Category Archives: home

Waiting for the Noodles

After nearly four decades of cooking for myself, I can’t say that there is much that scares me in the kitchen. I have no problem following a recipe, word for word, in the hope of achieving the expected results.

I will even go so far as to say that I am pretty confident when keeping my eye on two dishes at once.

But it’s when a meal has three separate components (or more) than my anxiety can potentially boil over. In those moments, I start wondering how the talented jugglers I have seen on TV could spin multiple plates on the end of tall sticks, and keep them spinning beautifully.

To me, cooking is very much the same thing. It is the variability of variables that can potentially spoil a meal that keeps me on edge.

Let’s start with the essential work tools, the stove and oven:

I’ll never forget the stove that came with the house in my last place. At 15 years old, it wasn’t an antiquity, but by today’s standards for appliances, it was getting old… and increasingly unreliable.

It didn’t take many under-baked goodies for me to figure out that there was a problem with the oven. After a while, I bought an oven thermometer to get a second opinion on the temperature. Sure enough, the oven was almost always 25 degrees under the temperature I requested. Continue reading

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The Battle over the Bird Feeders

When we moved to a rural property, it was hard to resist the prospect of getting a bird feeder given the many species of feathered friends that stopped in for a layover.

While the process behind bird feeders may appear fairly straightforward (get bird feeder, fill with bird seed, birds eat food, watch, enjoy, repeat), who knew that being restaurateur to an avian clientele would present such a learning curve?

Upon arrival, we noticed that the previous owners left behind a hummingbird feeder on a shepherd’s hook in the garden. We thought that was a good starting point.

Upon closer inspection, the feeder needed a thorough cleaning, so I brought it in the house, let it sit in hot water for a while and then started scrubbing.

I googled “hummingbird feeder” to see what was recommended in terms of the liquid to put in it. To my great surprise, it was a simple solution of 1 part sugar dissolved in 4 parts water. I was quite thrilled that it would be this easy to get started, as I had never seen a hummingbird up close before.

However, when I poured the “nectar” into the feeder, I discovered that the old feeder was due for replacing as the liquid dribbled out all over the place.

On our next trip to Canadian Tire, we picked up a new hummingbird feeder to replace the old one, as well as a basic bird feeder and a bag of bird seed designed to attract smaller songbirds. The larger birds would have to fend for themselves for now, but I knew that they wouldn’t go hungry as they seemed quite content with the berries on some of our small fruit trees. Continue reading

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Building a Toad Hotel

In an effort to finally gain the upper hand in dealing with overgrown plants, very bushy bushes, and relentless weeds, we invested in professional help for our garden.

While I cannot speak to the reasons to how or why the garden got to this point, I can only say that the year we took over the house, a walk in our backyard was what I imagine might feel like a walk through a lush rain forest.

It was soothing for the senses to see Mother Nature at work like that, with so much greenery billowing in the breeze.

But the bottom line was that the garden was out of control with plants growing into each other or suffocating each other. It was like plant wars, witnessing the survival of the fittest first hand. Nonetheless, the potential for a really nice garden was definitely there.

Trying to stay on top of the weeds was the impossible dream for us, cautiously putting in an hour here and there, on weekends, weather permitting, when the mosquito count was low, without upsetting the delicate balance of degenerating back conditions. Aging sucks!

It was an incredibly validating exercise to see that it took three young people, a small tractor and two very full days to whip the garden back into shape!

By the time that the crew had completed the work, our gardens were finally a source of pride rather than a source of embarrassment. The curb appeal was returning and we expect it will improve further over time as new growth fills in the spaces vacated by the former plants having near-death experiences. Continue reading

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The Joy of Owning a Wood Chipper

I can’t say that many nick names have stuck with me over the years. The name André doesn’t really shorten all that well.

Some have tried calling me “An” which sounded awkward and too short for a nickname, if that is even possible. “Dré” gained traction with some of my friends and I would still respond to it today, but due to the pandemic, no one has called me that for some time.

But now, if someone decided to call me “Chip”, it would be totally justified, thanks to my favourite new garden tool: our electric wood chipper.

If someone had told me just a few years ago that someday I would own a wood chipper, I would have recommended that they seek medical attention or to review the dosage of their meds.

From my vantage point, there was no way in the world that this city boy would ever own a wood chipper. To me, that was a tool reserved for properties in the deep woods and as props in movies like “Fargo”.

Never say never.

Here we are, living in the country, and I am now the proud owner of a wood chipper. Continue reading

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The Glitch of the Week

A close up shot of a computer keyboardIs it just me or have some eCommerce systems suddenly gone glitchy?

Just as I started settling into retirement, enjoying more free time to relax and to enjoy life, I regret that some of that reclaimed time is getting gobbled up, cleaning up after glitchy systems.

It seems that at least every week or two, I am on the phone (or communicating via chat-boxes) with different companies about system issues.

For example, I had an order cancelled without notification to me (and I was still waiting for it, weeks later). I had an order shipped to a nearby store location, but no notification that it had arrived (and was soon to be shipped back). I had several orders marked “undeliverable” when a given company had delivered parcels to our house countless times before.

Of course, none of these situations were catastrophic by any stretch of the imagination. There are far more serious problems in the world, and I do try to maintain a level-headed perspective in light of these situations.

I completely understand that mishaps happen and I am always willing to offer the benefit of the doubt. But when there seems to be surprising regularity to these mishaps, not isolated to a single company, it does make one wonder what is going on in the world of system development.

Have systems been ramped up too quickly to handle the onslaught on online shopping during the pandemic?

Are systems properly designed for every eventuality? Continue reading

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When Food is Flying

Back in my working days, I used to think of myself as the king of batch cooking. On any given weekend, I would roll up my sleeves and slice, dice, chop, fry, bake, roast or braise any number of food items in preparation for the work week ahead.

I would place the completed meals into small microwave-safe containers, label them and then freeze them. It often felt like cooking for a platoon, preparing two or three recipes at the same time and ending up with 12 to 15 prepared meals, but it worked for me. As a result, during the work week, I barely had to think about lunches and dinners. To me, it was a pretty efficient system for cooking for one.

During those marathon sessions of cooking, I picked up the habit of cleaning the kitchen as I went along to avoid a mountain of dishes and a bad case of “kitchen claustrophobia”. Just the same, when food prep day was done, I could do one final kitchen clean up and then toss whatever I was wearing into the laundry hamper.

The reality is that despite my meticulousness when cooking and cleaning up, I often ended up wearing some of my ingredients. Call me an enthusiastic chef!

After moving to the country with my partner, I quickly adapted to cooking for two, as we took turns in meal preparation. Continue reading

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Kitchen Claustrophobia

a spread of party food sitting on a turquoise blue stovetopAm I the only one who suffers from kitchen claustrophobia… or is it acrophobia? Whatever the clinical term might be, I am referring to a fear of mountains of dishes, leaving little room to navigate.

It’s not a fear that causes me sleepless nights but I will admit that it does trigger a compulsion for keeping the kitchen as clutter-free as possible.

When I first moved out on my own, I always kept a pretty tidy bachelor pad. However I was a bit more lenient in the kitchen area. Without a dishwasher in my modest little galley kitchen, I sometimes let dishes go for a day or two, until there was enough to warrant pulling out the rubber gloves. After all, it was just me producing dishes, and I admit I became pretty frugal in my use of dishes (i.e., eating out of napkins or over the kitchen sink) to avoid accumulations.

But it didn’t take long for me to figure out that this approach was not entirely practical with a kitchen that was just slightly larger than a postage stamp.

Plus, when consuming all three meals at home (I lived just a couple of blocks from my office so I could easily dash home at lunch time), some pile ups came quickly. Continue reading

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The Game of “Name Those Tracks”

animal tracks in the snowOnce we settled into our home the country, there has been no shortage of interesting discoveries when it came to the flora and fauna in the neighbourhood.

In winter, I find endless wonder and fascination in checking out the animal tracks in the snow in every corner of our property.

When I do, it turns into a bit of a CSI-style forensic game of “name those tracks”. While we have a number of regular visitors that make the short list of suspects, there are a few that stop by make one or two guest appearances, just to make the game more interesting.

Sometimes, the game is a bit of a throwback to primary school science classes when we learned about the wildlife that roams in this part of the country. I remember countless hours memorizing their unique characteristics, including the tracks that they leave behind.

The bird tracks are easy to pick out, as are those of our squirrels and chipmunks who must be suffering from insomnia this year as they aren’t really showing signs of hibernation. Their tracks are everywhere!

But there is evidence of other small animals that seem to visit us given the size of the tracks. I assume that they must be nocturnal critters, given how a morning stroll often yields new tracks to observe. Continue reading

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In Pursuit of the Perfect Pillow

A picture of a cat in a pile of bedsheets and pillowcases.

Ivy the cat “helping” with the laundry of the bedsheets and pillowcases

While I wouldn’t consider myself to be particularly picky, it would seem that for all of the comparison shopping I do, I am perhaps very “discerning”. How is that for a positive spin?

And frankly, why would I buy something that isn’t exactly what I am looking for especially when health and comfort are part of the equation?

The head-scratcher is how fortunate we are to have as many shopping options as we do, yet it often feels like we are looking for a needle in a haystack.

This particular hunt holds similarities to a Goldilocks-style tale given that we have elements of “too hard”, “too soft” and “just right”. Although in my case it seems like it’s never hard enough… I’m talking about pillows.

As far back as I can remember, I have preferred firm mattresses. Over the years, I discovered that I felt the same way about pillows.

It used to be that I could buy a pillow and it would last for years. Lately, that doesn’t seem to be the case anymore and a firm pillow tends not to stay firm for very long.

I wonder to myself if it’s the weight distribution of my body. Could it be because of my huge, round, beach ball of a Charlie Brown head? Is it possible that I am wearing them out faster than most people? Continue reading

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The Trouble with Walnut Trees

When we moved to our country property, I really had no idea what a non-stop learning experience I would be encountering.

With a fascinating collection of trees growing throughout our little lot, technology became my best friend for identifying and researching each type’s unique characteristics and needs for proper care.

The first time I heard of black walnut trees was when we contacted an expert to examine a couple of trees that looked like they were having near-death experiences. He suggested that the reason for their illness was the black walnut trees that send a poison through their root system to kill off neighbouring trees, thereby hoarding water and nutrients for itself. It’s mean but that is the way that species of tree operates in the spirit of self-preservation.

I have to admit, I was such a novice in the gardening department, I was surprised that our cold weather and relatively short growing season would support any kind of nut tree. I thought that they only grew in warmer climates. You learn something new every day!

The first growing season after we moved in, we experienced a drought that seemed to put all of our trees in survival mode, as we didn’t see much action from the apple trees nor the black walnut trees.

The second year was a completely different story. One of our apple trees was beyond generous, as I described in my posts, My First Apple Tree (Part 1) and (Part 2).

When fall rolled around, it was the black walnut trees’ turn to deliver. And wow, did they deliver! It was a nutty time.

While I could just leave the nuts for the squirrels and chipmunks to stash away as their winter food, or leave the nuts there to decompose, the reality is that there were just so many of them. Plus, I assumed that we likely wanted to avoid having them take root in the lawn and risk killing off other beautiful plants and shrubs. We started moving them to a temporary pile, to gradually incorporate them into the garbage or in preparation for the dump.

I discovered that there was no use in putting them in paper yard waste bags until the day we were ready to dispose of them. Our badass chipmunks completely destroy the bags to get to the nuts. That being the case, I didn’t want to risk putting bags in the garage either for fear of attracting them and causing collateral damage.

At first, the walnuts fell at a pretty manageable rate. I could scoop them up with a great tool I picked up at a local hardware store, without straining my old back. But given the sheer magnitude of the trees, after a few weeks, it became a losing battle as the slightest breeze could knock the nuts out by the dozens.

They were falling so quickly, I tried to keep the cat away from the trees during our supervised walks, but you know what happens when you say no…

As she stood under one of the trees, sniffing away at the raw nuts that smell like a stronger version of Ivory soap, I often found myself sheltering her little head with my hands, to protect her from falling nuts. Next year I may need to invest in a cat crash helmet, just in case.

Given the consistently heavy downpour of nuts, it was time to revert to the wheelbarrow to collect them up and transport them to the temporary pile.

The sad part is that our neighbouring petting zoos aren’t interested in these nuts in the same way that we were able to unload our excess apples to be happily enjoyed by their pigs and goats.

As for human consumption, I checked a few online videos describing the process to take a raw black walnut and to prepare it for cooking and baking. Let’s just say that I did not retire from a full-time job to take on the full-time job of processing and drying nuts.

Unfortunately, when collecting and transferring a heavy bucket of nuts into a garbage bag, I sent my back into a level of distress I haven’t experienced in many years. The backache was not fun, but thankfully it sorted itself out within a couple of weeks with a series of gentle stretching exercises.

As much as I love the beautiful canopy of our black walnut trees, providing wonderful shade on the hottest of summer days, there is a price to pay for these natural beauties.

Keeping up with the avalanche of nuts this year was a lot of work, far more than I envisioned. However, looking on the bright side, I have to count my blessings that this tree operates on a different timeline than our abundant apple trees, offering us a break between both harvests.

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Sincere thanks for reading!
Have a great day,
André

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