Sunday, May 15, 2016

Unexpected

But then, I suppose, a fire is never something you plan for. While it's certainly nowhere near the scale of the Fort McMurray experience, this was more than enough to remind the many members of our community who'd gathered quietly, watching that yes, it can happen here -- or anywhere.

I took the photo about an hour ago, close to twelve hours after the fire was first noticed. It's hard to think that it still continues. I can only hope it will be under control and out soon -- and in time to salvage at least part of this apartment building. The one behind it, under construction, is gone.

Difficult to know what to say or think, beyond yet again being grateful for all being well here at our house.

Thursday, May 12, 2016

What a wa$te!

As if the recent phone scam with fraudsters claiming to represent the Canada Revenue Agency (CRA) hasn't been enough of a bother, I need to now add a new annoyance -- one that was actually sent out by CRA, though apparently in error.

To go back to the beginning of these woes, I (along with many other Canadian) received a series of quite nasty, threatening calls, telling me that there had been a problem with my recent tax return and that I'd better pay up -- pronto -- or get a lawyer to make contact on my behalf. Since the caller actually left a number for me to call, it seemed easy to report this as a nuisance call, one that no doubt was part of a fraud scheme.

When I reported the call to the police, I was somewhat surprised that I was immediately transferred to a staff member dedicated to this particular problem, as I hadn't known then how widespread this was. He took down the details, and when I offered that my caller had identified himself as "Officer Riley Smith" he chuckled a bit, stating that "Ryan Smith" was another of the pseudonyms used, suggesting they must be working their way through the R-names. He told me I could also report it to my phone provider to see if they might be able to help. Ha.

The phone company's solutions at first seemed reasonable: block the caller's number. Yet when I tried this, the message came back that I couldn't. Because this seemed weird, I contacted a service agent for help, as I figured I'd probably hit the wrong 'pound key' or 'star' combination in my efforts to block the number. But no, that wasn't the problem.

It turns out that even the phone company can't block this particular number from calling me again. The rep explained that their software isn't capable of dealing with the matter of blocking that caller. In other words, the fraudster's software is 'smarter' than the phone company's. Confidence-inspiring, isn't it.

But back to the 'legit' message from CRA, which arrived in yesterday's mail. This was a notice stating that I hadn't yet paid my income tax assessment, and that the amount owing (to be paid by May 25th) was thus-and-such, an amount that had clearly had interest added to my original amount.

When I went to my bank account, sure enough, the money was gone -- and as of the date when I'd paid it, April 29th, a whopping twenty-four hours in advance of the April 30th deadline.

Yet the delinquent payment notice I'd received from CRA was dated May 5th, six days after I had followed their recommendation and paid online.

So, I picked up the phone and called (luckily, they at least provide a 1-800 number), only to be told that my balance was zero, and that yes, their records show I paid in full on the 29th of April and all is well. Then, I asked, "What happened? Why did I get this notice?"

The poor guy replied that he couldn't even tell me how many of these notices had gone out -- and all in error -- and that he and his colleagues were just about crazy from trying to explain to people that it was a mistake, that they didn't owe anything and that all was well.

But really, I thought, all isn't well. The postage alone cost nearly a dollar (to say nothing of the paper, processing, etc.).

What I'd like to know now, in strictly, dollar-terms -- not even in counting the hours of phone calls the agents had to waste their time dealing with -- just how much tax-payer money was wasted by Canada Revenue this week?

And why is that I suspect that this, like the unblockable numbers the fraudsters can devise, is a problem where the 'blame' goes to the software and to the machine -- the machines we humans have supposedly been in charge of, the software programs we have written.

Yet, when the software is making such expensive and troublesome errors, isn't it perhaps time to take back some of the powers we've granted the machines -- or at least try, while perhaps we still can.


Friday, May 06, 2016

Fearsome contrasts

This is the beautiful rhododendron that grows in our front yard. If it looks a little fuzzy, that's because I took the photo last night at dusk when the light was beginning to fade. Still, I loved the glow that the blossoms seemed to emit.

In the twenty years we've lived here, these flowers have always opened for Mother's Day. The only year that proved to be an exception was last year, when just about everything seemed to be a bit late. As if to compensate, everything in this year's garden has been early.

Considering all that's been on the news this week -- the conflagration in Fort McMurray -- this bush with its glorious blossoms seems like a full-blown miracle. Here, the world comes in colours -- lush greens and vibrant flowers. There, it's become a world of ash -- stark tones of black and white, the aftermath of hell.

But back to those rhodos. Being the lazy gardener that I am, my slogan is pretty much, "If it comes up on its own, I am happy." Thus, my satisfaction at daffodils and tulips, those stalwarts whose bulbs do all the work in early spring. And now, the lupins and daisies are opening, with the lilies sure to follow them in turn.

If I can be called the lazy gardener, my friend Jane would be my polar opposite. She knew more than anyone I've ever met about flower gardening. Vagaries of weather, soil conditions, what to grow in shade or sun, rain or drought -- she knew it all. Today marks the day that she arrived on the planet and should have been a day when she would be here to glory in the blossoms of the season. Yet again, a candle is alight on my kitchen counter, though my greatest remembrances of her today are outdoors in the midst of all that life and colour. In addition, I am doing something I'm sure she'd approve: making a donation to the Red Cross and its relief fund to help the residents of Fort McMurray



Wednesday, April 27, 2016

__reakfast


That's kind of a weird word, I agree. But when I was eating my breakfast this morning, I started to think about what parts of it might not be there if it weren't for the bees -- in today's case, the 'bee' in breakfast.

The berries probably wouldn't have been there -- at least not in the proliferation I am spoiled by -- unless perhaps I had taken lessons from the Chinese who now hire people to act as pollinators in many of their orchards. I suppose peacock feathers could be useful for such a task.

And most certainly, the honey I used as sweetener wouldn't be there. The same is clearly true for the sprinkling of bee pollen I like to take in the morning.

But then I thought, wait a minute. What about my cereal? Ingredients on the box are simple enough: Wheat. Period.

Are bees required in the fertilization of wheat? As it turns out, this is one of the grasses that doesn't require bees, as wheat is one of the grasses that's wind-pollinated. Apparently, if you try growing it indoors (sounds ambitious and requiring a fairly huge home), you need to rustle it around now and then to accomplish this.

So then I considered the milk I'd poured on the cereal. If wheat doesn't require bees, do those other grasses consumed by cows need them? Again, if those cows are content with a diet of straight-up grass, I guess so. But if they rely on alfalfa or flax or several varieties of clover, they'd be out of luck without the bees.

After I ate, I went outside to say hello my berry canes -- not just the raspberry ones, even the less civilized-looking blackberries, which at the best of times, can only be called vines.

They've begun budding, so I'm keeping my eyes open, looking to their being visited (not by just the ladybugs, who were busy out there today), but by some hard-working bees.


Wednesday, April 20, 2016

A day for many celebrations

These flowers arrived yesterday, from an as-yet-undetermined person whom I can only think of as a 'secret pal' for now. Still, they look great on the table as I go forward in this day for so many celebrations.

The first, already starting to happen, is the annual observance of 4/20. This year Vancouver will see two such celebrations. One, the 'official' one at the always-beautiful Sunset Beach. The other, traditional but not sanctioned this year, outside the Vancouver Art Gallery.

It seems most appropriate (and yet another cause for celebration) that our Health Minister, Jane Philpott, spoke to the United Nations today, offering Canada's plans to legalize marijuana with legislation to be presented in spring of 2017. And yes, Philpott is her real name, as is Jane. And who knows, maybe her actual first name is Mary? Joking aside, the sound-bite they pulled for the news was powerful -- a promise that the law would keep "...marijuana out of the hands of children..." and even more importantly, "and profits out of the hands out criminals." Exactly. To which I can only say 'about time' and yes, time to rejoice.

A celebration that's going on locally tonight is the Finale event for the Double Exposure photography exhibit, a show that's been on all month. To complement the exhibition, there's been a poetry 'challenge' -- one where poets took inspiration from an image in the show and wrote something based on it. Winners will be announced tonight, with presentations (and a reading) by Surrey's Poet Laureate, Renee Sarojini Saklikar. This, a National Poetry Month event, is her first official event down here in Surrey's south end, so I am very much looking forward to it.

Not to be forgotten is my dear little Honda Fit, who got her first car wash for the spring. She was soooo covered in pollen (and likely will be again by later this afternoon), parts of her were starting to turn green. While this may have been just in time for Earth Day, green is not a particularly good colour for a car to wear, unless that's the colour of its original paint -- and in my car's case, that's a not. Happy car, one that's at least for now, shiny.

Friday, April 08, 2016

Happy Buddha day!

Today is one of the dates observed as the birthday of Siddhartha Gautama whom we now know as the Buddha, or the 'Awakened One'.

What I have always understood about Buddhism is that it seems based in compassion. That's clearly not all there is to it, but that's the part I try to be mindful of, as a guide on my own crooked path.

Followers in Japan celebrate his birth today, while those in other countries observe it on other dates, depending for the most part on which calendar they follow.

With the bluebells in bloom, this looks like a very good day to celebrate -- and really, I think this Buddha looks pretty darn happy. His messages were ones that, if people actually followed them, everyone on the planet would likely be happy too.

For starters, a small (paraphrased) birthday gift from the Buddha for today: "a generous heart and kind speech will go a long way towards making the world a better place."

Namaste.


Friday, April 01, 2016

Time to celebrate!

Today is the first day of National Poetry Month. And as far as I'm concerned, that's reason to celebrate. It isn't all that often that people sit up and pay attention to poetry, so having it get its very own month seems special.

There's plenty going on in our area, with a few highlights posted in the events on the right. If you check the League of Canadian Poets' website, you'll find lists of events taking place all across the country. Since nearly all of them are free, who knows, you might find it worthwhile to stop in at one or two in your area.

It's also National Poetry Month for our neighbours to the South. Lots going on there too, as click on their posting reveals -- plenty of links to books, poems, and readings.

Poetry contests abound -- the 2-Day Poem Contest, which is for everyone -- to the Double Exposure Poetry Challenge for poets who live in and around Surrey and White Rock. The reason for this local focus isn't about being exclusive. It's just that poems need to be inspired by a photograph in the current exhibit at the nearby Turnbull Gallery.

And if you'd like to join in the celebration without having to go anywhere at all, click here to find yourself at a site where you'll find new poems every day of the month.