Friday, April 24, 2015

Hurry up and grow

It's about this time of year that, if I were in England, I'd be planting peas and tomato seeds and crossing my fingers for a growing season warm and wet enough for stuff to grow, but not so warm and wet that the slugs eat it all. Because that did happen most years.

Anyway, here in LA those planting days are long behind us. We planted early partly just because we can. There was an unseasonable shower a week or so ago, but other than that it's been summer here since March.

We also had to plant early because - sobs and celebrations collide here - we will be leaving the Sugar Cube in August. Since we sowed, so should we reap. And hopefully soon.

Last year we planted early, and then nature swept in with plagues and pestilence. So we planted a second, late set of crops with mixed success. No, that watermelon never did appear in time for Thanksgiving.

Hopefully this year we'll get the chance to enjoy more of the fruits of our labors. The peas are already looking good, though I will need to break my new habit of picking off a pod and eating them with Lady P if we ever want enough to serve for dinner. The chard too has bolstered a few soups and salads already. And our sunflowers, planted in the toxic bed where we committed beetle genocide last summer, are almost as tall as Lady P already.

This weekend we added corn, coriander and zinnias, and talked encouragingly to our tomatoes. We pulled up yards and yards of apple mint roots, making a little room for the new stuff to grow. I think the next people to live here will thank us for that: it was taking over the whole bed in a creepily effective way.
 Fingers crossed thanks to our efforts we can enjoy a bountiful harvest before we move. And if the next Sugar Cube residents benefit too, so much the better.

One thing's for sure: we will miss this yard, and afternoons spent getting our hands dirty, clearing weeds, planting seeds and in Lady P's case, moving small amounts of sandy earth around with mysterious, but serious, purpose.

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

The slummier end of Hermosa

I'm just kidding. Clearly there are no slums in Hermosa. It's very name means 'beautiful'.

Nonetheless, there are the streets south of the pier. They are further from the charming, tree-lined streets of salubrious Manhattan Beach. And closer to the redundant power station that looms on Hermosa's southern border. Compared to North Hermosa, there are more ramshackle teardowns, and many more buildings full of rental units painted that ugly shade of brown that was favoured by SoCal developers in the 70s and 80s.

Our new house is south of the pier. In fact, we have a view of that redundant power station from our deck. Its location is one of the reasons it was affordable to us, and since that power station view comes combined with an ocean view, we're pretty happy with our South Hermosa find. Plus I like the scruffier edge, I feel more at home there. It's Kentish Town to North Hermosa's Hampstead.

But then, there's the park. South Park, to give it its full name. We walked down there recently to check it out. 'Look,' we said to Lady P, 'this is going to be your new park'. She had a half-hearted go on one of the two swings, ignored the lame train and the broken plastic slide, and sat down in the sand with a discarded toy.

 Meanwhile, on a disused icerink behind the playground, a drunk couple of twenty-somethings were playing a game of al fresco hide the salami. No, really. They thrusted away for a while and then emerged, buttoning themselves up, to rejoin their hipster buddies in some afternoon park drinking.
Lady P was oblivious. TLOML and I were horrified.

Compared to Valley Park, where she usually plays, this really is rather slummy. Valley Park has many slides, and swings, and climbing structures, and monkey bars, and cool musical instruments, and those animals on springs, and just all sorts of nice stuff. And I've never seen a couple there having sex, either. From our new South Hermosa abode just over a mile away (about an hour's walk at Lady P's pace), a trip to Valley Park will become a weekend treat rather than a daily pleasure.
We were starting to go off our new neighbourhood. But then I saw the sign. The sign that explained why South Park looked so abandoned, and why there was a construction sandwich board propped up in the sand.

Readers, the gentrification of South Hermosa has begun. They are rebuilding the park. Grand promises of play structures for 2 to 12 year olds have been published. In fact, the work has already begun - last time I passed, the ice rink was all dug up.

The project is set to complete in mid August, just after we move in. Coincidence? I'd like to think they're building it just for us.

Saturday, April 11, 2015

California / England exchange programme

My sister and her family have gone home and we are missing them already. They left behind many happy memories, some excellent new books for Lady P and some Yorkshire teabags for me and TLOML. And, a legacy for future family guests: the Hermosa Beach I-Spy Book.

As children we took I-Spy books on all our holidays. In case you didn't guess already, we were dorks. But we were happy, busy dorks, perfectly content ticking off things we had seen in our little books. I didn't realise Michelin still publish them, but so they do and my nieces arrived with several ticks already in their I-Spy Airport books.

The I-Spy Hermosa Beach book is a personalised selection of things to look for in Hermosa, from the perspective of a somewhat geeky British family. I include myself (with pride) in that geeky number, since I started it by saying 'look out for people driving golf carts on the road' and 'look at that shower on the outside of the house - you don't see that at home, do you?'. It turns out there's plenty that's foreign, and interesting, and worth looking out for, in this beach town.

Anticipating a visit later in the year from my little sister and her family (including twin 4 year old boys), my sister and nieces documented what they had seen and what they had looked for but not spotted.

I give you, then, I-Spy Hermosa:

I think my particular favourites are the things which have become commonplace to me, but I was glad to be reminded that they don't exist everywhere. Like dutch doors, and people doing yoga on the beach.

So while I'm sad my sister has gone, that feeling is by far outweighed with gratitude that they came out at all, and that there's a little slice of Hermosa that my British nieces and nephews will start to claim as their own.

Tuesday, April 7, 2015

The more we get together

I have been blissfully happy this past week or so. We've been invaded: by my oldest and wisest sister, her husband and their two daughters.

The cousins are all pretty big fans of each other and there's an awful lot of sweet stuff going on:
Fighting over who gets to pull Lady P in the wagon (I bowed out)

Lady P shows her big cousins her hood

And teaches them about America

The thrill of new people's shoes to try on

Colouring time is even more fun when there are more people colouring

It's a lot of people to cram into the charmingly bijou Sugar Cube and there's an element of chaos to daily life as a result. Breakfast is on a scale I had forgotten existed, bathtime is chaotic, and the times in between are a bit of a whirlwind too. We can hardly blame Lady P's oldest cousin for seeking refuge in a quiet corner from time to tome:

I love it. And so does Lady P. The other day we were walking en masse (yes, all seven of us) to the post box up the hill, and she started singing, unprompted, 'the more we get together, the happier we'll be'. My sentiments exactly.

They've gone to Disneyland for a couple of days and I'm feeling a bit bereft. I love having the house full and all the noise and banter that ensues. It makes me long for a big family (though we may have left that too late), or to be closer to my family. Or failing that... more house guests.

Monday, April 6, 2015

In search of Easter, and eggs

TLOML and I took Lady P and her cousins to the Hermosa Beach Easter Egg hunt this weekend. It was organized by Hope Chapel, a big church up on the hill, and was heavily advertised - including the fact that they were distributing 16,000 eggs. I found this unlikely, but should not have doubted. There were indeed many, many eggs.
The 0-2 year olds' section, moments before the hunt began
But it wasn't so much a hunt as a grab - especially for the youngest children, who had the eggs all laid out in front of them.

The 3-5 year olds, racing to grab as many eggs as possible
Meanwhile Lady P skips obliviously past dozens of eggs
We didn't cheer Lady P on quite as vociferously as some of the more focused parents. She was satisfied pretty quickly with her haul of five eggs, at which point we extracted ourselves to watch the frenzy that was the big kids' section. An announcement was made that there were some golden eggs with special prizes out there, and the hunt intensified.
A corner of the 6-9 year olds' section, with the hunt in full, aggressive swing
Frankly the whole thing was a bit ungodly. For a start, it was held on Saturday, resulting in children eating Easter eggs during Lent. Admittedly, Lady P is far from devout and she didn't actually give anything up for Lent. Still, it seemed wrong to me. It's just not how I was raised.

And there were children there with dozens of eggs. Way more than anyone could want or need. And parents strategising to grab as many eggs as possible, and rifling through them to find the golden ones, discarding the rest. Weird and as TLOML put it, a bit grotesque.

And the colouring in pictures that were provided in the play area weren't even of Jesus. In fact even though the whole thing was organised by a church there wasn't a mention of Jesus - except in the leaflets they gave you when you left. Which I suppose is a subtle way to market but seems a bit sneaky, almost cowardly, to me.

Like Lady P, I'm not exactly devout. But if she's going to enjoy Easter eggs she should at least know what Easter is all about.

So the next day - actual Easter Day - we hosted a rather more sedate egg hunt in the Sugar Cube's backyard, and took Lady P to church to sing Easter hymns. The balance was reset and the conserverative middle class feathers I didn't know I had were smoothed.

I think next year we might just stick to a family-only, organic-biscuits-in-every-egg, pre-church Easter Sunday egg hunt. I just don't think I'm American enough, yet, to get on board with the Hermosa egg hunt frenzy.

Friday, April 3, 2015

We bought a house today

We really did. We actually did it! After months of looking, and weeks of painful paperwork, we just signed our lives away to an enormous mortgage. Here's to us! Here's to homeownership! Here's to the support of TLOML's generous mother, who made it possible. And here's to buying somewhere we can live in for a long long time.

We won't move till the summer when the tenants move out. Till then I will be mainly researching window treatments and cunningly low cost ways to refinish hardwood floors. Once we've done that, I will have some pictures I am proud to share.

In the meantime, for the curious, here is a shot of the  house.

Its a classic of its kind: the streets around here are full of these houses with the garage upfront and a deck on top. They do lack a little charm from the outside, but they usually result in a great floorplan, as the living space is all upstairs with plenty of light - and for us it means we have an ocean view from our living and dining space. As well as the ocean view we have two palm trees, a kitchen to get excited about (one of those cool pantry cupboards with the pull out larder shelves, and a massive range with warming lamps and allsorts), and plenty of room for guests and all Lady P's plastic rubbish.

And more to the point - and this is the main point - it is ours! All ours! And we can stay there as along as we want. Big happy sighs all round for finally putting down some roots, and West of PCH too.