Bizarre Snacks and Bluetooth Insanity

Ok, so I have officially eaten the most bizarre flavour of potato chip. Here in Canada, we are liberal in government but fairly conservative in our potato chips. The most outrageous we’ve ever gotten was when Lays ran a contest and Swiss Chalet Sauce came out on top (with maple syrup being a close second). The taste was like a sweeter BBQ sauce but nothing that the taste buds couldn’t handle. But the British? Is there a single thing that the Brits will NOT use to flavour their crisps? Kate was already obsessed with “Roast Chicken” flavoured Lays, which we can only find in specialty shops here, but on Boxing Day, my aunt brought me two packages of Walkers chips that a friend who’d recently returned from England had given her. The first one was “Pigs In Blankets”. I’m never quite sure what that is—in North America it refers to hot dogs wrapped in Pillsbury crescent roll dough, which is already disgusting on its own, but in the UK, it can be “a variety of different sausage-based foods…depending on geographic location.” That sounds kind of gross for a potato chip, unless it’s the Scottish version, called “Kilted Soldiers”, which consists of sausages wrapped in bacon. Now that’s a flavour I could get behind. What I can’t get behind is the other bag my aunt gave me, which were BRUSSEL SPROUT FLAVOURED. Yes, the British have taken the most disgusting vegetable known to humankind (aside from beets) and turned it into a potato chip. And the best part was the bag, because the bag features the company logo surrounded by swirling sprouts in the shape of a Christmas tree with the caption “Brussels Sprout”, and I don’t know if that’s a typo or if it’s because they’re “sprouting” out of a green gift box on the front of the package. But the best thing, like the ABSOLUTE BEST THING, is that beneath all the sprouts it actually says, “IMAGE OF SPROUTS FOR ILLUSTRATIVE PURPOSE ONLY. PRODUCT CONTAINS NO BRUSSEL SPROUTS”. Like someone was seriously going to buy these and then be like “Cor Blimey! Where are all the sprouts wot I was promised?! It’s bloody Christmas–this is bollocks!!” At any rate, I DID try them. They were green, very salty, and had a terrible aftertaste. Just like real Brussel sprouts.

You might not have noticed it, but I’ve spent the equivalent of several days revising all my blog posts so that they have metatags. I read somewhere that having tags on each post might increase traffic, so I set about adding them to every single post. I have so far written 276 posts as mydangblog, with each one between 1000 and 2000 words and I had to read every one of them to decide what tags to use. And I have NO idea if I’m doing it right, because it was mostly just me going “Hmm. This one’s about poop so I should use that as a tag.” So far, the tags I’ve used the most are Humour, Wine, Titus, Bathrooms, Worst Case Scenarios, and Star Wars, and that list alone should tell you everything you need to know about me. Here’s a picture of the Baby Yoda cookies Kate and I made, just so I can add a gratuitous Star Wars tag to this post too.

I decided that I probably shouldn’t use Porn as a tag, even though I have several posts related to porn, because I already get enough spam enticing me to click on a link to see hot college co-eds. Will tags make any difference? Only time will tell, but at least I got to read some funny sh*t that I’d forgotten about.

And speaking of funny sh*t I’d forgotten about, on Friday, I was driving and my 6 year-old niece Cecile tried to FaceTime me. I couldn’t answer, so I tried calling her back, but my Bluetooth was acting REALLY weird. I asked it to call Cecile, and the woman’s voice just kept saying “Pardon?” The third time I said her name, the woman said, “Ok, calling Phil” and I was like “WHO THE F*CK IS PHIL?!”And this reminded me of the last time I rented a car. (I had to rent it in the name of Queen Elizabeth because I work for a secret agency. This is not a joke. In fact, I had to call the rental agency to verify something, and the guy couldn’t find the car under my name, so I said, “Try “Her Majesty the Queen,” and he was like, “Oh yeah, here it is.” I’m glad the Queen wasn’t actually driving with me, because she would have been less than impressed by my relationship with the woman who ran the Bluetooth system. In my own car (under normal circumstances), when I want to make a call, the woman simply says, “Ready,” and I say “Call”, and she says “State the name or number.” So I tell her, and the next thing, I’m talking to someone, usually Ken. I don’t know what kind of sick, evil mind designed the system in this Nissan Sentra that I rented, but here’s what happened when I tried to make a phone call:

First attempt

Woman: Please say a command. You can choose from Call, Redial, Call Phone Book, Recent Calls, Location, Hang Up, Try Again, New Command, or Help.
Me: Uh…I…can you just call someone for me? I’ve forgotten what the options are already.
Woman: That command is not recognized. Hanging up.
Me: WTF! (presses button again, listens to list). Call!
Woman: Please specify from the following list. Name, Phone Number, Redial, Call Back, Hang Up, or Help.
Me: 519-555…
Woman: Command not recognized. Disconnecting.
Me: Wait, what?!

Second Attempt

Woman: Please specify from the following list. Name, Phone Number, Redial, Call Back, Hang Up, or Help.
Me: Name.
Woman: OK. Hanging up.
Me: What?!

Third Attempt

Woman: Please specify….
Me: Phone Number.
Woman: To dial, please speak 3, 7, or 10 digits. Say “special number” to dial 24 digits, including special numbers like star, pound, or nuclear launch codes.
Me: What the f*ck?!
Woman: You have requested the digits 254. Please say the next 4 digits to dial or choose from one of the following options. Correction, Redial, Call Back, Take Me To Funkytown, or Help.
Me: Help me…
Woman: Command not recognized. You are either speaking too loudly, too softly, or in Mandarin.
Me: I’M NOT SPEAKING MANDARIN!!
Woman: OK. Calling Ken.
Me: Sigh.

(Update: I tried the Pigs in Blankets chips last night and they tasted remarkably and unfortunately just like hot dogs. Ugh. Cor blimey.)

My Week 215: Delusions Under Which I Suffer

When I was very little, I had a painful type of eczema on my hands called dyshidrosis. For some reason, the doctor became convinced that I was allergic to chocolate and oranges. This, of course, was patently untrue, as it turns out the causes of dyshidrosis are linked to seasonal allergies and stress. Go figure. But nobody knew that 50 years ago and as a result, I wasn’t allowed to eat chocolate or oranges for years in the hope that my hands would stop looking and feeling like they’d been stung by a thousand angry bees. I was OK with the chocolate, never really having had a sweet tooth. Oranges were a different matter though—I loved the tangy sweet taste of oranges, tangerines, and clementines, and I longed to be able to eat them. In my child’s mind, I coped with the deprivation by convincing myself that things that LOOKED orange actually tasted like oranges. I realized this about myself on Thursday, as I sat in my office, carefully separating a roll of Rockets into various colours and saving the orange ones for last.

Colleague: What are you doing?
Me: I like to eat the orange ones last. They taste the best.
Colleague: Rockets all taste the same, no matter what colour they are.
Me: No they don’t. F*ck off.

OK, I only said that last part in my head, because a) I like my coworkers and would never swear AT them and b) deep down, I know my colleague is right. Orange rockets don’t actually taste like oranges. Neither do orange coloured Smarties, orange coloured lollipops, orange vitamins (unless they’re Vitamin C, and then they taste slightly tangy like citrus), or most other things that are made mostly of sugar and food colouring.

I know it’s different in the States, but I’m Canadian.

Yet this is a delusion under which I suffer. It’s so deeply entrenched that when I was a kid, I used to sneak baby aspirin because it was orange. If you’ve ever tasted plain aspirin, it’s sour and acidic. So is the baby kind, but I was convinced that’s how oranges tasted. Also, it was lucky that I wasn’t accident prone because I’m sure my blood was thinner than water thanks to all the aspirin.

Now that I’m an adult, I can eat all the damn oranges I want. But I don’t, because oranges are a f*cking pain in the ass to eat. First there’s the peel. Then there’s all that white sh*t UNDER the peel. Then you have to chew through all the other bits and try not to choke on the seeds to get to the orange-y part—you might as well just drink orange juice. Or eat orange Rockets.

But this whole experience made me realize that there are a lot of other things I believe that are absolutely not true, yet I persist in believing them.

1) If I’m having trouble getting something to load on my cellphone, I hold it higher up in the air, because that makes the signal stronger. And if that doesn’t immediately do the trick, I also shake it. Ken makes fun of me for doing it, but it works. Ken also makes fun of me for wearing UGG boots, so that goes to show you how much HE knows. They’re comfortable AND stylish, Ken, so keep your opinions to yourself.

2) I’m a great singer. In the car. Nowhere else. But man, alone in the car, I can totally rock anything on my IPod. I’m like Beyoncé, if Beyoncé was a middle-aged white woman who only sang in her car. And I don’t have to worry about taking my act on the road, because my act is ONLY on the road. If I sing anywhere else, or there are other people around, I sound terrible.

3) I can predict the future. On Friday at work, we were talking about what we were going to have for dinner, and I said, “Ken will want homemade pizzas” and then I got a BBM from Ken:­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­

I see pizza in our future…

I’m like The Amazing Kreskin if the Amazing Kreskin’s spouse was completely predictable and ALWAYS wanted homemade pizza for dinner. I should play the lottery more often.

4) I have many celebrity friends on Facebook. Obviously this guy is the REAL Justin Timberlake, who of course goes by a pseudonym and posts stuff like this:

It’s really Justin Timberlake. For sure.

You can see that he has lots of fans and is VERY busy. I’m also friends with Andrew Garfield, Mandy Moore, and a couple of the guys from The Walking Dead. Mandy Moore likes to post things like “Which character on this is us is youse guyses favourite?” I always assumed that Mandy Moore would be a little more articulate, but you know those Hollywood types. Andrew Garfield mostly just sends out Facebook Messenger messages with crying faces—I’m sure being famous is very lonely.  

5) Oil of Oregano can cure any kind of cold or virus. I know this is true because whenever I feel like I’m starting to come down with something, I take some Oil of Oregano and automatically feel like I might be dying, but then I drink some wine and feel better. Last month, I ran out so I bought a new bottle (of Oil of Oregano–I NEVER run out of wine), but when I took it, it tasted even more horrible than usual. I checked the label and guess what? It also had orange oil in it. Now I love the stuff.

I asked Titus if he had any favourite flavour:

Titus: Bacon, beef, fish, chicken, the hot chocolate powder inside of K cups, green beans, cauliflower, bouillon cubes,  cake, crackers, pie crust, white wine, the milk at the bottom of your cereal bowl, green peppers, red peppers, apple slices, strawberries…oh, and turkey. There’s probably some other stuff that I’ve forgotten.
Me: Oranges?
Titus: Don’t be gross.
Me: You fool.

My Week 103: Titus and the 5 Second Rule, Star Trek Predictability

Friday: The 5 second rule

5-second-rule

Part of the job at the secret agency where I work is to research weird and interesting stories. This week was a veritable cornucopia of bizarreness, mostly thanks to the American election campaign, where this week Trump said, among the many ridiculous things he says, that he now believes Obama is a US citizen (yes, Donald, Hawaii IS a part of the United States) and also that “they” should strip Hillary Clinton’s bodyguards’ sidearms and “see what happens”. (OK, is it just me or is this seriously illegal? I’m pretty sure that, under the law in Canada at least, if I posted on Facebook “Bob’s a liar and a crook. People should try to kill him”, I would be either arrested or sued. How does Trump get away with this sh*t? Are people, and especially the media, so distracted by the bread and circuses that they don’t see this as extremely unstable, lunatic behaviour? Yet, he still has a massive following, and if you really don’t believe that many of them fall into the “basket of deplorables” category that Clinton took so much flak for, then you haven’t read the comments section of ANY article on the US election that either dares to criticize Trump or praise Clinton. My rant is done.) Anyway, there was one article that really intrigued my work partners and me:

L: Did you read this? Apparently, the ‘5 second’ rule is now dead, according to Popular Science magazine. You should NEVER eat things that you’ve dropped on the floor. Apparently, bacteria can be attached to it in less than half a second.
M: Really? Doesn’t it depend on what the food is and where it lands?
Me: The carpet in here gets cleaned regularly…
L: Yuck!
Me: I mean, I wouldn’t eat something that had just dropped ANYWHERE. Like, if I dropped something on Yonge St., I would just leave it. And I’m not just talking about food. I mean, like a mitten, or anything.
M: Hahaha—no kidding!

So while we all agreed that you would just abandon anything that fell on the sidewalk in downtown Toronto (food, clothing, money, your grandma—pretty much everything), I was concerned about the ramifications of the article. If you’ve visited this site before, you’ll know that I have, on occasion, dropped a piece of popcorn into my scarf and proceeded to pick it out and eat it. And the other day, I dropped a Corn Pop on my kitchen floor, shrugged, then tossed it into the bowl with all the other “clean” Corn Pops. Did my ‘devil may care’ attitude mean I was in danger of contracting a deadly disease?

So when I got home last night, it was still on my mind, so much so that when I dropped a Swiss Chalet French fry on the floor and Titus swooped in, I stopped him.

Me: Whoa there! You can’t eat off the floor anymore. The 5 second rule is dead.
Titus: First of all, it’s the 5 DAY rule. Second of all, who says?
Me: Studies have shown that bacteria can attach itself to food before you have a chance to eat it.
Titus: What bacteria?! I licked that damn floor clean myself!
Me: Good to know. I will NEVER eat anything that I drop on it again.
Titus: Suit yourself. Now move your foot—I’m going in for that fry.

But I never worry about Titus. This is the same dog, if you remember, who ate a pound of grapes with no ill effects, and was caught chewing a dead deer jawbone that he ‘found’ in the backyard. I doubt very much if a little salmonella would slow him down—after all, he IS a Lab. It’s been scientifically proven that Labrador Retrievers have a genetic predisposition to eat until there’s nothing left. They have no shut-off valve, unlike all the other breeds of dog who will stop eating when they’re full and NOT think, “I feel like throwing up, but there’s more food!”

Case in point: Many years ago, Ken and I had a beautiful Golden Retriever named Byron. We got him because I was terrified of dogs. Now, that might not make much sense, but I was convinced that if we got a dog, I could learn to ‘read’ its signals and know when it was happy or angry, and thereby get over my phobia. So we got Byron. He was 6 and looked like a huge teddy bear (his original name was ACTUALLY “Bear” but we changed it on the premise that I would never get over my fear of dogs if he was named after something I was even more afraid of). Byron had belonged to a family who had no time for him—they both worked, had three kids, and lived in a small semi-detached home with the woman’s elderly mother—it was a tough situation for everyone, and to their credit, they decided to give him away to people who could take better care of him. He was a wonderful, laidback dog in every way, except that he HATED other dogs. It wasn’t his fault—the people who’d owned him previously had never taken him anywhere or walked him—he just stayed in their backyard 24/7 so he’d never learned how to socialize. But that was fine with us—he loved people, so we just made sure we kept him on a leash when he came out with us. We took him all over, but his favourite trip was to the drive through at McDonald’s. We’d order him a large water and a small fry, and we’d all eat in the car. But Byron didn’t have a big appetite aside from fast food—we’d fill his bowl food every morning from a red cup that we had and he’d pick away at it all day. Sometimes he finished it; sometimes not.

img_2933Byron

Eventually, Byron passed away at the ripe old age of 15, which broke our hearts, but we’d had 9 awesome years with him, and thanks to him, I’d completely gotten over my fear of dogs. A few weeks later, we got Saxon, a 3 year-old female Yellow Lab, from a family who was moving to England and couldn’t take her with them. The first day we had her, I got out Byron’s red food cup and filled her bowl. She ate it right away, then looked at me expectantly. So I gave her another cupful. At dinner time, we gave her another, then another right before bed. After about a week of this, we realized she was getting very chunky. So I called the vet to find out exactly how much we should be feeding her. “For her size, about a cup and a half per day,” he said. “How much food fits in that cup you’re using?” So I measured it—the red cup held TWO CUPS of food. We’d been feeding her about 6 cups of kibble every day. And she was happily eating it, the same way she happily ate an entire 3 pound bag of dog food one afternoon when we were out grocery shopping and forgot to shut the cupboard door. When we got back, she was waddling around and looked pregnant, but it didn’t last for long—she couldn’t digest it all and her “food baby” made its reappearance a few hours later. And I don’t think my mother-in-law ever forgave her for eating all the tops off a dozen banana muffins that she’d made from scratch and left on the counter to cool. She was sitting only about 10 feet away and never heard a thing—Saxon was like a ninja when it came to stealth eating. Aside from the food fixation, she was an all-around amazing dog, who agreed to go out in the morning and get the newspaper for us in exchange for cookies and who loved to play hide and seek. But like all other beloved pets, she too eventually passed away at the age of 14 a couple of years ago, which brings us back to Titus, our monster dog. Just over 100 pounds, and standing 28 inches high at the shoulder, he’s goofy and sweet and completely obsessed with food. And alcohol. In fact, at this very moment, he’s staring at the spot where I just spilled some wine through the baby gate that I have up to prevent Raven from coming into my office and peeing on the rug ( and that’s a whole other story).

Titus: Um…you know there’s wine on the floor, right?
Me: Yes. You made me spill it when I was trying to climb over you AND the baby gate.
Titus: Are you going to wipe it up? Or would you like me to come in and lick the floor clean for you? I don’t mind.
Me: You’re not allowed to lick the floor. We discussed this. You’re also not allowed to have any wine. It’s bad for you.
Titus: Says the woman on her second glass of Pinot Grigio. C’mon—just a little taste.
Me: I don’t start drooling like a maniac if someone gives me “just a little taste”.
Titus: I can’t help it if I have a sensitive palate.
Me: If you really had a “sensitive palate”, you wouldn’t spend so much time trying to eat out of Raven’s litter box.
Titus: But the little kitty treats are so crunchy and good…

Bottom line is that I’ve changed my attitude and after my enlightening conversation with Titus will no longer be using the 5 second rule to determine whether or not I can still eat a carrot that I dropped on the kitchen floor. Unless I’m going to boil it first.

Saturday: Star Trek is becoming predictable.

K and I have been working our way through the Star Trek pantheon on Netflix, and we’ve made it to Star Trek: Voyager, starring the gravelly-voiced Kate Mulgrew. In this version of Star Trek, the ship and its crew has been tossed into the “Delta Quadrant” by an alien known as “Caretaker”. They’re over 77 000 light years away from the Alpha Quadrant, where Earth is, and it’s going to take them approximagely 70 years to make it back. But instead of just going to Warp 9, and hightailing it, they spend their time cruising through the Delta Quadrant at impulse speed, just looking for trouble, and delaying their return home every week. We both really enjoy watching the show, but after a while we’ve come to realize that the writers have pretty much given up, and that each episode has become a little predictable.

Scenario 1: What could it be?

Mr. Kim: Captain, I’m detecting something ten thousand kilometres off the starboard bow.
K: It’s a nebula.
Me: It’s a subspace anomaly.
K: It’s a rift in the time/space continuum.
Captain: It looks like some sort of anomaly.
K: Don’t go any closer.
Captain: Mr. Paris, take us closer.
Me: You’re going to get pulled in.
Mr. Paris: Captain, we’re getting pulled in!
All of us: Reverse thrusters!! It’s not working!!

Scenario 2: Encounters with Aliens

Mr. Tuvok: Captain, I’m detecting an alien vessel ahead.
Me: Check for life signs.
Captain: Any life signs, Mr. Tuvok?
K: Back away before hailing them. They’re probably hostile.
Mr. Tuvok: Yes, Captain—one alien life sign.
Captain: Hail them, Mr. Kim.
Me: They won’t answer. Put your damn shields up.
Mr. Kim: There’s no response, Captain.
Mr. Paris: They’re firing on us!
K: I wonder which one of the completely ineffective “evasive maneuvers” she’ll ask for? Oh—Janeway Beta 3. Good choice but it won’t work.
Me: Can’t they just transport the alien directly to the main bridge?
K: Not if his shields are up—are OUR shields up?
Mr. Paris: Captain, evasive maneuvers aren’t working!
Mr. Tuvok: Shields are down to 67%.
K: There you go.
Me: Just fire the damn photon torpedoes.
Captain: Fire the photon torpedoes!
Mr. Paris: Direct hit. His shields are down.
Captain: Transport him directly to the main bridge.
Me: He’s gonna have crazy hair and be really pissed off.
Alien: How dare you—!
K: Is that papier mache or salami on his head?

Scenario 3: Coming back from an Away Mission

Captain: Well, Mr. Chakotay, that was certainly an interesting Away Mission but I can’t wait to get back to Voyager.
K: Voyager is gone.
Mr. Chakotay: Captain, Voyager is not at the rendezvous location.
Me: Scan for a warp signature. They’re around somewhere.
Captain: Scan for a warp signature, Mr. Chakotay. They must be close by.
Mr. Chakotay: Detecting a faint warp trail, 1 million kilometres from here.
K: The ship’s been hijacked by either the Viidians or the Kazon.
Mr. Chakotay: Captain, I’m detecting alien life signs on board.
Captain: Is it the Viidians or the Kazon?
Mr. Chakotay: Neither.
Us: Oooh, this could be good.
K: Secretly transport on board and use the Jeffries tubes to sneak around and take back the ship.
Captain: Get us within transport range, Mr. Chakotay. I have a plan…

Scenario 4: Is it the end?

K: Should we believe that guy when he says he’ll help Voyager get home in exchange for trilithium crystals?
Me: No. It’s like Gilligan’s Island. Or Lost. No one goes home until the last episode of the last season, and we have 3 more seasons to go.
Captain: I can’t believe we were taken in by that dishonest Ferengi. Wait–is that a mysterious nebula I see up ahead?
Us: 3 more seasons! Yay!!

My Week 98: Iceland FAQs

Iceland FAQs

waterfall2

Ken, K, and I have just arrived home from Iceland. K really wanted to go back to Spain and practice her Spanish, but Ken and I were interested in a new experience. We were able to compromise, thanks to Air Iceland’s ploy to lure tourists into their country. They offer really cheap flights to Europe on the condition that you stop over in Iceland on the way there and back. This sounded like a great deal, and it satisfied everyone’s desires. So we were in Iceland for four days, then Spain for three days, then back to Iceland again for three more days. But Iceland has only recently become a major tourist destination, and if you’re like me, you probably don’t know a lot about it. It’s definitely a unique experience, but there were some questions I would have LOVED to know the answer to before we went. Therefore, I’ve decided to create a list of Frequently Asked Questions, a primer, if you will, to the Icelandic experience. Or at least from my own perspective.

First, let me say that we really liked a lot of things about Iceland. It’s very different from just about anywhere else, which is part of its charm. It’s visually stunning, and incredibly clean. You can drive around the whole island very easily, stopping just about anywhere to enjoy the gorgeous landscape. But it’s also a very quirky place, and if you plan to travel there, you definitely need to be aware of a few things. So here’s the list of questions that I would have wanted answered BEFORE we arrived:

1) OMG, should the water smell like that?!

We arrived from the airport around 11 pm, rented our car, and drove to the apartment we had booked through AirBNB. Bjorn, the owner, had left a key for us in a lockbox outside the apartment door. It was a really nice little place and we were relieved, because you never know when you’re booking things relatively sight unseen. It was late, and all we wanted to do was go to bed, so we’d be rested up for the next few days’ adventures. Ken went in the bathroom first to brush his teeth. When he came out, he said, “The water smells a little different.” I was like, “How different?” and he said, “Kind of like sulphur, but it’s not too bad.” Then I went into the bathroom and started running the hot water to wash my face. Suddenly, I was standing at the gates of the deepest part of hell, breathing in acrid fumes that smelled like someone had put a dozen hardboiled eggs in an airtight box and left them out in the hot sun. I called out to Ken, “I thought you said it wasn’t THAT bad! I’m dying here!!” Turns out the Iceland sits on top of a sh*tload of naturally scalding hotsprings which supplies 85% of the island with geothermic energy and hot water. The only downside is that it reeks. It clings to your skin for a good ten minutes after you shower, and it fills the air with what can only be described as “farts of death”. But it’s only the hot water—the cold water is just fine, and you can drink it straight from the tap. It tastes terrific and not like demonwater at all. But we didn’t know this at first, and we were really scared that there was a sewer line break or something, and that we’d end up with Icelandic dysentery. When we met our host the next morning, it was the first thing we asked him, and he explained that it was perfectly healthy and safe, finishing with, “You get used to the smell.” And it’s true—you do. In fact, it becomes kind of comforting and homey, like when your dog farts and you just look at him affectionately and say, “Oh Bowser, you’re so smelly, but I love you.” Plus, it might be nasty, but apparently the minerals in it are really good for your skin. Icelanders are EXTREMEMLY proud of their stinkwater and the best part is if YOU fart, you can blame it on the water, not the dog. Because your dog will NEVER smell that bad. It’s not everywhere you go though—some of the hotels must filter it out, which would account for the incredible cost (see question 3).

2) Will I be able to eat the food?

Well that depends on how hungry you are. Icelandic food is a little different. I don’t mean different like a little more spicy, or in a “using mayonnaise instead of ketchup on your fries” kind of way—I mean “pickled ram’s testicle” kind of different. I’m not a picky eater, but I have two problems that plague me when I travel: I can’t eat gluten (I have arthritis and it makes my joints swell) and I’m allergic to shellfish (I carry an epipen for that one). So any foreign country can pose a challenge, but I can usually find SOMETHING to eat. Iceland made it a little harder because not only do they have a LOT of seafood and bread on their menus, they feel compelled to weird it up. We finally found a restaurant in Reyjkavik called “Kol” where the menu had a couple of relatively straightforward items on it, and they brought warm bread up first for Ken and K. It came with some kind of spread, which was bright red and looked like pureed strawberries. Ken tried it and said, “It’s slightly sweet—try it and see if you can figure out what’s in it.” I thought it was supersalty and strange, then I got worried that maybe it had squid blood or something in it, so we asked the waitress. It was beet hummus. Why would anyone ruin perfectly good hummus by putting beets in it?! Maybe you like beets, but if you want to know how I feel about it, read My Week 48: Deathly Beets, and you’ll understand. And it’s not enough to serve your run-of-the-mill fish and meat. No, the Icelandic specialty is Minke Whale. I’m already unhappy enough that I’m not a vegetarian (screw you, bacon), but there’s no way I’m eating something that can carry on an actual conversation with another member of its species and is probably smarter than I am. Plus, don’t forget that I swam with dolphins last year, so I’m almost one of them. It would be like cannibalism.

But my favourite item had to be “Salted Cod and Deep Fried Cod Cheeks with Couscous, Carrot, Cumin, and Mussel.” Seriously, how many different aquatic forms of life do you need in ONE dish? And Cod Cheek? WTF is that? Do cods even HAVE cheeks? Wouldn’t they be really tiny and not even worth deepfrying? I know there are lots of people out there who LOVE eating talking animals, freaky vegetables, and baby sheep, and if so, then Iceland is the place for you. You weirdos. But if not, then there ARE restaurants that cater to the more timid among us, Our last night there, for example, we went to an awesome Thai place and the Massaman Chicken (yellow curry), Spring Rolls and Pineapple Fried Rice were fantastic.

Side note 1: Make sure you specify that you want your food cooked all the way through. Icelanders like to eat their fish “medium rare” and their beef while it’s still mooing. As we discovered.

Side note 2: Iceland is also supposed to be known for its fantastic hot dogs. I don’t know where this mythology developed or why. All I know is that we were all dying to try one, and when we did, they were simply pre-packaged boiled hotdogs, like any other storebought hotdog. Except they tasted kind of plastic-y. Oh well. They only cost $15 each (see question 3).

3) If I find something to eat, and it’s cooked properly, will I be able to afford it?

That depends. Did you win the lottery last week? Be warned—Iceland is unbelievably expensive, especially compared to Spain, which is often cheaper than Canada. At Kol, we had three main courses (two salmon, one steak), one glass of wine, one beer, and one milkshake. It totalled out at the equivalent of over $200 American. No appetizers—the asparagus spears that I wanted were $30—and no dessert. (Well, we got dessert but it was free to make up for the double recooking of my steak, which I had asked for to be cooked “medium” but kept being served bloody; dessert would have cost us another $60 otherwise). In comparison, on our last night in Seville, Ken and K each had homemade 14” pizzas, I had poutine with bacon and cheese, and we had wine and beer. The whole meal was not quite $25. Which is exactly what I paid for lunch at a cafeteria in Iceland which consisted of 5 meatballs, a scoop of rice, and a side of sweet potato cubes. Even the grocery stores are expensive when it comes to certain items. A block of regular cheese can run you 25 00 Krona (the Icelandic currency which makes you THINK you’re getting a lot for your money because of all the extra zeroes), which is just about $25, and a small bottle of Pepsi can run around 4 bucks depending where you are. Which just goes to show that it’s not about ripping off tourists—the cost of living there is just really high for EVERYONE.

And hotels? It’s enough to make you cry. One night’s stay at the Radisson in Reykjavik cost us $500 for a room that you might find in a Motel 6. It was the same amount that we paid for 3 nights in Spain for the three of us, or the same as one night in the most luxurious hotel in Canada. Check out Langdon Hall for a comparison. Our “hotel” near Hella was even worse. It took 43 km. on a gravel road to get to it, and when we arrived, there were three single cots; there was no TV, no wifi in the rooms, and no soap for the shower. I wouldn’t have cared if we weren’t expecting more for the price, but it was $425 for the night, and dinner at the restaurant there was $225 for three entrees, drinks, and two pieces of chocolate cake. A word to the wise—use AirBNB whenever you can, because it’s a lot cheaper than the hotels, and make sure your accommodation comes with a kitchen so you can cook your own meals and save a little that way.

hotel

4) Do Icelanders like tourists?

They seem to. But this tourism thing is pretty new to them, and they always seem slightly bemused by foreigners. It’s not obnoxious or mocking—it’s kind of charming, like they’re not entirely sure what to do with tourists, instead of taking advantage of us like other countries do. For example, most tourist attractions are free, and there are relatively few souvenir shops. The people are polite and pleasant, and almost everyone speaks English really well; in fact, they learn it in school. We were at a restaurant seated next to two elderly gentlemen—when they heard us talking, they struck up a conversation in almost fluent English with us. As Canadians, we felt very comfortable in a country that seems as friendly and polite as our own.

5) Will I have a good time?

Yes. If you appreciate beautiful scenery, unique geographic elements, and interesting things to do, then you absolutely will. It’s an amazing country. Even though I’m 50 years old and was still in recovery mode from surgery, I found myself compelled to clamber over rocks to walk behind waterfalls, hike for kilometres to touch a glacier, watch in amazement at geysers exploding (then run away when we realized the hot water was about to rain down on us), and make my way through lava fields just to touch the crystal clear water of a rushing stream. It’s a great country, and we now know how to explore it the next time without having to take out a second mortgage.

Now, here are some questions that are more particular to me:

5) Is there always that one guy who has to smoke?

Yes. You will find him at every tourist stop, standing in nature’s pristine beauty, blowing smoke into the crisp, clean air, then throwing his cigarette butt on the ground. He comes in all nationalities, shapes, and sizes, and he will annoy the hell out of you with his inability to get out of his car and NOT immediately light up.

6) If I go to a swimming pool, will someone steal my towel?

Yes. Believe it or not. This happened to us at the Blue Lagoon, the most popular tourist spot in Iceland. It’s a giant hot spring where the water is bright blue. It’s one of the few places we had to pay to visit and like everything else in Iceland, it was very expensive. The regular admission was $50 Euros (about $73) but we chose the “Comfort Package” for $75 Euros each (about $108), because it came with a rented towel. You couldn’t take your towels beyond the entry, where they had hooks and racks for them, but when we came out of the lagoon , both K’s and my towels were gone. Yes, someone jacked our $35 rented f*cking towels. The same thing happened to my brother at a public pool in Reykjavik. They had their OWN towels, and when they came out of the pool, they were all gone. He complained to the attendant, who just shrugged and said, “Yes, that happens a lot.” So maybe it’s better, and cheaper, to drip dry. Otherwise, I highly recommend the Blue Lagoon, which is superwarm and not too deep. They also give you silica mud to put on your face, and K used it to create a mustache, beard, and monocle, which made me laugh insanely, despite the theft of the towels.

7) What about those Icelandic men?

Every time we saw a guy wandering around, half-smiling and looking a little lost, you could bet he was Icelandic. A lot of men in Iceland seem perpetually baffled. By what, we were never sure, but it became a running joke with us. It started at the airport with an Icelandic man who wanted to bring two loose lacrosse sticks onto the plane with him, and seemed very confused when he was told he couldn’t. The female clerk gave him tape to wrap around them, and it took his whole family almost ten minutes to help him do it. From the airport to the city centres to the countryside, there were men who just randomly wandered around looking perplexed and a little helpless. Maybe in the same way that some women are said to have a “resting mean face”, Icelandic men have a resting “why am I here?” face. At any rate, they’re all very nice. Even if they don’t know where they are. You might not believe me about this, so go there and see for yourself. You’ll love it—if you can afford it.

NB: I didn’t say anything about Spain. Spain was as great as always, except hotter. If you want to know about Spain, you can read My Week 45: Adventures in Spain. It hasn’t changed:-)

 

My Week 84: Titus and the Magic Box, Oral Stories and The RARE Slit Barn

Sunday: Titus and the Magic Box

About 3 months ago, out of the blue, Titus got really sick. Mountains of sick, all over the house—he’s a giant dog, so you can only imagine the level of destruction AND the level of my anxiety over the situation, considering the hygiene issues I have. Plus, I was alone. Under normal circumstances, I would pretend to be superbusy making dinner until Ken cleaned up the mess, but he was still at work, so I had no choice—I threw the dirty rugs outside and started the process of restoring order, and cleanliness back to my house. As I was trying not to silently scream and curse Ken’s name for not taking the day off with me, I considered what might have been the cause of the monster dog’s intestinal disarray. The month before, he had eaten a pound of grapes out of a bowl on the counter. Grapes are, apparently, highly toxic to dogs, and by the time we realized what he’d done, it was too late to do anything about it but wait for the worst. I googled “signs of kidney failure in asshole dogs”; I got a lot of hits regarding “anal glands” and “rectum issues”, so no help there. Thanks for being so f*cking LITERAL Google. (I actually just googled “Why is my dog an asshole?” and got about 1000 hits—I guess it’s important to be really specific with your Google requests). Anyway, after three days, we realized he was going to survive the grape incident with absolutely no ill effects, just as he had survived eating copious amounts of chocolate which he had stolen from my suitcase, 23 bouillon cubes and their boxes, an entire box of K-cups including most of the tinfoil covers, a complete basil beef stirfry dinner right out of the frypan while we weren’t looking, several bags of garbage, and other miscellaneous things that would send most dogs to the vet for a stomach pumping.

So there I was, cleaning up dog puke and trying to figure out what the hell could have caused him to be this sick. Of course, HE was clueless as usual—when I asked him, he just shrugged and said, “How would I know? I eat so much crap behind your back, it could have been anything.” When Ken got home, we wracked our brains. Finally, Ken said, “Honestly, the only change in his diet is that I’ve been giving him these Milk Bone dog biscuit treats when we get back from a walk for the last week.”

“Interesting,” I replied, “because it actually looked like a week’s worth of Milk Bones. You know Milk Bones are full of filler, right? You remember he’s on a grain-free diet, right?” And why is our canine garbage disposal on a grain-free diet? Not because we’re new-agey, organic-loving weirdos. We’re not. It’s because he has allergies, and the people who gave him to us (FOR FREE—are you surprised?) thought that gluten might be triggering his allergies. And while maybe we’ll never know if that’s true or not, it’s certainly apparent that a lot of gluten makes him violently ill.

Mystery solved. But now, of course, I was worried about a repeat incident. He really likes getting treats, and despite his shortcomings, he actually deserves a cookie once in a while, like when strangers come to the door, and he plants himself at my feet, stares at them semi-menacingly and refuses to budge until they’re gone. So I decided to research “home-made dog treats”. I found a great recipe with a few simple ingredients, and set about making them. The recipe called for you to roll the dough out, then use cute cookie cutters to make fancy little shapes, but it’s a hell of a lot easier and faster to scoop out little balls, flatten them with your hands, then toss them onto a cookie sheet. Martha Stewart, I’m not. And of course Titus, being the clever and food-obsessed animal he is, very quickly learned which ingredients constituted cookie baking time. The second he sees the natural peanut butter jar come out of the refrigerator, he comes running and freaking out.

Titus: Oh my God! You’re making cookies, aren’t you?!
Me: Sigh. Yes. Like I do EVERY Sunday.
Titus: This is the best day ever! I’m just going to lie here, OK?
Me: So long as you don’t drool on my feet like last time.
Titus: I’m not promising anything.

Half an hour later:

Me: What are you doing?
Titus: Waiting for the cookies to come out of the magic box.
Me: You mean the oven?
Titus: Call it what you want. Technically, it’s the “medium-sized” magic box. The “large magic box” is where you keep all the delicious luncheon meats and cheeses.
Me: None of this is actually magic. It’s all based on science.
Titus: Well, how does “the oven” work then?
Me: Well…you push this button, and it gets hot. Then you put uncooked food in it, and it cooks the food for you…
Titus (whispers): Magic.
Raven (walking by): It’s a chemical reaction, you idiots. Try Googling it.
Titus: Cat, you will pay for your heresy—hey, the timer just went off! Get the cookies out before the fairies eat them!!

titus waiting for cookies

(Just for the record, in case anyone is interest, here’s the recipe for the magical cookies: 1 mashed banana, 1 egg, 3 tablespoons of natural peanut butter, and around 1 and a half cups of either coconut flour or chickpea flour—or more, depending on how sticky it still is. Mix it all up, roll into little balls, flatten them on a cookie sheet sprayed with that aerosol oil, and cook for 30 minutes at 325 degrees Fahrenheit. He hasn’t puked since. Thank you, magic box.)

Wednesday: I am sh*tty at telling stories. And listening to them.

On Wednesday, I was invited to a party with people I didn’t know. Well, I knew the hostess, which is how I got the invite, but no one else. I’m not really comfortable in social situations, so I was a little apprehensive. But they were very nice people, very friendly and all, and as the party, and the drinking, progressed, someone suggested that we should all tell a story about our most embarrassing moment in the classroom. I’m not currently a classroom teacher, but I WAS for over 20 years, and in all that time, I had very few embarrassing moments that I can recall. And I was UNDER PRESSURE to produce. People were telling these hilarious anecdotes about wardrobe malfunctions, accidently telling off-colour jokes, and incidents with parents. Me, I was scrambling, and the only thing I could think of was the story that I told in my very first blog (My Week 1: Marijuana and Febreeze) about the time I insinuated to my students that they might have more fun if they smoked pot like Justin Trudeau instead of being so uptight like Stephen Harper. So with all eyes on me, I launched into my tale. It took me 15 seconds, I left out most of the backstory, and there was no punchline. I think I ended with, “So marijuana. It was pretty embarrassing,” and everyone smiled politely. But the problem is, I can’t tell a story orally to save my life–I lose the thread and I get distracted when all eyes are on me. In fact, not too long ago, a relative said to me, “You know, we all just love your blog—it’s so hilarious and well-written. But we all agreed that it’s weird, because in person, you’re just not that funny.”

And it’s true. I’m also really sh*tty at listening to stories sometimes, because I have random thoughts that get in the way. I have family members who get really frustrated when people (ie: me) interrupt them to ask questions, or clarify a point, and they will sometimes just give up (ie: scream “Oh for God’s sake, never mind!). Luckily, Ken is used to this, and has no storytelling ego. He will just patiently address my thoughts and questions, then get back to his story. For example, on the way home last night:

Ken: …and then we all went to the RARE Slit Barn—
Me: Is that a STRIP CLUB?!
Ken: No, it’s a nature preserve funded by a charity called RARE. A slit barn has vertical slits in it for ventilation—
Me: Ha! It SOUNDS like an exclusive strip club, like “Then we all went to the Rare Slit Barn, had a drink and a lap dance…
Ken: So anyway, they had students there who were training as interpreters—
Me: What, like for sign language? Was everyone hearing impaired? I’d love to learn sign language…
Ken: No, NATURE interpreters. To teach other people about the nature preserve—
Me: That would ALSO be a great name for a strip club: The Nature Preserve…
Ken: It was incredible how professional the students were. Everyone learned a lot.
Me: Slit Barn. That’s awesome.
Ken: Sigh.

 

My Week 80: Thing That Are Like Other Things, The Serial Killer Upstairs Strikes Again

Monday: I ponder things that are like other things

On Monday, I was really excited, because I’d gone to the drug store and discovered that a particular vitamin company was now making “gummy” vitamins. They’re multi-coloured, and taste just like gummy bears, and I thought, “This is the best of all possible worlds. The first thing I get to do when I get up in the morning, even BEFORE I eat my Corn Pops, is have some candy. And it’s all perfectly healthy!”  I NEVER used to take vitamins before, on the grounds that they tasted bad (except for Vitamin C tablets, which taste like oranges, or just like the baby aspirin they had when I was a kid. I used to sneak baby aspirin every so often because they were so delicious–I could fall off my bike and bleed half to death because my blood was so thin, but it didn’t hurt at all), and I didn’t really care about thiamine or niacin or dioxin or whatever. But now, I take them every day because it’s so much fun.

And it got me thinking about a) other things that are like things that would make me happy, and b) things that SHOULD be like other things. So here is my list:

1) If you’ve ever flown, you know that your seat cushion turns into a flotation device. Which begs the question (which I think I heard first from Jerry Seinfeld) ‘why doesn’t the plane just turn into a cruiseship if it lands in the water?’ I know this is totally possible, because my first favourite thing which is like another thing is a bus that turns into a boat. We went on a bus tour in Ottawa a few years ago, and after we’d driven around for a while looking at the Parliament buildings and such, the driver suddenly announced that we would also be cruising the harbour. Then we drove down a ramp, straight into the river. I was totally freaking, but Ken was like, “Don’t worry–the wheels turn into propellers and there’s a ring underneath that inflates.” I responded very calmly with “F*ck off, you liar! We’re going to drown!” and Ken said, “They ADVERTISED this. Why are you acting all surprised? Don’t you remember?”, but I reminded HIM that first, I thought they meant we would get OFF the bus and get ON a boat, and second, I may or may not have been drinking the previous evening when he pulled out the brochure and was waving it around, saying, “This will be fun.” And you know what? Once I got used to the idea that my bus was now a boat, and the bus driver was now a sea captain, I really enjoyed the whole experience. K, of course, remained calm throughout the whole experience. Or maybe she was bored. Mainly because the tour consisted of just looking at buildings. But still, the bus-boat was very cool.

2) Canes that become swords. Okay, technically, they don’t BECOME swords, they just have swords in them. But it would be awesome to be hobbling around, all decrepit-like, then suddenly whip out that sword like a superspy when the need arose. I also love canes that double as flasks for alcohol, because who DOESN’T want to crack that bad boy open when no one’s looking? It would have made my bus-boat trip a hell of a lot more interesting, that’s for sure.

3) Sporks. This is two handy things in one–a spoon and a fork. Take it one step further by sharpening the plastic up, and you have a sprorfe, a spoon, fork, and knife, which I just invented. Actually, this might have been invented first by a prisoner, who stole a spoon from the canteen and turned it into a weapon to shank his cellmate with first, then eat the guy’s pie and ice cream after. Criminals value their dessert, am I right?

Okay, so I’ve listed some things that are already other things, so here are some ideas about things that I WISH were other things:

1) Protein shakes that taste like Bailey’s Irish Cream. Wait, does Bailey’s actually have any protein in it? If so, we could just cut out the middle man, drink the Bailey’s, and then go work out. Many years ago, I had a recumbent cycle, and I used to pour a big glass of wine, turn on the TV, and cycle for a few kilometres. It was like hardly exercising AT ALL, and I broke even on the calories.

2) A small TV that looks like a book. This is so all those stupid Facebook memes about “positive people versus negative people” will stop judging me. How is watching TV one of the characteristics of a negative person? Unless all you watch is Criminal Minds, the Republican Debates, and Two and a Half Men? Me, I like my PBS, which is essentially the same as reading a book, only without the eye strain. Plus, I put on the closed captioning, so I AM reading. Suck it, Facebook.

3) A pen with a Tide White Stick on the other end. This is great for people like me, who are fairly clumsy and wave pens around for emphasis, inevitably getting ink on their clothes. But see, with my invention, all you’d have to do is flip the thing around, erase that blob, and you’re good to go.

4) A laptop that repels mosquitoes. A long time ago, Ken had an Ipad cover that smelled like black licorice. Whenever I wanted candy, I’d just smell it and my craving would be over (of course, NOW I just eat vitamins). Why can’t laptop companies create a lid that’s injected with citronella? That way, you could surf the net outside in the summer, and not swell up from bites or die from absorbing DEET into your skin. Can you hear me, Apple?  Who wouldn’t want to buy shares in that sh*t?

Ultimately, I am the QUEEN of multi-tasking. Whether it’s eating, drinking, working out, or just relaxing, I’ve got an app for that.

Tuesday: The serial killer upstairs strikes again

So if you read my essays on a regular basis, you’ll remember that I’ve had an ongoing issue with the person who lives above me in Toronto. He likes to hammer. Not like MC Hammer, which would be fun and cool and very ‘pantsy’–he likes to hammer things in his condo. I’m convinced that he’s building a secret room in his unit to stash his victims until he bores of them. The last time he was hammering, the concierge stupidly told him that I’d complained about it, and he came to my door to “negotiate a schedule”. He claimed he was “laying a floor”, and I apologize for the copious use of quotation marks, but I had trouble believing him, since he’d been making these types of noises for a long time, and I’d complained on three separate occasions. Let me just say, for the record, that my building is pretty sound-proof; I never hear anything from the units around me, so he must be really going to town for it to even register down in my unit. Anyway, the other night, he woke me up around 4:15, hammering sporadically until 7:00 am. I’d like to emphasize that these condos are barely above 600 square feet in dimension, so how many f*cking renovations do you need to do, d**chebag? And if you’re that bored at 4 in the morning, you could watch TV, or pleasure yourself. Or pleasure yourself while you watch TV, if you have those ‘special channels’. At any rate, the next day, I called the building manager and left a message. I’m terrible at voice messages, and I left something that was very lengthy and convoluted, and in retrospect, probably sounded a little diva-ish, so I ran it by my work partner:

Me: I called the building manager and left a message.
L: What did you say?
Me: Well, I just explained the situation. But I said the guy “seemed to have a penchant for nocturnal home renovations”.
L: Oh my god, did you actually say, “a penchant for nocturnal home renovations”?
Me: I know, right? I got flustered, and it just slipped out.
L: How does THAT just slip out?
Me: My brain’s on overdrive. I’m really tired from all the f*cking hammering.
L: You should have just said THAT.

The next morning though, I got an email from Colette, the manager, telling me that she’d sent the guy a “Notice of Noise Violation Letter”. Then I got worried, because he’s going to know it was me. But Ken installed a chain lock on my condo door the last time he was here, and just because I’m Canadian doesn’t mean I have to open the door in the first place if he shows up again. I can just pretend I’m not home. And it’s been pretty quiet since then, which I hope doesn’t mean he’s laying in wait for me in the parking garage. If anything happens to me, you’ll know who to look for first.

My Week 78: I’m Not an Intellectual, Another Haunted Bathroom

Tuesday: I am NOT an intellectual

On Tuesday morning, I discovered, to my horror, that I had made a mistake. It wasn’t an unfixable mistake, and I’d caught it before it caused a problem, but still, it was a mistake. I pride myself on being very meticulous and careful, and it made me feel suddenly like I didn’t know my own mind anymore. Two of my wonderful colleagues saw that I was upset, and comforted me. “It’s happened to all of us,” said one. “You should feel good that you found it before it was too late.” “Come for sushi with us,” said the other. “It will make you feel better.” Oh, the irony. So we went to a local sushi place, them so that they could keep discussing a meeting they’d been to that morning, and me so that I could drown my sorrows in teriyaki and seaweed. I should tell you right up front that I have a severe shellfish allergy, so when I ordered, I asked for the vegetarian rolls with my chicken instead of the California rolls. “You know it’s not real crab in the California rolls, right?” said one colleague. “Real crab is too expensive—it’s probably hake.” Well, I didn’t know what that was either, and I wasn’t willing to risk my epipen finding out, although both of the other women jokingly thought it might be a fun experiment. Then, while we waited for the food, they began debating. Both women have Ph.Ds, so right away, I was feeling a little intimidated by their knowledge and experience, having only two Bachelor’s degrees and an incomplete M.A., so I stayed quiet. Then the food came, and I discovered to my horror, for the second time that day, that I had made a mistake, because the vegetarian rolls contained not only cucumber, but also avocado. WTF, Sushi Star?! I know that some people “like” eating avocado, in the same way I imagine that some people “like” natural childbirth—which is to say, it’s a totally masochistic thing to do, and there’s no medal waiting for you when you’re finished, although you think you deserve one. (This, of course, is just my opinion. If you can have a baby without drugs, or eat avocado without gagging, then go for it. Just don’t be all braggy and sh*t.) Anyway, I decided to try one roll, just to see if I could stomach it. The answer was a clear NO. And just in case you think this is just me being bizarre, here’s a link to an article that I found called “20 Pieces of Proof That Avocadoes are the Worst and Should Be Stopped”

(http://www.cosmopolitan.co.uk/entertainment/a38880/20-reasons-avocados-worst/)

Let me remind you at this point that the conversation was still swirling around me—I believe the topic at this point was “how do we really define homogeny?” But I can’t be sure, because I was more focused on how to get the avocado out of the next sushi roll without the whole thing falling apart. I tried poking it out with my chopstick, but the damn stuff was so soft that my chopstick just went right through. And then I had the secondary issue of having avocado-slime-covered chopsticks, and I had to scrape the green paste off against the side of the bento box. I couldn’t just bang it out of the roll, so finally, I resorted to trying to push it out with my finger. Which only resulted in getting avocado all over my fingers, and my sushi rolls falling apart into a heap. So there I was, up to my elbows in pasty, slimy avocado. Obviously, this was the moment I decided that it would be a good time to engage in the conversation, which had turned to “Name one country that is truly homogeneous.” Distracted by my predicament, staring at my hands and wondering where the napkins were hiding, I blurted out “China.” The conversation stopped dead. My two colleagues turned to look at me, probably for the first time since the whole avocado debacle had begun. “What?” said one. “There are at least 14 different dialects spoken across 8 distinct regions of China!” (I’m making those numbers up—I was still too distracted by my predicament to really pay attention). The lecture on Chinese culture continued, and I was beginning to regret my sad, Dormouse-like contribution when the other woman countered, “No, she’s absolutely right. This adds a whole other layer to the issue–how do we differentiate between the political will to create the perception of homogeny, and true diversity?” and in my head, I was like “Hell Yeah! I win, stupid avocado!” Apparently, they were so embroiled in the debate that neither of them had noticed my dissected lunch, or the fact that I was trying to scrape green goo out from under my fingernails. At least that’s what I thought until later. One of the women invited me over for dinner, and when her husband told us enthusiastically that he had put avocado in the salad, she leaned over to me and whispered, “Don’t worry—you can pick it out.” Avocado – 1, Intellectualism – 0.

avocado

Thursday: I encounter yet ANOTHER bathroom ghost

Bathrooms have always been a source of anxiety for me. Mostly because of the ghosts. If you’ve read My Week 69: Ghost Stories, you’ll know what I mean. First, there was the ghost in my own bathroom, then there was the ghost in the bathroom at The Keg. Sure, I have other anxieties about bathrooms, especially public ones, like flushing no matter what I’m doing so that no one will hear me, or worrying about someone going into the stall right after me and judging me harshly. In fact, I’ve been known to say to a co-worker who’s just come in, “You might want to avoid stall 5”. I never know if that’s more awkward than just letting the person go in and hope they have a cold or something—either way, bathrooms stress me out. And now, I have another reason to fear the bathrooms at work, since I had a close encounter of a ghostly kind.

On Thursday afternoon, not long after lunch, I walked down the hall to the bathroom. Things were pretty quiet, it being a snow day and everything, so not a lot of people were around. I took the time to stop and congratulate the receptionist, a lovely younger woman, on her recent engagement. We chatted for a bit, then I continued on my way. I opened the outer door to the facilities, and then pushed at the inner door, at which point I realized that the motion-sensitive lights were off. As they began to come on, I heard the most terrifying noise—it sounded like someone in the first stall was freaking out and slamming the toilet paper dispenser. I could see a shadow flickering, and thought for a second that it was the building’s custodian replacing the roll or something, but then I realized that there was NO ONE IN THE STALL. Without even thinking, I tore out of there like a bat out of hell and ran around behind the reception desk, shaking. “What happened?!” asked the receptionist.

“There’s something in the bathroom!” I said, hyperventilating.

“What are you talking about? What’s in the bathroom?! I thought I heard banging—what was it?!” she demanded.

“I don’t know, but there’s definitely something in there!”

I described to her what happened, and after a minute, she agreed to go back in with me and check it out. This was NOT a decision that either of us took lightly, and we tiptoed to the door, and very cautiously re-opened it. “Where was the noise coming from?” she asked.

“The first stall,” I answered. “Oh my god, not the first stall!” she exclaimed. “That stall is haunted! The receptionist who used to work here told me that!”

At which point, we both ran out of the bathroom back to the reception desk. “I can’t go back in there,” I said. “What am I going to do? I really need to go.”

“Use the one downstairs,” she said. “Here’s the code.”

So I went downstairs, but it was almost as bad, maybe because I was still shaken up. But the door creaked like someone crying, which freaked me out, and there was a dark room at the back with a couch in it that I had to check first to make sure no one was hiding in it.

The rest of the afternoon was stressful. My work partner had left to visit her parents, and I needed to use the bathroom one more time before I got on the train, but there was no one to come with me. I wandered past reception again, hoping that I could catch someone going in the ‘bathroom of death’ and wander in behind her. I was in luck—another co-worker was chatting with the receptionist.

“You wouldn’t happen to be on your way to the ladies’ room?” I asked.

“I was…why?” she asked suspiciously. “What’s going on?”

I was looking hedgy, and the receptionist was giggling. “Oh, nothing. I just had something weird happen earlier, and it freaked me out a little.”

I explained to her what happened, and she said, “Oh, I know what that was!”

We went into the bathroom, and without fear or hesitation, she opened the door to the first stall. “See the automated sanitary dispenser? It’s broken. When the overhead lights come on, it triggers the sensor in the lid, and it flaps up and down like crazy. Makes a terrible noise.” She demonstrated, and sure enough, that was what I heard. I sagged in relief, then we both looked at each other and started to laugh hysterically. We went back out to the reception area and told the receptionist what had happened.

“Oh, no,” she said. “That’s not what the other woman used to say. She said that the door to the stall would swing open and shut all by itself.”

My co-worker and I looked at each other nervously. “Must just be the wind,” I said, and we all agreed to agree.

 

 

My Week 73: Quirky Conferences, Motion Detector Lights

Thursday: I go to a conference

I was lucky enough this week to have been given funding to attend a local education conference with a colleague. The conference overall was an excellent experience, but not without some quirks. I’m not sure if this is typical of all conferences in general, but it was my first time attending one of these things and it was at times, bizarre. It was at a local hotel, and I decided on Thursday morning that walking would be a good idea, which it totally wasn’t, since the temperature was like minus 12 degrees, or what I like to call “f*cking freezing”, which is a technical term we use in Canada for pretty much anything below minus 5. By the time I arrived at the hotel, I was dying from that insane itchiness you get when you’re out in the cold then you come into someplace warm and your skin feels like it’s being eaten by piranhas. Plus, I was ten minutes late because I have a TERRIBLE sense of how long it takes to get anywhere, and this is not made any better by the strange Torontonian idea of what a “block” actually is. In most towns, a block is the distance between intersections, but in Toronto, the intersections can be at least a kilometre apart, so when someone says, “Oh it’s only three blocks away”, that can mean 40 minutes of what I call “lost walking”, where you walk and walk, the whole time feeling like you must have gone past your destination, and you keep asking people how much further it is, and they just keep saying, “Oh, it’s like one more block”.

At any rate, I was in pain, but happy to be inside, and I made my way to the registration desk. A very cheery woman took my name, gave me a lanyard with ID on it, then told me to hand in my ticket at another table for my “swag bag”. Swag bag?!! Now this was more like it—I was really excited because I know at the Academy Awards, the swag bag has things in it like make-up, and expensive jewelry, and coupons to Pizza Hut. After paying $3.50 to check my coat (I know, right?! What a rip-off), I presented my ticket and was handed a red, plastic bag, like a grocery bag. It felt pretty light, like it was filled with paper. “Is this the swag?” I asked the woman.

“Well, it’s the bag,” she said. “You can use it to put things in.”

This was sounding more and more like when I got my eyes lasered and thought the blue bags everyone was getting must be full of treats, but it was just cheap sunglasses and an eye drop schedule. Which was still one step up from this bag, which was, upon further examination, filled with paper. At least my laser bag had sunglasses in it, even if they weren’t Chanel or Dolce and Gabbana. And I already had a bag to put things in. So I shoved the plastic bag inside my own bag, feeling a little let down by the lack of swag, and went into the conference. Over the next two days, here are some other things that bewildered me, prompting me to ask the following questions:

1) Is it normal and not-rude for people to just walk out of a session while the speaker is still speaking?

The first thing I did that morning was see the keynote speaker, a famous, former football star who now spoke about his previous career and the importance of finishing his education. He was wonderful, very funny, and obviously had worked hard to put this speech together. I was standing at the back because of the lack of available seats, and wishing that someone would leave, so maybe this whole thing was my fault, because after about ten minutes, people just started getting up and walking out. I was happy at first—like a ninja, I quickly and silently slid into a vacant seat. Then it got super-distracting, as people just kept getting up and leaving, you know, with those little apologetic half-smiles as they make their way down the row to reach the aisle then scurry away like no one noticed them. By the time the football player was nearing the end of his speech, which was entertaining, funny, and emotionally moving, so definitely NOT boring, gangs of attendees were fleeing. And when he got to audience questions, people weren’t even QUIET anymore. They acted like it was the end of the movie and the credits were rolling, leisurely sauntering out and discussing where they were going for dinner. I wanted to yell, “Sit the f*ck down!” because I had checked the schedule and there were no other activities for another 45 minutes. Where the hell were they all going? It turns out—NOWHERE. The same people who were scuttling out of the grand hall were just standing around in the mezzanine when the session finally finished.

This happened on more than one occasion over the next two days, when attendees started abandoning the room with about ten minutes to go, causing the poor presenters to have to talk over the noise. Some of them would speed up their presentation, as if talking faster would make people more interested. It was really stressful—you could see the self-doubt on their faces, like “Am I boring?” No, but it’s almost lunchtime, and god forbid the tables in the food court are all taken.

2) Do presenters practice their presentations so they know how much time they’ll need?

The answer to this question is apparently not, as every session I attended finished with “Oh my god—I have so much more material to cover! How much time do I have? 3 minutes? OK, let’s see how many more PowerPoint slides I can whip through—I only have 50 left, but I think we can do this…” It was an unfortunate truth that the main point of each presentation got glossed over in the last few minutes. One poor woman was literally freaking out and exclaiming, “This is SO stressful! I’M SO STRESSED OUT!” I felt like saying, “You’re not the only one.” So, a word to the wise—plan accordingly, and time yourself so that you can end with the ending, not with the middle.

3) Am I really old?

I ask this because I came prepared to each session with a notepad and a pen. I took notes, old school style. Unlike the majority of the people in the room, most of them younger than me. Whenever a PowerPoint would go to the next slide, cell phones and Ipads would quickly rise above the crowd and everyone else would snap a picture of what was on the screen. EVERY screen. Presenters kept saying, “All of this information is on my website,” but it didn’t make any difference. It was like being at a rock concert but instead of screaming and lighters being waved around, it was eerie silence and cameras hovering in the air.

4) Are gluten-free meals the same as vegetarian meals?

Yes. At least at the Sheraton. I went to the keynote breakfast on Friday morning, featuring a marvelous Canadian writer. When I registered electronically, I indicated the gluten-free option for the meal. When the food came, it was an omelette topped with a poached egg, smothered in some kind of sauce. Aside from the overabundance of ovum, I was worried that the sauce might have flour in it, so reminded the waiter that I needed the GF meal. “Can you just bring me one with the omelette and nothing else on top?”

“Oh, don’t worry—we have special meal for you,” he said.

What he brought me was this: a plate of potato wedges, asparagus, and cherry tomatoes (fine), with a bowl of plain, poached eggs swimming in water (absolutely, pukily disgusting). I couldn’t even look at them—it was like the eyes of death staring at me. I should probably clarify at this point that I have an EXTREME aversion to any type of egg where the yolk and the white are not completely blended. Yes, I know it’s weird, but it’s based on childhood trauma. Once, when I was little, I looked into the refrigerator and saw a bowl containing a perfect canned peach half floating in delicious syrup. I didn’t question its existence—I just did what any child would do. I dipped my finger into the syrup then licked my finger. It was NOT a peach. It was an egg.  So, blech.  I made the waiter take away the eggs and ate the vegetables, which were fine and NOT vomit-inducing. Then I looked around and realized that my meal was apparently the fallback for the vegetarian option, as well as the kosher meal. Now as far as kosher goes, I think it has something to do with how animals are slaughtered, so I guess the eggs were cracked properly? But as for it being vegetarian—I ask again, as I have in previous blog posts (see My Week 60: Facebook Quizzes), since when are eggs vegetables? Just because they don’t have legs now doesn’t mean they wouldn’t have grown up to be actual animals if Farmer Brown hadn’t stolen the mother hen’s babies. I was talking to a guy later that day, and he was like, “Oh yes, I’m a strict vegetarian, although I do sometimes eat things with eggs in them, like cake and stuff.”

5) Am I five years old?

This is the opposite of number three. I ask this because A) in the Exhibitor’s Hall, I was accosted by someone dressed as “Clifford, The Big, Red Dog” in one of those Disney-like animal costumes, and a photographer who wanted to know if I’d like my picture taken with him. Why would I ever want that? I had no small children with me, and I don’t have a “furry” fetish, which is where you want to make out with someone dressed in a fur costume, but trust me—that dog was nowhere near hot enough. Sweaty, yes, but hot, no. B) I arrived at a session and took a seat at a table near the back. “No!” said the presenter. “You can’t sit back there. I need you to sit at this table near the front.”

“But I don’t want to sit there,” I said. I might have sounded a little petulant, but I hate sitting near the front—what if I need to go to the bathroom? Then everyone watches you leave and it’s really embarrassing.

“Well you have to,” she ordered.

It wasn’t long into the session when she showed us a movie trailer which ended with a donkey being hit and killed by a car. “I probably wouldn’t show that to a lower elementary class,” she said.

Really? Maybe because a donkey just got murdered? I didn’t want to see that, let alone exposed small children to it. Then she told us we were going to watch it AGAIN. But I couldn’t even sneak out, because I was sitting NEAR THE FRONT.

6) Is a presentation more enjoyable when there’s a sign language interpreter?

Absolutely! My last session on Friday featured a well-known guru with great ideas, but who spoke in a bit of a monotone. Fortunately, there were two sign language interpreters with her, who more than made up for her lack of style. These women were SO expressive and enthusiastic that I listened to the speaker but watched THEM the whole time. Way more entertaining. I don’t know where they get their training, but the way they were signing, it must have been the Royal Shakespeare Company. There was comedy, betrayal, death, and romance—never has “Developing Non-Fiction Writing Skills” been so exciting. Like Game of Thrones meets the Weather Channel.

Overall, it was a great time, and a wonderful learning experience. As for the swag, I DID get two free books and a USB stick, which was almost as good as a Cartier watch and made the bag completely useful.

Friday Night: Motion detector lights

On Friday night, I came home from Toronto. I went into the walk-in closet to get changed, reached up to pull the chain on the light to turn it on, but couldn’t find it.

Ken: The chain broke this week.
Me: How do I get the light on then?
Ken: I installed a motion detector light bulb.
Me: But I’m IN the closet. Why hasn’t it come on?
Ken:  You have to come out of the closet. Now walk to the right, along the side of the bed. Now walk to the left and move towards the bathroom door. Take two steps forward, then hop one step back on kind of an angle.
Me: What?
Ken: You did it wrong that time. Try it again. This time, make it more of a 30 degree angle instead of a 45 degree angle.
Me: Can’t you just get another chain?
Ken: No, this is way better. Oh, by the way, when you’re finished, you have to shut the closet door. If Titus walks past, he triggers the light.
Me: I didn’t realize Titus could do Country Line Dancing.
Ken: You’ll get used to it.

Ken was right. Now, if I want the closet light on, I just hum “Achy, Breaky Heart”, the magic takes over, and it’s all good.

My Week 7 – Worst Case Scenarios, and Titus the Dick

Sunday: I get the best birthday card ever:

Specific types of birthday cards are a tradition in my family. My parents always buy me cards with beautiful messages on them, and I always appreciate the sentiments, because they are from the heart, and I love my parents tremendously. My aunts, on the other hand, endeavour to find the funniest cards possible, which are also from the heart, albeit another area of the heart, and I also love them tremendously. This past weekend, my family threw me an early birthday party, and one of my aunts gave me the BEST birthday card ever. I share it with you now, so that you can copy and paste it into any card you want (don’t tell the copyright police). I opened it up and this is what it said:

• Okay, I’m not sure this will work, but let’s try it.
• Act like you’re reading something personal that I wrote in your card.
• After a couple of seconds, laugh as though I wrote something very funny. In fact, tilt your head back when you laugh so it looks extremely funny.
• Now nod your head as though I wrote something very serious and heartfelt. Maybe touch your heart and exhale, but don’t make it look forced.
• Okay, now close the card, look at me and mouth the words “thank you”.

So I followed the directions, and you wouldn’t believe the reaction. Everyone was like “What?!! What did it say?!!” Then I passed it around the room and other people followed the directions too (an Oscar to my brother, who has a PhD and it’s not even for acting!), until everyone who hadn’t read it was freaking out. Try it for yourself—it’s better than “pin the tail on the donkey”, that’s for sure.

Wednesday: Worst Case Scenarios are My Life:

So I was talking to Ken on the phone the other morning, and as we were saying goodbye, his parting comment was, “It’s really windy out. Be careful”. And he said it kind of ominously. But this was the completely wrong thing to say to me, because anyone who knows me understands that I go immediately to the worst case scenario any time someone tells me to be careful. In fact, one year for Christmas, I bought K a book called “The Little Book of Worst Case Scenarios”, and I forced her to read it so she would know what to do in case she was ever chased by a bear (make yourself look as large as possible and scream loudly to let the bear know you could take it in a fight. Do not run—bears are, apparently, very gazelle-like), drove a car into a river (find an air pocket, wait for the car to be submerged, then open the door and swim to the surface. K was like “I’m seven years old–why would I ever drive my car into a river?” I DON”T KNOW, K. But if you plan for these things, you might SURVIVE them), or if the bouncy castle she was playing in suddenly became untethered and began to float away (which apparently happens more often than you think, prompting our local school board to ban them from school property. They also banned dunk tanks. Because of all the drownings.) Sorry if that was ramble-y, but that’s the mood I’m in.

Anyway, when Ken said that to me, my first response was confusion, then my mind immediately jumped to one of two scenarios: a) Either he meant that it was so windy that I would need something heavy to hold me down so I wouldn’t be whisked away by a howling gale, in which case I seriously started looking around the house for something heavy to take with me. The dog weighs 95 pounds, but I would have to be tethered to him by his leash, and could I hold on for long enough? Or b) that the wind was some kind of bizarre polar vortex, and if I didn’t run fast enough to the car, I would freeze on the spot, like the characters did in The Day After Tomorrow, which is a great movie, and totally based on meteorological facts. At any rate, when I had recovered from my frightful befuddlement, I asked him, “Why are you telling me to be careful? That’s just weird.”, and he was like, “Because you never dress warmly enough, so make sure you wear a scarf, OK?” At which point, I really felt like saying, “Are you f*cking serious? You freaked me out over a scarf?! There’s NOTHING in the Little Book of Worst Case Scenarios about scarves.” But then it occurred to me that a scarf might be the only thing standing between me and deathly hypothermia, and I realized that Ken must really love me to give me scarf warnings.

Friday: I realize that my dog is a bit of a dick.

So let me just say first that I love my dog. He’s awesome. We got him about 2 months ago, and he’s this big, black Labrador Retriever that another family had to give up. Now I know why. No, just kidding. Titus is actually like the best dog ever, but he has some bad habits that make me crazy, and I’m just going to vent a little.
• Tonight, he licked my pants FIVE times. Seriously. Five times. Do you know why? Because I dropped a Dill Pickle flavoured rice cake on my pants. I picked it up and gave it to him, which apparently is dog-ese for “lick the pants that thing landed on.” (When Ken read this, Titus was sitting next to me and tried to lick my pajamas. When I objected, Ken told me I was like “a human smorgasbord.” He gives the dog a little too much credit.)
• Two days ago, he ate an entire bag of pitas. He has a voracious appetite. Since we got him, he’s eaten 2 full unopened bags of dog treats, a package of tortilla shells, 4 boxes of chicken bouillon cubes and a can of beef bouillon powder, a bag of grapes, a box of cherry tomatoes, an unopened box of Vegetable Thins crackers, and so on and so on. We have learned the hard way to make sure there is no food left out ANYWHERE, because he also has no issue whatsoever with vomiting. When there is no food, however, he will steal dishes out of the sink and carry them around the house. (Just for the record, we DO feed him his own food.)
• He likes to sleep on our bed. We’ve never had a dog that wanted to do this. I wouldn’t mind, except that he weighs almost as much as me, and insists on sleeping between Ken and me. And he likes to SPOON.
• He thinks the cat is another toy. She, however, does not appreciate his playful nature. Have you ever heard a very small cat growl from the depths of her soul, like a demon? Titus doesn’t seem to understand her objections to him, and wants to smell her ladyparts whenever possible. Naturally, this is putting up a barrier between them.
You’d think this would be another “worst case scenario”, but he also does this thing like when you’re petting him and you stop, he puts his nose under your hand and flips your hand up, so you understand that he still wants you to love him. And whenever he eats something he shouldn’t, he looks guilty (right before he throws everything up.) And when he jumps on the bed, slides over and puts his head on your chest and his arm around your neck, you’d forgive him just about anything. Well, I would. I can’t speak for the cat.