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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

Halloween in LA
My LA story, Posts, Visiting LA

Halloween time in LA

It’s the week before Halloween and it’s gripping LA.

For most of October shops have been selling Halloween “cookies”, decorating kits to make-your-own cookies, decorations, purple-orange-and-black themed stuff, eyeballs and everything you could possibly imagine in between.


With Fall comes Halloween | It Started in LA |


Then there’s the transformation of the theme parks.

What to do in LA during Halloween

Disneyland decorates the park in Halloween orange and the Haunted House at California Adventure takes on a different dimension.  Knott’s Berry Farm turns into Knott’s Scary Farm and Universal Studios does Halloween Horror Nights where they turn the park into an episode of your worst nightmare.  Universal Studios does it the best–as it should, it’s a movie studio.  Unfortunately you’ll have to experience this one yourself because I don’t think there’s any way this LA Blogger is going to be able to endure a night of horror.  Despite knowing it’s not real the combination of the dark and the real live actors walking around actually scaring you (it’s their job!) makes it all too real.  And then Six Flags (Magic Mountain) does Fright Fest.

Universal Studios

Universal Studios turns into a fright fest at Halloween | It Started in LA |


I’m not quite sure how Halloween became so big here but it is bigger than big and despite all the spooky stuff it’s fun and festive.  Many houses go all out.  It’s a great pre-cursor to Christmas–there are some houses who don’t do anything, some with a touch of spook and others who go all out they put the Griswalds to shame.  I just learnt of one house not far from us that has its own website, Facebook page and Twitter account.  Yep, that’s what I thought.

I love Halloween here.  I fell in love with the concept of Halloween when I was in Shanghai and one of my son’s friends’ family invited us for a Halloween party in their compound.  Still relatively new and looking for more friends we were so thankful to be invited I just went into full-blown Halloween mode.  I rushed off to the Fabric Markets and got a costume made for Mr H and I.  He was Fred Flinstone and I was Wilma.  Fun.  Until we got there and realised the adults weren’t dressing up it was just the kids!  Didn’t think to ask that question did I?  We still laugh about that night to this day and they’re now good friends of ours despite rarely catching up in person.

On the Facebook page of the Griswald house (well not actually the Griswald house but Boney Island) one lady commented, “I miss Halloween in America, no one does Halloween like America”.  Well duh.  Halloween is actually an American “holiday”.  Sure, it exists in other countries in different forms, but Halloween as the concept we know it today started here.

Haunted House

Halloween in 90210~Love the reference to Star Maps | It Started in LA


Certainly in more recent years in Australia we’ve been dressing up and trick or treating.  I can recall a time not that long ago when the kids were still young when a note was put in our letterbox by a neighbourhood mum with a balloon attached.  The note said that they were planning on trick or treating in the neighbourhood and if we as a house were participating we could blow up the balloon, tie it to our letterbox and we would be visited.  No balloon=no visit.  This year there will be more Australian kids in the neighbourhood and more houses being decorated so I guess the Americanisation of the world continues to a degree.  (Some people in Australia hate Halloween for this exact reason).

But America is without question home to the Halloween tradition.  Here people come to work dressed up.  Mr H was gobsmacked when he got to work last year to see so many people dressed up (he didn’t get the memo).  The kids go to school dressed up and local businesses like my hairdresser come dressed up.  No wonder it’s many people’s favourite “holiday”.


Of course for our first Halloween I had to dress up as a Vegemite jar | It Started in LA


We had our first American Halloween last year.  We were very green, still finding our way around and still (quite frankly) shell-shocked.  In the week leading up to Halloween everyone was asking where we were trick or treating.  Wait, what.  What do you mean?  I just assumed that everyone trick or treats in their neighbourhood.  Apparently not.  Kids congregate in friendship groups and visit neighbourhoods who do a “good trick or treat”.  Others (like in my daughter’s year) have parties where we get together for pizza and wine then visit their neighbourhood to trick or treat because it’s a good area for it.  We went on the kids school street last year.  There were hundreds there.  The street even gets closed off they anticipate that many people.  That’s a lot of lollies, ahem, candy.

Halloween night

People everywhere all congregating in well-known trick or treating neighbourhoods with the houses dutifully decorated for Halloween rather than in their own neighbourhoods | It Started in LA


The atmosphere is so festive, it’s like a giant street party it’s so fun.  We were blown away but the sheer number of people, the extent people went to for Halloween and the distances people travelled to get to the “good trick or treat spots”.  We spoke to a few people who said they travelled for miles to get there and all go by bus.  There are websites that rate and suggest areas for people to go.  My first thought was I wonder if they tell people when they buy the house that that’s what they’re up for.

But it’s not just about Halloween, it’s also about pumpkins.  People go to pumpkin farms (which are all over the place) to find their pumpkin and carve it to make Jack O’ Lanterns.  And make a day of it because it’s evolved over the years to include farm-type activities like hay-rack rides and corn mazes.

Pumpkin Farm

This is a Pumpkin Farm in the Valley not far from us, I believe they’re “bigger & better” further out in the suburbs | It Started in LA


Jack O’ Lanterns date back to Celtic days and it’s believed the Irish took the tradition over here when they came to America.  But the Irish carved turnips to make their lanterns; they found pumpkins when they came here and deemed them perfect for carving and the rest, as they say, is history.  I’d never heard of them really carving pumpkins in the UK so I asked a few friends.  In Wales, like the Irish, they would carve suedes (another type of vegetable) and as pumpkins have become more mainstream and affordable they too have started carving pumpkins.  My English friends also say they’re starting to do it more now but don’t recall doing it when they grew up.  I guess like Australia their Halloween is being Americanised too.

It seems these pumpkin farms then turned into a family day out–mazes, horse & cart rides, fresh produce and of course family photos.

I got my pumpkins at the supermarket–with no fanfare–and haven’t carved it.  Many people don’t carve theirs these days and that’s ok too.

Supermarket Pumpkins

Quite the booming business in pumpkins | It Started in LA


I’ve never seen so many pumpkins as I have here.  They’re everywhere.  What’s even stranger–to us when you think about it–is that these pumpkins are grown to carve and display and not to eat.  Can you tell I find this whole pumpkin thing very intriguing?  I’m sure if you left America, though, you’d find it completely strange that there are no pumpkin farms let alone pumpkins available en mass.  That’s what makes us all different.

Probably my favourite thing about this time of the year though is the “smell” of Fall.  This smell is an invented smell; it’s not like the smell of jasmine to signal spring and summer are on their way it’s the smell of spices like cloves and cinnamon and apple pie (“holiday” smells).  You can buy these smells in the form of pre-mixed spices to simmer away on your stove, or in the form of candles or plug-ins.  Whatever emotion it’s touched in me it makes me feel at peace and at home.  (I hope this Americanisation takes off at home by the time we move back).

Another thing that surprised me although now that I think of it I don’t know why has got to do with lollies.  I might have mentioned at Easter (or maybe I wasn’t being very specific) that “candy” comes out that you’ve never seen before–because lollies here tend to be seasonal.  There’s no better example than candy corn.  It makes an appearance for Halloween and it’s pretty hard to get hold of at other times in the year.  There are also the obvious things like pumpkin flavoured everything lollies but our carpool kids were telling us they associate other lollies like America’s version of Malteaser’s, Whoppers, with Halloween because they mainly tend to come out then.  (This is probably due to the 50 kilo bags of mixed chocolates you get at Costco or Target for trick or treating.)


Lollies lollies everywhere. And then they disappear | It Started in LA


So that’s Halloween in a nutshell.  Happy trick or treating wherever you are!

xx It Started in LA xx

PS: I keep putting speech marks around the world “holiday”.  See I can’t help myself.  That’s because a “holiday” is an event (like Halloween or Valentine’s Day).  When I first heard my friend say Halloween was her favourite holiday I thought they got the day off in America.  I thought that was so cool but alas no, no day off.  Vacation is the American word for holiday and, well, there’s no Australian version of the word “holiday” because all our holidays are days off!

My reality
Celebrity, My LA story, Posts

JLo, David Duchovny & Forrest Gump

I’ve been neglectful again because I had friends in town last week then a busy weekend catching up.  But showing friends around LA is the very reason this Blog started–to share my surreal life–so I can’t abandon ship on that.

It was a full-on “Only-in-LA” week so I thought I should share it with you.

It started on Saturday when friends landed in LA.  We went out to catch some lunch at Urth Caffe on Melrose and do a bit of people watching.  It never disappoints and it’s always busy.

One of my favourite phrases when I’m out is “Oh,” said with great drama and excitement, “he (or she) is someone.”  It’s true many people have that look about them.  And I probably “see” lots of people out but just don’t recognise them.  But as useless as I am at identifying people, the paparazzi never fail to impress me.  One of my favourite things I look out for–maybe more than celebrities–is the paparazzi trying to snap that pic that might pull them in a small fortune.

Hiding behind the bushes was a pap doing his best to stay in cognito whilst trying to pap a pic.  I looked and looked but couldn’t see who he had his eye on.  Wonder if he got the pic he needed.  Welcome to LA Andrew & Chris!

The next night we had dinner planned at one of my favourite West Hollywood restaurants.  With one pap out the front I felt like I’d let the side down; this would be a quiet night.  We sat down at our table straight away (unheard of) and it was really quiet at the bar.  Given the request was a bit of “Celeb Spotting” I was a bit disappointed that I hadn’t delivered–or didn’t look like delivering.

“Oh, it’s such a shame,” I started saying.  “A couple of weeks ago Chris Noth–Mr Big–was here.”

“Oh, love him,” said my friend.

“I know, me too.  I’d love to see him.” No sooner had I said it but there at the bar was the man himself.  “Mr Big” sitting at one of the bar tables.  Sigh.

“Oh my god, oh my god,” I said, “it’s him.”

How cool we all thought immediately giving him the once over like he was there for the sole purpose of giving us someone to dissect.

“He looks good.”

“He needs a shave.”

“He’s grayer than I imagined.”

“He’s still hot.”

Just getting into the running commentary and he was saved only by JLo walking in.  Yes.  JLo.

“Don’t look now guys but JLo has just walked in.”

“That’s not JLo,” says MR H.

“Is it Beyonce?” asks our mate.

“Oh no, you’re right,” I say, “It’s not JLo.  Bummer.”

Until common sense prevailed and my girlfriend announces, “Of course it’s JLo.  Who else looks that flawless and perfect?

“We’re not in Glen Iris (Melbourne) or Lilyfield (Sydney), we’re in West Hollywood and you’ve seen her here before so you know she comes here!  How can it be anyone BUT JLo?”

Well yes, now that you put it like that.  Good point.

As she’s escorted to her table it becomes clear that she’s going to be seated in the booth DIRECTLY OPPOSITE US.  We only had one way to look and that was straight at her.  Poor us.  Our poor boys.  There goes any decent conversation for the rest of the night.  (Actually, you’re right.  Poor boys nothing).

And yes, there were a few more paps waiting outside when we left.  I wonder who tips them off.

Cut forward a couple of days and we managed to arrange to get out to Paramount to have a quick look at the sound studios at Mr H’s work.  Even if we don’t get to see anything I at least know my way around the lot and can conduct a mini tour of my own.

Well there we are in the “ADR” room (Automatic Dialogue Replacement) and I look up at the talent who’s on a break and recording some lines.  I look again.  And again.  And again because I can’t quite work it out.  It looks like David Duchovny.  With make up on.  I look again.  He catches me (again) but I don’t care because it’s not him but I need to know WHO it is.

Meanwhile right next to me I’m completely oblivious to my friends–one apparently having heart palpitations, the other apparently trying to get my attention so we can make eye contact and telepathically give each other the thumbs up.  We’re.  Standing.  In.  The.  Same.  Room.  As.  David.  Duchovny.

Nope.  I’m too busy checking out the David Duchovny look-a-like, looking at him up and down and trying to work out who he is and how remarkably he has some of his mannerisms as David Duchovny.

Again, we’re in Hollywood, David Duchovny has started shooting a new series Aquarius on the Paramount lot (that one of my friends is producing) and he has make-up on but it doesn’t occur to me that that guy IS David Duchovny.  I don’t deserve to live in LA.

Later as we’re driving a cart around the lot who should follow us but the man himself.  My friends were sitting at the back of the cart (looking out) and had no choice but to look straight at him.  Lucky them.  I wonder what he was thinking: “who are these people I keep bumping into”.  Or of course there’s always the fact he didn’t notice us at all.  Nah … not possible.

Welcome to LA Andy & Jess.

Forrest bench

Forrest Gump’s bench now sits at the Paramount lot | It Started in LA |

Shanghighs and Shanghlows

I could end the story there.  But I won’t.  I’ve joined in an Instagram project called #myreality where we’re posting a pic a day on various topics.  It’s been fun to be part of and gets me thinking about what pics I can post and also what pics I’ve already taken that I can share.  (You can see my pics on my Facebook page in an album I’ve created of the same name).  And if you’re not already following me on Instagram I’m @itstartedinla.

So it got me thinking I must be giving the wrong impression about #myreality.  Yes of course I see amazing things (straight from movie sets) daily and get to do lots of fun things I never dreamt of only 15 months ago.  But.  And there is a but.  I wrote a couple of weeks ago about FOMO.  As settled as I am here in LA, I’m unsettled.  I like our house but it’s only supposed to be temporary.  I hate renting, I want to buy a nice house (not unlike the one I plan to build some day–one day–at home).

The kids and I have been chatting and if life is meant to be here for us for a while then we’re ready for it.  We’re prepared to embrace it and stay.  But Mr H doesn’t feel the same way.  I’m pretty sure he’s in denial.  He’s job is here, he’s happy here but he doesn’t want that lightbulb moment where he thinks he can lay down some roots here and settle for a while.

And so, life as an expat is about the highs and the lows.  There was a saying in Shanghai and it was exactly that: the Shanghighs and the Shanglows.  Some choose to dwell on the lows, we try to focus on the highs.  And I don’t really expect much (any) sympathy from you.  But when you read this in your house that you call your home think of me living in a sort of limbo land and count your lucky stars because with your life comes family, friends and security.


Not falling but “Fall”.  Because we always end on a positive note it’s starting to feel more like Fall here now: it’s getting a little cooler and the Halloween decorations are out.  Also, the air freshners and candles are scented for the “holidays” in a glorious combination of cinnamon, cloves and “apple pie”.  It reminds me of this time last year when we were newbies and were trying to navigate around town.  That smell reminds me of home and security and family. So I think we’re lucky the kids and I can picture ourselves staying here another few years and we can gently let go of the “smells of home” that lure us back.  I think we’ve come a long way.  As unsettling as that is it is somehow very settling.

And of course the start of Fall means Halloween, people have their decorations out and the “spirit” is out there.  It’s a fun time of the year.


With Fall comes Halloween | It Started in LA |


Happy Fall–or in many of your cases happy Spring!

xx It Started in LA xx


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