Monday, May 31, 2010

Safety Rules

We live in an age where safety rules. Yesterday was a good case study. The young pastor in church was just starting his prayer when the fire alarms went off. He had the presence of mind to say "amen" and after that was not quite sure what to do. To every one's credit, calmness pervaded the 800 person worship centre as we watched and waited for the inevitable assurance that it was a false alarm. Moments into the uncomfortableness, another pastor came on stage with a plastic sheathed 'fire alarm protocol' document and was about to read it out to us when the music pastor came on stage, and with a sheepish explanation and a fist full of long gray wires, informed us all that it was his birthday and between services his band gave him some cupcakes with sparklers ablazing. This apparently had set off the smoke detectors and hence the alarm. Everyone gave a relieved sigh and chuckle and the preaching pastor resumed his prayer and subsequently his sermon. At the end of the sermon, the music pastor came back on stage for one more song and after the song, informed us all that the Sunday School had been evacuated and indeed, next time the alarm went 'off', we were all to calmly evacuate the building.

I thought about this later. What actually happened, was a calm, rational and intelligent response to a fire alarm in a large building that had around 1200 people in it, in all of its rooms and corners. Had there been an actual fire, somebody would have seen it and informed the ushers or the pastor and we would have, at that time, used the myriad of exits around the building to calmly exit. The fire doors in the center and both sides of the building automatically close and lock so the Sunday School department would have had no choice but to exit to the sides and rear and the worshippers would have had to exit to the sides and to the front.
But, safety rules. Because we are all assumed to be ignorant sheep, we must all exit at the first sign of trouble, false alarm or not. There is no room for interpretation in this rule, as the fire Marshall apparently informed the pastors when the fire truck arrived, with sirens blazing. I know there are two sides to this, but I side with an intelligent response as opposed to a knee jerk reaction. We have been taught to follow so many rules these days that there is no room left for questioning why the rule is there and what its purpose is. Most of these rules are put in place 1. because there is a bureaucracy there to do so, or 2. we need to be protected from our ignorant selves, or 3. there are some stupid people that need protecting but you cannot discriminate against stupid people so you make a rule to cover everybody and thus cover the stupid ones.
I guess I am a rebel because I have no patience for stupid rules. I know I am not the only one because yesterday morning there was not a single person in church who jumped up and ran out of the building. They sat there like me and used their God given intelligence.

Sunday, May 30, 2010

Creeping Up On Me

Where would I be if I didn't take this stuff? I'm talking about Calcium tablets. Many years ago I would get cramps in my toes while laying in bed at night, trying to fall asleep. I found that if I kept my feet warm, it helped, but eventually I turned to calcium tablets. I am a big milk drinker so you would think that I would not have a calcium deficiency. A few years ago, the cramps no longer bothered me, at least not the ones in the toes and feet. It was now the calf muscles that would seize and knot, causing me to jump out of bed and straighten out my legs to release the tightness and pain. Busylizzy informed me that I needed magnesium with the calcium so I added the monster pills to my morning breakfast, which was now starting to resemble a pharmacy heist. There was already the daily multi-vitamin for overall health, the D3 tablets for my skin problems and immunity, the B12 for my energy levels which are almost always at or near zero, the Mannatech Ambrotose capsules which help my cells communicate with each other ( do they text message?) the Glucosomine for my aching and depleted cartilage in my aging joints, and the magic pill with the Saw Palmetto in it for the plumbing problems that more being prevented right now. I have had to cut my breakfast intake in half to make room in my stomach for all the pills.

But I digress. The leg cramps are creeping ever upwards. Last night I awoke with a big snake in the back of my thigh, squirming and writhing and eventually biting me, very hard. It was a 'Charlie Horse', the kind of thigh cramp that make those big burly football linebackers curl in a ball in the middle of a stadium full of 60,000 people and cry like a baby from the pain. They are often carried off with a stretcher or by two other 300 pound gorillas. But not me. I suffered in silence and sat in as a calm a state as possible, gently massaging the knot and not daring to stand up. (I tried that immediately and decided I would have to get busylizzy to call 911 if I tried that again.) After 15 minutes, it finally settled down and I eased myself back under the covers, only to bolt up again when the other leg did the same thing. As I sat there yearning for a pain free sleep, I realised the cramps were progressing upward, from the toes, to the calves, and now the thighs. In my half asleep state, I imagined that the ultimate cramp is in the heart muscle, which almost always results in death. As I prodded and massaged my other thigh, the thought occurred to me that I was half way there.

Saturday, May 29, 2010

The House That Teeth Built

The blue colonial home from a few posts back was where these people first lived. You know, busylizzy's dentist. This photograph does not do this home justice. It is first rate and the gardens in the rear of the property are beautifully done with many exotic and rare trees. This was the last home that I painted when it was 'new construction'. That was many years ago. Since then, I have specialised in re-decoration. We did re-decorate this home about two years ago and "it was like deja vu all over again." (to quote Yogi Berra) The difference was this time there were no other workers in the house to trip over, but there was furniture to move. Also, the lady of the house was home some of the time and we always have really good conversations about all sorts of things. I just realised that one might get the impression, from reading all of these "Homes I Know" posts, that I do more visiting than working. I am one of those rare individuals who can work and talk at the same time. I can put either on 'auto pilot'. :) These are two people who are intelligent, articulate and unique in many aspects of their lives, and I like them a lot.

Friday, May 28, 2010


I love fruit. Most of us do. We are being served up a basket of rotten fruit by the spin doctors in the US government and the media, regarding the "fragile recovery of the US economy". In reality, the depression is worsening and gloom is on the horizon. The oil gushing into the Gulf of Mexico is good foreshadowing of the difficult times ahead. The coming hurricane season is being predicted as a particularly bad one because of a series of factors that are coming together. Again, foreshadowing.
While everyone frets about the PIIGS (Portugal, Ireland, Italy, Greece, and Spain) economies, the US economy is worse by far in real terms.
Some of you think that I am all doom and gloom, a pessimist at best. What I write in regards to the economy does not come out of my negative imagination, but from what I read, and I read about these things voraciously. I should not, perhaps, but when a train is coming, I like to know about it ahead of time so I can get off the tracks.
Today (Thursday) there is a story in the USA Today.

"Paychecks from private business shrank to their smallest share of personal income in US history during the first quarter of this year, a USA Today analysis of government data finds. "At the same time, government-provided benefits - from Social Security, unemployment insurance, food stamps and other programs - rose to a record high during the first three months of 2010."Those records reflect a long-term trend accelerated by the recession and the federal stimulus program to counteract the downturn. The result is a major shift in the source of personal income from private wages to government programs."The trend is not sustainable, says University of Michigan economist Donald Grimes. Reason: The federal government depends on private wages to generate income taxes to pay for its ever-more-expensive programs. Government-generated income is taxed at lower rates or not at all, he says. 'This is really important,' Grimes says. "

This should not surprise anyone. Any government does not have money and produces nothing. It all comes from the tax payer or from borrowing. This situation is not sustainable. Period.

PS Somebody, anybody, please put a positive spin on this latest revelation.

Thursday, May 27, 2010

In Small Increments

By the time you are my age, you are no longer in denial. Giving in to reality is freeing. The next step is watching the progression, in small increments, and keeping one's sense of humour as the unfunny events unfold. Of course, I am talking about what is on every 'boomers' mind in this decade, and that is aging. The physical deterioration started many years ago, perhaps in our thirties when we came to the realization that no matter how hard we worked, we would never qualify to play on an NHL team. They call it 'past the prime'. Life was still pretty good then and we had a long span of good years to look forward to, but that constant reminder, that we were no longer getting better, but had peaked, was the beginning. We had a great consolation, though, and that is that while we were deteriorating physically, our mental agility and wisdom was still on the rise. Comes the early sixties and now even that has been taken from us.
It starts with having to write everything down. The mental lapses become more frequent and more prolonged but we acquire a talent of covering up for these 'brain farts'. We roll out the standard jokes and everyone laughs it off and falsely believes that it will not get much worse. Once we retire and eliminate the stress of work, there will be a miraculous recovery of wits as we finally get enough rest. But, suddenly we realise that we did not plan well enough for retirement and will have to work longer than we ever imagined. The stress sets in again and the deterioration accelerates. One thing that distressed me for the last few years is my inability to spot the right tool in my tool box when it is there, right in front of me. I used to be able to scan the box and pick up the tool. Now I have to look at each tool and decide if that is the one I want. By the time I find it, I forgot what I needed it for. Don't laugh. If this has not happened to you, it will.
I visited my 88 year old father today and he told me a new story. Yes, it is true. He was coming back from his lunch in the care home and when he walked into his room, he wondered why the photograph of his great grand kids sitting on his desk did not look right. He then opened the drawer and saw things that "did not look right". Then from behind him, a shrill voice cried out, "What are you doing in my room?" He actually had to go to the door and see that his name and room number were not there before he believed he was in the wrong room. He could not get over it that it was happening to him. At that moment I caught a glimpse of my future.
By the time I get there, I will be well practised because as I got into my car, after the visit, I realised I had forgot to hang the parking pass on my rear view mirror so my car would not be towed. No, it was not towed, and good thing. I would have had to identify it out of a line-up at the impound lot.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010


It was in the late seventies when I first met this couple, again, as a result of the award winning designer who was a constant source of work for me. They lived in a simple house at that time, compared to this beauty, where they still reside. Ann (not her real name) is one of the nicest, friendliest people I have ever met. Today, she is wracked with arthritis and even through her constant pain, is a friendly smiling person. This home is beyond description. It is pure elegance and quality throughout. Her husband, even though he is a partner in one of the largest and most successful businesses in town, is still a down to earth working man. I just heard that he finally retired, although I am certain he still shows up for work occasionally. He is a hobby fisherman and I trust he is out on the water a lot these days.
We hung a lot of wallpaper in this house as well as repainting many areas that got wear and tear from the grand kids. I will always remember the coffee breaks and the warm conversations with Ann in her beautiful family room overlooking the pool in the immaculate gardens of the backyard. It is not always that there are quality people living in quality homes, but that certainly is the case here.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

A Fine Home Indeed

This lovely home belongs to a prominent family of our fair city. I first worked in this home as a referral from an award winning designer who had them as one of her clients, and who giving me a lot of wallpaper work in her design show homes. That first job was hanging an expensive fabric wall covering called 'String Cloth' in their entry/hall. That was about 15 years ago. Now, in summer of 2009, we were called back to do an extensive paint job. This home is loaded with high quality cabinetry in the many bathrooms, the kitchen, laundry, and family room. The cabinets were dated in that old bleached pickled oak look and they wanted them all painted. We were there for weeks doing all the prep, priming and enameling. We also painted a few of the bathrooms, painted the brass highlights on the three fireplaces, black, and did some general touch-up throughout the house. The finished result was beyond even my expectations and looked fabulous. We paint a lot of oak, but this was a very tight grained high end wood and painted up wonderfully in some very rich colours. The house was transformed. We got a call back last month and saw that all the kitchen cabinet doors were showing hairline cracks in each panel. We determined that what had happened was that when we scrubbed down the doors, we did not let them dry long enough and when they finally dried under all that paint, the caulking in each panel let go.
We spent a few hours cutting out all the failed caulking, re-caulked, and repainted the doors. I was afraid it would look like a patch job but when the client came back from Palm Springs, they called and said they were delighted and wanted to pay us immediately.

I am sure we will be back here again before they sell and downsize, which may happen soon.

Monday, May 24, 2010

Another Doctor

This is the same street as Sunday, May 16th's post, in fact, it is next door. My customers do not forget me when they change locations and this is another family I was introduced to in another house, their first home here in Canada. They lived on an acreage on the west end of town and had recently come here from England. When I first worked in their home, her mom and dad had just moved here from the UK and were retired and planning to live with their grown kids and their two grandsons. There were big renovations going on and after completion I did not see them for a while. When next time I got the phone call, they had moved to this house. Their two sons were married and in careers of their own, the elderly dad had passed away, and the mom was living in a suite behind the double garage you see in the photo. I cannot say enough about these people and how good they were to work for and get to know. He was a sports medicine doctor and travelled quite a bit giving seminars as well as running a clinic here in town. His wife was his receptionist and the old mom held down the fort at home. She was and is a delightful character with a typical British sense of humour and wonderful accent to go with it. I lost track of how many times I worked in this house, but I do know that each time was a pleasure, a wonderful time of catching up with the latest developments in their lives.
As a side note, one of their sons is a paramedic and was the one who came one evening, a few years ago, when we had to haul busylizzy off to the hospital.

Sunday, May 23, 2010

Fourth Annual GS

It was Friday evening and our carport was full. We had not even begun to haul all our accumulated items out of our basement. Ken (red jacket) was worried we might not have enough 'stuff' to sell. We ended up hauling two full pick-up loads to the MCC in Mission after having raised a record $3300.00 selling our little treasures and accepting some very generous donations from some individuals.
Of course, it was our fourth annual Mwanza Orphanage fund raiser garage sale. The weather was good most of the time and nobody was complaining about the heat. There was none. Last year we had more big items. This year it was mostly $1 to $5 items. There was a very steady stream of customers for the duration of the sale and because we had plenty of help this year, everyone was looked after very well. We were told that coffee and pastries would go over big. They did not sell that well but the help really enjoyed them. We had a few showers and quickly covered anything that should not get wet. The weather forecast which had looked so hopeful, was wrong. But, overall, it was a great day. It was a lot of work and at the end of the day it is a good kind of tired when you know you helped raise the money to repair a few flood damaged houses.

Busylizzy and I were up at 6 am and good thing. Here you see what the scene was at that time. I had the vehicles jambed up against the merchandise for security. The minute I backed them out and parked at the neighbours, the customers came. Eight hours later, the driveway and carport were clean and empty. What you see here is not even all of what we had donated. At least 4 more people came with large amounts of donated items and I brought some of the more valuable items out of my basement. If you missed it and want to learn more or make a donation, here is where to go.

Saturday, May 22, 2010

Oldy Goldy

We came to know Ken and June when we attended a small church together in the early eighties. We made many good friends there and some of them hired me to do work for them. Ken is an architectural designer, and a good one. When he bought this house, it was one of the oldy goldy homes that was built in the sixties, but was of the highest quality. But, all homes need an up-grade every so often so he incorporated some of his ideas into this home, at least on the inside. A bit of structural change, some new paint and wallpaper, and next thing you know, it is a modern house once again. Their kids are also grown up now and I met them recently looking at a suite in the tower of a few posts ago. We all consider downsizing when the nest empties.

Friday, May 21, 2010

Share the Work

This is again the same street. Many years ago I met and worked for Pam who lived in a modest little home. I did a small job for her and a few years later she moved onto this street. I worked in her home at least a dozen times and each time she had a list of friend's that she gave me, who also needed work done. She was a social butterfly and knew very many people. The house in the above photo is across and up the street from Pam and these gals are, or at least were, best friends. I completely re-decorated this house in the eighties and remember what a large job it was. Now, in the last year or two, my brother-in-law, who is a renovator, up-dated this house in a one year project. It may have been longer, but in the process, the owner needed a bit of wallpaper hung and so I was back. The house has completely changed, except for the exterior. The kids are all grown up now and the wear and tear they inflicted on the home is all healed and renewed. It is quite wonderful inside now.

Thursday, May 20, 2010


Hey Girls, we're moving to the city!

That 'green' and left leaning Vancouver City Council is providing us with a really good laugh these days. In case you did not catch it, they have set up a committee, came up with recommendations, and passed a motion that will set in place the ability of city residents to have chickens in their back yards. When my wife was a young kid growing up in the heart of South Vancouver her dad had chickens under the back steps, as did many immigrants. Their purpose was to provide free eggs to feed to their hungry kids. Too many were doing it and it was soon banned. The reasons were noise, odour, disease, and rats.
Now, in the name of sustainability, chickens will be allowed and none of the aforementioned problems will be an issue, because now it is politically correct.
The report is high comedy and if you wish, you can read it here. Four chickens will be allowed per household, but hens only, no roosters. Apparently the Db (around 60) of a cackling hen is no more or less than a human in conversation. So, no noise. Of course, these chickens will have rights, just as humans do. These rights are listed in the report and the by-law draft. There will be $20,000.00 set aside to build a homeless shelter for abandoned chickens. (Hey, I don't write this stuff, I only report it) They estimate the vet bills, vitamins and feed will be more than $400.00 per year, for the chicken owners, and that would buy 70 cartons of Organic eggs. I could go on, but you can read the report yourself.
This whole thing brings up a few issues.
If it is hens only, is that not sexist? Will there not be a whole host of roosters out there feeling rejected and having low self esteem. It will lead to their untimely deaths as they will be useless and that is a travesty. Do they not have equal opportunity to live and enjoy life like a hen? Just asking.
And what about this homeless chicken shelter? Will it have more amenities than a human homeless shelter? Who gets the eggs from the hens in the shelter? What ultimately happens to those hens? Will they be adopted out? Will they be slaughtered? Will they be given hot coffee and a blanket on those cold winter nights?
A chicken owner will not be allowed to slaughter his or her own hens but will have to bring them to a slaughter house. As if that is going to happen. The chickens have to be treated humanely in life and in death. No chopping off the head, but a dislocation of the neck vertebrae is the rule.
This citified chicken ranching is going to be a fad for a while and then like the cute bunnies at Easter, they will be out to free range. I can see it now, neighbourhoods overrun with wild and abandoned chickens, terrorizing domesticated cats and lap dogs with clucking and pecking. Eggs rolling with reckless abandon down the sidewalks. Chicken poop thicker than chewing gum on the walkways, and with time, a new bylaw making it illegal to own a chicken within city limits. Only then will I stop laughing.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010


I can understand why some people are stuck in the past. When these folks built their home, it was 'state of the art' and everything they put in it was new and modern. West Coast design, as it was called, was big and this home was done to the hilt in that theme. They took exceptionally good care of everything they had, and indeed, some parts of the house looked like they had never been used and were new, like the day of construction 25 years ago. So, if it is in such good shape, why get rid of it or change it? That is the reasoning and many people are in that place in their thinking. My first big job for these people was in the hottest part of the summer with forecast highs of mid to high 30's C. I was so grateful for an air-conditioned house and knew we would survive the hottest part of the summer. The day we started working there, their system broke and it ended up being the hottest interior job I ever did. What did not help was that the the lady of the house was extremely fussy and we had to find a new level of 'perfect' just for her. I guess she was not going to change it for another 25 years so it had better be good.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

The Future of Oil

This is the Mission Bridge which spans the mighty Fraser River. Today it is a busy four lane link to the north shore of the river. Tomorrow, maybe a foot bridge, or a bicycle bridge at best. I say this because I believe that oil production in North America will soon reach a crisis point. The oil spill disaster in the Gulf is having far reaching consequences beyond the obvious, which of course is pollution.
Senators from California, Oregon and Washington state are introducing legislation that will prohibit (read "ban") oil exploration and drilling off their coasts. More states will be allowed to take control of what happens on their 'off shore' and neighbouring states will have the right to veto anything happening in those waters that might effect them adversely. This all comes at a time when the USA is becoming more and more dependent on foreign oil. We can see as a result of this that there will be more and larger transfer payments going to other countries in payment for oil and that will hurt the already suffering trade deficit of the USA. Mexico, Iran, Venezuela, and Peru could soon be taking themselves out of the oil export game as they are using oil revenues for social programs instead of investing in more exploration and oil infrastructure.
The use of fossil fuels will be winding down sooner than we think, however, alternatives are not being made available soon enough. This gulf oil spill is only speeding up the day when we will be in a real bind.
To quote Bill Bonner of the 'Daily Reckoning', "there is not much $74.00 a barrel oil left, but there will be an abundance of $200.00 a barrel oil."

Monday, May 17, 2010

Toilet Troubles

This home has a strange address. It is on one street, but its address is another street. I think that the road planning department of the city changed the route of the road at the last minute, but this lot had already been designated a street address. I was forewarned, but had I not been, I would never have found it. Good thing I did because we did, over several years, completely re-decorate this house, several parts of it several times. When we were all done, they went on a short vacation and when they returned, they found their house flooded. Apparently a toilet had broken, one of those old Crane* toilets, and the house was flooded on one end. With the insurance paying the tab, we did it all over again. Then, a year later, another toilet gave way, this time on the other end of the house. Again, insurance covered it. Each time, we enjoyed the company of these people very much. She was into home made soups and we had lunch with them almost every day. He was a retired reporter for the Vancouver Province and was an interesting fellow to talk to. Years later they retired to an upscale townhouse and we went there for a consultation, but due to health problems that she developed, we never did work for them again.

* Crane, the famous maker of toilets, had a disgruntled chemist who was the only one who knew the secret formula for the clay mixture that comprised the bowl and water closet of their toilets. He was let go and took his formula with him. Crane continued to produce toilets with what they thought was the right formula. As it turned out, when these water closets (the tank on the back of a toilet) were exposed to the right conditions, the clay composition, even thought it has been baked, 'torqued' and would either explode apart, or crack badly enough to spew water in all directions. There were many law suits and much damage paid by Crane before all those defective toilets were finally tracked down and replaced. I know that it provided us with a lot of work for a few years.

Sunday, May 16, 2010

Looks Can Be Deceiving

There is much more to this house than meets the eye. It was one of the first homes built on what was at that time the most prestigious street in town. I was starting my business and only dreamed about working in the homes in this subdivision. This woman got my name from the paint store where I was buying my supplies at the time and when she gave me her address I was tickled to give an estimate for the work she needed doing. This home is a rancher, but is quite large and extends quite a ways back. There is a swimming pool back there too as well as lovely gardens, or at least they were at that time. She became a regular customer and we even attended the same Church for a while. She has been single, married, divorced, re-married for a few minutes and then a single mom. What her status is now, I do not know, but through it all, I found her to be quite pleasant and we got along well. Little did I know that over the next few years, I would be working on this street so much as to almost call it full time employment. It is still a very nice area and most of the homes are very well maintained, but I only did one small job there in the last year. I have moved on.

Saturday, May 15, 2010

Where Do You Stop?

This is a very large house for an elderly widow, and she knew it. She is at the end of a street with bush surrounding most of her house, so, naturally, she felt unsafe and wanted to put her house up for sale. She wanted some advice as to how she could get the most 'bang for her buck', without breaking her budget. For starters, she had louvered closet doors throughout the whole house that had been painted with a cheap latex paint over a hard and shiny varnish. The paint was peeling and the doors were looking awful. They had to be redone for sure, but then the entry and upper hall looked bad too. And the bathroom and master bedroom .... and.... it went on and on. The problem with doing a half job is that the newly painted areas look so good beside the old, and make the old look even worse than it really is. We did work here for quite a while and managed to perk it up quite a bit. I never did find out if she sold or for how much. She liked what we did so much that maybe she just installed new door locks and stayed there. We enjoyed our coffee breaks here, watching all the wildlife on the backside of the the house. Deer, squirrels, and many different kinds of birds. There was also a family of raccoons and possums that came by regularly, besides all the rabbits. We have those critters on our property too, minus the deer, and I think I don't appreciate them enough. I just see them as pests and rodents that eat my hazelnuts, fruit, and make garbage. When viewed from ones house, like the one above, in the green space, it is a different thing altogether.

Friday, May 14, 2010

Off The Farm

Idio, is his name, Italian I suppose. His daughter gave him my name when he needed a contractor to do some work in this house he bought after he sold his farm. He is a real 'hands on' kind of guy, willing to help us do our work or prepare surfaces to make our work easier. What a pleasant fellow he is, very laid back and easy going. Spending all your life on a farm with the land and animals could do that to a person. I was hoping his old yellow pick-up truck would be parked here as it has been since he moved here 7 years ago. Maybe he traded it in for that new one you see. His daughter lives on Sumas Prairie where she and her husband run a very successful electrical servicing business that mainly services the dairy farming community. We have worked for her many times over the years but the most memorable time was when we had the big earthquake a few years back. The boggy land on the prairie rolled and swayed for several minutes and the water in her fish tank almost spilt over the edge. I remember standing in her laundry room, looking out her window and watching the cedar hedge 'dance'. I never thought to run or protect myself. I was too busy being fascinated with feeling the whole earth move under my feet. Mmmm. I feel a song coming on.

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Go Figure!

Before these customers lived in this house, I worked for them in another part of town. When I first met him, I thought he looked familiar and upon inquiry discovered that he had been a good friend of one of the first people I ever met when I first moved to this province. He had been a bit of a high school basketball star, together with my friend. Then the light bulb went on for me. I recalled hearing that he had spent some time in prison for fraud or embezzlement or something while working for a major utility company. I worked in two homes for this couple and got to know them well and discovered that they were fantastic people. They were friendly, personable, accommodating, and easy going. He had managed to get a well paying job as an accountant for a large local company and they were doing very well. I learned that even good people can make mistakes and we should never judge a person by his past. They loved wallpaper and I hung a lot of it in this house.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

A Soft Life

When I worked in this home, it was pink. As I drove down the street looking for it, I missed it because it has improved in appearance so much with the new colour scheme on the exterior. This was the first house that I ever used a deep red paint on the walls. They had a very large dining room (that front room with the large window) with high ceilings, crown mouldings, pillars, and a lot of fancy trim and baseboards, all in white and then the contrasting red on the walls. I was a bit inexperienced in trimming a straight line when the colours contrasted, but I managed to do OK. Since then, it is routine and we have our methods for doing this in a most excellent fashion. This couple worked out of their home, from the computer and the phone. They were North American distributors for a very expensive and effective cushion material that is used for bedridden patients and wheelchair bound persons. It prevents bedsores and chaffing for those who have to stay in one position for extended periods of time. They were not exactly unfriendly, but perhaps were saving their best graces for their pillow customers. I actually worked here twice.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010


This is a small townhouse development on the east end of town known as "The Camden" The first time I was in one of these, I did not get the job because my price was too high. Since then, I have worked in three of them. The first was for an interior designer who used to 'dress' store windows in the day when that was popular. Her place is spectacular and done in an African theme with golds and blacks and the finest African art I have ever seen, none of the tacky stuff that one can pick up by the road while on Safari. More recently I worked for a retired pastor and his wife. Almost the minute I walked in the door to start the job, he hounded me to become a member of his ministry team, asking to give him one good reason why I could not. We 'had it out' in a sort of amicable way and came to an understanding that when I retired I might consider something like that. We then got along famously and he steered me to his new neighbour who was a pastor's wife who had just been abandoned by her husband. Yes, you meet all kinds.

Monday, May 10, 2010

Train Wreck II

As I was writing yesterday's post regarding the Greek financial woes, a deal was being ironed out and it appears that there is a bail out taking place to rescue the beleaguered and indebted Greeks. And what is this? To help Greece pay off its debts, the other Euro nations are lending them borrowed dollars! This is exactly like paying off your maxed out credit card by getting another credit card and maxing it out too. Now the other nations owe money as well as the Greeks, but they already did anyways so what's a few more billion/trillion. Debt has to paid back, no matter who holds it or where it comes from. What they are doing is avoiding/postponing the inevitable. Also, setting a precedent like this will be no incentive for countries such as Portugal, Spain and Ireland to clean up their act. This is all happening because of the mistaken idea that one can build wealth with debt. Excuse my French, but that has always been a dumb-ass idea whether on a personal level or on an international level. These idiots are driving the world to ruin, but what do they care? They are all rich and old and soon to die. Like mucking up the environment, it will be up to future generations to clean up the mess.

Sunday, May 9, 2010

Train Wreck?

The train tunnel near Matsqui Village.

I am writing this on Sunday night, the 9th of May. After hearing and reading about the woes of the Greek economy, and how it could impact the Euro and ultimately the world economy, I await the market reports that I will hear first thing in the morning when my Clock Radio Alarm goes off. I do not hear anyone downplaying the seriousness of this issue. It is not news that the economies world wide are fragile and the reports of recovery are more spin than reality. This Greek disaster could tilt the world back to what has been called a recession, but in reality has been a depression. The most fascinating thing about this is that investors fly to safety in times of turmoil, and historically it has been the USD (US Dollar) that is perceived as the safest investment with gold following a close second. The irony here is that the US economy is in more serious trouble than the Greek economy! Deficit as percentage of GDP in Greece is 8% while in the USA it is 12%.
Imagine for a moment what will happen when the USD will no longer be seen as a safe haven. The next safest, and in actuality, THE safest, is gold and there will be an unprecedented run on it while the dollar dips, the Euro declines, and the DOW will fall like a rock. The price of gold will shoot upward. Have you got yours yet?

A Rubber Cheque

I knew this builder's family well. I went to school with his older brother, his sister was best friends with one of my sisters, and I knew his dad who was a well known painter in town. I had no hesitation when he asked me to paint this new house that was under construction. This new subdivision was just getting underway and I was anxious to to be able to say that I was doing work in this up and coming area of town. I met Gus here for the first time, the fellow I blogged about a while back. You know, the fellow who was cremated and then got up our nostrils. Gus was bragging about his workmanship and made sure to show me his portfolio before he packed up his tools to leave me to the painting. As he was leaving, I called him back to take a look at the 20 ft. long spindle rail that he had just completed. There was one spindle up-side-down. He thought I was joking until I literally grabbed him by the arm and would not let him leave until he fixed it. He was immensely embarrassed, but we became friends after that and ended up having a long history together.
Anyway, getting back to this house, it was a big job for one guy (in those days I worked alone) and when I was finally done, the builder, who I absolutely trusted, wrote me a cheque for the total amount of my contract and I went to the bank, anxious to pay some bills. The cheque bounced! It was not the first time it had happened to me, but it was the biggest. I phoned him that night and he seemed surprised, but in a way, not surprised enough. He apologised and promised me another cheque in three days. I was nervous, but still wanted to trust him because he came from a good family and he seemed like a great guy, honest and hard working.
I did get the second cheque a few days later and with great trepidation, went to the bank with it and much to my relief, the funds were there this time to cover it.
He never got me to paint another house for him. It could be that he was ashamed of what had happened. But it did relieve me of the decision I would have had to make had he asked me to work for him again. People can lose my trust rather quickly.

Saturday, May 8, 2010

The Tower

I have practically lived in this tower for months at a time. The top 8 floors contain only two suites each, the remaining lower floors, four suites each. The upper floors are very expensive and have magnificent views, especially the ones facing north, toward my camera. There is so much I could write about my time spent here and the people I have come to know as a result. I had my truck broken into here, I was a suspect in the only breech of security they have ever had, I became friends with a retired Provincial Minister of Health, one of my clients shot himself in the head in the car park, I painted every elevator lobby on every floor, I memorized every elevator code to every floor, I met drug lords, porn ring mobsters, a wealthy rancher, my friend Gus who ran this place died while living here, and I observed daily police surveillance for weeks at a time. I met and knew almost everyone in this building at one time. Too many stories to tell. It sounds like a bad place but it was and still is a most desirable place to hang one's hat. The location is great and it does have great security features as well as being the most earthquake proof building in town. With the 9' floor to ceiling glass in every room, it feels like the city is right at your feet. The first few times I worked here, I got queasy every time I got near a window. One gets used to it.

Friday, May 7, 2010

Never Work For Relatives

There are those that say "never talk about religion or politics", which I almost always do, and there are those that say "never work for relatives", which I often do. When my cousin (currently my favourite one) called and asked me if I would hang wallpaper in her powder room, I could not turn her down. I had no reason to, other than the fact that the ceiling was very high and I might not be able to reach it. There is not much space in a powder room for a ladder. She was very accommodating when I told her that there was going to be tremendous waste because the distance from her wainscot to her crown moulding was the worst for pattern match. She simply called her carpenter and painter and they installed another layer of mouldings. Problem solved. This is a very beautiful home, only eclipsed by the wonderful people who live here.
PS I took this photo through the window of my vehicle, in the rain. Hence, the spots. But, I also did some architectural changes with the help of Adobe Photoshop. Will my cousin notice?

Thursday, May 6, 2010

A Beauty

Many years ago when I started my business, I painted a lot of inexpensive houses that were built on speculation. I would do both the interior and the exterior and they were more or less the same, one after another. As I gained a reputation, I began doing only custom homes and only on a 'cost plus' basis. This is one that I did in the early eighties. It was very custom and is still a very beautiful home. I have worked in this home many times since I did it new, and now I hear that it will soon be demolished to make room for light industrial development. Right now it sits on a chicken ranch which doubles as an electrical contracting business. This fellow has more than a hundred employees and does the electrical in the largest buildings in downtown Vancouver. His hired help also does his landscaping. They have relatives that live across the lake from us in Oroville, but only in the summer. This was the first home I worked in that had an indoor jacuzzi. It was trend setting at the time. It was also the first time I met Al, the best finish carpenter in town. We worked in many homes together after this one. Today his sons have taken over his business and they learned the trade well from their father.

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

The Restaurant Lady

Yesterday I told about the banker and the bad renovation job he did. This is the house. The patio re-build and the landscaping are very good, however.
When I first met this lady, she was married with two teenagers. I worked here for quite some time, up-dating and decorating a tired old house. She and her husband owned and operated a restaurant in a neighbouring town and were hardly ever home. Now, just recently, she called me back to tear out what I had done and up-date her home once again. This time the kids were grown up and there was no husband. The daughter was off to school and the son was living at home with her and they operated the restaurant together, he being the night manager and she doing all the book work and managing from home. A few years ago, we worked in her restaurant and as long as we were there, she allowed us to eat our meals there practically for free.
We are now waiting for the wallpaper to arrive for her front entry and stairwell at which time we will be back. She is a most pleasant lady and I enjoy working for her very much.

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

The Banker

One of the very first interior decorators that ever worked in our little city was a gal by the name of Mickey. She was good friends with the owners of this house and suggested they call me about doing some work in their house. These are very nice people and we got along famously. I discovered that he was a retired banker and his wife was an elementary school teacher, who was still working at the time. He had always enjoyed landscaping and outdoor work as therapy from his indoor high stress job as a bank manger. As a result, he started a landscaping and patio business and had a lot of work. In his own house, he was very fussy, but when he recommended me to one of his clients for whom he had done an interior renovation, I soon discovered that his work should have been limited to outdoors. There is a very different standard for retaining walls than there is for interior drywall.
I hung some beautiful wallpaper in this house, and later, when they sold and moved into a high-rise, I totally re-decorated their new suite. They have since moved to the Okanagan. The customer he steered me too is still a regular, in fact we have a project at her house right now and is in the same neighbourhood.
You cannot see it in this photo, but the front door is painted navy blue. When I did it, she was thrilled and it was her pride and joy. Before the high gloss paint had a chance to completely cure and harden, the paper boy threw the daily paper against it one morning and put a small scuff into it. She was mortified and called me back to re-paint the door. She said she was going to squeeze the money out of the paper boy. I never heard back to learn if she was successful. Paper boys are not that wealthy, but they can certainly learn to improve their aim.

Monday, May 3, 2010

Top Ten Picky List

The vast majority of people are reasonable in their expectations. At one end of the spectrum are those that have no expectations and are amazed at the service and quality that we provide. We have one standard for everyone, and that is the very best we can do under the circumstances. At the other end are the people who cannot be pleased, ever, because their expectations are beyond reason, and even in some cases beyond the realm of possibility. This latter type of customer goes on my "Top Ten Picky List". The DINKS (double income no kids) who live here are on that list. Through a comedy of errors, nothing went right on this job. What was to be a straightforward two days of work, dragged on for months, literally. It was by contract, so, needless to say, my profit margin did a disappearing act. The litany of woes is too lengthy to document here, but suffice to say that when one orders wallpaper, one should order enough, and when one senses obsessive compulsive behaviour in a client, one should walk away.
Having said that, I am pleased to say this customer was very happy in the end and we left on very friendly terms. Now, if only I could get her to pay for my psychological counselling sessions.

Sunday, May 2, 2010

A Classic

Just this last Thursday and Friday we hung wallpaper in this fantastic home. It brought back many memories because I have worked in this home, it seems, forever. It sits on a beautiful piece of land with no neighbours visible except for the home you see below. When I started here, it was home to mom and dad and 4 kids, the oldest had just graduated. Today, the son has moved in because his mom and dad have 'downsized' to the humble little cottage you see below. The son now has four kids of his own. His family is in the concrete business. These are all great folks I know well because they are my good customers and also because we have attended the same church since 1986. Note how the little red truck adds class to the property.
Mom and dad have been relegated to this new little cottage that is still having the finishing touches put on it. He asked me to paint it when it was under construction last year but I turned it down. 'New work' is very labour intensive and this house would have required me working off of scaffolds for days on end. Not my cup of tea at my age.

Saturday, May 1, 2010


I have had an investment since 1996 that has been a thorn in my flesh almost from day one. It has looked at times like the greatest thing since sliced bread and at other times abysmal. It is a US investment and in that country they have accountants that are lazy, different deadlines than we do, and a continually fluctuating dollar differential. Every year at tax time my accountant hounds me for the paperwork from the US investment and every year it shows up at the very last minute. Again this year, I have filed just under the wire. But this lateness costs me. For the last two years I have been promised a fat payout, but so far, nothing. In the meanwhile I am paying US and Canadian taxes on money I have not seen. I even got a tax refund last year for taxes that were paid on my behalf, but I never saw the income that was promised. If I gave you more details, you would shake your head like I shake mine. So, once again my tax woes are behind me, except for my accountants invoice which I received today. I cannot blame him as he spends an inordinate amount of time looking after my interests, but I would really like to put this thing to rest. When it happens, I will blog about it.

A New Trend

When this house was built a few years ago, there was a new trend taking place. It was the return of wallpaper as a decorating feature. The owner and builder of this home is young and builds homes that are on the leading edge of quality, design, and materials. My daughter went to school with him and was in a 'Care Group' with him and his wife through our church. I do not recall how he got my name, but it was difficult to find a qualified wallpaper hanger and the paper he was using was quite expensive and he needed a good job. His house was advertising for his business. He must have approved of our workmanship because he now uses our services regularly and we are in the middle of doing his new home right now. The wallpaper trend is growing, and even though these types of houses are not easy to work in, there is a lot of satisfaction in working in a quality home with the best materials.