Sunday, November 12, 2017

Your Dream Haven


Most of us are appalled by shows like Hoarders.   People pile up household items, even useless things, until they can barely move in their home.   Mice and other undesirables move in.    Some people even spend money purchasing more stuff they don't need to further wall themselves into their homes.

We now know that psychological issues are at the root of hoarding.   All the detritus forms a shield against grief, depression, bad feelings, unhappy memories.   A frozen state of immobility ensues.   Getting rid of anything allows pain to get in.

Clutter is a milder form of hoarding and brings its own set of negative feelings.   We can feel uneasy, even stressed,  looking around at multitude of unfinished projects, things we own.    Large, almost empty spaces, by contrast, are more restful.   There are fewer things to focus on and what's there seems more important.   Think of art galleries and museums.    They are restful, calming places.  No doubt the gallery or museum has a place where supplies, stationery, staff lunches, restoration and display tools reside but it is out of sight.

A toaster may be used once a day, or not even that yet often it sits on a kitchen counter, removing space that could be empty.   The same can be said of the blender that makes smoothies from time to time or the pan that sautés.  Do you need to look at them every time you glance at the kitchen?   You might have noticed that homes that are staged for an Open House are remarkably uncluttered.

Try an experiment.   Clear every surface in a designated room, placing everything in an out of sight box.   Nothing on counters, tables or shelves.    Now place one decorative item that has some significance to you on one table.      A vase you purchased in that little village in Greece on that long ago vacation. Place a piece of greenery from your garden on it.    Maybe one more item or several books on a shelf.   That's it.

Sit back and feel the calm envelop you.  Go out for a few hours and then come back.   It's pleasant now, isn't it, to not feel stressed at the mess of undone tasks.   Your home is truly a haven.

Sunday, November 5, 2017



For those people who haven't heard the expression 'sandwich generation' before here is a definition:

The Sandwich Generation is a generation of people (usually in their 30s or 40s) who care for their aging parents while supporting their own children.

This term was only added to the Merriam Webster dictionary in 2006.   Why?   I am going to hypothesize it is because this life situation occurred infrequently a generation ago.   Children were anxious to leave the family home.   I know I was, moving out at age twenty.   (But I married at twenty-one, so it wasn't a long independent sojourn;  something like six months). It wasn't that I wasn't happy at home;  my parents almost doted on me.   But the siren call of independence and freedom was keenly felt.   And the deciding factor?   It was financially affordable.   Housing was inexpensive and good paying jobs were plentiful.   Today, there is a large wage gap, present in many large cities, wherein housing prices have quintupled and salaries maybe doubled.   That gap is part of what keeps young people at home.

Living at home makes life much easier financially, particularly if parents charge little or nothing for room and board.   Entertainment, tech devices, continuing education all become manageable.   Homes are much larger nowadays for many families.  From the small 1200 square foot rancher of the past, often with only one bathroom, today's homes have four or more bedrooms.   Many of these are ensuite or in separate wings.   Having children at home is not a one sided equation either.   If there is a good relationship, young adults at home can help with household chores, look after pets when parents vacation, and be company for a single parent or also a couple.   They provide a level of home security for parents who travel to warmer climes in the winter.    Sounds like a win-win, doesn't it?   

It does tend to lead to prolonged continuing education and student loan debt as the stimulating student life can be enjoyable for some, more enjoyable that the sometimes harsh work world.     Some of the economic doldrums in society today have been attributed to millenials  late family formation habit.   They stay single and don't buy the starter home that enables the next level of home owner to move up.   They don't purchase the accoutrements of house set-up--appliances and furniture--and they don't buy baby gear.   Those $1000 plus iPhones take the place of more mundane products.  Sometimes (I think it's something like forty percent) the young people divorce and come home for the short term or longer term, sometimes with children in tow.

But the other  piece of bread, to continue with the sandwich analogy, may not be enjoying life quite so much.   Older parents may need to downsize, except there are no grateful grandchild recipients  for cherished heirlooms.   Parents may still be helping out the son or daughter financially at a time when grandparents have left the workforce.   Their income is in a decline.   In some countries, like the United States, healthcare costs may seriously impede lifestyle.   Health issues arise in one or both grandparents and they just aren't able to cope as well independently.   A period of contraction, from family home to condo to some sort of supported care situation ensues over the years.   One or more family members, often daughters, become unpaid caregivers, grocery shoppers, doctor visit drivers, and tech adviser to aging parents.    The support is often also financial.

There are solutions but some of the choices are difficult.   Set boundaries for financial support both in dollars and length of time.   Easier said than done.   Elderly parent care is more manageable if they live with you.   Cue the mother-in-law comments.   All the family dynamics become more intense when everyone lives in the same home, even if it is larger now.   National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation humorously demonstrated the issues with relatives who only visited for a short time.   Imagine if they all moved in permanently.  

Sunday, October 29, 2017

Can You Afford to Retire?

This article, The New Reality of Old Age in America, in The Washington Post sets out a gloomy future for upcoming would-be retirees.   The take-away message?  Retirement will not be the anticipated golden years, a just reward for years of hard work and sacrifice.    Instead, many, if not the majority will live out the remainder of their years in penny pinching frugality interspersed with low wage jobs, all in aid of balancing the domestic budget.

(I must confess that when I read that, my first thought was, if that's the case, why save and sacrifice when you are young if it gets you nowhere.   Enjoy your youth, spend your money on the proverbial wine, women (men) and song and at least you'll have your memories.)  

Upcoming retirees may hope and desire anticipated post-retirement travel and leisure activities like golf and theatre.  These may be few and far between and largely consist of visits to stay with children and grandchildren.   You travel  the country in your camper on a convoluted route seeking out temporary jobs maintaining campgrounds, boxing up packages for Amazon during the holiday season, and running cruise ship excursions to and from lobster feasts in Maine.

For 33% of American, the article states, Social Security is their only source of income.  They raised a family, the husband was always in work or had a business and the wife often worked part-time.   Somehow there was never enough spare money to save for retirement.   It's hard to know if they could have done better.   Health issues in the United States seem to be a large factor in financial health and the insurance is a large bill every month.

Sometimes, saving a little just seems to put you in a higher tax bracket.  You're not 'poor' enough to qualify for various benefits, but you're certainly not rich enough to live with any kind of extravagance.

Sunday, October 22, 2017

Employment Bait and Switch

Barbara Ehrenreich is a well known award winning author, journalist, political activist and self-described myth buster.   Check out her biography here.   Her book Bait and Switch seeks to complement her prior book, Nickel and Dimed in which she went undercover as an employee in low wage occupations.  In Bait and Switch Ehrenreich's goal was to enter the middle management job market and discover the intrigue, unfairness and misery.

Traditionally, white collar employees are college educated. One woman described in thus:  They believe they have done all the right things in life--generally described as not getting pregnant, not being a drug user and having a college education and a corporate wardrobe.   The enormous student loan debt should entitle them to a reasonably well paying position.

Ms. Ehrenreich creates a new past using her maiden name and launches herself into the employment seeking masses looking for an executive position that utilizes her skills.   Something in public relations, she thinks.     She hires a resume coach, full of enthusiasm.

The emergence of a 'support' industry supposedly to assist job seekers reminds me of the emergence of  sectors tailored to help the author in their reach for fame, fortune and massive sales.   There are the copy editors, the line editors, the cover artists, the marketing gurus, audio and video producers and book fair organizers.

Job coaching and employment-finding bootcamps are not inexpensive but most comes down to victim blaming and ad hoc advice blending various pop psychology insights.   By Page 150 Ehrenreich still hasn't found a position and her plan to write an exposé of the white collar executive world seems doomed to wither away.

Next, she undergoes a fashion and make-up analysis.   Her appearance is determined to be unacceptable but a sliver of hope is proffered, provided she invests various beauty products.  After many months and application to over two hundred advertised and posted positions Ehrenreich is experiencing what is reality for many.  No one wants her.   The soft job skills at which she excels do not require licensing or certification which might exclude some job seekers.   Anyone can claim to be an  Event Organizer or Public Relations Representative.   

It is not a question of being rejected.  Mostly there is no response at all, just soul sucking silence.  Near the end of the book, she is offered a commission sales job selling health insurance.   The position provides her with no office, no benefits, no salary  and requires her to purchase a laptop,  use her 'home' office and take a course to be licensed (which requires purchasing several expensive textbooks).   All at her own expense. 

After six months and $6000 expense Erlenreich is forced to concede defeat.   But meanwhile, she still has a book to complete.   She interviews some fellow job seekers that she has met.   There are sad stories of abandoned hopes, leading to minimum wage jobs or temporary positions designed to keep financial insolvency at bay.    It's a scary world out there for those entering or re-entering the job market.

Sunday, October 15, 2017

Chained to your Cell Phone


Do you know someone, maybe quite a few someones, that always seem to have their cell phones close at hand?   Like a Wild West gun slinger, it perches at their hip, in their pocket or even as far away as a purse.  Always accessible, the owner is vigilant for a chirp or whistle, musical notes or a vibration that signals that someone, somewhere has thought of them.    

I've been at meetings where the cell phone is placed on the conference table; face down apparently is deemed more courteous.   During a lull in the discussion or if everyone's gaze is fixed on a flow chart on the wall, the cell phone is surreptitiously flipped over, scanned and entries are thumbed through.  The phone may then be dropped into the lap for some discreet texting.

Many jurisdictions have passed laws against texting and driving or talking on your cell phone while driving.   I'm not sure having a blue tooth phone in your ear helps with the distraction factor because the person you are talking to doesn't realize why you are pausing in your dialogue.   I have been engaged in interesting conversations while driving with the person in the passenger seat but when I pause, it is apparent that I am trying to make a left turn in a busy intersection or that something else on the road needs my total attention.   I can easily say, 'just a sec,' without feeling I need to explain.   This just isn't the same when your conversational partner is absent.

Some people feel the need to always have their cell phone within arm's reach.  They lay it on the bedside table at night and beside them when eating dinner.   If it is silent for too long, it seems necessary to check if something has been missed or isn't working.   This article in   U.S.A. Today informs us how many times a day people check and/or use their cell phone.   Guess.    Apple advises that their cell phone users unlock them eighty times a day.

But why?   The article states that frequent phone users, addicted phone users, get a little thrill, a little hit of dopamine, the happy brain hormone, every time their phone gives a little beep or shake.   And like any addiction it's not a positive thing.     No one would call it as harmful as cocaine or heroin.   It's a little closer to what propels a slot machine user to keep pushing the button when their wiser self knows they should stop.

It is probably also difficult for employees, some of whom are expected to be on call 24/7.  You used to have the excuse that you were on the road or visiting friends but no more.    Cell phone companies have no difficulties in increasing rates monthly and the cost of the cell phones themselves seems beyond what is reasonable.   It seems for many people it is one of life's necessities.  Maybe if it still looked like this:

or even this:

things would be different.

Sunday, October 8, 2017

Negativity, drama or real life?

Upon a recommendation I started watching a British police program, Line of Duty.    There have been a lot of cop shows over the years.  Dragnet  and  Barney Miller were surely well wide of the mark in terms of realism although many found them entertaining.     I can only hope the recent addition is unrealistic as well, although in a different way.    The characters were deceptive, even corrupt and generally unpleasant people, and those weren't the criminals.

The opening scene had a British version of a SWAT team of at least a dozen heavily armed officers storm an apartment and shoot and kill  the man inside who was holding a baby while his wife looked on in horror.    It wasn't long before it was discovered that apartment 56, the target location,  was a few doors down.   The apartment they had entered was Number 59, but the second digit on the door was missing a nail and had swung down, therefore appearing to be a 6.

This was all bad enough  but before the van containing the police team had left the scene the officer in charge gave them all the version of events that they were to swear to at the upcoming inquest.   As long as they all stuck to that they would be exonerated.   They would swear under oath that the father was holding an incendiary device, not his baby, and threatened them with it.   It was rationalized that since apartment inhabitants were illegal immigrants there would be no one to say otherwise and the wife wouldn't be believed.

The plot line continued on with more examples of infidelity, deception, and just plain nastiness.  At some point I started to feel that my mood, my perception of the world, my hope for the future,  a good night's sleep  . . . would not be improved by continuing to view this program.     Also, I can't bring myself to believe that modern police forces operate this way and are populated by people like the characters in the show.   Maybe I'm naive but since there is nothing I can do about it, or most of the major world events, perhaps my state of mind would be improved by avoidance.    Maybe the Think globally, Act locally  mantra should be amended.   Just do your best in your own world and act with thoughtfulness and kindness not to mention foresight.   

Sunday, September 24, 2017

Are Studies Preferable to Action?


If you follow a particular issue that has meaning to you, do you get the feeling that a never-ending stream of studies is the preferred route of action?   Yet another report by university researcher, Nigel Raine, on the risk of extinction of bees is once again putting the blame on the pesticide class known as neonicotinoids.    One unfortunate result is that Bumblebee queens are 26% less likely to lay eggs.  

We need bees.   They do not exist to sting you but as this article in the National Post points out:

Bees are crucial to agriculture. Published reports suggest about a third of the crops eaten by humans depend on insect pollination, with bees responsible for about 80 per cent of that figure.

How many studies are necessary for the tipping point to ensure and actual action is taken?    Those who have other concerns and causes of interest, likely find similar patterns.  Why? 

BBC News

No blog post next week;   I'll be on vacation.

Sunday, September 17, 2017

Lives of the Rich and Famous


Many of us might admit to a vicarious fascination with the lives of the rich and famous.   Television programs have focussed on this, whether real or fantasy lives.  This article in the National Post by Brandon Presser makes interesting reading.    Are the filthy rich really so different from you or I?   I recently watched The Butler which gave some insight although it's mainly about the era and the racism.

Butlers are not just present in Downton Abby and The White House.    They live and apparently exist to serve you at the Plaza Hotel in New York.  Some requests are mundane:   more ice is frequent.  But, relax,  millionaires and billionaires have some quirks.    Have you ever thought of bathing surrounding by oysters on the shell, sharing the water with you?   The potential pleasure in this ritual has never occurred to me.

Some butlers are asked to perform bizarre tasks.   Unusual food items are  requested:  tarantulas?    A butler must be able to be ever present but rarely seen and certainly not observant of anything that should be private.    If by chance something titillating is viewed, it must never be mentioned or discussed with anyone.   Discretion is all.

When you have everything money can buy, it must be difficult to come up with new desires.

Sunday, September 10, 2017

What's Cooking?


I've been reading several books by Michael Pollan and watching some Youtube videos made from his speaking appearances, for example, here, where he discusses how cooking can change your life.  You may have heard of his brief list of food rules:   Eat food ; mostly plants, not too much.   In the video he postulates that the key determinant of the health of an individual is if a person, not a corporation, cooks their meals.   A brave statement, for sure.   I don't recall nutrition being written and talked about so much in previous decades.   When I was setting up my household, collecting recipes and trying to learn to cook, nutrition took a definite back seat to taste.  I remember my mother-in-law giving me a favourite recipe of hers:   a chicken casserole that included both a cup of mayonnaise and a cup of sour cream.   I'm certain it was delicious at the time.

Both the United States and Canada have long had food guides.   These are recent iterations.   It seems important to remember that food industry and agricultural  lobbyists  promote a particular perspective.    The American version comes from the U.S. Department of Agriculture. 

  The Canadian government's recommended plate looks very similar with perhaps a slightly smaller portion of  what is termed meat and alternatives and the inclusion of a glass of water.   The other beverage is called milk and alternatives.  The fruits and vegetables (green) are combined  and there is a drop of oil representing fats and oils.


There proliferation of books and videos and even Netflix movies on the topic of our food supply and nutrition habits recommending a change of habits considerably different from either country's recommendations.  Paleo, Low Carb, Intermittent Fasting . . . Once you go down that rabbit hole, you are more likely to start cooking.   That's probably a good thing.

Sunday, September 3, 2017



It seems that quite a few people do not love their work and not just because they are shovelling manure all day, literally or figuratively.   It doesn't help that an onerous commute is required at both ends of the working day for many.   But other factors contribute.   Do you need to be on call all/most times by means of your cell phone or e-mail?   Those things didn't exist twenty-five years ago.   Your weekend was your own. Salaried employees may work long hours without additional renumeration. Two people are laid off and their work is added to yours, often without additional compensation.

Wages/pay rates have been almost stagnant for twenty-five years or more. Many people are earning less, taking into account mandatory deductions from their wages.   Discretionary income has declined and many carry credit card balances which require at least minimum payments.    It's hard to feel motivated to go to work when it is a struggle to pay bills, never mind have a few treats.

Are lay-offs are regular part of your work life?   Some trades seem to have seasonal/unexpected lay-offs on a regular basis.  These can play havoc with your personal life and finances.   Do you work irregular hours or shift work?   Your circadian rhythms have a difficult time with this way of life.   Are you on what is called zero time hours?  This type of work contract does not guarantee you any hours of work at all.   Your employment is at the pleasure of your employer and living life on this kind of knife edge does not make you love your job.

Some aspire to Early Retirement.    This blogger makes it look relatively easy.   His current interviewee became wealthy in two years as an early AirBnb hostess.  Most of us find out about get rich quick schemes long after the early adopters have retired.    There's a whole community out there looking to save twenty-five times their annual frugalized expenses which are then invested  securely.  They are able to safely withdraw four percent a year and live on that pursuing sports, hobbies, travel or generally enjoying life.   Sounds tempting, doesn't it?

Life as  a cubicle worker can make you long for escape. Do you feel like a pencil pusher, or more likely, a keyboarder?   Years ago it was thought that modernization and automation would shorten the work day to four hours.   What happened?  Oliver Burkeman in The Guardian has some thoughts on the topic.

There must be a reason that no one on their death bed wishes they'd spent more time at work.

Sunday, August 27, 2017

Being a Celebrity Probably Isn't so Great


There's been a lot written lately, or rather re-written, about Princess Diana and her untimely demise.   In case we had forgotten what happened, the twenty year anniversary of this event is upcoming at the end of the month and it seems to have been decided, probably by the press,  that it is time for a re-visit.   Often in the case of such an unexpected and public death initial press reactions offer some discretion.   The grief is too new, there must some some semblance of respect.

After twenty years the gloves come off.   Old theories and reports are dusted off and new ones are considered.  Anyone who had the remotest connection gets a chance to have their moment of fame or at least a line in the British tabloid newspapers.    At the very least, a tragic event like this serves to prod change.   In the same way that a traffic death at a vehicle intersection leads to the installation of a traffic light or stop sign, the information and details that came out about Diana's life as a member of the Royal family have led to change for the next generation.

It must still be difficult to be someone famous, whether Royal or Hollywood A list star.   Photographers clamour to take your picture and you have to be on guard against scratching your nose or yanking on your underwear in public.   The Duchess of Cambridge must always have a smile ready and never look bored.   You can keep track of her commitments here.  Then there are the blogs and articles that observe and report on the clothes, the children, the activities, the jewellery . . .   You would need to get used to always being watched and on display.

Are there still many young women who dream of being princesses?

Sunday, August 20, 2017


Do you expect special treatment when you travel to foreign countries? Admit it now, it is a little frustrating when the direction and location signs are in a language you are not familiar with or, even worse, in an alphabet that is not the one you know.  

Tourism is the number one industry in the world. Do you feel a little self-satisfied to be contributing to other countries' economies?   London may not need your piddly contribution but other places in the world are very reliant on tourism for jobs and foreign currency.    It is natural to want to feel welcomed, perhaps even a little appreciated.    After all, you have emptied your savings accounts to be here, not to mention endured a lengthy and gruelling flight.  It seems unfortunate that some admission prices are outrageous, not to mention the queues:

The Louvre, Paris

Suzanne Moore writes in the Guardian here that not only do some locations not love and embrace tourists, they downright dislike them, including you and me.    But it must be other people who litter, engage in raucous yelling late at night, and generally behave badly.  Besides, they're just having a little fun; isn't that what vacations are for?   Probably they are only embarrassing themselves and will think better of the photographs when they get home and delete them from the Instagram account without delay.

In the months of July and August especially, traffic can become impossible and tourists driving rental cars down unfamiliar streets might cause frustration and annoyance without intending to.   Rental housing disappears, lost to vacation by-the-night accommodation that nets the landlord considerably more by way of profits.     Parisians have long had the custom of taking their vacation in the month of August, the better to leave the city to visitors.   

Stonehenge had to resort to putting a wooden boardwalk some distance from the ancient stones.   Some tourists wanted to take a piece of history away with them or at least leave their mark.   Some places are considering limiting tourists.  Are any of these on your bucket list?

Altogether, I am pleased I visited many places in Europe twenty-five years ago.   Perhaps I beat the crowds.   

Sunday, August 13, 2017

Don't Take it for Granted!

CTV News

It is easy to take for granted some of the most precious aspects of life.  We would only survive three minutes without air, three days without water and thirty days without food.   More or less.    Even if these commodities are available, we have come to expect a certain quality.   The air should be fresh and unpolluted, the water potable and cold.   As far as food is concerned we expect the government to monitor the safety of anything that is allowed to enter our borders or served to us in restaurants.   We are responsible for our own cooking skills when we eat at home.  To paraphrase Judge Oliver Wendell Holmes, taxes are the price we pay for a civilized society.   He probably inferred that this society would include the basics listed above.

British Columbia has had a surfeit of forest fires this summer, something that is becoming alarmingly regular.     The seriously reduced air quality, even in areas far removed from the fires, is a reminder of the winds that swirl around our planet on a regular basis.    Some people have difficulty breathing, others find the air stale and smelly, views are substantially diminished and tourists are disappointed.  But nothing can be done.   We are not as omnipotent as we like to think.   Advice is given to stay indoors and avoid exertion.

A hazy skyline is not a natural disaster, but it serves as a reminder to be patient, to be prepared, and to be appreciative when eventually normality returns.   We can spare a thought for those evacuated or made homeless and bear our lesser complaints with good grace.   It wouldn't hurt to treat the planet better then has been our wont in the past hundred years or so.   Gaia may be getting annoyed.

Sunday, August 6, 2017

Hanging on financially


I was interested to read  The Secret Shame of Middle Class Americans in The Atlantic about the prevalence of people who would have great difficulty in finding $400 for an emergency.  Who could live like that?    Emergencies come around regularly, if by that is meant a car repair, painful dental problems or your hot water tank expiring.     Forty-seven percent of Americans surveyed by the Federal Reserve would have to borrow or sell something to find the money.  

The subject. Mr. Neal Gabler,  chose his profession, writing, for love not money.   He's published five books, hundreds of articles and television scripts.   He's won awards and describes a respectable reputation.   Unfortunately, writing has never been a well paying career except for an exalted few.   In addition, as a self-employed person he must engage in the annoying and time-consuming task of chasing payments.   Anyone who works for themselves will know what this is like.   The work has been delivered but a finely tuned dance must be commenced to pry payment loose without offending the payor and cutting off a future supply of work.   

There was good money at times.  Neal Gabler describes years of a solid middle class and even upper middle class income.   I suspect the more prosperous years were in the past, or at least before the internet was well established, with sites like Fiverr providing writers for amounts that would just about buy latte at Starbucks.   When you have to borrow money from your adult children to pay for heat in the winter, there's a particular kind of shame attached.

It may be that Mr. Gabler did not manage his money as well as he might have.   Saving in the years of plenty for the years of want.   Creative types of people don't seem to manage their finances well as a multitude of rock stars who end up destitute have described.  You can meet Mr. Gabler on Youtube here.

Some Americans end up in financial straits because of medical bills.   The Canadian health care system is far from perfect and a middle class person will have to cope with  many expenses considered non-emergency, like glasses or root canals.   But hospital and doctor visits are covered, albeit with payment of a monthly premium of $75 for the middle class individual.

In the past, families managed on one income.   What's changed?   Wages have remained stagnant, good union type jobs with benefits and pensions are a dying breed.   There's so much more to need or at least want.   It's hard to imagine living without a computer and internet connection and many people are attached to their cell phones.  

Gabler is relieved to come out of the shadows and admit his problems.   Sharing doesn't solve his problems but finding out that half the people around him are in the same position offers some solace.

Sunday, July 30, 2017

Both hands take away

If you have somehow forgetten you have money in a bank account and move away, you will be relieved to know that your money does not go into the bank coffee fund.   There's a process set up to attempt contact but eventually the governing body for banks, The Bank of Canada here in Canada, receives the funds.   Here are some details.   You can check on-line if yu have been remiss in keeping track of all your funds.

A news story on the topic prompted me to check and lo and behold it appeared somehow in our youth $40 had been left behind.   The on-line form is reasonably quick and easy to fill out but then you wait.   Remember, the government only works quickly and ruthlessly when you owe them.   Long since forgotten as a momentary impulse, a couple of months later the Bank of Canada letter appears in the mail.   We may have been hoping for a cheque but, no.

There's a four page form, densely written, to read and blank lines to fill out.  The Bank of Canada had helpfully filled in the line indicating one balance of $40 was being claimed.  But although the government tax department is happy to receive a large cheque from me paying my income tax bill and even credit card payment for the medical services premiums of $150 monthly, this $40 return of my own money requires a statutory declaration before a Notary or Commissioner for taking Oaths.   The cost of a lawyer or notary visit would eat up most if not all of said $40.   Then there is the request for an account passbook/cheque book/statement that matches the account number.   Would it be facile to suggest that were I in possession of this I would be aware of the money and would have made arrangements to have it sent to me long ago.

At this point I was relieved to discover that the offending bank account resided in Ontario where we have never lived and apparently belonged to someone with the same name.   We forget that such people exist, no matter how special and unique we think our name is.

Let him work for the forty dollars.

Wednesday, July 26, 2017

Walking Computer Chips

In A New Premise, written a few years ago now, I describe a future where all residents have a small computer chip, called a grain, implanted.   The device has various purposes, including paying for purchases.   I was interested to read here about a firm that has something similar implanted in their employees.   The stated reason is to gain access to company files, copiers and even snack machines but like I wrote in my book, this would be easily adapted to other purposes.   

I wonder if I can claim royalties of some kind?

Sunday, July 23, 2017



A lot of information, articles and posts available these days seeks to access our outrage.     Presumably once this goal is achieved, the reader's outrage will lead them to take some sort of action such as writing a letter to a politician, sending donations, changing their lifestyle and generally spreading the word.  That is the main goal in generating the indignation or even fury.   It can seem that increasingly disgusting stories are required as time passes.

Even if no direct action is taken, sometimes the forcefully expressed opinions can be intimidating.  We say nothing on the topic in the interests of not disagreeing.   Various 'cards' could be shoved in our face:   we are accused of being racist, sexist, carnivores, or just plain stupid  . . .  who wants to be that?   Saying nothing means only one point of view is presented.

News media is controlled by a few corporations and those that own them have a point of view.   They may have business interests that do better under certain political parties or policies.  There was a former Canadian prime minister whose newspaper photographs always showed him in a poor light:   he was tripping down airplane steps, he stumbled on a curb or his face was somehow contorted in conversation or while eating. It was pointed out by a more independent writer that media sources have hundreds of images to choose from and the ones they pick said more about their editorial slant than about the prime minister. He was shortly thereafter defeated but I've never forgotten that lesson.

Be attune to the photographs used, the language and even the placement of articles.     It is a truism that scandals receive front page coverage, apologizes for errors are on the last page.   Somehow politicians, and news organizations, seem to thrive on doom and gloom . . . and they are just the ones to solve it.

But take heart, despite what you read things are getting much better in the world.

Sunday, July 16, 2017


I read an interesting blog post here by Margaret Powling about her annual tradition of re-reading a book which she first read as a young girl and which had a great impact on her.  In some ways, the books that touch us significantly tell a great deal about ourselves and even as we get older and change, re-reading a treasured novel can provide us a hint of the person we were that we had almost forgotten.

That's a gift.

This practise isn't something I have done myself but it makes we wish I had.   Ms. Powling kept the book, originally filched from the local library, for over 60 years.    You would have to own the book as most library books could not survive sixty years of wear and tear not to mention frequent necessary culls that libraries engage in.

The post is fascinating to read because Ms. Powling eventually met and interviewed the author, the well known Rosamunde Pilcher and she signed the tattered novel which, being of the author's earliest writings was never re-printed.   Having lived in the area where the novel, entitled April, was set made it all the more poignant.

I have enjoyed re-reading books that I have enjoyed in the past.  For example, see here. Sometimes, there is nostalgia and the recall of an age and stage where a genre or plot of a book was particularly meaningful, other times the location is one that I visited or lived in and hearing those familiar names mentioned and framed in the story's setting adds personal involvement.

It is likely better than re-watching an old movie or television show as you come to realize how stilted the acting was or how unrealistic the sets.   I was shocked when I realized that the Ponderosa home on Bonanza was a set with painted backdrops.  We must have been easily distracted by the action.   Although I was recently told that real fires are no longer used in movies and television programs since it can all be added after filming by means of CGI (computer generated imagery)   For safety reasons I will have to let that pass.

Sunday, July 9, 2017

Environmental issues, large and small.

There's an enormous chunk of ice waiting to fall off the Antarctic ice shelf.   It's the size of Prince Edward Island (or Manhattan), 5660 square kilometres.   There are unknown dangers but there are definite consequences when a chunk of ice this is size reaches shallow depths of ocean and scrapes its heft along the ocean floor.  Penguins and their chicks have difficulty traversing around something this large and entire colonies become unviable.    Scientists seem to be uncertain as to long term, less localized consequences but the sheer size adds to the drama.

Then there is the matter of the much smaller honey bee whose appearance is much less dramatic but the importance of this small insect is difficult to overstate.

This article in The Guardian details how despite years of research and warnings we are still setting ourselves up for the catastrophic consequences that would arise from the death of bees.

You can start small and in doing so save yourself a tedious task.   Let dandelions take over your lawn.   This article in The Guardian makes us aware that in addition to bees, beetles and birds benefit.

The BBC is hosting a series The Wonder of Bees  which should be worth watching.