Wednesday, January 30, 2013

The time I met a movie star

Location: Sydney, Australia
Starring: Orlando Bloom

I've been holding out on a story - not for any special reasons, just that I kept forgetting to tell it. First, though, I need to set the scene.

While we were back in Australia last year, we had to pay a visit to the US Consulate in Sydney. The specific visas that allow us to live in the US require us to reapply if we leave the States for any amount of time. Annoying, expensive, and it seems to be a mere formality. I have to say, Americans do love bureaucracy (that word is my Achille's Heel of spelling).

Naturally - being the US Consulate - the location itself is super tight with security. It's in one of the tallest buildings in Sydney, split over two levels. First, visitors need to arrive fifteen minutes before their appointment so they can 'check in' with security, on the tenth floor. It's not unlike going through an airport - passports need to be presented, then shoes removed, a walk though a metal detector, then all personal belongings (barring your actual paperwork and passports) handed over to a cloak/bag check in. Yes, even your wallets and phones. Especially your phones, and they must be switched off.

Once your load has been lightened on the other side of the metal detector, you need to present your paperwork to one of the staff members who are sitting at a large wooden table. Generally, two different people can be seen at a time. The staff members look over your paperwork to make sure you have everything you need for your appointment upstairs.

Did I just say upstairs? Because once your paperwork has been checked, you are then ushered to one of four rows of seats and instructed to wait until your row is called. When your row is called, you are then escorted to a lift and whisked up - from memory - to the 59th floor. Once you step out of the lift, there is a lobby, filled with large flags for each of the Australian states and territories, an Aboriginal flag, and - of course - the stars and stripes. There is further security waiting there, to open (what appears to be) the heaviest bomb-proof door, into the main part of the consulate.

Once through that door, it looks like any standard place which involves taking a numbered ticket, waiting... waiting... and presenting your paperwork, being 'interviewed', and having your fingerprints taken. If you're Australian, think of the RTA (in NSW) or Centrelink. If you're American, the DMV. British, where you go to get your NHI number. In other words, there are rows and rows of bored-looking people, sitting in plastic seats. Except, they are extra bored because nobody has their phones or reading material to kill their waiting time. One wall is lined with numbered windows through which to interact with consulate staff. The only feature which makes this place any different is that there are pretty American tourism posters lining the walls, and the end wall has a very large window that overlooks part of the city and the sparkling harbour - quite breathtaking, in fact.

So there you go - scene set.

We had a morning appointment at the consulate, and managed to get all four of us there without any drama. We did the check in, walked through the metal detectors, and handed over the stroller - along with all our personal belongings. No phones. No kiddy snacks. Definitely no water bottles. Then J sat down at the large wooden table, next to another fellow, as the staff sitting opposite them went through and checked the paperwork. Meanwhile, I wrangled the girls as we sat in our row - waiting to be given the all clear to head up the 59th floor.

Of course, being a two-and-a-half year old, Miss Pie had no interest in sitting quietly. Why would she? This was a confined, security-tight place... time to run around, in other words. She began to charm various other people nearby, then I heard giggling and she said, "Aww... cute baby! Mumma, there's a cute baby there!" My gaze followed to where she was pointing, and sure enough, there was a sweet looking little boy, about eighteen months old. The two of them pulled funny faces at each other, giggled more, and ran around together. I was just relieved that she had some form of entertainment.

After about a minute or so, I watched as the little boy wandered over to his father, who was sitting at the wooden table next to J. Both men were sitting with their backs to us, but when the father turned around to his little boy, I realised he was Orlando Bloom.

My first reaction was to swivel around and see where Miranda Kerr was. I've always thought her to be gorgeous so it was only natural that I wanted to ogle... but she was nowhere to be seen. It was just Orlando and their kid.

Holy shit, my kid is playing with Orlando Bloom's kid.

I looked over at J, to see if he'd noticed who was sitting right next to him. J's not the type to get starstruck but he's seen most of the Pirates of the Caribbean films, not to mention the Lord of the Rings trilogy. He definitely knew who Orlando Bloom was. I was unable to see J's face, so I tried to will him to look over. I was ready to do all kinds of crazy faces to convey Somebody Famous was sitting next to him.

To be honest, until this day I'd never really had a thing for Orlando. Plenty of my girlfriends did though, so I was mostly just looking forward to gloating about seeing him in the flesh.

Eventually J was told he could come and join us, so that we could go upstairs when called. Frantic whispering ensued, and yes, he'd seen who was next to him.

Orlando and his little boy were escorted to the lift a few minutes before us - after getting Miss Pie to say goodbye to her new playmate, I thought that was that. End of encounter. Not even polite chit-chat with Orlando, just the polite smiles that parents exchange in playgrounds when their kids are playing together.

We were ushered up to the 59th floor shortly after, took a number, and waited. Rather than sit down amongst all the bored people, we were drawn to the window with harbour views, where warm sunshine was spilling in. After a while, J was called over to one of the numbered windows - which was thankfully nearby, meaning I didn't have to yank the girls away from the window.

Then I noticed the person at the numbered window next to J's was Orlando... and his little boy was running around, looking for someone to play with. Sure enough Miss Pie found him, and there was a lot of giggling together.

Over the next forty-five minutes or so, J was called to his window a number of times, as was Orlando (yeah, I'm going to pretend I was on first-name terms with him... you would, too). Back and forth. Visa and passport issues can never be a straight-forward matter, right? Basically, there was a lot of waiting around. Us. Orlando. Our kids playing (by this time, the Faery was in on the action too).

The polite 'playground' chit-chat was inevitable. At first, despite my prior non-crushing status, I felt a little self-conscious every time my mouth opened. To Orlando's credit, he was utterly charming, without coming across as too smooth.

The usual small details were exchanged - such as the kids' ages. Miss Pie is a year older than Orlando's son and - as he watched Miss Pie - he said was trying to imagine what it would be like when his little boy was another year older and talking more clearly, but couldn't imagine. Like most dads, he sounded excited at the thought.

Orlando asked us if we lived in the US, we told him which part of LA we live in (and the studio where J works)... and I was tempted to point out the obvious about us being the same nationality as his wife, and that we should all get together some time for pavlova (yes, I really did have that thought - jokingly, sort of - so it was a good thing there was no wine around to loosen my tongue).

I didn't, though - I couldn't. I'm not even the type to ask for autographs, or to have my photo taken. I used to have a job which involved meeting famous customers often enough, and I decided a long time ago I could never gush or act girly in the presence of someone famous. A little tongue-tied, maybe, but that's it. My personality is far more that of an aloof cat than a friendly puppy.

Mostly, though, our little chats centred around the kids playing together, little observations and expressions of pleasure that they were playing so well, and were keeping themselves entertained, not getting bored. The sort of relief that only parents know when stuck in a situation like this - a confined space, long waits, no toys or snacks to dole out. And truly, it wasn't just mindless comments. The kids were playing beautifully, and compared to many of the little boys I've known, Orlando's was one of the most well-behaved, easy-going, polite toddlers I've encountered. I was impressed. Had we been in this situation when Miss Pie was a year younger, I'm certain that a meltdown would have been unavoidable.

Okay, so this was hardly a rock'n'roll encounter. I probably haven't made it sound terribly exciting... but at the time, it seemed so surreal. I mean, if I told anyone I'd met Orlando Bloom, they'd immediately assume it was somewhere in LA - not in a US Consulate in Australia. Also, I was struck by how much of a regular person Orlando seemed to be when he was chatting to us. There was no ego evident. It was like talking to someone sitting on the same bus or train ride. He appeared genuinely interested in our answers and came across as a warm, friendly person. He clearly adored his son, and my friends who are in love with him probably would have quivered helplessly if they'd witnessed the quick, casual nappy-change he had to perform.

A movie star in a black T-shirt, black jeans and boots, whipping a travel pack of baby wipes and nappy from his back pocket... sounds like one of the Ryan Gosling memes, right? (I'd like to know how he smuggled those upstairs, by the way... I certainly wasn't allowed to bring... stuff...)

Anyhow, everything drew to its natural end. Paperwork and interviews sorted, we all shared the lift back down to the tenth floor and collected our belongings. On our way out, I saw Orlando being greeted at the exit by two or three people - assistants? - and handed a bag, sippy bottle, coats and so on. We said our farewells, and that really was it, this time.

Except now, I'm no longer immune to the movie star appeal of Orlando Bloom. I confess: I've joined the ranks of my girlfriends who crush on him. A little...

Monday, January 28, 2013

January snippets

I have at least four complete posts written in my head, but we've had the usual wintery illnesses going round the home lately, making it tricky for me to commit to sitting down and just writing, writing, writing. I have a million things to say, and I'll get them out... eventually.

In the mean time, I'd like to share my favourite photos from January. Winter's not too bad in these parts, but I'm still looking forward to spring. Yes, I am a wimp...

Wednesday, January 23, 2013


Downtown Seattle, as seen from Bainbridge Island, circa 2000

Back in the day, I had quite a collection of Lonely Planet travel guide books. I love reading up on places I'm planning to visit. Notice I use the word planning - I never actually made it to South America or Thailand (unless you count changing planes at Bangkok Airport). I carried these books around from home to home for many years, and only recently parted with most of them when I accepted that the information - being over a decade old - was largely out of date. I had to let go.

My copies were well-thumbed. I may have mentioned in the past that I have a 'thing' for maps. I really do - no map will fall into my hands without being submitted to intense scrutiny. I am a map nerd. Lately, I've been relying on Google Maps for much of my information and navigation, and I think my neck and shoulders are beginning to rebel against my use of my iPhone and laptop and so last night, for the first time in far too long, I dug out my Times Atlas of the World. I'd forgotten how satisfying it is to sit with that large, heavy book on my lap and flip through the detailed pages. I'd forgotten how good those pages smell, too.

Technology has been great in terms of instant information at our fingertips, but sadly (for me) it's meant that I'm not taking the time out to pick up actual, physical books any more. You know, those things with paper pages?

So, the other day I decided to treat myself and order a real book, which just arrived today. It's NFT - Not For Tourists Guide to Seattle. It looks like we'll be spending some time there at some stage this year, so I figured, what the hell. Let's order a proper book and give my neck and shoulders a break from reading up about Seattle on the laptop and phone.

I chose this book because a few weeks before we moved to Los Angeles, some good (clever) friends gave us a copy of NFT Los Angeles as a farewell gift. It wasn't long before it became an invaluable resource. It's brilliant because the first (main) section of the book divides the city and surrounding areas into sectional maps, and repeats each map twice. One version has a key for 'sundries/entertainment', such as restaurants, bars, gyms. The second version has a key for 'essentials' - supermarkets, coffee shops, petrol stations, schools and landmarks. The second half of the book is devoted to the standard travel guide fare: parks, hotels, shopping centres, tourist attractions, hospitals, public transport and more.

Who needs the internet, right? This is the kind of book you can have in your bag, and not go into panic mode if your phone's batteries start to run low. When we first moved to LA, I didn't have an iPhone that I could pick up at any given moment while on the go. It was strictly wi-fi in our hotel room with our laptop, or NFT when we were out and about. It was also my bed time reading.

I'm looking forward to reading up on Seattle, and seeing how things compare with my memories from my very brief visit back in 2000... then, organising our next adventure. Bring it on.

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My bum got the kicking it needed to write motivation for this post was brought to you by MamaKat'sLosin'It. The first prompt for this week's writer's workshop is: "What are you reading?"

(Click here for more prompts)

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Hotel hunger

San Francisco

Recently, a friend was asking around about hotel recommendations for the area where she was going for a short getaway. One of her specifications - "Must be luxury" - got me thinking.

I love staying in hotels, and I'm not picky about the star ratings. Sure, luxury is nice (although where luxury is concerned, I speak from very limited experience) but for me, there is so much more to the hotel experience than how fancy it is.

Our most recent little jaunt up the Californian coast confirmed this. We stayed at a Best Western with two queen-sized beds for the four of us - in other words, modest quarters - but the shower was the best one I'd had in years. The circumference of the shower spray was wide and enveloped my whole body with the perfect water pressure. Never underestimate the simple joy of a great shower.

And hotel beds. I love hotel beds. Sliding into crisp sheets, pillows that always seem to be fluffed up perfectly, and surrendering to sleep on a firm mattress (I prefer firm to soft). If only my own bed could live up to these standards, night after night... but I'm far too lazy to be changing sheets every day.

Over the years, I've stayed in wide range of hotels, but most of them have been of the average garden variety. Comfortable enough, not too frilly, not too posh. The fanciest hotel I've ever stayed at was in Barcelona, on our honeymoon - when we could justify that sort of cost - and it was dizzyingly wonderful. It was a stark contrast to my previous accommodation experiences around Europe. The bulk of my travel back then was done solo and on a shoe-string budget, so backpacker hostels were essential. I had some great times in those cities but I can honestly say I'm happy that I no longer have to consider sleeping in a mixed dorm with twenty other people - especially like the time I was in Munich, and most my 'room mates' had been downing steins of lager all night long at the HofbrÀuhaus. You can imagine what that does for one's snoring.

I suppose that kind of accommodation is one I won't be embracing anymore, but generally I'm more than okay with basic hotels, even hostels. When J and I visited Gothenburg, we stayed in a hostel but it was the most civilised hostel ever, with young families also staying there. It inspired us so much that we hope to go back - kids in tow - to that corner of the world one day, knowing that we won't need to spend a fortune on accommodation for the four of us when such nice hostels are the norm. Our trip to Encinitas, two summers ago, was spent in a three-star hotel on a main road, and we had a brilliant little holiday. Okay, so we only really used our room as a base for sleeping, while we went out all day, but nonetheless I got a kick out of watching the Faery's excitement as she explored the room.

Hotels, to me, represent freedom and possibilities. Adventure.

Sometimes the adventure is food-related. Should we splurge on room service? Gorge ourselves silly on the all-you-can-eat breakfast buffet? Pocket more 'snacks' to keep in our bag for later? Or head out and eat at one of the local places?

Mostly though, it's the unknown of a new city, especially if it was a night-time arrival. Waking up in the morning, blinking in sunshine from a different angle, and knowing there's a whole new bunch of spaces waiting for you to see. Virgin exploration. I love it.

First impressions, too. I remember stepping out of our hostel in Vancouver and inhaling lungfuls of cold, pine-scented mountain air. Before that first morning, I'd had no idea that a city could smell so damn good. Like Vancouver, Los Angeles was also an evening arrival. When we stepped out from the hotel the next morning, and my head swivelled north, I was immediately in awe of the nearby Verdugo Mountains - they seemed so close! Another city, another feature I'd had no idea about.

If it's an afternoon check-in, once we've seen our room and dumped our bags, it's just a question of how long until we head outside and start walking, exploring. J has usually wants to relax for a bit before venturing out - especially if our journey there has been epic - but I tend to receive a hit of adrenaline that won't settle for hotel-chilling until I've been for a walk and acquainted myself with the surroundings. New sights, new smells, new sounds, new food... this is what I hunger for.

Some friends from Australia recently moved to Seattle, and we've been tossing about the idea of a trip up north this year. It's extra tempting because Portland - home to some other close friends - is only three hours south of Seattle. Although I'm generally not a fan of cold weather, I do love the Pacific Northwest. It's the pine-scented air. We've been to Seattle before but that was over ten years ago and I'm keen to revisit. If we go, we'll be staying in a completely different area and you know what that means: more exploring. Nothing is planned, and the trip may not happen, but if I allow myself to think about the new places to discover (not to mention the prospect of decent coffee), a tingle of anticipation begins to build.

Luxury accommodation definitely won't be an option but that would be wasted on small kids anyway. Besides, I happen to love the little travel companions we have now. With them, new places are still an adventure - just in a slightly different sense.

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This post was a combination of what's been in my head lately, and the writing prompt "Explore", from MamaKatsLosinIt.

Click here for more prompts

Sunday, January 13, 2013

Three, take two

Miss Pie is officially three, and we are officially in the throes of toilet-training. We're only in the early stage (ie nappy off only when at home) but this past week hasn't been too bad. I'm glad we waited until now, though, as I just know there would have been a whole bunch of screaming fits (her? me?) if we'd tried last year. At the moment she seems to be recognising the signs of needing to go, and - mostly - making it in time. So far, there have been far fewer accidents than I anticipated. All good.

Her birthday - falling in the middle of the week - was a quiet affair, but we had some friends over yesterday for cake and nibblies. She was adamant about having a dinosaur cake (I blame Peppa Pig's brother) but didn't seem too bothered by the fact that I approximated a dragon cake template. Dragons, dinosaurs... they're all the same right? And this particular cake design seemed doable. I am all about doable cakes, rather than ambitious cakes. Who needs the spike in stress levels from attempting complicated party cakes?

I dug out the face-painting kit, and had every intention of using it (secretly hoping our tattoo artist friend might help out) but once the wine began to flow for us adults, and the kids amused themselves upstairs with a karaoke microphone, our bed, and a colander over our lamp for a mirror ball effect (kids are resourceful, huh?)... face-painting didn't end up happening.

I think everyone enjoyed themselves but I managed to over-cater. J has headed out of town for two nights, so instead of eating nutritionally-prepared meals for one, I'll be stuffing my face with leftover pizzas, spring rolls, cake and wine for the next couple of days.

Actually, that doesn't sound too bad. Even better, I just heard that my girl crush, Tina Fey, is hosting the Golden Globes tonight. I think my Sunday night has just been taken care of.

Sunday, January 6, 2013


In three days, Miss Pie will be turning three. Quite frankly, I don't know where the time has gone... and yet, I find it hard to remember a time when this complex, larger-than-life character wasn't with us.

She was only eleven weeks old when we moved to Los Angeles - meaning that she has already lived 90% of her life in the US. That little statistic sounds crazy to me. For now, her accent sounds neutral to me. People comment on her Australian/British accent but I can only put that down to her spending more time with me than anyone else. Preschool is just around the corner and before I know it, I'll have two little girls who twang their Rrrrrs.

She is big on doling out tight squeezes around my neck, usually accompanied by juicy lip-smacking kisses.

She could not be more different from her sister, in terms of personality. She is incredibly assertive and holds her own - even against bigger boys in the park. She is sure-footed and climbs all manner of things in a way which makes my stomach lurch, going faster and higher than any other three-year-old girl I've known. She is bossy and loves nothing more than to direct how we play, down to what words I should be saying and which facial expression I should be pulling. I sense a future in theatre, or some form of entertainment. She can be an absolute clown and is excellent at hamming things up, exaggerating her frowns, sighs, and folding arms across her chest in a dramatic sweep.

When instructed to be careful, her response is usually an emphatic "A course I will be, Mum!" When warned not to do something, "A course I won't!" Complete strangers overhear this, and just about fall over laughing.

She speaks like Elmer Fudd.

She dances like no one is watching.

For all the exasperating moments she gives me, I am glad she's mine.

Wednesday, January 2, 2013

Two-day trippin'

A few more photos from our little road trip last week:

1. The Pacific Ocean, as seen from outside our hotel, shortly after arriving in San Simeon.

2 & 3. The same beach near our hotel, during a stroll the following morning.

4. A bird of prey, but no idea which kind. Amazing to see its impressive wingspan, regardless.

5, 6 & 7. On our way back to L.A. we decided to detour a little inland into the heart of Santa Barbara County, and had a short break to stretch our legs in a town called Solvang. This town is famous for its large Danish settlement and community, so it's a popular weekend destination for those wanting to experience a bit of a Northern European vibe. We didn't stay too long because we didn't want to hit any nasty traffic on the way back home but from what I saw, it really did feel like walking around a part of Europe. Unfortunately, that traffic snarl still got us in the end, and the 2.5 hour leg between Santa Barbara turned into a five-hour leg. I wish I was exaggerating. It was a bit of a killer to end what had been a great little family getaway, but lesson learned - avoid the southbound 101 freeway through Santa Barbara from 4pm onwards during weekends and holiday periods!