2021 – The Beginning of the End (of desperate times).
2021 has been a year to remember or forget. As the third lockdown in Ontario, kicked in we had reached a point of desperation. The bad dream we had been in during 2020 began to feel like Groundhog Day, with no way out or forward in the year ahead.
We couldn’t really complain. We had a very comfortable house, with garden to expand into, ongoing lists of odd jobs and each other. We were connected via the internet to the rest of the world via Zoom and WhatsApp. We spoke to family members and friends on video daily. Hardly a picture of unmitigated hardship, but the dis-ease which we felt at just knowing how small and limited our lives had become, with no clear way out in sight, somehow brought us to a point of desperation. I know we were not alone. Looking back, it sounds a bit frivolous to complain, but the fact is we found the front end of the year hard.
Having said that, the year is now over and on reflection we have had a passably good year. We did make it through the 3rd Covid19 Lockdown in the winter months. We have even anticipated the fourth wave in the fall with dread, only to find that with most Ontarians double vacced, it has turned out to be a bit of a non-event. Thank you, Lord. Slowly but surely, it’s beginning to feel like we’ve turned the corner on Covid and the end of the tunnel looks a bit nearer.
So how has our year shaped up? Pretty well, all things considered. Here’s how it went.
is always brightened up with the opportunity to celebrate Elaine’s birthday on
the thirteenth. As you know, in the Land of Covid, people live in Bubbles,
exclusive to a handful of other people. Elaine, Sammy and Esther, along with
Elaine’s father-in-law Apacha next door along with his full-time caregiver
Tinnu were in their own Bubble. Cher and I had to choose if we were to be part
of Elaine or Julia and Chris’s Bubble. For a couple of reasons, Julia’s Bubble
was a bit bigger and leakier than Elaine’s. Covid forced us to some hard
decisions. It was very difficult to cut ourselves off from our regular visits
with Julia and Chris and their three boys, but we did manage regular brief and
cold front door masked hellos. Not being able to give and receive hugs was one
of those intangible Covid hardships which we found challenging. Ultimately for
our own pre-vaccination safety and Apacha’s, who was in his 80’s, we decided to
join Elaine’s Bubble. This meant we could visit and join in with a scaled down
birthday party. I (Rob) had taken to doing a daily Crossword puzzle and it was
fun to have Apacha sit alongside me and add his suggestions and comments. Anyone
who knows Apacha would know that he is a man of very few words. Helping me with a crossword or two amounted to
almost a lively conversation with him. I was grateful for those times. It was
sad that only a few weeks later towards the end of February, Apacha took a bad
turn and passed away within hours at the nearby Markham Stouffville hospital. Living
in the townhouse next door, Apacha had become a big part of Elaine, Sammy and
Esther’s lives. Not having him there left a significant hole for them and us. Tinnu,
who had become a good companion for Elaine, had to find work elsewhere and
moved out shortly after Apacha’s passing. The home next door has become a quiet
and lonely place which has been sad. Between Elaine and Apacha’s home they have
seen three deaths in the last 6-7 years: Alex’s Mom and Dad, Mary and Apacha
and then Alex. This has left only Charles, Alex’s brother, as the final
survivor in that family. Hard for Charles as he lives in New York State and all
his cousins and aunts and uncles are in the Toronto area. Now that Apacha and Tinnu were gone, Elaine,
Sammy and Esther were very isolated and having us able to visit became more important
Elaine's birthday always cheers us up in January
|Rob's brother Alan, joined us |
snowshoeing once or twice
Our first attempt we did on our own as we didn’t want to embarrass ourselves in company. Once we had figured out the basics, we were ready to go. Our good friends down the road, Bill and Karen Anderson, were already champing at the bit to introduce us to the delights and we were soon headed for nearby Durham and Glen Major Forest. It turned out to be a great way to spend a few hours outdoors, get some good exercise and discover muscles that had been too long neglected. By and large the forest protected us a bit from the wind and cold and even at minus 10 degrees Celsius we were soon stripping off layers to cool off a bit.
We managed a number of outings in January and February and Alice and John Chase joined us a couple of times, but then the snow began to run out and we faced a bleak few months while we waited for the weather to warm up, before we could get out and about into the garden and beyond.
Our final lifesaver which kept us going during the third lockdown, were our twice weekly Zoom meetings with our Small Group from our church. We would meet for coffee and a chat after our Sunday morning online services and then we would meet weekly on a Tuesday night for a study and or prayer. This regular human contact really kept us going, although my patience with Zoom meetings had a definite time limit on them. After an hour or so of being trapped in front of a screen, I would start to get antsy and needed to walk around a bit. Nevertheless, we were both very grateful for the fellowship and friendship which our Small Group represented for us. It was and continues to be a lifesaver.
On the spiritual side of our lives, the winter months were a mixed bag. We found online church to be very difficult. We sang the same songs and listened to the same sermons we would have done, as if we’d been attending in person. However, the lack of human contact and fellowship turned what is normally a rich and fulfilling weekly activity into just another content filled exercise. We have been reminded afresh of the fact that as human beings we are designed to be together in person with each other and the lack of human eye contact and touch is deeply missed. The saying that “we come to church for the spiritual input, but keep coming back for the friends”, has taken on new and fresh meaning for us.
Our winter was
significantly brightened when we watched Season 1 and 2 of “The Chosen”. This
is the first ever TV series on the life of Jesus and His disciples. It is being
funded 100% by crowd funding, so the producers are not beholden to investors
and any ulterior motives. Ultimately there will be seven seasons. The key facts
remain true to the Biblical story. However, what the show does is go and create
a back story that arrives at the Biblical story. So, it is a type of faction.
The writers do a wonderful job of helping us to envisage what the background
might have been to the Bible story we know. For us and many others, The Chosen
has brought the story of Jesus to life in a wonderful way. There are many
scenes fixed in my mind which bring me to tears. If you have not seen it, set
aside some time and just do it. You can find it online for free at “thechosen.tv”. We have been watching this together with our Small Group and then discussing it
when we meet. It really gets our juices going and we are enjoying doing second
and sometimes third viewings.
Each season has its blessings. In this case we
were visited by snow angels.
Spring is a lovely time in Canada. The bleakness of winter begins to recede, but the warmth and color of summer has not quite arrived. It is a transitional time, like the coming of the Kingdom of God – it has been achieved but still in the process of being realized. In the Spring, we know the blossoms and blooms are coming, the evidence is there, but they don't fully emerge for another couple of months. The temperatures are not conducive to sitting out, and the ground is still frozen, so gardening is not only a waste of time, but impossible.
What is one
to do in the Spring during a Covid lockdown? Well, if you own an RV its
obvious. Renovate. In 2020, Cher and I had embarked on an ambitious external
renovation of our 2004 RV. We had resealed the rubberised roof, removed and
replaced 16-year-old dried and baked on decals, replaced the tires and
generally spruced up the outside so at least we didn’t need to feel embarrassed
about driving down the road or parking alongside a half million dollar luxury RV
in a campsite somewhere. Despite it’s age, the engine on our RV has only done
50,000 miles so it is still a baby mechanically. The inside of the RV had been
lived in one way or another for 17 years and looked like it. So, mainly out of
the need to have something to do during lockdown, we decided to do the
unthinkable – we would renovate the interior. I am not a practical guy at all
and it’s a measure of my desperation to do something, anything, that we were
willing to give it a shot.
Before - 17 years of loving RV use
beginning to show
It’s instructive that once one starts a project and just follows logically one step after another, how things just seem to proceed quite naturally. We decided on a completely new look. We would repaint the walls, which ultimately, we never did, re-upholster the furniture, change the carpets, light and plug fixtures, add a few lights and put backsplash in the kitchen and bathroom. We changed the mattress on our bed and re-did all the window curtain fittings. We started with a long and seemingly impossible list of things to do. We kicked off by keeping Amazon afloat for a week or two with our orders alone. We also contributed significantly to the local economy at Home Depot, carpet, fabric and upholstery stores. We parked the RV on our driveway for close on a month while we went hard at it. It was quite a scary feeling when we had stripped it all down to the bare bones and we seriously wondered if we would ever get it back together again.
|Kitchen backsplash - check|
|Cher - presiding over the new look|
|Part of the renovation team |
on Rose and Roy's house
|Sammy, Rob and Esther at Scarborough Bluffs|
|Cher and Rob kayaking in a local stream|
|Beautiful spring day at Mara Beach|
|Sammy and Esther rescuing |
ice shards - early spring
|Julia and Chris enjoying the better weather|
|James, Kai, John and Peter - partners|
|Peter, James and John - tree climbers extraordinaire|
My To Do
list has taken a severe hit during Covid. Never has it looked so depleted and
low. Nevertheless, some of those jobs have proved remarkably tenacious and resilient.
For the eight years we have lived in our current house, Cher and I have thrown
our garden waste into a big pile in the strip of forest between our house and
the one behind us, to make compost. Covid isolation, left us no choice but to sort and
sift it. This turned out to be quite a task. I framed a gigantic sieve and Cher
and I went at the pile with a vengeance. My job was to dig it out, take out the
big sticks and dump the rest on the sieve. Cher’s job was to sift the “good
stuff” and extract the big pieces and endless pinecones, which we put into garden
bags. Sixteen garden bags and three days later, stiff and sore in every part of
our bodies, we called it quits. We had dealt with about a third of our pile and
had one nice pile of “good stuff” to use during our gardening season. We will
face the remaining pile next year – maybe. There’s a limit after all, to how
much compost we can use in any one year.
Birthday blanket in bed for Cher
Summer this year was as it should be. Lots of sunshine, outings galore and opportunities to eat breakfast, lunch and supper on our back deck. The season is short, so it’s party all the way.
Rose and Roy were back from SA after twelve years and Al and Rose were home, Covid having clipped their wings from travel to be with their kids. We had Mariah, Thalya and Kai with us. It was clear that as soon as the weather improved, we needed a gigantic Family Get Together. We tried two or three times to get a date planned, but the goal posts kept shifting on us as vaccinations were happening or not, sizes of groups permitted to meet were a moving target and bottom line, the ability to plan an event was nonexistent. We finally decided that things would surely be opened up by Canada Day on July 1st. Not. Finally, we managed to all get together outside on July 10th in Al and Rose’s back garden. It was fun. Backyard table tennis, soccer for the kids and BBQ. Now that is what summer is all about. We are thankful that our family is broadening its base and growing in this part of the world.
The rest of our summer is really a blur of RV related activities interspersed with the occasional visit home to do some laundry, pick a few weeds, and then pack up for the next trip. Our first foray was with Elaine, Sammy, and Esther for about three weeks in June. This trip had gone through a few mutations because of our good friend Covid. It had started with me wanting to spend the summer doing a three month RV trip to Alaska. Alaska is a long way and Cher persuaded me to be less adventurous, so we decided we would do the Southwest USA which has been on my bucket list for a while. Then Covid came along, and we decided to stay in Canada and do a 5–6-week trip with Elaine, Sammy, and Esther to the Maritime Provinces (New Brunswick, Nova Scotia and Prince Edward Island). That would fit well with some of the home-schooling project the kids had been working on. Then we realised that the Atlantic Bubble would not allow us to visit that part of the world and our plans morphed once again into a three-week trip of Southern Ontario. This tale is a vivid illustration of how Covid has clipped our wings and boxed us in. No wonder we all feel a bit out of sorts.
Julia and boys joined us for
five days at Sauble Beach
Trips to the beach with all our gear
were quite an expedition
Sandcastling at Sauble Beach - Summer Perfect Trip to a local Nature Reserve - fun for all Julia and Rob stringing up
canvas covers for the tents
Beautiful scenery near Tobermory There's a bird up there somewhere Cher, Sammy, Elaine and Esther beaching
it at Port Dover
Our first stop with Elaine, Sammy and Esther was north 4- 5 hours to Tobermory, which is on a peninsula which divides Georgian Bay from the rest of Lake Huron. It is a beautiful part of the world. We arrived as things were beginning to open up and were able to do a glass bottomed boat ride to an island where we saw some interesting rock formations. We also visited The Grotto, which was stunningly beautiful, making us feel like we were on the Mediterranean coastline. The kids loved our campsite as there was a pool. They swam quit happily in the freezing water but seemed oblivious to that fact. Because we were now going to be relatively close to home Julia and boys, John, James and Peter decided to join us for a week in Sauble Beach, where we stayed in a very nice campsite, about 10 minutes bike ride from the beach. Julia, and boys were staying in two tents. We were expecting some rain, so spent some time fixing her up extra coverage over her tents. We were quite proud of the result. There were nine of us by then, and we made quite a sight as we all rode our bikes down to the beach in single file every day. The highlight of our final day was when we rescued a seagull with a badly broken wing, from the beach. He was happy for our help and seemed to enjoy our company in the box we organised for him. Julia took him on her way home the next day, to a rescue centre where his fate was uncertain. Enough said. We moved on from Sauble Beach to Southwest Ontario via some gorgeous farm fields and ultimately ended up in Niagara where we spent a few days doing the sights. Many things were still closed at that time, so once again we found the pool was our best friend and the kids made friends with another family who they have continued to have contact with.
|Rob and Cher cycling between |
Southampton and Port Elgin
|Neil and Carla Daniel, Rob and Cher|
kayaking trip on Saugeen River
For the rest of the summer Cher and I did a series of four-to-five-day trips across Southern Ontario to Port Elgin area, Rockwood Conservation Area and Kilbear Provincial Park with friends Carla and Neil who have their own trailer and once with our neighbors Bill and Karen Anderson. With Carla and Neil, we camped on the Saugeen River, near Port Elgin and discovered there is a 4- 5 day canoe/kayak trail that can be done down the river. We did a couple of stretches of it in our inflatable kayaks and enjoyed some quite good “rapids” which was fun. While we were at Rockwood we visited the St. Jacobs market, in the heart of Mennonite country. It was the biggest crowd we had been in for a year and a half, and it felt great to be back in the bustle with real people again. The fresh produce was irresistible, and we came home with bags of it.
Our summer is never complete without our annual family week at Fairhavens Family Camp in early August. This year, we had Rose, Roy, Mariah, Thalya and Kai with us for the first time, so that made for a bigger crowd with about 15 of us in total. Al and Rosie had to cancel because they had gone to Greece to visit Rosie’s Mum. We love the opportunity to be together as a large family and Fairhavens is a great time for the cousins to build lifelong friendships. Towards the end of August, we have typically taken Sammy and Esther to Beavermead campsite in Peterborough, while Elaine has prepared for school. This year we decided to have Julia’s three boys John, James and Peter join us. Rose and Roy’s house is less than a kilometer away so they too would be able to join in the fun. Cher and I had been having second thoughts about having all five of the kids with us together, as we find we don’t cope as well as we used to with the constant chaos. Did we ever? As things turned out, one of Julia’s boys was sick and we didn’t want to cross infect the rest of us, so we ended up having Sammy and Esther for 2-3 days and then Julia’s boys for 2-3 days each when we figured they were on the mend. This arrangement worked out well.
|Team effort to flatten the floater|
|Fairhavens - kids learning to dive|
|Fairhavens - our biggest family group yet|
|Fairhavens - Roy with a bunch of |
The other highlight of the summer was that our baby, Julia, turned 40. I am still reeling from the impossible idea that my youngest chicklet could possibly be that age. We had wanted to give her a big party, but of course our good friend Covid ensured that any plans we would like to have made were impossible and then we were limited to partying outside and numbers needed to be limited. We were sad that we couldn’t celebrate as fully as we’d like to have done, but such is life under the thumb of The Bug.
|Kilbear Provincial Park - site of some|
|The grandkids strut their stuff before our |
departure for South Africa.
Cher had not been able to see her 96-year-old Mom in person for almost two years. Along with that we received the shocking news that my brother Neville had been diagnosed with stage 4 melanoma throughout his body. Despite the severity of the news Nev’s oncologist was relatively upbeat, touting “immunotherapy” as potentially delivering very good outcomes. Nevertheless, I felt I needed to get back to South Africa to see Nev. So, despite the risk of travel we decided to book flights and take our chances.
From mid October to end of November Cher and I were visiting South Africa. We were having a holiday with a difference. Cher and I were having separate holidays. Cher was visiting SA primarily to see her ageing Mom in East London and I was visiting mainly to see my brother Neville and family. Neville had recently received news that he had stage 4 melanoma. Despite him having started a recent “wonder treatment” called immunotherapy it seemed a good time to visit.
After a week isolating in a cottage in Cintsa East, close to East London we moved in with Cher’s sister Lynne for a few days which gave me a chance to visit with Cher’s Mum, Daphne. It was lovely to see Daphne seeing Cheryl for the first time. Normally on her daily WhatsApp video calls from Canada, Daphne barely acknowledges Cher. When Cheryl appeared in person, Daphne exclaimed out loud “Oh my Darling” and did her level best to get out of her wheelchair to hug her. It was a sight to behold. Daphne also gave me a big hug and definitely recognised me. Her response made our trip worth it just for that. For the next two days, Cheryl got the same response from her Mum each time she visited, before Daphne got used to the idea of seeing Cher daily in person.
After two or three days at the end of October, I flew from East London to OR Tambo Airport in Johannesburg, to spend time with my brother Neville, his wife Maureen and their daughter Lindy. Lindy was visiting from Australia to be with Neville during the initial stages of his immunotherapy treatment and help with the various appointments and so on. She had been there for two months and planned to leave December 9th. Lindy was almost at the end of her five-year waiting period to qualify for Permanent Residency in Australia and had a “Travel Exemption” which allowed her to get back into Australia in December.
Cher visited a project where pop bottles stuffed
with recycled materials are used for building.
Cher had chance to visit with some old friends.
Cher and I were to be apart for a month, one of our longest stretches ever apart. She in East London and me with Nev, Mau and Lindy. Life soon settled into a steady rhythm for both of us. Cher, was staying with Lynne and one or both of them would visit her Mom a couple of times a day. I was helping Nev to clear out quite a lot of his surplus clutter. Nev had recently handed over his business to his son Doug and I helped him clear out his office and a micro storage unit full of a lifetime of accumulated files and papers at the office and at home, including a couple of storage rooms.
For the last ten days of November, Nev, Mau, Lindy and I flew down to Port Elizabeth in the Eastern Cape and then drove to St. Francis Bay where Nev and Mau had recently bought a retirement house sight unseen (that’s a long story). Their son Doug, wife Kim and kids live in SFB and Nev and Mau are considering retiring there to be closer to Doug’s family. We were there to check out the new house and help get it set up so Nev and Mau could return in December for the summer/Christmas break which is South African’s primary vacation time of year.
Lindy and niece Annie - hang out time Three brothers, Nev, Al, Rob
- a rare opportunity to be together
Nev, grandson Tommy, and Maureen Janine, my niece and Nev and Mau's first
daughter joined us for a weekend.
Rob, Nev and Mau - Sunday morning breakfast Three generations of artists - Annie, Lindy, Mau Nev, Linday & Mau - hanging out Nev and Mau's son Doug, in foreground Al the handyman recruited for house set up jobs. Rob and Nev - we did a lot of
odd jobs together over the month
My second brother Alan, who had recently arrived from Canada, joined us in SFB to help with any jobs that needed doing. So, all in all it was quite a nice family reunion in SFB. This is where our story begins. We had finished most of the work on the house and had a couple of days to wind up in relaxed fashion before returning to Johannesburg on Sunday, November 28th, where Cher and I would meet, visit with Nev, Mau and Lindy for a couple of days before we caught our scheduled KLM flight home on November 30th. We were looking forward to our business class flight. Cher and I had never paid for business class before and had treated ourselves for this once in a lifetime thing, thinking that we might be breathing slightly more rarefied air than the rest in economy, in the hope we might reduce the chance of picking up Covid on the plane. We were all set. That’s when things started to go wrong, and all our plans were rendered obsolete.
Our trip home was a major challenge due to the sudden and unwelcome arrival of the Omicron virus to South Africa. Our efforts to get a last-minute flight, when our scheduled KLM one was cancelled due to Omicron, made for a pretty torrid trip home. I threatened to write a book about the week we spent trying to get home in a hurry but have settled for a blog post instead. If you like reading horror stories, then you can read our story at our blog site (robwithcher.blogspot.com) titled “Oh My Cron Strikes”. If you intend to travel again, only read it if you have strong nerves.
So here we are sitting out our first two weeks in December doing what we started the year doing – sitting in isolation, while we wait to see if the mighty Oh My Cron has struck us or not while we were in South Africa. We are thankful that we are double vacced with the promise of a booster shot on the way. The dread and fear of the bug is reduced significantly. Its main bite these days, lies in its ability to keep us always guessing as to what happens next.
As we reflect on the year 2021, we are grateful to the Lord who watches over us in good times and bad. We are very conscious that we are living in challenging times. So many people are facing difficulties of various kinds. Whilst our lives are not problem free, Cher and I sometimes marvel at how God looks after us daily and over the longer term. We have been challenged in recent days to “Stand” in the faith and again to “Have an Attitude of Gratitude”. This is good advice for us all. The times we live in are stretching. We are grateful that the arrival of God’s greatest gift, Jesus, is a time for celebration and cheer. Let us do that this year with great Joy.
May this Christmas season be a time of blessing for you and your family. May 2022 be a good year for us all. May our attitudes overlook all the tough times and our overwhelming approach be one of gratitude to our great God, who loves us even though much of the time we are not very loveable.
Rob and Cheryl Cornish