Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Hit me baby, one more time

Jane Austen
Originally uploaded by tartx.

I received an email recently that suggested that my blog was attracting some significant visitor traffic and I can see from the site meter that I'll soon be spanked for the 20,000 time. My email correspondent was quick to suggest this is a signficant accomplishment, and I'm inclined to agree. It's rewarding for me to know that the selfish reasons I started this blog have led it to become something that people read from time to time and hopefully enjoy visiting. The site started as an online journal, photo catalogue, and general dumping ground for any news, views, and reviews I felt like sharing at the time. Who's to say what will become of the material I've posted here, but it's often been fun to dust off the archives and see just where my head was at any point in time.

You could say therefore that the impending 20,000th hit gives me pause to review such accomplishments, or at least to reflect on the haphazard way I've made it this far and the multitude of ways I've mystified myself in the process.

For my way of thinking, females are naturally predisposed to assessing their accomplishments by stacking themselves up against their competition - namely, other women. I don't think it matters whether we know them or not. Speaking for myself, I can't resist feeling down at myself, even if just for a nanosecond, if I see someone thinner than me, richer than me, or with whiter teeth than me. And I know that these 'accomplishments' are all on the surface and the person I so fleetingly admire may well be a certifiable lunatic on day release, with no other redeeming qualities to recommend her. But of course it doesn't stop me from envying her and wondering why I can't get myself together just-so.

And so I try to look deeper at what constitutes an accomplished woman, and I like to turn to the list that my friend Jane Austen came up with when she wrote "Pride and Prejudice". While painting tables, covering screens, and netting purses are not necessarily the requisite skills they once were, Jane does suggest that an interest in the more esoteric pursuits of music, singing, and modern languages make for a well-rounded and interesting person; what Jane, and her male characters, agree to consider under the banner of 'accomplished'.

What I find encouraging about these perhaps more 'cultural' accomplishments is that rely less on actual talent and more on a good sense of humour and a general acceptance that it's okay to fake it (phew). My happiness index is never going to plummet because I am a crap dancer or below-par singer. And so what if I snort when I laugh or make up in-jokes with my friends - because all those things make me happy and make my friends happy. Jane Austen must have had a good sense of humour, because when I discovered this list of accomplishments, I felt she was giving me a lot of wiggle room to find the way to a happy and accomplished life. And surely that's always a good thing - in any book?

Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Why I love this City sometimes...

What I found in my coffee today
Originally uploaded by foutugraphe.

A few weeks back I carried on like a porkchop about the once-in-17-year cicada plague that was supposed to descend on Chicago for a few days and then pass by. I am still waiting for it to hit my part of town. I'm not ASKING it to come, I'm just saying.

So in terms of insect infestation being on the down, Chicago rates high in my book.

But Chicago delivered in absolute spades for me today as my hands-down favourite place to be. And yes, dear friends, it all had to do with food.

The doctor warned me that the allergy pills I'm on would not only make me retain water like a proverbial camel, but would increase my appetite and, assuming I did not get food immediately, increase my tendency towards touchy bad moods. Oh sweet symptoms, how I do love thee.

So this morning I was on the good old 135 bus motoring downtown, when I was almost literally overcome by the desire for an Italian coffee and an almond biscotti to dunk into it. Talk about a decadent - and rather specific - craving, eh?!

Alighting from the bus at my destination, the Lavazza coffee shop (home to the nutella croissants we all love so much), I was a little disheartened to find that the only biscotti on offer were the little dry nubby variety - one hearty dunk and you could drop it forever.

Rather than lose my cool or huff or slam my head (or someone else's) onto the front counter, I instead took leave of my senses and spontaneously ordered a banana walnut muffin. Now I normally hate muffins for their density and propensity for stodginess. But this morning I was distracted, daring and - mostly - STARVING.

And guess what, peeps? The bloody things were friggin warm!

The hands-down champs at my favourite Italian cafe make the damn muffins bright and early in the morning, and pretty much time them out of the oven and serve them up right when I get off the bus. Do you see the beautiful symbiotic relationship I have with this cafe? Do you see how these are my people?! Do you know what it does to me to enjoy a warm muffin with a hot Italian coffee first thing in the morning?

Nubby biscotti be hanged. Chicago - I love you. And I'm hungry again.

Monday, May 28, 2007

Birthday brunch for Dr G

Breakfast of Kings
Originally uploaded by Pieter Pieterse.

Today is Memorial Day in the States, so I got a chance to sleep in before heading out ot brunch with Dr G. We stuck around this neighbourhood, revisiting our earlier plans to branch out to the other side of town for a change of scenery.

But it didn't matter one bit because, as Dr G plainly put it, the transvestites were out in mini-skirts, so it was bound to be a good day in Boystown!

We headed to Southport Grocery, a very cute little place around the corner from Dr G's house. We only had to wait 15 minutes to be seated and when we were, we snagged a place right by the kitchen so we got to experience all the sights and smells and temptations coming out of the bustling spot.

The menu is one of those extensive ones that makes you immediately realise you will have to make repeat visits before you've exhausted everything they have to offer. But it was an easy choice first up - a mango mimosa for me, peach one for the good doc, and coffees all round.

Then it was down to business deciding just what to enjoy. I settled on hash browns with red onion and peppers, with scrambled eggs on top and a delicious chive sour cream to garnish. It was all served in a deep cereal bowl and was so tasty. Dr G took the healthier route of course and settled on some granola with fresh fruit and yoghurt, which I immediately coveted.

We chatted for ages and enjoyed repeat cups of coffee; it was all so lovely. And then our waiter bought over a special birthday cupcake - replete with pink striped candle - just for Dr G as a special surprise. I had mentioned that Dr G was the birthday girl when we arrived, but I didn't think he'd heard me.

So we split the tasty cupcake as a dessert, and the waiter reminded me that one of the special dishes on their menu is the pancakes made from the same cupcake batter they use - yum yum, definitely worth coming back for, right?

We had a really casual brunch in a beautiful cafe and then a short walk down Southport, zig-zagging in and out of the boutiques to walk off the yummy fare. Now that I'm back at home, is it wrong that all I want to do is snooze?!

Friday, May 25, 2007

Being a 'scratch test dummy'

Originally uploaded by Neville_S.

So I had my follow-up appointment with the allergist today. I believed I was going in there for blood tests to determine the cause of the evil ailment that blasted my system earlier this week. Not so, as it turned out.

Instead I got interviewed by yet another doctor, and he asked me if he could do a 'scratch test' on my back. Sounded fair, so he lifted up the back of my shirt and went to town on my back with something resembling a giant nail file. Ouch. And then he stood back, scratched his chin the way doctors do, and declared that yes indeed, my back was rashing up. Cheers for that, doc. But he assured me that it would go down soon enough - and it did.

Next I was shuffled into another room where I was subjected to a breathing test, because there was some concern that these elephant steroids I'm on are giving me asthma. So I huffed and puffed into a tube, nearly knocking myself out in the process, but I was declared in fine pulmonary health. Neato.

Then I was back into my allergist's office and told to cut back on my steroid dosage until at least Tuesday, but to call if I suffer any flare-ups.

"And I can see your face is fatter than when you were here last," says the smiling (and rail-thin) allergist. Cheers for that. The scratch-test doctor chimes in with, "So, have you noticed that you've put on water weight?" - um, no I hadn't - I was a little more concerned about flare up welts that took over my body.

What were they saying - am I fat now?

And so it seems that in the absence of any visible welts or obvious flare ups of any other sort, my illness did not warrant any bloodwork to be taken and I was cleared to go - but to return in 2 weeks for a checkup. Seriously, I'm not worried if they aren't worried - but I think it's fair that next time, we're both armed with scratch test devices. Those things don't tickle.

Thursday, May 24, 2007

What light through yonder window breaks?

sky,flower,sunshine,and breeze
Originally uploaded by aery.

Sometimes I think it's just the promise of a warm, sunny day that can cheer me up. Having been house bound with some sort of smallpox infection (not really but you know what I mean), I have been pretty bummed to see that Chicago has enjoyed some unseasonably warm weather in the last few days without me.

But today I was back at work, and in some strappy sandals no less, making the most of the 25 degree celcius weather on the walk to the office.

My day started well with a delicious Italian coffee and nutella croissant (only my second one since I first discovered them), and then my boss put on an extra coat of kindness by buying us all donuts - blissful. Biggsy and me were going to split one and then figured that we were kidding ourselves, so I scoffed a chocolate one while he inhaled a jam-filled one. We were in heaven.

And even though the forecast suggests rain this long weekend, the temp will still be up and it will still be flip-flop weather, and I feel pretty good about that.

Monday, May 21, 2007

The prescription and the pin cushion

All the Drugs in this World
Originally uploaded by lostfate13.

It's been a fairly interesting couple of days and I have become well acquainted with the procedures at Northwestern Hospital's ER Department.

I've been given IV drugs, pills to take, and referred to an allergist who has re-prescribed me some pretty heavy antihistamenes and steroids to take in an effort to bring down the nasty rash that keeps flaring up.

All signs seem to point to a viral infection, which is good news from the perspective that I'm not contagious, nor do I have to give up any foods or drinks I currently enjoy - phew! Can you imagine ME being allergic to dairy or meat or caffeine?! What would my diet possibly consist of? And don't say soy milk - blech!!

So while I medicate around the clock and get better, it's fair to say that I'll be off work and offline for a few days. I'm sure I'll have some better news for you next time I logon. Hasta la vista, babies!

Sunday, May 20, 2007

When food attacks, it's okay to act rashly

Still Life Of Fruits
Originally uploaded by ♥babybee.

I'm still unsure how it all happened, but as we finished lunch on Thursday we were all sitting in our conference room at work and my head got really itchy. While we were just chatting, I started scratching (which I know you're not supposed to do) and next thing I knew, my chest and arms were covered in red welts. And not just small ones either.

The welts spread to my stomach, back, and legs, and the itches and tingles just wouldn't go away. If they were good tingles I wouldn't have complained, but all I wanted to do was take a bath in calamine lotion.

By the time I got home on the bus, my body was covered in welts, and the bumps had spread to my face. As my eyes puffed up and swelled over, I was worried about going blind and wondered why I hadn't cleaned my room - the floor was covered in obstacles that I soon would be unable to see.

At about 10.30pm, I couldn't stand it anymore. I'd been applying clear calamine gel for hours and it wasn't doing any good. So I called a good friend of mine, an ex-ICU nurse and he recommended I get to the pharmacy and buy some Benadryl antihistamene, and take 2 capsules (because 50mg is what they would give me in the ER anyway). He did pass on the usual warnings about what to do if the dreaded welts decided to invade my airway - get myself to the nearest hospital for an epinephrine injection STAT. Fortunately it didn't come to that.

But after two Benadryl that knocked me out almost immediately, I woke on Friday to see that the welts all over my body had calmed down, but my face was still swollen up like a soccer ball. I was miserable.

And even though I had the day off on Friday and kept myself in social isolation all weekend, I still don't know what caused the outbreak. I didn't eat anything out of the ordinary (other than white bread), and I'm not on any medication that might have reacted with my system.

It's just one of those weird things that happens I guess. But all the same, I'm going to play it safe with foods for the immediate future and just pay attention to what I eat and drink. Because God knows I don't want to have another reaction like that ever again!

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

Oh rats, I got s-s-steam heat

Rainy night
Originally uploaded by CyberGus.

Had dinner and drinks with P last night and had a rat run right up to my foot while we sat outdoors at the cafe. Didn't make a scene, didn't kick the rat into the middle of next week, didn't really know what happened actually. But I did give an almighty shudder and question whether I was living in 12th Century London.

Actually that's not really fair for Chicago; this city is beautiful. But I will tell you something else that sucks. Leaving work at 5.30pm and having to stand on a bus the whole way home in bumper-to-bumper traffic, in three inch heels. Ladies and gents, it is the twelfth circle of hell on earth, trust me.

But there is something splendid about coming home, putting my pyjamas on in record time almost immediately, and listening to pounding rain and a brewing heated thunderstorm while the apartment is like a sauna and we prepare to watch new episodes of "House" and "Law & Order: SVU".

Let me tell you, it makes the rats, rain, and routes all worth it.

Monday, May 14, 2007

Australia in a glass, after glass, after glass

Almost Harvest in Chianti
Originally uploaded by aleslie.

A few months ago, my friends at "Just Grapes" wine store asked me to spread the word about a one-night wine class that they were running, that would focus on Australia. I duly sent around an email to the Aussie community, and thought about going along myself. After all, I would only have considered myself a gluttonous consumer, not an educated one.

So at the last minute, Jenn and her friend Jill decided to join me, and we sat up the front as the delightful chief winemaker from Barossa Valley Estates (go Adelaide!) educated a roomful of people about the specialties of each wine region of Australia.

I had paid a lot of attention to the whites, that obviously came first. By 8pm we had hit half-time and I was ready to attack the reds. But then the reds attacked me, and by the time we got to the port to end the nation-wide tour, I was having a wonderful time. Not drunk by any stretch, but certainly glad that no one asked me to buy any wines or I may have walked out with half the shop in one transaction!

Continuing the wine theme, the girls and me pressed on to Bin36, where I will be dining with my fireman some time soon (you can't rush these things folks). I had a lovely wine flight from Italy called "Sexy Reds" - and they were delish.

Then it was off to "Howl at the Moon", a bar with duelling pianos that played everything from Pearl Jam to Van Morrison; it was amazing. When they closed and threw us out, we went across the street to dingy Callaghan's, that fortunately kept pouring beers for us until they too had to go to sleep, and kicked us out at 5.30am.

So yes, needless to say after a heavy night of wine, more wine, and beers, I ended up chatting happily to a cab driver at 6am as he drew the short straw to drive me home. He was a good listener hehe.

I had a wonderful weekend - spring has sprung and the weather is fining up. My boss today declared that this will be a good week - I hope she's right.

Saturday, May 12, 2007

When Tom came to town

Thomas Keneally
Originally uploaded by ddeandlo.

Last night we hosted a lecture and drinks for acclaimed Australian author and now playwright, Thomas Keneally (his "Schindler's Ark" became the Spielberg wonder, "Schindler's List").

We were instructed rather early to call Mr Keneally "Tom", a testament to his easygoing personality and sense of humor. A small group gathered at Northwestern Law School's main auditorium downtown to hear Tom talk about his works and what it is to be a writer generally. Every chance he got, Tom talked up Australia and he expressed a real fascination with the lives of Aboriginal Australians, which helped to explain why they feature so prominently in particularly his early works.

Not being Aboriginal himself of course, Tom revealed that it was sometimes a struggle for him to feel like he was entitled to write from an Aboriginal perspective - did it make him some sort of fraud? Or at least certainly open to some criticism. And so it was with the story of Oskar Schindler. Not being of European heritage himself, what right did he have to attempt to write Oskar's story, or indeed the life and times of WW2 Europe? And yet, he reasoned the story simply had to be told - and not without significant research and inquiry.

After Tom's lecture, a small group of us took him to NoMi at the Park Hyatt for wines and nibbles. It was a really great night and we stayed a little longer than we were supposed to. But the staff there are so great and kept pouring for us, joking with us, and letting us enjoy the company of such a talented Australian.

Well that talented Australian buggered off to go to bed fairly early in the piece, leaving the rest of us to drink on without him. But by 10.30pm, I was ready to call it a night. All of us at work had had a really busy and pretty awful week all things considered, so entertaining Tom at the Hyatt really was a wonderful way to end things.

Wednesday, May 09, 2007

Get "The Gonna Guy" a Guinness

Guinness Shadow
Originally uploaded by Steffe.

It has been well-established this week that I have pretty much no energy to do anything of substance, so it surprised me no end to find myself on a bus motoring down Broadway in the direction of the Landmark Cinemas last night.

Lex had designed the promotional tickets for the free screening of a yet-to-be-released Irish movie called "Once", which stars lead singer of The Frames, Glen Something-Something. I can't remember his last name, and I hadn't heard of his band before last night anyway, so let's just keep moving right along, shall we?

Anyway the movie is set in Dublin and is about a struggling but very talented busker who meets a Czech girl who inspires him to record his songs. She is talented in her own right of course, and accompanies him on piano and sings backing vocals on a few of his tracks. Theirs is a story of talent, friendship, and following dreams. All very touching stuff, but not played out in any soppy, overly-sentimental way at all.

The Director and the main stars were at the premiere last night and hung around afterwards to answer a few questions. When asked about the meaning of the film's title, the Director rather cleverly responded that it refers to the type of Irish fellows you'll see in any bar hiding behind their Guinness making plans. "Once I get enough money together, I'm gonna do this", or "once I leave my Mum's house, I'm gonna do that". Such was the hesitation and self-doubt that plagued the lead character in this movie, and hence the terribly appropriate movie title.

I used to work with a guy like that too, though I used to fondly refer to him a "The Gonna Guy". He was always "gonna do this" or "gonna do that", and he spent so much time talking about it, he never went out and jolly well did any of it. He was constantly procrastinating or putting major life decisions on hold until he had all his proverbial ducks lined up just so. Then one day he quit the job we worked at together, and just disappeared.

Funny, he never said he was gonna do that....

Tuesday, May 08, 2007

Just five more minutes...

bed time
Originally uploaded by annappleaday.

So I peeled myself off the bed last night long enough to make some dinner, stuff it in my mouth, and fall asleep on the sofa in the manner of a caterpillar, swaddled in my fabulous red suede blanket cocoon.

Yesterday's post kind of underscored a major lack of energy on my part and so I was really looking forward to 8 hours of slumber. What I got was significantly less than that, owing to a stellar idea to leave my window ajar, and have to put up with barking dogs, crazy drifters yelling at the moon (and each other), and beeping horns heralding general traffic chaos.

And while all that sounds pretty disruptive, it has nothing on what's about to happen on May 22.

Because on that auspicious day in this already noisy city, Chicago is supposed to 'welcome' about forty billion cicadas from underground and up into the trees where they will sing like banshees, shag like rabbits, and then drop dead and fall back to the ground from whence they came, leaving their husky brown carcasses all over the footpath for me to crunch on, no doubt in open-toed summer shoes. Brilliant.

On 22 May in Chicago, you won't able to leave your MOUTH open, let alone your windows. And so for that, I will gratefully take whatever sleep the universe will afford me, cocooned in my blanket or not, because I get the real feeling that when the cicadas arrive, it really will be a case of "there goes the neighbourhood"!

Monday, May 07, 2007

There's simply nothing here I want

Missy Nora
Originally uploaded by the eMotionBlogster.

I've got a bit of an "Old Mother Hubbard" thing happening at my place right now and I really do want to redress it, but I literally cannot be bothered. The supermarket is only 2 blocks away and yet I just can't find the desire to walk down there, browse the aisles, pay the charge, and trudge back here with my purchases. I really can't.

So I've been lying here on my bed, mentally going over the meagre contents of my fridge, freezer, and pantry, wondering what ingredients I might cobble together into something edible. [Note I refused to use the word 'meal' here - let's get real.]

And on the way to the supermarket, I would have to pass the drycleaners, and I have two pairs of black pants that need hemming. But will I take them in? Hell no. I get the sneaking suspicion that they are destined to remain inside-out and folded at the foot of my bed, where they have been for at least two weeks already, for the foreseeable future.

Speaking of clothes requiring some attention, my laundry is all bundled up ready to go (only sorted tonight mind you). But do you think I can be stuffed walking down to the laundromat? It's only in the building next door of course but, since I have yet to master the 'walking through walls' thing, I figure it can wait. Mercifully I have enough clean underwear to get me through a few more days yet. I know you are thrilled to learn such things.

Okay so I think I need to employ people to do these chores for me. I was reading about Lindsay Lohan and her alleged powder-sniffing habit and it turns out that her staff are being questioned in the uproar. I could care less what Lindsay stuffs up her nostrils to be honest. What caught my attention about the 'news story' was the repeated reference to her "people". I could do with an entourage, I think. I could find them tasks to do for me (hey, this blog post has already raised several glaring examples) and I could keep my minions gainfully employed doing the things I can't be bothered doing. Is that mean? Probably. Particularly because I'm sure I can't afford to keep them handsomely paid. Damn you, money.

And in any case, let's face it. How long would it be before I started making outrageous prima donna demands on my peeps and they got the unions involved? How long before laundry and grocery shopping turned into cleaning up after me, or going to the office for me on rainy days? Or on any days I couldn't be bothered doing it for myself? I think it would happen freakishly quickly actually. Perhaps best to abandon the entourage idea and just continue to whine about a lack of energy and no food.

Ugh okay, just got hit with a rather painful stab of genuis and remembered I have enough in the kitchen to make dinner for tonight.

Doh, if only the kitchen weren't so far away...

Sunday, May 06, 2007

A mucho happy Cinco de Mayo

Cinco De Mayo
Originally uploaded by Southernpixel.

The fact that L&D have moved in around the corner from me is great news for a whole stack of reasons, not the least of which that they helped me celebrate Cinco de Mayo 2007 in spectacular fashion.

I originally thought that Cinco de Mayo (literally 5th of May) celebrated Mexican Independence Day but that's not in fact true. Cinco de Mayo actually commemorates a Mexican battle victory from 1862. Given that ANZAC Day was not so long ago, I was in full swing to commemorate battles so I thought, "bring it on".

L&D joined me at Las Mananitas in Boystown to enjoy two glorious pitchers of margaritas and some food besides. The restaurant was packed, and D ended up walking out with some dude's sombrero, which was pretty good.

It proved to be the hat that kept on giving, the very spirit of Cinco de Mayo in our neighbourhood. I donned the sombrero for the walk to the Brown Elephant, and L and me decided that reclining on the secondhand sofas was a pretty good idea while D shopped around and haggled with the salespeople.

Then we went to Walgreens and I was bailed up by a lady and her boyfriend, the lady having taken quite a shine to my headwear. What followed was some hefty discussion about the origins of our hat, and when I confessed that we basically pinched it from some guy in a restaurant, I started to wonder how tightly I could claim ownership of "my" headgear.

And so, like the proverbial Olympic torch, and with D's blessing, we released the sombrero to its new owner, who happily shoved it on her head and shimmied out of Walgreens into the night.

Clearly not having had enough tequila, we continued the celebrations at my place, with home made margaritas and a hookah pipe (ahh how the memories of Turkey came flooding back). And at 2am, I kicked the boys out and finally crashed.

I had a very happy Cinco de Mayo this year and can fully appreciate the newspaper article I read on Friday just gone why people in Chicago call it "Drunko de Mayo" because that, my friends, is exactly what happens when you literally try and get into the "spirits" of the occasion....tequila is the very devil, but what a way to go, eh?!

Wednesday, May 02, 2007

How much is that fireman in the window?

Originally uploaded by foreversouls.

Okay so this is a 'no judgement' blog, right?

Tonight I went along to Caffe Baci downtown with Dr G, to support my friend Bork, who was the MC at a singles auction. I had told her rather point-blank that I don't pay for dates and, even though the evening was raising funds for little kid soldiers in Uganda, I wasn't about to fork out for a fella.

Well who the hell was I kidding?!

After two vodka limes, I spent $75 on a date with a Chicago firefighter. And he's 23 years old. And he knows nothing about the restaurant we're going to, where we stand to enjoy a 3 course meal (plus wine pairings).

I have no desire to share with Mr Fireman that I got the best end of this deal. The dinner itself is valid at over $100 and I am pretty thrilled about that. And yes, whatever, I helped a good cause yadda yadda.

So why did I bid for him? I don't know. The auctioneers were friends of mine, I got caught up in the spirit of the evening, and I did something good for other people. Ugh it's enough to make you vomit.

And it's probably the only opportunity I'll ever get to legitimately date a 23 year old. So bear with me. I'll tell you all about it later.

I vont to suck your blood

Ready to be Juiced
Originally uploaded by Plates&Packs.

After a work event last night, I had made plans to catch up with Jenn for a light dinner but naturally, proper consideration of the menu at "One North Wacker Bar & Restaurant" could not really take place without a cocktail.

And so it was that we settled at a cute table in the front bar and had a refreshing house margarita - no salt. It went down a treat.

I made up my mind that I felt like pasta and so the asparagus risotto with a side order of roasted mushrooms to toss through won the day. But was it wrong that I was more excited about the blood orange margarita I had to go with it?

I love these little fruity gems. I first discovered them in Italy, where they are commonplace in markets. I expected them to taste like a grapefuit (which I don't like) but I was pleasantly surprised to learn that was not the case. Ever since I first tried them, I've been a big fan. Put them on salads, eat them just as they are, douse them in tequila and call it a margarita - however I can get them, I love them.

Perhaps they are not a natural complement to asparagus risotto, but it all tasted pretty good to me last night. Yummo.