Saturday, December 31, 2011

The Amish Friendship Bread Pyramid Scheme

I went out with some chick friends last week and one friend was lamenting the fact that her neighbor had given her Amish Friendship bread starter. She told us that it was too much of a commitment; she was going on vacation. With this starter, one must leave it out for 10 days, kneading it every so often (we were wondering why it doesn't go bad). This made me laugh; I've never heard someone so sad about baked goods before!

My thought was this (probably because I'm not overly domestic): who wants to do all that work for some bread? I'll just make it in the breadmaker, visit Avalon Bakery in Detroit, or make beer bread, which requires hardly any ingredients, doesn't require any time to rise, and is fantastic.

The friendship bread saga continues, though: on day 10, the dough is to be divided and extra is given to friends. They're supposed to start the process all over and then give some of the dough to their friends and the cycle continues.

I pondered this, then summarized the bread process: it's a pyramid scheme. The original breadmaker reels in unsuspecting fools to help with spread the Amish bread takeover who then in turn recruit more breadmakers. Friendship, my hiney.

Friday, December 30, 2011

Reaons I love Flint

From Sep 11, 2009
-brick roads;
-Farmer's Market with live music;
-a roadside stand with crepes (go, go, small business trying to make a go of it downtown and make some dollar bills!);
-and, the best part ever, a cute little dude who rides around in a mule to give parking tickets. He's slightly round, gray-haired, wears suspenders, and smokes a pipe while he writes out tickets. I tried to contain my glee at seeing him*, but it was difficult because he was adorable and I wanted to pinch his cheeks.
*I probably would have not harbored the same feelings had I been the subject of the parking ticket.

Here is proof that he actually exists. 

Thursday, December 29, 2011

"Free" pamphlets, get your "free" pamphlets

From Jan 5, 2010
At work, one of the regulars* was talking to my boss. I was engrossed in a project so I wasn't really paying attention. After the regular left, my boss showed me the business card the regular had given him. Apparently he's some sort of "motivational" speaker for those who don't like to pay taxes (or at least that's the impression I got). We checked out his most awesomely done website, replete with American flags, tiled, for your enjoyment.
The gentleman offers "free" pamphlets for the low cost of...$2. See, you must send two $1 bills to this gentleman; one bill is for postage and printing and the other bill is for advertising costs.** But quick! Order now! These "free" pamphlets won't be around for long.
We also were really impressed because the pamphlet was full of "facts"*** that you, too, can verify on the internet; it even suggests that you should. You know, because the internet is such an authoritative and reliable source ALL THE TIME.
*I almost want to call them irregulars because of the odd things they do ;-)
**Since I sometimes feel very evil, I almost wanted to scrounge up a $2 bill to send to him just to rock his little world.
***Ouch, this has been an "overload."

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

O, Canada

From Mar 10, 2010
I enjoyed a nice little trip to Canada a few days ago with a friend. I ate some poutine (which is an acquired taste; in other words, I didn't care for it) and went to the most-awful dive bar ever. It was AWESOME. Seriously, there is nothing like a good dive bar. This one was complete with dirt in the corners, weird locals in shorts (it was in the high 40s), cobwebs on the walls, foosball, computer word games, and obscenely named drinks. I wish a clone of the place was down the road from me.
The obscenely named drinks made playing the computerized word games more challenging. Since my friend and I both think we're the supreme gods of Boggle, the "collaborative" rounds we played became more of a challenge, a throw-down of vocabulary, if you will.
The locals added some interesting dynamics to the evening. We got roped into a conversation with the guy in shorts and a winter coat (I thought the coat was a nice touch). It was a very weird conversation, to say the least.
Though a lot of my background actually is Canadian (sorry, dad, but the French is way too far back there to count), I don't know that I am true to that heritage. After all, I don't see the appeal of poutine. Fries with gravy? How about ketchup, instead? And why does there have to be cheese in it? Did someone have a weird mix of leftovers once and threw it together to create a regional dish? However, it's fun to cross a bridge or drive through a tunnel and be transported to a whole different world, country, whathaveyou.

Saturday, December 24, 2011

Education a la Catholic school

I spent 13 years of my life doing time at Catholic schools. I received an excellent college prep education but the religious part didn't stick. However, the schools did present an interesting take on sex education.

In grade school and middle school, we learned about the finer points of anatomy from an oddly named series, New Creation. We had sadistic teachers who delighted in making students read aloud from the books.

I do remember a very odd chapter, possibly titled "Petting." It was absolutely bizarre. The chapter indicated that it was wrong to "pet" outside of marriage. I was a bit freaked out by this "petting" term and had no idea what it was exactly. Even then, as naive as I was, I felt that all was not right with the book. Even though we were using the books in the late 80s/early 90s, I bet that the content's original copyright was in the 50s or perhaps the 70s; it's the only logical reasoning for the bizarre statements.

In high school, the fun continued, or perhaps it didn't. The only health-related information we received was in the Christian Living class during our senior year (too little, too late, perchance, judging by the pregnant 16 and 17 year olds?) in which we had to watch a video of a woman giving birth and a Bill Cosby comedy skit. I wasn't sure whether to laugh or throw up. I only did the former.

We did have one assignment where we had to carry around an egg "baby" all week, supposedly to help us appreciate the responsibilities of parenthood. Public schools, who actually have money, usually use a high tech mechanical doll thing that can even measure the quality of care. We had Grade A eggs. We had to draw the name of our "spouse" and the co-parent of the egg baby. I was totally unlucky, however, and drew the name of a kid that I swear had to have been a total crackhead. I had a fit and demanded an instant divorce and that Child Protective Services needed to be called in. To pacify me, the teacher said that I could be a single mom and that there would be no visitation privileges. Thank goodness.

When in Paris/Brussels/Amesterdam

From December 14, 2008

I recently returned home from my week-long trip to Europe with my friend K. We had a great time and saw many interesting things, including many, many hookers, a church in the attic, a crazy flea/antiques market (puces!), chestnuts roasting over an open shopping cart, "coffee" shops, Post-Impressionist paintings, a statue of a little boy peeing that is supposedly world-renowned (um, I hadn't heard of it before), a huge atom sculpture with a restaurant inside, etc.

Plus, I now have a potential husband in every port that we visited, it appears. In Paris at the flea market, I was grabbed by the hand, kissed on it, and kissed on the cheek by a pseudo-French dude (I doubt that he had legal resident status there) who wanted me to take him home to America with me. He also kissed K's hand, too, so she didn't feel left out (he probably wanted to cover all of his bases). I declined to pack him in my suitcase and bring him home with me, but I did buy a pretty freakin' cool hooded sweatshirt there so I could fondly remember my "husband" (actually, I had planned to buy it anyway).

In Brussels, we were walking through an obnoxious restaurant quarter where the servers try to sweet talk people into the restaurants. We were just passing through to get to the other side of the road (just like the chicken jokes go) and a waiter opened his mouth to start his spiel. I didn't want him to waste his breath and I didn't want to hear it anyway, so I told him, "no thanks, we're not hungry." He cried out, "No, that's not what I want; I'm single!" K and I laughed really hard at that one.

Finally, in Amsterdam, K and I were walking around the Red Light District, which also conveniently hosts Chinatown. We were in search of rangoons for her because she had a mighty fierce craving for them. There were two really loud, rambunctious dudes walking in front of us. They were ebullient, exclaiming something and singing. One of the guys leaped into the air, grabbed my arm, and said something very happy. I hypothesized that he either had just experienced some very good luck (if you know what I mean) or was pleasantly surprised by the amount and variety of ladies of the night in that quarter. Either way, I really wanted no part of it as I am not part of the selection, but whatever.

In other words, it was an odd, but interesting trip.

It pays to read first...

Especially when traveling in foreign lands, it is advisable to read packaging on products thoroughly before using them. I experienced this firsthand when I popped into a convenience store to buy some gum in Amsterdam. I grabbed what I thought was Winterfresh gum, my favorite flavor. I popped a piece in my mouth and just about choked. It tasted like Vick's, certainly not spearmint. I read the label and it said Menthol / Eucalyptus. Who thought THAT would be a good idea?!* Seriously! I thought it was so gross that I made K try some. She concurred.

I will say, however, that the taste grew on me and I try to find this flavor whenever I travel in Europe.

*=a menthol cigarette smoking koala bear, I bet you

Friday, December 23, 2011

You might want to x-ray that

From Mar 31, 2010

I found this lovely book today: Arrested: What to do When Your Loved One is In Jail. If I were to write the book, it would only be one sentence.

This is what I'd write: Bake a cake with a file or a shank in it. The End.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Men with mehndi

From Sep 12, 2010
This weekend, I camped at a totally awesome music festival, Wheatland, up north with my family, friends, and various combinations of our/their friends/family. It's a pretty crazy, fun event with folk music and debauchery, but is still mostly family-friendly despite this. As long as you're not hurting/bothering someone else, it seems as if almost anything goes.

I worked a volunteer shift and afterward my brother asked me what I was up to. Since my friends I hadn't seen in ages in were there and I was still feeling way under the weather, I decided to have a more mellow night with them at their camp. He decided to strike out with his friend N and meet new people. He cracks me up; he just wanders around, carries his fiddle with him, and will pull up a chair wherever people seem interested in hanging out or playing music, whether or not he knows them. By the end of the night they'll be like old friends anyway.

We parted ways and I sat with my friends and their family and of course we ended up laughing like fiends. I determined that at Wheatland, the seal breaks you and other such things, and that I did not have a collapsed lung, thanks to my friend's brother, who's a nurse and took the place of Google for me that night.

Around 4 a.m. I returned to my family's camp and ran into my brother, freshly returned from his adventures. He had me in stitches because he found an old friend and he had the inside line on some henna tattoos. He was very, very excited about getting the tattoos, which may or may not have been influenced by the adult beverages he had consumed. In between fits of giggles and coughing fits, I told him that normally when guys get drunk they get real tattoos, not finding excitement in the possibility of henna tattoos.

The next morning he elaborated and I laughed even more. This festival is run primarily through volunteer labor, so this friend was asked to help with the henna tattoos. He has no tattoo, art, or henna experience, but a good attitude, so he said sure, I can draw swirls on people. Well, in a sad turn of events, people were disappointed with his tattoos. They were expecting the beautiful mehndi designs associated with henna tattoos; instead they were given scraggly swirls or happy faces. However, sobriety and this fact still did not dampen my brother's enthusiasm.

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Too many ----- on the dance floor

From Sep 13, 2010
This weekend, I volunteered at the dance floor at the music festival. My job, I was told, was to keep people from drinking and smoking on the dance floor and to keep the rowdiness to a manageable level. One gentleman likes to dance on his head and at first I was told to not let him do that, but then I was told it was okay.
What they didn't tell me was how to deal with a giant gorilla who ran out on the dance floor, as well as a dude with a giant character head (and it was truly huge but I couldn't tell if it was Elvis or someone else because he went through so fast), or the woman wearing a life jacket. I guessed that the correct response was to laugh, which is what I did.

Friday, December 16, 2011

Take that, in whatever language

From Sep 28, 2010
Tonight marked the beginning of French class for me. Our instructor is absolutely adorable, and of course, very French. She was telling us a story about when she was living and working abroad in an expat community. Her boss was American and used the F-word all the time. She had an inkling that it wasn't a nice word, but didn't realize that it was the granddaddy of bad words. Her boss asked her to work on the f-ing report and give it back to him the following week.

She willingly completed the report, handed it to him and said "there's your f-ing report." Her boss's supervisor heard her say that, took her aside, and asked her if she knew what the word meant. She thought it was something along the lines of "stupid." She was absolutely mortified when she learned the actual meaning of it.

That's always a fear when learning another language and trying to operate in that language's world; will you commit a faux pas? [Will there be fox paws?] At worst, will you say something horribly offensive and get yourself in trouble, or at best, will you call yourself a doughnut? Such are the joys of different languages.
And I apologize to the French language; I did things to it tonight that no language ever deserves. It was bad (but the instructor was so sweet and supportive, even though my pronunciation was probably like nails on a chalkboard to her).

Saturday, December 10, 2011

Say what?

From Oct 1, 2010
I'm visiting my family and am working on the computer while my mom's watching Hoarders in the other room. I heard someone on the show speaking and commented that the woman sounded like the mom from Big Love.*

My mom asked, "What? The mom from Big Lots?"
Me: "No, from Big...never mind."

*Bill Paxton's character's mother

Friday, December 9, 2011

Paella in yo' face!

From Dec 9, 2009

If Westerns shot in Italy are called spaghetti westerns, then by my reasoning, Westerns shot in Spain would be called paella Westerns.

The Statue Park

From Mar 28, 2010

I'm back from a jaunt to Europe. My friend and I accidentally almost became fugitives from Hungarian law, tried our darndest not to laugh at a guy who kept tripping on blocks on the Charles Bridge because he was smoking and not paying attention (we failed miserably at not laughing), walked miles and miles, made a music video about sinkholes in Prague sidewalks, and had a great time.

Before the trip, I had been ruminating over getting to the Communist Statue Park in Budapest. The directions we researched, while technically correct, lacked sufficient detail. They said ride to the end of the line, turn left, and walk through the woods. Um, yeah. Ride the tram to the end of the line, turn left, walk about 2-3 blocks, turn left into the woods, take the middle trail which is probably about 2 miles or so (walk about 30-45 minutes, depending on the length of your travel partner's legs/stride and the degree of your jetlag), chug up the last hill (again, only as difficult as your jetlag is), and turn right toward the giant mushroom, as the pleasant, helpful Hungarians call it. By mushroom, they mean the water tower that looks like a UFO or a mushroom (again, depending on the degree of your jetlag). Turn left onto the road that deadends on the trail and stagger another 1/4 mile to the park. You can see it right after the garden store. You can see the arms of Communists poking above the walls of the garden store. Look around at the statues, make the YMCA sign (backwards) with one of the statues, and stagger back to your hotel.The park isn't wildly entertaining, but you can say that you possess the fortitude to get there.

The Sedlec Ossuary in Kutna Hora is about as fun to get to, but it involves multiple buses and a test of willpower of how badly you want to see it. If you want to test the fortitude of your stomach, try out the "charming" bathrooms at the Kutna Hora bus stop. By the way, the ossuary in Rome trumps that one and is far easier to get to, so if it's a tossup if you'd like to see Czech or Roman bones, I'd say go for the Roman ones. Now you know, and knowing is half the battle.

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Kids say the darndest things

From Oct 4, 2010
I was visiting my parents this weekend and my brother dropped off my almost two year old niece while he took the older niece to soccer practice. My parents were grilling her -- erm, I mean, talking to her. They were asking her where daddy went; where was mommy; does mommy work; where does mommy work?
I could tell that my niece was sick of being on the witness stand so the final question, where does mommy work? did her in. She finally said, "I don't want to talk about it."

We laughed so hard because she's not even two yet and is already saying things like that. I hypothesized that it may be her take on working mothers.

Saturday, December 3, 2011

What's a fan to do? : Look Like an Idiot

From Apr 11, 2010

Last night in Detroit, I was enjoying a drink with a friend at a bar (Park Bar) that I like very much. A guy walked in wearing what I at first thought was one of those helmets that people wear when they have seizures. Then a few more guys strolled in and they were wearing the "helmets" too. I started getting this hey-dude-bro-man vibe and then realized that the helmets were made of paper. I started to put several key clues together and I came up with the hypothesis that they have just come from a hockey game and the paper things were supposed to look like hockey helmets. I then wondered if the guys realized just how stupid they look.

The crowning moment* was when I saw one guy who took the whole helmet thing even farther: he had created a chin strap for his helmet out of toilet paper. I was despondent that I hadn't brought my camera with me.

* har-de-har-har, pun intended

Friday, December 2, 2011

We're spineless here

From Apr 25, 2010
I was at work when I was asked, "you guys don't have a skeleton here, do you?"

The smarty pants part of me wanted to say, "why, yes, I do, but I'm using it at this moment."

The really scary thing is that I actually answered, "Well, we don't have a skeleton, but there's a skull on the shelf behind me."
The freaky thing is that I don't work in a medical/scientific field so it's pretty darn weird that there's a skull on the shelf. I never did get that one.

Around the...lost dog

From Oct 5, 2010

I was enjoying a nap as I was feeling unwell when I heard the doorbell sound. I climbed out of bed and found a teen girl wearing a bright orange shirt, a Burger King crown, sunglasses, and some face paint at my front door.

"Did you lose a small white dog?" she asked.

I blinked. Um, no. Apparently she had found one and when I answered in the negative she was on her way.

If I had climbed back into bed I would have thought it was a dream but I knew it wasn't as I decided that my nap was shot. I suppose that I probably looked a bit goofy myself since I was in pajama pants and had sleep-tousled hair during the day.

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Around where monsters eat...

From Oct 9, 2010

I was absolutely pleased to learn that there is a book titled Monsters Eat Whiny Children. Apparently my friends and family think it's great, too. Maybe I should buy a copy of it for one of the success stories from this site, an expecting couple who also happen to be my friends (the wife knows me from BEFORE I was born; that's how long we go back). However, do I need to create issues in a child that hasn't even been born yet?

I read a review on Amazon (not that the hoi polloi make the most authoritative reviews) and this review cemented that I wanted to buy the book: "This book is absolutely terrible for children. I bought it thinking it would have some redeeming message for kids. It doesn't."

However, the book does have a recipe so it can't all bad, right? Right?

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Around the...hood, trick-or-treating

Oct 31, 2010

Today's Lesson is this, kids: in the hood*, when parents accompany their progeny for trick-or-treating, it is proper etiquette to give the parents candy, too (or at least that is to be assumed as the parents open their own candy bags beseechingly).

*At least in my friend's neck of the hood.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Footie pajamas, you say?

Nov 3, 2010

I was working at my second job the other night when someone in a complete Boy Scout uniform strolled up and asked for help. He was so youthful and cherubic looking that had he not been 6 feet tall I would've thought he was a kid. Then I also thought how silly a grown man looks in such a uniform.

Immediately after he left I saw an ADULT woman in a one-piece pink pajama suit walk by. And by pajama suit, I mean the type that babies wear; I think they may be called sleepers (yeah, I'm a bit removed from the whole baby culture). It was one piece, zipped up the front, and had footies. And by adult I mean that she had kids of her own and had to have been in at least her 30s.

To clarify, I also must say that this happened on November 1st, so the people couldn't even claim that they were wearing Halloween costumes, either.


I have a friend who also deals with the public. In addition, she volunteers with a parrot rescue. She emailed me recently and said the sad thing is that the parrots speak more clearly than the members of the public do (and she's referring to native English speakers, to be fair).

Monday, November 28, 2011

Around the...taxidermy shop?!

From Nov 4, 2010

I plan to attend a ladies' night that includes a stop at a taxidermy store where they'll do salt scrubs for our hands. Do I have the courage to visit the house o' dead animal heads all over the place? How badly do I want smooth hands?

And, as usual, there will be chocolate replicas of male anatomy that night. I don't know what there is about ladies' night and chocolate anatomy pieces, but they are ubiquitous at such events.

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Now that's true love

From Apr 27, 2010

My friend was telling me the story of how she met her husband and had me in hysterics last night. The whole story took probably about 45 minutes, not because it's truly a long story, but she's a hoot and gives every last detail (I know, guys, it probably would drive you nuts, but it was amusing; she's a fantastic person).

She said that the first picture she saw of the man she would eventually marry showed him wearing short shorts, knee high socks, with a Viking helmet with blond braids. It was hard to see much else of him; the photographer was far away. In between giggles, I managed to ask her, "and you STILL wanted to meet him after seeing that picture?!" Why yes, she did, and they ended up marrying.

Budget cuts result in...

My brother came to visit and we decided to take a trek to Detroit et. al. On the way day, we witnessed one of the recent results in state budget cuts. The way that workers are cutting the median's grass appears to have changed. One worker was on a riding mower, pulling a lawn cart. The other worker was IN the cart, facing backward and holding a weed whipper. We were laughing over that one; generally, workers cut the grass using big tractors. It was quite ridiculous looking.

Around the...Halloween pumpkin

From Nov 5, 2010

One of my favorite things about Halloween time is homemade pumpkin seeds. The commercial kind just don't do it for me; they're way too salty and processed-tasting. Even better yet, I love slightly burned pumpkin seeds (I was absolutely delighted when my friend gave me several containers of them that she was otherwise going to throw out).

My mom, knowing how much I love pumpkin seeds, was awesome and mailed me a package of them this week. However, I started wondering how much she loved me when they arrived postage due ;)

Saturday, November 26, 2011

Gingerbread envy & a case of mistaken identity

From Nov 12, 2010
I have just returned from a conference. During the conference, staff were decorating the conference hotel for the upcoming holidays. While leaving for dinner, I heard some drilling noises and found a small house being erected in the middle of the lobby. When I returned, it was completed and I told my new acquaintances that I needed to be excused. I wedged myself into the house as I just couldn't help myself. L thought that was great and took a picture with her phone and promised to email it to me. I gave her my business card with my email address and didn't think any more of it the rest of the night.

The next morning, I bumped into my boss, who was cracking up. She asked me why she had received a picture of me in a gingerbread house. I was certainly confused; I wondered how L had known who my boss was and what her email address was. However, my brain suddenly clicked back on and I fished out my business cards and started laughing, too. We have a general template for the cards at work. I was in such a hurry to get everything in order at work before I left on Monday that when I used the template, I had updated the cards with my name and job title, but had left my boss's email address on the card. L had been confused as she had thought my name was [Aroundthewherever]*, not [Boss's Name]*, but thought that maybe I just went by [ATW] casually and sent the email anyway. My boss loved the picture nonetheless and forwarded it to me.

The next night was even more exciting in the hotel lobby. Our group had a pow wow to talk about how the conference was going. The whole lobby smelled strongly of gingerbread so I followed the smell to what had been a wooden house the night before. A gentleman in a chef's smock was stirring a giant vat of icing and was cutting large sheets of gingerbread. He was plastering the gingerbread to the house with the icing. I felt that I just had to offer to help shingle the house with gingerbread (seriously, I had never seen such big vats of icing or such huge blocks of gingerbread before in my life! How awesome would it have been to be a part of it?). My co-conspirators tried to give helpful opening lines of how I could make that happen. However, I think that the chef was having none of it because various conference attendees had been milling about him all night and he just wanted to get the darn thing done. I feel that my life is not complete because I haven't plastered on giant gingerbread shingles. Perhaps some day my hopes will be fulfilled.

*Pseudonyms to protect the silly.

Friday, November 4, 2011

Traveling Booking Sites Review

Since 2008, I've used a few different websites to book overseas travel. I first fell into this when I traveled a friend/previous co-worker, K, who had been using the sites for a while and suggested using them. We've only used the sites for hotel and transportation packages. We felt as if we were getting decent deals and avoiding spending copious amounts of our own time by going this route. Sure, we could've really scouted airfares and hotel deals on our own and possibly could've found better deals, but we're both really busy so we appreciate the sites that combine the services for us.

Between the two of us, we've used the following sites, which I'll review. BTW, I get nothing from reviewing them; this is my unbiased opinion, not paid for or endorsed by anyone else (but hey, if they wanted to give me swag, I'd take it - but would disclose that!). Take it as you will.

Gate One Travel is our first pick. Between the two of us, we've used them for at least 5 trips. They have decent prices and their customer service has been good. After one trip, we received a survey about our experiences. We had been moved from two of our hotels during check-in because of water problems the hotels were having, but the hotels booked us a new room and paid for a cab for us to the new hotel. I didn't feel that this was Gate One's fault and felt that the hotels had satisfactorily addressed our concerns, but did mention that it was odd on the survey. They gave me a voucher for money off next time, which I wasn't expecting as we weren't mad about the changes at all. Gate One offers hotel and flight packages, escorted tours, and even some cruise packages. We've used them for trips to Western Europe. The hotels we've stayed at have been basic but the locations were good. I'd say that they were on par with a clean and up-to-date Holiday Inn Express. It's a decent site for semi-budget travelers with options to upgrade.

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Playing Frogger in Lisbon

There's an old video game from the 80s called Frogger in which the player must direct frogs safely across a street, dodging vehicles and whatnot. During a recent trip to Lisbon, Portugal, my travel companion D and I found ourselves playing a similar game. However, this was the real life version and not on a road. We were playing Frogger on the sidewalk and the "vehicles" were the people who stand in front of restaurants and try to entice (or ensnare, depending on how one views it) unsuspecting pedestrians into eating at their restaurant. We tried to dodge their advances and avoid being sucked into the restaurant, practically running through the corridor.

Unfortunately, the staff members were quite devoted to recruiting us. D is especially unhappy about such advances so as we gained an unfortunate tag-a-long, she irritably said she was from Canada when asked her place of origin. Of course the interloper wanted to know where from and he suggested Quebec. That was going to be her original answer, so she shouted "Toronto!" as we hightailed it out of the danger zone.

Once we had successfully completed our game of live Frogger, I asked her why she said Toronto and not Quebec (we actually do hail from Quebec, somewhere along the line). D had decided that if she was going to lie (which she usually doesn't), she was going to lie big.

After reading this, it would be no far stretch for the reader to think, "Well, have they ever considered just saying 'no thank you'"? Yes, we have definitely tried that. It doesn't seem to make a difference for the very devoted staff.
Feel free to chime in below: how do you respond to those guys (or ladies) who stand out front of restaurants and are very in your face as they try to get you to eat there?

Add this to the list of stuff to pack...

Did you ever read a list of suggested items to pack on a trip, and feel as if it were written by a stodgy grandmother? I mean, who'd pack galoushes? Of course, having had wet, cold feet on a trip, I could see some of the helpfulness of that suggestion, but I wouldn't be caught dead in them.

I always rolled my eyes when I read about bringing a travel alarm. I mean, seriously, what was the author going to suggest next? How about bringing a nightstand, too? What kind of hotel wouldn't have an alarm clock?

I was smarmy about all of this in Germany. There was always a clock to keep us in line; after all, aren't the Germans known for their punctuality? We had no problems with getting up on time, even in the throes of jetlag, thanks to the handy dandy alarm clocks.

In Spain and Portugal, we learned that the profileration of alarm clocks was not to be the case. Perhaps it was that we were staying at budget hotels, or maybe it was a result of the more relaxed Romance style culture. Who knows. Either way, we had to rely on wake up calls from the front desk.

My advice on relying on wake calls is this: don't do it! We were lucky that the two hotels were very good about calling us, but I've been on other trips where we never received the wake up calls (luckily enough for us, we'd also set the alarm). It finally struck home with me the validity of the stodgy advice of packing a travel alarm. And, while I'm at it, be sure to check that the batteries are good.

Sunday, July 31, 2011

Prague sidewalks, or: When I go walking, I strut my stuff and I fall in holes

Prague is a beautiful, medieval city, mostly spared of the bombing during World War II. Being as old as it is, it shows some wear though, especially with settling roads and sidewalks. During my first visit to Prague in March 2010, I was surprised at how uneven the sidewalks were. The sidewalks are composed of small pavers/stones in patterns and some patterns bulged oddly from the settling. It was almost like one of those carnival funhouses to watch one walk down the street; the person appears to grow taller and shrink as she hits high and low spots in the sidewalk. The thing is, though, is that it's not so fun to trip in the holes.

Seriously, many of these sinkholes could take a person out. Granted, their sides were often sloped, but they could often still be six inches deep. I was so taken by the sinkholes that I made an impromptu music video (with singing done by moi) on a deserted street at night about the sinkholes. I took the Violent Femmes' Blister in the Sun and just tailored it to the Prague experience: "When I go walking, I strut my stuff, then I fall in holes." It was great stuff, I tell you.

About a year later, I returned to Prague, but this time a little later in the spring. I found the sinkholes less prevelant, making me wonder if the sinkholes were from winter thawing and freezing and municipal workers had repaired them. My travel companions and I actually witnessed the workers repairing the holes. Apparently it was as enthralling for others as it was for us because a crowd of slack-jawed tourists gathered around the workers, snapping pictures and chattering in various languages. I don't think that the workers were amused by their new-found celebrity but I have to say that I was very grateful to them because they helped me to avoid a twisted ankle.

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Teenage Mutant Ninja Street Crossing Turtles

This one is almost more like Around the Block. I was on my way to a riding lesson when I saw a petrified turtle, cowering in the middle of the road. I was already running late and there was a stream of traffic behind me, so I avoided running over him but felt guilty that I hadn’t stopped to escort him off the road.

On the way home from the riding lesson, there was an opportunity to redeem myself: I was flying down the road when I saw another turtle (on a different road home). I couldn’t stop in time so I navigated over him, my tires then kicking up dust as I skidded to a stop past him. Poor Mr. Turtle was so shocked by the experience that he was leaking. I tried to wait for that to be over, because even though I have a soft heart, I have no interest in Teenage Mutant (non-Ninja) Turtle urine coming into contact with me.

I determined that Mr. Turtle was indeed a pond turtle, evidenced by the green slime coating the top of him and the proximity of the pond from which he probably originated. I then grabbed a winter glove for my car (here is evidence in support of not cleaning out one’s car often), gloved up, and picked up Mr. Turtle. There didn’t seem any good way to get him into the pond without getting myself sopping wet, so I went over the other possible options in my head. The only workable one was to toss him into the pond. I hesitated, because I was wondering if Mr. Turtle was still shell shocked (har har!) from the experience of a car hurtling over him. Would he be so shocked that he wouldn’t swim when he hit the water? Was it just instinct to do it? If I chucked him into the water, would he pass out when he hit the water?

In one decisive motion, I launched Mr. Turtle as hard as I could throw him into the pond since it was set back so far from the road. He hit the water and disappeared. I’m not sure what happened to him; I only hope that it was better than getting run over by a car and that he went on many other turtle adventures after the harrowing experience. What could he have possibly thought about having a huge mechanical thing fly over him, then having a hand like the Hand of Insert-Deity-Name-Here pluck him out of the road and chuck him into the pond? It must've certainly been life changing.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

What Ms. Around the Wherever likes to pack when she goes wherever

I've marveled at what can accomplish with one bag packing and the such out there, which has mostly been born out of necessity with rising airfare costs and fees. I shudder to think what it would've cost for my luggage when I returned from a semester in London had such rates existed then. Imagine a girl, proud of her new Anglicized vocabulary (you know, calling a cell phone a MO-bile), crawling through the plane aisles with a laptop case stuffed to the brim, a bookbag stuffed to the brim, and a huge plastic bags of gifts stuffed to the...yeah, you get the idea. This doesn't even include the two large checked suitcases that were stuffed solid.

Having said that, though, there are some things that I like to pack on every trip:

1. Compass/clock combination thingie that clips onto my coat. Since I generally don't bring my cell phone with me, I don't have a means of telling time so this way I can tell the time AND direction, which is useful when trying to find the next sight.

2. iPod Touch. Okay, I don't get into the whole Apple is Insert-the-Name-of-a-Deity here thing, but it's been very handy. I highly recommend bringing some sort of small mobile internet device (heck, I'll be honest: I don't even have any music on my iPod! Seriously, I must be some sort of freak) for travel. I love being able to check into my email quickly and for free and have found that in most of my European travels, the hotels offer Wifi (or, in Hungary, they at least directed me half a block away where I hung out on the steps of the university and checked on things at home). I especially like the Touch because it's small and fits in a purse/backpack/coatpocket/whathaveyou.

3. Lightweight, collapsible small backpack. I bought one from Eddie Bauer in a dark color (easier to hide the toils and stains of travel) that's lightweight nylon. I prefer it over a purse because I can generally stuff a sweater in it if I get too warm, a travel guide, water bottles and a wallet. I also buy a small travel lock to lock the zippers close. This is easily foiled by thieves but at least it's a small deterrent. It's a little bit harder to rip off than a purse is if it's on. Just be careful in crowded areas such as buses, where it'd be easy for pickpockets.

4. An inflatable neck pillow (shaped like a jellybean and I prefer the kind with the removable fabric covering for hygienic purposes). It makes that bus/plane/train ride a little more pleasant and it's lightweight and small and packs easily.

5. Depending on the weather, a coat that has an inner and outer shell. Since I generally travel on the off seasons (I LOVE fall and early spring travel) and because I'm a true Michigander all the way (we're good at staying warm), I couldn't imagine not taking a coat with me. I like to take a coat with a nylon shell and a zip-out liner. I've used one, the other, or both on trips. A bonus is that you can wad up the liner and use it as a pillow if need be. I highly recommend finding a coat with secure inner pockets. Keep your money and valuables on the inside. However, be aware that nylon type coats are rather casual and you're more likely to see European natives wearing more formal garb such as classic wool peacoats.

Stuff I'd like to buy:

I've heard that there are watches available for deaf people that vibrate for alarms. I think this would be very useful, especially in hostel travel, where one doesn't want to wake others. I need to investigate this further.

Women's dress boots that are stylish AND comfortable. I don't think that they really exist, or at least not for less than $100. Pros: dress boots go well with jeans or dress pants, help keep your feet and pants cuffs a little dryer in the event of rain, and aren't so casual as tennis shoes. Cons: heavy, take a lot of room when packing, and if they look good, almost always are uncomfortable. I'm always on a quest for the perfect pair of boots and have yet to find a pair that encompass all my needs.

Karma police, arrest this man...

...or at least, tell him to quit smoking and walking! As K and I were strolling down the Charles Bridge (Karluv Most) one lovely night in March and observed a gentleman smoking a cigarette, gesticulating wildly, and intently conversing with him partner. Of all of these activities, however, none of them included paying attention to where he was walking. Part of the bridge was under construction so a construction fence, with feet that stuck out, lined part of the bridge. Do you see where this is going? Mr. Smokesalot tripped over the fence feet. K and I tried to hide our giggles but after the second time of him tripping we clamped our hands over our mouths and just about lost it.

Since I'm clumsy, I warned K that karma was going to bit me in the butt for laughing at him for tripping. With Prague's incredibly uneven sidewalks (that's yet another entry), it was only a matter of time until I was paid back.

Friday, March 11, 2011

Is that English for "you paid too much?"

I'm in the midst of planning a trip to Prague and Berlin this spring. In my quest to travel on a budget, I subscribed to many different fare alert sites, travel review sites, online tour operators and other random sites to be as thorough as possible.

However, in doing so, I also drove myself crazy. What was the best deal? Which site was the best for finding the best deal? Why am I getting so many emails from one site and so few from another? Darn, airfare just went up! Where will we stay? Should I read reviews and find a hotel that sounds good, or should I wait for a special at a hotel and read the reviews and book from there? Why am I spending so much time on this when I have a million other things to do?

Time was flying by and I still hadn't booked; I was paralyzed by too many options. I then talked to someone who suggested visiting a travel agent. She believed that the agent could procure fares that I wouldn't have access to. Frustrated with all of my running in circles, I made an appointment with a local agent. After all, it would be supporting local business. I sent the agent a detailed emailed with our itinerary.
When I arrived at her office, she remarked that she thought I'd be older than I was (honestly, it flowed out of conversation and wasn't rude like it sounds here). As we were going over plans, I asked her if many people my age walked through the door. Yes, they did, but she was surprised that someone as traveled as I was had come in.

I then wondered if that was English for, "you paid too much and could've found a better price online."

However, I will say that she undid my inertia and the trip was booked and paid for that day. I could've spent forever trying to decide where to book. She was polite, helpful, and efficient. We neither overpaid for the trip nor did we net a stunning deal, but I'm happy with what she arranged and can get on with my life. The travel agency charged $40 for their services, which is really nothing at the end of the day for a 10-day trip for three people and about three hours of labor on the agent's part. Would I recommend a travel agency? Yes, I would, to those who want to leave the details up to someone else.

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Frenchies, please count bettah!

Dear French language:

you are a beautiful language. I will give you that. Also, people who use you can come up with hilarious insults that still sound oh so pretty in your tongue. I would’ve never thought of putting someone down by calling them a shampooer of dogs. It sounds so fancy when one says it in French.

However, I take big issue with your numbering system. Look, I hate math. I love you, French language, because you’re oh so sexy and I’d feel pretentious and special if I could speak you properly. However, WHY do you have to be so difficult and after the number 60, we have to do math to say 70, 80, and 90? I mean, 60 + 10 is how one says 70 in French? How about saying septante? Oh, wait, your cousins in Switzerland say that. Your family in Canada says it that way too (yes, I know that French people don’t think that the Canadians speak “real” French, but they feel that they do, so I’m not getting into the middle of that one). And then, when we get to the number 80, we have to break out the multiplication. C’mon, people! Please don’t ask me to drop many of the last letters in pronunciation, remember the gender and number for words, and then have to do math on top of it. My poor little peabrain is liable to explode.

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

We'll tuck you in

Travel can be an exciting, fun adventure, but sometimes getting there isn't. With heightened security and steep taxes and fees, transit to one's destination can be nothing near a smooth journey. Heck, even just getting through security can suck some of the fun out of the inital phase of travel. Sometimes odd situations crop up in the security line.

I was talking to a traveler who recently experienced the full body scanners and more intrusive searches. Security screeners informed him that they'd be running their hands along the waistband of his pants. He wasn't exactly thrilled about it but there's no sense in arguing with someone who holds the fate of his travel plans, he thought. His travel companion had the same thing happen, but was a bit bemused when he returned. Apparently the person searching him tucked the travel companion's shirt back in. We had a giggle about that as it was a bit...odd!

Monday, March 7, 2011

How do I say where is the bathroom?

I can't believe I'm going here, but...In Europe, toilets are a wee* bit different. There are so-called "shelf-toilets" that use much less water. Basically, solid waste falls onto a shelf with a hole below (in a canyon type arrangement, perhaps). That way, the entire toilet bowl is not filling with water, thus saving the new "oil," as some call it.

Herein lies the problem, though: to those unaccustomed to "shelf" toilets, it can be a daunting experience to have one's...well, leavings so up close and personal. It's a great relief and the end of a sick fascination to flush away the contents of the shelf. With less water flow, however, it's not always such a clean "getaway," and often a handy-dandy toilet brush is conveniently located next to the toilet. Even in public restrooms, this brush is not reserved just for the cleaning person; it's expected that one cleans up after oneself if there is not a clean get away on the shelf.

*hehe, think about it!

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

I Yam at Walgreens

Detroit is in the news often now, as it makes for good Poverty Porn and sensational stories of rot and ruin. Journalists love to gawk at the abandoned buildings and often go on and on and on about the lack of chain supermarkets available to residents. Of course, the backlash to that is that the hipsters living in Detroit point out the excellent small supermarkets like La Colmena (I love Sam's Supermercado, myself -- but that's a whole other journal entry) or the excellence that is Detroit's Eastern Market, a large and flourishing farmers' market.

What they don't say is that one can find fresh produce in some odd corners of the city. I found such an odd juxtaposition of a canned retail experience and fresh vegetables at Walgreens, of all places! A friend and I had finished up some excellent swimming at Detroit's Belle Isle (which that, too, is another journal entry) and stopped in to the Walgreens near the island to buy some drinks. Near the register, a huge bin of sweet potatoes beckoned. Now, I've been to many Walgreens throughout Michigan and I have never before seen a bin of sweet potatoes, much less fresh vegetables, inside any location. That's what's so interesting about Detroit: the city always has some surprises in store for visitors.