They Warned Me I’d Find Love, the Summer 2011 Edition

The mating rituals of Banana Slugs give new meaning to the term "cock-blocking"

The Ariolimax columbianus, more commonly known as the Banana Slug, is ubiquitous in the rainforests of the Pacific Northwest. The Banana Slug is a hermaphrodite. When mating time rolls around, Banana Slugs engage in an act called “penis jousting.” Somehow, the slugs fight until one slug’s penis gets knocked off. The winner gets to be “the man.” The loser has to carry the eggs.

“Banana Slug mating rituals sound a lot like a Friday night in a Manhattan bar,” I told my guide as we sloshed through the green squishy stuff that covers the floor of the rainforest on Meares Island, a small island off the coast of Vancouver Island, British Columbia.

Cock-blocking had suddenly taken on a new, more serious meaning.

My guide chuckled and, lost in the mental comparison I was drawing between slug life on Vancouver Island and the NYC dating scene, I slipped on a cedar plank.

Whoosh, slap, squish, thud <– Those are the sounds an eco-tourist makes as she falls in the forest.

There's a lot of green squooshy stuff in the rainforest. Where's my mountain man to help me up when I fall?

Down the trail, a fiance hoisted his fallen fiancee back to her feet —  another victim of the squooshy green stuff — while I flopped around, clumsily trying to make it onto all fours without eating anymore lichen in the process.

Where was my mountain man in shining plaid when I needed him?

A few days earlier, I arrived in the great Canadian City of Vancouver ready for 10 days in the woods, away from work, domestic duties, and dating in the city. Or so I thought.

As soon as my rental car drove across Vancouver’s city limits, my phone started beeping relentlessly. The little blue light that illuminates whenever I have an OkCupid message was flashing like a lighthouse beacon in a hurricane. When they warned me I’d find love on this Canadian adventure, they weren’t kidding.

Hello, Mr. Vancouver. I knew I had a lot to look forward to on this vacation...

Warning! New matches ahead! Warning! New messages!

I opened the alerts icon in disbelief. I had been in Vancouver not more than 30 minutes, and already my inbox was overflowing.  There were notable similarities between the Vancouver men and the Brooklyn men OKCupid frequently found for me (why are they always in Brooklyn?!) — beards and plaid, in all their incarnations, were the standard uniform and a commitment to “sustainable living” was high on lists of interest. That’s where the similarities ended.

Good-bye hipster. Hello mountain man.

Good-bye bike-riding, semi-unemployed, struggling artist. Hello banker-turned-kayak-instructor who plays in two hockey leagues, sails on weekend and skis in the winter.

I knew I had a lot to look forward to on this vacation. And apparently, it wasn’t just the sea-kayaking.

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Let’s Play “I’m Going on Vacation and I’m Bringing…”

Venturing to exotic locales with your friends is one of the given perks of traveling.

Escaping la vie quotidienne and venturing to new locales are the reasons why we travel. Self-education and the temptation of exotic shopping sprees are also known motivates. But traveling has many other frequently over-looked side benefits — you might call them collateral damage, or perhaps necessary evils.

Packing requires decision making.

For my summer 2011 vacation, my family and I are heading to the North West Coast. The weather is changeable, the scenery is transcendent, and the lodgings are frontier. This is not a bikini and a coverup kind of suitcase. This is a fully-loaded, be-prepared-for-all-seasons kind of packing job.

Several of the things in the pile above need to go into the empty suitcase below... laundry time!

I’ll need to decide on one of everything.

But before I can make decisions, I have to know what I’m making decisions among. Which often means doing a load or two of laundry and putting clothes away so I can remember what’s in my closet to begin with. Finally, I’ll be able to see my bedroom floor.

After you’ve made decisions, you need to go shopping.

Now that I know what I have to take with me, I can make of the list of what’s missing and mend the gaps. An all-terrain, itinerary-packed vacation is a “finally buy the things you need to buy but have put off buying” kind of vacation.

New running shoes. Check.

Hiking sock liners. Check.

Bug repellant. Check.

Field binoculars. Check.

Sleep romper. Check. (Not really on my “need-to-buy” list, but I figured since I’m traveling with people, my usual sheets-only sleep wear would be inappropriate.)

This is really not how you want to look in your vacation photos. Better make an appointment with your stylist

Vacations force you get cleaned up.

You never know who you’ll meet while traveling away from home. Likewise, the last thing you want are vacation photos where you look like the Bride of Frankenstein.

Extra innings at the gym. Haircut. Highlights. Manicure. Pedicure. Bikini wax. Restylane. Fresh bottle of foundation. New mascara: Whatever you need to look refreshed and fit when you get there.

You have to get your sh*t in order.

Wrapping up projects at work. Refilling prescriptions for your seasonal asthma medication. Paying down credit card bills so you can fill ’em back up again. Removing expired foodstuffs from your pantry. Mowing the lawn. Trimming the hedges. Updating your Final Will and Testament to include appropriate custodians for your pets.

While it would be nice to just say “tahellwithit!” and run away with life strew about, there’s nothing worse than coming home from vacation to a mess bigger than what you left behind.

Anthony Bourdain Takes Me Back to Cuba

“Of all the places you’ve been,” asked Frank over a drink, “what’s your favorite?”

I paused to consider — when you’ve been a lot of interesting places and made an effort to make the most of your journeys, the answer is always: all of them. But in an attempt to be both cool and thoughtful, I cited Havana, Cuba.

In June of 2008, I was a fencer en route to a World Cup competition. I arrived in Havana dressed in white linen and a straw hat, hoping to capture a bygone era, thirsting for a Mojito, and hungry for a taste of a forbidden city. I could travel there, the letter from the US Treasury said, but I couldn’t spend any money.

I didn’t know what to expect when I arrived, but like Anthony Bourdain said on “No Reservations” last night, “I didn’t expect it to be so beautiful…Even run down, shabby, neglected Cuba is beautiful…heart-breakingly beautiful.”

Walking through Old Havana is like walking through an archeological dig undergoing a fairy-godmother transformation

I was struck by many things during my stay — mainly that walking through Old Havana is like walking through an archeological dig undergoing a haphazard fairy-godmother transformation. The architecture is striking. A mix of deco and colonial baroque styles set against the ocean’s edge. From afar, the skyline still beams the promise of a cosmopolitan city. Up close, the buildings’ dilapidated state becomes abundantly clear. Beautiful buildings a shell of their former selves.

A city under construction
An old city under slow and plodding construction

Before I left New York, I made sure to do some reading on the Cuban Revolution — The Motorcycle Diaries would not be my only source of information on Che Guevara. But to visit the Museo de la Revolucion to see a Cuban history of the shift to a communist regime was enlightening. It’s always healthy to compare one side’s propaganda with the other’s…

At the Museuo de la Revolucion, the delivery truck that allowed the students to rush the palace and thus begin the change in government
A wall label at the Museo de la Revolucion
The leaders of the revolution, Castro, Che and Camillio

As Bourdain experienced, I found the Cuban people to be warm and approachable, proud and  resourceful. “We like Americans. We love Americans,” my bellhop said. “It’s only your government we don’t love.”

A street vendor in Havana
There is a profound sense of community

Unlike Anthony, I can’t say I ever had a great meal — several good mojitos, yes, fantastic dinner, no. I got to ride around town in a vintage car, with native Cubans who spoke little English but who were eager to converse. But if there’s one thing I wish I could have done while in Cuba, it was go to a baseball game. On that, Anthony has the one-up.

the vintage car that showed us Old Havana

It’s New York City, You’ll Never Know Who You’ll Meet

“Oh. My. God. I just, like, walked into George Clooney. George. Cloooooooney!” Rebbecca was so excited she nearly tossed her venti caramel machiato onto my white winter coat. “Aaaaaaaaaaand I got his autograph! Swooooon.”

I looked at Rebbecca with envy. For someone that’s spent 25 years living in and around star-studded New York City, I never meet anyone famous, let alone get their autograph.

Actually, that’s not true. I have “met” famous people. I once practically crashed into Tino Martinez, one of my all-time favorite Yankees, walking to MoMA. Even though my latte splashed on his running shoes, I never thought to ask him to sign the baseball and glove I keep in my purse. My celebrity encounters, like probably most people’s, are generally awkward and typically fall into one of the following categories:

1.Famous People I went to School With — Columbia is a magnet for famous people, but my grade school boasted a few future celebrities… too bad I didn’t get them to sign my yearbook.

2. Famous people I’ve tripped or nearly tripped — Vera Wang, Fern Mallis, and Ronan Tynan of the Irish Tenors would be included in this large group. (A subcategory of this might be entitled “Famous People I spilled Stuff On”)

I was once an extra in a Joan Rivers TV show. My Fanatic fan ways may prevent me from ever having a viable acting career

3. Famous People I could have Met — This list could go on for ages, but my favorite is James Franco. I was a graduate student at Columbia at the same time Franco was getting his MFA in the Columbia School of the Arts. Later, my time at MoMA coincided with his own MoMA appearance. I frequently saw the car that brought him places, but I never once encountered the over-achieving Hollywood Renaissance Man in the flesh. Meanwhile, one of my college fencing teammates not only met him, but had coffee with him. She was thin, blond, leggy and two-faced — some girls have it all.

4. Famous People I Met, but Surely Creeped Out with My Over-Aggressive Enthusiasm — Joan Rivers and Sloane Crosely. My “Oh my god! My mother and I are just like you and your daughter! Except, my mother’s had hip replacements, not cheek replacements, so she can move her face,” and “I want your career, in fact, I want to be you,” were met with fearful eyes that read: I’m going to need a restraining order against this girl.

Famous Athletes I've Met, but Pretend to be one of them...the exception is Evan Lysacek. He's just too pretty.

5. Famous Athletes I’ve Met, but Don’t Ask for an Autograph from because I’m trying to pretend I’m one of them — Given that I’ve grown-up in the company of Olympic medalists and that I once considered myself an Olympic contender, I try to act unphased by their achievements even though I’m in awe beyond awe. The exception to this is Evan Lysacek. I shamelessly had a friend ask Evan if I could take a picture with him.

6. Famous People I’ve met But Didn’t Realize They Were Famous Until I Went Home and Googled Them — Most recent example: at my favorite lounge, the cocktails are pure perfection and staff is family. My friend and I wiggled into an open spot at the bar next to an older gentleman with white hair and a familiar face. The head bartender kindly introduced us to the man, his friend Jeffery. Jeffery asked us if we had tried the cherry garnish — it was the best cherry garnish he’d ever had. Later, after some computer stalking, we found out his friend Jeffery was the legendary Jeffery Steingarten. Iron Chef America groupie fail.

It’s St. Patrick’s Day and Somewhere in there, I’m a Tobin

As I write this, my mother is in the kitchen, listening to Riverdance and banging two wooden spoons together. Her clacking is not in time, but rhythm has never been one of my mother’s strong suits — they took the triangle away from her in grade school. She’s had both hips replaced but that doesn’t stop her from doing her most inspired Michael Flatley impression.  She’s a Tobin after all and it is St. Patrick’s Day.

We take Irish food and music very seriously... we have enough Irish oatmeal to lead the nation through another potato famine

Despite being a conglomerate of Italian, German, Scot, and Irish heritage, we take St. Patrick’s Day fairly seriously in my house. Come to think of it, we take being Irish pretty seriously in my house, even though we’re 2 generations removed from the family homestead in County Clare. Well, we take Irish food and music very seriously. My mother makes a mean boiled potato and there’s enough Irish oatmeal in the pantry to lead the nation through another potato famine. My favorite song growing up was “The Orange and the Green,” I was more interested in playing a reel on my fiddle than Mozart on my violin, and my first concert in New York City was Gaelic Storm at the BB King.

I was more interested in 300 fiddle tunes than a Mozart symphony growing up.

In honor of the holiday, I’ve put two loaves of traditional Irish brown bread baking in the oven. Meanwhile, my mother made green jell-o and we collaborated on cabbage rolls and green Scotch shortbread cookies. My father contributed with a 6-pack of Irish Red in the basement fridge. We’re ready to party in a way our ancestors would be proud of… maybe.

I went to Ireland once, when I was 7. That trip was the first time I’d ever stayed up past 9PM and first time I’d ever been to a bar. My father was on business and my mother used it as an excuse to met up with her favorite Irish cousin and her son. Julie drove us from Shannon into a small town hidden among fields and knolls. It was like the setting of JRR Tolkin book. The sky was black and clear and the only light illuminating the streets was the glow from cottage windows. We stepped out of the car into a informal parking lot outside a pub. Music and laughter filled the air and it was clear we were in for a rolicking good time.

The whole world seemed to be crammed into the small, smokey public house. Pints sloshed as joyous patrons slammed their glasses down in time to the music, which was provided by a group set atop a rickety stage. The tables and chairs had been cleared from a section of the floor, and men and women reeled around in circles, stomping and spinning, pulling in new partners at will. An older gentleman with a white beard and cap, straight off a postcard, threw me into the middle of the floor, determined that I would learn how to step dance before the night was through. As a kid, I had chalk white skin, rose bud cheeks, and thick blond curls. In my cable knit sweater, I looked as local as anyone else there. I would eventually learn that the Tobin farm, tied up in family feuds for a half century (how typically Irish), was but a mile away — I was as local as anyone.

We rolled into our cousin’s B&B at 2AM and slept till late afternoon. It was one of the most memorable nights of my life.

Sometimes I feel like pulling a John Wayne in the Quiet Man and moving to Ireland to reclaim the family homestead

It’s true what they say about Ireland — it gets under your skin, you become part of a family, and you start to pine for it. Sometimes, I feel like pulling a John Wayne in “The Quiet Man” — retire from this fighting life, move back to my people’s farm, fix it up, marry me a nice Irish bloke, and dance a jig to the tune of a happily ever after.

In the meantime, I’ll have to settle for my home baked bread, a pint, a warm memory, and a toast to my Grandma, Anna Tobin.

Happy St. Patrick’s Day.

Driving Home for the Holidays? How a Highway Pitstop can keeps those Holiday Pounds in Check…maybe

It’s the final week before Christmas. People are grabbing their kids and packing up their hybrids to head home for the holidays. We all know what that means: “From Atlantic to Pacific, gee the traffic is terrific!”

After hours slogging along the interstate in bumper-to-bumper traffic, rest area visits are a given. One thing I learned while making my way around the eastern seaboard this week is that a pitstop on I-95 can not only revive the spirits, it can change your life.

Freshen up. Refuel. Grab a latte. Check your weight. Receive an inspirational message from the Virgin Mary.

Wait, what?

For 25cents, get your weight, lucky lotto numbers, and an inspirational message from the Virgin Mary

Have you ever noticed that, in addition to food and gas, highway service plazas always have a pay-for-your-weight scale in the bathrooms? Considering that TCBY, Cinnabon, Burger King, and McDonald’s account for the majority of the food vendors at these interstate pitstops, I thought the scales might be the federal government’s feeble attempt to curb the obesity problem in America. Want a double-whopper with extra cheese and a super-sized fries to eat en route to grandmother’s 4-course holiday feast? Why don’t you check your BMI first?

Over the years, I’ve frequented many a highway rest area, but never before had I seen a coin-operated scale like the one in the Clara Barton Service Plaza on I-95 South.  Sitting in the entrance way to the ladies bathroom was a bilingual machine with a technicolor image of the Virgin of Guadalupe plastered front and center. There was a scale in the men’s room too, but it was plain vanilla white with “Get Your Exact Weight!” scrawled on it in purple. Was someone trying to send the ladies on I-95 a message about ideal femininity? Thin, pious, and virginal?

For a quarter, you can get your “exacto peso,” an inspirational message, and today’s lucky lotto numbers. Being an intrigued sucker, I dropped in the change from my grande awake tea latte. Considering it’s the post-Thanksgiving, pre-New Years Resolution 30-day all-you-can-eat challenge, this was probably not the best idea for my ego. None the less, I proceeded. And what did the Scale of the Virgin tell me? That I gained 6 pounds in 2 days.

I guess it’s a good thing I opted NOT to order the venti gingerbread latte with whipped cream.

always a sucker for fortune tellers, there goes my latte change

Obviously, 6 pounds in 2 days is impossible, but being a typical female, I couldn’t help but frantically assess my eating/exercising regime over the last 48 hours. After all, the machine claimed to give me my exact weight up to 500 pounds! But, Kathleen, let’s be sensible.

Consider it: my sweatshirt easily weighed  5oz, that extra-long scarf was an additional 3oz, my sneakers were worth half a pound… my wallet – a long, quilted thing with a heavy zipper, metal embellishments and $5 worth of nickles– clocked in at a pound… and my car keys, I can’t forget my carkeys… together, my accessories surely accounted for about 3 of the 6 pounds. There’s a reason why I generally refuse to stand on a scale wearing anything but my birthday suit.

As for the other 3? Well, those were just a lie. “Exact Peso,” my ass.

Due up next up on the little screen  was my inspirational message. I half expected a note that said “Find enlightenment… go eat a bar of soap, fatty.” Or “Gluttony is a sin. Find redemption through the FRUIT of the earth,” or “Many a martyr found salvation through self-denial. Consider a self-denial of food your path.”

Instead I got “Adore A Dios Sobre Todo.”

I translated it as: “Love God Above All… Particularly, Above All Carbohydrates.”

Love God Above All... Particularly Above All Carbohydrates