Category Archives: Fun

A Little Fun: Dark Dining

It was my sister’s 27th birthday this week, and with the way that plans panned out, she ended up with an entire week of celebrations. My family always celebrate birthdays with a family dinner that everyone attends, but my father was off scuba diving in Hawaii this week. So we went as a family a week early to a restaurant in Vancouver called Dark Table.

Dark Table

My family outside the restaurant, from left: Dad, Mum, Andrew, me, Kelsey

This was no ordinary restaurant – this was a concept called dark or blind dining. Have you heard of this before? It was a fascinating and unique experience. You’ll notice the graphics on the wall behind us have Braille lettering. You eat in pitch blackness and it simulates blindness for the course of your meal. You read the menu and order your meal before even entering the restaurant, because once you’re inside there is no reading taking place. You can’t see ANYTHING.

Our “guide-server” Rose was blind (as are all the servers), and she told us that working in this environment was the first time since losing her sight that she felt in control of her surroundings. When we entered the restaurant, we were taken into a vestibule. The door to the outside and the door from the vestibule into the restaurant were never opened at the same time, thus keeping out all light in the dining area. Once the door to the outside shut, we were instructed to form a “conga line” by placing our left hand on the left shoulder of the person in front of us. The first person in line placed their hand on Rose’s shoulder, and then Rose led us into the darkness and to our table.

I’ve never been anywhere so dark in my life. I had my eyes open the whole time and all I could see was utter blackness. No electronic devices were allowed inside, so there was not even any illumination from cell phone screens. My dad even had a watch face that glowed in the darkness and he had to take it off! The purpose of all this, of course, is to eliminate vision and learn to use your other senses in a safe environment. Of course, it’s something truly special to do this for an experience as sensory as eating.

When our drinks arrived, we were instructed to place our glass in the right corner just above our plate at our place setting. Afterwards it was always easy to find our glasses by touch alone. When the bread basket arrived, we could smell it coming from two long table lengths away, and it was divine. And then came our first real challenge: we had to butter our bread without seeing what we were doing. It was… messy. But we managed!

When our appetizers and entrees arrived, we were ready for a really interesting experience. My brother (later) tweeted a pic of his meal:

ISN’T HE HILARIOUS? Ha. The appetizer was a spinach salad with goat cheese, strawberries and other goodies. It was interesting to take bites of salad and try to identify what components you were tasting and feeling in your mouth. I figured out strawberries by texture before I identified the flavour! The entrees were all simple dishes, designed to make it possible to identify the flavours without seeing your food. The chefs did a great job of anticipating diner’s needs; for example, they had de-tailed my garlic prawns so I didn’t need to fiddle with them in the dark. They had sliced the chicken orders into smaller pieces so that diners wouldn’t be spearing an entire chicken breast into their mouths with their fork!

Despite these measures, it was pretty funny… we all had some success and learned to use our cutlery passably without seeing what we were doing, but all of us ended up hunching over close to our plates and scooping the food into our mouths to minimize dropping food in our laps! Most of us also found that we accidentally knocked some bits of our food onto our place mats, and my sister even used her fingers to pick food up off the plate after awhile. (Why not? Nobody could see her terrible manners!)

The experience was eye-opening (pardon the pun!) We had the most delicious meal of our lives… not necessarily because it was the most delicious that had ever been cooked (although the food was very tasty!) but because we’d never paid so much attention to the smell and taste. We had fun playing a Would You Rather game of choosing between losing one of two senses. It gave me new respect for what those who don’t have the benefit of vision go through every day of their lives. We felt utterly at the mercy of Rose, and it’s lucky she was so lovely and trustworthy! I also was a little shocked to discover how heavily I rely on watching people’s lips move to understand what they’re saying when they’re speaking to me. (I am not deaf! I definitely don’t have the best hearing in the world, but I didn’t realize I did so much lip-reading to filter out distracting background noise)

If you have a dark dining restaurant in your area, I strongly encourage everyone to try this experience. It’s a very unique, memorable and fun way to enjoy a meal.

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Bloggers in Sin City

A few months ago, I signed up to attend Bloggers in Sin City, and it finally happened this past weekend in Las Vegas. It was the best. And to illustrate just how great it was, this is going to be a photo-heavy post!

Honestly, the impetus for attending was not to meet or hang out with the bloggers, though I was certainly anticipating that to be an awesome side perk. I’ve been to Vegas twice before. I thought once was enough for a lifetime, and I had already doubled that quota. But, seeing Shania Twain perform live has been a big life dream for me ever since discovering her music as a teenager, and she hasn’t been performing for years – over a decade, I believe. I’ve said for ages that I would spend my last penny to attend her concert, and then she got a show in Vegas. I knew I *had* to get there to see it, but who to go with? Enter BiSC.

I had so many fun experiences! Stayed at the Flamingo in a baller room, and would stay with them again in a heartbeat. I went on a rollercoaster. I played Cards Against Humanity to break the ice.

Best Cards Against Humanity haiku: "A defective condom; Leaving an awkward voicemail; A disappointing birthday party."

Best Cards Against Humanity haiku: “A defective condom; Leaving an awkward voicemail; A disappointing birthday party.”

Cocktail mixers and brunch buffets.

Welcome mixer at Serendipity3. Source: Karlyn Williams

Welcome mixer at Serendipity3. Source: Karlyn Williams

Cheated and wore grey to the white party!

Cheated and wore grey to the white party!

Reading in the VIP section at the pool. Day drinking Bloody Marys. BLOWN AWAY by Cirque du Soleil’s aquatic show “O”.

No photos allowed during the show, but this was the opening montage before the curtain rose at Cirque du Soleil's "O"

No photos allowed during the show, but this was the opening montage before the curtain rose at Cirque du Soleil’s “O”

Danced half the night away with my fellow BiSC-uits. Partied on the rooftop of PURE nightclub at Caesar’s. Did a tasting of nine whiskies at the Whisky Attic.

The knight in shining armour, guarding the largest collection of whisky in North America!

The knight in shining armor, guarding the largest collection of whisky in North America!

Flight of 9 whisky taster shots

Flight of 9 whisky taster shots

All of us also enjoyed a great swag bag. Check out the table full of them waiting for us at registration, with bonus snacks!

Gift Bags

Gift Bags

My favourite two sponsored items in the gift bags were the Stackwines and the Firmoo sunglasses. Stackwines have a brilliant concept: A stack of four disposable wine glasses, pre-filled with wine, stacked together in a package. You can have a glass of wine (to go! All the better, as this is allowed in Vegas!) and leave the rest unopened & fresh. Karlyn and I enjoyed a glass each evening while getting ready for festivities. I hope they sell it in Canada. And we were able to select our own sunglasses ahead of time from Firmoo and received them in our gift bags. I am in love with mine and highly recommend ordering from them if you’re in need of some shades.

We were all sporting our Firmoo sunnies at the pool. Source: Karlyn Williams

We were all sporting our Firmoo sunnies at the pool. Source: Karlyn Williams

It was all incredibly well-organized and great value created for all of us by the inimitable Nicole and Doniree. But in the end, the sponsors and the events added up to something greater than the sum of their parts. BiSC became more to me than some fun stuff to do and fun people to do them with.

I’m a fairly low-key, introverted person. I can be a lot of fun, but primarily in one-on-one or small group settings. I do not shine at group events of this nature; others usually form stronger bonds than I do. For the most part, this was no different. I haven’t spent a lot of time in conversation with a lot of the BiSCuits reading this. In some cases, I was too intimidated by their big Internet presence to approach them and say much. I listened to everyone cry at our farewell brunch and talk about having all the feelings; there were genuine crushed hearts at the thought of saying goodbye to each other. I had a hard time with this, and wondered if I missed out. The truth is, I just can’t connect with 65 people in one weekend well enough to feel crushed at seeing them go. But I did make a few great new friends. My roommate Karlyn was the best roomie and Shania accomplice I could have possibly asked for. I felt genuine kinship with the lovely bloggers and excellent humans with whom I did share deeper conversations.

But I’m not one to dwell on goodbyes and I couldn’t deal with the sadness, because I just know that we’ll continue the friendships and if we really connected, we’ll see each other again. I cannot wait to road trip down to Portland with Dominique and Simone to visit Larissa. I am ecstatic that Megan is coming to Vancouver soon and I’ll be able to see her again. I was delighted to make a new friend in Chicago because I want to travel there, and to hear stories of climbing Mt. Kilimanjaro! And my fellow Canadians, you have my heart. All my BiSCuits, you’ve been special to me.

Instead of sadness, what I felt at the end were the stirrings of inspiration. This is an amazing group of people who have collectively achieved so much and revealed such raw honesty, and the result was a real lightbulb moment for me. So many seemed to have experienced – or are still experiencing! – very real struggles and obstacles along the way to their goals. These struggles are usually hidden from public view. I have run up against obstacle after obstacle over the last several years and have noticed myself shrinking my goals and settling for less, because I started to believe that’s all I was capable of… that successful people don’t repeatedly fail and struggle as I have, and that I’m simply not destined to fulfill my bigger dreams. What I learned – something that wasn’t an intellectual shock but I had never really internalized before – was that everyone wades through shit to get where they want to go, and that the only way to reach big dreams is to keep wading through. I’d started thinking that the continual struggle meant failure, but it just means I’m alive. And it made me realize all that I want is possible.

That was the real value of this weekend to me. It was exhilarating and invigorating not for the break from work or the drunken shenanigans or even Shania, but because my BiSCuit tribe gave me permission to dream big again. Thank you to you all for that incredible gift.

All images are my own unless otherwise indicated.

Weird Things That Have Been Known To Make Me Cry

Beyond the obvious (breakups, deaths, stress, and realizing your fat pants have become your skinny pants), a curated assortment of the more unusual causes for the activation of my tear ducts:

  • Any flash mob video, ever.
  • Dogs that can do dance choreography.

  • Discovering that I had lost my multi-coloured chalk for my kitchen menu chalkboard during my recent apartment move.
  • Realizing I tweaked my back again and wouldn’t be able to do the hike I’d planned this evening. (In past, this would have led to a celebration)
  • Finally figuring out what I want to do with my blog.
  • Looking at my high school yearbook.
  • Harry Potter books. Every single time.
  • Grey’s Anatomy on an alarmingly regular basis.
  • Looking at myself in the mirror and thinking to myself that I looked pretty.
  • Walking away from the Echo for the last time when I bought my new car.
  • Anytime I’m on an airplane and it’s about to land in Vancouver. It doesn’t matter if I’ve been gone for 2 years or 2 days, it happens anyway!
  • That time I got to meet Dooce and I unexpectedly turned into a ridiculous teary fangirl. I had a walk away lest she might discover that I had become a blubbering tween girl at a Justin Bieber concert.
  • The Olympics. Especially the theme song from Vancouver 2010, but any Olympics will do.
  • Little kids’ dance recitals or plays. I mean, they’re just so proud and they wave to their parents in the audience with big grins! It’s so charming.
  • Yoga, occasionally!

Prioritizing My Life List Goals

Have you guys heard of Go Mighty? It’s an incredible resource for goal-setting, created by power bloggers Maggie Mason, Amber Doty, Laura Mayes, and Sarah Bryden Brown. The idea behind Go Mighty is to create your life list there, attach “stories” to goals, and for Go Mighty members to help each other in any way they can to achieve goals. As someone with a life list on my own blog, a list that is constantly being culled and added to and edited, this appeals to me very much.

Over the last couple of weeks, Maggie has been running an online life list class that I’ve been participating in, and it’s had me thinking critically about what it is I want to do with my one wild and precious life. As a major planner, I always have goals but it’s the action where I often get stalled out. There is so much about my life currently that I want to keep building on. It’s been a long time in the works, but this year I finally feel this sense of inspiration and urgency about making some of these changes happen. I’ve already done two big ones this year… I replaced my junker car with the car I’ve been dreaming about for five years, and I moved out of the home I shared with a roommate into my very own two-bedroom apartment. But this is just the beginning. I want this year to really shake things up, now that I’m on a roll and I’m in a good place emotionally to ride the roller coaster.

I have many goals, and often get so excited about all of them that it’s tough to focus and do anything to move any single goal forward. One of Maggie’s assignments in the course was to select five of your goals as the highest priority, to make them happen within the next 12 months or at least get started on them. I have been working through the assignments in the virtual classroom, but I wanted to share this one over here too. The goals I’ve selected to prioritize over the next twelve months are the following:

  1. See Shania Twain perform live. I’m beyond excited to report that this dream for the last 15 years will be coming true next month when I attend Bloggers in Sin City in Las Vegas. My roommate there, Karlyn, and I will be having a good ol’ country night and going to see Shania together!
  2. Increase my annual income by $15,000. This is one that I won’t be talking about too much in advance, more in hindsight… but I have a coffee chat scheduled with a career mentor next week to discuss strategy and options, so that’s a start!
  3. Create outfit “uniforms” for work, upscale/glam, and casualwear. I will be posting about this soon.
  4. Run a seminar or workshop series. My best friend and I have a burgeoning idea for this already! I would be beyond thrilled if we could turn it into a side business venture.
  5. Take a culinary class with Dirty Apron Cooking School. I’m happy to report I’ve signed up for one in October, and cannot wait to attend! October can’t get here fast enough (that’s the first and last time you’ll ever hear me say that.)

So, they’re out there now! I’ve posted ’em in public and now I’m accountable for making these happen. Keep you posted…

What are some of your key goals right now? Do you have a life list? If you do, or you want one, please join me over at Go Mighty so we can connect and help each other.

Single Lady Solo Date Night!

Happy Valentine’s Day everyone!

I have a confession: As a general rule, I kind of (TOTALLY) hate Valentine’s Day. But for nearly every year since I started dating back in high school, I’ve either been half of a couple or resentfully single on Valentine’s Day. This is the first year I’ve been quite happily single, and it turns out that’s the switch I needed to feel pretty giddy about this love fest.

Why, you might ask? When I’m part of a couple, I feel pressured to find a great gift and spend lots of money. I am not a gifty person; it’s not how I show love, so this annoys me greatly. However, all of a sudden, if I’m resentfully single, all I want is someone to put all that pressure and expense on me because I JUST WANT LOVE, DAMMIT!

Now? It’s a blessed evening to myself that is costing me exactly $21.85 in grocery money. I’m going to celebrate by making Single Lady Stew (aka a spicy, soupy “stew” that contains no meat) and these heart-shaped cookies by Shutterbean for dessert, which will be consumed in front of the TV while watching Grey’s Anatomy and cuddling with the dog. My roommate will be out with her Boyfriend-Like Person Who We Don’t Call Her Boyfriend, and I get the house to myself!

In case this happens to sound like someone else’s perfect recipe for a single lady solo date night, I wanted to share my recipe for Single Lady Stew.

Photo Source: Eat, Live, Run

Single Lady Stew, aka spicy stewed kale & veggies

Adapted from Eat, Live, Run’s Spicy Lentils with Sweet Potatoes & Kale

Ingredients:

1/2 cup quinoa (or lentils, or other favourite grain), rinsed
1 large carrot, peeled & diced
1 yam or sweet potato, peeled & diced into 1/2 inch cubes
1 stalk celery, diced
1 small onion, diced small
1-2 cloves garlic, minced
1 bunch of kale, chopped or torn
3 cups chicken stock
1 bay leaf
Generous pinch or two of dried rosemary
1 tsp sriracha, or to taste
Salt & pepper to taste
Olive oil for cooking

Directions:

Heat a little oil in a medium pot. Once hot, add the onion, celery, carrot and sweet potato and cook for about six minutes, until softened. Add the garlic and kale and continue cooking until kale wilts.

Add the quinoa, bay leaf, rosemary sprigs, chicken stock, sriracha, salt & pepper. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat and simmer for about 20 minutes until quinoa is tender and has absorbed much of the liquid.

A note about the chicken stock: I prefer this dish to have a slightly soupy texture to it, so I use more stock than the quinoa will absorb. If you don’t prefer this, use 2 cups of stock instead of 3.

Remove the bay leaf before serving. Serve with crusty bread. And because this dish is basically a big pot full of health, you should have cookies for dessert for a properly balanced diet.

The Night Before Christmas

This Christmas Eve, like every year, I will be attending church with my family this evening (despite not being a believer, it’s very meaningful to my mum to have the whole family join her for Christmas Eve mass, so we all join her) followed by a reading of The Polar Express at midnight. I’ll be sleeping over at my parents’ house, like old times, and waking up to open stockings in my jammies and having first breakfast of whatever chocolates we can find. Then second (REAL) breakfast of my dad’s homemade Eggs Benedict, served with mimosas. For most people, the big meal is Christmas turkey dinner, and we do that too, but if I had to pick just one Christmas tradition, it would be my dad’s Eggs Benedict Christmas breakfast. He’s ruined me for all other Eggs bennies, and there’s just something so wonderful about seeing my dad (who generally doesn’t cook and stays out of any kitchen prep work) being the hub of all the meal prep action, timing everything down to a T and assigning tasks to the rest of us to get everything on the table at the same time. Eggs Benny is one thing that has to be eaten super fresh and hot – it doesn’t wait, doesn’t care if you wanted to take a family photo first or the English muffins weren’t ready when the sauce was done!

Merry Christmas to all, and to all a good night! Wishing you a belly full of your favourite holiday treats that don’t end up on your hips, quality time with those you love the most, and a prosperous New Year. What’s your favourite holiday tradition?

This post was inspired by the Sisters Share It All blog series written by sisters Janssen, Landen and Merrick where they wrote about their favourite Christmas traditions.

Fun New Thing: Scroll-down Disaster

Have you ever heard this term before? I just heard it today for the first time. As in:

Scroll-down disaster: An ensemble that seems alright at first glance, if first glance is at eye-level. But then as your eyes scroll down to take in the whole outfit, the picture gets progressively worse.

To illustrate this hot mess visually:

Marion Cottillard at the 2012 MET Gala. Source: MSN Wonderwall

I must work this term into my 2012/2013 award season viewing lexicon. Everyone just watches the Oscars for the outfits anyway, right? Thanks to Slate’s Culture Gabfest podcast for the new addition to my snark vocabulary.