Monday, May 9, 2016

Frankie Goes to Vegas



While we have plenty of travel journals from over the past several years (for those posts go here: http://just-call-me-frank.blogspot.com/p/travel.html), this is less a travel journal entry, and more of a tips for doing Vegas.
This was the third trip to Las Vegas in the past 8 years, which gives a bit of credibility to what we're about to say.
The first trip was a week long, the second was 3 days, and this one was 3 and a half days.
Each trip was a bit different, the first two were with a group of friends (Canadians) - the base participants of which were the same both times. We were trained in the skills of chilling and vacationing by a very adept group of individuals, and shepherded on our first trip by a seasoned Vegas traveler. We'll call the culmination of both of these trips 'Trip A' because they shared so many similarities.

This third trip, however, was with James (The Husband). James isn't much of a drinker (he had a beer, one liquor drink, and a couple of glasses of champagne the entire trip. He did manage to drink almost a whole bottle of vanilla vodka over the course of the weekend, but you'd never know it). Nor is he much of a gambler.
Or a person who likes to be around more than a few people.
Also. He's British...the kind with underlying ginger (red-haired) characteristics (read: pasty)...so you can imagine how much he likes to sit in the sun (not at all, generally).
He DOES like to eat though, and so that's what he would probably say is his favourite thing about Vegas.
It goes without saying that the third trip was the least favourite from a "personal" perspective. Which is okay. It was a bit of a work-related venture, after all.
We'll call this Trip B.

The following is going to be a breakdown, from snout to tail, so to speak, from choosing when to go, to booking your flight and hotel, to leaving Vegas.

The Husband's main tip would be, this being his fist time: If you can, go to Vegas with someone who has been there before.

Las Vegas Boulevard, May 8, 2016 (c) Frank et al
WHO TO GO WITH
Friends. Go with friends. *raises hands towards the sky* Go with a lot of friends.
The more the better. Go with people you can mix and match, swap off a few hours with different ones. Especially if you are going for more than three days. More than three days with the same three people, who you're probably sharing a room with...is too much.
Limit the amount of couples in the group, too. Especially if you know that at least one of them is prone to fighting with each other no matter where they are.
So make it a friends trip, leave the other halves, the "better halves", at home. The combination of sexes is not as important (but obviously being the only girl, or only guy, on a group Vegas vacation can have its disadvantages).

UNLESS you're the type of person who doesn't like to party, drink, take part in some shenanigans, maybe do something out of the ordinary, etc. Maybe you just want to see a show, look at some lights, have a nice meal, and be in bed by 10. If that's the case go with someone like you. Seriously. You're not fun.

WHEN TO GO
First, you want to go between Memorial Day and Labor Day. You just do. The weather the rest of the time isn't as stable. Yes. It's going to be hot, and probably dry those three month - but hot and dry Vegas is better than hot and wet Vegas, and it's leaps and bounds better than cool and wet Vegas.
Trip A (both) was during July-August - the time of year it's highly unlikely to rain more than a short sun shower and you can fry an egg on the sidewalk. You have to enter every casino along the strip just to get a hit of air conditioning (and maybe a fresh drink), or a shop along the way to get a can of something alcoholic and cold to drink (you can drink on the sidewalks in Vegas). You sweat just thinking about stepping outdoors and nobody wants to wear much clothing. It may sound terrible, but it's not. Terrible is wearing a short dress and open heels in chilly weather walking through puddles of water - as was the case with Trip B. Or wearing a light jacket. Or not going to Vegas in the summer.

Now. If you plan to venture outside of Vegas (something we have yet to do - but plan to) then you may be interested in going any of the other 9 months of the year - because hiking in the desert when it's pushing 120 degrees Fahrenheit (that's 50 degrees Celsius to the rest of the World) is probably going to suck cactus balls.
DATES TO AVOID: Chinese New Year Weekend, Presidents’ Day Weekend, St. Patrick’s Day Weekend, Easter Weekend, Mother's Day Weekend, Memorial Day Weekend, Father's Day Weekend, Fourth of July Weekend, Mother's Day Weekend, Labor Day Weekend, Mexican Independence Day Weekend (September), Columbus Day Weekend, Thanksgiving Weekend, Christmas Holiday, New Years Eve & Day 
So why avoid these dates? Do you like spending more money than you have to?
*See THE FLIGHT (AND HOTEL), and THE FOOD for more information about that.

THE FLIGHT (AND HOTEL)
For Trip A the flights were booked as a package with the hotel. You can find these types of trips all over online. The best for this, as far as we've seen, is Allegiant Airlines. They are a "small airline" with many direct flights all over the country. All three trips have been taken with this airline. They seem to have the best prices. For instance, Trip B was easily $400 cheaper per person than other flights during the same time frame, from airports near us. However, Allegiant has very specific days they fly to Las Vegas - Thursdays and Sundays - so you may feel pegged into a shorter trip than you want to take if you, say, want to stay five days.
***Be Aware: with airlines like Allegiant you will be nickle and dim'ed:
A personal item (like a purse or backpack) is free, a carry-on is $35+, a checked bag is $50+ [under 40 lbs]; if you book with a credit card you pay a couple dollars extra; want to make sure you sit next to your travel partnerI(s)? Pick your seats...but that'll cost you. Want them to print your boarding pass? That'll cost you, so print your own.
Once you're on the flight nothing is free - no little bag of pretzels or a water. You're not allowed to bring your own little bottles of alcohol anymore (it's against federal regulations now and results in a $3000 fine) but if you had a small 3 oz flask you could probably get away with buying a can of soda and discretely topping it up with the good stuff rather than pay $7 for an airplane version.
It all adds up.
As far as flights are concerned, always, always, shop around. And if you can be flexible with your dates you'll be better off and save some cash.

Trip B was booked separate, with flight via Allegiant and hotel, because it seemed like we'd save about $30-50 a night, via Hotels.com. It was not worth it. Normally Hotels.com is the go-to pet favourite for all things accommodations. Up until Trip B it has been a great source for hotel savings everywhere we've went. Not so much for Vegas.

Having previously stayed at the MGM (for a week the first trip to Vegas) it wasn't too disappointing when James asked to stay there (because it's "the movie hotel") - even though we'd have rather stayed at The Aria because we'd stayed there the last time, it has more of a central location, and it's still pretty new, for about the same price. However, the MGM is a decent hotel as far as the comfort of the casino floor goes and the general ambiance. And the room there for Trip A was amazing, large, spacious, big comfortable bed, ample bathroom facility. Inside and out it was a great accommodation.

Turns out, however, it was disappointing.
For Trip B, the Hotel.com booking, we were what can only described as "banished" to the West Wing. This is clearly the older wing of the hotel - blocked off for discount travelers no doubt - but you don't know it until about halfway down the very long hall corridor when suddenly the wide hallway, with its tasteful wallpaper and carpet, narrow, and the hall gets a little darker, and the carpet not so fresh and clean in appearance or quality, and it's clear you're in some sort of discount hotel/motel alternate universe portal of punishment; and if you read reviews on Hotel.com, which we didn't bother to do until post-stay, as a guest of this wing you will not be the only one feeling that somehow...you should have taken them up on their "$30 a night upgrade" at the front desk check-in. And question why they hate you for coming to Vegas and wanting to save some benjamins.

That being said...GO BACK AND GET AN UPGRADE IF YOU END UP IN A PART OF THE HOTEL, OR A ROOM, YOU DON'T LIKE.
The room was pretty bad. Very visible signs of age; the shower leaked all over the floor; the water in the sink never got cold and was just sorta of weird tasting; the lighting throughout the room, including the vanity, was terrible (terrible mirrors and lighting are not a girl's friend in Vegas!); the toilet didn't really flush so great; the bedding and bed wasn't that comfortable (compared to that of Trip A), the air conditioning unit was loud; there were no common amenities you'd find in a hotel room like a fridge, microwave or coffee maker; the room was small and the hallway was noisy. The halls were loud - every time someone in the vicinity was entering or leaving their room it made it sound like someone was at your door - hearing people talking in the hall at all hours, however, is just par for the Las Vegas course.

So, we actually did not get an upgrade due to budget constraints. If it had been less of a work related trip, at a less than financially ideal time for The Husband (who was basically tagging along), then it would have been a mistake not to take the upgrade. You win some. You lose some. Next time we're skipping Hotels.com all together and booking an airport/hotel package, or directly with the hotel (which, by the way, sometimes comes with hotel credits and perks that you will not find booking through a budget travel site).

If you're going to do Vegas...DO VEGAS. It's not the time for a cheap hotel special like if you're going to South Dakota to see Mount Rushmore, or to gaze on a big ball of twine or a world's largest whatever.

*Previously mentioned Dates to Avoid - Flights are a bit more expensive than the rest of the optimal time to visit Vegas, and the Hotels are also more expensive. Especially if you're staying near the venue where there's an event...

Other events to be aware of: Boxing matches, UFC fights, and other big sporting events. The price of your hotel may be increased significantly.

Hidden Fees:  Otherwise known as Resort Fees, these fees are not included in your online quotes or in your package booking the majority of the time and, depending on the hotel, can be upward of $30 per room per night. Which means if you're staying for three nights add $100+ more dollars to your estimate costs. These fees are to cover things like wi-fi access (this day and age that's an increasingly bullshit charge), access to the fitness center and a free newspaper. These depend on the hotel/casino and are unusually in fine print somewhere on their website.

SHUTTLE SERVICE:
Don't take a cab. Either take a shuttle or a (stretch) limo. Trip A involved taking a limo, which is inexpensive when the cost is split among a group of friends, and it is a wicked cool way to roll up to a hotel casino. Plus you can start drinking right away in a limo. It's just far superior.
The shuttle is okay. You may think that $15-18 (depending on if you pre-reserve the tickets) per person sounds like a lot because the airport is not that far from the strip, but with traffic it can cost a lot, and you'll have to (unless you're a dick) tip your cabby more than you trip a shuttle driver.

PACKING
Some of these will be super obvious, but they warrant going over.
Top down - and these are a minimum. How many of each is up to you and your airline baggage restrictions:
1. A hat of some sort if you plan to be outdoors - that goes for men and women.
2. A top for each weather incident: tank, short sleeve, and a long sleeve (especially if you're going in a "colder" month).
3. A pair of jeans, a pair of shorts, a skirt and a dress.
4. Swimsuit - someting you are comfortable wearing before a buffet, and something you're comfortable wearing two buffets in.
5. Footwear
Shoes. SHOES. Ladies. Listen. You may think those 4 inch, 6 inch, whatever "whore" heels, you wanna strut your sexy badass stuff around The Vegas Strip on will be just fine for a night...but unless you are used to living in those torture decks break in something that's sturdy, comfortable, and sexy to wear with your dresses for your nights on the town.
Every single trip we have done this wrong. No more wrong that this most recent trip when the only comfortable pair of shoes we had was a pair of HokaOne running shoes we brought for using in the fitness center. Shoes that we've been running in for months. You get the smelly picture.
So choose wisely.
And men. You want a couple of pairs of shoes too.
At the very least you should all, men and women, have at least one pair of comfortable sandals - both for walking and for going from the pool to your room - which can be a very long walk all on its own.

Some other random things: Sunblock, After Sun lotion or gel (you will probably get a light burn if you haven't bothered with a base tan and don't spend much time outdoors normally), bandages (for when you don't heed the footwear advice), a water bottle, and at least one flask.

THE ALCOHOL
Alcohol is EXPENSIVE in Vegas. We know what you're thinking..."but I heard if you sit at the slot machines or gambling tables the waitresses bring you free alcohol"...and you're thinking right, but it's not that simple.
During Trip A, about 6 years ago, and the trip the prior year, the waitresses were great (depending on the casino, of course). They were really attentive and good with bringing the drinks (as watered down as they were).
Now? Not so good. They were hard to scout out, and when you got the rare one to bring you a drink they were weak. As James said, when we asked how the one drink he managed to get from a casino waitress was, "Well. I can tell she opened the liquor bottle in the vicinity of my drink".
And then there's the matter of free. The longer you sit waiting for the waitress to get to you, should she even choose to do so (we had one waitress who kept saying she'd be right back and she never actually stopped to take our drink order any of the times), and then wait for her to bring you a drink, you could easily drop $20-60 into a slot machine - depending on how fast you are at pressing the botton and how tight the machine is. Then if you actually get a drink you should tip $1-2 - $2 if you ever want to see her again. So it's not really free.
That's the casino floor (and that was the MGM, where we spent most of our slot time this trip).

Restaurants and bars can get pretty expensive. For example, Pub 1842 in the MGM, a double mid-to-low-shelf Gin with water was $22. Some dance bars have minimums for table service (if you want to go with a group of people and sit at a table together it can cost you into the thousands -getting a table is table service, otherwise you stand for the most part).

If you get the bottomless champagne/mimosa brunch option - which is mandatory at some casino buffets during certain holidays (and costs extra) - the champagne can be very low quality. [Note: The champagne at Mandalay Bay Seaside Buffet is way better quality than the champagne at the MGM Grand Buffet].

So what to do.

Bring a flask and a water bottle. Make your own drinks and carry them with you to cut down on at least some of the daytime drinking costs and if you plan to just plop your ass down at some slot machines.

There are places to buy liquor on the strip - Walgreen's, CVS, some random bodega-type souvenir shops, and some more upscale souvenir shops; and the price of the liquor is reasonable. A 750 ml bottle of Gin at the Walgreen's was about $33 after tax, which is absolutely reasonable, especially if you noted that what was equal to two shots (and you know what, it didn't taste like two shots) was $22 at the restaurant in the MGM.

Fill your flask (it's also handy to use if you wanna boost up those watered down "free" casino drinks should you choose that route), mix your drink in your water bottle (unless you're using it for something silly, like staying hydrated in the hot sun ;-p), and just go about your public drinking.
It's a personal favourite Vegas activity and it saves money.

THE FOODAhhh. The food.
The kind of excess that would make a Greek vomitorium blush.
But first...
While you're getting your liquor, grab some snacks to have kicking around your room. If you don't make sure to eat throughout the day you will not get your full value out of the buffet - should you choose to buffet. You have to keep your stomach working (it's science, look it up).
A favourite thing to do it get a giant pizza the first night that you have no intention on finishing at that time (unless your traveling posse is large) and then snack on that over the span of a few days.

At the buffet always choose protein first. Yes, the pasta looks good, but it will fill you up and stand between you and one of the many decadent protein options that can be found in Vegas - Kobe beef and spicy tuna hand roll at the Bellagio, shrimp and crab legs, sausages, roasts of every animal, exotic fish...

At brunch the mini waffles, pancakes, and french toast fingers may be calling your name, but they are just trying to steal the thunder of your heart from the breakfast links, the cheesy scrambled eggs, the smoked salmon, all of the amazing savory offerings - both traditional and non - that you can't get at your local Denny's, and the dessert table waiting in the wings. If you have room at the end hit up a mini waffle for some love, but don't blow it all on simple cheap starchy carbs.

If you decide to Buffet what you choose is probably up to several searches via the internet, and some recommendations from people you know.
Here are our recommendations: Mandalay Bay, and the Bellagio, are wonderful.
Mandalay Bay for brunch, and The Bellagio for dinner, specifically. They both have table service too, so a waiter or waitresses is bringing your drinks and you don't have to waste time schlepping to a soda fountain or a juice machine,
While there, the Mandalay Bay brunch had lamb osso bucco (and it was amazing), beef oxtail, and a good assortment of ethnic offerings (the pork sticky buns were great). The desserts at Mandalay for brunch were also a better assortment than that of the Bellagio at dinner.
Now. The Bellagio. It's literally a world renowned buffet. They have Kobe beef (look it up if you don't know what it is), blini with an assortment of caviar to choose from, a lot of sushi, piles of seafood, and enough roasted meats to make a grown man blush.
The buffet to skip is definitely The MGM Grand Buffet.

Don't go starving. You may think that's the answer to satisfying your gluttonous desires, but alas, it is not.

*Previously mentioned Dates to Avoid - during Holidays there is no Breakfast at most casino buffets- they default to Brunch - often being offered with all you can drink champage and mimosas.
Brunch costs about $10 more per person than breakfast. The price of all other meals are increased by about that same amount. So if you're paying for the meals of two people over three days and you buffet four times you're talking about $100 more to add onto your food budget

Note: While $30-40 on brunch may seem like a lot for a buffet, often times it's almost all you can eat in a day - you're likely to spend the rest of it digesting that meal and topping it with liquor. If you're the type to steer clear of restaurants (which are equally, and often more, expensive) you can probably get by with a food budget, for yourself, of about $75 a day.
If you're planning on eating at famous food chains - even if they are chains not available in parts of your state, like some of the people we shared an airport shuttle with, just go away now and never read this blog again. Seriously. Close the browser.

WHAT TO DO
Plan on tipping.  Everywhere. There's guides about tipping you can look up so you can get an idea of the tipping structure. Do it.

Take the Trams when you can after you get a good hard walk of the strip under your belt. There are three free ones that have limited stops and they aren't very well advirtised, and there's the monorail - $12 for unlimited one-day, and a three-day pass is under $30 - it is totally worth it...it'll save your feet and hours of wasted time walking...and just may allow you to pack that ultra high-heeled Single White Female kill-him stilettos, ladies.

If you can make it to one of the two outlet malls, do it. But make sure you have baggage allowance wiggle room. The Las Vegas North Premium Outlets have been a favourite two times running. This last time didn't offer a chance for shopping, but rather a walk through the lot of the Las Vegas South Premium Outlets. Either way you'll need a cab (or bus) to get there. It's worth it, especially if you want to get off of the strip for a few hours.

Fremont Street (Old Vegas) is also fun...in the summer. It's a great place to party...but don't plan on walking there, no matter how reasonable the distance looks like on a map. Take a bus or a cab. In the summer they have a load of outdoor events and it's like a big street party. Plus it's got all the old casinos, it's a bit nostalgic, and you can still get a circa 60s and 70s Vegas style$7.99/9.99 all you can eat steak buffet in some of those casinos. Just remember. You're going to get what you pay for...and maybe even more after a few hours.

Gambling. Obviously.

Eating. Duh

So here's the thing. In the combined two weeks of time spent in Vegas we've never been to a show or concert. It's not our thing. It's expensive, and unless we're gonna see Neil Diamond, we'll catch one of those acts somewhere else. And as far as theater...Fringe Fests are more our bag. We can't really give you any tips on those.

Oh. Strip clubs. They are expensive as hell. The best one, and this is based on a bias, is Sapphire. The bias is because it's the only one under our belt so far, and we spent more than 7 hours at it on one of our trips. The longer you stay past 2 or 3, the lower the "quality" the ladies, but whatever, they have boobs. Isn't that all that matters? Plus, being female, we are allowed to touch those boobs (and sometimes other parts). And we did, and ladies danced on our lap, and made faces about the boys/men who were leering at it all as if to say can you believe those losers these guys are (even though she was clearly going to enjoy the extra money from this happening) and it was a fun time. But expensive. Once you get there (don't take a cab, they say if you call the club they send a car to pick you up) you pay a cover charge (can be more than $30 just to get in the door), and then you tip the door guy if you want a good experience, and then there's the price of the drinks (no less than $15 each), and the lap dances (at least $20 each), and if you bring female friends with you then you better be buying them drinks (especially if they are "conservative" or "uptight" and you want to watch a girl dance on their lap and watch as another woman rubs her bare breasts all over her).

Walking. You're going to do A LOT of walking. Everything looks like it's close, but it's not. It's an optical allusion. Just getting to the pool at your hotel, or getting out of the hotel, can take 15-20 minutes.

LEAVING LAS VEGAS
Ask to have an extra hour added to your checkout time if you have an afternoon flight. They have "deals" if you want to make checkout even later, but if you're only looking for an hour you may be able to get it for free, and it can make a difference.
Pack all your bags before you leave the room, like if you're planning on a final buffet, so when you get back you have less stress to deal with. Get to your airport two to two and a half hours early as directed, the lines can be longer than you'd think.
And finally...
These days, if you're not careful, What happens in Vegas doesn't so much stay in Vegas, rather gets put on social media, and lives forever on the internet...(take people you trust.


FINAL THOUGHTS

So what did The Husband think of the trip?
"It's just a giant hole where you throw money"
But he wants to go back.

Vegas is way more commercial than the Vegas of old. People used to be able to go "on a shoestring"...that Vegas is dead. You can still do it thrifty...but is that really doing Vegas right?

The most important thing is go knowing you're going to spend money. Plan to spend more money than you plan to spend. Prepare for that so you can have a fun and relaxing time.
If you get a $60+ dinner bill for an appetizer, a burger, a double shot of liquor, and a beer? Don't panic. Laugh it off and move on. If we've learned anything from traveling with Canadians over the years it's how to take a chill vacation. Don't worry about it ON vacation, correct for it (like, don't go back to that restaurant, make sure to ask about the price of something if you're concerned about budget). If you worry about it on vacation you'll risk missing out on the fun you could have, and that's really the only reason for vacation - to have fun - not to stress.

Have fun in Vegas!

Our favourite Vegas song....


If you have been to Vegas and have any additional tips, advice, observations, please feel free to add them in the comment selection below! :-)

Friday, March 18, 2016

Voting Against the "Undesirables" - A Guest Blog Post

It's been a busy year so far...

Okay, so busy is a relative term in this case. The first two months of the year, slow months work-wise, were mostly spent engrossed in video games. Having never played much of anything past a Wii (Mario Brothers and MarioKart, for the most part), and the odd Xbox Kinnect (hello, Rise of Nightmares), mostly because of lack of ability...it was a surprise when, shortly after Christmas, we picked up a controller and suddenly it all clicked. So, after spending the better part of two months engrossed in Halo ODST and Borderlands 2, it was time to come up for air. Work picked up, it's time for (continuing) training for our first 10K, and gardening season is right around the corner. Not to mention finishing the new garage and studio space so we can work on adding something to the growing collection of paintings. Then there's the matter of this blog. This poor neglected blog.

And Hey. It's election season, in case you hadn't noticed [that it never ends, really]. And what an election season it has been, eh?
While we have not bothered to write anything here regarding thoughts and feelings on the current political climate, you can be sure to find the Twitter and Facebook account riddled with thoughts and opinions like the bullet spray from an uzi.

This past week we came across a Facebook status written by a social media buddy Sean Swanson, and it pretty much summed up one of the concerns that had been rattling around in the back of this brain with all the usual garbage. So, instead of coming up with our own post that basically reiterates what he said, we asked if we could post what he wrote as a guest blog post. He happily accepted the offer.

Sean is a super guy, by all accounts a great father and husband, who, despite serious health issues, turned his life around a year ago and since then has lost a massive amount of weight.  He works hard at maintaining a healthy lifestyle in order to mitigate the symptoms of his illness. Witnessing his transformation has been awesome. He has been an inspiration to those who strive to stay fit, and meet their personal workout and health goals. He also supplies his Facebook friends with very hilarious memes and entertaining content, in between the serious intellectual bits. He is appreciated.

In a private conversion Sean made sure to mention that what he wrote here also applies to mental illness, which we agree with wholeheartedly.

Image Source
There are a lot of things to consider this election season before stepping up to that "ballot" box. The mature and conscientious voter will do so not simply thinking of what the candidate they favor can offer them, but what he/she can offer the country and the individuals in it, as a whole; a vote not motivated by blind hatred for swaths of fellow human beings; a vote not motivated by pure self-interest; a vote not motivated by false propaganda, by celebrity cult-like following, or by indoctrination of religious or party affiliation.
A vote by the people, for the people.

Without further adieu.

--------------------------------------------------------------
Voting Against the Undesirables

I had a thought which frightened me this morning, and like most frightening thoughts it led to more frightening thoughts.

I have blood family who have told me to my face that if it's a choice between Clinton and Trump they will vote Trump. They say they don't support his hate or his rhetoric and I believe them, mostly. They say they support his views on this treaty or oppose hers on abortion, etc.
I get that. In more normal or reasonable times I would think that individual policies are legitimate reasons to vote for one candidate over the other.

But let's call it what it is. This man has a list of undesirables. Black people, Mexican people, Muslim people, gay people.

And then there's that other category, the one I'm in.

People with disabilities.

I don't look much different than an able bodied person, 9 days in 10 you couldn't tell the difference. But it's there. In my genetic code, I have cerebral palsy and substantial hearing loss and historically, people like me don't make it through the vetting process of men who espouse fascism.

Neither will my kids. They're both perfect. No disabilities of any kind. But they inherited my genes. They can and will pass down my weird mutations and undesirable traits to any children they might have.

So they go on the list. Can't have those pesky differences getting passed into the gene pool.

You might be thinking "Wait, Trump hasn't made mention of disabled persons."

But he has. Maybe not in a by line of his speeches but he has mocked disabled reporters at his rallies.

And does it matter?

He doesn't have to name off every person to hate to his supporters. They get the point. They know the Other.

"What is the cause of a pogrom? Land, domination, pre-emptive attacks - all just excuses, mundane justifications that do nothing but disguise the simple distinction.
They are not us.
We are not them."1

The fact is that if we have to choose between Clinton or Trump it is absolutely a choice of the lesser of two evils. But it's an evil of a magnitude greater than the other.

It's a choice between an opportunist who has often changed her moral standing with the siren call of the day, at best behind the times and at worst feckless, and a man who wants to label the Other.

Lots of other republicans I know have said they just won't vote if Trump is nominated. They'll abstain. In an election like this, a choice not to vote is an approbation of men like Trump. If enough people choose not to vote because they don't like either candidate much they're essentially handing the election the candidate who has so inspired such a furor of hate and his hard inner core of supporters who finally have a standard bearer for their hatred.

You will sanction him with your silence if you choose not to vote on Election Day.

Others might say "he can't change the structure of the United States, the president doesn't have that power."

Of course he can. Presidents pull in majorities for both the house and the senate every four years. It's called the coat tail effect. Essentially, congress people who wouldn't normally be electable gain office because they are in the same party of the presidential candidate and most voters vote straight ticket these days.

If you don't think a president can effect fundamental change in our nation with the backing of the house and senate just look at what President Obama accomplished in his first two years in office when he had a supermajority. Think of the harm he could have wrought, had he chosen to.

And think of that list of your neighbors, your friends, your acquaintances you chat with over the coffee pot at work, who all fall on the list of undesirables.

What makes America great is the diversity of her peoples. We are the melting pot. The bootstraps nation. The nation of refugees and outsiders effecting real and lasting change.

We are not homogenous. In point of fact, the founders of the nation came here to escape the homogenous old countries. Who only a handful of years after our nation's founding saw the rise of death camps in those old countries. And to those death camps went the list of undesirables, almost indistinguishable from the list of undesirables that Mr. Trump has presented time and time again.

We are better than this. We must be better than this.

"We are contrary creatures, us humans, but that isn't something we need be afraid of, or even much troubled by. And if you make a list of those people who worship consistency, you'll find they're one and all tyrants or would-be tyrants. Ruling over thousands, or over a husband or a wife, or some cowering child. Never fear contradiction, it is the very heart of diversity."- Steven Erikson

"We are not enemies, but friends, we must not be enemies. Though passion may have strained it's must not break our bonds of affection." - Abraham Lincoln
-------------------------------------------------

1 quote from The Malazan Boo of the Fallen Series

Thursday, December 31, 2015

Goodbye 2015. On to 2016: Better, Smarter, and Full of Potential and Possibilities


There was supposed to be more time in this day to write this post, but as with most days this year something came up, or there just wasn't enough time in the day, or, as was more likely, blog posts were running through the brain as the body lay all warm and comfortable in bed. Thoughts, feeling, emotions, words, unable to escape into the internet and land here where they wanted to be because life gets in the way (or a comfortable bed).

2015 was an amazing year - amazing good and amazing bad - full of achievements...like graduating from University with academic honors (magna cum laude), having the opportunity to spend several weeks traveling to a few locations in Canada, starting a new career as a self-employed contract worker, growing a great garden and learning more about the ins-and-outs of that hobby, and while we only completed one painting this year, there is confidence that will pick up when our new studio space (dubbed on Instagram [Yes, this year we "finally" got an Instagram account] and Facebook as 'Frankie's Lady Cave).

It was also a year full of seeing friends, like Club Nette (Skittles, aka, Annette Ford) and Synthesised (Cliff) in Toronto at the 2015 Toronto Tweetup (as well as a slew of others who just won't appear here - but shout out to Blonde Calamity!...sorry everyone else).
And then there was the summer house guests like Cool _Jesse (Jesse) and Synthesised (Cliff). And a road trip to Minneapolis to the Minnesota State Fair where we hooked up with Pudding Boobs (Kim) and had a great night of drinking and catching up.
And then in October, Father, and Baby Brother and his wife came to help put up a large portion of the new garage we're building (well, at this point James has been doing most of the building while we feel useless ...at least until the electrical, insulation and drywall is ready to go up, those we can mostly do solo), and Mother and Angry Brother came too. It was the first time the entire immediate family had been together in such a way in over ten years, since the car accident. (current memory cannot recall if every member was accounted for on Baby Brother's wedding day, but if they were it was certainly not in such an informal familial way).
Dad came two weekends in a row and it was really nice spending that time with him. It was great fun cooking for everyone and connecting with some members of the family we haven't gotten to see much over the years. Baby Brother has turned out to be an amazing man of strength and intelligence and wit (he's a grade A smart ass, and we love it), and he and his wife are perfect for each other in ways that are undefinable.

But

The year was also not so great, as the death of our dog came quickly around graduation time. We lost massive hours at a job we were working at and got denied a more permanent position (such is the bureaucracy of a University in this day and age)
Then later in the year the most tragic of all, the sudden death of Club Nette (Skittles, aka, Annette Ford). Nothing has felt the same since, like there's a considerable amount of air and light missing from the world, the sun only shines half as bright. Given our peppered past of people who have suddenly (and not so suddenly) died, like the first boy we ever liked, cousins, uncles, grandparents, friends...we thought this would be easier to get passed. It's not. It was a massive hit to the heart and soul.

From a mental health perspective it's been up and down a lot, definitely some bad, but there's never enough time to write when the mood strikes to define the bad, or work through the bad like we used to - luckily a trunk full of culled coping strategies over the past couple of years mitigates the harm, pushes it back for some reprieve.
Physically we've managed to stay in pretty good shape - though after the death of Nettie there was a severe uptick in alcohol consumption and we've been working on getting back to better levels because alcohol will straight up fuck with your metabolism and any weight loss attempts. During a full physical (EKG and all) the doctor guessed that we must run because of the low resting heart rate. Not really sure if that means healthy, or is just a symptom or catalyst to the poor circulation. In any case, despite the extra pounds we're as healthy as they get. And the plan is to continue that into the new year. The greatest physical achievement this year was establishing a top run time (of an average of 7.04 mph for 30 minutes) - a run time we have not been able to near in awhile even after being in the gym 3-4 times a week, even when traveling. But that just gives us a goal. In addition this coming year at least one 5K, and maybe a 10K, is planned, which has been sort of a bucket list item since losing a massive amount of weight about 11 years ago and keeping most of it off over the years. It's not really a new year resolution, because those beg to be broken, rather a desire, a goal, a hope, that if doesn't happen, doesn't happen, and there will always be the next year.

This coming year is pretty scary, as uncertainty being self-employed causes much undo stress, but if it continues on the path it has been on it will be amazing. This new venture affords plenty of free time for painting and reading in the winter, and gardening and painting and travel in the summer, and cooking all year round. Plus it brings in more money than we've made at any point in our life...jutting us into a new tax bracket. (also scary!)

The non scary part of the year will be when the garage is complete. This project has taught patience this year, as the hope was that it would be fully complete by October. Unfortuntaly the concrete didn't even get poured until then, and then before anybody knew it there was cold, and snow, and the challenges of building a huge structure (and James is not familiar with how things are built in the USA, as building in England are put together differently).
Plus the garage is massive a massive project. In-floor heating, multiple access doors,six windows. a 34 x 24 structure with the back 12 x 24 space (Fankie's Lady Cave) serving as a painting/writing studio, and workout/yoga space, a gardening space (until the garden shed is built), a hangout space, and a guest area for the friends we've made on Twitter so they can have a nice space to relax and sleep while visiting. There are new visitors planned for 2016 too, so hopefully this all gets done in time! :-)

Before the garage
After the garage (34' x 24')
Meanwhile, all year there have been so many topic we would have liked to write about. 2015 was CRAZY - especially in politics and social issues, and we're always paying attention (thanks to social media it's hard not to), but then sometimes it seems like it's all really been said by everyone, because, well, it's the internet and it probably has all been said, or said faster than someone with a job, a spouse, and hobbies has time to compete with. Writing just falls to the back-burner (hence the scant few blog entries here this year compared to other years).
The one thing that's disappointing about classes being over, having graduated, is that it's harder to sit down and write with no grade or deadline looming over the head as motivation. If there's anything we can be hopeful about for 2016 it's that we can get back into writing, and not just sloppy shit like this blog post, but quality content like the academic papers we've shared with you here over the last few years, or travel entries.

2016...it's peeking right around that corner, mere hours away...full of possibilities...full of potential...potential sadness, potential happiness, potential success, potential failure...how you look at those things, how you act on those things is up to you. Make the better decision, the smarter decision, the healthier decision, and just try, day by day, to be a better you, inside and out. No, it's never easy, but what else do you have to do but try?
Don't let the rampant hate that saturated 2015 via social media and mass media and the internet in general leak into 2016 and overtake it. Hope for better, strive for better, be better.

Happy New Year, family, friends, readers, lovers, haters...May 2016 bring you all that you deserve.



Sunday, October 18, 2015

Cooking With Frank: Baked Jalapeño Poppers

In an effort to get back into blogging and writing (*fingers crossed*) it seemed like a good idea to start with a recipe.

Traveling, working (two jobs now - more on that another day) and gardening made sitting down and putting fingers to keys a daunting endeavour. Now that fall is here vacation traveling is over, and all but the last bits of the plants have been pulled from the soil in preparation for the fall tilling.
As an aside, the total harvest this year - that actually made it to a scale before being eaten - was upward of 137+ lbs (62 kg)! It was a good year after all and things were still budding and trying to make fruits and vegetable right up to the day they were getting ripped from the ground.

Okay, so back to the recipe. This one was requested by Jessica back in August, and she's been waiting patiently.

These jalapeño poppers also have the benefit of being healthier than average because they are not breaded or deep fried. They are for real jalapeño lovers. They are also pretty gluten free, which deep fried ones are not, you know...if you're into that kind of thing. (You can read our little gluten rant here: Cooking With Frank: Gluten-Free Turkey Lasagna)


Baked Jalapeño Poppers
This is actually going to be TWO recipes, but let's start with the tools and essential ingredient.

You'll need the following tools:
Silicon Baking Sheet

  • baking pan
  • non-stick spray (like Pam) or a silicone baking sheet. Baking sheets are amazing and reusable.
  • cutting board
  • knife
  • bowl or container to put seeds in
  • GLOVES, rubber or whatever.

The essential ingredient:

12 large jalapeños, cut in half, seeds removed and rinsed.

The important thing to remember is to always wear gloves. Not only should you always wear the gloves while handling the jalapeños, you shouldn't touch anything with that gloved hand that you're later going to touch with your bare hand. And if you somehow expose your hands to the peppers, for fuck sake, don't touch any of your mucus membranes...not your nose, not your eye (make sure you've taken your contacts out for the day just in case)...and keep your hands off your genitals.
Also...it may be suggested that you wear a pair of goggles. Because if one of those jalapeños decides to squirt at your face, the last place you want it landing is in your eye. If you have particularly strong peppers you may also consider wearing something over your mouth while you rinse them because the water may cause the chemical to go airborne.
You don't want to be a victim of your own pepper spray attack.

This is all advice from direct experience having not done those things over the years.

Here is some more solid info and tips about handling jalapeños http://www.livestrong.com/article/474739-jalapeno-peppers-skin-irritations

Okay. Now that you've been warned about that we can move on to the safer ingredients.

Bacon, onion & cream cheese stuffed jalapeños,
and basil, fresh tomato and mozzarella salad

Bacon and Onion Stuffed Jalapeño Poppers

1 lb (454 g) cream cheese, room temp
3 slices bacon - you can obviously use more but this will be adequate enough. Make sure to fry out as much of the fat as you can and save it to the side, and set the bacon on a paper towel to cool and remove excess fat.
3/4 c (180 ml) onion. diced (about half a medium large onion)
1-2 clove garlic, minced
1-2 tsp (5ml) bacon fat (you can use any type of fat, coconut oil, olive oil, butter...by why would you?)
Salt and pepper, to taste
Nutrition Information generated using
myFitnesspal recipe calculator

Optional: a small amount of fresh grated parmesan cheese or fresh herbs of your choosing

Preheat oven to 350° F
Cook the bacon as directed and once cooled enough to handle chop it into small pieces. In the same pan use some of the reserved bacon fat and fry the onion and garlic over medium low heat until translucent. Season with salt and pepper (you probably don't need very much at all) Set aside and cool. If you haven't prepared the jalapeños yet this would be a good time for that.
Once the mixture has cooled fill each of the jalapeño halves with the mixture using your gloved hands. Don't overfill them, there shouldn't be an excess mixture, if there is you can disperse it among the peppers once they have all been filled.
Place on silicone baking on a baking pan or spray pan with nonstick spray and line the peppers on tray. Bake for about 15-20 minutes until they start to brown on the top. 

-------------------------

Okay. Easy, right?
Now let's get a little fancy.
First, a world on chorizo. It's a sausage and not all chorizo is created equally. [Go here to learn about the differences: http://www.bbcgoodfood.com/glossary/chorizo or here for more information than the average person needs: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chorizo]
The kind you're going to use for this recipe is Mexican chorizo.

The following recipe has the benefit of being much healthier. Almost half the calories and half the fat. But retains the full on deliciousness. Add a salad and either of these recipes becomes an exhilarating dinner!




Chorizo and Goat Cheese Stuffed Jalapeño Poppers

6.5 oz (185 g) goat cheese, room temp
4 oz (114 g)Mexican chorizo sausage
3/4 c onions (180 ml), chopped
1 c (240 ml) sun-dried tomatoes, chopped (preferably cherry tomatoes as they are sweeter, measure before chopping)
1-2 tsp (5ml) bacon fat (you can use any type of fat, coconut oil, olive oil, butter...by why would you?)

Nutrition Information generated using
myFitnesspal recipe calculator
Preheat oven to 350°F
Heat oil in pan and add onions. Cook onions for about 1-2 minutes and then add chorizo to pan. Cook for at least five minutes. 

It should look like this when you're done.
Cool mixture to room temp (again this would be a good time to prepare the 12 large jalapeños by cutting them in half, removing the seeds and rinsing them).



Add chorizo onion mixture to the goat cheese and blend well. Add the sun-dried tomatoes and continue mixing into well incorporated.
Once the mixture has cooled fill each of the jalapeño halves with the mixture using your gloved hands. Don't overfill them, there shouldn't be an excess mixture, if there is you can disperse it among the peppers once they have all been filled.
Place on silicone baking on a baking pan or spray pan with nonstick spray and line the peppers on tray. Bake for about 15-20 minutes until they start to brown on the top.



 Prepare yourself for deliciousness! 

Tuesday, September 15, 2015

She Was...

It was about three years ago, just before the London Ontario Tweetup, that we tried to cajole her to come meet us with promises of hiding under tables and eating Skittles and drinking vodka with her. That year she thought about it but ultimately declined. There was anxiety.

The following year, the first Toronto Tweetup, we mentioned it and then didn't talk to her about it again...and she came! We grabbed her and held her and marveled at the physical being that was her. You know how it is, when you finally meet a friend face-to-face.

The whole "being at the Tweetup" didn't last long. Ultimately we ditched the whole thing, along with James, Nettie, and Cliff, and took off on adventures on our own. (You can read about it here: http://just-call-me-frank.blogspot.com/2014/06/choose-your-own-adventure-tweetup.html)

That weekend, sometime after 2am at a hero Burger on Queen St, eating Skittles off of the table, we're pretty sure this is when Nettie officially became The Skittles. Officially.
We've never spent time with her where she didn't have bags of them stashed in her purse (or where she was stashing them in ours *smiles wistfully*)





Shortly after last summer's Toronto Tweetup we got a message from her saying she would be on her way through the area, off to visit family in western Canada, and could she swing down for few days visit with her man (Don) and Goo (her son), and then stay again on her way back home. This was an obvious treat having seen her not that long ago, so we said yes.

She ended up being here the hottest parts of the summer, and our house has no air conditioning. We ended up spending sweltering days together lounging on the furniture, her with her notebook and pen, Goo with his digital games, just existing comfortably.
Honestly it was so comfortable having her here that we don't even recall how we passed all of the time - it must have been close to six days total - aside from eating home cooked meals, hanging out in the backyard around a fire, and all the excitement that comes with having an autistic (eight year old?) boy in the house for the first time (it was a learning experience!).





Except for one night.

The day had been beyond hot, the air still, unmoving and clinging. You could tell something was brewing, the air had that feel and the environment had that pallor all through the day, turning that strange yellowy green that it does on hot summer afternoons right before something fun happens. You could see pregnant dark clouds inching their way in from the west, eventually they got so close we walked out to the end of the block to marvel at them, which is pretty much the west edge of town, and to see the first pulses of lightening. And then suddenly you could see a wave of dust forming, rolling closer, and the wind all of a sudden just went nuts. This area of the county isn't exactly a stranger to tornadoes. Screaming with excitement and getting hit with the first drops of rain, we all turned and ran for the safety of the house.

We got into the house and the wind kept picking up, the lightening got stronger and closer, the thunder boomed. Then the lights went out. We lit candles and discussed playing board games and pondered at other ways in which we could pass the time. By this time the worst parts of the storm had skirted the town, as it usually does, and we were left in the center of walls of lightening, ominous clouds and considerable wind, because the heat of the day was still contained in the house, and the candles were adding to the stickiness with every minute, we came to a conclusion.

Let's go out and chase this thing around the countryside. It was bound to be cooler anywhere but here.

We all piled into the 4Runner, buckling Goo (her son) into the center of the backseat telling him that the adults were going to do something very silly right now. Chasing storms in the Midwest isn't exactly the safest activity, kids.

And we drove around for what must have been an hour, stopping so Nettie could jump out and take pictures here and there (she loved to take pictures), like at the graveyard at the edge of town where she took some great photos, and speculating on where to go next for great views.

It was a great summer, and that is a favorite memory.

This past June Cliff and Nettie agreed to have a sort of reunion and go the the Toronto Tweetup again. So we went, James happily in tow because these are a few of his favorite people.

We made them dinner at the AirBnb condo we rented downtown, a four course meal with ingredients sourced from St. Lawrence Market. Of course, we all agreed to make an appearance at some of the Tweetup events, but ultimately we ditched everyone (again) and went to other places, quieter places, to drink and talk about music and politics and life and this and that and everything.

The next day we woke up and met for Mimosas at Cliff's hotel room (a tradition) and then walked to the old Distillery District to try out artisan chocolate and eat fancy Mexican food, and walk from floor to floor of the Case Goods Warehouse and Cannery Building critiquing the art that graced the walls. Sometimes critiquing with knowledge and expertise, sometimes with silliness.
That night we walked around town in the dark trying to find random art parties, talking, enjoying each other's company.
The next day, Sunday, we had brunch at the AirBnb condo and sat around, more talking, laughing. We signed the painting we had created for Nettie, which she inspired with her words, and sent it off to its new home.



People must have thought us supremely antisocial whenever we were at Tweetups together, or maybe even rude, but the thing that made this little group of friends great is the independent streak they recognized in each other, as well as shared passion for writing, arts, and a common intellect (though, Nettie was always so much smarter when it came to many things).  We were fast friends from the start, through the years on Twitter, where we met, and the time spent together in the non-digital world.

To be honest other than the times we'd hang out in person there was very little communication, digital or otherwise. And never phone calls. Just random message that said things like "<3 love you ^_^ drive by affection". We understood each other, the exhaustion that socializing tended to cause, the time that living in your own head, so to speak, and being creative, took up.
We enjoyed each other's company from sun-up, to almost sun-up again, whenever we spent time together. And it was a satisfying friendship that we were looking forward to experiencing for years to come.

We were just on the cusp of planning a trip to Viva Las Vegas in April, calendars had been marked, hearts had been sent.

She was amazing, super smart and fun, and full of complexity. And such a patient mom with Goo.
And the way she could spin words; she had such a talent and love for writing, like writing was the only way she knew how to breathe. She paved her own path with words. She truly was a renegade soul.

She was one of the few people we've known that felt genuine.

This last Saturday she passed away in her sleep, just shy of a week from what would have been her 33rd birthday.

Nobody can explain it.
The autoposy rendered inconclusive results. The tox screens will take nearly half a year for anything to be discovered. But like Cliff said...at the end of the day it doesn't really matter what the tox screen says.

It's completely unfair that she's gone. And waves of disbelief will ripple alongside those of grief for years.

Our heart aches for her husband and Goo. Especially Goo. Sometimes it seemed Nettie and he had their own special language. It's hard to imagine the confusion he is going through right now. Hearts ache for Nettie's entire family, friends she had that we didn't know, everybody whose life she touched. And she did. She touched many.

She was just embarking on a new adventure of marketing her writing and her art. You could just tell she was excited by all the prospects of the future, the possibilities, the people (in her own introvert way).

She will live on in the ones and zeros of the digital world, her art and her words live here. Whenever we find ourselves missing her, wanting for her words, the beauty she created, we can find her in the volumes she left behind, the volumes of herself, raw and gritty, beautiful and light.

She was wrong when she said she wasn't a firework yet. She'd always been a firework. But the kind that's safe to hold onto...full of promise and beauty and sparks.

(From her Etsy shop: https://www.etsy.com/ca/shop/ClubNettePrintShop?ref=search_shop_redirect)

Sweetheart. You have been imprinted. We will never forget you. <3