On the road again

Ah Oregon it’s been real, but it’s time to move on.

Starting on May 1st, we are officially making our way back down to Arizona, where we’ll be living for the next two years or so. I have mixed feelings about it. On one hand, because we were there for the first three months of the assignment, and because I was always conscious we’d be going back, I felt more settled there and keep referring to it as “home.” But on the other, my heart belongs to Portland and I’ll miss it something fierce. It’s a shame that we didn’t get to do all the things we planned while we were here, but what with the poxy weather, new pup, and Eoin’s long hours, we were restricted. I’ve made my peace with it though. And hey, maybe we’ll come back for a holiday? Two years is a long time.

Anyway, this move is going to be a little different to the last two (from Ireland to AZ and from AZ to here) mostly because we’re going it alone. Previously, The Massive Multinational Company That Cannot Be Named had been our mammy and organised our apartment, cable, internet, phone, car and furniture – everything. This time, however, they’re only looking after the house, the rest is up to us. Normally this wouldn’t be a problem, but we’ve been so spoiled it seems a little scary, especially the part about arriving to an empty house with only an air bed to our names. Terror Town.

Still, I’m really looking forward to it, especially as everything is more fun now that we have Milo. Eoin has already purchased some new wheels (well, new to us) and we’ve decided that we’re going to drive down and make a holiday of it because he has some much-needed time off to take. This is the part I’ve been concentrating on and I’m so excited about it. Chandler is about 1,300 miles away and we’re giving ourselves ten days to get there, taking the scenic route.

It looks long, right? Basically we’re driving down almost the entire west coast of America. The weather should be nice, especially in Southern California, so we’re going to camp when we can and just spend time by the coast before we venture into the desert for the long haul. We plan on stopping in Depoe Bay on the Oregon coast for whale watching, staying in the Redwood State Park, tasting wine in Napa Valley, spending a couple of days in San Francisco and then hitting the beaches around Santa Cruz, Pismo Beach, Malibu and Huntington Beach before heading inland to Palm Springs, and then finally “home.”

Not a bad start to the next chapter, eh?

If anyone has advice or recommendations for things we should see and do along the way, please, help a sista out.


Oregon: my first impressions

I’m here, y’all!

On Wednesday morning we packed up the last of our apartment in Chandler (sob!) and headed for the airport via a quick stop at Desert Breeze Park for an auld leg stretch. I knew we had been approved for a housewares package at the new gaff (thank you, Massive Multinational Company That Cannot Be Named!) but we tried to squeeze in some sheets and pillows cos our shipment doesn’t arrive til next week and we weren’t really sure what “housewares” included anyway.

The airport was really quiet so check in was a breeze and we even managed to sneak an extra bag in with our hand luggage. That would never happen with Ryanair. Before boarding we sat down for a drink during which I started banging on about all the stuff I was going to miss about Arizona. In the middle of my spiel I had a quick look at Twitter and discovered that our local mall, Chandler Fashion Centre, was at that moment closed because there was a gun-wielding madman down there taking hostages. It was at that point that I was ready to say goodbye to Arizona.

Our 1,009 mile flight north was fairly uneventful, unless you count the pilot announcing that there was a sick passenger on board and basically asking if there was a doctor in the house. When we landed the paramedics boarded and stretchered off an old man, who I hope was okay in the end. Seriously, drama was just following me around that day.

And so, we were in Oregon! Thanks yet again to The Massive Multinational Company That Cannot Be Named, we were picked up at the airport by a chauffeur and driven swankily to our new apartment. It was dark at that stage but the differences between Oregon and Arizona were already screaming at me. For one, the weather was basically the same as Dublin: it was cold and wet. Also, everything here is much more normal sized. I can’t stress how big the roads are in AZ, here they’re much more manageable and crossing the street doesn’t take 20 minutes. Oh, and the houses are so cute! No more low, stucco buildings with small windows designed to keep out the heat. Here it’s all about timber. They’re just adorable.

After about an hour we got to our new gaff which I LOVE. I really liked our AZ gaff too, so much so that we were going to see if we could live in the same community when we go back, but this place blows its socks off. It’s really bright and airy, with a vaulted 15 foot ceiling in the living room, and a much nicer kitchen. And lots of windows everywhere. Plus, we found out that the housewares package meant we were arriving to a hotel situation: the bed was made, we have loads of appliances (like an iron!) and even towels. I never want to move house without The Multinational Company That Cannot Be Named again.

I had been perving on our neighbourhood for ages via Google Maps and it didn’t disappoint in the flesh when we went out for dinner. Although I have my driver license, I will only have my legs and bike for transport Monday to Friday, so the outdoor mall right across the street is going to be my new best friend. It has clothes shops and restaurants, and there are a couple of supermarkets nearby too, including my personal favourite, Trader Joe’s.

Here’s a rundown of some other stuff I’ve noticed in the last 36 hours:

  • People here are really outcdoorsy. A lady from the relocation company came to show us around the ‘hood yesterday and she said basically everyone goes skiing or camping or hiking at the weekends once the weather warms up.
  • There’s a light rail (MAX), tram and bus service available and Oregonians actually use them. In downtown Portland, the MAX is free so it’s really easy to explore. How cool is that?
  • The international headquarters for Nike is just down the road and apparently if you’re spotted running in the surrounding park wearing a competitor’s T-shirt a security guard will step out and hand you a Nike one. (The rule doesn’t apply to running shoes, I checked.)
  • The Oregon Ducks are playing in some big game on Monday and apparently everyone is very excited indeed.
  • We now have a sofa bed, which I hope will lure visitors across the Atlantic. Anyone? ANYONE? BUELLER?

Last night I sent in my dog adoption application form so please cross your extremities and pray I hear something back soon!

On the move again

What? You didn’t think I was going to stay in Arizona forever, did you?

As of January 5th, Eoin and I will be living just outside Portland, Oregon. Yes, moving again so soon is not ideal but at the same time Portland sounds lovely, and it will give me the chance to have a bit of a winter. Oh yes, Portland, unlike Arizona, is cold. Actually, the climate is much like the one I’m used to at home in Ireland. Yay for seasons!

Below is (a really crude, in hindsight) map to show you where I’m at now and where I’m headed.

Now, isn’t that informative? I like to think of my new home as “just a California away.” We’ll be living there from the beginning of January til the very end of April/start of May, after which we’ll be coming back here for a long stint.

So what do I know about Portland?

  • It’s one of the greenest (as in, most eco-friendly) cities in the United States. That means the public transport up there is top-notch. (Although I’m driving now, I like to have options. And drinks.)
  • It’s famous for having a thriving music scene. Bands like Modest Mouse and Death Cab For Cutie originated in Portland and apparently (if you can believe Wikipedia) it’s where Kurt Cobain and Courtney Love met way back when.
  • One of its nicknames is Beertown. Why? Cos it’s home to lots of micro breweries. HELLO, BEER.
  • It’s very leafy. Leafy is good. I like leafy.
  • The Roloffs live there. And yes, before you ask, I intend to stalk them. Especially Jeremy, the 20-year-old son I’m not ashamed to say I have a crush on.

Overall, I really like the sound of Oregon. It rings my bell. Now all I have to worry about is the small matter of moving house. It feels like I only unpacked all this crap yesterday but c’est la vie. In this case though, the shipment shouldn’t take as long to reach us cos a) customs won’t be a factor and b) surely they can just put it all in a truck and drive it up to us. I would be less worried if we weren’t going away for Christmas. Oh didn’t I tell you? I’ll be raising a margarita to Baby Jesus from here as of next week:

That’s Isla Mujeres, just off Cancun, Mexico. EXCITED!

Have you been to Portland? Any tips for things to do in Oregon? Sharing is caring.

Arizona: my first impressions

I’m here! I’m here!

After a slightly dramatic experience at US immigration in Dublin airport (I’ll recount it at a later date. Just know: there was crying) I eventually landed at Phoenix Sky Harbor International airport just as the sun was setting on Monday. A very pretty sight, although considering it was only 5.35pm I though it was a little early for that carry on. Eoin surprised me at baggage claim (yeah, they’ll let just anyone in there) and we hopped in his little silver car and pointed it towards the new gaff, which was about 20 minutes away.

Driving in America is dead exciting. Well, passenging is. I will never be brave enough to drive here. Every road, even the little ones, has three lanes each side. And there are cars and ridiculously tall trucks everywhere. It was all very thrilling, a bit like going on a rollercoaster. A rollercoaster that’s on the wrong side of the tracks.

After checking out the house (it’s actually really nice, I was mean to call it caravanesque) I went off to wash all that recycled air out of my hair while Eoin ordered us some Mexican food for collection (or take out, as they call it over here, the madsers). I wanted shrimp enchiladas and he went for beef chimichangas. We also got a side of nachos since it was such a momentous occasion. Then we went off to get it, via a quick pit stop at a vending machine to pick up a DVD. When we got back to the house and unloaded all the grub there was a slightly stunned silence. Now, I was expecting the portions to be big over here but the amount of food we had was CRAY CRAY. The nachos came in a massive tray; a Christmas turkey could have comfortably swung a cat in it. And our meals were also HUGE. Plus, they gave us three paper bags of nachos and SIX dips. In fairness, we made it an impressive dent in it but it definitely made me aware of how much extra lard I’ll be eating while I’m here.

After my first proper sleep in two and a half weeks, I was raring to go this morning. Eoin had the day off so we hit up Bank of America so I could open an account. All you need to know is that my ATM card has Hello Kitty on it. Brilliant. The lovely bank lady (Rochelle, was her name, and she chewed gum the entire 40 minutes we were there) was very polite and funny, she actually asked us did we hear “about that thing that happened on September 11th a few years ago.” We said it sounded a bit familiar alright, and she replied, kinda surprised, that she wasn’t sure whether anyone outside the US cared about it. Gas!

Still sniggering at poor Rochelle’s expense, we hit up Ikea and bought some stuff for the house (shower curtain, can opener, bin – apartments here come with nothing) so it already feels like home for me.

So far, I love Arizona. It seems a bit like a holiday at the moment, and I expect that might change, but I get a real kick out of Americans. Here are some things I’ve observed about Chandler so far:

  • It’s bloody hot here. Today felt like a gorgeous August day in Italy or Spain, but it’s November. Summer is going to be terrifying.
  • There are fast food restaurants on every street corner, and about half are  Mexican. I’ve been here less than 24 hours and I’ve already seen at least one (two or three, more likely) of the following: McDonald’s, Burger King, Taco Bell, Baja Fresh, Del Taco, Olive Garden, Red Lobster, In ‘N’ Out, Applebee’s, Arby’s, IHOP, Outback, Dominos and heaps more.
  • Shops, restaurants, dentists, doctors: they all look the same. Pale terracotta buildings with red neon signs. Weird.
  • People drive everywhere. I’ve seen about six people walking around all day, and two of them were just getting off a bus.
  • Looking at really tall palm trees against a bright blue sky makes me happy.
  • When you’re in Ikea you could be anywhere in the world. If I ever feel homesick I’m gonna go there and pretend I’m in Ballymun.
  • My local radio station 104.7 KISS FM loves Nicki Minaj as much as I do. Yay!


The final to do list

Eight days to go. I am FREAKING OUT.

  • Clean out all the presses in the house and decide what clothes and shoes I’m gonna bring in my suitcase.
  • Wash the house and bring the landlord in to inspect it. Get the deposit back.
  • Take ESB and Bord Gais meter readings, send them in and put the bills back in the landlord’s name.
  • Send the internet yoke back into Smart Telecom.
  • Post my change of address form into the bank.
  • Ring the credit card people and tell them to expect some US activity in the very near future.
  • Ring the tax office and make them explain this self assessment nonsense to me.
  • Find out is my state pension will be okay if I live outside Ireland for three years.
  • Ring 02 and have my phone plan changed down to the cheapest option so the fine for breaking my contract won’t be €300.
  • Get my new Blackberry unlocked.
  • Make a hard copy of all my numbers JUST IN CASE.
  • Clean out my desk in work.
  • Cancel my DublinBikes subscription.
  • Find that €200 Brown Thomas voucher. And spend it.
  • Spend that €100 Penneys voucher.
  • Finish season six of The Sopranos.
  • Hydrate. Stop freaking out.
  • Emigrate.

A bird’s eye view

On Monday we finally received our list of apartment choices in Phoenix. Good times. They’re all pretty much the same: small but perfectly formed. I can’t put my finger on exactly what it is, but American apartments just look different to Irish ones. For example, most gaffs over here will have wooden floors in the living areas. They’re hard-wearing, and easy to clean and maintain. Well can someone please tell the Americans this? All the places we were offered have carpet everywhere except the kitchen and bathroom. Oh hi, dust mites, I can’t wait to introduce you to my asthma-riddled lungs! But I’m only nit picking. The apartments are lovely (in an American way) with everything we could possible need as well the thing I’ve been most excited about – a pool! In fact, the complex we’ll hopefully be living in has two pools as well as a 24-hour gym and clubhouse. Awesome!

After the complex and apartment being nice, my main concern was that it’s close to shops and stuff, which it is. Within walking distance (5-10 minutes) there’s a Circle K supermarket, Whole Foods and loads of restaurants (yes! Fast food!). And about 30 minutes away there’s the massive Chandler Fashion Centre, which I think will be my second home.

Oh no, the satellites have found our new pad

Tips for integrating into American society

I don’t know about you, but I live under a rock. I’ve never met any American people, nor have I watched TV or seen a movie set in the US. And as for actually crossing the Atlantic? Oh come on, I wish!*

Luckily The Massive Multinational Company That Cannot Be Named sent Eoin an email with eight handy tips to help us integrate into American society. It might be tricky, since we’re, you know, monkeys, but I think if we just stick to them rigidly we can’t go too far wrong. If you’re also a monkey, you might want to grab a pen and paper and take notes. These tips are invaluable.

  • Be sensitive to where you can and cannot smoke. Many businesses, restaurants, and public areas are becoming smoke free.

WHAT? This is an outrage. I was led to believe that America was the land of opportunity, a place where I could be whatever I wanted to be. In my case, that’s a smoker. And now I’m told I have to observe rules. Pah! I’m going to start on patches with a view to moving on to cigars within the first six months.

  • A short, informal thank you note is the most appropriate way to show your gratitude for an invitation to someone’s home. A gift of flowers or a bottle of wine when visiting will be appreciated, but not expected.

Who are you, my mother? If I go to someone’s home my presence is the present. They should actually be thanking ME.

  • Americans will often open gifts immediately upon receipt.

That’s the trouble with Americans, you see, they have no patience. They just barge right in and do whatever they want. Whether it’s a country, or a present, they just have to have it immediately. I think that’s disgusting. Personally, I don’t open my Christmas presents until, oh say, July? I’m a Catholic. We’re very patient and we love denying ourselves at every opportunity. When I do get around to opening the presents I’m usually crippled with guilt afterwards. Could I not have waited a little bit longer? At least until we were married?

  • You are not obliged to accept food or drinks offered at social gatherings – the host will not usually urge you to eat. You are expected to help yourself to however much you would like.

Hang on, let me get this straight, if I go to someone’s house I won’t be forced, with a virtual gun to my head, to eat or drink? Not even a sandwich, or a cup of tea? I think that’s beyond rude.

  • People often exchange compliments, and often use this as a way to start conversations.

Well I’m not “people.” I wouldn’t have a clue how to compliment anyone, especially not an American. I can’t stand people who are all proud and up themselves. I’ll play no part in encouraging it, thank you very much. A little humility wouldn’t go astray over there.

  • Americans often give and receive items using only one hand.

But what if it’s a big item, like a drum kit or a Hummer? How big is this one hand?

  • Two gestures are commonly used to show approval. The “O.K.” sign is a circle made with the thumb and index finger, with the other 3 fingers facing upwards. The “thumbs up” sign is a fist with the thumb pointing  upward.

Okay I’ve read this one 12 times so far and I think I’ve got it. To show approval I take my middle finger and stick it upwards. Got it! Yeah!

  • People form lines pay for items in stores, buy theatre tickets, enter clubs and board public transportation. Even if the line is informal, or if no line is made, people rely on a “first come, first served” mindset. Do not jump or push ahead in line.

Lines? First come, first served? I’m sorry, my American friends, but time waits for no woman. When I want to buy theatre tickets (which is, of course, regularly) I barge. Simple-as. And I’ll do it in your country too.

Bet you can’t wait to have me, eh? See you on November 1st.

* I jest! I jest!