Thursday, April 28, 2016

Birthday Treats in My InBox

Birthdays are always fun, especially if you have signed up to get newsletters and special deals from various restaurants you frequent.

I have a birthday coming up next week, and already the special deals are starting to arrive by e-mail.

So far I really like the one from Perkins that offers me a fabulous breakfast of two eggs, any way I like them, a stack of  three pancakes, and my choice of two strips of bacon or two sausage. The best part is that it says to come in anytime, and it doesn't seem to require an additional  purchase of any kind.  I'll be going for this deal for sure.

East Side Mario's sent along a coupon worth $10 off if the bill comes to $30.  Since we usually choose from the $12 pasta dishes, with the all you can eat bread and salad, I'm pretty sure, even with a beverage, that we would be a few cents short to take advantage of that offer. But it might be a good opportunity to try something different without the bill actually adding up to more.

Buds on the Bay, a restaurant in Brockville that is not part of a chain, offers me a free entree, up to $19.99 in value, and will even supply the cake.  I am, however, required to make a reservation and bring three friends with me in order to take advantage of that.

Montana's, on the other hand, offers me a free dessert, as long as I get it within the week before or after my birthday.  It doesn't actually say I need to buy anything else, but I do like their food, and have not been there recently.

Boston Pizza used to treat me to a gourmet pasta each year, but now they just offer free dessert. That's rather disappointing as I never missed a chance to pig out and save $16 in the process.

Swiss Chalet also offers me a free dessert.  I could gain weight just collecting on all the sweets, but I'll likely just choose one or two of the offers over the next couple of weeks.

Kelsey's gets a little more specific and offers me a Brownie Pop.  I think I'll pass.

No birthday would be complete without ice cream, so Dairy Queen has sent a buy one get one free offer for a Blizzard as long as the one you buy is a medium.  My favorites are Chocolate Cherry Love and Salted Carmel Truffle, or perhaps I'll try the new Royal Rocky Road Brownie Blizzard.  I do intend to collect on this freebie.  Dairy Queen actually sends me a few such BoGo deals throughout the year, just for agreeing to receive their e-mails.

That's just today's offers, so there may be more to come.  If you know of any other good birthday deals that I might be missing out on, I'd love to hear about them.

One year I had a very special birthday offer from Lone Star, and really enjoyed it.  I have not seen anything since, however. I just looked at the site, and found that if you sign up to be a "Lone Star VIP" now they will give you $10 in Texas Bucks for your next visit.  This year they seem more interested in celebrating their own 30th birthday, or anniversary, than helping me celebrate mine.  There are deals to be had, but you have to go during the week, and I like to eat out on weekends.

So, if you have never signed up for any of the available deals that can come your way, not just on your birthday, but sometimes throughout the year, I'm wondering what's stopping you.  Some people tell me they don't like all that "junk mail".  My answer to that is to create a junk mail account someplace like Yahoo, Hotmail, G-mail or  Then you can enter contests, ask for newsletters, and sign up for your birthday deals, and other specials, or coupons, without ever having any of that stuff land in your personal e-mail box.  You can just go look for the bargains when you feel like it.

I'll not only be older next time I talk to you, I'll likely weigh more, but hey, birthdays only come around once a year, and at my age, they are definitely meant to be celebrated.

Wednesday, April 13, 2016

Hello Cortana

Windows 10 has an artificial intelligence agent known as Cortana.  I believe this is supposed to be Windows version of Siri.

She popped up in the bottom left hand corner of the screen and said, "I'm Cortana. Ask me anything."
Cool I thought. Let's try this out.

The next thing she said was, "Before I can help you, you need to go to Settings and change your speech language to one that I  speak.

She was set up to speak English (United States), which I figured was a language she should be able to speak.  I looked though the settings and thought perhaps she sensed I was in Canada so changed my region to Canada so as not to confuse her.  I had already read that the language and the country had to match, so I tried to set the language to English (Canada), but found I had to download a language pack to do so.  I did that, but then was told there were no handwriting options for this language.  I assume that would mean I can't write on the webpage, which had seemed like the best idea MicroSoft had come up with yet.

Of course, once you change any settings within Win 10, you must restart your computer to see how they work.  And every time you do, you have to enter the password you were forced to create.  Really Microsoft, why do I need to password protect my home computer?

Even with the Canadian English installed, the speech language was still in American English, with no other options to choose from. Cortana is a stubborn creature!  That little downward arrow gets you nowhere.

On Twitter, I wrote, "I'm Corana. Ask me anything...Well, I would if you would let me speak English!!! Windows10 is giving me a headache!"

That got the attention of the Windows Support people.  They gave me a link to see what languages Cortana speaks, and of course she speaks all manner of English (American, Canadian, Australian, Indian, and even proper English from the UK).  But for me, she would only load and work if I lied and pretended I was living in the United States and let set her up to speak American English. I gave up. The problem with that was Cortana gave me my weather in Fahrenheit instead of Celsius for a few days until I accidentally came across where it could be changed.  Now at least the weather is understandable.

Oh wait.....there are two versions of the weather within Cortana, and resetting one didn't reset the other.  I don't know why they would put two systems so close together and not have them linked, but I have managed to get them both formatted to the proper units now.  I'm getting good at this. 

 Windows 10 works well, and Cortana can be quite helpful. She not only tells you the weather and gives you traffic reports, she also gives you the news, keeps track of sports and the stock market.  She can help you track your health and fitness goals, get up to date flight status, see show times and trailers for nearby movies, and send you reminders for just about anything.  You can indeed ask her anything There's hope yet.

Saturday, April 9, 2016

The Adventure of Installing Windows 10 - Part One

Way last year, when they first offered the Windows 10 upgrade for free, one of my friends downloaded it and fell in love with it. Since he usually complains about all things Microsoft, and actually liked Win10 so much he invested in it, I decided to download it too.  But then I couldn't get myself to install it.  I told myself I would wait until the end of the year.  I run a small business and wanted to make sure nothing happened to my year's worth of accounting. Then when the new year came and I printed off the account statements, I decided to wait until after I was finished with the taxes.

Earlier this week, my computer, which had up until then been reminding me daily to install the program, or at least pick an installation date, decided to just tell me it was going to do the update on Wednesday April 6 at 11pm.  The taxes were pretty well done, but they needed to be checked over, and printed off.  (Yes, I know I can save the files, but I like a hard copy, thank you.) Microsoft was giving me the kick start I needed to get the job done.

I don't care how much they promise you that your files will be right where you left them, I don't trust computers to work properly after such major upgrades. I also don't trust the printer, or other peripherals, to remain compatible with a new operating system.  I know I had to go buy a new printer when I got a Windows 7 machine.

So, off I went to bed, hoping that I'd be able to work the computer in the morning.  I must admit, I put off approaching it until after 10AM.  Thankfully I have a tablet, as I'm an admitted computer addict and needed to get online for various things long before 10AM.  It was time to write a blog post though, and I find that rather tedious without an actual keyboard.

The first problem I encountered was being faced with the legal document before Win10 actually opens for the first time. I discovered  I was unable to access my Read Please at that point. When faced with a page or more of reading, I generally let the computer read it to me. I had to wade though this one on my own. Not fun.

At one point it said "If you live in (or if your principal place of business is in) the United States, please read the binding arbitration clause and the class action waiver in Section 10.  It affects how disputes are solved."  I wondered, what about us here in Canada?

Then for Express Settings, it said "to help protect you from malicious web content and to use web predictions your browsing data will be sent to Microsoft."  I know a lot of people who would object to that!

Then Windows 10 actually said "Hi" to me, right there on a blue screen.  That seemed friendly, and gave me hope that the whole operating system was going to be user friendly.  No such luck. It did assure me that my files are exactly where I left them.  And they might be, if I could figure out where they hid the folders they are stored in.  I cannot, for instance, find the programs, other than the most frequently used ones. I was glad I had shortcuts to some of them on my desktop.  

I do wish Microsoft had left the Windows Express the way it was in XP and the systems preceding that.  It was so easy to find anything you were looking for back then.  Win 10 is set up more like Win 7, but with just enough changes to make it seem complicated. But hey, it's day one, so give me time.

I noticed the screen was breathing, in different shades of blue to the point where I thought it was stuck. But finally a notice came up on the screen that simply said, "Don't turn off your PC."  I still don't know what it was doing at that point, but once it stopped I was finally in.

One of the first things I noticed was that my keyboard had come up with a few glitches.  I tried to type I'm and I got an e with an accent where the apostrophe should have been (Ièm). And when I tried to type a question mark, I got É.  Thankfully a relative on Facebook helped me find out how to change that back.  I decided that may not have been a Win10 problem,  when I found out how to fix it (press the Control and Shift button at the same time).  Maybe I just have had fat fingers, though I've never had that sort of thing happen before, and I've been on a computer keyboard since the days of the Commodore 64.  Coincidence?

Next I discovered the printer didn't work, but I remembered that I had a similar problem when I first got Windows 7.  I had to reconfigure each program to work with my printer all over again back then. I did that for the application I was in, and the printer started working.  Win 10 then popped up a window saying the printer would scan my PC to determine if updates were available. There was one, so I installed it. I can see that this system is trying to be helpful.

And then there's Cortana.  But that's another story.  Stay tuned as I'm going to take you all on this little adventure as I explore and learn how to deal with the problems and delights of Windows 10.

Thursday, April 7, 2016

Kingston Kicks 2016

I spent this past weekend in Kingston at the revival of my favourite marital arts event. After being missed for a few years, Kingston Kicks assembled martial artists from far and wide, at the Ambassador Hotel, to put on, and take part in seminars in karate, aikido and jiu-jutsu. There were also special courses in iaido, bo and both women's self defence and cane defence.

I met a gentleman from Belleville who seemed to think it must have been a long boring day for me.  Quite the contrary.  It is always great to see so many old friends and meet new ones at events like this. Some such events are huge but Kingston Kicks is small enough to make it very special.  As a non-participant, I can check out what's happening in each of the six simultaneous seminars four times a day, pick the ones that interest me the most, and actually sit down and hear what the instructor is saying. The seminars are not all put on in one room, as is sometimes the case at other events. By having just one or two seminars in each room, it is much easier for the participants to hear, and work out without fear of being beaned by someone being taught another style in on a nearby mat.

The fact that there are others from our club taking part makes it even more interesting for me. My hubby taught the cane defence and there were several comments afterwards by amazed students who were surprised at how little pressure was needed to make the cane an effective weapon.  I watched a young member of our karate club take the opportunity to learn something about jiu-jitsu and aikido. He had a great time learning break falls and front rolls, and later learned how to dodge a pool noodle. The other members of our club that attended this year were all adults, but they all learned something new and had lots of fun in the process.

The hosts of this event, Carol and Ted Theelen,  of the Rideau Lakes School of Martial Arts always make everyone feel like part of the family. They had a meet and greet on Friday night, a dinner gathering at the Mandarin Restaurant Saturday evening, and even put on a party for everyone to attend, free of charge on Saturday night.  Even some of the young children were there. If you don't happen to be a dancer, the floor show can be quite entertaining as some martial artists apparently have moves we weren't aware of.

Sunday there was a tournament, which was especially enjoyed by the youngsters. They do love to get those metals! After watching such tournaments for over 30 years, I can vouch for the fact that there is a lot of talent coming up through the ranks, and great things to come in the future. 

I'm already looking forward to Kingston Kicks next year.

Friday, April 1, 2016

Spring Bonnets on Parade

I remember, in my youth, we used to get dressed up for Easter.  Often I got new shiny black Patten leather shoes, a colourful new spring coat, or a pretty new hat. I don't know if that's when it began, but I've always loved hats.

This year the New Horizon's Club in Burritts Rapids held a Spring Tea and the powers that be requested we wear our prettiest bonnets.  They could be store bought or something specially created for the event. Some people commented that they didn't have hats, and I offered to share some of mine. I already knew which one I would wear. It lives in a box in my basement and seldom gets out as it is so special there are very few places one could wear such a creation. It's too grand to wear even to a wedding.  It would outshine the bride.  So, when this occasion presented itself, I simply had to wear it.  It had been passed to me by a friend several years back, and the only other time I ever got to wear it was for the Hats and Hostas event.

Now, this is not the sort of hat that one slips on while wearing blue jeans or some other casual duds. I rummaged in the back of the closet and chose a dress. It was sleeveless and since it can be cool at the hall, I hauled out a silver scarf that worked well as a shawl. The chunky pearl necklace finished off the regal look.

The tea was lovely. Almost everyone wore some sort of hat.  Some put in a lot of work to create something very Easter like, pinning chickens and eggs, etc to their hats. We sat at tables set up for four, and were served fancy sandwiches and squares along with out tea or coffee. Then we lined up to parade around the room a couple of times. I'm not sure who was left to watch us, other than the judges.

They say I won the prize for the best hat, but really, it was the hat that won the prize, and I just gratefully received it.  All this did bring back the fun of getting all dressed up, and I do wish there were still more opportunities to do so. I think I may at least have to go on a little spring shopping spree.

Wednesday, March 16, 2016

Enhanced Reading

Reading has always been a passion of mine, but recently  I've discovered a way to really enhance the experience.

I was reading a book called Inferno by Dan Brown.  His main  character in his books, Robert Langdon, is a specialist in symbolism and the story took place in several European cities.  Mr. Brown often mentions such things as artwork, architecture, and city streets without boring you with long descriptive detail.  That's where my tablet came in handy.  I simply Googled whatever he was talking about and got to see the settings, or the art he was interpreting for myself.

 The next book I picked up was The Perseid Collapse, by Steven Konkoly.  This is a near future apocalyptic story, realistic enough to get you thinking about storing things to help you survive.  It's set on the east coast, and the characters travel around a lot, getting to safety.  While Mr. Konkoly is more prone to long winded descriptions than Mr. Brown, his references to towns and highways also had me opening up the tablet to check where he was taking his characters, and where rivers were, so I'd understand how far a wave of water might travel inland.  For this I used Google maps.

Actually, at the beginning of the digital version of The Perseid Collapse, there was a link to download the Report of the Commission to assess the Threat to the United States from Electromagnetic Pulse (EMP) Attack.  I did that, as it was free from within the book. I found it fascinating to discover all ways our lives would be affected by an EMP.  The way we live would be disrupted in so may ways, there would be complete chaos.

I always knew reading could take you to another world, but now I can get a good look at it, if I want to, and maybe even learn something about these places along the way. I have no idea why I've seldom thought to consult the computer about what I have been reading in the past.  Maybe it was just too much trouble to walk to another room and turn the darn thing on.  But a tablet is different.  You can pick it up along with your book, or maybe even download the book and read it on the machine in the first place.   It's now so easy to  take a moment to see what is in the author's mind that reading will never be the same for me ever again.  It might take me longer to read a book in the future, if I keep looking things up.  I don't see that as a problem with that, other than, as I've mentioned before, my stack of books grows faster than I work my way through them. 

It is said that in life we should stop and smell the roses.  While reading, I will now stop and at least take a look at some of them.

Tuesday, March 8, 2016

Instant Celebrity

Since I have written about the TLC Soupfest for the past three years (2013) (2014) (2015), I was not really planning on doing it again. But here I am, about to tell you what happened.

This was the 8th annual Soupfest, and I've been to at least seven of them, if not them all. The event was originally in Winchester, but moved to Kemptville several years ago, and will be held there next year, on March 4th.  Mark your calendars now.

The Kemptville Municipal Centre has enough space to feature 16 restaurants and their soups for the public to get acquainted with, and then vote on their favorites. Restaurants this year were from Merrickville, Morrisburg, North Gower, Perth, Manotick, and of course, Kemptville.   I didn't see any advertisement for the event this year, until just the week before, so it was a bit of a scramble to gather those who usually go with us.

While we were happily doing our taste testing, the organizer, Lynn Ford, was speaking to the assembled group about the event. She asked how many of us had been coming for several years, and a lot of hands went up, including those of everyone at my table.  She then asked if anyone would care to say a few words about their experiences at Soupfest. For some reason several members of my group decided to suddenly point at me.  I laughed and responded to them by saying, "Oh ya!"  Lynn apparently heard that but must have thought I was volunteering as she handed me the mic.  Oh well, I do tend to talk a lot, so I stood up and told everyone how my husband and myself came each year with a couple of his cousins and their spouses.  We always find it fun to compare opinions on the various soups, as we never, ever agreed on which ones we liked the best.  I mentioned that I have even brought my young grandson to the event a couple of times.  He enjoys being able to make his own pronouncements on the various soups, and voting for his own personal favorite.  Soupfest is indeed a great family outing.  For speaking, I was awarded a souvenir Soupfest apron, that I happily traipsed around in from the moment she put it on me until we left. I felt like a bit of a celebrity.  I have since read that public speaking is the number one fear people have. I can't vouch for that as I didn't have time to conger up a fear, let alone figure out what I wanted to say. I only hope whatever came out of me made some kind of sense.

I must say, that if it were not for Soupfest, there are a great number of soups I would never have even tasted, simple because of their ingredients.  No way would I ever have walk into a restaurant and buy whole bowlful of soup made with things that do not sound appealing to me.  But now I've sampled many of those, as a little taste and a chance to express my opinion isn't as intimidating as having to pay for a whole bowl of something I may not care for.  I found out that even though I do not like squash, or pumpkin or the idea of fish in a soup, all of those ingredients have been in soups offered to me at Soupfest, and I discovered that I actually liked them. This year the McIntosh Country Inn from Morrisburg served Pumpkin Gouda Soup, which was lovely and the Marlborough Pub from North Gower served a Smoked Salmon Bisque, that I was almost afraid to taste, especially since some others at my table didn't seem to care for it. I could smell the smokiness, but every sip I took made me like it more. This year my favorite was from a new restaurant to this event, The Keystorm Pub, from Brockville.  They made a Maple BBQ soup with Pork & Bacon.  I want to go to that restaurant just to get a whole bowlful of that soup, I liked it so much.  While other soups in the room may have been more imaginative,  as much as I liked them, I wouldn't make a special trip just to get some.  They Keystorm's offering will have me marching through their doors.  The chef told me it wasn't a fancy place. They just wear hockey shirts, and serve good food. If that soup was an example, I'm going to go as often as I can.  One other soup I went back and got more than one sample of was a delectable dessert soup.  Kemptville's Crusty Baker served up a Black Forest Soup. Yes, it had chocolate and creme brule, whipped cream (I think) and cherries. There was also a dash of kirsch in there too.  I don't know that I'd ever want a whole bowlful as I'm not one for sweets, but these little sample cups were just the right size for this lovely treat, at least for me. It made my heart sing.

I went to the bank yesterday and the first thing the teller said to me was, "Did you go to Soupfest?"  I told her I had. She said she saw a picture of me on Facebook (so of course she knew I'd been there).  The picture was taken just after I was given the apron.  I now have it on my Facebook page too, and already 40 people have liked it. I think the idea that a bank teller spotted me on the TLC page just proves I'm a bit of a celebrity now, don't you think?