Wednesday, February 28, 2007

Well it's hardly "PC"

Speak No Evil
Originally uploaded by Tigernuts.

I could tell that my last comment had stung her. Lex recoiled from me, covering her mouth in shock. It was the reaction I had been expecting of course but neverthless I proceeded.

I pressed on because I was proud of my efforts yesterday to design a poster for work's ANZAC Day event. I managed to find a great photo to use in a watermark on the poster, and creatively positioned all the necessary text around it.

But the sting in the tail that made Lex freak?

I designed it myself.
On a PC.
In Microsoft Word.
I almost used Word Art. [I said "almost".]

As a committed Mac user, I thought I might have to give Lex CPR to help her get over my indiscretions. I don't see anything bad about it, given that I have something close to a mortal fear of Apple computers.

"Have you sent it out yet or is there time for me to fix it?" is all Lex wanted to know. She hasn't even seen it and yet she knows it sucks. Oh okay, she knows it can be better. And all I know is? I trust her implicitly and she's a thumping rockstar, no question. This year's ANZAC invitation is going to be fab.

Monday, February 26, 2007

I'll have what she's having...

my rainbow sandwich !
Originally uploaded by 7oO7oO.

I have been known to eat some weird dishes in my time. I'm right at home stuffing my face with wriggly octopus tentacles, or escargots drizzled in melted butter and garlic, or sauerkraut and fat bratwurst wrapped in rye bread. Oh man, just the thought of it...

But today I went to the "Corner Bakery" for lunch and managed to stump all my colleagues. Because I ordered the brand new turkey sandwich. I hate turkey. Not only that, but I hate artichokes and guess what? There they were in all their vinegary glory.

But rather than pick them off, I stuffed them all in my face and gave it a red hot try. I could only eat half of it. The asagio cheese bread is inspired, let me give it that much.

I can't even tell you why I ordered a sandwich whose predominant ingredients I find pretty unpalatable. Did I think that the roasted balsamic onions and the basil pesto would rescue the sandwich? I'm not sure what mayonnaise was heaped onto it, but it certainly did not help. The spinach was good, but seriously - can you screw up spinach?!

So all up, it was a fairly unfavourable foray into food at lunch time today. I will have to do better next time. Maybe ask for everything on the side. Because you've just gotta like it how you like it.

Believe me, these blokes can move!

Not amused
Originally uploaded by Kiwi Mikex.

There was a big ice storm in Chicago on Saturday night that I (of coures) went out in. I had made a promise to another Adelaide girl that I'd come to a pub by Wrigley Field to have birthday drinks with her. So as the weather worsened over the course of the day, and my Friday night hangover diminished, I trudged up the road and got stung in the eyes by bitchy sleety icicles. Jerks.

But I sought sanctuary in a passing cab but I was grateful that we proceeded at a snail's pace to "Casey Moran's", my friend's watering hole of choice.

The next morning, Chicago looked like a winter wonderland but was still terribly grey and I didn't want to go out in it. So I was kinda grateful when Jenn told me she'd gashed her foot (curse those home pedicures) and she wouldn't be able to come to the theater with me.

But I was curious about the action-musical called "Terracotta Warriors" and so I made my friend K come with me. Not only was I curious about the musical, but I desperately wanted to see inside the iconic Chicago Theater (before the Harry Connick Jr concert in March, that is).

It took me a while to get into the show, which is called an action-musical because it relies on dance and stunts, rather than dialogue, to move the story along. And the plot in this case was about the first Emperor of China, and how he revolutionised the country, terrorised his people, but also managed to build The Great Wall of China in the process.

My favourite parts of the show were the stunts and the acrobats - even two little kids played the part of conscripted soldier/ninjas really well. Loved it.

Plus of course I have long been fascinated by the ghostly Terracotta Warrior statues that you find in China - they look very menacing, but given what it would have been like under the Emperor's reign, you probably had to be a little fierce just to get by!

Saturday, February 24, 2007

Sometimes you just have to cut loose

Originally uploaded by konaboy.

Well ladies and gents, last night was an absolute cracker at The Cult for the Young Members Winter Ball 2007. I had bought a new red, satin dress and paired it with the red heels I wore to the Australia Day Ball back in January. I felt comfortable and ready to party.

My dates for the evening were Biggsy & D, and my two newest Aussie friends B&S. We all looked great and amongst the sea of tuxedos (march of the penguins) and glamour gowns, we held our own beautifully. Jenn wore a stunning champagne-coloured strapless dress and B took a wonderful photo of the two of us that I can't wait to get hold of.

But of course we all know that I can't attend an event these days without making a git of myself at some point. And last night was no exception! I made short work of some eventually toxic bright blue cocktails early in the evening, and operating on the "if it ain't broke, don't fix it" principle, I stuck with them all night. On one of my many trips to the bar, I met a guy named Paul who was dapper and suave and fun to chat to while the line moved. So I casually mentioned that I hadn't seen him around The Cult before and I inquired how long he'd been a member.

"Oh no," he replied, "I'm the lead singer in the band."

And before you ask, I certainly HAD been dancing to his tuneful tones all evening. And yes, I did feel like the biggest tool ever. But he was great about it and as I shuffled away, I muttered something about not doing much dancing up the front of the dancefloor, and concentrating too much on not sliding on the parquetry flooring. He might have bought it, but maybe not...

So the night rolled on, and I stuffed myself with the most creative dessert buffet I've ever seen - complete with Haagen-Daaz icecreams on a stick AND the fattest strawberries dipped in dark chocolate. (Insert Homer Simpson-style drooling here). So when the night ended, me and Jenn went back to our respective rooms to get changed, leaving some hardcore party girls twirling in the middle of the dancefloor while their dates held the coats, rolled their eyes, and checked their watches.

And I joined Jenn in her room for a 3am cheese pizza and light beers while we commentated Court TV and infomercials. After that 'midnight' feast, I wandered back to my room - barefoot and in pyjamas - begging to sleep like the dead. And I have awoken today looking like the swamp monster, and feeling worse. But all this self-inflicted misery cannot dampen my enthusiasm for last night's great party. Bring on the next black tie event - I love 'em. I just have to pay more attention to the band next time!

Thursday, February 22, 2007

We're the undead, aren't we?

vampire sex mouth
Originally uploaded by chickencat.

I'd been at a jazz night for The Cult at a cute (oops, hip) South Loop venue called "The Hothouse" tonight and then Jenn and me decided to bail early and head to Ben Pao for dinner.

After a couple of blood orange martinis and some terribly spicy dragon noodles, I was ready to head home. But perhaps it was the MSG, or maybe it was just tunnel vision on the part of the cab drivers, but we could simply not get a taxi. 3, 4, 5 empty cabs went sailing past us, as Jenn waved her arms frantically in the air in a vain attempt to hail one.

It was then that she declared rather emphatically that we were obviously vampires. Clearly we had no reflection at all, and we were just going to have to find the nearest rafter and spend the night dangling upside down from it.

So I cracked a tantrum in the middle of Ohio Street and started power walking to "Pops for Champagne", thinking that a little glass of bubbles might make me feel less like the undead. And it was then that Jenn decided to inform me that a rather unattractive 'hoodlum' (as she called him) was tailing us on foot. So HE could see us but given that he wasn't driving a cab, I was content to ignore him and we picked up the pace.

Circling the very full bar, we agreed that there was no way we were getting a drink any time soon, so we left and walked a block or so north to grab a cab.

FINALLY we were spotted by a sympathetic taxi driver and he ferried us home. I event left him a fairly handsome tip, and left his neck intact.

Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Just a wee dram for this lassie

Keep Walking
Originally uploaded by Darlan.

I am a little apprehensive about this post as I fear it may be my last coherent one for a while. As it turns out, I'm about to walk into an invitation-only event called "Johnnie Walker Journey". [Perhaps there is some benefit in passing out business cards - I appear to be on at least one right mailing list. Yay me.]

Anyway this fancy event is all about tasting Johnnie Walker scotches in all the colours of the rainbow. Lord help me. I actually have no idea if I even like Scotch, so I'm approaching tonight in the same way that I'd tackle a wine tasting; namely, that it's all about learning to appreciate the beverage, no one ever says it has to become your favourite. And sip, don't chug. Veeeery important.

Naturally I read that the hors d'oeuvres at these events are pretty darn special, so I am very much looking forward to them too. Not so keen on the pep talk that some whizkid intern from Johnnie Walker is due to give us, but I will smile politely and sleep with my eyes open (a skill I mastered in Contract Law lectures circa 1996).

My interest in this event is also due to the fact that tonight may be the only chance I get to taste Johnnie Walker Blue Label (RRP $200US) so bring it on, as far as I'm concerned.

The tasting that was....

So I survived my first "Johnnie Walker Journey" and I was particularly grateful for the advance reading I did online. I was able to say with authority that my JW Black did indeed smell of 'peat', though secretly I had no idea what that meant. As it turns out, peat smells like smoke, and JW Black is supposed to exhibit that lingering smokey smell. Gold star for Gab!

Call me a heathen, but my favourite JW was the red, because it is the consummate mixer. Pair it with ginger ale or cola, and it's the perfect girly cocktail drink. Figures. If I was going to have JW neat, I'd have the gold (which you chill for 24 hours first, and then drink from chilled glasses), or else the JW blue of course (complete with the $200 price tag).

I was really appreciative that my new Aussie friends (B & S) and my Chicago chum L came with me. Arriving ahead of my friends tonight, I admittedly held my breath when a certain gentleman shadowed me around the room from hors d'oeuvres station to hors d'oeuvres station and then struck up a conversation with me. As banal as it was at the time, I was not really in the market to be chatted up (as I was conscious of how rude I felt keeping an eye on the door for my own friends) but then voila, I got over myself big time because this guy's girlfriend walked in and she was lovely. So we ended up all sitting as a group and then had a photo taken together after the tasting...which on reflection was rather odd. Oh well, it was a good night.

Then me and L retired to the nearby Beer Bistro for a delicious burger and a couple of English beer on his expense account, then it was home to blog and bed. Blissful really.

Tuesday, February 20, 2007

A quarter-life crisis

June Work Cupcakes II
Originally uploaded by princess_of_llyr.

Today is Lexie's official birthday (25 years young - way to go, girl!). When I was searching for just the right sentiment to impart in her birthday card, I thought it might be the time to drop in some words of wisdom about being 25, and what it all means in the great scheme of things.

And then I realised I can't actually remember being 25.

In fact, I came to the realisation that my 20s have all passed by me in a kind of blurry haze. Oh sure, there have been stand-out events over the years, but I can't pinpoint my 25th year and say to Lexie, "You know what? That rocked."

And I think, given how much I've been obsessing over it in the last 48 hours, it's bothering me that I can't say that.

What happened to me? I mean, I have a great memory. Hard as I try, I can't forget faces and, most of the time, I remember the names that go with them. Thanks to my super fabulous diary, I no longer forget where I have to be, and I have an uncanny ability to recall phone numbers. Then again, so did Rain Man, so perhaps don't hold that up as an example.

But on reflection, the last decade has been like one long year - no single age stood out from the rest as the one that has defined me (at least not in any way I can identify now). Don't misunderstand me though. I'm not suggesting that my life to this point has been blah, because nothing could be further from the truth. What I'm saying is that my life isn't a Hallmark card, with one birthday giving me the absolute ultimate, life-altering experience.

So naturally, my over-reacting brain has generated two schools of thought about this. Either the rest of my life is going to be as speedy and foggy as it has been so far leaving me completely incapable of singling out the annus fabulous, or (and this is the more preferable option obviously), perhaps my best is yet to come.

Maybe I'll be able to send Lexie a card for her 32nd birthday, or her 47th, or her 98th, and assure her that THAT year will be her best ever - and I'll be able to say so with authority.

So in the interim, on the occasion of her 25th, my card to Lexie apologised for my early onset alzheimer's and for not having any particular life lessons to impart. Instead, as the big sister she never wanted, I wished her the best for this year and all the ones to come. Surely the warm and fuzzies are all that anyone REALLY wants for their birthday, right?

Monday, February 19, 2007

Getting sidetracked on a Sunday

Rainbow beads
Originally uploaded by Little Miss Lucy.

We are having a public holiday here in the States for President's Day. Obviously this celebrates the birthday of every President who ever was, or ever will be, or perhaps it's in honor of Abe Lincoln's birthday or maybe just George Washington's. I don't know, I'm obviously fuzzy on the details.

But so far I am remembering with distinct clarity that it is Lexie's birthday tomorrow and so late yesterday afternoon, around 4.30pm to be precise, we headed off to sing show tunes with the boys at Sidetracks, the glorious gay bar down the road from us.

We have been there several times, and I really do love it. The theatrical personalities of the wannabe stage & screen stars around me just has to be seen to be believed. Some of the guys even know all the dance routines and they work together to put on amateur performances right in front of you. Naturally you must applaud enthusiastically at the end. And so that's how we found ourselves, two straight girls singing just as loudly as all the gay boys, to hits from such Broadway spectaculars as "Hairspray" and "Grease" and, of course, "Cabaret". Liza would have been proud.

I sat on a bench around the dancefloor next to a guy named M, whose partner of some 16 years was at home because he doesn't like smoky environments. We talked about M's upcoming trip to Venice and Florence to celebrate his 40th birthday. Given that they are 2 of my favourite cities on earth, conversation between us flowed very easily. The boys met in England where they were both studying, so already I felt happy that I had met another happy traveller. And as long as I kept minding M's seat when he went to the men's room, he would always come back via the bar with vodka slushies for each of us. What a deal!

And so here's the thing. I gave him my phone number. Now before you start hollering and carrying on in the vein of "oh no, not again, what have we told you about doing that..." surely this is a good thing. A smart and friendly gay man who has a good job, is good to his family, has a steady boyfriend, loves to travel, was hit on about 4 different guys last night (who also told me I was gorgeous - ah bless), AND wants to buy me drinks - hello, he might just be MY Mr Wonderful haha.

But seriously, while stuffiing a steak burrito in my face afterwards (if you can't have a Rundle St yiros, this will have to do), I was reflecting on the fact that I made a new friend. My decision to give M my number wasn't about vodka-slushie brain freeze. M and his boyfriend will have some great stories to share with me about their travels - particularly to Italy, where they have already been four other times. And if I ever Moulin Rouge comes back on at Sidetrack, at least I know that he will sing the Ewan McGregor parts, and sometimes a girl needs that.

Sunday, February 18, 2007

Letting it all hang out

Colored grey
Originally uploaded by ido1.

There was a minor crisis in my apartment building the night before I went to Boston. It turned out that both washing machines in the basement were declared out of order (one full of dirty laundry and sudsy water), and there was no power of any kind getting to the laundry room. I looked from the broken machines, to the two sackfuls of dirty laundry I had to do, and wondered how I was going to survive in Boston without clean clothes.

So I placed a 911 call to Dr G and next thing I knew, I was having delicious Thai take-out at her place, while my laundry went round and round in her machine. Saved.

So I had some hesitation going down to my laundry room again yesterday. Over a week has passed since I found the broken machines, so I figured that would have been plenty of time for a technician to do his thing. And even though I had two loads of laundry to do, on entering the basement I realised only 1 machine was operational. But it was available, so I jammed all my clothes into the one load (please remember that up until this point, I had indeed separated colours from whites) and set it going.

And thus began the 4-hour washing marathon. I was unstoppable. Bed linens, towels, clothes - it all got washed yesterday. And that one functioning machine got such a workout, it was amazing.

And there were only 2 casualties from the whole process. I lost one sock (from a pair I actually like), and my favourite black bra got inadvertently thrust into the dryer and one of its little hook thingies got melted. Sniff. I guess that's what you get for washing and drying like a mad thing.

Thursday, February 15, 2007

Wine & Style

Touch Of Elegance..
Originally uploaded by MaD Gi®L•™.

I am pretty good at dragging Jenn to various events and tonight was no exception. I managed to get myself on some mailing list that included an invitation to an evening of food & wine tastings hosted by Chicago's "Food and Wine" magazine. It's a very good publication, don't get me wrong. Inside you'll find great recipes and hints & tricks for getting through the Chicago winter with foods to warm the soul.


The event was hosted at a place called "460 Degrees" and is a fancy art gallery that is also a Lexus car dealership. Weird. In typical fashion, me and Jenn just stuffed our face full of the free hors d'oeuvres and great quality wines (courtesy of Bin 36) and then we made our graceful exit.

We ended up having some champagne with some friends at "Delacosta", a fancy place down towards Navy Pier; a really long walk if you ask Jenn. In any case, we spent most of the evening chatting to each other, and making some fun of the poor chap who was beside himself with joy to meet us. With hand clamped to his chest, he proclaimed how PROUD he was to meet us, how PLEASED he sincerely was to meet our acquaintance, how GENUINELY HAPPY he was to see us. Oh boy. It was exhausting.

Wednesday, February 14, 2007

It's not what you say, it's how you say it

I think that one of the best things that happens when you learn a foreign language, is that you also glean a better understanding of your own native tongue. In addition to finally understanding what a noun, verb, and adjective are, you know how to use them correctly. You can identify the subject and object of any sentence, and you can be all smug and drop words like split-infinitive; subjuctive; and conjungation in a sentence - and you know what you're talking about.

So it has been a real treat for me to discover Kate Fox's book, Watching the English - The Hidden Rules of English Behaviour - that Kate thoughtfully gave to me when we were in Boston last week. I'm only a few chapters into it, but already I'm laughing and cringing all at the same time. Fox is a socio-anthropologist but her book is at once scientific and comedic. She is English herself, and pokes fun at her countrymen in the same good-natured way that the Aussies do. Indeed she comments that the social mores and customs explored in her book will easily strike a chord with Australians. If you haven't seen the book or heard of it before (as I hadn't), you must check it out. You don't need to be a scientist, language student, or even English to enjoy the book. I actually think the book pokes just enough fun at English customs to be highly amusing to a non-English person.

Here in the States, I think I've done a pretty good job of adapting to my new environment. Language was of course one of the first cultural barriers I had to address when I arrived. You might remember that 'tap' became 'faucet'; 'jumper' turned to 'sweater' and 'coffee' became 'Starbucks Venti Nonfat Latte'. But two phone calls at work recently have reminded me that you can take the girl out of Australia, but you can't take Australia out of the girl (well, not all of it anyway).

In the first instance, I inadvertently told an American caller that my colleague he had asked for had just 'jumped on the phone'. Silence followed. I knew what was coming. "How do you jump on the phone exactly?" he enquired, in his meant-to-be-amusing-but-came-across-as-obnoxious way. I told him that it was a unique Australian saying, and I'm sure he knew that. Again with the silence. So I transferred him.

Then today a lady phoned and started telling me a long and involved story about an aspect of her private life that related to the reason she was calling. I listened politely and when she paused, I filled the silence with "Right...." to encourage her to continue. She of course assumed that by saying "right", I was familiar with her story, and therefore telling her that I'd heard enough. So she said "are you reading my mind?". In disbelief, I simply declared in the negative. Again with the silence (see the pattern?). So in the manner of my English brethren, I felt compelled to make excuses for myself and I let her in on the Aussie cultural secret that saying "Right," was a shortened version for "Right, I see, please tell me more of your fascinating story" - or at least I said something like that.

These are two extreme examples of course. And to be fair, the reason they irritated me is because these callers implied that letting an accidental Aussie-ism slip out was distasteful and they called me out on it. They knew what I meant for heaven's sakes, and yet they couldn't help themselves. They're just fortunate that I'm still too polite to take them to task. After all, name-calling and mud-slinging is just so uncouth....and so, what's that word? Un-English.

Tuesday, February 13, 2007

The icky love stuff

one hot sweet heart
Originally uploaded by reiscakes.

Okay this photo is doing some pretty weird things to me right now. A cup of coffee and a jam donut - hellooo? That sounds like a pretty Happy Valentine's to me. Dunkin' Donuts could learn a thing or two. Sigh, does it really just take that to make me happy? Yup, I guess so.

Chicago is too busy digging itself out of a snow storm today to worry too much about Valentine's Day, but I got to leave work early today so I have been trawling the web for the soppiest love poetry I can find. For my own amusement, naturally.

Valentines are stupid
Valentines are dumb
So why do we get so upset
When no one sends us one?

The whole 'icky love stuff' side of Valentine's makes me laugh. I love all the Hallmark cards and the teddy bears with kitschy ribbons around their necks and the endless bouquets of typical red roses. If any of those things came my way tomorrow, from Mr Right or Mr Not-So-Right, I'd be a happy girl.

But I'm more impressed by sentiment and, given that I'm a 21st Century modern woman, I was inspired by the following Valentine's poem (no doubt composed by a singleton - or maybe even a child, who's to say?)

I smiled, I winked
I've been quite a flirt
So I'm sending this Valentine
Cause you're not too alert.

Now, just who should I send it to? Wouldn't you all like to know hehe.

But I digress. May your Valentine's Day be a thumping success, with more bouquets than your vases can handle!

All the art looked fine to me

Dance at Bougival by Pierre August Renoir
Originally uploaded by frangg23.

On our last day in Boston (Sunday) there wasn't anything we really wanted to do, than to head to the Museum of Fine Arts (MFA). After a questionable breakfast of Dunkin Donuts (invented near Boston, so accordingly Bean Town boasts 750 stores!), me, Kate, and Mrs H took off on the T, using some spare tickets Kate had.

The T is Boston's version of Chicago's "El", only the T runs both underground, like a subway, and then aboveground, like a tram. It's quick, cheap, and easy to follow. And after a few track changes and transfers, we made it to the MFA without incident.

I don't understand much about art, so I stay fairly quiet on the subject. But there are a few things that I do like. I enjoy roaming through Egyptology exhibits (past life maybe?), I like Monet, Renoir, and I very much like the statue of the young dancer by Degas. Did the Boston Museum of Fine Arts have all these things? You betcha.

And so we lost ourselves in the many galleries, exhibition halls, and gift shops (!) in the MFA and I really enjoyed it. Towards the end, when my feet started getting sore, it was nice to just sit on the soft chairs in the middle of the rooms and look around. From that far away, it's much easier to appreciate the sheer scale of some of these artworks.

Back at the hotel, Kate and I only had time for a quick lunch with Mrs H before we had to say goodbye to Mr H at the Expo and share a cab to the airport. After a quick journey to my terminal, I gave Kate a tight hug goodbye and checked in.

The holiday was over quickly but I certainly feel like I saw a lot and did a lot. I sure ate and drank a lot. But that's what holidays are about I guess.

Now, where to next?

Monday, February 12, 2007

At least 4 Aussies at the Aquarium

Dragon des mers / Sea Dragon
Originally uploaded by meantux.

Day 3 in Boston dawned with a breakfast at "Aura" in Mr & Mrs H's hotel, the Boston Seaport. The breakfast buffet was delicious, even though my Jewish bread had a tricky time fitting into the toaster. I don't think anyone noticed.

After breakfast we headed over to the Boston Wine Expo to see the Hardys booth and check out the 'competition'. Of course we didn't all have complimentary tickets so, to avoid the $75 fee, a fellow Aussie (based in CA) got me in for free. Of course I did have to masquerade as an employee of a Santa Barbara winery I'd never heard of, but I discovered that 'our' official mascot is actually a 6ft black rooster. Oh boy. Fortunately no one asked me any questions but if they did, I was already under instruction to say that our vintage was splendid and we were enjoying the Expo greatly, thankyouverymuch. And then run.

Making a hasty exit from the rows upon rows of wine and nibblies, me and Kate and Mrs H headed for the Boston Aquarium, where I discovered a small but impressive Australian display featuring a few South Australian residents - leafy sea dragons! Our State's marine emblem looked pretty comfortable just skulking around the tank so we moved on.

Part of our Aquarium ticket also included a trip to the IMAX theatre right next door, to see "Deep Sea 3D", narrated by Johnny Depp and Kate Winslett. To see some young kids a few rows ahead of me with their big glasses on, making vain grabs for the sea creatures that were literally jumping out of the screen at them was a good laugh. The movie itself was pretty repetitive (and with way too many slimy jellyfish), but it neverthless brought home the fact that the ocean really is an amazing place. We all left the IMAX theatre with a craving for fish & chips, which is probably very wrong on some level.

Feeling considerably sickened by our craving, we decided to closet ourselves away for a late lunch at a Mexican restaurant just off Quincy Market (a huge open area public square with several pavillion chock-full of shops and stalls. I can only assume that the barman waved the tequila bottle in front of my margarita (cause he certainly didn't put any IN it), so lunch didn't last long. But it was okay because afterwards we walked through Gap and some other stores and I bought some obligatory postcards to send home.

By the end of the afternoon I was exhausted but our day was not done yet. Friday night after the loooong day at the Expo was a celebration for the folk at Constellation Wines, and they had graciously included us in their dinner invitation.

And so after a quick presto-changeo at our own hotel, Kate & me shared a cab with Mr & Mrs H and we headed to The Atlantic Fish Company, a truly beautiful and outrageously crowded restaurant on busy Boylston Street. After sharing countless bottles of wine with the 8 or so others at the table, we all split a couple of decadent seafood platters (the raw oysters were particularly good), and then I had a seafood Asian salad for my main course. As it was, I couldn't finish it! And then it was over the road to a quaint Irish pub for a few beers before calling it a night.

Sunday, February 11, 2007

Taking in the Boston culture

Midsummer Night's Dream - Watercolour Ballet
Originally uploaded by Pat McDonald.

Day 2 in Boston began with breakfast with Mr & Mrs H at a cafe by the water. On a summer day, that venue would be perfect to grab a take-away muffin and coffee, and walk along the harbor front, taking in the sights, smells, and activities along the seaport. But on this particular day, the sky was clear but the air was frigid, so we stayed indoors to plot our day's events.

We all agreed that it would be good to take a ride on the Beantown Trolley, as we had all seen one that departed from the nearby New England Aquarium. We decided to take in the trolley tour that went as close to Harvard University as possible, though we eventually declined the opportunity to leave the trolley route and take a train to the campus itself. That's a job for next time. The route DID however take us through the City and over to the MIT campus so that was fun to look through (from the warm cocoon of the trolley, naturellement).

Once lunch time rolled around, there was only one place we wanted to go: The Barking Crab. Mr H had been raving about this place and I was so desperate for a cup of authentic clam chowder, I didn't care where we went.

The Barking Crab is a cute little shack restaurant right on the water front that is as relaxed an establishment as ever you'll find. The servers all wear tshirts that suggest "Everyone Should Have Crabs", which is a little unsavoury but clever nonetheless. And once I'd had my DELICIOUS cup of steaming and hearty clam chowder, I obeyed the order of the tshirt and ordered a crab cake burger for my main course. Washed down with yet more wine.

Then it was back onto the trolley car to motor around the City once more. This time we got off at Beacon Hill and walked around by the Boston Common, and the State House, with a rather imposing statue of JFK standing sentry on the front steps. As our taxi driver later confirmed, this part of Boston looks as if it were designed by a drunk. In direct contrast to the neat, grid orderliness of Chicago city streets, Boston is a mish-mash of back streets, windy lanes, and one-way death traps. But at the same time, it is a charming place to lose yourself and that's exactly what we did. The Beacon Hill neighbourhood has some gorgeous little boutiques, jewellery stores, and old-fashioned grocers. You get the idea that this area caters for locals just as much as curious tourists.

Mr H had to work in the evening for the Boston Wine Expo, so me and Kate and Mrs H packed off to the Boston Ballet's production of "A Midsummer Night's Dream" with music by Felix Mendelssohn and choreography by George Balanchine. It's my favourite Shakespeare play ever, so I was very interested to see how it would be staged. [You might remember that the last ballet I saw was a rather modern 'spin' on "Swan Lake" and I came away not really understanding it. With this in mind I was a little reticent about the Shakespeare ballet, but I was more than happy to give it a go].

The Citi Wang Theatre that hosted the performance is a glorious old theater with ornate decorations and plush velvety seats. The cosy atmosphere put Mrs H to sleep, and then Kate to sleep, and I was almost nodding off, but I was resolved to get through the ballet. The performance was wonderful. The little girl ballerinas from the Boston Ballet school were adorable as Oberon's bugs and fireflies. The costumes and set changes were really well done, and I loved the show.

After that, we walked back to our hotel in the crisp (aka freezing) Boston night air. We decided to dine late - around 11pm - at The Vintage Lounge, directly opposite our Hotel, and allegedly THE hottest "it" spot in town. A bit of a misnomer really cause the restaurant is brand new and terribly modern. Oh well, what do I know? In any case, the lamb and couscous that I enjoyed was certainly worth the visit.

Day 3 promised a trip to the Boston Wine Expo, which proved to be rather "interesting"...stay tuned.

When you've 'bean' to Boston

I am sitting at the airport in Boston waiting until my boarding call to return to Chicago and I've been trying to remember everything that I've done since I got here on Thursday. I get the distinct impression that the next few blog entries will be entirely out of chronological order. Despite the hole in the space/time continuum, I'll try and bring you up to speed on the fun I had with the Hardys in beautiful Bean Town.

Let's start by saying that the sensible tourist does not come to Boston in February. While the weather here has been a heatwave compared with Chicago, neverthless it was still terribly cold to the point where I had to keep clenching my fists just to defrost my fingers! I lived in my winter coat and gave appropriate amounts of thanks to my Grandma for the scarf she knitted me for Christmas.

I arrived from Chicago at around 11.45am on Thursday and though I had been up since 5am, I was running on adrenalin and I was really excited to have the opportunity of exploring a new City. Kate wasn't due to arrive from Paris until around 4.30pm, so I checked into our hotel (the Hilton Financial) ahead of her. Given my non-existent sense of direction, I was not too inclined to explore the City without Kate, so I restricted myself to the side streets all around my Hotel. As it was, one could get very displaced just meandering through there - loads of one-way places and pokey laneways that made it very hard to keep one's bearings. Anyway, with an Irish pub on every corner, I don't suppose it really matters where you end up! I settled into one of the more authentic-looking establishments and tucked into some hearty bangers & mash, all washed down with a cold Guinness. Ahh it was bliss, to be sure.

Then I went back to the Hotel and stayed in the room, for fear that Kate would arrive and not be given a key. I laid down to watch a terrible Richard Gere movie, and must have dozed a little. I awoke to find Kate & her mum trying to open the door. It was great to see the girls again. Mr H was still in NJ for a wine event, but he would arrive later that night.

So K and I relaxed a bit until dinner, and we swapped some souvenirs and travel stories in our room. Then it was dinner time and we all packed off to Bertucci's, one of a chain of Italian restaurants where I had a very nice (though very filling) calzone and a glass of Italian wine (the start of a pattern really).

We then slept like the dead, ready to face Day 2 in Bean Town. More to follow.

Wednesday, February 07, 2007

A brief hiatus

Boston Cheers
Originally uploaded by japan-vincent.

Dear All

I am taking a short break from blogging to visit Bean Town and see all that the beautiful city of Boston has to offer.

With any luck I will have a full report of the Cheers Bar, and other cheesy tourist sites, by Monday. [I fly back in to Chicago late Sunday night, so let's not hold our breath for a blog entry straight away.]

Have a safe and restful weekend, and try to behave while I'm gone.

From me x

Tuesday, February 06, 2007

Sugar and spice

Chocolate dessert
Originally uploaded by

Ever since I moved to Chicago in October 2005, there have been a lot of things about the American diet (as it is) that have perplexed me. And we should probably take a moment to pause and remind ourselves that my blog has never been about specifics. In this post, as with the rest of my blog, I am typically generalising. In venting some of my WHAT THE? moments, I'm not wanting to say something sucks, or suggest I hate something, and life is better anywhere else bla bla. It's a cultural observation, nothing more peeps, okay? Alright, let's continue...

Flavoured coffee. I just don't understand seasonal drinks. Why only bust out spiced lattes or flavoured mochas at certain times of the year? Makes no sense to me. And while we're on the subject, Starbucks, why do you persist in flavouring your coffees to suck all the joy out of the fine art of coffee making (barista-ing?) by sweetening them up, sprinkling crap on them, spicing them, and generally blitzing all the coffee taste out of it? And yet you still having the balls to call it coffee. I just don't get it. And I also can't pronounce half your coffees, and I speak three languages. Obviously just not the right ones.

The salty and sweet combo? Used to hate it, now I love it. Chocolate covered pretzels are the bomb. Ditto PB&J sandwiches. Can't quite embrace Reece's peanut butter cups though.

Cinnamon. If it was combined with sugar and dusted on donuts, then I was happy. But on its own, or added to any kind of food - yuck. So when I bought English-style crumpets at "Trader Joe's" the other day, only to discover they were doused in cinnamon, I was traumatised. But I just finished two of them, and I am wondering where they have been all my life.

Iced tea. Can't get into it, even though it is popular the world over. Am stuck on the terribly British concept of hot tea. Still, if I can come around to British crumpets with cinnamon, perhaps I can come around to chilled tea?

Mexican food. Never before have I seen such an abundance of this cuisine. But all I can say is, God Bless America.

Jagermeister. Granted it's the devil but it's beloved by college students across this country (and a certain Aussie expat after waaay too many other beverages late at night).

Bagels. It seems to be the breakfast of champions in this country, but I am not adventurous enough yet to indulge in the multitude of flavoured varieties available (again with the flavours people!). Give me a toasted poppy seed bagel with Vegemite for breakfast, and I'm a happy girl.

The Outback Steakhouse. Not even remotely associated with Australia but its advertising bastardises all that is good about our country. Did you know they have an "Ab-Original Salad" on their menu? The Americans don't know any better; for shame on the restaurant - it's just plain deceitful.

The Holy Condiment Tray. Waitresses in diners have to carry this damn thing with both hands, if it's not already taking up half your table when you sit down. Every possible variety of mustard, sauce, spice, and topping is included in this condiment smorgasbord. Because God forbid you eat your meal as it comes - go ahead, splash a whole lot of other crap all over it for good measure. Crikey.

Dr Pepper. I can't even tell you how much my teeth hurt at the mere mention of it.

And while it feels good to rant about the bizarre nature of the American diet, I buy into all of it. I love that there is excess in this country. I love that there are large portions and buffets of goodness as far as the eye can see. I love that you can call someone to bring you any and all of this stuff, at any time of the day or night. And I love that there is such food diversity in the US that I can be here for 100 years and still only scratch the surface. I'm just glad that I discovered chocolate-covered pretzels so early on. Woohoo!

Monday, February 05, 2007

Ice Ice Baby

Originally uploaded by vxla.

Gab's tips for surviving Chicago winter mornings:

  • Sleep in as long as you can
  • Take a very hot shower - again, for as long as you can
  • Consider going back to bed - if you can
  • Thermal underwear is not unsexy
  • Open-toed shoes are the devil
  • Take Coffee throughout the day, preferably intravenously
  • A crowded bus shelter is not a bad thing
  • Huddling on the bus is a cheap way to get to know people
  • Beanies - even ugly ones are good
  • Accept that winter in Chicago is not about fashion
  • Auto-erotic asphyxiation by your scarf is commonplace
  • 1/2 bottle of red wine can be dinner
  • Realise that winter will pass

Sunday, February 04, 2007

I see you watching me watching you

granada theater
Originally uploaded by david haggard.

I've woken up to a Sunday morning in Chicago where everything seems frozen stiff. The trees aren't moving, there's no one out on the streets, and Lake Michigan AND the Chicago River are iced over. When it's minus 3 degrees WITHOUT the wind chill, you can just imagine how cold it really is out there.

I am therefore very pleased with myself that I enjoyed theatre performances on Friday night and Saturday matinee, cause it means that I don't have to venture out this morning to do it - phew!

Friday night was "The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee" at a cute little theatre called Drury Lane (residence of The Muffin Man, obviously). The play is about exactly that - a county spelling bee. The actors are the kids in the Bee and two of their teachers, and a rather menacing looking Comfort Counsellor, whose job it is to give the 'losers' a packet of juice and a big hug. The musical is really funny and a lot of it is adlib, as it has a large amount of audience participation at the beginning. Fortunately Lexie and me managed to avoid that part. We had perfect seats and it was a great way to spend the evening while the wind and chill made Chicago shiver. Waiting for the bus afterwards wasn't a picnic of course, but it had to be done.

On Saturday afternoon I took myself off to see "Wicked", which is something I've wanted to do for the longest time. I learned early that the best seats in the house are often single ones and so to score those seats, it may be necessary to go to the theatre alone. I used to despise that concept but now it's not so bad. And so it was that with yesterday's performance of "Wicked", I was in the 5th row. I had a wonderful view of the whole stage, and could see the expressions on the actors and it was the most amazing theatre experience. The little girl next to me was so tiny she was seated on two seat cushions, but she was delightfully quiet the whole time - I think the show may have mesmerised her. I would go and see "Wicked" again of course, and I'm more resolved than ever to have another go at reading the book now.

My next theatre experience will be Harry Connick Jr in March with Jenn at the Chicago Theater - I haven't been there yet. And then, I'm going to get tickets for "Who's Afraid of Virginia Wolf" (starring the lovely Kathleen Turner) in early April.

With such wonderful performers coming to Chicago in a range of crazy and intersting plays, how can I possibly stay home? It simply has to be done...

Thursday, February 01, 2007

Lists are for sissies

CVS Pharmacy - Sign Restoration
Originally uploaded by pixeljones.

On the way home from work tonight, all I had to do was buy my Julius Meinl coffee, and then stop by the pharmacy for some toothpaste and make-up remover wipes.

So explain to me how I managed to get those things PLUS shampoo, conditioner, body lotion, face moisturiser, cotton balls, chewing gum, some sort of body spritz that purports to smell like mandarins, and a pack of stick-on fingernails.

You think I mention this because I feel guilty? Hell no. I'm as pleased as punch with my efforts! I love shopping with no tangible list to restrain me. I love wandering the aisles, grabbing and hurling things I simply don't need into the shopping basket.

And I can be smug about all this because I smell like mandarins and you don't.