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Counting crows

Posted by Marlinee on May 29, 2017 in Houses

I feel like I am about to become the Tippi Hedron character in The Birds – and we all know how that ends. This being spring (for a few weeks more), the birds are still returning. Although they don’t need to spend money on a condo south of the border, neither do they need to invest in cottage real estate. Anywhere and everywhere here is their summer home, and of course that is generally a good thing. Until you start experiencing the dark underbelly of bird behavior. There is a reason why we call them a ‘murder of crows’.

It seems that birds are much more territorial than I have previously given them credit for. And yes, I know I just ended a sentence with a preposition, for which I will not apologize. The large black birds currently staking a claim on my island sovereignty sound like crows but must certainly be ravens. I am not the most accurate judge of weight of bodies other than my own (and even in that case my wish might under-weigh my reality) but based on their choice of tree limb I would clock them in at five pounds minimum with wing spans of about four feet. And their underbellies are as dark as a new moon night.

Perhaps the cats have prompted this display of avian dominance because they have been alternating between sunbathing on the front deck and cooling off in the shadows of the woods – mostly in full view of any airborne potential predators. Dennis seems to believe he can certainly take them on, and his weight class would normally bear that out except that his lift off capacity leaves something to be desired.

The birds I really wait for are the woodpecker(s), the heron(s) and the owl(s). It is always so hard to figure out how many of each variety actually exist or even which generation is currently in residence. We always call the heron ‘the heron’ although there must be more than one and it must include both a Mr. and Mrs. Heron. Regardless, he/she/them are present and accounted for and hopefully working on next gen herons.

I have not seen my favourite classic Woody Woodpecker yet but I have heard him. This is not a good health report for some of the trees but all part of the cycle of the forest. Yesterday I incinerated some tent caterpillars, which on second thought may not have been the environmentally correct thing to do because I think Woody might have liked them. My bad.

But (with all due apologies to the loons), the owl is at the top of my hit parade. He/she is rarely seen but often heard in the wee hours hooting away with a general air of entitlement. When Henry was young and skulking in the night I was a little concerned I might see an orange fuzzy blur being whisked across the night sky to provide a tasty snack for tiny owlets. I no longer have delusions of owl felineicide and wait in anticipation of that first owl ‘hearing’ on a still, soft night.

The cat chattering and raven mocking all ended in a temporary détente. I am pretty sure they are regrouping to wake me up at four in the morning. If Dennis doesn’t beat them to it.

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Sitting at the dock

Posted by Marlinee on May 21, 2017 in Houses

I am pleased to report that the dock spider(s) have successfully emerged from hibernation. At least I assume they hibernate because surely nothing could grow that big in the few days without frost running up to the long weekend. I have no idea where they go for their long winter’s nap. It can’t be under the dock because I don’t think the ice and snow would be a very habitable place. And actually, I don’t really want to know where they hang out in the off season, except if I did know I could torch them into oblivion while they were helplessly snoozing until spring. But on second thought that would be a waste of time because there is some sort of weird jungle drum communication system between docks and dock spiders and a new family would move in while the vacancy sign was still swinging. Unfortunately, the dock didn’t survive the winter as successfully as the spiders. But don’t be too concerned about the spider habitat – only one section suffered ice damage so there is still ample real estate to go around to much relief for everyone concerned.

The mice also seem to be sticking to their normal habitat after their entry point was thwarted last fall. No rampant mouse winter partying this year. Unfortunately, contrary to popular belief, mice do not automatically detect the presence of cats and run the other way. Our mice brazenly steal cat chow and hide it for future use in the stove, under the furniture and (my particular favourite) in my shoes. The cats on the other hand are oblivious to any mouse that breaches the perimeter. Good thing they never fulfilled their birthright as barn cats because that would not have ended well.

In other news, on the gardening front I am overjoyed to have produced enough rhubarb to make a pie for Thumbelina. In everyone else’s garden rhubarb runs rampant. Or at least I hope this was the case for everyone else because then I would get enough castoffs to last all summer. The chives are happy though, and the cats will be too if the catnip decides to germinate. Still way too early to tell if the new raised bed garden will rally forth with produce abundance, but surely at least one of the forty tomato plantlets will survive to adulthood. I may be having a giant BLT party in August. Either that or a giant pity party.

Otherwise all is well in cottage land. True to form for the May long weekend, the fireplace is lit, the sky is dark with drizzle and the air rings with the sound of power tools trying to right winter wrongs. Too early for the onslaught of pleasure boaters buzzing the shoreline. Too early for late night bonfires. Too early for sweaty jumps into the lake. But just the right time to sit with a cup of tea, gaze out to the spring green forest and be sure that summer will be on its way and then gone faster than you can roast a marshmallow.

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Doing the wave

Posted by Marlinee on Apr 23, 2017 in Middle Age

The home version of the microwave oven turned fifty this year. Although the industrial microwave oven has been around since 1947, we did not get the chance to add it to the list of standard kitchen appliances until 1967. The delay in ‘retailization’ was of course due to getting the price down to consumer budgets, although at $495 U.S. you could hardly argue that a microwave was not a luxury item except they did argue that it was a kind of a patriotic necessity during the energy crisis of the 1970’s.

And aside from the respite offered for the electrical grid, the microwave was also touted as a time saving device. Imagine being able to cook a roast of beef in half an hour instead of two hours! Unfortunately, the ‘roast’ ended up looking more like a light grey blob than a mahogany crusted masterpiece, which meant the fantasy of cooking and entire dinner from scratch in the microwave was very short lived.

As well, anyone who has done anything other than reheat a cup of coffee in the microwave knows that its claim as a time saving device is rather dubious. That’s because you are a slave to the timer countdown for the duration of whatever you are trying to cook, courtesy of the constant stirring, rotating and readjusting required in order not to end up with frazzled food on the roof of the oven or searing hot edges and tepid middles. In contrast, once you throw something in the regular oven you can get right back to your Harlequin Romance and not give dinner another thought until the buzzer goes. Or even better, the slowcooker plods away from morning to night giving you the satisfaction of being ‘busy’ cooking while binge watching Orange is the New Black.

And yet the ubiquity of the microwave prevails. By 1986 – roughly when I got my first massive microwave and when the price had dropped considerably – 30% of all households had one. Now it is positively weird to see a kitchen without a microwave shelf or cubbyhole built-in. But when you think about it, the amount of kitchen real estate relegated to this appliance is inversely proportionate to its role in the food processing and preparation continuum.

The things I do with my microwave probably look a lot like the things all of us do: reheat soup, reheat yesterday’s leftover mac and cheese, reheat the dregs of my tea, melt chocolate and melt butter. I do branch out for more culinary purposes by making scratch white sauces (try it – it is awesome) and packaged sauces (Swiss Chalet experience at home – a party in your mouth) but that is pretty much it. Doing the math, I would have to say my microwave gets used about three minutes per week. The extended math would place the cost per use at something like 50 cents per minute, which mean my microwave earns the equivalent of 30 bucks per hour based on a standard work day.

When Amana introduced the first ‘radar range’ for home use, they called it “the greatest cooking discovery since fire”. Thanks Amana, but I think I’ll stick to fire.

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All the colours in the world

Posted by Marlinee on Apr 2, 2017 in Middle Age

I swear this is not related to April Fools. Indeed, if it was a joke it is far too cruel a one to be played on April 1. In case you missed the news, Crayola is retiring the ‘dandelion’ crayon from the box of 24. Apparently, this is only the third instance of booting a crayon off the colour chart since 1903 when they first came on the market, which should be a general indication that Crayola doesn’t commit crayonicide with abandon. But when you delve a little deeper into the history of crayon ‘retirement’ things take a bit of a sinister turn.

Dandelion is of course a yellow hue. The list of previously ditched colours reads like this: maize (sounds pretty yellow to me), raw umber (usually connoting a yellowish brownish colour darker than ochre), and orange yellow (which even has yellow in its name!). It does not take advanced powers of deduction to see what is playing out here: a yellow-toned fatwa.

A new box of crayons is a thing of beauty. All those pristine cones of colours in fresh colour-coordinated wrappers just waiting to be ground to a grubby nub. Or at least some of the colours end up ground to a grubby nub and others languish in the box, unable to find a purpose in life. Over their lifetime of availability, crayons have been packed in boxes of 2 up to 200. The 200 package was a bit of an anomaly as it also contained ‘special effect’ versions like glitter and neon, which of course have no business even calling themselves crayons. But I digress. Currently the sizes available are 8, 16, 24, 48, 64 and 120, or all multiples of eight. I don’t know what is wrong with 32 or 40 or 56 or 72 or 80 or 88 or 96 or 104, or you get the gist of my logic, but I guess they had to choose a reasonable number of sizes and call it a day. Although, I think it can be argued that anything above 24 is a little excessive (does the average colouring book really require an accurate selection of orange-red versus red-orange?)

Anyhow, back to the fate of dandelion. Further research has revealed that if you need this particular hue of yellow you can just buy a bigger box. Or even better, get on the marketing bandwagon associated with the retirement announcement and buy a 2 pound dandelion mega-crayon or if that isn’t enough yellow wax to suit your artistic purposes, order a limited edition box of 64 dandelion crayons, which is surely enough to out last even the most fanatical crayoner’s lifetime needs for a yellow that falls somewhere between goldenrod and just plain yellow.

Come to think of it, I do remember goldenrod being one those crayons that had a particularly extended lifespan. It is kind of orangy but not quite as orangy as orange-yellow. Not really yellowy enough for respectable rays of sun. And maybe that’s where dandelion missed the mark. So I was perhaps too hasty in accusing Mr. Crayola of an anti-yellow bias. Sorry about that.

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My friend Tony

Posted by Marlinee on Mar 16, 2017 in Houses

Six Mile Lake is a lake in the Muskoka region of Ontario. I should note this location is definitely not chopped liver but certainly not the foie gras of THE Muskoka lakes frequented by Goldie Hawn, Cindy Crawford and various NHL hockey players (although Martin Short does have a place on Lake Joseph so Canadian content is not out of the question on prime Canadian Shield properties). But I digress.

I have not done a statistically valid survey, but for the most part Six Mile is a seasonal destination, mainly because many cottages are boat-in or otherwise not conducive to winter. Those with benefit of plowed drive-in locations or who wait patiently for full ice-in and fire up the snowmobile to embrace the winter season laugh in our general direction and enjoy the beauty of the lake 3.5 or 4 seasons of the year. Going a step further, several have chosen to spend their retirement at the lake 24/7 and 365 (not withstanding any winter vacations, for which none of their peers would quibble). And our friends Tony and Julia did just that: settle into a glorious second act in a cozy house nestled on a peaceful bay with full road access, garbage pickup and mail delivery (which is to say, unlike many of us seasonal people, they managed to realize some value from their property tax, but I digress yet again…).

There are about 600 cottages on Six Mile and it is a very spread out lake (actually more than six miles spread out, but that’s another story) so it isn’t out of the question I’d never met Tony and Julia until about four years ago when luckily our paths finally crossed and we became friends. As many things go, there were surprisingly few degrees of separation. Among them: their previous cottage on the lake was right next door to the cottage of a family friend where we had spent a bunch of time, they had myriad mutual friends in the photo industry, and we shared the same financial advisor.

Unfortunately, Tony got sick with the kind of sick that is annoying, undeniable and just plain inconvenient for a bunch of time until you get the short end of the stick. His response was to just live his best life as long as he could. I think we could all benefit from what I have observed about Tony’s approach to life:

• Shirts have a place and time and that time is not in the summer (or spring or the fall or even not the winter, circumstances willing).
• There is no single malt scotch that does not deserve a chance.
• The glass is always full (see above).

Tony missed seeing this year’s official spring by five days but the fact he went out the same day as Julius Caesar is not that shabby in my book. And to my dear friend Julia: When the hummingbirds appear at the feeder and the loons are swimming with their young and the summer evenings melt into languorous, sultry, star filled nights, I hope you will find it a comfort that Tony will be watching it all through your eyes.

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Wondering where the lions are

Posted by Marlinee on Feb 26, 2017 in Travels

I somehow missed the news about the lionfish invasion of the Caribbean, which has been a thing for at least 15 years. Forget about Johnny Depp – these are the real marauding pirates. Lionfish are particularly attractive saltwater fish and that is where this whole problem started. Apparently, people with salt water aquariums liked their esthetic appeal but then realized the error of their ways when the lionfish ate all the other inhabitants of the aquarium for breakfast, lunch and dinner. Because that’s what lionfish do: eat anything that swims or even just lies there in the sand. And that’s not the worst part. They are also incredibly good at reproducing. A single female releases up to two million eggs per year. So when some of those aquarium enthusiasts with buyer’s remorse set their lionfish free all hell broke loose.

Here is another fun fact about lionfish: they cannot be caught by baiting, trapping or trawling. My extensive research did not explain why this is and I find it baffling that something that acts like an aquatic vacuum cleaner would ignore bait, but apparently they do. That means the only way to kill them is by old fashioned spear fishing. Oh, and did I mention they are venomous? Not even Stephen King could invent anything more horrifying.

However, fortunately the one redeeming characteristic of a lionfish is that it is very very tasty, a fact to which I can attest via lionfish tacos, lionfish curry and lionfish fritters recently consumed in Grand Cayman. And that is exactly the path many Caribbean islands have taken to put as much of a dent in the lionfish population as possible – encourage eating lionfish. Should you wish to try it yourself without needing a plane ticket, Google says Amazon will ship lionfish fillets directly to your door. Oh wait – on further examination, they only sell a decorative silicon lionfish as an aquarium decoration or a mug with a picture of a lionfish on it. Never mind.

But this is just another example of life being better in the sunny south. Our local invasive water critters do not appear to have any redeeming qualities. I don’t think being steamed in white wine sauce would make zebra mussels palatable although the equally troublesome round goby seems to like them. And even though they look kind of like some species of harmless native fish, eat goby at your own peril if you want to avoid botulism.

I also learned It isn’t just fancy fish that cause problems when set free. Who knew that even the goldfish is an official member of the invasive species club? I wouldn’t except for a very informative government website about all things invasive. It even tells you how to recognize a goldfish at twenty paces in case your primary school didn’t get to that part of the curriculum. And that’s how it goes with invasive species: harmless in one context, dangerous in another. Come to think of it, kind of like Donald Trump.

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A house is not a home

Posted by Marlinee on Jan 14, 2017 in Houses

Since I haven’t moved in almost two whole years, it’s time to move again. As I have mentioned earlier, looking for a place to live is very much like online dating. There are promising profiles and attractive photos but the proof is in the actual pudding, which is rarely as tasty or fresh or chock full of goodness as advertised.

Real estate agents are the masters of spin. The house isn’t putting its best foot forward? Let’s show a shot of a foot model wearing the latest Louboutin pump. The house backs on to the busiest street in town? Let’s show a shot of the ravine that is only 20 minutes away by car. And then there is the description of the features and benefits. Luckily there is a certain vocabulary employed that is universal to all real estate listings so once you get the hang of it, you can do a simultaneous translation. I am sure there is a whole course of study devoted to wording and turn-of-phrase that is a mandatory prerequisite for a real estate license (this is also where they get issued a lifetime’s supply of exclamation marks and believe me that is no small quota). Here is a sample:

Shows pride of ownership! This means you are about to see a pristine time capsule of the last time this house was renovated – say about 25 or 30 years ago. They are so proud of the renovation they couldn’t bear to ever remove the California ceiling in the kitchen or scrape off the floral wallpaper border in the dining room or banish the dusty rose bathroom fixtures to the nearest landfill site. Of course, there is nothing that a few trips to Home Depot and tens of thousands of dollars won’t fix, but the problem is those proud owners think their immaculate house is worth a premium not a discount.

Location! Location! If you pay close attention, you will notice there is something missing from this picture. I’ll give you a few seconds to figure it out. Got it? Yes, you are right. What happened to the third ‘location’? I once lived in a house that fit this definition to a tee. Single family dwelling walking distance to parks, shopping, transit, and downtown diversions. Unfortunately, it was in very close proximity to several homeless shelters, soup kitchens and methadone clinics, and also a very attractive locale for a certain type of female entrepreneur that plies her trade on street corners.

New furnace, eligible for buyout at any time! I must admit this was a new one on me and consequently it required a little more deciphering. Apparently, some people rent instead of own their furnace. No seriously – it’s a thing. This would be sort of okay if renting a furnace included all related expenses like for instance the fuel required to make it work. But no. The rented furnace covers the right to use it to generate heat and the right to call someone if it happens to stop doing what it is supposed to do. Now I did not inquire how much a month it costs to have an uncommitted relationship with your heating device, but I suspect that it would probably pay for itself within about three years after which you would keep paying for it. I also suspect that the generous offer to convert to a serious commitment to the furnace at any time would not make financial sense either (compared, that is, to just buying it to begin with).

Low maintenance back yard! Many of us would prefer not to have to cut grass or not to pay someone else to cut our grass or even not to look at grass. So a low maintenance yard seems like a good thing. Except when you realize that in real estate lingo, a low maintenance yard means a vast expanse of clay that has hardened to the consistency of asphalt, an abundance of that red-ish gravel that is guaranteed to shred human flesh, or an installation of indoor/outdoor carpet that used to be ‘grass green’ but is now more like ‘mold grey’.

So the search continues…stay tuned.

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Shouldn’t have gotten on this flight tonight

Posted by Marlinee on Dec 12, 2016 in Travels, Work

I just finished my last business trip before I revert to civilian status, which is both a good thing and a bad thing. There is a certain badge of honour in being a road warrior because of the scars and battle wounds we gather courtesy of the time we spend in the airport, hotel and bad food trenches. Of course having the badge is no substitute for having a life, but entering the off-ramp into the slow lane of leisure travelers comes with some new and different challenges, not the least of which is relinquishing whatever privileges come with airline ‘status’ these days – those small mercies that allow you to get on board before all the overhead bins are stuffed to the max and get a head start on a movie (thank you noise cancelling earbuds and thank you airlines for not having figured out yet that noise cancelling earbuds exist).

I would never have thought it was possible to get tired of San Francisco but after well into the double digits worth of trips (averaging at least four times a year) it would take a ride with Steve McQueen to inject even a little excitement into touching down at SFO. I’m sure the Friday morning flight from gate 92 won’t miss me and nor will the two-thirds of passengers that clog the line for Zones 1 and 2. Sorry, Golden Gate Bridge, you are dead to me (in a nice way).

I hate to report that LGA is spiraling further down (if that is even possible) into grumpy, grungy territory. Even if the construction that results in a 40 minute journey from Terminal 1 to 2 finally abates within my lifetime, I’m sure they will still continue to roll-up the carpet on the TSA Precheck lane when the clock strikes 6pm, because of course all of us trying to get home at a decent hour after foolishly deciding to day-trip it to New York should have taken an earlier flight. Oh, but that flight was probably cancelled anyway. Fingers crossed, I will never again have to find a stranded-after-last-flight-out dodgy hotel room in Queens.

I have a little bit more sympathy for Las Vegas (ringing in at four times this year) because it tries so hard, but I lose every shred of it dealing with the typical Las Vegas visitor who personifies the most rookie species of amateur traveler. These are the people who saunter aimlessly down the terminal corridor and stop abruptly in front of me when I am making the mad dash to the gate. Or wear shorts on the plane then complain that it’s cold. Or don’t leave their People magazine behind in the seat pocket.

While cooling our heels outside Gate 92 six weeks ago, one of my colleagues said “My biggest fear is getting a seat where the entertainment system audio doesn’t work.” After we all stopped laughing at this penultimate first world problem, there was a moment of silence while the true meaning of this statement sank in. As frequent fliers not many things cause trepidation or anxiety because we’ve seen it and done it all before. Crashing into a mountain? Skidding off the runway? Landing at the gate that couldn’t possibly be more remote from the Customs Hall? We laugh in your general direction! What we fear most is losing the things that remind us we are human. Especially losing that window of quality time when the work world can’t reach us so we can squander it watching Ghostbusters.

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There’s gold in them hills

Posted by Marlinee on Oct 30, 2016 in Middle Age

It may have escaped your notice that we are celebrating the 50th anniversary of the invention of the Yukon Gold potato this year, so I feel it is my duty to bring it to your attention. You might think the Yukon Gold is just another piece of produce that finds its way into your kitchen on a regular basis. You would be wrong. There are many things about this variety of potato that distinguish it above its spud peers. Here are some of them, as well as some random facts that will improve your potato IQ.

1. When it was born, via a cross between a Peruvian variety and a potato commonly grown in North Dakota, the Yukon Gold was called the G6666. This represents its place of birth (Guelph), number on the list of potato creations for the year (66) and year of its inception (1966). We can perhaps be thankful that it wasn’t the sixth attempt at potato cloning, but even more illuminating is the fact it was the 66th. Who knew that much scientific effort goes into finding the Holy Grail of potato? Which raises all kinds of questions about how we choose to allocate our brain power. But I digress.

2. Your first clue might be the name, but the Yukon Gold is a Canadian invention. However, it is grown throughout North America, which may be why Hillary Clinton sparked an international incident by announcing that the entire menu at a White House dinner was American when the star starch was Yukon Golds. Despite its alien status, the potato variety is apparently a mainstay in the White House kitchen and was served to our own Prime Minister at a recent State Dinner hosted by the Obamas. In fact, it has a broad celebrity pedigree via being served at Academy Awards dinners (Wolfgang Puck is a big Yukon Gold proponent), although maybe it was more admired than consumed by the paleo diet aficionados that frequent those events.

3. And speaking of diets, according to the PEI Potato Board (and they should know these things), sales of potatoes fell 30% between 2004 and 2014. The PPB also reports there are 150 potato varieties floating around in Canada but clearly the Yukon Gold is taking an unfair plate-share because of its pleasingly yellow hued flesh and versatility. This has given rise to Yukon Gold fraud, where grocery stores try to pass off imitators as real G6666s. So don’t just fling those potatoes in your shopping cart without inquiring about true provenance. And I thought fake parmesan cheese was the height of deception!

4. Although it was born in 1966, the Yukon Gold only hit the market in 1980. At first I found this surprising but on second thought the Yukon Gold is a very 1980s product. I quote from Wikipedia: “1980s fashion had heavy emphasis on expensive clothes and fashion accessories. Apparel tended to be very bright and vivid in appearance. Women expressed an image of wealth and success through shiny costume jewelry, such as large faux-gold earrings.” I rest my case.

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Blowin’ in the wind

Posted by Marlinee on Oct 16, 2016 in Middle Age

Dyson, the vacuum cleaner purveyors that will sell you a cyclonic bag-less thing of beauty as long as you can qualify for a mortgage to pay for one, is now flogging a cyclonic hair dryer for only $500. Now that Mr. Dyson has solved the problem of picking up pet hair he has chosen to apply his considerable technological acumen to solving the penultimate first world problem of getting wet hair to become dry hair.

In an irony clearly not lost on Mr. Dyson, one of the first devices used as a hair dryer was actually the vacuum cleaner. If you attach the hose to the back end instead of the front end of a run of the mill vacuum cleaner you get air blowing out instead of sucking in. The first salon style hair dryer (the kind with the cone of silence hood) showed up in France in 1890. And during my extensive research on the topic I was surprised to find that the first hand held hair dryer debuted in 1915, although since it weighed around two pounds and had an unfortunate habit of electrocuting people it wasn’t a huge hit. We had to wait until the 1960s before scientific knowledge advanced enough to combine the magic of plastic with state of the art electric motors and arrive at the modern version of the home hair dryer.

Before we had wide spread access to the miracle of quick drying hair women spent a lot of time and energy avoiding getting our hair wet. If you needed to be in the unavoidable vicinity of water, the first line of attack in this quest was the bathing cap and its cousin the shower cap. But these are imperfect devices that require considerable vigilance to ensure their intended function proceeds without breach.

Another approach was to avoid washing your hair. One solution was to outsource hair washing to the beauty salon, which of course had the hair drying technology but needed to be rationed to at most once a week. Then the ‘dry shampoo’ industry rushed in to fill the void with a powder that was supposed to clean your hair without water but mostly resulted in the appearance of a massive dandruff attack. So what we mostly did instead is throw a scarf on our head and call it a fashion statement.

So I guess you could say the availability of a cheap and safe hair dryer is right up there with other labour saving devices that freed us from the tyranny of spending all of our time keeping the household fed, watered and clothed. And by that I mean just like the washing machine allows us the ‘freedom’ to do more laundry and the vacuum cleaner adds an extra layer to sweeping and mopping our floors, the portable hair dryer enables us to spend more time styling and perfecting our coiffure. But at least for a mere $500 we can do it in high-tech style. Thanks a bunch, Mr. Dyson.

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