Friday, March 16, 2012

Burning Down the House

We finally got around to throwing a housewarming party last weekend, which was a roaring success. Our new place has been thoroughly warmed (without, thankfully, being burned to the ground). The evening was only slightly marred by two minor incidents, which I will recount to you now:

1. The neighbors called the cops on us. Now in fairness, the music was probably quite loud and we had the front door open so the sound undoubtedly carried. But it was 10pm on a Saturday night, and had anyone come up and asked us to turn it down, we would happily have complied. Instead, the as yet unidentified neighbor (we strongly suspect the assholes in #108) sent one of Santa Monica's finest to give us a talking to. Having established that we weren't a major threat to society, he asked us to keep the door closed and left. Has it really come to the point where we can no longer knock on a neighbor's door with a polite request? Do we really need to waste police time on the off-chance that our neighbors are psychotic axe murderers who might stab us to death for having the audacity to ask them to turn their music down? I suppose our neighbors might have been scared off by that vicious guard dog we have...

"Grrrr, I could kill you with one paw"

2. I rarely drink liquor, so I'd put all the bottles of scotch, vodka, rum etc. out for anyone to help themselves to. Now most of our liquor has been with us for a good couple of years. Like I said, I rarely drink the stuff. About halfway through the party, a couple of our guests reported that the bottle of vodka was not actually a bottle of vodka. It was a bottle of very expensively packaged water. Now I'm pretty cheap sometimes, but I'm not about to fob off my guests with watered-down alcohol. That's a surefire way to ruin a party. We immediately knew what had happened. Fern's thieving cousins, who used to walk Katie, had helped themselves to the vodka and replaced it with water. We'd ended up firing them because they'd pulled a similar stunt with the rum, but forgotten to top up the bottles. We have no idea whether they were taking a nip every time they walked the dog (indicating a serious alcohol problem) or decanting the booze into a container to take home with them (indicating a serious cheapskate problem). Either way, we are no longer on speaking terms with them and happy to be out of their neighborhood. 
Not to be confused with Evian

The moral of this story is that if you're going to steal someone's booze, it takes them a lot longer to notice if you actually bother to top the bottle up with water than if you drink all except the last inch in the bottom of the bottle and just leave it for them to find.

Epilogue: The housewarming party ended with a wet t-shirt contest, which was won by Adam. Coincidentally, he was the only participant:

"Turn up the air conditioning, we need more nipple"

Friday, March 9, 2012

Running the Charity Worker Gauntlet

Living in Santa Monica is fantastic - we're right by the beach, everything is within walking distance, the weather is gorgeous, and the people are great. With a few exceptions. The charity workers here are relentless. You can't walk down 3rd St. Promenade without a constant bombardment of monetary requests. Since we moved here, I've been asked to support everything from world peace to preserving the habitat of the Mexican Spotted Owl. After a few weeks of being aggressively pursued along the promenade, I started to fantasize about doing this:


Having sworn off violence for Lent, I am instead taking detours around the promenade. Meanwhile, my husband has adopted this tactic:

Greenpeace Worker: "Would you like to donate a few bucks to save the whales?"
Fern: "Absolutely not. Both my parents were eaten by whales. I fully support their extinction."

Anti-Bullying Campaigner: "Would you like to donate a few bucks to help stamp out bullying?"
Fern: "No, I'm pro-bullying. I paid my college tuition with the skinny kids' lunch money."

Homelessness Campaigner: "Would you like to donate a few bucks to help end poverty and homelessness?"
Fern: "Ending poverty and homelessness is a completely unachievable goal. There are many reasons why there will always be people in the lower echelons of society and if you have some time, I'd be happy to discuss them with you in depth..."

I give it three months before the charity workers on the promenade actually start walking in the opposite direction when they see us coming.

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Total Gridlock!

If there's one thing I hate more than anything else in the entire universe, it's sitting in traffic. I would rather do a month's worth of ironing, get a deep-cleaning at the dentist, and put together one of those flat-packed DIY projects from Home Depot than spend my day shifting between first and neutral on the I405 N. Why on earth then, did I move to LA, where the traffic is notoriously bad and the drivers spend more time checking their text messages and applying mascara in the rear view mirror than they do watching the road? (By the way, there is a fantastic outlet for bad experiences with LA drivers at

Well, for the most part, I have been able to avoid getting behind the wheel altogether. Until our bikes were stolen, my husband and I cycled to work every day. The 6-mile trip between Hollywood and Beverly Hills took precisely the same length of time to cycle as it did to drive, enabling us to burn off the previous night's dinner while feeling smug about our child-size carbon footprints. I can't even begin to describe the satisfaction gleaned from zipping past a line of stationary cars on Santa Monica Blvd. Or the frustration when, on the odd occasion it was too wet to cycle, I had to sit in that same line of stationary traffic. My record car journey home took me an hour and forty five minutes. To drive six miles. I could have walked faster (and would have done if there was any bloody parking between Fairfax and La Brea at 6pm on a week night...)

Gridlock: Envisage twice as much traffic on the I405 and you have a vague idea what an Obamajam looks like

Anyway, that puny traffic jam was nothing compared to the havoc that is wrought on the city whenever President Obama visits. I have witnessed coworkers calling in sick just to avoid being on the freeway during an Obamajam. Journeys have to be planned with military precision, vacations postponed, and dinners with friends cancelled. I hope none of the president's dinner guests were stuck on the I10 tonight. Because if I were to donate to a presidential campaign after spending two hours on an LA freeway, it most certainly would not be Obama's...

Monday, February 6, 2012

Celebrity Spotting in LA

One of the biggest advantages of being a Brit in LA is that you can meet major British celebrities without having to queue for hours for an autograph or wade through hoards of screaming fans. Just today, my husband ran into pop sensation Jedward in Santa Monica. Despite sporting their trademark 'electric shock' hair cuts and stylish matching tracksuits, the duo were wandering along the promenade in complete anonymity; the perfect opportunity to get a memorable snapshot.

Other notable British celebrity visitors of late include Keith Chegwin, Rebecca Loos, and H from Steps.

A Taste of Home

I love Californian cuisine (seriously, how do people stay so skinny here?!), but every so often I get a craving for a good old-fashioned British fry-up. With proper British bacon. And HP Sauce. And vinegar on my chips. Shut up haters, chips with vinegar go together like Marmite on toast. Oh, don't even get me started...

Anyway, whenever the urge to clog my arteries with delicious fatty goodness hits, we head down to the Cat & Fiddle  on Sunset Blvd. Picture a dingy greasy spoon cafe with dirty cutlery and rain lashing against the windows, and then laugh as you realize hey - you're in California! There are no greasy spoon cafes here! Instead, you can enjoy your weekend brunch in the Cat & Fiddle's charming, tree-lined courtyard. With its round-the-world brunch menu, you can choose anything from a full English breakfast (veggie option available) to a croque madame. The pub is rarely overcrowded, the staff are friendly and efficient, and best of all, they allow dogs. In typical LA fashion, pups even get their own menu (calorie count not included):

Judging by Katie's reaction to 'Fido's Dream' (an entire hamburger patty for the extremely reasonable price of $3), the restaurant's new doggy menu is a hit. The patty lasted for approximately 45 seconds (40 were spent waiting for it to cool). 

Unfortunately, since sampling the new menu, Katie has become a total prima donna and refuses to accept anything less than sirloin for dinner. Hopefully the Cat & Fiddle will start offering delivery service soon...

Friday, February 3, 2012

Doing Battle with USCIS

My hate-hate relationship with USCIS has now been ongoing for seven years. One of the slowest, most incompetent organizations I have ever had the displeasure of dealing with, USCIS now has approximately 12 sets of my fingerprints, 183 copies of my signature, and $5,800 of my (husband's) hard-earned cash. Unbelievably, $3,500 of that was a completely unnecessary expenditure. We had to hire an immigration lawyer because the morons working at USCIS (*cough* Donald Neufeld *cough*) failed to read their own rules and rejected my permanent residency application on the basis that I hadn't submitted a second medical report. (The website clearly states that you do not need to submit an additional medical report for a permanent residency application if you entered on a fiance visa.) We gently pointed out to Mr. Neufeld that he had made a mistake, but rather than admit his total incompetence, he rejected the appeal too. If I ever run into that man I will ram his *&%h up his %$*(@$, fish it out again, and feed it to a hoard of starving dogs.

Anyway, having been an official permanent resident of the United States for five years, I have now reached the final immigration hurdle: citizenship. As much as I am loath to stand in public and renounce good old Blighty, the truth is that becoming a US citizen will make very little difference to my overall status in either country. I will still have a UK passport and retain all my rights as a UK citizen; those rights just won't be recognized by the United States. The biggest advantage of citizenship (apart from being able to negate your husband's vote) is that as a citizen of the United States, you can leave the country for any length of time and return here without having to go through the entire immigration rigmarole all over again. At the moment, any leave of absence can be considered as abandoning residency, and leaving for more than a year pretty much ensures that you're going to be denied re-entry. Or at least be spending a lot more quality time with the chaps at secondary immigration than you intended.

Now I just need to raise the $700 application fee. Oh, and get another set of fingerprints taken. Sigh.

Take your Pup to the Park!

Hollywood’s Best Dog Parks

If you have a pup and want to get out and about in Hollywood, there are some great dog parks in the local area. It took us a while to find the best ones, so here's a quick rundown (all parks personally vetted by Katie the golden retriever!)

Lake Hollywood Park
3200 Canyon Lake Drive, Hollywood, CA, 90027

I’m almost loath to disclose the location of our local dog park because this is one of Hollywood’s hidden gems. Tucked away at the bottom of the Hollywood hills with an incredible view of the Hollywood sign, this park is a firm favorite among nearby residents. It is officially an on-leash park, although few visitors pay attention to that rule and most of the dogs run around freely. There’s plenty of lush green grass for pups to play on, a few picnic tables and benches for owners, and even a small children’s play area with playground equipment for the kids. The park has a water fountain and plenty of dog waste bins, but there are no bags or scoops, so make sure you bring your own. The biggest disadvantage to Lake Hollywood is that the park is not completely fenced in. Most owners don’t have an issue with this, but if your dog has a tendency to ignore commands there is little to stop him from galloping onto Canyon Lake Drive. Parking is street only and can be a little tricky during tourist season when everyone is trying to snap pictures of the Hollywood sign.

Pros: Great view of Hollywood sign! Quiet; friendly; clean.

Cons: Not fenced in; no parking lot; no small/timid dog area

Katie’s verdict: Four and a half bones out of five

Laurel Canyon Dog Park
8260 Mulholland Drive, Hollywood, CA, 90046

Laurel Canyon is a favorite among professional Hollywood dog walkers, so the park can get fairly busy at peak times. However, the main off-leash area is huge, and is rarely too crowded to be enjoyable. The park is fully enclosed and well stocked with dog waste bins, a water fountain, and plenty of scoops. There are lots of picnic tables and a good few trees to provide shade for the dogs. It’s not as picturesque as some of the parks we’ve visited in the area; the ground is mostly dirt where the grass has been worn away and the park has that pervasive dog pee odor that is to be expected at such a popular place. We have also had a couple of negative encounters with aggressive dogs here and would advise owners with unspayed male pups to steer clear (or at least stick to the small/timid dog area). One final local tip – the park is cleaned on Friday mornings, so if you want to experience it at its finest, head over as soon as your boss lets you out of the office for the weekend.

Pros: Huge main off-leash area; well-equipped; small/timid dog area; safely enclosed; small children’s play area

Cons: Small parking lot; park can be crowded; occasional aggressive dogs

Katie’s verdict: Three bones out of five

Runyan Canyon Park
2000 N. Fuller Drive, Hollywood, CA, 90046

Runyan Canyon is not so much a dog park as a collection of hiking trails, some of which are off-leash. Frequented by the fittest, leanest joggers in Los Angeles, this park will whip you into shape in no time if you decide to step up the pace and take your pup for a run. For those who prefer to relax at a gentler pace, the trail to the off-leash area is by no means strenuous, and the walk is well worth it for the spectacular views. Smog permitting, you can see Griffith Park Observatory, the Hollywood sign, and the whole of downtown Los Angeles. Be careful with undisciplined dogs, because there are steep cliffs here with little to prevent enthusiastic pups from skidding over the edge. Water is provided at the entrance to the park, but if you are planning on a lengthy hike, make sure you bring your own. Some of the trails have loose gravel and are not suitable for those who have difficulty walking. Do yourself a favor and bring your pup here for a sunset picnic – we promise you won’t be disappointed!

Pros: Beautiful views; good exercise; off-leash area

Cons: Not much shade; small parking lot; steep cliffs

Katie’s verdict: Four bones out of five

Thursday, February 2, 2012

Apartment Hunting on Craigslist: A Cautionary Tale

My husband and I love living in Hollywood, but we just got jobs in Santa Monica. The total distance between the two places is approximately 10 miles. Not such a bad commute, you might think. Maybe not in most cities, but when you factor in the diabolical LA traffic, a trip during rush hour can take up to an hour and a half. Nothing puts us in a bad mood faster than sitting in traffic, so the only logical solution is to move apartments. 

The dog is the only member of the family who enjoys LA traffic

Now, one of the most popular methods of finding a new apartment in LA is to sign up to Westside Rentals. A fine company, I'm sure, but the fact that they charge $60 just for the privilege of accessing information about potential apartments is quite frankly appalling. So we turned to a cheaper option: Craigslist. For any Brits who haven't encountered Craigslist yet, it's a wonderful site that enables you to find everything from a secondhand washing machine to a lifelong partner. You could probably sell your kids on it if you were so inclined. The disadvantage to Craigslist is that you get what you pay for. And sometimes, you encounter... less than salubrious types. I should have guessed that something was up when I saw an advert for a 2-bedroom apartment with ocean views for less than a third of the average price, but I couldn't resist making enquiries. Here is the response I received:

It is a great pleasure that you are interested in my flat.Thanks for your email and it is my gladness to hearing from you.I am Mr.Daniel Lee,the owner of the apartment you are making enquiery of.Actually I resided in the apartment with my family,such as my wife and my only daughter before and presently we had packed due to my transfer from my working place and now situated in the (Abuja,Nigeria) and presently my apartment is  still available for right now and I'm giving out the property with such a reasonable amount of $1200 a month,$700 for security deposit and pets acceptance of $100 Total for you to move in is $2,000, all the utilities  are included because I am only paying God back for his kindness and mercy over me and my family with what I have, that's why I asked for such a reasonable amount.More so Now, i went for a Crusade in the Abuja.Pls i want you to note that,i am a kind and honest man and also i spent a lot on my property that i want to give you for rent,so i will solicit for your absolute maintenance of this apartment and want you to treat it as your own,is that taken,it is not the money the main problem  but want you to keep it tidy all the time so that i will be glad  to see it neat when i come for a check up.I do that once in a while.I also want you to let me have trust in you as i always stand on my word.Here is my cell phone # +2348174426199 or 0112348174426199 i am available any time.
FIRST NAME:__________________
MIDDLE NAME:__________________
LAST NAME:__________________
PHONE (____)__________ (WORK)
PHONE (____)__________ (HOME)
PHONE(____)__________ (CELL)
KIDS_____ (YES/NO), HOW MANY________
PRESENT ADDRESS:______________________ _____
ZIP CODE:____________
HOW LONG?___________
WHY ARE YOU LEAVING?______________________ ________ 
============================== =============================
WORK ADDRESS:______________________ _____
ZIPCODE: _____________
============================== ====================
============================== =====================
============================== ==============
FIRST NAME:_______________ 
MIDDLE NAME:______________ 
LAST NAME:________________
PHONE (___)_______________
============================== ============
NAME OF PET:______________
KIND OF PETS: :______________
============================== ================

I'm sure that this gentleman was exactly who he claimed to be, but on the unlikely off-chance that he was a Nigerian conman trying to obtain my personal information in order to commit identity theft, I decided not to complete the application...

Welcome to my Blog!

Hello and thank you for stopping by! I probably should have started one of these new-fangled blog things several years ago, but I am extremely lazy and terrified of new technology. For those of you who don't know me, here are the past 32 years in a nutshell: I grew up, married a guy from Philly, moved to a little redneck town on the east coast of the US (name omitted to protect the unfortunate people who still have to live there), adopted a dog, and was coasting along in life, neither particularly happy nor completely miserable. Except in winter, when I was completely miserable. To give you an idea of what the weather was like, here is the view from our front door on a typical day in February:

Then, in 2010, I received a life-changing phone call from my school friend in the UK. Her brother and his wife were looking for a writer at their company in California. Would I be interested in relocating? Well, let's just say they didn't have to ask me twice. Having established that they would also be able to find my husband a position at the company, we put the house on the rental market, packed our bags, and drove across the country in search of year-round sunshine. Here is a typical view in California in February:

We have now been here for 18 months, and couldn't be happier. Even though the company we moved out here for closed down over Christmas (that's the risk you take with an Internet start-up), we wouldn't change a thing. Before this starts to sound like an unpaid advertisement for the California Tourist Board, let me assure you that life here is not all sunsets and palm trees. The traffic is horrendous, the taxes are crippling, and the cost of living beggars belief. All of which I will discuss at length in later posts; for now I just want to welcome you all to my blog. Thanks for reading and feel free to ask me any questions about life as a Brit in LA!