Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Musings from an empty Sugar Cube

Our guests flew out a couple of days ago, and I have a little time on my hands to reflect on their visit. Questions flit across my mind like the dragonfly hovering over our fishpond.

Questions like did we show them everything the South Bay has to offer? We went to beach in Hermosa about a dozen times. But we never made it to Redondo Beach to enjoy the pretty views of Ranchos Palos Verdes. Or to MB Post, for maple bacon cheese biscuits (no, I'm not making those up). Ah well, I suppose that's a good reason to tempt them back.

Were we too smug? All walks were punctuated with 'Isn't it lovely here?' Drinks and eats out and about were commented on with 'The service here is always so friendly'. And every morning we announced, as proudly as if we invented it, 'It's going to be another gorgeous sunny day'. We may have laid it on a little thick.

And from my hazy memories of our trip to Vegas, I am puzzling over a couple of other, more pressing issues. Like why are these people buying oxygen?
And, is it art? 
Answers on a postcard please.

Monday, September 29, 2014

The latest offerings from the mall in the sky

The big plus of this recent travel has been my chance to reacquaint myself with Skymall, and catch up on their latest offerings. 

 'Always-in-style'. A lady and a lamp. It's too much!

And is this the solution to those spaces in our garden?

Maybe I should put my new Cardioflexed fitness level to test with a round of the Human Slingshot. It is apparently the newest craze, though I've yet to see it in action around here. I can't think why.
And finally, for the next of those business trips, I think I'll make myself really comfortable.

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Hosts with the most

An influx of house guests has the Sugar Cube all abuzz and excited. Very dear friends for many many years (as in, we met in the '90s) have made the long trip to Hermosa Beach.

We are thrilled to have them here, and determined to show them a good time, so that they come back every year. Ideally, twice a year. Or better yet, move here. 

Highlights so far include 24 hours in Vegas during which TLOML used his many Vegas connections to secure us upgrades and VIP access. We consumed some face-sized steaks and gigantic poolside cocktails and agreed that Vegas is a little ridiculous. But fun.

Then back to earth and a more wholesome way of life in Hermosa. Some fine SoCal dining - kale caesar salads, panko-crusted fried avocado, ahi poke - and Old Fashioneds made with orange peel harvested from the Sugar Cube's backyard. And, to work off those excesses, plenty of bike rides along the beach.

We've also laid on pleasingly consistent sunshine, and just the right amount of swell for a beginner surfer.

If there's more we could do to sell this part of the world, I'd like to know. If they don't return within a year there's just no pleasing them.

Monday, September 22, 2014

Leaving the bubble

I love to live in a bubble, and hate to leave it. Anything north of Manhattan Beach (a 30 minute walk along the beach), south of Redondo (ten minutes on a bike), or east of PCH, I consider leaving the bubble. It means getting in the car, and maybe even trading my flip flops for a more formal shoe. Bleurgh.

Despite my aversion, most weekends involve a trip to see friends in Santa Monica or Venice. That's not so bad. It's a 40 minute drive, and when you get there you could almost still be in the South Bay bubble - they are beach cities, at least, and my flipflops fit in.

Worse is having to leave LA altogether. I had a good run of working from home when we first arrived, but more recently have had to pack my overnight bags and show my face at other Big Corp offices. Airports I have passed through in the past three weeks include IAM, ATL, BOS and BOI.

That last is Boise, Idaho. Land of big skies and potato farms. It's beautiful, by the way. Driving to Big Corp as the sun peeked over the mountain ranges that ring the city I got the sense of what Boise might have looked - what, 100, 150 years ago - when it was just a circle of wagons on a trail. Or something. Until I passed the outlet mall anyway. Plenty of people in Boise appear to be staying true to America's cowboy and pioneer roots: fully 80% of vehicles in the corporate car park were pick up trucks. And I saw two people wearing a cowboy hat in the office. So many stereotypes were ringing true, loud and clear.

As for the other cities I stopped - for just a few hours in each case - they were pretty much as expected too. I noted many fried chicken restaurants in Atlanta, Georgia where Southern hospitality is alive and well, as embodied by the insanely over-helpful and bouffant-haired Big Corp receptionist. I saw a man wearing cowboy boots in Houston, Texas. And in Boston, I saw many many Irish bars.

I will never scoff at Americans who 'do' Europe in a matter of weeks again. I have learnt that 24 hours in a city - even if you only go from airport to hotel to office and back - is more enough to confirm a few prejudices.

Thursday, September 18, 2014

Working out my new workout

Something about life in Hermosa inspires fitness. Look at this chump doing pull ups on the traffic lights at Pier Plaza. Like it's normal.

I've caught the bug too. It could be the sunny skies putting a skip in my step. Or just the perfection of the set up: bike paths and running trails abound. More likely it's the sight of all those hardbodied beach volleyballers, lighting a fire under my fat ass.

So I've raised my game. No longer content to settle for a couple of short runs each week, I've been dabbling in Crossfit. Crossfit is a special kind of torture that I think is still pretty new in the UK, but well established here. Not so much a workout as a way of life, Crossfitters are serious about what they do. And what they do is serious. It's a lot of weights and being strong and pushing yourself hard, and using your body efficiently, to do as much as you can. Which is so much less relaxing than drinking a margarita and eating chips and salsa. But apparently better for you (although it may hurt in the shortterm).

The new Crossfit gym in Hermosa Beach came highly recommended from our good friends and near neighbours, who have done Crossfit for years and have the abs to prove it. Their enthusiasm and a Groupon collided and as a result yesterday I did 150 crunches and jumped on and off a box about 80 times. And that wasn't even the half of it. AND I liked it.

At this point I should fess up and admit I am not doing proper Crossfit. I'm doing a bootcamp class called Cardioflex which involves a bit more running around and a bit less heavy lifting. Still, they have us swinging off monkey rings trying to touch our toes to our hands (impossible, btw and the reason I saw others doing it is, I'm sure, the result of hallucinating from sweating so hard) and  other slightly dangerous stuff like that. It's more fun than it sounds, and more fun than it was when I started two weeks ago.

My idea was to have a month of fitness and then just 'maintain' (i.e. go back to my lazy jogs). But I'm getting pretty into this Cardioflex business. I may even try an actual Crossfit class, and see how those dumbell thrusts feel. However I think it will still be some time before I am ready to do pull-ups off the traffic lights.

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

On failing to develop a taste for the finer things in life

Three things I never say:

  1. 'Oh, I just make a big jambalaya and we all tuck in'
  2. 'We make sure we eat dinner as a family every day'
  3. 'Don't worry about Lady P, she'll eat whatever we eat'

How do others do it? Those families I see order the 'kiddie veggie dip' at Source cafe. The ones splitting a pizza at Pedones. Or worst of all, the ones who claim to cook up a roast dinner, a hearty stew, or casserole for the whole family to eat together without even a concession to toddler preferences.

The thing is, Lady P eats dinner at 6pm. And its usually firmly toddler fare. I'm happy to nibble on the odd peanut butter smeared cracker to keep her company. But cold pasta and fruit at 6pm is just not my, or TLOML's, idea of an evening meal. We'd rather put her to bed, fix ourselves a G&T, and make something spicy, hearty and complex (aka the kind of food she hates).

I am trying to raise her taste game. I often offer her leftovers of our dinners, in the hope she might discover a love of bouillabaisse, bulgogi, or bolognese. We have recently tempted her to try chicken sausage and salami, which we considered a major step forward. Still, her dream meal is an avocado and a handful of goldfish crackers. Oh, who am I kidding, a pound of goldfish crackers. With half a papaya for pudding. It's not that she doesn't eat. She's pretty well nourished, I'd say. It's just so damn baby-ish.

Here's a textbook Lady P meal: witness the naked macaroni she prefers and a couple of tangerine segments in play. And waiting in the wings, the mac'n'cheese I slaved over because she used to like it, and some of our leftover gumbo just to see if she'll go for it. Guess what? She didn't.
It's not all bad. We always eat breakfast together, because we too like eggs, Cheerios and toast. And if we have friends over for drinks, she'll scarf as many tortilla chips as she can get away with.

But the closest we get to eating out as a family is happy hour at Hook and Plow: oysters on the half shell for us, and a side of mashed potato for Lady P... while I try not to look askance at the smug little SoCal sophisticates tucking into shortrib tacos at the next table.

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

A Dog's Life*

We've been considering adding to our household lately. Not with a baby, not quite yet anyway, but with a pet. I miss Jack and I suspect TLOML does too, though he wouldn't admit it. And now we're home so much more, and we have this great big yard, and spend so much of our time schlepping around the 'hood, a dog would fit right in.

So we were very glad to offer dog sitting services to our friends and neighbours, who were out of town for a few days. Borrowing Bo was a delight. Mainly because he is exceptionally well mannered, and not a little chilled out. He's not one for long walks, and mainly seems to like lazing about.

Preferably wherever his people (i.e. us, last week) are.
Under the table while Lady P has dinner

Strangely wedged between the bed and the nightstand while I napped

Adding a certain 'give a shit?' attitude to the office
Lady P, although cautious at first, grew to be a big fan of Bo, following him around as he followed her - and us - around, so we were all basically moving about the house in a happy following-each-other caravan.

But then Lady P had to learn some hard lessons about animal instincts and life in the wild. Bo is, after all, a retriever. Born and bred to gather small creatures from the hunting field. Lady P's hunting field is our house and yard, and the small creatures are her prized possessions. Here she is, literally tearing her hair out with angst, as Bo gently savages a teddy bear in a dress.

We rounded up all the small stuffed animals and put them either in Lady P's cot, or in her cardboard box in the yard: newly reborn as a safe house, an animal refuge.
Bo has gone now, back next door (though he has already broken back in twice to pay us a visit, which we found quite gratifying). We miss him already.

But peace has returned to the stuffed animal kingdom. And I no longer need to do a constant sweep of the area to see if Lady P has left anything out that Bo might see fit to 'retrieve'. I'm thinking we might wait another year or two before we get a dog of our own. A few days of borrowing Bo every now and again might suffice - until Lady P is big enough to defend her stuffed animals herself, at least.

*I still day dream about being a proper writer. But then I realise I'd never be able to entitle a piece about a dog with something as lazy as 'A Dog's Life'. And I think maybe there's something to be said for amateur pursuits after all.