Week 21: Boyz II Men

I know so little about this band, that I had to use google to double check that there’s a “II” and not “to” in their name. I also learned how to spell Boyz correctly.

For a friend’s birthday, he wanted to see a Boys II Men concert at Casino Rama, so this week I really had two challenges – the concert and dealing with the Casino Rama in Orillia, which is an interesting place.

We drove all the way up to Orillia, and I didn’t even fall asleep! (Spoiler alert, I fell asleep on the way back.) We entered the casino and took in all of the wonderful sounds, flashy lights, and extra oxygen it had to offer. As it was a Friday night, the place was pretty packed with locals and tourists alike (although to be honest, I’m not sure it would be that different on a Wednesday night). I didn’t even get ID’ed by security! Not sure that’s a compliment but I’m going with it.

We were some of the first to be seated for the concert, in the surprisingly large theatre. Apparently the concert was sold out, but I strongly suspect they had given away free or discounted tickets to fill the seats. I may not know that many Boys II Men songs, but at least I’m around the age that would have listened to their music. The other, slightly more geriatric attendees, on the other hand, probably weren’t 100% sure what they were getting into. “A free concert? This casino really cares about me!”

The concert itself was an absolute blast; the Boys put on an amazing show. All of their songs that they played were ones that I recognized, and there was choreographed dancing. Really, I would have been on board with anything, as long as it was accompanied by choreographed dancing. It’s just so much fun to watch!

Halfway through the concert they pulled out instruments and did some cover songs. My group didn’t even know that they played instruments, so that was a nice surprise. They were even funny doing that!

Towards the end of the show, most of the audience (all of us who were born after 1970) were singing along and happy to be there. But during the last song, the band asked the audience to stand up. Apparently, the theatre seating is basically chairs on bleachers – none too steady bleachers: the whole bleachers system was shaking under our feet as the audience danced. It was at this point we decided it would be a good time to get some dinner. The audience was completely fine in the end, but I couldn’t help but think about all of those stages that collapsed a few years ago due to high winds.

After dinner we did a bit of gambling. OK, I lost $10 on slot machines (which I still don’t understand fully), while the others played real games. Even with the extra oxygen and free coffee, I can’t imagine spending an extended period of time in a casino.

Even though I fell asleep on the car ride home, it was a really fun night.

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Look how swanky they are! Just imagine that… but with choreographed dancing.

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Week 20: Let There Be Wine!

I went wine making! Because Groupon is great.

My original plan was to actually brew my own wine – but that involved a lot of planning, a lot of work, and a whole bunch of supplies (like giant carboys and a significant amount of space dedicated to wine making). I was down for the idea of getting cheap wine, but I was not quite willing to put in a significant amount of work or money.

For years my dad has made his own wine from a wine making kit (it pretty much supplies all of the ingredients, so that you don’t have to pick and wash and crush all of your own grapes). He has experimented with altering the flavour, the fullness, the whatever-else you can change about wine, and has found one that he loves. Because of this, I have a decent idea of how much time and effort goes into at-home wine making.

Liz (the same one who came fencing with me) and I made appointments at The Wine Butler and trekked all the way up to Yorkdale to drop some yeast into a larger container. For real, that was it. I knew the appointment would be short and sweet, but this was a bit ridiculous. It took us an hour to get up there (stupid buses and their transfer times), and we were only inside for about 5 minutes. The actual act of dropping the yeast was roughly nine seconds. It’s surprisingly little yeast.

It’s a weird workaround, but if they witness me “dropping the yeast” into the soon-to-be wine, I don’t get charged a bunch of government taxes. Because of that, I’m getting 14 bottles of wine for $40. Of course, I have to either supply or buy my own bottles (for $1 each), but still, that’s a pretty good price.

In a few weeks I will be going back to bottle and label my wine. As far as I can tell it’s a pretty idiot proof system. The only complicated part is that for my wine to mature fully, I have to wait at least 8 weeks after bottling it before drinking it. That’s a huge time commitment for someone who’s not into waiting for alcohol.

I would like to eventually make my own wine from scratch (as thrilling as dropping the yeast in was), but maybe when I have some more space. I can’t imagine having a huge carboy in the corner of the condo for several months, when we have enough trouble making room for a new recycling bin. Of course, now I’ll have to store 14 bottles of wine for two months, in a place where we won’t be tempted to open the under-developed, probably gross tasting wine before it’s ready. Win some, lose some.

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Week 19: Cleanse

Spoiler alert: I don’t like cleanses.

I knew this going in, but my boyfriend wanted to try it, and so to be a nice and supportive girlfriend, I participated. Don’t worry, it wasn’t some grapefruit diet, or maple syrup and cayenne pepper water, or cabbage soup kind of thing – it was basically just eat really healthy for a few days.

The “cleanse” consisted of a morning berry smoothie (with pea protein), a mid-morning vegetable smoothie, lunch (chicken or fish or tofu with vegetables and quinoa), a snack (almonds or something), dinner (same as lunch), and all the water you can drink. There was also the option of “snacking” on potassium broth, which is really just potato broth, which is one of the strangest tastes I’ve ever had.

Now here’s the challenge… I’ve been know to get hangry (so hungry that you become angry). And because I’m a fairly active person, I become hungry fairly often, and therefore become hangry on a daily basis. I knew this would not be easy. For either of us.

There was a lot of preparation and forethought involved in these three days. We had to prepare everything in advance, and make sure we would be available to eat at the assigned times. The biggest challenge for me was not snacking while I was waiting for things to be ready to eat.

The first day was fine. I was super hungry, but I survived.

The second day, I had to come home from work early because I was too hungry. I had very real fears that I would collapse and my stomach would begin consuming the rest of my body for nutrients. I was that hungry. So by day three I had incorporated real breakfast (an egg sandwich) into the equation.

With the exception of breakfast, I think the cleanse was pretty comprehensive – there were enough calories in there for a normal human being to survive for a few days. That human being wouldn’t be particularly happy (there was no chocolate in the cleanse), but they’d be alive. So I don’t know why I felt so hungry all of the time. Maybe it was knowing that I couldn’t eat whatever I wanted, whenever I wanted. All I did was think about food. Even writing this now, I’m getting hungry.

Long story short, cleanses aren’t for me. I’m going to eat a sandwich now.

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Week 18: To Niagara!

Have you ever gone down to Niagara Falls for a night, in the middle of winter, mid-week? No? That’s so weird. Perhaps you are gainfully employed?

Well I’m not so I went! Actually my boyfriend had some vacation time he had to use, so we decided to go down and see the Falls, eat some nice food, and stay in a fancy (read: not fancy) hotel.

Groupon is great for a lot of things, and one of those things is travelling to Niagara. We got a hotel room with a king size bed, meal vouchers, and some other stuff we didn’t use (who would ever need a coupon to East Side Mario’s… no one wants to eat there! A slight discount won’t help), for about sixty bucks. And if the Canadian dollar weren’t in the toilet, it would have been even less.

We took a Via train down from Toronto bright and early Wednesday morning, and arrived at a desolate train/bus depot in Niagara. Even though the weather had been really nice the week before, it was snowy and windy and frigid that day. Perfect timing, Mother Nature, thanks for that.

A taxi was the only reasonable way to get from the train station to the hotel, so we taxied. We warmed up and relaxed in the room for a while before trekking outside to find nourishment. At 2pm on a Wednesday in winter, there’s not a whole lot going on in Niagara – who’d have thought? We coldly walked past chain restaurant after chain restaurant, and finally decided on a chain restaurant. Niagara is a bit of a tourist town (read: hard-core tourist trap).

But the Falls were beautiful. There was one bus of tourists to share the view with, and that was it. We were free to wander and take photos leisurely, without competing for space with the hordes. We walked the whole length of the boardwalk, read up on the history of the area (OK, I did this), and took some photos.

After a quick afternoon nap (because it’s vacation time and that’s what one does on vacation), we were off to dinner. We had made reservations at Ruth Chris’ Steakhouse, unnecessarily. There were two other people there when we arrived. But the reservation got us a gold booth, not just a red booth. They were the same booth, but with different colour fabric. Most of the booths, which made up 90% of the seating, had big walls between them, and privacy curtains. This was the coolest thing I’d ever seen.

We ordered some delicious (yet overpriced) steaks and sides, and shared a bottle of wine (and three bottles of water). The food was delicious – the steaks are seared in butter. I don’t like steak much, but I really liked this steak, and the butter.

You know how when a server puts a plate down and says “careful it’s hot.” And you’re like “but how hot is it?” And you touch it and it’s warm, but not too hot. This was a hot plate. I guess it goes in the oven beforehand to help keep the steak warm on the table. Fortunately our server told me this beforehand, because otherwise I would still be growing back my fingerprints.

While we ate the main course, the curtains were closed. It was very fun, strange, and oddly exciting. It felt like a mix between what I imagine a harem looks like, what I think the VIP area of a club looks like, and how I want the private room of a strip club to look like. But in a classy way.

After our delicious (but expensive) meal we went to the casino. This was a compromise on my part because casinos are pretty boring. But I learned how to play blackjack! Sort of. It seems like it would be a pretty easy game, but once you get into the theory behind it, apparently it gets a little more complicated. When I had a 15 I would look at the guy next to me, and he would either say “book says stay,” or “book says hit.” I lost $9.

We had a leisurely breakfast on Thursday and made our way back to the bus/train depot to return to Toronto. It was much colder on Thursday, so on the way over we were able to see white, frozen trees lining the edge of the Falls. While the Falls weren’t frozen, there were huge icicles hanging from the cliffs nearby. It looked like we’d gone beyond the Wall.

Next time I go to Niagara (which will be in another 5 years, because Google images exists), I will drive. The area is not designed for pedestrians. Most of the times the cross signal at an intersection doesn’t go, because they don’t expect people to actually use them past September. Or maybe I’ll just go in the summer.

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Week 17: Fencing

Oh man, fencing is fun. It wasn’t originally on my list, but my friend, Liz, wanted to try it, and so I fenced.

There’s a place called My Fencing Club near St. Clair West and Bathurst that offers introductory adult fencing lessons on Saturday afternoons, which was super convenient for all parties.

The class had about 10 participants, and was led by Noah and Leesa (I’m not positive this is how she spelled her name, but she didn’t seem like a Lisa spelling). They seemed to be teenagers, but they also really knew their way around a sword. We learned about the three types of fencing swords/styles (foil, sabre, and épée), and got to hold the different styles of swords. The differences were negligible to my untrained eye.

After the history lesson, we were issued our weapons. After holding the real-deal swords, I was a little disappointed to receive a plastic foil sword to practice with. But I can also understand why we were given plastic – I definitely would have taken someone’s eye out with a metal sword, despite the dulled tip.

We learned how to stand, how to attack, how to defend, and the basics of how a fencing match works. As it turns out, it’s quite a bit harder than it looks (as most things are). There’s a lot of technique and stamina and skill in fencing – I mean, to win at fencing. Losing is significantly easier. It’s especially challenging when you’re trapped inside one of those fencing masks/helmets, which are super sweaty.

For example, to get a point you have to stab someone (obviously). But if you both stab each other at the same time, the point is awarded to whoever started their attack first (an attack is when you start straightening your sword arm). But if you attack first and your opponent parries (defends) and then attacks, they get the point. But this is negated if other things happen… full disclosure, this part got confusing. I will not be becoming a fencing judge in the near future. The point is, there’s a lot going on even though it looks like people are wildly stabbing each other for fun.

After practicing how to stab people (so much fun) by stabbing gloves and walls (so much fun), we did a few practice matches (so much fun). I wasn’t too bad. I found myself attacking quite a bit, and scoring a few (unofficial, but fun) points against my opponents. I can see this being a good activity for stress relief.

The one hour class was a surprisingly good workout and a good way to spend an hour on Saturday afternoon (especially because the walk home brought me past several delicious bakeries). I don’t know that I’ll be trying it again, but at least if someone challenges me to a duel, I’ll know how to handle myself.

 

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Week 16: Meditation Take Two

After a wildly unsuccessful meditation attempt, I am getting back on the meditation horse. I am still interested in the idea of meditation – I think taking some time each day to relax and de-stress and not think about a to do list is probably a good idea for most of us.

This time, I tried meditating at home, alone, using an app called Headspace, which was recommended by a friend. I also decided to not do quite so much chanting this time, just for fun.

To get myself geared up for this 10 minute guided meditation, I went for a run and did some light stretchy-yoga, with the intention of slowing down and relaxing to prep myself for the good stuff. Of course, as soon as I turned the app on, I immediately had to pee. My scurry down the hall to the bathroom was not in the spirit of meditation, but did make me feel better.

I enjoyed this app and this 10 minutes. The guy who talks you through the meditation is perhaps the most relaxing voice in the world. They should use him to give directions in google maps instead of that lady they have now. I would listen to him. And probably get lost less.

Since it was the first meditation in a series, and they (correctly) assume we haven’t done this before, it was very simple and straightforward. Just sit, focus on your breathing, listen to what’s happening around you, and then let your mind wander.

Which sounds easy.

It’s actually quite challenging, though. I kept noticing my shoulders tightening up, or my mind thinking about something else that I needed to be doing. Of course, since this is only the first meditation, I knew I wouldn’t be good at it yet. But the very soothing voice said not to worry, so I’m OK with everything.

I think I will name the voice. Something distinguished and smart and classic.

 

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Week 15: Meditation

I really should call this post “What was supposed to be meditation.”

I was pretty excited to find that a YMCA near me offered a meditation class on Sunday mornings. It took me a few tries (it’s at 9am on Sunday so I had to wake up real early for this one), but I finally made it out to this class for my week 15 challenge.

At work on Friday, I mentioned to my auditor that I was going to a meditation class on the weekend, and he got super excited. He’s really into meditation, as is his brother-in-law. When he first started meditating he found himself at the bottom of the ocean moving with the currents. That sounded pretty cool.

But he said his brother-in-law, who has been meditating for a longer time, experiences meditation a little differently. Apparently this guy becomes a soldier in the Civil War, and gets killed with a bayonet. He falls to the ground during his meditation and needs to be woken up from this state. That sounded a little less cool, and more scary.

But I had high hopes for this class.

When I arrived I went into the studio, got a yoga mat, removed my shoes, and prepared to be really, really relaxed. And then I noticed that the instructor was dressed in all white, just like a Kundalini yoga instructor. Hmmm… maybe he teaches both kinds of classes?

And then the instructor handed me a sheet of paper with the Kundalini chant printed on it. Oh shit. Maybe I will leave. No sooner did this thought pass through my head than the instructor welcomed us to the class and exclaimed with sheer delight that we had 11 people in the class, which was the perfect number for the meditation he had wanted to do today.

OK, so maybe this was a meditation class? Maybe I would just have to put up with a Kundalini instructor for a few minutes before he talked me through a really cool meditation.

I realize that if you don’t know what Kundalini is, this won’t quite make sense. Here’s what I know about Kundalini:

  • Instructors wear white and cover their heads, as do hard-core Kundalini enthusiasts.
  • There’s a whole lot of chanting.
  • There’s lots of shoulder shrugs. Too many shoulder shrugs.
  • I’ve never met a Kundalini instructor and thought, “I’d like to be friends with them.” Maybe it’s just the ones I’ve met, but still.
  • Every fitness instructor I can think of hates Kundalini.

The class started with some yoga warm ups, but done in a strange way. We did a cat/cow, but really quickly, and I was instructed to fling my head back and forth, allowing my spine to follow. Don’t know if you’ve tried this before, but it’s super uncomfortable and not a great move for your back or neck. The instructor also sounded like a pterodactyl when he breathed, which was distracting.

Then we made a circle (this was about 25 minutes into the class, time I will never be getting back). I really wanted to leave at this point, but there were 11 people, which was apparently the magical number for this meditation. I didn’t want to be that person that ruined the class for everyone else.

This particular meditation takes place three times per month. I sort of drifted in and out of listening at this point, but we were doing the meditation today because it was a full moon… or new moon. For sure one of the two. I didn’t dare ask what would happen if a person performed the meditation four times in a month. The world would probably just explode.

OK, here’s the part when you’re going to think I’m making this up, but I promise the following sentence is true. We sat in a circle, held hands, and chanted for 31 minutes.

You know when you’re at a house party and there’s that one annoying person who just really likes to sing, and does so very loudly? That was the instructor. Every time it was his turn to chant, he sounded like one of the guys from the stage production of “The Lion King” singing his little heart out.

After the sweaty-palmed meditation, it was time for the song at the end of the class. Everyone sang real loud and was into it, except me. The song was about the sun. They sang a song about the sun. And it wasn’t a short song.

And then the class was done. I have never been so frustrated, angry, or disappointed during or after a class, of any kind. All I wanted to do was yell at the instructor. But I didn’t. But it was close.

I may have to try meditation again. I’m still interested in it, but if I accidentally end up in another Kundalini class my head will explode in white hot rage. That’s the opposite of what I’m looking for in a meditation class.

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