Wednesday, May 29, 2013

One foot here, one foot there

I've never really visited a city before, with the knowledge that it's going to be my future home.

When we landed in Los Angeles, in was a case of WHAM BAM! Welcome to your new home for the next however many years. NOW. You're here. NOW. What are your first impressions?

Many years earlier, it was a similar story when we arrived in London - except we were much younger, child-free, and had zero responsibilities. We hopped off the plane, blinking in delirium from the combination of jet lag and the excitement of being in a new country, far, far away. By the time work opportunities later took us to Brighton (still in the UK), and then to Melbourne, neither of those cities were unfamiliar to us. We'd visited, but long before the possibility of living in either destination had been on the cards.

In a way, my first time in Seattle - thirteen years ago - was like Brighton and Melbourne. I'd enjoyed the city, but viewed it through the filter of casual detachment that someone has when they believe they're just passing through.

Over the recent Memorial weekend, the girls and I made our second trip to Seattle for the year, and stayed for four days. This business of moving our family north has felt like an incredibly drawn out affair, so I was keen to try and convince myself that I was home.

To try Seattle on for size, and see how it fit. How it felt. How it tasted and smelled.

Trying Seattle on for size meant shrugging my shoulders each morning when I woke and noticed the grey skies and wet ground. It meant purchasing a quality rain jacket from REI (see? no umbrella... just like a local), and watching the girls splash in puddles and round up snails. It meant eating maple bacon donut-flavoured frozen yoghurt, and drinking the best damn coffee I've had since we moved to the US more than three years ago (not Starbucks, thank you). It meant setting foot inside our home-to-be, thanks to the kind tenants still residing there, and envisioning where our furniture will go.

Trying Seattle on for size meant noting the differences, and appreciating its beauty. The zig-zagging horizon in every direction, courtesy of the endless parade of firs, spruces, pines and cedars. The wild daisies, and red and yellow poppies that grow in abundance beside the freeway ramps. The fifty million shades of green... everywhere.

I tried Seattle on, and I think I'm going to love it there. I do. I'm impatient to get this move over with, so I can start this next chapter.

There is a 'but' coming, though. I'd be foolish to deny the place that sunshine, warm weather and blue skies hold in my heart. After four days of grey skies, on/off rain and layered clothing, I'd be lying if I said I didn't feel some relief to be wearing Havaianas and summery clothes again.

I'm torn, so I want to acknowledge that. I love the friends we've made in Los Angeles, and I love the sunshine... but I miss J, and I'm counting the days until the four of us are living under one roof again. I love how happy he is with his new job because he truly deserves it. I know that overall, things are going to be better for us in Seattle. I'm looking forward to this summer, so that the girls and I can explore the city properly, with adventures on buses and ferries.

Right now, though? Now. I feel as though half my heart is stuck in L.A, and the other half has jumped out and run to Seattle.

A Havaiana on one foot, a boot on the other...  it's just as well I have long legs, then.

* I'd like to proudly point out that due to the I-can't-be-bothered-factor (and watermarking aside), I've resisted editing all but two of the iPhone photos above. Seattle really is that green.

Wednesday, May 22, 2013


It might sound a little silly, but a feature of our Seattle home-to-be that I'm most excited about is a double garage, with internal access. I haven't really done suburban-style living as an adult, but am pretty much over the nightmare of transferring weekly grocery shopping from the car into the home.

This was never really an issue when we lived in London, Brighton or Melbourne - we were only shopping for two, so groceries tended to be bought on the way home from work, at one of various conveniently located supermarkets near the local tube, bus or tram stop. We had no car, but rarely felt the need for one.

Back in Sydney, the status quo changed from two to three of us, and we bought a small new car. Each of the houses we lived in were in densely populated suburbs, close to the city. Our only option for parking was on the street - and depending what time of day it was - it was often urban warfare. At one point, there was a local serial car-scratcher. Over a period of about six months, many cars on our block fell victim to large key scratches along the entire length of the paintwork - including ours and our lovely next door neighbour's. Charming, yes? The culprit turned out to be a resident of a nearby apartment block, who used to cross the street in front of us, on his drunken staggers home from the local pub. There were witnesses, several times, but the police were unwilling to do much. This fucker eventually moved, and the scratching stopped.

Here we are, now in Los Angeles. Although we're still a one-car family, we have two car spaces in a secure underground car park. In terms of security, it's a step up from street parking, but where convenience is concerned, it's a pain in the arse. Firstly, we cannot store anything in our allotted car spaces - not even bikes or kids wagons. Building policy.

Mostly, though, it's the matter of getting the weekly grocery shops from the car to the apartment.

I have to take a lift (or stairs) up to the ground floor. The lift opens to a passage way between buildings (outdoors), and I have to walk the length of, and around, one building, then through another passage way. The landscaping at this point is split level, so to reach my building I need to then go down a down a dozen steps (or use the ramps). That takes me to the front of my building, and I need to then go up an external flight of stairs to my front door, as it's on the first floor.

Not exactly straightforward, huh?

I can only carry so many bags at a time, and never the entire amount, so multiple trips are required... or I just prioritise and take up the cold things and anything else needed urgently, leaving the rest to be brought up after future car trips over the next day or two.

Sometimes I have the stroller with me, and I can load it up with a few more bags, but this presents its own problem. Miss Pie - who rarely wants to be in the stroller these days - usually decides that this is the time she has to be in it, and throws a tantrum either in the car park, or along the way to the apartment. Good times.

Alternatively, if I'm lucky, I can grab a spot on the street near the heavy gate that's closest to our building (it's very close). When I do this, I can make multiple trips to get all the shopping in, fairly easily. Get the first lot in, switch the TV on for Miss Pie, then run downstairs. Repeat. Repeat. Repeat. The downside to this is that the car is then sitting in the stinking hot LA sun all day until I need to get the Faery from school. It's only really a good option during winter.

And on rainy days? They do happen here, making this grocery transfer suck even harder.

Having a double garage with internal access is going to be so, so sweet. Somewhere to store our bikes and zero hassles getting the shopping inside.

Bring Seattle on, I say.

Sunday, May 19, 2013


When I was younger, I don't think I really paid much attention to when particular plants bloomed and flourished. Growing up in Sydney, I loved the abundance of frangipanis, bougainvillea and jacarandas. Sadly, frangipanis don't appear to be a popular choice in Los Angeleno gardens - I rarely see them - but if there's one thing I've learned to count on, it's that April in L.A. brings explosions of fuschia (bougainvillea), followed by even larger displays of purple trees (jacarandas). It's like a piece of home.

How about these 1920s Spanish Colonial Revival bungalows? I don't live in one, but most of the neighbourhoods in my area are chock full of these, and I adore them. I wonder what style of homes in Seattle will have me drooling equally?

A few weeks back, I went for a hike along Runyon Canyon with a girlfriend while both girls were at school... and it just about killed me. Partly due to declining fitness levels (after my main weight loss last year, I switched my cardio workouts to yoga classes), but I also think it was because I simply hadn't hydrated myself enough beforehand (I also woke up the next day with a killer sinus infection, which may be why I wasn't feeling so great either).

We got there around 10am, and the temperatures were already in the high 20s (ºC), with little to no shade along the main trails. In an effort to avoid major traffic at the southern end, we unwittingly made the mistake of starting at the northern end - ie at the top, off Mulholland Drive. It was easy cruising downhill... then we had to hike uphill to get back to the car. I was too ashamed to admit it to my friend, but I was this close to vomiting from the heat and dehydration. Lame, right? Adding further to my shame was the sheer amount of 'beautiful people' along the way - barely breaking a sweat, it seemed. Botoxed armpits? Who knows. My friend and I were talking the entire time so I didn't take a great deal of photos, but the views were pretty amazing. The Hollywood sign was much clearer than the below photo shows.

There's an outdoor shopping centre/mall only a short drive from home, and because of its proximity to the main library, its green lawns and kid-friendly activities, large Barnes & Noble bookstore, and Pinkberry frozen yoghurt, I go there fairly regularly. Such a mall rat, I know. But check it out:

It's a little like if Disney made a shopping mall. Frank Sinatra and Dean Martin are piped through speakers in the trees and there are regular choreographed fountain shows. An old style trolley car does a loop, which the Faery and Miss Pie can never get enough of riding on. Ding ding! 

And notice those multi-storey buildings? All apartments. The residents' pool is fancy schmancy, and I only know this personally because I have a couple of friends who live there (the pool shots I posted last month were taken there). One of these friends is the same friend I hiked with, and we've recently (in lieu of hiking) started going to the free yoga classes held on the lawn at the mall.

Doing downward dog and looking at that Tiffany & Co. store upside down each time was, well, surreal. I had to sneak in a photo right at the end of one of the classes. Incongruity aside, it's been enjoyable to do yoga outdoors for a change (under the dappled shade of a jacaranda - even better).

The above shot is one I had to throw in here, simply because I like it. It was taken on a road that runs parallel to the road I live on, just a block away. You know, I still don't understand the physics of these palm trees. How the hell do they stay upright?

As for the above hedges, it made me smile when I stumbled across it on a walk last week. Did the gardener forget his ladder one day? Did the owners fire the gardener half-way through the job? Are the owners paying homage to Dr Seuss? Tim Burton? Or do these hedges simply grow faster and more more wildly from the top? Who knows, but I'm all for whatever makes me smile.

The girls and I are flying to Seattle for the upcoming Memorial Day (and long weekend) so the countdown is on for when we all get to see J again. Five more sleeps...

Monday, May 13, 2013

Offspring Day

At this point of the calendar each year, it's good to be me. There's a three-week period where I have my birthday, my anniversary with J, and Mother's Day. I get to feel the love, and lots of it.

This year, it's been a little sadder, but that can't be helped. J was in Seattle for all three of those calendar dates, so they were mostly a day just like any other.

We tend to be a bit anti-establishment in this house, and that means when it comes to Mother's Day, I don't want (or expect) bought gifts. No perfume, no must-have expensive appliance fad-of-the-moment. As long as I don't have to lift a finger for the day, it's all good. That's not too much to ask for, right?

Yesterday wasn't going to be a day of breakfast in bed and pampering. No siree, there are kids to be attended to - ones that aren't about to entertain themselves all day. Especially the three-year-old, who certainly doesn't give a damn about Hallmark occasions.

Lucky for me, they took my hints from the night before and put a DVD on to watch when they woke up. It was 8am before anyone came into my room - hallelujah! The Faery also got my hint (based on previous - very sweet - efforts of hers to make me breakfast) that if you're going to spread something super thickly across toast for another person, peanut butter is a much choice than Vegemite (oh, but I sound ungrateful, don't I?). My hint paid off though, because this was waiting for me when I came downstairs.

I have to admit, I was feeling the love.

Resigned to the fact that the day wasn't really going to revolve around me, I decided to make the best of it and take the girls to Kidspace Children's Museum in Pasadena - something that's been on my to-do list for far too long. The day was forecast to be 38ºC in the shade, but dammit, I was going to be 'fun mum' if it killed me.

For the most part, we did have a fun time. There's something about hands-on, interactive learning that feels quite rewarding. The museum has a large outdoor area, complete with water play, so that's where we finished up. Perfect on a stinking hot day. 

If you've been reading here for long enough, you'll know that I'm not an overly sentimental type - not when it comes to expression, anyway. Of course I feel it, but I don't gush easily, and I don't throw around words such as 'blessed' like food that's fast approaching its expiry date.

However, I had one of those moments as I watched the Faery and Miss Pie playing together in the water play area. I watched how they stuck together, the Faery protectively watching over Miss Pie. I watched how - when one of the Faery's shoes came off and floated away down the gentle mini-creek - Miss Pie took off in earnest pursuit, grabbed it, and handed it to her sister.

Watching them, I did feel blessed. I felt lucky that these two little girls are mine. These last few months haven't been easy, but I suspect that they may have been a whole lot more difficult if the Faery and Miss Pie weren't who they are. Their yin-yang essence, I wouldn't change for the world.

Anyhow, that's as treacly as I get. They know how I feel, and that's what counts.

Wednesday, May 8, 2013


Ever feel like the universe has been conspiring against you when things seem to be one giant cluster-you-know-what of bad luck?

That's been the last couple of weeks here for me. Well - month, really, if you start from when my phone got water-damaged. However, there's a happy ending, if you make it to the end of this ramble.

About two weeks ago, on a Sunday morning, I packed the girls into our car so that I could catch my first weekend yoga class/gym visit in many weeks. Turned the ignition, only to discover the battery was dead. So I called roadside assistance from our (then) insurance company, and waited around for someone to show up and jump start things. A bloke did turn turn up, but he was hardly a knight in shining armour. Instead, he drove a hotted-up Suburu with portable flashing lights, spoke limited English and - keeping his earphones in the entire time - opened the car bonnet, jump started things with barely a word, hopped back in his car, and could not make his getaway fast enough. I did not even get a chance to ask him what might have caused the battery to drain (as far as I could see, no lights had been left on). Rude. Geico? I was underwhelmed. Being alone with kids for a few months, I need to know I can get better, more helpful service in an emergency. We switched insurance companies that same afternoon because of this guy.

The car was fine the next day, but on Tuesday, it had zero power - I was unable to even unlock the doors by remote. This time, I was about to take Miss Pie to preschool (which is, thankfully, walking distance) and the Faery to see a doctor because she'd been feverish with a sore ear. I'd actually spent half of Monday evening online and making phone calls to work out what our health care options were. Our health insurance had changed only days earlier (because of J's new job) and I was still waiting for documents and proof of membership in the mail. Our former doctor was no longer an option. The U.S. health care system? Ridiculously complicated... gah.

Anyhow, I rang the roadside assistance with our new car insurance company (AAA) and the service could not have been better, more helpful or friendly. The guy who came out tested a few things in the engine to see what could be causing the battery to drain so quickly (again, there was no evidence of lights left on). Unable to find anything, he concluded it was the battery itself so I asked him to replace it on the spot, for peace of mind.

Peace of mind was unlocked and achieved.

Until eight days later. Wednesday, the following week, we were getting in the car to head to school... once again, battery drained. We hightailed it from the underground parking to our apartment, where I grabbed the stroller for Miss Pie, and walked to the Faery's school - with her complaining bitterly the entire time that we were walking too fast. But hey, we made it just in time. As soon as I returned home, I had AAA come out again to jump start the car, then I went directly to the dealership where we got our car (much of its parts are still under warranty). I spent several hours waiting around - "fun" with a three-year-old - holding my breath and wondering if I was going to need to mess around getting a car rental, making phone calls to organise someone to pick up the Faery from school... basically, you get the idea of the hard knots of tension that were spreading across my neck and shoulders.

Eventually, a mechanic came and spoke to me. He wasn't entirely sure what the problem was, as all the tests were coming back fine, but had seen this problem in other cars that had the same make/brand of AC compressor relay (don't worry - I had no idea what part that was either. If you do, you're a champ). Apparently they could stick, which meant that even with the engine switched off, the AC compressor relay would still discharge the battery. Given the recent warm weather and lack of shaded parking in general, this theory seemed entirely plausible. My car's AC gets a very good work out. The mechanic replaced the suspected problem part, under warranty, and sent us on our way.

One sinus infection and hideous coldsore later (I may have been a tad run down), J finally arrived in LA for a weekend visit. After three weeks of him away, it had been the longest stretch yet. It felt so good to have him back. It felt right for our little family to be reunited - even if just for a weekend.

On Sunday morning, we all piled into the car for a morning out. One last day together, before he had to fly back to Seattle that evening. And... yep. Dead battery, fourth time.

This was the first time J had experienced this problem, but I was ready to curl up and start rocking. I was so over it. Being a Sunday, the car dealership's service centre was closed, so we knew there was no point getting a jump start or taking/towing the car in until Monday. I begged J to push his flight back a day so that I wouldn't have to deal with this, again, by myself. He agreed it was super shitty for all this to fall on me, so he stayed.

On Monday morning, we got AAA to come and jump start the car, anticipating a lengthy day of waiting around at the car dealership. Immediately, he spotted the cause... and man, did we feel stupid. There was a light on, in the boot (trunk). In my defence, I've never used that light - I didn't even know of its existence. It is, however, within perfect reaching distance of Miss Pie as she climbs out of the car. Either that, or the mechanic accidentally left it on last Wednesday when he was doing all the spot checks.

So at this stage, I think the first three times were due to the AC compressor relay sticking, and the fourth time was just stupid, extra bad luck. I hope. All I know is that every morning now, when I go to start the engine, I hold my breath.

Silver lining? We got an extra day of family time together. I can't really complain about that.

*   *   *

Another positive to come out of the last few days is that we have a home lined up in Seattle for us to move into. 

J was looking online when he was here on Sunday morning, saw it, and contacted the agent. That afternoon, the agent called back and offered to give us an iPhone FaceTime tour of the place. Ain't technology grand?

It's a townhouse, and everything about it ticked all our boxes. We plan to keep the girls sharing a room, but still wanted a spare room that could be for visitors, and maybe a study too (which could be used for guests too). This townhouse has not only a third bedroom, but it's on a lower (split) level with its own bathroom and another living room that opens onto a garden. Perfect for overseas visitors! In terms of size, it's double our current apartment. There's also a study, a lot of storage space, and the double garage has internal access. No more struggling with groceries and a preschooler from an underground car park to a second-floor apartment - you have no idea how much that excites me.

The timing of it is perfect too. Our current lease takes us to the end of June, and the townhouse won't be available until then anyway. We weren't expecting to be able to move without having to double up on rent at each end for several weeks, so this is a bonus.

Based on the location, size, layout and availability, we applied immediately. On the way to drop J off at the airport on Monday evening, we heard back - unofficially - that the townhouse was ours.

After work on Tuesday, J swung by the townhouse. The agent had organised for the current tenants to show him around, and he kept sending me gobsmacked text messages. He was impressed, and said all the compromises we've made with rental homes in the past are history with this place. It's on a small, quiet cul-de-sac that's surrounded by cedars, in an area that we were quite taken with when we last visited Seattle together. The waterfront of Lake Washington is about a fifteen-minute-walk downhill, and the local elementary school has good ratings and reviews, with a school bus route that the Faery will be able to use. So far, so good. Even better, there's a direct 30-minute bus route to the heart of downtown Seattle - perfect for exploring with the girls over summer.

J met with the agent today to finalise some of the paperwork, and she told him that we'd beaten ten other applicants. Holy moly. Apparently she'd formed such a good impression of us from our FaceTime tour that she pushed harder for us over the other applicants. I call that a technology win.

*   *   *

I'd been feeling a bit flat about this move in recent weeks. Despite the annoying business with drained car batteries and sickness doing the rounds here, the kids and I have had a pretty full social calendar. Lots of play dates, kids parties, and the odd spot of hiking and eating out with girlfriends. Each time we hang out with friends, I'm increasingly aware of how time is drawing to an end in L.A, and it makes me sad. I'm so glad to have met the people who have been part of my life here, and dislike the idea of putting a large geographical distance between us. It was always going to be inevitable that we'd leave L.A, but somehow I don't feel ready. It's not the city itself that I'll miss, but the friends.

Learning that we've now got a place to call home in Seattle has helped to knock the edge off this sadness for me. Already, I'm Google Street-viewing the shit out of the neighbourhood. Looking up the parks and playgrounds. Working out the best ways to drive to Trader Joe's, Whole Foods and Target (all a bit further away than the ones I currently shop at). Working out the Seattle equivalents of Ralph's and Vons supermarkets. Most importantly, I'm mentally arranging our furniture into a townhouse I've yet to set foot in, and planning what extra furniture we'll need to get - now that we'll have more rooms to make use of. Crazy, right? 

I think it's what I need, though. A little distraction, because I hate goodbyes.

This move to Seattle has just got real.