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This is how Vancouver Courier’s editorial team is adjusting to home life during COVID-19

From home dye jobs and watching Tiger King to an increase in alcohol consumption, these are some of the ways we’re getting by
Vancouver Courier’s editorial staff have resorted to home dye jobs, watching Netflix’s new true crim
Vancouver Courier’s editorial staff have resorted to home dye jobs, watching Netflix’s new true crime series Tiger King, listening to old school reggae and alcohol to help them in their new stay-at-home lives.

With orders to social distance and stay at home to combat the spread of COVID-19, most people’s home lives have changed drastically in the past few weeks.

And the Courier’s editorial staff is no different.

From silly dance parties and home dye jobs to the dulcet tones of reggae and an increase in alcohol consumption, here’s how Courier editors, reporters, photographers and one intern are getting by when they aren’t working.

Jessica Kerr, reporter

Jessica Kerr partakes/observes her daughter's patio activities. Photo Jessica Kerr
Jessica Kerr partakes/observes her daughter's patio activities. Photo Jessica Kerr

My husband and I live in a 688-square-foot, one bedroom apartment in Mount Pleasant with our three-year-old daughter. With no backyard we spend a lot of time at the park, the playground, the community centre, swimming pool and the library, or having playdates with friends. So, to say having to stay in and practice social distancing has been a challenge would be an understatement.

When I’m not working these days, I am spending most of my time trying to keep my daughter, who no longer naps, entertained and explaining (again) why we can’t go to the playground. We’ve baked cookies, muffins and banana bread; made homemade playdough and played with it; painted on paper, egg cartons, the windows, a mirror and the bathtub; created an obstacle course around our apartment; taken walks/scoots/bike rides around our neighbourhood, while making sure to keep a safe distance from our neighbours; built the highest Lego tower we could; built forts; done living room gymnastics; had staged silly dance parties.

Sandra Thomas, travel and lifestyles editor

Sandra Thomas has been enjoying visits from her neighbour's cat, Cosmo. Photo Sandra Thomas
Sandra Thomas has been enjoying visits from her neighbour's cat, Cosmo. Photo Sandra Thomas

Two weeks.

It was two weeks on March 26 since I attended an event at YVR, which saw writers and bloggers flown in from across Canada and Washington State.

And I counted down each and every single day of them.

I’m not even sure why I attended, but as travel and lifestyle editor at the Courier, I somehow felt compelled to go to try and get photos of the empty airport. It was also just days before phrases such as “social distancing” became part of our everyday vernacular. That was also the last day I worked at the office and have been mostly self-isolating ever since.

But, as my fellow colleagues can attest, we’ve been working harder than ever in an effort to keep up with the ever-changing landscape that is COVID-19. That said, I haven’t had an opportunity to binge watch Tiger King: Murder, Mayhem and Madness on Netflix yet.

In fact, without a commute, our work days have been starting earlier and ending later, but that doesn’t mean I haven’t been keeping busy in my spare time, including the full-on turkey dinner I recently cooked for just me and my husband in an effort to make room in our small freezer. Which, of course, later became turkey sandwiches and then soup, so a good COVID-19 method for stretching food.

The first day I worked from home I went on a quest to find toilet paper for a first-person story. And after witnessing shelves devoid of everything from pasta to bread to vegetables to saline for my husband’s contact lenses — at three different stores — that was the first time I started to feel anxious about the fallout from COVID-19. It was that pit-of-the-stomach kind of anxiety that made me feel sick to my stomach, which has lessened in recent days as life, at least as far as groceries are concerned, seems to have somewhat settled down to a (new) normal, but still flairs up when I read or watch anything to do with the leader of our neighbours south of the border.

Because of that anxiety, my husband has tried to get me to limit my news intake. But as I’ve explained to him, as a journalist it’s just not possible.

One bright light these days is Facetiming with my son and being able to see our two-year-old grandson, Cooper. We were supposed to spend some time over spring break with a few of our grandkids, but of course that’s been postponed.

But technology has been a great way to stay in touch and a few nights ago I attended an online birthday party for a friend of mine and we were all able to toast her with a drink. Almost as good as the real thing, right?

We do get visits from our neighbours’ cats Cosmo and Tito. They’re buddies who live in separate homes and often dropped by when I got home from work, but now that they’ve figured out I’m home all day, we’re seeing them a lot more often. I’ve basically become a crazy cat lady minus the vet bills.

One of my “first world” issues is the fact I’ve been wearing gel nails for years — I mean years. And, while they’re still hanging in there, I give it about a week before I witness the horror of what’s underneath. But, all things considered, I’m feeling pretty grateful for the position my husband and I are in at this time — just stay away from our toilet paper. 

Michael Kissinger, editor

Although not
Although not "a reggae guy," Michael Kissinger has started to seek solace in old school reggae compilations to accompany his increased booze intake.

Self-quarantining with my partner and her 12-year-old “hygienically fluid” son has been a character building experience for me. My normally solitary home life has been turned on its head, and I’ve had to make some adjustments.

In the evenings, we’ve been playing black jack (the kid had to teach me). We also partake in the classic Canadiana game of Crokinole, using an awesomely retro-looking Crokinole board my friend Brock gave me years ago.

If we haven’t eaten dinner too late — we’ve been eating dinner later and later for some reason and telling the boy child “it’s the European way” — we will attempt to watch a movie or show that two sophisticated adults and a fart-obsessed tween can find mutually enjoyable.

It is tough.

Having exhausted just about every Will Ferrell, Wes Anderson and John Hughes movie, we’ve been lowering the bar on “age appropriate” material as of late, having already accidentally scarred him by taking him to see The Favourite in a theatre last year. Who knew there was going to be a brothel scene?

So far, we’ve watched Ocean’s 11 (not terrible), Shaun of the Dead (funny and eerily fitting), episodes of The Last Man on Earth (also quite funny and eerily fitting), Good Boys (extremely raunchy but funny and kind of sweet) and a new true crime series on Netflix called Tiger King (crazy).

Like my father before me, I’ve also started to regale the 12-year-old with tales of my generation’s past hardships — things like no internet, no personal computer or video games, wearing no-name runners bought at the Co-op, and a heck of lot more chores. He loves hearing these enchanting and informative stories of yesteryear.  

Like many people, my partner and I had visons of urban homesteading and pickling everything under the sun, but honestly, we’re all pretty exhausted and testy come nightfall.

Probably the strangest and most unexpected development has been that I’ve started to listen to old school reggae compilations on Spotify. I am the furthest thing from a “reggae guy,” but I honestly find it relaxing and uplifting after a long, stressful day of work.

Oh yeah, and I’ve been drinking a lot more.

Nothing to be worried about, but definitely more than I normally would.

It’s not doing my belly any favours, but it does help the unwinding process… “and I can stop anytime I want.”

Arguably the best part of this pandemic is that most evenings I talk with family members who are holed up in various corners of Vancouver Island. My survivalist dad has been sending us daily emails about his exploits including shots of his meals, which technically makes him an “influencer” in Nanaimo’s fly fishing community. And my mom’s managed to set up a nightly video chat with 15 sets of relatives, including my 97-year-old grandmother. After about 10 minutes of noise and chaos on the first call, my grandmother had enough, got up from the computer and sat in her chair 20 feet away to read a book. All the while remaining on camera. She’s one bad ass bitch.

Naoibh O’Connor, reporter

Naoibh O'Connor has been embracing her inner baker as of late. Photo Naoibh O'Connor
Naoibh O'Connor has been embracing her inner baker as of late. Photo Naoibh O'Connor

In a two-week period that’s felt more like 20 years, endless news has made it difficult to track days. Like the rest of the city, I’ve had to manage work from my home office (the couch) and COVID-19-related worries with family life. Managing might be a slight exaggeration.

I’m so absorbed in the avalanche of news during the day, I’m often not exactly sure what my 11-year-old and 13-year-old are up to. But I’ve seen some of my daughter’s drawings, and she shouted downstairs to say she was working on some online math Thursday, so there’s that. 

Otherwise, I’ve made a vegetable/chickpea/quinoa soup from scratch thanks to an Instagram recipe posted by Lidey Hueck. She’s cookbook author Ina Garten’s assistant. Garten is also posting recipes. I baked a chocolate cake, with cream cheese/chocolate ganache icing, for my husband’s 50th birthday thanks to an excellent — and super easy — Bon Appetit recipe on Facebook. (TIP: I only used one quarter of a teaspoon of regular salt in the cake recipe, otherwise it's far too salty, and no salt in the icing.) Since salons are closed, I recruited my 13-year-old to help me do my roots from a box — a first  — one Saturday night while I drank a glass of wine. White wine, cider and cans of old beer salvaged from the office before my Courier colleagues scattered have been my vices.

Evenings have been spent watching Homeland on Netflix — totally inappropriate for my son so I throw a blanket over his head and turn the volume down once in a while or fast forward through sketchy parts (there are a lot). The series is about simpler times when all we had to worry about were terrorists, corrupt governments and double-dealing security agents. I’ve also started watching The Hot Zone and squeezed Survivor episodes in between binge-watching online series.

My book club will soon meet again — online, another first — so I’m trying to secure the next book: A Gentleman in Moscow by Amor Towles. Not easy when libraries are closed. But one of the bookies plans to drop her copy off (from a safe distance and sanitized) when she’s done.

I called TransLink to get my Compass Card monthly pass, and the two belonging to my children, converted to stored value. I phoned, was put on hold, put the call on speaker phone, and continued working until — two hours later — the call was picked up. Total savings: $85.

I phoned to get my driver's licence renewed on March 24. Left a message. Forgot about it. Three days later, on March 27, I got a call back and secured a 90-day interim licence. Decent service, under the circumstances.

There’s been no shortage of family issues — I sent my husband across the city to UBC to drop off a piece of luggage to my niece (from a safe distance) who’s studying there. She had to take a last-minute trip back to Calgary — not how she imagined her first year of university would end.

I stuffed three new pairs of pants in the front pocket of the suitcase for my mother who’s in lockdown at a long-term care home in Calgary — my dad died unexpectedly in December. My mom doesn’t understand why no one is visiting right now. When I mentioned her plight, a former Courier intern offered to write her a postcard — one of the many lovely gestures people are making during these tough times. Which brings me to Thursday afternoon. While listening to Dr. Bonnie Henry’s daily press conference, I heard noises outside my door. After the conference ended, I opened the door to discover my mother-in-law had unexpectedly dropped off a load of food and household products, including toilet paper, on the doorstep.

Until next week Vancouver.

Mike Howell, civic affairs reporter

Reporter Mike Howell takes notes while on a recent assignment that took him out of his house and jog
Reporter Mike Howell takes notes while on a recent assignment that took him out of his house and jogging pants. Photo Jennifer Gauthier

Like many living through these extraordinary times, I’m not sleeping much.

I get to bed way past my usual bedtime and then toss and turn until about 5 a.m., or earlier.

I head downstairs to what has become my office, turn on my computer and wonder where the pandemic will take my coverage that day.

It could be dialing in to several news conferences. It could mean a series of interviews conducted over my ailing iPhone. It could mean talking to people in the streets.

I always prefer the streets.

But I’m conflicted about leaving my home when I continue to hear Provincial Health Officer Dr. Bonnie Henry tell us to stay home.

Still, I go.

Physical distancing is always employed and I’ve noticed the few colleagues I do see out on the streets are adhering to the same practice.

But going out means having to look semi-presentable, which requires a shower, some real pants and an attempt to temper the volume of my hair.

At home, sweatpants paired with timeworn T-shirts is my fashion, which is the primary reason I chose a career in print over television.

There is some actual truth to that statement, but I’ll leave that for another time when the pubs open again and conversations aren’t about end times.

Upstairs, my teacher wife and Grade 11 daughter have been living through a spring break like no other. Same goes for my older daughter, who is in quarantine at grandma’s place after a disappointing trip to France.

No Louvre, no Versailles, no shopping.

The dog, meanwhile, has never had so much attention.

Rosie the black lab is a good dog, but she barks a lot.

I was informed of her loud mouth by a colleague when he heard Rosie barking while I asked Dr. Henry a question over the phone during one of the dial-in newsers.

Embarrassing, yes, but not at the level of that guy in the suit on television who had his young child storm into the room during a live BBC broadcast.

Just the same, apologies to Dr. Henry and Adrian Dix.

To unplug from the overwhelming news cycle, I try to get caught up on what I missed on Netflix, but find myself reaching for my phone for more news.

Reading a book is impossible.

I’ve found the only way to truly unplug is to leave the phone at home and go for a long walk. It has been my only exercise, and served the dual purpose of my brain taking a much-needed timeout.

Which has never been more important.

Society accepting sweatpants-wearing journalists with big hair to attend news conferences is also important. So is sleeping, which I’m going to attempt to do right now.

Dan Toulgoet, photographer

In uncertain times like these, Courier photographer Dan Toulgoet finds solace in the warm embrace of
In uncertain times like these, Courier photographer Dan Toulgoet finds solace in the warm embrace of meat. Photo Dan Toulgoet

Week 1

Well, it’s been an interesting spring break. The first week we were actually on Vancouver Island and avoided a lot of the early chaos here. It wasn’t till midway through the week that we saw the closures of a lot of local businesses. We were staying in the Parksville area and everything seemed to move quite slow, including the response to COVID-19. It was a relaxing time and we were able to do our best at social distancing; a few bike rides with the family were easy, seeing only a handful of people from a distance. After leaving our island retreat, it all changed. From the moment we got to the ferry terminal in Nanaimo, the mood was very different, a bit ominous. The parking lot normally would be full of chatty tourists, but on this day it was eerily quiet, people hunkered down in their vehicles even on the beautiful spring day.

Week 2

It was still the weekend so I thought might as well take advantage of the still beautiful sunny weather. Time to break out the smoker for the first time this year – nothing says pandemic like some smoked baby back ribs. Soooo good.

With my wife, son and me at home and the weather rainy, puzzles have been brought out for the first time in ages and we’ve played a few card games – black jack is the favourite. We have this homemade daylight balanced light system downstairs from my son’s science project, so why not start some tomatoes inside this year and get ahead of the garden game for a change. They are coming along with little sprouts springing up. We were chatting about making bread the other day, so my son researched sourdough and discovered that to make sourdough bread you have to make a sourdough starter first. (It’s essentially stirred flour and water, left to sit for seven days to make natural yeast.) He will be making his own sourdough loaf tomorrow. Exercise is something we need to do as often as we can, so walks in the ‘hood are an easy one, especially in the rain.

Drew Clarke, intern

Courier intern Drew Clarke recently discovered the serenity of East Vancouver's New Brighton Park. F
Courier intern Drew Clarke recently discovered the serenity of East Vancouver's New Brighton Park. File photo Jessica Kerr

I’ve been trying to strike a balance between slowing down and making good use of my time. My mind’s been a little chatty lately, so I’ve been doing regular yoga and meditation to relax. 

I try to get out of the house at least once a day to get some fresh air. I’ve been exploring the backstreets of Commercial Drive and riding my bike around East Van. The other day I discovered New Brighton Park, which is a great spot to sit by the water and look up at the mountains — and it’s right in my backyard! Who knew?

I’m a freelance writer, so I’m used to spending lots of time by myself, but I’m making an effort to phone friends or family every day, to maintain a sense of connection to the outside world. That being said, I’m limiting my exposure to news and social media, so I don’t get too lost in my head.

I’m cleaning a lot more than usual — handles, door knobs, buttons, switches, all the places that fingers like to hang out — but I’m keeping it in check so it doesn’t get too obsessive or compulsive. The cleaning aisle at my grocery store is empty and the only spray I have is “green,” so I’m not sure if I’m killing the virus or just moving it around.

I’m usually a very busy person, so I’m taking secret delight in this abyss of free time I currently have on my hands. I’m going from room to room in my house, minimizing all my junk, and I’m also picking up old hobbies like drawing, cooking and learning guitar. I’ve been consuming lots of comedy, like Rick and Morty and The Joe Rogan Experience, just to keep the dopamine flowing and my spirits high.

My taste in books has switched from creative nonfiction to dystopian novels — I’m currently reading Jeff Vandermeer’s Annihilation, and next up is Cormac McCarthy’s The Road — it feels a little counter-productive, but it’s just what I’m drawn to right now.

I’ve been listening to a lot more classical music lately, especially Kronos Quartet, which plays like the soundtrack to the end of the world, which is fitting, because despite all the positive spin, I do feel a sense of impending doom. It’s like someone rolled a live grenade into the room and maybe, if none of us breathe, it won’t go off.

In the meantime, I’m trying not to think too much, trying not to drink too much and quietly waiting for the wave to hit.