Friday, December 31, 2010

Five Points of Personal Power

It's the time for reflection of the past twelve months and contemplation of the year ahead. I try and live up to the following five Points of Personal Power.

#1) Pay Attention:

Pay attention to my loved ones, friends, neighbours, community and those I come in contact with daily.
Pay attention to the details in my life ~ the garden where I live, the wild forest that surrounds me and the animals that live within.
Pay attention to my health and the health of those closest to me.
Pay careful attention to how much stuff I acquire and what I consume.

#2) Ask For What You Want:

Ask for world peace.
Ask for just enough to sustain myself, my family and others.
Ask for some quiet time to reflect.
Ask for time to create and share my art.

#3) Take Responsibility For Your Experiences.

(which is, sometimes, not an easy thing for me to do).

#4) Speak the Truth:

Speak the truth even when the fallout from that may be not what I expect.
Speak Truth to Power.
Speak the truth when asked for an honest answer.
Speak the truth when my emotional and intellectual mind is challenged.

#5) Keep Your Agreements:

Keep my agreements in all aspects of my life.
Ensure the agreements I make are something I can follow through on.
Keep the agreements I make with others.
Keep my agreement to continue to follow the five Points of Personal Power.

Blessings and Peace.

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Anti-HST Support Plummets

From approximately 85 percent at the height of the period during which signatures calling for the HST referendum were collected, to the latest figure of 54 percent, anti-HST sentiment is plummeting.

British Columbians are thinking twice. Some have privately told me of regret for having signed the petition calling for the referendum, or for having too hastily judged the value of the tax.

British Columbians are signalling it was the process, not the tax, that so stoked their anger.

I am glad to see the change in these numbers. I support a taxation policy that favours taxing consumption rather than putting a price on enterprising activity, i.e., taxing earnings or income.

Provided voters get enough credible information about the HST prior to the referendum for them to make an informed choice, I suspect the referendum will fail.

The changing numbers regarding the HST could play a role in the BC leadership race. Kevin Falcon says he will reduce the tax from 12 percent, to 11, then ten percent. Mike de Jong wants to keep the tax at the current rate and favours the type of taxation policy that I do. George Abbott says he supports the tax and has not signalled anything with respect to reducing it; same also with Dr. Moira Stilwell.

Christy Clark... Well, who knows what her position is on the HST? She says she supports it and would like MLAs to vote on it. Would that be in its present form, or changed? Conveniently, not being a MLA herself, Clark would avoid the vote.

[Cross-posted at Challenging the Commonplace]

Taking Care of My Little Place

I so want to take care of my little place; to dust everyday, vacuum at least once a week, change and launder the bedding, do regular laundry, clean the floors. It's not a lot to expect of oneself or of life generally, but my chronic back pain has become so bad that even the movements involved in dusting are causing acute flare-ups.

When I asked my doctor a couple of months ago for help with pain management, she put me on Gabapentin. The new treatment worked initially. It reduced the level of chronic pain from 7 (out of 10) to 5 or 6. That was sufficient to enable me to do more light housework more frequently. But it did nothing for the (level 9) flare-ups of acute pain, which are increasing in frequency and duration; the most recent lasted five days. Likely the increased activity encouraged by the easing of pain is aggravating the underlying condition.

My doctor upped the dose, but I've felt no appreciable difference.

It feels so good to be able to do the small ordinary tasks that keep my little place clean and shining. But I hurt and don't know how much longer I can keep doing this.

SAFER Means...

a vacuum cleaner!

While I posted Wanted messages for a vacuum cleaner several times to my local Recycle/ReUseIt online site, it never resulted in my getting one I could use: an upright cleaner that is powerful but lightweight.

Finally getting rental assistance through SAFER has meant being able to get this little gem:

I'd intended to wait to the next day to try it out, knowing the trip there and back and my early-morning housework would have done me in and caused flaring up of the pain.

Do you think I followed through on that intention?

Of course not. After friend Daisy left - she had taken me to London Drugs to get the vacuum cleaner and helped with the unpacking and assembly -, objects were moved out of the way, including a 30lb bag of kitty litter.

Vacuuming ensued. Pain soared.

Did I stop?

Of course not. Objects again were moved and the mop and floor cleaning solution came out.

Mopping ensued. Pain spiked close to level 10.

But my little place was cleaner and more shiny than it had been in a very long time. Kinda made the pain almost endurable.

No. I guess it didn't.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

So Terribly Sad

According to Ian Tostenson, head of the BC Restaurant and Food Service Association, people who dine out are paying more for their meals.

Tostenson blames it all on the HST.

I don't doubt that he is right.

Paying more than you would for a meal you or your companions made yourselves is the cost of dining out. Whether you pay extra in tax for your meal or not, you pay for your consumption.

That is the beauty of taxation policies that emphasize consumption taxes over taxes on earnings. Lower taxes on income and investments encourage rather than discourage enterprising activity; and applied intelligently, carrot-and-stick taxes guide consumer behaviour and are among the best tools to drive that enterprising activity toward greening the economy.

The people who can pay for their over consumption will, among them those who continue to dine out.

Besides, whatever happened to the packed lunch?

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Count Me Crazy...

... but I am liking this monsoon weather: the sound of rain on the roof; the fresh scent; the cleanliness after each rainfall (torrential downpour, more often); and the warm temperatures.

Can't beat near ten degree weather in December!

And don't forget the rainbows.

My change of heart about the rain must be related to having dry footwear this season.

Ten years of walking with cold wet feet are behind me. I can enjoy the rain again.

Now for a brolly!

Saturday, December 4, 2010

Misleading Advertising: Juice

I mentioned previously that my mid-morning snack is four ounces of orange juice. It's expressly for the purpose of aiding the absorption of my iron supplement.

To buy juice in cartons or jugs rather than in its frozen form is cost inefficient. You're essential paying for water and a higher price for the privilege of carting that heavier weight home.

The frozen form of juice has changed over the past few years. Now you will find in the frozen juice section three types of product:

  1. punch
  2. frozen (orange, grapefruit...) juice from concentrate
  3. frozen concentrated (orange, grapefruit...) juice

Only the third is pure juice.

In all three cases, manufacturers' instructions call for adding three (less often four) cans of water to the frozen goop. Products one and two have water and sugar added.

Be especially wary of the difference between frozen juice from concentrate and frozen concentrated juice. Manufacturers make their packaging of these two products eerily - I submit, intentionally - similar. Only the last one is the real deal and that's the only one you should be buying.

The better, pure product is more pricey, but wait for the sales. Don't be fooled into purchasing the wrong one.

Monday, November 29, 2010

Back from the Dentist

A few hours ago I returned from my third visit to the office of Dr. Tom, the man who during the original consultation reduced my anxiety about seeing a dentist again after an unavoidable ten years' absence; and now...

I've got back the full function of two previously cracked teeth!! I can properly CHEW again and need no longer be wary every time I've a mouthful of food.

Dr. Tom is such an artist that those seriously cracked teeth have been rebuilt, as comparable as possible to my original whole teeth.

I've a suspicion too that Dr. Tom included a wee bit more dental work than what I was charged. At my last visit, which was to fix cracked tooth number one, some gentle drilling was done to the complementary upper molar.

But ouch!...

The total bill for the three visits, which occurred over a two-week period, is $572.40; and it all falls within the same Visa payment period, in December no less.

For that reason and another, I've postponed until late January my visit to the hygienist.

Then that will be it. I'll have not only whole teeth, but sparkling, professionally clean ones.

Sunday, November 28, 2010

The Relativity of Small Things

Alternative title: Go through your cupboards; improve another's quality of life.

...I am fresh out of having a bubble bath; sprinkled myself with body splash; treated my feet and hands with lotion; and dressed myself in my stay-at-home flannel pants, a blouse and a sweater.

At 7:30 this morning, I ate a homemade mix of oatmeal, sesame seeds, almonds, (barley?), and other goodies I can't identify. After cooking (nuking) it, I topped the mix with brown sugar. Just now, I had a banana. A pear sits in the fruit bowl for later.

Yesterday, as I prepared to go out for a walk, I considered my footwear options. Would it be the winter hiking boots? The Doc Martens? Or the Sauconys? I went for the boots, having previously chosen and slipped on one of several pairs of warm thick socks. (How lovely to have options! And how wonderful to put years of aching cold wet feet behind me!)

Then I donned a black wool London Fog coat, the second of two London Fog coats now in my wardrobe. I completed my outdoor outfit with a hat, scarf and glove set.

Every one of the items italicized above were given to me by friends; in one case, my son.

The list goes on of course. My kitchen today is unrecognizable from that of one year ago. Thanks to Cowichan Valley Recycle/ReUseIt and the friends I've met through that wonderful online group (1156 members!), my kitchen has pots, a cast iron frying pan, an egg poacher, a steamer, a small food processor, an electric can opener, a wooden block of high quality knives, a coffee bean grinder and a lovely red apron for the 'cook'. There's likely more I can't remember.

Then as recently as last Friday, my kitchen cupboards acquired spices. Since spices tend not to be a nutritional requirement, I'd been going without them. As I remarked to the friend who delivered the spices and so many other items that day, all with my special needs in mind: at least if your food is bland you've less incentive to eat much!

The point of this post is to drive home the importance of the small stuff. What may seem insignificant to one person can make a significant difference to the life of another. Because of the generosity of friends, new and old, and a wonderful online community, the quality of my life has steadily improved despite my significantly low income.

Friday, November 26, 2010

Mountain Manny & Daphne-of-the-Forest

Once upon a time, about thirteen years ago, Daphne-of-the-Forest and her younger brother, Mountain Manny, spent six months together on Mountain Manny's 160 acres on the north slope of the Granby River in Grand Forks, building a house. A house to become a home that is not on anyone's radar; a house that is completely 'off the grid'.

The road to the house winds ever upward for two kilometers before reaching the building site. A very short stroll takes one to a magnificent view, which overlooks the entire north end of the Granby River Valley.

He gives dimensions and approximates what he wants. She draws plans; they collaborate until satisfied with a general layout.

They lug a generator, tools and lumber Mountain Manny personally milled from windblown trees salvaged elsewhere on his property up to the building site. Then the work begins. Borrowed surveying equipment is brought to use. The area is cleared and sauna tubes with steel reinforcement are poured... so does the rain! After a full twelve hours, the foundation is done.

Whilst Mountain Manny is working for the Man during the day, Daphne-of-the-Forest doffs her clothing, with the exception of her steel-toed boots and a sun hat, to rake two yards of gravel to back-fill around the sauna tubes.

What a tan she has! She loses weight; she is very fit; she is happy; she is 46 years young.

The building progresses at a rate in conjunction with Mountain Manny's daytime work and left-over energy from same... which is considerable.

A crew of friends come in on a Saturday to raise the walls! Up, up, up they go. Lots of beer drinking and pats on the back for the rest of the day.

Mountain Manny's adopted son, Joseph, arrives for a stay and is quickly put to work helping raise the roof. Daphne-of-the-Forest is making best-use-of-wood and she cuts all pieces to exact measurements as requested by Mountain Manny.

When it is time to check if Mountain Manny and Daphne-of-the-Forest have built a true and square building, they are amazed, pleased and proud to note they are only 1/8th of an inch off overall.

Adopted son departs, leaving Mountain Manny and Daphne-of-the-Forest to assemble, cut and install a tin roof. Mountain Manny attaches himself to a makeshift safety harness while Daphne-of-the-Forest (using a special blade in a hand-held skill saw) cuts and passes the over length pieces up to Mountain Manny.

The basic structure complete, 'tis then time for Daphne-of-the-Forest to return to her little shack in the woods on Vancouver Island. Mountain Manny drives her home. The picture is the two of them - beaming - upon their arrival.

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Interest Rate Policy Increasing Poverty Among Seniors

According to a new report, the number of seniors living in poverty soared almost 25 percent between the years 2007 and 2008.

Women have been the most affected. Up to 80 percent, suggests the report.

Daphne and I are, or soon will be, counted among those women.

At 60 years of age we don't yet officially qualify as seniors. However, with the Bank of Canada having kept interest rates ridiculously low over the past several years, we will be among the poverty statistics for seniors in future reports. Many of our friends already are or soon will be.

We are the women who worked for decades in low-paying 'female' jobs while child-rearing. We are the women who, out of our low incomes, scrimped and saved knowing that nothing was sure for tomorrow.

Now we are punished for saving because of an interest rate policy that values consumption, debt and a head-in-the-sand mentality over thrift, responsibility and the urge to maintain self-reliance.

The following is an excerpt from one woman's story. It could be duplicated many times over, by many other women:

I am tired. I have been working since I was 14. When I retire at 65, I’m going to have this little tiny government handout. It won’t matter how resourceful I’ve been. There’s no financial reward for that...

I am one of the working poor. The reward for that is more poorness. It's, "Sorry lady, you did a really good job. You raised those kids. You were only on Welfare for eleven months. Good for you, good for you - here are your pennies" (p47).

When will the Bank of Canada stop its insane interest rate policy? The result has been consumer interest rates so low that they don't even keep up with inflation. No surprise, then, that the people most dependent on hard-earned savings, largely senior women, are falling behind.

[Cross-posted at Challenging the Commonplace]

Sunday, November 21, 2010

The Silver Lining

A few days ago I wrote Over the Edge, where I lamented the rather large outlay of cash to remedy some fallen trees on my property after a fierce windstorm.

There IS an upside to this story and it is that two special friends, who read the post came with offers of both money, food and, of all things, an electric chainsaw! My heartfelt thanks to both of these thoughtful friends.

The other good news is that the trees did not fall on the house. No damage was done, except to my carefully tended moss gardens, which will recover in full once the debris is removed. And the faller bucked up the good parts of the trees so that I have regained at least half the cost of the clean up in next year's firewood. My neighbour is pleased, as one of the downed trees was threatening to fall on his property, more than likely to land square in the middle of his man-made pond, holding 25 year old Koi.

My finances will improve. I have already worked out a new budget to take into account the shortfall.

Time will take care of my sad heart at the loss of the trees.

Growing Up in a Labelled World

Another post from Challenging the Commonplace that needs to come over here. It was originally written on May 31st, 2008.

--

I write this in response to the paper "Framing Disease," by Robert Aronowitz, and to the associated commentaries and rejoinder, which appear in the July 2008 issue of Social Science and Medicine. I would like to relate that SSM discussion to a personal account of how labelling and exposure to someone who sought labelling affected me from a very young age...

I was raised on psychobabble. My mother, rejecting one psychiatrist after another and likely still doing so, had gone through 14 of them when last I spoke with her, which was 15 years ago. I learned at my mother's knee what 'psychiatrist' meant, and the psychological jargon of the day, such as 'nervous breakdown' and 'emotionally disturbed'. In this respect I was set up to absorb doubts about my own emotional health, particularly given that life was hell at home.

Thing is, I knew better than anyone that my mother was not sick. She was egocentric, manipulative and cruel, i.e., her personality deviated negatively from the norm. For the burgeoning field of psychiatry, this made my mother an excellent candidate. For her, being labelled played into her egocentricity, which was why she sought out psychiatrists in the first place. My mother became addicted to psychiatry.

Thus made aware, by the age of five, that a harsh childhood could result in psychological damage, I swore to myself on a particular day that my mother would not destroy me, that I would protect myself, my yet-to-be-formed identity, against damage.

I've always called this my "promise day." On that day, as my mother stood before me screaming down abuse, I looked up at her and said to myself: "You won't kill me, you won't kill me, you won't kill me."

The repetition was to pound the resolve into me, to make it stick. I understood "me" to be my identity, not my body. The "won't" represented my determination that my mother would not succeed in transforming me into her own ideal. I understood I was in a triple danger, hence the repetition of three: of being imminently threatened, of my future identity being threatened, and of my future self being the subject of psychiatrists. To be the latter was to be like my mother, something to avoid at all costs. It was my mental health I was swearing to protect, although I didn't use or know that term. (I don't think in the 50s it was in fashion yet.)

For fifty years more, I resisted mental illness labelling. Then came the 18 months around the time I wrote my story, formed WISE (a former group and national movement of low-income women), and ran the project for and published the book Policies of Exclusion, Poverty and Health: Stories from the front. My mental illness buy-in is evident from the first lines of my story, that of Chris in the book.

I regret my lapse and acceptance of the label and have since rejected it. The bare facts of the story stand on their own; the labelling does nothing but add salve to the mental health industry.

The pressure to accept mental illness labelling was enormous, not least because a good friend, my only friend at that time, was using it and applying it to me. With so much to deal with - an escalating slide into poverty and imminent homelessness - I was in too weakened a state to keep the promise to my 5-yr-old self. It didn't help that funding for the project was more likely if the lead researcher accepted the lingo, rather than not. I was being pressured to do so.

I do not blame my friend. The temptation to diagnose, and in the language of current 'wisdom', is hard to resist. She was right that I was distraught almost out of my mind. But the sickness wasn't in me. It was all around me. My distraught reactions were my healthy body's desperate attempts to warn me of a looming threat, of living in circumstances that risked my survival.

§

I suspect that the unquestioned adoption of mental illness labels has grown. My story is but a single example. But it seems to me that a whole generation has grown up with mental illness labels as part of everyday discourse. Now, if one simply accepts a label, all sorts of things can happen.

People living on very low income have learned that exposing ourselves to the mental health industry and accepting a label can mean the difference between getting a housing subsidy and not, between getting employment assistance and not; listen to the story of Anna for an example of just a dilemma.

For criminals, accepting a mental illness label can mean time spent in a psychiatric hospital rather than in jail. For overworked, stressed employees it can mean dispensation for time off.

More people are reported experiencing mental illness. I interpret this as either more people are getting labelled with mental disorders or more people are experiencing distress. Given the ascendancy of the mental health industry and the power dynamics of neo-liberalism, globalization and market capitalism, likely both are at play. But rather than look to causes (over-zealous labelling; manmade sociocultural, socioeconomic and physical environmental conditions threatening people's health), we focus on the individual.

It's the blame-the-victim approach; and the victims, who rarely come from outside the run-of-the-mill commons, being immersed in this society and absorbing its messages, eventually come to accept the blame. They do so by adopting sickness labels and by converting into feelings of shame the stigma imposed by the elite classes and adopted by society's wannabes.

Meanings - Belonging, Home, Community

This is a reprise of a post written May 21, 2008 on Challenging the Commonplace, one of our political blogs,  long before economicus ridiculous launched January 1, 2010.

The post belongs here, as will become evident to readers.

--

I filled out a survey yesterday on community meaning. For each question, respondents were to give the first answer which came to mind. Along with questions about the respondents' understanding of various concepts, including belonging, home and community, was this question, the last one:

When do you most feel a sense of community?

Here was my response:
It has been a very long time. I'm 57 yrs old now and the last time I felt a sense of community was at the age of 14. Then, I was in an environment in which to be and express who I am was permissible; it was the first time in my life I'd experienced that. Unfortunately, it lasted for only 11 months, after which I had to leave that community. When I think of belonging, I think of home, and that's the place I associate with the latter.

I went for a walk after completing that survey and began reflecting on my answers. I soon realized that underlying my sense of the meaning of belonging, home and community was a single, uncomplicated idea: acceptance.

It was nothing so robust or overt as welcoming. Just acceptance, manifested in an environment in which everyone adopts a live-and-let-live attitude and respect for difference.

In that place, I was FREE TO BE ME, without pigeonholing or labelling.

Actually, the latter isn't quite right. ALL of the residents at that place were labelled, which meant that we ended up undistinguished from one another. That is, being labelled made us all equal - at least in each other's eyes, which was all that mattered to us.

You see, that place was Lakeshore Psychiatric Hospital, which doesn't exist anymore. In the 60's, that location on Lakeshore Blvd. in Toronto was nicely referred to as a 'mental institution', not so nicely, a 'looney bin'. I'd more describe it as a warehouse for undesirables and strays, people who society was happy to throw away.

Given the horror of that place, how could I possibly recall it to mind whenever triggered to think of home or belonging or community?

It's because the patients were expected to have an emotional life and were licensed to exhibit eccentric behaviour. We were permitted to be normal, as judged by our own standards.

The relief to be who we were was enormous, and the sense of freedom intoxicating. Never before or since have I felt anything like that degree of acceptance; and with it, the freedom to stretch my faculties, explore who I was and who I could potentially be. It was mind expanding in the best sense of that term.

As bad as most of these institutions were, including LPH, they got some things right. For LPH, it was its failure to psychiatrically treat certain of its residents - to leave us alone. Its failure to treat summed up, in a word, acceptance of us just the way we were.

Curious about LPH? For a start, check out this site.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Interest Rate Policy Punishes Most Vulnerable

The Bank of Canada's interest rate policy punishes saving and rewards debt. As does the federal government when it bails out "too big to fail" corporations and industries and rescues banks from the results of their rash decisions.

Such policies punish those people who scrimp and save, who put off buying today so they'll be able to live tomorrow. Many of these people are now in, or about to enter retirement; only to find their savings earning one or two percent or, if they're particularly fortunate, 2.5 percent.

Such people dare not put their savings into the markets, not when their lives are reliant on those savings. We have all seen what happens to the markets.

How did Canada get things so ass backwards?

How did Canada get to rewarding people who buy like there is no tomorrow? Who get mortgages they can't afford? Who purchase more automotive and recreational vehicles, gadgets and gewgaws, vacations and cruises than they could ever use?

Too many seniors today are struggling to make ends meet because their hard-earned savings are earning less than the increases to their living expenses, such increases exceeding the cost of living. (For most seniors, some form of disability is present.)

This situation, the erosion of seniors' and others' savings, is thanks to the interest rate policy of the Bank of Canada.

It's downright criminal.

[Cross-posted at Challenging the Commonplace]

Gracious Thanks Extended

Recently, friend Ocean's monetary income was enriched, as she had applied and has received, Canada Pension Plan benefits and the Supplement for Elderly Renters. Her quality of living soared.

For those of us living in financial poverty, it is a real relief when our fortunes improve. It also gives us the opportunity to say thank you to all who support us along the way. Ocean has done this in the form of a letter to the editor of one of our local papers. Here it is, in full.

Generosity makes this best place to live
Chrystal Ocean, The Citizen
Published: Wednesday, November 17, 2010

I am a woman who lives daily with debilitating chronic pain, the result of the wear and tear of everyday life on a childhood injury.

Having turned 60 this summer, now I qualify for two important government programs. Now my annual income has gone from $7,200 (all my tiny savings could manage) to $10,000.

Now I receive a small monthly payment from the Canada Pension Plan, a contribution to my income I earned from a lifetime of work.

Now I am getting monthly help with my rent in the form of the Supplementary Aid for Elderly Renters, a provincial program. I am immensely grateful for S.A.F.E.R. It goes beyond description the degree to which this help has lessened my daily stress.

But it's the local resources and the people of this Valley I most want to thank.

Keeping one's head up when economically challenged can be difficult in a society that treats the dollar as god; and it can be difficult at times accepting kindness because it reminds you of how far you've fallen.

It's also a constant challenge accepting your own limits.

Without the kindness of people of this Valley, the quality of my life and the lives of so many others would be far worse. Many of us would be dead.

Beginning late last year, I began visiting the food bank every few weeks to get bread. Never anything else. Just bread. Prior to such visits, I'd stopped eating bread altogether. The price of the ingredients to make my own bread and the prices of loaves sold in stores were prohibitive. Bread didn't seem as essential as fruit or vegetables.

In the early days, my visits to the food bank were hit and run. I'd skulk in through the back door, avoiding eye contact, grab some bread and skulk back out. I was embarrassed to have to use this resource.

Now I don't skulk. Now I might stop to have a coffee, perhaps something to eat if a colourful salad catches my eye, and even a chat.

To the many people of this Valley who contribute bread and other foodstuffs to the food bank: thank you.

To the people who maintain the food bank, including Dave the cook (other cooks' names I don't know), and the driving force behind it, Betty Anne Devitt: thank you.

To the local grocers, to stores selling general merchandise including food, to independent bakeries and to home bakers, and to the many others who contribute to the food bank: thank you.

To Karyne Bailey, the woman behind Cowichan Valley Recycle ReUseIt, a wonderful online resource through which people of this Valley -- 1,151 members and climbing -- can obtain and give away stuff for free: thank you.

At the heart of CVRReUseit is recycling. Countless times I've received items I'd been going without, including basic kitchen equipment and bedding; and I've been able to give away items to people who needed or wanted them.

To Jenny, who brings me free eggs every couple of weeks: thank you.

To Daisy Anderson, who takes me along on grocery trips and changes my hard-to-reach light bulbs: thank you.

To Daphne Moldowin, who knows what it's like to live this way and helps me refocus when I'm down: thank you.

To the people who together make the Cowichan Valley one of the best places on earth to live -- for all of us: thank you.

Chrystal Ocean,
Duncan

While I was reading it, I was thinking about the many other people out there who use the services provided that give a helping hand. Ocean's letter brings alive a real person to the nameless others who also use these services. Her letter shows an intelligence not often associated with the 'needy'. Ocean's letter indicates to me that she is graciously grateful.

Well done.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

It's Like Having Children

Having a cat is like having children a lot of the time. Each day Kiltie jumps up to the third shelf of the bookcase where I keep the tiny bag that contains her toys. After extracting her head from the bag, which hugs her head neatly like a top hat, she comes out with this or that goodie in her mouth. (Click images to view larger version.)

Kiltie's Toy Bag - discarded rubber ball left inside

Every night, I pick up the toys, put them back into the bag and place it on the bookcase. Over the course of the next day, most if not all of the toys have been strewn around the place again.

Feather-tailed mouse left, 'sparkly' to right
Unlike children, cats cannot be trained, at least easily, to pick up their toys at the end of the day. This is particularly given that 'the end of the day' is the start of a cat's day.


Mouse head
Today, I found one disembodied or beheaded mouse, together with all but one of Kiltie's toys.

Mouse body
Kiltie's favourite toy of all time is one of the first items each day to come out of the toy bag. It's a fuzzy sparkly ball that has a bounce no other ball seems able to duplicate. It's the only ball with which Kiltie will play fetch with her human; in fact, she insists on the game throughout the day.
Kiltie's favourite toy, her sparkle ball

Woe are the times when Kiltie loses her sparkle ball. For three years that was the case, until the landlord came in one day to check for air in the heating pipes and reflexively fished out Kiltie's toy from where it had become wedged.

To Event Organizers, Retailers, Others: On asking for donations

A letter appeared in one of our local papers at the end of September. Anyone who organizes cultural, political, charity or other events for which the charge for admission is 'by donation', and any store owners who engage in trying to collect donations at the till, should read it:

Cashier: "That'll be [amount] oh, and would you like to donate [dollars] to [whatever]?" I just went in to buy some lumber, groceries, post a letter, etc. and I run afoul of a gouging, intimidating method of squeezing money out of me [and you] thought up by some nefarious shrink.

You see, if the cashier asks you in front of a queue of people, you'll think twice before saying "no" right? You might appear to be mean! The elderly in particular may well be intimidated into saying "yes." From Mill Bay to Duncan only my bank and one hardware store have not offended me in this way.

Peter Bell, Cobble Hill

Seems Mr. Bell's letter made enough of an impression on the Cowichan Valley Citizen that the link to it still appears on the front page of the paper's website.

Good on them.

It's a well-known point among people in households of the lowest income to avoid any events for which "by donation" is the entry fee; it almost always translates into an expectation, if not an outright demand for payment. The latter happened to me not that long ago.

As for requests for donation at the till, I quietly mutter "no," with head down and shoulders hunched and turned away from the people queued behind me.

Mr. Bell is right. It is embarrassing, regardless of whether one is accosted for a 'donation' at an event or a store line-up.

Over the Edge

I have been coasting along on a tiny fixed income for well over a year. Squeaking by on next to nothing, thinking all was well in my financial world, as I applied for and will receive early Canada Pension benefits in late December. This extra income would act as a buffer for emergencies.

Two days ago, our area was struck by a violent northwesterly wind storm, knocking two trees over, topping a third and weakening two others in my small treed lot. One tree was pressing against the power and telephone lines that feed into my house. I called Competition Tree Service and the owner came to take a look. Good news: he could clear up the mess and save more trouble in the coming winter months. Bad news: it would take every penny I had left.

Gone are the trees and with it the danger. Gone is the money I was planning on using to pay my dentist. Gone is the immediate ability to pay ongoing bills ~ telephone, hydro, recycle, house/auto insurance and the small monthly amount I set aside to pay the yearly property tax. Gone is the weekly grocery money. All gone.

Over the edge into teeth grinding, soul destroying poverty - again.

I remind myself, 'This too shall pass', but it is going to be a long haul to regain peace of mind, at least financially.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Pain and Quality of Life

At the age of 13, I was struck by a car and thrown 50 metres. I could have been killed, but instead only my right leg was damaged. There was a nasty compound fracture of the femur.

For several weeks while I was kept in traction (crikey, that was painful!), doctors feared they'd have to amputate the leg. However, they tried to and eventually did, reach an orthopedic surgeon who was well-known for his ability to achieve the impossible. Dr. Paul McGoey agreed to see me and I was transferred by ambulance to Scarborough General Hospital.

After six months under the care of Dr. McGoey at Scarborough General and staying at St. John's Convalescent Hospital in between the numerous trips (8? 10?) by ambulance between the two institutions, my leg was saved.

I returned home.

That was something I could have done without. The people at St. John's, Scarborough General and the paramedics who drove the ambulances had cared about me. The people at home didn't.

The last trip I took by ambulance, the one that took me home, the paramedics gave me a huge bouquet of flowers. They were the same paramedics who had been with me for each trip: from Collingwood General to Scarborough General, when I was still in traction, and for all the trips between Scarborough General and St. John's. Unknown to me, they had asked their boss to be the paramedics for each of my trips.

I pushed that leg to do things that most people wouldn't have. For years, not only was I a letter carrier but also (often at the same period of time) a dance teacher. Eventually, I owned and ran three dance studios.

While the leg was 3/4 of an inch shorter than the left, I had a persistent limp and misalignment at the hip affected my turnout among other things, that didn't stop me. However, eventually I paid the price and my back suffered from making adjustments it wouldn't normally have had to do.

That's the long and short of it. Now, over the course of aging, I'm in a lot of pain and there's nothing even today's professionals can do to correct the source of it.

Given three changes recently affecting my financial resources (SAFER, Canada Pension Plan and greater Pharmacare coverage), I can now obtain prescription medication for pain.

Two weeks ago, I went to my doctor and asked her help with pain management. She prescribed Naproxen and Gabapentin.

The Gabapentin has reduced the chronic moderate pain (level 5,6) a couple of notches, enough to improve my quality of life. Now I can do daily housework - carpet and floor sweeping, light dusting and the odd wipe at the floors. It's nice to have my place returned to the cleanliness to which I was formerly accustomed. I'd missed that, but especially the ability to care for my small home.

Now I can also walk more briskly, climb stairs and go up the dreaded hill more easily. I've yet to try pulling my shopping cart up that steep incline.

The dose of Gabapentin I am was on does nothing for the flare-ups, when the chronic pain becomes acute (level 9). Neither does the Naproxen help with the swelling around the source or the arthritic stiffness further up.

I saw the doctor yesterday, having just gone through five days of level 9 pain. She has upped the Gabapentin.

Back from the Dentist

Now that my annual income, thanks to SAFER and the Canada Pension Plan, has jumped 40 percent - from $7,200 to $10,0001 -, I made an appointment for a consult with the dentist just around the corner from me. He and another dentist were recommended to me by my doctor's office.

It was a toss-up which dentist to choose. I went with Dr. Tom Roozendaal - who I will, from this point forward, affectionately refer to as Dr. Tom.

Had my first visit to a dentist in ten years been as traumatic as I'd been expecting, I'd have given Dr. Tom a different moniker. As it turned out, there was nothing to fear.

Patients are made welcome and comfortable the minute they enter Dr. Tom's office. They are offered a coffee, which I was assured Dr. Tom didn't mind - I hesitated at first, concerned about stinky breath. The reception room has a water wall that makes a pleasant, relaxing sound. A large Samsung screen to the right of the water wall and just below the ceiling displays photos of restful landscapes. Everyone in the office is friendly, relaxed and welcoming.

Patients are not kept waiting; at least I wasn't.

On to the inner chambers.

I was immediately made comfortable in Dr. Tom's dental chair, with extra aids to ease my back. (By the end of the visit, I didn't want to move and could easily have fallen asleep, almost free from pain.) Soon after, Dr. Tom came in. He was easy-going and within minutes had me feeling relaxed, which surprised the heck out of me. He asked all the right questions, plus more I wasn't expecting; was extremely knowledgeable - I could see why he finished first-place at dental school and received the College of Dental Surgeons of British Columbia’s Gold Medal (naturally, I'd checked him out beforehand); did a thorough examination, never once poking an instrument near a sensitive spot; and limited the consult and his recommendations to my budget, having been made aware of my financial situation.

Prior to help from SAFER and the CPP, dental care over the past ten years had been out of the question.

Still, help from those programs or not, dental care is expensive.

Given the passage of time, I'd lost a filling and chipped two teeth, one being the same tooth whose filling came out. I feared more damage, although I'd tried my darndest to maintain good hygiene over the years.

Dr. Tom's verdict:
two fillings (over two visits) to fix those teeth, one filling of the regular type, the other a white filling; and a visit to the hygienist.


That's it.

Of course, had I the money, I'd get two caps instead of two fillings. As Dr. Tom explained to me and would have recommended had I been able to afford it, caps would have preserved those teeth considerably longer.

But who, on $10,000 per year, can afford $1,200 - per cap?

The estimated cost of the four visits, including today's consult, is $672, plus or minus a few dollars depending on what the hygienist does.

For the preservation of what teeth I have left - am missing three molars - I think that's a good deal.

Thank you, Dr. Tom, for making my first dental visit in a decade such a good one.

--

Those chipped teeth and lost filling tell a larger story, one about poverty and its direct effect on dental health.

Dr. Tom said that chipped teeth are almost always caused by teeth grinding. He asked if I ever grind my teeth, either during the day or at night.

Let's just say that it's rare I wake up in the morning without fists clenched and jaw clamped tight.

Living at the bottom of the poverty well causes severe, unrelenting stress. The result of such stress has a direct effect on health, dental and otherwise. In the former case, poverty predisposes one to poor dental health, regardless of how well one maintains one's oral hygiene.

1My savings have never been much, although people of higher income could learn a lot about saving from those of us surviving on much less. On an employment income of only $12,500 per year, I saved $5,000 annually.

As the years have gone by, without my being able to find employment that could accommodate my disabilities and with interest rates punishingly low for people who save rather than go into debt, my savings have rapidly diminished. Originally living on $8,000 per year, my annual withdrawal from savings went down to $7,200 - as costs continued to go up.

Since I can't go on BC's disability assistance for reasons I've explained elsewhere, without both SAFER and the CPP I'd have been homeless within another 18 months.

ETA: See follow-ups here and here.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

On Giving, Getting and Inequality

If you've sometimes had trouble sorting out the mixed messages on this blog with respect to acts of kindness, perhaps this might help you out.

"Because of our natural aversion to inequality ... we sometimes find generosity as annoying as selfishness."

That about sums it up.

Of course, one study does not constitute final proof. However, being unequal in terms of others' valuation and the constant effort to hold on hard to our sense of self-worth lies at the heart of the seeming conflict. That is, it's perfectly natural to appreciate help of the kind Daphne and I have sometimes received; and to resent it for the situation it represents.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Well, duh! The experts speaketh

Some recognized experts are suggesting the solution to homelessness is to give the homeless money to stay off the streets. Of course, the real experts - the homeless themselves - have been saying that for, well, forever.

In societies that treat the dollar as god, money is the best incentive of all, folks!

How very strange

... for the BC government now to permit public servants to use Facebook, Twitter and other social media, but still not permit them to use email to communicate with members of the public seeking their help.

I have written extensively about the problems for people of low income who must choose between having phone service - landline and cell - and having access to the Internet. For such households, the choice is almost always Internet, given it delivers more bang for the buck. With an Internet-connected computer, headphones and a service like Skype, one can still make outgoing calls to other computers and to phones.

Alas, in Canada - but not in the US, the UK, Australia, New Zealand, Japan, Korea, Mexico ... and just about every other advanced country in the world - you still cannot obtain an online number. If you had an online number, then people with a phone could call you at your computer. But without benefit of a phone OR an online number, people wanting to call you by phone - and in the case of the BC government, having to call you by phone, since that's the only way public servants are permitted to communicate with you - you cannot be reached.

The only option for someone without a phone but with an Internet-enabled computer is email. And the BC government won't permit public servants to use email to communicate with clients, consumers, or whatever the hell we want to call those seeking service or information from the government.

The BC government has even cut off the ability of public servants to use email in special cases, or so I was told when I was trying to communicate with the people at SAFER. Had the public servant processing my application required clarification, he/she would have had to use snail mail, thus delaying my application's approval by at least two weeks. The ability to send emails, other than in-house, was disabled.

It's so damn frustrating. A simple fix by the CRTC, that it lift its silly 911 restriction, so that VOIP providers could issue online numbers with Canadian area codes, would make the problem go away in an instant. And this fix, in aid of greater access for low income households, wouldn't cost the government a damn thing.

I've SkypeOUT. I'd have SkypeIN if it was permitted in Canada. But with SkypeOUT I have listed in my contacts all the emergency numbers one might need. So what if 911 isn't accessible?!

Lift the damn restriction, CRTC! It's obvious the only reason you have it there is to protect Canada's big telecommunications companies.

[Cross-posted at Challenging the Commonplace]

Monday, November 8, 2010

On Being Happy

Am back from having gone to the food bank, and am now eating a pickle sandwich and some almonds and feeling happy for the first time in several years. Not just content, but happy.

Several factors have contributed to this turnaround, from chronic depression and chronic pain, to episodes of happiness and substantial reduction of pain.

Foremost is having finally qualified, now at age 60, for rental assistance from the BC government in the form of the Supplementary Aid for Elderly Renters (SAFER). Effective August, I began receiving a monthly payment geared to income that substantially contributes to my rent. Payments from the Canada Pension Plan also began in August. These two payments, one provincial and one federal, plus my small income from savings, have combined to increase my income by a whopping 40 percent - to $10,100 annually.

Regardless of what measure one uses, I am still several thousand dollars below the poverty line. However, the 40 percent increase has made a huge difference to me, not least because I've been able to buy items I've desperately needed. More important, however, is the considerable lessening of stress due to daily financial worry.

As to pain, my financial situation has finally been reflected in my BC Pharmacare coverage. Since July 1st, I've not been required to contribute anything to the one prescription medication I take (Synthroid). Prior to that, I'd had to pay at least 30 percent of the cost, plus a deductible. (I don't know why it took so long, given my income has been sub-$8,000 for several years.)

I avoided the doctor because, what was the point? It was shut up and put up, to hell with the pain.

With so many things having changed, including my Pharmacare coverage, a few days ago I visited the doctor to ask for her help with pain management. She prescribed Gabapentin and I'm on a schedule to gradually increase the dose. (From one/day, to two/day, to three/day. Am up to two/day now and shall be glad when I reach the full dose. The pain returns in full force just around the time pill number 3 is due.) Already, there has been a difference, though. At night, there's less pain, so I sleep better. In the mornings, I'm able to walk, climb stairs, do light housework and pull my shopping cart with considerably less pain. The result is greater mobility and better quality of life.

Am also grateful to our local food bank and the businesses, organizations and people who contribute to it. I've only been getting bread there, but today, for the second time since I've been going to the food bank, I stopped for some coffee and a bran muffin; and met and chatted with some people while there.

Perhaps I appeared more approachable. I know I was smiling.

Friday, November 5, 2010

On Obesity and Poverty

A new study done in the US predicts that obesity rates there will peak at 42 percent, not the 34 percent previously predicted.

My immediate reaction was a shrug of the shoulders.

If you live in the poverty well, you know more than most of the 'experts' about the chief cause of certain illnesses. You know more than the health professionals, political advisers or policy makers. To whit, you know that obesity rates will peak at 42 percent in the US because more USians are poor.

With poverty comes poor nutrition and a helluva lot of bad carbs.

Consider the dilemma for parents whose household incomes have their families living in the bargain basement. It's

  1. feed your children nutritionally, but exceedingly sparingly. Then ignore your children's cries from pain in their bellies due to starvation; or
  2. feed your children pasta, bread, rice, cookies, donuts, snack food, etc. to fill their bellies and stave off their hunger, the result of which is malnourishment; and
  3. don't forget to feed yourself, although not the good stuff.

Should be obvious, eh? So why don't governments do something about it? Especially governments in countries with a universal healthcare system?

It costs not just lives but MONEY to keep people in poverty, folks!

Far better for the federal government in cooperation with the provinces to implement a guaranteed income for all (GAIA). Far better for municipalities to ensure a robust local food infrastructure and to have inclusive property laws to allow truly affordable housing. Far better these than to pay the enormous financial cost of serving a large swath of the population whose poor health due to poverty drains the healthcare system of crucial resources.

[Cross-posted at Challenging the Commonplace]

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

What a difference a little money makes!

Received my first SAFER payment on October 29th, which was a lump sum covering August, September and October. That same day, I walked to town pulling my little shopping cart behind me.* The plan: to buy myself at least one pair of pants or jeans to replace the ones that were literally falling off me.

When you've lived frugally - OK, admit it, CHEAPLY - for so long, it's hard to start spending again. I'd tried many times before to buy myself new, 'new', or definitely used clothing before. Ninety-nine times out of 100, I have returned home empty-handed. This time I was determined to get something, to buy NEW, to ignore the price, and to consider only the fit and whether I liked how the new duds fit and looked on me.

My first stop was Winners.

Tried on four pairs of jeans, in petite sizes. (All my clothes should be in petite, not regular sizes, which aren't designed for women under 5'3". It's not just about shortening hems; the whole styling is thrown off if an article was designed for someone several inches taller than oneself. Unfortunately, petite sizes rarely appear in thrift stores or through other means.)

Since I was shopping alone, I asked the Winners fitting room attendant to help me decide. We agreed on one pair in particular, which were in medium faded blue denim. Although these jeans had the inevitable gap (for me) at the back of the waist/hip, they still looked great on and because they fit so well, for the first time in what seemed forever, I felt good in a pair of pants. So I bought them, knowing I'd have to get a belt to deal with the gap problem. (Bought a nice belt today - 1" wide, navy blue, in a weaved leather pattern, for $2.75 at a local thrift shop.)

I left Winners with more than a pair of jeans. The fitting-room attendant had suggested I try Reitmans, said their new store had greatly expanded its petite section and most of the bottoms they sell have a wide band around the hip/waist which markedly reduces the gap. She should know. She has the same problem and buys all her bottoms there.

Next stop Reitmans, where I bought a second pair of jeans, in black and gap-free! 

Today was the first full day I'd worn either of my new jeans. (When at home, I wear the falling-apart apparel.) I chose the medium blue denims because I planned to get a belt to go with them.

It felt wonderful to walk into town and back with high quality, soft breathable fabric against my skin, without having to hitch my damn pants up all the time and to know that, as well as feeling good, I looked good. 

Today I also bought new reading glasses. I can see!!! And am sitting before a new 21.5" LG flatscreen monitor. No more fuzzy greyed-out images!!! Also made an appointment to see my doctor, something I always avoid; perhaps she can prescribe something that will help me better deal with the pain. Am also starting to think about seeing a dentist. That's not at all certain due to the likely cost, but at least am thinking about it.

* Reminder to self: Check out alternatives to the shopping cart. Pulling it, especially when laden with groceries, is further straining the back. For flat walking, a walker would be good and would also solve the problem of standing in line-ups. But would I be able to pull a walker up three flights of stairs, as I do presently with my little cart?

Monday, October 25, 2010

Can You See My Grin?

Today, I went to my post box and discovered a card from a special friend. My smile lightened my step as I went forward to my little shack in the woods. Once I got home and opened the envelope to find a treat from one who could least afford it, I was elated. It is amazing to feel so uplifted! Such a small thing, others would say, but I know how much it means to receive this unexpected present. The least I can do is say THANK YOU!

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

SAFER Application Week 13

Processed and approved, finally in week 13.

Effective August 1, so on October 31st I should receive three months' worth of this Supplementary Aid for Elderly Renters.

Friday, October 1, 2010

GST/HST/LICAT Credits Benefit Low-Income Households, P2

This is a follow-up to the discussion in the comments section of my original post, specifically to the suggestion promoted by the anti-HST campaign that British Columbians' hydro bills will go up because of the HST.*

At the time, I hadn't received a BC Hydro bill covering a period after July 1st, when the HST kicked in. It happens that BC Hydro adjusted the billing period for this area around that time, so I didn't get the expected bi-monthly bill that would normally have been due in the third week of August. The bill I've just received covers the almost four-month period from June 3rd to September 28, which catches us up to the new bi-monthly billing cycle.

Before I get to reporting on my bill, note this from the BC Hydro website:

Effective July 1, 2010, BC will harmonize the Provincial Sales Tax (PST) with the federal Goods and Services Tax (GST). It is important to note that the price you pay for electricity will not be affected by the new Harmonized Sales Tax (HST) but your bill will look different.

Once the HST takes effect, BC Hydro customers will see a bill that shows the 12% HST applied to energy charges, products and services, instead of the 7% PST and the 5% GST. However, BC Hydro Residential customers will also see a 7% credit from the Province of B.C. as a separate line called the Residential Energy Credit.

In addition, as of July 1, 2010 BC Hydro customers will no longer be required to pay the Innovative Clean Energy (ICE) Fund levy (0.4%) on electricity.

Now to my bill...

BC Hydro Electric Charges

Jun 03 to Jun 30
Basic charge: 28 days @ $0.13410 /day        3.75*
Usage charge:¹
  Step 1: 100 kW.h @ $0.06270 /kW.h          6.27*
  Step 2: 0 kW.h @ $0.08780 /kW.h            0.00
Rate Rider at 4.0%                           0.40*
Innovative Clean Energy Fund Levy at 0.4%    0.04

Jul 01 to Sep 28
Basic charge: 90 days @ $0.13410 /day       12.07*
Usage charge:¹
  Step 1: 322 kW.h @ $0.06270 /kW.h         20.19*  
  Step 2: 0 kW.h @ $0.08780 /kW.h            0.00
Rate Rider at 4.0%                           1.29*
* GST                                        0.52
* HST                                        4.03
Residential Energy Credit                    2.35CR
TOTAL 46.21

Taxes
The following is a summary of taxes billed to your
account since your last invoice:
GST on 10.42                        0.52
HST on 33.55                        4.03

I am not paying more for hydro because of the HST.

Were there no HST, the GST on $33.55 would be $1.68. Subtract the Residential Energy Credit of $2.35 from the HST charge of $4.03. You get $1.68.

There is plenty wrong with the way the BC Liberal government mishandled this issue. There is plenty wrong with the Liberals' overall conduct and flagrant flouting of democratic process. But facts are facts. The anti-HST campaign was lying when it claimed British Columbians would be paying more for their hydro because of the HST.

Early January, I'll do a six-month report of the effect of the HST on this household's budget.

--

*A recent opinion piece in my local paper suggests that BC Hydro rates are about to go up 70% over the next five years (!) but this is unrelated to the HST.

Thursday, September 30, 2010

SAFER - Week 11 and the Waiting Continues

It's week 11. My application to BC's SAFER program (Supplementary Aid for Elderly Renters) arrived at the SAFER office on July 19th.

On four separate occasions since then, I've tried to follow-up with documents that verified the amount of my then yet-to-be-started payments from the Canada Pension Plan. (They commenced August 27th.) When I was preparing my application in July, I'd looked up my Service Canada account, hoping to see confirmation of the CPP payment amount there. Nothing. When I checked in August, my account showed the amount to be $295.55. In my cover letter to the SAFER application I'd written that I would send supporting documentation of the CPP monthly amount as soon as I received it.

August 11: I phone SAFER, not expecting anything will have been done yet on my application but wanting to know how long the process will take - "eight to ten weeks" - and whether there is a way, other than snail mail, to get documents to SAFER. I am given the BC Housing email address used for document dumps. I send an email immediately with an e-printout of my Service Canada account which shows the CPP payment amount. I receive an auto response confirming receipt of my email by BC Housing.

September 3: I phone SAFER (Kevin), asking what's up with my application and expecting confirmation they've the document I emailed August 11. They haven't. I am advised to send a fax instead to a specified number. Since I haven't a phone, I use a web-based fax service that allows the first fax to be free. In addition to the Service Canada printout, I include an e-printout of all activity during August on my credit union account. It shows receipt of my first CPP payment of $295.55. My fax is confirmed to have been sent to the correct number.

September 28: Enter week 11. I phone SAFER (Nicole), asking what's up with my application and expecting confirmation they've the documents I faxed on September 3. They haven't. My application sits unseen. I am advised to send another email and to call again in two days. I send the email immediately and receive the auto response that it has been received by BC Housing.

September 30: I phone SAFER (Stephanie), asking what's up with my application and expecting confirmation they've the documents I emailed two days previously. They haven't. I am advised that the person who usually monitors (!) the email and fax document station is away today and to send another email immediately. Stephanie will check in one hour with the person currently at that station and call me to let me know if my email was received. I tell Stephanie I haven't a phone and ask that she email me instead. She tells me they're not permitted to send external emails - a common policy of government departments. (In this case, it means the SAFER office can't contact me except by snail mail. What if there's a question that holds up my application's approval? More delay.) I tell Stephanie I've just sent the email while we were speaking. Two seconds later, I report receiving the auto response. She puts me on hold. IT'S THERE!!! Documents are being printed.

Stephanie says that applications received the week of July 12th are now being processed. Which means maybe, just maybe, mine might get looked at next. Enter week 12.

ETA: Was resolved in Week 13, with effective date August 1 and first (three-months) payment to be received October 31st.

I love this story...

Another Living Wage community is coming to British Columbia, thereby doubling the number in Canada to two.

New Westminster led the way.

In New Westminster the living wage applies to people working directly for the city, as well as contractors who spend a significant amount of time on city property. Most city employees were already paid decently, so bringing everyone up to a living wage cost just $20,000 more a year, [New Westminster councilor Jaime McEvoy] said. Helping contractors, and it turned out there were 60 or 70 of them doing everything from maintaining street lights to shredding paper, meet the wage requirement required another $150,000 in increased payments.

Cities often give business to the lowest bidder, he said. "Then you're part of the problem and we were part of the problem, to be honest."

Looks like the Township of Esquimalt on Vancouver Island is about to follow New Westminster's lead.

More and more cities in the US (Portland, Oregon is one example) and now in Canada are taking control over issues that upper level governments persist in ignoring. Just yesterday was news of a Canadian city (can't remember which one) that was implementing its own tough environmental policy.

I'm really pleased about this. We need our communities and local politicians to exercise more clout. Perhaps as more of them do, more residents will become socially and politically engaged at the local level. That can never be a bad thing. One distinct advantage: if your local councillor ignores your phone calls, letters or emails, you can drop by for a neighbourly chat.

Our federal and provincial governments show little regard for the problems cities are facing and pay only lip service to our communities' representative organizations (e.g, the Union of Canadian Municipalities). That must change.

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Thank You Very Much

Have you ever wondered what it is like to be on the receiving end of others' goodwill?

A personal example: Someone I did not know in my neighbourhood somehow knew I and my small family were without all the trimmings for a Christmas dinner. They arrive at my door on December 25th, brimming with good intent, goodies in hand to give us. I ought to have been grateful; in awe of their kind thoughtfulness and to thank them profusely for thinking of us. But, for me, this was demeaning, soul destroying and downright embarrassing. I took everything and thanked them but didn't eat the turkey as we were/are vegans.

If this were a gift economy, the matter would never come up, because gift economies are essentially giving circles, not chains from giver to givee. But in cultures where charity is preferred over government programs that universally fill in the gaps, there must always be someone who needs. How else can 'Christian charity' be exercised and thus through such selfless acts the givers receive additional blessing? (So how 'selfless' is it? Charity is a requirement of the Christian faith.)

Yea, Ocean and I get that giving feels good. We'd like to help a whole lot more than we already do (yes, we help one another). Where and when it's welcome. Where and when it preserves the dignity and autonomy of the recipient. Not for our own damn sakes, because it feels so good or because our 'souls' will receive a bonus benediction.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

When Values and Wants Collide

Over the past while, as I've written on this blog of going from one crisis to another, someone has occasionally contacted me to offer help.

Each time, I've felt conflicted about accepting that offer.

Daphne and I began economicus ridiculous for the primary purpose1 of enlightening people about what life looks like when viewed from the bottom of the poverty well. Our purpose was never to gain sympathy or help for ourselves.

Through our work with WISE, we saw how effective the deeply personal could be in changing people's minds or waking them from apathy. The stark brutal facts of our stories and those of the other women of WISE angered readers to the point of moving some to action. While WISE folded in late 2006 due to lack of funding through Status of Women Canada (thank you, Stephen Harper), Daphne and I didn't fold. Our lives continued as they were, with one difference: our anger was deeper, stronger, and stoked a furious determination not to allow our voices to be silenced. We would continue advocating for change, but now on our own.

On this blog and in our other writings, Daphne and I press on in the same style. We continue to be as brutally honest with our readers, and with ourselves, as we were when we told our stories for the first time through WISE.

Yours truly does not always succeed. I'm the quintessential introvert and baring all leaves me feeling terribly vulnerable and usually shaking until the writing is many hours or days in the past. Still, I expose the deeply personal in order to slam home the message that living like this is brutal and nasty. My writing is always about getting that message out.

When readers respond with offers of help, I reflexively feel that my voice has been diminished or the larger point somehow missed. I know intellectually this hasn't happened with the women whose offers I did accept (and, make no mistake, I've been grateful for the items provided); but I can't help but be apprehensive of the danger of economicus ridiculous no longer being taken seriously because one or both of its writers occasionally gets help from a reader.

I don't know if I've explained this conflict well and fear unintentionally offending people I don't want to offend. But I've decided against accepting help in the future from people who know me only through my writing or online contact.

I understand how people could be moved by some of my recent posts to the point of wanting to help. But I would rather they took what I have written and used it as their impetus to help, perhaps in a similar way, someone they already know or a stranger who lives nearby2; and/or to advocate, or advocate more, for change in all the ways they can imagine.

--

1A secondary purpose behind the blog was to share tips on getting by on next to nothing.
2Always ask if help is wanted before giving it and what type of help is desired. Accept the response without judgement or argument. Many of the desperately poor have the most basic of wants, often unrelated to physical need. A cup of coffee and conversation, for example, could make someone's week, precisely because the coffee is a treat not a necessity, and the conversation validates their humanity. Regardless, you're not obliged, simply in the asking, to follow through and provide the requested item or service.

Friday, September 10, 2010

Sometimes Good Things Happen 2

No, there's been nothing from SAFER. My application still sits at the SAFER office, not having been looked at yet, although it's been there for eight weeks.

But thanks to a kind Cowichan woman and her mother, last night, for the first time in awhile, I slept like a baby, warm and snuggly under lovely 'new' creamy soft pink sheets, that were topped by a high quality gorgeous quilt.

This photo doesn't do it justice (click over the pic for a larger view). That quilt is thick, beautifully made, and has an antique look to it, having a slight gold sheen in the background.

The bedding came complete with matching cushion and pillow sham. And the sham encased a super fat pillow! (All my pillows have been of the cheap, thin variety, with little to no cushiony comfort. I've two such pillows now; both happen to have navy pillowcases which exactly match the navy trim on my new bedding!)

The women also provided an extra pair of sheets, pillowcases and towels. I can't remember the last time I had a spare set of linen.

There were other goodies, among them several pairs of warm socks. And food, including homemade jam. The label on one jam jar reads "peach, lavender, raspberry." The description alone makes me salivate.

When I awoke this morning, I couldn't recall anything after turning off the light at 9:30 last night. Wanted to stay up reading in bed longer, because the extra back support from the cushion and fat pillow made that pastime less painful. But I couldn't keep my eyes open. I don't think I moved all night.

Monday, September 6, 2010

Stress of Living on the Edge Promotes Mental Illness

The more dire my financial situation becomes, the fewer choices I have, and the less room I've to manoeuvre, the more stress I feel. This has a direct affect on my brain's ability to maintain its own health.

The brain manages the best way it can. We present our brains with impossible situations, they create improbable and seemingly impossible ways of coping.

My brain has learned to cope with unbearable stress in a way that most people would consider unhealthy.

Since my rapid slide into the purported 'unemployable', which began late 2000, whenever my choices reduced to zero and the stress became so overwhelming my brain could no longer bear the pressure, I'd unintentionally and without conscious thought enter a dissociative state.

It happened for the first time in February 2001, when I was at home alone; another time when I was standing at the counter of the local mental health unit waiting to make an appointment. Twice it happened while I sat in a WAVAW counsellor's office, waiting for her to say something.

On each occasion, whether I was standing, sitting, talking, or walking, the motion slowly ceased until I became immobile, even my breathing having slowed. It was like my brain wound me down, shut off all sensory input and left only the basic organ and motor functions running, albeit more slowly.

The reality of my immovable body then matched the reality of my immovable situation.

In the times this has happened, it has been the one relieving state in which I've felt the pressures ease on my mind. It feels so damn good, so peaceful, so quiet; no sounds and no smells; there's nothing felt or tasted; nothing touches my skin. It's a place that's almost colourless and has the look of a whitish fog. All senses have been turned off and I am inside my own mind; nothing outside my inner world demands my attention, not even my own skin.

Because this state feels so good, it's difficult to break out of. It feels like a drug and there's a strong compulsion to fall deeper into it, as though the brain is trying to lure itself toward something. Unconsciousness perhaps?

While in that place, a lazy thought sometimes arises that if I give way to the temptation to stay, I could lose my mind permanently. I fuzzily wonder why I should care about losing my mind.

Psychologically speaking, my reaction to severe stress due to living financially on the edge makes sense. There are no more options, no other places to turn. One is in fact on a precipice. The only way left is to jump.

I don't want to jump, not anymore, not having finally turned 60 and become eligible - but still not approved - for some financial help.

But waiting for help and waiting for approval by some Other can be as damaging as getting no help at all.

Waiting, Waiting, Waiting...

Waiting is the biggest stressor* for me.

It hasn't helped that what I'm waiting for has meant my being unable to buy desperately needed things.

My remaining pants and jeans are falling off me, literally. As I walk to and from the grocery store, I'm having to keep hitching them up. When I go out, I look poor and that embarrasses me.

Recently, my fallen-apart comforter and last top sheet, plus the t-shirts I'd been wearing for nightwear had become so threadbare they were good for nothing but the dumpster. What bedding remains is a single fitted sheet to cover the mattress. I've been spending my nights trying to sleep with a single, light throw over me. It's no bigger than a bath towel.

The nights are getting colder; the heat hasn't been turned on yet. I'm so cold.

Then there's the reading glasses and the LCD/LED monitor that's needed to replace this ancient CRT one. The brightness levels of my monitor have so decayed that a person with good eyesight said everything looks blurry. Using this monitor has worsened my eyesight.

Why don't I get the things I need? What's the wait about?

I'm waiting for approval of my application to the BC government's Shelter Aid for Elderly Renters (SAFER), a rental subsidy program for low-income seniors.

The SAFER office received my application on July 19th.

In anticipation over the last two years of applying for SAFER when I turned 60, I'd calculated and apportioned my savings to last until I would begin receiving the subsidy. This meant living on no more than $700 per month.

In my calculations, I assumed the processing of SAFER applications would take up to six weeks. Nothing on the BC Housing website suggested otherwise.

Six weeks didn't seem like such a bad assumption. There was, after all, the customary advisement of "up to six weeks" that I'd been told or read whenever I'd dealt with federal or provincial government services in the past.

Silly me. I was going by experiences back in the days of yore. Back in the halcyon days prior to the BC election in 2001, before the large budget and public service cuts done by the Campbell government.

The middle of August came and went and I'd still had no word from SAFER, not even acknowledgement of receipt of my application. So I called their office using Skype and was told to expect to receive my first payment at the end of September. By that time SAFER would owe me three months' worth of payments, which would total approximately $1,000.

Panic set in, but I eventually coped. I began visiting the food bank more frequently and cutting even further on my 'discretionary' spending - to about $80 per month. By 'discretionary', I mean everything else other than rent, hydro and cable (internet only).

With three weeks having passed since I'd checked with SAFER, I called again on September 3rd. Now I was told that they were about "four weeks behind in processing" and were still working on the applications from the middle of June. Ergo, I should not expect to receive payment until "at least [the last working day of] October." I asked if 'at least' really meant 'not until the end of November'. The man restated "the end of October," without the qualifier.

So now I'm scared and I don't trust that I'll see a SAFER payment the end of October either.

All my best-laid plans - to make my savings last not just until the SAFER payments would begin, but to stretch them until I turned 65 and qualified for Old Age Security and the Guaranteed Income Supplement - look to have been for nought. With the punishingly low interest rates, (especially punishing for people dependent on their savings), my savings over the past while have been earning very little. In June, I did what I could and put most of my money into two non-redeemable term deposits. The rest, $2,700, went into a redeemable (after 90 days) term deposit; starting the 15th of this month, it's to be divvied out in 10 monthly payments of $270.

You do the math:

* CPP payment: $295.55
* Savings: $270.00
* Total monthly: $565.55

Rent just went up: $501. Shaw internet service just went up: $52.64.

Forget about hydro, food, monitors, reading glasses, warm bedding, sleep wear, pants that fit.

No matter what I do, no matter how hard I try to make things work, it never seems to be enough.

When you live so close to the edge, there's no room to accommodate government 'service delays'.

Thank you, Gordon Campbell, for approving all those cutbacks to BC's public service.

*On Saturday I bought more St. John's Wort. It's an expense I can ill afford; but I also cannot afford the toll this stress is taking on my body and my mind. I've been too ready to erupt lately. Kiltie and Brodie are affected by the tension. Time to do something about it.

Monday, July 26, 2010

Sometimes Good Things Happen - UPDATE

Well, Stacey just arrived, accompanied by his two sweet daughters. As promised, he'd picked up a 40-lb bag of wood pellets in Nanaimo for me and delivered it straight to my door.

All with a smile.

Thanks to Stacey - a complete stranger, remember -, Kiltie and Brodie are set up with enough litter for their commode for another 12 months; and with a bonus!

Stacey managed to find pine pellets, the kind I wanted most. The local store was out of the pine when I went to purchase pellets last year and the bag of mixed pellets I bought instead hasn't been as good.

The pine holds its freshness and scent longer, as opposed to the alternative, which is a mix of fir, spruce and pine. 

This household is in for a nice fresh pine scent for many, many months to come. Kiltie, Brodie and their human are very pleased with this situation.

Stacey is setting a fine example for his daughters, who are a couple of very lucky little girls.

Sunday, July 25, 2010

Sometimes Good Things Happen

Posted the following notice to my apartment building's bulletin board about a week ago:

CAN YOU HELP?

I need someone to carry a 40 lb bag of wood pellets to my 3rd-floor apartment.

Ocean,
Unit 311

No response... despite several able-bodied tenants who could do this without breaking a sweat.

My plan was to go with friend Daisy to Shar-kare in Duncan; have them place the bag of pellets into her car; once here, somehow manoeuvre the 40 lbs down six steps, through a heavy locked main entry door and across several feet of hallway; dump the bag, with a resounding thump, under the ground-floor stair landing; and attach this note to it: For Unit 311.

Best-laid plans...

Given the lack of response from my most immediate neighbours I posted a SERVICE WANTED message to my local recycle ReUSEIt1 site... and received this response mere minutes later.

Hi, I can carry it up for you... I work days and have variable hours available... Can you arrange and pay for the item and I will pick it up from the store for you and deliver it one evening? Feel free to phone me, Stacey at xxx.xxx.xxxx thanks

Picture yours truly donning her headphones, then using Skype to key in Stacey's phone number.

We talked.

Turns out that Shar-kare has a branch in Nanaimo that's virtually next door to where Stacey works.

Stacey suggested that rather than my going to the Duncan store, he get the pellets for me in Nanaimo. Then he'll bring them by at a time to suit his schedule - likely sometime tomorrow afternoon or evening.

Sometimes people let you down. Other times, thanks to people like Stacey, they don't; and good things happen.

1 We used to be associated with the ReUseIt network, which I mention in the linked post. Now we're with the ReUseIt Network - and here is the Cowichan group!

ETA: This morning, two three four other men responded to my free recycle post. After the disappointing lack of response from the tenants in this building, this has been reassuring.

ETA 2: See follow-up post.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Provincial camping: a CHEAP vacation?

Okay, so here I am, still visiting at my sister's place in Southwestern Ontario.

She says, 'Let's go camping for a few days along Lake Huron'. 'Great', I say. I view this as chance to enjoy some of Ontario's beautiful natural conserves without having to fork over pots of money for overnight accommodation. We will use tents! We will bring our own food and cook it over an open fire!

However, to camp in the Provincial Campgrounds in Ontario one must reserve a campsite via telephone, on-line, for $8, or go in person to the desired campground ahead of time and pay $9. The cost of the cheapest site weighs in at $28.00 per night. This is basic camping, folks: a place to put your tent up, a firepit, drinking water from a nearby tap and an outdoor biffy (called a 'vault') within walking distance of your set-up. If you want a campfire, you must buy pre-approved wood, off-site, at $7-8 a bag, plus tax. No sinks or showers for this price and not all campgrounds offer the low rate.

If you cancel or change your reservation, 10 -15 percent is held back, while the reservation fee is non-refundable.

Then there is the HST.

Hmmmmm, and what if you are one of the many 'working poor' who want to take your family for a vacation, where the 'basic' rate for a campsite might only pay a small portion of the vehicle operation/running costs to get you there?

By now I am beginning to get the picture that camping is not the cheap vacation I was anticipating. I wonder how I would make the reservation if I did not have a telephone, were not on-line or could not afford to drive to the campground ahead of time to request a site?

Sigh, if only I were a homeless person in BC, I would be allowed to camp in the local parks overnight~for free.