Oct 10, 2011

It’s All Fun and Games Until Somebody Loses a Flat

The moving process to Australia was quite the roller coaster: unpredictable and turbulent. Any time it seemed like I might be able to relax and cruise, I was thrown for another loop that nearly knocked me out. But unpredictability is such an old friend of mine, it's become comforting... in a disturbing way. The only thing I have to fear, is fear itself - right?

After learning that my initial plans for lodging were not to be, Jess and I searched like maniacs for an apartment. Across the world we sent links and forwarded emails back and forth. I was back in California for my visa, and she had begun her indentured servitude to the green monster.

But when I landed in Sydney I knew everything was going to be alright. The view was so stunning and peaceful and quiet with the sun rising over the ocean cliffs. Outside it was simultaneously bright, warm, and Spring-chilly at the same time. A nice change from the paralyzing triple-digit heat in California. I'm not one for describing surroundings and views- I always skip them in books, but it was breathtaking. There's something about nature that puts things into perspective for me.

I landed at 6am and we hit the ground running with an impressive list of flats to see for the day. Jess and I got ready in a hurry and filled out an application for a flat at a cafĂ© round the corner over coffee and eggs benedict. We spent the rest of the day trekking around Pyrmont and Bondi Beach viewing place after place. Full of ambition, we were certain we’d find something by the evening. Making notes of how close each option was to transportation and shops, our hopes were delusionally high. 

The brisk day turned into a hot one, and it became sort of a cruel joke when we realized that every single flat was located at the top of an impressive hill. 4pm rolled round and I was convinced we were walking up that same effing hill we’d been walking up and down since noon. Our dreams of Bondi Beach summer living were properly smashed, then kicked in the face. At that point, we’d settle for anything that didn’t resemble an abandoned hostel or nursing home.

We had one last stop, but true to the theme of the day, the flat looked like council housing at it’s worst. It was dark and dingy with furnishings that hadn’t been updated since the 50’s. The building was ironically dubbed ‘mansions.’ Our bad luck was so ridiculous, all we could do was stare wide-eyed at each other and laugh until it hurt... and of course go for a well-deserved drink. Maybe those apartments in the city weren’t so bad.

We returned with our tails between our legs to our favourite city flat, Boomerang Place, and put down a deposit. Then it was time to wait. Jess’ amazing and angelic-like friends who barely knew me at the time - bless them- let me crash at theirs until the flat was ready. Then the realtor said we’d have to wait another week to move in… then another. Then, late one dark and stormy Friday night, we received an email saying we couldn’t move in at all.

What ensued was a raw mixture of shocking and unflattering noises from two distraught blondes in the middle of a pub. And as luck would have it- in front of our boss, who sweetly reassured us she wouldn’t let us go homeless.

The next morning through tears and hangovers, we tore through Gumtree with a vengeance and scheduled to see two flats that day. 

When we walked into the second one, it was like the door to heaven opened. I could’ve kissed our dear old Chinese realtor. We took one look at the light pouring through the endless windows, the epic views and the matching furniture, and said we’d take it- in less than a minute. Thank God, I have a home. 
Granted, our address isn't nearly as cool as Boomerang Place, but feel free to drop a line anyway- or just drop by x

Sep 11, 2011

Down the Rabbit Hole, to the Other Side of the World

Saying goodbye to my family and friends a second time around was beyond difficult. I never imagined that I would be resistant to moving to another country. But I have to start over, all over again. Find a place to live, make new friends, find my way around. Things that should be exciting, have started to sound exhausting. Everything in me was telling me to stay.

I was hoping that the excitement of the move would hit me like a ton of bricks. I kept waiting for it. But it’s been taking its time, slowly creeping up on me at the most unexpected moments. I kept trying to imagine what life in Australia would be like, but for the life of me I couldn’t.

Instead I’d imagine missing my nephew’s birthday, girl’s trips, fishing with my brothers and helping my best friend plan her wedding… among so many other things. Call me sentimental, but no matter where I go, California is my home and I love it dearly. 

Though London was fast-becoming my second home, it was time to leave, however inopportune the timing. I learned to love the cobblestone roads, despite the war they waged on high heels. I loved the pubs and Sunday roasts and afternoon teas. I loved the parks and markets and museums. I loved the neighborhoods with their distinct personalities. Most of all I love the friends that I was just getting to know- some of the best and sweetest and most astonishingly creative and compassionate people I’ve ever met.

All the memories and images flashed before my eyes when I got on the plane from England to Australia. I thought that only happens when you’re about to die? It was like a trailer of my life over the past 8 months, but on speed. And I panicked. What was I doing? Why was I leaving?



All I knew was that I was supposed to go. I was happy to leave with only the clothes on my back, but the doors opened to Australia, of all places. The fact that I have nothing planned out and no control over any of this makes me want to hyperventilate ‘til I pass out. But I know that God will take care of me. He always has, I guess all the plans and goals were really just an illusion of control. And apparently He had better for me than just the clothes on my back. Much better. I got a job immediately and an apartment shortly after. So good.

I suppose this is the beginning of a new story. And this time I’m not going to try and guess the ending… or force it into reality. What some praise as persistence, I’ve been learning is actually just sugar-coated stubbornness. What has my stubbornness kept me from in the past? I don’t want a fairy tale whirlwind if it just picks me up and takes me on a ride before dropping me off at square one again with nothing to show for it. I want a plot.

I have no idea what is written for me, and for the first time in my life, I’m going to try not and write it myself. Although I’ve never been a believer in fate, I do believe in purpose. Thank God for a clean slate. Let’s see where this goes.

Dec 12, 2010

Just Your Daily Domestics

Determined to get settled in my new home, I’ve been making every effort to cozy up the apartment. Cleaning has become a madness, when I start I literally can’t stop. The craze caught on and I knew it had gone too far when we started re-painting the floor!

The smell of paint must have served as an artistic muse, because Jon soon threw himself into a new creative project. I suggested Audrey Hepburn and the classic icon was transformed into a bright, retro-pop piece for our kitchen. But it didn’t end there.  I’m still learning to embrace Jon’s creativity without question, so when I saw him drawing random blocks on the wall I took a deep breath and kept walking. The end product was a custom 1D frame. Amazing.
 Although the British obviously don’t celebrate Thanksgiving (which I dearly missed celebrating with family) they have a similar tradition that I think is almost better in its frequency: Sunday Roast. Every Sunday a Thanksgiving-like meal of rich, warm, comfort food is served between noon and 3:00. It’s a day for families to spend together, or close friends to catch up then spend the rest of the day relaxing. Ironically, in a culture unapologetically opposed to Christianity, I think they got the whole ‘day of rest’ thing down pat.
I attempted to prepare a traditional Thanksgiving meal for some friends. Four hours and a few burns later, it was finished. Jon joked that I was on Facebook for three of them (lies) but I couldn’t believe how much effort it took!  Good thing I love cooking.
The following Sunday we walked to the nearest pub. With the cold wind at our back and delicious heat welcoming us in through the doors the pub it felt like a living room.  While we settled into a weathered wooden table and mix-matched chairs, somebody grabbed a board game from a bookshelf. What ensued was the most ridiculous game of Life I’ve ever seen.
 Pleasantries were thrown to the wind and competition boiled our blood. At one point, I think someone actually did a victory lap around the entire pub after a successful move.
We then invested in a few board games of our own, combining our desire to stay indoors and save money. Emboldened by our gaming experience in the pub, we decided that every public place should have games.  Looking back now, a crowded Starbucks might not have been the most appropriate place for a Jenga battle.  I suppose we were just too excited after our purchase to wait ‘til we got home. After the inevitable collapse of the block tower, a barista walked by and with thinly veiled annoyance handed us some stray blocks that had flown across the room.
The next morning Jon returned home with a bag full of ornaments (or baubles) and announced a Christmas tree was being delivered later. Appropriately, it had been snowing off and on for the past two days, long enough for the snow to melt and freeze again as ice.
The UK and Europe seem surprisingly unprepared for snow. Two inches of the stuff sends everyone into hysterics and travel comes to a standstill. I’m pretty sure that even sunny California is better equipped to handle a snow storm.
But braving the icy weather had to be done. Over the past few weeks I’ve grown accustomed to donning tights, wool socks, a scarf and gloves every time I leave the house. Needless to say, the effort makes you really evaluate how bad you actually need those groceries. “We’re out of toilet paper? Well… we still have paper towels, we’ll go next week.” Ouch.
Spurred by the promise of a twinkling Christmas tree, I set out to Argos, normally a ten minute walk away. Shuffling my feet along the glazed sidewalk in baby steps, I realized that on the way back I would be loaded up with bags of fragile baubles and Christmas (fairy) lights. Oh dear.
I was normally grateful for my high-heeled boots as they kept my feet off the freezing ground and painful cobblestone roads; But they were clearly built for California pavement with essentially no grip to speak of, and I’ll not even get into the dangers of crossing the road. Thankfully, the huge white stenciled warnings “LOOK RIGHT --->” have saved me a few times.
I made it safely to my destination. For those who have never been to an Argos, it is instant gratification catalogue shopping. You peruse their catalogues the size of family Bibles and write down the reference numbers of the products you want. Next you take your ticket to the register (till) and they grab everything for you! It’s the lazy man’s Walmart.
I returned ready to deck the halls. Christmas always illicits fond memories of my Grandpa making hot apple cider while we’d trim the tree. After searching three shops with no success, I decided to brew my own makeshift version with apple juice, lemon, honey and cinnamon sticks. Mmmmm, Christmas in a mug. To my surprise, Jon loved it. I really never know what to expect when introducing American (or at least my own) traditions. Most English people would react in disgust if you ask for an iced tea or coffee. It’s tough keeping up with the cultural norm around here!
Even grocery stores perplex me. Some food has completely different names here! How does it work that Americans use “English” words and the English use French? For example zucchini is “courgette” and eggplant is “aubergine,” and don't even think about requesting a napkin in a restaurant. Why? Because "nappies" are baby diapers! Here, napkins are "serviettes." Not to mention British terminology: juice concentrate is “squash,” cookies are “biscuits,” and chips are “crisps.” Good thing I’ve got a personal translator!

During my first visit to London last Christmas I was pretty intimidated. No one ever wants to fail or look stupid, or even worse- look like a tourist. Jon had encouraged me to try things on my own and get out and explore. But I felt like a little girl in a big world. I’m ashamed to say he had to do quite a bit of hand-holding in the beginning to help me build confidence. But now I am proud to say: these days I can read British and cross streets with the best of them! Happy Holidays xx

Nov 15, 2010

Girly Dreams & Sparkly Things

Our daily outing landed us in Knightsbridge, home of Harrods- the most decadent department store you could imagine. Last Christmas when Harrods and I were briefly introduced, I was completely dumbfounded. Even the stairwells were crafted from ancient Egyptian hieroglyphs, and other priceless treasures had been scattered about the monstrosity for mere decoration. If you’re looking to spend a few thousand pounds on a hand-painted French antique reproduction of a desk chair, Harrods is the place to go.

A friend was launching his clothing line (AMH) in Harvey Nichols, an upscale store in the area, and Press Day was a perfect way to get the brand out there. Designers had their goods exhibited on swing sets and in huge glass bird cages.

It definitely looked like my kind of party. Stands were set up around the room offering all sorts of treats. A sparkly photo booth spat out glamour shots on hot pink paper. They are so tricky- making you feel beautiful and spoilt while you itch over all the gorgeous clothes you can’t afford. Very tricky. 
I felt a little like a party crasher, blatantly underdressed and over my head. I probably would have just stood there looking awkward, but James grabbed me and had me sit down at the nail table. If you insist! My short, chipped nails resembled a 5 year-old’s and I tried to pick a 'professional' color for a meeting I had the next day. 

It felt like I'd been transplanted in every girl's dream. I couldn’t think of anything I’d rather be doing than be forced to eat and pamper myself. "Another glass of champagne please, thanks very much. False eyelashes? Sure why not!"
The makeup artist whipped out a pair of Shu Uemura lashes made from some sort of bird feather, owl perhaps? Although in the end the boys snickered that I looked 'like a transvestite who’d been out in a snow storm' (thanks- I didn’t ask YOU!) I was happy to get a pair for free.
Feeling like royalty, I floated out of the shop. However the appetizers didn't quite do the trick, so we stopped in a crowded pub for dinner. Manchester United was playing Manchester City in football (soccer of course!) and everyone was in an uproar. Each person had their gaze locked on one of the five screens around the room.

 I've never followed sports, but I love being around people who do. There is something so curious about watching grown men scream, jump, cry and hug eachother fiercely after a goal. Not to say that women don't watch sports, but I think it's a bit more common for us to behave this way ( :
We squeezed into a recently vacated corner and threw our coats around the booth to stake out the territory. A few of the boys fought their way to the bar to order our drinks and, what else but fish and Chips.
Although I’m not the biggest fan of the breaded and fried, there’s something in the food over here that makes everything taste fresh. I loved that my salad lacked the bitter after-taste of pesticides and was obsessed with the sweet peas. For all I knew, the meal had been hand-picked that morning by a sweet little grandma from her country garden and cooked with as much love as possible. Who said England has bad food? Rubbish ( ; It was a nice boyish end to an unexpectedly girly day.

Nov 7, 2010

Up & At 'Em

I woke up feeling a little groggy but excited to get going. The plan was to explore London. The phone read 10:30 am. I looked up at the only window in the room and it was dark. Maybe it was just super overcast outside.
One of the things that made me a bit apprehensive about the move was the lack of sunlight and warmth here! While warmth is easily produced, the room is underground with only one small window that leads to the upper level, covered by a lime green cloth to block anyone’s view in.
Jon came in with an exasperated grin “Babe, it’s not ten,” he laughed “it’s 5:30 PM!” I couldn’t believe it. I had slept straight through the day. A little disappointed in myself, I started getting ready for whatever the day… err, night might bring.
James had slept upstairs on the couch and he began making everyone some tea. We ordered Indian food and marveled at our unexpectedly lost day. Susie was performing at a club that night so she texted that we had been put on the guest list.
Luckily I had kept my Oyster card (metro) from the last trip and it still had almost £20. We grabbed the tube to Camden and walked past a few hundred people waiting to get in.
The club, Proud Camden, was actually a converted market and stable. With an aged brick exterior and strung lights that served as a canopy, I’m convinced that in this country anything can be charming. After we made it in, I was shocked that there were still people waiting outside. The place was enormous with three large rooms, a row of stables and an outside terrace.
The Fuel Girls were performing their fire show onstage in their knickers (why yes I AM incorporated English-speak!) and bras with makeshift horse tails. We heard that later a live horse was ridden by an essentially naked woman through the packed club. Really?!
Although I had jealously labeled the fuel girls as “glorified strippers” when I first heard of Jon using them on his events, I now love watching the shows. More of a burlesque-circus act, I whole-heartedly admit that while anyone can shake a little ass, breathing fire is an entirely different story. Interrupting my visions of being able to twirl and spit fire without set my hair aflame, Jon suggested we grab a drink from one of the watering holes- literally.
We entered one of the eight stables and toasted to my first night out in London with Pear Cider. I have no idea why it hasn’t caught on in the US. Lighter than beer and less sweet than wine coolers, Pear cider is decidedly my new favorite drink.
Literally everyone looked like they were having a great time. The girls wore carefully pieced together, loose, vintage-looking outfits with loads of accessories and mussed hair. Most were thin with minimal makeup, and no two looked alike. Culture shock set in already as I compared my surroundings to the predictable blacks and pinks of American evening dress, heavy makeup and everything as tight and short as you can get.

I learned quickly that Euro guys are not used to any sort of attention, so even if you happen to be smiling, and happen to be looking around in their direction they will return with a sort of shocked stare. The men looked like they were loving life as well, making as much use of the stripper poles as the women.
I felt like I would need to relearn social norms if I’m to fit in at all. While I’ve always known I can’t dance to save my life and avoid it at all costs, I’ve managed to fly under the radar with a little hip action (ok, ok, after a few drinks- maybe a lot). But here, people actually dance. No need to pop lock and drop it, and ‘grinding’ would look scandalously out of place. You mean I have to move my feet? Crap.
I motioned to Jon that I needed the loo, and made my way to the inevitable line. After fighting just as hard to make my way out of the restrooms I looked around for Jon and James, and began to panic when I didn't see them on the terrace or stables. I returned to the vicinity of the bathroom and waited like a lost child at Disneyland hoping they’ve not been completely forgotten. My mind was not helping the situation, frantically going over the facts: no phone, no numbers, no money, huge club, no meeting point.
I tried to look a little less frightened and reminded myself that I am an adult and fully capable of handling the situation myself without being rescued. I purposefully marched back out to the terrace and saw them immediately, leaning against the brick wall.
Following the final show of the night, we joined the Fuel Girls and the owner of the club for a few drinks in his office. Oddly, there was a stack of purses on his bookshelf. He explained that they keep lost and found items for a month or so then divide them between staff if they go unclaimed.
Jon is endlessly embarrassed by my go-to $10 gray Target purse, and promised to burn it once I get a new one. I’ve never cared too much about purses. Whenever I have spare money I’d rather spend it on a cute top or a nice meal out.  
So when we were prompted to take what we wished, I was all over it (for poor Jon’s sake of course). I ended up snagging a blue slouch purse with fringe and a purple leather wallet. Saweeeet!

By then it was 3 or 4am and the jet lag was really working in our favor. As the club cleared out we headed for a private room. White leather couches, flashing colored lights and a big screen TV made for the most posh karaoke set I’ve ever seen. I love singing, absolutely love it, but the thought of karaoke makes me literally want to run for the door.
Surprisingly, I had an amazing time. I’m sure it had something to do Susie and I chasing each other round the stripper pole (they were everywhere, don’t ask me) as fast as we could like a bunch of kids on a merry-go-round while trying to sing Katy Perry’s California Girls into the same microphone.
5am rolled around and I was shocked I was still standing. We said our thanks and headed home to Shoreditch. We had the cabby drop us at the local kebab shop, the preferred early morning snack stop. Vinegar on fries never tasted so good.

Nov 6, 2010

Just Touched Down in London Town

I love Virgin Atlantic’s style with nice seats, good (and frequent) food, and a little travel goody bag with socks, eye-mask, toothbrush and paste, etc. After a terrible experience with China Airlines last year I learned that going cheap just isn’t worth it sometimes.
Our party was completely scattered and some wandered to the back of the plane to hang out, but I was too tired. Having a window seat with a large sleeping man at the aisle didn’t help things much either.
I think I must have a sort of complex about feeling left out because I began to feel pouty that I was trapped in my seat. I noticed everyone was getting extra drinks form the stewards, and I imagined hilarious stories afterwards about the fun and conversations I’d missed.
However, it wasn’t long before my sleep deprivation knocked some sense into me and I told myself I was being silly. What happened to the Serena that stayed up for days without batting an eye? My mom always used to worry about me not getting enough rest or taking care of myself, but if she saw me this trip, I think even she would've told me to suck it up and get on with my life. I woke to breakfast being handed out and annihilated a croissant sandwich.
We arrived in London after a short ten hour flight from Las Vegas.  Joel, Gabby (both Australian) and I took our places among the non-UK passport holders and waited a good deal longer than those in the UK line. An American guy behind me, looking like he came from Yucaipa, kept saying loudly “What the fuck? Why is their line moving so much faster? Good thing these morons don’t work for tips.” And good thing you don’t work for immigration sir. What happened to muttering quietly under your breath?
Since I wasn't sure how long I was staying I just wrote two months. Although I gathered it might prompt some questions, I must have been too flustered to ask for another one so I kept it unchanged. Oops. I was asked why I was staying so long and how my job could allow such a long holiday. When I said I was between jobs, my interrogator actually removed his eyeglasses and gave me the most condescending once-over, “So you’re unemployed.”
He asked how much I had in my account exactly as well as cash on me. About ten minutes prior I had found a ten Euro note in the airport hallway and waved it in front of him, hoping to somehow convince him I’m not the vagabond that I am.
When mentioned I was visiting my boyfriend he made me write down his name while he looked it up. I started sweating and getting a little shaky.  Joel waited for me on the other side of freedom with a concerned look. “Please God, don’t let them turn me away,” I thought. After taking his time writing notes and notes on who knows what, he finally stamped my passport and said a curt ‘thank you.’ Whew, breathe.
Although I kept reminding people “I’m temporarily moving to London” I still felt a bit sheepish about the amount of luggage I had. I eyed Gabby’s single bag with a weird jealousy. When the California fires surrounded our house last fall, I secretly wished I would lose a few things just so I could be rid of some of my possessions that are really more burdens than assets. With no such intervention of fate, it might be time to learn a little self-control and prioritize. Hmmmm, we’ll see how that goes.
I've been told that Londoners proudly walk at an absurdly fast past because “they’ve got things to do.” I scrambled along after everyone, wishing I hadn't worn my high-heeled boots. James threw one of my bags over his shoulder and stayed with me to make sure I didn’t kill myself with the runaway luggage cart- squirrely little sucker.
The cab ride home was beautiful. It is so green here! Not a brown patch in sight, it made a stunning backdrop for the vibrant yellows, oranges and reds of the trees. I’m not one for describing surroundings, but it was too impressive to skip. I could already tell this trip was going to be entirely different with only a crisp cold in the air, versus the numbing, freezing bite of last winter. Maybe Jon won’t have to drag me kicking and screaming out of the house this time!
We cuddle up in the cab and I can feel my excitement about the move building under a thick coating of sleepiness: the wonderful, soft and warm, guilt-free kind. Jon announces that we are going straight to bed then out for a nice meal when we wake up; music to my ears.  Actually-- sleep and food to my ears! Even better.
A perfect nap followed in our bed that I swear is actually made out of clouds… or at least geese that have been fed clouds. Waking up at 10pm, 12 hours after our flight landed, I threw on some makeup and twisted a little braid in my hair hoping to make my bed-head look deliberate. Green curry and some white wine at the Thai place down the street hit the spot as Jon, James and I toasted another successful Modball.