Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Amazing Race 19, Episode 1

I only found out last week that the Amazing Race was starting up again...how happy was I? I didn't even have to count down the weeks or anything.

I'm glad they had a Non-Elimination for the first leg; it must take a few days to get your racing mojo on. But man, Bill and Cathi took their sweet time getting to that Pit Stop....I heard they wandered around for four hours looking for that clue. Four hours! I would have lost my shit altogether around hour two, so good on em for holding it together. I did turn to Thing 1 when they were introduced and said "The label "grandparents" is the kiss of death; they will be the first ones out".

Personally, I have obsessive-compulsive disorder when it comes to my passport....I keep in in a zippered pocket of my purse and check it every twelve minutes to make sure it's closed. Then I open it to make sure the passports are there, zip it, and then check to make sure it's closed. Lather, rinse, repeat. There is no freaking way my passport would be in any danger of falling out of my purse, because if I was on this race, I would carry it in my teeth.

At first I called foul on the passport just "happening" to find it's owner at LAX, but then I remembered this was in LA and the place must be seething with attention-whores dying to get a few minutes on tv. I guess it was that guy's lucky day! I can't help wondering if he'd have gone all the way to the airport if it had been one of the snowboarders pictures inside.

That monk had the funniest expressions ever; he managed to have entire conversations just with his eyebrows. He rolled his eyes at the snowboarder, and gave a total "dude, dial it back" to Ethan. I'm pretty sure that sort of behaviour is not condoned in the "Buddist Monk Handbook of Public Relations".

Had I known that "Dragon Boat Racer" was a legit profession, I'd have changed my major at University 30 years ago.

How come the Twins get no label other than "twins"....they could have "sisters" or "siblings" or even "Shouty McWhinersons".

I wonder if everyone else knows about the double elimination, or just the Farmer Grandparents. Because if I were them, I would totally keep that to myself and make sure the other teams melt into a puddle of dejection at the Pit Start.

After having travelled a bit myself this summer, I really do have a bit more appreciation for the racers and the difficulty in dealing with the tasks. We are just watching them wander around in Taipei, but they've just come off a 14 hour flight, possibly with very little sleep, and have to jump right in, and very quickly, too. After a long flight, I'm basically functioning on a purely molecular level; I think I'd be having trouble with that "look up" clue, too. I really, really hoped Jenna would ask that guy to give her a clue out of his "racing boxers" underpants.

When do we see an "Amazing Race" contestant on "Survivor"?

Until next week!

Busy Days

Busy days.

I always find that September is a bit of a whirlwind; everything starts up again after a summer break. I grew up in a house of teachers; I remember my brother and I learned very early not to ask for one extra thing until October. It's bad enough how September occupies my normal existence, and I don't even go to school.

We went to the fair a few weeks ago, sorted out a bazillion forms for school, my book club met for the first time since June and we've been renovating the colour room at work.

My cousin from Australia just left this morning; he and his wife and three kids were here for a few days, before heading off to Niagara Falls. My cousin grew up in Ireland, but met and married a very nice Australian woman, and since he wanted to live with her, moved to Brisbane.
I very recently got my husband and two teenage children to Europe for two weeks and then home; I cannot imagine the incredible effort involved in herding three children (10, 8 and 6) half way across the globe for three weeks, and then face a 26 hour trip home. And they seemed to do it without batting an eyelash.

I have to say, Aussies are the travellingest people I have ever met....maybe it's the result of living on an isolated continent with NOTHING but ferocious sharks and lethal jelly fish within a couple of thousand miles that makes them so impressively blase about flying for days to get where they want to go. Every Australian I have ever met appears to be an enthusiastic explorer, full of boundless energy and almost manic interest in their surroundings. Of course, the only Australians I've ever met are also the ones who have made it to North America.....I suppose the whiny pantywaists stay firmly put.

My cousins children were absolutley delightful; bright and interested and polite and funny. I was smitten.
We took everyone apple picking yesterday, because they don't have much in the way of apple orchards in north-eastern Australia. Or eastern Ireland, for that matter. We got some apples and saw the pumpking patch and saw a few baby pigs.....everything's exotic if you're from somewhere else. (Personally, one of my favorite things to do in other countries is go into the grocery stores.....it's all wildly interesting when it's new to you.)

My mother fed them heaps of pancakes with maple syrup (another novelty) and I took the 8 year old boy to see an ice rink. (There was nobody there; I told him he could stand on the ice and slide around a bit, just to see what it was like. I'd take the heat if we got in trouble.)
The 6 year old wanted to see a bear. They are a bit thin in the ground here, we don't get many grizzlies in our subdivision. But he did manage to see a squirrel, and he was pretty excited about that.
The 10 year old girl really wanted to see our house, I suppose because of Thing 1 and Thing 2. We brought her over last night, and she was deliciously horrified at the state of their rooms. (Both of my children have bedrooms that look like they have been the scene of a particularly enthusiastic ransacking by gay thieves who only wanted to try everything on.) She also liked our cat, and the fact that we keep soda pop in the house at all times.

We had dinner with everyone last night, and later on, the Mister had another kidney stone attack. (He had one last month when we were in England, staying with another cousin of mine.) He has concluded that eating dinner with my cousins wreaks havoc with his kidneys, and from now he will only chance breakfast and lunch with any of them.

As October approaches, I think things will settle down a bit and a routine will find itself. At least we have plenty of apples.

Sunday, September 11, 2011

The Loudshoes in Europe, Part 9: The Trip Home

I've been to hell and lived to tell the tale....it's crowded and noisy and food is so expensive it will make you hyperventilate: it's Terminal 4 at JFK Airport.

On our way home from Europe, we had to fly to New York City to make a connection to Toronto. We could have flown directly from Heathrow to Pearson, but that cost an extra thousand dollars for the four of us, and we figured we could do a LOT with a thousand bucks on our holiday. (This becomes relevant later.)

The flight from Heathrow to JFK was fine, but when we got into New York the airport was in chaos; there had been some terrible thunderstorms in the area, with them getting more rain in one day than they'd ever had since they'd been keeping records. Every flight in the place was cancelled, including ours. And, the young woman behind the counter, who clearly thought I was being unreasonble and a total downer for harshing her buzz, said that she couldn't find us another flight for 24 hours. I wanted to kill myself, except at JFK, they would charge you something for that.

After chasing a hotel room, fruitlessly, for an hour or so (including a $30 round trip taxi ride for nothing) we looked at each other and concluded we were going to have to sleep in the airport. Thing 1 was a bit upset at this prospect ("It's like we're homeless!") and Thing 2 thought it would give her some serious street cred for having slept in public in New York City.
But then I realized were were going to have to spend another whole freaking day in that same stupid airport, and nearly lost my shit altogether. That's when I bought a bottle of water for 5 dollars and realized that waiting for this flight would cost us as much at 2 weeks in Europe.

We did find a place to settle down, at least; a bench with some padding meant that we weren't sleeping on marble floors. (50 year old backs + rock hard surfaces = cripples for days.) There were plenty of other people sleeping in the airport too, so it wasn't like we were the only ones there. But it did feel a little creepy, sleeping out in the open where anyone could come and go, and the homeless guys scratching their genitals and talking to themselves.

Airports are fairly noisy places, what with the flight announcements and the security check points. Oh, and the airport personnell who have to shout to their friends on the other end of the concourse to see who gets their break next. Yes, I could not get enough of that.
I eventually gave up on sleep and took out my book to read; between my 20's and having young children, it certainly wouldn't be the first night I'd lost out on sleep; I'd live.
Around 4 o'clock in the morning, the Mister and looked at each other and figured that thousand bucks on that direct flight would have been very well spent.

Around 6 in the morning, the Mister and I decided to move over to the terminal we would be flying out of, and at least see if they would check in our luggage for us; we were tired of dragging it around.
You know, the people at JFK are just so pleasant, and nice and helpful. Just kidding. They are horrible; mean and surly and shouty. The woman at the check-in counter looked at me like I was an idiot and asked why I was waiting for the 8 pm flight and not trying to get stand-by seats for the 8:20 A.M flight. "Because the snot-bag I talked to last night didn't even tell me there was an 8:20 a.m flight" I replied, except I substituted "woman" for "snot-bag". She sighed deeply, and shook her head at me, like she was sorry I was such a loser and she had to deal with me, and told me she would book us standby seats for the 8:20. I thanked her, and I was so happy to find out there was a possibility that I might get out of that hell-hole 12 hours earlier than anticipated, I even smiled at her and thanked her. (Which is forbidden at JFK Airport, just to tell you.)

We got to the gate, which was crowded and noisy, because approximately every single person in there was trying to get out. I asked the woman behind the counter at the gate how this stand-by thing worked, since I'd never done it before. She laconically said "we call your name". Now, I think I'd made it clear I'm new here, I haven't done this before and by the way, I had to sleep in an airport and watch a homeless guy scratch his genitals for the past 10 hours. You're going to have to put the dots real close together for me: "So, if you don't call my name?" I say, and she gets her eyes all wide and toggles her head from side to side and says in a sing-song voice: "Then you don't. Get on. The flight." I tell you, if I hadn't really, really needed her co-operation to get me the hell out of New York City, I'd have leapt over that counter and choked the living shit out of her. But I restrained myself.

I was pretty sure we'd never get on that flight: four seats that morning? No way. But, because I have good karma and I did not choke the shit out of that woman, she announced "all stand-by seats are confirmed, all stand-by passengers can board now." (So you don't call my name, you lying little shit!)

You have never seen four people dance onto a plane like the Loudshoes did that morning.

And when we arrived in Toronto, I wanted to lay down and kiss the ground. Except I was too busy finding the nearest Tim Hortons with my phone app. After loading up on cheap coffee and bottles of water that cost $1.35, we got in the van, and drove home.

We had a wonderful trip, truly a once-in-a-lifetime vacation. But walking in the door of my own house was one of the sweetest feelings ever. Ever.

Friday, September 9, 2011

The Loudshoes in Europe, Part 9: Kent

After our exciting time in London (Riots! Kidney stones! Indian food!) we headed south-east to Kent, where my aunt and uncle live. It was their 50th anniversary, and the ensuing party was mostly the reason we were in Europe in the first place.

We took the train from Victoria station, in London, to Sittingbourne in Kent. Let me tell you, the public transportation systems in London are fabulous: easy to navigate, reliable, clean and reasonably priced, and they get you where you want to go. Coming from a country that has decimated it's rail system to the point where there is really only route from one end of the country to the other, the British system is wildly accomodating. (In Canada, there's no train service in Newfoundland at all. And if you want to go to, say, Saskatchewan, you only have one place to get on and off. And that place is Saskatoon, and come on, who wants to go there? 22 hours on a train and then you're in Saskatoon? Please. )

We stayed at one of the strangest little hotels I've ever been in....they didn't even have phones in the room. But it was clean and accomodating and close to where we wanted to be, even if it was inexplicably 100°F in that room. Seriously, it's in England....why was it hot enough to grow bananas in there?We went to my aunt and uncle's house for dinner, and they were so welcoming and generous; it was wonderful. I hadn't seen this family for almost 20 years, and they could not have been more congenial. My cousins are lively, funny, delightful people, and I don't get to see them nearly enough

The next day Mister slept in while the girls and I went to McDonald's for breakfast. He's not a big breakfast eater (and I love him anyway) and he was still jet-lagged from the kidney stone.

They had a breakfast buffet at the hotel, but since it cost a lot and we decided that we were too spoiled by our breakfast buffet in France, we'd take a pass. Besides, we were more thirsty than hungry, what with sweating out 10% of our body weight overnight.
Breakfast in McDonald's is never going to be the highlight of anyone's day, but I have to say, it was one of the oddest breakfasts I've ever had. I ordered bacon and egg on a bagel, which you'd think would be pretty straight-forward, but no....the bagels in the McDonalds in England are really just bread shaped like a bagel: round bread with a hole in the middle. I could fold it in half and eat it. The girls got pancakes which came with no syrup. When we asked for syrup, any kind of syrup, the pimply youth behind the counter looked at me like I had asked him to calculate the square root of time or I'd shoot him, and offered up some jam. I didn't want him to wet his pants, so we took it. The coffee was a very pleasant, warm, brown liquid, but it bore no relation to coffee. We did like the British nomenclature for "no-pulp" orange juice; it said "no bits", which we used for the rest of the day to express delight or pleasure. ("How is your cake?" "NO BITS!")
(We also liked the signs for the fire doors: "This door is alarmed!". Seriously? Did it just hear about J.Lo's divorce?)

The party was that day, and it was lovely, real English garden party. (Like in a book!) The weather was wonderful (always a bit of a gamble in England) and the food plentiful and delicious and the company was utterly fabulous. I had such a great time seeing my extended family, and they made us feel like rock stars, just for showing up.

We made our way back to our hotel and then, naturally, to the pub for a drink or two. And then it was Sunday, and time to go home.

Friday, September 2, 2011

The Loudshoes in Europe, Part 8: London

Because my cousin Eilish had so generously put us up (and put up with us) while we were in London, the least we could do was take her out to dinner. The girls stayed at her place and had watched British television (which, curiously, seems to consist of lots of "Friends" re-runs and show like "Pregnant and Impaled!". I wish I was making that up, but I'm not.) while we went out for some Indian food.

We walked to a restaurant Eilish knew of, and while we were on our way we detoured past site of the nearby riot a few nights before. It was terrible; an entire 3-storey building reduced to ruins, and all the homes and businesses around it destroyed as well.

While at dinner, my cousin and I yipped and yapped about all sorts of things...sharing some DNA meant that neither one of us had any trouble filling a silence. The Mister was pretty quiet during dinner, but I'm used to that when I'm in the room. But I also noticed that he didn't very much, not as much as he ususally would when faced with excellent chicken tikka masala and naan that was so puffy and warm you could curl up and go to sleep on it, and dal with coconut and gobi aloo that we would ususally have a fierce tussle over.
And then I noticed he didn't say one word on the walk home; I mean, he's a quiet guy but that was quiet, even for him.

When we got home I came up to our bedroom with a glass of water to find him hunched over on the bed, breathing hard between his teeth and rocking back and forth slightly. I'm no Sherlock Holmes, but even I could tell, something was up, and I had a pretty good idea of what, too. "Kidney stones" he hissed. Yup, just what I thought.

The Mister has had kidney stones before, and they are so painfully agonizing that I make sure the big knives are out of his reach, lest he try to go in after them himself. It's been about 6 years since he last had one, and they don't really give him any notice, the kidney stones just show up and attack, like terrorists.

At least he knew what it was, and it wasn't going to kill him, just mostly kill him, until it passed. And it would pass, eventually. (The one good thing about a kidney stone is that when you've peed it out, it's all overwith, the pain is good and gone in an instant. ) I asked if he wanted to go to a hospital to get some painkillers, but he declined and said he'd make do with the Tylenol I had in my bag.

Poor man, he had a long and miserable night. In the morning, I finally convinced him to go to the hospital; although he was feeling a bit better (he though he might have passed something), we were due to fly home in two days, and I really wanted him to have something to take care of the pain in case the tiny renal terrorists decided to strike at thirty thousand feet.

My cousin drove us to the nearest hospital, and thankfully, the waiting room was blissfully empty. (It had rained the night before, so the rioters took the night off.) He was seen fairly quickly, by a disturbingly young doctor....seriously, this guy looked like he still needed a babysitter and wore pull-ups to bed. But he had the authorization to order painkillers and x-rays, so I wasn't going get fussy about having canned goods older than him at home. I explained that we were here on vacation from Canada, that we had a 15 hour trip home in a couple of days and that all we really wanted was to get the Mister home without me having to bulldoze him through Heathrow on a luggage cart. ("Does it really take 15 hours to get to Canada?" he asked. "When you're as cheap as us, it does." I said.)

After an x-ray and examination, The Little Boy Who Went To Medical School determined that the Mister had probably passed a stone, and that there was another one in the kidney, but for the moment, it wasn't causing a problem, and he gave us some painkillers (just in case) and told us to take care of it when we got home.
We had traveller's medical insurance, and after calling them and determining that we were to pay the hospital and we'd be reimbursed later, I asked how much we owed them and where did I pay and hoped that the $9,000 remaining credit on my Visa card would cover it. And he answered "nothing, you don't owe a thing". At which point, I asked if they did hearing exams, as well.
It turns out the UK has a reciprocal agreement with Canada (among other countries) for emergency care; we were in the clear.
The Mister and I looked at each other, thanked the Boy Wonder and high-tailed it out of there before they could change their minds. How lucky were we??

The Mister has been fine ever since; his kidney hasn't bothered him at all since that night. And guess what? He hasn't done a thing about it since we got back; I'm sure he's waiting for it to show it's nasty self again, like on Christmas Eve or on our way to a wedding. At least we still have the pain killers.