Thursday, February 16, 2017

Cheesecake, glitter and balloons

It's the simple stuff. We celebrated P's birthday this weekend with five of her buddies from school, 50 balloons and about 3 pounds of glitter.

Last year P objected to seven peers as 'too many people'. Which suits us, as hiring a playspace for 20+ kids costs literally hundreds of dollars. Much more fun and almost as easy to do something at home, especially since this year we limited the guest list to just five. Less expensive too, one might imagine.

In an attempt to elevate her birthday from a completely unstructured playdate to something, well, with glitter, I headed Michael's, that mecca of crafting materials. I bought each guest a little wooden letter, and all sorts of stuff for them to stick on their wooden letters. A dozen pots of glitter, glitter glue, little tiny pom poms, paper flowers, sticky plastic gems - you name it, if you can stick it on a wooden letter I bought it.

We ordered a festival of balloons, and a little table and chairs so P and her girl gang could sit sweetly for a tea party. It was very sweet and very photogenic. The amount of time I spent making flower-shaped watermelon pieces, heart-shaped brownies, star-shaped sandwiches, and heavily frosted cupcakes was worth it for the six minutes those girls sat nicely and ate.

Note how not one of these guests observed the afternoon tea rules of 'savory first'. Barbarians. But cute ones. The highlight for P I think was the cheesecake she had been so excited to eat. She took hers down with glee, but her friends mostly just looked confused about this strange birthday cake format. Before long they returned to the far more exciting task of playing with someone else's toys.

The other highlight, for all the guests I think, was creating mountains and clouds of glitter on our deck. Thank god for a sunny SoCal February day which allowed us to keep the crafting outside. But who am I kidding?, that glitter still got everywhere. And now there will never not be glitter in our house.

When all's said and done, I'm not sure a party at home is a low cost effort - by the time I'd filled a cart at Michael's, and ordered all those party supplies we might as well have hired a play space. And low effort it certainly is not. But for the delight I saw on P's face, bombing around her house with her crew, sharing her toys and feeling like a gracious hostess, I think it was well worthwhile.

Monday, February 6, 2017

Minor celebrity status

I've achieved celebrity status, at least among the children of class P1. But forget 15 minutes  - my time in the spotlight was closer to ten.

P and her classmates have been 'studying' England this month. And yes, by studying I mean coloring English flags in (bet they're glad they didn't choose Mozambique), and listening to Paddington stories. As a native, I volunteered to come in and teach those kiddos a thing or two about England.

After a minor panic - what DO you teach a gaggle of three year olds about England, once they've covered the flag and Paddington Bear? - I settled on flash cards. British English on one side, and American English on the other.

I resisted the urge to tell them that in England, a trump is a fart. For the most part I stuck with nouns, like jumper and pavement and trainers. P insisted on the inclusion of 'cheerio' which I couldn't argue with. She helped me paint the pictures on the answer side. The idea was that the picture would allow them to shout the answer when they saw it, but I'm not sure our illustrations - between my poor drawing and her exuberant colouring - really clarified anything. Still, we had fun making them.
P at work (dressed as Belle, obvs)


And we had fun actually delivering this performance too. I had P help me with the cards, since she knew all the answers, which delighted her. Some of the kids put their hands up to answer some of the words. Some of those kids actually knew some of the answers. Out of the 12 cards I had, wellies, nappy and loo were easy answers. But plenty of them left the children looking confused (which wasn't really my intent). Some of the kids looked at me blankly as if to say 'what is P's mother doing in our teacher's seat?'

It was all over in about nine minutes. Which is a preparation:performance ratio of about 12:1. I enjoyed it, and P enjoyed it, but I wasn't sure it had all been worth all the effort.

Until the next day, at a kid's birthday party, when several of the parents came up and told me they'd heard all about my star turn (my phrase not theirs, but I think they were reaching for an expression along those lines). 'Oh it was nothing', I murmured, 'just a bit of fun'. But I clutched those accolades to me as tightly as an actress holding her Oscar.

Thursday, January 26, 2017

Amusements

Since we moved here, and possibly since the dawn of time judging by the tone of letters into the Easy Reader and Daily Breeze, there have been debates about the future of Redondo pier. Locals are up in arms/vehemently in favour of a planned redevelopment, which replace a crumbling carpark and ugly pier with something altogether prettier.

The controversy around the redevelopment revolves around some very reasonable concerns - will there be enough parking, enough open space, enough access to the sea and views of the water, a place for the existing water users - paddle boarders and outriggers as well as yacht owners and fishing boats -  and so on.

Essentially the question is, will the character of the pier be retained? If by essential character they mean a proper old school slightly trashy day-at-the-beach flavour, I hope so. It's SoCal's answer to Whitby: incredibly fresh fish, snacks made entirely of coloured sugar, cheap thrills at the amusement arcade, and some old school bars. Old Tony's has been there since 1952, and I think hasn't redecorated in that time. But if it aint broke, don't fix it, and for a sunset beer with a sticky carpet underfoot it can't be beat. Quality Seafood at first glance is an oversized fish and chip shop, but they also sell great fish, and shellfish, not to mention sea urchin harvested in Santa Barbara. It was good enough for legendary LA chef and champion of street food, Roy Choi, so the crowds smashing crab on their concrete tables are in good company.  There are a couple of newer, not-so-trashy places to eat and drink too - King Harbor brewery for locally brewed, interesting beer, and A Basq Kitchen for legit Basque food.

But the essence of Redondo pier is fried food, sugary snacks and a trip around the amusements. P loves a lap around the amusement arcade, which is our first stop on the way to Quality Seafood. I give her four quarters to spend as she wishes and she takes four spins on an ancient carousel.

You'd think we'd leave after the money is spent, but it turns out she is just as happy pushing buttons and sitting in simulators which are flashing 'INSERT COINS TO PLAY' as she is on the 25c carousel. In fact, she is equally happy with the broken rides, or games, which have a piece of paper taped to the screen saying 'OUT OF ORDER'. The whole dark, decrepit place with its flashy lights and people who prefer being indoors when at the beach, just delights her.

Personally, I am always dying to get to get out of The Fun Factory. I like that it exists, but I don't want to be in there. It's creepy. Witness this old seesaw, which incidentally costs 25c to ride. Only in America would they find a way to monetize the seesaw.
I read recently that Old Tony's and Quality Seafood will be retained by the new owners, if the redevelopment goes ahead. But The Fun Factory was recently bought by the City, so the space can be given over to the shiny new 'mall by the sea' they have planned. If the redevelopment ever goes ahead, it could be curtains for the only mechanized seesaw left in the Western World.  P will be devastated to lose the amusements. However, I assume it'll be replaced by all manner of artisanal ice cream shops: ample consolation.

Thursday, January 19, 2017

The strange world of fake food, and the strange requests of an almost four year old

The dreams of a child - our child, at least - are beautifully modest. All P wants for her birthday is a toy cheesecake. For Christmas all she wanted was some tights, a new water bottle, and some tiny toy dishes. She got all of those things, and some other stuff too, but her favourite gift was the tiny toy dishes. That particular request was, I think, inspired by the Elf on the Shelf book:
'I'll listen to you. Tell me your wishes.
Would you like a game or some tiny toy dishes?'
Maybe the cheesecake is inspired by a lazy rhyme in some other kids' book. Maybe it's because she has been obsessed with cheesecake since she ate some at Thanksgiving - and had some more for breakfast the next day. In fact she has been quite insistent that her birthday cake be an actual cheesecake, so I guess her whole birthday theme is cheesecake. Given the current Disney princess obsession I think we should consider ourselves lucky. It could  be much worse.

The tiny toy dishes were scored for a few dollars from Amazon. A birthday cheesecake is easily made. But a toy cheesecake is surprisingly difficult to procure. P has been very clear that it must not have any berries or glaze on top. Which rules out this $34 option, thank goodness. Not that I'm being cheap - we'd be more than happy to spend $34 on some fantastic toy or game. It just seems excessive for a small plastic food item.



This one can be custom made, so I could ask them to take the berries off, but I balked at the price here too.
I'm glad I found it though. I spent a happy, bewildered twenty minutes surfing the incredible range of goods on Fake Food Japan. The specificity ('ginger flavoured grilled pork') and the options (do you want your fake kiwi sliced, diced, peeled or in a yoghurt?) sent me on an intoxicating surf session.

While clearly not aimed at 4 year olds, these aren't just for restaurateurs either.
In case you can't read it, this is a description for a $181 fake cake which says 'why not fool your friends with these good enough to eat replicas pound cakes the next time you are having a dinner party?' Why not, indeed.

After many hours of surfing, I found a woman who crafts clay Christmas ornaments in the shape of cheesecakes, cannolis, and macarons. That's quite a niche. For the princely sum of $10 she is making me a berry-free cheese cake. Goodness knows how she makes any money. Perhaps she does it for the love of the craft.

I'm very happy to be able to give P exactly what she wants for her birthday. And, for the millionth time I wonder, how did any one raise children before the internet?

Wednesday, January 11, 2017

The weather in LA is terrible. Especially when it's not that bad.

Well, that was rainy season I guess. It came and left in the space of about three weeks, with several days of rain across that time and some colder days too. We had enough rain to skip watering the plants on our deck, and for P to gleefully dig out her umbrella. There was enough rain in the rest of the state for the drought to be almost over (for now), although not enough in Los Angeles, apparently. And enough rain here for locals to joke about how poorly prepared for it we are. It got cold enough to switch the heating on, and even light a fire. Okay, at 15c maybe that was stretching it a bit, but we indulged ourselves.

I think most people here enjoyed the novelty and are glad to see we are going to enjoy some warmer, sunnier weather now. But I have not had enough. I have this burning nostalgia for cold air, pink cheeks, clouds of breath, slapping your arms together and stamping your feet for warmth, taking off several layers of clothing when you get indoors - but keeping thick socks and a nice warm jumper on.

Looks like they're having that sort of weather - and then some - in the UK right now. Listen, I'm not crazy. I wouldn't wish a 'thunderstorm' on anyone, nor would I want to experience one in person. But for sure I could handle some blustery days. The weather here is never ever bracing. Sigh.

It makes me sad to think that P has never really had that experience. When she was a baby and we lived in Saltburn we had to bundle her up, but that's long forgotten. And a few days up a Californian mountain every year or so won't really cut it either.
Remember woolly hats?
It's not that I want her to be cold. That's just mean. I think I just want her to be nostalgic about the same things I am nostalgic about. By that logic, I suppose I'd like her to know how it feels to sing folk songs round a campfire with the Girl Guides, or have calamine lotion rubbed onto sunburn, or eat cold rice pudding from a little glass dish, or other childhood memories that bring a lump to my throat. I may have read too much Brambly Hedge lately. But it's no good, I can't manufacture her memories, and she's going to grow up in a place with mild winters, the poor little mite.

TLOML told me today that being afraid for the future of the Affordable Care Act is not a good enough reason to move to the UK. I rather think he'd say the same about wanting to experience poor weather, only with even greater conviction.

I might just have to settle for a trip to the UK next winter. That's about as much as TLOML can handle to be honest, and he'll spend the whole time nostalgic for 25c and sunshine I know.