Tuesday, June 19, 2018

The cold comfort of being an expat

I'm a Green Card holder, aka a resident alien, aka unable to vote or serve on a jury. I believe I now qualify to apply for citizenship but frankly I'm in no great rush.

There have been plenty of times when I've enjoyed being able to shrug and declare 'I'm not a citizen, it's nothing to do with me'. November 9, 2016 is a good example. A few months earlier I found that distance from home that softened the blow of the tragedy that is Brexit. I was fairly active, politically, before I became transatlantic. Not just voting, but displaying posters, joining marches and protests and just generally being one of those talkative, self-righteous left wingers that will save the world one day if you'd all only let us.

Then came the luxury of shrugging and saying 'it's nothing to do with me'. The luxury of opting out of difficult conversations with family members who have different points of view. The strange experience of watching an election in the country where I live as if it was happening in a parallel universe - I've never not voted in an election before, large or small. I'm a bystander. I can still march for gun control, donate to Planned Parenthood and ACLU, and wear my 'Nevertheless she persisted' t-shirt. I can exercise my consumer power. But that's about it.

I'm ashamed to admit that I enjoyed knowing that what I think - about, say, gun control, a woman's right to reproductive choice, or the inhuman 'zero tolerance' policy that is ripping infants from their parents at the border - doesn't count in the country where I live. It's an easy way out when you live in a country where - to quote this Guardian column - 'kids get bulletproof shields for their backpacks as a gift for graduating middle school'.

But it's cold comfort. And as I drove to pick P up from pre-school today (she's safe - no school shootings in Los Angeles since May 11, in case you wondered) I listened to a story about the border separations on KCRW That's our local NPR station, the bleeding heart liberal's station of choice. And my heart did bleed. I was moved to tears by this harrowing 7 minute recording of inconsolable kids - little, little children, the same age as P - crying for their parents. It's a horrible inhuman exercise, being carried out by a frighteningly authoritarian administration, and I can't vote them out. I can't even, really, make those phone calls we're supposed to make to our Senator - to tell them 'You represent me and I support the 'Keep Families Together Act' (Americans - if you're reading this and feel the same way - call 202-224-3121 and tell them you support SB3036).

I mean, I can make that call and I did, but I think they can tell by my accent I'm not an American - and I hope they don't check the voters roll because they'll disregard my call altogether.

Calling Kamala Harris and asking her to support the 'Keep Families Together' Act is redundant. Voting for progressive, liberal politics in general, in California, is like wishing for sunshine in LA. There's really no need. But being unenfranchised (I figure I can't say 'disenfranchised' sine no-one took it away from me...) is untenable. And since we aren't planning on leaving any time soon, I may just have to bite the bullet (get it?) and pursue the path to citizenship. With a heavy heart.

Wednesday, May 23, 2018

Backdoor weddings

We went to a backdoor wedding recently. No, wait, I don't mean that. I mean a backyard wedding. But that name has sort of stuck for me. When chatting to a British friend, she tongue twisted it into a backdoor wedding, because frankly it's not the sort of phrase Brits get to say very often. First of all we don't have backyards, we have gardens. But more to the point, we don't get married in our backyards or gardens or indeed anywhere other than a place licensed according to the Marriage and Civil Partnerships Regulations.

The Brits are missing out, because a backyard wedding is a lovely thing. Informal, intimate, purely focussed on the two people and their vows, surrounded by friends and family - oh, and maybe a Dudeist priest. TLOML is ordained by the Church of the Big Lebowski and in that capacity can conduct legally binding wedding ceremonies. For real.

It wouldn't happen in England, that's for sure. There, only a minister or a proper, registered registrar can marry a couple.

One of the many lovely things about this backyard wedding was how relaxed it was. We hung out, drinking wine and chatting, until the couple were ready to say their vows, at which point we gathered to watch them exchange vows under a charming chuppah on the lawn.

That also wouldn't happen in England. First of all, there'd be no alcohol in sight. No alcohol or food may be consumed in the room where the ceremony is to take place, for an hour before the ceremony. Not sure if they are afraid of people getting wed without their senses about them, or just crumbs spoiling the vibe or what.

You also can't get married outside, as you need to be wed within a permanent structure. My BFF got married under a cool little gazebo, with guests sitting outside, which was a creative and charming solution. But gazebos that have been recognized by the Home Office are few and far between. And so, as a result, are backyard weddings.

Which is a shame. It was no St George's Chapel, but this backyard ceremony was truly one of the loveliest, most heartfelt and honest weddings I've ever been to. 

Tuesday, May 8, 2018

A better breadth of butter

Two failed butter dishes, rejected because they were so annoying, and I finally get it. I realize why so many butter dishes here are long and skinny. Long and skinny in a way which makes no sense when you're trying to accommodate a normal sized pat of butter.

But of course, it's because I'm buying European butter. The American stuff comes in 'sticks'. No, I'm not kidding. A pat of butter is made up of two sticks. I realized this the other day when my glance fell on some Land o' Lakes 'butter' (horrible crumbly stuff) - and put two and two together when I read a recipe that called for 'a stick' of butter.

It's madness! Butter shouldn't come in a stick! It's firm, but not hard enough to be a stick. It's not soft either though, by the way, which makes it very difficult to smush into a measuring cup when a recipe calls for a cup. Which is another thing: why measure it in a cup? Well it turns out that a cup is 2 sticks, or a pat. So it's actually not that difficult. I suppose it's easier than using measuring scales which are apparently beyond the nous of the American home baker. Took me a couple of recipes to figure the stick thing out but I'm pretty sure life would be easier over here if we all just used a proper, precise system of weights when baking.

Anyway now I know, so I no longer have to work out what a stick or a cup of butter looks like. And thanks to TLOML, we have a lovely new butter dish of just the right proportions.

The one on the top is the old one, perfectly shaped for a stick of butter but look how a real pat of butter splays out over the edges. The one on the bottom is the new one, showcasing what is probably half a stick but could just as easily be a perfect pat. Peace is restored in the toaster/ bread bin/ butter dish corner of the kitchen.

Tuesday, April 17, 2018

Earning a day at Disney

Believe it or not, P has never been to Disneyland. She must be the only five year old in Southern California who hasn't. As it happens, I haven't either. People look surprised when I tell them that - it's like saying you've never been to London, as a Brit (same cultural significance) - but given that I moved here in my thirties, it really isn't so strange. Before that my closest Disney option was Eurodisney, and there are about a million better things to do on a trip to France than go to Eurodisney.

And so it is that we are a pair of Disney virgins. I could go to my grave without ever visiting, but P would be a deprived child if we let this situation go on much longer. Up until recently she's been content playing on broken slot machines at Redondo Pier, but we think it's time she saw what a real amusement park was all about.

She's of an age now where kids chat - at least, I assume that's how come she knows about Shimmer & Shine, because it certainly didn't come from our house - and I'd hate her to miss out on something all her buddies get to enjoy. Wait till her schoolmates find out we only have one TV. They'll think she's a complete freak. It's not only caving to peer pressure. I also know she will absolutely love the experience.

So we told P that once she was five she'd be old enough to go to Disneyland. And hope none of her friends told her they've had a SoCal Family pass since they were toddlers. She turned five in February. So what's taken so long?

Well, once we decided we should take her, we decided we should make the most of it. Hence, the sticker chart. The road to Disney, for P at least, was paved with good deeds. For every good deed, she earned a sticker, and once she has a sticker in every spot, we will take her to Disney. As you can see by the state of it, P has got properly invested in the chart, adding her own titles and pictures. She spends a lot of time counting the stickers and the empty spots.
 In case you're curious - ooh, you'd get a sticker for that - she gets stickers for being helpful, kind, brave, curious and adventurous. Aka tidying up after herself, eating vegetables, and generally being compliant. It's really not that hard.
We've enjoyed two months of extra helpfulness, and an incentive for her to do things that are challenging. She's only a few stickers away from the big reward now. I'm pretty sure she'll love it easily enough for us to add some extra empty spots into the next sticker chart. 

Sunday, April 8, 2018

Kitchen pioneer

The early settlers in the Americas had to be pretty resourceful. An unfamiliar land, with different flora and fauna, required them to be canny about what to hunt, what to eat, how to store supplies for long winters, how to make a bolt of calico make dresses for all the girls in the household, and so on.

And so it is with me. You'd think one can get all the specialty foods imaginable in a world city like LA. Actually you probably can, but not in the bubble of the South Bay. Maybe Koreans, or Mexicans, can find all the ingredients they need at the local H-Mart, if not the Vonns. But us Brits are a tiny minority. The only specialty store for British food is the lame-oh King's Head which is fine for wine gums and hobnobs but not for proper food (plus driving to Santa Monica is the equivalent of 'going to town to buy calico' in terms of effort). It's a culinary desert, at least where British baked goods are concerned.

Not only do I need to make my hot cross buns from scratch but I have to make the raw ingredients too. I cannot buy candied peel - say for Christmas cake or hot cross buns - for love nor money. Nor can I find stem ginger for proper ginger biscuits either.

So I've learned to make them. It turns neither are particularly difficult. It's a bit of a faff, as in it takes longer to make candied peel than it used to take me to walk to Sainsbury's and buy some. But not much longer. And the results aren't as good - not as neat, or sugary - but they aren't bad. They'll do. Same goes for the end result, really:
Not quite as good as the kind you get in the supermarket. But better than nothing.
I'm my very own pioneer woman, it turns out! And P is working alongside me learning not only just how to bake from scratch, but actually using weighing scales (because that's how British recipes are written), which takes 'from scratch' to a whole new level in this country.

Unlike the Starck lemon squeezer, the scales are not just for show

Now if only I can figure out how to make a proper granary loaf I'll be quite content.