Sunday, February 24, 2013

Say sure!

Hey guys, what's up?  What do you mean, where have I been?

I've spent the last couple of days with my family in Niagara helping my auntie Lise get her new store ready for the grand opening in the first week of March.

Ain't it pretty?

I'm really glad I was able to come home and help her, and not just because I, y'know, love her and all.  I've had a really rough couple of weeks, and tearing down crappy walls and painting up shiny new ones is all soothing and symbolic and stuff.

While we were working today, my aunt told me about my childhood catchphrase.  Whenever I asked someone for something, I would immediately follow it with "Say sure!" in my chirpiest, winning-est voice.

"Hey Auntie Lise, want to go to McDonald's?  Say sure!"

"Hey mom, can we go to the zoo?  Say sure!"

"Hey dad, it's OK if I keep this raccoon I found, right?  Say sure!"

My mom said "sure" to short-shorts!

I love this, and I'm making it my new philosophy!

"Self," I'll say, "Wanna sign up for that tap class you've been eying?  Say sure!"

Or "Hey self!  Let's hit the road and go visit the world's biggest ball of yarn like you've always wanted to.  Say sure!"

Or even "Yo!  Self!  That guy is totally cute and definitely checking you out.  Aren't you gonna go chat him up?  Say sure!"

There'll obviously be one or two things I'll have to say "surely not!" to (especially once my male friends get wind of this), but for the most part, I think this is going to be awesome!  I'll keep you posted on the results.

Tomorrow Dad and I are going to visit some old Winger haunts -- like, seven-times-great-grandfather old -- and I'll be blogging about it.  There's at least one suspicious death in our family history, so it should be good reading!

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Tuesday, February 12, 2013

The kids are all right!

Back when I worked as an educational tour guide, my bread and butter was leading high school trips to New York City.

It's a bull market!

I’m sure it goes without saying that there are lots of awesome things to do in New York, so you can imagine that no two trips were ever the same.  But there WAS one quintessential New York experience that groups requested more than almost anything else -- a Yankees game.  I love baseball, and Yankee Stadium is so inextricably woven into the mythology of the game that I can’t help feeling a thrill of excitement every time I find myself under its big, bright floodlights.

On one trip, I took a particularly sporty group of Toronto kids to see a game.  They were a great bunch, and I was thrilled to be able to share the experience with them.  But for the first time ever, my thrill of excitement was replaced by unease. 

For one, our tickets were for “The Bleachers”, the one area of Yankee Stadium in which you couldn’t buy a beer.  I’m sure the teachers who booked the trip thought it was a great place to seat a bunch of minors under your protection, but unbeknownst to them, the Yankees fans who buy bleacher tickets generally get their whole night’s drinking done before they get to the stadium.

Combine that with the fact that the Yankees were hosting the Toronto Blue Jays that night, and you’ll understand what I was feeling.  My uneasiness deepened as I brought up the rear and realized that one of the students had unfurled a Canadian flag.  In the rest of the stadium it would have earned him some loud, good-natured ribbing -- Yankees fans, at least in my experience, were a pretty cool bunch.  In the bleachers, though, the ribbing wasn’t quite so good-natured. 

The kids were too excited about the game to notice the rumblings around them, at least at first.  I’ll spare you the details of what was said, since I don’t like to speak ill of those who are too drunk to know better.  Suffice it to say that eventually the kids started to feel decidedly uncomfortable. I gave them what I thought was a pretty good pep talk about rising above the negativity, but I wasn’t sure that they’d take my advice.  Not entirely convinced of the power of positive thinking myself, I went up for a chat with the very large security guard at the top of the aisle.  He said, and I quote: “I effing hate Yankees fans.  I got your backs.”

But to my surprise, the kids took care of their own backs.  I don’t know if it had anything to do with my little speech or if they were this awesome all on their own.  Either way, I watched in amazement as they rose to their feet, put their arms around one another and started singing “Why Can’t We Be Friends?” at the tops of their voices.

The drunken rumblings around us stuttered and then died.  A chuckle from a few rows down echoed outward, and soon most of the crowd was laughing, and a few were even singing along.  A skinny middle-aged woman staggered over to us, put her arm around me and said “You kids are ALLLLL RIGHT.”

And they were all right.  They had a great time at the game, laughing and joking with everyone around them, all bad feelings forgotten.  And our Canadian flag flew unopposed for the rest of the night. 

As we walked back to our bus after the game, the aforementioned security guard (who insisted on accompanying us to our bus ‘just in case’) said “That was pretty cool.  But I still effing hate Yankees fans.”

Sorry, pal.  We’re going to have to agree to disagree on that one.

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Sunday, February 10, 2013

100 Votes, 100 Travel Goals (and counting!)

I just hit 100 votes in the My Destination Biggest Baddest Bucket List contest!

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To celebrate, here's my bucket list of awesome things I want to do around the world (in no particular order)!  BTW, this list is far from exhaustive...

1. Spot tigers from the back of an elephant in southern Nepal.
2. Dig a well in a hill-tribe village in northern Thailand.
3. Meet the boobies (and giggle about their name) in the Galapagos Islands.
4. Hang glide at Kitty Hawk in North Carolina where the Wright Brothers first flew.
5. Immerse myself in the "flower and willow world" of the geisha in Kyoto, Japan.

6. Read "A Moveable Feast" in a cafe in Paris.
7. Gaze across the ice fields in Antarctica.
8. Watch the condors soar over the Colca Canyon in southern Peru.
9.  Get soaked at Songkran in Thailand.
10. Get drunk like a local at a country pub in England.
11. Get spiritual at Stonehenge.
12. Finally taste truly authentic nuoc cham in Vietnam.
13. Learn to make spanakopita from a proper Greek yia-yia.
14. Walk the circumference of Easter Island and ponder the origins of the moai.
15. Meet the glow-worms at the Waitomo Caves in New Zealand.
16. Explore the incredible puppetry scene in Denmark.
17. Dance wildly at a Full Moon Party on Koh Pha Ngan in Thailand.
18. Soak in the Blue Lagoon in Iceland.
19. Pay my respects at Vimy Ridge in France.
20. Salute the chinstrap penguins on the Antarctic Peninsula.
21. Check out Iguazu Falls in Brazil and see how they compare to my home falls in Niagara.
22. Learn tracking from the Masai in Kenya.
23. Trek to Everest Base Camp.
24. Hear Loch Ness Monster tall tales from an old Scot.
25. Swim with Great White Sharks off the coast of South Africa (well-caged, of course!).

26. Ride the Trans-Siberian Express.
27. Hike the Great Wall till I drop.
28. Get soaked in a Mayan sweat lodge (Temazcal) in Mexico.
29. Sleep under the stars in the endless Sahara.
30. Mow down a medianoche after a night out in Havana.
31. Take ukelele lessons in Hawaii.
32. Get jazzed at the Preservation Hall in New Orleans.
33. Float in bioluminescent Mosquite Bay in Puerto Rico.
34. Take ridiculous pictures on the Uyuni Salt Flats in Bolivia.
35. Seek out the hidden corners of Angkor Wat in Cambodia (and maybe find that spot with the tree growing out of the temple!).

36. Marvel at the rock-cut architecture of Petra, Jordan.
37. Cruise down the Nile in Egypt.
38. Pay a visit to the Holocaust Museum in Jerusalem.
39. Wander through rice paddies in China.
40. Get down to the bottom of the Cave of Swallows in Mexico.
41. See a little Shakespeare at the Globe Theatre.
42. Drive across America and only stop in small towns.
43. Dive the Titanic.
44. Seek out Platform 9 3/4 at King's Cross in London.
45. Appreciate the splendor of the "fall colours" in New England.
46. Serenade a special someone on a gondola ride in Venice.

47. Have a proper Turkish bath.
48. Commune with the fae at the Fairy Pools on Isle of Skye, Scotland.
49. See Jeanne Claude and Christo's Over The River in Colorado.
50. Scuba dive the Great Barrier Reef.
51. Learn to waltz in Vienna.
52. Oktoberfest in Germany.
53. Indulge my nerdiness at Comicon in San Diego.
54. Glory in the natural beauty of Frank Lloyd Wright's Fallingwater in Pennsylvania.
55. Gaze at the Aurora Borealis from a glass igloo in Finnish Lapland.

56. Let art surprise me on Naoshima Island, Japan.
57. Sleep in a yurt in Mongolia (and maybe pet a yak!).
58. Sail the South Pacific.
59. Wander the fjords in Norway.
60. See the great migration of the wildebeests in the Masai Mara.
61. Trek with a Berber family in Morocco.
62. Take part in the Sambadrome Parade at Carnaval in Rio.
63. Ride a horse across the Andes to Chile.
64. Track mountain gorillas in Uganda.
65. Fly in a hot air balloon over the fairy landscape of Cappadocia in Turkey.
66. Hang out with lemurs under a baobab tree in Madagascar.
67. Count waterfalls in the rain in Milford Sound, New Zealand.
68. Watch the sun set over Santorini in Greece.

69. See kayak with orcas in British Columbia, Canada.
70. Fly a kite in Afghanistan.
71. Surf the Andaman Islands.
72. Whitewater rafting in mysterious Bhutan.
73. See big game by boat in Botswana.
74. Howl at the wolves in Slovakia's Carpathian Mountains.
75. Feast on suckling pig and swim with humpbacks in Tonga.
76. Drive a dogsled in Finland.
77. Snooze over turquoise waters in Bora Bora, French Polynesia.
78. Linger over a fine wine in Tuscany.
79. Snorkel in Ambergris Caye, Belize.
80. Spot northern wildlife in Denali National Park and Preserve, Alaska, USA.
81. Ski the Alps.
82. Take my rabbit to Sweden to participate in bunny show jumping.

83. Watch the sea turtles lay their eggs in Queensland, Australia.
84. Chuck some tomatoes during La Tomatina in Bunol, Spain.
85. Have a Scooby-Doo style adventure sleeping over in a haunted castle in Scotland.
86. Line up with the Terracotta Warriors in Xi-An, China.
87. Cruise the incredible Ha Long Bay in Vietnam.
88. Get to the heart of the blues in Chicago, Illinois, USA.
89. Learn to tango in Argentina.
90. Fly a bush plane into the heart of deepest darkest Africa.
91. Take a dip in the Ganges.
92. Burning Man.

93. Partake of a Japanese tea ceremony.
94. Float in the Dead Sea.
95. Explore the Skeleton Coast of Namibia.
96. Tell fairytales in the Black Forest in Germany.
97. Eat my way around Malaysia.
98. Catch my reflection at the Taj Mahal in India.
99. Board down a volcano at Cerro Negro, Nicaragua.
100. Run the Spoelana Naturist Race in Spain.

Always end with a little nudity, I say!

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Friday, February 08, 2013

I'm a friend in need who's got friends, indeed!

Nothing shows you who your friends are like trying to win a trip around the world!

I've entered the My Destination Biggest Baddest Bucket List contest.  If I win, I'll be spending 6 months wandering the world writing blogs and creating videos -- in other words, doing what I'm meant to do.  I've got a ton of competition, but I'm determined to succeed by any (legal) means necessary.

Since all the voting is via social media, I've been spending a lot of time on Facebook.  A lot of negative crap can go down on there, but the past day and a half have been heartwarming to say the least.  The friends who have shared my link so far have all said such unexpectedly lovely things about me and why they think I deserve to win.  And it's not just my nearest and dearest, either -- several people I haven't seen in years have popped out of the woodwork to share my link, catch up a bit and wish me well.  

But the biggest surprise came this morning.  I had commented on a post made by an old friend from high school, and shortly thereafter I got a message from a non-Friend, asking if I was "THE Kelly Winger, from WELLAND?!"  It was a girl I hadn't seen since our early high school years.  We were probably the two goofiest girls in school -- she used to call me "Kelly Winger, worm eater"!  Oh man, the laughs we used to have!  We didn't really travel in the same circles though, so when I switched schools in my last year we lost track of each other.  I often wondered what had happened to her.  The years went by as they tend to do, and then suddenly here she was popping up on Facebook!  And it turns out she'd always wondered about me too!  We had a lovely chat about our lives thus far -- she married a great guy we went to high school with and has two beautiful little girls.  It was so nice to reminisce about our silly times together.  It's crazy to think that, if I hadn't entered this contest and started spending extra time on Facebook, we might never have gotten back in touch.

Like I said at the start, I'm determined to win this contest.  But if by some evil chance I don't, the well-wishes and renewals of friendship are their own reward.

Wanna help me live my dream?

Vote for me

Just click on this link, then share via the social media links in the green box on the right.  I get one vote for each platform that you vote through.  And don't forget -- if you've got a GMail/Google account, you've got Google+!

Wednesday, February 06, 2013

An elephant never forgets (to catch the bus)!

The first rule of group travel -- don’t miss the bus!

In 2008 I travelled to Chiang Mai, Thailand to work and play with the amazing and hilarious children of the Wat Don Chan orphanage.  The other volunteers and I wanted to do something special for them -- many of them had never left the wat! -- and we decided that a trip to an elephant sanctuary was just the ticket.

I worked for 5 years as an educational tour leader, so I’m quite comfortable travelling with and keeping track of large groups of children.  But as I watched all 600 of them swarm out of the dorms to meet the assortment of buses and military vehicles we had commandeered, I knew that this was an elephant of a different colour. I tried not to panic as I squeezed into a seat with three ecstatic little Thai girls.  We wouldn’t leave anyone behind, right?

My fears evaporated in the face of the kids’ excitement as they fed, petted and even rode the elephants.  It was an incredible day.  But the crowning glory came when we all packed into the open air pavilion to watch the elephants paint, the claim to fame of this particular sanctuary. 

I fell in love with the work of one particular pachyderm -- I can’t pronounce his Thai name, but he looked like a Fred to me.  I vowed to bring home Fred’s masterpiece and raced down to the little shop to stake my claim along with two other volunteers.  We must have been chattering pretty excitedly, because we somehow managed to miss the departure of 600 overstimulated children and volunteers.

I’ll never forget how it felt to run out into that parking lot and find it completely deserted.    My heart dropped into my flipflops, Frank’s still-wet painting dangling limply from my hand.  We had no cell phones, no number to call even if we had, and the staff at the sanctuary spoke no English.  The insect sounds from the surrounding jungle seemed suddenly louder and more ominous as we contemplated the 75 km walk back to Chiang Mai.

I cursed myself.  How many times had I told kids on my tours -- whatever you do, NEVER miss the bus! 

I was about to throw myself down in the dirt and have a good cry when a pickup truck bounced around the corner of the building and into the parking lot.  Turns out that 600 kids make a LOT of garbage, so the wat had brought along a recycling truck!  I leaped desperately in front of it.  Fortunately the driver recognized us, and we crammed ourselves into the foot-wide gap around the recycling bins. 

It wasn’t the safest or most comfortable ride, but I can’t say I didn’t enjoy it.  As I closed my eyes and and reveled in the cool wind on my face, I remember thinking -- well, at least we didn’t leave anyone behind!

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