Sunday, 2 February 2020

Self Checkouts: An Overdue Rant

My better half and I went shopping early Saturday morning, as has been our weekly practice for several years. We habitually seem to always go to the same store. After today’s experience, however, that may all change; they may well have lost another customer. Why?

I’m glad you asked.

We used to do virtually all our shopping at that particular big-box store. In all fairness, we found that many of their items were cheaper than some of the competitors. Still, it was not uncommon for us to drop $200 week after week in that store; sometimes even more. At $800+ per month, you’d almost think that we should be shareholders by now! (Ha, Ha).

Then gradually something weird started to happen. Items we regularly purchased for years were suddenly discontinued. Certain brands of jam spreads, and tea varieties, just to name a couple, suddenly began disappearing off the shelves. Yes, they had other options for us, but we were not interested in them. We knew what we liked, and we wanted what we liked. Occasionally we tried a few substitutes, but they normally proved disappointing. Consequently, time and again, when we suddenly could no longer find something, the private family joke had become, “Oh, they discovered that we really liked ‘X’, and so they pulled it off the shelves.”

Ultimately it is their store, so it is also their prerogative to carry what they will and manage their business as they will.

However, it seems to me that they also need to do so wisely, because the consumers they wish to attract also have the right to shop where they choose.  In our experience, we reasoned that if we can no longer find what we want at our normal grocery store, then perhaps other stores would be happy to have our business. We were right. Other previous irregular shopping destinations, started seeing more and more of us. We even discovered a small local butcher shop with a beautiful meat selection and some great weekly specials.

As for our previous big box store, we now spend about half of what we used to in that store.  The $200+ weekly purchase is usually now typically barely over $100. As such we want to say a big Thank You to that vendor for opening our eyes and introducing us to other shopping options amongst their competitors. Well done! (Yes, I’m being a little facetious).

But back to this morning’s shopping experience. Again, as we do week after week, we visited the same store about 08:00am, an hour after they opened. This time, however, we came very close to waking away from our semi-full shopping cart, and walking out the store empty handed. Why?

I’m glad you asked!

Sometime between our visit last week and this week, they seemed to have been inspired to reduce the teller operated cashier lanes, and virtually double their self-checkout lanes. We approached the tellers only to find that there weren’t any! Instead of the one self-checkout area there was the previous week, there were now two giant self-checkout areas. In between lay the unstaffed normal check out lanes, the number of which also seemed to have been reduced sometime since our last visit. Three or four staff members were wandering around in each of the self-checkout lanes, but none were in the real checkout lanes actually serving their customers! What did we do?

I’m glad you asked.

Rather than play the self-checkout game, we stood beside our shopping carts opposite the closed checkout counters and waited. Soon, another lady with even a fuller shopping cart stood beside us and also waited. After a little chit-chat with her, it became apparent that she too wasn’t interested in this self-checkout game/fad either. Eventually a cashier arrived from somewhere, and, seemingly begrudgingly (based upon a strange look I received from her, though my wife said she never noticed that look), opened the nearest till to serve us.

I get it; times are tough, and all of us in business need to find ways to tighten our belts and save a dollar or two, or we soon may not be in business. My bosses are lately always dictating cost savings measures in our industry too. I really do get it; it’s a sign of the times! 

However, all of us no doubt already spend more than enough on basic foodstuffs. As such, there is no way that I think it right that I then also have to scan and check out my own groceries! Yes, I’ll play the game and do the self-checkout when I only have two or three items; I’ve even occasionally done so with six items. But much more than that, no way! One of these days I may yet leave a cart full of groceries at an abandoned checkout lane, and walk out of the store without my would-be purchases in hand. No doubt that will cost the vendor money too as some poor staff person will then have to restock all my items.

It’s not like I’m expecting the grocers to pack my groceries out to the car for me, although I do remember that wonderful era when grocery stores did provide exactly that higher level of customer service. I am simply saying that, if a grocer wants to continue to enjoy my business, my humble little $800+ per month, they can provide a check out clerk to assist me with my transactions. Alternately, I fully expect to get a paycheck like other employed staff there, if I have to do the checkout myself.

To date no grocery stores have issued me a paycheck.

I am encouraged that I’m not alone in my self-checkout boycott. I was in a different store recently, and was pleasantly surprised to see a lineup of 10-12 people at a single open till, most with only two or three items in hand, while the adjacent self checkout tills remained completely empty. Could those customers have gotten out of the store quicker by checking themselves out? Most certainly, yes; I’m sure they could have. Like me, however, they also probably had not yet received their employee’s paycheck. So on principle’s sake, in line they stood, if for no other reason, than to make a statement.

Back to our shopping experience this morning, for both my wife and myself, it was one of the more stressful shopping experiences yet in our almost 40-years of marriage. Strange how by 09:00am, on a Saturday morning, that store had rattled our nerves so much that we joked that we needed a strong alcoholic drink!

No, we didn’t have the strong alcoholic drink. We went home and opted to calm our nerves with a strong coffee instead.

End of rant!

Postscript: Rather than publicly identify the grocer here, I’ve chosen to keep them anonymous. A link to this post, however, will be emailed to them. Whether or not they change their practice, is up to them; whether or not I continue to spend hard-earned dollars in their store, is up to me. Peace.

First photo credit: Flickr Creative Commons
Second photo credit: Flickr Creative Commons

Sunday, 29 December 2019

Oatmeal and the Reinventing of Breakfast

"If you look upon ham and eggs and lust, you have already committed breakfast in your heart."
C.S. Lewis


It has been said that breakfast is the most important meal of the day. Unfortunately for many, breakfast has also become the most boring meal of the day. How sad!

Has breakfast become boring? Are you tired of the same standard quick go-to breakfast option of a box of cold cereal? Yea; glorified dog food kibbles on our breakfast tables! Yummy … Not! (Yes, I am being facetious). Yet grocery stores have entire aisles devoted to these breakfast pseudo-foods. Am I the only one who thinks that strange? Hmm.

A common argument I hear from people to not eat breakfast is that they don't have the time in the morning. I would argue that they're then just getting out of bed too late. In other areas of life we always make time for things that matter and are important to us. Why not for breakfast too? Perhaps a good wholesome breakfast just doesn't matter to some folks. Well, to each their own; I'll not judge.

I have been experimenting with breakfast alternatives lately. You may recall seeing this recent post  in which I recreated poached eggs. I had them again yesterday. Yes, they were amazingly awesome!

While growing up a regular breakfast fare was oatmeal, or porridge as it was often called. It wasn't a microwaved version as one often sees today, but an old school stove top concoction. Sometimes immediately prior to serving some variety of fruit was placed on top; berries, sliced banana, or whatever we happened to have available at the time. To this a little brown sugar was sprinkled and a little milk added. It was a good wholesome breakfast that actually filled you up for a while and gave you the energy you needed to kick-start your day.

My latest experiment with breakfast was recreating that oatmeal breakfast of yesteryear. The oatmeal is still prepared old-school style on the stove. Once it's virtually done, I take the pot off the heat, stir in some frozen berries, cover and set aside. If the berries are too large, I cut them up first into smaller pieces (while still frozen). The hot oatmeal thaws the berries as it thickens in the covered pot. Then, immediately before serving, I added a couple heaping tablespoons of blueberry yogurt. Other yogurt flavours also work, but I'm partial to blueberry. Absent from my newly recreated oatmeal was the brown sugar and milk of yesteryear. The combination of berries and yogurt made it sweet enough. Another difference is that the oatmeal is now served cold as opposed to to its predecessor's hot version.

Who says that breakfast has to be boring? It doesn't have to be. The most important meal of the day can be nutritious and enjoyable if we want it to be and if we allow just a little extra time in our mornings to make it happen. Peace, and may your breakfasts be awesome.

"Our food should be our medicine
and our medicine should be our food."

Photo sources: First is my own; second is unknown.

Friday, 27 December 2019

Breakfast: The Third Most Important Pre-Lunch Meal?

I love breakfast!

I love them so much that I sometimes even have two, and yes, that's before lunch. Maybe I'm part Hobbit. Though Hobbits are small creatures (unlike me), they are famous for their two breakfasts. Last I counted, they actually have seven meals per day: breakfast, second breakfast, elevensies, luncheon, afternoon tea, dinner and supper (some would argue that it's only six meals per day, but, whatever; point has been made. They eat often).

Actually, I typically don't eat that often.

I do, however, calorie up in the mornings, start tapering off at lunch, and typically only graze in the evening. Unless, of course, someone has an awesome non-vegan friendly rack of something (real meat) on the grill or in the smoker that I get invited to. In that case, all bets are off.

But we were talking about breakfast, that early-morning feast some have called "the most important meal of the day." I would have to agree with that sentiment. Fact is, I cannot understand people who don't eat breakfast, but that's OK; to each their own. I'll not judge.

One of my favourite new-found discoveries is poached eggs.

I think I finally learned the trick to a perfect poached egg. It starts with a frying pan partly filled with water. Once the water comes to a full boil, turn off the burner and immediately crack into it two (or however many you want) extra-large eggs. Cover the fry pan and count off exactly five minutes (no peeking).

While that's happening, I like to fry up a few slices of thick bacon. Everything is better with bacon, including poached eggs! As a lover of old Canadian cheddar cheese, you'd have to believe that a few slices of that awesome aged cheddar is also in order. Finally, a nice rye or light rye buttered toast (real butter, not that imitation pseudo-food, margarine stuff). Add a little salt, black pepper and crushed chilies, and you're good to go.

Note: If the yolk doesn't start running all over your cheese, bacon and toast when you put your fork to them, you cooked your eggs too long. You may need to adjust your poaching times a little.

Well there you have it: Poached Eggs, a la The Other Side of Will. Suitable for breakfast, second breakfast and elevensies. Oh, never mind; these poached eggs are so awesome, they're even worthy of a Hobbit's luncheon, afternoon tea, dinner and supper too. Enjoy.


Sunday, 15 December 2019

Is Living Hazardous to Your Health?

Someone shared an article on social media recently of how a popular diabetes medication is being investigated for possibly containing a cancer-causing contaminant. Why am I not surprised? The good news is, that your diabetes is under control. The bad news is, you may get cancer because of it. A person could go nuts trying to stay on top of all these things that could potentially harm you, and even cause ones premature demise. Sigh!

I suspect that most people are probably reasonably concerned with their health. They go for regular medical check ups, get a variety of regular tests done, and follow the prescribed medications where needed. The doctor notices a case of borderline diabetes, and prescribes a common standard treatment. I am for the most part, not a conspiracy theorist; the doctor is not out to get us in any malicious way, and I don't think they are in cahoots with the big pharmaceuticals either.

Fact is, a lot of things could potentially cause cancer. In this case, if you were to read beyond just the headline, the contaminate being investigated is also the same contaminate found in water and other foods. Does that mean that we should quit drinking water and eating certain foods too?

Granted, some people may have had adverse reactions to the medication in question. Maybe for some it is a horrible drug. Then again, for others it's a life-saver. Some people also have adverse reactions to Tylenol, but that doesn't mean that Tylenol doesn't work wonders for many other folks. Bottom line is, in conjunction with my doctor, we'll find the right medication that works for me. It may not work for someone else, but if it works for me, then all is good.

Yes, there is always a chance that there may be a negative side effect from the foods that we eat and the medications that we take, but there is also probably the greater potential side effect of getting hit by a truck on our morning commute to the workplace. There is probably a greater risk that authorities will one day knock on our door and inform our significant other that we will not be coming home due to an unfortunate accident. Does that mean that we should all move into bubble-wrapped homes? Does that mean that we should no longer go to work? Nice thought, but, Hmm …

… would that really be living life to the full?

Of course we should all try and take care of ourselves and not overly abuse our bodies. Yes, eat right. Yes, get the proper rest. Yes, exercise some every day. Yes, take medications only as prescribed by your family physician. However, at the risk of sounding somewhat morbid, the healthy and the sick, the young and the old, the rich and the poor, will all alike one day … die. If I were to constantly fret over every little thing that I eat or drink, if I were to constantly second-guess the doctor's orders with regards to my prescribed medications, what kind of life is that?

I guess, as the old quip goes, it would really suck to one day die of … absolutely nothing.

I love the image of the elderly lady celebrating her 100th birthday, by lighting a cigar off one of the candles on her birthday cake. Though I personally quit smoking many years ago, I remember mentioning to my wife that, if I too live to see my 100th birthday, I fully intend to celebrate it with a big-old Cuban cigar and a glass of old single-malt scotch whiskey. And why not?!

The bottom line is, as I've often mused, that …

… living is hazardous to your health.

Maybe it is. Maybe longevity has more to do with the proverbial luck of the draw and/or the plan of Almighty God. Who am I to say? Some die at twenty, some at one hundred and ten, and others somewhere in between. But worrying about every little thing that may or may not happen, is also not healthy, and is also not really … living. It's kind of sad, actually.

Just my two-cents worth. Peace, and may you live life to the full. Cheers!

Read source diabetes medication article here

Drugs Photo Source: Flickr Creative Commons
Granny's 100th Birthday Photo Source: Unknown

Thursday, 12 December 2019

The Male Urine Test

Kafka Museum: Statue rotates and pees.
Well now that I am getting older, I've begun to notice some weird new tests that the doctor has ordered for me. Welcome to being old enough to be able to call yourself a … pensioner. How the hell did that happen?! Wasn't it only yesterday that I lied about my age with a phoney ID card so that I could go into a pub with my older buds and enjoy a few brews?

So here I am, waiting anxiously for the latest weird new medical procedure; my first colonoscopy appointment. Yea, lucky me. Once again it occurs to me that I am, in fact, getting older and that my biological clock is starting to tick down. Isn't it just old people who get this procedure done? Didn't even think of this test thirty years ago! Ah, the circle of life! *sigh*

So here I am, a North American male, suddenly finding himself somewhere north of 60-years of age, and toying with the concept of retirement (or at least semi-retirement). When it may or may not actually happen, remains to be seen. What are the minimum conditions necessary to survive retirement? Well, aside from the obvious financial considerations, another key element is apparently health, and thus the plethora of doctor-ordered weird and new tests. And so, hello colonoscopy.

Reflecting still further on some of these weird tests, I recently came across an interpretation of male urine test results which I found interesting, and even a little amusing (as if peeing in a cup isn't already amusing enough in its own twisted way). The way the test works is that we men need to take our urine test outside to the garden (forget the cup), and there among the wife's favourite shrubs, or the neighbour's fish pond, let nature take its course, and do what comes naturally … pee.

Ah, what a relief it is! Nothing like the world being your outhouse!

Interpreting the Results
  • if ants gather, you may have diabetes
  • if you pee on your foot, there may be a prostate issue
  • if your pee smells like a barbecue, there may be a cholesterol issue
  • if when you shake it afterwards, your wrist hurts, it may be a sign of osteoarthritis 
  • if you return to the house with your penis still outside your pants, it may be a sign of Alzheimers
Well there you have it; the male urine test simplified. You're welcome.


Photo Credit: Flickr Creative Commons
Test Results Source: Unknown

Saturday, 30 November 2019

Greatest Christmas Movie Ever?

Well here we are, friends; November 30th, 2019. Christmas is now just a little over three weeks away.

I can't believe I'm saying this, but yesterday could quite possibly be a day to go down in infamy as the first time in my life that I've ventured out to take advantage of a Black Friday sale. Yes, you heard that right; I can't believe it either. I seriously cannot remember ever doing that before. Historically, one thing Black Friday sales always lacked was … me.

So today, the fourth last Saturday before Christmas, my better-half and I plan to start watching some of our favourite seasonal Christmas movies. There are all sorts of classics that we could choose from, but once again this year, we'll start with our favourite; Die Hard. Truly, it's a Christmas classic, at least in our humble opinion.

I know, I know; some of you scrooges do not agree with our assessment. I actually have family members divided in their own homes over this. One spouse agrees with our viewpoint, whereas the other vehemently disagrees. Kind of funny, actually.

Not to be forgotten, there are the biblical birth narratives of Jesus which trump all other Christmas stories. I will give you that and will never personally deny it. THAT is what Christmas is truly all about. No arguments from us … ever!

As for that Santa guy perched on a cheap throne in shopping malls; well, he's just creepy. Why our society thinks it cute to let our children sit on a strange man's lap, as he hides his true identity behind a usually phoney beard, is beyond me. If that horrid practice happened any other time of the year, the creep would be swiftly, and rightly, locked up! Still, the modern Santa religion and/or cult permits and condones it. In all fairness, I never grew up with this tradition.

However, I've digressed. We were talking about our favourite Hollywood-ized Christmas movie classics. Keeping that action-packed movie genre in mind, the greatest non-faith based Christmas movie ever, has to be Die Hard. There is nothing on the big screen that yells out "Christmas" as much as seeing Hans Gruber falling off the Nakatomi Plaza. The scene still brings a joyous tear to our eyes. Isn't that just beautiful?!

"Yippee Ki Yay … " 😏😏😏

So from our house to yours, Merry Christmas.

Photo/Cartoon Sources: Unknown

Saturday, 23 November 2019

A Dog's Life: Inside or Outside is the Question

We have a beautiful mixed breed dog we rescued from an animal shelter about four years ago, who perhaps ironically, rescued us as much as we rescued her. At 56-kilos (123-pounds), she's no little girl, and probably could stand to lose some weight, as I previously blogged about here.

She's a bit of a sap, but she's our sap, and we love her. One thing she's not is an outdoor dog. Yes, she loves going for walks, but she also gets exercise on a treadmill for about 30-minutes each morning before her breakfast. Like all dogs, the backyard is her outhouse, though I am convinced that if she could figure out how, she opt for using the same toilet we do.

Our fur baby is not overly sociable with strangers and doesn't play well with other dogs, but then again, my wife often jokes that I'm not overly sociable either. I guess we're made for each other. Wherever we are, she wants to be as well, and she adores our grand babies and protects them like they were her own pups. For that we are blessed.

However, I have a confession to make; things were not always like that.

Growing up we had dogs, but they were never allowed in the house, with the exception of extremely cold nights, and even then, only in the basement. As I grew older and got married, we again had dogs, but I am sorry to say that they spent too much time outside and away from the family. In retrospect, my wife and I both still feel horrible about that; the dogs just wanted to be a part of the family, and we by our actions, essentially denied them that. How sad! We really should never have had them, and after the last dog passed away, we went several years dog-less. Maybe we needed that break to learn how to become real dog lovers and appreciate them as much as they appreciate us.

Thankfully things are very different with our current dog. I couldn't imagine her not being in our home and in our lives, even with having to vacuum up enough dog hair every week to knit another dog. She is a part of the family and we are committed to giving her the best home possible.

Our house is her dog house.

Recently I discovered a video by Dr. Ernie Ward, a veterinarian, who did a little experiment to learn what it must be like for a dog to live outdoors in a dog house during winter. As I suggested above, we have come to believe that if you're going to have a dog that only lives outside, you probably shouldn't have one at all. I will now never be convinced otherwise. However, as Dr. Ward's experiment shows, especially don't leave them outside in cold sub-freezing weather … please.

I also like how Dr. Ward briefly makes reference to homelessness among humans, another deplorable problem in society. Certainly much more can and needs to be said and done about our inhumanity toward our fellow man in even allowing it, but that's a separate topic for another day.

Just my humble opinion. Peace.

"The world would be a nicer place if everyone 
had the ability to love as unconditionally as a dog."
M.K. Clinton