Friday, May 27, 2016

Too many books?

This was the scene at the Vancouver Public Library's Book Sale. Because I was already downtown, I dared to stop in -- but only to take a snapshot of the scene.

Considering the number of books that share space in this house, I knew I didn't dare go down the stairs, as surely I would have found a few more 'treasures' for my already-overcrowded shelves.

Because I was pretty sure there's some famous quote about not being able to have 'too many books', I googled the phrase. Sure enough, I came up with too many answers.

The most authoritative -- or at least earliest -- seems to be from Rudyard Kipling. But his adds more than books to the list, claiming both red wine and ammunition as must-have items. I can only hope he didn't mean an excess of those two in combination.

The most famous one, and likely the most hideous, is one I'd expected to be attributed to Dorothy Parker. But apparently, it's from someone named Carter Burden who -- as might be expected -- is a Vanderbilt descendant. Easy for her to say, that one can never be too rich, too thin or have too many books. Further searching led to Wallis, Duchess of Windsor, who's credited with the first two elements in that particular maxim -- the books seem to have been an add-on from Burden.

And then there's the one from Drew Barrymore, claiming one can never have too many books. I can only conclude she has a much bigger house than ours. And probably someone who dusts them now and then.

Probably the closest to my own sentiment is the homely little phrase from one of my all-time heroes, Frank Zappa : "So many books, so little time."

Monday, May 23, 2016

Back to the mountain again?

Last week's announcement about twinning of the Kinder Morgan pipeline through Burnaby seems to contradict almost all the election promises I thought I heard Justin Trudeau make. Is the National Energy Board still operating as if the previous government is in power? Or did I miss something?

The photo above was taken in November, 2014, during the protests on Burnaby Mountain.

Maybe it's time to go back up to the mountain and make our presence known again...

The mountain where my children named the seasons by their berries:salmonberries huckleberries, blackberries, salal. When to gather, which to eat, which to leavebehind, nourishing mercies for their brethren. 

Sunday, May 15, 2016


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