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Do you sell everything and rebuy it in LA or ship it all over?
Moving to LA, Posts

Do you sell everything in Australia and rebuy it in LA or ship it over?

It’s a great question: do you sell everything in Australia and rebuy it in LA or ship it over? You’ve decided to take the plunge and live the dream. Or maybe, like us, you get an opportunity offered to you on a silver platter. “You’re moving to Hollywood.” Who wouldn’t want to be moved to Hollywood when others are busting their chops to crash on someone’s couch just to live out their dream?

This is one of the topics being debated on a really handy resource and Facebook Group Australians in LA so I thought I’d pool the responses together, give you my two cent’s worth and put it up on the pedestal that is It Started in LA for all to see.  I don’t think the answer is as straight forward as it seems: like everything you have to do what feels right for your circumstances.

Selling everything in Australia

I remember when eBay first started I would collect my baby’s clothes that didn’t fit them anymore, bundle them together and get a pretty good price for them.  We’re not talking baby’s clothes now (Apple Watch 1.0 and old Beats) but I struggle to selling anything on eBay anymore that’s worth my time listing it and taking it to the Post Office to ship.  I still have an eBay pile but just don’t quite get around to listing them.

It’s not to say you can’t sell it and it’s not to say you won’t get at least something for your stuff.

Then there’s Tradingpost.com.au. I found I had slightly better luck with that site for a time. Same with gumtree.com.au  But that was around five years ago. Things change.

I lilsted our Dining Table & chairs and no one, I mean no one wanted it.  I tried every avenue.  I think the problem with Ikea and similar places is that people can get something that looks good brand new so they don’t want second-hand stuff.  I ended up bringing them to an Auction House and getting pittance for it there.

Cars

Our cars were even harder to sell.  The convertible went to an Auction house and my treasured and most loved Audi Q7 was handed to a friend who sold it for me.  The new owner ended up getting a one-way flight from Melbourne to Sydney and driving the car back again.  Seems they’re more expensive on the second hand market in Melbourne. Go figure!

The thought of buying a car again at Australian prices when we go home makes me sick to my stomach.

Rebuying in LA

It’s true things in LA (and the US in general) are cheaper than Australia.  But you still have to buy everything full price.  Unless you’re prepared to buy everything second hand.

As one active user on the Facebook group, Paulina, said, “I think it depends on your personal situation–we moved the whole family including kids. When you sell stuff you get peanuts for it and to buy everything–even though it’s cheaper it’s still a lot. Don’t forget you’ll be buying all electricals, kitchen equipment, all electrical. Most rentals come with fridges and washing machines.”

But then, as another person in the group said, “Always loads of stuff going cheap on Aussies in LA.”

And another confirmed, “just get everything new here and throw/sell/donate everything non-essential in Sydney–unless it has major major sentimental value it won’t be worth it, it’ll cost you a lot in transport and/or storage costs. LA is a transient city people are always selling their stuff cheap online you’ll be fine, seriously.”

Flea Markets

It seems this group love the Rose Bowl flea market, the first Sunday of every month in Pasadena.  After a couple of false starts I still haven’t gone.

“Also check out the Rosebowl flea markets for great furniture. We bought an awesome table and a console there. Often they’ll deliver for a small fee,” according to Liv.

Katrina also chimed in, “Sell it and start a new. Go to the Rose Bowl market and get inspired!”

For more on vintage stuff and the flea markets check my blog here.

Hindsight is a beautiful thing

Then there’s the benefit of hindsight from Sara, “There is always the chance you will move back. Sell the big stuff and see if you can store the smaller stuff with a relative. Then buy stuff here.

“We moved back and forth and really regretted selling all our stuff. It sucked having to rebuy everything. In hindsight, I wish we had hired a storage unit.”

Hindsight is great Sara, the problem is you never know how your experience is going to end up

We put stuff in storage like our fridge, washing machine and dryer and other electrical appliances we weren’t going to be able to use.  We did this mainly because we thought we’d be 2-3 years tops and we couldn’t get much money for selling them but to rebuy is hugely expensive.  Four and a half years later I dread that storage invoice!

If only we all had a Magic 8 Ball that actually worked!

Budgeting to rebuy everything new in LA

Don’t forget the wattage is different here in the US (110v) as it is in Australia (240v). One person on the Facebook page said the converters don’t really work that well but I bought a really good one (bulky but good) and my Thermomix works a treat.

You should also check the power supply as some items are now compatible with both voltages so it pays to check.

Here’s a breakdown of some “necessities” you’ll need/we bought when we arrived.  Yep, it all adds up! Don’t forget to add tax. That’s 10% (OK 9% but you get it) here in LA so don’t forget about that!

Microwave

Oster 1.3 Cu. Ft. 1100 Watt Microwave Oven from Target   $89.99

TV (let’s say one but we ended up buying a couple)

Samsung – 55″ Class (54.6″ Diag.) – LED – 2160p – Smart – 4K Ultra HD TV from Best Buys  $499.99

Vacuum cleaner

BISSELL® PowerTrak Compact Upright Vacuum Cleaner in Black/Lime from Bed, Bath and Beyond  $69.99*

* Hot tip: save those Bed, Bath & Beyond 20% off Coupons for good savings

Toaster

Stainless Steel 2-Slice Toaster also from Bed, Bath and Beyond for  $19.99

Sandwich maker

Cuisinart® Sandwich Grill at Bed, Bath and Beyond for $19.99

Hand mixer

KitchenAid – KHM512IC Ultra Power 5-Speed Hand Mixer – Ice Blue from Best Buys (price matched) for $31.99

Hairdryer

I chose a Conair® Infiniti Pro Hair Dryer – Orange for $24.99.

Total spent on these items is $756.93  plus tax ($68.12) equals $825.05 and not including shipping.  Many places ship for free when you spend over a certain amount so that’s not a big deal.

Also, if you are Australian you might want to buy a coffee machine, here’s a Nespresso machine for $199 plus tax with free shipping.

Most rentals come with a fridge, washing machine & dryer.  Some even come with a microwave, but not that many.

That’s the electrics taken care of. There are lots of furniture shops around and there is the biggest Ikea in nearby Burbank–every Expat family’s favourite must-do store!

Ship it over

This is the category we belong to. Mr H’s company paid for our move and, after having our things in storage while we were in Shanghai, we jumped at the chance to have our own stuff with us.

That’s not the case for others though. One person, Clare, on the Facebook group said, “I didn’t bring anything over, and I was glad, houses here are different styles and none of my furniture would have suited the house we moved into.

“Even though we had a Company paying for our items to be shipped, we went back to them and negotiated an allowance of the same amount as they were willing to pay to ship to buy all new.”

Great tip according to another Facebook group user, Liv, who said, “One other tip is to use Jetta which is excess baggage–we packed up all our artwork in doonas and bedding and it worked a charm. Jetta are very reasonable, pick up your boxes, weigh them and then everything arrived a few days after our flight.”

[Ed: I’ve never heard of Jetta so will definitely look it up. Could be a sponsor for this page ;).]

How much does it cost to ship it over?

According to Alan, “We moved over in March last year (2017) from Sydney to LA. We used Santa Fe, they were great, cost around $15,000 for 3/4 of a 40 foot container.

Lori said, “If you shop around and do some investigating, we got a 20ft for about 5k AUD plus a little extra for removalists to help load and then unload when it arrived in LA.” That doesn’t sound too bad.

Paulina said, “My friend moved with Chez and it cost $7000.”

Kym “paid $9500 for a sole use half container (21 cubic m) inc packing and insurance thru Santa Fe. But I understand If you share a container it’s cheaper.”

What’s your experience selling things in Australia? Have you sold up shop in Australia and rebought where you are? Or did you, like us, get all your things shipped over? Let us know and help others in the process!

xx It Started in LA xx

PS: None of the links or businesses mentioned sponsor me, these are just my preferences.  I am, however, looking for sponsors for this post/site. Are you a moving company who can offer great value to our readers? Are you an Auction House that welcomes clients bringing in lots of stuff to sell? Ikea, Bed, Bath and Beyond, Best Buys! If you want to jump in or offer a discount to my readers please do! If you know anyone Contact me. Cheers!

Playing spot your mates at the Golden Globes ceremony
Celebrity, My LA story, Posts

Playing spot your mates at the Golden Globes ceremony

This year I was able to watch the Golden Globes as the past two years I’ve been working. Yay! I realised as I was watching from the comfort of my living room in my black hoodie that I was playing spot your mates at the Golden Globes ceremony.

Yes the 75th annual Golden Globes awards have come and gone for another year. While this Blog has done blow-by-blow accounts in recent years by the time this comes out you will have already dissected the ceremony with write ups from the professional teams of writers and photographers covering the event on the ground. (Read: gone are the days when I think writing about them will get my a guernsey to the event, sigh). But that’s not to say I’m not going to give my humble LA opinion!

I do love the Golden Globes. I do love a good Awards show and the Globes of course kick off Awards season.

Actors and activists

I spent a lot of time juggling social media during the awards shows. I hopped on Facebook Live during the Red Carpet–just love the various medium we have to choose from to gawk!

Some of the comments–in this day and age–are still so woeful. People just think they can say whatever they like just because celebrities are in the spotlight and seem to “ask for it”, for people to say whatever they want.

It’s really interesting that popular opinion is divided somewhere down the middle when it comes to actors being activists and whether or not they should have an opinion.

I’m all for actors speaking up, especially the #timesup cause and the #metoo movement. As a mother of a girl–and one that wants to get into the industry–how can I not?

I get that some people take it all a little bit too far. Others aren’t eloquent and others rant and rave (perhaps we could say present company included) so the message might be there but it’s lost in its delivery.

But the reality is if these actors aren’t going to speak up how else are we–the general populace–going to know about these issues and how then can we do anything about it?

Celebrity Presidents

Besides people can’t have it both ways.  You either want celebrities to have their say on issues affecting our society or you don’t.

America cracks me up though.  It’s no bloody wonder Donald Trump is President. If you recall I predicted he would be–not because of anything other than America’s fascination with celebrity.

So to almost fully contradict what I said about actors being great activists, why does an eloquent celebrity automatically get put up on a pedestal to become the next President? The cries here now are Oprah for President hashtagging like crazy and talking like stupid people as if it’s really A THING. Or worse, should be a thing.

Seriously, you should hear the carry on here and the media is running with it.  It’s breaking news–“will she or won’t she; please let’s all hope she does.”

It’s great that anyone can be President. But… If there’s one thing this President should teach us it’s that being recognised doesn’t make us qualified to be President. (Yes I know there’s so many more reasons why this President shouldn’t be president but that’s not my point).

Correct, I’m not one of those people getting on the Oprah for President bandwagon.

And before you jump down my throat, I thought Oprah’s speech was inspiring and she provides a great role model for our girls.  She’s come from humble beginnings (the stuff she said about her mum made me cry) but she achieved extraordinary success.  She beat the odds, she did it.

But don’t you think we need to stop looking to celebrities to become “The President”? Come on guys, let’s help Politicians be better people, get in touch with the people and lead their country to be better.  In order to effect change at the political level you need to have political experience; you need to know how stuff is done; gets done.  It’s one of the reasons Trump is so arguably bad because he thinks he knows it all and doesn’t need to play politics.  You need to understand the law and you need to understand economics.

But wait, there’s a role for Hollywood and a role for someone like Oprah in politics.

Influencers like Oprah can work hard to change society’s beliefs, old-fashioned views and really instill change.  Maybe if she worked together with an inspiring President-to-be together they can deal with the law and popular culture at the same time. What a great combination that could would be.

Woosh-ka.  Hell I’m so inspiring maybe we can get the #gwenforpresident2020 going.

Playing spot your mates

Changing gears back to the Golden Globes.

As I was watching I squealed: there’s my girlfriend from tennis.  Immediately I texted her to say I spotted her and to say she looks very glam, green with envy.  (She texted back from the ceremony to say thank you so I guess in my own little way I was there at one point in time–on a very cool table might I add!)

As another girlfriend and I were texting each other through the ceremony though I started laughing because we were playing “spot your mates”. Instead of watching who was front and centre with the cameras we were looking in the background for people we knew.  Her ex-boyfriend and his husband were there and another client of a friend of mine was there too.  Looking, looking.

You might recall my son was front and centre at the Emmy’s. I love TV and TV stars but the highlight for me was still playing spot the son!

I know, it looks like I’ve photoshopped him in doesn’t it? I haven’t!

It’s what living in LA is all about–smack bang in the middle of the Entertainment industry and it’s all good fun.  Remembering this post about how normal people actually can be, it’s still true.  And you may never actually understand unless you live here but I hope this Blog let’s you in on that insight every now and then.

 

Reese Witherspoon to be my BFF

Speaking of playing spot your mates … While everyone was ogling over Oprah, I was on team Reese. (No, that they were on opposing sides just that my girl crush was elsewhere).

How gorgeous is she? She pulls everyone together, let’s them do the talking, doesn’t get too serious but is so inspirational.  And she does it all being fabulous and a great role model for her kids. Go her. And congrats to well-deserved Big Little Lies and can’t wait for Season 2 (complete with a new female director to boot).

Back to natural faces

If there’s one thing our hopefully changing society should do it’s go back to natural faces.

I don’t know about you but living here in LA you notice everyone’s really bad faces. These fillers and over botoxing is getting out of hand. Fresh from being in Australia over Christmas the first thing that hits you is the over-worked faces on women here.  I swear the look is not to look young or natural but to look like you’re able to pay for fillers and “work”.

Let’s hashtag no more work. That goes for the blokes too.  Look after yourselves, do what you need to do for a natural look but enough of the out of the control facial distortions.

I think there could be a lot of credibility coming back at you if you start there ladies and gents.

And with that it’s over and out for me this week.

xx It Started in LA xx

 

BTW Image source/credit: Getty / FREDERIC J. BROWN from PopSugar celebrity website

Good luck, good health, good fortune for 2018
My LA story, Posts

Good health, good luck & good fortune for 2018

Happy New Year and welcome to 2018.  Here’s to good health, good luck & good fortune for 2018.

I’ve got a (good) feeling about 2018.  I think it’s going to be a good, good year. And if that line reminds you of a popular song you might well be right. I’m singing it as I type and it’s a clue to what’s coming up.

But first I’ve got to say I had the best break. We went home for Christmas this year–which we don’t usually do–and it was so good. It was especially good to head home to Melbourne and catch up with some old and dear friends and just hang out for a while.  Thanks to our special friends for putting time aside in their busy holiday schedules to catch up: it meant the world to us.

Holidays

It’s true us Aussies associate the end of year Christmas break with summer holidays: It’s summer in Australia, school is on break for around 6-8 weeks and the Christmas/New-Year period is a great time to unwind with many offices and workplaces closing down between Christmas and New Year.

And, in Australia as with many other parts of the world (just not America or China), shops are closed on Christmas Day and New Years’ Day (they should really be closed on Boxing Day too.) So it actually feels like a real holiday.

December (and the start of January) has been really mild for us here in LA, not like winter at all.  It’s funny that people kept saying, “it doesn’t feel like the end of the year because it’s so hot” or “it doesn’t feel like Christmas with the weather being this warm”.

But for us, that’s exactly how it feels–normal.

Christmas in July

But imagine my shock yesterday at the post office when I was posting some sneakers for a friend’s son.  I casually said I hope it’s not a Christmas present (referring to the urgency of the package).

The very friendly guy asked when Christmas was in Australia.  I thought I was hearing things so replied quietly, “The same, in December.”  It’s also not unusual for people not to celebrate Christmas in LA so I thought maybe he was one of those people.

He was shocked.

“When is it? December you say? Isn’t it May or June … July?”

“No, it’s the same: December 25.”

“Oh wow, but it’s summer there isn’t it? How do you celebrate Christmas when it’s summer? I just expected it to be in the middle of the year.”

He had a very, very hard time coming to terms with–much less picturing–Christmas being in the middle of summer.

Fascinated he continued, “What does Santa wear?”

He was most intrigued! So of course I had to tell him about one of our favourite Hi-5 songs, Santa Wear Your Shorts.  That seemed to appease him.  Somewhat!

Carols by Candlelight

I hope you clicked on that link and enjoyed a sing-a-long like I did.

Back in Australia Christmas Eve tradition has it that you watch Carols by Candlelight while you drink eggnog (or wine) and wrap presents preparing for Santa’s arrival. The kids go to bed once Hi-5 has come on.

(For those non Australians Hi-5 was/is a group of kids brought together not dissimilar to the Wiggles. They had a show on TV which we were utterly addicted to. It had puppets, singing and a bit of good old educational value for the pre-school kids. They also put on sold-out concerts which we’d go to–and loved!).

Until last Christmas Eve I forgot all about that. One of the most fun days/nights I had over Christmas was singing Christmas carols with my sister-in-law and reminiscing with kids about Hi-5 like it was yesterday. Seriously, where has the time gone?

Hot or cold?

But the thing about Christmas in Melbourne (as opposed to Sydney) is that you never know if it’s going to actually be hot or cold.  You can get cold days in December. And there’s always a chance it might rain.

That always makes it hard to decide if you’ll set the table inside or outside.  That’s called a first-world Australian Christmas problem.

So, you see, just because it’s summer, doesn’t necessarily mean Christmas Day will be a hot one.  You hope it will be so you can sit outside and enjoy the sunshine.  And that’s Christmas to us.

New Year

Now it’s the new year and we’re back home.  This is the third year we’ve had a New Year’s Eve party at home and it’s becoming quite the tradition.  I grew up with my parents always throwing a party so it’s a tradition that’s dear to me.

This year, while we were down a couple of regulars, it was our biggest yet.  Being an expat in LA isn’t the easiest thing. But having fun, close friends around me made me realise how lucky I am to have them.

I’m hoping 2018 will be a good, good year.

New Year’s Day

That’s the perfect segue to New Year’s Day.  A few years ago we were invited to a friend’s house. It was very spur of the moment as her mum decided to cook some Black-Eyed Peas (we’re not talking the Band) and have an impromptu afternoon/evening with friends.

You may recall if you’ve been following on for a while that was the time we almost went head-to-head with Beyonce & Jay-Z. Still one of my personal highlights as we’d flown in from Miami that morning and it was a sign we were back in LA. Maybe also the fact Mr H wouldn’t move and good old Jay-Z reversed down the narrow road for us to get passed him.  The dead giveaway was when I got my phone out to google Jay Z and Beyonce immediately bowed her head and covered her face!

Collared greens

What I didn’t realise though, that I do now, is that the Southerners have a tradition on New Year’s Day. A tradition and a superstition.  To start the year out they eat a meal of Black-eyed peas, collard greens and Ham.  All good except up until a few years ago I didn’t really realise black-eyed peas were a thing other than a band/group.

And, I wondered what on earth collared greens were. Could it be a generic name for green-leaf vegetables. Is there some significance to the “collar?” Was there something I was missing?

Apparently there was. There is no collar on those greens but it is a generic name of sorts.  Collared greens are in fact collard greens.  Learn something new every day!

Good health, good luck & good fortune for 2018

This year we were lucky enough to be invited to our in-laws place (my son’s girlfriend’s family) to ring in the new year with the good luck-/health-/fortune-bringing meal.  We had Bloody Mary’s, a beautiful meal and played some games.

(On a side note we played lifesize Jenga Australians versus Americans and for the third time–or is it fourth–the Australians won. Pressure’s on next time for sure!

Here’s a sneak peak at the deliberation of which Jenga block to remove to avoid the spill!

 

And, I have it! Footage of the Jenga fall. Aussie win!

 

And let me leave you with the meaning of those meals.

Black-eyed peas: Good luck

Collard greens: Good fortune

Ham: Good health

Apparently you can’t have collard greens without cornbread so we had that too. And no American meal is complete without Mac and cheese so we had that too!

So that’s why 2018 is going to be a good, good year. I hope it will be for you too.

Happy New Year everyone!

xx It Started in LA xx

Christmas in LA 2017
My LA story, Posts

(When will it) Begin to look a lot like Christmas

Seriously, in LA that’s a question: When will it begin to look a lot like Christmas.  Truth be told it doesn’t.  Sure you’ll get Rodeo Drive decked out in all its 90210 glory and The Grove will be the same, even a few other Malls.  But, the truth is, LA is not the American city to visit to recreate Christmas from the movies.  I know, isn’t it ironic?

Instead, Christmas is some neighbourhoods with some lights out (or on as the case may be), a few “festive few” going all out.  But on the whole you can spend most of December wondering where on earth the “holiday spirit” has gone.

And we can’t blame the fact that Christmas is only “Christmas” for half of LA. I mean, it’s the same in New York and you can’t get more “Christmas” than there right?

And, let’s face it, the greater majority of my Jewish friends “celebrate” Christmas so it’s not that either.

So what is it about LA that Christmas seems like just another day?

It might well be that life continues as normal.  It’s not all shut up like it is in Europe or Australia. I could be forgiven for thinking I still live in China.

New Year’s Eve

And New Year’s Eve here is a little flat too.  It’s definitely not the pomp and ceremony and fireworks extravaganza that it is in Australia.  Let’s face it, for the big hoo-ha that is New York in Times Square for New Year you’re only going to see a ball drop.  A ball drop peoples.

Ubering for “holiday” parties

There is one constant and that’s the “holiday party”. Being LA this year’s parties were apparently very toned down; fortunately I went to a few fun ones!

I’ve had two uber drivers with huge claims to fame. My latest one picked my accent straight away:

“Australian”.

“Yes I am, well done.” (They don’t often pick it right!)

“I went to Australia in 1983, had a great time. I was on tour with my boyfriend at the time.”

“Ok, fun,” I said. “I hope you managed to see the sights.”

“Yeah my boyfriend loved Australia so he always makes sure we got downtime.”

“Oh nice, he’d been before?”

“Oh yeah, he’s a really famous rockstar … David Bowie?”

“Oh right, OK.”

“Yeah, we toured Japan first then went to Australia, it was a wild time.”

OK stop. You’re driving an Uber and you went on tour with David Bowie. That’s serious stuff. I hope she’s all there as she’s responsible for getting me safely from A to B.

I mean all the dates and info seemed to make sense. Could it be?

Then she starts giving me advice on acting and building up an IMDB profile. OK …

Sadly our trip came to an end. Five stars to you Diane. What an entertaining trip. Say hi to David for me.

Merry Christmas & A Happy New Year to you all. I’m sure you won’t hear from me til the new year so take care out there. And I hope you get an uber driver with some fun stories to tell.

xx It Started in LA xx

Buying a House as an Expat in LA
Moving to LA, Posts

Buying a house in LA as an expat

You secured your lease, life is going along swimmingly but you think it’s time to lay down some roots.  Here’s a guide to buying a house in LA as an expat.

LA rent is not cheap.  Essentially, unlike in Australia, LA rent is the same as the owner’s mortgage payments plus property tax. In other words, you’re not getting a bargain and all you’re doing is helping them pay off their mortgage.

We loved the house we first signed up to but after a while it got too small for us. So I started looking around, even extending our search outside the 90210 postcode, and was shocked to find there was nothing around. Even increasing our budget by $2,000 didn’t get us what we were looking for in upgrading our humble abode.

Buying a house in LA

I started scouring websites looking for houses. My dream was a mid-century modern in the hills already done (or minor jobs to be done) with a pool and view.

The next thing I needed to do was see who would lend me the money.

I worked on a budget of our current rent figuring we had a decent buy price to get a house with everything we wanted.  Cheaper than rent plus it’s ours!

Armed with this I went to our bank, Citibank, to see what they could offer me.

With a 20% deposit and a very good credit rating we could get the money we need.  Excellent.

Credit rating

Credit rating in this country is a whole ‘nother beast of a topic.  But, in short, ours wasn’t very good or excellent; it was just good.

In a nutshell, from what I could gather it’s because of the way we manage our credit cards.  You see our limit is a limit we use each month that I’ve budgeted to pay off each month.  I don’t want a higher limit because we’ll use it, we’ll spend it and eat into our savings bucket. I’m happy and comfortable with what we have. But that means we actually use the credit limit we’re given.  That’s what it’s there for right? Wrong.

The powers that be in Credit rating land think we’re a red flag because we use the credit made available to us via our credit card. They don’t look at the fact that I pay it off each month (every fortnight actually).  I made a $10k purchase on my credit card (think of all the points!) and then paid it off once I was done so I could carry on charging my stuff to it.  But you could see in that month our credit rating drop down. I mean seriously, don’t they look at the next transaction, the one where we paid it off (and I’m talking that day people that day). Stupid.

You really think I’d learn my lesson.  Please learn for me.

No loan from CitiBank #fail

So, even though we showed that we paid our rent on time every month for two plus years, we had the deposit and money to spare in the bank, based solely on our credit rating CitiBank was a no go.

I threatened to move my accounts but haven’t bothered because it’s too convenient having a branch down the road.  But they don’t know that!

I speak of them with disdain instead of admiration now though.

Finding my dream LA house

After months of searching for my perfect Mid-century modern home it became clear that most of them are fixi-ups. Now, to be clear, this is our “rent replacement house” not our “forever house”. Being a rent replacement house I didn’t want a fix-up job, one where we’d have to take six months renovating it.  Defeats the purpose.

Securing a Realtor

You can scour the websites and research houses yourself but if you engage a Realtor early on in the piece they can start looking for places for you.

You see they have broker open houses and access to a clumsy but very good tool known as the MLS.  Just by entering the parameters you want in a search engine you can get houses sent to you weekly.  And, if they see a house while they’re looking, they can arrange for you to see it.  It can take a lot of time out of the hunting process.

Buying a house as an Expat

It can be done, buying a house in LA as an Expat.  But, you just need to be aware of a couple of things.

  1. The visa. Each Bank deals with different visas in different ways. Then depending on that there may or may not be different conditions.  As an E3 visa holder we were able to borrow money like a “normal” American.
  2. Deposit.  Some of the lenders I spoke to insisted on 30% because of our expat/visa status.  We did find a bank willing to give us a loan based on 20% though so do shop around.

Mortgage Broker

One of the people you need to secure, as well as a Realtor, is a Mortgage Broker.  There are mortgage brokers who represent several banks (as they are in Australia) but beware many Mortgage Brokers I spoke to represent only the one bank. From what I gather these guys are sole operators but work with a bank. You don’t have to pay them they must get a commission from the Bank.  So it’s a bit different and a bit strange because they’re not actually shopping the market looking for the best deal for you, they’re just offering you a Mortgage.

You can also go into your local branch and ask to apply for a loan as we do in Australia.  And, there are online guys which I would say be wary of.  I started filling forms in for Quicken Loans but then when I got to the last screen cancelled out yet I got calls from all these lenders/brokers and still get the occasional email from them (got one today in fact). Not happy Jan.

Putting in an offer

I know you’re dying to know if I found my dream mid-century modern home with very little to do, a pool and a view.  In short: no. Out of left field we found a house in “the flats” which was brand new, had a beautiful floorplan and a pool.

We fell in love. We did a quick change in search looked at a number of new constructions in the area but decided this was the house for us.  It was New Year’s eve when we put an offer in and our Realtor was in Europe on holiday.

“Oh no, you absolutely must put the offer in now because there’s less chance of other active bidders at this time,” she said.

So we did.

In the US offers must be writing and you need to think carefully about contingencies at this time.  That’s where your Realtor becomes like gold.  If they’re good at what they do, with experience they come up with all the ideas and you just say yay or nay.

Not to bore you but the offer process is very boring. If you’re looking for a bargain (which we were) then there will be counter offers and counter offers before you either bow out or settle on a price–don’t forget contingencies.  For example, in one of the seller’s contingencies was reducing the settlement time. We were all for it too (we wanted to move into our house and stop paying rent) but we weren’t sure how long the mortgage would take to get through.  But that became a “thing”.

And then, some sellers will use your offer to go back to interested parties to say look, we’ve got an offer do you want to put one in too.  That’s where a quasi auction happens. (They don’t have auctions here; too complex a system I suppose to be able to deal with it but you’d think auctions otherwise would be quite successful).

Even if a house is under offer or under escrow anything can happen.  It’s not until all contingencies are dropped that they’re comfortable it’s all going to be OK.  So for them it’s a trust issue. Our agent had to put the seller at ease and let them know that we want to buy the house just as badly as he wants to sell the house and we’re doing everything in our power to make sure it happens.

Much like when you’re leasing a house, as I mention in that Blog, you need an agent who you’ve developed a good working relationship with that can go into bat for you and ensure the seller the purchase is secure.  And, as soon as you’re able to drop contingencies (like inspections and securing the money) then you’re up and running.

But, expats make Americans nervous so hook up with a Realtor that understands you and the situation. We were happy with our agent because she deals with Expats all the time and understands how the system works. A big part of it is knowing what to say.

Escrow

So here there is an Escrow agency that’s used to sort through the paperwork. They co-ordinate with the Bank, their agent and your agent to settle.  Not conveyancers or lawyers like in Australia.

On the day of settlement, you don’t actually sign the mortgage at your bank, you sign it all at the Escrow’s office.

Then once the documents are all signed at Escrow the house is yours! The agent will arrange with you to meet at your house with the keys and you’re in your very own new home.

Complex system

It’s a complex system here. As I always say everything in America is an industry designed for people to be able to make a living from. You don’t pay your agent to buy your house (the commission is split 50/50 and paid for by the seller) so use one.  It might well be the only free thing you get in the US!

You don’t get a say in who you use for Escrow but they’re arbitrary anyway so it doesn’t really matter. Actually seems strange but it’s true.

Why buy?

The way I figure it even if the property doesn’t increase in value my “rent equivalent” is paying off principal AND interest. And that money is going to me, not someone else.  Interest payments are tax deductible here although there is a cap on the mortgage amount so check first. Check with your tax accountant and please don’t take my advice as financial in any way, shape or form–you’d not only be a Wally too because I’m not qualified but seriously you need to work out if it works for you.

The property tax is a bitch but the year after we bought our tax bill was much less so we figured it balanced itself out.

You see, for now at least, interest from your principal home is tax deductible.  Barry bonus but those nutbags Trump calls his party are trying to limit the amount of tax that can be claimed so watch this space.  Sounds like a socialist thing to do in my humble opinion (and you know since moving here I’ve realised I am a socialist so it’s not a dig, just fact).

Apart from all of that we’re so happy to be in our own house. If we hadn’t have bought and ended up paying more for rent it would down-right depressing.

So if you’re sick of paying rent just know it can be done.  What have you got to lose?!

Good luck!

xx It Started in LA xx

American words to Australian
Dictionary, My LA story, Posts

American words I just don’t understand

It’s not uncommon for Americans to have no idea what I’m talking about.  We have lots of slang words and I often like to use them just for laughs.  But every now and again there are some American words I just don’t understand.

And, as much as Americans love our accent we say words differently so it sometimes takes a bit for them to understand us.

(Eg. Alternate. We say al-ter-nate, Americans say alter-nate).

Ever noticed that most non-English speaking people talk with an American accent?

I think that’s why their accents aren’t foreign to us–we’re so used to hearing them.  Whether it be on TV, the movies, a Swedish person, even Canadians (sorry, couldn’t resist. Just like you can’t tell the difference between an Australian accent and a New Zealand one, I can’t tell the difference between yours).

It usually also means we know all the different words they use.

Fanny

Yes, even “fanny”.  Fanny might not make Americans laugh but it always makes us Australians (and Brits etc) laugh out loud–rolling on the floor laughing out loud.

To let you in on the secret, in Australia a fanny is your vagina.  So imagine how funny it is for us when we translate your politically correct sentence, “I have a sore fanny” or “We need to take our fanny packs with us”: what pres tell is a vagina pack, dare we ask what we need it for and where do we get it?

For the 1% of Australians who might not know, and if you haven’t already worked it out, fanny to Americans is a bum.

Rooter

And even rooter. There are ads for it, vans driving around with it–there are rooters everywhere. Again, our conservative American friends have a word they happily throw around that in our part of the world is a “rude word”.  If not a rude word most definitely a socially uncomfortable word for them (we don’t have a problem with it AT all).

To root is the act of having sex.  As in, “hey love, wanna root?”  Perhaps some of these Hollywood men you’ve been hearing about in the news might have used that line had they known about the act of rooting.

The rooter in America is the generic term for a drain cleaning service.  So we have business names/websites like:

Rooter Man

Team Rooter

And even Rooty Rooter. He must be a really good rooter!

Then you have every Charles-, Dick- & Harry-the-Rooter (or should I say Chuck, Archer & Parker).  All these American men publicising that they’ll come to root for you.

Speaking of rooting for you. I also know that one.  “Rooting for” is the American term for supporting your team. In a sentence, “I root for the Dodgers”. If I said I root for the Dodgers at home I’d be classed as a first class slut–some form of groupie happy to put myself out for the entire Dodgers team.

Yes, yes, our humour is very much of the gutter variety.  And we’re fine with that.

American words I just don’t understand

But there are some words that I don’t know–or don’t know the slang for might be more accurate.

At tennis my friend was coming clean that she lets her kids have their passes every so often.  We had this entire conversation with her telling me it’s bad (no it’s not), asking what I think (yeah, it’s fine) and saying they don’t do it all the time (ok, fine).

I’m looking at her thinking did I miss what the pass was for? Her kids are young, where do they need passes for? I gave a little chuckle. It’s our turn to be in on the court.  Yay, we won, off to the other side.

Then, when we got to the other side, she called me out on it. Oops! She’s so used to not understanding what I say that she recognised that blank look on my face and nervous giggle.

The “pass” was a pac (soft c–said with that American accent so the a sound is not the “ah” sound but an “a” sound that’s quick.  And so “pass” is actually short for pacifier.  As in dummy.

Oh! Yes, I know you guys say Pacifier. I just didn’t recognise “pac” I thought you were saying pass!

Dummy

So a Pacifier is a Dummy in Australia. One of our friends from Shanghai’s favourite phrase of ours is “spit the dummy” which means “chuck a hissy fit” or have a little tanty (tantrum). And no, I have no idea why we call it a dummy.

Bogan

While I’m at it I’ll give the Americans another favourite word of ours: bogan.

A bogan can be loosely translated as “trailer trash”. Traditionally they had an outfit which consisted of way-too-tight jeans, a flannelette shirt (flanno) and ugg boots.  Yes, ugg boots.  Only bogans actually wore ugg boots out in public, the rest of us only wore them at home.

Here is a bogan:

Bogans

A family full of them actually

But then things started blurring–there were cool incredibly tight jeans, flannos were deemed respectable (depending on who wore them or how they wore them of course) and ugg boots became a thing.

And bogans also became proud of being bogans.  And so the term “cashed-up bogan” was born.  This is when a bogan did good and all of a sudden had loads of money.  They would carry on being bogans but now they had lots of money to throw around. The long-standing belief then was, well, money can’t buy you class.

Americans have bogans too. Our family calls them yogans (Yankee bogans).

Thongs

I think Americans know this one but it’s one of my favourites.  We wear thongs on our feet as well. As in flip flops.

In America (& probably every other place in the world) thongs are undies.  And I know this.  But I do love calling out to the kids in public, “Don’t forget your thongs” or “Are you wearing your thongs”.

It’s important to keep a sense of humour.

So technically that was one word I don’t understand. There are more I’m sure. But that was funny and then I could share with my American audience some of the words we hold dear to our heart–and why some of your words make us laugh.

Halloween in LA

On another note I first wrote about Halloween in LA a few years ago.  I made the observation that we don’t really celebrate Halloween in Australia.  But the fact is we do.  Well many people do anyway.  It depends what neighbourhood you live in.

We get the impression we don’t celebrate it in Australia because it’s not as widespread but when you think about it not every house is dressed up and not everyone goes trick or treating here either.

It’s just more of an event here: they dress up at work, even people going about their normal business dress up.

In Australia though, we tend to dress up as “spooky” things–blood, guts and gore.  Here in the US Halloween is a giant dress up day–you can be whatever you like, it doesn’t have to be scary.  I hadn’t changed since tennis that morning so I pronounced that I was dressed as a tennis player. Tick. All fine.

Our neighbourhood decided they’d start trick or treating locally this year.  It’s a big step to be able to trick or treat in your own neighbourhood rather than going to someone else’s (which is the thing to do). We’d never think to head to someone else’s ‘hood and knock on their doors for lollies (candy).

But when houses (or streets) go all out, they go all out.  Did you catch my Instagram post where one house had a crashed 747 in their front yard? Very cool.

 

Lead up to Thanksgiving

And now it’s November 1 it’s time to fast forward to Thanksgiving–the longest and only four-day long weekend in the American holiday calendar.  And because of that I have to leave you now to research what we’ll do for the four-day weekend–we all need a break.

Enjoy the rest of the week as we head into the weekend. Catch you soon!

xxIt Started in LAxx

 

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

Securing a lease in LA
Moving to LA, Posts

Securing a lease in LA: 5 important tips

You’ve found the area you want to live in and even managed to narrow your search to a couple of house.  But now you have to secure a lease. Here are five important tips for securing a lease in LA.

As expats you may know–and understand–each country has its idiosyncrasies when it comes to credit and finance.  The US can be a tough market if you don’t know what you’re doing and if you don’t have established credit.

1. Secure a good agent–preferably one that understands expats

There are lots of agents in LA; not all of them good, not all of them bad. Securing an agent is a whole topic in itself but you need to find an agent that understands you, your family and your needs.  That’s why I recommend asking someone for recommendations then secure one with whom you have a good relationship.

There are so many houses in LA and not all of them good.  You could spend a lot of time looking at places that remind you of your uni days (like we did) so choose wisely.

Why am I telling you all this?

Because your situation is going to be a little out of left-field (even for LA) so you need to make sure your agent is not only good, but is on your side.  Find someone that’s persuasive and affable. At the end of the day they need to go into bat for you–to convince your future landlord that you’re going to be a fantastic person/family to rent to.

My agent, Caroline Fleck from Caroline Fleck Real Estate, tells the story of how one agent got aggressive with her because her client didn’t accept a tenancy for her clients. “The last thing you want is an agent who is going to argue with her fellow agent. She should have sold her clients to me to take back to my client–that’s what I’d do.”

Subscriber Adam Halen who thanked me very much for my site as it helped him with decisions to move his family to LA says the same thing.

“Kate Sutton, our agent,  ultimately had to “vouch” for us as solid, trustworthy and a credit-worthy family. Having someone go in to bat for you, as an agent, has credibility and professionalism to it.”

 

2.  Be ready with the cash–and lots of it!

There’s no escaping this one. At least there’s rarely any escaping this.

You’ll need three months’ deposit upfront. Rent is not always cheap in LA so that can be a lot of cash upfront.

Remember, Americans rely on that stupid credit rating to help them work out if you’re a worthy tenant of not. If you don’t have a credit history in the US show them what you’re like in your home country. Show them you have the means to pay the rent so they’re not stuck with a mortgage without the rent coming in from you to pay it.

 

3.  Have lots of supporting documents available

On top of the huge deposit you may also have to show an American bank account with plenty of money in it (enough to carry you through for a number of months).  Sometimes landlords accept this in lieu of the deposit.  Even in our case with an amazing landlord they wanted the cash upfront.

You may also be able to show that you have decent funds that you can call on from your home country if you need to.

Another thing that can help your case is a letter from your employer showing that you’re coming to LA with a secured job and they’ll vouch for you.  This can’t hurt so ask your employer if they’ll vouch for you IN WRITING and if you can get it, provide it–even before they ask.

The bottom line is you won’t have much credit so you need to show as much financial info as possible–just give it all to them: pay stubs, tax returns, financial statements, references, a letter from your business manager, whatever it takes.

Remember, in the US everything revolves around that stupid credit rating so if you don’t have one yet you’ve got to show that you’re worth taking a chance on.

Caroline Fleck says, “Be open, honest & upfront. The more you show the more likely they are to have faith in you.”

 

4.  Write a letter

Personalise your application by writing a letter to your potential landlord.  Add a photo of your family.

Ask to meet the landlord in person. Even if they’re not up for it it shows that you’re all in.

When we applied I wrote to the Landlord saying we loved the house and could picture ourselves at home in it. I said that we rented out our houses at home in Australia so we know what it’s like to entrust your home to strangers.

If you are from overseas you won’t have a credit history.  Tell them why and what your credit is like back home.  You want them to trust that you are good for the rent and you won’t leave them with a mortgage to pay and no rent coming in to pay it.

When we met our landlord he said he was so grateful for that letter and was very happy to receive it and approve our application on the back of it.

It can work!

 

5.  Clean up your social media

Adam Halen also recommends cleaning up your social media accounts (Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, LinkedIn etc).  Sometimes you forget that you put your life out for everyone so make sure it says you and your family are amazing and will be great tenants.  Yes, that might mean taking down the photos of your wild going away party back at your house!

 

A couple of extra things

Consider furnished versus unfurnished. Furnished houses cost more but some people like to furnish houses with their excess furniture.  It could also help you if you don’t want to ship all your furniture over here.  And you may need furniture while your stuff makes its way over.

If you’re furnishing the house yourself there are plenty of rental companies to get you through the three months until your furniture to arrive.

During the hunt

Look up properties not selling and ask them if they’re interested in renting for 6-12 months.

With a lease you really need to work 2-3 weeks out, sometimes a month. Much longer than that might not work.  Do sus out market before hand but it’s highly likely that house you’ve fallen in love with won’t be available in three month’s time.  So either don’t fall in love or be prepared to secure it earlier than you first though.

We ended up doing just that–with not much on the market we were happy to find a house that we’d be happy to live in for a while.

Remember! You almost always end up staying longer than you think.  We ended up staying two years rather than one.

Either way good luck. It’s a real nightmare when you first come.  It will get easier I promise you!

xx It Started in LA xx

 

PS: Need help narrowing down an area to live in LA? Check out this post.

 

Clinging to our Motherland
My LA story, Posts, Soapbox

Clinging to our motherland: US Gov and guns

It’s been an interesting couple of weeks for me.  As many of you know my son is in his senior year at school.  But what does this opening sentence have to do with clinging to our motherland: US Gov and guns?

Back to School Night

Well last week we had “Back to School” night.  It’s where you go to each class the kids have in their schedule and see the teachers and get a breakdown of the class and what they’ll be studying for the year.

Master H is taking AP (Advanced Placement) US Government.  I thought nothing of it until one of the parents asks whether they’ll be discussing other systems of government.  The answer was a categoric no.  Much like the HSC in Australia the APs are taught to a curriculum guideline, the topics of which can be found in a test. That test is taken by everyone in the country taking that subject. And, a quick look at other systems isn’t covered by the syllabus–or on the test.

For those newer readers, we’re at a local private school in LA not an international one. Although, LA being LA, there are a number of expats or people who have moved to the US for one reason or another.

US Gov

I got a bit peeved by the teacher’s response. I mean he chose the subject (there were no other real choices), US Gov is US Gov right?

When I studied Legal Studies at school it was essentially studying the Australian legal system.  We covered other systems in the world but we focussed on ours.  It makes plenty of sense to understand what other countries do in order to better understand ours.

And while the answer was a categoric no she did suggest that they would weave into their discussion other systems because of the expat nature of the group. (The small class had a Canadian family, British/German, Aussies (us) and Italian. So when I eventually calmed down about how she categorically answered the question, it isn’t going to be all bad.

Expat Facebook group

Before I had a chance to calm down I posted a comment on an Expat Facebook group I belong to. I wrote:

“Here’s my gripe: couldn’t she just say there’s no time in the curriculum to discuss the other systems it’s purely a US Govt subject? That would have sufficed.

“And am I wrong to be so sad that my son will know so much more about the US system of Government and the ins and outs of the Electoral College than the Westminster system?”

I was expecting some empathy from the Aussies amongst us and some lamenting from others about the downside of Expat life where the kids often know more about the country in which they live than their homeland–their motherland.

Instead, after the Australians supported me, I was barraged with comments accusing me of trying to change the AP courses and advising me that the AP system is very strict and must be adhered to.  And this:

“With about 200 countries in the world, how could they effectively compare other systems of government while simultaneously going in-depth about the US?”

But I wasn’t asking for that … Just a bit of discussion if it fits, that’s all.  (And remember I didn’t ask the question, one of my American compatriots–in the parental sense–asked).

Potluck night

With all that behind me I went along to the Potluck night we threw for the Senior parents. We were chatting away about stuff as you do.  We were talking about what subjects our kids were doing and one of the dads said, “Are you sad that [he’s] doing US Gov and will know more about our messed up system than not your own?”

Oh my God. Hallelujah.  Thank you. Yes!

Why wasn’t one of my fellow expats able to just say/ask/empathise like this all-American dad formerly of New York and more recently living in LA?

Did someone say guns?

Well one guy did.  Made a huge statement didn’t he? We are literally walking around in disbelief.  Vegas is so close to LA, it’s in our backyard.  There’s someone you know in Vegas every week.  In fact there were people I knew in Vegas at the time and thankfully they were fine and away from the trouble.

But there’s nothing more obvious than an Australian in a gun debate. Especially in America.  I blogged about it early on when I was here for my first mass shooting. (Yep, like it’s an earthquake or hurricane, celebrity divorce or star meltdown)*.

My daughter was talking about it in school the day we woke to the news of the Vegas tragedy. One of her friends said she believed in the right to protect herself (I’m guessing she means her family not actually 15 year-old her). Miss H looked at her startled; it wasn’t something she was expecting to hear in LA amongst her friends.

Miss H said, “If there were proper gun laws then they wouldn’t have a gun in the first place would they?”

I’m happy to say I give my kids an Australian perspective when it really matters.

Australians actually have it all wrong

But actually us Australians have it all wrong.  We do. If there’s one single thing we are polar opposites with America on it’s our attitude to guns.  And never the two shall meet.  Basically, we’re like guns suck, they kill people. And Americans (not all thank-you but the ones giving you a bad rap) are like guns are so good, I get to protect myself and it’s my right to have one. So there.

Every time there’s a mass shooting in America us Australians come out like Eddie Murphy in his classic standup routine “I got an ice-cream“.

Yeah, we go

“We don’t have guns,

“You got a problem,

“We can’t afford them,

“Cause they can’t sell them,

“You have to have a licence

“And it’s really hard.”

And Americans  go, “Oh My God I’m so sorry, how do you cope?”

Then we pull out the Port Arthur story and go, “Take that!”

Then the conversation goes one of two ways.

  1. Well it’s our right to bear arms it’s in the second amendment so there. OR
  2. You know you’ve had other mass shootings don’t you? Yeah, but you never talk about them do you?

Then we get all funny (because we like to win too). We have to concede defeat. One or two situations have tragically happened (the Lindt Cafe hostage situation freaked me out).

(BTW there were three deaths including the hostage taker and 18 injured).

Yeah, all of a sudden because we let a couple of incidents slip through to the keeper in the last 21 years, that means our rules suck.  So basically it didn’t work.

“Take that Australia. We win.”

Yep. Let’s face it, when it comes to the number of psychotic mass shootings in the last (let’s just call it 10 years) you win America.

So Australia got it wrong after all.

 

Nightly Talk Shows

But not all Americans believe semi-automatic and automatic guns should be out there for anyone to buy. And use. And kill people.

I recorded every late night show to see how the comedians handled the latest tragedy. I follow them all on Twitter and I’ve tweeted and retweeted anything vaguely intelligent on the subject.

But, the problem with the way the situation here is that these guys are preaching to the converted. We share their posts on Facebook, we tweet them and post photos on our Instagram like the Pray Policy Change for America. They unite with the Australians, we look at each other and go “yeah, exactly”, we puff our chests out and wear a grin from ear to ear.

The same thing happened before Trump got elected. They think common sense should prevail.

But change won’t happen unless we stop preaching to the converted.  And not by preaching to the non-converts either. I don’t know how to talk to these people but somehow there’s a way. And once we work out that way, then we’ll start to see a difference.

But to start there are two ways. First is through education: get into the classrooms. It’s going to be a generational change that’s needed because it will never be a mindset change. Second, stop the bloody NRA from being allowed to donate money to bribe the politicians. Actually, just disband them. If politicians aren’t being paid to keep guns legal I will guarantee you their perspective will change.  And if it doesn’t, see step one.

And, because I’m one of those “converteds” here is a story including a video with some powerful statements from said Late Night hosts. Powerful statements that will fall on deaf ears yet again.

 

Immigrants

Curve ball … empathy. As I was writing the first part of this post I started thinking.

Immigration is such a huge topic and it’s so deeply dividing (what topic isn’t these days?) An expat is just a temporary immigrant really.

When you leave your family and friends behind, move to a new country to start a “better life” (for whatever reason) it’s pretty bloody hard to start afresh. You have to make new friends, experience different ways of doing things and assimilate into your new world.  Take a US Gov class instead of Australian Legal Studies.

Many people say America and Australia aren’t that different–they’re essentially the same right? (Well, my series on the differences between Americans and Australians show just how different they can be lots of times).

So what if you move to a country that’s nothing like your motherland? How much harder must it be then? We experienced it in China as expats but not as immigrants.

Just a thought if you’re down on people for clinging to their motherland.  Cut them some slack. They want to be in your country (OK, most of them–don’t get nitpicky on me) and they want to assimilate.  But sometimes, when you move away, the bond is stronger and the memories grow fonder and fonder.

Chin up!

xx It Started in LA xx

* Don’t forget to #prayforTori

The Emmys
Posts

The Emmy’s (recap 2017)

Did you watch The Emmy’s yesterday? For regular followers you’ll know that I’m addicted to all the awards shows. Some sources say that viewer numbers are dwindling but there has never been a better time to be a “TV Head” (not a head of TV or network but addicted to TV) than now.

The main reason we were watching

Yes it’s true I am an Awards Show junkie so I would be glued to the TV (or there in real life) no matter what. But, this year I had extra reason to watch closely.

It Started in LA had one of its own front and centre at the Emmy’s this year.  That’s right, my son was a special guest of honour hobnobbing amongst the who’s who of TV Royalty.  I joked that we better watch closely as he may turn up in one of those regular pan-to-the-audience shots, but little did I imagine he’d feature quite heavily.  And feature (almost full-screen feature) enough to send my messages going overtime only to be drowned out by my squealing and yelling.  The camera (or was that his mum & her friends?) found him the most handsome up & coming star of this year’s awards.

 

The low-down

The Emmy’s seems to have got the diversity card down a lot sooner than the Oscars.  And this year was no different.  The two trends were definitely women and ethnicity.  It’s a good thing so long as it’s not staged and tokenism.  And this year it was far from it.  We can thank Shonda Rhimes as one of the pioneers and there are many more to come.

But let’s see if it keeps going.  As fabulous as it is Big Little Lies has some serious Hollywood punch behind it.  As she was making her acceptance speech you could see Reese Witherspoon would never take no for an answer.  She reminded me of her on-screen character Madeline–she is a powerhouse tough lady and a great model for our girls.But not everyone here has her friends, influence and cashola.

Politics

Hollywood has its fair share of making itself heard in terms of political views.  Watching at home I thought it was priceless that Sean Spicer made a cameo. But many didn’t.  Good on him for being able to take the piss out of himself. It wasn’t that long ago he had nothing to laugh about. I like moments where people don’t take themselves too seriously. Especially him.  While he was Press Secretary he was anything but a laugh a minute.  I hope it means he’s human after all.

Not as many Trump jokes as I thought but enough–the undertone was there and frankly that’s all you need.  I think it’s great when people who have followers can use the attention they get to highlight issues but there’s a fine line.  I’m pleased to report that fine line wasn’t crossed.  Well done!

Fashion

Of course fashion is always the big topic on everyone’s lips. Hairdressers are booked out, stylists are stressed out and make-up artists and hairdressers are worth their weight in gold.

The trends were definitely glitter (featuring silver), plunging necklines (when oh when are they going to disappear I loathe them) and the wet look (hair).  For the men coloured tuxes was the way to go.

Here are my favourite looks.

Millie Bobby Brown. Age-appropriate, stunning and worn with class

 

Jessica Biel. On trend but actually rocked it

Issa Rae perfection in red

 

And here are my not-so-favourite looks. Whether I’m getting old or losing my touch but some people actually name a few of these in their best dressed.  Just goes to show taste is most definitely not something we all share.

Tracee Ellis Ross. Many liked it, sadly me not so much

Priyanka Chopra. I once thought she would wear a bedspread and she’d look amazing. I take it back

Sarah Paulsen. On trend but didn’t work for me, fine with the shoulder pads, love the back but the fit didn’t work for me

 

 

Gossip

One of the big discussion pieces of the night was Sean Spicer. I’m wondering where my favourite cast of Scandal was? No sign of them and it’s their last big year.

The catwalk is not the same without the gorgeous Kerry Washington.

As for me I sent the wrong reporter in. All I got this morning was a grunt, a huge shot of coffee and mumblings about a Chem quiz at school. Life goes back to normal for my 90210 son (no pity).

 

Bravo Emmy’s on a job well done. It was a good watch and with so many categories, so many shows and so many people involved in the final product I think it’s great to break the Emmy’s out into a long festival.  Next year though I’d love to upgrade my status to on-site reporter.

Enjoy your week, we’re going to continue with the hangover in LA a while longer,

xx It Started in LA xx

 

For the more insider versions of the news here are a couple of wrap ups from the big news outlets.

Vanity Fair

MSN.com

 

Why, what and how to tip in LA
Posts, Visiting LA

How, why and what should I tip in LA?

How do I tip in LA? I know, I know, I know.  You get to America and you’re like why do I need to tip? It costs me a fortune in tips. You might not like it but there is a logic behind tipping here in the US. I saw a great article written by a fellow Aussie who lives in San Francisco, Kat, so I asked her if she could write one for me and my readers (that’s you). She’s going to give you the low-down on the how, why and what should I tip in LA.

 

Over to you Kat!

Aussies have a terrible reputation in Europe and the US when it comes to tipping. I can say it because I am part of the problem. Social awkward at the best of times, I can never work out who expects to be tipped, who would see it as an affront and how much (or little) to give.

 

Us Aussies go on holiday or move to another country without giving much thought to the mathematical intricacies that will take up our daily life. Tipping means always having cash in your wallet – a habit that I’d long grown out of by the time I moved here.

 

I’ve suffered through many an embarrassing tipping moment in the past 18 months. From trying to work out 20% in my head in front of the Chinese takeaway (never going to happen) while smiling and talking to the hostess to staring at the tipping bowl at the checkout in the hardware wondering what I’d be tipping for exactly.

 

In the hopes of recovering our Aussie pride and becoming great tippers, here’s a list of things you need to know–who expects a tip (why) and who you should tip:

 

Parking attendant

Do you like your car? Did you invest a significant portion of your income in it? So you probably want it to be treated nicely. Round the parking fee up to the dollar and then add another couple of bucks for good measure.

 

Hairdresser

You sit inside the salon for what seems like an age. Washing, cutting, colouring, highlighting and/or blow drying. Probably talking a lot too. Those things don’t come cheap.
I wasn’t happy with the thought of adding a tip to that. But if they do a good job and you love your new do it’s customary to fork over an extra 20%.
Don’t forget the shampooist either. Tip them between $3 and $5 depending on whether they also apply your colour or toner.

 

Bathroom Attendant

(Seriously… You’ve seen Ferris Bueller, they’re there and they’re looking for a tip! -Gwen)

If you frequent the types of places that have attendants handing you towels and breath mints in the bathrooms, you probably don’t need to be reading this article. You can afford to part with a dollar or two. Don’t be stingy.

 

Uber/Lyft

Before I owned a car here I relied on Uber a fair bit and I never tipped once. It just never occurred to me to tip the driver. Even though the official Uber line is that you don’t need to tip, it’s good manners to hand over 20%, especially considering how cheap the fares are.

(Ooops–I wish I didn’t read this now Kat! –Gwen)

 

Movers

No one likes moving and I’m guessing that you’ve hired movers because you couldn’t rope your mates in with the promise of a slab of beer. It seems you have to tip every member of the moving crew between $25 and $50 each. I know, it hurts.

 

Hotel Maids

When you leave the bed in a rumpled mess, duvet and towels on the floor and junk everywhere, it’s a good idea to tip the maid between $2 and $5 each day. Maybe the price difference is dependent on the mess you make?

 

Home Delivery

The person who sat in traffic, braved the cold, wind, rain or heat to bring you food because you were too lazy to go out and get it yourself, deserves a tip. Stop being such a tightarse and hand over 20% online while you’re ordering or have some cash ready for when they make it to your door.

 

Bartender

I don’t understand this one. Seriously, you stand behind a bar and take the twist top off a bottle or pull a beer for me. Does that really require a tip? Yes. Give the bartender some loose change or a $1 bill. A cocktail’s going to set you back a little more though.

 

Waiter/Waitress

Sure they get paid minimum wage, which means $10.50 in LA. Imagine trying to pay your rent and bills on $10.50 an hour? That’s why they have to live off tips. So if you don’t like the food from the kitchen but the service was great, don’t penalise the waiter/waitress by withholding the tip. Give them the customary 20% and thank your lucky stars that you’re not in their shoes.

 

(I researched this one day, actually.  And, to make it worse, they don’t actually get that whole 20%.  First they have to “tip out” the runners and the maître d’.  So, if you’re short-changing them their 18-20% then they’re the ones that get screwed. It’s a hard way to make a living so cut them a little slack. –Gwen)

 

Car Wash

Not that it’s been necessary with all the rain we’ve been having, but sometimes it’s worth getting your car washed by someone else. Sling between $2 and $5 their way, depending on the kind of wash you’ve asked for.

Personal Care

Things like waxing, facials, manicures and pedicures fall under this category. Don’t just sit there and switch off, only to realise an hour later that they’ve done something you don’t actually like. Pay attention! Tipping between 15% and 20% is plenty.

 

(I went to the Hotel Bel Air for a facial not so long ago and they automatically added 20% so don’t be surprised when big hotels do that–they’re probably more than familiar with those of us not used to tipping. And yes, it does bring the price of that treatment right up there!–Gwen)

 

Those are my tips on tipping. Now give me your opinions or tell me if I’ve missed someone. 

 

Thanks Kat. If you like Kat’s work hop on over to her Blog and have a good read.

You can also follow her on Twitter, Instagram and Pinterest.

I hope you understand a little more about why you actually should tip rather than bury your head in the sand!  It’s not the person’s fault, it’s the system!

xxIt Started in LAxx

 

How to do an "Ask" to your school Formal
My LA story, Posts

How to do an “Ask” for a School Formal

What sort of English is that I hear you shouting at me.  How to do an “ask” for a school formal? What does that even mean?

Well, if you’re the parent of a teenager living the dream in 90210 you may well know what I mean.  If you’re the parent of a teenager living in America you may also know what I mean.  If you’re a teenager who’s Googled “How to ask a girl to my Formal?” I suggest you refer your parents to this page and keep searching.

Junior Dance

Trying to live our normal LA lives has been made easier this past week by talk of the Junior Dance at the kids’ school.

There have been movies made about them, TV Shows have featured them and all in all anyone who has vaguely been exposed to “popular culture” (read: America) knows about School Dances in America.

It’s hard to believe I’ve been out of Australia for more than three years now.  This means I’m starting to get a little out of touch with how things are done in Australia—especially as my kids left at Middle School age!  (I know, I know, how does that even happen?)

Types of Dances in the year

Typically here in the US (OK, LA) there are two major dances—Homecoming and Prom.  Homecoming is the start of the season and has something to do with the football team.  Given our school doesn’t have a football team (and its associated American ra-ra) our school doesn’t have this Dance.  Personally I think they should at least do a Homecoming of sorts in honor of our other sports teams (otherwise known as athletics teams) but then again our school isn’t a huge sport school.  Sigh.

So, after Homecoming there’s usually a Winter Formal and/or this Dance, called the Junior Dance because it’s organized by the Junior Class.  Then there’s usually one more towards the end of the year—Spring Dance—and of course, Prom.  Prom is STRICTLY for the Seniors and their dates.

Most of the time the Americans are politically correct and unless you have a boyfriend or girlfriend—or I suppose someone you “like” you go solo.  Takes all the fun out of things but the pressure too no doubt.

Ask Dance

This upcoming dance is an “ask dance”.  Clearly that means you’re encouraged to ask someone to go with you.  Of course you don’t have to ask or be asked but where’s the fun in that?

You know there’s a lot of talk about this generation and how our generation have ruined them by having to win all the time and not teaching them what failure and disappointment is all about?

Well … they have taken it to a whole new level when it comes to the “Ask”.

The “Ask” has been taken to a whole new level when it’s Prom time.  Does the term “Promposal” mean anything to you? No. My marriage proposal had nothing on these Promposals.

Step 1: The Ask ritual

There is a system, a ritual if you like, about how exactly you “ask” your prospective partner.

It starts with the ‘asker’ checking with the ‘askee’s’ friends to see if (let’s say he just to simplify this) he asks said ‘askee’ whether or not (let’s say she to simplify this once again) she would say yes.  Preferably via text.  Or Snapchat.  Worse-case scenario: in person.

This is easy if the answer is yes.

If it’s yes then he goes ahead and plans to ask her—safely proceed to step two.

Of course it’s a lot more complicated when the answer is no.  Or I’m waiting for a better offer. Actually, the answer wouldn’t be no.

What would ensue next is a lot of behind-the-scenes drama that would put any caucus vote (or Attorney-General nomination vote) to shame.  No might be: “maybe but I thought prospective-asker-2 might invite her” OR getting one of his friends to let him down gently that the answer “wouldn’t be yes”.

Yes, in my day part of this were true but it was sink or swim—you didn’t know if they were going to say yes or no.  You workshopped it ad-infinitum then went for it.

There was a case this week when a boy didn’t follow the ask ritual: shock horror.  Well, the outcome might have been a bit embarrassing because even though the girl said yes (couldn’t hurt his feelings).  But, it turns out she was being asked by another boy (who had already qualified his ask via the asking ritual).  Boy number two had to tell boy number one that actually he was planning to ask her (just hadn’t got around to it yet) so sorry he couldn’t take the girl that had said yes to him hours earlier.  But, apparently, it wasn’t in a “you stole my girl I’m going to punch you” way it was just matter of fact, “sorry mate she is already going to say yes to me”.

So, you see there’s a place for this ask ritual after all.  (Although seriously? This boy waited to ask until two days before the Formal, next time maybe he won’t wait so long—what’s with that?)

Step 2: The actual Ask aka Making the ask

Once we’re clear on whether or not the ‘askee’ will say yes the ‘asker’ goes ahead with plans to “make the ask”.  So, teenager who’s still reading this is the section relevant to you: how to do an ask for a school formal.

This can be as high-key or as low-key as the asker wants.  (Translation: high key would be elaborate & low key would be a relative simple “low-key” affair).

I’m not sure if the level of ask has anything to do with how much the asker likes the askee—and not sure my kids would cough up that sort of personal information either.

In many cases it’s pretty straight forward.  But, apparently Freshman boys still have a bit of growing up to do and found it slightly beyond some of them to work out “how” to ask their pre-vetted would-be dates.  Yes, for some boys, apparently, they felt the need to workshop not just amongst themselves but with the girls they planned to ask what they thought of their ask idea.  Seriously boys, this is why we need to communicate with our mothers.  They know a bit about these things.

Thankfully they’ll soon outgrow this.  And, with one day to go before the Formal, I think all the asks are now out of the way and they can move on with the next step—planning how they’ll get there.

Ask examples

Both my kids were “sorted” early.  My Junior-year (Year 11) son made a pact with a friend of his that they would go together—so long as he “asked” her with a proper ask.

My daughter got word that one of the Freshman (Year 9) boys was going to ask her and she swiftly gave the nod that yes she’d say yes if asked.  Not missing a beat, she was asked the very next day.  It was great because it caught her by surprise and it was a good “ask” as far as asks go.

Actually both of their asks were very cute.  My son dressed up as a Shark (did you see that episode of The Bachelor where the would-be date dressed up in a Shark outfit saying she loved Dolphins?)  With his red rose, and a poster made by one of his friends saying, “Dolphinitely come to Formal with me” he was done.  He did this at lunchtime with lots of people around so it had maximum impact, maximum effect, she wasn’t expecting it so all good.  (No pic for fear of the wrath of the son).

My daughter was asked a day earlier.  In a sign of utter cuteness, he had an Australian flag where the stars were a question mark and Formal was written on it.  Clever, pander to her love of Australia and, asking at the start of the day with all their friends around, caught her completely off guard.  Big tick.

How to ask a "date" to your Formal

Ideas on your ask for formal

Perhaps one of the cutest things apart from my two (of course) was a senior boy who asked his girlfriend with the help of a few mates.  Given the rain in LA not only was it creative but it was also very musical theatre of them.  His mates, armed with black umbrellas with the letters F-O-R-M-A-L-? on them said it all.

Ask ideas for Formal

Ask ideas for your formal

Don’t you wish that was you?

Step 3: Getting ready and how are we getting there

Now we need to move on to “will we get ready together?” and “where” and “how are we getting there?”.  Most girls like to get ready together and so, it seems, do the boys.

Really, apart from the getting ready together bit this is not much different from my Formal or Ball when i was at school.

Step 4: The actual reason this all happened in the first place

The actual dance bit.  The whole reason behind the whole ask bit in the first bit.  The whole reason for being on this Saturday night.  It can get a little overshadowed by its surrounding steps but you want to hope it’s a fun time.  That is the whole reason after all.

Step 5: After party—do we go or don’t we as Freshmen?

The unwritten rule here is that Freshmen (year 9 and the first year of high school) don’t go to the after-party.  It’s just not cool.  But that’s not to say that the after-party organizers can’t profit from the Freshmen’s desire to go.  Ticket prices are done as follows:

Freshmen: $25
Sophomores: $15
Juniors: $10
Seniors: $5

But this is 90210 so money isn’t really a deterrent.  No, It’s the message that if you’re not cool enough to pick up on it your High School career isn’t off to a great start.

But really … 14 and 15 year-olds at a party with 17 7 18 year-olds—with all the “trimmings” that goes along with that really isn’t cool for parents to let them go anyway.

Apart from the post-Formal gossip that’s it.  Monday comes around—Tuesday if there’s lots of gossip—and the drudgery of school returns. Then we’ll have to wait til the next time before there’s this much chatter around the dinner table.

One final word

When I went to my school Formal, or a Dance at a boys’ school it was perhaps a more elaborate affair reserved for Year 11 & 12.  It consisted of a sit-down dinner followed by dancing.  This was enough for us to think it was the most fun ever. (OK, that and sneaking alcohol onto the Premises).  These days the kids need “something more”.  Dancing alone is not enough.  A photo booth is no longer enough.  Now they look to also be entertained.  So I’m with them, our generation has ruined this generation with all those lavish birthday parties we threw them. When dancing all night long with your mates to great music is no longer good enough what hope in hell do these kids have?

How is it where you are?  Has Asking a date to go with you to a Dance (even if it’s just as friends) gone to a new level where you are? Has Promposal fever hit other parts of the globe?

Happy nearly weekend LA—fully weekend Southern Hemisphere!

xx It Started in LA xx

PS: If you’re still struggling with American year-level terminology this might help you.

I Want My LA Back
My LA story, Posts

It’s 2017 in LA but something’s not quite right

It’s 2017 in LA but something’s not quite right. It’s been a while since I’ve written.  And I have to confess to you straight up that I’ve been a little obsessed. 

Yes, I’ve been a little obsessed, but not with the things I should be obsessing about in LA.  For starters it’s award season: my favourite time of the year. Who’s wearing what, what Celebrities are in town and just who you might bump into going about your normal everyday business.  It’s great, too, driving around as huge Billboards as far as the eye can see are advertising TV Shows and the latest movies “For Your Consideration”.  There are “screeners” sent to everyone in SAGs or the Academy or the various other memberships around town; and the mad rush to see all the movies in time for the major award shows.  Yes, this is the time LA is alive and thriving on its Entertainment roots doing what it does its superficial best.  And I love it. Unashamedly so.

But something’s not quite right.

Friends in town

To top it off we had friends from Australia in town last weekend and you always know it’s going to be a beauty when you do.  What’s not to love? You’ve got like-minded people ready to embrace your town. We had an Awards night after-party to go to and a ticket to the highly coveted “G’day USA” (formerly known as G’day LA) Gala. Sweet: Life is Good.  This is why “It Started in LA”.

Yet something’s not quite right; there’s something hanging over us.  Something worth obsessing about.

LA weather

Then there’s the weather.  You must know LA is blessed with shoot-perfect weather (that’s shooting entertainment style not America’s blazing guns style).  Yeah, a typical LA winter starts at around 13C to 16C with the sun beating down then peaks somewhere between 18C and 23C before it cools down again at the end of the day.  This is just in time to come home, put the fire on and open a bottle of red wine.  It’s heaven.  You even manage 25C to 28C days—on the weekends if you’re lucky enough—and just might be able to crank the spa on.

But this winter has been freakishly cold, starting out at 1C last week and only peaking at about 10C—if you’re lucky.  Despite the sun being out the wind was bitterly—New York—cold.

That rain though

And wet.  LA loves to talk about the rain.  And, let me tell you, there’s been some rain. Not only has it been constant but it was heavy.  It was Sydney heavy.  We were all in a state of shock.  Of course we all know we need the rain so no one was game to whinge and bitch and moan about it but in the end, at our LA selfish best, we were saying, “enough already!”.  LA doesn’t do rain.

And, with the rain has come the mudslides.  It’s been dry here for many years and our dry, baron land got a bit of a shock.  With many of our communities built around the canyons—it couldn’t cope with all the rain sending muddy wet dirt skidding down the hills taking with it walls, fences and in some cases actual houses.

So you see there’s been quite a lot to talk about.  Quite a lot to distract “us” Los Angelinos.  Enough happening around town to ensure we are firmly locked away in our own bubble.  Relishing our bubble crying out how lucky we are to do what we do living where we do.  What a time to be alive.

But something’s not quite right.

How did you get here? Which way did you come?

And of course with the weather comes the traditional LA talk of how bad the traffic is and how LA doesn’t know how to drive in the rain (it’s true: it’s fact).  With one of the busiest links between the flats & the Valley, Laurel Canyon, blocked because of one of these landslides that’s a whole lot of “which route did you take?” talk to start every conversation.  LA Perfection right there.

SuperBowl

Not to be outdone, it’s SuperBowl time.  We’ve got Lady Gaga doing the half-time entertainment and we’re gearing up for the ads—not only at half-time but during the whole telecast. Mr H’s company is responsible for the special effects of at least three-quarters of the ads so not only are we excited about the ads themselves but thrilled that we’re a part of it.

And in a SuperBowl trifecta each year we go to a friend’s Superbowl party which is always so much fun I often miss the ads.  (Don’t actually ask me who’s playing, or who has played; but I can tell you who’s been the half-time entertainment.  Yes, there’s a lot to look forward to.

In LA it’s always a great start to the year.  A lot to obsess about.

But something’s not quite right…

So what’s going on that with the stars aligned (pardon the pun) and all of our ducks lined up that’s interfering with what should only be a bloody good time?

You might already have guessed.  It’s actually taken over the world and because it’s so early on it’s hard to know how long this will last.  Facebook & Twitter are filled with opinion posts, and if people aren’t sharing news stories or rants they’re ranting about how they’re done with (or about to abandon) Facebook because of the number of political posts.  And let me tell you some of them are so bloody good it’s really hard NOT to share them.

Yep, there’s that word.  There’s your clue: Political.

Politics

That my friends is my obsession. This anti-news, anti binge-CNN-watching, Celeb-loving, LA-loving, superficial-loving Blogger can’t get enough of the news.  My friends, I can’t escape to my LA bubble because everyone keeps asking me what life is like with our new President.  And the world is reminding me everywhere how our new Pres is affecting me.  My. Everyday. Life.

If you’re a regular you’ll know one of my last posts was a very upbeat post about staying in the US under Trump leadership. It’s true that once I got over the hangover and utter shock of Trump being our President elect (and subsequently our actual President) I thought that campaign rhetoric might give way to the confines of the job.  You know? There was a lot of talk in my three years here about how little power the President of the United States actually has.  So slowly as she goes the Wall wouldn’t be built, our President would have to defend his first mass shooting and his popularity would be largely diminished it’s just a four-year countdown until America realises its mistakes and life goes on as usual.

Reality TV binge fest

But this is Hollywood and day after day we’re in the middle of a Reality TV binge fest of the real kind. If we miss an episode—or a day—we miss a big piece of news; a reshuffle, a new executive order, a sacking.  Alternative facts.

I really don’t want to get all political here—it’s bad enough that my time is consumed with soaking up all the various news stories, people’s shared Facebook news posts, Tweets (not the Pres’s), opinion pieces, videos and everything in between.  If CNN wasn’t so repetitive I’d be on that 24/7.  I even tuned into Fox News.

But I want my life back.  I’ve had enough.

California is not the rest of America

It’s hard to get a sense of perspective here in LA though. LA—California—is obviously largely a democratic state.  They abhor Trump. It’s like preaching to the converted. Every meeting with every friend is an update on wtf is going on.  Even my Republican friends (yes, I do have Republican friends and they happen to be very nice, intelligent people).

Yes, we participated in the Women’s March.  How could I not? How could one person with the signing of an Executive order set women back 500 years?

And what’s with these Executive Orders? Why haven’t past Presidents signed more of these in the past?  Well it seems they have.  It’s just that this one makes them count—Reality TV style.

One of my (US) friends asked a great question though.  If being President was as easy as signing Executive Orders why then didn’t Barack Obama sign one to ban guns here in the US?  Could it have been THAT simple?  Wouldn’t that have been a good way to make use of this Executive Order caper?

So…  You get the picture?  I don’t need The House of Cards or Scandal anymore. I’ve got this new Show: The Trump House.  And I’m addicted.  But I hope it doesn’t get renewed.  I can only cope with one season.  It’s intense, it’s real, it’s scary.  And I don’t know how much more of this I can take.  What a way to be educated in American politics.

A couple of links to keep your sanity

Before I go here are a few links to two cracker videos that made me chuckle.

 

Till next time: I want my LA Back!  I want Reality TV Hollywood style, not Reality TV (scary) reality style.

xx It Started in LA xx

Renewing my expired CA Driver's Licence | It Started in LA | itstartedinla.com
Moving to LA, Posts

Renewing my expired CA Driver’s Licence

Renewing my expired CA Driver’s Licence? (California but you know that!) Doesn’t it seem like only a few months ago I (finally) got my Californian driver’s license?

Well.  At home you can renew your license for 5 years or 10 years (5 years now if you’re over a certain age. Ugh).  Here (where, let’s face it, bureaucracy isn’t their strong point) they only give you a licence valid for the length of your Visa. Somehow though, even though my Visa is valid until next March my license was only valid until November.

I got a form in the mail telling me to fill in the blanks, provide a copy of my passport and my i94 and visa page in my passport.

Alas I never heard back and so you know what that meant?

Yup, it meant I had to go in and apply to renew my license.

Again you know what that meant don’t you? Yep, forms and queue.  Horrendous.

We were going on our road trip so it was important for me to get my license renewed.  Mr H was at home so could take over my carpool and I’d get up and join the DMV queue at 7AM (ish).

Trying to pack and get organized I needed to wash my hair.  My first instinct was to put a beanie on, suck it up and head over.  But with a bit of packing still to do, appointments banked up and precision timing required I decided the safest thing to do was to actually do my hair, pop on some eyeliner and finish the rest of my make up when I came home.

I head on down (still early enough) to join the queue.  There is always the longest queue at those DMVs it’s a nightmare.

So to share my pain with my fellow expats living in LA here you go.  Three steps to renew your Californian license.

Renewing my expired Driver’s Licence

This applies to renewing “in-between” times because it’s coinciding with your Visa date not the length of time they would have given you a license.

1.  Get in the queue early. Best to be there around 7/7:15 to get the shortest wait time.  Seriously.  If you don’t want to wait in the queue make an appointment, it saves so much time. (https://www.dmv.ca.gov/portal/dmv/detail/portal/foa/welcome).  Having said that sometimes you don’t have a chance as appointments can take weeks to wait for.

2.  Complete the form.  It is the same form as when you applied.  It’s called the DL44 and it must be the original form.

     Some things you’ll need to know or bring to get your temporary licence:

  •      Expired license
  •      i94
  •      Passport
  •      You’ll also need to know your Social Security number for the form (I know Americans know it by heart but I don’t).

3.  Wait your turn and they’ll process your form.

That may well be good information but here’s the number one tip I will leave you with:

DO YOUR HAIR AND MAKE-UP

Because they’re issuing you with a new license.  That means a new photo.

Oddly enough there was no fee to get you a new license.  (And on the positive how much cheaper are licenses are to get here?)

One more thing.  And this happened to my son who passed his test and hasn’t had his proper license yet (three months later).  And it happened to Mr H whose temporary license kept expiring and he had to continually follow up.  If you don’t get your license back you might need to call this number:

Legal Presence:  (916) 657 7445

I believe it might just jolt the system back into place and move your license along a bit.  That’s because our licences have to go through an extra step.  I was recommended to call the two weeks before the temporary one expires.

Good luck. You might just need it.

xx It Started in LA xx

How to raise the perfect LA Princess: five steps to follow | It Started in LA | itstartedinla.com
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How to raise the perfect LA Princess

Ever wondered how to raise the perfect LA Princess?  Have you heard of the phenomena I like to call The LA Princess?  The LA Prince exists too but in merely a shadow of their counterpart.  Let me explain.

Firstly, welcome back after a bit of work and a great Thanksgiving break.

Thanksgiving is America’s longest long weekend (they don’t take the Friday and Monday off like we do in Australia and other parts of the world). And, because they’re giving thanks, it’s time to be with family and friends so it’s the biggest weekend of the year when it comes to travel.  (Did you happen to catch this story about how busy it was on the roads in LA?)

If you’re playing along at home via Facebook and Instagram, we took a road trip to Utah.  More about the travelog in the coming days (or weeks as the case might be!).  I will just say though that it is indeed a spectacular part of the world.

Leaving behind the LA Bubble

I’ve decided that leaving LA bound for other parts of the US is good for the soul.  It’s so easy to get caught up in the LA bubble we find ourselves in.  And this is despite us trying to keep all eight feet on the ground.  It’s not until you set foot outside the bubble that you realise you’re getting sucked in.

When we lived in China we used to call them “Get-out-of-China” holidays.  This was simply because day-to-day life could be extremely difficult, constantly trying to navigate a world where the culture and the language are so so different from yours and extremely difficult to navigate.

The LA Princess Syndrome

Before I left LA I’ve been noticing the phenomenon I like to call the LA Princess syndrome.  The LA Princess is unique in so many ways.  And in other ways she is not new to you at all.

Perhaps the original LA Princess in my time was Paris Hilton (ironically went to the same school as my kids).  She has been superseded by former bestie Kim Kardashian.  And so, per the “Reality” Show, the Kardashians have  big part to play in ensuring the LA Princess is alive and well.

But you don’t have to live in LA to be an LA Princess.  From the comfort of wherever you are in the world—coupled with reality TV and Snapchat (don’t you know Instagram is for old people?! And yes I have a Snapchat account but still don’t know how to use it) you can raise an LA Princess.

Not unlike Sydney, LA is a melting pot of many cultures.  And, like Sydney, there are many wealthy people around doing incredible things.  But there is still somehow a difference. It’s difficult to put my finger on but it’s here.

I look to two friends as examples: both not from here, both wealthy with celebrity parents yet their children do not suffer from LA Princess syndrome.  They must wander what on earth they’re doing wrong.

Controversially (or not) I think the bulk of the responsibility comes from the parents.  (Shock. Horror).

Thankfully so many of my friends and their children don’t suffer from this syndrome or I might have to actually slit my wrists.  But there’s enough LA Princess syndrome going on around for me to put together a little step-by-step guide on how to turn your perfectly normal girl into an LA Princess.

How to raise the perfect LA Princess

Here are five ways you can indulge your little Princess and turn them into an LA Princess.

1.  Let her believe she’s the centre of the universe

The key is to indulge her.  Indulge her in every way imaginable.

She is the centre of the universe isn’t she? Of course she is; let her know this. Only she matters.

My daughter has been playing school tennis.  It hasn’t been without its ups and downs but I love that sport gives kids a sense of the real reality—they learn to win and lose, they learn that money doesn’t buy you everything and they learn about how to be a team player.

One Friday afternoon we were playing against another team and there were rumblings in the ranks (thankfully not on our team as they know our Coach will not stand for it).  The conversation went a little something like this:

“We’re done, are you done?

“I don’t see why we should have to stay, I mean my daughter is finished.  Can’t we just go?”

“I have so much to do and I don’t want to get stuck in the traffic.”

Yep that apple don’t fall far from the tree.

You can always tell which schools have a sense of team and which ones can’t see past themselves.  We have played a number of teams whose girls just leave once they’re done leaving the last game standing to fend for themselves.  In fact, one of the games nearly came down to a forfeit because the match was shaping up to be a tie.  If it was a tie the rules are you all get back on the court and play another set.  But, without the girls there to get back on the court they would have to forfeit.  Oops.  Lucky we won the last game and spared them a little humiliation.

Then there was the girl who came off the court wallowing in self pity.  Here’s the conversation I overheard (in your best Kardashian voice) to a teammate who also just came off the Court:

“I’m so bummed we lost. It was so close, they were the biggest cheaters, we so should’ve won. And now I won’t be MVP” (Most Valuable Player).

But for every LA Princess you come across a girl who falls far short.

There’s one girl on our team who is nowhere close to being an LA Princess.  She’s a sub who rarely gets to play.  This girl is the first to cheer on her teammates, brings the best kick-ass snack to the games, take photos and is one of the first to ask the girls how they went in their match if they came off a different court to the one she’s been watching.

Now this girl has a lot of work to do before she can even dream of being an LA Princess. Poor darling.

2.  Let her do whatever she wants

It sounds easy enough doesn’t it? Makes your job as a parent much easier and your popularity will go through the roof!  But try as I might I just can’t seem to pull it off. If I let my daughter do whatever she wants you better head for the hills.  If a 14-year-old girl gets to gallivant around town using her Uber account and credit card without her parents knowing where she is there’s no knowing what sort of trouble she’ll get into.  And then for the rest of her life she’ll think it’s OK to do what she does.  A monster is what she’d be.  Oh wait …

3.  Let her have whatever she wants

This is where I need the most work.  I have myself the ultimate consumer.  She wants everything: new fancy fast cars for us each year (at least she’s a sharer), new clothes every time she goes shopping, lots of makeup, (expensive) jewellery, eating out at the hip & happening joints all over town and let’s not forget front row seats to every must-Snapchat-from concert.  Yep, if I followed this rule we’d be out on the street with nowhere to live.  Fortunately for most 90210 parents they have the budgets to sustain this over-the-top spending.  Fortunately, too, I hasten to add, for the LA Princess.

I once had someone beg me to let my daughter go with her daughter so her daughter wouldn’t miss out on her Snapchat-worthy event. I’ve still got a lot of work to do.  That-a-way.

4.  Don’t set any boundaries.

When we first arrived I was privy to this discussion.  Hashtag priceless.

“I took all the devices off my child yesterday.  You need to learn your lesson I told her adamantly.  Then I told her if she’s good all week tomorrow I would go and buy her a new one.  Now she has two and she uses them both. I’m so proud of her.”

Yep, you tell them.  That will teach her.

Then there was the time before that where she broke her screen.  A group of three families were out.  The then-12-year-old broke her screen on her phone.  She was crying hysterically.  Mr H said, “Don’t worry you can get the screen replaced just down the road.”  The other dad chimed in, “Yes, and we just did it for our daughter, so easy and so much better than buying a new phone.”  The next day she has a brand new phone.  It’s OK though, they fixed the old phone too.  You always need more than one phone don’t you know.

Either kids are really good here but you never hear of anyone really being grounded.  They are more like the exception to the rule.

So boundaries people, no need for them either.  Raising an LA Princes is easier than you think huh?

5.  Dress her appropriately

I have to say this is perhaps one of the most important things to consider.  There are a few looks to be embraced in order to become an LA Princess.  All of them are acceptable.

The first look is the leggings (must be a brandname, eg. Lulu Lemon) with tight top.  If the top is too long you can use an elastic to tie it above the hips to one side.

The next look is the short shorts with the Brandy Melville crop top.

Finally you can wear tight jeans with a crop top.

As the girls get older, designer handbags become the norm.  (Remember I discovered this the hard way when I first arrived).  Then designer shoes with 10” heels (they can barely walk in) start to creep into the wardrobe.  And now we are entering the “jewellery-your-mother-doesn’t-even-have” phase with the Cartier love bracelet being the piece du jour.  Buy Hermes will do too.

A word of warning about this “recipe for success”

This might seem easy but it is not as straight forward as it might seem.  You might need to play around with the proportions.

For example, some LA Princesses only need to feel like they are the centre of the universe with very little of any of the other ingredients.  Others have whatever they like but still struggle to pull off the LA Princess.  Others still have seemingly everything they want yet are still not content and are looking for something more.  Others look the part but struggle to own it; to act the part.

And others want to try to raise LA Princesses but can’t quite bring themselves to follow the rules.

We’re back in our bubble now.  For a little less than a week, however, my daughter was privy to how the rest of the world lives once again.  She said life would be much easier if we didn’t live in our bubble.  But that’s it isn’t it?  To learn to live as most people do within our bubble.

She’ll be right mate.  We got this.

xx It Started in LA xx

Five reasons why I'm not leaving the US just because Trump is the President elect | It Started in LA | itstatedinla.com
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Five reasons why I won’t leave the US just because Trump is the President Elect

Five reasons why I won’t leave the US just because Trump is now the President Elect

I called it after Brexit: there’s a nasty feeling in the air all over the world: fear and hatred fills us.  We’re paranoid and there’s (seemingly) nothing we can do to stop it.  Least of all vote for Donald Trump.

When we bought our house I joked that it was a bad financial decision because if Trump gets in we wouldn’t be staying in America.

My daughter is holding me to that.  She doesn’t believe she can stay in the country given what’s just happened.  What did just happen?

Well, of course, in case you’re in denial, Donald Trump is now America’s President elect.  Hard to believe for many (especially here in LA) but like it or not, just under half America voted for him. (He won through the Electoral College vote—see my previous Blog for an explanation).  The question in my mind—and many others’—is did they vote for him because they hate Hilary so much or whether it’s because they actually thought Donald Trump could be good for America? We’ll never really know.  And frankly it doesn’t really matter.

But here’s what I know.  I won’t be leaving the US because Donald Trump will be President come January 20.  And here are the

Five reasons why I won’t leave the US just because Trump is the President elect.

1.  Practicality

I can’t just decide to convince my husband to quit his job and move home just because I don’t like the guy that will lead this Country for the next four (hopefully) years. I can’t just pull the kids out of school and ship them back home because I don’t think the guy voted in to be the next President is a bigot and a bully who thinks he’s better than everyone else; who demeans women and thinks of them as little more than objects of lust–as long as you’re good looking enough.

2.  Being realistic

A lot like practicality I suppose.  I have to be realistic and accept that life just doesn’t work that way.  Does it?  I have to accept that life sets you many challenges and you have to deal with them face on rather than running away or hiding from them.

I hope I’m right when I say that there will be lots of things President elect Donald Trump says he’s going to do that he’s just not going to.  He said so many things that were sound grabs to shock, designed to fuel hate.  He’s a cowboy, he shoots from the hip and who knows (or trusts) exactly what comes out of his mouth.

3.  Give him a chance

Guess what America, you actually have no choice but to give him a chance.  He’s all you’ve got.  He’s all I’ve got.  It was a year and a half in the making in an election campaign designed to wean out the fledging candidates and come up with the two bestest, strongest candidates for the job.  If you’re not happy with that then perhaps you should speak up and change the way things are done.  (God knows it cost enough money).

And in case you’re saying it simply can’t be done; change can’t happen, I’ll give you one reason why change can absolutely happen: Donald Trump.

Watch that wall become a virtual wall: one that limits entry to those who “don’t belong”. There will be no Great Wall of Trump.

What he might do though might actually make sense.  He might make sure more investment is being made inside the US.  He might actually make sure America keeps its industries kicking along within its borders rather than kicking everyone out and encouraging manufacturing outside.  And maybe he will actually shake things up, ask lots of dumb questions designed to challenge how and why things are done certain ways in order to actually effect change.

And, I might actually get to pay less tax.  Wouldn’t that be a good thing? I have no idea where my tax dollars go: the government services here are shite to say the least and virtually none of my taxes go to those in need.  It doesn’t go back to support me and my family.  I pay for everything I need.  Everything.  From school (first through my property taxes and then through my private school fees) to medical expenses to paying for my waiter’s medical insurance in the form of another tax (applicable here and on-charged in some places in LA).

But, in the same breath I hope that the economy does get a kick start, that more people can work to enjoy a better life.  That all those people in those small towns who voted for him knew something we didn’t.  That their vote actually didn’t go to waste and he does good.  And, by the way, that they get more than the pitiful minimum wage you get here.  I hope it really is as simple as he says it is.

If these working and middle class people get the jobs and can give their families a good, comfortable life then good job.

4.  Suck it up: life sux sometimes

I say, and have said several times, sport is the biggest equaliser: you can’t buy your way into the team, you can’t bribe your way into a win.  You can’t complain to your mother or write a note to the Coach to get your own way.  It teaches the best life lessons: how to lose, how to be a gracious winner, being part of a team—you know how it goes?  (I hope).

But here we have the ultimate life lesson (for half of American voters at least).  A very painful life lesson for these guys.

You might throw all your money at a candidate, you might tweet and Instagram, use your clout to encourage others to believe what you believe.  But, at the end of the day it just doesn’t always turn out the way you hope it will.  There are others out there that you have no control over.  None whatsoever.

You can’t buy your way out of the problem; you can’t bury your head in the sand; you can’t ask your mum to write a note to whoever is in charge; you gotta suck it up.

And, hopefully, as we reflect and work out how this all happened, we learn from it.  I hope this encourages people to get up and make a difference.

In the meantime what a great life lesson: suck it up, life sux sometimes.

 

5.  She’ll be right mate

We have a saying in Australia—she’ll be right mate.  It’s a bit apathetic, a shrug of the shoulders and a bit of wishful thinking.  But it kind of sums up how I have to think.  In view of points one and two I have to believe it’ll be ok.

Obama tried really hard to change so many things and he found it really, really hard.  Trump might have lots of ideas and brash thoughts but he might also find it hard to enact many of them.  He can’t bully everyone into doing what he wants, he’ll have to go about change through a slow, rigorous system.  So while he’s banging his head against a brick wall (no, not the Great Wall of Trump) she’ll be right mate.

Marijuana

In other news, marijuana is now legal in California for recreational purposes. There may well be a state full of Democrats that will be high for the next four years.

Parting words of wisdom

Like I said, we’ve got no choice.  We’ve got to accept it and move on.  Let’s hope it either goes really well or we learn from this.  Let’s hope that next time it means we actually listen to the masses who are/were trying to tell us what they think.  We just didn’t listen (or believe) they’d win.  What do they know?  We thought we knew better.  We dissed them and made fun of them.

And in the meantime we have to stop bullies.  We need to learn to stand up to them and stop encouraging them and letting them get away with their bad behavior; that’s it simply not OK.  For some reason society wants to be friends with or accepted by the bully. We’ve really got to stick up for each other.

To my beautiful baby girl who is broken by this news.  I’m so sorry.  Life isn’t always fair.  You are smart and optimistic and you can make a difference.  I don’t think Hilary lost because she’s a woman, I think she lost because Americans didn’t want her to be President.  You can be whatever you want to be and I encourage you to go for it; this is not a setback for you.  I’m sure of it.

Well that got very serious didn’t it?  The afternoon is creeping up on me.  Might take me a few days to follow my own advice.  Keep calm and have a cocktail.

Keep Calm & Drink Cocktails

Keep Calm & Drink Cocktails

And, in the meantime, I can’t wait to see what the next series of The House of Cards brings.

God Bless ‘Murica.

xx It Started in LA xx

PS: Our visas are due for renewal next year. Let’s hope we get to do two more years–maybe we’ll be forced to leave because of the stricter immigration laws. That will be ironic to say the least.

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