Sunday, September 21, 2014

Aging Has Some Benefits

As many of you know, I don't often turn down things that are offered for free.  Earlier this year I saw a post online that offered free tickets to the Fifty-Five Plus Lifestyle Show in Ottawa.  I decided to print them off, just in case I had a chance to go when the time came.  The tickets indicated that they were worth $10 each, but I managed to print off one for both my hubby and myself.  On Saturday, we got to use them.

The first thing that happened as we entered the premises was that we were each handed a reusable shopping bag with a few brochures inside. This is the first such bag I've ever had that actually has an outside pocket. I can just imagine how handy that's going to be. The bags were a great idea since they publicize the event so others who see them in use would think about attending next year. They definitely came in handy throughout our visit, since there was so much to pick up at the various booths.  After getting home, I discovered a tag attached, that made it clear that the bag also publicized the company that printed them. I could, for instance, get the Merrickville Karate Club logo printed on some, with more appropriate colours for our club.


Here are some of the things I came home with:
- A magnifying ruler from Phonak
- A shortbread cookie shaped like a wrench, from G.V. Renovations
- A little truck from the Got Junk people
- A notebook and pen from Davidson Hearing Aid Centres and also a package of batteries from them after they cleaned my hearing aid for me.
- A small sylus for using with my tablet, that is also a pen and a flashlight!
- Four assorted pens, and two other notepads.
- Plus the usual assortment of fridge magnets and candy and little chocolate bars.
- And of course, the multitude of brochures, coupons and other reading material I stuffed into the bag they provided.

While there, besides getting my hearing aid cleaned, I got my spine scanned by a chiropractor, to find out some areas of my neck were disintegrating (but I knew that). I also had a good talk with a renovator about my bathroom, and other things that might need doing around my house. I entered a myriad of contests too. Of course that likely means I'll have a few follow up phone calls to deal with. I'm very good at "no" so that's fine.  One will be for a date and time when we can actually go have a free meal somewhere in the east end of Ottawa. It will be cooked on special cookware, that requires no fats or oils. That's supposed to make the food healthier, they say.  Of course then the sales tactics will come into play, but as I said, I have no problem leaving afterwards without committing to anything. It's a little late in life to be investing in new cookware.

While waiting for my hearing aid to be cleaned, we helped ourselves to nice large cups of coffee and tea, and watched part of a performance by a lady dressed if a gold dress, split down the front to the waist.  She was impersonating Marilyn Monroe and even came off the stage for a while to flirt with some of the men in the audience. They did seem to enjoy that. 

Later on we sat though a performance by Wayne Rostad. (I've discovered so many ways to spell his last name that I've settled for the one in the brochure). He managed to get us all to sing somehow, though he did warn us that would happen.  This was the first time I've seen him perform in person, and it was really quite enjoyable.

We were at the Lifestyles show for over 3 hours, and the only cost to us, for all the entertainment, treats and goodies was the $7 parking fee at the Ernst & Young Centre.

That's quite a bargain for such a nice outing.  If you missed it, they have started referring to this as he First Annual Lifestyle Show, and plans for next year are already in the works.  I wouldn't  hesitate to go back.

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Grab the Tiger by the Tail

Last year, for the first time since I started painting, I found myself with no specified day and time to go somewhere to paint each week. I knew that no matter how much I planned to just keep that time period to paint in, I'd probably never get around to it on my own at home, even with the best intentions.  I set myself up with a multitude of projects with deadlines, just to make sure I would continue to paint.

Why that worked so well last year, and not this year, I have no idea.  All I know is I've hardly painted anything in 2014. 

One of the first projects I did last year was sent to a lady with small dogs. It was supposed to be one of hers, and it was followed by several others also given to the owners of the animals. She must have missed seeing me share what I had been painting this year, because back at the beginning of July she posted a photo of a tiger on Facebook, and told me I should paint it. I told her since it was neither her photo, nor mine, I'd have to get permission first.  It was not my intention to paint it, but I didn't mention that. A day or so later, she e-mailed me back with a copy of the permission she had acquired, for me to paint from the photograph. The photo was from the BigCatRescue.org and they said, "Sure, send us a photo of the painting. We would love to see it."  

This past month I started gathering with friends again, to paint one morning each week. I needed a project, and remembered this tiger picture.  I figured, why not?  

 I have been informed that this tiger is one called 
 Shere Khan. He was a big boy (weighing in at about 750lb), and  he loved swimming. He just recently passed away and is greatly missed.You can learn more about him and other beautiful felines at http://bigcatrescue.org/
 
I'm out of practice, and this picture presented me with a few challenges, which is always good. The final product isn't at the same level I left off at last year, but that's what I get for not practicing. Still,  I think, when my youngest grandson has outgrown the bunny I painted him in the past, he might like this for his room.

 Someone suggested it might be too scary, but I don't think so.  What say you?



Tuesday, September 9, 2014

Eggs in Tomatoes

Those of us who grow tomatoes know they can get ahead of you if you aren't careful, so we  are always looking for ways to use them up. I tend not to want to can or freeze them as I don't really grow that many anyway.  I know it's best not to put them in the refrigerator, as the flavour is much better if you don't. We really enjoy fresh tomatoes and have had a lot of toasted tomato sandwiches in recent weeks, as well as a good variety of salads and other dishes that contain tomatoes.  This week I found a new way to use them that I just had to try out.

First you need a tomato that is about 3 inches in diameter.  One of my plants grows beefsteak tomatoes, so I was all set.

Then you need to cut the top off, and hollow out the seeds and pulp.  Put the tomato shell into a small bowl.

Break and egg into another small bowl and add an 1/8 of a teaspoon of dried basil, and a pinch of both salt and pepper.  Beat well, and pour this mixture into the tomato.

Sprinkle the egg with up to a tablespoon of grated Parmesan cheese, if you care to, and replace the lid you cut off the tomato. 

Microwave for 2 minutes on the Roast (7) setting of your microwave. 
 
In my case, I just sprinkled some Parmesan on to give it the flavour, but used nowhere near the tablespoon full. I might next time, or I might just put some mozzarella on it, as I often do with microwaved scrambled eggs.  I didn't do a good job of cutting the irregular top off, so I simply used a piece of wax paper to cover it while cooking, and that worked just fine.  I know basil and tomatoes go together, but I'm not sure if I'll add that next time, but there definitely will be a next time.  I enjoyed this as a breakfast, but I'm sure it could be part of an interesting lunch.

Enjoy.







Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Preparing for Next Year's Tomato Crop

In 1872,  Lewis Carroll wrote, in Through the Looking-Glass and What Alice Found There

"The time has come," the Walrus said,
"To talk of many things:
Of shoes--and ships--and sealing-wax--
Of cabbages--and kings--"

Today I want to talk about saving tomato seeds.

It's easy to go and buy new tomato seeds in the spring and start the plants yourself, or just buy the plants already growing, and ready to pop into your garden. But what if someone gives you a tomato that you can't find seeds for in a regular store, and nobody you know sells the plants?  I had this
happen to me a couple of years ago when I was handed a strange looking tomato to take home, and told that it was a heritage tomato called a Bullsheart.  It wasn't round like most tomatoes I was used to seeing, but more elongated, with a pointy bottom.  Kind of like a Roma, but much bigger.  I found it tasted better than any of the other six varieties that I grew that year, and decided to save the seeds.

Tomato seeds are coated in a gelatinous substance and you have to go through a little procedure before you can dry them out for the
following year.  I cut the tomato in half, around the equator, not end to end, so that it was easy to get at the seeds. I scooped them into a jar, and added an inch of water, then covered the jar, and waited a few days.  The gel dissolved and the good seeds sank to the bottom of the jar. Then I carefully scooped all the stuff that was floating on top out of the jar, and drained what was left through a fine siv. I rinsed the seeds with fresh water until they were nice and clean.  They were then dumped out onto a coffee filter and left to dry several days.

I have planted the seeds I've saved for the past couple of years and am happy to report that this year these plants produced better than any of my other varieties, and I still like their flavour best of all.

Last year I got them planted a bit late, and ended up with a tomato that wasn't ripe by the time the frost came along. I brought it in and kept it until it ripened, holding my breath, afraid it wouldn't or that the seeds would not be viable.  This year I made sure I got them planted in plenty of time, and I'm quite pleased with my self and the results.  I have already started to save the seeds from this years crop, and thought perhaps, even if you didn't get some strange tomato from a friend or a farmer's market, you might like to try it too.

Hmmmm......one of the vendors at a local farmer's market does seem to have a variety of heritage tomatoes.  I should go see if there is something else there I'd like to try this process with.

I may need to dig a large garden next year.

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Smaller Is Not Necessarily Better

When I first moved into this house, 38 years ago, there was no wildlife to be seen in this neighbourhood at all. The only evidence of life, other than humans and plants, was the the early morning sound of a rooster crowing about a block away.

Things have changed.

Keep in mind, I do live in a village, and creatures have to cross roads to get to me. They often have to pass houses with dogs too. Heck, I had one myself for 16 years, but that didn't seem to have any effect.

First we got the deer. They ate my tulips, and later much of my vegetable garden, until I finally gave up trying to grow many of the things they seemed particularly fond of. Then the squirrels came along, and not long after that we had a skunk who walked beneath our bedroom window every night about 11PM. One year there was a groundhog in my neighbour's yard, but he never came over here. I did see a family of ducks walk across my front lawn and through my flower garden once, and I found evidence that a bear had come to visit my apple tree, in the back yard, one other time. A beaver came out of the drain pipe at the end of the street, and chopped down my purple sand cherry bush, despite the fact that I'm a good six blocks from the water.  The raccoons arrived last year, but so far they are more interested in my neighbour's house than mine. I hope it stays that way. The creature that we've had to deal with this month is a chipmunk. 

Squirrels are fine. They may take their share of my apples, but that's okay as I always have more than enough of those. Chipmunks, on the other hand, are nervy little devils. They have been known to scoot between my hubby's legs when he's busy welding. That could startle a person at just the wrong moment. They can also do a lot of damage to vehicular wiring, even if you drive that vehicle every day. Their burrowing activity can cause significant structural damage by undermining foundations, concrete patios, steps, and sidewalks. They may also be destructive to gardens when they dig up and eat bulbs and seeds. They are not something I want hanging around here.

Our house has a garage that was built on later, and this year a chipmunk discovered that there was a narrow crack between the two buildings. It then took on the job of excavating a new home underneath garage floor.  The little critter has dug out a great deal of dirt, which is how we knew what was going on.

First we shoved the dirt back into the hole, but that was a waste of time. Then we stuffed the hole with rocks and even steel wool, which works well for mice, but apparently not for chipmunks. Mice use their teeth, of course, while chipmunks use their front feet.  No matter what we put in the hole, it just dug it back out.

We put out a mouse trap, right in front of where he kept making a hole, and he threw a rock at it to disable it. 

Then we tried filling the hole with cement.  The chipmunk dug under that.

That did it.  It was time to get a live trap.  But just for good measure we filled the hole in one more time.  Then, after spending close to $40 on the trap, there was no sign of the darn critter for several days. My hubby thought perhaps he'd trapped it inside the hole the last time he filled it in, but I figure, if the chipmunk can dig inwards, it can dig itself out too.  It certainly had made a big enough cavity by then, if you went by how much dirt had been thrown out of the hole over time.

We had just felt that the chipmunk was finally gone, one way or another, when suddenly there he was, inside the trap.  But not, of course, until he had dug out a lot more dirt. He has been moved to a new neighbourhood, in the countryside, where he will have to work hard to not only build a new home, but also gather a whole new store of food for the winter.

I do hope this is the end of this story.

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Vacations Altered, Not Spoiled

My vacation is over, and for the third time our intention to get to Nova Scotia has failed.  Not that we have never been there, but in recent years we just don't seem to make it to our planned destination.

The first time we tried, we thought we'd do the Lighthouse Tour along the Atlantic shore of Nova Scotia. We ended up doing what I like to call the All Saints Tour, along the New Brunswick side of the Bay of Fundy.  (St. Stephens, St Andrews, St. George, St John and St Martins).  That was a lovely trip, but we needed to try again to get to Nova Scotia. 

Last year we decided to take the American Route, which we had never done before. We took our time and enjoyed Vermont and New Hampshire, and then the weatherman mentioned a big storm closing in. We thought we'd best get out of the mountains before that happened, and looked east, only to discover there was going to be a big storm out there too.  We looked back towards home, and the weather was going to be fine, so we headed for home and finished off our vacation doing day trips. That was also a lovely vacation, even if not the one we planned.

The thing is, we are getting older, and we want to do the Lighthouse tour before the lighthouses all disappear. They are no longer needed, now that the ships are equipped with all the modern technology....GPS's and such.  Many of the lighthouses have now been decommissioned, and I don't know how long the public can keep them up. Also, this year we had a reliable vehicle, so it seemed a perfect time to make another stab at it.

We were all packed to go, but once again, the weatherman got in the way. Perhaps if technology didn't allow me to see the day by day forecast anywhere I choose to look, we might have just gone and ended up there in the rain. But that would have cost a lot, and would have been no fun. We don't go somewhere to sit in a hotel and watch the rain. We like to explore....outdoors!

With the trip cancelled, we set about amusing ourselves with one of those Staycations you hear so much about.  First we went to Cornwall, and visited with a relative who has recently taken up residence in a retirement home. On the way ate at a favorite little cafĂ© in Morrisburg, run by some humorous older ladies. It's aptly named The Basket Case and I highly recommend it. On the way home, we decided to try the new Shirtless Joe's, in Kemptville. That was a long full day away from home and definitely vacation time for me since I didn't have to cook or clean up afterwards.

Then we went in the opposite direction, to Picton, by way of highway 15. It was a beautiful day and we had plenty of time to view the scenery along the way as we found a great deal of this route was under construction. We discovered that it must be part of the job requirements to be a young blonde female if you want to work as a flag person these days.

The annual craft show is held on a Thursday at the Picton Fair grounds, as the venders all head to Barrie for the long weekend. (Mmmm....we haven't been up there for a long time. Maybe next year...if we don't get to go to Nova Scotia for some reason.)

The craft show has 200 vendors, in three buildings and also lots of tents set up outside.  The first time we went it took us a long time to work our way through the offerings as so many of them were new to us. This time it didn't take nearly as long, and we didn't find anything to bring home.  Well, I did see something I would love to have had, but I somehow managed to talk myself out of spending the money for something so purely ornamental.


We took the ferry across when we left, and followed the St Lawrence route back to Kingston. After supper at Montanas,  we looked up a friend who runs a karate dojo, and then another who used to be one of our own students.








 

On Saturday we took in the Crosby Flea Market. If you ever want to stock up on books, that's the place to go. Many of their other items are also lower in price than you'll find them for anywhere else too. I picked up a few things on this visit, including a lovely tea set for just $5.  As you can see, it goes perfectly with my kitchen.  Who can resist a bargain like that? We tried to eat at the nice restaurant that used to be in Portland, but it's been closed. We settled for some fries from a chip wagon and then spent the afternoon geocaching along the route home.

The next day we went to Rideau Carleton for dinner and the races. This is something we enjoy doing, but it was the first time we were ever unable to get a program for the races.  Somehow we managed to win every race we bet on anyway. The waiter brought us a program that someone else left behind, and we didn't do nearly as well with all that vital information at hand. Once again, too much information managed to spoil things a bit.

Monday the weather was nice so we decided to go off geocaching again, this time along the St Lawrence between Maitland and Brockville, before stopping for supper in at Swiss Chalet in Brockville.


Wednesday we took the 1000 Islands Cruise from Rockport.  This quaint village was once the hub of activity in an era when millionaires made their summer homes amongst the islands. These days it seems to attract artists and tourists.













 
We had a 2 hour stop over to explore Boldt Castle on Heart Island. Things have sure changed there since the last time we visited.


 Much more restoration work has been done and it's still ongoing.

 You can now go all the way up to the 4th floor, though the top two floors look much like the castle did when we went before.










The bottom two floors are all nicely restored and furnished now.










I was a little disappointed that we could no longer go up into the old "Playhouse" but I think there are likely too many people now to make that possible, traffic wise, on those narrow stairways.








The following day we took our oldest grandson geocaching, as he's been asking to go. We started him on this 6 years ago, when he was only 3. He gets exclusive use of my old GPS now, and really seems to enjoy the experience. We stopped in Manotick for Pizza part way through the day.

We had one day to do our own thing, as my hubby went off golfing with one of his brothers and a friend, while I joined a friend of mine for tea at her home.

 The following day we decided to visit our favorite local Chinese buffet, The King Star, on Hwy 15,  and got home just in time to receive visitors from Cornwall.

We finished off the vacation by going to brunch at a place we had heard about but never been to before. Woody's Place, in North Augusta. There was a wide variety of things to choose from, though you wanted to leave room for some of the very tempting desserts that were on display on the bar. 

I had a great vacation as I hardly ever had to cook, and I certainly didn't do any housework during those two weeks. Of course, I'm scurrying around now trying to put the place back in order. 

As it turned out, the weatherman was wrong. Friends in the east insist the weather was fine and we could have gone after all. But we don't regret our decision. We enjoyed our explorations, our socializing and eating entirely too much food.  Staycations work just fine.

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Samplicious: Worth the Fee

Most of you know how much I love to get samples.  Up until recently they were free for the asking, and several of the things I tried as samples, or even prizes, are now frequently used products around my home. 

More recently some of the big companies have decided to send samples for a fee. The fees aren't large, and I suspect, with the popularity of these packages, the mailing costs just went through the roof with the latest postage increase.

I ignored the first offering from Kraft but last month I simply couldn't resist sending for their latest Samplicious Sample pack.  It cost me $9, but there was a lot for the money.  It came with full sized versions of various products, not just little downsized packets.  There was also two coupons for free items to pick up from the store.  I understood immediately why they didn't include these particular products in the shipment. They were both to be found in the refrigerated section of the grocery store and would not have withstood shipping by regular mail.

The package included:
1.  A  .75 pound package of coffee from Second Cup,  described as having a fruity, wine-like sweetness. I'm not a coffee drinker, so I have to rely on my hubby for an opinion on this.  After a couple of tries, he got the measurement right and declared it to be good coffee.  He has since served it to a sister-in-law, who accepted a refill when offered.  This product was included in the package as a way of letting us know that Second Cup Paradiso Medium Roast Coffee is now available at your local grocery store.

2.  Jello Instant Vanilla Pudding, 4 serving size. As this is not a new product, I imagine it was included because of Mixed Berry Shortcakes recipe that appears in the Samplicious booklet that had the coupons in it.  The pudding, of course, will not go to waste here.

3.  Kraft Peanut Butter with Chocolate.  What a treat!  I often make myself a peanut butter and banana sandwich and the addition of the chocolate makes it even better.  This product does not spread as smoothly on bread as regular peanut butter (unless it's toasted and the bread is still warm), but it spreads just like icing on a tortilla! The Kraft people knew what they were doing when they put this collection together. They wanted us to buy products we don't normally buy and they got me with this one. It will be a regular here in the future!  Heck, it's even better for me than the normal peanut butter as it has less fat and less sodium for the same number of calories. Sold!

4.  Crystal Light Liquid Drink Mix, has zero calories. The one I got was  Blackberry Lemonade, and while I like it, the package states that it has a shelf life of only one month from the time the container has been opened.  I think I'll stick to the crystals.  They are also easier to take with you, in case you decide you want to add some flavour to a bottle of water along the way.

5.  Kool-Aid Liquid Drink Mix brings back memories.  For some reason the booklet refers to it as "kids-only fun" and since I am busy using up the Crystal Light before it expires, I have not tried the Kool-Aid yet.  It also has a package suggestion that it be used within a month of opening.  That's too bad as it would be handy to have around when my grandsons visit, but it would never be used up in time.  I'm starting to wonder if the reason for the company introducing the liquid drink mixes is to make us use them up faster and keep buying more.  No way.  Give me the longer shelf life of crystals, or I'll find someone who does.

6. Kraft Dinner Spicy Cheddar Macaroni & Cheese.  Hmmmm......this family does NOT eat Kraft Dinner.  Oh, I have occasionally used it like hamburger helper to make some other dish, but never alone.  The idea that this one is spicier may make it taste better, or make it harder to use in the alternate way....I'm not sure which yet.  I checked out the recipes in both the booklet and the
(7.) summer copy of What's Cooking that came in the package.  I've always enjoyed the What's Cooking magazine and that's where I got the idea to use regular Kraft Dinner as an add in to other ingredients.  I didn't find anything in this one,or even on their website, suggesting a use for this new Kraft Dinner.  I have a feeling I won't be in a hurry to use it.  I passed the magazine to my daughter-in-law, as I already had a copy.

8. A coupon for a free Kraft Philadelphia Dip was something I couldn't wait to use.  I get the feeling I was supposed to try the onion dip, by the questions the follow up survey had, but it didn't specify that. We like the Dill Pickle Dip, but since the store was out of that when I went, and since I am, after all sampling, I decided to try the Ranch Dip this time.  Love it.  It won't be good for my waste line though, as I've already gone through a couple of bags of potato chips since that came into the house, and it isn't even half gone.  And no, I'm not wasting this treat on vegetables! 

9. The remaining coupon is for a free 300g package of Kraft Shredded Cheese with a touch of Philadelphia.  We go through a lot of cheese here, but I've never bought pre-shredded cheese before. As I recently had to shred and freeze half a brick of mozzarella that threatened to mould on me while we were on holidays, I have enough shredded cheese here at the moment, but I'm looking forward to collecting my free package of cheese when that's done.  The coupon is good until March 31st, 2015, and is good for any of Creamy Mozza, Creamy Herb & Garlic or Creamy Mexicana.  If any of you have tried any of these and have a favorite recipe using one of them, I'd love to hear from you!

So, there you have it.  Nine items plus a booklet, for $9.  On the back of the booklet I found an address where I was able to go and print off more coupons to reduce the price of future Kraft purchases.  You might want to visit that yourself. Go to:  kraftcanada.com/coupons 

I'm quite satisfied with this experience, and will be watching for the next one.  Maybe you will too.