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Xmas
Movies and TV, My LA story, Posts

Christmas in the US of A

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

Christmas in the US of A

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

Xmas trees

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

Candy

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

Elf on the Shelf

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

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

Elf on the Shelf

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

 

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

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

Xmas card

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

Quintessentially Cliché NYC Christmas #QCNYCC

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tax Time

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

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

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

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

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

Sale time

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

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

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

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

God Bless ‘Merica.

xx It Started in LA xx

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

Home sweet home
Celebrity, Expat tales, My LA story, Posts

Home sweet home. Or is it?

I’m back from my amazing Aussie holiday that went by so (too) quickly.

I had so many ideas for my first Blog post back and like I often do have written some great lines in my head.

But alas now that I sit down to write all I can think of is how amazing our holiday was and how Australian life suits us so well.  Not so long ago I would have used the phrase, “… how we love Australian life so much better.”

Is Australia better?

And I probably would have gone into a spiel to say how weird America is.  (Shoot me down now American friends).  But I’ve grown up now and I can use mature, experienced Expat words—I call that experience rather than being politically correct because let’s face it that’s exactly what it sounds like I’m being (politically correct).  (Oh, and I don’t really think Americans … ahem America … are/is weird!).

It was interesting going back and even more interesting that we all just stepped back into our lives like we had never left.  My daughter spent the day at school–including an early start for tennis training at 7am and my son competed in a swim meet for his old school.  It doesn’t get much better than that.

While we were in Australia we caught up with a teacher from the kids’ school who has recently moved from LA to Sydney.  She’s a good 10 months behind me in time so she’s in the hard stages of change.  I’m sure a good portion of the time we’d rather be in each other’s shoes.  It got me thinking of the concept of home:

  1. You love home and never really looked to move anywhere else no matter how divine your new destination is.
  2. Because you love home all the familiar sights, sounds and smells of home play a big part in making you who you are. Everything else—especially when it’s actually so different but there’s absolutely no reason it should be (like Australian and the US)—is “weird”.

Weird is a matter of perspective

It’s not about which city is better or that the new city you’re in is “weird” it’s just that home is home.  And your newly adopted city isn’t (quite yet).  And, by the way, neither of us should get defensive when we say weird because it’s weird as in different-to-us-and-I-don’t-get-it not weird as in you’re-a-freak weird.  There’s a difference.

I have many friends that live in Australia that wouldn’t move out of their suburb let alone move overseas.  I also have many friends that have spent—and enjoyed—their time overseas they almost think Australia is too small for them.  I fall into neither of those categories.

You know before I left for this holiday I was talking about settling down here and how good it would be to buy a house.  I thought it would settle us.  Now I’m not so sure.

The day after we arrived I went to the supermarket for milk, bread, fruit & vegetables.  I remember when we lived in Shanghai and I’d go to the supermarket after a holiday it would drive me mental.  With a capital M.  It was difficult to navigate around and everything is in Chinese so it would remind me how hard something so easy could be.  Then I’d get accosted in the supermarket isles by sales agents wanting to direct me to their washing powder or their mop that I’d run for cover, race home and text my friends to say wine o’clock is starting early today.

carrefour

The newspaper and magazine section of my local Carrefour, Shanghai, China, 2009

 

Thankfully grocery shopping isn’t that hard in America.  I was safely minding my own business when I got to the checkout and started unpacking my shopping trolley.  A lady came behind me and blurts out, “Is there another aisle open?”  I looked at her.  She says, almost to herself, “Well you have to ask”.  I looked at her again, careful not to stare and show exactly what I was thinking.

I bit my tongue.  There are very few people that would say that in Australia—and the queues are often much longer.  I felt like saying to her, “chill love, by the time you’ve unloaded your trolley they’ll be ready to check you out.”  Honestly, seriously, by the time someone opens another checkout, they log in and she moves she’d be better off staying where she is.  But she doesn’t want—like—to wait.  I find that weird.  Someone who’s moved to Australia from the US might find it weird that we wait.  In silence.

I get that the service is better in the US.  I love that the service is better in the US.  When we checked through Coles Burwood last week in Australia (stocking up on our Aussie treats) my husband and I looked at each other and said, “It’s not quite Ralph’s service with a smile and a chat is it?”  But seriously … still weird.  Chillax chick.

 

Top five questions I was asked when we were home

Not that I’m one to dwell but was good to get a home fix.  Especially when we were so acclimated that we were on such a high point here in LA we didn’t really need to go back to Australia for a visit. So aside from my close friends and the “how are you going?” question there are lot of different things people wanted to know about life in LA.  Here are my favourite questions (and answers).

1.Who has been the best celebrity you’ve seen and what were they doing?

I initially answered with JLo but my friend wasn’t interested in her.  Bette Midler? Joan Collins?  Yes, much better responses.  I saw Bette at my favourite West Hollywood restaurant and Joan Collins having lunch at the Beverly Hills Hotel by the way.  Joan Collins is forever classy.  (Still think my favourite spot to date is the very yummy Joshua Jackson aka Pacey from Dawson’s Creek).

2. Have you seen any celebrities? Do you go to school with any celebrities?  What are they like?

Ummm, yes.  Lots.  It helps that (yes) there are plenty at school but they’re just normal people doing normal things like attending school functions and back-to-school nights.  Except the Kardashians but I haven’t seen them around (even though Kim & Kanye used to live just up the road from us).

3. What are the people like?

It’s pretty much the same as being at home: there are people you like and people not so much.  Like at home there are people who are extremely egocentric and others who are very kind and considerate.

There is a paranoia that exists here more than at home and I have to say that I feel like we should be more paranoid at home and the Americans (especially around here) less so.

Then: have they all had lots of work done?

We noticed it when we first arrived then we just got used to it.  Then we noticed it more when we got back to Australia (the lack of work) and again since we’ve come home.  Funny.  So … yes.

4. How long do we need in Disneyland?

As little as you can.  Seriously.  The happiest place on earth is wonderful … until it all starts to go pear shaped and then you need to exit stage left IMMEDIATELY.  The problem is it’s very hard to judge when the right time is to leave so be prepared for pear-shaped.

5. Are you ever coming home?

Good question.

Three funny things I noticed being back in Australia

It’s interesting being away for some 15 months then coming back again.  It’s more interesting the things you notice that you didn’t before.

1. We talk funny.

At least we use very different phrasing (non Australians might in fact say “weird”).  We were on the Virgin Australia flight up to Hamilton Island and the hostie was taking drinks orders.  “Too easy” was her response.  I laughed out loud.  I hadn’t heard that in a long time.  What does that even mean to an outsider?  Only in Australia.

2. We don’t stop drinking.

That’s right, hard to believe?  The day we arrived we got to my girlfriend’s house where we were staying and settled in with a few bottles of wine.  We had friends stop in and go and stop in and go; it was so lovely and informal.  By about 6:00 in the early evening we were still going and no one even considered we’d be stopping.  Ah love an Australian drinking afternoon.  So informal and I didn’t even have to stop.  How good is it to be home?

3. We walk everywhere.

It was our last day and I had a couple of jobs to do: drop some stuff off to an artist friend, deposit some cheques and a last-minute dash to the supermarket.  What struck me when we were driving around was the number of people walking everywhere.  Not parking and walking but actually walking; like from point A to point B.  (I know LA readers, I know; breathe).

Admittedly I live in the inner suburbs of Sydney and that essentially means our houses are in walking distance of the nearest pub/bank/post office/coffee shop and other conveniences that it’s really easy to walk.

My kids went to the corner shop more times than we could count just because they could–one there actually is a corner shop and two because they had the freedom to go that they’d missed so much here in LA.  They even cycled to get their fish & chips for dinner.  Love, love, love the freedom and independence Australia allows them.

Walking is a sport here in LA not a pastime so there are barely any footpaths let alone people walking.  It’s funny what you notice when you’ve been away.

It is good to be home

Alas I’m home.  I’m re-adjusting to LA life and I do love it here.  I went to the doctor this morning to follow up on my yearly checkup.  Sit down Australians he actually took my pulse and listened to me take deep breaths.  He actually spent some time with me and cared to follow up my results.

I said that I could neither think Australia is too small for me or could see myself living anywhere but Australia.  I am so thankful for the opportunities I’ve been given first as an “Expat brat” living in the Philippines and now as a “trailing spouse” (revolting term but can’t be bothered coming up with something sexy at the moment) in Shanghai and LA.

The first-world problem that arises out of the scenario from my perspective though is that I will always want the best of all worlds.  Sadly there’s no such thing as a perfect world so I’ll just have to pull my head in and be thankful I’m getting the chance to experience life from many different angles.

Enjoy your weekends,

xx It Started in LA xx

PS:  Happy birthday to my gorgeous friend Kristen Long who was the reason for our return trip and thanks to all our friends (old & new) for making our trip ah-may-zing!

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