Sunday, August 30, 2009

Apocalypse-ish Now

Ah yes, the unparalleled joys of life in Los Angeles in the summer time.  Temperatures climbing into the triple digits (105 yesterday), pavement so hot that pieces of your flip-flop melt to the bottom of your feet, sun that has all the aggression of an angry drunk walloping you the second you step out of your door.  And let's not forget the wild fires.  No, can't forget those.  The billowing towers of smoke that rise up around the city, and, with the slightest wind, not only spread like, well, wild fire, but also waft their smoke into every nook and cranny of life here.  

Last year, it was such a novelty to see the flames, not only on the TV news, but as we drove through Burbank on our way home from IKEA.  Flames in Griffith Park, and the subsequent ashes that floated like hot, pissed off snow down to our car's windshield had some serious "wow! that in unreal...." awe power.  Climbing to the top of Fryman Canyon (which some people do for pleasure and exercise--crazy people) was the perfect vantage point by which to see the billows of smoke rising up from the mountains surrounding our valley.   

But this year?  Not quite as impressive.  Possibly because we're in the process of getting ready to leave and I am doing my standard "shut down emotionally about everyone and everything around you---very grounded and centered way of dealing with change" routine.   But most likely because this year's fires seem particularly damaging.  

The main fire this year (thus far) has been about 12 miles from us.  Because of the lack of wind, which is actually a good thing as far as fire fighters are concerned, the smoke from this fire has been going straight up into the air--giant billows of it, over and over again, the newest billow forcing the last one up higher towards the sun.  In the morning, what little of the smoke has spread over the sky turns the sunrise red.  Once the sun is completely up, the billows hang on the horizon, growing, fading, growing again.  

This morning we woke to smoke hanging stagnant outside our doors.  Not the thick smoke of a nearby fire, but the thin, pervasive haze caused by a light breeze.  Overnight the winds pick up, and spread that mushroom cloud all over the city before they calm down again in the morning.  

It's really an awful way to live.  Knowing that a fire 12 miles away is going to keep you and your preschooler inside for upwards of a week, or driving some 25 miles away to the beach to get relief---you'll still be able to see the vast plumes of smoke, you just won't have to breathe it in.  

We also have our own potential tinderbox in Fryman Canyon, which is only blocks from us.  Not really understanding how quickly fires spread, I have no idea if we'd be evacuated should something spark that too-hard-to-climb pile of brush.  But I'm hoping that we're well on our way out of here without ever needing to find out.  

Not sure if you're anything like me, but the longer I'm away from something or someone, the more my memory irons out the edges and rough spots of an experience.  Work places that were ulcer-producing or relationships that sent me running to a therapist like my hair was on fire and she had the only bucket of water in town all seem less dramatic or horrible as time distances them from me.  Maybe it's just a human defense mechanism, but it's always struck me as strange how I'm able to look back at not quite conjure the "bad" of something.  So, to that end, here are some pictures of this latest fire, in case I find myself next summer, pining for Los Angeles, thinking "those fires weren't really so bad." 

the view a block away from our house.

mmmm, gotta love that crisp LA air...

a little later in the day...

um...hello, Mr. Mushroom cloud...

Nuclear holocaust?  Oh, no.  Just LA in August...

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Back in LA-LA Land...

At least for a few more weeks.  We are back in Los Angeles until the end of September.  And by "we", I mean Ethan and me.  Husband is spending his weeks up north now, working for Super Cool Tech Company and flying home for the weekends.  

Ethan and I flew home today...on Southwest, one of the two Airlines I Swear I'll Never Fly Again (the other is Delta--shudder).  What is it about Southwest pilots that make them think their passengers want to be taken on a joy ride at 30,000 feet?  Because I don't.  So stop taking off at break-neck speeds only to be told by air traffic control to slow it down so you don't ram into the plane ahead of you on the flight path, mkay?  Because when I hear that engine slow down so much, and so fast,  and feel my body literally pitch forward a little bit, my brain starts reciting every Hebrew prayer it can recall, because it's sure that we are about to plummet to a fiery death. I am desperately trying not to pass my fear of flying onto Ethan, but every time I am subjected to Southwest's rogue pilots, I fear I am losing that battle and Ethan will be biting his nails and breathing into paper bags at take off by the time he's old enough to say, "Pass me a Xanax, Ma." 

So fine.  Southwest flight.  Bad.  BUT, in good news, we found a house.  Thank goodness the first weekend was a bust because the house we ended up with is eleventy billion times better and makes me kind of giggle at the idea that we almost ended up in a house with a refrigerator door that looks like the kitchen's cabinets.  I've never understood that trend--is the fridge supposed to be camoflaged?  Should people not know that I have a refrigerator in my kitchen?   Weird.  

New house--lovely.  White picket fence, living space that we can't possibly fill with what we currently own (IKEA, I've been dreaming about you....), a back yard with a two-tiered back deck and a mini-basketball court that the owners poured for their son when he was young.  The owners currently have two or three little tables set up, each with their own giant green umbrella.  I think Husband and I were drawn to it because it almost looks like they're running a Starbucks coffee out on their back porch.  Sadly, they are taking the tables, chairs and umbrellas with them.  Ethan will have his own play room next to the living room and I will have a double oven in my kitchen.  Of course, the second oven will probably be used as storage space every day of the year except Thanksgiving (and who are we kidding--the first one won't get too much use, either), but it's lovely to have the option to get my Barefoot Countessa on and whip up 5-course meals for my family. 

We are within walking distance of a park that has vast expanses of rolling grass, tons of stuff for Ethan to climb, a man-made lake (complete with fountains--that bubble blue, which is gross, but it's still a lake), and ducks.   Also within walking distance from our house?  Borders bookstore.  Fun for the whole family, I tell you.  

Some pictures---and yes, I took more of the hotel than of anything else.  It was cool.  

Ethan inspects the "steering wheel" on the back of the chair in our hotel room.

the whole wall was this serene nature image with something about poetry written across it.  Dreamy.

the lobby from our 3rd floor hallway

Ethan chilling in the hallway.  He later discovered that the side table next to him was a mirror. 
Making faces into it took up a lot of our time this weekend...

Ethan shows off the hotel's lobby decor---tree branch and glass table, anyone

When we weren't looking for houses or making faces into the mirror table, we were at the pool.

Give the boy some floaties and a noodle and he's pretty much all set. 

Me and Ethan, getting our hot-tub on.  The kid loves to go from the hot tub to the cold water.  It makes me want to pass out, but he digs it. 


Gelato with Daddy.

Our frat-boy-in-training.  Cold pizza for breakfast, in bed, in his underwear, watching cartoons.  So proud. 

Our new back deck.  Tell me you can't smell the coffee brewing.

And our new park...think he might like it there? 

Saturday, August 22, 2009

He Thinks, Therefore I Am (Insane)

I may have mentioned that Ethan has tripped head-first into the developmental phase of "Why?" I'm sure somewhere in the Twitterverse or on Facebook I've made not of it (ad nauseum).  But I don't think I've quite conveyed my point as to exactly how much the question "Why?" and the accompanying desire to understand the reasoning behind every. single. freaking. thing. under. the. sun has invaded our lives.   To say it has taken over our world and should probably be paying rent is really not an overstatement.  

If it was one "why?" every once in awhile, hell, that would be great!  Even a "why?" followed by "oh.  okay." and then we could move on with our lives until the next little moment of curiosity--awesome.  But Ethan seems to be keeping a mental tab of how many "why?"'s he can string together in one line of questioning.  Last week, for example. 

E:  Why are we driving daddy's car? 

Me:  Mommy's car is in the shop, bud. 

E:  Why? 

Me:  It has a boo-boo that needed to be fixed. 

E:  Why?  Why does it have a boo-boo?

Me:  Because someone bumped it, buddy. 

E:  Why? 

Me:  They were trying to park next to me and they bumped my car.  (this is when I start taking deep yoga breaths so as not to drive myself into a bridge abutment or the lovely Los Angeles River).

E:  Why? 

Me:  I guess they weren't paying attention.  (tapping my fingers on the steering wheel.  counting to ten.  remembering he's not really trying to make me completely insane.  right?)

E:  Why weren't they paying attention?  

Me:  Honey, I really don't know.  They just weren't.  And the car got a boo-boo and now it's being fixed!  So we're driving daddy's car and that's all there is to it!!!! (holding my breath, praying for silence.  oh, sweet sweet silence.)

Five seconds elapse...

E:  Mommy, why are we driving daddy's car?


Thursday, August 20, 2009

Culture Club....

When we first moved to Los Angeles, one of the things that was a pleasant surprise was the presence of actual culture, as opposed to overly-collagen'd lips, fake boobs and reality TV "stars". The LA area is teeming with museums--The Getty, the Getty Villa, The Skirball Cultural Center, The MOCA and the LACMA, just to name a few.  

Having come from the metro DC area, where we took for granted the presence of the plethora of Smithsonians at our fingertips, I was so relieved to find that I'd still be able to give Ethan some exposure to the type of culture we'd left behind on the east coast.  Yes, I can fully admit that before we moved out here, I was convinced that the West Coast was a vast waste-land of movie-star wannabes and surfer dudes and that my child's only option was going to be to learn how to surf or become a child star.  I was an East Coast snob in terms of all things Left Coast.   

Now that we'll be heading up to Northern California, as excited as I am by that prospect, I'm aware of what we're leaving behind.  Amazing museums set on gorgeous hilltops with views of the city and the ocean.   Kid-friendly, interactive exhibits that have thrilled Ethan over the past year.  It's not easy to say goodbye to these things, although I'm sure we'll find options in the San Francisco Bay area, too.   But I've decided that in this last month in LA, we're going to revisit the museums we've grown to love one more time. 

To that end, on Monday, we decided to go to the Getty.  The last time we attempted this, we spent an hour and a half in traffic (it is 5 miles from our house), staring at the plumes of smoke and spitting fire of a brush fire right off the highway, only yards from the museum.  Needless to say, the museum was closed that day.  Nothing makes regular old smoggy LA air even more palatable than a good brush fire.  

mmm, good for the lungs! 

So Monday we gave it another try.  Told Ethan we were going to the Getty, popped him in the car and off we went.  Beautiful day, no fires, all was well.  We pulled into the Getty parking lot and were stopped by a security guard who informed us that the Getty is closed on Mondays. Clearly, the universe is attempting to keep us from getting to that museum.  

Fine.  The Skirball is just down the road.  I made a big U-turn in the Getty entry way, all the while trying to respond to the eleventy billion "why??" questions being hurled at me from the back seat.   Yes, friends, we've been thrown head-first into the age of "why??" And Ethan has mastered it in the most mind-numbing way.  I've counted upwards of six "why?"'s in quick succession after every explanation offered.  It's hard to get 6-deep into a series of "why?"s.  Just so you know.  

We got to the Skirball, pulled into the parking garage.  The, um, empty parking garage.  Turns out, the Skirball is also closed on Mondays.  Apparently I've lived here for over a year without realizing that Mondays are strictly "NO CULTURE" days.  Go figure.  

Now I have a 3 year old in the back seat whose head is about to explode with the number of "WHY?" questions bouncing around in his brain, competing for vocalization.  No Getty.  No Skirball.  WHY? WHY? WHY? WHY?????? 

I breathed deeply for the next several minutes as I went over my options in my head (and blocked out the steady stream of "why"s and whining coming from behind me).  I'd promised the kid a museum.  I had to come through.  It was only Monday and it was only 1pm.  That's a lot of hours in the day to fill once the bubble of glee has been burst by disappointment.  

Then I remember that the LACMA (LA county museum of art) celebrates it's "NO CULTURE!" day on Wednesdays, which means it would be open on Monday!  So, thirty minutes later we found ourselves downtown, immersed in culture and feeling good.  There was an exhibit on Pompeii that I really wanted to see, but Ethan stumbled upon a really stellar display of hanging tupperware first.  And that's where we stayed...

You thought I was joking when I said "hanging tupperware" didn't you?  Nope.   Not joking.  This display was aptly called "Happy Happy", which Ethan clearly was.  It wasn't exactly the artistic and culturally enriching exhibit I'd had in mind, and I spent much time gnashing my teeth as I followed Ethan's squealing and giggling sounds through the maze o' plastic, but it was one of those things that makes Ethan loves museums instead of say, video games.  So it's all good. 

I did eventually pull him away from the hanging vines of reclaimed IKEA-ware and we walked around the outside of the museum, which featured a street-light exhibit, the famous tar-pits (which stink like highway construction in 100 degree heat) and what I think is a pretty disturbing sculpture of mammoths stuck inside said tar pits.  

After much cajoling, I managed to get Ethan inside the museum.  

where he sat on some benches...

looked at some paintings...

sat on the floor...

looked at the museum's cool architecture....

and looked at some big books on art...

Then he made me go back outside to the plastic party and the street light exhibit...

Not exactly anything Keats would be writing a stirring ode to...

So, that was good.  Today?  The freaking Getty.  

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

There's No Place Like Home...No, Really.

I remember years ago hearing a story on NPR about how homeless shelters in communities around Silicon Valley were filling up with families where both parents were gainfully employed and together bringing in over $100k a year.  Due to astronomical housing costs and an absolute dearth of rental properties, families, who would in other parts of the country be living in McMansions, were unable to afford or find housing and instead found themselves putting their belongings in storage and ending up in shelters.  Seemed insane to me then.  Still does (I mean, stay at a hotel, right?!), but after this past weekend of trying to find a rental house in Silicon Valley, I kind of understand.  

Silicon Valley is comprised of all of these adorable little towns where the super-geeky and their families come to live.  I guess it was inevitable, given Husband's relative geekitude (read: off the charts) that we would end up there some day--it is his Mothership, after all.  And it's finally called him home.  Except, without an actual home.  That part is up to us.  And it seems that a lot of the other super-geeky and their families got here first and took all the good stuff.  

Being the financially conservative types that we (read: Husband) are (is), we are trying to keep ourselves in check by renting something that isn't our dream-house and doesn't cost us dream-house money, given that we are renting and not investing.  This means kissing a LOT of frogs before finding the prince--and by that I mean, looking at a plethora of dumps before finding the pretty little house we want to live in.  

We drove up after Ethan got out of school on Thursday afternoon.  This meant approximately five hours of listening to "Are we at the San Francisco yet?"  Even though we weren't actually going to San Francisco, we figured it was easier than trying to tell him we were going to the "San Francisco Bay Area, specifically the peninsula and Silicon Valley..."  So, San Francisco it was.  

Thankfully it's easy to make Ethan happy.  A hotel with a pool, some arm floaties and a few noodles, and he's pretty much set.  Although I was a bit taken aback by his affinity for the little hot tubs around the bigger pool.  Ethan got in touch with his inner geriatric and wanted to hang out in the "hot pool" a lot more than the cold one.  Fine with me.  It was refreshing to be in a climate that wasn't so sweltering that the prospect of getting in hot water made me want to curl up in the fetal position and cry.  

Ethan also makes friends quickly.  At the only house we went to that we actually liked, another family was also checking the place out.  While Husband and I suspiciously sized up the adults as our competition for the only truly eligible house in the area, Ethan taught their 21-month old to roll from one side of the carpeted dining-room to the other and engaged in a giggly, breathless game of tag through the bedrooms. 

We also reconnected with friends from the East Coast and were treated to a family reunion of sorts because their entire family was in town.  Nothing says, "Welcome home" like an entire family of friends from the DC area living three miles from your potential new home town. 

So back to the homeless part of our story.  When we first showed up at this one possible house, with it's pretty little white-picket fence, it's double oven, three outdoor patios and an artist's studio in the backyard (can you say writing studio, yo?!) we were greeted by a, um, sturdy looking woman on the front porch with her arm folded over her ample bosom/midsection (they kind of did that unfortunate run-together).  We thought perhaps she was the realtor, albeit an angry realtor lacking in social skills.   Nope.  Turns out she was there to see the house, too.  It wasn't until I heard something around what would have been her waist (had she possessed one) that sounded like a dispatch radio that I realize she was a cop.  And she was there to see the house, too.  

So, folks, we are up against a cute family with a sweet 21-month old who takes direction well from his elders (ie Ethan) and a police officer--possibly a state trooper.  An angry one.  She marched in the house, gave it a once-over and filled out her application, hunched over the kitchen counter, arm covering her work, as if Husband might cheat off her on his application.  I'm almost afraid to get the house over her---I can totally see us turning into some bad movie script where the happily little family is terrorized by scorned protector of the peace.  It could get ugly.  

We filled out the application on Saturday.  It's Tuesday.  We've heard nothing.  Well, not exactly nothing.  Today the realtor called Husband and told him that he wasn't able to do any work on that house yesterday, as he had a "big deal" he was closing.   But that he'd call us back by the end of the day today.  No call.  Soooo, I think that means we might be back to homeless status.  And we'll be putting the three year old back into the car on Friday morning to drive back up to "the San Francisco" to start all over again.  We shall see. 

But for now, please enjoy this melange of weird photos from the past weekend.  

Thank goodness Ethan passed out on the trip up--we weren't so lucky on the way home.  

Husband has an irrational fear of running out of gas and I've spent a good portion of my relationship with him making fun of that fear.  This time, he was>this<> Fortunately we rolled into a desert town on fumes and were able to get a full tank of gas.  Phew!

Not sure why I had to take this picture--I just love the color and texture of those hills.  

More hills.  Now, with rocks!

Dust devil.  These less-frightening cousin of the tornado are all over the place out there in the desert. 

Ethan and I take a spin on the weird choo-choo in San Mateo's Central Park. 

Oh yeah, people.  There are CVS's in Northern California.  With giant plastic M&Ms in them.  Ethan is content with life.  

Ethan and Jon, hopped up on Chinese food and Baskin Robbins.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

This is Not Your Mother's Celebrity Sighting...

Well, actually it is.  If you happened to be in my local Target this morning (which I'm guessing you weren't), you would have seen me skulking through the aisles, hunched over my shopping cart, whispering into my cell-phone.  I was talking to my mother. 

"Mom!  You won't believe who I just saw in Target!'s Maggie Horton!  Yes!!!  Maggie Horton!  Yeah, she's buying paper towels.  I think she's with her mom."  

For those of you who don't know (and I can only imagine that most of you don't, and that's something you can feel good about), Maggie Horton is a character on the soap opera Days of Our Lives.  The character has been on the show since the 1970's and My mother has been watching Days since she was pregnant with me.  It's hard for me to recall a time in my childhood when there wasn't a soap opera on the television during the day.  If I was at home, my mother was watching Days of Our Lives and the now defunct Another World.   If my grandmother was babysitting me (not the gardening, crocheting, painting one), it was Ryan's Hope, All my Children, One Life to Live and General Hospital.  I learned everything I needed to know about life (you know, love, betrayal, manipulation, sighing heavily while walking across the room and twirling angrily before speaking, and of course kidnapping, mystery islands and your garden variety demon possession) while watching soap operas with my mom or Grammy.  

Luke and Laura?  Bo and Hope?  They were my Romeo and Juliet or Heathcliff and Catherine before I was old enough to read the classics and seek out those more sophisticated archetypes of romantic love.   Nevermind the fact that in the 70's and early 80's great soap opera love affairs began with some kind of rape or other form of victimization.  What the hell was that about? Awesome role-modeling for the younger generation. 

I also remember images of soap operas at my grandmother's house being interrupted by those of a group of men, racing to huddle around a president, the sounds of shots firing and cameras flailing, not knowing on whom or what to land their focus. And the image of blood on a sidewalk, somewhere in Washington, DC (the exact sidewalk, incidentally that I would walk on nightly, years later, on my way to the gym). It's bizarre to me that the shooting of President Reagan is melded into the same time and space in my childhood brain as the intrigue and betrayal twirling through Pine Valley and Salem.  

College was the last time in my life that I really gave soap operas any of my time.  I can admit to scheduling classes my junior year to fall so that I could be in my dorm during Days of Our Lives and in graduate school I got completely hooked on General Hospital.  But I started my career in the days before the DVR, and it never seemed worth my time to record the shows on my VCR.  Thank goodness, I had broken the chain.  I was not going to be one of those women who was a slave to "my soap".  

And I'm not.  Do I have a vague idea what's going on on Days of Our Lives right now? Sure.  The great joy about soaps is that you can turn one on after not having seen it for a decade, and the same characters are doing the same things they were doing the last time you watched, they look exactly the same (even if they have kids who are now somehow your age), and you can almost anticipate the next scheming, psycho line of dialogue they're going to start spewing about thirty seconds after you've turned on the TV.  Yes, there are days when I am so spent by 1pm that all I can do is flip to the continuous cheese supplied by the soaps.  It's comforting.  But it's rare.  

But I digress--let's get back to me stalking Maggie Horton through the paper goods aisle of Target.  

I have seen a lot of celebrities in my year in Los Angeles.  My favorite by far was my sighting, an brief stalking of Matthew Perry.  Husband and I also "squeeeeee'd" a little bit when we saw T.R. Knight at the Kathy Griffin show last fall, and standing behind Jenny Garth on while I wait for her to order her coffee at Coffee Bean and Tea Leaf has been a pretty regular part of my life here.  I have a strict "do NOT speak to the celebrities" policy.  To the extent that when Julie Bowen started talking to me one day at the park last summer, gave me her number and said that we should get our kids together for play dates, I never once made any comment about how I LOVED her as Carol Vessy in Ed or asked her what it was like working on LOST.  I simply never called---because I would hate for her to think that I was just trying to be friends with an actress.  So.  I've never approached an actor or even acknowledged that I recognized them.  

My mom's not like that.  This fall she came to visit us and on a trip to the farmer's market, she recognized Alimi Ballard from her favorite show, Numb3rs, selecting pluots at our favorite fruit vendor.  To say that she "approached" him is like saying that a moth "approaches" a bright light--more like careens wildly to that which attracts it until contact is made.   He was so gracious and sweet, and my mom was adorably smitten and unabashed by her own temerity at talking to a total stranger (let alone a HAWT one) like he was her best buddy.  I was equal parts impressed and mortified by her ability to do what I had not been able to bring myself to do when seeing someone of any degree of notoriety.  

So when I saw Maggie Horton trolling the aisles of MY Target (with her mom, no less!), and I called my mom to tell her, she whispered back to me (I have no idea why she was whispering all the way over in South Carolina), "Go talk to her!!! Tell her your mother has been watching her for 30 years!!!!  Tell her to watch out for that Lucas! She's got her hands full with him!"   I told Mom I'd call her back and hung up.  

I followed Maggie Horton (whose real name is Suzanne Rogers) to the aisle of hair dyes, took a deep breath, tried to channel my mother's audacity and squeaked, "umexcuseme, do you play maggie horton on days of our lives?", feeling like the biggest loser on the face of the Earth.  People were watching me approach this woman---ohmygod, I suck!!  As soon as she smiled and acknowledged that yes, indeed she was Maggie, my nervous energy bubbled over and I gushed about how my mother was a huge fan, she's been watching Days since she was pregnant with me, I grew up watching it and OMG, we're such big fans!!!!  (where the hell did that come from?! I'm a lunatic.  That's the only rational explanation). 

Thankfully, she was so nice and sweet and when I asked if I could take a picture of her with my phone, she insisted that I give the phone to her mom to take the picture so I could get in the shot with her.  

Let me ask you this, internet.  When you go to Target, to what degree would you say you are "camera ready"?  Because, my friends, I go to Target looking much the way I'd look walking into my bathroom first thing in the morning (except with all of my clothes on).  To say I wasn't "camera ready" at the time is like saying that falling out of an airplane to the ground below "might sting a bit".   But Maggie Horton/Suzanne Rogers?  To. The. Nines.  Gorgeous.  Ready for her close up.   

But what do you say when soap star royalty (okay, fine; she's no Deirdre Hall, but close enough) tells you to hand her mother your phone and get in the shot?  You do it, people.  You just do.  
Fortunately, her mother is not well-versed in the ways of the iPhone camera and none of the pictures including me are remotely usable.  What a shame.  So this is the picture I got for my mom.  Hope she likes it.