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So 90210: Handbags, pocket money and schmoozing

Another week and another visitor to show off our LA to last week.  This time it was my niece coming over from Wales.  My dad was from Wales and left home when he was young to travel the world.  While we go back often to visit it’s not often we get to spend quality time with relatives apart from immediate family.

Ironically at the time my daughter was doing a history assignment on family so she got her nose out of joint that she hadn’t met any of Mr H’s extended family and only saw mine on holidays to the Philippines and Wales–and have since met more here in LA.

While her friends were having family gatherings and weddings she hadn’t experienced that because we have never lived in the same city as family. (OK technically that’s not true–Mr H’s brother and family lived in Sydney at the same time as us so the kids have a special bond with them as a consequence but that was some four + years ago now and with us both living out of Australia I can’t see us living in the same city again for quite some time.)  That’s the tough part about being an Expat.  The plus is that you establish close friendships stronger than any family bond and we’ve always had families take us under their wings (which we just love).

There were a few themes I noticed last week–especially as I see LA through the eyes of a first-timer–but I thought I’d use this week’s post to fess up to something I blogged about at the start of my new venture.

That post was about young girls here and their designer handbags.  Specifically it was about us getting swept up in 90210 and wanting my daughter to have a fabulous Furla handbag.

At the time I was annoyed that the PE bag of choice was a Michael Kors tote and naturally when you see someone with something you like you want it too.  But even with my fetish for handbags I couldn’t see how a Michael Kors PE bag would in any way be acceptable in my house.  (Thankfully I think the bag du jour has changed once again proving my point that I can’t afford to get caught up in many of the trends out here).

As I re-read the post I don’t think I even articulated myself all that well.  I think I was trying so hard to cover up what I was really trying to say that that’s exactly what I did!

Some of my gorgeous friends’ daughters do have designer handbags and to me that’s OK.  It’s OK because they don’t get everything they want and they are uber fashion conscious and spend time creating their own individual looks and it works for them.  They also don’t flaunt it.  It’s normal to them and they don’t judge my daughter for not having … a designer handbag for example.  It’s also OK because they can afford it.  To them buying a designer handbag is like me buying my daughter a Sportsgirl bag or even a Country Road bag.

What’s not OK are girls who make others who don’t sport the latest designer handbag feel bad or out of it.  Actually I don’t think many do but there’s a difference in my daughter’s behaviour (and what she wants) depending on who she’s been hanging out with so I’d love to know what is said and why she acts like that only after hanging with certain girls.  As I’ve said to her lets limit the amount of hanging out time with those girls–if nothing else but for my nerves and my alcohol intake.

So here’s the confession.  My daughter is now the proud owner of a spunky Marc Jacobs bag.  She was over the moon to be given one as a gift from a few of her friends recently.  Good for her.  She loves it and cherishes it.  It’s so special, especially because it’s come from friends.

She has also saved up for her very own matching Michael Kors wallet & tote bag.  And no, she won’t be using it as her PE bag.  She has counted every penny and watched as her favourite “camo” (that’s camouflage print to us untrained) gear went on sale.  She was able to use Christmas and birthday money as well as the very generous gift cards she got from her recent party to get it with her own money.

MK Camo

The much-yearned-for Michael Kors camo bag

Pocket money

OK She didn’t actually have to work for it but she did get to experience the importance of saving up for something you really want.

Since I wrote about pocket money at the beginning of the year we’ve also been thinking seriously about that.  The kids have been OK with doing some jobs but they’ve been doing a great job at budgeting their money and spending it wisely.  So much so that we’re pretty much eliminating gift giving in our house in exchange for money giving.

The main downfall is that it’s completely impersonal and a real downer on a celebration day.  But, money giving is helping our kids appreciate the value of money and make choices about what they really want–as opposed to asking for everything then being disappointed with the “little” they get.

My son did the same sort of thing with his money–saved it up and got a racing car set he really wanted.  Like my daughter he counted his “pennies” until he hit the magic number and got exactly what he wanted.

The only other downside to this experiment is that neither of them can have a bank account here with a linked debit card until they’re 15 or 16. Once they get that then they’ll truly be able to transact without fear of losing their cash and track their savings and spending.

Back to handbags

You see one of the things I hadn’t fully thought through was the problem is similar back home.  And it’s even more true in Expatland where Cashed-up bogans rule supreme.

In Australia there are girls with designer handbags, wallets or designer clothes. Or the latest Mac. Or holiday house. Or boat. Or iWhatever.  There are some girls who get what they want, and others who don’t.

In Expatland it’s probably even worse. I bought my daughter a designer wallet (fake of course–which brings up more ethical debate truth be told) and thought nothing of it.

When we lived in China things were so ridiculously cheap and we didn’t have mundane bills to worry about like rent, utilities or school fees that the discretionary spending was abnormally high.  I didn’t have a blog then but I spent a lot of time analysing how much the kids had and how no one wanted for anything that we were raising a generation of spoilt children living in a surreal world.  I spent a lot of time then making sure we weren’t buying the kids too many material possessions so they would think that was the norm and OK.  (No wonder my kids think I’m a hard-ass.)

The moral of the story?

The moral of the story is and always will be each to their own: their own beliefs, values and judgments.  This blog contains the world according to Gwen John and it doesn’t have to be the world according to you.

Am I being hypocritical that now my daughter, too, owns a designer handbag?  That’s for you to decide and me to justify.

What I love is that, sure, it’s got the Michael Kors element about it but it’s my daughter to a T–she loves everything camo.  In my mind she’s not compromising who she is for the sake of buying herself a designer bag.

I go back to my mum’s advice when she visited a couple of months ago when she questioned me and my steadfastness.

She cautioned me at being stubborn to resist the change (you always want what you can’t have).  She agreed we have to be true to ourselves and our values but we also had to be mindful we’re bringing kids up in a different place to where we grew up.  She reminded me that the same thing happened to me when we moved back to Melbourne after spending a few years in Queensland.  It’s OK to be pliable and blend a little so long as you remember who you are and what you believe in.  And I think we are and we do.

LA through different eyes

My niece was gobsmacked at LA–not just the six-lane freeways but the uber wealth in not one but dozens of different neighbourhoods (Beverly Hills, Bel Air, Los Feliz, Malibu, Larchmont, Santa Monica, Brentwood, Hollywood Hills .. need I go on?)  She was also surprised to see so many homeless people and the terrible state of some of the roads.  She laughed at dinner the other night as she reflected that everyone in the restaurant carefully checks out everyone else to see if they are “someone” or if they know them.  (She said I was being checked out–love it!).

Perhaps one (or two) of her biggest surprises though were the canyons.  Like most people she saw LA as being Beverly Hills (the flats), Santa Monica and the beaches and Anaheim.  She had no idea of the beauty of the surrounding canyons.  Coupled with that spotting deer crossing the road just two doors down from our house spun her out.

That’s what I love about LA: the surprise factor.  There’s so much more to LA than you might think.  Whichever way you look at it though, it’s worth getting to know better.

xx It Started in LA xx

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Old Church and Cemetry
My LA story, Posts, Travelog

Spring break: escape to the green valleys of Wales

We’re back!  You may recall we’d all been a bit homesick and with Spring break coming up made a last-minute decision to visit mum in the green valleys of Wales.  It was the perfect getaway to recharge our batteries at the same time staying away from Australia as going back there would completely do our heads in.

We enjoy visiting Wales.  It’s funny because we’ve never lived there, nor did I grow up there but we always get this comforting feeling like we’re coming home.  Probably because that’s where mum & my brother live and I love catching up with my cousins while we’re there.

Gower Peninsula

Single-lane roads in Gower

REVIEW: Brittania Inn, Gower

Having only one week was good: we did only the things we really wanted to.  One of the highlights of the trip had to be the divine pub meal we had at the Brittania Inn on the picturesque Gower Peninsula.  Every time we visit we take a drive on the narrow country roads, marvel at the rolling valleys with lush green grass and sheep feeling at home in the middle of the road.  It’s truly beautiful.  When we first visited of course we’d visit the grand old castles signalling the deep, rich history the country has to offer.  We still marvel at them but we almost take them for granted with a “been-there-done-that” smugness.

I don’t know if it was living in America for seven months (and being without British/Australian food) that caused us to rave, the change in ownership or watching Luke serve the entire restaurant and front bar on his own with his efficient yet laid-back Gower attitude, but we were captivated.  I ordered the Welsh Steak & Ale pie.  It was nothing short of To. Die. For.

Welsh Steak & Ale Pie

Welsh Steak & Ale Pie at the Britannia Inn, Gower. To. Die. For.

Remember we ate not long ago at TODD English pub in Las Vegas–celebrity chef and all–but this meal wins hands down with its simple, let-the-food-do-the-talking approach to food.  Everyone’s food was magnificent.

I started with a goat’s cheese tart that had freshly roasted vegetables in a fine pastry with freshly sourced goat’s cheese proving once again that quality ingredients are vital to making a good dish a great one.

Goat's Cheese Tart

Welsh Goat’s Cheese Tart

No room for dessert yet we still ordered and again that was stunning.  (I highly recommend the Vanilla Cheesecake with raspberry sorbet and its extremely generous portion–but still my brother was reluctant to share.  My son–the purveyor of profiteroles–thinks these are some of the best he’s had).

How does a pub literally in the middle of nowhere pull off such mouth-wateringly stunning meals?  And then how does a pub in the middle of nowhere retain a top chef like this?

It was so good we went back a couple of days later just to make sure the meals were as good as we remembered.  (And they were!)

Experiencing life from another angle

I love that everything in Wales is different–and you couldn’t get any more different from LA.  That’s what travelling is all about really. Frankly, that’s what living in another country is all about–experiencing life the way others’ see it and appreciating things from a different perspective.

When we lived in Shanghai it was easy to contrast our life there with life in Australia.  Now that we’re living in another Western country, though, it’s even more interesting to think about how different we all are yet we’ve come from the same place (for all intents & purposes).  It’s not just that the Americans tried to simplify spelling or started driving on the wrong side of the road or even that they made turkey an everyday protein rather than a special-occasion one, after a “number” of years at living in different parts of the globe we’re all different now.  It intrigues me so as I dwell on it some more be sure to get more posts on this topic.

And, it was interesting speaking to some of my readers about what they like hearing about, what they want more of and how much more they want.  The main thing everyone had in common was surprise that celebs actually walk around and do things normal people do (clearly not trash mag buyers!).

Two things hit me:

  1. Keep my blog dream alive–everyone is interested in life in LA and wants to hear more.
  2. Celebrities are just normal people.  It sounds strange to say but somehow because they’ve been successful in movies or TV Shows or created a phenomenal band and we see pics of them on the red carpet etc we don’t imagine them to be real.  They are.  They really are!  More to come on this too but in the meantime I’ll leave you with one thought … yes, celebrities fart too.

Meanwhile back in LA …

There was another earthquake over the weekend–bigger and more damage than the one that freaked me out.  Lucky for us it wasn’t as frightening where we are because the epicentre was much further away.  I thought there might be one while we were away.  I’m adopting the positive-thinking approach though and have a feeling there won’t be a big one like the “Shamrock Shake” for a while.

xxx It Started in LA xxx

Link to the Britannia Inn’s website if you want to book in lunch or dinner.  Especially if you live nearby, you’d be mad not to.


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