flight part 2


Flying west means losing the better part of the day. I boarded in the afternoon of Thursday and arrived on Friday night for a 15hr flight. On the way in, the route was along Japan then across first Canada then the mid-weat. The return flight took us almost over the north pole, at halfway point we were somewhere in the arctic circle.

Even thought the flight left an hour late, the pilots caught us up and we were only 5mins behind scheduled arrival time. Luggage was very slow coming out, people were standing around most belts and nothing was coming out; there were constant announcements of luggage delay, guess there was a general problem. It’s not really acceptable, waiting 30mins for luggage.

The great thing was, mm came to pick me up in ryan. We took a slightly longer route home, we were chatting and I was not in thinking mode to help navigate. Still probably faster than me taking the train then a taxi. Plus it was great to see mm. Easy unpacking, since one suitcase was almost all mum’s stuff. Showered then straight to bed.

flight part 2


Flying west means losing the better part of the day. I boarded in the afternoon of Thursday and arrived on Friday night for a 15hr flight. On the way in, the route was along Japan then across first Canada then the mid-weat. The return flight took us almost over the north pole, at halfway point we were somewhere in the arctic circle.

Even thought the flight left an hour late, the pilots caught us up and we were only 5mins behind scheduled arrival time. Luggage was very slow coming out, people were standing around most belts and nothing was coming out; there were constant announcements of luggage delay, guess there was a general problem. It’s not really acceptable, waiting 30mins for luggage.

The great thing was, mm came to pick me up in ryan. We took a slightly longer route home, we were chatting and I was not in thinking mode to help navigate. Still probably faster than me taking the train then a taxi. Plus it was great to see mm. Easy unpacking, since one suitcase was almost all mum’s stuff. Showered then straight to bed.

flight part 1

Left the house at 12.30pm and was at ORD punctually at 1.30pm. No problems dropping off my luggage, the nice counter person put priority tags on my 2 suitcases even though strictly speaking I’m no longer at a high enough level. There was a huge long queue for TSA passport check, although the queue for security wasn’t bad. I had my normal backpack stuff plus the large, heavy, breakable award in a tote bag. TSA wanted to check my award, and the agent even said to me as she was getting her swab ready, “is it an award?” Some of our winners had been stopped last year so I wasn’t surprised. Not much of a delay, so I wasn’t bothered.


I looked at the whisky selection at the duty free—not much interest, may be balvenie 16 at $101 or laphroaig 10. Didn’t want to take more stuff on the plane. The flight had a 1hr delay because of late arrival from the incoming flight. I sat at the bar with a view to the gate and had an IPA from a local brewery. Debated on whether to order food, I was a little hungry but didn’t feel like any of the heavy burgers or sandwiches. Decided on a spicy tuna roll which was quite okay, if expensive for the portion.

Flight was uneventful. I had an aisle seat and sat next to two elderly Australian ladies. They weren’t familiar with the flight etiquette of closing the window blind so I had to ask them to, because the sun was reflecting off the wing straight into my eyes. The attendant for our section had the funny name of Sonic and he seemed quite inexperienced, if very polite and hard-working. Watched Insurgent, Kingsmen and the Avengers: Age of Ultron. I’m glad I watched the entire Bake-off season on the way in, it disappeared off the menu this month. Didn’t sleep a whole lot.

laundry, chinese takeaway


My last full day in Chicago. Woke up at 11am. The biggest plan for the day was to do laundry, because I didn’t have a clean shirt or clean socks for the flight. So after we played online, we went off to the neighbourhood laundry. It’s always difficult on a long trip, bring enough clothes and they fill up the suitcase; bring only enough for a week or so and I’m always obsessing about laundry.


Did a couple of errands at walgreens and best buy then we ordered chinese food. It was around 3pm so we were hungry. Never order chinese food when you’re hungry. We ordered enough for 6 people, although it was strategic: leftovers keep for a few days. Rest of the day was spent repacking and reading. I have enjoyed this holiday, but it’s time to go home.

driving back day 02

siuc02map siuc03building

Another no hurry day, I opened my eyes and it was almost 9am. We got underway quickly, at around 9.30am. Filled up the car, got some drinks and headed off. In no time at all we were back in IL and signs for chicago started appearing. Went for a short drive-by of southern illinois university at carbondale, where Carleen earned one of her many degrees. It’s a huge campus, so large that it’s like a town that needs its own map. Pretty buildings too. So different compared with King’s.

Uneventful drive. I had a small headache and fell asleep with the movement of the car. Ran into a small thunderstorm which was actually good because it got cooler for a while. Got back to Carleen’s house before 6pm.

Checked into my flight as soon as I got back and had wifi. Dinner was frozen custard, I had one with mint and melted chocolate. I think next time I’ll just have a plain one with raspberries and strawberries. Again a quiet night, catching up on sorting pics, posting and reading the dozens and dozens of notifications I had on fb. I had a post thanking the Director’s for the award and I got over 60 “likes” which is a record for me.

driving back day 01

There was no big hurry to leave, so I had a leisurely breakfast of croissant and tea in the lounge. I’d packed last night so I was all ready. We left around 11.30am to drive back to Chicago, with much less luggage than the way in. Had lunch at Cracker Barrel (trout, broccoli, beans, okra for me). Not a lot of traffic or construction so the going was smooth.


Stopped overnight at Sikeston, having driven around 540 miles over around 8hrs. The nice desk person at the Best Western recommended a local pizza place so we got a sausage & mushroom pizza plus cheesy bread. The cheesy bread was really good; the pizza was okay. Read a bit then went to bed. Nice to be on the way with no slides to work on, no flat tires, no bad weather.

gcls day05

gclstemp61bfast gclstemp65mints
mint pic credit Pol Robinson @polrobin

The last day of the conference, sad sad sad. I managed to say hi to a few more people before the closing remarks by our ED. Brunch followed, and more socialising. Saying goodbye is the hardest part, especially since we only get to see each other once a year and some friends may not be attending the next conference. Our group managed to plan pranks for one of us with a giant bag of mints and come up with panel ideas at the same time. I also talked to one of the winners R about LL, and she says she will motivate me into finishing it.

Finally we had to leave the room so the staff can clear up. Helped break down one of the vendor tables—lots of physical labour putting books into boxes. Went to the foodcourt for lunch (shared a 25-piece chicken finger bucket and got a hurricane daiquiri with tequila shot). After getting our sustenance, we convened at armchairs in the hotel lobby for a game of trivial pursuit. We only played two games, but we looked up towards the end of the second game and it was almost 7pm. Great game; I’m usually not too bad at trivial pursuit, but the US-centric decks we were playing were less familiar to me. I had great teammates though, I was blown away by their general knowledge. The most fun part was watching my teammates and the other team confer and discuss possible answers. The final result: 1 game each.

gclstemp62oysters gclstemp63lobster

Dinner was at the hotel restaurant. A few of us shared a dozen chargrilled oysters—the garlic butter was yummy. I had lobster with spinach risotto—the lobster was fresh and I added some of the garlic butter for additional flavour.

We planned to play another game after dinner. Ended up chatting and sharing stories into the wee hours.

I was looking forward to the conference with a mixture of dread and anticipation. I managed to go to most of the sessions I wanted, skipped a few because of award stuff and because I just wanted a little time at the gym. I don’t know why, but I get more sociable during the conference. This was the biggest conference so far, at 350 attendees. This meant I wasn’t able to meet as many new friends, spending most of my social time greeting old friends. Need to do correct that in future conferences.

Next year’s conference is at Washington DC and the following year in Chicago. I plan on going to both, but it had crossed my mind that I should go every other year because it’s expensive in terms of both time and money. What I spend coming to the con can be reallocated to another trip with mm. Then again, the conference experience is so unique that it’ll be a hard decision to make.

gcls day04

tl;dr: long day, great awards night, I got a huge surprise


Too tired to go to the first session, and we had to convene to work through the presentation deck. We finished in time to go to the keynote speech by Dorothy Allison. I’d never heard of her before, although I understand she is a pioneer and very famous for both her body of work and her activism. Her speech was…there are no words to describe. Stunning, personal, mesmerising are the few that I can come up with. I started at the front then moved to the back to get pictures of the audience. At the end of her speech there was a tremendous standing ovation and I got regular pics and took a panorama of the room with the iphone too.

After lunch was a roundtable on reviewing. There were some very good discussions from the panelists and the audience. Not everybody agreed on every point, but that’s because we are not robots. The discussion was civil and passionate as it’s a topic we are all invested in. Interesting question, if there is absolute no redeeming qualities in a book whatsoever should the reviewer post a review? One camp says yes, to prevent other people from wasting their money; another camp says if there is nothing good to say, don’t say it.

We had awards run-through with the presenters at 3pm so we went over to the ballroom early to check it out. To our horror the hotel staff had only just begun to put out tables and equipment. They worked quickly and efficiently though, moved the tech table to where we wanted and worked out details of stage placement. Very professional. Carleen did a good job with the run-through, explaining the proceedings and expectations succinctly. Unlike last year we had more than 1hr to get ready. I’d grabbed spare lunch bags for dinner so I was prepared. A got me a diet coke too, so thoughtful. Had a sandwich, took a shower and went downstairs to set up. A bit of miscommunication with people coming in and out of the ballroom before official doors open was sorted quickly and we were ready to start the awards ceremony at 7pm.

The MCs this year were two of our own members and they planned funny sketches involving lost & found, tweets and cocktails in between announcement of winners in each category. We had planned theme songs for each category as well as each winner. As I ran the slides, Carleen ran the soundtrack. Everything ran smoothly.

The only part of the deck I didn’t have was the Director’s Award. This is the only non-writing award and is given to a volunteer for their contribution. When it was the category’s turn to be announced, I switched the main screen over to Carleen’s laptop and waited. It was nice to have a rest from tense pushing of the down arrow all night. Ha! Little did I know, I would have no rest, they gave the award to: me. My first thought was, what are you guys doing? Why me? What am I supposed to do now? Everybody had turned around and was cheering and clapping and standing up, Carleen had to tell them to sit back down to run the rest of the slides. I was still in shock and she had to tell me to go up to the stage to get the award. Easier said than done, it was like an obstacle course trying to negotiate tables. Apparently I said something like thank you to the board and told people to volunteer. Can’t remember. The only thing on my mind was to run back to the table to set up the slides for the next category, which was on my mba.

Deep breath. I’m incredibly honoured that the Directors think I deserve the award. I do a lot of running around during conferences—I take pictures, help move stuff, do the posters and this is my second year responsible for the award slides. But so do a lot of people. The entire organisation is staffed by volunteers and there are many others to put in as much, or even more than me. A big thank you to the Directors. Oh, the Exec Director gave me a bottle of Highland Park Dark Origins—if I had to buy a whisky right now, it’d be what I buy, perfect (okay, she actually asked me, under the guise of needing whisky adviceaas a gift for someone).

After my award, I had to focus again to get back to the tech table. The final awards are the big ones—two popular choice awards, one for cover design and one for a book. The Lee Lynch Classic award was presented by Lee herself to Rubyfruit Jungle by Rita Mae Brown. Rita Mae was there in person to accept it. Karin Kallmaker did the presentation for Trailblazer award to Joan Nestle which was accepted by Dorothy Allison.

Last year after the awards I packed up, stayed for a few minutes when the dance began then went back up to the room. This year I still packed up, but was too excited to go to bed so I stayed to chat with a bunch of people. There was copious consumption of wine, and someone bought me a Jameson 12. We closed out the dance floor, with the amazing Lee Lynch taking my hands and us doing a jaunty bouncy number together—can’t call it dancing, it was more like skipping.

gcls day03

Actually set the alarm to go to a 8.30am session, about the changing landscape of the industry, with so many authors taking the self-published route. The panelists are both traditional and self-published, a couple of them having published both ways. The pros for self-publication are control and money as they get a higher percentage; the cons are time-consuming and it’s not always more lucrative—without the machinery of a traditional publishing house, sales tend to drop off after a couple of months unless the author embarks on intensive marketing. Interesting. I had plans to go to the next session but spent it doing some work and chatting with a couple of friends.

The mid-morning session was on the judging process. Not as well attended as hoped, since we were up against a bigwig reading. Still, it’s the first time readers, authors and publishers were given an insight into the book judging process, and kudos for transparency. Lots of good questions from the audience too.

Immediately afterwards was the author auction, which took a different format this year. Much more low key, much more mature. An author may participate in either the silent or live part, and during the live auction there was no need to come up to the stage and be treated like a product on sale.

Ali Vali was the special speaker was after lunch. She is one of the membership and she talked about her own writing process. She was funny and her speech had no dull moments. It’s wonderful to hear all these experience and amazing authors speak with authority and yet so much humbleness.

nolatemp018alligator nolatemp019fried

There were a couple more sessions and the author autograph. I skipped them in favour of going to the gym, although I only managed 5k on the treadmill. A and I went for an early dinner at Drago’s, the hotel restaurant. After hearing stories about the “sexy” alligator nuggets we shared one as a starter. Tasted like somewhere in-between tough chicken breast and a dense white fish. I had crocodile before and didn’t like it, alligator was better. For mains I had the oyster and shrimp platter, since I had wanted to try the one at Mother’s yesterday. Nice food, but expensive, $50 each including a beer for me. I think I’ve had enough fried food on this trip for the rest of the year.

Team meeting was followed by a great stand-up show by Fay Jacobs (she was actually sitting on a stool but whatever) which recounted anecdotes throughout her life culminating in her and her wife’s involvement in the fight for marriage equality in their home state of Delaware. I was quite tired and embarrassed to report that I nodded off in the middle of the show, it’s no reflection on the quality of the show. I was determined to stay till the end.


Traditionally Friday night is karaoke night. Not as many attendees as usual, some regulars were missing. Most of the singers had great voices or sang with enthusiasm. We had the “I Feel Pretty” tribute to our friend Pam—the DJ didn’t have the music so we all got the lyrics on our phones and sang without music. I had been waiting for this one, I left immediately afterwards.

gcls day02

At breakfast we ran into a newbie conference attendee and we had a great chat. She is an experienced reader, runs a reading group, is well travelled and knowledgable about many things. Hopefully will be able to participate more in the organisation. I think I made a new friend.

The first panel I went to was about how to do research when writing about a foreign country and times. The panelists were divided into the method writing camp, who insisted that the only way is to visit the countries involved; and the practical camp, who said that it’s not always possible because of distance, cost and sometimes danger. One writer writes about an invented country, so the method method doesn’t work. I had things to do so didn’t stay for the entire panel.

The next session was an extremely fun one, where well-known authors told a story and we had to vote on whether they were telling the truth or not. We learned that KK may or may not have 19 pairs of shoes; Rach may or may not have sat on the lap of another panelist; KG may or may not have been married to a man; LL may or may not have taken acid and MKM may or may not have ridden on a Harley with a motorcycle gang. This session should be repeated every year.

After lunch I went to a masterclass about the history of our books from the 1920s until now. Great class, delivered professionally and, even though it was in lecture format and a subject I’m neither familiar nor usually interested in, not boring at all. I felt woefully inadequate as I had only read one of the books on the list, and everyone in the class was waxing lyrical about this or that classic that spoke to them.

Next panel was about research. Well moderated and less contentious than the morning’s session about foreign countries. Agreed with the authors that evernote and scrivener is great, as is mindmapping. It’s important to have a balance between information dump and not enough information. It’s also more respectful to the readers to state correct facts, even if they are uncomfortable; than to make mistakes in books.

The membership meeting was next. Opening remarks by the Director was followed by financial reports and updates on awards and the new website. I also received a volunteer award and my 5-year pin. Yay.

nolatemp015mothers nolatemp016mothers

Since I had a meeting, A and I went quickly over to mother’s for dinner. Real southern food in a no-frills setting. We lined up against a counter, gave our order and found seats. The wait staff took our receipt and brought our food. I had baked black ham, the glazed outer crust which is normally the bit that gets the marinade. Very nice. Served with a choice of 3 sides, I had turnip greens, green beans & tomato and red beans & rice. It’s never going to win any prize for presentation but it’s honest, simple food. The fried shrimp and oysters and seafood looked good. I hope I have another chance to try before I leave.

gcls day01


The conference started in the morning with volunteers gathering to help with stuffing the swag bag, setting up tables, organising the silent auction. The venue in the hotel is based on a courtyard concept, with rooms radiating from the central courtyard. Of course it became the focal point and meeting place. There were hugs galore as we see friends and meet new friends.

I brought a bottle of Nikka from the Barrel for the silent auction. I found out that because it’s 500ml it’s not considered a regulation size for import into the US, which means it’s not available in the US. I also put some in a hip flask and told people to come find me for samples. The usual suspects came up to me, as well as a couple of new friends. I think at the end of the day the auction has reached $55.


The conference proper started after lunch (we had chicken salad we made from stuff we bought at the supermarket) when the director made a welcome speech. The first session after that was a readers trivia session. I wasn’t planning in staying, but I ended up staying the whole session. I even won a book! (real physical book, which now I need to figure out how to take home, it’s one on my list to buy.)

Went running at the gym while the con virgin meeting was going on, took a quick shower and was back for the ice cream social. More hugging friends and meeting new friends.

Dinner was at M’s house, she invited a bunch of people to her place for bbq. We had cocktail, very juicy pork, dirty rice, boiled peanuts, bread pudding. She showed me how to make a mojito and let me make a couple. There were a lot of people, and I was getting a bit angsty because of the crowd. Took a taxi back with a few others just in time to catch JD in concert. Good attendence and she was absolutely fantastic. A long, event-filled day. Exhausting but fun.

new orleans day 02

nolatemp012crabbys nolatemp013poboy

Moved hotels today, around 5-10mins walk from the Doubletree to the Hilton. Room wasn’t ready so left our stuff with our friends J&H, chatted a bit then went to lunch with them plus 2 other friends M&M. M is local so she took us to crabby jacks, a fried food casual hut dining place. A and I shared a shrimp & oyster po’ boy with fries. Even regular was a large portion. Basically fried food stuffed in a roll. Tasted very good, the seafood was fresh and the sandwich overstuffed. Freshly brewed iced tea too, the kind where the tea is still hot and melts the ice cubes. We were 6 people in the car, which was very cramped. I ended up in the boot (it’s an SUV so wasn’t like transporting a body.)


By the time we got back to the hotel we were able to check in. Not the room A picked, but still on a high floor with a partial river view. We quickly unpacked and walked to the supermarket. Longer walk than expected, probbaly 20mins one way. Bought salad, hummous, roast chicken and soft drinks. Got caught in the heavy shower too so got soaked for the second time in as many days.

Rushed back to the hotel to change shirts then downstairs to meet with others who volunteered to help shift stuff. M (who took us to crabby jack’s) is the local liaison so a lot of boxes were shipped to her house. Took 4 cars and 9 volunteers to bring them all back to the hotel.

Dinner with Car and another friend L at the brewpub next to the hotel. I had a maibock and, since I’m all burgered and steaked out, a bourbon glazed salmon with kale quinoa pomegranate salad and grilled asparagus. Very nice, the vegetables especially. After dinner we had some official stuff to do, actually a lot; I didn’t get back to my room till 12.30am. Long day. Even longer tomorrow when the conference starts.

new orleans: walking in the heat and rain

Started out early, after breakfast of bagels at the hotel café. Took the streetcar to French Market, it was quite early, around 9.30am but the heat was already stifling and I was dripping. The market wasn’t very interesting, mostly stalls selling t-shirts, beads, masks and souvenirs. The Ursuline convent nearby wasn’t opened yet, so I had to be satisfied with taking pictures through the gate.

nolatemp001louis nolatemp002louis

A short walk took us to Jackson Square with the grand St Louis Cathedral holding court at one end. The inside was beautiful too, although we only spent a few minutes there. If mm were here, she would have wanted to stay for the mass at noon.

The famous Café du Monde was full of people, the queue weaved all the way around the front and side of the building. We decided against joining the queue. Walked a little bit along the riverfront and took pictures of the paddleboat Natchez, a tourist attraction. Most things in New Orleans seem to be tourist attractions.

It was around 11am and we were hot, sweaty and tired. Went inside Jax Brewery mall for a soft drink and to sit for a bit in air-conditioning. The brewery mall was uninspiring, consisting of galleries, tacky shops selling souvenirs and a foot reflexology place.

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Onwards to Royal and Bourbon Streets in the French Quarter. This is probably the most famous area in New Orleans. The architecture is amazing, houses with iron balconies and french windows. Interesting shops on Royal Street. Bourbon Street was kinda dingy and boring, the bars were either not open, in the process of opening or taking deliveries. The street looked like a seedy back alley taking deliveries with the number of lorries there. Perhaps we were there too early in the day.

Lunch was at ruby slipper café where we had eggs cochon—braised pork debris on buttermilk biscuit with poached egg topping. Very big portion, quite salty but still tasty. When we came out of the café it started to drizzle, then rain, then pour. We didn’t have umbrellas and the streets offered very little shelter so we decided to bite the bullet and run back to the hotel. Needless to say we were like drowned chicken when we returned to our room.

nolatemp005lafayette nolatemp006lafayette

Took a rest, changed clothes and packed up the dirty clothes for our afternoon outing first to the garden district then to do laundry. Normally we would have taken the St Charles streetcar, but it wasn’t working due to construction. The replacement bus travelled the same route, but was less charming. It was also very crowded. We got off at the garden district and headed towards Lafayette cemetery. It’s a small cemetery, and I had read in guidebooks to be careful when visiting cemeteries in case of muggers. Luckily there were other tourists there so we felt safe. New Orleans cemeteries are unusual in that burials are above ground so instead of headstones, there are crypts. The ones at the Lafayette cemetery were old, but some were still in use. We saw several crypts where family members who died from the 1800s to 2014 rested together.

nolatemp007garden nolatemp008buddha

The houses in the garden district were definitely luxurious. Some were large plantation style houses with wraparound balconies. What I liked were on some houses, there were fans even on the balcony. Saw at an estate agent’s window that houses were in the US$1m region, which is expensive for the US, but not compared with London or Tokyo or HK. The same price as a tiny one bedroom flat gets a 4, 5 or even 6-bedroom house here.

Next destination was on another bus, to a bar called Igor’s buddha belly bar. It’s a neighbourhood dive bar that I wouldn’t want to visit too late at night. At 4pm-ish there were 2-3 other people there. The main purpose wasn’t to visit the bar, or to play pool at the tables, it was to do laundry. Yes, there were laundry facilities at the bar: 4 washing machines, 4 dryers, albeit having seen better days. Did the work though, so we were happy.

Dinner was at the food court next to the hotel. I opted for beignets, since we skipped café du monde earlier. I also got one of those big gulps of daiquiris: a flavour with mardi gras in the name and bourbon as one of the ingredients. The beignets were better than expected. I thought they’d be full of grease, but they had a nice savoury taste, once I shook all the icing sugar off. It’s actually a lot like 牛脷酥 which is served with congee. The daiquiri I can take it or leave it.

All in all, an interesting day. Very hot and very humid. Then rained heavily. Not ideal weather for walking, but that was what we did. A’s stepcounter app claimed 10km but we think it’s closer to 5-6km. We also bought a day pass for $3 which we fully utilised, between taking the streetcar and buses. I didn’t make it back to Bourbon Street at night to experience the atmosphere, hopefully I get the chance another night this week.

driving to NOLA part 2


Woke up at 9.25am after sleeping through the night, so we were quite refreshed. Hot and humid start to the day. Lunch was quick, drive-thru mcdonalds. The scenery and greenery changed as we went into Louisiana; the closer we got to the coast the lusher the vegetation and we drove along rivers and lakes for the last part of the drive. Very different and stunning scenery. The route was clear all the way to New Orleans and we made it to the Hilton Riverside at around 3.30pm.

The front of the hotel was busy with people loading and unloading. The hotel wanted to charge us per box to bring up to the room, it’s ridiculous. By the time we got everything up to one room we were tired, cranky and hot.

Early dinner at the buffet at the casino opposite the hotel. Salad, oysters, prawns, roast beef, fried chicken, lots of asparagus and local specialities like crawfish étouffée and cajun shrimps. Dessert was disappointing. Lots of cake, almost all of them dry; cheesecake that we mistook for pannacotta; bread pudding that was okay if a bit stodgy.

Back to hotel, I did a little running in the fitness centre. Showered, caught up with my friend A and posts for the past few days.

driving to NOLA part 1

nola004mississippi nola005mississippi

The plan was simple: start at 8am, have breakfast around 9-10am, drive around 8hrs to somewhere around Memphis, stop at dinnertime to find a hotel and have an early night.

We did get on the road at 8am, 7.50am in fact. Stopped at a Denny’s at around 9.30am for breakfast. So far so good. The only problem was that cousin K’s car’s a/c broke down so she had to buy a fan. Then in the afternoon she suffered a flat tire and other issues with her brand new car.

Long story short, we spent the next few hours either waiting or frustrated or both. Eventually we had to leave her car at the dealer’s in Missouri, transfer her stuff over to our car, then all of us squeeze in for the rest of the journey. We were about 4-5hrs behind schedule.

When it came time to look for a hotel, we ran into fully booked issues too. After asking at 6-7 places, we finally found room at a Ramada Inn at Batesville south of Memphis. A long day, I was tired even though most of what I did was sit in a car. We did cross the Mississippi at Missouri and drove alongside it for a while. Hopefully a good night’s sleep and we will catch up tomorrow.

final day packing


The only thing on my schedule today was last minute packing, which was completed in no time at all. The weather was too unpredictable (one minute thunder/lightning warning, one minute heatwave) to go running so I stayed in all day. By lunchtime we were all packed. If we weren’t going with Car’s cousin we could have just loaded the car and left, but we stuck with the planned departure of Saturday morning.

Frozen custard for dinner, yum. The last thing to do was to make a poundcake for ourselves. We were doing that at 10pm, hahaha.

Early day tomorrow. I’m setting the alarm for 6am; we will leave the house at 7am and should be on the road by 8am.

geeky light switch


More errands today, including picking up dry cleaning, getting the car washed (and then it started raining, naturally) and shopping for bits and pieces. Made pound cake too. I’m mostly packed. Taking just one suitcase to New Orleans, and filling the other with shopping. I’m taking all my clothes, and hoping there are laundry facilities at the hotel. I’m glad I’m coming back in October, because I won’t be able to take all shopping with me this time.

So for a totally irrelevant pic, when we visited our friend J the other day, I spotted this video game controller on the wall that is a light switch. I just had to play with it.

A video posted by invisiblecompany (@mal088) on

ginormous meatball sandwiches


Getting towards the weekend when we will start our trip to New Orleans. Errands today—dry cleaning and laundry. Tomorrow we will collect the dry cleaning, wash the car and do last minute shopping.

Lunch today were ginormous meatball sandwiches from Rubino’s Italian deli. They were on special for $2.99, which was extremely good value. These sandwiches were good—4 huge meatballs, provolone cheese (75c extra) and tomato sauce. The meatballs were well-flavoured and the cheese melted inside. The whole sandwich was so big it almost didn’t fit on a dinner plate. I ate it all, very satisfying and yet I didn’t feel bloated or too stuffed afterwards. We’ve been mainly having one big meal a day, this was more than enough for the whole day.

costume shop, baking, faster run

chi2015046costume chi2015048sewing

We went to visit Car’s friend Tom at his place of work. Very interesting, it’s a costume shop at a college where he teaches. There are lots of costumes, dummies, hats, props and several sewing machines there. Haven’t seen a working sewing machine for a while—the one at the retreat house in Florence probably was working too, but we weren’t sure.

It’s always fascinating to visit other people’s place of work, especially if they don’t work at a boring cubicle in an office. Tom showed us boxes upon boxes of different hats and we were having fun trying them on.

Rest of the day was baking some lovely poundcakes. When it wasn’t so hot I went out for a 5k around the field. Feeling a bit better as the wind and cooler weather meant I wasn’t as sluggish. I also think it’s a mental thing, if I know it’s only 5 or 6k I can run faster vs if I know it’s a long run day I subconsciously try to conserve energy.

stop apologising for being a slow runner


I’m still smarting over the truncated slow run yesterday. It’s less than 100 days until the marathon and I don’t have my training act together. It’s frustrating.

A little encouragement from lifehacker, that it’s okay to be slow. Then again the article is by a runner who wins age-group medals so I’ll take what she says with a large grain of salt. Her article is based on one by a running coach Jeff Gaudette who talked about people reluctant or too embarrassed to join a running group because they are slow:

chances are there is always going to be someone faster than you, fast is relative

He also says that runners are one of the most welcoming group of people, which I guess is true. Whenever I meet someone who runs, we can always find topics in common. An interesting question from Coach Gaudette:

No runner I know has a problem slowing down to run with a friend. Think about it. Would you enjoy a run with a friend, even if you had to slow down considerably for them to keep up? I bet you would.

Again, true. Occasionally an idiot on /r/running will humblebrag about his 15min 5k and not wanting to slow down for his friend, but posts like these are always downvoted.

Still, I wish I had the motivation to: a) lose a stone so I’m faster; b) run more so I’m faster; run smarter so I’m faster.

running, cheeseburger


12.09km 1.52.52hr 9.20min/km

Some days I know, within 5 minutes, whether the day’s run will be good or not. Today’s run…wasn’t. The training plan called for 12 miles (20km) and I knew I wasn’t ready for it—I’m undertrained and it was around 27ºC with the sun beating down. My goal was 2hrs, hoping that I can get at least 8-9 miles. At the beginning of the run I reached the end of the block and felt sluggish and heavy, my mind went, “uh oh.”

I ran around the field opposite the church, and included part of the church car park and some leafy streets around the area. Started okay, but simply couldn’t get moving. Struggled to 6k, then to 10k and had to really push the last 2k, I was more at walking pace.

To make matters worse, I think I’ve gained weight. My jeans don’t fit as well. Been eating heavier food than normal. Yesterday before theatre we went to moody’s pub in edgewater and had a really great cheeseburger and a dark beer. It’s not the food really, we haven’t been over indulging; it’s my own fault for not running enough and skipping training. If I want to PR at the marathon, I must do better.

musical: kinky boots


We went to see Kinky Boots the musical today at the Cadillac Palace theatre. I’d never seen it before, and I know it’s opening in London soon. The biggest draw is that the score is by Cyndi Lauper and it won 6 Tonys including Best Musical. The story is simple: a young man inherits his family’s shoe factory, finds out that it’s on the brink of closure, meets a new friend and saves the factory by producing a very niche shoe while in the process becomes enlightened and accepting.

The kinky boots in question take the form of said niche shoes, thigh-length sparkling boots that are sturdy and aimed at the drag queen market. The idea comes from the new friend, from the outside a flamboyant drag performer by the name of Lola, who is in fact Simon from Clacton. The young shoemaker, Charlie, together with his gruff factory colleagues, are initially uneasy in the company of Lola, but at the end they become a family.

Seems like we’ve been there before. The premise comes from

a line of charming but formulaic British screen successes, in which economic hard times and battered self-worth were alleviated by such means as a brass band (Brassed Off), a male stripper act (The Full Monty), ballet (Billy Elliot) and menopausal nudity (Calendar Girls)

Although the story may be considered predictable, the music is anything but stale. Cyndi Lauper did a great job, the tunes were poignant, catchy, beautiful and grand. The singing was all kinds of wonderful too. A lot of the action took place in one set (the factory) and at times the actor was the only person on stage. The solos were also spread out, with several characters given the chance to shine, and they did.

The only minor negative was the audio. The mics were uneven, sometimes too loud and screechy, sometimes not loud enough that we couldn’t hear what the actors were saying. The accents were inconsistent too. The setting is East Midlands, with some London and Essex. Some of the actors managed British accents better than others. Once I got over it, I focused on the story and music. Accents aren’t noticeable when someone is singing anyway. I noticed small non-British things that shouldn’t be there—a sign in Northampton won’t say “Northampton, England” (emphasis mine) and you can’t give only two weeks’ notice to fire people like in America—these aren’t negatives, just observations.

I was tapping and humming along throughout the musical. At the end, they got the audience on our feet and clapping along. Thoroughly enjoyed it.<

early steak dinner

friedpickles steakshrimp

I should go do something, or rent a car and drive to the bourbon trail, or something, but I don’t feel like it. Stayed in almost all day, reading and doing stuff on the mba. We did go out for a late lunch / early dinner at lone star steakhouse. Shared a fried pickles starter, which I’ve had before and liked. Very greasy and deep fried of course, so good. The crunchiness and the tartness of the pickles complement each other. For mains I had a combo of bacon-wrapped sirloin and grilled shrimps. The sirloin was tender, although I didn’t like the bacon wrapping (to keep it moist?). The shrimps were a little salty. Took away dessert of apple pie and cheesecake to have later.

new running accessories


6.0km 44.48min 7.28min/km

A couple of running accessories arrived today. A small foam roller that is sort of portable—it comes with a carrying bag afterall. The foam roller I have at home is a 36” high density model, it’s very essential. This one is 12” with ridges and a smaller lower density one that slips perfectly inside the outer one. They work great, although I had to get used to the smaller width.

The other item is another set of headphones. I have something like 4-5 headphones I use regularly for running. I don’t find earbuds useful—they slip out, no matter what size—so I’m always on the lookout for headphones that will work for my ears. These are newer models of my favourite ones, and even these are discontinued so I don’t know how much longer I can still get them.

Went out for a faster run today, managed 6k outside. Still too slow for my liking. 7.28 is a 5.15 marathon; if I were to break 5hrs I need to go below 7.07. And training isn’t going as well as I would like. Sigh.

three typhoons


I was texting mm about various stuff and she mentioned it’s typhoon signal #8. This means a typhoon is nearby and all schools and businesses are closed. Normally weather doesn’t get covered around the world but the fact that three typhoons are lined up to attack is covered in mashable and other places.

The first of the trio, typhoon linfa, has already made landfall. It’s the middle one, chan-hom, that is the biggest threat. It’s forecast to reach super typhoon status, with winds reaching 155km/hr, passing north of Taiwan to make landfall around Shanghai. That’s equivalent to a category 3 hurricane in the US.

It’s rare, to see three typhoons coming in so close to each other. The whole of June was ridiculously hot, looks like July is going to be wet over in that part of the world.

candy floss flower

Came across videos of vendors making pretty candyfloss flowers. Worth watching till the end to see the final product. Enough for at least two people I think.


When we think of candyfloss, it’s just a lump of spun sugar served on a stick or in a bag. That someone thought of such a creative way of repackaging a favourite product, it’s great.

chicago revisited

chi201521art chi201524bean

I scheduled a meeting with my FA to go though finances and stuff. I was early so I detoured to millennium park on my way up there from the station. Of course I’ve taken many, many pictures of the park, the art institute and the bean over the years, but a couple more can’t hurt.

After the meeting I stopped off at naansense for a snack. It’s a great street food idea—naan, roti or salad with various fillings like chicken, lamb, vegetables, paneer. I had the lamb korma naan.

chi201526billy chi201527billy

I missed the train, and the next one was in one hour. I ended up at the Wells branch of billy goat tavern because it was opposite the station and it’s a Chicago classic I hadn’t visited before. Had a cheeseburger (“cheezborger” in their lingo) and their house dark. No chips, the burger was big enough. I liked that the condiments were on a table so we could serve ourselves. I couldn’t finish the burger, but I did finish the beer.

It was nice to walk around the streets where I used to hang out. I’d forgotten the geography, having to look up addresses. Once I got there, I sort of know the direction and the way. I didn’t have enough time to walk all the way to Sears Tower and the office, but I covered a fair bit of ground. Good day for a walk around town anyway.

more hotel buffet

bc019bfast bc018dessert

Lounged around the room in the morning, watching some of the tour de France. Breakfast was back at the buffet restaurant, more like brunch. Had a roast ham, bacon, sausages, mushroom & spinach omelette, half a french toast to start. They were starting to bring out lunch so I had some of the roast beef, a small piece of steak and salad.

Didn’t feel like any of the pies for dessert, so asked the server at the yogurt counter for just blackberries and had another root beer float.

buffet, slots, fireworks

bc001hotel bc003casino

Overnight trip to Blue Chip hotel resort in Michigan City, Indiana. It’s a very large hotel that consists mainly of a casino and spa. We checked in mid-afternoon and wandered around to meet Carleen’s cousin inside the casino. Mainly slot machines with some table games. Not really tempted to play, I put in $5 each into 2 machines and lost very quickly. Ah well, it’s interesting to watch other people play anyway. Not too comfortable inside the casino as smoking is allowed, and towards the end of the evening when the place was crowded, the smoke was heavy.

bc012crablegs bc014pies

The hotel also had a buffet, and the daily theme was crab legs and steak. The crab legs were good, I had 2 platefuls. The steak was so-so, small pieces grilled and piled into a serving dish made them get cooked quickly. There were other food too, like chicken, pizza, a roast and chinese, but I didn’t try them. Dessert was ice cream and lots of pies: apple, lemon meringue, pumpkin, pecan, chocolate, cheesecake. There were also warm puddings like apple cobbler and bread pudding. I had a little of a pumpkin pie (standard) and bread pudding (good) as well as a root beer float. Overall, a good meal, definitely ate more than the meal’s worth in crab legs.


Went upstairs to cousin’s room with a great view of the different fireworks going on around the hotel. Put my camera on the windowsill and set the shutter to 1 second. The trick was to press the shutter at the right time, I managed to get a couple of halfway decent pics.

wine, bourbon, whisky

smsfwine01display smsfwine02sign

Went to a liquor store to look for wine with Car. I got a california cab and a washington pinot. The store had a great selection and I mainly looked at US wines—when in Rome, do as the Romans do, which means go for the local wines. It’s like drinking chianti in Italy, chateauneuf in France and sauvignon blanc in New Zealand.

There was a tasting of save me san francisco wine which are wines launched by a band called Train. I’ve never heard of Train before, but the wines were very decent and good value. I tried the (very generous portions) cab, pinot and blend. The proceeds go to a non-profit organisation in California. One of the band members, Jimmy Stafford, was there to autograph the bottles so I bought a bottle of their pinot too.

After the wine, I went to look at the whisky shelf and wow, there were 2 shelves full of very tempting whisky. One shelf was bourbon and rye; the other shelf was whisky and Irish whiskey, including Tullamore Dew Phoenix which was only available at the distillery and at the airport in Dublin. Even Yamazaki, Hibiki and NIkka Coffey.


It was very hard not to buy up the entire shelf of whisky and whiskey. I couldn’t not get the Ardbeg Perpetuum, which was released during Feis Ile 2015 to celebrate Ardbeg’s 200th anniversary so is very, very special. I was bummed I wasn’t in London for its launch and had been resigned to never getting a bottle. $90 plus tax, which probably works out cheaper than the £90 at TWE.

It was impossible to limit the bourbon purchases to one. I got another bottle of Blanton’s, after seriously considering Bookers, Redemption, Rittenhouse Rye and Weller. Also got a bottle from ch distillery—they are a vodka distillery and bottled this bourbon— it was on sale and the company is in Chicago, all towards my goal of buying local. All this to add to the Knob Creek single barrel I bought yesterday.

I’ll have to finish drinking the wine and figure out how to bring all these bottles of whisky and bourbon back with me. Ah well, I have a few weeks to think of that.

#07: new musical on your feet

onyourfeet01oriental onyourfeet02curtain

Task #7 of 101.1001 is to go to a new musical. Today I went to see on your feet at the oriental theatre in chicago.

There are so many new musicals that I’ve lost touch at what is showing and which one is new. On Your Feet is a show about Gloria Estafan and her husband Emilio: how they met, how they worked to become successful in the music business and how a bus accident almost derailed their lives and careers. Some reviews likened it to a feel-good tv movie. Although there are similarities to a tv movie, the energy, the music and the overall production pushed the standard much higher.

I can’t name a single Gloria Estafan (with or without Miami Sound Machine) song, but I could recognise the bigger hits when I hear them. And I did, the bigger hits. The songs I hadn’t heard of before were a revelation to me, I enjoyed them too. The dancing was great and the energy was infectious.

The singing. Wow, the singing. Ana Villafane plays Gloria, looks like Gloria, and sounds like Gloria. Superb. The other cast members were memorable too, from Josh Segarra who played Emilio and the family members: Gloria’s mom, grandmother, father and sister all excelled. The boy who played both her son and a dancing bar mitzvah boy was wonderful. At the end of both acts, the audience were on their feet, clapping and dancing, that was how much everyone enjoyed the show.

i know i’m back in the US when…


i know i’m back in the US when I have pancake breakfast and then go outlet shopping. The pancakes were at one of my favourite place, Cracker Barrel. I could have had the big breakfasts with bacon, sausage, eggs, hash brown, biscuits and gravy. The blueberry pancakes with blueberry syrup were a little lighter, I was able to finish the entire order.


We were going to go to Costco, but drove further south to an outlet mall. I checked off one of the items on my shopping list by getting a new pair of running shoes. I had nike frees in mind and they had several colours. The ones I wanted, in orange and blue, were $85. A few colours were 30% off so I opted for grey. Quite pleased with it.