Vaccines for All – Quebec’s approach…


I live in Canada – Quebec – and with the travel restrictions in place – can’t ‘travel’ to improve my odds of getting a vaccine. I’m stuck here – and I’m stuck with how Quebec has decided this will be getting done.

So – After a great deal of excitement and political uproar – our Prime Minister – Justin Trudeau – announced that Canada has purchased tons of Vaccines. That’s the good news. The bad news – none of these are made in Canada – so getting the vaccines here – that’s the rub.

The European Union has decided to require all the Vaccine Manufacturers to fulfill all orders for European Countries before they fill orders for other countries (ie: Canada). This sounds like really BAD news – but there’s a good news component. The good news is that the European Countries haven’t actually gotten around to ORDERING large quantities of the Vaccines yet – so after a bit of a slow start – Vaccines have been rolling into Canada at a steadily increasing rate.

And the policy here in Quebec at least has been – get those vaccines into arms as soon as we can – using our 10 step priority list.

First up – homeless, folks in the far north, and staff and guests in old-age homes. These are the groups that have the most limited access to health care and/or died in alarming numbers in the spring. At this point – March 12 – apx 80% of all folks in old-age home have gotten at least one shot.

As the numbers of folks in that priority group dwindled, the government announced that the next priority group – folks over 80 – could make reservations for getting shots. Just one shot only Vasili.. Yes I know, not the recommended strategy – but here in Quebec the goal is to get as many folks vaccinate with at least one shot as possible. At first folks were given return dates in 3 months – now that’s been extended to 4 months.

The program started – but got stalled because the vaccine supplied dried up in February as we all know. But as soon as more vaccine doses started arriving in Canada – they were distributed thru the provinces and the priority list because the really critical thing.

My parents in law – both over 85 – were among the first ‘normally active’ folks to get appointments – but no sooner did they start making appointments – then the age range dropped from 80 to 75.

The first day of general vaccines was filled with scary news – long lines of folks waiting, mobility challenged senior having to get around with no help and no wheelchairs, concerns about speed – you name it, the media covered it.

But by day 2 – with the government stressing that folks arrive no more than 10 minutes before their appointment (folks were arriving hours ahead – which created those long lines), and repeating over and over that everyone should get vaccinated – the issues disappeared.

Plus as more vaccines became available, more vaccination centres opened and the staff got trained. Result – a smoother flowing system and rapid progress thru the priority list.

A few days after 80 year olds got started, it was the turn of the 75+ crowd, and now, just 2 weeks after we started this process, the age range has dropped to 70 – and I was able to make a reservation.

During the first vaccine period from Feb 1 – March 1 – covering Priorities 1 – 5 (Seniors over 80 and health care workers) – Apx 780,000 folks were vaccinated. Now with the age range at 70 – the number eligible to get vaccinated jumped up – apparently there are almost as many folks between the ages of 70 and 75 as there are 75+.

As soon as it was possible for me to make a reservation – Both my husband and I were on the Clic-Sante website (French for Click-health) and were thrilled – thrilled I tell you – that it was well designed and easy to use – even in English!

You entered your postal code – and what you wanted (first choice – get a vaccine) – and a list of places in ascending distance from your home appeared. You could pick a site – and see what appointments were available.

The 2 places closest to our home had no available appointments till the end of March – but the third place – about a 20 minute drive – had tons of availability. So we signed up – and our date was March 11. 9:30 and 9:40 in the morning.

Between signing up and March 11th, the news was full of conflicting reports on the different vaccines – with the governments of Canada and Quebec clearly stating – no vaccine shopping! You get what we have in the place that you go! End of story.

And no cheating! If your health card shows a different year of birth from that of the ‘allowed’ age group – you will be turned away. So much for folks trying to cheat that way. And a worker told me that in another case- three ladies showed up with exactly the same name… and different birth dates. That slowed up the works of course.

But the rules are the rules – and there’s no cheating, no skipping the lines, no ‘fast track for the wealthy’ – just make a reservation – arrive and get your shot!

March 11th dawns – and we get ourselves organized. We wear Short sleeve shirts, grab our health cards, and are carrying a list of medicines and/or vitamins in case we get asked. We drive to our ‘designated’ vaccine center- a sports arena in LaSalle – park in one of the many free parking spots, and put on our masks.

We basically at the front door of the arena – and it’s very obvious where to walk in. At the door are 2 security guards who check that we are wearing masks, ask us to sanitize our hands and ask if we have appointments. When we say yes, we are welcomed into the vestibule of the arena entrance. There another set of security guards ask us to sanitize our hands – and remove our masks. We must wear the paper surgical masks provided by the Vaccine Center.

We walk thru that entrance and in front of us is another security person who again makes us us sanitizer and asks if we have mobility issues. If we do, we’d be sent to a Vaccine center on that level – no stairs. But since we don’t have mobility problems, we go to the left and head thru another set of doors into the area above the arena’s Hockey Rink.

But this is a transformed Hockey Rink! No ice of course. Instead they have taken the entire length of the rink and turned it into a series of stations.. We are instructed to walk the length of the rink at the upper level (above the seats) to yet another security person. Again we are asked to sanitize (oh are my hands CLEAN) and walk down a flight of stairs to the arena floor. We’ve reached Station 1. Another security person watches us carefully. If we had touched our faces, our masked, or the banister – we’d have to sanitize again. Thank goodness we didn’t do any of that.

Now – just 5 minutes after entering the arena – we are directed to Station 2 – Check-in.

Our appointment is verified, our health cards placed on a sliding white board so that the gal who is doing the data entry can see them but doesn’t touch them. She types in our Health Card numbers, verifies that we are who we say we are, and gives us our next appointment – in 4 months. Quebec is telling folks that the first shot, given broadly, will provide everyone with the best results. We shall see. A post-it note on the plexiglass that separates us tells us that we’ll be getting the Pfizer vaccine today.

As we leave, another worker comes over to sanitize the chairs we were just sitting in. Wow – they are taking this very seriously.

Now to Station 3 – Cautions and warnings. And another Sanitizing station. In English, the gal at this desks explains the side effects of the vaccine, ensures that we agree that we recognize that there are some dangers, makes us verbally agree to return to get the 2nd dose, and hands us – again in English – a double sided sheet of information about Covid and the vaccine we will be getting. This sheet also gives the % of folks getting the various side-effects – from over 50% having sore arms to under 1% having serious issues.

Station 4 – wait for a Vaccine station. And yes – another sanitizing station! That takes seconds – there are very few folks here that don’t work here! And 6 set-up stations for giving vaccines. I ask one of the folks about that – and they say it’s quiet but extremely steady – they will vaccinate over 700 people today.

Station 5 – Get the Vaccine. I sit down as instructed, the nurse giving the shot asks if I have allergies (I’ve been asked this already at Station 2 – but I guess it’s a double check), then asks which arm I’d prefer. Left works for me. I look away – she gives me the shot – then hands me a piece of paper with my name on it – and a sticker giving the bar code of the vial she used on me.

She puts a sticker on my hand giving me my 15 minutes of waiting time, hands me a card that says ‘dirty chair’ in French and English, and directs to a ‘waiting’ area with plexiglass barriers between the chairs. I’m told to leave the card on my seat when I get up – so it can be sanitized. There’s a first aid station set up near by (in case of severe reactions I suppose). We wait our 15 minutes, then get up to leave. Yet another security person checks that the time on our wrist sticker matches the current time – and then thanks us for coming – wishing us a great day.

We leave up a staircase – and out to the parking lot.

Vaccine done – in under 30 minutes.

Wow – I’m impressed with both the organization and the speed.

Congrats to Quebec for getting this organized – in both official languages. You clearly rock. Even if we must wait 4 months for our next shot.

The escape to Canada – Travel in the time of COVID


I’m not saying I thought getting home was going to be easy – I know London has a scary Varient and that travel was being heavily restricted – but I was still hopeful for an uneventful trip…

But first – what is this War Measures Act? I think it’s pretty important to understand that on a global scale – Canada is doing pretty well – and yet we’re seriously talking about the War Measures Act – now called Emergencies Act. This name change and ability to implement it was done in 1988. The big difference is that the Prime Minister can’t just say – I’m doing this. Parliament has to review it. Not sure they have to agree – but they must review it. So if it gets implemented – it will be after Parliament reconvenes on Monday, Jan 25.

But even so – getting out of Dodge and into Montreal seems the right thing to do on Saturday, Jan 23.

Adrienne and I, as planned, got up from a sleepless night at 6:30, got dressed and loaded up the car with my suitcases. Before leaving the condo I did one last sweep to be sure nothing was forgotten – looked good.

Our drive from her flat to Heathrow was absolutely uneventful. The only scary part was getting the car out of the seriously too small parking spot and onto the road. Once accomplished – the sailing was smooth. Traffic was light to non-existent and we arrived at Heathrow by 8:15.

Parked the car – took the elevator (only had to wait for one other group to board before we were able to ride up alone) to the 5th floor to find out that the COVID testing center – our first stop – was on floor zero. Ok – back on the elevator – back down.

There were lots and lots of signs of floor zero – so we pushed my loaded cart to the test center. It was clear that they were prepared for hundreds of people to be waiting in line – it looked like Disney land on a very bad day. But all the stanchions and all the ropes that marked line after line were completely empty.

There were perhaps 30 folks in line – and several ‘helper’ types directing traffic. I got in line by just asking folks – is this the end of the line – and Adrienne stood with my luggage waiting. It was much cooler in the open space near the stanchions – so she put on my good winter coat. I’m glad it got some use – I think that’s the only time it’s been warn since I left Montreal.

For a line, it moved quickly. Although the guy in front of me kept giving me the snake eye – I was standing too close to him. Even though I was masked and had on my face shield. Sorry about that – I should have grabbed an empty luggage cart to keep us apart.

The guy behind me was chatty – he told me that he’d decided to get the test done today but he was only flying tomorrow. He was heading for the US – and like me – needed a negative result to get on the plane. I’m guess that was true of most folks.

Rather quickly (maybe too quickly – I am nervous about this test) it was my turn. The helper at the front of the line told me that I’d go inside, get tested – they would email me the results. I could just show the PDF of the results to the ticket folks, or come back down and (for free – or basically included in the price) they would give me a printed copy.

Then I was ushered into a make-shift space. There was a row of tables with plastic separations, both front and sides. A young man guestured at me to sit down – took a look at my passport, and made sure I had an appointment (for an hour later – but apparently that was no problem). He took my money, and then sent me directly behind him to visit the nurse.

The nurse couldn’t have been nicer. He told me to relax, that this wouldn’t hurt, and when I had closed my eyes, took a wand and quickly swiped the inside of both nostrils. No swap down the throat, not pain, not even scary.

Whew.

I left the area – they had once side of the row of tables labeled in, one labeled out – but a bottle neck at the door. I had to wait till folks cleared the door way to get safely out and back to Adrienne.

We’d thought we’d be able to sit and have a cup of coffee/chai – but everything was blocked/closed/not available. We could have sat in the car.. but I was too nervous to take that option seriously, so we hugged and said good-bye.

Adrienne headed back to the car, I headed back up to floor 5 to wait for my ‘you are positive/you are negative’ email.

To my surprise – the inside of the airport was mobbed. Seriously mobbed. Well, ok – mobbed by COVID standards. I threaded my way past folks toward the coffee shop that was my destination. I needed coffee and I needed it now.

Unlike 3 months ago – the coffee shop was open ONLY for take-out. All the tables and chairs were blocked off or piled up – you are definitely not sitting here to enjoy that coffee. I got my top favourite British treat – a Bakewell Tart – and a medium latte. I found a quiet corner near Air Emirates and sat on my luggage cart to enjoy my coffee and read my newest story- Calico Joe.

Shortly after 9:30 I got my email saying my test was negative.. Whew. I drag myself back down to floor zero where a lovely staffer takes a picture of my phone showing my appointment ID – and returns with a printed copy of my test results- clearly showing the time, the date, the company that did the test, and my status – Covid Negative.

Whew

Now – onto check-in. I take the elevator back up to floor 5 – again waiting to ride alone. I’m not spending even 1 minute in a closed space with folks I don’t know… and I wend my way thru the crowds towards the Air Canada check-in. They verify my test results, my passport, my ticket – and let me in to the actual check-in area. There they again verify my passport, my test results (Am I Leslie Eiser, Leslie Agrin Eiser, or Leslie Agrin? I explain about my maiden name and the rules in Quebec – and I’m cleared), and told to go thru security.

I’m well ahead of the time I needed to be doing this – but I don’t care. Let me in.

Once passed security – again painless – I’m in the main area of Heathrow – and can check for the Gate assignment. The sign clearly says that the gate won’t be listed until 12:45 – and it’s now just shy of 10:00. So I find a safe corner – and actually can sit down. Unlike outside of security – here there are restaurants open, and even some shops. Everyone is masked, although not every one is ‘securely’ masked – and I spot a few staffers taking the whole – wear a mask thing – a bit too casually, but they have put large Cardboard signs on every other seat. So there’s lots of space between people. I’m fine.

Sooner than I’d have thought (Calico Joe is a great story), my gate is posted and I make the long long walk to section B. Basically I’m walking under the runway. But it’s not crowded (I think all those crowds went somewhere else – I’m not sure where though), and I’m fine.

I get to my gate, I wait for my turn to board. Staff is circulating thru the waiting area – making sure that everyone is clutching their negative COVID test results, has a valid ticket and a passport. The gal came a bit closer to me that I liked, but she did have to take the papers.

Eventually we’re called for boarding – and they take my temperature. Nice. They once again check my test, check my passport (I have to pull down my mask so they can see my face), scan my ticket – and I’m on the walkway to the plane.

Even getting myself and my carry-on down the tiny aisle isn’t too horrid, and I’m thrilled to see that I’m alone in my row. The stewards and stewardesses are making anyone further back than me move forward – they want to be able to sit separated as well. There’s someone sitting at the window to my right, then an empty seat, the aisle and then my seat. So I slide over one leaving 2 two empty seats and the aisle between us. There’s no one behind me. That’s good. And no one on the row to my left although there are folks at the windows both in front and behind that row. At first the row in front of me is also empty – but after the plane takes off, one of the passengers moves in. He’s wearing a mask, looks ok, and immediately lies down to sleep. Ok then.

Lunch is served – and is a LOT better than the cold Eggplant dish they served me on the way to London. At least it’s hot. And there’s a yummy chocolate pudding.. which might actually have had some real chocolate used in the making.

I watch 4 movies – two of which I can recommend – Military Wives (tear jerker but very good) and Wild Wild West. Wild Wild West is a steam punk version of a western action comedy and is really quite amusing, if a tad strange. Time went by quickly. I sanitized carefully every time I went to the toilet – and the ‘goodie’ bag they handed me had personal hand sanitizer inside. I had wiped down my seat before I sat down – so I felt pretty good about the whole thing.

We land in Toronto without issue. Since I’m in the very back of the plane, I allow all the folks to exit before me, and slowly make my way up the aisle and off the plane. Next challenge – Canadian Customs and Immigration.

Again – painless. There’s an extremely short line – clearly marked with 6’ separations and the inspectors are fast and efficient. The only hiccup is my ArriveCAN form. Turns out that there are 2 pages to the form, and I only saved the first page with the ID. I have to turn on my ipad, go back to the app and scroll down to the second page to show the very pleasant border guard my name. I’m in. He didn’t even ask me about the food I’m carrying (most of which I ate actually).

Now it’s follow the signs to the flight to Montreal. It’s a long walk, but since I only have my carry on, the biggest challenge is getting one foot in front of the other without tripping over my coat. All the doors are braced open so you don’t have to ‘touch’ anything. Again – that’s good.

Unlike Heathrow, the airport in Toronto seems relatively quiet. Some restaurants appear ‘open’ with folks sitting at tables. But since it’s now around 10:00 PM in London – I’m neither interested in food or even a drink. I just want to get on my flight to Montreal.

In the past – there were flights from Toronto to Montreal twice an hour – but in the time of COVID – they are down to 3 flights a day. The next flight leaves at 9:00 PM – 5 hours from when I arrived here in Toronto, and 2:00 AM London time. I’m going to have to hang tough on this one. I’m tired, I’m sore, I’m not happy – and I’m scared of exposure. I’m wearing my mask, my face shield, I’m sanitizing everything – and I’m still scared.

I walk and walk till I find the Montreal Gate. It’s isolated at the far end of one of the long halls – and at 5:00 PM is relatively empty. I sit down, but after about 30 minutes get very uncomfortable. Since this is the only flight to Montreal – anyone who is flying in from Florida, from Mexico, from Cuba, from any of a zillion holiday sun destinations – is coming here to sit and wait. And a lot of them are clearly NOT taking COVID seriously. Too close together, too many, too casual about masking.

I’m moving.

I find another area of the terminal that is much less busy, and settle down again. This time, it’s clear I’m not going to have to move on. No one is coming near me at all. I set a timer to remind me when to move back to my gate – I don’t want to miss the flight – and eventually it rings.

Walking back to my gate I realize that things have gone from bad to worse. Flight after flight must have arrived – and the number of folks waiting to get to Montreal has sky-rocketed. This flight could well be full – or at least a lot more crowded that I’m comfortable with.

Eventually they start boarding the flight. No temperature check. No looking at COVID Negative results – just scan your boarding pass (lower your mask so we can see your face) – and then on board. Oh dear.

There are lots of folks who have clearly returned from ‘sun’ destinations. They have beads in their hair, kids in tow, suntans, masks hanging from the glasses instead of snuggly around their faces, sandals and palm frond hats.

The Prime Minister of Quebec has been going on and on about folks taking these all inclusive holidays – at bargain rates I might add – and then returning – infected – back to Quebec and Montreal. He has been publicly blaming them for Quebec high infection rate – not that this has prevented them from going apparently. Part of the logic behind implementing the War Measures Act (Emergency Act) is to stop folks from doing exactly this – And I’m going to be on a plane full of them.

Oh dear.

My seat is on a row to myself, but there are folks behind me and in front of me who are clearly returning from these ‘sun’ destinations. I try to figure out where I can move that would at least feel safer. I try moving further back – but that feels worse. Finally I spot a row near the exit door that is empty. At the last minute I grab my things and take one of those seats. There is still one guy in front of me – and a lady to my left, but they both look like they are treating COVID more seriously.

At this point, the lovely stewardess comes over to hand me my forgotten back cushion. I guess she had spotted me trying to find another place – and knew exactly where I’d dashed off to! After handing me my cushion, she takes her place in the jump seat just in front of me – but safely distant.

The flight lasts for a very scary hour and a quarter. I drink the water they hand me – I don’t want to get dehydrated, but otherwise my mask and face shield stay firmly in place. If I don’t get COVID from this flight – it will be a miracle.

When we are landing, the nice stewardess sits back down on the jump seat – and I ask her if she’s concerned. She admits that the flight is quite a bit more crowded than normal – and it’s a tad alarming, but says that being careful seems the safest option. I hope she’s right.

I wait for EVERYONE to get off the plane before going back for my luggage, and then drag myself down the aisle,

Naturally – the terminal is basically empty. Everyone from our flight has bee-lined to the luggage pick-up location, and since I was last off, I’m basically alone.

I make the walk to the luggage carousel hoping that the suitcases have already been delivered and picked up. No such luck. The herds from our flight are all clustered around the carousel – waiting.

I back off, and move to a quiet area and wait. When I spot my suitcase, I circle around the hoard and grab it off the Carousel.

Now I just need to get a taxi and I’m home. The taxi proves to be more challenging than normal. There’s no one running the dispatch line – it’s a free for all as folks push past me to grab a cab. Finally one taxi takes pity on me and actually stops right in front of me. I get in, we leave, I get home. I’ve never been so glad to see my home – EVER!

Hubby, Bed, Bathroom, my fridge, my house, my yard, my bird feeders… I’m so happy.

Signing off in fond hopes that things are going to get a lot better – soon would be nice… The Soup Lady

The trip Home – Travel in the time of Covid


War Measures Act? – OMG – Friday – Jan 22. The news from Canada is taking a frightening turn. Not that cases and deaths are going up – actually they are going down a bit, but the government is mulling mandatory 2 week quarentine in hotel rooms for all incoming travelers. And this morning they are talking about invoking the War Measures Act. This allows the Federal Government to over-rule the Provincial Governments in time of crisis. Think Biden’s Executive orders on Steroids.

To say that my husband – who has manfully been living at our house in Montreal all alone – for 3 months – put his foot down is understating the obvious. I need to get home. And I need to go NOW!

So Friday – while playing my scheduled Bridge games – I need a Mountain of Silver to earn Life Master status – I’m madly trying to piece together all the things that have to align for me to fly from London to Montreal on Saturday.

No two ways about it – that’s short notice.

Ok – the pieces. Move the plane tickets, figure out how to get a COVID test that reports fast enough for me to get on the plane, Cancel my hotel reservation, Figure out how to use the ArriveCanada App. Deal with the emotional upheaval leaving my daughters will create. Pack – figure out how to get to Heathrow. – the list is endless.

And the best way to deal with endless lists is to just start.

First step – figure out how to get the COVID test. Lots of folks I know have gotten one – including my daughter and her husband. They have been getting their tests by mail order – for free. But the rules in Britian are clear – you can only get free tests if you have symptoms or have been exposed or work for an essential service. You can NOT get a free test if your purpose is travel.

Sigh. My purpose is travel.

So – it’s google time. There are lots of folks offering quick turn around COVID tests – with prices from 100 GBP to 200 GBP (that’s about $150 to $250.. like that). But the standout option is a testing center at Heathrow that offers RT-LAMP tests with results in 60-90 minutes. And there test is a bargain 79 GBP – about $135. That would work. But first I have to figure out when I can get to Heathrow.

Consider the complications – My daughters Flat – let’s call it point A – is at least an hour to 2 hours away from Heathrow – let’s call it point B. So I have to figure on a 2 hour drive. (She’s got a 4 hour drive… but there aren’t really safe options. She is going to suffer. I’m so sorry). My flight leaves at 2:00 in the afternoon. I want to check-in at least 2 hours ahead, the test results take up to 90 minutes… I need to plan to get the test as soon as the testing center opens basically.

So I make an appointment – Saturday, Jan 23 – 8:45-9:00 AM. We’ll get up at 6:30, leave by 7:00 – should be ok. It’s Saturday during lock-down. How much traffic could there be?

Then I discover that the Testing Center’s system – while showing me booking for the 23rd – emails me that I’ve booked on the 24th. That’s odd. I’ll do it again. Nope – same result. I fill in the form a third time – take photos of it showing me booking on the 23rd, and the email confirmation clearly says the 24th.

Ok – I’ll contact them. No phone number. An email address only. Ok – I’ll email. Surely they can straighten this out. Step 1 -maybe done.

Now – step two – move the plane tickets. That turns out to be the easiest thing. I call Air Canada – I explain the decision – They (FOR FREE) move my flight and change my seats. Whew. Step 2 – Done.

Now – cancel my hotel reservation. Originally I was flying out on a Friday, but my daughter didn’t think we could make the drive from Point A to B in any reasonable time on a Friday morning. Most of the drive is thru the crowded, narrow, stop light filled streets of London – and on a Friday morning – even in Lockdown – these would be mobbed. So we decide that I will spend the night in a hotel near the airport. But now, moving the flight to a week early and on Saturday means she can drive me in the morning. Won’t be fun – she doesn’t generally get up and out that early – but it’s possible. So I call Hotwire – and low and behold – they offer me a choice of a full refund or a different date. Refund please. Step 3 – Done.

Now – on to ArriveCAN – it’s an app by the Canadian Federal Government that you must use prior to traveling to Canada. You tell them how you plan to Quarantine – and they keep track of you. Cool. I had already filled it in for my original leaving date, so I went back in. No way to change anything. Hmm. Ok – maybe a new application. I try that – and the app works. I take a photo (as directed) of the final screen with my ArriveCAN Receipt ID – and figure – Step 4 – Done.

What else – well – Packing isn’t that difficult – I only take a week’s worth of clothing on these kinds of trips – and I don’t need stuff to be clean to pack it. I toss my suitcase together, leaving out what I’ll need in the AM and search the house. I definitely don’t want to forget anything. The $$ for sending stuff by post from London to Montreal is crazy. Step 5 – Done

What else, what else…

Food – I had a horrid food experience on the flight here – they served me an ice cold Eggplant Parmesan which was inedible. So I raid my daughter’s fridge. Carrot sticks, 3 quick peel oranges, nuts, prunes, some candy. We can’t go shopping – too dangerous to go to the stores – so I’m just grabbing things that will be easy to eat and stuffing them in my backpack. At the last second my daughter hands me an Apple. Step 6 – Done

Meanwhile – back to Step 1. Remember the COVID test date issue? Well they finally (hours and hours later) email me back to explain that the problem isn’t on their end – it is the date setting on my ipad. Really? It’s on British time, and has been for 3 months. But I try their site again – using my daughter’s computer – and what do you know – this time the dates match up. Problem – the time slots earlier are gone. I book for 9:15 – the earliest – and figure we’ll just beg. Begging often works, right.. Ok Step 1 – Now really done.

I try to remember to notify everyone that my flights have DRASTICALLY changed – I’m sure I’ve forgotten someone and I’m sure they will let me know. (Turns out I forgot a lot of people – but that’s the way the Rushed up cookie crumbles).

My husband emails asking me for my food list for the lock-down. He can’t go shopping after I arrive and needs to stock up the fridge. Our plan is 14 days of ‘together’ time – otherwise known as mandatory Quarentine – and he won’t be able to leave the house. So he’s doing a massive shopping and needs to know what I think is essential. I tell him fruit – lots and lots of fruit. And Fish and Steak for dinner. I have kids who live in Montreal – and they have said that they will shop for us as needed – so we’ll be fine. But it’s hard to pre-plan 2 weeks of meals. I feel really sorry for folks forced to do this without some of the advantages we have – like kids nearby and friendly neighbors. It’s not easy for us – it must be insane for other folks.

My daughter had planned on a nice dinner and a game night with her husband and me as a farewell kind of thing – and we slide those plans forward to Friday night. We actually end up playing Monopoly – a British version with the names of the properties all strange.. Or exactly right if you ask my daughter’s husband! It’s a 80 year celebration set – so the playing pieces are actually metal, and the money looks right. We love it – and my daughter wins. Then we watch a final episode of Ru Paul’s drag race and it’s definitely bed time.

I always have trouble sleeping before I travel – tonight is no different. I toss and turn and read my book (Great Story called Camino Winds by John Grisham – real page turner). Too soon it’s 6:30 and time to get up.

Tune in tomorrow for the actually adventure – and remember – it’s not an adventure unless something goes wrong…

Signing off – The Soup Lady

Day 219 – Traveling under COVID Restrictions


Getting stir crazy yet? How about a trip across the Ocean – does it sound a bit scary? Well – It seems really scary to me

But my daughter lives in London – and she needs me/wants me to come. And I need/want to come. And since saying no to my daughter just isn’t happening – I’m heading out, masks in hand.

All this explains why I am sitting in a deserted airport lounge waiting for my flight to London to depart.

Last time I flew was April 1 – on my escape from St. Croix (I’m still sorry I had to go – but that’s another story). The airports were deserted then – and trust me – that has not changed! If anything, more things are closed, there are more barriers up, and you can forget about eating anywhere that looks like an inside.. Closed, Closed, Closed!!!

And coming into the airport is now restricted – or at least there is only one working door (conveniently in the middle of the airport – so FAR from where I need to go). I snake around the barriers, spritz my hands, and walk into the empty main concourse. Air Canada is located to the far right – so I drag myself and my luggage basically 1/2 the length of the very long terminal building to the check-in desks.

The plan is for me to leave Montreal and fly to London. I first checked with American Airlines – who are holding my tickets to London on British Airways. BUT… they can only fly me to London via the US. And I’m not going into the US right now. I’m not easy about being in the airport in the US – I’m definitely not going to be in an airport on Election Eve in the US.. Nope. Not for me.

So I had to get a credit for that trip – and re-arrange my trip. I had a choice – X for a flight that changed in Toronto – and Y (X ++) to fly direct. I choose direct. I am not comfortable with going to any more airports than I need to.. No way.

Ok – so I choose Air Canada. My logic here was – it’s the national airline of Canada – no matter what they will get me home from London.. At least that’s the plan.

I had pre-checked in – which may or may not have helped because when I get to the check-in counter they ask for my COVID form for the UK.

Huh? What form?

Conveniently they have an OR code for me to scan that takes me right to the form – so I stand near the check-in desks to fill it in – Nope, I don’t know anyone with COVID. Nope, I don’t have a fever. Nope, I don’t have other symptoms, and Yes – I have a place to Quarantine when I get to London.

Form done – I go back to the counter – and the gal makes a scary statement – “Cutting it close aren’t you?” I immediately start to panic. I thought I’d have 2 hours to clear security and walk to the gate before it was time to board. Time to even include a bathroom stop. Now I’m upset and alarmed – I must have the time wrong – I’m going to be running.

I do the really old lady run (ok – don’t laugh – we can run, it’s just a very slow thing to watch) and get to the snaking line that goes to security. No surprise – it’s empty.

As will quickly become the norm here in the airport – there is more staff than customers in the security area. I breeze thru – well, except I forget that my watch is made of metal – which causes the bells on the metal scanner to go off. Take off watch, leave on counter, go back out, come back in – all clear. Sigh.

Now I need to get to my gate. For those unfamiliar with the Montreal Airport – there are 3 distinct sections. There’s the part that goes to the US (I’m not there), then there are the co-joined parts that go either to other parts of Canada or to other parts of the world. The issue here is that there’s US immigration here in Montreal – you effectively enter the US on Canadian soil – so that part is isolated.

I’m in the Canada and the rest of the World section – with the Canadian gates to my right – and far far far on the left – the World gates. Naturally – my gate is almost at the end of the far left section. Another long long ‘run’ dragging only my carry-on this time – but still – down an effectively empty concourse.

I reach my gate – and discover that the friendly check-in gal was thinking I was going to Paris – not the UK. Her time is short alarm was based on when the flight to Paris left – not when my flight departed. I do have the hour and more to wait that I’d figured on. But now I’m sweaty, I’m panicked, my stomach hurts – and there’s nothing open. I’m not walking back – so it’s find a seat far away from everyone else, recharge my phone and ipad – and wait….

Eventually – and on time I will admit – they load our flight. I’m counting passengers – and it looks like about 40-50. Given that this is one of those massive trans-ocean flights – seating upwards of 400 passengers- the flight will be empty. In fact – there are more staff than passengers. Not only is my entire row empty – so is the one in front and in back of me.

I’m very happy about that. Fewer people, less exposure.

The food is predictably lousy – a cold Eggplant Parmesan which would have been lovely heated, some kind of strange salad I couldn’t eat, and a too too rich piece of chocolate cake. No dinner for you dear!

Well – my husband kindly packed my grand-daughter’s Halloween treat bag gift – so I ate that, watched a movie, slept in a contoured position, and woke to the flight crew announcing that we were landing in London.

Cool – that was painless.

I’m all the way in the back of the plane – so to get off – it’s yet again with the drag the bag. And then there’s the forever long walk thru the empty terminal towards British Immigration.

Huge lines (where did all these people come from?) snake from the immigration booths towards me – and again I panic needlessly. I’m carrying a Canadian Passport with the seal that lets me use the electronic booths – and I’ve pre-filled in that form. I literally breeze past everyone else – walk up to an empty electronic booth – present my passport – and I’m in! Well – that was easy.

I find my suitcase, exit the secure part of the airport and drag myself, my suitcase, my carry-on, and my Montreal weight Winter Coat to my favourite first stop in London. Cafe Nero at the airport for a Late and a scone with Clotted Cream and Jam. Heaven on a plate! And they are open – and they have seating… And the seating is well spaced.

I’m a very happy camper.

Now I must wait for my daughter to arrive. My plane arrived at around 7:00 AM, I was out of the secure portion of the airport by 8:00 AM – and my daughter can only pick me up at 1:00 PM. I’m going to be hanging at Cafe Nero for a while.

But except for a group of airport employees on break that weren’t wearing masks and decided to cluster at a table near me (I picked up and left that seat) – I was fine. I found a comfy chair, put the cart with my luggage in front of me blocking anyone from coming to close – and I played bridge!

Eventually my daughter arrived – wearing a mask of course. As were most of the folks I saw. We exited the airport, loaded my suitcases into her car – and started the long (over 1.5 hour) drive back to her place. London traffic on the eve of a Lock-down is insane. But the rules are that I must go directly from the airport into lock-down, and we’re following the rules.

Our plan now – my daughter and her husband are joining me for the required 14 days of Quarantine. They have been shopping madly, and stocked up. Plus we can get delivery – no worries. So we’re going to hang out here in her tiny condo and try not to get on each other’s nerves or in each other’s way.

Signing off to finally sleep…. The Soup Lady

Day 170B – Happy New Year to All


How is this New Year different from all other New Years…

The Montreal Gazette just published a wonderful story talking about how the different Jewish Synagogues in the Montreal area are dealing with the challenges of the High Holy Days – when traditionally all Jews go to Synagogue – and the restrictions enforced here in Canada and Quebec by Covid-19

It’s a challenge. Synagogues that normally seat 2000 at this time of year are restricted to 25% or less – and given that we’ve actually had a lot of warning that this year wasn’t going to be like any other year – have gone to zoom and outdoor options.. Making the best of a bad deal.

So I thought I would share a link with you.

Click here

https://youtu.be/KijnnlVzREw

The song was written by Leonard Cohen – who was unabashedly Jewish, and the Synagogue featured is one of the most beautiful in Montreal – the Spanish and Portuguese.

It’s a beautiful and quite emotional appeal for all of us to search our lives and our souls asking if we’ve lived up to our potential as human beings – and asking us to make decisions on how to improve in the next year.

And for many – this is the raisin d’être of the High Holy Days… to force us to re-evaluate our lives.. to consider how we can be better family, better friends, better neighbors, better citizens..

Happy New Year

The Soup Lady

Day 156 – Our 50th Wedding Anniversary is upon us!


I got married on Friday, September 11, 1970. For years my husband remembered it as September 13.. because it was a Friday.

And for the record – we are still married. Which in and of itself feels like a record. So of course – I googled it!

We are still playing it ‘safe at home’ – so what else is there to do…

Turns out that – yup – it’s something of a record. Only 7% of American’s celebrate 50 years of marriage.

But upon further digging, it turns out that while I’m among a distinguished few that make it this far – it’s not really the record one might think. It isn’t really about being married… it’s about not dying.

According to a wonderful piece in a blog site called ‘Family Inequality’ the truth of the matter is more that neither of us died!

If you discount the folks that died, and the folks who are widowed – then you are left with the folks that got married married before 1971. And of those folks – who have the potential to celebrate 50+ years of marriage – fully 50% of us are still married.

So what does this mean. It means that folks that got married before 1971 thought we were getting married forever. We didn’t think of divorce as an option, it never even crossed our minds – or at least 50% of our minds… I guess the other 50% that didn’t die, did get divorced.

Bottom line – I’ve gotten to this milestone thru lucky genes (I didn’t die), lucky genes on my husband’s side (he didn’t die), and then I guess – because we never considered being anything other than married.

One other important factor – not to embarrass my kids or my readers – we still find each other very appealing physically. We also share a lot of history, but have our own unique interests and hobbies. We can let each other go on trips without being jealous (too jealous anyway), and rest comfortable in the knowledge that they will return. We give each other space… and a place to be separate inside our home. We forgive each other when we must – if not immediately, then eventually – and almost always before bedtime. We try hard to find the positive stuff – to not get bored when stories get repeated, but to enjoy them re-told and often mis-told. We are still in love.

I’m still happy every morning when I wake up and say ‘Good Morning Honey’.

My daughter-in-law just reminded me that when they got married – I told her that marriage is a 60-60 relationship – you must always feel that you are giving the bigger portion. If both of you feel that way – the marriage will work.

How are we celebrating this milestone? Are we having a big party or taking a fancy holiday? Well in the days of COVID-19 – the quick answer is – of course not.

We’re lucky in that we’re in Montreal, and the better restaurants are open under COVID-19 restrictions and taking it very very seriously. So we’re going out to dinner with the kids who live here in the city. It won’t be a fancy party – but it will be our style. Comfortable and happy.

Signing off to figure out what dress to wear (not really) … The Soup Lady

Blursday Posting – but at least there is light at end of the tunnel


It’s my birthday and I’ll cry if I want to… Words to a song that formed part of my impressionable youth that resonates with me still today.

After countless days in self-isolation – some imposed because we traveled back from St. Croix on April 1, and some just done because my kids were fussing at me about going even to Costco… Like I suspect most of you, my oh so loyal readers, I’m getting a bit bored.

And it’s going to be my 72nd birthday on June 24. Oh man – I never ever thought I’d be this old – I’ve lived longer than my Grand-mother, and I’m 2 years shy of the age my mother was when she died.

My vision of 72 – at the tender age of 15 or so when I thought about my grand-parents – was house bound (check), living basically in a chair in the TV room (nope), limited conversation topics (what was the weather?), and moving only when absolutely necessary.

My husband and I just returned from our daily 2 mile walk along Lakeshore – dodging the bikers in Spandex that race along like it’s an Olympic track – and enjoying the breeze off the lake. My dad was doing something similar when he was this age, but my mom was totally house bound. I work out daily if possible, lifting weights, doing push-ups, squats, planks – well – you know the basic drill. So yes, I’m in much better physical shape than my parents. And glad of it.

But that doesn’t do much for the gut fear reaction to COVID-19. This is scary stuff because it is targeting my age group. 80% of the deaths in Quebec (most in Montreal where I live) are in the 70+ group.

The good news – here in Montreal – the numbers are definitely on a slide downward. Fewer and fewer cases every day, and while the deaths are still happening (about 50 a day) – but they are the cases that were detected weeks and weeks ago.

Testing here – which by the way gets reports in 2 days – was limited to folks showing symptoms or who had been in contact with folks who had tested positive. But the numbers of folks getting tested has plummeted so they are now saying – anyone can come in.

I haven’t been tested – and am unlikely to get tested at this point. I have been careful to sanitize and wear a face mask when out in any kind of public environment – so while this may be a false sense of security – I do feel secure.

Which brings me to the reason for this blog. It’s my birthday. And restaurants in Montreal will be opening up starting June 21. And our favourite restaurant in the city – Bonaparte’s – is having a grand opening dinner on June 23. It’s the day before my birthday – but I’ve never been a stickler for exact dates. And we are going. In 1810 style. Our dinner companion will be the local Vicar – so the conversation, while polite, should be interesting. He’s always in the gossip loop on local doings.

Yes – I’m excited!

The restaurant has taken all the precautions the management can think of. Limited # of diners, all staff wearing masks, menus sanitized before being presented, table etc sanitized before you sit, and they will usher everyone out at 8:00 to re-sanitize the entire space before seating the next group of guests. You can check all this out at their website.

Interestingly – the better description of what they are doing about being prepared to be open again is found on their opentable site… now that is interesting… Check that out here

I shall of course dutifully report back.

Signing off to go fuss in my garden (I think this year everyone is going to have the best garden’s ever…) – The Soup Lady

Day 19 – It’s feeling like Ground Hog Day


You remember that movie – it was awesome. Bill Murray is caught in a time wrap – he keeps repeating the same day over and over again.

Well – this forced confinement is beginning to feel a bit the same. I’m caught in a time wrap of repeated actions – get up, get dressed, play bridge, maybe chat with folks, eat dinner, watch an old episode of Death in Paradise – go to bed – and repeat

But if you remember that movie – you will also remember how Bill’s character gets out of the loop. He re-invents himself by using the time constructively. And I’m watching folks who are capable of doing just that – and I’m unbelievable impressed

Take this link for example:

https://www.facebook.com/601402741/posts/10157229075837742/?d=n

A Sedar on Zoom?

How absolutely creative is that – they had to have re-written the song, then learned and practice their parts, then figured out how to get it all captured on ‘film’.

Amazingly creative.

Ok – They are from Berkeley – and maybe they are actually theatre folks in truth – but I don’t care. They used their time to do something that made me laugh. And honestly – that was well worth their time.

Signing off to find something else funny –

The Soup Lady

Day 2 – and I’m already getting bored


Which is probably a good thing. Better bored than sick – Right?

London – and the UK in general – has finally started taking this thing seriously. Which is very good news. Countries like Iran – that didn’t take it seriously – are having someone die every 10 minutes – as per the latest from CNN

Everyone I know is either voluntarily self-isolating – or being mandated to do so by the government. I think this is likely a good thing, but it’s really really going to hurt small business. Actually, it may hurt any business that came into this period anything but flush with cash.

One of the CNN reports actually Refered to the Great Depression in terms of the impact this is having on the economy. But since we’re in this together, it would make sense to paddle together – so I’m thinking if you are in business – talk to your supply chain. Better to not pay them today, then for you to go bankrupt tomorrow – and so on down the line.

Canada in general, and Quebec in particularly have made downsizing the number a company must pay easier. They have removed the delay on getting Un-employment benefits – so employers can be frank with their staff. “We need to let you go – so go on Unemployment – as soon as we can, we’ll hire you back”. This works, at least in a country like Canada, in a good way. The company stands a much better chance of weathering the storm, and the employees are protected.

Think ahead. Plan for folks ordering on-line, wanting delivery to their doors with no touching, etc. I think there’s potential here for businesses to flex and change and stay in business. But being able to Flex? That’s tough.

Meanwhile – as a retired lady – stuck in the Caribbean, I’m entertaining myself by Skyping my family and friends, playing bridge on-line, and reading a book. Thank goodness the library was still open, although that might not be forever. Or even correct tomorrow!

Which would be easier if the Bridge sites weren’t finding the sheer quantity of folks trying to use them almost impossible for their servers to cope with. Which is actually kinda funny if you consider what this must mean in terms of ways to handle boredom.

Maybe my number of followers will go up?

Hope beats eternal here in St. Croix. Signing off to take a walk on the beach – and incredibly happy she’s able to do so – they are closing beaches in Pensacola… The Soup Lady

Hiding out from Coronavirus


It’s beginning to feel like this will be a marathon – not a sprint. We’re going to have to all hunker down to weather this thing out – and fortunately for me – I’m not in a decision making position.

I actually feel really bad for those in power – any kind of power – right now. And that includes my kids. Not that any of them are either medical or political in any way shape or form – but they all have folks that rely on them to make the smart decisions – and smart decisions seem to be the challenge. Is closing down the right or wrong thing to do? I’m not so sure there’s a correct answer – if you close down (as many folks have) you put people out of work at a very tough time. If you stay open, you risk their health, your health, other folks health.

So my question to you – my readers – are you hunkering down, or trying to pretend things are normal?

Personally – I’m hunkering down. The good news – if there is good news on this topic – I’m hunkering down in St. Croix, USVI. Montreal is still extremely cold, and wet, and nasty outside – our typical March – and we’d come to the island a week ago, not knowing at all that things would go from bad to incredibly scary in just 7 days.

It’s really the terrifying speed of this that’s the really worrisome part. That and the panic buying. We went to Costco in Montreal a bit over a week ago, and toilet paper was on our list. There was NONE – of any brand – to be had. Why would people think it critical to stock up on toilet paper of all things? Will we still be laughing at them in another week? Maybe they know something we don’t know? News from Heber City in Utah (I have friends there) is similar – no stock of toilet paper. As someone quipped – don’t they know this is a respiratory problem, not an intestinal one? Buy out Kleenex – that makes sense. On the other hand – on the Montreal News this morning – apparently Montreal has been restocked.

I can tell you that here on St. Croix, it’s very different. Given that stocks have to come in by barge, and running out of something means RUNNING OUT – for months – the stores seem incredibly well stocked of everything except alcohol. I think folks are taking the advice to wipe down surfaces seriously, and yes – alcohol is superior to Anti-bacterial wipes, which have no impact on viruses at all.

Which brings to mind the gal at the Plaza Extra (it’s a grocery store) here on St. Croix with her shopping cart full of big bags of anti-bacterial wipes. I think she bought out the entire shelf. Hmm.. smart? Dumb? Mis-informed? I’m not sure.

In any case – I’ve taken to checking the WHO site every day – and reading CNN – live every morning. The list of countries that have closed their borders grows and grows. I think they are going to have to start publishing a list of countries that have NOT closed their borders.

Meanwhile some news that won’t make headlines. My son has an Amazon Store that sells our Soup Bases (Luda Soup Bases) – and his team is busy filling the orders that are pouring in. Given that we sell to restaurants, we’re talking fairly large quantities of soup base, enough to feed a family for months. But our bases have a really long shelf life, so at least this buying makes sense. And my daughter – who makes and sells artisanal sausages from her own website (Crown & Queue in the UK) is also reporting an up-swing. So it wasn’t surprising to hear that Amazon is hiring 100,000 temporary workers to fill the demand.

Another no news trivia – the major on-line Bridge Playing website – Bridge Base – got overwhelmed big time this weekend. If you don’t play bridge, you won’t understand – but there are literally thousands of folks that do play bridge, most of them in Clubs scattered all over the US and Canada and the rest of the world. All have been closed – and all these folks now have time on their hands. Result – the on-line site got swamped. I’m betting that Netflix, Amazon Prime, and other’s of that ilk are also getting hit big time. My son who does IT says that the ‘Cloud’ is suffering as well.

My question to you – my readers – what are you doing? What are your kids doing? Are any of you Covid-19 positive? Did you get really sick? I realize that we’re hardly a news worthy group, but I’m wondering. Right now I don’t personally know anyone with the Virus – and I’m hoping it stays that way.

Signing off to admire the beach and sun, and hope to Heaven that this too shall pass – The Soup Lady