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Replacement Policy

“What do you mean my coverage has been denied?”

“I’m sorry, Mr. Grey. It’s company policy. This is the third total replacement claim you have made in—what?—a year.”


“Precisely. The company can’t keep covering these losses.”

“But I need the replacement. It is vital for my work.”

“That may be, but that is your problem, not ours. I do not care what business or hobbies you pursue. Those things do not really matter to me. My only concern is protecting the interests of our company.”

“Do not take me for some conjuror of cheap tricks. I am not trying to rob you.”

“Of course not, Mr. Grey, but you must admit that these losses are at the least unusual. Wizards’ staffs are supposed to be the most powerful weapon in Middle Earth, and you have managed to destroy three of them. What are you doing with them anyway that you have destroyed so many?”

“Well, there were encounters with ring wraiths and orcs and other wizards…” Gandalf explained.

“But that is precisely my point. You habitually travel in high-risk zones, and that is why the company can no longer insure you against these losses. Wizards’ staffs are not cheap, you know. They don’t grow on trees.”

“But they are made of wood. They do grow on trees.”

“Technically, yes, but there is all that expensive additional remanufacturing work on them, the application of magic spells and so on. Maybe in future you should consider getting one made of cast iron or stainless steel.”

“But that would ruin the image…”

“I am not interested in your image, Mr. Grey, only in following our company’s policies.”

“Why do you keep calling me Mr. Grey? I am Gandalf the Grey, a renowned wizard, not a man named Gandalf Grey.”

“Gandalf Grey is what is on the policy, but it doesn’t really matter. Your coverage has still been denied. This destruction of insured property has become a nasty hobbit, and it can’t be allowed to continue.”

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A Special Day

Today is a special day. It is my birthday. It is not my 111th birthday, but that milestone does not now seem as impossibly far off as it once did. And I have to admit that Bilbo Baggins does look somewhat like a close relative.

Everything seems to be coming together to properly mark the occasion.

In honour of the day, the sun is shining brightly…on the ice on my driveway and the icy ruts on our unploughed side street. Even though the forecasters have promised us a mild winter here on Canada’s Wet Coast, last night we got our first snow of the year—three inches of the slushy stuff, which, in typical British Columbia fashion, has now turned to ice.

Later in the day, all the kids at my grandchildren’s elementary school are putting on a concert in honour of my birthday. Well, in honour of Someone’s birthday, anyway.

I asked my children, “Have you noticed that the days get darker and darker until my birthday and then the world starts getting brighter and brighter?”

“No,” they said. “We hadn’t noticed that.” Then they added: “Looked at another way, it could be said that your birthday is the darkest day of the year.”

I am starting to wonder why I had children.

I am also starting to suspect that being born near the winter solstice in the shadow of Christmas is not as special as my mother once told me it was.

My sympathies, condolences, and best wishes to all those whose special day is overshadowed by dark days, inclement weather, the rush of life, and more important events. And Merry Christmas!—which, after all, is good news of great joy to all people.



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A Little Rain

Last weekend, I convinced my son-in-law to stand on an aluminum ladder in the rain and cut the tops off the cedar trees in our front yard with an electric hedge trimmer. The extension cord has a number of splices wrapped in electrician’s tape from when I was learning to use the hedge trimmer a few years ago. Which is why I asked my son-in-law to trim the cedar trees.

In my defence, it was only raining slightly. And it was not raining at all when I asked him to do it.

I wanted to get the trees trimmed before the real rain hits. It is supposed to rain every day for the next two weeks, averaging an inch a day. We already have two dogs and two cats.

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Reflections on Halloween

There has been a trend in recent years for some people to decorate their houses for Halloween as elaborately as other people do for Christmas. I don’t get it. Christmas celebrates the birth of Jesus. Even for those who don’t believe strongly in Jesus, the season represents the spirit of love and giving, children and family, life and light. The Halloween decorations celebrate death, fear, suffering, and darkness. Why would people go to great expense and effort to celebrate that? Could it be that the celebration is a deliberate response and affront to Christmas, pointing out that non-Christians can have their own holiday to celebrate?

This Halloween, I went out trick or treating with the grandchildren. We went to our neighbours, most of whom know us. It was a community event.

There was one house that was particularly elaborately decorated and particularly scary, lit only by feeble orange lights. The older grandchildren were afraid to approach it, but the two-year-old matter-of-factly walked up the steps, holding my hand, and rang the doorbell. No one answered.

This was something else that I noticed. Many of the elaborately decorated Halloween houses were only that. No one answered the door, and no one gave out any candy. They seemed to promise something that they didn’t deliver. They celebrated darkness and showed no kindness to children. It was often the houses with no decorations except maybe a single pumpkin and a porch light that gave away the most candy—the homes of the people who preferred celebrating giving and children and light rather than death and darkness.

There was a final occurrence worthy of note. The day after Halloween, my wife and I were driving our car across town when the backseat window on the driver’s side suddenly rolled down. I hit the control button on the driver’s door, and the window rolled up again. But a few seconds later it rolled down again, and this time I could not get it to go back up. We began to wonder if there was a Halloween ghost or some dark and dangerous beast in the back seat playing with the window control. My wife phoned our mechanic, who said that it could be an electrical malfunction. I pulled over and stopped, then opened the back door. It was then that I discovered that a bag of dog food had fallen over and hit the rear window control. Our dog may be annoying, but he cannot fairly be described as a dark and dangerous beast.


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Accept No Substitutes

Last week was student week on Dragons’ Den. Dragons’ Den is a popular CBC television show on which young entrepreneurs try to convince a group of seasoned businesspeople to invest in their products, inventions, or businesses. The presenters last week were all students.

First up was a university student who had invented a cellphone app that can scan textbooks and automatically reduce them to summaries about a fifth the size of the original. He explained that this will reduce the amount of reading that university students will have to do. (For you older readers, it is essentially an electronic version of Coles Notes. For you younger readers, there is no point in explaining what Coles Notes were since you don’t really want to know anyway.)

Second was a student who had developed a drug supplement that would increase alertness and improve cognitive abilities. He said it was a legal alternative to the illegal drugs many university students (up to 29 percent) are now taking to enhance their performance.

The dragons (the seasoned businesspeople) thought the first invention especially was “awesome.” One enthused, “The future of Canada is bright!” All six dragons agreed to invest in the app.

As someone who has earned four degrees without resorting to such methods, I was deeply offended by both pitches. I don’t appreciate people using performance-enhancing drugs and other corner-cutting measures to complete university degrees. These methods are unfair to those who don’t use such methods, and they cheapen university degrees. If you don’t have the intelligence and the work ethic to earn a university degree, you don’t deserve one.

Both inventions are typical of modern attitudes. Too many modern students (like many other people today) don’t want to do the hard work necessary to earn a degree. They are looking for shortcuts, easy answers. They want to do 20 percent of the work and get the same result. They want to spend most of their time partying and then take some pills that will enable them to stay up all night when a report is due or an exam is looming. They want to spend fewer hours working and get the same degree.

But think about the result. Do you really want a doctor or an accountant or an engineer who only studied 20 percent of the required subject matter? Often thorough explanations and fine details are key to really understanding a subject. Do you seriously want to hire someone who has only a partial understanding of his profession? And who knows whether the cellphone app will select the most important information to include in the condensed version? Similarly, do you want to hire someone who puts off doing your work until the last possible moment and then rushes through it while taking drugs?

A few years ago, my daughter was taking a university course. On the first assignment, she received the highest mark in the class, almost 20 percent higher than the second best student.

After the class, another student approached her with an urgent question. The conversation went something like this:

“How did you do it? What’s your secret?” he demanded.

She asked, “What do you mean?”

He said, “What’s your secret for doing so well? For instance, did you attend all the classes?”


“Did you do all the readings?”


“Did you do the supplementary readings?”


“Did you do the practice questions?”


“Did you do the extra, optional study questions?”



There is no secret formula or easy shortcut to success. The road to success requires hard work and a commitment to doing a job completely and thoroughly.

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Unravelling the Mystery II

In my previous blog, I wrote about a seminar I was scheduled to present on “How to write a murder mystery.” Unfortunately, the conference where I was scheduled to present the seminar has been postponed. I am sorry for talking about an event that will now not happen. (There is no word yet on when the conference might be rescheduled.) However, I thought that some parts of that blog might still be of interest, particularly some comments on how I began writing murder mysteries in the first place…

When we got married over 30 years ago, my wife and I developed the habit of reading together, especially just before bed. She said she liked the sound of my voice—it put her to sleep. We read a variety of books, but she liked murder mystery novels and got me intro reading mysteries. I hadn’t read many before that. Over the years, we read most of the classics—Agatha Christie, Arthur Conan Doyle, Dorothy Sayers, Ross MacDonald, Ellery Queen. Having read most of the classics, we moved on to some lesser known writers—and discovered that sometimes there were good reasons they were lesser known.

I read a book review once that said, “This book should not be put down lightly. It should be thrown, with force.” It may be heresy for a writer to say this, but some books are not worth reading—at least, for some people. One night, Jackie and I had just started reading a new mystery novel. We had gotten two or three pages into it when I literally threw the book across the room and said, “This is terrible! I could write a better mystery than that!” And my wife, wonderfully helpful person that she is, said, “Why don’t you?”

 And so I did.


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Unravelling the Mystery

Shortly after I posted this blog about the upcoming “Telling Stories: A Conference for Writers,” it was postponed, for reasons beyond my control. I apologize for this. I will post again if and when the conference is rescheduled. 


For more information about the conference, go to http://mennonitemuseum.org/category/upcoming-events/