Saturday, December 25, 2010

Joy to the World

If I'm watching Elf for the third (3rd) time in a week, then it's probably Christmas and I probably need a life.

Merry Christmas from my roommates to yours!

If you'd like some inspiring holiday words, here are some courtesy of my brother: "Writing's for chumps." Merry Christmas, everyone! Hope you received all of the Great Grains your heart desired!

Monday, December 20, 2010

Cut it out, Winter Woofstock!

I know I talk about cats a lot on this blog (like, a lottt) but to be honest, my heart actually belongs to dogs. I have three (3) English Springer Spaniel dogs at home in the States but as a city-livin', roommate-havin', always-workin' gal, I feel too guilty having a dog here in Toronto. So cats it must be, but sometimes I really, really wish they were dogs (just kidding I love you Money).

Since it's actually impossible to capture all 3 of my dogs in the same photograph, here's my favorite dog. I know you're not supposed to have favorite pets/kids but sometimes it just happens.

Sup, Randy?!

Hey, speaking of dogs, I was recently doing one of my daily Google searches for dog gossip and came upon something in Toronto called "Winter Woofstock." I was immediately intrigued by this stock and had to learn more. Turns out Winter Woofstock is a huge weekend gathering of dogs/ dog owners/ dog lovers/insane dog people where you can pretty much check out anything to do with dogs, buy all the things that your dog doesn't need and enter your dog into a number of humiliating (but extremely amusing) contests.

Dog costume contest? Yup, I'm gonna need to be a part of this.

As soon as I read the words "Stupid Dog Tricks Contest" my ticket to Winter Woofstock was as good as bought. I coerced my friends Heather and Christina into coming, which then inspired Christina's friend Jamie and her baby Chihuahua Charlie to come as well. See, Pay it Forward isn't just a movie, folks, it's real life!

Jamie and Charlie. It was Charlie's first big outing--we really threw him into the deep end of the pool here. He handled it well and had only moderate shakes the entire day.

My friend Ron was kind enough to lend me his dog, DJ (Donna Jo) because I felt a little sketchy about going to a huge dog festival sans dog. I was hoping no one would ask me any complicated questions about DJ's history but was fully prepared to concoct incredibly detailed and layered stories should that happen. I ended up being disappointed when it did not.

DJ is an 8 year old, half Rottweiler half Lab mix who, as Ron describes her, is very "food motivated." We witnessed this firsthand when DJ tried to eat an aged-to-perfection (i.e. solid as a rock) hot dog found under our seats on the bus to Woofstock. It was cute.

The dog sightings begin! We met this dog outside and had to stop to pet it. It was possibly named Lionel. The owner told us that Lionel had been urged to enter the Mr. Canine Canada pageant and would be competing later that afternoon. Now, at this point, while I did wish Lionel well, I immediately began thinking of when DJ would be approached by the dog model scout and when she and I would grace that dog runway and win all the prizes. And then we'd both get modeling contracts. And then I'd land the cover of Italian Vogue. And DJ would win a ton of free dog food. Winter Woofstock was blowing my mind already and we hadn't even entered the doors.

...We have now entered the doors. Way to go, Heather. Just block that sign. This was supposed to be my establishing shot. Now how the hell are people going to know where we are? At least DJ and I look good here; I've got dog model scouts to impress.

Once we paid our $10 fee and walked into the huge convention hall, it was like whoa. Dogs everywhere. Fake plots of grass and buckets of water decorating the sides of the room. Costumed pugs frantically running on treadmills.

Not lying.

There were beautiful, statuesque dogs.

...and less beautiful, less statuesque dogs (but seriously, I'd like to see that Great Dane try and pull off a sunglass/antler combo. I attempt it every year and fail).

There were also dogs with dreads. This dog knew it was way too cool to even think about entering the Canine Canada pageant.

We met this owner and his dog Timmy by the pet portrait station. Timmy is a 12 years old Pomeranian who was also entered in the Mr. Canine Canada pageant. Christina astutely remarked that Timmy looked just like Christopher Lloyd in Back to the Future. Timmy's owner then looked really disappointed with us.

But seriously, pretty close, right???

We could sense where we weren't wanted and there were many more dogs to meet, so we continued meandering throughout the aisles, mingling with dogs, scoring free samples of dog food (pretty sure I can make a nice profit off of those on eBay), talking about what kinds of dogs we'd be if we weren't humans (I'd probably be a Springer Spaniel, Heather went for giant show poodle...lame).

We then stumbled upon a huge dog who looked like a sad wolf. We managed to marvel at giant wolf dog, place a tiny Chihuahua on giant wolf dog and laugh at our clever size juxtaposition before its owner even detected our presence. It was like we'd all somehow inherited the stealth of ten (10) Winter Woofstock dogs. What fun!

(PS--I then changed my answer and decided that if I were a dog, I would be a giant wolf dog.)

You could pay $15.00 to get a photo of your pet with Santa. We saw Santa walking around beforehand, his slightly yellowed fake beard and dirty jacket lying on a table. He looked a bit disheveled, with about an inch of his bare leg skin peeking out from his too-short velvet knickers. It looked like he was having a rough day, but hey, being Woofstock's Santa has got to be a tough job. So much dog pee and all.

I would totally pay $15 to have a picture like this. Sadly, when we later walked past the Santa station Christina overheard one of the photographers say to the other: "We have got to get rid of this Santa." Poor (possibly hungover) Woofstock Santa :(

I really wish I had taken DJ's picture with him before Santa was honorably discharged.

There was no Mrs. Claus photo option, this was just a sweet elderly lady dressed up with her Dachshund. I would never dream of making fun of an old person dressed up in costume at a dog festival because, to be honest, I'm pretty sure that's exactly where my life path is leading me. Guaranteed you will see me at Winter Woofstock or a similar festival in 20 years dressed in a sad, homemade costume. Probably without a dog, making it even sadder.

We decided to check out some of the Mr. & Mrs. Canine Canada Pageant, where dogs and their owners paraded down a runway while commentators ( like a real life Best in Show!) narrated and prompted the dogs to show off with tricks. The majority of dogs were in costumes and the minority of dogs seemed to enjoy it.

Now, you're probably not going to want this dog as the wide receiver on your football team. Nonetheless, this pretty princess pulled off a few tricks in her tutu.

...and the crowd went absolutely wild.

While it may appear that the crowd is delighted by this denimed ballerina, let's take a closer look...


By this point I was beginning to realize that the dog model scout most likely wasn't going to handpick DJ and me out of the crowd to enter the competition. When I asked people, everyone pretended like they'd never heard of the dog model scout, like I was some crazy lady ranting about dog modelling contracts or something. There would be no strutting our stuff on the runway, no Italian Vogue covers, no modelling contracts and probably no free dog food. It really put a damper on the day for DJ and me.

So we tore that place UP. This could have been your Mrs. Canine Canada, Woofstock! But then we watched a dog obstacle course which calmed us down. Dogs running around traffic cones always has that soothing effect on me.

We ended the day by walking the red carpet meant for VIP dogs. Too bad we were red carpet-crashed by the mangy white dog trying to steal DJ's thunder; what a biotch! Don't worry-- I promptly got this dog removed and hopefully banned from all future Woofstocks. There's a time and a place, you know?

Winter Woofstock--where dogs are fun!

(writing taglines is also fun.)

The best part about Winter Woofstock? There's a summer Woofstock, too! That means this summer we get to borrow some dogs, eat ice cream and watch a dog swimsuit contest! See ya there in seven (7) months!

PS--A big thank you to Ron for letting us spend the day with DJ!

PPS--I did some research to try and find out who did end up winning Mr. Canine Canada and you know what? I think that our friend Timmy/Christopher Lloyd ended up taking the crown! Congrats, Timmy! You've earned it by the sheer number of years you've lived and because you look like Christopher Lloyd.

Friday, November 26, 2010

Cut it Out, Harry Potter! My Career Advice

I recently took a long, hard look at our economy and realized that perhaps my cosmopolitan travelling posts aren't very practical right now. Who can dream of currently vacationing in Detroit? Only the lucky few. I don't want to depress my readers with far-off places that they'll never see, I need to help my readers with sensible tips and pointed advice. And so, dear readers, welcome to my first "Cut-throat Careers" themed blog, sure to help you land that dream job, earn that corner office or at the very least, not get fired from your current job.

I'd like to walk you through the steps that I take upon finding a job that strikes my fancy (note--though I currently already work in my dream job, I apply for jobs on a regular basis to keep my skills sharp).

Step 1: Find a job that strikes your fancy.

In my case, it was a prestigious position working at the Ontario Science Centre's summer exhibition entitled "Harry Potter: The Exhibition." This exhibition was going to be one of the most exciting Harry Potter exhibits ever to hit the world, full of props, costumes, artifacts, all kinds of things that Harry Potter fans care about. The OSC was seeking out talented individuals who would be able to lead the groups of visitors around the various Harry Potter stations (magic, flying, broom game thing, wizards, etc.) and answer any questions. The guides were also required to speak in British accents to remain in character and to wear cloaks. Now, I've never read/watched Harry Potter but I knew this was the chance of a lifetime. I immediately sent over my cover letter and resume.

I knew that this could possibly be me.

Step 2: Work that Cover Letter!

Cover letters are important. We all know this. But how many of us really take the time to craft a memorable and impressive one? I've always believed that employers hate reading the same generic, placating cover letters that many career books advise you to write. In my cover letters, I usually take the opportunity to tell a story about my little brother, share my most embarrassing moment, explain what I would do if I was rich or an animal, etc. Of course, when you're taking liberties like these, you MUST ensure that it's tailored to the position you're applying for.

Please see my below example--my cover letter for the Harry Potter position.

You will note that this cover letter is very specifically tailored for the position, with plenty of references to Harry Potter, yet with a few personal tidbits thrown in there as well. It's important to strike a balance to show that you care very much about the job but also about yourself as well.

I bet Dumbledore and Harry Potter wish they were many leagues under the sea.

Step 3: Perfecting the Resume

Resumes are important. We all know this. Resumes are so important, in fact, that many people get a little overwhelmed and try to pad their resumes. There's no need to do this--I'm sure you've accomplished many wonderful things in your lifetime. You just haven't thought to list them on your resume!

See my Harry Potter resume below:

Upon a careful reading, you'll notice how I have subtly highlighted my skills that will be of most importance in this Harry Potter position. The "Profile" section of your resume is your first chance to explain a little about yourself. Try to choose a wide variety of relevant skills and interests that will grab the employer's eyes. For example, I have revealed that I am an avid reader (much like Harry Potter!) and am single with no children (also like Harry Potter). Employers will subconsciously pick up on these types of traits and want to hire you.

Harry Potter: single with no children.

Now, as for the Work Experience section, this is where employers just want to make sure you've worked for people that you're not related to*. List all of the places that you've ever worked at and remember, no job is too small to list. To be honest, I think the "Work Experience" and "Education" sections are the most boring parts of a resume and most people just skim over this stuff. Keep it simple and humble because chances are no one's going to read it anyway. And, believe me, you'll get your chance to brag soon enough.

Harry Potter can do all kinds of magic but he's still a pretty humble boy.

*Note: It's still okay to list your mom as a reference.

Step 4: Time to shine!

Many people have trouble when it comes to the "Achievements" section of the resume. I happen to find it incredibly easy. Remember to have an open mind with this section--almost anything can be considered an achievement! It's best to list every award that you have ever received, any moniker ever bestowed upon you, any sort of experience you have with any type of activity, celebrities that you resemble, etc, etc . Don't forget to consider your ancestry an achievement (I mentioned that I am part British, as Harry Potter is quite obviously at least part British) and if you own any pets or children.

Harry Potter looks British to me.

Equally important is the "Future Accomplishments" section (also often called "Projected Accomplishments"). Here's where you ruminate on all the things that you believe you COULD accomplish in your life. You could accomplish all sorts of things, like becoming a doctor or learning the keyboards or buying a bunch of cats or having practically no cavities--really, almost anything! Try to be honest, though--do you truly see yourself winning the John Newberry Medal for a distinguished contribution to children's literature? If you do, then yes, put it down. If not, try something a bit more realistic, like writing an sci-fi version fanfiction script of The Wire. Your employers will admire your ambition and be impressed by your (future) talent.

I usually like to throw in one more category, often "Astrological Sign," sometimes "Sport I'm Best At" or "Favorite Song Lyrics." This is kind of like a wild card, bonus tidbit to leave you lingering on the employer's mind when he/she goes to bed at night.

Harry Potter is a Leo.

Step 5: Going Above and Beyond

Even if your cover letter and resume are stellar, it's always best to provide some kind of supplemental material to really make employers remember you. I try to include some kind of homemade trinket, usually a collage or two (2), IOUs or gift card. If I could make wood sculptures, then I would do that. For this position, I thought they might be receiving lots of collages so I went a different route and included a supplemental list of books I read in 2009.

Including a book list has multiple benefits. Firstly, it proves to your potential employer that you're literary and therefore intelligent, and b.) it displays a bit more of your personality. Chances are your employer will have read one of the same books and then you have something to discuss during the interview. In the case, I was hoping we would have shared an appreciation for 777 Great Clean Jokes so we could both have a laugh. Humor is very important in the workplace.

Harry Potter and his schoolmates love to laugh.

Step 6: Follow that thing up!

You know how after a first date you're supposed to call your date to make sure they got home okay, then to see if they want to have dinner with you again the next night, then to see if they want to meet your family for Christmas, then to see why they've stop answering your calls? Well, it's exactly the same concept when applying for a job. FOLLOW UP IS KEY!

I'd recommend following up your cover letter, resume and supplemental material with an email/phone call/visit to ensure that the employer received it. It's best to ask for a cell phone or home number (or both, if you really care about the job) so you can reach them with any urgent questions, like how much you'll get paid or if you can take Halloween and your birthday off.

One warning regarding the follow up--beware of automated email replies. Don't make the same mistake I did and assume that the automatic reply after emailing in your resume is the same as being hired. Apparently it usually is not.

You know what, emails that appear in your inbox so fast it's like magic are confusing; it could happen to anyone.

Harry Potter would have known.

Though I was not hired or contacted further to work the Harry Potter job (I believe they may have found the headshots I also sent perhaps a bit too intimidating for the wizard-loving crowd), I can say with some confidence that if you follow my six (6) steps, they will perhaps lead you to more career success than you can handle.

Let me know how that promotion goes for you! Tell Mr. Trump I say hey.

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Festive Specials

I'm really lucky because I get to celebrate two Thanksgivings.
Today was American Thanksgiving (or Thanksgiving Part II as I call it).

Today was also Pilgrim Day at work.

I am thankful for work visas, new neighborhoods and dodgeball.

Happy Thanksgiving to all of my friends and family back home!

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Cut it out, Mississippi: Britto Gets Married

As a very special edition of my cosmopolitan travel posts, I recently took quite the road trip to Jackson, Mississippi. It was my first time in Mississippi and I was there for a very important occasion: Britto, one of my oldest and dearest friends, was getting married. Thinking of travelling to Mississippi on a wild, impromptu road trip? You're in luck, I'll be reviewing the entire state (based completely on my 2 day visit). Any brides-to-be out there? (holla!) I'll throw in some wedding tips, too. See? Something for everyone!

(warning: mega blogpost ahead)

First, a little back story:

I met Britto on the first day of fifth grade at the bike rack, right after I had moved to Florida. We've been friends ever since, even though my younger brother has held a vendetta against Britto for once throwing his backpack over a fence (note: this occurred in 1995 but it's almost guaranteed that Devin will mutter something unintelligible about "damn backpacks" when Britto comes up in conversation. It's healthy to hold meaningless grudges, right? ).

Here's me and Britto in 1996:

Had these young gals been able to look into the very far future, they would have seen one girl getting married and buying a very cute house with her husband and the other renting with 2 female roommates and writing a blog. It's maybe why they say the future is best left unseen. Or that tomorrow is another day. Or some other saying involving time. All true.

Britto & I then flew through middle school, high school, getting drivers licenses, first speeding tickets (Britto), being crowned prom queen (me) (such a lie), our first *NSYNC concert (not even embarrassed that this is so very true), first jobs and finally, graduation. I ended up in Canada, Britto in Mississippi. When I received the wedding invitation in the mail, I couldn't believe it--I'd finally get to visit Mississippi! The state that you have to learn how to spell for spelling bees! The state that you have to say out loud when counting to denote a second! That state that birthed Lance Bass and Parker Posey! Oh yeah, and I'd get to see my oldest friend get married to her boyfriend Brian. SWEET DEAL.

*NSYNC concert, 2001. My sign says "Marry Me JC" and Britto's says "Britt heart Lance."

(Can you believe these posters were confiscated by the security guards before we even entered the concert? Totally ruined any chance of me actually marrying JC. I'd say Britto fared okay though--we all know how that Lance situation turned out.)

So after my friend Jenn (also a high school best friend of mine & Britto's) and I made plans to meet up in Jackson for the wedding and booked our flights, it was off to Mississippi we go!

Jenn and I had a happy reunion at the Jackson airport and we cabbed it to our hotel. Our cab driver was kind enough to provide a helpful lecture telling us we did not, in fact, tip him enough. After being guilt-tripped into leaving a marginally larger tip, Jenn and I attempted to check into our room. What a fun surprise it was to learn that not only had our friend the cab driver driven us to the wrong hotel, but he also delivered us to a completely different city than requested. What a prankster!

My review of Mississippi at this point: Awful, AWFUL state! And confusing.

After we called back the same cab driver to bring us to the correct hotel (and had an extremely awkward ride in which we received the silent treatment from him), Jenn and I got settled in our proper hotel and decided to hit the town and see the sights. Which means I dragged Jenn to Target to see all of the things we don't get in Canada.

Suck on that, Michael Carpenter!

Check out the shelves of cornbread mix they have in Mississippi. Sometimes I really miss southern food. Like cornbread. And biscuits. And Great Grains.

My review of Mississippi at this point: She's redeemed herself nicely due to existence of Target and availability of cornbread mix. Keep it up, gurl!

And then the big day arrived. Jenn and I woke up nice and early to catch the free Holiday Inn breakfast (omg any hotel that has any kind of free breakfast is something special in my books) and then excitedly got ready in our room. We kept looking at each and saying stuff like "Holy cow, can you believe Britto's getting married TODAY?" And then one of us would say "No, I really can't." And then one of us (me) would say "Wow, that free breakfast was really cool." And then Jenn would say "Yeah, it was pretty good, I guess." And then it'd start all over again.

After putting the final touches on our masterpieces, we went down to the hotel lobby and began to wait for our ride in the parking lot. During this wait, it was brought to our attention that our ride wouldn't be arriving for at least another hour. So we did what any former models would do, and that's get our runway walk on in the parking lot.

Did Mississippi and her inhabitants seem impressed with our runway walks? No, not really. It was more like "why these city girls parading around all fancy-like in the empty parking lot when it's time for the crawfish bake?"

Mirror shots are also a good way to waste approximately 3 minutes of time.

At this point, the sun has melted our makeup, flattened our hair and created a delicate glimmer of sweat all over our bodies. Mississippi was officially kicking our asses.

My review of Mississippi at this point: Too much sun, too many parking lots and what's up with crawfish? Seriously, it's kinda gross.

Thankfully, our ride arrived shortly after and brought us to Britto's wedding site, which was a beautiful gazebo and hall in the middle of the country.

It was gorgeous, even though I admit I'm very partial to gazebos due to my fave Sound of Music scene. Wedding tip: Brides-to-be, hold your wedding in an outdoor gazebo! And wear a dress like Liesl's which twirls when you spin! And then after the groom kisses you, say "wheeeeeeee!"And try and schedule it during an impromptu thunderstorm Fine. Saving it for my own wedding.

Jenn and I reunited with Jesse, another high school friend, who was one of Britto's bridesmaids. Jesse, Jenn and I played in many woodwind ensembles together in our concert band days. A little flute, some clarinet, maybe some oboes, a few bass clarinets... when I think about how crazy we were during those days, it's a wonder we made it out alive.

And then the wedding procession began...

Watching Britto walk down the aisle with her dad, I definitely had to do one of those zoning-out-on-purpose moments to make myself not think about all of the memories we have growing up and start crying. Instead I kept thinking "Man, it's hot out here." Which it wasn't, really, and my eyes still got watery. Because of that damn heat.

It was an absolutely perfect ceremony. Britto abided to the old adage of KISS: "Keep It Simple, Stupid" and the ceremony was kept light, fun and clocked in at about 20 minutes.

I think this is how every bride should look right after the ceremony: bursting with happiness and most likely ready to hit the wedding bar.


Beers in a bucket and Jack Daniels on the table. Mississippi weddings are fun.

The wedding dinner was a southern barbeque feast, complete with pulled pork, macaroni and cheese, smoked chicken, baked beans, rolls, chicken tenders, coleslaw and a variety of BBQ sauces (sorry, vegetarians :( ). The groom had a special plate of ribs and hot tamales (as well as a groom's cake shaped like a dragon. For real). Brides-to-be, don't be afraid to have messy wedding food if it's delicious. I'll be having a cereal bar at mine for sure.

My review of Mississippi at this point: Best state ever.

We're not even sure what happened to Britto in this picture but it's probably my favorite pic of the whole night. Brides-to-be, don't forget to pretend to morph into a monster for at least one pic; it's a great option for the "thank you" cards.

And ohhh, how they danced.

The beautiful bridesmaids danced in flip-flops all night long.

And then something magical happened. Softly, somewhere in the distance, we heard the opening chords of the male musical group *NSYNC's hit song "It's Gonna Be Me." Now, this song has quite a lot of significance for me, Jenn and Britto (and many of yourselves, too, I'm sure). Back in tenth grade, we devoted a very large portion of our time to memorizing the dance to this song. After we mastered it, we performed it every single chance we received. House parties, marching band awards banquets, our own empty living rooms...seriously, our high school friends must have hated us.

So you can understand our confusion/sense of wonderment when we heard the song begin to play. I realized I remembered almost nothing of the dance and glanced over at Jenn, who shared the same panicked expression. But as Justin Timberlake says, the show must go on...

And yeah, we had a rough beginning...

But soon it was like we were 16 again, in matching glittery tank tops (because, again, we were so cool).

I think this is right about where we hit our stride.

Did I forget to mention that everyone else had cleared the floor for this?
The crowd stood aside and watched us, both confused yet entranced. We finished to scattered yet enthusiastic applause. It was absolutely my favorite part of the entire trip.

My review of Mississippi at this point: I finally understand that whole "birthplace of soul" nickname. Well deserved!

Once you get applause like that, you just can't go back to normal life. I craved it. Had to have it. So I engaged in a very long dance-off with the one person willing to dance with me: an Australian named Andrew.

Brides-to-be, it's a good idea to invite friends to your wedding who have zero shame and are willing to embarrass themselves on the dance floor in order to keep it hopping. If these friends happen to be good dancers, well, then that's even better, but as we proved here, it's not necessary.

I found Britto's wedding gift at a Goodwill in Orlando and knew immediately it was the gift for her. It's not every day you come across an *NSYNC collectors edition JC Chasez marionette doll, now, is it? Don't worry, this isn't the only gift I got for her. Good lord, what do you think I am?! No no, Britto will be receiving the rest of the set one by one as I seek them out and collect them.

Brides-to-be, remember to be as gracious and accepting as Britto was when receiving gifts that were most definitely not on the registry.

Final review of Mississippi: Let's see, I got to visit some of my closest friends, eat southern bbq, go to Target, dance to *NSYNC, meet some nice people (minus cab driver) who proved that southern hospitality is a very real thing and drink beer in a party dress. This state's pretty much identical to Disney World. You could probably have fun here, too.

Parting shot.

This car's bumper stickers can pretty much sum up Mississippi much more succinctly than I can--"Jesus is Coming, Get Right or Get Left," "CAUTION: I stop at all Walmart stores."

Congrats, Britto & Brian! I wish you guys all the best.

PS--All of the photos in this post which are beautiful were taken by Jenn, who is quite a talented photographer/blogger. All of the mediocre/grainy photos were taken by yours truly. Capturing important moments in time in crappy quality, yet another talent o' mine. Thanks, Jenn!