Thursday, August 28, 2014

Are we home yet?

Last Saturday we took Lady P along with us for dinner at the home of our dear friends in nearby Manhattan Beach. She slept in a travel cot while we ate, and afterwards we scooped her up and hoped she'd stay asleep as we drove home.

During the short drive we kept our voices low, hoping the whimpers we heard from the back seat were sleep sounds. But as we backed into the drive, we heard a very distinct 'Home' from little Lady not-asleep-at-all P. And when I carried her into the house, she said it again.  'Home'. Loud and clear.

I was glad to hear she thought so. And glad that when I put her down in her own cot she fell straight back to sleep. In her first 18 months on this earth she's probably slept in more different beds and clocked up more travel miles than I had in my first 18 years. It's nice to know she feels so settled, and knows where home is.

It's safe to say, Lady P fits right in here. She spends her entire weekend on the beach - not to mention several afternoon strolls there during the week - and has almost mastered putting on sunglasses. A true LA beach baby.

She thinks this is normal

Need privacy, must wear shades. Gah! Upside-down!
And us? Are we settled? It's been six months after all. TLOML took back to SoCal life like a duck to water. As for me, well, I still balk at the size of the fruit and the sugariness of the bread. But... well, I do have a flipflop tan line.

And I found myself tutting at the lack of parking at Target the other day, meaning I'd have to walk the whole long way across the parking lot (yes, I said parking lot) in the sunshine with my trolley full of discounted cleaning products. And the other day I scribbled the quantities for baba ganoush - something I've been perfecting lately - down and found myself writing 'eggplant' instead of 'aubergine'.

Speaking of cooking, I'm constantly rustling up kale chips or oatmeal cookies, like a good Californian wife and mother. And the other day I got a bill from the Dr and all I had to say was 'are you sure there's a deductible for preventative care?'. Like that's normal.

So yes, I guess I'm at home here too.

Saturday, August 23, 2014

An orderly home

I love a system. A way of working, and a place to keep things. Preferably labelled.

We have a basket which gets taken to (containing snacks, for example) and from (perhaps with a printed out recipe in it) our home office each day.

My books are shelved chronologically (by author, and by their most significant works if they wrote for many decades).

And I file my underwear by colour.


I think Lady P has the same compulsion. She spends hours putting things in order, with a great sense of urgency and a very serious, determined expression on her face. As a result, I keep finding things out of their usual place. I guess according to Lady P's system, they are just where they ought to be.

The doll must be placed right in the middle of the door step.

All of these rocks - but absolutely no other rocks - need to be put in to the orange bucket.

The shampoo, of course, goes in the buggy.

Quite why she was rushing to the end of the garden with a bottle of vanilla extract I do not know.

But I'm sure she did. A place for everything and everything in its place.

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Redemption and optimism

Having gone nuclear, and cleared all the beetle infested plants, our garden was looking rather bare. And I felt the need for redemption.

So we planted watermelon seedlings at the weekend. Anywhere else this would surely be the height of optimism. According to the tag they take 97 days to produce fruit. Which puts our projected harvest somewhere in late November. Hmmm. There is a reason that watermelon salad isn't a traditional Thanksgiving dish, isn't there?

As well as watermelon, we planted tomatoes, peppers and edamame seedlings. Lettuce, basil and coriander seeds too. We also planted a few herbs, which seems less wildly hopeful. And I took the opportunity for a spring clean (albeit in August) to clear out the overgrown and increasingly bitter chard, and move a few salvaged plants to better spots.

The garden looks neat, tidy and just like a garden should at the start of the growing season.

Too bad Fall is officially around the corner.

On the basis that this is the city of year round sun, I'm hoping for the best and ignoring the fact that the rainy season usually commences in November. We can handle the odd shower, but we need temperatures to stay in the 20s (or 70s) for this renegade off-season harvest to work.

Keep your fingers crossed, please, for an extended Californian summer. If this goes well, I'm going to shoot for a double-crop of summer fruits next year. Hell, I might even plant a mango tree.

Monday, August 18, 2014

Beach kit

We finally made it to one of the Hermosa Beach Summer Concerts this weekend. It was brilliant. Great music and a lovely atmosphere, with the sands of Hermosa plenty wide enough to accommodate a big crowd without it feeling anything other than chilled out and friendly.

We took a seat in the highly prized back section, great for access to the swingset (arguably the best seat in the whole venue), and Lady P played in the sand and munched on goldfish crackers while TLOML and I enjoyed the rootsy, folksy strains of the Dustbowl Revival.

Premium seating
Sadly we were only able to hang around for 45 minutes or so. Next Sunday - the last in the series - we plan on staying till the bitter end, or as late as possible. I'd love to be there at sunset, or at least till the sky starts turning pink.

This will mean taking more than a couple of snacks for Lady P. A full picnic will be required. And TLOML suggests we may want to buy a couple of chairs. I consider taking furniture to the beach to be a sign of weakness. (Although I am the first to sit on someone else's chair if they offer it up). I was horrified by the coffee tables I saw families all around us roll nonchalantly out yesterday.

Seriously, people, we're at the beach! All you need is some soft sand to sit on, and a bag of snacks.

Lady P's picnic kit
I ascribe this 'no frills' attitude to the many times I joined my mum on her Girl Guide camps, where the only furniture we had was the kind you built or made yourself from scratch: a woven newspaper mat to sit on, a 'bedding rack' to keep our rucksacks off the ground, and maybe a stand for the washing up bowl if you felt really fancy. All meals were taken sitting on the ground.

Still, I guess it would be nice to have somewhere to prop a solo cup of wine, or a bag of chips without worrying about sand creeping in. So we may compromise and take the Red Wagon. It's plenty big enough to carry our picnic, and when we get to the beach we can fold the seats down to create a flat, elevated surface. Beach furniture by stealth. Don't tell my mum!

One thing I will not be packing for the beach ever again is a toy for Lady P. She resolutely ignores anything we bring to amuse her - but has perfected the of 'borrowing' other children's toys. So that's one way to lighten our load.
We sat 10 ft away from these kids: Lady P wasted no time getting in amongst their sand play

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Under attack

We are at war. Nature, which we thought to be our friend, is assaulting us daily.

Mosquitoes are everywhere and I bear several large, extremely itchy bites to prove it. Flies too, hover in the kitchen, forcing us to keep our fruit bowl in the fridge. More to the point, forcing TLOML to leap about like a lunatic brandishing his electric bug-killing tennis racquet. Which in this heat (we are also under attack from the hot hot sun) is ill advised.

Worse, I think, than the flying bugs, are the horrid, stripey, creeping, munching bugs. The ones who took down my entire tomato crop and all the collard greens too. We returned from our month away to this depressing sight:
A Biblical plague of beetles...

..decimating the crops of which I was so proud
Elsewhere, though, there is abundance. The grapes are going nutso. So, sadly, are the raccoons. There again, we are under attack. They wake us at night as they scurry about the arbor snaffling our grapes. And they are totally undeterred by a loud 'pssssst'. Last night one of them pretty much flipped me the bird. To be frank, I'm a bit afraid of them. They're as big as foxes, bold as brass, and they can climb, too. Yikes!

Every morning the table is covered in the raccoon rejects, which ushers in another wave of attack: wasps hovering about getting drunk on grape juice.
Our previously pristine tables, after a night of raccoon partying

I shouldn't really complain about the raccoons and the wasps, as there really are plenty of grapes to go around. I snipped a few random ends of grapes just to tidy it up a bit and harvested 5lbs in about 5 minutes.
Thick clusters of grapes everywhere you look (and the arbor is about 15ft long)

The solution

So we're fighting back. Our defences are  up. The Executioner bug zapper is still wielded daily, and we've put up flytape too. Citronella in each room gives the mosquitoes a firm 'not here, not now' message. And we spray ourselves liberally with Off! every evening.
For every flat surface, a citronella tealight
As for the garden, well, I'm afraid we went nuclear. We paid a local gardener to spray an undisclosed volume of chemicals we'd rather not know about all over the infested crops. He's coming back to remove them and again, we're asking no questions about his methods.

Honestly, I'm not afraid of some hard labour in the garden, or a few beetles, but there are so many it gives me the heebie jeebies. Once they are gone - and with the help of some earplugs so I can ignore the raccoons - I may sleep peacefully again.

Wednesday, August 6, 2014

Beachy goings on in Hermosa

Our first weekend back was a busy one. It turns out there's lots going on in Hermosa Beach this time of year.

Most of it falls under the Surf Festival banner. This kicked off last week with the apparently legendary '6 Man' volleyball tournament. This allows for five amateurs to recruit one pro to their team for a high spirited (although booze is officially banned), and occasionally costumed volleyball tournament. TLOML and I rode past on the last day and thought it looked like a lot of fun.
The fuzz keeping an eye on proceedings. It's hard to make it out but some of those men are playing volleyball in bobble hats.
There were plenty of events in the water on Sunday, the most significant for us being the pier to pier swim. If TLOML had been here for the qualifying swims he would have been in it. But then, he also would have been in the water at the time that this happened. Plenty of his friends were swimming, including our friend and athletic supermum who told us she had been swimming alongside a great white just last week. She said it helped her sprint like she'd never sprinted before. Apparently there were a couple of sharks cruising alongside the swimmers for part of the race, so maybe everyone's times were improved this year.

We went down to the Hermosa Beach pier to watch the race start. And then biked the 2 miles down to Manhattan Beach pier to watch the exhausted swimmers emerge. Afterwards we ate brunch on the beach with TLOML's swim buddies, before cycling home. It was a brilliant atmosphere, and (despite a rather grey sky) the whole shebang just felt so goddamn SoCal I couldn't believe just a week earlier I'd been walking in the rain to a Hampstead park.

The view from Hermosa to Manhattan pier - looks like an awfully long way to me.

1200 swimmers hit the water

The finish - swimmers rather more dispersed
Sunday was also the inaugural beach concert of the 2014 series. I've been really looking forward to these. Apparently they involve some decent bands, and it seemed like the perfect opportunity to have a fun picnic on the beach and enjoy some live music. Like Londoners do at Kenwood only without having to pay, and having to take a tent in case of rain.

Only... this Sunday, in an unprecedented (for August) event, it rained. Yes, here in sunny Hermosa Beach. I was disgusted and horrified. As much by TLOML's suggestion that it's not a good idea to go to the beach in the rain as anything. We know that's not true. You just need to dress for it. That's why picnic blankets in the UK have a waterproof base layer. And people pack windbreaks for a day at the seaside.

I was all for putting our raincoats on and heading down there but he talked me out of it. Instead we went to the home of our nearest dearest friends, and rocked out to 80s power ballads on their new sound system. They live in neighboring, upmarket Manhattan Beach and therefore probably never go out in the rain. If I lived in a house like theirs (spacious, well appointed, beautifully designed and with an incredible sound system) I'd probably never leave either. Still, we're hoping for sunshine this weekend, so we can make that next concert and soak up more of the Hermosa Beach vibes.

Sunday, August 3, 2014

Coming home

Leaving (what used to be) home was tough.

Saying 'see you next year' to your sisters and your best friends, is just wrong. Thank goodness for those we could say 'see you in September' to. Guests may not come as thick and fast as they did when we lived in Malibu - now everyone has kids, or proper jobs, or both - but as long as we're living by the beach I think we'll be a destination for friends and family.

As for the rest, those we don't know quite when we'll see again, well, it was very hard to say goodbye. 'See you on Skype' is not a happy phrase.

Still, coming home was good.
Not a terrible place to come back to, after all

Highlights of the return include seeing Lady P reunited with her nanny and the reconvention of their adorable mutual appreciation society. Also running the woodchip and along the beach, and a bike ride with TLOML up to El Segundo and back. Basically getting back into the lovely outdoorsy Hermosan lifestyle.

And becoming reacquainted with the enormous range of Cheerios you Americans enjoy.

The only Cheerios sold in the UK are sugar coated, which I discovered having bought a monster size box. Well, we were on holiday after all. So Lady P enjoyed 'holiday cereal' for a month and is now back on the wholegrain, low(er) sugar version. In fact, we are all eating rather more healthily now we're back in the land of unappealing tasteless cheese and oddly sweet bread.

I've enjoyed catching up on the beach with an old friend and setting the world to rights over poolside margaritas with newer friends.  And last night we had cocktails and seafood in a quintessentially SoCal restaurant, which was almost good enough to make me never want to leave this country again.

I did say almost. Roll on next summer and our next trip home.