Pandemic Diary, December 27, 2020: Spaghetti for Christmas

Today is officially Day 287 since I started working in self-isolation from home for my university library system. I am currently starting my second week of three weeks of vacation, not returning to my full-time paying job as a librarian until January 11th, 2021, and so far I have enjoyed a relaxing, quiet holiday.

If you haven’t seen the Christmas card I sent out this year to everybody, here it is. This wonderful animated card by Jacquie Lawson is set to the traditional German Christmas carol O Tannenbaum.

A screen capture from my animated Christmas card this year

Today is the day after Boxing Day here in Canada. Boxing Day is traditionally the day where Canadians go out to the Boxing Day sales, but this year the crowds of shoppers were mostly staying home (although quite a few shopped online and arranged curbside pickup of their consumer electronics and other bargains).

By and large, the majority of Manitoba have listened to the doctors and scientific experts, and followed the masking and social distancing requirements imposed by our code-red, province-wide pandemic lockdown. I know of very few Manitobans who shared their Christmas celebrations with people who were not members of their immediate household. Many instead dropped food and presents off at the doors of friends and family.

On the afternoon of Christmas Day, my extended family (including my sister-in-law’s family, who have kind of adopted me along with my brother) had a very chatty one-and-a-half hour meeting in Zoom, which lifted the time restrictions on its free version for the holidays:

And on Boxing Day, the members of my arts and entertainment group held a meetup in Zoom as well! Obviously, we have not been going out much to arts, cultural and entertainment events since the pandemic hit, but we still do keep in touch.

(Disclaimer: No, I do not have a house that looks like a Better Homes and Gardens spread, with all my books artfully arranged by colour! This was a Zoom background I downloaded this spring, to hide my messy man cave from Zoom meetings for work! I did fool a couple of people with it, though.)

I did not bother to fuss with a turkey for my Christmas dinner, which in a normal year I would have spent with my mother and stepfather at their seniors life-lease condo across town. Instead, I made a large pot of spaghetti and a tossed salad, which I quite enjoyed as I spent my first-ever Christmas dinner alone in my apartment.

Spaghetti for Christmas (photo by Carolina Cossío on Unsplash)

Truth be told, after 287 days, I am now so used to being alone that spending a Christmas in self-isolation in my apartment did not feel weird at all. Instead of real-world socializing, I have spent quite a bit of time socializing with people in various social VR platforms and virtual worlds this past month, including Sinespace, Sansar, Somnium Space, and Second Life!

I do not expect my situation to change significantly until enough people have been vaccinated to achieve herd immunity. Both the Pfizer and Moderna COVID-19 vaccines have already been approved by Health Canada, and the Pfizer vaccine has already found it way into the arms of 2,177 Manitoba healthcare workers at critical care, acute care, and long-term care facilities, plus COVID-19 immunization clinics and testing sites.

Map from the COVID-19 Tracker Canada website

Have a healthy and happy holiday season!

Best Wishes for the Holidays!

A Wizard’s Winter in Second Life

For many people, this will be a Christmas unlike any other in living memory, one that we will probably tell our children and grandchildren and great-grandchildren about (and that we fervently hope they will never have to experience first-hand).

I wish you a very joyful holiday season despite these difficult times. I hope that the New Year brings you and your friends and family much happiness, peace, and prosperity, and that in time the world will be a safe place again.

Please click this link to view my Christmas card to all of you.

P.S. I will taking a vacation from the blog between now and New Year’s Day. Don’t forget that tomorrow, Christmas Day, you can pick up 606 free Christmas presents in Second Life!

Pandemic Diary: December 22nd, 2020

Dr. Anthony S. Fauci, the U.S. government’s top infectious disease expert, was vaccinated on Tuesday, December 22nd, 2020, during a live broadcast at the National Institutes of Health in Bethesda, Maryland (source: New York Times)

Today is officially Day 282 since I began working in self-isolation from home for my university library system. We here in Manitoba are expecting a snowstorm which is slowly working its way east from the Rocky Mountains, bringing with it strong winds and blowing snow. I remain hunkered down in my apartment, well stocked with food and my prescription medications. It can snow all it wants; I’m not going anywhere.

Like so many other people around the world who are under a pandemic lockdown, this will be the first Christmas ever that I will spend completely alone. Manitoba is still under a code-red, province-wide pandemic lockdown, and visits from people outside one’s immediate household are forbidden.

But I don’t mind. I have gotten so used to being alone by now, it will not seem so strange. The rest of my family and I have already agreed not to exchange gifts this Christmas; in the case of my mother and stepfather who live in a seniors lifelease condo on the other side of the city, we’ll exchange presents when it is safe to actually meet in person.

And frankly, Christmas has never had the allure it did when I was a child, especially now that I do not attend real-world church services anymore. I will probably hang out with SL friends in my Second Life community of choice, Bray’s Place. I may decide to throw an open house at my new home at Bray’s Place sometime between Christmas and New Year’s, but we’ll see. I want to stay flexible with my plans this holiday season.

My new home at Bray’s Place, all decorated for Christmas

My decision to write up a daily blogpost covering that day’s Advent calendar gifts has kept me pretty busy most mornings. I am now on three weeks of Christmas holidays from my full-time paying job as a librarian, so I have time to devote to the task. (I also have a pile of dirty dishes that I need to put through my dishwasher, and some vacuuming to do, but that’s not nearly as much fun as hunting down fabulous freebies in Second Life! December is truly freebie season!)

And I have been following the news media and social media regarding the global COVID-19 vaccination campaign, as the first vaccines roll out. Here are a few statistics dashboards that you can check to follow the progress of this endeavour:

The statistics dashboard from Our World in Data’s Coronavirus Vaccinations page

Stay safe and stay healthy!

Pandemic Diary, December 13th, 2020: When Life Gives You Bananas, Make Banana Bread

It is officially Day 273 since I began working in self-isolation from my apartment for the University of Manitoba Libraries.

Here in Manitoba, we are seeing widespread community transmission of the SARS-CoV-2 virus. The 5-day COVID-19 test positivity rate is stubbornly hovering around 13 to 14 percent, 25 days into a province-wide, code red pandemic lockdown. In the past couple of weeks, I have only left my apartment to throw out the garbage in the nearest dumpster (although I should put on a face mask and go for a few socially distanced walks in my neighbourhood near the University of Manitoba).

While I am hunkered down in my messy man cave, I am routinely horrified by local news reports and social media. Local Winnipeg news website ChrisD.ca shared the following video via Twitter, showing the crowds lined up at the Regent Avenue Costco on Friday:

Sweet minty Jesus, Winnipeg is doomed!! We’re not going to see the test positivity rate go down if people keep doing stuff like this. And what the hell happened to the one-person-per-Costco-card rule they were supposed to be enforcing? I see a lot of families here.

I haven’t set foot in a Costco (or for that matter, any retail establishment, except my local drug store to get my flu shot) since mid-March. Shoppers Drug Mart delivers my prescription medications for free, and I recently learned from a coworker in a Zoom meeting that they will now deliver non-prescription items as well.

I shop online for my groceries on the Walmart website, then book an appointment for grocery pickup. Wearing a face mask, I drive into one of the designated parking spots at the back of the store, get out of my car, and stand a safe distance away while a sales associate loads up my car, then drive away, liberally applying hand sanitizer just in case I picked anything nasty up.

I indicated in my most recent Walmart order that I would consider substitutions for items which were out of stock. Most of the time, these substitutions are pretty minor: one brand of chicken rice soup for another, canned pineapple rings instead of crushed pineapple (which I mix with plain, fat-free yogurt for a Weight Watchers-approved snack, even though my dieting went completely out the window when the pandemic started).

But the last time I picked up my grocery order from Walmart, they were out of strawberries, so I received…two bunches of bananas. Now, bananas are not my favourite fruit, but I ate a few, and sliced up a couple to mix with my bran flakes.

But I now still have one bunch of overly ripe bananas, so I am Googling banana bread recipes (I had stocked up on flour, sugar, and other baking ingredients in my pandemic shopping before I began working from home for my university library system on March 16th, 2020). To rephrase the popular saying, when life gives you bananas, make banana bread.

When life gives you bananas, make banana bread…

So, how am I doing? I still struggle with anxiety and depression, but I do have supports in place (antidepressant and anti-anxiety medication, biweekly cellphone chats with my psychiatrist, weekly sessions with Kira). I am also beta-testing a social VR group therapy platform*, so instead of getting into my car, I slip on my VR headset and talk about my problems with other people in a small group. I have found it to be just as effective as a real-life therapy session. Lack of physical exercise aside, I am taking pretty good care of myself, and coping as best I can.

I have to keep reminding myself that these are not normal circumstances, and that it’s OK to feel anxious, depressed, sad, upset and angry at times. I am currently going through the worst bout of insomnia I have ever experienced in my life. After three nights of fitful sleep, I was such a wreck that I actually took a sick day from work last week, and spent the day in bed, trying to catch up on some Z’s.

I am currently struggling with the worst insomnia in my life, and every morning I wake up feeling tired (photo by Megan te Boekhorst on Unsplash)

Most mornings, I start my day by writing up a blogpost (like this one). It does give me a small sense of accomplishment, and its helps get my neurons firing again after a restless night’s sleep. I just brew a big pot of black coffee, plunk myself down in front of my computer, open up WordPress, and start typing away!

And yes, I know that I have been neglecting other social VR platforms and virtual worlds, and writing almost exclusively about Second Life lately. I make no apologies for that; SL is one of the things that is helping me stay sane during the pandemic. To a large extent, socializing in social VR and virtual worlds has replaced potentially life-threating socializing in the real world.

And, during an unseasonably warm and unusually snow-free December here in Winnipeg, I am truly appreciating my visits to the various Christmas sims in Second Life, such as the beautiful, peaceful ‘Tis The Season sim (SLURL), complete with gently falling snow and tiny, twinkling lights on the trees:

‘Tis The Season Christmas sim in Second Life

Bray’s Place has become my community of choice in Second Life, and recently, I actually gave up my Linden Home (well, OK, one of my Linden Homes**… 😉 ) and moved into a rented home on the Bray’s Place sim, something I thought I would never do. But Bray’s has become an important community to me, and I intend to support Bray Preston-Rising and her work as much as I can, in any way that I can.

Bray’s Place Blues Club in Second Life

Stay safe, and stay healthy!


*Because this is a closed, invitation-only beta test, I am not allowed to name the platform or talk about it in any way other than in the most general terms. Those of you who are social VR aficionados may be able to make an educated guess, which I unfortunately will be unable to confirm or deny. When they are ready, and give me permission, I will blog about it.

**I have three Premium Second Life accounts at present and (until last week), a Linden Home for each. I used to have only two, but I upgraded one account from Basic to Premium to change that avatar’s name, and to snap up one of the lovely new Victorian Linden Homes, which I have yet to decorate! I’m saving that particular task as one of my Christmas projects. After setting up my newly rented house on the Bray’s Place sim, I have discovered a hitherto hidden talent for virtual home decorating! It makes a refreshing change from my usual passion of shopping for fabulous freebies and styling my small army of alts.