of mice and women                     

    
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last night, i spent the night at my sister’s apartment. she and her boyfriend headed down to florida today for a mini vacation, and she wanted me to apartment and hedgehog sit, so i needed to pick up her keys. i came down, she and rod had made pork chops, and the three of us sat around and chatted through dinner, then went to bed fairly early.

i always sleep in the cozy little room off the kitchen, on a futon. i had trouble falling asleep, probably because i’m not used to the noises her apartment makes, and i’m always concerned a ghost will come through the wall. come 1am in the morning, i’ve finally fallen asleep. i’m lying on my back, probably drooling on myself, when all of a sudden something crawls through my hair onto my collarbone.

i sit bolt upright, halfway into a full-blown panic attack, sending blankets in all directions. by the time i’ve gathered my wits and am able to stop gibbering senselessly to myself, whatever it was is gone. i cautiously lie back down, facing the room with my back to the wall (which is how i normally sleep so monsters can’t creep up on me), and wait for the *thing* to come back. nothing happens for a few minutes, and i’ve finally started to relax, when i hear it:

scratch, scratch, scratch.

horrified, i slowly,

s l o w l y

peer over the side of the bed. there is a small, dark shape scaling the edge of the sheet that is hanging down off the bed, climbing toward me, faster and faster, my obvious terror driving it to reach higher, higher, higher! i let out a yelp, give the sheet a brisk shake, and the *thing* falls away, and scurries off to plot under the futon.

mustering all my bravery, i climb out of bed and turn on the light. peering down under the futon, i see it: a small brown mouse, with bright red eyes, staring at me. i’ve no great fear of mice; i like them a lot, actually. i think they’re cute. but there was something a bit menacing in the way this one met my gaze. i must have unknowingly initiated a staring contest, and it just sat there, staring, completely fearless.

it was obvious quite quickly i wasn’t getting anywhere, so i gingerly climbed back into bed, and spent the rest of the night tossing and turning (with the light on, of course) waiting for the little monster to sidle up noiselessly and bite me on the neck.

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                        just the cup, please                     

    
          7:03 AM          /             Posted by katie bradford         /                                 comments (0)                           
  
      
 
    
      

i have a fetish for take-out coffee cups.

when i was younger, i fixated on men and women i'd see strolling to work, take-out coffee cups in hand, full of long strides with tailored jackets and polished shoes.

i knew even then, when i was old enough to buy my own coffee, it would mean i'd arrived. i, too, would join the ranks of these young professionals - really going places, brashly building my own future, fierce and fearless and fabulous.

you'd think i'd have stepped out of such silliness by now, but i can't let it go. it's like magic, the way that sippie-lidded paper cup transforms you. one moment, i'm working part time with absolutely no idea what i'm doing with my life - the next, i'm bold, brilliant, and well on my way to being the next donald trump.

i harbor no illusions. i realize this obsession with take away coffee is ridiculous, yet i still find myself hoarding the cups, using them over and over again with the tea bags i keep stashed in my purse, pathetic in my need for the powerful aura which surrounds that flimsy paper cup with its thoughtful cardboard sleeve.

fancy coffees frighten me. i don't want to order a triple soy latte with three pumps of caramel macchiato and a dash of espresso-flavored foam. i am afraid the counter person will lean over, fix me with a beady eye and know, with the gut instinct of a natural born coffee afficianado, that i'm a fraud. no, i keep it simple.

the second i hand over my cash, i retreat to the side, watching the greedy brutes who approach the counter, silently warning them to keep their hands off my paper cup. i wait for that 2/3rds full chai tea latte which will transform me into the most put-together, efficient, and successful person in the world.

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                        a cobra show in bangkok                     

    
          10:30 AM          /             Posted by katie bradford         /                                 comments (0)                           
  
      
 
    
      


Fresh from a trip to the floating market at Damnoen Saduak, my friend Donna and I were offered the opportunity to watch a snake show, advertised as “the most exciting show in the world.” We couldn’t possibly resist, so we boarded a small air-conditioned van and off we went.

In the small arena, Donna and I decided to live adventurously and choose seats off to the side – not the seats tucked safely behind some shallow water and a glass partition, but ones completely open to the ring. After a brief introduction to “the most exciting show in the world,” an announcer began a play-by-play, while festive music filled the small building. The show began with cobras in brown sacks. Three men shook the sacks and then dumped the snakes into the ring. They kept provoking them, and then catching them with their bare hands, until the cobras were absolutely furious. The men then brought out four new snakes, more gigantic than the others, and provoked them as well – only this time, the snakes began lunging towards the audience, and the men would catch them by the end of the tail just before the snakes escaped. Needless to say, we were regretting our choice of seating at this point. Watching a livid, hissing cobra fly towards you isn’t something I ever want to experience again. After this scary display, a glass tank was wheeled in, which contained both a cobra and a mongoose. Now, from watching Rikki Tikki Tavi as a child, I knew cobras and mongooses are deadly enemies. (In case you haven’t had the pleasure, this cartoon movie is based on Rudyard Kipling’s book about a brave young mongoose; I would suggest if you’ve never seen it to find a copy). I never thought I’d see a live fight; however, that’s exactly what happened next. After an intense few minutes where the animals circled and lunged at one another, during most of which we watched with our eyes closed (no small feat), the tank was wheeled away and a tie declared, as the “snake men” wouldn’t allow either animal to be injured. The show ended with a man who promised us he could catch three vipers at once. As he only had two hands – unless he was hiding a third under his shirt somewhere - how he’d catch all three was a mystery, so Donna and I craned forward in our seats in order to catch everything. After a few tense moments, the snake man came up with a viper in each hand – and one in his mouth. I don’t even want to venture a guess as to how he did it, and I cannot imagine ever being so brave as to catch a live viper in my mouth. Adrenaline pumping, Donna and I left the arena and collapsed into our van.

Watch a cobra show on youtube!

               
    
       
                     
     
                

                        the floating market in damnoen saduak, thailand                     

    
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While bumming around Bangkok, my friend Donna and I decided it necessary to visit the floating market in Damnoen Saduak. From a friendly travel shop just off Khao San Road, we purchased tickets for a day tour beginning the following morning.

On the day of our trip, we woke early and were picked up by a small van, which delivered us a few kilometers from the market. We then boarded longboats to be taken for a fast ride through the canals connecting the Mae Klong and the Tacheen Rivers. Thai people live clustered along the canals, and you’ll get a great view of how they live, passing orchards, traditional teak homes, and people going about their daily lives while you gawk (politely) from your longboat. 10-15 minutes of this fast, zigzagging ride and suddenly, you’re in the floating market. It’s pure chaos – longboats piled high with vegetables, fresh produce, and homemade wares, paddled by stooped men and women wearing straw hats, ready to bargain the second someone eyes their boat. The sides of the canal are bustling with stalls selling everything from paintings to silks to carved wooden animals to clothing. It’s a riot of color, noise, and commotion, with so many things to look at you’d need at least a hundred eyeballs. It’s a bit touristy, but great fun.

Although you probably won’t notice (at least, I didn’t), when you’re being loaded into your longboat, a photographer will come round and snap your photo. As we were leaving the market area, a woman came running up to us and asked, in broken English, if we wanted our plate. Donna and I looked at each other – our plate? The woman gestured us to follow her, and so we did, right to a stall covered with commemorative plates. You know, those weird ones people sometimes have hanging out their walls? Well, Donna’s family home in South Africa now features one, two girls beaming (or in my case, bug-eyed and half-crazed looking) from a plastic plate.

               
    
       
                     
     
                

                        Scuba Diving on Koh Tao, Thailand: Ban's Diving Resort                     

    
          1:46 PM          /             Posted by katie bradford         /                                 comments (0)                           
  
      
 
    
      


Photo Courtesy of Ban's Diving Resort

Three friends and I had been in Thailand for about two weeks when we took a ferry over to the nearby island of Koh Tao to take a scuba diving certification course. Famous for diving, Koh Tao has some of the most gorgeous, pristine waters in the area, and we could hardly wait to get our grubby little hands on some diving equipment – provided, of course, we passed our classes. Jittery with anticipation, we hopped off the ferry and were greeted with total chaos: the second we stepped foot on the dock, we were surrounded. People were shouting, running, hauling holding billboards, brochures, and signs this way and that – all claiming the diving resort they represented was the most luxurious yet the cheapest; the one that offered the most dive time, the most shark sightings, the best instructors, and safest equipment possible: in short, the one that made all your diving dreams come true.


Photo Courtesy of http://www.on-koh-tao.com/

Luckily, before we lost our heads completely in the sheer madness that was the pier, we remembered a few friends we’d met earlier had recommended Ban’s Diving Resort. Pushing our way through throngs of people, we miraculously located a representative from Ban’s. Without questioning prices or accommodation, we threw ourselves onto their tuk-tuk and away we went. We were warmly greeted, and before we knew it, we were settled into a large, airy room at an extremely reasonable price (as three of the four of us would be taking a diving class, we were given a generous discount).

Ban’s Diving Resort is phenomenal. Located on Koh Tao’s main beach, Sairee Beach, Ban’s is clean, bright, and open, full of lush flowers and vegetation their capable staff tends to regularly, with an open air restaurant featuring both excellent food and stunning views of Koh Tao’s famous sunsets. There are shops, restaurants and bars located nearby, pools for swimming and diving practice, friendly, helpful staff and loads of other travelers all ready to embark on diving adventures.


Photo Courtesy of http://www.taucher.net/

Ban’s Diving offers a full range of PADI (Professional Association of Diving Instructors) scuba diving programs, from beginners who want their open water diver certification, to advanced dive master classes for those who want to become diving instructors. Ban’s offers courses in 15 different languages, and all instructors are fully certified, knowledgeable and incredibly friendly. An open water diver course, which is what I took and therefore am most familiar with, is a three and a half day course which involves a combination of lectures, DVDs, notes, quizzes and four carefully supervised dives. All students are required to take a final exam before receiving their certification. This class costs 9,800 THB (approximately $286 USD), and is completely worth it.

On your final dive, a professional cameraman will follow your class through the water. Students are encouraged to make fools of themselves for the film (as if encouragement were necessary), which will then be custom edited to a DVD. On the last day of class, everyone in your course will have dinner together and then watch the DVD as a group. If you like, you can then purchase one to take home - of course, it costs extra, but it’s fun to have, even if watching isn’t even close to actually being there. I made my family sit down and watch it as payback for all the home videos I’ve been forced to sit through.

A trip to Thailand isn’t complete without scuba diving. The water is too gorgeous, the fish too colorful, and the experience too amazing to pass up. If ever you find yourself there, visit Ban’s Diving Resort for an amazing underwater adventure you’ll never forget.

               
    
       
                     
     
                

                        Celebrate the 4th of July holiday weekend with these scrumptious national drinks!                     

    
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4th of July fireworks! www.petswelcome.com

The fourth is a day for family, friends, fireworks, and – you guessed it – food. From crab feasts to weenie grilling to full-fledged pig roasts (nothing says happy Independence Day, America, like a giant hog on a spit), Americans celebrate their national holiday with loads of tasty treats. Potato salad, hot dogs, hamburgers, ribs, and corn on the cob top the lists, among other traditional fares. But what about beverages? The usual Fourth of July celebration staples are bottled water, juice/soda for the kiddies, and beer. To be fair, that’s really all you need, but maybe this year it’s time to branch out a bit. Sure, it’s America’s Independence Day, but that doesn’t mean you can’t get festive and dazzle your guests with an array of beverages from around the world! Add a bit of spice to your cookout with these delicious drinks.

Soju – traditionally made from rice, this Korean liquor is clear in color and similar to vodka. Be wary – if you’ve never had Soju before, it sneaks up on you like a saber-toothed tiger and the morning after is the worst you’ll ever have.

Guinness – this heart healthy choice, hailing from Ireland, is one of the most famous national drinks in the world. Consuming more than five is guaranteed to give you an Irish accent.

Caesar – this Canadian bloody mary-esque concoction is easy to make, and perfect for breakfast. Have one while preparing your potato salad. For more, please see Hail Caesar!

Tequila – olé! Mexicans drink their tequila straight, but I think its best served with a wedge of lemon and lots of salt. Watch out for the tequila worm – I’ve heard it's good luck to eat it, but I’ve serious doubts.

Sake – although Sake day is officially October 1st, as declared by the Japan Sake Brewers Association in 1978, there’s no reason to deny yourself a cup of the tasty liquor. It tastes best served warm.

Absinthe – if you’re in the mood for a little wormwood, drink some of this Switzerland originated spirit. However, if your guests begin complaining of having tulips on their legs (perhaps channeling Oscar Wilde), chances are they’re on something else. While absinthe has widely been berated as hallucinogenic, there is no concrete evidence it is any more dangerous than an ordinary spirit.

Ouzo – this Greek liquor is traditionally sipped slowly with appetizers and friends over a period of several hours in the evening. Perfect if you’ve a lawn chair and lots of catching up to do.

Mojito – this refreshing rum-based drink from Cuba is perfect for a hot, sunny day. It’s traditionally made with 5 main ingredients: white rum, sugar, lime, ice, and mint. Use fresh mint from your garden if you’ve got – it’ll work as a breath freshener, as well.

Cachaça - this sugary Brazilian liquor is often used as the main ingredient in the Caipirinha cocktail, which is Cachaça mixed with lime and sugar. Its alcohol content can be up to 48% proof, so please don’t drink much if you plan on functioning properly for the evening.

Happy 4th of July! Please drink responsibly.

               
    
       
                     
     
                

                        Lonely Planet - a backpacker's bible                     

    
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Photo Courtesy of http://worldnomads.com

“Lonely Planet is best for curious and independent-minded travelers.”
The Wall Street Journal

A backpacker’s bosom buddy, Lonely Planet guides are among the most amazing travel books ever written. Extremely well organized, Lonely Planets are ruthlessly researched and written by freelance authors who’ve loads of travel experience and specialized knowledge of certain cities, countries or regions. These authors have personally traveled to foreign countries to do research without the internet, exploring thousands of both popular and obscure temples, hotels, restaurants, bars and more - they are passionate, curious people dedicated to discovering exotic, unique places for travelers to visit on their next trip.


Unlike other travel guides, where one might merely find long lists of sights, restaurants, hotels, and shopping destinations, Lonely Planets have highly extensive information on the countries between their covers, written in an engaging, informative way. Their pages are peppered with information an average travel guide might leave out, including metric conversions, necessary vaccinations, time zones, country codes, tourist seasons and a daily ‘budget’, which tells you approximately how much money you’ll spend a day in that specific country. My favorite Lonely Planet is “southeast asia on a shoestring” because it contains information on eleven different countries in one travel-handy volume. Traveling to Thailand? On those particular pages, you’ll find highlights, current events, a detailed history of Thailand, maps, sections on the culture, popular sports, religion, art, and the environment – and it doesn’t stop there! Next, the country is broken down into different regions. Bangkok and its surrounding areas have 24 whole pages devoted to giving an adventurous traveler all the information they’ll need, including details about sights, tours, festivals, hotels, restaurants, bars, clubs, entertainment, shopping, and transportation; small asides on safe and responsible travels, dangers, bargaining, hints, and border crossings, along with trivia information which, while not exactly necessary for traveling itself, is fun to learn and will allow you to impress other backpackers you meet along the way with your lofty brain powers.


Photo Courtesy of www.globalnanpa.com

Although some might scoff real backpackers can find their way around without the help of a guide, for most people, it’s intimidating to find yourself in a new place without knowledge of, well, almost anything! What to do? Where to go? You might have read a book or two to prepare for your trip, but those books feel far away when you step out of the air-conditioned comfort of the airport into a new, exotic country where adventures are waiting just around the corner … if you know where to find them. That’s where Lonely Planet steps in. Wouldn’t you sleep easier knowing you’ve a selection of hotels in hand? Wouldn’t it be nice to have a variety of restaurants to try, ranging from the upscale and gourmet to the tiny hole in the wall places that grill your meal outside on the beach while you wait? Do yourself a favor and buy a Lonely Planet for your next vacation. It’s worth it.

Visit the Lonely Planet online and order books for your next trip today!

               
    
       
                   
        
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