Monday, January 27, 2014

It's still January...sigh

January in Bermuda.  It's always the grimmest month of the year here, the month when many expats forget why they moved here.  It rains a lot in January.  There are a lot of winter storms, meaning high winds, cold fronts.  A lot of cancelled flights and expensive travel delays.  And not very much sunshine.  I realize I haven't blogged as much this month.  That's mostly because this is a month that is mostly lived indoors.

Sometimes it is pleasantly lived indoors, like this weekend when Pam and I had Mexico on the patio of Rosa's which blocked any wind and made for a sunny lunch outdoors, and I enjoyed a visit with Shibby over a lobster tail and a glass of Malbec at the Lobster Pot.  It is more likely to meet friends in ye old faithful pub, Flanagan's, than to have well laid plans of photo taking and touring come to fruition.  Celebrations are hosted indoors rather than in beaches and backyards.  Bad movies get decent attendance.  Even the businesses which could prosper don't like to be open in January.  This past Sunday we found Harry's, Muse, L'Oriental, and Little Venice all shut down at the supper hour...I was sure they had been open Sunday's after 6 in the summer.

I decided to pull the stats on January thus far.  Granted I was away a bit, but I only recall one opportunity this month when the air was warm and the sun was shining while I wasn't at work, and I did indeed make the best of it walking to my favorite beach...although I didn't have time to linger because the skies darkened and I had to quickly turn around and try to beat the rain home.  The stats don't lie though.  In the first 26 days of the month, there has been 90mm of rain.  Rain has fallen on 17 out of 27 days this month.  As for hours of sunshine, on 6 days in January the sun did not even peak through the clouds, not even for one recorded minute.  The average amount of daily sunshine is only 3 hrs per day.  The rest of the time is under a grey sky.  The winds are ever present, the lowest daily average being 11 knots, the highest being 35 knots.  The 5 day forecast calls for rain, rain, rain, high winds, and rain.  Basically, January in Bermuda kinda sucks.  If I am going to write a nice Bermuda blog, it is going to have to be from memory.  I will try to do that soon.  But for now will continue to read my book listening to the thunder and rainstorm.

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Cheech and Chong Welcome

Life is changing on this little rock.  It doesn't matter what year you arrive as an ex-pat, the ex-pat's who came before you will tell you that it used to be different, it was better.  As a right of passage, I get to do this now too.  Because things certainly are different

Wherever you are, there will people that will be resistant to change.  Sometime it will be you.  Sometimes you end up longing for the way things used to be, and sometimes you realize in retrospect that it wasn't so bad.  Sometimes you embraced it, or instituted it.  It seems as though every time a change is presented in Bermuda, there is a large faction that battles it full force, and often successfully delays the inevitable for a long time.  In recent months, there has been a lot of media and a lot of dispute about several issues.

I have previously mentioned the cash strapped hospital taking committed measures to the closure of the urgent care center on the island.  Protests were organized, petitions signed, and the Government used its power to reverse the hospital's decision and keep the center open, causing further losses, for now.  "The people have spoken," it was conceded.

Bermuda prohibited the sale of liquor on Sundays sometime many many years ago, except within licensed facilities -- so you could have a drink in a bar or restaurant, but the grocery stores and gas stations had to pull curtains or try to conceal their liquor supplies on Sundays, since the sale was prohibited.  This year government decided to amend the liquor act to allow sale of alcohol on both Sundays and Public Holidays anywhere that liquor is sold.  There were protests.  There were merchants who said they were just not going to open Sundays, and some who said they didn't want to sell liquor on Sunday even if they were open for other business.  People were morally outraged.  I wondered if the Seventh Day Adventists would mind, since their day of observance is Saturday, and indeed some did.  One person could only explain their opposition as liquor has never been available on a Sunday for my whole life and I don't see why it should be now.  Issue was taken with the hour on Sunday that liquor would be available -- would it be 8am?  Who needs to buy liquor at 8am on a Sunday?  I listened carefully to the objections that there would be more wayward people, more crime, and more social problems.  Liquor somewhat quietly went on sale on Sundays and Public Holidays earlier this month, for the record.

The next issue that hit the headlines yet again was Gaming.  Gaming has also never been allowed in Bermuda for as long as anyone can remember, except for that one place in town where you go to bet on the horses, but that's beside the point because Bermuda has a long stand against Gaming.  Even the cruise ships that dock in Bermuda have to close the casino on their ship and bar their passengers from it while they are docked in Bermuda.  Money is short these days though, and Bermuda knows it needs to find ways to increase revenue and boost tourism.  So they are looking at bringing a Casino on the island as an option.  There was moral outrage.  There was resistance to Gaming when there has never before been Gaming.  I listened carefully to the objections that there would be more wayward people, more crime, and more social problems.  The Government announced they would hold a referendum.  The Opposition allegedly told the Government 'under the table' that they would institute a boycott of the Referendum by their members, by the protesters and the morally outraged.  For the record, the Opposition says the Government lied about the allegations, although on a their facebook page they have a list of complaints against the Government, including "putting private conversations on speakerphones and possibly recording."  Government cancelled the Referendum, saying they would not waste money on a national referendum if a boycott had been threatened.  Instead it was set to be tabled as a bill and would scheduled to be voted on by the representatives of the people (which really is how government is supposed to operate isn't anyway isn't it?)  More outrage ensued.  The people spoke.  And now there will be educational information sessions for the public before the government proceeds with its business and takes the bill to the vote.  Strangely, somewhere in the middle of all of this, the Corporation of Hamilton rented out the city's Waterfront to a developer for a couple of hundred years with the OK to build a casino.  You know what happened.  There were protests, there was outrage, there had never before been a casino on the waterfront -- but this time the Government led the protest and had to make laws to take power away from the Corporation.  I stopped watching after a while, I am not sure if this is even resolved.  The main point is that in Bermuda, change gets political, change gets public, and change gets personal.

So imagine my surprise last night when I pulled up the online paper and looked at the various headlines.  "Lack of Funding:  School Program in Jeopardy."  Where are those revenue ideas?  "Man Crashes Into Police Station Wall:  Arrested."  Well it's Tuesday so we can't blame that on Sunday liquor sales.  "Police Confirm Man's Body Found in Water."  It says it appears he fell in Monday night...I won't speculate.  "53 Year Old Man Assaulted in Southampton."  "Premier Cannonier: 'We are on the Right Track.'" And "PLP Bill: Remove Sanctions for Under 20 grams."

WHAT???  The PLP is the official opposition party and their Facebook page states a strong opposition to closing the urgent care center, accuses Government of rushing through alcohol legislation too quickly, and criticizes Government for cancelling the Gaming Referendum.  They have vehemently and loudly criticized virtually every breath taken by Government (taking their role as the Opposition very literally), but today they merrily announce they have drafted a bill to take to the house on the first session in February in order to "remove penal controls and criminal sanctions" for possession of less than 20 grams of cannabis or cannabis resin.

OK, I don't know a lot about drugs, but isn't 20 grams a lot to have in your pocket?  Thank goodness for Wikipedia, I typed in my question and it tells me "19 Grams is usually a lot of weed." I kid you not, that is actually what came up.  It also says it is worth $100-$250 depending on quality.  I asked the same question on Yahoo and it referred me to an previous answer from a Colombian drug dealer who said you can easily make 40 joints from 20 grams, and makes it clear that when you have that much weed, you can keep 8 for yourself, invest in the next batch, and still make a nice profit.  The address from PLP Senator Daniels says "Bermudians, residents, and guests who have been caught with small amounts of cannabis have suffered devastating and life altering consequences for far too long.  Bermudians have been prohibited from travelling to the United States and Canada, we have had our reputations smeared and our job prospects shattered due to convictions for simple possession of cannabis...Will we be bold enough to chart a new destiny and seek new ways of generating revenue; perhaps with an influx of tourists and/or local taxes and license fees.  The possibilities are endless if we only dare to be different."  If I paraphrase that, does it say "we don't like the consequences of actions that are criminal here and abroad, so we aspire to change the illegal action to legal in our country so that consequences are no longer suffered, PLUS we can profit from selling weed to our local citizens and foreign travellers?"  That's kinda of what I got out of that.

I was expecting moral outrage.  I was expecting protests, the standard argument that there should not be legal weed now when there was never legal weed before.  I expected to hear concerns of more wayward people, more crime, more social problems.  Of course the party in power has criticized the move as naive and reckless without public input and further debate, but doesn't dispute the general idea that travel restrictions and consequences for convictions for cannabis use is a problem that they too want to make go away.  And what of the public?  It seems to be quieter than usual.  One editorial suggesting meekly that this may not be the door to open and then 96 comments online after article announcing the bill.  Scrolling through I saw no solid objections, except objecting to the possibility of the new distributors needing a government license.  Several people thought it might improve road safety, or at least improve the mood of a few bus drivers.  The mood seems quite mellow actually.  The people, in not speaking, have spoken.

I just wonder how the tourism board is going to alter their ads -- currently the market image targets wealthy tourists with the lure of a quaint, elegant Bermuda.  Maybe we will need Cheech and Chong in next year's ads, quaintly discussing the end to world hunger over a reefer and high tea at the Hamilton P.

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

A Short Trip to Boston

Yesterday I talked about the heath insurance in Bermuda, and the infrastructure of services on the island.  I briefly touched on how Bermuda has a wide range of services available for its population, which is necessitated by it's remote location.  Every once in a while we have to go overseas, usually to John Hopkins, Lahey, or in my case Mass General. Again, we are very fortunate that our health insurance covers us to go overseas to facilities with such good reputations.  My trip to Boston was part of my week as a ping pong ball, going from Bermuda to Canada, back to Bermuda, and then off to Boston.

I don't want to talk about health care today, I want to talk about Boston.  Boston is one of those cozy little cities that doesn't feel like it has 635,000 people in it.  It is easy to navigate, has that "small town" or "college town" feel, where you don't encounter crowds on the street while you are taking in the history between coffee shops and cafes.  I have a lot of fond memories of earlier trips to Boston -- this was the origin of the infamous story of the Dior shoes story (if you haven't heard it, I will blog it eventually), the beginning of years of craving PF Changs food, a tradition for cocktails at "The Top of the Hub," and some random dance moves that all parties present probably agree should never be
mentioned again.  We may all be in different places physically, and different places in our lives, but I think we will all remember that trip -- the only time I saw Simon dance, introducing our Australian(ish) Dev to snow and watching him dance around and holler "it's cold!  it's in my underpants!" after doing snowangels, and seeing the smile of Cherie's face when the cookie desert arrived at the Top of The Hub.  Life changes.  But memories always bring warm smiles.

 Boston is a clean looking city, and very pretty.  It has historically preserved buildings amidst the modern buildings, and just a lot of fascinating things to look at.
Passage of time can be seen in the layers of architecture in one place
Two things that I think a visitor to Boston must do is to buy a ticket on the double decker bus tours -- they do a tour of the entire city, explaining the history as you go, and you have the option to get off at any of the points of interest, take pictures, shop, eat, explore, view the museum, and the hop on the next tour bus that goes by.  The frequency of these tour buses is about every 15 minutes.  I still remember doing this tour 3 years ago with enough clarity to know that the bus driver was actually called Paddy, and with all the ons and off's I eventually end up on Paddy's bus several times during the day.  There is a portion you will want to walk however, and that is the busiest section of the Freedom Trail.

The Freedom Trail in Boston covers an area that skirts along Boston Common and traces a rich history through the old Boston core back to Paul Revere's house in the North End, and across the Charles River to the Bunker Hill area.  The Freedom Trail is not a hypothetical trail, it's path is blazed onto Boston's streets either by a painted red line, or in places by a subtle red brick line in a the brown brick walking paths.
Following the Freedom Trail
My plan to take pictures the day I arrived in Boston was thwarted by rain, so I was forced indoors and tried to keep the shopping prudent and stick to winter boots, which will be needed in Canada next year anyway.  The duty allowance when returning to Bermuda is $200, so I had lots of room to get a nice pair of boots.  Once that was done there was time for a cocktail at "The Top of the Hub" for old times sake with Cherie, followed meeting up with Lisa for supper at PF Chang's (great food, great service, and some complimentary appetizers just because).  I got a chat with Simon who was leaving on his own adventure, and fell asleep in yet another shoebox hotel.  The morning brought blue skies rather than rain, giving me a couple of hours to take the camera out before heading to my appointment.

I decided to pop out of the Subway at the State Street stop, emerging across from Faneuil Hall.  Fanueil Hall was one of Boson's first major marketplaces, built in 1740.  Like so many historic buildings, it burned down at one point (1761) and was rebuilt in 1762.  It has obscure weather vane in the shape of a grasshopper.  Persons suspected of being British spies during the Revolution were asked what sat atop Fanueil Hall...if you couldn't say grasshopper, you were convicted as a British spy.  When the Brits occupied Boston, they turned it into a theatre, one of the many cruelties performed against Boston buildings, such as removing church steeples so that they could not be used as signal platforms by the revolutionaries.  Faneuil Hall has hosted many important speeches against British Rule by the likes of Sam Adams and James Otis, possibly why the building is sometimes referred to as "the cradle of liberty."  Barack Obama chose this location to deliver a defense of the Affordable Care Act in 2013, and the Boston Classical Orchestra has used this as home base since the 1980's.  Around Faneuil Hall is the Quincy Market -- 3 old "longhouse" style buildings that now house may shops, cafes, and the famous bar "Cheers" featured in the 1980's sitcom of the same name.
Fanueil Hall

Just kitty corner to Faneuil Hall is the Old Statehouse.  The Old Statehouse was built in 1713 (because the Old Townhouse burned down in the fire of 1711 of course), with an interior redesign (after another fire) in 1747.  It would once more be damaged by fire in 1832.  Life was a lot more flammable back then I guess.  This is the oldest public building in Boston, home to the legislature until 1798.
The Old State House
Below its balcony was the site of the Boston Massacre, where a group of citizen had formed and were hurling insults and snowballs at British soldiers on the balcony.  The Brits shot and killed 5 people, including a 12 year old boy.  Paul Revere did a famous "folk art" rendition of the event, he was know for getting word out after all, and interestingly, it was John Adams who was the lawyer who got the soldiers off for the act in the court of law...and then later helped design the Declaration of Independence which was first read to the public in this building and from its balconies...and then became the first president of the USA.  Wonder if anyone ever let him live down helping the Brits get away with murder.
Marker in the sidewalk below the Old State House where the 1770 Boston Massacre took place

The Old State House would later becoming Boston City Hall, until they built a new City Hall in 1865, which is now called Old Boston City Hall, because they built yet another new one in 1969.
Old Boston Hall
I think Old Boston City Hall looks way cooler than the current one, which makes it about the prettiest Ruth Chris' Steakhouse location I have ever seen.  I really liked the effect of time on some of the old statues (this one was of John Quincy).
Liked the texture of this
Now Old Boston City Hall sits next to the King's Chapel and Burial Ground.  If you have time, they do crypt tours below the Church as well.  That surpassed my creepy index for the day so I just stuck to the above ground cemetery.  This was Boston's only cemetery between 1630 and 1660.  The creepy index won out above ground too when I learned that the ground wasn't suited well for the family tombs, and sometimes people would visit the tomb and find them flooded with bodies floating around.  Not sure who you put a complaint in to when that happens, but they may have had the worst job of the 1630's.  It would make for a good Halloween movie scene.
King's Chapel Burial Ground
The Old South Meeting House is where the Boston Tea Party was organized.
Old South Meeting House
Across the street is the Granary Burial Ground, which has some interesting markers including the victims of the 1770 Boston Massacre, Samuel Adams (politician and yes, the beer guy), and a big Franklin Memorial, which is not for Ben Franklin, but a monument he erected for his parents.  Continuing with the creepy, the cemetery as one sees it is relatively modern, as the grave markers were all moved and aligned in the 1800's to make way for the push lawnmower.  And not all graves are marked, as a tourist discovered in 2009 when the ground beneath her feet gave way and she fell into a an unknown crypt.  Would have liked to have seen her reaction.  I checked you tube, doesn't look like it was caught on video.
Granary Burial Grounds
Crossing the road from there we enter Boston Common, which is overlooked by the State House (not the Old State House though).  This one was built in 1798, and its roof has a lot of history.  As you can see, it's shiny.  It was originally wooden, but it leaked, so then our jack of all trades guy -- horseman, artist, revolutionary, and roofsman -- Paul Revere shows up and covers it with sheets of Copper, quite a genius thing at the time in 1802.  Then it was painted grey, and yellow, covered in gold leaf in 1874, painted black in WWII, and regilded in 1997 in 23 karat gold for a cost of $300,000.  With the cost of gold now, I'm surprised they don't have people chipping away at it in the night.
New State House
Boston Common has more of those chubby little American squirrels.
A well fed squirrel
I know why they are so chubby -- this one is eating either a fig newton or a breakfast bar.  Very uptown squirrel indeed.
Now THAT is a happy squirrel
The lagoon has some very distinctive weeping willow trees that always catch my eye.
Boston Common
My last stop was to go to the Copley Square to catch the train back.  Copley Square is flanked by the famous Boston Public Library, and the famous Trinity Church.  I still remember Paddy the tour bus operator telling us that they have a 5 year waiting list for a wedding at the Trinity Church, and it couldn't hurt to go put in an application, then when you find the right one, you are already on the list.

The Trinity Church was built in 1832 (after the old one burned to the ground in the Great Boston Fire of 1872, which didn't claim any of the other buildings spoken about catching fire earlier, those were all destroyed in other fires apparently.)  Today it stands beautiful, intricate, and stone faced alongside mirrored glass skyscrapers.  But in another time, she would have been a skyscraper on the Boston horizon.
Old meets new at the Trinity Church

Monday, January 20, 2014

Healthcare Costs in Bermuda -- The Big Picture

Being as I am home sick today, health care seems like a good topic for the blog.  I am surviving on the 4 food groups of people with colds and flu's -- Popsicles, liquid meal replacements, soup broth, and hot drinks laced with phenylepinephrine hydrochloride.  I have not even wanted coffee for 2 days, a poor prognosis indeed.  The cough syrup with codeine gives me some relief.  If "Man-Flu" were real, I would have it, I have all the symptoms of despair and all consuming self-pity, which I have done my best to share with my lucky friends.  The Panthers were horrified after their long vigil at my side overnight that I felt so bad yesterday that I neglected to restock the Whiskas they like for breakfast.  They were forced to eat their healthy lunch food at the wrong time.  They too are wallowing about in despair and self pity now.  Lexi cat is, of course, is happy to lay about and share the misery.

For a patient, health care is very simple in Bermuda.  By law, you and your employer share the cost of the standard hospital benefit through a group plan.  You may opt to purchase higher tiers of service, which can lower fees at the doctor and include more dental and vision care.  Bermudian seniors may purchase a discounted government insurance policy called FutureCare, and the Bermuda government provides a subsidy to any hospital care of children or the indigent.  My monthly deduction from my pay cheque for the most comprehensive package is $503 per month, plus my employer pays an additional sum to the insurance company each month for their 50% of the basic hospital care package.  I would guess they are paying between $150-$200.  So my insurance premium as a single is about $650-$700 per month.  I do pay a few things out of pocket, a portion of prescriptions, a user fee to go to the general practitioner or certain specialists (anywhere from $3-$40 at the GP, no idea what they are charging for, they are neither friendly nor informative when I have asked, to $200 when I had to see a dermatologist to find out that the antibacterial gel we have in the workplace has a very bad effect on eczema, i will spare you the description, just trust me if you have eczema stick to soap and water).  Other than that, I have full coverage.  If I lose a contact, it's covered, if I wake up blind in one eye on a weekend morning and they have to call in a specialist to make sure my retina is still attached, its covered.  If I get sick here or overseas, I am fully covered.  If my retina would have fallen off, I would have been flown to the US on the next flight.  Although pricey, it is really good insurance coverage, and when you aren't seeing a high income tax payroll deduction it doesn't seem like a bad expenditure at all.

I decided to look up the insurance differences for other situations though.  Of course in Canada we are fully covered, and depending on your location and employer, the fees may be nothing at all.  The most I ever paid is $30 there was a month.  I think everyone who has watched the news in the past 2 years knows something about Obamacare in the US.  I decided to plug in my numbers and see what my premiums would be there -- about $210 per month for the 70% coverage plan, but I would be liable for up to another $6300 per year in out of pocket medical expenses if average of $480 per month, so my "real" cost could be $680 per month.  And I guarantee my salary is less in the US than in Bermuda for my profession, so I am better off in Bermuda for health care.  Going back to Bermuda though, the FutureCare package for seniors provides less coverage.  FutureCare is just over $400 per month and does not cover major medical.  Some things, including overseas surgery is only covered at 75%, meaning you could be faced with a financially debilitating situation.  When it comes to being a senior, I will be better off in Canada.

Looking at the provision of health care services in Bermuda is where the system gets a little complex.  It is hard to look at the whole system without seeing some areas critically.  I don't mean to devalue the system.  It is most important to remember that residents of Bermuda receive excellent coverage and have rapid access to care locally, and a system of overseas partnerships to provide medical treatment for any services not available on the island.  But health care costs in Bermuda have escalated to some of the most expensive costs per person in the entire world.  The Bermuda Sun cited an average of over $10,000 per person per year in 2012.  What I am sharing is observations from the outside perspective of someone coming from a public health care system, and examples of where the system is failing to keep costs in control -- primarily because in the system some health care is tied to politics, and other parts operate as private entities with not enough regulation to contain costs.  As a disclaimer, I have no financial background, no administrative certifications, and am not political enough to know every angle.  This is just what I see through my experiences.

The island has one hospital, King Edward VII Memorial Hospital.  As opposed to being a private facility, like one sees in the US, or public like in the UK or Canada, the hospital operates under a Quango.  Quango was another new word for me when I got here, it stands for a "Quasi-Autonomous Non-Governmental Organization."  It stands to reason that anything with such a complicated name is going to get a little complicated later down the road.  However, the concept is that a Quango acts as a semipublic administrative body outside the civil service but receives financial support from the government, which therefore has some external control over it.  The upside is that government will subsidize certain aspects of the hospital's operating expenses, and should be able to ensure a quality service.  There are downsides as well.  While not everyone may see this as a downside, the government can appoint staff into certain positions, but I see this as a downside because political appointments can very suddenly make a non-government body a very political body.  The government can also influence certain decisions, such as proceeding with construction of new wings and centers, which is a win for the government in growing jobs and the economy.  However, a change in government can change the subsidies and focus of expenditures, leaving the health care in the center of 2 different political agendas and a financial crisis when there is a transition in Government.  For example, an Urgent Care Facility was constructed in 2009 in St. David's, and staffed with physicians, nurses, x-ray techs, and lab personnel.  But this little island of 60,000 already had the major hospital plus many private facilities which operate outside of the quango providing laboratory services and diagnostic imaging services, generally operated by a physician or group of physicians who like the convenience and huge revenue of having their own facility.  In short, the Urgent Care Center was underutilized from the start.  The plans to develop a similar facility in Somerset were quietly discarded.  The lab staff were pulled a couple of years back.  There was a nurse on duty until 4 and a physician after 4.  After major changes to funding from Government, the hospital was pressed to make major changes and savings.  Late in 2013 the Hospitals Board announced that it was closing the Urgent Care Facility as part of responsible fiscal management.  It had been operating at a loss, redundancies were given, money would be saved.  Or so it seemed.  Some citizens decided they liked the idea of having the center there.  They didn't want it to close, even if it was only really used for sprains, headaches, and colds which could be treated by a general practitioner at a lower operating cost.  Marches were planned, and 2000 people signed a petition to keep the center open.  Because the hospital is a quango, 2000 signatures could also mean 2000 votes in the next election, and so politics take precedence over sound financial practice.  The closure of the Urgent Care Center by the Bermuda Hospitals Board was overruled by Government due to public pressure after the fact, and reopened with a plan to come up with a new plan in the future (still waiting to hear what it is), but for now the hospital is forced to continue operating it, at a loss.  And of course there were redundancies...those are not reversible and can be added to the operating cost losses.  This is an real life example of the downsides of a Quango.

Basically, the structure of health care is such that patients can get exactly what they need, and sometimes what they want and don't need, in a timely and convenient matter, but the overall system is very costly due to its structure.  The government provides some subsidies, which can rapidly change with the face of government, and gets a say in how the entities that use those subsidies must operate.  There is no limit on the amount of private facilities that can operate, and each one is in business to make a profit.  Common sense and good financial practice would seem to dictate that if a doctor has a laboratory in their office, they are profiting from tests ordered, and a system of checks or audits must be in place to ensure only relevant tests are being ordered.  Even so, I don't know that this is acually being done, and if it were, it is nearly impossible to tell from the office desk of an insurance company whether a test is being ordered in good faith, it is really up to the honor system.  Many countries have abolished this practice because it seems to increase health care costs without improving the health of the population.  I have experienced cases where tests were ordered that were not required based on the nature of my visit or history, but that a physician could argue should be done on anyone in a set age group.  It may or may not be intentional, they may simply get into the habit of ordering specific panels of tests on patients in a certain age class, when doing a more detailed history would rule out the need for many of those tests.  It may fall under the "Doctor House" argument that patients lie and you should run tests that don't fit the history.  Or it might just be a good way to increase revenue.   Another issue is that in most situations there will be a test that will confirm a diagnosis, and several others that will rule out the other less likely possible diagnoses.  The physician is almost forced by the current system to order all of these tests to cover their butts in the unlikely situation that it is the less likely diagnosis -- because ultimately they are solely responsible for choosing how much or how little to order, and therefore solely liable if they do too little.  I think a system of standard ordering protocols would relieve them of this responsibility and liability, and decrease the financial burden of diagnostic testing on the health care system and the economy.  This idea has been roughy presented recently in Bermuda with many objections -- they call it pre-approval, and opposers play it out in the public as though a patient and doctor will have to face delays or not be able to order what they need.  This is not true.  The same concept is used in many countries, and all it means is responsible reflex testing.  For example, currently the physicians may order a screening test plus all the specific tests that narrow down the results of an abnormal screen.  If the screen is negative/normal, none of the others need to be performed.  An efficient system is to automatically reflex to the additional tests when a screening test is positive, rather than perform them upon request in the absence of a positive screen.  It's a good change.  It's just that people have a hard time with change.  And of course anyone making revenue from diagnostics will not appreciate the change, it will lower their revenues...but it also may help stop the annual rise in your personal premiums.  Responsibility also lies on the patients. It is not unheard of for a patient to attend the Urgent Care Center, their general practitioner, and the emergency room on the same day as they hop from place to place looking for the answer they want. I have never spoken to so many people who have had MRI's done. I would love to know the usage of MRI on the island per capita compared to the rest of the world. Because MRI's sound cool. Everybody wants one here, and many will make demands on their physicians. That's a quick way to drive up health care costs. Responsibility also lies with the insurance companies -- if there was a better system in place to pay for only what was necessary both patient and doctor may be more responsible.  If the doctor could say "I would like to do an X-Ray to prove the aliens didn't put a tracking device in your arm (a made up but not unfathomable request believe it or not) but it's not covered by insurance, it will cost you $xx," then the health care system wouldn't be paying for each visit the same patient does to different care providers until they get their X-Ray.  The public may need to readjust their thinking of what they are entitled to, and learn that doctors can tell them no, and the system needs to evolve so the patients learn to hear no, that the answer is given consistently, and that it will be backed up by the rest of the system, putting a stop to "service jumping" from place to place.  This is all necessary because Bermuda's financial position has changed considerably for the worse over the last decade.  Everyone is aware that change must happen.  But there is not yet an agreement among Bermudians as to how that will happen.  So in the mean time, things continue as they are, and construction continues on the new wing of the hospital, a $247 million dollar construction project expected to be complete in June 2014.

Leaving the burden of health care costs behind, one has to say that the amount of services available for such a small population are impressive.  The range of specialists and high tech equipment exceeds what would be ordinarily present for an equal size population in a larger country.  The relative isolation of Bermuda demands that essential services be on hand, and the high insurance cost of sending patients overseas for what is not available commands that more services be offered on the island than would be to a mainland population in the 60,000 person range.  All in all, it's a good service, it just has room for increased fiscal responsibilities amongst partners to make it more sustainable.  I am sure it keeps the current Government awake at night, and am hopeful that they find the right solution, and soon.  And now, I return to my $40 of prescriptions and $40 of over the counter remedies to try to kick the most miserable cold/flu that I have had in years.  I am grateful that I was able to see a doctor and be out of the pharmacy in less than 2 hours total.  Like most people everywhere, I worry about healthcare sustainability.  But for today, I am just happy that I had access to everything I needed, when I needed it, and that I don't live somewhere like Afghanistan where the annual healthcare expenditures per person are $47.  That would have only gotten me a package of Claritin and some Vitamin C.  I guess our First world problems aren't so bad.

Saturday, January 18, 2014

Grandma's story in short

I feel a little bit like a pinball inside a machine, or maybe more like a ping pong ball which has gone flat on one side after bouncing around too much this past week.  6 flights in 7 days and little to no sleep in between.  The first trip was from Bermuda to Saskatchewan for Grandma's funeral.  This means a flight to Toronto, a 6 hour layover, a flight to Regina, and then a 3 hour drive.  The Toronto airport had been chaotic, which meant the plane that needed to get to Bermuda so that I could start my journey arrived 3 hours late.  This did decrease my layover, but was the start of some pretty rough travel days.

After one and a half novels, I did reach Regina -- I can recommend "The Art of Racing in the Rain," by Garth Stein for the record.  Saskatchewan had warmed up, but it was still bone chillingly cold if you had to stand outside for long enough...which I did.  There wasn't a lot of time for photography...I didn't even take my manual camera, but I did take a couple of snapshots of my hometown in Saskatchewan, as most people have a hard time understanding where I come from.  So, I stood in the middle of main street and took 2 pictures.  One facing towards the main highway and one facing 180 in the other direction.
Standing in the center of Main Street (shadow to prove it) looking North

And turning 180 degrees and facing due South
Yes.  That's all of it.  And I grew up on a farm outside of this metropolis.  Main Street in my hometown consists of a Co-op Store (and gas truck), a hotel/restaurant built around 1913 that has no rooms for rent, 3 houses, a town office/post office, and the town hall and coffee club.  There are more houses, and an elevator terminal, but not on main street...and not that many houses either.  When I left, the population was 47 people.  The Canada Census has it bolstering at 57 in 2006, and listing 36 private residences.  Most of those are surrounding farmhouses though.  The town itself takes up 0.8 square kilometers, which is why Bermuda doesn't really seem that small to me.

My grandmother spent 95 years near this patch of land, rarely further away than about a 3 hour drive as far as I know.  Yet she lived a pretty incredibly life, because lives were lived in a very different way 95 years ago.  I know several people from home wanted to hear a little more of Grandma's timeline, so the following story is for their benefit.

When you live to be 95 years old you play many roles to many different people. Before she was Grandma Gladys, Reverend Mayo, or Mom, she was daughter and sister. Grandma began as Gladys Winnifred Elliot, born June 27, 1918 on a farm north of Hazenmore. Her first role was that of beloved daughter to John and Winnifred Elizabeth Elliot, and little sister to Lloyd Wesley Elliot, born just 2 years earlier on August 4, 1916. She became an older sister when Iris Lorraine Elliot arrived several years later on November 1, 1926. Iris, now Iris Bell, lives today in Port Coquitlam, BC. She says goodbye with the same love and devotion she showed through her letters, parcels, and phone calls that the sisters constantly shared through the years.

The young Gladys attended Harold School, a country school 4 mile NW of the home farm. She made close friends with neighbours and cousins, like the McGee's and the Purdy's. She played ball, and always said that Lloyd was a very good player as well, and in the manner of life in Saskatchewan in the 30's attended community functions at the neighbouring schools of Cardiff, Canonea, and Bar-Hollis. She had a strong fondness for animals, most especially horses, but also dogs, cats, and even the most stubborn of the sheep. It was in that small country schoolhouse that she first took an interest in art. She said she had a teacher who would draw a picture with each word they were learning, a skill she refined over the years, and in her "Grandma years" she would be quite well known locally for her drawings of horses and paintings, mostly of the Saskatchewan landscapes. She often couldn't resist putting a cow or two in the picture, even though she would later ask if we thought it was the most terrible looking cow we had ever seen. We never thought it was. 

Her teenage years coincided with the Great Depression. When I was little and learning about history, I used to ask her questions about this time. But rather than tell me of dust or despair, she said those were the years that she learned to make the tastiest of treats with the most plain ingredients, receipes she still used 50 years later, and that those were the years that she would sew and resew old dresses and scraps of fabric into the most beautiful things, for herself and others. I was too young at the time to realize what a positive personality she had to see things in that way. She never said they went without, or that the young crave pretty things that simply were not available. But I noticed over the years that she always maintained a keen eye for fabrics, and loved to turn old dresses and left over scraps into beautiful patterned quilts.

At the age of 17, like many young women at that time, she began work keeping houses. She got a job in 1938 with Westgate Farms, and it was there that she met Frank Harold Mayo. She married her "Sammy" on April 20th, 1938 at the United Church Manse in Aneroid. They made their home on what was then the Folkastad Farm where "Sammy" was living and operating the farm. Already called to faith, she was a member of the Rebecca Lodge and affiliated with the Anglican Church. She used to say that Sammy could play the fiddle like no one's business, and she would oftentimes accompany him on the piano and join with friends and neighbours in song.   An old friend recalls that when the band would play "Be Nobody's Darling But Mine," that Sammy would put down the fiddle and come dance with her.  70 some years later, the nurses noted that it seemed to be her favorite song, which came as a surprise to us, as it wasn't a hymn or religious in content.  But how nice to have the story of that song related from her old friend this past week.  She continued to play baseball during these years as well, and had several horses, cats, dogs, and of course sheep...but her favorite that she would talk about for the rest of her days was Darky, a large black horse with a white patch on the forehead that she got in 1939. Darky was no quiet nag, but a rodeo pickup horse that cost $22. Iris said that Gladys used to love to run the horses, much harder and faster than their Dad would have approved of. Grandma hinted a few times that Darky was a one woman horse, given a wide berth by everyone else. It is no surprise to any of us that she had a bit of a fearless streak in her. If we asked about it today, she would probably mischievously say -- "Oh, that comes from the Elliot side. We Elliots are a bit funny you know."

In 1943 during WW2, July 12th to be exact, Gladys began a new role -- Mother to Glenn Wesley Mayo, who remained the apple of her eye for all of her life. He was a darling little boy with a big smile and the typical fascination with toy trucks, and anything with an engine-- some things never change. It was 1947, under the Apolostic movement in Hazenmore when Gladys says that she truly heard her call to God, and was Saved. Her Dedication to God was unwavering from that day forth. In 1948, the family moved to BC, but returned to Hazenmore the next spring to live on the Bill Finley Farm, which would be owned by her brother Lloyd in later years. In the fall of 1949 they moved to live in town at Kincaid, where she ran Mrs. Mayo's lunch until 1952. After that, she worked at the Williams Brother's store, a general store selling just about everything, and continued working there after it became Debert's store, and stayed on until 1973. In 1963, her father John Elliot passed away. The following year she gained a daugher in law when Diane Monette, married her Glennie. She finally became the official Grandma Gladys on Jan 30, 1965 when her eldest Grandchild George was born in Calgary, AB to Glenn and Diane. Sadly, she lost her beloved husband Sammy on February 28, 1965. Glenn, Diane, and George returned to Kincaid that spring to help with the farm. Gladys and Glenn worked together in the fields and began farming together. Gladys would finish her shift at the store and go to the fields to drive tractors, and continued to do so until the late 1970's...when she was nearing 60 herself. She became a Grandma several more times, with Jerry in 1966, Leanne in 1972, and me in 1974 just a few months after the passing of her mother Winnifred. Winnifred, or Grandma John as she was affectionately called, was the one who suggested that I be named Jenny Lynn. Throughout all of this, Grandma Gladys remained active in church, teaching both Sunday schools and giving the main sermon, as well as teaching Happy Bible Hour -- an after school program that reached hundreds of kids in the local community. She planted the seeds of the word of God as she led children of all ages through lively hymns, colorful flannel characters that told the stories of the old testament, and sent everyone home full of new information...and her famous sticky popcorn ball treat. Grandma Gladys, as she was now widely known, was invited to speak to children and adults in many neighbouring communities, and she happily travelled the roads to do so. That brings me to her choice in car...not so different from her choice in horses, the 62 year old minister did most of these travels in a little red Capri with T-tops...usually down. Prior to that she put her miles on in her 67 Mustang, followed by the 74 Camaro, briefly tried out a practical old station wagon, but quickly traded that in for the Capri. The last car she bought was a 1995 Mustang...when she was 77 years old. But her homebase for her ministry always remained Kincaid. It was in 1981 that she was ordained as a minister in the Apostolic Church of the Pentacost, which was just a document confirming what she had quietly committed to 34 years earlier and had been developing ever since -- a way to spread the word of God.

In his later years, her brother Lloyd became ill. Eventually he moved into her home in Kincaid, where she was able to help most. As his condition required frequent trips to a medical dayward in Regina, she moved to Regina with him in 1989, and remained there until his passing in 1990. After that she returned to Kincaid and the many friends she had made over the years. Grandma Gladys was always strong and independent, and warned us 20 years ahead of time that she wanted to live out her days at home. Glenn and Diane were close to make frequent visits, and were close when she took a fall that resulted in a broken hip. After surgery in Moose Jaw, rehabilitation in Assiniboia, she was able to return to her cozy little home. Her house was covered, almost every square inch, with photographs of family, friends, children from her bible classes who had grown but not forgotten her, and every surface filled with ornaments or dishes received as gifts or handpicked as treasures. She loved every item in her house, as she had learned to appreciate every little luxery growing up, and especially treasuring people she loved and memories. I do believe there is still a 3 foot tall giraffe I made from a coloring book that I had to tape all the pages together to made...she had it professionally framed and mounted by the door. Grandma Gladys also was surrounded by her crafts...lovely knitted afghans, crocheted doilies, embroidered linens, elaborate quilts, paintings, and drawings. Over years the house collected many wonderful memories for her -- the big red Irish Setter named Shawn O Toole, who was a literal "Clifford the Big Red Dog" when I was little enough to be guaranteed a knock over every visit by that giant shaggy tail. She loved that dog. And then of course she inherited Skeeter, the little white dog, from our family, when the Dr's ran out of recommendations for my asthma and said we had to give up the dog. I am certain George and Jerry pleaded to keep the dog and give me away. Fortunately Grandma stepped in, Skeeter got a good home, and we could all still visit our Best Dog in the World. Grandma also ended up with two tabby cats, "AIRPLANE CATS!" her granddaughters exclaimed as they dragged the kittens through her door, unable to better articulate that these silly kittens had crawled into Glenn's Cheetah Gremin Cessna for a nap and nobody realized it until after takeoff. All survived, and Grandma kept Ertie, saying she had to as she was afraid I would strangle the poor thing as I carried it in my clumsy little girl arms, and Doody Eyes, which she named the fluffy one Leanne carried in. Year later she would adopt Tiny, who needed a home after her owner, Grandma's dear friend Ruby passed away. Through that house passed many boarders, friends young and old, member of the congregations, and the multitudes of people who came to Grandma to hear more of what she preached. Rarely could you reach Grandma on the phone, for if she didn't have guests for tea, biscuits, and minstry, then she was on the phone as a counsellor or friend -- two more roles that follow that of pastor. After the grandchildren roamed the house, the great grandchildren came -- first Jaycena Michelle Mann, daughter of Leanne and Richard Mann, and then a little boy, Jordan Richard Mann. Not long after, George and his wife Sonya gifted Grandma with 4 more great grandchildren. First Janelle, then Shantelle, Justyne, and Kristyne.  Grandma Gladys delighted in all of her family, from her Glennie and Diane to her adored the great grandchildren, and welcomed the new additions to the family -- falling right in with Richard, having a soft spot for her Sonya, and being delighted when Jerry met and married Tessa...Jerry's Tess she called her -- and Derek and Brandon fell under her Grandma umbrella as well.

It was in 2008 when Grandma Gladys suffered another fall, another surgery, this time having to stay in Regina, Moose Jaw, and then back to Assiniboia. It was there that Grandma made said she thought maybe she should stay rather than go back to the home she loved so much. It was a hard choice, but one she got to make on her own, and at 90 years old a little extra help can become a nice idea even for the strongest and fieriest willed of any of us. On March 28, 2009 our Jaycena and her two close friends, Brooke Harbour of Kincaid and Laramie Ross of Gravelbourg were killed by a reckless driver who struck her car while he was passing on the wrong side of the road. It was the one time I saw her beyond the comfort of the scriptures she knew so well.Earlier this year, brother in law Stanley Bell of Port Coquitlam BC passed away as well, on July 29, 2013.

Grandma spent her final years in Lafleche and District Health Center. She enjoyed frequent visits from Glenn and Diane who travelled to see her every couple of days, and spoke with her every night on the phone. Grandchildren and Great Grandchildren would stop in from Moose Jaw, Gravelbourg, Medicine Hat, and Bermuda. Grandma had a little book for visitors to log in when they came, and like her home, her room in Lafleche accumulated pictures, cards, ornaments and gifts, and some of her paintings and favorite things were brought from home. On New Year's Day, Grandma Gladys saw the whole family...even if the Bermuda grandchild was just on Skype, her whole family was there for the day. On the evening of January 3, 2014, with family at her side, Grandma Gladys went peacefully to the Heaven she told so many about in her long life. She taught us that we should rejoice rather than weep when this happened. But goodbyes are never easy. looking back I see a woman who was strong, positive, confident, and absolute in her faith....all of which made her happy and content. A long life, one well lived, and a person well loved in the little patch of Saskatchewan called home.
Gladys Mayo 1918-2014
So that's the story of Grandma as best as I can recall.  May she rest in peace.

Friday, January 17, 2014

Fort St. Catherine

Fort St. Catherine is located on one of Bermuda's Eastern Edges, just north of the town site of St. George's.  It has taken me almost 5 years to get around to touring this fort, mostly because I never looked it up on a map and wasn't sure how to find it.  It's easy to find when you know the way -- simply drive up the hill across from King's Square in the Town of St. Georges.  You will go right past the unfinished church, through an abandoned golf course, turn right at Tobacco Bay (you can already see the fort by now) and drive up to its gate.  If you don't go to St. George's often, you might need to stop at the Unfinished Church and Tobacco Bay on the way just because they are so pretty.
Fort. St. Catherine from the outside
Numerous times I have meant to see Fort St. Catherine, and this first photo was actually taken in November when I finally made it to the gates, and over the moat before getting a call from a friend, Simon, to go tour the nearby "hidden fortress" instead.  So this January I decided to try again, with Phil, another friend who is leaving the island at the beginning of February.  Seems like everybody is turn is coming soon as well.

We expected this to be a short tour, as it is just a little round tower as you can see.  Well, there is much more Fort tucked away behind that little tower...and it is not even a round tower.  What the picture above shows is the outside wall of "The Keep."  The keep in any British fortress is the area that would be used for a last stand, where the soldiers can wall themselves off inside and fight.  It is surrounded by a moat, has a kitchen and water tank, sleeping areas, and lots of guns and defense systems.  On the other side of the keep is actually a very large and multi-level fortress.
Looking back on the keep from further inside the Fort
The site began in 1612, as a wooden fortification built by the British.  In 1614 the construction shifted to stone.  The Fort was an important one as ships coming in from the Atlantic would be forced by the reef system to pass by its guns to gain access to the island and its westerly parts, and the ships would have limited maneuverability due to the extensive reefs.  While Dockyard was constructed largely in part by prisoners from Britain, it seems as though Fort St. Catherine was constructed by soldiers, although the first batch was dropped here, and forgotten about and left to fend for themselves with no provisions for 13 years.  The prisoners later at Dockyard may have had an easier go of it.

It is also worth to note that the sandy beaches just off of Fort St. Catherine are the same ones where the Sea Venture wrecked in 1609, resulting in the inadvertent settlement of Bermuda.
The sandy beach outside the Fort walls probaby hosted sunbathing soldiers for hundreds of years

The military remained active at this site for close to 4 centuries...a lot of history here.  There are many types of cannons, gun mounts, and artillery.
Old artillery
Somewhat newer artillery

There were rooms made up to display daily life.  Phil was happy to point out the strategy of the stairwell directions giving the height and right hand advantage to a soldier on top over the unfortunate offender trying to ascend, and I was happy to find a chart listing British colonial slang and their meanings, insults like pusher, bun smuggler, and my personal favorite, to call someone a poodle faker.  I will make you visit the museum to find out the meanings though.

The Fort boasts a beautiful view.

It flies the Bermuda and the British flag over the coastline.

And shows the textures of 4 centuries...
The construction of the fort  began in 1609 but was added on over the years well as the passage of time.
Weathering on the rock walls
Well worth the $7 admission.

Thursday, January 9, 2014

The Unfinished Church

The Unfinished Church is one of my favorite spots in Bermuda.  Overlooking the St. George's town site, I first sighted it when I visited St. George's as a tourist in 2008.  I could see a roofless, large, stone building on top of a hill and felt immediately drawn to it.  What I learned when I got there is that it a National Trust building, and is quite simply named the Unfinished Church. 
The Unfinished Church in St. Georges
Construction began on the Unfinished Church in 1874 after the nearby St. Peter's was damaged by a hurricane.  It was going to be a grandiose structure with grandiose arches, ornate pillars, and the finest architecture of the time.
These ornate Archways and pillars lined the main aisle to where the pulpit would stand

The congregation had a shortfall of funds, and construction slowed.  Eventually the congregation felt divided between repairing the old church and continuing to build the new one.  World War 1 erupted causing more delay due to funding.  And finally, in 1926, a hurricane damaged the existing construction and the Church was abandoned for good.
Free admission when it was not closed off, this was a popular wedding site
It is now a gorgeous, open air structure, although gates were erected to keep the public out in 2010 after the structure began to show obvious deterioration due to weathering.  It would have been beautiful completed, but unfinished it has an air of ethereal natural beauty, and draws many visitors to this day.  Prior to its closure, it was a popular wedding spot. 
Still glorious despite nearly 140 of neglect

The Unfinished Church is protected by the National Trust, and while it has from time to time attempted to stabilize the building, and restore it to its incomplete glory, they simply lack the funds, and this gem is now off limits to the public.  One can still looks through the gates that bar its unfinished doors, as I did for these photos on Monday.  I have taken many of my guests here, and recommend that anyone coming to the island take a look.

Tuesday, January 7, 2014

End of an Era

It has been several days since my last post -- not a good start to the New Year, but I have been busy following through on my resolution to work through the Insanity workout program, and eat healthier things, so much experimentation time has been required in the kitchen to turn things like kale into something edible.  I am happy to report no fires.

What was meant to be a Bermuda blog has been turning into a personal blog, and I will try to get back to Bermuda information very soon.  Often though, it is easier to just write about what is on one's mind.  At the present, that is the fact that my Grandmother passed away last weekend.  I will soon be returning to Canada for the funeral, and meeting the dreaded Polar Vortex that is all over the news these days.  But I did want to say a few words about "Grammers."

Born in 1918, she lived a full 95 years and true to Canadian form was as tough as can be.  She was born not in a hospital but on a homestead miles away from the nearest town (which did not and still does not have a hospital).  She grew up using horses and a cart for the family trips to the town when they would happen, and remembers travelling with a team of horses in sudden blinding prairies blizzards, and of wolves following the family as they rushed home with the team of horses late one night. The nearest town was not even in existence until 1913.  This upbringing made her independent and resilient.  Horses were around, for the plow, for transportation, and she loved them.  There is an old school almost sepia photograph of her in mayber her 20's in a floral print dress on a jet black horse with a star on its head...I believe that was her favorite -- Darky he was called.  The photo is a very large framed one -- and as a child I remember thinking that the only other photograph I had seen that size and period were those of Queen Elizabeth that hung in the lobby of the school.  I thought she looked just as pretty.

I remember her talking about the Great Depression -- she spoke a lot less of the drought, dust, and hardship than she did of all of the things that she learned in those years -- how to make tasty pastries and treats using the most bland and plain of ingredients, and of how she used to sew and resew dresses and scraps into new things for herself and eventually for customers.  When I was young and hearing these stories, I failed to translate the image of her from my Grandma to the much younger girl, in her late teens and early 20's.  Grammers mainted a sort of reverence for beautiful fabric all of her life, even if just scraps and pieces -- she would turn those into beautiful quilts when she needed a break from all the knitting and crocheting.  Another craft she learned she told me started back in the one room schoolrooms of her youth -- drawing and painting.  She told me that the teacher used to draw a picture with each word, and she fell in love with that creativity and became a very good artist with both her painting and her drawing.

As the Depression faded into the past, WW2 began, and she watched all of the young men of the community go off to war, including her older brother Lloyd.  She told me he went as far away as Africa and France before losing a leg and being discharged home.  In his later years, she was his primary caregiver until he passed away.

The love of her life, her husband Frank -- or Sammy as she called him, passed away in 1965.  I never met him, but she told me he could play the fiddle like you wouldn't believe.  She never remarried, nor do I ever think she ever gave that idea so much as a passing thought.  The main apple of her eye was her son, my dad Glenn.

Over the years she ran a lunchroom, took in sewing, and rented rooms -- this all sounding very brave and independent in my eyes at the time.  But it was just another story told in her eyes.  Grammers heard her calling to God, and this was more than a passion but a complete dedication.  She decided to take it further and became an ordained minister when she was 62.  She taught Sunday School, also gave the regular sermon, and had an after school program called Happy Bible Hour, which was like Sunday School but on Wednesday's.  She maintained a vibrant and active life in her ministry as long as she was mobile, well into her late 80's.  I think a minister is also a counsellor, and she spent hour after hour after hour on her phone when anyone needed her.  She could also be counted on to go to people when they were sick or needed a friend, 70 plus and in a little red car with a T-Top.  Until she got her brand new blue Mustang in her 80's.

Someone who lives to be 95 plays many roles to many many different people.  My perspective is that of the youngest Grandchild.  She always had stories to tell, some about her, some about the Bible and sometimes just made up stuff.  She arranged for sleepovers and let my sister and I bake bread and buns (with a lot of supervision) when we were quite young.  She took me to an art class or two, gave me my own set of paints, and would sit and do paintings with me -- not the kind of paintings kids do, the kind with real acrylic and brushes and proper easel and canvas.  In the 7th grade I walked to her house from school and she made me french fries for lunch almost every day for the whole year (I was a picky eater).  Her house was covered, almost every square inch, with photographs of family, friends, children from her bible classes who had grown but not forgotten her, and every surface filled with ornaments or dishes received as gifts or handpicked as treasures.  She loved every item in her house, as she had learned to appreciate every little luxery growing up, and especially treasuring people she loved and memories.  I do believe there is still a 3 foot tall giraffe I made from a coloring book that I had to tape all the pages together to made...she had it professionally framed and mounted by the door.

Saying goodbye is never easy.  But looking back I see a woman who was strong, positive, confident, and absolute in her faith....all of which made her happy and content.  A long life, well lived, well loved.  I hope she is riding her horse in heaven today, with a big red Irish setter named Shawn and a little white dog named Skeeter running in tow, and a little dog named Tiny probably riding on the saddle.