Monday, November 30, 2009

The Cairo Symphony

The soundtrack of Cairo is two fold. First, there is the completely unmusical and inescapable sound of horns honking. They honk to inform people on the street that they're there, they honk to indicate people aren't moving fast enough, they honk to tell drivers to slow down. The horn, it is said, is the most important safety feature on a Cairene car.

The second sound I associate with Cairo is that of the muezzin calling the faithful to prayer five times a day. Once you have lived in a Muslim country long enough, watches are no longer required as it becomes second nature to determine the time of day based upon the prayers called out over loud speakers all over the city.

Near my own flat, we have two muezzins - one in the front and one in the back. Despite the call to prayer being at set times of the day, these two men (or the Dueling Muezzins as we call them) never seem to start or end at the same time. The guy in back, in fact, always appears to have more to say, as his prayers seem to go on for much longer than the gentleman in front. Hubby has pointed out that this may simply be due to the proximity of one mosque’s loudspeaker over the other.

My favorite time of day in Cairo is around five in the morning. The air of Cairo is hauntingly silent at this time of day. Although this is a city that never seems to sleep, there are far fewer horns honking at this hour than any other. And then, off in the distance, a mysterious sound will announce the dawn. The sound becomes oddly more discordant and slightly louder as the minutes go by and I, unlike many of my neighbors, have the luxury of snuggling deeper within the folds of my duvet to await the approaching hum.

This rare, almost silent cocoon time is spent of listening for other echoes in the distance. Awoken by either his brethren in the distance or a simple alarm clock, my own muezzin will finally chime in with his chant. As he urges Muslims in the neighborhood to wake up and begin their prayer, I usually drift back to sleep.

When I wake up again, Cairo will return to its usual cacophony of horns and yelling. For those few moments at dawn, Cairo and I are at peace. That moment of silence broken only by the haunting sound of prayers is my favorite time of day in Cairo. And I will miss it.

Sunday, November 29, 2009

Two Years of NaBloPoMo

I began this month with a post describing the difficult process I went through last year attempting to successfully conclude National Blog Posting Month. This year, on the other hand, was much easier for the most part. After all, I hadn’t blogged in almost three months and had saved up lots of stories to share with you, thus eliminating the daily struggle of coming up with something to write about.

To those of you who have seen me through NaBloPoMo this year, and those of you who have seen me through two years of this month long slog: Thank you! You have no idea how much your comments helped me get through the last thirty days. From fodder rich days of recounting my trips to inspiration-free days of two line photo captions, I am proud to have successfully completed another National Blog Posting Month.

Congratulations to all my wonderful bloggy friends who concluded NaBloPoMo 2009 successfully. To those of you who didn’t quite make the mark, there’s always next year. More importantly, you (unlike some Typ0s I know) probably acknowledged that you have a life outside of blogging and for that I commend you.

Rest assured that while I may have caught up on my travelogues, I have still have many stories to tell. I think, at least for the immediate future, I will likely be taking the weekends off again. Too much of a good thing is still too much.

Ahh who am I kidding? See you tomorrow!

My John Hancock

Although the Treasury dates back to the first century BC, Petra was only recently “discovered” in 1812. For this reason, it stands apart from many of the ancient sites we’ve seen in the region. Some of you may remember my photos of carved graffiti during my Nile cruise in January. In some places along the Nile, it was evident that there were professionals assisting those who wanted to leave their names in stone.

Here in Petra, there was far less graffiti to be found. What I found most interesting about the graffiti we did find was the language: the carved names were signed in Arabic rather than Latin letters. This may be due to Petra’s more recent “discovery” when contrasted with the pyramids, which have been tourist draws for centuries. I think it is also due to Petra only becoming famous due to Hollywood movies more recently than the sites in Egypt.

Saturday, November 28, 2009

Saturday Escapes

I have a confession: I’m not in Cairo right now. Don’t worry: I’m not on vacation or anything fun like that. I’m in the middle of moving. In fact, as you read these words, I will be busy settling into my new flat in Oslo. Hubby and I took advantage of the Eid break in Egypt to fly up North to begin the process of starting our lives over again. From buying boots (since I don’t own any) to visiting IKEA (for all of life’s little necessities), the next few days are going to be jam packed with all the small jobs that are encompassed within the reality of unpacking our new Norwegian lives.

I can’t wait to share my final impressions of Egypt and my first impressions of Norway with you. That, however, will have to wait for another day since I am first tasked with the job of sharing my latest website finds with you. That’s right -- I said, “finds” plural. Today I wanted to share two great blog networking sites with you. Many of you may already know about The Secret is in the Sauce and Best Posts of the Week but for those of you not in the loop: get with it!

The SITS girls are a great way to start meeting new bloggers. Whether you visit the spotlighted blogger of the day, or are simply sharing the comment love with another SITSa, this site never lets its readers down. I cannot tell you how many awesome blogs I have found through SITS. Even better, a lot of people have also discovered me thanks to SITS. All it takes is a couple minutes and a comment.

Best Posts of the Week is a site that does exactly what the title says. Each week bloggers send in a link to whatever post they are most proud of from the last seven days. Then on Saturday the wonderful Bettyl shares the linky love and sends readers directly to the best the blogosphere has to offer. Although they may not yet have quite as many followers as SITS, BPOTW is a great blogging resource week after week.

With love from Norway, this week's Saturday Escapes are The Secret is the Sauce and Best Posts of the Week.

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Indiana Typ0 and the Walk of Doom

The edifice before was literally hewn from the mountain. If Michelangelo had messed up his masterpiece “David” no one would have known if he started over using a second block of marble. You can’t really start over when you carve a building out of a mountain. The sheer scale of Al Khazneh combined with the fact that it isn’t merely sitting on, near, or against the hill but is actually a physical part of it makes it truly unique.

At 43 meters high, Petra’s great Treasury is truly an amazing sight to behold. Despite what Indiana Jones would have you believe, there is only one relatively small room beyond the doorway. That, however, in no way diminishes from the building’s exceptional majesty.

Although most people come all the way to Petra simply to see the Treasury, they soon discover that this valley has much more to offer its guests. An entire civilization lived, died, and was buried here.

A short walk from the Treasury is a small amphitheatre. Unfortunately we were unable to walk around this structure as it was blocked off with a metal fence. One of the things that amused me most about the amphitheatre was the sight of open tombs along the perimeter of the highest seats. My first instinct when I saw the rectangular holes was that these were the earliest luxury box seats. “For the ghosts perhaps,” Hubby replied with a withering look.

As someone who may or may not have complained about the amount of walking involved in this trip, I have to admire the people who built this area. They didn’t content themselves with carving beautiful buildings at the base of mountains -- they also went vertical. A short walk up the mountain, Hubby found several more cool buildings to admire. I say he found because at a certain point I knew we still had miles of horizontal walking to do and I was not adding walks up uneven stairs and sandy hills to those miles. (I’m inherently lazy; sue me.)

The quality of the stone in this valley is truly amazing. In some places it looked like boring grey stone. Mere feet away the grey gave way to browns, oranges, reds, and pinks making the stone seem alive and lit from within. This must have been one of the aspects that first drew people and artisans to this area.

Rest assured that the people who created these dwellings, tombs, and other assorted buildings were definitely artists. In addition to the small details etched into the rock that can only be seen close up, the facades also look incredible from a distance. (No Hubby I’m not just saying that because I didn’t walk all the way to see the Urn Tomb up close.) I was amazed at how often the natural aspects of the stone were used to enhance the manmade structures. So much so that I wondered more than once if what I saw was Mother Nature or Nabataean workmanship.

We walked for miles that day, heedless of the Jordanian sun beating down upon us. There was literally something new to see around virtually ever corner. Although we didn’t make it all the way to the Monastery (as featured in Transformers 2) at the other end of the valley we didn’t feel let down at all. We had followed in Indiana Jones’ footsteps and found far more than the Holy Grail – we found illumination.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009


Although I am not American, I did marry one, which means that every November we celebrate or at least acknowledge Thanksgiving. When we lived in the States, we did so with his family. (We won’t talk about the year I was uninvited to Thanksgiving. Not that I’m still bitter or anything.) Since moving abroad, Thanksgiving has become about celebrating our new family. The family of Hubby and I and our friends who help make each port feel more like home.

This year, we celebrated the Great Turkey a few days early with our friends Black Beard and Adelpha. Being the good expats we are, we ordered the whole meal from turkey and stuffing to veggies and pie fully prepared from a local hotel. That afternoon, we gorged ourselves on a giant, perfectly cooked bird and enjoyed the camaraderie and security of friendship over several bottles of wine, a viewing of Zombieland, and a few games of Wii Sports Resort.

Thanksgiving in Canada is pretty much a bank holiday. We do the turkey thing but it isn’t quite the BIG DEAL it is to Americans. I have always wanted to be a part of those Thanksgivings on television where the family goes around one by one to say what they are thankful for. Since we were slightly too inebriated on Saturday to do so, I thought I would share my thanks with you guys instead.

I am thankful for my family at home in Canada who never let me get too big for my britches.

I am thankful for this blog and all of my Devoted Readers for keeping me sane and happy. You have no idea how much you all mean to me.

I am thankful for the wonderful friends I have made all over the world. Leaving a new place is always harder because of you.

I am thankful for not only meeting Adelpha but also having her live just three floors down. No one understands the joys of living with a work crazed Doctor Cheapo quite as well as you. Sanity, thy name is Adelpha.

I am very thankful for being able to live the expat lifestyle. I know that I often come across as a bit of a brat in this blog but I really do appreciate how lucky I am.

I am thankful for my health. I have seen up close what a life without the comforts I take for granted is like. I have never had to rummage through the trash to feed myself, or huddle under a cardboard roof to keep myself dry at night. Poverty is a word I simply didn’t understand or appreciate fully until I lived in the developing world. I am thankful for that knowledge and the ability to help change the lives of people who are not as fortunate as I.

I am thankful for my wonderful husband who never forgets to point out my annual zit or tease me about my foibles. When I keep the reading light on until three in the morning on nights he as to be up at five, Hubby never pouts complains too loudly. And when I’m at my lowest, he always brings me back up with a hug, a funny song, a chuckle at my expense, and encouragement to always follow my dreams.

I wish you all a Happy Thanksgiving. Happy Thursday. Happy life.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Petra I Can

From the moment Hubby announced we were moving to Egypt, he talked about visiting Petra in Jordan. Petra is perhaps best known as being where the Holy Grail was hidden in the movie “Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade.” This fact is not lost on the local vendors who would probably have copyright infringement suits on their hands if George Lucas ever visited.

Tickets were available for one, two, or three-day visits. While you definitely can’t see all of Petra in one day, the mere fact that you have to walk all the way in and out each time makes returning day after day a little daunting. Although there were plenty of guides waiting to be hired, Hubby and I once again elected to go solo on our tour of this historic site. We purchased our tickets and a small brochure, which laid out our route and gave brief details about the most significant things we would see.

We had done at least a little homework before heading out on this adventure. Hubby wore his Akubra (which totally looks like Indy’s hat) and I had a nice big floppy hat as protection too. We also packed water, snacks, and sunscreen. We supplemented the water as needed and ended up consuming three liters of water each in addition to two sodas each. The latter were mostly at my urging since the mini muffins I stole from the hotel’s breakfast buffet brought were not nearly enough sustenance to get me through our five hour walk.

More importantly, we also wore sturdy shoes to get us through the gravelly terrain ahead. By the time we left Petra our shoes and the bottoms of our trousers were coated in dust at least an inch thick. I was beyond words when I saw people starting their decent into the valley wearing flip flops and tank tops – even I put on sunscreen about half way through after Hubby noticed a decidedly pink tinge to my arms. But I’m getting ahead of myself.

Based on advice from my parents who visited in January, we eschewed the horse drawn carts and began the decent downhill toward the Siq on foot. I am loath to sound flip but there was literally something to gape at every few feet. From the dwellings hollowed out of mountain to natural and made man carvings that looked like they may have inspired George Lucas’s Indiana Jones movies. And we hadn’t even reached the Treasury yet!

Around a few more corners we blissfully and finally reached some shady protection from the harsh Jordanian sun. The Siq is the long, narrow gorge that leads to the Al Khazneh (the Treasury). No more than three to four meters wide in places this long walkway is a natural split between two sandstone cliffs.

The cliffs themselves are worth the visit to Petra. Words cannot do justice to the natural beauty waiting to be found during this one-mile portion of our walk. From carvings in the sandstone to natural formations that, to this whimsical blogger, looked like faces, Hubby and I shot almost 100 photos in the Siq alone.

The stone here has a marvelous living quality. From the melting wax tops to the impression of roots just beneath the sandstone surface, I sincerely could have spent all day simply taking in the breathtaking sights of this one small portion of Petra.

I have a strict policy of not posting photos of myself or Hubby on this blog that I seriously thought about breaking for this post. The light quality in the Siq is stunning and resulted in some of the best photos we’ve ever taken of ourselves. I know that sounds braggy but finding photos of myself that I don’t want to delete immediately upon viewing is tough for me. Something about the reflection of the yellow rays of light off the orange stone created a unique play of light and shadow that was so subtly dramatic that it took uploading our photos for us to truly appreciate it.

Little did we know that by the time we reached the final steps of the Siq, we had barely begun our tour of Petra. Ahead of us, partially hidden by the cavernous sandstone, was what we had come all this way to see: the Treasury. The gleaming shaft of light that tore the cliffs in two beckoned us like the Grail itself. We had only to take those last few steps into the glowing radiance of the sun’s rays to fulfill the dream that had brought us this far.

Monday, November 23, 2009

Our Last Hurrah

Hubby and I knew that once we moved to Norway, our ability to travel would be severely curtailed by, among other factors, economics and whatever job I get when we arrive. With that in mind, we promised ourselves one last regional trip before we left. We debated going to Spain, Greece, or even back to Zanzibar but eventually agreed that we would kick ourselves if we didn’t take the opportunity to visit Jordan.

So it was that we found ourselves in Jordan during the brief Eid vacation in September. Since Hubby had another business trip scheduled, we had only a handful of days to spend exploring this wonderful country. Sadly, that meant that we couldn’t explore many of the amazing biblical sites that abound in Jordan. We did, however, agree that we would each fulfill one Jordanian dream during our trip: I wanted to visit the Dead Sea and he wanted to go to Petra.

Being the amazing travel planner he is, Hubby booked us into a hotel right on the shores of the Dead Sea. From our room, it was a quick hop down a series of stairs to the vast salty Sea. Ever the water baby, Hubby was biting at the chomp to go for a swim within minutes of our arrival.

Before we could get into the water, we had to purchase an inexpensive pair of water shoes, as the shore was incredibly rocky. The stones situated at the end of the wooden docks that led into the Dead Sea created an uneven and slippery surface, making the initial steps slightly treacherous.

The lukewarm water was almost oily to the touch and felt almost slick against my skin as I waded further in. The infamous buoyancy of the Dead Sea was evident almost immediately. It took my feet from under me and made treading water virtually obsolete. The simple act of flipping onto my back or swimming further out to where Hubby awaited me became an effort worthy of Monty Python.

Of course, what makes the Dead Sea so buoyant is the salt. If you have ever had the chance to swim in the ocean, you know it is virtually impossible to avoid getting salt water in your mouth at least once while swimming. Although highly annoying, this isn’t normally too difficult a situation to rectify. The greasy liquid salt of the Dead Sea, however, had imbedded itself in all my pores and made wiping my mouth virtually impossible without making the situation worse. This meant that every time Hubby splashed me, I ended up having to get out of the water to rinse my mouth out.

When people aren’t playing beached whale by floating on their backs, the prime activity at the Dead Sea is to slather mud over every spare inch of skin. After waiting for the mud to dry, you return to the sea to gently wash it off again. The end result of this ritual is ridiculously smooth skin. The spa at our hotel offered the same service for $100. I’m always up for a good facial or massage, but even I thought it was ridiculous to charge for something that was free only a few steps away.

The heat of the September sun kept us in the water for much of our time at the hotel. Although I appreciated the cool blue waters of the pools, floating in the Dead Sea has always been on my bucket list so I was thrilled that Hubby and I had time for this final trip before we left Egypt. I also knew we couldn’t spend all our time in the Sea because another adventure awaited us 300 miles away.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Big Nordic Announcement

Before I met Hubby, the closest I had ever come to moving was my trek to and from Halifax, Nova Scotia for university every year. Hubby, on the other hand, was a Navy Brat, and moved around quite a bit until he started high school. When we married he promised me we would not move around a lot. In fact, he even put a number on it: five. His promise that we would move no more than five times never came with consequences should that number be exceeded. That, it turns out, was a mistake on my part.

As the calendar turns from 2009 to 2010, Hubby and I will be moving from our desert home in Cairo, Egypt to the rather chilly climes of Oslo, Norway. Hubby has elected to leave his contractual post here at the Institution for a permanent position at The Company where he will be a researcher. His job here gave him a phenomenal love of teaching but various circumstances beyond his control have led us to once again to pack our things and leave behind the wonderful colleagues and friends we have made here.

One of our biggest problems in Cairo has been the air quality. We had been warned that Cairo was one of the most polluted cities in the world before we arrived but didn’t think much of it. After all, we thrived in Delhi – a city with an equally bad reputation for unbreathable air. Sadly, the air here has drastically affected me. When I cough, I sound like a crack addict with a six-pack a day cigarette habit and I don’t smoke. A local gentleman with TB, whom we called Coughing Guy, once heard me and told me to go see a doctor. It’s that bad.

Hubby has also had some work related problems including a commute that takes eight hours out of his life every week. Due to the state of traffic in Cairo, these are not even hours he can use to read or work. These eight hours are time he could be using to research, work with his students, or, you know, spend with me.

This decision was not easy for us as Hubby truly intended to stay here in Cairo and settle down into what has been a fairly comfortable life for the most part. The confluence of events that led to our mutual agreement is not easily explained in one post. Hubby and I have visited Oslo several times now and even met some wonderful people. We are looking forward to the challenges of living in the developed world for a change and are excited about the possibilities and challenges this new move has in store.

I will definitely be posting more about this more in the weeks to come. Feel free to ask questions in the comments and I will try to address as many of them as possible in a future post. Rest assured that this one time Delhi Typ0, Nairobi Typ0, and Cairo Typ0 will still be blogging from Oslo. After all, what would a blog about Wandering the World be without a new horizon to explore?

I Have Your Back

Mid-August found Hubby and I once again in Oslo for work. We were lucky enough to meet up with some amazing bloggy friends at a local bar on Karl Johans Gate. American in Norway, Corinne, Quartz, Hubby, and I enjoyed numerous drinks, avoided buzzing bees, and passed a fabulous afternoon getting to know one another in the heart of the Norwegian capital.

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Saturday Escapes

When Hubby was offered his first posting abroad, we were filled with equal parts excitement and trepidation. We didn’t know anything about living in a developing country. We knew even less about living in a new culture so different from our own. We had traveled extensively prior to our move to India, but a short vacation is very different from moving to a place full time. Although there was an existing office for Hubby in Delhi, we would be the first expats to be part of this particular division and we had questions they simply didn’t know how to answer.

Expats from all over the world have oodles of questions they need answers to before agreeing to move to a new country. From schools for their children to whether or not there is affordable Internet access, people need to know what they’re getting into before they find themselves knee deep in moving mayhem. Luckily for all of us, Tales from a Small Planet is there to help.

Also known as Real Posts, this user-driven site offers answers from actual people who have lived abroad in a range of countries. You do have to register to peruse the site but that only requires an email address that they do not use for spam. (I never receive any unsolicited email from Real Posts and have been a member for almost five years.) Real people who have lived in a myriad of places from Washington, DC to Quito, Ecuador fill in questionnaires that address issues surrounding quality of life, day-to-day living, travel, and even what books or movies to check out before moving. If you have ever wondered what it would be like to live in China, Sweden, or even Canada, this amazing resource is the place to go.

Tales from a Small Planet
is this week’s Saturday Escape.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Bake Me a Cake

I love baking. For me, heading into the kitchen to mix together eggs, flour, sugar, and a variety of other ingredients is not only creatively fulfilling but also relaxing. Whether I’m grating carrots for my award winning Carrot Cake, or zesting lemons for my Double Lemon Pound Cake, there is nothing quite as nice as licking the bowl after popping what I know will be a perfect dessert into the oven.

Baking from scratch has always been a source of pride for me. I still remember the first time I was in a supermarket in Maryland with Hubby around Thanksgiving and eagerly yelled down an aisle at him, “Sweetie, you’ve got to see this! It’s amazing! They have canned pumpkin here! Have you ever seen such a thing before?” The withering look I received from Hubby was nothing compared with the scathing looks the women within hearing distance shot my way.

My mother, you see, is a do-it-from-scratch kind of lady. From making fresh pumpkin puree and pastry for pies to throwing the bones from dinner into a pot to make stock, prepackaged conveniences just weren’t the norm growing up. (Kraft Dinner is a sacred meal and therefore does not fall into the convenience food category.) Most people don’t have time for details like this anymore and my mother certainly didn’t when I was growing up, so you can imagine the guilt I felt the first time I picked up a box of Betty Crocker Brownie Mix.

It took me moving all the way to Kenya to discover this amazing dessert in a box. No matter what distracted me while I measured out the ingredients, they came out perfectly every time without even a hint of a charred edge that my homemade White Chocolate Brownies usually had. Even Hubby said he preferred them. Suddenly, I realized what my peers had been drooling over for all those years. Mrs. Crocker knew what she was doing!

This love of baking, whether from a box or beloved recipe, is yet another reason my life in Egypt has been somewhat frustrating. You see I don’t have an oven. Full disclosure: I do have an oven but out of respect for the people who live in my building, I choose not to use it.

My stove has five lovely gas burners that light with the aid of an electric starter. Click, click, click, poof! The oven, on the other hand, requires a match. Scratch, light, throw, boom! I know millions of people out there do this every day without blowing anything up but I’m not one of those people. I am neither coordinated nor lucky enough to manage to not cause someone (probably myself) bodily damage whilst lighting my oven with a match.

There have been no wafting scents of Triple Chocolate Cookies or delectable crumbs of Pumpkin Crumble Pie in the Typ0/Hubby household for a year and half. The only person sadder about my lack of baking outlet than me has been Hubby. While my neighbours Black Beard and Adelpha have kindly offered the use of their oven from time to time, I can hardly sneak into their flat at two in the morning to create a batch of Boredom Cupcakes.

As much as I love Egypt and the life we have in Cairo, I look forward to the day I once again have an oven that won’t kill the neighbourhood just because I wanted to whisk ingredients together. In fact, I think the prospect of baking may be reason enough to dream about moving again.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Letter to the Editor of Me

Have you ever wanted to go back in time and smack your younger self upside the head? Or simply impart some wisdom that you wish someone had taken the time to whisper in your ear? I do. I would love to hop in a time machine and have a heart to heart with the skinnier, fresh faced, more innocent me.

I’d start by telling Young Typ0 to study more. If there was something on TV, a good book within arm’s reach, or later in university some hot guy on the Internet to chat with – chances were I would dump my homework out the window and claim it was done. I wasn’t very good at studying or paying attention in class, or starting essays more than 48 hours before they were due. When I did study, I did really well. Sadly I didn’t choose do so very often.

Of course, going back in time and teaching my younger self to study, not skip class, and do her homework would probably change the space/time continuum irrevocably and I don’t want to go that far. If I had studied the way I should have I might have had a career that would have made it impossible to move abroad with Hubby all those years ago. Heck, if I had studied even a little I almost certainly wouldn’t have been married when I was. So maybe this is something that worked out in spite of myself.

Next I’d tell Young Typ0 she needs to learn to trust the right people. Messing up and making out with boys she shouldn’t have wasn’t the problem. Confiding in the wrong people was the problem.

Oh, and while Young Typ0 and I are talking about talking – she needs to learn to stop interrupting so much! Sheesh! Not all stories are about the Typ0-ness of it all (although the best ones are) and listening before talking would be a good change. (That sound you hear is everyone I know singing a round of halleluiah’s at the thought of being able to get an uninterrupted word in edge wise.)

Finally, she and I would talk about our health. If Young Typ0 had gone to the gym, walked to the dentist, and learned to be happy for herself, the life I know now would be pretty much the same but so much better and more fulfilling. Working out is not a crime! Young Typ0, it turns out, was not fat. I became fat because I gave into that negative self-image and gave up too early. We do that a lot, Younger Me. We’re good at giving up. Stop doing that.

There are certainly other things I would like to fix or change but I don’t want to be greedy and do it all in one fell time traveling swoop. After all, if everything were perfect, I wouldn’t have anything left to complain about on this blog.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Wordless Wednesday

Wordless Wednesday
Man fly-fishing in Lake Ness.
Inverness, Scotland

Monday, November 16, 2009

A Pile of Muck

Hubby and I were in Inverness mostly because of his work. Despite his busy consulting schedule, our hosts made sure that Hubby and I kept busy and saw as much of Scotland as possible. The highlight of these excursions was the farm tour we attended during our first week. Hubby had already invited me along and understood that his city-bred wife was honoured to be included but would pass on the opportunity to attend a Farm Day in the Highlands. Naturally, I had to go anyways.

In our minds it was August – a month synonymous with warm weather. Scotland, it seemed, hadn’t got that memo. It was cold and rainy virtually the entire time we were there. On the day of the farm tour, it was particularly chilly and the pleasant drizzle we had walked through on the way to his office had turned into an almost constant downpour at some point during the day.

The only shoes I had were sandals, we didn’t have any raincoats, and we definitely hadn’t brought any sweaters with us to Scotland. Luckily, one of Hubby’s colleagues noticed our problem and loaned us some gear for the day.

Hosted by a local farmer on his property, the main purpose of the Farm Day was to bring researchers, farmers, and local businesses together to discuss and explore farming trends in the area. During the morning we walked from building to building listening to talks that ranged from kind of gross (unless you’re a farmer) to kind of interesting (especially if you’re a farmer).

The highlight of the day for non-farmers Hubby and I was yet to come. During the afternoon, we hopped on a trailer being pulled by a tractor for a tour of the farmer's land. Since the main product of this farm was cows, we probably shouldn’t have been surprised with what we saw at our first stop: a great big pile of muck.

Mind you, they kept calling it “muck” all during the wet twenty-minute presentation regarding the many uses of cow muck. I asked Hubby why they just didn’t call it what it was and his very thoughtful response stuck with me, “They don’t publish academic papers about great big piles of shit.” Well, that makes sense…

And that, my friends, is the true story of the great big pile of shit muck.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

A Meeting of the Minds

Sometimes I feel bad for my husband. He brought me on all these great business trips all summer long yet I am unable to write that his sweetness and our newfound togetherness was the highlight of my summer. You see, while I was in Inverness, I finally had a chance to meet the amazing Aurenna in person. ‘Ren, as she would tell you, trumps everything!

My second Internet meet-up of the summer (I’ll tell you about the first in another post) was the culmination of almost ten years of online friendship. We met through a Jean M. Auel fan board and despite our age difference we knew we were long lost twins. Our sick and perverted senses of humor have secretly amused (and not so secretly driven crazy) the board moderators and members for years.

I’ve met other people from ecfans over the years but somehow had never managed to hook-up with ‘Ren. Of course, that meant additional stress and nerves at least on my part. What if I’m not as cool in person as I am online? What if she doesn’t like me after she meets the real me? What if come off as old, fat, and stupid and she hates me? What if she finds me so distasteful she tells me to bugger off? Poor Hubby was lucky enough to hear me share these and other worries for weeks while the anticipation built.

The day ‘Ren arrived in Inverness, I was full of nervous energy and anticipation. I sat in the train station barely reading my Kindle and looking up every time a train made a sound. When she finally arrived, I resisted the urge to jump up and down and shriek like some sort of Woo Girl. We hugged like long lost sisters and our conversation immediately fell into the familiar rhythms of our online talks.

‘Ren’s hotel was much better situated than my own (a mere 2.5 mile walk into town) so after dumping her bags, we went to lunch at a local Italian restaurant I had a coupon for. Later, we went book shopping and eventually ended up a pub that had great cider on tap and super tasty chips and curry sauce on their menu. By the time Hubby arrived at the pub after work, we were ready for the second pint.

Numerous pints, nachos, and another pub later we noticed it was far later than any of us had realized. It sounds cheesy but time had literally flown by while we caught up on gossip and goings on in each other’s lives. Aurenna and Hubby even managed to form an alliance and ganged up on me more than once.

The following day, fellow bibliophile ‘Ren and I checked out a used bookstore in town I had heard about. For people who wondered if my love of Betty (my Kindle) had turned me off real books the answer is an unequivocal, “No!” The smell of those old books was like an addictive drug. I kept opening and perusing older and older items simply to enjoy the tactile pleasure of their pages between my fingers.

Eventually we started getting weird looks and left to find another pub restaurant for lunch. We plunked ourselves down and talked for literally hours until her train was scheduled to leave. We weren’t teary eyed as we hugged goodbye on the platform because we knew this time we wouldn’t wait quite so long between visits. Years of anticipation had blossomed into two bloody good days of fun. Just like I knew it would.

Carrying the Banner

My father took this photo when we were in Luxor. You mean your local newsie doesn’t carry his papes this way? Weird.

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Saturday Escapes

This week’s Saturday Escape will be a little different than usual. Instead of telling you about one of my favourite websites, I thought you guys could help explain the global fascination with one to me. You see, there is a social networking site out there that I know millions of people are addicted to and yet I have no desire to sign up. In 140 characters or less, members can tell the world what they think about lunch, Fox News, or the latest episode of Survivor. I am, of course, talking about Twitter.

I love Facebook and have been known to spend more than my fair share of time updating my status and responding to other people’s comments and updates. Facebook simply seems to offer its members so much more bang for their buck than boring, one-note Twitter. Am I missing something? What is so great about Twitter that CNN has practically an entire hour every week devoted to people’s tweets?

Twits spend hours on Twitter tweeting. (Ok I wasn’t sure where in this post I could put that, but I desperately wanted to type that sentence.)

Twitter is this week’s Saturday Escape.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Yes Wii Can

When we were in the UK this summer, we bought something that Hubby has been wanting for quite some time. He swore it would bring us together more and keep us busy during our long boring nights in Egypt. I was dubious because I thought he would just spend hours using it by himself. I eventually gave into his whim and haven’t looked back since.

I soon discovered that this device was far more than fun – it was a marital aid! We were spending more time together than ever and even invited our closest friends over to participate and join in.

Where we used to spend hours sitting on opposite sides of the room working on our laptops or watching television, we were suddenly energetic and urging each other to strive harder and do better. Thanks to the add-ons we bought, we were active and passionate about something new.

Naturally, we each wanted to be on top during those activities we considered our specialties. I loved the challenge of making Hubby submit to my superior skills. During those odd moments when he proved his dominance over me, I submitted meekly to his prowess.

I was really surprised at how quickly we took to this new activity. It wasn’t something we had participated in before. Nor was it something I did as a child – I always had to go over to someone else’s house if I really wanted to try it out on my own.

I never expected something so small to have such a big impact on my marriage. Sure, sometimes we use it to get out some aggression but most of the time it brings out our playful sides. When our friends come over to join in, it always turns into a big party with each of us taking turns being the center of attention.

I am, of course, talking about the amazing Nintendo Wii. What did you think I was talking about?

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Super Zoom

Sightseeing in London would have been fun even it had simply been Hubby and I holding hands, arguing about nicked napkins, and vociferously airing our grievances about line closures on the London Underground. Thanks to the nifty new toy we purchased in Dubai, it was even better. You see, our visit to the new Dubai Mall resulted in not only a much-needed pair of sandals for Hubby but also a new red Canon Power Shot SX200IS for me. The zoom on this camera is beyond amazing and we (or maybe it was just me) had fun playing with it whenever possible.

This is a photo we took of Big Ben while we were walking from Buckingham Palace along the Mall. The first is a photo shot simply through the viewfinder. The second is using the 48X Super Zoom.

Not convinced yet? This photo was also taken from a spot along the Mall. The first is a photo of the London Eye. (Can you believe they charge £17.50 per person for a ride? Needless to say we skipped this one.) The second photo is a photo of the people inside one of the pods on the London Eye. Now that’s what I call Super Zoom!

I wish I had photos of the same places taken with my old pink camera to better demonstrate the improved quality. To be fair, Super Zoom can appear somewhat pixilated on the screen initially and is incredibly difficult to focus. Despite relatively steady hands, both Hubby and I found the camera shaking uncontrollably whenever we narrowed the camera’s focus to use Super Zoom.

Of course, part of our trouble may have been the amount of alcohol we consumed in London. With the exception of our forays into Jamie Oliver’s restaurants, we relied almost entirely on pubs to provide us with sustenance. It did, however, teach me one thing: I could never, ever live in Britain. Between drinking endless pints of cider and enjoying countless plates of chips and gravy and other great pub fare, I must have gained at least half a stone while we were in the UK.

I can’t think of a single moment we regretted in London. Between riding the tube, playing with the camera between drunken sips of whatever was on tap, quoting AA Milne to the guards at Buckingham Palace, and walking for hours on end, we had an amazing time in the English capital.

Remembrance Day

In Flanders Fields
Lieutenant-Colonel John McCrae (1872-1918)

In Flanders fields the poppies blow

Between the crosses, row on row,
That mark our place; and in the sky

The larks, still bravely singing, fly

Scarce heard amid the guns below.

We are the dead. Short days ago

We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,
Loved, and were loved, and now we lie
In Flanders fields.

Take up our quarrel with the foe: 

To you from failing hands we throw

The torch; be yours to hold it high. 

If ye break faith with us who die
We shall not sleep, though poppies grow
In Flanders fields.

Monday, November 09, 2009

Jamie’s Redemption

We left Fifteen feeling decidedly underwhelmed by the experience. It certainly wasn’t the first time we had ever eaten a disappointing restaurant meal but we had both held such high hopes and expectations for a place run by Jamie Oliver. We had plans to do some Real World shopping while we were in London but had not yet determined where to go. “As long as there are good pubs nearby,” was our mantra as we attempted to narrow down a location.

Never let it be said that I don’t have an awesome husband who loves and spoils me. Hubby knew how down I was about our meal and went out of his way to cheer me up. After a little research on the Internet, he discovered that Jamie had recently opened the first London branch of his chain of Italian restaurants. Located in Canary Wharf, Jamie’s Italian would, he promised, give us an opportunity to give Jamie a second chance and still leave us with plenty of time for shopping.

The differences between our first experience and our latest started at the front door. Jamie’s Italian is a laid back place that doesn’t take reservations. The warehouse-like space was bright and airy with large windows along the back wall. The room boasted innumerable tables but we didn’t feel crowded in or rushed during our meal. Admittedly, this was not a five-star dining experience and the space was meant to reflect the casual atmosphere Jamie wished to convey.

The staff too was a contrast: instead of cold automatons, we had upbeat waiters and waitresses with personalities who genuinely seemed to like their jobs. As at Fifteen, they were well trained and familiar with the menu and its myriad of choices.

We kicked off lunch with a selection of “artisan” breads and dish of olive oil, both of which there was a charge for. As a great lover of bread, Hubby did not begrudge the cost of the bread and inhaled it, pausing only to express his delight at the crusty offerings in the basket. I ordered a side salad of tomatoes and mozzarella to start and was quite pleased with the freshness of the flavours.

We both chose to have pasta for our main courses. Hubby’s sausage pappardelle was a delightful romp of flavours on his taste buds. The fresh homemade pasta was perfectly cooked and the flavors in the ragu were expertly combined. My bucatini carbonara was light without being too creamy and fresh thyme added a unique twist on this old favourite.

By now, our faith in Jamie had been restored and we were determined to order dessert even though this was far more food than we normally ate for lunch. Unsurprisingly, Hubby ordered a selection of sorbets. He declared each of the flavours tastily authentic and homemade. I enjoyed the Italian Bakewell Tart – a flavorsome slice of almond cake topped with crème fraîche.

Jamie’s Italian was not only a better dining experience than his more upscale Fifteen, it was also far less expensive. We enjoyed three courses each plus a soda and a glass of wine for Hubby for less than even one of our meals cost at Fifteen. This was definitely one time where price was not a sign of quality. More importantly for me, however, was that Jamie’s Italian renewed my faith in the British chef I had adored for so many years.