My Van Blog

For about the last six weeks, I’ve been noticing a strange phenomenon in my comments folder—well, my SPAM comments folder anyway. Apparently, and without me having done anything to deserve it, I’ve become the darling of the van world. That’s right—vans. People with vans ADORE me, if the comments I keep stumbling upon are any indication. For example, ‘Benz Camper Van’ is amazed by me. “Free Bird Camper Van’ feels that I made some really good points. “Cargo Van Conversion’ has bookmarked my site, and 2021 Mercedes Benz 200 High Roof V6 4WD Cargo Van’ called my post “Spilling The Beans”, where I discuss my hatred for coffee, an outstanding share. And there are, quite literally, hundreds of similar comments, all from avid readers who live in vans. Some of them are so excited by my posts that they’re buying breakfast, lunch, and dinner for each other in gratitude for having shared my writing. ‘Camper Van Graphics Ideas’ told me I was cool, and although I already kind of figured I was, it’s still nice to have it verified by an objective third party. Many of my new fans love my colours and theme, and despite the web browser compatibility issues and duplicate comments that some of my fans are reporting, it seems that everyone is thrilled by my posts, regardless of the topic. Well, everyone except for ‘Sprinter Camper Vans’ who was disappointed by my blog and called me an attention-seeking whiner. I tried not to take that to heart, especially in the face of such overwhelming adulation from the rest of the van crowd.

This picture is blurry but if you click on it, you can read it.

But I’ve been dying to know what prompted the outpouring of goodwill from van aficionados. I haven’t actually owned a real van, just one of those mini-vans that we bought when Kate was little, and here is the only evidence, albeit minor, of my van ownership, and it took me half an hour of searching through old photo albums to find it.

My sole experience with a camper van was travelling somewhere, and I can’t even recall where, with a childhood friend and her family. The van they had was the type with those large floor to ceiling windows, but for some reason, the trip to wherever we were going and then back home again seemed to happen in the middle of the night, because I don’t remember any scenery at all. In fact, the only thing I remember is that they kept playing the same weird song over and over again. It was called “The Snakes Crawl At Night”. As a child, I assumed the song was actually about snakes crawling around at night, since the only lyrics that I remember to this day are “The snakes crawl at night/That’s what they say/When the sun goes down” and at the time it seemed like the creepiest thing in the world. But then, like, right before I typed this sentence, I googled the song, and it’s by Charlie Pride, and the song is about a man whose wife is cheating on him and then he SHOOTS HER BOYFRIEND AND GETS THE DEATH PENALTY. And I have to seriously wonder what kind of people think EITHER version is okay to play on repeat in a camper van full of children. None of my new fans, I’ll bet.

At any rate, I’m going to bask in the glow of my new-found camper van fame. Maybe if I play my cards right, I’ll win some kind of award, like the What Van? Award and join the ranks of other premiere bloggers like Fiat Ducato, who I assume is a famous Italian writer.

In other news, I have something super-exciting on the horizon, which I can’t tell you about yet, but suffice it to say that I’ll have a big announcement before the end of the month. No, I’m not expecting, as an elderly woman asked me a couple of weeks ago at work, simply because I was wearing a flowy top, to which I replied, “Well, I’m 56 and have no uterus, so that would be a minor miracle.” No, this thing even better than having someone flatter me by assuming I’m young enough to still bear children. Or a close second, anyway. I’ll keep you posted.

And finally, Happy Mother’s Day to the moms, step-moms, foster moms, sisters, aunts, and mentors out there. You all deserve to be spoiled on this special day!

I Become A Real Estate Mogul

Last week, my parents dropped by and my dad had a cool coupon for me. No, it wasn’t for “buy one get one free wine”, which would have been really sweet—it was for a free square foot of land in Scotland. And with housing prices these days, I’ll take that square foot and flip it one day for at least a bottle of scotch. I logged onto the company website, entered the coupon code and it immediately brought up a lush green landscape on the island of Islay. It was zoomed out quite a bit and close to the middle, there was a tiny box with some coordinates in it. The tiny box was in the only part of the entire satellite view that was dead, brown, and dry. “No!” I yelled. “Not again!” But yes, sure enough, when I zoomed in, MY plot of land was right in the middle of a barren wasteland.

The Wasteland

And this happened to us five years ago as well when we visited Scotland…(time for a flashback):

As you may remember, I am now a Lady, having been presented with the title to 10 square feet of land in a nature reserve in Scotland after complaining that everyone else in the family was nobility except me. Kate thought it sounded kind of sketchy, but it’s actually true (well, the landownership part if not the “peer of the realm” part), and on the second last day of our trip, Ken, Kate, and I decided to drive up to the Duror area to visit our property. We didn’t know what to expect. We had directions from someone named Stewart, and we were told we were too late to book an actual tour, but we were welcome to come and visit our property. When we got there (down a single-track road, because that’s how you know you’re in the United Kingdom), we came out into a parking area with a seemingly deserted small, log-style cabin. But there were other cars around, so we knocked on the door. A woman called for us to come in, and then next thing you know, we’d logged into the wifi, downloaded their GPS app, and were handed personalized maps of the reserve. It was a lot more high-tech than I imagined it would be. We followed the GPS compass through a dead forest—“dead” because we were told that it had originally been a corporate logging area, and that the North American spruce trees had been planted too close together, causing them to crowd each other out so that none of them could grow properly. The 5 year plan was to take all of them down and plant native Scottish species, but at the time, it was dark and forbidding:

Kate: Those are like trees that had some terrible disease and died. Who would want to own THAT? It’s like a tree graveyard.
Me: Can you imagine the poor sucker who paid good money to own 10 square feet in THERE?
Kate and Me: I know, right?! HAHA.
Ken: Um, the GPS says to turn left in 10 metres.
Me: But that would be straight into the dead forest…

Sure enough, both Kate’s and my land were in the part of the reserve that was going to be “rejuvenated” over the next 5 years. But we were pretty happy to discover that our property was on the far edge of the dead forest, where there was a little sunshine and some moss growing:

Kate: I have a mushroom on my land!
Me: You’re so lucky–I wish I had a mushroom! But I have all this lovely moss. Ooh, there’s a bird in my dead tree!

In truth, the whole place was beautiful, despite the dead trees. There are fields, and rivers, and all kinds of lovely forest creatures. And because it’s been parcelled out, it can never be developed or destroyed, so it was well worth the 85 bucks we each paid for it. Kate and I each buried toonies (Canadian two dollar coins) in our land so that future civilizations would know that Canadians were capable of crossing the great water. And hopefully now, if the whole thing has been rejuvenated, I’m going back and building tiny castles to oversee my vast Scottish estates. Just because I can.

I own all that moss.

Made To Measure

It’s been a busy week, so here are some things that have been happening, in no particular order:

1) I was out driving and realized that I was very close to the next mileage milestone, which was 99999 kilometres, followed immediately by 100000. My car is a 2013 and because I lived in Toronto during the week for several years, I didn’t drive it much. In fact, looking at my last mileage post, the incredibly funny and somewhat juvenile 80085 (my car has a digital readout and that spells BOOBS, in case you had any doubt that this blog was sophisticated and adult-ish in the non-porn way), I see that I posted my BOOBS picture on August 23, 2020. Yes, it took me a year and a half to drive not quite 20 000 kilometres (that would be around 12, 427 miles for my Imperial friends). But by the time I realized I was almost at another photo-worthy moment, however, I was in my driveway, the odometer read 99996, and I was too tired to drive around the block several times, so I decided to wait until the next morning when I had to see my doctor about sudden tinnitus in my right ear. And even though I had to pull over twice in the space of two minutes to get 99999 and then 100000, I still made my appointment on time. I do this for YOU and not me, so I hope you appreciate my efforts.

2) I was cleaning out a kitchen cupboard and I found a small, antique salt shaker far in the back. I couldn’t remember buying it but it was pretty so I took it out to examine it. When I shook it, something rattled. I got excited for a second but then I realized it was just an old cork that was inside, so I grabbed it and pulled it out. But something was still rattling—there was a piece of paper in there, tightly folded up. I was immediately intrigued—could it be a secret message? Directions to treasure? A cry for help? A love note? The possibilities were endless, but they ended when I extracted the paper with tweezers, unfolded it breathlessly, and realized that it was blank. WHO DOES THIS? Who would put a blank piece of paper into an antique salt shaker?! A friend suggested that maybe the message was written in invisible ink, but when I held a lighter up to it, it burned like any other stupid piece of paper. What a letdown.

3) Ken and I decided to rearrange our living room a bit and get a larger bookcase. He was going to build one, but with the price of wood, we decided to try buying one secondhand first, which meant a foray into Facebook Marketplace. One of the first posts to pop up was for a fairly simple wall unit listed for $150.

When I scrolled down to the description, it said this: “No idea how big it is.” Seriously? How do you have a piece of furniture and be at a complete loss as to its size? If only there was an easy way to find out. So here are some suggestions, QUINN:

A) You can measure it with a measuring tape.
B) You don’t have a measuring tape? Borrow one from a friend.
C) You don’t have any friends? I’m not surprised, given your lack of interest in things like measurement. But you could try frame of reference, like, ‘I’m 6 feet tall and it’s slightly shorter than me, and when I lie down, it’s slightly longer than me.”
D) You don’t know how tall you are? Go to a local convenience store and stand next to the entrance. There’s a height bar RIGHT THERE.

At any rate, we bought a very nice shelving unit from a man who had taken the time to discover its dimensions all on his own. And now my living room is in chaos as we move things around and have to sell a china cabinet. I wonder how tall it is…?

I Scream, You Scream

The other day, Kate and I were driving on the 401, the ridiculously busy highway that stretches across Ontario, and the traffic was heavy, mostly with trucks. But not the usual kind of transport trucks—no, these were random ‘wide load’ trucks, or dump trucks, or trucks carrying large sheets of glass or drywall. Finally, we passed something strange:

Kate: Is that a…streetsweeper?
Me: It looks like it. Weird.
Kate: Like it just drives from town to town on the highway, looking for streets to sweep?
Me (fake English accent): Good day to you, my lady. Would you care to have your street swept? Or perhaps have your knives sharpened?
Kate (laughs): What’s with the knives?

So I explained to her that, when I was a kid, there used to be a guy who travelled around different neighbourhoods on a large tricycle with a grinder mounted on the back, and for a dollar, he would offer to sharpen your knives and scissors. It was the worst, not because people would come running out of their houses brandishing sharp, deadly instruments (and this is obviously where the saying ‘don’t run with scissors’ came from), but—and I don’t know if it was the same for you or not—the knife guy had the EXACT SAME BELL AS THE ICE CREAM TRUCK.

The ice cream truck was, obviously, a fan favourite in our neck of the woods, and on a summer afternoon, you’d hear the faint ringing of the ice cream bell as it approached your street, and then all the children would beg their parents for a nickel or a dime, and we’d all run out and crowd around it, flush with loose change and excitement. But every once in a while, you’d hear a distant bell, and you’d grab your change and race to the street, and there would be the f*cking knife guy, with his adult sized kiddie bike and his stupid grinder, yelling “Bring your knives, bring your scissors”, as if he had some kind of bizarre death wish, because WE ALL WANTED TO STAB HIM WITH SAID KNIVES AND SCISSORS. Except for Mrs. Robertson, who always trotted out to greet him with an armful of kitchen tools, and what the heck was she butchering that she needed her knives sharpened that often?

At any rate, it was one of childhood’s greatest letdowns, hearing the ice cream truck only to discover it was the knife guy. Unless you were Mrs. Robertson.

In other news, every day when I pull into the parking lot at work, I see this:

It’s the height of irony, because the truck belongs to the owner of the garage, and that truck is parked there EVERY morning in front of the door upon which the owner has clearly painted “DO NOT BLOCK DOOR” in very large letters. Also, the owner of the garage AND truck felt it necessary to do fancy ‘O’s so that people would understand they’re not zeroes and wouldn’t be confused. As if THAT’S the most confusing thing about this whole situation.

June/December Romance

The other day Ken was about to leave for his new job. Another job? I hear you ask. Wasn’t he spending all kinds of time in hot air balloons? What on earth is he doing now? And these are all good questions, the answers to which are a) yes, another job b) the balloon gig is only from May to October and c) he’s picking up and delivering parts, snowblowers, and lawnmowers for a local mechanic. And one of the parts pickups happened to be about 2 hours away by highway. I had to go to work myself that morning, so we agreed that I would call him when I was on the road, so we could chat while we were driving.

Me: How far away are you?
Ken: Not sure. It might be tricky. The map only showed the general area. I think I know what street to take when I get off the highway.
Me: What map?
Ken: I looked it up on one of the maps I keep in my office.
Me: You aren’t using your GPS?
Ken: No need. I had a map.

I used to tell Ken that he was like a 65-year-old man when he did things like write cheques to pay for everything because he “doesn’t trust online banking” or carried a Blackberry around for ten years even though it was virtually useless:

Me: What’s taking so long? I thought you were posting a picture.
Ken: I am. I just have to—hmmm. Or maybe…
Me: Use the image icon.
Ken: I will, after I write the post.
Me: You’re not done yet?
Ken: No, I’m trying to find Facebook.
Me: Maybe the problem is that you have a Blackberry. You know how the “interwebs” works, right? (*old man voice*) “I just can’t keep up with you kids and your newfangled gadgets and the Twitters. What ever happened to the good old days when people used typewriters?!” Oh wait, you ARE using a typewriter. Look at the keyboard on your phone.
Ken: Blackberries are great phones.
Me: Yeah, if you’re 65 years old. (*old man voice*) “I like to feel the keys go down when I press them, just like they did in the 1950s.” Also, could your screen be any smaller? No wonder you can’t find “the Facebook”.
Ken: Ha. Posted. So there. Oh wait, not yet—it’s a little laggy…I wish I had a flip phone with an antennae.

But now that Ken is less than a decade away from actually BEING 65, I have to call him a 90-year-old man, because even 65-year-olds will use a GPS when they’re going somewhere unfamiliar.

Me: But you don’t know where you’re going!
Ken: It’s fine. I memorized the map.
Me: What are you, a f*cking cartographer? (*old man voice*) “Ah yes, I studied the mysterious art of latitude and longitude at the academy.”
Ken (laughs): If it was still dark, I could navigate by the stars.
Me: I can just see you now, driving around in circles until you have to ask for directions. (*old man voice*) “Excuse me, my good sir, would you be so kind as to direct me to the horse and buggy repair shop?”
Ken: It’s fine. I have an internal compass.
Me: Is that a sextant in your pocket or are you just happy to see me?

Ken: You have 37 pairs of reading glasses, and you can never find ANY of them.

He did get to the place eventually without having to use his GPS. Fortunately for Ken, I have a thing for older men with a strong sense of direction. And now you’ll have to excuse me while I tuck him in for his nap.

And in other news, I found out last week that I was nominated for Spillwords Press Publication of the Year (non-poetic). I know the site is a pain I had to contact them directly because it kept locking me out), but if you’re able to, you can vote for me here before the end of day Sunday (and as always, if you do, I’ll name a character in a story after you): https://spillwords.com/vote/

Dem Bones, Dem Bones

It’s been a crazy week, as Ken and I shifted all our stock from the antique market where we’ve been for a year to the one where I now work. I really liked the other place but after working at the new place for a month, I realized how much easier it would be if I didn’t have to drive quite so far and could have a booth in a place I was going to three days a week anyway. So we spent most of the week packing up, bringing stuff home, putting new price tags on everything and then taking it all to our new space. I haven’t had a lot of time for writing or even thinking about writing, so in honour of antiques, here’s a throwback…

One Saturday morning, Ken said to me, “Hey, let’s go to the Christie Antique Show.” I did what I always do and immediately said, “Yes! Let’s do that.” Then I did the next thing I always do and immediately had second thoughts and regrets, especially after looking on the website which said that there were free shuttle buses from the parking lot to the show site. All I could think of was the line-up to get into the parking lot, the line-up to get on the bus, and the obvious huge crowds of people that would be there. So I said, “Maybe let’s not go after all,” but Ken was insistent, even when I was all sad and whiny and like, “I don’t wanna go to the antique show. Don’t make me go to the antique show,” but he made me go anyway on the grounds that “it will be fun.”

Before we left…
Me: I’m taking my wristlet. I don’t want to lug a huge purse around with me.
Five minutes later…
Ken: I’m taking my camera.
Me: You always take your camera. Why are you telling me this?
Ken: Oh, I just thought we were announcing things to each other.
Atlas (from outside): I’m taking a dump in the back yard! This is fun!

In the car…
Ken: Why are you staring at me like that? Is there something wrong with the way I’m dressed?
Me: I wasn’t staring at you. I was looking past you out the window.
Ken: No, you were looking at me.
Me: How would you even know that?! I’m wearing dark sunglasses. Besides, you look fine. You’re wearing a black T-shirt and a black plaid shirt. You match. (*under breath*) Unlike when you wear your red plaid shirt and lime green T-shirt.
Ken: What?
Me: Nothing.

A moral dilemma…

Me: Did you see that video on Facebook about the job interview question?
Ken: The one where you’re driving in a lightning storm and you see three people at the side of the road?
Me: Right—“You see your best friend who once saved your life, a beautiful woman, and a sick elderly lady standing by the side of the road in a lightning storm, and you only have one seat. Who do you take?” It was easy. I solved it right away.
Ken: What do you mean, “you solved it”? Did you watch the video to the end?
Me: I didn’t need to watch it to the end. The old lady sits on my lap in the driver’s seat, my best friend sits in the other seat, and the beautiful woman sits on HIS lap.
Ken: You’re not allowed to do that. You only have one extra seat.
Me: I can do whatever the f*ck I want. It’s MY ethics. I’m the Kobayashi Maru.
Ken: No, you’re Kirk. But it doesn’t matter. That’s not the right answer. Why don’t you EVER watch videos to the end? The CORRECT answer is: You give your keys to your best friend because you trust him to take the old woman to the hospital and then come back for you.  This leaves you alone with the beautiful woman. Then he comes back and—
Me: This is starting to sound suspiciously like that logic problem where you have a rowboat and you have to take a bunch of animals across a river. It’s a MORAL DILEMMA, not a logic problem, Ken. Also, why do I want to be alone with the woman?
Ken: So you can hit it off with her.
Me: A) She’s not my type and B) That’s why my solution is more ethical. I put the woman on my best friend’s lap so that HE could hit it off with her. I’m self-sacrificial as f*ck. There. I win. ALL THE MORALS ARE MINE.
Ken: Sigh.

Then we got to the antique show, and it wasn’t as bad as I thought. We had no problem getting parked, got a bus right away, and made it into the showgrounds less than 5 minutes after arriving. But then we realized that there were 100s of dealers and we needed a system, which was basically to wander down one row and back up another, saying, “Have we been down this aisle before? Oh yeah, I remember the giant elephant statue.” We have a friend who had a booth, and we finally found him. He said he was having a pretty good day, selling quite a bit and whatnot, when Ken pointed to a large box of bones at the front of his tent. They were priced at $5 each. When we asked about it, he said that last month, a guy came into his store with this big box of bones, wondering if he’d buy them. He was skeptical at first, but they sold like hotcakes (if hotcakes were all dirty and decomposed). So when the guy came back with another box, he bought that too, and brought them to sell at the show.

Friend: People are going nuts for them. I’ve already sold most of them. Quite a few people have been teachers, you know—want to use them in their classrooms.
Ken: What kind of bones are they?
Friend: Cow bones. I think.
Me: Cow bones?
Friend: Probably.

I don’t know if I want my child in a classroom where the teacher is like, “Hey kids, check this out! It LOOKS like a human femur, but the guy told me it’s probably just a cow bone.” And the weirdest thing was, he wasn’t the ONLY dealer selling bones. There were so many of them that we lost count. There were skulls, antlers, jaw bones, full skeletons of small rodents, you name it. We walked past a booth where a guy was showing a woman a skull that was on top of a log with a branch going through the skull’s eye socket. He was actually saying this: “Sometimes when animals die in the forest, they do it on top of logs and such, and then they go into rigor mortis there. So I’ve arranged the skull and log like this—kind of like a nature scene.”

And while this may seem like a one-off, at the antique market where I currently work, there’s a dealer who has glass vials full of chicken bones, and they also sell like crazy. Go figure. I guess I should have kept this year’s Christmas turkey carcass–I could have made a fortune. Happy New Year!

My Week 223: Amusing Museums

So if you were wondering where I’ve been the last few days, we just got back from Ottawa. K and her girlfriend, the lovely V, had asked for a trip together in lieu of other presents, and I have to say that it’s wonderful when your child thinks a great gift would be to spend time together. I also have to say, it was a capital trip, haha (that’s an Ottawa joke) which combined my favourite things—walking a lot in the freezing cold and looking at plaques and if you know me at all, you’ll know I’m being outrageously sarcastic. Ultimately I DID have a good time, despite the way it began, which was arriving at the hotel to discover that the check-in line-up was almost out the door. The kids were guarding the luggage, Ken was dealing with the car valet and I was standing there, trying to figure out what the f*ck was going on when suddenly a cheerful, matronly woman named Denise appeared:

Denise (yelling): Hi Everyone! My name is Denise. I just wanted to let any of you ‘newcomers to the line-up’ know that our computers are down and we have to check everyone in by hand. We’re very sorry about this, but I hope you’ll be patient seeing as it’s the time of year for goodwill among men, peace on earth etc. If you have any questions, please don’t hesitate to ask.
Me: Denise? DENISE?!
Denise: Yes?
Me: Will it help if we have the computer print-outs of our reservation?
Denise: No. But thank you for asking. PEACE ON EARTH, FOLKS!

The people behind me agreed with me that the only reason the hotel had sent out Denise was that she seemed the least likely to get throatpunched by an angry mob. But don’t forget, this is Canada, and aside from the profuse apologies, there was also a wonderful moment when the hotel’s chefs suddenly appeared with carts containing urns of coffee and several large charcuterie boards so that the people standing in line could help themselves to drinks and snacks. Which would have been great except for the large number of small children who suddenly appeared in the lobby, descended upon the charcuterie like a plague of locusts, stripping the wooden boards bare in a matter of seconds, then disappeared among the Christmas tree display again, carrying all the cheese knives with them–it was a little disturbing.

We finally got checked in and planned the next couple of days. Remember that we were with two twenty year-olds whose plans naturally included sleeping late, but that was fine with me. Here are the highlights of the trip:

1) The Museum of History

Yes it was. ALL THE HISTORY. The most interesting part was that we walked to the Museum and at some point, crossed over into Quebec, where it’s located. The only difference I could tell was that instead of saying “Hi Bonjour” which is what they do in Ottawa, they say “Bonjour Hi” because French is the first language there. We had an interesting conversation about how Canadian provinces have no discernible borders, but that you apparently can’t bring beer from Ontario into Quebec, and I was like “How would anyone even know? The only person we saw before we got to the museum was a bus driver having a smoke break.”

2) The National Gallery

There are some pretty astounding Canadian artists in their permanent collection, including many works by the Group of Seven, who were called that because there were seven of them. They were apparently very groundbreaking painters who created a lot of controversy, which seems strange today. In fact, in front of one stunning piece depicting a lush garden, there was a quote that said it was initially condemned for using such a huge canvas to depict a mundane subject and I said to Ken, “Everyone’s a critic!” Then we went into the “special exhibit” of paintings by some dude named Paul Klee and I was like “This guy sucks!” just to prove my own point. I didn’t know anything about him but here’s a description: “Paul Klee was an Expressionist painter who created witty and childlike works which detached colour from physical expression.” In other words, “my kid could have done that.” Here’s a test. Look at the images below and guess which one Paul Klee painted in the late 1800s, and which one I painted it couple of years ago because I had some leftover paint:

The second one is mine and I call it “Klee-next”. I just named it now, proving that I am also childlike and witty. And I know I shouldn’t make fun of people like Paul Klee–I think my problem is that I’m only awed by things that I could NEVER do myself. And I won’t even get started on the art “installation” which consisted of 6 plastic buckets scattered around the floor of a gigantic room because I could do that one too, but mine would only have five buckets because five is much more art-y, as everyone knows.

3) Museum of War

Yes it was. ALL THE WAR. As we were walking into the first exhibit, there was a poster on the wall that said, “Come and celebrate your birthday at the War Museum!” It featured cupcakes and candles and it was right next to a display of shrapnel wounds. Can you imagine? Like “Come on, Bobby, it’s time to open your presents! Why are you crying?!”

At any rate, we had a wonderful time together, playing board games in the evening, and visiting some family. We never did get to the Museum of Nature, but I’m sure it has ALL THE NATURE.

My Week 217: Things You Learn While Travelling

I just got back from spending a week on a cruise ship sailing around the Caribbean. It was great fun but I definitely learned some things about myself among other things, as one does when one is on a boat.

1) I’m not good at packing. I mean, I can PACK just fine—I’m a f*cking amazing packer. I roll everything into tight little sausages which makes them more compact AND unwrinkled. I can fit so much stuff into a small suitcase, you wouldn’t believe it. Also, I never pack until the night before, but I spend a lot of time thinking about the process and what exactly I will need. My parents actually PRACTICE packing to make sure everything will fit. They practiced on the Tuesday before we left and did such a great job that they just kept everything in the suitcase until Friday and I was like “My god, when was the last time you brushed your teeth?!” Me, I have no problem waiting until the last minute because I might end up needing something important, like what if Benedict Cumberbatch invited me to an impromptu pool/cocktail party and all my sh*t was locked inside a suitcase? So it’s not the packing itself that I struggle with—it’s WHAT I pack that’s the problem. The last time that Ken and I went away, I didn’t pack enough ‘daywear’ and had to buy a couple of souvenir T-shirts and now I will never forget where the halibut fishing capital of the world is (apparently it’s Homer, Alaska). So this time, I overcompensated but when I repacked my suitcase to come home, I realized that I hadn’t worn even half the sh*t I brought. Also, I packed twelve pairs of shoes. I was only away for 7 days.

2) Canada is a lot smaller than you think. You know how people assume that all Canadians know each other, like how people joke “Oh, you’re from Canada? Do you know Bob?” Well, it’s true. We were on a bus tour and people started saying where they were from:

Woman 1: Oh we’re from Kitchener.
My parents: So are we!
Woman 1: What part?
Parents: At the lofts at Benton!
Woman: Oh, do you know John Smith?
Parents: Yes!
Me: I’m not from Kitchener; I live in Drumbo.
Man 1: My brother’s from Drumbo—do you know Frank Jones?
Me: Yes!
Woman 2: We’re from Edmonton.
Me: Oh, we were there last summer. We stayed at the Chateau Louis.
Woman 2: Did you hear the piano player in the lounge?
Me: Yes, we did!
Woman 2: That’s Jeff—he’s my husband’s best friend! They host Blues Fest at the Chateau Louis every year and he always plays for that too!
Man 2: Oh, I think I saw him when we went there from Newfoundland last year! He was really good. We bought him a drink.
Woman 2: Wait—are you Bob?!

That’s Canadians for you—6 degrees Celsius of separation.

3) I don’t actually like monkeys. That might not seem like a big deal, but don’t forget that I have often waxed poetic about the joys of having a monkey butler. His name would be Ralph Van Wooster, obviously, and he would wear a little tuxedo with a hole cut out of the bottom for his tail. But in reality, I don’t think I like monkeys very much if my reaction to hearing that there were wild monkeys out and about on one of the islands we visited is any indication. Our tour bus driver was telling us about how people used to smuggle monkeys onto the island but then when they got older and more aggressive, they would release them into the wild, and now there were non-butler-type monkeys roaming the island and hanging around on the rooftops. And all I could think of was how terrifying it would be to wander around the botanical gardens and come face to face with a simian who was super pissed off at being tossed out onto the street and probably didn’t know how to make a dirty martini. Our tour guide also told us that people on the island ATE monkeys, and then he said, “I’ve never eaten monkey myself. I mean, I wouldn’t go out of my way to eat monkey, but if someone had some cooked monkey and it was right there, I would probably eat it” and I was like “How did it come to this, Ralph Van Wooster?”

4) Sea turtles have attitude. I got to go snorkeling with sea turtles, which was pretty awesome. The guide on that tour told us not to touch the turtles but he didn’t say anything about the turtles not touching us, and one of them slapped my dad which was a real dick move because my dad is Scottish and feisty as f*ck even in his eighties but he couldn’t fight back because he had to use two hands to hang on to his little floaty. So I also learned that sea turtles can be assholes but I guess when you’re “endangered” you get to do what you want.

Anyway, it was a great trip. We did tours of the islands, learned about spices, waded in waterfall pools, sat on beautiful beaches, and made good use of the “premium beverage package”.

Today is my birthday, but it will be a quiet one since I just got back late last night. My parents DID get me a cake on Friday night at one of the restaurants on the ship. When it came out, I started laughing hysterically. The maître d’ looked at me in confusion and said, “Isn’t your name spelled correctly?” and I said, “Not even a little bit.”

“I’m so sorry,” he said, “the pastry chef is from Thailand” and that was even more random, and made me laugh even harder. Good times, good times.

My Week 208: Alaska Is Cold, Stuffed Squirrels

The journey continues…

First, just for the record, I did NOT pull the emergency brake on Canada One.

(As a side note, I’d like to share that I finally had the chance to do the following on my regular train this week as I was sitting in a group of 3 other people by the emergency exit:

Car Attendant: So you all know what to do in case of emergency?
Me: Absolutely. I call out “Mjolnir”, the hammer inside the box flies into my hand, I use it to break the window, and I lead everyone to safety.
Car Attendant: Uh…
Other People: *stare in confusion*
Me: The hammer won’t come if I call it?
Car Attendant (laughs): No, but I enjoyed the Thor reference, ma’am.
Me: Please—just call me TrainWine.

TrainWine is my superhero name in case you haven’t read My Week 191.)

Anyway, the Canada One train that Ken and I were on did, however, eventually stop in Vancouver, and that’s where the next leg of the journey began. We boarded our ship, the Celebrity Infinity, in record time. I have to say it was an excellent ship—there was a lot to do, and our cabin was extremely comfortable with a lovely balcony that we couldn’t use because it was freezing; in fact, if Ken had a dollar for every time I said, “Why? WHY IS IT SO COLD?!” he could have paid for the whole trip. If you know anything about me, you know that I’m always cold, and a trip to Alaska, in retrospect, is something I should have thought more carefully about.

So cold it’s glacial.

At any rate, we had a lot of fun onboard, going to lectures, silent discos, and trivia contests, where we met a lovely pair of English couples who, at the end of the trip, gave us their names so we could look them up on Facebook. Unfortunately, the names they gave us were supercommon, like “Mary Jones” and “Jane Smith” and there are hundreds of those names on Facebook so now I’m worried that they didn’t really like us after all, and we’ve been ghosted by English people.

In addition to fun times on the ship, we also did 3 shore excursions. Here are the highlights:

1) Icy Strait Point

We paid $90 each for a tour called “Taste of Hoonah”. It was advertised as a tour of the town, with a stop for an “Alaskan Beer and Local Cuisine Tasting”. The driver’s name was Bill. The tour consisted of three stops: the ferry dock (there was no ferry but we learned that it cost Bill’s family $400 to go to Juneau for shopping), the local public school (Go Braves!), and the Icy Strait Lodge, where we had the tasting. The lodge owners greeted us with “So what do you want to drink? The first one’s free.” Um, beer…? Then everyone got a small dish that had three tiny things on it—a piece of halibut wrapped in bacon, smoked salmon on a cracker, and a miniscule crab cake. I have a severe shellfish allergy but I also love bacon, so I told the woman about the allergy and asked, “Was the bacon halibut thing cooked near the crab cake?” and she looked at me like I was crazy. “Of course not!!” she exclaimed. “Everything was cooked separately.” So I ate the halibut. 3 hours later, when I was doubled over in the ship’s bathroom, I whispered to Ken, “I think that woman lied to me.” Luckily it was just a little cross-contamination so I didn’t need my epipen.

Rating:           
6 out of 10 for Bill, because he was very sincere and it wasn’t his fault that Hoonah is boring.
2 out of 10 for Icy Strait Lodge and its crabby halibut and dishonesty (the 2 points are for the bacon).

2) Juneau

Our tour in Juneau was “Gold Panning and a Salmon Bake”. Our tour bus driver was also named Bill. The tour was very disorganized, with buses coming and being too full. We chose to wait for a second bus and received tremendous gratitude and goodwill from the tour company, but little did they know we had a hidden agenda—the other people who would be on the first bus with us were an extended family of 6 adults and 9 kids under the age of 10 from Las Vegas. One of the kids was named Tyler. I know this because every two minutes, one of the women would scream, “Tyler!! Stop that!!” So we had to wait fifteen minutes for the next bus, but I’m pretty sure it was worth it. At the gold panning, they gave us pans with dirt in them, and everyone immediately found some teeny flakes of gold. It was really exciting until I realized that the pans were pre-loaded—when Ken and I scooped our own dirt from the river, there was nothing, and I was sad because I had visions of finding a huge nugget and waving it in Tyler’s face (yes, his entire family was still goldpanning when we arrived. Tyler had, at that point, fallen in the river and was wandering around soaking wet as the woman continued to scream his name). But we came away with a small vial of our gold flakes as a souvenir.

Then we went to the salmon bake. The food was great, and there was live entertainment in the form of a woman playing guitar and singing famous songs that she had ‘modified’ for the tourists. Our favourite was her rendition of “Proud Mary” which included the lines ‘Salmon keep on churning, cruise ships keep on burning,’ and if that wasn’t f*cking ominous and perhaps a little telling about her attitude towards tourists, I don’t know what was.

Rating :          
8 out of 10 for the Gold Panning because for most of it I was super optimistic that I would end up rich.
7 out of 10 for the Salmon Bake because the food was great but I’m pretty sure that the singer was throwing some very passive-aggressive shade at us.
10 out of 10 for Tyler because of his ability to not give a single f*ck.

3) Ketchikan

It was pouring rain when we arrived in Ketchikan, and it didn’t stop all day. We were soaked by the time we got on the tour bus, whose driver was called Helen. She was oblivious to the fact that we were cold and wet, and that the windows of the bus were so fogged up by our dampness that no one could see out of them. This kind of ruined her tour “patter” which consisted mostly of her saying stuff like “If you look out the window to the right, you can see a bald eagle” or “If you look out the window to the left, you can see a totem pole”. We were all too busy trying to wipe the windows off and shivering to see much of anything. The best part of the tour was when she took us to a totem-carving centre where they had these bizarre stuffed squirrels dressed like explorers, cowboys, and other things.

Price Tag: $265

Also, at the end of the tour, we stopped by a river to see bears fishing for salmon. Now, normally I’m terrified of at the mere thought of bears, but there were several elderly people in our tour, 2 of them with walkers, and I knew I could outrun at least half of them, and probably Ken too if I had to, so I was like “Bears? Cool. Whatevs.”

Rating:
6 out of 10 for the cold, foggy bus.
10 out of 10 for the creative taxidermy.
8 out of 10 for me for overcoming my fear of bears. I’m deducting 2 points because my attitude was a little mercenary.

Overall, Alaska was beautiful, despite the frigid August weather, and the cruise ship was the nicest one I’ve been on so far. Next week, I’ll finish up with a quick tale about our return to Vancouver and the Tour of Death, and then we’ll be back to our regularly scheduled lunacy. Cool? Whatevs.

Howdy, pardner.

My Week 207: Vacation Part Two: Crazy Train, Braking News, A Little More News

I left off last week at the point where Ken and I were about to board the train. According to my Via Rail GPS tracker, the train was over two hours late, so I called Via to make sure. “Oh no!” said the woman on the phone. “Those trackers are never right. The train is absolutely on time. IN FACT, it’s early. You should get over there right now!” So Ken and I packed up everything superfast and called a cab. The cab driver was very pleasant and chatted with us amicably while he drove extremely slowly and took as many detours as he could, because the train station was only 5 minutes away and he wanted to extend the ride as much as possible, even tucking himself in behind a slow-moving dumptruck.

We were getting a little panicky, but we got to the train station in Edmonton, which is quite possibly the dirtiest, sketchiest station I’ve ever been to, with about 10 minutes to spare. “Oh no!” said the man behind the desk. “Those people at the call centre are never right. The train is absolutely two and a half hours late. IN FACT, you should go find something to do.” So Ken and I checked our bags superfast and called a cab to take us to the shopping centre we saw on the way over to buy a magnifying mirror (I had forgotten mine at home, and I needed it to put on mascara, which sounds stupid, but if you have to wear reading glasses, you’ll understand how necessary one of those is to not gouging your own eye out with a mascara wand). The second cab driver was also very pleasant and chatted with us amicably as he too took the slowest way possible back. We would repeat this one more time before the morning was over but we are now intimately familiar with 121st Street and all of its numerical tributaries.

A somewhat pretentious moniker.

The train finally arrived though, and Ken and I proceeded to our car, named Elgin Manor. Manor, indeed, if the grand home in question had worn carpeting, torn upholstery, and smelled like a urinal cake. Still, there’s a certain charm to rail travel, so I’m told, and when we were shown to our room, which was approximately 8×8, with a large window and its own sink and toilet, I was actually quite pleased with the whole set-up. And then we were off. By this time, it was lunch and we made our way to the dining car. Via actually has its own on-board chefs, servers, and a rather smarmy maître-d, Philip, who greeted us and showed us to a table for 4.

We weren’t sitting there for more than two minutes when he showed up again with an elderly man and said, “Right here, sir.” The man sat down and I looked at Philip questioningly. “Oh,” he said, “It’s a busy time so we need to put people together at the tables.” If you know anything about me at all, you know that being forced to talk with a random stranger is something I would NEVER willingly do, yet there we were. Luckily, Ken did all the heavy lifting/chatting, and the old dude was actually pretty interesting, having fought in ‘Nam and been on an aircraft carrier. But for the whole meal, we were literally the only people in the dining car, so I was calling bullsh*t on the “busy time” rationale for forcing me to eat with a stranger. Then later, when it was dinnertime, it got worse, as Philip immediately took us to a table already populated by a couple a little older than us. I was about ready to scream, but I didn’t want to offend the couple, and Ken was excited about taking pictures of the scenery. Unfortunately, the woman we were seated with didn’t have a problem being offensive herself.

Me: That’s a great shot, Ken. Too bad there’s such a glare on the windows.
Woman: There’s ALWAYS a glare on the windows. It’s because of the light inside the train.

5 minutes later…

Woman: And then we climbed Chichen Itza.
Me: Oh nice. I climbed a Mayan pyramid once too.
Woman: WHICH ONE? CHICHEN ITZA?  
Me: I don’t think so. One of the other ones.
Woman: TULUM.
Me: No, not that one. It was in Costa Maya.
Woman: THOSE ARE THE ONLY ONES.
Me: I’m pretty sure there are more than just those two. I can’t remember its name, sorry.
Woman: THEY ARE THE ONLY ONES.

They’re actually not, lady, but I really didn’t want to argue with her anymore about it, and I just looked it up now and it was Chacchoben. The final straw came though when she made what seemed to be a racist remark, and I was done with her sh*t so we left them and the still empty dining car. The next morning at breakfast, when Philip arrived to take us to a table, I announced loudly, “I’m not sitting with anyone. We want our own table.” Philip looked pretty pissed off, but since there were 12 tables empty, he didn’t have much choice. Do not force me to make friends, PHILIP—I will throat punch you.

Prestige Class Observation Car: Only allowed in here after 4.

It was really pleasant though, sitting in our cabin, or up in one of the Observation Cars, watching the scenery roll by. The mountains were gorgeous, and at one point, the engineer slowed down so we could all ogle a bear walking along beside the tracks out in the middle of nowhere. Then it was time for bed. Our car attendant came in, and with the pull of a few levers, our chairs collapsed and bunkbeds came out of the wall and ceiling. I looked at them skeptically, already planning for a worst case scenario.

Me: I’ll take the top bunk.
Ken: I thought you wanted the bottom?
Me: We don’t know how secure these things are, Ken. You outweigh me by a good 75 pounds. If the top bunk collapses, it’s probably better for both of us if I’m in it. I promise not to crush you.

2 hours later:

Me: Ken! Can you help me get down the ladder? I need to go to the bathroom.

2 hours later:

Me: Ken! Ladder! I have to go to the bathroom again!

1 hour later:

Me: Ken–
Ken: Why did you have to drink so much wine?!

But the bunkbeds were very comfortable, even if the ladder was a pain in both of our asses. The next day was pretty leisurely, and we spent time wandering around the train, which was kind of like Snowpiercer (if you’ve seen the bizarre movie with Chris Evans and Tilda Swinton, you’ll get the reference) in that it was over a quarter mile long, had 19 cars and two engines, and its own class system where one end of the train was the Economy class where people slept sitting up in their seats, the middle section went from berths to “Sleeper Plus” where Ken and I were, and it got more exclusive until the other end of the train, where the Prestige cabins were. The Prestige people had their own lounge, which the rest of us plebeians were allowed to enter after 4 pm, although I heard that the Prestige folk were a snobby, tightknit group who gave everyone else dirty looks when they came in and muttered ominously about amputating people’s arms by sticking them out the train windows.

There are at least five…

And that’s where I saw the Emergency Brake sign that said you could pull it if you had a valid reason. So I leave you with this—the top 5 valid reasons to pull the emergency brake. Next week, we will explore Alaska and have fun in Vancouver!

Top Five Valid Reasons to Pull the Train’s Emergency Brake

5) I need a better picture of that bear. There was a glare on the window.
4) I appreciate the “History of Alaska” lecture, but William Seward did not say, “7 million dollars? Whatevs.”
3) Philip, you’re a dick. Get off the train.
2) The Economy passengers have organized a coup and are marching on the Prestige Lounge.
1) Racist on board!

A Little News

Some of you might already know this if you follow me on Facebook or Twitter, but I just had my second YA novel accepted for publication. The Dome will be coming to a bookstore near you in 2019, and I’m over the moon!