Monday, December 29, 2008

The Griswolds we ain't

It's hard to believe that the holidays are over and despite my initial reluctance to put up my tiny little Christmas tree (with even tinier ornaments), I have to say that I am sad to say goodbye to the yuletide celebration.

Last year I spent the majority of the holiday in booze-fuelled revelry which, in its own way, created some very funny Christmas memories. This year however, was always going to be a different story. Because THIS year, I was getting out of Chicago and spending "Christmas in the Country" at the Lake Geneva Resort & Spa in Wisconsin.

K had decided a couple of months ago that it would be a blast to spend the holiday season together. So that prompted my November excursion to New York for Thanksgiving, and then K visited me here in Chicago for Christmas. We spent a couple of days in Chi-town because I still had to work, but it was a good opportunity to bid farewell to the Chriskindlmarket in Daley Plaza as well as catch up with a few friends before they too left town for the big day.

Pete was kind enough to lend us his car for the road trip and I have to say, Kate was the perfect highway driver - alternating as she did between appropriately aggressive overtaking, and fantastic duet partner for radio karaoke. Even when I talked her ear off so we missed the toll booth exit, she never once seemed irritated. And despite the ugly weather on the drive from Illinois to Wisconsin, we made it to Lake Geneva with both the borrowed car, and our long-time friendship, intact.

We had a lakeview room, though you wouldn't know it because of the near foot of snow that had blanketed the landscape outside. Most of the snow had fallen over the golfcourse and surrounding property, so it was untouched by human feet (though some deer and rabbits had obviously left some prints behind).

The hotel itself reminded me a bit of "The Shining" at times, simply because it was so deserted. And then at mealtimes, people seemed to surface out of nowhere, to the point that it was often quite tricky to get a dinner reservation at a "usual" time for America, so me and K instead had to revert back to our European roots and dine in a more continental timeslot. No harm done for us, let me assure you.

Our retreat to Lake Geneva was never meant to be one of those non-stop vacations of frenetic activity and action. The whole point of the trip was to get a White Christmas and enjoy some down time from the City, our offices, and our lives. And given how much we ate, drank, and slept over the weekend - I think you could easily say that we achieved everything we set out to do.

We even sat through a floorshow called "Hooray for Holidays" which, now that I think about it, defies explanation. Suffice to say it featured high-kicking legs, vocal arrangements of "power ballads" and men in turtle necks under their unitards. You know what I'm saying; thank god for open bars.

Always one to make a scene, I fell out of the trolley car that ferried resort guests around the property to the various buildings on the campus. The bruise that developed on my butt over our weekend was pretty impressive (but in the interests of all that is holy and decent, no one but me can verify that statement).

It didn't actually snow on Christmas Day, but I don't think that really mattered. After all, there was so much snow on the ground, and chill in the air, that the holiday itself was the very embodiment of the "winter wonderland" we all sing about.

Lake Geneva itself is a very pretty town, with beautiful weatherboard houses and charming antique stores and gift shops. Not a dynamic place by any means, so living there might be a bit of a yawn, but as a tourist destination it is just lovely. And at under 2 hours from Chicago, it is a perfect weekend retreat.

We were treated very well at the resort, pretty much left to our own devices, until it came time to enjoy afternoon high tea in the Lobby Lounge, wasabi snacks & vodka at the bar ("Evolve"), or big fat steaks in the Chophouse. Delicious.

It was a shame that I did not get to do the sleigh ride but that will teach me for not booking in advance. Lesson learned. If I loved massages and/or facials, I would certainly head back to Lake Geneva and take full advantage of their spa facilities.

But even without all that pampering, I still walked away from my Lake Geneva Christmas Vacation feeling relaxed and ready to face 2009 in the big city.

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Lay off the spicy food

I had a really unsettling dream last night, and it was enough to wake me up, which was an annoyance in itself.

My dream was chock-full of family members back home, about to undertake a camping trip to some really funny-sounding national parks in Australia.

In my dream, I watched my first and second cousins, pack huge deep-freezers full of camping provisions. They divided the tasks, having paired up to share camping tents and brave the Aussie outback.

As my cousins loaded toilet paper by the armload into the deep-freezer storage containers, I realised that I wasn't going with them. I wasn't paired with anyone, because I wasn't going on the camping trip. They loaded the freezers into the back of their minivan, took their seats inside, and I was left on the side of the road to wave goodbye.

And then I woke up.

Sunday, December 21, 2008

It may be cold, but a girl's gotta eat

I peeked at today's forecast and didn't really like what I saw. It was supposed to be -5 degrees Farenheit but, with the windchill, we were looking at temps around 30 below zero (that's nearly -40 degrees celcius). Hmm.

And you wouldn't think that this kind of weather would be very conducive to doing anything except lying very still under mountains of blankets, right? Well that's what we thought too.


K and I decided to visit "Table 52" today, the restaurant owned by Art Smith, former personal chef to Oprah Winfrey. I had wanted to visit the restaurant for ages, and I figured their online brunch menu looked just tempting enough to bring us outdoors. And indeed it was.

We started our meal with a couple of pink mimosas, and a breakfast pizza to share. The freshly-cracked black pepper, meaty ham, and just-cooked egg on top was an amazing combo. Then K had an eggs benedict and I had the crab cake with poached egg on top.

It was an amazing meal and the heat of the wood-oven fire in the kitchen was enough to keep us all toasty and warm throughout our visit.

It was not possible for us to wait for the bus afterwards though. That windchill crept in and literally chilled us both right to the bone. We are expecting similar conditions until about noon tomorrow - not for the faint hearted, that's for sure!

Saturday, December 20, 2008

'Tis the Season

No flash, no lights
Originally uploaded by Miss Gab.

Ever the procrastinator, I am sitting here thinking about Christmas, rather than actually getting my apartment ready for it. No, I'm not preparing from Santa; rather K is coming today and I'm so far behind it's laughable.

I have mounds of laundry to do, really dirty floors and so much drycleaning to pick up, it's probably easier to rent a truck to collect it.

K's visit here is obviously to celebrate Christmas and I am really excited because we have booked accommodation at a gorgeous resort in Wisconsin. We've been beaten around by cold and snowstorms in the last few days but I bet Wisconsin will be a whole lot frostier - maybe I will get that famous White Christmas after all this year?

Right, enough dilly-dallying. I gotta go start this list of chores - I'm sick of waiting for the little elves and fairies to do the work while I'm sleeping - they never show up for their shifts. Only in stories, I guess.

Sunday, December 07, 2008

It's beginning to look a lot like Christmas

The Chriskindlmarket - Chicago
Originally uploaded by Miss Gab.

I had a bit of a festive weekend as it turned out. I got a bit more Christmas shopping done (almost finished), I toured the Chicago Chriskindlmarket, and even had my office Christmas party. And yet I am STILL in the Christmas spirit - it's pretty impressive I think.

Me and Lex are crazy for the German Chriskindlmarket that has been held in Daley Plaza every year for the past 12 years. That doesn't sound like a long time, but the event still packs some impressive crowds, braving the freezing cold temps to stuff themselves with warming spiced red wine, bratwursts & sauerkraut, and even hot cinnamon & sugar almonds (my favourite).

We didn't stay at the market very long. The crowds were pretty intense, but nothing on what we experienced last year. We were just eager to keep going with the flow and getting all our shopping done before we had to be back in our hood.

I am not sure whether this economic downturn is making things tougher on people at Christmas. You wouldn't know it from all the people Downtown carrying armloads of shopping bags on Saturday. All the stores seem to be having crazy sales to suck you in, but they do that every year around this time, don't they?

I think I might have to call back to the Chriskindlmarket again before it packs up for another year. I gotta get me some more of those sugar cinnamon almonds before they all sell out! Yummo!

Saturday, December 06, 2008

All the better to see you with, my dear

Mister Magoo Parody
Originally uploaded by oudrumben.

Before I left Oz in 2005, I got a new pair of glasses - cute pink frames with zebra print on the insides. I love them still. But my eyes are getting cranky in their old age and the glasses aren't as effective as they used to be. So I went in to the optometrist today for an eye exam and to search for some new frames.

For me, buying new glasses is like buying a swimsuit; something that I put off as long as humanly possible. It's not like you can just walk in, take something off the shelf, pay for it and leave. You have to sit in the chair, read charts, have someone squirt air in your eye to test for glaucoma, and then somehow make a snap decision about what frame you want. The whole thing is daunting.

But I bit the bullet and went into the store today and after the routine tests (though the glaucoma thing was eyedrops this time - a bit unexpected), I got the "I have good news and bad news" speech.

Good news - I have 20/20 vision. I never knew that before. But it turns out I am far-sighted, meaning when I try and focus on close-up work like reading and computer stuff, and then look up to see someone or something, my eyes spasm and can't deal with it. So then I get headaches and eye twitches. Not cool.

Bad news - the glasses I've been prescribed are all-purpose; so where before I only had to wear the things at work or when I was reading, these ones are for all the time.

So do you see what pressure I was under to pick the right ones? The wrong choice and I end up looking like a geek all the time, not just some of the time.

But I found the right ones and as usual, they were the first pair I tried on. Cool red frames with fancy light blue metallic on the insides. I can't remember the brand otherwise I'd paste a pic for you to see but take my word for it, my glasses embody 'geek chic'.

Which is exactly what I was going for, obviously.

Monday, December 01, 2008

I had better start spreading the news

The Brooklyn Bridge
Originally uploaded by Miss Gab.

For many people in the US, the great turkey coma that is the Thanksgiving Holiday is probably still wearing off. I was jolted out of mine by a flight cancellation, a new flight delay, and then lost luggage. But more of that later.

Miss K and I had long ago agreed to spend this year's turkey fest together at her place in NYC. I flew in at midnight on the Wednesday, and got back in the wee hours last night. So in the Von Trapp Family style of story-telling, let's start at the very beginning for I suspect that it is, indeed, a very good place to start.

Day One - Gobble, Gobble

The Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade is an institution in NYC and is pretty amazing because the sky is dotted with (seriously) impressive balloon figures. In some cases, I saw about 20 people tethered to the balloons - or maybe the balloons were tethered to them, I didn't really notice. Suffice it to say that the balloons were big. Click on the Brooklyn Bridge photo above to see my album, if you need further proof.

By contrast, what is not impressive about the Parade is the D-list celebrities that flank the floats or (in some cases) tramp all over them. K watches a lot of reality TV and I read a lot of trashy gossip mags and between us, we couldn't work out who some of these 'celebrities' were. Except Rick Astley of course- yep, we were all over that one!

At one point, a float went past that featured a couple of skinny hipster boys and I innocently queried (to no-one in particular) whether these were the infamous Jonas Brothers. That faux pas got me a walloping death glare from the pre-teen girl in front of us. If looks could kill! Of course I was only kidding! I know very well who the Jonas Brothers are (no big deal if I can't name them), but frankly I care very little about them, though I kept that to myself. The pre-teen girl in front of me would probably have punched my head in, had she not been forceably restrained by her friends!

Leaving the Parade, we walked up the street to The Australian, a cute little pub that (joy of joys) serves Coopers beer. Not only that, it had two empty barstools just waiting for us when we came in. Well, perhaps they weren't just for us, but they might as well have been for how happy they made us!

Having stuffed in a three-course Thanksgiving pub lunch, and the obligatory bottle of Jacob's Creek red wine, we shuffled back to K's place for a "quick lie down". Hours later, with pillow creases on our faces and impressive mops of bed hair, we hurriedly dressed for a Thanksgiving dinner with two of K's friends.

I don't know how people survive two Thanksgiving meals in one day - I know it just about killed me. As soon as someone invents cute elastic-waisted pants, I'm getting multiple pairs for occasions such as these. I felt like I could have used them. I'm still not 100% sure how I managed to ingest two helpings of turkey, vegetables, stuffing, wines AND dessert all in the space of a few hours. Some mysteries are better left unsolved, I guess.

Day Two - no more Gobble, Gobble (for which we are truly thankful)

The good thing about overindulging on Thanksgiving is that you have the next day to sleep it off (and eat leftovers, but fortunately this did not apply to us). After a late sleep-in, we decided that we needed to get out and walk. We didn't care where, we just needed fresh air and some exercise.

We wandered for hours, through K's neighbourhood and into the East Village before stopping for another Aussie staple lunch item, a good old meat pie & (another) Coopers Beer. Tuck Shop is a great spot for a quick fix of Aussie essentials. Just look for the Vegemite window display; you'll know you're in the right place.

After the refreshments, we kept walking, all the way down to Chinatown and around to the East River waterfront, under the Brooklyn Bridge and around to the South Street Seaport (Pier 17) - which I discovered is very similar to Navy Pier here in Chicago. But still we walked, through the City to the subway, alighting at Union Square, for a brain-frazzling tour through DSW (shoe mecca) before declaring never ever to do that again, and heading for home.

But we were not done yet. Friday night's dinner was at the stunning Eleven Madison Park restaurant. There is no way I could fault any aspect of the menu or service that we experienced - everything was just first-class; I loved it. K made some perfect wine selections that just complemented the meals we chose. Well worth the money, let me assure you.

But we were STILL not done. Into a cab we flew, and made it to a midnight screening of "Rocky Horror Picture Show". Can you believe that we are both such huge fans of this show and we had yet to see a midnight screening? It was a pity that we had to sit up the back, for we were within earshot of some of the most foul-mouthed, homophobic representatives of NY's youth community. We knew the movie would feature heckling, but we figured it would be the clever, all-in-good-fun, and SCRIPTED shout-outs that fans obsess about the world over. Not so. These guys were crude, crass, and terribly inappropriate. They really did spoil our enjoyment of the experience and I was glad K didn't deck them, though I would have backed her if she'd started somethin' all up in their business.

Day Three - Still upright...somehow

The next morning, we slept late but got up in time to eat a light lunch at Rice, around the corner from K's house and then it was onto the subway to get to Studio 54 in time. But as this was the daytime, we went to Studio 54 in its current state - a hugely popular Broadway theater space. Nubile Bianca Jaggers on horseback have been replaced by wrinkly octogenarians enjoying live musicals, but the experience is still something to be had.

"My Pal Joey" was a fantastic production, not least because it stars STOCKARD CHANNING (yes Jems, RIZZO RIZZO RIZZO). I thought she was just wonderful, but then who didn't?!

After the performance, we caught the subway to Grand Central Station and K took me to an amazing little bar that is not well-known, so I'm not even going to name it here. Let me just tell you that if you know it's there, you are a lucky ducky. Wood panelling, ornate ceilings, low-slung couches and an open fireplace create the most decadent environment in which to sip cocktails while you wait for a train. Presumably.

But our schedule waited for no-one and pretty soon we were off again for our next adventure. We stopped by Ricky's to stock up on tacky costume items to prep for The Awesome 80s Prom. I giggled just writing that.

Set in 1989, participating in the senior prom and interacting with the stereotypical cast members was a lot of fun - and lots of laughs too. When the real MC Hammer came out to sing "You Can't Touch This", I was sold. Whatever he had, the man's still got it. Here's a sample of his work, in case you're trying to pretend you have no idea what I'm talking about.

Yeah, you know you love it. Stop, Hammer Time.

Day Four - All good things must end

We had packed so much in to the Thanksgiving Holiday, you could hardly blame us for sleeping late on Sunday morning. We emerged to play Wii Fit (I was terrible), and eat pizza (I am very adept at that).

I made it to La Guardia with plenty of time to spare, only to discover that my flight was cancelled due to bad weather. I was the last person to be assigned to another flight out on Sunday night, but even THAT was delayed, and so I ended up waiting around in the airport for just over 5 hours. On reaching O'Hare, I had to go on a wild goosechase for my luggage, but managed to track it down riding a far-off carousel, all on its own and completely mis-labelled. I didn't even want to work out the "What, Where, and How?" of that one. I was just grateful that at 1am this morning, I was safe and well at home again. Be it ever so humble, and all that Kansas sentiment.

Phew, that was a bumper posting - even for a blabbermouth like me. But now you're all caught up and you can see why I am very thankful for a truly wonderful weekend. Just let's stick to one turkey meal a day next time, shall we?!