Monday, December 31, 2012

2012 on the grid

If 2012 has been anything to me, it's been the Year of Instagram.

These last few days of December, Instagrammers have been posting collages of their favourite shots of the year. What can I say? That's right up my alley, so below are my pics of the year. And yes, I know how sad I am that I couldn't select nine photos for just one grid... no, I had to make several. But hey, at least they're themed, right? Mostly themed. Anyway...


Sunday, December 30, 2012

The elephant seals

Being the Christmas break and all, we decided on a whim that we should get out of L.A. for a day or two, and see some Californian sights we hadn't seen before. What to do? Those nearby snow-capped peaks were calling, but we don't have proper snow gear yet - this needed to be a road trip on a budget. We've been to San Diego several times, and also seen the Mojave Desert.

Hearst Castle, in San Simeon, has been on our wish list for a while so we decided to head north, mostly along the coast.

San Simeon is on the central Californian coast, pretty much half way between San Francisco and Los Angeles. From either city, it takes about 4 - 4.5 hours to drive, so this sleepy little town actually does a mean business in tourism from both cities. We arrived in San Simeon on Thursday afternoon, and the hotel manager recommended seeing the castle the following morning, when it would be less windy on the hill. No problem, because we discovered that the same stretch of coast also happens to be home to an elephant seal rookery and we knew that the girls - the Faery in particular - would dig that.

We dumped our things in our little hotel room, rubbing hands with glee that the ocean was just a one-minute walk outside our door (the Faery was most anxious about the waves engulfing us overnight), and anticipated a cosy night in with the sound of the waves crashing in the background. After letting the girls burn off steam after such a long drive, we jumped back in the car and - five minutes later - were admiring the elephant seals.

By this time, the sun was getting low and the light was incredible. It hadn't even occurred to me until then that we'd be able to watch the sun set over the Pacific Ocean - my mind is still a little skewed from growing up on the East Coast of Australia, where the sun rises over the Pacific. Anyhow, the light was incredible, so between my DSLR and iPhone, I took a ridiculous amount of photos.

In between happy-snapping, we giggled a great deal over these animals. I'll admit I knew next to nothing about elephant seals but after observing them as the sun went down, I made it my mission to read up on them that night, once the girls were tucked up in bed and sleeping (the cosy budget accommodation meant that watching TV in bed wasn't really an option if we wanted them to sleep).

At the rookery, there was a long (fenced-off) path for people to view the elephant seals down on the beach. I couldn't believe how many were on the sand, and there was a section with about a dozen mumma elephant seals and pups, sucking. The beach stretched as far as the eye could see, and dotted with elephant seals the entire length. The section closest to the viewing path seemed to be where the females and their young stayed, along with several males (seriously ugly dudes, by the way). In the distance, there were mostly males, often sparring and fighting. The sounds that emitted from these animals had to be heard to be believed. I thought that were doing a lot of belching and farting, but since learned that much of their vocalisations sound like one long series of massively reverberating burps.

In other words, comedy gold.

Once the sun had well and truly dipped behind the horizon, any lingering traces of warmth disappeared so we huddled back to the car. As we were leaving, the (large, round) moon began to peek over the hills on the other side of the road, to the east. It felt magical.

That night, as the girls slept, I devoured the pamphlets we'd collected and was somewhat in awe of what I learned about these huge creatures. In a nutshell:

- They spend 9-10 months of the year in the ocean, up in Alaska.

- From late November until March, they set up rookery on this particular stretch of Californian beach. They began coming about twenty years ago, and each year the numbers increase. Current stats show that around 17, 000 elephant seals come to this particular rookery.

- The males often weigh over two tonnes. The females clock in at around 640 kg.

- Starting from mid-December, the females give birth on the beach. The peak time for births is in January, but we spotted over at least a dozen newborn pups on the beach already (and incredibly adorable, at that).

- Giving birth only takes half an hour! Then the pups are weaned when they're only a month old. At that point, the females are ready to mate again. Because the elephant seals are fasting during this period of birthing and nursing, they lose a massive amount of weight. When they mate again, implantation delays until about May, when the females have bulked up again to sustain pregnancy.

- The mother seals spend a lot of time 'vocalising' to their pups, so that the pups will recognise their voices if they get separated.

- An alpha male essentially has a harem, and can impregnate up to fifty females in one season.

- During the peak season in January, the beach becomes so packed that the elephant seals are lying on top of one another, jostling for sand and packed in like sardines.

... and that's about all the facts that my brain was able to absorb, but it was rather interesting to read up on. You've got to love learning new things, right?

The next morning we went for a stroll on the beach by the hotel, lingered over breakfast, checked out, then headed to Hearst Castle. The smart thing for us would have been to reserve our tour tickets online beforehand, but being a spontaneous trip, we weren't that smart organised. A shame, because tours for the next three hours were sold out. There was no way we could hang around that long to wait, but rather than get all pissy and moaning about it, we simply made our way back for a second visit to the elephant seals. San Simeon is a long drive when there are two young kids strapped in the back, but I have a feeling we'll get back there one day. We fantasise about driving all the way up to the Pacific Northwest some day (friends to visit in both Portland and Seattle now), and if we do, San Simeon will be our first stop.

It's a beautiful corner of the world.

Monday, December 24, 2012

All things Christmassy

It's Christmas Eve, so I figured I'm excused from writing an actual post here. I haven't done a photo dump for a while, and if today's not the perfect time to do it, I don't know when is. We've been having fun in this lead up to Christmas, and enjoying the pretty wintery decorations. We'll have our traditional roast tomorrow, and relish the fact that it won't be +30ºC in our home - the perk of a northern hemisphere Christmas. However, I'm going to ignore that it's winter and also celebrate Christmas with that great Australian/New Zealander dessert tradition of pavlova as well. I'm already drooling at the thought.

I hope that whatever you're doing to celebrate this time of year, you have a wonderful day too!

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

A random hike

In the spirit of spontaneity and being social, we went out for dinner on Saturday with some friends - and four kids between us. Our attempt at said spontaneity almost failed when the first restaurant we went to, after discussing the cheesy retro vibe we'd experienced there in the past (think 1950s Polynesian), turned out to have a ninety-minute wait - not doable with four kids when it's already 6pm, so we opted for a French restaurant that our friends recommended.

That French restaurant ended up being the best decision we'd made all week. All the waiters were actually French, donning T-shirts proclaiming, Everything French but the attitude. It was the kind of evening that involved large quantities of bread and butter, red wine, cheese, butter, pastry, more buttery goodness... you get the idea.

The next morning, J went off to teach a Tai Chi class. It was a drizzly morning, so his plan was - if the students didn't turn up - to go for a hike above the park. My plan was to offset some of those French calories by hitting the gym when he got back, but I wasn't feeling particularly motivated. After looking at some of the hiking views that J texted me, I decided that instead of the gym, I'd have a crack at that hiking trail too.

There are a number of hiking trails in our area, but it's something I've only done once before; a different trail. The main problem with these trails is that they rarely afford any shade. For a large part of the year - when temperatures are in the thirties (ºC) - hiking doesn't appeal to me at all. I'm all for spectacular views, but not when it involves relentless heat for a few hours. J and I often talk about doing some big hikes together and watching the sunset, but the reality is that unless we can get the girls babysat, it's not going to happen (we've taken them on small hikes, but not the challenging ones).

After J came home, I told him I was going to try hiking, too, instead of the gym.

He raised his eyebrows, as he is so good at doing. "You? Alone?"

"Yeah, why not? You went alone, didn't you? You're in one piece. I'll be fine." This was accompanied with an exaggerated eye roll and sigh.

He shrugged, but didn't appear convinced. "Have you got your phone? Is it charged? Make sure you've got water too."

Sometimes I think my husband believes he's married to an idiot (to give him credit, I am rather clumsy and accident prone).

After being warned about some incredibly steep parts, and how the trail forks off into other paths - making it difficult to know which is the route to stay on -  I drove off towards the park and it began to rain. Not strongly, but more of a fine misty drizzle. The clouds had rolled in, and I knew I might not get much of a view, but I reminded myself of all the buttery French goodness I'd consumed the night before. I needed to do this.

After parking the car, I walked over to the sign at the start of the trail and studied the map. I took a photo for good measure, just in case there was no phone reception out there and I somehow found myself lost.

How hard could this be, right?

I set off, beginning behind the library. Despite the light drizzle, there were happy tweeting sounds from the scrub and small trees. The air was fresh, and my inner dialogue went something along the line of: tra lalalala, this is easy, what was he talking about? I'm fit, I've been doing so much exercise this year, look - not even out of breath yet, easy - gosh he exaggerates sometimes, piece of cake, look how easily I'm taking these inclines, wow - check out the view down that way, the baseball field looks so small now, easy.

The first fifteen minutes or so really were easygoing. I wasn't puffed, and felt confident. I went higher still, then realised I was starting to work up a sweat. Okay, a sweat is good, right? It means my blood is pumping, and I'm getting a good work out. After going a little further up, I turned to take in some of the scenery.

Woah. This is pretty high... and I'm very thirsty now. Also, drizzle combined with sweat? Ick.

Three men passed me from the opposite direction, and I looked where they'd come from. It was the peak of the trail, and not far off. I just had to get up the long and steep, slippery path first - without getting blown away by the wind.

It's not obvious from the photo, but there were some treacherous areas and I had to watch my footing very carefully. By the time I made it to the top, my face was a red hot mess, but I was doing internal fist pumps and feeling pretty stoked that I'd made it. Seven Tree Plateau - sounds like a peaceful place to stop and rest for a while.

At this rest stop, there were a few benches, maps, and signs about the wildlife. I was yet to read them when an elderly man walked over to me. With a look of concern, he asked "Have you ever seen any mountain lions here?"

"Uh... no. This is my first time on the trail."

"Well... I saw one back in February - it was around sunset - over where the uphill part of that trail begins." He gestured over towards a different ridge, which I understood was where the trail continued down, unless I wanted to descend the same way I'd come up. "You be careful, now, okay?"

He wandered off in the direction I'd just come from... and I looked over to the other ridge, gulping. Fuck. I'm not sure I want to be here. Maybe I'll just sit here and wait, and then continue on when there are other people around, heading the same way. I walked over to the park maps and signs.

Nothing makes a person regret hiking alone like seeing signs warning of mountain lions. Really.

I read it - heart thumping - and suddenly I was convinced I was going to encounter one. Thankfully, I managed to talk some sense into the panic, and latched onto two of the bullet points from the sign, rationalising that these animals tend to be most active between dusk and dawn, and are wary of people. I also knew that, given the unpleasant weather, there weren't many people around if I wanted to wait. I could be up on that plateau for hours... so before I could change my mind, I continued along the trail.

About five minutes later, I realised the trail was feeding back onto the trail which I'd had to climb up to the plateau. Shit. I backtracked until I saw a tiny divergence, and followed another trail. It didn't take long before I was wishing I'd stayed at home - or at least hiked with company. The path I was on couldn't really be described as a path. Or a trail. I don't know what it was, but it was tiny, and steep, and I had to scramble down on my arse (in hindsight, backwards may have been better). Occasionally there was a tree branch I could grab at to steady, but mostly my inner dialogues consisted of swearing. The ridge was incredibly narrow and I was convinced that one false step would see me rolling off the side.

Suddenly, the trail appeared to end. I looked ahead, and it disappeared down a steep, rocky incline that would have been impossible to tackle. At that point, I was ready to cry. Trying - again - to fight off panic, I looked around and noticed that the trail I was on actually veered sharply around to the left and became more of a ledge cut into the side of the hill. With relief that I wasn't stranded, I began following it, but still swore, still convinced I was going to fall to certain death.

The ledge eventually gave way to a wider, sturdier trail and taller scrubs. I felt less exposed, and -  sensing I was heading the right way - I began to relax.

What can I say? I made it back down to the park, and all was good. I'm pretty certain that up there on the ridges, I was about a hair's breadth away from a full-scale panic attack, though. I shudder to think how that would have gone down. I've only ever experienced a panic attack once in my life, but it was enough to know that I never want to go through that again... let alone out in the elements on the side of a mountain range. Whew.

This particular park has a gorgeous Japanese tea garden which is only open to the public a few days a week. I'd noticed when I parked the car that the gate to the garden was open, so I wandered over, hoping it would help me wind down completely. There were several women in kimono, because there was a special tea ceremony taking place in the tea house, and I was invited to come and watch. I felt like a smelly bag of sweat, so (regretfully) I declined. It just didn't feel right, although I normally wouldn't hesitate. I love so much about Japanese culture. Instead, I walked around the garden for a little while and began to feel silly for letting panic and fear get a look in on my hike.

Next time? Well, next time I'll read up more before taking on a trail. After consulting the map at the end (it was difficult to get a sense of it when I was on the trail, but I did try and work out where I was each time I thought I was lost), it turns out I hadn't taken any wrong turns. The steep, narrow, rocky parts were just part of it. Good to know for next time but for that particular trail, I will definitely make sure I have someone with me in future - it's better than feeling like an idiot.

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Falling... up

Although December is here, it's yet to properly feel like winter. It definitely feels like autumn, fall... whatever you want to call it. Chilly mornings, short daylight hours, trees gradually becoming bare, and sunshine that is heavenly - as opposed to the scorching blast of heat that we seem to get during the rest of the year. It doesn't seem that long ago I was cranking the air con, but now we're on the verge of needing the heating to make getting out of bed a little easier in the mornings.

This change of seasons means that slow-cooked curries, red wine, and hot drinks are calling.

It's just as well, because I've been in a bit of a funk lately - life issues in general. I think that over time, I've fallen into that useless exercise of comparing my life with that of others.

Partly, I've been comparing with the closest friends I have here. It's hard not to, at times. I often have moments of feeling like we're somewhat screwed financially (the same old boring story) because of bad decisions we made with money when we were younger. Without going into detail, it gets frustrating because we don't live extravagantly - and never have. We live fairly simply, in a modestly sized apartment, only drive one car, eat at home... and yet, week to week is always a budget juggling act. Things aren't going to change until I can bring in a decent income as well (which is a whole other story; I am - and have been - actively looking for work).

So when I get glimpses into the lovely homes that friends have, their fulfilling and interesting careers, the way their kids want for nothing and have a plethora of extra curricular activities, family members to step in and babysit etc whenever needed... I can't help feel a pang of envy at times. I want to make it clear, though, that I don't begrudge them one iota. Not at all. These friends have all worked incredibly hard - are still slogging away - and are lovely people who deserve good things in life.

Then I had a light bulb moment yesterday. Nobody's life is perfect. As I get to know people better, layers are peeling back, and I'm seeing that everybody has some kind of shit going on that is unpleasant or stressful. Interesting jobs usually mean a time-juggling act and less time with the kids. Or partners away from home much of the time, because their job requires them to travel. Some people have loved ones with serious health issues. Or difficult family dynamics - in laws and step-parenting. Dealing with any of that can be overwhelming, no matter how nice your home is, or how much you have saved in the bank. This has all been underlined by a health scare of my own last month - one that turned out to be okay in the end (for now) but is something I do intend to write about once I've processed things a little more. It's a topic I want to do justice to.

Maybe I'm just spelling out the obvious here, and wiser people have known all along that picture-perfect lives from the outside are rarely picture-perfect in reality. For me though, it's been a small weight lifted to have that flash, that duh moment.

Stop wishing, start appreciating more. Don't be so hard on myself. I am damn lucky already - a roof over my head, food in my belly, beautiful and kind kids with good health, a good man by my side. That's a lot to be happy about.

Monday, December 10, 2012

Colour me happy

It's been a productive kind of week.

First of all, I surprised myself and actually finished revamping the old chair I found on the side of a road last year. I'm more than thrilled with the result, but it wasn't without learning a few things along the way. For example, if you're going to do something stupid like pick up the chair to move it, and the section you grab it by still has wet paint... well, make sure you have something stronger in the home to clean your hands with than liquid hand soap. Let's just say I literally had a golden touch for a few hours. I also learned - the inconvenient way - that one large can of spray paint is not enough for one chair. Silly me.

Not only did I finish the chair, but I also tackled the frame I found last summer. I was getting annoyed by it taking up space outside, and it didn't seem to like the recent rain much. For ages, I was unsure whether to paint it or not, whether to put a print or fabric inside... I was very indecisive (how surprising). Then not long ago, I saw a similar frame on Instagram, with wires strung across, small metal clips, and photos adorned within. I totally decided to copy it. So, after removing several dozen jagged staples from the inside of the frame, then paying a record quick trip to IKEA for the wire and clips, I was in business. I now have a few bits of the girls' artwork and photos, and I like that I can easily rotate things on display. For now, it's rainbows, mermaids, tigers, and something mysterious that only Miss Pie knows.

Then over the weekend, we got a Christmas tree. It was time to decorate, but this year I've had to really accept that my visions of sparkly splendour are never going to match reality - not with two little girls who are constantly rearranging things on the tree. Funnily enough, I'm okay with that. I thought I'd be more annoyed but at this point, I'm just enjoying the scent of pine in our apartment. I'm also enjoying the pops of colour now. So much less beige, and that's a good thing. Rest assured, though, that this is likely to be the only DIY/crafty type of post you'll find here for a very long time. For now, you may congratulate me and tell me how clever I am - I'm in a validation seeking kind of mood.

Monday, December 3, 2012

Vintage love in progress

The chair that I found on the side of a road last year, and had instant visions of revamping... anyone remember that chair?

The sad reality of it was that despite my best intentions, this chair remained untouched for over a year. It's had plenty of use, and is super comfortable, but the faded dirty fabric and worn paint remained a sorry detail. I visited a few fabric stores but nothing caught my eye. I knew this project wouldn't get off the ground until I'd settled on fabric to recover the cushion with, and then I'd have a better idea what colour to paint it. Also, I've never done this kind of DIY before. I didn't possess the little necessities such as sandpaper, plastic sheeting to work on, primers, staple guns - and never seemed to get around to buying them. Something else always took priority with the leftover money at the end of each week's budget.

Fortunately, this project got a little reboot a few weeks ago, when I was at IKEA. Of all places, this was where I found the fabric I liked best. A little ironic - I know - as the whole point of this chair is to have a little statement piece that's unlike the rest of our IKEA dominated furnishings.

Anyhow, I bought a yard of the fabric, got home, folded it neatly over the chair's cushion, and have been 'meditating' on whether or not it works. Then over this past weekend, I bit the bullet and borrowed a staple gun from a friend. I unscrewed the cushion, cut the fabric down to size, pulled it into place and got serious with the staple gun... et voilà! 

I like it - a lot. I'd even be happy to keep the wood the same colour, but it's pretty grubby, so I might as well go ahead and repaint it. Besides, with our beige carpet and cream walls, the apartment needs more splashes of colour. Having consulted various DIY blogs over the weekend, I called by Home Depot (the equivalent of Bunnings, for my Aussie readers) with a scrap of the fabric, hoping to find a paint that might match one of the coloured stripes. I had a pale bronze in mind, as we have a few other turquoise things around and - as much as I love turquoise and teal - I hate too much matchy-matchy. I also have a deep dislike of pink, especially for decorating. Lime green I don't mind, but not for a whole piece of furniture.

Amazingly (because I had Miss Pie with me) it only took about fifteen minutes to find all the bits and pieces needed for the paint job. I couldn't find a pale bronze, but I think 'Champagne Mist' has a promising ring to it.

So. To borrow a phrase from a good friend, all my ducks are lined up. This little vintage baby is getting some love at last... as soon as the rain stops, that is. This wet weather is my final obstacle, but being Los Angeles, I'm confident I'll get a decent run of the sunshine needed to paint outside, and soon.

Stay tuned...

Tuesday, November 27, 2012


I haven't been paying attention to exact dates since last week - my brain is still in holiday mode from Thanksgiving. The fact that yesterday marked two years since I began this blog completely escaped my attention.

If this was one of those überblogs, I'd be touting some kind of fancy giveaway right now... but überblog this isn't. Happily, because I'm far too lazy.

Instead, I whipped up a new header this morning in celebration of this little baby turning two - and that's probably all I'll do for now. I spent much less time agonising over it than I had with previous headers. After all, it's hardly the same as a child's second birthday, is it?

As much as I enjoy this little corner of the internet, I'm not a slave to it. In the beginning, I naively had fantasies of perhaps being able to make a buck or two out of this (making money while at home using the internet? Brilliant!), but it wasn't long before I realised that wasn't going to happen. Chiefly because I'm a fairly private person and at heart I'm not comfortable with too many strangers out there knowing about my life. Sometimes I even toy with the idea of making this a private blog, but if I'm honest, there's a part of me that gets a little thrill when I see spikes in page views from time to time - and therein lies the contradiction. Besides, I suck at doing the whole blogger-comment-on-other-blogs to spread the love and build the blog. It becomes time-consuming and I just can't bring myself to comment for comment's sake. Tried it briefly, wasn't for me.

Small readership = no advertising opportunities = no pressure.

In other words, I'm happy with the status quo here... and having fun.

For those of you who drop in regularly, thank you! Cozy audiences are the best kind, and I mean that.


Friday, November 23, 2012


This Thanksgiving business is definitely growing on me. Each year we've been here, we've made a bit of a feast at home to enjoy... but there's only so much you can be bothered to cook when it's for just two adults and two fussy little eaters. Happily, this year we spent the afternoon and evening at a friend's home. He'd only recently moved in, so there was a lot of ogling to be had with the amazing views from his balcony.

My own contribution were Coconut Custard Pies for dessert - probably one of the easiest things to bake. I needed something I'd made before, and was fail-proof, as there were about fifteen adults there. Attempting a more traditional Thanksgiving side dish would have been daunting, but it was wonderful to sample the fabulous creations from the others. I think I ate (probably) the best mashed potato ever - heaven for a carb lover like myself. For the first time ever, I tried something called Corn Bake... oh my! I need to find a recipe and make it.

Anyhow, I like Thanksgiving. Obviously it's not a tradition I had growing up, because our number one day for ridiculously over-the-top feasting is Christmas, but having a day - like Thanksgiving - to reflect on how fortunate we are, is something everyone can benefit from (mind you, that kind of gratitude should not be reserved for once a year only). I also appreciate how Thanksgiving is about getting together, without the pressure and mindless consumerism that Christmas pretty much is these days. That's just my take on it.

As for now, we have a four-day weekend to enjoy. This time last year, we spent the weekend in Las Vegas, so I've been feeling reminiscent about that, and the drive through the desert. Time to start figuring out a way to make a Californian road trip to a white Christmas destination happen, right?