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Differences between America & Australia, Posts

Differences between America & Australia: School holidays

This is one for Captain Obvious but I can’t let this series go without discussing the differences between America and Australia in terms of School Holidays.

We’re off and running–my kids are finally back to school today–Wednesday, September 9 here in LA. They broke off school on June 10. Their last exam was June 8.

Yep, that’s three whole months—one quarter (or one fourth as the Americans like to say) of the year.

Here our holidays have nothing whatsoever to do with the terms. I find this totally weird because it’s different to how I went to school. The kids still find it strange—they have assessments and finish the term one day, then go back to school to start a new term the next day.  Not even a long weekend in between to catch their breath.

Apparently the number of school days in California is 175. This can drop to 170 for Charter Schools (sort of like a private public school but I don’t really get it. If you’re really interested you can click here to find out more). And it can drop to around 165ish at a private school. (Source).

So our year here in America looks like this:

Session one

Starts around Labour Day (I still can’t write Labor) which is the first Monday in September.

I don’t want to add up how many weeks it is cause it’ll kill me.  Let’s just say it’s around about three months.


We get two weeks at the end of the year.  They don’t call it a Christmas break here because even though they’re God loving it’s not politically correct to acknowledge the Christian calendar above all others.

Session two

Another few months of school.  Again, I really don’t want to add up the weeks as I find it horrendously long.

Holidays (Spring Break)

We can say Spring Break because it’s a season with no religious connotation.  We generally finish in mid March and come back on Easter Monday, although this year it’s a little different with Easter being in the middle of the holidays.  Here, there is no such holiday as Good Friday or Easter Monday, it’s a “business-as-usual” day for retail and business alike.

Session three

Another god knows how long few months until school breaks up in June and we get to have summer all over again.


Hooray! After three long sessions at school we need that long summer break.  I just wish we could break those “sessions” up and the holidays could coincide with the school terms.  Makes much more logical sense.

Year-Round Schedule

There are some school districts that are starting to introduce what they refer to as the Year-Round schedule—pretty much exactly like our holidays in Australia. Not surprisingly, with an entire industry devoted to the summer holidays there are many debates about whether it’s a good thing or a bad thing.

One of my friends who lives in Chandler, Arizona has a year-round schedule and she’s a huge fan. Who wouldn’t be?  Count me in.

Cut over to Australia

Yes, let’s cut back to Australia where we don’t even know there’s a name for our holiday system. We have approximately 200 school days a year, give or take. (Source: many a site as well as the Blog Teaching Challenges.)

To us we have four terms and a summer holiday. Our school year looks a little something like this:

Term one

Starts after Australia Day—either late January or early February

Around 10 weeks of school—sometimes 11 or 12 depending on when Easter falls and let me tell you one day over that 10 weeks is a killer.


We get two weeks over the Easter Break, usually starting on Thursday in time for Good Friday. Yes, in Australia we have public holidays for both Good Friday and Easter Monday making it our longest long weekend of the year. We love Easter.

Term two

Another 10 weeks of school.


Yippee! It’s the middle of the year and it’s time for a break again. This time the private schools generally get three weeks. Because my two went to single sex schools, meaning they’re at different schools, the three weeks doesn’t always match up.

Term three

Time to get back to the school year for another ten weeks of school.


It’s around late September, early October and there’s another break. If you’re lucky enough this one can also be around three weeks long (usually the private schools–the more you pay the less you go is a universal concept I think).

Term four

The business end of the year and generally another ten weeks of school.

Summer holidays

As summer is at the end of the year—December and January—it coincides with Christmas. The private schools usually finish on the first or second week of December giving them six-eight weeks off. There’s no time for camps but being a busy time of year there are plenty of Christmas positions available so many kids work. Then January is traditionally when everyone takes time off work and heads to the beach for some quality family time.


Which school year would you prefer?

I know I love my nice neat terms with a break in between to acknowledge the hard work that’s gone on through the term. Then when you come back it’s back to work. I also like the six-eight weeks: it never seems long enough but it is time to get back to school so it’s all good.

I guess it’s all a matter of what you grew up doing and enjoying. Except that we’ve got it right in Australia!

xx It Started in LA xx


PS:  Interested in what others around the world do? Here’s a website that outlines it. Quite interesting.

Driving Yosemite
Posts, Travelog

Yosemite: a natural wonder of the world in my books

I’ve climbed the Great Wall of China, I’ve seen the Great Barrier Reef, I’m desperate to do Macchu Picchu and Victoria Falls and I’ve flown over the Grand Canyon.

And now I can say I’ve soaked up all that Yosemite National Park had to give me and in my book it is one of the Natural Wonders of the World.

Majestic, spectacular, mind-blowing, stunning, breathtaking phenomenal … it left us speechless and in awe.

I’ve said it a few times now: I never wanted to live in the US, I certainly wanted to travel the US more extensively than I had but it wasn’t far enough up my bucket list to imagine that I’d get to see the amazing things I’m having the opportunity to do.  So forgive me if I indulge for a few more minutes as to how lucky I am to get the chance to visit Yosemite and to experience it not only with my family but with our close friends visiting from Australia.

No, this post isn’t about you reading about me gloating at having been to and admired Yosemite but about sharing it with you–more importantly how to conquer Yosemite yourself.

Many of my fabulous new LA friends haven’t been to Yosemite and I hope I can encourage them all to visit as it’s so well worth it.

When to go?

Well the materials say Yosemite is good to enjoy in every season and I’m sure it is.  Winter is the quietest month and summer its busiest.  For now I can only give you first-hand experience for summer.

Where to stay?

When I did my research the resounding advice was to stay in the Park.  The downside apparently was you had to bring everything in because there are no shops in the park.  That makes sense from Australian logic but when we got there we found supplies at a couple of the shops inside the park, enough I’m thinking to get you through.  Also, there are restaurants in the park so even if you’re camping you can book at the Majestic Yosemite Hotel (formerly known as the Ahawanee) for example for dinner and drinks.

Book early (full stop AND exclamation mark)

If you’re planning to go in summer and want to stay in Yosemite try to book between 6-12 months in advance.  There are first-come-first-serve campsites but you’ll have to join the queue early to guarantee yourself a spot.

I tried to book around five months in advance for two families and found no room at the Inn.  There was a last-minute cancellation for a very basic cottage but decided against it.  Instead we rented an RV (caravan truth be told) that was delivered and set-up at our campsite for us and managed to book a spot at nearby Oakhurst.  It’s about an hour/hour and a half drive but it’s a pretty one and we didn’t find it much of a hassle.  It also puts you at the main entrance (South Entrance) that’s open all year round.


There were nine in an RV

Getting there

Here’s a link to help with driving directions.  Our entire trip started in LA direct to Yosemite (about a five-hour drive) then a couple of days later continued to Vegas via Mammoth and Death Valley (which was spectacular).

This drive on the way out (through Tioga Road–Highway 120 East entrance) is closed through winter because of its high elevation and snow.  We saw the last snow on the ground  on our way out that’ll give you an idea of how much snow there must be in winter.  It is a spectacular vision and different again from Glacier Point and the Valley floor.

To us, this drive out this far gate made us feel even more in awe of Yosemite and its changing face–the park just keeps on giving.  (NOTE: If you’re going to do this drive it gets cold so bring a hoodie/jumper/sweats or whatever it takes in whatever version of English you speak).

East Gate

The East Gate provides a different aspect of Yosemite well worth the drive


Other places to stay

We loved Bass Lake.  It’s around a 1.5 hour-drive to Yosemite Valley but it doesn’t feel like it.  There are some gorgeous houses and a decent-looking resort there.  We had the added bonus of hiring a boat and going donuting and wakeboarding (& champagning of course) which the kids just loved.

Bass Lake

Nearby Bass Lake was a pleasant surprise and a welcome find


Fish Camp is only a few kms from the South Entrance and while small had a number of accommodation options.  I wish I’d have known about this when I was booking.  I can’t tell you whether we would have secured accommodation here when Yosemite was booked out but I would have at least tried had I known about it.

Likewise Oakhurst (where we ended up) had heaps of accommodation offers and while hysterical ending up where we did I did look at the Best Western green with envy.  Again, I didn’t really know to look here for other options–yes, quite ill-informed going in I agree but you live and learn.

A note re booking early.  I was really peeved to find out that a couple having a drink at a table next to us at the Ahawanee only booked their room the night before and when we enquired there was one room free.  How could this be?  Hopefully it was due to last-minute cancellations and a lot of luck on their part.  The hotel couldn’t give me an explanation–they naturally danced around that question!

 What to see?

What isn’t there to see?  We’re not big hikers so doing all the trails and hikes was not for us.  That doesn’t mean to say it’s not for you.  We spent a whole day driving (and walking & eating) around Yosemite then the second morning driving through the South Entrance to the East Entrance to Mammoth and onto Death Valley.  (I can’t recommend this highly enough).

What did we see and did we think it was enough time?

  • Glacier’s Peak
Glacier Point

Glacier Point Selfie #155 | It Started in LA


  • Tunnel view on your way down to Yosemite Valley (takes your breath away). You know you’ve come to it because you literally drive through a long tunnel and when you come out: kapow.  Simply stunning it takes your breath away.
Tunnel view

Exit from a tunnel only to be knocked out by the most incredible view–kapow


  • Yosemite Valley covering some waterfalls, Half Dome and El Capitan.

Yosemite Valley: simply breathtaking | It Started in LA


I felt like it was enough (as in I didn’t feel like we missed out on anything not that we were bored).  As I said at the start I felt in awe, soaked it all in and the kids even managed time to play in the icy cold (and extremely pure) creeks.  I didn’t feel rushed and I felt like I got a sense of the place.

One of the best decisions we made was to valet park at the Ahwanee Hotel and have a drink and lunch there.  It was poles apart from our RV at the Trailer Park and the hotel is just gorgeous.  I managed to take a peak at the cabins and while lovely they were pretty basic so I’m not sure whether you need to spend the big bucks to stay here.

Ahawanee Hotel

Even if you don’t stay at the Ahawanee Hotel you can still eat or drink here


But then again I have nothing to compare it to (except the RV of course) but will let you know if I go back and try to stay at one of the hotels or lodgings.

Here’s a link to a great article I found on spending a day at Yosemite.  (It pretty much gives a little more detail of what I just said.)

My verdict

It was busy but it didn’t feel like it was over-crowded or compromised with lots of activity.  We got parks at each vantage point, managed a table for lunch and wandered around freely.

Others might not agree with me though.  When we got out of the car I was so excited and started saying to our group (who, OK, were not in close, close proximity to me), “Oh my god, this is amazing,” or words to that effect.  He (apparently) said something like it was until I spoilt his recording of the serenity.  Had I have known he said that I would have charged him money for my voiceover (or had him delete me if he didn’t cough up–either that or put him in touch with my agent and lawyer).  I didn’t realise we were in a museum or library.  Some people take life waaay too seriously.

The only time we felt it was overwhelmingly busy was when we were due to leave–there was a bit of a traffic jam.  We parked the car and sat by a creek near Curry Village to let the traffic subside.  It didn’t take long and we drove out of the park back to the Trailer Park.

Curry Creek

The Crystal clear waters at Curry Creek, Yosemite


The drive didn’t seem to take long at all and remember we had two cars and five kids so I reckon that’s saying something.

I would go again in a heartbeat.  Next time I’ll try to stay at a hotel in the park.  I’ve also added a trip to Mammoth on my list and I’d like to check out Lake Tahoe further north.

Do what you can but just do it.  Especially if you live in California you have no excuse not to visit Yosemite–a natural wonder right on your door step.  And if you don’t–what a great excuse to come to California.  But just remember:

xx It Started in LA xx

We're all American
Posts, Soapbox

Welsh Filipina Australian American

Labelling.  I despise it.  Unless a doctor needs it for genetic or medical reasons, quit labelling me.  I never know how to tick those boxes. Would I be known as a Welsh Filipina Australian American?  That’s of course assuming I was lucky enough to be naturalised a citizen of the US of A.

We’ve all heard it before on TV–the reference to Native Americans, African Americans or Asian Americans (or another derivative thereof).

Is it supposed to be a Clayton’s label?  (Timeout: Clayton’s was a drink in the 70’s or early 80’s advertised by Jack Thompson as the drink you have when you’re not having a drink).  Actually it seems like the opposite to me.  They don’t want to label you but they’re going to label you.  Perhaps they were thinking if they put “American” in front of the label then no one will notice there’s another word there so you still get a label.

Am I missing something here?  To me the concept sounds a little …. well …. er …. racist.  Aren’t we singling “them” out?  And by them I mean the people with another label next to the label American?  Doesn’t that scream, “You’re not American American you’re something else American”.

“When do I qualify to be American sir?”

Is it the same as having Diversity day at school yet “showcasing” all things Asian.  Look, we’ve got Asians at school and we’re being “nice” to them and letting them in.  (Gasp: did I just say Asian?  I chose Asian of course because there’s Asian blood in my veins so technically I can’t be accused of being racist.)

In Australia (where multiculturalism is widespread) we’re all Australians.  No one is Native Australian or Asian Australian or Greek Australian or Lebanese Australian or Italian Australian.  That’s the whole point.  Isn’t it?  That’s why we chose to move to another country to be welcomed (just don’t mention the boats) and treated as one nationality regardless of our heritage.

In fact, I find it hard to answer survey questions or forms where it calls for my ethnicity because I’m required to choose between Caucasian, African American, Asian, Native or something else.  Last time I looked I was none of those.  And as we move through modern times aren’t I becoming the norm rather than the exception (although I do like to think of myself as pretty special I must admit).  So how does a girl who grew up in Australia, was born in the Philippines to a Welsh dad & a Filipina mother and married an Australian boy answer that question?  Thank god for the refuse to answer box.

Actually, the Social Security form asks for Race with the available answers being: Native Hawaiian, Alaska Native, Asian, American Indian, Black/African , American, Other Pacific Islander, White. Aren’t Hawaii and Alaska part of the United States of America? Doesn’t that make them American too? Why do they get their own box?  If you’re a Hawaiian or an Alaskan Native how do you answer that question?  And what if you’re not white but tanned?  That there my friends might just be what’s known as a trick question.

In International Schools multiculturalism–or perhaps the broader term “diversity”–is dealt with so beautifully we showcase all cultures rather than singling one out.  That’s becoming the trend in Australia now too: to celebrate the food, culture and customs from all the nationalities in our community.  At the same time.

I’m not really sure if in practice diversity or multiculturalism is better or worse here and how minorities are actually treated as I haven’t been close enough to see it first hand.  Perhaps I can keep observing to see how that one plays out and report back.

I actually suspect that maybe, just maybe, the Americans are slightly better at embracing all as one.  If that’s the case then can we please all be Americans?  Or ‘Mericans.  If nothing but to make it easier for people like me.

God Bless ‘Merica.

xx It Started in LA xx

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