Friday, April 28, 2017

Good times are around the corner

Not that these times right now aren't good. But they are not without their challenges. For months I've been working long hours in a chaotic team, where goalposts move daily, nothing is ever entirely clear or fixed, and the emails and IMs and Slack messages and texts JUST DON'T STOP.

Like most parents with day jobs I want to do a good job - but in as little time as possible. I actually really want to do great work, and go above and beyond what's expected as often as I can. But not as much as I want to do the school run.

These last few months P has watched more hours of TV than I care to count, so I could clear my email inbox. TLOML has done the morning routine almost every day - the pancake making, hair braiding, driving to school and talking about the day ahead stuff which is mundane and sometimes wearing but just basically the stuff of life. I'm working in the evenings so often I haven't made bouillabaisse for months. I know. It's bad.

It's not just family life that has suffered, but also my health: I have skipped many workouts in favour of actual work. Which is not a very South Bay thing to do, and that behaviour absolutely needs to stop. And I'm living on toxins: I have never so frequently felt an urgent need for espresso or gin (sometimes at the same time) as these past few months.

Here's the good news: it's about to end. As of today. My last day in the crazy job. A new, calmer job begins on Monday. With a sane, calm, clear team and reasonable hours. And in the month ahead we have opera tickets, a night away at Terranea, a trip to the UK, and absolutely no plans to work nights and weekends. Hurrah!

PS I might churn out the odd blog post again too. Lucky you ;-)

Thursday, March 23, 2017

Adulting

A lot changes when you become parents. We knew this. But if you'd have told me five years ago, that I'd consider a school fundraiser to be a good night out, I would have hoped you were dead wrong.

In fact TLOML and I pride ourselves on the fact that we have proved wrong those friends who said 'you'll never enjoy a leisurely coffee with the Sunday paper again'. We do just that, every Sunday, thanks to Disney. Our lives don't completely revolve around P. Oh, who am I kidding, of course they do. Still, we make time for ourselves and each other, we manage to enjoy a steady stream of happy hours, dinners with friends, and date nights with cocktails, or opera, or dinner, or all three.

Rarely is there dancing, however. (Well, there was that one time the New Yorker was in town. But we were in jeans and flats, in the spit-and-sawdust Hermosa Saloon, and someone on the dance floor was wearing a beanie hat. It wasn't exactly high glamour). And equally rarely am I wearing heels. And never, not since P came along, has there been dancing whilst wearing high heels. It's partly just because that's not how Hermosa rolls. Locals consider you dressed up for dinner here if you wear jeweled flip flops with your beach dress.

This time last year, when we saw a lot of people our age wearing heels and cocktail dresses/ suits, tottering into a marquee in downtown Hermosa Beach, we were intrigued. Who were these people? They looked like our demographic. Only more glamourous. It turns out the one event in Hermosa Beach that people do get dolled up for is the Hermosa Beach Education Foundation annual fundraiser. We diarized that event right away - even though P won't actually be in the Hermosa school system for another year or two - and I'm so glad we did.

I wore sequins and gold heels. TLOML wore his nicest suit with his spiffiest shirt. All the brightest stars in the firmament that is Hermosa parents of K-8 children were there. We mingled with neighbours and people we see around town, and bid at the silent auction, and enjoyed quality booze and food from some local eateries, and danced. Oh we danced our socks off! To covers of Warren G, and Journey, and every other 80s and 90s act in between.
 A rare sighting: Hermosa mums in heels

We felt we were adulting pretty hard, to be honest. An education foundation benefit? We're really doing this! When we tottered out of there, TLOML carrying the two chairs we won at the auction aloft, we decided not to go on for a drink because the chairs would be a bit cumbersome. Also an adult choice. On Monday I met the education foundation president to see if I could get involved. Which is also pretty adult of me. What have we become? A couple of settled-down, community-minded parents, that's what.
Whooo hoooo! Where next?!
I'm happy to say that despite all the changes in our lives, TLOML and I still know how to tear up a dance floor. Even better, thanks to the Hermosa Beach Education Foundation, we might still get to do that thing. At least once a year.

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

Amusements

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.

Thursday, January 19, 2017

The strange world of fake food, and the strange requests of an almost four year old

The dreams of a child - our child, at least - are beautifully modest. All P wants for her birthday is a toy cheesecake. For Christmas all she wanted was some tights, a new water bottle, and some tiny toy dishes. She got all of those things, and some other stuff too, but her favourite gift was the tiny toy dishes. That particular request was, I think, inspired by the Elf on the Shelf book:
'I'll listen to you. Tell me your wishes.
Would you like a game or some tiny toy dishes?'
Maybe the cheesecake is inspired by a lazy rhyme in some other kids' book. Maybe it's because she has been obsessed with cheesecake since she ate some at Thanksgiving - and had some more for breakfast the next day. In fact she has been quite insistent that her birthday cake be an actual cheesecake, so I guess her whole birthday theme is cheesecake. Given the current Disney princess obsession I think we should consider ourselves lucky. It could  be much worse.

The tiny toy dishes were scored for a few dollars from Amazon. A birthday cheesecake is easily made. But a toy cheesecake is surprisingly difficult to procure. P has been very clear that it must not have any berries or glaze on top. Which rules out this $34 option, thank goodness. Not that I'm being cheap - we'd be more than happy to spend $34 on some fantastic toy or game. It just seems excessive for a small plastic food item.



This one can be custom made, so I could ask them to take the berries off, but I balked at the price here too.
I'm glad I found it though. I spent a happy, bewildered twenty minutes surfing the incredible range of goods on Fake Food Japan. The specificity ('ginger flavoured grilled pork') and the options (do you want your fake kiwi sliced, diced, peeled or in a yoghurt?) sent me on an intoxicating surf session.

While clearly not aimed at 4 year olds, these aren't just for restaurateurs either.
In case you can't read it, this is a description for a $181 fake cake which says 'why not fool your friends with these good enough to eat replicas pound cakes the next time you are having a dinner party?' Why not, indeed.

After many hours of surfing, I found a woman who crafts clay Christmas ornaments in the shape of cheesecakes, cannolis, and macarons. That's quite a niche. For the princely sum of $10 she is making me a berry-free cheese cake. Goodness knows how she makes any money. Perhaps she does it for the love of the craft.

I'm very happy to be able to give P exactly what she wants for her birthday. And, for the millionth time I wonder, how did any one raise children before the internet?

Wednesday, January 11, 2017

The weather in LA is terrible. Especially when it's not that bad.

Well, that was rainy season I guess. It came and left in the space of about three weeks, with several days of rain across that time and some colder days too. We had enough rain to skip watering the plants on our deck, and for P to gleefully dig out her umbrella. There was enough rain in the rest of the state for the drought to be almost over (for now), although not enough in Los Angeles, apparently. And enough rain here for locals to joke about how poorly prepared for it we are. It got cold enough to switch the heating on, and even light a fire. Okay, at 15c maybe that was stretching it a bit, but we indulged ourselves.

I think most people here enjoyed the novelty and are glad to see we are going to enjoy some warmer, sunnier weather now. But I have not had enough. I have this burning nostalgia for cold air, pink cheeks, clouds of breath, slapping your arms together and stamping your feet for warmth, taking off several layers of clothing when you get indoors - but keeping thick socks and a nice warm jumper on.

Looks like they're having that sort of weather - and then some - in the UK right now. Listen, I'm not crazy. I wouldn't wish a 'thunderstorm' on anyone, nor would I want to experience one in person. But for sure I could handle some blustery days. The weather here is never ever bracing. Sigh.

It makes me sad to think that P has never really had that experience. When she was a baby and we lived in Saltburn we had to bundle her up, but that's long forgotten. And a few days up a Californian mountain every year or so won't really cut it either.
Remember woolly hats?
It's not that I want her to be cold. That's just mean. I think I just want her to be nostalgic about the same things I am nostalgic about. By that logic, I suppose I'd like her to know how it feels to sing folk songs round a campfire with the Girl Guides, or have calamine lotion rubbed onto sunburn, or eat cold rice pudding from a little glass dish, or other childhood memories that bring a lump to my throat. I may have read too much Brambly Hedge lately. But it's no good, I can't manufacture her memories, and she's going to grow up in a place with mild winters, the poor little mite.

TLOML told me today that being afraid for the future of the Affordable Care Act is not a good enough reason to move to the UK. I rather think he'd say the same about wanting to experience poor weather, only with even greater conviction.

I might just have to settle for a trip to the UK next winter. That's about as much as TLOML can handle to be honest, and he'll spend the whole time nostalgic for 25c and sunshine I know.