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My LA story, Posts

Perspective: an expat’s realisation

I had virtually written this week’s post.  I started writing it on the weekend because it had been a busy week so the content practically wrote itself.  And then Sunday night (Monday in Australia) happened.

On our way home from checking out Grinchmas at Universal Studios I was getting ready to post some pics on Facebook and Instagram and started seeing some disturbing posts.  The posts were confused initially but all saying that if you don’t have urgent work in the City you should turn back because a large part of the City near Martin Place was in lockdown and there was a siege going on.  In my hometown of Sydney.  What became more clear a couple of hours later was that someone had taken over a coffee shop in Martin Place—the Lindt Café—and was holding hostages.  The situation was being treated more seriously than a standard robbery and early speculation suggested terrorism.

American news covers America-only content

We raced home to put the TV on and see what was going on.  There was a mention on one of the local news channels and they concluded the short update with “we’re keeping an eye on the situation.”  I was so sure CNN would be covering it—it had all the ingredients of 24/7 rolling action.  Nothing.  Normal Sunday night programming which was a basically a magazine-style current affairs show rather than news.  Say what?

Naturally my first reaction was to take to Facebook to vent.  It seems there was online coverage but no TV news networks had picked up the story.  Thankfully we have a Samsung Smart TV and Channel 9 and ABC.net in Australia had live streaming (Channels 7 & 10 the other free-to-air stations streaming didn’t work “in our geography”).

I was really shocked that CNN decided it didn’t warrant rolling coverage.  (It did in Australia btw).  Or any other TV news network here.

I’m living in a country where a car chase stops programming and we all stop to watch it.  I’m also living in a country that itself lives in fear of terrorism so I thought they could hype up Sydney’s misfortune and bring in expert after expert to analyse how this event might impact the United States of ‘merica. We were glued to our TV all night and I had Twitter by my side; I slept on the couch and kept checking in to see if any progress had been made.

At 7am my husband woke me up and we turned on the American news.  It was on the news by now—clearly they realised the enormity of the situation—and had made many front pages around the US.

CNN had finally come to the party that the next morning (I’m not sure when it started its broadcast) and they were doing exactly what I’d expected them to do 12 hours earlier—analysing the situation.  Excellent, we have coverage.

I hopped on Twitter to see what was going on and there it was breaking news that more hostages had escaped.  But CNN hadn’t cut to it.  So it was back to online streaming because we wanted to follow the local news that did have a direct vested interest in covering the news as it was happening.  (Oh wait, isn’t that CNN’s tagline?).

That night once it was all but over it was covered on CBS but it didn’t even lead the news coverage.  I can’t even remember what did.  To be fair it was a good story and re-capped the story well for us.

Disconnect with home

That’s when you realise you’re an expat living in a city that’s temporarily your own but it doesn’t always share the same interests as you do.  When something big happens at home you are still hugely connected there but getting news from far away can be tough.  As I’ve said over and over thank god for the Internet.

(When my dad was an expat in the Philippines he used to have a gigantic short wave radio so he could pick up the cricket.  In his day he had to rely on the commentators providing the visual for him.  He often listened to the cricket rather than watching it he was so attuned to it–to listen with him I had to learn the names of all the fielding positions.  But he learnt to adapt to being far from home and living in a country that didn’t share his passion for cricket.)

I lived in China so I’m used to the sick feeling you get when something big is going down in your home country and you’re not privy to the news.  It makes you feel disconnected and isolated.  Thank god for social media and live streaming.  (At least in China we had the Australia Network—a service taken away from all expats thanks to budget cuts).

I hadn’t even given it a second thought that CNN wouldn’t cover the siege as it was unfolding on Sunday night.  I didn’t want to read about it; I wanted to watch it.  Live.  That’s why/how CNN was invented.

Yes I got on my high horse.  I was shocked.  This was so big to me but it wasn’t big enough to interrupt normal programming.  It made me realise two things:

  1. America doesn’t really care unless it’s happening here.
  2. Australia is not as important to the worldwide stage as we like to think.

Before you get all defensive … I don’t mean that negatively.

America is not to blame here.  As a PR chick I taught media training and one of the strongest news angles when pitching a story is local relevance.  There was none.  Unless this was a global co-ordinated attack it has no (real) relevance to the US.  They did want to keep abreast of the shocking situation but they didn’t need to watch the situation unfold.

The news networks are pretty expert at hyping news but it was too early to make that leap.  Even for CNN.  To the Australian news however it was very relevant.

I don’t know why I thought CNN would cover it.  I suppose because it was absolutely relevant to ME and I forgot for a minute where I was.

It was funny though as part of Australia’s news coverage the networks were all saying, “We made the global news, it was all over the news in the US.”  Well yes it was covered online and it made the front pages (thanks most likely to that Islamic flag in the window) and the breakfast news shows obviously covered it, CNN got hold of it for a while; but it wasn’t really all America was talking about.  We’re a little country and we like to think we garner a lot of attention but we don’t really.  And that’s all right.

The news was so significant for my fellow Australians, many came back into Martin Place to pay tribute to the hostages and particularly the two heroes that didn’t make it.

 

Off the high horse now and back to what else is going on in 90210.

I don’t know where last week went.  I truly don’t.  I don’t think that’s a good sign given we’re creeping into the end of 2014.

America the good: car services

You know how in Australia you flinch when it’s time to get your car serviced?  You book your car in stay strong and try really hard not to get “done in” by the dealer (because you know this is how they make their money).

I had to take my car back for a service because I needed new brake pads.  Pain in the backside really as I just had my car serviced a month or so ago.  But the good thing is you don’t bleed your wallet dry when you get your car serviced here.  I’m not sure if it’s the same for every brand of car but BMW offers an ultimate service package when you buy your car.  That means we don’t pay for anything when it comes to servicing our car.  That’s right: nudda, zilch, zero, no more to pay.  That is with the exception of windscreen wiper blades (which you don’t need in LA because it never rains here).

I know, you’re probably thinking the same as me: it’s “free” but they’ll find something to charge you for.  They all do.  That’s how dealers make their money.  But there again is another reason I just think we’re being taken for a ride in Australia.  How does a BMW dealer make money if they’re not charging you for the service?  I’ve had two services and walked away: “no charge”.  I don’t know and I don’t care.  I love it.

User pays.  For everything.

Having said that it really is a user-pays system here.  Everything we do is paid for.  Here in 90210 everything is outsourced: gardener, housekeeping, security, car-washing, Christmas lights, dog walking odd jobs and every little thing you can possibly imagine.  It’s what makes the US economy tick over and how people earn a living.

Over and over I relish in the great American way as it directly affects my daily life (and how easy it can be).  I’m not sure if I’ve said this before but things like getting your car washed and valet parking are so cost effective it’s a way of life here.  I especially love valet parking.

But there are other ways this user-pays system just gets out of control.  Take the health care system.  I really am not very tuned in to the intricacies of how it works.  It’s taken me 18 months to start to understand our health cover.

When my mum was visiting she had an unfortunate accident, slipped and cut her head open.  I took her to an Emergency Centre nearby and I have to say we got the most incredible service.  They gave her a CT scan, looked after her, checked her out and before we knew it we were on our way back home again.  Too easy.

A month or so later I got two bills: one for the CT scan and one for $892 for “emergency physician service and “surgical repair wound”.  Fair enough, no problems.  We paid the bills, she claimed it on her travel insurance and we both agreed it was a great tribute to the health system that it was so simple, efficient and painless (except for the stapling which I believe was anything but painless).  A week or so ago I (she) got a bill for $4,000+.  Say what?  There was no description on the invoice so I called them to see what it was for.  “I thought we settled our bill,” I said.

“Mam, this is the “facility charge”.  Because you’re not insured that’s the invoice amount that is due to be paid by you.”

“So it’s a new charge that we have to pay?  I’m not all paid up?”

“That’s right mam”.

Oh my god.  We were there for two hours.  Let’s call it three hours and that’s $1335 per hour.  I’m in the wrong business.  How can sitting in a bed in an emergency centre cost $1335?  And that doesn’t include the physician—we’ve already paid for him.

That’s more expensive than a suite at the Beverly Hills Hotel.  I know where I’d rather be.

Gatecrashing

I was invited to my first-ever Holiday Gift Exchange.  Sounds so American doesn’t it?  I know.  This Ausmerican loved it.  It was so fun.  Like the game White Elephant that the kids play you all draw a number from a “hat”.  Starting at one and working your way up  when it’s your turn you either choose a present or you can steal someone else’s.  Each present is up for grabs twice and the third time it’s locked or frozen and it’s yours for keeps.

Three chicks host this every year—two of them are my friends.  So given they pull together around 18 people we all went around the room and introduced ourselves.  I simply said, “Hi, my name’s Gwen I saw the light on so thought I’d come in.  I’m the gatecrasher.”

“Wait who…?  Gate what?”

A room-crasher? Do you mean door crasher?

They had no idea what or who a gate crasher was.

(For the record a gatecrasher is someone who finds out about a party and isn’t invited and “crashes” the party.)

Literally

Speaking of language I’ve been chuckling to myself recently about how Californians love the word “literally”.  Everything is literally literally.  A bit like like.  So in a sentence …

“It has literally been raining for like two days.”

(I know pretty clever fitting like in there two huh?)

Cracks me up.  My daughter has been guilty of literally sneaking literally into her vocab.

But watching the Australian news for a couple of days I’ve realised our word is “certainly”.  In a sentence …

“This situation at the Lindt Café in Martin Place has certainly rocked our Nation.”

What’s your equivalent word?  Would literally certainly love to hear it.

Happy Hanukkah to all as it started last night and goes for eight days.  Merry Christmas to the rest of you for next week. Stay safe and after this week’s events in Sydney never take your loved ones for granted. Big hugs all ’round.  We’re off to light a candle at a local Australian-run establishment in West Hollywood in honour of the two people who died as they had ties back to our local Aussie community.

xx It Started in LA xx

 

Celebrity, Posts

Summer Holidays, Camp and the annual health check

Our first American summer is here and it is whizzing past right before our eyes.    The thought of 11/12 weeks off in the middle of the year can be daunting but given we arrived here in August and only had a couple of weeks before the kids had to start a new school we were ready for it.  Plus, we had friends & family lined up to stay so we knew it would be a busy summer.  But, some seven weeks in–half-way through–it’s becoming ridiculous and needs to slow down before we blink and miss it.

What happened to being bored and having “nothing to do”?  What happened to catching up on my Blog and getting time to enhance it and work on new and fun things?  What happened to regretting not taking advantage of the one trillion camps there are on offer?

This one time at Band Camp

When we first arrived and the kids started at their new school there was a lot of talk about Camp and a lot of emphasis on “sleep-away” Camp.  It was my daughter’s dream to go to Camp.  (Didn’t we all dream of going away to camp as we grew up watching American movies when all the kids got to go to Camp? OK I did).

band camp

This one time … at Band Camp | Summer Holidays | It Started in LA | www.itstartedinla

 

As the year went on it became clearer that we’d have friends come to visit so going off to Camp wouldn’t be a thing in the kids immediate future.  Neither were really perturbed and given we haven’t grown up with a Camp culture–to us summer holidays are all about the beach and going away as a family–we weren’t either.

But in hindsight I feel like I’ve let the team down.  Not my team but this Blog.  I mean who comes to live in LA with two camp-aged kids and doesn’t research them, how much they are, who goes, for how long and what really goes on (are they really like the movies?).

So I had a little look on the website at one camp my daughter wanted to go on.  Ironically for a cool $8,550 each I could send both my kids back to Australia and New Zealand (not the Camp the kids wanted to go on) to do all the things we do during our summer holidays while I stay here and … well I’m not sure what I’d do … refurb my Blog?

Sounds great if both parents work but I don’t really need to take advantage of Camp. Ironically, when you look at the promotional video it shows Sydney and Manly at their spectacular best and doesn’t necessarily show that it’s winter there.  And, I know as well as you do (my Aussie readers) that it’s been a cold and miserable winter.  Imagine surf lessons on Manly Beach when it’s blowing a gale and bucketing down?

Having said that the girls (and boys) that go away to traditional sleepaway camp here in the US love it.  And if I’d bothered to research it earlier then I would see that they have a special wakeboarding program that my son would love as he misses it so much.  Maybe next year …?

Seeing LA from my friends’ eyes

We had “mom & friends” camp (ie staying home) with one of my closest friends here at the start of summer.  They were in the US for five weeks and did the most amazing things.  To say it was a trip of a lifetime was an understatement.

Apart from having them around to see what life is like for us (and share our experiences first hand) for an extended period it was great to see LA and the US from their perspective.

So, here are five things I noticed they noticed about being in the US.

  1. The service is so good it’s going to be hard to go back to apathy.
  2. Everyone is just so nice and friendly (and noticeably so) and it’s actually really nice and not sickly terrible.  (But tipping–and thinking about it–sucks)
  3. There is so much to do and see here you need more than a couple of years to get through your bucket list (which, keeps on growing–that’s my addition). And, there is so much to do that no wonder many Americans don’t feel the need to discover what the rest of the world has to offer.
  4. Hollywood and Beverly Hills are like one big movie set.  Not as in everything looks so familiar (even though it does) but that it seems bigger and more schmick than it is in real life.  The Hollywood Walk of Fame for example the stars seem so much more shiny and new not that there are people everywhere with not much room between each star and someone’s spilt ice-cream on Michael Jackson.  Oh, and that Rodeo Drive isn’t actually that long.
    (Celebs don’t really shop on Rodeo Drive that much unless they’re looking for publicity which is exactly what we caught when we were there–a guy from the Hunger Games walking up and down with an unknown hat-wearing girl as paps and adoring fans chased him.)

    Celeb spotting

    Doing a little celeb spotting: Luka from the Hunger Games (so they say)

  5. That we’re very lucky with the quality of food in Australia. My friend couldn’t get over the fact that a wedge salad was served in some of the best restaurants in the US and it’s essentially a wedge of iceberg lettuce!  It’s true and if you’re lucky it’s served with a fancy ranch dressing.

And, by way of a PS you can dine at my favourite West Hollywood restaurant and see paps and big-time celebs: Hugh Grant, Sandra Bullock AND Keanu Reeves in fact.  And, there may or may not have been an exchange between my girlfriend & Keanu at the bar that didn’t include her introducing us.  Sigh).

Keanu's Star

I finally get introduced to Keanu–but I have to make do with his Star

 

Like me they imagined their overseas “trip-of-a-lifetime-holiday” to be exploring Europe but we put a spanner in those works.  If ever I had a choice I’d choose Europe over America because I thought it had more to offer.  While I still love Europe I have (and they do) a great appreciation for all the US has to offer.

The Annual Health Check

With summer comes the annual health check in preparation for the kids starting the new school year.  Each year the kids start a new school year we’re required to take them to the pediatrician (kids here go to a pede Dr not a GP) and get the royal once-over.  For our school this check-up must be between April and August so if you’ve been getting a check-up on their birthday which falls in March then you have go back and go through the whole process all over again.

The kids could not see the point in this check up at all–especially that it was interrupting their precious holiday time .  I haven’t got the bill yet (I’m wondering if I should be scared) but I think the concept of the health check is a good thing.

They take the kids’ height and weight, assess their hearing and eye sight, check on their immunisations, do a glucose and cholesterol test, take their blood pressure and have a good look at their file to see how they’re tracking (and have been tracking) throughout their little lives.  (Actually maybe I need to be very scared about that bill!)

Actually it’s more than civilised here–a medical assistant or nurse takes your vitals, runs many of the tests, does the admin to double-check vaccinations then the doctor steps in and reviews everything, gives them a physical check-up and lets you know how they’re “performing”.

I think we need more of that in Australia.  It seems to me to be a great preventative approach to keeping track of the kids’ wellness.  For some reason our school has a strict policy on doing these tests (others not so apparently) but for whatever reason my kids are being kept track of while we’re here in the US.

Usual programming will re-commence in ratings season

Given we’re out of ratings season here in the US and all the new shows and highly anticipated next seasons are starting back in September I’ve been a bit quiet too.  I promise to post more regularly once school is back.

In the meantime I’m researching holiday ideas and destinations for you so check in on those.  Coming up I’ll post on Yosemite, continue my review on Beverly Hills Hotels, extend the review area and talk about Disneyland, Universal Studios and shopping in LA.

Disneyland

After putting off a trip to Disneyland for ten months we took the plunge–and we even enjoyed it

Enjoy your summer but if you’re not on holidays know that you’ll be on holidays very soon.  Be sure to keep an eye on Facebook and Instagram as I still manage to post there regularly.

xx It Started in LA xx

Liebster award
Expat tales, Posts

What do LA, Libya & Liebster have in common?

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

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

What do LA, Libya & Liebster have in common?

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

Liebster award

My very-own Liebster Award

 

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

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

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

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

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

Liebster Award

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

2. Which one(s) are you?

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

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

And of course now we’re expats again.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Magic Beach

One of the most beautiful places in the world

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

9. Where do you see yourself in 10 years?

Home … Maybe!

10. When do you stop travelling?

Never.

My nominations for the Liebster award

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

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

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

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

How do I discover new Blogs that deserve recognition?

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

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

Ten questions

So here are my questions to you:

1)   Why did you start your Blog?

2)   How do you attract new followers?

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

4)   Why do you Blog?

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

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

7)   Why?  Or why not?

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

9)   Are you a scruncher or a folder?

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

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

xx It Started in LA xx

Acclimating
Celebrity, My LA story, Posts

Acclimating in LA

I love that word … acclimating.  We say climitising in Australia.  Don’t we? Or maybe we just call it settling in, “Have you settled in yet?  How’s the settling-in process going?”  Either way we don’t have a fancy word like acclimating.  (pronounced aclim-8-ing).

A few things have happened over recent weeks to make me think I am acclimating.

We’re planning our summer holidays.  One of my bestest buddies is coming over for five weeks and I can’t wait.  We’ve been busy planning trips to Yosemite, Vegas, hanging out in LA, trips to Malibu and spending the Fourth of July down in San Diego.  (Lucky I have really good housesitters).

While we were talking about San Diego I mentioned that some friends of ours will be down there at the same time who we just love.

“Are they American?” she asked.

“Yes, but they’re good ones!” I replied.  (All of my American friends–and readers–are the good ones!)

“Aha”, she was quick to say, “but you’ve been there nearly a year now, you’re used to it.”

Last week my daughter and I had two milestones: one was our first trip to Chipotle and the second was our first trip to mega craft shop Michael’s.

At Chipotle we were catching up on the news of the day (while Mr H was away and my son was busy training our calories off at waterpolo) when one of my favourite spunks–Joshua Jackson–walks in.  (This is our second encounter with Pacey from Dawson’s Creek).  I was a bit excited to see that we’d both chosen the same fast-food chain in which to dine on that particular evening and that he was so normal that he’d choose to grab a bite at Chipotle.  As you do.

I don’t usually take pics but as we were driving off my daughter snapped a couple of really bad pics of him for us to post to Instagram and Facebook.

One of my Aussie friends immediately wrote back that I’m so “acclimated” (said in my best American accent) because only a few months ago my daughter and I would’ve taken a selfie so we could snap him– up nice and close for us to see.  (True story. I did that very thing when I spotted fellow Prime-Time Soapie boy Ben McKenzie from The OC last year.  BTW: he’s about to star in upcoming new show Gotham).

Damn it.

Then last week as I sat in our last Parent Association meeting of the school year it felt nice and comfortable.  I arrived, spoke to a few people and sat down to listen to the meeting, discussing College Admissions and how well the Class of 2014 had done this year.  (Don’t you love it how they know before summer starts?)

There were wolf whistles in the audience, sighs, clapping and cheering and even a contrversial “key message” thrown in from one of the parents down the back (you know? the rhetorical question so in one fowl swoop a parent can share with the entire community how something bad happened to her and her daughter, ie the school effed up).  Cue: mumble, mumble, whisper, whisper until everyone looks front at again focused on the rest of the presentation.  Then more clapping and ra-ra-ing.

That’s right.  I didn’t blink an eye with all the ra-ra-ing and clapping and commotion of the meeting.  I actually caught myself and had a bit of a chuckle because I remember the first meeting scared the crap out of me.

My first time I was speechless.  It literally felt like I was in the audience of Dr Phil, or Oprah or Ellen and I wondered if this is what it was like every meeting.  Turns out they are.

It’s not so bad and it’s not so scary and it’s kinda fun.  Yes, fun.

I so want to be American.  I kind of like it.  It definitely wouldn’t work at home. How nice would it be to let it out and not be worried about everyone thinking you’re loser for showing some enthusiasm?  I kind of like that they do that … Now that I’m acclimated.

I’m not sure if I’ve shared with you before that I would live anywhere in the world except America.  I didn’t want the kids going to school here and I would rather move somewhere where where we could immerse ourselves in another culture rather than a Western one (yet I’d be prepared to live in the UK).  And of course here I am.

After the news sunk in though I started to wonder if a move to the US might give the kids amazing opportunities.  The night we were to make our final decision (should I stay or should I go?) the kids were watching Pitch Perfect on TV.  We were going to politely decline the offer and then I looked at the TV and thought about the opportunity America provides to be exactly who you are and to be recognised for who you are.  I looked at Mr H and said, “Why don’t we give our kids the opportunity?” Flourish in the arts, be in a movie, open up connections.  Do and be whatever and whoever they like.

The ra-ra scared me but I was secretly that person too. “Good for you, let’s do this, we can do this,” was always me.

(Ok, not so secretly.  My friends were quick to say I’d fit in really well because that’s my nature:  rally the troops, chief motivator and cheerleader.)

As Australians we need to stop knocking Americans. Why are so anti American?  Is it because we’re jealous?  Let’s ponder that a minute before you start throwing stuff at your monitor or device.

Do we want to be American? America?  OK, forget loud and white runners with shorts and long white socks.  Think land of opportunity, embracing Tall Poppies rather than cutting them down and generally encouraging everyone to be successful–and to hail them when they are.  To be able to express ourselves (naturally–without the beers or wine).

Nine things I’ve learnt after living in LA for nine months

Then this week I found this article in LA Weekly and I started wondering if it’s really going to take me five years to be truly acclimated.  Here I am thinking I’m well on my way to being acclimated.  Will we even be here in five years???

Just in case we’re not, here are my nine things I’ve learnt after living in LA for nine months:

  1. It’s OK to talk to random strangers in the street or supermarket (or anywhere for that matter).
  2. You start to make restaurant bookings during the week–or the week before–and that booking is either at 6:00 or 9:00.  (I think I’m pretty special when I get 8:30)
  3. You don’t go anywhere unless there’s Valet parking (or at a pinch guaranteed parking).
  4. You cannot survive without an Amazon Prime account.
  5. Don’t take the 405 North after 2:00 unless you want to hang out in traffic with the rest of LA.  I’m pretty sure it’s the same for the 405 South but I can’t vouch for that as I’ve never sat in it.  Don’t take the chance on a Friday afternoon though, then I know it’s busy.
  6. You don’t actually stop at four-way stop signs (when there’s no one there or you were there first).  Unless you choose to stop for a long time then you let everyone go ahead of you.  “After you, and you, I’m stopped now, why don’t you go…?”
  7. When someone offers to check for other sizes or colours they actually do it.  And when they say there are none left, it’s probably true.  You don’t have to ask someone else (or call back) to make sure.
  8. When someone says excuse me (because they will be in your way for a millisecond) they actually mean it, it’s not a back-handed comment: “Excuuuuse me.”
  9. No one will actually RSVP to your event or function.  And if they do it will be the last minute.  What happens if something better turns up then what?  Oh we just won’t show up.

I think I’m doing pretty well after nine months.  Maybe I’ll be able to add to this list after twelve months, or two years.  Watch this space.

xx It Started in LA xx

 

Posts

Five steps to taking good family selfies

I love a good family selfie.  My kids hate them.  Therein lies the problem (well the first major problem anyway).  I have been 100% guilty of bribery and negotiating a number of selfies to be taken at my whim throughout any given day–especially on our exploring holidays together.

I’m also a bit bummed that selfies were invented a little bit later in my life because I’d love to have built up a collection of them throughout our whole familyhood.

Nonetheless I embraced them, I’ve fuelled a trend and I’m here to help you create the best selfie.  Family selfie.

I’m getting quite expert at them but my kids dispute that.  Here are my tips to consider when taking family selfies if you want to take family selfies that rock.

STEP ONE: How to hold the phone (or not as the case may be)

Look natural, stretch your arm out in front of the group and ensure you’re all in the shot.   Some people like to do this by the person in the middle holding the phone and all of you standing around it.  I like to try to get a background in so don’t mind taking it from one side, then all the others are in a line and you can still see where you are.

OK Selfie

OK, but not natural

Family car selfie #2

A better result with all subjects in good shot taken from the middle position–no need for crook necks

 

There’s no need to stretch your neck out and stretch your arm; it’s not going to help.  Look natural and convincing.  Don’t look like a dork. Apparently I look like a dork (as evidenced by the pic below).  Don’t do as I do, do as I say–learn from my shortcomings.

But first Let Me Take A Selfie

But first Let Me Take A Selfie

 

STEP TWO:  Look natural, it’s just a photo

Find the best angle for you–don’t worry too much about the others.  Know your best side so you avoid double-chin syndrome.  Look your best, this pic will be on Instagram for a while yet (even worse if you’re sharing it with Facebook which in turn tweets it).  Apparently I look stupid when I try to avoid the double chin.  It ends up a little like this.

Avoiding the double-chin syndrome

When taking a selfie don’t stick your chin out to avoid the double-chin; the end result is far more humiliating

 

Selfie fail

Wrong: chin outstretched with chin but double-chin avoid syndrome #fail

Double trouble: sticking the chin out to match your arm plus trying to avoid the double-chin syndrome.  Avoid this (both) at all costs.

To avoid all of the above look down at the phone and you’ll get a much better result!

 

STEP THREE: Don’t mess about trying to line up the shot, take it quickly and nail it the first time

It’s a selfie, not an artistic shot.  Your kids are pretty self-conscious because mum’s cashing in one of her selfies.  So nail it the first time.  Avoid situations where you have to re-take the shot. I don’t nail it and it gets a bit embarrassing having to re-take the shot.  Especially when the count goes to more than two or three (not to mention the rest of the family loses interest).

STEP FOUR: Let the younger people take the shots if they offer

If the younger person in your family offers to take it for you, let them.  Let’s face it we’ve got a long way to go before we can nail it like they can–they can line the shot, smile and get everyone looking in the time it took you to hold the phone the right way.  (The trick here is never to ask them to take it rather frustrate them so they want to take it.)

Selfie win

Always take your kids up on their offer to be the selfie taker, they can nail it first time every time. Quickly.

 

STEP FIVE: Avoid photo bombers

Avoid the photo bomber wherever possible–especially if you have no idea who he or she is.  You’ve gone to all the trouble to get you all in the pic–with a reasonable background–and you’ve got some stranger lurking in your shot.  Immediate fail.

Photo bomber

Step five: avoid the photo bomber

 

You’ll notice in this shot all the elements are nailed–everyone in the shot, background included, no double-chins, not looking awkward or silly.  So why spoil the shot with a photo bomber?

So there you have it!  Practice at home so when you’re out on your next family outing you can nail the family selfie.  First time every time.

You’re welcome.

xx It Started in LA xx

Tabloids
Posts, Soapbox

Public property: why do we think celebrities’ business is our business?

Update with cause of death: May 5, 2014

We’ve all been shocked by the news of yet another celebrity deaths.  Today’s news is sad because at 25 Peaches Geldof was not only young but she leaves behind two very, very young boys.

Like all my news these days I found out courtesy of a friend on Facebook.  With that I jumped onto Twitter and tried to find out what on earth happened to a woman with so much going for her.  You’re right.  I don’t know her from a bar of soap.  Neither does she live here in LA so I don’t anyone who knows her or knows of her.  But as a mother of two very young boys (11 months & 2) she has at least two things going for her in her life.

It was only a matter of weeks ago designer L’Wren Scott took her life while long-time partner Mick Jagger was about to start a Rolling Stones concert tour in Perth.  And of course Philip Seymour Hoffman not long before that dying of a drug overdose (ironically a heroin overdose like Paula Yates–Peaches’ mum when she was only 11).  And, back home in Australia Charlotte Dawson succeeded in taking her own life after a failed attempt a year or so earlier.

I can’t help but think what’s going on?  It’s 2014.  We have amazing organisations like Lifeline, Beyond Blue and R U OK Day, we’ve seen many high-profile people suffer so you’d hope that it all wouldn’t be in vain–that we can learn from their mistakes and work through a way to live through life rather than end it.

Don’t get me wrong, I can empathise.  But I can’t begin to understand how horrible it would be to live with depression or to be bipolar.  I don’t think logic comes into play when you ask questions about state of mind which makes mental illness all the more sad.  What you hope for, though, is that people who need help have a close and supportive network of family, friends or professionals who they know are there for them.  How do you recognise the signs that on any given day, hour or minute they might need you to sit with them and do whatever you need to do for them to recognise that life isn’t as bad as they think, that life is worth living.

We don’t know what happened to Peaches.  The police have referred to her death as “unexplained and sudden.”  Whatever that means.  And not that we really need to know what that means.  Not that we have any right to understand or know what that means.

Public property

Since arriving here in LA I’ve stopped talking, asking and judging celebrities’ lives.  What makes us think we have any right to know all about what celebrities ate for breakfast, who they slept with, whether they take drugs or where they shop and what they bought at said supermarket?

Before I moved to LA I had a (rather strong) opinion about Michael Jackson.  I would give my two cents’ worth to anyone who’ll listen.  And of course I was right.  Then I found out my kids were going to be at school with his kids and at the same time Paris made a failed suicide attempt and I stopped sprouting my opinion.  All of a sudden it was too close to home–I was sprouting an opinion about someone within a couple of degrees separation of me, he was a person like all of us and it’s not my place to judge (nor do I have any foundation for an opinion).

And so it seems the public thought it had a right to know what Peaches got up to as she was growing up.  This Fox LA piece sums it up very well stating, “Peaches Geldof struggled with a turbulent social life, highlighted at every turn by a British press eager for celebrity news.”

How can anyone expect to be normal when everything you do–no matter how normal–is documented in the press?  Thank god my teenage years and early 20s (ok life until now!) hasn’t been documented in gossip magazines around the world.

One day my son came home and told me a group of his friends were bored in class and were Googling their friend (who has a famous father) with his friend there.  There were dozens and dozens of pictures of him doing normal things–shopping, walking the dog, in the car, even getting frozen yoghurt one afternoon.  His friend was recalling some of the occasions and how he felt about them.

Newsflash: he had feelings about what was happening to him.

He’s just a normal kid whose dad happens to be a successful and rather famous actor.   (And this is a dad who typically stays out of the spotlight.)  Poor kid.

So can we learn anything from this?  WILL we learn anything from this?  Probably not.  I hope though that I can offer you a different side of looking at things–a view from a normal person who until five seconds ago thought the same as you.  In some perverted hole-in-the-sand mentality we think celebrities and their worlds are open slather.  Of course we do, there are magazines, newspapers, bloggers, tweeters, instafans everything to fuel our thirst for news.  Even yours truly has been on Twitter all day trying to find out more breaking news about poor Peaches Geldof.

They might look all confident and gorgeous and successful and rich but they are still vulnerable and have feelings.  They may have wanted to be famous (or at least carve a successful career for themselves) but they didn’t ask for the rest of it.  Neither did their kids.  Especially their kids.

(And if you’re talking back to me now giving me examples of people that might love the spotlight and attention you’re missing the point).

Yes, as I said in a post not so long ago, celebrities fart too.  Just let them fart in peace.

If you can’t say anything nice, don’t say it at all.  And if you can’t say what you’re saying about someone to their face (and I don’t mean hiding behind a Twitter account) then don’t say it either.

xx It Started in LA xx

PS  Tragically the PS is the final results of the toxicology reports confirming Peaches almost certainly died from a heroin overdose.  How sad.  There are lots of people who’ve gone into overdrive stating the obvious: what about her kids now, what hope do they have.  The sad thing is that many of these people (I imagine) are those that followed her antics as she was growing up or those who buy into tabloid gossip stories.  I’m not perfect but as I’ve said since I’ve come here I’ve learnt that just because they’re celebrities it doesn’t mean they put themselves up to be judged.  We’re such tall poppies we’re pretty quick to judge.

We have no idea how it feels to live in their (real) worlds so back off.  It’s time we stopped making judgements based on the lives we lead.  It’s bad enough being scrutinised by friends and family imagine being scrutinised by the media and the whole world who think they’d do better in their shoes.  There’s enough crazy stuff going on without us focussing on running our own races, staying positive and quit judging or bitching about others.

BBC Story updating Peaches’ cause of death.

 

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