Pandemic wins

Doubtless for those of us who have been following the public health advice to avoid contact with others for nine months or so there have been many disappointments and frustrations. At the same time, perhaps we have each discovered a thing or two from pandemic living which we will stick with beyond. Some of mine:

1) Buff neck gaiters

A couple of months into the pandemic my Crow’s Nest barbershop hair cut had reached the point that whenever I moved my head it would be poking me in the eyes. Furthermore, with long hair any time I took a nap or wore a hat I would look unpresentable for any subsequent online meetings. I tried hair product, but it was a pain and easily mussed out of place. Bobby pins don’t grip my hair and just fall out within minutes.

Inspired by the ultra-light thru hiker and YouTuber Darwin, I ordered a Buff neck gaiter. It can be worn over the face as a mask in a pinch where you have nothing better, but mostly it’s an easy way to wrap up my hair in a way that keeps it out of my eyes and keeps me from having to have a shower to reset my hair before any time when someone will see me.

I have been wearing one almost continuously for months now: either their light weight synthetic option which I think feels nicer on the head and face or their light weight merino wool which I think feels a little rough and strange but which is definitely warmer.

During a recent 28 km walk at night I decided it was worth ordering a heavy weight merino wool Buff for January and February, but all the interesting patterns were sold out so I ordered a midweight merino and another synthetic as a backup or something to wear around my neck when the first one is on my head.

2) Taster’s Choice instant coffee

For the most part, my coffee regimen in the last few years has been dark Starbucks roasts made at home in a French press. Of course, that means buying bags of beans fairly often, dealing with coffee grounds (gross and annoying if you try to compost them), and cleaning the French press.

Recollecting that years and years ago I had found Taster’s Choice more palatable than other freeze-dried coffees, I bought some early in the pandemic. Now, I think it will be my permanent form of coffee. It’s glorious to go with no mess from a boiling kettle to a cup of coffee instantly, and I feel like in terms of taste and satisfaction it’s comparable to the elaborate bean sort.

3) Gaia GPS

The free version of this iOS app has done much to enhance my exercise walks in recent months. It allows you to easily record any track that you walk, laying down a collection of coloured lines over a street map of the city. This is helpful because it shows me instantly which directions and neighbourhoods I have already explored to excess and which are relatively fresh. In many areas, a glance lets me choose a route based on a set of streets which I haven’t walked down so far in the pandemic. In many cases it’s also helping me invent non-road routes between places I frequently visit, like using Bickford Park to walk north from College to Bloor rather than a street with traffic.

My favourite recent discovery is a fairly loop-shaped urban trail walk where you follow Nordheimer ravine northwest from Spadina, north of U of T campus, and then take the streets for the short connection to the start of the Beltline trail, which brings you back pretty close to where you start on the ravine trail.

Living without limits

I find it’s good practice to approach literally anybody, from a municipal worker who I am passing on the sidewalk while they’re performing official duties to clerks in shops with an immediate attempt at a substantive conversation, not just a rote exchange of greetings or well-wishes. By that means the other morning I got the chance to ask why Toronto had removed all the foot-pedals from the municipal garbage and recycling bins (you can see one on the right here), which had been a convenient way to avoid touching the machine and not having to push a spring-loaded cover back with the refuse you’re trying to deposit. The two crewmembers told me it is because people did too much illegal dumping with the footpedal-enabled system, and it let to too much disruption as waste went bad and was gotten into by creatures.

Exploring Toronto

One of the cleverest and most philosophical limericks is:

There once was a man who said, “Damn,
It has borne in upon me I am
But a creature that moves
In predestinate grooves;
I’m not even a bus, I’m a tram!”

It’s strange that living in Canada’s largest city I nonetheless overwhelmingly see the parts that are within an hour’s walk of my home, and I tend to see the same short stretches of street day after day when doing chores, meeting friends, or working on my research.

To deliberately defamiliarize myself a little I took the list of 75 TTC subway stations on Wikipedia, drew a random number between 1 and 75, and took the subway to York Mills to explore a new neighbourhood and take some photos.

Next time I’ll try to do a random journey while there is more daylight left, and perhaps with a friend in tow. As an experiment this time I only brought my keys, camera, and a TTC payment card — no phone, music player, cash, or wallet. I had a surprising number of conversations, perhaps just because I wasn’t listening to headphones or staring at a screen, but clearly actively paying attention to what was happening around me.

U of T summer gym fees

A small but indicative example of how the University of Toronto doesn’t prioritize the welfare of its students is the way in which the gym access included in student fees during the fall and winter terms is cut off in the summer, requiring students to pay a per-facility fee to keep using it. This is especially bad for grad students, since they are likely to be around during the summer and also likely to be impoverished, since U of T’s exceptionally stingy funding packages usually provide nothing during the summer (though full-time work on your research project is still the tak of PhD students) and there are few TA positions available.

Given the demonstrated benefits of fitness and exercise, the significant psychological challenges of grad school, and the millions it spends on fancy new buildings it seems like it would be much more sensible for U of T to make gym access a year-round service for year-round students.

In any case, I went to the attractively faux-Gothic gym in Hart House yesterday and found that my fitness has degraded less than expected since my wrist injury pulled me out of Judo. My mind has been full of worries lately and 90 minutes alternating between elliptical and rowing machines was a considerable help.

I should make a point of going at least twice a week as a Judo replacement.

Maternal visit concluded

I spent most of today working on the theoretical framework for my forthcoming proposal, but this morning I went with my mother and some of her friends to see Toronto’s Aga Khan Museum.

Also, I took a break in the evening to try yoga for the first time in Massey’s Upper Library. It was quite challenging, both because I lack the balance and flexibility and because my injured wrist cartilage had a tough time with all the ‘downward dogs’. Still, something worth trying again, especially if I can’t return to Judo.

Two weeks off Judo

We’ve been learning a throw which I find very awkward, which involves holding uke’s wrist and pushing it straight up into the air while turning the person over your hip. Practicing the Saturday before last left my wrist rather sore and, at Tuesday’s class, when a hold-down escape put all my partner’s and my weight on my right wrist it was acutely painful and led to me taking it easy for the rest of the class.

Today I saw a doctor at U of T’s sports medicine clinic and he said he thinks it’s a tear in my triangular fibrocartilage complex and that I should take two weeks off. I will have to do some cardio on my own time.

I also asked about avoiding rib injuries and the only advice he could give was “don’t do Judo”, which is a bit surprising from a doctor in a specialized sports medicine clinic. I don’t imagine it’s a line that goes down well with varsity athletes.

Judo update

There are some Judo words which I only know how to pronounce phonetically.

Among them is the name of Sensei Isador. I remember it because I know he’s not a window…

My mnemonics for remembering throws and hold-downs are similarly silly. Cramming vocab for my yellow belt grading, I decided that Kata gatame (where you hold uke down with one of their arms pressed against their face and hold them on their back while on your belly or on your knee beside them) was easy to remember because a katana is a sword you wear on your side (a bad choice since “yoko” often means “side” in Judo, as with another low-belt hold-down: Yoko-shiho-gatame). For Kami-shiho-gatame, I thought this on-top belt-grabbing hold-down would be well-suited for removing a camisole.

Tonight I also invented a protocol for dealing with potential rib injuries. Early response with an ice pack seems to help a lot, but it’s impractical for nights when I need to work. By putting on my MEC poofy down vest, putting a belt across my chest at a suitable height, and putting a 2 kg bag of frozen veggies against the ribs in question, it seems I can reduce inflammation without impeding research or typing ability.

I have also been making slow progress with my project to lose 15 pounds.