Monday, December 31, 2007
My memories of Carmel did not do the town by the sea justice. We stopped there and had a difficult time leaving. The small city itself, and its picturesque setting explain why it is so popular. We walked a large part of the beach, all the way to the Pebble Beach Golf Course (world famous) where I climbed a sand dune and snapped a picture. Then we wandered Ocean Ave for many blocks taking in the arty ambiance of this mecca of the rich and famous. One of us had a thrill of a life time when we found the 'original' Thomas Kinkade' garden studio tucked away between shops. Even I found it quite delightful.
More rugged seascapes and we found our way to San Simeon where we stopped for lunch. We left Hurst Castle behind without a visit because we did that last time. I doubt they they have re-decorated since our last visit.
We only got to Santa Barbara by nightfall. Everything between here and San Francisco is pricey. Even gas is the highest in the nation, or so we are told. Oregon saw under $3 per US gallon and here it is just under $4. Restaurants and hotels too are for the well heeled. We feel like country bumpkins at times.
So, here we are on New Year's Eve, away from friends and family, but still able to connect somewhat. We wouldn't be anywhere else. Tomorrow we will drive through L.A, and San Diego and will probably have light traffic. That is a rarity I am sure. I hope it is true.
Here is hoping your parties, dinners, and plans for New Year's Eve go well and may you awake in 2008 with renewed hope and exuberance for the future.
PS Shorts and T-shirt tomorrow.
We travelled from Eureka to El Granada which is just south of San Francisco. It was quite the ride. We drove that road in 1983 and I did not remember it being so challenging. The views and scenery are at all times breathtaking, but so are the hairpin turns and the narrow steep inclines and declines. Not for the faint of heart. But I am a driver so it was OK. We stopped too many times to count, to get out and stretch our legs while taking in a vista or walking just out of reach of the pounding surf. My biggest frustration of the day was not being able to take advantage of all the photo opportunities. Unless we were in a designated parking area, there just was not a chance, ever, to stop along the road to capture all the amazing sights we encountered today. There is no shoulder on the road, and it would be sheer suicide to stop.
I was hoping to photograph the Golden Gate Bridge in the sunset , but we missed it by an hour. It was too dark. There is one more long coastal leg of the journey before we hit L.A. tomorrow. As I recall from 1983, it is my favourite, through Pebble Beach, Santa Barbara, and Carmel.
The downside to driving along the coast when the surf is up is that one gets very sticky with all the salt in the air. I have had to guard my camera against the salt and my glasses as well as the car gets very coated with the stuff. Not a big complaint, just an annoyance. Hope to get a place with internet tomorrow. A nice place here on the beach with all the amenities runs over $200 per night so tonight I forgo the WiFi.
Saturday, December 29, 2007
The day started out with light overcast and very mild temperatures, but quickly deteriorated. When the rain would let up for minute or two, we turned off the road onto one of the many scenic pullouts to take a quick walk on the beach or snap a few photos. The Oregon Coast is quite simply spectacular. The surf is very high everywhere. Very Dramatic. Not much traffic makes for a very relaxing drive in spite of the winding, wet road. I quite enjoyed it, except I keep thinking how much better it would be in the sunshine.
Oh well. Maybe tomorrow.
Eureka (California). We found it and will stay the night here. We went for a brisk walk just before dark and found some amazing heritage houses just blocks from our Motel and will take some photos in the morning light. I will post un-edited and non-Photo Shopped photos if I can figure out how to do it with the photo programs loaded onto this laptop. Mainly I have to figure out how to re-size them.
Friday, December 28, 2007
The I5 Interstate is not my favourite road so we endured until just south of Portland where we turned southwest. Portland traffic was not much different than Vancouver's, but the stops and starts were done with by the time we reached our junction. Rain was the order of the day, and it would not surprise me if we had it until we hit California, although at the moment it is not raining.
We checked into the Comfort Inn in Lincoln City, a comfortable (what else?) and friendly place with great amenities and lots of freebies, including a Belgium Waffle breakfast tomorrow morning. We found an eatery a few blocks walk from our Inn and came away stuffed, but still grabbed some fresh home made Macadamia Nut cookies at the front desk on our way to our room. Our Internet connection works and now I just have to get used to using this new Sony laptop and the touchy feely mouse pad thingy. It is driving me crazy right about now because my fingers are lacking in adequate compacitance to activate it and I cannot get the cursor to move at all at times. Maybe I am dead and do not know it.
Signing off on day one.
PS No photos today as the rain would have shorted out the digital, even had there been enough light.
Wednesday, December 26, 2007
Monday, December 24, 2007
Sunday, December 23, 2007
Saturday, December 22, 2007
The climate of Saskatchewan is one of extremes. Because the economy is inextricably tied to the business of agriculture and the success or failure of agriculture is tied to the weather to a great degree, people of the prairies are inveterate weather watchers. Even as a child, I too, was keenly aware of the weather, and became very observant of the skies and the signs of nature that were constant evidence to the state of things happening or the state of things to come. My recollections of growing up are of both the indoor and the outdoor variety. As kids growing up without televisions, videos, or electronic games, the outdoors was our arena of entertainment and activity. Only when the weather was severe, were we forced indoors to find ways to entertain ourselves. When I conjure up childhood memories, the predominant recollections are the ones which find me under the prairie sky. Who knows how many hours we spent lying on the sparse dry grass in the midst of a Saskatchewan summer, staring into the azure blue sky, waiting for the lazy white cumulous clouds to wander by so we could find the hidden shapes in their billowing outlines? The animals, the faces, the outline of countries recently learned about in Social Studies classes at school were easily distinguished and pointed out in the constantly changing shapes, 10,000 feet above our heads.
The weather always came from the west and that was the direction our living room window faced. Our house, being on the hill, gave us the distinct advantage of being one of the first in town to see the storms coming. Keen observation eventually gave one the skills to sense the approaching storm before it was even on the horizon. I can recall the sudden silence before the storm. The birds, knowing of impending danger, stopped their singing and hunkered down for a good blow. Even the town dogs would cease their straying and head home where they knew they could find comfortable shelter from the storm. The wind would do an about face, subtly at first, just enough to turn the Poplar tree leaves in a direction they were unaccustomed to. The groves of trees took on a lighter shade of green as the underside of the leaves were exposed and jiggled nervously in the rising wind, contrasting with the darkening sky.
The summer storms were the ones that made me most nervous as they carried with them the potential for great calamity. They were almost always preceded by a sudden drop in temperature and an increase in wind velocity. The wind was always blowing where we lived, a steady and constant backdrop to all other sounds. The change in direction and speed was matched only by the ominous darkness which would descend as the white edged black storm clouds suddenly obscured the sun. By the time the sun was obliterated, there were bits of paper garbage, grass and Russian thistle tumbling down the street. We were tucked safely away in our houses by the time the storm hit full force, which usually did not take long at all. The lights were turned on and we hoped and prayed that the power would not fail. All the appliances were unplugged and storm doors and windows closed tightly.
The cloud formations were watched carefully for any indication of blue-white edges, a harbinger of hail. We had hail many times, usually on the hottest days which always struck me as a contradiction, until it was explained to me how hail was formed. After a hail storm, which was always very short lived, we would run out and collect hailstones, putting the largest ones in plastic bags to store in the freezer so when the relatives came from distant lands, we could prove how big the hailstones were. The dimensions were usually exaggerated much like the size of the fish we caught at Long Lake. The largest ones I can recall were about the size of golf balls, but I could be exaggerating.
If the storm was nothing but dry wind and electrical activity, the dust would begin to fly, adding to the darkness of the sky. I witnessed some very frightening dust storms and liken them to standing in front of a sand blaster. We always hoped for rain to accompany the storm so not only could the dust be kept down, but the dry thirsty soil could be given a much needed drink. By far the most awesome aspect of any prairie summer storm is the lightening and thunder.
This is why the appliances in the house were unplugged from their sockets. Each building in town had a lightening rod, securely fastened to a heavy wire cable that ran down the side of the structure and was fastened to a steel rod that was driven deepl into the ground, at least 3 or 4 feet. The idea was to direct the electrical charge of a strike down into the ground, harmlessly sending the bolt away from the building where it would otherwise do great damage, mainly fire related. In later years, when everyone had a television, the required roof top antenna would double as a lightening rod, and they made good ones, as the masts had to be at least 15 feet tall in order to get adequate reception from the only television transmitter which was in Saskatoon, 75 miles away.
There was never a thunder storm that approached us that we did not meticulously track by measuring the distance of each lightening strike. We were taught that sound travels 1 mile per second, and light, for all intents and purposes, instantly. So, when we saw the flash of lightening on the horizon, we would count off the seconds. One milk bottle, two milk bottles, three milk bottles, until we heard either a clap of thunder or the beginnings of the rumble and roll of the more distant strikes. In this way we could judge the approaching speed of the storm and, indeed, if it began to recede, or veer off in another direction. I suppose we had a small feeling of control and it diminished the fear of something so uncontrollable.
The lightening was always spectacular, and was mostly of the forked variety. There was so much sky to observe, with few trees and no mountains to obscure our view and it was indeed a memorable and frightening show every time. Often, when the storm was still a long way off, there would simply be a lighting of the sky, like a flash bulb on a old Brownie camera, and very little, barely discernible thunder. However, when the storm came with full force and enveloped our little town, my heart was gripped with fear and awe. The flashes and thunder claps were simultaneous and we knew there was destruction right in our neighbourhood. Indeed, our own house was struck on at least two occasions and an ancient 100 ft. cottonwood tree was felled within a half block of our house. I can remember a time or two when we would take a leisurely drive through the countryside after one of those storms to see where the lighting strikes had taken place. They were easy to spot if they were anywhere near the road.
The most memorable storm for me was a summer storm that had no lightening and no rain. My Mom and I, along with two sisters, had spent the morning at the dentist in a larger town, Humboldt, 35 miles away. As we left for home, we saw the foreboding sky in the north, and were relieved we were heading south. When you are in sunshine, and there is a severe storm in the distance, it takes on a most sinister appearance. The blackness and towering clouds across the horizon stretch upwards to heavenly heights and look as though they could destroy the world.
As we drove down the country road, which was a short cut home, my Mom kept looking nervously in her rear view mirror. It soon became quite evident that we were not going to be able to out run the storm. She put her foot down and soon we were driving faster than her cautious nature would normally allow. Us kids were kneeling on the back seat, staring in fascination out the back window of the car, as the wall of swirling dust gained on us. And it was a wall. We could see no clouds; only gray swirling billows of soil being easily lifted from the road, ditches, and fields, into the air and swirled upwards into what had moments before been blue sunny sky. It was truly frightening. The closer it came, the more detail we could see and then we began to hear it. It was a roar, heard even above the roar of the engine as we sped down the gravel road, not trying to out run it now, but seeking shelter, lest it blow us off the road.
The car braked heavily and we swerved into a narrow driveway leading to a farm yard. My Mom had the presence of mind to race toward a large sturdy barn and parked rather recklessly on the south side of the huge building. Only seconds later, it hit with full force. Even though the windows and doors of the car were tightly closed, sand and dirt began drifting in through the smallest of crevices. The car was sandblasted and pummelled by the wind. We could not see but a few feet outside the car and even the large barn was obscured by the blackout. Just when we thought all was lost, the storm suddenly subsided, just as quickly as it had descended. The dust settled and the sun came out. The only evidence of the storm was the blackness that was now roaring down the road in a southerly direction.
The farmer suddenly appeared and chatted with my Mom for a few minutes as they both agreed that it was the strangest and scariest thing they had ever seen. We were on our way, and apart from the dusty interior of the car, there was no evidence that we had what we thought was a near death experience.
The winter storms were a different thing altogether. I suppose I had no fear of them because they were usually a harbinger of good things. Like no school, or my Father's store staying closed for the day. The roads closed by blizzards and drifting snow concerned me not in the least. After we moved out of the rental, we were fortunate to have a secure and warm house, so, even though I marvelled at the power of the wind and whiteout conditions, I do not recall being frightened. The only apprehension I remember was the incessant howling wind in the night.
Morning would come and with it an amazing array of lacy frost and ice on the inside of the windows, getting thicker toward the bottom where the condensation and melted frost would accumulate and re-freeze. There were winters when there was a perpetual layer of ice on all the windows, indicating a prolonged stretch of very cold deep freeze weather. If we could some how peer through the iced up widows, the visions that met our eyes were otherworldly. The landscape could be completely altered by one night of blizzard conditions, providing it was accompanied by enough snow. The drifts were everywhere and on the lea side of every building, fence, and tree, the snow had curled back on itself to form overhanging waves of crystalline snow. If the sun shone after the storm the scene was even more spectacular, dazzling so brightly, one could barely look at it without sunglasses.
One year the drifting was particularly heavy and we had a difficult time extricating ourselves from our house the morning after. The front door was completely blocked and frozen shut. The back kitchen door opened but the outer storm door was blocked two thirds of the way up by a firm drift. When snow blows and drifts, it is no longer fluffy and movable. The ice crystals lock in a formation that can make it as hard as bricks. My Father, having grown up on the prairies, had the foresight to bring a shovel into the house the night before in case of just such an occurrence, and after a great struggle, managed to edge his way out of the house and clear enough of the drifts to swing the door fully open. There was no school for several days after that storm and I recall spending endless hours carving igloo blocks and tunnelling under the drifts. We could walk on the drifts and leave no footprints, the snow was so hard packed.
When we eventually returned to school, I had a real thrill when the school bus driver asked me and a buddy if we wanted to come with him to get the last few farm kids into town from the more remote stretches of the school district where the snow clearing equipment had not yet arrived. It was no ordinary school bus. It was a Bombardier with skis for front end steering and cat tracks on the rear to ride above the snow. What a thrill to speed over the snow banks, through the fields and ditches, totally disregarding any roads. Of course, I thought that one day I would have one of those.
Years later, I realized how big a part weather plays in the life of a prairie person. Watching for it, hoping for it, planning with weather in mind, guarding against it, preparing for it, and dressing for it. To a degree, people everywhere do this, but, because of the extremes, not to the extent that prairie people do.
Friday, December 21, 2007
It was painful to watch the aggressive global groupthink on climate change last week in Bali -- as painful as a 1980s constitutional episode of Meech Lake. Basic message: “Say yes or we all die!”
One of the heaviest burdens of contemporary life is that we are forever being warned to be afraid, of everything from toxins to teeter-totters.
Economists are warning of the end of the economy. Environmentalists are warning – in ceaseless dread – about the end of the environment. Socialists are warning about the end of society, nationalists the end of the nation, and libertarians the end of liberty.
All these things we are told, constantly and loudly, to fear.
What’s burdensome about it is not that we are urged to consider this course or that. What’s burdensome is the panic – the endless resort to threats, guilt and dire consequences. We have reached the point where no subject is taken seriously unless presented as a horror story that can be escaped only if we all
To understand low voter turn-outs, look no further than this. The idea takes hold that only hysterical people worry themselves about such things, because they’re always predicting catastrophe, and when the catastrophe doesn't happen, they just move on to a new one. So people just turn it all off.
Down the fading hallways of memory I recall from school that there are in logic several kinds of argument: argument by evidence (very good), argument by authority (weaker), argumentum ad hominem (attacking the man, completely invalid), etc.
To these I propose we add “argumentum ab hysteria.”
Argument by hysteria is all around us. “Unless we shut down free speech minorities will be attacked!” “Unless we pay a carbon tax the planet will die!” “Unless we ban every last trace of second-hand smoke in public, children could die!” “Unless we ban guns people will die!”
Never mind that the evidence for all these things ranges from sketchy to nil. It’s the induced fear – the pictures and self-righteous sermons – that clinch it.
This, of course, is not new. There have been inexplicable social panics before. One that comes to mind is the witch-burning craze in Protestant Europe in the 1600s. Earlier we saw the heresy panic of Catholic Europe in the late middle ages.
Like today’s examples, these were mass paranoia masquerading as official policy. But nothing I have ever read about in ages past compares to the scale and diversity of popular paranoias today.
There is no obvious antidote to this mood of crisis. Appeals for calm and reason are all that can be made, and have already been rejected.
It’s democracy’s misfortune that all these arguments are the domain of experts, just like the anti-heresy and anti-witchcraft programs of long ago; argument by authority. Increasingly the main task of democracy is for inexpert voters to sift and arbitrate expert arguments. How is this possible?
We have two ways, neither reliable but both better than argument by hysteria.
One is to ask if a claim accords with our own experience and common sense. For example, since climate experts can’t reliably predict the weather next week, how they can reliably forecast the next century?
This question drives scientists nuts, partly because it’s true, and partly because so much science is counter-intuitive. “Common sense” would also decree the world to be flat and the stars little diamonds in the sky. True. But remind them that the need to burn witches was based on the best inductive scientific reasoning of the 17th century.
In addition, we can judge the strength of a case by the behaviour and attitude of the people making it. Are they rational or in hysterics? Do they explain or do they scold? Do they disguise possibilities as certainties? Do they respect or revile sceptics? Are they trespassing into policy and/or religion?
One thing’s certain: this problem will not go away any time soon. It will probably get worse. In fact, it is already so severe it probably heralds the end of civilization.
Just kidding. Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!
- Link Byfield
Link Byfield is an Alberta senator-elect and chairman of the Citizens Centre. The Centre promotes the principles of personal freedom and responsible government.
Thursday, December 20, 2007
Wednesday, December 19, 2007
Or was it I that had changed?
Tuesday, December 18, 2007
Monday, December 17, 2007
My second car relationship was with this charming MGB. Here I am sitting at the wheel, bidding fond farewell because I was on my way to Ocean Falls. I never drove that car again after that day.
My first new car was this '72 Mazda 808, purchased on my return from Ocean Falls and was immediately put to the test with a trip to Cape Breton Island and back. It required a new head gasket in St. Catherines Ont., thankfully on warranty. My niece standing beside the car is now a mother of two children about that age.
Saturday, December 15, 2007
I have been keeping a written record of many of the events and observations I have made in my life, for some time now, and there is a reason.
I have been to many funerals in my life and it always strikes me how an entire life can be summarized in a eulogy, a tribute, or an obituary. Well, of course it can't! But what happens to all of the deceased experiences, memories, and lessons of life? Unless a diary has been kept or a biography or autobiography has been written, that person's entire life experience will be lost to all who follow. Only those very close will have memories that will live beyond a few years.
I think this is a waste. When you look back at your life, what did it take to survive and achieve longevity? Many of the ingredients to your life will be unknown to all but yourself. Is there value in a life that is all but forgotten a few days after the funeral?
I believe that everybody has value and even a life that appears mundane on the surface, is interwoven with complexities. It is difficult for most of us to share deeply with another person, so what really makes us tick is often never understood by others.
I started writing the stories for my grandsons and my two children, as a remembrance and a legacy so they could better understand themselves by having some insight to their paternal gene pool. As I continued, I found other values in writing and other reasons for doing it. It became a creative outlet and an opportunity to organize my thoughts.
I always wondered why I took typing in Grades 10 and 11 in high school. The answer became clear when I purchased my first computer in 1996. The writing was no longer an arduous task and the editing and spell checks turned it into a pleasure.
I have tried to write fiction, but always draw a blank as I have a limited imagination. At best, I might embellish one of my stories, but only very little as then I wander into fiction and the story breaks down.
Thank you again to those who read the stories and enjoy the pictures enough to come back. There is much more to come. You are so fortunate that you are not obligated to me in any way so I will never really know who you all are or are not. I am OK with that.
Friday, December 14, 2007
TIPS, AND OTHER FOUND MONEY
Asking for money is a distasteful task at the best of times, but in effect, that is what a contractor does every time he bids on a job and endeavours to curry the favour of the customer to the point where he will be chosen above all others. Knowing how much to ask for in exchange for fulfilling the desires of the homeowner is a challenging task because the homeowner has a preconceived idea of how much either the job is worth or how much he is willing to pay for the work being done. There always seems to be a fine line between what seems right and what seems to be too much. Estimating becomes an art as it moves beyond a simple formula of so much per square foot or so much per hour. Other factors come into play and soon it becomes a matter of gut feeling more than anything else.
The variables are unending and the challenge is to ask a lot of questions before arriving at the final price. A few of the ingredients in this recipe of success or failure are, gauging the economic strata to which the customer belongs, from whom did the customer get my name, according to the general appearance of the house what are the expectations in terms of desired level of perfection, and, the personality of the customer. Again, experience is an essential ingredient for integrating the variables into a desirable outcome for both parties. It is not a matter of getting what the market will bear. There is competition to consider but most importantly, there is the magic of word of mouth advertising which is the bread and butter of a good tradesman. If it were a matter of getting as much as I possibly could, I would have had many jobs where the profit margin would have been obscene. I would have come away from a job like that much richer and the customer, in their naivety, would not have known they could have had the job done for much less money. Where it catches up to you is when word gets around to their neighbours or family members, many of whom would be more knowledgeable about such things, and it comes to light that they have been taken advantage of. Then the negative side of that word of mouth advertising kicks in and is a more potent force than the positive side.
And so it was, as I received a call from Mrs. Bergen, that everything that I ever knew or learned about estimating was about to fly out the window.
She was a plain but very pleasant lady, in her early seventies, living on her own, having recently been widowed. She had been a housekeeper for almost all her life and married late, at age 65, for the first time. She had been frugal with her earnings and knew how to save money so she always had the means in later life to do what she wanted to do. Her husband, who was a widower and a retired longshoreman, had been a wealthy person, having made some wise investments and was on a lucrative union pension in his old age. Five years of marriage was all he lasted and when he passed away, he left everything to his wife, Mrs. Bergen. Her late husband had been ill for a year or so and her house, spotless and looking immaculate to the novice, in her estimation, needed a thorough paint job to bring it back to the pre-marriage condition to which she was accustomed. She gave me the impression that although Mr. Bergen had been a fine gentleman, men in general were to be observed from a distance, and not harboured under the same roof because of their unclean habits. Having said that, she assured me that I was probably not one of them and that my wife, being young, and I being trainable, probably had already taught me proper bathroom etiquette, the kind which greatly reduced the intensity and distastefulness of the job of cleaning the bathroom. Desiring to get on her good side and therefore get the paint job, I concurred.
She told me what required painting and also how it was to be done and then made me a cup of coffee as I sat down at her kitchen table to do the figures. I was distracted because she wanted to tell me about her neighbour who had just returned from South Dakota where she had been taking care of her late brothers estate. This is what she told me.
The neighbour, Mrs. Simmons, had an elderly brother who had recently passed away and she and her brother's 2 sons went to the old homestead to clean out the house and prepare it for resale. Her brother had been a bit of a recluse after his wife had died early in their marriage, shortly after the 2 boys entered school. He farmed a piece of land that had been passed down to him from his pioneering parents and now it was going to be sold so that the sons could finalize the estate and get on with their lives. The father had ignored his sons in their growing years and they had reciprocated. Now they were going through their father's things and were finding nothing of great value. They wondered out loud how he could have lived in such squalor and what he had done with the money he had earned. There were no bank records or statements to be found. In the end, the three of them decided to burn most of the household furnishings and salvage as little as possible, as it appeared to have little or no worth.
They started a fire in the front yard and proceeded to haul old newspapers, shelving, furniture, and clothes, to the pile. An old overstuffed easy chair was tossed on the fire and when the matching sofa was hauled out to join it's mate, something curious was discovered. The fabric on the chair was burning and curling away, only to reveal a stack of dollar bills underneath, as they also began to be consumed by the flames. With a shout, one of the sons grabbed a rake and frantically pulled the burning chair away from the burn pile and snuffed the flames, almost with bare hands. As it was later revealed, the chair contained nearly $10,000.00 in varying denominations of bills. Needless to say, that incident inspired a vigorous search of the house, including the walls, floors, and ceilings. Besides more money being found in the sofa, the largest other find was in a secret safe beneath the floorboards of the pantry. There, much to everyone's delight and great surprise, were 4 old-fashioned dairy cream cans with lids sealed, revealing contents of over $85,000.00.
Now, when Mrs. Bergen excitedly related this story to me, I should have clued in as to why the story so resonated with her. But I had only met her an hour ago and little did I realize that I would get to know her much better over the next 10 years. I eventually finished working the figures into what I considered a fair estimate and presented the numbers to her. She looked right into me with a bit of a squint and I could see the wheels turning. Here it comes, I thought. A frugal old lady who wants to negotiate the price downwards. She didn't get to where she got to by being free and easy with her money. But I would stand my ground. The price is fair and I would dare any other painter to come in and do it for anything less.
And then she spoke.
"After careful consideration, I have decided that this job I want you to do is worth more than that. You can do the work if you agree to taking an extra $100.00."
I was speechless. This was new territory for me. I asked her to repeat what she had just said. She did. I stammered something about the work not being that extensive but she was adamant. I had no choice but to agree to her demands.
Over the next 10 years, we became friends and on a yearly basis she would have me in to do another bit of papering or painting, more because she was lonely than because her house needed more work. And each time we went through the same routine. I gave her a price, she negotiated me up, and then the most interesting part, she would go to her underwear drawer and from her great huge pile of bills, she would count out the cash and didn't mind a bit that I had seen it all. She would count out the money and then, rolled up as thin as pencil, she would tuck another $20 bill into my shirt pocket and tell me to take my wife out for dinner.
Life is full of surprises, mostly because life is full of people. Never put people in a box. They will surprise you. I also learned from Mrs. Bergen that some people are so lonely, they will buy a few hours of human interaction. We who are not so lonely have to realize that these people exist and we must seek them out and be there for them. This is not an isolated case for me as it relates to the loneliness of the elderly. I have come to enjoy their company and in the process it has been gratifying to know that I have fulfilled one of their most basic of needs, not painting their house, but relieving their lonely existence, if only for a little while.
Thursday, December 13, 2007
Wednesday, December 12, 2007
Tuesday, December 11, 2007
Monday, December 10, 2007
This guy is probably down south right now enjoying the warm Texas winter, unless he is one of those lame ducks who sticks around here all winter. Why would they do that? My ducky partner and I are looking for another pair of snow birds who are interested in forming a 'V' pattern and flying south for a few weeks. No hard and fast schedules here, we are just going to 'wing it'.
Sunday, December 9, 2007
Saturday, December 8, 2007
Frankie and Brett were two of the best and the worst friends an innocent and naïve little boy could have. I grew up in a home whose mission statement was more implied than stated, and what was implied was that you had better obey Mom and Dad 'or else'. The 'or else' part was not well defined but I instinctively knew that it was best not to find out. On the other hand, Frankie and Brett came from homes where there were no real rules to speak of. That came about partly because there was seldom a parent in sight, something which intrigued and fascinated me. The freedom that came out of that was dizzying. It offered endless possibilities.
So, it came about that I learned my morals from the safe and secure place called my mother's knee. The immorality I learned, came from hanging out with Frankie and Brett. Frankie lived the farthest away of the two and it was perhaps a good thing because of the two of them, he was immoral to a greater degree. I puzzled at the observation that these two guys had older sisters that taught them all kinds of intriguing things and I too had an older sister but she had not told me any of this stuff. I concluded later in life that either my sister was hopelessly naïve herself, or she had such a disinterest in me that she would not even give me the time of day, or she was a loving and caring sister who was protecting me from the evil world, albeit by keeping me ignorant.
Roberta had a limp. To this day, I have no idea why, but it somehow elevated her in my mind to legend status. After all, she was somehow a survivor. Her husky voice added to the mystique. She took it upon herself to make sure her little brother Brett had access to her romance magazines. This was primarily done through her negligence in that she would forget to lock her bedroom door and neglect to put her magazines on the highest shelf in the room. We simply took that as an invitation, or permission, you might say, to look through them, taking great care to replace them in such a way as to leave absolutely no evidence that they had been rifled through. When we had scanned the whole stack, we would steal into Brett's parent's bedroom and under the bed we would find a neat stack of 'True Detective' magazines. These magazines were curious for the reason that I assumed there were actually detective stories therein, but each and every story was prefaced by a picture of a scantily clad woman, in some state of undress, apparently uttering a scream. I never read one of those magazines, nor any story in them, as there was not the time or the desire when paging furtively through them only looking for the next screaming victim. Thinking back on it now, I can see how a steady diet of that kind of thing would easily make a permanent connection in a young mind between women and violence.
These shenanigans would never have been able to take place, had there been a parent at home during the day, to monitor the young boy's behaviour. Brett's Dad was a school superintendent, traveling around the school district, and his mom was a nurse, working shifts at the local hospital. Two young boys in a big house full of adult things, all alone, with time on their hands, was simply trouble waiting to happen. I sensed that it was not a good thing, I mean the being alone, and was always a little relieved to make it home without having been caught red handed doing some forbidden thing.
Frankie had an older sister too, but she was so mysterious that none of us ever actually saw her.
She could have simply been a rumour. It was no rumour though that she had to leave high school before graduation because she was pregnant. I must admit that I pondered over that for years wondering how that was possible. I finally put it to rest when I convinced myself that she had a secret husband in the little town down the road to the east of us and would go see him on weekends.
I never did anything forbidden with Frankie, like I did with Brett, but my, did I learn a lot of new words. His dad owned and operated the local hotel and of course there was what was called a beer parlour on the premises and people who frequent that kind of establishment usually have very colourful language and I was told that when one drank too much beer, the choice words tended to flow more freely. And that would explain why Frankie's dad talked that way, and why, as a result of hearing it day after day, Frankie too, talked that way. And that would explain why Frankie and Brett and soon Terry all talked that way. If my mother would have heard us talk that way, not only would I have been forbidden to play with the only two boys my age on our side of town, but I would have been subjected to a severe leather belt strapping, and a grounding to my room of the rest of the summer, which would have meant the only humans to play with would have been my sisters.
That explains why my mother never ever heard me talk that way.
Frankie's mysterious sister took a few of her best friends, including my older sister, for a treat one day. Four of them planted themselves in her Dad's hotel cafeteria and ordered ice-cream sundaes, with nuts and whipped cream. Nobody could afford that kind of luxury. When they had wiped the last vestiges of chocolate sauce off their cherub faces, the waitress demanded payment. Frankie's sister instructed the bossy waitress to 'put it on my Dad's bill'. That could explain why we never saw her.
These were my friends, for better or for worse, and we had many great times together. They had grown up in that small prairie town and were more than willing to show me around and teach me what it was to be a boy on the loose with no fences or boundaries, once I left my yard, that is. When we were in grade one and two, our world was our end of town. We knew every street, back alley, every climbable tree, and every outhouse that was obscured from it's owners kitchen window, just in case we had to 'go' and were too busy to run all the way home. We knew every stray dog, every kid and his parents, and every place to seek quick shelter in case one of those sudden summer downpours caught us in the middle of an adventure. Later when we got bikes, our world expanded, not only to the other end of town, but the 'outskirts' where the poor people like the Romashenkos lived. From there we explored the highways, the country roads, and every ravine and strip of bush for miles around. There was never a dull moment and my great delight was exploring and learning the lay of the land. Trekking for miles up and down the Yellowhead Highway, pulling a little red wagon to hold all the pop and beer bottles strewn about by thirsty travelers, was very hot and tiring, but so rewarding when we trudged home and cashed in our treasure for real money.
The only bad thing that ever happened on one of those trips was when we found a part case of unopened beer. Being good cub scouts, we always carried our scout knives with us, so a bottle opener was not at all a deterrent to preventing good beer from going to waste. It was a scorching hot day and we were thirsty. There was some debate as to whether we should open them now and quench our thirst, or bring them home, cool them off at the town well, and enjoy them at a more leisurely pace under Brett's caragana hedge behind his Dad's garage. We had all tasted beer, yes, even me, but under parental supervision. You know, just a sip to see how it tastes. The second option seemed too risky. There were bigger boys, bullies, in town who might see us with our prize and would think nothing of taking it away from us, outright. Out here in the tall grass of the ditch, we would not be seen and there would be no chance of having it stolen out from under our noses.
There was enough for one full bottle each. And one full bottle we each drank. Somehow, it did not taste the same hot, as ice cold, like the last time I had tried it. It was wretched and the thought occurred to me that it might be hundreds of years old and have gone bad. It did not even remotely taste like the beer I had remembered. But, we could not back down and lose face. It was unspoken, but there was a contest going on. Who could finish theirs and who could drink the whole bottle without complaining. I am sure our faces were not green, but mine certainly felt that way. It was very quiet heading back to town. We seemed to overlook some prize bottles but we were thinking only of getting home and lying down in some shady spot somewhere, hoping the dreaded puking would not begin. It would have been good for us, but that would have meant loosing the contest.
The recovery was slow but we eventually came back to life. It was mid afternoon by now and if we wanted to cash in our find, we had to get busy and scour the mud and refuse off the bottles, both inside and out. We were experienced at this task and we soon had a red wagon full of cleaned and sorted bottles, ready to head for one of two places in town that paid cash for bottles, Lee's Cafe. The other place was Frankie's Dad's hotel, cleverly named 'The Lanigan Hotel'. But with what Frankie had planned, it would not have worked to go there.
There were only two restaurants in town, Lee's, and that other big faded yellow place by the railroad tracks with the huge 7UP sign on the side of the building. Years later we discovered that it had a name. Kraft's Kafe. We should have known. Mary Kraft was the owner, the cook, the waitress and the bouncer. It was cleaner, but Lee's was the town hangout. Lee and his wife came to Canada decades ago, with his brother Happy. Then came Lee's son, June, a young handsome business-like protégé of his father. When he came, he came alone, from Hong Kong, and it was a bit of a mystery when a few years later June's young son Hip showed up. There was the occasional glimpse of an old Chinese woman in the kitchen, but it was uncertain as to whether she was the wife of Lee or Happy. Only Lee and June had any inkling of the English language. Hip was a fast learner though. Too bad his teacher was Frankie.
There seems to be a human mental assumption that works something like this. If someone cannot speak English very well, they must be stupid or at best gullible. Brett and Frankie were victims of this mistake and after we sold our wagon load of bottles to Lee, their criminal minds went to work. We knew from roaming the back alleys of town, that Lee stored the bottles behind his business establishment until he had a high enough stack to warrant calling a delivery truck out to take them all away at once. The plan was simple. We would creep around the back of the cafe and reload our wagon, pull it around the block and hit up Lee for another few quarters when we sold him the second load of bottles. It seems I was assigned the task of point man. I was reluctant to be involved at all, but I reasoned that if caught, I would not be seriously implicated because I would not actually be doing the selling.
I crept around the stack of bottles and other junk lying near the rear kitchen entrance of the cafe and peered into the gloomy interior. I thought I caught a glimpse of the elusive elderly Mrs. Lee, but as my eyes grew accustomed to the dim light, I realized it was Happy, toiling over a counter near the large oven. The rumour was that his home baked raisin pies had a nice golden sheen on the top crust because he would growl up a big nugee from his throat and spread it over the crust with a baking brush and then bake it in the big oven. I quickly glanced away lest I witness a confirmation of the rumour. I liked his raisin pie and as long I didn't see anything, it didn't happen.
Over his shoulder, through the round glass window on the swinging kitchen door, I saw June clearing tables, and beyond him, sitting at the front counter, a wimpy home rolled cigarette dangling from his lower lip and peering at a Chinese newspaper, sat Lee.
I glanced over my shoulder and announced 'all clear', and at that signal, Brett and Frankie loaded up the red wagon lickety split. With one pulling and two pushing, we were down the block and around the corner before anyone even suspected there were robbers in the back yard. We were clever enough to wait a while, after all, a wagon load of bottles takes some time to find, let alone wash.
We practically had the money already spent as we wheeled up to the front door of Lee's. Hip was playing on the front steps and I greeted him with a cheery 'Hi, how are you?' With an innocent grin and an eagerness to please and be accepted, he blurted out, "D**n good. Go to h**l". I had heard this response before and because the men who frequented Lee's thought this to be hilarious, nobody bothered to correct him. Frankie crouched down to Hip's level and was about to teach him a new phrase when I grabbed him by the collar and pulled him to his feet as I saw Lee approaching.
We announced that we had another load and should we take them to the back or did he want to count them? Lee sent a lot of money to Hong Kong family members and hoped one day he could afford to bring more relatives to Canada. He was not about to let three snot nosed little thieves deprive him of his hard earned money. He caught on immediately, ranting something about the bottles looking familiar. His English not being that good, I could not determine if he was telling us to go to the hotel with our bottles or if he somehow knew of the hell that I was sure to go to if my parents ever found out about this. We dumped the bottles right there by the front door and ran for our lives, little red wagon bouncing at our heels, all the way home. Frankie and Brett were laughing but I was too scared to find any humour in the situation. My Dad spent a lot of time at Lee's and Lee bought bananas from our store when someone ordered a banana split. Surely this would not remain a secret in a town where everyone knows everything about everybody. There was a distinct possibility that I would never again be able to step foot in the shabby little Chinese restaurant. It would be a pity because I sure did like Happy's raisin pie.
Friday, December 7, 2007
Thursday, December 6, 2007
Bobbies on bicycles two by two
Westminster Abbey, the Tower Big Ben
The rosey red cheeks of the little children.
I heard this song on the radio today and my thoughts went to that part of the world.
In February '03, we were in Puerto Vallarta, settling in for a nice dinner on the restaurant's patio, facing the beach and a magnificent sunset. Our chairs bumped as we were jockeying for a better view and it was the beginning of a lasting friendship. We finished our dinner in the company of this lovely couple from England, Michael and Jan, and spent the rest of the week in regular contact, and have kept up the relationship ever since,through email and them with a visit to Canada. Two years ago, Jan was diagnosed with cancer and it was found to have spread to her lymph glands and later to her liver. Much treatment and many prayers have ensued and today, after a CT scan, Jan has recieved some good news. The tumors on her liver have shrunk and the rest of her body is clear. I have always postscripted my prayers for her with "For your Glory, Lord" And now I am giving God the glory for answered prayer. This is a positve milestone and we will continue to pray that the healing be complete. For God's glory!
Wednesday, December 5, 2007
Tuesday, December 4, 2007
Most folks shut themselves in during a snow spell, and look what they are missing. Normally quite crowded with people, the Mill Lake Trail was deserted during this spectacle. The soft dreamy look of the picture is done in PhotoShop and is called the "Orton Effect".
Monday, December 3, 2007
I really did not want to be there. I had been watching the weather forecast for days, and finally, a perfect day was in the making. A perfect day in my books is a day which, in every way, is ideal for a game of golf. The temperature in the 17 to 22 degree range, a slight breeze from the south west, partially cloudy, in other words, a perfect day. There was a slight problem, however. I was a husband, and a father of two small children, and my sense of duty and responsibility was overwhelming my desire to play golf.
So I found myself pulling up to a beautiful old stately home on a cul-de-sac in a quiet part of town, mentally preparing myself for a day of self-sacrifice and hard work. I worked alone in those early years and because I had warned the little old lady the day before that I would be arriving in the early hours of the morning, I found myself enjoying the peace and quiet and beauty of a summer morning in June. By the time my equipment was set up and I was ready to actually do some serious painting, I realized, with the increasing temperature, that it was actually going to be a very warm day once the sun rose well above the horizon. I had enough experience to know that painting in direct sunlight on a warm day was forbidden in the painters bible. The most important verses of this bible are written on the labels of every can so I hoisted the can of exterior gloss alkyd enamel and double checked the instructions. Yes, I would have to paint on the shady side of the house all day.
Being a person who has an aversion to heat, I did not mind the prospect of working in shade all day, however, there is one problem with this strategy. One side of the house is always in direct sunlight, the south side. So, to avoid the commandment of 'no painting in direct sunlight', which is another way of saying 'do not paint on hot surfaces', I thought I would start painting on the south side of the house before the sun rose too high and heated the surface. All was going well, and a few hours later I was moving my equipment around to a shady spot, and none too soon because it was going to be a warm day. By this time, the elderly lady who lived in the house was up and around and as her routine dictated, she let her dog out for his morning stroll around the yard.
Not being a dog lover, but one who only tolerates pets, I tried to ignore the beast, and only noticed that it was a large but squat blood-hound type animal with drooling jowls and weepy eyes. Being an elderly beast and probably wracked with rheumatism, it headed straight for a sunny spot on the front lawn. I continued with my work and soon became totally oblivious to the dog and all else around me except my brush and roller.
At mid-morning, I was approached by the lady and was asked if I would like a cup of coffee. I rarely turn down an offer like that, not so much because I like coffee, but because I relish the chance to a have a break from my work and perhaps get to know the customer a bit. One of the pure joys of my work is the interaction with people. Besides, it is good business to be personable with a customer because a happy customer is always the best advertising that there is. The real bonus in this coffee break was the opportunity to see the inside of the house. It was a stately home, spacious and well laid out, but what really caught my attention was her furniture. I have seen many antiques in my day, and have never really appreciated what I called 'just old furniture'. Her antiques , on the other hand, were exquisite. She told me how many of the pieces had been brought over from Scotland and had been in the family for many generations. They were in perfect condition and in their day were undoubtedly the very best that money could buy.
Back to work, and now I was thinking of painting and thinking of antiques and who would get them when she died, because I gathered from our conversation that she had no family. The day was indeed warming up and the paint, in spite of the fact it was oil paint, was drying quickly.
That was when I first heard it! I was not at all sure what the sound was nor from where it was coming. At first I thought a child was in distress, but soon dismissed that idea when the pitch and volume exceeded that of a child. By now I could tell that the commotion was coming from the south side of the house and I quickly climbed down off my ladder and ran to that end of the house so I could peer around the corner. The sight that greeted me was both humorous and frightening.
The warmth of the sun on the front lawn was all but cancelled out by the early morning dew on the grass so the old hound had found a new place in the sun. He had gone and flopped himself down on the warm asphalt driveway on the warm side of the house but had leaned up against the fresh paint on the siding. Now, hours later, the paint had dried and he was firmly imbedded in the new paint job. Struggling to get to his feet and meeting with absolutely no success, the fear in his eyes told a pitiful story. I rushed over to console and perhaps free him, but I too met with absolutely no success. I gently tugged and pulled but only succeeded in pulling hair out by the roots and inflaming the skin around the painted area of his hide. My mind was racing. After all, this was the lady's only family and I was killing him. Who would get the antiques?
Paint thinner! The answer was paint thinner. I rushed to my truck and quickly retrieved the can of solvent and began to splash it between the house and the animal. You would think I might have known, through my own experience, that solvent on irritated skin burns unbearably. I realized too late that this was adding insult to injury but the damage had been done. The howling and yelping reached a crescendo that even an old partially deaf woman could not help but notice and no sooner had I gone into panic mode when there she was, shuffling around the corner with a look on her face that I will never forget. Who can blame her? This painter, whom she had met only recently and had just been invited into her house for a little hospitality, was standing over her dog with a jug of solvent and pouring it over him. The poor beast was struggling to get on its legs but this...this...monster was holding it down so he could continue doing his foul deed.
Needless to say, she soon correctly assessed the situation and together we began working toward a solution, having to shout at each other to be heard above the wails of the panic stricken pooch. 'Get the scissors' I intoned, and she quickly retreated into her house, returning seconds later with a large pair of pinking shears. After several minutes of snipping and cutting, the animal finally struggled to his feet and took off like a dog half his age to the confines of his doghouse on the back patio. I assured the lady her dog would be all right, and no, we should not try to remove any more paint from his coat. As it was, the black and tan colouring now had a new dimension to it both in colour and texture. The house too had a new dimension to it, at least in that one spot.
I spent the next few minutes restoring the crime site with a piece of 80 grit sandpaper and a fresh coat of paint.
There have been occasions too numerous to mention when pets have had a brush with my wet paint or should I say, have been a brush with my wet paint. Cats are particularly a problem both because of their curiosity and because of their propensity to rub up against things. Wet door frames are a particular problem because a cat or dog will never walk through the center of the doorway but always relieve their itch, or whatever they do, by rubbing their sides on the door jamb when passing through. I discover the misdeed not so often by seeing the racing stripes down the sides of the animals but more so by detecting the hair stuck to the fresh paint. These messes in my work can only be repaired many hours later, when the paint has completely dried.
For some reason, asking the customer to lock up the pet for the day does not work. 'Oh, he'll be o.k.' or 'my bubbles doesn't like to be cooped up' means that I will be chasing the fur balls away from my work all day.
The finest pure bristle paint brushes are made from natural bristles, such as pig, squirrel, and camel. It is ironic that animal hairs put it on, but we dare not get it on the animal’s hair.
In life, we often prepare meticulously for all eventualities but in the end, not all is in our control. How do we handle these minor glitches in our everyday activities? We can go with the flow or we can fret and fuss and wring our hands and let it ruin our day. Keeping a sense of humour, will, in the end, be the best course of action. Next time you have to 'get out the paint thinner' keep a smile on your face.
Sunday, December 2, 2007
Saturday, December 1, 2007
I can buy into this, as there is some evidence that the weather is changing, but on the other hand, has it not always 'changed'? From the beginning of this controversy, I have read and researched a fair amount and have found it interesting that there is an abundance of information and facts on both sides of the issue.
I will attempt to clarify the issue with one single question.
Al Gore, in his movie "An Inconvenient Truth" has bent the truth considerably on several issues and as result the British school system has required that teachers who show this movie in class are required to read a disclaimer that states the 'facts' are misleading in eleven areas. One of these areas is the issue of carbon dioxide levels and their effect on Global Warming. He states that man made levels of CO2, which have risen during the industrial revolution and particularly now while we are so dependent on fossil fuels for our energy, have accumulated and resulted in the warming of the earth. Scientific models have shown the exact opposite has happened. The Earth warms up and then the CO2 levels increase. In the geologic record, this is always the case and there is always a time lag of 40 to 80 years.
So, here is the question. Which came first, the CO2 or the warming? If the warming came first, man did not cause it with C02 and therefore will not cure it by attempting to reduce CO2. If the CO2 came first, then possibly it is our doing and possibly we can undo it.
Until this question is answered, it is senseless to spend billions of dollars and upset national and personal economies to make a futile attempt to change the weather.
These Red Delicious apples were not delicious so they are suffering the indignity of being left on the tree for the winter. This morning, a blanket of snow is covering some of their imperfections.