Category Archives: home

The Power of Second Opinions

piggy bankWhile I consider myself an optimist who likes to think the best in people, I thank my Mom for raising me with a healthy degree of skepticism to keep things in balance.

If she didn’t, I think it would be safe to say that the Pollyanna in me might have fallen off the turnip truck, not seen the forest for the trees and may have gotten into financial hot water.

One life lesson that has proven invaluable has been the idea of getting a second opinion (…and sometimes a third.)

I don’t think a second opinion is needed when making small, routine purchases. Let’s face it, despite being starved for conversation after the pandemic lockdowns, we probably won’t make friends while canvassing for second opinions about long-lasting breath mints at the express check-out counter.

But to me, there are times when a second opinion makes sense to validate the necessity of an expensive transaction and that the associated costs are justified. Also, having a few moments to just take a deep breath and to absorb what we are being told without freaking out is an added bonus. Continue reading

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When Bath Towels Shed Like a Cat in Spring

a set of fluffy white towelsAfter the big move to the country, as I was unpacking my towels, I experienced a bit of a life-flashing-before-my-eyes moment, as each towel colour seemed to hold an association to a specific period in my life.

I guess the fact that I bought my bathroom towels in batches to coordinate with my decor each time I moved might have had something to do with it.

When I first moved out on my own, my bathroom (actually, my whole apartment) was decorated around basic black and white neutrals with red accents. It was easy, it was inexpensive (luckily, budget-friendly flat-pack furniture often came in either black or white), and it looked deliberate and pretty well put-together.

My linen closet was stocked with a first purchase of black towels. I enjoyed them because they were very low maintenance in the sense that they rarely needed special treatment. To me, they never showed stains the way a lighter colour might.

The only issue I had was the dust and the lint that they produced when they were brand new, despite several washings.

I found myself cleaning the pale bathroom floor more often than I would have liked simply because of the little black fibers and spots of lint that littered the floor. It only took a couple of days for the bathroom floor to look like it hadn’t been cleaned in weeks. This was more than the Type-A part of me could tolerate. Continue reading

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The Mystery of the Exploding Tissues

I think it would be fair to say that most people experience the “exploding tissue in the washing machine” situation at one time or another.

You know… it’s those times when despite having thoroughly checked the pockets of the garments being loaded into the washing machine, a tissue still sneaks in, goes through a full wash cycle, and explodes into a million little pieces.

Given my emergency preparedness training at work, it should come as no surprise that I always kept a tissue neatly tucked in a pocket (especially since the pandemic) to catch unplanned, unscheduled or unexpected sneezes.

That being the case, over the years, I was no stranger to the occasional case of exploding tissues in the wash.

It’s not that I didn’t check my pockets. I did… I do… I always do… but once in a while, I might miss one.

That being the case, I developed and implemented a two-step checking process to try to catch those sneaky little buggers (or “boogers” in the case of used ones):

Step 1: I check the pockets before an article of clothing goes into the laundry hamper.

Step 2: I check the pockets again before the clothing goes into the washing machine.

This two-step process has proven to be invaluable as I have found myself breathing a sigh of relief in catching some just before a wash load, especially a load of dark coloured clothes.

But still, every once in a while, a tissue sneaks through and makes a mess.

Why is this? Continue reading

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The First Snowfall of the Season

When I hear the quote from Greek philosopher Epictetus, “it’s not what happens to you, it’s how you react to it that matters,” I admit that the words are sometimes a bitter pill to swallow when my frustration is beginning to swirl.

However, over time, I have discovered the wisdom of those words when I have seen the contrast in my own feelings over a recurring situation, and how those feelings can change depending on any number of contextual factors.

The first snowfall of the season is an excellent example.

As a young boy, that first snowfall was consistently met with joy and excitement as it meant a switch in the games we played outside at recess.

Running after snowflakes and catching them on our tongues to see who could catch the biggest was a favourite (clearly, it didn’t take much to amuse us). Piles of snow would become the focal point of a game of “king or queen of the castle”. And of course we would blow off steam with the occasional snowball fight, just for the fun of it. Continue reading

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My Grape Jelly Laboratory

a basket of freshly harvested grapesShortly after we settled into our home in the country, my partner and I were beyond surprised to discover grapevines in our garden.

Maybe I am too much of a city boy to know better, but to find out that grapes could successfully grow at all in this northern climate was news to me. To discover them in our own garden was pure serendipity.

Given that it was just a couple of grapevines, we did not develop any grand illusions of a future in winemaking. Just the same, we looked forward to seeing how much they might produce and whether the grapes would be fit for consumption.

The first summer we were here, we were so busy, I don’t even recall seeing the grapes. But it was a drought year, so there is a chance that we barely had any.

It was in the second growing season that conditions were quite good. Not only did our apple tree give us a bumper crop, but the grape harvest filled a 4 litre basket, just enough for a batch of grape jelly. With the help of a recipe I found online, it was time to make jelly magic.

This was not my first time making jelly. Back in the early 2000s, at a time when I was forever searching for creative projects, I found a recipe for red pepper jelly in the TV Guide and thought to myself, “that doesn’t sound too hard.” I bought mason jars and the necessary ingredients and successfully produced a beautiful red jelly, perfect for Christmas gift giving.

With that experience long behind me (maybe too long), my grape jelly journey began. While I am certainly no stranger in the kitchen, the multi-step process seemed more complex than I remembered from my first experience. Continue reading

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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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