newyorksubalien has evolved. New city, new life, new blog

newyorksubalien has evolved. New city, new life, new blog.

Yes, I’m still socially-insecure and still deemed too primitive a life form for a bank account. I still can’t say ‘water’ correctly and voice-recognition software still doesn’t understand my number 8.

Meanwhile Superalien is still as super (at least in my eyes), Male Mini-Me is taller than all of us and Mini-Mum has returned to the home of the Mini, only popping back from London to sleep, be fed and help balance out testosterone levels.

But in my new home of Chicago, I can at least lay claim to my own subgroup. I’m now Chi-rish as in Chicago Irish. Apparently the hyphen is important so as not to be confused with Chinese Irish or the town in Armenia. But I’m trusting my readers not to be churlish and to forgive these, my (hyphen-less) Chirish chatters…..

Friday, January 31, 2014

Super Bowl traditions - wings, wacky wagers and widescreen TVs

It’s that time of the year again when days are measured as countdowns to the big moment, when all conversations converge on one topic and when we aliens head to the slopes for a weekend skiing trip as a) we have no idea what the fuss is all about and b) we know we’ll be the only ones there, at least on the Sunday. 

Yup, it’s Super Bowl time.

This is our 6th Super Bowl and as usual, we do at least know who will be playing - the Seattle Seahawks from Washington state and Colorado's Denver Broncos. So no prizes for guessing which state we’ll be skiing in for REALLY quiet slopes.

But also as usual we have failed in our attempts to understand why the whole nation pretty much comes to a standstill on the big day. TV coverage begins at 2 pm local and runs until 10:30 pm – in between, there is a half-time show from (this year) Bruno Mars and the Red Hot Chili Peppers, an interview with President Obama and numerous commercials all vying to be the funniest, the saddest or the weirdest while paying the TV company up to $4 million per 30 seconds in their efforts to do so.

Oh and somewhere in there, there’ll be an actual game, where the time on the clock will count down from 60 minutes but which will take between 3 and 4 hours. More amazingly, it has been calculated the average NFL game has only 11 minutes of actual play.

But there is no denying that these are some of the most American 11 minutes. Average viewing figures for the Super Bowl have exceeded 100 million since 2010 and there have been calls for Super Bowl Sunday to be made a national holiday given it unites Americans in their love of football.

And the love of a good party. The popularity of Super Bowl parties means that total food consumption this coming Sunday is only second to Thanksgiving. Except that pumpkin pie is replaced by pizza, sweet potatoes by chips (as in our crisps) and turkey is replaced by chicken wings. An estimated 1.25 billion of them, according to the National Chicken Council’s 2014 Wing Report, up 20 million from last Super Bowl. 

Apparently if you laid all 1.25 billion end to end, they would stretch from the Seattle Seahawks’ home on the west coast to the New Jersey stadium where the game is being played  - some 30 times. Given they’re wings, I’m assuming that’s as the crow flies.

Most parties take place at home, with apparently nine out of ten viewers watching the game at their own or a friend's house. This is great for TV retailers who sell 7.7 million TVs in the week running up to the game, according to the National Retail Federation. The most popular are 50 inches or bigger  - as in the width of a double-sized bed. 

Other Super Bowl traditions include betting on just about everything and anything. Last year a record $99 million was wagered through the sports books in Nevada, the only state where sports gambling is allowed. But that is estimated to be only a tiny fraction of total wagers placed illegally. This year bets are being taken on key game changers such as what hat Bruno Mars will wear to start his half time show and will any of the members of the Red Hot Chili Peppers be shirtless during the performance. 

There is one major break in tradition this year in that this will be the first outdoor Super Bowl in a “cold-weather” environment. If you have been following the news recently, you’ll know that cold this year in the USA has taken on a new meaning. There had even been fears of a Snow Bowl but current forecasts are for temperatures just about in the positive column, Celsius-wise. And it will help that on every seat will be a “warming” pack with a cushion, muffler, gaiters, three pairs of hand and foot warmers, lip balm and a pack of tissues. That makes tickets, averaging around $2,600 each, a real bargain! Actually, apparently it is - supposedly the second cheapest Super Bowl in the last 8 years. 

Another talking point this year is the fact the competing teams come from the only two states in the USA that currently allow recreational use of marijuana. So this year’s Super Bowl has in some quarters been re-named Stoner Bowl, complete with the obligatory T-shirts, hoodies - and alternative party food recipes. 

Just in case you think we are being completely churlish and not getting into the spirit of our new home, we do aim to be watching the game with a bunch of other people while drinking beer and eating snack food. And dare I say it, even getting high - as in 30,000 ft high. For that's our Super Bowl tradition - a pre-Bowl skiing the bowls, take-off at kick-off and taking a gamble  - on whether there will be in-flight live TV.

Friday, January 24, 2014

Defcon duvets and chattering Chirish teeth - it's winter in Chicago

So you may have heard it’s been a tad cold here in Chirish-land recently. So cold that I should have renamed my blog

It’s really all our fault. I've mentioned before the arrival of the Sub-alien family on any new planet seems also to involve the arrival of other 'sub's as in subnormal winter temperatures (New York), subnormal summer temperatures (France), even subnormal rainfall (Brazil). And sure enough, our first real winter here and what do we bring - polar vortices with temperatures so low the whole Centigrade versus Fahrenheit thing becomes immaterial.

Not all of us are complaining. With 2 snow days off school already this year, Male Mini-me is enjoying that Christmas-Eve-like excitement on the night of a big snowfall or freeze, never quite knowing whether he will be granted that extra-special lie-in.

Except that he won’t. Because, according to the City of Chicago Municipal Code, all good citizens of Chiberia need to ensure their sidewalks are clear of snow and ice by 10 am if snow stops falling after 4pm. Or if the snow stops before 4pm, 3 hours later. Except for Sunday when you don’t have to clear. So that would make it a Snowy Day Snow Day if you see what I mean.

Anyway, Superalien has made it clear there is little point in having mini aliens if they’re not the ones shoveling up the fluffy stuff. Which didn’t go down too well until last weekend’s trip to the local DIY store resulted in the reincarnation of the snow blower left in our yard. And then the whole little-boy-playing-with-loud-machines-and spraying-snow-everywhere-thing kicked in. Oh and Male Mini-me wanted a go too.

For the females in the family, the cold poses another problem.  How to look pleasing when it’s freezing.

Hats had never featured in my wardrobe until we moved to New York where they became an odd-day accessory. Here they are an every-day necessity which of course gives rise to the problems of the non-rise ie flat hat hair. 

I’ve been fascinated by how fellow Chiberiennes have embraced the battle of fashion versus freezing, utilising ear-warmers, head bands and snoods to fend off the effects of minus 15 degrees Celsius. True their hair does indeed seem to retain some body and height but those little white icicles around each strand may have something to do with it. Personally I think Superalien has it right – easiest way to solve the problem of hat hair is lose the hair, not the hat!

And then there is the coat issue. I was reading the other day about what makes a real Chicagoan and one of the benchmarks was your choice of winter coat. The first stage is realizing that what has served elsewhere as your cozy winter coat for the last upteen years is only an autumn coat here - or a Defcon 3, as I prefer to call it.

You realize why everyone has those bulky duvet things so you buy one, a fashionable enough version, not too Michelin-Man-like and falling above the knee. You decide to go for a walk by the lake to celebrate your immersion. And then you realize that this is merely the Defcon 2 version and that you're only half-way there – you’re Chic but not Chicagoan. In fact you’re not 'a-go-an' anywhere. Because your legs have frozen.

No, for the true Chicagoan the only viable winter coat is the Defcon 1 - a long, duck down coat. As in it’s so long you have to duck down to find the zips at the bottom. Not exactly the coolest of looks but who wants to be cool with a wind chill of minus 30 degrees Celsius!

Chicago - the ultimate chillin' out city. Especially in the winter.

Friday, January 17, 2014

Giving back rather than kicking back on MLK Day

We’re about to enjoy the luxury of a three-day holiday weekend over here thanks to MLK Day. For those of you not in the know (like me five years ago), this stands for Martin Luther King Day and honours the civil rights leader whose birthday was on January 15.

With many workers in the US amazingly only given 10 days’ paid vacation a year, any additional public days off are usually a cause for huge celebration. But perhaps it is too soon after “the holidays”, with memories of packed airports and weather-related delays, or perhaps the January credit card bills are beginning to roll in – either way, MLK is probably the most low key holiday weekend in the vacation calendar.

Perhaps in the light of this and keeping in mind Martin Luther King’s mission, the idea emerged in the 1990s of encouraging people to use their day off to volunteer in their community and the King Day of Service was born. Giving back instead of kicking back.

Now I have some experience of volunteering USA-style, as, thanks to my socially insecure status, the only people happy to let me into their offices or schoolrooms are those who don’t have to pay me. 

And as always in our current abode, you are spoiled for choice even in your volunteer possibilities. Want to work with kids, old people or dogs? No problem. How about dogs AND kids (when the little ones read to a dog) or even dogs and old people when you take dogs and cats from shelters to “visit” in a seniors’ residential home. You can even play Wii games while you are there with the same seniors so that could cover any kids and old people preferences.

I’ve begun to suspect from the various orientation sessions I've attended that signing up to be good-hearted in a metropolis might in reality be another way of seeking to be “happy-hearted” given the subtle checking-out around the room. Since actually taking part in projects, I've quickly realized I don’t quite fit the profile of the average volunteer. Let's just say that if I did ever help out in a seniors’ home, there might be some confusion on the part of my fellow volunteers as to which “side” I was on.

This coming Monday will be our first in Chicago, a city where Martin Luther King’s legacy is particularly relevant given it is still regarded as the most racially segregated city in America. Chicago was however the first city in the US to name a street after Dr King, with Martin Luther King Drive spanning 14 miles through predominantly African-American neighbourhoods in the South Side of the city. 

Last year’s MLK Day marked also the public inauguration of President Barack Obama, former Illinois Senator and Chicago home-owner. The timing was a happy coincidence as the constitutionally mandated date of January 20 fell on Sunday so the public ceremony was pushed back a day. Appropriately, Obama paid tribute to Dr King by using one of the civil leader’s bibles at the swearing-in ceremony.

Given the enormous impact Dr King has had on modern American history, it may come as a surprise to learn it took four years for the proposed federal holiday to be approved by the US Congress. It may also come as a surprise to many on the opposite side of the pond that the campaign for the holiday was greatly helped by a song specifically penned for the purpose. The artist? Stevie Wonder. The song? “Happy Birthday”.

As the Alienettes will tell you, I'm all for having MLK days throughout the year in the form of practicing Many Little Kindnesses. And I am not apparently alone despite the reputations of some of this country's citydwellers.

Superalien often tells the story of how he was accosted by a very gruff local in New York who spotted him studying a street map. His indignant tone was not because Super was blocking the sidewalk, but because he hadn't asked him for directions. I've also seen an elegant female Wall Streeter, striding womanfully and purposefully down Park Avenue, only to check herself, turn right round and go back and ask the very lost-looking Japanese couple a block away if she could help.

And in our first days after landing in America, some kind, anonymous stranger took the effort to bundle up, trek to the post office and no doubt spend many hours in a queue just to send Male Mini-me’s brand new school blazer, left in a cab in the usual post-arrival daze, back to his new school with a little note wishing him well for the academic year.

I've still a few random acts of kindness of my own to perform before I pay that one back. So it's Wii Fit with Fido for me  - and I'll finally get to find out whether my fellow volunteers see me in the Senior category or not!