Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Christmas Present

As a single 30-something, my holiday season is sometimes more about spirits and less about Santa.

I do not have any wee ones under foot, so I thankfully do not stress about any holiday high jinks involving elves on shelves, and I've never had to suffer through a session with Father Christmas and a whiny, wet toddler.

But that's not to say Christmas is any less meaningful and fun (and hectic) for us singletons.

It starts early - the grueling schedule of cocktail parties, festive happy hours and holiday open houses - they hit the schedule not long after Thanksgiving and have the potential to squeeze out every last bit of free time you might have anticipated.

While other folks are navigating the stress of quasi-professional holiday decor and forays in gingerbread architecture, my Christmas season involves a standing date with the irreverent. Every year I am invited to one of my favorite holiday parties - a White Elephant gift exchange that calls on all guests to bring clever, coveted and downright illicit mystery gifts. This tradition is the epitome of raucous, with nearly every guest in attendance enraptured in giddy laughter and good humor.

I think most single folks have a similar annual holiday gathering on their calendar. While our peers with children are extolling the virtues of good behavior, we independent types take advantage of the holiday season to flirt with the Naughty List.

And we wouldn't have it any other way.

Like lots of other people, I think the Christmas season means spending time with people you love. Even though the days are short this time of year and the day planners are full, we squeeze in lunches, cocktails or coffee dates with friends to catch up on the year that has passed and toast to the year ahead.

Life is too busy. We're all guilty of saying it, and these scheduled sessions often feel like clandestine meetings that let us steal away with friends for a moment away from the maelstrom of merriment. No present required - the occasion is gift enough.

Christmas wouldn't be the same without some quality time with the other people I love - my family. I adore my parents, my sisters and their respective families and/or significant others. Each Christmas season brings on remembrances of holidays past and favorite recipes including our beloved Welsh potch (a dish made of mashed rutabaga and potatoes. Trust me, it's good.).

And of course some Christmas Vacation, swaddled in blankets on the floor of my parents' bedroom.

But at this stage in life, family is so much more than the people who share your genetic code.

Family includes the people who share your dreams, your priorities, and your civic passions. We cling tight to people who accept us, inspire us and push us to be more. Our urban families are the people we first turn to when we hit roadblocks or minor milestones, at the ready for equal doses of commiseration and celebration.

And that includes Christmas celebration that carries through to the New Year.


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Friday, December 20, 2013

Christmas Past

Our hearts would race the minute we heard the bells jingle.

Brigid and I were friends by circumstance. Sometimes we loved each other, and sometimes we hated each other, but looking back on it, my little sister was my first best friend. And while so many days were dotted with shouting and hair pulling and scratching (my arms have the scars to prove it), Christmas night was usually a bit more peaceful. Emphasis on a bit.

It was because we knew the Big Guy and his elves were watching.

My parents started this ruse early.

I remember Christmas in Minneapolis. The darkest nights that seemed to start in afternoon. Biting cold winds and thermometer mercury sliding in retrograde. There we were, about a mile away from one of the biggest lakes in the Twin Cities. Our family relations huddled in the family room with the ugly, orange shag carpet, the grown ups sipping on Manhattans and wine to stay warm and feel merry.

At this point Brigid and I were probably 3 and 5-years-old, respectively, and had a penchant for whining and other naughty behavior. And that's when we'd hear the elves knock.

From the sounds of it Santa's spies would bang on the windows and walls of the house, reminding us they were watching to see if we were behaving badly.

It didn't matter what we were doing. Whining about dinner, pinching each other, protesting bedtime - as soon as we heard that knocking, we would pause in mid-action and our heads would jerk around, eyes as wide as saucers. Santa's elves were watching and we were terrified they were going to submit our names to the Naughty List.

All negotiations ceased immediately and we would and agree to my parents' demands - a full-on submission into toy straightening, teeth brushing, and bedtime.

That's what happens when you are terrified by the threat of missing out on Christmas.

As we got older and wiser and more unruly, my parents, er, Santa upped the ante. The knocking subsided, and instead, Christmas night brought with it the terror of the jingle bells.

On Christmas, we got to wear special matching nightgowns. They were usually white flannel adorned with bows and lace. One year it was twee satin rosebuds and matching pink ribbons. I imagine we might have looked like the creepy twins in The Shining, but my mother thought we were adorable, and I guess that's all that matters.

Anyway, there we were, likely fully embroiled in bickering and bedtime procrastination, when my dad would silently slip out to chop wood or get more logs for the fireplace. He wore a big, bright yellow ski jacket held over from my parents' years in Edmonton, Alberta. The coat was probably designed for safety; it was nearly neon and the perfect outdoor apparel if you feared getting lost on a snowy Canadian mountain.

This jacket was the definition of conspicuous, and yet we were so enraptured in our own sisterly drama that we never saw him slip out the door.

Voices raised and protests delivered, my sister and I double teamed my mom begging to stay up a bit later on Christmas Eve. Amidst the relentless pleating and refusing, we'd hear the bells that would stop us mid-sentence. Bells that sounded exactly like the set that used to hang in my grandparents' garage in Youngstown.

What a coincidence.

The sleigh bells jingled and Santa would bellow a hearty "Ho! Ho! Ho!" and alarm flashed across my mother's face. Santa is in the neighborhood! I wonder whose house he's at, she'd exclaim.

I grew more excited and eager - I wanted to see the Big Guy in the flesh to witness a bit of his magic. Brigid, the more timid of the two of us, would beg to sleep in my room out of fear. She was afraid of this man who slid down the sooty chimney with a sack of toys and wanted to avoid an encounter at all costs, even if that meant shacking up with her big sister.

Mom didn't have to do much cajoling to get us to climb up the steps and pad our way to my bedroom where we would bundle up in my set of twin beds. Mom kissed us goodnight and Dad followed later, with cheeks still chilly from his chore outside.

To this day, we still talk about those nights and how the sound of the sleigh bells was a catalyst that turned me into a live wire. I loved Santa Claus, and his magic and the excitement of Christmas morning left an indelible mark on my heart.

30 years later, Santa has moved on to a new house in Atlanta. My niece and nephew are little tykes but Nora and Liam already know how wonderful Christmas is. Santa's elves knock on the walls and windows at their house, and the jingle bells ring at night before bedtime. And Nora in particular is just about as excited as her aunt was all those years ago.

And that makes my heart melt.

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Friday, November 22, 2013

Season, Reason, Lifetime

For some reason, the friendships shared between women are bereft of simplicity.

I don't know why, but I suspect it's because we ladies are in many ways more emotional beings than our brawny counterparts.

I started thinking about this a few weeks ago upon hearing several different stories about best friends that had grown estranged. I've had my fair share of these bitter experiences and discovering it happened to other women gave me an odd sense of solace.

It seems any good gal pal duo can suffer a setback from time to time.

Suffering a split with a best friend can feel a bit like a break up. Missing that deep connection, that trusted confidant can feel like you've lost an arm or a leg; life isn't the same, but you know it will go on.

The hard part about breaking up with a best friend is thinking about what kept the friendship together. Did you bond over a period of your life, like meeting and surviving college together? Did you connect because you both shared a fleeting hobby like tap dancing?

It's a trite phrase, but I really do buy in to that reason, season, lifetime philosophy. Some friendships just aren't meant to last. Enduring friendships are hard work and require a deep commitment from both parties, and not everyone is up for that dedication.

It's fair to let a relationship wane when you make the discovery your connection wasn't as solid as you thought it was.

I've had male best friends and female best friends. My relationship with my male best friend is rock solid. He is my greatest cheerleader, my biggest confidant. He is reliable x infinity. He's also the one who pushes my buttons and challenges me to think differently or be better than I am.

And I think our relationship is pretty straightforward because he's a dude.

We've primarily hit bumpy spots when I've let my emotions get the better of me; he is pretty pragmatic and doesn't shrink away from my emotional moments. He knows I will turn into a five alarm bitch if I don't get enough sleep or food when we travel.

Friendships with women are trickier. Both parties think about things we never say. We feel things we never reveal. We hold on to past wounds we never heal.

Those offenses have a way of hijacking an otherwise solid relationship.

I am grateful for my closest female relationships. I've gotten to know women who feel as close to me as my own sisters, and those relationships can make a woman feel safe and stable when she doesn't have the reliability or foundation of a spouse and family.

Over the past few months I've reacquainted with one of my oldest, dearest friends. She and I live very different lives and grew apart, even though only six miles separate us. We spent almost three years with nary a word between us, but only Facebook 'likes' and sparse status comments.

A personal heartbreak revived our friendship, one that is founded on support, openness and a mutual adoration of fashion trends.

I am glad to have this friend back in my life. A really painful situation brought us back together, but I know more good memories and fun times are on the horizon.

Reuniting with a dear, old friend gives me hope for all of the estranged relationships out there - the strong ties that lay dormant, waiting for a reawakening.

Anything is possible when friends are involved.

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Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Giveaway: Taste of the World


Congrats to Kelly H. for winning the pair of tickets to the Taste of the World event! Message me your mailing address so your tickets can be mailed to you!


I have always wanted a Round The World plane ticket.

We have a family friend in Connecticut who was gifted one of these tickets after graduation. He spent months traveling in one direction around the globe... working on farms in New Zealand and exploring European towns.

He showed up one day in Hartford and called his mom, asking if she had time to pick him up.

The wanderlust in me is always thinking about a dynamite trip, and the RTW ticket is one of the highest status symbols among travel junkies.

But they're pricey.

And that's where food comes in.

The Leukemia & Lymphoma Society is hosting its 10th annual Taste of the World event on Saturday, November 9 at 7:30 pm at Newport Aquarium.

A destination event for local foodies, this event will serve up some of the best bites in the region from restaurants including Stone Creek Dining Company, Taste of Belgium and Pit to Plate. Guests will also enjoy libations from the city's most accomplished mixologist Molly Wellmann, as well as beverages from partners including Four Roses Distillery, Cutting Edge Selection and Chas. Seligman.

Around 700 people are expected to enjoy event details like club-style seating to soak up Cincinnati's skyline, live music and of course the wonderful underwater world of Newport Aquarium.

This event is a great substitute for those of you itching for a jaunt to somewhere far.

Tickets are $150 per person, and a portion of that ticket price goes to support the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society. Leukemia runs in my family and I am happy to promote a cause that is helping people with blood cancer.

Interested in going? I'm giving away a pair of tickets to the event. You have two ways to enter:
  • Leave a comment below telling me about your favorite animal at the Aquarium
  • Re-tweet this blog post and cc: me in your tweet (@kate_the_great)
If you leave a comment, please be sure I have a way to reply to you - either a registered profile with an email address, or an email address in your comment.

The contest will close at noon on Friday, November 1; I will randomly select a winner shortly thereafter.

Good luck and I hope to see you at Taste of the World!

The small print: NO PURCHASE NECESSARY. Winner must be 21 or over. All entrants must submit entry by Friday, November 1 at 12 noon. Entries may be submitted by blog comment or blog post retweet. Price consists of two (2) tickets to the Taste of the World event at Newport Aquarium on November 9, 2013. The number of eligible entries received determines the odds of winning. Editor is not responsible for technical failures, typographical errors, or identity disputes related to the winner. The winner will be randomly selected on Friday, November 1 and will have 24 hours to accept prize. Winner must provide an email address in their comment to ensure editor has the ability to notify them of their status. Double Chocolate Chip is my favorite flavor of Graeter's Ice Cream. If potential prize winner forfeits or does not claim prize within 24 hours, the prize will be re-awarded randomly at editor's discretion. All prizes will be awarded. Tickets will be mailed to winner by Leukemia & Lymphoma Society. By accepting prize, winner consents to publicity related to this blog post including their name and likeness. The editor and this blog in general accepts no liability should this prize or sweepstakes negatively impacts the winner in some way. VOID WHERE PROHIBITED BY LAW.

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Friday, October 18, 2013

Are You Pleased?

Who makes you happy?

I mulled on that question while dining in Over-the-Rhine. I heard a server approach a table with a genteel inquiry: "Are you pleased?"

A former server with seven years of schlepping plates and glasses under my belt, I immediately recognized that I'd never used those words while serving a table.

I'd asked before, Can I get you anything else? Do you need anything? How is your meal? and a variety of other vernacular meant to accommodate my diners' whimsy. But never Are you pleased?

The phrase underscores the intent of a server's job; as a server, you are hired to make someone happy. Whether they want heaps of crushed ice delivered every fifteen minutes, or their steak cut before it arrives at the table, a server's job is to see to it every need and want is met with pleasure.

It's a vocation of complete selflessness, and I think most servers forget that.

I started thinking about that expression, Are you pleased?, and my train of thought expanded it to many relationships.

Our closest relationships - maybe our best relationships - excel when we put the other individual ahead of our own needs or wants. It's when we look at relationships as an opportunity of personal gain that dynamics get dicey.

This is not to say that the best relationships expect us to live in servitude to others, but rather that a perpetual state of mutual giving is the greatest way to grow a relationship.

Adam Grant appeared as the keynote speaker at this year's Bold Fusion event in August. The youngest-ever professor at Wharton, Grant has written a book describing how the most successful people in life are givers, not takers. Give and Take uncovers the dynamics of Givers vs. Takers, and also Matchers, who strive to match giving and taking behaviors.

The book focuses on these exchanges in a professional capacity, but it's important to think about these behaviors in a personal scope, too.

Sometimes it takes a lot of effort to be selfless. We're forced to put everything out there, think about another person's needs, and make the effort to meet those needs before our own, if we can.

Looking back on my relationships, the ones based on selflessness are the strongest. The connections that involved a level of reciprocity haven't lasted as long or maintain diminished bonds.

But I know I could do better.

Like the server at Zula, I need to start approaching my friends and family with a sense of service, a goal of making someone feel happy and complete.

Are you pleased?

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Wednesday, October 09, 2013

Happy Ending

Everything happens as it should.

When life serves up a difficult experience, we can forget it is bound to end sometime.

Getting out of the thick of difficulty doesn't just happen. It takes determination, commitment and a lot of effort to make it to the other side. And all that hard work usually happens simultaneously with feelings of self-doubt, insecurity and defeat. That's when your dearest friends come into play.

And sometimes those dearest friends are people you wouldn't expect.

Losing a job can be a major shock to the system, and I am grateful I spent only seven weeks in that nebulous, incomeless limbo.

Three weeks ago I started a new gig - an amazing opportunity with tremendous growth potential and exciting challenges.

The job brings with it a generous raise, an extra week of vacation and a talented and kind group of colleagues. They are experts in an exciting industry that perfectly gels with my personal priorities.

And none of this would have been possible if I hadn't lost my job.

Like I said. Everything happens as it should.

So, some of you might wonder - how exactly did I land a gig seven weeks after a layoff? The act of finding a job became my full-time gig. Here's my short list of suggestions to find your next opportunity.

1. Every day, schedule a meeting with a business connection or personal contact. Initially a reason for me to get out of bed and talk business, my daily meetings ensured my personal network was actively helping me - connecting me to job leads, mentioning me to third-party contacts, and otherwise remembering me as an available and eager job candidate. Every weekday of my unemployment I had a phone call, coffee meeting, lunch or happy hour scheduled to suss out hot job leads and glean suggestions from others who had been in my shoes once before.

2. Seek out recruiters - they are incredibly helpful. I worked with two different recruiters, both of whom turned up solid leads that led to interviews, including the position I eventually accepted. Recruiters are good at determining what kind of person you are and which kind of job would best suit your skills and natural talents. I am very grateful for Shari at Professional Staffing Solutions for leading me to my new gig. She was engaging, optimistic and very encouraging - just what you need when you're trying to put your best foot forward amidst worries about paying rent and buying groceries.

3. There is some truth to the whole fake it 'til you make it philosophy. I didn't feel awesome, but I tried my best to look like it. Whether I was sitting in Coffee Emporium or on the terrace at Via Vite, I did my best to look like I had it pulled together. You never know who you'll run into - a potential employer or influential business contact - and I wanted to make sure at least my outward appearance would sell my employability.

4. Accept every job interview. Even when I was unsure of my interest in an opportunity, I knew the experience would be good practice and help me determine what I wanted out of my next position. The interaction with a potential hire helps you craft your elevator pitch - in 30-second, two minute, five minute and 20 minute bites. What skills do you have? What are some of your greatest experiences? What challenges have you overcome? What gets you excited? Each meeting helps you develop your professional narrative.

No matter your plan of action, stick with it and stay positive. Your outlook on the opportunities ahead far outweighs the frustration or despair you feel while coping with unemployment.

And it will all work out. Promise.

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Friday, September 13, 2013

Belly Up

The Middle East is a study in contradictions.

Many women are covered to the hilt in black, their faces and forms obscured from anyone who falls outside of the family unit.

Modesty is a way of life in this culture, so it is a bit jarring when you get a chance to see an Arabian belly dancer.

A few months ago I mentioned our exciting desert safari through the dunes outside of Dubai. After our trek in the armored truck, we made our way to an Arab oasis for a rustic Middle Eastern barbecue.

Our hosts invited us to the compound for savory grilled kababs, camel rides, and other entertainment typical of the arid locale.

The camel ride was fun, but the dismount left a bit to be desired.

When the camel wrangler tells you to hold on to the harness, you hold on to the harness. I didn't think about it ahead of time, but apparently camels have to kneel to let its passengers dismount.

We held on and didn't fall off, but I cannot guarantee I dismounted with grace.

After our delicious dinner of grilled meats, couscous salads, and a variety of savory vegetables and freshly sliced fruits, we were treated to two performances, the first involving a whirling dervish.

This dance is a form of meditation that can be found in many Middle Eastern and Asian cultures. It is mesmerizing. Just a few minutes in to the dance, I thought the performer was going to draw me into his trance.

The dancer wore layers and layers of colorful skirts that would spin as he revolved around the dance platform. As he danced, the performer would peel off his skirts, layer by layer, and twirl them in the air above.

The performance led to an unexpected and very lively light show of sorts.

After the whirling dervish, the audience was treated to a performance by a traditional Arabian belly dancer.

I could only hope to have a few of these moves.

There are several companies in Dubai that offer these desert safari and barbeque packages. We enjoyed the services of Desert Safari Dubai.

Should you embark on your own Arabian adventure, may I suggest wearing pants and comfortable walking shoes! A skirt would not do well on the camel ride, and stilettos would not do well in the dunes.

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Thursday, September 05, 2013

You Got to Have Friends

Life seems like a test sometimes.

Let's put aside religion and philosophy for a moment; let's table the heavy stuff and only think about this existence.

I know. It's a simplification of sorts - only thinking about our time on this big, blue and green marble for a minute, and not considering what comes next. For now, let's only explore this moment. This 70-to-100-year instance.

Life. It's pretty damn hard.

It was good when I was young, and I know that in itself was a gift. While other people elsewhere were dealing with abuse and loss and genocide in the world all over, I was worried about Laffy Taffy. That was what I wanted at the swim club, and it was an outright heartbreak when my mom wouldn't give me any money to buy candy at the pool snack shack.

My childhood was good.

But age has a way of a revealing depth and perspective. I got my first taste of reality in my 20s; I learned that hard times come and, while we may sometimes rely on the support of loved ones, it's with our own volition that we discover how to survive the hard times.

All these years later, not much has changed.

I have loved ones who have buried children, severed ties with dear relations. Friends who have tragically lost partners and those who have weathered shocking and very public heartbreaks. I've seen relationships end and people fall at the mercy of public and social scrutiny.

We're all the same, really.

Each of us is trying to get by with what we have. Each of us is trying to find some meaning to this existence and a few people with whom we can share the journey.

Like I said. Life is pretty damn hard.

When these hardships happen - when we suffer trials and tribulations, moments of self doubt and moments of bitter challenge - it is a blessing and a curse of reveal. People unveil who they really are. Friends display their truest selves in the hardest moments. Acquaintances forsake a long connection. But others join us to walk along and offer love and encouragement.

It's unfortunate that we have the opportunity to discover our relations' truest selves when we fall on hard times. The phone calls that aren't accepted. The invitations that are never extended. The parties that intend to exclude.

It's easy to forget the rough stuff.

During our best of times, it's simple to ignore life's hardest challenges. We grow complacent and comfortable with being, and we avoid murky entanglements that would force us to feel, sticky encounters that would require depth.

Job loss. Divorce. Grief. Failure. There are so many reasons why the living wounded walk among us. And yet, during life's high times, we all seem to forget we're sharing a collective experience.

As a PR professional, I know moments of crisis are not an if, but a when.

And it's in those darkest personal moments, the hardest times of challenge, when we discover our truest friends.

Friends are the ones who stand by us, include us, love us and accept us.

It's easy to cast judgment. It's easy to draw lines in the sand and separate ourselves from challenge or drama or complication.

It's hard to be loyal.

It's hard to be a friend.

But it is sometimes the greatest gift we can give someone.

Try as we might, we cannot survive this experience, this life, without others. No matter how strong we may be, we each need some support or camaraderie.

We each need a friend. Maybe a few of 'em.

I'm so grateful for mine.

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Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Something To Look Forward To

We all need a golden carrot from time to time.

Travel tends to be my golden carrot - the thing that hangs off in the distance, a rich experience that is just sweet enough to convince me to plod along with head down and heavy yoke.

I know I am not alone in this perspective.

The past month has been quite serendipitous; the weekend after I lost my job I jetted off to Southern California with one of my dearest friends. The trip was just what the doctor ordered - R&R, sunshine, and poolside beverage service.

It was better than any medicine.

Two weeks later I hopped back on a plane to head south to Atlanta to see my two Georgia peaches. Nora and Liam, my niece and nephew, celebrate birthdays during the same week in August. A Four-and-two joint birthday party beckoned, complete with a wild and woolly petting zoo and pony rides in the cul-de-sac.

Again, a perfect respite to wash away my worries. Nora and I talked about my globetrotting adventures (aside: I had no idea four-year-olds can hold their own with critical questioning and curiosity aplenty) and Liam was reminded why he often says, "Kay Kay fun." He's typically the strong, silent type but has the stunning looks to go with it.

One looks like me, and the other has some of my sassy traits...

This coming weekend gives rise to more travel. Scott and I are hitting the road with our sights set on Pittsburgh.

Well more different than our last trek to Dubai and Bangkok, I'm excited for another opportunity to get out of dodge and dwell on the distraction of travel.

I've gathered a short list of things to explore in Pittsburgh - the Warhol museum, the Mattress Factory Art Museum (thank you for the suggestion, Margy Waller!), the Frick Art and Historical Center, the Duquesne incline and Primanti Bros.

Ever the planner, the time I spend researching a trip is sometimes a greater distraction than the adventure itself. It gives me something to look forward to, something to lose myself in, something to focus on that's positive.

And sometimes that's all we need to keep going - a distraction from what's distracting us.

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Friday, August 23, 2013

Fake It Until You Make It

Looks can sometimes be deceiving.

The executive who looks like she stepped out of a fashion catalog. The actor crossing a stage with swag and confidence. The volunteer running a boardroom meeting like a boss.

Sometimes there's well more working behind the scenes, but in many cases, these people have learned the carefully crafted art of perception.

The day after I lost my job, my parents both tag-teamed a phone call intended to pump me up with vim and vinegar. My dad, a retired marketing executive himself, detailed a litany of skills that make me valuable to my next employer. My mother, while she has no official PR or marketing experience of her own, offered what could be one of the most valuable points I've heard in recent weeks:

"Don't leave the house unless you look like a million bucks."

She went on to offer that my hair should be perfectly coiffed, my makeup well applied. I should forgo the yoga pants-and-tank tops uniform for a wardrobe that implies my professional stature.

I initially dismissed it. What does it matter how I look? What a superficial premise, I quipped. But then my mother reasoned a valuable point about appearance. Whether we like it or not, our outward appearance speaks volumes about what's happening inside us.

And while inside I might vacillate between abject devastation and unwavering confidence, the world only needs to see me happy, optimistic and eager.

Make no mistake about it, I am excited about my future. This unexpected vacancy has made me available for unknown opportunities and rich experience.

And those unknown opportunities may not reveal themselves if I'm in a perpetual state of slovenly sweats and greasy hair.

I have taken my mother's advice to heart. That in itself is practically a miracle.

With the exception of my almost-religious morning exercise routine, I've made an effort to fix my hair and belabor the finer points of eye makeup. Call it trivial if you will, but there's something valuable about going through the paces of normalcy.

Months ago I changed the home screen of my iPhone to an old Elizabeth Taylor quote. The Hollywood grand dame once said, "Pour yourself a drink, put on some lipstick, and pull yourself together." There's something to be said about gathering your druthers to change your disposition.

Marketing is sometimes all smoke and mirrors. A company jockeys to appear larger or more successful than they really are. A professional spins yarns of thought leadership to develop a position of expertise.

Every company is working to change perceptions and cultivate new opportunities of success.

The same goes for regular folks.

We're each developing our personal brand, whether we want to admit it or not.

As much as we may protest, the photos we post on Facebook and the missives we Tweet can sometimes speak louder about our personal brand than a face-to-face interaction.

And so I am working to cultivate a personal brand that projects optimism, creativity, determination, adventure and curiosity.

I guess that rules out sweats.

Here's to lipstick and cocktails and Elizabeth Taylor.

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Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Seeing Shiva

You find yourself with quite a bit of free time when you lose your job.

That was my first discovery after surviving a downsizing two weeks ago. Whereas my time used to be counted by green, gridded logs of billable hours, these days I count time by filling washing machines and emptying dishwashers, running miles along the Ohio riverfront, and making coffee dates and cocktail catch-ups with good friends and business contacts.

Some of it is quite nice, to be sure, but it isn't exactly what I had in mind.

I have always enjoyed hard work.

From my days of hauling sticky, dripping bus pans to running breaking news situations in a broadcast control room - I have always relished the task of tough labor.

I like the pressure, I like the challenge. I like the opportunity to conquer an obstacle.

I gave a lot to my most recent post. Long hours, personal sacrifices, thoughtful strategy and execution. But each of us are replaceable, and I found myself in a place of replacing.

As unexpected as it was, I should have known better.

The day after the layoff, my dearest friends bandied about and insisted on an evening of celebration.

Bottles popped and glasses raised, I found myself surrounded by some of the most successful women of my age. A publishing strategist, a pharma saleswoman, an attorney/entrepreneur, a published photographer.

These women have received countless professional accolades and have the hardware to prove it. They've been covered in national and local publications. They are trusted sources for professional and community-based information.

These women are rock stars.

And yet, I was surprised to discover that every single one of them had been laid off once before.

Each woman said her moment of termination led to an opportunity for growth and greatness. Yours will too, they told me, as we clinked champagne flutes to toast new beginnings.

Two years ago I went to India. It was a life-changing journey that opened me up to many new perspectives, including an introduction to the Hindu god, Shiva.

Portrayed in a several traditional forms, one of the more popular symbols of Shiva involves a human figure with four or more arms. The Cincinnati Art Museum has a great sculpture of Shiva just beyond the main entrance, cloaked behind some black nylon fringe. It's a muscular form and a beautiful example of the statues you'd see in New Delhi and elsewhere.

So, Shiva. In the Hindu faith, Shiva is a paradoxical deity. He is both the god of destruction and rebirth.  Shiva is typically seen holding a variety of symbolic objects including an hourglass-drum and a tongue of flames. The fiery symbol references the destruction of the world. The hourglass-drum symbolizes creation and the unfolding universe.

Destruction and rebirth. Like the phoenix of Greek mythology, Shiva reminds us we can become a newer, better version of ourselves when we rise from the ashes of our destruction.

A bit heavy, but it's a philosophy that resonates with me.

We can't be our next self, we can't discover new opportunities and challenges, until we close a door on the past. Sometimes that change is our own doing, other times it's not.

As with every other moment of my past, I'm grateful for what has transpired thus far. I've learned a lot, I've discovered new interests and talents. I've met some wonderful people.

But I'm excited about what tomorrow brings.

I'm excited about the universe unfolding before me.

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Kate's Random Musings by Kate the Great is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 United States License.

Monday, July 29, 2013

Lobster Boil: A Lesson

We are Midwesterners.

By birth, I am a Southerner, but I was predominantly raised in the Midwest. My parents are both Midwest stock - my dad's family settled in Youngstown a few generations ago, but they first lived in the Pittsburgh area when they arrived from Ireland and England.

My mother's family has lived in Duluth, Minnesota for generations, but our roots go far back to Indiana (before arriving from Germany and Austria).

Middle America runs in our blood, but we were lucky to get a 14 year trip to New England beginning my sophomore year in high school.

In Connecticut, they call it the Long Island Sound. It's not really the ocean, they say. To us it was. That big, beautiful expanse of water lapped up at the end of our street, and we were smitten the first time we laid eyes on it.

New England - made up of Maine, New Hampshire, Vermont, Massachusetts, Rhode Island and Connecticut - revels in a different kind of lifestyle. Relaxed preppy leanings and celebrations that choose simplicity over flash.

Good, bad or indifferent, that describes my family to a T.

A few years ago, my mother informed me she was doing away with all the holidays. My sister in Atlanta inherited Christmas because she has children; my youngest sister in Columbus inherited Thanksgiving because she and her boyfriend would be able to handle such a daunting event together.

I inherited the annual lobster boil.

None of us live in New England any longer. We've returned to the Midwest to enjoy a more comfortable standard of living and everyday exchanges of please and thank-you.

But we still love our seafood.

Esoteric remark: Really??? Really??? 

My parents, my sister, her boyfriend and Scott all came over for our annual summer tradition, my parents bringing along ten feisty lobsters and two pounds of mussels (a family favorite). My dad picks up his lobsters from Lobsta Bakes in Newtown, where the owner receives shipments daily from his family's business in Maine.

The evening is one of my favorites of the summer. We each show up wearing our rattiest T-shirt and enjoy an evening of good food, vinho verde, conversation and great laughs.

This year's dinner was especially raucous thanks to a game of Cards Against Humanity. My parents are pretty cool for their ability to roll with the racy innuendo.

I am surprised by how many Midwesterners are intimidated by Connecticut's favorite crustacean. Lobster can be a bit daunting; unless you hunt regularly, you likely don't have as much involvement in your meal's end days.

Formerly a poor man's meal, lobster is quite delicious and has long been a New England tradition in part because of their availability in that part of the U.S.

To prepare lobster, fill a large stock pot half full of water. Add a tablespoon of sea salt. Bring the pot to a rolling boil (this will take some time).

After the pot begins to boil, drop in all of your lobsters and let them sit in their sauna for 20 minutes or so.

A note about the lobsters. They don't scream. They don't have vocal cords. The squeaks you hear are made by air passing through the shells. If that makes you feel any better about preparing your meal, so be it.

Once your lobster is cooked, prepare to dig in. This will feel a little bit like high school biology.

You'll need a few standard tools: A pick. Some sets just have a pick with a pointy, needle-like end; I prefer the kind that has a sort of shovel on one end, and a pitchfork on the other end (below left). These two ends will come in handy later.

Next, a cracker. Some people use crackers that double as metal nutcrackers. I like my crackers because they can grip lobster parts very well. It's up to your preference and availability.

Finally, you'll need a knife. Steak knife, carving knife or Swiss Army - you need whatever makes you feel like a kitchen surgeon.

I first start with the claws. Pull the claw off the lobster's body and remove the rubber bands. Using some pressure, pull off the lobster's "thumb."

Take your pick and dig around in the thumb (I use the scoop end of the pick for this task) - there's a nice piece of meat in there.

Next, take your cracker and go to town on breaking the claw. There's no rhyme or reason on this one - you'll be eating whatever you pull out, whether you can pull the claw meat out in one piece or not.

You'll be left with the lobster's arm; use your cracker to break up the shell, and then use your pick (the pitch fork end) to dig around and pull out your meat. Every joint has a bite of goodness.

After you're finished enjoying the claw, get ready to tackle the tail. First, use your hands to twist the tail off. Put the body aside - you'll want that later.

At this point, I should mention lobster roe. Pictured below on the right, you'll notice a dark red substance in the middle of the lobster's body. That is lobster roe. Ranging between black and Play Doh red, roe is a waxy substance made of lobster eggs. Most people don't eat it. Andrew Zimmern does, if that gives you some perspective.

Okay. Lobster tail. This is when you'll need your knife. Use one hand to hold the tail (its curved shape can make it a bit difficult to cut), and use the other to guide your blade down the length of the inside of the tail.

This reminds me of the fetal pig, the frog and everything else about biology class.

Once you've cut your way down the inside of the tail, use some muscle to pull the shell off from around the meat.

This is when most people cash in and call it a night. Not so in New England.

There's still plenty of meat to be had.

Pull the top of the lobster's body off and get ready to dig in.

You'll notice some greenish, guacamole-looking stuff. That's called the tomalley. Again, Andrew Zimmern loves this stuff, but it's not my style.

After you remove the top, you'll notice the legs are attached to a mass of meat and shell.

Using your fingers, pull apart the shell and look for lumps of lobster meat. You can count on finding some sizable chunks at the base of each leg. Go from joint to joint and savor every last morsel.

Now, the legs might be the best way to separate a New Englander from everyone else.

Most people would leave the legs behind, but a New Englander knows there are strips of delicious lobster meat in each leg.

Rip apart the leg until you have a good portion disconnected at the joints. Putting the leg in your mouth,  rapidly bite down on it like you'd bite on a straw, and pull the meat out as you pull the leg shell out between your teeth.

Lobster is a delicious summer tradition that can be enjoyed with simple sides - boiled ears of corn and red potatoes are quite popular.

Four lobsters worth of leftovers! This is a larger sized container... 

When we enjoyed this meal in Connecticut, we'd typically cover our patio table with newspaper and pitch everything at the end of the night. A lobster dinner is pretty messy - hence the ratty T-shirts.

And that's why God invented cleaning sprays and paper towels.

We finished the meal with slices of lemon blueberry cake from the BonBonerie and sips of my homemade limoncello.

A spectacular finish to another successful family tradition.

Those are the moments that count.

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Kate's Random Musings by Kate the Great is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 United States License.

Thursday, July 25, 2013

Apropos of Nothing

How does something make you feel?

It's a question I've recently asked myself because I'm discovering more and more just how much the negative impacts the other pieces in my life.

That something can be a someone or a someplace. It can be a habit or an organization. Something can be a relationship or an obligation.

Life is full of little (and big) things that can affect that symbiotic relationship that is your universe.

I started chewing on this question because I was thinking about a commitment I made years and years ago. It was a commitment that used to be enriching and exciting, but over time has left me feeling empty and disappointed.

For a while I've harbored hard feelings about this commitment. It affected my social circle and how I spent my free time and money. I grew bitter about the void this commitment made me feel, and it felt more like an obligation than an opportunity.

And then I realized I was the one who held the power in my own life.

Rather than stewing about something that didn't make me feel good, I focused on what does make me happy. My closest friends make me happy. My home and neighborhood make me happy. My work makes me happy.

And I've reminded myself of other things that make me happy but happen to be missing in my life.

For more than a year I've stepped back from socializing. No more happy hours. No more crowded bars. I just don't need to see and be seen or work a room. But I've also dialed back on the intentional interactions.

I need to work harder at making those moments happen.

Running has returned to my life. Each morning, I dread putting on my gear and stepping outside for a trip around Downtown and OtR, but my racing heart and clear head quite appreciate the exercise.

What makes you feel bad?

Is it a relationship you need to change or address? Is it a habit you want to kick? Maybe it's a family obligation or funky office dynamic.

Whatever the case, think about how you want to improve the moment or experience, and confront it head on. If there's no hope in making a change, think about how you want to remove the situation entirely.

It could call for a relationship break-up, a move, a job change or other resignation. Those are really scary things sometimes. But by making a big change in your life, you open yourself up to new things that can make you feel good.

We each have the power to grow more good - in us, around us, and in others.

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Kate's Random Musings by Kate the Great is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 United States License.

Friday, July 12, 2013

Skiing in the Desert

Sand and luxury brands might be the first things that come to mind when considering Dubai.

The desert oasis has plenty of both - what with a vast expanse of arid surroundings and the largest mall in the world. Many come to Dubai to experience Arab culture and pick up the latest from Louis Vuitton or Chanel.

We came to ski.

Okay, it was not at the top of Scott's list of things to do, but I was keen on the surreal idea and knew we'd be interested in something to do because, well, there isn't a whole lot in Dubai. After a trip to a local fort/museum, the souks for gold and spices and a few other hot spots, tourists are left with only a gluttony of shopping destinations. And while I enjoy a stroll through a mall, I do not shop for sport like some women.

So. Ski Dubai. It was on my list of things to do. And oh, did we do it.

Fate tangled with us during this outing; the chair lift at Ski Dubai was disabled for annual maintenance, so we weighed our options: We could do skiing -or- the snow park (which includes a tubing run, the "Mountain Thriller" ice luge, and the huge human hamster ball aka Zorb Ball).

I was disappointed by the chair lift closure because I didn't want to start with a black diamond run, which is also served by a secondary rope pull. I'd hoped to warm up my skiing skills with a blue run before hitting black.

Management worked with us on pricing to allow both skiing and the snow park since the lift was closed - around $90 per person, including boots, snow pants and jacket, gloves and ski/pole rental. The hat in the pic below set me back about seven bucks.

Dubai in mid-May is hot and steamy, and dozens of hyper school children had decided to swarm Ski Dubai and its frigid temps on the same day. We queued with the little kids to enjoy the ice luge and tubing runs.

Kids of any nationality are apparently notorious for cutting in line.

Seeking refuge from little voices and lots of pushing, we decided to head toward the grown up-only Zorb Ball, a rolling, rumbling sphere that spins like a washing machine.

Next up in the Zorb Ball!

The video below shows you what it's like to be inside the washing machine. Mind you, it is very jerky because it was shot while I was rolling down a hill inside a plastic ball.

Scott says I am easily excitable, and this video 
and the one from the desert safari confirm it.

It was time to move on to the next chilly excursion after the Zorb Ball. I'd planned on skiing and Scott was scheduled for a one-on-one personal encounter with a real live penguin.

How cute.

Outfitted with some nice, tight Rossignols I headed toward the rope pull. It was not my finest moment. After letting the Europeans go ahead of me, the attendant gave me a :30 second primer on how to ride the pole with a disk.

Imagine having a frisbee attached to half a stripper pole, and putting said stripper pole/disc contraption between your legs, allowing said disc to pull your bum up a hill.

If it sounds complicated, that's because it is.

Slowly, I managed to glide up the hill, clinging to stripper pole/disc contraption and my two ski poles. I safely made it to the point when the hill became almost vertical in grade. And that's when I bit the dust and dropped to the icy snow pack.

A ski patrol assistant whooshed down to help me up. With no contraption to grab on to, she instructed me to ski down.

What?! "But I don't want to ski down the black diamond!" I simultaneously whined and whimpered.

Tough, she said. This is the only way down, and there's no way up.

I took a big gulp of the lump in my throat and assessed my strategy. This was not a time to lose control; I still had seven days of vacation to enjoy and didn't want to traipse through Bangkok on crutches.

Knowing I stood a better chance of going slow and steady across the run as opposed to down it, I pushed off, my Christmas tree-triangle form firmly cutting through icy snow.

A few nail biting minutes later, I was on the other side of the run, glancing up the hill and wondering about my next move.

And then the Arabs started whirling downhill.

Skiing in the Middle East is a novelty, and many UAE natives don't know the mechanics of this wintry sport. I was glad to be in their company, but knew we both lacked control of this snowy sport.

My quick math made it easy for me: I could try going down the rest of the Black Diamond, and I could try my best to do it safely, but I had no idea whether my fellow skiers would be able to do the same.

I snapped off the skis and decided to walk the rest of the way down.

So technically I did a black diamond in Dubai, but let's keep the rest of the details between you and me, mkay?

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Tuesday, July 02, 2013

Go Big or Go Home

Dating as a 30-something single woman can sometimes be a comical prospect.

My generation of women was groomed by those who shattered the glass ceiling. While our grandmothers settled for secondary jobs or housework, our mothers learned in the 60s and 70s that they could do anything.

And they did.

And so they raised us to believe we could, too. And while the previous generation toiled while trying to have it all - the big house, the big job, the big family - today's modern era of Working Women 2.0 realize we don't want it all. Because it can't really be had all at once. It can't. There's just not enough of us to go around (unless you have help, and good on you if you do, but the rest of us don't).

So some of us have spent more time on the front end working on our careers, plotting strategic moves, investing in local civic efforts. We've made money, invested money, seen the world, won awards, fostered new ideas. We've used our time to do big things.

All that time has left us behind the curve where coupling up and having families is concerned.

And that's okay.

But just as we have high expectations for our professional and civic endeavors, we continue to hold on to stellar ideals for our male counterparts. Driven, adventurous, engaging - we expect our partners to see us and raise us in the poker game of success.

And that makes for a lot of weeding out. A few observations from real-life experiences that have been shared with me:

1. We are not sugar mamas. We do not want to take care of you, pick up every check, shower you with gifts and give you zero-limit credit cards, so please don't expect it. You are not on our personal payroll. It's not our job to wine-and-dine you.

2. We have our shit together, and you should, too. We are not here to mother you, encourage you, or push you. If your life isn't squared away, perhaps you should forgo the dating world to get your personal matters in order. Please do not enter a relationship with the expectation we will fix everything.

3. While men may incorrectly perceive us to be desperate because of our age and marital status, let me affirm it is quite the contrary. Please do not believe that our age and marital status are indications we're willing to settle for a relationship with just anyone. We have high ideals - if we didn't, we'd be hitched right now. Many of us ladies prefer singleness over a less-than-worthy relationship. See also: Duracell's annual sales figures.

4. We still believe in the old fashioned ideals of courtship. Yes, we modern women can slay dragons in the boardroom, but we still want to be wooed. Please do not believe forging a relationship with us is easy; you have to make an investment of time and effort to afford anything valuable, and what's more precious than love?

5. Anything worth anything takes work. Relationships require commitment and effort by both parties involved. If it was easy, there'd be far less divorce and far more happy couples. Don't take us for granted, don't take our interest for granted, and please don't take us for granted (so important it should be mentioned twice).

Every relationship is a gamble, but many single women (myself included) are willing to take our chances and hold out for the big win.

And until that happens, we are having a hell of a time on our own.

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Thursday, June 20, 2013

Seven Star Supper

The check came it at, per person, almost as much as the rent for my first apartment in Cincinnati.

And the total was less than a hundred bucks more than my current rent.

Rent is a good bellwether to determine just how valuable an experience or opportunity is to you when traveling. Cafe and croissant for four euro in Paris? Good deal.

But it was a tasting menu involving six different restaurants, and we both knew we'd probably never again visit Dubai.

A once-in-a-lifetime meal for a once-in-a-lifetime trip, and I'd really pinched pennies - skipping happy hours and dinners out for cheap wine and black beans at home.

It was time to dig in and savor what I saved for.

We hopped in a cab at our hotel and the taxi driver said he was excited to make the trip to the Burj al Arab; tourists are not allowed to even enter the hotel unless they pay $75 per person, so few cabbies make the trek.

The Burj al Arab bills itself as the only seven-star hotel in the world. It is opulent. Glimmering like it was touched by Midas himself, the hotel boasts that all that glitters is, indeed, gold. And gold is everywhere.

We stepped in the lobby, adorned with colorful furnishings and a sculpted ceiling reminiscent of the golden halos inside Cincinnati's Union Terminal.

After ascending a staircase beside a cascading waterfall, we were escorted to an elevator to ride to the 27th floor of the Burj.

We stepped out and a host led us to a low table along the glass, allowing us to enjoy our first venue - the Skyview Bar, where we enjoyed craft cocktails while gazing at the twinkling lights along Dubai's coastline.

I went with the Dubai Dreams (foreground), made with Bombay Sapphire Gin, Chambord, elderflower syrup, fresh lemon juice, black grapes and kaffir lime leaves. It was a sweeter, fruity take on a standard G&T.

Scott went with the Desert Daisy (background), made with Jose Cuervo, Orange Curacao, fresh lemon juice and hibiscus syrup. We both agreed it was a dressed up margarita.

After drinks and nutty nibbles, we were escorted to the dining room on the other side of the brightly colorful space. The Al Muntaha (which means The Ultimate or The Top in Arabic) offers modern European cuisine in a well appointed space. A quaint jazz quartet softly played as we perused the menu and enjoyed bread and pats of salted and unsalted butter.

Scott and I have been travel buddies for years and have adopted a standard of dining some may find a bit odd: we choose different dishes and switch plates mid course. I don't know how Emily Post would feel about this, but I'll bet you a bottle of Chardonnay that Julia Child would approve wholeheartedly.

This restaurant was serving up starters, and we settled on a selection of ceviche of Tasmanian salmon with green mango and papaya salad and hand-cut Wagyu beef tartare with spicy polenta streusel and Kristal caviar. For beverage selections, we both went with champers - Louis Roderer Brut Premier NV.

After our first bit of noshing, we moseyed on to the Al Iwan, a very ornately decorated restaurant that was swathed in crimson drapes and golden touches everywhere.

After a nice chat with our Russian server (well over 20 percent of the people in Dubai are foreign nationals working abroad), we selected a meal of foie gras escalope, with braised red cabbage and caramelized cantaloupe melon:

This foie dish was one of our favorites of the whole evening

Our other dish featured jumbo prawns and sea scallops with beetroot, hummus, labneh, and moutabel, which is a spicy Middle Eastern eggplant dip:

Before we dashed out of this third spot, I had to make a trip to the water closet. I don't typically remark on restrooms, but the opulence of the space compelled me to snap a photo.

Every restroom in the hotel had an attendant whose sole responsibility, aside from straightening up and wiping away water, was ensuring these hand towel pyramids were replenished at all times.

The counter tops were embedded with bits of pearly shell and featured bottles of Hermes-branded liquid hand soap.

Well, I guess that's where all the money goes, huh?

We journeyed on to Junsui, which was billed as featuring a stylish dining room and 12 cook stations. We felt it was more like a basement dining room where hotel guests grab breakfast before hitting tourist hot spots.

The dining room wasn't worth any photo ops, but the wine glasses were. Scott and I had never seen these unusually shaped glasses - each with a point jutting out from the center of the bowl. We both are well traveled and well dined (he more so on both accounts) and we felt like rubes for not recognizing the stemware.

The server said the points help aerate the wine a bit better. I don't know about that, but we sure enjoyed their unusual appearance (along with the massive size of the glasses).

For our meal, we selected two dishes: smoked Wagyu beef maki roll, and crispy Peking duck with leek and cucumber, hoisin sauce and pancake.

Scott and I are both fans of red meat, and the Wagyu beef at both Junsui and Al Iwan was dynamite. Tender, flavorful. I could have had second and third helpings.

Instead, it was on to Al Mahara for the showstopper dining room of the evening.

Another elevator, a few steps past the Burj's shisha lounge, and we were led to a table beside a massive aquarium.

The photo doesn't really do this aquarium justice; the entire dining room is built around this massive floor-to-ceiling vessel, which is stocked with plenty of colorful fish from around the world.

The most notable fish is a green creature named George. He's a Napoleon fish, or humphead wrasse; the former nickname because of the flourish on his forehead.

The server told us George is known to make his way from table to table, greeting diners as they gaze at their menu of seafood selections.

Rather than select a third Wagyu beef option, we went with one dish of Atlantic wild turbot cooked in vine leaves, with a vegetable blanquette, cep relish (mushrooms), and tapioca.

Our second dish featured lamb rack and saddle roasted with raz el hanout - a Moroccan spice blend of more than 30 herbs and spices - and served with plum and orange blossom chutney, braised fennel and dried fruit.

One thing to note about the lamb is that it was served with a little brush of bound herbs and a savory sauce that allowed you to dress your meal to your liking. We were both amused by the feature and had a fun time giving it a full workout.

We exchanged sad goodbyes with George and traipsed by the shisha lounge once again, ready for dessert.

Full coffee and tea service was served in the center atrium of the Burj. One thing I enjoy about fancy schmancy restaurants is the pomp and circumstance of many accoutrement... and coffee service had plenty of them.

For dessert, we chose kumquat confit and baked cream served with manjari chocolate and salted caramel ice cream:

And caramelized hazelnut dacquoise, with milk gianduja chocolate mousse and bourbon ice cream:

We selected snifters of Remy Martin Grand Cru VS cognac to finish out a luxurious and hearty evening.

A delightful, leisurely dinner under our belts (or Spanx in my case), we were grateful for a remarkable opportunity to experience something truly special.

Floor-to-ceiling panorama shot of the Burj al Arab

We both agreed the evening was a little rich for our blood, but it's an experience we'll both never forget. Dinner for two at $880 (including alcohol and tip) should really serve up something out of this world. The Burj's atmosphere, while opulent and extravagant, misses the mark and comes across as Disney World for the Rich.

And maybe some people are okay with that.

A bit garish for my taste

The food was good in places and weak in others, but for the most part we were fat and happy when we left.

In New York, London, Paris, a remarkable meal could be had for half that, allowing you to enjoy more on your vacation or snatch up a few souvenirs.

Speaking of, more on the rest of our trip - Bangkok - to come...

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