Monday, May 2, 2016

Saying thanks

It's Teacher Appreciation Week this week. That's right, all week. Gone are the days when a simple apple would suffice. Or some dusty old pot pourri at Christmas. The US teachers unions have decided that simply isn't good enough any more and demanded a full week of appreciation.

Okay, I'm not sure it was the teachers union. And since this isn't a Hallmark holiday we can excuse the greetings card lobby too. Still, someone somewhere decided it was necessary and so, here we are.

Today Lady P took 3 flowers to school, one for each of the teachers. Tomorrow she will dress as a princess, to make them feel like queens for a day. On Wednesday she will take them handmade cards (with gift cards enclosed). On Thursday she'll dress as a a super hero, because teachers are heroes so that is the theme. On Friday she will wear her favourite teacher's favourite colours.

Some of the more involved (aka SAH) mums are taking in breakfasts and lunches for the teachers too. All of this organized by our parent co-ordinator, who does an outstanding job taking care of the school's desire to enrich everyone's lives and mark every 'holiday', while minimizing demands on the parents. And really although the tasks this week sound like a lot, they don't take much effort.

When I first got the letter (especially the attachment listing our teachers' favourite lunch orders) I was pretty snarky about this whole appreciation week shebang. 'No-one brings me lunch while I'm doing the job I'm paid to do', I grumbled. Though TLOML pointed out that sometimes he actually does. When it comes down to it, I do really appreciate the work our teachers do. They are getting paid to show up and do a good job but they go a long way beyond that and give Lady P an awful lot of love and happiness every day. So if some sweet little gestures this week make them feel valued, I'm all for it. Otherwise it might have ended up with me giving them that lame Christmas gift. Thank goodness for life's organizers, who let the rest of us just show up and go along with it all.

On the same theme, about a month ago Lady P (with my 'guidance') wrote a thank you note to the nurses and doctor who took such great care of her in February when she sliced her head open. She always tells people she was playing on a construction site, which makes us look bad - it was, in fact, the climbing frame at school. Anyway it was a deep cut which has now, thanks to some tidy stitches, healed very neatly indeed. In the UK I think people often write a thank you note to a doctor or nurse. My sister, who is an NHS physio, is always getting presents from her patients. But I don't think it's such common practice here. Is that because in the UK we are all so incredibly grateful for the NHS? Quite right too - but I don't intend to stop with the gratitude just because of the idiotic healthcare funding situation here. After all, US nurses aren't paid significantly more than their UK peers. Some US doctors are coining it in (the specalists and surgeons) but they are burdened with medical school debts which might take some of the joy out of cashing that pay cheque.

I suppose whether or how much someone gets paid is beside the point anyway. Whether its socially prescribed, culturally ingrained, or purely spontaneous, it can't ever be a bad thing to say thank you. Bring on the appreciation weeks and stock up on thank you notes!

Monday, April 25, 2016

And now my diamond shoes are too ... dusty

As the weather gets warmer (from the bitter depths of 15c we have suffered through this winter) I am reminded again of one of the biggest downsides to life in Hermosa Beach.

This is the combined effect of two factors:
1) Flip flops or sandals are a must here from April to November. Its too warm and too darn beachy for closed toes.
2) We walk along the Greenbelt to get to most places – downtown, to see friends, to go to the park. And the Greenbelt is paved with woodchip and dirt.
Hence: dirty dirty feet. My feet are never clean. They are somewhere between mildly dusty or absolutely filthy at all times.
That diagonal stripe of dirt is semi-permanent, April-November

And dirty flip flops too.
This is AFTER I washed them. They will never be clean again.

I don't know what the solution is. A deeper tan? I’ll try but I’m really not made that way. Darker flipflops? I’ve tried that too - but my new red ones already look as grubby as last year's neon yellow. Closed shoes? Never. Not in this weather.

No, I think it’s just a cross I’ll have to bear. Another heartbreaking story of life in Hermosa Beach.

Thursday, April 14, 2016

Can the customer experience ever be too good?

Customer service in the US is famously better than it is in the UK. So much so that it takes a bit of getting used to. Shop assistants barely even pause texting to look up when you enter most high street shops, and British waiters are experts in studiously avoiding eye contact. Meanwhile over here they accost you with offers of help from the moment you walk in, which can be alarmingly. Even after you've shopped they throw out a ‘Need help to your car, ma’am?’.

So far, so clichéd. I always thought the British were underserved by the cliché though. The family who ran my old corner shop were always very friendly, for what it's worth. And the customer service in John Lewis is usually brilliant.

Still, I don’t think there is anything in the UK to match the experience TLOML and I just had at a shop called Pirch, which claims to purvey joy. No, really.

Thanks to an unreliable oven and a juicy insurance cheque, we are in the market for a new range. Our house came fitted with a 48” Thermador, from which it is rather difficult to retreat. I mean, we’re not going to take it out and replace it with something smaller, for starters. What would we put in the gap, after all? It turns out there’s no such thing as a budget 48” range, and if there were, it would probably affect our home’s value. Frankly if your real estate listing doesn’t call out a Thermador, Wolf or Viking range you might just as well spraypaint ‘tear down’ on the front of the house.

Therefore we are in the market for a fancy range. And therefore we went to a fancy shop. We went to a mall in Orange County that looks like this:

Jjust as an aside, heres how the Farmers like to purvey their goods down in the OC (puts the trestle tables of Saltburn's farmers' market to shame somewhat):

I think the farmers were out on the golf course they day we visited

Anyway, back to Pirch and the reason for our visit. As you walk through the fancy schmancy doors, you are greeted with an offer of coffee – freshly ground and made to order. Then an actual chef talked us through how he would could what with which range, and did a little steam oven demo. They offered us a test drive: a trial run cooking on the ovens in the store (with foods their chef had prepped – no need for us to chop or peel, obvs). I'm not sure I could cope with cooking in a kitchen this pristine, so I declined.

They had a chicken on a rotisserie which I think if we’d wanted we could have helped ourselves to.
That's TLOML's nose. I cropped out the drool.
All the appliances are wired and plumbed in. In fact I think you can even use the loo or take a shower if you want.

It was actually rather overwhelming. TLOML didn’t even want to look at the wine fridges, which is how I knew it was all a bit much for him. We shuffled out feeling drained and somehow not entirely full of joy. We really do need a new range, and it does need to be a posh one - but I’m not sure we really needed the Pirch experience. Does anyone?

Tuesday, April 5, 2016

The most wonderful time of the year (is over)

I may be a little out of the loop down here in the South Bay bubble but I'm not talking about Christmas. No, according to TLOML the most wonderful time of the year is March Madness: the college basketball tournament which whittles 32 teams down to one winner over the course of  a couple of weeks and over 30 games.

Because it's a knock out, it's a bit like the FA cup in that there are giant killers and upsets along the way. And it's intense, with many game packed into a short space of time. Lots of people draw up brackets, where you predict who's going to win each game. Drawing up your bracket, talking about who's in your bracket, constantly checking your bracket predictions is a big part of life during March Madness.
TLOML's bracket, which unsurprisingly beat mine
It is almost all some people can think about, resulting in (according to some) billions of dollars of lost productivity. March Madness certainly kept us entertained, and we watched games at home, at friends' houses, over happy hour drinks in local bars - it's on wherever you go.

The funny thing is, these aren't even professional teams. This is a university competition. Can you imagine anything like this level of attention being paid to the British University Football League, say? Let alone the netball league (for I believe - much to TLOML's exasperation - that netball is our closest equivalent. Back me up on this, it's fun to see him riled). With the exception of that anachronistic anomaly the Oxford vs Cambridge boat race, college sports are not televised events.

But here they are huge commercial enterprises, generating income for the universities and creating an incredible opportunity for talented players. Just don't ask too many questions about how they balance their academic commitments with their life as a fulltime baller... No matter, the most important thing is they provide top quality sporting entertainment for rest of us to enjoy. Even as a habitual phone-in-hand watcher of sports, I was gripped by the final this year in which TLOML's beloved Tar Heels lost out to surprise victors Villanova in the final seconds of the game. Just watch the last 30 seconds of the game if you don't believe me. Great telly! Maybe the UK is missing out... time to start that televised netball league?

Wednesday, March 30, 2016

A low key home spun English Easter

Last Easter we had my sister and her family staying with us. Along with their time at Disneyland, in Hollywood and Santa Monica pier, it seemed fitting to give them a 'go big or go home' Easter. So we went to that massive bunfight of an Easter Egg hunt in Valley Park. I found it all a bit much.

So this year we dialled it way down.  Our Easter was so low key and home spun as to be positively English. First we made hot cross buns (for lack of being able to find them on sale here), which takes hours and for somewhat limited reward since they still weren't as nice as Sainsburys. Ah well, it was still an enriching and educational experience for Lady P.

Then on Easter Day we went to the local Episcopalian church, and came home for an egg hunt on our deck.

First of all as you can see, our deck is a pretty easy terrain for hunting.
And the prey was no great shakes either: about two dozen eggs, each filled with one or two sweets - marshmallow bunnies and little chocolate eggs. Almost mean, I know. But it was enough.

By the way, I bought the smallest pack of Robin's Eggs and marshmallow bunnies I could find, and used less than a quarter of the bag. I guess some people have more families to feed. But please tell me no-one is giving an entire pack of eggs out to a single child? The fools! We kept Lady P happy for an entire week munching her way through those eggs.

Long may these easily-pleased years last.