The storm before the storm

Apart from going to cheerleading on Saturday night, the weekend was consumed with getting my book finished and submitted. I’m happy to say that at about 7pm I sent it winging across to Australia to my publisher…only to receive an out-of-office message. I could have had another day! But by that stage my brain was well and truly fried and the thought of doing anymore work on it at that stage was going to make me cry. I had crit notes from Nikki but anything other than a quick fix made my eyes twitch. Now that it’s with the publisher, there’ll be a little time to wait before I get word on if it’s accepted, and if it is, how much work is going to have to be done on it. There are things already that I want to change. Bring on revisions!

With the book out the way I could get onto some of the work that was piling up. I finished the Romance Writers of Australia magazine layout, completed editing a government report for a client, wrote text for a new sign for an interpretation project I’d been contracted for, and then sifted through the many and varied emails that had come in over the past couple of weeks. Monday was an exceptionally productive day, made better by going to the gym. Glen was on-call so it was a quiet evening at home alone.

Tuesday was much the same, as was Wednesday. Glen bought new suitcases from Hudson’s Bay as they were on sale and we need extra luggage to get as much of our stuff back home as possible. They’re red and blue. They’re very nice, and he saved about $800 all up (while spending about $270 but we won’t talk about that). I went to the chiropractor at lunchtime, came home, did some more work, went to the gym, and then in the evening did some baking for Christmas stuff. I made Sienna cake, which isn’t as rich as I’ve made it before but is still delicious, and then some ginger cookies which Glen appears to like. I should also mention that Julian bought me a packet of English Jaffa cakes. I have to ration them.

Today (Thursday) has been busy for a different reason, and has actually been a bit of a pamper day. I went to get my haircut in the morning, paying vastly more than I usually pay for haircuts. It looks ok. It’s a bit different from what I normally get but I’m sure I’ll get used to it. I also went to buy some Christmas presents, and then went for 75-minute massage. It was a good massage, working through some of the nasty tension points in my shoulders and calves. I don’t much like relaxation massages anyway. I didn’t go to the gym, because the masseur said not to (YAY), and so I came home, and did some more work. I’ve got to go buy some ink tonight so I can make an insurance claim for the massage session.

Donna arrives tomorrow afternoon. Can’t wait.

Popping my cheerleading cherry

On Saturday evening I took a break from editing (my brain had well and truly been sucked dry by then) to go watch a cheerleading competition. Julian was a judge for this two-day comp at the International Centre in Mississauga, and very kindly organised for me to have free entry. While he’d been there since 6:30am, I only went to the last round which started at 7:30pm.

CheerleadingUnfortunately getting to the International Centre was a bit of hassle; it’s past the airport. Unfortunately the train was undergoing track repairs or something so I couldn’t get the subway from Bloor-Yonge. I bought a burger and walked up to St George, which was a nice walk and much more enjoyable than standing in the long queue to catch the bus just a few stops.

I got off at Kipling, caught the Airport Rocket and then got off at Jetliner Road. I waited for the 52, however the 52A came along and I got on that, thinking it would go where I needed it to go. Apparently not. I was soon going the wrong way down Airport Road but didn’t realise until I’d gotten somewhere down near the 600s (the centre is at 6900).

I got off as soon as I could. It was too far to walk so I waited on the other side of the road for the bus back. Another 52A came by so I asked which bus to get and he said 52D. Why can’t they just give them different numbers?! 52D came by shortly after, I had to pay another fare…and then another because it was going past the airport. So for a journey that was originally meant to cost $3 ended up costing me $9.

Anyway, I made it to the International Centre with about five minutes to spare. Julian met me, looking very official and judge-like (not judgemental of course). There were a lot of uniformed girls and boys around, wearing sparkly leotards, lots of make up and their hair in buns. I took a seat in the stands and waited for Group 5 and Group 6 to perform.

I know I’m not alone in that all my cheerleading references come from the movie Bring It On. I had lines from the movie running through my head (aided by Julian) and it was comforting to see there was in fact a big ugly blue mat. The show began. The music was loud and had a thumping beat. Girls (mostly, only two teams were co-ed) invaded the mat and got ready for the music to begin.

It took about six routines before I stopped cringing in anticipation of girls being thrown or falling from a great height to the floor. There were tumbles and falls out of position, a couple nearly ending up face-planting, but on the whole, I was impressed. I can’t even do a handstand so I have low standards to meet. One girl collapsed out of fall and had to be carried off; her team then had to stop and leave the mat.

Two of the teams were really good, and just had me going wow throughout. One was an all-girl team that, from memory, didn’t have any stumbles or falls. Crisp moves, high energy and a great performance. Another was co-ed from Quebec that had five (or six) guys that at one point had one of them being launched into the air out of the ‘basket’. Really cool.

The crowd goes wild through these routines, and has something they shout (Hit and Pull) I think when something specific happens, and then clapping during the dance near the end. It’s definitely an audience-participation sport.

It finished at about 8:30 or 9 and then Julian and I headed home. We then went for dinner, with Glen joining us after work for a late supper.

What a great day and a different experience. So happy I went.

This is what it must feel like to work full-time again

So far this week has mostly been taking up with working. On Tuesday morning, I had to wake up at 5am for a two-hour online meeting with people back home. Luckily it was only two hours as by 7am I was just about nodding off. The meeting concluded and I decided against getting up. I promptly fell back to sleep and woke two hours later feeling much better.

A pile driver down the street.

A pile driver down the street.

I edited in the morning until about 1:30pm, taking time out to eat breakfast and lunch. I made up for not reaching my target the day before by ratcheting up a cool 10,800 words, which put me a little ahead for the next day. As I’d reached my daily goal earlier than expected, I rewarded myself by going to the gym.

Never thought there’d come a day when I thought going to the gym was a reward, but there you have it.

I went grocery shopping afterwards to get stuff to make chicken burgers for dinner (homemade chicken burgers, I might add), in celebration of Glen’s return home from Chicago. I did some more work in the afternoon as it seems the gods have answered my prayers and delivered a number of projects into my lap. It’s not exactly come at a good time, but I cannot say no so I’ll just make it work.

Glen messaged later that night to say his plane was delayed by about an hour, but that then turned into landing only half an hour late. Julian drove me out there to pick him up, and we’d timed it perfectly so he walked out of the terminal building just as we pulled up. It was good to have him home.

Wednesday was more of the same: editing, gym, other work. I made chicken and leek risotto for dinner. We watched Damages. I did some more work. We went to bed. Thursday has been a repeat actually. How exciting life is at the moment.

Glen’s on-call from tomorrow for a week so that’s a bit of a bummer.

Returning to Toronto

Julian and I were awake, dressed and in a cab by 5:30am on Monday morning. Neither of us had had much sleep, and being awake at 5am is very few people’s idea of fun (unless you’re coming at it from the other side). The taxi ride to LaGuardia airport was comfortable and sadly a little too quick. It would have been nice to get some extra sleep.

We checked in and went through security with no problems, bought some Duty Free alcohol, and then had breakfast at Le Bon Pain (The Good Bread, not The Good Pain. That’s another shop entirely). We boarded at 7:30. Julian was asleep before the plane took off. Poor guy. He had to go to work when we landed, whereas I had the option of going to bed.

The flight was quicker than scheduled, and as we both slept for part of it, we were in Toronto before we knew it. Julian’s dad picked us up, we dropped him home, then went to Julian’s work. He staggered off to do a full day at the pharmacy (actually arriving on time, rather than the hour late he thought he’d be), and then I drove his car back to our condo.

By then it was about 10:30. I unpacked, put the washing on, and fought the urge to go to bed. Instead, I continued editing my book. I baulked a bit when I figured out I needed to edit 8000 words for the next seven days in order to reach my submission deadline of 7 December. Still, I got on with it. By the end of the day, I came in about a thousand words short of my target. Not ideal, as I’d just have to make it up the next day, but not bad for such little sleep.

I then went to the shops as there was little edible food in the fridge, and bought things to make Thai chicken curry, the one Glen doesn’t like. As he was in Chicago, I didn’t have to watch him turn up his nose at it. However, I would have gladly suffered that if he were home. It sounded like he was having too much fun in Chicago without me.

The curry turned out great and I had enough leftover to give to Julian so he didn’t have to cook. Glen might not like it, but Julian did. I just blame Glen’s bad tastebuds.

In the evening I worked on putting together the magazine for the romance writers association, and then sat up watching some tv for a little while before collapsing, exhausted, into bed.

Bronx Zoo and Christmas on Fifth Avenue

Julian, Ryland and I made plans on Saturday to check out Bronx Zoo on Sunday, considering Ryland and I both worked at the zoo back home. I was also keen to see whether Bronx Zoo lived up to the impression I had in my head. First up though, Julian and I met for breakfast at the little English place down the street called Tea and Sympathy.

A lot of the restaurants around here only open at 11 for brunch but we needed somewhere sooner. Luckily this place was handy, open and had a good price. It was a pokey little cafe which only seems to have English staff. One of the women, who I think is the owner, let us in a few minutes early. She was loud, funny and didn’t hold back. A real Londoner. We loved her. Breakfast was simple, just scrambled eggs, Heinz baked beans, toast, mushrooms and tomatoes. It filled the spot.

The Bronx Zoo

Julian and I caught the subway up to the Bronx, a 45 minute journey into a part of New York I’ve never been. We definitely weren’t in the West Village any more. Signs to the zoo were well marked and we found it without any trouble. Ryland and his friend, Rachel, arrived about 20 minutes before us. Little did we know there was more than one entrance to the zoo (such a novelty) so Julian and I walked across about half of it to meet them at the sea lions.

Along the way we saw a couple of cool sights. One was a herd of small antelope running across their exhibit in formation. That was really cool. Another was a wild red cardinal, a bird with brilliant red plumage. Simply stunning. And the final sight was of two brown bears sparring with each other. It looked like one was digging a hole that the other wanted to claim for its own. Such a thing to behold.

We arrived at the sea lions and watched them swim. We were particularly enamoured with the young sea lions splashing about. Ryland and Rachel appeared shortly afterwards and then we went into the Madagascar exhibit. Bronx Zoo does great work with its indoor exhibits. They’re really well themed, have a good mix of species, and attractive exhibits. The interpretation is very good, though there are quite a few instances where there is no lighting and so you can’t read the signs, or the flaps are positioned so the light doesn’t reach the answers underneath. They do have a lot of interactives so that was pretty good. One of my favourite things in this exhibit was the two fossas, small carnivorous animals that eat lemurs. They were adorable, and such a rare thing both in and out of Madagascar.

We then walked down to the polar bears, the tigers and the Himalayans exhibitions. We were treated to the sight of a snow leopard jumping up a tree to spy on something. There was also a young leopard in this exhibit too who preferred to sleep while mum scoped out everything else (while steadfastly ignoring the enamoured crowd).

Next was half of the African animals, including a big open mixed exhibit of geladas (a type of baboon), rock hyraxes (!!!!) and Nubian ibexes all in together. We had another look at the bears, then it was into the reptile house where there was an impressive variety of species. Plenty of snakes, turtles and lizards to look at here, as well as some frog species.

We then succumbed to our need for food at the fast food cafe on sight, picking up an ice-cream on the way out once we’d finished, and then walked back towards the sea lions to go see the Magellanic penguins. They’re quite a big species of penguin. They also shared an exhibit with a tern species that had curled feathers. I thought they were great. There was also a large flock of flamingoes.

We then traipsed back across the zoo to see the Congo exhibit, displaying a variety of African species, including gorillas. Once again, this indoor exhibit was really well done and the theming was excellent. By this stage, it was about 2:30pm or 3pm and we were nearly dead on our feet. We checked out the African Painted Dogs and hyenas next, before going into the giraffe house. Because it’s winter the giraffes can’t be outside, but the indoor exhibit is very small, especially for five giraffe (two were young ones). In addition to the giraffe, there were also dwarf mongoose (so cute) and aardvarks in a dark exhibit…where people were using flash.

Our last stop for the day was the Asian jungle exhibit, a large indoor exhibit that had a number of very large mixed exhibits with lots of trees and water. The power bill for this place must have been huge. There were so many wonderful species here including jaguar, two tapirs (that we saw swimming in the water!), lots of birds, fish, and monkeys. It was a great exhibit to finish our five-hour visit on.

Overall I was really impressed with the space most of the animals had, the design of the exhibits (lots of moats and unrestricted viewing but also with opportunities for the animals to get away), the interpretation and how spread out and natural the zoo looks. The only downside was the confusing path system and layout; there was no organic/natural path to go so there was a lot of doubling back if you want to not miss anything. Still, it’s not a huge zoo so the walking isn’t onerous, and there aren’t any steep hills. I think Bronx Zoo is one of the best zoos I’ve visited, and combined with the work they do for conservation of species in the wild, I highly recommend a visit.

Back to Manhattan

After we hobbled outside, we bid farewell to Rachel and Ryland at the corner where there bus was due to arrive. Ryland and I aren’t sure when we’ll see each other again as he’s off to London soon and then to New Zealand and hopefully boating around the Pacific. We’ll meet again though, I’m sure.

Julian and I boarded the train back down to Manhattan, inopportunely sitting opposite a man and his son. The dad started off talking about the Giants, a football team I think, and how stupid his son was for thinking he might like to barrack for another team. This went on for a while, almost to the point where I wanted to ask what on earth did he get out of this passion for being a fan of this sport’s team. It baffles me.

This went on for a while, and then they got onto some other topic of conversation. The outcome of this was a bleeding lip. The son was play-fighting with the dad, or defending himself from such annoyances, and the dad lashed out, punched the kid in the mouth, and drew blood on his lip. Now, it was an accident but an avoidable one, and the way the dad dealt with it afterwards was infuriating.

No apology, basically saying how strange it is that something like that happened, that the son also hit the dad (so they were in effect equal) and a bunch of other weak bullshit that made me want to slap the guy around the head and tell him what a dickhead he was. The kid’s eyes wet with tears, probably more from the shock than anything, to which the dad wasn’t all that sympathetic. I think the dad was frightened of what the kid’s mother was going to say when she found out he’d cut his son’s lip. The whole exchange was extremely painful and the train took forever to get to 42nd St where we got out.

We got out at Times Square in all its brightly lit hell so we could find the Uniqlo shop. Unfortunately, or perhaps fortunately, it wasn’t in Times Square so walked to 5th Ave, spotting someone with one of the shop’s bags at which point Julian asked for directions. Along the way we saw the Christmas light and sound display at Sak’s Fifth Avenue, looked at the Christmas tree (undecorated) and ice rink at the Rockefeller Centre and then had a quick look in St Patrick’s Cathedral. We weren’t in Uniqlo very long once we’d found it but I’m glad we went in search of it because of all the things we saw along the way. New York does Christmas very well.

Julian and I then went back down to Aaron’s, got a coffee, hung out for a while and then went for dinner at John’s Pizzeria on Bleecker St. We’d passed it the two previous nights but there was always a queue. This time, around about 7pm, there wasn’t anywhere waiting and we got a table straight away. We ordered a cheese, tomato, mushroom and anchovies large pizza to share which was ample for the two of us. One quarter was about the size of my hand. We were nicely full by the end of the meal.

I returned to Aaron’s to finish packing and wait for him to return at about 10pm. I hung around to chat for a while to him and Justin. Sadly it was all too brief and then I caught a cab to Julian’s friend’s place so we could leave together in the morning at 5am. I was very much not looking forward to the early morning rise.

Checking out the new Highline extension

It’s so nice to sleep in. Plans to meet my friend Ryland for breakfast at 9 were a little too optimistic. Thankfully he hadn’t made the trek down and was in fact struggling to wake up as well. We postponed plans until the afternoon, the only downside being that Glen doesn’t get to see him.

Eventually Glen and I got out of bed, got dressed and head out to the Chelsea Highline. Glen said there was an extension to it, but didn’t say at which end, so there was a bit of disagreement along the way, each thinking the other should have been responsible for finding this out. In the end it was at the end I thought it would be, and there was no drama.

We went into Chelsea Markets so Glen could get a coffee and we could find something small to eat. I bought a fruit scone while Glen had this delicious pain du matin thing that was like croissant bread but down in a muffin shape. We then emerged back onto the cold street, and found the entrance (back down a few streets to the Highline).

It’s a very different place in winter, considering that the cold sends all the plants into hibernation. It’s still busy with people as it’s a much nicer way of getting through this part of the city than along the sidewalk with the rush of cars. We stopped and ate our pastries then set a cracking pace to get up to the new part which was at the northern end.

It’s a temporary extension apparently, or at least it hasn’t had as much effort put into it as the rest of the highline. It curves around a development and the holding yard for the trains. I pulled Glen’s suitcase (lucky he packs light) while he took a bunch of photos. We talked about apartment prices in New York, how the poorest people always used to live by the water but now it’s the richest, whether rising sea levels would wipe us out first or if it would be the lack of resources, and all around just enjoyed our last hour together before he headed off to Chicago.

I’ve noticed it more on this trip that we’ve seen a lot of iconic landmarks, and often quite by chance. For instance, Glen and I found ourselves outside Madison Square Garden where we located a taxi rank. I thought that was pretty neat.

I won’t see my sister in New York

After saying farewell to my husband, I caught the train back to Aaron’s. It was here, when I got back in, that I learned some bad news. Through a miscommunication or a few misplaced strokes of a keyboard, my sister does not arrive on Sunday morning as I originally thought. The whole reason I’m still in New York a few extra days was because I thought we’d have Sunday together to explore. Turns out she doesn’t arrive until 4:30am on MONDAY. My flight leaves at 7:30am and probably from a different airport to hers. Bang goes that plan. It also means there’s a chance her hostel booking will have to be altered as she was originally going to come and see me. How annoying!

I did investigate how much a flight on Monday evening would cost but it’s ridiculous ($288) so looks like Donna and I will miss each other after all.

An awful brunch

In the afternoon, Ryland, a friend from Australia, came over so we could head out to brunch (at 2:30pm!!!) with Julian and his friends. The last time I saw Ryland was in Banff in March/April, and before that was in Toronto in September 2013. He’s been working the ski and summer seasons in Banff…along with a bunch of side travel here, there and everywhere. It’s just happened to work out that he and I are in the same city at the same time.

We caught up on what’s been happening, and then walked down to a place called Libation where Julian and his friends met us. I’m sorry to say that this was probably one of the most unpleasant places I’ve ever been. Ryland and I arrived to what is pretty much a nightclub that’s open for brunch on the weekend that serves endless mimosas and bloody Mary’s. Sounds good in theory but with the music at nightclub level blaring out in the six speakers above your table, I didn’t exactly feel in the party mood. Especially when I’d rather spend time talking to the new people I’d met. As it was, I could only really talk to Ryland on my left and Julian on my right, and hardly ever both at the same time.

The food was ok, except my chicken penne pasta was a bit on the salty side. The mimosas were made with not very nice champagne (but for $29 what can you expect). There was plenty of spectacle to watch, and I found it amazing that people were really dressed up for this. I’m talking nightclub clothes with jewellery and low-cut dresses or really dapper suits. None of us had been there before so we weren’t exactly expecting this. Brunch = chilled out food after (usually) a big night. We won’t be going back and I don’t think I know anyone I’d recommend this place to.

Ice-cream, dinner and drinks

Afterwards, Julian, Ryland and I got ice-cream at Laboratorio del Gelato which served some delicious flavours. I had pomegranate sorbet and salted caramel. Julian and Ryland both had black sesame with a different second flavour each. The good quality ice-cream wiped away the bad taste of Libations. We then walked through a bit of West Village so I could buy a wallet for Glen that he wanted. We then went back to Aaron’s place for a bit of a rest before heading out again.

We had dinner at Riviera Cafe down the road, one of the cheaper places in this part of town, something we were all a bit thankful for. We spent a good couple of hours there chatting up a storm before bidding farewell to Ryland. Julian and I then walked across town, going through Washington Square, and meeting Julian’s friends at a gay bar called The Boiler Room. This is another place that doesn’t believe in standardised shot sizes for mixed drinks…not that I’m complaining.

After a while we decided to go to Marie’s Crisis, thinking that this time I might actually get to go, but there was a long queue out the door and inside was heaving with people. It would have been good to be inside, but not if we had to wait. We went across the road to Duplex. I decided I didn’t need a drink (the effects of the one from The Boiler Room having worn off), and then soon thought I needed to go to bed. I left them at 12:30, feeling bad that I was abandoning them, but also glad to be going home for some sleep. It had been a long day.

The Met, Alice in Wonderland and noodles

We woke up on Black Friday morning feeling a little worse for wear, or I did at any rate. Julian and Nat also didn’t bound out of bed in the small hours to go to Times Square to watch a filming of Good Morning, America. We slowly made plans to meet at Cafe Orlin. We had thought of going to the Russian Tea Rooms for breakfast but the price was too expensive, too far uptown, and unlikely to have any places available. Instead, we ordered up a storm at Cafe Orlin.

Glen, Nat and I had egg white omelettes with tomato and basil, while Julian had a breakfast sandwich. There was also a side of chicken sausages (that were a bit dry) and a side of pumpkin pancakes. Perhaps needless to say, we all left feeling a bit bloated.

The Met

Recharged with enough food to last at least an hour, we caught the subway up to the Metropolitan Museum of Art, which was heaving with people. After going the wrong way for a while (through Ancient Egypt), Julian asked for directions to the Assyria to Iberia exhibition and we were set right. Glen and I both knew we probably had about an hour’s worth of attention span in us before we wanted to leave.

We found a Cubism exhibition featuring Picasso, Braque, Gris and Leger, and there were some beautiful pieces in there. The exhibition then took us into a sculpture hallway where there was a really impressive sculpture of Perseus and Medusa, which was pretty popular. We looked at some Faberge eggs, went to the loo, walked through a bit of Sudanese Africa, before going upstairs and into the Assyria to Iberia exhibition. Some of the pieces we’d seen before at the Mesopotamia exhibition at the ROM earlier this year or late last year.

I really liked the perspective this exhibition proffered in that there was a lot of cross-cultural exchange going on across the Mediterranean and that things weren’t as isolated as we all expect. It just goes to show that no known culture exists in a vacuum and that we are all the product of these exchanges (just look at our alphabet).

Once we reached the end of the exhibition, we had reached the end of our attention span as well, and so we left. We wandered down through Central Park, trying to find a bridge that we never located. Instead we found the Alice in Wonderland sculpture and climbed over that to have some photos taken. We also heard an ensemble singing Christmas carols in a bridge area that I think is featured in the movie Ransom. There were also some breakdancers.

In search of a place to rest our feet

We then traipsed across town to find a cafe called Serendipity, which is featured in a movie. There was a line so we went into Dylan’s Candy Bar instead, which smelled awful with all the sugar. By this stage we were all dying on our feet so we went into Juan Valdez Cafe, had some drinks and a couple of croissants, and all looked a little worse for wear. You know how you feel when you’re just exhausted. We were all like that, and as such had that look on our faces where were quite done with each other’s company. Not because we don’t like one another but simply because we had run out of energy to be present any longer.

Once we’d warmed up, we caught the Subway, big farewell to Nat, then caught another line down to 14th St and went back to Aaron’s for another nap.

We woke at about 6, reasonably refreshed and in need of food. Glen found a place called Noodle Bar, which wasn’t too far away, so we walked there and got a table straight away. Our eyes were a little bigger than our stomachs so we ordered a lot of food – two appetisers, a side, and three big bowls of noodles. The food was really tasty and reminded Glen and I of good curries and noodles from back in Perth. The Pad Thai was great too, not gluggy at all like the ones in Toronto.

We then waddled out of there with straining stomachs and stopped in at a shop to buy a new messenger bag (Glen) and a wallet (me) with some interesting artwork on them. Then, because we could, we went to Pasticceria Rocco and bought a few (small) pastries. Back at Aaron’s we sat to digest more of our food and to warm up (thankfully Aaron had a very warm jacket in his cupboard that I borrowed, annoyed with myself for not checking two days ago). We had planned on going out again but the combination of a busy day, lots of food, and trying to warm up on the sofa, as well as episodes of Veep scuppered those plans. We stayed in, Julian leaving at about 11pm and Glen and I heading off to bed.