The Snow Guru

guru

Unless you live on the west coast, you know that this winter has been too long, too cold and plagued by that stinging, feathery annoyance we call snow.  It snarled traffic, filled your boots, and gave those snotty little kids too many snow days.  Yuck!

But because I don’t have to traverse the frozen tundra as much as I used to, I spend more time out in the driveway, learning the deep secrets of this seasonal intruder.  It’s gotten to the point that people will now seek out my wisdom and advice when it comes to snow removal.  At least, that’s what I choose to believe.

“Oh great snow guru, I seek your deep understanding on a pressing matter. My driveway fills with white cold stuffs from the heavens and I know not how to deal with it.  Can you help, oh great one?”

“Listen to my words, child.  The great tides float all boats.  Be not the first boat to rise…”

“I’m so sorry great Guru, but I have no idea what that means.”

“It means, let your neighbour clear his driveway first, because he might have sympathy on you and clear yours, saving you from doing it.  Now go.”

“Thank you, oh master of the snow!”

I carry an assortment of implements to help manage the onslaught of winter;  scrapers, snow shovels, ice-chippers, snow blower, road salt, and a beer fridge.  Proper attire is also key…  me in hat

A big furry hat completes my ensemble.  It is my crown.  My head dress.  It tells the neighbourhood that I must know what I’m doing, because I look ridiculous in it!

Another frigid soul approaches….

“My great and powerful snow guru, I hear it will snow and then turn to freezing rain later.  Should I go ahead and shovel?”

“My dear child;  ‘snow before rain is a pain – snow before ice is nice.'”

“Oh…..I see…..so, should I shovel or not?”

“NO!  If you shovel now, the ice will collect on the ground and you will have a skating rink in the morning.  If you leave the snow, it will hold the ice on top and form a crust that will be easy to remove without using any salt.  Now begone, for I seek solitude…and another beer.”

Often, they don’t actually ask the questions as much as silently imply that I should come over and tell them what to do.  So I continue to dispense lessons in all that is winter to my cold and hungry pupils, even when they avoid eye contact and shoo their kids away, mumbling something about ‘stranger-danger’.

I serve the greater good in this frigid, desolate place, imparting deep wisdom and sage advice upon the great unknowing masses.  It’s a gift that I must share…

I think I’ve lost my mind….

please make this damn winter stop!

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Missing the mark – why you should hate Target

target fail

Last week Target Canada announced that after 2 years of losses, it was going to take it’s little dog and go home, leaving the land of maple syrup and poutine to pick up the pieces of a shattered dream for over 17,000 Canadians.

Sure, Canada can be an inhospitable place when it comes to the frozen retail jungle, with our high taxes, importing tariffs, base labour rates, etcetera, etcetera.  That much we know, so why didn’t the big brains at Target know that?  Maybe they could have nudged a friendly Canuck on the arm and found out what we’re all about, or sifted through the ashes of other failed chains like Radio Shack, Sam’s Club and Marks & Spencer for clues.

Perhaps the giveaway of their eventual demise was their clamor to buy up retail space from the failed Zeller’s chain…an omen of things to come?

We can all sympathize with the dire news that hits us every January in this country, when the bean-counters tally up the coveted Christmas retail sales numbers only to find another chain is waving the white flag and liquidating it’s inventory as sales fell short of what was needed to keep the ship afloat.

For that, I feel sad.  For Target, my feelings are not so benevolent.  It has nothing to do with it being a U.S. chain that invaded our snow-covered borders.  Heck, we were excited to have them here!  We welcomed the enormous bulls-eye with open arms and open wallets.  No, my wrath has nothing to do with where Target came from.  It’s in how they came and how they left.

Target arrived with more fanfare than a Presidential Inauguration.  “We are the great Target, and we will give good jobs to hard-working Canadians.  We will support distributors, vendors, support services, and landlords; bring tax revenue to this quaint little country, and we will take on the much-despised Walmart”.

They traded here on their U.S. strength, deep coffers, savvy buying and great prices all wrapped in a sophisticated retail environment.  They said, in so many words, that they were a huge American company, so trust them.

Vendors signed up to deliver goods without credit check, terms or deposits.  They were happy just to be one of the few chosen to stock the shelves in this great retailing giant. Workers were romanced into leaving good paying jobs to join this amazing company. They all had dreams of long-term growth, as demonstrated south of the border.  And Target traded on their impressive U.S. CV.

But something went very wrong.  Their first store openings were as unimpressive as a beach party during a Canadian snow storm.  Empty shelves, weak pricing, boring selection all had the Canadian shoppers shaking their collective heads as to what Target was thinking.

It never got any better.  Stores continued to suffer from delivery issues, non-competitive pricing, and ineffective advertising.  The only thing emptier than the shelves were the check-out lines. The writing was on the wall right from the first ribbon-cutting in Guelph Ontario.

Bad planning?  Perhaps.  Underestimating the Canadian retail landscape?  For sure. These things are tragic and stupid, but that’s not what has me writing this.  The ire is in what Target did next.

After using the American head office muscle to sway us into a false sense of security with Target, they decided to pack up and leave not as an American retail powerhouse, but as a failed Canadian company that has applied for creditor protection (Canadian version of Chapter 7 – bankruptcy protection).

That’s right – Target, with all its money and influence, chose to slink back south of the border without having to make good on it’s promises to us Canadians.  Besides the 17,000 plus employees that are left in the dust, Target has used a legal loophole to avoid having to pay it’s bills here.  Not as that big American company that used all its leverage to gain favour, but as a uniquely Canadian company unable to cover it’s debt.

So now they’ll leave with hat in hand, saying ‘Gee, shucks.  Really sorry about all that inventory you shipped us, but we can’t pay for it’.  Nowhere is the American parent, still with deep pockets and international influence, swooping in to take care of the mess their offspring created, even though it was that parent who persuaded us to ‘trust’ their kid.

Where is that strong giant parent company, now that all those workers are applying for employment insurance?  What about the suppliers who are hoping to get something from the inventory liquidation process to cover some of their losses – and probably having to lay off more people – the contractors who clean, maintain, and provide security to the Target stores? All out of work, and possibly out of pocket.

There are more, I’m sure that will be affected by this, and many won’t get paid for outstanding invoices.  Target will carry on south of the border as if nothing happened up here, and some of us will still travel across to cash in on bargains, just like they have in the past.

Instead of stepping back into the mess they’ve created and making good on their financial commitments, Target chose to protect itself from taking responsibility for a lousy business strategy, and for causing a huge ripple effect on the Canadian economy.

Shameful…and I hate them for it.

No Gravy for Old Men

“Are all y’all together?”, the overly sweet waitress asked while smacking on a wad of gum.

orlando

This was the first sign that I had landed in a foreign place.  I thought I had traveled to an English-speaking land, but clearly the geniuses at Wikipedia hadn’t mentioned any strange dialects associated with the native Floridians.  I knew I was in trouble, but like McGyver, I quickly adapted; “Jeez ya, B’y!  We’s all ta-geder”, I blurted out in my best Newfie accent.

My quick-thinking confused the poor server enough that she simply handed out menus and left us to form a plan.

What strange gastronomical concoctions would be thrust upon us?  Would I recognize anything?  What are ‘Towering Onion Rings’?  This could be tricky on my sophisticated, yet delicate pallet.

“I’ll have a burger with fries.  Gravy on the side, please”.  Surely, even in this strange place, a burger would be a burger.  I only had to assume that the ‘fries’ were made with potatoes and not some indigenous creature.

“Gravy, sir”? The young heavily accented girl puzzled.  I must have confused her with my proper English.  I might have to revert to sign language.  “Yes, brown gravy.  On the side, please”.  I made the shape of a small bowl with my hands, to help in case she still didn’t understand me.

“Ohhh…sorry.  We don’t have gravy.  We have a really great Chipolte mayo though”. 

What the hell is a ‘Chipolte’?  Is it a relative of the armadillo? I wasn’t going to risk it.  Plain fries would have to do.  How could such a world-renowned destination not have gravy? Asking for Poutine was completely out of the question.  Would they have assumed I was looking for the Russian President.

What other strange things would I be in for during my stay here?

I heard that the Orlando area had many fresh water lakes.  Being from Canada, I was sure I could find solace by wading through the clean, clear waters to give me a sense of home while trying to adapt to this alien land…

no swimming

Nope!

Disney World!  Yeah, that would be great.  Skipping freely from ride to ride, I figured I could get in a half-day of kid-like freedom in this iconic park….

disney crowds Nope!

So, gravy was out, can’t swim in the lakes, and a theme park required elbow pads and 3 days time just to park the car.  What’s so great about this place?  Why does everyone come here?

Super-friendly giant rodents in human clothing…strange, but oddly appealing…

friendly

It’s warm. Like, all the time warm.  Shorts in November warm….bordering on hot…

sunny weather

…and the good citizens of Orlando have adopted a ‘Special Needs Palm Tree’ program, offering jobs to disabled palm trees on the sides of highways….Props!

palm trees

The gravy would have to wait until I returned to civilization.

Kittens, Justin Bieber and Walmart – from cute to annoying

cute kittenSince I’ve joined the Facebook community, I’ve noticed just how many sickeningly cute pictures and videos there are of cats.  I’m pretty sure the people who were the brain thrust of the internet didn’t have snoring kittens in mind.

If you know me, you know I’ve never been much of a cat lover, but I do admit that kittens have their charm.  Those doey eyes, fluffy fur and curious nature are hard to resist…until they’re not cute anymore.  Then they just pee on your stuff and shred the corners of your favourite furniture.

Puppies, with their over-sized paws clumsily bound around the house, knocking over kids and plants, and they constantly fall down the stairs – adorable!  Then they get big, and they become a smelly, hairy pain in the tush.  Then, when they knock stuff over, it’s ‘outdoors, Rover!’

Even Canada’s You Tube export, Justin Bieber was cute at one point.  With his wispy hair-do and sickeningly sweet tones.  Not any more!  Now there’s a petition to have him extradited back to Canada.  Somewhere along the line, his irresistible charm tarnished badly.

It’s funny how we view things – there was an ad a while ago, I think for a car company, where they compared a squirrel to a rat.  Basically, visually speaking, they look the same, except that the squirrel has a nice big bushy tail.  Everyone loves squirrels but hates rats…presumably because of the tail.  The fact that rats live in the sewers, spread plague and eat garbage doesn’t help, either.

I don’t remember the car or what they were trying to explain.

I’ve been doing a bit of ‘entrepreneurial’ work lately (that’s a secret code word for ‘a couple hours of work on the internet followed by grass cutting, chatting with neighbours, wandering the aisles of Costco, and napping through home improvement shows’).

Everyone loves to hear about small business success stories.  Little Davids out there, taking on the giant, ugly Goliath’s of the business world.  ‘”Go get em’!”  I’d hear.  “What a great idea.  I’m sure you’ll make a killing at that”, and so on.

All very rah-rah, and good for the emotional soul.  I guess what I keep wondering though, is when does the rah-rah stop, and the web-bashing begin?  I mean, it’s not likely that I’ll be an overnight success and suddenly be subject to scrutiny over my hiring or wage practices, but still…

What got me wondering about this, is that recently I heard an argument that although we all love to hate Walmart despite the ironic fact that almost all of us hand over our cash to them every week, they too were a success story.  Somewhere back in little Bentonville, Arkansas, at a 5 and Dime store known as ‘Walton’s’, and founded by that kindly-looking country bumkin ‘soon-to-be billionaire’, Sam Walton was a small business owner who had his share of ‘rah-rah’ admirers.

But, like kittens and Justin, something changed.  Once they became big, or self-realized, or smug, or whatever, we decided they resembled the rat more than the squirrel.  I guess we all like a success story until it’s, well…successful.  Huh.

I read a book…well read most of a book called ‘The Tipping Point’.  Basically, it was trying to explain that at some point, a trickle becomes a deluge based on a slight change in the fulcrum of the balance of things.  I never did get through it, but I think it applies here.

There is a tipping point where children aren’t adorable any more.  We still love them and care for them, but they tend to drive us nuts a little more.  They tipped.

Maybe that’s what happened to Justin Bieber and Walmart.  They were cute and adorable, but the invisible pendulum swung a bit too far the other way, and suddenly weren’t lovable any more.  They abused or outgrew their cuteness and suddenly became annoying and ugly.

The success story that got them where they are was also their undoing in the eyes of public opinion.  The squirrel’s tail turned into an ugly, skin coloured whip, and we turned away in disgust.

Cute keeps you alive when you’re young – heck, even I was ‘cute-ish’ when I was little, in a freckle faced Ginger sort of way, but when my legs grew longer than my body, and my voice changed, little bits of that rat tail emerged.  You can’t count on your adorableness for too long, so you have to adapt.

I guess it means always looking like the squirrel, and not letting your rat tail show.  Maybe that’s what all those spin doctors are there for – to try to convince the public that your favourite celebrity or business success story still has a bushy tail.

For me, my self-employment venture is a very long way from ever looking like a rat, but if I’m lucky, a long way down the road, someone will point out that my tail is showing.  I’m sure my loving friends and family will ensure I stay ever so humble.

 

Here’s my shameless plug (while I’m still cute):

http://magicmats.net/

magicmats video image

 

 

Must be spring – a bug flew in my ear.

bug

I’ve said this before, but it’s worth repeating – I don’t like Spring.  It’s easily the worst season (winter being a close second after the one we just had) of the 4.

For many, it’s the promise of better weather and warmer, longer days.  That’s ‘a good thing‘, as Martha would say.

It’s true – Spring means that Summer is on its way, so we shrug off the Winter blah’s, stow away those heavy ugly winter clothes and bring out the lawn furniture.

But not so fast, my friends!  Spring is a false season. It’s a liar.  Spring is not about nice weather and sunny days.  That’s Summer – let’s not confuse the two.  Spring steals all of Summer’s thunder, literally, and offers nothing of value for itself.  It’s like a cheap sidekick as an opening act for the real performer.

It doesn’t help that I really suffer from springtime allergies.  In Canada, we celebrate the May ‘2-4’ weekend, which falls, not coincidentally, on the weekend closest to May 24th.  I think it was a British Queen’s birthday, so as ex-patriots, and exploiters of  the monarchy, we mug every long weekend we can out of them.  I used to think it was named after a case of beer…college days!

It’s the first long weekend of warm weather, but for me it’s a double-edged sword.  This is also the time of year that all the lovely trees are bursting forth with their pollen-spawn, clogging up my sinuses and attacking my immune system.  I usually spend it in the basement with a bottle of Benadryl and box of tissues.

Yup, Spring is a total poser – a cheap veneer, looking like a real season, but it’s just a mirage – a delusion, tricking us into liking it.  Don’t believe me?

Let’s look at the differences:

SUMMER:

  • Long days of sun
  • Warmest weather we’ll see all year
  • Vacations
  • Bikinis
  • Beer gardens & patios
  • Swimming pools
  • Days at the beach
  • Pina Colada scented suntan lotion

SPRING:

  • Rain and/or snow and/or sleet and/or freezing rain
  • Allergies
  • Weather that makes you think it’s summer until you go outside and are freezing in 10 minutes
  • All the dirt, garbage, dog bombs, brown grass, and other nasties that were hidden in the snow
  • Flooding
  • Mud
  • The smells…yuck!
  • Mosquito spray
  • Dead skunks, racoons, or anything else trying to procreate by crossing a busy road
  • Allergies (it’s worth mentioning twice)
  • Birds nesting in my dryer vent

I used to think birds nesting was kind of cute.  In our first house, they nested in the vent for the bathroom fan.  At first is was sweet, being sung to by those melodic, hungry little chicks in the morning while taking care of business, but like all animals, they grew up and trashed the house.  The mess down the outside of my home was a toxic, sticky sludge that had baked into the siding.

See?  Spring is a lousy season.  It’s only positive is that it’s followed by Summer, so it gets the polite applause it doesn’t really deserve.  It rides on the coat-tails of our greatest season, taking all the credit: “Spring showers bring May flowers” – like it’s supposed to make us all warm and fuzzy about dreary, wet days.

Walking the dog this morning, I noticed that the receding glaciers from this past Winter are exposing a lovely collection of pop cans, wrappers, and poop – literally some was on top of one of those green utility boxes.  ON TOP!  That was some dog, I tell you.

The weather was too cold for Spring attire, but because it was above freezing, everything was a muddy mess.  Just to cap it off, a bug – probably the only one alive this time of year – flew directly into my ear.

Oh, yeah.  Let’s welcome Spring, but only because it means that the main attraction is somewhere in the wings, waiting to make it’s appearance.

I can only hope that this Spring is a one-act show….

Put a ‘Spring’ your step – end winter now!

This weekend, we ‘Spring Forward’ into daylight savings time…and not a moment too soon.  This should mean that winter is in it’s final throes.

There’s another reason this lousy winter should be over;  I actually wore out my snow shovel and my snow blower…cropped-photo-11.jpg cropped-photo-21.jpg

no kidding!!

I’ve even changed my blog banner to a lovely summer scene, taken during a wine tour of the ‘Prince Edward County’ region in Southern Ontario last summer.

If you’re as sick as I am about this long winter, please respond to this blog by commenting with the phrase; ‘End This Winter’  in the reply box.

I’ll be sure to send it on to the appropriate parties responsible for this terrible weather we’re having.  Hopefully, the ‘Mid-Life Crisis Nation’ will get enough responses to get them to take action.

There’s no age limit on who can vote or how often – forward to you friends and family, children, neighbours, relatives, pets, strangers…you get the idea.

Remember:  If you don’t vote, you have no reason to complain about the weather.

(the author of this blog bears no responsibility for the outcome of any such petition, or any angry pushback by above mentioned ‘winter’ parties who may decide to continue with the cold days for an extended period, nor will there be any condescending commentary by this blog’s readers regarding the delivery of said ‘petition’ as coincidental, pursuant to spring actually arriving all on its own)

Design Flaw

You can stand in a field, holding a small electronic device and have a ‘real-time’ video conversation with someone halfway around the globe, but the kitchen appliance companies can’t make that stupid drawer at the bottom of the stove stay on its tracks when you pull it out.

Sometimes we simply put up with lousy design like it’s too hard for the builders of such things to make them work properly.

We can tunnel from two different points, miles apart, and have them meet up perfectly in the middle, but the lighter on the barbeque quits after about 3 months.  Instead of insisting on better design, we usually get one of those butane lighters or turn on the gas and throw matches in, hoping to not blow ourselves up.  Heck, even the stupid lighters don’t work properly.  I have one in the drawer that’s half-full but won’t spark.

Shopping carts with one wheel that won’t turn properly!  Aaargh!!  It’s a wheel, for Pete’s sake!  They’ve been around since the stone age.

How about that packaging that you can’t get in to?  Well, a company made a nifty little device that will cut right through it with ease.  The problem?  It comes in the same bullet-proof packaging that you can’t get into in the first place.  Brilliant!

My biggest complaint has to be about windshield wipers.  How is it that we’ve had cars on the road for more than 100 years, that now have the technology to see around corners, park themselves, control the climate, talk to you, give directions, heat your bum on cold mornings, but the crappy wipers are frozen to the windshield,

making the only really important thing about driving – being able to see where you’re going – nearly impossible!

I don’t get it.  Why can car makers not get this figured out? There are after-market washer fluid heaters you can install so those little jets don’t clam up with ice.  Okay, that’s a good start, but it still won’t make the frozen wipers squeegee the glass properly.  And, why does that have to be an after-market item?

Many cars have heaters that warm up the windshield, but usually it doesn’t heat the wiper blades, so they just flop back and forth, smearing the snow-yuck around instead of clearing it from view.

Maybe the car engineers are being paid off by the windshield washer fluid companies.  When the wipers don’t work properly, your only option is to keep hitting the wash button until you’ve spent the entire jug.

Where is Ralph Nader when we need him?  Why doesn’t Consumer Report mention this problem?

I made a deal with my son, who is in school to become an engineer, that his first task once he’s done, is to come up with a way to keep the wipers warm and nimble in any weather condition.

Is that the real key here?  Is it an ignorance of the northern climates by the big auto makers?  Do they think everyone lives in California?  All that advertizing showing their vehicles crashing happily through snowbanks would suggest not, but what’s the deal?

Hey, GM and Ford, Chrysler and Toyota…you gotta have about 20,000 well-trained professionals figuring out how to get the car to say ‘Good Morning’ to you when you step onto your driveway.  How about you put a couple of them on the wiper issue, eh?

That’d be swell…and just in time for summer.