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alberta summer landscape

alberta summer landscape (Photo credit: Jodene)

Yesterday I renewed my driver’s license. I have been here that long. Alberta doesn’t have an equivalent to the DMV offices down in the States. The provinces farm out as many petty bureaucratic tasks as possible to private contractors, so in The Fort, we renew our driver’s licenses at an insurer’s, which allows handles marriage and vehicle licenses in addition to registration for provincial health cards and voting.

Depending on the time of the month and the time of day, wait times range from 5 or ten minutes to literally seconds. I walked in and right up to a woman behind the counter who I vaguely know because her son goes to Dee’s school and they have been in the same class on and off since kindergarten.

She took the notification I was mailed, scanned it, asked me if my height and weight were roughly the same – so I lied about the weight part, which is a bit more now, had me sign twice and took my money. Next came the non-smiling photo in which I look grim but on a good hair day and I walked out with a temporary license and the assurance that within a week or so my new license would appear by post.

Five or six minutes – tops. Couldn’t help but remember my last trip to the DMV in Des Moines, which I had to strategically plan for minimum time suckage and it still took over 30 minutes and required me to pass through security. Everything even remotely governmentally related means passing the inspection of this or that rent a cop. Aside from the passport office, I have yet to need to run a security gauntlet for anything here in Canada. Even then, the security guards were jovial types who allowed Dee to go inside and wave to her Dad as he waited to renew his passport last spring.

As the time comes closer for me to take my citizenship test and acquire Canadian status for Dee and myself, it’s little things like these that reinforce for me that I am more home than I ever was in the Midwest state where I was born in the U.S.

While the Roman circus that is a POTUS election cycle drives the bigger discounts – among that Dee and I have more civil rights here than we did there – the smaller things have bigger impact.

Two weeks ago, our ward councillor threw an open house for those of us who live on the outer edges of our county. Rob and I attended, chatted with him and though it is obvious that he is an ambitious young guy who undoubtedly has a future on the larger provincial stage, it was also clear that he knew our area, its issues and that he wanted us to come to him when we need help navigating the bureaucracy.

Back in Iowa, whether it was Dubuque or Des Moines, ordinary people aren’t afforded access to those that make or influence the rules even at the most local level, which is where it matters most of all. Access comes with status that is acquired mostly by birth but also by wealth and network. Our councilor owns businesses where he can be found and will take the time to talk with you (and take notes while he is doing it). He answers emails personally. He usually knows about the issue before you bring it up.

Even at the provincial level, our MLA representative replies promptly to emails and follows up. I have even gotten prompt replies from our MP’s (Member of Parliament) office offering advice and assistance.

Granted, Canada is smaller and Alberta is smaller still, and maybe that’s some of it, but there is a commitment to the importance of citizens that I never witnessed in the land of my birth.

“You should have been born here,” Rob said once. “Meeting me just set the universe right in that respect for you.”

It’s difficult though to disengage from the U.S. Just stop caring about what a cess pool Congress has become and how corrupted the office of the Presidency is after Bush and now Obama.

There was an article in a UK paper this week discussing the fact that while the rest of world realizes that whoever the POTUS is, he’s nearly powerless to affect matters in his own country let alone the world (unless it is through military meddling), most Americans labor under the delusion that they and their government is a vital player and that other countries care deeply about the outcome of this election. The truth though is that while they think that Obama might be a slightly better choice, nothing catastrophic will happen if it ends up being Romney.

My concern is mainly for the state of freedom, which is losing ground daily down there. People I know, well and only virtually, vehemently believe that the American way is the freest and bestest of anywhere but it’s not. And that they don’t know this … is a bit maddening.

I want to tell people “emigrate!”. If you are young(ish) and have skills, there are countries aplenty that will welcome you. Places where health care is a healthy mix of government control and private enterprise. Privacy is a right worth prizing above all other concerns. The common good is just taken as a given. Court systems routinely side with the people in matter of government over-reach. Your vote actually counts even if you don’t live in a “swing state”.

I have to work on the letting go, but someday I plan to be just as bemused by Americans and their elections as any other Canadian. It’s a process.

 

 

Snowing Like a Bastard


Winter of 2007-2008 in Ottawa, Canada.

Winter of 2007-2008 in Ottawa, Canada. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

 

When we visited Iowa over the summer, my sister, DNOS, maintained it would be an early fall and winter.

 

“My knees know,” she proclaimed with the authority of one of those grande dames you always see in the movies.

 

Rob tends to dismiss anything not based in actual science, which includes not only the Farmer’s Almanac but DNOS’s knees.

 

“How can her knees in Iowa predict the weather for us 1500 miles away in Western Canada?” he said, and it’s a fair question, but it doesn’t discount the fact that it snowed last week a few times. Just light flurries here and there. Enough to dust lawn and foliage.

 

And then the day before Halloween, snow began to pile up. Not alarmingly so until a blustery snow moved in Halloween night just as the kids were beginning to make the rounds for Trick or Treat and then transformed into a determined snowstorm.

 

“It’s snowing like a bastard,” I informed my husband when Dee and I returned from making our rather solitary rounds to collect candy with a side trip to the bookmobile.

 

“You are sounding more Canadian all the time,” he marveled.

 

Yesterday I took to the road and trekked into The Park. Travel was not being advised but when one lives in a winter prone area, one cannot always count of advisable travel in the face of shit that needs to be done.

 

The ladies at the yoga studio, while admiring my fortitude, told me that next time I should just call and tell them I will be a day late. I needed to drop off applications for a training program and pay fees. The deadline was the 1st and even though I’d talked to the program’s instructor and she knew I was registering, I still like to make deadlines.

 

Adam the radio host was rambling about 5 to 10 centimeters expected when I left the studio and headed for the mall, but clearly that mark was off already. It must be disheartening to be a meteorologist because the margin for error is high and near instantly noticeable. Unlike say, the POTUS, you can’t magic statistics around to hide when you are a bit, or a lot, off.

 

I needed to pick up a dressy outfit for Dee at the mall. Grade Five hosts the Remembrance Day assembly.

 

“I need black earrings,” she said.

 

Even her earrings need to be somber to the point of mournful.

 

I love the lead up to Remembrance Day. Everyone sports a poppy on their lapels and Dee runs around the house singing “Flanders Field”, a depressing dirge but oddly inspiring.

 

“It’s funny that for Canadians the big war is World War I but for the Americans, it is the Second World War,” I mentioned to Rob later in the shower.

 

Rob snorted a bit, “That’s because the Americans barely showed up for the first war.”

 

Indeed, their appearance wasn’t as noteworthy as the share of credit they give themselves for that particular engagement.

 

Aside from bum windshield wipers, the arrival of winter hasn’t been remarkable. Earlier than it has even been since I have lived here, but Rob assures me I just haven’t lived here long enough. In Alberta there really is no norm for the timing of snow.

 

Last year the warm weather hung around until nearly Halloween and snow took it’s time arriving and buggered off early in the spring. I don’t think that will be the case this year. But we had a decent warm summer for a change, so I will find contentment in that and just give in to the change of seasons. It’s the yoga thing to do.

 

The Tropics of Canada


Heat Wave (comics)

Heat Wave (comics) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

One doesn’t normally associate the Great White North with wilting scorched-earth heatwaves, but it happens. Even the more northern edges of Canadian civilization experience sun blistering summer weather.

When I first moved to Alberta five years ago, my husband, Rob, assured me that summers were milder than the soggy aired Iowa sauna summers I was accustomed to hibernating out in my mostly climate controlled existence in Iowa.

Due to sinus issues and a hyper-active immune system, I hopped from one hermetically sealed zone to another from early April until sometime in October. My house, vehicle, the school I taught at, the grocery, the mall, Target – basically anywhere I frequented was chilled and dehumidified to a tolerable level.

But in this neck of Canada, things are different. Public spaces are likely to have a/c, but private homes aren’t. Our house, which was built over sixty years ago, is one such climate controlled free zone. After having a/c since 1997, I was unprepared for the transition back to the days of yore.

As a child, we had one window unit in our kitchen, which Dad only purchased the summer my younger sister DNOS suffered from some heat related malady that scared he and Mom enough to cave in on the a/c question a little bit. My family didn’t go the full central air route until I’d left home for university. So while my siblings began to lose their ability to tolerate heat, I was steadily building my heat tolerance muscles in the sweltering dorms of Iowa City. Though the apartments I would live in after had this or that wall unit, it was only enough to take the sweat off and not really enough to cool unless one was willing to remaining completely motionless.

It wasn’t until I bought my first home in 1997 that I had central air and I never looked back.

Perhaps because Rob promised me a cooler summer, the weather in 2007 was warmer and more humid than normal. In fact, July and August rolled one heat wave into another, pounding my sinuses and kicking up my faux asthma enough that my poor husband was apologizing to me almost daily for relocating me in the Canadian version of hell.

It was two summers later though that finally prompted him to invest in an air conditioner for the bedrooms, and a prolonged heat wave the summer after saw the purchase of two more window units and the trade up from unrefrigerated tent trailer to a/c equipped holiday trailer.

Still, no central air.

Our current ungodly hot wave of sun-baked oppression sent us packing to the holiday trailer to sleep and has spurred talk of “putting in central air when we replace the furnace next year”.

I have a love/hate thing with heat. My inner Iowa girl is offended by cool summers. If it’s July or August, it should be hot. There has to be something to differentiate summer from winter, spring and most of the fall up here. And I truly miss spring, which we don’t have despite what the calendar might say about it.

But, even though I don’t wilt like the native-born (and Dee, who has lost all tolerance for heat over the last five years), I react more vigorously to humidity than I used to. Something to do with the fact that for the most part, it is super dry here and I just am losing the little ability I had to cope in the first place. So, though I like warm and even very warm, the sinus swelling and pain that goes along with it, I can no longer deal with.

Which brings me back to conditioned air.

Rob spent all the last weekend plus foolishly risking heat stroke up on our roof. His sense of  reno timing is, as always, impeccably flawed. I don’t know how he does it, but he nearly always manages to pick the worst weather or time period for starting really big projects. It has to be a gift.

So there he was, roofing in 32C full on sunshine, which unbelievably was an improvement over the pouring rain of the weekend before which left our dining room and back porch drenched and dripping. Roofing meant no time to install the air conditioners and a retreat to the trailer each night because the upstairs was too hot to even draw a breath in let alone find a good night’s sleep.

Tuesday evening brought a bit of relief to the main floor when Rob designed a new window rig for the downstairs unit but even by Wednesday afternoon, it was still 24C on the main floor and stifling upstairs. Cooler temps are on next week’s horizon but the projection is for more heat and higher than normal temps as the summer wears on.

I don’t know that I am entirely sold on the reasons why the climates across the globe are shifting. A good explanation is likely still beyond our scientific capacity to explain and there is too much nonsense from either extreme end of the debate for anyone to be able to seriously assess the situation. Regardless, climate is changing and where it will finally settle is a question that is probably not knowable or even preventable at this point. The arguments are silly and pointless. It doesn’t matter why because we have no way to stop it anymore even if we understood the mechanisms causing it. Blame and denial aren’t helpful and anything that isn’t geared to preparing to adapt is a waste of time, money and effort.

Rob thinks that if we stay put we will eventually live in quite a moderate climate. And if by “moderate”, he means “like Iowa” then we might have to consider Nunavut someday.

Canadian “Free” Healthcare is Great … Unless You Have to Use It


English: Alberta Health Services logo from vis...

… in which case, it’s a hodge-podge of incredible inconvenience, outdated ideas and control freak issues.

One of the reasons I wait to go to the doctor until I absolutely can’t home remedy myself to semi-functionality is that the system created by Alberta Health, and zealously overprotected by the medical profession here, sucks sweaty donkey balls.

Factoring access issues out (because family doctors – who are the gatekeepers to all other doors unless you opt to simply brave the emergency room), the main problem is timeliness coupled with time sucking runaround.

Back in Iowa, I could call my doctor’s office and generally get in to see her the same day. X-ray and lab were on site, so there was never a need to run about the city and diagnosis or action plan was meted out at the same appointment.

If I needed to see another doctor or have additional tests, it happened within a couple of weeks. Only rarely did one wait a month or more during the diagnostic phase. A good thing because though most issues are minor and not life-threatening, one can’t really know this for sure in the initial stages. Timely diagnosis is more than a little bit crucial. And so is treatment – depending.

Here it is a very different story. Nothing is on site at the doctor’s office. Nothing.

X-rays? They send you over to queue up at the hospital behind in-patients and the rabble choking the ER.

Blood tests? There is a lab at the hospital and a private lab over by the Starbucks. The doctor will get back to you with the results in a few days. Maybe.

Need a referral? Sometimes the PCN, which is the overlord of the system, will be notified and when the scheduling nurse gets to your referral (they will tell you to call PCN if you haven’t heard anything in a month’s time), she/he will call the office of the doctor you’ve been referred to and set up the appointment for you. You are notified and then asked if the time works. You will make the time work because rescheduling will only throw you further down the list.

Once you have been seen by a doctor, you are theoretically allowed to call and schedule further appointments for yourself. Or not. Sometimes, it’s back to the referral mill for you.

Which is where I am.

My doctor easily granted the referral I needed and told me she’d fax it that same afternoon. However, when I called this morning to make the appointment, the receptionist informed me that, “We don’t take faxes. Only phone calls. Your doctor will have to phone us.”

Which won’t happen. Doctors don’t make their own phone calls. The PCN does it for them. So instead of possibly snagging an appointment in early September, which is where the bookings for the doctor I need to see are currently, it could be October or November because I am now relegated to PCN nurse scheduling hell. Phone tag and “no, that day doesn’t work”.

What doctor doesn’t use fax? Or email. Or e-script to pharmacies?

Doctors in Alberta, that’s who.

Is this the 21st century? Because it is in Iowa and has been for the past decade and a bit. I – O – W – A! When you are more backwards than a corn belt state in the Midwest of the United States, it’s time to be concerned.

Every doctor in Alberta is physically welded to a laptop, but that’s as far as the future goes. Everything else is 1970′s. This includes office decor and hospital rooms. Going to the hospital or doctor’s office here is like stepping back into my childhood pediatrician’s clinic (which housed an x-ray, lab and multiple specialists under the same roof – back in 1971).

I am half-way tempted to just say “fuck it” and see if my sister, DNOS, can’t get me an appointment with her doctor when I am visiting next month.

This is ridiculous bullshit. Our tax dollars pay these people and Rob’s paycheck is docked considerably to purchase the supplemental insurance which keeps us from, among other things, having to beg for pharma samples. A lot of money goes to the cause of the Alberta Health System treating us like inconveniences between them and their provincial paychecks.

On bright side, the odds of my current physical woes being fatal are low. Not nothing. But low. As a Canadian, I am supposed to rejoice in that because “at least I won’t lose my house like people in the States do”, which is a fallacy for another day.

UPDATE (July 16) – Four phone calls to the office of DR I need to see, and three reminder calls to the DR who is referring me late, and I still have no appointment. And there’s no way around this. The local network that “controls” this section of the province is only a database that would – at best – point me to yet another gate keeper to restart the referral process. If Rate My MD is to be believed, the vast majority of my other local choices really suck. The guy I want to see is the best going even if he has zero personality and less bedside manner than is typical even for here. At this point, the only way to speed things up would be to just park in the ER where – at minimum – I would at least get the tests I need and some sort of confirmation as to whether my issue is trivial or something that needs more investigating.  We leave for holiday inside the month and a quick Google of my Iowa hometown revealed that despite having a population of just under 58,000, it boasts as many specialty DR’s of the type I need to see as the area where I live, which is approaching 1,000,000, give or take. Worse case is, according to my sister, I could easily be seen and screened over our three week stay. I’d rather not do that. I am Canadian enough at this point to look down my nose at the sort of person who queue jumps or, worse, flaunts their economic privilege by heading south of the border. It’s one thing to get your dental work done in Mexico when you winter over in the American Southwest or take a winter siesta from Canada’s winter, but quite another to use the US healthcare system. However, I am a little bit worried and my husband is more so. His past experiences with “the system” are more unpleasant than mine, and I would prefer he not have to go through anything similar with me. Today I am feeling stoic (though I came close to tears when talking with the refDR’s receptionist), and I will give it another day or so. All bets are off after that. Patience is a seldom rewarded virtue in the diagnostic stage of unknown medical issues. I learned that quickly when my late husband was stricken. Squeaky wheels inspire momentum if only to get you moving quickly to the next leg of the journey so that you are someone else’s pain in the ass.

Winding Down


Canola fields near Bredasdorp

Canola fields near Bredasdorp (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

One of the reasons I decided to be a teacher was that I’d grown accustomed to the time frame. The year began in late August or early September and ended in May or June. It was a rhythm that suited me and even now, five years retired from the classroom, my inner clock beats to the school calendar.

Of course, there are mini-melodies within the greater song. Soccer – indoor and out. Girl Guides. Periodic break weeks and stat holidays. Yoga classes running bi-weekly in the hamlet or once a week in town. All coalesce into a larger framework that guides me from fall to early summer, and all are swiftly coming to a finale this week.

So with the bonus months looming – July and August simply fall outside organized time – I am feeling a bit let down and off-kilter.

Not that I miss 7AM wake up calls or thrice weekly jaunts to the pitch or manic Monday’s of juggling teaching and Girl Guides. Even teaching yoga has its burn out point come spring and longer lighter days. However, routine is good. Dependable. Requiring more energy than thought. Free time, interestingly, needs more management.

Tomorrow is the last day of school. Sunday is Canada Day. There is basketball and soccer camp and our annual trek to the extended family and friends in the States. Blocked in but certainly not set at a Bataan Death March.

There is a roof in need of new shingles and a playhouse (with a front porch that Dee desperately wants a swing attached to) in need of construction. It’s not as if the time off months is devoid of “have to’s”, but certainly there are no penalties for delays when a lake, hiking trail or camp ground calls.

Idly I think about the coming year. Toy with the idea of a “real” job. Although, I’m already covering so many yoga classes in the first month and a half that I don’t know if I could fit a “real” job around them.

The weather is assaulting me of late. To the point that it almost feels like Iowa and I lack the a/c buffer advantage I had down there, but too much humidity (which is freakish in a climate change kind of way) aside, there is little to complain about in terms of how the summer is shaping up. My two Canucks are withering damp rag dolls but it’s not really hot. Pleasant. Uncharacteristically so.

Dee’s friendship woes have turned a positive corner and I might even be on the verge of having one of those “let’s have lunch” type of girl relationships that, for the most part, have not been a reliable feature of my adult female life.

Slow, lazy (a given in any case) and steady is the mood rating – if I did cheesy sort of things like that.