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Sunday, 27 May 2012

Finding Chi in Chi-town

It's Memorial Day in the US this Monday, so I'm experiencing my first ever USA long weekend, with no work on Monday, and have come to Chicago to visit a dear old(!) friend for the pleasure of it. Finally I'm becoming accustomed to the block and grid set up of New York, when I arrive here to find yet another layer of simplicity and reason added to the mix. In Chicago, not only are there streets named with numbers in ascending order, and avenues as 'cross streets' but each property's number corresponds to the number of the street - meaning that 2200 is on 22nd Street and so on...No more getting completely lost with numbering when I realise in the cab I have the number of the building and know what avenue but not what street / vice-versa. People who have problems with orienteering should live here! (More info on this available here! Chicago Encyclopedia - Street Numbering.)

The Downtown view, from 9th Floor Hyde Park (through mozzy guard)

Chicago's Hyde Park area used to be a getaway destination from the downtown commotion and bustle of the business world, and is situated by Lake Michigan and surrounded by trees. Most of the buildings here were build to cater for the holiday crowds, and although they are now apartments these tall, biscuit-coloured buildings used to be hotels in the main, and some still are. The building across from my view here has rooms with fur safes...I have a good UK friend I may have to send in this direction if ever she and her furs make it to Chi-town. The safes have all required features of security, including the addition of a climate control feature.

The Fur Safe Apartments (as they should clearly be named) (through mozzy guard)

Running along the lake shore is a lovely start to the day, as is a visit to Om on the Range yoga in one of their two studios in this city. I've been doing their podcasts for a while now, so it was a real treat to experience Baptiste yoga first hand in their spacious (yet over subscribed!) and 94-degree studio. After a night out drinking gimlets and eating spicy sushi rolls, a morning of fast, hot yoga seemed somewhat daunting, as did the unsavoury notion of sweating it out for 75 minutes in a room half filled with lithe, tanned yoga goddesses, and half with sweat-drenched male, middle aged yoga-fans with an unhealthy desire to practise bare-chested in swimming shorts. Hmmm. Perseverance, though, is often rewarded, thank goodness, so leaving the studio more zen than when I entered seemed a lovely release from some of the stresses of finding, acquiring and furnishing an apartment within a two week period!

Welcoming Sign outside Studio at Om on The Range

Tonight, Thai food and rose; tomorrow, possibly pancakes, and the architecture river cruise. Happy holidays everyone in USA. UK friends, I'll hope to see you in a week's time!

Monday, 21 May 2012

Bed, Bath and Beyond...before and after

It's spring time in New York, and the streets are full of butterflies. Among the tourists and commuters hankering for sidewalk space, the red admiral butterflies particularly seem very keen to get into Foot Locker. But seeing nothing in his size, I presume, one headed on to Bank of America instead.

The spring time weather brings out the hipsters in their shorts and sunglasses, the bohemian types in sun dresses and sandals, and on Sundays the smart sun dresses and flats for champagne brunches. And for shopping, which seems less a pastime here than a sport and a necessity.

View from my bedroom area through to the front room

For me, this was the time to find an apartment. Having successfully acquired a bank account with little to no trouble, I was excited to start this process and looked through hundreds of adverts on Craig's List and many other sites to find the perfect New York pied-a-terre. All lined up to spend my first Saturday hunting for apartments with a broker, I never heard from the guy after our first phone conversation, so was immediately off-piste looking for individual places online.

It seems that the fast life style in New York most certainly applies to apartment hunting. Within seconds of texting a potential apartment contact I had lined up an appointment for three hours later, and took myself off to the Upper East Side. To see the smallest apartment I had imagined. Literally, a small boxy room which could house (I would guess) a futon or sofa bed, a small table and a TV. In one room. Tiny closet. Tiny kitchen, tiny (powder blue) bathroom. (Comparatively) massive price tag. And facing onto 2nd Ave, where the 2nd Ave subway is being constructed at a snail's pace.

Exposed Brick Wall in the Front Room

Only one set of applicants were able to apply for each apartment at the same time. And sadly, a couple were ahead of me in the race. Such a shame. Luckily, they left quickly and I pounced on the broker for another opportunity, and she took me to a larger apartment which no one had seen yet. It was when I left and realised that I was already decorating it that I knew I had to attack. With a nifty trip to Staples on Sunday, suddenly I had produced all the documentation I needed and one week later I moved in!

Kitchen (I) complete with US sized fridge

Kitchen (II) with new stove

American apartments usually come unfurnished, so the first weekend moving in focused on fairly important matters like: finding a bed to sleep in, a chair to sit in, and making sure the A/C worked (it does!). And then thinking about the bathroom which Miss Piggy would probably feel more at home in than I did...


One sunny Saturday a week ago I had no furniture.  One week later, and it's my second weekend in New York. I have trawled the SoHo, downtown and my neighbourhood thrift stores for many different kinds of furniture. Finally I got a bed, a chair, a rug, a dining room, media cabinet, kitchen cart...and a TON of stuff at Bed, Bath and Beyond, where I spent an OBSCENE amount of money.

 Enjoy the before and after pictures and let me know what you think! More on New York lifestyle next time...

After pictures...purchases!

Front room with couch, rug a-la-Mondrian and media cabinet (and the NYC view)!

Bedroom (I)

Bedroom (II)

For some reason the bathroom picture won't upload the right more to come of that...

Monday, 7 May 2012

Motor City / Big Apple

London Pride on Thursday at an English pub on the UES. Hello UK!

After three and a half weeks in the USA I realise what a terrible correspondent I am when I'm on a first project. Everyone who knows me (apart from my husband...thank goodness) may have noticed my lack of correspondence and I'm very sorry for this.

Something about the work and the hubbub of consulting life makes every week a blur of activity. I reach Thursday and get on the train - or, now, the plane - and I exhale. Life suddenly comes back to me on that journey away from the office. I might try to sleep; I might be too excited to sleep if I'm going to visit my wonderful friends and family; I might be spinning from the day and caught up in my thoughts. My head is overrun with these thoughts - whatever they are that day.

Delta Delight

I haven't even read a book until this weekend, when I read - and I really do recommend - the excellent Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children. Definitely read it!

My mind becomes so absorbed in new projects that I find myself dreaming of the spreadsheets, or the PowerPoints, or the messages that are so important to our efforts. I want to do a great job and this invades every hour of my day...even the sleeping hours, so it would seem.

Friday night Marg at Prime Meats, Court St, Brooklyn. GO THERE!

So. I decided with my husband that at 30 something years old this was the perfect time for us to explore new worlds and avenues - modest enough a salary to be able to jump over the pond without giving up a 'job for life' in one place, but at the same time taking the step to stay with my company, which I love, and to commit to exploring new facets of my abilities in different cultural, industrial and geographical locations. And then we dithered and deliberated and reflected on this pipe dream together. A life outside London? A place to live? A job? How could that be possible?

New York State of Mind

And then I was asked to decide much sooner than I wanted to. And being the stubborn person I am - that my husband and I both are - we decided that we would embrace this move and taste the excitement and opportunity; and spit out the bitter gall that required the decision to be made.

Went to the Strand hotel roof top bar - with a view of the ES building. Amazing. Thanks for the complimentary prosecco and margs on Kentucky Derby day...

Derby Day...I was not wearing a hat. I was drinking prosecco.

I am now working in Michigan, in Southfield - near enough to Detroit to make me feel the hum of the roads everywhere I look. The trees are lined with trees and the offices also contain beautiful greenery where I am. Thank goodness for the greenery and the oxygen to dispel the toxic fumes of Motor City - beautiful though some of its industrial qualities may be.

Towncenter, Southfield Michigan

My colleagues are amused at my English-ness (more of that to follow, no doubt!) and I am confusing all manner of waiting staff by my unreasonable (and incomprehensible) requests for "Warrrrter".

So, stick around and let's see how I do. And I'll be home again soon, so we can drink together and catch up in person. I miss you.

The Last 12 Months. Blast from the past...

I can't help but appreciate the difference between a job where I spend four months working at home, sporadically visiting the office for one meeting or another, but mainly alternating between consulting in my scruffs in the flat and wondering when to pop out to M&S to buy supper, and then where I spend one month (of many more to come) getting on aeroplane after plane...from one destination to another travelling around like the nomadic consultant I feel just as at home being.

Life has certainly taken a turn in a different direction from last year when I was in Ghana and Ethiopia. Since then I've visited my home town of Nottingham on a good many occasions by working there for a full 8 months. My mother and I (and my brother and father to a degree) became accomplices in experiencing Nottingham as bonnes vivantes, sampling Wagamama on cheap nights and on Champagne-suitable nights throwing the towel in and paying through the nose for our delicious dinners. I worked for a rather famous retail client for the last 8 months of 2011, and loved every minute of it. One: I was home. 2: the people were FABULOUS. 3. I got MEGA bargains (perhaps not quite as good when I consider the percentage of my salary I contributed to their overall turnover, but hey, they would have been happy!) and I have come away with friends for life.

Nottingham from my hotel. If you know where to look, you can see where I went to school

Nottingham and my last experience was one of the most exciting times in my consulting career. Every day bringing something different (and challenging!) but the fantastic spirit of our team pulling us through at every single hurdle. And occasionally a small amount of sugar to keep us on the right path. Herewith I publicly out Sarah, Heather and Glenn for completely irresistible sweet treats. Oooh, I could just fancy a slice of lemon drizzle.
Sarah and Heather, half way up a mountain!

So after leaving the best project I've been on so far - with the best people - where could measure up next? Probably nowhere, I thought. And I wondered about where I could go next. I wondered in what direction I should be moving now.

And that direction, and that place, turned out to be America. A place I have always felt drawn to, and have made countless visits to in the past - to nearly half of its 50 states now, near enough. - and have felt excited to be a part of. "High performance in USA vs. UK will be different", I knew, and told myself - especially after experiencing the amazing work in play in Care International's Atlanta head office. So. Off to America. Easy. Errr, no. But did I get there? Yes I did. Ladies and Gentlemen, Jessica has flown across then pond once more.