Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Goodbye 2008, it's been fun...

Now where to start with round-up of this momentous year?  I'm exhausted just thinking about it...
Sleeping puppy on bench
2008 has been full of adventures and new opportunities and most importantly a new addition to our family unit with the arrival of our mischievous and adorable yellow Labrador pup, Cooper.
Cooper and Jason in Hollywood
So after over ten years of working amongst the rat-race of London I threw it all in and we moved to L.A. back in March to enjoy a lifestyle of sunshine and swimming pools, and it feels like it's been non-stop ever since. 
Jason and Cooper in the pool
We lived for two months in Burbank near the film and TV studios to get ourselves settled, then moved into a condo complex in West Hollywood...
West Hollywood condo pool
After thirty-three years of surviving on public transport, I passed my California Driving Test and have been driving around L.A. in my first car ever since, with pup riding shotgun...
Jason's car and his sidekick Cooper
We've enjoyed the delights of the Hollywood Bowl from a classical Tchaikovsky concert, Les Miserables Musical, Sing-a-long Sound of Music movie, Donna Summer pop concert and even spectacular fireworks. 
Hollywood bOwl fireworks July 20098
Experienced the fabulousness of our first ever L.A. Gay Pride Parade in West Hollywood in June...
Micky's Flaming gay bar float at WEHO gay Pride June 08
It's been lots of fun living amongst the Hollywood stars and my best celebrity sighting would have to be a toss up between spotting Balthazar Getty and Sienna Miller heading to the ArcLight Hollywood cinema...
Sienna Miller and Balthazar Getty outside the ArcLight Hollywood
or capturing Adrian Grenier, Jeremy Piven and the cast of Entourage shooting their publicity poster for the fifth season of the TV show on Santa Monica Blvd...
Adrian Grenier, Jeremy Piven and the cast of Entourage
Although I also have fond memories of spotting Desperate Housewives Teri Hatcher having a bite to eat with a man friend at the same restaurant as us in Studio City on our first Sunday in L.A.
Beach pup Cooper
We've enjoyed hundreds of walks with our fabulous pup in local parks, beaches and canyons...
Jason and Cooper in Palisades park in Santa Monica
We've seen a bit more of America with trips to Walt Disney World in Florida in March... 
Safari Mickey Mouse at Walt Disney World in Florida
The Chrysler Building in New York City
We've entertained my visiting parents and enjoyed exploring the sights and places of interest in L.A. with them in October, like The Getty Center...
jason with Draped Mother and Baby sculpture at The Getty
La Brea Tar Pits, Griffith Park Observatory, Venice Beach...
Venice Beach Coastline
Santa Monica Pier, The Getty Villa in Malibu, Rodeo Drive and more...
Jason at The Getty Villa in Malibu
I loved dressing up for the West Hollywood Halloween Costume Carnival...
West Hollywood Halloween Costume Parade October 2008
The best laugh-out-loud moment belongs to my other half, Charlie, who literally took the plunge into the freezing cold Pacific Ocean when a wave swept him off his feet whilst rescuing pup's frisbee...
Charlie takes the plunge into the Pacific Ocean
I've kept myself busy this year watching a whole load of wonderful films (twenty-seven in total in L.A., plus four more before we moved here) and enjoying the delights of ArcLight Hollywood and its costume displays...
Movie costumes from the movie Mamma Mia
Movie highlights have included Iron Man, The Dark Knight, MILK, Australia, Frost/Nixon, Mamma Mia: The Movie, whilst the stinkers were Max Payne, The Happening and The Day The Earth Stood Still.
ArcLight Hollywood cinema
We've enjoyed the stunning Californian sunsets...
Stunning Los Angeles sunset viewed from Runyon Canyon
the beaches...
Paradise Cove in Malibu
and ocean views...
Waves breaking at Sycamore Cove in Ventura County
and the fun all three of us have had together...
Beach boys of Sycamore Cove
We've loved dining out around L.A. (it's so much easier and cheaper than in the UK) and I'd probably say that Cafe La Boheme is my favourite restaurant at the moment...
Cafe La Boheme Restaurant
We experienced our first U.S. Presidential Election throughout the Summer and were delighted when Americans made the right choice by voting for the first black President and symbol of hope and change, Barack Obama...
Super President Obama
In addition to celebrating our first 4th July and Thanksgiving, we've also experienced our first Christmas in L.A.
Christmas Jason in Hollywood
Finally, how proud am I today?  On this last day of the year I witnessed Cooper cocking his leg to pee for the first time, talk about your seminal moment.  
Dog and hydrant on Melrose Avenue walk
So it's been an eventful year, I wonder what 2009 has in store for us?

Well I know for a fact that we'll be taking a trip back home to London and Wales, that Cooper will need to be 'fixed' to save us from any paternity suits, we have family visiting us in April and hopefully other friends will come to stay throughout the year.  
Runyon Canyon pup
But most of all we'll endeavour to do more exploring of America's West Coast and make the most of our time here in L.A...

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Christmas carnage - the festive aftermath...

I always think it's really sad when I see Christmas trees abandoned in the streets. Walking through the streets of West Hollywood it's like a Christmas tree graveyard at the moment.
Christmas tree graveyard
As Americans don't celebrate Boxing Day we even saw some trees thrown out on the roadside on the 26th December, which seems a bit excessive if you ask me.

Fortunately I'm told they do have a collection service for the trees in West Hollywood, whereas in our West London neighbourhood back home we'd need to take the tree to a nearby recycling centre. 

In London you'd always get those simpletons who'd just discard their tree into the streets though and they'd stay there for weeks looking more and more like a sad skeleton of their former selves (as the local council services refused to collect them).
Abandoned Christmas tree
I know that once the gift giving and festive celebrations are over, Christmas decorations start to look a bit sad (especially if you have a wilting tree), but I think that traditionally in the UK you are supposed to wait until the 12th Day of Christmas, 6th January, to take down your festive decorations, so I'm not sure if people follow that same rule here in the U.S.

This year we opted for a mini-artificial tree.  Not the same I know, but definitely safer with a big bounding puppy around methinks. So when the time comes we'll take that and the lights and other decorations down and store them away until next year.
Discarded Christmas tree
Speaking about the aftermath of the holiday season, it's much quieter driving on the roads at the moment in this post-Christmas and pre-New Year lull, but I know where everyone has gone.  

I'm just back from a walk with Cooper at Runyon Canyon and no matter what time of day you go there the last few days it's swamped with the usual people walking their dogs and people exercising, plus now there's whole families walking off the Christmas calories and enjoying the sunshine and 65 degrees.

Just wait until the New Year when all those resolutions to get fit and healthy go out the window...

Monday, December 29, 2008

Boxing Day hike up Runyon Canyon...

After a few days of festive eating and drinking you start to feel a bit stuffed like a turkey, so on Boxing Day (26th December) we took our pup for a much needed hike up Runyon Canyon to get some fresh air and burn off some Christmas calories.
Boxing Day Runyon Canyon walk
He really needs the long walk to expend all his energy as the last few nights when he's not been up to Runyon as often as usual, we've had a combination of paws in the face and an over-excited puppy licking our faces at 1am, 3am, 5am, whereas normally he'll sleep through until at least 6 am.
Runyon Canyon Hollywood Sign view
Now that it's cooler during the day and the fact he's getting much stronger and building his endurance, the three and a half mile or so trek is literally becoming 'a walk in the park' for him. 
Cooper & Jason on a Runyon Canyon hike
Even though it can be bitter cold in the morning here in L.A. it was a glorious day to walk along the mountain ridges with the views of the City of Angels spread out before us.  
Watering the pup at Runyon Canyon
The skies were so blue and clear (by L.A. standards) and in the distance you could see the snow capped mountains behind the Griffith Park Observatory. 
Griffith Observatory snowy mountain view
You could see also see all the way down to Santa Monica and the Pacific Ocean, past the towers of Westwood and Century City.
View of Westwood and Century City skyline
I also tried to take a panoramic view from the Canyon to give you some perspective of the sprawling L.A. basin.
Panoramic view of Los Angeles from Runyon Canyon
Panoramic view from Runyon Canyon
Panoramic view from Runyon Canyon
Panoramic view from Runyon Canyon
Panoramic view from Runyon Canyon
Last night I went to my first ever Hanukkah (or Chanukah - I'm told it can be spelt many different ways) dinner. To celebrate the eight-day Jewish Festival of Light we ate potato latkes, played with the dreidel and watched the whole lighting of the menorah candles and then as per normal for us, had too much to eat and drink.

So today after a much needed return to the gym this morning, it'll be off to Runyon again to do both pup and me some good...

Sunday, December 28, 2008

In floods of tears at Marley & Me...

If you own a dog or like them just a bit, you should go see the movie Marley & Me, just be prepared for floods of tears.
Marley & Me film billboard
Last night we went to see the new movie based on John Grogan's book at the ArcLight cinema in Sherman Oaks with some friends. As I've mentioned previously I've still not read the book and so I'll have to comment on the film without any reference to the source material.
Marley & Me billboard poster
It's a good film and certainly has it's weepy moments, but it isn't perfect by any means. The basic plot follows the life of John (Owen Wilson) and his wife, Jen (Jennifer Anniston), and their careers as writers for different newspapers.  John gets a new job reporting on local news stories that aren't going to set the journalistic world on fire and ends up writing an amusing weekly column, when he really wants to be tackling hard-hitting journalism like his friend and colleague Sebastian (Eric Dane).
Sleepy 9 week old Labrador pup Maddie
Married but not yet ready for the commitment and responsibility of children, Sebastian suggests John get a surprise puppy for his wife. How wrong he could be. Enter Marley, an adorable yellow Labrador pup.
9 week old yellow Labrador puppy Maddie
One of my criticisms of the movie is that you don't get to see Marley as much of a puppy for long. Having spent the last six months with a growing Labrador pup and marveling at his antics, it's a shame we don't get to see more of Marley as a small pup.
9 week old Labrador pup Maddie
Another criticism is that Owen Wilson is such a laid back character, on and off screen, that it's hard to believe that he has the ability to be a newspaper columnist. Equally Eric Dane who plays McSteamy in TV's Grey's Anatomy doesn't seem to have much range as an actor, forever cast as the womanizing lothario, acting his way through with a lift of an eyebrow here and a smile there.  
Dozing 9 week old Labrador pup Maddie
Jennifer Anniston is OK as Jennifer Grogan, but doesn't really have much to do. There's real emotion when we learn she has a miscarriage, especially when Marley puts his chin on her lap when she breaks down on the sofa and when we see her struggling to be a mum of two young kids with an almost uncontrollable dog tearing up the house.
Cooper's 8 month old puppy paws
I also thought it was a bit unbelievable that we didn't see the married couple age that much with the passage of time.  I know living in the Florida sunshine must be a good life, but a bit of a noticeable transformation in the characters would have been more realistic.
Cooper on the stairs
I suppose it's more John's story and his connection with Marley, and for all my criticisms of Wilson, he's ultimately convincing as the grief stricken dog owner when it's time for Marley to pass away.  There's some really touching moments with him walking the dog and the scenes in the vet and at his graveside had me blubbering like a baby.  Even remembering them now, when I have my warm dozing pup lying across my feet I'm starting to well up again.
Cooper asleep on his beanbag
I suppose that's why the movie was so emotional for me, as I kept thinking of the real life parallels between Marley and our own Cooper.  Luckily Cooper has never been as destructive as the movie pup and fortunately we don't have as many thunderstorms in L.A. as in Florida, but like the Grogan's and Marley I hope that we get to have a long, loving and enjoyable life with our Cooper.
Cooper chewing on Christmas Day 2008
The movie also reaffirmed for me that I could never cope with having kids, a puppy is hard enough work, so to have a dog and two or three young children, would send me over the edge.  I salute people that do have both.
Pup Cooper asleep by the fireplace
It's not a non-stop laugh a minute movie, but it has real heart and I guarantee it'll bring a tear to the eye of the hardest soul.  I think you can sum up the relationship you can have with your dog and how the Marley & Me movie can make you feel with Owen Wilson's words:

"A dog doesn't care if you're rich or you're poor.  
Give him your heart and he'll give you his".

I give the movie three *** stars and a bucket-load of tears.
Boxing Day Hike at Runyon Canyon with Cooper
If you're wondering who the young Labrador pup featured in this blog entry is, it isn't Marley or even our own Cooper, but rather one of Cooper's relatives, Maddie.  She is nine weeks old in the first four pictures after the Marley billboards and has the same parents as Cooper, so she is a Sandylands Labrador Retriever pup. 

A visitor to Jason in Hollywood was enamoured with our boy and wanted to know where we found him, so I passed along the details of the breeder and they just picked Maddie up the week before Christmas. What a great Christmas present!  
Boxing Day 08 Hike at Runyon Canyon with Cooper
She's so adorable and you can tell that she's related to Cooper. 

I've also included a few pictures of what's in store for her when she's eight months old, although I think girls don't tend to grow as large as boys do.  

I bet she'll be the same bundle of joy and let's hope she's not as naughty as Marley (or Cooper)...