hydrangea blossoming

hydrangea blossoming
Hydrangea on the Edge of Blooming

Sunday, February 28, 2010

Tsunami Lashes Point Roberts


Or, happily, not so much.  Taken Saturday around 3:45 p.m., by Ed, at the foot of South Beach.

Saturday, February 27, 2010

Disaster News

First off, there's the tsunami advisory that we are now under.  Right now, at 9 am, it doesn't look that likely, but doubtless by noon it will look different: better or worse.  And the Olympics are almost over, so for our entertainment we'll have to find something else.  And then there's Sterling Bank.

Today, Calculated Risk, a blog of economics and The Great Recession, posted this about banks in trouble:

Only 154 institutions increased their assets during the quarter with the largest balance sheet increase at West Coast Bank ($80 million). Balance sheet downsizing happened at 462 institutions with the largest decrease at Westernbank Puerto Rico ($1.5 billion) and Sterling Savings Bank ($1 billion).

This looks like more bad news for Sterling, which was supposed to be raising capital to satisfy the FDIC's Cease and Desist Order, not decreasing its assets. On the other hand, Sterling's stock went from about 45 cents to almost 80 cents just over the past 3 days (it's currently at 72 cents per share).  Which suggests that Sterling stock purchasers are suffering from something akin to Alan Greenspan's irrational exuberance or that somebody knows something that most everybody else doesn't know.

Thursday, February 25, 2010

Fraud and Original Sin

Well, so much for citing California's smog-checking program as a model for septic system inspections.  But mostly I was citing it for its ability to set a reasonable price for inspections.  Presumably the fraud and abuse inspections cost somewhat more, and none of it taxable to the inspectors.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

The Council Votes Yes!

The following email was sent by Councilwoman Barbara Brenner with respect to the Septic System Ordinance amendments:
Last night the council passed the amendment to the septic system ordinance to allow homeowners to take a class to learn their own systems and then do their own inspections if they choose. It passed 5-2.
I wish I had done a better job of refuting some of the negative opinions and puffery (a word I just learned that means exaggerated statements, opinion, not fact). But I will respond about the homeowners vs. the professionals. There is one big difference. The professionals learn for all systems. The homeowners only have to learn about their own system. That is a big difference. The other major difference I could tell between those who support the homeowners being educated to do their own inspections and most of those who don't think they should be allowed is really is about trust. We will never have enough enforcement people to force people to do what many believe is unreasonable. We need the goodwill of those who have OSS in order to best protect the environment. I still cannot see how anyone would intentionally let their system fail if they understand their system. The only reason I can think would be a lack of funds and that is something we still need to help in addressing. Even a professional inspection won't improve any system if the homeowner doesn't have the money available to do it.
Someone complained that homeowners will ruin the environment and she does not want to subsidize the OSS homeowners lack of environmental concern. Whatcom County spends more money by far on the Lake Whatcom Watershed because of faulty development than any other water quality issue of which I can think. Yet half of the county population who pay the taxes for it, do not live in the Lake Whatcom Watershed nor do they drink the water. We all subsidize lots of environmental protection. If we are going to use that argument, we all lose.
I recently realized that many people have only been e-mailing me regarding your feelings about the septic system issue. I hope you will take the time to thank the whole county council for addressing this issue. It would have never happened without them.The council address is council@co.whatcom.wa.us
There are still a number of significant OSS issues including fee structures, proprietary systems, low interest loan program, clarifications about when fees kick in, and potentially some sort of volunteer group of professionals who might form to assist those of very low financial means with the different aspects of bringing their systems into compliance. It could be a win-win in that volunteers could use their assistance as tax write-offs and do a very honorable service for county residents and for the environment. I have been approached by several professionals about this in the past. I would appreciate any input about it now.
I am sure I haven't covered everything but for now I thank you for your patience. I will keep you informed of any related issues and opportunities to comment.
Barbara Brenner

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Hospital Update

To those who have kindly inquired about our well-being: We are back from the hospital in Bellingham; Ed is doing as well as one could ask after major surgery.  The last time he was in a hospital overnight was in 1953; I in 1965 (and then only for the birth of my third child).  Thus, we are naive at best about what it's like to get serious medical treatment of that sort.  It takes a lot out of everyone, and when they say recovery will take 3 or 4 weeks, I now take them at their word.  But it's very nice to be back at home.

If It's Tuesday, It's Septic Inspections

Tonight the Bellingham County Council will revisit the revisions for inspecting septic systems.  The agenda for the meeting can be seen here.  (It's a PDF file, so you will probably have to save it and then click on it to read it).  The main point of the revisions is to permit owners to take classes and then do their own inspections.  In addition, it would require that the County set up some kind of low interest loan program for people who need repairs or replacements that they otherwise could not afford.  It also requires that any home sale include a professional inspection.

The main argument against the change is the assertion that if people do their own inspections, they have an incentive to misrepresent the outcome of their inspection.  (We might refer to this as a kind of 'original sin' argument in that we are all fallen and devious and cannot be expected to behave in a responsible way.  Although I've probably spent most of my life arguing against this kind of thinking, of the past half dozen or so years, I'm beginning to see the possible error of my ways.)  And if everybody tries to get around honest inspections, then the water quality will truly be degraded in those areas where there are septic systems.  And the degradation will flow out, so to speak, to those who have sewage systems and thus are not part of this issue.

There is some kind of legal argument, also, that assuming people have septic system problems in the absence of information to the contrary is some kind of State Constitutional violation.  But the State surely requires us to do lots of things without any evidence that we can't do them.  But I am not a lawyer.

In California, where I used to live, everybody had to have his/her automobile inspected on a regular basis to make sure that the car's smog-reduction system was working.  You were fined if you didn't have it done; and if there was a problem when it was examined, you had to pay to repair it.  The reason they did it was because of an original sin argument: people (or at least people who knew something about how to mess with the innards of a car) would cause the anti-smog mechanisms in the car to be disconnected and the only thing that would discourage that was thought to be yearly examinations, for which every car owner was charged a specific amount.  That amount was set by the state, not by the people who wanted to be smog device checkers.  If Whatcom County could just set a reasonable price for this service, they could save a lot of difficulties.  But I guess if that is not Constitutionally prohibited, it is ideologically prohibited.  Nobody's gonna tell me what I'm gonna charge!

Sunday, February 21, 2010

Slow Post

Like the name of a dance.  But we are slowed down now and postings will be abbreviated until we get back to P.R. (which should be today) and get ourselves reintegrated into our house.  Wish us well.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Medical Care in Pt. Roberts

We are currently down in Bellingham pursuing a little medical care in the enormous medical complex that is housed there.  I'm used to being around hospitals, but that was two decades ago, and the changes in those intervening 20 years have been amazing.  There's the hospital and then there's dozens of buildings surrounding the hospital holding all kinds of specialized facilities, some belonging to the hospital, some not, but a place for every organ, every individual system, every conceivable need.

This stay at St. Joseph's (we're in to the 2nd day and Ed is the patient while I'm the family member) has been very good so far, given that one is dealing with a hospital.  We have no complaints whatsoever; although we might be unhappier if things weren't going well.  But it is reassuring to feel that, despite the isolation of Pt. Roberts, that there is good medical care accessible, although you do have an hour's drive to get to it.  But once you're here, you are here.

The other benefit we have come to more fully appreciate is the fact that Point Robert's Wellness Clinic provides not only initial wellness care but also, and even more important in this case, connection to physicians.  If it were up to us, I suspect, we might still be phoning around trying to get a physician to accept us as Medicare patients.  Or at the very least, trying to find one who would accept us and about whom we had any reason to feel confidence.  Virginia, the Saint of the Wellness Clinic, did that work for us.  And those who set the Clinic up originally had the foresight to make sure that that service was part of the foundation of the clinic. At least as far as I understand it, St. Joseph's-affiliated physicians are in some way obliged to accept referrals from the clinic.  We have surely had that be our experience, and are very grateful for it.

It's one thing to say that a hospital has to accept you in the Emergency Room, but they only have to do it until you are stabilized.  After that, you might well be on your own, even with insurance.  Having assured physician access means a lot.

Sunday, February 14, 2010


Yesterday was the memorial service here on the Point for my fellow quilter Bea Croisdale, who died last month.  It was held at the lovely Trinity Lutheran Church here and her friends and family--more than a hundred people--filled the space.  A nice send off, a nice remembrance.  The Red Hat group were there in full force and full costume which, in itself, would be a pretty spectacular send off.  Joining them were many members from the Wacky Walkers, the local walking group, many in their lime green t-shirts.  And the quilters, both from here on the Point and from Tswaassen's Boundary Bay Quilt Guild, were well represented, not only in numbers but in the fact that the pastor and one of the musicians were also quilters.  Bea was a Red Hat, a walker, and a quilter, but also a happy participant in her life.

It was a good ceremony, mostly of Bea's friends and close family members standing up and talking about her and about their memories of her.  Bea lived almost 80 years and she did a good job of it.  I saw her about a week before she died (of ALS) and she talked about how the curtain was coming down on this journey and she had certainly enjoyed it all, and was so grateful that if someone in her family had to be so ill that it was her and not one of those who had not already had all the time she had been given.

I knew Bea best as a quilter.  But she was also a woman of my generation--about 6 years older than I--a woman whose childhood was spent not in the (relatively) easy United States' experience of World War II, but in Denmark, which was occupied throughout the war by the Germans.  We talked occasionally about what that had been like for her and what coming to Canada had meant to her.  I don't know whether it contributed to Bea's capacity to enjoy the small things of life, but it seems likely that she understood very early in her life how easily things could go wrong, and to remember to appreciate what was right while it was happening.  As Thornton Wilder once wrote, 'Just enjoy your ice cream while it's on your plate.'

When I first met her, about 13 years ago, she was a beginning quilter, but I never knew that until a week before she died,  That was because she was so committed to doing a good job based upon her own high standards for herself.  She had sewn all her life and she brought that skill to both traditional quilting and to what is now called 'art quilting.'  The Point Roberts Quilt Group has distinguished itself by its group work, and Bea was an essential part of that process.  Indeed, we all knew we could always depend upon her to be there when we needed her, to work longer than anyone else, to volunteer to do just a little extra, and to do it right.

We will all miss Bea, and the quilters' particular task will be to fill that space, to share the responsibility for what Bea so cheerfully always took unto herself.  We are indeed bereft of her: of her skills, her attitude, her standards, and her easy laughter, but she has also given us, especially over the last few months of her illness, a lesson in how to take on that far harder task of dying in company.  Go well, Bea.  You have done it right.

Friday, February 12, 2010

Steady Wins the Race

On Wednesday, the rain was coming down slowly, but steadily, when we arrived in Point Roberts.  When we went to the post office, what to my wondering eyes should appear but two guys--one on a ladder, and the other on the actual roof--nailing in shingles on the roof of the community events sign. They had their backs to me more or less and I didn't recognize them from that angle, but whoever they are, good work!  This sign has now been moving through its many phases for almost two years, and each time that another step in its completion is taken, I kind of hold my breath until the next step comes.  This could be dangerous for your health when the spaces get pretty long, of course.

Yesterday, a sunnier day looked upon a roof that appeared to me to be complete.  But the scaffolding was still up, so perhaps there's yet another breath-holding ahead of me.  It hasn't been fast, but it has surely been persistent.  And that, too, is a virtue to be cherished.  However, there is a sign now on that board for a meeting that was held last month...not as current as one might hope.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

That Olympic Spirit

We drove down today from the Sunshine Coast (north of Vancouver) to Point Roberts (south of Vancouver) but failed to catch the Olympic spirit.  There are, of course, no signs of snow; what there are are drifts of daffodils here and there blooming profusely.  The crocuses are practically on their way out.  Everything is weeks ahead of time, except for the winter which we seem to have missed.

The trucks are still bringing snow into Cypress Bowl (which is the venue in the mountains just north of Vancouver and much lower in elevation than the Whistler venues), and have now been joined by snow-delivering helicopters, not to mention lots of dry ice.  The dry ice, according to the news, is buried under the moguls...suggesting that it might turn out looking like a misty day in May.  The organizers are saying, 'No Problemo!  We are right on top of all this.'  But 75% of Vancouverites think the whole thing will be a financial loss to, largely, Vancouverites, I suppose.

Up on the Coast, the torch bearers came through and took the ferry over to West Vancouver.  It was a special ferry; not the one we usually get to take the peasants back and forth from the Coast to West Van.  It was one of the newest, biggest, fanciest ferries that normally ply the Vancouver/Vancouver Island route.  It sailed a practice route to make sure it could get into our dock, and then it sailed a special sailing in order to bring the torchbearers and several hundred of B.C. elites who are somehow connected with the Olympics from point A to Point B, even though most of them had to be carted to Point A from Point X before the ride began.  The talk is that each of these sailings cost about $75K.  If they'd all gone on a regular ferry, they could have done it for about $8/person.  But, then, there's the security concerns, and the additional concern that the folks couldn't manage a 45-minute ferry ride without having a salmon/halibut/prawn and truffles treat table.

I think in Greece, way back when, the athletes just came and competed and everybody had a pleasant few days.  But nowadays, everything has to be 'world class,' for some reason, and a lot of everybodies need to be made to feel a great deal more important than they actually are (which is to say 'not very important'), everybody needs to grab a piece of some strange pie that has nothing to do with them except that it's all over the 'news' paper, and the burning questions are whether the event is making money for somebody and, if so, for whom.  The public we saw today, however, seemed to be taking this all outside their stride.  Very few cars were sporting Canadian flags...just enough so you realized that the vast majority were not.  There were no delays at the Lions Gate Bridge.  Traffic was minimal.  We sped through Vancouver, bereft of Olympic spirit, I'm afraid, but happy to be south of the border.  (In the photo above there is a flag flying over the house, but it is barely visible.)

Monday, February 8, 2010

At Any Price?

Mr. Gellatly's Freedom 2000 trash pick up is moving forward.  Yesterday, we received this message:

Requests for curbside garbage collection services and curbside recycling collection services can be made by contacting:

CaNDO Recycling and Refuse at 360-945-CNDO (2636)

Please leave a message with your name and return phone number and we will contact you and set up regularly scheduled or on call service.

A start date has not yet been firmly established, but will be announced soon. Preliminary startup plans are moving faster than expected.

We've been without trash pickup for about 7 months now, so maybe everyone is desperate, but I would think that some information might be offered about the price of the service?  

Friday, February 5, 2010

Getting Around

I've had more than my share of moving across borders over the past 18 years when we have managed to live pretty full lives, simultaneously, in both the U.S. and in Canada by spending two weeks of each month in each place (with the excess going to the U.S.).  We've skipped right across bi-coastal to bi-national.  At this point, however, it's grown a little wearisome, and medical circumstances make it imperative that we get ourselves back to the U.S. on a full-time basis.  (And, as a matter of fact, that may make posting a little irregular on the blog, although I'll try to maintain some stability, in every sense of the word.)

However, there are more possibilities for travel than i had considered, possibilities much more onerous, I'd guess.  Point Roberts has a marina where I rarely go because I don't have much interest in boats, although they do have many beauties of which I am an insufficient observer.  When we went to see the pygmy-angora goats arrive a couple of weeks ago, I looked around at the Marina with a somewhat more interested eye.  There are a lot of boats there.  They surely don't all belong to full-time residents of Point Roberts; my guess is that Canadians keep them there for one reason or another.  Lower fees, lower taxes, who knows.  In any case, the marina pretty much has all its slips filled.  As of last week, anyway, there were only 8 available out of what looks like several hundreds.  (The marina's website has much information, but not including the number of slips available.)

In addition to the boats and the chandlery, and the restaurant, and the service facilities, the marina currently has two other features.  On is a small herd of highland cattle (which were also shipped in, like the goats, but on a somewhat larger boat) and the other is a two-story, 82-foot long barge/house boat that would appear to be something like a small-ish hotel.  The houseboat has been here and there for many years apparently and was, I am told, most recently shipped in to us in Pt. Roberts from Salt Spring Island.  But it is now for sale to anyone who would like to cruise around from country to country with all their closest friends.  All it would take is the friends and some way to move the houseboat (it didn't really seem self-propelling, and i guess if it's a barge you'd actually need a tug-boat to move it, but what do I know about boats?).  And then, you'd also need about $1.8+ million dollars. (The color picture above: that's the barge/houseboat, even though it just looks like a house.)

And then you would have the opportunity to live bi-, tri-, quatralaterally nationally.  Personally, I wouldn't recommend it, but then, everyone has his or her own level of tolerance for complexity.

(Sorry that two of the pictures turned out to be in b/w.  My photo program occasionally has the need to do this and when I discovered it, I wasn't well situated to retake the pics.)

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Who's Doing This?

This past Monday evening, the Massey Tunnel (the tunnel that goes under the Fraser River on the main north-south highway into Vancouver) was closed for several hours after a 1981 Volkswagon pickup with a single driver had an accident while driving through the tunnel around 8:50 p.m.  The pickup then caught fire.  Unfortunately, the driver was killed.  Closing that tunnel in both directions, even for a short period of time (the accident was in the northbound section, but there was smoke in the southbound section) must have caused a colossal traffic mess, even that late in the evening.

The next morning, we were driving east on Highway 17, barely 6K from the Massey Tunnel, when we saw traffic backed up forever in the westbound lanes, near Ladner Trunk Road.  Just past the intersection, a trailer truck had turned right over on its side.  No curves in the road there, no wind happening; the driver seemed to have made the turn (if he was turning) before the truck turned on its side because it was stretched right straight out on the shoulder.  Many, many police cars around, lights flashing.  Many, many cars not getting to the Tsawwassen Ferry Terminal.

This, my experience of the beginning of the Olympic phenomenon here in Vancouver.  Today, the newsmedia report that they are trucking snow in from the interior to Cypress Bowl because it's 45-50 degrees F. all this week, all last week, all next week from all appearances.  My neighbors up here in the Sunshine Coast are not speaking kindly about the Olympics and the Premier who thought having it in Vancouver was such a great idea.

But here's the bright side.  If the Massey Tunnel closure had occurred in the U.S. on the first day of the Olympic schedule (that's when the various road closures began), somebody somewhere would have asked, suggested, insisted that the driver of that 1981 truck was probably a terrorist.  That the overturning of that tractor-trailer truck, barely 3 miles away the very next morning, was the work of a terrorist.  That the absence of snow and the high temperatures were part of some terrorist conspiracy.  And the official response, at the very least, would have been to let only one car at a time drive through the Massey Tunnel for as long as the Olympics lasted.

In B.C., there has been no indication that anyone thinks it was the work of a terrorist.  Although some people have wondered how you get a 1981 Volkswagen pickup to drive at all.

Monday, February 1, 2010

I'm on You Tube!

And I don't even know, exactly, how to spell that place's name.  One word?  Hyphenated?  Got me.  But there I am anyway.

The Sunshine Coast is remarkably filled with artists.  Not that much of a surprise, I guess, because it is a beautiful place and a bit off the beaten path and exactly what artists would like to see every morning when they get out of bed.  These are the kind of artists who aren't pushing hard for a New York or Toronto show.  Which doesn't mean they are less talented, but just ambitious in a different way.

Anyway, one of them, Paula O'Brien, who operates in most media, is now in the You Tube slideshow mode, and has put together a very nice collection of work from 125 Sunshine Coast artists, including moi (which was very kind of her because I'm only a part-timer there on the Coast).  The work ranges from ice floor design (the kind you are going to be seeing very soon at the Olympics opening ceremonies: Gordon Halloran, who is from the Sunshine Coast, specializes in this work) to painting, pottery, photography, jewelry, metalwork, cabinetmaking, woodwork, weaving, and wall quilts, and some other media I've overlooked at this moment. 

You can see it here.  Brightens a gray day certainly.