Thursday, February 27, 2014

Five Things I Love About Hermosa Beach

1. The brown and yellow street signs, which are really hard to read if you're driving past. But very charming if you're on foot.

2. The walk streets, running down to the beach, where kids shoot hoops and lucky residents wander to the beach without shoes on.

3. These electric car parking spots, which are always occupied.

4. That every other person is wearing sweats or yoga pants, skateboarding, cycling, rollerblading or jogging, and/ or carrying a yoga mat or surfboard. Check this guy out: he passed me on the beach and was clearly on a teleconference. Nice work ethic.

5. The woodchipped path which winds along parallel to the beach for a few miles. Car and bike free, perfect for a somewhat shaded run. Butterflies flutter about, birds tweet, you get the picture.

Hermosa is basically a living cliche of a smug, health conscious, environmentally aware, kale chip eating SoCal town. And I love it (despite having used my tumble dryer several times and also driving the supermarket to buy unhealthy snacks).

And yes, I do miss home. No, I haven't forgotten you, dear friends and family who are far away. There's just plenty about Hermosa that cheers me up, that's all.

Monday, February 24, 2014

Mmmm, the smell of fresh Fabuloso in the air

Our new house smells like home, or at least, how our LA home should smell. (Our English homes always smelt of cat, and books, clothes drying on radiators, and baking, but that's a different story).

TLOML tracked down our old cleaners and they are not only still available, they are as incredibly hardworking and detail oriented as we remember. They are three girls who claim to be sisters, which we find unlikely since they are all essentially called Mary. There's Maria, Maribel and Mary. Maybe their parents are really very devoted Catholics. Maybe we lost something in translation. Or maybe they are cousins, or friends, and not actual blood sisters.

Anyway, we call them The Marys. The first day after we reunited with The Marys was a real trip down memory lane. They favour a particularly punchy cleaning fluid called Fabuloso. It's the sort of product that when you smell it, makes you feel like your nostrils have been cleaned. Maybe even part of your brain and ears too. We haven't used it since we left Malibu and were no longer in their care. Now it's back and our little Sugar Cube house smells like the old surf shack in Malibu.

Also an old favourite game can be played again. We used to call it 'Hunt the kettle', because every week they cleaned the kettle and put it in a different cupboard. Now it's not only the kettle we are hunting, but also the tray for Lady P's high chair, and her bibs too.

We are also being reminded, fondly, of the vast quantity of products they use. They go through Fabuloso by the gallon, and miles and miles of paper towel every week. We think of them as really good value, but once you add in the products it would probably be cheaper to pay a Harvard MBA. Still, they are nice girls and they do a good job, and we are very happy to have them back.

It's like the old days back in Malibu only way more fun. Partly because we have more stuff for them to hide. And also because this brick floor is an a*se to clean, and I'm very grateful to have someone do it for me. Fabuloso, indeed.

Saturday, February 22, 2014

When our ship comes in

Our shipment is en route with all our stuff, presumably chugging slowly along the Panama canal as I type.

In the meantime we have a small perfectly formed house in which to live. We are making do with some gap-filling bits and bobs. I've described it as camping but it's better than that. Still, I miss our stuff and am looking forward to being reunited with lots of material possessions. Yes, I'm that shallow.

But our ship is carrying all the little things that make a house a home. Not just the sofa and dining table, and all our clothes. Also a lifetime's worth of books, a lovely orange plate from my granny, TLOML's childhood baseball glove, and you know, tchotchkes. And useful things that we could replace, but it seems wasteful to do so when the ship will be docking in a couple of weeks. For example, my clever egg timer that cooks in the pan with the eggs. Last night's devilled eggs were a little on the soft side. And, for another example, a cheese grater. I guess I might be taking Von's up on that offer after all.

When our ship comes in we can watch TV from a sofa, not a rug.

When our ship comes in we will eat at a dining table, seated on dining chairs. The office chairs will be deployed to the office, where they belong.

When our ship comes in the beach towels will be for the beach, and our nice bathroom will get the fluffy white towels it deserves.

When our ship comes in we can relegate the sofa bed to the guest room and sleep on a Queen again.

When our ship comes in I will have more than three pairs of trousers to choose from. And I can keep them on coathangers too!

And perhaps most importantly, when our ship comes in Lady P will have a proper cot, and all her toys and books. We can throw out the Pampers box and install her toy box, and instead of reading stories sitting on the floor, we can get cosy on her daybed. We may even have replaced the crappy paper blackout blinds with something pretty by then too.

Hurry up, ship!

Thursday, February 20, 2014

Eating out: a new chapter

As you may have noticed, TLOML and I like to eat. A big part of settling into a new place is figuring out all our local eating options. Hermosa is clearly not Manhattan but it's also no Saltburn. By which I mean there are more than a handful of places to eat within walking distance, and lots of choice within that handful. It's going to take us a while to eat our way around Hermosa but we've made a good start.

We've had takeout from the local Thai and a nearby sushi place, both of which were decent and will I'm sure be on our speed dial. A creperie and a bar with upscale bar food will also definitely get a repeat visit. There's a place called The Source which is a bit like that place in Annie Hall where Woody Allen orders 'alfalfa sprouts and a plate of mashed yeast'. (Read about the original Source, a 60s 'spiritual vegetarian' restaurant here if you want to get the full context). The Source specialises in juices, and has a menu which makes TLOML scratch his head and say 'no-one really actually likes this stuff, do they?'. I love it for the fabulous salads and pumpkin bread. So we've got some good lunch, brunch or takeout options.

As for dinner, we had our first date night since we arrived in Hermosa's current hot spot. Fittingly for a scruffy surfer town this is a bar masquerading as a restaurant (or is it the other way around?). Hot's Kitchen serves many posh beers and a huge range of delicious tacos. Okay, so it is basically a bar.

Then there's a new kid on the block in Dia de Campo, which claims to be a mixture of 'old school and new school Mexican meets West Coast fish shop and raw bar'. Or, as I think of it, the place with the killer tequila based cocktails. We've only had drinks there so far, having popped in after dinner when I objected that our evening at Hot's Kitchen was over too fast (beer and tacos can only be lingered over so long, after all). But I think we'll be back for a proper meal soon.

And then there's the local destination restaurant. I checked out the menu the other day and in my attempt to describe to TLOML I said 'It's the kind of place with a menu split into 'Swimmers' and 'Carnage', and roasted brussel sprouts as a side'. He knew exactly what I meant. It also uses the word 'Ruffage' to describe the salad section of the menu, and has four vegan specials. Textbook SoCal nonsense and makes LA Story seem like a documentary, but oh, the food sounds good.

That's Abigaile for ya. I must admit that the superflous 'e' is a turn off even more so than the word 'ruffage'. But I suspect my love of pretentious contemporary Californian food (and TLOML's of 'carnage') will mean we aren't put off by that silly 'e' for long.

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Tumble dryers

All Americans have them. They think we Brits are crazy for not having them, especially given the British weather. I suppose in places like Cumbria - or in cities like Seattle, or Chicago - where cold, damp weather is common, it makes sense to be able to dry your clothes indoors. And tumble dryers make even more sense in cities like Manhattan, where there's no room to swing a cat let alone put up a drying rack.

But people also have tumble dryers even in areas like Hermosa Beach, where there is year round sunshine and an abundance of ocean breezes for drying clothes. Every day here is, as my sister calls it, 'a good drying day'.

It's actually nothing to do with the climate, it turns out. It's all to do with convenience. It's just much much easier to dump a load of washing into a massive tumble dryer, knowing it will be dried an hour later. And the cost? Well, if you're using a shared unit in an apartment building you'll pay 75c or $1 to wash your clothes, and the same again to dry them. When the alternative is to lug your bag of damp clothes back to your apartment, well, why would you?

This is, after all, a country where a typical off-licence not only has a parking lot, it also has seats outside (in case you walked and got tired on arrival?), and offers delivery (for if you really can't be bothered to drive or walk).

I love convenience almost as much as the average American. But I just don't think, in a yard with the space and climate to host a lemon tree and several grapevines, that I can bring myself to use a tumble dryer.
Clothes would dry out here faster than you could say 'what's my carbon footprint?'
And the good news is, I can apparently have the best of both worlds: our fancy new dryer has a line drying setting.

TLOML suggests that this setting 'takes 24 hours and you have to finish the job on the radiator'. I am hoping that if you push that button a voice says 'Sure, just go ahead and step outside and hang your clothes to dry. Have a nice day.'

If I succumb to the appeal of the tumble dryer, I'll try that button and let you know.

Saturday, February 15, 2014

Double Red Letter Day

Sunday 16th February 2014 is a double red letter day. It is Lady P's first birthday, and it is the day we move into the Sugar Cube House.

Obviously the  big bold red letters are for Lady P's birthday. One year is a big milestone for her and for us. We kept her alive for a whole year! She's no longer a red faced screaming newborn who doesn't even know how to eat. She's an incredible human being who really does know how to eat.  Here's to Lady P.
Just born

One year later
And yet, I'm afraid our focus will be on the move. Most of our belongings are still en route on the container shipment. But we do have a tonne of IKEA gap-filling furniture to build, and a host of Target purchases to distribute around the Sugar Cube. Plus we're just so excited to move in and begin what we hope will be a long, full, happy chapter in Hermosa Valley.

I am going to try to bake a cake today while we're still in the temporary flat. So that's something (for a while it looked like a box of Target cookies was going to serve as her birthday cake). If Lady P's really lucky we'll find ten minutes to stick a candle in it, sing happy birthday, and take a quick photo at least.

And in years to come, if she asks us what we did for her first birthday, we'll say 'we gave you a room of your own, and an IKEA lamp'.

Thursday, February 13, 2014

Happy Valentine's Day. If you believe in that nonsense.

Happy Valentine's Day. I hope you are overwhelmed with charming and romantic tokens of affection and that you have been deluged with expressions of devotion by secret admirers.

Oh no, wait! Valentine's Day was invented by the greeting card industry and is absolute bobbins. Only a fool would celebrate such a day.

Or so TLOML has drummed into me. He tells me that true romance goes on for 365 days a year. I have to agree. He's right. And true romance is gestures like bringing an apple when he picks me up at the airport, which is a lot more meaningful than a bunch of red roses on Valentine's Day.

Actually I like chocolates, and soppy cards enough that I'm prepared to turn a blind eye to the commercialised, BS nature of V Day. I almost went out and bought TLOML a card - just because I love him so, and so why not tell him? But no-one wants to be the mug who buys their significant other a Valentine's Day card only to discover they aren't going to reciprocate.

So I restrained myself.

By sheer coincidence, however, I did find this very useful little pot in a local junk store.
What?! It has nothing to do with Valentine's Day. We move into The Sugar Cube House on Sunday and until our shipment arrives we're living off IKEA and Goodwill purchases. A little heart shaped dish will sweeten that pill a bit, that's all.

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

The nanny hunt

In a town where everyone knows everyone, and where you've got family, finding childcare is easy. We simply used my sister's trusted childminder, knowing Lady P would be in good hands and would have the added bonus of spending more time with her cousins. When we needed a couple of extra days, we used the daughter of a friend's childminder, who happened to live on our street. Lady P was well cared for and I didn't have a moment's doubt or worry about what she was up to while I was at work.

Moving to a new town is not so easy. We have asked friends who live nearby, and found a couple of word-of-mouth recommendations that way. But, LA being LA, they were either too far away or too expensive. Or both.

So we turned to the internet. I signed up for SitterCity, where childcare professionals place their references and resumes for members' perusal. Meanwhile TLOML surfed Craig's List.

While I was scrutinising the credentials of 24 year old nannies in West LA, TLOML stumbled upon this brilliant Craig's List ad. I tweeted this a few days ago, but in case you missed it and in case he's been snapped up and removed his ad, here's the spiel. In full.

Words are his own, or possibly those of his agent. Italics are mine.
NANNY / BODY GUARD COMBO (LA / Beaches / Southbay / Hollywood)

Ex-Military Intelligence, Ex Law Enforcement Officer who is magic with children and animals seeks position with high-profile family with high-quality needs. 6'4", blue-eyed, powerful, freakishly intelligent, world traveled, multi-language, one-man-army, kind, caring mountain-of-a-man. You get the benefit of my magic with children, 183 IQ as well as being extremely aware of all surrounding, my natural protective nature, extreme level of honesty & integrity as well as many, many other skill packages. No messy tax issues or paperwork, looking to work in a subcontractor capacity. Seeking MINIMUM of $120K per year with options for bonuses. Languages include Russian, German, Spanish and working basics in 20 or more languages. Qualified expert in all weapons I have come in contact with, both foreign and domestic. Extremely proficient martial arts. Very active and enjoy activities such as speed skating, power skateboarding, riding wild sharks it the open ocean, skiing, SCUBA, snorkeling, hiking... My friends don't say I am honest, they say I am DISGUSTINGLY honest. My friends say to have me as a friend, is to have a million-dollar-friendship. I do love and marriage counseling on the side and have co-pastored a church in the past. Military and pastoral references available. Our nation bestowed its highest security clearances on me and trusted me with its most sensitive secrets, you can trust me with your children and privacy in all ways.

Search terms: Elite, Best, Professional, celebrity, personal protection, Russian, German, Spanish, Latin, bullet proof, child, children, safety, privacy, private, personal assistant, escort, alarm, GPS, tracking, au pair, aupair,   
Yes, $120k is a bit of a stretch. He's up against a $12/hour Brazilian girl named Daniele with excellent references. But she can't ride a wild shark to save her life. So the jury's still out on our final choice of nanny.

Sunday, February 9, 2014

Seven days and counting

Seven days till we move into the Sugar Cube, and counting. Literally.

I am marking off each day that we have to spend in our temporary flat with great delight.

It's not that this is such a terrible place to be. It's in a great location, four blocks from the pier in downtown Hermosa Beach. We can walk to everywhere we want to be from here. The flat is also comfortable and well equipped.

TLOML and I each have our own spaces to work in. They are close enough together that we never have to shout to get one other's attention.
My desk is the table, his is the sofa
And TLOML's office space is conveniently located next to where we park Lady P's buggy, making it handy for a fast getaway for them both.
Yes, that is a Car & Driver you see in TLOML's office lobby

 ...and her buggy is parked up a nice short distance away from her play area, so there's not too far to carry her when we get home.
Note the Fisher Price ipad cover, now filled with a picture torn out of National Geographic. She doesn't know any better.

Practical and useful though it is, there are some drawbacks. For starters, someone is sleeping in what should be our walk-in, forcing us to use our suitcases as wardrobes.
Lady P's little tiny bedroom. Please don't call Social Services.

Also, well, it's not home. We're camping out here - and we'll be camping out in the Sugar Cube too, till our container arrives in March. But that's different. Here we have to put newspaper down when Lady P is eating, so we don't spoil the owner's rug. In the Sugar Cube she can mush all the banana she wants into the brick floor, and we can wipe it clean lovingly, knowing it will be the first of many thousands of times we will wipe that lovely brick floor clean.

Here we have to push the owner's stuff aside, or lift it up out of Lady P's reach, and to make space for ourselves. In the Sugar Cube we will have an awful lot of space and no furniture or tchotchkes and knick knacks to push aside. Instead, we'll have a big blank canvas onto which we can imagine our future. And of course to begin the lengthy debate about where to put the TV. I can't wait.

Friday, February 7, 2014

My love/laugh relationship with America

As in, not 'love / hate', but 'love / laugh at'.

There's a lot about America I love.

Like being given a glass of iced water the moment you sit down in a restaurant. Or getting a pickle with a really great sandwich.

Or those lovely mid century civic buildings - like the Hermosa City Hall building, which reminds me of the library and City Hall in Malibu, and is probably an identikit model of hundreds of public buildings across the US.
 And, of course, the abundance of cheap Mexican food.

And then there are the things which make me - and I'm sorry to say it - laugh at America. Laugh, shake my head, even despair a little.

Like the way you write your road signs back-to-front because... why is that? Your people can't read more than one word at a time? You don't know to start at the top and work down, like the rest of the world?
Back me up here, rest of the world, it's weird, isn't it?

Tuesday, February 4, 2014


Ah, American supermarkets. Here I am again. Thank god, not in a Gristedes. Sadly, not in a Whole Foods either. I'm in a Von's, which is a pretty bogstandard US supermarket. So I know what to expect.

The apples are enormous.
My pen, added for scale
The eggs are stored in a fridge. And most of them are a horrid pearly white.

The steaks are pre-cut to a thickness our old Saltburn butcher would find ridiculous.

And finding sweetcorn without added salt or sugar is the stuff of a madman's dreams. I might need to start shopping at Whole Foods to keep Lady P in the low-crap diet she is used to.

But at least I'll never need to grate my own cheese again.

Saturday, February 1, 2014


After months of searching online, and debating our criteria (3 bedrooms, 2 bathrooms, outside space, since you ask) we were all fired up for the actual househunt.

So we hit the ground running: we hadn't even been in the country 24 hours before we viewed our first potential home.

Described as a 'Tree Section Gem', it was in fact a rather small, dark, tatty old house. It certainly is in the highly sought after 'Tree Section', but 'gem', it aint. After that we viewed a dishwasher-free home a block from the beach. And a bonkers salmon-pink house where the kitchen and the dining room were on different floors. And a couple of very practical but totally soulless townhomes. We saw some bigger houses in Redondo but decided it wasn't the right vibe for us. And a couple of larger homes which were just the wrong side (i.e. East) of Route 1 for us.

It's starting to sound like I'm picky, doesn't it? In fact, TLOML has told me I am just that. But it's not all nitpicking.

In addition to all those flawed properties, there are a couple we really like. One is a small, but perfectly formed beach cottage, 3 blocks from the beach. Despite that it doesn't meet my '2 bathrooms and a little yard' criteria, it's so darn cute, and so very near the beach, that I would definitely compromise. And the moment TLOML heard the surf, from the front doorstep, he was ready to move in.

The other place is on the most wholesome street I've ever seen. Kids climbing trees, white picket fences, and all that stuff. It has a yard, too. And two bathrooms. It has a jolly yellow door and olive and lemon trees (you'd think I'd have learnt my lesson with the fruit trees, wouldn't you?). But it lacks the ocean breeze.

On reflection, I think Malibu really ruined us for life. We have been saying 'We really don't need to be right on the beach' for a while now. And we've been saying 'Let's rent a place with enough space for us to really settle into, so we don't outgrow it before we're ready to move.' And yet, here we are, seduced into a tiny cottage by the ocean breeze.

When it comes down to it, though, the little house with the yellow door is probably a better long term option. There's space there for Lady P to learn to ride a bike and for me to grow vegetables, and for TLOML to grow his business. Fingers crossed we get the place, because I am fully smitten.

Though if it doesn't work out, and we end up squishing into the little cottage by the beach, I think that would work out too.