Random stuff, reflections on the meaning of life and death, humour, self-deprecation, a bit of bad poetry.

Happy Diwali!

Yesterday, I picked up an order of samosas and barfi for my dad at a local Indian restaurant/sweet shop.

While showing us around Delhi on family trip to India in November 2001, our tour guide (who happened to be Hindu and who took us around mostly Hindu temples) was emphatic « We are all Hindus. » Picture an Indian head nod and frantic doorknob turning hands and wrists as added flourish to this statement. Indeed, during Diwali, Festival of Lights, we truly are united in our victory over darkness, evil and ignorance.

Photo credit: Valerie Rosen Photography

Here is an excerpt from my journal entry as we landed in India on the eve of Diwali.

November 11th, 2001:

The flight over was interminably long. Poor mom didn’t have much of a meet and greet service from Dorval but there was better service from Amsterdam and then again in Delhi. The wheelchairs were a little ancient looking when we reached our final destination but hey, this is India.

When we landed, mom immediately remarked it smelled like the India she remembered arriving in Bombay in 1962 to marry dad. It was dank and pungent and slightly exotic, not altogether unpleasant.

After getting through immigration, we entered a large open area where people were waiting for their loved ones. Our « loved one » was the travel agent, Mr. Shawshank. Lots of cries of « taxi » rang out, which I had read about in the Lonely Planet guide. Not looking forward to being ripped off, another assurance from the book.

Driving is on the left side here, influenced by the British, no doubt. We didn’t see many other cars but there were a lot of palm trees along the way, not to mention a rather large cow crossing the road. Cows are sacred in India and whereas the driver may have continued if it was a person crossing the road, he did slow down for the cow. It was all a bit surreal.

Upon arrival, we noted the hotel rooms were clean but damp and the showers more than adequate considering where we were.

Monday, November 12th, 2001:

Had a wake up call at 7:30 am and a decent enough buffet breakfast of mildly Indian and mostly Western fare.

Our first glimpse of Delhi in the day was overwhelming as our driver picked us up. There were people everywhere, from beggars to the upper classes, and the traffic was a plethora of buses, cars, taxis, auto rickshaws, bicycles and pedestrians.

Why does everyone honk here? It does absolutely no good!

We drove to the travel agency first, where dad was surveyed by no less than seven people, as he paid for his travel vouchers.

Afterwards, we met our driver, Pandi, and our guide, Mr. Narang, a pleasant, short fellow with a lone tooth slightly left of centre on the bottom row of where his other teeth used to be. The latter, with a notably Hindu point of view, went on to explain the history of Delhi as we visited our first temple called Birla Mandir, dedicated to Lakshmi, the goddess of prosperity and good fortune. (The three main Hindu gods are: Vishnu the preserver, Brahma the preserver and Shiva the destroyer.)

We were distracted momentarily from our reverie when a young man shook dad’s hand and promptly handed his baby over to my sister for a photo opportunity. Apparently it is quite fashionable for Indians to have their photo taken with foreigners.

Off next to the Jama Masjid mosque in Old Delhi which is the largest mosque in India, built by Shah Jahan between 1644 to 1658. It has three great gateways, four angled towers and two minarets, forty meters high. It is constructed of alternating strips of sandstone and white marble. According to Mr. Narang, cleaners hit the walls with pieces of cloth to remove dust and debris.

This was our biggest shock yet as there were beggars everywhere, some horribly deformed from leprosy, shouting Allah, Allah in the hot sun.

At the entrance to the mosque, we removed our shoes (praying they would be there when we got back) and walked through a wide courtyard. Prayers were beginning as men recited the Koran. No women were present and there were no idols or images of God. As our toothless guide explained, the Muslims believe God to be beyond our concept or possible imagination.

People stared and swarmed around us, some trying to rub shoulders, others taking photos. I fear we are destined to be in several local holiday photo albums.

All eyes were on dad as he opened his money belt to pay the mosque shoe guardian.

En route back to the car, we passed through some alleyways and saw people living in what was less than a shanty for shelter. There was also a compound with chickens and goats which were to be slaughtered at the end of Ramadan.

When we got to our van, the beggars crowded in. Apparently many will hire children or babies to get sympathy and money.

Driving through the market in Old Delhi, the decorations were up for Diwali. Rickshaws were everywhere including school bus versions and people were continuously banging at the window hawking their ware or begging for money.

Next we went to the Gandhi Memorial or Raj Ghat as on the other side there is a river. There is a simple square platform of black marble marking the spot where Gandhi was cremated after his assassination in 1948.

Dad found a plaque written in Urdu and asked me to take a photo. I’m not sure why he asked me to take a photo because when I later asked him what the plaque said, he replied that he had no idea. (Urdu is his first language, by the way.)

Lunch was at a restaurant in town where I ate my favourite Indian dish: channa (chick pea curry) and roti (chapatis). I was determined not to eat any meat during this trip.

Afterwards we went to Humayun’s Tomb and then the Qutab Minar Complex. At this point I had had my fill of temples and monuments and was pleasantly distracted by a display of puja cut into a banyan tree.

Through a market area, a madhouse of people were lined up for hours to buy sweets for Diwali which is on November 14th this year. Apparently a favourite shop is Nathus. During Diwali, family members exchange gifts of flowers and sweets. Wrapped in silver or red and gold foil, boxes of sweets are piled high in people’s cars or tucked under their arms. It’s a wonderful, festive time to be in Delhi.

In the meantime, everyone is honking and no one is paying any attention.

Our driver Pandi says you need « good horn, good brakes, good luck » to drive in Delhi. A sense of humour doesn’t hurt either.

We finished the day with a good Bollywood flick before heading to bed.

Namaste 🙏

I convinced Ian that we should dress up as murderers this Halloween. Who knew a costume could be so easy?

“And if your eyebrow goes straight across your head, you will most likely become a murderer.”

“Oh, my God!” someone shrieked, touching their face.”

—  Elaine McCluskey, The Most Heartless Town in Canada 

For some of us, this will come naturally.

What are you dressing up as?

Yesterday was World Mental Health Day.

A week ago I traipsed down to the local dog park, macro lens in tow, intent on photographing a magical mushroom Ian had told me about earlier in the day.

Actually he told me about two mushrooms, one phallic shaped and the other a perfect flower. A low to the ground mushroom has its advantages. By the time we returned to the spot, the penis shaped mushroom had been trampled on whereas the rose shaped one was left intact.

I spent twenty blissful minutes photographing the flower mushroom, arranging and rearranging various fall leaves around it into a perfect flat lay.

Not once in that mindful twenty minutes was I aware of the black cloud of doom that had been hovering over my shoulder for the past six weeks. I stomped on eggshells (avoiding the mushroom, of course), erected boundaries (that included my vignette) and didn’t give a whit about World Mental Health Day.

Alas, our perfect mushroom was too good to be true. What the lens didn’t pick up, the editing process did. That perfect flowering mushroom turned out to be a polyester doodad, planted by some jokester, likely the same one who trampled the young shaggy mane.

Which brings me back to the dark cloud. Sometimes a distraction will successfully blow it away. Other times it’s about saving yourself when you are too exhausted to do any more for someone you care about.

It means turning away from the blame, the anger, and the shame and shifting the weight of responsibility that comes with being the eldest child/third parent. It’s asking someone else to carry the load for a while and if there is no one available, just leaving it there.

I envy the people who can just be open about it. Those who can vent and rant and rave. ‘Cause that’s the other thing about World Mental Health Day: nobody really wants to talk about it, at least not in a way that’s personal. Memes are okay though.

So here are my contributions a day after World Mental Health Day: one mushroom and one doodad.


Flat lay with doodad
My husband took this picture of the phallic mushroom before it was destroyed.

It’s my dad’s 89th birthday today. Since the first time he nearly died during cardiac surgery, eleven years ago to the day, my dad has set his sights on making it to 90.

A natural extrovert and party-man (his idea of a good time is making sure his guests practice the deadly sin of gluttony), intent on celebrating every birthday with a bang, he repeated history by nearly dying again three years ago.

Even then, end stage heart failure didn’t stop him from attending his own birthday party, the week-end long event bracketed by two hospitalisations and yet another cardiac surgery. If you’d witnessed him gasping for breath the evening before his surgery, you’d have been as certain as I was then, that he was a goner. Instead, he was given another respite, and more time.

My father has no interest in dying. He exercises daily, a half hour of stretching and calisthenics in the morning in addition to a long walk around the block with my mother. During non-COVID times, he attends aqua-fitness classes thrice weekly and practices brain exercises at what he refers to as the adult day care (centre) on Monday afternoons. He plays the stock market every day and bought a Tesla last year. He continues to give support and advice (often unsolicited) to his children and grandchildren.

He did consider death briefly at sixteen years old, the option of jumping into a well while running for his life from a sword-wielding assassin in post-Partition Pakistan.

“Brother Raminder stopped me.”, he explained, referring to his older brother. That incident would forge an unbreakable bond between them until my uncle’s death some twenty years ago.

I asked him once how he coped from the trauma of that incident and the subsequent experience of being a refugee, moving from camp to camp in Pakistan, before crossing the border into Northern India.

“Indians don’t dwell on these things. We move forward and get on with the business of living. We were always well-fed in the camps; the refugee community focussed on food. I gave back once I got to India by helping out at the camps.”

Well, that would explain the importance of having enough food to feed an army, or perhaps an entire refugee camp, at his parties.

For the record, it is very likely that my father has already reached his goal of ninety. Birth certificates were generally not issued in these places during those times. There were no public records. Too many people to keep track of. Nobody really cares if you live or die.

It’s a convenient practice if you need to change your age in order to meet a particular criteria. In my father’s case, it was a matter of my paternal grandmother lying about his age when he needed to repeat his school year, having missed much of it due to heavy monsoons and the family moving from the grounds of a local Maharaja’s estate in Utter Pradesh, to ancestral land in Pakistan.

If he is ninety today, he isn’t acknowledging it. The problem with reaching an objective like that, is what do you do once you get there. Aim for a hundred? You betcha!

Besides, the blow-out party is planned for next year. He’s hinted at a cross-country train ride across Canada, the whole family in tow. Or perhaps another birthday party celebrated with relatives in North Wales (there have been too many to count).

If my dear cousin Annwen were still alive today, she would have joked, “What, another party? Is it your birthday again, Uncle Paul?”.

Yes, indeed it is.

Happy birthday, dad. See you same time next year.

Post-op cardiac surgery August 2017
Enjoying a take-out masala dosa, one month post-op, September 2017
King of the castle: my dad’s 86th birthday party.

“If your eyes are sound, your whole body will be filled with light.”

— Dept. of Speculation, by Jenny Offill

But my eyes are not sound. Filmy, vaseline-smeared lenses that do not focus no matter how I tilt the page or squint into the light.

This garden gnome is sinking as the page is dimming. Squat, sturdy body folds awkwardly as its low centre of gravity pulls away from the one foot still in this world.

Sometimes, albeit rarely, I experience moments of perfect bliss, like this past Saturday morning when I had a quiet house to myself, dogs and birds fed and watered, the beginning of a long week-end stretching far ahead of me, a steaming cup of coffee and cream in one hand and a pearl of a new book in my other hand.

“Quiet in the cup. Hard to believe that isn’t joy, the way it flies away when I fling it out the window.”
― Jenny Offill, Weather

Times like these, I forget that I am middle-aged, two-thirds of my life gone (if I’m lucky), with responsibilities and a messy house and endless lists of things to do before I die, or at least before the end of the month. (God forbid anyone should be burdened with my unfinished business.) In the zone, I have zero ambition and no regrets.

This happy state is such that it makes me forget that we now live in a COVID world, that I haven’t had tea with my parents in over two months and that life outside the house now involves careful PPE planning.

I’m pretty sure what I was feeling at that time was gratitude, not for anything in particular, but rather for the unexpected gift of finding a lost treasure, and the luxury of being able to sit with it for a while. Call it hope if you like.


This past Friday, our health unit dispatched two teams to a local senior’s residence in crisis to help with medications and COVID-19 testing.

I was paired with an auxiliary nurse I hadn’t worked with before, a tall and elegant Roshumba Williams type. We met in the lobby of the residence and practiced vigorous hand hygiene before a sink made for giants that was flush with my chin and Roshumba’s hips, then had our temperatures taken. Afebrile. Roshumba handed me my PPE kit.

The white gown threw me off guard a little (we were used to gauzy, yellow, flowy PPE the length of car coats). It unfolded like a table cloth, its stiff, pleated sections hanging like a large, sectional Ikea rectangle. Its length was lined with closely spaced tiny snaps culminating in a neat mandarin collar at the top. Following Roshumba’s lead, I donned it like a lab coat and proceeded to snap away until it completely covered my Gap jeans, my Old Navy plaid shirt, leaving only grape-purple sneakers peaking out from under the hem. I spent the next 6 hours in full (stark white) PPE, roaming the hallways like a mini refrigerator, visor head swivelling like R2D2 as I tried to keep up with Roshumba’s longer stride length, not to mention her work ethic. We got the job done though it weren’t pretty.

Fast forward to today. A new client. Level 2 PPE stuffed into a paper lunch bag. I was already wearing my mask as I rang the bell. The door was opened by my client’s son. I spread brown paper towels on the floor of the hallway to create a clean surface on which to lay the lunch bag and my work bag. Hand hygiene was done first. Gown next. This one was blue. Large enough to to protect the entire Western Hemisphere, it completely covered my purple sneakers, elasticated sleeves extended to the ground in knuckle-grazing PPE style. I pushed them up determinedly and donned medium sized gloves over Hobbit-sized hands. The client’s lovely son asked me if I’d like a tea and I politely declined as one purple sneaker stepped on the inside of the gown, momentarily stopping the earth and me from spinning. I lifted the hem with begloved hands and proceeded.

Evaluation completed. Recommendations given. I doffed gloves and elasticated sleeves unfurled to the ground. Lost hands were eventually found and cleaned. I peeled the blue sky off next, carefully rolling it into a ball, inside out, and tried to stuff it back into the tiny paper lunch bag which promptly ripped straight down the middle. Apologetically, I left the bulging blue detritus in the hallway of my client, instructing his son to wash his hands after he disposed of it.

Home care PPE is clearly not an exact science and its one size must fit all approach is (thankfully) fodder for blogs. Please stay safe, friends.

As a frontline health care worker, I’m as scared shitless as any of you over this coronavirus pandemic, particularly now that there is increasing community spread of COVID-19. That being said, I am grateful for a steady pay check when so many have lost their jobs. I am also thankful for the moments of grace, compassion and humour that bind us all together.

There have been umpteen articles, news reports, instructional videos and personal testimonies on what to wear for PPE (personal protection equipment) whether you are a health care worker preparing for battle or a citizen trying to get your groceries done at the local supermarket.

If it were only a matter of having an adequate supply of PPE at our disposal we’d be all set but alas, there is a specific method to donning and doffing in health care so that you do not contaminate either your client or yourself on the way in and on the way out. Nurses are the ultimate pros (I bow to them) at this but as you have heard reported in the media, there are many who have fallen ill from the coronavirus despite the use of PPE. It is definitely not foolproof.

Let me clarify that as a physiotherapist I have donned and doffed many times in my 35 year career. Never have the stakes been so high though.

Last week I had the opportunity to practice my PPE technique when I did a home visit for a client who was in quarantine with symptoms. Social distancing, my eye. There is no way to examine a wound or reassure an anxious client from 2 meters away. By the time I left, I had managed to contaminate just about everything I touched from the cell phone I took pictures of the wound with, to the pen I used to write down recommendations, to the small bottle of standard issue, flip-top hand sanitizer I used between donning and doffing.

Folks, it ain’t nothing like in the instructional video where everything you need is at arms length like the hand sanitizer dispenser on the wall or in the case of the ever handy garbage can, a foot pump away.

I vowed to do better next time and this past Friday I had my chance: my client had a doctor’s appointment on Monday and I was asked to practice stair training with her. Before leaving for the home visit, I reviewed the PPE procedure in my head and again out loud with my office mates as they nodded encouragingly. You’ve got this, Sharon, they said.

Once I arrived at the client’s, I left everything in my car except my car keys which I placed in the right hand pocket of my coat, my hand sanitizer which I placed in my left pocket and a brown paper bag that held mask, gloves and gown.

As I entered the house, my client appeared on the landing above. She was upset because us workers were leaving our discarded PPE in her entranceway and they were accumulating. I explained that we could not transport them back to the office as they were considered contaminated. Irate, she asked if I could at least throw it in her garbage can outside. I agreed to do so on my way out making a mental note to use my hand sanitizer immediately after.

Here are my donning and doffing procedures in detail.

Donning: hang coat in closet, reach in right pocket of jacket and feel car keys (oops), reach in left pocket for hand sanitizer, practice hand hygiene for recommended 20-40 seconds as client looks on, put on gown, note in hallway mirror that gown is too décolleté and shirt is sticking out, attempt to re-tie gown and note that shirt is still showing but less so, place procedure mask over mouth and nose as glasses steam up, put on rubber gloves pulling them up over arms of gown.

Intervention: reassure anxious client while looking over steamed up glasses, discuss exit plan for Monday’s doctor’s appointment and decide that client will go out front door rather than garage, realize that we will have to practice outside stairs while I am fully doffed for neighbours to ogle at, successfully practice indoor stairs with client who is thrilled, client does even better with outside stairs (hurrah!), client checks up on garbage cans by garage door and notices one is tipped over, client asks me to place it upright, as I put it upright my be-gloved right hand lands in mushy, food stuff that some animal has rummaged through, I silently scream ewww as I retain outward professional decorum and make mental note not to touch anything with right hand, escort client back upstairs and into house, ask client if there is anything I can do for her before I go— As a matter of fact, client says, can you please spray my roots for me with that magic root concealer spray on the dining room table? Spray client’s roots with left hand keeping dirty, garbage-contaminated right hand behind back while client holds stockingnette against forehead, wipe excess brown dye from client’s forehead and attempt to wipe away large, brown age spot that is permanent and matches hair dye, client checks hair in bathroom mirror and gives me thumbs up with her good hand.

Doffing: remove really gross right glove first, remove left glove with magic root concealer on it, reach into right hand pocket of coat to find car keys, reach into left hand pocket to get hand sanitizer, practice recommended hand hygiene for 20-40 seconds, lean head forward to remove mask, realize with horror that mask is stuck on something so pull harder and steamed up glasses go flying across landing as client watches, forget what to do when this happens as it wasn’t covered in instructional video so put glasses on and silently hope for the best, remove gown after untying knot that has formed at the neck and got caught in hair, reach in left pocket of coat for hand sanitizer to practice hand hygiene for recommended time, leave client while promising to take out garbage next visit.

In car: take out hand sanitizer and practice vigorous hand hygiene for five minutes, remove antiseptic wipe from baggie in knapsack on passenger car seat and wipe outside of hand sanitizer bottle, glasses, keys, door handles, radio knobs, steering wheel, bottom of boots and hands again.

Conclusion: it is harder than it looks to don and doff and so much more stressful under present circumstances. Trust me, even with PPE, it is easy to contaminate. I bow again before the nurses who do this so much better than me.

Stay safe everyone. We’ll get through this. ❤️🙏

Bird noises at the avian vet. Reading the same page over and over again as wandering mind scrolls through worse case scenarios.

Feathers, and bone encase his crackling lungs and tiny, beating heart. This small thing with wings, this source of daily joy, has embedded itself deeply in my mundane life.

Tell me, how can one become so attached to something that weighs a mere 22 grams?

Bells, whistles and Star Wars sound effects at the avian vet.

Three years ago today, six men lost their lives in a Quebec City mosque. They were shot dead by a gunman in their place of worship as they participated in evening prayers. Five others were critically wounded. Film-maker Ariel Nasr’s documentary tells the story of the aftermath: six women widowed, seventeen children left fatherless, an entire community traumatized.

Meanwhile, our government denies the existence of Islamophobia in this province, and in the name of laicity of the state, passes a bill banning the wearing of religious symbols by public workers in positions of authority, such as lawyers and teachers. This bill mainly targets hijab-wearing Muslim women. Law 21 happens to go against the Quebec and the Federal Charters of Rights and Freedoms so they invoke the notwithstanding clause in order to bypass any legal challenges.

The government passes a law to ensure the religious neutrality of the state as Christian, Muslim, Sikh, Jewish, Hindu, Buddhist, agnostic, atheist, etc, public sector workers everywhere benefit from stat holidays at Christmas and Easter.

The hypocrisy is infuriating.

I was unable to attend the screening of the documentary film this evening but I am planning to watching it at a later date. It’s the least we can do to rally around a community that has lost so much and is still struggling today.




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