Sunday, July 5, 2020

It Took a Pandemic for Me to Learn to Cook, and Other Lessons from Lockdown

Wow, has it really been four months since I last posted something on here?  Three and a half of them have been spent working from home, hunkering down with Sylvester.  There have been few outfits worthy of documenting, but lots of books and films enjoyed.  Sylvester has been spoiled with regular treats, brushing, lap time and pets.  There have even been a couple of brief bursts of creativity, but overall, it's been pretty quiet.

This is the fanciest outfit I've worn since March.  The skirt was made by Jenny Rossy and purchased at the Etsy: Made In Canada Toronto show last fall.  I fell in love with the pattern and the pockets!

No mincing words here - the last few months have been a shit show all over the world (especially in the large country south of me) and I know how lucky I am to still have a job, and a safe place to spend the lockdown.  Many people don't have that luxury, and as I stop and reflect about the last few months,  I've realized there are several things I have learned during the pandemic.

Even a "Solitary" Can Have Too Much Alone Time

Initially I didn't know how I would handle working from home - the only people I see on a daily basis are the people I work with, and with that social contact gone, I have definitely felt isolated.  However, my personality and life experience has left me better able to adjust to staying home alone than many other people.  I grew up an only child with two working parents, and spent more time alone while I was growing up than was probably healthy, but that was my situation and I adapted to it.  I learned to enjoy my own company and entertain myself with creative outlets such as drawing and writing.

Initially, I didn't miss having people around (aside from a couple of my closest friends), or having to deal with public transit on a daily basis.  I welcomed the extra time that would have been spent on my daily commute to be able to read and watch things.  Some of the books I've enjoyed recently include the Thursday Next series by Jasper FfordeJonathan Van Ness' memoir Over the Top, and The Nickel Boys by Colin Whitehead.  I've also watched an endless number of series and films on Amazon and Netflix.  I'm currently enjoying the BBC series Ripper Street and rewatching Schitt's Creek; other things I would recommend are:  13th (Netflix), The Lighthouse (Amazon Prime), Under the Skin (Amazon Prime), Disclosure (Netflix) and the Stratford Festival at Home series where every week you can watch one of the plays from a previous season of the festival that has been filmed for home viewing.

I thought I was doing pretty well, but by mid-June, I was feeling constantly tired, and having periods of sadness and depression that I hadn't experienced in some time.  Time spent alone can result in constructive reflection, but it can also mean too much time spent in one's own head, which has never been a good thing for me. When I was finally able to have a few "distanced" visits with the occasional friend it made the world of difference for me (and my mood) and near the end of June I even ventured into my favourite retail store, From Mars, which is something I wasn't sure I would be comfortable doing.

I had some extra money from not purchasing anything but food for the previous 3 months and was happy to be able to get a couple of new things and support my good friends' business at the same time.  I was positively giddy to be chatting with other people (while keeping our distance).  One of the things I came home with was the jumpsuit I'm wearing in the photo above.  It has pockets and as you can tell from the way I am holding the sides out, is loose-fitting.  We are in the midst of a heat wave with temperatures of 30 degrees and above every day and I have been so happy to have this to wear.  The photo was taken on June 28th, which was the 50th anniversary of the first Gay Rights March, held one year after the Stonewall riots, hence the rainbow flag makeup.

Having More Free Time Does Not Equal More Creative Output

When the lockdown started here (the last day I worked in the office was during the week of March 16th), I was determined to put the extra time I had at home on evenings and weekends to good use by being both productive and creative.  I  cleaned out the closet in my kitchen, and my kitchen cupboards,  I washed winter clothing and put it into storage, cleaned and polished winter footwear, and mended a few things.   I had already started working on a creative project spearheaded by my friend Melanie, and decided to paint another pair of jeans.
I didn't know how I would feel about these jeans when I finished but I actually love them (the back of the left leg is also painted)
The photo below is the result of some leftover creative inspiration after I finished my project for Melanie.  I also put a couple of photos on my Instagram (@fcfashionista).  I definitely wish I had more wigs to play with.

Portrait of woman in purple with cat

By the middle of May, I entered a period I shall call "Eh, Fuck it".  My creative output dwindled to  a few IG posts celebrating my collection of vintage hats, and when I ran out of hats, I ran out of inspiration.   I started to live vicariously through the daily updates on Vix's blog about the wonderful garden she and her partner Jon had created, and their home decorating DIY's .  I live in a small rental apartment so home renovations and gardening weren't options for me, but I couldn't even muster up the energy to write a blog post or hem a dress.
I Finally Learned to Cook

My mother worked outside the home from the time I was about 7 or 8 years old, and she did not enjoy cooking or baking (for which I now have more sympathy since I have been working full-time).  I learned how to heat things up in the oven, fry things in a pan, and make a basic tuna casserole but that was about it.  I didn't know what spices and flavours worked together, or what to do with vegetables aside from cook them in boiling water.  As I made friends with people who are good cooks, I've picked up bits and pieces along the way, but I've eaten a lot of frozen meals in my time.  And then three things happened:  I was diagnosed with Celiac disease, I started watching the occasional food show on Neflix, and the COVID-19 Lockdown.  

The Celiac diagnosis meant I would now have to make most, if not all, my meals at home.  There is very little gluten-free prepared food out there.  And unless I wanted to eat oven-baked chicken with rice or boiled potatoes the rest of my life, I'd better up my game.  I discovered Samin Nosrat,  a cook, teacher and author of the book Salt, Fat, Acid, Heat, and the host of the documentary on Netflix of the same name.  Watching the documentary was a major education for me about the elements that went into a flavourful, well-prepared meal.  I promptly went out and bought a large box of kosher salt, which I use in almost everything I cook, including oven-roasted potatoes and vegetables, brined chicken breasts, pan-fried gluten-free gnocchi with vegetables, and several other simple, but tasty meals I've learned to prepare.  I'm eating healthier than I every have in my life, and I have the pile of dirty dishes after every meal to prove it.

And Cut My Own Hair

For those of us with very short hair, being denied our regular hair maintenance (I get mine cut every three weeks) leads very quickly to chaos.  After 6 weeks had passed since my last cut I decided to take matters into my own hands and borrowed my neighbour's clippers.  Doing the back was challenging and it didn't look as even as I would have liked, but overall, I thought it looked pretty good.  Now I'm researching brands of hair clippers with the intent of purchasing my own so I can reduce the number of times I need to pay for a professional touch-up. 

Face Masks Are The New Fashion Accessories

As soon as the lockdown started I began wearing a face mask whenever I went out run errands, especially if I had to take public transit.  If you've followed me for a while, you know that my lungs are my achilles' heel, and while I don't get pneumonia like I used to since I started getting the pneumonia vaccine (yet, it exists), a simple cold will leave me coughing for 4 - 6 weeks.  I know that a mask will not necessarily protect me from the COVID-19 virus, but wearing one makes me feel less anxious in situations where I'm not able to distance from people, and it keeps me from touching my face.  I also haven't had a cold since I started wearing one, so that in itself is a win.  There are so many hand-made fun fabric patterned ones out there that I've acquired at least a half-dozen over the last couple of months.

Clockwise from top left:  "blah blah" mask from @ladyprintmaker, black and white reversible mask from @irinarapaport, plaid mask and satin "secret" mask from @clairefleurynyc

Nature is the Best Television

Near the end of last summer a giant green caterpillar crawled up into the overhang of our front porch and spun a large cocoon.  We didn't know what kind of caterpillar it was, or what it would hatch into, and when a few months went by and nothing emerged, we assumed something had gone awry, and were a bit sad, but then we forgot about it.  Winter came and went, and before we knew it, it was May.  I was standing on my neighbour's porch, just under where the cocoon was, and I glanced upwards and saw this...

We rushed around to the front of the porch, and to our surprise, there were two of the biggest, and most beautiful, moths we had ever seen, engaged in what we assumed to be Moth Sex.  We knew they were moths because of their giant furry bodies.  Out came my camera and what turned out to be an  coupling that lasted for over 6 hours was documented for posterity.  

Thanks to Google, I learned that these are Cecropia Moths (male on the left with larger antennae, female on the right with the larger body), North America's largest native moth (their wingspan is between 5 and 7 inches), and a member of the giant silk moth family.  The adult moths have no mouths, or digestive system, and therefore don't eat.  They live for approximately two weeks, and their only purpose is to mate, and reproduce.  Which would account for the extra-long mating session, because really, if that was the only thing you got to do in your short life, wouldn't you want it to last as long as possible?  The female moth is full of eggs when she hatches and after mating, she lays her eggs and dies. Kind of sad, huh? 

So you can see the brown cocoon behind the two moths.  After the couple departed I took the cocoon down to examine it, because it seemed awfully coincidental that a giant moth would suddenly appear in exactly the same place as a cocoon.

hand for scale - the cocoon was made of long, silk-like fibres

Inside the outer cocoon was another smaller, fuzzy one, and inside that was the pupa.

I spent a lot of time reading online about the life cycle of the Cecropia Moth, and even watched a video that showed how the caterpillar (which matched ours from the previous summer) changes over the winter into the awesome winged creature that emerged the following spring.  I'm pretty sure that "Our Moth" was the female because you can see the impression of her smaller antenna and rounder body on the hard shell of the pupa, which was cracked open.  The opening that the moth had crawled through was incredibly small, and I so wish we had seen her hatch!

 Nature is truly awesome!!

And Last, But Never Least...

 I would not have made it through the past four months without this guy

It's been as much of a challenge for Sylvester to adjust to having me home all the time as it has been for me.  There are many times when I'm working when he will sit by my chair and cry until I give him attention or food and it can drive me crazy.  I'm surprised he hasn't gained weight from the extra treats he gets just to give me a couple of hours of peace and quiet (and he hasn't, I've weighed him).   However, when we have our daily snuggle time (see photo above), I realize how grateful I am that he is isolated with me.  I don't know how he will react when I finally return to the office full-time, but I'm sure that there will be a lot of disappointed pets out there when things open up completely (whenever that will be).
What have you learned during the past few months?


  1. What a wonderful post, Shelley! I was thrilled to see you pop up at the top of my new sidebar.
    That skirt is wonderful and reminds me of the gorgeous Kemi Telford designs I've seen worn by the cool chicks on IG (probably best you don't look at her website, it could bamkrupt you!), love the jumpsuit and rainbow make-up, too.
    That photo of you in purple and Sylvester at your side is worthy of a frame, it's beautiful. Loving the painted jeans as well.
    I loved Ripper Street. We've got Amazon Prime for free this month so I'll have to look if any of those series you recommended are on there 9we don't have Netflix).
    Like your mother, mine wasn't at all into cooking, we lived on packets, tins and frozen pizza. I think I trained to become a chef because cooking from scratch seemed like weird alchemy. I'm so glad you've discovered a love for cooking and can make yourself healthy, tasty and gluten-free food rather than have to rely on the dreadful offerings in the supermarkets (I have a friend who has also taught himself to cook as he, too is a coeliac).
    Thank you so much for the mention. I'm still amazed at how much we've accomplished during lockdown. It does go to show what a state the house and garden were in that we're almost 4 months into lockdown and still constantly busy!
    Like Sylvester, Stephen Squirrel is extremely vocal and it can drive me absolutely mad. He'll stand in the kitchen staring at us for ages until one of us give in and provide treats. Funny how Frank, the cat who lived on the streets is a lot better behaved! xxx

    1. Thanks so much for still hanging in there with me - I wondered if anyone was going to read this. A couple of the movies I mentioned are on Amazon, and I did watch the series "Transparent" on that platform as well. I started watching "The Man in the High Castle" which has a really interesting premise but I found the main character really annoying so I didn't get past the first season. As I write this, Sylvester is crying for more food in the kitchen....sigh

  2. PS Those moth photos are incredible!

  3. Shelley! I was so happy to see a post from you! I was thinking about you, remembering our wonderful day visit last June.

    I adore that skirt - OMG, my heart! I shouldn't look at that Etsy, I really shouldn't...

    I haven't seen any of the shows/movies you list, aside from Schitt's Creek's first two seasons, when they originally aired on CBC ages ago. I would recommend "Pose" (two full seasons only), as a wonderful, goodhearted, funny show - I kept waiting for a terrible thing to happen, but the show firmly stayed positive, which felt like a nice change. We also watched a ton of Alfred Hitchcock movies. I've been reading quite a bit, and right now, enjoying, "A Gentleman in Moscow" which has a really sweet tone. Very soothing.

    I have a small mask collection as well - I haven't really needed to wear them too often, as I've mostly been avoiding going into places with that many people. I love your jumpsuit - I finally gave in and bought some comfy viscose wide-legged pants for wearing around the house. The custom jeans are so fun.

    I love the picture of you in the purple with Sylvester! He's such a cutie there. I think we may have been working on the same thing for Melanie... :)

    L and I both read with fascination your tale of the moth (L is into butterflies/moths). How very cool. I've been watching the life cycle of the seagulls nesting on the roof of the building next to my office - the chicks are all hatched now, and are staggering around.

    Sylvester! What a little sweetheart he is! Vizzini is hugely vocal, and starts whining for food at 5am (he gets fed at 6am), 4pm (he gets fed again at 5pm), and 7:30pm (he gets treats at 9pm). When he starts bugging me, I grab him and give him some "forced lovin'" (hugs). This has sort of gotten the message into his little walnut brain that crying for food = hugs, in other words, the reaction he gets is not the one he wants. Training a cat is a recipe for frustration, though!

    Sylvester looks like a cuddle-meister, though. Aw, those little toes! I take so many pictures of Vizzini. He's been my pal through all of the sh*t here.

    Again, so good to see you, my dear! Stay frosty!

    1. Hi Sheila! Glad I'm not the only one who thought "our" giant moth was really cool! It's been a real "critter fest" in our tiny front yard this summer with squirrels (who all have names now), grackles, robins, skunks, etc. Thank Goodness we love our cats - I'm glad to hear that other kitty parents go through this too. Although, Sylvester is very good about not waking me up in the morning for breakfast until after he hears my alarm go off. Yes, you and I were working on the same thing for Mel. Looking forward to seeing the end result.

  4. Yay Shelley, So good to see you again. Your new clothes are divine. Not to mention the Melanie shot. (I wonder when that will come out...) I have been missing in action myself. Still not wandering outside with all that's going on. Freaky. The same thing happening with me - not being creative, not sewing, not blogging, not even watching any TV. I am reading though. And playing scrabble every night with my true love. Your moth documentary is amazing. Oh, and cat companionship is a must. I'm not even making masks, but the person who made me a quilt has made some masks for me too?! Kudos to you about taking care of yourself with cooking and it sounds mouth-watering. And cutting your own hair too. Well done and so self-sufficient. I do cut my bangs when they get in my eyes. I've only gone out once so far since mid March - to get an ice cream cone and it felt really weird, and scary even. Needless to say, everything is scary here and seems to just get worse and worse. I try not to be despondent, but it doesn't always work out that way. Anyway, it has cheered me up to see you posting again. Thanks Shelley.

    1. I'm so glad to hear that my post gave you some good cheer. It is weird out there! Even though we have very few cases of COVID-19 in Ontario, especially in the city where I live, it still feels strange going out, and riding the bus is stressful. Who knows when it will feel ok again to eat in a restaurant or go to a movie? Take care Pao!

  5. Lovely to read you back!
    And lovely skirt, no wonder you got in love with its pattern and Pockets!. And also lovely jumpsuit, love its wonderful shape and kind of tie&dye, you Rock it and your cute rainbow makeup!
    Glad that you're learning how to cook, I think it's a highly rewarding activity, you can learn a lot of things about food, its qualities and how it is grown, and also about the process of cooking itself, which is fascinating!.
    Our lockdown lasted three months and I didn't felt too sad as Mr.A. was at home with me almost every day (he had to go to work some days!). But I missed so badly my walks under the trees and my social life, as we only could walk outside to the market and back. I managed it well during the lockdown, but the stress is affecting me now.
    So glad that you have such a good companion, Sylvester is such a handsome guy!. Love particularly your photo wearing purple!
    Thanks for sharing some of your reads, I always enjoy some recommendations to add to my list. I read a pair of books of the Thursday Next series (some years ago) and enjoyed them, but didn't know about the rest of them!.
    I'm amazed by your face-masks collection, really lovely!. And I totally agree about short hair problems, I've also considered seriously to buy a razor or hair clipper, but I still remember some 'experiments' cutting my own hair in the past that went Wrong!. Anyway, I'm still considering it!

    These moths are wonderful creatures, we have nothing so massive here! and they look so colorful and fascinating!

  6. This was a fun read. I giggled when I read your suggestion why the mating took so long. I agree. Better make it last.
    Those moths look beautiful, but the only thing I have learned about moths, is that they eat your wool cardigan.
    I love the skirt that you bought, it looks great on you.
    And a roomy jumpsuit when it is hot? That is very clever.
    I haven't read the Vog off at Melanie's yet, but I will. That must have been fun to make.
    A brain expert in the Netherlands said that when you are inactive a long time, you get more and more tired and inactive. The only remedy is to exercise (sorry).
    Your painted jeans look awesome. I bet they would fly out of the store in no time if they were mass produced.
    Well, I am glad you are getting over the sad period, I can understand very well how that happens.

    1. Thanks for the comment Greetje. The moths that eat your clothes are a different type of moth altogether (and much smaller). You are right that the longer you are inactive, the less energy you have, which makes you not want to do anything - it's a vicious cycle!

  7. I'm so glad you're back. I love your blog and your style... You gave me confidence to rock a bald head and now very short hair when I lost my waist length locks to chemo last year. Keep doing You - you may not realize the impact you have on your quiet fans.

    1. Thanks so much for your thoughtful comment - I'm happy to hear that I helped you feel more comfortable with short hair. Cancer, and chemo, are awful, and the effect on your body can be devastating. I hope you're doing better now, and keep rocking the short hair.

  8. What happened to my comment? Hahaha! I'll blame the meno brain. I know I've read this post at least once as I've come back to look for more. Your numbered pants, purple portrait, yard photo, copulating moths, cooking, cats, masks, and hair - you've covered lots of great territory here, Shelley. Dare I say you make the pandemic look almost not horrible?

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