A brief rant in response to my lack of free donuts.

US-coffee-wallpaper1024x768My writers group met up the other night at Tim Horton’s. At least a couple of us meet there every week to write, to discuss life, and to enjoy some quality beverages and baked goods.

We started meeting there because they were open all night, unlike the coffee shop where we had been meeting which closes at 10pm. By choosing Tim Horton’s, we were able to push our meeting time back so we could all tuck our kids (and spouses) into bed for the night before going out to write.

At some point, our local Tim’s changed their hours and now they close at 11pm. And that’s fine. But since they now have a definite closing time, I finally worked up the courage to ask a very important question.

“Out of curiosity,” I said to the clerk who had just taken my order for the least expensive drink they offer, “what happens to the donuts at the end of the night.”

He pointed to a garbage can. “They all get thrown away,” he said.

“Hmm,” said I. “My friends and I frequent this establishment weekly, often leaving as the only customers at closing time. Do you think it might be possible to throw them away to us?”

“Here is your drink, sir,” he said.

I went and sat down.

My writers group had a good time of writing and chatting and such, and sure enough, we were the last people there. The employees were systematically shutting everything down for the evening when I caught the gentleman’s attention who had helped me earlier and conversationally asked, “So, have you thrown those donuts away yet?”

“Not yet,” he said, then quickly moved on to the next step of the closing procedures.

I think somehow he missed my hint. Here I was, thinking that I could be the hero of breakfast time in the morning, providing my family with a bounty of day-old free donuts, but he missed my vision.

“Well, have a good night,” I called out as I pushed open the locked door to come home.

“Good night,” he called back.

It was a good night, but it could have been better, Mr. Tim Horton’s Employee Who Throws Away Donuts To Spite Me.

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I am a Raccoon’s Neighbor.

A raccoon moved in next door. My family lives next to an office building and the roof vents on that building have been damaged for some time. A couple of weeks ago, I was taking the dog out early in the morning when I looked over and saw a raccoon standing on the office building roof. It seemed that he was on his way to bed though, because he lumbered up the roof and disappeared into the roof through the damaged vent.

I told my wife about the incident at breakfast and my daughter overheard. She was enthralled by the idea that a raccoon lived next door. She kept going to our kitchen window, staring at the roof and saying, “I see the Raccoon? The raccoon will come out at six o’clock?” I’m not even sure that she knows what a raccoon looks like, being that they aren’t usually featured in the animal picture books (which place higher importance on animals one might find in a zoo like lions and zebras).

I don’t know what her deal with six o’clock is, by the way. It must be the time when things happen with animals, because it’s not the first time she’s mentioned it.

The next morning, around six in the morning, I woke up to the sound of scraping metal from outside the window nearest the office building. Sure enough, my daughter was right about the six o’clock, but wrong about the coming out. It was going back to bed for the day.

Weeks passed without seeing our new neighbor when my wife spotted him from the window as we were making our way to bed. I grabbed the camera to prove that I’m not crazy. Sorry about the poor quality image. Everything was kind of dark.

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Now, I’m not sure what to do about my new neighbor. Should I tell the people in the office building so they can be charging it rent, or should I leave it to its own nocturnal devices?

How to Choose a Pizza Place | The 10 Factors of Quality Pizza

Is there a better food than pizza? One that is as affordable, multifaceted, and instantly crave-able? No. There is not.

According to pizza.com, 94 percent of Americans eat pizza regularly. When was the last time you were disappointed to hear that your work was throwing a pizza party? As a kid, weren’t you always happiest when the cafeteria served pizza? Let’s all be honest here. Pizza is the best.

And yet…

There are plenty of bad pizza joints out there. Or, at least, there are plenty of pizza places that could serve a better pie. But how can you tell the good from the bad?

Simple, I’m going to give you the 10 Factors of Quality Pizza. Once you have these, you can try out some different places and judge for yourself. Just take the criteria below and rate each place you go to. Once you find the best pizza place in your area, get all of your pizza from them. Why would you settle for an inferior pie and risk hurting your chosen joint’s financial stability? But anyway, the criteria.

1. Crust – Is the crust too thin? Too thick? Too doughy? Too hard? Is it sweet or bitter? Does it have those bread bubbles that are so good?

2. Sauce – Is the sauce too thin? To thick? Too spicy? Not spicy enough? Does it taste like old ketchup?

3. Toppings – Are there enough toppings? Are they fresh? Is the bacon crispy? Do they skimp on the pineapple?

4. Cheese – Do they use quality cheese or is it that type that evaporates when it gets too hot? Do they put so much on there that is tastes greasy? Do they skimp so much that you can see the sauce and the crust?

5. Value – Is the price set where you can afford a pizza whenever you want a pizza? Do they offer specials or discounts? Is the pizza size as large as you would expect it to be for the price that you paid?

6. Cleanliness – Is the pizza place clean? Are the floor dirty? Can you see toppings and sauce splattered all over the walls and floor? If the health inspector were to show up for a surprise visit, would you see the workers sweating?

7. Ambiance – Is there music set at an appropriate volume? Does the music annoy you? Is there a TV on and what are they playing? Is the lighting correct? Is it too dark or too bright?

8. Proximity – Is the restaurant too far to drive whenever you want a pizza? Do they deliver? Would the cost of getting to your pizza add too much to the overall bill?

9. Service – Are the workers happy? Do they thank you for your business? Are they attentive to your needs? Are they too intrusive? Do they anticipate your needs? Do they suggest appropriate add-on items?

10. Owner Availability – Can you speak to the owner directly? Does the owner seek you out to thank you for your business and ensure that you had a quality experience? Is the owner willing to take criticism or advice?

So there you go. Take these 10 Factors and start rating pizza places around you. As a rule, I’ve found that indie pizza places do a better job in just about every category than the chain pizza places do. But you’ll have to be your own judge.

For my area, it took a while for my wife and I to find a pizza joint that arrived at the best of all the criteria. We had been living in the Wyoming/Grandville area of West Michigan for a few years when we decided to start trying different mom & pop type pizza places. What we found were places that had good toppings but bad sauce, or good dough, but bad toppings, or good pizza but bad location and too expensive.

That is, until construction forced us down a back road and we saw a pizza place that we had never seen before.

“We should try them,” said my wife. “In fact, I dare you to get a pizza there with my in the next month.”

“Sure,” I said.

We waited about a day to try them out. I found their information online and wrote down their phone number. My wife and I were on our way home from the grocery store when I called in the pizza.

“Francesco’s,” said the voice on the phone.

“I have need of delicious pizza,” said I.

“Okay,” said the voice. “I can do that. What would you like?”

“What specials do you have?”

The voice told me the specials. I ordered a Hawaiian pizza with an order of bread sticks (you can tell a lot about a pizza place by their bread sticks too).

“This is my first time getting pizza here,” I said. “I hope it’s good.”

“It will be,” said the voice confidently. “I’ve tried the other pizza places around here and I can honestly tell you that you are going to love this pizza the best.”

Cocky, I thought. “We’ll see,” I said.

But after that first pizza, my wife and I were hooked. Francesco’s is now our favorite and exclusive pizza joint. The voice on the phone was none other than the owner himself, John. His cockiness was well-founded. They offer a great pizza (great dough, sauce, toppings, and cheese) at a great value (a 2-topping 18″ giant pizza for $13.50) within regular driving distance (about 3 miles from our house) and great ambiance, customer service, and owner availability.

We found our pizza place. You should find yours.

Support your local pizza joint, but support the best one. And if you don’t start testing them with the above criteria, how will you know which one is the best?