The incredibly annoying journey or, return of the prodigal junk

Hump DayHump Day
By Brian Cormier
Wednesday, Dec. 10, 2014
Moncton Times & Transcript

A few years ago, I wrote a couple of columns about how I’d decluttered my house and how good it was for the soul. I’d taken care of most of it. That pile of paper here was sorted. The pile of books there was either on a shelf or given away. The mountain of paperwork over yonder was filed, sorted and completely organized. The miscellaneous stuff strewn willy-nilly had found new homes either stored in a cupboard, given away or thrown out.

I felt unencumbered. I felt like standing in the middle of the street singing the theme song from that old movie, Born Free. And I was so smug about it, too.

You know those stories about a family going on vacation with their dog only to lose their pet and then the dog comes home two years later after walking across the continent? Well, all that junk walked across the continent and it’s back. I’m pretty sure some of it literally dug itself out of the dump and crawled back into my house when I was sleeping.

Actually, it wasn’t just a ‘few of years’ ago – it was more like seven years ago when I went on a major cleanup of the house. I was ruthless. Nothing was off limits unless it was nailed to the floor – and even then it had to be nailed down pretty hard.

messy officeSo here I find myself seven years later having realized that it’s time to go on another junk-ridding spree. The unread books are stacked a mile high. My home office is a disaster of paper and files. And my dining room table? Well, I’m ready to have its photo put on milk cartons like a missing child because I haven’t seen it in a very long time. I know it’s there somewhere under all that junk piled on top of it.

How did this happen? I was so good for so long, but things just started to creep back in. When I don’t know where to put something, well, it just goes on the dining room table… or in the corner on top of something else. I need to take control again and go through the place with a flame thrower.

And don’t even ask me about my kitchen counters. With a sorry lack of storage space in the kitchen, the counters have become the depot for every small appliance I have, including the blender, coffee maker, coffee pods, mixer and a bunch of other things. I’m pretty sure there’s a family of possums living in the far corner of the counter. Do we even have possums in New Brunswick? I don’t think so, but if we did they’d probably be living in that ‍cluttered nook that I can’t reach.

I own too much stuff. I think a lot of people probably empathize with that. I don’t plan on moving anytime soon, so doing a major triage is going to have to happen on purpose, not because I’m getting ready to move. Am I the only one who uses the largely unused dining room table as an open-air junk drawer? I would much rather see a nice, clean table that’s inviting. The thought of actually eating at my table is so foreign to me at this point that I can’t even fathom it. Somehow, it turned into a catch-all for stray stuff around the house.

I realize these are all first-world problems. ‘I have too much stuff. Oh woe is me!’ I shouldn’t be complaining, but having let my formerly organized kitchen – especially – get so far behind is maddening. I could kick myself. (I can see the line forming at my door now. ‘I’ll kick ya if ya want to get kicked!’ You’re all so kind.)

It’s time to commandeer some help here and hunker down and just do it. I’ll have to find a kind friend or two to help. In all fairness, it’s probably not bad as I think. If I tackle one room at a time, I could get most of it down in just a few evenings – dedicating one evening to each room, although the kitchen and office may take a bit longer.

Heck, if I don’t know what to do with half the stuff I need to get rid of, I’ll just store it for a few months – at least so I can stop feeling so smothered in ‍clutter. Even the equivalent of a large walk-in closet would be fine – just to get it out of here.

The time has come and I’m getting pumped for another major cleanup. Sleep with one eye open, ‍clutter.

The Dec. 8-14, 2014, edition of Brian Cormier’s Weekly Update is out!

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Hump Day: Frugal explorer makes amazing scientific discovery in own freezer

Hump DayHump Day
By Brian Cormier
Wednesday, Dec. 3, 2014
Moncton Times & Transcript

I’m not one to check the sales flyers every week, but I know many people who do and they’re constantly throwing their great bargains in my face. Combined with collecting loyalty program points such as Air Miles, someone who really pays attention can score some significant savings and other bonuses through acquired points.

And now with the huge surge in couponing – the art of using coupons – a person can magnify their results if they’re paying any attention at all. It’s a lot of work, but finding the best deals, using coupons and then maximizing your points can be quite financially advantageous and give a person some satisfaction that they’re making their dollar go as far as possible.

The reason why I don’t check the flyers that often is that I always end up buying something I don’t need just because it’s on sale. If I saw an automatic cow milking machine on sale for half-price at the hardware store, I’d probably buy it. After all, it’s half price, right? How could I pass that up? Besides, maybe I could hook it up to the dog and squeeze out enough for my morning cup of coffee. I’d have to sleep with one eye open after that, though. She probably wouldn’t be impressed.

If I followed the sales, I’m pretty sure I’d turn into a hoarder. I’d spend $100 on half-price stuff I don’t need – and then justify that the $100 saved cancelled out the $100 I spent. It makes no sense, but common sense goes out the window when you’re partaking in some serious retail therapy.

If you can control yourself, however, using sales to purchase things you use anyway can make a significant difference on what’s left in your wallet at the end of every month. Control is the keyword.

sale groceriesBuying food on sale in bulk is a no-no for me, especially food that’s suitable for freezing. There’s only so much room in my fridge – and I really hesitate to store anything in the freezer because I have a very bad habit of never thawing anything out after that. I usually make lunch and supper at the last minute and don’t do that much planning ahead. If I buy meat on sale and end up putting it in the freezer, I can assure you that it will likely never come out. I prefer to buy fresh and eat fresh. It’s more expensive because you can’t buy as much when it’s on sale, but at least it gets used.

That’s why I rarely make big batches of things like soup. Sure, I’ll have a few bowls, but after a couple of days I don’t want to see it again for week or two, or three. I don’t want to throw it out, either, so I freeze it. The problem is, my freezer is more like a graveyard for food rather than a place for efficient and safe storage. Let’s just say that there’s soup in my big freezer in the basement that has dinosaur meat in it – and I’m only half kidding.

I never seem to land on the great sales at the store. Since I don’t scan the flyers like a hawk, I only find good sales by pure luck. Of course, I’m happy when I do, but then I start wondering about what other sales I’m missing – but I don’t dare look through the flyers because I’ll just end up with an angry little white dog hooked up to a giant cow milking machine.

What I’m pretty good at, though, is researching online bargains. I know how to play stores off of each other by seeking out the lowest possible price in the country and then showing up at a local retailer who has a price-matching guarantee. If you’re in the market for electronics, you can save a tonne of money by taking up a retailer on its price-matching guarantee. I’ve done it many times and saved quite a bit of moolah! Saving is like a sport, which is probably how coupon-clippers feel when they get a bargain.

The problem with doing all this research – whether it’s online or by reading the flyers – is that it takes time. If you’re an impatient person like me, you’re a retailer’s dream. If you’re not out chasing the sales, you’re the one who’s keeping them profitable.

In the end, I could probably save money just by not buying groceries for a few weeks. I’ve got a lot of frozen soup in the freezer to go through. You’re welcome to come over, too, unless you’re allergic to dinosaur meat.

Hump Day: Nutty as a ‍fruitcake: my picky family’s Christmas feast

Hump DayHump Day
By Brian Cormier
Wednesday, Nov. 26, 2014
Moncton Times & Transcript

About a month from now, many of us will be collapsed on our sofas wearing stretchy pants and complaining about everyone else’s eggnog breath. For all intents and purposes, Christmas will be but a memory as we start to think about making new year’s resolutions as we moan and groan from having eaten too much turkey, stuffing and ‍fruitcake as we cough up tinsel and pick the glass from broken Christmas ornaments out of our feet.

Speaking of ‍fruitcake, I’ve once again started the journey down the lonely path of trying to ‘wow’ everyone at Christmas dinner with a special dessert. Every year I try to make something that would make Martha Stewart green with envy, only to see it sit there unappreciated as the unwashed in my family eat other goodies that they’re more used to.

Trying to get people to try a new dessert at Christmas is not easy. Traditions are strong, and since food is so closely related to the holidays, it’s a tough habit to break despite making a valiant attempt at introducing something new at the table when all everyone wants is the same (but delicious) gooey goodness that we’ve eaten every year since birth. ‘Here, try this new cookie from a recipe I got from (insert name of famous TV chef here)! It’s what everyone in (insert name of foreign country no one can spell or pronounce) eats every Christmas morning as they sit under the tree weeping with emotion while basking in the togetherness of their family.’

fruitcakeAll I get is blank stares. ‘No thanks, we’ll eat the same (insert name of favourite holiday Christmas dessert) we’ve been eating for years.’ And you know what, that’s perfectly fine. I get it. It’s not Christmas without our traditional foods. Really, every culture and religion has their special feasts and holidays with foods so closely associated with them that it would take something dramatic for people to permanently change their traditions.

I mean, it’s not as if we’re ever going to see the entire family singing O Come All Ye Faithful on Christmas Day while sitting around Grandma’s ‘tuna surprise’ casserole. Well, if tuna casserole is your thing on Christmas Day fine… but I don’t remember the stores running out of canned tuna on Christmas Eve.

This year, I decided to make a ‍fruit‍‍cake. Since the holiday is about a month away, now was the time to start planning the booze-laden, delicious dark cake I was going to create from one of the recipes I’d researched online. I’d also received a number of great-looking recipes from friends after issuing a plea on Facebook. They all looked and sounded amazing. I’m a sucker for dark ‍fruitcake. How can anyone not like it? Where’s your humanity? Where’s your soul? There’s nothing quite like biting into a slice of this impossibly sweet treat filled with Frankenstein-like green and neon red maraschino cherries. (Don’t ever look up how the manufacturers make these things. Just eat them in blissful ignorance.)

When I told my mother that I was going to embark on a month-long fruitcake-making journey, she told me that she’d just bought a big one from a local charity organization who’s been selling them for years. I’m sure it’s delicious. I have no doubt. But will taking one bite make you instantly drunk for two weeks like the alcohol-soaked one I was going to make? Would you not be able to drive for a month like after taking a bite of mine? Would you go temporarily blind and lose the ability to smell for three days after your brain was assaulted by my impossibly boozy and sweet concoction which was pretty much just a solid piece of brandy? I think not.

I don’t think ‍fruitcake gets the respect it deserves.

First of all, it’s not cheap. I’m surprised the banks don’t have officials hired just to deal with people who want to make ‍fruitcakes at Christmas. ‘Car loan, sir? See Mrs. Smith down the hall. Mortgage, ma’am? See Mr. Lee upstairs. ‍Fruitcake, sir? Oh you poor thing. I’m so sorry to hear that. Just leave your favourite body part in this bucket and Mr. Jones will see you momentarily. Welcome to the wonderful world of poverty.’

You’d think that something so complicated, fancy and expensive to make would get more respect. Besides, it’s got booze in it. Lots of booze. You could leave it out on your counter for 10 years and it would still taste fresh. It’s the world’s perfect food.

I’m calling Helen Reddy. Time for her to record I Am ‍Fruitcake, Hear Me Roar!

Hump Day: Serial cell users: let’s find a way to endanger this species

Hump DayHump Day
By Brian Cormier
Wednesday, Nov. 19, 2014
Moncton Times & Transcript

I went to a play the other day by a local theatre troupe. I really enjoyed it. It was quite funny with a number of laugh-out-loud lines and the plot included a number of twists and turns that kept the audience wondering how it would end. I thought it was pretty clever – and I really liked the ending. I remember thinking, “Oh now that’s a nice way to bring it all back together.”

Now, before any theatrical performance (or concert, movie screening, etc.), someone will usually stand up in front of the crowd or a voice will come over the speakers asking members of the audience to turn off their cell phones. Although I thought I’d turned off the volume on my cell phone, I was surprised to find out that I hadn’t already done so when I double checked. I usually make a habit of doing so as soon as I sit down at any type of public presentation.

Indeed, one of my pet peeves is someone whose phone goes off when it isn’t supposed to. Of course, we all make mistakes, and we’re all guilty of forgetting to turn down the ringer and then frantically trying to mute the phone when it eventually starts ringing at the exact moment it isn’t supposed to. “And the murderer’s name is (telephone rings so you can’t hear the name)! Goodnight, everyone! Thank you for sitting through our four-hour production!”

After I turned down my phone, I looked around the auditorium and bunch of other people were doing the same thing. No one wants to be ‘that person’ who disrupts the entire play with a cell phone ringing.

Part way through the play, the inevitable happened. A cell phone went off a couple of rows behind me. We could hear the person mumbling in frustration and a few people mumbled back. Mostly, though, it was good-natured chuckling, like the reaction after breaking a glass in a restaurant or something like that. We shared in the person’s embarrassment and felt empathy for what was likely just an honest mistake. Those things happen.

While the audience member was trying to turn off their phone in the dark, the actors on stage continued without missing a beat. Yup, they were real pros! This was the final performance of four, so they were probably used to a cell phone going off in the audience by now.

cellphone banWhen the phone rang in back of me for the second time, there was a bit less good-natured chuckling. The third time, there was no chuckling and some outright anger. Who kept calling this audience member? And why couldn’t they turn off their phone? By the fifth time (maybe sixth, I lost count) the phone rang, there was downright overt anger toward the audience member.

Finally, they got up and left their seat (causing everyone in their row to have to stand up and lose track of the play) to get to a better-lit area so they could figure out how to turn off their phone. “I’m sorry! I’m sorry!” People were not happy. Their theatre experience was being ruined. Mistakes happen, but five or six times in a row?

By this time, there was frustration bordering on fury. It’s not often that I’ve heard an audience turn on someone, but you could just feel the collective blood pressure of the crowd about to burst like a slow cooker that explodes from built-up heat and steam. While it was clear that the phone owner was just as frustrated as anyone that the phone wouldn’t shut off, you’d think that after three calls they would have left to properly turn off the device.

At least the person felt bad. That was obvious. It’s just too bad that the thought of leaving the theatre to take care of the problem only came after five or six calls came in. People need to just get up and move to a private area sooner in situations like that.

There’s a game people play in restaurants now. Everyone in the dining party puts their cell phone in the middle of the table. The first person to get a call because they left their ringer on or check their email has to pay for everyone’s meals.

Perhaps we should implement that same rule inside theatres and cinemas If your cell phone rings, you have to give everyone back their money out of your own pocket. If you hit people in their wallet, maybe then and only then will they finally figure out their phones. It’s an idea whose time has come.