be after there is a reasonable antidote. Even with the entire medical world working on a solution, that kind of breakthrough is unlikely to happen before 2021. Even when they announce a vaccine, the decisions around who will we be first in line to receive it will have to be discussed. Will front line workers get it first? (I hope so). Will people with pre-existing conditions get priority? (I hope so). Will people in our age group (over 65) be given priority? Will there be enough syringes and vials manufactured to avoid delays and shortages within the supply chain? There are so many factors out of our control prior to answering the question of when we will get to travel again.

With the virus showing a flattening curve in our area, and all of us wanting to get back to our business and social lives, the question of when to go out, where to go out and who to open up to first is becoming a more critical first step in the decision to open up our lives. Our hesitancy to renew our social connections has come into stark contrast to the many people, mostly younger than us, who want and need to get out again. My partner and I have been very careful. Some might say too careful. We have not been in a grocery store since early March. We call in our order and the store “picks” it for us and puts in on the curb for pick-up (Thank you Joeys independent)! Pat had her first hair appointment in five months, I am still getting home “trims”. (I pity poor Lorena when I decide I need a “real” haircut). We wear masks around our necks and put them up whenever we go inside a public building/store or when we can’t put 2 meters between ourselves and other folks. We carry sanitizer and use it often.

With all of us eager to get the economy working the question is more about when we can feel safe enough to travel from our house – let alone travel on a world scale.

We live above a restaurant and love to see things getting busy again. We are grateful that the restaurant and other businesses all around town are able to open up and begin the recovery of revenues. We know it has been a long time coming and that it will be a much slower season than anticipated. We are fearful that some will not be able to absorb the “new normal”. While we have even seen the odd hiccup when someone forgets and shakes a hand or hugs, with the exception of the facial mask issue, people seem to be trying to do the best they can in a bad situation.

My partner is an American, so we have also been watching with dismay as the virus situation unfolds in the USA. There seems to be little dispute that it has not gone well with our neighbors in the south. Going into the July 4th weekend, six US medical experts, including Dr Fauci were interviewed on a number of questions. Question one was would they dine out yet? All six of them said they would not go to a restaurant where they had to eat inside. They would dine outside provided there were physical distancing protocols in place. Questions like would you swim in a pool again were answered with “not as inside pool” but yes to outside pools where limits were placed on how many people were allowed in the pool. Interesting that even with outside pools, they would not use public change rooms. Questioned on masks, 4 of the six said yes, they wore them almost all the time especially at the office and when walking outside.

One could forgive the doctors for sounding the alarm however: the bottom line to all of the questions and all of their answers was that they believe the virus is far from over and far from being under control. The big three messages of wearing a mask, frequent washing of hands and practicing physical distancing were still high on their list of priorities.

As we cope with the virus in our own way, we know that we might be considered a bit overly cautious. Many of our associates have already begun to open their lives to a larger “bubble” of friends. We have still very much limited our interaction to a few. Our attitude toward using masks and eating out have drawn some raised eyebrows. Writing a response to the people who still invite us out has been difficult. While we want to see them, our own sense of caution compels us to say no. Recently we were emailed by friends and asked if we might join them for a coffee. My response went something like this, “Regrets – we are still being careful – maybe too careful ……Please don’t judge us too harshly and please keep us on your “dance card” for when this is over. This thing will pass, and we will come out of our shell eventually. But for now, we are trying to maintain a small bubble of less traveled people”.  We write our carefully worded “regrets” to invitations not wanting to insult our friends who want us to join them. Bless their hearts we would like nothing better.

As more and more of us learn about the major impacts of the virus, our focus on living in the moment has all but eliminated our ability to create long term plans. We are forced to choose our own path and make our own mistakes. Our future is very much dependent on the actions of each other, from our family and friends to the actions of complete strangers. We are at the mercy of far too many people who we do not know or are, for whatever reason, more willing to take a risk then we are. We recently read about a man in his early thirties who attended a COVID party on purpose to try and get infected. He believed, like all of his friends, that the virus was not a big deal. Last week, moments before he died, he said to the ICU nurse “I might have made a mistake”.

While we still try to do some long-term travel planning, our discussions take on less urgency. COVID-19 has caused us to slow our pace and to find joy in small pleasures. Not all is lost in the “yearning” to go back to what we once considered normal. We have discovered joy in both new activities and in the quietness of our lives.

We continue to hope that things go well all around the world and that a vaccine and a “cure” are only months away. Despite the worries and the setbacks and our personal hesitations, in the words of Willie Nelson, we just can’t wait to get “On the road again”.

THE DOUBLE-SIDED COIN!

 

 

B85D998E-E888-43F2-AB0D-7726F4CC3801I live in a small resort town called Saint Andrews-By-the-Sea.

The towns permanent population is around 1800 people. Water street is the focal point of the town with shops and restaurants lining both sides. We have a name brand grocery store at one end and a pretty impressive liquor store at the other end. Saint Andrews By-The-Sea has one bank, one pharmacy, one hardware and one post-office all residing on the same corner of Water and King streets. It is a town where everyone knows your name and where the shop and restaurant owners are all known to each other.

As with a lot of small towns, there are those who complain about the amount of selection or freshness or price at the grocery or pharmacy. There are those that bank out of town to try and keep a degree of security or independence. In the good years, towns like St Stephen and cities like Saint John and Fredericton were the go to places for many of us when we needed something special or perhaps just a day trip.

And then COVID-19 struck!

Suddenly the grocery, and the pharmacy and the hardware stores became fundamentally important regardless of their prices and selection deficiencies. Resisting any urge to gloat, the local businesses actually stepped up their game by not only ensuring their stores were as sanitized and as safe as possible, but in addition, they provided a phone number and an email for digital service. Their staff picked the orders and the Kiwanis organized a brigade of volunteers to deliver products for free. Restaurants that had been forced to shut down also responded by offering take-out meals and free delivery. In short, the local retail community stepped up not just for self-preservation, but in a genuine way to serve the local community.

In a difficult situation, the town came together. Our local business community became the cornerstone for our safe recovery and to a great extent, the historical commentary about our businesses only being interested in the summer tourists was replaced with a new respect for local services.

Like so many other resort towns, Saint Andrews-By-The-Sea almost doubles in size when the out of town “summer” residents return for their 3-4 months holiday from June through September.

And for the six months between May and October, thousands of tourists flood our sidewalks. Some come for day trips and others for longer stays in everything from the famous high end Algonquin resort, to cozy Inns, motels and most recently home based Airbnb’s. During these “summer” months, the post office we normally park in front of when we pick up our mail, has tourist cars along the street so you might have to walk a hundred yards. The bank we normally walk into and up to an ATM or teller without a line, now requires a plan and sometimes even an appointment. The pharmacists who normally talks to us when filling our prescription is so inundated by tourists you are lucky to get your prescription the same day let alone talk to them about their family. The restaurant you like to go to now requires reservations days ahead.

For a town our size, there is so much to do. A world class botanical garden and amphitheatre, an aquarium, and unique island only accessible when the tide is out, compliment the many nature and whale watching excursion companies. We have a unique ocean side golf course. And then of course there is the vibrant arts community. It’s is all topped off by over 20 eating establishments from seafood takeout to outstanding restaurants hosted by world class chefs.

As the first Canadian Franchisee of Discovery Map International, I have been a part of this tourism scene up close for almost 20 years. In general, during a typical tourism year, it is my observation that, not much changes:

  1. Almost 50% of the people visiting our town are from our own province.
  2. People from Ontario tend to travel in July.
  3. People from Quebec tend to travel in August.
  4. Retired people like the shoulder seasons, especially September when they can meander without worrying about reservations (and kids).
  5. Americans tend not to travel in a presidential election year and even when they do, most come from within a 15-hour drive of our town.
  6. Cruise ship passengers and RV/campers spend more than they are given credit for by the general public
  7. Given a choice, people will pre-book accommodations on-line but love a paper map or brochure or a local recommendation once they arrive in town.

And then COVID-19 struck.

The pandemic, for many businesses, became a wake-up call. With travel restrictions in place for much of 2020, the best chance for local business success is for them to pay much closer attention to how much local people, and the 50% or more of local traffic, provide a base for their sustainable year over year success. People from our province and perhaps from our Maritime region are not only our best hope for this summer, but for the future. People beyond our region are truly the opportunity to make terrific friends and profits, but they have not been, nor are likely to be, the basis for long term success.

In a year where local knowledge and local businesses matter, it will be the businesses that have invested local and stayed current that will get our support. It will be the tried and true businesses that have been the reason people return year over year as well as the new businesses that have brought new energy.

In a year when local people have seen the value of having local products and services, it will be incumbent on them to remember how important these local businesses are to the community. Perhaps paying 10 cents more for a tube of toothpaste or buying local potatoes and apples rather than exotic fruits and vegetables is worth supporting them on occasion. If we embrace them with our pocketbooks a little more often, they might still be here when the next disaster strikes. As human nature has also shown us, a few people will soon forget the local businesses and begin drift to shopping out of town again. They do so at their own risk. It is a dance between being self-serving and being a smart business/consumer.

Only time will tell how it will turn out, but my bet is that both the businesses and the residents of beautiful Saint Andrews By-The-Sea are up for the challenge.

For sure, we are all in this together. Everyone knows that every coin has two sides!

MASKS – A reflection on respect and caring!

mask picture

 

A man walks into a bank wearing a mask and gloves…

Once this would have been the introduction to a story about a bank robbery. Now it is simply the new normal for those who enter public buildings. …. Or at least it should be.

When you fight an invisible disease like the coronavirus, we are all in it together. We are, after all, only as healthy as our weakest link.

A woman wears a Niqab in a government services office in Quebec…Until recently, this would have been considered a display of her religious belief; and illegal.Now it seems that she may have, however accidentally, been ahead of her time.  She is only protecting the people she meets, not herself. In today’s world, she might even be thanked for protecting her fellow employees from contracting COVID-19 – at least from her.

The government of Canada now recommends that all of us wear face masks when in places where social distancing is not possible. Polls show that while 80% of the population agree with the use of masks, only 30% of these same people will actually wear them.

My partner and I are big believers in wearing masks, especially in enclosed public spaces. When we go out for a walk and people see us with our masks around our neck ready to pull up on our faces when unavoidable close contact occurs. We often get strange looks. Looks that we read as “like really, you think you need to wear a mask here”? They seem to forget, or do not know, that wearing a mask, other than an N95 grade mask, only protects them from us and not us from them.

Covid-19 can be largely asymptomatic, yet very contagious. I think “Bending” the rules of social distancing and public gatherings, especially without masks, opens the window to incubation and the spread of this deadly virus. Don’t you?

I get that we all want to get out and about, and back to “normal”. We also know that it will never be the same. It will be a “new” normal”.

When we eventually open up, everyone that wants to leave home, be it simply for groceries down the street, or for the more adventurous seeking domestic and foreign travel adventures, the “new” normal will be that you WILL be asked to wear masks, ….

So far, the people wearing masks are primarily from the “people serving you” side. People on the other side of the desk serving food, serving passengers, or just greeting travelers will most certainly be wearing masks. They are the frontline workers and they do not know you or where you have been or how old you are or if you wash your hands. To them every one of us is a walking virus carrier. Wouldn’t it be respectful to also wear a mask to protect them? Not so very long ago, you would have been welcomed with a smile, a handshake and even a hug. Now the new “norm” will be temperature checks, Plexiglas partitions, copious bottles of tissues and hand sanitizers.

As travelers in the “new normal” we are now required to wear masks on planes, trains, and most public transport. Cruise ship passengers will probably see some of the most stringent rule changes with respect to masks. Things are about to change. If you are boarding a 400-passenger jet, passengers required to use social distancing will create a line approximately one kilometre long prior to entry. While some airlines in the states still hesitate to request that passengers keep their masks on during the flight, I think they deserve protection from me, and hopefully a lot of them will feel the same toward me. Just as the terrorism rules were at first challenged, it is now a given, that rules in place to protect the greater good can override the rights of an individual. I agree that the mutual rights of a community to health and safety override my individual rights.   Don’t you?

At the liquor store the other day, I was required to answer some questions on my health and my travel habits. The nice young man who asked me the questions was not wearing a mask. And while I, who has been wearing a mask and observing distancing protocols, had to prove I was” customer worthy”, the man who was coming in contact with several customers an hour while not wearing a mask was not protecting me. Should not I have deserved the same respect from him? At the same store on that day, an older man was at the cash register wearing his mask. A woman standing the proper 6 feet back was not wearing a mask. I was behind her and the recommended 6 feet back and wearing my mask. She was probably the person least likely at risk, and yet, apparently, she did not feel a need to wear a mask. I wondered if she would have felt differently if she pictured the man in front of her or the man behind her as her dad or granddad? Would she wear a mask if she thought she might infect a relative?  Would it be asking too much to have her carry a mask in her handbag that she could use, if only for times like this? My thoughts are that both the guard at the door and the customer should have been wearing masks. Wouldn’t that make sense?

At the post office the other day a customer who was wearing a mask said something I thought was quite funny to the postmistress. From behind my mask when I got to the counter, I commented to her that she must be losing out on normal customer interactions because she could not tell if her customer was smiling. She said “I can see their smiles. You can see it in their eyes”. I realized then and there that the new normal for seeing people will be through the expression in their eyes. It could be a whole new fashion industry around eye make-up and glasses.

Regardless of where the virus hits us, the eventual real change will be that more of us will carry, and frequently wear, masks. It will not just be the server in the restaurant protecting you, it will be you protecting them. It will not just be the person greeting you on your travel destination protecting you, it will be you protecting them.

Because of that, the making and selling of fashion statement masks is going to be big business. Masks are the next wave in fashion accessories. No longer will it be a great tie or a beautiful bandanna that catches our attention. It will be the mask with a flag or a pet or a pretty design. Every store, from the big box mall store to the corner grocery store will be carrying an array of masks. There will be masks with outrageous designs that offer fashion but not protection. There will be masks with outrageous boasts about their effectiveness, that might only appeal to nerds. There will be throwaway one-use masks for when you have forgotten yours at home.

My intention with this blog is to say I care. I care about you enough to wear my mask when social distancing isn’t possible. If you don’t wear a mask in tight spaces, you could put me at a risk. It’s a risk I am not always happy to accept.  Would you be?

When a vaccine is finally available, and we can consider this phase of the pandemic mostly over, will we all be able to say we did our share to protect, not only ourselves, but also our relatives and our neighbors and to some extent our country? Did we do anyone harm by being the weak link? I am trying my best to be able to say, I did my part. Are you?

 

 

 

VIRTUAL TRAVEL – DOESN’T DO IT FOR ME!

 

Australia 2

 

Growing up in a middle-class world, I didn’t get to travel much.

Early in life, vacations were closer to what they now call “stay vacations”. Trips pretty close to home and by car. Don’t get me wrong. I had some wonderful vacations. We went camping and to cabins on a lake and even to our relatives who lived in the “Boston States”. They were some of the best times. Everything was done seemingly in the moment and in relatively safe environments.

When I got into the business world, vacations began to take me a little further afield. They were often by airplane and to places in the Caribbean and Mexico. These were still vacationing with friends and family and still very much in areas chosen for their relative safety.

It wasn’t until more recently, closer to retirement, at a time largely without kids, that we began to search out more exotic destinations. Destinations often seen on “bucket” lists. Places that we had read about but always wondered if we would ever get to see them. Worldwide travel became a reality. Major trips happened more frequently.

These major trips always had three elements.

The first element of our trips was the research and planning that took place before we took off. We looked at options and debated where we would stay and what tours we would make. The file on what we were about to do grew with each new discovery. The file grew from conversations we had with friends who had been there before us. The file expanded first upward as we looked at all of the options, and then downward as we looked at our limitations on time, energy and of course budget. This  element of our vacations took weeks of planning before we ever got off the ground. What fun!

The second element of any trip was the actual trip itself. Finally, we were off to the airport and then on a plane (or two or three depending on the destination). More recently, the trip also included a cruise ship. Land transportation at the destination was often taxis or minivans or even large buses. As much as we had planned everything, the actual experience inevitably included surprise or two. The chance meeting with a local or another couple that clicked. A view from a café overlooking the ocean or a vineyard. The sounds and smells that told us we were in a different world. The airport congestion and the expensive cab rides. The trip went mostly as planned but often the highlight turned out to be about the unplanned. And before we knew it, in the span of a week or two, the trip was over.

Perhaps our favorite part of our vacations was after we got home. When we relived the experiences all over again. One by one, the conversations we had turned out to be about the people we met, the special café we ate at, the special smells and sounds that, only by being there, could someone understand our feelings. I can’t overstate the pleasure we got from recalling the trip. The budget overruns incurred on the trips were worth every penny. 

In today’s new “COVID-19“world, especially over the next 12-18 months, travel is going to be difficult. Already we are seeing a plethora of “virtual tours” that promise to take us to wonderful places. The narrators and photographers will no doubt be outstanding. The tours will be first class accounts of the destinations. Virtual tours will be the only way to go for a while and the makers of these events will do their very best to take us away from our in place world, even if only by digital media. But there will never be an unplanned event.

Virtual tours will not give us the pleasure of doing our own research. It won’t let us participate in the setting of expectations and looking at, and eliminating, options. The accommodation choices and the tour options will no longer be a part of “our” trip.

Maybe I can live with that.

The virtual tour will no doubt be far more extensive than my budget might have allowed. As good as the virtual tour can be, the smells that make up so much of a foreign experience will not come through on the screen. The intimate buzz over a drink with the one you love at a table in a restaurant, you just happened to stop at, cannot be duplicated on the screen. The chance meeting of a local who decided to help you, or from that brief encounter with another couple that became a life-long acquaintance who you still communicate by email, will not be duplicated. The intimate often wonderful surprises cannot be duplicated on the virtual screen.

And maybe I can even live with that.

The part that can’t be created, is when you look back and share the good the bad and even sometime the ugly of a trip taken. The times when you see something that triggers a reminder of your trip. The part where you say remember….

I fear that regardless of the quality, regardless of the intentions, virtual tours will last only as long as they are on the screen. Because we are not there in person, I suspect we will all be a little less aware of our cultural and physical differences.  Differences that both define us, and at the same time bring us together.

For that reason, as soon as travel is again permitted, I am going to jump on a plane or a train or a cruise ship and continue, for as long as my health permits, my life of travel …

To me travel is a more than the trip. It is the planning, experience and memories. For that reason virtual tours can only be a stopgap.

Stay safe and in place for now.

And then join me as we  go out again and explore the world!

 

MY SEVEN CURRENCIES IN THE TIME OF COVID-19

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Several years ago, I began writing about my belief that life has seven currencies only one of which is money. If you are interested, you can see that blog by following the following link.

https://vaughnmcintyre.wordpress.com/2010/07/11/lifes-7-currencies/

When something as dramatic as the Covid-19 pandemic strikes, my belief in my seven currencies is being tested bigtime!

As I sit at my desk, under 14-day self- isolation, it seemed like the appropriate time to evaluate my beliefs. For the record, my seven currencies are Health, Family, Community, Sexuality, Spirituality, Money and Time.

HEALTH – Wow, perhaps now more than ever, the idea that health is our most important asset rings true for all of us. We worry about this new, unseen disease sneaking up on us and changing our lives. There is, as of today, no vaccine. No magic “cure” if we get sick. It attacks those of us with underlying health conditions. Like we didn’t have enough to contend with already, it is the bully preying on our vulnerabilities. Despite eating well and exercising, and regardless of how much money we have, COVID-19 is lurking around every corner. We are all doing extraordinary things in the name of protecting our health and the health of the people we love. Health is our most important asset. Now more than ever I believe my health is the foundation of my portfolio.

FAMILY – If you are lucky enough to have family, now is the time to hold them close to our heart. Now is the time to communicate with them. Now is the time to protect them by keeping them away for crowds. If they are elderly, and not currently at home, it may even be time to stay away from them. The disease is not an airborne disease. It spreads via contact. We can be forgiven for doing our best to make sure the people we love, are not harmed by anything we might do to expose them to danger. Covid-19 is accentuating my love of Family and deserves, now more than ever, to be the second most important element in my portfolio.

COMMUNITY – To many of us, our community is our “family”. It could be our work community, our leisure/cultural community, our “Snowbird” community, or perhaps, our geographical community. The current state of the disease is that it is disrupting every one of from gathering in these communities. On March 18th it was announced that over 850 million students are no longer able to go to school. The learning and social community of our children is taking a particularly major hit. Covid-19 is shrinking the number of people you physically interact with. It is expanding the virtual community presented to you via major news network and Internet Social Media. Due to the intense amount of information from the media sources, some of us are even backing off from reading too much about the disease. It’s overwhelming our ability to cope. Our community is changing and it’s less personal and its filled with strangers now trying to help. Unfortunately it is also beginning to attract the despicable underbelly of con artists who see this as an opportunity to create scams that speak to our vulnerabilities. We can be forgiven for screaming at the top of our lungs, “I want my old community back”! During Covid-19 our physical communities are diminishing (but not forgotten). COVID-19 might forever teach me how important these communities were to me.

SEXUALITY – Covid-19 seems to have no sexual bias. Early statistical data is hinting that the death rate is a little higher in men, but it is too early to draw the conclusion that it feeds on a specific gender, or on anyone with a particular sexual orientation. Again, from what we can tell, younger people seem to be less impacted than people over 65 years of age. It seems safe to say that COVID-19 is an “equal opportunity” disease. I am hopeful that over time we may come to understand that the pandemic might have spawned an even greater awareness in sexual equality. Our doctors, nurses, and emergency care personnel on the front lines will be working as equals, regardless of their sexual orientation or nationality, to comfort us and finding ways to control the infection. Perhaps it will teach us lessons going forward. Lessons of equality we may have only spoken of because it is was politically correct. Perhaps our need to work together, and trust each other, will have been the vehicle for finally implementing true equality. I see my sexual portfolio as stronger for all of this.

SPIRITUALITY – Now more than ever, people are looking for guidance on what to do and what to believe. Those with faith in something larger than themselves, may have an advantage over fear. With houses of worship closing, their comfort will have to come from prayer, not place. As people close to us are afflicted and perhaps even die, our beliefs will be tested. Often, dramatic events come with dramatic stories of seemingly miraculous endings. Regardless of our beliefs, we are probably all looking for miracles. Covid-19 is testing our spiritual currency every day.

MONEY – It wasn’t more than a month ago that many of the worlds richer people were touting a wonderful market and marveling at the size of their portfolios. Suddenly, with the most severe downturns in markets ever recorded (sorry if that statement sounded like President Trump), portfolios have been decimated.  All our gains have been wiped out. All our hopes for life plans that would have been enhanced by money, for the moment, taken away. And while we lament the losses, wefor the most part, would still trade the safety of our health and the health of our family and community over the return to monetary riches. The people who fought in wars know this. The people who live in poverty know this. Not with standing certain individuals’ personal experiences, the generations born after 1945, unless they have been in the military, have never seen dramatic physical adversity. Our lives have been filled with increasing wealth over our parents. With Covid-19 we are just now, beginning to understand that there is something beyond money that makes everything worthwhile. The financial volatility created by this virus will help us all understand that money is not our most important asset.

TIME – And finally we come to the currency of time. How much time do we have on this earth? Time is the one currency you cannot count or control. Life is a deck of cards. You can be dealt a full house one day and the Joker of death the next. Some people with major diseases might get a better glimpse of their time on earth, but no one knows for sure when we will draw our last card. Covid-19 brings this reality to centre stage. If we were to be struck with this disease and die, what does it matter what size our portfolio? The question will be – what have we said and done with our family and community, to leave a positive legacy? If we have a spiritual belief, what have we done to enhance our probability of achieving the appropriate ending?

In this time of confusion and uncertainty, which of our seven life currencies are we prioritizing?

Is it about protecting yourself from getting sick?

Is it about love of Family?

Is it respect for your community?

Are you respectful of everyone regardless of their sex and sexual orientation?

Do you have a belief in someone/something greater than yourself?

And finally — If this virus chooses you as a “victim” of death, will you take the time to count your money instead of your blessings?

I believe that life has seven currencies in my portfolio of life.

Do you believe in currencies beyond money?

What are they?

Are they all topped up to your satisfaction or should you take the time during your 14-day self-isolation to do a bit of re-balancing?

THE RISK AND REWARD OF TRAVEL

travel blog Feb 2020

 

After all the careful planning. After all the work it took to make sure you had a dog sitter and all the flights and hotels booked. You leave on the vacation of a lifetime and “BAM” at the worst possible time an illness strikes. Thankfully more often than not, it is a one- or two-day inconvenience probably brought on by the stress of getting ready or it is the long flight sitting next to the guy beside you who shouldn’t have been flying with the terrible cold. Recently quarantined vessels and cancelled flights to and from China have brought the specter of more serious travel outbreaks into focus. Short of not travelling what should someone do to protect themselves prior to travelling?

It starts with some basics that I recommend you consider.

 

  • NEVER travel without travel insurance. In the event of an emergency your first choice is almost always to get home and into your own familiar care giving situation. Regardless of the country you are travelling to, the more serious the nature of your situation, the more you will want to come home for treatment.
  • Regardless of how healthy you are, or have been all your life, ALWAYS be up to date with the flu shot, shingles shot and hepatitis B shots.
  • If you are travelling to 3rd world countries or more exotic destinations, consult your travel guide/physician about the advisability or requirement for shots like Yellow fever and prescriptions for Malaria pills.
  • Take all your current medication in carry on bags (never checked) and take approximately twice as much as the length of your trip. Delays to coming home do happen.
  • Take a basic travel/first aid kit and stock it with the following items;
    1. Pain killers such as Aspirin/Ibuprofen/Tylenol
    2. Thermometer
    3. Small supply of assorted Band aids
    4. Cough drops and chest rub
    5. Eye drops for Allergy and dry eyes
    6. Face mask (mostly to protect others from you)
    7. Hand sanitizer
    8. Scissors/tweezers
    9. Vitamins
    10. Suntan lotion
    11. Small tube of glue
    12. Small roll of tape

 

  • When you travel, try and get adequate sleep.
  • Wash your hands frequently and/or use plenty of hand sanitizer especially after using handrails.
  • Try to be smart about eating especially from street vendors. A good rule of thumb when buying things from a local market is to buy only things that are peeled before they can be consumed.

 

I love to travel and suspect regardless of the dangers I will continue to travel. The pleasure of meeting new people and seeing new cultures are worth the risk. Having said that, I am all about listening to and obeying common sense travel advisories that suggest avoiding dangerous areas.

 

Like a good boy scout I suggest one should “always be prepared”.

 

Bon Voyage