I Am Joe’s Blog:

December 31, 2022 • 7:10 PM

The Obligatory End-of-2022 Post

Last year around this time, I wrote a long post here describing why and how my family and I had moved from San Diego to Canada, and in particular, the challenges our special-needs son created for us. I’ve had a lot of inquiries about how we’re doing now, so an update is in order.

tl;dr: We’re fine. It was definitely a good move, which is not to say everything is perfect.

And once again I must point out that what follows is unreasonably long; caveat lector. Only a glutton for punishment would actually read all of it, though I’m sure most people will find a thing or two to nod vigorously about.


Let me begin by commenting on my mental health, using (of course) a tech analogy.

My web server has a dashboard with gauges that tell me the current CPU, RAM, and disk usage. When the gauges are below 50%, they’re green; between 50% and 85%, yellow; and over 85%, red. Those colors are a quick indication of how much stress the server is under. It’s fine for the values to be in the red zone for a while when the site’s getting a lot of traffic, and even spike to 100% now and then. But if the gauges are red for long stretches of time, and especially if they’re maxed out for more than a minute or so, I have to take some action to reduce the load or the server’s going to crash. Crashing is very, very bad.

When I was living in San Diego, my metaphorical stress gauge was always in the red zone. On a really good day, it might dip briefly into the yellow zone. But days like that were rare. The baseline of stress was just always worryingly high, and when additional stresses came, I had no way to deal with them. This took an enormous toll on me.

Here in Saskatoon, a bad day means I’m in the yellow zone, with maybe brief spikes into the red zone. A bad day is when someone in the family is sick, or the car breaks down, or we have a plumbing problem, something like that. Bad days happen, of course. But because my baseline of stress here is comfortably under 50%, well into the green zone, I usually have plenty of “system resources” left to deal with those spikes. I am never, ever worried about crashing.

That was pretty much the point of moving here. We wanted to have other resources to draw on—primarily, Morgen’s large extended family—to bolster our waning capacity to cope. Having a much lower cost of living, a larger house, and a yard also help tremendously. And living in a country where we’re not constantly worried about the government imploding is a nice bonus.

So, whatever else may be true of this new life (good, bad, and otherwise), feeling as though I can generally manage to keep it together is huge. As far as our primary objective was concerned: mission accomplished.


Life here in Canada is also indisputably better for both of our kids. Soren, our 12-year-old, is doing great in school. He has made several close friends, and they even hang out together at our place from time to time—something we could never accommodate in our tiny San Diego house. He has started playing both clarinet and piano, and is weirdly enthusiastic about both. He can solve a Rubik’s cube in under 28 seconds. He has learned to ski and skate, though he reminds me frequently that he’s not a fan of the cold. He is, however, a big fan of poutine. He’s rarely bored.

Devin, our eight-year-old son, is doing better too. At first he was attending our neighborhood school, which assured us they had the resources and skills to handle him, though as it turned out, not so much. But he transferred to a school for kids with special needs, and he absolutely loves it. He gets the sorts of attention, support, and sensory input he needs there, and he’s actually learning, not just existing. His teacher is hopeful that he’ll soon be able to move on to a program for more advanced kids at another school.

We were also able, after some initial hassles, to get him hooked up with a pediatrician who really knows her stuff and has been able to meet his medical needs much better than our U.S. HMO could. Because doctors here don’t have to work under the restrictions of what health insurance will or won’t cover, they can order any tests or procedures they feel are actually essential for the patient’s health, and as a result, Devin has received treatment that will improve his quality of life but that never would have been suggested under our old health plan.

As for the yelling that I described in some detail last year, well, it still happens, but not constantly. Sometimes there might even be an hour or two of relative quiet. And there have been periods of weeks or months when he’s been generally calmer. It’s still hard to cope with, but not as bad. Think of the difference between being outside on a brutally hot day in direct sunlight versus in the shade.

All the other stuff, like the aggressive and self-injurious behaviors, poor sleep patterns, and being unable to speak, is still there, and still troubling for both him and us. But, I mean, progress is progress. We’re working with his teachers to make 2023 the year of potty training. Wish us luck.


On the topic of health, although we have been scrupulously careful and fully vaccinated, the whole family got COVID in September after Devin picked it up at school. A few weeks after we recovered, we all got sick again with a different, unspecified upper respiratory virus that was even worse. Between those two illnesses, we feel like a month or more of our year was erased. And nearly everyone we know has been through something similar. We’ve had other medical things come up this year, too, but nothing serious, and we are incredibly grateful for a health care system that doesn’t zap both a third of every paycheck and our will to live.


This past year the economy was rough everywhere. Inflation, ongoing supply chain issues, a temporary surge in gas prices, weird and irritating stuff happening with interest rates and mortgages and investments and so on. All that is as true here as anywhere else. And yet, my prediction before we moved here that our overall cost of living would be vastly lower, and our economic stability much better, turned out to be completely accurate.

To be sure, the low real estate prices in Saskatoon compared to most of Canada were a significant contributing factor. If we were living in Vancouver or Toronto or Montréal, say, we’d be telling a different story. But the point of being here, as opposed to anywhere else in Canada, was to reduce our stress, and not having to worry so much about money is a big part of that.

Even though groceries and gasoline are more expensive here than in California, most things are cheaper, including utilities, most professional services, and even things like car maintenance. But what really delighted me was, of all things, taxes. Conventional wisdom says that taxes in Canada are quite high, and of course as U.S. citizens we also have to file U.S. taxes (though a tax treaty means we’re not actually double-taxed; we end up owing just a little extra to the IRS). But raw top-line tax rates don’t tell the whole story. Depending on your income, dependents, and other factors, taxes can be a lot less here.

We had our accountant prepare a rough draft of our 2022 Canadian and U.S. taxes based on the first 11 months or so of the year, just to get an idea of how much we’ll owe. Long story short, we were pleasantly surprised. Our total taxes, taking everything into account, are way lower than they were in California, and also way lower than I was expecting.

More importantly, I feel like we’re getting an amazing value for those taxes, considering everything from health care to services for city residents. For example, one evening our sewer backed up, and having been through multiple rounds of crazy-expensive sewer repairs in San Diego, all our internal warning bells went off and we were braced for considerable pain. But then I called the city’s 24-hour customer service hotline, and the next morning a highly competent crew came out and cleared the blockage (which turned out to be tree roots) and did a video inspection of the sewer out to the city line in the street—all for free. Just like that.

The health care system, too, takes some getting used to. When we go to the doctor’s office or lab, no one asks us for money. It’s all just…covered. We paid zero for health insurance in 2022, as well as zero in copays. That is all so weird I can’t even wrap my brain around it. At least they let us pay a little bit for prescriptions.

But those sorts of things, and I could offer many more examples, are de rigueur here. People expect a lot of their local, provincial, and federal governments, and my experience so far is that we’re getting our money’s worth.


Work (meaning running our business, alt concepts, which publishes Take Control Books) has been a bit of a mixed bag. On the plus side, our much lower expenses have meant that we don’t need nearly as much monthly income to break even, so on paper, we’re still solidly in the black. On the minus side, our business income took a considerable hit because I had too little time to write, edit, and do various other required business tasks. That means we are WAY far behind on updates and promised improvements to our website. And even though that doesn’t cause immediate cash-flow problems, it does impede our ability to save for college and retirement.

Basically: On a weekday when school is in session, I have a maximum of six quiet, uninterrupted work hours available. Weekends, summers, school holidays, days when I’m sick (or one or both kids are sick), and days when there are appointments or errands that have to be completed during the school day, may have as few as zero available work hours. And that’s just not enough. I can and do squeeze in other work time here and there when conditions permit, but even if I’m not actively on kid duty, I must still be available to intervene in a crisis on a moment’s notice, so actually concentrating on something complex is challenging at best.

I wish I could say there’s a solution to that problem on the horizon, but I don’t foresee one. I’ve tried getting up early and staying up late, but I’m getting too little sleep as it is. Unfortunately, there are no modular tasks that can simply be handed to someone else without a pretty huge investment of time up front to train and explain, and so hiring someone else (or even taking on an unpaid intern) would actually make things worse rather than better. I asked Santa to bring me more time, but there was some miscommunication and all I got was a large jar of herbs.


I mentioned a year ago that our family situation makes it nearly impossible to have friends. I’m sorry to say that I’ve made zero new friends in the past year, though it was sort of inevitable under the circumstances. However, I have gotten to spend lots and lots of time with a bunch of family members who are a real joy to be around, and that has helped. On a couple of occasions I cooked a big dinner for a crowd, and that’s something I was never able to do in our previous life.

From time to time, someone babysits so Morgen and I can go on a date. That’s very nice. Still, I long for even a small amount of time that’s not occupied by work or family demands, during which I could socialize, spend time on hobbies, or even just enjoy a few hours of doing nothing at all.


It’s impossible for me to distinguish life in Canada from life in Saskatoon. That is to say, my immediate environs affect my perceptions much more than the country as a whole does. So let me say a few words about what that’s like, especially as it compares to life in SoCal.

Even though this is not my first (or second) time living in another country, and not even my first time living in Canada, I had the idea that life here would be more different than it turned out to be. I mean, yes, there’s the weather, about which I have more to say in a moment. But nearly all the day-to-day differences strike me as trivial. To wit:

  • Canadian English is sort of a hybrid of American and British English. American(ish) spellings and pronunciations are predominant, but Canadians insert a u between o and r in such words as behaviour, colour, favour, honour, and neighbour. They also swap the e and r in words like centre, fibre, and litre. The word shovelling has two L’s. (Note: foreshadowing.) Also, restrooms are washrooms, parking garages are parkades, knitted ski caps are tuques, powdered sugar is icing sugar, sneakers are runners, and gutters are eavestroughs.

  • Hardware stores have hardly any Phillips head screws; Robertson (square head) screws are the norm here.

  • We use SI (metric) units here, which is fine, except that people always state their height and weight in feet/inches and pounds, respectively, which seems odd. (There are a few other cases in which imperial units show up—for example, the farmland here is measured in “quarters,” meaning a quarter of a mile on each side, where one quarter is equivalent to 160 acres. It’s also 64.75 hectares, but nobody uses that term.)

  • Auto insurance in this province is not just required but also included with your annual car registration fee. (You can buy extra, private insurance on top of what the province provides, and most people do.)

  • Standalone post offices are uncommon in cities; you see them mostly in small towns. More frequently your local post office is inside a supermarket or pharmacy.

  • Not only are contactless payments ubiquitous, but I can go months at a time without having any use whatsoever for cash. Exception: you have to have a loonie (a one-dollar coin) in your pocket to unlock the shopping carts at the supermarket.

  • People send money to each other, and to businesses, via a national e-transfer system that uses the Interac network. It is ridiculously quick and easy to use, and has no fees. It’s how we pay our plumber, electrician, landscaper, and so on. And, when one of our kids had a school fundraiser, relatives who participated sent us money this way, and then we made a joint purchase online.

  • Speaking of joint purchases, every third business is a cannabis shop. I exaggerate, but only slightly.

  • A “double double” here is a Tim Horton’s coffee with two creams and two sugars. In California, it’s an In-N-Out burger with two patties and two slices of cheese.

  • With Amazon Prime, most purchases probably maybe arrive in a week or two, give or take a week or two.

These kinds of differences, and many others like them, are fun to talk about, but they’re so small and unimportant that they barely register unless I stop to think about them. McDonald’s is still McDonald’s (though they serve poutine here, as do all other fast-food restaurants, because come on). Starbucks is still Starbucks, Walmart is still Walmart, and 7-Eleven is still 7-Eleven.

Here’s what does register: people. You’ve heard all the jokes about how unfailingly polite Canadians are, how they apologize to you when you step on their toes and all that. Let us be perfectly clear that Canada has its fair share of miscreants, ne’er-do-wells, and run-of-the-mill jerks. Nevertheless, I find that the proportion of genuinely nice people here is vastly higher than anywhere else I’ve lived. More often than not, people are friendly and helpful to strangers. Saskatoon motorists stop at crosswalks when someone nearby looks like they might be thinking about crossing in the next five minutes. If your car gets stuck in the snow, half a dozen people materialize out of nowhere to liberate it. (I know; I was one of those people.) The woman next door baked us cookies just to thank us for being good neighbours (see what I did there?), and another neighbour uses his snowblower to clear the driveways and sidewalk for everyone on the block. Halloween was nutso; my kids got far more candy (and compliments) than they ever dreamed possible.

Saskatchewan is sort of the Texas of Canada. (Fun fact: Walk in a straight line due south from Saskatoon and you’ll hit El Paso.) It’s almost as large as Texas (though much more sparsely populated), and there are a lot of farms, ranches, and cowboy hats. A good chunk of the economy is built on fossil fuels. Politically, it’s one of the most conservative places in the country, though just as Texas has Austin (a university town that’s a blue pocket in a deep-red state), Saskatchewan has Saskatoon (a university town that’s a pinkish pocket in a deep-blue province, because in this country, the colour blue is associated with conservatives and the colour red is associated with liberals 🤯).

It would be fair to say that I’m not a fan of the current (extremely conservative) provincial government. If and when I become a Canadian citizen, I will vote accordingly. That said, however, the whole political vibe here just isn’t anything like in the United States. People are, of course, passionate in their views, and in particular, Justin Trudeau’s liberal federal government is not well-liked in this province. But even if you find yourself on the other side of the political fence from your neighbour, you’ll still (for the most part) be civil and respectful toward them, as they will be to you. And although Canadians may be very unhappy about some new law or Supreme Court decision, there’s a lot less at stake here, because of the way the constitution is written. We’re not facing existential threats at every turn.


Let’s talk about the weather. We had our first big snowstorm of the year less than a week into November, and several more in rapid succession. By early December, we had some days when the high temperature was –23°C (–9°F), and before long it’ll get down to –40° or colder. We will probably not see our lawn again until April.

This is not what we were accustomed to in coastal southern California. On the other hand, it’s not at all unfamiliar; I grew up in western Pennsylvania and have been driving in snow and ice since I was 16. I have to wear warmer clothing, but it’s really not a big deal.

I like to go for a walk every day, but being outside is not fun when the wind chill is –50°C and you can get frostbite within seconds. So on the coldest and snowiest days, I walk inside on my treadmill. It’s fine. I have also been doing a lot of shovelling, and hey, it’s pretty good cardio.

Everything here is well adapted to cold and snow. The infrastructure was designed to handle it, and everyone is used to it. So, sure, a blizzard might keep most people off the roads for a day or two, but apart from that, pretty much everything functions normally pretty much all the time.

The mention of blizzards, however, reminds me of something that was hard to get used to. The DQ nearest our house, where I have purchased an embarrassing number of Blizzards, is open only seasonally; they closed for the year at the beginning of November. (Other DQ locations in the city are open year-round.) There is no weather condition whatsoever that would make me disinclined to consume frozen dairy products, but now I have to trudge slightly farther to obtain them. Oh yeah, winter life is harsh here.


A year in, what baffles me the most is why I was so resistant to the idea of moving to Saskatoon for so long. It’s fine. It’s better than fine. There’s plenty to do, the people are nice, and the cost of living is excellent. My life is significantly better here in a dozen different ways, and maybe slightly worse in two or three. But on the whole, I feel like immigrating to Canada, and moving to Saskatoon specifically, was one of the best decisions of my life. I’m happy to be here.

Maybe 2023 will be the year in which I get caught up on work projects. Maybe Devin will turn another corner and become a bit easier to handle. Maybe we’ll wrap up some important home improvements and get those college and retirement savings accounts into a better zone. Maybe I’ll make some friends. Maybe I’ll increase the frequency of blog posts to, like, twice a year. Or maybe none of that will happen. Maybe we’ll face challenges we couldn’t even imagine. We’ll see what the future holds. But it will be OK, or at least considerably more OK than it would have been in our old life.

December 25, 2021 • 3:07 PM

How I Spent 2021

In July 2020, and then again in December 2020, I shared some things here about our family’s pandemic struggles, particularly as regards our younger son. Now, a year later, I can not only offer an update on how life is going, but also reveal the details of the major life project I hinted at so long ago.

tl;dr We have moved to Canada. We are now living in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan!

This is a long story, and if you don’t like long stories or care about the details of my life, then honestly, you can and should stop reading at the end of this paragraph. If you’re sticking with the story, that’s great, but remember, I warned you.

Here’s what’s going on, including a recap for those unfamiliar with our situation.

Our older son, Soren, is a pretty typical 11-year-old, although he is exceptionally bright and kind, if we do say so ourselves. However, our seven-year-old, Devin, is atypical. It is truthful and accurate to say he has disabilities, that he is a special-needs child, or that he’s autistic and has developmental delays. However, those sterile descriptions don’t really tell the story. Each kid with one of those labels is unique, and what you may know or assume based on your own experience (if any) with such kids doesn’t necessarily apply to any other child.

I could write a whole book about Devin’s history, conditions, and behavior. I could try to explain how frustrating it is that, at age seven, he still isn’t potty-trained. I could tell you how difficult it is for him, the family, teachers, and everyone else that he does not speak and has limited comprehension of what other people say. I could tell you about his aggressive and self-injurious behaviors, how he grabs and throws everything, how terrible his sleep patterns are, and a dozen other ways in which life is hard for him, and thus for us. But let me focus on just one thing for a moment.

Devin yells. Constantly. Which could mean anything from once every few minutes to once every few seconds—from the time he wakes up until the time he goes to sleep. He is louder than you would think it is physically possible for a human being of that size—or of any size—to be. I wear earplugs with the highest available decibel rating. And then, in addition, I put on over-ear hearing protectors with the highest available decibel rating. Having done that, if I go to a different room of the house, with multiple closed doors between us, his yelling is still so loud that I can’t concentrate. I am not exaggerating. However loud you may imagine this sound to be, I assure you that your imagination is inadequate. My Apple Watch routinely alerts me to the fact that if I continue my exposure to 100-decibel sounds, hearing loss will occur. I’m sure it already has to some extent.

Most of the time, the yelling seems not to be an attempt to communicate. It appears to be a sort of stimming, just like some autistic kids flap their arms or spin or bounce or whatever (all of which Devin also does). It causes physical stimulation of a sort he seems to need. There’s some evidence to suggest that the yelling is at least partially under his control, and some evidence to suggest that it isn’t. Whether or not he could control it, by and large he does not, and that causes enormous discomfort to anyone in the vicinity.

Reader, I caution you here, and probably not for the last time, not to say, “Well, why don’t you just…” Let me shut that down right now. The list of doctors, therapists, and other specialists we have consulted is quite long, as is the list of medications, therapies, philosophical approaches, and technological interventions we have employed. We have read books, joined Facebook groups, followed Reddit threads, and tried wacky suggestions we found on random webpages. Devin does not respond to reward, punishment, begging, threats, games, anger, bribes, tears, or prayer. Whatever brilliant idea you may think you have about either curtailing his yelling or making it more bearable for the people around him, I promise you we’ve already been down that road.

To say that it is difficult to work, to hold a conversation, or even to put two thoughts together with the constant yelling is to make the gravest possible understatement. Here’s a fun experiment for you, assuming you possess the power of hearing. Go get yourself one of those air horns that obnoxious sports fans like to take to big stadiums. Give it to someone who hates you and instruct them to follow you around and set it off at random but frequent intervals, for random durations, a few feet from your ear for an entire day. Now attempt to have a conversation on some delicate topic with your spouse in person, or maybe with your doctor or lawyer on the phone. Do a Zoom call with coworkers. Read a book. Go to a movie, a funeral, a wedding. Travel in your car or on public transit. Write or edit technical copy. Meditate. All with the air horn sounding constantly. Let me know how that works out for you. If you can manage to hold it together, well, I’m gonna need you to hook me up with your dealer.

My wife and I run a (literal) mom-and-pop business, and we work from home. This is not merely a convenience; it’s a necessity. However tempting it may be to imagine that one or both of us could simply rent office space somewhere else and thus enjoy a quiet work environment, we can’t. Devin requires constant, and I do mean literally constant, direct adult supervision. You would not believe the sorts of things that have occurred when one of us dared to move more than ten feet away for a few seconds. Again, I feel obligated to point out that, unless you have actually lived with Devin, your imagination is almost certainly insufficient. Let me say that any object that can be broken, injury that can occur, or bodily essence that can be inflicted upon a surface, has likely happened. I mean, when Morgen says, “I went into the kitchen to grab a glass of water, and when I came back in the living room 30 seconds later there was poop all over the couch and the carpet,” I sort of shrug and think, “Well, it’s a normal Thursday. At least it’s not really bad, like that one time…”

So, one of us has to be within physical reach of Devin at all times when he is awake and at home. At the best of times—and keep in mind that for many many months during the pandemic, times have not been the best—Devin can be at school, under the care of well-trained teachers, for as much as six hours a day, five days a week. That leaves mornings, evenings, weekends, holidays, and all the vast periods of time during which in-person school is not an option.

Since we both have actual jobs, not to mention normal life tasks such as cooking, eating, cleaning, shopping, going to appointments, and suchlike, that means our Total Family Productivity is cut at least in half. Those of you disposed to “Why don’t you just…” replies may wonder why we don’t employ a babysitter, nanny, respite worker, or other professional to be the supervisory adult so that mom and pop can go off to a quiet place and get some work done, as though that novel thought must never have occurred to us. Without going into excruciating detail, let us say that financial, logistical, and practical considerations have scuttled all such attempts thus far.

It’s not just our work and our mental health that suffer. In the beforetimes, we used to have friends. We would go over to someone’s house, or someone would come to our house, or we’d go to a restaurant or bar or theater or what-have-you, and we’d engage in each other’s lives. We’d eat meals together, have deep conversations, watch shows. You know, do things that friends do with each other. None of that has been possible for us, for most of Devin’s life. We have one dear friend in San Diego who was willing to come to our house one evening a week, after Devin was asleep, and hang out for a few hours. I can’t tell you how much we cherished that time. But with that sole exception, social contact has simply not possible for a very, very long time. We can’t take Devin anywhere (remember: constant supervision, constant noise, constant chaos—oh, and did I mention that he can’t wear a mask?), and it has rarely been feasible for other people to come to us, given the constraints of space and time.

And so, since we were almost entirely unable to be friends to other people, we ended up not having friends either. That is so upsetting to me that I’m in tears as I write this. It’s not OK. I desperately need friends, but I have had nothing to offer them—certainly not my time or my attention, both of which are depleted. It has been all I can do just to keep my head above water.

Many parents of special-needs kids have at least one safety valve: family. Yeah, sure, work may suck and you might not have any friends, but at least your parents/siblings/in-laws/relatives can help out when things get rough. Perhaps they can help care for your child, but if not, then at least they can help care for you. They understand about the noise and the chaos and the poop, and they get that your movements are constrained. Family is that final backstop against despair.

Except, not for us, not in San Diego. Whatever else could be said of life in southern California, neither of us had any family members within many hundreds of miles. Phone calls and FaceTime are all well and good, but when you’re having a crisis and you need help—a troublingly frequent occurrence for us—that’s not good enough.

And that, to get finally to the point, is why we moved all the way to Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, Canada. It is the one spot in the world where we have the greatest concentration of family members: Morgen’s parents, several of her (many) siblings, aunts, uncles, cousins, nieces, nephews, and significant others of the above. People show up randomly at our door, because they were in the neighborhood or they thought they’d drive over just to say hello or bring us a pastry or whatever. They don’t care how loud it is in here or how frazzled we are. They love us anyway. We have people who can be here in five or ten minutes if we have an emergency. And we have people who will come over any evening of the week and enjoy some adult beverages and conversation with us. This may seem normal if you have spent most of your life near family, but for us, it’s astonishing.

Having family around doesn’t mean my need for friends has suddenly disappeared, of course. But it means I now have a fighting chance of being able to sustain friendships, and possibly even spend more time on non-work projects and interests that are important to me.

Morgen and I are pros at moving. During the nearly 24 years we’ve been together, we have moved ten times. That included multiple international moves (from California to Vancouver, and then back to California, and then to Paris, and back to California again), which are of course especially complicated. But nothing prepared us for the sort of moving we had to do in 2021, which included relocating our family, our belongings, our kids, our cat, and our business twice.

Back in the summer of 2020, half a year into the pandemic and with schools showing no signs of reopening soon, we started to talk seriously about potentially moving to Canada. Even back then, the stress of caring for Devin (and ourselves, and Soren, and our business) was getting to be too much for us. By that fall, the combination of pressures at home and the country’s increasingly scary political situation persuaded me to brace myself for the cold and start making concrete steps to move North of the Wall.

Morgen was born in Saskatoon, and our two kids, by virtue of her Canadian citizenship, were also Canadian citizens from birth. I have only U.S. citizenship, so I had to begin the long, expensive, and arduous task of immigrating. That in itself is a whole long story. But, to cut to the chase, when I finally submitted my application for permanent residency in February 2021, I was told it would take at least a year, and possibly as long as 17 months, to process the paperwork. Assuming everything went through (and one can never make assumptions about such things), we still had quite a long time to wait. Our plan was going to be to move in the summer of 2022 (when the kids were off school), as long as the paperwork came through by then, which seemed likely.

A few months later we had some work done on our house, and realizing that we’d want to sell it the following year, we asked our realtor what he thought we should do in terms of further home improvements. He said, “Well, honestly, if you’re thinking about selling in a year, it would be much better to sell right now. The market is great at the moment, but that won’t last. Your odds of selling quickly and getting a good price are far better if you sell it now than if you wait a year. Really: I would put it on the market as soon as possible. Like, next week would not be too soon.” Huh. Not what we had been planning.

Although we absolutely did not have time to get our house ready to sell on a moment’s notice, we felt it would be in our best interest to do it sooner rather than later. So we dropped everything, found an apartment we could rent for a year, rented a storage unit for our excess stuff, did a whole lot of home renovations in a very short period of time, and put the house on the market.

Due to reasons, and at this point I don’t think I have the strength to write yet another involved sub-story, selling the house was exceptionally complicated, time-consuming, and expensive. Four consecutive buyers dropped out during escrow for a variety of reasons, causing us untold stress, but finally the fifth buyer completed the purchase.

Shockingly, however, during those painful months of trying to sell the house, my permanent resident paperwork came through—much, much earlier than expected. Huh.

After long family deliberations, we decided that since the house had sold and we had my paperwork, we should not wait until next summer, but rather move during the kids’ winter break this year. That meant finding a place to live in Saskatoon, figuring out how to get all our stuff from one place to the next, registering the kids for a new school, transferring our business to a new country, and about a million other details, all in a few months (and all while trying to keep our business running). It was going to be a nightmare, but less of a nightmare than continuing to struggle on our own for a further six months.

And so, the week after escrow closed on our old house, we put in an offer on a house in Saskatoon. Our offer was accepted, and that meant only 999,999 other details to attend to.

These have been long, exceedingly difficult months. Selling a house, buying a house, immigrating to another country, and relocating a business are each, independently, gigantic projects. We did all of them, drove 1,800 miles, braved a snowstorm in Idaho, spent a hair-pulling four hours going through immigration and customs, and finally arrived in Saskatoon on the winter solstice. Our belongings, which were put on a truck in San Diego on December 10, won’t show up until well into January.

But we’re here. We are in a house we own, and it has heat and electricity and water and Wi-Fi and a few pieces of borrowed furniture. We are working our way through the long list of accounts, registrations, licenses, cards, and other administrative affordances that life and business require. And there is family—lots of family—nearby and seemingly happy to have us here!

Given the constantly evolving parameters of the pandemic, the uncertainty of when we’ll see the rest of our stuff, and the many other tasks we need to accomplish, it’s hard to say exactly when life and work will once again feel normal-ish. But we currently expect that the kids will both start school the first week of January, and with any luck, by the end of the month we’ll be more or less unpacked, have living and work spaces configured in a relatively sustainable way, and be able to get on with things.

Whatever else happens in the coming months, I know at least that I will not have to sell or buy a house, or move anywhere, or deal with immigration. From those facts alone, the odds are highly favorable that I will be vastly more productive in 2022 than in 2021 or 2020.

I think, and I’m going out on a limb here, that I will very probably also be more relaxed and mentally healthier. At least, that was sort of the point of the move, and so far, that still seems entirely feasible.

On the subject of mental health, although money was not the motivating reason for the move, the much, much lower cost of living here in Saskatoon compared to San Diego was certainly a factor in our decision. Lower cost of living means lower financial stress, which means one less thing making me crazy all the time.

Saskatonians complain about rising housing costs, gas prices, and how expensive some foods and various commodities have become. They’re not wrong, when the basis of comparison is what prices were like here a few years ago. However, compared to SoCal, the costs here are just amazing. For example, when I called to set up our internet and TV service, the salesperson seemed apologetic about the monthly price. But for even faster broadband and more TV channels than we had in San Diego, we’re paying almost exactly half (factoring in the exchange rate). That’s very, very nice. Also, given universal health coverage, we’ll be saving almost US $2,000 per month in health insurance alone. All told, and even considering that some taxes are higher here than there, we think we’ll be saving something like US $4,000 per month. That’s, you know, rather significant. It doesn’t mean we’re suddenly independently wealthy or anything, but it does mean that we won’t be agonizing about paying the bills from month to month. That will be pleasant, I expect.

Although Saskatoon—named after a berry!—is not a large city (it’s only about 300,000 people, roughly the size of Tampa), it’s large enough to have all the amenities we need. But it’s small enough to be easy to get around, and overall the pace of life is much less frantic than we’re used to. We think, and hope, that we’ll actually be able to breathe here, and maybe even get a full night’s sleep from time to time. After three years of living in Canada as a permanent resident, I’ll be eligible to apply for citizenship, and we’ll cross that bridge when we get to it.

Having been in Canada for less than a week, and given the impossibly cold weather, the holidays, the noise, and the incomplete nature of our move, I can’t say that I’m happy. Indeed, to be honest, I am actively unhappy right now. I’m tired, I’m anxious, I have a lot of urgent and somewhat scary things to do before the end of the year lest Severe Consequences Occur, and I’m dealing with a lot of emotions that I haven’t had the time or space to process. I’m also realizing that as much as I love having family around, it’s quite a shock to my system. I’m an introvert, so having all these (wonderful) people just appear in my house out of nowhere and want to spend time with me is…a bit much. I need to sort of build up my tolerance for socializing, in small doses and at a relaxed pace.

That said, I do feel the potential for happiness, or something approximating it. We think that Devin’s new school will be much, much better for him than the one he had in San Diego. We have more space, and a layout that affords better noise reduction from one part of the house to another. We have poutine. And the big, crazy-making, stressful projects of the past year are behind us. I am cautiously optimistic that there may be moments, or perhaps even extended periods, of relative happiness, in the coming months.

December 31, 2020 • 2:46 PM

The Obligatory End-of-2020 Post

It’s not like me to write multiple blog posts in a single year, but hey, 2020 has been exceptional for all sorts of reasons. Years ago I had a custom of writing wrap-up posts every December 31, and since I’m going to be procrastinating on real work today anyway, this seems as good a time as any to bring back that practice.

First, a quick update, for those who read my post Not Really OK back in July: basically, nothing has changed. I’m no more OK now than I was then. Still ambulatory, still solvent, still pretty uniformly unhappy, and still incredulous at the number of people around me who reject both common sense and basic human decency, no matter how many others have to to suffer as a result.

Daily life continues to be very, very hard. To be fair, it’s certainly not as hard as it is for people who aren’t ambulatory or solvent, and in that respect, I count my blessings. Even so: hard. Owing to my introverted nature, I don’t mind solitude or the lack of in-person socializing. Indeed, what troubles me most is the fact that, conditions being what they are, I can almost never actually get any peace and quiet, any uninterrupted time to think, work, or relax. For example, as I write this, our six-year-old son is shrieking in the other room several times per minute, ignoring all entreaties by other family members to tone it down. This will likely continue until bedtime. That’s just one of many ongoing irritants that collectively make me feel like I’m locked in a cell and forced to listen to Easy Street blaring all day and night, if you know what I mean.

Speaking of said son: From a certain point of view, he’s handling this whole situation better than I thought he would, given his disabilities. Due primarily to my wife’s heroic efforts, he is in fact managing to learn a few significant skills and is making a nonzero amount of academic progress. He still has not-infrequent meltdowns, but it has been many months since he experienced an actual warp core breach, and that’s a tremendous relief. But he has still lost a tremendous amount of ground compared to his erstwhile progress in a real classroom, with in-person teachers and therapists. A few months ago, we thought things were moving in the direction of him being able to go back to school soon-ish. Now, not so much.

The virus situation here in SoCal right now is Not Good, and even when it was better, the powers that be showed no willingness to accommodate kids with special needs like our son. Although I’ve always been terrible at predictions, my educated guess based on available data to date (and the inevitable spikes in the weeks to come, following people’s dumb behavior over the holidays) is that our kids won’t see the inside of a school at all this school year. (I’d put the odds at maybe 25% for our fifth-grader, and 0% for our disabled first-grader.) As a result, I expect at least the first half of 2021 to be exactly as not-OK as the past nine months have been. Constant distractions and stress, far too little sleep and exercise, and continuing to fall behind in my work.

There have been some bright spots. Against all odds, our business somehow managed to bring in slightly more money in 2020 than in 2019. Assuming I manage to make some headway on this long list of new and updated books, bug fixes, and new features, 2021 should be an even better year. The U.S. presidential election seems to be probably maybe sort of resolved? There’s reason for hope, anyway, that some semblance of sanity and normality will return to the government in the near future. And we’re finally making some much-needed home improvements that should alleviate certain ongoing frustrations and anxieties.

We’ve also set the wheels in motion for a major life change for the family that, if everything goes as we hope, will kick in about a year and a half from now (mid-2022). I can’t really say more about that until machinery that is largely out of my control churns through a good portion of a fairly involved process, but by the middle of 2021 or so, I hope to have enough data to say confidently that The Thing Will Definitely Happen, at which point I can explain what the thing is and how it will make our lives so much better.

Meanwhile, there are big, important things I want/hope/expect to accomplish in the coming year. If 2020 has taught me anything, it’s to avoid using the meaningless verb plan, because boy oh boy did I plan to do some stuff this past year, and those plans counted for absolutely zilch. As I’ve probably remarked here in past years, I don’t do New Year’s resolutions; notably, resolve is more or less synonymous with plan. Nevertheless there are exciting things on my to-do list that strike me as having greater than 50% likelihood of actually occurring in the next 12 months, and if indeed they do, wow, that’ll be great, and those who follow my exploits will find out about them, in the usual places, in due time.

I have sometimes couched such intentions about the future using qualifiers such as “if the gods are smiling on me” (which, historically, they have tended not to do with any regularity). My grandmother had an expression: “Lord willin’ and the crick don’t rise,” which means roughly the same thing. In any case, strength and circumstances permitting, I will finally polish off this long list of projects, metaphorically clear the slate, and do a Big New Thing or two in 2021. Here’s hoping.

I wish you all a safe, healthy, and prosperous 2021. Unless you’re an anti-masker or anti-vaxxer, in which case I simply wish for you to come to your senses.

July 17, 2020 • 8:21 PM

Not Really OK

There’s a social convention whereby people say, “How are you?” as a dressed-up synonym for hello. It’s not really an inquiry about your well-being, just an empty greeting, and the only allowable answer is “Fine. You?” We all know this.

However, in recent months, quite a few people—friends, colleagues, doctors, my kids’ teachers, and others—have asked a different sort of question. Something along the lines of “So tell me seriously. How are you and your family holding up these days? With, you know, everything that’s going on. Do you need anything? Are you OK?” Words to that effect, anyhow. More elaborate phrasings meant to convey that the inquiry is sincere rather than perfunctory, and that an honest response is welcomed.

So I answer truthfully. And for months, the honest answer has been: Not OK at all. I, and we, are in fact doing quite poorly. Since you asked.

Well, then brows furrow and expressions turn more serious and more detail is sought.

“Do you have…The Thing? Like, are you seriously ill?”

No. So far, at least, no one in my family has had symptoms more serious than the occasional headache or allergy-induced sniffles. As far as I know, we haven’t come in contact with anyone who has The Thing. Physically, we’re fine.

“Oh. Well, did you lose your job? Do you need money?”

Again, no. In terms of money, we’re no worse off than before. We’re not rich, but we’re in no immediate danger of going hungry or losing our home. Financially, we’re fine.

I’ve been through so many variations of those two questions that I now just summarize: No, we’re ambulatory and solvent (for now, anyway). Moving on.

Further questions may involve an inadequate supply of paper products (nope, we have plenty), the lack of social contact (not a problem for us introverts), uncertainty about the future (no worse than usual, I suppose), or worries about extended family (everybody’s safe, thanks). And sure, we’ll make the usual complaints about the incompetent government and systemic racism and the ridiculous state of the world in general, the United States in particular, and especially that specific idiot right over there who’s not wearing a mask. But that’s no different from anyone else and it’s not why we aren’t OK.

So then we have to spell it out.

We have two young kids at home. One is ten years old and sad not to be around his friends and away from school, but he’s coping admirably with everything, and soldiering through the distance learning and the boredom. He’s not at his happiest, but he’s fine. We’re super proud of him.

Our six-year-old, however, is autistic, is non-speaking, has a bunch of developmental and learning disabilities, and has severe problems with emotional regulation, to the point that he is on two different psychiatric meds to reduce the chances of him hurting himself or others, both of which things have occurred quite a few times. He is also not yet potty-trained, and has had significant lifelong sleep problems, despite the interventions of various doctors.

And you know what? That is all OK, even though in some respects it also sucks. We love and accept our son, and we deal with the hard things, because that’s what parents do.

Or at least we were dealing with the hard things.

In the beforetimes, our son was not only in a special-ed classroom at school (with an amazing and caring teacher) but also had a full roster of specialists helping him out with his various areas of need: speech therapy, occupational therapy, physical therapy, adaptive physical education, and so on. We also, during some periods of time, had folks coming to our house to work with him, and the (very) occasional babysitter or respite provider for a few hours here and there of grown-up time.

But we’ve had none of that since March. And now that we know schools won’t be open for in-person instruction in the fall, we have no idea when anyone other than the two of us will be able to help care for him in any way. It’s just us, at home, all the time.

Our son requires constant—and I do mean constant—attention, to the point that we have to have negotiations about when one of us can go to the bathroom so we’re sure an adult is within reach at all times. Leave him alone for five minutes and we’re very likely to have a tantrum, broken objects, bruises, and oh I don’t know, how about swallowed cat litter? That sort of thing.

When his school switched to distance learning, teachers started daily Zoom calls and everyone was eager to give us long lists of web-based activities. Unfortunately, our son is unable to use videoconferencing as a means of communication. He can’t speak, he can’t type, and he understands only a fraction of what he hears. And he doesn’t have a conceptual grasp of someone on a screen trying to interact with him. We’ve tried dozens of times, and it just goes nowhere. He also has close to zero tolerance for all the screen-based educational activities, matching games, read-along stories, and other stuff the school district so eagerly pushes.

Where that leaves us is that any education, therapy, or other attention he’s going to get has to come from us, the parents. The best anyone has been able to do is try to coach us on how to be his stand-in teachers.

The thing is, the fact that we’re at home all day, every day, doesn’t mean we don’t have to work. We have jobs—jobs that require actual work to occur many hours a day if we expect to remain solvent—and we can’t do our work while also attending to our child’s every need during his waking hours (which, as I indicated, are far too many and not at ideal times). I’m now dangerously, desperately behind on crucial work projects and slipping further behind every day.

Even before the governor issued statewide guidance about under what circumstances schools may or may not be open, our school district announced that the 2020–2021 school year would begin with distance learning only, further developments TBD depending on what happens with the pandemic. And let me just say: in terms of public health, that is absolutely the right call, and I agree with it.


Not all students are capable of being educated remotely. Our older son is; our younger son is not. So for all the rhetoric that education is non-negotiable, as far as we can tell, neither the state nor the school district has any plan to address the educational and developmental needs of children like ours who absolutely, positively cannot and will not learn by looking at a computer screen and for whom parental instruction is not feasible. His needs are not being met, not by a long shot, and neither are ours.

Thus the irreconcilable facts are:

  • It’s currently impossible (meaning unsafe and/or illegal) for our son to attend school or receive other in-person care appropriate to his needs.
  • Our child’s disabilities make it impossible for him to learn remotely.
  • We, the parents, lack the skills, the time, and the energy to meet his educational needs; and we desperately need to work.

You can see how that puts us in a no-win situation.

And, as a bonus fact, we are emotionally at the ends of our ropes. We have never gone so long without any quiet time alone (separately or jointly), and it’s driving us (especially my wife) positively bonkers. We’re perpetually anxious, grumpy, impatient, and agitated, but not for the same reasons as most people.

When someone asks how I’m doing and I say, “not OK” and then explain all this, the response is usually awkward silence followed by changing the subject. Because what can anyone say? What’s wrong isn’t a problem that can be solved with money or food or time or medicine. I have an intractable problem, with no realistic hope of a solution in the foreseeable future, and that is why I am not OK.

Of course, that’s not entirely true. Someone could solve my problem, and that person is the specific idiot right over there who’s not wearing a mask. Yes, you. You—and everyone else who seemingly care so little about other human beings that you would rather risk destroying lives than suffer the tiniest inconvenience or the barest slight to your image. You could fix this whole thing in a matter of weeks. You could, but the evidence I’ve seen so far suggests that you probably won’t. I may have no recourse but to stop wearing deodorant and washing my clothes. Then I can at least guarantee you’ll stay (much more than) six feet away from me.

I kid, but not really. Like many other people in similar situations, I’m very much not OK, and I’m surrounded by people who seem committed to keeping me that way.

Since you asked.