Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Wordless Wednesday - The Roly Poly Whisperer

Wordless, compared to my last few posts. I've been having a wordy week.

Photo source
Recently, the Faery has become obsessed with roly polies (aka pill bugs). Over the past week or so, she has spent crazy amounts of time digging around in the garden of our front patio. She moves the roly polies around, and builds "roly poly hills" for them. They are herded together, all over the garden.

Photo source
Although J and I had encountered these small crustaceans in the UK (we once lived in a flat in Brighton that was overrun with them - ew!), we never saw them in Australia. Perhaps they exist there too, perhaps not. I do not know.

Back in Australia, the Faery didn't herd roly polies - she herded snails instead, and I'm pretty sure they must have wondered how they came to be in such a slimy, orgiastic mass.

She didn't inherit this particular expression of nature-loving from me. I prefer not to have anything to do with bugs, slugs, snails, spiders - they all give me the heebies jeebies...

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Globetrotting and physical links

My parents have only recently acquired passports, and having grandkids living overseas was a big factor for them. They've never had any real yearn to visit foreign places.

For as long as I can remember, I've had a list - a mile long - of places to see. Some of which are the standard destinations most people dream about, and others a little more exotic.

During my university years, I never doubted that I would head overseas as soon as possible, and a year after graduating, I had enough airfare saved up for a trip to the UK. It wasn't my original destination that I'd begun saving for, but J was keen to try and gain more experience in his chosen field. The UK had the best opportunities for him, so with working holiday visas under our belt, we said our goodbyes to Sydney on a wintery day - and a day later - stepped into a summer heat wave in London.

We had no idea how long we'd stay for. Maybe six months. Maybe a couple of years.

It ended up being nearly five years. In that time, J had managed to get work visa sponsorship, and we got hitched on a wet spring day in London. I worked - briefly - in catering at London Zoo, followed by a lengthy stint in a pub, before doing a little more study and finally moving into English language teaching.

In those five years, I managed to also visit more than twenty countries. Some were amazing, some were not so impressive. Many of these places I visited together with J, but quite a few I travelled around, solo. None were particularly exotic, but I always made sure to get off the beaten track when I could.

Package tours have never appealed to me, so the only time I ever used a travel agent was to purchase my very first flight to London. The rest of my travels were pretty much based on word of mouth and the contents from my beloved Lonely Planets and Rough Guides. While I haven't exactly been trekking through the Himalayas, I never needed anyone to hold my hand either.

I love travel. I love - literally - losing myself in another place. One of my fondest memories is of arriving in Venice, without a map, and deciding to wander around for a few hours before buying one. Hearing old church bells chime as I crossed small bridges, peeked around old cracked corners, gazed down dark green canals and inhaled the smells in the air. Not having a clue where I was. Hearing the hustle and bustle fade within just a few streets off the main tourist drags, and encountering nothing but the sound of trickling water from a fountain in a small, deserted piazza. Did I mention that I love Italy?

I may only have thirty-six hours in San Francisco coming up, but I cannot wait. I want to lose myself again.

For a long time, I wondered where I got my love of travel from. It certainly wasn't anything from my childhood. Then on a visit back to Australia, after I'd been overseas for three or four years, I learned that my grandmother had travelled extensively when she was younger.

I never knew her. Sadly, she died of breast cancer, many years before I was born, and I've only ever seen a handful of black and white photos of her. To learn that she had a love of travel was a wonderful thing to hear.

She worked her way as a nurse around the world, back in the late 1940s and early 1950s, when single women rarely travelled. Australia, Papua New Guinea, Sri Lanka... winding up in England for a while. I now have her stamped, card membership for Hostelling International in the UK - so different from my own plastic card membership.

This yellowing piece of card is precious to me. It's the physical link to a woman I never knew.

I wonder what conversations she and I would have, if she were still alive today. What stories would we exchange and share?

I wonder just how much of her is in me.

Grand Canal, Venice - 2000

Sunday, March 27, 2011


Photo source

Ever since I can remember, San Francisco has called to me. I can't remember how it started, but I know I was obsessed with Hitchcock's Vertigo when I was about 14, and watched it repeatedly. I'd always promised myself that if I ever travelled to the US, San Francisco would be one of the first cities I'd see... along with New York and New Orleans.

So far, I haven't been to any of those cities yet. Just LA, Portland and - a decade ago - Seattle.

Los Angeles had never actually held any appeal to me, and yet here I am. Go figure. That's the beauty of life, I suppose. You never know for sure what's around the corner.

Anyhow. Not long ago, J came up with the brilliant idea of a weekend in San Francisco. He thought I should fly up and have a weekend to myself there, as a bit of time out - for me.

I loved the idea, and got excited right away. Footloose and fancy free! Just myself for an afternoon, night, and morning - brilliant! I looked up flights, read up on accommodation... and then began to worry. Not about me, though. I can travel alone at the drop of a hat - I backpacked around various non-English speaking countries back in the day, so less than two days alone in an American city? Piece of cake.

My main concern was that I'm still breastfeeding Miss Pie, and don't plan to wean her just yet (like with her sister, I was planning to at about 18 months).  Although it's only a couple of times a day, and she sleeps through the night, I started to fret about what may happen if I'm away for 36 hours. Yeah, sure, I hear you say, pack a breast pump for relief. I just detest that thing, though, and haven't used it in many, many months. I haven't exactly had a need.

My other main issue was that stupidly useless feeling, guilt. Making memories for myself in a fun city, without my loved ones around. Sometimes it's nice to look back on shared memories of places. Guilt, also, about money. We've had to really tighten the belt lately, and it almost seems selfish to spend money on flights and a hotel, just for me.

After a bit of negotiation with J about driving freeways (the thought scares me silly), we decided to plan a road trip instead, and for him to take a couple of days off work so we could have an extended weekend in San Francisco. The pros? No worries about my boobs or accidental weaning, we could all be together, and it would be easier to get around some parts of San Francisco with a car - making it possible to include some redwood forests on the itinerary. I grabbed a copy of Lonely Planet's San Francisco and read, read, read.

Then life got in the way for a couple of weeks. More immediate matters needed to be taken care of, and San Francisco plans got put on the back burner.

Until last night. I watched a film I'd vaguely promised myself I wouldn't (after hearing mixed reviews from friends). Let's just say the film's plot involves a Western woman travelling alone to rediscover herself. This film was available for streaming on Netflix, it was Friday night, I was in the mood for something frothy to watch, and J assured me he wouldn't grow a man-gina if we watched it together... and yep, the self-absorbed clich├ęs and foreign stereotypes abounded.

However, the scenery was stunning and it got me thinking about travelling again. I envied this woman, so free. I began wishing I was going alone to San Francisco alone, after all. Trips alone to do the grocery shopping just aren't cutting it for me any more. Then today, J asked me if I still wanted to go to San Francisco on a road trip, or alone. I couldn't answer him. Pathetic, huh?

I've realised that the recent devastation in Japan has me somewhat anxious about a major earthquake happening here, and being separated from my family. Not being able to protect them, or get to them. The stuff that people lose sleep over. I need to get a grip.

I know that - alone or with my people - it'll be wonderful to see the Golden Gate Bridge, walk through Chinatown, ride a tram down one of those hair-raising hills... I just wish I could decide, once and for all, how to go about it.

Stay tuned...

Thursday, March 24, 2011

A year in La La Land

It's been a year since we stumbled bleary-eyed through the gates at LAX and arrived here. In the spirit of this milestone, I thought I'd list some of the good and bad about life in La La Land so far. Not in any particular ranking...

Things that amuse me

1. The advertising for prescription medicine
I'm guessing there are federal guidelines which state that medication can't be advertised on TV, radio, or in print media unless the risks and side effects are clearly stated. All the commercials I've seen for various anti-depressants, contraceptive pills and so on have a large portion where the negative risks are mentioned. Call me crazy, but when I've just listened to 30 seconds where possible nausea, blurred vision, diarrhea, incontinence and worse are mentioned as possible side effects... I'm not really tempted to buy or ask for this product. Also, given that prescription medicines aren't advertised in Australia or the UK, the fact that they are even advertised here has always struck me as odd: Doctor, I don't want that brand of anti-depressant, I want this one that I saw on TV. I may not have a medical degree but I'm sure I know better than you because I saw the ad for it...

2. Commonly used euphemisms
Bath tissue = toilet paper, nursing = breastfeeding, restroom = public toilet
Toilet is an embarrassing word to use? Or maybe it's considered distasteful - I haven't figured it out. And breastfeeding? Really? This makes me laugh because there's a stereotype of Brits as being prudish, yet they have no problem using these words - and Australians definitely don't have a problem with them. But then, we can be a crude bunch.

3. Drive-through ATMS
Enough said.

4. Squirrels
I stalked them obsessively in London parks when we lived there - feeding them by hand - and I stalk them here when I see them, too. Which is often.

5. Nickels and dimes
I can never remember which ones are 5c or 10c coins, so I'm always thrown when someone refers to a nickel or dime during cash transactions (it doesn't help that the 10c coins are significantly smaller than the 5c coins). I know I'm not stupid, so I'm going to use the old - and convenient - 'baby brain' excuse. Let's overlook that fact that Miss Pie is now a toddler.

Things that will make me grumble

1. The health care system
I don't have the space here to rant about it, but simply put? It's woefully inadequate. The paperwork involved, and the time spent finding the appropriate doctor who actually accepts the health plan you're on is frustrating at the very least. I wouldn't want to be a person on a low income in the US. Free basic health care should be a given. For everyone.

2. High fructose corn syrup
Sure, food is really cheap here, and there's a reason for that - high fructose corn syrup. It's BAD for you, and in most of the food - unless you take the time to seek out the food that hasn't got it. Annoying.

3. Los Angeleno drivers
They seem oblivious to what an indicator is, they really do.

4. The coffee
Thick, tasteless foam in lattes and cappuccinos - yuck. I prefer my lattes creamy in texture - and with actual flavour - but my standards are gradually slipping and I'm becoming more accepting of how it is here.

5. American date format
Month/day/year? Sequentially, so illogical. After a year, I still have trouble writing it this way, and on more than one occasion I've had to tear up cheques I've written because of this.

Things that I love

We had access to Amazon in the UK as well, and I missed it when we went back to Australia. In those days, it was mostly books and music that were sold; these days, it's everything. Good prices and fast, cheap - if not free - shipping. What's not to love?

2. Trader Joe's
This grocery store is right up there with Whole Foods in my book, and their staff are so much friendlier. Their service is genuinely cheerful, and their food presented so appealingly. An early morning weekend visit there is always a happy start to the day.

3. Inn-N-Out Burgers
The tastiest fast food. EVER. All made from scratch on the premises, too.

4. America's love affair with peanut butter
A year ago, I'd have said that there's peanut butter found in places it has no business being in, but I've now embraced this. Peanut butter cookies, peanut butter ice cream with peanut butter cups, peanut butter-filled pretzels... I am a convert. My most recent discovery is the Tagalongs/Peanut Butter Patties (Girl Scout Cookies). To die for.

5. No more freaky creepy crawlies 
I saw my first American cockroach only last week, and it was tiny. It may just be that our apartment building is fairly new - so the pests have yet to move in - however, going a year without seeing a cockroach in Sydney would be unheard of. In the old terraced houses that we'd rented there, cockroaches were a fact of life. As were hideously fat stripy slugs, and an assortment of nasty spiders. Just the memory of brown huntsman spiders that gallop is enough to make me shudder. I'm not saying that Los Angeles hasn't got its own nasties; I just haven't encountered any yet. Here's hoping I don't!

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Sunday, March 20, 2011

L.A. Woman in the rain

Who said it never rains in Los Angeles? They were so wrong.

This morning I managed to get out by myself for a bit.

The weather was wild. The mountains were hidden under the weight of clouds, the rain was coming sideways, and the recent spring-like weather seemed to have skedaddled.

A feature of L.A. life is that supermarket car parks seem to be sprawled out around the buildings. There are are no sun shade cloths, and covered parking only really applies to the multi-level parking structures. I guess this is because people focus on the lack of rain.

It means that in summer, your car turns into an oven. I've always wondered why - for such a warm, sunny climate - sun shade cloths haven't been installed (like the ones on rooftop levels of car parks in Sydney). Palm trees may look pretty, but they don't exactly provide shade.

When it does actually rain, you get soaked - like I did today.

Driving home, I didn't mind being wet. I'd managed to acquire more hot cross buns, and was coasting along nicely on a caffeine buzz, feeling toasty warm inside the car.

I had the heat blowing onto my hands to thaw them out, and the steady vawp vawp vawp of the windscreen wipers transported me back to being a kid again. There's something so soothing about that sound, and feeling cocooned from the immediate wet landscape whizzing by.

And what a landscape this morning. The palm trees were swaying and the streets were littered with palm branches - resembling Miami in hurricane season instead of L.A. in spring.

The way these palm trees punctuated every corner I turned, every street I drove down... they reminded me of the inverted exclamation marks used for Spanish.

The soundtrack in my head was L.A. Woman by The Doors.

"The cars hiss by my window, like the waves down on the beach... "

It's an album that my parents played a lot when I was little, and an album that I know by heart. Every nuance, every beat.

That whole album is my lullabye. Even in my twenties, if I had trouble falling asleep at night, all I had to do was listen to L.A. Woman.

Tonight, that won't be necessary, though. I have the rain drumming on my window, and that sound is almost as soothing for me as Mr Mojo Risin's voice...

Friday, March 18, 2011

Gangsta Bear

Not long after moving into our L.A. apartment, on the ground floor and beneath a town home apartment, we realised we were going to have the neighbours from hell on top of us.

You know the kind. Regular mid-week parties, loud drunken arguments, cigarette butts tossed into our patio, constant banging around upstairs which would begin just as J and I would be going to bed, and an endless stream of visitors. Muffled, shouting-into-phone conversations at 2 am were a regular feature too.

What made this so frustrating is that this couple also had a young child, but due to the layout of their apartment, she slept on the top floor - above their parties and noise - so she wasn't affected. Instead, it was us who copped it. Their front door and staircase is on the other side of the wall next to the Faery's bed. Their living room is above our bedroom.

Our complaints fell on deaf ears. My first few attempts at politely asking them to be quieter at night were met with the old "I no speak English, no understand" card. Yeah right. After that, I went though building management but they took their time to issue warnings to these tenants. It was only after repeated complaints from me that management decided I was a pain in the arse and they appeared to take action.

There is a clause in the lease agreement - something along the lines of three strikes and you're out - about noise levels, and when I'd complained about sixty-nine times and been promised that warning letters had been issued, there was a period of quiet upstairs. Bliss.

It only lasted a little while before they were back to old tricks.

J and I suspected that something wasn't right, and made jokes about the guy being part of a gang. We had reason, though. The rent for these apartments is not cheap, and this guy appeared to not have a day job. We would see him come and go throughout the day, dressed casually. He - apparently - spoke little English. His wife appeared to be a stay-at-home mum. How the hell did they pay for their rent?

The issues with noise became such a problem that last month, we began to badger the building management to find us another apartment in the complex (as much as I hate the idea of moving yet again), or else we would not be resigning our lease. During this process, the management revealed to us that the tenants had just given notice to vacate. Happy days for us!

Only two days after learning this, on February 16, we were woken by an FBI and ICE (Immigration and Customs Enforcement) pre-dawn raid on the above apartment. They were armed, the whole shebang. I had to peep out the front window - who wouldn't?

Nothing reminds you that you're in America like witnessing an FBI raid.

I don't know the neighbours' exact connection, but on the same day, massive synchronized raids were carried out and 74 arrests made for people suspected as being part of a gang called Armenian Power. According to the news, there was a long list of crimes committed, but the main ones involved fraud (skimming devises placed at 99-Cent Only stores to gain credit card details and then using these to make about $2 million) and identity theft that was focused on fleecing pensioners from money in their Wells Fargo bank accounts (totalling $10 million in losses).

Ripping off the elderly - charming, yes?

Needless to say, it became blissfully quiet above us. I occasionally saw the wife come and go, but rarely heard anything. The husband had been seen taken away, handcuffed, on the morning of the raid, and later it was rumoured that he'd been deported back to Armenia.

Which brings me to now.

This past week, the familiar banging around in the middle of the night started up again. We consoled ourselves with the fact that these people were definitely moving - very soon - and then yesterday I saw him.

I have no idea whether he'd been in prison, on bail, whatever, but he was back. Along with two old men - past the age of lifting heavy things -  and they began moving their furniture downstairs and past our apartment.

The Faery thought this was great entertainment, and set up camp at our front patio's gate, watching the men grunting and sweating as they carried things past.

I thought about making a placard for her to hold: Don't let the door bang on your way out!

After about half an hour of the Faery staring at them coming and going, I came outside to usher her in. At that moment, the wife appeared from their staircase, holding a travel cot which was filled to overflowing with toys, mostly soft.

The wife reached in, lifted out a teddy bear, and asked the Faery, "You want?"

What four-year-old can say no to a new teddy? I desperately hoped she might set a new precedent, though.

No such luck. The Faery's face lit up, and the wife - smiling happily - reached in to the travel cot to start offloading more toys to us... wtf?

I didn't want to be rude, but I didn't want to accept anything from these people. Awkward.

In the time it took for my tongue to scramble and find the right words - "Um, no more toys, thanks, we have too many toys" - the Faery was now ecstatically holding a teddy, a panda, and a jaguar.

All super soft and in pristine condition. Expensive looking. The teddy bear was particularly soft.

The Faery spent the rest of the afternoon proudly carrrying the newly acquired animals around with her, and when left unattended, Miss Pie was pretty pleased with herself if she managed to get hold of any of them. Both girls were smitten, and I felt like I'd somehow accepted blood money.

When the girls were both tucked up in bed, I found the teddy bear in a corner, and picked it up to show J. He lifted up the T-shirt the bear was wearing, revealing a Burberry tag on the bear. I then noticed the bear's T-shirt had a collar made from the trademark Burberry pattern.

Burberry bear. That's all kinds of classiness, right?

J promptly christened the bear Townie - a bit of lingo we picked up from our years in the UK. Townies love Burberry.

And that's the story of how a gangster's bear came to live with us.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Triple sweetness

The first thing I did this morning was head for the computer to check on news of the arrival of a friend's baby. As I reached out to switch it on - poof! Lights went out. Power cut, before my hands had even touched the computer.

I didn't cause it, honest (things have a habit of blowing up or dying in the arse at my hands). Judging from the non-functioning traffic lights along the way to the Faery's preschool, the entire neighbourhood had been affected.

Crossing an eight-lane road on foot with no traffic lights working? Daunting, but I think the motorists felt sorry for me with my stroller and little ones, so they stopped.

Anyhow, the power wasn't out for long and the worldwide web brought me some happy news.

The first two bits of news involved the births of two little boys to dear friends of mine. Both were due this week, so it wasn't a complete surprise, but joyful to hear, nonetheless. I am already arranging to marry Miss Pie off to one of them when she's older. Joking. Maybe...

The third piece of happy news is that I've been featured on my lovely friend Angie's blog, The Little Mumma. This wasn't a surprise either, as she'd asked me to write a guest piece, but I wasn't sure when it was actually being 'published'... but there I am!

I don't really follow many mummy blogs as they tend to make me feel inadequate. Not gushy enough over the fruit of my loins. Not sentimental enough. Not attentive enough. Not stylish enough in the quest to dress said fruits in groovy clothing.

I love The Little Mumma because I don't feel aware of my shortcomings when I read her stories. Don't get me wrong - she's incredibly open about her loves, and has two of the spunkiest boys in town. More importantly, though, she has a great sense of humour and isn't afraid to poke fun at herself. She is a gifted writer, and is easy to relate to. I have a lot of time for her.

If you've found me randomly and don't already know The Little Mumma? Check her out! And while you're there? Read my guest piece, too.

Monday, March 14, 2011

Charlie and the Media Factory

Part of me is loathe to write about this train wreck that's been played out in microscopic detail over the last few weeks.

It was mildly entertaining for about a day - if that - then I had to look away when it became apparent that Charlie Sheen is a very sick man, in need of urgent medical intervention.

This is where the media has a responsibility to do the right thing and, oh, how they are failing right now. Miserably.

I've never been more acutely aware of being in La La Land than I have recently. It is impossible to get away from stories about Charlie Sheen, and the only reason why he's been knocked from the perch as the leading news story each day is due to the devastation in Japan.

Cocaine habit? Bi-polar? I don't really care - just get the man the help he needs and stop fuelling his own delusions of self grandeur by printing or replaying every recent sound bite of his.

As for those millions of idiots who are following him on Twitter? Shame on them.

In the world of therapy, there's a term for people who make it possible for an addict to continue their self-destructive behaviour. These people are known as enablers.

I see the media and Twitter followers as being Sheen's enablers.

This is why I was reluctant to add any more attention to this topic in cyberspace. However, I recently saw a brilliant snippet from The Late Late Show with Craig Ferguson, and wanted to share the clip within a context.

I've never actually watched this show, but I think I may have to change that. He articulated - in a way that I can't - how there is nothing funny about mental illness.

Plus? I always love a good Scottish accent.

Friday, March 11, 2011

My Japanese Heart


The news I woke up to this morning was of devastation. A magnitude of which I can't begin to comprehend.

I've never been to Japan, but it is the country that's number one on my list of places to experience. It's been number one for most of my adult life.

It's a feeling I have deep in my bones, an intuition that Japan is a place I'll adore. There is so much that I've come to love about Japanese culture over the years. Their food is an obvious feature, but there is so much more.

So much beauty.

Yet, so vulnerable to the extremes of nature.

Since I began working as an English language teacher, I count myself lucky to have known the loveliest, most wonderfully hard-working Japanese students. Ones who made the brave and difficult step of immersing themselves completely in another country, in order to learn this tricky, idiosyncratic language known as English.

Through these hundreds of gentle souls, the complex spirit of Japan has come to feel strangely familiar to me.

The Japanese have a special place in my heart.

* * *

This is also a scary reminder to me that - as we live on a massive fault line in California - we need to be prepared for the Big One. It scares me to think of it striking, and being unable to protect my little ones.

I don't want to think about it.

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Motor skills and blinking lights

Within weeks of my eighteenth birthday, I got my drivers licence and - on the same day - moved out of home. I bid adieu to life in the suburbs and was ready to rock the uni student lifestyle.

It was another fourteen years before I drove again.

There were various reasons for this - no money for a car, no access to the family car, living/studying/working in areas with good public transport, and likewise, no need for a car when we lived in London. Londoners will moan about their public transport, but it's actually pretty good (as in, "Bugger, just missed the tube and now I have to wait a whole four minutes for the next one! Woe is me!") and the networks of both the London Underground and buses are extensive.

But I digress. I didn't drive for fourteen years, and I can't blame it entirely on the above reasons.

Anxiety played a big part. As the years went by, and my physical memory of being behind the steering wheel retreated, so did my confidence in my ability to drive safely. Or even drive at all. Often, the most stressful dreams I had involved having to drive somewhere, alone, and not knowing how to start the engine, or know which pedals to push. Then once the car was started, I'd have trouble steering it, or controlling the speed. Those dreams were awful, and did nothing to make me want to drive again. Ever.

By the time I hit the big 3-0, the Faery's birth was imminent and we knew - despite getting by fine with our inner city lifestyle - that we needed to buy a car, so we did. Shopping, strollers and buses don't go well together.

Even then, it took another eighteen months before I was driving again. It was hard to explain to people why I didn't drive. I'd attempt explanations, but I'd see in their eyes that they just thought I was strange. Or pathetic.

Then one day - after attending a funeral - something in me switched. I really did feel pathetic, and I was tired of relying on other people to do the driving. It felt humiliating - with a toddler - to have my mother in law drive us places if needed. I also owed J more than just a few nights as designated driver.

I forced myself to get on with it, and eased my way back into driving in the same way that a person learns from scratch. Thankfully, without the added pressure of having to pass a test - I'd always made sure to renew my licence over the years. Hey, it had served as convenient photo ID, if nothing else, in my twenties.

An advantage of getting back on the road a little later in life is that 95% of the driving I've done has been with the voice of a little person in the back seat, asking me impossible questions and challenging my focus. These days, I am used to driving and dealing with the Faery (and Miss Pie) at the same time. When I have a rare drive by myself? I savour the silence. No music for me. Nope. I drink in that silence, and relish every last drop of it.

It was about three years ago that I got back on the horse, so to speak. I'd really only been driving regularly for two years before we decided to make the Big Move to L.A.

You can imagine, then, the terror that filled me at the thought of having to get used to driving all over again - on the other side of the road (for readers who may be unaware, Australians drive on the left side of the road).

There was no getting around it, though. To live in L.A, you need wheels. It's as simple as that. The public transport is woefully inadequate, and in my limited dealings with the buses, extremely difficult with a stroller. Although the buses are designed to allow wheelchair access, the drivers still insist I remove Miss Pie from the stroller and fold it up. Even when there are no wheelchairs already on the bus (unlike Sydney buses, where it's perfectly acceptable to wheel a stroller on to a bus). Bollocks to that.

Within a month of arriving here, I was comfortably driving J to work, picking him up, and popping out to the local malls. With noisy kids in tow.

There are actually a few things that I prefer about driving on American roads. The lanes are wider, and busier roads will always have a designated lane for left turns, so you never feel at though you are holding up traffic as you wait. There are special lanes not just for left turns into streets, but spare lanes in the centre of busier roads where you can sit safely while waiting to turn left into driveways. I approve.

I also like the fact that - provided it's safe to do so - you can turn right when stopped at a red light.

Parking is a cinch, too. Many car parks have spacious angled spots, where you drive nose in. Impossible to screw up, really, which makes me snigger all the more when I see momentous parking fails - and I see them frequently.

I've reached the conclusion that Los Angelenos are terrible drivers.

It's not just the failed parking attempts that leave me feeling smug. It's the fact that people rarely indicate when they're changing lanes, or turning. It's as though the drivers here genuinely do not know what an indicator is, and I'm not exaggerating. Friends who hail from other states and cities have agreed with me that this is a big problem in L.A.

One acquaintance, originally from Tennessee, told me that after seven years in L.A, he no longer 'signals'. He says he's noticed, amongst other drivers, that if he indicates to change lanes, they will speed up to not let him in. There seems to be a mentality that if you want to be able to change lanes, you need to do it on the sly.

It doesn't explain why people rarely indicate when turning, though. From a pedestrian's point of view, this really pisses me off. I don't understand - do they think they'll get zapped by the indicator if they use it? I actually enjoy using indicators. There's something hypnotic about the tick-a tick-a tick-a and blinking lights.

It's now been a year - almost - and I can report that I have only driven down the wrong side of a road once. Ahem. In my defence, I was turning left - at the northern end - into a very wide, empty boulevard. There was no traffic around, and then half a block down, I noticed that the angle at which the cars were parked looked odd... woops. A quick turn around, a red face, and all was well in the end.

Now, there is only one obstacle left for me to conquer, and that's the freeways. I can't bring myself to drive on them, even though I know it can save time. The high speeds, and needing to sometimes cross five lanes at a moment's notice to access the correct freeway change or exit, combined with other drivers who don't indicate, all make it seem downright dangerous to me. It scares me.

I haven't got around to getting my Californian licence either, which technically - as a resident - I'm supposed to have by now. Oops.

As for those sweat-inducing dreams?

I haven't had one for a few years. Hopefully, that chapter is closed. Locked up, and key thrown away.

The local stretch of the 134

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Wordless Wednesday - Hummingbirds

Well, it won't be completely wordless.

For a start, why have I not heard of Wordless Wednesday before? Clearly I haven't been paying enough attention elsewhere.

I approve of the idea, though. Simply posting a picture - whether it's one I've taken or an image that just appeals to me for whatever reason? Count me in.

I have a feeling I won't be good at the wordless part, though.

Spring is well and truly in the air, and that means I've been seeing a lot more of these exquisitely tiny birds about.

If you've grown up with hummingbirds as a part of life, you probably won't understand my interest in them. Imagine spending more than 30 years without encountering one? That's me, because they don't exist in Australia. And for some reason, I never saw any when we lived in the UK.

They seem to love the gardens around the apartment we live in, so there are plenty around. Nearly a year after spotting my first hummingbird, I still feel compared to stop and stare each time, though.

I think they're pretty special.

Listen to me... I sound like a birdwatcher in the making. Ornithology, here I come.

And I suck at being wordless...

Sunday, March 6, 2011

A sweet little victory

Another trip to Whole Foods today (partly in search of some 'shut your face awesome' donuts that were recommended to me), and there was drama, drama, drama. Kids, eh? Can't let you have fun.

Within moments of entering the store, the Faery began complaining she was too cold. It was the one time I didn't have a hoodie for her in the car. She then became fixated on getting a bag of teeny-tiny organic apples that cost a bomb, and I refused. I can be mean like that. She got strawberries instead - so hard done by.

Next, the tongue on her brand new sneakers kept going skewiff on one foot, and - being a new sensation she was unfamiliar with - it was annoying her. She was unable to ignore it, and many stops were made for readjustment amongst the Sunday lunch-time rush of shoppers... yeah, I picked a good time to go.

She'd been a promised a treat from their bakery once we were finished, and she became a broken record with her pleas to hurry up and finish shopping. Despite having eaten before leaving home, she claimed to be hungry.

Cold, annoying shoe, hungry... and indecisive. When we finally made it to the bakery at the end, nothing there appealed to her. The cupcakes were sold out, as were the gingerbread men, and it was a disaster. No donuts for me, either. The waterworks were turned on (the Faery, not me). After some cajoling in which I bartered and agreed she could have something from her Halloween stash at home, there was some brief peace and quiet.

I steered the trolley towards the check out aisle, and that was when I saw them.

Hot cross buns! Oh. My. God. It had been too long. My hands could not grab the six-pack quick enough. My hands may have even been shaking.

I paid up and began to push the trolley - with shopping and Miss Pie - towards the car. Along the way, I was vaguely aware of whinging from the Faery, but by that stage I'd had enough and had tuned out. Then I realised she'd stopped, I assume, to readjust her shoe. I waited. And waited. And waited. Somehow, I managed to lose sight of her, so I called out. She had taken a different route to find me, and I could hear her little voice calling back in panic, unable to see me. When she eventually found me - a whole ten seconds later - she dissolved into even bigger tears than before.

I tried to hug her but all she wanted was to be carried, which was impossible, so she wailed all the way back to the car. Give me strength.

She continued to wail for the entire car ride home, and lost it when I put Miss Pie (instead of her) into the stroller, which was loaded up with shopping to bring up from the car park to our apartment.

I was so over it all, but focused on those hot cross buns waiting for me. My reward.

Two hours later, with one child napping, and the other's mood immensely improved by a raid on her Halloween stash, I finally opened my pack of hot cross buns.

Oh my!
This edition of food porn, was proudly brought to you by a hot cross bun.

They tasted every bit as good as I remember. Even better, they conformed to American tradition and were fairly jumbo of size. My belly felt full and happy after just one.

So, all in all, a bit of a shitty day (it's Sunday and J is working) but - hot cross buns! Hot cross buns, one a penny, two a penny, hot cross buns...  That has more than made up for any shittiness, and I know that whatever the Faery or Mis Pie have in store for me this afternoon, there are those divine sweet and spicy buns waiting for me when they go to bed.

Sharing? Why would I do a silly thing like that? They are all mine...

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

A tail in three cities

Meet Emily (left) and Jet (right).

Not long after we moved to Melbourne, we decided it was time to get a couple of kittens. J and I both had always had special cats in our lives, but in the years we'd been living in the UK, we'd missed having cats. Being back in Australia, we felt the timing was right, so we headed off to the Cat Protection Society of Victoria to adopt some little 'uns. The plan was that we would choose one each.

As soon as we walked in, we spotted Emily. She was tiny and clinging on to the side of the cage she was in. She had little shaved patches on her front legs and a  huge shaved patch on her side with stitches poking out - the result of being desexed only the day before. Justin pulled her out for a cuddle, she purred, and that was that. Decision made. Stroking her, he asked, "Can we get her?" I replied, "If you don't choose her, I will".

While they cuddled some more, I wandered around the other cages to choose a brother or sister for her. I pulled out a couple of others for cuddles, but then my attention was drawn to a black kitten who was trampling his cage mates in his efforts to get my attention. He had a loud meow, and implored me with his eyes to give him a cuddle, so I pulled him out. He had the loudest rumble of a purr, and I'm a sucker for a loud purr. That was that. Decision made.


This was seven years ago, and those kittens became our babies. Emily endeared us by climbing into our bed at night, and snuggling up to us - when she was small, I often woke up to find a warm, purring bundle wrapped over my neck. She was the 'good' one who never had accidents. Jet, on the other hand, had his moments with forgetting to use the litter, but wasn't too bad. We were in a first floor apartment, so they were mostly indoor cats. Jet was 'special' - he was easily spooked by things and used to have us in stitches with his springy jumps of surprise. We joked that he got signals from the mothership in space, and he loved to spend time up on the highest surface possible - it was where he felt the safest.

Sydney, House #1
Sydney, House #1

After a year in Melbourne, we returned to Sydney. Happy to be back with family and friends, but I was also surprised at how much I was going to miss the life we'd carved for ourselves in Melbourne. We found ourselves a small terrace house to rent in Sydney's Inner West, and Emily and Jet immediately set about getting familiar with outdoor life during the day. This house had a cat flap - handy - which we closed at night to keep them in.

Sydney, House #1

For the most part, they were great mates and complemented each other well. Emily loved her tummy rubs, which we happily indulged her in. Who can resist a fluffy expanse of creamy caramel stripes and spots? Her paws were always a forbidden zone, but Jet loved his paws being rubbed and touched. This set him apart from any cat I'd ever known, and I loved that about him. His tummy was to be touched at one's own risk, though. It triggered the frisky kangaroo kicks and swipes, but always in a playful way and never malicious.

Things were cruising along nicely, then J and I decided we'd been practicing this nurturing stuff for long enough - without killing any small defenceless creatures - and it was time for a real baby (pot plants were another story, though). Along came the Faery.

My worries about the cats jumping into her cot and smothering her proved to be silly. If anything, they avoided her. A cat just can't relax around creatures that make randomly loud, squawking sounds. Apart from the occasional look of disdain in her direction, there was little interaction... although they did try to compete for attention at times, especially when I was breastfeeding. Both of them would try to find a spot on my lap, which made for interesting times.

Sydney, House #1
This is one of the last photos I have of Jet.

Maybe it was the Faery's refusal to sleep at night, or the noise she made, but he began demanding to go outside in the middle of the night - something we'd never allowed after losing past beloved cats to the roads. However, Jet had a meow to rival any of the oriental cat breeds. In other words, he was loud. And constant. He could be a broken record. He even reached up and rattled the old door knob on our bedroom door from the other side. He was a bugger.

After months of sleep-derivation and losing my sense of humour, I was a zombie. Not wanting anything to potentially wake up the light-sleeping Faery once she was asleep, we caved in to Jet's demands. This only happened for a couple of weeks, then there was a knock on our door at 3am one morning. I knew straight away and was crying before J had even opened the door. A kind passerby (so he claimed) had found him and brought him to us, as Jet's name tag on his collar had our address. His body was cold but hadn't stiffened yet, and we sat up, cuddled him and said our goodbyes. It was almost three years to the day since we'd adopted him.

Nearly four years later, I still blame myself.

Sydney, House #1

As far as fur-babies go, Emily became an only child. She also found herself the sole focus of a determined toddler's attempts to be friends. To this day, it's still a very one-sided friendship, but as the Faery gets older and less heavy-handed, Emily has become more accepting.

Sydney, House #2
We moved to another house after our landlady announced she was selling - we didn't want to deal with the hassle of home inspections and wondering if the new owner would keep us as tenants, so we got out while the going was good. We found a house not far away, on a hill, with a backyard that faced west. Perfect for a cat to catch those afternoon rays of sunshine.

Sydney, House #2
Sydney, House #2
Life was pretty good for Emily... most of the time.

Then our new landlords decided they wanted their house back. I was heavily pregnant with Miss Pie. Bugger.

Sydney, House #3
The next house had a huge old tree out the back, which Emily enjoyed climbing. She wasn't terribly impressed with the move, though, and she sensed things were going to change even more.

Our cat, who had never peed anywhere naughty, pissed in the yet-to-be-installed baby car seat. I cleaned it, left it to dry, then discovered yet more cat pee in it.

I didn't take many photos of Emily in this home. Too much was happening.

I had my second baby.

My best friend had her first baby.

J was offered The Job in Los Angeles. We had barely unpacked from the last move, and had to start all over again for an even bigger move.

Emily then pissed in the stroller. Little bugger.

However, being part of our family, we never doubted that we would bring her with us to L.A. Besides, it felt like too much of an imposition to ask anyone to mind her for a few years.

We boarded Emily for the final week we were in Sydney, and for the first couple of weeks we were in Los Angeles. We wanted to be settled somewhere before flying her over, and avoid having her stay in our cramped hotel room.

Los Angeles
Emily finally arrived (and I had a super-duper new camera!), looking like the proverbial that a cat had dragged in - she had gotten covered in her drinking water on the plane, in icy cold temperatures, which gave her a wretched cold. I'd never seen her so sick, but she got better quickly. Little trooper.

But she was less than impressed by her ordeal and new surroundings. She pissed in Miss Pie's bouncer. She pissed in the Faery's little suitcase. She pissed in my suitcase. She pissed on a pile of my underwear in the closet. She crapped in one of the bathtubs, on several occasions. Charming. I'm pretty sure that on each of those occasions, her access to her cat litter had not been obstructed. They were very deliberate acts on her part... and I was pissed off. I was furious, and sick of cleaning cat pee. It got to the point where I had to lock her in the bathroom when we went out during the day because I did not trust her. Thankfully, it was just a phase, and she stopped doing this. I'm not proud to say I was ready to give her away.

Los Angeles
Now? She just has to deal with the unwanted gropings of Miss Pie, who is yet to master being gentle. I mostly feel sorry for Emily, though, and let her sleep in our room with the door shut. All day. Because now that middle age is setting in, sleeping is all she wants to do these days.

Mind you, a few eye pokes and tail tugs are a small price to pay for this:

Los Angeles
If reincarnation exists? I'd like to put in a request for domestic cat. It's not a bad life at all.