Wednesday, August 30, 2006

Are you there, Agatha?

Louisiana Day of Prayer
Originally uploaded by -Angela.

I head off tomorrow for three days in Mexico, where Hurricane John is currently vacationing, in all of his Category 4 glory. How dare a hurricane show up at Puerta Vallarta, right when I'm going there?! And still the airlines are flying there and no one is telling me NOT to travel, so tonight I shall pack for the trip.

As if on cue today at work, as the stories of the hurricane reached me, an Aussie Catholic priest who is new to Chicago called up to find out how to join some of the Aussie expat organisations we have here. After chatting a bit about that, I mentioned my holiday and proffered that my chances for a sunny vacation were less than likely - but remedying that was probably HIS area, not mine. Perhaps he could have a word to someone upstairs?

And Padre's suggestion in response? I should pray to Saint Agatha, the patron saint of natural disasters. And given how hungover I felt all day today, I figured I was probably faring just slightly better than Mexico - and having a quiet word to Agatha wouldn't be too bad.

Tuesday, August 29, 2006

You take one spring-loaded suitcase

Caro and I are all set to fly to Mexico on Thursday morning, and she's even graciously agreed to swing past my place in a cab at 6am to spare me the drama of finding one myself at that obscene hour of the day. Lex is flying to San Fransisco a little later that same day, so she's going to hitch a ride with us, and hang out at the airport until her flight, which is cool.

Air travel in the States right now makes me slightly nervous, but not for the reasons you might think. I am not worried about bombs or trigger-happy air marshalls or even Air Mexico running out of peanuts mid-flight. I'm more concerned with how I'm going to pack all that I need into my little suitcase! After all, we have to check all our luggage now, and hand luggage is only allowed to be a purse, passport, and house keys. The real bare essentials.

I am a good suitcase packer, having had a lot of experience with the 'stuff it in and run out the door or miss the tour bus' style of clothes folding. I managed 4 weeks in Italy last October with only a carry-on suitcase. Granted most of my photos feature me wearing pretty much the same tshirt/cargo pants combo (thanks to my sister for spotting that trend), but that never concerned me. I haven't had to fit EVERYTHING into only one suitcase before. I have always had the luxury of a carry-on backpack for all those extra bits and pieces that never seem to fold properly. This time I was wondering how I could rig some sort of spring-loaded clothes packing system into my little champion suitcase to maximise the space allowed. Pity the poor customs officer who asks to inspect my luggage. Visions of shoes and undies and toiletries ricocheting across the terminal. Classic.

But Caro must be stressing to the same degree, because she emailed me yesterday asking whether we could simply sit by the pool for 4 days straight and drink cocktails. Sans hesitation, I agreed. So let's see here. Now all I need is a pair of flip-flops, some sunglasses, a bathing suit, and a sarong. For four days of travel. Sweeeeet.

Monday, August 28, 2006

Okay now this is just ridiculous

I have been getting emails all night from the boys at the speed dating, thanking me for matching with them. This is insane. I ticked NO for all but one guy. And he hasn't even written. All these other guys are sending email after email proposing dinner dates, movie screenings, and just general chit chat in a place not quite as noisy as the bar on Saturday night.

Is this karma or just some creepy way a dating service gets its kicks?

It's all fun and games, until...

To end my super-busy weekend, I thought it would be fun to convene a small group at "Guthries Tavern" to have a Pictionary tournament. The Adelaide boys were all set to be part of it, but pulled out at the last minute so the event became a simple catchup over a few beers instead.

I was glad that my speed dating friend could join us, and really she had no excuse since she lives walking distance from the pub and we all would have just marched to her house to fetch her if she'd changed her mind.

But one of the things that we talked about was the gross breach of privacy that happened after the speed dating. The company that organised the event has given my email out to the guys that expressed interest in me. The way it's meant to work is that if I pick Exhibit A as my match, and he also picks me, only THEN does my email get given to him. I get told that Exhibit B and C were also interested, but my details are never passed on to them, because the 'feeling' wasn't mutual.

Anyway that has all been turned on its head, because I've had emails from the guys I didn't fancy, and now I feel obligated to write to them and tell them "thanks but no thanks". That has put me in a really awkward position. The only email I have written so far is back to the speed dating company expressing my disappointment in what I am seeing as a violation of my privacy. I made myself sound particularly tough too, so maybe I'll get a refund?

Sunday, August 27, 2006

And your time

Time Out
Originally uploaded by seanhfoto.
Two of my new friends here in Chicago convinced me to go speed dating last night. Admittedly I didn't take much convincing, but I was still having second thoughts late yesterday. These doubts were only magnified when the organisers rang me in the afternoon to tell me there were way too many men registered and could I perhaps bring some female friends with me?

But Kerry and Kaz and I were brave enough to turn up anyway and all three of us were dressed to impress. We needn't have bothered really. Before the speed dating officially got underway, we had a drink at the bar and met a girl who had just moved to Chicago and had turned up alone so we adopted her and had some good laughs early.

I reported to the organisers first, so I was given poll position, "Speed Dater #1". As it turned out, this was not the best position to be in. Each girl took her place, and the guy sat opposite her. After five minutes of 'dating', a whistle blew and the boy had to stand up and move along to the next girl. But because I was in poll position, the excess of men registered meant that small clusters of guys were waiting to talk to me and were watching me while I tried to have my "dates" with each guy. I was conscious of them staring and it made me rather uncomfortable.

I only 'clicked' with one guy the whole night, and even then I'm not sure whether that was just because I didn't want to write all the guys off and walk away with nothing. I got the real impression that the guys who had registered did so because they have NO experience talking to women. Honestly, these guys had very few conversational skills. They certainly didn't know how to sell themselves in 5 minutes. It was really hard work.

About ninety seconds into my first 'date', the guy told me all about his mother issues and how he'd been cheated on by his last (and only?) girlfriend. Then there was the guy that told me he loved my accent, but couldn't understand a word I was saying and so I had to repeat myself every time. Then there was the guy waiting at the bar and staring at me (naturally) that cut in and volunteered to buy me a Sprite - recognising that we weren't getting a drinks break after all. I quickly and graciously accepted his offer. Two dates later, still no Sprite. I was wondering whether I'd hallucinated it all. But then the Sprite guy rocked up to date me, with the glass of Sprite in hand. Better late than never? Nah.

Stop the Press: Just found out that I had six guys wish to match up with me, including the guy that I picked. Now the question remains, do I contact him after all? I never read the rule book that well...

Saturday, August 26, 2006

From dusk till dawn

cliche chicago again
Originally uploaded by dreamerofmeaning.
I am sitting here at my PC absolutely exhausted after last night's adventures. What started out as a quiet night drinking on the patio at a very chic Downtown bar turned into a debaucherous excursion on Chicago's seedy side. I guess it had to happen sooner or later really.

"Citizen Bar" is a great little summertime spot that was revamped at the start of summer to accommodate fans of al fresco dining and drinking. The buzz has died down a bit now but the bar is still popular and fortunately the rain held off last night long enough for us to enjoy the scenery and ambience.

Jen had left her sweater at "The Pepper Canister" after my birthday last week, and a quick call from me to Ivan the Bartender located it and off we trekked to reclaim it. Great to see Ivan again and thank him for his kindness last week. Even better that we got to enjoy some old fashioned pub grub of fish & chips - very tasty.

But we were never going to be there long, and off we went to - I hate to say it - "Duffy's". A college sports bar, it was very funny to watch the patrons fall over themselves to get close to Mr Chicago Bulls who was with us (plus his best mate from Adelaide in town for a visit). I certainly have very talented friends and Mr Bulls knows how to deal with his celebrity beautifully. The copious beers helped. When "Duffy's" closed and the lights were heinously turned on, we shuffled next door straight into hell (also known as "Yakzi's"). One word - awful. Okay two words, awful and crowded.

I fell into bed at 4.30am and calculated that I had been up for 23 hours straight that day. I certainly experienced all that my summery Friday had to offer. The Adelaide boys enjoyed themselves, as did all my other friends, and I even made some new friends out of the night, so it was great fun. Next time my social life takes off like that, I think I'll spend at least some of the work day sleeping...

Friday, August 25, 2006

I'm exercising my veto, man

One of my favourite films is "Empire Records" starring that Aussie dish Anthony LaPaglia (oh and some chick called Renee Zellewegger). If you haven't seen it, basically it's a story about a bunch of 20-somethings that work in a record store that's about to be corporatised. Think "Breakfast Club" in a music store.

Anyway the characters all have very different music tastes and will quite often veto whichever CD one of the characters has put on to play in the store. "I'm exercising my veto, man" becomes the excuse for turning off the dodgy music. And so it is in the Consulate.

I have come to love Missy Higgins and "The Sound of White" album is a regular feature on my computer. But after much derision across the Office, I have to accept that I'm only allowed to play it when no one is here. The veto has been exercised many, many times. Even when the gang gave me an Itunes voucher for my birthday, it explicitly said "NO MISSY HIGGINS". Killjoys.

So here I am, alone in the office, except for Missy Higgins blasting through my PC speakers. And I have another 12 minutes before anyone is allowed to tell me to turn it down. Sigh.

Wednesday, August 23, 2006

When your kitchen is ornamental

Originally uploaded by ..Pu®e PoiS«íN...
If I really cared, I supposed I'd be a little concerned about my eating habits. Last night's dinner was potato chips. The Indian dudes at the convenience store know that when I come in, I'm either there to use the ATM, buy a six-pack of diet coke, or brown bread. Or all three. My home diet really has become that predictable.

And yes I'll go out and have fine food or else a burger and fries that someone else has prepared and that some other person will clean away when I'm done. But when it comes to old fashioned home cooking, all I care to whip up these days is peanut butter on toast or to microwave baked beans. Quick-cooking rice in microwave soup is another culinary gem of my own creation. And it really is as blah as it sounds.

I like to think that it's weather-related and basically mathematical. My lack of motivation to go to a major grocery store, and then to convert those ingredients into something edible is directly proportional to the amount of sun outside. Warm weather = get outside and stay there. Cold weather = hibernate and bake something. When winter creeps in or, as it does in Chicago, slams into me one day without warning, I'll get motivated and make pots of steaming delicious soup, filling the freezer to capacity in the process. We'll be defrosting the fruits of my labour for months to come. Trust me, the same thing happened last winter.

But until then, friends, water crackers smeared with cream cheese of indeterminate age, washed down with Diet Coke, will have to do. Bon appetit!

Tuesday, August 22, 2006

You've lost that living feeling

I suppose it had to happen, that inevitable slump after the whirlwind of activity. Here I am, 4.22pm on a Tuesday, feeling like I could fall asleep in about 12 seconds. If only I was given the chance to do that. So I'm about to put myself on the bus home, with only 2 loads of laundry separating me from dreamland.

But a glance at this weekend's diary suggests that this is just the eye of the storm. I'm therefore being presented with the valuable opportunity to sleep now, or regret it later. I have to admit that as much as I enjoy going out and being part of the social scene, there is real appeal in heading home early, putting on pyjama pants, and watching crappy television.

So perhaps I'll spend a few moments and review the photos from Kate and Darren's 30th birthday extravaganza in Adelaide earlier this month. Snap happy party people!

Monday, August 21, 2006

Lights, camera, action!

Originally uploaded by newsr.

So okay I'm a TV star now.

Chicago has this television program called Metromix that promotes new bars, restaurants, and clubs. But tonight the show came to my friend's restaurant called "Il Covo" in Bucktown. He is the Exec Chef and is an Aussie so it was easy for him to tell the Metromix crew to come and interview me. And that's how I found myself on TV, mouth full of succulent osso bucco, and eyeballs slightly fuzzy from too much chianti.

So I was interviewed by Summer, the host of Metromix (yes, that's her real name) and we shot the breeze about the restaurant and the food and how it was that I came to dine there. Very routine Q&A but it was high pressure, as far as I was concerned, because of the bright camera lights and the fact that no one touched up my makeup.

But this Friday night, the restaurant opens the upstairs groove lounge, so I've been instructed to "come on Friday and bring girls" haha. The owner of the restaurant is very keen to balance the testosterone in his place I think. But I shall oblige. I'm sure I can find some girls to take along with me that night - we were well looked after tonight, so no doubt we'll be equally well accommodated on Friday.

Sunday, August 20, 2006

Birdies, eagles, and big smiles

Originally uploaded by parkisthebest2002.
You might recall my post from a few days ago that I was all excited about my first excursion to the PGA. I was particularly chuffed because my Aussie friend had given me a Members Pass so in my head, I was imagining a breezy marquee with endless champagne and big screens giving me regular updates of Tiger Woods. Preferably from all angles.

Alas like all things, my imagination was slightly better than reality. There was no marquee, champagne or big screens. But there WAS Tiger. Oh yes there was Tiger alright.

I managed to catch up with my Aussie friend at the driving range and we went into the members area to use the ladies room. I think the porta-loos at the rest of the Tournament had been specially air lifted in from South East Asia. Ugh they were gross. But we enjoyed the air conditioned comfort of the club rooms, and the flushing toilets located therein, and then we were back out on the course to scout a good spot to sit.

But thanks to my imagination, I wore heels and a flowy skirt with my designer top. I was grossly overdressed and ill prepared for an uphill and downhill trek over the 18 hole Medinah Country Club site (which was beautiful by the way, trust me). Oh for a pair of flip flops and shorts. Sigh.

And the funniest/strangest encounter today? I was standing with my back against a tree, enjoying a rare spot of shade, and a guy approached me. We passed the typical pleasantries about the weather and the state of my health, but then he asked why I wasn't watching the game. I said, "I can't see up there anyway - there's too many people. But," and here I paused to remark on his height, "if I had YOUR legs, I'd be fine". To which he replied, "well if I had YOUR legs...oh, I had better not finish that sentence."

And in the words of Forrest Gump, that's all I want to say about that.

Saturday, August 19, 2006

Pondering the night that was

Originally uploaded by Carlito*.
We had Irish car bombs in big glasses, and icy milky shots in small glasses. We had fish and chips with vinegar and fish wraps that allegedly tasted bad. But we also had so many laughs and I, for one, had an absolute blast at my own party - who knew it could happen?

I had my makeup done especially, only because I had never done it before and I thought it would freshen me up a bit after working all day and then being expected to party all night. I was super happy with my makeup job, and the impromptu hair straighten and spritz was an added bonus at the Aveda salon.

My friends mixed really well, better than I'd expected, and I was free to mingle around and try and explain the complicated ways that I know everyone. Every friendship has a story and it's hard to keep it all straight. By the end of the night though, NOTHING I was saying made sense, except to me. But no one minded partly because I think we were all fairly 'festive' by that stage (thanks Ivan the Irish Bartender, you're tops).

I would suggest that my popularity points went up a few notches when Luke, the Chicago Bulls player, came to my party. He's from Adelaide, and is 7ft tall. Needless to say I looked ridiculous even attempting to stand near him. So I made him sit on a barstool the whole time. One of the perks of my job is that we make it our business to get to know as many Aussies as we can, and it's just a treat when one of them happens to be as talented as Mr Chicago Bulls. It was neat.

The Saturday hangover was not so neat, as you would expect. But I will never again underestimate the restorative powers of Gatorade. It was probably invented by NASA or something. I loved my birthday, and I could even handle the headache after-effect. My friends rallied together to welcome my 29th year beautifully and while I'm not yet ready to turn another year older, I could certainly have another party like that one soon enough...

Thursday, August 17, 2006

29 Cupcakes and Counting....

It is now 11.26pm on the night before I turn 29 years old, and I'm actually feeling quite OK about the whole thing. Fortunately I have three small bottles of Chandon champagne inside of me, so that is dulling any adverse feelings I might have about an impending birthday....

Went to the Club tonight for a New Members Happy Hour and met some very intriguing folks. Okay I'll level with you, the Happy Hours are mostly reserved for the new male members of the Club. There is a lot of testosterone in that room. But tonight was great, I met a lot of very interesting people and swapped business cards (within reason of course - not handing those things out willy nilly anymore).

So on Friday night I'm going out with my work friends and a whole bunch of other Aussies and American friends to the Irish bar I went to the other night. Irish car bombs will abound and I just hope everyone has a good time...

Wednesday, August 16, 2006

Finding the missing peace in Chicago

Tonight was truly beautiful. I was invited to an art reception at Charlie Trotter's, a wonderfully chic restaurant owned by Chef Charlie Trotter himself, who is renowned in Chicago and across the US for his elegant cuisine but also his TV cooking show and culinary schools.

Arriving early, I caught up with J, who I met at the Union League Club's jazz night last Friday. He introduced me to Tenzin, who was on the organising team of the art exhibition we were there to celebrate. It turns out that the exhibition is called "The Missing Peace" and is currently showing in California. The exhibition asks artists to be inspired by the Dalai Lama and the quest for peace. Art installations and submissions took two years to complete but the examples I saw tonight were amazing. Tenzin and I chatted for about an hour, and he held my champagne glass while I partook of the superb hors d'oeuvres (truffles, salmon roe, an emulsion of something foreign...all of it was amazing).

What I didn't realise until much later, after Chef Trotter donated $10,000 to the exhibition on the spot (to much applause), was that Tenzin had been the personal aide to the Dalai Lama for 11 years. I was floored! I had been using him as a coaster for my champagne! I was so embarassed, so my new friend Jen and I went up and apologised to him. He loves us and just laughed and laughed. So humble and a real gentleman.

Then I met a guy outside who donated a $3m turbine to the Georgia Tech Engineering School and used to drink shots with the King of Morocco. He has my business card, because he's going to see what he can do for me, job-wise. He did say that with my blonde hair, I'd be sold in Morocco within minutes. He didn't say how many camels I'd fetch though. I should have asked.

But anyway, my attendance tonight means I'm on the list to be invited to the gala opening of "The Missing Peace" exhibition when it comes to Chicago in October. I hope my buddy Tenzin will be there again, but this time I'll be more respectful than to have him hold my drink while I stuff my face.

Hello, is it me you're looking for?

permanently disconnected
Originally uploaded by massdistraction.
Today was rather unconventional at work, in that I was absolutely bored out of my mind. And that's unconventional because normally I'm at least kept busy by phone calls and emails and deliveries etc. But today - very little. Indeed - almost nothing.

And because of these limited human interactions, I have very little fodder for a decent blog post. In fact, it's probably fair to say that I have nothing to say. So there, ner.

Oh yeah, RIP Elvis Presley, who passed away rather embarassingly atop The Throne 29 years ago today. Rock on.

Tuesday, August 15, 2006

Making hay while the sun shines

Butterfly House
Originally uploaded by jimfrazier.

Actually I really dislike that expression, but I have been thinking about it today because my calendar from now until Monday is absolutley full. I committed myself to making the most of the summer sunshine while it still plans to hang around. The weatherman told me today that it's only going to be another few weeks and then we start getting cooler days and even cooler nights. I punched him in the face.

No I didn't really. But it got me thinking about the sorts of activities I should engage in to maximise my daylight enjoyment. So guess what?

Tomorrow I'm going to a fancy art gallery reception being hosted by a fabulous Chicago restaurant; Thursday I'm meeting a bunch of new young professionals at the Cult's Happy Hour; Friday I'll be drinking shots at an Irish bar; Saturday will see me watching the Chicago Air Show from my friend's rooftop garden; and finally I'll be spending all day Sunday with my friend in the VIP tent at the PGA Tournament. Exhausted yet? Me too. Couple that with my unbending (weekday) commitment to sliding out of bed at 5.15am to go swimming, and I think I'm in for some tiring times.

But with any luck, this social power surge will also herald exciting new photos to view so stay tuned for them too. Adios for now - gotta go lie down and contemplate the next few days.

Let there be light?

Remember Kids...
Originally uploaded by SimonL.
When my Granny found out I was going to live in Chicago, she worried I'd get mixed up "in the Hood". I don't think she knew what she was talking about, but it was a fair enough warning anyway.

It would appear however, that my Granny should have been more worried about my Aussie friend Rockin' back home, whose brush fence was set alight last night. A Good Samaritan extinguished the blaze much to Rockin's grateful delight, but for heaven's sakes - the fence is right next to her bedroom! I don't need to dwell on what might have happened had the fire been started after she'd fallen asleep.

So I'm going to reiterate my offer to Rockin' that she come to my house in Chicago and hide out for her 40th birthday next year, just like she'd suggested (albeit in jest) some time ago. With gay men to my left and right, a police station two streets away, and no brush fences anywhere in sight, Rockin' will be perfectly safe.

Monday, August 14, 2006

And all that jazz

≈≈≈ ♫
Originally uploaded by wakalani.

For mine, I think that the opening scene of "Chicago", when Catherine Zeta Jones shimmy shakes all over the stage of the speakeasy singing "All That Jazz", is one of the greatest film openers ever.

And I know that song isn't jazz per se, but rather it warmed me up for the devil-may-care abandon of this City, starting in the 1920s. Since I first experienced that musical, I've wanted to hear jazz and learn a bit more about it. Not from a CD or a recording, but from live artists.

So on Friday night I went along to the Club (or "The Cult" as Lex has taken to calling it) to see a jazz band, and I really liked what I heard. Even an old guy, who would have been 300 if he was a day, told the story about how he'd played and sung with Louis Armstrong, and I think that impressed everyone. Then the old guy predictably, but no less impressively, sang "What a Wonderful World" and it brought the house down.

So while I think jazz sounds messy and hotch-potch, I can nevertheless start to appreciate it when it's performed by smooth and slick musicians. In fact, I know I will grow to like it more and more.

"Shorn Preston"

"Shorn Preston"
Originally uploaded by Miss Gab.
No, this isn't Britney Spears's son; rather this is the puppy formerly known as Lexie's ultra fluffy ninja dog. Sigh, what a difference a haircut makes!

Preston hates swimming at the dog beach near our place but has been down there a few times for a run around and ends up matted beyond all rescue. So Lex took Preston to his stylist yesterday (yes, this is America after all), and Preston got absolutely massacred. He looks and feels like he's coated in velvet now, except for the fluffy head which makes him look like a girl dog. He feels it too but we do our best not to mention it.

So while Preston slumped into depression last night, Lex and I fought the urge to laugh at him every time he whooshed past us, this flashing streak of white. How do you explain to a dog that his hair will grow back?

Saturday, August 12, 2006

The blue box that heals all

Blue bag, blue box
Originally uploaded by Jenblossom.

Holly Golightly used to suffer the "mean reds". Having the blues was too common for her; they just meant she was sad. But the "mean reds" were infinitely worse than that, and the only cure for them was a trip to Tiffany's. For Holly, Truman Capote's favourite heroine, having "Breakfast at Tiffany's" made everything better because surely nothing bad could ever happen to anyone there.

And yesterday I received my very first little blue box, and I can attest to the healing qualities of Tiffany sterling silver. Katie, Daz, and J had managed to conspire behind my back and had me delivered a stunning silver pendant on a delicate chain as an early birthday gift.

Taking me back to Christmas Days as a very young girl, my fingers were literally trembling as I got the first glimpse of the famous little blue box. Even if the contents had been a sterling silver telephone dialer, I would have been so happy. To find that it was a beautiful silver necklace that is entirely "me", I was just bowled over. But when I read the card, I got a little sad because I realised that my friends know me so very well:

"..would have got you a cracker jack ring engraved like Audrey but can't get the cereal here!"

No blues OR mean reds over here, just one very happy and touched Tiffany fan who not only has great jewellery, but truly wonderful friends who forget nothing, even when two of them are about to celebrate their own 30th birthdays xox

J, Kate, and Daz

Friday, August 11, 2006

Hello world, here are my private parts!

[In the interests of common decency and all that is holy, I have decided not to choose a photo to accompany today's post. I think we should all breathe a sigh of relief for that.]

I want to just explore the subject of body confidence for a few minutes. This morning after my swim (550 metres today, thank you very much!), I took a quick shower and emerged from the shower cubicle, wrapped securely in a fluffy bathrobe. I was then confronted eyeball-to-eyeball with a naked woman, about 30 years my senior. And I was the one who was embarassed. She was perfectly at ease, while I tried to get back to my locker, all the while staring at the ceiling.

I like to think that I'm a cultured person, and not a prude. I like foreign films for heaven's sakes, and they always seem to have a high degree of nudity in them (whether it's relevant to the story or not). I can cope with that. But first thing in the morning, with no caffeine in my system, a naked woman is not something I can cope with. Hell, dealing with my own nudity at that hour of the day is distasetful.

Thursday, August 10, 2006

The 1km Challenge

FaLLing dreamS ..
Originally uploaded by AmeRiCiYa.
I went to the doctor the other day and because I'd never been to that clinic before, the nurse had to take a full medical history and that meant she had to measure and weigh me.

The results of that less-than-invasive procedure has given rise to what I'm terming my "1 Kilometre Challenge". That's right friends, I am only going to weigh myself again once I've swum 1000 metres. I suppose that will be a good gauge to know that my fitness regime, for what it's worth, is actually yielding some results.

So far, in two days, I've only managed 200 metres. But it's a 25 metre pool, so that's a pretty good start - right? Okay, don't say it.

The few that spoil it for the rest

Originally uploaded by noqontrol.
There is a lot that I love about airline travel. The little packets of "things" (peanuts, cutlery, and the like). But there's a lot that I don't like about airline travel. Queues and baggage restrictions just to name two. And now I can add "terror plots" to that latter list.

The knee-jerk reaction that has followed the recent terror revelations does not bother me. In fact, I think that grounding planes and screening passengers are two perfectly justifiable outcomes. Heavily restricting luggage allowances is drastic but I guess equally necessary. Because clearly no one can be trusted on airlines anymore - not the cabin crew, and certainly not the passengers.

A few nutjobs have ruined things for the rest of us. I'm not travelling any time soon, but I am nevertheless irritated for those people that are. Travel plans are now disrupted, long delays are now even longer and, in many cases I'm sure, vacations are in disarray.

Who knows what this current drama means for the long-term future of air travel. Perhaps we'll come full circle and be back to crossing the Atlantic on ocean liners and staying in stinky cabins, peering out of portholes and contending with rats and pirates. But if it means that I will be grounded forever, unable to continue exploring this amazing planet, I will be severely put out.

Wednesday, August 09, 2006

Stand up and be counted

Australia's in the middle of a national Census and the Government has not forgotten its expats. We've been encouraged to complete an online survey that will hopefully give Aussies back home a fair idea of where we are and what we're doing.

I'm not sure whether other people think like this, but I believe that the boxes I get to tick in each Census show me how far I have (or have not) come since the last stocktake. Take this year's answers, for instance. I'm still within the "Under 30" age category, but not for much longer. My salary has increased, and with it the value of my personal assets. I'm able to say that I've travelled to and lived in a number of foreign countries since the last Census. So on paper at least, I'm in pretty good shape.

But there is the inevitable realisation that comes with such self-assessment that the next time this Census thing rolls around, what answers will I be able to give? Where will I be and what will I be doing? Whether it's the Cosmo quiz or the Australian census, I clearly can't help but over analyse.

So just for kicks, let's fast forward to the next time the Census makes me take stock of my life. What do I want to see? Well, I am not about to pretend to be Miss Universe and wish for world peace, nor am I going to be a Care Bear and suggest I only want a healthy and happy life. I want all those things, but on a more shallow level I really just want to stay inside the "Under 30" box. Yet I get the feeling that's the only part of the Census form I will never have any control over.

Tuesday, August 08, 2006

You'll have to speak up, I'm wearing a towel

Originally uploaded by twoHands.

Well, I actually went and did it. I arrived at the Club this morning before 6.30am, intending to do a yoga class, but decided at the last minute that I would swim instead.

Only two other guys were in the six-lane pool at that time of the morning, so the sight of my bathing suit-clad body caused only minimal public retinal damage. I was able to swim laps for about 30 minutes (with a few stops in between) before I decided that I am indeed an unfit slob who needs to go a little easier on herself. But no one really saw me struggling and I was pleased for that.

I was also pleased for the privacy after my swim. I'm not one of those get-changed-infront-of-everyone people, so it was a relief to me that the locker room was deserted. I took my time sampling all the freebie beauty products on offer to Club members. I smelled all the shampoos, squirted all the hand lotions, and spritzed all the deodorants on offer before anyone could walk in and see me. Sweet.

And on reflection, my moments of solitude were blessings for yet another reason - I've got water in my ears and I swear I can hear the ocean, and not much else. My colleagues are under strict instructions not to sneak up on my today under penalty of having some stealthy ninja moves busted out. Actually that's not really true. Don't let on, but I think my muscles are settling back into place after the swim, and they're not feeling too hot right now. Any sudden moves will probably paralyse me. Is this what getting fit does to you?!

Monday, August 07, 2006

Get down with your bad self

Sweet Child o Mine
Originally uploaded by jason3d.

With heartfelt thanks and a thousand blessings to Reg, who kindly bestowed on me a surprise early birthday present. No, not the kid in the Gunners tshirt - look closer. Yep, an Ipod Shuffle!

And me, the IT ignoramus, programmed the thing with 120 songs all by myself. Pure genius.

So now I can bop along to my favourite tunes and not have to speak to anyone on public transportation.

I get the feeling that pretty soon, I'll be wearing an expression of serene Buddha-ness like this little guy. But I draw the line at also wearing the one-piece Guns & Roses romper suit. The world just ain't ready for that one.

When laughter is the ONLY medicine

look, no eyes
Originally uploaded by phitar.
Tonight was a comedy of errors. I was meant to get the Number 8 bus to meet Courts, her Certain Someone, and Rak for dinner in Greek Town. However I hadn't remembered that there was some hippy festival a few streets over in Boystown that was re-routing traffic and making it impossible for anyone to get anywhere on time. So that's how I found standing idly at a bus stop for 25 minutes, then trying to hail myself a taxi, and unable to do even that.

As the scheduled meeting time drew ever closer, I got increasingly antsy and said some more very uncomplimentary things about the Chicago Transit Authority (CTA). As I did so, the bus drew up and I boarded, with yet another harrumph. [Note: I am getting quite good at harrumphing now, having done it several times this week, mostly in the general direction of CTA employees.]

And the bus ride was pretty much uneventful, save for the flea-ridden transient with Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, who wandered down the bus opening all the windows, then wandering back up the bus, closing all the windows again with an almighty slam. Scratching his private areas as he did so, naturally.

Finally free of the bus ride, I realised quickly that the $7.99 all-you-can-eat Indian buffet at the restaurant I had nominated for our night out was popular with the undesirables in the local Chicago community. From the relative safety of the other side of the street, we could clearly see that the front area of the Indian restaurant was populated with some very dodgy types, whose more permanent address was quite probably the two-bit hotel upstairs. Boy, I know how to pick a restaurant, eh?

So we were happy to put the fate of our dining experience in the hands of Courts and Rak, who ended up choosing very wisely indeed. Our dinner in Greek Town was fortunately a big success. Rather than dining at an Indian restaurant like I would have made us do, we actually went to a Greek place. Nice one, Gab.

All I can do is laugh and shake my head at myself. Sometimes it's all I have left.

Saturday, August 05, 2006

Goldilocks and The Three Irish Car Bombs

Originally uploaded by cmatta.
Chicago is a city with so many bars, and new ones opening every week, that it's hard to find one to hang out in that's "just right".

So I had the bright idea to visit "The Pepper Canister", proposed site of my birthday drinks in a few weeks, to do a bit of reconaissance ahead of the big day. And I figured I was equally intelligent to head there on a Friday and get a feel for what the crowd might be like. And so that's how Irene and me found ourselves propping up the bar from 5pm last night.

I wasn't disappointed with the look and feel of my chosen bar. Sure it's a little on the small side, but that turns out to be just right, because the crowd doesn't get too big inside - mostly people occupy the outdoor tables in weather like this. But the staff are also very friendly and I am currently negotiating a drinks package deal with the owner so my guests can enjoy value for money as well as good service.

And the food is very good. The menu is standard pub grub, but comfort food. I can recommend the steak and guinness pie. And the onion rings with jalapeno cheese.

But who ordered the three Irish car bombs at the end of the night? Oi vey. I had kept my beer consumption to a moderate level (save for the two beers that Lenny, the regular barfly, ordered for us). But all of a sudden - and I think it was me who said it - I had put an Irish car bomb in front of myself, Irene, AND our new best friend Ivan, the bar tender.

For those who are yet to experience them, Irish Car Bombs are a 1/2 glass of Guinness, with a shot of Baileys dropped in - and then you slam it down fast. If you can. Try it at least once.

And then two more Irish Car Bombs, and I was having a fabulous time. So was the Irish tourist who felt compelled to smooch me twice. They're a friendly bunch, those Irishmen on holiday...

So I give "The Pepper Canister" the two thumbs-up seal of approval, and I look forward to getting back there in a few weeks. Perhaps when the Irishmen have gone home and the coast is clear.

Friday, August 04, 2006

The water baby makes a splash

This morning I slid out of bed at 5.10am and managed to find myself at the bus stop before 6am. I had made an appointment at the Union League Club's Athletic Department to sign my gym contract and make arrangements for my shiny new locker that will store all my bits and pieces.

Having toured the gym before, I was resolved to make swimming my chief physical activity. I want to try a spinning class too (on the exercise bikes) but Melissa at work warned me I should start slowly. I think that's code for "you're too unfit, you'd die". Fair call.

Rocking up at the Club at 6.20am, I charged up to the 22nd floor and introduced myself to the Athletic Director, a very spritely man named Jim, who patiently outlined the rules and regulations, and even offered to give me a locker in the men's room for only $20 a month (nice try Jimbo).

But then Jim looked me square in the eye and asked me whether I was intending to work out today? Without even thinking, I said "are you crazy?". Hmm, apparently he was serious. I told him that I was sorry, that my eyes weren't properly open yet, and perhaps I could return on Monday and start my gym regime in a fresh, new week. He agreed that was a good idea. And then he pointed me to the coffee shop. I love Jim.

Heyyyyy....Jim....gym....maybe it's a sign that I'm going to take to this new swimming regime like (dare I say it) a duck to water?!

Thursday, August 03, 2006

My (old) school reunion

Liquid Gold
Originally uploaded by Flipped Out.
Australians are everywhere. Anyone who has ever travelled abroad will tell you that with some degree of certainty, if not authority. So tonight when I went along to the Aussie wine tasting, I just knew it would be an event full of expats reminiscing about the homeland and doing the "Do you know so-and-so?" verbal dance.

Advance is an Aussie expat association formed in New York but now spread across the US and into Asia and Europe. The Chicago chapter of Advance hosted the wine tasting at a local wine store that I have actually been a member of for a few months now. Seeing Aussies there tonight for a blind wine tasting was about fun, not pressure.

And I even recognised a guy there tonight and I couldn't quite place him. I knew that I knew him and not being able to think how really frustrated me. But when I finally got introduced, it came to me in a flash. And I was able to tell him that I knew him from my Uni days when he was a guest lecturer in one of my classes. I knew him for only 2 hours and yet I remembered him. Of course he's also the Media Adviser for the Leader of the Opposition back home in SA, so perhaps my subconscious remembered him from TV or something too.

Needless to say, the night ended well when the South Aussies regrouped and went to dinner at Bin36, a gorgeous wine bar/restaurant Downtown. It was a night of fun and laughs and I really enjoyed it.

Wednesday, August 02, 2006

My Pa, by Junior Bear

No worries, mate Me and My Pa The Tong-Master

On the occasion of my Dad's birthday, I think Looney Tunes would say it best...

My Pa - by Junior Bear (aged 7 and a half)
When the nasty old boogie man fills me with fears
And my little old pinafore is all wet with tears
And my cute little pug nose is all red from cryin'
Who is it that saves me and keeps me from dyin'? My Pa!


Gives new meaning to "paying a penny"

I have not yet travelled to Ireland, but it's certainly way up there on my "places to get to" list. I was therefore very amused this morning to read a rather offbeat article on Australia's ABC News website about the most expensive toilet block in the Emerald Isle.

A run down, out of order public restroom is set to start a bidding war if and when it goes on sale to the public. In fact, sources suggest it may sell for as much as 300,000 euro (A$502,000)! The reason for the toilet's amazing price tag is as old as the green hills it sits on - location, location. The site is a fabulous surfing beach on the Atlantic coast.

Apparently you could quite happily sit on the toilet, do your thing, and after flushing and washing your hands, you could be in the beach in less than a minute. And if you owned such a prime piece of real estate, surely your first job would be to upgrade the washroom facilities so that visitors to your beach were actively discouraged from peeing in the water. Am I right?

Tuesday, August 01, 2006

Big smile everyone...

Lexie and I went along to a preview screening of "Little Miss Sunshine" tonight. Yes, that is Toni Collette in the green singlet there, and a bearded Steve Carell (the 40 year old virgin himself) a few seats down. The movie was hysterical and you have to all see it when it hits mainstream cinemas soon. The little girl is priceless.

That's my 2 cents worth, and you got it for free.

C'mon, let's all prepare for the end of the world!

When I went to France in 2001, I lived in a small town in the middle of the country called Vichy (yes Dad, the home of Vichyssoise). It was there that I met Marta, an Italian girl who was so enamoured with Australia that she adopted me without question and put up with my tears and tantrums for the four weeks we studied together in that quintissential French town.

One thing I'll never forget about Marta was how incredible she found my habit of buying in bulk at the only Monoprix supermarket in town. Even though I was living alone in an apartment, I needed to have 30 rolls of toilet paper in the bathroom, four kitchen sponges, and a ten-bottle pack of spring water wedged into my tiny fridge. Penny-pinching was not the motivation for this though. What really tickled Marta was the fact that I stockpiled these items because I was "petrified of running out". Being Italian, her literal English translation of "petrified" as applied to my running out of toilet paper was particularly amusing to her.

Fast forward to 2006 and last night's discovery that my almost-favourite website now features a grocery section. I was ecstatic! Browsing the categories I learned that Kelloggs are selling 90 single-serve cereal cups for $40. Bargain! I shared this with Melissa at work today (because she buys one of these cereal cups every morning for breakfast) and instead of marvelling at my online research skills and offering to go halves with me on the sensational purchase, she muttered something about me being "disturbed" and she hung up on me.

But seriously. If ever the end of the world comes, you can all retreat to my place because we'll want for nothing. And then who'll have the last laugh?!