Monday, March 31, 2008

Shape up or ship out

I don't know whether it's Monday-itis, or just being a grouchy cow, but this morning I absolutely meant it when I uttered that famous female phrase: I simply don't have a thing to wear.

Now of course I don't mean it literally - women rarely ever do (except the nudists I guess). But I seriously hate my work clothes. One look at the shirts and tops hanging in the closet will tell you that I can't decide whether to be corporate or trendy, casual or sloppy. I somehow managed to have simultaneously covered all possible fashion bases.

And so I'm resolved to get out this coming weekend and find some new items to jazz up my ensemble, and lift my mood.

Of course it's times like this though that I wish I had a work uniform - if they're cute, they make things so much easier. But they are rarely, if ever, cute. So scratch that idea.

And I am in love with my new black patent leather pumps and so I don't really want to get rid of them. But admittedly they came close to being pitched this morning when one of them flew off my foot into the middle of a pedestrian crossing. I nearly cried as I hobbled through the puddles in front of a bustling rush period crowd to go and fetch it. I am not sure how loudly I was cursing (thanks to my ipod blasting in my ears) but I'm sure my fellow office workers were treated to a couple of gems from my vocabulary!

Let's just hope that between now and the weekend, I can commit to a fashion style, find everything in the one store - in my size - and have no line up at the fitting rooms or registers where I'm ready to rock & roll.

Clearly I am not a girly-girl when it comes to shopping.

Sunday, March 30, 2008

Coming up for air

While Coco has been going ahead in leaps and bounds with her blogging, I have been disappointingly recalcitrant. And it's not because I haven't been out there creating stories to share and whatnot, because I have. But I have been suffering rather crippling procrastination lately so I'm deliberately stealing an hour from my Sunday to bring you up to speed on the last few weeks. [And in so doing, I am putting off doing housework - do you see how my life is now?!]

My story starts just before St Patrick's Day - yes, we're going back that far, and me and Dr G headed into town early to participate in an annual tradition - the dyeing of the Chicago River. We found a great spot pretty much right in front of where the little men with the drums of orange powder set off in their boats to putt-putt along and dump gallon after gallon of said powder into the murky depths. The process is slow, but the end result is quite dazzling. Very "Emerald City".

The River begins to dye... Chicago goes green Are we in the Emerald City?

But the winter in Chicago just won't go away, so it was not long before me and Dr G decided we were too cold to stay Downtown (contending with the crowds AND the cold was a bit too much to bear). So we went back to Boystown and had Mexican food for lunch before heading home to thaw out.

Life progressed rather normally for a few weeks after that, and then it was Easter and I decided to visit K in New York City, her new home away from home. The view from her living room window is just breathtaking - Empire State out one side, Chrysler Building out the other:

What a view! The view from Kate's window

Naturally I didn't get to appreciate this stellar view until the morning after my arrival, owing to a 3-hour delay at O'Hare. I guess the silver lining is that the sky was this blue in NYC for the duration of my trip, and who could ask for more than that?

I felt fairly confident that I would be spending a few more long weekends in the Big Apple before I leave Chicago so I told K that I didn't care about doing too many tourist things on my first visit. So we walked around everywhere and spent our first full day following K's cousin in and out of fabulous vintage stores to browse the racks of hidden treasures.

We wandered through SoHo, Little Italy, China Town, stopping on the way to see the site of Ground Zero. We walked past a great spot to get a photo of the Brooklyn Bridge (though I resisted taking a photo because I will get a better one up close next time).

On Easter Saturday we lined up for an hour with fellow tourists from across the world to appreciate the Big Apple from on high. We went up to the viewing platform on the 86th Floor of the Empire State Building. Owing to the clear skies, the panorama was amazing. In every direction the view was gorgeous. I don't know the city well enough to know what I was looking at exactly, but you get a real appreciation for just how big New York really is.

We had tickets to "Xanadu" on Broadway and we got to sit up on the stage and be part of the production. When the stagehands issued us with glow sticks at the beginning of the show, I just knew it was going to be a blast. And sure enough, "Xanadu" was as campy and crazy as I remember the movie being. It was difficult not to sing along - but I figured I had better try to keep my mouth shut as this was my first (and probably only) chance to be on a Broadway stage.

On Easter Sunday we walked down 5th Avenue which was closed to vehicle traffic for the Easter Bonnet exhibition. Residents were parading up and down through the crowd, showing off their home made Easter bonnets and it was a wonderful atmosphere. Me and Bec bought a hot dog from a street vendor (so we could cross it off our 'must do in NY' list). We watched the ice skaters in Rockerfeller Center, and then we walked past Tiffany's (surrounded by ugly scaffolding and not worth having breakfast at on this occasion). Past the Plaza Hotel, we wandered through Central Park and saw the tribute to John Lennon (Strawberry Fields - a designated 'silent area' for reflection and quiet contemplation).

We spent a happy few hours absorbing some culture at The Metropolitan Museum of Art, and then we had some down time with one of K's friends at a coffee shop in trendy Union Square.

I have not heard anyone say anything bad about New York City. My friends and colleagues love it for its diversity and its diversions; there is always something to do, all the time. The City is not for the faint hearted though, because it's hustle-bustle constantly. But I thrive on that sort of energy and I find it fascinating to people watch. In my experience over the weekend, New Yorkers were polite and obliging and friendly and I would go back to the city in a heartbeat (whether or not K was there). Fortunately I have some pretty generous frequent flyer miles now, so I guess it's just a matter of seeing whether I have any annual leave left....I don't like my chances there!

Tuesday, March 04, 2008

Want some coffee with that sugar?

Espresso cream...
Originally uploaded by try to touch.

Even after 2 and a bit years living in Chicago, people's coffee-making habits still defy explanation and manage to make me smile.

I do not frequent Starbucks these days, unless I absolutely have to, so I'm spared the mind-bending orders issued by impatient customers that need their fix of wannabe coffee and sugar-high syrups. For my way of thinking, syrup of any kind has absolutely no place in good coffee. [Fortunately Starbucks cannot really be called GOOD coffee to begin with, but you get the point.]

I've come back to having my weekday heart started at Lavazza, home to the second-best coffee in the City (first place is still Intelligentsia). Of course the intensity of the caffeine trip makes me vibrate around the office for most of the morning but, on occasions, that is entirely the effect I was going for in the first place.

After getting off the bus this morning, I followed a fellow passenger into Lavazza and waited for my turn in line. Both of us ordered your basic run-of-the-mill coffees with some room for cream in the top. "Ah," I thought, "a kindred coffee spirit".

Not so, as it turned out.

The chap ahead of me, regular untainted coffee in hand, wandered over to the 'condiments' station (for want of a better description), and proceeded to pollute his perfect beverage with any and all of the sprinkles, sugars, flavours, and preservatives on offer. WTF?!

While the very sight of the travesty burned my retinas and scarred my very soul, I was able to stare open-mouthed long enough to notice that he dumped AT LEAST 5 packets of artificial sweetner into his cup. When he reached for the cinnamon and began to liberally douse the drink with it, I had to look away.

I mean seriously, if you don't want to taste coffee in your drink, don't order coffee. Am I right?

Anyway while all this process was playing out, the fellow was hogging the whole condiment station - there was no room for me to sneak in, do my thing, and leave. So my only option was to stand there, take up space, and endure the longest 4 minute coffee preparation I'd ever (not) been involved in.

When his theatrics were nearing their conclusion, I wandered over to the station, sloshed the tiniest amount of half-and-half into my pristine cup and dashed out the door.

Ahead of him.

Monday, March 03, 2008

A chemical flashback

Originally uploaded by Rune T.

On the way home in the taxi tonight, I was thinking about this blog posting and giving myself a hard time for not quite wrapping up my Las Vegas trip. "What is the point," I mused, "in writing about tonight, when I am about 3 weeks behind in blogland to begin with?".

But then I figured that this is MY blog and hang it if I'm three weeks behind. I think we can all accept that I made it back from Vegas safely, had a great time with JK here, and somehow lived to (soberly) tell the tales. I just choose not to tell them here!

So in the manner of Scott Bakula in his "Quantum Leap" role, let's time travel forward to tonight, so I can give you an idea of what I've been up to.

A shameless plug must first be inserted here for Just Grapes, who threw me a free ticket for tonight's wonderful Wine Blending seminar at their Downtown Chicago store premises. Turning up solo for an event is never my first choice, but tonight I really didn't have any options - everyone I asked was either not interested, or had plans. So I took myself off to the class because the opportunity to be a winemaker for a night was just too tempting to let pass by.

Sitting at my place (at the very front of the room no less), I was confronted by 5 half-glasses of wine, a blending glass, a pipette, and a beaker. I started having flashbacks to Year 12 Chemistry class and then my palms got all sweaty. Winemaking as a science? Who knew!

But I paid attention and understood the basics of how to make sense of the "Fusebox" product released by Crushpad Winery in the Napa Valley. So the challenge became how to make my favourite wine blend from the following Bordeaux wines:

  • Cabernet Sauvignon;
  • Merlot;
  • Cabernet Franc;
  • Malbec; and
  • Petit Verdot.

I have to say that I was very conservative with my blending, partly because I wasn't sure what I was doing, but also because I am still not sure what I really enjoy the most. But I walked away from the 2-hour class confident that I very much enjoy Petit Verdot. And of course, I also learned that Petit Verdot is very seldom seen on wine lists on its own - fabulous.

Still, I am no wine sissy, and I love heavy Australian shiraz but tonight, the Cab Sav was just too overwhelming for me so my blends featured more of the Merlot and Petit Verdot than anything else. Oh and Cabernet Franc just doesn't do it for me - too spicy and dominant.

The beautiful thing about Crushpad is that if you come up with a wine blend that you really like, you can arrange for the winery to produce it for you, and you can buy a case of it with labels that you can print up. What a great idea, huh?

I can't imagine that any of my "Gab's Blends" that I made tonight would ever make to the bottle, but at least I got a good feel for what's involved in winemaking, and another assurance that the ultimate test of a good wine is what you enjoy the most - there is never a right answer.