Monday, June 29, 2015

Oh, I do like to be beside the seaside

Yesterday was pretty much perfect. We had brunch, which involved lobster. We spent a bit of time in the garden, pottering (TLOML and me) and moving water around in various receptacles (Lady P). We all took a long nap. We walked to the beach. And after the beach we had tacos and beers at Hot's Kitchen, and walked home.

The walking-to-the-beach bit is the reason it was all so perfect. And its the reason I so badly wanted our new home to be West of PCH. I don't mind driving to brunch: El Porto and Manhattan Beach have some great places, well worth a 5 minute drive (or 15 mins on the bike). And I don't mind not having a large back garden: we can potter with pots of herbs, and Lady P can carry water about on a small patio just as happily. But I would very much mind having to drive to the beach.

Being a seven minute walk to the beach means even if you don't leave the house until 4pm it's still totally worth going. And you don't need to pack as if you're going camping, either. In fact, on days where I have less than an hour to kill I'll walk down to the beach with Lady P with no kit at all, and she'll play in the sand for half an hour, and we'll walk home again. We'd never do that if we had to get in the car, or if the walk was 20 or 30 minutes. I know it.
Sometimes all you need is a flipflop and some sand to play with

Being close to the beach also means you can make it be on your way to something, like the bank or a coffee. It's not actually on our way to anywhere but it only adds a detour of a couple of blocks, so it's easy enough to weave it into errands. Likewise on any run, no matter how much or how little time I have, I can include a bit of beachfront jogging.

I'm writing this not to be smug about it, but to back myself up. I got a hard time from some friends (and, to a lesser extent, from TLOML) when we were househunting for my immediate rejection of anything that was more than half a mile from the beach. I stuck to my guns: the new house is 0.4 miles from the sand.

Yesterday's beach trip, and all the others in our past and future, vindicated me. The beach is one of the top three reasons we moved here. It's also one of the main reasons property here is so expensive. If you have to get in your car and drive, and fight for parking, every time  you want to use that asset, you're not really getting value for your Hermosa real estate money.

I'm just very glad and grateful that we have been able to find a place which will allow us to feel like we really do live at the beach. And I know Lady P feels the same way: here's a recent picture of her kissing the beach goodbye when we had to leave.
'What are you doing?' 'Kissing the beach goodbye'. 'Ah'.

Monday, June 22, 2015

Weary travellers

When I see red-eyed, grumpy infants being dragged around airports late at night I often think 'what kind of idiot parents plan their travel that way?'.

Well, this weekend we were those idiots. But it wasn't planned that way. We had scheduled our flight back to LA yesterday at 7.30pm, just around Lady P's bedtime. By the time we boarded it was 10pm, and Lady P was past herself. Wired and fractious and really quite shouty. We had been sedating her with the iPad for an hour but there's only so far the Peppa Pig icecream game app will take you. One delayed flight and one late night wouldn't be so bad but it came on top of six days of travel and disruption. So she was already predisposed to be wired and fractious.

I would have felt worse about what we put her through this week, but she had such an absolutely brilliant time that I don't. Let me break it down.

On Tuesday we flew to NYC, where we had dinner with Lady P's godmother, one of our dearest friends. Lady P marveled at the tall buildings and the swarms of yellow taxis, and enjoyed having her godmother read her many bedtime stories.

On Wednesday we took a three hour train ride up to West Hartford, CT, for 24 hours of fun with New England's best family. In a parenting fail typical of the week's events, Lady P's lunch was a Dunkin Donut's ham and cheese muffin eaten on an Amtrak train.

Fortunately, it all got a lot wholesome once we arrived in West Hartford. There was canoeing in the pond in their backyard, a friendly dog, a swing fixed to a tree, and there were home made waffles.

Lady P did not want to leave, but on Thursday we returned to NYC where she was delighted to see her godmother again. And on Friday we flew to Rochester, in upstate NY, for a family wedding. There, Lady P was showered with affection and attention by her grandmother, two doting great aunts, and five cousins who were thrilled to play with her.

On Saturday she was a flower girl at the wedding, at which TLOML was officiating. He was recently ordained a Minister of the Church of the Latter Day Dude, and took his responsibilities very seriously. Lady P was not quite so dutiful, refusing to wear a beautiful floral crown, removing her shoes at the last minute, and insisting she would not carry her posy. The sugar high provided by a sweet (the bribe for putting her shoes back on) saved the day, and the instruction 'run to daddy' made for a very telegenic trot up the aisle. It would have made for a better wedding album shot if she hadn't been chewing a Starburst but she was there, she had her shoes on, and she made it up the aisle: I think we did okay. Afterwards she paddled in her beautiful dress, in the great new American wedding tradition of 'Trash the Dress'.
And on Sunday we reconvened for brunch, debriefs and gossip with the family. All in all it was a wonderful week. I love spending time with TLOML's family, and Lady P had some memorable adventures.

We finally got home at around 2am this morning (5am East Coast time, but hey, who's counting?). Lady P looks a little frazzled today, and I'm sure her sleep patterns will be out of whack for a couple of days. And to keep the peace for all those flights she did spend a lot of time with the iPad. But I think it was all absolutely worth it.

And now we can relax, as Lady P isn't leaving the Hermosa bubble again for the foreseeable future. Me, I'm off to Boise, ID tonight - consumed with envy for Lady P's low mileage week ahead.

Monday, June 15, 2015

Adaptability

Lady P moved house, from London to Yorkshire, when she was six weeks old. By the time she was 13 weeks old she had crossed the Atlantic twice. And she moved again, from Yorkshire to California, at the tender age of 11 and a half months.

So from an early age she was trained to be adaptable, which has stood us in good stead for overnight stays in strange places, and those summer trips back to the UK. We keep her bedtime routine extremely, rigidly, consistent which gives us free rein to conduct said routine pretty much wherever we want to. She gets milk with a story, a bath, one of a rather limited range of bedtime stories (the usual suspects: The Big Red Barn, The Going to Bed Book, etc), her beloved dog, and a song to fall asleep to. Whether she's in a hotel room, at a friends' place, or lying on the floor at the bulkhead of a 747 - okay, we skipped the bath that night - it's all the same to Lady P.


On our recent UK trip we put her adaptability to the test. Including flight UA934, a couple of nights when she was put to bed at my sister's so we could share babysitting, and an unscheduled night in a hotel, she went to bed in seven different beds within the space of a fortnight.

And only once did I get a glimmer of a suggestion that all this change was bothering her. It was the morning we woke up in a nice hotel room in Hampstead, and Lady P said 'What is this house?' with just a hint of a frown. I explained that we were holed up in a hotel because her projectile vomiting of the previous day had rendered us unsuitable house guests, and she nodded gravely, and we got on with our day.

Of course, even the most amenable, flexible of children can't ignore their body clock, and after two weeks in England Lady P remained on UK time for a few days. For the first time, today, she woke up at a California-appropriate time.

It's a good job she's such a good traveler because we're about to leave again. We're off to the East Coast tomorrow, for a few days of family and friend reunions and a wedding. We will be staying in a different place for four out of the five nights we are gone. Brace yourself, Lady P. But we will be packing The Big Red Barn, and the Going to Bed Book so I'm hoping for the best.
'Helping' me pack


Sunday, June 7, 2015

Family code

We just returned from a blissful two weeks in England, with family and friends. Included in that was a good chunk of time at my parents' house with a rotating cast of my sisters and their families. Lady P proved her adaptability by strolling straight in as if she owned the place, taking naps wherever we put her, and mastering the empire of Weebles with speed.

TLOML, on the other hand, not so much. He has known my family now for almost six years. You would think he had it all down by now. And yet, he still made some naive errors.

First of all, he failed to appear in the kitchen during a hastily put together lunch. Five children and five adults squeezed around the table to devour some cheese on toast. TLOML, relaxing in the living room, noticed it had gone quiet and came to find out where everyone had gone to discover all the cheesiest bits of toast gone. He reproached me for not calling him in, but as he knows, in the chaos of that house, no-one is keeping track of meal attendance.

Secondly, he then said 'Does anyone want a cup of tea'. 'Not with lunch!' said all the other grown ups, much in the horrified tone that one might respond to an offer of, say, a squashed spider on their toast.

Later that day he shook his head and said, 'your family, you have so many unwritten rules. Why was everyone so freaked out by drinking tea with cheese on toast'. I could not articulate for him the reason why - it was so obvious and so deeply felt.

A few days later we were back for Sunday lunch, and TLOML sat at the wrong end of the sitting room. I know, hilarious, isn't it? Everyone in my family knows that on Sundays we sit at the back of the sitting room, by the window onto the garden, where the toys are. Never at the TV end of the sitting room. Oh, the shame! And yes, again, he called me out for ridiculous unwritten rules.

Another good one is the order with which you tackle afternoon tea (hot things first, even if they're sweet; then sandwiches; then anything else sweet). The gasp that went around the table the first time he reached for a slice of cake when he hadn't even touched a sandwich - it echoes through my nightmares still,
Another rule: napping in communal areas after lunch ins fine (before would be frowned on).

I suppose every family have their modus operandi, ways of being which are so long established they feel like iron-cast rules. It takes an 'outsider' (albeit one who married) to highlight them, perhaps to disrupt them a bit, to keep things fresh. On reflection, a cup of tea would have just hit the spot with that cheese on toast.

But as we now only return home once a year, I take a great deal of pleasure in knowing that the rules of my parents house will remain just the same. There will always be a right end and a wrong end to sit in the living room, and a correct order to eat afternoon tea. I just need to make sure my husband is better briefed next time.

Saturday, May 30, 2015

A change of perspective

On our recent trip to England an old friend asked me if I felt American yet, and we talked about when that shift would happen and how we would know when it did.

A change in perspective - like that provided by a transatlantic trip - is a good test. As we left Heathrow and got on the M25 I noticed, audibly, how small all the cars are. Really, they are. Everyone's driving about in Nissan Micras and Mazda M3s and while these are perfectly serviceable cars, they do look rather small to someone who's been in the US too long. It has been a long time since I noticed how big all the cars in LA are, I should add.

So perhaps I am American already.

As I ate more cheese in our first night than I had in the previous 12 months, I waxed lyrical about the quality of British cheese. Even bog standard supermarket cheddar is better than the crap they sell over here. Apples too, are superior back home: crisp, and crunchy, and perfectly tart. The bread is better, it's less sweet and tastes of actual bread  - and strawberries taste just like they should. Like strawberries, rather than like damp refrigerated air. These are bold value judgments based on a lifetime of having my tastes shaped by British food. I'm prepared to accept that to an American, English cheese might be too tangy, the apples too sour, the strawberries too small, and the bread not sweet enough. Based on my taste preferences, I am definitely still British.

And Lady P? Happily, she persists in calling butter 'buttah'. But to my British family's disappointment, when she wants hydration, she calls for 'warder'. I suppose she is the true transatlantic in this tale.