WILD AND FREE

Nature is having a tough time surviving in this 21st century. With new developments claiming virgin forests, untamed wilderness and spectacular scenery, the wild life are being pushed out of their natural habitats and forced to forage in urban and rural areas for their survival.

Victoria is synonymous with gardens. No matter where you are or where you look as you roam the city, gardens and flowers are everywhere. Now, there are signs  for something new. By the scenic road that winds past the prestigious Victoria Golf Club, there are signs that warn motorists to watch out for Mama Duck and her numerous babies. Mama tends to lead her ducklings across the road at the worst moments and always, there is the rebel duckling with his/her own sense of where it wants to go. Lately there have been new signs popping up around the city. These signs show the silhouette of a Mother Deer and/or Rabbit with their off-springs. It is a warning to motorists that these wild-life frequently cross the road. It made me stop and ponder how the deer, raccoon, rabbits, squirrels and occasional cougar can survive in urban settings.

I use to work in an acute-care hospital outside the city limits and built on a piece of cleared wilderness. It is a strategic location for highway or industrial accidents happening north of Victoria. It is also a great dumping place for pet rabbits no longer considered cute after Easter came and went. The few existing wild rabbits were no doubt rapturous at meeting such an abundance of eligible bunnies. The rabbits did what rabbits do when meeting their soul-mates. It didn’t take long to notice hundreds and hundreds of cute bunnies hopping, nibbling and doing what rabbits do, literally covering the massive grounds above and tunneling beneath. It is a marvel of bunny engineering the hospital foundation didn’t sink due to all the hundreds of interconnecting tunnels proliferating underground!

There were occasional cougar sightings. These wild cats ventured down the highway, crossing city limits in their search for food. It seemed ironic they had missed the best feeding grounds enroute to the city. It may seem cruel that these plump furry bunnies could have been some cougar’s dinner, but this is Nature’s way of culling the rabbit population. Humans spent months on agonizing debates and discussions to decide how best to cull the rabbits. Volunteers raised the necessary funds and labour to humanely capture thousands of rabbits that were supposedly shipped to a “rabbit refuge” somewhere in Texas. A few “escapees” found their way to the University of Victoria’s undeveloped and wooded areas where they happily settled to do what rabbits do best–creating the same problem in a different location.

When Hubby and I moved to our house, we were amazed to see our first deer stroll casually past our front yard. Initially, it was a novelty to be so close to something wild as it ventured into our neighbours’ yards to nibble at the roses, azaleas and daisies. I’m talking about an established and developed urban neighbourhood, well within the city limits. In the past few years, the deer problem became very real and very serious.

Like the rabbits, there have been numerous committees, discussions and debates on finding a humane solution to the deer problem. For every person against shooting or trapping the deer, there is someone vehemently for. At the moment, the deer have been left alone. This is not as humane as it seems for these beautiful animals are literally starving from human kindness. If they had been left to survive in the wilderness, it would be by survival of the fittest. Left to survive in urban surroundings, there is not enough food to sustain these animals and their constantly expanding families. The deer are becoming aggressive and extremely territorial if any humans cross their path. They are merely protecting whatever “turf” they have managed to keep in their daily fight for survival.

A decade ago, the city belonged to humans. It was rare  to see any wild animals strolling through the neighbourhood. Today, deer, rabbits, squirrels, raccoons and the occasional cougar are a common sight because people are driving them out of their natural habitat. It really makes you reconsider that dream-house with the spectacular view and the woodsy backyard. Which Nature’s  creatures was evicted from their wilderness home to give you yours?

Dark Chocolate Heaven

I love chocolate.  If it’s Belgian chocolate, 70-72% dark, that’s really great. But if it happens to cover small pieces of dried mangoes or tart cherries with roasted almonds, that’s the absolute best!  Costco is my favourite place for sourcing out any Belgian dark chocolate fruit or biscuit. Their supply seems to change all the time.

The big jars of 70%  Belgian  Dark Chocolate Clusters of Tart Cherries with Roasted Almonds, were available for at least three trips to Costco, before these jars disappeared forever. It was replaced with 70% Belgian Dark Chocolate Dipped Slices of Dried Mangoes and believe me, there was nothing “dried” about the mangoes. The entire chocolate treat was tasty and the fruit was moist enough not to taste like dried shoe leather. But then again, how can anything dipped in dark Belgian chocolate taste awful?

The mangoes simply disappeared one day to be replaced with 70% Belgian Dark Chocolate Almond Bark with almond slices sprinkled generously throughout the thin chocolate slabs. These almond treats were packed as thin pieces inside a sturdy paper bag. Needless to say, these replacement treats were too deadly to ignore. This involved several trips on the highway to replenish the dark Belgian chocolate supply of almond bark, but on that last trip, there was also a 70% Belgian  Dark Chocolate Pumpkin Seed Bark as well. It too was deliciously decadent.

I was at Costco yesterday and the almond bark, as well as the pumpkin seed bark, has disappeared to wherever the cherry almond clusters and the mango slices in dark chocolate retire to. In a prominent place on the aisle, there were bags and bags of—yep, you guessed it–70% Belgian Dark Chocolate Dipped Figs. Figs? Yes, figs. And let me tell you, I’m not especially fond of figs, but in my case, I think you can chocolate dip a lima bean and it would be great—as long as it’s dipped in Belgian 70% Dark Chocolate.  Um-mm, anyone heading to Costco. . . ?

PLASTIC REWARDS

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

sammee44:

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.