Friday, April 28, 2006

It's a little bit jammy

I live 20 minutes away from Downtown by bus, and the commute is usually very smooth.  Travelling along Lakeshore Drive both ways affords me a fantastic and relaxing view of Lake Michigan, depending on which side of the bus I sit.

But last night there was a horrific roll-over accident on that beautiful stretch of road.  While I'm not sure what fate befell the hapless motorists (though I can just imagine), the traffic jam that resulted caused monstrous delays the likes of which I haven't seen since I arrived.  Even the really heavy snowstorm we had late last year did not disrupt traffic quite to this degree.

I jumped on my bus Downtown at 5.15pm last night, and did not get through my front door until 7.20pm.  Can you believe that?!  My bus got re-routed, which I thought was going to make things easier, but every other bus service had the same idea so we were all stuck in a convoy that moved at a snail's pace.

So clearly when I got home, I put the dog out to pee, and threw some jeans on and headed straight back down Broadway to Cesar's and met up with Lexie and her work colleagues for jugs of margarita.  A perfect antidote to a very stressful and long, drawn out commute.

Thursday, April 27, 2006

Do it now, and don't spare the horses

When I moved to Chicago six months ago, I was terrified of ordering food. It's not because I was flirting with anorexia (get real), but it's because in contrast with American diners, I was so intimidated by the food ordering process.

In the States, not only do you need to know what you want, you need to know how you want it. Think "When Harry Met Sally" (everything 'on the side'), and you'll get my drift.

I was more used to the Australian/European way of ordering; the laissez-faire approach to dining that implied a degree of flexibility in terms of food presentation and condiment selection:

Euro Waitress (EW): Do you want fries with that?
Me: Well, I don't know - should I have them?
EW: I would; they're very good today.
Me: But I just don't feeeeel like fries.
EW: Well, what about a salad?
Me: Yes but it doesn't come with mayonnaise does it?
EW: Only on the side.
Me: Yeah okay. And alright, I'll take some fries too.

Clearly this is a much more agreeable exchange, and given the Australian and European prevalence for queuing (Italy being the obvious exception), no one else in the line seems to mind the interaction, because they will do exactly the same thing when it's their turn.

Here in the States, however you had BETTER have fries when you're given the option. Just think how you'd feel if someone else had them instead of you, and they were great fries, and you missed out? So get them, load them up on your plate, put them in your ears for all it matters. Just get them, and get them now.

So after the rather abrupt induction and steep learning curve, now I am somewhat of a professional orderer, at least in the restaurants and assorted food emporia around my office.

The scariest place by far used to be Harry's Hotdogs, run for the last 45 years or so by genial old man named, you guessed it, Harry. But the grills are run by some of the most ferocious waiting staff you'll find - unforgiving of anyone who doesn't know what they want, and how they want it served up. I mean, God forbid you get in the cheeseburger queue if you want a gyro (yiros), or if you ask for ketchup on your hotdog (no true Chicago hotdog ever has that on there)! I learned all that the hard way, trust me.

So I am pleased to report that I have got things down to a fine art now, and no longer cower behind Melissa in the diner queue. I look the cashier square in the eye, and state my order clearly and with authority. And if they ask me any supplementary questions I'm not prepared for, I may be freaking out on the inside, but the trick is to show no fear.

My approach tends to be to keep saying NO to whatever I'm being asked rapidfire (the only language spoken by serving staff in the greater Chicagoland area it seems). While NO may not be the most completely appropriate or helpful response to all the questions I'm being asked (eg "Sweet or hot peppers?"), I generally get what I want in the long run. And it makes me look like I know what I'm doing!

Wednesday, April 26, 2006

The ANZAC spirit in Chicago

Most of the countries around the world are represented by a Consulate here in Chicago, and many of their representatives came along to our ANZAC function last night.  Of course, not every Consul-General is familiar with the story of ANZAC, so it was helpful to have the Rear Admiral from our Embassy go over a bit of history and to explain how the Aussie experience at Gallipoli has continued to shape our national identity.

Through the tears in my eyes when the bugler played The Last Post, I was able to see the true multiculturalism of Chicago that we'd managed to capture at our event.  Heads were bowed, everyone was silent, and it was an appropriately respectful and solemn occasion.

But then of course the TRUE Aussie spirit of partying and celebration was unleashed, and I chose that moment to go back to the registration table and seek feedback from guests as they left our party.  Of course everyone was very positive, but it was particularly nice for me to meet other Consul-Generals and their wives, and finally put faces to names.

I was enjoying a wonderful conversation with a South American Consul-General and his wife, neither of whom stood any taller than me.  The Consul General even spoke to me in Spanish, declaring me to be a very charming young woman.  But then his wife revealed the reason for his compliments:  she wanted my necklace (a beautiful brown shell necklace that my DEH colleagues back in Adelaide bought me as a farewell gift).  Well of course she was disheartened when I told her the necklace was from Adelaide, meaning her chances of finding a replica were slim.  But I did offer her timeshare in the necklace, on the condition that she give me timeshare on the big (and real) pearls she was wearing.  Mmm she wasn't so forthcoming about that, but I'll wear her down eventually....and the pearls will be mine.

I had a really good night, but I am really exhausted now.  I got home at about 11pm after having dinner with my boss and her son after the event.  We needed to wind down properly, and buffalo wings and spare ribs with a beer seemed to be the way to do it.  And how.

Tuesday, April 25, 2006

Lest We Forget

Sometimes I forget my name, and where I put my house keys.  But no matter how bad all that gets, I will never forget where I was one year ago today.

I was camping out with my fellow Top Deck travellers at ANZAC Cove on the Gallipoli Peninsula in Turkey.  Can you believe that one year has already passed since I participated in the 90th anniversary of the Gallipoli landing?  Where has the time gone?

The Consulate is marking today's sombre occasion with an indoor event for Aussies and our important clients in the Midwest.  We're expecting about 300 people there too, which is pretty good.  We've got Aussie wines and beers, which is also all good as far as I'm concerned.

So however you spent ANZAC Day, I hope you were given pause to think back on what the day means to Australians all over the world.  I'm fortunate to have some great photos of Turkey to look back on and recall the 90th anniversary of the landing, but I'm also lucky to be able to share this year's celebration with a bunch of Aussies far from home but no less keen to honour the sacrifices of fellow Australians so many years ago.

Monday, April 24, 2006

What about Friday?

In my haste to rapidly round up a report on my week in Chicago with Kate, I neglected to share with you our visit to the John Hancock Tower on Friday evening.  The Hancock is a primarily an office building built on Michigan Avenue (the Magnificent Mile), but it also happens to have THE view over the City from the 95th Floor.

To capitalise on its prime location and superb views, the Hancock has opened The Signature Room (Signature...John Hancock...get it?).  And it was to the Signature Room that Kate, Courtney and I went on Friday afternoon once my working week was through.  

While I'm sure the night time views are exceptional, there was no reason to sniff at the outlook we enjoyed at early dusk on Friday.  As the sun was setting, we each downed a cocktail and some relaxation.  But the best views at the Hancock are visible from - wait for it - the ladies restrooms!  Sorry fellas, but you don't get to see them like we see them.  Trust us when we say that you're missing out this time - large floor-to-ceiling windows overlooking the city skyline, and then inching around to Lake Michigan.  Really beautiful.

After this bit of Chicago sight-seeing, Kate and I went home to get changed, grab Lexie and Preston, and walk to a nearby recreation oval where the Chicago Aussie Rules football team was having a friendly match.  We got there a bit late of course, but it was the first game of AFL I'd seen in over a year, so I was having a good laugh.  Trying to explain the rules to Lexie was a bit of a challenge, and tested my memory, but we got there in the end, and we'll go out there again.

[Particularly given that the boys all took off their shirts at the end of the match to give their jerseys back to some poor slob who has to wash them all.  No matter - it was two great views in on evening!]

And then to celebrate our good fortune and general happiness with life, Kate and I went to Cesar's, home of the $9 jumbo margarita with a kick like a mule.  Loved it, loved it, loved it.

Sunday, April 23, 2006

Praise the Lord and Pass the Biscuits!

House of Blues
Originally uploaded by Andy Rostad.
On Kate's last day in Chicago, I thought it would be a nice treat to enjoy a brunch, but this one with a difference.

Held at the House of Blues in Downtown Chicago, the brunch we attended today featured an all-you-can-eat buffet and a full gospel choir! It was absolutely amazing. All of it.

The buffet featured everything from cereal and fruit to southern fried chicken, biscuits and gravy, hash browns and made-to-order omlettes.

Of course I couldn't even get through one full plate because I stuffed myself too early in the piece. But I managed to enjoy the chicken and the spicy and flavourful jambalaya - mmmm it was delicious!

The gospel choir was ultra talented and really enthusiastic. I am really looking forward to summer because the gospel church around the corner from me opens its doors and windows during the services. So the sounds of the rich choir voices will fill the whole neighbourhood and I think that will be just great.

And I tell you, the House of Blues is the perfect venue for the gospel brunch - it's eclectic, funky, and just made for performances that encourage audience involvement.

I was having a toe-tapping, hand-clapping, glory hallelujah great time - and I will definitely be back!

Friday, April 21, 2006

We eat ham and jam and SPAMALOT

Sir Robin
Originally uploaded by Lucas Zingano.
In one of my more organised moments a few weeks ago, I bought Kate and I great tickets to see Monty Python's award-winning musical, "Spamalot".

Last night we headed off to the Cadillac Palace to watch the performance and oh my God it was just the best thing I've seen in so long.

The show was a trip down memory lane, as the story followed King Arthur and his knights in the quest for the Holy Grail.

I was a bit worried when the show appeared to just be a string of Python skits recited verbatim - funny, but not too original. But then the story started to unfold in a whole range of twisted (but typically Pythonesque) directions. The characters were so funny and the songs were great. What an eccentric performance!

And today Eric Idle was at the Borders store in State Street, signing copies of the Spamalot original cast recording CD. And Kate made the trip into the store to get us each a signed copy! How cool is that?! This CD has the voices of Tim Curry, Hank Azaria and David Hyde Pearce too, so it should be very amusing indeed.

All trash, no trailer

Trust me when I say I've had a busy week at work, but I've stayed late a few nights to bring this blog up to date and keep you posted on the adventures Kate and I have been having while she's visiting Chicago.

Kate has done a lot of travelling and has experienced so many things, that it's rare to be able to offer her a truly unique experience.  But I was able to do just that the other night when I scored us tickets to the "Jerry Springer Show", which is taped in Chicago at the NBC studios.  Anyone who knows Kate has to know that she loves reality TV, or at least really trashy TV, for its sheer cringe value.  And EVERYBODY knows that there is scarcely anything more cringe-worthy than Jerry Springer's talk show.

I took a bit longer to be convinced that I wanted to see this show, because my boss had taken her son a few months earlier and they saw the equivalent of a full-on peep show.  Fair enough if the bodies are decent, but somehow with Springer, you know they won't be.  But Kate's enthusiasm was infectious, and we lined up at the studio with my boss's other son and my colleague, Biggsy.

Getting to the front of the line slowly but surely, we were informed that Jerry Springer would NOT be hosting his show, but that the bald security guy Steve would be the compere for the day.  Kate was initially disappointed (and I was too I have to admit), but then I reminded Kate that it was Steve she really wanted to see in the first place.  Too true, she said, too true.  And anyway, we reasoned that Jerry does 160 shows a year, and Steve only does 20, so technically we were a part of TV history here.  Of sorts.

After a very long wait, we were ushered into the studio and got great seats, right at the spot where Steve walks up and shakes hands with his audience members!  Believe me, there was no influence of the Consulate there - it was pure fluke, but what a fantastic stroke of luck in the long run.

Steve's guests ranged from a guy sleeping with his sister in law, to a young 17 year old kid who is having a baby with a girl who was raised as his sister but wasn't really, and a woman who agreed to be a surrogate mother to her friend's baby but who now wants to keep it bla bla.  All the guests were ugly, had bad hair and no brains.  But no story was connected - it was really weird.  Just when the story started to get juicy, the guests would change over and a new storyline would start.  It was so clear that the show is staged, but I tell you - the acting is pretty good.  They must recruit from prison or something, because the 'actors' are so convincingly trashy and are such good liars, you have no idea where they finish and their characters start.

The audience was in fine form though - booing and hissing and chanting evil insults at the losers on stage, all in jest and good fun.  And then one rather rotund young girl in the audience stood up to heap insults on this skinny girl on stage, and they started having a war of words, in typical "Jerry" fashion.  Figuring this was her 10 minutes of fame, the girl from the audience turned around to all of us and pulled down her top, revealing a chest that had obviously not seen any sort of Triumph underwire support in a LOOOOONG time.  Very droopy.  Very hard to erase from one's memory [shudder].

And so it went on for a few hours, and the show came to an end with Steve thanking us all for coming and walking into the audience to say his goodbyes.  He walked around to our row and shook hands with me (crushing all my fingers in the process) and then shook hands with Kate, and then with Daniel - awww it was great!  He's a huge man with a big shiny head and kinda looks like Mini Me from Austin Powers in person.  Well actually, Steve's about 400 times bigger (maybe he's more of a "Supersize Me" instead).

After the show was over and the audience filed out, Kate paid $10 to have a Polaroid photo taken with me and Steve - and then Steve signed it!  What a souvenir...and we both look really thin in the picture too, so that made my night.

I'm not a fan of the Jerry Springer show, and I'm still not, but I have to admit that I had a really good time and enjoyed being part of a crazy crowd experience.  I'm still puzzled at my readiness to chant stupid things like FIGHT LIKE A CHICKEN! and BEAT UP YOUR SON!  But I did it.  And how.

Dude, where's my Cava?

[In this litigious American society, it is important right up front that I publicly acknowledge the wit and creativity of my friend Courtney who inspired the heading of today's post]

When Andrea and I arrived in Paris last February, Kate had bought tickets for us to attend a James Bond Ball for expats living and working in Paris.  I was so excited to see what that was all about, and I remember clearly that the snow started to fall as we got into taxis to go to the event - that was my first snowfall away from the ski fields, so it was a big night for me.  Amidst all that excitement, the wave of jetlag hit Andrea and me like a freight train, and while adopted Parisians danced around us, we were leaning against a pillar fighting the fatigue that threatened to engulf us.

So on reflection, I'm not sure why I thought Kate would be any different arriving in Chicago.  Nevertheless, I bought us tickets to a Spanish wine tasting - complete with tapas and paella.  I guess my thinking was that the festivities all started late in the evening, which would have given us time to get back from Toronto, steal a few hours nap if necessary, and party on all refreshed.

Good intentions, perhaps, but not very practical in the long run.  Kate was starting to feel more human again after her bout of food poisoning, but the pace of the last few days in Toronto was starting to catch up with both of us.  I had a quick shower before we headed out to the wine tasting, which admittedly helped a little bit, but I was stifling some yawns in the taxi ride over to Cafe Ba-Ba-Reeba.

Once I got there though, things improved.  Courts and Irene came along and got a chance to meet Kate, which was great.  We made the circuit around the tasting tables, sampling various sparklings, whites, and reds along the way.  

Citing an article I'd read in some two-bit magazine or other, I informed the girls that cava (Spanish sparkling) is SO last season dahlings, and in fact it is Italian prosecco that is the sparkling du jour.  But I was nevertheless on a mission to let own palate make that decision, so I sampled the cavas on offer almost to the exclusion of everything else.  I wouldn't declare cava dead just yet, but I am still enjoying my long-distance love affair with all things Italian, so give me a prosecco any time.

Touring Toronto: Part 3

My first exposure to the majesty of Niagara Falls came from viewing the Marilyn Monroe movie, "Niagara". Not a cinematic masterpiece by any means, but certainly a wonderful backdrop for the murder-mystery plot. And back in those days, movie-making isn't what it is now; but even then, the awesome power of the Falls was obvious.

When Kate expressed an interest to see Niagara Falls with me, even though she'd visited them some years before, I was really excited. I mean, water is water but I knew I was in for something special with these Falls. And taking the train from Toronto to Niagara Falls (about 2 hours each way) was a great way to get there. The scenery on the train ride was beautiful, but will be even more striking in a few months time when all the trees have their leaves back and the grass isn't quite so dry and brown. Admittedly the gentle rocking of the train lulled me to sleep so I did miss some of the scenery but what I did see, I liked.

Now unfortunately for Kate, the late-night bistro dinner of pasta with several prawns that she'd consumed the night before decided to vehemently disagree with her and, as a result, vomiting of the kind only seen in "The Exorcist" ensued upon arrival at Niagara Falls train station. I have never seen nor heard expulsions so violent and Kate emerged from the ladies room at the station a shade of green that humans should never be. By that time her body had started to shake and she was feeling so unwell. Our return train to Toronto was not leaving until 5.45pm that night (only one return journey takes place each day), so the decision was made that Kate would check into a nearby hotel for the day and possibly sleep, but definitely make good friends with the bathroom. Poor thing, it was awful. But she wouldn't let me stay with her either, so I was instructed to get out and see the Falls and experience them for myself.

And when I did, I was honestly blown away. The Falls are enormous and noisy, but they are such a contradiction. They are at once both enormously powerful but at the same time beautifully peaceful.

There is a wide footpath (oops, sidewalk) on the Canadian side of the Falls and it was really nice to just enjoy the sunshine and walk along the path observing the Falls and taking lots of digital photographs from all different angles. Being Easter Monday, and one of the country's major tourist attractions, the crowds were out in full force, but everyone was pretty well behaved, and there was lots of room to move at my own pace along the mile or so pathway.

But I had come to the Falls primarily to see them up close, and to do that I booked myself onto a tour that purported to take visitors 'Behind The Falls'. Well that was a bit of a crock really. The tunnel tour takes you behind the falls, but only gives you two opportunities to glimpse the water crashing down through little open peepholes. I was imagining something like the scene in "The Last of the Mohicans" where Daniel Day Lewis walked Madeline Stowe right underneath the waterfall and they could just see the world through the crashing water. In retrospect, I suppose OHS&W laws prevent Niagara Falls tourism operators from exposing tourists to that sort of experience. Boo to them.
My second attempt at getting up close and personal with the Falls took me on The Maid Of The Mist, a boat that takes about 100 tourists right out around both Falls for a half hour each time, and you get to feel the pull of the current and the sprinkling of the water on your face. So much so actually that each person on the boat is given a blue plastic poncho to put on before the boat sets sail. On this occasion, I abandoned all 'grownup-ness' and actually elbowed some kids out of the way so I could stand up the front of the boat and feel the full force of the Falls experience. I was not missing out on this one for some gunky and unappreciative kid.

At about 4.30pm, I'd seen all there was to see around Niagara Falls. It is an unashamed tourist trap, and so there aren't any 'normal' shops or sites to see. Everything that will stand still long enough gets slapped with a Niagara Falls sticker and sold for a fortune. I hadn't seen so many ultra tacky souvenir items in one spot since Lourdes in France. And that's saying something! Suffering from sensory overload, I returned to Kate's hotel room, and we hung out for a while before grabbing a cab back to the Niagara Falls train station for the return train journey to Toronto.

Kate was feeling a bit better, but certainly not up to doing anything grand on our last night in Toronto. And I was tired after my busy day walking around in the sunshine and jostling with tourists, so it certainly didn't phase me that we stayed in and ordered room service and watched about 10 episodes of "Friends" back to back.

The next morning, Kate and I bade a sad farewell to our beloved Sweetsleeper beds and grabbed a limousine (as you do) to take us from the Sheraton to the airport. Our flight to Chicago was smooth and relaxing, and we spent the rest of Tuesday doing a load of laundry each and taking a leisurely stroll with Preston the puppy around the streets close to my apartment.

Toronto was such a beautiful city and I would definitely go back there. It's so multicultural, and easy to get around. The Canadians are friendly and engaging, ready with a laugh and an easygoing sense of humour. Being able to visit the city with Kate was just an added bonus, and though both of us were exhausted from our Easter holiday away, we were ready to tackle the bright lights of Chicago until Kate flies back to Paris on Sunday.

Thursday, April 20, 2006

Touring Toronto: Part 2

Easter Sunday when you're a kid is all about a visit from the Easter Bunny, waking up to find chocolate eggs of various sizes and degrees of cavity-inducing sugar rushes. When you're an adult, it's about sleeping in, and THEN waking up to find chocolate eggs of various sizes and degrees of cavity-inducing sugar rushes.

But if you're me, and it's Easter 2006, it's about a fabulous shower at the Sheraton, donning a fluffy white hotel bathrobe, and devouring double-choc Tim Tams and baby Easter Eggs direct from Paris. Jealous much?

Following these chocolaty treats, Kate and I decided there was much we had to accomplish on our Easter Sunday, so we set off from the Hotel early, pausing only briefly to fill up on the healthier breakfast options on offer in the Club Lounge.

One of the key attractions in Toronto is the CN Tower, which stands for the Canadian National Tower. Visible from our Hotel, the Tower is the highest of its kind in North America. Visible from our Hotel room, Kate and I made the decision early on in our holiday to get to the top of the Tower and take in the view from the top.

And that's exactly what we did on Sunday. We hitched a ride with Troy, a representative of the tour company we had travelled with the day earlier. Troy dropped Kate and I off at the CN Tower straight away rather than making us sit through the entire tourist route we'd already seen and, given that we had bought our CN Tower tickets from the Hotel concierge, we walked straight to the front of the already-forming queue. After a ride on the uber-fast elevator to the top of the Tower, we stared down at the City waking up to Easter, 553 metres below where we stood.

For mine, the CN Tower is actually more impressive from the ground because, once you get up the top, it's just a viewing platform and some photo opportunities. Sure, there are some information boards and some historical photos, but it's nowhere near as impressive as the Sears Tower in Chicago (a bit of 'local' pride there doesn't hurt).

Leaving the CN Tower behind, Kate and I got a subway and a cab to go to the Toronto Zoo. Now Toronto is the only city in the world that I know of where the zoo is a million miles away from the main city centre. I mean, seriously, if you don't have a car, going to the Toronto Zoo is insanely inconvenient to get to. But despite the difficulties, and the crowds of young families that we KNEW would be there, Kate and I wanted to see the as-yet unnamed baby orangutan that was born at the Toronto Zoo in January this year.

Arriving at around midday after a subway AND taxi ride, Kate and I parted with $19 Canadian each (I know!!) just to get in the gates. But the cash and effort we expended was well worth it. The Zoo was just amazing. Spread out over 287 hectares (or 710 acres, for those of you playing along at home), the Toronto Zoo is so expansive, it was a good thing both of us were wearing sneakers! We did so much walking to make sure we saw all the exhibits, we were very footsore by the end of the day.

But not all the Zoo entertainment was found inside the cages. Two teenage girls were prancing around together, close behind Kate and I as we walked through the Africa Exhibit. As Kate and I made the obvious references to the "Lion King" after visiting the warthog enclosure, I began to walk away as the girls approached the fence. As they looked in (in the familiar "where is it? do you spot it?" routine), I was just in earshot long enough to hear one of the girls ask her friend, "where is the warth-og?". Yep, that's right - she pronounced it WARTH-OG, as if it were a villanous Tolkien character or something. Poor misguided Canadian young person. And she didn't even get to spot the crazy animal either, presumably because he was elsewhere in his enclosure devouring illiterate Canadian hobbits. Or something.

On our return to the Hotel at about 6.45pm, Kate and I were positively exhaused. So much so that rather than revive myself in the hotel swimming pool or spa, I chose to fall onto the Sweetsleeper bed and pass out for 3 hours.

I wouldn't say that I awoke feeling VERY refreshed, because I'm never much of a 'nap' person, but I was at least feeling up to heading out for some dinner in a part of Toronto known as "The Entertainment District".

By 10pm on Easter Sunday night, "The Entertainment District" was anything but. Some restaurants were closed for the Easter break, others looked to be closing up for the night, but we did find one bistro whose kitchen was still open, and eagerly awaiting our custom.

A plate of pasta each, some more red wine, espresso, and a restorative Baileys, Kate and I were starting to feel human again. But the next day of our holiday promised a day-trip to Niagara Falls and that meant another early start.

So without feeling too much regret, we went back to our Hotel and watched an in-house movie before retiring for the night and sleeping like the proverbial dead. But honestly, we were The Grateful Dead, having had a really great Easter Sunday in "The Livable City" of Toronto.

(Touring Toronto: The Third Day will follow, and I haven't forgotten about the photos....)

Wednesday, April 19, 2006

Touring Toronto: Part 1

Okay so I may have let out a squeaky squeal when I saw Kate at O'Hare airport on Thursday evening after she made it safe and sound to Chicago from Paris.

And within about 10 minutes of 'speed conversation' (that I actually kept up with!), Kate and I were pretty well up to date and simply glad just to see each other and to sit still together for a while. Our 55-minute flight to Toronto was effortless, but the search for an ATM that took VISA cards at Tornto airport was not so carefree. Fortunately our taxi driver had no such qualms about credit cards and, after checking into the palatial Sheraton Center Hotel in downtown Toronto around 11.30pm, we retired for the night in the most comfortable double beds that either of us had ever been in. Memo to travellers out there, I wish to submit a shameless plug for the Sheraton's Sweetsleeper beds. They truly live up to their names.

The morning after gave Kate and I a proper chance to see the beautiful view of Toronto from our hotel room (the heavy fog - not to mention the darkness DUH - had made it impossible to do so the night before). Well, we were utterly spoiled. We had beautiful facilities in our room, and the view to match. Actually, I have to confess that I loved the shower so much, it was hard to determine whether I wanted to sleep in the Sweetsleeper bed or in the bath. In the interests of both convenience and hygiene, I chose the bed.

So there we were on our first day in Toronto, with the city literally at our feet, and neither of us had consulted a guidebook or website to give us an idea what to do first. Our stomachs decided for us, and sent us up to the Club Lounge for a buffet breakfast and yet another stellar view of Toronto.

Venturing down to the concierge desk, we were just in time to book ourselves on one of those hop on-hop off City Tours and the bus even came to pick us up at the Hotel. Our tour was run by Tim, a young and good-looking, but very enthusiastic Toronto native [imagine Steve Irwin running a bus tour and you'll know what I mean].

Because Kate and I weren't familiar with the city, and given that our bus ticket was valid for two days, we just sat back and relaxed as Tim drove around and narrated about sites we passed and points of arguable interest along the way. We pulled up at the Saint Lawrence Market, a massive fresh produce market reminiscent of Adelaide's Central Market on a Friday night. The sights and smells, particularly the Greek pastries, freshly-ground coffee, and the oozing honeycombs, were a treat for all the senses.

The bus would not be around to pick us up for a further hour, so we just walked up and down the street past the Market, and wandered in and out of the small shops lining the road. I was in a good mood, and not being jostled by too many fellow tourists, so I chatted amiably with the shop keepers, and even bought a few little keepsakes to remember the trip. I was disappointed to learn, however, that unlike most of Europe, Toronto did not offer any postcards resplendent with glitter or holograms. Nothing. Only sensible ones - well, except for the one with the moose dressed as a Canadian Mounty but that was too silly even for me. As you can understand, it was very hard for me not to write a letter to the Canadian Tourism Minister right there and then.

But I digress. Having found our way back to the agreed meeting point for the bus, we returned to Dundas Square (the central public square in Toronto) and wandered through the shops. The Eaton Centre is a massive shopping mall that occupies an entire block, and we went in there. And emerged with nothing but a coffee and a cookie each. We were so disciplined. One shop was full of Asian import clothes that smelled distinctly of gasoline, and the other shop had a terribly tacky range of prom dresses in it that Kate and I were seriously tempted to pretend to be bridesmaids and have a fashion parade in the store. But we grew bored with that idea just as quickly as we had thought of it.

But Kate then started to nag me about not having brought my bathing suit with me, given that the Sheraton had such a beaufiul and inviting swimming pool bla bla bla. Now my body has not seen a Speedo in years. And nor have I submerged myself in a pool in just as long. So I initially laughed at her comments, until I realised she was serious. Next thing I knew, I was up in swimwear in the shopping centre, and buying a two-piece black swimsuit. For anyone not fortunate enough to be legally blind, you will be pleased to learn that my swimsuit top is actually what the fashionistas call a "tankini" (which I believe is French for "mercifully covers your fat stomach"). But I have to say that my new purchase held up well in the pool and the spa, and I was feeling most relaxed at the end of the day.

Chicago is famous for its steak houses, but Toronto has its fair share too. And one of them was conveniently located right downstairs in our Hotel. So for our first dinner meal in Toronto, Kate and I enjoyed delicious steaks with red wine. Yes, friends, it was definitely the life.

(More Toronto adventures to come - plus photos of course)

Thursday, April 13, 2006

A straight flush

Putting on or touching up makeup in a ladies restroom is hard enough at the best of times.  But when the lights are dim, and the bathroom extra small, the process is made even more difficult.  As I found out last night at the pre-party for the Spring Benefit hosted by the Lincoln Park Zoo Foundation.

Dressed all in black, accessorised by my colourful and sparkly sequinned clutch bag (a gift from Kate the Fashionista), I rested my bag on the top of the toilet while I carefully applied some gloss lipstick.  It was then that I heard an almost indistinct, but nonetheless scary, sound.  Sliiiiide, KERPLOP.

And staring up at me from the bottom of the toilet, was my cell phone.

I'd flushed, and the toilet was clean, but I was still struck by the conundrum - to fish it out, or not to fish it out?  Discovering some primal maternal instinct that outweighed my initial icky feelings, I stuck my hand in and liberated my phone from its watery resting place.

Ever optimistic that it could be saved, I allowed it to dry out overnight and tried to turn it on again this morning.  Nothing.  It was as dead as dead could be.  

But when life gives you lemons, you make lemonade - right?  So I turned the initial depression of a lost phone into a cause for celebration and another shopping trip.  Into "Radio Shack" I trekked and the delightful young salesman not only found me a good phone, but gave me $20 off, and THEN re-programmed my new phone to carry over the cash balance on my account.  He wasn't able to resurrect all my old phone numbers, but you can't have everything I guess.

And at least I've solved the age-old riddle of why women insist on having the toilet seat down.  Amen to that.

Wednesday, April 12, 2006


The weather is changing here in Chicago and starting to warm up a bit.  But just when you get your sunglasses out, thinking the sun is going to prevail, the clouds close over and a storm seems imminent.  At the same time, however, the temperature doesn't decrease, and that leads to frizzy hair and grouchy Gab.

The balmy weather is also knocking me around a bit and I'm feeling quite tired as the days wear on in the lead up to Easter.  As my Mum has put it, cramming 5 days of work into 4 is surely enough to wear anyone out.  

So with the weather looking gross, and my eyelids drooping heavily, I was almost ready to pass up my concert tickets to KT Tunstall, the Scottish songbird whose "Other Side Of The World" was the anthem of my Scottish experience with Andrea.  

But Lexie met me at the theatre straight from her work, and if she was willing to go to that trouble, the least I could do was make the effort and show up.  And get my money's worth on the tickets too.

And I'm glad I did.  Memories of waaay too many days spent cruising in Betty's little Fiesta and us crooning along with BBC1 radio came crashing back once the opening chords of "Other Side of The World" started, and I really enjoyed KT's performance the whole way through. She even had a silver sparkly guitar which was something I'm sure that Pinky Tuscadero from Happy Days would have secretly coveted.  I just openly coveted it because it was very cool.  The fact I can't play guitar is immaterial.

When we left the theatre last night, the wind was positively vicious outside but the temperature was still 20 degrees celcius.  This sure has been a funny old week so far.  But with the exception of last night's concert, and tonight's party for the Lincoln Park Zoo Foundation, I'm just going through the motions until Katie and I jet off to Canada on Friday.  Canada Oh Canada, here we come, zoom zoom.....

Tuesday, April 11, 2006

Punching Above His Weight

Having named her new puppy Preston, in honour of a character in the movie
"Can't Hardly Wait", Lexie has been working really hard to make sure that
our four-legged fellow tenant feels right at home, but also learns what he
can and can't do.

In the course of just a few days, and after a rather rocky start, Preston no
longer has 'accidents' on the floor boards or the carpets. Instead, he has
learned the purpose of the piddle pad, and furthermore lets Lexie know when
he needs to go outside to do his other business. What a smart dog, and for
only 4 months of age too!

And last night when I got home, the weather was so beautiful and balmy that
I took it upon myself to liberate the puppy and take him for a walk around
the block. He's a dog after my own heart, because he first tried to crash
through the glass door of the liquor store, and then followed his nose into
the Mexican restaurant for a refreshing margarita. Bless.

But it was the encounter with two boisterous Boxers that really made me
laugh. Preston really does punch above his weight. He clearly thinks he is
much bigger than he actually is. Seeing the big dogs through the fence, he
crouched down in a playful pose and started yapping to get their attention.
It worked. The Boxers were curious about the small, white ball of fluff
maniacally bouncing around and barking all the while. One of the Boxers
even put his paw through the fence and swatted Preston on the head. It was
a canine game of tag, and Preston was up for it. Together we bounded along
the fence, Preston carrying on like a proverbial porkchop, much to the
amusement of the Boxers and their owners. But he was loving it! While I
secretly hoped that the fence between us and the Boxers would hold, I
neverthless permitted the game to continue until Preston had effectively
barked himself hoarse and sat down in the middle of the pavement to collect

Before I knew it, we'd been out walking for an hour, and hadn't even left my
street. The puppy was very well-behaved on his leash and (I know, I know),
he has me wrapped around his little paw.

Monday, April 10, 2006

Are Your Macleans Showing?

I am blogging from my email account today, folks, so I can't guarantee the
layout that will result. But bear with me, because I do believe that the
following story needs telling.

I got a text message at 8am on Saturday from my friend Caro, who I thought
was still in New York but came back for the weekend while her IKEA kitchen
was being installed. And the first person she thought of that early in the
day, was me. Actually she thought of the coffee man first, and then ME as
her date to meet the coffee man. Fair enough.

Begging forgiveness for being still asleep at the time she texted, I
resolved to meet her at the more respectable time of 10.15 - when I could at
least semi-guarantee that both of my eyeballs would be open. And indeed
they were.

And they had to be, because I met a man at the bus stop who revealed to me
that I was, and I quote, "an exquisite addition to Chicago". The man had
about 5 teeth in his head, none of them his. Why does this always happen to

But I was polite, indeed I politely gave him an alias, and when he declared
Olivia Newton John to be dead, I had to set him straight. "Oh no," says I,
"she is very much alive and only performed in LA a few months ago". He, not
to be outdone, declared her to be metaphorically and not categorically dead,
given that she hasn't really done anything in a while and all.

Despite our musical differences, and our diverse definitions of death (he
would have excelled at the Dead Parrot sketch), we conversed cordially for a
while. But then as he inched forward, I leapt backward, and when he hacked
a giant spitball into the gutter, I knew our relationship had reached an

I could forgive the squint, the teeth, the shopping trolley, the trackpants,
and the confusion about our Livvy's professional pursuits to date, but I
cannot abide the hacking of loogies onto city streets. Talk about testing
limits! So I made sure he boarded the bus first, and then I seated myself
as geographically removed from him as I could, while still keeping my legs
and arms inside the vehicle at all times. And that, as they say, was that.

Okay so I never said the story was interesting, I just said it needed to be told.

Friday, April 07, 2006

From Gizmo To Gremlin

The apartment has been overrun by the most adorable new addition to my Chicago family. Lexie has purchased a 4-month old toy poodle. His previous owner named him Pookie, but even in Boystown we're not going to allow the dog to keep that name, so we're on the hunt for a new one.

We're convinced that the little guy looks like Gizmo from Gremlins, so we toying with that idea. We also were trying to work Ninja in there somewhere, cause he loves to leap around and he has little fangs like an assassin. Then Lexie liked the 'old man' names like Henry or Maurice, because they are quite distinguished and probably fool people into thinking the puppy is a gentleman. But we also both love the film "The Princess Bride", so we were thinking maybe the dog is a Westley. But his full name would be "Westley, the Dread Pirate Roberts". Of course.

But in the interim anyway, we're both working on house-breaking him (the previous owner assured Lexie that the dog already knows how to pee in a cat litter tray. Don't ask). And I'm trying to keep all my fingers in tact, as the dog tries to sever each one individually with his needle teeth.

One thing's for sure though, No-Name Dog is going to have a date with the vet very soon, if you know what I mean. He seems to think that my shin and my arm are my two most arousing features, and he does all he can to demonstrate this love at every opportunity. Icky.

Photos of the puppy to follow.

Wednesday, April 05, 2006

Turning Morgan Freeman into Richard Gere

Originally uploaded by dsearls.
I've been trying very hard since I moved to Chicago to keep up with my blog and show friends and family from around the world that I am enjoying myself here and keeping busy with all manner of social and corporate events.

But let's face it folks, life is about peaks and troughs, and even the hardiest party girls need a breather every now and again. And Lexie and I are no exception. So Friday night was about pizza and pyjamas. And it was good.

Lex and I decided we wanted to watch "Kiss The Girls" with Morgan Freeman and Ashley Judd. But then we wanted to watch "Primal Fear" with Edward Norton and Richard Gere. Figuring that we were on the cusp of a 'thriller marathon', we pondered whether there were other links between the genre of the two films. That spurned an analysis of whether there were links between ALL the other films in Lexie's collection.

So we invented The Movie Game. The rules are simple. You start with one movie, like "Kiss The Girls", and try and connect it with another movie on the shelf, by finding an actor that the two movies have in common. So sticking to this method, Friday night's version of The Movie Game rolled on as follows:

Kiss The Girls (Morgan Freeman)
Seven (Morgan Freeman and Brad Pitt)
Ocean's 11 (Brad Pitt and Matt Damon)
Dogma (Matt Damon and Alan Rickman)
Love Actually (Alan Rickman and Laura Linney)
Primal Fear (Laura Linney, Richard Gere)

See how it works? You decide where you want to start and where you want to end up, and you create a movie chain around that. But the catch is that the chain can ONLY consist of movies you already have in your DVD collection.

It's not as easy as it sounds. But by the time we were done on Friday night, we had a chain of 44 movies, all linked by actors. Only two actors were repeated (Alan Rickman and Kate Hudson), but to our credit, we didn't double-up on a single movie!

But I promise that from now on, I'll only report on my busy life and give you a break from my rest periods. They are obviously very scary.

Tuesday, April 04, 2006

Please sir, I want some s'mores?!

S'mores cookies
Originally uploaded by Hankerific.
Lexie regarded me quizzically yesterday evening, as if trying to convince herself that she had indeed heard me correctly. "What do you mean, you've never had a s'more!?" she asked, incredulously, scarcely believing that I'd made it to 28 years of age without ever having enjoyed what appears to me (and no one else) to be an American rite of passage treat.

So next thing I knew, we were hot-footing it down to the local 24-hour market to buy the ingredients to make what's known as a "s'more". The true art of the s'more is in its construction, and the process is quite laboured. In the kitchen, that is. If you're out in the wilderness and enjoying s'mores around the campfire (which is the traditional way, apparently), the assembly and consumption is made much easier because you can be as messy as you like.

And the production of s'mores is a messy affair. You take a sweet Graham cracker (pronounded "gram" cracker, because apparently the 'h' is entirely superfluous - consider the way "herbs" is pronounced in this country, if you need further proof). Balance a square of Hershey's milk chocolate on the Graham cracker and toast a marshmallow over the gas light in your kitchen. You can see now why this project is much more safely tackled around a campfire. Once the marshmallow is nice and golden, slap it on the Hershey square, place another Graham cracker on top, and squish the whole lot down into a sickly, gooey sandwich.

Keep your dentist on standby because after just one s'more, my teeth felt like they were rotting out of my head. The sugar rush felt good for about thirty seconds, and then I felt plain ill.

Lexie then shared with me the rules of the campfire game, "Chubby Bunny". The rules are simple - you stuff a marshmallow in your mouth and say the words "Chubby Bunny". The person who can stuff the most marshmallows in their mouth and STILL say "Chubby Bunny" wins. But I expect the winner is ultimately the person who can do all that without barfing marshmallow all over the place! I would not do well in that competition either, I don't think. My sister, on the other hand....

Sunday, April 02, 2006

Buon Appetito

So Courtney and Irene invited me out to Court's house and we decided to have an Italian theme. I wanted to contribute some sort of Jamie Oliver theme to the night, so I tried to make a bread-and-butter pudding with some Baileys and bananas added in, but I needn't have bothered. Because what I ended up with was a giant banana omlette!

Yeah okay so that didn't work but thank god I was able to make affogato - you know, the scoop of ice cream, hot shot of espresso, and a shot of Baileys? Well it was delicious. I am just sad that I had to ditch a whole bread & butter Baileys omlette. I'm sure in some part of the world it is quite a delicacy....just not here...