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Ch-ch-ch-changes

The past year has been….challenging.

I can’t complain about the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic on our lives. As I’ve said, we are safe in our home, getting along with each other and our cats and even enjoying the solitude on occasion.

But my health has suffered, not as much as if I’d contracted the disease, but age and arthritis had been slowly eroding my mobility and my general health. And it’s my fault. Before my self-isolation started in March 2020, I’d been quite active, going to the gym 3 times a week when I didn’t have temp assignments, walking a lot and just living my life out in the community. But that came to a screeching halt when COVID came to town.

The bad guy in the story

Of course no one suspected that we’d be doing this for so long. I started sitting around the house, imagining that I’d be back at the gym in a matter of weeks. Which stretched into months, then a year. And my arthritic hip got worse, atrophying as I deprived it of exercise. I tried walking around the neighbourhood but it just wasn’t enough. Plus it hurt like hell. Pain is quite the disincentive, I’ve found. People who worry about the pain of a shot may avoid going to the dentist for years. So knowing that my hip was going to ache like crazy (even if I loaded up on pain meds before heading out) meant I was disinclined to put myself through it. I started walking shorter routes, skipping several days in a row, then giving up in the rains of autumn. When my doctor told me I qualified for a hip replacement I just gave up altogether, figuring I’d get back in shape when the hip was fixed and exercise was pain-free.

We probably know someone whose life was completely changed by an accident or a chronic disease. Someone who enjoyed getting out and about suddenly losing the ability and the desire to leave their home. I was worried that I could be like that, turning into an old woman, restricting myself to the life of the invalid. That my health would disintegrate while we waited for the vaccine, and freedom. It was a sobering thought.

I saw the hip surgeon for a consultation on November 5, and he said the magic words to stir me into making the first change. He told me that it was up to me, and no pressure, but if I felt like it I could lose some weight. It would make the operation easier for the doctors and recovery easier for me. I needed no other inspiration. I went straight home and weighed myself, preparatory to starting a weight-loss regime.

Yikes! I thought I had put on some pounds but I had never been so heavy. I immediately downloaded an app and started counting calories. I knew I had at least 6 months before the operation and hoped to lose about 40 lbs to get down to a more reasonable size. Just as an aside, I knew I was fat. It didn’t bother me, I think a Nana should be cuddly, I don’t care much about fashion, and I knew that losing weight would not bring me youth and beauty. Seemed like a lot of bother for not a lot of pay off. But the impending operation gave me a reason to do it.

The weight started coming off slowly (as of yesterday, 30 lbs) and I actually enjoy weighing everything and logging it on the app. I stayed true to my “food budget” except for two cheat days — Christmas Eve and New Years Eve — when I indulged. So the resulting weight loss was rewarding.

I realized that I must do something about getting some exercise or my muscle tone would enter Jabba the Hutt territory. My daughter had acquired a stationary bicycle and was kind enough to let me use it. But she works from home in the same room as the bike, so I had to Tetris in my workout when she didn’t need to be on a Zoom call. And she is very busy. (We are still avoiding spending any time together indoors until we’re all vaccinated.)

I popped onto the Interwebs and discovered a YouTube channel perfect for my needs. It’s a certified trainer — and her 79-year-old mother — demonstrating simple exercises I can do in my limited space. If anyone had hinted a few months ago that I’d be looking forward every day to doing 50 minutes of exercise I would have questioned their sanity. Even when I was going to the gym it was something I made myself do. But these exercises are divided into short modules — warm up, cardio, strength training, cool down, etc.. I just combine them to fit my needs and I know that if I feel like a change I can just swap out one or more of the modules. It still causes hip pain, but somehow having a voice telling me what to do is distracting enough that I just work through it, ignoring the twinges.

My heroes

I know the phrase “it changed my life” tends to be overused. After all, every decision changes our lives in some way. But I’m very happy to have started these two projects. It’s hard to find satisfying activities during the pandemic that give us measurable results, so often we feel like we’re going backwards. I’m glad I have tangible outcomes I can celebrate.

2020 was not the worst year ever (for me)

For many, 2020 was truly an annus horribilis. Loss of livelihood, a terrible disease that robbed many of their health, even their life. COVID brought that and much more. It certainly wasn’t the best year.

But it wasn’t my WORST year, not by a long shot. One of the comforts of ageing is that you can look back on times in your life when you were truly struggling and say “whew!, I survived that and I never have to go through it again”. And THOSE memories have made me grateful for many things that 2020 brought me.

Grateful for my partner. We married for better or worse. but I’m sure no one realized that meant 24 hours a day for 10 months. We’ve had our ups and downs since we married nearly 20 years ago, but we’re real partners now, real friends, with the same ridiculous sense of humour. I’ve been in a bad marriage, and I know the daily hell people can put themselves through. But we’ve really meshed in the past year, we support and love each other and we show that to each other every day.

Grateful for my kids. We’re fairly close as a family, we live right across the yard from the daughter and her children (which she has half time). I’m used to babysitting at a moment’s notice, and having visitors just pop in to read Harry Potter and make rock cakes or feed our pet fish. Or going out to the burbs to spend some time with the littlest g-kid while her parents have a well-deserved date. But now they are all out and about, going skiing and swimming, off to school. Being cautious of course, but even cautious people are getting COVID (see below). So we don’t see them. And they understand and respect that. On Christmas Eve we all got together at the main house, sitting out on the back deck that daughter had recently put a snazzy roof on. Daughter and her kids and even her ex-husband. Son and his wife and daughter. We wore masks except when we were eating and drinking, gathered around the fire pit. Then we separated again.

Grateful for my relationship with my sister. We had planned a trip to Great Britain, but of course we had to cancel when COVID led to strict travel bans. It broke my heart when, despite her precautions and care she got COVID and I could do nothing to help her. We spoke by phone and video messenger, but it would have been a comfort to me and a help to her if I’d lived in the same place as her. But she knows I love her, and we will be making our travel plans again when we can.

Soooooo grateful for my home. Not just because it’s perfect for us, comfortable and cheerful, but also because I have a home to be grateful for. So many are living rough right now, out on the street and unable to protect themselves, so vulnerable.

I’m grateful that our health professionals are working to keep us safe. I’m grateful for the teachers who are putting themselves in harm’s way to keep our kids (and grandkids) educated. I’m grateful for the cleaners who are working so hard to keep hospitals and schools and long-term care centres and public offices sanitized.

And I’m very grateful for Dr. Bonnie Henry and the governments who are trying to keep us alive until we can all be vaccinated. Mistakes were probably made, but the time to determine a better course is after we’ve returned to “normal” and the whole big picture is clearer. Right now I’m happy our provincial and federal governments have been led by science.

Times have been tough. But I’m grateful for everything that has been given to me, and I will stay grateful until we are all vaccinated and life will continue in a different pace, a different direction.

Midsomer Fantasies

I had seen the occasional program of Midsomer Mysteries prior to the current lock down, but I never followed the series closely until I had seemingly endless afternoons to fill, and an Amazon Prime membership to use.

The Barnaby Boys

When one binge watches a series one notices nuances that you might not see if you have weeks between episodes. And what I have found by closely studying the mythical English shire of Midsomer is a place so anachronistic it should be called Potemkin Village Mysteries.

I’m not talking about the usual “quaint detective” tropes: finding parking right in front of your destination, having an extremely limited number of suspects, a murder rate roughly equivalent to Tijuana in a peaceful village (see Cabot Cove, Maine) .

Nope, Midsomer is the most un-English of all English counties. It’s England designed by people who have never been to England and have not seen English media in 60 years. The villages are all picturesque — and truly many English villages are picturesque. My second cousin lived in one, Knutsford, in a modern house in a subdivision within walking distance of the central core. None of the villages of Midsomer have such subdivisions, or even streets of modern houses. Not Badgers’ Drift, nor Midsomer Parva or Midsomer Wellow or Fletcher’s Cross or Lower Crosby or Midsomer Newton. Everyone lives in a modern villa, like the Barnabys, or a manor house or a thatched village from the 16th century. In truth more people live in houses like the Dursley’s than in those atypical homes.

Like this, minus owls.

There’s also the problem of who lives in those houses. I’m only on Season 12 (out of 21) but I haven’t seen a person of colour in any of the shows. Midsomer is ridiculously and relentlessly white. Cornershops are not owned and staffed by South Asians (a stereotype that holds true a lot of the time) but rather by cuddly, eccentric (and possibly homicidal) white people. You see no black batsmen on the local cricket team. There seem to be no immigrants at all, apart from the occasional American millionaire vilified for trying to drag a corner of Midsomer into the 21st century. But England is a remarkably diverse country, immigration from the former colonies has injected some interesting cultures into the mix and you are as likely to hear a Polish accent as any other.

Infrequently the Barnabys will step out for a meal to a pub or steak house. Even more infrequently they will go to an Italian bistro or a French boite. They never go out for a curry or thai food or sushi. No butter chicken, no jerk chicken no kung pao chicken. Again, this is unlike real life, where a cornucopia of delicious dishes await on any main street, and the frozen food aisle at Waitrose or Tesco is like the United Nations of chow.

In Midsomer there are no motorways (freeways) leading to concrete metropolises. Instead winding country lanes straining to include two lanes lead to villages designed by Thomas Kinkade.

In short, (too late!) I am saying that Midsomer Murders are like most television shows — completely untrue and unrelatable (I mean, how did Rachel and Monica come up for the rent on that apartment? And don’t get me started on the homes the ladies on Sex and the City could afford.) But I will watch it anyway. The stories are really well written, and the acting is good, calling upon the talents of some of Britain’s best thespians. It will be my guilty pleasure, at least for another 8 seasons.

We’re famous!

MONTECRISTO magazine’s online version featured a story on innovative laneway design, and our Grandview Laneway is mentioned!  Very good company, and very prestigious press.

Laneway_Grandview2

My house is broken

And it’s breaking my heart.

First of all, this is no one’s fault.  The house plans were lovely.  The permits were all obtained.  The builders did a great job.  The inspectors all signed off at every stage. But no one could foresee the problems that climate change would bring to our little corner of the world.

For the first 3 years, we had no problem at all with the floors.  It was the particularly harsh 2016-17 winter that first affected a small area of the main/ground floor.

All the precipitation that has traditionally fallen over the East End of Vancouver still falls.  Except it now falls on fewer days.  Great for hot, sunny summers (with the attendant water restrictions).  But the ground in the yard between our laneway and the  main house becomes completely sodden in the fall and winter and spring and that water seeps under our house, and then through osmosis, through the concrete base and up under the floorboards. I don’t know exactly why and I don’t know how, but that’s what’s happening.

Last summer the area around the damage was ripped up and the concrete sealed with pink goo, then the wood floor boards were replaced, but far from fixing the problem permanently it seems to have made it worse.

Walking in our ground floor hallway sounds like we’re stepping on a wharf.  The floorboards are warped and some are discoloured.  Water actually squirts out of gaps between the cupped floorboards and the baseboards, which are also warped and discoloured.  Towels must be stuffed beneath the doors to the bathroom and the studio (where the floors have been sealed and therefore do not leak) and all along the hall.

Of course this will be fixed.  Our builder will come in during the dry season and replace all the wood/laminate floor with ceramic tiles that look just like wood.  That will seal the floors for always.

The house is still under warranty.  The builder is a man of principle.  All will be fixed.  I just have to live through the rainy season until we can make that happen.

The mental problem I have is bigger than the physical one.  I love our house.  I love it when the sunlight streams through the windows on the top floor and the surfaces all sparkle, and you feel like you’re in an aerie floating above the traffic below.  I love it when I am in our bathroom and the sun pours in and it’s like taking a sun shower.  But I really love it when the rain pounds down on the roof and the clouds lower and everything is cozy and warm and protected from the tempest outside.  Not just the weather but all the troubles that ail this world.  Safe and comfortable.

And now there’s a chink in our castle walls (well, floor).  There are sodden towels lining the hallways and tucked beneath doors.  It’s sad.  And depressing. Our sanctuary has been breached.

Of course I realise how foolish this is.  We have a home in one of the most desirable and expensive cities in the world.  The house will stand and the floor will be replaced and we will appreciate it all the more.

I just have to live through a couple of months of the occasional soggy sock (watch the 3rd board in the hallway or oops!).

My last day at work

The weirdest thing about my last day at work was that it wasn’t that weird.

I walked down the halls thinking “this is my last day here!  I’ll only ever be a visitor here, never a part of this organization!”  But it didn’t feel any different.

And of course, people still expected me to work.  Do my job, make up reports, file, get the mail, ordinary stuff.  And it felt ordinary.

Everyone was congratulating me, but really all I’ve managed to do is to age.  Gracefully, of course, but it’s the genes that’ve kept me going for 65 trips around the sun.

Then I was clearing out my personal cache on my computer and I ran across all the recipes I’d downloaded (yea, I downloaded recipes on company time.  Gonna fire me?) and I got an actual frisson of excitement.  I can plan meals and shop at specialty shops, go down to Granville Island any day, not just on the weekends.

Take Indian and Chinese cooking classes!

Then my daughter texted me that Playland is free for seniors.  FREE!!!! And my daughter and granddaughter have season tickets!!!! “Oh, grand-person, want to go to Playland with Nana?  Anytime????” It’s magical!

So gradually and imperceptibly I have become used to the idea of being retired. And I like it.

 

 

But what can we do about this!!!

It’s not just the criminal and chronic housing shortage that makes me crazy, if you haven’t already guessed, it’s the loss of the sense of character in our neighbourhoods.

One of the more demoralizing aspects of the prospect of development in our neighbourhood is the way that older houses are being demolished to make room for new, larger (and usually uglier) ones.  Sometimes these larger buildings take the form of multi-family dwellings, but often they are single-family homes, just on a much grander scale.

But whether your current older home ends up charming your street or ending up in a landfill all depends on the neighbourhood you live in.  And the age of your home.  If your house is the wrong age — or in the wrong area — it could be targeted for demolition and replacement. As this story in the Vancouver Courier explains,

Over in Kitsilano, the zoning laws are different. There, if you want to tear down a house built before 1940, you can build a new home only if it’s smaller in size. In exchange for the restriction, you’re allowed to create suites and infill housing.

That sounds very nice.  Secondary suites and laneway homes increase the housing stock and — this is where I leap in — don’t change the character of the neighbourhood.  And the cut-off date of 1940 is too early, in my opinion.  Lots of east-side developments were put in after the war.  The entire area between Rupert St. and Boundary Road south of Grandview to 22nd was built for the returning soldiers and their families (hint to the heritage, Anzio, Normandy, and Dieppe Drives).  At one time you could see street after street of small bungalows.

These houses are the perfect size for today’s smaller families!  With a full basement (also handy to hold a secondary suite for empty-nesters. And they respond well to renovation.

But that area is now chock-a-block with 3 storey New Vancouver Specials, with the occasional older bungalow sitting like a wren in a cuckoos nest.

oldnew

Fellow boomers and millennials know that’s OUR heritage that is being thrown away when these homes are destroyed.

But what can we do?

Luckily, we can go directly to Stop the Demolitions and fill out a handy-dandy form that will get our message directly to the politicians.

Go ahead, do it!  I’ll wait here.

Now, didn’t that make you feel better?  Also attend any town halls on the subject.  Let your voice be heard!

 

 

Have I caught the NIMBYs*?

All through the East Vancouver neighbourhoods along Broadway the signs have been going up.  Realtor “For Sale” signs set up in the front lawns of consecutive houses.  Four or five homes for sale, all by the same realtor, all at the same time.

It doesn’t take Jessica Fletcher to figure this out.  Densification has been taking place in these areas through laneway homes and secondary suites, but now developers are assembling larger building lots, buying up the single-family homes that sit there, and are planning on installing multi family buildings there.

As we watched the signs proliferate we worried about what form these new buildings would take.  A row of stylish townhomes would be fine.  A nice two-or-three-storey apartment is OK.  But what if they want to build something bigger?  Our laneway backs onto the alley that runs behind some of those homes for sale.  What kind of chimera would appear?

Then the “Sold” signs went up on a section between Lakewood and Nanaimo.  And in a matter of days a sign appeared stating that they want to build a SIX storey apartment building along there.

Six storeys.  That’s a lot of storeys. Something that high would block a lot of our sunlight.  I was prepared to lose our view, but to live in a behemoth’s shadow would be too awful to contemplate.

It also might be wishful thinking.  There’s been no application made so far, at least none that show up on the City of Vancouver’s Development Application Information Web Page.  But we will keep our eye on what is happening just 10 blocks down the road from us.

Now comes the twinge of conscience.  I am completely comfortable with the idea of densification.  I know that the supply of homes (whatever form they take) in no way comes close to the demand in this city.  I want more people to be able to live here.  But I don’t want the entire character of our neighbourhood to be destroyed.  I have lived in a neighbourhood that was a mixture of heritage homes and low-profile condo buildings and it was a pleasant sort of place.

What alternatives do we have?

* Not In My Back Yard

A healthier choice for seniors (and everyone)

How have other countries faced rising drug costs?  And why do Canadians get the splintery tongue depressor when it comes to prescriptions?

pills

First of all, because we do not have universal prescription coverage, we pay too damn much for the drugs we are getting.  According to this CBC Report, drug company representatives influence doctors’ choices in prescribing:

The research conducted for the fifth estate by health benefits company Express Scripts Canada shows employer-funded private insurance plans in Canada wasted more than $3 billion per year between 2011 and 2015 by covering the cost of expensive drugs that have cheaper options, as well as paying for unnecessary dispensing fees.

Adding to that is the fact that other countries tell the drug companies how much they will spend on drugs.  In this report we learn

An analysis by the fifth estate shows that Canadians, for example, pay far more than people in New Zealand for drugs produced by the largest Canadian-owned pharmaceutical company.

For every dollar Canadians spend on seven popular drugs sold by Apotex in both countries, Kiwis spend just 11.5 cents.

And overall, according to several studies, Canadians pay the second-highest drug prices in the world, after only people living in the United States.

So add those two problems — higher drug costs and lack of universal coverage — and you have one big problem.  Many people do not fill or take their prescribed drugs.  And THAT costs us money, too.

A study at the University of British Columbia showed that

In an analysis of survey responses from all 11 countries, the researchers found that Canada had the second-highest prevalence of skipped prescriptions due to cost, at 8.3 per cent. Access was worse only in the United States, where 16.8 per cent of respondents reported such financial barriers to filling prescriptions. In contrast, fewer than four per cent of the populations in most other comparable countries reported skipping prescriptions due to cost.

And the result of that barrier to filling prescriptions?

“When patients stop filling their prescriptions, their conditions get worse and they often end up in hospital requiring more care which in the long run costs us more money,” said Steve Morgan, senior author of the study and professor in UBC’s school of population and public health.

It’s time for federally-funded prescription coverage.

Keeping healthy at a price — that seniors can’t pay

Looking forward to my retirement (133 days but who’s counting?) isn’t all sunshine, roses, and fluffy puppies.   I know I will have to pay a price for continued health care.

medical devices

It’s more important than ever that we stay in tippy-top health.  I have promised myself to increase my exercise regime and to eat right to bring down my slightly elevated cholesterol numbers.  And it seems unfair that now, as I retire,  I am responsible for paying out more money just to stay in good health.

Here in BC we have to pay our own MSP rates (we’re the only province where the provincial government doesn’t cover that cost) and right now my employer picks up that tab.  After retirement that will be $150 a month for the spouse and myself. That’s the highest amount on a sliding scale that tops out at a mere $42,000 net income per year.

Plus right now my employer generously provides me with a medical plan to cover my prescription drugs, dental care, and other extended benefits (thanks, CUPE 2950!).

But as of July 1, 2017, I will have to pay for those.  BC has a system called Fair Pharmacare, a means tested subsidy based on your income that has a hefty deductible based on your income — from two years previously.  For us that could be $1200 a year. Yikes! And it only covers 70% of drug costs up to a maximum, after which we’d get 100% coverage.

You can spread your deductible over a payment plan, but for someone on a fixed income there could be a struggle to afford needed medication. Plus basing the payments on our income from two years previously means that it will be two years before my significantly lower retirement income is reflected in our deductible.

If we lived in Ontario, as a senior my drug costs would be covered with a deductible of $100 A YEAR!

There are private insurance plans which we will certainly consider.  I’ll have to do some very tedious spreadsheet work to see which plan will work out best for us.  As with all insurance, you should buy before you need it.

But it’s not like that in other countries.  Canada is the only country enjoying universal health care that does not have universal prescription  coverage.  And that costs us money.  It seems counter-intuitive that paying for everyone’s prescription could save the health-care system money, but it’s true.

More on that tomorrow.

 

 

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