everydaysparks

Stuff I see, which you might not.

Village oasis

On Friday, I met my lovely friend Sophie for lunch in NYC. Soph and I used to work together, joining our professional services firm on the same day around six years ago. Fortunately, we have remained friends long after our interesting challenges at that place were over. (But those days will be a chapter in my book one day: the working title for that section, “Mon Dieu! Surviving the GFC and a crazy French Canadian boss”.)

Anyways, Soph is now living and working in New York, so it was great to get the chance to catch up while I’m in town. We met at a great little restaurant, Rosemary’s, near Soph’s home in the West Village. (Not that this is a food blog, but I definitely recommend Rosemary’s for a casual meal – they even have a rooftop garden that supplies some of their delicious fresh ingredients.)

[Image from rosemarysnyc.com]

 
I arrived early, so spent time wandering around the Village and discovered an amazing oasis amidst the bustle of the busy city, where sounds of sirens, car horns and construction can be kinda overwhelming. This magical place was filled with the sounds of birds, insects and quiet chatter (plus one man talking loudly on his phone for a loooong time). Turns out it’s also the site of Miranda and Steve’s wedding in Sex and the City. And normal people can get married there too, just fyi.    

    
    
    
 Jefferson Market Garden. An amazing place, staffed by volunteers, and well worth a visit if you’re in town – a perfect spot to take a break, take a breath, and enjoy this oasis in the Village.

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Just say yes

Yesterday, I went shopping for a new pair of shoes. Not just ordinary shoes, but a pair of soccer boots. For me. Because I AM GOING TO PLAY SOCCER. Yes, really. I’m excited and nervous and not sure what I am doing (literally, as I have never ever played soccer before). And those are pretty much the reasons that I said yes when my friend Janet asked me if I wanted to join her in a new team for mature (cough, cough) ladies.

footballThere’s a quote that I’ve seen somewhere that asks When was the last time you did something for the first time? Particularly after my Camino experience last year, it has really sunk in that the older we get, the less we try new things. Not necessarily because we’ve done them all already, but often because we feel like the time has passed to give something new a go. Maybe we just don’t see new opportunities, or we quickly say no (I couldn’t possibly do that!) because we’re scared, or it could just be the irresistible lure of that ol’ comfort zone. Boo.

My friend Jo started singing lessons in her late 30s because it was something she’d always wanted to try. It quickly became one of her favourite things. My folks learned how to use an ipad and iphone in their 70s. Aside from the occasional emergency calls for tech support (WHY HAS MY WORDS WITH FRIENDS GONE BLANK?), it’s opened up a whole new interesting world of technology for them. My sister-in-law started piano lessons in her 40s and can now play the theme song from Titanic (ok, so that’s possibly not a highlight). My virtual friend Jo (from This Sydney Life) finally satisfied a long-standing curiosity and took up crochet, attending a local class, with some hilarious results.

And so I went into 2014 with a focus on saying yes to more things – especially new things – or, at least, not immediately saying no. Which is where my new boots come in – they’re pinker than pink, with a fluoro green lining and I found it a little intimidating just prancing around the shop in them.

Uh huh.Uh huh.

I’m going to my first training session on Thursday night (it runs for two – count them, TWO – hours) and hopefully the people will be nice (and patient!) and my shoes will give me super powers and it will be fun. Whatever happens from here, just saying yes can be pretty exciting!

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There is no place like home. Except when there is.

So, here’s my last travellin’ post for a little while. A collection of some of the pics from my final days in Ireland – after a fortnight of mostly perfect weather, these last few days have been rainy and pretty chilly, so it’s a good time to head home to the sun. Always tough to leave here, but I have had a fantastic holiday and it has been great to be able to catch up with old friends and check out some of my old haunts. There’s a line in that John O’Donohue poem (‘For the Traveller’, which I posted a few weeks ago) about old friends making it seem like nothing has changed since you were last with them, and that is exactly how it’s been. Whether it’s five years or ten years since I’ve seen some of my Irish mates, they’re the kind of friends who fit like a glove. Some people don’t have any place that feels like home – I know I’m super lucky to have two. Waa waa waa – here are the photos!

Beautiful day for a run in Phoenix Park, Dublin. I tried to get a photo of the herd of deer that live in the park, but from this distance they looked sort of like a pile of logs, so I didn’t think you’d believe me anyway.

Phoenix Park – it’s one of the largest enclosed parks in Europe. Yes, I did double check that fact online.

About 30% of the Phoenix Park is covered by trees, which are mainly broadleaf parkland species such as oak, ash, lime, beech, sycamore and horsechestnut. Yes, that’s from the PhoenixPark.ie website too.

Now THAT’s a Banoffee pie. With about 10cm of cream on top, at Avoca cafe.

The first rule of Cake Club? Talk to everyone about Cake Club, I’d say.

Ah, modern pharmaceutical art. From an exhibition at a Wexford art gallery.

It’s a Jedward chocolate bar. A twin bar, to be precise. The side of the packet says, “FULL ON, CRAZY, JEADLEY!” Yes, really.

Some of the locals saying hello in Wexford.

One of the many pretty thatched houses in Kilmore, Wexford.

Kilmore, Wexford.

Great name.

Ah, country life. Stuck behind this big guy for around 20 mins as it made its way along the narrow roads to the farm.

It’s real and it’s in Dublin. I was too scared to go in, though, so I can’t tell you any more about it.

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Whale of a time

Struggling to find a gift for that man or woman who has everything? Searched all the usual gift shops and online retailers? Want something unique, that will impress and make you stand out from the crowd? Then allow me to introduce The Killer Whale Submarine. For a lazy $100k, your friends (well, two of them at a time) can hop on board this “watercraft that breaches and submerges just like the Orcinus orca after which it is designed”.

The pilot (let’s call him Cap’n Ahab) pulls the levers to roll and dive, apparently “enabling realistic behaviors such as porpoising or skyhopping”. This “whale” can hydroplane up to 50 miles per hour over the water’s surface and cruise up to 25 miles per hour while submerged. The “dorsal fin” includes a snorkel that ensures air supply (to a limited depth) and also features a built-in camera, whose images are displayed on the LSD screen in Cap’n Ahab’s cockpit.

I am still not sure that this isn’t a cruel April Fool’s joke from the good people at Hammacher Schlemmer, but if you have $100k spare and have always wanted either a whale or a submarine, you can investigate further here.

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Sea change

I am still not sure if this is true or an elaborate hoax left over from the 1980s (which appears to be when the photos on their website were last updated), but I present to you: Jules’ Undersea Lodge. It is apparently the world’s only underwater hotel, based in Key Largo, Florida. You enter the Lodge via a 21 feet scuba dive and the owners say that the lodge can accommodate up to six friends. Close friends, presumably, as it looks like a pretty small living area.

Whether you’re after a unique sort of venue for your wedding (or perhaps not many people approve of the match, so you’re happy to have just the celebrant and some fishy guests?) or you are one of the handful of people who loved Kevin Costner’s Waterworld and want an underwater holiday, this could be the place for you. They offer wedding packages (with too many great photos to include here) and a range of overnight stays – choose from the Luxury, European or Ultimate Romantic getaway.

Food is an important part of any holiday and don’t think that Jules has forgotten. On arrival, you are greeted with shrimp cocktail (of course!), fresh fruit and snacks. The European Package “comes with a generous portion of grilled chicken breast”. Ooh la la. And despite being surrounded by a seafood smorgasbord, they begrudgingly cater for you wacky vegetarians, who “may substitute your shrimp cocktail with humus and crackers or cheese and crackers.”  And it gets better – late night snacks can even include the underwater delivery of a pizza from a local shop.

I was confused about how you got in and out of the Lodge, but Jules explains all: A five by seven foot “moon pool” entrance in the floor of the building makes entering the hotel much like surfacing through a small swimming pool. Divers find themselves in the wet room, the center of three compartments that make up the underwater living quarters. Aha. And in case you’re interested, each of the bedrooms and the common room is equipped with telephone, intercom, VCR/DVD. Seriously? Surely you can do without technology for one night and LOOK OUT YOUR GIANT BEDROOM WINDOW AT THE WONDERS OF THE OCEAN. And one more thing, given the size of the cabin – WHO ARE YOU TALKING TO ON THE INTERCOM? Mysterious indeed, Jules.

The home page of the website asks Have you slept underwater lately? In the unlikely event that your answer is ‘no’ (but you answer ‘yes’ to the question, Do you even actually want to sleep underwater?) then check out Jules’ Undersea Lodge. And you too could be having as much fun as the couple in this photo.

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Draw Something. Anything.

I think I’m very late getting on the bandwagon, so you’ve probably already seen the Draw Something app. Essentially, it’s online Pictionary with random strangers. Or, Words With Friends in picture format, if you like. And I’m hooked. I can’t really draw – a fact that is becoming more and more apparent with each game that I play – but there’s some satisfaction in your scribble being identified as your intended image. Basically, you choose from one of three options to draw (for your team mate to guess). And then you get awarded coins, depending on the alleged difficulty of what you chose to draw. An everyday plodder drawing equivalent – say, HAT – will get you one coin, while the nimble Russian gymnast drawing equivalent – say, PETSHOP – will get you three coins. (For the record, I have drawn both hat and petshop and they have been identified correctly by the person on the other side. How, I do not know, but that is beside the point.) You can use your virtual coins to buy additional virtual paint colours to brighten up your drawings, or to buy additional virtual bombs to blow up some of the letters that you choose from to name what the other person has drawn. People use bombs to help them decipher my drawings quite frequently – but I like to think that, like Picasso before me, the hidden depth of my work is not immediately obvious to everyone. I am also comforted by the fact that Picasso never had to try and produce a masterpiece using a canvas half the size of a phone screen, with an index finger as a paintbrush. The virtual artist’s life is not an easy one, I tell you.

However, there are some amazing people out there and I am regularly in awe of the quality of their drawings. Others, and I include most of my own drawings in this number, are either intentionally or unintentionally comical and I find myself shaking with laughter as I look at them on my way to work or waiting in line at the supermarket. For an app that is either free or upgraded to a 99c version, Draw Something definitely gives me my money’s worth in entertainment on a daily basis. Judge for yourself…

     (Ok, that last one is mine. CMM4. See what I mean?)

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Walk on by

I like to walk (and run, on a good day) around my neighbourhood. It’s a nice part of town, near the water and lots of trees, so there is a lot to be happy about when out and about here. But you wouldn’t know it, judging from the faces of my fellow walkers and runners. In 40 minutes, I can pass around 50 people on this well-walked path and I reckon about 3 of them will respond to my smile or greeting. (NB, this doesn’t include tourists, who are often so jet-lagged that they will say hello to a tree.) Granted, I may look a little bit like a beetroot in a hat and activewear, but surely it wouldn’t kill people to smile back and keep walking? I mean, it’s not like I ask open-ended questions as we pass, in the hopes of building a lifelong friendship. No needy cries of, “Good morning! How ’bout that Greek economy, hey?” or, “Can I just tell you a bit about Joseph Kony?” or even, “Nice day, isn’t it? ISN’T IT?” Just a smile and a sort of nod and maybe a ‘hello’ if eye contact is made.

But then I realised what I need to get conversation flowing – a dog. Size doesn’t matter, as there are little dogs and big dogs making friends on behalf of their owners everywhere I look. Whether it’s the polite, “ooohhh, isn’t she cute?” to one of those tiny designer dogs in a little corduroy vest (it’s that kind of area – I swear some of the dogs smoke pipes too) or, “wow! hello! look at you!” to a very ugly but large dog with sharp teeth (or a very ugly but large owner with sharp teeth). Dog people talking to dog people, while the dogless just walk on by – smiling goofishly into the breeze.

So, tomorrow, I’m bringing my dog with me. It should be interesting – his name is Goldie and he cost $13.95 from Ikea a few years ago. But he’s cute and furry and as long as the other dogs don’t get too close, I think it’s a foolproof plan…

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The ukuleles are in town

So, last night I went to see the Ukulele Orchestra of Great Britain at the Opera House. Oh yes I did. My friend Jane bought tickets and invited me to go along and it sounded just weird enough to be my cup of tea, so away we went. Before the show, we were at Opera Bar and noticed lots of people (ok, by ‘lots’, I clearly don’t mean thousands, let’s say at least 37) carrying little ukelele-shaped cases. At first, I was surprised that the orchestra members would be out drinking so close to showtime, then realised that these must actually just be random people carrying ukuleles. The ukulele carriers covered some pretty broad demographics – men and women, young and old, two eyes and four eyes. I know it sounds dumb, but I had never really thought of ukuleles as instruments before last night. More of a cute-looking joke present to give a niece or a friend who secretly wanted to be Slash, but lacked any musical ability.

Anyways, we got to the concert hall and it appeared that the gig was sold out, or pretty close to it. On our right was a fancy looking pair of seniors, who told us that they had brought their daughter and their grandson (with his ukulele). And their Indian parish priest from Maroubra (with his ukulele), who seemingly loves music and turns every church service into a singalong. On several occasions of audience participation, said priest thrust his ukulele high in the air, like some sort of salute to the gods. Rock on, Father. On our left was another fancy looking pair of not-quite-as-seniors from the north shore. Jan was learning the ukulele after completing some classes for beginners at an evening college and had recently enjoyed a ukulele jam session with a group in Sydney’s inner west. Even my friend Jane advised that she had taken ukulele lessons. I like to think I’m pretty down with current trends and I definitely love music, so I feel like I have missed something here. WHEN DID THE UKULELE GET SO POPULAR? AND WHY DID NO ONE TELL ME?

Whatever, the concert was fun, with everything from Beethoven to Lady Gaga to a Playschool-esque singalong version of the Sex Pistols’ Anarchy in the UK. The highlights for me were the emotional rendition of Wheatus’ Teenage Dirtbag and the upbeat, jazzy take on Kate Bush’s Wuthering Heights. As we left, I was happy, but still not sure what to make of this new (to me, at least) ukulele world. However, I am nothing if not easily inspired, so thought I’d get home and google ukulele instructors in my neighbourhood and start taking classes. Then I ran into a group of youngish ukulele carriers near the taxis and my immediate reaction was: WEIRDOS. And that was the end of that.

PS, if you want to visit ukulele world without paying for a ticket, you can check out the Orchestra on You Tube.

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Ahoy there, me hearties

Today the sun is out after another bout of rainy weather. It’s a beautiful day and there is a breeze that reminds you that it’s officially Autumn now (although this year in Sydney, you might have missed Summer if you blinked for too long). And on a day like today, I often look around and think…I wish [Person X, Y or Z] was here now to see this. I don’t actually know someone called Person X (or Y or Z), but hopefully you get what I mean. Whether it’s someone who lives on the other side of the world, or someone I used to work with, or an old friend or family member, or just Liam Neeson, I often wish there was some way of zapping that person right here. Kind of like Willy Wonka’s Wonkavision, when Mike Teevee gets transported in a bzillion pieces from the real world to tv world. But I wouldn’t want to do that to people I love, especially since we never actually saw how Mike Teevee ended up…And I know there’s texting, emailing, Instagram, Twitter, Facebook, Skype blah blah blah. But it’s not the same. Which is why I love the Travelling Heart Project. I stumbled across it last year when I found a link to it somewhere. It was started by a Sydneysider as a way to send love and happy thoughts around the world the old fashioned way – by mail. The heart that you adopt comes with cool tags for your message and the person has the option of using an extra tag to send the heart on to someone else. It’s a nice way to let someone know that you’re thinking of them – not just on their birthday or at Christmas time, but when it’s sunny. Or rainy. Or they have news. Or you see a funny looking dog. Or discover a new ice cream flavour. Or remember a silly thing that happened years ago and it makes you laugh. Or cry. I think they’re a great idea and sometimes they’re the perfect thing to send – whether the recipient is overseas, over the fence, over the other side of the table, over the moon or at the desk next to you. If you’re interested, it’s The Travelling Heart Project.

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