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Outback's B-Day Chair Awkwardly Hugs Birthday Diners

Outback's B-Day Chair Awkwardly Hugs Birthday Diners

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This kind of creepy invention hugs birthday celebrators every time they get a Facebook birthday message

Sorry, but are we the only ones who are thankful that we no longer have to give out hugs to people on our birthdays, because sometimes we don't know them very well and it's super awkward, and also, what if they smell? Outback, it seems, is lamenting the age of "real hugs" instead of friendly Facebook messages (the latter easily ignored), so the restaurant chain decided to create a B-Day Chair.

The gist of the concept: Log into your Facebook with an attached tablet, and every time a friend comments on your wall, the chair will grow arms and give you an awkward hug. Every hug sparks a reaction photo which is then posted to your Facebook. Our photos would probably turn out like this.

In any case, these B-Day chairs were distributed around Sao Paulo locations, eliciting surprise laughter and admittedly very fun photos. Watch the video below, then warn your really good friends that if they ever decide to do this instead of giving you a real hug, you will not give them a birthday cupcake.

  • Alan Jones has accused the states of abandoning educational needs of children
  • Australian schools gradually re-introducing face-to-face teaching of students
  • But radio host said limited contact time was a disservice to younger generation
  • In NSW students to see teachers one day a week when term two starts on May 11
  • 'I can't believe any responsible government would embrace this,' Jones said
  • Here’s how to help people impacted by Covid-19

Published: 00:02 BST, 29 April 2020 | Updated: 00:49 BST, 29 April 2020

Alan Jones has accused the states of 'educational vandalism' as children are forced to learn remotely despite the low risk of them infecting teachers.

Schools across Australia are gradually re-introducing face-to-face teaching as the country begins the road out of coronavirus social distancing measures.

But Jones claimed the limited contact time - which in New South Wales will consist of just one day a week when term two begins on April 11 - was a disservice to the nation's children.

'This is an abandonment of our children, it is educational vandalism!' Jones said on his 2GB radio show on Wednesday morning.

NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian greets students during a visit to Prestons Public School in Sydney. She is keen for classes to look like this again next month, but radio host Alan Jones has slammed state premiers for not getting children back to school fast enough

'I can't believe any responsible government would embrace this.

'We're talking about young people's careers here! We are violating their ambition.'

'Gladys Berejiklian, Annastacia Palaszczuk, you'll be held responsible for this and I for one will make sure you are.'

The outspoken radio host said state premiers were employed by the taxpayer and had a responsibility to make sure students were properly schooled.

Sushi Dokku

Who of you missed Sushi Wabi? What those people did with rolls made one crave them much more than was logical for that sort of thing. The dragon. The spicy octopus. The scallop. I stumbled upon the restaurant by accident in 1998. One of my very first sushi experiences. And like a heroin junkie, I have been trying to recreate that first high forever since. Ladies and gentlemen, Sushi Dokku is that recreation.

Given our advancing age, the female and I usually spend a Friday evening eating sushi take-out while glued to the projection screen. Long gone are the days of dancing into 4AM at Pasha on a Bandaleros Tuesday. But the quality of sushi falls well into the 90 th percentile and given the dramatically reduced cost of eating in, we consider it a wash. Last week was a remarkable exception.

Tucked into a well-worn corner of the Randolph corridor, Sushi Dokku is, perhaps, 2 times the size of Sushi Wabi. This fact aside, all the service troubles that plagued Wabi are in full effect. The pace of dinner can best be described as glacial. But so worth it. The service does the best it can given the chefs&rsquo speed. Even though our server spoke very little English, he delivered what we ordered and was helpful with suggestions. Suggestions are important given that Dokku&rsquos menu is also somewhat larger than its predecessor's.

Why do I keep stressing Sushi Wabi? Because I regard the restaurant as the pinnacle to which modern sushi should aspire. Spicy tuna, for example, was once the receptacle of refuse. The Japanese that brought forth sushi onto this new continent in the early 60s thought it wise to accomplish 2 goals: get rid of sinewy tail-flesh and give the early hipsters something edgy of which to be proud. So they mixed what would have otherwise been garbage with mayonnaise and spicy sauce and PRESTO! One had a whole new dinner entrée. This brilliant tradition continues to this day at places like Naniwa and others where the palefaces are scorned but Sushi Wabi voted an incredible dissent. They used amazing cuts for their rolls. The finest fish-flesh no matter how one ordered it. And Sushi Dokku follows suit. If 2 rounds of servers can be considered proper sourcing, Dokku is 66.66% of Wabi&rsquos DNA. All that&rsquos missing is one partner out of three. I couldn&rsquot taste the gap. And I doubt you will.

Without Wabi, Randolph had a void that was not filled by anything east of Halsted. Into the breach, dear friends, comes Sushi Dokku and, if you have the time, it is amazing.

Visiting a young friend with a terminal affliction can be a very sad affair. Despite the air of health that they exude, you both know that this time might be the last. But unlike the elderly, it&rsquos a very rare young person that gets through four stages of dying to arrive at &ldquoacceptance&rdquo because too close there lurks that memory of their days of youth and vigor. You probably lost many a young friend in the form restaurants. Their illness was their balance sheet.

Mas serves outstanding tacos and delicious margaritas. The drinks are priced in accordance with the neighborhood and times. Tacos are priced high but not outrageously &ndash if ordered by themselves. So why then must they charge US$3 per tablespoon of salsa? Why $8 for 2 spoons of guacamole? Why not have ANY other condiments available (for free) for those who may not wish to season their entrees so expensively? Some Cholula for duck&rsquos sake! There are 2 possible reasons.

Reason A is the case study of Orange, one of the city&rsquos first hipster breakfast places. They actually had signage posted that distilled their management&rsquos opinion that the customer (you know: that person PAYING THEM) did not know as well as the kitchen what they wanted in an omelet. &ldquoIf you want to customize an omelet, go to Golden Nugget.&rdquo Was seriously on the sign. A dramatic escalation beyond not having salt on the table.

Reason B can be the science of accounting infecting the art of kitchen wizardry. Never minding the science of ingredients and taste and the trendy acts of &ldquodeconstructions,&rdquo cooking is, at its pinnacle, an art-form. The peak of the profession draws from the science of taste and hopes to channel it into an experience not just to be tasted but to be seen and felt and smelled and perhaps even heard &ndash as in Mr. Achatz&rsquos decompressing aromatic pillows. A mix tape for the senses.

But accounting is an icy science with low regard for anything but bottom lines. It&rsquos why there is an everlasting struggle between the business and the chef when the two concerns are separate. It&rsquos also why when the chef is also business manager, restaurants become defunct at such a staggering clip. Pleasing the customer at all costs can have a very steep cost indeed. And I suspect that the creativity at Mas has been overpowered by accounting.

When we arrived for brunch on Friday, a lone employee was the host, the waiter, bartender and probably even the cook. (He confessed as much.) Only short-term bottom-line analysis can possibly think this is a good idea. We felt so sorry for the polymath employee that we even bit our lips and put on the air of friendliness while service took 3x longer than it should have. Given our propensity for fission in the face of service shortfalls, this represented containment of a high order.

Just like a healthy organism, a healthy service business must find balance between doing everything it can to please the customer and doing so, on average, profitably. One can no more run a healthy restaurant by letting one faction run amok than one can expect to get in shape by working out one muscle group. Although, some dudes at the gym still believe that after 10 years of being fat and working only bench, suddenly, in year 11, they will wake up one morning with a 6-pack. The truth is that nothing in life or in business exists in isolation and the constant struggle between different sides yearning for excellence is very healthy. One can never grow new muscle without first tearing up the old, letting it recover and going it again. Mas, like so many restaurants before it, needs to give its accounting muscles a rest. The food is very strong but the overall experience falls far too short of satisfactory. Having seen the symptoms so many times before, I fear that the next step in the decline is the fall. And the shutters. So if the balance sheet is really terminal, wouldn&rsquot it be great to let the last gasp of a dying kitchen be channeled to the roar of triumph instead of a wheeze of penny-pinching pettiness?

Outback's B-Day Chair Awkwardly Hugs Birthday Diners - Recipes

Sushi master Ryuichi Yoshii is back.* The Nagasaki-born sushi chef opened his first Yoshii restaurant in Pyrmont in 1997 before relocating to The Rocks in 2002. Yoshii closed its doors in 2014 but late last year he opened a new set of doors, joining Chef Chui Lee Luk at Fujisaki in Barangaroo.

Fujisaki is the newest restaurant for the Lotus stable (Lotus Dumpling Bar, Lotus Restaurants at The Galeries and Barangaroo, Bing's Bao and Madame Shanghai), self-described as refined, new and modern Japanese.

*EDIT: Ryuichi Yoshii is no longer working at Fujisaki, however omakase is still available.

Dining room

The dining room, put together by Design Clarity, has a sombre Scandinavian feel, mixing wide wooden chairs with velvet banquettes and a glass-caged raw bar that commands the room.

Cocktail bar

The cocktail bar is well-stocked. In addition to cocktails and spirits, the drinks list includes over 300 wines and 17 sakes, overseen by sommelier Chris Entwistle.

Slicing tuna

The food menu incorporates a comprehensive mix of sushi and sashimi with deep-fried (king brown mushroom tempura, crumbed sardines and prawn kakiage) and dishes cooked on a robata grill (octopus, pipis, flounder in paperbark, lamb rump and Moreton Bay bug).

We'd only had eyes for the omakase by Yoshii, a multi-course meal that puts all the decision-making into the hands of the chef. The omakase must be booked in advance and is priced at $140 or $160 per person. We went with the latter, of course.

Chef Ryuichi Yoshii slicing salmon sashimi

Omakase diners score front row seats to Yoshii's prep station. Only five stools line his section of the counter, although six more around the corner are available for standard a la carte.

Chef Ryuchi Yoshii is deep in concentration as we are seated at 6pm. After ordering our drinks (we get a bottle of the 2016 Cotier Gewürztraminer (skin contact) from Mornington Peninsula, Victoria for $68), Chef Yoshii suddenly looks up and says "Are we ready to start?"

Tasmanian sea urchin roe with spanner crab and avocado

A server suddenly appears with glazed bowls containing Tasmanian sea urchin roe with spanner crab and avocado. It's the very best offering of three of my favourite things. What follows is a shameless frenzy of photo snapping. It's beautiful. It's breathtaking. It's perfection. And we haven't even started eating yet.

And then after we start eating, I make my dining companion stop so I can take another photo. The length of the sea urchin roe petal is extraordinary.

Do I need to clarify that this was sublime? The subtly sweet flesh of spanner crab. The beautifully ripe but still slightly firm avocado. The briny creaminess of fresh sea urchin roe that immediately transports you out to sea.

Chef Ryuichi Yoshii making a salmon flower

While we eat, the sashimi-making show continues in front of us. It's like having a live version of Chef's Table by Netflix. The only thing missing is the dramatic orchestral soundtrack.

Slicing a daikon sashimi roll

Chopstick precision

Our sashimi ready to plate

Sashimi platter by Yoshii

[top row] : Yellow fin tuna with avocado cuttlefish with nori and cucumber Japanese tuna belly John Dory marinated in kombu Tasmanian long spike sea urchin roe
[bottom row] : G eoduck daikon roll with tuna, kingfish, salmon and cucumber salmon rose bar cod and aburi swordfish fresh wasabi with carrot butterfly

The sashimi plate yields an artistic assembly of the ocean's bounty. And even though our server runs through everything on the platter, we have to ask twice more for clarification as our short-term memory fails us.

Many of these have been prepared in advance, although some - like the salmon rose and the qaudrant daikon roll with tuna, kingfish, salmon and cucumber - seem unnecessarily over-worked. There's no doubting the supreme freshness of the sashimi, as well as the skilled attention to detail like the coiled carrot spring carrot and the carrot butterfly garnish.

Cuttlefish with nori and cucumber

One of my highlights has to be the raw cuttlefish, ever so slightly sticky and sweet, scored for maximum tenderness and wrapped around with nori seaweed and cucumber.

Tasmanian long spike sea urchin roe

We savour the Tasmanian long-spined sea urchin roe too - slightly brinier and more intense than the first - presented in a scooped out fresh lime.

The accompanying soy sauce is worth a mention too, a housemade soy mixed with bonito and kombu. And we're lucky to have the last of the fresh wasabi of the season, sourced from Tasmania. You can immediately notice the fibrous freshness of wasabi, as well as its more flavoursome - not just harsh - heat.

Duck breast with okra, peppers, swedes and muntries

Our next dish of duck has been salted and hung for five days before it is slowly cooked over the robata charcoal grill. The bed of noodles on the bottom are actually finely shredded swedes. The duck is succulent with a smoky skin.

A tangy sauce made from muntries, native cranberries that tasty like spicy apples, ties everything together.

Ginger and black grape sorbet with pickled tomato and ume jelly

Ginger and black grape sorbet provides a refreshing palate cleanser. Its icy cold fruitiness is mellow in sweetness, contrasted with tiny cubes of pickled tomato and ume pickled plum jelly.

Chef Ryuichi Yoshii presenting trevally and sand whiting sushi

And so begins our sushi journey.

Trevally (front) and sand whiting nigiri sushi

We start with trevally and sand whiting nigiri sushi. It's at this point too that Chef Yoshii switches our soy sauce to a different kind, this one made from three kinds of soy sauce.

Chef Ryuichi Yoshii filleting yellowtail amberjack

As Chef Yoshii chats to us animatedly throughout the evening, he tells us about his sushi knife that cost him $4,000 in 2001. He sharpens his knives everyday using three different stones, two of which are polishing stones. Oily fish make his knives blunter faster, he explains. He listens to the sound of the knife to know when it is sharp. "They are alive," he says.

We watch wordlessly as he effortlessly fillets a yellowtail amberjack before it is draped over a pillow of hand-shaped sushi rice within minutes.

Yellowtail amberjack and kingfish belly nigiri sushi

The yellowtail amberjack has a slight oiliness and we marvel at the lushness of kingfish belly.

Chef Ryuichi Yoshii presenting salmon and bar cod sushi

Salmon nigiri sushi with daikon and yuzu kosho and
bar cod nigiri sushi with daikon chilli paste

Chef Yoshii adds different garnishes to each sushi, designed to amplify the flavour of each fish. To salmon he adds a pinch of grated daikon with yuzu kosho, a zingy fermented paste made from yuzu peel, chilli and salt.

The mild and slightly sweet bar cod is lifted with a dab of daikon chilli paste.

Chef Ryuichi Yoshii handpressing sushi rice with marlin

Watching Chef Yoshii make each piece of sushi is mesmerising, a balletic display of sweeping arms, a nurturing cupped hand and the gentle but firm pressure of two fingers that transform a handful of rice into a precisely shaped pillow.

Chef Ryuichi Yoshii spooning ume and nori glaze onto bonito sushi

Bonito nigiri sushi with ume and nori and
marlin nigiri sushi

Bonito isn't as fishy as we expect, but it's still weighty enough in flavour to benefit from a dab of ume and nori paste, a mix of sour plum and seaweed.

Marlin is much milder in flavour with a tenderness reminiscent of tuna.

Chef Ryuichi Yoshii shaping nigiri sushi for tuna ootoro

As Chef Yoshii works, he explains that his sushi rice is made with akazu red vinegar. Unlike the traditionally used rice vinegar made from rice, red vinegar is made from sake lees, the residual yeast leftover after sake production.

Akazu was the traditional vinegar used to make sushi during the Edomae period, mostly because rice vinegar was more expensive during this time. Akazu is usually aged for three to five years, and its natural sweetness means sugar is usually not required when seasoning sushi rice.

Tuna ootoro nigiri sushi

The tuna ootoro is every bit as lusciously fatty as we could hope for. "Melt in the mouth" is a phrase used far too often for my liking, but in this case, it literally does, the heavily marbled protein slowly collapsing into a puddle as soon as it hits your tongue.

Marinated tuna nigiri sushi and
cuttlefish nigiri sushi with irishio Okinawan salt

The softnesss of ootoro is in marked contrast to the perky firmness of marinated tuna as well as the sticky sweetness of cuttlefish. The cuttlefish is sprinkled with irishio, an Okinawan salt that is made by cooking salt with sake.

John Dory marinated in kombu nigiri sushi with daikon red pepper paste and
Red spot whiting marinated in kombu nigiri sushi

The wondrous translucency of John Dory is obscured only by a tiny dab of daikon mixed with red pepper. Both the John Dory and red spot whiting have been marinated in kombu, imparting an heightened taste of umami savouriness.

Chef Ryuichi Yoshii placing sea urchin roe into cucumber wrapped sushi

We seem to be having a lot of sushi. We are. The couple next to us have already waved the red flag (and they started an hour after us) but Chef Yoshii seems to revel in our unabated enthusiasm for more. Of everything.

Sashimi scampi nigiri sushi and
sea urchin roe in a cucumber-wrapped gunkan maki

We can't believe our luck when we receive a third serve of sea urchin roe, this time packed on top of a gunkan maki battleship wrapped around with a carved parchment of cucumber instead of the usual nori. Its oceanic freshness is an ideal partner to scampi sushi, its gleaming pearlescent flesh singing with sweetness.

Aburi Tasmanian swordfish belly nigiri sushi and
Aburi ocean trout nigiri sushi with daikon and irishio Okinawan salt

The blowtorch is whipped out for our next serve. Swordfish belly and ocean trout have the fattiness to benefit from a quick sear. The precise incisions make sure the rendered fat drips into, not off, the blowtorched flesh.

Chef Ryuichi Yoshii adding his 25-year-old soy sauce to sea eel anago nigiri sushi

We can tell there's something special about the thick sauce Chef Yoshii is drizzling over anago sea eel. It's a 25-year-old soy sauce, he tells us, made from a soy sauce he smuggled to Australia when he first left Japan. "I wrapped it up in Glad Wrap and hid it in my bag!" he admits with a grin.

Sea eel anago nigiri sushi glazed with Chef Ryuichi Yoshii's 25-year-old soy sauce

There's no doubting the rich and dark intensity of a soy sauce that's a quarter of a century old. The glaze drips down lazily off the buttery fillet of anago saltwater sea eel.

Miso clam soup

The fragrance of miso soup hits us as soon as it lands on the table. It's a time to reflect quietly as we sip each spoonful. The clams are extra juicy from absorbing the miso soup.

Prawn nigiri sushi in Edomae style

Chef Yoshii seems especially pleased to present prawn nigiri sushi in Edomae style. Sushi during the Edo period (said to have started in the early 1800s) used vinegared rice with seafood preserved through simmering in broth (like our prawns), soaking in soy (zuke) or cured in salt and vinegar.

Edomae sushi was born when access to refrigeration was limited and ice was expensive. Edoame sushi also traditionally focused on only one ingredient per piece.

Tamago egg omelette made with snapper and prawn

We finish with tamago, an egg omelette made with snapper and prawn. This type of tamago is almost like a sponge cake, a sweet finish to our omakase.

Chef Ryuichi Yoshii with his tamago

Japanese brown sugar ice cream with Okinawan buckwheat and hoji tea granita

But of course there's more. Chef Yoshii laughs when our dessert arrives. "That's the proper dessert," he tells us.

Pastry chef Kumiko Endo is the creative force behind the dessert menu. Our quenelle of Japanese brown sugar ice cream is just what the doctor ordered. We alternate spoonfuls with finely shaved hoji tea granita and toasted Okinawan buckwheat.

Chef Ryuichi Yoshii plating his sashimi platter

There's no prescribed length or duration of Chef Yoshii's omakase, although I expect Chef Yoshii takes on clues or directly asks about your appetite and gustatory preferences.

We arrived at 6pm and expected to be finished within two hours. We ended up leaving the restaurant at 10pm! And we couldn't have been happier about it. Definitely worth the $160 we paid per person.

Shop 2, 100 Barangaroo Avenue, Sydney
Tel: +61 (02) 9052 9188

Opening hours
Monday to Sunday 12pm-3pm and 6pm-10pm

The omakase by Yoshii ($140 or $160) must be booked in advance.
*EDIT: Ryuichi Yoshii is no longer working at Fujisaki, however omakase is still available.
Maximum five people per omakase sitting.

Related Grab Your Fork posts
Omakase by Chef Taskashi Sano at Sokyo at the Star, Pyrmont
Omakase by Chef Tomoyuki Matsuya at Hana Ju-Rin, Crows Nest
Omakase by Chef Shinji Matsui at Sashimi Shinsengumi, Crows Nest

I’ll Hack Yours, You Hack Mine

Last weekend, in between cutting my toenails, drinking two pints of coffee and folding laundry I decided like a typical middle aged mother to sit down with my laptop and instead of reading about Hilary’s campaign for the presidency I spent my all too valuable free time hacking my genome. We all have secrets locked away, encoded into our DNA, and that accident of conception and human mutation over centuries that resulted in you and me is just begging to be hacked so hack I did.

Believe it or not this all started over a year ago with my ambition to become a member of the DAR, Daughters of the American Revolution. To become a Daughter, you must prove your bloodline to a revolutionary solider through birth and death certificates or other evidentiary methods like published genealogies. This is no small deed, and the process usually separates the dilettante from the serious. It’s been a year and I am still an “in process member” or dilettante but I have not given up. I have proven the first three generations back and then the hardest generation, the oldest one but I have two in between that elude me proving on paper that I have revolution in my blood.

However, this was but a starting point for something much deeper. The same revolutionary line, my mother’s father’s family has been traced all the way back to European royalty and Charlemagne himself on one branch. Not to scoff at royalty but another line of his family intrigued me more. My grandfather always maintained to all of us that his grandmother was a Cherokee squaw and was very proud of his Native American heritage. This has been passed down to all the branches of the family but we have no photographs or proof? In my pursuit for revolutionary status I discovered that we could probably find out if my great great grandmother was Native American by simply spitting in a test tube and testing our genetics. How novel!

During the last year I have made my father, mother, husband and finally myself spit into test tubes and have our DNA extracted. I have been warned that this was not a good idea, to send off your DNA to be held in a database for fear someone might want to clone me one day. My curiosity in my own DNA far outweighs any one’s desire to clone it, and that counts triply for my mothers DNA, who is by far the most cynical about the entire process. She spat in one test tube of DNA then held off for a few weeks on the other kit, alternatively holding it over my head like a carrot with hopes I would brush my hair more often, and then decrying it as “ridiculous” and then confessing that, what she really wanted for her birthday was “ a purse” not a “rubbish DNA test.”

I gently reminded her that it was the only way to discover if her great grandmother was really a Native American. That would pique her interest just enough to work up a bit of spit. My mother has always wanted to identify herself with a minority for the shock value if nothing else as my mother pretty much looks like Heidi from the Swiss Alps.

Eventually she mustered enough saliva, no doubt by fantasizing about a bucket of fried chicken, to warrant a DNA test. Then you have to wait a month or two or more for them to process it before they send you a login to access a complicated portal that sucks more time from your day than Facebook.

In the meantime, distraught with anticipation I endlessly read blog articles about genetics, and became even more upset with the idea that if the DNA test came back without any Native American genes, it does not mean that my great great grandmother was not a Squaw, it just means we haven’t inherited any of her genes, which is entirely possible if not probable after four or five generations. Perhaps DNA was not the answer to all my questions after all.

My mother’s dna results arrived at the same time as mine. It felt like I was a talk show guest on Maury Povich and he just handed me an envelope and at any moment I was going to find out if the trailer trash guy my mother had been hanging around with years ago was really my father. I opened the envelope and there was the answer in my DNA 99% European, 1% Native American, and in my mother’s DNA 93% European, 7% Native American. The Squaw’s DNA had persevered five generations to convince us not to doubt my grandfather’s word, and to give us some sort of proof for the skeptic relatives and acquaintances, and for me an overwhelming sense of satisfaction.

In my web surfing and narcissistic fascination with my own genome I discovered that far beyond tracing my European and Native American ancestry, I can actually discover what genetic predispositions to disease I carry around with me waiting to be flipped on like a switch through environment, stress, or just the ravages of time and age. So last weekend in between loads of laundry I hacked my genome.

While my mother was probably building a teepee in the backyard “for the grandchildren,” tying a chicken feather to her headband and practicing her drum circle chanting, I was hacking not only my own genome but my father, mother and my husband’s. It’s kind of like looking in their underwear drawers but 21 st century style.

What it turned up was quite surprising. It turns out its not just my husband who says, “You are just like your mother.” We both have at least ten gene SNPs which give us something like a ten fold increase in risk for breast cancer, and my mother is herself a survivor. I will be getting a mammogram soon. Both my parents have longevity genes. I drew two short straws and inherited one gene for a shorter life span and increased risk of dementia with age. What a pity, looking after my parents as they approach 100 ( they both have a greater likelihood of living to 100) will probably kill me off at 70 or at least give me breast cancer but then again that could be all the booze. Turns out we – that means everyone in the family on all sides including my husband- have rampant addiction genes, for me I inherited more of the high likelihood to become addicted to nicotine genes, and a dodged the stronger desire for alcohol gene both my mother and husband have but we all have at least two or three more for alcohol dependency. The nicotine genes make me very very happy I somehow had the personal drive to quit smoking after my freshman year in college when I smoked about twenty cigarettes a day. That one year of smoking is probably still chipping off days from my genetically abbreviated lifespan- at least it was fun in a Bette Davis chain smoking kind of way.

To counteract the alcohol dependence genes my mother and I share a gene SNP that unifies us in commiseration, we share an SNP on the dopamine/serotonin feedback loop that leaves us with the genetic disadvantage of suffering from terrible hangovers. I always marveled at people who recover from hangovers by 3pm, for me they tend to get worse as the day goes on.

If hacking my genome didn’t have me running out the door to get a head to toe MRI, then it did at least depress me somewhat, but there are not just bad SNPs there are also good ones. Somehow my three genes for “unlikely to go bald” did not bolster my mood any, considering chemotherapy looked almost inevitable but you know I even have an SNP for intolerance or greater negative reaction to chemotherapy drugs. I now felt like I had read my own diary, and knew things I might be better off not knowing and I haven’t even said anything about my personality genes. Yes there are gene snps for personality too. I will devote an entire post to this next week.

Another reason I hacked my genome was to find out if I had a common and at the same time potentially catastrophic mutation in my methylation genes. Methylation is a necessary cellular process that governs many fundamental functions in the body. My father and I share a mutation on the A 1238 gene which can affect methylation but is far less problematic than the central mutation of the AC3677 gene which is far worse. Thank god we dodged that snp.

If you are interested in hacking your genome read this article by Suzy Cohen, which explains the process really clearly.

This is what I did… order a basic genetic test from for 99 dollars. They are better and easier to understand than and the other services out there. They will send you the kit, spit into the test tubes, send it back, wait, then they will email you. When your results are ready login and download the raw data. Then upload your raw data into:

for $30 dollars and it will list all your SNPS and if you have two plus signs you are homozygous for that SNP and will most likely display the trait, if you are heterozygous for the trait plus/minus you may or may not display the trait. If you have two minus signs you will not display the trait. There are good and bad predispositions and traits. Click on each one and it will take you to the page devoted to your SNP mutation on You better devote an entire day to this process. analyses your health snps but if you go another step further and upload your raw data for 5 dollars into:

you will find it analyses personality and other traits, like big boobs or small boobs, blue, green or brown eyes. Then do the same for every member of your family so you know who to blame for what you got in the genetic roulette of conception. I also uploaded my DNA to to find out what supplements I should and shouldn’t take- however a lot of what came back was contradictory- so best to have a naturopath or holistic doctor interpret the data in reference to your symptoms rather than a computer program… more on that from Chris Kresser.

Start with this Suzy Cohen article:

Then watch this podcast with Bulletproof diet man Dave Asprey and Dr. Ben Lynch of, the website I used to analyze my genome.

And this podcast by Chris Kresser called Methylation 101:

Chris says in his podcast that genes make up about 10% of what will happen, and your environment is the other 90%, so there is no such thing as inevitability just predisposition. Dr. Ben Lynch echoed this when he referenced the wonderful book Biology of Belief, which is on my reading list and found on amazon.

I wonder if there is a predisposition to being revolutionary, and if I submitted my DNA to the DAR I could be granted membership based on a gene SNP. Joking aside the DAR have just opened up DNA as a course to membership but you must have a direct male descendant and be able to match his DNA to yours which is a possibility in my lineage. I wonder if he would let me hack his DNA too. Ill Hack Yours, You Hack Mine.

New york city

It was January 2009 when I last stepped foot onto New York soil and for no particular reason it hasn’t been on my revisit list until recently when I found myself assessing long weekend options to celebrate my Mom’s 60th birthday–Manhattan quickly emerged as the perfect spring getaway. I spent the next few months planning a surprise trip–ej would be out of town, Mom would come to Atlanta for our usual champagne cocktails, late dinners and shopping. I felt partially bad every time she’d text a list of activities, restaurants and stores to visit. I contemplated having her drive up as planned, then whisk her away the following morning but some discussions with Dad confirmed it best to give a week’s notice for her own planning purposes so I printed her flight itinerary and packaged it up with a Fodor’s guide to be delivered prior to our departure. I’m glad I gave her the opportunity to get excited for our trip–those Atlanta texts quickly fell by the wayside in favor of hour-long phone calls about must-do activities in the Big Apple.

Thursday, April 10, 2014: I’m standing in concourse A, celebratory CamiCake in hand, awaiting Mom’s plane from Daytona Beach. The people watching is in a class all its own when you stop to let the world’s busiest airport swirl around you. I’m observing a curious interaction between three travelers and look left just in time to see Mom bouncing toward me. A wave, a big hug … I wonder who’s observing us.

Hartsfield–Jackson Atlanta International has encouraged local restaurant expansion so we opt for a bar seat at the new Varasano’s outpost, each order a glass of wine and split a prosciutto pizza after which we walk to gate for immediate boarding. We spend the next three hours󈞙 minutes of which are circling Newark Liberty International–catching up over Biscoff cookies and Coke. It’s chilly as we exit the airport and hop into a cab. Just in time for rush hour, we make our way through the Holland Tunnel and slowly into the city. Our driver, originally from Ghana, is a former military police officer who now makes $60 trips from the airport three to five times day as a way to keep active in his retirement. He’s friendly but becomes quickly agitated when we, despite specific directions, end up half of a block past our hotel, on the wrong side of the road. He insists we pay with cash, dodge vehicles to get our luggage from his trunk and backtrack on foot to The Quin.

A bellman opens double doors to a monochromatic lobby perfumed with hundreds of white lilies. This was a last minute discovery while searching for accommodations near Central Park–with so many options, booking a room was my most daunting task. Located at West 57th Street and 6th Avenue, I decided The Quin would be a good home base for our meanderings and was sold upon discovering it made the Travel + Leisure best new hotel ‘It List’ for 2014. The receptionists welcome us each with $50 Bergdorf Goodman gift cards and a key to room 504. Our room is small but perfectly polished–shades of soft gray blended with metallic hues, leather and wood furniture, sleek chairs, crisp white bedding. Modern and sophisticated, yet comfortable–exactly what I was hoping for. I use the bedside iPad to program a selection of music, turn on the desk lamp, dim the bathroom and raise the window shades–our view leaves little to be desired so I lower them again.

We grab scarves and light jackets then hit the town. Our goal destination is Grand Central Terminal and, after stopping to watch dramatic pre-teen ice skaters at Rockerfeller Center and circling the block a few times, follow two couples down a long, cavernous hallway before existing into the Main Concourse. The celestial, turquoise ceiling is beautiful and if not for the bustling crowd I’d be content to stare upwards for a while. We make our way to The Grand Central Oyster Bar & Restaurant, settle into a cocktail table with glasses of Cava and request our waiter surprise us with two each of his favorite four oysters. Before walking away he places several packs of oyster crackers on the table and I wonder–certainly this isn’t the original purpose of the oyster cracker. To our delight he returns with a plate overflowing with ice, lemon wedges, mignonette, seaweed and eight different sized, freshly shucked oysters–Hama Hama from Washington, Irish Point from Prince Edward Island, Wellfleet from Massachusetts and Yaquina from Oregon. Salty and cold, each has a subtly unique flavor.

At the recommendation of our waiter, we bypass the subway, hop into a cab and are scolded for flagging a driver going the wrong direction for our destination. This has never occurred to me. A few u-turns later we’re back on course to the East Village and arrive to Narcissa at The Standard hotel for the 9:00 p.m. reservation I made upon discovering it on the Eater New York Heatmap. It’s a large restaurant–one side is crowded with young professionals mingling around the bar. We’re seated on the other side adjacent the open kitchen. The space is pretty and dimly lit with single white tapers on each table. Our sommelier is full of energy and laughs when he mishears Mom’s request for a big, earthy wine as big and girly. He returns with a Rosso di Montepulciano and continues the girly wine joke each time he checks on us. Our waiter, too, is very friendly and suggests we start with the Dungeness crab salad–one of few items not in our consideration set. He continues raving about his favorite menu item and we order it. Tossed with thin segments of blood orange, hearts of palm, hazelnuts, basil and just a touch of mayo, it is light, flavorful and goes nicely with the crusty loaf of bread still hot from the oven. Mom is intent on inspecting the shallow, round bowl in which the salad is served and picks it up to look for a brand–this catches the attention of another waiter who rushes over to ensure all is well. She is excited to hear an out-of-town accent and spends the next 10 minutes discussing how much she despises the city and misses home in Columbia, Missouri. Upon discovering she’s 19 I encourage her to go home. Next we order the rotisserie-crisped beets–a highlight of every critic’s review. On a plate with bulgur salad and apples, the base of creamed horseradish overwhelms the earthy flavors but we like the texture of the beets beneath their oven-thickened skin. Then arrives lamb loin with a crispy spinach pie, piquillo peppers and cauliflower as well as one of the best gnocchi dishes I’ve tasted–lemony with fava beans, ramps and Parmesan, the pasta has been pan seared to a slight crisp and is large enough for two bites. The dessert menu offers obscure combinations so we instead choose decaf cappuccinos which are accompanied by dark chocolate truffles and citrus jellies.

Eager not to make yet another cab hailing mistake, the hotel bellman offers to help and proceeds to stand in the middle of the road until one stops fast on the curb. Mom offers him $2 and stick of gum. He laughs and says he’ll use the tip for his own pack. We arrive to The Quin’s turndown service and a chilled bottle of Charles Lafitte Brut, a pink tin of Louis Sherry chocolate truffles and a birthday card from the hotel staff–an impressive touch. We select the champagne truffle but save our bubbles for another night.

Friday, April 11, 2014: our room is pitch black and cool–this plus the most comfortable bed I’ve slept in for quite some time makes it hard to rationalize the 6:30 a.m. alarm I’ve set. We’re out the door an hour later en route to the Dominique Ansel Bakery and exit the cab to find people wrapped around the block, all of whom are waiting for a Cronut. First released in May of last year, Chef Ansel has developed a pastry best described as a cross between croissant and doughnut. I’ve read the line typically forms an hour or two prior to the bakery opening at 8:00 a.m. so our attempt to arrive early has been thwarted by others also wanting to see what the hype is all about. A member of the team walks down the sidewalk, silently counting, then disappears. She does this one more time before announcing the rules of the Cronut purchase� have been made, the flavor of the month is passion fruit caramélia, there is a two per person maximum and when they’re gone they’re gone. She does a final headcount and, to everyone’s relief, says she believes all currently in line will receive their two Cronuts. I realize this is complete madness.

Behind us in line are two hungover college students lamenting about internships and their parents not giving them enough money to survive–they joke about their friend who is passed out in a car down the street. In front is a young couple from Brooklyn—they tell us they always start Manhattan mornings with two Cronuts and a DKA [Dominique’s Kouign Amann]. The line moves ever so slightly as the bakery opens, allowing in 25 customers at a time. An hour or so into our wait, an archetypal member of the NYPD arrives. He is friendly and chats with various people in line before noticing a red Mustang parked illegally nearby. He walks over to inspect and asks the line if it belongs to anyone–the noisy smoker behind us answers back and the officer apologetically asks him to relocate the vehicle. When the owner insists he can’t leave the line without a Cronut and will gladly take the ticket, the officer smiles, begins writing and the two spend the next 30 minutes talking cars.

It is 10:00 a.m. when we finally make our way into the bakery. We order two Cronuts, one DKA and a coffee each then proceed to the outdoor patio. I open the custom-designed Dominique Ansel Bakery box to reveal our prize. Golden brown, sugar dusted, doughnut-shaped with a ring of yellow icing. Despite the posted request not to, I cut my Cronut in half to inspect. Similar to a croissant it has flaky layers. I take a bite, the passion fruit caramélia shoots out the other side. It is crunchy, extremely sweet and tasty, but not something I need to stand in a two hour line for again. I eat one half. Mom does as well so we package up our second Cronut for later or to give to the police officer should he still be outside. We also split the DKA and decide it is more in line with what we expected a Cronut to taste like. On our way out the door, I overhear a mother pleading with the bakery staff to find one more Cronut since she and her daughters have traveled from India for the experience. Despite the teens looking skeptically at their mother–or possibly just embarrassed–I offer them our extra Cronut. The mother hugs me, grabs my face in both hands and insists I’m angel sent from God. Multiple blessings and one family photo later, we leave the bakery laughing.

We walk southeast through an empty Little Italy and into Chinatown where we detour into a fish market before looping back north to walk through the Sarah D. Roosevelt Park where the daffodils are just starting to bloom. On the basketball courts are two women practicing an elegant Chinese sword dance—the delicate movements and music are mesmerizing. Without lunch plans, we walk toward Washington Square Park. GoogleMaps suggests we’re only a few blocks from Babbo Ristorante where we find a packed house but two seats at the bar. We each order a quarto of red wine which arrives with complimentary chickpea and marinara bruschetta then linger over tender grilled octopus, a mountainous arugula salad with Parmesan and balsamic followed by the pappardelle Bolognese Mom recommends from a previous visit. We skip dessert but are given chewy amaretto cookies with which we finish our wine.

I’ve heard much about New York’s High Line in comparison to our beloved Atlanta BeltLine so we begin making our way west toward the Hudson River stopping briefly in West Elm to assess chairs for both of our homes. The High Line isn’t difficult to locate given the throngs of people walking parallel to and above 10th Street. We enter via the 16th Street stairs and walk one mile to the end of the currently built phase. It’s packed and I imagine the perfect place to contain children in need of outdoor play time. We’re a few weeks early for a full bloom spring but purple and white crocus abundantly dot the green spaces created between the old rail tracks and all of the trees have buds.

We decide it’s time to conquer the New York Subway and, despite minor difficulties locating a ticket machine and the correct platform in Penn Station, seamlessly travel to the the Museum of Modern Art . The number of people taking advantage of MoMa’s 4:00 to 8:00 p.m. free admission Fridays is shocking so we elevator directly to the fifth floor to view Vincent van Gogh’s The Starry Night . Tiny in scale, yet the sweeping brushstrokes are impressive in person. As we leave the museum we notice a crowd swarming the sidewalk then see a cavalcade of police vehicles and black SUVs zoom past. President Obama is in town. Luckily we have no need to cross and instead wrap around to a backstreet near The Quin stopping quickly at a bodega for milk for tomorrow’s coffee before heading upstairs to change. It’s a quick turnaround in the room then back out to the Mandarin Oriental hotel for glass of French Rose and sunset with a view.

At twilight we take off walking toward the Theater District and decide to stop for pizza before our 8:00 p.m. show. There are options on every block but each looks dingy under harsh, fluorescent lighting. In the windows are large, round pies similar to those found in a mall food court–ham and pineapple, pepperoni and black olive, spinach and mushroom. After some investigation, we duck into a Slice of New York. A gruff man slides our selection onto his metal peel and pushes them into the open oven. No wine or beer, we grab bottled water and move down the line to pay for our pre-show snack, which is then handed to us on paper plates via plastic tray. I suppose Atlanta’s Neapolitan craze has made me something of a pizza snob as I’ve come to expect imported prosciutto and tomatoes, creamy buffalo mozzarella, crispy arugula and the charred bottom of impossibly thin crust. We didn’t find this option during our 12 block walk but the slices of supreme pizza we did settle on are delicious in their own right.

The line for the Al Hirschfeld Theatre extends down the block on either side so we’re certainly not running late at a quarter til showtime. The doors open and we make our way down to orchestra center row J–a tall couple sits down in front of us and I quickly realize this will be a problem. The theater is small with rich colors and Byzantine mosaics. I buy two glasses of red wine, both of which are poured into souvenir tumblers. I’ll admit I don’t love a musical–I want to, and I try to, but the typical sing-song silliness has yet to really win me. Until tonight. The cast of Kinky Boots is incredible, especially Tony Winner Billy Porter as the hilarious drag queen Lola and Jeanna De Waal playing a boy-crazy Lauren. The costumes, set, music, story line–all fantastic leaving me wanting more.

It’s 10:45 p.m. as we pass several other emptying theaters, many of which have small crowds erupting in applause when a cast member exits the side door. We continue walking and end up in the middle of Times Square–buzzing with performers and tourists, there are hundreds of people with faces lit by the full-color, digital signage. I take a moment and attempt to absorb the bombardment of brands. A string of steel gates prevent us from moving forward–another presidential motorcade. During the 20 minute wait to cross the street, we learn Obama is in town for the opening night of Denzel Washington’s premier in A Raisin in the Sun. The number of vehicles escorting him through town is unbelievable–SUVs loaded down with armed military personnel, ambulances, police cars and motorcycles. A man waiting next to us begins sharing his uncomfortably anti-political views which, despite the security for our President, makes me feel anxious. I walk away and encourage Mom to do the same as worst case scenarios fly through my head.

We’re shuffled through the door of the Carnegie Deli and are seated at a table for eight–the three generational family next to us appears to be from Florida and complain profusely about the large portions of marginal desserts. I laugh as they continue to eat. We select a turkey Reuben and upon arrival realize it’s not the best order. Open-faced with Thanksgiving-style slices, it lacks the tangy sauerkraut, sharp Swiss and creamy Russian flavors I’ve enjoyed elsewhere. The experience and food may be lackluster but as I look around the room at the rows and rows of celebrity photos think there must be something bringing everyone back to this establishment.

It’s 1:00 a.m. when we finally crawl into bed and while drifting off I wonder how many miles we walked today.

Saturday, April 12, 2014: the weather report is dismal but we step out of The Quin and into a beautiful spring day. Having mastered the subway yesterday, we walk down the Avenue of the Americas to hop on at the 57th Street station but the Metropolitan Transportation Authority has other plans. After purchasing two tickets, entering the turnstile and waiting at the platform, we realize the subway will not be stopping here today. I inquire with the man sitting in the information booth and he points to a hand written sign on the wall. Now 20 minutes from our brunch reservation, we take off powerwalking to the nearest station, buy another round of tickets and realize we have absolutely no clue which of the four trains we should take. I have no cell service to investigate and ask a girl next to us—she opens an app and provides multi-transfer plus walking directions so we board the next train and hope for the best. We appear to be on course until an announcement is made about a weekend rerouting. In a panic, we get off at the next stop and decide to walk the rest of the way. It is an epic public transportation failure and we arrive to Balthazar 40 minutes late and take our place at the end of a long line. Completely disheartened I apologize profusely—the host seems confused and with no issue we’re seated. I immediately order a round of bellinis. Maybe New Yorkers are always running late?

Balthazar’s bright, Parisian-style dining room is packed, the white-aproned waiters buzzing around frenetically. We order the goat cheese and onion tart which arrives with a tapenade, mixed greens and roasted tomatoes. The custard is perfect. Our waiter, Meti, recommends the Benedict. I say grazie to which he responds prego, parli Italiano? This is when I freeze and wimp out with un poquino [and a small pinch of a hand gesture]—which is true, I only speak enough to order wine, dinner and a croissant with my cappuccino. He tells me he’s not Italian but Albanian—one of the nice ones—and moved to the States following a stint fighting on the front lines in Kosovo. We talk a bit more about Italy and I ask for a dinner recommendation—he suggests his favorite Italian restaurant: SD26. We have another round of bellinis and Meti arrives with a mixed berry pavlova, lights a candle and wishes Mom a happy birthday.

Following brunch, we stop at The Frye Company in Soho for Mom to try on the boots she’s been eyeing online for months—an hour later we each leave with a pair of new shoes. Sufficiently calmed down from our earlier experience, we take the subway to the Union Square Green Market. Flowers, herbs, meat, cheese, honey, fruit, baked goods, Hare Krishnas—New Yorkers are loaded down with green bags filled to the brim, some carrying potted trees back toward the subway stop. We continue our walk and pass an Abercrombie & Fitch with a line out the door, a staff member policing with the one in, one out policy. How Abercrombie has maintained this level of relevance and teen loyalty since I was in high school is fascinating. In need of a coffee I see the Momofuku Milk Bar on GoogleMaps so we head over to the tiny store for their famous compost cookie and iced latte. Mom is interested in visiting the Beads of Paradise store so following a few circles of the block and a missed turn or two we locate it and spend time pouring over strings of beads made from stone, wood, berries, metal, nuts, glass and bone. The store is brightly colored with Thai silk scarves, African shields and Mexican Dia del Muerta skulls. Mom purchases several Hindu malas and we leave smelling of patchouli. Our next stop is ABC Carpet & Home, a rustic yet highly stylized six-floor warehouse filled with everything from kitchen accessories, jewelry and furniture to rugs, air plants and lighting. You could easily spend an entire day exploring and still not see everything. I love the display of brightly painted clay fish hanging from monofilament.

We stop to admire the Flatiron building then enter Eataly, Mario Batalli’s massive Italian market. A step inside and you’re immediately shuffled into the madness—every inch of space is packed with people and imported products. We move through, unable to stop and investigate the shelves without losing each other. Past the gelato counter, the panini counter, the espresso counter and into a larger space. A restaurant on one side and tall tables on the other, diners are sipping wine or beer, eating freshly fired pizzas, rotisserie meats and charcuterie plates. The next section contains the fresh pasta counter, the cheese counter, the fish counter and an area dedicated to beautifully displayed fruits and vegetables. It’s overwhelming but so very Italian.

Our next stop is one I’ve been most looking forward to—Chelsea Market. Created by the same company currently developing our long awaited Ponce City Market I’m prepared for a glimpse into Atlanta’s future and an experience similar to DC’s Union Market, San Francisco’s Ferry Building Marketplace or Cape Town’s Neighbourgoods Market—open warehouse space, vendors selling craft coffee, wildflower bouquets, fancy pastries, charcuterie, cheese and wine. Specialty food counters with gourmet sandwiches and farm-to-plate salads. Maybe a hipster home goods store and an artist or two. I’m surprised to find an Anthropologie at the main entrance which we walk through, as always, then continue on in search of a snack but aren’t compelled by any of the options. We quickly find ourselves at the end of the market. Nearby is Colicchio & Sons. I’ve only recently quit mourning the loss of Tom Colicchio’s Craft restaurant in Atlanta so we find a seat at the bar. I try a local red blend on tap and we split the burrata with duck prosciutto and rhubarb puree. The perfect happy hour and it feels a bit like home—all of the oversized barnyard art appears to have been relocated from the defunct Atlanta outpost. W carefully cross a multi-car and bike thoroughfare and walk along the Hudson River. It’s going to be another fiery sunset so I survey the surrounding buildings for viewing options. We enter the ultra-modern, if not bizarre, lobby of The Standard High Line hotel and zip to the top floor where we find two bars—one is a large, gilded ballroom for the glamorous set, the other is crawling with 20-something Europeans sipping draft beers in a discothèque setting. Completely out of place in the latter but we make our way towards the floor to ceiling windows just as the sun dips below the horizon.

For our final dinner in the city, we walk to Meti’s recommended SD26. For some reason I imagined this would be a cozy, Italian restaurant but instead find a large, contemporary space. We’re seated near the open kitchen and watch as a large bistecca alla Fiorentina is delivered to a table with three young children and their parents. They dine happily, sans digital entertainment. I listen for accents. We order a bottle of Super Tuscan from the iPad wine list, an arugula and endive salad and the Prosciutto San Daniele which we’re able to watch be sliced to paper thin in the salumeria across the restaurant. Next we split the rustic, hand cut chitarra pasta with a spicy tomato sauce and potato gnocchi with beef cheek ragu. We end our meal with a beautiful gianduja semifredo draped elegantly with spun sugar and an unnecessary but delicious plate of petit fours, compliments of the pastry chef.

We walk onto the dark, empty sidewalk and–in the shadow of the Empire State Building–hail a cab like locals to head back to the quiet Quin.

Sunday, April 13, 2014: we drop our luggage at the front desk and set off toward Time Warner Center for a quick bite at Bouchon Bakery. Having been to the flagship in Yountville, this small counter is different than expected which leaves me wondering if and how Thomas Keller monitors consistency in his brand. The toasted ham, egg and cheese croissant is delicious but I’m certain he wouldn’t approve of its messy presentation.

We’ve decided to spend our last morning seeing Central Park by way of Citi Bike and, after fumbling with the payment kiosk for a rental code, unlock two bikes from the rack and take off on an hour long ride. Bike sharing is great, in concept—you pay $10 to rent the bike for 24-hours but in order to avoid the overtime fee ranging from $4-$12 you must stop at a Citi Bike station every 30 minutes, lock your bike into the rack, visit the kiosk for a new code then unlock your bike and continue on your way. Onerous process aside, one could keep their rental to $10/day by hopping between the more than 300 stations in the city. Central Park, however, has no stations within so the overtime quickly compounds.

I figured Sunday to be best for riding in the park as it is closed to vehicles but we enter to find a women’s half marathon underway–equally difficult traffic in which to maneuver. We eventually break free from the cheering crowds and cruise freely along the eastern boundary of the park. I wish we had more time to explore as I’m sure there are hundreds of hidden paths, early blooming gardens and historical stories to be told. We begin our ride back toward the Citi Bike rack stopping several times for daffodils, forsythia and to watch row boats in the lake.

We’ve committed to using the Bergdorf Goodman gift cards given to us upon arrival at The Quin so we enter the opulent department store with the harder-than-thought challenge of finding $50 price points. Jewels, handbags, ball gowns, china and crystal. We land at the Christian Dior counter and spend the next hour having camera-ready makeup applied. Intent on purchasing only mascara, I leave with several additional, must-have products.

We arrive to The Quin just in time to collect our luggage and head to LaGuardia Airport for our late afternoon flight. I make a salad at Cibo Express–a surprisingly healthy airport food court–and find a seat next to Mom at the gate. Delta is the only airline flying out of Terminal D and they have transformed it into a comfortable, functional pre-flight waiting area–along with standard seating around multi-port charging stations, there are also work spaces with complimentary, web-enabled iPads.

As I survey my surroundings, I think back to our arrival on Thursday evening–it feels like forever ago–and imagine if I were to highlight every inch of New York City we’ve walked during the course of the weekend, the map would be bright yellow. It has been a successful birthday surprise as well as a good warm up for our next adventure together: Vancouver and Vancouver Island.

افزایش ۲ درصدی قیمت جهانی نفت

قیمت نفت پس از سه روز کاهش متوالی، روز جمعه تحت تاثیر طوفان در خلیج مکزیکو صعود کرد با این حال تحت تاثیر دورنمای بازگشت نفت ایران به بازار، نتوانست از کاهش هفتگی اجتناب کند.

قدس آنلاین؛ بهای معاملات نفت برنت با یک دلار و ۳۳ سنت معادل دو درصد افزایش، در ۶۶ دلار و ۴۴ سنت در هر بشکه بسته شد. بهای معاملات وست تگزاس اینترمدیت آمریکا با یک دلار و ۶۴ سنت معادل ۲.۶۵ درصد افزایش، در ۶۳ دلار و ۵۴ سنت در هر بشکه بسته شد.

مرکز ملی طوفان آمریکا روز جمعه اعلام کرد سیستم جوی که در غرب خلیج مکزیکو در حال شکل گرفتن است به احتمال ۴۰ درصد در ۴۸ ساعت آینده به گردباد تبدیل می شود.

فیلیپ فلاین، تحلیلگر ارشد گروه پرایس فیوچرز در شیکاگو اظهار کرد: این طوفان باعث شد معامله گران با این احتمال که روند تولید دچار اختلال شود به خرید نفت بپردازند.

با این حال رشد قیمت نفت تحت تاثیر دورنمای افزایش تولید نفت ایران در تابستان امسال محدود شد. پس از این که رییس جمهوری اسلامی ایران اعلام کرد آمریکا آماده رفع تحریمهای اصلی علیه نفت، سیستم بانکی و کشتیرانی ایران است، هر دو شاخص تقریبا سه درصد کاهش هفتگی پیدا کردند.

در این بین، شرکت خدمات انرژی بیکرهیوز روز جمعه اعلام کرد شمار دکلهای حفاری نفت و گاز طبیعی در هفته منتهی به ۲۱ مه دو حلقه افزایش یافته و به ۴۵۵ حلقه رسید که بالاترین میزان از آوریل سال ۲۰۲۰ به این طرف به شمار می رود.

ایران و قدرتهای جهانی از آوریل برای احیای برجام سرگرم مذاکره هستند و مقام اروپایی هماهنگ کننده این مذاکرات روز چهارشنبه اظهار کرده بود مطمئن است که توافقی حاصل می شود.

سرمایه گذاران همچنان به بهبود تقاضا برای سوخت در تابستان امسال خوش بین مانده اند زیرا برنامه های واکسیناسیون در اروپا و آمریکا اجازه می دهد افراد بیشتری مسافرات کنند اما افزایش آمار ابتلا در بخشهایی از آسیا همچنان مایه نگرانی مانده است.

بانک جی پی مورگان اعلام کرد برای این که نفت به ۱۰۰ دلار صعود کند، تقاضا باید در سه ماهه سوم به ۱۰۲.۶ میلیون بشکه در روز و در سه ماهه چهارم به ۱۰۳.۶ میلیون بشکه در روز رشد کند البته به شرطی که واکنشی از سوی اوپک پلاس بواسطه عرضه بیشتر صورت نگیرد. انتظار می رود تولید نفت و میعانات ایران در دسامبر به ۳.۲ میلیون بشکه در روز در مقایسه با حدود ۲.۸ میلیون بشکه در روز در سه ماهه نخست افزایش پیدا کند.

بر اساس گزارش رویترز، بارکلیز پیش بینی کرد در سال ۲۰۲۱ میانگین قیمت هر بشکه نفت برنت به ۶۶ دلار و وست تگزاس اینترمدیت به ۶۲ دلار می رسد.

ریزش شاخص بورس

شاخص کل بورس امروز با ۱۰ هزار واحد منفی در مدار یک میلیون و ۱۴۳ هزار واحد قرار گرفت. شاخص کل هم‌وزن هم با ۱۵۴۳ واحد منفی در محدوده ۳۹۵ هزار واحد قرار گرفت. ارزش معاملات در نیم ساعت ابتدایی بازار امروز اول خرداد ۱۴۰۰ به ۵۸۲ میلیارد تومان رسید.

امروز نمادهای «فملی»، «شپنا» و «شبندر» با تاثیر منفی و نمادهای «وپارس»، «برکت» با تاثیر مثبت در بازار امروز هستند. بیشترین تراکنش را هم «شپنا»، «فملی» و «برکت» داشتند. برترین گروه صنعت هم گروه‌های فرآورده‌های نفتی، فلزات اساسی و بانکها هستند. بیشترین ارزش معامله را امروز «شپنا»، «فملی» و «پالایش» داشتند و بیشترین حجم معامله را هم «خساپا»، «خودرو» و «وتجارت» ثبت کردند.

Living in the USA

Monday 4th – Thursday 7th November 2019

God I love a Monday morning when the rest of the world gets up for work and I get to sleep in!! May have mentioned that already! But this was a special Monday, Jules’ 40th birthday. Katie and the kids got up early, or normal time, and did the presents and birthday yay… while I slept, as I do. One of things Katie loves to do is run, she’s competed in a half marathon and casually runs around 15km a couple of times per week, you know, as well as taking care of 3 kids, and a household. She’s kinda Wonder Woman is you didn’t realise already. Anyhoo, she’s part of a running group Couch 2 5k, where mainly women train to run 5km. While Katie can easily smash this she’s met like minded runners and new friends through the group, and today was their final day of training, where everyone was running 5km, myself included apparently. You may have noticed that in the last 3 months of travels there have been zero mentions of exercise. I was pretty fit before leaving AUS but 3 months is enough to see you go from fit to flab. Yes I can easily walk 25,000 steps in a day, probs around 12km but run. Body says NO but today’s activities said get off your arse and give it a go. Once there the lovely ladies, some with prams to also push were off on their final 5km run. I started with a brisk walk then felt the personal guilts, all these women have had babies and are making an effort, I better get moving! I’ll be honest, it hurt and I felt unfit but also felt pretty damn good running again and doing some real exercise. The cheer squad along the road presumed I was a mum and cheered on my half arsed attempt to run with “Go mamma, you can do it!”, I was too out of breathe, and possibly shamelessly so unfit without a birth for a reason to admit I wasn’t a mum, just an unfit nomad. Crossing the finish line, quite literally with a ribbon across for each runner, it felt good to move my arse but kinda embarrassing too, no one had a clue who I was or why they were cheering for me, I’ll take the cheers anyway. Even if there were pictures, they would not be posted on this blog, some things don’t need permanent evidence! Anyhoo, back at Katie’s and online to buy me some real running shoes, the £30 ones I picked up in London looked good but were in no way running shoes.

After a fun afternoon of school pickup and games with the kids it was time for the 40th celebration. For someone who loves food, still have no idea how I’ve gone my whole life and not been to a Japanese teppanyaki joint! Overdressed in my pink getup Penelope picked out we amassed around the hot plate for a one of a kind experience. We were joined by Katie’s neighbours Casey, husband Steve and kids Ryan and Zac, who we’d also hung with for pumpkin carving and Halloween trick-or-treating, an awesome fun family, Casey is hilarious, could instantly see why her and Katie had hit it off so quickly. Our chef was bloody funny, had us chanting “yum yum sauce”, the kids were cracking eggs onto the hot plate and we all had a turn to catch the yumminess in our mouths. The chef took a special liking to Pen who is too cute for words and the night was a blast, lots of laughs and delicious food, as every birthday should be!

After stuffing ourselves silly it was back to Katie’s for a delicious Oreo birthday cake and one of my favourite, and Jules’ too, cannoli! Being an Italian dessert, it’s fair to say I’ve eaten a fair few in my life, if you don’t know what a cannoli is, google it, I wouldn’t know how to describe it except to say pastry custard yum. And these ones were right up there with the yum!!

I think it was the Tuesday morning that the jet lag really hit but having jumped back on the exercise band wagon I thought I could sweat it out joining Katie in a workout proudly presented on Amazon Prime by some ladies in too much makeup and unsuitable exercise. Should not have judged before I started, karma bit me in the butt cos the workout was brutal, we felt it for days. But another reason for the workout, burn the calories before consuming them… we were off to Kylie’s to attempt to make our own key lime pie. Kylie lived about 30 minutes from Katie on a gorgeous lake, in a gorgeous house with a gorgeous deck and gorgeous kitchen overlooking the gorgeous lake. It was all a bit gorgeous. Apparently there are sharks in the lake and the undercurrent can kill you but no ones perfect. Was trying not to be a tourist in someone’s home so here’s just one pic from the kitchen…

After a lunch of veggie soup and fresh bread that Katie somehow found time to make from scratch, one of her Wonder Woman powers, it was onto pie making. Of us three, I was the least proficient in the kitchen by a long way so after grating lime rind (too coarsy as later discovered), I mostly watched while Katie and Kylie got their pie making on. Once baked and still warm we delved in and by gosh I get what all the fuss is about. I love lemon meringue so finding another equal is a pretty big deal in my books. Yum yum, so much yum!! Besides the eating, also loved the chatting and being around smart like minded woman, must be something with the name Kylie, haven’t met one I haven’t liked.

Picking Mr Drew up on the way home, we played games while waiting for the big yellow bus to deliver the other kids home. Drew is a property mogul in the making, kid beats me every time at Monopoly. Yes it’s the kids version, but somehow I end up in jail 5 times and broke while he’s swimming in cash. And he doesn’t even cheat. No idea how he does it but I think it’s me, once Penelope was home she kicked my arse at Cluedo. I guess with two parents with degrees in Maths and Science, it makes sense. Just didn’t expect them to be smarter than me already. I buried my sorrow in Katie’s delicious cooking, homemade burgers and more key lime pie for dessert. Not sure how I’ll survive back as a tourist having been so spoilt with Katie’s home cooking.

Wednesday morning was another attempt to stay on the exercise band wagon, I usually fall off pretty quickly! I downloaded the Couch 2 10K app and kicked off my mission, run 10km by the end of Jan 2020. The app started with walks and sprints which suits me fine but lured me into a false sense of accomplishment. Having thought I hadn’t worked too hard, I also did a boxing workout from Amazon Prime. Too hard too fast, by the time Katie was back from her massive run I was exhausted. Lucky for me it was a cruisey day, our first stop was a little Japanese lunch spot that made a bento box that was all kinds of delicious, way beyond what I expected when we walked in.

The next stop was Walmart. It may not sound like much but I was pretty damn excited. Having had a fair few laughs at pictures aptly titled “The People of Walmart”, I was keen to see what type of people would be kicking around. Unfortunately, only normal people were at Walmart that day, no care free people like these…

There may not have been people watching to keep me entertained but something else caught my attention, the guns. To us Aussies, having an everyday store selling guns and ammo is like trying to buy a vacuum at McDonalds, it just doesn’t happen where we come from. I actually would have no idea where to buy a gun in AUS, I guess there’s gun shops somewhere?? Anyway, being in the land of the free and home of the brave where every person has a right to bear arms, it’s nothing special, pick up a gun with your milk and eggs. Of course I had to get sneaky video…

After Walmart was Marshall’s, another place that was kinda legendary for its dirt cheap active wear. Starting to feel the chill of winter, I was keen to pick up a proper winter coat. Of course I walked out with a coat, snow shoes, adidas tracksuit and a luggage weigher thingy. And I happened to pick the same jacket as Katie’s but in black, can’t help good taste! School pick ups and back home, there were errands to run in the form of dropping off thank you gifts to neighbours for their recent baby sitting efforts. With kids on scooters, we trekked around the neighborhood, really did feel like another scene from an American movie with kids playing basketball in their driveway, a lady trimming her hedges, kids and parents at the playground, if I were bringing up kids in any neighbourhood, I’d want it to be this one!

Before dinner there was Pictionary, needless to say I got my arse whooped yet again, knew I couldn’t draw but liked my chances anyway!! Once it was bed time, I once again got to partake in one of my favourite parts of every day, good night hugs and kisses with the kids. Have a really big soft spot for these three. It was chatting over a cup of tea that Jules asked about when I thought I’d head home. That’s when gut instinct kicked in. I’d been toying with the idea that maybe I’d be ready to head home at the end of January 2020, having spent 6 months traveling. When I left I said it’d be that or spend 18 months traveling and working in London. Sometimes all it takes is someone to ask you the question to find your answer. And I knew that what I wanted was this, a family. I had absolutely loved every second of the travels I’d done and knew there were more adventures to come in the next few months but that would be enough and I’d be ready to head home to begin the next chapter of my life, starting my own family. I’ve scooted around the topic of age but I’ll be honest, I’m in my late 30’s and the clock is ticking. I’ll be real honest, I’m 38, have eggs on ice and have wanted kids always, I don’t remember a time I didn’t. I don’t regret the decision to pack up and leave Adelaide, I needed to do that to work out what I really wanted and remove myself from a situation that was affecting my mental health. I was free to work in London, I could get back from travels in January, work and live in London for a year and travel some more but I don’t feel like that’ll add the value and joy to my life that heading home, finishing my psychology thesis then finishing 2020 trying for my own fam. The idea of that excites me more than anything. So there it is, the decision that after Christmas in Canada with the family and a wedding in Mexico, I’d head back to RADelaide. Even writing this a fair while after e decision was made, it still feels right. I don’t doubt a thing. Might be a different story when I’m drowning in a thesis or have a baby and I’m all on my lonesome but what will be will be!

I’m not one to dwell on decisions, once made I jump into action. So with the decision made to return home in Jan, the next morning the only thing left to do was book a flight. And with funds already dwindling, it’s was a Qantas rewards flights booked for 29th January, homeward bound, in a few months!! Of course once the decision was made to leave, I immediately felt extreme FOMO, where were all the places I had to go and all the things I had to do before leaving. And the list started… but before I went on a booking spree, we were off for a leisurely nature walk at the Calvert Cliffs nature park. After my run and over enthusiastic boxing workout, just walking up and down the stairs to my bed in the basement was ouch ouch ouch so a walk and connecting with nature sounded perfect. The drive there was once again gorgeous, eagles gliding in the sky, woods along the road, love this being chauffeured around!! And someone taking me to exercise otherwise I’d be on the couch eating Halloween candy! Arriving at Calvert Cliffs it was pretty, then down and around and wowsers, it was absolutely stunning! Autumn has to be one of the prettiest seasons and being smack bang in the middle of a forest meant sunburnt leaves amongst the green on the trees and a carpet of fallen red. The woods reminded me of the arena in the Hunger Games, but not sure anyone else is geeky enough to make the comparison…

The pretty just got prettier as we wandered down a board walk and over a marsh where one wrong step and it would have been head over into the water, one more rain fall and I’m not sure there would have been a board walk left!

Just when I thought it couldn’t get any more breathtaking, the trees cleared opening to my favourite place, the beach. Woods and the beach?? Can I just pick up this place and take it back with me to OZ? Pretty please??

Katie had been to this particular beach once before with the fam and had managed to find shark teeth amongst the shells. We joined the other scavengers, and I mean tourists, looking for the teeth, unfortunately we weren’t as lucky. Dang, would have been awesome chrissie presents for Marcus and Annabelle, and damn cheap.

So it turns out shark teeth don’t actually look like shark teeth when they wash up on the beach, they look nothing like the ones you sea attached to a leather necklace worn by random surfers in B grade American movies, they are actually more grey and weird shaped, looked more like this (obvs not my hand!):

Hmmm, maybe if I’d been looking for weird black things too we would have had more luck! Heading back through the woods was just as beautiful, and after a pit stop for lunch, it was back over the big arse bridge with gorgeous views for miles, and strangely not enough railing…

And then once again, we stopped at an American institution, Harris Teeter. Ok, it’s just a grocery store, but grocery store on a whole other level to what you’d ever find in AUS! The ice cream aisle for one, never have I seen so many flavours to choose from, and Mac ‘n’ Cheese, who knew this many types existed. And the Oreo’s, don’t get me started…

After a Drew bear pick up it was home for more Cluedo, Pictionary and Monopoly, where once again I got my arse kicked, and I really really tried!! After a FaceTime home to see the gorgeous faces of my fam it was pack and bed cos tomorrow it was all about the new, New York that is!!

Princess Luna’s moon washed over the land with a glow of warmth and comfort as nightfall arrived in Equestria. Just on the outskirts of the Crystal Empire remained Big Mac who was trotting back and forth upon the hill where he asked Fluttershy to marry him. He panted heavily in and out as he felt ashamed of himself for asking the pegasus to marry him during a time where she was missing her son.

How could Ah have been so stupid? Ah should’ve waited until Toby returned to ask Miss Fluttershy to marry me. Ah surely do miss the little guy, and Ah should be more focused on him returning home the thinking about my own greedy needs. Ah…

“Big Mac?” His thoughts were cut off by the timid voice of Fluttershy. He turned to see her trotting up the here “Oh there you are Big Mac, I’ve been looking for you.” She panted lightly and looked at him with a light smile “Um… what are you doing out here?” She gave him a look mixed with curiousness and worry.

A heavy sigh escaped the red stallion’s lips “Well Miss Fluttershy, Ah wanted to apologize for asking you to marry me so soon last night. Ah should’ve wait until our son returned and…” He was gently shushed as Fluttershy placed a hoof on his muzzle.

“Yes!” A soft beaming smile spread across the yellow mare’s face. A pink blush formed on her cheeks as she carefully took her hoof of his muzzle.

Big Mac swallowed deeply and blinked his eyes “Wait Miss Fluttershy… Ya mean?” Fluttershy gave a simple nod and blushed a deeper shade of pink. He beamed from ear to ear “Oh Miss Fluttershy, ya don’t know happy that makes me feel that ya said yes, but how…” She gently placed her hoof back on his muzzle.

“Well… Um… I ‘ve been thinking Big Mac about your proposal… and… um.. I thought it would be good for Toby to have both of us living under the same roof. Also… Um… I love you too Big Mac. Um.. It’s just that I’m really shy… and…” It was her turn to be cut off as Big Mac pressed his muzzle tenderly and gave her a kiss.

After releasing, Fluttershy was left speechless and Big Mac simply grinned “Ah love ya Miss Fluttershy and I promise to the best stallion you could ever have and the best papa Toby could ever have.”

Fluttershy blushed deeply, but suddenly wrapped her forelegs around his neck in a tight hug. He smiled warmly and returned the hug. She felt tears roll down her cheeks “Thank you Big Mac, this is exactly what Toby deserves. We all deserve to be together as a happy family, and it’s going to come true.” She pulled her head back and gave the stallion another kiss.

“Hey Fluttershy, it’s about time for….” The voice of Discord could be heard, causing Fluttershy and Big Mac to jump. The draconequus chuckled “Oh, am I interrupting something?” He gave a sly grin and rested his chin on his lion paw.

Both of the ponies cleared their throats as Fluttershy looked up at him “Um…. no… nothing Discord. We were just… um… hey, why are you here anyway?” She gave a look of curiousness at him.

He simply chuckled “Well my sweet and shy little friend.” He leaned his lion paw down to playfully pinch at her cheek and chuckled “I’m here to let you know, and I guess now your big red friend here that it’s about time for us to meet the others in the mirror room.”

Fluttershy squeaked and looked at Big Mac with a beaming smile “Oh Big Mac, we got to hurry. I don’t want to miss my precious Toby’s return home!” She hooked a foreleg around his “Let’s go!” And she bolted off down the her with Big Mac quickly trotting beside her.

Discord watched as the two zoomed toward the castle with a grin on his muzzle. He chuckled It appears that there is love in the air, and I would have to search for my best tux. With a snap of his talons he vanished.

Back at the castle Big Mac and Fluttershy arrived at the mirror room where every pony and the princesses were all waiting. The group looked curiously at the two entering together as a smirk grew across the muzzle of Rarity “Well, isn’t this a lovely surprise, welcome Big Mac darling.” Big Mac simply gave a nod of his head.

Fluttershy looked up at him and beamed as she turned to face every pony “Um… every pony, before our precious little one returns… um… we have great news!” She looked back at Big Mac “Honey, would you like to tell them?”

“Honey?!” They all gasped in unison.

Big Mac blushed at the comment and looked at every pony “Well… er… Ah’ve asked Fluttershy to marry me and she said yes. So when our son comes back home, we’re going to surprise him and then we’ll start planning our wedding.” A big cheesy grin spread across his muzzle.

A stunned silence fell over the room as everypony had looks of shock on their muzzles. Fluttershy and Big Mac both looked at them nervously as she bit her lower lip “Um… well… um.. what do you all think? It’s going to be a big surprise for my precious one when he comes home.”

“Well yall, what do ya say? Ah hope yall would be happy to…” Before Big Mac could finish, everypony rushed toward the two and swallowed them up in a big hug.

“Congratulations darlings!” Rarity beamed with excitement “Oh, this is such delightful news! I would be more than honored Fluttershy and Big Mac if you would allow me the opportunity to create you both something marvelous for the occasion.” She batted her eyelashes in a hopeful manner.

“That would be great Rarity.” The yellow pegasus smiled warmly and looked at her mate “What do you think Big Mac, would it be nice for Rarity to do my wedding dress and your tux?” She leaned in to give him a peck on the cheek, causing the group to let out a d’aww.

Big Mac simply responded “Eeyup.”

Rarity clapped her forehooves together “Then it will be done. I promise to create you two the most marvelous wedding attire I’ve ever designed. I’ll do it first thing when we all return, but now it’s time for me to welcome my dear little nephew back home.” She gives the two a beaming smile before trotting over to the mirror.

“Rarity’s right girls. We can all talk about the wedding and everything once our son is back in our arms.” Fluttershy hooked her foreleg with Big Mac’s as they both nodded to their friends and trotted over to the mirror as well. Soon everypony followed suit as they all awaited on the return of their child.

Outside the school, the girls and Toby were all gathered around the statue where Toby first came through into their world. While he was thrilled to finally go back home, he was also saddened to say goodbye to his new friends and family. He sighed heavily as he looked at them “I’m going to miss you all. You have been good friends to me and although we’re from different places, you are all apart of my family.” He felt tears roll down his cheeks, but they were tears of joy.

Just like they did after his beautiful performance, the girls gathered around him and gave him a big, warm, group hug. They too began to shed tears of both joy and sorrow as they knew this was the last time they would see the precious little boy who touched their lives like no one else.

Once they broke away from the hug, each of the girls wanted to say their own goodbye to the little boy. The first was Pinkie Pie who playfully grabbed Toby from underneath his arms and lifted him up high in the air. She then began spinning around holding him gently,and then brought him back down to blow a raspberry on his tummy, causing the group to let out a light-hearted laugh.

She set him back down on the ground, crouched down on one knee, and wrapped him up in a warm hug. She rubbed up and down his back “I’m going to miss you my sweet little cupcake of a friend. It’s going to be sad not to have any parties with you Toby, but I just know that your pony version auntie of me will throw you a very fun ‘Welcome Back Nephew Toby, We Missed You So Much’ party!” She beamed from ear to ear as he gave the boy a kiss on the cheek.

Toby giggled and smiled softly at her “I’m going to miss you too Pinkie. Thank you for comforting me that day in the park when I couldn’t tell you all my story.” He felt tears well up in his eyes as he recalled that day.

Pinkie delicately ran her hand through his hair “There is no need to thank me you cute little sweetheart.” She playfully poked her two index fingers against his tummy, causing him to giggle. She smiled warmly at him and gave him one last big hug before standing back up and stepping back.

Rainbow Dash stepped up and reached a hand down to ruffle at the boy’s hair. She smirked softly at him “Well kiddo, it was awesome getting to know you.” She knelt down on one knee and placed her hand on his shoulder and playfully shook it “Keep up those basketball skills too when you get back home. I see a great athlete in you Toby. Of course not as great as me, but great nonetheless.” She chuckled as she pulled him into a warm hug “I’m going to miss you little dude, you just keep being awesome like you are Toby.” She rubbed at his back and stood back up.

He looked up at her “Thank you Rainbow Dash for letting me play with you that day and believing in me that I could do good.” Rainbow Dash smiled softly and rubbed at her eye with a finger.

A collected d’awww escaped everyone as she looked at them “What?! I have something in my eyes.” She stepped back.

“Well sugarcube, Ah guess this is the end of the line and ya must be getting back home.” Applejack tipped her hat to Toby “Just remember Toby to always stay honest and truthful, not only to yourself but to your family and friends.” She knelt down and pulled him into a warm embrace “Ah’m sure gonna miss ya little feller.”

Toby hugged around her neck gently “I’m going to miss you too Applejack, and I promise to always be honest and tell the truth no matter what.” He pulled away and gave her a warm smile.

Applejack returned the smile and ruffled his hair before standing up and stepping back to allow the next girl to say goodbye. Rarity leaned down and picked Toby up from under his arms and sat him on her hip. Her eyes were stained with tears as she held him with one arm supporting his bottom and the other supporting his back.

“Toby, I just want to let you know and I know the girls know so too, but you are such a precious little darling of a boy. Don’t you ever change who you are, okay dear?” She leaned in to give him a tender kiss on the cheek.

He gave a tearful smile and hugged her around her neck. He laid his head on her shoulder “I promise Rarity I’ll always stay the good boy I am. You are a good friend like all the girls, and you do make very pretty dresses just like my Auntie Rarity in Ponyville. Don’t you stop making dresses.” He smiled softly.

She reached up with a hand and gently stroked at his head before turning her head to kiss him one more time on the cheek. She put him on the ground “I promise darling, I will keep being the best fashionista I can be, and it’s because of my friends, and also because of the wonderful little boy inside of you that I’ve come to call my friend.” She gave him a warm smile and cutely poked at his nose.

Fluttershy walked up, but before she could say anything, Toby hugged around her waist tightly. She was taken aback a bit, but she gently wrapped her arms around his back in a warm embrace. She leaned her head down to kiss the top of his “Um… Toby, I know I’m not either one of your mothers.. but… ever since we met on your first day of school… um… I’ve felt like you were apart of me. I just want to tell you that I love you sweetie, and no matter what happens in the future, just know that you are loved by not just us, but all of your other family.” She gave him a warm smile.

“I know Fluttershy, and I love you too. Although you aren’t my mommy or my momma, you will always be my family and all of you girls too.” He looked up at all them who gave him a tearful smile.

Fluttershy let out a slight squeak “Oh my… I almost forgot. Noi sweetheart come here.” She motioned for the young girl to come and stand beside, which Noi obliged. When she stepped beside Fluttershy, the teen placed her hands gently on her shoulders “Um… Toby, after some consideration of what you asked of me this morning… and um… tomorrow I’m going to officially be the mother of Noi.” She grinned ear from ear.

A look mixed with surprise and joy spread across the young child’s face. He looked at Noi “Really Noi? You’re going to have a mommy?”

Noi gave a nod and smiled brightly “Yes it’s true sweetheart. Fluttershy is going to be my new mom, and it’s all because of you Toby. Thank you so much sweetheart.” She leaned her head forward and gave him a kiss on the cheek.

He blushed “I’m proud for you Noi and happy that you are going to finally be adopted and have a family.” He then looked back at Fluttershy “I know you’re going to be a great mommy Fluttershy, just like my momma in Equestria.”

The older girl knelt down and pulled him into a hug “Thank you sweetie, I hope I don’t let you down.” She rubbed up and down his back soothingly and pulled him back gently. She caressed his cheek “You just remain the respectful and polite young gentleman you are Toby. Just like Sunset’s song, you truly are an angel to all of us honey.” She kissed her forehead and the others nodded in agreement.

Fluttershy stood up and stepped back with Noi’s hand in hers. The three young girls who took the took the role of Toby’s big sisters walked up to him and gave him a group hug. Each gave him a kiss on the top of his head and rubbed at his back comfortably.

“We love you little brother!” They spoke in unison.

Scootaloo ruffled his hair “It was awesome meet you little guy. I had fun the day at the park playing that game of bball with you. You keep up the game and keep being the cool little dude you are.” She gave him a soft smirk and playfully punched at his shoulder.

“Ah’m gonna miss ya buddy.” Applebloom patted him on his back “But Ah know ya need to get back home to your family. Just know that ya have three more big sisters here thinking about you.” She gave him a wink and stepped back.

Sweetie Belle pulled him into a big hug of her own and stroked the top of his head delicately. She leaned her head down and kiss his crown “Applebloom is right cutie, you’ll always have a special place in our hearts, every one of us.” She motioned to all the girls with her hand “And I just hope we all will have a special place in yours.” She gave a bright and warm smile before releasing the hug.

Toby sniffled and nodded “Of course Sweetie Belle. You and everyone will always be with me in my heart.” He smiled warmly up at everyone, but noticed that one of them was absent from the circle of friends. He then saw Sunset standing off to the side with her hands folded in front of her as he carefully walked through the circle and toward her.

Tears were streaming down her cheeks as she looked at the little boy who had become such an angel in her life and gave her so much hope. A frown appeared on Toby’s face as he approached her and looked up at her “Sunset, please don’t cry.” He hugged her tightly around her middle as he laid his head against her stomach.

A heavy sigh escaped her lips as she placed one hand on the back of his head and wrapped her other arm around his back hugging him to her. She lowered her head and buried it in the top of his “Oh my precious little angel of a brother, I’m going to miss you so much. You’re such a beautiful child Toby, inside and out, and I hope that someday I get to see you again one way or another.” She knelt down to one knee and kissed his cheek “Don’t you ever change who you are Toby. You are not only an angel, but a beautiful gift to all of us.”

The flood of tears Toby tried to hold back finally broke free as he wrapped his arms around her neck “I’m going to miss you too Sunset so much. Thank you for being there for me the first day here and protecting me from Diamond Tiara and Silver Spoon.” He sniffled and laid his head on her shoulder.

She just held him and rubbed up and down his back soothingly “No need to thank me buddy, that’s what family is for.” She smiled and turned her head to kiss at his cheek. They continued the hug for a moment longer as the others cried and everyone had tearful smiles on their faces.

Suddenly the statue’s center became a swirling vortex causing everyone to look in awe. With another heavy sigh Sunset carefully broke the hug and placed her hands on Toby’s shoulder “Well my angel, it looks like it’s time. Are you ready to go back home to reunite with your family?” She gave him a soft, yet sad smile.

Toby sniffled and nodded “Yes I am, but I wish you were going with me Sunset. You are my big sister, and I’m going to miss you so much, but I understand that this is your home here. Just know that I love you Sunset and you are my guardian angel.” He smiled softly, yet sadly as well.

Sunset reached up to wipe away her tears and rubbed at his shoulders “Well buddy, you know you will always be my little brother, and if you ever need to smile on a day that you are sad, just think of me and the girls.” She gave him one last kiss on his forehead and stood up “Goodbye Toby, I love you.” She stepped back to allow the boy to go home.

With a deep breath, Toby turned around and approached the statue. He looked into the swirling portal and slowly turned around to face the ones he called his friends and second family one last time. He gave a wave of his small hand “Goodbye everyone, I love you!” He choked back a sob as he turned back toward the portal.

“Goodbye Toby, we love you!” The girls all said in unison as they watched their little friend step into the port and in a flash was gone. However the portal was still open as if it was waiting on another figure to step through. Then they all turned to face Sunset who had her back toward them with her gaze staring at the swirling vortex.

“Uh, Sugarcube, why didn’t ya go with the little feller?” Applejack asked softly as she walked up to Sunset and placed a hand calmly on her shoulder.

Another hand was placed on her shoulder “Yes darling, you know that the little dear loves you and wanted you to go with him. Why in the world of Canterlot would you not go home with him?” Rarity gave a small frown to her friend.

Sunset let out a heavy sigh and turned toward the girls “I can’t go back to Equestria you guys. You all know my story and why I can’t go back. They would never accept me as his friend or family.” Fresh hot tears were rolling down her cheeks “I love Toby, but I don’t know if they would allow me the chance to be apart of his life as his big sister. Not after what I done.”

Without warning Rainbow Dash stomped up to her and firmly smacked her across the face. Everyone gasped “That is enough Shimmer!” She gave a disapproving look.

“Ow! What was that for Rainbow?!” Sunset rubbed at her cheek with a hand.

The cyan toned girl sighed heavily and arched her eyebrows disappointingly. She placed her hand on Sunset’s shoulder firmly “I’m sorry for doing that, but girl, you’re being so uncool right now letting that child go back home alone. Yeah it was horrible what you done by stealing that Twilight Sparkle’s crown and tried to turn everyone into your patsies. However, that was the past and this is the now, so get your rear in gear and go after him.” She crossed her arms and let out a proud huff.

Everybody’s jaws dropped at the assertiveness Rainbow shown, but mostly the wisdom in which she spoke. She quirked an eyebrow at their stares “What? I’m just telling the truth.” She smirked and chuckled.

“Um… she’s right Sunset.” Fluttershy looked at the fiery haired girl “Toby may have all of his family back in Equestria just waiting to welcome him back… um…. but that family won’t feel complete to him without you by his side. We are your friends Sunset and we all love you.” She gave a soft smile and very softly let go of Noi’s hand which the younger girl understood as she walked up to Sunset and gave her a hug.

Pinkie Pie beamed and skipped up to Sunset “Yeah Sunny, the sweet little cupcake is going to need you as a big sister to look up to. And if we can forgive you, I’m sure the pretty and nice pony versions of us can forgive you too.” She joined in on the hug along with the rest.

As they shared a group hug Sunset allowed the remaining of her tears to shed “Oh you girls are so special to me.” They broke the group hug as Sunset let out a heavy sigh and gave a soft smile to her friends “You all are right and Rainbow Dash, thank you for that smack of reality.”

“Ah, don’t mention it Shimmer. That’s what friends are for, to help each other in need.” Rainbow smirked proudly “Now you get going before I get too touchy feely.”

Sunset chuckled as she looked around at each of the girls “I’m going to miss you all. You all shown me what true friendship is all about, and for that I thank you. I hope to see you all again some day,and I promise to make you proud of me as I continue to being the best person I can be.” She smiled softly at them, took in a deep breath and exhaled, and then turned toward the statue.

She turned to face them one final time “Goodbye girls, I’ll miss you!” She gave a wave of her hand and faced the portal Here I come my little brother. She entered into the portal and just like Toby, she was gone in a flash. The portal finally closed as she left Canerlot.

The girls smiled proudly as they watched their friend exit from their world into the portal. A heavy united sigh escaped their lips “Well gals, what shall we do now?” Applejack looked at them curiously.

Out of nowhere Pinkie squeaked excitedly “I think it’s time for us to throw a ‘We’re Gonna Miss Sunset Shimmer, But Proud That She Is Going To Live With Her Little Brother And His Family’ party!” She beamed happily.

Everyone giggled at her antics as they all decided to walk together away from the school for the night.

After going through the portal Toby slipped into unconsciousness just like his first time through it. However he could faintly hear voices calling to him “Oby. Toby. Toby? Wake up sweetheart?” Slowly, he blinked his eyes some until he could see through the lens of his glasses. At first his vision was blurry, but once it cleared he could see several sets of hooves around him.

He let out a small, soft grunt as he found himself on the floor/ the crystal floor of the mirror room. He gasped and slowly stood up as he blinked his eyes a few more times. Once he opened them fully, he could see that he was facing his family and a wide smile spread across his face.

Although they were all smiling at him, his eyes fell on one pony “Momma!” He cried out as he ran up to Fluttershy and wrapped his arms warmly around her neck as she crouched down when she saw him running toward her. He cried happily into her shoulder “Oh Momma, I’ve miss you so much!” He couldn’t help but shake with light sobs.

Fluttershy felt tears of her own start to escape her eyes and roll down her cheeks. She wrapped both of her forelegs around her little boy in a warm embrace and laid her head over his shoulder. She rubbed up and down his back soothingly “Oh my precious little Toby, Momma missed you so much too!” They held the hug for a few moments.

Every pony quietly stood there with warm smiles on their muzzles as they watched the two share their special mother and son moment together. After releasing the hug, Toby sniffled and looked up at his adoptive mother, and then around at everypony else. He cried out softly each of their names “Auntie Rarity, Auntie Pinkie, Auntie Rainbow, Auntie Applejack, Auntie Twilight, Auntie Celestia, Auntie Luna, big sisters Applebloom, Scootaloo, Sweetie Belle, Diamond Tiara, Silver Spoon,Uncle Discord, and Papa Big Mac I’ve missed you all so much too!” He allowed extra tears to flow.

“We miss you Toby!” They all said altogether and trotted up to him giving him an all around big hug.

Kevin, Nikolai, Riley, and Firebolt stood off to the side to witness the reunion between the human child and his family. Kevin turned to the other three “Hey guys, how about we go outside for a while and let them have this time together? We can spend time with Toby and get to know him later.” The satyr gave a warm smile.

“You’re right my friend.” Nikolai gave a firm nod and looked at his partner, patting him on the head “Come Riley, let’s go do some more exploring, this time in the woods.” Riley simply nodded and the two turned to walk away.

Kevin turned to trot away when he noticed Firebolt quietly standing alone “Hey buddy, how about you join me and we go see what else is around this beautiful place?”

The stallion nodded “Sounds good to me my friend.” He gave Kevin a warm smile as they exited the mirror room.

After breaking the hug Toby looked up at them “I’m so happy to be back home with all of you. I…” He was cut off as there was a thud heard behind them.

“Ugh… I forgot how much that hurts when going through that thing.” Sunset Shimmer grunted as she slowly stood up, now back in her pony form shook off effects of going through the portal.

“Sunset!” An gleeful yell escaped Toby’s lips, causing the mare to look up after shaking her head to get the extra cobwebs out.

She looked to see Toby and smiled warmly “Hi there buddy, surprised to see me?” She gave a laugh as the little boy walked up to her. She saw that she even stood above him in pony form so she crouched down and he hugged her around her neck. She wrapped a foreleg around his back and kissed his forehead.

“Sunset, I thought you said you was going to stay back in Canterlot City. What made you change your mind?” He asked curiously, but with a big smile.

“Sunset Shimmer, it is good to have you return to Equestria.” Princess Celestia trotted up and gave her a warm smile “Welcome back my little pony.”

Sunset swallowed deeply and bowed her head “Thank you your highness.” She looked up at the alicorn “I want to apologize Princess Celestia for the crime I committed last time was here. I…” She was gently cut off as Celestia raised a hoof.

“Don’t you fret Sunset, Twilight Sparkle explained how you learned your lesson before she left your world. You are forgiven and it looks like that my dear little nephew has made not only a new friend, but a new family member while he was gone.” She smiled down at the child and nuzzled the top of his head. She cleared her throat as she turned toward everypony “Well my little ponies and nephew, shall we head toward the throne room and allow our precious child tell us of his adventure?” They all nodded and started to exit one by one.

Fluttershy trotted up to her son and knelt to let him climb up on her back, which he happily obliged. As he got on her back and hugged around her neck, she turned to kiss at his cheek. She then blushed “Um… and Toby sweetheart, your papa and I have something special to tell you. Isn’t that right Big Mac?” She turned to look at the stallion and trotted up close to him.

“Eeyup.” He looked back at his son “Toby my big boy, you momma and Ah are going to get married.” His red cheeks became redder as he told the boy the news.

“Really?! You mean I’m going to be living with both of you?!” He asked happily as a wide smile of joy spread across his face. Fluttershy and Big Mac simply nodded as Toby gently tightened his hug around her neck, but she didn’t mind, because she was so happy to have her son back.

Sunset followed behind the three with a warm smile on her face You deserve it buddy. For being the special angel you are, you deserve to have the family you so wished for.

Meanwhile back in the region of the frozen north, the lurking figure focused it’s shadowy eyes upon the Crystal Empire. Made of nothing but shadow and smoke, a low heavy chuckle escaped from it’s form.

That’s right little human, enjoy your time back home with your family and friends as long as you can. For the time will come when I, King Sombra shall make my triumphant return to power, and take back my throne of the Crystal Empire. And you my dear child are going to be the instrument I use to solidify it. But for now, in order for my plan to become reality, I’m going to need some help. I believe I’ll pay a visit to Tartarus to begin with.

Soon the shadowy form of the tyrant king slowly descended from the frozen north and headed toward it’s destination.

Soon Equestria, I promise you all will fall before the mighty hooves of King Sombra.

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