Dominic’s Big Review of 2018

Annual Review

This was a big year. Not only was it my final year living in Chicago – and working for Groupon – but it also ended with Randi and I packing up and beginning our travels in South America.

January
After a nostalgic New Year’s Eve at Josh and Anna’s flat I landed back in Chicago on New Year’s Day without a coat, hat or gloves. [Cue montage sequence at REI where I bulked up for my final Midwestern winter.] Later in the month I saw the future governor of Illinois make his pitch alongside rival candidates at a townhall meeting and met Randi’s cousin (and soon-to-be Chicagoan) Arielle for the first time. I also shared a friendly Friday night with the forensics officer who came to investigate our apartment break-in. It turns out that American police will not accept cups of tea, though.

My last Chicago winter
My last Chicago winter

February
My strongest February memory is from Ashley and Erik’s Super Bowl party. I was sitting on their sofa, eating their chilli cheese and chatting to a fellow Hillary phonebanker when I said how pleasantly surprising it was that everything was working out just fine with Trump as President. He didn’t agree and I had to wait awkwardly for my British sarcasm to show. Close runner-up memories: my awesome surprise weekend in Atlanta courtesy of Randi, which included Jimmy Carter’s terrible Oval Office furniture, the church where Martin Luther King preached, a crazy man on our CNN tour and MARTA. Hurray for MARTA, the Metropolitan Atlanta Rapid Transit Authority!  Later we also visited Randi’s family in Dallas and toured the only “book depository” anyone has heard of. We also saw Icarus (crazy Russian doping!) and – television highlight of the year? – the BBC’s documentary on IKEA. (Don’t mock, it was really good.)

March
I spent a chunk of March in California, beginning in Palo Alto for work and then moving to San Francisco where I saw Weightless with Jamie, hung out with Jonah’s family and accidentally scared Nolan’s roommates into thinking that I was breaking in. Finally I flew to Yorba Linda for Randi’s mum’s surprise 60th birthday party and narrowly escaped being mauled by a bobcat. Meanwhile, in Chicago, we drank goodbye to McKenna and Rusty (oh, the giant pretzel!), spent a morning in Evanston with Melissa and Rudy, celebrated Catherine’s birthday at Geja’s and introduced Grace and Charlotte to all of our Chicago dinner staples.

April
We started April with a combined Easter and Passover brunch (I ate most of the chocolate) before a little light Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri at Joe and Julie’s. The other really good film we saw this month was The Other Side of Everything about Serbian activist Srbijanka Turajlińá, after which she made a guest appearance. I also wrote a cathartic essay to Jewel, saw Ed Miliband at a University of Chicago event and spent my accumulated Groupon Bucks on a weekend in Milwaukee. Highlights there included the Domes, the cheese, the Chudnow Museum, the surprise birthday party which the hotel struggled to hide from their electronic board in the foyer and – of course – the amazing Forged In Fire: Knife or Death.

Our flatmate Amanda at Randi's surprise birthday party
Our flatmate Amanda at Randi’s surprise birthday party

May
One night – I don’t remember exactly when – Randi, Amanda and I had let ourselves into the empty apartment opposite to nose around. It turned out to be lovely and spacious, and by May we had successfully persuaded our landlord to let us move across the hallway. This upgrade was soon put to good use hosting our best-attended Eurovision party to date. Other achievements in May were seeing Haim at the Aragon Ballroom and somehow beating Marte at Mario Kart. But the biggest thing of all was Randi’s surprise 25th birthday party at Carnivale, which had involved a lot of lying / organising / secret meetings with Catherine and AJ in the lead-up, but came off very successfully!

The dance which would never end...
The dance which would never end…

June
My last Chicago summer! As usual, it was a busy time and included rock climbing with Catherine and AJ, a swim in the Pulaski Park pool, a brief reunion with Jonah, burgers at Au Cheval with Gonzalo and Francisco and a failed baseball outing with Toggolyn and Kevin. We hosted Christa, throwing in the Incredible Burger at Kuma’s and Death by Chocolate at Improv Shakespeare, and were the very first guests at Francisco and Carolina’s new home where they fed us Chilean hot dogs and vetted our South American plans. I had not one but two birthday dinners: at the terrifying Red Square (for nostalgia purposes) and the amazing Spacca Napoli. I also went back to Palo Alto – this time with Robert and Shelby – and satisfied my curiosity by wandering around Google’s Mountain View campus. Randi and I also flew to Charlottesville for Chelsea’s wedding where we stayed with our mutual friend Villy and toured Monticello. Afterwards, Randi and I hung out with her cousin Ben in DC and passed judgements at the National Portrait Gallery. Finally, I will remember June as the month where (a) Todd showed me Terminator, and (b) I caved and purchased a ridiculously large Dominion box. A great purchase decision, even if it is currently stranded in Chicago ūüėģ

July
The World Cup moved up a gear in July and we persuaded Elana and Steve to join us for England’s victorious quarter-final match against Sweden. Things did not go so well at the semi-final and at an (otherwise lovely) morning at Karol’s I laid my football interest to rest for another four years after the unhappy play-off against Belgium. You know who was a winner in July? Me, in a game of Catan with Chloe and Aaron – that never happens! This month we also tried Gloomhaven with Jason and Carrie plus a whole host of other games at Joe and Julie’s, celebrated 4th July at Robert’s, saw Ocean’s 8 with Ellen and Lou and rode the new Navy Pier Ferris Wheel with Randi’s cousins from Philadelphia. Francisco patiently answered all of my Spanish questions over WhatsApp, Randi was mistaken for Millie Bobby Brown at Margie’s Candies, I absolutely loved The Pirates of Penzance and our flat had many nights in with Mrs. Maisel. I also saw Incredibles 2 with Amanda, Terminator 2 with Toggolyn and Three Identical Strangers at the Music Box Theatre. There was my final work trip to Palo Alto for an offsite, while in Chicago we finally made it to a Steppenwolf play (The Roommate) and also Devon Street after Randi practised her camerawork on Loyola Beach. Finally, there was a very popular video of me killing a fly. I killed many flies in July, but this one in particular was pretty special.

The incredible Grand Teton National Park
The incredible Grand Teton National Park

August
A few Chicago things took place in August, including Erik and Ashley’s block party (where I think we detained their state senator for a good 45 minutes), Mamma Mia: Here We Go Again and a stroll through Humboldt Park with Carolina and Poncho. But the majority of the month, and a real highlight of the year, was our trip to Yellowstone and Grand Teton national parks. Randi and I were joined by both of our mothers in the brightest green Jeep you’ve ever seen on an amazing journey of lakes, caverns, geysers, bear spray and Huckleberry ice cream. The hikes in Grand Teton were our absolute favourite and after many, many family holidays which my mum had planned for me it felt good to invite her on a trip where everything had already been worked out. Including the Idaho Potato Museum. I also want to note that Randi and I cleverly left ourselves an extra weekend day after we got back home so we could blog about it all.

Behind the scenes
Behind the scenes

September
As our departure date crept closer, I invested in some travelling luxuries. So I went back to REI for an afternoon of packing and re-packing weights into bags until I found my perfect backpack and handed over my life savings to Apple in exchange for an iPhone XS. I also saw Daryl’s niece Zoe while she was in Chicago, hung out with Karol (for curry) and Zak (for cocktails) and celebrated Amanda’s birthday on the bow of a boat, listening to the soundtrack from The Greatest Showman and mocking Randi’s ghostly night circus which, embarrassingly, turned out to be real. Later we had a last meal at La Scarola with Amanda and Michael – a place which has a very fond place in my heart. We also saw my cousin Alix in The Wife, bookended by British lunches and desserts at the Duke of Perth, and posed a lot on the Blue Line for our photoshoot. Finally, we spent a weekend in AJ’s home town of Hartland where I learned to drive (a lawnmower) and spent hours in the world’s most elaborate corn maze. I was also disturbed to learn that parents of American high school football players aren’t allowed to keep up their spirits by drinking while they stand in the cold and watch the Homecoming game.

October
In October we got our first set of vaccinations for travelling and I started to tell more people that I was leaving, including at John’s cosy Groupon evening (where alas I arrived too late for the chickens) and over multiple Motel drinks. Mike and Melissa visited Chicago just in time, and together we saw Free¬†Solo and Quantum¬†Shark at Improv Shakespeare. I also enjoyed Crazy¬†Rich¬†Asians with Amanda, the start of Jodie Whittaker‚Äôs first season of Doctor¬†Who (together with our neighbourly Doctor¬†Who/Bake¬†Off watching group!), an evening of 2nd¬†Story and a trip to the Garfield Park Conservatory. Two other important highlights: winning an escape room (on a team organised by Toggolyn) and arguing about the nature of Jesus with Catherine over fondue. If you don’t think evangelical telephone helplines would be useful in your life, you haven’t lived.

November
And so it was finally here… my last month in Chicago, where I’d lived since June 2014. Randi and I had our last visitors to the city (the Moffitts) with whom we visited the funky Wndr Museum and saw our last Improv Shakespare (What¬†I¬†Learned¬†From¬†My¬†Dog). I went to my last Groupon All Hands meeting (featuring Tiffany Haddish!) and then had my very last day at work followed by a leaving party at Revolution Brewery. Not forgetting my last corn beef hash (with blue cheese) at Windy City Caf√©! We made latkes and lefse with Catherine and AJ, saw The¬†Crimes¬†of¬†Grindleward with Arielle, left a bunch of stuff at Robert and Julie’s house (sorry!) and then one Monday morning I said goodbye to Amanda and flew home with many bags. While in London I managed an overnight stay in Chelmsford to see Abbi, Paul and Jack, a night with Cat and Matt, a Themes & Sources pub catch-up, brunch with Simon, random sibling fun and also learnt all about the pen licensing system at Salusbury Primary School.

Travelling life
Travelling life

December
Oliver and Abi’s wedding was so much fun and made me so happy. Together with fancy themed tea with Catherine and AJ it was the perfect note to leave London on and begin travelling. The rest of my December has been pretty extensively blogged already! Randi and I started in Lima, Peru and worked our way down to Chile, spending Christmas in Santiago with Francisco and Carolina’s family and ending the year in Puerto Varas in Chile’s Lake District. A particular highlight of December was our stop in San Pedro de Atacama, where we floated in salt lagoons in the middle of the desert and spent a night looking through telescopes at the stars.

2019 will definitely be a strange one. We still have a lot of travelling left, but what exactly I will be writing about at the end of my 2019 annual review is anyone’s guess. In the meantime, have an amazing new year!

We’re still here! It’s time to celebrate another year without a global nuclear war initiated on Twitter.

Kicking off 2017 in Quito

Kicking off 2017 in Quito

January
On the first day of 2017 I woke up in Ecuador, and rode a gondola up the Pichincha volcano to admire the megacity of Quito below. These were the final few days of our South America trip, and an amazing way to start the year. Back home in Chicago the highlight was playing games of Secret Hitler in which Chloe was basically always Hitler. Randi and I also saw the surreal Psychonaut Librarians and thumbed nervously through pocket constitutions. I also took my first work trip to Palo Alto and hung out with Jamie, Paul and Lori.

February
We saw Hamilton in February! And it was Non-Stop for the rest of the month too, during which I finally got My Shot to introduce Todd to the Doctor (the original, you might say) and – although I should have been Satisfied to watch the first three Indiana Jones movies, because people told me That Would Be Enough – we also saw Kingdom of the Crystal Skull. Indeed, Toggolyn’s living room really was The Room Where It Happens in February, throwing its doors open for another salon on The Godfather. What Comes Next? Second City with Villy and her mum, a trip to Starved Rock State Park with Randi and her mum, a game night with Robert and Emilie where we finally introduced them to (Wait For It) Carcassonne, a lovely Valentine’s Day at La Scarola and a play about the mathematician Ramanujan, A Disappearing Number, which threatened to Blow Us All Away with its crazy divergent infinite series. (So keen were some people to Say No To This that Katie had to intervene in the ensuing Hurricane.)

March
In sunny Florida I basked in high school sports and free sun cream (seriously, can’t get enough of that sun cream) but also seriously confused suburbanites by walking on human legs. Later, in Colorado, those same human legs took me hiking in Boulder with Jason and roaming around downtown Denver. When not gallivanting around the country we welcomed Francisco to Chicago for the first time, Grace for a brief return visit, and reunited with the wonderful Billy and Taylor for one glorious night. We also gloated over the first of oh-so-many failed Obamacare repeal attempts (the novelty wore off eventually), met¬†Bassem Youssef at a showing of¬†Tickling Giants and watched¬†Spotlight¬†and¬†Gladiator. I’m not writing Randi’s Big Review of 2017, but if I was, I’d imagine that last one was probably the highlight of the year.

Giant Meeple

Giant Meeple

April
If you want your religious ceremony to endure into the secular age, you could do worse than throwing in a scavenger hunt element. I spent a painfully long time hunting the¬†Afikoman at Passover, and in return I hid a gazillion Easter eggs in the garden for Randi, Jason and Carrie to uncover. Meanwhile, Randi’s dad came to town and cursed the Cubs, strangers at the Adler Planetarium awkwardly ensnared us into their foody board game, Todd followed up on his word by screening¬†The Godfather Part II and we finally went to Kingston Mines. We also saw the satanic¬†Scapegoat, cheered Bill’s arrival into¬†Doctor Who at a big-screen viewing (WE LOVE YOU BILL) and visited Toronto with my parents! (Canada: home of Niagara Falls, ice wine and vegetarian hot dog stands on every corner.) But most significantly of all, Catherine and AJ surprised us with giant meeples. Giant meeples. If you want your religious ceremony to really thrive in the secular age, giant meeples are the way to go.

New Mexico: one of my favourite trips this year

New Mexico: one of my favourite trips this year

May
One running theme of 2017 was just how smoothly Brexit negotiations went. Barely a day went by without European governments falling over themselves to grant special favours to the UK, and to celebrate this spirit of togetherness we ramped up our Eurovision celebrations with two mini semi-final parties and then a special final watching party in Lake Geneva. I went back to Palo Alto (actually staying in Palo Alto this time), enjoyed Howl’s Moving Castle, ruined Randi’s birthday by ordering the same main course as her (not really) and kicked off a three-month Improv Shakespeare run with Ellen, Emilie and The Mariner’s Mistake. Randi and I also travelled to my 25th state, New Mexico, taking in Albuquerque and Santa Fe and with an especially great stop to clamber up and down a bunch of ladders at the Bandelier National Monument.

June
“Come watch a British election!” I said. “It’ll be a boring, predictable and depressing result”, I said, “but at least you’ll see a parliamentary system deliver strong government”. With these bald-faced lies I lured James into joining yet another David Dimbleby marathon in June, a month in which we also got locked out of a car in Michigan, saw The 39th at a film festival, went to war with the ants in our flat and sold Chicago to Rhi with Kingston Mines and Like It, Love It, You‚Äôve Gotta Have It. I also tucked into hearty Polish comfort food with Karol, watched Wonder Woman with Toggolyn and visited Philadelphia with Randi and Mike – a trip which included a wonderful lunch with the Youmans, an underwhelming return to the Liberty Bell and some unexpected blessings. Also, for my 28th birthday, Katie unleashed Dominion on our apartment, and things have never been the same since.

Photos from Dominion could illustrate many months

Photos from Dominion could illustrate many months

July
We spent an intensely relaxing 4th July in Yorba Linda with Randi’s family. (Brief relaxation exceptions: whizzing down the pool slide, holding my breath in the¬†Doctor Who¬†finale and that moment when Randi’s dad almost punched a sleazy guy at an Angels game.) I also caught up with beloved Glamily members Jackie and Jeff in LA. Elsewhere in the country – Indiana, to be precise – we spent a day on the dunes, but didn’t bring our handguns, and also took a failed trip to the Whoa Zone. I also brushed up on my ‘thoughtful films’ repertoire with¬†Following¬†and¬†A Most Wanted Man, saw Pilgrims¬†and¬†¬†The School for Lies¬†in the theatre, completed my Improv Shakespeare trilogy (The Licentious¬†Wink) and kayaked down the Chicago River at night.

August
My extended family is loud. I guess that’s not so unusual. But what I remember most vividly from August, when I flew home for my Grandpa’s final few days – and then his funeral – were the nights around his hospital bed, talking more softly than usual and losing track of time. I recognise that everyone else had been there for weeks already, and were exhausted. I’m just glad I made it. And, of course, London was as brilliant and beautiful as ever. I drank with Josh, breakfasted with Sophie, lunched with Christa and Amy, reunited with Monty for tea in posh Hampstead and slept on the sofa of actual-real-life-homeowners Cat and Matt. I also saw the whole Cooper clan in Norfolk, accidentally introduced Randi to her new love (fish pasanda) and – very excitingly – reunited Team Adipose for the time-strapped Time Run sequel. And if all that wasn’t enough, August in Chicago involved the world’s absolute funniest silly string surprise at Carolyn’s belated birthday party,¬†Memento, a glass blowing workshop, my first American football game and a solar eclipse! (OK, the solar eclipse was completely obscured by clouds. You can’t have everything.)

September
If I had to list my top three achievements in September they would be, in ascending order: helping to get James assassinated twice during¬†Secret Hitler, redesigning this blog, and finding some fish pasanda for Randi in Chicago. We also celebrated Amanda’s birthday, saw The Audience,¬†went to the Museum of Science and Industry’s ‘After Hours’ event, hung out on McKenna’s rooftop and dined at fancy, colourful Carnivale. Also this month, Cat and Matt received their very own mystery box, I received a custom rap track about dominicself.co.uk and Randi received the ultimate gift of getting to watch¬†Oklahoma!¬†for the very first time.

It's apple picking time!

It’s apple picking time!

October
Cat visited in October! Together we went apple picking, corn mazing, Jack-o’-lantern viewing and ate a lot of diner food. This month I also had some surprisingly fun business presentation training in Palo Alto, saw¬†Blade Runner 2049¬†with James and did not die of dysentery playing the Oregon Trail. We also saw one of my favourite plays of the year, 1980 (Or Why I’m Voting for John Anderson), met Bernard Edward (dispensing wise parenting advice with a copy of¬†Not Now, Bernard) and saw MisterWives in concert.

November
I firmly believe that the season of mulled wine should be officially inaugurated on Bonfire Night, and we made this happen on 5th November along with a Cat-inspired mountain of potato, sausages and beans. James left for Berlin in a blaze of karaoke, Katie and Brandon popped by Chicago, Ellen’s Master of Peppers left us (as usual) full-to-bursting with chilli, we briefly lived an alternate grown-up life in Robert and Julie’s house with Willow (it was weird: the wine and nice furniture inspired me to put some soft classical music on) and celebrated Thanksgiving in California with gingerbread turkeys and mulled wine batch #2. And on returning home, mulled wine batch #3 at a screening of¬†Voyeur¬†plus the beginnings of Christmas decorations…

Christmas in London

Christmas in London

December
We wrapped up the year in Chicago with a couple of films:¬†The Room¬†plus¬†The Disaster Artist,¬†Star Wars: The Last Jedi¬†and, in preparation for Vienna,¬†The Third Man. And then, after popping off to Palo Alto once last time (three cheers for the Impossible Burger!) we set off for our Christmas holidays: Vienna, Bratislava, London and the Peak District. Indeed, I am finishing off this review from a warm pub in the snowy village of Hope. Highlights of the trip so far have included¬†Oslo¬†(an enlightening play about the Middle East peace process), Carolyn’s Christmas dinner, getting through hosting the Christmas Quiz, a Boxing Day family walk on the Heath and our hike to Mam Tor. And I am looking forward to New Year’s Eve!

Wishing everyone a happy new year and a rewarding 2018!

Let’s be honest. For the world as a whole,¬†2016 will not be remembered as a vintage year. But if the world is ending, then all the more reason to celebrate my crisscrossing of it¬†while it was still there. Here’s my annual review!

Clambering at the Wentworth Falls

Clambering at the Wentworth Falls

January
As 2015 passed into 2016, I was asleep in California. Apologies for the slow start here. Later on in January I tried and failed to escape from a CTA-themed escape room adventure, watched an unhealthy sibling relationship dissected in Bruise Easy and almost poisoned Kevin and Grace with out-of-date vegetable broth. Sorry! It was a good time to escape cold Chicago and head to Sydney for Claire and Mitesh’s wedding. Family reunions aside, my favourite Australian experience was my day in the Blue Mountains, before I flew to Wellington and geeked out with the wonderful Jen.

February
My all-too-brief journey around New Zealand continued with Christchurch, a¬†train across the South Island, beach-friendly Hokitika (home to my favourite airport in the world)¬†and finally¬†Auckland,¬†Tiritiri Matangi Island and – most importantly – The Shire! Back at home, Randi and I hung out with her mum at the Art Institute’s Van Gogh exhibit, saw my favourite play of the year – Byhalia, Mississippi – and visited St. Louis, including the incredible City Museum, with Jason. More ominously, with the benefit of hindsight, we also spent pancake day watching the New Hampshire primary with Catherine and AJ while flipping pancakes and laughing. Oops.

Snowmobiling

Snowmobiling

March
I saw a bunch of good shows in March: ineffectual-corporate-superhero dance troupe Trip The Light Fantastic, classic¬†Othello, the first half of¬†creepy Interrogation¬†– the conclusion had to wait¬†– and the wonderful¬†Chvrches. In between, Kevin left for LA and we played a lot of Fibbage with Toggolyn. I also began corresponding with the elusive owner of Columbus’ Curry. But the highlight of the month was our jaunt to Iceland with my family, especially the steamy public baths and¬†snowmobiling over the snowy plains!

April
This was the month I caved and bought an iPhone. That bombshell is probably enough to stop, but just for good measure, it was also the month I finally saw the first¬†Indiana Jones film. Also in April:¬†Marti’s¬†Mai Dang Lao, building a hardy spaceship at the Adler Planetarium, and reuniting with¬†Lauri over drinks.¬†Sam Carter visited Chicago and discovered¬†burgers at Kuma’s, we enjoyed musical improv group¬†The Deltones¬†with Karol, and Randi and I spent a weekend with Rachel in Providence where – amongst other things – we saw and loved¬†Zootopia. (Apparently known as¬†Zootropolis¬†in the UK…. who knew?)

Llama problems

Llama problems

May
One of my favourite trips this year was to Memphis, which I booked as a surprise for Randi’s birthday.¬†We travelled on the overnight Amtrak in a cosy roomette, stayed at the fancy duck-themed Peabody Hotel and generally had a wonderful time. But we were especially spoiled in May because we also went to Ohio with Jason: eating at Yats, ziplining at Hocking Hills and losing llamas. In Chicago, I saw my first Cubs game at Wrigley Field with Todd and Carolyn, enjoyed the immersive storytelling at¬†Even Longer and Farther Away¬†and threw a successful Eurovision party with a bunch of first-time Eurovision newbies.

June
As usual, June breaks this¬†format because too much happens to be succinct. There were a plethora of overseas visitors to Chicago – including the famous Malaysian couple Robert and Julie – and we herded most of them to a White Sox game (Steven: “why are they wearing black socks?”).¬†Alex, Nolan and Kevin¬†all said farewell (yes, if you’re following closely, that’s Kevin’s second turn) while Carrie invited us to ‘review’¬†Ethiopian food with her¬†and [drumroll] Randi graduated! This freed her up for a big family holiday to Ireland and the UK, which I met in York in time for Caroline’s amazing wedding. For my birthday we¬†migrated from York to¬†Willesden Green to Sanzio (try the gorgonzola gnocchi) and then over two weeks rolled on to:¬†The Invisible Hand at the Tricycle, News Revue,¬†Harry Potter and the Cursed Child, Maggie Jones’s, Brick Lane and climbing the O2. Plus I met¬†up with Cat and Matt, Daryl and Ermila, Oliver and Abi, Simon, Christa, Clark, Melissa and – joyously – Abbi and newborn Jack as well as Josh and slightly-less-newborn Isaac. Oh, and I voted in person for Britain to remain in the EU. As you may have heard, this was an unsuccessful play.

Moving day

Moving day

July
I know what you’re thinking: that was a nice London list, but where was the London Transport Museum? No fear, we ticked this off in July with Randi’s friend Villy, as well as an old-fashioned Kilburn High Road night out with Josh and Anna. And I finally (finally!) got to meet Cindy, who is awesome, before flying back to Chicago and then trying to find somewhere to live and somebody to live with me and Randi. Amanda agreed to join us despite being taken to dinner at a creepy bathhouse,¬†which we’re still very grateful for. Amidst all this, I was lucky enough to go to Tokyo for work¬†and for great food with Robert and Julie. On my return, Randi went on a killing spree¬†on an Iowan murder mystery night and we ducked under the¬†Maquoketa Caves. Also in July: 12 Angry Men, Lauri and Calvin’s birthdays and lots of Race for the Galaxy.

August
Settling into our new home, we christened the place with¬†games of¬†Would I Lie To You, lots of Olympics and Robot Wars on TV and – most importantly – putting together our king-size bed. (So much space! Never go back.)¬†Taking advantage of the summer to swim and play pool games in Jason’s pool and Pulaski Park, we also saw two Cubs games with Todd and Carolyn at Wrigley Field as they continued their [spoiler alert] historic season. I also saw¬†Star Trek Beyond,¬†This Beautiful City,¬†The 7th Annual Living Newspaper Festival, a thought-provoking Edward Tufte lecture and – as I mentioned back in March – got a resolution to¬†Interrogation after getting my hands on the script. Carolyn’s friend Beric stopped by for lunch, Randi’s new job merited dinner at¬†Summer House Santa Monica, and at the end of the month Simon and Steve reached Chicago on their marathon American journey.

After the river raft ride

After the river raft ride

September
After a few days together in Chicago, including a night of Improv Shakespeare, we set off with Simon and Steve on the next leg of their roadtrip to the Minnesota State Fair. After a night in Madison (highlights: our Laotian dinner and Simon’s sad air mattress inflation) and many, many renditions of I Feel Like Jeremy Corbyn we arrived at the fair, and it was AMAZING. There was so much there, but my top two were (a) the cheese curds, and (b) the river raft ride. Also in September we hosted Randi’s mum, had brunch with Karol at Windy City and saw a tense Orioles vs. Blue Jays game at a bar with Robert, Todd and Carolyn. I also saw Nolan again, met Debra and Andrew, discovered that Chloe and Aaron are big fans of Indian food and played a lot – I mean a lot – of Carcassonne. And Plants vs. Zombies 2.

October
With the election drawing closer we did a couple of phone banking sessions at Debra’s, during which I chatted with some very nice conservative women in Nevada but avoided talking to one very angry voicemailer from Cincinnati. We also saw a bunch of plays (Merge,¬†The Rhode Island Chapter,¬†The City of Conversation¬†and¬†The Last Wife), defended ourselves against Chloe’s betrayal at the House on the Hill and travelled to Omaha (where we spent a great night in a bar with Cubs fans as they advanced to the World Series) and San Francisco. The latter was primarily for a wedding at City Hall, but it was also especially great to¬†go to Jamie and Paul’s house and meet another new cousin: Lori, their newly confident walker.

Stronger together

Stronger together

November
You may have noticed some story arcs simmering away in my 2016 review, and in November two of them came to a climax. Firstly, the Cubs won the World Series! We watched this in a great room at the back of a brewery with James, Lauren and friends. And then Trump won the Presidency, which we lived through after four days of campaigning in Toledo. At least with the election over we got Catherine back in our lives, and other great things this month included: The Power of the Daleks on the big screen, Four Lions with James, bangers and mash with Luis, a game of Pandemic, some great improv comedy, Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them and Arrival. But the best part of November was Thanksgiving РI made my cauliflower cheese! Рand our trip to sunny Charleston (or Charles Towne) for the long weekend afterwards.

December
If all goes to plan, this post will auto-publish as I recover from a successful 4-day trek to¬†Machu Picchu in Peru.¬†It will certainly be a contrast to snowy Chicago in which we spent December decorating for Chrismukkah, judging¬†chillies at Ellen’s Master of Peppers contest and loving¬†every minute of¬†Planet Earth II. I also saw¬†Rogue One¬†this month, plus Nolan and friends for another brief reappearance in the city,¬†before we left for our flight to Cusco on Christmas Eve. Not the most typical of Christmases, but a worthy conclusion to another year with plenty of adventures.

Time for 2016 to be over, I think. Happy new year!

Never¬†knowing how long I will be here, this year I wanted to take full advantage of living in Chicago. Not just as a city¬†(although just count the number of plays below!)¬†but also as a base to explore the rest of the country. I think I did pretty well…

January
I celebrated New Year (Central Time)¬†with frighteningly hot punch at¬†Saujanya’s – a necessary antidote after Randi risked hypothermia walking there¬†with bare legs – and won good luck for 2015 by eating¬†Hoppin’ John at¬†brunch the next day. We also took a day trip to Kenosha, saw¬†Jukebox the Ghost and played a whole lot of board games. Todd hosted a stimulating¬†salon on Wall-E, Michele took us all bowling, and everyone¬†benefited from Katie’s decision to compete in a mac and cheese contest. I also derived a weird amount of fascination from going under general anaesthetic for the first time, which compensated for days of eating soup afterwards.

February
There was a whole load of Americana in February: a day out at a Monster Truck rally, the Super Bowl, and New York! Despite the chill we saw a great number of touristy sights and were very generously hosted by Melissa, a woman with such good taste that she owns a toy adipose. She was therefore supportive of my mission to take Randi through every series of Doctor Who since 2005, which began this month. The other wallop of Britishness came on pancake day, which Katie joined us for. I also saw a whole lot of plays: A Map of Virtue, Plastic Revolution and post-apocalyptic Mr. Burns.

It's me and Josh. In Texas!

It’s me and Josh. In Texas!

March
The first day of March was spent¬†trekking around snowy Chicago¬†to film something for my¬†grandpa’s birthday. Later, there was a wonderful New Glarus weekend of cheese, beer and board games in AJ’s home state of Wisconsin, a financially unrewarding poker night at Todd’s,¬†Four,¬†The Capitano Must Die¬†and a second movie night at mine to watch one of my enduringly favourite films,¬†Four Lions. And let’s not forget the odd afternoon which culminated in eating soap… the less said, the better. But most of all, March was the month of my reunion with Josh and Anna, roadtripping from Austin to the incomparable New Orleans. Amazing people in amazing places.

April
This was the month I was finally diagnosed as ‘extremely withdrawn’ in an in-person Church of Scientology personality test. It was also the month I¬†made¬†a trip of exploration to a Sunday morning megachurch service, where¬†the music was only slightly less catchy than the¬†Bleachers concert which I also saw. Meanwhile, Caius won University Challenge, Randi and I failed to win Windy City Cafe’s Easter¬†egg competition (surely some mistake) and I saw¬†Balm in Gilead,¬†The Upstairs Concierge¬†and, at the Palestinian film festival,¬†Eyes of a Thief. Let’s also not forget the stressful, stressful¬†night Todd moved out of his apartment… although to compensate, I did end up with some loot.

May
To be fair to the Scientologists, I probably did become ‘extremely withdrawn’ in May, but only because I was working on Randi’s Campaign Finance Reform Adventure: a video game for the parliamentarian¬†inside. Things went from bad to worse in Britain’s real-life parliament on¬†election night, which rendered weeks¬†of argumentative family emails about how to divvy up our¬†betting pool in various arcane constitutional scenarios¬†completely moot.¬†Beast on the Moon, a moving play about the aftermath of the Armenian genocide, stirred some more sadness into the month. So it was good to escape – and cross off two more states – by visiting Seattle and Portland too!

We built this city.... on sand

We built this city…. on sand

June
This is my tenth year of writing annual reviews, and June is always the month which bursts with activity. I think it’s as simple as the sun coming out, really, as it did for the opening day of¬†Chicago’s elevated trail, the 606. You can also do things like picnic to Back to the Future in Millennium Park, once¬†Randi fights¬†off the family who plonked chairs down in front of us. Indoors,¬†we won two mentions for the¬†legendary ‘Randpig’ during¬†Kannan’s improv comedy¬†Fucked Up Family Reunion, were swept away by¬†The Wind Rises, swayed along to¬†Postmodern Jukebox, got severely creeped out by¬†Ex Machina, educated Jatherine in the ways of trashy British TV, and cheered and laughed for Ingrid Michaelson. Travel-wise, there was wine tasting plus¬†intensive sand dune urban architecture in Michigan, while Randi and I had a great time in Hillary-supporting Iowa. But above all, the two highlights of June were my amazing surprise birthday party (complete with TARDIS and quiz!) and Katie’s visit to Chicago,¬†which included¬†a kayak-based tour down the Chicago river. June is great.

Welcome to Prague

Welcome to Prague

July
I spent the first half of July on a work trip to¬†Warsaw,¬†working with a really great team who were a pleasure to get to know. I was even indulged with a¬†live translation service during Groupon Poland’s anniversary party, as if it were a news broadcast.¬†As beautiful as Warsaw’s Old Town is, I’m also very pleased that Katie and I used our second weekend there to visit Prague. The city is truly stunning, and also home to one of the best walking tours I’ve ever done. (Thanks, Karel!) Back in Chicago, I made the much less beautiful but sadly necessary¬†pilgrimage to IKEA (Schaumburg¬†is no Prague), played giant Jenga with April at Streetfest, and had stimulating drinks with Luis, Marti, Robert and Randi.

August
In the month¬†Jon Stewart hosted his final¬†Daily Show episode¬†(sniff), I had a good chat with ex-President Lincoln in Illinois’s underwhelming capital, went¬†full-on retro bowling at¬†The Fireside Bowl and said farewell to Katie and Brandon before they left for New York. Randi and I¬†also dragged her¬†friend Rachel to Common Room and Improv Shakespeare, laid waste to wine bottles on my roof with¬†Lauri, and saw Loving Repeating¬†and¬†Fabulation. AND THEN HOME TO THE UK! We packed a lot into our week in London: swimming in Hampstead Heath with Abbi, tours of Broadcasting House and Parliament, a large-scale afternoon tea with the family, drinks with Matt, Laura, Caroline, Charles and Maisie, NewsRevue, Time Run and an overnight stay at the Hurley-Hull’s for Cat’s birthday.¬†And if that wasn’t enough, we set off the week afterwards¬†for our Grand Tour of the UK by rail, heading first to Bury St Edmunds (which re-introduced Randi to sticky toffee pudding) and then Cambridge (which introduced Randi to fish pie… and reunited me with Mandler and Calaresu for drinks).

This little guy came on many journeys in 2015...

This little guy came on many journeys in 2015…

September
Our railway journey around the UK continued via Scarborough to Durham (Bill Bryson’s “perfect little city”) in especially beautiful mode, where we stayed with Katie and ate many biscuits. Next was Edinburgh – I had forgotten how stunning the city is – and a climb up Arthur’s Seat, and then finally Windermere¬†in the Lake District (an ideal spot for sheep and stars). Making it back to America in time for Shelby and Benno’s wedding, we enjoyed a boat tour down the Chicago river when Randi’s parents came to visit later in the month, and saw 3033 and TJ and Dave at iO. September was also the month¬†Doctor Who returned, in thrillingly good form, and¬†was¬†keenly appreciated by all the participants in Cat’s WhatsApp chat.¬†In this way, I never fully leave the UK.

October
October was a turbulent month for fans of¬†the Toronto Blue Jays. If this were Todd’s review of the year, he’d probably just stop there. For the rest of us, there was also fun musical¬†Cholesterock, survival tale¬†The Martian¬†and ‘somewhat recommended’ play¬†Home Before Dark. But why pay good money for theatre when you can get invited by the director to a technical rehearsal, as Randi and I did for The Play About My Dad. We also took her cousins around Lincoln Park Zoo, were perplexed by fiendish codes at a Puzzle Night with Karol, dug astronomy¬†at the Adler Planetarium and saw Alastair Campbell down in Hyde Park. Then I headed back across the Atlantic again, first to Warsaw, then Morocco¬†– fitting in a touristy weekend in Marrakesh before working in Casablanca – and then¬†finally Brussels for dinner and night-time sightseeing with my parents.

...but not as many adventures as this one

…but not as many adventures as this one

November
Robert and Julie’s wedding in November was wonderful, and a fitting celebration of the¬†people¬†who conspired to bring me to Chicago in the first place (thank you!) before¬†they leave on their own overseas adventures. If I were to guess, I reckon they’ll hold on to¬†Thanksgiving. My third turkey celebration was hosted by Jatherine (so, actually no turkey) but no less wonderful for it. Afterwards, Randi and I toured Indiana and Kentucky, watching Christmas parades and going ziplining in an old limestone mine.¬†I also poked my head around 270’s offices, saw¬†Chapter Two and dissected¬†The Breakfast Club in the third¬†salon of the year.

December
Finally, in my third¬†attempt, I became part of an Escape Room team which actually escaped a room (and a hungry zombie with it). In December I also saw Backroom Shakespeare’s¬†Henry IV,¬†Star Wars and – at Groupon’s Holiday Party – Salt-N-Pepa. Speaking of holidays, my usual Christmas preparations (bringing home the tree, decorating, listening to Christmas songs on a loop) were joined by Randi’s Hanukkah festivities (including our dreidel drinking game!) and carried over to California, where we spent Christmas itself with Randi’s family. This was a lovely mixture of solid family traditions – opening presents on Christmas morning, playing games, participating in the Regan family quiz – and more Californian innovations such as hiking and walking on the beach. And then to squeeze two more states into 2015, we embarked on a roadtrip to Vegas, where Randi and I saw Britney’s Piece of Me show, and the beautiful Zion National Park in Utah. More on this, of course, in 2016.

Wherever you are, and whatever timezone you’re in, have a very happy new year!

“I’d say this was a life-changing year,” I was advised for this blog today. Well, yes, quite a lot happened in¬†2014. It was a twisty journey which took me from London to Chicago, but¬†I’ve never been more glad for having seized an opportunity with both hands.

January
For a second year running, I¬†celebrated New Year in the Mile End flat, at a party which – looking back at the photos – was dominated by glow sticks, rooftop views and crouching on the floor of the bus home with Anna. A week later, many of us were doing robot dances together at¬†a Recklings gig, where we also got to see Jen (yay!) again.¬†With the family and cousin Nancy I saw¬†Mandela, with the flat I stayed in to watch¬†In Bruges and went out for¬†Jeeves and Wooster, and with Matt and Caroline I drank a lot of wine at Gordon’s. Also,¬†after a six year wait, I finally got to meet the elusive and mysterious Diamond Geezer.

Cat, Josh, mud and London

Cat, Josh, mud and London

February
As you’ll see, there was a good run for watching terrible films at Drayton Park towers. In February we endured¬†Drag Me To Hell, before embarking on a sequel to our famous Flat Day by hugging trees together in Hampstead Heath. Josh also scored us tickets to¬†The¬†Commitments, and later saw fit to turn 25 and celebrate it. Michele was also in town by then, so we visited Salisbury (where 4.6% of the population are ‘some other kind of white’) and the New Forest, through which¬†we choose the muddier but much worthier paths. Oh, and we all hit up the London Transport museum. Naturally.¬†Red Velvet¬†at the Tricycle was spectacular, the Scan Van fulfilled a long-desired wish to save my parents’ photos from decaying in shoe boxes, and I ended up carrying Vlad’s engagement ring across London in my pocket. Meanwhile, at¬†work,¬†up popped the prospect of a job in Chicago…

March
March was not¬†my greatest ever month. But when¬†Michele and I broke up, lots of people took great care of me: stopping¬†me from doing ridiculous things using the power of flowcharts, and trying¬†to cheer me up instead with¬†LOL¬†(it’s a romantic comedy set in Chicago!) and¬†Disaster Zone: Volcano in New York¬†(it… has no redeeming qualities). I did see good movies this month, too, like¬†The Lego Movie,¬†The Grand Budapest Hotel,¬†Headhunters¬†and, yes,¬†Hackers. I also visited Katie during her first year at (beautiful) Durham. But I remember getting restless for a change of scene,¬†which I guess made it perfect timing for my interviews.

April
Writing this has reminded me how drawn-out the transfer process felt, even though looking back it really wasn’t. But yes, in April I got my official offer, which made it pretty safe to start saying “oh, I’m moving to America” to people. People like Maryam, who met up for dinner, and Andy, who came to London for the day and agreed to go see Marx’s grave with me.¬†Also this month,¬†there was a great turn out to Cat’s final Recklings gig, while Biff and Christa lured us to pub to play a strange Monopoly cards game, and Abbi spoke movingly at the launch of¬†Love Letters to the Home Office. ¬†This blog also celebrated its tenth birthday, and at the same time,¬†I got the sad news that someone pretty key to my life ten years ago – Mr. Wrigley – had died. He is missed.

Sri Lanka

Sri Lanka

May
Before I left, there were lots of people I needed to see. Some of them were rather far away,¬†so in May I went on my first trip outside Europe or North America (about time!) to see Sophie in Oman¬†and Josh in Sri Lanka. ¬†Both were pretty wonderful visits, as was a quick day trip to Paris. Back in London,¬†this was the last month in Drayton Park for all¬†three of us, and the end of two amazing years living with Cat and Josh. There’s no better way to spend your early 20s than with your two best friends, and as a parting gift, Josh and I finally had the visit from Jehovah’s Witnesses we’d¬†been waiting¬†for. I also got to say goodbye to¬†Chiara and Matthew in East London, to cousin Julie, to Melissa in the Corrib and to Caroline and Charles. And last but certainly not least,¬†a weekend in¬†Manchester with¬†Robert and Tash.

June
Finally! My last¬†drinks in The Island with family, Pizza Express with Lucy and one last News Revue, all rounded off with a Deportation Party in Islington. And then it was a very odd work week: two days in London, one day flying, and two days in Chicago. Chicago! Nolan met me outside the Blue Line station, explained which bars were too bro-y and which did great burgers, and took me to where I’d be living with him and Brett for the first two months. The summer is a great time to explore any city, and there were also a bunch of birthday celebrations: Saujanya’s – where I did the newbie initiation thing of drinking¬†Malort – Todd’s, and my own, at Motel Bar. But one of the strangest, yet nicest, experiences of being new and open to people was striking up a conversation with two country music guys outside a bar, which led to¬†an impromptu late night performance around a bonfire in their¬†back garden.

Finally, the coveted track jacket

Finally, the coveted track jacket

July
4th July is – of course –¬†Independence (from us) Day, which I¬†celebrated by eating a large number of hot dogs on Kristina’s balcony ¬†while people set off fireworks in the streets below. Also up there on the patriotism scale in July was downing Budweisers at¬†Girl Talk’s bizarre Made in America concert. I saw¬†Edge of Tomorrow, which was great, and¬†Dawn of the Planet of the Apes which was less great. Other highlights included the Shedd Aquarium, discovering Twin Peaks¬†(and creating its spiritually similar¬†Furtive Liaison), the very first Common Room – beginning an unbroken tradition of 2014! – and, wonderfully, getting to see Billy Joel at Wrigley Field. Much less fun were¬†the stressful hours spent hunting down places to live on Craigslist. But in the end I found somewhere great, and with the help of Nolan’s U-Haul, moved to my new home at the end of the month.

August
So I settled in with my new flatmate, Billy, and gloried in walking to work¬†in 15 minutes. I also got to hang with cousin Sophia and Al, go sailing with Lauri, watch¬†The Blind Side in Montgomery Ward Park with Suzanne, and enjoy an excessively long White Sox game against Todd’s beloved Blue Jays (who lost). (In general, both my knowledge and appreciation of baseball were hugely improved in 2014.) I was also invited to a really fun pub crawl organised by the League of Chicago Theatres, through which I also scored tickets to a musical adaptation¬†of¬†Coraline. The second half of my August was spent in Kuala Lumpur¬†with Zee, Ellen and the Groupon Malaysia team. This was another really awesome trip, and it’s such a pleasure to be able to travel and work with great people along the way.

September
Back in Chicago, the start of the new school year came with a couple of mentoring programmes to volunteer with. This was also the zenith for going on dates with some really cool and wonderful people: including to Second City, the¬†Improvised Shakespeare Company, the Botanic Garden and simple – but lovely – beers by the beach. I also found my way to a rooftop pool party with¬†a bunch of Billy’s high school friends, saw¬†Guardians of the Galaxy and was delighted that others at work were interested in a day of rollercoasters at the Six Flags theme park.

The photobooth at Jamie and Paul's

The photobooth at Jamie and Paul’s

October
One of the absolute highlights of the year was Jamie and Paul’s wedding in San Francisco. A totally wonderful day, amidst¬†a global family gathering, was made even better by the follow-up Chicago visit of my parents and Tash. Together we did a bevy of touristy things, conjured up suspiciously glorious weather for October and jumped around on the roof a lot. This month Randi and I also struck theatre gold with Alice and Bethany, while I also tried rock climbing, Chinatown and karaoke. Emily Boyd dropped in for pizza and drinks, Brother Matthew answered our questions on the doorsteps of his church, and on Halloween I failed to don an adequate costume but was still allowed to eat sushi and critique¬†Star Wars.

Secular Christmas begins early in Michigan

Secular Christmas begins early in Michigan

November
If I’m still here in 2016,¬†I imagine I’ll view the Presidential elections with a mixture of excitement and dread. Until then, the 2014 Midterms will have to do for my experience of American democracy, and although the night itself was pretty grim, it did at least put paid to the constant TV ads. Thankfully, pretty much everything else in November was utterly glorious. I’m talking about Ellen’s chilli cooking competition, more theatre trips¬†(Strandline and¬†Watch on the Rhine) and my favourite film of the year,¬†Interstellar. Most exciting of all, Cat and Matt came to stay with me, and we packed in a lot of fun, food and Family Feud. Afterwards, Cat stayed on for a fabulous Friendsgiving hosted by Kevin and Grace, and then Randi and I¬†set off on our Michigan roadtrip adventure.

December
Carrying home a Christmas tree is an important tradition to maintain, and helped bathe December with a festive glow. I met AJ, Catherine and Jason, laughed at their unfamiliarity with opening Christmas crackers correctly and played a suitably competitive session of Munchkin. Agata hosted a gingerbread baking workshop, Kristina threw a party with the first, long-awaited mulled wine of the season, and Nisreen and Mike presided over a game of Apples to Apples. Matt and Ben was brilliant while The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies marked a final visit to Middle Earth, not to mention the Christkindlmarket, the Groupon Holiday Party and my first dizzying experience of the futuristic Oculus Rift! And Christmas itself, while low-key in the apartment by myself, was also a surprisingly magical combination of Muppets, chocolate, Skype and reading under a blanket like a happy old man.

Thanks to everyone who made this year great, and happy 2015!