Monday, December 27, 2010

Wonky Reflections

It's the time of year where everybody talks about the year they've had. A good year, an eventful year, an awful year. One to remember always, or a year we'd rather forget. The sort of year that's best forgotten? Well, J and I have had a few of those in recent years. Thankfully, 2010 wasn't one of those. I don't want to bore readers, so the only recaps I'll make is: giving birth to my second gorgeous little girl, and moving to L.A. only months later. Epic!

For some reason, rather than dwelling on the year we've had, I've been thinking back much further. A good decade or so. The other night, I found myself going through my photo albums from 1999-2003. This was the first period of time that J & I lived overseas - in the UK - but I hadn't looked at the photos in quite a while.

Leiden, the Netherlands - 2002

The most obvious thing that struck me was how much younger I looked, but... duh! Ten years will do that. The difference between being twenty-something, and thirty-something is noticeable. Kids will age a person, too.

What else was different? Well, I used to bother wearing a bit of make-up. I used to make an effort. These days, concealer under my eyes - and some mascara with a slick of lipgloss - are about as complex as it gets.

From those photos, I can see that my hair also used to get a bit of attention. Not a lot (I've always been a fairly low-maintenance girl) but the photos indicate a variety of haircuts in that period of time, and some thought appears to have gone into the styling of it before leaving the house. These days, it's all about pony tails... and that's it. My hair is a pretty sad affair.

The differences between now and then aren't just physical.

I used to spend entire afternoons and evenings at pubs.

I used to go clubbing.

I used to go to underground dance parties.

I used to be able to just walk out the door without a thought as to what time I'd be returning.

I used to be able to disappear and lose myself, for a week or two at a time, in various European destinations.

I used to choose to function on only three hours sleep. For me, that's probably the craziest difference, right there. The fact that there were times when I crawled into bed at 4 or 5am, even on days where I might have to get up and go to work. And on the flipside, I used to rarely emerge from bed before 10am on the weekends.

Ah, youth... you were such fun! And so was I.

It's been a nostalgic Christmas for me as I remember those years. As 2011 is just around the corner and people talk of New Year's resolutions, I just listen. I don't do resolutions. I don't see the point in waiting until January to change something I'm not happy with.

I know my NYE won't involve any pubs, clubs, underground dance parties, wine, or cigarettes (amongst other things), but it will probably involve a decent amount of sleep. Broken - yes, I'm sure - but it won't be a late night for me, so I don't care.

Anyhow, expect the odd flash-back travel story here from time to time... and have a great New Year!

Monday, December 20, 2010

California dreamin' on such a winter's day...

...oh wait, I am in California. The leaves are brown, the sky is grey, and here I am - in L.A.

It's now Day 4 of being couped up out of the rain, and cabin fever is rapidly approaching. The car broke down last week and is currently at the mechanic's... wonderful timing, especially in the week before Christmas. It's out of my hands, though, so I'm not here to complain.

Peering out my back door... 

Anyhow, there is nothing like wet weather to make me want to curl up with a good read - if the Faery and Miss Pie allow me. I have a couple of bases covered. Firstly, a nice new copy of Margaret Atwood's The Year of the Flood, which has been calling me for a while. Then, should my brain decide to lower gears and read something less cerebral, I have the latest People magazine - my secret vice and best enjoyed with copious amounts of something sweet.

Being new to this blogging caper, I'm also in the mood to read some great blogs that are out there... but I need recommendations. So, if anyone out there is reading this, and knows of a great blog or two, I'm all ears. And eyes.

But first, I need to put on a kids DVD - on play repeat...

Friday, December 17, 2010

Bagged and chilled

If this had been written five years ago, it would have been about my handbag addiction. Sadly, small children and limited funding put that vice to rest. Instead, it's the simple things - like a group of brown paper grocery bags plonked onto my kitchen bench - that (sometimes) satisfy me. How sad. It's the hippy child in me that likes to rear her frizzy-maned head at times, though. I could go all environmental here and rant about the evils of plastic bags, but I'll spare you. Plus, I'm just as guilty as the next person of violating the planet at times, so it would be hypocritical of me. But yes, I like paper bags... even if they just end up being receptacles for my recycling.

What's inside?

However, I like paper bags even more when they're holding delectables like these:

Meet some of the loves of my life...

I've had a longstanding love affair with Ben & Jerry's ice cream. I first fell in love with these tubs of heaven when J and I were living in the UK. Movie nights at home rarely didn't involve a whole tub of this goodness split between the two of us. We were younger then, and our metabolisms were faster... well, a little faster. Then we returned to Australia and I had to go cold turkey. No more Ben & Jerry's because it wasn't available. Six years without. I missed it so much, and then last year I heard a rumour that they were opening their first store in Sydney. Being pregnant at the time, I was super excited. I kept checking their website. There were some delays along the way, and I was hormonal enough to call their head office to pester them for details. Then came November, and the store finally opened. I waddled in, barely able to contain myself (or my belly), but just about fell over when I saw each pint-sized tub was selling for AU$11... say what? Heaven just got more expensive. Fortunately, now that we're living in LA, I can easily consume entire pints from around $3 or $4. Oh, happy days...

Monday, December 13, 2010

Barefoot Tales

Nothing says 'freedom' to me more than going barefoot does. I love ditching my shoes. I love being able to wiggle my toes. If there was a word for feet suffering from claustrophobia when covered up, then that would describe my feet. During spring, summer, and a good part of autumn, I'm rarely seen in any other footwear than thongs (note the plural - I am not referring to underwear). Okay, so the fact that I have very long feet - necessary to balance my six-foot-plus Amazonian frame, I might add - and therefore, limited options when shoe-shopping, may be a factor at play. Cute shoes in general are a hard thing for me to come by... so cute thongs it is. Besides, I have pretty feet. They may be big, but they're pretty and they're mine. Why hide them?

Our pretty feet from the Faery's perspective, last year.

I'm learning, though, that not everyone shares my views on what's appropriate seasonal footwear. Back in October, one overcast morning, I dared to wear thongs while taking the Faery to her preschool. The school's office manager (a lovely British lady) could barely contain her snorts, "Oh, look at you wearing flip-flops in this weather. You're such an Aussie! Aren't you cold?" It had been drizzling, but it was still a mild morning and would have been at least 20ºC and warming up to more. Apparently, if the calendar says October, then summer footwear is a no-no. It doesn't matter what the weather is actually doing, just make sure you heed the calendar (and for what it's worth, I very much dislike having cold feet and am rather sensible when it starts to get cool - out come the socks and claustrophobic footwear).

It turns out that it's not just my feet that are a subject of concern for people I barely know. Ever since Miss Pie worked out how to pull her socks off, it's been a struggle to keep them on her. Like mother, like daughter, I guess. Unlike me, though, she doesn't give a rat's how cold it is. Putting baby shoes over the socks only delays what is inevitable. Every time I wheel her stroller into the local, heavily air-conditioned supermarket, I receive a dozen tut-tuts from various old biddies, and the same workers who see me every day, yet still feel the need to tell me how cold her feet must be. One even went so far, once, as to tell me I should be - wait for it - tying her socks on with string. Circulation be damned! When I remembered we had an unused stroller boot cover in a closet somewhere (it was never needed for the Faery in Australia), I pulled it out and attached it. The comments stopped overnight. Instant relief.

Miss Pie's chubby eleven-month-old foot, today

This is my first Californian winter, so I don't know what's normal or not, but the last few days have been the warmest for a month or so. Today was a balmy 30ºC, so it was with a sense of glee that I not only whipped off the stroller boot cover, but didn't even bother putting socks on Miss Pie for our daily outing to the local shops - take that, you old biddies! We went for a walk first, and let our feet bathe in some warm sunlight. Looking down and seeing Miss Pie's toes wriggling in the warmth, I felt a glowing satisfaction. There's nothing like the freedom of wriggling your toes, and I wouldn't trade that feeling for all the Manolo Blahniks in the world.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

The Girl Who Forgot Christmas

Well, not quite... but it has snuck up on me this year, jumped out, and shouted "BOO!"

I realised today that it's less than three weeks away. Obviously, there's no advent calendar in this household, or I wouldn't have been taken by such surprise. The Faery has been asking me curly questions of late, such as "How many sleeps until Christmas?", and I've been able to answer correctly, but for some reason my brain failed to register just how close Christmas actually is.

Do we have a tree up? Nope - but that was never the plan for this year. Miss Pie is eleven months old, and she may as well be an eleven-week old puppy because she is into destroying everything. A tree and all the trimmings simply wouldn't be a good idea.

Have I sent out (or even written) any cards? Nope, but it's never really been our way. Call me slack, call me lazy, but over the years the occasion for giving Christmas cards has tended to be a last-minute "Oops, they've sent us a card, I'd better give one too" affair. Half-arsed, I know. As for cute, outfits-coordinated, kids-on-Santa's-knee shots, then photo-shopped and made into cards? Ain't gonna happen.

We don't even have a pathetic string of tinsel strung up. To be fair, we moved overseas this year. Only the absolute necessities were shipped over, with the view that we could always buy what we needed as we went along. Basically, I need to get myself to the shops, pronto, before the nicer decorations are all sold, and I only have the mangiest selection of tinsel left to choose from, chipped baubels, and broken fairy lights in the bargain bins.

As for actual presents... I'll get around to it. Soon. I think. Thankfully, the Faery - being only four - is easy to buy for. Her wish list for Santa? A yo-yo and a talking doll. I love that she hasn't been brainwashed into the land of consumerism and wanting the most expensive toy... yet. However, she did also ask for a violin (and was promptly told that Santa only brings instruments to children who know how to play them) and a puppy. Somehow, I get the feeling that our cat - who has barely forgiven us for having another baby, boarding her for nearly three weeks, then shoving her onto a looooong flight - would not be thrilled. Miss Pie hasn't got a clue about this time of year, so she'll be even easier to buy for.

Don't get me wrong. I'm no Scrooge, and I do enjoy giving a gift that I know will be enjoyed. I just belong to the camp that believes the "spirit of Christmas" is mostly about shops and companies, rubbing their hands in glee and out to make a lot of money off people... but I'm not going to get all political about that right now. J and I have always preferred to keep Christmas simple in our family.

How did I let Christmas sneak up with such force this year? Well, in Australia, I've been used to hearing about, and seeing all things Christmas in the shops, from as early as October. Christmas, Christmas, Christmas for a good two months before the actual day. I'm usually over it by mid-November.

This year, being in the US, October was all about Halloween. Which we loved, by the way. Then came November, and the focus was on Thanksgiving. This might not be an Aussie tradition by any stretch, but I sure as hell had fun baking, and consuming, a lot of pumpkin pie.

Turkey ice cream cake, anyone?

So, it's been quite a novelty to not be bombarded with all things Christmas until now, December. Sure, the decorations and cards have been in the shops for a while, but you had to go looking for them. It's only now that Halloween and Thanksgiving are over, that the shops have allowed themselves to go for Christmas overkill - reminding me that I'd better start getting my Christmas shit together. Soon...

Saturday, December 4, 2010

Autumn or Fall?

I may not know my sycamores from my maples, but it doesn't stop me from getting snap-happy.

Given that it will forever be autumn in my mind, I was a little dismayed when the Faery came home from preschool one day last month and chatted away to me about acorns and fall... yet another American word had taken over her vocabulary! However, as we see December in, I've begun to relax about it. Going for walks, and seeing the beautifully coloured leaves beginning to cover the ground around me, I can see why Americans ditched the word autumn in favour of fall. It makes sense. I'm currently in the warmer climate of California, where the weather is mild and not that different from what I'm used to in Sydney, but I would love to experience a proper autumn in one of the colder states. The kind of autumn where fiercely coloured trees line streets, and create such high piles of leaves that small children are lost in them.

Whatever word you have for it, it's certainly a pretty time of year.

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Coffee, Los Angeleno-style

Coming from a country where cafe culture is big, and it's easy to find a decent coffee, I'd been warned about American coffee before we moved here. I also had faint memories of the Starbucks "cafes" which seemed to be on nearly every street corner during an earlier visit to Seattle, about ten years ago. The main issue that Australians tend to have with the coffee served in chains such as Starbucks, or Coffee Bean & Tea Leaf, is... well, there are a few, actually.

Let me illustrate. A quick google search for images of coffee from these chains revealed the following:

Notice the images are all about the branded logos. There were far fewer images which showed the product that was inside the cups. Which is probably just as well.

If you prefer your coffee to be made from beans that are well-roasted, the steamed milk to add just a creamy texture (not a foamy froth that could support a spoon standing on it's own), and not made so hot that the first taste will burn several layers of your tongue off, then these chains are not for you.

My own personal issue with buying coffee from these places is that every time I order a cafe latte, I am asked, "Would you like that hot or cold?" Every time. Yes, please give me a cold latte... because I love it when I've been so busy that my coffee has gone cold before I've had a chance to drink it. Let's save time and serve it to me cold. I am also frequently asked if I'd like whipped cream on top. No, but thanks for asking. Lastly, I've even had so-called baristas try to sneak in a shot of brewed coffee into my latte - instead of using espresso. And then using the espresso machine solely to steam the milk. Cheeky.

It wouldn't be fair to say that all American coffee is bad, though. A recent trip to Portland, Oregon, taught me this and gave me hope. There were some places there which served wonderful coffee that I'd be more than happy with in Australia. I've since reviewed my stance, and concluded that the problem is La La Land. Coffee culture here is just not very cultural.

Not long after we moved here, some friends suggested that we try coffee from Intelligentsia, which has a handful of cafes throughout the country. So we hopped in the car and drove to the nearest Intelligentsia cafe, in Silver Lake - about a 15 minute drive away. Was it good? You bet. Pretty much just like back home. But to have to drive that way every time the urge for a proper coffee struck? Not worth the cost of petrol! So these last few months, I've had to just suck it up and drink the chain swill when in need of a caffeine hit.

Believe it or not, I am getting somewhere with this whinge about coffee in La La Land. Last Saturday, J and I had a rare date night, so we decided to stroll around Old Town Pasadena and check it out properly. We'd been meaning to do this for quite some time, as we only live a 5-10 minute drive away. We were already feeling the love when, walking along the twinkly, fairy-lit, tree-lined Colorado Boulevard, we spotted a newly-opened Intelligentsia cafe. Excited is an understatement for how we felt. We raced inside, and were not disappointed. This was much more like it!
The happy ending to this self-indulgent tale is that I now only have to drive 5-10 minutes if I want a proper coffee. By L.A. standards, this is not bad. It also means I shall not complain about American coffee again... however, a shiny espresso machine is on mine and J's wish list.

Speaking of which, I could really do with some caffeine right about now...

Friday, November 26, 2010

New adventures in wi-fi

There have been plenty of these lately. The biggest adventure for me this year has been uprooting from here...



That's right. From Sydney in Australia, to Los Angeles - otherwise known as La La Land - in the US.

When this most recent adventure of mine began earlier in the year, the luggage also included my husband, J, and our two daughters. Our eldest - who I'll refer to as the Faery - was three and a half, and our youngest - Miss Pie - was barely 10 weeks old. Crazy times, indeed. The reason? J had been offered a job that sounded too good to pass up. We felt it was time for a change, and time for a big new adventure. Pre-kids, we'd travelled, lived and worked overseas too - why not amp things up a bit?

Before the Big Move, I told myself I'd start a blog once we'd settled. Eight months on, and I realised I still hadn't done so, and here I am. Being a novice to blogging, this will be another new adventure for me, so feel free to join the ride as I babble and draw unfair - possibly biased - comparisons between life here in La La Land and the land Down Under, along with clichéd stories veering from the kids being wildly cute to them driving me crazy, and any other musings or mini-adventures that spring to mind.