Tuesday, November 29, 2016

Thankful for Thanksgiving

And thankful for a successful do-over. Our return to the Bay Area was free from delays, brushes with crime, disappointing catering, and any of the other minor troubles that befell us last time.

Instead we had a great time catching up with TMOML's lovely cousin and her equally lovely husband at the scene of the crime. We ate a fantastic Thanksgiving dinner, to which I only made a very small contribution (the gravy, to be precise). Given the fact we devoured cheesecake for breakfast on Black Friday, it was probably for the best that we were not encumbered with leftovers, too.

Later that day we had dim sum, during which P complained 'too steamy' at the arrival of every dish, and watched Cinderella on my phone whilst eating banana chips. Not quite the enriching experience we had hoped for her, but the grown ups had a great time.

Then we headed into the city. We stayed at The Fairmont, all bedecked with Christmas decorations, about which I have successfully trained P to say 'it's too early!' already. So I enjoyed hearing her saying that a lot. We also judged the hotel for making a pretend gingerbread house ('I don't think this is all really gingerbread, mummy, I think some of this is wood'). We wandered around Grace Cathedral, rode on a cable car, and visited the excellent Exploratorium.

We didn't get to see quite everyone we would have liked, but we had quality time with those we managed to catch. It was so fun to take P to see one of our favourite cities. And we ate and drank very well. I loved it all, but think my personal highlight may just have been the perfect Manhattan I drained in the Fairmont bar, while P chomped happily on chicken tenders.

And her highlight? 'Eating cheesecake for breakfast', apparently. A fitting verdict on a food-oriented trip, I suppose.

Thursday, November 17, 2016

Hosts with the mosts for the guests with the bests

Not sure the title quite works, but go with me here. I'm talking about the challenge of hosting house guests who  - as well as being dear, old friends - have previously welcomed us with impeccable hospitality.

I've visited these dear old friends, who also happen to be two of the best people I know, in various places (because they live abroad for work). On visiting them in Tallin, they planned boat trips to Helsinki, Medieval breakfasts involving brandy, incredible Estonia spa treatments, and walking tours of the charming old city. Staying with them in Dubai, they took me camping in the desert, on a dhow trip around the fjord-like Musandam peninsula, and we sailed around the Burj. And these are just the highlights.

So, no pressure then. What can sleepy little Hermosa offer, in return? The worst of it is, they've already visited once. So we've strolled the Strand, had ice cream from the Creamery, all that nice local stuff.

The best I could think of was trip to Downtown LA. We took in The Broad, in its gorgeous new space, with a fun collection of contemporary art which is happily not too big (is it bad that I think of that as a plus?). They loved it. Then we walked a couple of blocks - past the novelty of the world's most ridiculous tramway, Angel's Flight - to Grand Central Market for a juice and lunch at Eggslut. The walk back to the car took us through the civic center, and past the Walt Disney concert hall, which rounded out our downtown tour nicely.

...and hipster egg sandwiches 

It was a good halfday, but that was it. All my chips were down. What else did Hermosa have to offer?

I know. It seems obvious now.

So for the rest of their stay, we made the most of the final blast of summer sun, and our beloved guests whiled away their time very happily at the beach. Phew. Challenge met. And I think they'll be visiting again.

Thursday, November 3, 2016

It was the best of times, and the worst of times

We've been meaning to go up to San Francisco as a family since we moved back in 2014. Goodness knows why it took us so long: we were so looking forward to seeing friends in the Bay Area, and taking P to see the city. P was bursting with excitement, asking every day for about a week before we left 'are we going to San Francisco today?', and waking up at 6am on the day we left shouting 'Let's go to San Francisco RIGHT NOW!'.

The best bits were pretty great. Quality time with friends, and some fun stuff in the city: a killer lunch in the Ferry Building, a ride on a street car, and looking up at tall buildings with awe (P more so than us, I hasten to add). On driving into the city, P said 'Is this San Francisco? Where are all the rides?', at which point we realized she thought it was some kind of theme park. A drive down Lombard Street, and across the Golden Gate bridge, and that street car ride were positioned as 'rides', which seemed to do the trick.
 I suspect her highlight was the playground, but that's OK. We all had a good time.
But the worst bits, well, they were a bit of a downer. The house we were staying was burgled, so we spent an afternoon helping the police instead of hanging out with friends. Then our flight back was delayed by five hours, due to bad weather, meaning we got back really late and just feeling rather grumpy.

It was a curate's egg of a weekend - and we'd waited for so long for it. So I demanded a do-over. We are going to head back up for Thanksgiving. Fingers crossed crime and fog will give us a wide berth and we can have the wholly fun time we've promised ourselves. I just hope now P knows it's not Disneyland, she is as excited for the return trip.

Friday, October 21, 2016

Home improvement

When we bought our house last year - our first proper, grown-up, permanent family home (yes, we are late bloomers) - we did a fair amount of redecorating. Pretty much every surface was stripped or sanded and refinished in some way.

But we had to stop spending at some point. So we took a pause and made a list of projects we would return to in 2016.

On the list:
  • New bannisters - to replace the weird, wavy silver ones 
  • Painting the exterior - because why would you want your house to be murky?
  • New front door - because it's ugly
  • Replace garage doors - with something sleek and contemporary
  • Proper dining chairs - to replace the placeholders we bought on the cheap

Not on the list:
  • The pergola which became a obsessive desire, and probably cost more than everything else on the list.

Now we can ignore the unlovely view of our neighbours' roof, and the distant blinking of the traffic lights on PCH.
Now we always only look West. And we have shade. And a new cool outdoor room.

Who cares that it was never in the plan? It is making us very happy. The best laid plans, eh?

Wednesday, October 12, 2016

Tailgating is brilliant

I'd never heard of tailgating before I moved to the US, so I'll take a moment to explain it. Tailgating is when you get to a sports event early, or stick around after the event, and eat and drink in the car park.

Until recently my sole experience of it was at Princeton, where we had gone to watch TLOML's cousin play soccer. It involved sober families standing around in a  slightly chilly carpark, so we made our excuses and left. Then there were those old oddballs eating sardines out of the boot of their car in the underground lot before that Bruce Springsteen gig. Suffice to say I was a bit bemused by the whole concept.

Now I know what it's like. And it suddenly it makes complete sense. We joined some friends at the USC Trojans game a couple of weeks ago, and naturally, as they say, 'we tailgated'.

Now an American Football game already takes an hour of play and turns it into a three hour event. But if you tailgate, you get all the delays and pageantry of a college football game, and add a layer of a couple of hours of co-ordinated, team-oriented drinking.  It's brilliant. Way to take an afternoon of watching sports and complement it with a morning of eating and drinking.

Luckily for us our friends have passes for the best parking lot at the USC ground. This is the pastoral bliss version of a tailgate: a grassy parking lot, kids playing ball, balloons and fireworks. And a very chilled out, friendly vibe: the exact opposite to the experience I imagine a foreigner might have drinking in a Celtics pub before a Celtics v Rangers game.
 A whole encampment of USC tents (people bring their own, in case you wondered) and a game of corn hole
This guy actually brings a TV so him and his buddies can watch pre-game coverage.

It's hard to tell from the pic but this man has two umbrellas cantilevered out from his car

A lawn, and a portable grill. It's not cricket but I still like it.

Of course in LA the tailgate is better than the game. In fact it was so hot in the stadium we left at half time and, as they say, 'tailgated' some more before heading for home. To beat the traffic, because LA.

Again, Americans prove that they know how to do social stuff just the best. Tailgating is, it turns out, a great idea and makes for pretty much an ideal Saturday. For this invention alone we might almost - but actually, really  not - forgive them Trump.