22 December 2008

21 December 2008

Meeting People

I’ve been very impressed with the people we’ve met here so far. For example: There’s Su, who met me for coffee once and then invited me to two parties - one was at her house, where she made gourmet pizzas (she’s a foodie) but I had to miss that due to snow. And Su’s sister Lee, who made me feel so welcome at the party I did attend. There’s Tracy, who works in marketing and invited me over to share all her job-search contacts. Tracy also lent me her car booster seat on very short notice (I needed it to take some friends and their daughters on a tour of the city). There is Majie, the French psychologist and his roommate, Art, who invited me over for coffee and we chatted for two hours about a very cool new type of art he has developed. There is Cathy, who works in HR and invited me to an HR association meeting to help me start networking. There is Camille, who picked me up at our condo and treated me to coffee, as I grilled her about what it’s like to be an American living here. There is Carol, whom I’ve known since 2005. She’s always on the lookout for possible connections for us (she sent a possible job lead to Kurt). And Rolly and Kathy, whom we haven’t met yet but they’ve already invited us for dinner at their home on nearby Gabriola Island. There’s Beth, another American who has put up with my questions about her transition here. There’s Lisa, the 20-something woman who has offered to help me start a branch of the “Transplants” here (and we’ve already got an article coming up in the local newspaper). There are Tracy and Duncan, the couple from whom we rented a basement apartment on our last two trips. They kindly invited us to their holiday party, which we hope we can attend despite the ongoing snowstorm. And - of course - Karri and Gary, the Oregon couple I met on election night. After only meeting me once, they invited us over for Christmas dinner! Ok, ok, I won’t go on and on here, but there are even more people I haven’t mentioned (Jerry and Jeanne, Sherry, Elly, Gail, Julie, Darlene, Colleen, Pamela and Steve, Dirk, Lexis, Mel, Fitnat and family, Glynis and Jordan, Cathryn, etc.), all of whom I also look forward to getting to know over time. Our luck in the social arena has been very good … now let’s just hope that work can follow, if we decide to stay here! (Why do I feel like I just gave an acceptance speech at the Oscars? “I want to thank some of the people who made this all possible …”)

20 December 2008

Moral Values

Canada’s role continues as a refuge for Americans unhappy, or fearful, enough about their government to become expatriates. In the Nanaimo newspaper this week is the story of 28-year old Clifford Cornell, originally from Mountain Home, Arkansas. Mr. Cornell has lived the past three years on Gabriola Island, a large, autonomous island 20 minutes by ferry from Nanaimo. He’s been working for two years as a clerk at the Village Food Market on Gabriola. With few prospects after graduating from high school in 2002, he enlisted in the U.S. Army. Mr. Cornell says he was paid a “$4,000 or $6,000” signing bonus and promised by the recruiter he’d not have to go to war. Not sure what Mr. Cornell thought was the primary purpose of the Army, but he nevertheless accepted what he says was the recruiter’s promise. Cornell fled the U.S. rather than go to war; there’s a U.S. Federal warrant out for his arrest. Though he’s lived in Canada for four years, he now faces a deportation order and must leave the country by December 24th. Sixty-four percent of Canadians say they want U.S. war resisters to be allowed to stay in Canada, on the grounds that the Iraq invasion is unjust, illegal, or immoral. I believe the Canadian government declined to deport Americans resisting the Viet Nam war on similar grounds, but the present government is not so inclined, though seems unenthusiastic. While five American war resisters have been deported, several hundred are estimated to remain in Canada.

Laurie got an email reply from a guy to whom she’d been referred with this in the subject line: “Welcome to Nanaimo, a nuclear-free zone.” The gentleman describes himself thusly:

I have lived in Canada since 1970, when I left Seattle for Toronto to study political theory at the U of Toronto, and to escape the moral burden of the genocidal war against the Vietnamese and Cambodian people. That was after receiving my "Honorable" Discharge from the US Marine Corps. Since moving to Canada I have tried to be a true internationalist and deny that I am "American" or "Canadian." But at age 61, after living in my chosen country for 38 years, I do think of myself as canadian. But I'm still a US citizen, and I went to Seattle on Election Day to vote for Obambi [sic?] and celebrate. But I didn't stay and I have no intention of moving back” (“good,” I’d guess most Americans would answer :-) ).

And Laurie has met an American couple, he a Navy veteran, who moved here from Oregon a couple of years ago, I gather because of moral outrage at goings on in the U.S. We’ll be getting their full story over Christmas dinner at their home.

14 December 2008


After a 4-inch snowfall the past 24 hours, in the late afternoon the clouds ended somewhere over the Georgia Strait to our east, and the sun lit up the tops of the Coastal Mountains on the B.C. mainland, visible here between Newcastle Island (left) and Protection Island (right).

10 December 2008

Paid Employment

I’ve concluded that Vancouver Island’s foremost industries are government, forestry, fishing, and marijuana cultivation, not necessarily in that order. The first, government, exists mainly in the Provincial capital Victoria, as evidenced by the city’s 3.3% unemployment rate (versus 6.3% nationally). Forestry and fishing are in recession, if not depression. The marijuana business, while apparently thriving, carries certain risks. And the sheer number of interesting jobs in Nanaimo--population 80,000--is low compared to a metro area like the Twin Cities, at least during non-meltdown times.

Nevertheless, we’ve made a bit of progress. I've encouraged Laurie to post what she’s learned and accomplished, but as for me:

  • Through a contact of Laurie’s, I met last week with a guy from the Business Development Bank of Canada (www.bdc.ca). The Bank offers to small and medium-sized businesses financing and consulting services. The guy with whom I met--a very interesting Australian who originally came to Vancouver Island to train for an Olympic rowing team--manages all of the Bank’s Vancouver Island business consultants. We discussed the prospects for me qualifying for the Bank’s independent consultant “roster.” He didn’t kick me out the door, so I consider our initial chat a success.
  • Also through contacts made by Laurie, I met yesterday with a friendly and helpful individual who manages a program called Business Works in Nanaimo (www.businessworksse.com). This program aids unemployed people interested in starting a business. It first puts them through a 10-day Business Plan Boot Camp, then signs up survivors with a Business Coach--the role I’m most interested in--who helps clients put together a business plan and guides them through the start-up process. Nothing is open at the moment, but new or expanding programs could change that imminently. Again I wasn’t kicked out the door.
  • Friday I’m scheduled to meet with the Executive Director of a nonprofit called Community Futures (www.cfnanaimo.org).  This organization provides financing, technical support, and counseling to business.
  • I’m meeting in January with the Executive Director of the Nanaimo & Area Land Trust (www.nalt.bc.ca), a nonprofit with the mission “to promote and protect the natural values of land in the Nanaimo area.” NALT’s looking for someone to do a special project: develop a database application to manage its membership and donation information. I did a lot of database application development work at Van Hoven Co. in the mid-1990s so, with a little refreshing, I think I could do a good job on what sounds initially like a fairly simple project. Whether my reward would be more than psychological remains unanswered.
I’m also working on a Money Counselor website idea I’ve had for some time. Its preliminary tagline: “money advice for people who work for a living”. I hope this cohort still exists if and when the site launches.

07 December 2008

A Day in the Park

We’re still getting used to the mild climate here! Today we hiked in Biggs Park, just a "spit" of land reaching out into the straight of Georgia from Nanaimo. It was about 50 degrees and sunny -- sun is a bit rare here during the winter. As we walked, we saw two bald eagles drifting directly overhead and we had a view of Nanaimo--and Mount Benson, behind it--across the water. The trail ended with a little bench on Jack Point where you can sit and watch the ferry come in from Vancouver. 

Next we stopped at an English-style pub just ‘down Island’ from Nanaimo called The Crow & Gate with great views of the Island mountains. Kurt had a Guinness, and we warmed ourselves near the big fireplace. The grounds of the place had a real country feeling -- we definitely plan to return.

We know that snow will arrive sometime (although nothing like the Twin Cities) but right now, we’re enjoying the green grass and mossy rocks.

Progressive Energy Policy

If there is debate among Canadians about whether global warming is real or, as Oklahoma Senator James Inhofe said in a July 2003 Senate floor speech, “the greatest hoax ever perpetrated on the American people,” I haven’t detected it. On July 1st of this year British Columbia became the first jurisdiction in North America to introduce a consumer-based carbon tax. The tax applies to virtually all fossil fuels, and its sole purpose is to combat global warming by encouraging conservation and fuel-switching by making fossil fuel gradually more costly relative to clean alternatives. The tax initially added about 2.4 cents per liter (about 9 cents per gallon) to the pump cost of gasoline. The Province estimates the incremental cost to consumers for gasoline at about $20/year for Prius owners and $68/year for Dodge Ram pickup owners. The tax will increase annually through 2012. At that time, the tax on gasoline will be 7.2 cents/liter.

The carbon tax is designed to be revenue-neutral. When it began last summer, every British Columbian received a tax rebate of $100 from the Province. Low-income British Columbians will receive annually a “climate action credit” of $100 per adult plus $30 per child. Corporate and personal income taxes will drop to help offset the pocketbook effects of the carbon tax. So the intent--there is debate on whether it will actually turn out this way--is not to increase taxes overall, but to deter, by economic means, fossil fuel consumption. Also the Province is sponsoring an extensive program called LiveSmart BC (www.livesmartbc.ca) which, among other things, helps consumers pay for energy efficiency improvements to their homes.

A commentary: I worry that what I considered to be promising and long overdue progress away from unsustainable energy will be reversed by the dramatic decline in fossil fuel prices since July. Particularly in the U.S., where fossil fuel has long been dirt cheap, favorable trends were underway. These trends developed not because of any government policy but purely because of economics. Consumers were reducing fossil fuel use because its cost was busting their budgets. Mr. Obama plans taxpayer investment in alternative energy, but capital investments alone are doomed to fail--if the objective is inducing consumers to switch to non-fossil fuel sources of energy--unless supported by energy market economics. By and large, Americans are going to tend to favor the cheapest form of energy, period. So I hope Mr. Obama’s near-term plans include a mechanism to, if market forces have not already done so, gradually raise the cost of fossil fuel relative to sustainable alternatives.

To give a concrete example: If a condition of GM’s imminent taxpayer bailout were the company must produce an all-electric vehicle model by 2012, and if gasoline costs $2/gallon in 2012, the government policy forcing electric vehicles to market would accomplish little more than compel GM to lose even more money. A progressive energy policy should focus first on increasing the cost of what we don’t want: burning of carbon-based fuels and reliance on imported oil. Then GM’s all-electric car would be poised to succeed, for GM and for society. Further, if a relatively high cost of fossil fuel in the future were assured (by a carbon tax if need be) thereby reducing alternative energy project capital investment risk, it’s likely that private enterprise would make some--maybe much--of the alternative energy investment perhaps now being contemplated for taxpayer financing by the President-elect. A truly progressive energy policy along these lines is one example of what I’d call the change we need.

01 December 2008

Government, Canadian-Style

We’re getting a fascinating firsthand lesson in Canada’s form of government and political parties as dramatic and, the Canadian media say unprecedented, events are underway.

Five political parties of significance exist in Canada: Conservative, Liberal, New Democrats (NDP), Bloc Quebecois (BQ), and Green. The most recent election, just held on October 14, resulted in the Conservatives retaining the most--but not a majority--of seats in Parliament, though they received just 37% of the total national vote. With the largest number of MPs (Members of Parliament), the Conservatives’ party leader, Stephen Harper (photo), continued as Prime Minister.

But it appears that last week Harper and the Conservatives went too far. First, understand that the Canadian Federal government is in surplus, and has been for some time. Canada went through a period of chronic federal deficit, but through considerable pain reversed that situation and has been in surplus for some time. Avoiding deficit spending seems to be a huge deal here. With the Canadian economy in decline and the Conservatives having reduced taxes in several areas, it’s looking like maintaining the surplus in 2009 is unlikely.

Ostensibly as an austerity measure to help avoid a deficit, the Conservatives proposed eliminating a federal subsidy of political parties of $1.95 per vote. I’m not clear on this, but apparently only the Conservatives do any significant private fund raising, so elections are largely publicly financed. All parties except the Conservatives are highly dependent on the $1.95 subsidy, so eliminating the subsidy would effectively cut off campaign funds for every opposition party. As you might imagine, this really ticked off the opposition, as they I think rightly perceive it as a ruthless power play cynically disguised as an austerity measure by the Conservatives intended simply to put the opposition out of business, at least for a long while until they organize grassroots fundraising.

So, in the face of the Conservative threat to their existence, the Liberals and NDP have just negotiated a “coalition government,” quite an achievement given that the Liberals and NDP differ on many issues. Combined the Liberals, NDP, and BQ have more MPs than do the Conservatives. The BQ will not officially be part of the coalition, but says today it will support the Liberal-NDP coalition for at least a year. Under the coalition agreement, Liberals would hold eighteen cabinet seats and the NDP six seats. Unknown is who would be Prime Minister. Stephane Dion is the Liberal party leader, but announced his resignation--after the Liberals’ dismal showing at the polls in October--effective in the spring and a campaign for a new Liberal leader is already underway.

The plan is for a “confidence vote” in Parliament on December 8th. Only Conservative MPs will vote against the confidence resolution, and since the Conservatives are running a minority government (they have the most, but not a majority, MPs), they will lose that vote. Normally what would then happen is another election, just a few weeks hence. But the Liberals and NDP recognize Canadians are perturbed by growing election frequency (again a national election was just held in mid-October). So instead of asking for an election, the coalition will propose to the Governor General that she approve the formation of the already negotiated, ready-to-go coalition government. The coalition’s letter of proposal to the Governor General is apparently in final draft form.

Now I’m a bit hazy on the Governor General’s role. Officially the Governor General--Michaelle Jean since 2007--is the British “Queen’s representative” in Canada. Canada’s form of government is a parliamentary democracy and a constitutional monarchy. Queen Elizabeth II is Queen of Canada and head of State. I’m trying still to understand exactly what this means in practical terms. Until now I’d thought the Governor General a largely ceremonial position. It is not. Officially she’s (the current Governor General happens to be a woman) the Commander in Chief of Canadian armed forces, and it’s the Governor General’s responsibility to ensure continuity of government, among other responsibilities.

Evidently the Canadian constitution provides for the Governor General to approve, if she so chooses, a coalition government, in lieu of an election, after a Parliamentary vote of “no” on a confidence resolution. Harper is going berserk, calling this a coup and an anti-democratic subversion of the results of the October 14th election. The coalition points out that 63% of Canadians did NOT vote for Conservatives in October, and the strategy the coalition is pursuing is constitutional. Desperate, the Conservatives have backed off the proposed elimination of the political party subsidy, but to no avail. The coalition’s momentum is such they are not about to turn back now, no matter what the Conservative’s say, citing a lack of trust. As I understand it, Harper’s only option now for saving his government is suspending Parliament. I’ve no idea what the ramifications of that would be. Also he can and I gather will propose to the Governor General that another election be held instead of a coalition government being approved. If the Conservatives can gain a Parliamentary majority in a new election, they’re saved for now.

The drama has Canadians riveted, the CBC reported the highest number of views ever of a recent story on its website about the matter. For us it’s been a great opportunity to learn about the intricacies of the Canadian system of government and political parties. Right now it looks like Stephen Harper and the Conservatives are done for, but a lot could happen between now and the December 8 confidence resolution vote.

23 November 2008

Westwood Park

Today I visited for the first time this trip my favorite Nanaimo park, 20-acre Westwood. Surrounding Westwood Lake, the park lies at the base of 1,023-meter Mount Benson, Nanaimo’s locally iconic backdrop. A beautiful 6-kilometer footpath circles the picturesque lake, making for a wilderness-like feeling inside city limits.

After a walk around the Lake, driving back east toward downtown from the higher ground at Westwood, the view reinforced anew Nanaimo’s incredible setting. The weather, particularly looking east, was crystal clear. The mid-afternoon sun brilliantly illuminated the snowy top halves of the rugged Coastal Mountains on the B.C. mainland while Vancouver Island’s topography shaded the lower parts of the Mountains and the Georgia Strait. Spotlighted by the sun and clearly visible to the southeast was active volcano Mount Baker, a solitary 10,781-foot peak about 100 miles distant in northwest Washington. No photos of this view--a still camera cannot capture scenes like this.

22 November 2008

Birds and Beer

We’re keenly tuned to the cost of living in Nanaimo, particularly given the, we can only hope temporary, vaporization of a chunk of our retirement savings over the past few months. Two items we buy regularly in the States--poultry and beer--are quite a lot more costly in Nanaimo. We normally eat almost no beef, little pork, a lot of chicken and somewhat less turkey. Maybe because Canadians grow a lot of cattle--as we observed firsthand during our drive across The Prairies--beef prices here are comparable or maybe even lower than in Roseville. Pork prices are also low. But chicken and turkey are nearly double the cost in Minnesota. On the other hand, not surprisingly fresh seafood is far more plentiful and affordable on Vancouver Island than in landlocked Minnesota. I won’t eat more beef just because it’s relatively cheap, so our diet is becoming fishier and veggier

The beer situation is genuinely depressing. A 15-pack of the sort of beer I prefer--pedestrian swill, in short--costs about $25 Canadian, or $1.67/bottle (which at today’s exchange rate is US$1.32). A similar product in Roseville costs around US$0.75/bottle. I don’t know for sure, but I think this difference is a result of higher taxation of alcohol in Canada which I think reflects a more serious concern about the negative impacts of excessive alcohol consumption on society and the taxpayer-financed healthcare system. The high retail cost of alcoholic drinks likely explains a proliferation in Nanaimo of retail outlets selling equipment and supplies for home beer and wine making. The cost of booze may also partly explain why marijuana is among British Columbia’s largest industries. Authorities estimate there are 15,000-25,000 private grow operations (often set up in rented single family homes converted by the tenant to indoor cultivation) in the Province, and “B.C. bud” is the Province’s #1 export ranked by dollar value. Some estimate the “pot sector” to account for 5% of British Columbia’s economy. Medical marijuana is legal in Canada, and we’ve seen Vancouverites casually self-medicating on downtown sidewalks.

Foremost on the other side of the ledger is healthcare. For all of 2008, we will spend $8,000-$10,000 for catastrophe-only health insurance and health care. And we’re relatively healthy. Though the Canadian health care/insurance system has shortcomings, the consumer cost difference is stunning. We would pay a premium of CDN$96/month for complete healthcare coverage through B.C.’s Medical Services Plan. A portion of our taxes would also go to pay for healthcare. But, largely by segregating healthcare and capitalism (in my opinion), Canada spends per capita roughly one-half on healthcare compared to the U.S.--and achieves better health outcomes, according to the World Health Organization--so I believe overall we’d come out way ahead under the Canadian system, financially and physically.

16 November 2008

Election Results

No, not that election.

British Columbia held Province-wide municipal elections yesterday.

In Nanaimo, Vancouver Island's second largest city with 80,000 residents, voters overwhelmingly rejected incumbent mayor Gary Korpan despite his 25 years on the city’s council, the last 15 as mayor. Korpan finished third with less than 16 percent of the vote. Mayor-elect John Ruttan (photo) is a long-time Nanaimo businessman. Ruttan proposed the economy as Nanaimo’s “number one issue.” Ruttan’s website says he embraces “the ideals of family values” which for Ruttan, based on his stated platform, evidently includes:

  • fostering the growth of local green initiatives and technology
  • cultivating progressive programs aimed at enhancing overall health and wellness
  • public support of local initiatives that will help stem the tide of poverty and give people who are truly struggling a chance for a better life
  • managing growth sustainably within the city's limits
At a mayoral Q&A forum I attended, Ruttan said he opposed any additional waterfront highrises--a contentious issue in Nanaimo--and would have “no problem” signing a proclamation as part of an annual gay/lesbian pride day. 

Down the road about 100 kilometers, voters in the Province's capital Victoria elected Dean Fortin mayor. In a brief post-victory television interview I saw last evening, when asked about the community’s top issues Fortin said 1) homelessness and 2) global warming. On the latter, Fortin’s website outlines his plan:

  • achieve carbon neutral government operations by 2012
  • measure and report the community's greenhouse gas emissions profile
  • work to create compact, more energy efficient communities
The mayor-elect says he will “strive for ongoing improvement on sustainability issues.” He’s a self-described “avid cyclist” and “a big supporter of getting alternative transportation.” Fortin’s website claims he has “done more than almost anyone in Victoria to help homeless people and deal with the problem of homelessness.” Fortin says his “number one goal is to mobilize the city to address this [affordable housing and homelessness] crisis.”

Voters in the Province’s largest city (and center of Canada's third largest metro area), Vancouver, just 50 kilometers east of Nanaimo on the B.C. mainland across the Georgia Strait, elected Gregor Robertson mayor. Robertson ran as part of a slate of candidates collectively named Vision Vancouver, with a platform in these four categories:

  • homelessness and affordable housing
  • building strong, safe, inclusive communities
  • the environment and sustainability
  • creative capital and a thriving economy

Platform details include: a goal of ending street homelessness by 2015; creating a trial summer program of car-free Sundays on selected streets; starting a $100,000 Green Neighborhood Grants Fund to “support individuals and small groups that start local initiatives to fight climate change;” make cycling and walking “a priority;” allocate space for community gardens; and implement a rentable bike program with hubs across the city.

10 November 2008


We've been here long enough to understand why a wintertime sunny day is cause for celebration. Spent the day wandering around downtown and the compact harbour it embraces.


I'm jumping in trying to connect with people and possible employers - heck, since we've come all the way here, we might as well see if it's where we want to end up or not. Last week I met two interesting guys at a company called Concerto Marketing (www.concertomarketing.com). These two head up the marketing research dept. for this company and have a very interesting consumer behavior theory - too complex to get into here. I'd love to work with people like this, although they don't need any help now (no surprise, given the economy). 

On U.S. election night, Kurt was out watching the local mayoral candidates so I watched the TV -- and cheered -- alone. This proved too frustrating for me, extrovert that I am, so I called the one American couple in Nanaimo whose phone number I have. I'd never met these people yet, within a minute of talking, they invited me over to celebrate the Obama victory. I went and they were delightful!

Speaking of Americans in Nanaimo, there is a couple from Minnesota who moved here recently and I learned of them from a guy I chatted with on the ferry to Vancouver. Small world! I've already spoken with the woman and she seems like a kindred spirit - we'll meet soon.

This weekend some (Canadian) friends we met on a previous trip here came over with two bottles of Canadian (home-made) wine and a list of their favorite restaurants and pubs. What a nice way to welcome us to Nanaimo! We had a great time talking through the list and learning that Nanaimo has more good restaurants than we would have guessed. These folks are real foodies so we were lucky to get their perspective.

Yesterday we took a long walk from the condo along the Millstone River (photos) and through Bowen Park (just west of us) with several waterfalls along the way and then back home via the Harbourfront walkway.

View Larger Map

Although it was cloudy, the temperature was pleasant (about 52 degrees). I’m continually amazed at the natural beauty in this part of the world - and wonder why it took us so long to find this place!

02 November 2008

Settled In

Last Thursday (Oct 30) about 2:30 we first buzzed the Gentrys--John and Maureen--the owners of the condo where we’re staying for the winter. They’d offered to put us up for the night before they departed for their Mexican winter. Was a great opportunity for us not only to get to know them but also to quiz them about the area. Maureen has spent much of her life in Nanaimo and John worked for 46 years in the forestry/milling industry all over Vancouver Island. They’re fun-loving, outgoing, friendly, and welcoming, and gave us an excellent rundown and rating of the local pubs and other services. We dropped off the Gentrys at the ferry to the mainland Friday morning and excitedly began settling in to our temporary home. 

The condo is fantastic: The big living room windows look toward the mainland, east-northeast. The tree-covered Provincial park Newcastle Island is maybe 300 yards distant, separated from us by Newcastle Channel (where an Orca whale cavorted not long ago--we read about it at the time in the online version of the local newspaper). To the south we see smaller and sparsely populated Protection Island and larger Gabriola Island. The tiny seaplanes that taxi travelers to Vancouver and elsewhere descend over Newcastle Channel and land in Nanaimo Harbour. The top photo is our building. Our unit is on the 2nd floor, visible just above the hedge, between the Seaview entrance sign and the blue & white road sign.

Early yesterday morning, while Laurie slept in for a while and after enjoying a beautiful sunrise over the mainland, I took an early morning walk downtown along what’s called the seawall. The seawall walkway (photos 2 and 3) runs from downtown north along Nanaimo Harbour, through another waterside park (called Maffeo Sutton Park--seen in second photo with fall colors), and then alongside Newcastle Channel to Departure Bay a total distance of perhaps 2-3 miles. So the walkway passes only about 150 yards from our building. This is a major amenity for us. The second photo looks southward toward the park--this morning we saw a sea lion hunting about 30 yards from shore in the bay in the foreground--and downtown residential buildings beyond. The third photo shows the view northward from roughly the same spot. That’s Newcastle Island on the right with the tall trees. The sailboats are ‘parked’ at the Nanaimo Yacht Club, which is across the street from our building. I made it downtown in about fifteen minutes--visited the bank, drug store, and picked up some groceries--and walked back along the waterfront toting my purchases. As virtually everything we need is available downtown, we’ll be able to walk, mostly, to get stuff and enjoy the waterfront and stunning scenery at the same time. It all seems rather incredible to me, I just shake my head in near disbelief.

So right now we’re both in a rather ecstatic mode, which of course will fade over time. Learning into what mode our mood and outlook fades is part of the reason we’re here.

29 October 2008

Made It!

Well, we finally made it to our destination - Nanaimo, BC on Vancouver Island. It’s great to know that we’ll unpack soon … for five months. Today on the ferry we were lucky enough to see a large school of Pacific white-sided dolphins. I usually don’t use the word “frolicking” but they really did seem to be frolicking in the water, despite the chilly, rainy weather.

If you ever get to BC, I recommend you explore the Fraser Valley and Hope areas -- west of Vancouver. This entire area is beautiful, ranging from large, craggy mountains to rolling, layered hills running up against gleaming lakes.

28 October 2008

British Columbia

British Columbia's marketing slogan is "The Best Place on Earth." Quite a claim. But after driving across the Province from Banff National Park in the east to Kamloops in the west, the Province's declaration does not to me seem boastful, at least with respect to beauty. These photos are scenes in Banff, the one with water at Lake Louise. To be fair, Lake Louise is in Alberta, not B.C., barely.

We’re in Merritt, B.C. tonight. In particular, I'm sitting in the Merritt Library because, as has been more often the case than not, our hotelier cannot make work its wireless Internet connection. After I verified that the Celtics-Cavaliers game was not on any of the channels our EconoLodge offers (very disappointing, but in general Canadians are not big basketball fans, especially in comparison to hockey), decided I might as well venture out in search of free Internet. It's a beautiful evening anyway.

One more day on the road: Tomorrow we drive to Vancouver--'only' about 165 miles--then north to Horseshoe Bay to catch the ferry for the 90-minute ride across Georgia Strait to Nanaimo, at last. This necessarily kilometers-focused trip has become a bit of blur in retrospect. We're already confused and have to quiz each other on what happened which day and where were we then? But then I'm often confused without even leaving Roseville. :-).

25 October 2008


(written evening of Friday, October 24th)

First, happy birthday Mom!

We crossed the border uneventfully and quickly this morning, only three vehicles in line when we arrived.

We’re staying the night in Brandon, Manitoba at a motel called Barney’s. Given the current owner’s apparent Chinese or perhaps Korean ancestry, we guessed correctly he is not named Barney, but the previous owner was indeed ‘the’ Barney. Too bad, we would like to have met Barney because he appears to have an interesting sense of humor. Along with several colorfully worded advisories in our room, the motel owners also thoughtfully provided a comments sheet. One section is titled “When you checked into your room, was it clean?” The multiple choice answers include “A blind person could do a better job,” “It’s cleaner than the inside of my arteries,” and “This is so clean I’d like my spleen operation here.”

Earlier today we spent a couple hours in Winnipeg, just cruising around and then bravely (or so it felt for us middle-aged white people) venturing into a “mixed” neighborhood in search of ethnic food. We not so bravely settled on Asian and got two fabulous authentic dishes prepared and served by authentic Asians. I'd thought that Winnipeg might be different, but it seems to me every Canadian city I’ve visited, including now Winnipeg, is more diverse than every American city I’ve visited. In the Canadian cities that I’ve seen firsthand it’s tough to guess, based on an appearance-only, unscientific tally of folks on downtown sidewalks for example, just who is the majority “group.” I’d hope and expect that when everyone’s a minority, tolerance is endemic, but I don’t have enough experience here to know if that’s the case.

Modern day “Barney” has equipped our room with a microwave, so I believe we’ll be having leftovers for dinner, then checking out downtown Brandon. There’s something called a ‘stampede’ going on in Brandon this weekend; don’t know exactly what that is but I’ve cautioned Laurie to beware of swift-moving cows and the ‘pies’ left behind.

For a while yesterday I suspected that extreme eastern North Dakota must be the world’s leading source of landscape rock. For many, many miles about every third vehicle on I-29 was a truck hauling what looked like softball-sized and shaped stones. After noting some processing facilities surrounded by unbelievably humongous piles of “stones,” I at last remembered what northwest Minnesota (and hence northeast North Dakota) is known for besides hockey: sugar beets. Harvest evidently is in full swing.

Saturday, October 25th

We’re staying the night in Swift Current, Saskatchewan. Though the weather’s fine, the wind is whipping about 50-60 mph I’d say and has been most of the day. The locals assure us this is extraordinary. Good driving so far on the TransCanada highway. It’s four-lane with a 110 kph (about 68 mph) speed limit in Saskatchewan, up from 100 kph in Manitoba. Unlike the stellar U.S. interstate system, the TransCanada highway is not limited access, so there can be major at-grade crossroads and towns to pass through. These might be issues if there were any of either. Well, there are a few, but very few. The population density is almost imperceptibly above zero (right where I like it), and the vista here in what Canadians call The Prairies is beautiful: flat or gently rolling post-harvest wheat (or canola?) fields, round hay bales awaiting collection sprinkled evenly across vast meadows to the horizon, and of course lots of cattle. To Calgary tomorrow.

19 October 2008

Our Route from Roseville to Nanaimo

We plan tentatively to spend nights in Grand Forks, North Dakota; Brandon, Manitoba; Swift Current, Saskatchewan; Calgary, Alberta; Golden, British Columbia; and Merritt, British Columbia. The itinerary (constructed by Laurie), though not leisurely, has some slack built in to allow for fooling around in the Canadian Rockies, potential snow/ice, and my aversion to driving after dark, especially where moose, elk, and other large mammals roam.

16 October 2008

Thoughts Before Leaving

We depart by car on October 23rd for Nanaimo and a Vancouver Island winter! Our emotions are diverse and keen: excitement, confusion, a bit of anxiety--but mostly excitement. What a great time for us both to choose to have no job or earned income, eh? On the other hand, though I left a part-time job to enable this adventure, Laurie was between jobs anyway, and given ‘the state of things’ even she, despite her talents and connections, might find a job search futile for a while. So might as well have some fun. And secondarily I sure look forward to escaping the U.S. election cacophony’s crescendo and the country’s ubiquitously panic-stricken atmosphere. 

This “trial run” in Nanaimo, besides being a great adventure, should I hope produce several practical benefits related to our now years-long contemplation of whether to relocate to Nanaimo. We’ll experience the full effects of the Pacific Northwest’s relentlessly dreary winter weather. We’ll make more connections in Nanaimo and at the least get a better feel for the prospects for employment, get to know people who may become a future social group, and gauge the extent of anti-American sentiment J. We’ll get a much better sense of what it’s like to live in Nanaimo, as opposed to vacation in Nanaimo. Whether this will allow us to make a decision about moving, who knows.

One impact of this winter’s adventure I’m already feeling is something like “relocator’s regret.” Being away for this long, and moving a big step closer potentially to relocating to Nanaimo, brings to the fore cons about moving I normally repress.  I'd miss the company of our good, core group of friends in the Twin Cities. Get-togethers with some family elements could--if we don't resolve otherwise--become less frequent because of the greater complexity and cost of travel from Vancouver Island. I like Minnesota and the Twin Cities very much, and there's much I would miss. I made a similar, in some respects, move in 1991, relocating from Frederick, Maryland--a place where I also loved living--to Minneapolis, though I had no job and no connections in the Twin Cities. I had a fabulous group of friends in the D.C. area, and it was very difficult to leave. But I felt strongly, after a lot of reflection, that in the long run I’d better prosper in the Midwest. And while it was tough at the time, I’ve never had a single moment’s regret about that decision. So while letting our options percolate this winter, I'll try to stay cognizant that what feels easiest in the short term isn’t necessarily what’s best in the long term, and a mix of emotions--some unhappy--will accompany any complex, even rightly made decision. And hey, few decisions are irreversible or un-modifiable, right? That’s my self-talk to short-circuit a tendency to over-analyze.

Can’t believe it’ll be spring when we get back to Minnesota…feels like cheating somehow, the ice and snow will (probably) be gone by our early April return. I will miss the Minnesota winter too. The other seasons would not feel nearly so enjoyable if not for the stark contrast with winter, I think.