I just realized something—plastic is the 21st Century mode of monetary exchange and rewards. I have my credit cards from the major department stores, the debit card from my bank and my Visa card. I also have each of my vendors” “Reward” cards, of which I counted at least six.

Reward cards are rather annoying, but does have its positive side too. For my “Air-miles” card, it’s good because this is flashed each and every time I head to my favourite grocery store. I actually do accumulate points which eventually gets me a minimum of $10 off my grocery bill. Often, certain products in the store will give you 2, 5, or 10 extra points just for purchasing—and, of course, the store’s wily marketing expert makes sure it’s a product that needs to be tossed in the shopping cart. With the extra points collected, the total needed for the discount gets accumulated faster.

I  have a reward card for another grocery competitor. It, too, works in much the same way, but instead of actual money being deducted off your bill, “cashing” in some of your points will net you “free” merchandise such as breads, milk, eggs, butter, veggies, etc. including travel tickets. Since I don’t have teenagers to boost my food bill, it takes longer for my Hubby and I to build up enough points for any  travel tickets. A number of my friends, who have growing teenage grandkids, have had enough points accumulated for several airline trips.

I also have reward cards to two pharmacies. One is a national chain and it doesn’t take long to accumulate enough points to take $10 or $20 off your bill. It helps if you have to purchase your meds there. The other pharmacy is also a chain but with individual owners, so my reward card is for one location only. Needless to say, this pharmacy, plus the others in the chain, is much more than a drugstore. One has to traverse through half the store before you actually reach the serious pharmacy stuff. BUT, it is always an adventure to slowly traverse through the fun stuff like unique pieces of frivolous, costume jewelry, fun magnets, funny mugs, unusual decorative knick-knacks, colourful silk scarves and so much more to stop you in your tracks—definitely a distraction from the serious stuff.

I have a plastic rewards card from my Esso station. Points are accumulated each time I fill my gas tank and eventually sufficient points gets me a free tank of gas. That one took me a year to achieve. In the meantime, one can cash in the lesser points for free cups of caffeine, lottery tickets or snack foods.

I also have a reward card for my favourite stationery store. It gives a discount each time I purchase my paper, pens, ink cartridge for my printer and so much more.

Besides the plastic cards, I do have a cardboard reward card from one of my bakeries.. You have to purchase 20 large loaves of any of their breads and when the card is filled, you get one large loaf of your choice free. And, I do have a flower card that is punched each time you purchase a $20 bouquet. When this card is filled, you get back a free $20 bouquet.

In case you think I’m a push-over for reward cards, I did refuse a few reward cards that are entered into the computer, eliminating the need for you to carry the card with you. I figured these computerized cards will track your sale preferences, where you are and so much more. Those marketing Pooh-Bahs definitely know how to do their jobs!  However, even though my other reward cards probably do the same thing, it’s much more rewarding, don’t you think?

Color-Blind, Thoughts on Harper Lee’s Novel


Annette Laine’s commentary on Harper Lee’s “Go Set a Watchman” is a fascinating look at a beloved character, lawyer Atticus Finch in “To Kill a Mo0ckingbird.”

Originally posted on A View From the Hill:

First let me say that I had no second thoughts about reading Harper Lee’s previously unpublished first novel, Go Set a Watchman. I read To Kill a Mockingbird for the first time in high school. Mrs. Susan Peters did an outstanding job dissecting the novel’s theme and bringing out the finer points.

I’ve re-read Mockingbird many times as an adult, always recalling Mrs. Peters’ reminder of who narrates this story. That is an important point to remember when comparing Watchman to Mockingbird- both narrators are the same.

I want to recommend another book, The Mockingbird Next Door, (Marja Mills),  which gives an excellent background on Nell Harper Lee’s life, especially her time in New York and her eventual return to her hometown. Most Lee fans know she modeled Maycomb after her own hometown of Monroeville, Alabama. Lee’s sister Alice was partially the model for Atticus as was their father. Many…

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Oreo Thins

It’s a catastrophe of monumental proportion—Oreo cookies are made thinner.  Thinner?  Yes, that is the horrific announcement in this morning’s paper. Horrific enough to make you grab your cup of caffeine, gulp it down and grab another.

Oreo cookies have always been my favourite to twist apart and eat the chocolate cookie first before eating the side with the white filling. The filling is probably not good for you but heck, that’s all part of the Oreo appeal..  According to the article, these new Oreos are thinner and meant for adults who don’t twist their cookies apart to eat the two halves separately. These adults probably don’t dunk their cookies either.

I have never seen anyone trying to make thinner carrots or broccoli or Brussel sprouts, although there have been plenty of miniature veggies out there.

What’s with this crazy obsession with calories and that F-word? Remember when we were kids? Oreo cookies and chocolate bars were much bigger back then. Come to think of it, everything was much bigger back then except for people. People were too busy building and working and raising their families to worry about being too fat or eating too many calories.  Oops, I said the F-word. Anyway, we were all much more active and any extra calories never lasted long as it was burned off very quickly.

So, what happened? I think we should boycott the idea of thinner Oreo cookies because as soon as it gets thinner, sure as God made little green apples, Oreos will be much smaller. And, don’t fall for that old ploy that smaller is better and there will be more Oreos in the package. I have yet to buy a bag of cookies that are filled to the top. I am definitely not buying smaller or thinner Oreos in a bag that is only 2/3 full.

Mr. Christie–I don’t want thin and I don’t want small. Just leave me my supply of regular-size Oreos ’cause I still love to twist and dunk!

Summer Heat Wave

Heat does weird things to people. Let’s face it–all of a sudden, the temperature and climate is Summer and we literally have a heat wave. Since last October, we’ve been looking forward to warmer weather. Our conversation was always peppered wistfully with “Remember when the temperature hit the 80s and it felt so good?”  Of course, this was back in December when we ventured out in blustery freezing winds with icy raindrops and dressed in sixteen layers of clothing.

Now, here we are in July, wearing the thinnest of tees and shorts AND still feeling like we are overdressed!

Don’t get me wrong–I love Summer. Where else do we get fresh, local blueberries and cherries earlier than usual? We’ve been feasting on juicy nectarines and fuzzless peaches and plump juicy Rainier cherries and gorgeous mangoes. The mangoes are from Mexico but oh-so-good! Local blackberries, raspberries and yes, even more strawberries are all out there. I love our baby nugget potatoes and fresh baby carrots and all the varieties of local lettuce plucked off the farm trucks. Summer is the absolute best for eating healthy.

But now, I want a little less heat, a bit more of a breeze and a hunky Magic Chef to cook for me. Is that too much to ask?

A Writer Writes

There is an old Chinese proverb that says: A bird does not sing because it has an answer; it sings because it has a song.  This can be paraphrased to apply to writers:  A writer does not write to seek an answer; a writer writes because he/she has a story to tell.

Writing a story is very much like cooking creatively. Anyone can cook chicken, fish or a roast, but to present a tasty meal, well, that takes creative talent.  I’m talking the kind of meal where the aromas not only tantalize the senses, but stirs up the taste buds and sets your tummy to humming in anticipation. By the time the veggies are plated artistically alongside the main entrée and placed in front of the hungry diners, the cook instinctively knows that he/she doesn’t need that special prayer to the Kitchen God because the cook knows the meal will taste as good as it looks.

It’s the same with a good story. Reading the cover blurp may entice readers to sample a few beginning pages. And, if those first two pages doesn’t grab you by the throat, then the writer has lost that initial momentum; that initial advantage of luring readers into his story early.

Canadian crime writer, Grant McKenzie, created a throat-grabber with one of his early books, “Angel With a Bullet.”  Writing under the pen name of M.C. Grant, the story is told in the first-person voice of a female journalist named Dixie. Judging from the excerpts, I immediately liked this ambitious, feisty and funny reporter who counted ex-boyfriends in lieu of sheep on those hard-to-fall-asleep nights and would, no doubt, end up working on her ex-lover’s messy murder staged like an apparent suicide. All this from the opening chapter. Doesn’t that make you want to rush out and find a copy of “Angel With a Bullet?”

James Rollins “Blood Line” is another thriller that captured my attention from the first sentence: They once called her a witch and a whore.  Of course I had to read more but since it’s frowned upon to read the entire book in my favourite bookstore, I bought it.

James Patterson and Howard Roughan’s “Don’t Blink” hooked me with a delicious description of Manhattan’s  Upper Eastside “Lombardo Steakhouse” and reeled me in after page one because I just knew something terrible was about to happen. And my killer instincts were right.

Writers not only have to reel in their readers, but once the readers are hooked, keep them anxiously turning the pages. That’s what the great writers do—give readers that unexpected. I like the unexpected, that special twist.  Like a creative cook who can toss together crimini mushrooms, sautéed beef chunks, fresh oysters, herbs, seasoning and chopped veggies–all simmered together with a bottle of dark ale to make this hearty stew for those cold nights by a cosy fire. I didn’t know combining the unexpected could taste so good!

Books that hold you enthralled, captivates you with words, feeds your imagination are often the product of creative writers who wield a magic pen. I salute all creative writers, artists and cooks—you all deserve that celebratory glass of bubbly for producing your masterpiece.

As I said at the very beginning: A writer does not write to seek an answer; a writer writes because he/she has a story to tell–a story that needs to be told as only you can.

Natasha Elena

Recently my little god-daughter and her parents moved  to Toronto where she celebrated her 4th birthday. From phone-calls, she is happily making new friends, discovering new places and enjoying different activities. This is a post I wrote in 2014, introducing Tasha.

Natasha Elena is my 3-year old god-daughter. Since babyhood, she has always called me “Nana” because her only other grandmother lives in Austria.  Having Tasha for the day is always a treat—both for her and for myself.  My god-daughter thinks she is making me stop saying “bad words” and I like to think, she’s being gently educated.

I’m normally a very calm and happy person but there are certain times when I find enough is enough. I don’t often swear—at least, not in English.  And, even if it is in Cantonese, it’s more an insult than a cuss word. Tasha hadn’t spoken any words yet at 9 months, but when she finally did, her first words were “scum-bag.”  It didn’t sit well with her parents who had been patiently priming her with “Mama” and “Papa.”  My defense was I thought she had been asleep when I was watching my Clint Eastwood, “Dirty Harry” video.

I should have known better than to leave Tasha alone for 2 minutes, even if she was busy with her colouring book and big crayons. My newly painted blank wall was too tempting for a budding artist. She had carefully crayoned her best art on my new blush peach wall.

“Je***,” I tried to say, while scrambling to remember if those were the washable crayons or not.

“Cheezies, Nana—you can say cheezies,” Tasha cheerfully offered.

“Remember what Nana said about drawing on walls, Tasha?”


“And what did Nana say not to do?”

“Um-mm, Nana said ‘Nebber gotcha Danny ebber do it again.”  Even my brain blinked as I tried to decipher what I had actually said to her.  Oh right—“Never, god-damn ever, do it again!” lost its huge punch when you had to sub out the swear words for socially acceptable ones meant for little ears. Tasha was two and a bit  at that time.

Another time, I had made a grocery stop at the Super-Store and parked the car in the huge lot. Tasha was riding in the cart, along with the groceries, when we both spotted the new ugly scrape on the side of my car.

“Holy sh**!” I hollered, managing to stop myself midway.

“Holy sheep, Nana—it’s Holy sheep!” my god-daughter corrected with a giggle.

Tasha had been with me when I had to go to the local department store to settle an accounting mistake. Someone else’s purchases had ended on my monthly statement.  No matter how it was explained, the accounting person refused to acknowledge it was their mistake and suggested I contact Management if I wasn’t happy.  It had been a very frustrating hour and forgetting Tasha was holding my hand, I was muttering insults to that ass**** who refused to listen.  Tugging my hand to get my attention, my little god-daughter announced in her loud voice, “Sassy-mole, Nana. You can say sassy-mole.” Somehow “sassy-mole” didn’t conjure up the same image of the aggravating accounts person.

I do enjoy my god-daughter. She really is very special and lovable. Whenever we spend time together, it’s filled with laughter and sometimes, for me, new words.  It’s amazing how quickly I can scramble to substitute for any cuss words and if I’m not quick enough, Tasha would giggle and change the word for me. I use to dread her going home and tossing all the real words back to her parents, but so far, I still have access to my god-daughter.

The other day, I discovered Tasha has learned a Cantonese phrase and she delivered it perfectly. With her tiny hands fisted on her hips, she frowned at Loki, her Maltese terrier. The tiny dog had chewed one ear off her stuffed bear. “Aii ya, su-ya! Kwai, kwai!” which roughly translated means, “You stupid—bad, bad!”

Yes indeed—I treasure these moments and definitely don’t want Tasha growing up too quickly. Sometimes I think Tasha will be a wonderful peace-maker, an ambassador for her country.  Other times, I think she  may be a linguist as she already speaks fluent Austrian and English.  She has a wonderful imagination and grasp of words so she may become a famous writer.  For her young age, she has a sense of adventure and isn’t afraid to try foods that are new to her.  I want to be there when she discovers what the world has to offer and all the things she can do to make the world a better place. I want her to gotcha Danny do it well and  holy sheep make us proud.  Nana loves you, Natasha Elena.

A Monday Hissy-Fit

Excuse me while I have my hissy-fit.  I’m definitely going to have my hissy-fit and feel a whole lot better for it. I’ve just come back from getting groceries and doing my month-end banking with watering eyes, sneezing fits and a nose that never stops running. Sound familiar? Two things made me want to stop and scream, “Beam me up Scotty and get me outta here!”

Back in March, just as our weather was warming up, all these gorgeous pink ornamental cherry blossoms and deep-pink plum blossoms burst into colourful blooms along every boulevard in Victoria including a 5-mile radius of my neighbourhood. Beautiful, but annoying and maddening for those of us suffering from allergies. I was much relieved by the time April finished and moved into May because my allergies stopped–the blossoms had finished their cycles.

But maybe not—something is triggering off an enormous spate of sneezing, watering eyes and running nose all over again. I had to buy 3-boxes of those mammoth size tissues as anyone with allergies can tell you–those regular tissues are useless. Okay, having allergies is not like getting the Big C or something equally as serious; nevertheless, allergies can be a huge pain-in-the-butt when you’re the sufferer!

Hissy-fit #1:  Allergy sufferers should only have to suffer once in the great cycle of things–not twice!

This week my hometown is encouraging its annual “Bike-to-Work” week. Do you have it in your hometown? I am all for a healthy lifestyle and safe environment; however, we are not Europe, where biking is a normal way of life and their streets are adapted for both bikes and cars. In my city, bike lanes are the new buzz-words for politicians and environmentalists who advocate biking for your health and well-being. This is also a sure-fire way of getting elected. But often the need for bike lanes are not carefully thought out. A bike lane may start at Point A but it will peter out for a few miles and then suddenly pick up somewhere else.

I am as environmentally conscious as anyone else, but right now our streets are not safe for inexperienced bikers who ride their bikes for a short time on  weekends only. It is the fiercely experienced bikers who can safely navigate their bikes effortlessly through traffic. And, did I mention all the summer road-work that has closed  single lanes forcing drivers to steer themselves through a maze of  orange cones marking their temporary route?  AND the bike lane has disappeared?

If bike lanes are going to be the norm, then for Pete’s sake, (who the heck is Pete?). let’s put them in everywhere and make them continuous. The newest bike lane has been the talk of the town because this section of road is only 8 blocks long and has been closed for 10 months to install new underground pipes and sidewalks. Opened to traffic last week, it is a treacherous piece of road to navigate because the two lanes, incoming and outgoing, have been made narrower due to constructed bike lanes with a curb that made the bike lane elevated. Other bike riders have commented that they have never seen a bike lane that has been raised. The road is definitely thinner with its new sidewalks and fancy bike lanes. but to make absolutely sure, traffic slows to a crawl, the municipality has further installed their beautification project of garden centres, right on the centre median. What in the world were the engineers and architects thinking?  Was all this designed on paper, decided it looked great and the okay given to go ahead and build it? Did the road architect/engineer ever do a test drive on the completed route and felt any pangs of regret as he steered around the centre islands and the curved bike lane? And most of all–being “Bike-to-Work” week, did any week-end bikers fall off the raised bike lane doing their healthy trip to work?

My Hissy-fit#2 are on bike lanes that end abruptly causing the biker to ride in front or behind you plus those “garden-centres” that sits in the centre of the road–beautiful but waiting for an accident to happen, especially on such a narrow street.

One more note–I recently heard that the municipality had proposed a new city bus route down this short section of street. The mind boggles at bureaucrats actually suggesting this with the centre islands and bike lanes already slowing traffic to a whimper at rush hour.Thank goodness, someone with brains vetoed that idea!

And yes, I do feel better now that my frustrated rant is winding down. Thanks for listening. . . .