Welcome to Fabulous Las Vegas!

14 Oct

Last weekend James and I headed to Las Vegas to party it up with AJ for his 30th birthday. It was wonderful seeing everyone again, though a little bittersweet to be reminded of what we’d lost by moving to San Francisco. (OK I promise that’s the last Debbie Downer bit from me)

Saturday

We arrived Saturday morning, dumped our bags in AJ’s room and all headed out to go ATVing in the Nevada desert.
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Predictably the motorcyclists and go-kart enthusiasts were right at the front. I’m super timid so I stayed at the back so I wouldn’t slow everyone else down. You can probably guess which category James fell into.
IMG_20141011_150142It was crazy, ridiculously hot. It reminded me of those super dry 40C days back in Australia.

Very important to stay hydrated!
IMG_20141011_143640Maybe not too hydrated. =P
1234087_10152775843695833_3108402558522289464_n1When we got back to the hotel everyone showered and got changed for dinner at Jaleo’s that night. It was super delicious, which was good because we were planning on having dinner at its even more upscale sister restaurant the next day.

We walked past the Bellagio fountains which were so breathtaking – one of my favourite parts of the weekend. I could have stayed there all night looking at the different choreographed fountain shows.
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But I couldn’t, because we’d all chipped in to reserve an outside bungalow at Drai’s night club. It was a great arrangement because instead of being jostled around on the dance floor all night we had bottle service in a private cabana. We could still hear the music and see everyone inside, but those of us who just wanted to chill out could do so next to our very own pool.

Here’s a photo I nabbed from online:
drais-pool2

I had way more fun than I was expecting, and I know it’s because we had the pool-chilling option. We were the only group outside so we had the whole area to ourselves and although the area was roped off the bouncers let us wander around – you could see the Vegas Strip and directly across from us were the Bellagio fountains. Later that night they started letting people outdoors so it got a bit more crowded but we still had our bungalow retreat.

I didn’t get a lot of photos. Well I did, but our cabana came with 3 bottles of vodka (subsequent bottles were $700 each!!!) so most of my photos looked like this:
IMG_20141012_013209Our servers mixed our drinks really strong (so we’d deplete our bottles faster) and I think we all got tipsy waaay quicker than we were anticipating. It’s almost admirable how slickly Las Vegas extracts money from you.

Quincy had drunk a bit much so Chi Kai bought her a bottle of water. $10!!!

Still, it was such an awesome night! The servers came round with an armful of glowsticks for us, and the boys got so excited.
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At one point James went inside and when he came back he’d managed to acquire another glowstick. Then later when he went to the bathroom he hid his two glowsticks under a cushion like a squirrel hiding an acorn.

Initially I thought this next photo was surprisingly nice given how drunk we both were. But then I kept looking and realised that James was still refusing to let go of his stupid glowstick!

IMG_20141012_022901He even brought two of them home with him. =/

I was very impressed with ourselves for staying up as late as we did. But when we left at 3:30am there were still people lining up to get in! One of the guys working there told us that apparently now there is such a thing as a “day club” – where people go after the night club closes to keep partying. Clearly I’m out of touch.

It was about 4:30am when my head hit the pillow and we’d been up almost 24 hours at that point.

Sunday

We started the day off with brunch at the Wynn. The line to get in was really long but luckily Mike, Quincy and Chi Kai had gotten there earlier and pre-queued because the rest of us took awhile to get mobilised. The Wynn is freaking gorgeous.
IMG_20141012_145403Our group was seated in the atrium, which was the furthest from the buffet but the nicest area because it was all decorated and sunlit.
IMG_20141012_122734The food was great – the group favourites were the roast beef, the thick pepper-crusted bacon, the fried chicken and the desserts (we got them all and shared them so we could taste everything). James and I had to walk a fine line because we were eating at é for an early dinner and didn’t want to be too full! I had three plates of food plus dessert, so I feel like I got my money’s worth.

Afterwards we walked through the Venetian to look at the canals and the singing gondoliers.
IMG_4860The guys found a machine that would clean their sunglasses for $2 and so they took turns putting their sunglasses in and oohing and aahing.
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There was also an oxygen bar which Greg, James and Roula used. Apparently the oxygen didn’t really do anything, but they had a great time because one of the gadgets they were given had these adhesive pads with a handheld device that could deliver these painful electric (?) shocks. I think they were supposed to relax your muscles if you use them in moderation? James said they were legit painful – on one setting it felt like you were getting pinched, another one felt like you were getting punched, and another felt like you were being whipped.

Greg suggested they do a “trust exercise” where they each held each other’s devices. It turned out it wasn’t so much a trust exercise as the three of them just continually shocking each other.

It was supposed to be a nice, normal photo but James and Greg happened to get simultaneously shocked.
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James said that of the three of them, Roula was the most ruthless. Also apparently he could feel ghost spasms in his back for the rest of the day!

They were only supposed to get 15 minutes with the oxygen but James and Greg got to go for longer (Roula started a bit after them) because for awhile we were the only ones there and I guess they don’t want the bar to look empty. Roula was shocked so hard that she fell off her chair twice, and they were all laughing and having such a good time that a random photographer came and took photos of them!

Afterwards we had to go and get changed for dinner at é. I’ll do a big blog post about that soon because it was such an interesting meal it deserves its own post. =)
IMG_4892[1]After dinner we walked back to Treasure Island to meet up with the group and watch a Cirque du Soleil show. It was a great end to an amazing day.

Monday

Monday was our final day in Vegas. I wanted to do some of the Stratosphere rides but I think I was the only one, so I was happy enough to explore the strip with everyone else.

A Jeff Koons at the Wynn:
IMG_20141012_114921An enchanted forest, also at the Wynn:
IMG_20141013_134750The chocolate fountain at the Bellagio: IMG_20141013_134430The volcano at the Mirage:
IMG_20141013_164441A shoe at the Cosmopolitan:
IMG_20141012_202704 Frescoes and statues at Caesar’s Palace:
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And of course, a flamingo at the Flamingo:
IMG_20141013_163311(There were also real ones but the photos didn’t really turn out)

Then we got alcoholic slushies (coral crush and strawberry) and met up with Paul and AJ for lunch.
IMG_20141013_142205Afterwards we did some gambling before it was time to catch a taxi to the airport.

Everything is so over the top spectacular in Vegas and it really gives you an appreciation for how much people must lose gambling. James and I made our own contribution this weekend, but luckily managed to come out of it with a little something.
IMG_4845Don’t worry, we won’t go spending that all in one place.

Vegas shouldn’t be nearly half as enjoyable as it is – it’s super tacky, everything is expensive, there are monster lines, it’s too hot, all the tourists are wasted, it smells like cigarettes and you need to tip everyone - but it all somehow works. Everyone you meet seems to be having the time of their lives and honestly I’ve never had so much fun spending such a shitload of money!

Jogging to Glen Park and Billy Goat Hill

6 Oct

On the weekend James and I went to a house inspection near the border of Noe Valley and Glen Park. I checked it out on Google Maps and it was a straight line there so I figured why not jog there.

Reasons Why Not

  • It was like 30C
  • So many hills

This photo flattens the hills a lot but you get the general up and down gist of it. This was at about the halfway mark.

photo (7)

It was almost so hard that it was fun. It definitely would have been fun if it hadn’t been so hot. James was a superstar and ran the whole thing nonstop (he was waiting for me at the end).

The house that we were inspecting was cool – up a flight of stairs and hidden with no street frontage. This area was a little too residential (and the house will likely end up over our budget), but I still love the idea of secret houses.

Afterwards we went to Billy Goat Park, which has killer views over San Francisco. Apparently there’s normally a swing but someone had cut it down and there was just a rope.

This is James retrieving the rope before we realised it was too short for swinging Tarzan-style.

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I think James maaaybe could have managed it (I had to get on my tippy-toes and could only hold on to the very end of the rope) but he’s scared of heights. At least we had plenty of time to enjoy the view!
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I didn’t have it in me to jog home so we just kind of meandered and admired the different houses. We passed two lemonade stands and a bunch of elaborately decorated houses for Halloween. I can see why Noe Valley and Glen Park are popular with families!

Oh yeah, and the promised update about the Dolores Park condo. As predicted we weren’t the highest offer. I don’t know what it ended up selling for because it’s still pending but apparently we were equal 4th out of 6 (and there was a big gap between us and 3rd place).

James and I are inspecting a rental property in Mountain View on Wednesday so we’ll see how that goes.

Things Are Looking Up!

25 Sep

Sorry for deserting the blog again! This time I had a much cheerier excuse – one of my high school friends came to visit for five days so we pretty much spent the whole week exploring San Francisco (plus Google, Muir Woods and Napa).

Do I love San Francisco as much as Seattle? Not yet, but now I’m much more optimistic than I was a week ago. My favourite parts are Russian Hill, Telegraph Hill and the Mission Dolores area. This is a photo that James took from Dolores Park a couple of weekends ago.

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It looks like there was some sort of festival on, but nope. As far as I can tell this is just how busy it gets on a sunny weekend.

We’ve actually made an offer on a condo like … a minute’s walk from the park. It’s such a beautiful place and we both loved it as soon as we saw it, but I’m 99% sure we won’t win. We bid right up to our max (>10% over list price) but our broker told us that other people will be bidding based on the potential to expand into the attic.

Oh, and there’s a super weird thing that buyers do here, where they write “love letters” (seriously that’s what they’re called) to the seller. So our broker got me to write one telling the seller about us and why we loved the house. I wonder if that’s something that will catch on in Australia?

Offers are due today at 5pm so I’ll have news about that soon. Though like I said earlier it’s unlikely to be good news.

Another possibility that James and I are considering is, instead of stretching to buy a home we love, maybe just buying a condo in Mountain View because it makes sense financially. I’ve been playing around with the NYT Buy or Rent Calculator and it looks like if we buy a crappy 2BR condo for ~550k we’d only be ahead renting if we could find a place for under 1k (HA!). We would never love it like we loved our North Melbourne apartment, the condo we’re bidding on now, or even Rollin Street … but it does seem to be the most financially prudent move.

I did a couple of hill sprints in Mission Dolores the other day (/sigh … there’s a hill right outside the home we’re bidding on that would be perfect for hill sprints). I also need to stop being lazy and start eating vegetables again. Maybe I’ll buy a bag of frozen kale that I can mix into my smoothies (I miss my Vitamix!).

James is still enjoying work at Google. He was told that he’s been exceeding expectations, so that’s pretty awesome. =)

Oh also, we’re going to Vegas in October! =D

I Left My Heart in San Fran Seattle

16 Sep

It’s been a pretty hectic few weeks. James and I spent the last few days in Seattle doing some whirlwind socialising (more blog posts on that later!), culling our possessions (argh – stuff creep despite our best intentions) and organising the final details of our move. I’ve been in a bit of a funk since moving and don’t have my blogging mojo back yet, so here’s an abbreviated, somewhat depressing, update:

The Bad

I miss Seattle and our friends. I spent the first week in San Francisco intensely homesick. That didn’t happen when we left Melbourne, which is strange because Melbourne to Seattle is a way bigger move and we were leaving close friends and family for a whole other freaking country. I don’t know why it hit me so hard this time. I actually try not to think about Seattle because then I start crying and I can’t stop.

I’m sure that eventually I’ll get used to it, but right now I’m pretty upset at the prospect of spending almost double to live in a city I don’t love as much and having to make friends all over again. I don’t want new friends – I want our friends. =( So yeah, James feels awful because he felt like he’d pressured me into moving here (which he totally didn’t) and I feel horrible for ruining what should be a really exciting time for him. James always tells me that my one job is to be happy. He’s always given me anything I’ve wanted and I can’t even manage to do this for him.

I haven’t found a replacement gym either (which I’m sure isn’t helping). I should probably start doing some bodyweight exercises so I don’t waste away into nothing. I bet I can’t even do pull-ups anymore.

The Good

James loves his new job. He said he gets to use really innovative technologies an the projects he’s working on are even more interesting than they had led him to expect. He really enjoyed his time at Amazon, but he said Google is on a whole other level.

I can see how much happier he is working on something that he’s passionate about – the famous (and in no way exaggerated) Google perks are just the icing on the cake.

Moving Forward

James said that if I still hate San Francisco after 18 months he will transfer to the Seattle office. He said that my happiness is his number one priority, but his happiness is my number one priority! I really hope that I can learn to appreciate it here – I know that Seattle didn’t feel “right” to me until we moved out of corporate housing so maybe that’s the case here. We have two more months of free housing and I don’t want to give up the ability to save all that extra money even if it means being occasionally homesick and mopey.

Maybe in six months I’ll be able to look back on this post and laugh at how silly I was being. I was hoping I’d have a happier update for you guys, sorry. =(

Getting our E3 Visas Renewed in Mexico City!

21 Aug

Whew! James and I just came back from six days in Mexico City.
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It was an unplanned “holiday” because we needed to go to get our visas renewed (much like an H1B, James’ E3 visa is tied to his employer). Most people go to Canada but apparently this time of year is really busy – Vancouver had no available appointments and Calgary had an 84 day wait, so Google suggested that we go to Mexico City which had a mere 14 day wait.

I was pretty freaked out – all I knew was that parts of Mexico are extremely unsafe – I’ve read news stories of entire buses getting killed by drug cartels, people getting kidnapped, and friends have told me about how their parents were driven around in armoured cars with bodyguards. But after doing some research I found that Mexico City is one of the safest parts of Mexico and it’s no more dangerous than any large North American city. And (aside from the stress of not speaking the language!) we had a really great time!

The first awesome part was finding out that the seats I’d selected were actually bulkhead seats. Normally airlines make you pay for these seats and now I can see why. Soooo much room!
IMG_4300I could straighten my legs and still not touch the seat in front of me! It didn’t make any real difference in comfort to me but James was pleased which made me pleased. =)

Monday

Straight to work! We had to go to the Applicant Services Center in the morning to make sure all our documents were in order – Mexico City is the only place that makes you go through this step. You can’t do it on the same day as your visa interview so we had to arrive a day earlier to get everything taken care of. There was a huge crowd of people outside the building waiting for their appointment times. It was a pretty stressful experience because all the announcements were in Spanish and we had no idea what was going on (this would be a common theme throughout our visa process).

We were put in a special queue because James’ documents were missing his middle name so we first had to get in line to fix that before getting in the proper queue. We were told that we’d need to bring a photo to our visa appointment (something we didn’t know beforehand!) so we had to get emergency ones taken around the corner. Even at local rip-off prices (250 pesos/$19 USD) they were still well worth it for the convenience.

Afterwards we dropped everything back at our AirBNB place, grabbed some street tacos (amazing and only 12 pesos each) and headed to the Zocalo and the Metropolitan Cathedral.
2014-08-15 09.50.40Unfortunately for us most of the square was taken up with a huge installation teaching people how to ride bikes so we didn’t get to see Zocalo in all its glory. The cathedral was beautiful, but since neither of us are religious we just kind of wandered around feeling vaguely out of place while we looked at the architecture.

Also, the metro system in Mexico City is fantastic. The trains come very frequently (the one time we had to wait 5 minutes for a train we were like wtf?!) and it costs 5 pesos (40c!) to travel with unlimited transfers. Rush hour was the most squished I’ve been in my life, but overall it was a super cheap and convenient way to travel around the city.

On the walk home from the metro station we stopped by a cafe where James ordered some mescal.
IMG_4309(James: when we move to California we should buy some mescal and oranges)

We also got to try maguey worms!

IMG_4316They were really expensive (I think over 400 pesos/$31 USD) but eh, you don’t get to try worms very often! Also I may or may not have realised how expensive the worms were before I ordered them.

James didn’t like them but I did. They were kind of like meaty french fries (and apparently they have heaps of protein!)

Tuesday

This was the day of our visa interview. It was also raining really heavily in the morning so we got soaked walking 30 minutes to the consulate. In hindsight I should have picked an AirBNB place that was closer to the embassy instead of in a cool neighborhood (I’m normally better about that but in this case I was seduced by the photos).

As far as I could tell we were the only E3 applicants. James thought it might work in our favour because maybe there would be a dedicated E3 agent but no such luck. The main stress came from not knowing what was going on and getting in the wrong line (individual employees spoke excellent English, but all the general announcements were in Spanish) but once we got on track the actual visa interview was very straightforward – we were easily approved and told to return on Thursday to retrieve our passports.

We spent the rest of the day visiting the Museum of Anthropology, which is this beautiful modern building in the middle of an enormous park (over twice the size of Central Park in NYC).
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The bottom floor seemed to focus on ancient ruins and the top floor more on the different Mexican cultures. We explored the whole museum but if you only have a short period of time I’d recommend focusing on the Aztec section. There’s some really impressive stuff there, like the Aztec sun stone (originally buried in the Zocalo), and a huge collection of stone figures.

Wednesday

On Wednesday we went on a private tour to see Teotihuacan, which was an ancient (100BC!) city in Mexico. We left quite early and got there at 7:30am, just before everything opened. The first half hour it was pretty much just us (and the workers) there, and it was pretty cool seeing the citadel and the Avenue of the Dead completely empty.

We saw these stone heads at the citadel:
IMG_4377Which they’d had a restored portion of (or replica?) at the Museum of Anthropology.

IMG_4350It was strange trying to imagine everything with colour. There were some well-preserved murals so we could get a sense of how everything must have looked.

Here we are in front of the Pyramid of the Sun (seriously, try to picture it in colour – bizarre!)

2014-08-13 09.51.30Other people were starting to trickle in by now. Given its size I thought the pyramid would be more challenging to climb (maybe if you do all the levels at once? We kept getting distracted) but the views were absolutely spectacular.

2014-08-13 09.37.38In the background you can see the Avenue of the Dead leading to the Pyramid of the Moon. We also climbed the Pyramid of the Moon (though you weren’t allowed past the first tier) and the view was also gorgeous.
IMG_4429Here I am carefully descending the steps. You get a much better sense of how enormous the pyramid is by seeing how teeny tiny everyone looks against it.

2014-08-13 10.25.50Afterwards we looked at some palace ruins, well-preserved murals, and a museum. We also had lunch in a cave.
IMG_4461It was super overpriced, but how often do you get to eat inside a cave?!

Thursday

In the morning we spent some time looking atDream of a Sunday Afternoon in Alameda Park at the Museo Mural Diego Rivera. It’s so stunning in person and I regret that we didn’t see his other murals at the National Palace. It was 12 pesos each for entry and there was a guy in the room (James and I are divided on whether he was a museum employee or just a Diego Rivera enthusiast) who explained parts of the mural to us.

Then it was time to pick up our visas from the US consulate. We had to get there at 3pm where everyone waited outside in a confused huddle until they started calling out names. Our names were never called (!) but the guard let us through anyway cos we had a piece of paper telling us to be there. We were taken to a special waiting area which freaked us out because everyone else got to go inside. We watched everyone else leave with their passports and visas until one of the employees told us that they couldn’t find our passports (!!!). Eventually they did find them and from there on everything went smoothly although we were by far the last to leave. =(

Friday

In the morning we went to Templo Mayor, which is this Aztec temple that some workers randomly discovered underneath Mexico City. There were 7 pyramids built over one another, and you can walk around the ruins and see the various layers.
2014-08-15 10.35.32The museum afterwards had various relics that were retrieved from the site as well as a model of the 7 layer pyramid that we were previously walking through:
IMG_4491The disk of the dismembered Coyolxauhqui is probably the crown jewel of the collection (I think the one on the level below is Tlaloc, who was everywhereat Teotihuacan, Templo Mayor, everywhere):

IMG_4498And this is their reproduction of how it looked originally:
2014-08-15 10.16.19I kind of love how gruesome a lot of their art is and how huge a theme death is. Case in point:
IMG_4489After the museum we picked up my pottery and went to a market to buy some Otomi bark artwork (I love death themed art but not on my walls. I bought cut-outs of friendly little seed spirits).

Then in the evening it was time for Lucha Libre! We went with a tour group – we could have done it cheaper on our own but I think going with a group was more fun. Our guide was awesome and explained the rules to us and taught us Spanish phrases to yell out.

2014-08-15 21.52.01He was friends with a couple of the wrestlers and we got photos taken with them which was cool.

Afterwards we picked up a lucha libre t-shirt for James (110 pesos or $8.50 USD). The t-shirts had really cool designs and I kind of regret that we didn’t buy more, but we were running out of cash towards the end and didn’t want to go to another ATM. Then we took the metro home, had 1am tacos, packed, and got an hour’s sleep before taking an Uber to the airport.

We arrived back in Seattle around 4pm with fresh US visas. =) Overall I’d recommend getting your visas in Mexico (especially if you speak Spanish!) It was scary for us because we didn’t know the language, but everything went well and we got to explore an amazing city that we never would have visited otherwise.
2014-08-11 15.19.36(Drinking a mescal cocktail and feeling very cosmopolitan in trendy Condesa)

Adios Mexico! I know how to say that at least.

Also lo siento, no habla espanol.

A Visit to Google in Seattle

20 Aug

Apparently Google has three campuses in Washington State: Kirkland, Fremont and Bothell in order of size. This morning Luke invited me and James (well originally Chuck and James, but Chuck had something come up last minute) to have breakfast with him at Google in Fremont.

It’s a pretty small campus – just two buildings. From what Luke showed us there seemed to be a cafeteria and cafe in each building, plus the usual well-stocked microkitchens everywhere. The restaurants were decorated with things like painted tyres, propellers, and Fremont Troll artwork.

Also if you know me you know that I go kind of crazy when there’s free food. For breakfast Luke had what looked like cereal and cream (he said it was parfait) and James had some pancakes. I had pancakes, scrambled eggs, breakfast sausages, hash browns, green beans, carrots, juice and a croissant. =(

This is the restaurant in the other building, though it’s not open for breakfast. I think Luke described it as having pizza and tacos.
IMG_2676He also showed us the gym, which is about the size of a regular apartment gym but heaps better. They have two squat racks, kettlebells, heaps of weighted vests, and even heart rate monitors that you can borrow. The gym is right next to the water so they also have paddleboards and kayaks that you can take out.

But this was my favourite part of the tour:

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Claw machine, ohhh yeah.

You could play for free by getting a play token from reception. It was play until you win, and the claw was nice and grippy, not like those bullshit loose ones. I’m happy to report that James and I both got ours on the first try.

Inside the claw machine was various Google swag. Little soft toy keyrings, mini footballs, water bottles, t-shirts, and randomly some Google slippers. Those little white rectangles that say “Google” on them are actually t-shirts (I thought they were notepads) and when I realised that the “L” was actually the Space Needle I thought it would be an awesome souvenir! We were debating the ethics of asking for another token but a guy that worked there told us that reception would just give us a t-shirt if we asked.

Behold!
IMG_4509The t-shirt has the Space Needle, Rainier, Lake Union (?) and a forest. I wonder if all the Google campuses have locally themed t-shirts?

Mouse was a big fan of the toy (James: I knew the cats would like it):

IMG_4545Even though the office was small compared to Mountain View, it was really cute. And there’s definitely something to be said for not needing shuttles or bikes to get around campus. And the claw machine!

We have a little over two weeks until we move to the Bay Area and James starts work. We allowed extra time in case something went wrong – Australia Post losing James’ passport is still in recent memory. But everything went smoothly in Mexico and we had a great time, so watch out for a blog post about that soon!

I Bet the Germans Have a Word for HappySad

6 Aug

I get soo many hits on my blog from people looking for information about Amazon interviews and/or relocation. (I also get recognised on the street more often than you would think!) So it’s sad to be posting this, but James will be leaving Amazon at the end of this month. =(

Even more sadly we will be leaving Seattle. I can’t tell you how much I love it – the weather is perfect, it’s close to beautiful hikes and amazing snowboarding, and we’ve made such wonderful friends. Honestly I feel like I could have lived the rest of my life here. I don’t even get hayfever which is freaking astounding.

So why would we leave? Because James has accepted a job offer in California! He’ll be working for Google in an area he’s passionate about, so I’m absolutely thrilled for him.

It wasn’t something he’d planned in advance (as our SEA-LAX-MEL flights, my half-used CSA subscription and completely un-used 2014-15 season’s pass will attest to) but once the ball started rolling everything moved pretty fast. We just came back from a location scouting trip in the Bay Area and later this week we’re heading to Mexico to get our visas sorted. Then at the end of the month we’re moving into corporate housing in San Francisco!

These next few weeks will be pretty hectic. I’m super sad at leaving all our friends and this beautiful city but happy that James will be working at his dream job. So yeah, HappySad.

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