Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Dipladenia -- found!

I've decided to never walk past a display of Dipladenia (if that's what these are) without at least checking out the prices. These are a bit hard to grow, let alone find in a garden centre; in fact, I've only ever found them in the little fruit-vegetable-flower markets that thrive on Toronto's Danforth Avenue. One of the things I find appealing is that when the flower buds start to unfurl they're white or nearly so, and then the colours start to brighten up.

It's amazing what you can buy around here. (Some year I'm going to buy a fig tree---when they're on sale they usually come with a few fruit already on them. I understand that figs are finicky and require much coddling through cold weather.)

Anyways, I found these two specimens the other day, $4.99 each. They need repotting, and I'm nearly ready to do that (just have to mix a bit of coir in the potting soil).

AUGUST 4/09 UPDATE: The Dips have been repotted and they seem to be quite happy in their biodegradable ("green") pots from (but mine are black, for some reason...).

They are tender perennials, which means that I will have to bring them in in the fall before the frost starts. The other issue with these lovelies is that there's not much definitive info on over-wintering and then getting them to bloom again. These are Grown in Canada, by the way.

Friday, July 24, 2009

A 55th wedding anniversary

My mom and dad got married on this date in 1954. He was 31 and she was 22 when they married, apparently in a bit of a rush (no, she wasn't pregnant; Douglas was born on July 12, 1955).

My dad died very suddenly in 1986 at 63 years of age, of a heart attack, at home. He'd been retired for four years (after 36 years of teaching), and was involved in the Masonic temple, raising funds for a teachers' retirement home, travelling with Mom, bee-keeping and gardening at their huge rural property, setting up his work shop, and volunteering as a steward for the United Church. His own father had died of heart disease at age 59, just before he and my mom met at the school where they both worked.

Dad's first teaching job was at the Knowlton Academy in Quebec. He bought his first car without knowing how to drive. (He figured it out, though -- he was my first driving teacher, on an Austin Mini 4-speed, and he WAS a teacher at heart. I learned how to steer from him, which is the next best thing to know about driving, after how to stop.)

Mom's first year of teaching was in Buckingham, Quebec -- when she was 18! She graduated from high school in Aylmer, Quebec, then did an additional year in Ottawa, Ontario, to get "qualified" to teach. The next year she went to MacDonald College (at McGill University in Montreal) to get her teaching diploma. After her diploma her next job was in Waterloo, Quebec.

Teachers made pitiful wages in those days. Most teaching couples of my folks' acquaintance worked summer jobs. My Grade 5 teacher worked on her husband's dairy farm all year round. My father worked as the Arts & Crafts director at a boys' camp in the Quebec Laurentians for several years (including the summer I learned to walk; my brothers and I went to kids' camp in later years, mostly learning to develop a thick skin, along with canoeing and swimming); or Dad took extension and summer courses (Industrial Arts, Biology, History) in New Brunswick (we spent the summer camping in a tent), Montreal (MacDonald College; married couples' housing), and New York state (Oswego; camping again).

My mom went back to teaching full time when my dad entered university to get his BA in 1966 or so (anyway, he graduated in 1967; in 1979 I was the next BA in the family). A few years after he finished she studied for her Special Ed. diploma -- and got it, with excellent marks -- and she then taught full time again (we kids were mostly grown) until she retired in early 1988. (When she agreed to do some supply teaching a year or so later, she quit early: Sunday nights were stressful because of all she had to do to prepare for teaching on the Monday!)

I think Dad did a year full-time at Bishop's University (driving out to class from home early every morning, a one-hour trip), and Mom was the bread-winner. He needed at least a BA to continue teaching high school in Quebec. I remember he worked nights for a summer at a glass plant in town (he'd worked at the Rolls Royce engine plant in Montreal during WWII before he got his teaching certificate). We had Carnation Instant Milk, spaghetti, ground beef, oatmeal, and fresh produce (green beans, carrots, lettuce, chard, tomatoes) from the garden in the summer. I think the mortgage on the house they bought in early 1963 was about $90 a month.

So I'm recalling those years as I sit at the computer wondering how to get by on my EI (when it actually starts), without any fresh food from my property, or valuable/portable skills in a huge city where I have many contacts but no one (that I've contacted) to put me in a job. Feeling sorry for myself!

Thursday, July 23, 2009

So-called "Employment Insurance"

I delayed going to the Service Canada office until yesterday, because I really and truly thought I'd be working (or at least interviewing) by now, 6 weeks after I was terminated. I received my record of employment (ROE) about three weeks ago.

While the joint was hoppin', there was no line-up at the computer, where I input my info in less than 10 minutes (their estimate: 60 minutes) and printed my statement. Since I have a lot of contribution room I put a big chunk of my severance/settlement into my Retirement Savings Plan (RSP) to reduce the immediate tax hit (any funds I kept would have been immediately taxed as though they were earnings -- about 43%) and also to get a nice tax refund next March.

But it looks like 1) I'll be waiting longer than I expected to get a full-time job or contract, 2) a number of weeks must pass before I get any EI benefits at all, and 3) my severance, in the opinion of the federal government and local authorities, gives me enough to live on for the foreseeable future, which isn't in fact true, since I put over half in my retirement plan.

My mother sent me a generous cheque to pay my dental bill plus a bit more to live on, but when I look at my bank account (and my mortgage, insurance, transit pass, utilities, food for me and the cats, etc.) I see the bank balance dwindling steadily and at a faster rate than I calculated.

And I haven't taken any of the obvious measures to reduce my spending, such as quitting smoking, cancelling my basic cable (since I don't watch TV; UPDATE: that's done), reducing my alcohol consumption, and so on. While at the liquor store today I saw a woman who was speaking angrily ("I'm working now!!") with a fellow employee -- she was sitting cross-legged under the parking meter right in front of the store, with her belongings around her, and I guess it was her turn to solicit at that spot. The elderly gentleman in the wool hat and parka (who's not reliably medicated as near as I can figure out) just had to wait his turn.

Now I have a pretty nice wardrobe, and I'm fairly presentable when I've washed up, and I've often imagined myself standing, well turned out, in a likely spot on Bay Street during the lunch hour and saying, "Spare change? Would you like some spare change?" and seeing if anyone took me up on it... Now my spare change goes to smokes.

Sunday, July 19, 2009

My scam product (re)(un)sold on eBay...

August 19 UPDATE: I've listed it again on with Full Disclosure about the dispute, return, and conditon. There are 11 bids, 17 watchers. Again, I won't make my money back, but, as I say, every little bit helps...

August 7 UPDATE: The buyer disputed the item with PayPal ("not as described"). So he sent it back, PayPal reviewed the dispute, sided with him, and I had to refund his money. When he buys from another source (even the Dazzle White web site) he'll be very ashamed.

July 23 UPDATE: 24 bids and the item sold for $55.55 CA! I won't make any money but I'll recoup over half of the cost. GAWD, I still feel stupid!

Saturday, July 18, 2009

Clipping the cats' claws

This is my sweet baby Fiasco T. Peabrain (the T. stands for "ther" as in Winnie "ther" Pooh).

He's a little bitty cat compared to the others -- about 6.5 pounds. He's also head-shy -- no head-bopping or face-plants with this guy, and in fact he ducks away from kisses.

And he loves to stand on my lap and knead when I'm using the computer and in the "reading room." I have multiple scratches on my left thigh from his ministrations. And I forget that he is the most compliant when it comes to clipping those fishhooks off his front paws. I can do all 10 in less than a minute. I simply prop him on my lap, snip-snip-snip, and we're done. He raises no objection whatever. But it's his nature -- you gotta know your cats! Handsome Stranger gets angry after one or two clips, growling and struggling. So it takes a few sessions with him.

I use a regular nail clipper and take off only the really pointy ends.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

I've been scammed!

I get e-newsletters from sites that offer coupons and free samples. So far they've been pretty good: three full-sized PowerBars; 125g of ProPlan cat kibble (which they LOVE) and a $5.00 coupon; Excel gum plus a $1 coupon for a multi-pack; Olay samples that I will probably put in Mom's Xmas stocking (; coupons for free products like Kashi granola bars; and a few other items. It's always nice to get packages in the mail, isn't it?

If I fail to read the fine print on these things I figure it's my own damn fault. But this one was a shocker. I feel I got scammed. I searched where the Dazzle White Pro "free" offer originated, and it's completely gone, and no one has commented on it in the forums. My credit card has been charged over $100 CA. I have cancellation numbers for the affiliate programs for my credit card provider as well, but I am in no way guaranted that I'll get any of the money back. I got the information for this from the Complaints Board (

The other thing I found is that the company's international headquarters is in Alberta. So much for Canadian integrity (not), though it's probably a US firm that uses a mail drop so they can evade US regulations. And I haven't opened the item, so maybe I'll send it back and watch for my refund through my rose-coloured glasses.

Monday, July 13, 2009

Armchair Job Hunting

This has been a month, as they say. After my dismissal, I was pretty quick on the draw in posting my résumé online on and, joining the professional networking site LinkedIn, and attempting to solicit recommendations from former managers and co-workers. But the market for technical writers (and so many other job types) is soft in the Toronto area. There's a possibility that I have too much seniority for the current market, so hiring managers might think my salary expectations might be too high.

After my last-but-one termination I had lots of calls from recruiters and good interviews. I got a call-back for a second interview (with nearly a promise of a job offer), but by that time I had accepted a contract offer. I've been incorporated since 2000 (helps a lot with taxes if your tax preparer is intelligent...) so I could take a contract at any time. I'd look for freelance work if I had a better portfolio. I might take a part-time job at Home Depot if they'd have me...

JULY 16 UPDATE: Not one, not two, but FOUR cold calls from recruiters in the last three days. One caller had my 2000 résumé, so I was very happy to send my latest with an extra nine years of experience in additional roles at two large Canadian companies. It was not a good fit with the available position, unfortunately, but the caller was encouraging. And another was to replace the current contractor with a more senior person -- goodness me!

Monday, July 6, 2009

I'm trapped! But I may try to escape...

As I suspected, my endo wants me on multiple daily injections (MDI). We did not speak one word about the roles and benefits of diet and exercise in blood sugar control. He did not ask me what I eat or when, or whether I get at least 30 minutes a day of moderate exercise. He said if he had his druthers, he'd put every one of his diabetes patients on MDI as soon as they were diagnosed. He showed me a little PowerPoint presentation (training tool) on determining the efficacy of various doses at different times.

And in his office, after a 20-minute walk and a 45-minute wait, my BP was 102/60, which is very low! And I have put on a couple of pounds in the last couple of weeks. And I have been more active this week.

I might have mentioned that I don't cook that much -- I have food, appliances, cookware, and so on, but every flat surface is covered with clutter and filth. I figured I do have a place for everything -- it's getting everything in its place that's the bother. In the past I've been a maker of lists. I haven't done so recently but I've been keeping a kind of diary. Although it's in Word I don't go back and edit what I've written. It seems to be motivating me for some reason.

Inertia: a body at rest tends to stay at rest; a body in motion tends to stay in motion. It’s the motion I need! Next steps: finish dishes; unhang laundry and hang fresh load; pull out stove and fridge and collect all the cat toys underneath. That’s exercise for you!

Saturday, July 4, 2009

Just the flax, ma'am

(Image courtesy of
Many whole-grain and multi-grain products include whole flax seed (breads, cereals, and even tortilla chips). However, we don't get the benefit of its omega-3 fatty acids and phyto-chemicals because they aren't broken down in our digestive system. (Check your poops the next time you eat a serving of Red River Cereal.)
Ground flax seed provides digestibility so you get the health benefits. But because of its high oil content it's liable to go rancid before you use it up. So it's best to buy flax seed in bulk, grind it in a coffee grinder, and store the ground seed in the refrigerator or freezer, or else grind only the amount you need.
One tablespoon of ground flax seed provides 1.6 grams of omega-3 fatty acids.
Ground chia seed, on the other hand, does not deteriorate after a while (and grinding helps a lot to keep the whole seeds from getting caught in your teeth). One tablespoon, whole or ground, provides 3 grams of omega-3 fatty acids.