Saturday, July 15, 2017

On reading to dogs

Last Saturday P read to a dog. We were at the library and there some dogs waiting to be read to, so she read to a dog.

Only she can't really read, so I did the reading, with her supplying the occasional word.

Also, the dog was sitting on the other side of its person, a kind-faced older lady, and P was sitting on the other side of me.

So rather than P reading to a dog, what happened was that I read to a stranger with a dog sitting nearby and P supplying the occasional word.

A sceptic might have wondered about the point of having dogs in the library. I'll admit, I did. But apparently dogs make an ideal, nonjudgmental, calming audience for children to build their confidence in reading aloud.

P does not lack confidence, although she is occasionally shy. And while she can't really read yet, she's perfectly happy to pretend she can. She 'reads' her toys stories most nights. On our recent trip to the UK she turned pages and babbled in Minionese to a rapt three year old who later told me 'Penelope can read'.

We're clearly not the target audience. So I'll shelve my scepticism. Kudos to the kind people of the Beach cities who bring their dogs to libraries so nervous kids can enjoy reading.

Saturday, July 1, 2017

Dirt colored houses

Dirt coloured houses are popular in Southern California. I don't mean dirt in the US sense, as in, soil. Although soil coloured houses are quite popular. I mean dirt as in the color of grime, or dust. Sludge is a popular house paint choice too. So is clay. Also bile. Oh, and anything that suggests putrefecation.

Don't believe me? Here is a truly random selection of homes within a mile of our place.

Our house was the colour of dirt when we bought it. Dirt with a grubby blue trim.


This picture is a little bleached out but in reality the colour of the stucco wa akin to the colour of dirty sea scum after a heavy rain. Or the wax and sea salt layer on top of TLOML's surfboard.


Uncanny, isn't it?

Well, our grimy days are over. We just repainted. White! Clean, coastal, soft white.
TLOML was a little concerned that it will show the dirt. But I think we can all agree that even a dirty white house is preferable to a house the colour of actual dirt.

Tuesday, June 27, 2017

In Hermosa you can do any sport you like! (Except one).

You can do all sorts of sports in Hermosa Beach. It's the sportiest little beach town I know. For a start there are the obvious SoCal activities: surfing is huge, and Hermosa hosts several volleyball tournaments from the serious to the sublimely silly. There are runners, cyclists, skateboarders and rollerbladers carving up the Greenbelt and the Strand all day long.
There's a yoga or pilates studio on every corner and at least two Crossfit boxes. If you want to go old school there's a 24 Hour Fitness, and the resolutely gritty Yard gym for pumping iron. A quick count on Google maps gives me at least 25 gyms in Hermosa. That's a lot of options for a town of that's less than 1.5 square miles.

Then there are the less obvious options. Beach Tennis isn't troubling too many volleyball courts just yet but the Sexy Beach Tennis people are recruiting aggressively (hence the name, I imagine). Rather less beachy, right smack in the middle of town, between the baseball field and the hall where they run Jazzercise classes, stands Hermosa Beach Lawn Bowling Club.

And now, Hermosa has found a space for Pickleball - apparently the fastest growing sport in America. Pickleball, for the uninitiated, is like tennis - but played on a court half the size, with a plastic balls with holes in and wooden paddles. The courts have been busy pretty constantly since they opened, even on a quiet Wednesday afternoon when the tennis courts are deserted. So they must be on to something.

Given all there is on offer in this sports-mad town, it makes the obvious gap even more bewildering. Believe it or not there isn't a public pool. In fact, there isn't even one in a private gym - although members can drive a couple of miles in either direction to use the Bay Club pools in Manhattan Beach and Redondo. High school students can use their school pool. TLOML drives to Hawthorne to train with his South Bay swim team. P swims at her Montessori, obvs. The shining ones who are happy to splash out $15k or so to join the Manhattan Beach Country Club can swim there. But for non-members, there's nothing.

Okay, there is the Pacific. It's big and it's free. But it's a little sharkey and rather too swellful for me. Good job I have running, crossfit, and a rusty old bike to keep me busy.

Friday, June 23, 2017

Adventures in foreign food

Not usually the most adventurous eater, I wasn't sure how P would cope with all the strange foreign foods she'd be faced with on our trip to the UK.  How would she fare when we spend time with children who eat such exotic foods as salmon, shepherd's pie, and pizza with actual pizza sauce on. I expected to be slightly embarrassed as she stuck to the plain pasta, toast and eggs that make up much of her staple diet.

But to my delight she tried a lot of new foods. She even liked some of them.

Sadly it wasn't asparagus, Dorset crab, rhubarb, cucumber sandwiches or even scones (too many raisins). In fact I'd have been happy if she got a taste for Heinz baked beans.

Here she is one bite into her first scotch egg, trying to decide if she likes it.

 She loved it.

Other big wins included my mum's egg salad sandwiches, broccoli (amazing what peer pressure will do), proper pizza, and proper French bread. Any variation on sausage meat and eggs, and anything breaded or battered, and fried also went down well. So sausage rolls, fish and chips and scampi were hits.

Now I'm not really sure what good this does me. As I said, I was hoping for rather more new vegetables - in which category I include baked beans. I suppose egg salad and proper pizza (i.e. not a homemade cheese-only version) are welcome additions to the list of dinners I can prepare in 15 minutes. But scotch eggs and sausage rolls are not available at our local grocer (and I'm not sure I'd trust them if they were). Nor is decent French bread.

And so it is that I find myself breading and frying scampi for her dinner.
What a faff...

...and an oily smelly mess
Just don't expect to see me making a scotch egg or a goddamn baguette from scratch anytime soon.



Monday, June 12, 2017

Trade-offs and the trip home

P's annual English immersion experience is over for another year. Now she's four the time in transit is an awful lot easier and the whole trip even more fun. She loved riding the tube and double decker buses, making friends with our friends' kids, playing with her cousins and all her quality time with my parents and sisters. She did some dam building on the beach, saw a jousting display at Leeds castle, petted lambs, and played a lot of elaborate games with her cousins in granny's garden.

It wasn't all about P. We enjoyed a week's holiday in Kent with the friends we used to holiday with pre-parenthood. It was just like the old days but our afternoons drinking wine and chatting in the sun now have a backdrop of children arguing over whose turn it was on the swing. Pretty blissful, as it goes. The week in Kent did rather squeeze our time with my family, and meant a couple of fewer days in London, but it made the trip feel more like a holiday. Quality time with fewer people than we might otherwise spread ourselves thin trying to see:  that's the trade off. Life, it seems is all about trade-offs, and making a deal you can live with. We traded an easier, more secure life in the golden state for our beloved London - with the sweetener of a return trip every year. Now the key is to get the balance right on those return trips. We can never do everything, or see everyone, but I think we made the best of our limited time.

P did pretty well at blending in as a Brit, I thought. She ate Scotch eggs and proper bangers with relish and went on walks in the rain without complaint. There were, however, a couple of giveaways. I had to remind her what a nettle was a few times (of course, she could school her British peers in earthquake safety but that's not nearly as useful as nettle-awareness when you're negotiating the playing fields and country lanes of Yorkshire). And as we pulled up outside my sister's beautifully proportioned, terraced, Victorian townhouse she commented that 'the houses are all stuck together!' adding that in her opinion, this was 'crazy town'. Perhaps one day she'll have her own blog about transatlantic differences. 

Now we're home, back into the routine of work, and play, and the sunny beach life. It ought to get easier to return. After all, I am more settled here, bolstered by more places and people I love with each passing year. But London's grip is tight: I still suffer a little bereavement every time we leave. Nothing a Tuesday taco and an afternoon watching volleyball under a perfect blue sky won't cure, I'm sure.