An Island Moment Part 2

Back in July 2019, I wrote about what was perhaps the best personification of a healthcare system that worked. I use this example a lot when I mention in conversation about how things should work here, and though it’s a mix of private and public care, I am thankful for it.

Today I get to share the other end of the scale.

Lately, I have noticed that the text on my computer screen is not as crisp as it once was, so I thought I should update my eyeglass prescription. I found it hard to believe that my eyesight could deteriorate in a couple of years, but Sheryl was complaining about the same, and well, middle age.

Being busy, I put off the appointment until today, and it seems Dr. Catherine Arsenault has saved the day again—although perhaps too late.

During my last visit less than two years ago, she mentioned that the pressure in my left eye, where I had trouble before, was rising, and it was best to see Dr. Elaraoud again for care. His office was supposed to call, but they never did. And, being busy and not realizing the importance, I didn’t call Dr. Arsenault back to check on the referral. I guess with a new prescription, feeling well, and not suffering from any effects, I let it slip by.

As a result, there is some irreversible damage to the nerves in my left eye.

I started to get angry and mentioned that I could fly elsewhere for care, including the US, if necessary. She assured me that Dr. Elaraoud’s office would indeed call this time. Quickly, I calmed myself down as I realized that it was on me to take matters of my health more seriously, not a dysfunctional health system.

Workplace Progressives
An Island moment


Performance

On Monday nights, I join a creative writing class at the high school in Montague. It’s well-attended, and it focuses on getting you to write freely. The other students have wonderful stories to tell.

I use the opportunity to get some work done.

There is something invigorating about being pressured to write to a prompt, complete the work in 40 minutes, and then share with a group of others. The work I completed then was superior to the 4 hours I spent finishing the story the next day.

Community schools are awesome. While I am in this class, Sheryl is learning to knit, Catriona is practicing TaiChi, and Camren is lifeguarding for the Special Olympics at the pool.


Cats

We have two cats now, which is a sign that we are committed to staying here in Canada against all odds. I didn’t think too hard before reaching the decision to bring new members into our family. If I had of I likely wouldn’t have, because though not as much responsibility as a dog, the daily litter box cleaning gets tiresome. The waiting outside my bedroom door at 4am, wanting to be fed, annoying. They don’t understand the coffee first rule. They do force a certain sense of calm and patience which is something I need.


Enjoy

There is never a dull moment at the Montague PO.

After watching an interview with Chuck Palahniuk, I was struck enough by his narrative style that I had to go out and buy one of his novels.

Unfortunately, while Canada Post said we picked it up from the post office, it was not picked up by us. We often get other people’s delivery slips in our box and hand them back to one of the clerks. I assume the person who got our slip did not and is now enjoying our copy of Choke.

I like going to the Montague PO, but I’ve started sending packages to Stratford for future deliveries. It takes an extra two days to come out here to the wilds of Kings County.


From the future

Since moving to the hinterlands, we get a lot of strange messages from Canada Post. Usually, they state that our package couldn’t be delivered, which is code for, it’s in your mailbox. This one is new. It states that a card was left – except that the time the card was left hasn’t occurred yet. I guess Canada Post has managed to travel into the future. I’ll sit on my step waiting for them this afternoon.


Homedepot Charlottetown is a PITA

Whenever possible, I shop at one of the hardware stores in Montague. They tend to have long-term employees who know what they are talking about and give customer service far exceeding what you could experience in a big box store. But they don’t sell everything.

I’ve been working out of our garage since the end of June. It gives us more space than what we had in Charlottetown, and I have the added advantage of being able to have comfy naps. The garage is supposed to be insulated, but like our old house, it was likely insulated on the cheap because it’s damn cold. So, I opted to buy a combination of radiant and forced air space heaters to keep our gear from freezing. However, each time the Vornado we ordered arrived from Amazon, it arrived broken and in pieces.

I haven’t been to Charlottetown during business hours for 2 weeks, so yesterday, I raced to pick up Camren, and having 20 minutes, I thought I would first drop in and pick up the heater at Homedepot, who also sell Vornado products.

Their website and app say they have 4 in stock and tell you exactly where they are. Except that section doesn’t have heaters; it’s the next aisle over, and they aren’t there.

Anytime I have to ask for help from the mass of employees roaming the store or chatting in groups, my time would be better spent walking up and down the aisles. But I was in a rush. One lady reluctantly agreed to look for the product but couldn’t find it on her terminal and didn’t know where the heaters were. So she asked someone else who double-fisted 2 terminals and also had no idea. Then she said that she would ask someone else but that he was busy at the moment. Eventually, he came over to tell me that they were likely in the clearance section and that if not there, it was likely a mistake in their inventory system. They weren’t there.

So I lost 30 minutes of my time trying to spend money.

I’m not a big fan of Canadian Tire, either. Their staff suffers from the same problems that Homedepot does, but at least their inventory system works so that you generally don’t have to interact with them.


Getting closer

Since I took the photo on the right, electrical and water have been installed. We almost have a functioning kitchen. We are hoping next week, the backsplash and flooring will be done. The problem I have now is that we have 3 different appliance finishes. Black, white, and silver, which drives that side of my brain insane. Many of the appliances that came with the house are from another generation, which means, unlike much of what you buy today, it will last. Our washer and dryer may be the same age as our kids, but they work and work well.


Higher and higher

Our kitchen is being renovated. When we bought this old house, we knew it had to be done. The kitchen was functional but in dire need of updating, especially since the counters were below standard height.

At first, we thought, with help from YouTube, we could do this ourselves. IKEA has some nice kitchens with decent warranties, and a couple of acquaintances had good results in their house.

Then we realized the logistics of purchasing the cabinets, taking down the old ones, putting the new cabinets together, hiring a plumber and electrician, and installing them would not work. We have no time. So we looked for someone to do it for us, but we couldn’t find anyone.

Our next step was to go to local cabinet makers, and we watched as the price went up and up and up. Part of their conditions were that the area in which the cabinets were installed had to be damn near perfect before they would come in and install.

So we got “lucky” and found a contractor to handle all the moving parts, and we watched as the price went up, and up, and up.

This forced us to abandon our initial plans to replace the flooring.

Meanwhile, we discovered that quality sinks and facets are incredibly expensive (They better last until I am carried from the house). Oh, and small profile range-hood microwaves? Unbelievable – it just heats food! Oh, and the cabinet maker recommended a cabinet-depth fridge; coincidentally, our fridge is nearing the end of its life.

As I sit here, six tradespeople are in the house at hourly rates likely greater than my own. We have gone from let’s make the wall smooth so that they can attach the cabinets, to ripping out the wall, replacing plumbing and putting in new lights and electrical. Oh, and we are back to the flooring again.

This is scope creep extraordinaire.


Running Waypoint

I stopped going to CrossFit over the summer to focus my energy on following a marathon training program without the intention of actually running a race. My goal was to slowly add mileage to see if I could handle the kind of regime I had before I returned to Canada without the added complications that CF has brought in the past. For the most part, it has gone well, especially considering that the summer and fall weather has been mostly wet. No injuries, and the only real challenge is mental. My other goal was to spend time in the backroads and trails from Cardigan onward. I had no idea this part of Prince Edward Island was so beautiful.

That training cycle is over, and now I am trying to regain some discipline to go out in this damp, cold weather to start again. So far, I haven’t been successful. I prefer the comfort of my heated office at 6 a.m., but I’m sure I will find the discipline again.

The picture above is of my favourite 5K waypoint, where I would stop and enjoy the view while drinking some cold brew coffee that I bring along in my running bag.


Visitors

It was great to connect again with Guy, and meet Yan Yan and Jing when they visited from Brooklyn this week. Guy and I went to Grad school together in Taiwan and haven’t really been in touch, with the exception of one social or another, since.


The Post Office That Doesn’t Sort Mail

The last time I went to the post office, I thought I just met an employee that was having a bad day and had a penchant for exaggeration. It turns out that that is her normal demeanour. It also turns out that they were quite serious about automatically returning mail-to-sender if there is no post office box in front of the address.

Before we managed to secure this PO Box, a client needed to send me a package, and since I didn’t know where we would be living, I thought the safest bet was to give our new address. Unfortunately, at some expense, they sent it by priority post and not by courier. They notified me yesterday that it was returned to sender. Embarrassing.

The same happened with some legal documents that were sent to our address.

I’m not sure what the employees at this particular Canadian post office do, but I can confirm that they don’t sort mail.


Welcome to the community

We bought our first lawnmower recently. Another indication that I must be putting down roots. Our house came with a ride-on lawnmower, but I am determined never to sit my ass on one of those things ever.

I wanted to cut the grass immediately, but Sheryl kept reminding me to think of the bees, think of the bees. So we waited. And there is a bee who comes around a lot, so I will plant some flowers for it later.

Then after filling the new fresh, out-of-the-box lawnmower with oil and gas, I tried to start it, and it wouldn’t start. We both tried repeatedly but had no luck. We were defeated by the most simplistic of machines (I wanted to buy a battery-powered one, but I don’t think they are ready for a field like ours.)

Then the rain started. And the grass continued to grow.

After the grass turned to dandelions, we got our neighbourly welcome note in the form of a letter from the town stating that our grass was too high and must be dealt with or we will be fined.

It’s a somewhat derelict area except for an Airbnb whose owner naturally lives elsewhere and, as such, isn’t a neighbour or neighbourly at all. So I suspect they complained, so we will not sully the look of their $ 450-a-night rental.

Dandelions are a terrible look.


The mailbox

I don’t know if this is the norm for every home across the Island, but where we moved, you must get a community mailbox before receiving mail. So shortly after closing on our house, I went to the nearest post office and asked:

“Hi, I would like to get a mailbox, please. We just moved in up the street.”

“Ok, before I can give you a mailbox, I will need to see one piece of ID and mail with your address on it.”

“I don’t have mail with my new address on it because I can’t receive mail until I get a mailbox.”

We went back and forth with this a couple of times until I suggested I come back with something stating I lived at the address in question.

It took a few weeks to return because they close at 5 pm. But they reluctantly gave us a mailbox (we arrived 10 minutes before 5) but with a stern warning – “We don’t sort mail at the post office. We return to sender if you don’t include the box number in your address.”

I get the feeling that there is some stress at our new local PO.


Four wheels move the body, two wheels move the soul

It’s interesting to be confronted with something different, like values and interests. I’m thinking this as I sit in an otherwise peaceful location as motorcycle after motorcycle thunders by, breaking the peace and disturbing all nearby.

I get motorcycles. It’s fun. But I don’t get the need for the modifications to make them as noisy as possible. The revving to accentuate their power. Especially when they know that it bothers others. Maybe that’s the point(?).

Perhaps, it’s similar to buying an $85,000 big truck when all you ever haul is a bag of groceries or two.

I suspect it’s mostly men. There must be a more constructive way to express your masculinity than by giving the middle finger to those around you.


All men need a drill

We are moving. I’ve written a number of different versions of this over the past month, but due to time and procrastination, they were never finished and now reside in my day-one diary.

At the end of this month, I’ll vacate my Victoria Row office for temporary digs until a more semi-permanent solution is finished.

Next month we leave our apartment in Stratford (finally) for an old house full of old house problems, but problems that we will own. I admire character homes for their quirks, and I look forward to trying to make it an interesting place to live.

The road to this decision was long, starting with whether or not we would continue living here. Health care, the cost of living on a small island, services, etc., have changed since we arrived. Changed for the worse.

We have no ties here, and we’re free to leave, but Sheryl has a job she loves with great people, so that tipped the scales to the side that said stay.

After that quick decision came the realization that every home we looked at was selling for 2 or 3 times what it would have sold for 2 years prior. That’s a tough pill to swallow. Timing is everything, I’ve been told.

Owning this home has taught me that a new vocation may be in order. Goodbye user experience, podcasting or writing children’s stories. Hello, carpentry. The house needs work, and contractors are like unicorns; you are more likely able to find a unicorn in the woods than someone available to help fix something. Despite the shortage of workers, there is only one course on Prince Edward Island to teach the skills you need, and it’s a full-time program at Holland College. Luckily we have Youtube.

I’m now off to the hardware store to buy a drill because my 92-year-old Uncle said that all men need one, and I’m sure there will be lots of drilling in our new old house.


Goals achieved

Catriona and Camren have been talking about specific goals for a couple of years, and it’s wonderful to see that they have achieved them.

For Catriona, this means embarking on her first solo trip to Taiwan this summer. She’s planned, arranged and paid for everything herself, and aside from visiting friends, eating good food and doing the usual touristy activities, she plans to set aside a day for a health check-up. She finds the medical system here as dysfunctional as I do.

Camren will start working as a lifeguard on the North Shore and is spending hours each week taking more courses in preparation. His days of working at Sobeys on Allen Street have come to a close.

The environment they’re growing up in is more challenging than when I was their age, which makes me all the happier that they can still follow and achieve their dreams.


April will be better

March felt like a difficult month. Perhaps because I was out of my groove due to all kinds of distractions, it may have also had to do with the lousy virus I suffered through and the then lack of any kind of meaningful exercise. Or perhaps I am just tired of winter. While my March sucked, it certainly doesn’t compare to Catriona’s.

One of the factors influencing our decision to move back home was to provide better educational opportunities for the kids. COVID ruined that for a time, and now the UPEI faculty strike is having much the same effect.

I haven’t been generally impressed with the classes that Catriona has been taking at UPEI. Some were online only, others were “just read the PowerPoint,” and others seemed like a complete waste of money. Catriona’s very introverted, so it goes against her nature to continually chase her professors for answers to her questions. Her introversion also makes for a sub-par social experience, though I’m not sure what opportunities there are for that anyway.

With the strike, I’ve tried to convince her to seek education elsewhere, but she’s not ready to leave home yet. She doesn’t also share my views towards the classes she is taking and generally supports the faculty’s efforts towards better treatment from the administration. The emails she receives from the administration about the strike are so asinine. I can’t imagine why they bother sending them.

While I can’t convince her to seek a better education elsewhere, there is no doubt that Camren won’t attend UPEI in the fall. He sees the experience she is having and will go abroad to experience something more.


That Cold Night

The Maritimes are recovering from the freezing cold we experienced last Friday into Saturday – lots of frozen pipes. Against common sense I decided to run to CrossFit Friday night across the Hillsborough bridge. I did so because I didn’t want to, if that makes sense, and to experience a new challenge. At early evening we hadn’t hit peak cold yet and luckily the wind was for the most part at my back.

The next day Sheryl took Camren to Sackville for a swimming session across the other bridge returning just before they closed it down. It wasn’t a pleasant drive.

Stafford takes great care in making sure all the sidewalks and trails are safe for walking during the winter. Charlottetown considerably less so, and it’s easy to see which buildings in the downtown are short/long term rentals as they seldom take care of the snow in front of their properties. My traction aids have been an important part of me staying upright so far this season.


No Ones Coming

I had no idea who the person behind this phrase, “no one is coming … to help you,” that the Instagram algorithm kept serving me for some time. Her interesting sound drew me to find the person behind the voice.

Her message is the same schtick that many keep proposing on social media. Which was something we lived through for all those years in Taiwan. The government was at arm’s length, we had no social safety net, and in the early days, if we lost a job, we had to leave within 2 weeks. We lived under constant threats of natural disaster and Chinese sabre rattling and raised two kids constantly exposed to various endemics. We did have access to the world’s best healthcare. Self-reliance was required.

Returning to Canada, we thought we could relax now that we were under the umbrella of a comprehensive social safety net, but it has been proven on a few occasions that this is not necessarily true. Especially tonight when the City of Charlottetown has made more effort to ensure that people know that no help is coming from the city during the coldest night in memory. For those in need in Charlottetown, truly, no help is coming.


Crispiest


Taken this morning when it was a relatively balmy -10 or so. I’ve got multiple layers for the run home, but with the windchill threatening to bring the temps down to the -40 range, running across the Hillsborough bridge to Stratford might not be wise. At that temp, my exposed skin might suffer frostbite.


Crisper

Taken during yesterdays running commute to the office. The weather has made running an adventure. The day before (?) I was wading through ice cold water that was up past my ankles, yesterday I was climbing snow banks in search of a sidewalk. Stratford does a great job of maintaining their trails but once you get off the bridge the sidewalk ends and you are on your own until you find a maintained sidewalk or take the risk of running on the road. Today we have another rain storm, which I didn’t feel like dealing with, and so I drove the car.


At what price

One of the many reasons we left Taiwan, specifically and life abroad generally, was the desire to have a sense of permanence that we didn’t feel we had where we were living.

We wanted a home. A physical and emotional place that we knew would be there whenever we returned from where we had been. Taiwan provided that, but there was always this undercurrent of uncertainty and the feeling that despite our best efforts, we might forever be considered “honoured guests.” We had an extensive social network there, were involved in the community, and knew the place better than perhaps this Island we again call home.

I knew the costs of leaving. I had access to my mother’s finances and knew the cost of living here was much higher. Amongst many things, we would likely have to forgo the luxury of cheap fresh fruit, vegetables, and meat and fish. My mother was always amazed that we could comfortably afford to eat salmon and steak regularly at breakfast and dinner.

Other places in the world had a lower cost of living and much better health care, but none could compete with the desire to return home after over 20 years abroad.

We created spreadsheet after spreadsheet to help plan for the move. Was it possible to live the lifestyle we were accustomed to? Not entirely, but it seemed close enough. Most of our decision-making has little to do with numbers and more to do with emotion. In work and life, I have always preferred qualitative measurements vs. Quant.

None of our thinking or calculations could have foretold a pandemic and the rocketing cost of housing.

When we finally realized there was a housing supply problem, we considered buying a house sight unseen. But we have become risk-averse, and most places we saw were houses, not necessarily homes. We never really understood the Canadian obsession with real estate as an investment. So we decided to wait.

Since then, houses we might have bought before have doubled in price. Some tripled. And with nothing in the way of upgrades that might justify such a lofty valuation. We have terrible timing.

We are now in a position where we are ready again to buy a home. Where we live now has served us well financially, but I get the feeling that no matter where you rent on the Island, you will always face with some regularity neighbours who seem hell-bent on making other neighbours’ lives difficult. That’s been our experience.

But I am faced with a question. Is it worth it? If we are fortunate to live so long, over the next 20 years, we could spend over $500,000 to live in a small house on the Island. That’s a heady increase over what it was just 3-4 years ago. And with the high cost of living and lack of health care, it gives me pause.

I don’t have a definitive answer to that question. The quant side of my brain says no. The qualitative side is unsure.


Crisp

It’s great to be relying on my feet again to get places. We drove to Halifax on Friday in the midst of a snowstorm which added an extra 90 minutes to an already long drive. It must be 20 years or more since I’ve driven in that kind of weather.


Pot of gold

It’s a strange world we now live in.

Sheryl is suffering from a nasty respiratory infection, which, while not life-threatening, makes sleep difficult, prolonging the whole getting well process. Attempts to find medicine to provide relief failed, with one pharmacist telling me she expects more supply in April. Not being able to find basic cold meds is something we have never experienced before, one of many weird firsts since returning to The Island.

I tried to book her an appointment with a doctor, but you have a greater chance of winning the lottery than getting into a walk-in clinic in Charlottetown.

Fortunately, when out buying groceries last night at the Superstore, I saw in the distance a couple of stray packages amongst the out-of-stock stickers in the medicine aisle. It felt like I had found gold.

Hopefully, this medication will bring her some comfort so that she gets some rest (the only real medicine) and finds herself back to normalcy.


Looking for Charlottetown

Much of the Island is closed today due to weather. The run across the bridge to the office wasn’t so bad, but the poor visibility meant running on Water street was not a risk I thought I should take. I slide across Water to Grafton in search of a sidewalk of some sort, and eventually found one when I arrived at Holland College. Running in weather like this beats driving and I’m happy that I live close enough to my office that it’s possible to do so.


Cold

This was taken yesterday as we experienced what I consider the first real winter day of the season. Today crossing the bridge into Charlottetown Siri stated that the windchill was a chilly -16˙C. The run wouldn’t be possible without tractions aids snapped on to my running shoes, it’s too cold to salt, but at least the active pathway was plowed and safe. Where the sidewalk off the bridge connects with the rest of Charlottetown is a bit iffy as there is nowhere to run but the road or a snowed in patch of grass.