21 March 2009


Yesterday's mail crushed any remaining qualms about moving to Canada. We received the annual notice of the increase in our health insurance premium. It's rising from $412/month to $466.50/month, or by $654/year. That's a 13% increase. And the insurer (Blue Cross/Blue Shield) again raised our annual deductible, this time from $5,700 to $6,000. So if we had medical costs, we'd pay $11,598 over the next year out of pocket before the insurer paid one dime.

Our last three annual premium increases have averaged 19% (including a huge increase in 2007 when I had the gall to reach age 50). Next month we'll begin paying a premium 69% greater than the premium we paid in January 2007 when we signed on with this insurer. And we're relatively healthy. We've cost the insurer $300 per year each in 2007 and 2008--the amount our insurer will pay toward an annual physical exam, deductible notwithstanding. If the 19% average annual increase we've experienced persists until I'm eligible for Medicare at age 65 (assuming Medicare hasn't long gone bust), our annual premium would reach $45,144

Blue Cross/Blue Shield's partial explanation of the premium jump? "Covered individuals are using more services." Wow. In other words, if y'all would just stop seeking medical care, then we could  slow down the rate of increase in the cost of the insurance that you'd then never need because you'd not be seeking medical care anyway. I've know of no bigger racket outside of Las Vegas.

Yep, in Canada a part of the taxes we'll pay, as well as a relatively modest, income-adjusted monthly premium, will go to pay for the country's universal health insurance system. Since per capita healthcare expenditures in Canada are one-half of those in the U.S., and since Canada ranks above the U.S. by virtually every measure of healthfulness, I'm guessing we'll come out ahead.

11 March 2009

We're Moving to Nanaimo

Well looks like we're moving. For me the major deciding factors, in more or less order of importance, are:
  1. The idyllic setting here and much wild-ness and ready opportunity for outdoor adventure and commune on Vancouver Island
  2. The huge appeal of being covered by a first-world health insurance system.
  3. As best I can tell, by and large, Canadians don't admire and aspire to ignorance, belligerence, and arrogance--in other words, they're civilized, mostly.
  4. The much more sensible lifestyle (compared to a city/suburb) we can adopt here while still being able easily to enjoy city fun in nearby Vancouver. (I see this part as a welcome return to the lifestyle I enjoyed when I lived in Frederick, Maryland in the 1980s: Baltimore and D.C. were close, but not too close, while Frederick offered a charming downtown, parks and services within an easy walk, and a small-town atmosphere.)
  5. The climate is much milder than Minnesota's, something I think will become more important, even for cold-loving me, as we get old(er).
  6. My penchant for prudent adventure and shaking things up periodically.
Our goal is to move August 1st. I'll be back in Minnesota April 3rd. Laurie will spend a couple of weeks with family in California, then join me. We've got A TON of stuff to do to prepare to move. If we decide to try to sell (vs. rent) the house, we'd like to get it on the market no later than June 1st, and I needn't mention the stress level associated with trying to sell a house in the U.S. right now. Somehow we'll get it all done. Or we won't, and in the end it won't matter anyway. :-)

07 February 2009


With only eight weeks left before the Gentrys reclaim their condo, our minds are shifting from letting things percolate to making a decision soon about moving permanently. I’m not sure of the best way to make what feels like a rather life-defining decision, but we’ve been talking intermittently about discrete pieces of the puzzle, in hopes that will somehow help gel a complete picture. Some thoughts settled include:

§      We've established some momentum in cultivating contacts, both social and employment, so that argues for moving as swiftly as possible, if we decide to move here. It won’t take long for new acquaintances and potential employers to forget about us if we slip off their radar for several months.

§      I think we both feel ready to live in a much smaller community than the Twin Cities. I would add I’m ready--in fact I always have been--not to live in a suburb with its inherent dependence on the car to accomplish anything and constantly (from May to September in Roseville) roaring gas-powered lawnmowers. (My first thought after reading about the infrastructure focus of the latest economic  stimulus measure was 'great--that'll screw up traffic in the Twin Cities for the next decade.') Of course many wonderful smaller communities exist in the U.S.; I can think of none, however, that come close to rivaling Nanaimo’s rare combination of setting, charm, affordability, opportunity, and climate.

§     The likelihood of either one of us getting decent jobs in the Twin Cities seems low for the foreseeable future. I could get on at FamilyMeans if they need a counselor, but Laurie’s prospects are probably more directly tied to the near catastrophic general economic conditions. Though Canada’s economy seems now to be heading sharply downward as well, the banking system is solid. And we have made progress on finding paid employment here.

§      Speaking for myself, there’s a feeling of isolation here, which partly I like, but does have a downside. Traveling between Nanaimo and most of the U.S. is an all-day, somewhat complex project, and costly. I think if we moved here I’d expect no visits from family and friends--at least not more than one at most from the more adventurous and well-heeled--and, realistically, we may have to accept that our visiting trips might be less frequent. That’s a big negative, in my mind.

§      Of course there are important elements about our Twin Cities life we’d miss. Friends, naturally, but also the metro’s stellar bike path system, generally beautiful weather for half the year, our porch (not to be underestimated), ice fishing’s availability, Minnesota Public Radio, lakes, cheap beer. On the other hand, there’s much about the U.S., which I needn’t go into here, I’d be greatly relieved to be away from.

§       In my opinion, the U.S.’ health insurance system stinks so badly, particularly for us, that its deficiencies alone are nearly enough reason to live in another country. We would both like to work part-time, which typically means no health insurance benefit. So we buy insurance, and the premium jumps 10-15% annually even while the insurer cuts back on coverage. Health insurance and out-of-pocket healthcare costs are about double our second largest family expense, though we’re both mostly healthy. I resent bitterly that either one of us should feel compelled to work full time just to get a health insurance benefit. And even doing that would not be a solution. If either one us became seriously ill, we’d be trapped in the full-time job because no insurer would then sell us health insurance directly. Or, worse, if we became too ill to work (or were laid off), we'd have no choice but to pay exorbitant Cobra premiums just at the time our income were dramatically reduced and we needed health insurance most. (This is precisely the reason health issues are the #1 cause of bankruptcy in the U.S.) Canada’s healthcare system is far from perfect, but in my opinion it’s much better, especially for us, than the U.S. system, which I’d characterize as inhumane, unsustainable, and  grotesque. For those who ignorantly dismiss Canada’s system as “socialism": Compared to the U.S., Canada achieves better health outcomes, by virtually every measurement, while spending half per capita nationally on healthcare. What else matters?

§      Mainly in Laurie’s mind, there’s a question of whether we can adequately support ourselves here. High-paying jobs are rare at best, and the cost of living may, overall, be higher. (We're still crunching numbers on that question.) It seems many people get by cobbling together a patchwork of part-time and often temporary endeavors. We’re unaccustomed to this mind-set about paid employment, but many locals seem almost to revel in the creative challenge of figuring a way financially to live in “paradise,” as they call it.

Meanwhile winter seems already over, as periods of sunshine have grown noticeably the past couple of weeks and temperatures are routinely in the high 40s.

20 January 2009

U.S. Inauguration Day

I watched today the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation’s CNN-like (though much less inane, admittedly a very low bar) coverage of today’s inaugural events. Observing the inauguration of a new American President from a foreign perspective vividly elucidated a rather amorphous, for this American, sense of the space the U.S. occupies in the psyche of at least a slice of the 95% of the planet’s inhabitants who aren’t Americans.

Right or wrong, Canadians as a whole are greatly relieved, I would say, at the end of the Bush/Cheney regime and excited by Barack Obama. Having spent 50 years in America, where events like power transitions outside of the U.S. are ignored except for isolated speculation on how Americans’ fortunes might be affected, it’s astonishing to see the intense focus of the Canadian domestic media, and presumably Canadians, on U.S. politics. For at least this American, exposure to Canadians’ perspective is not just 'foreign' but a humbling illumination of my own inbred arrogance.

Though every country including Canada of course has its own political leaders and internal issues over which its citizens engage, people everywhere depend also on the U.S. for progress, ideals, solutions, and moral leadership. In short, many people worldwide look, at some level, to the U.S., for better or worse, for hope. Though they are perhaps often horrified by what the U.S. does, the messes it makes, and the destruction it doles out, I think many free-thinking citizens of the world mostly, at core, have faith that somehow, some way, Americans will muddle through and once again shock the world by their capacity to, how ever fitfully, restore hope and squelch fear. I think Canadians are excited by Barack Obama because, again right or wrong, they believe his election ratifies what they yearn to believe is truest about America.

So my “take away” from inauguration day: I’m not sure Americans collectively fully grasp, think about, or care about their potential constructive power to uplift, to lead by example, and to inspire. It’s arguably the U.S.’ largest untapped--and wholly sustainable--resource.

18 January 2009

Departure Bay

We took advantage of a rare sunny day recently to walk 'up Island' from our borrowed condo to Departure Bay, a distance I would guess of about 6 kilometers. Though the temps were in the 40sF, with little wind and a bright sun, it surely felt springlike, a nice mid-January respite. People were lounging on the beach and, seemingly as always, gathered just to soak up the serenity and watch the ferries come and go. In some of the photos you can see a heavy fog bank over the Georgia Strait, blocking the view of the mainland's Coastal Mountains. Also visible in all but the last photo is 9-acre Jesse Island, presently for sale for US$5.9 million.