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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

Only in LA: The day a famous actor knocked on our door to introduce himself as our new neighbour | It Started in LA | itstartedinla.com
Celebrity, My LA story, Posts

The day a famous actor moved in next door

Moving to The Valley

I’m not living in 90210 anymore, instead I’m a “Valley Girl”.  There is a whole backstory (and a half) that goes along with the move but for now let me tell you this: I didn’t want to move; I wanted to keep my 90210 postcode.  Who wouldn’t?

Apart from loving the area, having friends close; we were surrounded by “celebrities” new and old, famous and infamous.  I knew there were many celebrities in the Valley too but most likely not in my street or little neighbourhood.

That’s where I was wrong.

Yep, my life is not scripted or made more dramatic for the Blog, my life is just very LA.  The day a ‘famous’ actor moved in next door.

When your neighbour turns out to be “so so famous”

The day we moved in our neighbours put up a For Sale sign.  Nice welcome.  Thank God they did because they weren’t very nice and not at all friendly.

Fast forward six or so weeks (the house sold within 10 days of being on the market) and the house was abuzz with renovation.  That afternoon I got a knock at the door.

(The shitty thing about moving down into the suburbs of The Valley is that it’s too easy to walk up and down the streets so we get every man and his dog wanting to sell us their wares and convert us to ‘see the light”.)

So that afternoon I get a knock on my door.  And it’s not someone in black pants and a white shirt or someone selling LA Times subscriptions.

At my door is a rather groovily dressed guy in hipster pants, a T-Shirt, and a red baseball cap.

“Hi.  My name is Glenn and I’ve just moved in next door.”

1.  Glenn is not his real name so you can forget about switching over to Google ‘Celebrities with the name Glenn’.

2.  He had the most delightful British accent—music to my ears.

He continues, “I’m so sorry about the noise, I’m renovating my house and I asked the guys to start at 7am but I heard they started at 6am.”

“No problems,” I replied.  “We’re up anyway and we didn’t even notice the noise.”

Did I mention he had a plant in hand, handing it over as a “peace offering”?

What beautiful manners was my first reaction.  It’s not often I’ve seen anyone here with such consideration for the neighbours let alone coming in with a thoughtful gift.  Ah! That’s because he’s not from these parts.

It was a short encounter, he handed over the gift, we exchanged pleasantries and I got on with my afternoon.  Actually, truth be told, I wasn’t very warm—I should have invited him in but I was so fearful of our dog weeing all over him that I barely had the door open wide enough for him to feel the least bit welcome.  And why is it that whenever I get a random knock at the door I’m looking like shite?

Celebrity next door?

That night as everyone was coming home we talked about how exciting it was to have a non-American neighbour (sorry American friends) who was thoughtful and youthful.  (I’ve guessed his age as mid to late 20s).  We haven’t had a great trot with neighbours so I didn’t want to get too carried away.  For now I reserve my judgement, on a scale of 1 to 10, as 7.0—hopeful.

My daughter asked me what the neighbour did.

“I don’t know, we didn’t get that far,” I said.  “I assume he’s an actor.”

My daughter laughed at me.  “Mum, you just assume everyone in LA is an actor.  Or at least in Entertainment. They don’t have to be you know; you’re so weird.”

She was right of course.  He didn’t look like an actor, he was totally unassuming and he was incredibly nice and polite.

So we started talking about the assumptions you make when you live in a certain place.

“What would you assume he did if we were in Sydney?” my daughter asked. “Well most people in Sydney work traditional hours.  I guess he would be in IT (working from home).”

In Wales it’s easy as many people work shift work. In China … well I don’t think that would happen as everyone goes to an office–maybe work in hospitality but by that time of day they would already be at work.

So I saw Glenn a number of times as he set about renovating his house to move in.

He moved in and there was music coming from his backyard and a bit of life in what is otherwise a quiet neighbourhood.  it was good.  A week later, as he kids had friends over with the music going, there was a little gathering going on next door.

My son’s British friend noted, “your new neighbours are lit.”

“Yeah right”, I said, “He’s British.”  We laughed and thought nothing more of it.

Than we noticed our dream car—Audi R8—outside the front of our house.

He must totally be an actor.

Living next door to a celebrity

Another week goes by and one night my daughter sees “someone” coming and going from our neighbour’s house. She yells from her room.

“Mum, there’s a famous guy next door.  Is he visiting or is our neighbour famous?”

“I’m not sure honey, let’s see.”

By some stroke of a miracle the “famous guy” comes back down his drive.

“Oh honey, that’s Glenn.  That’s our neighbour.”

Squeals of delight and excitement ensue with a shrill only a 13 year-old can pull off.  In one Snapchat her entire friend network knows the news.

More screams.

“Oh my God, I’m pretty sure I just read he recently moved in with his girlfriend. And <screams> you know who it is? It’s Hannah Montana (clearly NOT a real person but I’m not going to divulge her real name and you get the idea that we’re actually talking about someone with HIGH name recognition amongst the tweens and teens).

More squeals … and lots of Googling.

“Oh my God, oh my God, I’m living next door to HANNAH MONTANA.”

And so, my fear of moving away from the celebrity action couldn’t be further from the truth.  Instead I have a bona fide ‘it’ couple living right next door to me.

Ah LA you never cease to amaze.

xx It Started in LA xx

Posts

Celebrating Melbourne Cup Day in LA

Halloween makes way for Thanksgiving and Christmas … but in Australia November kicks off with Melbourne Cup Day: Celebrating Melbourne Cup Day in LA

In one day here in LA the shops switch over from Halloween mode to “baking season” and, of course, “The Holidays” (as in Christmas, Hanukkah or Chanukkah).  The pumpkin farms make way for Christmas trees—or holiday trees and the three-month long holiday session moves up a gear.

Meanwhile … in Australia the first Tuesday of November is Melbourne Cup Day.  It’s the “horse race that stops a nation”.

It is by far my favourite day, so this week I thought I’d share with my American readers what Melbourne Cup Day is all about.  (I think it would make a great episode for my Chuck Lorre-produced sitcom).

To start, if you hadn’t already gathered, Melbourne Cup is a horse race.  As the name suggests it is run in Melbourne and if you live in Melbourne you have a DAY OFF work (that’s right, a public holiday for a horse race—don’t you love Australia?!).  If you live in Sydney, like I did, then you either host or attend a Melbourne Cup function of some kind.  Between my girlfriend and I we always hosted a lunch.

The rules of engagement are pretty clear.

Champagne

This is a rule.  You must serve and drink Champagne at a Cup Day function. The boys may drink beer from a bottle.

Hats

My theme was traditionally “hats and heels”.  A hat, fascinator and dress are also compulsory.  If you’re going to make an effort to dress up, today is the day.

Sweep

I don’t know if you do a “sweep” here in the US.  It’s basically where you put every horse racing into a cup and blindly draw names.  There are usually few sweeps at different price ranges—say $2, $5 and $10.  Then you work out the winnings according to winners for coming 1st, 2nd and 3rd; last place gets their money back.  So if you put in $30 to the $10 sweep, you can draw three horses.  The fun of it is you could draw a good horse—or you could draw a dud!

Lunch

Lunch is served to a group of ladies, given the blokes are working hard at work.  Even if you work, many of my working friends will try to get the day off so they can still join the festivities, they’re that important.

It is compulsory that the live telecast of the race be screened on your TV and everyone must critique the “fashion on the field”.  Remember this is the day to make your mark on the fashion so you’re opening yourself up for scrutiny—it is possibly more serious than the red carpet on the Oscars.

The race itself

Literally the race that stops the nation, everyone stops to watch the race.  Even if you’re not interested in horse racing for the rest of the year, everyone is captivated—and cheers for their horse to win.

Kicking on

Functions generally start at 12:00 and the race starts around 3:20.  School typically finishes at either 3:00 or 3:30 clearly interfering with the race.  So the kids get booked into After-school care (the busiest of the year!) and the Dads are on pick-up duty at 5:30.  The older kids get their own way home because this is Australia and they catch public transport.

IMPORTANT: Unlike LA the race being raced signals more partying, time to open another bottle of Champagne or turn the music on to start dancing.  It does not signal it is time to go home.

Then, when the kids and dads get home, the second leg of the function starts.  This is usually a smaller version of the lunch as only typically a few friends kick on. The dads chug down 50 beers to catch up to their wives and the kids are fed dinner.

At sometime around 9:00 or 10:00 everyone has had a truck load to drink and walks or cabs home.

Celebrating Melbourne Cup Day in LA

This year I thought about doing a lunch on the Tuesday but it’s already Wednesday in Australia so it just wouldn’t work.  And, most people have to pick up their kids because there’s little to no public transport so I doubted it would work.

In a fit of desperation, I texted a couple of friends to see if they’d like to have a glass of Champagne with me after school.  I know, it’s a Monday night but it’s still Melbourne Cup Day!

Thankfully for me they answered my call and came over.  Then my Australian friends FaceTimed me from their lunch.  It was so cool that I got to introduce my friends to each other—not that anyone could hear what anyone was saying!  We posed for photos together and I got to watch the race with them.  The wonders of technology.  How fun.

Melbourne Cup Day in LA

Watching Melbourne Cup Day in Australia in LA | It Started in LA | itstartedinla.com

The day after the night before and life is back to normal once again.  And back in LA it’s finally cooling down meaning we might get to experience Fall rather than summer.  How novel!

Enjoy your week,

xx It Started in LA xx

Differences between America & Australia, Posts, Soapbox

My right to do what I want

It’s time for my weekly look at the differences between Americans and Australians.  This happened to me last night. I don’t think this would happen in Australia but I’d love to get some feedback from my Australian friends–or others who may have had a similar experience.

Am I looking at Australians through rose-coloured glasses? Is this being a bit harsh on Americans (not my friends though don’t you know)?  Or is it not a negative thing in a different context, with a different example?

Differences between Americans and Australians: my right to do what I want–you can’t make me

I’m sitting on the tarmac in Las Vegas airport on the last flight to Burbank (LA) and as we’re getting ready to pull back some smart arse starts talking back to the flight attendant.

While getting ready for the safety demonstration, the “hostie” asked him to please get off the phone as it was time to switch mobiles off.  Instead of wrapping up he kept talking.  She asked him again, quite patiently, to “please sir finish your call and switch off the phone.”  He kept talking, showing no signs of wrapping up his call.

Then minutes later when he was ready he said goodbye and switched off his phone. The hostie then reminded him that he must listen to her requests while on board the plane.

“I don’t have to listen to you, I turned off the phone before we took off, I can do whatever I want.”

Here we go.

She reminded him again that he needs to listen to their instruction and cautioned him.  With that she walks down the aisle to continue her checks.

He yells back again saying he can do whatever he wants.  (It’s his right).

The supervisor comes up the back to question him further.

“Excuse me sir are we going to have a problem on this flight?”

To which he says,

“No, she told me to turn the phone off, I got off the phone before the plane took off, she doesn’t have the right to tell me what to do.”

“Well sir, on board the flight you are required to follow our instruction so are we going to have a problem with that?”

“No, I did what she asked but if she asks me to pick my nose I’m not going to do that am I?’

“Well sir she is not going to ask you to do that.”

Blah, blah, blah on he goes about how he flies all the time and has never had a problem and how he’s going to write a letter to Southwest and how he’s already spent tens of thousands of dollars with them.

Then one guy ( who can fend for himself) stands up and says to the guy, “please stop talking, listen to them  so we can all go home”.

But Mr frequent-traveller-who-may-or-may-not-look-like-a-frequent-traveller is adamant he can say and do what he wants.

He is still rabbiting on about how he can do whatever he wants and his rights.

Meanwhile I sit back, three rows in front of him to the other side, and think, do I want to go home or do I want the plane to stop and get him off? My first thought is is he allowed to carry a gun? I’m guessing he’s not.  Or at least not a loaded one. Everyone is a cross between disbelief, sitting quietly hoping the issue will be resolved and looking back at him with intimidating stares begging him to pull his head in.

All he had to do was pull his head in.

I’m relieved when the plane stops and moves forward towards the gate. Now we’re sitting on the tarmac waiting.  The pilot asks us all to stay in our seats.  Is this going to turn ugly?  He must know something is going on.  Right?  How are those rights looking now mate?

Are we waiting for the cops to take him off the flight? Is he getting more ruffled sitting there knowing full well it’s because of a scene he caused?

So now I’m quietly anxious and nervous and text home an update. He didn’t pull his head in before why should he now? And as the minutes are counting down I’m thinking it’s obvious we’re waiting for someone to get him.  What on earth is he thinking?

Are we going to have an incident or are we waiting for him to cool down? But what if he’s waiting to cool down then when we get in the air he loses it?  Like my teenage girl when you think everything is ok, she remembers what happened then relives the anger.

The people in the row in front of me start talking about guns. Do you have one? What do you do? I couldn’t hear much of the conversation but I thought back about Lorie on Twitter and how she thinks if there’s a mass shooter there would only be two shots fired. What if the guy in front of me thinks he’s defending himself and fires a shot? Would he be a good shot and would the guy hurling abuse have a gun & shoot him or shoot the nearest person? What about stray bullets?

Would the guy with the bad attitude think it’s time to pull out his gun. And why am I thinking about who’s carrying a gun? Isn’t that what the strenuous security measures are there for?  But if you’re a psycho then could you get around the security measures?  Can I trust them? And why–if guns are a right and used for personal protection–are we not allowed to carry them on board a flight?

Am I going crazy?

Finally the doors were opened and two ground staff came to escort him off the flight.  I was so surprised to see two women and not security or police.

He was escorted off the flight in a bit of an anti-climax. Thank God. I was expecting a tantrum-like scene that would make my daughter look like an angel. He still didn’t really get it though. He was still playing the it’s-my-right power card and “you just can’t do that” to him.

Here’s the thing. In “the future” post October 21, 2015 (had to get a Back to The Future Day reference in there somewhere), post 9/11, post mass murder after mass murder you just can’t do that. You just can’t do that.

So we’re taking off half an hour later than scheduled but I feel safer. I started thinking about what would happen if we were in the air and he wouldn’t stop. Then what. Would we have to pull together and fight him down. Cause I would. I’d be amongst it. I’m not going down wondering.

So you see it’s not your usual “Difference between Americans and Australians” post.  The rest of the flight–filled with Americans–did not agree with this guy.

But engrained somewhere in many American’s psyche is that whole “my right to…” thing.  And it’s not always a bad thing.  Sometimes it’s used for good and not evil.  But I wonder if America and its taglines “living the dream” or “the land of the free” leads some of its citizens to believe that means they can do whatever the bloody hell they want.  Because it’s their god-given right.

And, by the way, dickheads are all over the world.

In Australia we have dickheads you can put up there on Wikipedia as the ultimate definition of a dickhead.

We have bogans that think they’re tough and give lip.  And in Australia I wouldn’t be scared of guns I’d be scared of the fighting–fists as weapons which do get through the security checks.  But I think in Australia we might be more worried about the consequences. I don’t think we’re prepared to take the chance that we might be black-banned from flying again–or at least for a long time. I don’t know.

That’s where you come in. What do you think? What would you do? Do you think a guy would talk back to–and continue to talk back to–a hostie and then a supervisor on a Qantas internal flight or Virgin flight?

When we landed I felt like doing American/Chinese style woo-hoos and clapping that I landed safely. What a bizarre situation. Come on Chuck Lorre we can make an episode out of this one. Let’s do it.

Meanwhile. I’m exhausted and signing off.  And weirdly, the kids didn’t know what had happened to me but when I came home they raced out of their rooms and welcomed me home with hugs and kisses. Yep, life is short … and too short to be a dickhead.

xx It Started in LA xx

PS:  My congratulations to the crew of the Southwest Airlines 845PM flight 143 from Las Vegas to Burbank who handled the situation with professionalism and putting our safety ahead of their schedules.

First Six Months in LA
Moving to LA, Posts

The first six months in LA

This entry is part 2 of 2 in the series Moving to LA

Two years on: the first six months are the hardest

We’re in the thick of the first semester and it’s getting harder to work out what’s for dinner each night and we’re struggling to get up in the morning.  Isn’t that a sure sign the novelty’s worn off and you’re in normality?

It’s a lot easier this time around than two years ago–our first six months in LA–though.

It’s nearing the end of October and it’s still so warm.  Despite this everyone here seems to be very excited about “Fall”.  I’m not exactly sure why.  It could be the cooler weather (well that’s not happening), the smells of Fall like cinnamon and fires (that’s not happening either) or the prospect of a little rain (nope, still not happening).

I’ve started noticing people on the East Coast dressing up and the Coats starting to come on and the magazines are filled with darker colours.  But here in LA the only thing that’s not playing the game is the weather.

I don’t get the Fall love.  It feels more like Spring to me (apart from the leaves falling from the trees).  It’s still warm and probably has more to do with the fact that I’m intrinsically trained to think that September and October are the Spring months.  I don’t know, maybe it’s a wavelength thing.

When we first arrived we didn’t want the weather to cool down as we’d just come out of an Australian winter (yes it’s mild but still winter) and the prospect of back-to-back winters was not something I was looking forward to—no matter how mild they were.

The first six months

It’s time to continue with my series on looking back at our first couple of years here.  I left you having found a place to live and the kids accepted at a private school here in LA.  All was going well until reality set in.

It’s so true of moving anywhere that the first six months are the hardest.  But you’d think a girl from Sydney moving to LA—California—with a few moves under her belt would not have such a tough time.  Right?  Wrong.

Let me tell you the first six months are the pits.  The honest-to-goodness pits.  Then they can be exhilaratingly good: everything is new, life is an adventure and things as simple as grocery shopping can be a challenge.  I was used to that in China but not America—land of the ultra big supermarket.  But when I had to buy bullet chilies for example, I had to go to an Asian grocer because they don’t sell them at the normal supermarket.  That’s right, all the chilies are Mexican.

So then the challenges become nightmares.  The glass half full starts to look more empty.

Even things like paying bills I have to think twice.  No more BPay or Direct Debit.  I’ve caught myself a couple of times saying, “how do I pay you?” to which the response is generally always, “Well I take a check,” yes not a cheque.  That means I’ll have to go to the Post Office and buy stamps.  Such a foreign concept for me.

Anyway, It’s true the most important thing to do is to find a school and somewhere to live.  But once you’ve moved in, done a bit of sightseeing and getting around … then what?

So I started going to visit different areas checking them out, taking photos and posting lots of “cool” stuff on Instagram.  But there’s only so much of that you can do.  On your own.  We all go through it.  And we all get over it.

I remember hearing about some women in Shanghai living far out in the “suburbs” feeling lonely and depressed.  If I felt lonely and depressed and I live in the middle of Beverly Hills—with a car to drive myself around and a working internet connection—it’s a wonder they survived their long weekdays.

That’s why you can’t write this post at the time.  No, you need the benefit of “I live to tell the tale” behind you and a bit of perspective.

LA Private School

I remember the first time I went to school to the Orientation, the Welcome BBQ and even to pick up the kids in carpool I was feeling very intimidated.  I imagined everyone being rich and groovy and famous.  If not then they’d look like something out of Housewives of Beverly Hills.  I thought I’d be the beached whale—helpless out of water and a little larger than my LA counterparts.

Last weekend–two years on–I volunteered to help at the school’s Open House and if I wasn’t comfortable with my place at school by then, I am now.  Granted they’re not in yet but there were some interesting looking people.  Why do we always doubt ourselves in a new environment?  Why can’t we—I—back myself and be confident I would fit in?

Scattered amongst some rather good-looking people were fat people, skinny people, daggy people and just plain weird people.  I actually started to think that I fit into LA life better than some of these people.  How’s that for a turnaround?  And, I wonder if the family that came in matching-coloured tops—five of them—and daggy footwear will get in?

Google

It’s true as a family moving into 90210 and finding ourselves at a school with well-known identities we’ve done our fair share of Googling.  What did we do without it?

I don’t remember if I’ve mentioned it before my daughter is friends with the son of arguably one of the most famous people in the world, certainly one of the most successful.  She’s recently told us that her friend is obsessed with Mr H’s company and thinks it’s the coolest thing in the world.  And, in an interesting turn of events he was telling her how he’s been Googling Mr H.  Wow, Mr H being Googled by said famous offspring.  How funny.  It’s all about perspective.

What else do you need to know when moving to LA?

Back to those first few months.  The most frustrating thing would have to be …

Credit rating, credit rating, credit rating

… it affects everything.  Literally everything.

When Mr H tried to connect up to our Direct TV “cable” service there were specials on at the time.  Ready to go ahead he found out that our price would be higher than the advertised special price.  Because we had no credit rating.

Same thing when we went to open our Electricity account.  We needed a giant deposit because we had no credit rating.  Aren’t they supposed to help people with no credit?  Isn’t that discrimination?

Everywhere we turned it came down to credit.

Luckily, with a Citibank account in Australia we were able to open up an account in the US.  And, once Mr H said he’d get his salary paid into the account we could open a credit card.

To this date I don’t really have any accounts in my name—something I should seriously try to do.

We were also lucky we could get a car—actually two.  That was thanks to BMW recognising that Executives tend to move around so if they’ve previously owned a BMW in another country they’ll take a look at you.  Thank you BMW!

Two years later on the whole credit thing

Two years later and I’m still tossing up whether or not to buy a house here.  The good news is we can get a mortgage, the bad news is we need a sizeable deposit.  And they still look at your bloody credit rating. The rate they give you actually depends on your credit rating–the better your credit the sweeter the deal.  The lower your credit rating, the higher the interest rate. Wow, way to go America, nothing like being supportive and helping those trying to get ahead in life.  Keep the poor downtroden and the rich richer.  OMG. Granted ours is better now but the fact that we’ve only had a credit rating for two years tends to go against you.  Go figure.

 

I’m off to keep Googling.  Who knows? Maybe my daughter’s friend will start Googling me and subscribing to this Blog.  That’d be cool—so long as he tells Chuck Lorre he loves it.

Enjoy the rest of your week. Happy Fall!

xx It Started in LA xx

 

Behind-the-wheel test
Moving to LA, My LA story, Posts

Getting my Californian Licence—part two (behind-the-wheel)

This entry is part 2 of 2 in the series Getting my Californian Driver's Licence

I hope you haven’t been holding your breath waiting for “Getting my Californian Driving Licence—part 2 (behind-the-wheel)”.

Yes, they call it “behind-the-wheel” here and it’s the practical part of the licence process—the part that has “fail me” written all over it and the part I was putting off the most mainly because of the horror stories I’d heard. You know? Anything that can go wrong will go wrong?

About six months ago I embarked on the getting-my-licence journey thinking it would give my sitcom (actually Blog) a comedy boost. Sadly there is little to no comedic value in this post.  It’s not original and it’s just one of those stupid things in life there’s just no getting around.

One Sunday night a few weeks ago—while it was still school holidays—my husband got out his iPad and announced it was time to get my licence.  Where did that come from?

The overwhelming advice was don’t sit your licence in Hollywood, they’ll fail you.  OK.  It was suggested I go into the “Valley” to Winnetka.  The only available appointment in the foreseeable future was the very next day.

“I can’t do it tomorrow,” I said rather adamantly.

“Why not?”.

“Because,” knowing full well that’s a ridiculous response. “I need to drive around and get to know the area first. And we’ve got dentist appointments in the morning, how am I going to do two things in one day?” Useless … not getting any more convincing.

So, after checking around at alternative appointments and realising I’ve got no excuse, we made the appointment. I can do this.

I rounded up all my paperwork ready for the test. Because I was driving on a Learner’s Permit Mr H had to come with me.

(Only a year ago you could show your Australian licence and they’d give you a temporary licence provided you past the written test. Now you’re given a Learner’s Permit valid for one year).

Because you’re on a Learner’s Permit it technically requires a licenced driver to accompany you.  Given part of their checklist is you must be accompanied by a Licenced Driver, we weren’t about to test the DMV and have me front up alone only to be rejected.

Preparation for behind-the-wheel test

Next we collected up the rest of the paperwork I needed:

  • My Learner’s Permit
  • My Registration Papers (that are supposed to be kept in the car anyway)
  • Proof of insurance (that’s also supposed to be kept in the car)
  • i94 & Passport.

(Side-bar: While I needed my i94 and Passport they didn’t ask for my son’s when he got his licence at 16. It may have something to do with the fact that it’s a brand new licence but not sure at this stage. He passed his test and is now driving so all must be OK).

And look up my hand signals. (That’s right, for some antiquated reason you need to know hand signals for left, right and stop).

OK, check, check, check.

We rocked up to the Winnetka DMV.  You’re asked to park in the carpark, check in and then drive up to the testing area when “instructed to do so”.

Like every other DMV in LA it’s packed. I don’t know why this is. There’s always a queue out the front and there are always hordes of people inside.  And it’s always always always chaotic. This DMV is not unlike the Hollywood DMV I described in Part one of this story.

I had to go inside past the outside queue (and funny looks) and then past another inside queue that was marked for appointments and head over to the far side (not dissimilar to the far queue) where there was a separate queue for driver’s licence appointments.

I’m glad Mr H asked as it wasn’t obvious when we arrived and there are so many people around, you feel like you need to start queuing outside before you make your way in. Without deliberately offending my host country it feels like I’m walking into a government department in the Philippines.

We were early but unfortunately they were checking us in in appointment time order so that wasn’t much use to us. And, they were running late.

We checked the paperwork list on the desk matched the paperwork we’d brought in with us.  All good.  Oh, except the insurance papers.  They were expired.  We’d been automatically renewed but we mustn’t have printed out the renewal and now we’re standing there looking at expired insurance.

Ok, we can log in and show that our insurance was actually current.  But now we’re at the mercy of DMV—and whether the people behind the counters are sticklers for the rules or reasonable.  You never want to be at the mercy of the DMV so who knows how this will play out.

We started playing out the different scenarios.

“Oh, is it expired? I didn’t realise. I can look it up online to prove it’s not.” Possible.

“Would you be able to print our proof of insurance out for us?” Doubtful.

“We’ve just realised the paperwork is out of date but here it is online to prove it’s current.” Yep, always go with the truth.

There was a nice girl at the desk so we’ll take our chances.

Oh wait, the nice girl goes on break. The one that takes over seems a bit grumpy. Great.

We wait some more. I’ve got Mr H there, slightly dodgy paperwork and a car to sit the test in so I’m just at the mercy of the chick behind the counter as to whether she accepts the insurance certificate and then that of the driving tester.

They call our timeslot and as if it’s meant to be the nice girl comes back. “No problems.” she says as she takes my learner’s permit and registration and hands me back my proof of insurance and asks me to sit down and wait for my name to be called.

I’ll spare you the muzak on hold music and the obligatory … 30 minutes later to give the idea of the length of time this is taking …

(Ok I didn’t but I could have).

I’m up! My name is called and Mr H and I go to my car. I’m driving, he’s in the passenger seat. I was asked to put my paperwork on the right dashboard so I did.

It’s taking a bloody long time to drive to what is essentially a drive-through minus the bottleshop or Maccas ordering window. There’s a hold up in front of us. Two lots of people get out of their cars. Oops. As we’re creeping forward a clearly nervous 16-year-old hits the people in front of her, who are just in front of us. They exchange paperwork we chuckle at the irony and wonder if she’s automatically failed or given a lifeline. There’s a security guard there facilitating the exchange but none of the testers so maybe she’s good to go.

(She was good to go but came back some five minutes later failing anyway).

Time to run through my hand signals one more time.

Taking the behind-the-wheel test: we’re on

I’m up. The tester takes my paperwork and Mr H is free to get out of the car. Then she starts asking me questions.

  • Where’s your foot brake? Put your foot on it (and she checks my brake lights)
  • Right indicator (oops I’ve done the windscreen wipers, try again, got it).
  • Left indicator
  • Checks my tyres
  • Asks me to do my handsignals and say what they are.

Next she hops in the car and asks some more things saying point don’t touch.

  • Emergency or foot brake (parking brake)
  • Horn
  • Emergency flasher
  • Headlights
  • Defroster (rear & front demist)
  • Headlights.

We’re off. I had nightmares for two years about exiting the driveway and turning too close and running over the gutter but all good. I turned right into a street, stopped at a traffic light and turned right again. She asked me to pull over then reverse. Then she asked me to pull out again. The silence in the car is killing me. I hate awkward silence. I turned left into a street and left into another one. I was near the DMV I could feel it in my bones I was home and hosed.

Keep going straight. What??? Aren’t I done? Left. Right. Left. Left. We were getting further away. Was she willing me to make more mistakes? This is becoming a competition now. I wasn’t going to fail after all this. I passed mini test after mini test she was giving me. I had to turn left into a street but the cars were banked up past the turning lane left so I dutifully waited behind the cars. (You know when you’ve got your licence you just cross the wrong side of the road so you can join the turning lane so you catch the lights?) Two cars overtook me and I laughed awkwardly. She was impressed I could tell. I could sense we were heading back.

“Left,” she said. There was a pedestrian crossing yet I was free to go. I had heard that the pedestrian had to fully cross the road before you could go. What do I do? Do I go? Wait? I’m going to fail on my way back to the DMV. I went but turned wide when the pedestrian was crossing on the other side of the traffic. I’ve failed. Keep calm she would’ve asked you to pull over by now.

I pulled into the DMV. As far as I could see I was perfect: I stopped ahead of the lanes, I used my mirrors all the time (as in checked them remembering when I was 18 and sat my test in Melbourne and passed on the first go) and I didn’t speed.  That damn pedestrian.

“You can have 15 errors,” she started. Great. No way, I couldn’t have failed.

“You made 11 errors.” I passed. Yay me. Wait, what 11 errors?

“You must take care not to turn too wide,” she said. Oh yeah, I’m lucky I made the right call there I’ll take that one.  “Awkward giggle, oh yes I know where I did that,” I said out loud.

“You must always look both ways.” But I did, I did. I looked in my mirrors I looked everywhere.

I nodded as if to agree. Who cares? I passed.

“Go inside, give them this and you can collect your licence.” No congratulations? No well done?

“Ok. Thanks.”

I went to the desk and said to the girl (a different girl at a different desk). “I passed. Just.”

“Oh,” she said looking at my paperwork.  Then, looking at the girl next to her she said, “She got you-know-who guess how many errors she made. She passed.”

“14,” says the girl next to her.

“11,” she laughs back at her.

“Oh you’re good girl,” said the girl looking up at me then and the girl next to her and continues serving the person at her desk.

“She’s tough that one.  Let’s put it like this.  I’ll get in the car with you any time.”

Only then did I breathe a sigh of relief.

I’m a licenced Californian driver. I had to sit a written test then (endure) a behind-the-wheel test and I live to tell the tale. Not only that I passed.  With the toughest tester in Winnetka.

Could you pass a behind-the-wheel test if you had to resit it today? How did you go? I’m just glad this little obstacle is done and dusted.

xx It Started in LA xx

PS: For more information on applying for your California Driver’s Licence head here.

My take on the 2015 Emmys Telecast
Celebrity, Movies and TV, My LA story, Posts

My round up of the Emmys 2015 telecast

This entry is part 2 of 3 in the series Emmys 2015

I love the Emmys and I love TV. So it’s only fitting that I share my round up of the Emmys 2015 telecast. Last year I was lucky enough to go to the Creative Arts Emmys. As is the premise of my Blog, never in my wildest dreams as a very happy normal chick living the Sydney life expect to be strutting the Red Carpet amongst the cast of Orange is the New Black, Jon Voight and incredible talent that makes the TV industry go around. It’s crazy.

This year’s Emmys ceremony was great, I thoroughly enjoyed them and I love that it’s broken down over two separate ceremonies. It makes the main event go much quicker.

While I enjoyed most of Andy Sandberg as this year’s host can I am still mourning the loss of Tina Fey and Amy Poehler. It will take a few more years til we get to their standard—if we do at all. They’re some pretty talented and funny women.

Andy opened strongly but it was a bit stop/start. His opening monologue was fine but not great.

It took a while to hit cruising speed but he definitely got more comfortable and relaxed as time went on, which is good.

To me, cruising speed was hit when he did his little “Girls” love scene impersonation—which is pretty funny even if you didn’t know the scene in question.

ICYMI here it is.

Important role of TV

 

The Oscars last year got slammed for “snubbing people of colour” but the Emmys did the opposite. I’m not sure it’s that the Emmys addressed or acknowledged people of colour but had the opportunity to award talent where it was due.

No one put it better than Viola Davis herself:

“The only thing that separates women of colour from anyone else is opportunity. You cannot win an Emmy (or an Oscar) for roles that are simply not there.”

There have been many people commenting on social media saying, You won, you’re good, you deserve it but enough about the colour factor. Sorry, you can’t say that! Clearly to say what she said, to speak as openly and emotionally as she did, Viola Davis has been on a ride. Otherwise it wouldn’t be so from-the-heart as it was.

I also understand why they say “it shouldn’t be about colour”. BUT. America is very into defining people—men, women, black, Asian, native American, gay, straight, transgender and talking about Diversity. By labelling people America is its own worst enemy. It struck me almost as soon as I got here and I penned (so to speak) this post.

(And I’m not saying Australia is not guilty, we’ve had our own racist issues, which also embarrass me, but it comes from a different angle).

Maybe it’s easy for me to say but at the end of the day—when you look really closely—I’m not white middle America, I just act like I am. “White” that is. Clearly I’m not American (although I do see myself as evolving into an Ausmerican).

I act like I am white because I don’t see myself any differently. And I think that’s largely because I grew up in Australia, not America. I’m probably not really making a lot of sense but here’s the bottom line:

Shonda Rhimes, is a creative genius. Beyond genius. She’s like the Steven Bochco of the 2000s (am I showing my age?). When I first saw Grey’s Anatomy in Australia, I knew it was created by Shonda Rhimes but I had no idea she was black. It didn’t matter, why should it? When I first saw the shorts (trailer) for How To Get Away with Murder I saw a powerful performance by Viola Davis but I didn’t take special notice of the fact that she was black, she was just bloody amazing.

That should be the point. And (I think) that was Viola Davis’s point.

TV should be at the cutting edge of setting change. TV Shows have a shorter incubation period, cost less to make, and there is a large talent pool to choose from. And that’s why we love it so much and that’s why it’s so much edgier than movie-making at the moment.

And, the fact that every single drama nominated could clearly be the winner exemplifies that point.  And that every single comedy nominated could clearly be the winner. No one drama or comedy would have won that category and you would have said, “I don’t think they deserved it”.

I was like, “oh yeah, Game of Thrones deserves it.” Then I remember House of Cards and what an amazing season it was.  Downton Abbey, Homeland, OISTNB … Yep, they’re all over-the-top phenomenally good.

Donald Trump

On a lighter note it was good to see the Trump jokes out in force last night. Julia Louis-Dreyfus in her acceptance speech:

“What a great honour it must be for you to honour me tonight.

“Oh God, no! Donald Trump said that.”

On that note, shall we take a moment to say the women, to me, are rocking it as the stars of the show. The cast of Orange is the New Black, Amy Schumer, Amy Poehler, JLD, Allison Janney, all the American Horror Story stars and guest stars. Good for them I say—now to get them all being paid the same as the blokes in the room ;-).

And, I wonder if we can now get Kanye to throw himself at Amy Schumer when he sees her on the Red Carpet.

 

All hail Amy Schumer.

For a full list of nominees and winners click here.

 

xx It Started in LA xx

 

Moving to LA, My LA story, Posts

Two years ago: finding schools in LA

This entry is part 1 of 2 in the series Moving to LA

This time two years ago was quite a significant milestone moment for us as it was a rude awakening that this LA “thing” might actually happen.

Cut back two years and six weeks ago Mr H got a call from an old boss with four questions:

  1. How’s the family?
  2. Do you still hate your job?
  3. Would you consider moving to LA?
  4. How quickly can you get here?

Then I got the call from Mr H:

“I’m about to rock your world,” he said. “F called,” he started. We were down at our beach house on the South Coast of NSW getting ready for a long weekend with friends. We’d prepared the menu, bought the grog and I was out in the car with a friend heading to the Bottlo to get a couple of extra bottles of champagne—just in case as we hate to run out.

“Oh my god,” I interrupted. “Is he in town? Coming to town? It’s OK, he can have the spare room…” as I proceeded to play musical beds and musical rooms so we could fit in an extra person…

“…And I’ve got seafood which he loves so it’ll be all good.”

“He wants to know if you would move to LA,” he said once I’d done with my ranting.

“What? Sorry? Huh? LA? I hate LA. Remember? Been there done that never coming back?”

“I knew you’d say that.”

It’s true Mr H and I went to LA with my best friend and her boyfriend when we were all of 19 or 20. LA didn’t really do it for us and I had absolutely no desire to go back. So why would I want to live there?

“Oh my God, oh my God, oh my God.”

By this time my girlfriend, sitting in the car next to me is wondering what on earth is going on. I looked at her and shook my head.

Digesting the concept

It was a crazy weekend of utter shock that some 36 hours ago we just got that call to move to Hollywood and Mr H had gone back up to Sydney to attend a video call to get briefed on the job. The job was to run the post-production division of a multinational company. He would be based in Hollywood and he’d have to work with all the studios and production houses. To say the weekend was a daze with endless workshopping, dreaming, reality checking and more workshopping was an understatement. And let’s just say there was a LOT of champagne (and wine) drunk as we all tried to come to terms with the prospect of moving to LA. Those extra bottles came in handy—we didn’t run out.

We too’d and fro’d with the pros and the cons but first practically had to come into play.

Schools in LA

We thought we’d be very systematic about the possible move: pinpoint work (Hollywood), find a decent school not too far away then find somewhere to live.  Sounds easy enough.

Contrary to how it looks on Beverly Hills 90210 and the OC the LA public school system is in shambles—especially as you get to Middle and High School. There are a few good school districts in South Pasadena, Santa Monica, Beverly Hills and the Bay areas but they either require a long commute to Hollywood for Mr H or require me to sell my body to pay the rent in Santa Monica or Beverly Hills. Then you have to be in the right zone for the “better” school in that area.  (Read: it’s not as straight forward as let’s rent a house in Santa Monica and we can go to Lincoln Middle School.  Thankfully we didn’t find that out the hard way.) The public school system in LA is not easy to navigate—and when you have finding a house in the zone is like playing the lotto.

So as I was coming to terms with the fact that US high schools aren’t like they are on TV and my kids weren’t going to have a Breakfast Club/Sixteen Candles/Ferris Bueller/90210 high school experience moving to LA started to look a little bleak.  Both kids are thriving at great schools in Sydney and education is so important to my family (my dad drilled that into me from a young age) that we’re not going to a below-standard school just because Hollywood is knocking on our door.

(Now I wonder if they’ll get the chance to have a College experience like Pitch Perfect?)

I emailed a few people and the resounding response was private school. There go my dreams to be rid of private school fees and enjoy my life. Plus, America being America, private schools aren’t subsidised so we got a rude shock to see not only weren’t we saving any money but it would cost us more money than it does in Sydney.

I knew the prospect of a Hollywood lifestyle was too good to be true.

But I ploughed ahead and started researching websites to see what schools we liked and what we didn’t. We rated them and I started the arduous task of ringing admissions directors. It was now May 2013 and applications closed in late December 2012 and offers were made earlier in the year. There’s a shortage of places at LA private schools—because the public ones are in such a state—so all of a sudden our dream of moving to Hollywood was shattered.  No school=no move.

Because of the time difference I would set the alarm for 4:00am Sydney time (which was 11am the day before in LA) and start making calls. It’s pretty hard to pitch your family and your kids to an Admissions Director with a full enrolment at that time in the morning.

Some were helpful, others felt for me, others didn’t care.

I got traction at two schools. A great start. The next hurdle was sitting the ISEE test. What on god’s earth is that? Well it’s a standardised test (Independent School Entrance Exam) that most of the private schools use to test would-be students.

Can’t we just skip that bit? How do we do it in Sydney?  My  kids are doing well in school, here are copies of standardised tests they’ve completed here…

Well as matter of fact there is a location that administers the test in Sydney.  It was a pain in the backside booking two appointments at the same time because the system would only allow one student at a time (I guess what are the chances of two kids wanted to sit an entrance exam for private school in the US in Sydney?). There was no one to talk to either at the location or at the head office (another alarm set for 2am this time to try to reach someone in the New York office). Nothing about this stage was even remotely easy.

So Mr H took the day off work, we all went in hoping they’d say that both kids could sit the test together—no luck—so I sat with one while Mr H took the other home then came back again to swap kids while I waited the entire day given it was a ruling that the parent or guardian had to stay with the child the whole time. And the ID rules were so stringent it was as stressful as anything formal here in the US. One thing wrong and you have to reschedule—and pay for it all over again as there’s a cancellation fee involved don’t you know? A day I’ll never get back. An experience I’d rather not have to relive. But I was so proud of my kids, they did it.

It wasn’t until we got to LA that we heard that kids are tutored for this exam and some take it a few times until they get the score they want to give them a better chance to get into their school of choice.

This was my first glimpse into the privatised world that America is—there is a company making money for a service (which comes at a fee) for everything.

Playing the waiting game

With two schools secured (with no promises even now there’s room for one or both of them) and another interview secured at a school for my daughter it was time to look into public schools.

Public schools have open days where you can come and check them out. I was still in Australia for these so via our relocation agent we put calls into Santa Monica and Beverly Hills both of whom said they were so overworked they didn’t have time for private tours. Tell me that didn’t put me right off.  And they’re supposed to be the good ones.

 

Such an emotional rollercoaster that whole “will we move; won’t we move”, “can we move; can’t we move” thing.  At least when there’s little or no choice like “normal” expat assignments you know the city is geared up for you. Shanghai, for example, has plenty of expat housing (not all good by the way), a number of international schools and the company you’re moving with has some degree of leverage because they’re responsible for not just your school fees but a number of others.

What I remember most about this time was how applying for schools was anything but straight forward. Simply having a place was not a guarantee of entry. You had to pass the test but you just don’t know what that (or those) tests are.

It’s a bit like a Seinfeld episode:

“Great, so you’ve got room for both my kids?”

“We have the flexibility to admit your kids but first you have to apply.”

“So is it worth my applying if there’s no room?”

“We have room but you have to apply.”

“Oh so there’s room for both my kids so if I apply, based on what you’ve seen and what I’ve told you then there’s a good chance we’re in.”

“Go ahead and complete the application and proceed with the tests, we’ll have a better idea of what our enrolments will look like once you’ve done those and we’ve interviewed you.”

Wowsers … I hope passing school isn’t as hard as getting in.

Nonetheless we hopped on a plane bound for LA not sure what to expect when we got there.

xx It Started in LA xx

Next week … looking for somewhere to live

Differences between America & Australia, My LA story, Posts

Returning things (taking stuff back)

The difference between Americans & Australians

I’m starting a new series of differences between Australians & Americans prompted by today’s shopping experience. I’m not talking spelling or speaking but reactions and situations. Join in if you’ve got a story to tell.

Returns Bloomingdale’s style

I bought some candles for a friend whose birthday is coming up. I ordered them online (of course) and opted to pick them up in store because I wouldn’t receive them in time for her birthday dinner.

Cut to the chase I got the candles home and my daughter was snooping in the bag (she is obsessed with candles AND snooping!).

“Ew,” she screamed. “This candle has been lit.”

And sure enough it had. No sign of real lighting action but that wick was not white (or clear) it was black.

So I headed straight back to Bloomingdale’s the next morning so they didn’t suspect me of being the mysterious candle-lighter.

“Oh my god,” said the checkout chick (who is actually a bloke but then I couldn’t use the term ”checkout chick”), “that’s terrible. Ew. Let’s get you another one shall we?”

So off we went looking for the same product—but one that hadn’t been lit. Each time he passed someone who worked at the store he’d call out, “Hey Larry—or whatever their name was—look this poor lady got sent a candle that had been … (gasp) lit.”

“No way,” they’d reply in shock.  “That’s terrible.”

It took us a while to find the same product but he looked up the stock and knew there were some somewhere. So off he went digging out the back to try to find more. And he did. And he sent me away a happy—albeit still shell-shocked—customer.

 

Returns Australia style

Let’s imagine how this might play out in Australia…

Me: “Hi, I bought these candles online and picked them up here yesterday but one of the candles seems to have been lit.”

Checkout chick (CC): “Oh,” glaring at me sizing me up to see if I hadn’t in fact lit the candle myself. “Do you have the receipt.”

Me: “Yes,” showing her the receipt.

CC: “And when did you say you bought them? Where from?

Me: Politely answer the question.

CC: “I’ll have to speak to someone about this, wait one minute please,” while walking up and whispering to her colleague both looking at me making me feel guilty like I deliberately lit that candle and took it back wanting a new one.

“OK, mam, this is an unusual situation. We won’t give you your money back we can only exchange and since the candle has already been lit then we can only exchange it for exactly the same product.”

Me: “Well that’s good because I want the candle, I got it home and found that it had been lit and it’s a gift and I really want to give them a brand new one, not one that’s been lit by someone else.

“Do you have anymore in stock? I couldn’t find them anywhere.”

CC: “I’m not sure you’ll have to look around and see if you can find another one.”

Me: “I’ve had a look around but can’t seem to see any. I only bought them online yesterday there should be more here somewhere shouldn’t there?”

CC: “You’ll have to wait while I serve this customer and maybe I can check stock for you. Or you might go back online and see if you can find some more.”

You get the picture? I love shopping here and not being treated guilty before being proved innocent. Plus the prices are better and it’s so convenient online!

 

xx It Started in LA xx

 

My LA story, Posts

Los Angelinos love to … Hike!

This entry is part 1 of 2 in the series Los Angelinos love to ...

The first (or last!) in a series of what Los Angelinos love to do. And the very top of the list is that people in LA are obsessed with hiking. Yep, Los Angelinos love to … hike!

At first I didn’t really get what all the fuss is about but now I’m starting to get the picture.

Thanks to Google, Pinterest and earnest Bloggers I found a few links to LA Hikes. I had pinned this article a while back and as a good “gunna” (aka going to but never do) person that’s where it stopped. Until now.

I don’t think you can hike alone and when fate hooked me up with a fellow Aussie at an ANZAC Day function we decided to check out LA’s hiking scene and see what all the fuss is about.  The goal is for us to do a different hike each week.

If you live in LA—or if you’re just visiting—I’m going to share my quick two-cent’s worth about each hike we’ve done as well as a link so you too can do the “LA thing”.

Hike 1/Week 1.  Runyon Canyon

Billed as the “Celebrity hike” I haven’t seen one in my two times (!) I’ve been. When you’ve come from Australia & your morning walk/run was around the Bay in Leichhardt/Five Dock/Haberfield hiking along a dirt track with the possibility of coming face to face with a rattlesnake takes a bit of getting used to (yes, it’s a bit of a come down).

 

See that hill? I hiked that today yes I did! #greeceready #itstartedinla #myreality #runyoncanyon #4k20s #sola #hiking

A post shared by It Started in LA 🌴 Gwenny John (@itstartedinla) on

 

Having said that it’s a decent hike and the fact that you’re essentially walking down the hill from Mulholland Drive down the Hollywood is still pretty cool.

Good for: dogs (there are heaps that go hiking too!)

Watch out for: parking police—parking can be hard but be read the signposts carefully.

Address:
(the bottom end) Runyon Canyon Park, 2000 North Fuller Avenue, Los Angeles, CA 90046

(the top end) the 7300-block of Mulholland Drive, Hollywood Hills

Detailed information from someone that puts their heart and soul into Blogging about hiking in more descriptive detail:
http://www.modernhiker.com/2007/08/16/hiking-runyon-canyon/

 

Hike 2/Week 2.  Tree People

The second week we ventured a little closer to my place and not far from Runyon Canyon.  Also a spot I discovered via the Celeb Spotting pages, Tree People is off Coldwater Canyon & Mulholland Drive. Like Runyon Canyon is from Mulholland to Hollywood, Tree People takes you down to the Valley into the Laurel Canyon area.

It’s a little greener than Runyon Canyon, and probably not quite as good on the people watching but it’s a pretty good hike nonetheless. Once you know which track to take!

Address:
Coldwater Canyon Park, 12601 Mulholland Dr, Beverly Hills, CA 90210

Parking can be tough, especially at busy times so beware.

Detailed information from someone that puts their heart and soul into Blogging about hiking in more descriptive detail:
http://www.modernhiker.com/2009/02/09/hiking-fryman-canyon/

 

Hike 3/Week 3.  Franklin Canyon

Once I discovered I could enter via Mulholland Drive (opposite Tree People) rather than drive all the way around into Beverly Hills then up again I was much happier. This is a gorgeous place to hike—easy to park (during the week), lots of options to hike and some great spots that make you feel you’re in the middle of the bush when you’re actually in the heart of Beverly Hills.

There is water in Beverly Hills

There is water in Beverly Hills

 

There are several hikes here and we only did one of them so I’m looking forward to coming back to do more.

Address: 2600 Franklin Canyon Drive, Beverly Hills, CA 90210

Also great for dogs.

Watch out for: Yogi-Bear like stop sign cameras. When it says there is a camera, they mean there’s a camera and you’ll get a ticket in the mail. They’re also serious about the sign that says you better be out of there beyond sunset—I know because I met a girl who had to front up with a “please explain” what she was doing there beyond this time (her answer: trying to leave!).

Smarter than your average bear! When the sign says they're "photo enforced" it means they're "photo enforced!"

Smarter than your average bear! When the sign says they’re “photo enforced” it means they’re “photo enforced!”

 

Detailed information from someone that puts their heart and soul into Blogging about hiking in more descriptive detail:
http://www.hikespeak.com/trails/franklin-canyon-park-hastain-trail/

http://www.modernhiker.com/2012/10/12/hiking-franklin-canyon-reservoir-loop/

 

Hike 4/Week 4.  Caballero Canyon Trailhead Santa Monica Mountain Reserve

It might be week four but I wasn’t ready for this one. This was a beauty—or at least the trail we chose (a steep climb to the top) was bloody hard.

Hiking LA style #H2ED #myreality #itstartedinla #greeceready #la #90210 #bloodyhard

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While we were troopers and did it (minus a little incident that we won’t talk about in this forum) there were a number of very fit people who do that trail quite a bit.

When we nearly got to the top we thought we should head back down again. We bumped into a couple of “old-timers” who warned us against going back down the steep trail again but continuing on and following the loop as it was a much more gently decent.

It was great advice but when they told us it was just ‘around the corner’ don’t believe them. That and “the bench” which would be our marker to descend down the gentle decline. Everyone we asked kept telling us we’d see the bench but that bench was a long time coming. Clearly they were walking a lot quicker than we were. (If you click on the link from the Blog below you’ll see plenty of pics of that infamous bench).

All in all a good hike.

Address: Reseda Boulevard, Tarzana (start is just near Braemar Country Club).

Tips: Take plenty of water to hydrate & be on the lookout for mountainbikers hooning down the track.

Detailed information from someone that puts their heart and soul into Blogging about hiking in more descriptive detail:
http://www.hikespeak.com/trails/caballero-canyon-hike-tarzana/

So that’s four hikes so far.

This week’s hike: The Fire Trail on Mulholland Drive.  Keep coming back for a quick run-down and links to future hikes.

For more inspiration I’m also looking to cross a few of these off my list:

http://www.modernhiker.com/la-hiking/
http://www.modernhiker.com/la-hiking/5-best-l-a-hikes-for-beginners/
http://la.curbed.com/archives/2014/07/6_los_angeles_hikes_with_spectacular_endings.phphttp://www.hikespeak.com/los-angeles/

 

Happy Hiking—and be sure to have a cold drink (preferably a cold beer or glass of wine/cocktail) ready after you’ve done the hard yards!

 

xx It Started in LA xx

Celebrity, My LA story, Posts

A normal end to the school year–with a twist of 90210

Like everyone in my neck of the woods, with school finishing in the middle of the year rather than the end, it’s busy, busy, busy. There are fairs, thank-you breakfasts, end-of-year events and of course big assignments and exams to study for.

Last weekend we had the Annual Fair, which was moved from the school grounds to a private party on Santa Monica Pier. Each school we’ve been to (with the kids) has had a Fair/Fiesta/Fete of some kind. They’ve all been good but last year we (I) was so shell-shocked laughing at the fact that my kids are having their fair on the Santa Monica Pier.

I never expected to be ever going back to LA let alone living here let alone having a private party on the blessed (pronounced bless-ed in place of a swear-word) Pier. This year we’re so LA that we’ve taken it all in our stride. Somewhat.

Cut back to my son’s school in Australia and the boys had to rock up to the Fiesta in full school uniform. While I can hear most of you that aren’t used to this thinking “WTF?” I can assure you it comes in very handy for three things:

  • Finding your son in a crowd
  • The girls finding a potential boyfriend in the crowd
  • Keeping the boys out of trouble—and if they choose to get into trouble they’re easily identified!

His Fair was fantastic. I love the excuse to hang out with my friends (may or may not sneak in a bottle of wine) and see the kids having a great time in the safety and security of the school grounds. Equally I love the scantily clothed girls hunting in packs checking out the talent—so easy to spot those strapping boys in their school uniforms. Such is the joy of single-sex schools and the lengths they’ll go to for the opportunity to meet someone of the opposite sex (yes, I am exaggerating).

My favourite thing about the Fair would have to be the silent auction. A lot of work would go into each class donating goods & services and we’d package them all up into enticing hampers. I would spend a considerable amount of time weighing up those hampers—what was in them, whether I was getting a bargain and whether or not I could use any of the contents as Christmas pressies. I was (not surprisingly) attracted by the alcohol hampers and scored many a bargain. At the end of the day I’d walk out with us all juggling a number of hampers trying to avoid doing more trips than we needed to.

I do love a 90210 silent auction though. On offer were things like Ellen tickets, tickets to the LA Kings, LA Lakers & Clippers, tickets to the American Idol final, Teen Choice Awards, lunch with Halle Berry and the opportunity to hang out with her on set and have lunch, and meet Steven Spielberg. By far the most popular prize was the chance for 12 kids to play basketball with legendary Clippers basketballer Chris Paul.  There were so many, many more amazing prizes it was hard for me to decide where to concentrate my focus.

I did very well this year. Instead of going home juggling several hampers I went home with an envelope with gift certificates and a Bass Guitar. Did I happen to mention that the guitar was Duff McKagan’s from Guns n Roses? No? Yes, as a matter of fact it’s true.

Proud owner of Duff McKagan's bass #myreality #itstartedinla #gunsnroses

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My gift certificates were for four tickets to see Rod Stewart in Vegas (as well as a photo opp & Meet & Greet—which seems really silly seeing as I’ve already met him and didn’t have to pay for the privilege but at least this way I get to take a few guilt-free selfies). That wasn’t all, four tickets to see Britney Spears and two night’s accommodation including F&B credit and Spa credit. Score. Yep, quite the haul indeed.

I say that we’re taking Fairs on Santa Monica Pier in our stride, we are, somewhat.  But we do have to stop and pinch ourselves and shrug our shoulders and think how on earth did we land here?  Seriously, the chance to bid on amazing experiences and events that simply aren’t available to everyone—especially for most people who live outside our bubble is not something we should ever take for granted.

“That” moment for us the other night was seeing the one and only Sandra Bullock just hanging out like a normal person (yep, new bestie material). For my son that moment was when he was on the Rollercoaster with her. Only in LA could you be riding a rollercoaster on Santa Monica Pier with Sandra Bullock. Hashtag Living the Dream.

The Californian High School Swim Season

I have to say I love how swimming is done here in the US. While I love, love, love the atmosphere, school spirit and passion that goes into swimming at my kids’ schools in Australia (especially the private boys schools) I’m forced to reflect that it’s somewhat elite. And in a strange way, it’s College level here.

Back home in Australia my son had to qualify to be in the swim team where they would compete in one bigger-than-Ben-Hur event. There are a lot of fast swimmers in my son’s school—most of whom qualify to compete at state level—and his times may or may not earn him a place on the team.

Here in the US my son had a swim meet each week, a tri-comp where three schools competed in individual events and relays. The events were broken up into girls and boys, Junior Varsity and Varsity. Everyone got to participate and compete on his or her level. They got to win, lose and get disqualified. They also got the opportunity to qualify for the CIF (which is basically all the private and public schools in California) for a mega meet to finish off the league season.

My son made it to CIF and his relay team made it to the finals.  I got a kick out of lots of things–nothing more than eavesdropping all day on other parents’ conversations–but the main one was them playing the national anthem before the finals.  The Amercians’ reverence and patriotism is certainly one to be admired.

Hats off & hands on your heart for the National Anthem

Hats off & hands on your heart for the National Anthem

 

The atmosphere and venue are second to none in Australia, the competition fierce but we’ll take swimming US High School style where regular, seasonal competition for your school is available.

Having said that I do wish the meets were bigger and had more of the ra-ra style cheerleaders that I expected to find when we moved here. I guess that proves you can’t have it all.

Exams v Assignments

Assignments are big in Australia, exams not so much. That’s what makes it harder the older you get when you actually have to start sitting exams and you’re not used to it.

Cut back here to the US and generally all grades (in our “College Prep” school) from 6-12 sit exams. But this year there’s been a little shift, a gentle shift but a shift nonetheless.

That’s right shock horror a couple of the departments opted for a major assignment rather than an exam. I’m on the fence about this. I thought that our American experience would have them so used to exams if and when the time came to head back to the HSC (Higher School Certificate—which it is in NSW) they’d be experts and it wouldn’t be so daunting.

Alas my son in 9th Grade (a “Freshman”) has an exam for every subject except for English and my daughter in 7th Grade (she’s a “Middle Schooler” so she doesn’t have a fancy title) seems to be in the grade that they keep changing the rules for, she’s missing English and History. Last year she was supposed to start exams but they opted for only a couple of the subjects having exams. In the middle of the year she was also supposed to start exams but they opted for only exams at the end of the year. Wonder if this is the start of a trend?

So you see the end of our school year isn’t that much different to yours but it does have a 90210 twist. And that 90210 twist is what makes life that little bit exciting here.  It’s what makes the mundane bearable and the move worth it. I’m sure when we’re home in a few years we’ll look back on this time and not believe it was us.

Enjoy the rest of the week!

xx It Started in LA xx

 

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Moving to LA, Posts

Getting my Californian Licence–part one (written test)

This entry is part 1 of 2 in the series Getting my Californian Driver's Licence

Californian law states that you must get a new driver’s licence within 10 days of getting here. Oops.

Mr H got his straight away but I chose the path of maximum procrastination.  There was a time where I thought I wouldn’t even get one.

But it’s time: Getting my Californian Licence–part one (the written test).

You can sign up for an appointment online but when I finally went to do this I came across this question: “are you new or transferring your licence from another State?” Well, no, I’m from overseas. Is Australia another state of America?

So I procrastinated and didn’t continue my search for an appointment. Then I heard all sorts of stories about how bad it can be to get your actual licence—Australians must sit the “behind-the-wheel” test as well as the written one—so that meant more procrastinating.

Then I thought I’d do it with a friend and that would encourage me to get it. We procrastinated together.  Still no licence.

Then there was the time Bruno Mars ran into me in his white Bentley convertible just down the road from my place (ok it wasn’t really Bruno Mars but he reminded me of him and he was the loveliest guy so) and I panicked.  Thankfully we resolved the situation on the spot but now I was becoming unhinged. If I don’t have a Californian licence I can be “cited” and have my ve-he-cle impounded and we don’t want that.  Maybe I should think about getting my licence.

My next kick-in-the-butt was getting my licence before my nearly 15-yeear-old could get his permit.  Time is running out.  I’ve finally run out of excuses and we’re finally doing this.

Step 1: Getting an appointment

Mr H (sick of my procrastination) filled in the online appointment request, got me a time and I started studying. How hard can it be? There are apps and online tests you can take to prepare you for the test. I used the app and it put me off because of questions like:

“A traffic light is red, but a peace officer is signaling you to continue driven. What should you do?”

Letter-for-letter-word-for-word.

Well first of all you can tell me if you’ve got a speech impediment and then you can tell me what the fluck a peace officer is.

(No, it wasn’t a typo, apparently a peace officer is a gentle term for police officer—the fuzz—cops. Why don’t you just say that?)

Studying for my California driver's licence tomorrow. I don't know what or who's a peace officer? #itstartedinla #myreality

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Then there was this one:

“A green arrow showing a red light means…”

It’s a red arrow.  Isn’t it?  No.  Is it just me or is it questionable how they phrase these questions?

I think I need an American lesson before I take this test. Thank god for those practice tests.

The app looks like this and is available on the App store–I highly recommend it!

Here's what the app looks like that I found so helpful--minus the typos and stuff of course!

Here’s what the app looks like that I found so helpful–minus the typos and stuff of course!

Step 2: Going to the DMV

Like all public services (I use the term service loosely) there’s a queue a mile long to get in. These places make me feel like I’m in a third-world country. There are people going everywhere, no one is exactly sure where to go and what to do and it’s very, very low-tech. There are the usual side conversations—people who have struck up conversations with each other in the queue. Normal America is far from the picture Hollywood gives you. In fact, I want my money back.

In a Hollywood backstreet with a view of the Hollywood sign the DMV brings together people of all walks of life. There, as if to provide entertainment, are two homeless drunks swigging on their wine (at 9:30AM–well they are homeless drunks and it is 5:00 somewhere in the world), poking fun at each other and surprisingly keeping to themselves. Whatever it was they were doing kept themselves amused for the longest time.

 

After spending 15 minutes in the long queue that snaked out the door and around the corner I texted Mr H to tell him his iPad ran out of battery so no more practising while I wait. Thank god I did because apparently there’s a separate queue inside for appointments. Nobody told me that. I even sent the girl behind me in the queue to check if there are separate lines. All they said was move back, move back, we need the room in the doorway, please move back.

After the false start I found one of the last remaining English forms and filled it in while I waited and was served.

“Excuse me, excuse me,” said the lady pushing in behind me. “I have a question.”

“I’m sorry maam you’ll have to wait at the end of the line.”

“I just have a question.”

“I’m sorry maam,” said my lady while the question-asking lady got abused by the lady next to my lady serving the (gigantic) queue without appointments.

“She’s so stressed,” my lady says to me.

“It’s busy in here,” I said (I wanted to say it’s a shitfight in here but not sure that would’ve gone down too well). “Is it always like this?”

“Always,” she sighed.

“Oh my god you poor darlings,” I blurted out.

She smiled, sensed my sympathy and immediately felt better. I meant it. I was bracing myself to make sure she found my appointment slot, I had the right ID, filled in the form properly and could move to the next step because the last thing I wanted to do was come back any sooner than I needed to. No wonder discussion groups say stay clear of the DMV—it’s a nightmare.

The thing that continues to astound me is the patience of the Americans. They push to ask questions and find out what’s going on but they wait in line and do as they’re told. The scene at that DMV was one you can imagine on a news bulletin—people going everywhere and one lone madman gets filled with rage, can’t handle it anymore, gets out his gun and starts shooting. (There’s a metal detector & bag check at the Social Security & Tax offices but not one here). But they all do what they told don’t answer back and sit and wait. That’s why Americans are in shock when a madman does come out shooting. I know that much now at least. Still you never know, so I sit down and stare at that screen waiting for my number to be called to tell me where to go.

Because I’m getting older now I survey the windows, check out where people are being called to and sus out where I might be directed.  I need to get this right.

Step 3: It’s my turn

That wait wasn’t so bad—especially after you’ve spoken to the people next to you. So very American. The lady was really very nice (they’re not usually known for being nice or helpful). She entered my details into the computer, got someone to cross-check them, took my work permit (which was apparently a better from of ID than my Australian passport or driver’s licence). They only took cash or debit card so for once in my life I had cash—thank god says this credit card queen. Anyway, at $33 it’s not the $100-and-something in Australia. Oh, and they took my right thumb print too.

“Would you like your test in English?”

“Yes please, unless you have one in Australian.”

No … oops, sorry. Nice but still no sense of humour.

Step 4: Photo time

“Head over to counter 22 Miss and good luck.”

Great, but I didn’t realise I was getting my photo taken. Cool, I get ID for my next trip out of Burbank where they reject my Australian driver’s licence as a form of ID.

Place your right thumb on the scanner then stand and get your picture taken.

Snap.

Done.  I like that step.

Step 5: Test time

You get three chances (I didn’t know that until a friend told me on my way in) so it’s pretty hard to fail. Damn Mr H scaring me into thinking I’d fail. Still I was glad because some of those questions are so dodgy and the likelihood of me coming back if I failed was pretty slim so we had to do this.

I must one of the first to do the test on a touch-screen computer because most people I know still had to circle paper-based forms. How novel.  Once I went through the questions I went back to the desk to tell them if I passed or failed.  Do you trust me?  How do you know if I didn’t pass?  Well I wasn’t about to test that, I passed!

They printed an extra bit of paper gave everything back and told me to schedule my “behind-the-wheel” test.

“Do I get my photo?” I asked.  “No that’s it.”

Bugger, I thought I got a nice card with my photo on it saying learner’s permit.  Nope I have to wait for my actual licence for that.

Step one done. Behind-the-wheel test to go #cadriverslicence #myreality #itstartedinla

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Yes my friends, I have my permit. I have until this time next year to sit my “behind-the-wheel” test. Don’t’ think Mr H will let me wait that long somehow. Yep, time to face my fears and have a Nike moment.

xx It Started in LA xx

BH makeover
My LA story, Posts

Does Beverly Hills need a new look?

Beverly Hills is known for its mansions and compounds–many of which take up entire blocks–its lush green gardens, the bands of gardeners to maintain said gardens and the food trucks required to feed said gardeners. It’s an eco-system that makes LA–at least Beverly Hills, Bel Air, Brentwood etc–go around. Can it be that the very stylish and chic Beverly Hills needs a make-over? Does Beverly Hills need a new look?

This week I’m getting my “Greece on” for summer and have started gently walking each day.  So I headed down to the walking track in Beverly Hills when I was approached by a news crew regarding water restrictions, the drought and what I thought about the lush green gardens of Beverly Hills.

Are there “younger generations” coming in stealing its thunder? (Enter Venice Beach for example).

Does it need to look at itself and think, “my look is so pre-drought, what can I do to move my look to be up with the latest drought trend?”

Keeping up with the times

We went through it in Sydney.

We couldn’t water (our gardens) and everything was conserve, conserve, conserve. I agree it took a while for the message to get through—you know how it is? You think, it’s bound to rain soon or we’ll give up water tomorrow; it’s really not that bad OR how can we run out of water … to … we won’t really run out of water will we?

But then it started happening: people started replanting their gardens, stopped watering (fines were issued and news stories were sensationalised thanks to the people who refused to follow the rules). You start turning the tap off in while you’re brushing your teeth, you become aware how long your showers are (and curse your guilt and those damn restrictions), you don’t throw away half-drunk glasses of water (you empty them in a pot plant or in the garden).

And all of a sudden you look around and think, “huh, my look is so outdated”. Peer group pressure rules supreme (not that I’m condoning peer group pressure per se).  Because the Sydney garden landscape started changing.  Gone were the lush green lawns and in their place were succulents and natives–plants that didn’t need constant watering (or very little water) to survive.

But I’m not sure Beverly Hills is ready to reinvent itself quite yet.  I think Beverly Hills thinks it looks pretty damn fine the way it is thank-you very much.  I’m not so sure you can sustain that look though.  You might not run out of Botox anytime soon but we could well run out of water.  Bugger …

Five bits of advice

So, here are my five pieces of advice for Beverly Hills to embrace a new look that’s keeping up with the drought:

  1. Book in a therapist. Obviously you’re in a state of denial and that is not a good state to be in. The sooner we face the fact and deal with the problem head on the sooner we can get on with our “normal” lives.
  2. Get a stylist darling. It’s imperative you have a cutting-edge stylist that can show it the latest trends and looks and just how modern and edgy it can be.  After all, if you’re going to change your look you want everyone to go “wowsers”.
  3. Shop, shop, shop: what’s the number one pastime of 90210 residents apart from Soul Cycle & plastic surgery? Well it’s to shop of course. What better excuse do we need to hit the shops and get our new look on.
  4. Flood social media with selfies. Peer group pressure works every time; like any good fashion trend someone has to start it but make that look happen and people will be trying to emulate you (or outdo you). Instagram, tweet & Facebook the new look: get everyone talking about you and you’ll have instant buy-in.
  5. Hire a new publicist. He/she needs to pitch your new look to entertainment reporters and news reporters to encourage everyone else to get on board with the new look. Before you know it there’ll be specials, reality TV offers and even a book deal. This new look could really pay off.

So now that you’ve got the new look happening and it’s working for you we have to remember there are—of course—other things we can do to conserve water.

How to conserve some water

To start we could, like, make sure our watering systems don’t go on during those rare moments when it does rain here (I know, you don’t have to do it though we still need those gardeners to be gainfully employed).

Perhaps you could stop washing down concrete areas (yes they still do it over here–shame on you).

And, possibly the hardest of them all, try shortening our showers.

(I would have said drink bottled water fresh from the springs but it seems there’s a separate campaign to ban them—something about landfill?).

But seriously, drought or no drought don’t let your teenage sons convince you he’s conserving water by not taking a shower. Tell him it’s a community service to keep him showered and smelling sweet.

xx It Started in LA xx

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

A postcard from Sydney

G’day LA.

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

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

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

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

10 things I love about living in Sydney

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

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

It doesn't get much more spectacular than this

It doesn’t get much more spectacular than this

2.   Boats & Water sports

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

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

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

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

Ahhh the things we took for granted.

3.   Saturday Sport

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

4.   Australian private school and the attitude to educating kids

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

6.  Pubs

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

7.  Everything revolves around a drink

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

“It’s OK water’s fine,” I said.

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

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

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

8.  Public Transport

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

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

9.  Corner shops and everything at arm’s length

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

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

10.  Bogans

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

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

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

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

xx It Started in LA xx

Keep Clear
My LA story, Posts

Driving in LA: take your life into your own hands

One of my friends, a fellow Blogger, recently posted about the frustrations of driving in Sydney.  What a great book this would make.  Imagine a book on driving in many different cities in the world.  In the Philippines it would be the art of turning two lanes into five.  In Shanghai it would be the art of making your own lanes–two wide-ish lanes can make three.  In Melbourne it would be the art of speeding up the minute the car in front of you indicates to change into your lane.  Obviously so said car can’t get in front of you.

Ahh the idiosyncrasies of navigating the roads in different cities.

Short of publishing a book I thought I’d contribute to her blog post by sharing my pain of driving in LA.  Without further adieu here are my top three pet peeves about driving/drivers in LA.

And, as a bonus prize I give you three things you should know before getting behind the wheel in LA.  And it’s not they drive on the wrong side of the road.

Peeve #1: KEEP CLEAR

For God’s sake.  It’s universal: in Australia, the UK, America they use the words “Keep Clear”.  No translation issues here.  So why the F%#@* can’t LA drivers understand??? Renowned worldwide for its traffic congestion, LA drivers are concerned about one thing and one thing only: themselves.

Keep Clear

Keep Clear is a foreign concept for Los Angelenos drivers

Listen up people: if you didn’t block the Keep Clear area I wouldn’t have to push my way in and block the whole road.  Try it sometime.  I’m pretty sure it won’t kill you.

Peeve #2: INDICATE

Living Life at 56 mentions it’s a Sydney phenomenon but I can assure you LA cars don’t come with indicators (or blinkers as the case may be–did I just use an American word ahead of an Australian one?).

Well they can’t.  Possibly.  Turn left, right, change lanes, four-way stop, change from the carpool lane across four lanes to the exit a freeway in 10 metres and there’s no sign of an indicator.

No, cars in LA most definitely don’t come with indicators.  We don’t need them here.

Peeve #3: STAY IN YOUR BLOODY LANE

Oh yeah, this one’s a beauty.  I live up in the hills around Mulholland Drive.  It’s not a very wide road and neither are the lanes.  It’s windy and the drops are …. well …. steep and unforgiving.

Why then are drivers incapable of keeping in their own lane?  I’ll often be coming the other way to find a car well and truly hogging my side of the road as if he’s coming in for a cuddle.  I can’t just jump on top of you it’s a crash or it’s off the canyon.  And I’m not going over.

Let’s make it easy for everyone: keep on your own side.

Now that I’ve shared that with you it’s time for me to take some good advice.

Keep Calm

Keep Calm & Drink Cocktails

 

Driving in LA can lead you to drink.

Three things you should know about driving in LA

 

  1. The more expensive your car the bigger hoon you are.  There are no bogans in LA.  No.  It’s great, everyone’s hip and groovy or trendy or stylish.  But when you have an expensive car you turn into a bogan.  Automatically.
  2. Overtaking is always allowed: suburban streets, winding your way around Mulholland Drive, can’t see the on-coming traffic.  Don’t worry about it.  Overtaking is encouraged.  At all times.
  3. There is no such thing as a speed limit.  Technically as long as you’re the same speed as the traffic you’re OK.  So technically speed limits don’t count for much.  It’s not until you get someone in the car from out of town or you start driving back in a country where speed limits are enforced that you realise you actually drive quite fast here.

So now when you come to LA you can drive as the locals do.  I remember the first time I got on the freeway I thought I was going to be blown away by the g-force of the cars passing me by, leaving me for dead.  I was doing 100kmph or thereabouts.  Try changing lanes, it can be scary.  It doesn’t take long before you’ve got the hang of it and your speed is edging upwards of 70/80 mph.  No wonder the freeway accidents are big.

It’s pretty tough to get around without a car.  Acquaint yourself with driving LA style and you’ll be fine.  Good luck!

xx It Started in LA xx

Four Seasons LA/BH
Celebrity, LA Restaurants, Posts, Visiting LA

Four Seasons in LA? Well of course.

This entry is part 2 of 4 in the series Beverly Hills Hotels

 

 

 

Are there four seasons in Beverly Hills?  But of course.  The Four Seasons Los Angeles in Beverly Hills to be precise.

Stay at the Four Seasons Beverly Hills for five-star treatment without pretension. If you don’t know LA you might think the location is not for you but actually you’re right in the middle of great shopping, amazing restaurants and have my two favourite areas, West Hollywood and Beverly Hills at your doorstop. With 100 of the 285 rooms being suites there’s a room for everyone but don’t be fooled the standard rooms are roomy and well kitted out.

It Started in LA rating: 5 ticks √√√√√

How a hotel makes you feel is so important: it can make or break a stay don’t you think?  Absolutely I say.  Let’s face it if you’re not Kim or Kanye or JLo you still want to be treated like you are.  You’re important.  You’re special.

Well it’s no secret yours truly believes in that premise: I want to be treated like I’m a VIP (and understand to most people I’m not damnit).  When I visited the Four Seasons at Beverly Hills I felt like the red carpet had been rolled out for me and so here I am telling you all about it.

Unlike the Beverly Hills Hotel where I walk in and immediately take on a strut (with swag) you don’t feel the need to do that here.  It’s comfortable and unassuming.

I didn’t realise the Four Seasons is reputed to be the number one hotel in LA for the entertainment industry.  (Hmmm truth be told had I known this I probably would’ve been in a bit sooner so I’m telling you now).  Apparently it’s the venue for the majority of Hollywood’s press film events.  You get that sense when you see a mini version of the Marilyn Monroe statue as you pull into valet.

Marilyn Monroe

Marilyn statue as you enter Four Seasons Hotel Beverly Hills

 

Guests are anyone from pop stars (there was a very well-known one staying there the day I visited) to celebrities to agents.  (In the leisure category it’s popular with us Aussies so it must be good.)

This was my first visit to the Four Seasons.  As I said had I known what it was known for I probably would’ve visited sooner.  It makes sense that one of the families from school (who ran one of the top Studios) nominated the hotel as their favourite staycation location.  I immediately popped it on my list but it’s taken until now for me to get there.  Better late than never I say.

The first thing that hits you is the impressive display (and aroma) of flowers.  Not just a centrepiece in the lobby but throughout the hotel and gardens.

Lillies

Those lillies are stunning and positively fragrant–not even Pepe le Pew could upset you

 

Beverly Hills-renowned florist Eric Buterbaugh’s inspiring displays made me feel like I was back in the flower markets in Shanghai: so many flowers.  And that smell of perfectly scented lillies was powerful enough that not even Pepe le Pew the skunk could spoil it.

Flowers

Flowers anyone? Simply stunning

 

The flowers are no accident.  The property’s owners (it’s managed by the Four Seasons), the Cohen family, were in the flower business so their passion is reflected in the hotel’s design and mood.

The next thing I notice is that, despite its five-star rating and smartly dressed staff (rather than the preferred dress-down approach of many local hotels) it’s not stuffy or snooty.  On the contrary it’s welcoming and unpretentious.

What are the rooms like?

OK.  I love them.  The standard room is really spacious, not at all claustrophobic.  Nice touches are the floral theme (in the most tasteful way) through the bedheads and carpet (some of the nicest carpet let alone hotel carpet I’ve ever seen).  A vase with fresh orchids in the bathroom showed that nothing escapes the detail put into the rooms.  Toiletries used are Bvlgari which also makes for a nice touch.

There are many different categories of Suites catering for the breadth of guests the hotel attracts.

Adjoining rooms

There are about 20 adjoining rooms ranging in category from suites to standard rooms offering different combinations of sleeping arrangements.  If you’re anything like me the most frustrating thing about booking via an online travel company is finding or securing adjoining rooms.  I get that they’re limited and cannot guarantee but help us out guys and give us a guide as to what’s available.  If you fall into this category call or get in touch with hotel direct and make the booking.  Less headaches and a better chance of getting what you want.

Naturally suites can also provide the option you’re looking for too.  The Executive suite has a pull-out couch in the main room and the Luxury Suite offers two full bathrooms (and a wrap-around balcony).  If you happen to have a huge family the Presidential Suites, Royal and Luxury Suites are all big enough to cater for larger numbers.

Four Seasons

Rooms at the Four Seasons Beverly Hills feature lush carpet and beautiful flower motifs

 

So LA

If you’re looking for that LA feel the Four Seasons Beverly Hills has nailed it.  There’s no mistaking it caters for entertainment clients and is in touch with what LA is about.

The pool is stunning with obligatory cabanas (for Beverly Hills anyway) and plenty of room for sunbathers.

Four Seasons Pool

The pool at the Four Seasons is quintessentially LA with that vintage look and feel (love the green & white)

 

 I work out

It wouldn’t be an LA hotel without great workout facilities and the Four Season’s is outdoors.  That’s right, Muscle Beach comes to the Four Seasons.  Check it, it might even encourage me to work out!

Being LA you can line up a personal trainer to make sure you’re not slacking off while you’re away from home.

Gym

The outdoor gym at the Four Seasons is temperature controlled giving the best of both worlds

 

If all that doesn’t scream: “So LA!” then the dining options will.  LA has sooo many fantastic places to eat.  Here in LA people go to the hotel restaurants to eat.  If it’s good.  (I don’t know why we don’t go to them much in Australia, you certainly do in Asia).  So you better make sure your restaurant is good–or offers something unique–to bring the people in.

Dining Options

The Four Seasons Beverly Hills has its own little secret known as the Cabana Restaurant, tucked up behind the pool and open to the public.

Culina

Culina at the Four Seasons Beverly Hills

 

I just love that the menu is broken down into four categories: indulgence, antioxidant, energy boosters and comfort food.  How LA is that?!

Don’t believe me? Check out the lunch menu here.  Did you click through and notice the smoothies?  Antioxidant (Goji Berry, Cranberry, Blueberry, Pomegranate, Papaya) and Jet Lag (Orange Blossom Honey, Nonfat Plain Yogurt, Orange Juice, Banana, Strawberries, Bee Pollen).  Can’t get more LA than that.

I’m so impressed that the Four Seasons knows and understands its clientele and market.  It attracts a younger clientele (think celebs people).  You can’t be offering burgers, burgers or burgers to a dieting Kim Kardashian (not that I’m saying she comes here.  And not that I’m saying she doesn’t).  But if that up-and-coming Blogger Gwen John goes to visit as much as she wants to be good and go and antioxidant menu there’s a good chance she’s going for comfort.  So you’ve still got to offer it.  Right?  Right.

I was treated to breakfast at Culina–its destination restaurant aimed at keeping guests in and Los Angelenos coming.  Word is the Sunday brunch is to die for so we’re checking into that one ASAP.  Mother’s Day and Father’s Day (which is June here and not September–you’re welcome) are big ones so book early.

I was so impressed by the breakfast that I’m going to blog about that separately.  Watch this space.  Really quickly though there are healthy options and your traditional fry up options and lots in-between.  OK I had the sinless Eggs Benedict which was to die for.  If eating healthy was this good and this easy yours truly might be a skinny fashion model rather than a Blogger.  The other highlight for me was the freshly squeezed juice bar.  You can order one from the menu (I had the Antioxidant Booster–it was Monday morning 🙂 ) or you can create your own.

PS:

If you’re an LA local you’ll be pleased to know there’s a fully kosher kitchen. So LA.

Stay at the Four Seasons Hotel if:

  • you want five-star Beverly Hills luxury without the snootiness or pretension
  • you want to feel part of the “younger Hollywood” crowd
  • you’re looking for healthy yet yummy dining options that are so un-American yet proudly Los Angeleno
  • you want to be centrally located between West Hollywood, Third Street, Melrose Avenue and Beverly Hills (never mind Rodeo Drive, you’re right near the boutiques on Robertson)
  • you’re prepared to embrace the LA thing and drive everywhere (there are cars to drive you within a two-mile radius of the hotel).

 

I said it for my last review and I’ll say it again.  I made the mistake of not appreciating LA for what it was when I first came to visit some 20 years ago (I think the words were “been there, done that, never coming back”.) I know better now. Do your research before you hit LA.  And I don’t mean which theme parks you might visit.  Understand what LA is all about and it will be your friend, expect something it’s not and you may as well give it a miss. Thankfully I’ve grown up now, made that rather naive mistake and fate took me back here. I count my lucky stars everyday.

xx It Started in LA xx

PS: Again I’d recommend you compare prices online but try booking through the hotel direct.  Rack rates are becoming a thing of the past (I have absolutely no proof of this except through my own booking experience) and hotels offer competitive online rates.  Sometimes it’s so much easier to get exactly what you want when you book direct.

All pictures with thanks to Four Seasons Beverly Hills.

To find out more about Beverly Hills Hotels visit my Pinterest board.  I’m pinning to it faster than I can blog!

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