Sunday, January 30, 2011

The princess and the cat collar

This is what a small child is capable of doing with a figurine, a jewellery box, and one cat collar:

I was assured by the Faery that no princesses were harmed during the making of this... well, I'm still not sure what it is.

Despair over losing her glass slipper?


Kinky activities gone astray?

I was also cheerily informed, following my concerned enquiries, that Cinderella was most indeed happy to be dangling as she was.

What I would give to understand what goes through a four-year-old's mind...

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Bobbing, weaving and darting

The Faery is a balloon addict. Hell, what kid that age isn't?

How lucky for her, then, that the staff at our local supermarket are very keen to foster this addiction. They are her enablers. Most visits end with her clutching a helium-filled, logo-emblazoned balloon on a string, a lollypop attached so it won't blow away if she lets go - we all know how traumatizing that can be, and I don't just mean for the child.

Bubbles of annoyance

I'm not such a fan of this addiction. I find it annoying. Not just because sunken balloons seem to breed in our home, but because of our journeys home from the supermarket. These trips are always on foot. For a long time, the Faery had major anxiety that she'd accidentally let go of her balloon, or that it would burst if bumped against one of the many trees we walk under. This resulted in me having to carry the balloon for her.

Pushing a stroller with Miss Pie that's already laden with groceries underneath (and often a full bag that's dangerously hung off one handle), one-handed because I'm usually getting my caffeine hit, can be a tricky affair.

To have a helium balloon bobbing around, weaving and darting in front of my face? Annoying beyond belief. I savour my supermarket trips on the days when the Faery is at preschool, and balloons are out of the equation.

In recent months, she seems to have overcome her worries, and now carries her balloon. Life has been just that little bit easier. Thank god, because we are currently without a car again, and the supermarket gets to see our faces on a daily basis.

So imagine my joy this morning, when at the self-service aisle in the supermarket, Miss Pie began pointing wildly at some nearby balloons, and speaking excitedly in Swahili (well, I don't know for sure that's the language, but it sure sounds like it). She's now at that age where she can make it very clear what she wants.

Imagine my joy when the nearby attendant - a lovely lady who adores my girls and never fails to lavish attention on them - understood her Swahili, and reached for the balloons.

Not one, but two balloons: "For your big sister as well, because she's at school."

What could I say? She meant well. With a long sigh, I exited the shop and began the walk home. Heavy stroller, coffee in hand, and two helium-filled balloons bobbing around, weaving and darting in front of my face...

Monday, January 24, 2011

The white man says "GO"

When we first moved to La La Land, the first thing I needed to adapt to - and quickly - was crossing the road.

Without killing myself. Or my daughters.

It isn't easy to undo thirty-something years of being conditioned to look to the right first. For those of you who are unaware, Australian road rules require us to drive on the left side of the road, meaning you need to look to the right before crossing. Likewise in the UK. Here, I had to learn to always look left before crossing.

The traffic lights also took some getting used to. Australian pedestrian lights are a logical affair. When it's safe to cross, a green walking figure lights up. When it's not safe any more, the green figure changes to a red, stationary figure that flashes for a few moments, then remains red until it's safe to cross again.

Green for go, red for stop. Just like driving.

To further help, there is often a loud beep, every few seconds, while you wait (at least, this is the case in Sydney). When the green walking figure appears, the casual beep explodes into a frenzy of beeps - this jolts you out of your daydream and reminds you to cross. I suppose the original intent was to assist the visually impaired.

But for me? I've been conditioned, in classic Pavlovian style.

Without those frenzied beeps telling me to get my arse across the road now, I have nothing to haul me out of whatever reverie I happen to be in (lusting after caffeine?). The lights change, silently. Nearly ten months later, I still frequently miss opportunities to cross. I need those beeps.

So I'm left with no choice but to stare at the lights. Not look away for more than a few moments. I've become familiar with the appearance of the lights. They're different, of course, to the pedestrian lights in Sydney.

Green for go? No. Let's have a white walking figure instead. When I'm trying to get the Faery to cross with me, I hear myself saying, "There's a white man, let's go!" 

Something about that seems wrong and makes me feel uncomfortable, as if there's a bit of subtext: white men = safety. I don't like describing people by their colour, yet if we were in Sydney, I'd be saying green man and not have any problems with that. My brain is wired strangely. Political correctness gone slightly askew.

Red for stop? Yes, thankfully. A red hand that my brain is unable to find fault with. I just wish the red hand would appear a little later during the journey across the road (you try crossing a six-lane road while pushing a stroller, and ensuring your four-year-old doesn't dart out ahead!)... but I suspect this is a universal problem.

As for my experiences with driving on the opposite side of the road? I'll save those stories for another day...

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Short-lived fuzzies

Over the years, we've been lucky enough to have some wonderful neighbours. The kind who wouldn't mind feeding our cat for us if we went away for a few days. In fact, they used to go above and beyond - we've come home, after four hours on the road, to home-cooked meals in our fridge (when I was pregnant with Miss Pie), and fresh flowers from their garden.

I used to rack my brains trying to think of ways to repay that kindness. These neighbours had no pets, and rarely went away overnight. I always made sure to give them a box of chocolates but it always felt a little lame. I don't think I ever did return those favours adequately, but told myself I would try to help out in future. Maybe not to the same friends or neighbours, but at least pay it forward.

We recently had some friends leave town for a few months, so they could be amongst family for the birth of their first child. While they were gone, they generously lent us their car, as we are currently without wheels of our own - but that's another story.

The other day, J and I found out our friends would be returning on the weekend, so I put into a plan of action to make sure their return home would be a nice one. Their journey would include fourteen hours on a plane, with a newborn bub. I remember that feeling all too well from last year.

I cooked up a huge batch of Southwestern-style chicken soup (with a few tweaks such as fresh coriander and lime), and filled five large single-portion containers, to put in their freezer. I bought a carton of organic milk, fresh bread and a bunch of daffodils, then hopped in the car - which I then left to have cleaned at the car-wash near our friends' place.

As I approached their apartment with a heavy bag of goods, I was feeling pretty warm and fuzzy. Happy to be helping out some friends. My self-worth was peaking at a nice level.

Then I opened their door and saw the kitchen.

Someone had beaten me to it. There was a huge pot of pink cyclamens on the counter. Strung high across their kitchen cupboards, was a welcome sign. Pink, home-made bunting, no less. Pink paper butterflies fluttered on each end. Several new boxes of cereal were left on the counter, too.

After placing the daffodils in a vase, the soup in the freezer, and writing a note, I opened their fridge to put away the milk. There was already a gallon of fresh milk inside. I didn't have the heart to look what else had been left for them.

I did a brisk walk around their apartment, just to make sure everything was in place for them. That was when I saw chocolate hearts scattered across their bed.

Bollocks to that.

I left, feeling somewhat deflated by my efforts. Stupid, huh?

It made me realise there is no such thing as true altruism, at least not where my own motives are concerned. I was feeling good about performing a few little welcoming gestures, only to have that bubble burst by another person's efforts at the same thing. Done better than me. When had this become a competition? I've tried reminding myself that over the course of nearly three months, I also collected their mail on a weekly basis and posted it to them (they were expecting some important, time-sensitive documents). That was helpful... but the least I could do seeing as we had use of their car.

Ah well. At least the milk I had bought was organic...

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Split ends and searching for 'the one'

I've always been a little envious when I hear friends mention their wonderful, long-term hairdressers. The one who really understands their hair. The one who knows how to make their hair the perfect colour. The one who cuts the layers just right. The one who will squeeze them in for an appointment at only a moment's notice.

I've never had that kind of relationship with a hairdresser. I've been looking for 'the one' my whole adult life.

It's been somewhat of a half-arsed search, though.

When it comes to hair, I'm low-maintenance. Actually, I'm pretty lazy with my hair. I have no desire to spend half an hour, every morning, trying to tame this beast with a blow dryer or hair straightener. I can't even blame this on the kids because I've always been this way, although during my working days, I probably spent a little more time on my hair in the mornings. These days, it mostly just gets pulled back into a ponytail. Especially during the summer when my friend, humidity, pays a lengthy visit. Sydney summers are not kind to my hair. Wavy, frizzy hair can get very 'boofy' and mine is no exception. A lot of hairdressers cut the layers wrong, and this only adds to the natural bouffant bird's nest that is my hair.

Exhibit A - tamed and flattened
by a hair straightener, but
the frizz is still there.
The consequence of spending minimal time dealing with my hair is that after a while, it starts to look rather ratty. Split ends evolve into entire family tree branches, all from a single strand of hair. It's not for the faint-hearted.

This means I delay going for a hair-cut, highlights, treatment, or whatever it is that people have done to their hair, because I'm usually quite embarassed about my neglected, crowning... well, not glory. A shame, because there's nothing I love more than a good old scalp massage, and what better way than to have someone else wash your hair?

The comments I've had from some hairdressers have reinforced my reluctance. I will never set foot in so-called trendy salons again after getting grilled by a hairdresser in one such establishment, when I lived in Melbourne:
"So, what shampoo are you using?" "...Dove?" (a look of disdain flickering across her face)
"What? You bought that in a supermarket? Don't you know that supermarkets sell the worst shampoos for your hair?"
"Feel it." (rubbing a lock of my hair between her fingers) "Can't you feel that coating over your hair, and how disgusting it feels? That's what cheap shampoos do. They coat your hair with petroleum. You shouldn't be putting that in your hair."

Another thing which doesn't endear me to a hairdresser is when they begin to slag off on whoever it was who'd last cut my hair. "I don't know what that stylist was thinking. I mean, look at the way those layers are hanging!" (In other words, "You hair looks shit, love, therefore so do you.")

Nope, there aren't many hairdressers out there that I've felt the love from. On the rare occasion that I've decided someone was okay, you can bet by the time I've made my next appointment - six months later - they've moved on to another salon.

Socially, I'm picky. When I go to get my hair cut, it's me time. Especially since having kids. I don't want to be pulled into silly conversations. Honestly? Some of the happiest haircuts I've had have been when the hairdresser didn't speak much English. I don't want to talk about myself, and I don't want to answer a million questions. I don't want to hear about so-and-so's cousin's wedding plans, either. I just want to sit in my own bubble of thoughts - perhaps with a magazine - and enjoy having my hair played with. Mean-spirited? Perhaps. Shyness? A bit of that, too.

Another part of the problem is that I've moved around a fair bit over the years. Not just different parts of town, but different cities. Different countries. Makes it a little difficult to form an attachment to someone who cuts your hair.

Which brings me to the here and now. Moving to L.A. has meant I need to start looking for a decent salon again.

My first effort was last August. I googled salons in my area, picked one at random, and looked at their website. The prices were reasonable, so I rang to make an appointment. I was told that they don't take appointments, and to just walk in. That should have sent alarm bells ringing, but no.

Happy to be leaving the kids with J for a few hours, I hopped on a bus and arrived at the salon. As the hairdresser showed me to my seat, I noted her heavily broken Armenian-English. Good, I thought. I can get on with some reading. That was when I saw the chair I was to sit in. It was covered in hair. Other people's hair. Ew.

The hairdresser seemed oblivious to this, and I was left with no choice but to brush the hair off with my own hands. As she began to do her thing with my hair, I glanced around and noticed the salon was filthy. Hair everywhere. Although the end result was a decent haircut and highlights? I vowed right then never to return.

A few days ago, with no plans for the day and all the bills paid, I realised my hair was looking pretty pathetic, and in need of some salon-loving. Back to the  google drawing-board. I found another salon in the local monster-mall, only a short drive away, so bit the bullet.

And guess what? I had a good experience. The salon, rather than blasting out the latest top of the charts pop music (which usually makes me want to bang my head on the nearest wall), played music that J and I listen to at home. Songs I actually knew, by the XX. The Strokes. Depeche Mode. Moloko.  Bonus points right there.

The hairdresser was friendly and asked me questions, but wasn't pushy. She complimented me on how soft my hair felt and wanted to know what shampoo I'd been using! (supermarket-bought, by the way) She was chatty at times, but also gave me lengthy periods of silence to sit in my own thoughts. A good balance. On more than one occasion, she told me how cute I am. I think it was my accent.

At the end, she hugged me. I'm not a hugger and reserve this sort of interaction for only my nearest and dearest - so I wasn't expecting this... awkward! Is it the American way for hairdressers to hug? When I later told J, his response was that I must have given a very good tip. However, the hug was before I paid. She was sweet, so I won't hold the hug against her.

My hair? Currently looks shiny, is minus mousy-coloured roots, slick and frizz-free. It won't last. I'm lazy with my hair. But I like it right now, and tell myself that this time will be different. This time, I won't let six months pass before getting it cut or highlighted again. This time, I might try styling it more often, instead of hiding it pulled back.

This time, I may even go back to the same hairdresser...

Exhibit B - The Faery's hair, and how my hair used to look, decades ago.
I would kill to have hair like this now.
She'd better appreciate what she's got while it lasts...

Wednesday, January 12, 2011


A beautifully warm winter's day today saw me drag the Faery away from the television, insisting we should go for a walk. She wasn't convinced, but the final stretch home paid off and she was glad we got outside. Why?

Because we saw this little fellow:

Hello there!

The feeling probably isn't mutual, but I really love squirrels. Really. There are no squirrels in Australia, so I always become a child when I see one, which can be quite often some days. Sure, in Australia there are koalas and possums - all kinds of furry cuteness - but they lack the obsessive craziness that squirrels possess. Not to mention the spectacular twitchy tails and movement.

You'd think that after living in the UK for quite a few years, the novelty would have worn off by now, but no. Going back to Australia for five years kind of reset the button. Sort of like with Ben & Jerry's.

I guess this is because the first time I saw a squirrel, I was 23. An entire childhood, squirrel-free. There has been lost time to make up for.

I still remember my first (or really, J's) encounter with squirrels like it was yesterday. It was the day after we'd arrived in London. We went for a stroll around Regent's Park and saw our first squirrel on a tree right by the entrance. We took about a dozen blurry photos (and this was back in the days when film was still used), not realising there would be hundreds more, frolicking within the park... and it gets better.

Half-way through the park, a squirrel crossed our path. Awesome, time for some close-up shots of the little critter. The squirrel came closer. And closer. And closer. Suddenly, it was climbing up J's legs. Now, J is an animal lover, and very little freaks him out when it comes to nature. But his response? He froze. I think he was pretty sure he was going to receive a nasty nip in his nether regions. He pleaded for me to help.

And my response? Doubled over in laughter, while trying to capture the moment on film. That is how much I love him. 

As for the squirrel, he disappeared as suddenly as he'd come. J's tackle was safe.

This first encounter didn't put us off squirrels - it endeared them to us all the more, cheeky buggers that they are. From then on, whenever we paid a visit to one of the many Royal Parks of London, we made sure we always had a bag of nuts to share with our squirrel friends. We loved sitting quietly on a park bench as a group of squirrels approached slowly - at first, eating the nuts we'd scattered on the ground, then eventually sitting on our laps and eating out of our hands. 

Most parks have a resident-loon, who dumps bags of bread crumbs for their pigeon friends. Us? We preferred the squirrels. And now that we're living again in a country where squirrels are aplenty, we can't help feeling a little thrill to see the Faery get excited when she spies a squirrel. Bring it on!

Monday, January 10, 2011

Baby cakes and green souls

Miss Pie turned one yesterday. Without any family in town, and her being so young anyway, we didn't see much point in throwing a big party. Instead, we decided to go somewhere we hadn't been yet and relax. I had visions of a colourful picnic with a box of cupcakes that the Faery and I had made earlier - ripe for cute baby photo opportunities - and consulted my Not For Tourists (L.A.) book.

We decided that the botanical gardens at The Huntington would be perfect. Not too far to drive, and the Children's Garden sounded like fun. Only one problem: a strict no picnics or packed lunch policy. Bummer. We were still keen to get out, though, so we just ate an early lunch and postponed the cupcakes until later in the day. I'm sure Betty Crocker would have understood.

The Huntington is seriously beautiful and we have every intention of going back for more. There's too much to see in one day, especially when there are small kids involved. After exhausting the Children's Garden, we also walked around the Chinese Garden, where we gorged on dim sum at the tea shop. Next was the Japanese Garden, then we finished up at the Desert Garden - which has one of the world's oldest and largest collections of the craziest desert plants you'll ever see. It was otherworldly.

Of course, there were still plenty of cute baby photo ops, but what I really had fun with was prowling around these gardens, giddy with camera in hand as I absorbed the gorgeous scenery. I look forward to seeing these gardens when it isn't winter, but for now, here are some snaps from the day:

It was one of those days that was good for the soul. I always feel lighter after a seeing a good art exhibition, and this was kind of similar. And although we were disappointed at first about the anti-picnicking rules, The Huntington is also strict about dogs, which meant there was no dog shit anywhere to be stepped on. Bonus! 

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Ozzy! Ozzy! Ozzy!

It feels as though Americans love Australians. In the time that we've been living here, I don't think I've received a single negative comment about my nationality. They don't always guess where I'm from correctly, and it's not uncommon to be mistaken for a Brit, but there's always curiosity.

Maybe their excitement at meeting an "Ossy" is because Americans like to be so externally positive about  everything. Maybe it is or isn't genuine.... I don't care. I choose to feel the love. And not point out that actually, we say Aussie like "Ozzy". As in Ozzy Osbourne.

It's refreshing to have strangers go all gushy when they learn I'm Australian.

You see, a good chunk of my twenties was spent living in England - mostly London. Over there, Australians really are a dime a dozen. We are everywhere. You only need to spend one trip on the London Underground to hear a nasal, uprising intonation cut through the carriage's air. Over there, we're not special.

The pub I worked at, many moons ago
For a while, I was the ultimate cliché: an Aussie bar maid. I enjoyed meeting such interesting - albeit drunken - characters. It was fun. The only downside was when the more arrogant/classist barflies made ignorant references to my background and sneered such gems as "You Australians are all from convict stock." and "Australians 'ave such 'orrible accents." Quite charming.

Eventually, pulling pints lost its shine, and I decided it was time to find a line of work which would challenge me more. Teach English to foreigners? Why not?

Well. The comments I heard about that. "Oh, you fink you're gonna teach English proper, eh?" and "You can't teach them foreigners English - they'll all end up with Australian accents, innit!" Sometimes I wondered who would really benefit from language lessons.

It doesn't sound like it, but I actually had a great time in England. Made some great friends, met some amazing people, saw some incredible places (did I mention how I loved being so close to Europe?). For the most part, people were lovely... but rarely excited about meeting yet another Australian.

Here in L.A? Sure, there are plenty of Australians around but I guess people aren't living as densely as in London. You have to listen a little harder, a little longer, in crowded places to hear our accent. Just the other day, a woman exclaimed, "Wow! You're from Australia? Wow! I've always wanted to go there. I just love your accent - it's adorable!" ...I could get used to that.

Saturday, January 1, 2011

Hell doesn't have public toilets

Last night, J and I attempted to stay up and see 2011 in. We had a bottle of Moët & Chandon to share, cheese and crackers on hand, kids tucked up in bed... and the TV. The plan? To watch the Times Square Ball drop at midnight.

I'm not even sure why we thought this would be a good idea. For a start, it wasn't even live. Well, it was when it was recorded, of course, but there's a 3-hour time difference between New York and L.A. so by the time it aired at midnight in L.A., it would be old news in New York. I knew, at 9pm, that the ball had already dropped. Kind of took a little of the fun out of waiting to see it.

Anyhow, we refilled our glasses of the bubbly, and pressed on. Unable to commit to one channel, we kept switching between the coverage on NBC and ABC, depending on commercials, and which performer happened to be on. If I see Willow Smith lip-syncing her song and giving precocious answers to interviewers one more time, I will scream.

But I digress. We drank our bubbly, chatted, made observations, and continued watching. Whereas once upon a time, the old me would have loved to experience being in a place like Times Square on New Year's Eve, I honestly couldn't think of anything worse now. Huge crowds, in freezing conditions? Without public toilets? That's my idea of hell.

By about 11.30, my eyes could barely stay opened. The champagne hadn't helped. I decided bed was the only sensible place to be...  proof that I'm no spring chicken any more. I can't recall a single NYE - at least since childhood - where I was in bed before midnight.

Thinking about the cold conditions, I have to admit to being envious of friends and family in Australia. Although Christmas in the northern hemisphere is magical and the cosiness of being indoors, or rugging up and watching your breath fog up in the crisp air when venturing outside is rather lovely, New Year's Eve celebrations are so much better when the air is balmy and warm. Whether outside, down by the water and watching the Sydney fireworks display (with public toilets around, of course!) or relaxing under the stars at a friend's party, for me, there's nothing like a summery New Year's Eve. Barefoot, naturally.

Can't have it both ways, though. Not unless one is filthy rich and jets around the world frequently.

As for the Times Square Ball drop? I did eventually see it after a search on YouTube and was a little underwhelmed. I realise YouTube wouldn't have done it justice, and I'm probably biased, but I suspect that Sydney put on a far better show for the revellers.

However, today, the first day of 2011, I did see something impressive - the Rose Parade in Pasadena. It was broadcast live so we once again put the TV on for a good old glimpse into some Americana that we're not necessarily living. If we'd been more organised, we could have seen it in person because we live so close to Pasadena. I don't think the almost one-year-old or four-year-old would have appreciated it, but for me? Marching bands? Floats with dogs boogie boarding on mini water streams? B-2 stealth jets flying overhead? That's out of the ordinary, for sure. I wonder if there were public toilets there...