For many of us, the pandemic years of 2020-2021 have wildly changed how we approach work and earning. Maybe you’ve gone fully remote and want to stay that way; maybe you’re planning a semi-retirement that involves downsizing just how much work you do. Maybe, like me, you’re making a long-held dream of moving to another country a reality. But if you’re emigrating and planning to earn money in a new country, things can get complicated fast, especially where taxes and work visas are concerned.
My wife and I are preparing to move to France this year; the selling price of our Vancouver home will buy us a lovely rural property in the Dordogne, with money left over. Although yes, we could just live off the proceeds of this sale, we both really want to keep working—me as a writer, my wife as a pianist and teacher.
Here’s how we’re planning to make the move across the globe, downsize our working lives somewhat, and yet still earn money in a foreign country in our semi-retirement.
As an on-again-off-again cyclist, I’ve always had a grudging admiration for those people who choose to ride everywhere, all of the time. I know people on Vancouver’s North Shore who ride to and from work — up to 25 kilometres away — every day, and even more that ride for fun and fitness. I can actually see myself commuting with rain gear and a briefcase, but what would happen if I also had a family to transport?
I asked North Vancouver District councillor Mathew Bond. When Bond’s daughter Wilhelmina was born, he didn’t rush out to buy a minivan: he decided to stick with his bright red 2016 Ezee Expedir cargo bike. When he became a father, Bond stepped back from his career as a transportation systems engineer for BC’s Ministry of Transport and became a stay-at-home dad. Because his work as a city councillor tends to be confined to evenings, he’s free during the day to parent.
Wilhelmina is now 6, with a 3-year-old sister named Coral. Bond still loads them onto the back of his bike and rides with them all over the hills and streets of North Vancouver.
A basic cargo bike like the Benno Carry On can be purchased for under US$1,500, but if you add extra carrying capacity and electric-assist, prices can quickly reach five times that number. So before you spend that much money, you really need to make sure it’s the right choice for you. Bond says he bought his cargo bike before they were all the rage, and he chose an electric version to take on the hills in his area.
Ask lots of questions
Bond cautions the curious to test ride these bikes before making a commitment. “My suggestion to people thinking about a cargo bike is to go borrow or rent one. Try it out, see what it’s like, even if it’s just for a day or just for a ride,” he says. “If you haven’t been biking in a long time, or you’re not a person that bikes regularly, try a little trip to the grocery store. I regularly put $300 worth of groceries on the bike. Carry some other things around before you carry your children around on it.”
Try it out, see what it’s like, even if it’s just for a ride.
But Bond’s biggest tip is a simple one: get advice from people already riding. In Vancouver, there are family biking Facebook pages, which include members that are taking their kids on cargo bikes. Social media offers a community that can answer questions about what type of bike will work best for each person’s circumstances. You can ask questions like: What kind of gear do you need, and where can you get it? Who has the best shops and the best services?
“And get a buddy and do a few rides… while they’re out and about on their cargo bike,” says Bond. “See where they go, what they do and how they do it. And ask them to come with you on your first few rides, or when you’re trying something like carrying a large load.”
If you’re planning on loading your kids onto the bike, you have a whole new set of concerns, according to Bond. First off, is helmet safety: “You have to wait till your child’s head fits a helmet.”
Bond started each of his girls riding up front in a seat between his arms. When Bond’s youngest, Coral, started riding, he added a second seat on the back of the bike for Wilhelmina. Eventually both Bond’s girls wound up riding on the rear carrier. If you’ve got two small people on the back of a bike, face them away from one another so they don’t knock helmets.
Learn your bike and your hood
The father of two also has some advice for those in the driver’s seat. “Make sure you’re comfortable. Build up your confidence, and learn your routes,” he says. “Take your kids on a ride in the park, somewhere safe, and then kind of build up from there.” He’s also the former president of the North Shore Mountain Bike Association and believes that cycling with his girls gives them a better understanding of their hometown. While most kids travel in a rear-facing car seat, his girls are riding along with him.
“Kids have a lot less freedom nowadays,” says Bond. “Because they get driven around, they don’t even understand their own neighbourhood. I think developing that kind of sense of place is important.”
As well as helping his daughters to map out their own hometown, the bike trips build confidence and knowledge in his daughters. “The girls know how to get to Lynn Valley, or their friend’s house. Wilhelmina can give me directions: ‘Okay, it’s this way. And let’s go here; let’s go there. Remember when we saw that animal here?’”
Consider storage options
Bond’s final piece of cargo-bike advice is to think carefully about storage. If you live in a condo or apartment, or if you have to navigate a small elevator, what are the best places to park and lock your bike? And if it’s electric, where can you plug in to charge it?
Bond has a parking space with a regular electrical outlet, but had to ask his strata for permission. And then they had to figure out how much to charge him.
After years of riding everywhere on a cargo bike, juggling kids, and home, and council work, Bond is happy with his choices. “When I tell people I use it for almost all my everyday trips, many are stunned, but also excited, and ask ‘Well, how do you . . . ?’”
When I tell people I use it for almost all my everyday trips, many are stunned, but also excited.
Growing up on the back of a cargo bike has one more important benefit for Bond’s daughters. It’s no surprise that Wilhelmina is proud that she can now ride on her own.
“I already knew how to pedal when I was 4,” she says. “I practised and practised… I first started with no pedals. Then I said, ‘I have enough balance Papa.’ Then I tried the pedals.”
And when asked if she had ever fallen: “Yeah. But not too hard.”
Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED), is a comprehensive and complex certification program for green building. Developed in the 1990s by the non-profit US Green Building Council (USGBC), it now guides sustainable construction in more than 160 countries. LEED looks at every component of a building — from site selection and construction techniques to appliances and furnishings — with the goal of making buildings safe, environmentally friendly, and energy efficient.
In August, I received a frantic text message from my sister. She has been our mother’s primary caregiver for many years, but Mom is 92, settling into dementia, and now had gout. The time had come to finally help her to move out of the family home and into care.
Even though I hardly ever make the drive from Vancouver, where I live, to my home town Kelowna, obviously there was no choice. I cancelled a day’s work and was set to go.
But I didn’t. I still don’t feel entirely safe visiting my mother. I’m pretty sure that I don’t have COVID-19, but that isn’t 100 per cent certain. I’m even less sure that my brother and sister aren’t carriers.
A few months ago my wife Susan and I travelled to Vancouver Island to meet a breeder of Great Dane puppies. After decades of rescuing dogs and cats, we had decided that it was time to finally splurge and adopt the dog of our dreams.
We met the breeder, and his Danes, and his puppies, and spoke at length about our experience with dogs, our training as dog handlers, and about the life that we expected to offer our new pet. Even though his prices were higher than some breeders, we were ready to pay it. These were lovely dogs.
We returned home and waited for the email telling us when our puppy was born. And waited. And waited.
After the breeder ignored us for more than a month, we finally put the pieces together: he had decided that we were too old to adopt a dog. Our income, experience, and knowledge meant nothing because we had grey hair – especially since he had said his “best” puppies were all reserved for cool young couples living in Vancouver’s trendy Yaletown neighbourhood.
In an age when almost everyone accepts that you can’t refuse people service on the basis of race, religion, culture, or disability; when right-wing pundits cry in their beer because they’re expected to be respectful of people who are different from them; when #MeToo, and #BLM, and Trans rights are part of the public discourse, there’s still one group that you can mock, insult, and discriminate against: old people.
On one day it’s oh-so-cool tech gurus complaining how they need to dumb-down products because old people can’t understand computers and smart phones. That might include the people who literally invented the Internet and personal computing. They’re now in their sixties and seventies.
On another it’s being ignored at a local restaurant because the servers believe that Old People don’t tip. (We do. Usually 20%. Unless you ignore us.) Incidentally, the American AARP claims old people tip more.
The most absurd are thirty-year-olds who apologize all over themselves for dropping a “fuck” into conversation as if we’re poor innocents that will be shocked into a heart attack if we hear a “curse-word.” That wasn’t true when I was 20, and it’s sure not true now. I grew up with George Carlin’s “7 Words You Can’t Say On Television” so you’re not about to shock me.
Every few years a movie or TV series will appear that tells of an older (invariably widowed) couple who fall in love. It will be a comedy because obviously old people falling in love is just ridiculous. Their children will be very concerned because, well, their parents are OLD people. And the writers won’t dwell on sex because 70 year old people don’t do that, and besides, it would be gross!
Still, I’ll take that bad romance over the inevitable inspirational stories about people 60, 70, or 90-years-old who run a marathon, hike the West Coast trail, or climb Mount Everest. Or get a law degree, or get elected to office, or do important scientific research. Or get married.
“Look Martha! That old person is doing stuff that young people usually do!” Or “Isn’t that sweet, that old guy just kissed that old woman.” Or “Wow, she’s 60, and just started a business!”
Well, big whoop-di-do.
I’ll actually place the blame for these prejudices at the feet of the media, and especially advertising. Whether it’s the sheer inanity of Norwich Union’s 1990 “It’s Patrick He Took Out Life Insurance!” ad series, or the infomercials for Acorn stair lifts and walk-in bath tubs, the truth is that advertisers of all stripes portray older people as infirm, often confused, and not very bright — yet loaded with cash to spend on junk that claims to improve their lifestyle.
Contrast that with the image of older people presented by retirement communities and the government: happy healthy Senior Citizens, with (moderately) active lives, great big smiles, and some kind of unspecified comfortable income that lets them relax, dress well, and take cruises to Alaska. Ah yes, those fabled days of happy retirement!
That picture ignores the hard reality that not every old person is enjoying that happy, healthy lifestyle. The government’s own figures show that about 5% of the senior community lives in poverty, and while those statistics do suggest that the elderly are wealthier than many working-age people and their children, the truth is that many of us continue to work just to make ends meet.
Unlike younger people — who still enjoy health, energy and time to get ahead — many older people are forced into retirement with no real hope of escaping poverty.
Then there’s the matter of healthcare. Being an old patient means that your busy life is not a priority. Everyone in health care assumes that you can be scheduled to whatever time is convenient for the doctors or nurses. Surely you’re not holding down a job anymore? More frightening is the growing sense that there are some medical procedures that you’re just not offered because of age. Then there are the frank statements by doctors who warn that, in the face of a shortage of ICU and ventilators, elderly people will not get access to life-saving interventions.
The picture of the cute, befuddled, but loveable old senior, working the garden of the (fully paid for) family home with no worries beyond the next bingo session at the community hall is nonsense. We have responsibilities to our families; we struggle to pay our bills, just like everybody else.
But it’s this nonsense that provides cover for governments that don’t want to provide pensions that meet the poverty line.
I’ll acknowledge that some old people are doddering old fools. The secret is that they’ve always been doddering fools. I’ve known people that were “old” at age 25, with a boring job, a boring house in the suburbs, and a boring minivan.
Stop and talk to the old people that you do know. Don’t ask about grandchildren or Facebook: ask about how little they get from their pension, or how much of that money goes to medicine and health care. Find out where they’re cutting corners to cover the rent increases every year.
Armed with that information, ask yourself if the pensions and services we’re offering are enough for older people that haven’t had the luck to build up healthy RRSPs or real estate holdings. This matters because sooner or later it’s going to be you that needs them. In the meantime wise up to the truth that the 70 year old you saw in the park could easily be a friend, a business partner, or even a lover — if you could get past your prejudices.
Greater Vancouver is one of North America’s toughest housing markets, with expensive real estate and a significant shortage of affordable rental units. Even though local governments acknowledge the problem, the property developers who want to build multiple-unit housing often face pushback from municipal councils and local activists.
The North Shore of Vancouver is home to three suburban municipalities: West Vancouver, with its 10,000-square-foot monster mansions, and the two North Vancouvers: the densified City of North Vancouver, nestled against the waterfront, and the largely single-family suburban District of North Vancouver which surrounds it.
The current North Vancouver District council was elected in 2018, and since then every proposal for multifamily housing, including rental, has been defeated, postponed, or rejected. Local developers are making hard decisions to keep their businesses moving forward at a time when the municipality is blocking every housing development that comes before them.
Published: Asparagus (PDF) Summer/Fall 2019
April 30, 2020
Pandemic-induced shortages inspired our family to go paperless in the bathroom, and we’re not alone.
Three weeks into the coronavirus crisis, we were down to our last roll of toilet paper. My British-born wife Susan said, “We’re not going to see paper in the stores. Let’s buy a bidet.” I guess I must have made a face, because her next comment was, “You are so Canadian. Afraid to try anything new”…
Well, now I know better! I learned that “bidet“ is actually a generic term for a variety of devices. As well as standalone porcelain fixtures, it can be applied to: the high-tech Japanese toilet seats that not only wash but also dry you; plastic squirt bottles designed for the same purpose; and hand-held sprayers that attach to your toilet water supply. I also now know that a bidet is not a toilet at all, it’s only used for cleaning yourself. And I’ve learned that after using it you’ll be wet, in need of a handy towel or toilet paper.
(Note to commenters: This column has generated a significant amount of email and feedback. All comments are moderated. Climate science deniers will simply be deleted and blocked. Anyone rep[lying with “OK Boomer” will be asked for a 1000 words explaining how they came to that assessment.)
Last year was when the endless bush fires in Australia convinced me and my wife, Susan, that climate change was unstoppable. It’s also when we realized that we likely will avoid seeing the worst of the climate emergency.
At 64 and 74 years of age, my wife and I believe there’s a good chance that we’ll be gone before coastal cities are flooded, the ice caps have melted, and the planet descends into a “Mad Max” dystopia. We would like to think that this isn’t what the future has in store, but the intransigence of almost all governments to actually slow carbon emissions leaves little doubt that things are unlikely to turn around.
One of the things that age gives you is a sense of history, a feeling that you’ve seen patterns repeat and that you can see where things are heading in the near future. Over and over again, we’ve seen corporations and governments ignore the people they should protect in order to line their own pockets. What has changed now is that they’re sacrificing an entire planet instead of a town or a country. I would like to believe that the younger people marching with Greta Thunberg could change that, but honestly I can’t see it happening.
The Canadian content regulations established by the CRTC in 1971 played a major part in building our homegrown music industry. What would happen if we applied those principles to Canada’s news media sector?
In my hometown of Kelowna, B.C., in 1970, you bought your records at the Music Box store on Ellis Street. Each week you’d travel downtown to choose from the new 45s and albums that you’d heard on the local radio station. And while you were there you’d pick up the latest list of the top 30 records being played on Vancouver’s powerhouse station CKLG.
Looking at those old charts today, you’d be struck by one thing: aside from an occasional appearance by Anne Murray or the Guess Who, you would almost never see a Canadian artist in the Top 30. The charts were dominated by American and English musicians. The assumption at CKLG, and among its listeners, was that popular music came from those places, not from Canada.
Because there was little airplay for our musicians, there was also very little recording industry infrastructure in Canada. Becoming successful in music back then meant going to the U.S. to record, work and live. Today, by contrast, it’s hard to keep track of all of the Canadian artists who enjoy successful careers here and abroad. Everyone from Drake on down is able to record here and build a global profile without leaving the country. That wouldn’t have happened without Canadian content regulations.
“At 5:30 p.m. on a rainy Tuesday night, The Dispensary — one of Vancouver’s oldest grey market cannabis stores — is doing booming business. Dozens of people stop in to pick up cannabis flower, edibles, and other cannabis products. Not one of their customers seem concerned that the store isn’t licensed by the provincial government.”