Chicago

IMG_1413Catching the redeye from LAX felt like we were exiting though the back door. No frills, no fanfare; just us disappearing off into the night. The one advantage of this is, while we couldn’t say goodbye to the sunshine, we could to say hello to the sunrise as we flew above the clouds over Minneapolis.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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We arrived in Chicago and it was freezing. So cold that parts of Lake Michigan were frozen solid. Here is a picture down by the harbour. Chicago also has a wonderful blue tint.

Being home to America’s first skyscraper, Chicago also has some great buildings. Below we Yasmine doing her father proud by admiring some of the local architecture.

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The Art Institute of Chicago

That is one of the finest collections of art I have ever seen” – Yasmine

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The Field Museum

Among all the stuffed animals and Egyptian artefacts dressed up like an Indiana Jones set lie two quite extraordinary exhibitions. ‘Sue’, the world’s most complete dinosaur and a Nazi Propaganda exhibit. The latter I found as horrific as I did enlightening.

I had no idea that Hitler, himself, designed and created what was to be become the world’s most hated logo, until the London 2012 Olympics, and executed one of the most brutally efficient Advertising campaigns the world has ever seen. If one were to wipe the mind of the atrocious and barbaric endgame, the campaign engineered by The Nazi Party is a masterclass in Advertising, Branding and Marketing creating a blueprint I would imagine many of todays well known brands have stolen from.

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Some Calder, some Warhol and a film about a shovel. Yasmine left happy.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Sky Deck Chicago
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Took me a while to convince Yasmine we weren’t going to plummet 1,353 feet to floor. Maybe I shouldn’t have jumped around so much…Hence her holding on for dear life.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Aquarium

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Yasmine comes face to face with a bunch of fish. The one is called is Gerald. He likes listening to music, long swims in the reef and collecting seaweed that looks like Jesus.

 

 

 

 

 

IMG_1480We went here on recommendation from our good friend Ron. I would have put a photo of the theatre upstairs up but it was dark and too small to really show how awesome it is digitally without the right lens.

So, instead, I give you some Dad rock band. Apparently the bassist/singer played with some of the greats: Elvis Costello and The Rolling Stones…apparently. Shame he couldn’t tell the difference between a C and a G; consistently. Fair play though, they did play so loud that the candle on the table behind me did a swan dive and spilt warm blue wax all over my brand new winter jacket. The venue offered to pay for the damage, but thanks  to Yasmine, an iron and a napkin they got off scott free.

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Bye-bye SoCal!

We finally bid farewell to Southern California last week. We left with very heavy hearts and will sincerely miss everyone we’ve met along the way.

We organised a leaving party at a lovely cafe/restaurant called Crave in Downtown Santa Ana. A few people were missing as they were out of town but it was so lovely to have a final catch-up with everyone.

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Below is one of my students, Mike, who not only did I teach this year, but he came on the original London trip back in 2010 and met me at LOCOG!

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Here is our Aussie Queen Jeanie and the Chapman department of Art Secretary. She’s been our lifesaver this year and a joy to work with. She’s pictured here with her husband Joe.

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I also went for lunch with two of my favourite students (I shouldn’t have favourites, but I love these girls!), Sasha (left) and Lauren (right). Lauren will be coming on the next London trip this Summer so we’ll be doing the Banksy tour together since we’re both graffiti geeks.

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Our truly amazing friends Cyn (Ryan’s bandmate and singer of the band) and Clair gave us a wonderful present mid-week and took us to Disneyland and California Adventure. We will truly miss this couple a hell of a lot and hope we can return the favour one day and host them in London. We had a lot of fun and the only ride I refused to go on (after nearly losing my stomach on the same ride in Paris) was the Tower of Terror!

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Finally, we had to say goodbye to our beloved ToTo. ToTo (the legend) has taken us to San Francisco and back, Vegas, Death Valley, San Diego and everywhere in between. The first car we ever bought together! I hope his next owners are Brits!

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And so our journey, and the remaining days of my visa, continues East as we’ve headed to Chicago, leaving a year-full of sunshine behind. Well, nothing like preparing our bodies for London weather again! These two expressions pretty much sum up how we’re feeling right now! See you soon, London!

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The last couple of months in SoCal…

SO much has been going on these past couple of months that I’ve decided to list them for this blog:

1. I forgot to mention last time that due to the success of the Brand Symposium, I was invited to guest lecture in Professor Niklas Myhr’s MBA International Marketing class. Professor Myhr was on the panel for the Symposium and he knows everything there is to know about social media. Ironically he was lecturing on a case study on the Ticketing Strategy of London 2012 and asked if I would come in and share my knowledge and opinions. I think I proceeded to take over his class for an hour and a half…whoops! And of course I had to share my knowledge on the brand.

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2. We had a wonderful first Thanksgiving in the US. We were invited by our friends Michel and Brennan to go to Brennan’s sister’s husband’s family home. They welcomed us with open arms, as do most people over here we’ve found. Michel and Brennan, and their adorable daughter Helen, are on the far left of the photo below.

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3. We spent Black Friday (known for the ‘killer’ shopping spree) with Eric and his family and my colleague and new full-time Professor, Saied. Thanksgiving Round 2.

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4. I participated for the first time ever in a football match, after being bullied into doing so by my students! There is an annual football (sorry, soccer) match that the Wilkinson Department of Art and Social Sciences take part in. Professors and students are welcome to join in and so I felt I had to do some last-minute bonding with my students. I was absolutely rubbish but it’s the taking part that counts!

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5. We’ve made a lot of friends with my students, especially as now they can’t call me their Professor anymore! We’ve really loved getting to know this one couple here — Michael and his gf Fiona.

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6. I said a final goodbye to my students. I can’t believe I didn’t cry. Instead I will leave that for when I’m on the plane. I also said a final goodbye to my own personal office.

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7. Ron was incredibly grateful for his Christmas present — a money-can’t-buy London 2012 Look Book. I also got to cuddle their beautiful cat Mufasa one last time. He is one of the most beautiful cats I’ve ever seen.

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8. We saw one of our favourite bands ever, Every Time I Die, just down the road from us. Such an incredible gig with an awesome crowd.

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9. As Christmas approached Eric and his family and then Michel and Brennan took us to see  the most incredible Christmas decorations on people’s houses. Puts the UK to shame. One guy had converted his entire garage to a miniature Winter Wonderland he had made himself. I’ve never seen anything like it.

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10. We went out for dinner with Ryan’s bandmates, who we will miss a lot.

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11. We visited Balboa Island, which is over the river from Newport Beach. It looks like a holiday island or retirement home. Very beautiful and the cheapest house we saw was about $8 million!

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12. We did a bit more hiking. Gonna miss those hikes…

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13. We were invited by Ryan’s bandmate, Cyn, to join her and her huge Mexican family (and I thought I had a lot of cousins!) for Christmas Eve, leading into Christmas Day. It was a lot of fun and very much reminded me of my dad’s side of the family. Great food, especially the tamales!!christmaseve xmaseve1

 

14. We spent Christmas Day with our London friends Tony and Amy who have now moved to LA. We cooked a roast and took a nice walk after. It was nice and chilled. Don’t have the photo we took but will add later!

15. And we saw through to 2014 with our friends Cyn and Clair, who are inviting us to go to Disneyland next week with them as a final goodbye. We will miss them terribly.

In the midst of all our packing and shipping, we are holding a leaving party next Tuesday. It will be nice to say goodbye to everyone, or rather ‘see you later’. Then, on the 11th we head East to Chicago and our final mini-break across to Michigan to see my family, Boston and then finally NYC.

We’re so happy we can always call SoCal our second home. We’ll be back soon for sure!

 

How do you slow down time?

There was no way we could spend a year in the US without joining the masses in celebrating Halloween. Now, Americans take the word ‘extreme’ to a different level, and that certainly goes for Halloween decorations. At LEAST a week before, all the decorations are up on the houses and it’s fierce competition out in the neighbourhoods. There are no limits. Corpses hanging from trees, cobwebs along the front garden paths (remember, Californians don’t really have gardens), graveyards, inflatable cats, witches, ghosts, etc. I unfortunately couldn’t take any photos because these Halloween scenes came to life more at night. However, those of you who know I suffer from arachnaphobia will understand that this wasn’t the most pleasant sight for me walking to and from university every day. I’m sure my mum will agree with me at least!!

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Halloween House

My cousin Anthony invited us to his Halloween party in Oceanside. I have to say, all the costumes were pretty impressive, but I was most impressed by Anthony’s costume:

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Ryan and I put a good effort in, with me dressing up as an 80s rocker and Ryan dressing up as Dexter. And yes, that is a pair of legs dangling from the loft behind us.

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Although you can’t see it clearly, I did spray paint my hair red and was slightly worried that I wouldn’t be able to wash it all out and would have to explain my rock n roll roots to my students on Monday morning!

On the Sunday of that weekend I ran my last race of the year, which was the Surf City 10-miler in Huntington Beach. This has now become my most familiar running route and Huntington is by far one of my favourite beaches here. Only a 7am start this time and I bought a new iPod for the occasion, so I happily listened to my carefully constructed running playlist for 1 hr and 27 mins (my last iPod failed on me during my last big race where it decided it was only going to play one J-Lo song on repeat for 2 hours). I’ll be honest — I really did this race for the medal because it’s a surf board and I can now add it to my collection back home.

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In other news, I took my Branding class on a field trip to a design studio headed by Ty Mattson, a well-known figure in the design industry here. You must check out his website and have a look at the photos of his design studio, as it is to die for! www.mattsoncreative.com

He gave a presentation to the students on his work, which has included all the graphics for Maroon 5 (one of his biggest clients) and also his own self-initiated work, which led him to design and supply a series of posters for the US TV shows Dexter and Breaking Bad. You can buy them online but if you’re lucky like me, you get two of your favourite Dexter posters for free. HA.  Unsurprisingly the students said it was their favourite field trip so far. JOB DONE.

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University has generally been very busy this month. The GD faculty help set up the London exhibition in our Guggenheim Gallery (yes, we have a Guggenheim Gallery!). This was an exhibition of the work completed by the students who travelled to London this past Summer and got the chance to work with Buro Happold (architecture firm). So here are the happy (and tired) GD faculty after our hard day’s work.

From l-r: Claudine, Eric, Me, Saied

From l-r: Claudine, Eric, Me, Saied

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There’s also a Graphic Design club set up for the GD Majors and they hosted an annual sweet exchange party this week, which was a lot of fun. We all had to bring a ‘white elephant’ gift (like Secret Santa) and I thought I would throw in some Olympic merchandise for mine and so I included a London 2012 flag. I’m just hoping it doesn’t end up on eBay at some point!

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I can’t believe it’s already been over a month since the last post. Time has officially escaped us, and as I near the end of the semester I’m starting to get emotional about the thought of leaving my wonderful students. Never did I think a job could change my life the way this job has. At London 2012 you were very much sold the idea that the role you had would be the best job in the world. And to some extent it was, but I wouldn’t say it CHANGED my life, rather it impacted my life in a big way. This year at Chapman has pushed me to do something I never thought I could do. Not now at the age of 31, anyway. It’s taught me a different level of responsibility and leadership and pushed me creatively and intellectually. Like with any job it eventually has to come to an end, and this is not to say that I’m not excited about what the future might hold back in London, but it’s going to be hard emotionally to leave here. I can confidently say that this year has been the best year of my life so far, and I have the students to thank for that.

 

The new semester is in full swing and it’s been a busy month!

LOTS has been going on since the last post. The Fall Semester is in full swing and has been extremely busy this last month and a half. My classes are really full-on — 67 students in total (and I remember all their names) and my Sophomores are particularly challenging. I don’t know what it is that make teaching them a lot harder in comparison to the Sophomores I had in the Spring, but they’re soooo needy! Plus, they ask A LOT of questions. Anyway, it’s an interesting dynamic across my classes and I am particularly loving teaching my Branding class  (naturally!).

We were invited to a friend’s Birthday fundraising BBQ in mid-September. This was a real treat and the best BBQ we have been to. Luke’s dad travels around the US taking part in BBQ competitions so with his experience he has become the super chef of BBQs. Luke is a Designer and took up cycling a couple of years ago in a bid to lose weight. His story is quite remarkable and next year he will be cycling across the US with his family driving behind him, in support of STOP SAM (Severe Acute Malnutrition). Read about it below, support it and be in awe of this amazing person. He’s inspiring to listen to and this is why I’ve invited him to come and speak to my Branding class this week.

http://www.lukemysse.com/2013/09/the-biggest-announcement-of-my-career/

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The following weekend we returned to the city that will always hold a special place in our hearts — our beloved San Diego. This was a Birthday celebration/Anniversary celebration so we stayed somewhere extra special — La Valencia hotel in La Jolla. The loveliest surprise was arriving at reception and being given a card with a lovely message from mum and dad wishing me a Happy Birthday and paying for dinner that night in the hotel! We were staying at the hotel for only one night so we had to make the most of it. The weather was slightly overcast when we arrived so couldn’t really make use of the pool, but we certainly enjoyed walking into our ‘villa’ room (the hotel upgraded us!).

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Ryan taking full advantage of the luxuries of our room!

Ryan taking full advantage of the luxuries of our room!

We walked over to La Jolla Cove and the Children’s Pool to watch the sealions. This is where Ryan proposed to me back in 2009 on Christmas Day. We took a photo at the same spot:

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We walked further down the beach this time and watched the sea lions doing their yoga poses at sunset. It really reminded me just how beautiful this place is.

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We also visited the cafe/bakery we went to on that Christmas Day back in 2009, at about 7am when noone was around and nowhere was open. We just wanted some breakfast and this place was a lovely family-run local bakery. We returned and I told the owner our story and she was so delighted that we came back and that her bakery played a small part in our special day. She told her husband who consequently came out from the back room and congratulated us as well. They gave us a freshly baked heart cookie as a ‘thank you’. Very sweet!

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After enjoying our lovely dinner at the hotel (thanks mum and dad!), we woke early the next morning ready to embark on our kayaking adventure. We managed to get a discount through Chapman so we booked a 2-hour La Jolla kayaking tour. It was SO much fun, but we couldn’t go through the caves unfortunately as the current was very strong. I couldn’t believe there were people scuba diving and people swimming despite the quite rough waters. We were kayaking in a group and Ryan and I had a tandem kayak. We did extremely well I thought, but after 2 hours of paddling my arms were killing me! I’d happily do it again though!

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We then ventured into Downtown to walk around. We were staying in another hotel for the second night and took advantage of seeing all the sights we saw last time we were there. Not a lot had changed! We visited Seaport Village, went to the Contemporary Museum of Art and ate out in Little Italy in the evening, which was an area we hadn’t visited before. Reminded me a bit of San Francisco.

Seaport Village, overlooking Coronado Island

Seaport Village, overlooking Coronado Island

The following week an event happened that I had been planning months in advance for — Chapman University’s inaugural Design Symposium. This will become a yearly event for the Art Department, where design topics are discussed by a panel of professionals. This is for the students to participate in, as well as the AIGA (the professional association of design in the US). This was a big deal and a lot to organise as the first event was discussing ‘The Branding Issue’. I organised for Greg Nugent, my old boss at LOCOG (ex-Director of Brand and Marketing), to fly over for the event and also for him to visit one of my classes whilst he was here. The other panellists were Armin Vit, who is the co-founder of Under Consideration and a designer/blogger (a big name in the Design industry for those in the know), Ron Leland (our friend who got me the Chapman job in the first place! He’s also a Brand Architect.), and a Marketing Professor from Chapman — Niklas Myhr. The event was a huge success — 100 people in attendance, most of whom were students. I was chairing the debate and had not been this nervous in a while! I think the nerves came from the fact I was trying to be a moderator for four very big design/marketing personalities! Overall we received great feedback and I think the students got a lot out of it.

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Greg chatting to my Advertising class.

Greg chatting to my Advertising class.

On Saturday the 5th of October it was Chapman University’s Homecoming celebration. This is where university alumni are invited back to the Chapman for a weekend celebration. Every year they hold the Chapman 5K, which is supposedly the fastest, flattest and funnest 5K in the world! Of course I had to run this on behalf of my department and managed a very average 26 mins (not my best!). I did overtake some of my students though, so that was a bonus! That weekend we experienced the crazy Santa Ana winds, which was practically a mini-hurricane in my opinion! Tree branches, dust bowls, leaves blowing everywhere and the biggest nightmare for those like myself who suffer from allergies. It luckily died down by Sunday!

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Our friends from the UK — Amy and Tony — have now moved permanently to LA so we went to visit them on the Saturday evening. They have a beautiful dog called Holmes, who they rescued from a shelter. I mentioned before that Tony is American and an actor, so the plan was always for them to eventually settle in LA. They live in Studio City, which is quite an up and coming hip area in LA. We had dinner at their’s and following dinner we spent the evening at Chris Evan’s house. Now, let me just clarify. This is not our ginger-haired Chris Evans, this is the Hollywood A-lister actor Chris Evans, as in the star of Captain America, Fantastic Four, etc. Tony and him grew up together in their teens and were part of the same group of young actors trying to make it big in Hollywood. They all still meet up from time to time but Tony hadn’t seen his new home off Mulholland Drive so we jumped in a cab and headed over there. I should mention that his house is next to Tom Cruise’s place. I was totally willing to go and say hi but I don’t think anyone was at home. I literally couldn’t believe we walked in and there he was in his tracksuit bottom and hoody just having a casual night in with his roomates. Tony introduced us to him and he was very friendly and down-to-earth. Honestly, no signs of a big ego really at all! His house certainly has a big ego, though! The most incredible views of LA, together with a pool outside, the biggest kitchen and fridge I’ve ever seen. We had a tour of his house and he has his own walk-in wardrobe any woman would kill for. Plus, he had a gym room upstairs, which was my heaven. Anyways, I don’t think I will forget a very surreal evening of just sitting around and playing cards with a Hollywood actor. Ryan and I couldn’t have possibly asked him for a photo, at risk of sounding like proper fanboys/fangirls. Far too embarrassing! But instead, we went into one of the back store rooms and surely enough there it was — the Captain America shield used in the film! Just lying there, waiting to be picked up and have its photo taken…

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Captain Ryan America

Finally (told you a lot happened this month!), we took a trip to Death Valley this weekend. This was originally planned for July, but we sensibly decided to re-schedule due to the extreme temperatures in July (55 degrees plus!). I think it’s safe to say we would have been burned alive had we decided to go back then. Unfortunately though, the stupid government shutdown meant that all National Parks are closed, including of course Death Valley. We could access the park but not walk through any of the hiking trails, which was the whole bloody point of the trip! I think a lot of people cancelled as a result as there were only tourists around (who probably couldn’t cancel a trip like this). We couldn’t have postponed it further as we didn’t know when the gov shutdown would end. So instead we drove 5 hours to stay at the Furnace Creek Ranch and drove around nearby to the vantage points, like Zabriskie Point. The views were still amazing and you could see plenty! It was just a shame that you couldn’t hike. The weather was perfect, too, a much milder 32 degrees. I’m glad we went as it was one of the places we wanted to tick off the list and very much reminded us of Grand Canyon/Monument Valley.

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Zabriskie Point

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Sunset at Zabriskie Point

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To round off the blog this month, here is a photo of my lovely Branding class (a few students are missing) and me teaching them (just so you lot back home don’t think I’ve been lazing around on my ass all year!).

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Chicago for one, a few more trips squeezed in and it’s back to work already!

So thanks to my dad, aka the Human Hardrive, we have managed to salvage our previous blog entries. So if you haven’t caught up on what we’ve been up to recently, you’ve got some nice bedtime reading right there!

Since September hit I feel as if the countdown to returning home has begun, which is sad as there are many things we are both going to miss about this place. It was amazing to have the Summer off (think the last time that happened was at secondary school) even though I had to essentially construct a university class entirely from scratch during that time, as well as understand two new syllabi for my other classes. I’m certainly not complaining though as I could do all this work at my own pace. Anyways, more on the start of the Fall semester later…

My friend Sophie (another LOCOGer) and her husband Chris were visiting California in August and stopped by to see us on their way to San Diego. I still can’t believe they travelled with their French bulldog, Tony (if you’re wondering ‘how’, they basically had to pay for a doggy passport and just claimed him as a ‘disability dog’) — he got to fly ON the plane with them and there were no passenger complaints or any other issues! Simple! It was lovely to see them and share the usual chit-chat and gossip!

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Ryan headed to Chicago the same week to meet up with his friends Thom, Steve and Rich to record Thom’s band’s new album in Steve Albini’s studio. Now, if you don’t know who Steve Albini is then just Google him. Yes, exactly. BIG deal, especially as Ryan could feel, perhaps spiritually at least, closer to Kurt Cobain. Ryan lent a hand playing some bass, but his main role for the week was to document the recording — filming and photography. There was no time to venture into downtown Chicago but he enjoyed spending time with and catching up with the guys. The tourist trip to Chicago will be reserved for when we head there on our exit of the States via east coast.

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The week running up to the first week of the fall semester started with a couple of days of meetings for me at university — mainly meeting and welcoming all the new Freshmen to the Art Department. Ryan and I managed to squeeze in a day trip to Malibu for some beach relaxation. Malibu is another, more chilled out beach overlooked by stunning mansions on the mountain tops. We ventured to Zuma Beach after completing a 2-hr hike in the blistering heat on the Zuma Canyon Trail. This was probably the toughest hike we’ve been on, with extremely steep inclines. Lying on the beach was most welcomed after that! We also stopped and had a late lunch at a beautiful restaurant overlooking the beach. The life…

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On the Saturday night of that week we drove to LA to see my schoolfriend, Azadeh (another one to look up!) do her first gig since recording her album here. Azadeh was Head Girl at my secondary school and although we haven’t kept in touch that closely over the years, I’ve always followed how her musical career has been progressing. Kasia and I have been to her gigs in London and it would always feel like a mini-NHEHS (our school) reunion because a good group of us from school would turn up. Azadeh left her London nest to excel her career in LA and has just finished getting her album mixed in New York. It was wonderful to see her and be there at her first gig. Even though she was nervous she received a great reception and I hope her album receives the success it deserves.

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And so then the new semester started on the Monday and boy has it been a challenge from day one! 67 students across three new classes — Typography (Sophomores), Advertising Design (Juniors and Seniors) and my baby — Branding (Juniors and Seniors). I was wiped out after the first two weeks alone! The Typography class is particularly challenging as the students are all at different levels. My Branding class is oversubscribed, mainly because a lot of the students had class clashes and couldn’t take my class as a result. A larger class is tough as there’s not NEARLY enough time to get through all the students in one class session (3 hours). But I love my Branding class — I look forward to this class the most. A few of the students have already come up to me saying how much they enjoy learning about Branding and hearing about my experiences at London 2012. It’s so rewarding. But the whole teaching experience has been rewarding. I have never felt the same great sense of accomplishment as I have this year in this job. It has totally changed me as a person. Don’t think I could tell the students that without getting emotional! Hmm…might have to re-think my leaving speech at the end of the year.

There are a lot of exciting things happening at Chapman this semester, including the Design Symposium I have co-organised (more on that in the next post). Aside from being back at Uni,  I’ve had to shift my training into gear as I’m doing a Surf City 10-miler at the end of October (just so I can get a surf board medal). Ryan has started to join me on my shorter runs, which is great. We’ve had a go at barefoot running, which is challenging but fun! I’m also doing yoga every week, which helps me wind down from Professor stress! Yes, there is such a thing!

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A couple of weeks ago Old Towne Orange (just down the road from where we live) hosted a weekend Street Fair. Basically all the roads in this area shut and there are various food stalls selling food from around the world. Didn’t bother for the fish ‘n’ chips at the British food stall (they don’t do fish ‘n’ chips well here) but instead opted for the Bratwurst in a hot dog bun (?!) at the German stand.

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Consequently that weekend was Labor Day weekend and it culminated in us visiting my cousin Anthony in Oceanside at his housewarming party.

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Deleted Blog

Somehow, when renewing our domain name, we managed to lose our whole blog; completely deleted. But lucky for us, Yasmine’s Dad keeps EVERYTHING (and I mean EVERYTHING) so after a few short emails we managed to get it all back….well the text at least.

So it all looks a bit different now as I can’t remember what template we used. That aside we’re all back up and running and a new update will be coming soon!

PS – Loads of apologies if you just got a TONNE of emails saying we’ve put a load of blogs.

More surf, sun and good ol’ trashy Vegas!

The first time I visited Vegas it was illegal (both my friend and I were 18 and it’s a long story). The second time I was eager to see if Ryan would enjoy the seedy, gambling city, and so I visited there for the second time on our road trip in 2009. And in mid-July, for the third (and possibly last) time, we visited Vegas again. This time it was for our friend Kerry’s stag ‘do’ and I was kindly invited to tag along with the guys.

We stayed in the MGM Grand, which is basically Party Central. It’s mid-strip and easy to get to wherever you need to go. I forgot just how long it takes to get everywhere, not due to the long distance, more because there is deliberately no way of finding your bearings!

MGM has what looks like a nice pool (in fact, three pools), until you decide to spend an afternoon there! It’s so overcrowded with people standing in the pools drinking and the music blares out of the speakers so loud you feel like you’re in Ibiza or club 18-30! So, not the most relaxing experience and because it’s so hot outside (around 45°C) the pool doesn’t even cool you down.

photo copy 15Spot the London 2012 towel!

But Vegas is Vegas and you can find something to entertain you everywhere. We went out every evening for great food and ventured to the different bars. The bar that seems to draw the biggest crowds, however, are the piano bars. If you haven’t heard of this concept, it’s basically two piano players duelling whilst bar-goers tip them money to play karaoke tunes for the whole bar to sing along to! Great fun and the best bar we visited was one in New York, New York:

We also visited the Aquarium in Mandalay Bay, which had a huge shark tank and many types of fish I’ve never seen before. I could watch the jellyfish all day — they fascinate me the most even though I hold a slight grudge against them for stinging me in Italy once (fact: they’re called Medusas in Italian!).

Vegas was great but we’re so over the experience now, and three days was more than enough! Kerry had a great stag do though and that’s what matters!

 

We were knackered after the long drive home (we left at the same time as the rest of the Vegas-goers unfortunately!). The next day I had another mini-reunion with my LOCOG friend Lesli who was in Long Beach on a business trip. Always lovely to see a familiar face, and she now wants to move to California too! I think I’m selling the lifestyle here quite well 😉

Lesli and Yasmine

The week after we got back from Vegas was the US Open of Surfing competition in Huntington Beach. One of the best days we’ve had here and all for the cost of nothing!! It’s amazing that an event the scale of this size (surfing, skateboarding and BMXing) is free and all thanks to the no.1 Californian brand, Vans. We watched the men’s and women’s quarter-finals from the pier and then went to the bowl to watch the skateboarding and BMXing. Now, if you want to shut me up for an hour, all you need to do is sit me in front of a skate park and I’m happy. These competitors are mainly California kids brought up on the surf and skate scene and they live and breathe it! I definitely haven’t seen talent like it in the UK. I was and always will be in complete awe of their skill.

IMG_4335

 

Last weekend culminated in Noise of Rumors (the band Ryan plays bass in here) playing VidCon 2013 in Anaheim. If you’re not down with the lingo, VidCon is the Video Convention, similar to ComicCon but for the YouTube generation. Now, if Ryan and I ever wanted to feel officially old this is where we needed to be! It’s completely surreal atmosphere. It’s like an underground world of teenagers who all blog, or ‘vlog’, on YouTube and they come together once a year over a three-day weekend to meet each other face-to-face! The famous vloggers they idiolise all do signings and ‘meet and greets’ and when you see the kids’ reactions to these celebs you’d think One Direction just entered the room! It’s hysteria! Cyn (the singer of the band) and her g/f Clair have their own vlog and it’s so funny to watch people walk past them and recognise them (mainly due to Cyn’s mohawk) and then have their photo taken with them! I totally ‘get’ what these kids are doing and it’s great and with my brand hat on I’m thinking “brands need to be on all over this like a rash. This is where the kids are voicing their opinions — not all of them, but the YouTube community is huge and it’s expanding at a ridiculous rate.” I wonder had I been part of that generation whether I would have my own vlog and what it would be about.

I digress…so Noise of Rumors got to play VidCon on a massive outdoor stage (so massive I could barely get the whole band in one shot) at 6pm and drew a pretty decent crowd. They enjoyed it and got some good exposure out of it. If you want to see what we all got up to then watch Cyn and Clair’s vlog here.

photo copy 6

photo copy 11  The groupies!

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The other Ryan in my imaginary life

 We celebrated the success of the gig with the Noise of Rumors family going bowling.

Bowling with NOR

A Daily Occurrence

When out shopping or running errands, more often than not we experience this conversation with Americans:

American: Are you guys Australian?

Us: No, we’re from London actually.

American: Oh, I luuuurve your accent. I can never tell the difference between the Australian accent and English accent. Are you visiting?

Us: No, we live here now.

American: How long have you been here?

Us: Since January.

American: Do you guys like it out here?

Us: (well, duh!) Yes, especially the weather.

<This is when we start talking about the weather for 5 minutes and how much it rains in London, etc.etc.>

So there’s that conversation, and then there is this annoyance that I experienced today when walking into a lingerie shop:

Sales Assistant: Hi, welcome to Victoria’s Secret, what brings you to our store today?

Me: <Is it not obvious?> Just looking around, thanks

S.A: No problem, my name is Candy, just let me know if you need anything.

Me: Thanks.

<walk 10 feet in the opposite direction>

S.A.2: ‘Good Morning. How are you?’

Me: <I want to be left alone!> I’m fine, thanks.

S.A.2: Are you looking for anything in particular today?

Me: <yes, an uninterrupted shopping experience> No, not really, just looking, thanks.

S.A.2: No problem, just let me know if you need help finding any sizes.

<walk 20 feet in the opposite direction, now feeling like I need to hide in case another assistant jumps out at me>

Ta-da! Sales Assistant Number 3 pops out because she’s spotted me looking at something.

S.A. 3: We have those in different styles if you’re interested. Have you been fitted recently?

Me: Er, no I haven’t.

S.A. 3: What’s your name?

Me: Yasmine.

S.A.3: Hi Yasmine, I’m Kelly and I’m going to help you buy the entire contents of this store.

Ha, well she didn’t actually say that but once you’re on first name terms there’s no going back! I appreciate the help but I’ll ask for it when I need it.

Shopping is exhausting but it’s more of a work-out with American customer service.

N’awlins

Unusually, our bag is pretty much the first one out on the suitcase sushi belt as we walk out the arrivals hallway at Louis Armstrong Airport. What’s this? No taxi queue and a very friendly woman resembling Mammy Two Shoes gives a warm welcome to N’awlins. “What A Wonderful World”.

Suitcase thrown in the back, doors slammed, gas peddled to the metal. At 80 miles an hour on the freeway, the paper showing our hotel address is waved about and unintelligible Creole barks litter the air.

“He doesn’t where the fuck he’s going does he?”

“You find it!”. The sat nav, along with his big fist and sharp fingernails, are hurled behind him and hit me smack in the face, “I’m driving!”.

Having typed in the address and handed the sat nav back, I notice this sign.

 

After these first 10 mins of THIS journey I’m not surprised that the stark reminder is needed to curb the less tolerant. Luckily for our man here, Yasmine and I are in holiday mode and so are feeling rather permissive of large fisted, sharp nailed Creole Cab drivers. “What A Wonderful World” it is indeed.

Hotel found, suitcase dropped, we decide to head straight into town and get our bearings. We take the Streetcar, not the one called ‘Desire’; although it does frequent these parts, down/up to the French Quarter.

It is a huge melting pot. It looks like a dive, yet has some beautiful French style architecture. It is full of horrible drunk frat boys getting blasted, yet has a substantial amount of middle aged couples taking in the sights and enjoying the variety of cuisine.

It feels like the kind of city where anything can happen…and it does. As we wander, we accidentally walk straight on to a movie set.

 

We find out later that they are shooting the new Planet of the Apes film here. Although there is no sign of James Franco or apes. I imagine this scene won’t make the final cut.

A quick jolly down Bourbon Street, the “tourist trap”, brings Yasmine to the conclusion that it not as nice a Las Vegas but is a couple of seedy steps up from the Red Light District in Amsterdam. The street is now filed under “Been There”.

A meal and a drink later we head home…but this is the city where anything can happen. Police lights, sirens, main city roads shut down, loud drums…? Oh, of course; a parade.
(0.42 seconds is a keeper)

 

 

Death plays a big part in the New Orleans lifestyle. They live like there is no tomorrow and there is constant reminder of the other side due to the ‘six feet over’ cemeteries.

 

You can’t bury bodies here due to the excessive flooding so there are tombs everywhere. We visited the Saint Louis Cemetery. Famous for harbouring the tomb of Marie Laveau; New Orleans’ Voodoo Godmother.

 

It also houses the tomb used in the acid trip scene in ‘Easy Rider’ and  also has a tomb purchased by, the locally unpopular, Nicholas Cage. Complete with kisses of death…

 

 

As death is so popular, a ghost tour is a must. The two hour tour takes you around the buildings with gruesome histories that have frequent sightings and happenings. It is what it is, but one took my interest. This is the Courthouse where a man and woman were murdered in the courtroom seconds before they were to testify against the Mafia in the early 20th Century. They now supposedly walk the hallways. The Kevin Costner film, JFK, was filmed here in the 90s. Two security guards were on their night shift when they saw a couple at the end of this corridor. They shouted to stop and chased after them, the couple walked round the corner. By the time the guards got there, they had disappeared. They searched the rooms but found nothing – they go back to their post. They later see the same couple and run after them again. This time, the couple don’t move and promptly just vanish as the guards get to them. The guards quit the very next day and never came back….

We looked down the hallway for a while and saw nothing. I took a photo thinking maybe the camera will see something we couldn’t….

Another must is a Swamp Tour. The photos speak for themselves really.