Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Picking and choosing festive treats

There's plenty about an American Christmas that I like. Elf, for starters. Is it as popular in the UK? It really should be. And the bit where Santa arrives with a police and fire department escort. Also I like those cards Americans send, with updated family photos. Cheesy though they are. And I love the tune Away in a Manger is set to here (Mueller).

It's WAY better than the dreary British version (Spillman/ Kirkpatrick).
That sweet Mueller waltz is actually pretty catchy. Six days since our Christmas Eve visit to church and I'm still humming it.

But I have a couple of small niggles, I'm afraid. Primarily eggnog. I reject it in all its forms, low fat, lactose free, whatever. It sounds vile. Saying the word 'eggnog' is fun, but I imagine that's as good as the whole experience gets.

And the absence of Boxing Day. We actually viewed a house for sale on Boxing Day, and plenty of people went back to work. No regard at all was paid to the annual need for a day of rest, family walks, and thank you letter writing. I'll cling to that tradition no matter how long we are here, I think. Albeit with a little American eggy brunch thrown in.

If there's one thing to be said for being a transatlantic family, it's being able to choose which bits of home we take with us and which we discard. So you can keep your mawkish cradle song version of Away in a Manger, and I'll keep Boxing Day.

Sunday, December 28, 2014

New traditions

Lady P's second Christmas ever was the first (we think) of many here in Hermosa Beach.

Judging by the gusto with which she shouted 'Baby Jesus!' in church, and 'reindeer! santa! candy cane!' as we pass lit up windows, I think Lady P got the gist.  So hopefully we created a few memories, and we definitely have the sense that we're establishing traditions for our family for the years to come.

Here's a brief, pictorial precis of the main planks of our new Hermosa Beach Christmas traditions.

Sunset cocktails with friends at Terranea, to celebrate a Christmas birthday (not Jesus', our friend's) and to admire their tree and their gingerbread house, and commiserate over our own gingerbread collapse.

A very sweet and super-family friendly service at our local church. All are welcome: they provide crayons on arrival, and there is even a gluten-free wafer on offer. Very LA.

The breaking of any screen time rules, for a Christmas Eve viewing of Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer. This was the first time Lady P has seen anything other than NFL on our big TV, and she was absolutely transfixed.
Three stockings placed in the living room. In the absence of a chimney I told Lady P Santa came through the skylight.
The inclusion of a lollipop in Lady P's stocking. After repeated questioning she continued to insist all she wanted from Santa was a lollipop. Let's hope her expectations remain that low for many years to come.

Christmas pancakes for breakfast. Nothing especially Christmassy about them except that they were pancakes made and eaten on Christmas Day.
By the way, these pictures are in order. Lady P had torn through her stocking and several gifts long before we sat down for breakfast - thanks in the main to Skyping family in different timezones, all of whom wanted to see some live gift opening. I think that'll be another Christmas tradition - a frenzy of gift opening before 9am.

Some small-batch artisanal booze in our stockings - to be opened just a few short hours later.

And finally, when the Christmas dust has settled, one of us grown ups completing Lady P's abandoned craft projects for her.

Time will tell which of these traditions are maintained, and which we forget. And needless to say, I'd be prepared to throw all our nascent rituals out and fly back to the UK for Christmas, and make that the tradition. But failing that, I think we've got a pretty good baseline Hermosa Christmas.

Thursday, December 25, 2014

Happy Christmas

I'm sending virtual, tearful squeezes, kisses and bearhugs to the family and friends who are far away. 

And I'm raising a toast to a day of jollity with TLOML, Lady P and our dear friends here in sunny Hermosa Beach.

Wednesday, December 24, 2014

Christmas Checklist

We are ready.

The lights are up.
Just a modest strip of white icicles for us. (Although I'm not ruling out one day going nutso like these people up the road from us who have an army of santas bordering their festival of lights).

The tree is up, and decorated.
Christmas cards have been beautifully created, and are in the post. Some may even make it before Christmas.

The fridge is stocked. Think we've got enough butter?
All I need is a Christmas present for TLOML and I am all set...

Monday, December 22, 2014

Gingerbread disaster

It's about this time of year I write a post about the gingerbread house (see tales of triumph from 2013, 2012 and 2011).

This year's story is sadly still a bit too raw and painful for me to tell in full. I'll just share some of the documentary evidence - pictures and verbatim comments - and you can piece it together for yourselves.

Me: 'Look at the windows! I made them from Jolly Ranchers. And I remembered the bake the almond roof tiles in. This is going to be the best one ever!'.
TLOML: 'It's straight, and it's true, and it looks fantastic. I can't wait to decorate it.'

Saturday morning:
Me: 'Look what mummy and daddy made - it's a gingerbread house. Isn't it nice?'
Lady P: 'Eat it?'

Saturday night:
Basic construction completed, we begin decorating in earnest

TLOML made a little log pile to go by the front door

And I made tiny marshmallow hearts for the shutters

Sunday morning:

Me: 'Oh no!'
TLOML: 'I know! I thought we'd been burgled! But I've checked and the only thing that's damaged is the gingerbread house'.
Lady P: 'Mummy say 'oh no', Mummy sad. Gingerbread broken. Eat it?'

Scenes from the wreckage: note my tiny door number

TLOML's icicles survived, but the actual roof did not
And so it transpires that bad things do happen here after all. After a wide ranging investigation within the Sugar Cube and on the world wide web, we have decided it's the humidity. According to one smartarse gingerbread forum comment: 'There is a foolproof way to make a humidity-proof house: move to Nevada.' Sigh. Is this the end of my favourite holiday tradition (More on this in December 2015, I suspect).

Meanwhile, looking on the bright side, at least we don't have to wait till Christmas Day to eat the stuff. Every time I pass through the kitchen I scoff a handful of those shattered dreams. Yum.

The graveyard of dreams

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Long distance love

A long distance relationship is hard to maintain. That's why I moved from London to LA to be with TLOML after barely six months of dating. Being far from those we love is just hard on the heart. That's why sometimes I feel glum when my sister sends pictures of my nephews playing at my parents' home, or I hear of another dear friend's 40th from which I'll be absent.

The travel BigCorp requires of me at the moment is taking its toll too, although the distances involved are not so great. For most of November and December work is taking me away from home each week. My trips are usually just a couple of days long, so in the grand scheme of things it's no great hardship.

But with early starts and late return flights, I often don't see Lady P between putting her to bed on Monday night and seeing her again on Thursday morning. Which is an absolute eternity. I hate it. And I know she feels the same. I know because the first time we FaceTimed her delight on seeing me was quickly followed with a demand, 'Mummy! Up!' which is shorthand 'please pick me up, squeeze me, and make me feel both loved and also as tall as an adult'. 'I can't, I'm sorry, not till tomorrow', I said. She wailed.

Just like those (rare, I might add) disagreements TLOML and I had on Skype when we were first dating, all parties ended the call feeling sad and dissatisfied. Lady P and I still FaceTime when I'm away, because it seems better than not, but there's a 50/50 chance it'll end in tears.

It's not just Lady P who's affected. TLOML dolefully said to me as I embarked on my last trip, 'I'm going to have to start season 3 of The Wire without you I'm afraid. You're never going to catch up now'.

But Lady P is the one I worry more about. Of course I know she's in perfectly good hands. She has a brilliant time with her beloved daddy and our nanny is all round fantastic. When she forgets I'm not there, Lady P is quite content. Still, I am not. Nor will I be, till this stint of travel is over and I can revert to my blissful, working from home, seeing Lady P every morning when she wakes up, and at every mealtime, and at every bedtime, life.

Monday, December 15, 2014

Nothing very bad ever happens here

A Pineapple Express came in last week and dumped some rain on drought-shrivelled LA. Being, as it is, a desert city, LA doesn't do too well under heavy rain.  Also the people here don't cope well with bad weather of any sort. Los Angelenos drive, in the rain, as if either a) they're in the middle of a blizzard or b) they're oblivious, and it's the perfect day for taking corners really fast. There is no middle ground. So there were the usual reports of landslides in Malibu, power cables down over Pacific Coast Highway, flooded basements, and some nasty and probably idiot-induced accidents on the freeways.

Again, I had the feeling that although technically we do live in LA, we are in a little bubble far away from all that. Yes, we had rain. But people don't drive like idiots here. And although we are a town built on sand, nothing seemed to collapse. A few tree branches came down, and there was some sand run-off on the road, but nothing parks & rec won't have cleared up in a few days.
After the storm
Ugly stories of police brutality are everywhere in the news right now, and over the past couple of years violent and property-related crime have increased in California's cities. Here in Hermosa, the police are dressing their police dogs up in Christmas costumes, putting festive wreaths on their cars and bikes and pulling Santa around the neighbourhoods to give out candy canes to local kids.
Santa visits our street under police escort

Intimidating police presence
But despite all indicators to the contrary, there are some people in Hermosa who think something bad might, just might happen.

The police station open day this weekend included lots of stands providing information to keep us safe. My favourite thing was the Hermosa Beach Disaster Service Workers' kiosk, which struck me as an elaborate cover for a lot of thumb-twiddling.
I also liked the Hermosa Beach SWAT vehicle, which I suppose would be useful in the event of a riot, or zombie attack (which seem equally likely to me).
Eager worryworts pressed dozens of leaflets on us, and a child ID kit (so we can keep Lady P's fingerprints on file at home), and some high-vis bike stickers.
 It was very sweet. And it did prompt a conversation about where we turn the gas and water off, in an emergency. It's good to be prepared.

And yet, nothing has yet shaken my notion that nothing very bad ever happens here.

Thursday, December 11, 2014

Idyllwild, in pictures

I may have been a bit quick to say we won't go back to Idyllwild. In fact, apart from the absence of snow, it is a very lovely place.

Proper scenery, trees, mountains, etc
 There is a town monument involving a strange configuration of eagle, bear and mountain lion. And a very helpful sign.
Looking for the Idyllwild town monument?

Look no further. 
It's a town for outdoorsy types. The gun loving, horse riding, cowboy hat wearing kind.
Actual guns for sale just in a regular outdoorsy shop. Weird.
Niche market, no?

The quintessential rugged Western look, reinterpreted for today's hot blonde.
 Their town Christmas tree is the best I've ever seen. It is a real live tree, possibly even taller than the Norwegian Spruce in Trafalgar Square.
 And there's shopping for more than just guns, obscure cookbooks and dodgy denim. Unlikely though it may seem, we bought something at the Idyll-Beast Research Center Museum and Gift Shoppe.
All in all, it's a town with something for everyone. I think it's fair to say this won't be our last visit. We'll just leave the woolly hats at home next time.

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

In search of winter

It's about this time of year I get nostalgic for proper winter weather. I hanker for woolly socks, roaring fires, hearty soups and pink cheeks. I am also a little concerned that Lady P will think it's normal to conduct winteryactivities wearing sunscreen and shorts.

So I planned a family jaunt to Idyllwild, a haven for artsy and/ or horsey types, high up in the SanJacinto mountains east of LA. I found us a cute little A-frame cabin in some woods, by a creek, and was expecting snow: all the ingredients of a truly wintry getaway. Given that we were at 6000ft above sea level, this was not an unrealistic expectation. In other years there has been snow up there as early as October.

However, in 2014, snow has yet to fall. In fact, the weather was disappointingly balmy. Basically the kind of temperatures that wouldn't be out of place on a May day in Yorkshire.

I'm proud to say we did not let that deter us. We still wore our woolly jumpers and winter boots – we just left our coats and hats indoors. And we still lit a fire.

Something is missing from this picture... The ground should really be white

You almost wouldn't know it was 15c outside
Fortunately we weren't there just for the weather. I also wanted a weekend without obligations and errands, and some time for us to switch off (albeit from our pretty stress-free life). So we kept the sightseeing light, content with a drive up to a nice viewpoint where Lady P clambered on and off the same rock about a dozen times.
Rock climbing in winter woolies
We ate hearty mountain food, and played cards and drank whisky, and poked about downtown Idyllwild. And we didn't watch TV or go to Target. It was almost perfect. But next year I'm thinking we'll go to Aspen instead.

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

Sledging*, Hermosa Beach style

So this appeared, about a week ago, on the otherwise flat sands of Hermosa Beach.
It's a sand dune as high as the pier and twice as long.

I asked a couple of sources of local knowledge to what end the officials of Hermosa Beach had constructed this huge sand dune. One told me it was to redistribute the sand that gets shifted throughout the course of the year. Another told me it was so the kids here can go sledging*. We're a bit short on snow, you see.

Whatever the real purpose, it's getting plenty of use for the latter. Here is the scene from the dune, late afternoon this past Saturday, with lots of kids cruising down it on boogie boards.

And here's a really festive image for you: a child in a bobble hat and a dad carrying a proper wooden sledge. If they weren't wearing shorts you could almost believe we were in Tahoe.
But Lady P knows we are not. So she stuck to 'surfing'...
 ...and pouring sand onto the boogie board...
...all the while shouting 'wheeeeeeeee'. Which was sweet, but not quite the same as actual sledging*.

*You can call it 'sledding' if you're American, or short on 'g's.