Sunday, June 22, 2014

These Bells Should NOT A-PEAL!

I've lived in the same building for almost 21 years now. For the most part, I like the neighbourhood. It’s an eclectic mix of businesses and people. It can get congested at times but has great bus service.

It can also get noisy. Most of it is incidental noise from traffic and people out and about. Of course there are also the late night reveller's making their way home from local watering holes seemingly oblivious to the nearby residents trying to sleep. There are also the sirens of emergency vehicles that fade in and out as they rush to their calls. These are all part of any densely populated neighbourhood though and at least to a degree, one generally adapts. 

However, there are times that I wish I could live somewhere else. Somewhere quieter! Finances and mobility issues prevent that. Barring unforeseen, I'm here for the long haul.

Shortly after I moved here, a bell tower was built at the end of my street. Nearby residents were promised that it would ONLY ring between 10AM and 10PM.  

Unfortunately, it didn’t take long for that promise to be broken. 

Almost from the start, the bells malfunctioned. The chimes were out of sync. Some didn't chime at all. Other times they’d chime nonstop! I detailed some of the bell issues in a July 2010 post called "Will Someone PLEASE Stop Ringing The Bells!!" (Scroll down to the pic of the bell tower and read from there.) 

To be honest, I've NEVER liked them. They grate on my ears – and nerves – like fingernails on a chalkboard! They always sound loud, harsh and tinny to me. As someone who is visually impaired, I rely on my hearing to get me from A to B safely. The ringing of the bells never fails to disorient me. They overwhelm my senses and leave me feeling vulnerable till I can regain my bearings after they've quit ringing. This isn't a safe feeling - especially if I am attempting to cross the intersection when they happen to ring!  
Carrying on a conversation anywhere near the ringing bells becomes a shouting match! There are two bus stops within a few feet of the bell tower - one going north (services 5 routes) and one east (services 3 routes). Many buses have a pre-recorded route number and name that is announced when the front door of the bus opens. If the bells are ringing, it is next to impossible to hear it - let alone if a driver is trying to call out info to me or other enquiring riders!  
Whenever possible, I try to avoid the intersection if the bells are ringing as it leaves me unnerved and felling vulnerable to the elements. Unfortunately avoiding isn't always an option. 

Admittedly, there are those who think the bells are charming. However, the ones who claim to like them don’t tend to live within earshot of them. They also weren't aware of how the sound could affect the visually impaired or those with auditory sensitivity. I've heard more than a few otherwise calm infants start to scream as the bells chime! (Not to mention a few howling dogs!) I've also had several people tell me that they (and others nearby) have covered their ears! 

It should also be noted that when the bells have rung in the last few years, not all of the chimes have sounded. Only 3 of 4 chimes per 1/4 hour actually sound. (A common occurrence through the years!) 

The worst though, is when they ring during the night. It’s happened several times! For those of us who live within earshot of the bells, it is a torturous way to spend the night – especially if you are a light sleeper like myself! 

I've always slept with the window open at least a bit at night – even in winter unless there is a strong north wind. I don’t have, nor can I afford, AC so I can’t close the bells out if they are ringing. I've tried earplugs, but that blocks too much sound out and I am unable to hear the building fire alarm (checked that method while alarms were being tested) so that is NOT a safe option. 

Over the years, I've made several calls to the neighbourhood BIZ to voice concerns, complaints and lack of permanent resolution to the issues. The various BIZ reps that I've spoken to haven't always been appreciative of my opinions and concerns. Then again, most people aren't reliant on audible cues for safety/orientation.

I've had varying degrees of success and speed of temporary resolution through the years. 

I've also heard a number of explanations for why the bells aren’t ringing as they were intended to:
- timer malfunction
- mechanism tampered with
- weather effected (too cold or too hot and humid setting them off)
- inadvertently left on after a performance at the adjoining stage (almost always happens during Canada Day Festival)
- hydro is working in the area and required the power box be left on
- the locked box to the power has been broken into 

Whether any or all of these explanations were actually true or used to pacify an unhappy caller doesn’t change the fact that there are hundreds of apartments/homes – many with light sleepers) within a block of the tower that are having their sleep disrupted by the untimely ringing of the bells. 

The bells rang for a couple days in January. A tweet to the BIZ got no response. I finally called and was assured it would be turned off within the day. It took two days before finally being silenced.  

Just over two weeks ago, the bells began ringing at odd times - the 1/4 hour chimed (3of4) at 5 past the hour, the 1/2 hour (6of8) at 20 past, the 3/4 hour (9of12) at 35 past and the hour (12of16) at 10 to the hour!  

Oh and the actual hours? They started at 3:50AM – chiming for 10:00 and finished at 3:35PM! 


The first night I heard them, I didn’t have a number handy to call so in an attempt to block some of the noise, I turned on one of my large fans that I use to try to cool the apartment on the hottest of summer nights – even though the apartment was cool enough to sleep without it! It was the only way I could get even a little sleep! I used the fan again the next couple of nights. On the Monday, I tweeted to the BIZ but got no response. I made a note of the phone number.

At 3:50AM on the Tuesday morning I was awakened by the bells. I grabbed the phone and dialed the BIZ office number fully expecting to get a machine so I could leave a message. 

A woman’s voice answered. The conversation went something like this:
I inquired if this was the BIZ and when confirmed, asked why the bells just chimed 10:00.
The bells?
The bell tower in the village.
Oh, why are you calling me?
The bells are a responsibility of the BIZ aren’t they?
Yes but why call now?
Well, thanks to the bells I’m awake. 

Well, she wasn't impressed but neither was I. She said the lock box had been broken and she’d take care of it in the morning. I asked why they were even allowed to ring at all given that they’d never worked properly in 20 years. She said they trying to get them fixed. I said they should be permanently disconnected. She claims that can’t be done. I said that was ridiculous and hung up. 

Okay, I’ll admit, I could have been more polite and I don’t recall if I apologized for waking her – sorry. But if you are going to be that devoted to your job and technology that you answer a BIZ line in the middle of the night, you should also be that diligent in resolving the issues! 

The bells continued to ring.

On Wednesday, I tweeted the BIZ again – along with the city councillor and the police twitter account. 

No response from any of them!

Not to mention little sleep for me – even with the fans running.

I tweeted again on the Friday morning and finally got a response from the councillor. She contacted the BIZ and learned a new lock had been purchased and was being installed. 

The bells were finally silenced during the noon hour.

That should settle things down for now, but it is only a matter of time till that lock is broken or some other reason is given for the bells ringing at all.

As to the possibility of the bells actually being fixed? Given that they haven’t worked properly in 20 years despite numerous attempts to fix and who knows how much money spent – the odds of them EVER working properly are about as good as winning the lottery and being struck by lightning - on the same day! 

The claim that they can’t be permanently disconnected also seems absurd. Yes, they may well be connected to the sound system of the nearby stage, but any electrician or audio technician worth their salt could reset that panel in no time.  

So why continue to throw good money after bad in an attempt to fix the unfixable auditory blight? Surely there are better things to spend the money on and better ways for the BIZ representatives and politicians to spend their time.

We’d all be able to move about more safely and freely,

And heaven knows we’d all sleep a lot better! 


Sunday, June 8, 2014

Cocoa Piggies

A few years ago, I started seeing a number of cookie recipes with bacon added in. I thought the concept was interesting but just never got around to tasting or trying it.

I don't eat a lot of bacon but do enjoy an occasional BLT - or versions thereof. I also like it as a topping on a pizza, done crisp and chopped to add to a salad or on top of Mac and Cheese.

Generally, I don't buy a lot of bacon as it can get rather pricy - especially if you are trying to find packages that are more meat than fat!

However, a few weeks ago I hit a good sale on bacon and managed to find a few packages that looked relatively meaty.

I looked at a number of bacon cookie recipes and also checked out reviews. There were two specific types that piqued my interest: 1) the chocolate, chocolate chip and bacon cookie and 2) the peanut butter, chocolate chip and bacon cookie. Both sounded good and I contemplated making both varieties.

Then it hit me. Why not literally combine both types into one cookie recipe! I could make both recipes at the same time in the same bowl! I redid my search and looked for recipes with almost identical ingredients and similar quantities. They also had to be ones that baked at the same time and temperature. The only major differences would be that one would call for peanut butter and the other for cocoa powder.

I do have a chocolate, peanut butter chocolate chip cookie recipe already in my collection and I suppose I could have just added crispy bacon to that (I will try that eventually) but I really wanted to attempt to combine two recipes. I hadn't done that before.

I finally settled on two recipes: Chocolate-Chocolate Chip Bacon Cookies (which I would cut in half except for the cocoa powder) and Peanut Butter BaconChocolate Chip Cookies. The ingredients, quantities, methods and baking were similar enough that I figured it would work fairly well. I eliminated the salt from both recipes as there is more than enough salt in the bacon, peanut butter and even the margarine! I also upped the bacon slices from 6 to 8.

The batter came together quite well - even though it was a bit greasier than I anticipated it would be once all was said and done. I contemplated adding a bit more flour but decided to bake up a pan first to see how they came out.

Thankfully, I didn't add the extra flour as it definitely was NOT needed! The dough was easy to work with and baked up beautifully on the parchment paper lined pans! The second time I made this recipe, I let the bacon drippings cool a bit more and the dough was not nearly as greasy.

I hadn't flattened the first dough balls as I wasn't sure how much they would spread. In fact, they spread very little so for the remainder of the pans I rolled the dough into balls and flattened them slightly once I put the dough on the sheets.

Needless to say, the aroma in my apartment as these baked was amazing! Waiting till they cooled enough to eat wasn't easy! Would they taste as good as they smelled?

Yup! These were delish! Very chocolaty thanks to the cocoa powder and the chocolate chips. The crunchy peanut butter added flavour and texture. The bacon wasn't overwhelming but just about right! A taste in pretty much every bite and thanks to the drippings in the batter, a hint of bacon flavour in every bite.

Everyone who got a taste of these thought they were fantastic! I asked for name suggestions from the taste testers and my online friends and finally chose this one!

Cocoa Piggies

8 slices bacon, chopped (you will need 1/4 cup of the fat/drippings reserved after it is cooked)
3/4 cups white sugar
3/4 cup brown sugar
3/4 cup softened block margarine
1/2 cup crunchy peanut butter (I use Skippy!)
2 eggs
1 teaspoons vanilla extract
1 cups all-purpose flour
1 cup whole wheat flour
2/3 cup cocoa powder
1 1/4 teaspoon baking soda
2 cups chocolate chips

In a pan, fry bacon over medium heat until very crispy. (Note: that while it easier to cook bacon in the oven, for this recipe, it is advised to cook on the stovetop as you are also using the drippings) Reserve the brown drippings and fat - allow to cool completely before adding to the dough. It does not have to solidify but must be cool. You will need 1/4 cup. (If you have a bit more, you can discard or save the extra for another purpose. If you have a bit less than 1/4 cup add a bit more peanut butter)

Chop or crumble cooked bacon and set aside. (I got 1/2 cup once crumbled)

Pre-heat oven to 350F.

Line cookie sheets with parchment paper.

Combine the flour, cocoa powder and baking soda in a medium bowl and set aside.

Beat together butter, peanut butter and bacon fat (*note if you don’t want to use bacon fat, you can just use 1 cup of margarine and omit the bacon fat all together but it does give a better flavour with the bacon fat/drippings in it).  Add sugars and beat for an additional minute or two.  Add eggs and vanilla then beat for an additional minute.  Add flour mixture and beat until almost combined.  Lastly, fold in chopped bacon and chocolate chips. Dough may seem a bit greasy/oily at this point but it bakes out nicely and does not taste greasy in the end.

Form dough into medium walnut-sized balls, place about 2 inches apart on parchment paper lined baking sheets and flatten slightly. Bake for 10-12 minutes (depending on your oven and size/thickness of cookie). DO NOT over bake!
 Allow to cool in pan for a minute then slide the parchment paper with the cookies on it to a cooling rack to finish cooling.

Makes about 7 dozen cookies. They can be frozen - assuming they last that long!

Note: The cookies will harden up a bit as they cool and set. If you want a slightly softer cookie while eating, place them in a single layer on a plate in the microwave for a few seconds before serving.