Monday, July 25, 2011

Postcard from California

It's time for a small holiday break (or vacation, for those of you who speak Yankee).

Over the next couple of weeks, I have J's mum arriving for a few weeks, the Faery turning five (!), and a trip down the coast to the northern San Diego beaches - for a catch up with much loved, old friends. After we return to LA, if I'm super lucky, J and I might even be able to run away to Las Vegas (sans kids) for a night.

That last plan is just a tentative shadow, but I have my fingers crossed extra tightly - we desperately need a night away, just the two of us, and who knows when we'll get another opportunity for the Faery and Miss Pie to be in the excellent care of a family member.

I suspect that even if I was inclined to squeeze in some cyber ramblings amongst all these summer festivities, I may not actually have much internet access while we're away... so I'm going to call it a clean break for now, and be back in a few weeks. Hopefully I'll have a tale or three to tell, and you know there'll be pictures...

Friday, July 22, 2011

Squeezing sunshine from the storm

We had news yesterday, about the unexpected death of someone we knew back home - someone who had helped J immensely in many ways, as a mentor and father figure.

It's been a kick in the gut for J.

This is the kind of stuff that forces me to stop. Breathe. Be. Forget the petty grievances, and squeeze my little rays of sunshine even harder.

Rest in peace, G.W.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

OTT - Blingin' ringin'

Okay, so I get the fear of radiation from mobile phones, and I get that these handsets were marketed as a novelty gift item - a pretty funky one at that. Who doesn't like the retro look of the old Bakelite telephones? I especially love the way those phones sound when they ring, and have fond memories of my own grandmother's phone from when I was very young.

But people actually use these handsets?


(Photo source)
I guess so.

Hmm. For me, the whole idea of appeal of today's mobile phone is having something small and compact in your bag, or pocket.

These handsets look like they'd weigh a lot more than the phone itself, but please feel free to correct me if I'm wrong. One thing's for sure - it wouldn't fit in your jeans pocket, would it?

Kind of defeats the whole point of a mobile phone, huh?

I'm sure Lenny Kravitz thought he was looking über cool, and that's what really matters...

Monday, July 18, 2011

IKEA love

I love - no, make that adore - IKEA.

There. I said it.

(Not such a fan of the upper case letters here, though. I feel like I'm shouting, but I'm pedantic and like to refer to names properly... so, upper case it is.)

It's something about walking through all the displays, so bright and full of promise... Yes, your home could be the epidemy of funkily organised, no matter how small it is. Well, that's what is whispered into my ears when I visit. There's usually a substantial amount of caffeine under my belt.

IKEA has saved our broke arses on many occasion. I don't understand the snobbish resistance that some people have to it. Things for the home that are designed to look nice, and also happen to be affordable? What's so bad about that? I can't justify blowing three or four grand on a sofa, when there are decent ones around for a fraction of that.

I'm not fussed at the thought of untold thousands having the same furniture pieces in their home, because there are a million ways to personalise a space and make it your own.

Maybe it's the weekend rush crowds that deters some - granted, that does put a damper on the experience. I'm lucky that I have the option of going during the week, although that means dragging the two little ones along, and that can be its own special brand of hell.

I also laugh when I hear people complain about assembling IKEA furniture. I actually enjoy it, and am well-practised from many, many purchases over the years. Sure, it can sometimes be the same as embarking on a large 3D puzzle... but the instructions have never let me down. I don't consider myself particularly gifted, but am guilty of feeling a little smug when I hear people say the flat-packs are wrought with problems (they're not).

For many years, whenever we brought home a flat-pack, I used to shoo J away so I could do it myself. Really. There was even one time - not long ago - when I managed to go, purchase, bring home, and assemble two small bookcases in 36ºC heat... and I was 36 weeks pregnant with Miss Pie. I put that moment of madness down to severe nesting - induced from having just moved house and wanting to pretty things up a bit. These days, however, I'm somewhat lazier (and more tired), so now I sometimes 'allow' J to do be the handyman. Isn't he lucky I'm so nice?

You're probably getting a deeper sense of how I feel about IKEA now.

When we moved to LA, we decided to mostly start from scratch in terms of furniture. We didn't want to potentially wait three months for our shipping container to arrive - we needed beds and so on immediately. Such a big move had a lot of upfront costs, and despite having a generous relocation budget from J's employer, we still needed to watch the pennies. It made sense to get much of what we needed from IKEA.

The first week that we were here, we stayed in a hotel in Burbank. It was walking distance to IKEA. Every day, I trudged over - with both girls - to stock up on bedding, pillows and kitchen basics that we'd
need immediately after moving into our apartment. Every day, I returned to the hotel, with Miss Pie's stroller weighed down by as much as was safe to stack under and on top. I received a lot of funny looks in that hotel foyer.

By the end of that week, the kindly greeter just about knew all our names and even I had reached saturation point with IKEA.

These days, IKEA is a ten or fifteen-minute drive away. I don't go often enough, mostly because it's less fun when carting along a toddler and preschooler. When I do go, the Faery loves to go to the childminding play area... but that one hour always zooms by too quickly. Then there's the matter of Miss Pie. The older she gets, the less happy she is to be passively pushed around in the stroller. This means IKEA missions are hasty ones, best completed before one of them loses the plot.

Yesterday was Sunday, and J suggested I go do a solo-trip to IKEA to grab a couple of little things we'd been wanting. I think I may have left a smoky trail in my wake.

Crowds? What crowds? All I knew was that I wasn't pushing a stroller through the store, and that made all the difference. I disappeared into the nooks and crannies of the display studio apartments. I opened drawers and cupboard doors. I sat own on various seats. Fingered shower curtains. I had no intention of purchasing any of these items, but did those things just because I could. No bored or stroppy kids. Me time.

I was oblivious to any hustle and bustle. I felt free.

Half a dozen photo frames, and a box of Anna's Ginger Thins later, I emerged.

Deliriously happy. It's the simple things in life, right?

I'm going to do that more often.

Saturday, July 16, 2011

All aboard

A few more photos from the sightseeing expedition.

First stop: 
Gucci on Rodeo Drive

Second stop:
Disabled Porsche, also on Rodeo Drive

Third stop:
Palms on Rodeo Drive

Final stop:

Thursday, July 14, 2011

L.A. Woman in the sun

With my brother and his girlfriend in town, and keen to undertake one of those touristy hop on/hop off bus tours, J kindly took the day off work to mind the Faery and Miss Pie so that I could play tag along. After being in LA for well over a year, I still hadn't done anything hugely touristy.

We decided to do two of the four available circuits - one around Hollywood and Beverly Hills, and one that interchanged at Beverly Hills and took us to Santa Monica, passing through Century City, Brentwood... and a shite load of traffic.

Each of these two circuits was supposed to take two hours, so we knew we were looking at a minimum of four hours on the road. The frequency of these buses varied from every twenty to forty minutes, so we knew we really only wanted to hop off once from each of the circuits. We opted for a walk around the shopping district in Beverly Hills - Rodeo Drive, baby! - and again at the pier in Santa Monica for a late lunch.

It was quite fun, until it was time to head back from the beach to to Beverly Hills , and we hit a major snarl of traffic.

Did I mention these buses were open-top double-deckers?

Did I mention I forgot to vigorously reapply my sunscreen?

Yeah. Smart, huh?

I'd estimate that we ended up spending at least five hours on those buses, four of which were in the sun (once the morning grey had lifted)... and five hours inhaling the finest, most pure LA road fumes.

I know, I know - no one forced me to sit up the top of the bus. However, the views from inside, downstairs, were fairly limited. This was a sightseeing expedition, after all.

Needless to say, by the time I got home, my lungs felt like they were lined with gunk, and my skin in need of a good soak and scrub.

Only one problem. My skin was too poorly for a scrub - it was a hot shade of red already. Nothing like having a white camera strap outline across one's neck - plus red shoulders and nose to rival Rudolph's - to make one feel foolish. On a vain note, the contrast of my skin colour gives the illusion of my neglected blonde hair now appearing lighter.

Speaking of highlights, one of the highlights of the day was going past the Whisky a Go Go, on Sunset Boulevard.

When I was fifteen - and going through a small obsession with The Doors - I sneakily borrowed my mother's copy of No One Gets Out Alive. I say sneakily, because my parents were quite overprotective of me, and didn't want me reading about sex, drugs and rock'n'roll. Hmm. My mother did end up finding the book under my pillow, and reclaimed it before I'd finished it, but not before I'd read about The Doors playing regularly at the Whisky a Go Go.

We drove past it once, last year, but were on the other side of the road and moving fast, so it was mostly a blur. This time, I got a great view - look closely (below) at who's scheduled for the next gig.

Ray Manzarek and Bobby Krieger from The Doors... how FREAKY is that? Even more so because my brother was with me, and we have a shared history and appreciation where The Doors are concerned.

It made my day, actually.

Monday, July 11, 2011

Summer time

A weekend of hot weather (of course!), catching up with my lovely friends and brother, and endless poolside barbecuing. Perfect!

Last night, I caught a glimpse of the tan line that's appeared (despite the slather of 50+ SPF) on the Faery's bum, and was tickled pink. Is there anything cuter than golden tan lines on little bottoms? I think not.

Friday, July 8, 2011

Buttery sticks and bricks

I may have whinged about their units of measurement, bemoaned the sadness of cream in the US, and still get put off by the strange, unnaturally orange colour of American cheddar... but you know what America does right?

(Photo source)
American butter is wrapped into small blocks, called 'sticks'. A stick of butter is 4-oz, or 113g - depending which language of measurement you speak. Roughly, half a cup.

I think that's brilliant... and I'm not even being sarcastic. I actually mean it.

Australian butter is sold in 250g blocks. Seriously, how often does one encounter a recipe that calls for an entire cup of butter? I used to find lost stubs of half-wrapped blobs of butter in my fridge - a lot - as a result of always needing to cut up said 250g butter blocks.

Lost buttery souls in my fridge no longer exist. More often than not, if I only need 1/4 cup of butter, that's half a stick. Nice and neat. And if on the rare occasion I do require more than half a cup of butter - well, two sticks soften to room temperature a hell of a lot quicker than a 250g brick.

I think that's how I'll refer to Australian butter portions from now on - bricks. Butter bricks and sticks. A nice distinction, no?

Kind of ironic, though, when I ponder the American need to make everything else super-sized. Buckets for coffee and popcorn, but neat little sticks for butter. 'Tis a funny world we live in...

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

OTT - Picnic style

The US is a country where companies make products to cater for every whim, fancy, and paranoia. Something for everyone.

Whether it's advertised on TV, something I see in a store, or witness in use - I realised today that I've been mentally taking note whenever I see something that seems - to me - over the top, excessive, or just plain silly.

I'm sure it's not just Americans who are easily sold on useless items. There are products which I know are also bought by Brits and fellow Australians - but there are definitely times when I see something, shake my head, and think to myself "Only in America..." Quite often these products are baby/child related - because I guess that's my life at the moment, and where my focus is much of the time.

Anyhow, I thought it might be fun to introduce a semi-regular "OTT" segment here, sharing what I consider to be Over. The. Top.

* * *

Today's feature, itself, is not silly. I'm sure it'd be a brilliant thing to include on a camping trip if you have a baby - or even used for a long day outdoors.

It's more the context that I saw this being used in today.

LA is in the midst of some very hot weather, so the park that I took the Faery and Miss Pie to this morning is a favourite, due to the shade provided by large maple and willow trees. The Faery enjoys chasing butterflies here.

When we arrived, I noticed a mothers group setting up a picnic under a sprawling maple tree. It was a beautifully shady spot. Next to their rugs, was this (with a small baby asleep inside):

(photo source)
The photo doesn't really do justice. Basically, it was a small, zipped up room for the baby. A mini tent.

The baby inside would have been no more than a month or two old - immobile.

Under a large shady tree.

In a suburban Californian park, without snakes or deadly spiders (compared to Australian critters).

Maybe it's just me... but I always found a picnic rug, or pram, perfectly fine for newborn naps. My brain hurt just imagining trying to set this thing up - just for a morning nap at the park. I'm lazy like that.

But then, I've always gone for the minimum of trappings where baby products are concerned. No sterilizers, no bath thermometers, no bath seats, no air purifiers - just common sense.

Listen to me - don't I know I sound like one of those judgemental know-it-alls? I'm not actually having a go at what parents choose to buy. Each to their own. Everyone wants to feel that their child is safe, and that's a good thing.

I just get annoyed at corporations which churn out so much unnecessary crap, and passive-aggressively market their products to prey on new parents' fears. I choose not to give my money to any company that implies I'm a negligent, uncaring parent if I don't buy their product. I have a low tolerance for that sort of thing.

Anyhow. I'll step down off my soap box. My future OTT posts will be much shorter affairs, I promise.

Monday, July 4, 2011

Mini attempt

A while back, I mentioned a photo editing technique that appeals to the dork in me, known as 'miniature faking'. It makes objects appear a little like miniature models. I don't have the software to do this myself on the computer, but my camera has a setting which can do it. This means I have to do it before I upload the pictures onto the computer... and usually, I don't remember to try this trick until after I've deleted the photos from my camera. Lots of missed opportunities so far.

Anyhow, being a long weekend here, we ventured out west to a friend's barbecue yesterday - about forty minutes away, on long stretches of freeway. The drive back was quite lovely, as there was beautiful golden light bouncing off the hills and mountains. Not an easy thing to capture from the front passenger seat when moving at high speed, and the resulting photos were nothing special... then I remembered the 'play' camera settings and attempted some miniature faking of my own. Although the end results aren't dramatic, I like the added whimsy it gave.

Saturday, July 2, 2011

Feel the heat

July 2012 I'm recycling the post below and linking up with Mama Kat's writing prompts: Recycle a favorite post from July of any year that you've been blogging. 
(Well, that only leaves me last July... but every word still stands true, and it's never a bad thing to remind myself of what makes me happy)

Summer... I love it. It's nearly 8pm, still light outside, and I can hear happy squeals and splashing from the pool area (but I'm glad our apartment isn't closer). I love being able to have our windows open all night. I love schlepping around in light cotton PJs at night, and even less in bed. I love being in barefoot heaven.

Summer in LA means - for me - raspberries, lemonade, ducking through garden sprinklers, trips to Baskin Robbins and the whir of ceiling fans. Depending where else I've lived, it's also been Pimms and lemonade, cheese with pickled onions, gelato, and beer gardens.

No matter how hot it gets, no matter how much I bitch and moan, I would choose boiling over freezing - any day.

This weekend, the US is gearing up to celebrate their Independence Day. Just as with Australia Day being in January, the national festivities are best celebrated with sunshine - a long lazy day of barbecues and booze.

When I stepped outside today, the sizzle of grilled food punctuated the air. Instant salivation for me - how Pavlovian! J had taken both girls to the pool (he's brave; I'm not ready to climb back on that horse), and I went for a walk to one of the apartment building's trash rooms to take some recycling. On the way back, I dropped by the pool to see how they were doing. I didn't have my swimwear on, so I pulled up a low-lying chair and swung my legs into the pool for a few minutes. Immediately, I felt like I was seven years old again, before I could swim. Dangling my limbs in cold water always has that effect. Then - satisfied that I was cool enough - I walked back home, water dripping down my legs, the rubber thongs on my feet squeaking.

Summer in LA is only a little different to summer in Sydney. The temperatures are similar, but the heat here is more of a constant. It's a much drier heat, too. Sydney summers seethe with an almost fermented heat - not as bad as further north, I know, but it's a wet heat that forces you into a languid state.

Our final months in Sydney were when I was heavily pregnant with Miss Pie, and the first couple of months after she was born. It was summer. I have no doubt that those memories have been drowned in the extra sweat which is to be expected when baking - then breastfeeding - a baby. It seemed to be the hottest summer I'd known.

This past week has seen the mercury rising to the hottest yet this year, but it feels different. Perhaps it's the mod cons we have in our apartment - air con, and access to a swimming pool. All I know is, when I'm outside, it doesn't feel like I'm in a sauna. Minor physical activities don't result in rivers of sweat flowing down my back, pooling into whatever crevices they reach. I've got to say, I don't miss that particular sensation. Or the mosquitos.

What I do miss, though, are the thunderstorms. Sydney may have stinky humid weather, but when the relief comes via an afternoon or evening thunderstorm, there is nothing in the world like it. The smell of fat raindrops on hot concrete - it's the best, and should ideally be experienced with bare feet. I can count on one hand the number of storms there have been since moving here...  and what the locals consider to be a storm is laughable. A bit of dark grey sky, a couple of flashes of lightning, and then the show's over - like a three pump chump.

When it's hot, I feel it. I feel... alive.

I feel.

When I'm cold, I don't feel anything. I switch off, and do my best to attempt hibernation. Nobody could ever describe me as a winter person. When people talk about how nice it is to get cozy, to rug up under layers, sip at hot drinks, curl up in front of a fire... I don't relate. For a start, what I dislike about winter is the need to wear more clothing. Layers, coats, scarves - they smother me. Winter - it depresses me. Hence my reluctance to consider living anywhere with a cold climate. I'm all for experiencing snow-covered wintery wonderlands... as long as it's just a holiday. I don't think I'd do well living long term with that kind of cold - not without needing anti-depressants. London winters were too long, and hard enough.

So there you have it. I adore summer and my sanity depends on it. If I won the lottery, I'd spend my life chasing summer around the globe. Why not?