Friday, September 29, 2017

Why so quiet?

Wow. That was the longest hiatus from blogging and entirely unintentional.  I had no reason to stop. I just thought I'd run out of things to blog about. And I am starting again not due to popular demand, but because it turns out there are still things to blog about. Transatlantic things. Strange things Americans do or say. Perfectly sane and sound things Brits do or say that Americans find strange. And so on.

But first, a quick recap of the last 2 months.

In summary it's been wall-to-wall house guests. Just the way I like it. Pretty much solidly in August and for most of September we hosted dear East Coast friends, my favourite little sister and her family, and my lovely parents. Visitors earlier this year got the short end of the stick as I was working crazy hours. But now life is in a better balance, so I was able to raise my game and join our guests for day trips.

We did some great day trips. The Tar Pits was a particular hit: it's a strange, fascinating place with pools of asphalt bubbling away right there on Wilshire Boulevard. Thousands of animals met their deaths in the tar pits, which are another of those great reminders - like the nodding donkeys on La Cienega, or the oil tower in Beverly Hills High that this is a city built on oil and not just entertainment.

I finally got around to visiting the Wayfarer's Chapel, too. It's a beautiful 'tree chapel' - inspired by Redwoods - for those of the Swedenborgian persuasion, built by the lesser known Lloyd Wright (Frank's son). I'm not sure it's worth going out of your way for, but it's a short drive from us and we - and our visitors - loved it.

The best times, of course, weren't the day trips so much as the doing-nothing moments. Bathtime with Granny, a bedtime story with Grandpa, and some slightly troubling game she played with her cousins where all the Playmobil people died and they had to make gravestones out of lego. Golden times.

And then there were beach days. And days and days. And even the odd hour in the late afternoon. The pleasure of playing in sand and splashing in the waves never gets old. The beach concerts are still a perfect way to spend a Sunday evening. There were two AVP volleyball tournaments t his summer - one in Hermosa and one in Manhattan Beach a few weeks apart - which provided some great entertainment. And P has now graduated to a co-pilot bike, which trails behind (and fixed to) mine, so she's mad keen to ride her bike along the Strand waving at beach goers and thinking she's the next Bradley Wiggins.

It's been a lovely summer. And as it's still 25c and sunny I don't feel as if summer's over yet. But the hiatus from writing is definitely over.

Monday, July 31, 2017

Friends in high places

Oxford is apparently a springboard into positions of great power. Although I didn't read PPE, 'the degree that runs Britain', I have some friends who did. I should have a network to serve me well for life. So I've been waiting since Michaelmas term, 1993, to feel the benefit of having friends in high places. In over twenty years, not once have I been given the nod for a seat on a board, or a cushty Civil Service position.

Now, the reality of life in the South Bay is biting and I'm discovering exactly what kind of friends, and in what kind of high places, I should have been nurturing all these years.

First of all, the friends on a walk street. Walk streets, for the uninitiated, are idyllic blocks where all the houses' front yards butt up against a wide pavement, with no cars (the garages behind the houses open onto an alley). Kids play barefoot in the street, neighbours sit in their front yards drinking sundowners, and sometimes they have block parties. The long running 31st Street Chilli Cook Off being a good example.
Residents set their stalls out in front of their houses and compete for Best Chilli and Best Booth by serving up good food and friendly vibes. There's a petting zoo and a bounce house too.

It's a pretty great block party and fortunately, I have a good friend who lives on 31st Street so I got to pretend I lived there too, for a day.

On the subject of good block parties, friends on any street which hosts good block parties are a must. Our street is both busy and steep: not conducive to any kind of party. Thank goodness then for our good friends who live on a wide, leafy street in Manhattan Beach's tree section. Their Fourth of July block party featured two bounce houses, a taco stand, and water bombs. And a neigbourhoody vibe which we, cuckoos in the nest, enjoyed.

On the theme of real estate, let's not forget our dear friends with a pool. I'm not sure I'd want the maintenance of a pool (even if our yard was more than 10 feet long), but I'm certainly glad to have friends who are already doing that maintenance, and are happy to share the benefits once in a while.

Then there's the Manhattan Beach Country Club. TLOML has been quietly hankering to join for a while, so he can swim there and P can play there and we can all just hang out there on days with nothing else to do. I'm not so keen (I'd rather walk to the beach than drive to a pool) but am very very happy to spend an afternoon there with friends who signed up.

Until we can spring multi-millions for a walk street home, or want to invest in Country Club membership, or a yard with a pool, we will stay very close to our friends in high places. But what can we offer in return?

I'm starting to pour Pimms, properly served, to friends when they come over. It's unusual, only Brits serve it (and know how to do it right), and of course, it's intoxicating. Perhaps if I serve enough Pimms they'll forget to answer that question 'what did they ever do for us?' and think, instead, 'those guys are fun! we should have them over to the club/ walk street/ pool party'.

Meanwhile all my Oxford education brings me these days are pale-faced house guests who use all the sunscreen and need 'tacos' explaining. Just kidding, love you guys.

Saturday, July 15, 2017

On reading to dogs

Last Saturday P read to a dog. We were at the library and there some dogs waiting to be read to, so she read to a dog.

Only she can't really read, so I did the reading, with her supplying the occasional word.

Also, the dog was sitting on the other side of its person, a kind-faced older lady, and P was sitting on the other side of me.

So rather than P reading to a dog, what happened was that I read to a stranger with a dog sitting nearby and P supplying the occasional word.

A sceptic might have wondered about the point of having dogs in the library. I'll admit, I did. But apparently dogs make an ideal, nonjudgmental, calming audience for children to build their confidence in reading aloud.

P does not lack confidence, although she is occasionally shy. And while she can't really read yet, she's perfectly happy to pretend she can. She 'reads' her toys stories most nights. On our recent trip to the UK she turned pages and babbled in Minionese to a rapt three year old who later told me 'Penelope can read'.

We're clearly not the target audience. So I'll shelve my scepticism. Kudos to the kind people of the Beach cities who bring their dogs to libraries so nervous kids can enjoy reading.

Saturday, July 1, 2017

Dirt colored houses

Dirt coloured houses are popular in Southern California. I don't mean dirt in the US sense, as in, soil. Although soil coloured houses are quite popular. I mean dirt as in the color of grime, or dust. Sludge is a popular house paint choice too. So is clay. Also bile. Oh, and anything that suggests putrefecation.

Don't believe me? Here is a truly random selection of homes within a mile of our place.

Our house was the colour of dirt when we bought it. Dirt with a grubby blue trim.

This picture is a little bleached out but in reality the colour of the stucco wa akin to the colour of dirty sea scum after a heavy rain. Or the wax and sea salt layer on top of TLOML's surfboard.

Uncanny, isn't it?

Well, our grimy days are over. We just repainted. White! Clean, coastal, soft white.
TLOML was a little concerned that it will show the dirt. But I think we can all agree that even a dirty white house is preferable to a house the colour of actual dirt.

Tuesday, June 27, 2017

In Hermosa you can do any sport you like! (Except one).

You can do all sorts of sports in Hermosa Beach. It's the sportiest little beach town I know. For a start there are the obvious SoCal activities: surfing is huge, and Hermosa hosts several volleyball tournaments from the serious to the sublimely silly. There are runners, cyclists, skateboarders and rollerbladers carving up the Greenbelt and the Strand all day long.
There's a yoga or pilates studio on every corner and at least two Crossfit boxes. If you want to go old school there's a 24 Hour Fitness, and the resolutely gritty Yard gym for pumping iron. A quick count on Google maps gives me at least 25 gyms in Hermosa. That's a lot of options for a town of that's less than 1.5 square miles.

Then there are the less obvious options. Beach Tennis isn't troubling too many volleyball courts just yet but the Sexy Beach Tennis people are recruiting aggressively (hence the name, I imagine). Rather less beachy, right smack in the middle of town, between the baseball field and the hall where they run Jazzercise classes, stands Hermosa Beach Lawn Bowling Club.

And now, Hermosa has found a space for Pickleball - apparently the fastest growing sport in America. Pickleball, for the uninitiated, is like tennis - but played on a court half the size, with a plastic balls with holes in and wooden paddles. The courts have been busy pretty constantly since they opened, even on a quiet Wednesday afternoon when the tennis courts are deserted. So they must be on to something.

Given all there is on offer in this sports-mad town, it makes the obvious gap even more bewildering. Believe it or not there isn't a public pool. In fact, there isn't even one in a private gym - although members can drive a couple of miles in either direction to use the Bay Club pools in Manhattan Beach and Redondo. High school students can use their school pool. TLOML drives to Hawthorne to train with his South Bay swim team. P swims at her Montessori, obvs. The shining ones who are happy to splash out $15k or so to join the Manhattan Beach Country Club can swim there. But for non-members, there's nothing.

Okay, there is the Pacific. It's big and it's free. But it's a little sharkey and rather too swellful for me. Good job I have running, crossfit, and a rusty old bike to keep me busy.

Friday, June 23, 2017

Adventures in foreign food

Not usually the most adventurous eater, I wasn't sure how P would cope with all the strange foreign foods she'd be faced with on our trip to the UK.  How would she fare when we spend time with children who eat such exotic foods as salmon, shepherd's pie, and pizza with actual pizza sauce on. I expected to be slightly embarrassed as she stuck to the plain pasta, toast and eggs that make up much of her staple diet.

But to my delight she tried a lot of new foods. She even liked some of them.

Sadly it wasn't asparagus, Dorset crab, rhubarb, cucumber sandwiches or even scones (too many raisins). In fact I'd have been happy if she got a taste for Heinz baked beans.

Here she is one bite into her first scotch egg, trying to decide if she likes it.

 She loved it.

Other big wins included my mum's egg salad sandwiches, broccoli (amazing what peer pressure will do), proper pizza, and proper French bread. Any variation on sausage meat and eggs, and anything breaded or battered, and fried also went down well. So sausage rolls, fish and chips and scampi were hits.

Now I'm not really sure what good this does me. As I said, I was hoping for rather more new vegetables - in which category I include baked beans. I suppose egg salad and proper pizza (i.e. not a homemade cheese-only version) are welcome additions to the list of dinners I can prepare in 15 minutes. But scotch eggs and sausage rolls are not available at our local grocer (and I'm not sure I'd trust them if they were). Nor is decent French bread.

And so it is that I find myself breading and frying scampi for her dinner.
What a faff...

...and an oily smelly mess
Just don't expect to see me making a scotch egg or a goddamn baguette from scratch anytime soon.

Monday, June 12, 2017

Trade-offs and the trip home

P's annual English immersion experience is over for another year. Now she's four the time in transit is an awful lot easier and the whole trip even more fun. She loved riding the tube and double decker buses, making friends with our friends' kids, playing with her cousins and all her quality time with my parents and sisters. She did some dam building on the beach, saw a jousting display at Leeds castle, petted lambs, and played a lot of elaborate games with her cousins in granny's garden.

It wasn't all about P. We enjoyed a week's holiday in Kent with the friends we used to holiday with pre-parenthood. It was just like the old days but our afternoons drinking wine and chatting in the sun now have a backdrop of children arguing over whose turn it was on the swing. Pretty blissful, as it goes. The week in Kent did rather squeeze our time with my family, and meant a couple of fewer days in London, but it made the trip feel more like a holiday. Quality time with fewer people than we might otherwise spread ourselves thin trying to see:  that's the trade off. Life, it seems is all about trade-offs, and making a deal you can live with. We traded an easier, more secure life in the golden state for our beloved London - with the sweetener of a return trip every year. Now the key is to get the balance right on those return trips. We can never do everything, or see everyone, but I think we made the best of our limited time.

P did pretty well at blending in as a Brit, I thought. She ate Scotch eggs and proper bangers with relish and went on walks in the rain without complaint. There were, however, a couple of giveaways. I had to remind her what a nettle was a few times (of course, she could school her British peers in earthquake safety but that's not nearly as useful as nettle-awareness when you're negotiating the playing fields and country lanes of Yorkshire). And as we pulled up outside my sister's beautifully proportioned, terraced, Victorian townhouse she commented that 'the houses are all stuck together!' adding that in her opinion, this was 'crazy town'. Perhaps one day she'll have her own blog about transatlantic differences. 

Now we're home, back into the routine of work, and play, and the sunny beach life. It ought to get easier to return. After all, I am more settled here, bolstered by more places and people I love with each passing year. But London's grip is tight: I still suffer a little bereavement every time we leave. Nothing a Tuesday taco and an afternoon watching volleyball under a perfect blue sky won't cure, I'm sure.

Monday, May 29, 2017

Welling up at the drop of an (English) hat

It's right and proper and only natural that I would miss dear friends and family from the UK, and be commensurately sentimental when I see them again on our annual trip back. And I think it's understandable that I feel a tug at my heart strings when I experience some quintessentially English scene, or eat something which evokes my childhood.

And even a Brit would find this scene somewhat heart-stirring, I think.

But sometimes I wonder if I've taken my indulgence in missing the UK, and my sentimental delight on reconnecting with my roots, a little too far.

Things which have made me well up with joy on this trip so far include:

1) Wearing shorts and a cagoule (even the word 'cag' made me emotional) on a partly sunny, partly rainy day.
2) Sainsbury's, and Boots, two long standing British retail brands I'm absurdly attached to. Which is akin to an American being soppy about Vonn's.

3) This menu outside an average looking restaurant, with its rarebit, ox tongue and quail. Especially knowing that the asparagus is probably only on the menu for about a month.

4) A pub landlord being slightly gruff when we showed up 5 minutes before the end of lunch service.

Before you know it I'll be crying with joy when the waiter neglects to bring me water after the third time of asking, or I have to dry laundry on the bannisters.

Friday, April 28, 2017

Good times are around the corner

Not that these times right now aren't good. But they are not without their challenges. For months I've been working long hours in a chaotic team, where goalposts move daily, nothing is ever entirely clear or fixed, and the emails and IMs and Slack messages and texts JUST DON'T STOP.

Like most parents with day jobs I want to do a good job - but in as little time as possible. I actually really want to do great work, and go above and beyond what's expected as often as I can. But not as much as I want to do the school run.

These last few months P has watched more hours of TV than I care to count, so I could clear my email inbox. TLOML has done the morning routine almost every day - the pancake making, hair braiding, driving to school and talking about the day ahead stuff which is mundane and sometimes wearing but just basically the stuff of life. I'm working in the evenings so often I haven't made bouillabaisse for months. I know. It's bad.

It's not just family life that has suffered, but also my health: I have skipped many workouts in favour of actual work. Which is not a very South Bay thing to do, and that behaviour absolutely needs to stop. And I'm living on toxins: I have never so frequently felt an urgent need for espresso or gin (sometimes at the same time) as these past few months.

Here's the good news: it's about to end. As of today. My last day in the crazy job. A new, calmer job begins on Monday. With a sane, calm, clear team and reasonable hours. And in the month ahead we have opera tickets, a night away at Terranea, a trip to the UK, and absolutely no plans to work nights and weekends. Hurrah!

PS I might churn out the odd blog post again too. Lucky you ;-)

Thursday, March 23, 2017


A lot changes when you become parents. We knew this. But if you'd have told me five years ago, that I'd consider a school fundraiser to be a good night out, I would have hoped you were dead wrong.

In fact TLOML and I pride ourselves on the fact that we have proved wrong those friends who said 'you'll never enjoy a leisurely coffee with the Sunday paper again'. We do just that, every Sunday, thanks to Disney. Our lives don't completely revolve around P. Oh, who am I kidding, of course they do. Still, we make time for ourselves and each other, we manage to enjoy a steady stream of happy hours, dinners with friends, and date nights with cocktails, or opera, or dinner, or all three.

Rarely is there dancing, however. (Well, there was that one time the New Yorker was in town. But we were in jeans and flats, in the spit-and-sawdust Hermosa Saloon, and someone on the dance floor was wearing a beanie hat. It wasn't exactly high glamour). And equally rarely am I wearing heels. And never, not since P came along, has there been dancing whilst wearing high heels. It's partly just because that's not how Hermosa rolls. Locals consider you dressed up for dinner here if you wear jeweled flip flops with your beach dress.

This time last year, when we saw a lot of people our age wearing heels and cocktail dresses/ suits, tottering into a marquee in downtown Hermosa Beach, we were intrigued. Who were these people? They looked like our demographic. Only more glamourous. It turns out the one event in Hermosa Beach that people do get dolled up for is the Hermosa Beach Education Foundation annual fundraiser. We diarized that event right away - even though P won't actually be in the Hermosa school system for another year or two - and I'm so glad we did.

I wore sequins and gold heels. TLOML wore his nicest suit with his spiffiest shirt. All the brightest stars in the firmament that is Hermosa parents of K-8 children were there. We mingled with neighbours and people we see around town, and bid at the silent auction, and enjoyed quality booze and food from some local eateries, and danced. Oh we danced our socks off! To covers of Warren G, and Journey, and every other 80s and 90s act in between.
 A rare sighting: Hermosa mums in heels

We felt we were adulting pretty hard, to be honest. An education foundation benefit? We're really doing this! When we tottered out of there, TLOML carrying the two chairs we won at the auction aloft, we decided not to go on for a drink because the chairs would be a bit cumbersome. Also an adult choice. On Monday I met the education foundation president to see if I could get involved. Which is also pretty adult of me. What have we become? A couple of settled-down, community-minded parents, that's what.
Whooo hoooo! Where next?!
I'm happy to say that despite all the changes in our lives, TLOML and I still know how to tear up a dance floor. Even better, thanks to the Hermosa Beach Education Foundation, we might still get to do that thing. At least once a year.

Friday, March 3, 2017

Ski bug

One of the great things about living in LA is that we are within a couple of hours of a snow topped mountain. Which means that anyone with flexible working hours and a car can decide on a whim to head out of town for a last minute ski trip.

One of the bad things about living in LA is that there are a lot of people with flexible working hours and a car.

We've been meaning to head somewhere for some snow all winter, but had rather let the perfect (the dream of a week in Jackson Hole) be the enemy of the good (a couple of days somewhere closer to home).  There's been so much rain recently even humble, relatively low lying, Big Bear had snow. Some snow. More than last year at least. So when a friend texted on Wednesday to say 'Heading to Big Bear tomorrow - want to come?' we said 'Yes'.

It became clear that we weren't the only people with that genius idea, right about two hours into what should have been a three hour drive. Two and a half hours later, we arrived to the grotty condo that was the best option available at the last minute. We chose it because it was walking distance to the base, and thank goodness we did because the traffic the next morning rivaled the LA rush hour.
The traffic was so bad we weren't the only poor souls walking (the horror!)
Oh, and did I mention it was also the LA Unified School District AND the Orange County School District's annual 'ski week'? That is, the week they extend the Federal Presidents' Day holiday to create a week of school so all the kids of LA and the OC can head up to - yup, you guessed it, Big Bear.

Consequently all the ski lessons were booked. But I think she had a much better time larking about with TLOML and her buddy than she would have done in a lesson anyway. TLOML - along with our ski instructor friend and her able snow-plougher child - gave P some coaching in the basics.

At first she mainly wanted to eat snow and 'climb the mountain'.

After TLOML had towed her up and down a shallow 20 foot slope a few times she was getting interested. Sort of. With a bit of whining and some 'I want to dig with my skis' and 'Please can we make a snowman' thrown in.
Then I took her to watch people getting on the chair lift.
That was the moment her love affair with winter sports began.  She wanted to get on that chair lift so badly she even followed instructions, and made a half hearted attempt to learn how snow plough.

So they got up there and made a couple of runs down the nursery slope together. Then we gave up on the endeavour because, of course, the queues were too long with all the other schmucks who had come up from LA at the last minute. A hot chocolate and some long-awaited straightforward playing in the snow followed. P is now officially into it - loves the mountain and can't wait to go back.

Which is good, because we are going back next week. This time we booked in advance - and not during Ski Week - and this time she's doing proper ski lessons. Let's see if her new love affair will endure.

Wednesday, February 22, 2017

Disneyland (aka the inside of P's brain)

Hello. Governor Ratfcliffe here. Or possibly Gaston, depending on whether P's having a Pocahontas or a Beauty and the Beast kind of a day. Sometimes I'm even the evil stepmother (Cinderella) or the mean queen (Snow White). TLOML was King Triton (The Little Mermaid) for weeks on end. Yes, our immersion in Disney is complete. It's wall to wall. We watch the movies, wear the costumes, listen to the soundtrack and live the stories every day.

Thanks to streaming, P is unaware of that childhood experience of switching the telly on to 'see what's on'. Fortunately that means she's never seen an ad (except those on NFL Sundays). But thanks to my busy/laziness, and her post-school fatigue, and the glory of Apple TV, we watch about thirty minutes of the Disney movie of her choice most days.  Her appetite is endless. She must have watched Cinderella 20 times. And Pocahontas, a more recent obsession, about 12 times in the last month. Mulan is her current favorite, which is a welcome change from wall-to-wall princesses. 

I must admit I'm doing nothing to stamp this madness out. I'm not encouraging it, but as we liberals are telling ourselves in these troubled times, if you're not acting against something, you're part of the problem. I am part of the problem, therefore.

The thing is that despite the dodgy plots -  basically a variety of ways in which a 16 year old girl can alienate her family by marrying a man she barely knows - I do love these films. The animation is, obviously, charming, and the soundtracks are great. I've even come around to the less obviously appealing tunes of Pocahontas - not to mention Donny Osmond singing 'I'll make a man out of you' in Mulan. And not all the plots are about princesses - she told me she wanted to join the army the other day, after watching Mulan. If we could up the ratio of Nemo/ Lion King/ Jungle Book we'd probably have an even more rounded world view. Even if we remain stuck in our current rut for a while, I suppose a princess phase is par for the course for a four year old in LA.

To offset the downside - those strange ideas P might be picking up about marriage - there is a significant benefit. It's the comedy value of her playing out the roles. Phrases she has shouted at me in public in recent weeks include:
'Mean stepmother, I need to go potty!' - at LAX, to the obvious amusement of those nearby.
'Gaston, I don't want to marry you because I love books!' - almost daily, usually when I pick her up from school.
'This is NOT your land!' - too true.
'The huns are on the move, prepare to fight!' - my personal favourite, yelled over our deck at passersby. 

Thursday, February 16, 2017

Cheesecake, glitter and balloons

It's the simple stuff. We celebrated P's birthday this weekend with five of her buddies from school, 50 balloons and about 3 pounds of glitter.

Last year P objected to seven peers as 'too many people'. Which suits us, as hiring a playspace for 20+ kids costs literally hundreds of dollars. Much more fun and almost as easy to do something at home, especially since this year we limited the guest list to just five. Less expensive too, one might imagine.

In an attempt to elevate her birthday from a completely unstructured playdate to something, well, with glitter, I headed Michael's, that mecca of crafting materials. I bought each guest a little wooden letter, and all sorts of stuff for them to stick on their wooden letters. A dozen pots of glitter, glitter glue, little tiny pom poms, paper flowers, sticky plastic gems - you name it, if you can stick it on a wooden letter I bought it.

We ordered a festival of balloons, and a little table and chairs so P and her girl gang could sit sweetly for a tea party. It was very sweet and very photogenic. The amount of time I spent making flower-shaped watermelon pieces, heart-shaped brownies, star-shaped sandwiches, and heavily frosted cupcakes was worth it for the six minutes those girls sat nicely and ate.

Note how not one of these guests observed the afternoon tea rules of 'savory first'. Barbarians. But cute ones. The highlight for P I think was the cheesecake she had been so excited to eat. She took hers down with glee, but her friends mostly just looked confused about this strange birthday cake format. Before long they returned to the far more exciting task of playing with someone else's toys.

The other highlight, for all the guests I think, was creating mountains and clouds of glitter on our deck. Thank god for a sunny SoCal February day which allowed us to keep the crafting outside. But who am I kidding?, that glitter still got everywhere. And now there will never not be glitter in our house.

When all's said and done, I'm not sure a party at home is a low cost effort - by the time I'd filled a cart at Michael's, and ordered all those party supplies we might as well have hired a play space. And low effort it certainly is not. But for the delight I saw on P's face, bombing around her house with her crew, sharing her toys and feeling like a gracious hostess, I think it was well worthwhile.

Monday, February 6, 2017

Minor celebrity status

I've achieved celebrity status, at least among the children of class P1. But forget 15 minutes  - my time in the spotlight was closer to ten.

P and her classmates have been 'studying' England this month. And yes, by studying I mean coloring English flags in (bet they're glad they didn't choose Mozambique), and listening to Paddington stories. As a native, I volunteered to come in and teach those kiddos a thing or two about England.

After a minor panic - what DO you teach a gaggle of three year olds about England, once they've covered the flag and Paddington Bear? - I settled on flash cards. British English on one side, and American English on the other.

I resisted the urge to tell them that in England, a trump is a fart. For the most part I stuck with nouns, like jumper and pavement and trainers. P insisted on the inclusion of 'cheerio' which I couldn't argue with. She helped me paint the pictures on the answer side. The idea was that the picture would allow them to shout the answer when they saw it, but I'm not sure our illustrations - between my poor drawing and her exuberant colouring - really clarified anything. Still, we had fun making them.
P at work (dressed as Belle, obvs)

And we had fun actually delivering this performance too. I had P help me with the cards, since she knew all the answers, which delighted her. Some of the kids put their hands up to answer some of the words. Some of those kids actually knew some of the answers. Out of the 12 cards I had, wellies, nappy and loo were easy answers. But plenty of them left the children looking confused (which wasn't really my intent). Some of the kids looked at me blankly as if to say 'what is P's mother doing in our teacher's seat?'

It was all over in about nine minutes. Which is a preparation:performance ratio of about 12:1. I enjoyed it, and P enjoyed it, but I wasn't sure it had all been worth all the effort.

Until the next day, at a kid's birthday party, when several of the parents came up and told me they'd heard all about my star turn (my phrase not theirs, but I think they were reaching for an expression along those lines). 'Oh it was nothing', I murmured, 'just a bit of fun'. But I clutched those accolades to me as tightly as an actress holding her Oscar.

Thursday, January 26, 2017


Since we moved here, and possibly since the dawn of time judging by the tone of letters into the Easy Reader and Daily Breeze, there have been debates about the future of Redondo pier. Locals are up in arms/vehemently in favour of a planned redevelopment, which replace a crumbling carpark and ugly pier with something altogether prettier.

The controversy around the redevelopment revolves around some very reasonable concerns - will there be enough parking, enough open space, enough access to the sea and views of the water, a place for the existing water users - paddle boarders and outriggers as well as yacht owners and fishing boats -  and so on.

Essentially the question is, will the character of the pier be retained? If by essential character they mean a proper old school slightly trashy day-at-the-beach flavour, I hope so. It's SoCal's answer to Whitby: incredibly fresh fish, snacks made entirely of coloured sugar, cheap thrills at the amusement arcade, and some old school bars. Old Tony's has been there since 1952, and I think hasn't redecorated in that time. But if it aint broke, don't fix it, and for a sunset beer with a sticky carpet underfoot it can't be beat. Quality Seafood at first glance is an oversized fish and chip shop, but they also sell great fish, and shellfish, not to mention sea urchin harvested in Santa Barbara. It was good enough for legendary LA chef and champion of street food, Roy Choi, so the crowds smashing crab on their concrete tables are in good company.  There are a couple of newer, not-so-trashy places to eat and drink too - King Harbor brewery for locally brewed, interesting beer, and A Basq Kitchen for legit Basque food.

But the essence of Redondo pier is fried food, sugary snacks and a trip around the amusements. P loves a lap around the amusement arcade, which is our first stop on the way to Quality Seafood. I give her four quarters to spend as she wishes and she takes four spins on an ancient carousel.

You'd think we'd leave after the money is spent, but it turns out she is just as happy pushing buttons and sitting in simulators which are flashing 'INSERT COINS TO PLAY' as she is on the 25c carousel. In fact, she is equally happy with the broken rides, or games, which have a piece of paper taped to the screen saying 'OUT OF ORDER'. The whole dark, decrepit place with its flashy lights and people who prefer being indoors when at the beach, just delights her.

Personally, I am always dying to get to get out of The Fun Factory. I like that it exists, but I don't want to be in there. It's creepy. Witness this old seesaw, which incidentally costs 25c to ride. Only in America would they find a way to monetize the seesaw.
I read recently that Old Tony's and Quality Seafood will be retained by the new owners, if the redevelopment goes ahead. But The Fun Factory was recently bought by the City, so the space can be given over to the shiny new 'mall by the sea' they have planned. If the redevelopment ever goes ahead, it could be curtains for the only mechanized seesaw left in the Western World.  P will be devastated to lose the amusements. However, I assume it'll be replaced by all manner of artisanal ice cream shops: ample consolation.

Thursday, January 19, 2017

The strange world of fake food, and the strange requests of an almost four year old

The dreams of a child - our child, at least - are beautifully modest. All P wants for her birthday is a toy cheesecake. For Christmas all she wanted was some tights, a new water bottle, and some tiny toy dishes. She got all of those things, and some other stuff too, but her favourite gift was the tiny toy dishes. That particular request was, I think, inspired by the Elf on the Shelf book:
'I'll listen to you. Tell me your wishes.
Would you like a game or some tiny toy dishes?'
Maybe the cheesecake is inspired by a lazy rhyme in some other kids' book. Maybe it's because she has been obsessed with cheesecake since she ate some at Thanksgiving - and had some more for breakfast the next day. In fact she has been quite insistent that her birthday cake be an actual cheesecake, so I guess her whole birthday theme is cheesecake. Given the current Disney princess obsession I think we should consider ourselves lucky. It could  be much worse.

The tiny toy dishes were scored for a few dollars from Amazon. A birthday cheesecake is easily made. But a toy cheesecake is surprisingly difficult to procure. P has been very clear that it must not have any berries or glaze on top. Which rules out this $34 option, thank goodness. Not that I'm being cheap - we'd be more than happy to spend $34 on some fantastic toy or game. It just seems excessive for a small plastic food item.

This one can be custom made, so I could ask them to take the berries off, but I balked at the price here too.
I'm glad I found it though. I spent a happy, bewildered twenty minutes surfing the incredible range of goods on Fake Food Japan. The specificity ('ginger flavoured grilled pork') and the options (do you want your fake kiwi sliced, diced, peeled or in a yoghurt?) sent me on an intoxicating surf session.

While clearly not aimed at 4 year olds, these aren't just for restaurateurs either.
In case you can't read it, this is a description for a $181 fake cake which says 'why not fool your friends with these good enough to eat replicas pound cakes the next time you are having a dinner party?' Why not, indeed.

After many hours of surfing, I found a woman who crafts clay Christmas ornaments in the shape of cheesecakes, cannolis, and macarons. That's quite a niche. For the princely sum of $10 she is making me a berry-free cheese cake. Goodness knows how she makes any money. Perhaps she does it for the love of the craft.

I'm very happy to be able to give P exactly what she wants for her birthday. And, for the millionth time I wonder, how did any one raise children before the internet?

Wednesday, January 11, 2017

The weather in LA is terrible. Especially when it's not that bad.

Well, that was rainy season I guess. It came and left in the space of about three weeks, with several days of rain across that time and some colder days too. We had enough rain to skip watering the plants on our deck, and for P to gleefully dig out her umbrella. There was enough rain in the rest of the state for the drought to be almost over (for now), although not enough in Los Angeles, apparently. And enough rain here for locals to joke about how poorly prepared for it we are. It got cold enough to switch the heating on, and even light a fire. Okay, at 15c maybe that was stretching it a bit, but we indulged ourselves.

I think most people here enjoyed the novelty and are glad to see we are going to enjoy some warmer, sunnier weather now. But I have not had enough. I have this burning nostalgia for cold air, pink cheeks, clouds of breath, slapping your arms together and stamping your feet for warmth, taking off several layers of clothing when you get indoors - but keeping thick socks and a nice warm jumper on.

Looks like they're having that sort of weather - and then some - in the UK right now. Listen, I'm not crazy. I wouldn't wish a 'thunderstorm' on anyone, nor would I want to experience one in person. But for sure I could handle some blustery days. The weather here is never ever bracing. Sigh.

It makes me sad to think that P has never really had that experience. When she was a baby and we lived in Saltburn we had to bundle her up, but that's long forgotten. And a few days up a Californian mountain every year or so won't really cut it either.
Remember woolly hats?
It's not that I want her to be cold. That's just mean. I think I just want her to be nostalgic about the same things I am nostalgic about. By that logic, I suppose I'd like her to know how it feels to sing folk songs round a campfire with the Girl Guides, or have calamine lotion rubbed onto sunburn, or eat cold rice pudding from a little glass dish, or other childhood memories that bring a lump to my throat. I may have read too much Brambly Hedge lately. But it's no good, I can't manufacture her memories, and she's going to grow up in a place with mild winters, the poor little mite.

TLOML told me today that being afraid for the future of the Affordable Care Act is not a good enough reason to move to the UK. I rather think he'd say the same about wanting to experience poor weather, only with even greater conviction.

I might just have to settle for a trip to the UK next winter. That's about as much as TLOML can handle to be honest, and he'll spend the whole time nostalgic for 25c and sunshine I know.