Category Archives: Inspiration

Amassing Wealth By Spending

Charging Bull Statue, sometimes known as the Wall Street Bull (wikipedia)
Charging Bull Statue, sometimes known as the Wall Street Bull (wikipedia)

Apparently many of us in this wealthy nation agree with our Prime Minister that if we spend enough money, there will be endless sunny days ahead. Given that, according to the TD Bank, Canada’s deficit for the current fiscal year could be $34 billion, and the debt load of individual Canadians has jumped upward again, we must be well on our way to a state of exquisite euphoria. Possibly I’m experiencing some puzzlement at this thinking because I grew up under the influence of parents who lived through the Great Depression and weren’t aware of this “amassing wealth by spending” formula.

Having some experience with life’s evasive curve balls, I’m inclined to agree with Aldous Huxley’s observation “reality doesn’t cease to exist just because we ignore it.” Anyone living a high roller life style based on high limit credit cards could benefit from reading “Great by Choice. Uncertainty, Chaos and Luck: Why some thrive despite them all.” Based on unstinting research, authors Jim Collins and Morton T Hanson offer a perspective that would likely be disconcerting to those at the highest echelons of most governments, and also some deep in debt citizens. They suggest “the dominant pattern of history is not stability but instability and disruption.” They contend we need to expect chaos and upheaval in our lives, and plan for them.

Collins and Hanson compare the strategies of highly successful companies operating in turbulent conditions, with others that have achieved only mediocre results in similar circumstances. It’s when they step away from the corporate world and examine the strategies of 2 polar expeditions that their findings and recommendations become fascinating and useful at a personal level.

In June, 1910, two rival expeditions set out for the South Pole, one under the leadership of Roald Amundsen and the other led by Robert Falcon Scott.

Amundsen’s philosophy is succinctly captured by his statement “Victory awaits him who has everything in order. Luck, people call it. Defeat is certain for him who has neglected to take the necessary precautions in time. This is called bad luck.”

Amundsen’s preparation fully backs up his words. To condition his body, he rode 2000 miles on a bike. He lived with the Inuit to learn about surviving in extreme cold weather. Knowing he might be forced to eat food to which he wasn’t accustomed, he ate raw dolphin meat. He enlisted expert, well conditioned skiers for the expedition and used dogs because they were suited to harsh polar conditions. Also, he could shoot penguins and seals to feed the dogs. For the crew he took along plenty of extra food and set up 7 depots. He made a decision to travel 20 miles every day, when the sun was shining and also in snow and cold wind. Along the trail he erected 6 foot high cairns as markers for the return journey.

Scott followed a less rigorous, less disciplined approach to preparation. He didn’t require his crew to become proficient on skis. He chose ponies and motorized sleighs to haul supplies. All feed for the ponies needed to be hauled. Because, unlike dogs, they sweated, they needed to be dried with blankets. The ponies didn’t have the stamina and died along the way. The engines on the motorized sleighs cracked in the frigid temperatures. When the ponies and motorized sleighs gave out, the men needed to haul the sleighs. Scott had not taken extra food so there weren’t sufficient calories for the more strenuous labour. He set up only 2 depots.

Roald Amundsen & his dog team at the South Pole (
Roald Amundsen & his dog team at the South Pole (

Amundsen arrived at the South Pole on December 14, 1911, Scott on January 17, 1912. On the return trip, Scott and 4 men died due to starvation, only 10 miles from the next depot. Amundsen and his entire crew returned safely and had actually gained weight.

Collins and Hanson point out that like Amundsen, the best corporations understand there will be unanticipated, potentially calamitous difficulties. They plan for these “Black Swan” events with such measures as building a substantial contingency fund that enable them to survive and even thrive, while other companies are failing.

Unfortunately, our politicians may not choose to follow this advice. I do believe though that each of us can benefit by evaluating our borrowing and spending, and thereby ensure we have control of our family budget. Meticulous planning and preparation will give us balance, decrease stress and create greater satisfaction in life.

On Guard For Canada

Remembrance Day 2014 in Hedley, BC
Remembrance Day 2014 in Hedley, BC

Listening to the bagpipes and watching the aging veterans in uniform, I always experience a tugging at the heart on Remembrance Day. They’re a reminder that during the 20th century our troops fought with valor and tenacity against the forces of Kaiser Wilhelm, then Hitler. They stood on guard against the aggressions of Stalin and his descendants, then served with distinction in Afghanistan. Given the successful track record against degenerate aggressors, it’s tempting to become complacent and believe our nation is secure.

The Procession of the Trojan Horse in Troy by Giovanni Domenico Tiepolo
The Procession of the Trojan Horse in Troy by Giovanni Domenico Tiepolo

Times have changed radically and the dangers we face today are not always physical. Although it may seem unrelated, the numerous malicious Facebook responses to Andrea DeMeer’s column a couple of weeks ago alerted me to an insidious enemy already deep inside our defense lines. It’s strategy for penetrating our borders is eerily similar to that of the Greeks when they built a wooden horse and left it as a “gift” at the doors to Troy. The citizens of Troy brought the horse inside the city’s impregnable walls. That night they slept soundly, believing the Greek siege had ended and their enemy had finally been thwarted. As is well known, while they slept, Greek warriors poured from inside the horse, opened the city gates for their army, and ransacked the city.

In her column Andrea wrote about being groped outside the Princeton court house. She could have named the groper but chose not to. Even so, a number of Facebook goons launched a vicious tirade of hateful comments against her. Their assault is troubling because it suggests there is a contingent of individuals committed to shredding the values and fabric of our society.

I realize that one local, seemingly isolated incident does not in itself portend disaster. If we consider events across our nation though, we might come to the uncomfortable conclusion that Canada is under attack from advocates of morally destructive thinking. The murder of an innocent teenage girl in Abbotsford last week is a recent example of evil stalking our nation.

History is replete with examples of complacent societies falling prey to destructive forces. J.D. Unwin, the eminent British anthropologist studied 80 civilizations spanning some 3,000 years. He wrote that “In 100 per cent of the cases, when these civilizations fell, it was because they abused the freedoms they had. They no longer honoured families, values deteriorated, people turned to immoral ways and crime abounded.”

Unlike an attack in a conventional war, we cannot dispatch an army against this aggressor. Who will defend us and how will it be done?

Some years ago historian and diplomat George F. Kennan expressed similar concerns for America. He wrote, “in the west, both in the traditions of Christianity and Judaism, we were brought up to feel individual responsibility. There is in the U.S. no one to hold people to that today. Churches have lost the power to do so, the state cannot attempt to do so, and our two political parties would not know how to begin to do so. They cater to what is basest in the American electorate.” The venomous rhetoric employed by both candidates in the 2016 U.S. election makes it clear there has been significant further deterioration since Kennan’s time. Anyone observing the Canadian scene might agree that we too are moving inexorably in a similar direction.

Edmund Burke said, “The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing.” We cannot expect that our government will push back against the forces seeking to destroy our social structures and the values that undergird our way of life. Their foremost objective is to be re-elected.

I do not meant to suggest that all is lost. It is encouraging that some readers have supported Andrea DeMeer with positive Facebook comments. I was also heartened at reading the supportive letter to the editor penned by Hedley resident Kim English.

People like this understand that when a man gropes a woman and other men applaud, we cannot just stand by and shake our heads in disapproval. On Remembrance Day we will honour those who fought heroically to defend our way of life. When we sing “O Canada, we stand on guard for thee,” we need to remind ourselves to support those who express views that attract the ire of the faceless denizens of the internet underworld.

World Series Provides Lesson For Life

Original caption: General view of Forbes Field, home of the Pittsburgh Pirates. October 1966 Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, USA
Original caption: General view of Forbes Field, home of the Pittsburgh Pirates. October 1966 Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, USA

With baseball’s World Series approaching, hordes of loyal Canadians are once again placing faith in the hometown Toronto Blue Jays. I’m not one of them, even though I’m aware die-hard Jay fans may deem me to be unpatriotic, possibly even treasonous. I just can’t dredge up the fervour of my friend Abe who complains to his wife when they are invited out on a Jays game day.

For me baseball lost much of its mystique when the Brooklyn Dodgers moved to L.A. at the end of the 1957 season. Almost since childhood, I experienced a sense of awe and near reverence for them. Each year I hoped Duke Snyder, Jackie Robinson and Roy Campanella would lead a winning crusade against the hutzpah of the mighty New York Yankees. I got my wish only once, in 1955.

Recently my interest in baseball was somewhat rekindled by Jim Reisler’s, “The Best Game Ever”, an account of the 1960 World Series that matched the fabled, trophy rich Yankees against the underdog Pittsburgh Pirates. “Cinderella” teams like the Pirates still excite and inspire me, even though they aren’t likely to win the championship. I like them for their grit and unwillingness (or inability) to acknowledge that their soaring hopes will be dashed in the end.

The Yankees came with a proud history. Their teams had already won 18 Series, beginning in 1923. The Pirates had last reached the famed pinnacle of baseball success 35 years ago. They had no players of heroic stature to give them the resolve to battle legendary superstars like outfielders Mickey Mantle and Roger Maris, catcher Yogi Berra, and pitcher Whitey Ford. The magical Yankees had a reputation for finding a way to win. The lowly Pirates could have wondered if, in placing them in the hands of this formidable team, fate had decided to punish them for some forgotten misdeed in their less than stellar past.

In spite of the intense psychological pressure that came with playing New York, the Pirates refused to quake or crack. They didn’t think of quitting even when they went scoreless in two games. They didn’t despair at the knowledge Yankee sluggers were hitting more home runs, 10 in total, compared to their 4. At times the lethal bats of the Yankees were driving in runs almost at will, seeming to portend impending disaster for the less powerful Pirates. Still they refused to fold.

I pay attention to the world of sports, at least in part, because at times there are lessons I can apply in my own life. In this David and Goliath contest, I’m impressed by the Pirates’ capacity and will to battle tenaciously against a vastly more talented team. I’m reminded of the words of a black actress who had grown up in a big city ghetto. Personal experience had convinced her that “it’s always too soon to quit.” This is particularly true when we face challenges in health, relationships, finances or employment. As a friend once told me, “something unexpected can happen to change the odds.”

In this epic contest the Yankees had 91 hits to the Pirates 60. Their team batting average was .336. The Pittsburgh average was a meager .256. Mantle’s personal average was .400. Berra batted .318 Howard’s average was .462.

The Pirates hit a lot of singles. They benefited from solid pitching and fielding, and an unflinching determination to battle on to the last inning and the umpire’s final “out!” At the end of the sixth game, the series was tied at 3 games each. Compared to New York’s hefty margins in their wins, the Pirates margins seemed anemic.

Now, in the seventh and final game, the Yankees had tied the score in the first half of the ninth inning. The pressure was intense as the Pirates’ second baseman Bill Mazeroski strode purposefully to the plate. He was not known as a home run threat, but his bat connected solidly and he smashed a rising line drive toward the left field fence. Fans watched, scarcely breathing, as the ball soared upward and over the wall, the only game 7 “walk off” home run in World Series history. The Pirates erupted in wild jubilation at having won. The shocked Yankees stood in disbelief.

Later Mickey Mantle said, “We scored 55 runs to their 27. The best team lost.” In baseball, and in life, “it’s always too soon to quit.”

Mazeroski's Home Run
Mazeroski’s Home Run

Three Donuts

Left to Right: Jeremy (my son), Neil (a friend) & myself. The donuts were already consumed.
Left to Right: Jeremy (my son), Neil (a friend) & myself. The donuts were already consumed.

At the wedding of our grand daughter Jordana this summer, the caterers provided large platters piled high with freshly made glazed donuts. This apparently was in deference to the groom, a Mountie. Because I find donuts virtually irresistible, we don’t have them in our home. I later confessed to Linda I’d eaten three. She didn’t express even minimal empathy when I had a restless night.

Half a dozen beer might have been more beneficial than the donuts, but Dr. Rashid Buttar would not approve of either. In “9 Steps to Keep the Doctor Away”, he offers an extensive program for optimal health. Admittedly, he’s somewhat of a “no fun guy.” “Cut out all pastries,” he admonishes the reader, then adds, without apology, “also no processed foods, no sugar, no soft drinks.” He would disapprove of virtually every food that rates close to a 10 out of 10 on my personal list of favourite meals. Pyrogies, for example, and mashed potatoes. Both with gravy. Add to this mix Linda’s home made buns and cookies. And frozen Wild Black Cherry yogurt. See what I mean when I say he’s a no fun guy?

According to Dr. Buttar, by faithfully staying away from his forbidden list we promote the cleansing of the body and achieve more robust health. As should be expected, he unabashedly advocates eating only organic and drinking no coffee or alcohol.

A very small percentage of individuals possess the wisdom and discipline to live in the manner prescribed by Dr. Buttar. I do not qualify for membership in this elite minority of Super Persons. For me, healthy habits are difficult to develop. Unhealthy ones are difficult to discard. However, last year I was becoming aware of the excessive toll time was exacting on my body. This prompted me to pick up Dr. Buttar’s book. It was time to cease being complacent, believing my body could single handedly cope with the various additives in our food and toxins in the air and water.

In spite of grumbling about Dr. Buttar’s stringent program, I quickly realized he does offer interesting and helpful counsel concerning exercise, meditation or prayer (he isn’t fussy about which form we choose), cleansing the body of toxins, drinking plenty of water, and more. He also urges us to laugh often, so maybe I’m unfair in saying he’s a no fun guy.

I noted that some prominent U.S. physicians have roundly condemned Dr. Buttar, but I wasn’t troubled by this. How could I argue with an approach that preaches prevention rather than waiting for an illness to strike and then being given a prescription that might have unwelcome side effects?

An experience about a dozen years ago helped me give the 9 Steps a fair evaluation. My back was seriously injured in a case of medical malpractice and the medical profession had no remedy. My MD prescribed powerful pain killers that induced suicidal thoughts. At night I sat on the floor of our livingroom, thinking about throwing myself under the wheels of a dump truck. My other thought was a desire to break the legs of the man who had so cavalierly performed a maneuver whose disastrous outcome he should have foreseen. “We didn’t know what to do with you,” the MD told me later.

By the time the problem was somewhat corrected, permanent damage had occurred and my physical strength was depleted. I pretty much needed to start over.

A personal trainer convinced me to get serious about stretches and exercise. Linda joined me in this. Now, before breakfast, we stretch and exercise with the fervour of an 8th century monk. Well, that may be embellishing somewhat, but we rarely make exceptions, even on Christmas morning and on our birthdays. I don’t claim we enjoy it, just that for us it’s necessary.

Why the emphasis on exercise? “It causes a more efficient use of sugar,” Dr. Buttar says. “Also, it decreases blood pressure and heart rate. It increases lean body mass and strengthens the immune system. It increases range of movement, recovery and stamina.” Oh yes, it also enhances sex drive.

It’s generally accepted by medical people that nutrition and physical activity play a significant role in preventing cancer, stroke, heart attack, diabetes and other health issues. I am careful, but also human. If there is another Mountie wedding, I may still establish a new personal donut consumption record.

He Still Lives Mightily

John Merriman of Keremeos, BC
John Merriman of Keremeos, BC

After our conversation with 97 year old John Merriman in his Keremeos home, Linda was reminded of counsel offered by the ancient Israeli King Solomon. In his Old Testament book Ecclesiastes, Solomon urged “whatever your hand finds to do, do it mightily.” John has certainly packed a lot of living into his years. He lived in a time when men doing physical work often needed to contend with daunting expectations and challenges. His lean, still robust frame and resolute attitude suggest the inner steel required in those early unforgiving decades.

John was born near Des Moines, Iowa, then at age 5 was taken by his parents to England. In 1927 the family emigrated to Canada and settled on a farm in Birch Hill, Saskatchewan. Here he developed a rugged work ethic. “I clipped sheep, castrated hogs and worked on machinery,” he said. “I was mechanically inclined.”

Later, as a young man I got a job on a farm working for $100 a year.” According to “Stories by John Merriman”, a book written by a great grand daughter, he had a deep religious experience during this time and it shaped the rest of his life.

He subsequently worked on a road building operation. “We were cutting spruce timbers into cord wood, using swede saws, cross cut saws and axes. This is where I first saw a man working with a chain saw. Two men with a cross cut saw could buck logs faster than he could.”

They were working in muddy terrain and often up to 4 layers of logs needed to be laid down. “The earth sucked them under,” he explained. “Somewhere there is probably still a D6 cat buried in the mud out there.”

On a sawmill job he displayed resolve and steady nerves. “A man had his hand cut off by a big saw,” he remembered. “We applied a tourniquet and bandaged the wound. I put him in my car and we set off to the nearest doctor. Every few miles my car came to a stop. The points were corroded so I’d file them. When we met a police car, I stopped in the middle of the road so he couldn’t pass. We put the man in his car and I returned to the mill. All work had ceased because no one would go near the hand still lying there. I buried it.”

In 1942 he enlisted in the Canadian army and was assigned to the Signal Corps. “They paid me $1.10 a day. The food wasn’t so good though, mutton day after day.”

They were each given a “house wives” kit and expected to darn their own socks, or pay for new ones. “As a boy I had watched my mom darn,” he said, “so I could figure out how to do it. Most of the men smoked. I chewed snuff which cost me 10 cents a can. It damaged my teeth and gums though and when it went up to 75 cents, I quit.”

In Italy the truck he was driving was hit by German artillery. It burned up and he suffered burns to his face and arms. “They covered the burns with vaseline and put me in a tent with other disabled men. The tent smelled so bad the food was delivered to the door in a tub and left there. Some men had lost their arms and we helped them eat.”

While John was away, his father lost the family farm due to medical bills. John had saved his army pay, and upon discharge he bought another farm so his father could be on the land again. John began putting together a mill business and also a very successful trucking and construction company.

In March 1945 he went to the local improvement office to pay his taxes. Here he met Doris. “I never had time to fool around, so I married her in June,” he said. They had seven children, and enjoyed 60 years together before she passed away.


Now, deep in retirement he remains active. In 1989 he began driving for the Citizens Patrol. In recent years he has been driving people to medical appointments, to buy groceries, etc. He looks after the 50-50 draws at OAP functions. “After you’re 90,” he said, “they give you a free membership.”

Today John Merriman’s strong hands continue to find things to do, and he does them mightily.

Fulfillment From Service To Community

Art at anti-SE2 rally
Art at anti-SE2 rally

 With children back in classrooms and the benign sunny days of summer largely a fond memory, autumn is a good time to make a decision that will reward us with deep satisfaction and fulfillment. Experience has demonstrated to Linda and myself, and to many others, that being active in our community can stir up a surprising sizzle of adventure. Of the approximately 80 individuals with whom I’ve had conversations for this space over the past 2 years, most have been, or still are ardent contributors to their community. Whether helping in a thrift store, driving seniors to appointments, or rallying to a larger issue, whatever their age, I have found them to be upbeat and vibrant.

Linda and I have learned that being active in our community brings useful insights, powerful memories and lasting friendships. While living in Abbotsford in the 1990’s, a U.S. corporation proposed to construct a highly polluting gas fired power plant, Sumas Energy 2 (SE2), just across the border from our community. Due to the prevailing air flow, most of the plant’s dirty emissions would migrate to our side, endangering the health of humans, animals and crops. Citizens were aghast.

SE2 applied to the National Energy Board (NEB) for permission to build a power line across Abbotsford to access the B.C. Hydro power grid. Our provincial government could have opposed this but in spite of many promises during the election campaign, it remained on the sidelines, mute and indifferent.

With hordes of SE2 and NEB attorneys ready to advise and direct the proceedings, Linda and I, like most in our community, decided this issue was well beyond our experience and capability.

The NEB invited citizens to participate in the hearings as intervenors but when the local newspaper published the list of those who had signed up, there were only 17. Linda said, “that’s not enough. We’ll have to get involved.” She meant I would have to sign up and she would support me.

Several letters to the local newspaper expressed the prevailing gloomy sentiment. “Don’t waste your time. The Yanks always win.”

Linda and I invited 8 friends to our home to discuss the issue. I asked city Councillor Patricia Ross and future mayor Mary Reeves to come and tell us what they knew. Several concerned individuals we didn’t know phoned and asked to attend. At a subsequent meeting a week later, we had 21 people, mostly strangers, in our livingroom, some sitting on the floor. Desperate to create some momentum, I said, “would anyone object to setting a goal of 10,000 letters from this community to the NEB?” I offered to write a form letter people could use.

The group enthusiastically endorsed the idea. We came to be known in the media as the SE2 Action Group. MLA John van Dongen supplied paper and the use of his photo copier. Several businesses made the letter available. Attendance at the meetings in our home swelled, with many people willingly sitting on the floor or standing. Our little group became a potent catalyst that gave people hope. Many citizens picked up copies of the letter and distributed them. The Berry Festival provided a booth, and there were line ups to sign the letter. This also happened at a huge community rally. The big city media took notice and showed up.

In the SE2 Action Group, close friendships were developing. We were coalescing into a tightly knit bunch, growing bolder in our strategies and tactics. For Linda and me it was fascinating to observe the community gaining hope and coming together. Defeatist letters to the editor ceased.

The NEB came to town and hundreds of citizens crowded into a large hall. So many had signed up as intervenors, the hearings required several days. We had reached our 10,000 letter goal but even so, NEB staffers cautioned us not to expect a favourable decision. To everyone’s amazement and SE2’s consternation, the Board ruled in our favour. Then the Federal Appeals Court also sided with us.

Countless citizens had worked tirelessly to accomplish what many had considered impossible. We were rewarded with feelings of deep satisfaction, fulfillment, and incredible exhilaration. Also with lasting friendships and an understanding that the impossible is possible.

Autumn is a great time to get out of the eddy of our own complacency. A time to begin reaping the rewards that come when we do something positive for our community.

Rhianfa Riel Of Crimson Tine Players

Rhianfa Riel
Rhianfa Riel

Rhianfa Riel had her home painted a deep purple, and the front door yellow. “I like to come home to bright colours every day after work,” she told Linda and me during a conversation in our home. Initially it seemed a tad bizarre but we would learn that her decorating preferences are not motivated solely by a fondness for radiant colours. They reflect an aspect of her life that most of us would attempt to keep secret.

Rhianfa and her husband Martin moved to Princeton in 2008 after working at a youth camp on Gambier Island for 8 years. In time they were hired by the Copper Mountain Mine. “That gave us the opportunity to have our own home,” she said smiling broadly. “It was something I had thought would never happen.” With 2 children (twins), a stable income and a comfortable home, their neighbours likely considered them a typical middle class family. The positive, upbeat aura about Rhianfa makes this an easy assumption. There was however, a troubling shadow constantly lingering over the family.

I was diagnosed with chronic depression in 2004,” Rhianfa said. “For years I felt victimized, frustrated, angry, and impotent to do anything about it. At times I was overcome by rage.”

Most of us know little about depression. It’s tempting to believe it’s a condition we can overcome by an act of the will and adopting a positive mindset. “It isn’t like that,” Rhianfa assured us. “Depression isn’t a choice. It isn’t just a bad day. It isn’t something you can talk yourself up from or out of. Mostly it’s a feeling of great sadness that clings to you and tries to pull you down into a dark hole.”

Listening to her, it became evident to me that depression has no compassion, no willingness to accept a truce, and no redeeming qualities. It crops up when it chooses and runs amuck in the mind. It can ravage a day, even a life.

For Rhianfa the healing of her life began with medication. Then she found a couple of knowledgeable, understanding counsellors. Also, several allies were already standing by her. “Martin believed in me. He listened and he told me he loved me. He is the reason I was able to deal with the rage. Also, my faith in God buoyed me up. It taught me I was loved unconditionally.”

Martin & Rhianfa Riel at their front door.
Martin & Rhianfa Riel at their front door.

Even now, depression comes to do battle with her psyche and emotions virtually every day. Fortunately she’s not apathetic or complacent.

Several years ago I joined the Crimson Tine Players,” she told us. “It’s an outlet for tension and creativity.”

They write the scripts and make the costumes and props. “We do 2 big performances each year. Also occasionally we present a murder mystery at the Vermillion Forks Restaurant. We write the scripts for that ourselves.”

Rhianfa Riel looking out the stage curtains. (photo supplied by Rhianfa Riel).
Rhianfa Riel looking out the stage curtains. (photo supplied by Rhianfa Riel).

Theatre has become a mainstay, a means of giving back. Every 8 weeks she takes 4 youths to watch a live production at the Kelowna Arts Studio. They pay their admission, she buys the gas.

This year we joined Theatre B.C. and entered the OZone Festival. We performed “Rabbit Hole”, a Pulitzer prize winning drama. It was serious and quite difficult, but we did well.”

She is president of Crimson Tine Players and sees it as an opportunity to challenge herself and help others develop confidence and social skills. “I’ve never been in the forefront of anything before. Now I’m meeting people from outside my comfort zone, from every philosophy and walk of life. Theatre is a great way to explore our potential. Anyone can learn to act.”

Rhianfa has practical counsel for individuals besieged by depression, discouragement, loneliness and other difficult conditions. It is, in fact, excellent advice for all of life. She said, “don’t fight it alone, and don’t give up. Eat well, sleep well, exercise, be with people, and chase sunshine. Practise kindness for no reason but kindness. Pray, or find some way to feed your soul. And, allow yourself to be loved.”

At the end she said, “I hold on to my family, to the love I have for them. I make that my reason to keep going. When it gets hard I thank God the hard days aren’t every day.”

A purple house and yellow front door probably aren’t essential for healing, but getting help and taking action are.

Princeton Traditional Music Festival

Jon & Rika in front of their home in Princeton, BC. Joyfully expressing in song their enthusiasm for music.
Jon & Rika in front of their home in Princeton, BC. Joyfully expressing in song their enthusiasm for music. (click on photo for close up)

Jon Bartlett and Rika Ruebsaat don’t receive even token remuneration for the hundreds of hours and enormous energy they devote to the Princeton Traditional Music Festival. Listening to them talk about the event and the underlying sizzle of excitement in their voices, Linda and I realized there must be compelling reasons behind their uncommon dedication. Jon gave us at least a glimpse of this when he said, “We want to recover the traditional music of B.C. Music that reflects the experiences of men in logging and fishing camps, of miners, Irish immigrants, French Canadians, and many others.” For them much of the reward stems from the joy they see in musicians and attendees.

Both Jon and Rika are immigrants to Canada. Rika came as a child in 1952. Jon arrived at age 21 in 1969. Their pre Festival lives could hardly have followed a more apt trajectory as a preparation for the present significant enterprise.

As a young woman, Rika’s first career was in theatre. “I began studying theatre at UBC,” she recalled. “Before I was done though, I quit the program, went to England and hitchhiked around Europe. I connected with a bilingual theatre group and we performed in Europe and Canada.” For her it was “an absolute passion, totally engaging and transformative.”

Jon had been a paralegal in England, frequently investigating railway accidents. He also did pre-trial court work. On arriving in Canada he initially followed a similar career path. Later he supported himself, in part, by singing in Gas Town.

Each had a consuming interest in music and this led them independently to the Vancouver Folk Circle. It was here that their relationship and collaboration began.

Jon Bartlett & Rika Ruebsaat
Jon Bartlett & Rika Ruebsaat

Initially it was a relationship of respect and suspicion on my part,” Rika said. “Jon was demanding and challenging. You couldn’t just say something. He expected you to explain. I found that attractive.”

For Jon, Rika met an important expectation. “I couldn’t be with someone who wasn’t political,” he said.

Their story suggests they were restless, always seeking involvements they considered important.

We thought there would be a big change,” Jon said, “a revolution.” He meant a revolution in the thinking of Canadians. “We were hoping for people to wake up and realize we need to work together to make the world a better place. We were looking for decency in public life. We wanted people to accept responsibility for their own actions and not just fall into something. To make a choice. The revolution didn’t happen.”

Combining their talents they forged a potent partnership, performing on stages across Canada, including school class rooms. For some time they sang and told stories “from around the province” on the CBC radio program, “North by Northwest”. They also wrote 2 books. One was short listed for the prestigious Roderick Haig- Brown prize and also the Lieutenant Governor’s Medal for Historical Writing.

They settled in Princeton and in 2007 were invited to perform on the Racing Days Weekend. “We had so much fun,” Rika remembers, “we wanted to do a festival. Over the years we had connected with a world wide circle of musicians. We invited our musician friends to come.”

Although they don’t get paid, over the years their friends have responded enthusiastically. “We do fund raising,” Jon said. “Also we receive some support from the town, the Gaming Branch, the RDOS and the federal government, but not enough to pay performers. We provide billets and we also give them food vouchers to local restaurants.”

For the musicians, it’s a total immersion,” Rika observed. “They love it. It provides an opportunity to perform music that comes from the community, the kind of music you make with your family. It’s music you might hear through the wall.”

Linda and I were deeply impressed by the sense of mutual respect, the commitment and the incurable optimism we saw in Jon and Rika.. They were lavish in their praise for the committee that has worked with them since early this year to make the coming festival a huge success.

Although it’s named the Princeton Traditional Music Festival, it really is for the entire Similkameen Valley. Actually, the province and beyond. There will be at least 140 performers, joyfully singing, playing instruments and telling stories. It’s a major musical event, running from August 19 to 21. Admittance is free. A great gift to us all!



Grads Can Learn From Pro Athletes

grad symbols
grad symbols

While thinking of students graduating this month, I was reminded of the words of renowned former basketball coach John Wooden of UCLA. He said, “if you’re through learning, you’re through.”

Grads now bursting enthusiastically from the halls of learning have laid a solid foundation for their future. My experience suggests though that most of their important life education still lies ahead. Looking back, I realize that although my BA in political science and sociology opened doors of employment, I still had plenty to learn. I did not yet have the thinking necessary to do important things.

Later, when I was working with adolescents sent to us by a judge, I sometimes asked a particularly obstreperous boy or girl, “do you want to do something important with your life?” Usually the answer was hesitant, but almost invariably it was “yes, I do.” Then I asked “do you know how to do something important?” Without fail, the response was “no, I don’t.”

I began reading the writings of individuals who were highly successful. I wanted to know how their thinking, attitude and actions differed from mine. Although I’d never had the talent, speed or strength to excel in sports, I became intrigued by those who do. I discovered several coaches and athletes who have achieved high levels of success and have written about their philosophy and practices. From them I gleaned concepts and ideas that helped me to more ably answer the “how to” question for myself and also for the youths we worked with.

Coaches and players at the professional level receive remuneration the rest of us can only dream of. They’re also showered with the adulation of adoring (but fickle) fans. They know there is fierce competition for their positions. Coaches can be fired and players traded if they don’t perform at an exceptionally high level.

Rick Pitino, photo by

Rick Pitino, photo by

Rick Pitino has been a winning head coach at the universities of Providence, Louisville and Kentucky. He has also coached the New York Knicks and the Boston Celtics in the NBA. He has never slackened his pace of learning. In “Success Is A Choice”, he says “I’m constantly looking for new role models who can teach me new things.” Like other high achieving coaches he believes little things, focusing on fundamentals, plays a determining role in whether a team will win or lose. He was one of the first coaches in the NBA to emphasize the longer 3-point shot. His books outline much of his “how to” thinking.

Tony Dungy in November 2007 as coach of the Colts, photo from Wikipedia
Tony Dungy in November 2007 as coach of the Colts, photo from Wikipedia

When Tony Dungy was hired as head coach of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in the National Football League, he knew the team’s thinking was dominated by a losing culture. They had won only a handful of games the previous season. In “Quiet Strength”, he tells of his first meeting with the team. To change their thinking, he said “what you focus on is what you will become. I want you to think like a champion.”

Dungy then elaborated on this by saying “Be a pro. Be on time. Do what you are supposed to do, when you are supposed to do it. Not almost all the time. Not most of the time. All the time. No excuses. No explanations!” He built the Bucs into a winning team. Then, in 2006 as head coach of the Indianapolis Colts, he applied the same philosophy and became the first African American coach to win the Super Bowl.

Elite coaches and players study, observe, experiment and risk. In the process they learn to think more creatively. They discover methods that work for them.

Serena and Venus Williams believed their mother when she told them they would become their vision. Even at a young age this thought prodded them to rise early and go to the tennis court with their father before school to practise. Michael Jordan routinely stayed after the team practice and shot baskets. In “Float Like A Butterfly”, Muhammad Ali says “What counts in the ring is what you can do when you’re exhausted. Early in my career I learned to run until I was tired, then run even more. That was when I began to count every mile as extra strength and stamina.”

Muhammad Ali, photo by
Muhammad Ali, photo by

Undoubtedly most Similkameen Valley grads hope to accomplish something significant with their lives. If they commit to continuous learning and focus on worthy goals, they will make their life journey a fulfilling adventure.


A Father’s Challenges & Opportunities



While working with Young Offenders in Hedley, I sometimes said to our staff “the students can close their minds to what we say, but without realizing it, their minds are recording everything we do. It’s as though they have a mental camera running continuously. The images can’t be erased and when the students graduate from our programs, they’ll replay them again and again.” Then I added, “for many of them, we are their only example of how to live productively.”

With Father’s Day approaching, I returned in my own mind to those days. Linda and I had 2 teenage children at that time, and because of my work I felt I had an understanding of how to prevent them from going off the behavioural rails. I was to discover, to my immense chagrin, that I had no magical insights or powers. Quite unexpectedly our 2 beautiful, obedient children began associating with a crowd that embraced partying, smoking drugs and alcohol. Almost over night our previously well ordered lives were thrown into emotional disarray. There were several visits from the police and at times Linda went to bed with tears on her cheeks.

teen in turmoil photo by
teen in turmoil
photo by

Coincidentally, during this period we became acquainted with Herman and Clarissa. Herman had not developed emotional maturity and several times he deserted the family when their teenage daughter and son angered him. In spite of his erratic parenting, he demanded exemplary behaviour from them. Determined to win release from his unreasonable demands, the daughter schemed and in time moved in with a man much older. Not unexpectedly, she was soon pregnant. The son, distraught and bitter, ran away. The family disintegrated and we lost touch with them. I was reminded of Immanuel Kant’s statement, “out of the crooked timber of humanity, no straight thing was ever made.”

Adolescence is frequently a time of upheaval and despair, for both parents and children. The future appears uncertain and bleak. Genuine communication becomes almost impossible. Anyone who has gone through the experience, or is even now in the midst of it, knows how humbling and excruciating it can be.

Fearing our teens would spiral out of control, Linda and I began seeking divine intervention. During one particularly unnerving episode, we went for a walk in the rain and came to the understanding that whatever happened, we wanted our children to know they were loved. We wanted them to have a place of sanctuary in their young fragmented lives. A place of respite to which they could run when they got deeper into the mire than they had intended.

We hoped that by assuring them of our love and providing an atmosphere of stability, we could still be influential in their decisions, even if only by example. In The Road to Character, David Brooks contends that “Example is the best teacher. Moral improvement comes most reliably when the heart is warmed through contact with people we admire and love. This consciously or unconsciously bends our lives to mimic theirs.”

Although I felt vulnerable and inadequate when the issues entered our home, I began to understand that for Linda and our children, I needed to retain an inner sense of equilibrium. My words and demeanor must assure them this time would come to an end and whatever was happening, the family connections would again be strong. Our children needed to know we believed in, them loved them and would wait for them to escape the quicksand that threatened to pull them under.

We didn't have this plaque, but agree with the philosophy. Photo from
We didn’t have this plaque, but agree with the philosophy. Photo from

Looking back now, Linda and I realize the difficult experiences actually came with a bonus. The relationship we had with each other deepened and matured. It gave us greater understanding and compassion for parents with challenging adolescents. Also, when our children look back now they recognize that we didn’t give up and our home was always a place of sanctuary when they needed it. They emerged intact from their time of upheaval and now have jobs and families.

When chaos enters a home, it’s a time for adults to be patient, stable, loving and accepting. If we choose to be strong and stay in the game, the percentages are in our favour. This Father’s Day will be an opportune time for us Dads to renew our resolve to be a positive leader and role model in our family and community.