Saturday, December 25, 2010

Merry Humbug 2010!

It's Christmas Day and I want to wish all of you the very best of the holiday season! I'm taking a little break to enjoy some quiet time and great food but I'll be back here in 2011! In case you missed it, here again is my Christmas video that I posted last year!

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Christmas Videos

Christmas is less than a week away. If you have been anywhere near a radio, a TV or a retail area, odds are that you are pretty tired of the usual Christmas music by now. I've never been a huge fan of all the traditional music although there are a few that I tolerate more than others. So today, I thought I'd share a few of the more unique songs and videos that I have come to love over the years.

I know a lot of people can't stand Pachelbel's Canon as they have heard it at way too many weddings, but I love the piece! I heard this Christmas version by the Transiberian Orchestra for the first time a few years ago and have loved it ever since!

I first heard "Beautiful Star of Bethlehem" on an Emmy Lou Harris album many years ago. I couldn't find that version on video, but I found a similar version that gives a really nice feel. This one is by The Judd's

Years ago, I was a huge fan of The Statler Brothers. They put out a couple of Christmas albums, but my favourite seasonal song of theirs is "I Believe In Santa's Cause"

Holly Cole released a mini Christmas CD a few years ago that contained a song I instantly fell in love with! I used to sing a few bars of this onto my answering machine every year!

A few years ago, The Muppet's released yet another Christmas special called "Letters to Santa" About 2/3 of the way through, Gonzo and Fozzie Bear sing a duet called "I Wish I Could Be Santa Claus". I've always loved The Muppet's, but there is something about this song that just gets me every time!

What's Christmas without a little attitude from my gal Maxine...

Okay, one more and this is the one that I uploaded last year after I took some video of my apartment at Christmas time. I added a special song from Tweety and Sylvester to go with it...

Merry Humbug!


Sunday, December 12, 2010

A Bit Of Holiday Levity!

I’m sure by now, most of you are getting a little stressed out preparing for the holidays. So, in order to help you relax, I’ve devoted today’s post to a bit of Holiday Levity! Granted these aren’t new jokes but hopefully you will have a chuckle or two!!

Types of Clause’s:
- Saint Nicholas is the main Clause.
- His wife is a relative Clause.
- His children are dependent Clauses.
- Their Dutch uncle is a restrictive Clause.
- Santa’s elves are subordinate Clauses.

Holiday Riddles:
Q: What do reindeer say before telling you a joke?
A: This one will sleigh you!
Q: Why is a reindeer like a gossip?
A: Because they are both tail bearers!
Q: Why do reindeer wear fur coats?
A: Because they would look silly in plastic macs!
Q: How do you make a slow reindeer fast?
A: Don’t feed it!
Q: If athletes get athletes foot, what do astronauts get?
A: Missletoe!
Q: What do you get when you cross a snowman with a vampire?
A: Frostbite.
Q: Why was Santa’s little helper depressed?
A: Because he had low elf esteem.
Q: Why does Santa have 3 gardens?
A: So he can ho-ho-ho.

Name That Christmas Carol!
Q: Proceed and Enlighten on the Pinnacle
A: Go, Tell It on the Mountain
Q: The Quadruped with the Vermillion Probiscis
A: Rudolph, the Red-nosed Reindeer
Q: Query Regarding Identity of Descendant
A: What Child is This?
Q: Delight for this Planet
A: Joy to the World
Q: Give Attention to the Melodious Celestial Beings
A: Hark! The Herald Angels Sing
Q: The Dozen Festive 24 Hour Intervals
A: The Twelve Days of Christmas
Q: Array the Corridor
A: Deck the Hall
Q: Bantam Male Percussionist
A: Little Drummer Boy
Q: Monarchial Triad
A: We Three Kings
Q: Nocturnal Noiselessness
A: Silent Night
Q: Jehovah Deactivate Blithe Chevaliers
A: God Rest Ye, Merry Gentlemen
Q: Red Man En Route to Borough
A: Santa Claus is Coming to Town
Q: Frozen Precipitation Commence
A: Let it Snow

- When you dress it up with silver and gold, it doesn’t look like a cheap hooker.
- A Christmas tree will never complain if you compare it to another bush.
- A Christmas tree will stay up late, watch a porno with you, and won’t say, “Hey, look at the size of that one … I didn’t know they made ‘em that big!”
- Christmas trees actually like when you use exotic electrical devices.
- A Christmas tree doesn’t care if you have a plastic one in the closet.
- It always smells fresh as a forest.
- A Christmas tree doesn’t care if you watch football all day or go to a strip club after work.
- A Christmas tree doesn’t get possessive if you want to let your neighbor use your balls.
- You can feel a Christmas tree before you take it home.
- A Christmas tree doesn’t get mad if you look up underneath it.
- When you are done with a Christmas tree you can throw it on the curb and have it hauled away.
- A Christmas tree doesn’t get jealous around other Christmas trees.
- A Christmas tree doesn’t care how many other Christmas trees you have had in the past.
- A Christmas tree doesn’t get mad if you tie it up and throw it in the back of your pickup truck.

- A Christmas tree is always erect.
- Even small ones give satisfaction.
- A Christmas tree stays up for 12 days and nights.
- A Christmas tree always looks good – even when it’s lit.
- A Christmas tree is always happy with its size.
- A Christmas tree has cute balls.
- You can throw a Christmas tree out when it wears out.
- You don’t have to put up with a Christmas tree all year.
- A Christmas tree doesn’t get mad if you break one of its balls.
- You only have to feed/water it once a week.
- It’s always there to light up your life.
- It gets turned on only when you want it turned on.
- It always smells nice and doesn’t pass gas.
- If it needles you, you can toss it out.
- It doesn’t ask you to have little Christmas trees.

Is There A Santa?

1. Santa’s Workload
There are two billion children in the world, but since Santa doesn’t appear to handle the Muslim, Hindu, Jewish, and Budist children, that reduces his workload to 15% of the total, or 300 million. At an average rate of 3.5 children per household, that’s 85.7 million homes. Santa has 31 hours of Christmas to work with, thanks to the different times zones and the rotation of the Earth, assuming he travels East to West. This works out to 767.9 visits per second. So for each household with good children, Santa has about 1/1,000th of a second to park, hop out of the sleigh, jump down the chimney, fill the stockings, distribute the presents, eat whatever snacks have been left, get back up the chimney, into the sleigh and move on to the next house.”

2. The Time/Distance Factor
Assuming that these 91.8 million stops are evenly distributed around the Earth, we’re talking about .78 miles per household, a total trip of 75.5 million miles.

3. Calculation of Estimated Speed
This means that Santa’s sleigh is moving at 650 miles per second, or 3,000 times the speed of sound.

4. Santa’s Payload
Assuming that each child gets nothing more than a mdeium-size Lego set (about two pounds), the sleigh is carrying 321,300 tons, not counting Santa, who is invariably described as “heavy.” On land, normal reindeer could pull no more than 300 pounds, and even granting that flying reindeer could pull 10 times the normal amount, Santa’s going to need 214,200 reindeer to pull his sleigh. This increases the payload to 353,430 tons, or four times the weight of the “Queen Elizabeth.”

A craft of 353,000 tons, traveling at 650 miles per second, creates enormous air resistance. This will heat up Mr. Claus and his sleigh like a spacecraft reentering Earth’s atmosphere.

If there is a Santa, he’s toast.

Maxine’s Top Ten Ways Christmas Has Changed Due to the Economy..
10) Twelve Days of Christmas now down to ten and a half.
9) "Ho, Ho, Ho" replaced by exasperated sigh.
8) Three out of eight maids a milking on unemployment.
7) Yule log has to last all year.
6) Frosty the Snowman now a depressed, melancholy soul.
5) Letters to Santa include resumes.
4) Tinsel recycled for cash money.
3) People hoping to get coal in case gas gets shut-off.
2) Out of town company staying through next Christmas.
1) Getting a meat and cheese assortment, not such a bad gift.

Merry Humbug!!

Sunday, December 5, 2010

I Know

I heard this great song a couple of months ago and realized that I had heard it before and knew that I loved it but for the life of me, couldn't figure out where I'd heard it. I didn't know the title or the artist as it was playing as background music on my TV weather info channel. I didn't have time to search for it before I went out.

While I was out, I kept humming the melody to myself every few minutes so I wouldn't forget it. I was also trying to recall the words but the only ones I could remember were “I know” That wasn't much to go on.

When I got home, I opened one of my recording programs and hummed what I could recall of the tune - about 30 seconds - into my microphone so I'd have it, because I knew that once I started listening to other music - while looking for this song - I'd get sidetracked by another melody and forget what I was looking for in the first place! After it was safely recorded and saved as an mp3, I began to search.

The song was done by a female singer with a smooth, clear, melodic tone that was both relaxing and fresh. The tune was light but had one of those catchy old style melodies that you could just picture someone doing a soft shoe dance routine to. It was one of those songs that just made you want to hear more. I needed to know who was singing it and hear what else they had recorded.

I went to my cable company’s web site to see what music service their digital music channels were from. I searched the web for that site and discovered that I could actually see the playlists for the last 24 hour period on all their stations. I knew approximately what time it had played so it was only a matter of clicking on each channel for that hour. Most of the channels would not have played this type of song so I only clicked on three or four before I found it in Pop - Pop Adult!
11:17 "I Know" by Meaghan Smith from her CD "The Cricket's Orchestra”

I then found it on YouTube and the moment it started, I knew it was the same song.

I searched for more info on the artist and then the light started to dawn. She is Canadian and I remembered that I had heard her on more than one occasion on a radio show that I listen to every week on the CBC called "The Vinyl Cafe"

I did a bit more searching around and found that this talented lady is not only a singer and musician but also a songwriter and an artist who studied animation. I could go on and on about this wonderful artist but she has made her own highly informative and entertaining video biography that really explains who she is and how she became a recording artist. She tells the story much better than I could so here is Meghan to tell you all about herself:

I started following her on Twitter and learned she also had MySpace and Facebook pages. Meaghan Makes Stuff is a way for her to showcase her various artistic talents. Over the last couple of months that I have been following her, she has offered her fans some really great discounts and giveaways. For example, she came across a box full of her first CD “Lost With Directions” which she thought was long out of print. Rather than sell them at a premium and make a little extra cash (as many artists would do) she opted to go straight to the fans via the social networks and offer them the limited edition and much sought after disk at far less than retail. She even offered to sign copies for anyone who wanted! The fans (including me) were snapping them up in no time! I don't know if there are any left but click on the link for the CD above and you just might get lucky!

Ms. Smith, has also given away some of her hand made purses and a box of specialty chocolates she received while doing a gig for a chocolate maker. Generous and Sweet!

Before Canadian Thanksgiving back in October, Meaghan teased that she had a surprise for her fans but wasn’t telling – yet! Around the beginning of November she announced that “A New Kind Of Light”, the Christmas CD she had done with Jill Barber and Rose Cousins was once again available! It was recorded and released in 2008. The disk sold out within a few weeks, but has been re-released for this Christmas. All 100% of the proceeds go to the Feed Nova Scotia Food Bank. Meaghan designed the album and did the artwork. The three ladies sing a collection of new, lesser known and traditional songs for the holidays.

Meaghan faithfully keeps us up to date on her performances, artwork and activities. She is keeping it real and really does respond to the fans comments and questions. She even asks us a few questions! A few days ago, she offered a free mp3 download to her fans. Not that unusual as many performers do that, but this was an acoustic version of one of her songs that was unavailable elsewhere. Meaghan has also promised more freebies and giveaways to come!

Here, just in time for the holidays, is one more tune from Meaghan. This is "Silver Bells" from the EP "Wish Upon A Star" . I think this is the only disk of hers that I don't have - yet - but it is on my wish list!!

So, if you are looking to expand your music collection or wondering what CD’s to add as stocking stuffers or put on your Christmas wish list, I would highly recommend that you add this gifted, entertaining and multi-talented artist to your playlists. Your ears will not be disappointed!


Sunday, November 28, 2010

Crusted Chicken Breasts in Citrus Sauce

Today, I’m going to share another one of my own culinary creations. This recipe is a bit different in the ingredients but they really do seem to work well together.

I recently came up with the coating mix for this recipe when I found some pretzel sticks in my cupboard that I forgot I had. They weren’t fresh enough to eat on their own, but they weren’t stale either. I decided to crush them and eventually use them in a coating mix of some kind. I looked online for ideas and as usual, I came up with my own version that combined a couple of recipes.

The sauce is strictly my own concoction! Last spring, I came across Lemon Pie Filling in a bulk food store. I asked the clerk if I could try a bit before buying and she gave me a small spoonful. It was delicious! Great lemon flavour with just the right mix of tart and sweet. The best part was that it was a fraction of the price of the canned version or the powdered mix that is normally bought. The clerk told me that it can keep well in the fridge for weeks! I bought a large container and have been eating it ever since – mostly in desserts or on toast. Actually I’m almost finished my second container and recently bought a third.

Over the last several months, I’ve been playing with creating various types of sauces using the pie filling as a base. The sauce for this recipe came to me recently and luckily it turned out great on the first try!

Crusted Chicken Breasts in Citrus Sauce

• 2 boneless, skinless chicken breasts (about 3-4 ounces each)
• 2 Tablespoons margarine, melted
• 1/4 teaspoon garlic powder
• 1/4 teaspoon onion powder
• 1/4 teaspoon basil
• 1/4 cup finely crushed pretzels
• 2 Tablespoons finely crushed almonds
• 1/3 cup unsweetened orange juice*
• 1/3 cup lemon pie filling**
• 1 Tablespoon lemon juice
• 3 Tablespoons Kraft Mandarin Orange with sesame dressing

Preheat oven to 375F. Spray a 1 litre casserole dish with Pam and set aside.

Rinse and pat dry the chicken breasts, removing any excess fat. In a small shallow dish melt the margarine and stir in the garlic, onion and basil. In another small shallow dish combine the pretzels and almonds.

Dip the chicken breast in the margarine mixture to coat then dip in the crumb mixture, coating thoroughly. Place in the greased casserole dish and repeat with the second breast. Sprinkle the remaining crumbs on top of the coated breasts. Drizzle any remaining margarine mixture over the breast. Bake uncovered in preheated oven for about 20 to 25 minutes or until almost done.

While the chicken is baking, combine the orange juice, pie filling, lemon juice and dressing.*** When the chicken is almost done, pour over the chicken breasts and return to oven to finish cooking and until sauce is hot and bubbly.

Serve with baked potatoes, brown rice or a whole wheat pasta and a steamed green vegetable or a tossed salad.

* I’ve used 5 Alive rather than orange juice.
** The lemon pie filling can be purchased in bulk at almost any bulk food store for a fraction of the price of the canned variety and keeps in the fridge for weeks!
*** Since the pie filling is so thick, I find that it is easiest to measure the 1/3 cup orange juice into the bottom of a one cup measure then add enough of the pie filling to bring the juice up to the 2/3 cup level. I then add the lemon juice and dressing and stir carefully with a small whisk.

This recipe can easily be multiplied to serve 4, 6 or even 8 if you wish. Just be sure to increase the size of the baking dish so that all the chicken breasts lay flat in a single layer.



Sunday, November 21, 2010

Twenty Years Later...

Twenty years ago this past week I ended up in the hospital with a detached retina in my good eye. Twenty years ago today, I had surgery to reattach the retina. The doctor gave me a 50/50 chance of getting any sight back. It would be months before I’d know how successful the surgery would be.

Two years ago this month, I wrote a 3 part blog on what that experience was like. I shared how I’d come to that point, the fear, the frustration and relearning everyday tasks with my new normal. ( “18 Years” - Part 1 Part 2 Part 3 )

Actually, over the last two and a half years of this blog, I’ve shared quite a bit of what it is like for me to be legally blind.

“The Journey” was a six part story of how my loss of sight ultimately affected my weight and my emotions because I couldn’t be as active or as independent as I used to be. I had walked everywhere. Usually between 20-25 miles/week year round. Walking had been my main form of exercise but also how I used to clear my mind and work through whatever was bothering me. Sometimes it took several miles but it had always helped! For the visually impaired, walking outdoors - or almost anywhere really – requires a high level of concentration to ensure physical safety. I tried to continue my walking but I’d come home more exhausted and stressed rather than refreshed and relaxed. This may not be true for all visually impaired, but for me, I learned that unless I am walking with a sighted person who is watching out for me, it isn’t a good way to unwind or rejuvenate the spirit and psyche. As I described over the six part post, it took me years to come to terms with the loss of sight and to find new ways to exercise both my body and mind.

In “Blink Navigation” and “Is It Spring Yet?", I talked about the many challenges of getting around with limited vision. In the winter there is snow, snow banks, slippery sidewalks and icy streets. In the spring there is the thawing during the day and freezing overnight to create ice covered puddles, black ice, and perfect conditions for hydroplaning on those areas with a light coating of water over the ice. The new season of pot holes also create new mini lakes to step into and potentially take a dangerous spill. Not to mention the vehicles that don’t slow down as they drive through the mini lakes and splash nearby pedestrians. Then once most of the spring thaw is completed, there is the next season which is better known as construction. It lasts till the snow is on the ground again next fall. In “Spring", I described it as: “feeling like the hamster on the wheel navigating through winter snow and ice, then the thaws and pot holes of spring and the joys of reroutes in construction which lasts till the snow flies again in fall.”

Sometimes getting around this city is more challenging than usual. I recently found myself on two buses that were rerouted on the same day. I didn’t know about either reroute in advance so it took me at least 20 minutes longer than usual to get home that day – most of that time was trying to find the new temporary bus stop for my second bus! Finding your way around isn’t always easy, but usually there are good people around who are willing to offer a guiding arm or at least some decent verbal directions. I’ve met my share of idiots who don’t know or care what a white cane represents but most people are more than willing to help if they can.

As a visually impaired person, you have to learn to be an advocate for your rights and needs. If you don’t learn to articulate your needs, how are others supposed to know or understand what you need to function more independently?

This past September, I wrote a post about the recent changes to the Winnipeg Transit website. I had found that the “supposed” improvements made it much more difficult for me to get the information I needed. When the post went up, I had still not heard back from Transit but I heard from them shortly after. I had an email from a man at transit who wanted to speak with me in regards to my concerns and see if he could help. I asked if, in the creation of the new site, they had consulted anyone who was visually impaired, used English as a second language or was print/learning disabled. They had not. Unfortunately that did not surprise me and I told him that not consulting people such as myself was a major flaw in the system.

I asked him to come to my home and allow me to show him just how hard the site was to navigate. He did came a couple of days later and asked a lot of question as he listened very carefully to my concerns. He couldn’t promise that my suggestions would be incorporated but at least he made the effort to learn how others use the site and saw firsthand my frustrations with the navigation. He was able to help me make a couple of changes in my settings to make the site slightly easier but I still don’t like the new site even today. I’m still waiting to see if any more changes are made.

Dating can also be a challenge. A “blind date” can take on a whole new meaning! In the summer of 2009, a US network began airing a show called “Dating In The Dark”. The premise was that men and women would meet and get to know each other in a darkened room and choose whom they wanted to get to know better before actually seeing the person. It was generally to show how superficial society has become and that we should not judge someone on their appearance. The show may have had good intentions but frankly the fact that those people could take of the blindfolds or turn on a light and see the other person is something those of us with visual impairments will never be able to do. We live it 24/7 and are often judged and dismissed without a second thought. We risk rejection every time we are introduced to someone and have to rely on our instincts to know if the other person is comfortable with us and potentially interested in us as a partner. We can’t read the body language that the sighted world is so quick to show.

Being visually impaired isn’t for everybody. One thing that you really have to have to survive is a sense of humour. If you can’t learn to laugh at yourself and your inevitable blunders and missteps then you will drive yourself crazy in no time. That in and of itself is a bit tricky as we are not technically allowed to “drive” but I’m sure you knew what I meant!

I’ve been lucky in a lot of respects in that I’ve met some wonderful people along the way. People that I probably would not have met had I not lost sight. People I am both grateful and honoured to have as friends. Some came into my life just a few months before I lost sight and those I’ve met along the way. I know I wouldn’t have come through these last twenty years nearly as sane without them!

The last twenty years have not been easy by any stretch of the imagination but since when were we ever promised a smooth ride in life? I’ve also lost more sight over the past years – mostly due to my corneas which are severely damaged from my childhood surgeries. I’m not a suitable candidate for any of the new treatments. With the way technology is changing, maybe someday I will be but I’m not holding my breath. I’ve learned to do a lot of things for myself – including using a computer. I’m also getting better at asking for help in various areas of my life when I need it.

If I could go back and get to the doctor sooner and save some of my sight I would – but only if I could also keep some of the most amazing people that I’ve been lucky enough to know.

Yeah, I know life doesn’t work that way – but I can dream can’t I?


Sunday, November 14, 2010

Microwave - Part Two

Well, as I told you in my last post, it was time to replace my 16 1/2 year old microwave. It had served me well all those years, but it was time to move on to a newer model.

I did a fair amount of research to see what was now on the market. I knew prices had come down and the quality had also improved. I read Consumer Reports and various online forums and purchase feedback on a number of retail sites. I looked at several models in stores and talked to several friends and family about their current models to see what they liked and didn’t like.

Once again, I decided to go with a Panasonic. It seemed to get very positive feedback both online and from my friends. I settled on a 1.2 cubic foot 1200watt (model # NNSN668B) and watched for it to go on sale. The suggested list price for the model I chose, was $169.99Cdn. That was also the price listed at Future Shop. Best Buy sold it for $159.99. London Drugs sold it for $149.99. The price at London Drugs was good, but I had a feeling that if I held out a little longer I could get a better deal.I couldn’t wait too long though as I had to start the Christmas baking by the beginning of November at the latest and I’d need a little time to get used to a new machine before starting the chocolate making.

Luckily, I didn’t have to wait too long. In mid October, the London Drugs flyer listed the model I wanted for $129.99. I couldn’t order it online and the store doesn’t deliver. It was too bulky and heavy to carry on the bus and too expensive to take a taxi home. I would have to figure out another way to get it home.

I mentioned the dilemma to a few friends – adding that without a new microwave there wouldn’t be nearly as much baking this year. Two friends volunteered to help me get one home! Amazing what the thought of no chocolate treats can do! LOL!

The next part was a bit trickier though. The friend with the more flexible schedule lived on the other side of the city and I couldn’t ask them to drive that far just for me to save $20. I did a bit of checking and realized that Best Buy and Future Shop both had price match policies. Once the item is confirmed to be on sale at an authorized dealer and available at the competition, both will match a sale price plus 10% of the difference.

I called London Drugs to confirm availability on the day we were to go pick up the new one. Unfortunately, it was out of stock till the following day when another shipment was expected. I decided to call the competition and lay out the situation and see if I could still get the discount that day since I already had a ride lined up.

The woman I spoke with in customer service at Best Buy confirmed that the item had to be in stock at the other store to get the discount. I explained my circumstances – that I was legally blind, couldn’t drive but did have a ride available that evening. Could they please make an exception? The woman asked when I would be coming, then told me to come to customer service when I arrived and ask for her. She gave me her name and said she would personally see that I got the discount!

We arrived at the store at 6:30 that evening and the woman was true to her word! She personally took us to the microwaves. I also wanted to get a power bar so she went and got a guy from the electronics section to come over and help me pick out a new power surge bar! She then carried the new microwave to the cashier for us and explained that I was to get the price match. After I had paid, the girl at the cashier carried the box to the door for us. My friend went to get the car and when she pulled up front, yet another staff member carried the box out and put it in the car for us.

Best Buy and other electronics stores often get a rough ride for being large and impersonal but the staff at this location could not have been nicer to me. They were under no obligation to give me the discount given that the product was temporarily out of stock but they recognized that this was a unique situation and stepped up.

My friend and I got the microwave home and set up in no time. We tried boiling some water to make tea then defrosted some frozen cookies to celebrate! We also took the old microwave down to the dumpster before she left!

I’ve had about three weeks to get used to it now and I must say that I am really impressed! This one is slightly larger and stronger than my old one so I do have to adjust some of my old times, but I am really enjoying this new microwave and its features.

One of the features that made me choose this model is actually tactile. The top row is all raised buttons. Below that, each horizontal row is divided by a slightly wavy line. Visually, it gives the impression that the center column is raised, yet it isn’t. It is the horizontal bar that is raised. The fact that the line is waved and raised actually makes it much easier for someone who is visually impaired to find the appropriate buttons by feel.

The Christmas baking and chocolate making is well under way!


Sunday, November 7, 2010

Microwave - Part One

Microwaves, have been around for decades. For a long time, I never really wanted to get one, but did see the benefit of them for convenience. Several of my friends had them and raved about the ease of use and how much they liked having one. I tried using them, but just never really felt that I “needed” one.

After losing so much of my sight in late 1990, I finally began to think about getting one. In some respects, it would be safer for me to use a microwave rather than cooking on top of the stove – especially for heating up leftovers. I could also use it to steam individual servings of vegetables, cook rice and other things. Not to mention the fact that when it came to my Christmas baking, it would be a whole lot easier to melt my chocolate in a microwave than in the top of a double boiler. Granted, I’d still have to do the dipping chocolate on the stove as it has to stay a consistent temperature while being used.

I studied some consumer reports, asked friends and family for recommendations and shopped around for a model that would suit my needs. I finally got my first microwave in the spring of 1994. It was a Panasonic. I don’t recall exactly what I paid for it but I think it was somewhere around $250. I had the CNIB come in and make a template so that I could easily feel where the buttons were on the flat panel.

Over the years, I used it a LOT. Much more than I imagined I would. I never tried cooking meats in it as I preferred the browning effect on the stove or in the oven. I rarely made popcorn, but I still managed to use it at least once a day. I warmed my breakfast muffin. I’d boil water, cook rice, steam vegetables, reheat leftovers and other uses.

Sometimes I used the defrost but generally I was more apt to just reheat or steam something. I tried drying spices a couple of times, but never really liked the result. The spices always seemed to lose more of their colour and more importantly their flavour that way rather than drying between paper towels on the counter for a couple of days. I never really liked roasting almonds or other nuts in the microwave either. They just didn’t seem to get that same rich nuttiness that they did roasting in a low temp oven.

There are countless stories of microwave disasters. A friend recently had a spaghetti squash explode in her microwave, despite punching countless holes in it first. Friends have also had eggs or potatoes explode.

I never really had a big disaster – although there was one mess that I recall having to clean up. I tried doing one of those upside down pudding cake mixes in it once. I followed the directions explicitly but the thing still overflowed and made one heck of a mess! I called the company to complain and they sent me about $5 in coupons for more of their products. I baked the cakes in the oven after that.

I only did potatoes in it when I was in a hurry. If I had the time, I much prefer the crunchier skin of the potato that is baked in an oven. Although I did learn a great trick from an aunt when you are a bit pressed for time. Wash and dry the potato then poke with several holes with a fork. Place on a paper towel and cook on high for about 2 1/2 minutes for an average sized spud. Turn it over half way through. When the oven stops, carefully transfer the hot potato to a preheated 375 oven to finish baking for about another 25-30 minutes – turning again after 15 minutes. The ‘tater is done in half the time and still has that nice crunchy crust!

One of the times that I appreciate my microwave the most is when I’m doing my marathon Christmas baking. Melting the chocolate and various other concoctions for the treats that I make is just so much simpler. I know I wouldn’t be doing nearly as much every year without it!

In the last couple of years, I started to notice that it wasn’t cooking quite as well as it used to. The interior light had long since burnt out but that was minor. Muffins were taking a bit longer to warm. Leftovers were taking longer. Everything seemed to take a little longer. I’d have to replace it eventually.

Then, one day in mid September it happened. I was reheating some leftovers for supper. I’d set the reheat button and start. It should have taken 3 minutes. The machine just stopped after about 90 seconds. No beeps and nothing on the display panel,

Uh-oh! I checked the power bar and it had flipped off. Everything else in the apartment was still functioning and none of the lights had flickered so there wasn’t a surge or power outage. I flipped the power and started the microwave again. It stopped again after about a minute. My supper was hot enough to eat but my microwave was on it’s last legs.

Over the next few weeks, I was only able to use the microwave for things that took less than 30 seconds or so. Anything more than that and the power bar would flip off. I had to relearn to reheat on top of the stove. The first time I tried steaming broccoli on top of the stove again – it was mush. I ate it but I prefer it tender crisp!

I also realized that I needed a new power bar as it would also flip while using my Foreman Grill. I tried another power bar and the grill worked fine, but the microwave still kept shutting off. I was not a happy camper!

Despite having just spent money on a new freezer a few weeks earlier, it was now time to shell out for a new microwave too. Great.

Next: Getting a new microwave.


Sunday, October 31, 2010

happy Halloween!

Today is Halloween so I thought I'd share some of the humour I've come across in the last few weeks.

You know you are too old to Trick or Treat when:
10. You get winded from knocking on the door.
9. You have to have another kid chew the candy for you.
8. You ask for high fiber candy only.
7. When someone drops a candy bar in your bag, you lose your balance and fall over.
6. People say: 'Great Boris Karloff Mask,' And you're not wearing a mask.
5. When the door opens you yell, 'Trick or...' And can't remember the rest.
4. By the end of the night, you have a bag full of restraining orders.
3. You have to carefully choose a costume that won't dislodge your hairpiece.
2. You're the only Power Ranger in the neighbourhood with a walker.
And the number one reason Seniors should not go Trick Or Treating...
1. You keep having to go home to pee.

10 Things That Sound Dirty On Halloween, But Aren't...
1. So...What'd you get in the sack?
2. Once you get under the sheet, start moaning and groaning!!!
3. Just hop on that broomstick and ride it!
4. Those small suckers are gone in a few licks!
5. I got the best piece from that house.
6. Quit screwing around on the porch!!!
7. Stick your hand in and guess what you're feeling....
8. It was so filled and heavy, I had to use TWO hands!!
9. They'll suck you dry if they get their teeth in you.
10. I bobbed and bobbed, but couldn't get my mouth around it!

Why Pumpkins Are Better Than Men
1. Every year you get a brand new crop to choose from.
2. No matter what your mood is, pumpkins are always ready to greet you with a smile.
3. One usually makes a better pie.
4. They are always on the doorstep there waiting for you!
5. If you don't like the way he looks, you just carve up another face.
6. If he starts smelling up your place, you can just throw him out.
7. From the start you know a pumpkin has an empty, mush filled head to begin with.
8. A pumpkin is turned on (lit-up) only when you want him to be.

I hope you have a safe yet spooky Halloween with more treats than tricks!!


Sunday, October 24, 2010

dn's Carrot Cake

Every once in a while, I get really hungry for carrot cake - usually in the fall. I hadn’t made one in at least a couple of years but a few weeks ago, I got a five pound bag of carrots at a really good price so started looking for ideas of things to make.

Now I didn’t have to find recipes as I love carrots and could easily go through a big bag like that in a few weeks as long as I keep them in the crisper of the fridge.

It just happened that I was hungry for carrot cake this time. It had been quite a while since I’d made one and I really didn’t recall what recipe I had used. I knew that once upon a time, I had regularly used a recipe from an old Five Roses cookbook. I’d also tried a few others over the years.

I decided to look on line and was shocked to realize the calorie count in the average slice of carrot cake is between 750 and 800 calories! That is 1/18 of the standard 9”X13” pan. Most of that comes from the 1 1/2 cups of oil in the cake and the 16 ounces or more of cream cheese and 2 1/2-3 cups of confectioners’ sugar in the icing! Yikes!! That is crazy! I knew there had to be better alternatives out there! And there are!

I found some that sounded pretty good on line but the one that I chose to play with is called Must Bake Carrot Cake on page 155 of "Crazy Plates" by Janet and Greta Podleski. Their version makes 24 servings at 235 calories/slice.

I’ve tried this one before and it was very good but this time I decided to “tweak” it and make it MY way! Now, I don’t know how to calculate calories in a recipe, but even with all the changes I made and cutting the cake into 18 rather than 24 pieces, there is NO WAY that my version would come close to the 750-800 calories of most other cakes.

Here’s what I did: I used a combination of all purpose and whole wheat flour. I’ve never been a fan of walnuts so substituted almonds. I also added raisins and .... drum roll please ..... chocolate chips! (That really shouldn’t surprise anyone who actually knows me!) Instead of their Cheater Icing, I used a variation of an old family favorite for icing cakes. My mom got the recipe for this icing from the old Winnipeg Tribune newspaper sometime during the 1950’s and we’ve all loved it ever since! I think the original name of it was “New Type Frosting”. To top of the cake I toasted some more almonds to sprinkle on top.

The only other thing I did was to make it in two 8 inch square pans rather than the 9”X13” pan. Generally, I tend to find that the center always takes too long to bake thoroughly using the bigger pan. By doing it in two pans, it also spreads the cake more evenly and you get a more even consistency in texture.

Well I took pieces of my carrot cake to several friends and all thought it was one of the most sinful carrot cakes they had ever tried! I had left a piece with a friend (at their office) who said they would take it home to have that evening. I got an email from my friend about 5:30 that afternoon called “Oh, my God”. The message was: “I convinced myself I'd have just a little bite of cake before heading home. It is so GOOD. I've just about finished the whole damn piece.”

So, mine isn’t completely guilt free, but I believe that you’ll love this lower cal version as much as my friends and I did!

dn's Carrot Cake


• 1 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
• 1 1/4 cups whole wheat flour
• 2 teaspoons cinnamon
• 1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
• 1 1/2 teaspoons baking soda
• 1/2 teaspoon salt
• 1 1/2 cups packed brown sugar
• 1 cup drained, crushed pineapple*
• 3/4 cup fat-free egg substitute, or 3 whole eggs
• 3/4 cup buttermilk**
• 1/2 cup unsweetened applesauce
• 1/3 cup vegetable oil
• 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
• 3 cups grated carrots
• 1/2 cup chopped almonds
• 1/2 cup raisins
• 1 1/2 cups mini dark chocolate chips

• 2 1/2 Tablespoons All Purpose Flour
• 1/2 cup milk
• 1/2 cup white sugar
• 1/2 cup block margarine, softened
• 1/8 teaspoon salt
• 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
• 1/2 teaspoon almond extract
• 2 teaspoons freshly grated orange peel
• 2/3 cup chopped, toasted almonds for garnish

Preheat oven to 350 F. Spray two 8 inch square baking pans with nonstick cooking spray and set aside.

In a medium bowl, combine flours, cinnamon, baking powder, baking soda and salt. Set aside. In a separate bowl, combine the almonds, raisins and chips with about 1 Tablespoon of the flour mixture and set aside.

In a large bowl, whisk together brown sugar, pineapple, egg substitute, buttermilk, applesauce, oil and vanilla. Stir in grated carrots. Add flour mixture to carrot mixture and stir until well blended. Stir in almonds, raisins and chips.

Divide batter evenly into prepared pans. Bake for 30 to 35 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted in center of cake comes out clean. Set pan on a wire rack and cool cake completely before icing.

Before turning off the oven, place the 2/3 cup chopped almonds in a single layer on an oven safe dish. Toast in oven for about 4-5 minutes or till nicely browned. Stir every couple of minutes to avoid burning. Set dish on wire rack to cool completely.

While cake is cooling, prepare icing. In a small pan combine the flour and milk till smooth. Stirring constantly, cook over medium low heat until a very thick paste is formed. Remove from heat and transfer paste to a small glass dish. Cover with saran or a plate and allow to cool completely – at least 20 minutes.

Combine the margarine, sugar and salt with an electric mixer until well mixed. Add in the vanilla, almond extract and orange peel then mix thoroughly. Add in the cooled paste and then beat on medium high speed until very light and fluffy. (This takes about 10-15 minutes on about level 5 or 6 of a Kitchen Aid Stand Mixer.)

Divide icing over the two cooled cakes and spread evenly. Garnish with the toasted almonds.

Chill cake until serving. Makes 18 servings (9 per pan). Cover leftovers with saran and store in fridge.

* A 540ml/19ounce can of crushed pineapple will yield about 1 cup after you drain it well. Empty the can into a strainer, and press down on the pineapple to remove the juice. (Save the juice for drinking!)
** To make buttermilk, place 2 1/4 teaspoons lemon juice in a 1 cup measure then add enough milk to make 3/4 cup. Stir to mix then let stand 5 minutes before adding to recipe.



Sunday, October 17, 2010

Autumn Leaves

I’ve always loved the beauty that Mother Nature creates in autumn. The crispness of the air. The bounty of produce and the aromas of autumn cooking. The smell of wood fires and the crunch of leaves under your feet as you walk. To top it all off is the brilliance of colours of changing leaves. A feast for the senses!

The journey from summer to winter often results in being short-changed for our fall season. It never seems to last long enough to suit me.

This year we’ve been a bit luckier. The leaves were starting to get that hint of colour change in the second week of September. By the first day of fall on the 22nd, the beauty of the season was in full swing!

Until about a week ago, we actually had temperatures well above the seasonal norms – several days in the 20C range or even higher! It was windy on several days - which took the leaves down a little faster than most of us would prefer, but it certainly didn’t stop many of us from getting out and enjoying Mother Nature’s handiwork.

Sunday, September 26, the temperature rose to 23C here in Winnipeg - which was well above the seasonal norm of 16.8C. It was a VERY windy day with gusts at 40-50km but I decided to take a walk with my camera and check out Mother Nature’s latest artwork. The leaves were blowing off the trees quickly – some even blew in my face as I walked - but it was surprising at how much was still hanging on.

My photo skills aren't the greatest - especially when you factor in my sight (or lack thereof!) but I really enjoy taking and sharing these pics! I never know how good the shots are until I actually upload them to my PC and see them on a full screen. Sometimes they are too blurry to use and other times I am delighted with what I have captured! I took a LOT of pictures as I walked and created two slideshows from that day.

This first one is all pictures from the walk to and from a nearby park.

Once I was inside the park, the wind seemed to disappear in the shelter of the trees. I could hear it in the distance and above me in the upper branches of the trees, but overall it felt more like a light breeze on a very warm afternoon. In other words, it was a perfect time for a walk in the leaves!

All the pics in this second slideshow are from a park that is about a mile or so from me. I hadn’t been to this park in years. I’d forgotten how beautiful it can be – especially off the paved paths. The views along the dirt paths that run parallel to the river were beautiful. I took far more photos than I planned but was quite pleased with what I found when I uploaded them to my PC and viewed them on a full screen.

I was actually surprised by how much green was still on some of the trees in the park on that first walk, so decided to go back again on the following Sunday - October 3. A lot of leaves had gone down in the previous few days, but it was still a beautiful walk with much to see and enjoy.

What a great way to spend the beautiful autumn days!

Here in Winnipeg, the leaves are pretty much gone from the trees now and the temps have cooled down to more seasonal norms. It was beautiful while it lasted and I look forward to Mother Nature’s colourful display next year.


Sunday, October 10, 2010

Gobble, Gobble Gobble!!!

This Monday, October 11, is Thanksgiving here in Canada. So, today I thought I'd share some humour to celebrate the holiday!

A Dozen Things you can say at Thanksgiving and get away with!!!
1. Talk about huge breasts !
2. Tying the legs together keeps the inside moist.
3. It's cool whip time!
4. If I don't undo my pants, I'll burst!
5. Whew, that's one terrific spread!
6. I'm in the mood for a little dark meat.
7. Are you ready for seconds yet?
8. It's a little dry, do you still want to eat it?
9. Don't play with your meat.
10. Just spread the legs open and stuff it in.
11. I didn't expect everyone to come at once!
12. You still have a little bit on your chin.

Q: Why should you keep your eye off the turkey dressing?
A: Because it makes him blush!

Q: Why do turkeys always go "gobble, gobble"?
A: Because they never learned good table manners!

Q: How do you keep a turkey in suspense?
A: I'll tell you at Christmas.

Q: Why did the turkey cross the road?
A: It was the chicken's day off.

Q: What happened when the turkey met the axe?
A: He lost his head!

Q: If the Pilgrims were alive today, what would they be most famous for?
A: Their AGE!

Q: How can you tell a male turkey from a female turkey?
A: The male is the one holding the remote control.

Q: What did the mother turkey say to her disobedient children?
A: If your father could see you now, he'd turn over in his gravy!

Q: Why didn't the turkey eat dessert?
A: He was stuffed!

Q: What's the best way to stuff a turkey?
A: Take him out for pizza and ice cream!

Teacher: "Why did the Pilgrims sail to America?"
Student: "Maybe they missed their plane."

Teacher: "Why do we have a Thanksgiving holiday?"
Student: "So we know when to start Christmas shopping!"

Knock, knock!
Who's there?
Arthur who?
Arthur any leftovers?

"May your stuffing be tasty
May your turkey plump,
May your potatoes and gravy
Have nary a lump.
May your yams be delicious
And your pies take the prize,
And may your Thanksgiving dinner
Stay off your thighs!"
- Anonymous

Okay, some of these were better than others, but you should have seen the turkeys I DIDN'T add to this post!

Happy Thanksgiving!!!


Sunday, October 3, 2010

Autumn Skillet Dinner

A couple of weeks ago I was debating what to make for supper. I was looking for something I’d never made before yet simple - but also knew I had to use up a couple of small apples and I’d already set out pork chops. I checked out a number of my cookbooks and a couple of recipe sites on the web. There were lots of recipes to choose from, but nothing seemed to jump out and say “Make Me!!”

Then I recalled seeing a recipe for a “Stuffing-Topped Pork & Apple Skillet” in a recent Kraft What’s Cooking email. I checked out the recipe on line and it sounded interesting but it called for a Kraft Extra Virgin Olive Oil Fig Balsamic Dressing. I’m not a fan of figs so would never buy that type but I did have several other dressings in the fridge and knew that at least one of them would work! As usual, I made several other changes to the recipe and came up with my own version!

So here is what I came up with:

Autumn Skillet Dinner

1/4 cup Kraft Sweet Onion Vinaigrette or Italian dressing, divided
4 boneless pork chops (1 lb./450 g), 1/2 inch thick*
1 cup chopped onion
1/2 cup chopped sweet red bell pepper
2/3 cup fresh mushrooms, diced
2 teaspoons chopped garlic (bottled type found in produce section)
1 1/2 cups unpeeled, diced apple (2 small or 1 large)
1/4 cup Water
1 Tablespoons margarine (plus some water – see directions for details)
1 pkg. (120 g) Stove Top Lower Sodium Stuffing Mix for Chicken

Heat large skillet on high heat. Add 2 Tablespoons Dressing and chops cook 3 min. Turn the chops and add the onion, red pepper and mushrooms, stirring veggies occasionally until chops are almost done.

Add garlic and apples to skillet. Combine the remaining 2 Tablespoons dressing with 1/4 cup water and add to skillet; stir. Cook on medium-low heat 3 min., stirring occasionally.

Meanwhile, melt the margarine on medium heat in the microwave then add enough water to make ¾ cup. Add the liquid to the skillet and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to low and add the stuffing mix. Stir into the apple/veggie mixture until stuffing is coated with liquid. Turn off the heat and cover skillet with lid. Let stand 5 minutes. Stir to fluff stuffing/apple/veggie mix. Serve with the pork chops and a green vegetable or tossed salad.

Serves 4

*This could also be made with Boneless, Skinless Chicken Breasts



Sunday, September 26, 2010


I’m not exactly a morning person. In a March 2009 post, I wrote that generally I wake slowly – preferably without an alarm clock. I’d rather my body - and more importantly my mind be wakened gradually than by the sound of an alarm clock or a clock radio. There are of course other ways I’d like to be woken but that is another post!!

My body isn’t overly coordinated in the first place but seems to be a bit more unruly first thing in the morning. I suspect that is at least partially due to my vision loss. My eyes always seem to need a bit of extra time to adjust to light and any amount of focusing.

That being said, I actually love this time of year for getting up in the morning. Most mornings, I tend to be up around seven – give or take a half hour. It really varies depending on what I have planned for the day.

Here in the ‘Peg, the sun rises quite early in the summer – around 5AM or so. It can start getting light by 4:30 or so during the longest days of summer. I don’t tend to see the sunrises that much in summer unless of course the birds are chirping loud enough to wake me or Mother Nature alerts me to a different call!

Sometimes, I’m actually coherent enough to grab the camera and take a few shots of the skyline outside my apartment window. My windows actually face north, but if there are a few clouds in the sky and the light is just right the sunrise can be absolutely stunning!

There was at least one of those rare mornings back in the spring – May 4 - that I was awake to view the predawn light that gave an interesting pinkish glow to the clouds. This shot was taken at 5:01 central.

Sixteen minutes later at 5:17AM, the sky looked completely different. A little more gloomy to the north but still quite lovely.
This shot was taken on September 6 at 6:54AM. Yet another beautiful skyline to wake up to!
In mid August, the sun is rising just before 6:30, so I tend to be at least semi conscious on a few mornings.

One of the best mornings, was back on August 12. I was up by a little after 6 and doing my stretches when I happened to look towards the bedroom window. It had rained overnight and it was still partly cloudy but the sun was just rising and there was a hint of gold on nearby buildings. I sat there for a moment just looking then realized that I should grab the camera and capture the view before it disappeared.

There wasn’t enough time to dress and head outside so I grabbed my robe, glasses and the camera and went to the living room window.

This pic was taken at 6:29, looking towards the northeast.

However, my favourite sunrise shot so far was taken that same morning just 1 minute earlier at 6:28 looking to the northwest. The golden glow of the rising sun reflecting on the buildings and the rainbow in the distance was amazing! I have used this photo as my desktop pic for the last few weeks.
Now I know, I’m not the greatest photographer by any stretch of the imagination and my camera isn’t really top quality so my pictures aren’t always clear. But, even the slight blur of these pics can’t take away the beauty that I captured through my window on those mornings.

Not half bad for being taken through a window by a semi conscious legally blind woman!!

Last Wednesday, September 22 - which also happened to be the first day of fall - I woke about 5:15. I hadn’t set the alarm and I really didn’t want to get out of my nice warm comfy bed. It was still dark, but I knew I had a busy day ahead. I needed groceries and I had several errands and an appointment to keep. By 5:30, I finally convinced myself that if I got it all done that day, then I could sleep in on Thursday.

I did my stretches, had breakfast, got dressed and headed out about 6:50 to catch a bus to the grocery store. I was wearing a warm hooded sweater with my denim jacket but it was nippier than I thought at only 6C. As I walked to the bus stop, I was a little on the cold side, but the sky was at that beautiful stage of predawn that can make you forget the autumn chill in the air. Light to the east and a graduating palate of colours from the horizon up into the sky. There were a few of those long narrow puffy clouds partway up the skyline and they seemed to have absorbed the brilliance of the autumn colours from the rising sun. It was beautiful. I watched the sky lighten and do it’s magical colour changes as the sun came up while I rode the southbound bus to the grocery store. I wished I had my camera with me.

By the time I came out of the grocery store thirty minutes later the sun was completely up and at that awkward point of being right in my eyes as I walked to the corner to cross the street and catch my bus back home.

My love affair with the sunrise was over for yet another day!

I slept in on Thursday morning.


Sunday, September 19, 2010

Let The Cancellations Begin!!

The new season of TV is upon us and it’s time for the cancelations to begin! What the networks were thinking in requesting 13 or more episodes of most of these shows is beyond me. Most of the reviews I read were pretty bad and even most of the ones that got decent reviews didn’t sound like winners to me. I’m only going to highlight a few shows.

Two of the most hyped shows of the season are on CBS.

Hawaii Five-0 (CBS/Global) - Premieres: Monday, Sept. 20 at 10/9c
This show has gotten so much hype that I highly doubt it can live up to the buzz. The original "Hawaii Five-O" (1968-1980) is such an iconic and beloved show that it will always overshadow this wannabe. In the updated version only the theme music and a few of the character names remain the same. Steve McGarrett (now played by Alex O'Loughlin) returns to Hawaii to investigate the murder of his father and ends up being approached by the governor to head up an elite crime fighting team. Two of the other members of the team are conveniently named Danno and Chin. Remaking a classic didn’t work for Dragnet and it probably won’t work for this one either – I hope!

S#*! My Dad Says (CBS/CTV) - Premieres: Thursday, Sept. 23 at 8:30/7:30c
Ed (William Shatner), a politically incorrect curmudgeon, harangues his youngest son, Henry in this Twitter feed-turned-sitcom.

This show has gotten more buzz than pretty much any other new show this season – if only for the fact that you can’t actually say the “S” word on primetime network TV. William Shatner may well be a TV icon to many as he starred in "Star Trek" eons ago and more recently in "Boston Legal". I remember him as “The Giant Head” on “3rd Rock From The Sun”. Frankly I can’t stand the actor and the whole premise sounds a bit similar to the much loved bigot Archie Bunker – yet another character I couldn’t stand. I’ll pass on this show.

So much for the pans! Here is my picks for possible hits:

The Defenders (CBS/CTV) - Premieres: Wednesday, Sept. 22, 10/9c
Jim Belushi and Jerry O'Connell stars as colourful Las Vegas defence attorneys in this dramedy. Might be worth checking out but not holding my breath since this seems somewhat similar to "Boston Legal" which I was not a fan of. I wasn’t impressed with the promo’s but it could surprise us and actually be decent.

Body of Proof (ABC) - Premieres: TBD, Fridays at 9/8C
Dr. Megan Hunt (Desperate Housewives' Dana Delany) plays a feisty neurosurgeon whose career ends after a car accident. She takes a job as a medical examiner in Philadelphia, where she helps cops solve murders by "reading the body."

Dana Delany is a great actress so if the show is as good as the hype this could be another hit! On the down side, ABC has scheduled it for Friday nights which isn’t a big TV night so this could disappear before fans catch on. Hopefully the network will give it a real shot and a better night!

Better with You (ABC) - Premieres: Wednesday, Sept. 22, 8:30/7:30c
Sisters Maddie (Jennifer Finnigan), a high-strung attorney, and Mia (Privileged's JoAnna Garcia), a free-spirited "inventor," are fundamentally different. Maddie lives with, but has not married, Ben (Josh Cooke), her boyfriend of nine years. "It's a valid life choice," she repeats throughout the pilot. Mia, on the other hand, has just agreed to marry Casey (Jake Lacy), her boyfriend of seven-and-a-half weeks. Kurt Fuller and Debra Jo Rupp play the girls' quirky parents.

Canadian actress Jennifer Finnigan who played Bridget on “The Bold And The Beautiful” (2000-2004) and starred in “Close To Home” (2005-2007) headlines this cast with Debra Jo Rupp – Kitty from “That 70’s Show” playing her mother. This is the only comedy I’m looking forward to checking out!

So much for the new shows!

As for returning shows – well there seems to be less for me to watch each year as the shows I tend to like never stick around long. There are a few exceptions though!

Survivor Nicaragua (CBS/Global) premiered Wednesday, September 15
Here we go again with yet another group of castaways vying for the million dollar prize. The show has moved to Wednesday night and this time the teams are divided by age – the under 30 and the over 40. I know what team I’m rooting for!

Amazing Race (CBS/CTV) premiers Sunday September 26
I’ve loved this show from the start and can’t wait to see what teams I loathe or love!

Criminal Minds (CBS/CTV) premiers Wednesday September 22
We last saw the BAU head to LA to track an unsub who likes to kill in the dark. The city is in the midst of a heat wave and going through rolling blackouts to protect the power grid from complete failure. The unsub has also come back to the city to taunt the only survivor of his previous murder spree – a young hot shot detective who, as a child, watched his own mother die at the killers hands over 20 years ago and now has a daughter of his own. I love this show! The complexity of the main characters and how they manage to figure out the killers behaviour and ultimately bring them to justice is always an interesting view!

Desperate Housewives (ABC/CTV) premiers Sunday September 26
Paul Young returns to the neighbourhood and there is also a new housewife in town. She just happens to be a former college friend of Lynette’s. When we last saw the ladies of Wisteria Lane, Bree was about to tell Gabby about the hit and run that Andrew was in that landed Carlo’s mother in the hospital where she met her demise. We also learned that there had been a baby switch in a hospital involving the birth of a Wisteria Lane baby. The show is entering its seventh season but Mark Cherry is still keeping us guessing and entertained!!

How I Met Your Mother (CBS/Citytv) – premiers Monday, September 20
Will we finally get to meet the mother this year? Will Lily and Marshall get pregnant? What’s new with Barney and Robin? Apparently Ted does meet someone special this season but whether or not it will be “THE” mother is debatable.

The Good Wife (CBS/Global) premiers Tuesday September 28
The second season finds Alicia having to prove herself once again as the firm merges with another law firm. Even her detective pal Kalinda will have to prove herself against the other firms detective.


In The Wings -

Criminal Minds: Suspect Behaviour (CBS/CTV)
A spinoff of the original show. This version stars Forest Whitaker as Sam Cooper who heads up an elite team of profilers who work as far outside the FBI bureaucracy as possible. Word has it that Kirsten Vangsness from the original Criminal Minds) will be moving her wonderfully quirky character Penelope Garcia into this series. A loss for the original show but a big plus for the spinoff! Looking forward to this one!

Happy Endings ABC
The effects of a couple’s breakup on their friends. The show has been getting positive buzz. Some are wondering why it isn’t on the fall schedule. From what I read, it could be quite good, but ABC hasn’t got a great record of promoting good shows – I still haven’t forgiven the alphabet network for their lack of support for “Men In Trees” a few seasons ago! So this potential hit may get lost in the midseason shuffle.

Harry’s Law NBC Kathy Bates stars as a lawyer who along with several other lawyers wants a fresh start so they open a practice – in a rundown shoe store. Not a new concept (Ed ran a law firm out of his bowling alley a few years back) but a unique mix of cast so it may just turn out to be a winning case!

Mr. Sunshine ABC
Mathew Perry stars as a manager of a sports arena re-evaluating his life on his 40th birthday. Can he pull off a believable character after playing Chandler Bing on Friends for so many years? Maybe, but at least this show has the brilliant Allison Janney (C.J. on The West Wing) as a supporting actor in this series so I’ll check it out!

Well, that’s it! A so-so season at best. Most new shows will be gone by Christmas – if not before. If you want to check out the full TV schedule you can go to TV Guide Canada or TV Guide. You can also go to each of the networks to check out the shows synopsis, stars and previews.

USA major networks: ABC CBS NBC FOX
Canadian major networks: CBC CTV Global Citytv

Happy Viewing!


Sunday, September 12, 2010

New Transit Site Misses The Bus!

The city is trying to improve the entire transit system – with varying degrees of success. Low-rise buses have been a great improvement. The stop announcements are very helpful. Even Telebus has improved!

Before getting a PC, I relied on the print schedules and Telebus - both with limited success.

The print schedules are helpful, but the city made an error in choosing to print them with blue type on sharp white background - not a user friendly combo for many with low vision.

Telebus is an automated system that has been improved over the years, but you have to know the 5 digit stop number to use it. The voice recognition for the system is a bit iffy – especially if your enunciation is not clear or you hesitate too long between responses. The 5 digit codes are printed in small print at the beginning of the Winnipeg Yellow Pages. In the past, I suggested on more than one occasion, that transit make available a print version of those numbers in a self contained book form that could be tucked in a purse, backpack or pocket with a simple black font such as Arial (minimum 10 point) on an off-white background. it would be far more accessible for people - especially seniors or those who find the Yellow Pages a little too heavy and awkward to use. How many people even use their Yellow Pages anymore? A nominal fee could be charged to offset the cost, but I suspect the cost could be at least partially made up in increased ridership.

Many transit stops have print schedules attached to the sign post – albeit in small print – and some of the stops now have a clock system with real time bus route arrivals scrolling down. There are two main problems with these new real time arrival schedules:
1) It is orange on black type which is hard to read in daylight and
2) The sign is so high up you can’t read it unless you have great vision!

However, Transit has really missed the mark on providing reasonable ease of access for the average rider with this new Beta system on the web. The site is crammed with new bells and whistles to supposedly make using transit easier but it comes across as trying too hard to be all things to all people.

Riders need a simple reliable way to obtain route info without needing a PHD in website navigation and the patience of Buddha to figure out how to get to where they are going.

The new transit site is NOT in the least bit user friendly!! The promotional "Video Help" is not helpful, nor is the written info in the "Help/FAQ". I found both to be vague and overly simplified to be of any use.

I am legally blind. I do not use JAWS or other speech programs as I prefer a larger font to use the internet. So given that, you’d think I’d have had a relatively easy time navigating the site. No such luck!! I spent well over an hour trying to figure out a half dozen routes a few weeks ago. I use at least 15-20 stops at various times of morning and afternoon in any given month. I have been attempting to use this new system for about a month now, but it still takes me at least three or four times longer to find my information now as it did on the old site - even by saving my timetables!

I've never been a fan of Navigo as it always seemed to suggest some rather ridiculous routes to get from A to B. The most obvious connections/transfer points were rarely listed as the first, second or even third option. The suggestions would have easily gotten me lost!

Even the bus drivers don't recommend using Navigo! One of the worst cases I've heard from a driver was someone who was transferring to an 18 on Graham. They were actually headed to Henderson Hwy. but Navigo sent them via an 18, 77 and then on to an 11!! That's a sightseeing trip - not efficient planning. If that person had missed even one connection, their trip could have lasted at least 30-40 minutes longer and left them stranded in an unfamiliar area!

I prefer to do my own planning! Better yet, I’ll ask a bus driver. I sure wouldn’t waste my time calling 311 as they seem to know even less than I do about how transit timetables and routes work!

With the old site, I could select "schedules and maps" then "stop schedules" then day and then select the letter of the alphabet for the street I wanted. That gave me options of which direction I was headed and then listed all the possible stops. From there I pick my stop and routes. Easy! It could all be done with a few mouse clicks.

I don't always use the same stops or times, nor do I always remember the name of a cross street for a stop I use only once or twice a month. Seeing the list of possible stops always reminds me of which one I wanted and I can make note of the stops before mine so that I can be listening more closely to the automatic announcements on the buses.

Stop announcements on the buses have been a great addition, but every bus seems to have the volume at different levels, and depending on noise levels in and/or around the bus, the stops aren't always audible. Drivers don't always remember to call a stop even when you ask them to!

Assuming that you know the name of the street you want and what direction that may be – not an easy feat in this burg given how much streets twist and turn - you still may have trouble spelling some of the names! Seeing an alphabetical list is a lot easier to recognize a name rather than a drop down box that lists dozens of variations of what you are attempting to type.

Then, if you happen to find the right street, heaven forbid that you click on the wrong stop or ever try to go back a page! If you do have to go back the odds are that you will get an error page saying that the page cannot be found! Great, now you have to start all over!! I found the same error page problem when trying to click on any five digit route number in a timetable.

Despite my visual limitations, I am reasonably adept at using a PC and can manoeuvre around most websites fairly easily but this new system is going to be a real challenge for anyone with only moderate PC skills. The confusion and frustration levels of trying to sort it all out, will drive most people away.

As I said earlier, I use at least 15-20 stops at various times of morning and afternoon in any given month. The only way I will ever be able to use this site with ANY amount of ease will be to save every one of the routes that I may use in any given month. Frankly, that is not the least bit efficient or an effective use of technology. I should not have to customize and save EVERY one of those into my timetables!

I know transit is trying to make the system better and there have been improvements, but this new Beta system is not going to work for a lot of people due to limited PC skills or accessibility issues (sight, spelling etc). I have spoken with friends who are sighted, friends who are visually impaired and several passengers over the last few weeks and have yet to find someone who found the site even remotely user friendly.

The new beta system may work better for young tech savvy people, but frankly I would strongly recommend that the old version be kept as a more suitable alternative for the rest of us.

The old system is scheduled to disappear as of September 30, 2010.

If the city doesn’t make some major changes to the new site and make suitable accessibility options for all citizens, they will continue to lose ridership.

I submitted feedback to the website, but have had no response as yet. We tell the city what we need and want in services but they just keep managing to miss the bus, Yet the city continues to wonder why people aren't using buses more! Really makes you wonder!