Maui in the Morning

The light steadily strengthens until it bursts into a brilliant sun ball over the top of Halelakala. It shimmers down upon mortals like me, out early enough to witness its magic. It is a benediction, without denomination, from the mountaintop. Giver of heat and light, the sun is what I crave. Stiff from a six-hour international flight and uncounted hours waiting in car, ferry, airports and rental kiosk, my body opens itself to the energy offered.

My morning walk continues past hedges of rioting bougainvillea and hibiscus; only constant trimming tames their growth. “Another perfect day in paradise,” is a familiar comment.

Perfection yes, but much more complicated than that. We assume that perfection has no flaws. I know Maui has grievous flaws. There are poor and sick people on Maui; groceries are expensive; a drug culture thrives. Just as at home, politicians argue over roads and trees and taxes. Big dollars have big power. Like indigenous peoples around the world, Hawaiian natives are struggling for their birth rights. All that and more are evident here. Still, my Maui is a perfect paradise.

“What makes it so?” you ask.

For 45 years I’ve tried to find the answer. I only know that each time I step from the plane, Maui’s magic is upon me. My spirit is uplifted. My perception is enhanced. My attitude is adjusted. It’s impossible not to relax.

The secret is in the air, a light fresh balm to a body’s clogged passages, filled with delicious scents found nowhere else on earth. Everything that grows on Maui blooms at least once during the year. It means that each breath yields scents from a tree, shrub or flowering plant, all mingle on the gentle breeze with Perfume da Pacific Ocean. The ocean is never very far away.

A turn at this intersection and I’m on grass beside sand dunes. Here the floral scents are overlaid by salt spray, and, after major storms, odours of rotting seaweed, but always there is lightness in the air. On surrounding hills, where warmth and tropical rainfall decays all fallen leaves and blossoms, one huge composting facility is created, one more aroma added to the mix.

The annual rainfall of Kiehi, where I walk, is lowest of the island—a desert micro-climate on a green Pacific oasis. To breathe this mix is such relief after alternately breathing cold outside air and heated, dry indoor air in Canada. Temperature and humidity opens bronchial passages and encourages deep breathing. Who wouldn’t prefer to take their morning exercise under these conditions?

I am reminded once more of why I keep returning. Exposure to Maui encourages a kind of openness, a willingness to consider new ideas, opinions and opportunities. Nothing seems hopeless or impossible. Best of all, at the deepest level, my psyche shifts. A perfect Maui morning directs me along the path of life.

Searching in Salt Lake

We are assembled at Victoria Airport, ten women, each with some understanding of genealogy but each of us with different experience levels. Most of us belong to the Victoria Genealogical Society. I have done this trip to Salt Lake City twice before. Others have made the odyssey more than once but I had not met them before today. Two of us are friends from a CFUW writing group with family history a frequent topic. Two of our party are very new to the experience, as you might one day be. As assumed, we will assist them.

The setting of the city is magnificent – the descent of our plane allows views of a broad flat plateau surrounded on all sides by mountains – the highest peaks dressed in winter white. No wonder Joseph Smith and his followers chose this valley. Our luggage comes down the chute promptly just as the hotel shuttle pulls up outside. The air here smells and feels like spring.

Check-in at the hotel is efficient and our rooms are comfortable. For a serious searcher The Plaza Hotel is the absolute best place to stay. Situated in the same block as the Family History Library, it is right across from Temple Square and only a block from two shopping centres. Jay’s Family Restaurant in the hotel is inexpensive; a senior’s discount is available but must be requested.

Our after-dinner agenda offers a presentation, “Introduction to Genealogical Collections.” The speaker is knowledgeable, his handout helpful, but he is uniformly vague, or perhaps just uninformed, about Canadian sources. Gratefully we retreat to bed.

Morning light is so bright and clear I can almost touch the snow-tipped mountains from my window. The day begins before seven with make-yourself-coffee. Strict Mormons do not drink coffee, nor do they drink alcohol, but we were able find places that serve both. The pot in my room splutters and spits out only a few drops at a time. My palate is addicted to this treasured brew; it is taking so long I will have my shower first. Then, clean, dry, and creamed again, I allow time to enjoy my favourite beverage.

We take breakfast downstairs at a table prepared for ten. Group members arrive, eat and leave, according to their personal schedules. Newcomers are always shocked to learn the library opens at eight o’clock. Singly or in pairs, we all arrive soon after. Within this famous repository of all things genealogical my personal search will begin once more. There is an orientation class and guided tour, but I won’t need to do it again.

During my first trip to Salt Lake City I had learned more about the religion that has created this tremendous facility that has benefitted family historians world-wide. I learned that in order to be accepted into the Temple believers complete a two year mission of volunteer work for the church. Those who are called to travel abroad proclaiming their beliefs to others and finding new members must have first earned sufficient funds to support themselves for those two years.

Each person hoping to be received as a Mormon is advised to have researched four generations of their family members on the family tree to share with others who may be related. This explains why the files kept at the library here, and available to smaller sites around the world, are so extensive and become more so each year. Workers here at the library and elsewhere within the Church of Latter Day Saints locations include volunteers, missionaries and paid experts which means there is always a well-informed person for us to ask.

People are often surprised to learn that church and civil registries have been assembled by the Mormons for almost every ethnicity. When these records were filmed a copy was given to both the church itself and the government of that country, many of which didn’t have these records accessible to the public country wide.

Each of these four floors of the library holds information specific to a particular part of the world: Europe, Scandinavia, Great Britain, Asia, United States and South America. The place is so extensive one can easily become disoriented and feel completely lost. Ten researchers, each with individualized search plans, probing these four floors, means we rarely encounter a familiar face all day. If we do, it is only for a hurried consultation, “How are you doing?” “Finding anything?” and then we’re away to the next reference.

Each area is equipped with whatever may be needed for our search: books, films, microfiche, maps, indexes and computer files. There are narrow alleys between floor-to-ceiling drawers of films and shelves of books, cubicles equipped with film readers having varying adjustments. Computers are all new, have large flat monitors and each computer pair shares a printer. Printer cards come from conveniently located machines that accept both coins and bills. There are also copiers of various types. Searchers are supplied with modern comfortable chairs on rolling legs that makes spending long hours in a seated position almost bearable. Scattered throughout are large library tables for quiet writing and reading. Improvements are noted each time I have visited: the search is addictive!

Freedom of Wheels

The return trip from Campbell River last weekend placed me in a contemplative mood. Have you ever considered the importance of wheeled conveyances in our lives? When I was a child I lived on a float that was tied to the rocky shore and partly surrounded by water. On the beach side the trees and undergrowth came down nearly to the high water line. Unless it was low tide even walking outside was restricted.

Then we moved the house on to land! That summer when I was nine my parents bought me a bike. Not an ordinary drab boy’s bike but one with a low slung bar to accommodate a girl’s skirt. My bike was a bright green colour and had modern balloon tires to give it a smooth ride. And that was the way I began to know the beautiful feel of wheels under me that could take me farther and faster than my quickly growing feet.

The big problem about all of this was that we now lived in a large truck-logging camp where gravel roads were rough and dusty. On weekdays loaded trucks came barreling down the hill on their way to the log dump across the creek from our house. It was dangerous for me to ride on the road leading out of camp. What I did enjoy was the smooth ride on the rough board deck of the pier that ran out to the wharf. It was a good opportunity to be away from my sister, who wasn’t allowed to take her trike there. I could be alone to watch all the boats coming and going.

The summer I was 16 years old my parents moved to Campbell River. Thankfully they agreed I should learn to drive and since they owned two vehicles it would not be any inconvenience to them. For 10 days at a time my father was working away, having taken a ride with his work partner, so his half ton stick shift truck was available for my use.

But what a disreputable looking vehicle it was! Its dull blue colour wasn’t noticeable but its bashed bumper and fenders certainly were. Dad had been fortunate to purchase the current year model at a very good price because by some reason never revealed to us the truck had been rolled into a ditch. The marks were not put there by him, or me, the student driver, but it certainly elicited second looks when I drove by.

Thus began my driving lessons with Mom as the instructor. She had only been driving for a few years herself and had taken paid lessons at the time so she knew the rules and the route I needed to learn to pass the driving test. Better yet, she was clear in her instruction of parallel parking, which we practiced on Sundays in an empty parking lot until I could do it proficiently. Thanks to her patient instruction I still can do it well.

Oh the freedom of having a driver’s licence! I had a summer job and being able to get myself there on time was a feeling to be treasured. The next summer I obtained employment at the Campbell River Lodge located on the Campbell River itself. The work was varied: serving guests at mealtime, typing and copying daily menus, occasionally shopping and picking up mail at the Post Office. For the latter chores I was allocated Mrs. Painter’s elderly Mini Minor car. Such fun it was after sitting up high in Dad’s truck, to be bombing around the familiar roads in that little stick shift vehicle!

At university in Vancouver I was without a vehicle and relegated to the tired and slow bus system if I needed to leave the campus. During those years most students had no vehicle, borrowed or otherwise, to get them to and from the university location. It was just the way it was and I eventually found my way easily on buses to the places I needed to go.

During my year of teacher training the time came to practice my teaching techniques at the assigned Vancouver high school. Once more I felt the freedom of wheels when my current ‘boyfriend’ and now husband, lent me his car. Unfamiliar as I was with the Vancouver streets I was able to find my way following the bus routes I had already learned and travelled on. Again I was on my own, that wonderful feeling of being independent of other systems and able to plan my own way.

I can still remember the different cars I’ve driven, some of them his, some my own. But the most powerful euphoria came from deciding which brand and year and colour of automobile I wanted to drive, and making the purchase myself with money from my own bank account.
may-016

I make fewer long trips these days but over the years there have been many “road trips.” I recall a significant trip, perhaps it was a first of its kind, when the destination was Kelowna for a CFUW BC Council conference. I packed up and picked up three other Nanaimo Club members, leaving three children at home with their father.

Such freedom there was to be able to get away for a long weekend with adult friends to discuss adult issues. Many of the women I knew, for various reasons, were not able to go away on their own, and they considered me fortunate. Yes, I was fortunate but always there had been that need to travel along my independent road, as long as it did no harm to others.

Some years later when the children were grown and gone I made a lengthy trip through British Columbia. The car was new and of my own choosing, and this was the beginning of a new volunteer role. Once again I felt the power of independent choice, of creating my own route map. Each stop along the way had its own significance and I remember the people and the places still.

Some of those memories came back to me last week on the road from Campbell River. Five hours, including stops, alone in my own car to contemplate the power and freedom that wheeled vehicles have provided. It has been a great ride.

I am Becoming my Mother #2

Last week I wrote about my mothers’ experiences in gardening late in her life and of my own adventures in that same activity. My point was that I now acknowledge that there was at least one way she and I were similar, when I had always noted how dissimilar the two of us were.

This week I want to tell you about something else I have recognized when I look in the mirror. My basic bodily features have always resembled my father, whose Norwegian ancestry became remarkably evident the day, at the Oslo airport, my second cousin, Halvor Forberg, took hold of my big suitcase and set out across the tarmac with me following.

My brain messaged to me, “There goes Dad,” as clearly as any spoken comparison could have been. Husky body, broad shoulders, long back, meaty hips and heavy short legs moving with the same unmistakable gait! I have struggled with how to camouflage those legs my entire life.

But back to Mom, whose skin tanned easily, as mine does, who loved the sun too, but with added years I’m discovering those same facial wrinkles she had are appearing almost overnight. Something else I’ve discovered: long hairs on my chin telegraph to the world I am her daughter and that I have reached a certain age. I began by tweezing them, with little success.

When Mom’s chin whiskers – she called them that – appeared, she quietly made an appointment with an esthetician in downtown Nanaimo for electrolysis, and then enjoyed a bonus of visiting with our children on the way out of town before she returned to Campbell River two, hours away. Over several years of regular appointments most of the offending hairs were no longer evident. Guess what? I am following her lead on this.

There is one technique she used, as do many of my friends, I will not be copying. Pencilling an eyebrow line to replace faded, sparse vestiges of the hair that frames a person’s eyes is popular among older women. But I have noticed many women of similar age and older who highlight their brows with a thick brow pencil, have made a very bad job of it because of a shaky hand or bad light or failing eyesight. One day I came to the realization that unless I drew eyebrows every day one of my better features, blue eyes, would retreat to oblivion. At least Mom, the painter, had a steady hand, so could do it well. Until the stroke that is.

Hazel Forberg

I decided there was another way and sought a specialist who in two 90 minute sessions, two weeks apart, has given me a permanently coloured brow line that looks normal and requires no further daily fussing. I only need to keep my skin clean, apply day cream regularly and present a uniform face to the world with, or without, further makeup! It is so easy, and with no fuss.

I am Becoming my Mother #1

I walked in my garden tonight and what I saw and heard and smelled there pleased me. The rhododendrons are in various stages of bloom, each their own spectacular shade, the azaleas quietly spreading lower and wide but with more arresting aromas. Seabirds waken us every morning but these songbirds of the evening are busily making nests in the cedar hedge and chattering about the babies they expect to feed soon.

We have worked hard to create and maintain this property to mature status.The result I observed tonight makes all the stiff muscles and sore hands worthwhile. My walk in the garden reminds me of my mother who did the same thing every evening after her chores were done and before she settled down with a crossword puzzle or a game of scrabble with a friend.

I have never thought I had much in common with my mother. Now I have found just a whispering suspicion that it may not have been entirely true. I knew her as a consummate sportswoman: rowing, fishing, hiking, curling, softball and hunting. Only later came the gardening.

That was never me. From my earliest years I wanted to spend time indoors with crafts, games, puzzles and books. Even when we were going someplace on our boat – the only means we had of travel – I would position myself to enjoy a book.  On one occasion while Mom rowed I tried to read while holding a fishing line in one hand. The question she asked was “What will you do when the fish bites?”

Mom sought opportunities to be outdoors, occupied in some physical activity whenever possible. The places we lived until I was nine years old severely limited Mom’s outdoor activities. After we moved, and when she was old enough, my younger sister was similarly inclined and keen to accompany Mom doing many activities like picking berries for jam or collecting salal to sell for cash.

I was well aware that my father had hoped to have a son. So it was that when my sister displayed her love of so many outdoor and sporting activities he nicknamed her, “Judy Boy.” By then I had become a “bookworm,” in their minds. It did hurt just a bit but in the words of my own daughter, “It is what it is.” 

Hazel Fearing with background of Jackson Bay family farm in 1936

Hazel Fearing with background of Jackson Bay family farm in 1936

I realize now that Mom was essentially a “farm girl” who happened to fall in love with and marry a hand logger. For the first 10 years of Mom’s married life their home sat on a float entirely surrounded by water. Then when the floathouse was towed to Rock Bay and the house pulled up on reclaimed land there was still no soil for gardening. For five years they lived in the original house but it was set on what was essentially a gravel surface, and surrounded by stirred up dust of moving trucks and other vehicles. Neither location gave Mom any opportunity to grow anything: flowers or vegetables or fruit, as her own mother had done when the family lived in Alberta, Vancouver or Jackson Bay.

From the time they moved from Rock Bay into the house on Hilchey Road Mom made tilling the ground around the new place her passion. Dad was away working a lot, Judy in high school and I was at university, so Mom had plenty of free time. She improved the soil and created a fenced English Country Garden haven for butterflies, bees, and birds. That is, until Dad insisted they move to another lot where he could once again see the ocean.

She made the move, as expected, but we knew it was unwillingly. At the new property she refused to have anything to do with the garden, which left Dad to fertilize and water the few plants already established there. His gardening focus was growing boysenberries and that involved watering each night.

About the same time Mom’s rheumatoid arthritis kicked in. It is a dreadful disease and I and I am thankful to have only ‘regular’ arthritis that Advil can keep at bay. Long after she was gone I am realizing we do have some things in common. Mom was always artistic with her garden plantings and creative craft creations. It was only when Dad insisted they move and she started receiving her own Canada Pension to use to buy oil paints and brushes with that she took up painting. Whenever Mom and Dad were on their forays into the wilds in their camper Mom took photographs of beautiful natural landscapes of forests, lakes, mountains and glaciers. So now she used her own photographs to create oil paintings that we all treasure.

An evening walk in my mature garden on the edge of the ocean I have always loved has unexpectedly become a memorial to my mother. I can’t imagine what it would be like to be made to leave this place, for any reason.

Sometimes a simple thought hits so strong it must be written.

The Walking Wood Game

One, two, three steps, jump, another jump, ten steps along the cedar log, jump over the rock to a big cedar chunk, along a fir peeler, now what? Myrtle Forberg was stymied; there were no more pieces of driftwood within jumping distance large enough to bear her weight without rolling on to the beach. Maybe try the smaller pieces along the high water line. They were all tangled up with kelp and seaweed driven in by a late winter storm. It seemed like cheating but what else could she do? Three steps in the loose stuff and she was again walking on solid wood, this time a big log that would make a good boomstick. She would have to tell her father about it.

Driftwood along a beach in Sidney

Walking this morning along the beach in Sidney reminded me of my childhood walks on the logs

Myrtle’s favourite outdoor game had many of the same characteristics as playing solitaire, a favourite household game. Most importantly the player needed to be honest. After that you needed to be persistent, ready to try again the next day. Like shuffling cards the tidal action reorganised the driftwood on the beach twice daily so each day offered a new game. During the larger fifteen-foot tides during these winter months it could be a completely new game every day. When strong wind tossed and drove the driftwood around, new pieces from some other beach always turned up.

The trick of this game was to see how far along the beach you could go by walking only on wood before you had to resort to stepping on rocks or gravel. Next, some smaller pieces challenged her until she was eventually balancing sure-footedly along a big spruce that had not yet been de-limbed. It must have come down limbs, roots, and all when her uncle had felled one of the larger, more desirable trees right into the water.

Myrtle could hear the roaring of the donkey as her dad and his father and brother hauled a big one to the saltchuk. The A-frame shuddered and strained as the heavy cable lines winding on the donkey drum pulled the log to the ocean. She had come to a place where salal and other undergrowth came right down to the big log she was standing on. The brush blocked her way; it was time to go back to the floathouse anyway and see if mom  had finished the wash.

 

Launching My New Book

I began this crazy business of writing after complaining about a book I had used in high school. Called Foods and Home Management the little red book was first compiled in 1932, and I was teaching from it! That complaint to Ministry of Education’s Bruce Naylor brought me to writing two popular foods and nutrition texts whose story will be a part of my next book.

Beyond the Floathouse, Gunhild’s Granddaughter, begins a boat trip back in time to 1938, when a baby girl was born in Vancouver General Hospital. Her mother, Hazel Forberg, had travelled from Port Neville aboard the SS Chelosin at least a month before she was due to give birth, particularly since this was her first child. Our arrival home to the Port Neville dock occurred a month after my birth as the first Forberg granddaughter. We need to remind ourselves that in that remote location of the Forbergs floating hand-logging camp, there was no medical help available: no hospital, doctors, nurses or even a doula.

Cover of ‘Beyond the Floathouse, Gunhild's Granddaughter’This little book is the second of a trilogy that began with from Fjord to Floathouse, one family’s journey from the farmlands of Norway to the coast of British Columbia. Those of you who have read it will recognize the girl Rae. In this new book Rae is Myrtle Rae Forberg, now writing in first person. Many of the same locations, including Port Neville and Rock Bay, are important in this book too, of course.

Port Neville was the farthest northward stop for the Union Steamship before it turned south. Those boats were our only connection to the outside world. Their schedule brought the ship north every two weeks.

Mail and all supplies arrived then; including any groceries that couldn’t be picked, fished or shot. Most food came in sacks and cases and except for root vegetables, all vegetables and most fruit came canned, with no such possibility of fresh green vegetables.

The first chapter of Beyond the Floathouse, Gunhild’s Granddaughter describes my welcome at Port Neville and tells about the much earlier arrivals of both sets of my immigrant grandparents. The next four chapters describe other aspects of my early life and the lives of those other residents of that remote area: school lessons from the BC Elementary Correspondence School, taught by mothers, Christmas preparations and any other important celebrations on our floathouses, sometimes with my grandparents and occasionally our extended family.

Then at Chapter 6 came a huge and important life change: We moved our house – from the float where it had always been, on to a spot of land farther south along Johnston Strait to Rock Bay. Even more importantly, there was a road out, a rutted gravel logging road, but it went to somewhere! For the first time I was able to experience very small forms of independence, incremental, but nevertheless, – – I could walk all the way around our house, climb up on the rock after which Rock Bay was named, and at nine years of age I even learned to ride a bike!

Readers will find that at the end of most of the chapters I have inserted a more recent thought I call Reflection. A good example is on page 78 where I explain the call that water has had on me. This move to Rock Bay also meant that for the next 4 years I got to attend a real school – we had one teacher who taught 8 grades sometimes having up to 28 pupils. We all learned cooperation and sensitivity there and a good understanding of at least one other culture.

In this case 2/3 of the students were of Chinese heritage – children of the Jay brothers who came originally from Victoria. Their fathers – as Jay Brothers Logging – worked in the next bay and the camp crummy brought the children to and from school every day.

The next shocking change comes at the end of Chapter 8, when I was ready to begin Grade 9. My parents made the decision, I learned much later it was an agonizing one, to send me out to Campbell River for high school. They were not yet prepared to move as a family, or to send me away to private school, so they arranged for me to board with different families for each year of high school. However, with that move, I was being trusted with the responsibility of making my own choices and I was only 13 years old! Beginning about Page 97 I’ve tried to describe the loneliness of that transition.

Then during Grade 12, I suffered a huge surprise. Imagine this, I’m called on the school’s PA system to the principal’s office! There sat Mr. Fogg and Mr. Monk together with the principal, Mr. Phillipson, who asks if I ever considered going to university.  No, Not really,” I replied. The fact was I had never knowingly met anyone who had been to university.

Shaken by this unexpected meeting I asked myself, Why? What more do they want to know? I remembered having an argument with my father who would never allow me to fill in the part of the school counsellor’s form where it asked for the parent’s annual income. His secretive nature about the privacy of money issues was part of the reason why I never knew if, or how much, he paid for my board so I could attend high school.

“We have already completed some parts of this form,” Mr. Phillipson said. “Here they are, you just have to fill in the personal details and write a short essay about why you would like to have this scholarship to be a teacher,” he told me.

To be a teacher was it? I thought. Well that would be okay. Better than working in Pat’s Style Shop where I would be this summer. “Maybe you can write the essay on this weekend and bring it in to me on Monday morning,” he continued. “Then I can get it mailed off for you next week.”

And so I did, and the envelope went on its way —-

 

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,

Mom

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?”