Wednesday, November 30, 2005

Put another dime in the jukebox, baby

Originally uploaded by Total Mess.
I forgot all about sharing the details of last night's adventures with you - my bad (another Americanism)!

On Monday afternoon I emailed Caroline and asked whether she'd like to join me for dinner at a restaurant up the road from me that I'd been dying to try for ages. It's a basic Italian trattoria called "Angelina's", but it always looks so warm and cosy in there, that I couldn't help but wonder what the food was like.

Caroline accepted, and we met there last night. After a glass of Chianti; an onion tart; and half a delicious pasta, I declared the venue "fantastico" and retired with Caro to the bar next door.

Now I am just old enough to remember when the Royal Oak Hotel back home was what I like to call "a bum-crack pub". You know the type I mean - the sort of place you'd expect to find the cast of Cheers, sitting around in flanny shirts with their bum cracks peeking out over their ill-fitting jeans.

Well "Joe's on Broadway" is just such a place. And I loved it. There were about 6 people in the bar, all passing around the one set of dentures between them.

The barman alternated his time between solving the crossword and serving beers to his parched patrons. [Memo to me, he had a rather extensive list of imported beers, which was a lovely surprise].

But it was the jukebox that gave the joint a gold star in my book. I treated the crowd to some real gems - a bit of Van Morrison, some Monkees, the dulcet tones of Sam Cook, and then I threw in some good old John Cougar Mellancamp - just to keep the spirits high. Oh how we enjoyed it.

Okay, oh how I enjoyed it. Whatever. I'll be back, and they'll be sorry.

Walking in a Winter Wonderland

Kudos to Peter and Jess for this great photo, and a shameless plug for their Swiss blog besides!

Outside my Chicago apartment, it is minus 4 degrees Celcius. And to breathe the air makes my lungs constrict, which doesn't feel all that pleasant. So I said 'phooey' to any kind of social life for this evening, and have opted instead to don track pants, ugg boots, and a sweater (one of my only Americanisms to date) and enjoy a hot coffee and an online surf.

Sounds like a good evening to me, particularly given that tomorrow morning - THIS is the kind of scenery I'll wake up to. My street will be coated in soft white powdery snow, and slippery bits of concrete just waiting for me to step on them. And there is no respite from the snow expected until late Friday night, so it's scarves and thermal undies all the way, my friends.

Soak up the sun Down Under - and please don't tell me anything about it. But if anyone wants to lobby Peter Alexander for some freebie flannie PJs for me, I'd be most grateful.

The wheels on the bus go round and round

The latest 'amusing musings' from dear Batreg made me smile. It seems that the Scottish public transportation authorities are remaining true to form in their efforts to make her feel well and truly part of the landscape - almost literally. I would encourage you to take a look at AB's site, if you haven't already done so (or bookmarked it for frequent attention).

But Reg's comments made me think about my own public transportation adventures. Last night I was the very embodiment of the Good Samaritan, as I gave a lady $1 for bus fare. Hey, it was cold and I subscribe to the Golden Rule when it comes to things like this. I'd like to think that someone would lend ME bus fare if it was bloody cold outside and I was financially bereft.

My bus rides each day are actually very quick. From where I live, it is about a 20 minute Downtown in peak hour traffic. I live one block away from the bus stop (very good for winter time especially), and then I walk via Starbucks to get to my office - everybody wins!

And Chicago's Transport Authority (creatively acronymed the CTA) has a great website with a trip planner that assists me to schlep around this great City aboard its very clean buses, and Elevated trains. [Just as an aside, I watched ER the other night and still get excited seeing the EL trains, knowing that they buzz around this town all the time, only a few blocks from my home].

I bought a neat little public transport card that automatically gets renewed each month so I don't have to worry about having the correct change for bus tickets, and the card I use is valid on all public transport modes. All I have to do is wave it over a little scanner when I get on the bus - no mess, no fuss. Now I know that this system is not unique to Chicago. Paris has its Cartes Oranges, and London has a top-up card thingy, but I'm pretty happy with the Chicago Transit Card, and it makes my life so much easier. I should mention that I am not getting paid for this endorsement either, though the idea of that is appealing.

And to bring this post back to where it started, the only criticism I have of the Chicago public transportation system is that its drivers are VERY eager to demonstrate their competent use of their brakes and accelerators. Just like the Scottish drivers, these Chicagoans enthusiastically put the pedal to the metal, and then just as righteously hit the skids.

So if ever I'm forced to stand up on the bus, I join my fellow sardines in a rather intimate dance of excuse mes and sorry about thats the whole 20 minute drive home. But at least I have yet to be hit by a bus, or have one drive right past me. I'll leave that up to Batreg!

Tuesday, November 29, 2005

Twinkle Twinkle Dancing Stars

Originally uploaded by ntisocl.

I went to the cinema last night with Lexie, to an advanced screening of the movie version of the Mel Brooks musical, "The Producers".

Putting it out there first up, I am not an Uma Thurman fan. Sure, she kicked butt in "Kill Bill" but I just don't think she's an attractive woman. And in this movie, she plays a Swedish stage actress who comically towers head-and-shoulders above the delightful Matthew Broderick. And she can sing, I suppose, so I'm not knocking that. But she's awfully tall and awfully thin, and it just kills me. But it is Nathan Lane and Will Farrell who steal the show, as far as I'm concerned. The film was really good, and so funny. I'm sure that if I saw it onstage I would have found the whole experience hysterical.

What I enjoyed most about the film was the guy sitting next to me. Every time Will Farrell came on the screen, the guy started to laugh...and laugh. I don't think he actually heard any of Will's lines - he was cracking up at the mere sight of him. Now THAT's entertainment!

Emerging from the cinema just after 9pm, I beheld another visual treat. Michigan Avenue is aglow with Christmas lights. My parents's outdoor entertaining area back home is resplendent with some 600+ fairy lights, which I thought was a lot. And so did my Dad, since he hammered them all in! But Michigan Avenue just goes above and beyond the Yuletide call of duty. Every size, style, and coloured light you can think of twinkles and sparkles the length of the Magnificent Mile. It is simply spectacular. Is it wrong that my first though was, why doesn't anyone try and steal these things?.

Anyway, I doubt photos will do them justice, but I'm going back Downtown this Saturday night, so I'll slip my camera in my bag and do my best to take good shots.

Lexie came back from Wisconsin last night with a 6ft Christmas tree to go in our sunroom which, at this time of year, is getting no sun at all. But the room is starting to look festive, and will even get its fresh lick of paint this week, which will be splendid.

It's certainly beginning to look a lot like Christmas, and I find myself getting into the Christmas spirit early. There just doesn't seem to be any Bah-Humbuggery around this town, and I really love that.

Monday, November 28, 2005

Giving Thanks

Thanksgiving at Mum's
Originally uploaded by whitneybee.
Thanks to those eagle-eyed and expectant readers of this high-brow blog, who have wasted no time at sticking the boot in, to tell me off for not writing with my usual regularity. They dared to suggest that I have found recreational pursuits to keep me from blogging. Would I dare to have a life? Moi? Come on people, you know better than that!! And you know me well enough by now to be sure that any and all extra-curricular activities are blogged about eventually! If I leave you for a day or two in order to get out and about, you must take comfort in the fact that I'll share the down and dirty details with you eventually...

And here we are.

This morning saw my return to work, from a four-day hiatus to enjoy the quintessential American holiday, Thanksgiving. I'm not sure I can remember everything I did over the weekend (owing to the onset of a cold that is making my head fuzzy) but here goes.

After finishing work Wednesday night with pizza and red wine, I farewelled my room mates as they returned to Wisconsin for Thanksgiving weekend. That left me all alone in my entire building - I kid you not. My apartment building has only 3 apartments in it. The girls on the ground floor went home for the weekend; the first floor apartment is vacant anyway; and the top floor apartment is mine. So being alone all weekend had an element of fun to it, but also a bit of fear. I heard every creak of a floorboard and every door slam made me nervous. Still, the security is good in the building and any intruder/mountain goat willing to climb three flights of stairs to attack me is welcome to it.

Thursday itself was fairly uneventful. It was really cold (about minus 7 degrees Celcius) so I made a date with my couch and watched DVDs. Then at around 4.30pm I walked the 7-8 blocks to Caroline's place, all rugged up and warm as toast. Stopping only for champagne at the supermarket (as you do), I made it to Caroline's with rosy cheeks and a big smile for all the other Thanksgiving guests. I took photos, so don't worry. [And thanks for the surprise phone call, J xo]

The meal was huge - lots of turkey, corn casserole, mashed potatoes with goat cheese mixed in, green vegetables, and all finished up with pumpkin pie (still yuck), tiramisu, and steaming Italian coffee. At about midnight, Rakesh and Nicolette dropped me home and I fell into a contented sleep.

When I awoke on Friday, the weather had taken a turn for the worse. It had warmed up, but was now about zero degrees, and cold enough to snow. Which is did, but only late in the afternoon.

By that time I had gone shopping for provisions for my house warming party on Saturday night, and then agreed to meet friends downtown for the Christmas tree lighting ceremony and the German Market (Christkindl). Jumping on the bus, trying to work out what I was doing in the freezing cold weather, I braved the city crowds to find locate my friends, who greeted me at the entrance to the market with a steaming cup of glufwein in hand for me (to the uninitiated, glufwein is not spelled correctly here, but is actually warm red wine mixed with spices like cinnamon and such). After two souvenir steins of that wine, we were all fairly merry and ready to join the oompah band in a rousing knee-slapping dance.

Fortunately for all concerned, there was no oompah band.

And then the snow started to fall. And fall. And fall. So we bailed early, without having seen the tree lighting ceremony, and I took myself off home.

The day of the house warming party arrived. Again, I hit the shops for extra provisions, not entirely sure just how many people would rock up. Fast forward to the night time and a grand total of 7 people passed through my house. And that included me.

So how pathetic was that? Only one person from work showed up, and I think she was more embarrassed than I was that more Aussies didn't show. As it turned out though, the other Aussies were all out partying so I suppose they were living up to reputation. It's just that they weren't partying at my house, which would have been nice I would have thought.

But we were all tired after the rush of Thanksgiving, so everyone had gone by 2am and I cleaned up the house and went to bed.

I flatly refused to exert myself on Sunday, and instead I wandered down the street to my boss's apartment, to pick up a 20kg box of clothes my lovely family sent over for me. Then I spent the rest of the day watching "Dirty Dancing" and "High Fidelity" on TV, and running up and down stairs to the laundromat to clean my clothes and towels. What a day, eh?

Still the relaxing end to the weekend made me actually feel like I'd slowed down and eased out of the Thanksgiving break. Over 2 million passengers passed through Chicago's O'Hare airport this weekend. So if I was going to be Thankful for anything (as you're supposed to be at this time of year), I guess I am thankful that I wasn't one of them.

Wednesday, November 23, 2005

That name again is Mr Plough

Originally uploaded by dekoekkoek.
I awoke this morning to realise that Grace Street was buried somewhere under a few inches of freshly-fallen snow.

The nocturnal flurries had blanketed the road and all the cars with crunchy ice and snow, and the effect was just beautiful.

I walked to the bus stop looking like a little eskimo and, no kidding, the snow was falling like little shreds of toilet paper floating through the air.

Once I got downtown though, things looked decidedly bleaker. The dry snow had given way to a wet drizzle and the puddles and greyness dulled my spirits somewhat. Even a warming Starbucks couldn't lift me out of the fug.

But the promise of drinks after work today, and a free ticket to "The Producers" on Monday night is buoying me slightly. And by 'slightly', I mean 'a lot'.

Happy Thanksgiving!!

Tuesday, November 22, 2005

Meat, Muscle, and Missy

This will be a bit of a bumper post today, folks. I have been a bit remiss with the posting of late, and the reasons for that will soon be abundantly clear. In a nutshell, I have had one of those weekends that had me pulled in so many directions. And I loved it! So here goes:

Friday Night

Lexie's friend Carskey was over from Wisconsin and we went out for sushi a few blocks from my house. I can't use chopsticks, so I ate most of the meal with my fingers. Including the eel. Even cooked, it's a slimy little sucker. The plum wine, although a tradition, was pretty gross too. But being the polite girl I am, I imbibed a few glasses.
Then it was on to the Hye Bar where during the week they have live band karaoke. On Friday nights they just have drunk men and women falling off bar stools.

On one of the few trips to the ladies room, I discovered that the Hye Bar is actually Scottish - there is a thistle on the bar's logo. Aww my peeps! So I have made a pledge to go back there - both for live band karaoke AND for the cute barman.

Rather than head home, we caught the El train (above-ground, just like in ER) to Cesar's, the Mexican restaurant that Caroline and I had visited a few weeks previously. Downstairs, and unbeknownst to me, there is a groovy bar that sells margaritas as big as my head. And that's pretty big...but good. One lime margarita later, and I was ready for bed.


I woke up fairly late on Saturday morning, and was hardly surprised. Lex and Carskey had caught the train to Navy Pier to see "Harry Potter" at the IMAX. I spent the day performing the weekly chore of cleaning my bedroom and bathroom, and doing the laundry. The less said about this the better, however my hangover had substantially improved by the end of the afternoon.

On Saturday night I went to Caroline's and then we shared a cab out to a fantastic restaurant called Fogo Di Chao to celebrate our friend Nicolette's 25th birthday.

Fogo di Chao is a Brazilian place, along a similar line to Gaucho's in Adelaide. But here, the restaurant gives each diner a little disk. It's red on one side, and green on the other. Waiters then drift around the restaurant carrying about 11 varieties of skewered meats. If your green disk is showing, they'll stop by your table and offer you some meat. You can accept it or decline it and, once you're ready to stop for a while, you just turn your disk over to red. The salad bar is also exceptional, and helps to break up the artery-clogging potential of a full-meat menu.

After dinner, Caroline and I disappeared with Nicolette and her husband Rakesh to the Ghost Bar, a very trendy place a block or so away from my office. Rakesh knows the barman there, and our drinks were free. I knew I liked that place.

Then Caro and I went home in a cab, but she dropped me off at a pub called Guthries that offers patrons a back room to play board games. It sounds daggy, but it's actually quite fun. When I got there to meet Lexie and Caskie, they were there with 2 more of Lexie's friends from Wisconsin. They were in the middle of a rather frantic game of 'Trivial Pursuit'. I joined in where I could, and actually got some questions right, which made me feel pretty good.


The next day I was up crazy early, something like 8.45am. I think I overheated as I slept, and the first thing I did when I got up was turned down the furnace. Having the heating duct in my bedroom has SOME good points, but can also be a bit of a nightmare as I discovered that day.

So I got myself down to the supermarket and bought some fresh vegetables to make a big saucepan of soup to take to work this week. Mum & I used to make it back home and it's called "Miracle Soup", owing to the fact it has no fat in it. But it does have a lot of vegetables, tomato pulp, and tobasco sauce. The batch I made was delicious, if I can say so myself. But Lexie had a bowl too and she declared it 'super good'. Bless her.

I got a chance to flex my muscles a bit on Sunday night - literally. When Caroline moved to Chicago, the guy that owned the flat she bought left behind a leather sofa bed. Far from being generous, he left it there because the thing is so damned heavy he couldn't easily move it if he wanted to. Caroline bought herself a new couch and didn't need the leather one any more, so she offered it to Lexie and I if we could make use of it. And we decided we could.

But of course that meant we had to shift it, and that was not easy. Lexie arranged for her cousin, Alex to bring his truck and help us out. I'm so glad he did, because even with the three of us lifting the couch up three flights of stairs, it was not easy going! It took us over an hour to get the couch up the narrow staircases and into our apartment. Alex now has our undying gratitude but it would not surprise me if we never see him again - just in case he expects us to give him more chores to do! Who can blame him for that?

Then, just as you'd think I'd collapse from weekend exhaustion, Melissa from work had called me and told me that Missy Higgins was playing Chicago in a club about 5 minutes drive from my house on Sunday night. Did I want to go? YOU BET. So I went along to her gig and she is a fantastic performer. Her voice is crystal clear and so strong. And she got on stage, took her shoes and socks off, and got comfortable. She was great. And I got to meet her after the show AND had my photo taken with her. Melissa has the picture on her camera, and I promise to upload it when Melissa remembers to bring it in for me.

So after this weekend wrap-up, you can see why my brain has not been on blogging. But given that I have the rest of this week off because of the Thanksgiving Holiday (with snow forecast non-stop), I hope that the next time I post, it will be just as eventual a report, with pictures to match.

Thursday, November 17, 2005

I think it's "The Chaz"...a dog day afternoon

Originally uploaded by Marcos Fontes.
As I watched the snow fall outside my office window yesterday afternoon, my mind wandered to the contents of my fridge at home. What was in there that could constitute dinner? Did I have to make a trip to the supermarket on my way home or, worse still, would I have to get home to drop my work bags off and THEN head out to the supermarket? Given the weather conditions, Option A was obviously the lesser of two evils.

I was on the bus and snowflakes were still fluttering down. Given my lack of experience with all things snowy, I had no way of knowing whether the end of the snowfall was in sight. All I knew for sure was that an English muffin with peanut butter, plus a bowl of cereal with hot milk, was sounding like the best dinner ever. And so it was that I got home, changed into warm clothes, wrapped myself in my sleeping bag, and ate breakfast for dinner.

When Sarah went out to the gym at 8.30pm I was left to look after her Rottweiler, Chaz. He is staying with us until Sarah goes home to Wisconsin this weekend to drop him off. He’s a lovely dog with an inquisitive nature and very calm temperament. She rescued him from the Humane Society and I can scarcely believe that someone would have allowed him to be there in the first place. He is a smart dog and very quiet but also protective – of all of us, not just of Sarah.

But boy can that dog fart! Sarah returned from the gym, came into the lounge room where Chaz and I had been lying pretty much motionless since she had left about an hour earlier. Sarah walked in, sniffed the air, and announced that Chaz’s bowels had obviously been venting some pretty noxious substances during her absence. No kidding! I nodded politely, given that the foul air had retarded my vocal chords. She laughed and conceded that his flatulence was a condition that she should perhaps have disclosed to me at some stage. Again, no kidding!

My dog-sitting days over, I retreated to my bedroom and fell into an exhausted sleep under my heavenly IKEA quilt.

I awoke this morning to realise the snow had melted away. The air outside was a very crisp -6 degrees celcius, too cold even for snow to fall. But I wrapped myself up in my new long jacket that has me resembling an extra from Doctor Zhivago – fur collar and all. And I don’t think that I have been warmer in my life! The jacket was a fantastic investment even though the sheer glamour of the fur collar made me wonder if it was a little too “va-va-voom”, even for me. But I will doubt its suitability no longer. And when paired with my knee-high boots and leather gloves, I like to think that I am contributing to the chic of this beautiful City.

Wednesday, November 16, 2005

And it begins

Surreal Descent
Originally uploaded by TeeveesBella.
Next time you go to the supermarket, wander to the Frozen Foods aisle. Make a space in the freezer by clearing aside the frozen pizzas, vegetables, and party pies. Then climb in and try and get as close to the frozen air jets as you can. Better yet, deposit yourself in one of the freezers with a lid or doors. Then you will immediately have empathy for my walk to work this morning.

I wore my stockings, long boots, North Face jacket, scarf, and woollen gloves. I had a delicious coffee in my system, but the cold wind blasted my face and dried out my eyeballs. And of course it was only -2 degrees Celcius. They tell me it gets MUCH worse than this. And I'm forced to believe them, because Chicagoans were walking past me this morning with regular jackets and without gloves or beanies.

There was no snow on my walk to work this morning, despite the forecast, but perhaps it was falling in the suburbs. The weather is bad in the Midwest, with tornadoes and hail reported in Indiana. We don't need to worry about the tornadoes coming up to Chicago though, because the city scape is too dense to give the tornadoes sufficient space to spread out and cause enough destruction. But between the buildings here, that is another story. The wind is cold and fierce and seems to target me especially. My ears were cold, my hair felt frozen, and my cheeks hurt. And it was only -2 degrees Celcius this morning.

As I type this of course, the first of winter's snowfalls has begun. It's not very enthusiastic right now, but it is definitely there, and it is hitting the ground. I know I will acclimatise eventually, but right now I am just staring at it and shivering.

I wonder if I can rig up a pair of hot water bottles as ear muffs? I am sure if I can assemble an IKEA bedside table, I'm capable of just about anything. And coming up with that nutty suggestion just proves it.

Oh dear.

Tuesday, November 15, 2005

Frozen snot

An unsavoury blog post title, if ever there was one - agreed.

But it's the only way I can get you to fully appreciate the chill that has set over Chicago in the last two days. I am rugged up in an extra long scarf, my Parisian duelling gloves, and my snuggly North Face jacket, and trying to mastermind a way to bring my bed quilt to work.
I woke up this morning like a kid on Christmas Day. Peeking through my blinds, I wanted to see whether a thin film of powdery snow had settled on any stationary object overnight. But it had not. Snow isn't forecast until tomorrow, and judging by the ferocity of the winds, the snow won't have a chance to settle. Rather, it will whip me in the face with stinging viciousness. And I think the novelty will wear off pretty damn quickly.
On the upside though, my apartment is very warm, and our maintenance guy (a Morgan Freeman lookalike - no kidding) came and cleaned the air vents on Sunday. So now fresh bursts of hot air come breezing into my bedroom and bathroom to keep me semi-toasty. With the thermostat in my bedroom, I feel like the true mistress of my domain. Frozen boogers and all.

Monday, November 14, 2005

Primped and Preened for Action

at the hairdresser2
Originally uploaded by Morran.
Friday evening I went to a super cool club called "Grammercy" with Caro, Rakesh, Lexie, and Caroline's Aussie friend Candice. At the club, I imbibed my first Cosmopolitan since arriving in the US. Actually, come to think of it, I believe it was the first Cosmo I'd enjoyed since I left Australia. Could that really be possible?

The voice of my colleague, Melissa, rang in my ears - "I don't drink primary colours", she often tells me. Well I wasn't about to tell her that a Cosmo is normally pink, and that is not a primary colour. But thinking back to a night out with Kate back home where we ordered blue drinks just because we felt like it. And then we switched to red drinks, just to keep the barman on his toes. Clearly I am a primary colour drinker from way back, so I wasn't going to be smug with Melissa.

I was certainly okay with Friday night's Cosmo. Until Saturday morning, that is.

I managed to drag my carcass to the coffee shop on Saturday morning, and then by some invisible life force, make my way across to the road to the hair salon. My first real salon haircut and colour since I left Australia. Two startling confessions in one blog post - you are truly lucky readers today.

But the appointment went without a hitch. My colourist is the only straight male hairdresser I've ever known (and he shared details of his love life with me that immediately suggested we had, without my realising, bonded on some significant level). After having listened to Frank's amorous insights, I was shuffled down the salon to benefit from the expertise of Jaylene. Sad name really, but she was okay. No love life stories, which was a relief. There was some hard pushing for me to buy a squillion products I didn't really need, but I was forceful enough to tell her to get lost. And tactful enough to do it without it sounding quite that dismissive.

A quick trip with Brad to Target followed, where I went in with a desire to buy an electric blanket, and emerged sans blanket, but with a roomful of other stuff. Including margarita glasses. Why?!

Saturday night I enjoyed a lovely dinner with Caroline, her twin sister Libby, and our friend Nicky. We went to a Turkish restaurant and dined at one of those little tables surrounded by cushions. We had to remove our shoes and everything, so I just thanked the Heavens that I had worn my new black socks with no holes.

Saturday night turned into early Sunday morning, as these things go. Caro and I reacquainted ourselves with Jack Daniels and it was a blessed reunion of old friends. He turned on me at some stage that night and I don't think we'll be seeing each other again for a while. The only thing I was really capable of doing yesterday was my laundry and watching DVDs.

As the wind blew fiercely outside, I quietly hoped over and over that the snow they have forecast for Tuesday does not happen. I am not ready yet.

Friday, November 11, 2005

Giving Thanksgiving the Heave-Ho-Ho-Ho

Snowy twigs
Originally uploaded by yksin.
I don't know why stores are always in such a hurry to run through all the annual holidays.

Back at home, I remember that Easter Eggs are sold in the first few weeks of a New Year. But I didn't realise until yesterday just how fast-paced our lives have become.

Just as I've mentally prepared for Thanksgiving, my coffee shops are decorated with Christmas regalia and playing Yuletide CDs. The staff are wearing Christmas hats, and are wishing customers 'Happy Holidays' and not just a 'Good Weekend'.

So what happened to Thanksgiving - did I miss it?! Slow down, folks...let the slow Aussie catch her breath.

Thursday, November 10, 2005


Is it a bird? Is it a plane? No, it's The Week That Was...

I have had to look at the calendar a few times today, barely able to accept that it is Thursday already. Where did my week go? I'm not sure if the 'time flies when you're having fun' cliche really applies when you're at work so I was having a think about what else I've done this week that might have sucked me into a space/time vortex black hole continuum thingy.

So I moved into a new apartment and painfully assembled one piece of furniture by myself.
I slept for 10 hours in one night.
I fixed a showerhead by myself.
I installed three shower curtains.
I did grocery shopping.
I saw a great movie at the cinema.
And in between all this, I worked.

Perhaps that IS a fairly full week, after all?

But this week I was also given an assignment: to find somewhere cool to have dinner this weekend. Crikey if there is anything that is going to apply pressure on a girl, it's finding a cool dining establishment to please 8 people of varying tastes and budgets. I've only been here a month! But I accessed a very helpful periodical called "Time Out Chicago" (they have them for the UK too I learned) and it has been fabulous. I have selected a place nearby my apartment called "The Outpost". It used to be owned by Aussies, but they sold it very recently and moved somewhere warmer. The restaurant boasts exposed brick walls, a tin ceiling, aviation memorabilia along the walls and (the best bit) an eclectic menu. The dishes that are featured in the "Time Out" magazine include wild boar (exciting) and puffy ravioli (normal). So surely that restaurant will offer something for all the fussy eaters. There has not yet been a consensus vote on my suggestion yet, but I hope there will be because, ever since I read about "The Outpost", I want to go there.

The rest of the weekend will be taken up with a haircut (necessary), and laundry (even more necessary). Neither of these things fill me with much excitement, but I'm looking forward to flirting with the staff at Caribou Coffee opposite the hairdressing salon after my appointment. Rare for the area I'm living in, the boys on staff there are actually straight and they can also make a very decent coffee. A stellar combination in any country really.

Well that's about it for this rant. Will write again after the weekend, with a comprehensive review of "The Outpost" (sorry, just trying to psych myself into going there). I think I may even try the wild boar, just for fun.

Wednesday, November 09, 2005

Buy your Kleenex shares now

Originally uploaded by two new mommies.

The flu season is upon us, and I know this because....

My flatmate Sarah is home today nursing a very average cold. She looks and feels terrible, and I have been nice enough to offer to pick up lozenges and/or pills of every size and colour that she might require.

I am probably feeling so Catholic because I fell asleep at 8.30pm last night and slept right through to 6.30am this morning. Not a bad kip really. And this morning I feel quite normal, and had a wonderful shower [in my plastic bag] under my sparkly new showerhead. The carpentry wasn't so successful, but I am a master plumber. I draw the line at bum-crack jeans though. I will leave THEM to the professionals.

But today on the bus, I had the unfortunate occasion to sit opposite A Sniffer. I've encountered them before and I'm sure you have too. Those people who neglect to bring a hanky or tissue with them, but proceed to sniff loudly and deeply to ensure that no gelatinous snot emerges from their nose and, instead, lingers in a gooey mess in their sinuses. Gross.

And then the same guy got off at my bus stop and followed me into Starbucks. And then sniffed the whole way to the cashier. Fortunately he had a take-away. Perhaps he was en route to Walgreens to buy a jumbo box of tissues? One can dream.

I'm off tonight to see "Chicken Little" at the movies with my other flatmate, Lexie. Both of us discovered the other night that we are BIG fans of animated feature films, and BIGGER fans of Zac Braff (he of "Scrubs" fame). As Anne Shirley from Green Gables would say, we must be kindred spirits.

Tuesday, November 08, 2005

It's in the bag

Originally uploaded by madmaharaja.
On the weekend I did some amateur carpentry, and last night I turned my hand to plumbing.

I took a trip to my blessed Walgreen's supermarket and fitted myself out with not one, but TWO shower curtains.

Water no longer goes all over my bathroom, but now it feels like I'm showering in a plastic bag.

I feel just like Janet Leigh in the manner of dodgy hotel room ablutions right before Norman Bates comes flying in to end it all.

IKEA deserves top marks for its doonas though. Mine is extra snuggly. I am contemplating buying an electric blanket just for good measure in the colder months.

In winter time, from the comfort of my bed, in the horizontal position, I will be able to open one eyeball and see the snow falling outside. But I will be warm and toasty in my little IKEA cocoon and be quite smug, thank you very much.

Slowly but surely I can tell that the room is taking shape. Photos will follow of course. Promise.

Monday, November 07, 2005

It was time to move on

Vintage Alarm Clock
Originally uploaded by tokenygaard.
Saturday's trip to IKEA was uneventful but was still a sensory overload. Melissa and I got there at 9am (before the 'breeders', as she calls the weary mothers and their brat children). We were packing the car at 11.30am, so that was a pretty good effort.

I got everything I wanted on Saturday - a 5-drawer chest; a double bed and an innerspring mattress; and a 3-drawer dressing table. Melissa and I hauled everything up the 4 flights of stairs to my shoebox room. And she cared enough to help me put up my bed, which is why I will name my first born daughter after her.

By the end of the day, I was exhausted. Going out for tapas and drinks wasn't a great idea afterwards, but at least it took my mind of setting up furniture and unpacking.

Sunday I actually moved in, with significant help from Caroline, Nicolette, and Rakesh.

I then spent the following hours going quietly mental over a set of instructions for my 3-drawer IKEA dressing table. I only smashed my finger once with the hammer, but have the black fingernail to remind me of my career in carpentry.

But by the end of last night, I'd set up my bathroom with mushroom-coloured towels, matching shower curtain, and clear bubbly non-slip bathmat (might as well get a foot massage while I'm in the shower!).

Speaking of which, water in my shower sprays everywhere and flooded my bathroom this morning. Clearly I was not in the best mood this morning as I realised not only was it Monday, but I was severely decaffeinated and was actually mopping water up in my bathroom. My PJ pants got wet, the bath mat is absolutely sodden, and I was flat.

So there are a few teething problems. But I am going to have another go this weekend at constructing the 5-drawer dresser. And keeping my fingers out of the way this time.

Friday, November 04, 2005

There's more to us than Peter Allen

I work entirely with Australians and it's quite the oasis in the middle of Chicago. Just as an aside, did you know that Chicago has the largest Mexican population outside of Mexico? Of course you didn't - that's what I'm here for.

And working with Australians, you'd think that there would be no real discernible cultural differences, right? Well that's what I thought anyway, and I've been proven wrong several times. It becomes most obvious when you consider something quintissentially Australian like our music industry.

We were talking the other day about how good it would be to play a range of Australian artists as our telephone 'hold' music. Of course we were talking about screeching ACDC and such, so the conversation was only half serious. Nevertheless we threw around various names and artists and it was good fun to make a list.

But when I threw in Jet, Powderfinger, and 'Princess of the ARIAs 2005' Missy Higgins, I was met with blank stares all round. No one knew who I was talking about! And all these artists have toured the US before. Several times. So then it was MY turn to be stunned. Needless to say, a quick trip to means that the relevant CDs are on their way to me for the Consulate's listening pleasure. And some bloody Aussie musical instruction. [Don't worry Dad, the Consulate has heard of the Little River Band.]

One of the duties of our Consulate is to contact visiting Aussie public figures when they come to town, to welcome them and offer our services if they need anything. There is somewhat of a long line-up to offer our services to Keith Urban (well DUH!), but so far I've not had any reaction in regard to the other artists.

So I feel that it is my national duty to educate my fellow Australians, who have clearly been away from Oz for too long and have much to learn. I think John Howard would support me on that.

How do they do it? An intergalactic mystery

Originally uploaded by agfanclub.
I like to shop. I don't mind admitting that and, I'm sure to many people anyway, this is hardly a revelation.

But tomorrow I'm heading out early to the IKEA store at Shaumburg here in Illinois - and I am freaking out.

Word has it that the store extends over about 4 floors. My head aches at the idea of it. How do people shop there and not combust?

I have my special list of absolute 'must-haves'. For instance, I know I want a bed and mattress; bedside table; and a chest of drawers. If I don't get those things by tomorrow afternoon, my new room is going to look rather spartan indeed.

I've been on the website, I've perused the store's online range. But I also know that there are MILLIONS of extra items that the website doesn't feature. And faced with multi-storey temptation, I have no idea how I'm going to get through it.

I am assured that there is a cafe somewhere onsite, so I can always stop and mentally re-group. But I just have to be disciplined. No straying from my task, and no leapfrogging over my budget.

Fortunately my work chum is coming with me, and she knows that I'm mentally fraying at the edges at the thought of tomorrow's shopping trip. A seasoned but sensible shopper herself, Melissa has promised to keep me sane (or sedated) for the whole day. And the extra bonus is that she has even offered to help set up whatever furniture I buy.

So I suppose it all sounds rather promising, doesn't it? Time will tell. If my next post comes from a correctional facility or a mental institution, you know that things have not gone to plan.

Thursday, November 03, 2005

Howdy pilgrim

Originally uploaded by cabeh.
I clock up my one-month anniversary in Chicago this week, and I can scarcely believe it.

I have spent my first month making friends; moving house; getting a bank account; and trying to make myself understood the whole way.

Sure, the guy in Starbucks loves my accent and gives me a leery smile each morning, so I know I'm surviving on the last issue at least.

But one thing I am still trying to wrap my brain around is the American holiday calendar. Working for an Australian Government organisation, I am in the unique position to get a combination of American and Australian public holidays each year.

One of the American holidays I'm blessed with is Thanksgiving. People have told me that it takes place at the end of November, but my brain just won't retain it. I'm still in Aussie mode and eagerly awaiting Christmas. Skip right over this turkey-eating business and give me Christmas crackers!

I'm not even sure what I'm doing for Thanksgiving this year, but I know that it will involve yams and pumpkin pie - two dishes I'm not so keen on. I will keep a tub of Ben & Jerry's icecream in the freezer, just in case (Chunky Monkey is my favourite right now, since you asked).

But as Bill Bryson reminds me, Thanksgiving is America's favourite holiday because it doesn't involve too much decorating, or any cards or gifts. You just turn up somewhere, eat until you can't move, and then go home. Or not.

Now WHY isn't that holiday sticking in my head, when it all sounds so agreeable?!


Originally uploaded by Barrybar.

In this age of technology, you might be fooled into thinking that this latest blog post will examine Personal Data Assistants. But that's a load of rot.

Today I'd like to muse on the Public Display of Affection. Because this very European custom has 'crossed the pond' and boarded my bus.

This morning I had a tough time keeping my breakfast down as I watched a man look for his keys down his girlfriend's throat - using his tongue. Well, I just assume he was searching for his keys...I'm not sure.

Oblivious to other passengers around them, the smoochers groped and fondled their way into Downtown Chicago. And sitting right opposite them, I didn't know where to look. I didn't want to stare, yet it was a sight so engrossing, I couldn't look away. I'm sure my fellow spectators were wondering would he find his keys? would he lose his tongue? would they come up for air? would she morph into a preying mantis and bite off his head? could I really BE that lucky?

I'm not unfamiliar with this kissy-face practice, don't get me wrong. In 2001, I visited Paris for a weekend by myself. I had heard tell of Parisian Pashing Proclivities, but did not actually notice them to a great extent until I was atop the Eiffel Tower. Sheesh, it was like a 'kiss-a-thon' up there! From that point onwards, Paris was full of smooching locals and tourists at every turn. Nice work, if you can get it.

But until this morning, I hadn't noticed much tonsil hockey in the public arena of Chicago. And at the risk of sounding too conservative, I thought that was just fine by me. But now that I've copped an eyeful, so to speak, perhaps I could ask that such activities be reserved for a more commuter-friendly timeslot? Time and place, people, time and place.

Wednesday, November 02, 2005

They say the neon lights are bright

Tonight I got off the bus a little earlier than usual, to make a pit-stop into Wallgreens, my favourite pharmacy/makeup/everything store.

Emerging from there some minutes later, laden with every kind of cleaning product you can think of, I walked along the principal street in this area - Broadway.

In every way, this street is as sparkly as its New York namesake (admittedly without the overpowering neon fixtures). Chicago's Broadway is chock full of shops, restaurants, and bars and there are always lots of people around taking strolls.

This is a dog lover's neighbourhood too, and I had to laugh at the doggy boutique on Broadway and the rather one-sided conversation I overheard tonight.

A woman was walking her silky-haired pooch on a sparkly leash. The dog stopped dead in its tracks when it reached the doggy boutique, and immediately put its nose to the floor to sniff around for any information about the four-legged customers that had frequented the premises recently. The dog's owner, clearly not in need of any puppy purchases this evening, tried to press on with their walk. But the dog would not be shifted.

After trying some gentle cooing to urge the dog on, the woman started tugging discreetly at the leash. To no avail. Then she bent down to the dog and, I kid you not, started trying to reason with it. The 'conversation' went something like this:

No darling, we don't need anything in there tonight. We can come back on
the weekend and choose something. You've got a lot of toys already.
It's getting late and we need to get home. Aren't you hungry
yet? Let's go get you some dinner.

I don't know whether the dog understood her (probably), but at the mere suggestion of a meal, the twosome were off. Classic piece of negotiation - on the part of both parties.

The neon lights may not be plentiful on Chicago's Broadway, but they are bright. And so are the dogs, it would seem.

If you are among the very young at heart

Originally uploaded by ceydil.

Last night's dinner hardly required us to 'go to extremes with impossible schemes' but I still had Frank Sinatra's song buzzing around my head afterwards.

Caro and I walked to a Mexican restaurant a few streets from her house and enjoyed delicious food and a jumbo lime margarita.

But before we were able to tuck in we had to - wait for it - show our IDs.

Back home I would think that having to show my ID suggested I looked too young to be frequenting the establishment in question. Here, however, it's a different story. If you want to buy or consume alcohol in this country, you must show ID. My friend here used to be a barman, and he said it's a general rule that if someone looks younger than 35, ask them.

Clearly I've still got a few good years left in me, right? Or at least this 'general rule' is a good indicator of how good (or not) I'm looking these days. When the barman stops asking me for ID, it's time to rent a DVD and stay in for the night. Until then, though - keep the margaritas coming...

Tuesday, November 01, 2005

How to live in a shoebox without really trying

congested area
Originally uploaded by superhit.

I went and visited my new apartment last night, and I think it's going to take some real time before I feel like I truly live there.

It's got nothing to do with my new flatmates (Lexie and Sarah). They are both lovely and really welcoming. I got my keys last night too - all 4 of them! - and so that makes me feel a bit at home. But the room is bare, and needs a bit of work, so I just know I've got a way to go before I can truly feel comfortable.

Coupled with that, the room is on the small side, and so that makes furnishing it a bit of a challenge. I can still have a double bed, and a dresser, and a side table etc. But I get the feeling that a bit of manoeuvering will be required before I come up with a room configuration that totally works.

In any case, I have given the maintenance man a list of things to do before I move in. Because God knows I'm not going to be up till dawn scraping paint off the door frames so I can close my bathroom door. Forget about that for a joke!

Don't misunderstand this mild rant. I am not second-guessing my decision to move in with the girls, nor am I wanting to moan about my lot in life. I am just realising that now my life abroad is starting to get serious.

So onto the big issues. Like considering what colour I want to paint my room. I think that will give me and the space a real lift.