Tuesday, February 13, 2018

The joys of creating a flower fairy party. Who knew?!

Great leaders know it is better to bend like a willow than break like a mighty oak. It's true in parenthood too. When you meet resistance, when your child does not share your vision, it's better to adjust your course in the pursuit of peace and harmony.

So it is with P's birthday plans. TLOML and I had a grand vision for a large, fully outsourced party. Somewhere with plenty of capacity, so we could invite friends from her current school and her old school, and other friends we've made along the way. Somewhere we could just specify a theme and they'd take care of all the details. P briefly considered our suggestions of the climbing gym, ice-skating, or My Gym. But ultimately she decided against - and she was unshakeable.

Her vision, instead, was for a party at home. A fairy party, at that. I tried to persuade her to have a horse or safari theme just so it wasn't so painfully girly but no. She really wanted fairies. And so, like the wise willow, I bent.

And I didn't bend just a little. I have now moved heart and soul into the Land of the Flower Fairies. I've made fairy treasure for pass the parcel, and a 'pin the wings on the fairy' poster, and special Flower Fairy signs to welcome our guests. I'm practicing making leaves and flowers out of buttercream to decorate the cake. I've ordered pink staples so that when I attach the pink crepe paper flowers onto the green ribbon I'm going to wrap the bannisters in they won't show up. I'm planning a trip to the Los Angeles Flower Market to buy sprays of flowers, and I've hunted out the best green rugs from the local Goodwills (because what kind of Flower Fairies would hang out on hardwood floors?). Today I sorted Tootsie Rolls so we only have ones which match my colour scheme. No oranges or blues, obviously.
Fairy treasure aka beaded bracelets

I can improve on these leaves. Watch me. I just need to watch another couple of hours of Wilton's videos.

I can't believe I wanted to outsource this! I am enjoying all this crafting and shopping and decorating more than I ever would have imagined. I'd say I've spent almost as much time and invested easily as much ardour into P's 5th birthday party as into our wedding. Thanks to Amazon and Dollar Tree hopefully it will cost a little less. The ratio of hours of preparation effort to party time is about 10:1. But it's all pure joy in the making, and I could not be happier.

Monday, January 29, 2018

On new things under the sun

They say there's nothing new under the sun and one would think that was absolutely true of nature's bounty. But then the Americans started inventing new fruits, like pluots (a cross between a plum and and an apricot) and apriums (same, apparently, and no I am not kidding). Actually the Etruscans did it first, with broccoli, and the Japanese have a sort of mania for breeding different citrus fruits with nuanced but highly prized / priced differences. So it's not just the Americans.

But with the odd silly exception it's rare that one comes across a truly new fruit or vegetable. Short of traveling to an exotic land, and not counting subtle variations on familiar fruits and veg, I thought I'd seen it all. At least, as far as fruit and vegetables go.

And then I encountered the sunchoke. It's probably been around since the dawn of time but to me it is a whole new vegetable. I've seen it on menus and assumed it was just an American name for something I'd eaten before. Like zucchini (courgette), eggplant (much more appetizing when it's called aubergine), or cilantro (coriander).

But lo! The sunchoke is its own distinct and wonderful vegetable. And it doesn't taste like anything else I've ever eaten. It looks, at least in the meal I was eating, like a knobbly potato. It tasted like a cross between a parsnip and a leek, and also at the same time completely different to those vegetables. Here's a picture of some sunchokes on a salad, which is how I first met them.

Apparently this startlingly exciting new vegetable is also known as a Jerusalem Artichoke - which rings a bell as something I may have read about in a Guardian recipe or ignored in Earth Natural Foods.

I'm still counting it as a new discovery. I see it on menus all the time here in sunny, healthy SoCal. And what a nice thing it is, to discover I'm not too old to have discovered all the good stuff  just yet. I wonder what other exciting foods there are out there. (Still not ready to embrace bone broth and kombucha though).

Thursday, January 11, 2018

The great transatlantic gift tag chasm

On our festive flying visit to the UK, I was struck as ever by some transatlantic differences. Here’s a little nugget you may never have considered.

Some people – and it’s honestly not just my family – make gift tags out of the previous year’s Christmas cards. They cut out the nice bits of the picture from the front of the card to make little cards, and write on the reverse. I suppose if they’re feeling really fancy they could punch a hole in and tie them on with ribbon, but otherwise they just get taped on to the present.

I was thinking about what a nice little project that was. Just the sort of thing P and I like to do – it involves making piles of things, looking at pictures and cutting stuff out (witness our snowflakes on Instagram for more evidence of her love of cutting paper). It’s also something we can do while I drink coffee and flick through a magazine. Ideal!

Then it struck me that I’ve never seen an American give a present with a recycled gift tag on it. It could be because they wouldn’t match the wrapping paper. But not everyone cares that much about co-ordinated gift wrap, so it’s probably not that. It’s more likely to be because they would consider it a bit of a waste of effort, given that you can buy gift tags for very little money. Of course by that way of thinking no-one would ever make anything they could buy, and Michael’s would be out of business, and the world would be a poorer place for it. Anyway, I don’t think that’s the reason.

The real reason Americans don’t recycle their Christmas cards is completely unrelated to profligacy or a love of co-ordination. It’s blindingly obvious. It’s because all their Christmas cards have pictures of people they know on them.

By contrast, almost all the cards sent by Brits are shop-bought and hand-written.
My parents' display this year
38 out of the 39 cards we received from Americans had family photos on them. Often so carefully styled and retouched as to look like a professional effort, but look closer –those aren’t models, they are real people!
A sampling of our cards from American friends

How weird would it be to cut out pictures of little Lulu from pre-school and her baby brother and stick that on a Christmas present next year? I’m tempted to try it just to find out.

Saturday, January 6, 2018

Festive travels with P

After a fabulous Hermosa Christmas, P and I jetted off to the UK for just over a week. It was a little experiment in ‘travels with P’, to see how we fared on a long haul trip without TLOML. He loves my family and my homeland but not quite as much as I do, so we spared him the British winter weather, and the hours inside doing jigsaws on dark afternoons. I was a little trepidatious about the 20 something hour trip (flying straight up to North Yorkshire after our LAX to LHR flight) but we didn’t encounter any problems some M&Ms and an ipad couldn’t solve.
And it was totally, absolutely and completely worth it. Everything I wanted, and more. Plenty of goofing around with cousins, playing with aunts, uncles and grandparents for P. Mince pies, decent cheese, bread and chocolate for me. We had some muddy walks, fish and chips on the sea front on New Year’s Day, and even a little snow. P’s delight at seeing misty breath – ‘look mummy! That dog has smoke coming out of its mouth!’ – and moss, something she mostly sees in Brambly Hedge stories, was priceless. And I got to enjoy some fine evenings of conversation and vino collapso with my lovely sisters and a couple of very dear friends. Bliss.
'Look mummy! Moss!'

Just enough snow for a snowball fight with cousins
I hope by exposing P to a slice of British winter to continue her education as a Brit. Albeit a Californian Brit. But as we stepped out into the Valley Gardens, she looked in horror at the muddy path she was walking on and wailed ‘Mummy what is this we are standing on!?’, I realised we still have a long way to go. I’m not sure I want to abandon TLOML every New Year, but a trip along these lines may have to be repeated at some point. For P, you understand (nothing to do with the bread, cheese, and vino collapso at all).

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.