Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Free Birthday stuff, updated

It's my birthday - what can I get for free? 

(This is a mildly updated post to my previous free birthday stuff post - I kept the rant in as it's still relevant sadly). Variations of "free birthday dinner Winnipeg" has become one of the biggest drivers of traffic to my blog ever since I took the word "h00ker" out of previous posts.

This post will serve as both a mini-rant and a genuine post. Being a Winnipegger, I of course love free things. However, as someone who has spent years working in the service industry, I hate people who just want free stuff because it's their birthday. I mean, really, it should be your mom that gets something free - she's the one who had a tough day xx years ago. As a server, there is almost nothing that you dread more than a squeal coming from the table and someone saying "like, omg, it's his birthday, do you guys like do anything for birthdays???!!" Assuming it's someone middle aged, the omg and like can be omitted, but the vibe is the same. The more the table expects you to do for them is directly related to what they are likely to tip. For example, the table that wants you to dress up and play some silly character that's part of a running joke (this really happened to me, and yes, I went along because in theory it should have paid off well for me) and sing/dance/give free everything will tip 7-10% if you're lucky. The table that quietly celebrates a birthday complete with cards/presents etc. but never specifically tells the server that it's someones birthday - probably more in the range of 15-20%. Yes Winnipeg, 15-20%. Get over it. That is what it's supposed to be. Not 10%. However the longer version of this rant is for another post. Update: last night I served a table that when I offered dessert specifically said: "It's her birthday, does she get free dessert?" When I said no, no one ordered dessert. They tipped $12 on $175. Proof that my theory above is still going strong.

So, the reason you're really here, where to find some free birthday goodies. Of course most of the chain restaurants will do something - Montana's might make you wear the cootie infested moose horns, sing and give some sort of dessert if memory serves (they used to offer your friends the chance to pie you in the face with whipped cream, glad that's over), CRApplebee's used to make their poor servers sing and then bring free dessert, Old Spaghetti Factory same deal (bonus points if you get the guy with the crazy fun booming voice as part of your serenade) Tony Roma's is slightly more clever, they give you a card to come back for a free appetizer on your NEXT visit, and The Keg, my general exception to my "I hate chain restaurants" rule, will give a slice of their fantastic Billy Miner Pie. If I was in North Dakota I could visit every Manitobans favourite quasi-Mexican restaurant, Paradiso. Paradiso gets points from a server standpoint for only providing free dinner on the actual day of your birthday, ID required - I don't know if you've noticed, but on Friday/Saturday night at a chain restaurants it's EVERYONE'S birthday.... coincidence? Not likely.

One of my absolute favourite places in the city to nosh, fude, also does a free birthday dinner, but I keep putting off joining their VIP club thing (which you need to do) because my friends are all to cheap frugal practical cheap to ever want to eat there on a regular basis, so I always figure I won't get to take advantage of it. I seem to recall a few years ago that a car wash somewhere in the South End would give you a free car wash on your birthday, and I think Dutch Maid did free ice cream.

Update: I've recently discovered that Boon Burger on Sherbrook (not sure if the new East Exchange location is open yet?)  will give you a free burger, even the biggest meat eaters will love Boon, a vegan burger place. Boon is also smart enough to say that ID may be required. I also believe that Johnny G's does a free birthday dinner, but if I recall there are a bunch of conditions besides having ID - I think maybe you need to have at least 4 people having dinner at the table to get it?

It seems to me that years ago there were a lot more places that offered something free on your birthday, maybe I'm wrong, please comment if you know of one that I have missed, or a favourite from days gone by.
So what is the moral of this post? Well, basically if there is free stuff out there because it's your birthday, obviously take advantage of it, after all, it would almost be wrong as a Winnipegger not to; however, don't be obnoxious about it, take your free stuff with no singing and dancing (the staff will appreciate it, you're not 7 years old after all) and tip appropriately and we can all get along :)

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

School Zone speeds

I am mostly needing to rant and a 140 character tweet just wasn't going to cut it.

Just this morning a motion was put forward to reduce the speeds in school zones to 40km/hr; and then another motion to reduce ALL residential streets to 40km/hr. None of this is news as such, discussions have been ongoing in the papers for a little while about this concept. There have been some good responses to this that I have seen, however I don't remember where, so sorry, no links - if I paraphrase what you wrote somewhere else, please forgive me.

So, first of all, does this seriously mean that they are wanting to lower stretches of major arteries like Grant, Pembina and Henderson to 40 near schools? Grant is already ridiculous enough being set at 50 - it's two lanes with a boulevard in the middle - why on earth is it 50 in the first place, it should be 60.

While I'm ranting, why on earth is the freaking number one HIGHWAY 70km/hr when the residential strip of Roblin in the same section (roughly the perimeter to Headingley) 80km/hr??

So, my proposition is this: since, as someone else already put it (somewhere) - perhaps 40 on residential streets wouldn't be the worst thing in the world due to the condition of our roads, lets say that any street that has two lanes in either direction must be at least 50 (school zone or not) and if those two lanes have a boulevard in the middle? Well, then it would be a 60km/hr zone.

I don't know how many children are injured near schools every year, but I do know that children are freaking everywhere not just near schools. Never mind the fact that the two options would then make the speed enforceable only during "school hours" (sorry kids with after school activities, no safety for you!) which would involve a lot of confusing signage, OR enforceable ALL the time, which would mean cash grabs galore as photo radar would be set up nabbing speed demons clocking 51km/hr on a Saturday night.

How about we teach kids about street safety instead? When I was growing up it was impressed upon me to look out for cars, that they couldn't stop on a dime. To this day, even after I push the crosswalk button (or especially at crosswalks without the lights) I wait until I make eye contact with the drivers of the oncoming cars, or at least confirm that they're slowing down for me, before I head out into the street. I constantly see people push the button and blindly walk out into the street; yes, technically people are allowed to do that, as drivers we are supposed to be scanning ahead for that sort of thing. Of course, if you end up dead, being right doesn't do you much good.

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

(Mostly) Free Money!!

Oh how time flies! It seems like it was just the other day I was writing about how certain members of City Council were trying to take money from one program to put in to the Home Renovation Tax Assistance (HRTA) program instead. Well, the HRTA program is still around (and still is a great program if you ask me) and is only just finally going to council for approval tomorrow. The report that is being submitted can be found here. In previous years the HRTA funding status has been passed and put into play by the end of May at the latest.

Assuming I am reading the report correctly, it seems as though they haven't been using all of the funds (good thing Russ Wyatt wanted to put more in it).
"The transfer of $339,964 of prior years’ unspent HRTA program budgets to the Planning, Property and Development Department’s (PP&D) 2013 operating budget will allow for up to 1,319 approved applicants. The $339,964 represents one-third of the available unallocated Program credits of $1,019,981 currently credited to the Housing Rehabilitation Investment Reserve (i.e. $829,389 as at December 31, 2011 plus
$190,502 in unused credits from the 2012 budget year).
Again, I think this is a great program that "...reduces the perception that property owners are penalized by tax increases for improving their properties and it encourages property owners to take out building permits thereby promoting the quality of construction in meeting applicable building, electrical and plumbing codes. ...also encourages energy efficient renovations by providing additional tax credits through harmonization with the technical requirements of the Manitoba Hydro Power Smart Program" and I think that three major factors are keeping people from using it.

First, and I'm sure there are a few of you out there who can chime in with personal stories attesting to this; the length of time it often takes to get a permit. If you want people to do things in a certain way, it's probably best to make it easy for them.

Second, does anyone even know about this program? Perhaps when they mail out property tax bills they should notify all of the eligible homeowners - it should be simple enough to tell the computer who gets that message printed on their bill (assuming it passes, that would be anyone who has a house built before January 1, 1987 and valued at less than $218,000).

Third, although the credits can be received retroactively, they need to have their ducks in a row long before July 11th. Especially in a year like this where the outdoor construction season got such an early start. It also doesn't do anyone much good if they are completing projects that qualify for the program that don't normally need permits (to get the credit you still go through the motions of getting one). Why, especially if I didn't know about this program, would I go down to the permit office and get a "permit" for replacing my roof or windows? As well, I happen to know that it can be applied for retroactively, however I don't see that information anywhere on the HRTA part of the City site.

A quick synopsis of how to get your free money from the City of Winnipeg (it is being asked that the same guidelines below be used for 2012). Receive up to $2250, at a maximum of $750 per year off your property tax, based on this criteria:

Eligible Renovations
The 2011 Home Renovation Tax Assistance Program has two categories of eligible renovations:
  • Standard Renovations – Generally, the following standard renovations are eligible for a 5% tax credit:
    • Renovating kitchens, bathrooms and unfinished basements.
    • Building an addition to a home that will be utilized as a year-round living space.
    • Installing, repairing or upgrading a plumbing system or electrical system or a ventilation system, but not including an air conditioner.
    • Reinforcing or repairing a foundation or basement, including weeping tile, excavation and related landscaping.
    • Home security alarms
    • Installing or repairing exterior sheathing, roofing, shingling, soffits, fascia, eavestroughing, doors or windows (excluding skylight windows).
    • Installing or repairing a water or sewer system, including excavation and related landscaping.
    • Purchasing and installing a low flush toilet.
    • Modifying a home to accommodate a disabled person or renovating for reasons of safety or occupant health.
    • Repairing a home to ensure or maintain compliance with the Maintenance and Occupancy By-Law.
    • Constructing or repairing a deck, verandah or garage.
  • Energy Efficiency Renovations – Generally, the following energy efficiency renovations that meet or exceed Manitoba Hydro Power Smart guidelines are eligible for a 8.33% tax credit:
    • Renovating an unfinished basement with insulation to the walls and floors.
    • Upgrading a primary heating system.
    • Upgrading an electrical system.
    • Upgrading a ventilation system.
    • Insulating walls and an attic.
    • Upgrading and insulating doors and windows.
For further information, visit the Manitoba Hydro website at www.hydro.mb.ca.
Ineligible Renovations
Generally, the following renovations are ineligible:
  • Building or repairing a fence, driveway, patio or sidewalk unless necessary to maintain the structural integrity of the home or for safety or occupant health reasons.
  • Installing or repairing a play structure or swimming pool.
  • Landscaping, unless related to excavation work.
  • Interior decorating such as installing wallpaper, blinds or drapes.
  • Interior and exterior painting and installing or repairing floor covering unless related to eligible renovations, necessary to maintain the structural integrity of the home or for safety or occupant health reasons.
  • Installing or repairing a household appliance, skylight windows, fireplace, hot tub or jacuzzi, secondary heating system, heat pump unless it is the primary heating source, air conditioner, back-up generator,  air purification system, radio or television antenna or satellite dish, lawn sprinkler system, awnings or any improvements that are not permanently affixed to a home.
  • Modification to a home to allow a non-residential use or multi-family use.
  • Constructing or repairing an accessory building such as a greenhouse, gazebo or sunroom.
So, there you have it. Spread the word, tell your friends and neighbours! And while you're at it, ask you local counicllor why you didn't know about this sooner and why it's only being passed in July.

Wednesday, July 4, 2012

Have you hugged a street worker lately?

I have.

Not going to lie, the whole situation was really sad. The other day, while I was puttering about in the yard, as that's how I seem to spend ALL of my "free" time, I  noticed a girl spending a lot of time trying to catch the attention of passing vehicles. I had first seen her about an hour or so earlier, she had said hello as she walked by - and she seemed to be a bit out of sorts at that time as well. So, when I was making a trip to the dumpster I went over to chat with her.

She was young, I don't think kid young, but probably around 17-20. I told her that she probably shouldn't be doing what she was trying to do in her current state, but that I would be happy to drive her to a safe place. She didn't think she had a safe place to go. I suggested some of the places that I thought might work, but she wasn't interested, and besides, as she pointed out "she had no shoes on".

It was heartbreaking. I am so thankful that in my life whenever I have felt sad or desperate that I have never been in the state this girl was. The things she must have gone through in life to end up talking to me on that street corner are not even on my radar. I hope I managed to come across how I was hoping to; non-judgemental mixed with concerned. She didn't make the most sense, and she obviously is more familiar with "the systems" then I will ever be - she was concerned that seeking help would result in her children being taken away again. She also implied that if she went home she would just be sent out again. I kept expressing to her that she needed to be careful and that because she was drunk she would be more of a target; her response was to ask ME if I was okay out on the street - she was concerned that I would attract the wrong kind of attention being out there at that time of night. She kept hugging me, not quite my usual stranger on the street conversation.

After realizing there wasn't much that she knew of that I could do for her, I headed home to see if I could find out where she could be brought that would be a safe place for her until she sobered up. Besides the suggestions I had already offered her and she had refused there didn't seem to be anywhere I could bring her. I went back to bring her a pair of flip flops, it was the least I could do - but she was gone.

It was a really emotional experience for me; I hated that I couldn't help. I tried to tell her to make sure she realized that if and when she's ready that there are programs out there that will help her. I'm sure she already knows that, but I can just hope that one time when she hears it she will be ready.