Anything I write that has to do with writing will be in From Pico's Pen, my author's blog. Everything that doesn't fit any of the sites I write on will be here. This is my practice. I could have kept it private and farmed out the good stuff but I found my readers like too much of it to do that. It isn't a diary because there are things I keep to myself but you can learn a great deal about me from the randomness you will find here.

Wednesday, 4 May 2016

The Ravens Are Restless



Living in the bush allows a person to see things that they otherwise wouldn't, if they're paying attention. I have a bunch of issues on my mind right now and a walk often helps me sort some of those things out. I've been doing a lot of walking lately.

I was pacing down by the curve in the dirt track we call a road, where the horses used to be watered in a previous era. I heard an approaching rustle of wings and an intermittent Canada Goose call. Caught my attention because the geese usually don't come up by us. They nest close to the river and the only other place I ever normally see them is the cornfields in the fall. When the bird winged into view, it wasn't a Canada goose at all. It was a raven imitating the goose's call and it was getting a distant answer from the direction of the river.

Ravens are very intelligent and I imagine whatever game it was playing must work. Either eggs or goslings are on the menu. I'm not sure if I was a raven I'd be willing to mess with a goose. They can put up a heck of a fight. I had a call centre friend in Ontario who loved to golf. She swatted one into the bush next to the course and thought she might be able to find it and play it anyway. She came face to face with a mother goose with a nest full of golf balls. She decided to take the penalty.

A short while after seeing the goose imposter, I saw another raven getting dive bombed by a couple of smaller black birds. Must not be a lot of dead things laying around. I'll have to make point of running over a couple of racoons or something.

Wednesday, 23 March 2016

Rebuilding Credit: Our Story

Courtesy Pixabay

We didn't want to declare bankruptcy and I honestly thought that there could have been a better way. The big banks though really don't want to deal with it constructively and generally just send it off to a collections agency and let them be the bad guys. I can't see how that was to their advantage but suffice it to say, we couldn't get a remotely workable offer from them. Long term biting the bullet and getting everything settled was probably our best course of action. How we got to that point is a whole other story. This isn't about how the wheels fell off though. This is about how we rebuilt.

Putting the wheels in motion

Our first step was to research bankruptcy firms and set up an appointment. We contacted Alan Marshall and Associates and got an appointment with the top man himself. Surprised me since they are one of the largest firms of this type in maritime Canada.

He was helpful in looking at alternatives and reviewing our case. We discussed the costs involved and a basic timetable of how everything would play out. We would keep the family vehicle and had we a home we would have kept that as well. We were making payments on a small piece of property which was an unusual situation. Because the property was not in our name, it would not be affected by the bankruptcy provided we could somehow keep making the payments. There was the home in Ontario which we'd already given up as lost. We could keep it if we could get back there and live in it. That of course under the circumstances was impossible. There were no other major assets in play.

The bad news was that we would both have to declare bankruptcy because everything we did as a couple to that point had been done jointly. That effectively doubled how much we would have to pay the bankruptcy firm monthly (ouch).

After that we had a second meeting, signed all the necessary papers and set up our required counseling sessions. Those were far more dignified than we were expecting. From the start they told us that the fact that we were somehow surviving on our limited income meant there wasn't a whole lot they could teach us.

It was a painful first step and the nine months of payments were exceptionally difficult. We didn't eat very well, but we survived and had plans for moving forward.

Reestablishing Credit

At that point I had a huge advantage over other people in the same situation. Our bankruptcy counselor and our bank had recommended getting a secured credit card with Capital One. At the time I was working at a call centre in the applications department for Capital One. Through self study and experience, in some ways I knew more about rebuilding credit than many so called financial advisors.

Ideally we wanted a card with no annual and the smallest security deposit possible. Capital One occasionally offer a card with no annual fee. We prayed that we would receive one of those offers and we did. I could have gotten the offer anyway. I learned that the codes on the offers were not totally unique and several people could use the same offer code to apply for a card (if I still worked for them I could get it trouble for spilling that). I also knew from experience that people who declared bankruptcy once would not be required to pay any deposit at all provided they had not drawn out their financial woes for an extended period of time. We had crashed and burned over a relatively short period of time and we did not end up needing a deposit. We did make sure the credit reporting agencies were updated that our nine month period had been successfully passed. If they aren't updated, you will be asked for a big deposit or even declined. Francine and I both got separate credit cards and both are playing it the same way.

Just getting a credit card doesn't earn you any credit unless you use it. I also knew that if you use it and pay it in full each month you don't build any credit either. I bought a small machine (cheap chopsaw) for my wood shop on the card and paid it off over three months.

I am aware that there is a faster way after talking to a specific customer but we didn't have the financial resources to throw at the problem. This customer went from nine month waiting period completion to excellent credit in one year and I know how he did it. He got a card with Capital One and ran it up close to the limit (never over) every month and before the due date he paid it down to 25 or 30 percent of the balance. I don't know the exact percentage. I'm sure it's out there somewhere. He got another secured card with another company and did the same thing. We didn't have the financial where withal to imitate his success, but we had a solid enough plan.

Credit established!

Upping our game a step at a time

When building credit, two credit products are better than one. I can guess why but beyond that can't really explain. From working with credit card applications on a daily basis, I know it makes a difference.

We got a lucky break. Canadian Tire was running a promotion where you could apply in store. Every time one applies for credit it puts a “hit” on your credit when the bank checks your credit bureau file. Three hits within a short period of time can negatively affect you ability to secure credit. These hits drop off after three months. This opportunity came up outside of that time frame so there were no “hits” waiting in the background. I went and got approved for a card with slightly better terms than the one I already had with Capital One. Now I had my two credit products and I maintained very low usage on both of them. My wife tried to apply for one online from them but was denied. In person when possible does work better.

At this point in time we went through another round of financial body blows. Government housing wanted a ridiculous rent increase based on bonuses I was no longer receiving and I couldn't convince them to relent. That property we had managed to keep through the bankruptcy saved us. We were able to invest in electrical power for the camp and moved there. Gas prices went through the roof but I managed to eventually find work more locally. Finally the family vehicle was on its last legs and needed replacing.

When purchasing a replacement for the family vehicle, I got to sit through the process with a financial adviser. He was shocked at the deal we were approved for. Not only did the vehicle loan get approved but we were offered a preferred rate. He wanted to know how we'd rebuilt our credit on the income we had because this was beyond his experience. I grinned. To get the deal he said our score had to be in the above 800 excellent range.

Keeping it all under control

We were far more indebted at this point than we could be comfortable with. I am debt averse and would rather owe nothing. I didn't want the third product but didn't have much choice in the matter. I need the vehicle to get to work, if nothing else. We still were within our workable plan though and this moment was regarded as a debt peak we hope to never match again.

That fall we paid off our property and the deed was transferred into my name. That brought us modest debt relief. It also added an important asset to our credit file. Owning property outright makes a big difference when it comes to credit. It will open doors for us in the future.

At this point in the game my credit is exceptional with only the black mark of the bankruptcy itself hanging over me. That drops off after seven years and I'm not particularly concerned about it anymore. It is a milestone I'm looking forward to but it isn't earth shatteringly awesome. The hard work is already done. We've gotten credit, we used it, we made payments on time and in full. We just recently paid off my Capital One card and with be canceling it within the month. We aren't financially strong but we're managing and we have solid credit we can work with. I look forward to being debt free but I can't complain about the progress made considering the resources we've had to work with.

Final Words

I'm not a financial adviser and can't bear responsibility for the decisions of other, but hopefully our experience can be of benefit to those who might have to travel this road. This is not intended to be the last word in how to go about building credit. There is a lot that can go wrong. If you have to, seek out professionals, there are resources out there to help.

Tuesday, 22 March 2016

Three Reasons to Get Your Credit Report

Courtesy Pixabay

Credit scores and credit reports have risen in importance beyond their original intent. They were created to provide the banking industry with a tool to help them make better decisions in regards to offering credit to their customers. Now it is often required by employers, when hiring workers. Whether that is good or bad is not something I'll debate here. Suffice it to say, it is important for you to know what is on your credit report, because decisions that effect you are based in part or in whole on them. Here's three good reasons you should get that report.

  1. Identity theft. This is probably the biggest scariest thing that could happen to your credit. You'll probably be aware of this issue before you get your credit report. The process for trying to resolve all the damage though will involve getting your credit bureau file. The information there will be needed to identify what information is yours and what is from someone else.
  2. Mistakes. Think of all the things that could possibly go wrong. I have personally encountered a large number of errors on credit reports. I have come across similar names causing confusion, similar social security numbers and social insurance numbers, business id numbers confused with social security numbers and some outright errors that made no sense at all. When we got copies of ours in the course of our bankruptcy, my wife was listed as having been employed by a company we never heard of. During that time frame my wife was a stay at home mom with no outside employment at all. Knowledge is power. You want to know about these kinds of mistakes so that you can have them corrected. Even more common is information that should have been updated and wasn't.
  3. Uncanceled credit cards or other accounts. I discovered this the hard way. If you pay off a credit card and don't ask to have it canceled, the account will continue to exist. Doesn't matter whether you cut the card to pieces and nobody has sent you an invoice showing your balance of zero in more than a decade. That card can come back to haunt you even if you don't owe a dime on it. That has happened to me. I've changed banks and credit card providers on several occasions. All those zero balance cards were reported on my bankruptcy even though I owed them nothing. It has and may create unnecessary problems for me. Go through your credit report and make sure every one of those accounts are closed.
I would encourage anyone who has not seen a copy of their credit bureau file in a very long time to take the time to order a copy from both Equifax and Trans Union. Those are the two main providers to the banks. The files will not necessarily be identical. Getting them both corrected if necessary is an important way to make sure you're treated fairly.

Monday, 21 March 2016

The Key to Understanding Credit Scores and Credit Reports

Courtesy Pixabay

The most important thing to understand about credit scores and credit reports is that they were not created for your benefit. They were created by the banking industry for the banking industry. They do not tell the bank whether you are honest or an all round good person. It is a tool that they use to estimate how much money they can make from you. If you learn nothing else from this, please understand this one point.

The bank is not your friend. It's great that you might have friendly interactions with their employees but ultimately they are at best a business partner. When they give you a bank account, loan, credit card or mortgage, they are not doing this as a favour. This is business. Their objective is to make money. Your debt is their bread and butter. As long as you are indebted to the bank, they are making money from the relationship and they like it that way. This isn't necessarily a bad thing but it's important that you understand the relationship. Personally I would rather have no debt. On the other hand the bank would be happy if I was in debt to them for the entirety of my life. As long as we can pay, that's financial stability for them.

This has everything to do with credit scores. If you rarely use credit and when you do, you pay it off within a very short time, your credit score won't be very good. Sure you're honest, hardworking and responsible. That doesn't matter to the bank. You haven't demonstrated to the bank that you need them and that they have hope of making good money from you in the future. You can't get a great credit score without using credit.

A person who is piled up in debt even if they make the occasional late payment, will have a better credit rating than someone who has paid things cash all their life and owes nobody a cent. That may seem counter intuitive to the average person, but when you understand that credit ratings tell the bank whether they can expect to make money from a person, it should all start to make sense.

Banks are not really your enemy either. If you understand credit at the basic level I've given you here, you can start making these banking tools work for you instead of against you.

One Card Down

Courtesy Pixabay

Yesterday we had our income tax return deposited into our bank account and it allowed us to pay off one of the credit cards. That was a very gratifying moment. It was a long time coming but it marks an important step in overcoming our not so long ago financial disaster and subsequent bankruptcy.

Declaring bankruptcy is no fun and is best avoided. Unfortunately most people who do haven't been given any workable alternatives. We were determined that it not be the end of the world. Credit can be rebuilt and through working for Capital One I learned a great deal about how to go about it. I learned through additional self study online. It is my intention to write a series of short articles or blog posts to tell what we did and why, because I think it can be helpful for a lot of other people.

The card we paid off was the Capital One card I applied for specifically for rebuilding credit. Now that we've paid it off, it has reached the end of its usefulness to me. It is helpful to have two credit products in play but we picked up a third one last year when we bought the family minivan. My credit score at this point in time is excellent (well above 800 possibly close to 900). It is not possible to build it higher anymore. The only ways for me to have better credit worthiness is to make more money and have the bankruptcy drop off my report (which can only happen with time). There is no remaining reason to keep holding the card. There are several good reasons to get rid of it. I'll deal with that in the course of those articles.

This isn't to say that we aren't struggling with more debt than we're comfortable with. I'd really like to clear it all off. There are other things I'd like to be working toward. Becoming a credit guru isn't anything I aspire to. Still I've learned a lot traveling this bumpy road. Hopefully our experience can be a blessing for someone else.

Sunday, 20 March 2016

Technical Retrieval






Big thank you to Wesley for helping retrieve some images from an older computer. Not only did he find the hard drive and recognize it as one from my old computer but he was able to access the files on it. It didn't have what we were looking for so we powered up the immediate predecessor to my current laptop. Sure enough we were able to locate the file containing a few drawings and water colours that I did in the past.

Now that I've got them transferred to a file I can readily access, I have to decide what I'm going to do with them. Francine doesn't want a gallery on her site with stuff that isn't hers, even though she does like my work. I'm considering setting up a free account on Fine Arts America in my name and then just adding a gallery to my blog. That would be the simplest. Alternatively I might try something with Zazzle.

Francine would like to see me take drawing and painting back up but I have enough hobbies and I'd rather at this point in time focus on my writing. I just don't have the time right now to devote to any other creative efforts of that sort. Not that part of me wouldn't mind doing it. Maybe when I retire.


Saturday, 19 March 2016

Slow or Methodical

Courtesy Pixabay

I've been labeled as slow on a number of occasions on the job. It can be frustrating because I try to work methodically and efficiently. At times I don't look like I'm moving as fast as my superiors think I should be moving. It actually ended up being an issue at two places I worked in the past. The frustrating part in both instances was that over the course of the day I produced more work than all my counterparts. They just looked like they were working faster.

Yes maybe it is possible for me to turn up the speed but can I keep that up all day safely. Most of the time the answer is no. For me to improve my work speed I try to improve my methodology. I try not only keep my tools handy but I try to place them in exactly the same position every time I put them down. I try to pick them and my work up with the same motion every time. I find it pays off in greater productivity. If I'm in an assembly line, I try to match speed with the line (it's pointless to bury the next guy on the line).

For someone who is at times considered slow, I've had some very gratifying moments. In a wood shop where I worked, I was assigned to trim desk tops on a machine called a rover. All I did was load the machine, initiate the operation and then unload the finished piece. After a few hours the supervisor came back to check my progress. He checked the computer, counted the pieces, gave his head a shake and then rechecked everything. Turns out I was in the process of destroying the company productivity record for that particular operation. He had trouble reconciling my perceived work speed with the numbers the computer was giving him. I worked for that company for about seven months breaking similar records on a number of other machines in the shop. I set production records with one of the companies where my work ethic was being questioned. It wasn't a one time thing either. That was my normal work speed.

This bit of a rant isn't brought on by anything that is happening on my current job. Just crossed my mind this evening.

Friday, 18 March 2016

The Pants Department

Courtesy Pixabay

I worked for a period of time as a telephone sales representative for an after market tractor cab manufacturer. They were not a great place to work and shall remain nameless. We used a customer relations management program and our working with it provided some comic relief.

I don't know if it was CEO Dad or CEO Mom who decided that we should no longer short form company names when making notes on customer accounts. I rarely short formed those anyway. No big deal, most of us didn't have any trouble following instructions. The problem was the notes that were already there. Computer genius second son of the CEOs decided he would start fixing the problem. He started with the Caterpillar. They are a heavy equipment manufacturer that is known by almost everyone as Cats. A program was executed to replace all the incidences of Cat in the system and substituting Caterpillar. Does anyone see where this is going?

Yep, Janine and I watched weird things happen to our notes in front of our very eyes. I sent a customer a catalog and suddenly the notes said I sent them a caterpillaralog. One of our other equipment manufacturers Bobcat became Bobcaterpillar. The change was reversed by said genius, who at least thought it was as funny as we did.

Most of our business was directly with equipment dealers and we needed to record in the notes who the company representative we dealt with was and their department. There was a separate field for that information. The usual entries were Admin, Sales or Parts. The most common was probably Parts.

The reason I mention that is the company briefly employed a young lady in our department who was obviously quite dyslexic. CEO Mom decided that dyslexic meant retarded, which I found offensive especially since her own notes showed dyslexia to a lesser degree. Almost invariably Parts was written Prats. Nobody made any effort to fix the error so I started changing them to Pants. Pants is less noticeable than Prats and it remained an overlooked misspelling as long as I worked there. Almost two years of my private joke.

Not many heavy equipment or tractor dealers have clothing departments so if you ever happen to be working for a cab manufacturer and you notice company contacts in the pants department that's my fault. Admittedly not the most mature thing I ever did, but part of me still finds this amusing.

The notes did provide other moments of humour. CEO's oldest son wrote some hysterically unprofessional notes on a couple accounts. I don't disagree with his sentiments toward the customer but I would never write something like that in the notes. I wouldn't want anything like that to come back and bite me.

Thursday, 17 March 2016

No Where To Run

Courtesy Pixabay

You and a couple buddies are walking alongside a beautifully landscaped college campus. The weather is sunny and warm and the well groomed lawns look inviting. Taking a lazy stroll across the grounds looks like such a great idea. What you might not have noticed though are the two college students walking along a short distance behind you and your friends. What you don't know is that these two guys work to maintain that property to pay their schooling and have the keys to every sprinkler control box on that fifty-six acres.

Yes my friend Paul and I were that evil. Watching those young people enter our domain put us right into our element. As soon as we knew where they were headed we ran to the appropriate control box, opened it up. Took quick note of the system map, if we weren't already familiar with it and then worked as a team. One of us would follow the intruders calling out system numbers to the other still stationed at the control box. When they got out of range of those sprinklers we moved on to the next appropriate controller and went through the whole process again.

I'm not sure how wet these people got but we hounded them from one end of campus to the other. No matter which direction they turned they were greeted by first the sound of air hissing out of the water lines and then a shower of water. They weren't safe until they left campus. We had a blast.

Wednesday, 16 March 2016

Landscaping Switcheroo

Guava courtesy Pixabay

The college I attended was well known for its beautifully landscaped grounds. In fact they had been awarded the most beautifully maintained campus in America award several times. Understandably this was a point of significant pride. A lot of the important folks working for the college had at one time been students paying their way by working on the landscaping crew just like I was doing. This could lead to some interesting problems.

Across the freeway by the grade school affiliated with the college was where I worked and we had a serious safety concern. Right on the corner of two busy streets a walkway led from the school to the crosswalk on the corner. Alongside that walkway was a large ivy bed with guava trees growing in the middle. The guava trees would hide any pedestrians from traffic until they were steps from the crosswalk. We tried cutting them back but guavas grow very fast and these were well established. It was a serious safety issue, so we requested permission to remove them. The request was denied without explanation. We tried several times and communicated with our department head and it still kept getting denied. The whole department knew the issue needed to be addressed and no one really understood why we couldn't get permission to solve it.

The story finally came out. The person in charge of running the physical campus was personally denying the request. The reason was that he had worked in the department as a student and these guava trees were amoung the last if not the last remaining trees he had planted himself. I understand where he was coming from and have respect for the man. That doesn't address the safety issue though. We set about getting the job done without his approval.

The decision was taken by the head of the department but as one of those calling for removal of the bushes and my subsequent participation in the dirty deed, I can't just wash my hands and say I was just following orders. The planter of the trees would be away for a long weekend. Norm was called in. Norm was a special kind of landscaper. If you wanted a job done fast and didn't care what it looked like when it was done, you called Norm. He came in with a tractor and had the whole row out within an hour. That's when they called me.

My strength as a landscaper wasn't brute force. I'm more of a landscaping cosmetician. First thing I did was plant low growing tobiras where the guava had been. Then I spent most of the rest of the day repairing the torn up ivy, concealing the tractor tire marks and any other evidence of our mission. My cover up work was adequate because the whole thing was never spoken of again and now the kids could safely approach the intersection without the previous level of risk.

I'd love to sit down and chat with the poor man we perpetrated this on. I'd still do the same thing but I understand him. Since graduating, this college has closed its door and much of the work I did there has been bulldozed.

Friday, 11 March 2016

Building a New Garden



I'm hoping that this is more than just wishful thinking. This spring I'm hoping to put in a big vegetable garden instead of the very modest one Francine has put in close to the camp building the past couple years.

The last time Irving came through logging and improved the road we're on, they threw the unwanted soil beside it on our side. This created a bit of a berm which has done bad things to our drainage but made a nice spot to plant a garden with relatively little work. I've started work on something a little more ambitious.

Last fall I took the chainsaw and wrought havoc on the Spotted Alders growing on the bottom two thirds of our property. In the spring I'm intending to clear off more of them just leaving a screen to keep it from being easily viewed from the road. That's the easy part.

While I'm completing that, I not only have to dig the soil by hand for the garden but I have to dig a drainage system of ditches as well. Back in the fifties this was farmland so I don't have any doubts about the fertility of the soil. I just know what a huge amount of work I'm up against. The best option is to try and develop it a little at a time. There is room to grow all our own veggies along with a chicken coop and whatever else I might fancy.

This all great in theory but if it happens I will be well acquainted with my shovel before it's progressed very far.

Thursday, 10 March 2016

Done With That

Courtesy Pixabay

Well I was supposed to get a whole lot of writing done the last couple day and I didn't. I did get all the family tax returns done and filed electronically. Six returns filed, one for every adult member of the family. Thankfully Studio Tax's free software allows me to file up to twenty. Granted in a worst case scenario, I could download to a different computer and do another twenty.

I don't feel like we came out big winners but then again, I don't feel a victim either. I thought I was going to have a lot to bellyache about but it didn't turn out that bad. I usually get pretty feisty about non-refundable tax credits. Politically those things look like the government is giving lots to the little people. In reality, for the poor, we get to do a big huge calculation that comes out to zero at the end. When I'm given a zero, I don't feel like I've been given anything. Thankfully, I do know how to do the work by hand without the software that I can get for free now. When I worked for Liberty Tax back in Alexandria, I learned that most poor people have to pay someone to figure it all out for them.

The only thing not done yet is to pay our property tax. That will be done as soon as we get our return. Not a problem at all. The damage there wasn't as bad as I'd feared either. Last summer the tax assessor actually made it up into the bush here for the first time in something like a decade. He followed White Birch in a compact car without getting stuck. That was not the kind of miracle I needed. The locals here know not to take that road without four wheel drive. The best part of this is that he's not likely to visit again for another decade. Even then he might try it after a rain storm and Dean will have to go fetch him with a tractor, preferably at end of the day when the only thing he can do is go home.

All done for another year. Glad that it's over with until then.

Wednesday, 9 March 2016

My First Signed Drawing







My family is busy cleaning up the old homestead. Part of me wishes to be there digging through the memories. There is one item that does mean a great deal to me. That item is pictured here. The photo was taken by my sister.

I drew this picture of a Spitfire after a conversation with family and friends about our ancestry. The topic almost invariably leads to the question, “Is there anyone famous in your family tree?” Well not directly. Rembrandt Van Rijn is one of the Netherlands most famous master painters and we are related to the Van Rijn family and coincidentally my father's family comes from the same place as the master himself. If I understand correctly he has no direct descendents so indirect is the best you're going to get. That of course led to the question whether any artistic talent had filtered down to anyone in the family. My dad said, “no,” and that stung a bit. I've always had some ability and at one time enjoyed drawing every chance I got.

At the time, I knew that if I said I was going to hide in my room to draw something, I would have been told not to waste time. I didn't tell anyone. I just went up and went to work. I found the picture in one of my dad's World War II history books and quietly started drawing. I had a framed Sunday school diploma on the wall and I wanted to take out the certificate and replace it with the picture. I didn't know how to make the switch but when I brought both downstairs to the living room and showed my parents that bit of work was done for me.

For most of the past thirty-six years that picture has hung in my old bedroom in my parents house. Apparently it was at some point transferred to the kitchen. It has suffered some water damage but from this picture it is still in remarkably good condition. It was drawn with a regular pencil and was not protected with any kind of fixative. Sunlight would've faded it badly but evidently it has been at least kept out of direct sunlight.

I'm looking forward to having it hanging on my own wall sometime soon. We'll see what can be done to keep it from deteriorating any worse than it already has.


Tuesday, 8 March 2016

Enough is Enough

Courtesy Pixabay

We broke down and increased the size of our Internet plan today. Granted until today we didn't know that Xplornet had a bigger plan. Their customer service leaves a great deal to be desired by the way. When they took away the unlimited plan we used to have (by upgrading their system and not offering it with a system that actually still worked), we were recommended the plan we were on. We've never been able to stay within that. We tried but there was always the last few days of the month when we would have minimal connectivity because they don't charge for overage they just slow the connection down to a crawl.

The increased cost is minimal. I just wish we'd known about and been put on an adequate plan from the start. It is hard to write online and promote your work when you're constantly worried about going over. There is an even higher plan than the one we switched to but I don't think we're going to use that much. Good to know it's there just in case.

I should have extra writing time over the next several days. It is my intention to make the most of it, starting this evening.

Monday, 7 March 2016

Starting Wrong

Courtesy Pixabay

This day was memorable for all the wrong reasons. It's coming close to a close and I'm still not sure I'm accomplishing anything. I know exactly when it went wrong though. It was when I opened my eyes and saw the dawn beginning to light the sky. Why didn't my alarm clock go off or how did I turn it off without waking up?

Of course nothing was ready for my hasty departure. My uniform pants were still hanging on the clothesline in front of the woodstove. At least they were dry. Seems like everything was working against me too. I rapid fire scraped the windshield of the van after having some trouble finding the scraper. Of course it fogged up and refroze before I got more than a few hundred feet down the road. Second round of scraping gave the glass time to warm up a bit more and I didn't have to do it a third time.

I managed to choke down a banana while bouncing across the Tantramar marsh. Thankfully my fifteen minutes late arrival didn't cause any great concern amoung the managers. I was more disturbed than anyone else. I absolutely hate being late for anything. It isn't who I am.

Punched in and ready for action, I opened the door to the electrical room. It was a mess but I've dealt with worse. Bringing the garbage to the corral though brought me another unpleasant surprise. I'm a little miffed with the person who started piling garbage next to the dumpster. The wouldn't bother me except the dumpster were not full. There's no excuse for not putting the trash where it belongs. I dealt with it and didn't end up wearing to much of it. By this time I was starting to run pretty seriously behind schedule.

In my rush out the door, I didn't check the schedule closely before heading to work. I was added to the team unloading the truck today. When that happens on a maintenance shift, I have to change my work priorities so that the friers all get filtered on time. I didn't know until it was a little late. They did without me until that chore was completed. The truck sure didn't get unloaded very fast. Went better once I got back there with them.

The rest of my work day was spent trying to keep the lobby looking presentable and putting away all the stuff that came out of the truck. Two chores on opposite ends of the building. Kept me running. It all got done so maybe the day wasn't a total loss. I just feel so badly out of kilter when I start the day in such a rush.

Soon I will sleep but first I have to figure out what went wrong with that stupid alarm clock. I have no plans for an encore tomorrow.

Sunday, 6 March 2016

Trapped in an Elevator

Courtesy Pixabay

I have terrific sense of direction unless you stick me in an elevator. I do not know why those things screw up my internal compass. In smaller buildings I actually prefer taking the stairs. Granted I've had other elevator encounters that cause this.

Back when I was a young bachelor living in the Toronto area on the top floor of a very tall building, I got a lesson in elevators from my younger brother Jake. Apparently a lot of old elevators can swing around inside the shaft and grind against the concrete walls while they are in motion. On the way to my apartment Jake and I were crashing our bodies from side the side trying to see if this applied to the more modern ones we were riding in. Not the most mature thing to be doing but hey we had this need to know at the time. It didn't work, so no harm done.

Some time after this incident I had the bright idea to try something else. I decided to try jumping as the elevator began its descent to see how much airtime I could get. In the process I got quite a bit of bounce out of the cables, so I started jumping up and down seeing how much I could get the elevator to bounce. Evidently there is some kind of sensor on the cables in case they break that engages the emergency brake on the elevator. Had the elevator cables actually broken this would have saved my stupid carcass. In this case my journey ground to a halt somewhere between the fourteen and the fifteenth floor. Oh crap. How am I going to explain my way out of this one?

I'm not a very patient person. I didn't feel like waiting all night for someone to rescue me. Kids in the building pushed the emergency button on those things all the time and they were for the most part ignored. I didn't want to go deaf either. Why do those things have to ring inside the elevator instead of the superintendents office? I'm the one pushing the fool button. I don't need to hear the bell. My potential rescuers need to hear it and they aren't inside the elevator. I have no idea how long I might have waited but I was ready to take matters into my own hands if possible.

I managed to wedge my fingertips far enough around the edge of the door to start pulling it open. Elevators have an inner door that's part of the elevator itself and an outer door that stays with each floor. I got the inner one open not sure if that would do me any good. What I saw was a whole bunch of mechanical stuff that didn't mean much to me. Had to think about it for awhile. There was a big sheet of metal that had the number fourteen on it. I clued in. The last number to flash on the floor indicator had been fourteen before it had gone black. A little bit of fiddling and that sheet slid out of the way affording me a view of the fourteenth floor hallway. I worried that the elevator might suddenly start moving again before making a quick leap to safety. I ran down the hall laughing like an idiot. I took the stairs to a different floor and then caught the other elevator to complete my journey. I felt like I'd gotten away with one that time. I'm just glad I didn't have to wait for rescue and explain anything.

Friday, 4 March 2016

Dreaded Appointment

Courtesy Pixabay

The harsh reality is that like a lot of Canadians, I've been too broke to visit the dentist in quite a long time. My wife's diligent hard work has paid off though and we have found the “Tooth Fairy” program in New Brunswick and we are impoverished enough to qualify. Since I have a crater that needs very badly to be addressed, I got to be the first in the family to go.

I was not looking forward to this at all and maybe it was a good thing I had passengers on the journey who needed to visit Moncton for another reason. We arrived at the Oulton College Dentistry Clinic as scheduled. I'm terminally punctual, which is a family trait.

As usual I had to fill out a questionnaire and then I was greeted by the dental instructor, who gave me a brief run down on how things would proceed. He advised me that no matter how bad my teeth were he'd seen far worse. In no time at all I was in the chair with a bunch of dental instruments in my mouth.

“How often to you brush?”

I elected to be honest and told him infrequently. When I occasionally spit out part of an old filling or piece of a tooth and feel like they're crumbling anyway, I feel like, what's the point? Flossing – I have a different excuse. I shred floss rather than clean between my teeth. He could see that.

“When I look in your mouth, that's not what I'm seeing. What do you do? Eat fifteen apples a day or other hard veggies?”

“Well I try to eat those things regularly.” Saves us the work or cooking some of them.

“ You're a perfect example of why people should be doing that. You teeth look good.”

I was not expecting that. Yes my crater tooth is a lost cause but I'm not expected to lose any other teeth. I've lost three fillings and only have one new cavity that isn't critical yet. He figures that the Tooth Fairy program will fix them and they'll be good for fifty plus years if I mend my ways and take good care of them. That's great because I don't expect to live to 104.

“Do you grind your teeth at night?”

“I don't remember anyone ever telling me I did.”

“They're probably just being nice.”

That would be Francine and yes I asked her when I got home and I do grind them at night sometimes. When I told him I remember my younger sister did, he said it ran in families and it's related to stress. I don't have any stress. On the bright side Joanne and I can probably blame this on my parents. There is noticeable wear from this on some of my teeth.

Overall the visit went very well. I know where I stand. They will call to make appointments to make the repairs. I do get to go back in two weeks for a three hour cleaning. Some student will do the work an instructor will inspect grade and if necessary correct the work. It takes time but the price is right. Francine has already passed information to a friend at work who likely qualifies for the program as well and didn't know about it. One thing that does irritate me in Canada is that we often have programs to help people but finding out about them is like getting your teeth extracted.

Tuesday, 1 March 2016

Taxing the Super Wealthy

Courtesy Pixabay

Bit of a random rant today. This is brought on by the continued political news south of the border and the results of our last round of Canadian elections. Our federal Liberal party did make noises about increasing taxes for the rich. I'm a big skeptic.

I'm in New Brunswick where we have a Liberal provincial government and as far as I can tell they and their federal buddies are quite happy with each other. I don't see any efforts in this province to tax the super rich more than they are already being taxed. This budget that was brought in over the past month increases the HST. That's a tax increase on the rich and the poor and it doesn't even begin to solve the problem here. Where is the relief for the poor in Canada's poorest province? Is this the wonderful type of solution that will be foisted on the whole country?

Let's see the federal government actually increase the percent income tax for the nations super rich. Even if it does happen the skeptic in me knows that this will not increase the amount these people are contributing to the nation's budget. They'll cry rivers over it, might even make threats to try and scare everyone but in the end they won't be paying more. If your income is hidden from the tax man through legal loopholes the percentage tax paid makes no difference at all. They can publicly claim how much they paid in taxes. That public claim will not include their hidden income and won't show you all the government incentives their companies received to operate. So the numbers the average Joe like you and me will see are completely meaningless.

If you really want the rich to pay their fair share of the taxes you have to close the loopholes that are allowing them in some cases to effectively pay no income tax at all. The skeptic in me doesn't think that is ever going to happen.

I don't believe our politicians have any concept of what it is like to be poor. They are completely out of touch both liberal and conservative. We get advice on saving money in tough times like, “only eat in a restaurant once per week” and “it's more important to pay for your subsidized government housing than it is to buy food”. I remain skeptical of any solution at this point. I really feel sorry for my friends south of the border. You might get to choose a president between Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton. Don't expect anything to improve for awhile. They are both part of the problem and not part of any solution.

Monday, 22 February 2016

I Have a Filter







Believe it or not there are stories I can't tell on my blogs. There are a number of reasons that might prevent me from telling.

I'd say the number one reason for not telling a story has to do with friendship. If I think something has the potential to damage a friendship it doesn't get told. Even if I think something is really funny, I won't embarrass or humiliate someone on purpose. That isn't to say I might not inadvertently do that. I've had to apologize for stupid remarks of mine in the past. I don't like hurting people and I really don't like having to tell people I'm sorry.

Another filter is avoiding something that might get me in trouble on the job. That would include things that might close doors to future employment. I've seen some pretty stupid things get said on social media. To date I have not been a casualty of my own writing. I don't intend to start.

Those two filters conspired yesterday to keep me from writing anything. I could not think of a single story that wouldn't have some negative impact somewhere. I finally gave up and went to bed.

Those two areas aren't my only filters. I tend to stay away from politics and religion for the most part. It isn't that I haven't got opinions, I just don't desire to cross swords with people over those views. I see plenty of that online and I'm not tempted to participate.

Saturday, 20 February 2016

Building a Boat







This was one of my all time favourite projects. I used to subscribe to a magazine called Wooden Boats and in its pages at one point they had an article on the “Peace Canoe”. At the end of the article you could order full size plans and build one yourself.

Well I'm a legendary cheapskate. In the magazine was a picture of the plans. All the measurements were there except for one. The missing measurement was an important one but I figured I could calculate out a good approximation. So, do you think I was going to shell out some hard earned cash for full size plans? Not a chance.

Bit by bit I bought the material needed and in some cases made substitutes. The main substitute was the piece of wood used for the bow and stern stems. I am not going to trim an expensive piece of wood down to the exact size of a regular two by four before final shaping. I just used a couple of pieces of two by four. I'm all for using quality materials but swapping clear pine for stud grade spruce where it makes no real difference is a choice I'd make anytime.

I pre-assembled the seats, sides and bottom in the basement of our house at the time. From there all I needed was a good weather day coinciding with a day off work. The whole thing came together well except I didn't have enough hands myself. Pulling the ends together and screwing them into place took help from the rest of the gang. When we were done, I told the gang the guy in the article said he performed that feat all by himself. Mieke exclaimed, “No way!!”

We painted it white. This was a mistake made with some thought. If you've ever sat on a surface that absorbs sunlight during the summer and accidentally branded yourself, you'd understand. Didn't burn anyone but we were going snow-blind paddling around in it. Halcyon has since been painted a darker cream colour. We have considered painting it up like a dragon boat, but just haven't got around to it.

The boat still exists but it is in need of some significant repairs. I would be more enthusiastic about getting her back into the water but we don't have a lot cash to do so. Besides that while we were stranded in government housing someone broke into our camp here and stole all our life vests amoung other things.

Maybe this year we'll fix her up and take her for another run.


Thursday, 18 February 2016

Weather Yo-yo



From extreme cold at the beginning of the week, to an early spring like thaw and now freezing hard again tonight. Sunday it's supposed to rain some again. Not quite sure what's going to happen next as far as the weather goes.

One of the older gentlemen customers told me the other day that winter was over. I'm not confident of that. We usually get something around the Passover and that's still quite far off. In the meantime my main concern is still getting dry enough firewood.

The thaw and then refreeze made our road a really slick icy hazard. Walking back from the truck after work I laid down on the roadway for a few moments, not voluntarily. I wiped out in slow motion so I avoided injuring myself. Brandon and Francine wisely refrained from trying to help me out. They probably would have fallen down on top of me. After that we stuck to the edge of the road, where there was a little crunch to the snow and some traction.

Next thing to do is go lay down in my bed and get some rest. I'm a little over tired. When Francine came to pick me up at work, I didn't even notice that we had a couple passengers in the back at first. Usually I'm a little more with it than that. Better turn in while, I'm still making sense.

Monday, 15 February 2016

This is the NBA


I've been reading the fuss over Nelly Furtado's rendition of the Canadian national anthem and I just had to go over and have a listen. I was primed to hear something absolutely awful. After listening to the whole thing from beginning to end, it wasn't nearly as bad as I was expecting. I'm surprised that people are getting this upset about it all.

One of the comments from a patriotic Canadian felt that Americans would have never tolerated this kind of butchering of “The Star Spangled Banner”. I beg to differ. I guess most of these Canadians have never watched the NBA all-star with any consistency. Back in the day, I remember Marvin Gaye's version of the American national anthem at the all-star game. You think Ms. Furtado took liberties with the melody? Have a listen and you be the judge.


I prefer to be able to sing along with the national anthem myself but I not going to diss her for her version. This was after all the NBA all-star game and doing something really different with the anthem is par for the course. I don't think she brought any shame on herself or the rest of in The Great White North. Nobody is complaining about the fake basketball game where defense was eliminated from the building.

Sunday, 14 February 2016

The Perfect Drop Shot

Courtesy Pixabay

It was a thing of beauty. The opposing volleyball player who had just delivered the serve dove uselessly to the floor in a gallant attempt to reach it. The blocker opposite me backpedaled, leaped high reaching for the ball but not quite touching it as it passed over his head. The player in the center of the court also made a desperate lunge for it to no avail. The ball landed just a little inside the line marking the edge of the court. A beautiful side out in our favour.

Just before that play. Two of my friends were on the sidelines razzing me about my flashy metallic blue gym shorts. I'll admit they got to me and I was busy jawing back at them. I wasn't even paying attention to the game anymore. Seeing that I was distracted the server fired the ball right at me.

“Pico! The ball!”

I spun dropping into a ready stance just in time for the ball to hit me right in the forehead. Nobody on the other team was expecting it come back. My friends rolled on the floor laughing. When they regained their composure they told me my facial expression while I made the play was the best part, at which point they lost it again.

Those were a great pair of shorts.

Friday, 12 February 2016

Gangsta Bluff

Courtesy Pixabay






For country bumpkin home-schooled children, my gang are not easily intimidated. Some city kids once found that out and the story is a bit amusing.

We were attending church services in a rented hall because the group we were visiting had no building of their own. It wasn't in a bad neighbourhood but some of the local kids thought they were pretty tough.

My children after the service was over would go outside because there was no one else their age there and hang out by the family minivan and talk or listen to music. Used to do the same thing when I was younger only the others our age would come out with us.

Out in the parking lot some of the local kids showed up and started to harass them. They strutted around, quoting tough guy lines from various movies they'd seen. My kids were unimpressed and the taunting got a little more aggressive. Finally my boys had heard enough.

Andrew gave his brother a scowling nod, “That's it! Brandon! Get the gun!”

Brandon reaches behind the back seat of the van and pulls up the jack handle. It's a piece of pipe with a small metal pin in it that could be mistaken for the bead sight on the business end of a shotgun. He stuck it out the door of the van making sure they could only see the last six inches or so and shouted, “Andrew grab me a cartridge!”

They proceeded to make a few realistic sounds and the local wannabee gangsters hesitated for just a few seconds and then fled in terror. Never came back. Never bothered them in the parking lot again. My gang found the whole thing hysterically funny.

Wednesday, 10 February 2016

Twenty-Five Years Today

We'll have to kick some junk aside to dance today.



I could spend my entire day writing about the experiences we shared over the past twenty-five years and still only put a small bit in words.

We took our vows in front of our families and a whole herd of deer trophies. You didn't marry me for my money because we didn't have much of that... still don't. The hunting and fishing lodge in Farnham was free for us because your brother was a member there. I wouldn't have wanted it any other way.

My mother gave me the best marriage counseling when she told me to find a woman who wanted to build a life with me. You were that and still are. Married twenty-five years and we're not finished yet. I'm expecting the next twenty-five to be even better because I intend to keep working to make it that way.

I'm done writing for now because the rest of my time outside work today is yours. I still love you Francine as much as ever.

Tuesday, 9 February 2016

We Were In Stitches

Courtesy Pixabay

Knowing how to hand sew is not one of my better known skills. It has come in handy on many occasions.

It started in the sixth grade after splitting my pants. I was sitting in the school's home economics class on recess in my gym shorts painstakingly imitating the back stitching already existing from when my mom made the pants on her sewing machine. Recess was burning up faster than the split was closing and finally the teacher had pity and intervened. She took my pants and showing me a quick running stitch and had me decent for class in no time. When I got home, my mom wasn't too impressed with the quick stitching and pulled it all back out. My back stitching was just fine.

When one of the guys in college asked me to do some sewing for him, I offered to loan him the needle and thread and provide lessons. He declined and went whining to one of the ladies on campus to do it for him instead. I'm all heart aren't I?

My sewing did lead to a bit of real fun on campus. One of my female Canadian friends was looking for the perfect practical joke for one of her American dorm mates who was away visiting family. We borrowed a great deal of the young lady's clothes and sewed little Canadian flags all over them, sitting in one of the student lounges. We had an absolute blast. She'd finish sewing a little flag on the back of a pair of underwear. “Look at this!” and we'd be all but rolling on the floor. We entertained each other for several hours. The prank was a great success. The poor woman was finding flags for weeks.

Monday, 8 February 2016

Made From Rubber

Courtesy Pixabay

I'm sure a lot of us men admire a certain amount of physical flexibility in a woman, but sometime we see something that just scares us.

I don't remember how I got in on this because I didn't know the guy who rented the boat very well. A group of us young adults at a church convention went water skiing in the Sacramento River in Sacramento, California. No the water wasn't very clean back then either. The other two guys convinced one of the young ladies to come and one of the girls I was hanging out with came as well.

We had a blast. With me on the end of the rope the guys ran the boat all over the place trying to get me to wipe out. They came close. One sequence over some wakes from another boat had me doing weird things with the rope to try to keep it from going slack or jerk me off balance. All the while those two guys were in the boat just laughing their heads off. When my turn came to an end they told me how impressed with my skill they were.

Once all of us guys had our turns, we tried to convince the ladies to give it a try. The girl they brought with wouldn't have anything to do with it, but Debbie was ready to go. Never water skied in her life and we were having a tough time getting her started. I ended up in the water floating with my life vest on trying to get her into the proper starting position. When ready the guys would hit the throttle and she'd wipe out before ever getting out of the water. I'd swim a few hundred feet to catch up and we'd try it all over again. She was determined so this went on for quite awhile before she finally gave up. I admired her effort but one of the failures had all of us guys wincing.

Her ski points were sticking out of the water in front of her perfectly positioned and the guys opened the throttle. One ski went right and the other went left. She went full splits and beyond. Jean Claude Van Damme eat your heart out. I swear those ski points were still sticking straight up when they were almost all the way behind her. I'm sure her feet twisted in the bindings so it probably wasn't as bad as it looked. It looked like her legs screwed all the way around in their sockets. The guys in the boat all wore an expression that I'm sure reflected my own: If-that-was-me-I'd-never-walk-again.

We never said anything to her and if she reads this, it'll be the first she knows of it. Yes, she's still a friend of mine on Facebook so she just might. I stank like the Sacramento River for days (that stuff doesn't just wash off) but it was a lot of fun and a great memory.

Friday, 5 February 2016

That Had to Hurt

Not Manu but you get the idea. Courtesy Pixabay

I love basketball and frequently read the latest from the NBA. Manu Ginobili of the San Antonio Spurs is out for a month with a testicular injury requiring surgery. Poor man. What amazes me is that they spelled this out without blinking. I watched a clip where an NHL player caught a slapshot in the groin and he left the game with “a lower body injury”. Sports journalism seems to have changed. They seem to be willing to call it what it is now.

In honour of Manu and because some people really seem to find this kind of sports injury funny (just watch America's Home Videos a couple of times), I will recount a few of my sporting unfortunate moments. If you're a guy and this has never happened to you, you've never lived.

First one I'll tell comes from water skiing at SEP (church summer camp). I'd already succeeded in achieving second class skier status and was trying for first class. One of the things I had to do for that was drop a ski and slalom across both wakes. I managed to dump the ski and while I awkwardly tried to get my skiless foot into the rear toe loop on the other ski, I crossed my first wake. Pelican lake was a little choppy and I couldn't pull myself back across. I hit the water fully extended. I didn't know that it was possible to square yourself on a wave. The angle and position have to be just about perfect. Thankfully the life vest allowed me to float in the fetal position. The boat whipped around to pick me up.

“Why didn't you make the signal that you're alright?” came the admonishment.

“Because, I'm not okay,” I replied through clenched teeth.

“What happened?”

“I got hit right where it counts.”

The old journalism was still in effect back then. The guy in the boat understood and thought it was funny and asked, “In the face?” The young lady just didn't get it. They hauled me out of the water. By that time I was just fine. One of those just-smile-and-it'll-go-away kind of incidents.

The next incident occurred in a college basketball game. Carlos on the other team ran a lot of track. He had beautiful high knee action form. Well I'm pretty fearless about taking charges and in the heat of battle I saw someone coming with the ball and I set to take the charge. Then I recognized him, I saw the knees, my life flashed before my eyes, my mind thought, “this is really gonna hurt” and then impact. Carlos lost the ball and nothing was called. I got up and tried to run with the break before doubling up. My best friend saw the whole thing and almost lost the ball from laughter. I smiled and this one went away too.

Finally playing a church softball tournament and I'm on first. The opposing team hits a potential inning ending double play my way. Just before scooping the ball up it hits a pebble in the infield hops over my glove and hits me square in the crotch. I fold up on the ball and can't make the play.

We ended up losing that game and it really all came down to that stupid embarrassing play. My two younger brothers were on the opposing team and have no real sympathy for me at all.

So Manu were with you. I watched the tape. It didn't look that bad from there, but if you weren't alright minutes later and need surgery we feel for you. Get well soon.