Tuesday, June 30, 2009
For those of you who do not know what a Ponzi scheme is, here is a guide. You sweet-talk somebody into giving you his money and promise great returns. You give great returns, but out of that money. Your client is now enamoured with his investment and puts more money into it and convinces his friends, family and relatives that this is a great investment. More money floods in and the returns are paid out of the new money coming in. All is well until you are found out or your house of cards collapses due its sheer weight. There is no investing and the fund grows because of all the new money coming in.
There are two other Ponzi schemes out there that we have all fallen prey to. The first one is investing in Mutual funds. Those of you who have them know all about what goes on. Promises, promises. "The market always goes up in the long term." "Invest and hold for the long term." The only people here making any money are the brokers, the fund mangers, and the Mutual fund companies. The investor gets the dregs and takes the big hit when the markets fall. This is a scheme, and always has been. I have been in this market for 25 years and have never made money, in fact have only ever lost money.
The other Ponzi Scheme is even bigger and more insidious. It is government deficit spending. The deficit and debt of the nation continue to go up, and at the tax payers expense. There is a never ending source of revenue, your pocket, and future generations will pay the piper so why worry about it.
Joining Bernie in jail, should be the presidents of the Mutual Fund companies and our politicians.
Monday, June 29, 2009
Sunday, June 28, 2009
Why this introspection? Recently a decision was made in our church to refrain from announcing ahead of time who next week's preacher would be. We have many good preachers, but our Lead Pastor is a real gem and is very popular because of his communication skills, his Biblical knowledge, and his ability to teach, inform and at the same time challenge his listeners and at times make them very uncomfortable, but in a good way. As a result, attendance has gone up on the Sundays he is preaching. There are some people quite put out by this, but I disagree with them for a number of reasons.
How does it make the other preachers feel when very few 'show up' on their Sunday behind the pulpit? And why do people go to church in the first place? If it is only to hear a sermon by their favourite preacher, they are missing the boat. So I examined why we go to Church regularly and why it does not matter who preaches, but when our favourite shows up, it is a bonus.
As Christians, we like to get together with other Christians. Not just our friends and pew-mates, but others of similar disposition and world view.
We like to and need to worship. This happens regardless of who the preacher or who the worship leader is. God meets us every time if we have expectant hearts.
We support our church. We are not fair weather friends of our church. We support and boost our church all the time, not just when it fancies us.
We are involved. We have a duty as members of Christ's body to serve and we do. This often requires regular attendance. These are some of our favourite times spent at Church.
We love going. It is our Sunday morning thing like a coffee at Starbucks is for some people. We miss it very much when we are indisposed or on holidays and can't wait to get back. There is just something missing if we miss.
So, we do not need to know who is preaching next Sunday. We will be there regardless.
Saturday, June 27, 2009
Darwinism says that natural selection has chosen and put together the components of life and thus things evolved to what they are today. But how can any part of a complex mechanism have been chosen without knowledge of what the next or best part would be to make the organism work. Did the eye socket evolve because it knew someday it would have to protect a delicate eye? Did the optic nerve develop one day because it knew that one day there would be an eyeball there that needed attachment to the brain? Did the eardrum one day appear and then wait for the intricate bones to come along so that sound could be interpreted for an auditory nerve that did not exist yet? Leaving such things to chance and mutation simply defies logic and reasoning. And yet today's school curriculum's simply state that 'nature chose through natural selection'. If one simple organism had evolved this way, it would have been a big enough miracle, but when the complexities of all nature that surround us are taken into consideration, it becomes simply preposterous.
People who reject intelligent design do so on religious grounds.
Friday, June 26, 2009
Waikiki Beach 1979. Nothing much changes.
There are people who enjoy being out in the sun and then there are people who lie in the sun and bake their bodies to a lobster red or a golden brown, depending on the chemicals used or the lack thereof. These people are called Sun Worshipers. I would be the former. I do lie in the sun when we vacation in a tropical paradise in the dead of winter, but there comes a point when I can no longer take the heat and I head for shade or a swimming pool. I tan easily and am not afraid of the UV, but it is the build-up of heat that makes me very uncomfortable. I will feel this way in the shade on a very hot day also.
I lay in the sun, deliberately, today (June 23) for an hour. The air was cool and the sun warm and the shade was only a few feet away, a retreat for when the panic sets in. I was thinking of all the deliberate UV that is absorbed on the planet everyday. If a nuclear explosion was announced and scheduled, how many of us would strip down, put on the lotion, and expose ourselves to the rays, hoping to get a tan. Probably fewer than none. And yet, the sun is a cauldron of nuclear reactions and explosions emitting a constant barrage of radiation that is deadly. We say the atmosphere protects us, but this protection is only partial. The way the sun's radiation interacts with the ozone layer and with our magnetic field is complex and if tweaked one way or the other, we would all be fried to a crisp. The universe, our earth, and all of life is full of irreducible complexities which I will describe in the next post. Hey, it is too bright to read in the sun so I think about these things to pass the time while my honed Greek body is being bronzed by the sun.
Thursday, June 25, 2009
Wednesday, June 24, 2009
I had coffee with an old friend one morning and it dragged out 'till noon. We arranged to go to the driving range the next day as we both have not been on the golf course for a number of years and we wanted to see if we still had what it takes to play a round on a real course. It was great and yes, I can still make good contact with the ball and it does not hurt my hip except when I bend down to tee the ball. We will have to chose a flat course though, because the ups and downs of walking are tough for me.
I took some time to shop for a new camera and almost bought one. At the last minute, the thing that always happens, happened. I says to myself, "Self, why are you spending money when you are not working? Who knows when you will be working again." So, I went home and did some garden photography with my old camera and it was OK.
I am also arranging for a new furnace and hot water tank. I had my house inspected a few weeks ago by one of those ecoEnergy efficiency guys and now that I have my report and the recommendations, I can go ahead with the improvements and then when I call the inspector back, he will help me tap into all the rebates and refunds that are available. It really makes sense to do it now. Our house will be more comfortable and the cost of heating will be minimal. I am also researching new windows and heat pumps. This all adds value to our home and will make it not only easier to sell down the road but will bring us a better price.
I also helped out a fellow who lost his job a few months ago. I met him doing some home improvements for one of my customers. He gave me his number at that time and asked if I knew of any odd jobs to give him a call. I have sent a bit of work his way and yesterday he wanted me to come to one of his jobs and give him some lessons on my expertise. I did and he was so very grateful. He is honest and a hard worker so I certainly do not mind helping him out. Some guys would just go on EI and when that runs out, go on welfare. Although we are not related, we do share the same last name, so that helps too.
The days go by and I feel rested. The phone will ring any minute and I will be back at it
Tuesday, June 23, 2009
Monday, June 22, 2009
Sunday, June 21, 2009
Fatherhood can take on many different styles. The strengths of one father will be the weakness of the other but without a doubt, what is modelled in everyday living will have an influence on his children for good or for bad.
I find it interesting that as I talk to my siblings, they have a different perspectives of our father. He related to each one of us differently and certainly treated the boy differently than the girls. They will read this and probably disagree or at least have a unique perspective on my observations.
My father was more of a friend to me than a teacher, a leader, a mentor, or a disciplinarian. A father is always an example whether deliberately or not and he modelled both good and bad behaviour to me. Even though today I recognise and differentiate between the good and the bad, it still has a pull on me, both ways. It is difficult to say in the same breath, "I am going to be just like may father" (in the good ways) and then "I am not going to be like my father" (in the bad ways). He is a package and it is most difficult to be both like him and not like him at the same time.
The important thing is to give him honour. It is most counterproductive to not do so.
Saturday, June 20, 2009
"You simply cannot drive this thing without speeding" he assured me. He then told me of an incident that happened right here in town on a busy street only a few weeks ago.
"I was torquing my way up the hill when suddenly there he was. A cop pointing a radar gun at me. I guess he heard me because he did not get a look as I flew by at 175 kmh in a 50 kmh zone. I could have run, but how many cars are there like this on the road? They would have caught up to me pretty quick so I just pulled over."
Police Officer: Are you drunk?
Magnum: No, I don't drink.
PO: Are you on drugs?
M: No, I don't do drugs.
PO: Are you stupid?
M: Yes I am!
PO: You are going to jail for the night. Your car will be impounded. The fine is $1100.00. You will have a six month driving suspension. You better call a friend to watch your car while it gets towed. You don't want that thing damaged.
By the way, what do you do for a living.
M: I drive a truck
PO: (pause) Do you have other outstanding tickets or points on your driver's license?
M: Not right now.
PO: (pause) I am going to ask you three questions and I want a truthful answer.
M: (having nothing to lose) Sure.
PO: What is the fastest you have had that car?
PO: Were you caught?
M: Don't think so.
PO: When was the last time you were caught speeding and how fast were you going.
M: (Thinking the officer may have has this info come up on his computer, he was honest.) About six months ago I was caught doing 180 kmh is a school zone. (30 kmh) The cop just gave me a warning.
At this point I am wondering how that is humanly possible, I mean to do that and only get a warning.
PO: When is the last time you really got a speeding ticket.
M: About 8 months ago. I was going 35 kmh in the same school zone.
PO: I see by your license that today is your birthday. I am giving you a birthday present. I am letting you off this time. No ticket.
I could see he was nervous reliving the incident.
"Gotta run" he said, and jumped into the Magnum and took off with roar.
I had no reason to not believe him, again, instincts.
Later his wife came home just as I was finishing the job. She told me about his car obsession. She bought out his equity in the house after the divorce and with that he purchased the car. Since then the value of the house had risen substantially. She told me he makes more that ten grand a month and spends it all on his car.
The next morning I stopped by her house to do one final bit of work to complete the job and to collect some money. She called me on my cell phone just as I was driving up to her house and told me not to bother coming. She changed her mind about he wallpaper selection and she was just going to tear it all off. I was right there anyways and went in to talk her out of it. I couldn't so she just paid me and that was that. When I told her I felt bad for her, she told me that she does this all the time. "It will take three time for me to get it right. This is just the way I do things." I tucked my slack jaw back up and just scratched my head as I walked out.
My instincts never told me that was coming.
Friday, June 19, 2009
He then asked me if I could back my truck out of the driveway for a minute while he took his car out. He was going away for a few days. I did that and when I walked back up the driveway he had the garage door open and I saw his car. It was definitely an attention grabber. It was a glossy black Dodge Magnum station wagon with two wide bright yellow racing stripes over the top from hood to tail pipes. It was 'tricked out' with the most expensive wheels I had ever seen, a very throaty exhaust, dark tinted windows, and in the interior, a grey and lime green decor that was literally out of this world with pot lights and glowing things all over the place. He told me the basics in a sentence, $60,000 plus $20,000 in extras (so far) and 500 horsepower.
I could not help but admire it as it was a work of art as well as a powerful machine. I commented that I would not do well with such a vehicle as I would be going broke paying for all the speeding tickets. And then he told me a few of his experiences with his Magnum. Maybe tomorrow I will tell you too.
Thursday, June 18, 2009
Wednesday, June 17, 2009
Continued from "Long, Long Ago II"
Again, I was excited about doing something different. I was beginning to realise something important about myself and my life vocation. I was having increasing difficulty working for somebody else, punching a time clock, and having someone control me and my potential to make as much or as little income as I pleased. Also, I needed variety, at least in location. Going to the same location day in and day out was extremely boring and predictable.
Heading to Williams Lake was new scenery, a new challenge, and the harder I worked the more I would be rewarded.
We set up some basic amenities in a suite that was barely framed up, set up our camping gear and got right to work. By now I was used to having a wife who was a great cook and looked after a lot of my needs. I was beginning, after a few days of this nonsense, to formulate a plan. I brought it up with rest of 'the boys' and they went for it. I was soon headed back home and there I rented a camper, put it on the back of my dad's work truck, and drove immediately back to Williams Lake with Lis in tow. She was anxious to get out of town too and was game to cook for the bunch of us and in return, she and I got to live in the camper instead of on a hard plywood floor.
Her recollection now is that all she did was cook and cook and cook. My recollection of those days was that all I did was paint and paint and paint. I learned to paint in the dark and was even doing it in my sleep. I was certainly going from a novice to a pro in just a few weeks. It was tedious and the hours were long, but the company was great and there would be a good reward in the end.
Williams Lake was a boom town back then and through a contact of my Uncle's, my dad and myself were able to get a contract to not only paint, but install all the ceramic tile in the new Overlander Motor Hotel that was being built just then.
I brought Lis home after the apartments were done and then my father, a friend of mine, and I went back and we did the Overlander, this time staying in a motel the whole time. Certainly by this time, I had two skill sets under my belt and once again, a pocket full of money.
I stayed home after that, but my landlady found out I was now an experienced painter. She asked me if I wanted to re-paint suites in the two apartment buildings she managed, each time a tenant moved out. She offered me so much per suite and she supplied the paint. I did a few to see if it would be good for me and soon I was doing it almost full time. Having an arrangement like that allowed me to slowly establish myself in my own business. I so appreciate all who helped me along the way and exercised patience with my inexperience. Today, I am in the process of winding down. I value the slow weeks and am more willing than ever to turn down work, something I would have never dreamed of in the early years.
So, that is how I became a painting contractor, almost 34 years ago.
Tuesday, June 16, 2009
Monday, June 15, 2009
I happened to be driving by the cemetery where my mom is buried. I do not visit her grave site often, in fact it has been two years since I was last there. It was a beautiful sunny morning and there was not a living soul there. (literally) I parked near her grave and as I walked the short distance to her headstone, it was remarkable how many new markers were there since I last visited. Her spot was in the sun, and she would have liked that. There is a huge cedar tree just to the south of her and would give afternoon shade on a hot day. She would have liked that. Then, later in the day, when the temperatures would cool a bit, the sun would again fall on her plot. She would have liked that. There were some fresh flowers on a headstone a few paces over. She would have liked that too.
I stopped there on this day just to focus my memories and thoughts about her. It is easier without distractions of everyday life to interfere. As I was leaving, I wandered in a big circle to see who her neighbours were. There was Barry B., one of my former clients, a very successful farmer and businessman. He was a good and honest guy, at least in my dealings with him. Then there were Walter and Menno N., two of the best known music teachers in our fair city. Everybody knew them. I contracted to paint their house when they built it new. They were quirky but honest and likable fellows, also very successful. And just a few spots over was Ivan V., a philanthropist business importer and exporter who ran a large orphanage in Indonesia as a sideline. It was a privilege to get to know him and his wife Trudy when I painted and wallpapered his beautiful home many years ago.
It seems my mother is in good company, and she certainly would have liked that.
Sunday, June 14, 2009
Some of you may be familiar with the advice in the Book of Ecclesiastes, Chapter 12 where we are advised to remember our Creator in the days of our youth. The chapter goes on to describe the things that happen to old men. They lose their sight, their hearing, their strength and enthusiasm, and even are afraid to climb ladders. Why is the writer trying to get us old men to remember our maker in the days of our youth? Those days are passed. We cannot undo the past. But just a minute. This is written to young men. Remember now, while you are young. I am thinking that this is good advice for two reasons.
Remembering at a young age sets a pattern for living and thinking. As we are when we are young, at least in our thinking, is often what we are as we age. We just mature and develop in the thought processes and become more wise and learned (hopefully) as we continue a train of thought. Also, I believe we advance from a physical state of being when we are young to a more spiritual and intellectual way of life as we become more restricted in what we can physically do.
Remembering our creator in the days of our youth will hold us in good stead when we are old and decrepit and have only our thoughts and our memories to entertain us.
Saturday, June 13, 2009
After travelling to Cape Breton Island and back, we manged to get the travel bug out of our systems for the time being. We rented a one bedroom apartment in a new building in town, got our meager belongings out of storage, and settled in to our new life. I tried my hand at a few different jobs. I quickly found out that I was not cut out for a factory production job, even though in a supervisory position, and eventually gravitated toward sales. I landed a job as an assistant manger of a new paint store in town. This suited me because I grew up helping my dad in a retail business in Saskatchewan. A store setting was familiar to me. There were shelves to stock, signage to display, and customers to deal with. There was one problem. I was promised a raise after the first two months and it was not coming. We could not live on what I was being paid and our baby was on her way. I began to dislike upper management as I found out that there was a lack of integrity.
About that time, an uncle of mine came into the store one day and asked me if I knew if any of the painting contractors I dealt with would be willing to travel to the north country and paint two apartment buildings he was constructing in Williams Lake. He could not find anyone from that town to take on such a big project. After making inquiries, I drew a blank. He then suggested that he, his sons, me, and my father, who was a builder, travel up there, fix up one of the suites to live in, and do the project ourselves. I was intrigued by the idea and told him I would give it some thought. That very afternoon, the district manager for the paint chain came by our store and I took the opportunity to negotiate from a position of strength. I pointed out that I had not yet received the promised raise and I would have to seriously consider resigning unless I got it that very day. He laughed at me and and suggested that I quit then and there. Much to his great surprise, I called his bluff. I took off the staff jacket, threw it down and walked out. I later heard from my manger that the district boss was supremely upset because he was left babysitting the store as I was the only one duty that day. I did not feel sorry for him, but did have sympathy for my manager who took the brunt of the anger from his boss.
So now the die was cast. I had to pack my bags and once again head up north, but this time without my wife.
Friday, June 12, 2009
We had our pockets full of money and we were newly released from a life in isolation and a life of immobility. I thought it quite natural that we purchase a car and do some driving. So we bought a new Mazda 808, some camping equipment, and set out for a trip across Canada. It was exhilarating to be able to go where we wanted and not be restricted by boat or plane schedules. Not having to show up for work was also wonderful. But what I recall most about that trip, which lasted 5 weeks, was that it rained all the way there and all the way back. The new canvas tent was a messy, mildewy, rotted good for nothing rag when we got home. I think we counted 3 full days of sunshine on the trip and those were blistering hot and humid days on the Niagara Peninsula staying with Lis's cousin while the blown head gasket on my car was being repaired, on warranty.
Another thing I remember vividly were the nausea incidents travelling with a pregnant wife. Being inexperienced in these things, I was always very concerned but after a while got used to it and realised she was not ill, but only experiencing symptoms of being pregnant. There was the time in Batoche, the site of the gun battle near Duck Lake Saskatchewan during the Louis Riel rebellion. We were in the old school house which was a museum at that time, looking at some old photos, when Lis swooned, and sort of fell into my arms in a dead faint. I held her up, as if in a loving embrace, and the feeling passed before anyone else noticed. And the time when we were at the old Expo '86 site in Montreal. Lis was falling down and I could not keep her up this time but was able to gently let her slip to the asphalt. I propped up her head and tried to give her a drink of water when two middle aged women came by and got very concerned. They asked if they could call an ambulance. I assured them that the young lady in my arms was fine. She is pregnant, said I. Their expressions changed and became very sweet and motherly and they fawned over Lis until she was revived enough to continue on our journey to 'Habitat for Humanity'. They congratulated us and actually followed us around for the next while to make sure 'we' were OK. At times like that, I wondered if we should be travelling, but we kept on going and Lis was feeling better every day. Our daughter was well travelled even before she was born.
Thursday, June 11, 2009
He first wanted to see where the players would be billeted. He brought a 'tester' or 'guinea pig' with him to sample the amenities. The tester lay down in a student bed and his long powerful legs hung over the end by a foot. The school guide thought this did not bode well, but the coach gave a thumbs up and a nod of approval.
The coach next asked if there was air conditioning as the days could be long and hot. "Ah, well .. er .. actually, no, we do not have air conditioning in the dorms.
"Great!" said the coach.
Lastly, the coach wanted to know if the facility had cable vision. "Ah, well .. er .. actually, no, we do not have cable vision."
"Wonderful!" said the coach.
Quite perplexed, the college guide asked the coach why the inadequate facility was so 'great'.
"Oh, that's easy," answered the coach. "This will make it really easy to weed out the first round of rejects."
They are there for the third year in a row, as I write this.
Wednesday, June 10, 2009
There have been waves of trouble in the housing industry as it relates to the banking business, as it relates to mortgages and credit. Everyone by now knows about sub-prime mortgages and the troubles they have caused. The first wave of problems came when those folks who did not deserve or could not afford a mortgage were given one anyway. When these loans came up for renewal, the undeserving homeowner could not make payments and defaulted on the mortgage.
The next wave of problems came from the speculators who purchased homes by leveraging themselves and when the value of the homes fell, they defaulted because the mortgages were worth more than the homes they had purchased on speculation and there were no buyers.
Now we are into the third wave of problems. These are the prime loans, or loans made to hard working and deserving people who bought homes with a high ratio mortgage but could make the payments. That is, until they started losing their jobs. With unemployment nudging 9%, there are a lot of these people out there. There are also a lot of people who are still working but their houses are 'under water' meaning their mortgages are worth more than their houses. Some are walking. This is indeed the biggest crisis right now. These are also the folks who were driving the spending engines that fueled the economy. They will not be spending like that again soon.
Yes, the waves are relentless and there are two more coming.
The 'jumbo prime' borrowers will soon be in trouble because they are the high rollers with the million dollar houses who are effected by economic downturn just like the rest of us. Many of these do not have deep pockets and will also walk.
The next wave will be defaults by commercial and business development that will go 'belly up'. It is inevitable as malls across the USA are already closing. These new malls were highly leveraged no differently than the average new house.
As if that were not enough, there is one more tier of sub-prime mortgages that are coming due in 2013.
If you thought the recession/depression** was in retreat, think again.
** Recession is a cyclical downturn in the economy. A depression is when there is a fundamental change in the economy. i.e. bailouts, monetizing the debt (printing new money to pay the national debt), huge bankruptcies such as Lehman Brothers and GM, and monumental government deficits that will take many generations to pay down.
Tuesday, June 9, 2009
Lis will get to see more of these guys than I did. She is working part time at the facility where they are being billeted and fed. She will get to see how much a 'real man' can eat at one sitting. I am hoping that she will get friendly enough with some of the players to get me a few free tickets to a game, and if not that, at least an autograph or two. It is not often that we get so many celebrities in our town at one time.
Monday, June 8, 2009
There are reasons why it has moved back. Our governments, at least on the federal and provincial level, have lowered some taxes, although hardly enough to make a difference. The biggest reason, according to the Fraser Institute, is the recession. People on average are earning less money and when they earn less, they pay less income tax. Also when they earn less, they spend less and thus pay less in sales taxes. We have found this to be true in our own case. So an improved tax free day, in this case, is small comfort.
Sunday, June 7, 2009
It was a hot day and I was offered a bottle of water right out of the elderly lady's refrigerator. I was grateful for it because I do not like to drink tap water as it is heavily chlorinated in our city. I took the bottle from her, unscrewed the cap, and guzzled back half of the bottle before putting it down on the table. It was then that I noticed a peculiar taste in my mouth, sort of musty and pungent. I suddenly realised that when I had taken the cap off, it had not popped or broken on the first twist. I knew right away that she had re-cycled her bottle by filling it up after she drank it and putting it in the refrigerator. How long it had been there I did not know, but I noticed a milky residue stuck to the upper part of the bottle just below the neck. I put my finger in the opening and rubbed the stuff off and it was very slimy. She was not there at the moment and I went to the sink and poured the remainder of the water down the drain. And then I waited for the effects of drinking tainted water. I was expecting an upset stomach, but it did not come. What did come that very night was the first and only bladder infection I have ever had. No, these things are not only for women, but I can really sympathize now. I have been very careful ever since to check the seal on the top of the bottle whenever I am offered bottled water.
Saturday, June 6, 2009
The exception to this rule has always been in the hands of the customer. When I first started working in people’s homes many years ago, folks were more hospitable than they are today and more often than not, I would be offered a cup of coffee and a goodie at ten and at three. I rarely turned it down. Lately, it has been the exception and not the rule, but greatly appreciated when it does happen. I have been offered some very interesting things over the years and some incidents are quite memorable.
My experiences are as varied as are the customers I have worked for. There are a few predictabilities that roughly go along ethnic lines. By far the most hospitable people have been the Mennonites and the Dutch, followed closely by the East Indians. When I first started, I was doing a lot of vacant apartments and some new construction, and the only refreshments I had were what I brought from home. My wife has always been a great cook and the lunches she has made for me over the years have always been excellent and I always looked forward to noon and the chance to ‘dig in’. But as I got into the re-decoration end of the painting business, I was working around people, in their homes, and getting to know them, sometimes quite well.
One of my first experiences being offered a coffee break, was at a Danish ladies home. She was very friendly and at mid morning she asked me if I would care for a cup of Danish Coffee. It was an opportunity to try something new and also a chance to sit down with her and find out a bit more about her story, something which I have enjoyed tremendously over the years. She explained to me that Danish Coffee was quite strong and asked if she should make it a bit weaker for me. Not caring too much for strong coffee, I consented to her suggestion. She sat me down at the table and set the cup in front of me together with a bowl of sugar and a pitcher of cream. I poured some cream into the cup and began to stir the coffee. It did not change colour. I thought the ‘cream’ was perhaps skimmed milk and poured some more into my cup. The colour was changing ever so slightly and it should have been a clue. I sipped the brew and almost gagged. It was thick and syrupy and the strongest drink I had ever put to my lips. She saw my reaction and apologized. She told me that she had run out of her usual grounds and had used instant. Instant was just right for me if it was made with one half teaspoon. Normally she put eight teaspoons of powder into a cup but she cut back to six for me!
The coffee I have been offered since then has been OK and some of it has been great. Some people really have a knack for making excellent coffee. Fresh ground gourmet coffee in a high tech coffee maker surely does beat cowboy coffee taken from an old unused tin above the fridge and served with plenty of course grounds in the cup. The goodies can really only be described as varied and interesting, ranging from delicious to downright awful. It would seem that some people viewed having a trades person in the house as an opportunity to get rid of old stale baking or something that was too good to throw out but nobody in the family was going to eat. In an instance such as that, I would eat what I had started, but never take seconds, pleading upset stomach, or dietary restrictions. I never got sick from anything I ate, but did gain weight on some of the extended jobs.
I was ushered into a kitchen one day and there was a dessert buffet that one would expect on a cruise ship. At least ten different varieties of fresh Christmas baking. The elderly Mennonite Grandmotherly type gave me a quick instruction before I dug in.
“ Try one of each, and then eat all the ones you like.” I am ashamed to report that I followed her instructions to the ‘t’.
I called the German speaking Miss Zumpf the night before and informed her that I would be starting her job the next morning. She insisted that I do not bring any food, but that she would feed me, coffee breaks and a lunch. This was a new one for me. I had been offered lunch many times, but not beforehand, so I would gratefully turn down the offer and eat what I had brought from home. It was empty-handed that I entered Katie’s home and was curious as to what would transpire.
After working only one hour, the first coffee break arrived and I was served a delectable piece of Bundt cake, and when offered seconds, could not refuse. She asked me if I liked chicken and said that she would make me a chicken lunch. A chicken sandwich would have sufficed and I would have been satisfied with and been grateful for just that. Shortly before noon, I caught whiffs of chicken and it was no sandwich she was preparing. The aromas drifting my way indicated that I would indeed be feasting before long. The time came quickly and she sat me down at her dining room table, before an immaculately set table with her finest china and silverware spread before me. There was a bowl of mashed potatoes, steamed vegetables, dinner rolls with butter, a fresh garden salad with several different dressing to choose from, but no chicken. She sat down with me and said an elegant grace in German and excused herself to the kitchen. When she returned, she was laden down with an extra large baking sheet spread from corner to corner with oven baked chicken. There had to be at least fifteen pieces of golden brown chicken set before me. I was shocked and all I could blurt out was, “Is there someone else coming for lunch?” Apparently not. It was just me and the chicken. Oh, did I mention more Bundt cake for dessert?
I have many regular customers that have called me back many times over the years. Of those, I have favourites and Pat was right near the top. Pat had a wonderful sense of humour and we would laugh out loud the whole time I would be working in her home. She and her husband belonged to an interesting dinner club which met once a month, rotating between their homes. It was planned out for the year and each month would be a theme night. The dinner was prepared by the host couple and they went all out. It was gourmet cooking at its finest. Needless to day, she was a great cook and baker and it was always evident when I was invited to sit down for coffee. The best treat she ever made for me was a large plate full of scones with butter and home made strawberry jam. I embarrassed myself by eating the plate clean, but I sensed that she took it as a compliment. I was appropriately decorating her kitchen in a colour scheme she got right out of a Martha Stuart magazine.
My first experience working in an East Indian home was making me a little nervous. I sensed that there was distrust and suspicion from the minute I walked in the door. I did what I usually do to build a little rapport and took a mild interest in her home and her children. I quietly went about my work and was polite and friendly when I spoke with her. The grandparents were skulking about in the background, giving me sideways glances, and I was relieved that I was not working for them. At mid morning, she asked if I would care for some East Indian tea. I told to go to no trouble for me but she assured me that the whole family was having tea and it was no trouble at all. I accepted, hoping it would not be another Danish coffee incident. The tea turned out to be quite good, mixed with plenty of milk and sugar, not what I was used to, but good enough for a second cup. I think the second cup was the right move because after that, even the old grandpa warmed up to me a bit. Since then, I have had Indian tea many times and always enjoy it, but knowing that if I had it everyday, I would soon be as big bellied as many of them are.
I have learned that there is a subtle change in a new relationship when conversation takes place over a cup of coffee or tea. They extend hospitality, I accept it, and as a result, a bond begins to form. I have heard so many fascinating stories at these coffee breaks and have indeed had many opportunities to encourage and be encouraged by those who sometimes are complete strangers, until we ‘break bread’ together.
Friday, June 5, 2009
I was chatting with a new customer the other day and he told me a bit about himself. He had some very good life lessons to pass on. He was a Scotsman through and through so it was fun to listen not only to his stories, but also to his accent and his manner of speaking. As a young immigrant he saw Canada as a land of opportunity but after beating the pavement for many weeks and being on the verge of going back, he got a job at city hall in Vancouver. There was an election coming and they needed someone to sharpen pencils for the ballot boxes and tie little strings around them so they would not 'walk off'. Rather than being discouraged at such a menial and meaningless task, he tackled it with enthusiasm and his superiors noticed. It did not happen all at once, but he did move up through the ranks and his bosses always told him to be patient and always expect to get ahead. Well, he did get ahead and eventually became a city manager and a manager for then aspiring politician and now Premier of our Province, Gordon Campbell. Today he is retired and on a comfortable pension, having travelled and done all he ever wanted to do. His advice is to be patient, pay as you go, and never be afraid to start at the bottom. Work hard, be honest, and do not make enemies. These are things most of us know, but it is a real pleasure to meet someone who is a living testament to those ideals.
Thursday, June 4, 2009
Have I written before about how I cannot tolerate the heat? I thought so. Well, here goes again.
Wednesday, June 3, 2009
PS Now that I have taught my new apprentice, Bill, how to make the coffee, in 60 cup batches, we are finally getting compliments on the coffee. :-)
Tuesday, June 2, 2009
That particular set of genes did not take root in either of my kids, but rather decided to skip a generation and pop up in my grandson. A few months back he was delighted to learn that after auditioning for the lead roll in a musical drama at church, he got it. He and the Kid's Town Choir performed three times over the weekend and they did a fantastic job. I was so proud of Nathan that I embarrassed myself by announcing to all those around me that the handsome guy up front and center was MY grandson. This is typical grandparent behaviour so it is OK.
Monday, June 1, 2009
The NHL playoffs continue and us Vancouver fans have finally conceded that it is happening, once again, without us. We lost the series against Chicago, in the fourth game, by playing defensively against an explosive offensive team, thinking it would take only one goal to beat them. It was a coaching error in strategy, in my opinion.
Naturally the fans are terribly let down, but I was wondering what would have happened had we won the series, and even gone on to win the Stanley Cup. Of course, euphoria would have been the order of the day, and there probably would have been short lived riots in the streets with the associated policing costs. But what happens after that? Yes, you are right, dear reader, life would go on. The great hope that we Canuck fans live with, year in and year out, would no longer drive us into a new season. We would have arrived, but what would that give us? I am thinking that it is good to never win. Come close once in a while, but never win. They say that man can live months without food, days without water, but not at all without hope. So, you see, we need that eternal hope to keep us glued to our TV in the winter months, screaming at the top of our lungs, "Shoot the puck". We anxiously await player trades and draft picks and contract renewals all in the hope that maybe it will be next year. I highly doubt it, but we can at least hope.