Monday, December 26, 2011

Day Seven - Retail Heaven

If anyone ever asks you what the very bowels of hell look like, you might consider directing them to the Boxing Day sales at Macy's in New York. I figure that place would come pretty close and I should know - I spent a bit of time in there today. On the upside, I did get to ride the iconic wooden escalators that were the first of their kind in the world, and part of the original Macy's fit-out. They're still in use today - very groovy. And my wallet stayed in my bag the entire trip around the store - can you believe that?!

When we finally emerged back onto Seventh Avenue, we sought refuge at the curiously-named Irish pub, The Pig N Whistle for a restorative drink and bite to eat. Yucky fries but cold Diet Coke, so one out of two ain't bad.

Then it was back underground to take the subway to Chelsea Market, the cool shopping place on 9th Avenue. I like the big push towards local and organic foodstuffs at this place, so it stood to reason we would stuff in a coffee from Ronnybrook Dairy and then I followed my nose to the Tuck Shop to purchase some delicious (and authentic) Aussie meat pies for dinner. The smell of warm pies wafted through the food market area. How could we resist?

Off we continued back along 14th Street in the direction of our bus home, stopping long enough in Union Square to browse around DSW, Filene's Basement (which is about to close down anyway), and finally we ended up at Nordstrom Rack. Phew - it was a retail bonanza!

After the long day out and about, it felt excellent to finally sit still on the bus and know that in a few short minutes, I'd be able to sit on the sofa with my fluffy slippers on. Blissful.

We're off to Washington DC tomorrow, so my daily holiday updates will be on a brief hiatus. But don't worry - a bumper catchup post will follow. Stay tuned!

Sunday, December 25, 2011

Day Six, A Christmas Fix

Christmas morning started with a sleep-in. Doesn't that sound fabulous already? Well to be honest, the day didn't end up any more stressful than that.

We all got up, had some coffee, swapped excellent gifts and generally just relaxed. I was very lucky this year - I got some great new bedroom sheet/quilt sets; some earrings; creative dice; groovy boot stockings; a couple of recipe books; some throw pillows; and a fun new Manhattan skyline sticky decal for my laptop.

Then I put on a lunch of roast pork loin & vegetables, with an apple crisp and ice cream for dessert. No muss, no fuss. A food coma swiftly ensued, punctuated only by loads of laundry. I wore my paper Christmas hat the whole day. Mum said I looked like the Statue of Liberty. I had to admit she was right.

A little after 6pm we all took a cab to The Australian pub, to meet up with K&N and watch a bit of the start of the Boxing Day Test, televised from Melbourne. I can't say I watched much of the cricket, but it was excellent to see K&N again on their latest visit to New York. Plus there isn't much stress that creeps in when you're holed up in a booth while the rest of the pub patrons have to jostle for bar service. Blissful! That said though, two Coopers Pales down (along with some sliders & a VERY intense chocolate brownie) and I was tired and needed to head home for pyjama time. What a day!

Day Five, Latin's Alive

Christmas Eve was a clear but cold day here in New York and we set off around lunch time, bound for an Off-Broadway show called Voca People. The theatre was really quite full - except for our row, which was dead empty except for me and the folks. People are so creative, you know? The Voca People perform using just their voices - no instruments, no nothing. Naturally they are helped along by one of them being the beatbox champion of Portugal, so his voice was providing the percussive sound and background beats. I was on the edge of my seat for the whole performance (much to the enjoyment of my Mum) but I was having a great time. The breadth of the music used in the show ranged from classical stuff like the William Tell Overture, all the way through to the theme music from "ET" and modern day stuff - so good. There was audience participation too - which I normally hate - but because they only picked on people in the first two rows of the theatre (and not us, way down the back), I was pretty cool with it. I was really pleased that some of the audience members were really good sports too - they got into the spirit of the show and made it really funny for the rest of us.

After lunch we grabbed a cab over to Bloomgindale's, where I honestly thought I was going to freak out. So many people - so many shoppers, little dogs, fragrance people - ugh it was all going on yesterday. Totally reinforced why I love online shopping so much. But I have to say, going through those designer departments and feeling the soft and snuggly cashmere clothes and rich fabrics; mmm, it was sensory overload, but in a good way for sure. I also kept my wallet in my handbag too, so well done me!

From Bloomies we walked the few blocks past Tiffany's (and their gorgeous window displays) to The Russian Tea Room for dinner. I had made the booking for dinner with the Russians because they were offering a really tasty prix-fixe, post-theater menu that I thought we'd all enjoy. The three of us were safely closeted into a red leather banquette/booth and from our vantage point we had a really lovely view of the dining room. That early in the evening, things weren't really swinging, but I got the feeling the wait staff were steeling themselves for a pretty busy night. I had really the tasty borscht to start, then a main course of beef stroganoff and for dessert I had the chocolate pyramid. Washed down with a cosmopolitan (or a cosmonaut, in this place) and a glass of Australian red wine and I was a very happy girl. The Russian Tea Room's gift shop downstairs is a bit crappy unfortunately - just several glass cases full of really expensive kitschy things like babushka dolls and linens and jewellery boxes and stuff like that. Nothing that interested us at all, but it was nice to at least look and see what they had.

Upstairs in the cold air again, we were weighing up our transport options on how to get back to my hood when lo and behold, a cab pulled up right in front of us to let its passengers out. It was a Christmas miracle! So we bounded on in and took a ride to the Moonstruck Diner on Madison, for a couple of coffees before we had to be at Christmas mass. As diners go, Moonstruck won't change your life but it was so nice and warm in there - and the peppermint teas were hot and tasty after our long day out; we just loved it.

A little before 10pm we walked back to the Church of Our Saviour, a Catholic church at the corner of E38th St & Park Avenue. I had never been inside but we'd checked ahead of time and knew that the church would be having 2 Christmas services that night - a carol singing with the choir at 10.30pm followed by a Christmas mass at 11pm. The Church itself is beautiful, and I remember saying to Dad it was such a shame that their website was so plain - it doesn't do the building itself any favours at all. The church really resembles a portion of a European basilica - gorgeous tiled floors, gilded ceilings and huge almost orthodox paintings with gold leafing all over the place. So lovely and sparkly and everywhere you looked, there was something new to see. The choir did a lovely job at setting the scene for Christmas and once the candles were lit, and the parishoners were seated we were ready to go.

The carols were lovely and traditional and then at 11pm the Christmas service started. It was like going back in time! With the exception of some of the prayers and the homily, the mass was entirely in Latin. Can you believe it? The music started and I recognised the tune of "O, Come All Ye Faithful". I was all ready to warble along and next thing I know, the congregation starts singing "Adeste Fidelis". I scrambled to find the Latin translation in the hymn book on my seat but I only found it as we got to the third verse. Typical. The same thing happened with "Silent Night", only that we sang that in German. It was such a mixed bag! I was confused throughout pretty much the entire mass, but at the same time it was really beautiful and a lovely treat. For Mum & Dad I figured the Latin mass must have been a bit of a flashback to when they were at school; indeed, they said it had been AGES since they'd heard a mass in Latin. As we filed out of the Church just after midnight, I felt pretty sure that we had all had a good time.

The walk home from the church really woke us all up - that fresh, cool air was a marked change from the populated, snuggly church. But even though the city streets were far from quiet, it sure was a beautiful way to start Christmas Day 2011.

Saturday, December 24, 2011

Day Four, Kitsch Galore

I had every intention of going to the gym this morning, but you know these things go. No sooner had I made the pledge to myself, than I instead decided to accompany Mum & Dad on the bus down to Battery Park, so they could take the ferry to Liberty Island and Ellis Island. Having been to both of these places multiple times myself, I only played bus chaperone and then hung out on the mainland on my own while they toured around.

Arriving around 11am at Battery Park meant that we were just in time for recess, or play lunch, or whatever you grew up calling it. So we bought some ultra strong coffees and some tasty apple-filled churros from a street vendor. Delicious, if not at all nutritious. Naturally I went back for a caramel-filled churro later (for research purposes). With Mum & Dad safely on the boat, I wandered off to see what mischief I could cause.

Across the street from Battery Park is the National Museum of the American Indian, and I'd never been there before. But it was warm inside, and it didn't cost me anything to go in, so I hung out there for about 90 minutes and checked out the exhibitions. The Museum is actually in the old US Customs House and the building's architecture is beautiful, including the gorgeous statues and the beautiful murals in the rotunda. When I bought Mum & Dad back into the Museum later in the day (after the cruise that they very much enjoyed), we all commented on the real similarities between the demise of indigenous cultures around the world. Of course this included some discussion about Australia and it was interesting to also read some of the stories of how native peoples from the US, Canada, South America and even the Arctic had to adjust to the arrival of white people. The parallels between the stories make for quite a powerful tale all told - and not really a pretty one, to be honest. I thought the Museum presented a very comprehensive collection with some great photos, artefacts and some really intricate costumes and jewellery too. Naturally I purchased some treats from the gift shop, including a gorgeous three-legged pig for my mum. Chilean legend has it that the cute little chanchitos are supposed to bring good luck, so I thought Mum would particularly like to keep him at work so he can grin up at her.

The weather down by the water was particularly chilly today, so we thought it wise to come out of the Museum and head straight for the street vendor settling Italian sausage sandwiches with grilled onions and peppers (capsicum). Obviously. Well, actually I dragged Mum & Dad there - I was starving! The sandwiches really hit the spot, even though I bit into the sandwich quite forcefully and got BBQ sauce up my nose. Even that couldn't dampen the culinary experience.

After an hour or so back at home we were up and out of the house, to enjoy a pre-Christmas dinner with K at Rolf's, the German restaurant that is a New York institution. Throughout the year, Rolf's goes all out to decorate the restaurant with all manner of tacky, kitschy decorations. At this time of year, it is quite honestly like dining inside a Christmas decoration. Just see for yourself - and let me assure you, while I did not make this video, it is pretty much on the money for how the restaurant looked tonight:

Sigh, that video makes me so happy. But seriously - everywhere we looked, there were baubles and creepy dolls and Santas in sleighs and bundt cake pans (random!) and every manner of ribbon and fairy light and it was AMAZING. The pork chop I had was bigger than my head, but I washed it down with a German beer and then really wanted to lay down. It was a case of total sensory overload, but I wouldn't have had it any other way!

We stopped off for an Aussie beer on the walk home, but now I'm back here in my PJs and feeling totally in the Christmas spirit. Tomorrow is December 24 and another big day, but I have so far loved every minute of this yuletide celebration and I'm ready to see what's next.

Friday, December 23, 2011

Day Three, Dance With Me

I am now officially on holidays until Monday 9 January and baby, it feels gooood. It was all a bit surreal at work today though, tying up those loose ends and trying to achieve things before the home time buzzer sounded.

I think I was looking forward to home time more than most today, because after work I had a "mummy and me" date at Lincoln Center (for the Performing Arts), to see the NYC Ballet's production of George Balanchine's "The Nutcracker". I have been to the ballet a couple of times before, with mixed results. But I was pretty confident that tonight's performance was going to be a winner. And it totally was.

Firstly the night rocked because our seats were awesome. We were up high (third tier) in the David H. Koch Theater, but I had deliberately selected those seats because I knew the stage was full of exciting action and costumes, and I wanted me and Mum to be able to fully appreciate the spectacle. So from our lofty heights we had front row seats - a truly uninterrupted view of the whole stage. And no heads of fidgety kids to peek over!

Also from our seats up high we had a perfect view of the very talented orchestra. When the lights went down and Tchaikovsky's score started up, I loved it. Little by little the stage came to life - adorable children, stunning costumes, and a story that was so simple to follow that you could just lose yourself and soak up all the talent and glamour. At least that's what I did anyway.

And the sparkles on the costumes! Granted they weren't as flashy as The Rockettes sequinned duds, but what girl doesn't love a gorgeous pink tutu? And one dress weighed 80 pounds (according to the program) - the athleticism of all the dances was obvious. But at the same time, the elegant snowflakes that danced across the stage were so beautiful and graceful. I guess being so far away, I couldn't see if the performers were puffing or were exhausted. From where we were sitting, they kept up the illusion that they could dance forever.

After the show finished, we wandered out into the mild evening air and just walked for a bit, in the direction of our subway home. Again, we got back just before the rain started to fall (we seem to be making quite a habit of that), but even now - hours later - I can still see the sugarplums dancing in my head.

Dare I suggest this might become one of my NYC Christmas traditions?

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Day Two, A Show Will Do

I am glad that my parents have been sleeping well at my apartment, and it seems that their jetlag is subsiding. It’s a good thing too because I have set them a fairly cracking pace this week.

For Day 2 of our Griswold Family Vacation, my parents started a three-day, hop-on/hop-off bus tour through the city streets. As they tell it, their tour guide was really fun (and funny), and their full bus took them up Uptown yesterday – through Harlem and past Columbia University, then back past Central Park, Columbus Circle, Trump Tower and back into Times Square. They will tackle Downtown over the coming days, but they seemed content yesterday just to stay on board the bus and enjoy the sights. The weather was a bit rotten yesterday too – not icy cold, but grey and rainy (i.e. perfect conditions for snuggling up under a perspex bus canopy and just coasting along).

Right on time, I met my parents in the lobby of my office building after work and we walked the ten blocks to 21 Club. I first heard of this place ages ago (and saw it in such films as “One Fine Day” – where Michelle Pfeiffer’s character reluctantly goes to meet her clients and almost misses her son’s soccer game). Then most recently I saw 21 Club featured on a TV show on the cooking channel, and I knew I wanted to take Mum & Dad there. Any place with a speakeasy-style wine cellar is a place we have to see. Anyway as we approached the restaurant, we could see the famous fibreglass jockeys lined up along the outdoor railing – it really is a peculiar looking place. I hate describing things as “cute”, but that’s the best adjective for this place’s exterior. I had reserved our table in the Bar Room, a very popular (crowded) room with a remarkably low ceiling, made even more compressed by the trinkets hanging from the ceiling. I’m talking toy trucks, pipes, vintage toys and a bunch of other paraphernalia. I couldn’t remember from the TV show why all that stuff was up on the ceiling, and unfortunately there isn’t any reading material at the Club to tell you what it’s all about either. But I looked it up online this morning and discovered a helpful explanation of the collection.

We enjoyed a delicious three-course, prix fixe meal in the crowded dining room and then walked around the corner for the second half of the evening’s entertainment; the iconic Radio City Christmas Spectacular.

Radio City Music Hall opened in 1932 and a year later, The Radio City Christmas Spectacular (and the famous high-kicking Rockettes) debuted. The show was revamped this year to incorporate 3D film elements, and the modern touches certainly appealed to the young kids in the audience. The show started with a school choir performing some Christmas tunes – and one little kid who was obviously channelling Michael Jackson, grooving to the beat of his own drum up there on the stage. Adorable.

The Radio City Christmas Spectacular is a cheesy show but it is a New York City Christmas tradition and is pretty impressive. The athleticism of the dancers, their gorgeous sequinned costumes and amazing choreography really added to the experience. I loved the show – and I wanted to go home and insist that K enters and leaves every room like a Rockette from now on – high kicking, cheesy grins and all.

After the show, we walked around the corner to Rockefeller Plaza so I could show Mum & Dad the big Christmas tree, and the ice skating rink. Whether she realised it or not, Mum gasped when she saw the giant (real) tree with all of its sparkly lights. Not surprising really - the tradition of the giant tree in the Plaza began in 1933, the same year that the Centre opened. Ever since it has been a huge tourist drawcard and a symbol of Christmas in the city. We managed to get some pretty good photos of the decorations too, and we will go back a few more times before they leave, to appreciate the display in more detail.

Speeding home in a cab, we walked through the door about 5 minutes before the heavens opened and dumped some pretty fierce rain on the city streets. How’s that for timing?! I know that some more rain is forecast this week, and Christmas Day is supposed to be a bit grey and dreary. It would be nice if we could just get some snow – even just a couple of flakes – so we can have the White Christmas that we have all been hoping for, but I’m just not sure that’s going to happen. We’ll be in Washington DC from 27-30 December though. Maybe the nation’s capital will deliver the goods?

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

That's Day One, done!

So I probably should have stopped at one beer. Enough said, right? Oi vey. And I am quite prepared to hang my father out to dry for my condition this morning. I’d lay some on Mum too, but she was way too jet-lagged yesterday to be any influence whatsoever. So Special K, it’s all on you fella! The old grey mare, she ain’t what she used to be.

Ugh but let’s forget how I feel this morning, just for a second. I would like to pause and declare that Day 1 of our Griswold Christmas Vacation was fantastic, at least as far as I am concerned.

Yesterday morning was a rude shock to my system. Owing to a missed connection in LA, the family vacation got off to a delayed start. But at 12.45am, I discerned the sleepy forms of my parents coming down the escalators into the Arrivals Hall at JFK’s Terminal 3. Hooray, they made it! Our taxi broke the land speed record back to my apartment and we chatted over raisin toast and restorative hot tea, before we decided that 2.30am was probably a good time to go to bed (especially since I had to work on Tuesday). Yikes!

I did indeed make it into the office yesterday morning, albeit a little late. While my parents slept off some more of their jet-lag, I tootled around the office grinning like the Cheshire Cat. Even the lady at the coffee shop in the morning asked me why I was so happy. It was just one of those days for me.

At 1pm, I went down to the UN and met my parents, so I could give them the behind-the-scenes tour. I didn’t even know until a few weeks ago (when Coco & CS came to visit) that I was allowed to conduct these all-access-pass visits. But now that I know, it’s totally on. The parents loved the tour through the UN, even though I did a terrible job at pointing out key points of interest (eg. “This is the Security Council chamber. It is big and it has lots of chairs in it. Oh look, there’s a tapestry!”). It was quite a nice day though, so we took the opportunity to walk behind the UN buildings along the East River. My Dad got quite excited when he saw a squirrel going about its business in the trees outside the UN. For vermin, it was indeed a cute squirrel; fair play to my father on that front.

As far as rallying goes, my parents did a wonderful job yesterday. After the UN tour, we walked back to my office and they continued on to browse the Christmas market at Bryant Park. I got a call from Dad some time later to say that they’d walked back to my apartment to collect his coat, and then they came back to my office to meet me at 5.30pm, like we’d planned. So for two people, brand new to New York and as jetlagged as all hell, they walked 4.2 miles just in the afternoon. Can you believe that?

When we caught up at my office last night, we took the subway to the 9/11 Memorial and had a look around there. The drizzly rain had started to fall, which was a bit disappointing, but Dad observed that it seemed a rather fitting climate for the location. We didn’t stay there too late – just long enough for a quick look-see, and then it was back on the subway and bound for my place.

We stopped off en route at the Heartland Brewery, in the Empire State Building and had some local brews (including a tasting tour of all the local options – some good, some not-so). Mum even tried her first piece of authentic New York cheesecake. Memo to me: at some stage of this trip, take Mum to Junior’s for the REAL deal.

Before calling it a night, we visited Baby Bo’s Cantina and enjoyed the crazy Christmas lights and yet more beers. Ugh it was totally Dad’s influence. Mum sipped a glass of white wine and behaved herself immensely. I even think she enjoyed her mini burrito – I know Dad did. And he likes the idea of being able to order things “on the side”. In this case, it was a heaped bowl of sliced jalapenos. He was in heaven.

When we got home, the Russian doorman embraced both of my parents – and I would have warned them about it, except I didn’t know he was a hugger. We all laughed about it though. We are well taken care of in our building, and my parents have already received a warm welcome from everyone they’ve met so I think they’d agree with me that their holiday is off to a great start.

Monday, December 19, 2011

Give Cash, Get Pretty

I had a hair appointment on Saturday afternoon and felt instantly cheered. It's amazing what a pair of scissors and hydrogen peroxide can do to lift my spirits! Finding people you trust with your mane can be a real challenge in a new city but I've got this one in the bag.

The Ted Gibson salon in New York is a shout-out to modern glamour. In the shadow of New York's iconic Flatiron Building, the salon is a chic hive of activity and home to some talented and friendly people. Take my stylist, Gina for example - she's fabulous (or "fabaloose", as Crazy Granny likes to say).

But do you know what makes Gina EXTRA lovely? She has kindly donated a hair cut to my fundraising campaign for the Team In Training NYC half-marathon. So that means for every monetary donation I receive between now and Australia Day (26 January), my donors go into the running to win a free haircut by Gina. The winner will be chosen at random.

Naturally this prize will only work if you live in NY (or if you're visiting some time soon), but trust me that Gina is equally brilliant at styling men and women. She is so generous, plus she is now very much in demand thanks to her runway work and wedding & special events styling. Thank you, Gina - this is so kind of you! And thank you, Ted Gibson, for giving Gina the OK to donate her services to this important fundraising campaign.

To get yourself in the running for a primping & preening experience with Gina and the crew at Ted Gibson salon in NY, please dig deep and kick in some cash to my fundraising campaign. You'll find the donations page here.

And guess what? I ran 2.4 miles at the gym on Saturday without stopping once, so this half-marathon thing is totally happening. Eye of the tiger, no question.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Put A Band-Aid On It

Well, it had to happen. I have sustained the first injury of my elite athletic life. I believe I have strained a lymph node. Well, I don't know what it is really, but it's a muscular thing or maybe a tendon thing. At the very least it's the squishy bit under my arm - where I keep my lymph nodes.

I turned up at the gym tonight, thinking I was headed into a ballet Pilates class. I haven't been to one of those in MONTHS so I was really excited to be able to make it to one. My hips have been quite sore since Tuesday night's run, so I liked the idea of doing a low-impact Pilates class to get a good workout - but also a really good stretch - for my legs. Naturally of course, I was running late before I ever started.

I rushed into the movement studio and in my haste to remove hoodie and iPod, I almost strangled myself with my earphones. Great look, Gabs. Then I looked at the front of the room and saw an unfamiliar instructor. Oh darn, I'd wandered into a Mat Pilates class - a.k.a floor torture! NUTS.

Too late to back out now, I laid out my mats and Pilates ring, and removed shoes and socks - ready to begin. First exercise of the class was my favourite - the plank. I got into push-up position, lowered my pelvis and concentrated. 30 seconds here, 30 seconds there, it was all fine. Then we had to do side planks. One side was fine and then we came back to centre, turned onto the other side and, in the words of Adam West's Batman, BLAM! KAPOW! OWWWW; (okay that last one was all me). My lymph node stretched, popped and shuddered. I seriously felt pain. It was not a pleasant experience.

The instructor noticed what happened and saw me cupping my own breast in the back row. Rather than leave me alone (which is what any normal person ought to do in this situation), she asked me if I was okay. "Yes," I said, "but I think I popped something". She told me to get into child's pose and wait things out a bit. So I obliged, all the while imagining my lymph node like a sore, deflated balloon in my armpit.

The rest of the exercises after that were okay, except the ones where I had to put any pressure on my right arm. My hips didn't like the leg exercises much either. My right hip has started clicking a bit every time I raise and lower my leg. This movement does not occur all that naturally in my daily life (how sad for me), but I can't imagine that a clicky hip is a very good sign really. Dodgy hip and saggy lymph node enjoyed the stretching we did - in fact my whole body really liked those parts - I totally zoned out and would have fallen asleep had the studio's dimmer switch been set any lower.

So yes I think my week of athleticism peaked on Tuesday and has slid into decrepitude ever since. If anyone needs me, I'll be icing my lymph node and nursing a glass of red.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Making progress, one step at a time

Tonight was the first training session that we've had - ever - when it wasn't raining. An early Christmas miracle!

Perhaps it was the weather, perhaps it was just the planets finally lining up, but I made really good progress in the Park tonight. I joined my still-keen group of beginners on a quick warm up jog. Instantly I felt better than I did on Saturday. I settled into my groove and kept a steady pace. I chose not to chat to anyone around me tonight, cause I didn't want to burst the little bubble.

Back and forth we ran along the road; each circuit was 1/2 mile or so. There were times I wanted to stop and walk for a bit, take a bit of a break, but I didn't. I kept pushing myself. I didn't run quickly, but I pushed on.

Tonight's run was focusing on upper-body form, so the coaches were helping us improve our posture and our arm-swing as we moved. At one point, one of the coaches jogged up to me and started to chat. I had to respond. NUTS. So I gulped and gasped responses and tried to seem engaged. The coach told me I had an asymmetrical arm-swing. Dude, I thought, I can barely look at you right now...get lost! (huff!) (puff!). A bit of demonstration and I was soon swinging my arms symmetrically. Teacher's pet, all the way.

And after it was all over? I realised that I had run a little over 2 miles and I hadn't stopped once. This is progress, friends!

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Lumbering Up

A naked man wraps himself in cling film and walks into his psychiatrist's office.
The psychiatrist looks at the man and says, "Quite clearly I can see you're nuts!".

Ba-dum-bum. It never gets old. I know, I know - I won't quit my day job.

After a tough Pilates class this morning, I walked over to Home Depot to see a man about some lumber. I needed to get some replacement drawer liners for the absolutely crap chest of drawers I have at home. The bottoms of all my drawers have buckled and bowed and now the drawers hardly close. So I went to the store that claims, "you can do it - we can help" to get six pieces of plywood cut to size.

To my mind, the sad thing about Manhattan hardware stores is that they don't have giant car parks offering sausage sizzles (or brat frys, if you're from Wisconsin). No ice cream vans either. And aren't they poorer for it?

The pimply sales representative at Home Depot told me that they don't sell wood in Manhattan. He lowered his voice to a whisper and told me that if I wanted to buy plywood, I would need to go out to a Home Depot in "the suburbs". We both stared at each other, knowing that was never gonna happen. Then he said I could try the competition, over on 23rd Street and 6th Avenue. So off I went, to see another man about some lumber.

Store #2 turned out to be a bust, with the lunatic behind the counter telling me that not only would I not find the plywood I needed in his store, I was unlikely to find it anywhere. Not in the city, not in the suburbs, not anywhere on planet earth. Hmm. I don't know much about plywood (nothing about it in fact) but I am fairly confident that if Target can find plywood thin enough to build the drawers in the first place, somewhere has to sell me plywood to replace it.

So I went to the store I should have gone to in the first place.

Nuthouse Hardware is the only 24/7 hardware store in NYC and it is quite an institution. It is the sort of hardware store you go to when you have no idea what you need to buy. Not only do you come out with it, you leave with your arms full of a bunch of other stuff you had no idea you needed in the first place.

Two of the hardware store guys (jovial Nepalese fellas) took pity on me and decided to render assistance. I explained to them what I thought I wanted, and they chattered away to each other to work out how to meet my plywood needs. They invited me to descend two flights of stairs with them, which I obligingly did, all the while wondering if I would ever be seen again.

Down in the basement I discovered a wood-worker's paradise. Offcuts of every kind of lumber you can think of (though I can't think of too many, let's face it). Down the back, behind the steel and 2x4, we found several squares of plywood - just the thickness (or thinness?) that I needed for my DIY job. I did a happy dance on the inside. Once again, Nuthouse Hardware delivered the goods.

The guys then involved me in a lengthy discussion about plywood thicknesses and sanding materials, which I only barely followed. We measured, me re-measured and we measured one last time. Then we finally got down to the business of using the saw to cut the plywood to the shape and size of drawers. Even though all I did was stand back and get covered in wood dust, I was quite pleased to be downstairs with the guys and part of these plywood particulars.

Of course on the way out, I bought sandpaper and a giant plastic container to keep my snow & ugg boots in (as you do). The store won again.

And now I'm home and actually have to give the drawers their new bottoms. If only such a task could be outsourced. DIY is all well and good, except for the Y part.

Saturday, December 10, 2011

You've got a long way to go, Charlie Brown

Good grief! So here's the thing. I know that I am not fit, despite my treadmill and Pilates activities. I might be getting there, but I have not yet arrived. In fact, I am quite a way off. This was brought home to me in spectacular fashion this morning at our first proper Group Training Session for Team in Training.

It was a chilly morning, but I felt a bit invigorated already because I had caught the bus up 1st Ave, got out at 68th Street and then walked across town up to the 72nd Street entrance of the Park. The fresh air and warm-up walk did me the world of good.

So we met in Central Park at the usual Bethesda Terrace location for our 10am start and I was really pleased to see Flock and Flora there too. We work together, we jog together. Group suffering is so much easier to bear, I think. We got into it pretty much straight away and after the coaches and mentors introduced themselves to our huge group we broke up into jogging groups to get started. The New Jersey and Madrid running groups headed off in one direction, and the NYC half-marathoners headed off in another.

An easy run this morning, they said. Only 1.7 miles (or "the lower loop" - see the southern part of this map). The intermediate and advanced among us were told to do two laps of the circuit, but the beginners and runner/walkers only had to do one.

I made it around the lower loop, with a bit of jogging, a bit of fast walking, and a bit more jogging. The cold air was pretty tough to take at first - but then I got into it.

The coaches/mentors had invited us to come away from today's session having met at least 5 new people, but I found it hard to run and talk at the same time. I was not very conversational, cause I just wanted to concentrate on my jogging and try not to die or get hit by a cyclist, rickshaw or horse-drawn carriage. Honestly I was happy in my own little zone. I chatted to a couple of the girls and one of the coaches as they jogged up to meet me, then they slowed down - or I did - and we overtook each other again at intervals. It was fine.

I remember thinking that 1.7 miles was pretty long today - and yet the half-marathon itself is 13.1 miles. I have between now and March to get my butt in gear and build up some stamina. We have been given our training plan for December and apparently by the end of this month, I'm supposed to be doing 4-5 mile jogs in one session. Um, yeah. Okay. Today was only Day 1 though - in future jogs I will only get better. Maybe I should do the lower loop run by myself a couple of times? Hmm, probably.

Next week is a 9am meet-up, but we have some strength and cross training sessions between now and then. Let's do this thing. You will not beat me, Central Park.

Saturday, December 03, 2011

Being a Locavore

I may be a couple of weeks late for the official Small Business Saturday, but this morning I decided to stage my own show of support for my local neighbourhood businesses. Prompted by laziness and an empty fridge, of course. But motivations are immaterial, surely?!

At the corner of 34th & 1st sits a new diner called Lucky's. I don't know if its named after a person or a dog or what, but I liked it. The online reviews are terrible, which I think is a shame. Still, if you look closely at the calibre of people writing them, you'll most likely do what I did and disregard them.

The diner is run by a Greek man and his family, so that already wins points in my book. I went there pretty close to lunch and a bunch of old Greek fellas wandered in not long after me, and the place just erupted. The owner, his wife and a bunch of the waiters all started babbling away in Greek and it was really nice.

I had bacon, fried potatoes, plus poached eggs on 'whiskey down'. Uh, that's rye toast for those of us with no idea about waitress diner vocabulary. Even the coffee was strong and not your usually (ie horrible) American diner coffee. Delish. Not the easiest dish to screw up, mind you, but it was just what I needed on this cold Saturday morning.

And the fact that all this costs less than 10 bucks and is half a block from my house? Amazing.

Not Wacko Jacko

I can't find my Playbill anymore and that is frustrating because I wanted to write down a lot about Thursday's amazing performance of Hugh Jackman - Back on Broadway. But let's just take a minute and marvel at the picture up there, shall we? Ahhh, that's better.

Hugh's show has a 10-week run at The Broadhurst Theater, which is a beautiful venue completed in 1918 that sits across the street from the iconic Sardi's restaurant. It's fair to say that I was in a magnificently bad mood on Thursday evening, and not being able to find a seat at any bar near the theater really annoyed me. I wanted to just sit somewhere, have a pre-theater drink, and try and prepare for an event that I was managing on Friday. But instead, I ended up walking the streets, blocks out of my way, feeling more and more like Joseph and Mary. No room at any inn. So I threw in the towel and wandered back to the theater to wait for K.

On the plan, our seats looked like they were in the nosebleed section. Three rows from the back or something. And I had resisted buying tickets for weeks because overall I thought they were just too costly to be worth it. As it was, our way-in-the-back seats were still $100 but I thought that was fair and besides, I really did want that one-night only chance to see and hear Hugh tread the boards.

The lights came up and the on-stage band kicked into gear and the show was on. And what a show! Hugh may not be the best singer in the world, but the man is the ultimate showman. He was magnetic on stage and he engaged with the audience, almost flirting with them at times. But best of all, he was himself. His stories were personal, his opinions were his own, and he delighted the audience with songs that meant something to him. He was all energy, all the time. And the audience lapped it all up. As K said to me at one point, "there are a lot of people here having some very intense experiences". At one point, one woman in front of us was sobbing.

I never got to see The Boy From Oz, but I know that confirmed Hugh's showmanship in a lot of people's minds - and it won him the Tony award. So it was fitting that after intermission, Hugh channelled Peter Allen and shimmied across the stage performing a medley of hits from the late songwriter. And then he slowed down a bit and sang my favourite, Tenterfield Saddler. I think K and I were quite grateful he didn't do, I Still Call Australia Home. I think we both would have cried. Stupid QANTAS choir - gets me every time.

My favourite part was the montage of hits from old-time Hollywood musicals. Singing in the Rain, Me and My Girl, Guys & Dolls and many more. It was a high-energy, song and dance number that brought the house down. Hugh never seemed to run out of puff and it was fantastic.

At the end of the show, as often happens on Broadway, Hugh took the stage to ask the audience to donate to Broadway Cares/Equity Fights AIDS. I love this cause and have donated to them a bunch of times during the year, both at Broadway shows and not. And on World AIDS Day, which it was on Thursday, it was appropriate that Hugh would ask the audience to dig deep and help support the organisation's important work. So he started an auction to sell his sweaty tank tops.

They sold for $10,000 each. Right there on the spot. I couldn't believe it. For an additional $2,000 each, he would sign photographs with audience members and I have an easy time believing he would have made heaps more money off that. The audience was in his hands.

The show was fantastic and I would have no problems seeing it again, or seeing Hugh in pretty much anything else. I'm looking forward to his turn as Jean Valjean in the movie version of Les Miserables (Ann Hathaway besides - - eyeball roll). If nothing else, that role probably gives Hugh lots of opportunities to be grubby and shirtless. And that will sell movie tickets like nobody's business!