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.

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?