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My Letter Home

Victoria Skyline

Very quiet downtown Victoria

Hi everyone,

It's funny how much the sun affects my mood. We've had two weeks of sunshine in Victoria and I have literally had a bounce in my step. No amount of stock market crashes, restaurant closures and global pandemic could bring me down. The sun was shining, the daffodils were blooming and the cherry blossoms crowded out the sky. It was truly lovely.

Then yesterday it started to cloud over, and my morning walk today was radically different. The water at Inner Harbour was still and steely grey. The tulips drooped under the weight of the drizzle. Each person I passed on the street (at a discrete, 2m+ distance) looked drained, rheumy and weepy. Even my earbuds had changed - gone was the comedy of The Last Post, replaced with Bob Dylan's newest release, a seventeen minute morbid ramble about the JFK assassination and every other bittersweet moment in the past 57 years. Yeesh.

But whatcha gonna do? Without the lows, the highs feel like the middle. And a life of middle is, to me at least, bland. White rice, cream of wheat, a raw button mushroom. Blech.

So how are you doing? :)

Seriously, I hope you're healthy, happy and hanging in there at home.

What a wild time we are experiencing nowadays, eh? I have to admit that I thought it would be a climate catastrophe that would finally get us all working together, not a pandemic.

And I know that when I say "all of us working together", it's more like "most people, figuring things out as we go", but still, it's unprecedented in my lifetime, and in my parent's lifetime too. My parents were born in the WWII years and I can't think of a time where everyone was pulling together since then.

We've always been in the same boat, so to speak, but pulling together? Not so much.

It's been several months since I wrote a letter home so figured now was a good time for an update. Not sure how long this will be, but I'd suggest it's worth at least getting a cup of tea ready. There's a bit on my mind. :)

Let's see... Winter. I don't think I had winter, other than the week when we went back to see our folks in Regina in January. Now that was winter! But in Victoria, we spent the entire season saying "I can't believe it's November! I can't believe it's December!" And on and on.

There was never a month without some sort of flower blooming. The trees started blooming in February and the daffodils in March, and folks say that's late! Incredible.

They also say we got record rains in January, but that's not what I felt. We only had a handful of days where it rained all the time; every other day, there was at least some time where we could go for a walk without getting wet. Further up the island, however, was another story.

I'm told that Victoria itself lies in a little pocket that misses the worst of the storms. So although we had a soggy time for a few days, it was really not too bad. But now that we've had more than a week of pure sun, yes, I guess it was grey and rainy for a bit.

Buddy Dog

Buddy Dog

We had a shock when we got home from Regina and our 14 year old Golden Retriever got very sick that week. After talking with the fine folks at the animal hospital, we realized we had to say farewell to Buddy. The only saving grace was he went from being slightly 'off' to critically ill very quickly, so he didn't suffer long. And we were able to contact the kids to get their advice before making a decision.

Robyn and Cindy in swinging London!

Robyn and Cindy in swinging London!

In February we went to England for two weeks to visit Robyn. She met us in London and we toured around and went to some shows before all heading to Canterbury to see her school and new hometown. Robyn loves it in England and she loves her fellow teachers and most of her students, even though it's a pretty wild place behaviour wise. Robyn figures she can teach anywhere in Canada now that she's experienced Canterbury Academy. Still, she loves it and is hoping to stay for a second year, virus nothwithstanding.

I fear I'll be saying 'virus notwithstanding' a lot in this letter.

Right now, Robyn is in 'lockdown', where folks are allowed out for one hour per day, and the police are around to check ID and make sure you're living up to your obligations. Children of 'essential workers' still go to school, but there are so few that she only goes in to school for one day every fortnight. The rest of the time she stays at home and gets a few emails from her kids, either to say hi or ask a question about an online assignment.

It's a weird education system in England though. Everything is 100% focused on passing the state GCSE tests. Those test scores determine what secondary schools you will be allowed to attend. In a way, those test scores determine your lot in life. But with the pandemic, this year's GCSEs have been cancelled. So if school is only test prep, and there is no test, what is the point of school? The kids aren't dumb (regardless of test scores) so they've figured this one out.

We got back to Canada just as the fears around the Virus were spreading. Ben was hoping to come to Victoria for a visit but by the time his schedule freed up, it wasn't in the cards to take a ferry and bus to see us. He's been laid off from his job at the physio/rehab clinic, so he has the time to travel, just not the ability.

I worry about Ben. Now, he's in Vancouver in a lovely little apartment and is loving life. He's a very happy guy.

But the field he's chosen (Kinesiology) seems to be one of the most worker-unfriendly fields I've ever seen. He seems to have the same job security as an Uber driver. So he's laid off, but still works with some clients remotely, but not too many, etc. etc. He's in the strange limbo of 'barely employed' and I don't know how he's supposed to make a career like this. He's trying to get into grad school to be a physio-therapist. I can only hope that physios have more control over their work life than Kinesiologists do.

Cindy was planning to be in Regina now, visiting her folks and helping the ladies at Magpies Kitchen but, no surprise, that trip is off as well. And our friends Garnet and Elanna are in town but we've only been able to visit once, before the 'stay at home' order came down. We still might be able to shout at them across the street a few times.

Cindy's trip was timed to coincide with Spring Break in BC, because she got a job as an Education Assistant with the school board at the start of March. She was supposed to start on April 5th after completing a training program in early March, but that is on hold indefinitely, as you might expect. Ah well, when there is school in session, she will be busy, no doubt.

Pre-pandemic, BC and Victoria schools were in a weird position. Their strategy is an 'inclusive learning' model, which means kids of all abilities are learning together. Which is awesome by the way. Yet it's sharply increased the need for Education Assistants in classrooms. As in, Victoria schools have only been fully staffed for four days this school year. So even though Cindy is on the sub list, when schools open again, she has been told to expect full time hours, along with the dozen other people who went through the same training program.

But hey, in the whole scheme of things, we're two of the lucky ones. We live in a beautiful, warm, walkable city with a balcony that is sunny and inviting in the afternoon. There are few people about, so when we go for a walk we can keep our distance. And at least we have a small nest egg to carry us for a few months if we need to. We would have been worse off in Regina, oddly enough. Cindy would be out of work, since Magpies has been forced to close, and I wouldn't be able to bake in the back yard either. I think we would be much more stressed out in the house we owned as opposed to the one we sold. Strange but true.

And my work hasn't been seriously affected, so far at least. My coaching work is growing slowly but steadily, and March - June will be a very busy time. This downtime could be an opportunity for people to learn, improve skills, learn something new, etc, once the economic panic stabilizes. And I think it will.

Most of my baker friends have been laid off, closed down, or severely curtailed due to the pandemic. Some, like my friend Daisy have totally restructured things, so customers can come in, pick up pre-ordered products and pay without getting close to a staff member. And they have reorganized their kitchens so staff can stay apart and not cross-contaminate. But even there, it's a matter of time. If one staff member gets sick, then it's likely all the staff are infected, right? Scary times both health wise and economically.

So here we sit, wishing we had gone to the library before it closed, trying to work as best we can and avoiding all US news and social media. I'm telling you, if you ever think Canada is hysterical, focus the dish south and you'll calm right down. We'll beat this, together.

Although I am following any news on aid packages and hoping that they are a) people centric and b) universal. We don't have the time nor the people to be doing a ton of means testing - everyone is feeling the pinch. And I'd much rather give every Air Canada employee some cash along with every other citizen than bailing out the airline. And freeze rents while we're at it. If a business closes to protect the common health of people, the landlords & banks who pressure for rents should get their assets seized as a public good. Honestly. We either all pull together or we've got a big problem. This isn't a TV movie of the week.

I'll leave my manifesto for Universal Basic Income for the next letter. :)

You need not be alone. #

I'll end this letter with a Togetherness Tip. It's not the same as a real hug, but in this time when we're forced to stay apart, it's still a help.

When I'm coaching altMBA or the Story Skills Workshop, or hosting calls for the Right Company or Bakers4Bakers, or even recording conversations for the Rise Up! podcast, I use a service called Zoom.

It's a video conferencing service that's free (or cheap) and extremely easy to use. All you need is a smartphone, tablet or computer.

One person organizes a meeting on the Zoom platform and sends everyone else a link to an online meeting room. At the appointed time, everyone clicks the link and a tiny Zoom app launches on your phone/tablet/PC. You all show up on screen and can talk to each other.

The free tier allows 40 minute group calls and unlimited 1:1 calls.

Sure, it's not the same as face-to-face, but it's pretty darn good.

Yesterday, we had an 'all in the family' to celebrate Cindy's mother's birthday. Robyn was there from England, Ben from Vancouver, Chris and family in Calgary, mom in Regina. Even Candy joined on her iPhone from her (parked) car!

An hour later, I hosted a call with my friend Bernadette in Australia, author Michael Bungay Stainer in Toronto and 45 coaches from all around the globe.

I'll be chatting with my buddy Adam in Madrid as soon as I hit 'send' on this email.

All on Zoom.

So, seriously, if you are feeling shut in and lonely, you don't have to be. Email your buddies and organize a Zoom call. You'll feel much better.

Totem poles and spring blooms

Totems and blossoms and sun, oh my!

Alrighty. I should sign off. Look, I really, truly hope you're doing OK.

This is a crazy time but once we pull through it, think of all the stories you'll have to tell. But that can only happen if you stay safe and stay healthy. So stay inside. Leave some toilet paper for the others. Eat the food you bought. If you run out of books, get on Zoom and have a friend read to you. Share a poem. Paint a picture. You're amazing and you're doing great.

Best wishes,


PS - I’ve done two podcasts talking about baking in the time of the virus. Thought you might like them too. They’re short. :)