If you could invite any 5 people From history to a dinner party, who would you choose?

Welcome, friends to a fantastical dinner party of your own making and imagination. Yes, it’s time to play a grand game and intellectual exercise, somewhat akin to the lunchroom game of Stranded On a Deserted Island. However, instead of imagining implements of survival, escape, and spiritual fulfillment, you are being asked to host a grand dinner party with the most intriguing, exciting, or entertaining guests you can cook up. Here is the beautiful scenario: You are to host a dinner party for which you may invite up to FIVE guests–living or dead. Deep in a distant wood is a secluded cabin with comfortable furnishings and a crackling fire that is waiting for your party. The linens and place settings are in place. The food’s piping hot and ready, dessert is chilled, coffee and tea are brewing, and the bar and wine cellars are endlessly stocked. All that’s needed from you is the guest list! Whom shall you invite?

Oh, sorry. Of course there are rules.

  1. Your guests may be living or dead, but must have been a real human at some point (in other words, no Mickey Mouse or Ace Ventura).
  2. Languages will be automatically translated in each person’s mind.
  3. If you like, you may specify which point in your guest’s life from which you will draw them (ie “Young Elvis” vs. “Old Elvis”). Generally, the deceased will be invited from the peak of their popularity or accomplishment, and the living will appear at their current age.
  4. With apologies, friends and family are not permitted unless they lived at least 100 years ago. In other words, you may invite ancestors. This is done for your own sanity and to maintain the integrity and spirit of the dinner party.
  5. Sorry, we can’t pull from the future
  6. The dinner party will commence at 6pm and continue until 6am. During this time, no one may leave the cabin where this party is being hosted. Aside from basic utilities, no electronics are permitted. No cell phones, television, cameras, or outside communication. Further, none may isolate themselves through distractions such as reading, napping, etc.
  7. Each guest will arrive voluntarily for this dinner party. So while they won’t be hostile toward the experience out of hand, they will exhibit their true personalities and expect their typical social treatment. Guests from history will be acclimated to the notion of being out of their own time, but their knowledge of the world’s future will be most minimal.
  8. You can’t change history. You can’t convince someone from the past to do or not do something. You can’t fix anything or save anyone. You can’t kill anyone. You cannot profit from anything material. The minute people from the past leave the party, they forget all, and you have no souvenirs but your memories. It *may* be possible for those guests living currently to remember you. Or not. This is an unknown for you.

(VARIATION #1, THE REALISTIC DINNER PARTY: The guests must all be living, and there could be a language barrier)
(VARIATION #2, THE CRAZY DINNER PARTY: Fictional guests are allowed)
(VARIATION #3, THE EMOTIONAL DINNER PARTY: Sure, you can invite as many family and friends past or present as you like–be ready to cry)
(VARIATION #4, THE ANYTHING-GOES DINNER PARTY: Ignore the rule about changing history. Go nuts. Kill someone. Attempt to seduce and get pregnant by someone. This is going to get messy.)

Continue reading “If you could invite any 5 people From history to a dinner party, who would you choose?”

American Expats in Ireland: Ways in Which Life is Just a Bit Different

Hello, Americans. If you’re thinking of moving to Ireland, or maybe just visiting for a nice long time, there are some cultural and day-to-day differences that may throw you for a loop. Some of them are obvious–like driving on the left and not pulling a gun on people in traffic. But there are more subtle changes you’ll experience, and it’s helpful to know what you’re getting into before you order a sandwich with extra mustard, drive on bald tires, go hunting for Tylenol, or renew your Amazon subscription.

Irish life is just a bit different. Here’s how:

Food

  • AT HOME: Say goodbye to a lot of the frozen and “convenience” foods you’re used to–Cool Whip, pizza rolls, Bisquick, Jell-O, crescent rolls, cinnamon rolls in a tube, cream of mushroom soup. You’ll need to get back to basics for a lot of your home cooking–learning how to make pie crust from scratch, whipping your own cream, and roasting root vegetables in the oven.
  • FAST FOOD: It’s not nearly as common here. Most big cities will have a McDonald’s, Subway, and a Domino’s Pizza. Maybe even a Burger King. The most popular and common fast food restaurant is Ireland’s own Super Macs. That said, fast food just isn’t a regular staple. Prepare to say goodbye to Arby’s, KFC, Wendy’s, and Taco Bell.
  • BREAKFAST: Forget waffles and French toast. Pancakes as you know them are also gone, unless you find someone advertising  “American-style” pancakes, and they’re usually awful. Cereal is still an option, but you’ll have fewer choices–and be warned, regular Cheerios are very sweet here.
  • SNACKS: You can’t go anywhere in Ireland without seeing a bag of Taytos, which are Irish crisps. Oddly enough, the default flavor of crisp is cheese & onion. Plain “chips” are hard to find here. If you don’t go for cheese & onion, then other popular choices are salt & vinegar or prawn cocktail.Tayto
  • MUSTARD: Beware, mustard in Ireland is not the yellow stuff you’re used to. It’s much MUCH hotter. It’s more like raw horseradish. Use at your own risk.
  • THE LINGO: Let’s do this–Irish vs. American
    – Crisps = Potato Chips
    – Chips = Fries
    – Pies = Savory dinner pies
    – Tarts = Can be tarts, but more likely are full dessert pies
    – Pudding = Well, it isn’t dessert pudding. I still don’t know what the hell it is.
    – Courgette = Zucchini
    – Aubergine = Eggplant
    – Chicken goujons = Chicken tenders
    – Cheese toasty = Grilled cheese
    – Pancakes = Crepes
    – Sweets = Candy
    – Biscuits = Cookies

Pubs & Drinks

  • SPIRITS: Remember what I said about getting back to basics? That goes for drinks, too. Most pubs or bars don’t have a wide range of cocktails available–they’ll cringe if you even mention a Bloody Mary (learn to make those at home from scratch). Forget cotton candy-flavored vodka or whatever specialty liqueur you adore. No Moscow Mules. No tropical drinks with umbrellas. And the smaller the pub, the smaller the selection. Expect one or two types of vodka, one type of rum (probably not Captain), and probably no tequila. However, most pubs have a variety of gin, whiskey, and beer! If you aren’t getting beer, whiskey, or wine, here are the most common orders: Cider, gin and tonic, Irish coffee (coffee and whiskey), hot toddy (whiskey, hot water, cloves, lemon juice), or maybe a rum and Coke. There’s nothing wrong with just ordering coffee or tea, of course!

Continue reading “American Expats in Ireland: Ways in Which Life is Just a Bit Different”

Katie’s Week in Photos: Oct 14 – 21

More Cows

The sun is out, and I question if this universe is real. What is this bright orb that shines in the sky, and where has the sky water gone? Did we soak it all up already? The cows that watch my driveway are suspicious as well. And also, tired.

Rainbow's end

The end of the rainbow appears just across the road, next to my friend, Horse. I suspect Horse is now a god. A rainbow god. Alas, I find no gold and suspect that if there ever was any, the rainbow god has eaten it, thus increasing his powers. Well-played, Horse. Continue reading “Katie’s Week in Photos: Oct 14 – 21”

How to Complain Like a Pro

As a consumer, student, employee, and citizen, we all get a little screwed sometimes.

An important measure of any institution–be it a business, school, or whatever–is how they try to rectify a mishap or misdeed. In spite of that truism, the cold reality is that your reaction to getting screwed is the critical catalyst that determines how your complaint will be heard and processed. It is up to you.

Complain the wrong way, and you can look like a fool who gets nothing but high blood pressure and a wasted afternoon. I once complained the wrong way (let’s just say my temper got the best of me and I hulked out over a voicemail to a doctor’s office), and got a lovely letter inviting me to never come back to their office ever again. As if I was going to anyway. Shitkickers.

But if you play the complaint game the right way, not only do you stand to receive satisfaction over your complaint, but you can legitimately gauge the integrity of the institution against which you’re railing. Take an ugly situation and turn it into your moment of haughty, glorious victory.

This is a brief masterclass on the art of complaining. Read and follow the instructions below to learn how to badass your way into getting satisfaction from a complaint.

#1. Ask Yourself If You Have a Legitimate, Reasonable Complaint

Before you even turn to the keyboard or phone, you need to slow your roll and examine your situation thoughtfully. Are you actually in the right? Is your gripe reasonable given the circumstances? And is it worth your precious time and energy to get the complaint train chugging down the tracks?

Continue reading “How to Complain Like a Pro”

LEGO Help Vouchers for Little ‘Uns: Free Download

Parental LEGO freedoms are vital part of our society.

It’s summer vacation right now and I couldn’t be more thrilled that my daughter is rifling through my old-school 1980s red plastic LEGO briefcase and assembling new sets. But she is a pain in the ass. I say this with love. I can spend my entire day by her side, chatting, assisting, bringing her food and beverage, and when the sun goes down, there she is again. She pops into the living room where my husband and I have a movie going asking for help finding a piece that, apparently, has fallen into some magical invisible abyss that can only be accessed by parents. It’s every 15-20 minutes. And us retiring to our bedroom doesn’t help. The LEGO neediness has had a severe impact on my marital happiness.

I’m not joking. This has become a mental health issue for both parents, here. The LEGO tyranny must end.

Before you go thinking I’m a monster for not being more supportive, check yourself. I give my daughter lots and lots of attention and support, but I need freedom of thought, quiet, and ability to listen to adult entertainment and conversations.

And she needs to wean herself. Any 1980s kid knows that half of the awful euphoria of LEGOing is hunting for the elusive brick piece until your eyeballs nearly fall out, and then suddenly spotting it. Or figuring out how to make it work some other way.

This is her time for that mania. Not mine. So I finally had to draw a line between “Hellscape Monster Who Yells at Her Kid to Bugger Off and Find Her Own Damn LEGOs” and enabling parental sap who does everything for her kid. I can’t be her bulldozer. Not with LEGOs, not anymore.

This is my solution. Vouchers. LEGO help vouchers. There are three of them, and she can hand one to us at any reasonable point during the day (maybe I should’ve put an evening time limit on them, hmmm), and we’ll give her a hand. The goal? I want some damn critical thinking on her part about whether or not it’s worth using up one of her daily vouchers. And when the three are done, she’s done with help for the day. Tough love, baby.

Maybe I should’ve only printed two. I don’t know.

In my case, I printed these puppies, attached them to cardboard backing (upcycling ftw!), cut them out, and then laminated them with packing tape. It was a bit much. You don’t need to get so elaborate. Especially since when I handed them to her, she responded with “gee, thanks”, and chucked them irritatedly into her nightstand drawer. Her eyerolls were monstrous. Eleven is just a peachy age.

Note that she is LEGOing right now, and she has not come out of her room to ask for help in over thirty minutes. I think she spitefully refuses to acknowledge the voucher existence for the time-being. But there will be a time soon when she’ll come a-knockin’ (probably just as my husband figures out how to get my bra off), and she had better have a damn voucher in-hand. LEGO freedom for all parents!

Anyway, I am sharing them here because share and share alike. Happy LEGOing.

Screen Shot 2019-07-08 at 3.04.37 PM.pngDownload for free right here: LEGO vouchers 

The Fake Melania Conspiracy Theory

It’s completely bonkers to even entertain the “Fake Melania” theory. But that doesn’t mean it isn’t true.

First Lady Melania Trump has a fondness for large sun spectacles that hide a third of her face. And if I may offer some fashion commentary for which I am entirely ill qualified, she wears them more often than one might find stately in a First Lady. Hiding one’s eyes can be regarded as a sign of something else to hide, not to mention that I find it rude to greet a new person without showing your face. It’s sort of like not removing a hat when you sit down to eat or enter someone’s home.

Decorum aside, there is one more reason the First Lady may want to reconsider her constant bespectacled state: It has fueled a very odd rumor, that a body double has been occasionally been appearing in her place.

Even if it were true, it would hardly be the craziest scandal. Melania was dragged into her role as international hostess with little warning. When she vowed to honor and cherish Donny Blimpo, she could hardly have imagined what awaited her. Her future was supposed to be a life of quiet splendor from atop Manhattan. The responsibility and scrutiny heaped on her has cast a harsh light on her behavior, grammar, fashion choices, Donny Blimpo’s porn star proclivities, and every other crack and crevice in her life.

So not only would I hardly be surprised if she did explore the option of a body double, I wouldn’t blame her. What is all that money good for if you can’t hire a model to slip on your shoes and hold hands with your beef-wreaking marital partner?

That doesn’t mean it’s true, though, no matter what the interwebs say. Let’s explore how the rumors started and what’s really behind those giant dark glasses.

Origins of the Fake Melania Theory: October, 2017

It was autumn, 2017, and the Trumps were heading out on a trip to visit a Secret Service training facility in Maryland. They paused on the White House lawn to address reporters. Melania is dressed in a trench coat and trademark jumbo shades, which is completely evocative of a spy costume. Between that and her body language, which arguably looks bored and uncomfortable, spectators begin to wonder if it is really her.

melania-body-double-trump

Adding massive fuel to the fire: President Trump actually says during that gaggle, “My wife, Melania, who happens to be right here…”. The interwebs collectively point out that this is exactly what Donny would say if she wasn’t right there.

Continue reading “The Fake Melania Conspiracy Theory”

Thoughts on a Disaffected Pigeon

Some weeks are harder than others.

Tuesday

The weeds are everywhere in the gravel driveway. I’ve jammed my fingers into the pebbled earth to rip their roots, but there are just too damn many. I had to arm myself with a spray bottle of vinegar and lemon juice and spritz them, plant by plant. Hunched over with vinegar misting back on to my clothing from the hilly breezes rushing past, it was a desperate and smelly attempt to avoid the commercial stuff.

That’s when the pigeon landed. He was a majestic, slightly pudgy fellow who had been tap dancing on the roof for some time leading up to my weed expedition. I had heard him from my oversized living room chair where I had been munching tuna salad on crackers. I was afraid it was mice in the attic. Or maybe Benny the Badger came back and somehow got on the roof. Sounds weird, but he’s the one who shut off the water supply to the house. That was a talented badger. It’s a shame his life was cut short attempting to cross a bendy part of the road. Such a waste.

When I saw the pigeon land on the gravel a few feet from my hunched form, I knew he had been my roof ghost. His landing was so deliberate and closeby that I got the distinct feeling that he was greeting me. I did the polite thing and said hello and complimented his feathers. No joke. I did this out loud. My neighbors should get accustomed to the strange new American lady who talks to her wildlife and names them. The pigeon, by the way, was instantly dubbed Herbie.

I didn’t imagine that my relationship with Herbie would last much longer than our initial greeting, so I continued to edge around the gravel weed beds spritzing vinegar. Herbie followed along. I observed aloud that he had a band on his leg and asked where he got that from. His head tilted. We shuffled across the yard for the next twenty minutes, with me occasionally chastising Herbie for walking through the vinegar. I plunked myself down at the bistro table set I bought myself for my first Irish birthday and sipped some Coke while watching Herbie peck at who-knows-what in the gravel.

That’s when it occurred to me to Google banded pigeons. Was he being tracked by an ornithologist? Did he escape from an aviary? No, indeed. He is either a very unskilled or disaffected racing pigeon.

Yes, this is the week I learned that “pigeon racing” is a thing. The birds are cared for like domestic pets, banded, and trained for homing. Then they are released with several of their compatriots at a reasonable distance from their homes. Each bird is clocked to see how quickly they get back. Herbie had not embraced the spirit of the competition, clearly.

I phoned in his appearance as a “stray”, which the local pigeon racing club politely asks you do. I’m still not sure why I felt compelled to report Herbie, and part of me still wonders if I should have. The gent on the other end of the line assured me that he wouldn’t be culled for his naughty sojourn and he would be well-greeted. Cool. I don’t want to be a bird narc.

Continue reading “Thoughts on a Disaffected Pigeon”

The Meaning of Being Unemployed and Staring at Cow Arses

Sometimes the universe sculpts an entire day out of mockery and disillusionment.

Today I was asked to herd cattle for the first time in my life, which is a very Green Acres experience for someone who has only seen a real living cow up-close at the zoo or (once or twice) at a petting farm. The cows from the next pasture had invited themselves into the road and my yard for some green snackage, and somehow this became a situation where I was walking through my front gate and into the road, with my cellphone to my ear, following bobbing cow rumpuses toward my farmer neighbor. It seems like it should be easy to keep the cows going down the road, but I had doubts about being too aggressive. What if I anger one of the mamas, or worse yet, the bull? Even if they don’t turn and charge me, they could spook and cause a massive upset much like the antics caused by Billy Crystal’s coffee grinder in City Slickers. So with the cell phone in my jeans pocket, I casually picked up a stick long enough to tap on the ground and strolled behind the stragglers, tapping the stick on the asphalt whenever they slowed to munch some grass. It worked, albeit very slowly. I thought it was a lovely stroll. The farmer who was waiting with the open gate was less than impressed at my leisurely approach. He smiled and shook his head, then made a remark that I didn’t have an ounce of farmer in me–and it wasn’t even a zippy come-on line.

I laughed and agreed, but that surprisingly stung. Okay, it’s true, I have no farm experience outside of video games and children’s books. I’ve watched Babe a lot, and Baby Boom. But those don’t prepare you to drive cattle down a road while wearing a faded “Nasty Woman” t-shirt and blue jeans. I didn’t have any Paulie Shore chaps or straw hat, nor did I have any John Denver playing. I wasn’t ready. We’ve only just moved to rural-rural Ireland, and I was raised in Metro Detroit.

On my equally leisurely stroll back to my rental house I silently curated quips to explain my “urban skillset” that farmers wouldn’t possess. I came up empty. I know that you should chain your barbecue grill to the house or it’ll get stolen (my dad lost three Weber kettles that way). I know how to time rush hour to the best advantage and when the mega grocery stores are emptiest, but them I’m out.

And that really bothered me, because today’s developing theme is “SKILLS!”.

It first emerged when I updated my LinkedIn profile. See, I quit my job of six years this past weekend, and now I need a new one. Nothing is a more haunting assessment of one’s life than staring blankly at the “Add New Skills” section of LinkedIn. The mouse hovers and my mind is a dark sea. I can reenact The Big Chill. I can cook homemade chicken noodle soup (on tonight’s menu). I can move my fucking family across an ocean. I can draw a very wonky Garfield cat. I know the entire Greek alphabet. I can drink an entire bottle of wine in one sitting. I can take my bra off without removing my shirt.

And still the mouse hovers waiting to add a skill. SKILLS! After six years of wonderful and instructive employment, shouldn’t I be overflowing with credentials? I have had a mad and exciting life!

I’m a certified Master Gardener. I am a citizen of two nations, and I live in a third. I was a ghost writer for a squirrel guide booklet. I buried a beloved sister. I won awards for my charity work. I published an article in Canada’s History magazine about an ancestor of mine. I’ve gone from assistant to manager in my last three jobs. And I can complain really, really well. I mean, like an art form. I vote in every election and I diligently recycle. Kind of.

Still the mouse hovers. My life has been anything but boring, but I can’t drive cattle. And I haven’t gotten any certifications in “project management”.  I wasn’t training for another company’s job this whole time, I was training for my job. My job! The one I left so I could watch cows eat my freshly planted shrubs and leave liquid brown puddles in my gravel driveway. And the farmer’s laugh echos in my brain, and my phone buzzes with texts from my husband. He’s on a business trip and showing me the exciting new machinery he’s overseeing. Or something like that. I try to listen whenever he explains, but then “The Ride of the Valkyries” starts playing in my brain and…I lose track. But whatever makes him so proud of those machines, I bet that’s a skill. He and the farmer and the cows and the people at LinkedIn are probably somewhere together right now laughing and laughing.

While they’re off chomping cigars and toasting their lives of deliberate purpose and clarified direction, I will just keep telling myself how scrappy I am, damnit. I haven’t cultivated my life around corporate labels or agricultural knowhow, but I’m damn good at working hard and being a lovely, bold monster. And tonight, after I settle in with my bowl of homemade chicken noodle soup, I’m going to flick off my bra from under my t-shirt and celebrate being skilless. Tomorrow, I order steak. Lots and lots of steak.

 

Political Correctness: Reflections on Being an Asshole

Political correctness is the poison-tipped sword pointed at the armor of the average American asshole, for the asshole is on a great, noble quest, larger than that of humor, cruelty, or domination. Assholes stand behind a great bulwark of free speech in order to assert their basic human rights. And in the name of freedom, they cast their gaze upon the hurt and horrified sword wielders, and dub them “snowflakes”.  These great knights of vulgarity are righteous in their endeavor to preserve traditions and fortify the American spirit against the delicate.

It is a lovely fairytale. We have heard similar tales from local citizens at a nearby bar, from our grandfathers and uncles at holiday dinners, and from asshole celebrities, like Bill Maher or Rush Limbaugh. I am therefore a bit sad to present the argument that their tale is mere fantasy invented by assholes, for assholes, to protect them from consequence and remorse.

I.

One cannot ever be certain which words, gestures, outfits, or social media posts may be offensive, for offense is entirely the domain of those who perceive it. This is a frustrating truth, especially to those of us who write and crack jokes now and then. Satire may be taken as truth. Parody may be viewed as propaganda. Shenanigans may be seen as insults. This, friends, is the risk we take in the delicate art of communication. If only wishing made it so that I could control the reaction of every eardrum and eyeball so that what I find humorous was laughed at, and that the absurd was recognized universally.

The fault does not lie with the offended, though. Delicate sensibilities can arise from grief, fear, anger, and being shit upon throughout one’s entire life. Just as the asshole cannot control the domain of perceived insults, the offended cannot control the filter through which they digest words and deeds. This is the consequence of so many disparate roads of experience intersecting, criss-crossing, and getting tangled like a knot of spaghetti.

Since neither the asshole nor the snowflake has control, the ongoing saga of enduring each other’s company must be done with a series of deliberate choices, and a fair acceptance of consequences for those choices.

II.

When the common asshole ventures to make a joke or commit an act that he senses may be reviled by snowflakes, a calculation must be made: What is the price he is willing to pay for the expression?

Even the most impudent assholes will typically never don blackface for Halloween, for example. For even if the asshole himself is not offended, and he intends no malice in the act, he, at the very least, recognizes that society has established mores against the practice for the last fifty years. The price for doing so would be extreme: The asshole may be violently attacked, may attract the attention of local news, and may lose his job, friends, and any shred of social standing he had left. Ostracism is the bare minimum price for such a crude act.

This is an extreme example, of course. The difficulty for the average asshole can be in calculating the cost of acts or words for which mores are still being formed, or remain unclear.

Returning to the Halloween scenario, an asshole may dress in caricature form as a Native American or a Mexican. The taboo exists, but not quite to the extent that complete ostracism is the cost. The nature of such an offense is still evolving, and so the rules and consequences are shifting even from year to year. It is understandable that the moving goalposts of offense are confusing and frustrating to assholes, but these shifts must be added to the risk-reward calculation for wearing such a costume. The thinking asshole might consider that such a costume is a high-risk proposition. Not only might people be more vocal in their offense than in prior decades, there could be personal consequences for the asshole.

Not every situation is so grievous for the asshole, however. Sometimes the calculation is more nuanced. For example, when I consume a surfeit of wine at Thanksgiving and become an asshole, I must make the calculation: If I tell my mother’s favorite story using a mocking voice in order to provoke laughter from others at the dinner table, I may make her cry. Or I may provoke her to do the same against me or someone else I love. Or she may take away my wineglass. I have to accept these consequences for my actions instead of dubbing her a snowflake who needs to “get over it” or alter her sensitivity and perception.

III.

Many an asshole believes that he should not be vulnerable to such consequences because of the rights of free speech provided by the United States Constitution. The link between the First Amendment and protection from political correctness is engineered to fortify the asshole’s position of righteousness and patriotism. Except that this is an unfortunate misunderstanding, or deliberate perversion of the First Amendment’s powers.

The scope of the First Amendment merely affords protection against government persecution and prosecution.

The list of consequences for the average asshole entirely outside of the scope of the First Amendment includes (but is not limited to): Social shunning, withdrawal of political support or paid sponsors, termination of employment or work opportunities, and protests.

0*P55fWC32kHc5bE1K. Continue reading “Political Correctness: Reflections on Being an Asshole”