Pieces of home

Contents of care packageMy mum is coming to visit soon. Yay!

She was here just 6 months ago with Dad to celebrate her birthday (which I completely forgot to blog about), so it was very unexpected that she would make the long journey again so soon. She either loves Colombia, loves to travel or loves and misses me… Most likely her reasons are all of the above.

The great thing about having Mum visit is the second 23kg suitcase of goodies she can bring me. And of course the simple fact that I get to hug my mummy and laugh crazily about silly things with her; we’re two peas in a pod in that respect. The post in Colombia is notoriously unreliable and cannot be trusted, which means care packages and online shopping are out of the question, unless of course you like throwing your money to the gale-force wind. While my aunt sent a small parcel before Christmas that arrived two days after Christmas, the two parcels Mum sent in December haven’t. The government contracted post company 4/72 said it could take up to 6 months to arrive and they can’t do anything about finding it unless they have a registered mail code for a service which Australia Post doesn’t provide for Colombia. I have little hope that either will arrive, and believe that some Colombian is now wearing Chesty Bonds singlets meant for mi novio and watching my friends’ Aussie film Blinder (doubt there’ll be a Spanish option there). This situation makes me cranky just thinking about it, and I think Mum secretly has some ulterior motive to come and give the postal company here a good ear-bashing along the lines of how she managed to arrive in Colombia before her parcels.

So, the goodies!! Mum will be bringing more items from my wardrobe, that is, what she hasn’t already brought over. I just hope she can find my pink heels which are probably stored in some plastic crate in her container.

I also took the opportunity to do some online shopping and have it sent to Mum. I bought some Bonds underwear because that is a staple. Did you know that here in Colombia that don’t let you try on white bras?!?!!? I don’t get it, are my boobs supposed to be dirty?!?! Anyway, I also bought some new pajamas because I like a slouchy style that is difficult to find here in nice patterns and colours ie. not cutesy prints on white or a bedtime version of the legging. Speaking of leggings, I also bought a couple of pairs of them too since I haven’t had much luck with the leggings here. Two out of three pairs developed a mysterious illness called “Camille is too grande for these poorly made, imported from China, tight pants” and have split while trying to contain my backside. This wasn’t just a seam split, but a failure in the fabric that saw it disintegrate and leave a huge gaping hole directly under the buttocks while riding my bike one Ciclovia Sunday; hardly a modest look for a girl in her mid-thirties and truth-be-told it’s scared me off buying more leggings.

My shopping spree wasn’t just all about me and my penchant for Australian brands, I also bought the boys some clothes. A tee and hoodie for D and a couple of singlets for mi novio because he is obsessed with showing off his biceps and rarely finds formfitting singlets for males here and so spends most of our shopping outings drooling over women’s active-wear. If I don’t feed his need for tight muscle-flashing singlets I’m convinced he will one day buy a women’s tank top and work a bit more on his pecs just to fill it out at the front.

I also bought a really cute dinosaur print doona cover for D. As it’s a kids print, the biggest size was a double and I’m now worried that his doona is queen size. That may require another shopping trip to buy a new doona for the dino cover…

I think that was about all the online shopping, but as if I haven’t already spent enough money on things just for the sake of it, I’m still toying with the idea of buying an on-sale Charlie Brown dress as she is my favourite designer and makes such flattering clothes for my shape and has great prints. I’ve also been researching fleecy-lined leggings/footless tights. I asked for a pair of these last time Mum visited since my one and only pair have started to emulate the dodgy street-bought leggings, but think they were either out of season or unavailable in Target or Kmart. Actually any hosiery in general is good. Cool colours and designs of good, non-ballsy quality are hard to find, and if you find them, chances are the biggest size still won’t accommodate the legs of an average sized foreigner who towers over most Colombianas and will leave the crotch hanging about mid-thigh height.

As far as what I’m leaving it up to Mum to buy, Australian food is high on the wanted list. I’ve got a good stock of Vegemite and recently received a care package from a friend via her colleague’s parents who live in Bogotá which included Vegemite. Tim Tams are always in fashion (original flavour or the dark choc covered bites are the best). I also love, love, love Cherry Ripes and ask for Caramello Koalas which D loves (not sure if it’s because it’s chocolate or if he likes the koalas because they seem so Aussie to him). I usually also get Murray River Pink Salt, which if you are Australian you really should have in your house, not just for its great taste and cool colour but because it helps overcome an environmental issue and is one of the flagship brands coming out of my hometown. I also recently got pink salt from my friend so I think I have enough until the next visitor comes.

Other great Australian products I love are Lucas’ Papaw ointment for my lips, Thursday Plantation tea tree ointment for insect bites and, it’s a bit icky to say, feminine hygiene products. I have plenty of papaw and tea tree ointment, and can get by with OB tampons (even though they’re not as great or technologically advanced as my favourite brand back home) but I have been unable to find a good pantyliner here that is thin and doesn’t feel like photocopy paper, so I put in a request for those from Mum.

Living in another country makes you appreciate all the little everyday items from home, and due to their scarcity they become little luxuries. While I’m looking forward to Mum arriving with a suitcase of little luxuries and a taste of my homeland for us, I think she’s hanging out for the luxury of eating patacones, arepas, empanadas and mi novio‘s special arroz de coco.

What are your top three care package items from home? How do you get around unreliable mail services in Colombia?

Settling in to Bogotá

I’ve spent the past few weeks settling into Bogotá, my new job and our apartment. After seven months living with la suegra, I’ve been busy creating a home with mi novio. The shopping and nesting has been aided somewhat by three long weekends in the space of a month.

Apartment hunting in Bogotá isn’t as straight-forward as I thought it would be, and we ran into one huge obstacle, the aseguradora. It seems the majority of apartments for rent send the applications off to an insurance company who scrutinise your income and debts and those of your guarantor (in Spanish it’s called a co-deudor). Your guarantor needs to not only own property, but have an income higher than your monthly rent as well. They also must be Colombian, or here in Colombia to sign the paperwork, a difficult requirement to meet if you are a foreigner. All this is just to RENT an apartment.

When our application for our favourite apartment failed because our co-deudor didn’t have one document they were asking for and we refused to pay a deposit of COP$9,000,000 (US$4,680) we had to start all over again and about COP$100,000 (US$52) poorer with the application processing fee of COP$80,000 and the zillions of phone calls that were made over it.

We were more than a little disheartened, but thankfully mi novio spent a day traipsing around the neighbourhood where we wanted to live and set up four inspections. We loved the first one. It was very similar to the previous favourite, but had three bedrooms plus a servant’s quarters (something that I’ve never seen in Australia except heritage properties) and was a little bit more expensive. We loved the apartment so much that we called the owner and managed to arrange a contract where in lieu of going through the aseguradora, we drew up a contract with the owner and agreed to pay one month in advance so we will always be a month ahead of our rent payments. We cancelled the rest of the appointments and started jumping around with joy.

Because we were dealing directly with the owner – who conveniently is a lawyer – we were able to move in three days later. Woohoo! No more hostel!

After the early morning handover with the owner, we hit the shops to start buying homewares. We happened upon a great bargain on a TV at 25% off the regular price, and although it wasn’t the highest priority, it found its way to the register along with a fridge, washing machine, crockery set and a few other bits and pieces. When I went to pay for everything with my Australian credit card it came back rejected. Uh-oh! It turns out my credit card had been blocked after withdrawing cash from the ATM (which I never do) and in three transactions in order to get the amount we needed to pay our landlord that morning. We then had to reprioritise our purchases as I couldn’t pay for all of them with my Australian debit card either and mi novio had nothing left in his account. So we took the TV home as that was on sale for one day only and I wasn’t prepared to lose the COP$300,000 discount.

Despite the stretched daily finances, we went to another store where we bought an inflatable couch that flips into a mattress so we had something to sleep on. Realising that we hardly had any cash, I went to the ATM to withdraw enough to get us back to the hostel and then a taxi with all our bags to the apartment. I had insufficient funds. Slightly preoccupied, we went back to our new apartment, complete with big screen TV, and counted every last coin to come to a grand total of COP$14,000 (US$7.30). We needed COP$3,000 for the bus to the hostel, and then we only had COP$9,000 for the taxi back, which was going to be a stretch. We were also starving because we had hardly eaten all day.

First night in our apartment with just the essentials.
First night in our apartment with just the essentials.

I thought mi novio had a few thousand pesos in his account so I said we should go to the supermarket to get some food. Unfortunately his card was rejected. So I tried my credit card again. No go. I then handed over my debit card praying the purchase of COP$12,000 would go through, and it did. We had similar pure luck in flagging down a taxi and negotiating with the driver to peg the fare at all we had, COP$9,000. So rather than celebrating our first night in our own place in a grand style, we sat on our inflatable couch/bed in front of the TV on the floor eating bread rolls and sharing a bottle of Coca-Cola.

The next two weeks were filled with the arrival of our furniture and belongings from Santa Marta, shopping for more homewares and four deliveries of white goods (although I should call them silver-goods since the fridge and washing machine aren’t white) and furniture. Delivery by delivery, our apartment transformed from a shell into a home.

I love the process of setting up home – must be my Taurean traits shining through – and this is the second time in two years that I’ve furnished a place pretty much from scratch. This apartment of our own has been such a long time coming that I’ve been reluctant to leave it at the weekend, which I’m sure has caused my housebound novio some frustrations. I’ve been baking and although the oven isn’t perfect (the temperature dial requires the use of pliers and the temperature range doesn’t have precision markings) it is holding up to my needs and placating mi novio somewhat with sweet treats.

The best part is that we live a short walk from my work so not only do I avoid the gridlocked commute,

I can come home for lunch. If that’s not luxury in Bogotá, I don’t know what is.

Stationery shopping

I really love shopping for stationery. There is nothing better than wandering around Officeworks, plying the stationery aisles of Kmart, making a round of Kikki K or Smiggle, or longingly browsing a boutique stationer. I just love it.

Here in Latin America it is quite a different shopping experience.

On my first day of Spanish classes, I found a papeleria where instead of wandering around, touching and feeling items that arouse curiosity, everything is behind a glass case, or tucked away on a shelf out back somewhere. So you have to ask for what you want. On Spanish Class Day 1 I was just looking for a notebook, a cuaderno. It is also important to ask for one with lineas, or lines, as the majority of latinos write on that graph paper with little squares. I don`t really understand that one at all. Perhaps a question to ask my teacher tomorrow.

At the end of classes last week, I needed something to put my photocopied handouts in. I asked my teacher to tell me the name of the plastic pocket he had, and he said separador plasticos. I probably should have used this terminology at the papeleria because when I said “Estoy buscando por algo para proteger mis hojas” (I`m looking for something to protect my pages”) the joker responded “¿Policia?”. It was quite funny and I laughed a lot. Instead of a plastic pocket, I got one of those coloured plastic things you close using the string and two circles. I am still debating the functionality of these closures.

Anyways, todays papeleria outing was for paperclips. While in the library doing my homework, I asked a couple of guys at the same table how to say paperclip, since I happened to have a sole example with me. It was funny to hear that the answer was “clip”. That is pretty easy to remember, and the girl at the papeleria knew exactly what I was after when I asked.

Whilst stationery shopping is rather different than in Australia, there are good points too. I only wanted a few paperclips, I didn`t need a whole box, so when I asked for 15 paperclips it wasn`t a strange request. It saves a whole lot of waste instead of buying everything in bulk like we seem to do at home and are constantly pressured into doing by retailers.

So my papeleria expenses so far are:

  • cuaderno, 200 page, A5 = $2,500 pesos
  • plastic folder = $2,500 pesos
  • 15 paperclips = $350 pesos

A grand total of $5,350 Colombian pesos or AUD$2.85 (the paperclips cost 18 cents).

Stay tuned for more papeleria shopping trips!

Curled up in a bookstore

I’ve just popped into Denver to go to the Tattered Cover which has been talked about endlessly on NPR.

It is fabulous and all wooden inside. Floors, beams, ceilings, bookshelves, furniture. It’s all wooden.

It has a coffee shop, is cosy and feels like a place of great knowledge. It’s kind of like a library, but better because the hush isn’t from fear of librarian wrath but from the peace of those inside. Sipping a coffee, hiding in a cosy nook and thumbing the pages of a good book are part of the charm of this place.

It is well-lit with soft, vintage ceiling lights – no harsh fluoro lights. The books are given plenty of space to hold their own the shelf, falling over slightly in a “pick me up” repose that makes you curious beyond the cover. Staff picks and displays abound, making ever corner you turn a new discovery.

I imagine this would be a great place to escape on a cold Denver day.

I’m excited because I now have 18 hours of Isabel Allende’s Island Beneath the Sea to listen to on my roadtrip and fill in the miles of highway to my next destination.

A deserted Beverly Center

With the Aussie dollar at such a great exchange rate, Movie Lass had to go shopping, so we went to the Beverly Center.

It’s a large shopping centre in LA with both a Bloomingdale’s and a Macy’s along with a stack of other shops. I was astounded by a few things there.

  1. Unlike shopping centres in Australia, there were barely any seats in the concourse. I was weary and needed to take a seat, but it wasn’t until we were out in front of all the luxury brands like Prada were there any seats.
  2. Again, unlike shopping centres at home, there weren’t really any mall furnishings like potted plants and bins. It felt like an empty warehouse.
  3. Adding to the empty warehouse feel was that there were hardly any shoppers. The concourses were virtually deserted. I think it is a telltale sign of the economy that on a weekday evening during the spring break there was hardly anyone there. And those that were there were clearly tourists like ourselves.
  4. Whilst in Bebe, an entourage of people descended upon the store and started asking questions about products, what was selling, pointing out bits and pieces that they loved. There was a clear leader and all the rest were here followers. Movie Lass asked a sales assistant who they were and apparently she is the visual designer for the store, so it must be going to have a makeover soon.

I am being very good at not getting caught up in the spending frenzy, trying to watch my pennies and not succumb to temptation. I did buy a bag, dress and skirt that I am going to need, but I spent less than $70 so that was okay.

At the Grove

At the Grove
This is a shopping centre?

Movie Lass is keen to take advantage of the amazing exchange rate where one Aussie dollar buys $1.05 US dollars so we headed off on a shopping spree.

We ended up at the Grove, which I hadn’t been to before. I also hadn’t realised that it isn’t a typical shopping centre, more a faux shopping strip with alfresco dining, a little lake with water features, outdoor stalls in an “I wanna be European” kind of way and a tram (or they call it a trolley) that runs down the cobbled pedestrian street.

I must admit that it is pretty cool. We wandered through a few shops: Gap; Abercrombie & Fitch which was like  walking into a nightclub and had lots of hot guys working there; Swarovski; MAC; Nordstrom where we eyed off some designer shoes and Victoria’s Secret. I’d never been to Victoria’s Secret before, yet I had heard all the hype about it. I’m not sure it lived up to my expectations. It was much more reasonably priced than I had thought, given the supermodels they have spawned in their campaigns, but at the same time it had a small bit of trashy about it with some of the pieces which must have been fantasy items.

Walking past The Cheesecake Factory, Movie Lass and I needed no further encouragement for a little break from the shopping. For a chain restaurant, this was pretty swish. There was a concierge who greeted us and directed us up the escalator. At the top we were given a table for two and led through a maze of low-lit booths in swathed in ornate fittings and with murals on the ceilings. Totally over the top.

When the menu arrived, it was thick, contained more than just cakes and sweet things and was overwhelming. It took ages to make up my mind as I couldn’t concentrate on the menu there were too many items listed and no photos. In the end I went for a Reese’s Peanut Butter Cup Cheesecake with chocolate and caramel and a glass of raspberry lemonade. It was delicious (I am so into the Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups at the moment) and just like whenever I get cake from the Pizza Cafe at home, I couldn’t eat it all.

Reese's Cheesecake
A slice of awesome. It tasted like a Snickers bar in a cake.

We’d had a big chat with our waiter Gavin, who pronounced Reese’s “ree-cees”. I asked him about it and he said it could be pronounced either “ree-cees” or “ree-sez” and liked it to the “po-tay-toe” – “po-tar-toe” saying. I say “ree-sez” like how I say “po-tay-toe” but I think that “ree-cees” does sound cute, just maybe not on a grown man.

* Celebrity spotted: Mario Lopez (host of Dancing With the Stars) at The Grove in full make-up with two bodyguards after a filming shoot. I wouldn’t have known who he was if Movie Lass hadn’t told me.

Goodwill hunting

The day finally dawned when Michele and I hit the road for an op shopping adventure.

We jumped in Esmeralda, rolled down the windows, opened the sunroof and cruised on down Hollywood Boulevard to the Goodwill store in Silver Lake. With a prime location in a beautiful modern building with big glass windows on Sunset Boulevard it is a lovely environment to go op shopping in. There are long aisles of clothes categorised by type and colour, and lots of staff on the floor.

Scouring the racks, I tried on a few dresses and ended up buying a couple of wrap dresses which will be handy come summer. Michele also got herself a new outfit with only shoes left to find.

Then, we well and truly got stuck into the book section. We were checking every single shelf and exclaiming when finding a book we loved. Bibliophile Michele would pull a beloved book off the shelf and then ask if I’d read it. Unfortunately for the most part, my answers were no. I haven’t read a lot of books recently, and in the past year, most of my reads have been Latin American fiction by either Isabel Allende, Paulo Coelho or Gabriel Garcia Marquez.

I found books I wanted to share with Michele, like the Clan of the Cave Bear series by Jean M Auel. We traded stories over the Confessions of a Shopaholic books and how they led to a strong urge to hit the shops. We discussed Jack Kerouac’s On the Road, even though neither of us had read it. The crowning glory would have to be Michele finding a 1966 hardback edition of her favourite book, with red tipped pages. That made her day.

Despite me deciding that I wouldn’t buy books to weigh me down in LA, that I would just borrow them from the beautiful, fresh Silver Lake Library, I was tempted by the low prices (with no tax added on top) and came away with seven books to read.

So I’d best get off the computer now and into a book.

Follow up to the Bedacle

After sleeping on the not-so-amazing bed and waking up at 5am (something that never happened on the airbed) I figured out the problem.

Unable to sleep on the sagging bed, I pulled the mattress off the boxspring to see if that made any difference. It did. When checking the boxspring in the morning, I discovered that three of the wooden slats were broken. One had even had an attempted fix up with a roll of duct tape. Hmm, I was definitely duped on this purchase.

So I have a few options:

  1. Try and fix the boxspring myself with a visit to Home Depot for some timber slat replacement and some screws. In doing so, I’ll also have to recover the top with a cardboard like cover.
  2. Ditch the boxspring all together and keep sleeping on the mattress on the floor.
  3. Buy a new boxspring.
  4. Buy a bed frame that doesn’t need a boxspring.

All of these options, except for number 2, require time and research.

In the meantime I decided to do something about the aesthetics of my bed and purchased a lovely soft 400 thread count mattress protector and some 600 thread count sheets. So hopefully this means I’ll get a better night’s sleep and also put some good quality layers between me and Sheila’s paint job.


Supermarket fashion

We live in such a cool part of LA.

Day 2 in our new apartment and Gin and I were out and about running errands, buying things etcetera and decided to call past our local Trader Joe’s supermarket on the way home to complement our purchases from the local Wednesday Farmers Market.

It was just on 5pm and the supermarket carpark was busy and so were the aisles. People picked up their daily groceries from the Silver Lake shop which, incidentally, only sells food and not any other type of grocery.

So many trendy types were in there, most on their own. There was only one child that I saw, on the hip of an even hipper mother who looked as though she should be famous, but who had knotted, unbrushed hair. This made me feel better about my knotty, frizzy hair.

Strangely, I hadn’t thought too much about what I was wearing when I left the house. I was still in my clean outfit of black trackie pants, a brown top and black Kathmandu fleece with my lime green Dunlop Volleys thrown on my feet. I looked rather bogan-like, yet rather than feeling too dorky to go out in public, I felt as though my Australian accent cancelled out any bad fashion.

In essence, my Australian accent makes me cool, or at the very least, interesting. That, and I think it also got us out of a parking ticket today!

Loosing ourselves in Walmart

Pulling off the freeway for a pitstop, we discovered a Walmart. I had never been in a Walmart store before, but my web research had told me they had cookware starter packs for $39.99, so I suggested to the girls we go have a look.

Walmart is like a big Kmart. It has lots of stuff, of varying quality and prices.

Given that we are very close to moving in to our new apartment, we headed straight to the kitchen ware section and proceeded to debate the benefits of teflon vs stainless steel, the $39 set versus the $89 pack and measured the skillets for comparison. Eventually we selected a grey 18 piece teflon coated set that came with the deal clinching 5L jumbo frypan with lid.

Then we got excited by sets of Pyrex, found ourselves a crockery set, picked up some chopping boards and a broom and mop (in Aussie green and gold). The only thing we couldn’t find was a cutlery set we liked, so instead we just bought three sets of spoon, fork and knife to tide us over. One interesting observation was that the cutlery sets come with dessert fork, fork, spoon, teaspoon and knife, but no butter knife, which I thought was odd.

We were served by the very friendly George who was very excited when we said we were from Australia and buying things for our new apartment. He was unsure as to why we would be living in Norwalk, but when we said we were moving to Silver Lake and had just pulled off the freeway randomly, he got excited about our new ‘hood and said we’d really enjoy it there.

So our first Walmart experience (coming in at $197.50) was awesome and once again, we met extremely friendly Americans.

Today’s disappointment:
Turning up to pick up the keys to our new place only to discover that there was still so much stuff and cleaning to be done. We are now not moving in until Tuesday.

Celebrity spotted:
Justin Long (Drew Barrymore’s boy) (not at Walmart)