There’s no place like home

Somewhere in Australia is an HR specialist who has gone on holiday for two weeks. I don’t know this person. In fact, I have never spoken to her, but her holiday is keeping me up at night. You see, she is the person who is responsible for submitting Ben’s work visa application so we can move as a family to Australia. And, she told us the Friday before Christmas that she would do that when she ‘got back from holidays’ on January 7th.

I don’t begrudge this stranger her holidays, but I am pretty sure she doesn’t understand that the delay – holding off until then, rather than ensuring she got it done before she went away – means that we cannot book our flights to Australia, we can’t book the 30-days quarantine for our cat, because we don’t want the 30 days to be up before we can arrive in Australia, and we can’t finalise the date to put our stuff on a ship, because we want to limit the time we spend out of our naked apartment and in a hotel.

To move a family of two adults and one cat from Seattle to Melbourne is quite a feat, and at the moment there are so many unknowns that I run through all the permutations of possible outcomes in my head at 3 am when I wish I was sleeping.  The worries are compounded when I add job hunting overseas, an expiring U.S. visa, international banking and investments, Australian Customs rules and recommendations, house-hunting in a new city, and saying good bye to loved ones in Seattle.

I would love to borrow Dorothy’s ruby slippers for a moment. As someone straddling two homes, I just want to tap my feet together three times and wake up in my (new) home in Melbourne in three months’ time. I know, I know: don’t wish my life away…



Homeward Bound








Our family is on the move. My partner, Ben, is being transferred to Melbourne, Australia early in the new year, and we are packing up and heading down under. For those of you who don’t know, this will be a homecoming for me, as I am an Aussie born and bred. Melbourne, however, will be a new home city for both of us, which is part of its appeal – discovering it together. I will be cheating a little, as I have several friends there I have known for 20+ years; I am very excited about being able to see them on a regular basis.  And Melbourne was named the most livable city in the world for the second year running!

Things I will miss about Seattle:

  • All the people we have come to know and love.
  • Not seeing all the new babies arrive and/or grow up. : (
  • Restaurant month(s). 3 courses for $30 is awesome.
  • Happy Hours – not as popular in Australia (boo).
  • Dogs. Every other person has a dog here – in the city – and I just love their little faces.
  • Mt Ranier, the Sound and other stunning views.
  • Fall leaves.
  • $16 pedicures.
  • Politeness. Even the homeless are polite in Seattle.
  • Customer service. It is really good most places, including the grocery store.
  • Woodhouse winery in Woodinville. So good.
  • Dinner club.

Things I will not miss about living in Seattle:

  • The traffic.
  • The grey.
  • The trash and cigarette butts on the street.

Things I am looking forward to about life in Melbourne:

  • Buying a bike. Melbourne is basically flat and has lots of bike trails.
  • Being close enough for family and friends in other cities to visit on (long) weekends. Aussies are happy to take a cross-country flight to visit someone.
  • Long weekends. There are lots, including two within two months of our arrival – Australia Day long weekend at the end of January and Easter, which is 4 days off at the end of March.
  • Great coffee pretty much everywhere.
  • Drivers who can drive and awesome public transit.
  • Better weather than Seattle. Melbourne is the same latitude as San Francisco, so similar to that.
  • Traveling within Victoria and beyond, especially the wine regions, south-east Asia, Tasmania, New Zealand and the Great Ocean Road.
  • Starting a dinner club.
  • Launching the next phase of my career.
  • The shoe shopping is world-class.

Keep you posted on the departure date…

On the home(less) stretch

I have spent more time on hold listening to Muzac in the past days, than in the past months combined. This is because I am having to inform everyone official – from my dentist to the phone company – that I am of ‘no fixed address’. I now have something more in common with the homeless many of Seattle than a love of coffee. Not only do I not have an address, I too am relying on the kindness of others in the following weeks.

Currently I am living with friends, Shaz and Aido (the Aussie forms of their Irish monikers Sharon and Aidan), who recently bought a big house with room enough for a wayward friend. At first it was a little surreal waking up in one of their spare rooms, as it is filled with my furniture, given to them on permanent loan while I am in the U.S.  So, my room, but not my room.

The furniture situation, thankfully, suits Shaz and Aido, because they are frequently descended upon by travelling Irish folk – friends and family alike. It suits me, as I love the blanket box my Dad made me when I was 21(although as a side note, he referred to it as my ‘hope chest’ – or rather, my ‘hope I get married chest’ – remember when girls had those?), and I will get to have it back when / if Ben and I move back to Sydney. I haven’t really thought beyond that, but I suppose if plans develop and we stay stateside or move to Europe, I could send for it, packed tightly with my priceless memorabilia and photos.

Which brings me to my ‘Where the heck is my stuff?’ list. This is a list of the locations of items kind friends are storing for me. Some things are on permanent loan (that whole returning to live in Sydney thing), and I am happy for friends to use them. Some things are tucked away in attics, sheds, and garages, labelled ‘Sandy’s stuff’.

Stuff deemed ‘takeable’ is sitting on a dock in Sydney waiting to be loaded on a ship that leaves for Seattle via California in about a week. Packing these boxes was like constructing a three dimensional jigsaw puzzle. I spent two weeks creating a giant pile of stuff in the middle of my living room, and there it sat tormenting me, until a friend came over and said, “C’mon, let’s pack this stuff.”  So we did.

I constructed my jigsaw puzzles, while Patrice wrote down what went into each box.  She didn’t even raise an eyebrow when I called out, “Box three, hiking boots with egg cups.”  She has moved internationally, you see, and like me she knows that the inside of a boot is a good place to put something small and breakable.

So, the stuff has pretty much dispersed: given away, sold, farmed out, and packed.  At the moment, I have two suitcases full of clothes, a stack of paperwork yet to deal with, and a few personal items.  Oh, and a car.  A big, red shiny car, that needs to be sold in the next four weeks.  I am keeping positive on that front, as it is in good nick and looks brilliant post detail and polish.

Next week I move again.  After the nuptials of Yasmin on Scott this coming weekend, they take off for 6 weeks in south-east Asia on their Honeymoon, and I begin my stint of house/cat sitting.  Storm is a Russian Blue and only likes three people – Yasmin and Scott of course, and me.  It will be nice to have a cat around, as I do still miss Jessie.

After four weeks with Storm, I jet off to WA (Western Australia) for Christmas with my family, and then on the 29th jet off to the other WA (Washington State) for New Year’s Eve with Ben.  As I tick things off my many ‘to do’ lists, it is all sinking in, and I am getting very excited.

Ben told me that the other night he went up on the roof – there is a deck and outdoor furniture up there – and looked at Puget Sound under the stars.  In about six weeks, I will be able to that with him.  Yes, not homeless for much longer.

Chaise Lounge


This is my living room sans couch, dining suite, and pictures on the wall. Ironically, it now shares common traits with the Seattle apartment, where we have yet to buy a couch, a dining suite and to put things on the wall.

Ben and I started looking at couches, dining suites and things to put on the wall while I was there a few weeks ago. I think we share a common vision. I say this, of course, with the understanding that we may be seeing that common vision from completely different perspectives.

We have agreed, as a start, that the entertainment system is all him, and the kitchen is all me. While that division in domesticity may reek of 1950s ideologies, it is a fair call on our part. I love to cook, and have very specific ideas of how I want ‘my’ kitchen. And Ben knows more about electronic components and how to make them ‘talk’ to each other than I thought was possible. So, in this arrangement, we are playing to our strengths.

We have other differences too. Last weekend my boyfriend admitted that he has added to his collection of plastic 2:1 scale musical instruments (Rock Band, Guitar Hero), while I confessed that I have bought 4 pairs of new shoes in the past two weeks. He loves video games, I love shoes. We’ll make room for both, somewhere.

In the meantime, we get to choose a couch that says, “Ben and Sandy live here.” Likely it will NOT have one of those fabric contraptions with pockets that hangs over the arm and holds the remote controls.

We did find one we both sorta liked. Mostly what we liked about it was that it had a chaise lounge on one end. That says to me, “stylish, yet perfect for snuggling.” To Ben it says, “I can watch TV horizontally.” The point is, we both like that style of couch.

I had to be honest with my soon to be ‘domestic partner’ when he mentioned that ‘La-Z-boy’ had couches on sale that recline on both ends.

If we get a couch like that, I worry that we will become a couple who have ‘his and hers’ end tables, mine littered with empty tea cups and books yet to read, and his piled high with remotes and back issues of ‘Fortune’. We’ll head to our respective ends, recline and get comfortable. Comfortable, we three feet of leather between us. Yes, the couple with one of these is a couple that no longer enjoys a passionate relationship.

His response to my impassioned argument was to laugh, and say, “Well, it IS true that we are defined by our furniture.” He is teasing me, but I think we’ll be getting a couch with the bit that sticks out.

These are the details that will be a welcome relief from paperwork and red tape, packing, giving away, storing, and sorting, and from the endless lists that govern my life at the moment.

Today my home looked like this:
and this:
and this:
as I packed, sorted, sold, and gave things away.

So, I am looking forward to working through a new list, a list for the next chapter in my life. So far it looks like this:

Buy a couch
Get a job
Make some friends
Join a gym
Learn new running routes

Yes, all that to look forward to, but notice that the couch is number one on the list.

When Ben and I stayed at the B and B in Yosemite, I was busy nesting – unpacking and looking in cupboards – and I heard a call out from the living room, “Honey, come in here.” When I got there, Ben was sitting on a big, lumpy, seen better days couch with his arms outstretched. “Look, Honey, we have a couch. Come sit with me.” And I did, and we sat for quite some time on that big, lumpy, see better days couch, enjoying the simple pleasure of snuggling up on it together.

That is why it is first.

Flying the Coop

Today I say good bye to my little mate, Jessie. We have a brief history in the scheme of things. I adopted her from my sister’s brood 2 and a half years ago, and she has been my little sidekick ever since.

In my preparation for moving to the states, I am moving out of my apartment in a few weeks, and Jessie needs a new home. I have spent months asking everyone I know if they would like to adopt her (and a few I don’t know – can’t go back to that petrol station on the corner, because the woman thought I was weird when I asked her if she wanted to adopt an adult cat). No luck.

In a desperate measure I put her in the online classifieds. And today a little girl called Amelia, and her mum Kylie, are coming to meet her, fall in love with her, and take her to her new home. The arrangements were only made yesterday, so last night when I got home, I busily set about packing up all her stuff. Like Barbie, she comes with all her own accessories: toys, bed, scratching post, food stuff, grooming stuff, medical history, cat door, litter tray.

She is an astute little thing. She knew something was up and kept asking me why I was assembling all her things in the living room. “Hey, this is mine,” she meowed as she scratched on her post. She looked from her sheepskin bed to me and back again. “What’s this doing out here? What’s going on?”

Truth is, I am a little heartbroken, and I only realised why this morning, when she was extra cuddly as we lounged in bed a few minutes after the alarm. Jessie is the one being in my life who I see every day. Weekday or weekend, morning or night. She has been someone to talk to, for if you live alone and have a cat, you converse a lot. It is generally a one-sided conversation, but on occasion, she utters a meow in response.

And I don’t know if I am just ultra-sensitive to her at the moment, but I am pretty sure she has been going out of her way to be extra cute today. She has done the whole, ‘How cute am I when I roll on my back like a puppy?’ thing waaayyy more than she usually does.

Putting things in perspective I have thought of two important things. Firstly, in a short time, I will have someone else to tell my day to, to cuddle with and to greet in the morning. It is also likely that this new someone won’t demand dinner the moment I walk in the door at the end of the day. (I hope.)

And secondly, I am only reaping the karma sown many years ago, when I announced to my parents at the wise age of 18, “I am moving back to America.” I meant ‘by myself’, and I also meant at the time, ‘for good’. And no matter how much I know that broke their hearts a little, they supported me through a year and a half of working, saving, preparing and packing. They took me to the airport, and my grandmother told me later that my dad almost fell back against her after I went through the gate. He hadn’t let me see that; he had only waved me off with a smile, allowing me to pretend to be brave, and to have to the support and freedom to do what I wanted.

‘For good’ was actually a year and 9 months. I returned. My family and friends were happy. I lived my life, and then at 26 announced, “I am moving to London.” I meant ‘for good’, and I would be joining my sister who had been there three years already. Again the support came thick and fast, although I am fairly certain there was sadness too.

‘For good’ that time was a year and 6 months. I returned. My family and friends were happy. I lived my life, and then at 31 announced, “I am moving to Sydney.” I meant, ‘for a while, to try it out, to see if I like it’, and I have lived here ever since. My next birthday is 40, and I am leaving again – this time to Seattle – maybe ‘for a while’, maybe ‘for good’. Time will tell. But the pattern is clear. Decade by decade, I need to make a major move (that is a whole other discussion, though).

Getting back to Jessie and the highly convoluted analogy I am drawing. Even though it is my decision (she is a cat, she can hardly make these decisions for herself), I know that she must go today. She needs a home here in Australia with people who will love her. And they will. They will love how she is not a morning cat, but gets up anyway to see them off for the day, her eyes half closed and sleepy. They will love how she takes someone lying down as an invitation to lay on top of them. They will love how she rolls around on her back and says, “Come tickle my tummy.” And they will love how she loves them.

She has been a great little mate, and I am grateful to have had the past two and a half years with her.

And importantly, I also want to say I am grateful to the three amazing parents I have, who always let me go and always welcome me home. And I am grateful for the person who waits across the world in the home he is making for us.

Grateful, but sad today.

Third Date

I have been very candid about my month-long love affair with Seattle dating back to January of this year. We had a rocky start, though. It was a Seattle rain storm that took from me a favourite hat and an umbrella, but we soon made up and I embarked on a whirlwind romance with the city. I loved its restaurants and vistas, its culture and its people. I was smitten.

We had a brief fling in April – 6 days of five-star luxury while Ben attended a conference. We flirted, Seattle and I. I dressed pretty, I let the sunny days kiss my nose, and we drank each other in. Brief, yet passionate.

Now I am back, and this visit is a little like a third date. Now I know I am moving here, Seattle is starting to let its guard down, and I am seeing sides of it I haven’t seen before. Some are delicious, like the nooks and crannies of the Pike Place markets, where Ben and I bought aromatic oils and spices the other day, and some a little too revealing this early into our relationship.

I went for a run yesterday, and waited patiently for the pedestrian signal to change from red to green. The roads are wide thoroughfares – 6 lanes – so this took a while. I didn’t mind. It was a sunny day and I was in Seattle, working out new running routes for when I move here. I eventually crossed and started running at a warm-up pace. I got about two blocks before signs indicated that the ‘sidewalk’ (I read American) was closed and I would have to cross to the other side. SIGH. I hit the signal button, then waited, and waited, and waited. The light did inevitably turn green, and a couple dozen cars waited impatiently – or patiently – I couldn’t really tell as I jogged across the street. Of course, now I was back on the wrong side. And I was in ‘Butt-crack America’.

This is my affectionate term for those parts of the states – here in Seattle, or anywhere – that do not exactly show the country off at its best. That stretch of road, just three blocks from home, with its cracked pavements and warehouses, its homeless wanderers and youthful loiterers, is almost certainly the butt-crack of Seattle. I kept looking ahead to see where the pedestrian bridge Ben had promised was.

Like a beacon in the distance it stood proud and beautifully constructed, unaware that it was in the midst of decay and mess. I hit my third little round button of the day, and waited, and waited, and waited. “Oh, come the F@*k on!” I was losing patience. So far my run had consisted of two sprints and a lot of waiting. FINALLY the light turned. I headed up and over the bridge which traverses the railroad tracks, and started my ‘run proper’.

It is hard to marry the waterfront parkland with the street parallel, because they couldn’t be more different. On the other side of the bridge are tracks for pedestrians and cyclists, lush green grass, and park benches. On clear days you can see across Puget Sound to the Olympic mountain range in the west. The frightfully large seagulls of the northwest, duck and weave along the shoreline, and fishermen lazily dangle their lines in the water.

Once I actually started running along the waterfront, my tetchiness eased and I hit my rhythm. The air was salty and clean, and the sun hot on my shoulders. I glanced at the scattered few who were lying on the grass and soaking up the late-season sun. They had the distinctive look of ‘locals’ – comfortable enough in their environs to casually lounge around in public. I wondered when I will start to feel like that, but this being only my third date with Seattle, that is a little way off yet.

I hit a natural ‘turn-around’ point, and started running back towards the footbridge. I had already decided to overshoot it and find another way home. I knew that if I kept running and passed the apartment, I would get to another crossover closer to downtown.

Running back towards the city lends a spectacular view. The skyline has its distinctive icons, but there is so much I have yet to explore I wandered with my eyes, taking in as much as possible. I am starting to place myself within this city. I am learning street names, shortcuts and landmarks.

Just before the crossover to the other side of the tracks, there is an outdoor sculpture gallery. It is a favourite spot in Seattle, because it is a junction of sorts. The waterfront, downtown and our neighbourhood converge there. It is 5 minutes from the apartment, 5 minutes from Ben’s work, and right on the waterfront, where cafes and storefronts jut out over the water. Oh, and the sculptures are kind of cool too.

Not long afterwards, I made it back to the apartment with the sense of satisfaction I have after a long run, but also with something else. I am getting to know this city, much in the same way I got to know Sydney when I first moved there and discovered its many delights and frustrations.

At the moment I straddle two cities. I curse the Sydney traffic as I crawl along each afternoon, and think about living in a city where traffic is much lighter, and ostensibly we will likely live without a car. However, I know I will miss the coastal walk between Coogee and Bondi beaches, because there are few views in the world more beautiful. I will enjoy living in a city where there are literally 100 restaurants serving the cuisines of the world, but am mindful that the minor frustrations will reveal themselves soon enough.

No place is perfect to live in, but there is always more to learn about, more to appreciate and more to love. I think I am ready to ‘go all the way’ with Seattle.

P.S. Check out Ben’s FLICKR page for some more recent shots, including views from our roof.