Saturday, December 24, 2016

Tweaking those traditions

As a family putting down roots, and with a small child, we're still establishing our traditions. My childhood Christmases were unwaveringly consistent, and I loved that, and want that for P. So there's a lot of talk of 'this'll be our family tradition'. whenever we find ourselves doing something festive we like. I guess it remains to be seen how many of those will prevail.

Our first Christmas in Hermosa we went to the Christmas Eve service at the Epsicopalean church (nice as I know all the tunes), and these last couple of years we've added the Christmas pageant there too: local children acting out the nativity, including a dog dressed as a camel. Perfect, and I think it's a keeper.

Watching the angels walk by, enraptured

This year we didn't make it to Terranea for those sunset cocktails - #traditiongoals - because P was sick. Let's hope in 2017 we'll switch the vomiting episode back out in favor of the drinks in the nice hotel.

Other traditions go from strength to strength. She is much more interested in the Elf this year, which is fun. The gingerbread house, we think, is better than ever (see these attempts from 2011, 2012, 2013, 2014 and 2015 for proof) . And this year P got more involved in making it, which I loved. We sledged on the sand pile again, in lieu of snow.
'Sledding', SoCal style

We added in The Nutcracker, an LA Ballet production near us, which was lovely. And seeing Santa as he travelled Hermosa under police escort, which is both neighbourhoodsy, near to us, and short on queues. Another solid tradition addition.
In Hermosa Beach Santa arrives in a convertible with a surfboard in it

A healthy fish dinner on Christmas eve could become a festive tradition. Miso glazed black cod and sashimi this time, but it could as easily have been kippers and scrambled eggs. I think it makes more sense than ham, given the meat and carb fest that is to follow. On Christmas day itself, I'm still serving up pancakes for breakfast, and turkey for lunch. No cranberry, because no-one likes it. Stuffing, sprouts and roast potatoes because England. No Xmas pudding because no-one loves it, and in fact no pudding at all because no-one can get as excited for pudding - except P but she'll eat gingerbread instead -  as they can for cheese.

I think we're still refining some things. US festive flavors involve a lot of peppermint and chocolate - all that chocolate bark - which is all well and good but I'm am feeling a serious spiced fruit deficit - not a mince pie or christmas cake or pudding in sight. Next year I think I'll fix that with a little whole foods Xmas cake to add to the festive cheese platter.

On balance I think we are almost set. Just need to cut the vomiting, add some Christmas cake, and we'll have a model which will serve us well for many years.

Monday, December 12, 2016

Food confusion

Two nations divided by a common language. So goes the adage and nowhere is it more true than in food matters.

Check out this menu madness, from a Californian restaurant:

'Toad in a Hole', they say, and it has nothing to do with Yorkshire pudding and sausages. And this on a children's menu, of all things. How are they ever to learn?

They don't go in a lot for cheese toasties here, which I put down to a paucity of Brevilles. But they do go in for a 'grilled cheese' which by the way is really not grilled. It's made on a griddle, or in a frying pan. Which in my family makes it a 'cheese dream'. I know. P is quite confused. If offered a 'grilled cheese' she refuses, but if I say 'it's a cheese dream' she's suddenly interested. I just have to explain that the difference between grilled cheese and a cheese dream is the same as the difference between a cookie and a biscuit. That is to say, it just depends whether you are in Hermosa Beach or in Granny's house.

Now here's a sandwich I can never explain: the Monte Cristo. In it's simplest form it's a cheese dream, or a Croque Monsieur. A fried cheese sandwich. But then often here they dip it in egg before frying it. I'm good with that. And yet sometimes, are in the land where anything is possible, it includes ham and turkey, and is made with a sweet bread (like cinnamon raisin), and served with powdered sugar, and suddenly I don't know if I'm eating a sandwich or a cake, breakfast or dessert.

As we say in England, just because you can, doesn't mean you should.

Tuesday, December 6, 2016

Know your limits

It seemed like such a great idea when I booked our tickets. I love Christmas carols, and had wanted to see a performance at the Walt Disney Concert Hall for years. The LA Master Chorale's Festival of Carols promised the perfect festive family day out. The program included a crowd-pleasing selection of carols, including a couple we could sing along to - Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer and Santa Claus is Coming to Town, to which P even knows the words.

TLOML was excited too. Until he realized that the date clashed with a swim meet he couldn't miss. Still, I decided it would be fun to go on a 'mummy and me' cultural jaunt into DTLA. P and I would explore Grand Park, see the concert, and TLOML would come and meet us gals after the show.

It was about two hours before we were due to leave that I spotted the crucial restriction on the tickets. 'Children under the age of 6 will not be admitted'. How ridiculous, I thought. It's a family carol concert, for goodness sake, with a singalong 'Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer' to boot. It's practically made for children under the age of 6.

I decided to wing it. We stuck to the plan, headed into town, and had a Starbucks treat in the park before climbing the steps into Walt Disney hall. Me, beside myself about the space and the concert; P, under strict instructions to 'behave like a big girl'. We were held at the door for a while as the attendant checked whether she could let a 3 year old in. I tried not to eye-roll at the silliness of having an age restriction on a carol concert. Then we were waved in.
High expectations
It wasn't long till I realized they were right about that age limit. About halfway through the first song, in fact, when P completely lost interest. She'd been pretty into it when we first entered the auditorium, all wide eyed at the space and excited when the choristers came in singing their hearts out. But her enthusiasm lasted all of two minutes. For the next forty, I tried and failed to amuse her quietly. She perked up a bit for Rudolph, but apart from that it was pretty much a disaster. P wasn't being naughty. She was just bored. Like, I suppose I had to admit, any normal three year old would be. And seemed to be most noisy - rustling, kicking the panelling, whispering - during the quietest parts of the carols. I never realized how noisy crayons could be till P started scribbling furiously in the hushed moments between phrases of In the Bleak Midwinter.

A low point, about three songs in

Decorating the programme got old really quickly
 So, yes, I was the idiot who ruined every else's civilized, festive concert with an unruly infant.

I aimed to salvage our fun day of culture by walking to Grand Central Market to meet TLOML. P had a little fancy chocolate petit four from Valerie, while TLOML devoured a Bel Campo burger, and I enjoyed the peaceful sensation that comes from being in a very noisy place and not having to worry about my child's behaviour. P was, now, quiet anyway - enraptured by her cake, and the Klezmer band who were playing in the market that day.
The highlight of P's day

That night P talked to her grandmother. 'Tell grandmama what you did today,' I prompted, hoping she'd talk about the concert, or maybe the park, or the market. 'I had a chocolate cake', she said proudly. 'Right. And what else?' 'Oh yes!' she said, 'I had a cake pop too!'.

At which point, I thought I might put the enriching cultural experiences on ice for a year or two. I'll try again when she's six.

Tuesday, November 29, 2016

Thankful for Thanksgiving

And thankful for a successful do-over. Our return to the Bay Area was free from delays, brushes with crime, disappointing catering, and any of the other minor troubles that befell us last time.

Instead we had a great time catching up with TLOML's lovely cousin and her equally lovely husband at the scene of the crime. We ate a fantastic Thanksgiving dinner, to which I only made a very small contribution (the gravy, to be precise). Given the fact we devoured cheesecake for breakfast on Black Friday, it was probably for the best that we were not encumbered with leftovers, too.

Later that day we had dim sum, during which P complained 'too steamy' at the arrival of every dish, and watched Cinderella on my phone whilst eating banana chips. Not quite the enriching experience we had hoped for her, but the grown ups had a great time.

Then we headed into the city. We stayed at The Fairmont, all bedecked with Christmas decorations, about which I have successfully trained P to say 'it's too early!' already. So I enjoyed hearing her saying that a lot. We also judged the hotel for making a pretend gingerbread house ('I don't think this is all really gingerbread, mummy, I think some of this is wood'). We wandered around Grace Cathedral, rode on a cable car, and visited the excellent Exploratorium.

We didn't get to see quite everyone we would have liked, but we had quality time with those we managed to catch. It was so fun to take P to see one of our favourite cities. And we ate and drank very well. I loved it all, but think my personal highlight may just have been the perfect Manhattan I drained in the Fairmont bar, while P chomped happily on chicken tenders.

And her highlight? 'Eating cheesecake for breakfast', apparently. A fitting verdict on a food-oriented trip, I suppose.

Thursday, November 17, 2016

Hosts with the mosts for the guests with the bests

Not sure the title quite works, but go with me here. I'm talking about the challenge of hosting house guests who  - as well as being dear, old friends - have previously welcomed us with impeccable hospitality.

I've visited these dear old friends, who also happen to be two of the best people I know, in various places (because they live abroad for work). On visiting them in Tallin, they planned boat trips to Helsinki, Medieval breakfasts involving brandy, incredible Estonia spa treatments, and walking tours of the charming old city. Staying with them in Dubai, they took me camping in the desert, on a dhow trip around the fjord-like Musandam peninsula, and we sailed around the Burj. And these are just the highlights.

So, no pressure then. What can sleepy little Hermosa offer, in return? The worst of it is, they've already visited once. So we've strolled the Strand, had ice cream from the Creamery, all that nice local stuff.

The best I could think of was trip to Downtown LA. We took in The Broad, in its gorgeous new space, with a fun collection of contemporary art which is happily not too big (is it bad that I think of that as a plus?). They loved it. Then we walked a couple of blocks - past the novelty of the world's most ridiculous tramway, Angel's Flight - to Grand Central Market for a juice and lunch at Eggslut. The walk back to the car took us through the civic center, and past the Walt Disney concert hall, which rounded out our downtown tour nicely.

...and hipster egg sandwiches 

It was a good halfday, but that was it. All my chips were down. What else did Hermosa have to offer?

I know. It seems obvious now.

So for the rest of their stay, we made the most of the final blast of summer sun, and our beloved guests whiled away their time very happily at the beach. Phew. Challenge met. And I think they'll be visiting again.

Thursday, November 3, 2016

It was the best of times, and the worst of times

We've been meaning to go up to San Francisco as a family since we moved back in 2014. Goodness knows why it took us so long: we were so looking forward to seeing friends in the Bay Area, and taking P to see the city. P was bursting with excitement, asking every day for about a week before we left 'are we going to San Francisco today?', and waking up at 6am on the day we left shouting 'Let's go to San Francisco RIGHT NOW!'.

The best bits were pretty great. Quality time with friends, and some fun stuff in the city: a killer lunch in the Ferry Building, a ride on a street car, and looking up at tall buildings with awe (P more so than us, I hasten to add). On driving into the city, P said 'Is this San Francisco? Where are all the rides?', at which point we realized she thought it was some kind of theme park. A drive down Lombard Street, and across the Golden Gate bridge, and that street car ride were positioned as 'rides', which seemed to do the trick.
 I suspect her highlight was the playground, but that's OK. We all had a good time.
But the worst bits, well, they were a bit of a downer. The house we were staying was burgled, so we spent an afternoon helping the police instead of hanging out with friends. Then our flight back was delayed by five hours, due to bad weather, meaning we got back really late and just feeling rather grumpy.

It was a curate's egg of a weekend - and we'd waited for so long for it. So I demanded a do-over. We are going to head back up for Thanksgiving. Fingers crossed crime and fog will give us a wide berth and we can have the wholly fun time we've promised ourselves. I just hope now P knows it's not Disneyland, she is as excited for the return trip.

Friday, October 21, 2016

Home improvement

When we bought our house last year - our first proper, grown-up, permanent family home (yes, we are late bloomers) - we did a fair amount of redecorating. Pretty much every surface was stripped or sanded and refinished in some way.

But we had to stop spending at some point. So we took a pause and made a list of projects we would return to in 2016.

On the list:
  • New bannisters - to replace the weird, wavy silver ones 
  • Painting the exterior - because why would you want your house to be murky?
  • New front door - because it's ugly
  • Replace garage doors - with something sleek and contemporary
  • Proper dining chairs - to replace the placeholders we bought on the cheap

Not on the list:
  • The pergola which became a obsessive desire, and probably cost more than everything else on the list.

Now we can ignore the unlovely view of our neighbours' roof, and the distant blinking of the traffic lights on PCH.
Now we always only look West. And we have shade. And a new cool outdoor room.

Who cares that it was never in the plan? It is making us very happy. The best laid plans, eh?

Wednesday, October 12, 2016

Tailgating is brilliant

I'd never heard of tailgating before I moved to the US, so I'll take a moment to explain it. Tailgating is when you get to a sports event early, or stick around after the event, and eat and drink in the car park.

Until recently my sole experience of it was at Princeton, where we had gone to watch TLOML's cousin play soccer. It involved sober families standing around in a  slightly chilly carpark, so we made our excuses and left. Then there were those old oddballs eating sardines out of the boot of their car in the underground lot before that Bruce Springsteen gig. Suffice to say I was a bit bemused by the whole concept.

Now I know what it's like. And it suddenly it makes complete sense. We joined some friends at the USC Trojans game a couple of weeks ago, and naturally, as they say, 'we tailgated'.

Now an American Football game already takes an hour of play and turns it into a three hour event. But if you tailgate, you get all the delays and pageantry of a college football game, and add a layer of a couple of hours of co-ordinated, team-oriented drinking.  It's brilliant. Way to take an afternoon of watching sports and complement it with a morning of eating and drinking.

Luckily for us our friends have passes for the best parking lot at the USC ground. This is the pastoral bliss version of a tailgate: a grassy parking lot, kids playing ball, balloons and fireworks. And a very chilled out, friendly vibe: the exact opposite to the experience I imagine a foreigner might have drinking in a Celtics pub before a Celtics v Rangers game.
 A whole encampment of USC tents (people bring their own, in case you wondered) and a game of corn hole
This guy actually brings a TV so him and his buddies can watch pre-game coverage.

It's hard to tell from the pic but this man has two umbrellas cantilevered out from his car

A lawn, and a portable grill. It's not cricket but I still like it.

Of course in LA the tailgate is better than the game. In fact it was so hot in the stadium we left at half time and, as they say, 'tailgated' some more before heading for home. To beat the traffic, because LA.

Again, Americans prove that they know how to do social stuff just the best. Tailgating is, it turns out, a great idea and makes for pretty much an ideal Saturday. For this invention alone we might almost - but actually, really  not - forgive them Trump.

Friday, September 30, 2016

More than just one hit wonders? T'Pau and A-ha

I half-formed so many reflective, pondersome posts during and after our trip to the England. Musings on nature, and the importance of brambling and learning about nettles. And family, and time, and distance. Episodes of discovery to share, of Lady P's adventures in the city where she was born. Just lovely stuff like that.

But then work got in the way.

And now I find myself with a far more burning topic to blog about: the terrible under appreciation of T'Pau and a-Ha in the US. Now I'm not huge fan of either band. But I was. And I had their albums. Which might raise a snicker now, but among Brits that's a snicker of 'gosh you're old' and 'what cheesy taste you had'.

In the US the snicker is because no-one realizes these were bands with many hits. Really! Over here they all think a-ha only had one hit (Take On Me, if you're interested). And the same goes for T'Pau - that their oeuvre starts and ends with Heart and Soul. Many Americans have no idea that a-Ha had ten studio albums, at least two of which charted in the top 10. And T'Pau, ah, T'Pau. Okay, they only had a couple of albums worth mentioning - but still, three top ten singles in 1987 says this was a band whose cassette it was not embarrassing to have next to your your hi-fi.

I guess they never really 'broke' America. Probably like a bunch of other artists I like a lot more. But for some reason these are the ones which pained me. You never really know, even after years of living here, what's going to pull the rug from under you. T'Pau and a-Ha, of all things.

Monday, September 12, 2016

Lost in translation

When we visit England it is my time to chortle as TLOML says silly things. (As opposed to me being the one with the funny accent and strange sayings).

Two incidents prompted snickers and guffaws.

First, a conversation about the Rosedale show, which is a classic English country show with prizes for livestock, produce and handicrafts, and the like. Including sticks (8 classes), and many baked goods. A friend's mum took first prize in the fruit loaf category, which we thought might have put a few noses out of joint as she is relatively new to the village. We had a good long chat about it and at the end TLOML asked 'what is a fruit glove anyway?'.

We set him straight. This is a fruit loaf:
And so far as we know there is no such thing as a fruit glove. Although given the eccentricities of English country shows - which he and I saw at Danby years ago -  I think TLOML can be forgiven for thinking there might be such a category.

Secondly, he came back from watching Birmingham City beat Fulham FC chuckling at how lame the Fulham FC supporters' chants were, compared to those of Birmingham City. 'We're going to shit in the river' was one he particularly remarked on. I think most Brits would be able to make out the words 'We're going to shit on the Villa' from even the slurriest, most incoherent Birmingham FC fans.

TLOML loves England, and has spent plenty of time there over the years. But I think it's safe to say he's not ready to blend in as a local just yet.

Tuesday, September 6, 2016

England, compressed

I really want, on these trips back to the UK, for P to soak up some Englishness. I want her to develop an easy familiarity with English manners and customs, food, and just the general vibe. A big part of it is understanding the way things used to be. So she can read - as I did - a Milly Molly Mandy book, or a Secret Seven, and fully understand what a blacksmith is or why someone might be beating their carpets.

What better way to achieve this than a quick tour around a model village? So we headed to Bekonscot. All of English life is there, and much of it still as it was when the village was built in 1929. A blacksmith, a town square, a race course, a little harbor, lots of trains (pre-Beeching, of course) and just lots of English scenes. It was the perfect opportunity for me to explain the ways of our people.

'Look, there are some people playing cricket', I said. 'Where is the cricket?' she said, looking, I think, for a chirruping insect.
'I don't see any cricket'

Brownies around a maypole
A town cryer.
 'He's telling everybody the news,' I explained. 'But why?' came the inevitable answer. Is now a good time to explain that there was a time without TV and internets? No, onward to the 1930s zoo, complete with a chimps tea party.
Anyone who loves Curious George is perfectly comfortable with the idea of dressing up chimps to put on a show. So P had no questions about this bit.
The only thing I couldn't explain was the ring of people dressed in yellow and brown, bending over. P said they were doing their exercises. I'm not sure but didn't have a better answer. Suggestions welcome...

All in all it was a very efficient way to cover a lot of ground in a short space of time. Now her education is complete we can relax and enjoy the rest of the trip rather more aimlessly.

Thursday, August 25, 2016

Exotic imports

We are off for our annual trip to the UK and I'm, predictably, beside myself. The prospect of two glorious weeks with family and friends is making me beam from ear to ear.

But it's not just the people. It's the stuff. There are some things you just can't buy in the US. Or if you can buy them, they're just not the same as the British versions. I'm not saying whose version is better and whose is worse. I'm just used to the British way of life. (Okay, I'll say it, I think sometimes the British way is better).

Marmite and M&S tights are probably obvious. But did you know it's really hard - almost impossible - to find mint flavoured toothpaste for children? It's all bubble gum or strawberry or sparkly. Since Lady P enjoys minty toothpaste I'm not sure why I'd want her using something that tastes like candy.

And birthday cards too. It's SO hard to find a card which isn't elaborately verbose, covered in glitter, or both. I can go out of my way to an artisanal gift shop and buy a witty letterpress one overtime someone's birthday comes around (but that takes time and I'm short on that) or I can just stock up on nice, simple British cards for the year ahead.

So here's to reconnecting with loved ones - and here's to my annual spree at Boots, M&S and John Lewis.

Saturday, August 20, 2016

Tastes change

Has my brain atrophied? Is it LA's fault? The advancement of middle age? Or parenthood?

I used to go to the theatre, and galleries, a lot. I mean, like, most weeks I'd consume some culture. And I'm talking legit, intellectual culture. Heck, I once went to a gamelan concert at the Barbican.  I used to read newspapers and even occasionally go to political rallies.

And now I read about 30% of the NY Times on a Sunday. And I recently went to a Guns N'  Roses concert... and liked it.

It's fair to say I'm not a huge Guns N' Roses fan. As far as I knew I had only been exposed to their work in a couple of times.  That Moth story by Duff McKagan, which I loved. And that time Axl Rose was in Sex and the City. I  know, it turns out to be Jon Bon Jovi. Okay, well, so I think I've made my point. It's not that I think they're not an interesting band, it's just that I was too busy listening to Tom Waits and reading Prospect to notice.

 But TLOML is a huge fan. So he bought awesome seats for their recent gig at the Dodgers Stadium and - news flash - I had the time of my life. It turns out I LOVE Guns N' Roses, and know at least 5 of their songs. Probably we all do. Anyway, I loved it. The rock'n'roll, the noise, the crappy beer, the long guitar solos, the pomp, the fireworks, all of it. It was unchallenging, high octane, pure and simple fun.
Hard not to love
So. Are Gn'R, as TLOML has long maintained, one of the top 5 bands of their time (and I'm just late to the party)? Has my brain atrophied, and now all I can handle is fireworks and Paradise City? And if so, what's next? Cow tipping? Following The Bachelor? Subscribing to Us Weekly? Time will tell and based on recent experience I'm not ruling anything out.

Wednesday, August 17, 2016

Keeping it real

One of the many things I love about Hermosa Beach is a faintly scruffy, surfy vibe. I like to kid myself it's a little more real than neighbouring Manhattan Beach - with its pristine boutiques and bankers driving Teslas.

Painting a town where real estate costs $1k a square foot and we have an IV hydration clinic across from the library as 'keeping it real' might be a bit of a stretch. Still, there are enough barefoot surfers walking from the beach, and tattooed punk kids skateboarding along the Strand, and cottages with peeling paint and massive collections of tchotchkes on their front patio, to allow me to delude myself. I'm not the only one. Hermosa is frequently described as a 'sleepy beach town' in press.

Meanwhile, gentrification marches on, relentlessly. Pier Plaza, which mainly exists for drinking purposes, is going upscale. A new hotel is going to be built here soon which will be quite swanky, in a very beachy way of course. A crappy souvenir shop was replaced by a hipster coffee shop (which failed - gentrification too soon?) and is now a nice looking poke shop, and our favorite coffee shop which was always beset with pigeons and a little tired looking has had a facelift.
New poke shop: cleaner and fresher than some of Pier Plaza's occupants

But is it all getting a little anodyne? The plaza remodel involves some totally generic white planks in the so-called coastal chic style you see everywhere.
Also cleaner and fresher: our favorite coffee shop on the pier
It does seem that our City elders are doing their best to retain a little Hermosa spirit. Punk and surf-themed graphics pepper the improvements.

Punk surfers

I think as long as Scottys retains the same paint job its had since the 1950s, Yer Cheating Heart tattoos and Sharkeez bar are still in business, and there are tattooed skateboards in knee socks and bikinis cruising the pier, the scruffy heart of Hermosa is still beating.
The unimproved (unimprovable?) side of Pier Plaza

Prime beach real estate and also the tattiest breakfast place in town
All (soul / scruff) is not lost

Nothing says Hermosa like a tattooed skateboarder in bikini and knee socks

Thursday, August 11, 2016

Speaking like a native

On the one hand, America, hats off for attempting pronunciation felicity for so many non-English words. It's a brave endeavour. Well done for saying 'ris-oh-dow' (for risotto). Never mind that few Italians pronounce risotto with a 'd' in the middle. It's nice that you try. Your 'he-ro' (for gyro), and 'rio-ha' (for rioja) put our 'giro' and 'rio-kah' to shame.

I think the Brits just decided, generations ago, that we would Anglicize all the foreign words we appropriated. Probably we decided that around the time we were teaching those pesky colonies how to play cricket and make a proper cup of tea. The cultural imperialism is a shameful stain on our history. But at least we are consistent.

Meanwhile, well meaning Americans have got it all confused. Two cheeses will make my point amply.

First, may I present 'Bleu cheese'. Not a typo, it is apparently a proper noun. And French. Even though it's being presented as cheese not fromage. This makes no sense.

Secondly, can we talk about parmesan? There is parmesan, as we call it in England. Then there's parmigiana, as they call it in Italy. And then there's 'parm-ah-jahn', as Americans would have it. Which also makes no sense.

On balance though I think America gets full marks for effort. They could have taken the easy, British way out and just said it as they see it. Instead they do their best to pronounce foods in a manner true to their origins. There are a lot of foods from a lot of places: no wonder they are a little confused.

Sunday, July 31, 2016

Lessons learned

Every day is a school day, so they say.

I learned about a whole new species of shellfish last week. We were bombing around H-Mart, TLOML's new favourite Korean grocery store, stocking up for a Korean feast we were planning for Lady P's godfather, The Gambler, and another old friend. After the unfeasibly inexpensive vegetables and before the yards of chiller cabinets full of frozen dumplings, is the seafood section. Including the flukes.

Here they are, great big long elephant trunks. Yikes.

I'd never seen a fluke before. No thanks, said I, and on we went to stock up on frozen gyoza.

A few days later we were out for dinner with WeHo friends at Providence, and what should pop up on the tasting menu but fluke sashimi. Not wanting to appear picky, I didn't object. Besides I was curious to see what kind of sashimi one of those grey schlongs would make.

Imagine my surprise when this arrived.
It turns out fluke is a fish. A mild, slightly sweet kind of flounder. Delicious. I suppose that label in H-Mart was for a different tank.

I was also surprised when the duck turned up with a delightful little sliver of rhubarb.

I had no idea you could get rhubarb over here. certainly not in California. I guess I just hadn't looked hard enough.

I was so excited I went to Vonn's the next day, where sure enough it nestles in between the courgettes and the beetroot (seriously! not with the fruit! no wonder I could never find it). I made rhubarb crumble this weekend when we hosted our dear South Bay friends, the reason we moved here. (I may abbreviate them to The Reasons, going forward).

Which is all another, long-winded way of saying that in one week we enjoyed discounted Korean groceries, fine dining in Hollywood, and some good home cooking. A sweet spot indeed.

Wednesday, July 20, 2016

Santa Barbara, where even the no smoking signs are Mission-era

A couple of weekends ago TLOML, Lady P and I drove up to Santa Barbara for a weekend at a friend's place. Besides the obvious pleasures of a mini break, eating and drinking and catching up with friends, and exploring new playgrounds, I especially loved Santa Barbara itself.

After life in Hermosa (founded 1907), it was really lovely to be somewhere with more than a hundred years of history. Santa Barbara was established as a Spanish mission in the 1780s, and much of it was built in a grand colonial style after an earthquake in the 1820s destroyed the adobe huts they'd been living in before then. Which is to say, it is an old city, by Californian standards at least. And it's architecturally coherent, in a way that Hermosa, with its Portuguese castles next to modernist white boxes, is just not. Much of the city's roofs are red tiled in the Spanish style, and there are some really well preserved buildings.

Take the courthouse, and this fire station, for a couple of examples. Both still functioning with their original purpose, and in their original form.
The courthouse

An actual working fire station
Then there's this charming multistory carpark, beautifully preserved from the colonial era with the original signs and all.
Wait... what? The dudes who ran the Mission had the foresight to build parking structures? No, you're right, it's just a modern car park that has been designed to meet Santa Barbara's code for downtown construction, and blend in.

Much like these signs, which I'm guessing weren't there when the courthouse was built in 1850.

Hey, I'm not hating this faux-old stuff. Santa Barbara is such a beautiful city, and much of its appeal lies in the visual unity of its architecture. It's entirely fitting that the powers that be would want to preserve that appeal. I felt rather shame-faced about how little regard I paid to the 16th century buildings of my college.

Still, it was refreshing to get back to messy, chaotic, apparently unplanned Hermosa with all its quirks.

Monday, July 11, 2016

Crafting fever

Meanwhile, as I was wandering the aisles at Vonn's, Lady P was caught up in her own time-suck.

I was eager to find some fun stuff for her to do the week that school was closed - and there is only so much time I (or our babysitter) wants to spend at the park or the beach. So I bought a few craft kits.

They're for the kind of activities a better mother makes up with old clothes pegs and some pipe cleaners she happens to have lying around. Clearly I'm the kind of mother who likes to throw money at her problems. About $50 in total, for 5 boxes of carefully curated creative content. I thought P might spend a couple of afternoons doing them and we'd have some left for our flights this summer.

But it turned out I created a monster. Lady P was like a child possessed. She crafted all day long at the expense of doing anything else whatsoever. Her first request on waking, or returning to the house, or when she was supposed to be doing anything other than crafting, was 'Can I do craft?'.
Crafting in PJs

Crafting when we were supposed to be heading to the beach

Crafting naked
I tried to say yes as often as I could but really and truly you cannot craft every waking hour. You need to eat, sleep, get dressed, maybe even leave the house. Or so I kept telling Lady P.

She would not be moved. She only wanted to craft to the point of grumpy, fractious, hungry exhaustion. It was a little frightening at times. Like the way I imagine you'd feel if you were trying to take a mother bear away from her cubs, or a lion away from his kill.
Look on my works, ye mighty, and despair!
Fifty dollars and five days later we have a house full of tiny bits of tissue paper and lollipop sticks. Oh, and of course all Lady P's creations. And while it made her very happy, she tore through those boxes so quickly I'm not sure it was great value.  Next time I think we'll just switch the telly on.