Tuesday, July 31, 2012

A Couple of Words to Change the World

The holstered tazer hung no more than two feet in front of Sam's eyes. A revolver was strapped on the opposite hip; the radio with its selector set on channel three separated the two weapons on the wide black belt of the thirty-something RCMP officer waiting stoically ahead of us in line at the 7-11. I was vaguely aware that the line wasn't moving, my attention and thoughts drawn more to the coolness of the air conditioned store as we held our sweating slurpee's in hand. Evangeline began to suck her icy grape/orange concoction into her mouth. There was a lady with a small girl at the cashier that was causing some sort of complication and I could sense impatience setting into the stagnated line. My gaze dropped back to the well armed officer in front of me.

The sleeve of his shirt was stretched taut where his bulging arm emerged. It was a large arm. Large and colorful. A tatooed fish curved around his forearm and lept up over his elbow. Many designs covered what little bare skin was available; two words in plain black ink caught my eye on the inside of his forearm. My attention shifted back to the lady that was now over by the ATM machine in the corner of the store and I noticed her staring incredulously at her receipt.

“I like the two words on your arm,” I commented to the officer.

The line was moving now.

The officer placed his three small bags of candy beside the conspicous pile of goods left on the counter. I barely made out his words as his arm made a vague sweeping motion over all the items. 

“I'll get this too.”

“That's $34.20,” the cashier informed him as he inserted his chip card into the keypad and punched in his passcode.

We placed our selection of slurpee's on the counter just as the lady with the small girl reappeared.  The cashier, scooping the pile in her hands, pushed it towards her.

 “Your items have been paid for.”

“What?” the lady enquired.

“Your items. They're all paid for.”

"That's right!” I said. “The man ahead of me just paid for them!”

“How? How can they be paid for?” she stammered.

“Officer White just paid for your things.” the cashier stated flatly. “They're paid for.”

“That's amazing!” the overwhelmed lady commented as she gathered her things. “I'll have to thank him for this. The bank machine was broken. This is just amazing.”

I left the 7-11 feeling euphoric with hope surging in my soul. Sometimes you witness something so profound you can't help but love the people around you.

“What did you say to that RCMP officer in the store?” Sam inquired.

“He had tattooed 'Grace and Mercy' on his arm. I told him I liked that,” I replied.

Grace and Mercy.

Pretty good words to live by.

Thank you Officer White.

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Rebuilding a Camping Trailer

Our little Scamp trailer has been wonderful.  We've dragged it up and down the Alaska Highway six times, and it has handled all the bouncing and bumping without complaint, even though it was often overloaded.

But it shows.  The cabinetry, never a well made item in these trailers, was falling apart.  Time to pull out my tools.

The cabinet was disassembled, and a new front glued up.

My fiberglass experience came handy as I  laminated the 1 inch framework to the new 1/4 inch plywood.

With all the appropriate openings cut out, the reassembly went without a hitch.

My eye for wasted space discovered room for a second drawer, something sorely lacking in the old design.

Some shellac and varethane finished it off, and it's now solid and ready for another run of highway.

Saturday, June 9, 2012

A shop in the country

One thing I'm very excited about is the shop on our yard.   It's a fairly decent size; 24 X 30, with two large doors.   I'd like to develop one side into my wood shop,  keeping the other bay available for automotive work.

And it can even have a touch of beauty when you have a daughter that loves to hang out with you.

Friday, June 1, 2012

The effects of time

Time has a way of altering our landscapes before our eyes and before we realize it we can find ourselves in a completely new environment from where we were.

A year ago my father passed away.

A year ago we were living in Anchorage.

A year ago we faced an uncertain future.

Today I completed the import and registration process for the van.

Time alters our lives; sometimes for good, sometimes bad.

Sometimes it's good to take some time to remember.

Because that can help us view the future.

Monday, May 28, 2012

A night at the barn

I am a working man
But I ain't worked for a while
like some old tin can
from the bottom of the pile
-Big Sugar

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

The country alternative

We've found a few acres with some buildings not far from town that we've fallen in love with.  It's in a sense a homecoming for me; I grew up on a farm and remember playing around in the barn and other outbuildings. The adventure to be found in the country with a little imagination is a great thing for a kid to experience.

Unfortunately as we grow older the play must soon forfeit to responsibilty, and this past weekend was no exception.  The garage was in sore need of shingles.  A gracious neighbour offered planks and the use of his truck, and in one sunny Sunday afternoon Theresa and I had the old shingles removed.

The kids though found another use for the planks.

What a wonderful alternative to offer your children.

Thursday, March 15, 2012

A choice of power

Frederick Buechner writes in "The Magnificent Defeat"

"I suppose we might begin by saying that man's absolute power, the one that he can be surest of because it involves nothing except power, is his power to destroy.  One does not need talent or brains to destroy.  Anybody can do it: can destroy an animal, a bird, an object, an enemy or friend, himself, Jesus Christ.  There is no need to add that as matters stand now man has the power even to destroy mankind.  However, that is only half the picture because in addition to his power to destroy, man also has the power to create.  We can make things: paintings and political systems, theological systems, supersonic aircraft, iron lungs." (p. 32 HarperCollins, 1966)

Those words came to mind as I was discussing with my sister, Edith, about inspirational carvings I could use on my sawbench that I was completing.

I ended up choosing two simple phrases, "to destroy" and "to create."

She suggested using traditional Hebrew, "shabar" and "bara'."

I loved it.

It's something I'd like to remember every time I sit down at this bench.

For my hands are capable of either.

Friday, February 24, 2012

The Gift of a (Jersey) Community

Moving into a new community is always an adventure in discovering new and exciting lifestyles and passions.  Dutch Harbor was all about the water; the fishing, the diving, and swimming at the local recreation center.  Cordova was its music.  Here it's... well we have yet to see.  But what's rural Manitoba if there's no cow around somewhere?

A few days ago we were gifted with two gallons of milk, straight from the source.  Wonderful, brimming glass gallon jars of fresh milk.  We skimmed the cream off the top yesterday and left it sitting on the kitchen table overnight.

This morning it went into the churn.  I remember this churn from my childhood, and we were able to track it down from my niece who graciously agreed to borrow it back to us.

Very quickly the cream changed from foam to solid.  I had butter!

Not too bad for today's breakfast.

And tomorrow it's buttermilk pancakes.

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

The cost of being cheap

There's an underlying irony of living cheaply in an affluent country that niggles me.  It's the bothersome truth that my frugal-ness is quite closely related to my neighbours extravagance.  If I didn't live in a country that regurgitates its products every six months there wouldn't be the abundance of second hand and recycled goods for me to select from.  Furnishing my home for under $500.00 with one weekend of perusing the local thrift stores would be a lot tougher if everyone was on the same mission.  In other words, my success in living cheaply is directly connected with compulsive shopaholics and their perceived obsolescence of their stuff.

But there is a deeper thread that's even more disturbing.  It's the concept of "subsidized goods" - the idea that my "good deal" comes on the backs of many other less fortunate people.  The elderly cashier that is working for minimum wage with few or no benefits.  The third world worker that is assembling some electronic product on an assembly line for pennies a day.  Or, as recently brought jarringly into focus, the migrant worker in Ontario working on a chicken farm and sending his meagre earnings back home to his family in Peru.

My $4.00 Second Hand Garden

Then my pathetic attempt to distance myself from the obsessive shopper seems profane against this stark reality of the horrific cost for my "new" extraneous gewgaw, no matter how "cheap" or "recycled" it may be.  Many, many people have contributed to the cycle of goods that churn their way through the queue of consumers in my world, no matter where on that chain I may be.  Just because I shop second hand doesn't mean I'm all that different from any other shopper in my neighbourhood.

And there's the rub.

Some benefit of living in a rich, affluent world with our prolific shopping habits should somehow trickle back into those cultures that indirectly support my cravings for stuff.  So what if I find a great second hand deal on a mahogany table and chairs.  Or a wonderful buy on Nintendo DS at a garage sale.  I am quite thrilled at the $100 bargain on the table or the $20 DS for my kid.  And for a moment I feel penny-wise and proud.

But then there is that indirect subsidy angle that needs to be addressed.

"Made in China"

So here's where I'm at.

Kiva, a non-profit organization that uses the internet to connect microfinance organizations with individuals, allows people like me to lend as little as $25.00 to struggling entrepreneurs  in all different parts of the world where life is a little more than simply going to work and shopping.  Most of these struggling business people are women seeking to earn enough money to feed their families and possibly, if there is any left over, send their kids to school.  My efforts to purchase carefully and cheaply, recycling and reusing someone else's refuse can now not only remove me from the consumer cycle of new products but can also provide a little chump change to assist someone that lives in a totally foreign world to mine.

Like Mushkiniso, a divorced mother that would like to buy some watermelon seeds for her farm.

Or Kalbubu, a 56 yr. old widow with a 7 acre farm in Kyrgyzstan that would like to add to her herd of five cows, two mares and one work horse.

Maybe it'll be enough to keep them off an assembly line.

And that makes my nights in my second hand bed just a little sweeter.

Thursday, January 26, 2012

What you can't find at Walmart

Having lived for the last ten years in a 35 foot sailboat our stuff took some serious downsizing.  Now that we had moved back into a more conventional lifestyle, we needed to rethink furniture.

Where do we sleep?  Eat?  Sit?

Our first choice was to find used.  Recycled.  Maybe even free.

It helps when you can access Kijiji, and one weekend in Winnipeg filled a U-haul with a plethora of beds, dressers, a desk, kitchen table and chairs including two sitting chairs for the living room.

And we spent under $500.00.

Not too shabby for some craftmanship and style.

Saturday, January 7, 2012

A journey is but one thousand steps

Having recently relocated my family from Alaska back to Canada's middle province of Manitoba the steps have at times seemed like one thousand.

The packing, loading and inventory for Canada Customs.

The last minute maintenance on the van.

And the driving.  Lots of driving.  On ice, snow, gravel, and sand.

But every day was a step.  And every step brought progress, and progress brought renewed strength and clarity.

Not unlike the rest of our life - our character, our integrity, our morality.

Our children used to train with a renowned sensai, Katsutaka Tenaka, in Anchorage.

One of his daily mantras he had the kids repeat was

“Watch your thoughts, for they become words.
Watch your words, for they become actions.
Watch your actions, for they become habits.
Watch your habits, for they become character.
Watch your character, for it becomes your destiny.”

Because every step is taking you somewhere.