Monday, 1 September 2014

My Ottawa Kitchen Nightmare

Gordon Ramsay has put me off eating in restaurants, and staying in hotels.
We watch Kitchen Nightmares and Hotel Hell religiously, giggling as we follow Ramsay dumpster-diving into the kitchens of restaurants throughout the U.S.
After seeing what happens behind the scenes, I've been seriously reluctant to enter into any dining establishment.
Even a few years ago, we didn't really care if the pizza was cold or the crust was a bit gooey, or even if there was toilet paper on the floor with overflowing toilets. We sort of saw this as part of the experience of visiting the local dive. As long as it had cold beer, we didn't really care.
But Ramsay scared us straight as he took us to the back-of-the-house to show us what some restaurants were actually serving. I learned never to order the special because "it" was the piece of meat rotting and swimming in its own gruelly sauce in the fridge or laying at the bottom of the freezer with third degree freezer burn.
I now know enough to stick to the dishes that the restaurant's chefs are good at making. If it's Chinese, stick to Chinese. If its Indian, keep with the butter chicken. The rest of the stuff on the menu likely came out of a package made in a dung laden Asian factory somewhere.
Oh yes, and you can always tell the state of the kitchen by how clean the bathrooms are.
I realize that, as a former devotee of restaurants, I'm lucky to be alive and not dead in an alley somewhere from eating at restaurants that have more botulism in their bins than I have in my face.
The City of Ottawa recently suggested that the cleanliness grade of a restaurant be posted on the front door. I am in total agreement with that. I once went to a posh Chinese spot in Toronto with a Minister of the Crown, who was, in fact, Chinese, raised waiting tables in his Dad's restaurant. As Bob was talking, he lifted the bamboo cover off of one of the dishes and a gigantic cockroach skittered over his plate. Bob didn't miss a beat; he slammed down his hand on the critter, swept it off the table and continued to talk.
I don't think I've had Chinese since.
I never got over that.
These days, due to the economic downturn and the Hydro rate upturn, I rarely frequent restaurants unless I am on business out-of-town.
Which is never.
I don't mind.
I would rather have a Scott meal any day, or a dinner made by my own hands. It's a lot cheaper, and I know exactly what went into making it.
But sometimes, you just have to put yourself out there.
Last week, my lovely daughter Marissa got married in a lovely posh restaurant in the Byward Market. I had to go. I had to eat. I had no choice.
The wedding was lovely, and the place was wonderful and clean.
I was ready to really enjoy myself.
Until the menu came.
You don't expect great food at a wedding. You expect rubber chicken and cold vegetables, and hopefully a nice dessert made off the premises.
But this place.
First, I ordered a bottle of wine that I regularly buy at the LCBO for $7.84. It's called Cesari and I like it because it's 12 percent alcohol and doesn't taste like grapejuice. The restaurant had it listed for $48.
Now, I don't know about you, but that seems to me to be an outrageous price for uncorking a cheap Italian. In my local Kelsey's it would sell for $28.
No matter. I was really looking forward to the food.
Unfortunately, I'm not sure what we got was really food.
It was disgusting.
Most of us ordered the beef, at the pleading of our server, who could not be blamed for anything that was about to happen. Don't order the ravioli, we were advised; you only get four small pieces.
There were two salads, one a familiar Boccocini laced tomato salad with tasteless vegetables -- unbelievable for tomatoes in August in Ottawa -- and a couple hunks of mozzarella. It was okay. But the other salad, a mixed salad had a whiff of watered down dressing. It was nothing more than a few hunks of iceberg and a couple tasteless tomatoes.
Then came the beef, oh, the beef.
It looked and tasted like slop on a plate with a cut of really cheap meat swimming in gravy sitting on top of runny mashed potatoes. Awful.
Then the dessert. Thankfully, mine was fine -- cheesecake made off the premises, as I suspected -- but the chocolate cake was all icing, "lard" as Scott called it.
This pricey meal was bad enough. But then the restaurant's wedding planner called in the middle of the reception to my daughter's cellphone to say that there weren't enough people eating, so she was going to charge her an extra two hundred dollars!
Marissa is no slouch and complained to the management who brought her, like five bottles of complimentary wine. I suspect the planner was fired.
All in all, it was a great wedding. Lots of love. Family and friends.
But we won't be going back to that restaurant anytime soon.
I might even call Gordon Ramsay to see if he wants to take a boo.
That's if the place is still around by next year.
I won't call it out, but the name rhymes with Umpire Bill.

Wednesday, 27 August 2014

Justin Trudeau: Get a dog

Here is more evidence that Justin Trudeau is really a man of the people.
His family leaves the back door wide open.
In Rockcliffe.
Presumably without flipping the alarm.
What? It's not like somebody would just walk in, pick up a butcher knife and lay waste to the family.
This is Rockcliffe.
It's a lot like Papineauville, except for all the money people have.
And fun things to steal. Like Bose systems.
Priceless artifacts.
We used to leave our doors open, and we live across from a crack house.
Like Justin, we got schooled.
Our tenant was downstairs, minding his own business, and some random crackhead walked right in off the street and sat on his bed and began to conduct a conversation.
"Hey man," the guy told Bill, who was gaming at 2 a.m. "You look pretty cool."
Then the guy left.
Upstairs, we have no worries. We don't lock the doors, either.
We, the poor people, however, learned early how to keep the perps at bay.
We have a dog.
A very big, very loud, very scary looking Labrador-Bernese mix.
I think it's fair to say that anyone who comes into our home, who is up to mischief, will quickly exit.
Finnigan owns a set of the jaws of death.
If Justin had had Finnigan guarding his family while he was out of town, that stupid drunken teenager wouldn't have set foot into his backdoor.
Even the worst, wasted, drug-out human being knows better.
And the best thing is, Finnigan will work for dog chow.
And the occasional treat.
Forty bucks a month, if you buy that stuff at Costco.
He doesn't need a freakin' RCMP detail.
Not like they're anymore effective.
Ask Aline Chretien.
So, Justin and Sophie, take the kids down to the Ottawa Humane Society and get yourself a dog.
A big one.
Preferably a black one.
I hear they are the hardest ones to adopt.


Monday, 25 August 2014

Customer Service: Stupid Young People

I've always considered myself a bit of a hipster, the sort of woman who will be the cool granny someday, like Betty White who is in her 90s but remains unafraid to talk smack.

But recently, I've experienced some blow back from the younger generation especially the ones who work in customer service.

They treat me like I'm stupid.

I went to Howard's Pawn Shop the other day to see if I could buy a used Apple Shuffle because I lost the one I had at the gym. These little devices cost $60, half of which pays for the incredibly overly expensive headphones. Mostly, the Shuffle is little more than a flash drive which we can get at the Quickie for five bucks. Because flash drives don't have head phone jacks, we have to pay Apple $60.

Anyway, the woman behind the counter presented me with something that looked like it came from Walle, a strange little device that might have been made in the 1980s. She wanted $60 for it.

"Look," she said, with a liar's grin. "It has a little clip that you can attach to your belt if you go for a walk."

I glared at her.

"Hey, I can get a brand new shuffle for $60," I said.

"Oh, I don't think so."

It was so much bullshit, I wanted to drive her.

It's the same thing when I go to the damned Fido store. I've had to replace my Nexus 5 twice this year and both times the clerks accused me of senile stupidity. First, they showed me how to close all the apps and suggest that maybe I have too many apps open.

"I know how to close the apps," I snap back.

"Did you drop it? Maybe you dropped it."

"The phone doesn't ring."

Then they offer to take the phone and get it fixed and then they don't fix it. In the meantime, they charge me $50 for a piece of crap little lender phone that was made in the 1980s. Then they repair the Nexus and it still doesn't work.

All they need to do is replace the phone with another one.

Things would be so much easier if they had a Lemon Aid policy, like companies did in the old days.

So you see, they force me into old person's thinking. Back in the day thinking.

Remember when a company stood behind its product? Remember when the customer was always right?

Now, companies pay people to take out the customer, make them feel bad, make them think everything is the customer's fault.

I have many examples of this.

I recently spent nearly eight hours on the telephone with Rogers Cable, holding the company to account for an offer they gave me to switch from Bell Media, which by the way, has really good customer service, just lousy products.

The agent offered to give me $200 worth of credits in order to switch as well as a really good rate for my cable service. Last week, I got my first correspondence with Rogers. It was a disconnection notice and a bill for $444.

I was outraged and got on the phone, had my call dropped three times and went through at least four agents before I was directed to customer retention. In the middle of all of this, during a call drop, I got a collection call. Unbelievable.

In the end, after scrapping like a gutter rat, I finally found intelligent life on the end of the phone. She found my original offer. The disconnection was cancelled and my bill was reduced by half.

By the end of that battle, my blood pressure was sky high.

In another encounter with bad customer service, I complained to Loblaws about their stupid app for PC Plus. The thing flutters and chirps and I can't get see the offers.

"Here is a handy trouble shooting Q and A so you can reset your phone," the helpful agent chirps.

"I don't need to trouble shoot my phone," I retort. "It's your app."

Still no resolution on that one.

Maybe it's because I complain so much. But I guess that's what happens when you get old.

You just get cranky dealing with stupid young people.

People don't like being judged by their food banks

I'm troubled by a recent media circus over remarks made by the director of a local food bank.
Karen Secord, the coordinator of the Parkdale Food Centre, says she has been turning back food she doesn't believe is good for her clients, things like Kraft Dinner and canned soup.
The interview set off a media feeding frenzy and ruffled a lot of feathers among people who donate to the Ottawa Food Bank, which does not share Ms. Secord's policy.
Media trainers must be lining up right now to give Ms. Secord some advice about how to do media interviews. Meanwhile she's been threatened and called names by people, and by the looks of the follow-up story she has no idea why.
I don't think anyone disagrees with Ms. Secord that disadvantaged people need, and deserve, nutritious food. From what I've seen looking at the bin at my local Loblaws, most people are making good choices concerning what they put in their food bank donations. Sure, there's the odd KD, but mostly I see canned tomatoes, beans, diapers, baby formula and so on.
The food deemed unacceptable doesn't have to be sent back, it needs to be sent to the recycle, no questions asked. As many people have pointed out, food banks should (and are) thankful for all donations. Otherwise, people will stop giving.
What ruffled the feathers was not what she said about the need to provide nutritious food. What bugged people who donate is that they felt judged. How dare she question what we ourselves eat?
It's the same backlash that is being felt by schools who are calling the Children's Aid Society on parents who don't pack nutritious lunches for their kids. Nothing wrong with sending information home to ALL parents at the beginning of the school year to give them some guidance. Nothing wrong with informing people about the need to be sensitive to food allergies of classmates.
I once had the CAS called on me because a school didn't like the lunch my babysitter packed my kids. All I needed was a note from the school; instead I got the third degree from the authorities. I was utterly humiliated.
Do-gooders should not be so quick to pass judgment. Everyone has skeletons. Everyone.
Back to the food bank issue.
The good news is that the uproar has given people something to think about.  Ms. Secord would probably never have gotten the publicity if she hadn't made those negative comments. Nutrition isn't as sexy and pitting a charity against its donors.
So let's take this episode out of the media gutter. Here, thanks to the Parkdale Food Centre, is what they would like people to donate.
And here is what Glen Pearson from the London, Ontario Food Bank has to say about the controversy. The words in italics are his.
 Thanks for the question about food donations. Because most of the food comes from the public in anonymous fashion, it is difficult to send anything back that we believe might be harmful - like after due-date. When companies donate, they always ask us what we would prefer and they are good at purchasing those items. We also spend a fair bit of funds each year purchasing food and, of course, that permits us to be selective. We've been at this 28 years and we have found that the public has gotten very good at the food they donate to us. Education is a huge part of that and we work with the local health unit for recommendations. One of their staffers is on our board.  

 I did some interviews on the Parkdale situation but I believe it was an odd situation that just happened to get national coverage. Food banks just don't work like that and it seems to me they are always thankful for the public's generosity. Jane and I are just at a food bank event right now and we've already had numerous questions from folks about what kind of food they should donate. That shows just how willing citizens are to give the right things. A big problem is always whatever food is donated, it sometimes stays in that location for a day or two before it gets to the food bank. That makes non-perishables something of a priority, though not exclusively. That Parkdale director had some problems with that, but food banks in general are just thankful. They and the public are getting better supplies everyday. It's an educational issue and takes times. Judgments aren't helpful.

Sunday, 17 August 2014

Jim Flaherty wouldn't want us to pay for his funeral

This might make some people uncomfortable.
Canadians don't like other people knowing their business especially things like how much it costs to bury their beloved relatives.
Oh well, the cost of this particular funeral is in the public record.
In other words, you and I paid for it.
Most funerals that are paid for by the state are for people on welfare, or for the homeless to give every family some dignity in their time of grief.
But this funeral was not that kind of funeral.
It was a state funeral, the kind usually reserved for kings or queens, prime ministers or Governors General.
I'm am writing, of course, about the state funeral for Jim Flaherty, the one we paid $400,000 for.
Frankly I was shocked when I saw that number. And I think Jim Flaherty would have been shocked, too.
In fact, I have no trouble saying that if he'd heard about it when he was alive, he would have died of shame.
Jim Flaherty was a well known penny pincher. He loved saving money for the Canadian taxpayer.
He saw it as his legacy.
How to explain then, in death, why he needed to wear the Emperor's clothes, and let us host a lavish booze up for people he either didn't know or didn't like.
Hmm. I didn't get an invite, not even a drink ticket but my pennies paid for suites at the Royal York, double decker buses, flat screens and private receptions for the swells.
How could Flaherty justify this little number in Part III of the Spending Estimates?
The answer is, he didn't sign off on it.
The prime minister did.
Jim Flaherty was one day minding his own business, shining up his golf clubs, hoisting a few with buddies and the next thing he knew he was tying up traffic with a $400,000 police presence and detail.
He wouldn't have liked it. He would say the expense couldn't be justified.
He'd say "who do you think I am, Allison Redford?"
Jim Flaherty had some cash stashed away. He had life insurance.
He didn't need the state to pay for things.
Some would argue that Jim Flaherty deserved this kind of send off. After all, the government paid for a funeral for Jack Layton, too.
To which I say, Jack Layton could have paid for his own funeral, too.
As my granny would say: "who does he think he is -- the King of England?

Look, I just watched two of my dear friends, who didn't have a pot to piss in -- no insurance, nada -- bury their husbands. One had to borrow the money from her mom. The other had to use a pay equity settlement, one she waited for more than 20 years to bury her guy.
The state didn't give a rat's ass about their bills.
But it didn't mind reaching into their pockets to bury Jim Flaherty who would have been happy to rent the local legion on his own dime and buy a round for everybody.
We need to put an end to these state funerals and put the money to better use, like upping the amount Canada Pension Plan pays families to plant their loved ones.
Let's remember our beloved politicians the way ordinary Canadians remember their family members.
In the mind's eye.


Tuesday, 12 August 2014

The light and dark of Robin Williams

How lucky we were to have Robin Williams in our lives.

My generation fell in love with him as Mork. Then our kids fell hard for Aladdin and Mrs. Doubtfire.

Robin Williams was lucky, too,  to be able to live his life as a creative tour de force, to put his joy out into the world like a boomerang.

Joy begets joy. That's the beauty of creativity.

It's one of the greatest gifts a person can be given by God, if you believe in God. It's also a tremendous curse for many, people like Robin whose art came from inner pain.

We couldn't see it, but it was there. He talked about it, tried to rehab it.

It just wouldn't go away, the pain.

It is the devil's pain.

The devil waits, he is the patient sort, standing in the shadows at the AA meetings, and hiding in the closet in the dark. And it hides in the bottom of the bottle of Glenfiddick, just sitting there all warm and cosy.

It is a fortunate man who can escape the demon. Robin nearly escaped him. At least he kept him at bay for twenty years. But in the end, for people like Robin, the devil holds all the cards.

Sometimes the only option to escape the demon is suicide.

Those who have never felt the demon touch their hearts simply cannot understand it.

What a waste, they say. He had everything.

They cannot feel his pain through their own selfishness.

The clown has left the circus and he hasn't even finished the show. We want our money back.

How could he do this to us?

The good news is the demon never wins, not really.

We don't have Robin Williams' body, but we have his body of work.

He will always be up there on the screen making us laugh. That's why he's lucky. He's immortal, isn't he? In Patch and Armand, in Perry and of course, little Mork, the hairy alien.

Robin wasn't here in the world for himself; he was here for us.

God gave Robin to the world, and now he's taken him back.

Some people say his like will never come again.

I don't believe it.

He will resurface, our little Garp.

Just when you thought all was lost.


It's time for Ottawa to get in the hearing loop

I spent the better part of two years working in the hearing industry.
As with nearly all the journeys I've taken for work, I knew nothing about hearing loss.
I don't believe I knew anybody who wore hearing aids. I saw a few around, those bananaramas sported by old folk when I worked in a nursing home for the summer. A lot of those folks still cupped their ears and yelled at people, mostly because the people in question also suffered from dementia and no one bothered to check their hearing aid batteries or clean the wax out.
Sucks to be old, suffering from dementia AND have hearing loss.
I once heard a funny story about Eddie Fisher who suffered both hearing loss and dementia in his latter years. His daughter Carrie had to keep replacing the aids because Eddie thought they were candy and kept eating them.
That's pretty expensive candy, with the average pair of hearing aids costing more than $3,000. You can buy a lot of jujubes for that.
Anyway, along my travels I encountered a nice fellow named Bill Droogendyk at the meeting. Bill has a company called Better Hearing Solutions and he is in the business of "looping" churches and living rooms for people who wear hearing aids.
He filled me in on how they work.
Looping technology has been around for more than 20 years and is all the rage in Europe where even the Underground is looped to enhance the hearing experience for folks.
Loops are also being used in taxicabs in New York City and Yankee Stadium has them around their concession and ticket stands.
Hearing loops are simple and involve running a simple copper wire around an area to allow the person with hearing aids to hear everything and everybody in that area. So granddad can finally hear the tellie properly and the church patrons can actually listen to a sermon.
The key to the looping system is something called a T Coil, which is a little device that is in most hearing aids. The audiologist or hearing aid specialist has to switch on. Nothing could be easier.
Trouble is audiologists in this country, for some reason, either neglect to tell their clients about the T Coil or figure they don't need it since there are very few places they can use them.
This has infuriated hearing advocates here and in the States because essentially they see it as a missed opportunity for people who may have been sitting in silence for decades. It's also a missed business opportunity in a country that prides itself on being the most wired place in the world.
Which leads me to my point.
Why is Canada so far behind in the looping game when the technology is very cheap?
Why isn't the City of Ottawa, say, looping OC Transpo and arranging to have looping installed in the new LRT system? Why aren't our libraries, the new stadium at Landsdowne and Service Ontario looping their customer service areas?
I can see all kinds of applications.
For example, a person with hearing loss can buy a chair cover with a built-in amplifier which he or she can take anywhere -- in the car, to a conference room or any small space -- and place microphones within a six foot radius and hear EVERYTHING people are saying. No more lip reading, no more asking people to talk louder. This little kit costs under $500!
A car can be looped so mom can hear the kids in the back seat, talk on the telephone, and listen to the radio like a regular person. This technology is available and just ready for the asking.
Looping has huge potential for businesses who are looking for new customers, and can declare their businesses hearing friendly.
The looping of buses or cars or hotel meeting rooms is very cost effect and would change the lives of people with hearing loss overnight. One of the reps who installs these systems told me about a seminar he conducted in a hotel meeting room which he looped for the patrons. He told them to turn on their T coils and all of a sudden these people, who all had hearing loss, could hear a seminar for the first time in ages. He said some of them actually broke down and started crying.
And yet, for many of the 10 percent of people with hearing loss, the T Coil remains inactive.
They remain, in essence, unplugged.
I saw a campaign aimed at business.
It had a logo with an ear and the message was simple.
Activate your T Coil.
And so I'm asking you, people of Ottawa, to tell your audiologists to activate your T Coil.
And I'm asking the City of Ottawa to develop a looping plan for this city to change the lives of the people of this city and set an example for other municipalities.
It's an election year, Jim Watson.
It could make you pretty popular with some nice folks who deserve better.
What do you think, Diane Deans? What about looping OC?
What about it Blue Line?
Why not follow the lead of New York cabbies?
It would be part of my platform if I were running for Mayor.

Anyone who wants to know more about looping can contact me.
I can set you up.
I know people.