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December 29, 2008

Enjoying Chicago with Nick, Paul & Nige

Filed under: The American Adventure — admin @ 12:32 pm

Nick, Paul & Nige arrived on Friday afternoon to a nice icy Chicago. We gave a guided tour of the walk back from the CTA station (trying not to slip on the ice whilst wheeling the suitcases) and then the guided tour of the apartment. We then attempted to have a sneaky beer in Monk’s — but horror of horrors, it was closed! (It would prove to be closed for the next two days too. We’ve not tried it today!)

We’ve been to a few bars, taken them to see the Bean & Millennium Park and we’ve had fun on the CTA (we’ve been to Paddy Long’s more often than any other bar! First name terms with the barman helps…) We’ve also been for a beer in the John Hancock tower — a bargain at $65 for five drinks!

Today we’re heading to the Sears Tower as it’s a lovely clear day. Might attempt to see into our apartment from the top of the Skydeck (although that may freak us out!). We may also visit Wrigleyville or Black Rock (the bar we’re going to drink dry on New Year’s Eve). Other options for today include ice skating at the Park.

Photos are being taken, they’ll be uploaded soon.

December 21, 2008

Five weeks in Chicago

Filed under: The American Adventure — admin @ 11:38 am

Another week has flown by and it’s now five weeks since we landed on these shores. Not much has happened in the week just past — it was my last week at work so now I’m off until the 5th January. It’s nice because not only do we have Christmas and New Year to look forward to, it’s our one year anniversary tomorrow…

We had the traditional company Christmas outing on Thursday. We went to an Italian tapas restaurant which was amazing and then onto a bar (called, if I remember rightly, Mother Hubbards!) That’s where it all got a bit messy really. Shots were ordered, cocktails were downed — photos were taken which I will upload soon (honest Ben!). It was a great night though and we all enjoyed sharing the pain of the HW hangover the following day.

Sap and I went out for pretty much the whole day yesterday — we had a lot of errands to run! Sap finally managed to find some waterproof shoes that she likes (this is good) but we did end up going to pretty much every shoe shop in Chicago!

We also bought our Christmas dinner yesterday — we’re going to attempt a traditional dinner in our oven. We do have a backup though — lots of little snacks which we can graze on if it doesn’t turn out quite right! And our local grocery store sells Bisto gravy — I can’t tell you how excited we were when we found that! No mint sauce though…

So after the excursions of yesterday, today is a ‘doing nothing’ day. Just as well really — we don’t want to go outside!

December 14, 2008

One month in Chicago

Filed under: The American Adventure — admin @ 7:28 pm

Well we’ve been here a month already — time is flying here! Not much has happened in the two weeks since we last posted an update. Well, nothing on the scale of our trip to Ikea!

We’ve settled in nicely to downtown Chicago but still can’t get used to the view — seeing the Sears tower each night and morning is somewhat surreal given it’s something of an icon for the city. We’re loving the balcony but can’t wait for summer when we can actually sit out on it! It’s a bit windy (not to mention cold) at the moment. But we still take the time to stand out there and take it all in occasionally.

The ‘chores’ of settling in America are pretty much all sorted. We have Social Security Numbers (without which you can’t really do anything) and bank accounts, and the TV is up and running — much to Sap’s delight! I can honestly say we have over a hundred channels but I couldn’t tell you what was on any of them. Sap’s already found the Friends channel so her days have been full! The electricity (the only utility we have to pay for) is almost setup. I had to traipse down to the local Western Union last week to show them my passport and lease — to prove I was who I was saying I was, if you get my meaning. All for the pleasure of paying a bill each month!

We’re still looking at landlines and cellphones and trying to figure out what we’ll need. Since discovering Skype’s amazingly cheap call rates to the UK (and the US) we may stick with good old modern technology for a while!

I have one more week at work — it’ll be a busy one. We have the company meeting and Christmas dinner on Thursday so I’m looking forward to teaching the US guys how the HW crew celebrate! Then we’ll be winding down on Friday and then we’re off! It’ll be nice to have a break, particularly as it’s our first wedding anniversary soon. Neither of us thought we’d be in Chicago for our first one but here we are!

I’ve been going through our photo library and backing it up to Flickr and there’ll be plenty more photos over the coming weeks — not only do we have parties and Christmas but we also have New Year with Nick, Paul and Nige to look forward to. We actually booked the tickets today so we’re very excited!

The next posting is likely to involve photos of the party on Thursday, for which I apologise in advance…

December 12, 2008

FIA announce radical cost-cutting measures for 2009

Filed under: Formula One — admin @ 8:57 am

The FIA announced today a raft of cost-cutting measures intended to save the teams in excess of 30% of their 2008 budgets for 2009.

Highlights include doubling engine life, a complete ban on in-season testing, compulsory factory closures (six weeks per year) and possible changes to the qualifying format.

For 2010 there are more changes afoot: the much-mooted €5 million engine (on offer to independents), a standard transmission, some homogenization of certain car elements (as yet to be defined), a ban on tyre warmers and refueling and a possible reduction in race distance.

The cost-cutting debate has been raging in F1 for years — remember Stoddy getting all narked at the big teams for not giving him affordable engines when they allegedly said they would back in 2003? — but this is the first positive step that’s been taken.

Did it take a big team pulling out of F1 to make everyone sit up and take notice?

Modern-day F1 is laden with manufacturers. They are in F1 for business and marketing reasons alone — the ‘sport’ has absolutely nothing to do with it. If you think it does, that shows how good their marketing is.

So if/when a major manufacturer decides that the bang for buck ratio isn’t right they’ll be off. Nostalgia and heritage count for nothing in the board room. Think Ford circa 2004, Honda circa 2008.

December 11, 2008

Things to do in Chicago

Filed under: The American Adventure — admin @ 8:57 am

Sapna and I are trying to think of the things we want to do in Chicago when people visit. Here is an initial list — from Ben! Although I did add the Segway part in myself…

  • Sears Tower
  • Dinner at John Hancock (could be expensive?)
  • Boat ride (architectual tour)
  • Millennium park
  • John’s place (a great breakfast)
  • Cubs day game
  • Lou Malnatis (fantastic pizza place near Ben & Mandy)
  • Magnificent mile (or ‘shopping’)
  • Orange (a great diner, apparently)
  • Boat on the lake
  • Museums — art, science
  • Aquarium (Sap would love this)
  • Piece Brewery
  • Goose Island
  • Jazz clubs
  • Brew & View (a cinema AND a bar? Could this be the best day in the world?!?)
  • Howl At the Moon (a brilliant music bar)
  • Select Cut (great steakhouse)
  • Second City
  • China town
  • Hire Segways in Millennium Park

December 9, 2008

The Ikea Marathon

Filed under: The American Adventure — admin @ 4:11 pm

A decidedly blizzardy Ikea trip!As promised, here is the long, long story of our trip to Ikea last weekend.

As previously mentioned, Ikea’s delivery rates are outrageous. So we thought we’d be clever and hire a truck to get to Ikea. Mandy kindly offered to drive us around for the day which was an enormous help — we literally could not have got our stuff without her!

So we picked our U-Haul up early on Sunday morning and drove to Ikea. What started as a small rain shower turned into a full blown snowstorm by the time we got parked up — at the time we hoped it wasn’t an omen of things to come!

Sap had prepared our shopping list (having extensively researched all the bits and pieces we needed online first) so we hit the entrance knowing what we needed. Prime amongst those requirements was a bed — a nice, new, comfy bed. From the Malm range. In oak. Queen size.

As we walked through the entrance, I saw a sign — Ikea had just finished their Black Friday sale — and on it, at the top, were three words I really had hoped we wouldn’t see next to our bed.

Out of stock.

Unbelievable! I was livid. All that way and we could even get the first thing we needed. We were incredibly downbeat! But Sap said we should push on, so we did. Next up was some new bed clothes for our non-existant bed. The purple ones Sap had chosen — out of stock. We couldn’t believe it! At this rate we’d end up taking a couple of sets of coathangers back in the truck!

However, I had misread the sign. Ikea had offered a limited quantity of our bed at a discount price, and it was these that were sold out. There were plenty left at the regular price! Added to that, Sap found a pile of the purple bed clothes that we were after. So we went from utter dispair to unlimited joy (really, the emotions were that extreme!) in the space of a minute or so.

Healthily stacked trolleys in IkeaAnyway, the rest of the trip was fairly uneventful. We managed to load four trolleys with everything we needed. As expected, I nearly had heart failure when the total came up on the till! But we were starting from scratch and we hadn’t compromised on anything that we wanted, so we were happy.

We got all our lovely new stuff loaded into the truck (the snowstorm was still in full flow!) and headed home. We knew we would need to use the freight elevator at the apartment to get everything up — the bed in particular was quite heavy. We’d arranged beforehand to use it from 6.30 for half an hour and we just managed to make it. It was quite a rush to get back and I must admit to feeling very stressed — I kept picturing our new apartment furniture stranded downstairs!

The bed, semi-builtBut we made it. Just. Then we had a beer on the balcony of our new home and Ben & Mandy took the truck back. By now it was gone 9pm but I was determined to build our new bed!

I eventually got done just after midnight and we gratefully slipped into a nice, new, big, comfy bed.

I would, of course, spend the next few evenings assembling various bits of furniture but it’s all worth it. The bedroom looks great and the TV stand (expertly assembled by Sap) is lovely. We can’t wait to continue furnishing the apartment — we’re steering clear of Ikea though! Think I’ve had my fill of flatpack Swedish design for one lifetime…

There are more photos of ‘apartment life’ over at Flickr, so go have some fun looking at the various boxes. See if you can spot our first meal in the apartment — we ate it off a box!

December 8, 2008

A Bad Taste Sweater Party

Filed under: The American Adventure — admin @ 11:28 am

Wow, those are some terrible jumpers!Sap, Ben, Mandy and I went to a house party on Saturday. The theme was ‘terrible Christmas sweaters’ — something that sounded a lot of fun! Our first challenge would be to find four sweaters terrible enough…so we hit the shops.
We went to a few outlet-style stores and found some truly horrendous sweaters — including a pink one with kittens on — but nothing that was truly ‘Christmassy’ enough. We then hit a jackpot — an entire store devoted to the art of terrible Christmas-themed sweaters!

Although I wasn’t allowed to spend $60 on one with flashing LEDs (I know, it would have been awesome, right?) we did manage to find some beauties. Bizarrely enough they all had shoulder pads — Ben had the look, that’s for sure!

We met a lot of great people and had a fantastic time. We also had our first experience of a party with a keg — something of a novelty for us Brits who are used to drinking warm cans of Carling at house parties!

The time flew by really quickly and before we knew it we were heading back to Ben and Mandy’s (having missed our last train back downtown).

All the photos are up on Flickr.

December 5, 2008

Honda confirm immediate F1 pullout

Filed under: Formula One — admin @ 8:53 am

It’s been confirmed then: the Honda F1 team have confirmed their immediate withdrawal from F1.

Honda CEO Takeo Fukui confirmed the news today:

“Honda must protect its core business activities and secure the long term as widespread uncertainties in the economies around the globe continue to mount…A recovery is expected to take some time.

“Under these circumstances, Honda has taken swift and flexible measures to counter this sudden and expansive weakening of the marketplace in all business areas.

“However, in recognition of the need to optimize the allocation of management resources, including investment regarding the future, we have decided to withdraw from Formula One participation.”

It looks like they had little choice: cuts in road vehicle production, plans to shed 1000 jobs in the UK

Honda Racing’s CEO Nick Fry is hopeful that the team can be sold so that they can be on the grid in Melbourne next March, with ‘three credible offers’ seemingly already on the table. And Fry and Ross Brawn (team principle) are ‘committed’ to saving the team.

Difficult times indeed.

December 4, 2008

Honda to quit F1?

Filed under: Formula One — admin @ 3:54 pm

Autosport are running a story on Honda’s purported exit from F1, due to be announced on Friday.

Wow. After just one season Ross Brawn finds himself without a team to be principle of and Jenson Button is actively looking for a drive to remain in F1 (remember, most of the seats are now taken for 2009).

If it’s true, of course.

UPDATE: The BBC have more. I bet Eddie and Stoddy are interested if they can get the team for a quid!

December 3, 2008

Thanksgiving 2008

Filed under: The American Adventure — admin @ 11:08 pm

DSC06688Sap and I were very excited about the prospect of celebrating our first Thanksgiving with the McKee family. Being Englishers we had no idea what the holiday was all about — a quick visit to Wikipedia solved that issue! The entire McKee family were incredibly excited about Thanksgiving, citing it as a better holiday than Christmas!

Thanksgiving always falls on the fourth Thursday in November and is a public holiday. Even nicer was the fact that I also had the Friday off which turned out to be just as well seeing as we rose very early to go shopping! More on that in a bit.

Meeting the McKees

DSC06676The McKees arrived on Wednesday evening and we jumped straight into the celebrations by going out for dinner. We were looking for a BYOB (Bring Your Own Booze, a fantastic concept that isn’t widespread in the UK) restaurant. After some walking (those types of restaurant are very popular!) we found a pizza place and ordered two pizzas between the 7 of us. Well, that was plenty — everything you’ve ever heard about American portion sizes (steady now!) is absolutely correct! We had to take some home in a box! Chicago does this fantastic deep pan pizza which has the cheese on the bottom and the tomato sauce on top — kind of an ‘upside-down’ pizza. Fantastic.

Thursday was the big day: Thanksgiving proper. The day started early with egg strada which is basically an oven baked omelette with bread in the bottom. It sounds strange but was absolutely fantastic, something of a tradition and we can see why! Then it was onto the cooking which took most of the day!

I decided to stay out of the way (apart from nosing around with my camera!) and enjoyed the hustle and bustle coming from the kitchen. All sorts of dishes were being prepared, from the traditional turkey through to Ben’s date and prune delights! When it all arrived at the table it was quite a sight. Needless to say it was demolished within minutes!

All Hail the Cheeselord

DSC06822Even better to come was the selection of cheeses that Ben had bought. He’s found a great cheese shop near to where we work — he spent 45 minutes choosing his selection in there prior to Thanksgiving! I must say the choices were fab — it was true cheese overload! He bought so much that we were still eating it three days later…

The day ended with card games (we’re really getting into those!) and with Ben and I demolishing some Mount Gay. The measures in the McKee/Allen household certainly are generous! We also met Mandy & Ben’s neighbours Keith and Kim and their two children Audrey & Lucas who were great — Sap has since had a lunch date with Kim and is becoming quite the socialite!

Black Friday

Sap and I woke at stupid o’clock (5am) on Friday to hit the shops. Black Friday is the retail day in the States — you can bag some bargains…if you have sharp elbows, no sense of humanity or courtesy and are prepared to wait in line at 5am.

We hit the local Target (no pun intended!) just as it opened at 6am. We had a few bargains we wanted to get (a vacuum cleaner with 50% off — rock and roll!) We also picked up some really nice cookware from Macy’s (including a cast iron skillet which I’m very excited about!)

Saturday was the day we were moving into our new home — that’s a different (and long!) story. More soon.

All in all we had a fantastic few days — Mandy’s family were lovely and very welcoming. We’re hooking up with Alison at New Year — something else we’re really looking forward to!

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