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Patriotic
Posts, Visiting LA

Red, white & blue: Fourth of July

I’ve done it…We’ve done it!  We have now spent our first Fourth of July here as a family.  I’m glad it’s come around at the ten-month mark rather than early in our time here simply because we’re more acclimated and we’re in the groove of life here.  This way we get to appreciate the holiday rather than being freaked out–overwhelmed–by the sea of red, white & blue.

Australia Day in Sydney and Melbourne & the Fourth of July in LA are not dissimilar celebrations–it’s summer, many celebrations take part around the beach and there are fireworks. We spent our Fourth of July at a friends’ insistence in Mission Beach, San Diego and I’m so glad we followed her advice.  I really miss the kids having freedom to walk to the park, beach or corner shop without me having to accompany them.  Over the four days we were there they were able to do exactly that.  It was sooo liberating. But while the fourth of July is similar here as it is at home it’s also different: same, same different as we’d say in China.

It’s so same, same different in fact that it’s hard to articulate why. Firstly I would say that Americans seem more patriotic and they’re not afraid to be: they put it all out there: their American flags, dress in stars and stripes, paint their nails and even dress their homes.

Nails

You can never have enough red, white & blue

But we do too.  We’ve got our Australian flags, flag bathers and throw parties but maybe stop at decorating our nails and houses.

The impression I get is that the fourth of July revolves around community-based activities whereas our celebrations tend to revolve around parties with friends.  So even though we were “grilling” at a friends’ house we were also on the beach and interacting with others.

Two revellers being pulled along by their mate on the bike

Two revellers being pulled along by their mate on the bike

Many communities hold parades or fairs so everyone gathers in the same place.  I love that because the atmosphere is so electric.  And everyone is so bloody friendly.

A set-up the envy of many including the beachside "grill".

A set-up the envy of many including the beachside “grill”.

 

Not unlike us festivities start early–we saw a group doing shots at around 11am and still going around 2:30.  But they weren’t going in the late afternoon as they would’ve been doing at home. But starting early in America seems to also mean pacing yourself (a foreign concept for many of us Aussies).

The ability to practice the art of “pacing” lies in not always having a drink in your hand.  It also means hanging by the beach with the kids, going on a bike-ride up and down the boardwalk or chatting with fellow revellers.  Novel huh?  I quite liked it truth be told. Perhaps the biggest difference though is the LA element.  Once all the fireworks were done everyone went home.

To the Americans the fireworks were the grand finale and signals time to go home.  To Australians it signals the end of formal proceedings and time to start partying.  Which is usually, I have to say, when the trouble starts.  By our standards it’s an early night but here it’s the end of a fun day out.  And it ends in fun rather than drama or alcohol-fuelled incidents: we don’t have an off button (design flaw?).

Maybe as a new Ausmerican we can work out how to get somewhere in between…?

 Mission Beach for 4th of July

I’ve already blogged about our weekend away at Coronado Island when we first went to San Diego in April but I really wanted to talk about what a great spot Mission Beach is to holiday.

Three reasons to holiday in Mission Beach:

  1. Freedom to wander and walk (and bike) practically everywhere, such a nice change from the “get-in-your-car-for-everything” mentality of LA.  Also for our older kids we can give them the freedom to walk to the beach and the park on their own.
  2. Summer by the beach: totally unpretentious and lots of things to do (what more can you want for your summer holidays?)
  3. Watersports galore–jet skis, water skiing, wake boarding, paddle boarding, you name it it’s there.  If you feel like indulging yourself try the Hot-tub cruise boat.

Five places to eat in Mission Beach:

  1. The Mission–dubbed as the best breakfast place in SoCal and I have to say I strongly agree.  Great coffee too (psst no bookings, rock up early and put your name down with the masses but it all seems to move fairly quickly).  3795 Mission Boulevard, San Diego, CA 92109 Ph: (858) 488-9060
  2. Saska’s–local sushi joint (and grill all in one) and great service when you ask for Carson 3768 Mission Blvd, San Diego, CA 92109 Ph: (858) 488-7311
  3. Arslan’s Gyros–amazing Greek food: fresh meat, great pita bread and dips and a great atmosphere (especially when you bring your whole group of 30 peeps and takeover the restaurant) 3861 Mission Blvd, San Diego, CA 92109 Ph: (619) 962-9925
  4. Better Buzz–another top breaky spot with Aussie-approved coffee, selling the very-LA acai bowl. Even with queues going out the door it’s worth the wait. 3745 Mission Blvd, San Diego, CA 92109 Ph: (858) 488-0400
  5. The Ale House–we didn’t eat there but we had one of the Chefs come and cook our BBQ for us. I continue to salivate over the beef he cooked. Dee-vine.  Oh, and our friend is good mate’s with the owner who brought over the best fish, prawns & scallops from his Fish Shop–yummo (Pacific Beach Fish Shop1775 Garnet Ave, San Diego, CA 92109 Ph: (858) 483-4746). 721 Grand Ave, San Diego, CA 92109 Ph: (858) 581-2337

Five Seven things to do in Mission Beach:

  1. Hang by the beach … of course.
  2. Head around to Mission Bay and go crazy on water sports rental.  The Bay is perfect for recreational activities. I recommend the Hot Tub Cruises ;).
  3. Hire bikes or a segway. I need to tell you Segway riding is not as easy as it looks but it’s fun once you get the hang of it. I just wish they’d lower the riding age because the kids love it.
    Hire bikes from Cruiser King on Mission Blvd and we got our Segways from the Catamaran.
  4. Book a fire pit by the beach (complete with Adirondack Chairs and Tiki torches. Fabulous.  Now there’s no excuse not to roast marshmallows and make smores.
  5. Book a Hot-tub cruise (you know you want to)
  6. Relax and let the kids exhaust themselves on activity overload–a perfect recipe for a great night’s sleep so you can do it all over again.
  7. Visit one of the many nearby attractions like the San Diego Zoo.  As you know if you’ve been following along we loved our visit and I highly recommend it.)

We stayed at the conveniently located Catamaran Resort and Spa is in the Bay.  Having the pool is a great option (especially for pool-side cocktails) and the kids love the Arcade with complimentary gaming. I think we’ll be getting in early and booking our spot in Mission Beach for next year’s Fourth of July.  Can’t wait!

xx It Started in LA xx

 

Update July 24, 2014 @ 4:00PM LA time

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, Reviews, Travelog, Visiting LA

Perfect homesickness cure: visit the Australian Outback

I’ve spent a bit of time talking about our recent bouts of homesickness.  Thankfully I can report that we’re all cured for a while and we’re moving onwards and upwards.

Why? We went home!  We heard the ads on the radio, we heard the talk around town and we thought, “why not?”, we need a bit of Koalafornication at the San Diego Zoo.  (Although a bit of David Duchovny Californication might have done the trick too).

It’s such an easy drive from LA straight down the 405 to San Diego there’s no excuse not to go–regardless of whether you’re visiting LA or live in LA.  It should be about a two-hour drive but nearly died when the GPS told us it would be a lot more.  My precision timing had us to the zoo just after 10:00 which I figured would be early enough to get a park, get our tickets and avoid the long queues for the Pandas.  Instead it had us coming in at closer to 11:00.  Sigh. Why are we always late? (Actually I’m partly to blame because I insisted on being Superwoman and baking fresh Hot Cross Buns for Good Friday).

It turns out the GPS wanted us off the 405 to avoid traffic.  We went with our gut, stayed on the 405 and we were there just after 10:00.  Success.  (Note: we could’ve been lucky, if you’re stuck in traffic on the 405 it can add hours to your trip so it might pay you to detour).

The carpark was filling fast and there were queues at every ticket window.  Either this zoo is really popular or we’ve come at the wrong time.  Or both?  I’m pleased to report the queue moved quickly, just enough time to take a family selfie, look around and we were in.  Once we were inside we didn’t feel like the zoo was so super busy that there were people everywhere so it was nice.  All good.  Straight for the Pandas.

SkySafari

Enjoying the SkySafari very much thankyou!

 

It’s so good having older kids who can read a map, less for me to do. We opted against the bus (as it seems this is where most of the entrants wanted to go) and decided to do the SkySafari. Bit of a queue but it moved quickly and it would get us to the Polar Bears and Pandas so we could walk downhill in time to have lunch at the Sydney Grill.

San Diegans love their Pandas

The San Diegans go ga-ga over their very own Pandas, why not? What’s not to love?

 

I heard a story that the San Diegans love their Pandas.  The town goes into “Pandamonium” when one of the Pandas does something and when one gives birth it’s like the future King (or Queen) of England is born.  And why not?  Pandas look like they should be cuddly and fluffy and because we’re not going to go near them let us believe that.  They are so cute.  Besides it’s good to see a town get behind their very own.

(Tip: Even if there is a queue for the Pandas there are things to see on the “journey” so don’t be put off by it).

The highlight of our morning wasn’t the Pandas though–it was the Polar Bears.  How fun are they?  They are show-offs, stirrers and just big kids who love to have a good time.  Check this:

 

You've been mooned

Want a good shot of me? How about this?

 

After lunch we headed to the impressive Koala Exhibit.  Thoughts of Austen Tayshus’s Australiana came straight to mind: “How much can a Koala Bear?”  Loved the fact that the hosts on the buses had to spell out, “Did you know the Koala is not a Bear?” on their way past the exhibit and I wonder a) how they came to be known as a Koala Bear (or a Koala Be even–you know who you are Phillippa Jones!) and b) how Americans are still surprised by that fact.

But as good as it was the Australian Outback wasn’t the highlight of our afternoon.  No, the Tortoises were.  Yep.  The Tortoises.  All the way from the Galapagas.  The over 100 years old and still going strong.  It was feeding time and one of the tortoises (let’s call him Piggy) ate a whole head of lettuce then started playing tug-o-war with his mate’s dinner.  Not nice for the mate (not mate as in partner but mate as in friend) but fun to watch.  Love surprises like that.

Tortoises at dinner time

Share nicely “Piggy” (Piggy not in the middle, Piggy just managed to take that whole lettuce minus one leaf from his poor hungry mate!)

 

Top Billing: the star of the zoo is

But who gets top billing of the day?  This Magpie deserves top billing as the star attraction.  Say “hi” and he’ll say “hi” back.  No word of a lie– click on the links and watch these!

Magpie

More Magpie

And as if that surprise wasn’t enough we were getting a drink and they were letting some birds go in an afternoon ritual where they get to stretch their wings and go for a fly.  Thanks for the special show, we really were special guests.

Birds

Along the way I heard a boy say to his Dad, “Can you find someone to carry me?”  Couldn’t agree more.  That’s what the buses and SkySafari is for though so we had to do one more trip on the SkySafari–this time back down the hill.

You’re either a regular zoo goer or you’re not.  I fall into “you’re not” category and loved every minute of it spending the day with the family at the San Diego Zoo.  It’ll be one of the days I’ll treasure in our Californian adventure.

Typically when you’re young, keen parents you take the little kids then you may or may not remember to bring them back when they’re older.  It’s great when they’re older and you go and appreciate different things.  Stop thinking about it and do it–you can’t possibly regret it.

xx It Started in LA xx

PS:  It Started in LA & family were guests of the San Diego Zoo.  Thanks so much for hosting us. We had such a fun time and would love to do it again.  It’s a good idea to buy tickets before you go and here’s a link I prepared especially for you.

PPS: I’ll leave you with this image of Mother Duck heading out with her little ducks.  Gorgeous.  Surprised, however, by the number of people who thought that meant they could go up to the little ducks and pat them.  Lucky the zoo had it all under control with one of the keepers keeping a closing eye on them to make sure that didn’t happen.  Good job (as the Americans like to say and that I’m trying to avoid using quite as much as I do).

Ducks

Mother Duck went out one day, over the hill and far away

PPSS: More pics on my Twitter and Instagram pages, plus there’s a small album on my Facebook Blog page.

Tomson
Expat tales, Posts

Creating memories: remembering the good forgetting the bad

Tripping down Expat memory lane

I’ve mentioned a couple of times now that we lived in China–Shanghai actually.  I have such amazing memories of our nearly two years there despite it being a really tumultuous time.  I wonder if you asked my close girlfriends back in Australia what they would say about my time in Shanghai.

I’m tripping down memory lane for two reasons today:

  1. We spent a fun weekend catching up with dear friends from Shanghai last weekend in San Diego  and naturally we took a great trip down memory lane (I’ll post a full report on San Diego)
  2. One of my readers asked me to write about the not-so-good stuff about LA and how there are days when you go enough’s enough, I just want to throw in the towel and give it all up just to be back in the comfort zone of family and friends living a normal life.

It was so good to hang out with our neighbours from Shanghai.  We lived in a fabulously salubrious apartment called Tomson Riviera–the most expensive apartments in Shanghai–it was ridiculously convenient to Super Brand Mall, another fabulous Mall, IFC, we had the Shangri-la and great restaurants but we still had a Blind massage and “local” amenities so we felt like we were in China and not some surreal world.

Tomson

Home in Shanghai

Our neighbours lived in the apartment downstairs from us and they had to put up with our kids thudding up and down the hall like a herd of wild elephants.  We would see each other most days–either in the morning at the gym or around 4:30 for Orange Blossoms or wine (or both–morning and afternoon that is not Orange Blossoms and wine but come to think of it yes to both).  We would also schedule shopping days out or “Tomson Tours” as we liked to call it where a bunch of us from the apartment block would go out and explore areas (like a day trip to Expo) or factories and shops we’d heard about from other expats.

We were each others’ sounding boards, rocks but it was a great balance because we weren’t living out of each others’ pockets.  Our kids (with some 10 years plus between them in ages) are pretty much carbon copies of one another in temperament and roles which cracks us up–especially our two youngest “princess” daughters.

Fast Forward three plus years and they’ve repatriated back to Seattle and we obviously moved back home and are now here.  A lot has happened in both our lives since we moved back home but it was like no time at all had passed, we were just loving catching up and everything clicked back into place.

I wrote the other week about how Americans struggle to laugh at themselves but it was Sue who laughed at me moving to America where I would “never live” and now I have more than one American friend.  It was Sue that had to listen to my ear-bashing of Americans and how Australians don’t really “do” Americans as a rule yet she was one of closest friends in Shanghai.  And it was Sue that came to rescue when my princess was having one of her (very regular) tantrums–oh and of course to help with our many dress-up opportunities.

But it got me thinking about our time in Shanghai–and back to my reader’s feedback.  Not once did our trip down memory lane touch on the bad bits about being there.  We led the most glamorous lives and according to Mr H all I did was “shop, shop, shop” go to the gym (yes, I was a gym junkie) and eat at fabulous restaurants and jump the queue and get into great VIP bars inside the best Clubs in Shanghai. But living in China was also hard.  There’s not enough time in this post to try to get you over the line to understand the daily drudgery but it was there.  (Hmmmm maybe it’s time to publish that book after all.)

So why are trips down memory lane always so good?  I don’t know much about psychology but I’m guessing that has a lot to do with it, that it’s in our best interests to remember the good bits and flush out the bad bits.  We do remember some bad bits–and that’s how we grow as people but by and large we look back on life (hopefully) rather fondly.

Get me out of here

When we were in Shanghai I remember vividly wanting to go home.  I think it took me eight months to get over.  I loved it but I hated not having friends (despite of course having friends).  The closing chapter of my book was all about the realisation when we left that I had friends the whole time.  Good friends.  But those friends played different roles in my life compared to my friends at home.  I likened my time in Shanghai to The Wizard of Oz that, like Dorothy, I had what I needed the whole time: Dorothy needed to (ironically) get home to Oz and me, well I had friends.

Jump forward nearly four years in the future to today in a new country yet again.  I have made some great friends here in such a short time.  I’ve been welcomed and included and had lots of fun.  Repeat after me: I have made friends, I have made great progress.  There was a time not so long ago I may have forgotten this lesson though.

was pretty miserable a couple of months ago.  I announced to Mr H that I’d had enough, I wasn’t happy that the kids were missing out on the great things Australian private schools had to offer them and I wasn’t sure this is were we should raise our kids for an extended period.  That was totally my “get me out of here–now” moment.  I hadn’t shared it directly with you to put it quite as blunt as that but I had written about some challenges we were having, conflicts in ideology and questioning whether we fit in or not.

I missed the “anniversary” of us being here eight months.  What a great sign that things are on the up-and-up again.  Of course we fit in. The kids are getting a great experience going to school in a different country and (hello!) living amongst the rich and famous has (big-time) the fun element.

Coming back from holidays does that to you though–you get this spring in your step, a rejuvenation like you’re ready to kick on.  I felt precisely the same way when we got back from our Spring Break in Wales.  We used to call them “Get out of China” days you needed to regularly get out in order to come back in fresh.  Maybe it’s the same wherever you are as an Expat?

And catching up with friends that get you also does that to you–recently having dear friends here from Australia and just his past weekend with our Shanghai-American friends.  They’ve given me my confidence back that I’m doing ok.

Wherever you are you have your good days and your bad days–home, overseas, on holidays.  However much money you have you have your good days and your bad days.  No matter how successful you are you have your good days and your bad days.  What I’m learning all over again is that, despite my fear and loathing of rollercoasters, that’s life.  Hop on and enjoy the ride and essentially they’re the same wherever you go.  OK, maybe some are bigger than others but the bigger the climb, the bigger the thrill.

Enjoy–and make the most of–your rollercoaster.

xx It Started in LA xx

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