Category Archives: Bitchin’

Faith, Hope and Charity

Apparently this guy REALLY doesn’t want to get some of our work emails. And yet can’t find the unsubscribe button:

Subject: SPAM EMAILS

REMOVE ME FROM YOUR FUCKING SPAM EMAILS! STOP SENDING ME THIS SHIT!

[redacted], LUTCF
[redacted] and Associates
www.[redacted].com
317-[XXX-XXXX]
317-[XXX-XXXX] fax
Faith, Hope and Charity.

Yah, read that last line of his signature again.

I’d love to actually publish this idiot’s name and business info, but I don’t think that would be particularly charitable.

Out the Other Side

An update for those playing along at home.

Reader’s Digest version: Things are much, much better.

The dog’s infection has cleared up with antibiotics and some antiseptic soap treatments, so she’s much happier. She can be left without the cone and should be 100% once the course of drugs are finished.

Neil got the results of his X-Rays back and, as I mentioned in the update to the last entry, he didn’t break any bones. His tooth did die, and the infection from the rotting-away root had gone into his face. It finally ruptured on Friday and the drainage of the pus relieved the pressure so he immediately felt better. A root canal and some antibiotics and he’s on the mend as well.

Happy Bonus: everything was solved in time for him to go to England without incident. He made it there in one piece and even managed to get in a few hours of his cheeky self (rather than the grumpy, surly self I was dealing with all week) before he left.

Not sure what’s going on with my sister-in-law, but she’s at her parents’ place, working on a new plan that doesn’t involve Korea.

And I managed to worry my parents enough with that last post (oops! sorry…) that they called and offered to come over and help get things in order around here. So today we dismantled Christmas, my mom went above and beyond in the cleaning department, and everything is mostly caught up and sorted out.

Clearly the lesson here is: when life hands you lemons, complain on your blog and things will eventually turn out okay.

Oh, so it’s going to be like that, is it.

Well okay then.

It’s been a less than auspicious start to 2010 for the House of Watkii.

I spent the beginning of December nursing Neil with the flu, then spent the last 10 days of 2009 terribly ill myself (too ill to eat more than 1/2 plate of Christmas dinner – tragedy!), finally feeling better on the Jan 1st. And none too soon.

Neil managed to have a close, personal encounter with a tree trunk on his last day skiing, Jan 2nd, and because he was still hurting 5 days later, has gone to various doctors. The verdict so far? He’s knocked the cartilage off his ribs on his left side (nothing to do but take lots of painkillers).

In the same fall he smashed the fuck out of the right side of his face. Thankfully he looks mostly normal on the outside (a bit puffier on that side), but he’s waiting for the X-Rays to come in to find out if he’s broken his upper jaw. Bruised bone or hairline fracture means he just takes lots of ibuprofin and waits for the hurting to stop. Compound fracture means eventual reconstructive surgery to repair the break. In either case he’s probably got an ugly infection in there and killed a couple teeth. The dentist can’t go in to investigate further until the jaw thing is sorted out.

UPDATE: Hooray! Broken face is officially not broken! Lots of pain, lots of pus, no broken bones. *phew*

Oh, and time is of the essence in finding a solution/treatment path, since he leaves for a week in England on Saturday evening.

Among all that, we noticed the evening of the 4th the dog was generally out of sorts and licking herself a lot. We rolled her over to find her delicate ladyparts badly swollen and inflamed. Off to the emergency vet we went. $300 later, we had a cone of shame, a tube of lotion, and a diagnosis of “could be any number of things, see your regular vet ASAP.”

Another couple hundred dollars at the regular vet and we know that she’s got a nasty infection in her undercarriage, requiring twice-daily washing and lotion application, as well as 10 days of antibiotics. She’s mighty uncomfortable. Every time she gets up to walk, she realizes her bits hurt, panics and starts running around (which makes it even worse), then starts crashing into things because of the cone. It would be funny if it weren’t so sad. Needless to say, the dog can’t be left alone.

Thankfully my Sister-in-Law has been around the past couple days sorting out her visa application to return to work in Korea and has been able to watch the dog the couple occasions we haven’t been able to stay home from work or other obligations.

Though her story isn’t exactly rosy either. After 2 weeks of being dismissed, degraded, deferred and dicked-around by the Korean consulate in Vancouver, her visa was denied.

No good reason for it (she’s been working in Korea on visas for the better part of the past 6 years), except a disgruntled consular employee who managed to build a case against her for being “rude and disorganized – and we don’t want rude, disorganized people in Korea.” She’s now gone back to my in-law’s place to sort things out and figure out a new plan.

And me? I’ve been burning it at both ends trying to hold things together for our little family unit. Shuttling Neil and Sasha to and from various medical appointments. Managing schedules so someone is always home with the dog. Hosting a houseguest in our small, messy apartment (we still haven’t had time to unpack or do the holiday laundry with everything else going on).

So while it might otherwise be nice to have the house to myself for a week, what it really means is I get to fly solo on monitoring and managing the dog’s infection, finally take care of the unpacking and wrestle the Christmas decorations and long-since-dead tree into storage/the chipping place. All in addition to the extra hours I was expecting to put in at work through January so things are ready for me to leave for 3 weeks in February.

As I said, not a particularly great start to 2010. And have I mentioned, in a desperate effort to fit into my vacation pants by the time we leave for Thailand, I have declared it to be “sober January”? Strict clean-eating diet, no alcohol. Goodbye usual coping mechanisms.

But that’s fine. It’s only 357 days until 2011. I can make it. I hope.

You Keep Using that Word

… I do not think it means what you think it means!

I’m talking about Sustainability. The latest in a long series of buzzwords that’s been appropriated to make people feel better about their choices – not the first, and certainly not the last. But definitely the one I find most annoying right now.

sus·tain·a·ble (s?-st?’n?-b?l)
adj.
1. Capable of being sustained.
2. Capable of being continued with minimal long-term effect on the environment: sustainable agriculture.
3. To keep up or keep going, as an action or process: to sustain a conversation.

There are dozens of programs out there that claim to operate under the banner of sustainability. The problem comes when you actually look at these programs, and realize their “sustainability” only exists in a vacuum. And the world just doesn’t operate that way.

Two conversations about sustainability I’ve had lately revolve around agriculture and real-estate. One promoting sustainability, one illustrating unsustainability. Both, after scratching the surface, dead wrong.

Sustainable Food Program

I recently heard of an initiative up at my Alma Mater, SFU, as they’re trying to bring “sustainable food” to the hill. In partnership with the Fraser Valley Food Network’s South Fraser Harvest Box program, SFU Local Food is bringing Harvest Boxes up the mountain once a month for students to purchase. Local food, from local farms, for locals to eat. Hooray for supporting sustainable agriculture!

Except, this program is subsidized by the United Way and the Fraser Health Authority.

Suddenly, it doesn’t look so sustainable.

If this program requires funding from the aforementioned organizations to survive, then what’s sustainable about it? The program promises to give farmers a fair wage while bringing affordable food to residents at SFU. If there needs to be fund raising intervention in the middle of the process, it means either the farmers can’t afford to farm & distribute on what people are able to pay, or people are unwilling to pay for the true cost of their food.

The program touts a discount of 2-3x what one would pay in a grocery store for similar products – why does it need to be so staggeringly inexpensive? And this is not just for students, as advertised on the website. Anyone living at SFU (including those in the half-million dollar condos) may participate.

A truly sustainable system would be able to support access to fresh, local food, while paying farmers and distributors a fair wage, and ensuring those who really can’t afford it are still able to participate.

Hiding the true cost of food under the umbrella of “charitable subsidy” is certainly not doing sustainability any favours.

What happens when the funding disappears because of cuts, or just someone’s “better idea” for allocating dollars? Or when someone moves away from SFU, having no idea what the true cost of sustainable food is? My guess is they go back to purchasing unsustainable food.

All this program has done is given some farmers and eaters the proverbial fish, rather than teaching them how to operate in a sustainable system.

That Crash, it’s coming, any day now…

On the flip side, I’ve seen a couple graphs floating around about the “unsustainability” of Vancouver’s real estate prices, based on whether the average Vancouver resident can afford to own a home. The lament is loud… “real-estate is unsustainable, since locals can’t afford to live here!”

Wrong.

About one-million Vancouverites (the population within the city limits) beg to differ. They can certainly afford to live here – they already do. What they can’t afford to do is buy real estate here.

Anyone who’s done the most cursory of learning about financial planning should know that owning real estate is not necessary to be fiscally secure today and into the future. What is necessary is paying no more for housing (including rent/mortgage, heating, insurance and taxes if applicable) than 35% of one’s household net income and saving another 10% for retirement. I know plenty of people who are able to do that on one income, never mind the “three incomes” the Canadian Housing Price Chart states are necessary to afford a mortgage in Vancouver.

As for the housing market, if you believe that Vancouver residents purchasing homes are both necessary and sufficient to sustain the market, you’re trapped in that vacuum again.

A huge proportion Over half of residences in downtown Vancouver are owned by foreign investors. Property values skyrocketed in the mid 1990’s as wealthy Asian investors moved their money into foreign assets in anticipation of Hong Kong going back to China. And since then, as Vancouver’s appeal has grown as an international destination, and as the city consistently ranks in just about any top 10 list of “best places to live in the world” it’s not surprising that our fair area has the wealthiest postal code in the country and our premium properties are in high demand.

The only way a crash is going to come is if renters are so unable to afford their homes that investors are forced to sell at a loss, because they’re no longer able to carry the property with the income it’s generating. Considering vacancy rates here have been hovering around 2% for as long as I can remember, that seems unlikely. Even with the recent economic crash, there was only a slight correction in late 2008/early 2009, and values are quickly climbing again.

Is anything sustainable?

Really, I have no idea. Everything comes at a cost – whether it’s the environmental impact of making batteries in China (one of the most toxic manufacturing processes in existence) for your electric car to “save the planet,” or subsidizing food cost and distribution to bribe people into thinking they’re making sustainable food choices, to confusing an idea of resource allocation “fairness” with actual market sustainability in terms of who we think should own things.

I think we have to make the best choices we can, based on what we know. But before you blindly follow something because someone has tagged it “(un)sustainable,” perhaps step out of the vacuum and look at the whole picture. You may be surprised at what true sustainability really looks like.

Het up over the HST

Darren posted today about trying to understand the HST. Personally, I’m not really one to get all up in arms over new taxes, and like him, I’m really just trying to understand what’s going on.

I am concerned, though, about the tax’s impact on the new housing market – it sounds like new homes that are already barely within reach of most buyers are about to get a LOT more expensive. Of course, people care most about what impacts them, and Neil and I are casually looking for a 2nd property to purchase as a rental, so this will certainly affect that decision.

I know not everyone needs to buy a brand new or significantly renovated home. Except it’s going to be harder to purchase them, because I think they’re about to get a lot more expensive as demand for non-new (therefore non-HST applied) houses grows. I can’t see this new tax structure being any good for the struggling construction industry, or plans to increase density in the city with construction and renovation.

According to the BC Gov’s Q&A page on the HST (scroll way down) the average home under $400,000 won’t have any tax impact, and homes over that will receive a flat $20,000 rebate.

The Globe & Mail Article Darren quoted claims that a $700,000 home will cost an extra $18,000 tax.

Both the Government and the Globe are using some very shady math to come to their conclusions.

The actual tax rate and rebate consumers can expect to see is a 5% rebate, up to $20,000.

Currently the GST is at 5% – so rebating 5% means there is actually a 7% tax on new homes. The Gov’t claims that there is an “embedded 2% PST surcharge on new homes now” because PST is paid on many construction materials.

They fail to acknowledge that new home prices are not simply Cost+Fixed Margin; a new home will sell for whatever the market can bear, so the embedded 2% can’t fairly be taken into consideration when a consumer is purchasing. The buyer of a new home (especially a condo in Vancouver) can’t exactly say to the builder “show me all your materials invoices and choose certain products so I can make sure I’m getting that embedded 2% off the actual value of this place.”

The reality is, consumers are paying 7% tax on the purchase price of new homes up to $400,000.

After $400,000 it get much, much more frightening.

I have no idea what kind of math the Globe & Mail was doing (perhaps more “embedded tax” and the inherent value of the genies built into your walls?), but tax on a brand new $700,000 home looks like this:

Purchase Price: $700,000
HST (12%): $84,000
Max. Rebate: ($20,000)
Total Tax Paid: $64,000

Currently, with just the 5% GST, the purchase tax on that $700,000 home is $35,000

The HST will mean a tax increase of $29,000 – a far cry from the $18,000 the Globe & Mail quoted.

Embedded taxes be damned, speaking for myself, I don’t take them into consideration when looking at real-estate. And I doubt the bank is going to qualify me for a more expensive home based on them either.

What do you think? Have I missed something here, or is it really that bad?

Half-Clean

One of the pet peeves I had while I was looking for cleanse info/reviews was finding people saying “oh hey I’m starting this cleanse” and that was the last thing they had to say about it. For future googlers, I’m halfway through this godforsaken Wild Rose D-Tox cleanse. Here’s how it’s going:

  • I certainly experienced the fatigue that was listed as a side effect. I crashed hard on Monday afternoon. The upside is that I’ve been sleeping like the dead all week, which feels nice in the mornings. Downside: I still crash at about 8:00pm every day.
  • I also started off really, REALLY hungry. It took a while to remember that I need to eat some whole grains with just about everything. That means lots of brown rice with all meals. Eight days in, and I’m eating less, and also less hungry. I don’t know if that means I’m getting used to things or just bored and resigned to a smaller diet.
  • If you’re going to do this cleanse, buy the cookbook. Don’t ask whether it’s worth it, just buy it. Your tastebuds will thank you. It’s also a handy investment if you ever entertain friends who have every food sensitivity known to mankind.
  • My terrible $10 bathroom scale has told me nothing in terms of weightloss (I suppose that’s what I get for buying a terrible $10 scale), but my pants say that at least a couple pounds are gone.
  • I have yet to experience any of the “clarity” or “extra energy” or other feel-good benefits that cleanse-takers report. I am trying to look at that in a positive light, and deduce that it’s because I was not particularly toxic to begin with, and am not sensitive to all of the things I’m really missing eating right now.
  • I am uncharacteristically (yes, even for me) short tempered and generally cranky. I snap like a twig. I’m not otherwise emotional – not weepy or sentimental – just highly annoyed pretty much 24/7, for no good reason (other than a distinct lack of mushroom cheeseburgers).
  • I haven’t had any other “to be expected” symptoms of “sugar withdrawl” such as headaches, etc.
  • The pooping is bad, but not as bad as I’d initially expected. It’s unpleasant, and often urgent, but nothing compared to the prep one needs to do for a barium enema or a colonoscopy (says the girl with a family history of IBD), and CERTAINLY nothing compared to food poisoning. So that’s something, I guess.
  • If you asked me today whether or not I’d ever do this again, the answer is a resounding NO.

    I might be a bit slimmer (that’s a big might, and remember, brought on by having liquefied my digestive tract for nearly 2 weeks), but I don’t otherwise feel any notable benefits from doing this so far.

    And the negatives (being highly annoyed all the time, making everyone feel awkward by refusing cake/beer/anything except green tea and the blueberries my poor mom went out and got for me at my dad’s birthday, being insanely tired most of the time, did I mention the crankiness? and the pooping?) far outweigh the positives.

    I’ll check in again once it’s all done, and once I’ve hopefully regained my usually cheerier outlook.

    I want a hippopotamus!

    A few years ago I volunteered with Junior Achievement BC, leading the A Business of Our Own program for a grade 6 class.

    One of the units in the program is to guide the students through thinking about how to market the class business (in this case, chocolate sales to fund their class trip) and make some ads to put around the school to promote the sale.

    The kids were super excited about the exercise that day, because (as their teacher so excitedly informed me) they’d just had a great discussion on advertising and marketing. Three seconds in and it became apparent that they had just crucified the entire advertising industry for the two hours before I walked in the door.

    Not that I wanted to stifle their preshus, preshus creativity – but that day’s entire lesson became an exercise in steering the kids away from dreaming up mind controlling robots and back to making posters that say “chocolates are tasty and the proceeds go to a good cause, so you should buy some” and thinking of effective places to display them.

    I still wonder what those kids think of advertising today (I bet they’re all busy whining to their parents about needing an iPod and some name-brand sneakers), and I’m still a bit annoyed at that teacher for encouraging such a black and white view of the world.

    I know as I’ve grown up I’ve challenged myself on a lot of preconceived notions I wasn’t really aware I held. I make a conscious effort every day to check in with myself on whether I’m being truly open-minded, and accepting of others (note – I don’t have to agree with them, but if their decisions don’t affect me, why not just let it go).

    And as Neil and I start thinking about what kind of parents we want to be when we start a family in a few years (repeat: in a few years! parents: you may peel yourselves off your respective ceilings), one of the things I’ve flagged as something I think is important to reinforce from an early age is that there are many, many different ways and things to be, think, do and believe. And different does not immediately mean wrong or bad – it just means different. And more often than not, that is a-okay.

    I have no idea how one goes about doing that, since kids’ brains are necessarily hardwired to think in black and white, rather than shades of grey, as they figure out the world, but I’d sure like to try.

    Anyhow, along that vein, this has got to be one of the best commercials I’ve seen lately. And not just because the hippo snarling at the cat is adorable.

    It’s one of the few things out there that doesn’t beat the same “smarmy advertisers tricking our preshus babeez” drum, and instead encourages something we could all stand to practice a bit more: take some time to think for your damn self, and come to your own conclusions.

    The fact that someone put house hippos (or any number of other make-believe characters and scenarios) on TV isn’t inherently bad. The fact that this commercial is the exception, rather than the rule, and that we don’t do much to encourage a bit of critical thought around what’s on our TV, is.