Wednesday, December 20, 2017

Behold! Everything is brighter and more dazzling!

Nice try, Britain, but no cigar. As in so many other areas, the US busts your ass when it comes to large scale, over the top celebrations.

There are a couple of candy cane lanes (i.e. self-styled festive light shows) near us. Last week we went to the streets in Torrance known - probably just by estate agents, but still - as Sleepy Hollow, to witness their 'Christmas Lights Extravaganza'.

Extravaganza is not too grandiose a term. Every house for several blocks is festooned with masses of lights. This substandard picture (sorry, but in my defense I think only a drone could capture the scale of this thing) shows just one block out of probably ten which get involved.
Obviously it's mainly about the lights, but lots of houses also have traditional festive displays like Nativity scenes and illuminated ferris wheels carrying soft toys. Wait, what? Yes, the people who live there are completely nuts - possibly driven nuts by the flashing lights and hordes of sightseers? - and some of the decorations make no sense. Snoopy in a hot air balloon, a Chicago Cubs billboard, lots of it is just a bunch of random stuff people put outside with lights on and call it Christmassy.

The whole effect certainly is festive though. And the spirit of giving is alive and well. There were cheerleaders selling hot chocolate to raise money for some cheer related charity, and a guy dressed as santa taking donations for a cancer fundraiser. Then there are all the cars (albeit unwittingly) giving the gift of a free ride to the local skater kids, making the most of the opportunity to 'skitch' on the slow moving vehicles circling their neighbourhood.

Here's a good example of a participating house, with a captivated P gazing in wonder. Mind you we also saw her gazing in wonder at a pile of bin bags, so I guess she lost all her limited critical faculties in the dazzling lights.
Here's another example. This is a house who got into the true spirit of Christmas. I bet they tut at all their neighbours' Simpsons cut outs and Christmas trees made of minions.
It's hard to read but in the left of this picture you can see a sign. It says 'Christmas waves a magic wand over this world, and behold, everything is softer and more beautiful'. Or, as I would put it, 'Christmas sends the people of this neighbourhood completely bonkers and behold, everything is very brightly lit and a bit over stimulating.'

As usual my sarcasm is a thinly veiled attempt to appear more jaded than I am. I think we all know I'll be back next year, with bells and probably a light up Christmas jumper on.

Thursday, December 14, 2017

When is a wilderness not a wilderness?

When it contains a drinking fountain, picnic tables and slabs of cement, I suppose.

On driving by Wilderness Park, seeing that name on a sign, and some overgrown shrubs escaping a chainlink fence, my hopes were raised. It did look small, but also fairly wild. I took TLOML and P there promising adventure, and a good pine cone harvest.

Perhaps the map in the parking lot should have been my first clue. That's a lot of pathway and campsite for a handkerchief sized wilderness. But maybe, I thought, that's a wide, dirt path surrounded by swathes of beautiful, rampant nature.

Then again, maybe not. There was more concrete than dirt at Wilderness Park. There were almost as many breeze block toilet structures as large trees.

'Look, P, it's just like being in Yorkshire. There's a tree!'
'...and a water fountain'.

A babbling brook, this is not:

Lesson learned. Next time I'm in search of untamed, green, natural beauty (and we're not in Yorkshire) we'll just head to Terranea.

The good news: the pine cone harvest was very good.

Wednesday, December 6, 2017

Leaving the bubble

We spent Thanksgiving in Georgia, with a wing of TLOML's family. It was a long overdue trip and we had a really good time reconnecting, eating well and yes, feeling thankful.

I was prepared for some culture shocks. I had let P know that it would be a bit colder than LA. I also knew we'd be in the land of subdivisions. For my Brits, a subdivision is a housing development. They're strung out along highways between areas of undeveloped land (actual nature - trees and hills and so on) and are the polar opposite to the urban density we and P are used to. I knew we were leaving the liberal left leaning 'resist' mindset of California for #MAGA land. But a little difference of opinion never hurt anyone, so that didn't worry me any. I also knew - and welcomed - the fact that we'd be trading kale salads and Jamba Juice for Dairy Queen and Waffle Houses. That's good stuff.

But I really never thought I'd see a see saw. Nor one of those dangerous roundabouts the sight of which still makes me wince - the kind you can fly off, or be dragged around half-on-half-off, or be screaming 'stop I want to get off!" while some bigger kid sees how fast they can spin it.

I thought they were banned across America, the land of the brave, free and litigious. You certainly never see such perilous equipment in California. Here, the seesaws and roundabouts have curved seats - kind of like arm chairs -  which hug children of all abilities safely, as their friends indulge in some co-operative play and propel them smoothly and conscientiously.
P would have been on this thing all day if we'd let her

Scream if you want to get off/ go faster!

But no, it's only us softy coastal elites who've banned those deathtraps. This excellent playground in Cumming, GA had both a proper seesaw and a proper roundabout - and was all the better for it. Georgia - making playgrounds great again. Is #MPGA a thing?

Thursday, November 30, 2017

Isadora Watts, 'author'

When I started this blog, one of my aims was to improve my writing through frequent practice. Another was to establish a small readership, which might help me find a publisher for my proper writing. I used to want to be an actual writer, you see. I have had a couple of agents over the years, for a couple of different projects, but they were unable to find a publisher. Still I did have some good feedback from people who know about these things. I suppose I'm saying I think my writing is decent. And for a while it seemed I might make something of it.

Then parenthood happened. And life filled up. I still want to write, but I'm quite happy pootling along with my blog. And yet, those manuscripts I worked so hard on all those years ago are still sitting there - shimmering with promise, fully completed, proofed and ready for consumption.

Well, what a time it is for a half-hearted, used-to-have-dreams, writer to be alive. In the space of a couple of evenings in front of Anne with an E (good, but eminently multi-taskable), I dusted off those manuscripts and put them online. And now I have an Amazon/ Kindle author page all of my own - Isadora Watts, 'author' - like a real actual writer!

Anyway, if you like my blog, you might like my novels. Erosion follows events in the lives of a liberal London family during the summer of 2003, against a backdrop of war in Iraq and an outraged public. The family were solid once, but their moral code has worn down over time. Now they struggle to resist the temptations and distractions life puts in their way. At the heart of the family, and the story, is Julia, who rather likes temptation, and barely puts up a fight at all.  The Book of Ruth is a retelling of a Bible story about the lengths a desperate woman will go to secure safe haven in a new country.

Please check them out. If you do like them, please leave a positive review. You never know where this little self-publishing lark could take me. I guess I do still have some dreams after all.

Tuesday, November 21, 2017

Beating the traffic but losing the game

'Join us at the opera', we said, quite smugly, to a friend visiting from out of town. 'We've got great seats and we know the perfect place for a late dinner after the performance'.

We've enjoyed probably seven or eight productions at the LA Opera in the past couple of years, and we think we've got it down to a fine art. After a couple of stressful trips, battling rush hour and rushing through labyrinthine parking structures to make our seats in time, we have figured out the best exit off the 110, the best way to cut through Downtown LA during rush hour and the optimum parking spot. Not just the best lot, but the best corner of that lot so that we minimize walking (and rushing). Now we know, too, which seats are nearest the best exits for the loo. So we think we've pretty much nailed the whole opera experience.

After the show we always go to Kendall's. It's right underneath the opera house, and popular with the LA Opera company. We like the pile of instruments that stack up by the door, and the musicians in varying degrees of black tie. But we have at times had to take a table in the section far away from the bar, which doesn't have the same vibe. So now we leave the opera rather promptly, in order to secure the best seats at the bar.

Yes, I'm afraid we've become those annoying people who leave before the applause ends. We do stay for the first round of bows, of course. But we are out of our seats and down the stairs while the performers are still on the stage. I used to think it was bad form, but it's worth it for those great bar seats. For example, last week we sat next to Morris Robinson, having just seen him belting it out as Zaccaria in Nabucco.

That was the same night that we got our comeuppance. It turns out it is not always smart to leave before the final curtain. Sometimes we are too clever for our own good. And that annoying LA desire to beat the traffic should sometimes be resisted.

It transpires that at the end of the performance, the entire house join in to sing the fabulous, rousing 'Chorus of the Hebrew Slaves'. It is my absolutely favorite piece from any opera (I know, not that surprising, it's a crowd pleaser). I love to sing, especially with other people - blame it on my choir girl days. An entire opera house full of people singing my favorite piece - the thought of it almost brings to me tears. And while all that was going on, we and our poor trusting house guest were congratulating ourselves for having placed our cocktail and supper order in good time. Ugh! We've become the worst kind of Los Angeleno.

I'd like to say I've learned my lesson. But I suspect we'll still try to head out before the final curtain. After all, most performances don't involve such a bonus. Which of course makes it all the more once-in-a-lifetime, and all the more galling. As Thoreau has it 'to regret deeply is to live afresh'. So we'll probably enjoy that perfect spot at the bar even more, at least.

Monday, November 13, 2017

Faux vintage

About a month ago TLOML, P and I headed up to the Central Coast for the weekend. We had 'won' a wine tasting and lunch at Tablas Creek, in Paso Robles at a charity auction (I'm not sure buying a fancy lunch is truly a prize, hence the quote marks). We decided to make a weekend out of it, as I am British and feel that driving for more than three hours is unacceptable for one night away.

I've wanted to visit Ojai since I first saw an article about it in Sunset magazine. There's nothing like Sunset magazine for making you want to visit some artisan enclave. So I bamboozled TLOML into thinking it's on the way to Paso Robles (as he discovered, it's really not).

Ojai is just as beautiful as I had expected. And that pink mountain sunset is just gorgeous. It's a town full of hippies, I think, based on the artisanal honey tasting rooms, the fact that chain stores are banned, and the protesters with 'ban the bomb' placards. I'm not kidding - and they were being honked supportively by most of the Subarus that drove by.
Friday night in Ojai
Formerly known as Nordhoff, Ojai rebranded itself during WWI, as anti-German feeling grew. Around the same time, following a fire, the town was rebuilt along Spanish Colonial Revival lines. Colonial Revival architecture itself was a bit of a pastiche: a 20th century attempt to recreate a style of building in use in the Spanish Missions of over 100 years earlier.

All the buildings in downtown Ojai have to fit that mould, and chain stores (except banks and petrol stations) are prohibited. Banning the big chains and maintaining a strictly uniform building code makes for a very charming main street. Between dinner, ice cream and morning coffee we patronized three different, interesting, locally owned businesses.

But stretching that Colonial Revival style still further to accommodate, for example, 21st century gas stations and supermarkets, starts to feel more than a little bit phoney. I wrote about this last year when we visited Santa Barbara, another triumph of 'historical' preservation over diversity and innovation.
Ye olde Chevron garage
 Although when it looks this pretty, who really cares?

Speaking of phoney, on our way back from Paso Robles we stopped at Solvang. It's another town I'd been curious about, having heard it described as a Danish town. How Danish can it be, nestled in the Santa Ynez valley, I wondered?

Quite Danish, it turns out. It is apparently a great place to buy clogs - and the pastries there were the best I've ever had in the US.

But it's a peculiar slice of Danish culture. Solvang was built in 1911 by a group of Danish settlers. Eager to maintain their traditions they built in the sixteenth century style - which is rather an odd thing to do in the twentieth century. Half-timbered buildings abound, as if steel, plate glass and concrete had never been invented.

As a Brit I find it all rather unsettling. spending time in these fake old places. In London you can stick any tatty old shop on the front of what might once have been a rather attractive Georgian (Victorian? Whatever... rest assured it's older than Solvang) terrace.
We had a lovely weekend in those charming spots, but it was something of a relief to return to scruffy, determinedly non-uniform Hermosa.

Tuesday, November 7, 2017

Converts are the best evangelists

It's true of ex-smokers and I believe it's also true of Halloween dodgers. Readers of this blog since the early days will know that I have shifted my position from scoffing at the US mania for Halloween, to grudgingly embracing it, and more recently, really getting into it.

I don't even bat an eyelid at the fact my gym was closed from noon 'for the Halloween holiday'. Nor do I grumble at the cost of P's Dorothy costume. It's not the dress, it's the ruby slippers, Toto-in-a-basket and the full wig - it all adds up. If you're going to be a bear, be a grizzly, I suppose. So I kitted myself out as Glenda the Good Witch, and TLOML got a scarecrow costume, and for the first time ever we did a full family costume.

I kept saying 'we don't normally do this, you know' and 'I've never done this before!' but I think I maybe protested too much. I obviously loved it and I am totally down for whatever creative vision P dreams up next year. It turns out it's fun to dress up for Halloween! Those silly Yanks must have been on to something this whole time.

In another first, we went to a grown up Halloween party. A first for me, at least. TLOML, like anyone else who spent their drinking years in the US, has many years of experience of such events - and an Elvis costume that's a proven crowd-pleaser. I cut my dressing up teeth at artsy, ironic fancy dress parties in North West London, and I used that experience to good effect when planning my costume. No sexy cat woman or naughty cop outfit for me: I went as a murderous bitch with frizzy hair.
Again, I thought we pretty much nailed it - although fewer than 1 in 6 people got the Fatal Attraction reference without prompting.

In case you're wondering, yes, I did get my fluffy white bunny from P's toy collection. No, I didn't ask her. And when she asked me why I had red stuff on my dress I told her I was going to trick people into thinking I'd dropped jam on my front, which would be a hilarious gag. She looked rightly sceptical. Next year I might just dress as cat woman, it makes more sense to more people.

That's right, I'm already thinking about next year - looking forward to it, even. From doubter to fan in just a few years. What with my new love of baseball, and now this Halloween fever this country is really changing me. I hardly dare tell my old British friends what I now think of washing machines in kitchens and teeth that aren't perfectly straight.

Monday, October 30, 2017

It's not cricket

...but I think I like it.

TLOML has told me many times that he thinks I'd like baseball, since I love cricket.  Like a bereaved cat owner who refuses to get a new kitten - because the old, beloved cat simply can't be replaced - I nodded politely and did nothing about it. One day we had a minor spat because I claimed baseball didn't 'have as much to it' as cricket, which he angrily rebuffed, and after that we didn't really talk about it.

Then the LA Dodgers made it into the 2017 World Series, so everyone started talking about it and in classic LA fashion wearing Dodgers t-shirts like they'd been mad keen fans all along.

Then there was a Friday night game, and pizza, and P was in bed, and suddenly a window of time opened up in which I could sit and watch. Sunday's game went into extra innings, giving me a little extra study time.

TLOML explained the game to me, and I tried to learn a confusing new language: batters for batsmen I get, but how is a no ball a 'ball'? Makes no sense.

I soon started to see the parallels between baseball and cricket. The way you see the batters' (batsmen) nerves written in the way they adjust their helmet or fiddle with their gloves. The skill in a delivery that looks like it's not worth playing and then curves in. The athleticism in fielding, and running. The way it's a team game made up of a series of solitary pursuits.

TLOML was right: I do like baseball! I actually think I might come to love it.
If you squint it almost looks like cricket
I will say that I stand by my 'it doesn't have as much to it' statement. The ball doesn't bounce, and it can only be hit across that diamond shape, so already half the variables that make cricket interesting are removed. No aging of the ball, no overnight roller request to strategize. Plus the games are so damn short - only three or four hours!

Silliest of all is that they don't play the entire series. Once a team has an unassailable lead, they stop. At the time of writing the Houston Astros lead 3 games to 2. If they win tonight, they secure the title and the series is over. For the uninitiated (poor you), cricket test match series are always played in their entirety, even if they end in a 7-0 whitewash. Like every Dodger fan, I'm rooting for a seven game series. Not just because I want to see the Dodgers win, but because I'm not ready for it to be over just yet.

As I said, it's not cricket, but I like it. I just wish there was a bit more to it.

Monday, October 9, 2017

Football fever

I’m a huge NFL fan now. I even call football ‘soccer’. The NFL is back in Los Angeles with the return of the St Louis Rams and the San Diego Chargers. Confused, Brits? Remember when Wimbledon moved to Milton Keynes and became the MK Dons? It’s kinda like that. NFL teams are corporate entities, which choose their location based on the economic benefits. For about twenty years it worked out for the Rams to be in St Louis. Then it became more appealing to be back in LA – just at the same time as the Chargers decided to relocate.

Thus, in 2016 LA went from a city with zero teams to one with two. It had struck me as odd that LA, the 2nd biggest city in the US, didn’t have its own football team. But LA is not a good city for football: everyone leaves at half time because of the traffic. The Rams may have been better off in St Louis when (respectfully) they were the biggest show in town, and they could fill a stadium with truly dedicated fans as opposed to a bunch of flakey shysters.

Anyway the LA Rams are here. And until their gleaming new stadium is built and season tickets become exorbitantly expensive, they're playing at the Coliseum, for which we have season tickets. TLOML bought them so he could watch his beloved Redskins play as much as for the Rams, which is a classic LA NFL fan move.
The Coliseum is apparently regarded as a decrepit stadium, long past its shelf life. I shudder to think what the people who say that would make of Lord’s. To me, those Olympic torches and those Greek (Roman? Post Modernist?) columns are quite splendid. And it’s big! It holds 93k, which would make for an amazing spectating experience if only the place wasn’t half empty because all the fans are stuck on the 10.
Note the proportion of Washington Redskins fans (red shirts). Because LA.
Speaking of big, so are some of the fans. You don’t see this much in health conscious Hermosa but these two fans – who sit in front of TLOML’s seats – are a good example. 

They buy an extra seat to accommodate their girth and their snacks. Lucky for whoever sits behind and can use it as a footrest.

Despite my opening claim, I actually still can’t follow the action in an American football game. I’ll probably stick with proper football, where there actually IS always some action, and you can always see where the ball is. But I’ve enjoyed my taste of the NFL, and I won’t begrudge TLOML his chance to see some big games in that lovely old crock of a stadium. Apparently when they move to the new stadium season tickets will be extortionate – so we might be back to watching the Redskins lose on our TV at home.

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.