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.

Monday, July 28, 2014

Digital Books, Not My Thing!

Some people seem to think that books printed on paper will disappear.  I sure hope not.

I'm currently reading my third book in digital format and I can't say that I like the experience.  Other than the fact that I can read in low light, without using additional electricity, I don't see much of an advantage.  In fact, it seems that just as I get to an exciting part, I have to plug the darn thing in and recharge it.  Or often, the unit is recharging at the end of the day, when I'd like to settle down and read for a while.  Not convenient.  I'd like to pick up my book whenever I like, not just when it has enough juice to accommodate me.

I find I really have to pay attention to what chapter I'm on, because a finger can slip and cause the pages to scroll by.  One time I ended up at the end of the book, when really I wasn't even halfway through it. Since page numbers don't automatically show up on the page, it was hard to find my way back to where I was. I quickly learned to make some mental note of at least what chapter I an reading.

Then today I got a scare.  I'm reading "George, a Gentleman of the Road" by P.A. Davies.  This is a talented British writer that I actually met on Facebook.  He offered me to send me one of his digital books, totally free of charge.  I even got to choose which one.  When I had trouble opening the file he sent me, he pointed out when Amazon was offering the book for free about a month later. I got it then.  I have been thoroughly enjoying it, but I thought I lost it today. 
I have a tablet that has a few different apps for books on it, including Kindle. Every time I have opened Kindle lately, it has told me that I have an unauthorized book in there, and asked if I want to delete it.  I have several books in there and this notification was not telling me which of them I was about to lose, so no, I did not want to delete it.  Some of them I paid for, and the free ones would no longer be free.  I seemed to be able to continue reading the one I was in the middle of, with no problem, so I continued to dismiss this notice.  Until today.  I got distracted and hit the wrong button. The book that disappeared was the one I was reading. I groaned so loud you could hear me all over the house!  I'm well into this book.  In fact, I've read 82% now, and as much as I'm enjoying it, I wouldn't want to have to buy the book with so little left to read. 

I went to Amazon, and saw it offered for a price, so I started to wonder if I could get it through inter library loan. I doubted our local library would have it.  I checked my Amazon account and it just showed that I had been looking at the book recently, but it did not show up amoung my orders.  I just happened across a spot where Amazon had a button that said "Manage Your Kindle"   so I clicked on that.  There it was, George, listed among my other Kindle books.  I clicked on that and it had an option to send it to my device, so I chose that. I was able to breath a major sigh of relief when the book showed up on my tablet again, among my collection.  I can finish reading it now, and I'm very grateful for that. I had just reached a part of the story where there was a major turn of events, and I wanted to know what would happen next.  Now I can go find out. 

Apparently Amazon keeps a record of every book you buy in case you need to re-download them for any reason. If you delete or lose a book, or purchase a new Kindle, you can simply connect to Amazon's servers and begin rebuilding your library.  I won't panic next time this happens.  But I still hope there will never be a next time. 

I've taken the tablet outdoors on a nice summer day, thinking I could relax and read for a while.  I had to come back in as I couldn't see the screen in all that sunlight.  Maybe real e-readers can handle that.  I don't know.  I just know my tablet cannot, and I certainly have not been convinced to give up my paper books for one of those yet.

Though I have been using a computer since the days of the Commodore 64, I find I am strangely not ready to turn to technology when it comes to reading.  In fact, when faced with a page full of text on my computer, I generally turn on Read Please, and sit and listen while the page is read to me. My eyes don't seem to like to track all those words across a screen.  Reading a book on the tablet is at least better than that.

I have a pile of old fashioned non-digital books waiting for me, and I'll happily turn to them when I simply want to read and relax in the future.

As for the rest of you, if you haven't read George, A Gentleman of the Road, I urge you to seek it out. It's a heartwarming and often amusing story I'm sure you will enjoy. It's also available in paperback.
As for myself, now I'll be looking for a copy of Letterbox and The Good in Mister Philips by the same author. Paul, P.A Davies has a new fan.


Sunday, July 20, 2014

Summer Weekends

My favorite thing about summer is that there are so many places to go and things to do, and most of it is free.
This weekend we were out looking for another art show but stopped to explore the Stewart Park Festival in Perth.  There were two stages with musical performances going on at the same time, plus other assorted things to amuse young and old alike. 

The weather was fantastic, so families were also enjoying the stream that runs through the park.  We never did find the art show we were looking for, but we've already been to a couple this summer, so we'll try for that one again next year.
Then, of course, there are the farmer's markets. Kemptville has eliminated the competition by holding theirs on Sunday afternoons, instead of using the usual Saturday morning time slot.  One of the great things about that is that our favorite vendor is now available much closer to home. I'm sure we will both gain some weight by the end of the summer because Frank's Buttermilk Pie is entirely too good to resist!  It is available with or without various berries in it, and only costs $8.50 per pie.  You won't get a better deal for anything so delicious anywhere else. I guarantee it.

Today we brought home some scones from another vendor, as we can eat them in one sitting, and not be tempted to get carried away.  I do need to fit into that new bathing suit, you know.  Scrummy Scones have some interesting varieties, and are available for taste testing first, as are Grammie's Jams.  Actually they go very well together. 

Now that I've had a perfect weekend, my garden can stand a bit of rain. I'm so glad it didn't come in time to spoil our fun.

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

My Favorite Department Store is Headed for Disaster!

Who ever is running Sears these days isn't doing it any favours.

For at least 45 years, every time I needed an appliance, big or small, I bought it from Sears. Even all our outdoor equipment also came from there, as did much of our furnishings.  There were two reasons for that. They used to deliver for free, and they always stood behind what they sold. There was even a guarantee that if a part became unavailable within 10 years for any appliance that broke down within that time, they would replace that appliance for free.

I had one of the early microwaves that used to have a rubber seal around the door.  The seal developed a crack, and while I expected them to repair the door on the microwave by replacing the seal, they replaced the whole door instead.  The following year it became necessary to do that again, and they did. By the time it happened again, they were no longer making microwaves with rubber seals on the door, so they couldn't find us a new door. Then they called back and said they had found one. My hubby asked what they were going to do the next time, and when they realized this was an ongoing problem, they replace the entire microwave, with a new, more modern model. No hassle and no charge. 

The company has stopped delivering for free, and I have stopped ordering things from the catalog. I don't want to pay shipping charges for the privilege of trying something on. It may not fit, so I usually decide to wait until I get to the store.  Of course, if I do get to the malls where the stores are, there is a lot of competition for my money, and I'm likely to buy something someplace else.  They lost a frequent customer for their mail order business when they eliminated the free shipping.

And now, they have closed their service department, so if I need something fixed, where do I go?  Actually, they will eventually have authorized repair people scattered about the country, but if something needs a part right now, things get a little difficult.  If you ask them about the warrantee these days, for a new appliance you may be interested in, you get a lot of hemming and hawing. It would have been good if Sears had managed to establish where and how things would be repaired before eliminating the existing service department.

Recently our lawn mower decided not to start.  Luckily I have a husband who is mechanically inclined, so he took it apart and was able to determine what it needed. Then he set out to find it.  Well, it would have been easy if the repair depots were still in operation, but now you have to go to a Sears store, where the clerks are not repair people.  If you know what part you need, you have to order it, as they don't stock anything in the store.  If you don't know what you need, you are going to be in trouble. 

As it is, hubby was able to order the part he needed.  He was told it would come by mail and that he would get an e-mail with a tracking number so that he could see where it was on route to us.  He never got the e-mail so after a couple of days he tried to phone.  The line was busy all day long.  He eventually got someone who said the part had been shipped and was on it's way to Toronto.  I don't know where it was coming from, but we still had no e-mail to follow it's path.  The week went by and it wasn't here, so hubby phoned again, and was told it was on back order until the end of the month.  How can that be, if it was supposedly shipped earlier in the week?  Of course the number you call these days is just a call centre someplace, and not Sears at all.  The information you get depends entirely on who answers the phone at the other end, and how interested they are in their job.

Our grass could not wait a month to be mowed. We would have a hayfield by then. My clever hubby got online and searched out a cross reference chart to find out what the manufacturer's part number would be. That's right. Sears gives everything their own part numbers just so you will have to go through them to get things fixed.  He found the chart and got the number and bought the needed part from a local repair shop.....not even one that would be listed as a Sears repair depot when the time comes.  The lawnmower was then fixed and the lawn was mowed.

The next trick was to cancel the part ordered though Sears.  Apparently that could not be done over the phone for some reason. So, on Sunday, when we were in the vicinity of the Sears store where the order was placed, hubby tried to get them to cancel the order.  They said they couldn't do that.  They seemed to think it was necessary to hand over the ordered part, even if it took a month to get here, in order to credit the account.   Personally I would not expect the account to be charged until the order was shipped.

Today is Tuesday, and the part has just arrived.  It didn't come by mail after all. It came by UPS, and the packaging is not in very good shape. Just a thought, but why didn't they just send it with other Sears orders to the local pick up spot, instead of shipping it separately?

I don't know if there is a difference in price between what Sears charged, and what it cost us to get the part elsewhere, but gas to get to the city store doesn't come cheap these days and it took two trips so far, with another one lined up to return the part that we were told was back ordered.

It used to be so simple to get something fixed if you bought it from Sears.  Now, apparently it's not. 

Sears, get your act together.  Bring back the service department, and do it fast.  Oh, and I'd still appreciate free delivery too, but I guess that's out of the question.


Friday, July 11, 2014

The Unfinished Work

I recently saw a picture of a lovely vase online that really got me thinking.  It had graceful lines but the potter had taken it a step further and made marks in the clay to enhance it.  I took a pottery course way back, and looking at that picture I couldn't help thinking that I would have been afraid to wreck such a perfect piece by intentionally making marks on it.  Why take the chance of ruining something that has worked out so well? Yet, those marks were exactly what made the vase special.

I've been told, on several occasions, that I'm brave to attempt some of the things I do, whether it be by writing for publication or simply trying to paint something I've never tried before.  There always seems to come a point when I stop fiddling with what I'm working on. I become afraid that I will destroy what I have already created. That's when I usually decide something is finished and move on to something else.

I do, however, have a painting underway that I put aside and have not worked on for more than a year. I liked how it was going, but felt it needed something in the lower right hand corner. I don't know what that something is, as there is nothing there in the photo I took. I just know it will not be finished until I do something with that corner.  I have been afraid I will ruin what I've done so far by adding the wrong thing.  I have never stepped away from a painting this long before. At this point, I'm even afraid my style will be so different after all this time that whatever I do add will be entirely too noticeable.

I like what I've done so far.  Instead of adding something that doesn't exist, maybe I just need to make some marks.  Soon.