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.