Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Seniors Become Sitting Ducks

I told you recently about an enjoyable visit to the Fifty-Five Lifestyle Show. I mentioned at the time that I had filled out a number of contest forms and expected that I would get a lot of calls that would nor necessarily be about things I had won.  Well, let me tell you about some of them.

First I had a call about the 3 course dinner that everyone who filled in a ballot was entitled to.  A chef would prepare it, using the Cuisine Sante International cookware I saw at the show, to demonstrate how easy it would be to cook healthy meals without fats or oils. I was naturally busy on the dates he had available within the next week or so, and he will call back in October, when the chef would be available for the next round of meals.  I likely won't answer the phone now that I know what name will appear on the screen.  I have now had time to look up the company, and the "deal" along with the comments from other people who either loved the cookware or found the trip that came with it to be a scam.  I'm certainly not interested in paying exorbitant prices for pots and pans, or any of the other kitchen equipment they may try to foist on me after I've eaten a meal they invited me to.  If you want to know how these people operate, check this website and investigate further for yourself.

The second call came from  Arbor Memorial Inc.  I was walking by there, thinking it wasn't anything I'd be interested in, when I was called over to fill out a ballot for .... well I couldn't imagine what. I asked him if it was a cemetery plot or a funeral or what, and I'm not sure I got an answer to that, but just for filling out the form, I was going to get a free book where I could record where everything was, so others could find things if something ever happened to me.  Well, we really all need one of those, as I realized recently, and this one looked like a decent book that was well laid out.  But suddenly, he couldn't find one to give me, and seemed, after rummaging around in the booth, to only have the sample copy left.  However, he now had my address and he would  make sure I got one.  Ya, well, with the phone call, it was clear that it wasn't coming by mail, and would be delivered along with a sales pitch on future funeral arrangements or something. I just told him I'd just pass on the book thanks. He had time to say, "Are you sure?" before I said, "Yes," and hung up.

The third call was from a company I didn't even remember seeing there. The lady said, "Well, you filled out a form for a $20,000 draw. Do you remember that?"  I laughed and replied that I had filled out a lot of contest forms that day. I had a good time, actually.  She said that, though I was still in the running for the $20,000 there were also daily draw and I had won one of those.  She said there were three choices.  One was a 3 day, 2 night stay at a quality hotel, from a large list that covered all of North America. The second was something that sounded rather like CAA coverage, with towing and battery boosting, etc. and the third choice was a 50 foot PVC garden hose.  I had to laugh at that, as there is such a large difference between a trip and a hose, but she said that as some people can't travel, and some people don't own a car, they had to provide something for everyone. (Well, I could argue that some people may not live in they type of housing where a hose would be useful, but I was still being good at that point).

I, like many others, chose the hotel room (or, as they hoped you believed, the trip).  Then she wanted my physical address.  I asked why, and she said so they could deliver the "travel package".  I asked, "When that gets delivered here, then what happens?" I have to wonder how many people never think to ask that.  She said that they would want feedback on their air filtering system.  I said, "So someone will want to come in here and show me your product?" and she said yes, as they wanted feedback.

At this point I told her I thought I'd pass on the whole thing as I had played this game before, and really wasn't interested in doing it again. I then quickly said, "Thanks anyway," and hung up.  For any of you who don't know, falling for a demonstration of an "air filtering system" is really just allowing a vacuum cleaner salesman into your home.  I had a really great time confounding one of these fellows before, but once was enough.  You see, my first job was in door to door sales. I was trained in how not to take "No" for an answer. This makes it easier for me to see how these people try to maneuver their customers into making a purchase.  Guilt and embarrassment often work well.  The time the last vacuum cleaner salesman got to practice on me (and I actually told him that was all he was going to do), I had him convinced that I didn't care how dirty or germ infested my house was. Since he couldn't convince me how badly I needed his product, he couldn't sell it to me. He did have a quick mind though, and I asked him if he was doing this to put himself through university. He said he was. I told him he would do well in life.

Most recently I have been getting a number of phone calls from Breath EZ Homes.  I have not answered that call.  I know they will just have me do a survey, and then call back in a couple of days to tell me I've won a prize.  Then, of course, they will want to come and deliver it and do a product demonstration.... oh yes, it's another vacuum cleaner sales pitch.

At this point I'm starting to think that the whole Fifty-Five Plus LifeStyle show was a way to put the scammers in touch with the vulnerable senior citizens, and I think they should find a way to screen their exibitors better next year.

If you attended this show and had similar experiences, I'd be very happy to hear from you as I think I may try to find a way to alert the promoters before this sort of thing happens again. The more people I hear from, the more convincing this complaint will become.



Sunday, September 28, 2014

Banking In the Digital Age

For 25 years I had two bank accounts for our karate club, but I never had a bank card. When bank cards first came out, one of the tellers told me not to get one as it would just be too much trouble. I thought she meant for me, not her. But eventually the bank, in it's wisdom, decided to charge $2 to anyone they had to send a statement to.  I decided it was time to get a bank card, so I could just check out the statements online.

When I first requested the bank card, I was met with a quick, "I don't know if we can do that!"  I just shook my head and said, "I'll leave it with you for a couple of hours as I have somewhere to go."  When I came back in, they were quite pleased with themselves. "We did it!" they declared, and handed me a card.  I still wasn't sure what all the fuss was about.

When I got home, I used the new card to access my accounts online.  But I only found one, not two. I returned to the bank the next day, and the very second I stepped through the door, I heard, "Oh, oh."

Yes, it's true, they could not put both accounts on that one card.  Don't ask me why. Both accounts were opened for the same business at the same branch of this bank, but for some unexplained reason, they couldn't marry those two accounts.

I had a meeting with the accounts manager to do some other business, and explained the problem to him. Once again, I was told to leave it with him, and he'd get it fixed.  But he couldn't, and the powers higher up apparently couldn't either. And nobody ever told me why this was so.  Eventually, more than a year after all this began, it was decided that the only way to fix this problem was to close the savings account, and open another one.  That sounded like it would solve the problem.  Instead, it created a new one.

When the first statement for this new account arrived, instead of the $2 statement charge I had been trying to avoid, there was a fee of well over $16.  I trotted into the bank and slapped a copy of the statement onto the desk of the highest ranking official I could find. She said, that apparently someone had not explained this account to me properly, and refunded the service charge. I stated that the person who set up this account knew the whole reason for it was for me to avoid that little $2 fee, so giving me an account that was naturally going to generate even bigger fees every time I used it, was certainly not my idea of how to solve the problem.

I ended up with another $11 charge for the following month too, for transactions that had already gone through by the time I was refunded the previous month's fees. I have not touched that account since, but if I do, I'll just make one online transfer, once in a while, and never deposit cheques, or (god forbid) cash in the darn thing ever again. Do you know that they actually charge you to deposit cash in a business account?  After 25 years of never being charged such fees with my previous account, this was a shock to me!

For the past couple of months I have been having difficulty signing into my online business account. Last month I had to reset the password.  This week it wouldn't let me do that, as the security questions now ask for a credit card number.  I don't have a credit card for the business. I have been pre-approved for one, but I don't feel the need to have it, so I've never applied for it.  The online system wouldn't let me reset the password without it though.  I thought I'd try the current password one more time. Then the system told me it was having trouble identifying me.  It didn't even recognize the card number anymore.

So, once again, I had to physically go to the bank, where they gave me the phone number for the online banking office, so I could fix such problems. I must have stared at the teller in a certain way, as she picked up the phone and made the call herself.  We worked through it together.  At one point she wanted me to insert the current password.  I told her I was there because that didn't work.  But she insisted, so I tried it.  No luck. Of course. So she got me a temporary password, after which I had to change that to a new one. I picked something that I knew I could remember until I got home.

Once at home, I tried to get in, and once again the system wouldn't recognize the password I had just set up. I dug out the phone number that the teller had given me, and called the online banking office.  I had to go through all the steps with the temporary password then change it to the new one all over again. The trip to the bank had been a total waste of time.

I finally got to see my statement.  But I can't help but wonder what will happen next month!

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 The 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.