Friday, March 11, 2016

Western Canada Winter Memories

“The old lady just call and 1 of her workers just pulled out of the driveway with the block heater still plugged in and ripped the end off.. so i have to go to crappy tire get an end and fix it.” 

This is a slightly modified quote from a friend on Facebook that triggered some memories of doing such things while living in western Canada in the winter, specifically Calgary, Alberta (he isn’t the best of spellers as he openly admits, so I corrected some of the mistakes and some grammar, too). Since I was a transferred sales representative, I had to get used to some of the differences that I found from my native Ontario which is generally a lot warmer in winter.

The first thing I noticed is it was a dry cold (just like all the locals said), but that doesn’t make it any better. Your nostrils want to try to slam shut when you try to breathe the really cold air that I first experienced my first December out there. Not many folks in Calgary were actually born there since most transferred in because of something related to the oil patch businesses and all the support businesses needed to help with this cyclical growth since it was on again and then off again when prices dropped.

I also noticed that every car had the block heater plug hanging out of an opening in the grill or just in a gap between the hood and the body. My first experience of not plugging in on a cold night was interesting since the engine wouldn’t turn over since the oil was pretty much solid goo. I since learned that a thinner winter weight multigrade oil made engine turnover a little easier but you still plugged in the car overnight wherever you were be it at home or at a hotel or motel on the road. I vividly remember driving into Winnipeg from the airport and passing a larger shopping mall that had a sort of cloud over it but this was just all the cars left running while folks went indoors to shop. I guess stealing cars in the middle of the winter was beyond most crooks since they probably went south with the birds.

Back in those days, the hotel issued keys since the card entry system was not available yet. They mostly had cheaper nylon carpets so when you made it inside, after hitching up your car for the night and walking through the extra crunchy dry snow, I learned quickly that the very large key was a very important defense weapon you needed before you got to your room. You see the soles of my shoes (not rubber) would start to build up a large amount of static electricity in my mostly wool pants and when you went to reach for a metal door handle you got to see very large sparks gapping from the door handle to the first metal thing on your body or in your hand. Since the first time I did this the key was in my pocket and it seems that the 3 foot spark decided that the zipper on my pants fly was the place it would complete its connection for discharging (zippers were metal back in those days). WOW did that ever hurt!! So from that point on, I always entered a building with a key firmly lodged between the first two fingers of my right hand and watched as the giant spark made its arc between the door handle I was about to grab and the key. Better safe than neutered.

For those of you that don’t know what crappy tire is, it is nothing more than the name most Canadian folks gave to Canadian Tire which is a chain of automotive retail stores (that sells way more than auto parts) that can be found in most every city or larger town in Canada. They do sell some good products but they also import a lot of junk that gives it that tag. Back in those days, a lot of the crappy stuff came from Japan and Korea but now most everything they sell comes from China so I think it is time to update the tag to “Chinese Tire” because that is where the bulk of its products sold are made, which isn’t much different than other larger retailers nowadays. They don’t get the idea that with a name like Canadian Tire that they should be selling mostly Canadian made products but that is another problem that will one day be resolved by the cost of transportation from foreign lands and perhaps more of the products bought by Canadians will be made by Canadians who would be employed and could afford to buy them now. 

Take a visit to Mark’s Work Warehouse and Sport Chek (where one buys winter gear in Canada) which are both owned by Canadian Tire and look at all the Made in other places, not Canada tags there as well. Interestingly enough, both had their head offices in Calgary and were founded by western Canadians to the best of my knowledge, or at least started out as western retailers before making it back into the east. It is too bad that there are not more Canadian producers of goods out there that would be gainfully employed by Canadians who would then spend their earnings on Canadian-made goods but that is not a new problem in the world economy. Sooner or later the big retailers will give in to the fact that Made in other places is not a sustainable way to do business. But first they have to take their focus off of the bottom line to see what is happening to their overall business. I bet if they had a Made In Canada section in all 3 stores, it wouldn't take up very much floor space. 

Anyone remember when Canadian Tire didn't have any stock on the floor? Way back in the day, you found a sample product covered in clear plastic on the display floor, recorded the product number and took your order to a counter where it got picked and sent upstairs on a conveyor belt. Who came up with that crazy idea? Probably a relative of the folks that get their products made in a country they probably have never visited. Retailers come up with some very strange ideas on how to do business. Maybe they never learned to use the key trick and got zapped too many times. I would think getting zapped there a lot would eventually hurt your thinking patterns.

Saturday, February 13, 2016

Doing It the Right Way

It is certainly creative!

How does one decide that there is only one right way to do things, which implies all the other ways are wrong? I think that only leads one to believe that someone with that viewpoint is rather narrow-minded. Why would you not just consider all of the other ways just alternative methods to do a task or undertaking? Could you not see that some would be better than others and many would be done to your satisfaction? Maybe one would rise to the top and be considered the best way to do that, but you could hardly just call it the right way of doing that activity.

Let’s look at one particular task in light of this concept. Is there a right way to cook bacon? There are several ways of cooking bacon that will all give good results because anyone who likes bacon knows this to be true. You can cook it in frying pan (some folks insist on a cast iron one), in a microwave (between plain white paper towels on a microwave safe plate is good), in the oven (on a cookie sheet between two sheets of parchment paper or on tinfoil), under the broiler (on a broiling pan to catch the drippings) and on a griddle on the stove or barbecue (similar to the frying pan method). And I’m sure you could come up with even more ways to cook bacon successfully.

So one could say that all is left to resolve is which one or more methods are better suited to your way of doing things or your requirements at that particular point in time. Some approaches are better for larger batches cooked at one time, while others are appropriate for smaller lots (some folks would ask why would you want a small batch of bacon?) and some methods allow you to collect the drippings after cooking while others make that a little more difficult. Some require more clean-up after the fact than others.

So can you honestly say that there is only one right way to cook bacon? I think the simple answer is that there is more than one way to do things right which could imply that the others are just wrong. Jase Robertson would often say “That’s just wrong” but that is just done for television since he is smart enough to accept there is more than one way to catch a frog. He apparently refers to himself as “a frog’s worst nightmare”. Some folks might say they never cook bacon and that is a personal choice. It should be considered that this viewpoint is neither right nor wrong.

And like cooking bacon another question a Canadian like me might ask is there only one right way to shoot a hockey puck? You could use a wood stick (if you can still find one), a laminate stick or a composite stick (if you are wealthy enough to afford those things) and you could shoot it forehand, backhand (if the stick blade doesn’t have too much curve), wrist shot, flick shot, slap shot, snapshot, one-timer, cannonading drive (thank you Danny Gallivan)… And the list can go on for some time. Mostly I shoot the puck poorly and that is one of many reasons I tried to play goal (the major one was a great respect for Johnny Bower and also the reason I hung up the pads).

So is there just one right religion, nationality, political party, hamburger, soft drink, beer, vacation place, sport, music genre, way to hang a roll of toilet paper, hairstyle, acting method, and way to poop? Try googling “right way to” and you will see a whole bunch of listings for narrow-minded folks that insist that the subject matter has a solitary way of being done to qualify as the right way of doing it.

I strongly suggest you avoid folks who insist that there is a right way to do things and find the folks that accept that there are several ways that you can do things and some are possibly considered better than the others just based on their viewpoint. And you could classify that viewpoint as tolerance, open-mindedness, progressiveness, permissiveness and even liberalism. It is interesting that I got most of the synonyms for tolerance here from a thesaurus which is a book based on alternatives.

Some folks have a very small outlook on life and that is sort of wrong really but I guess it works for them. I think it leaves a lot of room up there for air instead of possibilities.

Tuesday, February 9, 2016

Wisdom Defined by Me

Wisdom taught me to "borrow" from Google and adjust it

Simply stated, it is whatever works best for you and is developed over time as you find out what works and what really doesn’t do so well.

My more recent growth in wisdom has come from the judicial use of Google and sorting out what works for me and what I really don’t think is much help. So if I don’t know what I need to know, I just “google” it to try to find a better solution to my problem (do an Internet search).

Take this Facebook post as an example of someone who will eventually get wisdom.
I broke my phone last week and lost a lot of my contacts, could everyone please send me a text with your name so I can add you back? 
You would think that after a number of times losing this information that one would create a backup in case of some mishap. I know I did this a lot in my working days for contacts since you make a lot of them in the sales and marketing field. And I didn’t have a cell phone since they weren’t available on the open market as yet. So I also carried some spare change to use a payphone in case of some emergency. My contact list was saved on an early days’ computer and was simply a dot matrix printout of that information when I finally got my own computer. Up until then, the sales management groups only wanted everything hand written. They had not developed wisdom in this matter as yet and some never did. They were mostly full of a lot of themselves, and possibly other things. Some did have wisdom and I paid attention to their advice.

Here are some other items that show I developed wisdom and I would like to share them with you now.

I made a butcher block for my various kitchen knives and custom cut it to hold the different blade widths while I assembled it. Now that is not the wisdom I gained here but it was sort of some. I got wisdom when I realized that all blocks at the time stored the knives against the blade edge. Well since I started to hand sharpen all my knives myself, I soon realized that a better way to store the knives is to simply turn them around and let them rest on their spines so the edges stay sharper much longer. The knife companies just marketed another version of the knife block/knife set that had the knives resting on their sides now. They, after all, were in the business of selling more knives.

The best toilet bowl cleaner for my money turns out to be plain old ordinary white vinegar. It disinfects and breaks down lime build up in the bowl and it is so cheap compared to the packaged and over marketed versions in the toilet bowl cleaning section and it seems to work much better. Try a couple of cups and let it sit for a while before you use the brush on the bowl. If that doesn’t work so well try 3-4 cups the next time which is an example of how one develops wisdom.

Why is it that older folks seem to have more wisdom than younger folks? Well that one is really a no-brainer since the older folks have made more mistakes and corrected for them since they have been around a lot longer than younger folks. It is known as experience and not useless information that a younger folk once told me my head was full of (useless information). I think he was full of something else but since I gained wisdom I didn’t say that to him. He was, after all, the owner’s son. 

I learned a lot about wisdom working at a golf course. There are a lot of really bad golfers out there and you only got better if you changed what wasn’t working. It never ceased to amaze me that so many of them just kept on doing the same old thing on just about every shot and their game never improved. I, in my infinite wisdom, decided to take some lessons and so my game immediately showed significant improvement. So I learned that you can gain wisdom from others who have gained their own wisdom.

Just stay away from advice from those that are full of something else. That is wisdom in its purest form.

Tuesday, February 2, 2016

World’s Best Meal – According to Me

And it is not something you can get at a fast food joint. That would mean you have to put on socks and shoes and dress better and you have to stand in line to get served. Besides they use a lot of processed stuff in their mix so it really isn’t that healthy either.

I am talking about something you prepare right in your own kitchen and it really doesn’t require a lot of skill or equipment. You will need a sharp knife, microwave, dinner plate, some parchment paper and some food items that you will look in your refrigerator to use up since you didn’t eat them all in one sitting.

So pick a nice plain microwave safe dinner plate and that means no gold trim that will want to arc like crazy in the microwave. Get out the box of parchment paper and tear off a strip about as wide as the dinner plate is round. Then take a sharp cutting tool (I use my Olfa cutter) and cut that down the middle into 2 sections and store the second piece in the drawer where you got the parchment paper.  

You also will need some tortilla chips as the base layer that goes down on parchment paper that is on the microwave safe dinner plate which tends to keep the chips from getting really soggy and limpy. My personal favourite is Tostito’s Multigrain Scoopers. The fact that they are multigrain adds some added flavour and some added food value to this meal. The Scoopers are formed in such a way that they create cups to hold ingredients. So place them nicely in a pattern that covers as much of the plate without overlapping each other. Save all the partial pieces for topping soup or stews.

Now get out a good barbecue sauce and drizzle it over the tortilla chips. My personal favourite is Diana Sauce ( which takes me back to the days of working at the old Eaton’s store in the sporting goods department. We went across Yonge Street and dodged the traffic for coffee breaks because Diana Sweets served quality food and quality coffee as well. The sauce does not list corn starch as an ingredient which might explain why it flows very smoothly unlike the cheaper mass brands do which come out of the bottle in blobs.

Now it is up to you to what you put on as more toppings because it is your creation and sort of like an in house pizza without having to wait for delivery and pay through the nose for over salted food that is delivered by someone with an attitude, if the tip doesn’t meet with their liking. Almost any previously cooked meat works quite well and my ‘fridge always seems to have lots of that around.

Corned beef, roast beef, ham, turkey, chicken, pastrami, kolbassa, and many other packaged slice meats work well. You can also use leftover meats but just cut them up into small pieces to spread out over the chips and sauce. I usually grill extra chicken breasts just for that purpose in warmer weather. Now you can keep going and I at least shred some cheese on top of this as a basic mix and you can season it to taste with stuff like basil, onion powder, garlic powder, etc. Don’t add salt since there is enough in the cheese and meats usually.

But I usually kick it up a notch (out of respect for Emeril) and add more ingredients. Recently I have tried thinly sliced mushrooms, baby spinach or regular spinach, pineapple tidbits, fresh broccoli (sort of shaved into really tiny pieces) and all work well. I have used lettuce as a final topping but only after the mixture was heated. Cut up grape tomatoes would work well in that fashion also.

I plan to try raisins, shredded carrot, cooked bacon, cooked chicken-bacon, canned peach slices (cut up into really small pieces), green onions, red onions, sunflower seeds, and anything else that I have in the fridge (and sometimes in the cupboard) that might taste good and create variety.

You only need to microwave your creation for about 90 seconds to melt the cheese and give the rest of the mixture warmth and bind it all together since it makes a really wonderful finger food. Just let it sit for at least a minute or two after it comes out of the microwave so you don’t cook the inside of your mouth (the process of microwaving continues for a bit after the unit finishes beeping). Always have a cold beverage of some sort to go along with this creation. My personal favourite is some sort of fruit juice to get some more good food value out of this meal.

There is not much to clean up after and usually the plate just needs a quick washing in the sink with the soap pad and rinse. When you are hungry and don’t feel like making a full meal this combination is a really easy one to prepare and you get to use up stuff in your fridge that might go bad in a few days and get a healthy meal to boot. It's a pretty good choice all around but don’t eat it near the computer keyboard. It is a bit of a sticky mess and you will need to wash your hands after it is devoured but that isn’t much work really. None of this was much work and it usually just tastes excellent.

It all seems pretty perfect to me, but I am pretty easy to please.

Friday, January 15, 2016

Big Box Stores Loyalty to Performance Only

The Big Box retail plan is not self-sustaining and it is time we accepted that we are just pawns in the Chief Financial Officers’ board game of economics.

Wal-Mart: Retail Chain to Close 269 Stores, Eliminating 16,000 Jobs

The decision to close the stores is "necessary to keep the company strong and positioned for the future," Wal-Mart CEO Doug McMillon said in an announcement Friday.

There is really only one measure that the CFO’s use to determine if a store stays in operation and that is simply profitability. It is largely why most of the goods sold in these operations are manufactured off shore and mostly in China now, I would think. So, in our efforts to get a “good deal” we sacrifice local jobs (manufacturing and ultimately retail) to support their board games.

I truly believe it is time for the sales and marketing focus of business to return to North America (assuming you live in North America) which is a more probable way to employ folks locally. So I look more carefully at labels for where it is manufactured and try to buy things that are not made in China and buy North American production, if I can find it. I also don’t shop at big box stores much anymore. I do occasionally buy from their online locations for items I can’t get in my local neighbourhood which is not very often now at my stage of life—retired.

So if you see a Big Box store with a closed/for sale/available sign on it. Just remember that it did not meet the minimum performance scale of the CFO and all former employees are out of a job. Maybe you should go back to your local retailer but it too has probably closed its doors a long time ago when you switched your loyalty to the “good deal”.

Sadly, that is the way of retail sales in today’s world. Soon it will be mostly online so maybe get a job with a courier service since they will still have to deliver it to your door. But I am sure the CFO there is pushing for more and more automation since it is cheaper in the long run, on paper.

Who the #$%& ever let those dumb-asses get in charge?! The CEO’s in this world only have themselves to blame but I guess they don’t really get too concerned since they get a rather large salary to make those dumb decisions.

I wonder what will become of all those big box buildings that close down. Maybe this is just another electronic board game for the CFO to play with the CEO.