Have you seen the new Northeast Deciduous Forest stamp sheets from the USPS? It's one of their mural style sheets with 10 hidden first class stamps. I still have one of their dinosaur sheets, now with postage too low for an envelope. Ive enjoyed several others of this variety, a Southwest Desert I think and something from the ocean with a nautilus. This northeast forest one reminds me of many younger hours spent on vacation in the woods collecting red efts, looking at deer footprints, hearing birds and chipmunks skittering or chirping; stripping ferns into an ephemeral green bouquet that lasted only until I opened my hand; and everywhere the smell of vegetation, damp and rotting; green and growing or dry and brittle.
This sheet includes many familiar trees, plants and fungi, although it misses some, too. Whats the fungus that is white on the bottom where it can be drawn on with a stick? And they the Mayflower plant but not the May Apple plant. The larger animals of course are rarely seen, but theyre here, too: wild turkey, bear, deer. I like these sheets, more fun than the flag stamp booklets, easier to find in my outgoing mail bins, too.
I am trying to use fewer stamps these days. Ive turned more to paying bills online, especially since my credit union has made that service free now. Of course letter writing shifted primarily to e-mail about a decade ago. I find it harder to remember to record the checkbook debit when I pay online, though. It makes a messy monthly reconciliation. I feel better about the $50 a month I spend on high speed internet access when I recoup the cost of a handful of 37 cent stamps each month now. I just need a system to keep my still-paper checkbook current.
I don't usually post reviews of products, but PriceGrabber.com
was offering a $5.00 rebate to review Griffin's PowerPod iPod
universal auto charger, which just arrived yesterday (02/03/2005)
from Monarch Technologies. With Monarch's free shipping it cost
only $15.17 and arrived in one day via UPS Ground from near Memphis,
TN. This also gives me a chance to say how nifty the iPod is that
Madelyn got me for Christmas; it's elegant and well-rounded, very
solid feeling and fun to use. I just need one more accessory to
hook it into my car stereo, either the iTrip or SmartDeck, both
also from Griffin.
My review should be posted here on PriceGrabber.com.
We took the kids today (12/28/2004, a Tuesday) down to Birmingham and took a great factory tour at Golden Flake Snack Foods, Inc. Their web site says they give tours Monday - Thursday but when we got there about noon they said they were only giving special tours this week and their guides were all at lunch just then. Brenda Brown, who runs the Company Store, was very helpful and said we could come back about 12:30 and someone would be available. We grabbed a light lunch at Burger King nearby and it was good that we kept it light because our tour guide, "Mr. Don" (I didn't catch his last name), let us eat all the chips we could during the tour. We started with the Onion O's and moved on to the Cheese Puffs (Mr. Don politely corrected me when I called them "Cheetos".) Each area had the distinct aroma of the fresh flavor being baked in that room. They tasted as fresh and delicious as they smelled when Mr. Don scooped some chips straight off the line in a wire basket for us to munch on. We saw how Golden Flake grinds its own corn, into a couple of levels of coarseness depending on the end product -- finer for the cheese puffs, curls and Onion O's and not quite so fine for the tortilla and corn chips.
Mr. Don, a Golden Flake employee with 31 years of seniority is knowledgeable and enthusiastic about all their products, but he is most excited about the new line of equipment that produces the tortilla chips. "It's the biggest taste improvement in all my time here;" he told us. This is now a continuous line from grinding the corn to cutting, baking, frying, and for flavored chips, applying the cheese or seasoning. They were running the plain Maizetos brand, triangular chips that are good with salsa but need no accompaniment when coming straight off the conveyor!
Of course we also saw the potato chip production. Mr. Don is obviously well known and well respected by the workers on the lines. They quickly handed him hot samples for us to taste. The potato chips running today were almost pure white, a sign of good potatoes with a low sugar content Mr. Don informed us. We saw the chips whipping by at 15 feet per second under one of the plant's other new technology upgrades, an "electronic eye" that looks for brown chips and boots them out of the run. Only the best chips make it through to the bagging units.
Since it was really any off week from touring I know we got an extended version. Mr. Don let us feel some of the corn meal going into the tortilla chips; we tasted some of the cheese curls both before and after the cheese is dried onto the snacks. He let us rub some of the potato starch onto our hands that Golden Flake dehydrates after it is separated from the potato slices. It makes a great hand lotion he told us. Golden Flake resells or otherwise recycles many of the byproducts of their manufacturing process, including this starch, unused oil, potato peelings and waste portions of the corn-based products. One primary destination is into animal feeds; cattle apparently love the potato "leftovers".
We saw the heart of the operation at Golden Flake. Only a couple of areas that are hazardous to tourists were off limits: the transportation building where the miles of conveyor belt deliver the boxes of chips; and the pork skins cooking area where equipment temperatures range up to 400 degrees. We did get a fresh sample of pork skins, though, bringing our total for types of chips tried to six: Onion O's, Cheese Puffs, BBQ Pork Skins, Potato Chips, Maizetos Tortilla Chips and Cheese Curls. Mr. Don filled us a sack full of the small bags of half a dozen other varieties to try on our way home.
The kids seemed to really enjoy it, in the middle of the tour Caralyn looked up at me to make sure I was listening and said "Dad, this is fun." And delicious.
There were more things like the new bagging equipment that is 3 times as fast and that all the bags are foil based now to keep out sunlight and moisture -- the two worst enemies of chips, Mr. Don said. The bags used to all be hand rolled and stapled. And we saw inside a retired truck trailer, stacked to the ceiling with boxes of chips -- it takes the crew 5 hours to load a truck; it's one of the few things they still need to do by hand. And the quality control room where they bring samples straight off the lines every hour or so for testing and if they find something below par they deal with it immediately. Oh, and we all had to wear hair nets. It was a neat, informative and tasty tour.
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