I'm not sure if it's jetlag and my fuzzy computing skills that result, or just that it is infuriating to try to use Flickr only to discover that they cap your free photo uploads, but I feel like I've spent all day trying to get my darn photos from Australia organized. There are only *150*, what could take so long??
At long last, they are here on Kodak Gallery. (I'm done with Flickr! At least for now.)
You'll see the many pictures of the Opera House, as well as the wallabies I met (I recently learned that wallaby is really just the name for any animal that doesn't already have a name, looks like a kangaroo, but isn't actually big enough to be kangaroo. That's what Wikipedia says.)
You'll also see my free group photo from the Sydney Harbor Bridge Climb. (I am second from the left in the back row.) Over 1,000 steps and you're standing on top of the Harbor Bridge. It sounds way more dare-devil than it felt. It's nowhere near as risky as bungee jumping or jumping out of an airplane. Although the climb staff have fun with you, explaining that the hooks on the back of the standard issue climbing suit are for your parachute. The chain with large ball at the end is to club the aggressive wild koalas, and the cushy lunch pail-sized pack attached to your belt is a sleeping bag, just in case the team has to stay up on the bridge. (They are just jokes: the hooks are to tie your cap onto, the chain and ball locks onto the climbing line along the bridge, and the pack is just a fleece for how chilly you get after 2 hours on a bridge!) The view was extraordinary, with the Blue Mountains on one side and the Pacific on the other. My guide was like the Australian version of my brother-in-law, Hugh, which made the experience quite familiar, although not so much that I asked him what his plans were for Christmas. The Bridge Climb was my Sydney finale, as I hustled out of the gift shop and down the block to a taxi stand to get to the airport (picking up my luggage at the hotel along the way - chagrined that the front desk staff couldn't find the key to the luggage room while my taxi meter ticked away...) At the top of the bridge I considered that getting your hair windswept by the gusts of the Sydney Harbor wasn't the best thinking for a good travel hair day, but then reasoned that I did have my hoodie to wear, and Jason might be so happy to see me that the hair would be an afterthought. He was. And I was happy to see him, be home in my own bed, and quite satisfied today with my decision to take a day off for jetlag.
I am dreading the alarm clock tomorrow morning.

Sydney Snaps

A few photos from my wanderings in Sydney are here for sharing. With just a few days of leisure here before I go back I have been on the move from morning to evening.
I left Sydney on Thursday for a day excursion to the nearby Blue Mountains. It was an ambitious tour with many stops along the way, which unfortunately found me and my co-worker, Clay, (who tagged along) wondering why we had left the hours inside of hotel conference rooms and the convention center to spend so much time trapped in a tour bus. It was even funnier when we arrived in the mountains and we were hustled from enclosed bus to the pod of the cable car which took us down to the rainforest floor. God forbid we actually touch any of the Australian wild that we'd come to see!
But I did get to touch both native koalas and a kangaroo. Kangaroos are super soft to the touch, but maybe not in their behavior. In the wildlife park, a gaggle of Japanese tourists began to squeal excitedly when one of the kangaroos took a little hop. This got him more excited so he began hopping all over the place, and I looked up to see him careening right towards me. I figured the best thing to do was to stand still and he'd hop around me. Nope, he hopped right up and into me! I saw him coming but was frozen in curiosity, "what's going to happen next?" His little paws came down right on one of my crossed arms and we briefly looked into each others' eyes, probably with shared surprise. He bounced right off of me and to another corner of the park. I remained standing, but a little baffled. One of the keepers approached me and Clay and, in very Law & Order style, asked me if I could identify the kangaroo that assaulted me. (Kidding, she just pointed to the still bouncing kangaroo and said, "Is that the one causing trouble?")
We later had confirmation of my natural affinity with kangaroos when we ended the day in a park where wild kangaroos roam. (The afternoon also wrapped with glasses of champagne, see photo below of me searching the Australian plains for 'roos in high-end safari style.) Across the field and trees we saw a little kangaroo. Other tourists had gathered at a distance taking their snapshots. As we walked to look closer the kangaroo raised his head, appeared to catch sight of us. Clay said, "Uh-oh Claire, I think he's coming for you too." Sure enough he started off in our direction. This time though he hopped on by to see another larger kangaroo behind us. But apparently, with their natural interest in being close to me, I am the Diane Fossey of the 'roos.

Were You Expectng Sydney Day 2 or 3?

This is about as exciting as Sydney Day 2 and 3 have been. Sitting in lecture halls eating boxed conference meals.
For work purposes it has been interesting, but for personal blogging purposes it's a bit of a yawn.

Report from Sydney Day 1

Turns out my Blackberry cord connects my camera to my laptop. I love multifunctional electronics. Since I have to prep for my breakfast meeting, I'll keep this kind of short.
Yesterday afternoon, figuring that you can't fall asleep if you're walking, I took a long walk up through Sydney's Hyde Park, Royal Botanical Gardens and to the Opera House.
I had read that there are many carnivorous bats hanging from the trees in the Botanical Garden and was frankly, a little disappointed not to see any. I think that since it was approaching dusk they had already started their evening's roving... looking for blood to suck, no doubt.
Photos below are from my wandering into the Anzac War Memorial in Hyde Park, dedicated to the soldiers of New South Wales who have died in battle since WWI. The evocative statue in the center shows the soldier's body borne up on a shield towards the heavens, held by four figures: his mother, his sister, his wife and his child.


I didn't want to leave you staring at cats for a week while I'm in Australia. (Although I know at least one reader won't notice -ahem, Abby- since she'll be wrapped up with the new Harry Potter.)
Since I *am* here for work I'm may or may not have as much time for blogging. And I also forgot the little cord that connects my camera to my laptop, and I don't even know how (and if) my camera connects to my work laptop so... here's a nice stock photo to hold you over for a little while. When I get home I'll do the Flickr photostream of the trip to Sydney.
I had a window seat on my incoming flight, and did see the Opera House lit up in the dark early morning hours. But so far all I've done is landed, spent fifteen groggy minutes trying to figure out how to turn on the lights in my room*, taken a little nap and showered. I'm about to head out for the "expose yourself to sunshine and maybe your body will figure out what time it's supposed to be" walk. Jet lag sucks.

*Turns out I'm in a "green" room that requires your room key slide into a little slot by the front door to activate the lights of the room. This is clever, but its good intentions are not best appreciated when you're so freaking tired that not even normal things make sense.

You Heard It Here First

Sort of, I mean, I think you already knew that cats were cute. (You guys are smart, no?) But TIME magazine has finally caught up with this blog and published an article on the LOL cats.
But being professionals in this business, they express the LOL Cat phenonmenon so much better:
These home-made cartoons seem to lift the veil on a truth that we all quietly suspected anyway: cats are small, childish, sentient beings, mischievous and innocent at the same time.

If you haven't checked it out yet, you really must catch up to the rest of popular culture and check out ICanHasCheezburger.com!

What Does 50 Degrees Feel Like?

{Editor's Note} Looking at my google analytics, this is the most frequent search term that lands people on my little blog. For you, I offer the answer to the question I was asking before my trip to Australia. 50 degrees is that truly in-between tempurature. But it's perfect for long pants, long or short sleeves, and a handy fleece or light jacket for the evenings.

I'm packing for the big trip to the 7th continent. It's around 50 degrees in Sydney this time of year. However, it's been 90 degrees in Chicago lately making any cooler temperature impossible to fathom. To make it more confusing, I remind myself that while July is the height of our summer, it's the depth of the Aussie winter. For my day trip to the Blue Mountains, I've read that it may even snow. But cashmere sweaters and fleece in July? It feels so wrong, but they go into the suitcase regardless. Not to mention that every mental picture I have of Australia features sunshine (and lifeguards with those funny little caps.)
And 50 degrees is such the debatable tempurature anyway. Is that cold? Is it warm?
I am delighted to be packing in my new Samsonite Spinner suitcase though, I shall feel like I can dance through the airport. Me = Ginger, suitcase = Fred Astaire. With four wheels, the suitcase goes forward, backwards and side to side. Or as in the Samsonite commercial, I am a sophisticated world traveler, with a near James-Bond-like advance through airports and world markets. Yeah, that's me. ;)

But it also means an added chore for Saturday: taking my old suitcases to the Salvation Army.

I Had No Idea...

...You can sprinkle salt on your watermelon. It apparently brings out the taste. This is not good news though, because I think my genes predispose me to high blood pressure. Dad used to eat NO SALT potato chips. (What's the point?!) But salt intensifies the taste of everything, so I'm always regretful when I hear that there's yet another thing that tastes better with salt.
The juicy smack of a watermelon is so tasty in the summer. After playing three games of tennis the other evening in the 90 degree weather, the watermelons stacked in the roadside truck, selling for $3.50 a piece - $4 on the 4th of July - looked so appealing. And I know that saying "roadside" makes you picture a cute little rural scene, but this truck is right on the side of the busy main street of our urban neighborhood. (And for the record, the new racquet helped Jason beat me in 3 games straight. I blame the heat. But tonight I beat him 2-0.)
This Watermelon Mint Raspberry Salad looks amazing, by the way. |I stumbled upon it while looking for a watermelon photo to decorate this post. With fresh mint growing on my back deck, I think it might be a good idea. Now, would I salt the watermelon first??

From Williams-Sonoma Starters cookbook:

Watermelon Raspberry Mint Salad

4 cups (about 2 lbs) of seeded and cubed watermelon
1/3 c minced fresh mint
3 c fresh raspberries
1 Tbsp honey
2 tsp lime juice

Divide the watermelon cubes in a large bowl and sprinkle with minced mint. Top with raspberries and sprinkle with remaining mint. In a small bowl, mix honey and lime juice with a fork and drizzle over the melon and berries.

Refrigerate for ~30 minutes.

We are Not So Bad

We are so often vilified.
Yes, on the occasional winter evening we shoot our neighbor over the parking space dug out from the snow and reserved with lawn furniture.
Or, just this holiday, we send patient children home announcing 4th of July fireworks have been canceled, only to shoot the display off a few minutes later. As Jason's favorite site, Fark, put it:
What kind of city would cancel their fireworks, then start shooting them off 30 minutes later after 90% of the crowd left? If you guessed Philly, you get to toss a snowball at Santa.

Even Tommy LaSorda has a tale to tell of evil perpetrated by the Phillie Fanatic. (Weird, he appears to bear quite a grudge... against a big green -entirely goofy and lovable, in my opinion- muppet.)

But I would like to offer a rebuttal, witnessed just yesterday in Denver. When fierce winds and storms whipped the tarp covering the baseball field where the Rockies were playing the Phillies up and into the air, tossing grown men a reported ten feet in the air, the Phillies bench cleared with players running to the rescue of prostrate and desperately helpless groundsmen. We are SAINTS! (Or at least just two confirmed miracles away from it, according to the Denver Post.) Watch it and your heart will swell.

And just one Denver player came out from their dugout to offer his help. Geez, how insensitive!

And by the way, that 1968 Santa thought it was funny that we threw snowballs at him.

1993 Catches Up to Me

They are grey and purple, colors I would have selected in 1983, but the rollerblade fad of the early 1990s has caught up to me. Jason pointed out that I could have paid $25 extra for the Rollerblade brand which were powder blue and black, but I declined. My rollerblades make me think of unicorns. (Jason's, which are well-worn and carry the integrity of someone who plays ice hockey and roller hockey, remind me of a costume piece from Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome.) Not knowing exactly how well I'd take to rollerblades I wasn't going to worry about aesthetics. I was fretting about injury, so I donned my wrist pads, elbow pads, and knee pads. And helmet. I was a little dissapointed that Target has such cool helmets for kids, but Dick's Sporting Goods only had boring options for adults. This purple fairy helmet would have matched so well and it has LEDs for the fairy wands!
Jason lured me out on my maiden voyage on rollerblades by suggesting that we blade to the lake which is a few blocks away. "That tricky fellow," I thought to myself during the way there, "he knows I love the lake, and that I can hardly ever get him to go there with me. So manipulative to pick this as our destination!!"
I didn't fall down once, but my rollerblade skills mirror that of a little newborn foal trying to walk for the first time. I'd roll, then glide, then push off a little ... and then flail arms in the air desperate for balance, then roll again. As each pedestrian passed us I was eager to announce, "First Day on Rollerblades!! Make way! First Day on Rollerblades!" I did get a compliment from a neighbor sitting on his front porch watching the world go by.
I gained a new appreciation for a characteristic of our neighborhood I'd never noticed before: our sidewalks are both wide, and gratefully smooth. I guess our Alderman has been good for something after all.
Once we made it to the lake, Jason took a disturbing right turn, "Let's go a little further!" he exclaimed over his shoulder as he quickly advanced ahead of me. "NOOO! NOOOO!" I replied, "You said THE LAKE! We're at THE LAKE!" Even though I was doing fairly well, I wasn't quite ready for the long adventure.
To be fair, while we were shopping at Dick's, Jason also picked up a tennis racquet. He claims that he will now be able to beat me at tennis. We've played twice and I've beat him in 4 games. The weakness is attributed to his playing with my junior racquet. Now he's suggesting that we rollerblade to the tennis courts, once again using the lure of something I can't resist. So tricky!

Does our City Clerk have a sense of humor?

Chicago city law requires that if you have a car registered in the city, you have a Chicago City Sticker. It's not a parking sticker, like might be demanded in certain neighborhoods of Philadelphia, and it's in addition to your state registration.
City stickers can be purchased online from the City Clerk or at many of the check cashing places across the city. Since our neighborhood has one of those almost every three blocks, the purchase was pretty convenient for me! I must confess I'd never been to a check cashing place before so it was kind of like a new cultural experience, but sad to see how much they skim off the top of people's checks before cashing.
With the purchase of my second city sticker, marking the start of our second year here in Chicago, I wondered if the City Clerk doesn't have an ironic sense of humor.
Last year's car sticker featured an illustration of... the el. Was this a reminder that before you get in your car to consider taking public transportation instead? The designs are winners in a competition between city high school students.
The 2007 sticker winner which we apply to the windshields of our gas guzzlers is a picture of the earth with a rainbow arching above, with the declaration "Green Scene Chicago." This isn't a reflection of the color that the river turns on St. Patrick's Day, but a way of promoting Chicago's efforts to become the nation's most environmentally friendly city. (Might as well have the earth with a little bubble above it saying, "You're killing me slooowly! Help.") Unfortunately, this mission means that in addition to paying $80 for the sticker promoting the campaign, we also pay the highest prices in the nation for gas. Our environmental rules demand a unique mix of gas. Yay, Green Scene Chicago?

To Do (Another Day)

Saturday morning I pondered my "To Do" list: gym, grocery store, Salvation Army drop-off, bank, apply new City Sticker to car, and while at it, car wash (desperate priority.)
However, we are enjoying the most absolutely perfect weather this weekend in Chicago. Bright and sunny, without being hot. Cool and breezy without being chilly. I made it to the gym, but that was about the only item on the to do list that was checked off yesterday. (You may wonder, like my neighbors, why I chose to do the one activity that was probably the most portable to the outdoors. The answer is that I don't have a bike or roller blades for outdoor enjoyment and when I run outside the skin on my legs gets super annoyed and itchy from chafing of shorts. I haven't yet figured out the answer to this dilemma, except to go to the gym and just make sure I'm on a machine near the windows. Although one of my neighbors offered that I may borrow her bike in future, so this may be good.)
When my other neighbors offered that I join them in their outing to the Garfield Park Conservatory, the To Do list was quickly left abandoned on the kitchen counter.
Garfield Park is within the city of Chicago, which you are reminded by the El rumbling by above you, and looking across the grassy lawn to see a freight train making its own journey on rails bordering the other side of the garden. The drive also takes you through the characteristic streets of Chicago, with red lights, city buses cutting you off, and the remarkable number of Mexican restaurants. One review of the Conseratory notes that it is in "one of the city's most challenging neighborhoods," a reflection borne out by the number of vacant lots we drove by. This reminded me of Bartram's Gardens in Philadelphia. I'm not exactly sure what drives this phenomenon.
Once at the Conservatory, I was most interested not in the plants (although the fern house was impressively mossy, very Lord of The Rings) but in the exhibit Niki in the Garden. Enormous mosaic statues by sculptor Niki de Saint Phalle glittering in the sunshine. (Doesn't the last one look a little like a koala?)

We'll see how much of the To Do list is addressed today. It's not looking promising, it's sunny and gorgeous again.

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