Monday, 20 August 2012

Americana Awesome

There’s certain things about your neighborhood that you don’t notice until you’ve been away for awhile. Little tidbits of your surroundings that have always been there, but they no longer blend into the larger picture quite as easily.

I couldn’t help but notice the prevalence of St. George's Cross when we were in England. It’s prominently featured outside the pubs, which makes sense. I, for one, have fallen out of many a pub door and wondered what country I was in. It wasn’t until I came home that I realized just how many American flags we fly. If we see an open space, we're going to put a flag on it.

We own the moon.

I drove past one house that was proudly flying the flag in the front yard. They also had a flag hanging from the door, which was partially blocked from view by the massive flag hanging from the deck. This impressive display of patriotism was enhanced by the two flags flanking the property, courtesy of the city. It was as though they were trying to protect their firstborn and ran out of lamb’s blood. Whatever their rationale, I can assure you the terrorists haven’t won at that house.

Another thing we love in this country is decorating our front lawns with animal statues. Cows, eagles, deer, flamingos; really, it doesn’t matter. We love our plastic wildlife. It reminds me of the tackiest thing my mom ever put in our front lawn: a Holstein cow with a tail that doubled as a sprinkler. As much as it pains me to say this, I loved that cow and if I found one at Menard’s, I’d totally buy it.

I did see one lawn that took this idea to a whole new level of awesome. Imagine a miniaturized Venus de Milo lawn ornament. Now imagine they've covered her with a T-shirt that reads “Keep it Cool.”

No tits on the front lawn! It's indecent!

I would say “Stay Classy, America,” but I love the fact that you’re not. It just adds to your charm.

Tuesday, 14 August 2012

Eight Days at Veggie Camp

I recently attended a meditation instructor course at a residential retreat. I showed up fully prepared for 14 hour days of intense personal development (or so I thought).  Instead, I quickly discovered how far out of my element I really was, and learned that it’s necessary to step out of my comfort zone if I want to experience positive change.

When I arrived, the retreat brochure assured me that I was in hippie heaven. I heard phrases like “peace and harmony,” “expanding awareness,” and “awakening the inner self” everywhere I turned. I was excited to see plenty of dreadlocks and tie-dyed ponchos, and felt instantly cooler by association.

I became slightly wary when I noticed an outhouse labeled “compost loo.” I began forming a mental list of dings against my certified hippie card:

1. Any place that composts their own shit is a step too far for me.

Little did I know, this would be the start of many new realizations.

The effects of the vegetarian diet showed me the second reason I can’t be a fully-fledged hippie: After a childhood full of Little Debbie cakes and Hamburger Helper, my body is ill-prepared to handle “all-natural.”

By Day 3, I was overcome by muscle cramps, an angry tummy, and a very unpredictable mood. I felt like I was dying, but death just wouldn’t come. I called my adventure partner and told him to pick me up. He declined the opportunity to drive another 7 hours to rescue me. When I called on Day 4 he agreed, but we would’ve been unprepared for the movers to pack up our house the following day. I was stuck.

Our instructor (who was amazing) assured us that any negative emotions or physical symptoms we might be experiencing were the result of our bodies resisting change. Change is new, and new is scary. He also helpfully added that it could be due to the detox process of adjusting to a healthy diet. I immediately understood what I had to do if I was going to survive this week: It was time to retox.

One trip to Tesco for vodka, a Cajun chicken wrap, and some peperami sticks later, I was back in business! For the record, I didn’t just spell “pepperoni” incorrectly. Peperami is a British snack stick that’s like pepperoni but with less meat and more ‘rami. It’s the third cousin of the Slim Jim. If you’re going to retox, you can’t go wrong with fake meat sticks and vodka.

It tastes about as good as you would expect.

Fully loaded with preservatives, liquor, and an ungodly amount of sodium, I attacked the week with new enthusiasm. My trip to Tesco wouldn’t have been possible without the assistance of two wonderful women, which brings me to my next realization of the week:

3. You can survive anything if you have good friends.

I met some of the most interesting, warm, and welcoming people I’ve ever had the pleasure of knowing that week. They in turn introduced me to some of the strangest things I’ve ever heard of. Words like “chakra” and “aura” were thrown about with reckless abandon, and it seemed everyone had a more exciting past life than I did.

As a solid skeptic with an affinity for the scientific method, I found that I had nothing to add to conversations about souls, spiritual essences, or energy fields. I decided to suspend all judgments, and luckily for me, my fellow companions accepted me as I was.

At one point, one of the coolest chicks I met told me about bioenergy feedback sessions. The part of her explanation that stuck with me involved the removal of negative entities. As a former devout Catholic, the first thing that came to mind was exorcisms.

Sleep well!

Later that night as I slept in a 19th century stable block, I had a nightmare involving her pulling a demon out of my friend Magic Muskrat’s chest. The demon flew across the room and brushed against my leg, causing me to feel a cold chill. I awoke in a panic and realized that my leg was freezing in real life. I flipped out. Then I realized that I had my window open, it was a breezy 50 degrees Fahrenheit in my room, and my leg wasn’t under the duvet. In short, I’m an idiot.

In order to sleep the following night, I watched a live session. At no point did any demons appear, and I slept like a baby.

The rest of the week flew by, and my introverted self couldn’t help but be dragged into the enthusiasm of the group. I experienced every emotion under the sun. I laughed until I couldn’t stand and sobbed my eyes out on a new friend’s shoulder. I learned to trust people and not be so guarded. After two straight years of wanting to get the hell out of England, I finally had a reason to miss it.

I still have more requirements to complete before I become a fully certified meditation instructor, and I may not be as much of a hippie as I thought I was, but I can say with full conviction that my week at veggie camp has changed me for the better. So thank you, from the bottom of heart, to all of the wonderful people I met at this course. I’m blessed to have met each one of you.
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