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College v Uni
Differences between America & Australia, Expat tales, Moving to LA, Posts, Soapbox

Applying for College v Applying for Uni

I last left you (on this topic) when we were first understanding what the bloody hell we’d got ourselves into with our son wanting to go to College here.  We’re not up to the bit where we’re applying for college v applying for uni.

We’re doing both.

That’s mainly because of the exorbitant cost to go to College in this country. Yes that is a tone of great disdain.

You may recall I was on a little bit of a high horse (and I quote) “And I’m thinking if my son wants to go to Stanford he should bloody well be able to consider Stanford.  A College education should not just be for people who can afford it.  Right?”

Wrong.  Sort of.  Actually I was a little wrong about the cost to go to Stanford. After having toured there last summer apparently “no one actually pays full tuition for Stanford”. There are so many merit scholarships and so on that so many people who get into Stanford are eligible for that it eases the burden for the parents–and the loans for the kids.

But it’s rarely all $70k worth so when it comes down to the crunch how the bloody hell do you spare the $280k (four years at around $70k–more by next year) to send your kids (two of them so make that $560k) to get a College degree. One that will set them up perfectly only to do a Post-graduate degree for a squillion more bucks (and no we’re definitely NOT paying for that).

I digress … today I’m sitting down to chat to you about the difference between applying for College here in the US v applying for Uni back in Australia.

 

Applying for College

Wowsers. It’s time consuming applying for College.  We’ve had the advice that it’s a good idea to apply to somewhere between 5-8/10 Colleges–to be sure you get somewhere. In that mix you’re going to want to choose a couple you’re confident you’ll get into, a couple that you may have a shot at and a couple that are a “reach”.

Application fees

At around $80-$100 per application let’s start the [ca-ching] bank account depletion at $500. (She take a sip of wine).  And while we’re tallying my costs let’s not forget the $10 per school you’re applying to for the College Board to send your SAT score each College you’re applying to. Oh, and let’s add the (thankfully already forgotten) cost of tutors and the fee to actually sit the SAT.

Application forms

Only a few years ago most of the Colleges had their own application.  These applications tend to be pages long with short answer questions and an essay to answer.  These days many Colleges have tried to simplify the process by participating in the Common Application.

What each College will do then (although not all) is come up with their own supplementary questions unique to them and stuff they want to learn about you.

Sample questions

The common app features one essay your child has to write. They have a choice of seven topics although technically the last “question” is to write about anything you like so it’s infinite.

For those of you playing along at home here are the essay prompts.  Here are my favourites:

“Describe a problem you’ve solved or a problem you’d like to solve. It can be an intellectual challenge, a research query, an ethical dilemma – anything that is of personal importance, no matter the scale. Explain its significance to you and what steps you took or could be taken to identify a solution.”

“Describe a topic, idea, or concept you find so engaging that it makes you lose all track of time. Why does it captivate you? What or who do you turn to when you want to learn more?”

You’ve got 650 words. Go.

More questions

Then places like Stanford and the “UC’s” (Universities of California) have their own questions.  Stanford has these three questions.  Minimum should be 100 words and a maximum of 250 words.

  1. The Stanford community is deeply curious and driven to learn in and out of the classroom. Reflect on an idea or experience that makes you genuinely excited about learning.
  2. Virtually all of Stanford’s undergraduates live on campus. Write a note to your future roommate that reveals something about you or that will help your roommate—and us—know you better.
  3. Tell us about something that is meaningful to you, and why?

Berkeley (A UC–The UC) has eight extra questions and you need to answer four.  Each answer should be about 350 words.  Here are a couple of them:

“Describe an example of your leadership experience in which you have positively influenced others, helped resolve disputes or contributed to group efforts over time.

Beyond what has already been shared in your application, what do you believe makes you stand out as a strong candidate for admissions to the University of California?”

It notes: “From your point of view, what do you feel makes you an excellent choice for UC? Don’t be afraid to brag a little.”

 

And more questions

There are also a few short, sharp questions where the answer should be no more than 50 words.  These are actually harder as you have to precise, knowledgeable and you can’t beat around the bush.  Here they are–just for fun!

“What is the most significant challenge that society faces today?

“How did you spend your last two summers?

“What historical moment or event do you wish you could have witnessed?

“What five words best describe you?

“When the choice is yours, what do you read, listen to, or watch?

“Name one thing you are looking forward to experiencing at Stanford.

“Imagine you had an extra hour in the day — how would you spend that time?”

 

Application due date

Then there’s when these applications are due.  There are early decisions (EDs), restrictive early decisions, non-binding early decisions, normal application, Spring applications etc.  This decision alone is a huge one.  Early decisions are due around November 1 and you can find out as early as December whether you’re in somewhere.  That’s right–you still have a whole semester left of school but you might know you’re already in somewhere.

Testing

Remember, they would have, should have or are still doing their ACT or SAT exams.  It’s actually these scores that most Colleges look at.  That and your transcript and application.  But there’s no standardised testing so it’s hard to know if your transcript means you’re good or you suck.

So, that’s the American system.  Here’s a bit about the Australian system.

 

Applying for Uni

Work out the top five courses at which uni you want to go to. Eg: Business at Sydney Uni.

List them on your Preferences sheet via UAC.

Submit.

Get your HSC marks and your ATAR.

You get a week to change your preferences based on your marks and whether you think you’ll get in.

Submit

Find out what offers you get a few weeks later.

Accept & pay.

OK, it’s not always as straight forward as that. Some courses require a portfolio or interview but essentially that’s it.

 

Pros and cons

So the US system was designed (hmmm … over engineered?) to make it easier for kids to get into a College; so it’s not so stressful to get a good mark on your ACT or SAT and basically make it fairer for everyone.  You see, kids get tutored for the ACT or SAT and those that can’t afford it don’t.  And families start so early here it’s no wonder lots of kids are stressed, over-stretched and missing out on their childhood.

The US would probably argue (and many others no doubt) that there’s too much pressure on Australian kids to get the score they need to get into the course they want to study.

Who knows which one is right.  Maybe neither? But, there’s a lot of work and a lot of extra money that goes into kids applications here in the US.  We’re not having a bar of it (well technically we are because we’re still applying) but so many people are.

I bet many of you reading this are just happy you’re not the ones having to go through this process–that you’re at the other end of it.  True.

Meanwhile, “we” continue to do question after question each weekend in the hopes of systematically and stresslessly going through the process.

She takes another gulp of wine.

xx It Started in LA xx

Aussie taxes for Expats
Expat tales

Four Steps For Aussie Expats To Sort Out Their Australian Finances & Taxes

If you’re like me and think you should be more educated on your finances then this is the post for you. I invited Craig Joslin along to talk about four steps for Aussie Expats to sort out their Australian finances & taxes.

Craig is the founder of The Australian Expat Investor – dedicated to educating Aussie Expats to build their wealth while living abroad.  Check out his blog or get his free ebook (9 Painful Surprises For Australian Expats That Could Cost Thousands of Dollars) at www.austexpatinvestor.com.

Over to you Craig …

Four steps for Aussie Expats to sort out their Australian finances & taxes

Moving overseas is an exciting time in anyone’s life.  For some people it means adventure, for others it’s about experiencing a new culture, or perhaps it is a career opportunity.  Whatever the reason, it is important to keep an eye on your financial and tax arrangements in Australia.  With a little bit of planning, and simply being aware of some of the tax and other financial implications of moving abroad, you could save yourself a lot of money and heartache in the long run.

In this article we provide a quick overview of 4 important steps for Aussie expats in the USA to help you sort out your finances and taxes when moving abroad.

Step 1 : Understand the Difference Between Being a Resident and Non-Resident For Tax Purposes



Your tax residency has the potential to significantly impact your overall tax liabilities, and the most important questions an Aussie expat should ask themselves is Am I An Australian Resident for Australian tax purposes? 

If you are deemed to be an Australian resident for Australian tax purposes, then you will need to declare your worldwide income to the Australian government.  Whereas if you are deemed to be a non-resident for Australian tax purposes, then the Australian government will only be interested in your Australian sourced income.

Step 2 : Determine Whether You Will Be Considered A Resident Or Non Resident For Australian Tax Purposes

 

The Australian Tax Office use a number of different tests to determine whether you are a resident or non resident for Australian tax purposes.  There are however no conclusive rules, and your residency will be based on the facts of your specific personal situation.

 

For most Aussie expats, the most relevant test is the domicile and permanent place of abode test.  Under this test, to be considered a non-resident for Australian tax purposes, you need to demonstrate you have established a permanent place of abode overseas.  This will, among other things, require you to demonstrate that you have severed your social and economic ties with Australia, plan to live overseas for at least two years, establish a permanent home overseas, and abandon your residence in Australia (ie. selling or renting out your house).

 

It is possible, however, that under USA law you could be considered a USA tax resident, and under Australian law you could be considered an Australian tax resident.  As a result, Australia and the USA have a tax treaty (also known as a double taxation agreement) include tie-breaker tests for tax residency.  These tie-breaker tests ensure that it is only possible for you to be considered a tax resident of one country.   The tax treaty also details taxing rights of each country over different sources of your income.

 

Managing your international tax affairs can be complicated and confusing.  It is important to get your tax residency determination right, so you should discuss your tax residency with your Australian tax advisor.

 

Step 3 : Determine Whether You Need To Lodge a Tax Return in Australia

If you are deemed to be an Australian resident for Australian tax purposes then you will be obligated to continue submitting an Australian tax return each year.

 

If you are deemed to be a non-resident for Australian tax purposes, then you may still need to complete an Australian tax return.  Generally speaking if you have any Australian sourced income, (eg. rental income from property in Australia, employment income, or in some circumstances dividend income) you will need to complete an Australian tax return.

 

Completing a tax return does not, in itself, mean you need to pay tax.  In fact, many Aussie expats living abroad with negatively geared investment properties have negative taxable income in Australia.  In these circumstances, you can generally accumulate these tax losses until the day you return to Australia and so reduce your tax liabilities at that point in time.

 

Step 4 : Review Your Investments

Moving overseas can result in significant changes in the tax treatment of your share and property investments, and so it is important to review your investment portfolio when moving abroad.  I cover this in quite some detail in my special report on Australian Tax Implications for Aussie Expats.  As a result, you should review the tax implications on your investments with your Australian financial advisor to ensure the arrangements you have in place remain appropriate.

 

Two areas that have the most complications for Aussie expats are in relation to Self Managed Super Funds and share investments.

Self Managed Superannuation Funds (SMSF)

If you have a SMSF, compliance with government legislation becomes increasingly difficult and non-compliance can be a costly mistake as your SMSF will be taxed at the highest marginal tax rate.  You should review your arrangements with your financial advisor to ensure your SMSF remains compliant with government requirements, and you may need to consider suspending all contributions to the fund whilst you are overseas, appointing a new trustee, or possibly shutting down the SMSF.

Share Investments

If you are a non-resident for Australian tax purposes, then the tax treatment of your Australian share portfolio can change quite dramatically.  Some of the issues to note if you are a non-resident for Australian tax purposes are  :

  • Your shares will be deemed to be sold at the market value on the day you become a non-resident for Australian tax purposes and you will be liable for capital gains tax on the deemed capital gain. The flip side however, is that as a non-resident for tax purposes, any further capital gain is not taxed in Australia. (Note, you can elect that your shares are not sold, however any further capital gains will be taxed in Australia)
  • You will need to pay non-resident withholding tax on your unfranked dividends, and your franked dividends will generally not be taxed in Australia.
  • If you have borrowed any money to invest in the sharemarket (eg. a margin loan) any interest costs will no longer be tax deductible in Australia.

 

In summary, moving overseas is a big step.  It is easy to get distracted by the urgent tasks of finding a new home, kids schooling, and a multitude of government forms and paperwork.  However, it is important to also make time to understand the taxation implications of moving overseas.  Educate yourself about the implications of moving abroad, understand how it may impact you, and then speak to your taxation or financial advisor.

 

To connect with Craig you can find him on the Web, Facebook, LinkedIn or Twitter.

 

Disclaimer : This information is for educational purposes only and does not constitute financial or taxation advice. As this information is not advice and has been prepared without taking into account your objectives, financial situation or needs you should, before acting on this information, consider its appropriateness for your circumstances. Independent advice should be obtained from an Australian financial services licensee before making investment decisions, and a registered (tax) financial advisor/accountant in relation to taxation decisions.

 

 

Differences between America & Australia, Expat tales, My LA story, Posts

A postcard from Sydney

G’day LA.

A Postcard from Sydney.  I’m still recovering from my trip to Sydney which was a whirlwind.  There’s never enough time to do what you need to do.

One of my highlights was getting back into the early morning rises for swimming training.  (If you’ve been following along he’s on a quest to qualify for the CIF–Californian Interscholastic Federation–made up of private and public schools across California and his coach suggested it was not OK to take two weeks off swimming in the middle of the season). I was so happy to wake early and even more happy that his old school took him in to train with them without question, in face welcome him with open arms. There is nothing more glorious than the site of nearly 100 boys swimming sets when even the sun hasn’t bothered to get up yet.

An hour later we’re on our way to the American Embassy applying for new Visas for another couple of years in LA.

Why would you want to leave Australia I was often asked?  What a great question.  It made me think (and appreciate) …

10 things I love about living in Sydney

1.   Our Beach House (& the unspoilt beaches in general)

Ah yes, our beach house.  Who needs holidays were you have to spend hours on end researching the ins and outs of new destinations when your home away from home is on the white sands of Jervis Bay with uninterrupted views, crystal clear water and unspoiled beaches? It’s the simple things.

It doesn't get much more spectacular than this

It doesn’t get much more spectacular than this

2.   Boats & Water sports

One of our favourite things to do is to head down to “The Shire” to spend a day with our gorgeous friends wallowing away the day.  The kids get to do all things watersports: wake boarding, tubing & biscuiting, Jetskiing, swimming and paddling around and we get to top up our Champagne glass and feed the adventurers when they’re hungry.  Good old-fashioned fun all day.

Doesn't get much more fun than this for the kids--and the grown-ups

Doesn’t get much more fun than this for the kids–and the grown-ups

And we can repeat it all again at the Beach House all summer long.

Ahhh the things we took for granted.

3.   Saturday Sport

Yep, seriously.  I never really whinged about Saturday sport: I loved getting up to watch my kids play and participate week after week for their school.  I also loved meeting and catching up with other parents.  So long as we have a coffee in hand (and a good BBQ complete with egg & bacon rolls) Saturday sport is a gift we give our kids.  And everyone knows where they stand: ‘no show’ means immediate detention and if you can’t commit then you’re presence isn’t required at the school.  That’s what you sign up for and besides, there’s nothing more important than teamwork, representing your school and good sportsmanship.

4.   Australian private school and the attitude to educating kids

When the Principal at my kids school here in LA said in reference to changing the girls uniform because they were sick of the short skirts–and they were short:

(I’m paraphrasing) “our job is not to be bogged down disciplining your kids it’s to educate”.  Wait one cotton-picking moment.  Screech those brakes.  Absolutely not.

Together the school and the parents must set boundaries for the kids and show them that if those boundaries are tested then there are consequences for those actions.  And those consequences aren’t changing a uniform because some girls don’t know how short is too short.  Those girls can learn a lesson–the hard way.

That’s how it is in Australian private schools and it doesn’t seem to be how it is in LA’s private schools.  I really miss that.

5.  Picnics in the park or by the beach–with wine (shock, horror)

As we were driving to friends house on our last night in Sydney we drove past the local park on a beautiful sunny Sydney afternoon.  There were groups of mums & kids sitting in circles on picnic blankets; kids playing happily (not without incident though!) and mums with a well-deserved glass of wine in hand.  After all it was Thursday and nearly the weekend.

Many of my best friendships solidified from “Friday arvo park days” or Champagne arvos.  And the best bit: you could walk home and no one has a mess to clean up.

6.  Pubs

Or is it Australia’s drinking culture I miss most? I’m not sure. Every afternoon pubs are crowded with people catching up for a drink or two after work.  Here in LA it can happen but it’s more like grabbing an early dinner then doing a runner once it’s finished.

7.  Everything revolves around a drink

Case in point.  I had exactly 50 minutes to catch up with a very dear girlfriend.  I dropped in to her house and she opened her fridge and there was no wine.

“It’s OK water’s fine,” I said.

“Wait, what time do you have to leave?  Right we’ve got enough time to go to The Three Weeds, have a drink and be back in time.”

With that we both walked out the door.  And guess what? We did it.  And we loved it.  And that’s something I sorely miss about my Aussie mates and Australia.

Back to point 6–there are pubs everywhere it doesn’t take you long to get to your nearest one to catch up over one or two “sherbets”.

8.  Public Transport

Yes! It might be shite because it never runs on time but you know it’s there if you need it (and you need it to head into the city because the cost to park is highway robbery).

But what I love best about the public transport system is the fact that my kids can catch the bus or train to and from school.  Not only does it give them a social outlet but it gives them freedom and a sense of responsibility.  And it means I’m not driving to and from their school two or three times a day or trying to schedule carpool.

9.  Corner shops and everything at arm’s length

You’ve already been to the supermarket but you forgot to buy milk.  I miss being able to send the kids to the corner shop to pick up the milk or bread, or even get me coffee.

The first thing the kids want to do is get on the bikes and ride to the fish & chips shop and get fish & chips for dinner.  Because they can.  All I have to do is handover the wallet.

10.  Bogans

Seriously.  Where would we be without bogans?  Where would we be without the newest breed of bogans of the cashed-up variety?  I’ve forgotten all about bogans living in LA, there really is no other breed quite like them.  Bless Bogans.  For those of you who don’t know what a bogan is… well that’s a whole other post!

Bona fide bogans: Kath & Kim (Image taken from The Daily Life)

Bona fide bogans: Kath & Kim (Image taken from The Daily Life)

What are 10 things you miss about your home city?  Or what are 10 things you don’t miss!  Would love you to share.

xx It Started in LA xx

Expat tales, Posts

Two-year itch: Confessions of an Expat junkie

It’s true I’m an Expat junkie.  The only problem is I’m not that good at it.  Sure, I’m good at saying “yes” and jumping in boots and all, I’m even good at moving and making the transition.  But then reality starts to hit and I get really bad at it.

I want to be out “on the road” but then I want to be settled at home.

That’s why I haven’t written for a while…

All I seem to be doing these days is apologising. And the apology seems to be for the same thing: not writing enough. Blogging is like having a pen-pal—you’re all gung ho at first then it gets harder and harder to find time to write.

Well this time the reason I haven’t written is that I think I’ve lost my mojo. I hate being negative so like I tell the kids, “if you can’t say anything nice then don’t say it at all.” So radio silence.

Life in LA hasn’t been that bad it just hasn’t been that great. Truth be told it has nothing to do with LA and more to do with me.

Our two-year visa was nearly expired so we had to leave the US and reapply for new ones.

Another two years

There was no way we were going home after two years—after all the time it took us to get settled we need to stay at least another year.   We only lived in Shanghai for two years and we left there kicking and screaming so if we can stay then we definitely should try.

So we went back to Australia to re-apply for our visas.  I really didn’t want to go back to Australia—it was too soon. I wanted to go to see mum in Wales or check out Canada to get our visas but Mr H insisted we head home to Australia. I couldn’t argue with him: there are no holidays here at the end of year (once school starts back after summer) and we plan to travel during summer so this was the only chance we had to head home. So home we went.

I don’t know if I had it in my head that it would make me homesick but I just knew it would stuff me up. And it has damn it.

I wasn’t going to write about it. Then I thought I should. Then I didn’t know where to start. Have I really lost my way? Days and days doing everything I could to avoid blogging.

One foot in each continent

Imagine this. Get a map of the world. Here’s one.

There's a lot of land (& sea) between LA & Sydney depending on which way you look at it.

There’s a lot of land (& sea) between LA & Sydney depending on which way you look at it.

 

See there’s one pin on the US and one pin on Australia? Yep, that’s me: I’ve got one foot in each country. I’m trying to keep one foot in Sydney while trying to balance on the other foot in LA.

We agree we want to stay on and continue the adventure: Mr H is enjoying work and the kids are doing well at school; I even have a work permit now. But why can’t we let go of life in Sydney? Part of it is the fact that we moved for a new job in a different country that’s not really a posting: this is it. If we head back to Australia it’s resigning from Hollywood and securing a new job and staying there.

Your future’s where you might not necessarily want to be

We know our future is here—at least for the next few years—so why is it so hard to accept? Will our world come crashing down? I doubt it. Will we lose our friends back home? Hardly likely. Well then, why the doom and gloom and moping around? Why is it so hard?

Well we’re back to that problem of feeling unsettled—unsettled when we should totally be feeling settled. I’m not talking about feeling unsettled with friends but come back to the house—a home.

I’m a Cancerian so to feel like I’m not in my “own” house unnerves me. When we lived in Shanghai we knew we could be moved at any time, and we had the ‘expat’ package to make up for it—that and our fabulous apartment on the Bund right in the hustle and bustle of downtown Pudong, Shanghai (but close to creature expat comforts like the Shangri-la Hotel and City Shop).

But like I said we’re not about to get moved—unless we decide to move. Why did I feel more settled in Shanghai? Is it because we were in a salubrious apartment that was possibly the nicest place I am ever going to live in?  Is it because two years wasn’t long enough for us to feel unsettled?

Do you buy a house in your new country?

So that brings me back to buying a house here. It makes sense doesn’t it? It’s the great Australian dream—why pay someone else’s mortgage when you can pay off your own?

But buying a house isn’t really the problem. No, commitment is. Sure we’re committed to staying but actually using our (hoarded) money in Australia is a bigger step than I thought. Add to that the complication that taking that money out of Australia and moving it to the US means it’s not there to use to renovate our house before we head home. Uh-huh. That there is your problem.

Sounds like choices have to be made—buy a house here and feel settled or keep renting and use our money in Australia to eventually renovate our house (with plans and council approval waiting for us).   Reluctant to let go but wanting to establish some roots.

Yep, it sounds like I can’t have my cake and eat it too. Still I guess I am in LA—land of Kale & Quinoa—I shouldn’t be thinking about eating cake.

Will keep you posted but instead of feeling better, writing this post has just depressed me even more: I want to eat cake!

What does your Expat life look like? Are you on edge to see when/if you’ll be moved? Have you made the decision to move away like we have and are in limbo? Have you taken the bull by the horns and established yourself, bought your own home? Or are you somewhere in between your old home and your new one? I’d love to hear about it.

xx it Started in LA xx

Oh and by the way in case you’re a knight in shining armour or a mortgage broker who will let me use my Australian house as security deposit please get in touch with me, I’m really really worth it and I’ll be so so grateful ;-).

Home sweet home
Celebrity, Expat tales, My LA story, Posts

Home sweet home. Or is it?

I’m back from my amazing Aussie holiday that went by so (too) quickly.

I had so many ideas for my first Blog post back and like I often do have written some great lines in my head.

But alas now that I sit down to write all I can think of is how amazing our holiday was and how Australian life suits us so well.  Not so long ago I would have used the phrase, “… how we love Australian life so much better.”

Is Australia better?

And I probably would have gone into a spiel to say how weird America is.  (Shoot me down now American friends).  But I’ve grown up now and I can use mature, experienced Expat words—I call that experience rather than being politically correct because let’s face it that’s exactly what it sounds like I’m being (politically correct).  (Oh, and I don’t really think Americans … ahem America … are/is weird!).

It was interesting going back and even more interesting that we all just stepped back into our lives like we had never left.  My daughter spent the day at school–including an early start for tennis training at 7am and my son competed in a swim meet for his old school.  It doesn’t get much better than that.

While we were in Australia we caught up with a teacher from the kids’ school who has recently moved from LA to Sydney.  She’s a good 10 months behind me in time so she’s in the hard stages of change.  I’m sure a good portion of the time we’d rather be in each other’s shoes.  It got me thinking of the concept of home:

  1. You love home and never really looked to move anywhere else no matter how divine your new destination is.
  2. Because you love home all the familiar sights, sounds and smells of home play a big part in making you who you are. Everything else—especially when it’s actually so different but there’s absolutely no reason it should be (like Australian and the US)—is “weird”.

Weird is a matter of perspective

It’s not about which city is better or that the new city you’re in is “weird” it’s just that home is home.  And your newly adopted city isn’t (quite yet).  And, by the way, neither of us should get defensive when we say weird because it’s weird as in different-to-us-and-I-don’t-get-it not weird as in you’re-a-freak weird.  There’s a difference.

I have many friends that live in Australia that wouldn’t move out of their suburb let alone move overseas.  I also have many friends that have spent—and enjoyed—their time overseas they almost think Australia is too small for them.  I fall into neither of those categories.

You know before I left for this holiday I was talking about settling down here and how good it would be to buy a house.  I thought it would settle us.  Now I’m not so sure.

The day after we arrived I went to the supermarket for milk, bread, fruit & vegetables.  I remember when we lived in Shanghai and I’d go to the supermarket after a holiday it would drive me mental.  With a capital M.  It was difficult to navigate around and everything is in Chinese so it would remind me how hard something so easy could be.  Then I’d get accosted in the supermarket isles by sales agents wanting to direct me to their washing powder or their mop that I’d run for cover, race home and text my friends to say wine o’clock is starting early today.

carrefour

The newspaper and magazine section of my local Carrefour, Shanghai, China, 2009

 

Thankfully grocery shopping isn’t that hard in America.  I was safely minding my own business when I got to the checkout and started unpacking my shopping trolley.  A lady came behind me and blurts out, “Is there another aisle open?”  I looked at her.  She says, almost to herself, “Well you have to ask”.  I looked at her again, careful not to stare and show exactly what I was thinking.

I bit my tongue.  There are very few people that would say that in Australia—and the queues are often much longer.  I felt like saying to her, “chill love, by the time you’ve unloaded your trolley they’ll be ready to check you out.”  Honestly, seriously, by the time someone opens another checkout, they log in and she moves she’d be better off staying where she is.  But she doesn’t want—like—to wait.  I find that weird.  Someone who’s moved to Australia from the US might find it weird that we wait.  In silence.

I get that the service is better in the US.  I love that the service is better in the US.  When we checked through Coles Burwood last week in Australia (stocking up on our Aussie treats) my husband and I looked at each other and said, “It’s not quite Ralph’s service with a smile and a chat is it?”  But seriously … still weird.  Chillax chick.

 

Top five questions I was asked when we were home

Not that I’m one to dwell but was good to get a home fix.  Especially when we were so acclimated that we were on such a high point here in LA we didn’t really need to go back to Australia for a visit. So aside from my close friends and the “how are you going?” question there are lot of different things people wanted to know about life in LA.  Here are my favourite questions (and answers).

1.Who has been the best celebrity you’ve seen and what were they doing?

I initially answered with JLo but my friend wasn’t interested in her.  Bette Midler? Joan Collins?  Yes, much better responses.  I saw Bette at my favourite West Hollywood restaurant and Joan Collins having lunch at the Beverly Hills Hotel by the way.  Joan Collins is forever classy.  (Still think my favourite spot to date is the very yummy Joshua Jackson aka Pacey from Dawson’s Creek).

2. Have you seen any celebrities? Do you go to school with any celebrities?  What are they like?

Ummm, yes.  Lots.  It helps that (yes) there are plenty at school but they’re just normal people doing normal things like attending school functions and back-to-school nights.  Except the Kardashians but I haven’t seen them around (even though Kim & Kanye used to live just up the road from us).

3. What are the people like?

It’s pretty much the same as being at home: there are people you like and people not so much.  Like at home there are people who are extremely egocentric and others who are very kind and considerate.

There is a paranoia that exists here more than at home and I have to say that I feel like we should be more paranoid at home and the Americans (especially around here) less so.

Then: have they all had lots of work done?

We noticed it when we first arrived then we just got used to it.  Then we noticed it more when we got back to Australia (the lack of work) and again since we’ve come home.  Funny.  So … yes.

4. How long do we need in Disneyland?

As little as you can.  Seriously.  The happiest place on earth is wonderful … until it all starts to go pear shaped and then you need to exit stage left IMMEDIATELY.  The problem is it’s very hard to judge when the right time is to leave so be prepared for pear-shaped.

5. Are you ever coming home?

Good question.

Three funny things I noticed being back in Australia

It’s interesting being away for some 15 months then coming back again.  It’s more interesting the things you notice that you didn’t before.

1. We talk funny.

At least we use very different phrasing (non Australians might in fact say “weird”).  We were on the Virgin Australia flight up to Hamilton Island and the hostie was taking drinks orders.  “Too easy” was her response.  I laughed out loud.  I hadn’t heard that in a long time.  What does that even mean to an outsider?  Only in Australia.

2. We don’t stop drinking.

That’s right, hard to believe?  The day we arrived we got to my girlfriend’s house where we were staying and settled in with a few bottles of wine.  We had friends stop in and go and stop in and go; it was so lovely and informal.  By about 6:00 in the early evening we were still going and no one even considered we’d be stopping.  Ah love an Australian drinking afternoon.  So informal and I didn’t even have to stop.  How good is it to be home?

3. We walk everywhere.

It was our last day and I had a couple of jobs to do: drop some stuff off to an artist friend, deposit some cheques and a last-minute dash to the supermarket.  What struck me when we were driving around was the number of people walking everywhere.  Not parking and walking but actually walking; like from point A to point B.  (I know LA readers, I know; breathe).

Admittedly I live in the inner suburbs of Sydney and that essentially means our houses are in walking distance of the nearest pub/bank/post office/coffee shop and other conveniences that it’s really easy to walk.

My kids went to the corner shop more times than we could count just because they could–one there actually is a corner shop and two because they had the freedom to go that they’d missed so much here in LA.  They even cycled to get their fish & chips for dinner.  Love, love, love the freedom and independence Australia allows them.

Walking is a sport here in LA not a pastime so there are barely any footpaths let alone people walking.  It’s funny what you notice when you’ve been away.

It is good to be home

Alas I’m home.  I’m re-adjusting to LA life and I do love it here.  I went to the doctor this morning to follow up on my yearly checkup.  Sit down Australians he actually took my pulse and listened to me take deep breaths.  He actually spent some time with me and cared to follow up my results.

I said that I could neither think Australia is too small for me or could see myself living anywhere but Australia.  I am so thankful for the opportunities I’ve been given first as an “Expat brat” living in the Philippines and now as a “trailing spouse” (revolting term but can’t be bothered coming up with something sexy at the moment) in Shanghai and LA.

The first-world problem that arises out of the scenario from my perspective though is that I will always want the best of all worlds.  Sadly there’s no such thing as a perfect world so I’ll just have to pull my head in and be thankful I’m getting the chance to experience life from many different angles.

Enjoy your weekends,

xx It Started in LA xx

PS:  Happy birthday to my gorgeous friend Kristen Long who was the reason for our return trip and thanks to all our friends (old & new) for making our trip ah-may-zing!

FOMOphobia
Expat tales, Posts

FOMO

FOMO.  A Fear of Missing Out.  Why is it that I’ve only just learnt this term?  For as long as I’ve been in tune with my inner self I have understood–quite categorically–that I suffer intensely from this condition.  (And yes, you’re right, there’s no such thing as FOMO phobia.  It’s a tautology, you don’t need phobia because you already have fear.  But I guess I just have fear squared and FOMO squared doesn’t have the same ring to it. So FOMOphobia it is).

This week I’m back to feeling like I’m in limbo.  We had a fun weekend with local friends and all of them asked when we were going home.  Or if we were staying.  We’ve been here one year now and in our minds our “LA Stint” was always going to be two-three years.

But niggling at the back of my mind is the fact that we leave LA and Mr H has to find a job back in Australia.  He resigned from his previous role to move–a permanent role not a contract.  So what then?  If he’s happy here do we stay?  Do we want the kids to be educated here or in Australia (hmmm…bit late to be asking that question?).  Do we want to actually live in LA “forever”?  That’s not something I can answer yet.

The intention of this Blog is to share the surreal things that we’ve been exposed to since landing in LA so you know that life for us has been a lot of fun.  But there is a downside to this whole adventure caper.  For me it’s feeling unsettled.

Things going on back home

The minute we arrived home from living in Shanghai for a couple of years I engaged an architect to come up with plans to renovate our Sydney home.  It took two years to agree on plans and get to work on construction drawings so we could start building.  We were supposed to start building this year but then LA happened.  We packed up the house, put the renos on hold and vowed to renovate while we’re here so we could move back into the house all done when we came home.

But who knows what’s going to happen to us?  It’s far too early to decide what to do “with our lives”.  But I want a plan.  We’re paying a lot of money in rent and I’d much rather that money be going towards a house that we own.  We’ve spent a fortune with an architect designing exactly the house we want but that’s the house we wanted this year.  If it takes us another two years to get home (and build) then we’ll have one son just about at Uni and one daughter with only a couple more years in the house.  What of that gorgeous family home with a beautiful outdoor space, granny flat and pool?

Hashtag first-world problems I know but my first-world problems nonetheless.

The unsettling feeling also extends to the kids being at school.  They’re trying and learning etc but at the back of their minds they’re finishing school somewhere other than America so they don’t have to worry about the things American students need to worry about like building a resume to get into College (and we don’t have to worry about paying for it!).

Amazing College campuses

But the other night as my son was at waterpolo training my daughter and I walked through the grounds of UCLA.  What a magnificent campus that is.  There must have been an event on like O Week in Australia because there were students everywhere–many of whom still looked like babies.

Some things made me cringe (I still can’t wrap my head around sororities–sorry I’m sure I’ll come around at some stage but you have to give me longer on that one) and other things made me think that Americans do “College” really well.  (Why don’t they call it Uni given most of the elite Colleges are in fact Universities???)

For example I like that it’s a right of passage–a transition phase–and life is all about “College”.  The kids aren’t grown up yet–they can’t legally drink to start with–but they’re given controlled freedom and are growing into adults.  (Does that make sense?)  The fact that sport and activities are actively encouraged to me is fantastic.  It means they peak at a later stage more in line with their growth and development.

I think at home we’re like, “oh, well done you’ve got your HSC now get to Uni, get a job and by the way you’re an adult; but you’re still studying so you’re not really grown up yet so make sure you do really well because you want to get a good job but by the way you’re still living under my roof and you live by my rules.”  (Or something like that).  It’s so … grey.

That’s where FOMO comes in.  I want it all.  I don’t want to miss out on any of it.  I don’t want to miss out; I don’t want the kids to miss out.

What FOMO means to me

I want to hang out with my friends at home in Sydney and be sitting in my girlfriend’s kitchen on a stool with my name on it as I txt Mr H to come meet me so we can do an impromptu family dinner together and then all walk home because we’ve had “one too many”.  I want my kids to be at school in Australia.  My son should be off on the camp-of-a-lifetime: four weeks studying and doing outdoor ed as they face one of the most challenging years of their young lives (being 14/15).  He’s missing cadets and playing waterpolo for the school and woodwork and Design & Tech.  My daughter is missing so many leadership opportunities including giving her school captain speech as she had to resign from her position because we moved.  Year 6 was a big transition year in her school and she’s missing that special time.  I want them to play Saturday sport.  I want to renovate and live in our beautiful house that we planned meticulously but haven’t hadn’t had the chance to build.

But then I want to be here in LA, getting to know my friends better, making new friends, travelling, experiencing life in an LA private school where the kids are meeting such a fascinating array of people (not least of which extremely famous people we’d never get the opportunity to meet back in Sydney).

I want I want I want

I want to go to the Emmys and Golden Globes and (who knows) maybe even the Oscars.  I want to keep watching movies in Mr H’s amazing sound stage with no one but us there.  I want the kids to experience College life on a campus continuing with sporting commitments even after school has finished continuing to grow rather than be active as a hobby.  I want to buy a house here and feel settled because it’s our own.

I want my Baker’s Delight, Violet Crumbles, coffee shops, local butcher and beach house.

I want my Netflix, million different ice-cream flavours that don’t cost the earth, WeHo restaurants and inexpensive wine.

I don’t want to miss out on what’s going on in Sydney.  And I don’t want to miss out on what’s going on in LA.  Damn you FOMOphobia.

FOMO is real and I suppose is very real for Expats who have left mates at home yet are leading an adventurous life in their host country.

I don’t feel like I really had FOMO while we lived in Shanghai, maybe it’s because we lived in an opulent apartment overlooking the Bund but maybe also it was because I didn’t have a deadline to build my house.  And maybe it’s because the kids were younger so the question mark of uni and where they may call home doesn’t come into question.  Or maybe it’s because I don’t remember, I’ve chosen to forget.

Either way going out on the road can have its challenges.  I guess it’s just a matter of perspective.

xx It Started in LA xx

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Liebster award
Expat tales, Posts

What do LA, Libya & Liebster have in common?

Life here in LA is getting so busy.  It’s the kids last week of school before “finals” then one of our besties arrives for a holiday next week.  Next week.  Ahhhhh!

Last week I was talking about how well I was acclimating and this week I have to be careful that I’m talking (well writing) like an Aussie because I’m finding myself and the kids talking in hybrid Ausmerican.  I’m not sure if it’s so we’ll be more easily understood or whether we’re picking up on words and phrases but I’m definitely not talking like I usually do.  Best I fix that up!

What do LA, Libya & Liebster have in common?

Is your first question what/who/where is Liebster?  Good question!  Liebster is an award for new bloggers.

Liebster award

My very-own Liebster Award

 

That’s my way of saying yours truly has been nominated for the Liebster Award.  I (and many others) have tried to find out how it all started and who organises it (surely it’s a great way to make money right?!) but its origins are unclear.

What is clear is its intent: recognition for the hard slog that blogging is.  I am so happy to be nominated that I could be singled out (ok, one of 10 but you know what I mean?) by a fellow blogger and given recognition for my baby.

So …. what do Libya, LA & (the) Liebster (award) have in common? Well I was nominated by a fabulous fellow blogger I came across one day, Diary of an Expat.  She lives in Libya, I live in LA and we’ve both been nominated for the award.  In fact, she nominated me!

Bloggers are recognised by their peers and nominated to receive the award.  Part of that nomination is to nominate other bloggers with the same privilege.

As much as the origin of the award are unclear the rules are also slightly different depending on who’s passed on the award.  A bit like Chinese whispers as the nominations go from one Blogger to the next the message changes slightly. Here’s a Blogger who took the time to try to research the origin of the award if you’re interested.

Liebster Award

 

For example I’m not sure when it changed from five questions and nominate five people to 10 as in my nomination.  I also read some people were part of a group of 11 people nominated to answer 11 questions.  The number of followers has also shrunk and it’s unclear if it’s subscribers to your Blog or Facebook followers or even Instagram and Twitter.  But the spirit is there and we follow the rules as we see fit.

So … here are the 10 questions I was asked to answer:

1. What is the difference between a traveller, an expat and a tourist?

I guess the difference between a traveller and a tourist is that a traveller takes the time to hang out in a place and try to get inside it and get a feel for it.  A tourist takes lots of photos and is ticking off a list.  Mainly.  You can’t say a tourist isn’t enjoying it or not trying to get to know a place better.  I’d say it depends on the person and the trip.

The difference between an Expat and a tourist/traveller is much clearer.  The privilege of being an Expat and living in someone else’s “place” is you get to experience their life as they see it.  And the best bit is you’re forced to put down some roots and go through the hard yards of meeting people and forming friendships.

You can’t also just leave and move on when you’ve had enough so you have to take the good with the bad.

2. Which one(s) are you?

I’m a pretty good tourist.  And a traveller depending on where we are.  For example we visited this town in China called Stone Drum Town in Lijiang, China.  They had their regular market day and we wandered through the market interacting with the locals and watching them do what they do day to day.  We enjoyed the moment and truly interacted (as best we could).  Same with climbing the Great Wall of China, we really bonded with that experience.

Other times, however, we’re like OK, got the pic let’s move on!

And of course now we’re expats again.

There are also different types of Expats.  I was a different Expat living in Shanghai doing “ladies-who-lunch” activities with other Expats. I had all week to be driven all over town for different things and no house to clean or often no dinner to cook.  Here in LA I’m doing stuff with the locals (if you can call them that because LA is a melting pot).  Thankfully some of my friends are the rare beast that is the “LA native” so I get to experience the full gamut that is the melting pot.

3. What did you learn “on the road” that you could never have found in books?

Experience.  Noone can tell you how to make friends or what friends will be best for you.  You have to navigate your way through based on your gut.  It’s also hard to communicate a vibe, you have to feel it and experience it for yourself.

4. What stereotype(s) did you find out was NOT true?

That America is super modern and has all the bells & whistles, you know? like in the movies.  I don’t think it could be further from the truth.  Lots of things here are quite antiquated like the banking system.  And if you think there’s going to be (free) wifi everywhere you go … think again!

5. The one memory/experience abroad that will stay with you forever?

It’s a toss up.  Bonding with our Ayi in China, she was our live-in maid and we adored her.  She didn’t really speak English and we didn’t really speak Chinese but we forged an incredible relationship, she is such a gorgeous soul.

I’m pretty sure going to the Golden Globes (after-party hosted by Warner Bros and InStyle Magazine) is up there at the very top of the list too.  Never in my wildest dreams did I expect to be at an event like that and it was nothing short of memorable.

6. The most beautiful place you’ve ever been?

Wow, this one is a tough one.  I don’t think one such place exists.  So many places are beautiful for so many reasons and it depends what attracts you.  Generally we are attracted by beaches.  One of the most beautiful beaches in the world is in Jervis Bay (where we have a beach house).  It is totally under-rated and we love it that way.  We call it Magic Beach, after the Allison Lester book of the same title.

Magic Beach

One of the most beautiful places in the world

 

We loved Palawan in the Philippines for the same reason and are dying to get back again.

We also loved the Great Wall of China, the rolling valleys and castles of Wales and the old town of Lijiang is spectacularly beautiful. There’s lots of different beauty in China.

The Grand Canyon was amazing and I can’t wait to get to Yosemite because from what I’ve seen that is one of the most beautiful places in the world.  Paris and Copenhagen rate amongst the most beautiful cities I’ve visited.

7. What does Exotic mean for you, could you paint us a picture?

Can I phone a friend?!  I don’t know.  The first thing that comes to mind is: beaches followed by palm trees, pineapples, cocktails, sun and sunsets.

8. If you could give three pieces of advice to future travellers/expats?

1.  Do it, experience it, live it.  Experience is a gift, you may not be able to wear it to flash it to others but you don’t have to pack it or store it either.  And those experiences will live with you forever and mould you into who you are. It is indeed a gift and a privilege.

2.  Research.  You may want to go with the flow but it’s always a good idea to know what’s in store for you before you go.

3.  Pack light.  Don’t get bogged down trying to carry too much with you.  What you don’t have you can usually buy and what you don’t need you can do without.

9. Where do you see yourself in 10 years?

Home … Maybe!

10. When do you stop travelling?

Never.

My nominations for the Liebster award

In the spirit of bending the rules, I’d like to nominate three Blogs. And those Blogs are:

Living Life at 56: Because I love reading your work and want to encourage you to write more and often.

A Little Birdie Made Me: Because I don’t believe you’ve been nominated before (technically you have more than 200 followers but what’s in a number?) and I enjoy reading your Blog especially because it’s different to those I usually read.

ukdesperatehousewifeusa: I enjoy reading your blog: it’s short, it’s sharp and informative.  You probably don’t qualify because I’m so envious of all your likes but in the spirit of nominating Blogs I enjoy I nominate you.

How do I discover new Blogs that deserve recognition?

Why haven’t I nominated more? Because the ones I seem to stumble across have thousands of followers.  Which leads me to a little soapbox moment that there are probably lots of new blogs out there that haven’t found their way to me and are finding it as hard as I do to find new followers and be noticed by others.

Which is why this nomination (and award) is so significant and so special that a) someone found me and b) that they thought highly enough of my Blog to nominate me.

Ten questions

So here are my questions to you:

1)   Why did you start your Blog?

2)   How do you attract new followers?

3)   How much time do you spend on your Blog and other activities that go into promoting it?

4)   Why do you Blog?

5)  If a friend came up to you and said they wanted to start a Blog what would you say to them?

6)   If you could change one thing about your life what would it be?

7)   Why?  Or why not?

8)   What’s your favourite part of the day and why?

9)   Are you a scruncher or a folder?

10)  Finish this sentence: The best thing about my life is …

I look forward to hearing your responses so I hope you play along.  Thanks again to Diary of an Expat for your nomination, it is indeed an honour just to be nominated ;-).

xx It Started in LA xx

Tomson
Expat tales, Posts

Creating memories: remembering the good forgetting the bad

Tripping down Expat memory lane

I’ve mentioned a couple of times now that we lived in China–Shanghai actually.  I have such amazing memories of our nearly two years there despite it being a really tumultuous time.  I wonder if you asked my close girlfriends back in Australia what they would say about my time in Shanghai.

I’m tripping down memory lane for two reasons today:

  1. We spent a fun weekend catching up with dear friends from Shanghai last weekend in San Diego  and naturally we took a great trip down memory lane (I’ll post a full report on San Diego)
  2. One of my readers asked me to write about the not-so-good stuff about LA and how there are days when you go enough’s enough, I just want to throw in the towel and give it all up just to be back in the comfort zone of family and friends living a normal life.

It was so good to hang out with our neighbours from Shanghai.  We lived in a fabulously salubrious apartment called Tomson Riviera–the most expensive apartments in Shanghai–it was ridiculously convenient to Super Brand Mall, another fabulous Mall, IFC, we had the Shangri-la and great restaurants but we still had a Blind massage and “local” amenities so we felt like we were in China and not some surreal world.

Tomson

Home in Shanghai

Our neighbours lived in the apartment downstairs from us and they had to put up with our kids thudding up and down the hall like a herd of wild elephants.  We would see each other most days–either in the morning at the gym or around 4:30 for Orange Blossoms or wine (or both–morning and afternoon that is not Orange Blossoms and wine but come to think of it yes to both).  We would also schedule shopping days out or “Tomson Tours” as we liked to call it where a bunch of us from the apartment block would go out and explore areas (like a day trip to Expo) or factories and shops we’d heard about from other expats.

We were each others’ sounding boards, rocks but it was a great balance because we weren’t living out of each others’ pockets.  Our kids (with some 10 years plus between them in ages) are pretty much carbon copies of one another in temperament and roles which cracks us up–especially our two youngest “princess” daughters.

Fast Forward three plus years and they’ve repatriated back to Seattle and we obviously moved back home and are now here.  A lot has happened in both our lives since we moved back home but it was like no time at all had passed, we were just loving catching up and everything clicked back into place.

I wrote the other week about how Americans struggle to laugh at themselves but it was Sue who laughed at me moving to America where I would “never live” and now I have more than one American friend.  It was Sue that had to listen to my ear-bashing of Americans and how Australians don’t really “do” Americans as a rule yet she was one of closest friends in Shanghai.  And it was Sue that came to rescue when my princess was having one of her (very regular) tantrums–oh and of course to help with our many dress-up opportunities.

But it got me thinking about our time in Shanghai–and back to my reader’s feedback.  Not once did our trip down memory lane touch on the bad bits about being there.  We led the most glamorous lives and according to Mr H all I did was “shop, shop, shop” go to the gym (yes, I was a gym junkie) and eat at fabulous restaurants and jump the queue and get into great VIP bars inside the best Clubs in Shanghai. But living in China was also hard.  There’s not enough time in this post to try to get you over the line to understand the daily drudgery but it was there.  (Hmmmm maybe it’s time to publish that book after all.)

So why are trips down memory lane always so good?  I don’t know much about psychology but I’m guessing that has a lot to do with it, that it’s in our best interests to remember the good bits and flush out the bad bits.  We do remember some bad bits–and that’s how we grow as people but by and large we look back on life (hopefully) rather fondly.

Get me out of here

When we were in Shanghai I remember vividly wanting to go home.  I think it took me eight months to get over.  I loved it but I hated not having friends (despite of course having friends).  The closing chapter of my book was all about the realisation when we left that I had friends the whole time.  Good friends.  But those friends played different roles in my life compared to my friends at home.  I likened my time in Shanghai to The Wizard of Oz that, like Dorothy, I had what I needed the whole time: Dorothy needed to (ironically) get home to Oz and me, well I had friends.

Jump forward nearly four years in the future to today in a new country yet again.  I have made some great friends here in such a short time.  I’ve been welcomed and included and had lots of fun.  Repeat after me: I have made friends, I have made great progress.  There was a time not so long ago I may have forgotten this lesson though.

was pretty miserable a couple of months ago.  I announced to Mr H that I’d had enough, I wasn’t happy that the kids were missing out on the great things Australian private schools had to offer them and I wasn’t sure this is were we should raise our kids for an extended period.  That was totally my “get me out of here–now” moment.  I hadn’t shared it directly with you to put it quite as blunt as that but I had written about some challenges we were having, conflicts in ideology and questioning whether we fit in or not.

I missed the “anniversary” of us being here eight months.  What a great sign that things are on the up-and-up again.  Of course we fit in. The kids are getting a great experience going to school in a different country and (hello!) living amongst the rich and famous has (big-time) the fun element.

Coming back from holidays does that to you though–you get this spring in your step, a rejuvenation like you’re ready to kick on.  I felt precisely the same way when we got back from our Spring Break in Wales.  We used to call them “Get out of China” days you needed to regularly get out in order to come back in fresh.  Maybe it’s the same wherever you are as an Expat?

And catching up with friends that get you also does that to you–recently having dear friends here from Australia and just his past weekend with our Shanghai-American friends.  They’ve given me my confidence back that I’m doing ok.

Wherever you are you have your good days and your bad days–home, overseas, on holidays.  However much money you have you have your good days and your bad days.  No matter how successful you are you have your good days and your bad days.  What I’m learning all over again is that, despite my fear and loathing of rollercoasters, that’s life.  Hop on and enjoy the ride and essentially they’re the same wherever you go.  OK, maybe some are bigger than others but the bigger the climb, the bigger the thrill.

Enjoy–and make the most of–your rollercoaster.

xx It Started in LA xx

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