Monday, January 31, 2011

A Step Forward

Once upon a time I belonged to an arts guild. I was their only photographer, and the painters all insisted that I should try to paint since, they said, I already had a good eye.  After much protesting about not being able to draw, and hearing the time old expression that you don't have to be able to draw to paint, I thought I'd prove them wrong and give it a try. I was, however, surprised that what I produced that day was actually recognizable, and so I set about finding someone who could teach me the basics about handling a brush.
For a time I painted from books, using traceable patterns and following the written instructions. Every once in a while I'd dig out a photo of my own, and try to paint that, with less success.  After a while, I came to the conclusion that the problem wasn't all in my brush skills. I mentioned to my teacher something about how not all great photos make good paintings, and she agreed, but didn't tell me why that was true.  Not even a hint.

This weekend I started a free online course through Wet Canvas, with Johannes Vloothuis, that is all about how to convert photos into good paintings.  After several years of frustration, this man may take the mystery out of what I've been doing wrong.   I spent 2 hours on both Saturday and Sunday taking in what he had to say as I watched while he moved lines and instantly improved pictures. This was just the first of the 12 week program, and already I'm excited, and will be looking at my photos with fresh eyes. I may become an artist yet.

Saturday, January 29, 2011

Mother Knows Best

I remember my mother used to like to read the funny papers in the newspaper when I was a child. She often said, "You can get an education reading the comics."  I guess I thought she was just making up excuses.

This week there was a story in the newspaper to warn us of a new scam. It seems people are phoning to warn you of a possible problem with your computer. They say they are representing Windows and will help you check to see if your computer is vulnerable to this new threat.  They will lead you though a step by step process that will actually end up giving them remote access to your computer. 

A day after I read about this, I got the phone call.  The person started out saying she wanted to check on my computer. I had a malware problem recently and, at first, I thought it might be someone checking to see how that problem had turned out.  But at the first mention of Windows, I knew it was one of these scam artists, and hung up without being conned into turning my computer on. 

I have an adult autistic son, who lives independently in another town. He loves his computer, so I thought I'd better warn him.  I sent him an e-mail while he was at work yesterday and he phoned this morning to tell me he got the message.  He said they were a bunch of con artists. Then he mentioned his room mate, who also has autism, didn't even know what a con man was.  My son then said, "I know what con men are because I used to read Richie Rich." 

Apparently my mother was correct.  You can get an education reading the comics.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Use It Or Lose It

Something strange is happening. 

I don't drive, so I walk everywhere. I always have and I enjoy that. I've lived in this house for more than 34 years and everyday I walk downtown for the mail. That just takes 20 minutes to get there and get back home.  Some days I even do it twice.  No big deal.  I expected to continue to do that for many years to come. All of a sudden everyone seems to want to give me a ride.

I had a phone call Sunday night. A kind friend asked if I had a ride to our Red Hat breakfast the next morning. I laughed and said it was just down the street.  She told me it was going to be the coldest night of the year, and I asked how cold it would be. When she answered that it was going down to minus 23 Celsius, I thought, well, that's not cold for this time of year. I figure everyone is just spoiled with all single digits this year. Anyway, she insisted that she would pick me up, so I agreed.

Then, after the breakfast she was prepared to drive me home again. I said I could go home with my neighbour, who had also decided to drive that morning.  Only after she confirmed that my neighbour would indeed drive me home was she willing to leave without me.  I reminded the two of them that I would be walking over to the medical centre later in the day, and that was even further. 

When I got home, I noticed there was a phone message for me.  When I go to the medical centre, I often stop to visit a friend in that area on the way home.  I had called the night before, to make sure she was available.  The message was from her.  She wanted to know if I needed a ride to my appointment.  I let her know I would be walking and that I'd see her later.  And I did, but then she drove me home. 

This morning I was going to a social gathering downtown again, and my neighbour once again decided to drive me there.  Now, this is becoming a bad habit as it's not just the past couple of days that this has been going on.  It's been happening the past couple of weeks.  I'm wondering, did all these people read my blog entry about falling down, and decide to protect me from any more falls? 

Or maybe the fact that I recently let my hair grow out to it's natural silver makes them realize I'm older than they thought.  I don't know, but if I don't start walking again soon, I likely won't be able to.  Thanks for all your consideration people. There are time when I do indeed need and appreciate a ride someplace, but really, I can still make it downtown under my own power.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Us vs the Kids: Product Denouncement

Us vs the Kids: Product Denouncement

We grandmothers are always looking for ways to spoil, or help look after the newest generation. They are precious to us and when we see a problem, it's really hard not to jump in with both feet and try to solve the problem. My oldest grandson has eczema. This is not something I have any experience with but I've recently heard of a good cream that is recommended for it. However, upon seeing this blog by someone I follow, I'm rethinking this purchase. If little girls don't like special creams, then probably boys don't either.
Do follow the link back and have a look at the picture they had their mother take for their granny.

Saturday, January 15, 2011

Kitchen Experience

Some of you are waiting for a report on how the test recipes turned out.  I mentioned the first one in Working in an Official Capacity and you heard about my troubles getting my hands on the proper pan for the tart. As I was afraid I might not get that pan before the deadline,  I purchased ingredients for another recipe as well.  Chatelaine requires me to report on two of the nine recipes they send, but I could do more if I wanted to.  The third one was Chicken and Dumplings.

I couldn't get the skinless, boneless chicken thighs called for in the recipe and you are not allowed to make substitutions.  I went online and watched a video on how to debone a chicken thigh, as any previous attempts at this procedure didn't work for me at all.  I already knew how to remove the skin. 

Now, deboning requires a very sharp knife and I'm a known klutz in the kitchen when it comes to anything sharp or hot.  I enlisted my hubby to help. But after seeing the video, it looked so easy, I wanted to try it myself.  It wasn't nearly as easy as the video made it look.  But then, my hubby pointed out, the guy in the video probably did it all the time, and practice makes perfect.  Anyway, between the two of us, we got the job done. I wouldn't hesitate to do it again either, even though The deboning process turn out to be the most difficult part of the recipe. 

I also purchased fresh dill for this dish.  I've never had that in the house before either.  The meal was excellent and I'll definitely make it again.

The tart, on the other hand, proved not to be good enough to entice me to buy a special pan so I could repeat the recipe.  It was easier to make than a traditional lemon pie, even a packaged one, but it didn't have as much flavour or wow factor. Maybe I just like meringue too much. 

I do hope my reports to Chatelaine were good enough for them to keep me on as I really did enjoy the experience of making these recipes. I learned a few things along the way, like how to debone a chicken thigh, and how to get a tart out of a bottomless pan, and onto a plate all in one piece.  It's definitely a worthwhile experience, and I'm glad I volunteered for the job.

Year One.... A Summary

A year ago I decided to start this new blog. I had one before, but it was all about my geocaching adventures. I felt that sometimes I'd like to tell you about other places I go, or things I happen to be thinking about, so that's why I called this blog Other Rambles.  I tried to link them together, but was not successful, and I think, now that this one gets so much more traffic, I'll just plop the geocaching adventures into this one too, in the upcoming year.

Blogging has been an interesting adventure for me.  This entry will be the 76th of the year.  I've had 82 comments so far, and I seem to have a following not only from all over North America, but also quite a bit from Russia, Germany, Singapore and the United Kingdom.  Various other have wandered in from Sweden, Hungary, Iran and South Korea, among other places. I can't imagine what I've said to attract such far away readers, but I do hope I can hold onto them as I continue to ramble on.

Not surprisingly, the most popular post so far was the one called Nothing Natural about Art. I say this was not surprising as I was taking an online course with with Johannes Vloothuis and at least a thousand other people at the time, and I mentioned the blog in a forum connected with that.  The second most popular one was called Girls Just Want to Have Fun!  Since this was about Red Hatters and Elvis impersonators, I'm sure it popped up well in the search engines. The third most popular entry is my own personal favourite, In Case You Didn't Know. I just felt I had to tell the world why it is that I'm always passing along unasked for, and probably unwanted information and advise.  After those, the next 3 most popular entries were all about food, whether it was because I was testing some recipes for Chatelaine magazine, or simply trying out the 17 Day Diet.

As I mentioned, there have been a number of comments through out the year. Most of these have come from people I don't know.  I love that.  Not only does it let me know that I'm not just spouting off for my own benefit, it lets me know what others think.  I often follow the links back to these readers own blogs, and sometimes leave comments there too.  I actually feel like I've made a couple of new online friends this past year. I was pleasantly surprised to receive a lovely hand made Christmas card from one of them by snail mail recently.

I closely followed the adventures of one family as they adopted 3 little girls from the Philippines, adding them to the 4 children they already had and continued on with life, trying to make things as normal as possible for everyone in the family.  And I got some good giggles as a mother told stories of her twinnies and their younger sister....and occasionally her hubby, who , like many men, is often like another child in the family.  I also follow a few artistic blogs, where I pick up all kinds of new ideas and techniques.

It's been a great year, both reading and writing, and I'm looking forward to sharing more of my life, and taking a peek at yours.  Go ahead and comment so I can  find you!

Thursday, January 13, 2011

What's Stopping You?

Once upon a time I belonged to an arts guild. I was the only photographer in the group, and several of the painters there kept saying I needed to learn to paint. Actually that mostly happened if I turned my camera towards them, which means they didn't like that much, I guess. Anyway, I never could draw and I told them that. They insisted, as artists always do, that you don't need to be able to draw to paint.

One day, when I was home alone, I decided to paint something, just to prove them wrong.  The problem was, I ended up surprising myself, and the resulting painting was more recognizable than I expected. So, I looked around for someone who could teach me how to work with brushes and I found a decorative artist within walking distance of my house.

I painted patterns from books with acrylics, and every once in a while I would bring in a photograph, and try to copy it.  The paintings never turned out the way I intended, so I'd say, "not yet" and go back to the patterns and the instructions in the books.  As time went on though, I did notice some improvement.

Then one day I was  introduced to watercolour and my world changed.  I still tried to trace around what I wanted to paint, but my paintings had more freedom. I was no longer trying to make the paintings look like the photographs. 

 Recently I decided to try painting without drawing any lines on the paper first.  Once again, I amazed myself.  You just never know what you can do until you quit worrying about failing and just try. 

I'm still no great artist, but I do love to paint, and I know I've come a long way.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Can I Have a Little Service Please

Not long ago the push in business was all about service. Serve the customer well and make sure they enjoy the experience of dealing with your company.  That seemed like the best way to get them to come back.  Your customer base would grow and your business would flourish.

Some companies even took it a bit far.  I mean, who really needs a Walmart Greeter to smile and nod at you as you enter the store?

Apparently things have now gone the other way.  I suppose that can be blamed on the economic downturn.  I am surprised and shocked, however, at how far downhill the service of one of my favourite retailers has slipped.

It used to be, even before others jumped on the good service bandwagon, that you could order something and this company would deliver it, free of charge.  Last year that long time policy disappeared.  I still gave them a lot of business though, as I knew them to be a dependable company that stands behind everything they sell.

Just before Christmas I tried to place an order online, but my Zone Alarm was warning me that the screen that was popping up when I tried to check out was a possible phishing page.  There was a form to fill out for account information that I knew they already had, so that did seem suspicious and I decided to phone my  order in instead.  I reported what I had encountered .  The voice on the other end of the phone said, "Oh, our web site goes a little screwy from time to time."  I told her it was working fine as had all my information earlier in the day, so she agreed to tell their programmers.

I placed my order and got the usual confirmation e-mail.  It said the item would arrive December 24th.  It didn't, and while it is very unusual for this company to miss a deliver date,  it was Christmas, after all.  I imagined they were very busy.  It didn't arrive by New Years either, or yesterday, for that matter, when the bill arrived in the mail.  It was time to call and see if they could track down my order.

I phoned the number I had used to place the order.  The girl forwarded me to the inquiries department.  First she gave me a phone number in case I got disconnected.  I guess that happens a lot.  I was put on hold for the second time before being forwarded to a third department.  By this time I starting to think they do this so you will give up and hang up the phone.  A quick look at the clock, while waiting, reminded me that if I did hang up, I'd only have to start all over again eventually.

The third agent I talked to didn't transfer me to anyone.  She gave a a phone number to dial myself.  When I did I was once again forwarded to another department.  All this kind of reminded me of the government and how they tend to play musical chairs if the public starts to locate the correct person in order to obtain the information they are looking for.  I was wondering how many times I would be transferred before I ended up speaking to someone I had already talked to.

The fifth agent turned out to be the one who could help.  He could see my order and the date it was shipped.  He asked where my village was located and checked to see if the item had been dropped off somewhere along the route, or at any of the nearby towns by mistake.  Someone must have gotten a nice Christmas present, worth about $200, as it seems to have vanished into thin air.  He then credited my account and replace the order. It should arrive here tomorrow.  I have been instructed to wait 24 hours after it arrives, and then to phone back to let them know it got here.  At least he gave me a direct phone number, so I can reach him without going through all this again. 

The whole process took more than half an hour.  Surely, in the interest of better service, they could create an internal phone directory so that customers could be passed to the correct department the first time.  That would certainly free up more agents who are currently all listening to you tell them the same problem over and over, before passing you on to someone else.  More available agents might mean customers spend less time on hold.  That might be a good way to hang on to current customers, don't you think?

Monday, January 10, 2011

Monday, Monday

I hear a lot of people grumble about Mondays.  They don't seem to like them.  I don't understand that as Monday is my favorite day of the week.  Just as many people see the beginning of each new year as a time to start over, I see Mondays that way.  Once a week, I get a fresh start on all my plans and all the things I never got around to doing the week before.  Mondays bring hope. 

It's amazing what I can accomplish on a Monday. 

Now that I'm on Time of Use electrical rates, I start the week out trying not to use any more power than absolutely necessary.  I have discovered there are lots of things I can do that don't require electricity. I can wash walls, clean out cupboards and sort all the piles of stuff that seem to crop up everywhere.  I never found time for these things when I was busy doing laundry, baking and vacuuming. 

I'll be turning the computer off now that there is enough daylight go see my way around the house well enough to start my chores. It's not just house work I'm planning this Monday.  Less computer time will give me more time to work on my painting projects, and I hope to get in some exercise as well.  Actually, I'm finding that climbing on and off of a chair to wash the walls and clean the higher shelves is pretty good exercise.  It's much better than sitting at the computer and moving nothing but my fingers, I'm sure.

I'll wear myself out before the end of the week, and slack off again, I know.  But there is always next Monday, when I can start all over again, with fresh resolve.

Friday, January 7, 2011

Working in An Official Capacity

I recently took on the volunteer position of Official Recipe Tester for Chatelaine magazine. I applied, told them why I thought I'd be good at it, and was surprised when I heard I'd been accepted.  They sent me nine recipes and I must make and review at least two of them. I must also follow the recipe exactly, making no substitutions unless one is suggested.

The first one on the list captured my attention immediately. But once I read it through, I discovered a problem. It required a 9 inch tart pan, with a removable bottom.  I not only didn't have one of those, I didn't even know they existed.

I read through the rest of the recipes, most of which called for some exotic ingredient. It is up to me to buy whatever is needed to make the recipe I chose to review.  One of the reasons I told them I'd be right for this job was that I raised my family on recipes from Chatelaine.  It used to be you could make anything in the magazine by simply opening your cupboard and finding all the ingredients already there. But, for some reason, magazines have all yuppified their recipes.  They are fancier than need be, and always call for something many of my generation likely never heard of. No wonder so many families now eat so much fast food  and convenience foods.  Working women don't have time for this kind of cooking.  For that matter, neither do I.

I did find one nice hamburger based dish that I made last weekend.  I'll make it again too, but I'll use fresh vegetables, instead of the frozen ones the recipe calls for.  I've picked out a chicken dish too try also, if I have time, but I will have to scrounge up some herb I don't have on hand. It only requires a tablespoon full and I don't expect to ever use it again, so I'd rather not buy it if I don't have to.

In the meantime I asked everyone I knew, and used Facebook, to locate someone with one of those special tart pans.  A dear friend with an inn out west said she has three, but she lives too far away. That gave me an idea though, and I approached a local tearoom operator.  I think the idea that I was doing this officially for a magazine swayed her a little as she is lending me the pan for one day, and one day only, to get the job done. I'm so glad as I did go out and purchase all the ingredients shortly after I saw the recipe.  Now, if I can just get it out of that pan in one piece, I'll be thrilled.  I wouldn't count on that though.  Stand by.  I'm making it on Sunday.

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Old Folks Don't Bounce

I'm a stumble bum. I admit that, but usually I manage to catch myself and don't actually fall. The past couple of years, however, I have found myself on the ground 4 times. 

The first time it was a surprise. One minute I was upright, walking at my usual clip, and the next I was sitting on the ground. Blame that on ice under snow and my total confidence in my ability not to fall.  I landed hard on one hip, but did no damage, other than to my pride.  I learned that I could have broken a hip as easily as anyone else, and was thankful that it didn't happen. I have been more careful since then, when it comes to obviously slippery conditions.

The second time I fell, it was a total shock.  It was spring time and there was no ice in sight. I tripped over the slight increase in height where a driveway met a sidewalk.  I had no chance to right myself that time as I went airborne and made a perfect 5 point landing.....two knees, two hands and the side of my face.  The knees were fine, but one hand required a tenser bandage for a while (and probably should have been x-rayed).  The face stung a lot, and I put ice on it when I got home.  I never broke the skin, but the trauma brought the blood to the surface anyway, and by the next day I had a big scab.  Road rash.  Gorgeous.  What frightened me most about that incident was the number of people who kept advising me to sue.  It made me more aware of how quickly someone might sue me too, if they got hurt on my property, or at my business.

The third time I fell was just before this Christmas.  I had washed a glass chimney for a candle and was walking into the livingroom to put it where it belonged.  The light from the window showed up a spot or two on the glass, and I was busy rubbing them off instead of looking where I was going.  My hubby had been helping me clean and had left the vacuum cleaner by the end of the coffee table, in case I wasn't finished with it. My inattentiveness caused me to trip right over the vacuum cleaner and fall between the coffee table and the chair.  I missed both, and the glass in my hand went flying, knocking two other glass candle holders off the table in the process.  Luckily, not one piece of glass broke, or I may have slit my wrist.  Amazingly I also entirely missed hitting the table.  This was a good thing as my table has very sharp corners and has caused trips to the emergency department for stitches in the past.  It was a 4 point landing this time, and I was stunned for a moment.  It was the knees that hurt enough to require ice this time.  I ended up with a big bruise on one foot, and part way up that leg, and a little bruise near the toes on the other foot.  It's now two weeks later and one knee still doesn't allow me to kneel on it.

At this point I must mention that I fell years ago, off the bottom couple of steps of a flight of stairs, and tore all the soft tissue in my foot. There was fresh snow yesterday, when I went for my usual walk downtown. The streets had not yet been plowed.  I was walking along the side, where the snow had not been disturbed, but I have a bad ankle from that old fall,  and it didn't like the uneven terrain.  I live in a tiny village, so it's perfectly normal to walk down the middle of the street. I moved over and started walking in some car tracks as that was much easier going.  What I didn't know was that it was slippery under the snow.  Once again I found myself sitting on the ground.  I didn't seem to have hurt anything this time either, and got up and carried on with my walk.  Today I'm sore from my hip to my neck and all down one arm. 

What I've learned from all this is that I'm apparently not as steady on my feet as I used to be, or thought I was.  Old folks don't bounce, I'm told, but I must have good strong bones, as, at least, I don't seem to break anything (unless I broke a small bone in my hand that one time).  I've also learned that I'm landing hard, and entirely too often, so I better start paying more attention as my luck may run out.  Maybe it's time I started practicing my tai chi again. That's definitely good for balance and I seem to need all the help I can get.

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

'Tis the Season

I walked into a store and came face to face with a large display of Valentine products. It was a shock as I'm not finished celebrating the Christmas season yet. 

My Christmas tree and decorations always stay up until after Little Christmas on January 6th, (see Epiphany ) as I can still expect visitors until then. The actual holidays fell on weekends this year, and everyone was busy with their own family or traditional holiday celebrations. Because of that,  people seem to be inviting their friends to their homes during the week this year.  In fact, yesterday I attended two social gatherings at the homes of friends, and I enjoyed that very much. 

Commercialism has created this rush to change seasons in the stores. It's annoying, but understandable. This trend seems to have now spread to people's homes too.  I can't believe the number of people who had their tree down, and decorations all put away, by Boxing Day this year.  New Years Day is bad enough, but Boxing Day?  Really people, what's the hurry?

Monday, January 3, 2011

New Beginnings

My geocaching adventures can be found at  but I don't tend to do much of that during the colder months.  I'm always up to something though, so I thought I'd start a new blog where I can fill you in on my other rambles.

The subjects you may find here might include my photo and painting attempts, my social outings with the Red Hatters and other such groups, and reviews on books and recipes I do for various publishers from time to time.

Right now though, the thing that's most on my mind is Time of Use electrical rates.  I realize that many of you have no idea what that might be, so I'll try to explain.  I live in Ontario, Canada, where Hydro One (the electric company) installed what they call "smart meters" to replace all the previous meters that measure our electrical usage.  They can now tell not only how much electricity we are using, but exactly when we are using it.  They have divided the day up into sections when it will cost more, or less, for every kilowatt hour of power we use.  So, for instance, while the rates are actually lower than they used to be during the night time hours (9pm until 7am) they are considerably higher from 7am to 11am and from 6pm until 9pm.  The time in between (11am until 6pm) is billed at mid rates, which are still higher than what the rates were when all the hours were billed equally. 

I've just been put on this Time of Use billing as of the 15th of December (Merry Christmas to me!) and it's going to change the way I live, I'm sure.  For instance, at the moment, the light from this screen is the only light I have as daylight is just now arriving, and it's already looking like a dull day.  I will try hard to control when and how much electricity I use, especially before my first bill under this new system.  I know people who got a major surprise when they ignored the whole thing and saw their bills more than double during that first month.  I sure don't want that to happen here! 

So be patient while I get this new blog underway. I'm sure it will take on a character of its own over time.