“Don’t look back. You’ll turn into a pillar of shit!”…….

Don’t look back.  You can only look forward and look toward a place you do not know until you reach it.  Sometimes, as difficult as it seems, you must learn to leave what you have grown to love be it somewhere you have lived and where perhaps your yesterdays are all buried deep.  It is an odd feeling leaving.  You not only miss the existence of the life you have built for yourself but most of all, you miss the person you have been at that time in that place and you know you will never feel that same way again.

Perhaps there are times where the bottom is supposed to fall out of our lives.  We lose what we love, we lose our trust and faith and we lose the truth of what we thought we believed so very deeply in.  When this happens, you can find yourself in a very dark place and it is from here you have the choice whether to move on or not.

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So very Southern.  The glorious magnolia flower………

Our trip home, documented in the last 15 posts, was disconcerting at best.  Amazing yet heartbreakingly difficult all at the same time.  Our lives thrown into careless turmoil and all the while dearly missing our family Gus and Zoe.  How were we to know when we packed up our home and our lives in the beautiful state of South Australia (a wonderful posting, as every one of our postings have been) in November of 2013 to begin that remarkable journey, that it would end as it did.  That life would change in an instant!   A single very ordinary instant and that we would be made to forfeit all which we never believed we could forfeit.

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November 2013.  Our entire home and lives packed up in readiness for this wonderful adventure.  How could we have known it would end as it did………

Packed and ready to go………

Last moments in Sydney Australia.  Cheers to a wonderful adventure……….

There is the realisation that one grows from something like this, as well one should, and  you will learn much.  During the most harrowing of times, although I thought I had lost absolutely everything, I gained so very much more.  I only had to look for it.

I have learnt that I need not tie myself to the weight of other peoples’ worth for when they are not made of heart they hold no purpose in my life.  I have discovered the world has people in it who will want to destroy you at any cost however the dehumanising process they use will only make you stronger and your determined courage will see you take your rightful stand.

In times such as these you also come to know your worth and you learn not to allow it to be measured by anyone else.   That although overwhelmed by sorrow you won’t give up. You learn grief has no mercy but you endeavor to fight a good fair fight even against an opponent who will play the lowest and grubbiest of hands.  That something like this also shows you that different people will spurn you in different ways and this is especially true the sly and cowardly piss weak when they have backing and the promise of immunity.

I have learnt I needed to allow my hurt to leave as though casting a stone and that in the baptism of fire of how truly cruel and hateful some women can be, you just need to hold fast your grace.  Don’t ever allow those very disagreeable trolls who favor spite, unkindness, calumny and profound negativity to ruin your benevolence.  Believe me, they are not worthy of it………xx.

I have come to understand I will still struggle with moments of bleak resentment toward those who so brutally drove all that happened.  When my forgiveness wavers, I fret at my lack of compassion for them and this is only because it sees me momentarily lose sight to empathy and humility which I hold dear.

I am also able to recognise that although some have felt justified through misguided, outdated and restless social barriers they had the right to dislocate and make inconsolable, they in turn unwittingly unleashed the singular power of my self respect and this has driven me on.  Regardless of the heinous bitter and very nasty shit they have thrown my way, I am stronger and more resilient than ever.

Most importantly though, I now know when assaulted from all sides and unsupported by those whom I should have been able to turn to yet were exiled from, I learnt to rely only upon myself.  Big tip – Trust only yourself and believe in yourself always.

We met some wonderful people and their friendships will be with us life long.  We had the most amazing time in America, as we have done in all of our postings, and we are so deeply grateful of our time there.  We made the absolute most of every single opportunity to explore, to travel, to experience and to see and do……and believe me, we did 🙂   We took road trips of thousands of miles.  Driving through the golden forge of Americas’ heartland.  Through sleepy forgotten towns where a richness often lies in such brokenness yet these places become an awfully human place to exist.  To vibrant cities of architectural beauty.  Those magnificent steel and glass cities that sound of car and taxi horns and the thrum of a million people.  We rode trolley cars and trains.  Walked hundreds of miles on streets we could only have dreamt of walking.  We flew in American skies over patchwork pastures and smog settled cities.  In moments I remember the small things such as Dorothy’s ruby slippers, the dusting of snow Georgia received in our first weeks there, a terrace house in a neighborhood of Washington, glorious magnolia blossom, my first Georgia peach, blackened catfish and the very spot where Elvis fried up his peanut butter and banana sandwiches.

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Touch down in America saw us touring the incredibly beautiful city of San Francisco for a few days………..

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A wealthy neighborhood where the hand of a Buddha statue held a leather catcher’s mitt.  Where Martin Luther King died for his cause and where Presidents have been inaugurated.  Blue Ridge Mountains,  dear little chipmunks and ‘bandits’, diners and corner cafes, juke joints, those long long four lane concrete freeways, the slow drawl of the beautiful southern accent, water towers and the desolate painful trail of tears in Chattanooga.  Sugar dusted beignets at Café du Monde, Spanish moss and mocking birds.  Fresh home-made waffles and pancakes, fried chicken, pecan pie and corn bread.   Sometimes it was the America I had always imagined and often it wasn’t, but perhaps this is what it means to travel.

Our teeny tiny snowman made from a dusting of Georgian snow……….

I missed the hot clotted air and heat of the south which wrapped around me, tanned my skin and frizzed my hair.  The south has a heat which is indescribable yet it lets you discover your porch, friendships, lazy afternoons and a pitcher of anything icy cold.

Once back home in Australia, unsettled and with a sorrow I could not comprehend, I unpacked my bag and shook out a raging aching heart.  It may have been over but really, it was only the beginning…………

And here in Newcastle, as unforeseeable as it was at that time, my life is all I imagined it to be.  From the moment I arrived I knew I was home.  Nowhere I had ever lived before gave the warmth of knowing I was home and you know instantly where you belong and that is the true beauty of life .  At home and at one with that beautiful ocean and where optimism, one of humanities great traits, beguiles and where soul expanding moments continually happen.

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Don’t look back.  What matters is now.  Go only forward and go with courage and dignity and summon that great value of the human spirit which is to never ever give up……..xx

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Footnote:  “Don’t look back. You’ll turn into a pillar of shit”  is a line by Ellen Burstyn in the 1974 movie Alice Doesn’t Live Here Anymore.   

A little yen for Japan…….

Japan.  The land of the rising sun and such a peaceful place of immense beauty……..

Japan has a rich history and a culture which has formed over thousands of years yet the traditional and a modern Japan fit so elegantly together.   This beautiful land has a tranquil air of mystery to it and it appears to be a place where you could find yourself as a respectful outsider looking in on such loveliness.

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The people of Japan are hardworking yet delightfully courteous.  They have odd little mannerisms, they are welcoming and at times a little quirky, they have a quiet sense of composed beauty and their genteel politeness is utterly charming.   It seems too that good manners are paramount and these manners are taught at a very young age.   It makes for sweet yet respectfully dear children and who doesn’t appreciate that.

Traditional to hipster, this is modern Japan…….

Throughout Japan, and due much in part to Shintoism and the adopted Buddhism, there are thousands of beautiful public shrines and temples which you can respectfully wander through.   It is a very peaceful experience and at one temple midweek, we were so fortunate to witness the beauty of a hushed Shinto wedding ceremony.

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Japan has a troubled war history and due in part to this, they have denounced all military aggression for which I salute them.  As most reader know, I struggle with war.  Those bitter, unbearable and horrific conflicts where no one ever wins!   Japan was decimated after WWII – see previous post of Pearl Harbour – yet somehow, it rose from atomic ash to become one of the biggest economies in the world and one of the most beautiful places on earth.

There is war between the ones who say there is a war and the ones who say there isn’t…………Leonard Cohen

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This is also the country of 6 million vending machines offering anything from ice cream, hamburgers, floral arrangements, hot ‘frozen dinners’, deep fried hot chips……how do they do it! to fresh eggs and hot coffee in a can.   Ubiquitously Japanese, your can of coffee will come out steaming hot and tasting of caffeine and your ice-cream will be frozen to perfection.  You can buy almost anything out of these machines including undies and they are incredibly convenient as they are situated everywhere.  I am in no doubt to the world having vending machine envy.

Somehow, I think one could very happily live in Japan, if only for a year, yet barely scratch the surface of this enchanting land.

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The rail system in Japan is brilliant.  It really is a great way to get around and in itself, it is a tourist attraction.  Think the ‘Mag-Lev High Speed Bullet Train’ which has a maximum operating speed of 320 km/h and which reached 603 km/h in testing.

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Image courtesy – indulgy.com

The commuter rail system is slick, fast and very clean.  It can be slightly complex to navigate at first, which is half the fun, but there is always someone willing to help you out.  In our case, an elderly gentleman helped navigated us through the underground network of tunnels and twist and turns to walk us right to our platform.  Not only was he delightful company for this brief encounter, but his gesture was also very kind.

And the trains are punctual!   I would recommend purchasing the unlimited rail card as train travel really is, apart from walking, one of the best way to get around.

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You will eat well in Japan and often only for a few yen at noodle bars or Yakitori’s.  And who doesn’t love a noodle bar.   We tended toward the smaller bars with their dark spaces and narrow benches which faced the kitchen to look upon the huge steaming pots of broth and noodles.   And do slurp your noodles as it will not only enhance their delicate flavor but in Japan, this is also the correct and most polite way to eat them.

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Another food tradition are the Bento boxes.  You can travel like a Ninja as these boxes were initially designed to eat whilst in a nomadic state.  It is quite an appealing way to eat although I suspect if travelling on the bullet train, you may not have much time to truly savor one.

Something quite lovely to try while in Japan are Rakugan.  These are sweets, not too sweet, that have been hand shaped into animals and flowers and objects of beauty.  Some of them really are works of art and I often found them just too lovely to eat.  Naturally, they come beautifully packaged – as is everything in Japan – and they are often served at traditional tea ceremonies.   The thing with the Japanese is that it is all about the aesthetically pleasing aspect of presentation.   The attention to detail, the precision and the art of giving with love and joy appear paramount from the presentation of a simple tiny Rakugan to the most expensive and elaborate of gifts.

‘The Princess and the Pee!’……. aka, my fascination with Japanese toilets!  What can I say.  The lav’s in Japan are everything I had heard and dreamed them to be.  Elaborate, modern, high tech, sophisticated, sensory, heated seats, melodic – they really do play music to camouflage any ‘noise’ – and they make for very happy travellers.  Give me a futon and a Japanese toilet and I’m a happy girl…….. 🙂

Japan Part II coming soon………..xx

John Wayne, my big girl pants and committing little murders…….

It is the start of a brand new year and with that comes the opportunity to welcome in hope, possibility and change.  At the beginning of each new year I tweak my blog site just ever so slightly and although I view my stories as a mere drop in the ocean, I will continue with them.   I am so very grateful for this open door with which to write.  May it never close…….

There is a lovely French saying, we are straying from the sheep,  which is what I have done in this post.  We are retracing the journey homeward from the USA and my previous blogs have been reflecting this time and although our next stop was intended to be Seattle Washington, necessity it seems, has petitioned this post be written instead.

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It is summer here in Australia.  The sun is shining hard, the flies are slow and the baking almost scorch drive heat has everyone seeking shade, iced water and the comfort of air-conditioning.  I had thought the writing of this post was being made more difficult by the heat but I know the soaring temperatures are not to blame.  It is the subject itself which is the problem as it draws one back to the juncture of those who seem starved of any moral code.

Occasionally I find when at a cross-roads with a profoundly troubling issue I sometimes ask myself this:  ‘what would John Wayne do!’    You may think this odd but those who know me will know of my love and deep respect (a shy code for obsession) with John Wayne and his movies so on the odd occasion, I seek the big man out.

And what would the Duke do if faced with a conundrum like this!  Well he would rear back and shout ‘fill your hands you son of a bitch’ then with reins clenched between his teeth and a Colt revolver in one hand and his signature Winchester rifle in the other, he would gallop down the oppressors on a magnificent chestnut quarter horse guns blazing for the fight of his life.

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I have probably seen True Grit one hundred times and I will no doubt see it one hundred more…..

I have no horse nor a Colt or rifle but when fighting for something I deeply believe in, and especially when I know a sense of justice has been lost, I will always and very faithfully do this.  I pull on my big girl pants and with dignity and quiet respect I go in and I fight.  When I commit to take something on I do not take it lightly.  I take it on with all my heart, I get my facts straight and I do it.

I am also very mindful when passionately fighting for a cause that I do it with civility and with my moral compass pointed in the right direction.  I will never be deliberately unkind, I do not follow and I have no need to recruit.  I will not purposefully destroy another or their reputation and nor do I gossip, spread gossip or defame.  I never raise a hateful voice but I do however, most certainly raise my game!

This is the truth of my character and these attributes have very often been commended by many.   Very sadly however, this cannot be said of all which brings me to the point of this post as I am forever struck by how some will start an idea of you through gossip, and this seems especially true when you are not in a position to defend.   I very strongly believe that all battles undertaken should be honorable and just but it seems some people are often afforded the upper-hand in a situation and unfairly so.  With the trump card of opportunity and bereft of the morality handbook, they spread poison and doubt around which seeps itself through others like a cruel and pitiless migraine.  Having been force fed this endless diet of falsehoods, others will then allow this idea of you to fester even though it is not the truth of who you and your family are and nor is it the truth of a situation!

And I can assure you this.  There is little worse than being robbed your defence and your voice especially when lost to a thousand miles of sea.  Initially, this very destructive smear campaign gained momentum as soon as we crossed the Georgia state line but it became far more ruinous, and dangerously so, once we left American soil and it has been allowed to continue!  These attacks have been the intent of pure malice and although the lies and the very hateful words have had no wings, they have still managed journeys of many long miles.

I am committed to the principle that we are all entitled to our own opinions and our own voice and I will always fight for that belief.  What we are not allowed to do however, is use that voice to make up vile hate speeches then purposefully spread those offensive stories around to deliberately undermine and destroy.  Gossip is negative and it is very, very nasty and it serves absolutely no purpose other than to support the unkindness’s of those lacking self-worth.

The insensitive and venomous attacks upon us and our reputations have been unrelenting and they have bought about times where it has been near impossible to keep going given the gravity of what has and continues to be said.  The countless secular injustices of what happened were certainly afforded a very quick burial however these terrible slurs and the disparaging insults cast continue with devastating impact.  Such is the gift of perspective, you do eventually come to understand this is not about you or your family at all…….and it never was!   What it is however, is a sad and very deep reflection of the insecurities of those who have initiated this and who are purposefully continuing with it.

The American playwright and cartoonist Jules Feiffer refers to these sorts of attacks as ‘committing little murders’ and ‘nothing more than an assassination attempt by a coward’.   Words hold great power to uplift and they can also discourage but gossiping and boastful smear campaigning does not make one powerful and nor does it anoint some in status or pious elitism.   Believing you have gained some prestigious importance is just the bullshit you are telling yourself as the word prestigious is actually derived from the Latin praestigiosis which means ‘cunning’,  ‘deception’ and ‘conjurors trick’ which is precisely what gossip of this kind, as with any, is intended to do.

To be on the receiving end of all this has been torturous as it is a cruel and hateful way to attack but it is also a very sly and manipulative way for the weak and those with little credibility to garner support from others.  No doubt this is why it still continues almost 19 months on but is this what we do to people now!  Is this how we allow ourselves to behave simply because our immense hostility toward someone is so great that we will do and say anything to destroy them!

I do appreciate these terrible times as being symbolic, archetypal if you like of a chapter where nothing more than resentment and jealousy laid many of the foundations for much of what happened.  I have spent a great deal of time gently pulling at tiny clusters of threads and these unraveling strands have revealed much.  Also during this time, I have had many moments in which to ponder the emotion of hate and primarily of the resentment which continues to be directed toward us as I just cannot fathom this emotion.  Hate is very ugly and it does not sit easily with me.  I am very grateful it is not an emotion I feel toward others which is no doubt why the gravity of the sustained animosity toward us continues to shock me.  I do recognise however that the resentment of us and primarily what has transpired has all come from a place where some are driven only by their great insecurities, envy, spite and the disappointment they hold in themselves and their lives.  They gossip and spread hurt and damage simply because they do not feel good about themselves and hateful gossipers will always attack those whom they envy.   If only people could dismantle those terrible gods of jealousy and loathing which they so desperately cling to……….

It has been difficult not to hold a grudge as I am, by my own admission, an unmovable rock of stubbornness at times.  I am not sure, as much as I have tried, that forgiveness is the simple answer though because the act of clemency must be honorable and it must be deeply heartfelt.  I understand too that forgiveness is the only grace by which to move forward with just as I acknowledge that to forgive them is not forgiving the acts of vengeance and great harm but it will be the kindest way in which to clean these very deepest of wounds.

Committing to forgiveness is far more difficult though because you can only forgive when you are ready to do so and when your great sorrow and despair has all but dissipated.  Perhaps one day their private guilt will manifest into the grief that surely awaits those who perversely love nothing more than to purposefully cause trouble for others.  In saying that though, I do wish for them to find a composed dignity which will allow them to cease behaving in such brutally cruel ways for the life you lead does not always have to be the only life you live.

And holy cats.  Although I absolutely abhor violence on any level please don’t ever think I did not want to punch this pair in their big fat old vaginas because I DID!   Very thankfully, my self respect and the slow movement of time has somewhat restored my faith in human nature again.  As much as it all so aggressively very nearly unbuttoned everything I believe in, I will not let these unkind acts drive my heart.  I will always let a flood of kindness and light pour in no matter how much someone sets their course to annihilate me and my little part of the world.  I have learned to absorb these graceless attacks and I have found a meaning and good in all that has transpired since so for that, I will graciously thank them.

I appreciate too that those inflicting this wrath of hatred are not strong.   Devoid of moral boundaries they cannot and do not champion women’s rights and nor do they support or defend women’s issues and causes.   They do not reflect the ideals of strong women for strong women encourage, they have empathy and they are positive, confident and inspiring individuals.  Strong women have their own voices and therefore do not need to parrot, they do not scheme nor coerce wedges between others and they do not perceive other women as competition.  Strong women also have no need to rally followers through untruths, they do not boast and nor do they bully.  They do not shame with hateful insults and they do not measure their worth by how unkind they can be to others.

And you won’t find the truly strong women curled up fetal position in the corner sucking their thumb while constantly criticising  what anyone else would be immensely  grateful for as they are far too compelled in getting back up on their feet.  No matter how low someone drives them down, all while putting a heel in just for good measure, those women still get back up and they face the world.  Their courage and dignity will not allow them to give up because they are the ones who fight with their lives for what they believe in and they do it with absolute conviction every single time.   Strong women can always confidently go it alone when others are left to forlornly suckle on the saggy old dried up tit of resentment and they keep up the fight even when all seems impossibly lost.

I guess what I am saying in this post is simply this.  Please do not be taken in by gossip, by these hateful stories and by those who keep spreading them.  Do not believe all that you are being told either because gossipers always rely solely on cowardice and the desperate carelessness of their stories.  Do not feed the ugly monster of sly rumormongering by listening or by partaking in it because gossip and hateful stories will only die when reaching the ear of a person wise enough not to listen!

These attacks have been like a raging infection in that they are difficult to contain and they continue to spread.  The most sorrowful part of all for me however, has been the absolute joy and delight they have derived from this determined and purposeful act to destroy another!

Everyone, no matter who they are, has the right to be respected and be treated with civility and no one will ever truly understand the impact of something until it happens to them.  When you do not suffer it you cannot acknowledge how it feels so just take a moment to think how you would feel if placed in our position.   Reflect on how very one-sided this has been, on who has been constantly spreading this hateful gossip and also remember what unkindness they have said to you about other people as this, by their own boastful admissions, ain’t their first rodeo baby!

As much as many have urged us to come out, speak out and attack back against what has been said we will not.  As deeply distressing and insensitive as these attacks have been we do not need to defend as the truth of the matter will vindicate itself and refuge is sought in the knowledge of this.  We also do not have egos nor actions to protect therefore we have not, did not and will not disparage or defame.  Vilely attacking others does not show strength or power but it does shine a very big spotlight to the fact some have lost all class, credibility and self-worth.

In the end though, the harsher reality is very simply this – those who are maliciously gossiping to you have also gossiped about you.   Do not believe for a moment, regardless who you are or how much you have suddenly gained their obsequious attention, that you have never been on the receiving end of their very cruel tongues.  And believe me, my very wise ear heard it all!

So what would John Wayne have done.  Well, I’d like to think he would have sat back in his saddle in that laconic way he had about his handsome self and said ‘baby sister, I was born game and I intend to go out that way’……… (Marshal Reuben J. ‘Rooster’ Cogburn, True Grit).

Well me too Duke because at any give moment we all have the power to say ‘this is not how my story ends’.  Stories are those deeper reaches of what it means to be human and everyone has a story be it of hope, courage, love, new beginnings, pain or loss.  Some stories you read, some are kept deeply to the heart and some ‘stories’ are unkindly spread but no one ever has the right to tell your story but you!

And this is not how my story ends.  I will always fight for what I believe in even if it means I will be left to stand alone.  When other voices remain silent through fear of being shunned and ostracised, through fear of them believing they will be next in line for the brunt of cruel attacks or simply because they think someone else will speak up they are allowing bullying, injustice and inhumanity to thrive but my voice will always remain strong.   I may not win every battle but at least I have had the courage to stand up for what I believe in and in the end, that’s all that truly matters.

Be brave, be inspiring, be compassionate and be kind always and next stop, the lovely city on Puget Sound…..xx

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Courage is being scared to death but saddling up anyway……..John Wayne

Chicago Part III with Lady O and a little Goodwill………

I really am a city girl and Chicago had me from the moment I set foot upon its sidewalks.  Dependent on where I am, I can tend to fall in love with places…….just a little.  It is a  love of the casual kind.  An unpretentious and easy-going bond which can develop for a place one has visited, lived or a place one just longs to be.

Chicago for me was all about those frequent busy streets, those soaring skyscrapers, the cherished anonymity one feels in the presence of many strangers and the wind gusting down the lanes.  It was the colors of the antiqued copper, the dark glass and the greys and silvers of the steel.  It was the sound of the traffic, the grilled shop fronts, the symbols of great imagination and the mathematics of the city blocks made into such perfect squares and rectangles.  Around every corner there seemed something interesting, curious and uniquely Chicagoesque and even under a grim sky it was always a stunningly beautiful city.

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Wherever I find myself in the world, I also like to take a little time out.  In these quiet moments I will literally walk for miles and miles and miles.  My walking brings a blur of happiness and a deeper appreciation of all things as I see parts of a city and its neighborhoods so often lost to the eyes of others.  Solitude is something I easily slip into and when alone, I seem to garner a little more appreciation of all things.  When you have gratitude, as we all should, your appreciation can become boundless.

I was also on a bit of a mission in my alone time too as I was on the look out for a Goodwill store.  And this was no ordinary Goodwill store either.  This was the largest store in Chicago.  In the back pocket of my jeans and neatly folded I had my trusted little paper map of the city, some money for my impending purchases (always optimistically hopeful) about my person and no doubt there was a little spring in my step.   I walked up Washington Boulevard lost in my thoughts when I stumbled upon this………….

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Ms Lady O’s Harpo studio.  The home of The Oprah Winfrey Show.  The studio was huge and took up almost an entire city block.  On the day I saw the studio production had ceased so there were no lines of audience members and there was little traffic on the boulevard.  Now Oprah may not be everyone’s cup of tea and truth be told, I would rather be someone’s good shot of rye whiskey than cup of tea, but you really do have to admire this woman and what she has achieved.  Born into poverty in Mississippi she rose to become a world renowned philanthropist, billionaire, talk show host and multimedia personality.  An impressive achievement in anyone’s book.

And the Goodwill store?  Well that was everything I ever hoped and dreamed it would be and although I was travelling light on this journey back to Australia, I still managed to fit in a couple of little pre-loved purchases into my port.  Happy days x

Although I ended up walking much further than I anticipated, I did eventually make it back to the hotel room and the next day we headed out together to the Lincoln Park Conservatory and Park District which is located near the shores of Lake Michigan.  The Conservatory is a beautiful Victorian Glasshouse built between 1890 and 1895.   Within its walls is an exotic, lush-green oasis of orchids, ponds, paths and rare and beautiful plants.  It really is a lovely and peaceful way to while away a few hours in Chicago.

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Next stop was The Peggy Notebaert Nature Museum.  A charming museum founded in 1857 and now one of Americas oldest scientific institutions.

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Walk through the 2,700 foot greenhouse which is home to over 1,000 butterflies.  Wander the nature trails and seek out the sculptures hidden amongst the tussocky grasslands and in particular look for the ‘Lost Bird Project’.  This is a bronze image depicting 5 birds of North America now lost forever to the tragedy of modern extinction.  Inside the museum brows through their impressive scientific collections and exhibits of eggs, birds, manuscripts, motion picture film, fossils, artifacts, reptiles, amphibians and photographs.

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A snap shot of our final days in Chicago……

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The odd thing about time is that it marches forth even if you are not ready to do so.  The memories of the trip back to Australia are still vivid and at times achingly raw yet one day I know they will begin to fade.  How much I will preserve of this time I do not know for no matter how much we try to contain some things, we really have no control over how it can contain us.

So goodbye Chicago and next stop, lovely Seattle where it was anything but sleepless……. xx

Nothing gets on my goat more…….

Part II – Eat, Drink, Love Chicago…….

As lovely as the architecture in this cloud scraping city is, Chicago is also an epicureans delight.  Here you will hit the absolute mother load in terms of great restaurants and great bars.

In Newcastle there is a saying and that is – ‘there isn’t a pub on every corner but every pub is on a corner’.   Well in Chicago, it can be stated this – ‘there really is a bar on every corner!’

Hip and beautiful cocktail bars, cosy or noisy bars, lounge bars, dive bars (always a favorite of mine), sip wine and eat charcuterie and pate and elegant cheese platter bars, slick bars, sports bars, roof top bars – a perfect accompaniment for summer, outdoor bars, old world bars and coffee bars……yes, there are such things as coffee bars and they will serve you up wonderful hand roasted bean water to perfection.  And Chicago really does do great coffee!

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Beer, and in particular craft beers, are big in Chicago.  As with most places in the world the craft beer industry has really taken off but sometimes you just want to go a little old school.  You want to find a beloved watering hole, faded and as well-worn as your granddads favorite old slippers.  So how do you find the perfect old school Ale house amid the thousands of Ale houses in Chicago and its neighborhoods!  Well that’s easy. You just need to look up.

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Above the door-ways of most good Ale houses you will find either a flashing vintage neon sign or look for a wooden swinging ‘ye olde’ sign.  These places tend to be real Chicago gems and I think if anyone ever tried to change or modernise these places into a hip gastro-pub then there would probably be rioting on the streets.  I love that much of the original charm and nostalgia of these places remains.

Quite often the guy behind the bar with the large white tea-towel draped across his shoulder is, by rule of thumb, the one who owns it.  These guys are genuine and down to earth and have an ancestry which dates back decades of tough working class immigrant families.  Their history, by way of old black and white photographs, adorn the walls of their establishments and these photos tell stories of many years passed.

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I guess you really have to admire a place that greets you with a warning sign as soon as you step through the door………….

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The Billy Goat Tavern is a place you are either going to love or run screaming from.  Grab a seat at the bar as this is the perfect place to people watch while you chow down on your cheezborger.  And here’s the thing……..the cheezborger is so simple but ridiculously good.  The tavern is located under Michigan Avenue so it can be a little hard to find but everyone who lives or works in Chicago knows where this place is and they can tell you how to get there.billy-goat-tavern1

This is where, on a good night (or day) or both, you can chug handles of warmish beer and eat humble cheezborgers ’til your heart’s content all while chatting with the locals, the newspaper journalists from papers such as the Chicago Tribune, old guys, old sports guys, the occasional D grade celeb and tourists.

Now truth be told, this place isn’t for everyone. People come in, look around then very often (and hastily) take their leave. But if you are up for some local history, a good ‘borger’ (and my tip for that would be to go the two patty) and if you don’t have a shitty attitude…….and honestly, nothing gets on my goat more than a whiny negative attitude!!  then you will be most welcome and you will have a great time.

Sometimes when it comes to food, I have little resistance.  Please note that dark chocolate (always 70% and over)  and ice-cream should never be placed in arms reach of me plus I am a sucker for hot chips and gravy.  But in Chicago we found the real Holy Grail Trinity of food:

  1. The Legendary Deep Dish Pizza – Chicago’s most iconic of big cheesy food.
  2. The Authentic Chicago Style Hot Dog – an all-beef frankfurter on a bun which has been sprinkled with poppy seeds and stuffed with fresh tomato, onions, sport peppers, a pickle spear, drizzled with yellow mustard and finished with a dusting of celery salt.
  3. The Italian Beef Sandwich – heaven!

No fancy pants dining or airs and graces required because this food will hold its own.  Just great Chicago food where little more needs to be said other than these will be some of the best things you will ever eat…….and this is coming from someone who is not ‘big’ on pizza.  I guess perhaps that’s just the comfort of food sometimes.

You will also find rib sticking Polish food, fantastic smokehouses, sandwich shops which are no ordinary sandwich shops, popcorn shops given popcorn is Illinois’ official snack food and it fabulously comes covered in cheese and caramel, iconic steak houses, roasted pig face….hello and more deli’s than you could ever imagine.

Life is so much more than your little microcosm of the world.  It won’t always be perfect and sometimes it won’t work out the way you planned but do make every single wonderful moment of it count and in the mean time……. eat, drink and love where ever you are xx.

Love is the real nuclear bomb that destroys all our enemies, because when we love all living beings, we have no enemies……..Geshe Kelsang Gyatso

First stop, Chicago Illinois…….

“I just flew in from the windy city.  The windy city is mighty pretty…….”

I had always thought the name ‘Windy City’, a tag used to describe Chicago, was due to the bleak and frigid gusts which must come off Lake Michigan during Winter.  According to the Chicago Historical Society however, that now famous moniker came about from an observation made in the late 19th century of windbag politicians blustering hot air!  Hmmmm, I guess not a lot has changed since those days but one thing I will say is this!  Chicago is one hell of town!

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I love cities. I love being in them and I love living in them.  For me, cities hold extraordinary beauty and a thrum of inexplicable energy which almost feels like a heart beat.  I am however, very mindful of the fact that cities, for all their allure can be as fickle and as harsh as a foe and for some, and this is particularly true of the homeless, they can be a cold, unforgiving and often brutal place.  No doubt some big cities are difficult locations for one to find their feet or their rightful place in life and everyone, no matter their circumstance, are deserving of that one small mercy………

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The city of Chicago is world class and well set out.  And the best way to appreciate it!  Well that would be on foot.  Chicago really is the perfect city for walkers.  There are a couple of very good designated walks to take including the ‘Magnificent Mile’ and ‘The Loop’.  The ‘Magnificent Mile’ is an easy walk beginning at the Michigan Avenue Bridge then encompassing the Chicago River, towers and buildings, retailers, landmarks, restaurants, the famous Billy Goat Tavern (more on that little gem later), the John Hancock Center and it ends at the shoreline of Lake Michigan.

‘The Loop’ runs through the heart of Chicago’s downtown financial hub.  This walk begins on Jackson Boulevard and takes you through the labyrinth of densely packed commercial buildings, skyscrapers and architectural history and ends in the theatre district near Washington Street.

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The people of Chicago are easy to like.   They are friendly, generous and very proud of their city and rightly so.  They have a nice blend of non-arrogant swagger, a grounding of blue-collar edginess and a little uber cool white-collar hustle.  The real draw-card however, are those towering skyscrapers.

These massive structures punctuate the skyline with their steel, glass and granite.  There is a mix of stunning Art Deco exteriors, modern and post modern facades, Gothic splendor and iconic and elegant structures.  Some buildings, including their stair-cases, elevators and fire-escapes are graced with the most beautifully ornamental ironwork.  It is timeless, elegant and very intricate and these buildings alone are well worth seeking out.

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These massive silhouettes cast an impressive shadowy gloom and this is especially true on very cold days but almost all of the buildings are floodlit in a perfect golden glow from dusk until dawn.  One building in particular, the Art Deco inspired Merchandise Mart, with its 372,000 squares of interior space was so large when first built in the 1930’s it even had its own postcode (zip code).

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This city is architectural splendor at its very best and although you can appreciate it all from the relative safety of the pavement you really do need to go up.  And when I say up, I mean nothing under 90 floors.  Up in the clouds you not only get a birds eye view but you will also get up close and very personal with Chicago.  Most skyscrapers have offered to open their top floors to the public and from these vantage points there is no better way to see this city.

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Frank Sinatra said it best when he sang ‘My kind of town.  Chicago is, my kind of town…….’ so grab an Old Fashion (or seven), sit back and enjoy the view.  The sky really is the limit in this stunning city……. xx