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Movies and TV, My LA story, Posts

Christmas in the US of A

Is it that I’m always coming back to the movies that we often think there’s nothing like Christmas in the US?  Of course Europe is where Christmas started and has the Christmas markets down but when it comes to packaging it in a nice white box (think Apple Marketing) then the US has it all wrapped up—with a perfect red bow on top.

Christmas in the US of A

Last weekend we got our Christmas on and went down to the local Christmas tree “farm” to pick out a tree.  The local Christmas tree farm, by the way, was formerly known as the Pumpkin farm (ie last month).  This year we were a lot more organised so got to pick from a vast number of superly (I know it’s not really a word) perfect trees.

Xmas trees

Love these Xmas tree “farms” where you come and pick your own tree | It Started in LA

 

On our way home my daughter said, “Remember last year we were on the freeway and someone’s tree fell off their car?”

“No,” I said, which didn’t surprise me because unless I’ve got a photo of it (& posted to Instagram) then I struggle to remember.

“Oh wait,” she laughs, “that was on Modern Family.”

(Is it just us or does that happen to you?  Here it helps that everything looks so familiar and “like it does on TV or the movies” but it’s funny when a show you watch feels so familiar it’s as if it’s happened to you first hand.)

Not unlike every other “holiday” here the Christmas theme gets a workout.  There are the usual Gingerbread men and Gingerbread houses, advent calendars (although I haven’t really seen as many as we have back home in Australia), holiday-scented wood (not joking) and lollies—lots and lots of special-edition lollies.

Candy

Like other holidays the Xmas-themed lollies come out to play | It Started in LA

Elf on the Shelf

But to me by far the most American thing I’ve seen is the Elf on the Shelf.  Seriously cute this company puts American Girl to shame.  Not only is everyone Instagramming and Facebooking the creative things they’ve done with their elves, there are websites and Pinterest boards guaranteed a lot of hits this month.  Not only that they have apps, adoption certificates, outfits, books, games and even a birthday edition.  Yep, I’m with you: why didn’t I think of that?

A quick look through its website and I couldn’t really see how the phenomenon started and grew into the hugeness (another made-up word) it is today but it is huge.  I’m so jealous of the creativity that goes into the elf’s daily (nightly) adventures but for us it’s all a little late so we’re just going for the least creative options in our house and just happy there’s an elf in our house.  Who knows though as we become more Ausmerican we might just surprise you!  Oh, and I have seen the elves popping up in Australia proving that the most successful marketing concepts can’t help but catch on in the rest of the world.

Elf on the Shelf

One of my friend’s creative elf exploits in the phenomenon that is the Elf on the Shelf

 

There are lots of well-decorated houses around but I want to say not as many as I thought.  But when they do it, there’s no in-between.  The easiest thing about going all out with your Christmas lights here is the thriving labour market (if I was to be un-PC then I’d just say there are lots of Mexicans happy to do the job and create work opportunities but just as well I’m not).  Like everything here it’s so much cheaper and more convenient to get someone in to do it rather than worrying about it yourself.  God Bless ‘Merica.

I nearly forgot to mention the Holiday cards.  I love receiving cards from my American friends with pics of their family on the front–especially as you see the kids growing up (and maybe even graying hair!).  This year I thought I’d do an abridged version with a pic of us (preferably a selfie) during the year.  That was quickly poo-pooed by mini me because we hadn’t had the photo shoot specifically for the card.  (Lucky I didn’t mention the selfie).  Here’s the photo I would have picked (still might truth be told!):

Xmas card

Christmas Card too much? I agree you can never have too much | It Started in LA

Quintessentially Cliché NYC Christmas #QCNYCC

It’s too long to hashtag so we’ll have to abbreviate it.  We’re so excited here in 90210 because the kids are getting to live the dream and head to New York in the hopes of celebrating a white Christmas.

In fact it’s so exciting that it’s hard to write about without going back into Safari and checking out tickets to this, booking restaurants so we secure a coveted table and work out who’s open and who’s closed for Christmas.

Our #QCNYCC bucket list/ must-do list includes:

  1. Ice-skating at the Rockefeller &/or Central Park on Christmas Day
  2. Seeing the Rockettes Christmas Show
  3. See a Broadway Show
  4. Strolling the Upper East Side and staring in amazement over the wonder that is the Christmas windows.
  5. Looking for Eloise at The Plaza
  6. A bit of Seinfeld & Sex & the City spotting
  7. Visit Dean & Deluca perhaps even trying to spot Felicity
  8. Obligatory tourist stuff: see the Chrysler Building, climb the Empire State Building & visit the 9/11 Memorial
  9. Eat at a couple of iconic restaurants
  10. Play in the snow on Christmas Day!

There’s so much to fit in I’ll obviously let you know how it all goes in real life.  My cousin lives there and she’s giving us the ultimate “NYC-by-night-as-seen-by-a-local” tour which I’m most looking forward to.

What I’m least looking forward to is trying to look glamorous and very NYC while staying toasty warm.  This is in fact the ultimate challenge and I’m not sure I’ve put enough thought into this yet.  Lucky for me Princess Kate (well actually Duchess Kate isn’t it but everyone here is calling her Princess Kate) is in NYC as we speak so I can get a few style tips from her.

My Pinterest board, however, is looking quite healthy with lots of ideas on what to do and every blog and his dog’s top 10 things to do in New York so be sure to visit if it’s ideas you’re after.

Tax Time

You know you’re living in America when you have to declare to your worldwide income.  Last week we were finally all able to lodge our tax returns at the IRS.  We all had to go because, being our first time, we had to get tax file numbers.  And I guess to prove who we are had to bring our passports with us.  For MR H to lodge it on his own he would have had to bring our passports with him and leave them with the IRS for around 6-8 weeks so that meant one in all in.

Last time Mr H went on his own he got turned away.  It turns out that they already had enough customers waiting and they couldn’t accept any more for the day as there would be nobody to process their requests.  Wow.  That there is the public service for the most advanced country in the free world.

So, to avoid a repeat of that situation Mr H decided we need to queue outside an hour before.  We seriously thought he was exaggerating until we saw there were already four people waiting in front of us and many more queued up behind.  I heard one guy behind us if you don’t queue up here at this time you could be here all day.  What choice do you have?

Going into the building was interesting.  We had to go inside one by one while we went through security.  I have to admit I did think at one stage this looked like one of those scenes where some psycho comes in and open fires at everyone so the security checks didn’t phase me one little bit.

Fortunately the plan worked and we weren’t there long after all.  Now we have to wait eight weeks for processing to get a tax file number and have the privilege of lodging our Californian tax.

Sale time

We’ve all heard of Black Friday and Cyber Monday but one thing that caught me by surprise was the Family & Friends sales post Black Friday and Cyber Monday offering 25% off.  I bought a new doona and sheet set for us during the Black Friday sales and was very chuffed with myself only to find the 25% Friends and Family sale trumped the Black Friday deals by another 15%.  I ummed and ahhed for a while and decided it was worth the grief at taking it all back and rebuying it again.  But, I was still a bit embarrassed that I was doing it so I sat on the thought for a couple of days.

With our tax lodged I decided to bite the bullet and do it.  It was over a $100 in savings (which could buy me a case of wine so nothing to be sneezed at).

“No problems mam I’ll simply do a price adjustment.”  Oh my god there’s a thing for it.  Of course it’s America, while I’ve been mulling it over for a few days for fear of embarrassment people do this here all the time.  There’s even a process for it; a button on the register.

I shopped the kids coats, jeans and thermals for New York in the various 25% off sales and got me a new pots and pans set so I’ve not only done my bit for the American economy but I’ve saved myself a bucket load of money to boot.

God Bless ‘Merica.

xx It Started in LA xx

PS:  How does Christmas look where you are?  Let me know, I’d love to hear about it (especially now that commenting works again on my site).

LA
LA Restaurants, Posts, Visiting LA

Shopping in LA

Did you say Shopping in LA? Let’s face it, if you’re in LA you’re going to want to shop.  The shopping here is pretty amazing and you can pretty much spend your whole time shopping if you’re that way inclined.

Strip shopping is great along Melrose Avenue (West Hollywood), Third Street (WeHo), Robertson (Beverly Hills) and of course there’s always Rodeo Drive.  Westfield has come to America and revolutionised Mall shopping and with most of the malls outdoor you don’t have to sacrifice sun time–and don’t worry it “never rains in LA”.

So here it is a run-down of your shopping options.  Whether you want to get it done quickly or randomly browse and enjoy all LA shopping has to offer, this post is for you.

LA: The Grove & the Farmer’s Market

Seen as a must-visit shopping destination in LA the Grove certainly gets busy.  It’s easy to get to by Uber, taxi or car.  If you drive be sure to check out for validations around the various stores.  And if you want to get into the LA thing there’s Valet parking at The Grove.  Do watch it though as validation is different for the Grove and the Farmer’s Market so watch where you park depending on what you’re after.  (I usually park at the Farmer’s Market–if I’m lucky enough–especially if I’m going to pick up some fresh produce for dinner.  I also found out that Nordstrom validates for The Grove parking so that’s a bonus).

Farmer's Market

LA’s idea of sightseeing: a shopping mall

Not only is it pretty but there are great places to eat and (of course) shop.  There’s a massive H&M and you have to let curiosity get the better of you by visiting American Girl.  For a complete shop/store listing click here.

Century City

After a multi-million dollar facelift and expansion Century City is making itself a must-do destination while shopping in LA.  A Westfield Mall, it follows the recipe of destination shopping in Australia like Chatswood and Sydney City.

So convenient to Beverly Hills, West Hollywood and the westside there are great restaurants, good shops and very popular (you never know who you might spot).

Speaking of restaurants it has Shake Shack and our ultimate favourite from our Shanghai days, Din Tai Fung [shriek].

It has Macy’s, Bloomingdale’s AND Nordstrom’s, a HUGE Apple Store, Tesla (in case you want to buy a car) and high-end brands.  It also has the usuals like Victoria’s Secret and Zara.  More exciting for us Aussies is the Cotton On sighting as well as Typo.  For a complete store listing click here.

And if that’s not enough Century City is very dog friendly.

Doggie Treats

Doggie treats | Century City

Santa Monica

If you’re staying in Santa Monica you really don’t want to drive up to LA to shop.  And you don’t need to because there’s great shopping right where you are.

Check out Third Street Promenade–the famous pedestrian-only shopping strip with great brands and a great vibe.  (I have to say I never shop down here because when you’re in Beverly Hills you don’t need to but it’s great shopping none-the-less).

Montana Avenue has upmarket boutiques and coffee shops but still offers a laid-back beach feel.  If you’re in Santa Monica it’s well worth meandering along–you never know who you might spot.

And, for something a little more hip check out Main Street.

Like all people in Santa Monica, you’ll never have to leave :-).

Camarillo Premium Outlets

At 45 minutes from Beverly Hills it’s a bit of a drive to Camarillo but I can tell you you won’t be disappointed.  As far as outlet malls go this one is a beauty with some great brands and a decent place to shop.  There’s everything from Kate Spade, Converse and Cotton On to BCBG Max Azria and Armani and Tori Burch.

Click here for a link to the store guide and map and have fun!

Outlets: Citadel

Citadel outlets are just south of Downtown on the I5 and really convenient if you’re staying in Orange County (Disneyland or the beaches–there’s an Express Shuttle from select Anaheim Hotels) or LA.

The first time we went here we had a field day (and so does everyone else we bring).  First stop for the Aussies Converse, Vans and Nike then you can branch out to H&M, American Eagle, Guess, Michael Kors, Banana Republic and Billabong.  There are heaps of other shops too.  If you’re out for bargains and have a big shopping list be prepared to take up most of your day.

It’s not bad people watching too just quietly–you get a better cross-section of LA than you do in Beverly Hills or West Hollywood.

Topanga Mall

LA doesn’t do mega malls like we have at home in Australia but Topanga is the exception to the rule.  It’s not handy if you’re staying at the Beach but if you’re staying in Beverly Hills it’s pretty easy to get to.  This mall is it has it all: Forever 21, Brandy Melville (not in very many Malls), Nordstrom, Macy’s, Neimen-Marcus, Henri Bendall, Bath & Body Works, Wet Seal–the list goes on.  It’s a one-stop shop.  Beware though you’ll need the day–there’s a lot to get through if you’re a thorough shopper, you might need to take advantage of its late-night trading.

Beverly Centre

I haven’t been a big fan of the Beverly Centre but I’m getting used to it.  Like all the other malls it has good brands to choose from including New York’s Henri Bendel.   It’s convenient and close to Melrose, Third Avenue and Beverly Connection across the road has Target and Nordstrom Rack if you don’t have time to hit the outlets but are looking for a bargain or two.

Melrose Avenue

I just love Melrose Avenue.  The best thing about it is keeps changing.  It starts from being designer boutique paradise to vintage shopping paradise to grungier hipster shopping.  There’s a lot to look at, great street art and great photo opps.  Here’s a great site that details what’s on offer on Melrose.  And while you’re there don’t forget to cover off Melrose Place.  You might like to lunch at the Fig & Olive it’s great food & wine (and great olives and olive oil).

Check out my photo gallery on Facebook.

Robertson

Robertson is another great street for people watching and high-end boutique shopping.  Celebs and those in the know prefer to shop here than Rodeo Drive because it’s slightly less conspicuous.  Having said that it’s where The Ivy is and there are tour buses that travel along this strip hoping to spot a celeb (I wonder if they ever do?!  One time my son & I were coming out of The Ivy a tour bus came past and we waved to them, probably not the celebs they expected to see!)

Third Street

Another great strip with groovy boutiques and great places to eat including the uber-popular star-spotting eatery Joan’s On Third.

Petticoats

Petticoat anyone?

 

Beverly Hills

You might notice I didn’t mention Rodeo Drive.  It’s more of a sightseeing destination than a shopping destination–unless of course you have come with your Black Amex and are ready to do some damage.  By all means head on down there and check it out.  But if you’re that way try Beverly, just one street over.  It has great shops and a little more kind to your credit card.

Universal Studios City Walk

If you’re really short on time there are actually a few good stops at Universal Studios City Walk.  Of note are Abercrombie & Fitch and a huge Billabong shop.  And there are a number of different restaurants to choose from if you’re exhausted from your long day there.

Getting around LA

It’s pretty hard to get around LA in anything other than a car.  If you’re going to brave driving in LA drive fast and be decisive.  Other than that here’s a post on driving in LA.

Have you heard of Uber?  We love it and use it here all the time.  Here’s a link to sign up (with a promo code for up to $30 off your first ride).  Give it a go, you won’t regret it.

Happy Shopping!

xx It Started in LA xx

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