The Secret Life of Melanie O.
Sunday, October 29, 2006
Halloween Scary Movie Night
Friends came over to watch scary movies last night, in honor of Halloween. We had a nice spread out on the dining room table, which was all decorated in keeping with the spirit of the season. Cobwebs were strewn around the house, candles were glowing, and the Haunted Sounds of Halloween soundtrack was playing in the background, to greet visitors as they walked through the door.

All in all, there were eight of us watching such classics as Night of the Living Dead - "They're coming to get you, Barbara... they're coming!" and The Exorcist - "The power of Christ compells you!"

I love Halloween, as it gives me a chance to relive my childhood and resurrect the memories of the spook houses my sister and I used to love when the fair came to town. There's something exhilarating about facing these archetypal faces of death, and living to tell the tale. So, in honor of the dead and the living, here's my Halloween Greeting to you (2.7 MB .wmv)

posted by Melanie O. at 2:15 PM - 2 comments
Sunday, October 22, 2006
How to survive a 24-hour flight
I'm putting my mother to the test. She says she's not afraid of flying - she just doesn't want to have to endure a long-haul flight. Well, here are my survival tips for anyone (Mom included) who is contemplating being stuck in a 3 x 5 cubicle for 12 hours or more.

Tip One:
Prepare to be in the air. A couple of days before you fly, take an aspirin in the morning, and another at night to thin your blood. Buy flight stockings, or wear support pantyhose to reduce the risk of DVT (deep vein thrombosis.) Be sure to take a break every hour or two, when you're in flight, to get up, walk around, and stretch to keep your blood flowing.

Tip Two:
Always check with your airline the day of your flight, to see if there are delays, or even worse, see if it's been bumped up in the schedule. There's nothing worse than missing your flight. Second-worst is having to hang around the airport for three hours because your flight's been delayed due to bad weather.

Also check for their list of prohibited items. It might seem silly to have a pair of tweezers confiscated by someone going through your bag, but them's the rules.

Tip Three:
Get in the check-in line an hour before the airlines post check-in for your flight number. By the time all of the passengers ahead of you have been processed, it will be time for your flight to check in and you'll get a head start in requesting a seat allocation. Once you're checked in, keep your passport handy at all times. You'll have to show it more than once.

Tip Four:
Something I learned from a pilot: wear natural fibres on your flight. Wear cotton, linen and/or wool and leather shoes. Cotton, linen and wool breathe - and in the unlikely event of a cabin fire, are less flammable and won't melt to your skin like man-made fibres. This isn't paranoia - it's just about being in the best circumstances possible. Some things you have control over. Other things you don't. This thing, you do.

Tip Five:
Bring earplugs. There's no telling who'll you'll be seated next to. You could be stuck for hours with a screaming infant nearby or next to someone who snores. Carry some sugarless gum - good to give to screaming toddlers if their parents agree, to quiet them down.

Tip Six:
Buy an inflatable neck support pillow. Use the pillow that the airlines give you, to sit on. Put it under your thighs, not your butt. Elevating your thighs helps you feel as if you're just that little bit more reclined. Use the neck pillow to support your neck, and the little blanket they give you, to support the side of your head as you lean against the head rest, which you pull up to cradle your head. I can't sleep sitting up normally, but I can if I do this. You won't get cold if you dress in layers.

Tip Seven:
Avoid alcohol. You will get dehydrated on the flight. Drink water. Not softdrinks. Not coffee nor tea. Lots and lots of water. Don't be afraid to ask the flight attendants for extra water.

Tip Eight:
If you need a little extra something to help you sleep, take an antihistamine. Again - forget alcohol unless you need the synergistic effect that the alcohol will have with the antihistamine. I find I also fall asleep better if I've got a movie on.

Tip Nine:
Bring a couple of books and magazines with you. Sometimes the movies on offer aren't worth your attention. Laptops and PDAs are OK, but most of the international flights have games you can play on board. They've come a long way from pull down movie screens and canned music. On Qantas, anyway, each seat has its own screen built into the back of the seat in front of you, and a menu of films, games, and TV shows to choose from. Pens haven't been banned, so bring a notebook and start a diary of your trip. For fun, record the quirks of your fellow passengers.

Tip Ten:
If you're flying Economy, try to get a seat behind any bulkhead, or in the emergency exits. There's a lot more leg room there. The very back of the plane isn't so bad either. Tell them you have a "problem" and have to be near the restrooms.

Tip Eleven:
Don't bring anything "nice" on board. I used my carry-on bag as a footrest. Between that and the pillow under my thighs, I did a lot better than I usually do on a long flight. Remember, the more you bring, the more you have to carry through airports. Try to limit yourself to one carry-on. For women, that means combining your handbag with your carry-on bag. Or better yet - treat yourself to a new handbag when you get to where you're going.

Tip Twelve:
When you get to your destination, force yourself to stay up until nightfall in the new timezone. You will adapt to the time zone change much better if you allow your body to be active in the daylight. At least - this works for Dan and me. It doesn't work so well if you get absolutely no sleep on your flight. Sleep on your flight if at all possible!

Lucky Thirteen:
Buy Duty-Free on the way home - never on the way to your destination. It just becomes more stuff to carry. This is, of course, is true unless you've forgotten that birthday or anniversary gift and you need to cover your rear-end.

So, now that you've got these tips, there's no excuse for not being a citizen of the world and experiencing all that it has to offer. Flying's the easy part.

Now - here is Dan's list of tips:

One: Fly business class and be done with it.
posted by Melanie O. at 4:33 PM - 7 comments
Saturday, October 21, 2006
The In-Laws
My mother and father-in-law came to visit today. My father-in-law owns a whipper-snipper (weed-eater) that always gets the best of Dan, and Dan's father is kind-hearted enough to drive over (a good hour's drive) and do the whipper-snippering in exchange for lunch and a movie.

We seem to have settled into a kind of routine whenever they visit. Dan's mum hangs out with me in the house, and the guys head for the garage. I rarely set foot in the garage, with its work bench, model train assemblies and storage bins everywhere. I think my car has been housed in it once. Dan has taken it over.

So, Dan's mum and I share the family gossip while we prepare the food. I hear about elderly relatives and friends from church. We all used to attend the same church when Dan and I were first married, but, after we moved away, we became unmotivated to find a new parish. I don't really miss church services, but I do miss the community, so it was nice hearing about people whom I haven't seen in a while.

In the meanwhile, Dan and his dad struggle with my father-in-law's Triton table saw. Dan wants to build a model train layout that will be interchangeable for Halloween and Christmas. He'll buy the trains if I buy the Lemax buildings and scenery. It's a deal. Dan and his dad argue over the placement of the saw, and Dan teases his father about getting on in years.

I enjoy the company of my in-laws. They're both in their 70's and surprisingly open-minded and with the times. They don't mind a little nudity in films, they aren't easily scandalised, and they both have a good sense of humour. There's only one problem when they're around....

Dan suddenly becomes an annoying 15 year old teenager.

The decibel level of his voice gets raised to an ear-piercing level. His mother then raises hers to be heard over Dan. I have to leave the room when the two of them are together. Dan teases his father mercilessly. My father-in-law still has a nice head of hair, which Dan tugs at to create the illusion of shifting a toupée, which annoys my father-in-law to no end. They playfully insult each other. At the table, there are usually two conversations going at once - Dan and his mom are loud and trying to shout over one another, and Dan's dad and I are trying to have a quiet conversation off to the side.

I've never been in a situation before where I've looked forwards to being with people with such a combination of eagerness and dread.

I showed them the family portrait from our visit to the States, and they asked me when my mother was going to come to visit. I explained my mother's fear of flying, to which my father-in-law responded: "send her some flippers and a snorkel. That way, if something happens, she can swim the rest of the way."

I'd love to get my mom out here. I think she'd get on famously with my in-laws. My only concern is - what if I revert to be an annoying 15 year old teenager, too?
posted by Melanie O. at 10:11 PM - 6 comments
Friday, October 20, 2006
Fatal crushes
Looking back on the celebs that I've had crushes on over the years, I realise one thing: it spells doom for that person.

Paul McCartney - first ever celeb crush. Bona fide pothead. Now going through a bitter divorce and custody battle with Heather Mills. I'm not sure how any woman is going to fare in Paul's life with Heather still around, as they have a daughter between the two of them. I don't think Paul will get married again for a long time - however lonely he might be.

Mel Gibson - I liked him better before he became so "holier than thou," than I do as the anti-Semitic raving lunatic. One thing positive has come out of his latest debaucle with the Santa Monica police: this had me in hysterics.

Bruce Campbell - stuck in B movie Hell. Still, he has quite a huge cult following. I'm looking forwards to seeing his new project: Bubba Nosferatu

David Carradine - I briefly had a crush on him when he was in the TV series Kung Fu. He hooked up with Barbara Hershey Seagull (who believed that the spirit of a seagull had posessed her after one was killed on a movie set - no joke). Now, he's faded to relative obscurity. Sorry, David.

Tim Allen - funny guy. Most of his projects seem to turn into gold. His movie The Shaggy Dog didn't do so great though. The curse may be starting to take effect. I like the funky glasses, Tim.
posted by Melanie O. at 9:13 PM - 1 comments
Tuesday, October 17, 2006
Dan gets his, part 2
It's finally Saturday. We've planned to leave the house by 10 am, after Dan's mowed the lawn. Several dramas later, we leave around noon and decide to have lunch in the city. Dan wears his orange designer t-shirt for the occasion. The day is just beautiful, and I look forwards to being in the city for something other than work.

"They said that they have more than one shop in the CBD," I tell Dan.

"Which shop did you see them in?"

"In the store at Westfield's, but they also have shops in the QVB."

Five minutes later -
"Which shop in the QVB did you see them in?" Dan asks me.

"No,"I explain, "I was in the shop in Westfield's, but if they don't have your size, we can try the shop in the QVB."

Five minutes later, on the train -
"Where in the QVB is this shop?"

"We aren't going to the QVB," I explain again. "I saw them in Westfield's. If they don't have your size, we'll go to the one in the QVB."

We alight from the train and start walking through the Queen Victoria Building, out towards Pitt Street Mall. Dan observes, "I don't see that store."

"I thought we'd try Westfield's first, since I know they have them," I explain again.

"I thought you said they were in the QVB."

By this time, I am trying really hard not to cry, or scream, or laugh hysterically.

We are nearly out onto Pitt Street Mall. We walk past the QVB store and there they are in the window! We go in. They have Dan's size! But does he want them? No - he sees a pair he likes even better. They're ORANGE and BLUE! They cost $150! For a pair of sneakers! But they have his size and Dan's ecstatic.

I'm afraid that, in our quest to find the perfect sneaker, I may have created a monster. Either that, or Dan's got the fashion bug as badly as I have.

Now, he wants to find matching blue shoelaces!
posted by Melanie O. at 7:22 PM - 2 comments
Monday, October 16, 2006
Dan gets his - part 1

A few weeks have gone by since we've returned from New York, and in the back of my mind, I'm feeling restless and dissatisfied that Dan never found his orange sneakers. Not one to give up easily, I find myself cruising around the Sydney CBD and doing a bit of window shopping.

And then, one day, during a lunch break that consists of a swiss cheese soft pretzel and nothing else, I see them. Orange sneakers. Orange as orange Jello or an orange Popsicle. I quickly stuff my half-eaten pretzel into my handbag and enter the store. The odor of swiss cheese and dough permeates the little shop.

I quickly grab the saleswoman. "Do you have these in a men's size 11," I breathlessly ask? She walks over to her computer and checks. She does! I grab my mobile phone and call Dan.

"Hey Darlin', I'm on my lunch break, and guess what I'm looking at?"

He doesn't guess, so I tell him and describe them as best as I can. "They don't have blue stripes on them like the ones in New York. They're white stripes, but the style is just the same." I can hear Dan's breathing quicken.

"Can we color the stripes blue?" he asks. You could hear the fountain of hope bubble over.

"Are you crazy? That will look like crap," I say. The bubble gets deflated.

Then we debate for ten minutes on what size he wears. He isn't sure if he should get 11's or 12's, as a lot depends on how narrow the shoe is. The saleswoman can't promise the shoes will still be there that weekend, which will be the first time Dan can actually come to town to try them on. Should I buy them? Or should we take the chance, and wait?

Finally, the pervasive odor of swiss cheese soft pretzel (which smells remarkably like flatulence), encourages me to make my exit. I badger the saleswoman for a good five or ten minutes while Dan and I debate on how big (or not) his feet are.

We decide to take a chance and come into the city that weekend to find out just how big his feet are, and if there are shoes in stock that will fit him.

(to be continued...)
posted by Melanie O. at 6:38 PM - 2 comments
Monday, October 09, 2006
Doing the Time Warp

I celebrated another birthday last week. I don't look or feel older, but somehow it feels wrong that I'm stuck in a time warp. Maybe that's why humans resist tapping into their anti-aging genes. We all have them - but almost none of us taps into them. It feels "unnatural" to resist time. Or maybe it's just the recent change of timezones that's doing my head in.

I was jet-lagged and ill after our trip. Not enough sleep will do that to you. We were just getting used to a new time zone, when we had to fly back. My body wasn't sure if it should be awake or asleep. I stayed awake just so I could do something productive at work, but my body was screaming for sleep.

Dan had planned on taking me somewhere nice for my birthday dinner. As it turned out, it was one of the first places we'd ever gone on a date - Centrepoint Tower. It would have been lovely, sitting in the revolving restaurant, looking out over the city lights while we dined on kangaroo meat. But, even after sleeping for 10 hours a night for two nights in a row, I just couldn't muster the energy or enthusiam for getting dressed up and going out for a night on the town.

I asked Dan if he wouldn't mind cancelling dinner. Instead, we sat at home and dined on fish and chips from our local fish shop, and it was delicious. So much for this year's birthday.

This weekend, with more energy, I started decorating for Halloween, using the treasures I picked up in New York, as well as ones I had brought with me from North Carolina. The house was transformed. I love Halloween - it's an autumn ritual I refuse to leave behind. I'm going to take all of the energy that I didn't have for my birthday, and put it into Halloween.

Norm, the glowing skeleton, is now hanging from our livingroom overhead light, ceramic jack-o-lanters light up several rooms, and I tested out our haunted house sound effects CD. There are witches sitting on the bookcases and two haunted houses on display. A rubber snake peeks out from our DVD collection and a rubber bat hangs from a picture frame. There are decals and window clings on the glass surfaces. The night of our party, I'll string fake cobwebs and spiders. I'm ready for Halloween, even if I wasn't really ready for my birthday. I wonder how many of my friends, who will receive an invitation to Halloween Scary Movie Night, are ready for me and my Addams Family house.

I'm getting excited about doing Halloween in Sydney, since it's only just recently caught on. But how will I feel after we move the clocks ahead that night - for Spring?
posted by Melanie O. at 8:35 AM - 1 comments
Friday, October 06, 2006
The reunion...farewells
After dinner, we stay up and finally watch Ray. The movie is great - I can understand why Jamie Foxx won an Academy Award, even if some of the facts were fudged a bit to make the film more acceptable to movie-goers. Allison and Stephen start to fade before the end of the movie, and leave. They have work the next day, but it was nice that they stayed for as long as they could. I am still upset that I haven't heard from Chris. I have visions of car accidents and police. I tell myself that he's fallen asleep after a long day.

Finally, it's past midnight and I head off to bed. I hope that I hear from Chris tomorrow.

It's Friday. We have to head to the airport this afternoon, but before we do, we make one last trip to the Odd Lots store to pick up Creole spices to take back to Australia with us. Creole spice isn't something you can find easily. Apparently, it's not that easy to find Creole spice in Connecticut either, so we settle on Cajun.

I pick up another Halloween decoration. It's a jack-o-lantern lamp. There's no way this stuff is ever going to fit into our suitcases, but Mom is generous and offers to post everything that won't fit, back to us.

I shop for Andy. Mom tells me that he needs socks. Andy's socks are full of holes and he won't spend any money to replace them. Andy thinks his disability money is "fun money." I buy him six pairs of socks. I also buy him sock and hand warmers, thinking he is going to have a tough time this winter when he has to move out of my mother's house. I also buy him some warm gloves. I want to find a hat for him, but they don't have any winter hats in stock. Andy doesn't need a baseball cap.

We get back to the house and start packing. I give Andy his things and give him $20 and tell him it's for a hat. In the back of my mind I know he will probably blow it at McDonald's, but at least I try. I tell him to make sure he checks into the local shelter if his subsidized apartment isn't ready - but I know he will get on a bus at the first opportunity, and go somewhere warm for the winter. In a different era, he would have been a hobo, living near the railroad. It's not a lifestyle I would choose, but it's the one he's comfortable with.

Chris calls. I'm so relieved to hear from him. I was right - he had fallen asleep. He came home from work and lied down - just for 20 minutes. 20 minutes turned into five hours. We chat on the phone for a half an hour and discuss his personal problems. I offer advice and financial help. Once you're a parent, you never stop worrying. He promises to stay in touch better.

The hire car comes to get us after lunch. I hug my mother goodbye. Our bags are loaded and we're off. I take one last lingering look at my mother standing in her front yard, and wave from inside the car. I hope she's seen me. Again - it's raining. I'm feeling depressed - the rain matches my mood. We drive past the old New York World's Fair observation towers and Shea stadium. They're icons. I can't believe we have to leave.

We get to JFK. The first thing that we find out is that our flight is delayed due to the inclement weather - again. This is turning into a habit. Our 5:30pm flight just became a 9pm flight. We're given a dinner voucher, at least, and go to the only real sit down restaurant in the concourse, once we're past the security checkpoint. We want steak. They're out of steak. We want Thai chicken. They're out of Thai chicken. We settle on things that aren't nearly as appetizing and the service is slow, but we can't blame them. They're stuck with a bunch of Qantas passengers that they weren't expecting.

It's after 9pm. We're finally on the plane. The trip is long, but it's made longer by the presence of a screaming toddler with parents who don't know how to calm her down. They let her scream all the way to Los Angeles. I hope against hope that the family is disembarking in L.A. We've got a four hour layover in L.A. The screaming toddler doesn't go away. The family gets back on the plane to Sydney. The screaming toddler keeps everyone in our section of the plane awake for most of the trip. I feel sorry for the parents. Andy was one of those irritable, fretful toddlers who would never be calmed. I wonder if they have another Andy in the making.

The flight is made worse by the fact that I've got restless leg syndrome and it's decided to act up on the flight. I can't sit still or get comfortable. I've seen all the movies that are on offer, on the first flight over. The screaming toddler wakes me every time I nod off. I never thought I would be happy to touch down in Sydney - but I heave a huge sigh of relief when we get off the plane. We're back, and it all seems surreal. Maybe that's why I live here. It's far-removed from the reality "back home;" the money problems, the job dilemmas, the relationship issues, and health issues. But damn, I miss everyone within minutes. I start planning the next reunion.
posted by Melanie O. at 8:42 PM - 1 comments
Wednesday, October 04, 2006
The reunion... It's up to you, New York, New York
Thursday. It's raining. We hope that it clears up, the closer we get to New York. Once again, we're on the train, headed into the city. I have better shoes with me this time around. I'm prepared for lots of walking.

We get to New York and it's pelting down rain. We decide to go to Times Square first and then make our way up 5th Avenue towards Central Park. I've got an umbrella with me, but it's falling apart. It's a good excuse to stop in another cheap souvenir place and get a new umbrella. It's got I *heart* New York on it and a print of the Empire State Buidling and Statue of Liberty. I love it. It satisfies my need for cheese. Dan gets a black umbrella from a street vendor. It's flawed - must be why it's only $5. But it's good enough for now.

We traipse through puddle after puddle, getting drenched, and look for shoe stores. We check out nearly every athletic shoe store in the area. There are no Goodyear Tuscanys in orange anywhere. They're last year's model and everyone is sold out. This year's models are apparently dull and boring. If Dan wants orange, he has to buy over-designed basketball shoes. Or he'll have to paint his own.

We have pizza again for lunch. Sicilian style - for the bread-lover in Dan. I keep hoping that the rain will let up, but it doesn't. Time to go outside and get drenched again. We make sure to make a pit stop in the pizza parlor unisex restroom - New York doesn't have public restrooms. They have fast food restaurants. The restrooms usually look well-used.

We temporarily give up on shoes and decide to check out Rockefeller Plaza. There's the famous gold statue of Prometheus. In a month or so, this place will be all decorated for Christmas. By December, there will be ice skaters in abundance. I wish I could be here to see it. I take a couple of photos. There are mostly tourists hovering under umbrellas in it. Dan and I are soaked.

We walk past Trump Tower and I spy Saks and Tiffany's, just before the entrance to Central Park. I wish Sabrina was here. She'd go with me to check out Saks. Dan and I decide to go into Tiffany's. We love Breakfast at Tiffany's. We imagine standing in the same spots as Audrey Hepburn and George Peppard. I spy a pair of gold earrings that I'd like and speak to a salesman, Alex. Alex is refined, but friendly. He has class. I debate on buying the earrings. I've already denied myself several things this trip. I'm not going to deny myself any longer.

I buy the gold earrings. They're a delicate knotted 18k gold. They're hardly unique, and probably one of the cheapest items in the store, but I buy them just to say I bought something at Tiffany's. Alex lovingly wraps them in Tiffany's signature blue paper and ties the whole thing with a white bow. The earrings have their own Tiffany's travel pouch. He puts the receipt in a little white envelope. Dan quotes a line from Love Actually: "What are you going to do next? Dip it in yogurt?" I hope that Alex hasn't heard him. The whole ensemble is placed artfully in a double Tiffany's bag. I am thrilled. I thank Alex for this wonderful experience and ask him where we can get a coffee. We're damp. We're a mess. We're broke. This calls for latté.

Alex directs us to Trump Tower. We figure, why not? We've just shopped at Tiffany's. Trump Tower is just across the side street. There's a Starbuck's inside. We sit and look out across the lobby. Dan jokes about spotting Donald Trump, but we figure he has his own private entrance.

Not 15 minutes later, Donald Trump walks in. He uses the front entrance and main elevators like everyone else. Dan sees him, but I'm looking the wrong way. Dan doesn't say anything to me until The Donald has disappeared into the elevator. Drat!

We finish our coffees and head back out onto the street. Louis Vuitton has a store and offices just up the street. I am tempted to go in, but I dread what I would do to my credit card. I resist but make a mental note that next time we're here, I'm going to be prepared to go in and do damage. Heck - I work. I can pay my own way.

It's time to leave. We leave without orange sneakers. Dan's a little disappointed, but we've still had a great time. What wasn't to love, including getting soaked?

We're expected for dinner. It's our farewell dinner at my mother's. Stephen, Allison and Chris are expected. We've promised to bring home the veggies and we spend some time at the Grand Central Station Market. I love the place! It's full of produce and gourmet treats. We pick up some beautiful, perfect strawberries, beans, corn, and a few gourmet snacks.

When we get back to Connecticut, Stephen is waiting to be picked up for dinner. My mother's baked a chicken and I cook the vegetables. Dinner time is here and Chris hasn't showed up. We wait a half an hour and start calling Chris. There's no answer. I wonder what's happened. We have to fly back to Sydney tomorrow. Where the heck is Chris? Dinner is delayed by an hour and still no Chris. I'm a bit upset, but try not to show it. I hope he's OK.

Andy comes downstairs for dinner and stays for a few minutes. I'm pleased that he's joined us, even if it's for a short time. Wonder what he's thinking, now that we're leaving? And why is it so hard to get more than two of my sons in the same room at the same time?

(to be continued...)
posted by Melanie O. at 6:23 PM - 2 comments

About Me
Name: Melanie O.
Home: Durham, North Carolina, United States
About Me: Female, American health and beauty-conscious professional who has rekindled a childhood love of dolls.
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