Pandemic Daze: A World Without Crowds

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AP Photo credit John Locher

If you had told me earlier this year that cities across the world would look like this, I would have said it couldn’t be possible. Nothing could bring down the inexorable momentum of population growth, a growing economy thirsty for consumers to buy, buy buy and a rapidly urbanized landscape with all of its concommitant issues like traffic congestion, economic hardship for growing numbers of vulnerable people, climate change and so on and so on.

Many of us are extraordinarily lucky to live in countries with healthy economies, working democracies, access to healthcare and social safety nets. But here we are. In a matter of weeks the entire global economy has been brought to its knees, and the economic and social systems we  built to support this wonderful world we have created, have all but collapsed. Inequality, dying democracies, dying social and environmental systems, climate refugees, and piles of garbage we don’t know what to do with. The pandemic has shown us many things but one of them is how fragile this world we built is.

I don’t think it’s ever been more evident how interwoven and interdependent our environment, social and economic systems are. The failure of one signals the failure of the other. The current crisis has revealed deep schisms, that we likely already knew were there but chose to ignore or don’t really know what to about.

How do we put Humpty Dumpty back together again? On a hopeful level I don’t think there has ever been a greater demonstration that the exploitation of wildlife, that incursions and destruction of habitat, that trophy hunting, Chinese traditional medicine with its extensive and unproven use of wildlife for so called medicinal purposes, that wet markets, that all of these combined together are destructive not only to the species that are exploited but for our planet as an ecosystem that includes humans. We are all vulnerable. By connecting the dots we can start telling a different story, and by telling a different story we can collectively create pathways to a better future for all. Part of that story is bridging the economic divide that drives behaviour and part of it is education. Alot of it is political will.

In Canada we know that seniors have been left to languish in private care homes owned in many cases by foreign corporations that have been grossly underserved, leaving many left to die difficult and lonely deaths. This is an opportunity to do something different. Let’s do this differently.

The residents of the homeless tent city in the downtown Eastside have been found temporary homes. Why can’t we find permanent homes for vulnerable people? Why does it take a pandemic?

The money flowing from our federal government coffers shows me one thing. That a guaranteed income for economically disadvantaged people is possible. Let’s keep making that possible.

On a micro level I see how we are digging in to the things that matter most. None of them are involve running to the mall to buy more clothes or stuff but instead staying close to home, embracing really simple things like hanging out together, baking bread (if you can get your hands on yeast), discovering birds, hoping to god that nobody that we know will get COVID19, phoning people to make sure they’re not lonely, and being kind.

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Crispy Tofu with Peanut Sauce

My sister introduced me to this and now I can’t stop making it. You can find this and some other fantastic recipes on her website here. For anyone who ever wondered how to make crispy tofu, put the oil away. This is easy, fast and super delicious.  I’m what my brother calls a ‘radical’ cook, a nice way of saying I can’t follow recipes. For this recipe I used tablespoons instead of teaspoons for the marinade.

Happy Eating!

Ingredients

Tofu

  • 14 oz extra firm tofu (preferably organic, non-GMO)
  • 1 tbsp Bragg’s
  • 1 tsp chili garlic sauce
  • 1 tsp toasted sesame oil
  • 1 tsp maple syrup
  • cornstarch

Peanut Sauce

  • 2 ½ tbsp creamy peanut butter (or other nut or seed butter)
  • 1 tsp Bragg’s
  • 1 tbsp chili garlic sauce
  • 1 tbsp lime juice
  • 1 tsp maple syrup
  • 2 tsp sesame oil

Directions

  1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees F (204 C) and line a baking sheet with parchment paper.
    Start pressing tofu using a tofu press, or wrap in clean, absorbent towel and set something heavy — like a cast iron skillet or books — on top to press out the moisture. Press for about 15-20 minutes.
  2. In the meantime, prepare peanut sauce by combining peanut butter, Bragg’s, chili garlic sauce, lime juice, maple syrup, and sesame oil in a small mixing bowl and whisking thoroughly to combine. Set aside.
  3. Cut pressed tofu into 3/4-inch cubes and add to a large plate. Top with Bragg’s, chili garlic sauce, sesame oil, and maple syrup. Gently toss to combine using hands or a spoon. Let marinate 2-3 minutes, stirring/tossing occasionally.
  4. Use a slotted spoon or your hands to transfer tofu to a paper bag. Add cornstarch 1 tbsp at a time and toss to coat. Continue adding more cornstarch and tossing until tofu is coated in a gummy, white layer.
  5. Transfer tofu to the prepared baking sheet and bake for about 20-25 minutes, flipping at the 18-minute mark to encourage even baking. It should be firm to the touch, firm on the edges, and slightly browned on the exterior once removed from the oven. Bake slightly longer if needed.
  6. Heat a large metal or cast iron skillet (12 inch) over medium heat. Once hot, add tofu and the peanut sauce. Toss to coat. Stirring frequently, sauté the tofu for about 2 minutes, or until the tofu is hot and well coated with peanut sauce.

 

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Poem of the Week: True Enough, by Jim Moore via Poetry Mistress Alison McGhee

True Enough, by Jim Moore

I have forgotten many things.
But I do remember
the bank of clover along the freeway
we were passing thirty years ago
when someone I loved made clear to me
it was over.

 

For more information about poet Jim Moore, please check out his website.

Thanks as always to Alison for sharing these beautiful poems. Visit Alison here.

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Pandemic Daze

I often find myself dreaming of pre-pandemic days, that three weeks in, already feel so far away. Maybe a part of me knows that nothing will go back to normal. There will be a new normal that we will all quickly adapt to.

I already know so well how to walk amongst others outside- giving way on narrow forest paths so we can maintain the 2 metres of separation. I know to cover my mouth if a jogger passes by too quickly, to not take the elevator, to wash my hands over and over and over again until they’re almost raw.

Photography – Dave Vanderkop

Like Ebenezer Scrooge I take a deep account of the virus that inhabits our invisible world.

This is how I know things have changed.

Every evening at 7:00 o’clock when my neighhourhood erupts into applause, and somewhere I hear drums and a distant saxophone, someone else is beating on a cake pan (maybe Nancy on the 4th floor), and occasionally the boats out front sound their horns in honour of the frontline workers who risk themselves and their families hour after hour, day after day, to help others.

It’s the vulnerability of the new world that strikes me as well. The small businesses collapsing after only weeks of economic shutdown, entire lives, savings and dreams lost. They scramble to offer goods and services in a way that assures the public they are implementing the strictest of social distancing measures and still they struggle. Everyone wants to stay home.

And then there is the gentleman we passed the other day coming out of his beautiful home, an Audi and a Mercedes parked out front. He was clutching his dog as he opened his door and we said hello.

“How are you?” I said too late to notice that he wasn’t fine and he answered, please don’t ask and off he went into the early evening clutching his small dog.

I think about the days just before the pandemic shut down the world and the global economy.

In January we sang together over a thousand strong at an old theater in Vancouver with Choir Choir Choir. The theme was the sound of the eighties, our song was “Don’t Stop Believin'” by Journey. Our voices were raw at the end of the night but the feeling of community of coming together in song was powerful. When Choir Choir Choir invited their fans to join in a socially distanced sing along, I grabbed my computer and sang alone, together with many thousands from around the world, my voice ringing out loud and hollow inside my home.

I met a colleague at his office just over a month ago, he shook my hand and gave me a hug. “Did you read the news?” he said wide-eyed. “Yes,” I said. “Scary.”

“I won’t be going to China soon.” he answered.

And then we went to a small meeting room and chatted about the project we were working on together. And I think about how foreign that feels now even though it happened just over a month ago.

I remember walking with my sister. I wanted to show her Reub’s swimming hole, the path we walked together with him for years. I knew her new toddler dog Houston would appreciate this walk. So we met, hugged and walked together down the winding forest path, to the quick running river where Reub used to swim.

We hugged afterwards and she thanked me for showing her this great new place. We promised to see each other again soon. We had a date to go to the theatre and dinner at a great Lebanese restaurant.

I remember talking to Dave about doing a trip in the fall to celebrate my birthday. Cuba? I had gotten dancing lessons for Christmas. Now we’re hopefully thinking to go to Ontario to see family again but we won’t hold our breath. Who knows where the world will be in October. It’s a landmark birthday and you have to live every moment as best as you can as the years behind me are greater than the ones in front.

I went “pandemic shopping” just before everything was locked down. I came home with two large bottles of wine, a jug of vodka and French cheeses. “This” I announced to Dave, “Is my pandemic shop.” We both laughed.

I think about the last time we ate dinner with friends, how we talked about how some of their friends were too nervous to meet this way. We laughed and said it can’t be that bad.

But with the dawning realization of people dying, and others risking their lives for those who were sick, and with my own yearly battle to have my lungs survive the annual flu, we have double downed on our own responsibility to ourselves and others.

Now like millions around the world we are practicing social distancing. Dave, the exemplary caretaker in the best of times, has gone into overdrive. I am watched and spritzed with disinfectant regularly . We gather close as a family in the simple rituals of living well together but with a heightened sense of the dangers of the invisible world.

I often think about my 93 year old friend Inge who has been socially distancing from the get go. At 93 she told me over the phone, I’m at the higher risk end of you know what…

Photograph by Dan Toelgoet

But she has quickly put a plan in place to manage her loneliness in these loneliest of times. “I found my phone book and I’ve started phoning every single person in the book. I just spoke with friends I haven’t spoken with in YEARS and they were delighted to hear from me.”

Last when I called she couldn’t chat. She was hosting a socially distanced picnic in her backyard with an old friend and would have to call back. Did I mind? I smiled. Here’s a woman who has lived through the holocaust, lost her parents, was orphaned at a young age and with grace and dignity is now living through the latest in the strangest of times, a global pandemic.

When I think about the wet markets and the distress of those animals gathered in small cages, one on top of the other waiting for an ugly death, having lived unnatural lives, stolen from the wild or raised on farms, when I think about our rapidly heating world, the plastic filling our oceans and the devastation of a mass extinction that will tip the ecological balance of the world that will certainly up-end the global economy, and all of us who are a part of the social systems that sustain it, when I think about all of what we have gotten ourselves into, I can’t help but think that the natural world is sending us a big reminder, a gigantic fuck you, that the eco-systems of the world will prevail and adapt one way or the other. It is more than just the vanishing wildlife and eco-systems that will suffer. The final cost will be one that we human beings will have to bear and it will be the most vulnerable of our species that will bear it.

As I despaired to a friend who works on elephant issues with me he ended the call with something that I’m choosing to continue to think about…there’s opportunity in everything, he said. I’m going to hitch my North Star to that thought. There’s opportunity in everything.

Stay safe.

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Poem of the Week: Sorrow Is Not My Name, by Ross Gay delivered via Poetry Mistress Alison McGhee

Sorrow Is Not My Name, by Ross Gay

—after Gwendolyn Brooks

No matter the pull toward brink. No
matter the florid, deep sleep awaits.
There is a time for everything. Look,
just this morning a vulture
nodded his red, grizzled head at me,
and I looked at him, admiring
the sickle of his beak.
Then the wind kicked up, and,
after arranging that good suit of feathers
he up and took off.
Just like that. And to boot,
there are, on this planet alone, something like two
million naturally occurring sweet things,
some with names so generous as to kick
the steel from my knees: agave, persimmon,
stick ball, the purple okra I bought for two bucks
at the market. Think of that. The long night,
the skeleton in the mirror, the man behind me
on the bus taking notes, yeah, yeah.
But look; my niece is running through a field
calling my name. My neighbor sings like an angel
and at the end of my block is a basketball court.
I remember. My color’s green. I’m spring.

for Walter Aikens

For more information about Ross Gay, please check out his website.

Thanks to Alison for being such a fine treasure hunter.

Find out more about Alison here.

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The Ultimate Wildlife Rescue Guide

If you’ve ever spotted a wild animal in trouble and wished you could help this guide is for you…

DIY Wildlife Guide helps cover practical steps you can take to help injured wildlife by running through the most common scenarios – including how to pick the animal up.

First Steps – What You Can Do Today

Get prepared!

Look up your nearest wildlife centre online to find out what wildlife they can treat and where they’re based. This will save stressful emergency phone calls with an injured animal in tow.

We recommend the following websites:

If you don’t have a pet registered with a vet, also take a look at what 24-hour vets are nearby.

Save the numbers to your phone so they’re ready to go when you find an injured animal.

It’s also worth stashing a cardboard box and towel in your car in case you come across a road injury. Wildlife does have an inconvenient habit of turning up when you are not prepared for it.

So now you have some basic information let’s run through the most common types of wildlife living in the UK and what your course of action should be if you find one injured.

From fluffy to spikey, feathery to scaly – whatever is going about its business in the great outdoors. Here’s what you might find in trouble.

Access the full DIY Wildlife Rescue Guide here.

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Poem of the Week: Hanging out with musicians, still in my suit, by Tom Sastry

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Hanging out with musicians, still in my suit, by Tom Sastry

He said fucking and that was important:
“We’re all fucking broken.”
He said it gently
like a priest, soothing the smart of sin.

I hadn’t heard about it before
this shared brokenness
and it was new to me, this idea
that being in pieces could bring us together

so my mind worked through all the things he might mean
and
like the fourteen-stone word-association machine that I am
I remembered all the world’s once-complete, now-shattered things

until I couldn’t get it out of my head
that we were broken like jigsaws
fucking broken like fucking jigsaws
and it felt right and wise and true.

​For more information about Tom Sastry, please click here.

Thanks to Alison for always sharing these amazing poems. Visit her here –My websiteMy blogMy Facebook page.

Twitter and Instagram: @alisonmcgheewriter

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Poem of the Week: New Restrictions by Dean Young via Poetry Mistress Alison

New Restrictions, by Dean Young

It doesn’t matter how many
Wallace Stevens poems you’ve memorized
or if you had sex in the graveyard
like an upside-down puppet
or painted your apartment red
so it feels like sleeping inside a heart
or the trees were frozen with ravens
which you sent pictures of to everyone you know
or your pie dough’s perfect
or you once ran a sub-5-minute mile
or you’re on the last draft
of your mystery novel and still
don’t know if the vicar did it
or every morning that summer
you saw a fox stepping through the fog
but it got no closer
or once you helped drag a deer
off the road by the antler
sit blinked
or which song comes from which side
of your mouth as you drive
all night all night all night
or how deep and long you carry
a hitch in your breath after crying
or shot a man in Tennessee
or were so happy in France
or left your favorite scarf in a café,
the one with the birds and terrible art
or the Klimt
or you call your mother once a week
even after she’s dead
or can’t see a swan without panic
or have almost figured out
what happened to you as a child,
urge, urge, nothing but urge
or 600 daffodils
or a knife in the glove box
or a butterfly on a bell,
you can’t park here.

Thanks Alison for another beautiful poem. For more information on Dean Young, please click here.My websiteMy blogMy Facebook page. Twitter and Instagram: @alisonmcgheewriter 

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Botswana’s First Elephant Hunt to be Auctioned in Canada

Amid global recognition of the threatened survival of elephants, a hunting club in Calgary is poised to auction off the first licence for a foreigner to hunt elephant in Botswana. The Ivory-Free Canada Coalition, a partnership of Canadian non-profit organisations, including: Humane Society International/Canada, Jane Goodall Institute of Canada, World Elephant Day, Elephanatics, and the Global March for Elephants and Rhino-Toronto, has petitioned the federal government for two years to ban the import, domestic sale, and export of all elephant ivory, including hunting trophies.

The Ivory-Free Canada Coalition believes a full elephant ivory ban in Canada is more important than ever, as the Calgary chapter of Safari Club International is shockingly set to award the elephant hunt to the highest bidder at their 27th Annual Fundraiser on January 25 (provided the bid is over $84,000 CAD). Botswana President Mokgweetsi Masisi lifted a ban on elephant hunting in May last year, inciting worldwide outrage. He previously gifted stools made from elephant feet to regional leaders during a meeting to discuss the animals’ fate. The ban was installed six years ago by Ian Khama, Botswana’s previous president.

Michael Bernard, Deputy Director – HSI/Canada, stated: “It is absolutely appalling that in this day and age Canada is still complicit with the slaughter of elephants for trophies. We are urgently calling on the Canadian Government to ban all trade in elephant ivory and end Canada’s role in further endangering these magnificent creatures.”

Fran Duthie, President of Elephanatics, added: “Statistics have shown large-tusked elephants are in decline and need to be protected from trophy hunting and poaching. With the increase in illegal trade in ivory the need to ban trophy hunting is even more necessary.”

Patricia Sims, Founder of World Elephant Day and President – World Elephant Society, also stated: “The trophy hunting of elephants is atrocious and needs to be banned worldwide. Elephants are a vital keystone species, they are the caretakers of their habitats and climate change mitigators in their role of maintaining biodiversity. Killing elephants ultimately destroys habitats and Canada needs to take a stand now to ban elephant ivory and protect elephants for their survival and the health of our planet.”

A staggering 20,000 African elephants are killed each year. Scientists anticipate they will be extinct in the wild within 20 years if threats continue. While poaching is the main threat to elephants, legal trophy hunting only exacerbates the threat and drives up the demand for elephant ivory.

Both the Convention on International Trade of Endangered Flora and Fauna (CITES) and members of the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) have asked all countries to ban their domestic trade of ivory to save elephants. At least nine countries and 10 US states have done so. At the last IUCN Congress, Canada – along with Japan, Namibia and South Africa – refused to support the motion on domestic ivory trade bans.

Over 100 African elephant tusks were imported into Canada as hunting trophies over the past decade, according to the data Canada reported to CITES in its annual trade reports. Yet, exporting countries reported that over 300 African elephant tusks were exported to Canada in this same time period. The reason for the discrepancy is unknown.

Botswana was previously considered one of the last safe havens for elephants. It is home to 130,000 elephants which is almost a third of Africa’s total population.

In order to press the Canadian government into action, the Ivory-Free Canada Coalition launched a petition to ban elephant ivory and hunting trophies at change.org/ivoryfreecanada. With over 517,000 signatures, it is one of the largest Canadian petitions on Change.org for 2019.

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Poem of the Week: Clearing by Martha Postlewaite

Clearing, by Martha Postlethwaite

Do not try to save
the whole world
or do anything grandiose.
Instead, create
a clearing
in the dense forest
of your life
and wait there
patiently,
until the song
that is your life
falls into your own cupped hands
and you recognize and greet it.
Only then will you know
how to give yourself
to this world
so worth of rescue.

​For more information about Martha Postlethwaite, please click here​.

Thanks so much to Alison for finding and sharing these poems.

My websiteMy blogMy Facebook page. Twitter and Instagram: @alisonmcgheewriter 

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