Around the World With a Vagabond

The Day We Were Athletes February 20, 2011

Filed under: February Doesn't Suck,The Day We Were Athletes — christynichols @ 10:56 am
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You know how if you hang around a certain kind of person, you take on their traits and characteristics?  Perhaps this doesn’t happen to everyone, but I have noticed it about myself. When I lived in England, my accent changed a little so that I sometimes spoke with a British intonation. I drank tea and ate scones.  Perhaps other people can relate to this if, maybe, they live with vegetarians and choose to stop eating meat, or maybe some people who live with card players who one day become professional gamblers.


Today I had that kind of day.  My companions’ characteristics rubbed off on me.  I hung out with triathlon competitors and, being the human sponge I am, I felt the spirit of fierce athleticism; by the end of the day, I too would feel the burn of victory.


Even though I wasn’t actually part of the triathlon team, the atmosphere was such that I felt as if I was.


It began when Chris woke up early. I, too, woke up early. He gathered his gear and bag of necessities (water, granola bar, jogging pants) and I gathered my bag of necessities (coffee thermos, laptop, spending money).


We arrived at the track and Chris went to the starting line for the team briefing to get organized. I went to the marquis with the team supporters and organized my chair, my computer, and peeled an orange.


For 3 hours, Chris warmed up, stretched, ran, biked, ran harder, and worked up a good sweat beating down the track.


For 3 hours I followed Chris as he warmed up, stretched, and supported him as he ran, biked, ran harder, and I worked up a good sweat, cheering right down the track. I was out of breath from all of the hard cheering.


When it was over, all of us exhausted people convened at the marquis for much deserved sausages and beer.  I felt very good about myself.  Chris did too. Together, we had achieved something awesome.


As the day came to an end, the thousands of other athletes gathered their bikes and their gear, and trooped off the track.  Chris needed to change his shoes, and I stood by the track, balancing his bike and both our beers.  The other competitors in their brightly colored spandex and helmets smiled and nodded at me as they passed with their muddied bikes, and I, holding Chris’s muddied bike, nodded right back.


It was a good feeling. We were athletes.


My Kitchen Table February 17, 2011

Filed under: February Doesn't Suck,My Kitchen Table — christynichols @ 8:14 am
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Today I am sharing the contents of my kitchen table.


I live in a shared house, and a random and bizarre assortment of items in the kitchen is a normal feature.  I think it was the chicken necks that made me think that perhaps this was blog-worthy, especially since 1 ½ of us are vegetarians.


The thing about shared housing, is that you never know what is whose, or where they are to ask about these items, or if they need it – so items such as these are always here, and will likely remain, even if we have guests over.


Not sure what these are?  Here’s a concise list:


  • A serving bowl of apples and oranges.  Not too strange.
  • A fruitbowl full of tomatoes, some from the garden, some from the shop.  Because tomatoes are fruits too.
  • An “Easiyo” canister of home-made yogurt in the making.
  • A cuticle and nail care kit. (for mid-dinner-making fingernail emergencies)
  • Garlic escaping.
  • House keys – placed exactly where I probably won’t remember to look for them.
  • A rotting lime. (mine?)
  • A fat blue permanent marker. I live with teachers, and they probably stole this.
  • Cayenne pepper – the lone spice without a rack.
  • Chicken Necks. Yep. . . . .in tupperware.  Maybe for the dogs? They have been there for 3 days.
  • Green skull sunglasses that have rapid blinking green lights to be switched on. It has multiple settings and speeds. They have been there since New Year’s Eve.  (What is today?)
  • My earrings.
  • A birthday card from weeks ago.  Happy Birthday.  🙂


Spiders in the Night February 16, 2011

Filed under: February Doesn't Suck,Spiders in the Night — christynichols @ 12:43 pm
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Last night I dreamt about spiders.  These seem to be a common theme of my dreams when I am feeling stressed out.


These creatures are horrible and terrifying to me.  So are dolls, but I will limit this post to only one piece of scary at a time.


In last night’s dream, this spider was so big, I could see every detail on its abdomen and face.


Like this:

A few years ago I was home from London and visiting my mother in California.


One morning, my mother awoke to find the guest bedroom where I was meant to be staying in complete disarray – the lights were still on, the bed pulled away from the wall, pairs of blue jeans strewn across the floor, her vacuum cleaner laying in pieces, and her grown daughter curled up in the fetal position on the couch in the living room.


What happened?  This:


There is always a spider in her house.  She had set me up in the guest room, and I began a nightly ritual of scanning the ceiling and walls for the creepy varmints.   The ceiling had two dark spots on it – from what, I don’t know, but I knew every “normal” spot in that guest room, so that if a new spot appeared, I knew it would mean an intruder.


One night I went to bed very late after everyone else was asleep.  As I lay down in the spare bed, I scanned the ceiling for any extra spots other than the two.


One spot. . . . .two spots . . . .three spots.  . THREE!


Back flew the covers and up I shot to cross the room and flick on the light.  I KNEW it.  The third spot was a big meaty spider.


There was no way I could sleep soundly knowing there was a spider in the room. I would lie there half awake in fear that it would come creepy-crawling over my face and into my mouth in the night.


Since it was way up on the ceiling – this presented a problem.  I couldn’t easily smash it with a shoe, so I decided to get the vacuum cleaner.


Even though the guest room was directly opposite my parents’ bedroom, there was no way the noise would wake them. My step-dad’s snoring is the envy of polar bears and my mother’s earplugs means she would sleep through machine gun fire.


I lugged the vacuum and all of its parts into the guest room.  The spider smirked from the ceiling.   I had to drag and heave the guest bed away from the wall so that I could stand on the bed, hold the vacuum cleaner hose up to the eight-legged beast, and suck the sucker up.


Things did not go to plan.


When I turned on the vacuum, my hand began to shake as I held the vacuum hose up to the ceiling.  I’ve had to do this before – suck up big bugs with a vacuum, and the thunk-thunk-thunk sound their bodies make as they travel through the hose at lightning speed just gives me the heebie-jeebies.


I tried to coax myself several times to just get the damn vacuum nozzle close enough to the stubborn spider and get it over with. Just do it. Just DO it. But I just could not do it.  I dreaded, just DREADED the sound and the feel of angry spider shuddering through the vacuum hose.  And knowing that he probably wouldn’t die, but would march straight back out, plotting his vengeance, was not a comforting thought.


I abandoned the vacuum and its pieces to the guest room floor.


Plan B.


I decided to go back to the idea of smashing.


My step-dad kept his jeans in the guest bedroom closet. He is a tall man, and his jeans were heavy duty.  I thought that I could use the jeans as a swatter because they would give me a safe enough distance between the end where I held the jeans, and the other end that did the spider-smashing.


All I would need is one, swift, hard swing on target and then no more spider.


I decided to do a few practice runs, so I carried a pair of my step-dad’s jeans into the living room. I chose a spot on the carpet, reeled the jeans back in my hand like a whip, and let them fly!






I tried again . . . this time with better results.  I practiced a few more times, swatting my step-dad’s jeans at the carpet in my mother’s living room at 2am trying to improve my aim.


When I felt more confident, I headed back down the hall to confront the enemy.


There he was.  Watching me.  Right above my bed.


My heart was pounding.  (I wish I was dramatizing this, even just a little, but I really am this much of a scaredy-cat).


I took aim with the jeans.  I had one shot. I was going to squash the chunky spider with one heavy blow of denim.  I pulled back my arm, eyed the arachnid, and then . . .




I think I actually screamed as I slapped.


And . …… . . . . . . . .. . . . .. . . . . .. . I missed!!!


Oh. No.


The spider was only blown off the ceiling from the force of the jeans.  It floated to the bed, scrambled to the floor and hastily disappeared somewhere amongst the chaos of bed sheets and vacuum parts.


I had no idea where it had gone, but I was taking no chances. The parents had slept right through the entire ordeal and so, without sympathy or rescue, I headed to the living room to spend the rest of my night on the couch.




The Real Smurfette Wore Body Paint February 15, 2011


This weekend I attended a costume party. The theme was the letter “s” in honor of the birthday girl whose name began with the letter “S”.  There was to be a prize for the best costume, and I was determined to win.  I decided to go as. . . SMURFETTE!!

YES!  That was the plan.  I was going to paint my face and body up all blue! It was genius. No one else would think of going as a Smurf, and if they did, they would probably just hire the costume, or wear blue leggings. Hiring a costume is cheating and blue leggings is not trying.


Not me.  I was going to try. I was going to win. I was going all out.


This is how I did it:


  • I painted every toenail and fingernail with blue nail polish.


  • I strung together a necklace of fat pearls all on my own. (Well, my roommate helped with the stringing after watching me get increasingly frustrated every time I dropped one of the stupid pearls and lost them under the couch.)


  • From the Salvation Army I bought a sleeveless white frock just like Smurfette’s.


  • Then I bought a white sailor’s hat with which to get creative!  I ended up using balled-up white socks to make the part of the hat that flips forward, and safety-pinned the crap out of it to make it the perfect Smurfette-hat shape. (It looked a little like a floppy penis, but that’s what those Smurf hats resemble, right? A floppy penis?)


  • Finally, I bought a big jar of blue body paint.


This was so EXCITING! As soon as the first streak of blue was applied to my leg, I knew I would win. I loved the look of the paint on my leg.


A couple months ago I went to an Art Expo in the city in which one of the vendors was selling body paint.  Two nearly naked girls hovered and modeled the different body art designs. Their skin was thoroughly painted over; their torsos a colorful canvas displaying some pretty damn cool art.


As they talked to customers I stared at them, trying to see if I could tell where their private parts started. The harder I stared, the more guilty and kind of sinful I felt for trying to see these girls’ bits.  But then I was reminded that they painted themselves up because they wanted to be stared at, so away the guilt flew, and I stared and scrutinized and admired the art. I couldn’t see a crack.


Anyway, I didn’t go as far as the painted naked girls. Instead, I only applied the paint to my feet, my legs, my arms, my chest, my back, neck, and face.


The blue was all streaky and patchy like the walls of a room I once painted (also blue) but the paint did the trick.  In just minutes I had become SMURFETTE!


I didn’t want to get paint in my lymph nodes, so I avoided my armpits.  I also didn’t want to have to scrub the delicate skin underneath my eyes or my eyelids, so I circled the paint just near to my eyes, but pretty much every bit of skin to be seen was blue.

I was so proud of myself.  Blue!! Blue!! Blue!! Chris, also bedecked as a “Seventies Guy” strutted down the street with me to take public transportation to the party.


Here we are waiting for the bus.

When we finally arrived at the party and walked in the front door, every head turned. At this party there also happened to be a good number of Chris’ relatives who had flown over from New Zealand.  I had never met them before, and this was their first impression of me.  Perhaps their expectations were shattered. I’m not sure, but I ignored this fleeting moment of insecurity. The first part of the party was a blast.


Smurfette hit the food table.  Smurfette hit the bar. Smurfette hit the dance floor with a surgeon, Snow White, and Seinfeld.  Everything was going great, until . . . . .


“Hey!”  shouted the Scream Mask, “There’s another Smurf!”


WHAT.   I looked over at the bar, and sure enough, there it was. Not just another Smurf, but another Smurfette.


“Who would have thought there would be two?” laughed Scream and scampered off.


I walked calmly over to the invader.  There’s only one Smurfwhore ette in the village, and I was she!


As I got closer to the blue creature, I realized who it was. It was Chris’s cousin.  She was potential-family, so I couldn’t be mad at her.  (I can do that when she becomes actual-family).


We smiled and greeted each other; however, we still did what women in bars do when confronted with competition: The Smurfettes eyed each other up and down.


I sized her up in my head:


I had blonde hair (like the real Smurfette), she had short brown hair.


Point for me.


She had white high heel shoes, I was doing a blue-foot bare-foot thing.


Point for her.


My hat was awkwardly, but convincingly shaped like the Smurfette hat.  She wore a pillowcase on her head.


Point for me. Even if my hat did look like a penis.

Up and down we eyed each other, but after a moment, it was only too obvious who the real Smurfette was.


She was entirely blue.  And she was dark. She had double coated her blue, and did not stop at her armpits, nor worry about scrubbing the tender under-eye skin. She was not streaky. Every single piece of skin was a dark, healthy blue. She had really gone all out with the blue body paint and looked fantastic.


I had been out-Smurfed. Next to her, I looked like a leprous Smurf with raccoon eyes in a white sack dress.


Sighing, I ordered her a beer. I had to hand it to her: her Smurfette was better.  Even if she was a brunette.




Why Dating is a Sham February 14, 2011

Filed under: February Doesn't Suck,Why Dating is a Sham — christynichols @ 12:24 pm
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I realize it’s Valentine’s Day, and I will probably come across as a bitter cynic. . . . but I’m not a cynic. Promise.


I just think dating sucks. Living in California during my high school and college years, I dated a lot. When I lived in the UK, most people I met did not understand this concept – this drawn-out interview for a partner that would remain a partner for no set length of time.  Their puzzlement also made me a little puzzled about the whole thing too.


I’ve had some pretty bad dates in my un-tethered years.  I could rattle on for hours, but I will just give you one that lands in the top 5 worst dates.


Mr. 40-year-old Lifeguard arranged to meet me at the bus stop.  I dressed up. He wore his board shorts. We walked to a pub for a drink, which he asked me to buy because my round was first. Okay. I can be modern. Rather than dinner, Mr. 40 wanted to go straight to a club.  I was low on funds, and couldn’t afford cover, and he didn’t want to pay my way. Not only was he old, he was cheap. Instead, we took the bus stop a few miles to his bachelor pad that was full of barbells and giant tubs of protein powder.


To this day, I do not know why I agreed to go. I think I just wanted to see how bad it could get.


At his house, Mr. 40’s idea of entertainment was to play videos of rap music for me that he had taped off MTV.   . . . . . . .Really?  I called a cab home, even though I didn’t have any cash.  The taxi waited out front while I woke up a flat-mate to borrow money.  (My flat-mates were awesome. I don’t know if they felt the same about me).


There was more to that date than I am telling which qualifies this as one of the Worst Dates Ever. However, to his credit, this guy was not faking anything. He was his true self from the moment he asked to meet me at the bus stop to the moment he told me how much he loved pumping iron to Usher. And then demonstrated.


Dating is a total sham because most of the time, people are pulling out their best stops to impress. There is nothing wrong with this, I guess, but it’s a bit fake, right? People who go on dates should know that the very first date is as good as it’s EVER going to get. People who date are creating illusion after illusion of an ideal situation that will NEVER consistently be.


Really. After the first date, whatever that involves, sky diving, roses, wine, sushi, walks along the pier, blah blah blah – that’s it folks.  From there on out, the familiarity with the other person begins to grow and the motivation for impressing each other starts to slacken.  Not always all the time – it’s nice to be “dating” someone for 4 years and still want to impress them, but the effort just isn’t made as often. I am not trying to deflate – I just think when people go to great lengths for the first date, it should be a genuine reflection of who they are.


I once went on a date with . . . .let’s call him Mr. Boring.  When we met, he was standing outside my car, and I was sitting in the driver’s seat.  I was lost and needed directions.  He gave me directions, I gave him my number, and boom! Date was arranged.


This was a mistake because, from the sitting position of my car, a child of the age of 12 looks gigantic.  I thought this guy was taller than I. He wasn’t, so imagine my undisguised look of shock when I opened the door, and had to lower my gaze to meet his. Would I have given him my number if I was standing next to him and knew that he was shorter than me?


Well, good things come in small packages, right? Right? Hm.


The date was boring. First we had sushi.  His life was dull and he asked me about my travels because he liked my stories.  He hadn’t traveled.  He worked as a . . .I can’t even remember.   After sushi, he wanted to walk along the pier.  (We were near a beach.) Great, I thought, because this is who he is – a guy who takes walks along a pier.  Lame.


To make this story short and nearly painless, nothing happened. Not even a smack on the lips. Short Boring Guy was kind enough, but not a thing he said or did seemed real.  Plus I had to carry the conversation. I hate that. SPEAK TO ME.


Anyway, I am going off topic and beginning to rant. Sorry.


I guess my point is that dating is a sham because people create an illusion of perfect couple-happiness.  I guess that’s okay.  I mean, if a first date consisted of someone who was 100% genuine, that might mean that they show up looking hot, but show up late, go out to a nice restaurant, but fart sometime during the main course; get a bit frisky in the parking lot, go home and turn on the TV.  Fart again.


Right? Is that what people get if they keep going on dates with the same person?


Maybe.  I realize I have just described one date where the guy didn’t try, and we never went out again, and then another date where the guy really tried, and we never went out again. Who wins? No one, it seems.


I guess with dating, I just don’t know what I am talking about, and probably should not have written this.


My partner and I never dated. We just started “hanging out.”  He never arranged to meet me somewhere, or pick me up wearing expensive cologne, or bought me flowers. Even without the dating part, we’re still “hanging out” two years on and counting.


In fact, if I had to pin down an event that might qualify as our first date, it would have taken place in the California desert. We ended up there by accident. We were both poor, homeless, and without jobs. We slept in separate tents while camping with strangers in Joshua Tree after drinking other people’s beer and singing around a fire.


Yep. I think that was our first date. And it was awesome. But I’m pretty sure he farted.


Hurray for Science February 10, 2011

Filed under: February Doesn't Suck,Hurray for Science — christynichols @ 11:24 am
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I once lived at Herstmonceux Castle in Sussex, England. The castle, owned by Canada’s Queen’s University, shares its acreage with the Royal Observatory and Science Centre. The Science Centre is comprised of six domes that house six very large and very old copper telescopes.  Here sits a surreal collection of a 15th century castle, 17th century observatory, 19th century caretakers, and 21st century Canadians.  Just kidding about the caretakers.


One stormy Tuesday I took a handful of paying first year university students to the Science Centre with hopes and dreams to view the sparkly Milky Way, Orion’s bright belt, and Jupiter with its many moons, and perhaps even see a close-up of the craters on our own moon.  I had paid a visit to the center the year before, and absolutely loved peering through these telescopes. I had built up the center so much that my students were also super excited!


Much to our dismay, the Science Centre peeps very kindly led us into the big domes, pointed to the big telescopes and said, “Here they are” with somewhat minimal enthusiasm.  They couldn’t let us actually look through the telescopes because A) it was cloudy and no stars could be seen, and B) rain was falling from the clouds and we and the telescope equipment would have been soaked when the domed roof opened. This was very disappointing.


However, upon my persistent requests, since the rains had paused momentarily, the Science Centre people did reluctantly agree to open the big dome roof for us just for a few minutes.


We watched in awe as the old dome roof arthritically creaked open and we faced the sky in anticipation.  And then, with nowhere to hide, we stood as hundreds of dead flies fell from the ceiling where they had been hanging stale and dry for months, and floated down onto our upturned heads.


Hurray for the Science Centre.


* * * * * * * * * *


That is as good as my science stories will ever get.


If you want a better science story, you should go here.  David’s blog is in the running to win the Best Science Weblog award.  I am not a science-person, but I am fascinated with what scientific morsels my artsy mind can process. Usually, this means the kind of science that has to do with animals and stars.


HERE IS WHY I LIKE HIS BLOG (and why you will like it too):


  • He writes funny adventure stories about Australia (like me!)
  • The blog is full of awesome photos
  • He is a talented writer
  • He is a student who somehow manages to blog regularly about a host of random topics. (Perhaps this is procrastination in the disguise of creative productivity, but good on him)
  • He makes science interesting and within reach of non-science-people


To see what I mean check out his “creepy nice people” story or his “undead monsters” story.


Or if the day is quickly coming to an end and you haven’t done a good deed yet, you can go directly to this site and just vote blind in the “science” section.  It’s a good thing.


Sewell Strikes Again February 9, 2011

Filed under: February Doesn't Suck,Sewell Strikes Again — christynichols @ 12:33 pm
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Today Sewell did another bad thing.


But this time I fell for her game, and she and I are now partners in crime.


I was working away on my computer when I heard a snore.  It sounded like a dog snore, but I couldn’t see any dogs, so I ignored it and continued working.


Then I heard it again.  I stood up and searched the room, but saw no puppy dogs, nor anything else that could have made a snore-like sound.  When I heard it the third time, I finally found the source.


Sewell had found a warm and snug place to sleep behind the couch. The couch sits against a floor length window. She was cozied against the window in the space between the back of the couch, sleeping under a cover of lace curtains. The sun was shining brightly, and must have felt good on her black coat.


Well, upon my discovery of her, she awoke, (again, instantly super-excited) and proceeded to forcefully and awkwardly twist herself out of the small space and lace and lunge towards me.


Dogs aren’t graceful when they are tangled and trapped. Especially puppies. Especially Sewell.


Before I could start to help her out, her claws got caught in the lace, and within seconds she had mummified herself within the curtain. She sat confused for a minute, like an oversized cocoon.


“Hold on, girl” I began, but without waiting for me, she clawed and chomped her way through the curtain and scrambled out.


In the few seconds I had to intervene, do you know what I did? I grabbed my camera.



I know, I should really stop thinking that the bad things she does are cute.  But I can’t help it. Come on.  A staffy that’s wrapped herself up in a lace curtain? Adorable.



I moved on with my day and thought not too much more about the curtain. However, my work resumed in another part of the house, leaving Sewell and her toy lace curtains unattended.


This was my mistake, leaving her alone, because Sewell only wants to play, with anyone or anything, all day long. (I don’t know why I can never remember to look after animals and young children. It’s like the time I left my boss’s 4 year old alone to play “pretend hair salon” with real scissors. My mind just turns off.)


When my roommate returned, not only did she discover the disheveled curtain, she had discovered it was now severely ripped. There is a Sewelly-sized hole that is too big to assume is part of the delicate lace pattern.   In fact, Sewell’s puppy teeth had dragged the curtain out from the couch to be displayed with pride in full view for her mama to see.



This is a bad thing that has happened. We are but mere renters, and the curtains belong to our landlord.


But whose fault is this? The dog’s, because she did it, or mine, because I took a picture of it happening instead of stopping it?


Perhaps I will try to get Sewell to re-enact what she did.  That way, the landlords will also be distracted by how cute she looks draped in lace, tucked away in the sun, and they’ll forgive us and just go buy a new curtain.


Yes, that’s my plan. When the curtain tear is discovered, I think it’s best to let Sewell take the rap instead of me.  Between the two of us, she’s probably the one who is more forgivable.