Archive for the 'News' Category

December 31st, 2022

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 25th, 2021

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 31st, 2018

The Obligatory 2018 Post

It’s the last day of 2018, and I thought I ought to get at least one post in during this calendar year.

Although I’m tempted to write a long story about all of the joys and challenges (OK, mostly challenges) in life and business, I don’t think that would be especially cathartic, and anyway my to do list is longer than yours, so I need to get back to it. With luck, I might be able to polish off everything that absolutely must happen before the end of 2018, no matter what, within six weeks. Maybe eight.

Through all the ups and downs in my life, I’ve noticed a recurring trend: that which is necessary somehow becomes possible. This coming year will be the biggest test of that concept yet, as some distinctly unprobable things have become necessary (where unprobable means even less probable than improbable, but just shy of impossible). I usually have to wait till the last minute (or, sometimes, a few days after the last minute) to find out how the unprobable becomes possible, which is pretty nerve-wracking. It’ll be…interesting.

Because my circumstances are not conducive to any appreciable amount of blogging or social media involvement for the time being, those of you wanting to be better informed about my goings-on or (gasp!) interact with me personally are quite welcome to send me email, and I hope you will. And if you’d like to send me something for my birthday next week, I can always use a large box of money, or some black socks.

May 1st, 2017

2017: The Year I Take Control

Back in January I turned 50. I dyed my hair purple, threw a big party, and psyched myself up for the next half century (or as much of it as I’m privileged to experience). As one does upon reaching such milestones, I spent a lot of time reflecting on the past and pondering the future. I’d been growing increasingly interested in doing new things, making more of a contribution to the world, and avoiding the huge peaks and valleys of income that come from living off of book royalties and the occasional odd consulting gig. So I formed a plan that I intended to put into action over the course of 2017 that would accomplish all of the above.

Well, life is funny. I can’t tell you how many times I imagined that things would go in a certain direction (personally or professionally), and spent months or years planning for a certain future, only to encounter some random thing at the last minute that took me down a completely different, unexpected, and (usually) delightful path. In fact, this has happened so consistently throughout my life that I should have anticipated that it would happen again right about now. Anyway, guess what? It happened again, in a pretty big way.

I’ve now become the owner and publisher of Take Control Books. That is, my little company (alt concepts inc.) has acquired Take Control Books from TidBITS Publishing Inc.’s owners, Adam and Tonya Engst. In the process, I’ve upgraded my title from Author to Publisher, and I’ve embarked on a new career (even if, in some respects, it’s an expansion or continuation of my old career).

None of this was even remotely part of my plan. I thought I’d be tapering off my involvement with Take Control and doing other stuff—more of certain activities I’m already doing, plus an entirely new project that I thought might really scratch my various itches. But I’d barely gotten underway with this ambitious scheme when Adam and Tonya said they were thinking of selling Take Control and asked if I might like to buy it.

I have a pretty rich imagination, and I’ve often daydreamed about other things I might do with my life if I weren’t a full-time tech author. But not once, in the nearly 14 years that I’ve been writing books for Take Control, did the thought even briefly flit through my mind that I might buy my own publisher. It took me a while to wrap my head around it.

For starters, it’s not like I had a huge sum of cash in the bank that I could just hand over to purchase this business. That could have been a deal-breaker, but Adam and Tonya felt the advantages of having me as an owner (since I know the business intimately and could maintain continuity better than anyone else) were worth some inconvenience. So we developed a fairly elaborate payment scheme to ensure that all parties will have enough to live on. In fact, assuming our projections are at least in the ballpark, my total annual income should go up a bit, even after factoring in the cost of the business. It’s a pretty sweet arrangment.

But there were other factors to consider. I didn’t exactly have loads of surplus time either, and becoming a publisher is going to require an immense amount of work. I think I know how I’m going to cope with that, but as any parent can tell you, the first few months (or longer) with a new kid mean a lot of sleepless nights. So, I’ve stocked up on coffee. I am nervous about how work will cut into the time available for my kids (especially the little one, who needs an extraordinary amount of attention because he’s autistic), and vice versa. That’s going to be a challenge. And I’ve had to accept that some of my erstwhile goals and plans will have to be back-burnered for now, which makes me a little bit sad, but not too sad, because running Take Control is less risky and more likely to produce stable income in the near future than my speculative projects. Besides, my new work is interesting enough and challenging enough that I probably won’t be pining for something else before I have the resources to make it happen.

One curious aspect of running Take Control is that it’s in my best interest to keep writing books, even as I’m publishing other people’s books. I won’t have as much time to write as I did before, and I still do want to reduce my frantic pace (an average of four books a year for 14 years, geez), but the math works out better, at least for the first stretch of time, if I write at least a couple of new books per year and keep most of my older ones up to date. In that respect, it feels a bit like I’m adding a second full-time job, but again, I have plenty of coffee.

Fortunately, I won’t be doing this alone. My wife, Morgen, was already an employee of alt concepts inc., but she’s upgrading her title as well, to Director of Marketing and Publicity. Her to do list is nearly as long as mine, and I think our abilities will complement each others’ nicely. In addition, TidBITS will provide customer service and other kinds of support on a contract basis, and Tonya will continue editing some of our books. And of course our brilliant freelance authors and editors will keep doing their thing. So I think we’ll be in good shape.

This is, without question, the biggest thing that has ever happened in my career. It’s exciting and scary. Wish me luck!