Monday, May 16, 2016

When celebrations collide

Time to clear the cards off the mantelpiece I think. It was my birthday two weeks ago, and they're starting to gather dust. As are, nestled in there, my Mother's Day cards.
Do you see how the Mother's Day card gets a little lost..?
I had a delightful birthday. TLOML took me out for legit sushi and cocktails and a celebratory brunch, and I got some lovely gifts and cards. I had a very nice Mother's Day too. There was an almost unbearably cute Mother's Day breakfast at school, including a little concert. Handmade cards from P, a bumperr sleep in and a lovely brunch and gift from TLOML.

So I suppose I have nothing to complain about. And yet, I do think the experience could be optimised.

The two celebrations are just too close together. Mother's Day has been set by the greetings' card lobby as the second Sunday in May here, which means it falls within a week or two of my birthday. This year it was just six days later. Inevitably, the two celebrations collide. TLOML told me a couple of days afterwards that one of the Mother's Day gifts was in fact a birthday present. And I can't say I blame him. Planning for my birthday consumes enough effort, so to have another celebration follow hard on the heels - well, he's all but run out of steam by then. And Mother's Day here - like most things - is quite a big deal. Brunch tables get booked up weeks in advance and florists make a killing in additional markup.

TLOML did very well to cover the essentials - a good brunch, a card and a gift - as well as making me feel treasured and important all day long. It's no mean feat. I know how he feels, because his birthday is less than two weeks before Christmas. And he is very hard to buy for, so thinking of two brilliant gifts in a short time frame is tough.

There's nothing we can do about that clash of celebrations. I'll just have to start thinking about his birthday earlier. But there is something we can do about the birthday/ Mother's Day mash up.

I have decided - no, decreed - that from 2017 on we (okay, he) will mark Mother's Day according to the British calendar, which is to say, Mothering Sunday in the Church calendar.  It moves about a bit but is usually some time in March. That means there's a decent amount of breathing space before my birthday, and there'll be no competition for brunch tables. Lady P might be confused, as she will have to stick with the school calendar - so I guess I'll get to celebrate it twice. I think that is known as having the best of both worlds. But TLOML will be absolutely exonerated from any Mother's Day duties in May, leaving him clear to focus entirely on my birthday. It's a transatlantic win-win!

Monday, May 9, 2016

Stay young and beautiful

...if you want to be loved, as the song goes. Or, if you want to be socially acceptable, as is the case in Los Angeles. The pressure is on, in this shallow city, to look good.

Hermosa Beach and the surrounding towns of the South Bay don't have it so bad. I'm sure plenty of Hermosan women get a little help from botox and fillers, but you don't see anything like the volume of frozen faces and implausible boobs that you do in, say, Beverly Hills. I think that's because our vibe down here is all beachy, and casual, and natural beauty is part of that.

Still, 'natural' beachy beauty might mean no surgery but it for sure doesn't mean no effort. The weather and the lifestyle here mean you're always at risk of having to wear shorts or a bikini. That's why wannabe hardbodies like me spend so much time in places like this...
If you'd told my London self I'd EVER join a gym, let alone one like this, I'd have laughed into my pint of bitter
...doing things like this...

I pay good money to do this several times a week. It's a must.

Because it turns out the beach-ready, 'sure let's have a playdate by your pool' look takes a lot of work.

Almost everyone around here looks like they work out constantly. They probably do.

And it doesn't end there. In case just working out and the odd injectible isn't enough. there's Cryotherapy. It's a whole body deep freeze for 50 quid a pop and I think it promises everlasting life. Seriously, can you believe I have a local Crypotherapy place? And that they sell a monthly membership where you can go once a day?! Even better, on Main Street (actually Pier Ave, but same diff), a new IV place just opened up. That's right, you can go - like any washed up celeb with a show to do, or perhaps just before a big event at your child's school - and get all pumped full of vitamins and stuff.

It may not be Beverly Hills but the good(looking) people of Hermosa Beach go to great lengths to stay young and beautiful. I just hope I can keep up.

Monday, May 2, 2016

Saying thanks

It's Teacher Appreciation Week this week. That's right, all week. Gone are the days when a simple apple would suffice. Or some dusty old pot pourri at Christmas. The US teachers unions have decided that simply isn't good enough any more and demanded a full week of appreciation.

Okay, I'm not sure it was the teachers union. And since this isn't a Hallmark holiday we can excuse the greetings card lobby too. Still, someone somewhere decided it was necessary and so, here we are.

Today Lady P took 3 flowers to school, one for each of the teachers. Tomorrow she will dress as a princess, to make them feel like queens for a day. On Wednesday she will take them handmade cards (with gift cards enclosed). On Thursday she'll dress as a a super hero, because teachers are heroes so that is the theme. On Friday she will wear her favourite teacher's favourite colours.

Some of the more involved (aka SAH) mums are taking in breakfasts and lunches for the teachers too. All of this organized by our parent co-ordinator, who does an outstanding job taking care of the school's desire to enrich everyone's lives and mark every 'holiday', while minimizing demands on the parents. And really although the tasks this week sound like a lot, they don't take much effort.

When I first got the letter (especially the attachment listing our teachers' favourite lunch orders) I was pretty snarky about this whole appreciation week shebang. 'No-one brings me lunch while I'm doing the job I'm paid to do', I grumbled. Though TLOML pointed out that sometimes he actually does. When it comes down to it, I do really appreciate the work our teachers do. They are getting paid to show up and do a good job but they go a long way beyond that and give Lady P an awful lot of love and happiness every day. So if some sweet little gestures this week make them feel valued, I'm all for it. Otherwise it might have ended up with me giving them that lame Christmas gift. Thank goodness for life's organizers, who let the rest of us just show up and go along with it all.

On the same theme, about a month ago Lady P (with my 'guidance') wrote a thank you note to the nurses and doctor who took such great care of her in February when she sliced her head open. She always tells people she was playing on a construction site, which makes us look bad - it was, in fact, the climbing frame at school. Anyway it was a deep cut which has now, thanks to some tidy stitches, healed very neatly indeed. In the UK I think people often write a thank you note to a doctor or nurse. My sister, who is an NHS physio, is always getting presents from her patients. But I don't think it's such common practice here. Is that because in the UK we are all so incredibly grateful for the NHS? Quite right too - but I don't intend to stop with the gratitude just because of the idiotic healthcare funding situation here. After all, US nurses aren't paid significantly more than their UK peers. Some US doctors are coining it in (the specalists and surgeons) but they are burdened with medical school debts which might take some of the joy out of cashing that pay cheque.

I suppose whether or how much someone gets paid is beside the point anyway. Whether its socially prescribed, culturally ingrained, or purely spontaneous, it can't ever be a bad thing to say thank you. Bring on the appreciation weeks and stock up on thank you notes!

Monday, April 25, 2016

And now my diamond shoes are too ... dusty

As the weather gets warmer (from the bitter depths of 15c we have suffered through this winter) I am reminded again of one of the biggest downsides to life in Hermosa Beach.

This is the combined effect of two factors:
1) Flip flops or sandals are a must here from April to November. Its too warm and too darn beachy for closed toes.
2) We walk along the Greenbelt to get to most places – downtown, to see friends, to go to the park. And the Greenbelt is paved with woodchip and dirt.
Hence: dirty dirty feet. My feet are never clean. They are somewhere between mildly dusty or absolutely filthy at all times.
That diagonal stripe of dirt is semi-permanent, April-November

And dirty flip flops too.
This is AFTER I washed them. They will never be clean again.

I don't know what the solution is. A deeper tan? I’ll try but I’m really not made that way. Darker flipflops? I’ve tried that too - but my new red ones already look as grubby as last year's neon yellow. Closed shoes? Never. Not in this weather.

No, I think it’s just a cross I’ll have to bear. Another heartbreaking story of life in Hermosa Beach.

Thursday, April 14, 2016

Can the customer experience ever be too good?

Customer service in the US is famously better than it is in the UK. So much so that it takes a bit of getting used to. Shop assistants barely even pause texting to look up when you enter most high street shops, and British waiters are experts in studiously avoiding eye contact. Meanwhile over here they accost you with offers of help from the moment you walk in, which can be alarmingly. Even after you've shopped they throw out a ‘Need help to your car, ma’am?’.

So far, so clichéd. I always thought the British were underserved by the cliché though. The family who ran my old corner shop were always very friendly, for what it's worth. And the customer service in John Lewis is usually brilliant.

Still, I don’t think there is anything in the UK to match the experience TLOML and I just had at a shop called Pirch, which claims to purvey joy. No, really.

Thanks to an unreliable oven and a juicy insurance cheque, we are in the market for a new range. Our house came fitted with a 48” Thermador, from which it is rather difficult to retreat. I mean, we’re not going to take it out and replace it with something smaller, for starters. What would we put in the gap, after all? It turns out there’s no such thing as a budget 48” range, and if there were, it would probably affect our home’s value. Frankly if your real estate listing doesn’t call out a Thermador, Wolf or Viking range you might just as well spraypaint ‘tear down’ on the front of the house.

Therefore we are in the market for a fancy range. And therefore we went to a fancy shop. We went to a mall in Orange County that looks like this:

Jjust as an aside, heres how the Farmers like to purvey their goods down in the OC (puts the trestle tables of Saltburn's farmers' market to shame somewhat):

I think the farmers were out on the golf course they day we visited

Anyway, back to Pirch and the reason for our visit. As you walk through the fancy schmancy doors, you are greeted with an offer of coffee – freshly ground and made to order. Then an actual chef talked us through how he would could what with which range, and did a little steam oven demo. They offered us a test drive: a trial run cooking on the ovens in the store (with foods their chef had prepped – no need for us to chop or peel, obvs). I'm not sure I could cope with cooking in a kitchen this pristine, so I declined.

They had a chicken on a rotisserie which I think if we’d wanted we could have helped ourselves to.
That's TLOML's nose. I cropped out the drool.
All the appliances are wired and plumbed in. In fact I think you can even use the loo or take a shower if you want.

It was actually rather overwhelming. TLOML didn’t even want to look at the wine fridges, which is how I knew it was all a bit much for him. We shuffled out feeling drained and somehow not entirely full of joy. We really do need a new range, and it does need to be a posh one - but I’m not sure we really needed the Pirch experience. Does anyone?