Letter to My Son – November 11, 2015

My Dear Son,

Every year since you were born I am gripped with the same thoughts and feelings on Remembrance Day. I did not bear you, teach you about life in the best way I could, and guide you in how to live it, to have your life snuffed out on some distant shore at the hand of someone I am expected to call “enemy.” Or worse yet, for you to be the victim of what is euphemistically termed “friendly fire.”

I have been a most fortunate woman.

My father was never called to the military. He had three women depending on him for support and the war department accepted that. In a time when only sons were eligible to go, his father was considered too old, but his unmarried brother, my dear Uncle Ingolf went.

Ingolf lived beside us – the only person close to me who went to war. He returned from World War #II with his body whole but with little to say about his time in the trenches. We suspected the experience had taken its emotional toll on this quiet, gentle man.

The only other person I knew who served was my mother’s brother Bill. He was stationed on Yorke Island only a few miles from where we lived on the BC Coast. Japanese submarines were in the area but he says he didn’t see them and neither did we. Bill met his future wife during that war. She had lost her husband to it, leaving her young son fatherless. That son, Ron, became my cousin but also a very good friend, as we grew up together.

Your father has also been fortunate. He has lived in a time of relative peace, free to pursue his chosen career without interruption. His father did not experience military service either, but two of his brothers did. When Henry signed up he said he was twenty years old – we know he was only sixteen. Preliminary research into that side of your family shows that Charles Henry Siebert enlisted at Crystal City, Manitoba on December 28th 1915. And so did an older brother, also underage. I have the Canadian war documents.

They were in the Canadian Infantry, Central Ontario Regiment, both crack shots, well respected in war times for that ability. Henry returned, a veteran damaged by the noxious gasses used by attacking armies.  Your dad remembers his Uncle Henry when they lived in Port Alberni; we have a large butcher knife in our kitchen that was his. It seems a strange keepsake.

Ever since you were of age it seemed as though I was living on borrowed time. Each year on November 11th I have wondered when it would be my turn to contribute a child to the peacekeeping effort. Each year I have agonized as the news media tell stories of a reduction in military spending. Yes, the National Budget has been balanced but at what cost?

At what cost in the lives of young women and men who volunteer for a military career and then are forced to serve using inadequate, outdated equipment, wearing shabby uniforms and are moved about in decrepit ships, falling helicopters or borrowed aircraft space? In this plentiful land their families are left at home to live on minimum wages in substandard base housing. But the generals in Ottawa are well paid and there are more of them than in the regular fighting forces.

My problem is that I don’t believe war is the answer to anything. But I also don’t believe that being a draft dodger, as many of our imported citizens were, or a conscientious objector, as some still are, is the solution either.

You are more than half the age of your father. You have had all that time to learn and plan your life, now you can use that information to continue on along your chosen path. Many young men have not had that option.  I was reminded when Yasser Arafat died that young Palestinians of your age had never known any other leader of their people. Such limitations and strife they suffer.

During your life you have had the opportunity for education, not forced upon you or easily obtained, but it was always an option. In years past most young men have not had such a choice.  Many brilliant young men had their career, their education, their entire life interrupted and shattered by the intervention of war. Most young Canadian men your age have not suffered that shock.

Compare any physical complaint you can think of, to that of a returning soldier with part of his body missing, or so badly damaged it may never recover. With the challenges of rehabilitation before him, he may not even be grateful to be alive. A lost leg or two, a mangled hand or damaged lungs, shell shot face, reoccurring dreams that leave him screaming until he wakes. These are my thoughts every November 11th. I think of the young men, and women too, whose lives have been altered or wasted entirely by the ravages of ‘man’s inhumanity to man.’

Our extended family has been very lucky, and we continue to be most fortunate to have escaped the horrors we hear about. Let us try to understand better other people who are not like us, who live in other places and by different standards. Perhaps in some small way each of us can find opportunities to contribute to peace. Then mothers like me may not be called upon to give over their sons to war.

Go safely,


Lesson from my Father

My father was of the old school philosophy, “save money for what you want, never go into debt.” He lived his life the way his Norwegian-born parents had. Trust, and a shake of the hand, represented a promise – a deal.

Even later in life he was suspicious of credit cards. When we introduced him to a cash card to supply his needs while in the care home, he practiced using it. Went to the bank across the street, lined up to the teller’s booth and took out $5 or $10 at a time. And did that daily to be reassured the magical card still worked!

The only time that I remember Dad and I having a serious difference of opinion was when I asked him to sign a loan for me to travel to Europe for the summer. It was after my university graduation and before I would return in the fall for a year of teacher training. I knew after that I would be employed, and not free enough for extended travel. He understood my reasons but they did not sway him. In desperation, I turned to his brother for a loan signature, where I held an account at the local Credit Union. My uncle had done some travel and knew its benefits.

So it is that with the exception of a home mortgage and two credit cards, paid in full monthly, I try to live by my dad’s rule. The happiest day of our early married life was when we ceremoniously ‘burned the mortgage.’

The economists and professional financial advisers I read, and listen to, say we could be entering an uncertain period of decline, not unlike 2008, with even the possibility of a WW#3 on the horizon. Many advisors say this is a time when holding cash is the best approach, certainly until the market shows its direction more clearly.

This brings me to my thoughts as I contemplate promises of the various national leaders, and their local candidates. The benefits some of them propose to give me, with borrowed funds from my taxes, could mean a debt that is impossible to repay. Think Greece. I watch world news too. It will be a drain on the country for many years, especially if interest rates rise. My young kids’ savings accounts benefited from 18% GICs. Maybe our candidates are too young to remember those days.

By now Dad would have been apoplectic!

James Dines 2015 Forecast Newsletter

I subscribe to a monthly newsletter that gave me the idea for this post. It is a way for a householder to understand the “fiscal cliff,” and government debt, more clearly.

Step 1:
Consider these real numbers as reported for a recent year of the US government:
– US Tax revenue: $2,170,000,000,000
– Federal budget:   $3,820,000,000,000
– New debt:            $1,650,000,000,000
– National debt:      14,271,000,000,000
– Recent budget cuts: $38,500,000,000

Step 2:
Now remove 8 zeros and think of it as a household budget:
– Annual family income:                   $21,700
– Money the family spent:                $38,200
– New debt on the credit card (s):    $16,500
– Outstanding credit card balance:$142,710
– Total budget cuts so far:                    $385
Now it begins to make more sense. This household is in serious financial trouble.

Most people we know can’t comprehend numbers that large so they don’t truly understand how bad the finances of our countries are. The Dines Letter family example reduces the numbers to a magnitude where it is possible to grasp the problem.

Were folks to be paid 100% of their salaries in cash bills, then go to the tax table to pay income tax, then to the CPP table to pay CPP, then the EI table to pay EI premiums, then each of the other deductions (all in cash money) there would be a tax revolt. Governments know this.

I remember someone suggesting this same technique be used to teach children about finances. They suggest you bring home your whole paycheque, (what remains after deductions) in cash bills. Then lay it out in separate piles for the rent or mortgage, food, car payments and other essential expenses, so that the children understand the concept of financial obligations.

Their new iPhone must come after the rent is paid, the food is purchased, the dentist is paid for braces, allowances for clothing are set aside, house maintenance costs are met, etc. When children physically see that there is a very limited (or non-existent) pile of dollars remaining, they will begin to understand that money for elective purchases isn’t easy to find.

There are far too many families paying the mortgage with a line of credit and some paying only the minimum balance on their credit cards. Because of the debt at all levels of government PLUS that of an average family, this country is in deep trouble.

Mr. Dines has another way to look at the Debt Ceiling. He writes:
Let’s say, you come home from work and find there has been a sewer backup in your neighbourhood – – – and your home has sewage all the way up to your ceilings.
On a serious financial topic, with his usual twisted sense of humour, Mr. Dines asks:
“What do you think you should do? Raise the ceilings or remove the poop?”

The Garden Continues to Call

Part II
It’s a sunny warm autumn day, one of those bright September days. Although I’m tired from fertilizing and weeding the privet hedge, and trimming some of the hebes yesterday, I remember clearly the first September 30th we spent here twenty-four years ago.
Compared to what we observe now – I have photographs – the shrubs appeared as tiny mounds in freshly tilled soil. There was a big space between each of the Alberta spruce trees that have survived mite infestation; presently they are so close together to have created an impenetrable hedge between driveway and lawn. The grass then was freshly laid rolls of sod.
We have a thorough and willing garden team now to do the heavy chores. One man employed a few hours each week used to accomplish what we needed to have done. Everything has grown so much even trimming the hedge is a big chore. Over the years we have continued to make changes. When an entire bank of hardy rose bushes became overgrown and difficult for anyone to get in to remove the grass and thistles, we pulled out the whole mass. Then we replanted with an array of purple and white heathers interspersed with yellow cedar. Now other than pulling a few of the invasive morning glory weeds and other weeds that travel, annual trimming care can be done efficiently with wide saws by our garden team.

2014 Phone Pix 072 These days I’m less willing to dig weeds, my husband too has trouble getting down on his knees to plant or pull. The lawn, vegetable garden and berry patch is still his responsibility. Regular massage therapy helps me, but for one who enjoys writing so much, even a left handed mouse is not the complete answer.
Fortunately when we built the house we chose to finish the full basement while work continued on the rest of the house. Once we had the occupancy permit we installed kitchen appliances in a one-bedroom suite down there. It was the first place we positioned furniture from a former rental unit. It became our cool retreat away from the continued pounding and painting ongoing above and outside.
The basement rooms continue to be a much cooler place to sleep on the hottest of summer days. Twenty-four years ago we agreed on a serious plan to remain living here through our mutually declining years and on into old age. Those days are approaching now, when we both notice aches and pains that were not with us before. Over the years the basement suite has been used by variety of single women – students and women separated from their significant others. It’s left empty now, having been refreshed, sound insulated and ready for the time we decide that having live in-home and yard help would be beneficial.
I continue to be determined to deadhead every flowering plant annually, as I’ve always done. If I need to find a willing young worker to “fine-tune” those rhodos to do it, so be it! We will remain living here, and our enjoyment of a well-tended garden is one of our primary pleasures. If the cost of living here includes having more paid help we’ll figure out a way. It is still a better solution than down-sizing or choosing a retirement residence where we could be separated. Besides, we need room for the grandchildren to visit.
I will have lunch with friends today, followed by a short massage and then a visit to my chiropractor. On any sunny day life is good.

Fully Breasted

This true story has troubled me for years, and finally I will write about it. I unearthed the notes a few days ago – thankful to have written them when it happened.

My first conference of International University Women, renamed Graduate Women International, was held in Gratz, Austria in 1998. When the conference ended I met, Verna, a cousin, at the airport, and together we took an extended bus tour of Austria. We visited all the best spots Austria has to offer, taking many photographs and enjoying ethnic meals as available. Food and photography were two interests we shared, so our trip went well.

Until, the tour bus provided a scheduled hour – long stop in a large park outside of Saltzburg. Our driver indicated we might want to explore pathways of the wooded acreage, and, if we chose, have a snack in the coffee shop beside the art gallery. I assume it was time for his break.

When time came to return to the bus we all settled in our seats once more. There was one seat unfilled; a woman was missing. We waited, and waited, for her to return. Thinking she was lost, some people went down different paths looking for her. Others sat stiffly in their seat, offering solutions to the driver. Finally, he called his company office. The police arrived. Because of the delay, they offered an unplanned tour-sponsored lunch. I had already enjoyed coffee and a delicious croissant there, so I wandered into the adjoining art gallery instead.

This is where my story gets spooky.

When I came back into the restaurant I borrowed paper from a lady on our tour, and using her husband’s pen, I wrote the notes that I found this week. Sitting in the restaurant, in the midst of the fiasco at Schloss Ambras, here is what I wrote:

“I’ve been in withdrawal for two days, having the greatest urge (need) to write, but without time or the opportunity to do so. Two nights ago, I had a dream that I can still remember clearly. Now I sit in the castle restaurant, waiting for lunch, while an adjacent room is filled with original paintings, signed Brigit Koss ‘98. This is unreal!

The dream began with a husband and his wife being presented to us, and others in a large group. The wife was entirely naked, on the top at least and with only one breast. I don’t remember about her lower body except that she was beautifully slender with tanned skin. I could only assume that her cancer surgery had healed beautifully. Her husband appeared comfortable allowing this mixed audience to see her body naked.

Later the dream continued, but as a different scene. We were a group of women in a sewing class, being shown how to make support bras for women who had had a mastectomy, and were going to be wearing prosthesis. The detail that I remember most vividly was a demonstration of how to make them, and of myself thinking that I didn’t need to pay attention right then, because I didn’t have a problem, so far. At the same time I remember being confident that, given my background in sewing, I would be better able to learn how to sew one properly, if I ever needed to.

The most noticeable part was that the bra was made of two kinds of cotton broadcloth, the natural breast supported by a plain beige shape, the prosthesis side by print on one part and the same plain beige sewed to it. Each breast shape of the bra was long and narrow and might have been a suitable fit for an African native woman with pendulous breasts, as we have all seen on television, or in photos. The bra pattern was reminiscent of origami with the seams located where a fold of paper might be.

Today I’ve been looking at original paintings of breasts, all shapes and sizes and with some singles, all signed Birgit Koss ’98.”

Frozen Raspberry Cheescake

August 007

It is important to have a light dessert that can be brought out at short notice and served on a day when dinner preparation time is at a minimum or guests have not been expected. I adapted this recipe from one that featured a ‘brand name’ frozen raspberry juice, although these days the best I could find was a frozen juice labelled as ‘berry.’The gelatin keeps the dessert firm when it is thawed and addition of fresh raspberries exaggerates the natural flavours.


24 chocolate wafers, crushed or 1 ½ cups (325 ml) graham wafer crumbs

100 ml             butter, melted

1 pkg               unflavored gelatin

1 can (150 ml) undiluted raspberry juice (comes frozen)

1 tsp. (5 ml)    lemon juice

1                      egg, separated

250 ml             whipping cream

250 g               cream cheese, softened

150 ml             fine berry sugar


1. Place wafer crumbs in bowl, blend in melted butter. Spread on the bottom and up sides of 10 inch (25 cm) spring form pan. Pat firmly into place, place in freezer as you prepare cheesecake filling.

2. Assemble remaining ingredients before beginning.

3. Mix part of sugar with gelatin in a small glass bowl or measure. Add half of raspberry juice concentrate. Beat in egg yolk. Heat in microwave until gelatin is fully dissolved. Add remainder of raspberry juice. Place in refrigerator or freezer to cool, stirring occasionally until partly thickened.

4. Beat egg white until stiff. Beat whipping cream until thickened. Set both aside.

5. In a very large bowl beat cream cheese, gradually adding remainder of sugar until smooth.

6. Beat in cooled gelatin juice mixture and lemon juice.

7. Fold whipped cream into cheese mixture, then fold in beaten egg white. If available, fold in a few fresh or thawed raspberries.

8. Pour into crust and spread to edges. Freeze until firm – at least 4 hours – or overnight. Keeps well for several weeks if covered with plastic wrap.

Serves 8-10.

Variation: Spoon unfrozen mixture into purchased chocolate cups, then freeze.


Memorable Birthdays

Helping my granddaughter celebrate becoming seven years old, yesterday, made me remember how much I wished all during my school years, that I had been born in any month other than July or August. For children born during the other months of the year there is a better chance of having classmates, friends, or cousins, available to celebrate with.

The truth is that because of where we lived, and the circumstances of my schooling, (correspondence, then 7 grades in a one-room school) I had no friends with whom to share a party until I was well into high school. Even then, because I boarded away for high school I returned to camp at the end of term, an hour-long drive over a dusty, gravel road, where only crew and residents travelled.

I remember four significant birthdays:

When I was 3 my mother hosted a Sunday tea party on our float. Both of my grandmothers were present, an aunt and several of my cousins came, along with a few ladies from a nearby camp who brought their little ones.  The picture tells the story.


When my 21st birthday occurred, a girlfriend and summer travelling companion, experienced Bastille Day in Paris with me. There were marching bands, military equipment rumbling along, and an overhead salute by war planes spuming red, white and blue smoke.

For the significant birthday of 60 years I gave myself a party. Lunch was a simple green salad with choice of protein accompaniments, followed by two of the most decadent cheesecakes to be found in Greater Victoria. A varied career, three children and their associated activities, and my own volunteer experiences, meant I now had a rich mix of friends. Those who were not available sent notes about our times together; those who were able to come sat around the room and told stories of how we met and what we had collaborated on. From the notes and pictures taken then, and from former years, I made a scrap-book. It is a treasure.

The very best birthday ever was the day I turned 70. On that day my daughter brought home a brand new baby girl, having delivered her the previous day. I learned soon after, when the party began and guests arrived, that while she was fabulously pregnant she had managed to orchestrate the whole thing, even down to slipping notes under bedroom doors, with instructions to family members, as she left for the hospital!


Today I send this message out to everyone with a July or August birthday. Good birthday celebrations are possible – don`t despair – the best may yet be coming!

I Heard the Garden Call My Name

It’s a sunny hot summer day; the first day of July, and over the supper table my husband reminds me it is not only Canada Day but also a celebration day of sorts for the two of us. Twenty-four years ago today we slept for the first time in our then-new home. True, there were boxes in every room, the furniture sent for re-upholstery had not yet arrived, and my dream kitchen was devoid of countertops and appliances.

Fortunately we had chosen to finish the full basement at the same time work continued on the rest of the house. Once we had the occupancy permit we had installed appliances in the kitchen of a one-bedroom suite down there. It was the first place we positioned furniture and it became our cool retreat away from the continued pounding and painting ongoing above us. The basement rooms continue to be a much cooler place to sleep on the hottest of days, like this one.

I always appreciated a tidy garden around my home and having it well maintained was important to me. Previous yards had been a mixture of my husband’s devotion to a green lawn and growing summer vegetables, and my own specialty, anything that blooms, including all manner of flower beds and pots, including hanging ones.

But it wasn’t until we found ourselves surrounded by a huge expanse of tractor-stirred rough ground and a mound of ‘perkable’ soil material, resulting from requirements of our rural septic system that I began to realize this new yard was indeed a huge project, and it needed immediate attention. Decorating the interior of our home would simply have to wait for a time, because we were tracking raw dirt onto the new floor.

Plans for an aggregate driveway had been agreed upon and contracted; the inlaid patio tile was ordered. So that part of the work could be supervised by our site contractor.

And then my husband left, to our daughter’s horseshow, leaving me to decide what to do about those mounds of dirt. Plant something in them of course, and so I did. The entire garden became my personal project at that time and how I loved it.

A gardening contractor arrived and took me shopping in his truck. Who would have known there were so many greenhouses and commercial garden outlets on the peninsula? Victoria is well known as a City of Gardens and now I was learning some secrets of their plant sources.

More machinery arrived in our yard; two large berms were created. The larger trees we had chosen were moved into position with a tractor bucket; next came the hedge of Alberta spruce along the yet-under-construction driveway. Then we planted the rhodendrons and azaelas – my forever favourites. We had saved some of the better plants taken from the original garden of the house we had torn down, so they were placed too. We chose lots of the cheaper shrubs, many of them blooming varieties and most were quick growing. But they all seemed so insignificant with lots of space around them. Slowly the design concept took shape and I could begin to see what the result might be in a few years.

May 021

Well, the few years have come and gone and everything grew. I have moved plants that became too large, I’ve given away plants there wasn’t room for, I’ve delegated sick plants to a back ‘healing garden’ to see if they would recover and, even today, the garden design is being revised again to make it less labour intensive. My secret is to plant only perennials and then ones that require little attention from month to month. I refuse to garden in bad weather but I glory in it when the good weather shines on me. Today is one of those bright days and although I’m tired from trimming and deadheading, I will celebrate the anniversary of our arrival here with a swim in the Pacific Ocean! Happy Canada Day.

Einar Rise (Buster) Forberg

Einar (Buster) Forberg

Einar (Buster) Forberg

On Father’s Day I remember my dad – he was never father – although during our younger years my sister and I called him Daddy. I’ve written about him, his Norwegian immigrant parents, and all our other family members in “from Fjord to Floathouse.”

When Dad died we gathered in Campbell River to remember him. The evening before the memorial service his five grandchildren sat together and through laughter and tears developed a poem. During the service my youngest daughter read it with emotion on behalf of all the cousins:

Our Grandpa

In passing times and moments
we think of you again
you were so kind and gentle
you were our perfect friend.

It started with a knee ride
and song to make us laugh,
soon nature’s simple pleasures
were the beginnings of our craft.

Whistles, bows and arrows,
you made them from the land,
a man with understanding
and the largest pair of hands.

Respect is something special
you had it from the start,
we’ll always remember
this deep inside our hearts.

You see, there really is no end
for the memories stay within
this patient, gentle giant

Our Grandpa. Our Friend.

A Springtime Scavenger Hunt

If you have a young family or even a birthday party group needing directed outdoor activity here’s an idea I tried last month. For each child I prepared a flat cardboard box with their name and a list of the items to be scrounged. Because at 7, 6 and 5 years old, they couldn’t be expected to read all the words I attached a sample of each item beside its name on a large piece of cardboard.177

My instruction to the children was to place a small snipped sample of each listed plant in their own box and sent them off. I had listed commonly known plants from my garden but any list you create would work. Here is my list:

1. Cedar tree branch
2. Primula (primrose) flower
3. Ivy leaf
4. Parsley
5. Heather
6. Plant with yellow and green leaves
7. Privet (Boxwood) hedge
8. Alberta spruce
9. California redwood
10. Rhododendron leaf
11. Azalea leaf
12. Pine cone
13. Laurel leaf
14. Hydrangea flower
15. Camellia bud
16. Heavenly bamboo
17. Pine tree branch
18. Fir tree branch
19. Holly leaf
20. Bird’s nest

The last item was a trick question but one of the children rose to the bait and came indoors asking if anyone had seen a birds nest. My husband opined he had seen one lying around in the mud room. There they were in plain sight, and she found them – three nests that I had kept from last summer so each child could have one.

There are plenty of other ways to use this idea depending on your location beach, forest, garden, and of course the time of year. Whenever you have a group of active children needing a change of pace, and perhaps you need one too, give it a try.