Our friend Y moved to Wales some time ago. The duck and I haven’t managed to visit her yet. But, after she sent us a postcard with a recipe for Pice ar y maen, an enticing Welsh treat, the duck and I knew we had to try it. It only took us well over a year and the passing of the best-before date of the dried currants we had imported for this sole purpose. Despite our unreliable baking skills, the result was worth it. When we devoured our first portion of Welsh cakes, the duck and I almost felt as if we were in Wales for a moment. Five smug powdered sugar flakes for a successful imaginary jaunt to Wales ✧✦✧✦✧
Now we only have to get our physical bodies onto the sofa/spare bed in our friend’s Welsh house. I’m sure that after we eat real Welsh cakes, the duck and I will revoke the favorable rating of my baking attempt. Until then, I will be the one who made the best Pice ar y maen the duck has ever eaten. Ha!
P.S.: I promise the next post of this sort will celebrate a snack we ate outside our home!
Earlier, I disclosed that having almost all our friends live at least an hours-long train ride away has taken a toll on the duck who is much more social than I am. We’ve had a long talk in which I apologized for not honoring the duck’s extravert needs, and the duck promised to give me a heads-up before sending off any villain-club application forms. Like the duck, I don’t love living far away from most of our friends. But I also think it isn’t all bad. When I asserted that in our discussion, the duck demanded scientific proof. I laughed. The duck stared at me with a straight face.
Befuddled, I grabbed a pen from my neverending stash, some paper, and a couch catalog for the duck to peruse as I composed this list:
At the beginning of the year, I wrote about wanting to break my habit of being a completionist. I‘ve gotten worseam still working on that.
‘Tis the season of Christmas cookies and extra-delicious food, a.k.a. the perfect backdrop for writing about one completionist habit I don’t mind (though it does annoy people around me): food. Whenever I prepare a meal that’s not entirely inedible, I will eat it. I happily finish my plate, refrigerate or freeze intended leftovers, and always use up all the ingredients I buy – unless they’ve gone bad prematurely. The only time I’m not happy with this habit is when I eat out and haven’t brought an empty container for leftovers. Last summer, in a rare instance of outside dining, I ordered a vegetable pasta dish that was served in a medium-sized frying pan! The portion was at least 2-3 large leftover lunches large. I determinedly switched to main quest mode and began shoveling. When I had reached satisfactory fullness, you could hardly tell I had transferred any skillet pasta onto my plate. I was on a mission. So, I kept eating. I hadn’t felt that full in months years! But my aversion to wasting food trumped the growing fear of my stomach bursting. I kept on eating… until a knight in shining armor and an apron appeared at my side. Our excellent server had noticed my pained face and offered me a takeaway box for my leftovers. Yes! There’s no way I could have finished this pan-sized portion. My no-food-goes-to-waste-willpower has its limits.
I felt regret: Why hadn’t I thought about inquiring about a container myself (I would have happily paid for one) before the pain had set in? But I was also happy that I had one more day of good food before reverting to my own miserable cooking attempts. Thankfully, the duck wasn’t there to witness my embarrassment… or cheer me on all the way to my painful demise.
The duck and I have lived in a few different places. As have nearly all our friends. As a result, we don’t live near most of them these days. Seeing a friend face-to-face once or twice in a decade (if we’re lucky) has become the norm. In the past few years, however, the duck and my laziness has almost entirely squelched our ambition to travel (that, and that other thing). Because of that, we have delayed long overdue in-person get-togethers even more than usual. Fortunately, we can use the internet and snail mail (though our trust in the German postal service has reached a new low) to exchange life updates. Unfortunately, the duck and I are lazy, so it usually takes us months to respond to messages and arrange digital catch-up sessions. We’re lucky to have such understanding friends who don’t judge us too harshly (to our faces) for our intense laziness. While I function well with little social interaction (past the everyday kind), it’s tough for the duck to have me, a self-proclaimedsmall-talk adversary, as the only available conversation partner most of the time. That’s why, a few months ago, the duck started striking up conversations with every dog, cat, horse, crow, goose, mouse, and earthworm we encountered on slow jogs or walks around the neighborhood. At first, I was happy the duck had found a way to satisfy those social cravings. However, a few weeks ago, I saw the duck had transitioned to engaging in lengthy one-sided conversations with characters inside the TV.
When I caught the duck composing an affectionate letter to an antagonist in a movie we hadn’t watched together in months, I realized I needed to pay more attention to what entertainment the duck consumes. I can’t have the duck join any fictitious villainous circles now, can I (note to self: revisit 1984 as a negative example)? Who knows what real-world repercussions that could have?! And maybe, just maybe, it’s also time we put away our laziness and do some more traveling so that we can once again catch up with physical friends on couches worldwide. Having had only one of those longer-distance catch-up trips in the past three years is embarrassing, even for someone as naturally reclusive as me. As is having the duck strike up imaginary friendships with not-very-nice people.
Three years ago, the duck and I wrote about how we like to take autumnal neighborhood walks with our camera from time to time. When we jog (these days, at an increasingly decreasing speed), we routinely take in the seasonal changes in our current neighborhood. But we’re also routinely too lazy to go out with a camera afterward to capture them. So, today, the duck and I want to share some pictures from when we visited our friend in Louisville, Kentucky, years ago. In Gourds of Halloween Past, I mentioned that we spent most of our time being collectively lazy indoors. I also noted that our trusty camera’s battery died halfway through the pumpkin path. To those of you (= positively no one) who wondered how that could have happened – how many photos could we possibly have taken indoors, and did we not learn from our Tachikawa fiasco? – this is the reason: I lied. While we did spend most of our time on a comfy sofa, watching TV, playing games, and catching up, we occasionally left the apartment – sometimes even twice a day! On one of those days, we experienced the Louisville Jack O’Lantern Spectacular. A few hours before we were to admire thousands of Halloween pumpkins, our friend suggested we go for a walk. So, the duck and I grabbed our camera (presumably with a fully charged battery) to take some foliage photos. We never shared any of them, probably because most of them weren’t remotely pretty. Well, the duck and my standards have lowered since then, and our laziness is here to stay. So, once again, we’re falling back on photos we’ve taken at a slightly more productive time. Here ya go:
I think we took these photos at Cherokee park, but (if I don’t forget) I’ll confirm with our faraway friend the next time we chat. Until then, have a pleasant autumn (or spring), and don’t forget to schedule some lazy hours.
In case you were wondering, this isn’t a typo. Neither is it a sad attempt at finally being considered hip kids (I can’t speak for any of the other titles the duck and I have come up with, though). Veganz is a German food brand that focuses on plant-based products and strives toward increased sustainability. Usually, Veganz is too pricey for our stingy little hearts. When we found that they had added two Christmas-themed chocolate bars to their range, however, the duck and I saw this as the perfect opportunity to expand our non-dark vegan chocolate experiences. At first, we wanted to go with “Organic White Baked Apple” because we had never tried vegan white chocolate and had some leftover regret about dropping last year’s plan to do a completely apple-themed Christmas treat taste test. When we saw that “Organic Gingerbread Magic” sports a gianduja base, another version of vegan chocolate we’d never tried before, the duck and I agreed to splurge. Paying a combined non-discounted 5+ Euros for two Christmas-themed 80-90g chocolate bars to celebrate our favorite season for German snacks was totally fine… we had to repeat to ourselves over and over. Veganz might be too cool for discounts, but the duck and I aren’t too cool for new taste experiences. So, here are our subjective thoughts on two of the fanciest chocolate bars we’ve invested in:
… is what the duck interjects every time the bedroom ceiling rose petal sequence from American Beauty (1999) comes up in our discussions about iconic movie stills. “Sure, red roses act as a symbol in this film. But why would anyone in their right mind imagine someone else in a sea of flowers when they could very well imagine themselves submerged in cookies (or pretzels, or chocolate, or ice cream)?!” Even though I think the red rose petals make for a compelling image that, I’m almost certain, is exponentially more famous than the movie itself, I agree with the duck. My enlightening daydreams would undoubtedly be related to food rather than plants. After already putting Cat, my pretzel-loving, hat-selling dog, into my preferred daydream scenario, I decided to grant the duck’s wish by recreating the least messy of the duck’s suggested superior dream sequences. I present to you today’s movie still duckification (in the style of Cat’s very inspirational story)*:
Thankfully, the duck’s days of spending every free minute in the bathtub among tubs of ice cream are over (hopefully, we won’t feel this hot next summer). So, swimming in a sea of ice cream has gone back to exclusively being daydreaming material, like the sea of cookies that, the duck has assured me, does occasionally appear on our ceiling when the duck is going to bed slightly hungry (which is the duck’s regular state). What do you like to swim in when you daydream?
It’s no secret that duck and I love pretzels. Just thinking about them is relaxing for us. That’s why they made it into our story about Cat, our hat-selling dog, that our friend A. helped us come up with in our early days in Tokyo. So, when we learned about Bäckerei Kaffee Linde in Kichijoji, we were super excited to try their German pretzels. They even had a designated pretzel day with an attractive discount on our baked bringers of happiness. Naturally, this became one of the duck and my favorite shops in Tokyo. One pretzel day, we decided to get an extra pretzel for our lovely housemate Mm. She wasn’t there when we got home, so we left it on the dining table together with a short note in our best Japanese (concerning the Japanese language, our “best” is the average person’s “terrible”). We knew that, when it comes to pretzels, there’s no need for many words or small talk – Cat conversed with the pretzel shop owner using nothing but images! As expected, Mm understood the note. And the duck and I like to think that that day, the universal pretzel fan club gained a new member. 5/5 pretzels for a baked love most pure! ♥🥨🧡🥨♥
Strictly speaking, the picture doesn’t even show a snack the duck and I enjoyed at home (though there was a pretzel in our bedroom when I snapped this quick shot of Mm’s pretzel-to-be). This might be a new low in our series about foods we’ve eaten outside our home. Well, that’s nothing a delicious pretzel won’t fix! 😀
Last week, I wrote about how bad I am at small talk. That’s only half true. While I doubt I will ever enjoy chatting about topics like the weather if I don’t get any practical information out of it, I generally like the listening and learning element of any conversation. And, if I’m in a social situation with the duck, I don’t have to worry about ever having to do anything but listen.
Articles about improving your small talk skills mention having a list of topics and questions (memorized) that you can fall back on in a small talk situation. I love lists, but I don’t love all of the most commonly suggested small talk phrases. A lot of them would sound too rehearsed and impersonal to me. So, I asked my favorite small talk partner to help me compose a list of duck-approved topics to supplement the general questions everybody’s asking. Here it is:
I’m bad at small talk. When I meet new people, I’m decent at exchanging names (just to forget them immediately and then avoid any topic that might call for them) and other information relevant to the situation. I might throw in an “I like your T-shirt” or “what’s your dog’s name?” if that’s my genuine opinion/interest. That’s as far as my skills go. Don’t get me wrong. I like chatting about unimportant topics if I have anything to add to the conversation, be it an additional piece of information, a firm opinion, or a bad joke I can’t keep in. But is that even considered small talk, then?
When I meet someone I know, I usually utter the customary “how are you?”, maybe even an additional “how is your work/school/family/pet alligator/chocolate you’ve been keeping under your mattress?”. Then I wait for the actual conversation to begin or the encounter to end. Any further small talk becomes a challenge to produce polysyllabic answers while brainstorming questions without looking too uncomfortable. Even when I talk to people I’ve known for a while, I don’t always ask basic questions. Sometimes, I forget because I’m rude. Sometimes, I’m too embarrassed to ask them. Have you ever felt like it’s too late to ask about something you should know by now? I certainly have. So, because of my terrible past and present small talk skills, I avoid questions that might put me on the spot. If I ask: “how’s Al?” but don’t know for sure who Al is because I’ve only ever heard the name but never asked for details, things could get embarrassing. Let’s say I presume Al is an alligator because that’s the mental image I have every time I hear about this mysterious family member. Well, what if Al is a raccoon who has been part of the family for decades? In fact, at this very moment, Al’s grandchildren could be baking a fruit and nut cake in the family kitchen to celebrate Al’s 30th birthday because not only is Al not an Alligator, but Al is also the oldest raccoon alive. How embarrassing that would be! So, I add “pet alligator or raccoon?” to the list of conversation topics to avoid right below “my friend’s name” (clearly, I should be more embarrassed by my lousy jokes).
I’m pretty sure most people don’t care if you ask them about such things a few years too late, and often I still do. Nonetheless, I should probably try to get better at small talk if I want to shorten my list of topics to avoid… though I really don’t like exchanging irrelevant thoughts about the weather. Because what’s an acceptable response to “it’s been rainy recently, hasn’t it?” if you don’t have an anecdote/bad joke about the death of your umbrella to share?
I’m open to suggestions!