Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Wrapping it Up

After the rally at the library (the measure passed, by the way), we took the long way back to Kim and Cory's house. We got off the freeway at Beverly Boulevard and showed the boys our old stomping grounds in uptown Whittier. They were exactly as impressed as I expected them to be. Which was not at all.

For me, though, it was surreal to drive by our little white cottage on Greenleaf. There was a "For Rent" sign stuck in the lawn, and our old neighbors Mark and Sandy were out front, as they always had been on a sunny day. Mark had the same bird dogs that he'd spent most of his time yelling at and whistling for, and his perpetual girlfriend Sandy (they maintained separate residences but were always together) appeared to be wearing the exact same black velour warm-up suit that was her uniform eight years ago.

We wondered if we should stop; we decided to. But they were talking to the driver of a delivery truck who had stopped in the street, blocking the parking at the curb. When the truck moved on, so did they. Chasing them down would have been too weird, so we drove on. It made me a little sad, which was of a piece with how I felt about the whole afternoon.

We continued down Greenleaf, which looked more vital than it had on our last visit. I wish we had stopped and walked and taken a chance on a place to eat, but the boys were beyond exhausted by that point, and I was feeling a little shell-shocked myself. It was strange to pass through a place that had been such an important part of our lives.

Shaun leaned across me and took a picture out the window of what had been such an important part of his life:

We pointed out the landmarks to our impassive sightseers. Look, mommy used to live there. -There's daddy's old apartment. Well, you can't really see it from here, but it's back there. -That's where mommy used to be in plays. -Do you remember Eric? Dietrich's daddy? He used to work there.

Even the El Pollo Loco on Whittier Boulevard, where we finally stopped for lunch, was not spared: I used to stop here a lot on my way home from work and pick us up some dinner, Shaun told the kids. But memories, schmemories. Two weeks later, it's the churros that the boys are still talking about.

After lunch we drove the surface streets from Whittier to Placentia. Everything was familiar. But because I lived in six different places during my time in LA/Orange County, and because it's been eight years now since I lived there, I wasn't able to put everything into context. I remember this drive. But where would I have been going? Of course I remembered the big destinations, but the mundane details of day-to-day life were lost to time. It was very unsettling. As a person with a natural tendency to see things as black and white (as unrealistic and misguided as that may be), I feel very uncomfortable when confronted with the erosion of my memory.

I felt a sense of loss, but with it a sense of gratitude. I realized that I've lived in a lot of places, all completely different from each other, and I've enjoyed every one. All in all, it was a bittersweet afternoon.

The evening, however, was nothing but sweet. Auntie Nancy and Great Grandma Martin joined us for dinner at the Macks', and we finally enjoyed the In 'N Out burgers I'd been looking forward to since we bought our plane tickets.

Nancy brought late Christmas presents: leather-covered shields with a version of the Clan Ross crest and Sir Nels and Sir Willem embossed on the front. Brass nameplates mark the shields as belonging to Nels the Valiant and Willem the Lionhearted, which I think are very apt monikers indeed. Accompanying the shields were some excellent coloring books on swords and jousts and tournaments. They came in handy on the trip home.

Can you tell that all the kids were a little fried by the end of our visit?

Here's cousin Henry in normal mode. His drawings of any manner of conveyance (train, monster truck) are all particularly good. Sweet cousin Heidi is in the background.

Early to bed and not so early to rise, and before we knew it it was Monday afternoon and we were headed home.

It's a proven fact that drinks taste better when sipped through dual cocktail straws. Ask any kid.

Goodbye, California. Let's not be strangers.

Saturday, March 19, 2011

Sunday Morning With Miss Hillary

Can you believe I still haven't made it through our California trip? Nels got a terrible cold the day after we got home. Then Willem got it. Then I got it. We're all getting better now, but our entire household was running in slow motion there for a while.

You know how when you travel to foreign countries, it's always really different if you stay with people who actually live there and see what life is really like? That's kind of what it was like to hang out with my sister on Sunday. She is a children's librarian, and she was working at a rally (which she'd mostly organized herself) in support of a library funding measure.

There's no way on earth we would have gone to that event otherwise, and it turned out to be a lot of fun, and a perfect snapshot of life in LA.

Hillary is a librarian at the Memorial Branch of the Los Angeles Public Library. It's so lovely! And there's a playground! And no machete fights! (That would be at the dangerous old branch she was transfered from a month ago. A week before the machete fight.)

This girl can read a story like nobody's business. It was noisy and crowded and crazy, and she had the full attention of a huge group of kids.

And then she whipped out her ukulele! I have to admit, I got a little teary-eyed watching her in action. It is so gratifying to see someone do something that they are good at, that they are suited for, and that they are enjoying. The kids adore Miss Hillary.

Free books were passed out--quite a boon, since we hadn't brought a lick of entertainment with us apart from Angry Birds on Shaun's phone. The books were easy enough that both boys could read them to themselves in the car and on the plane. Perfect!

A magic show was part of the program, and the magician was exactly right for kids. Nels just about died of happiness when he was the first volunteer to be called. He was totally up for a little public teasing. I couldn't pick just one of these pictures, because I love his body language in all of them.

This guy killed it. I have never seen a happier, more engaged audience than this.

I saw one little girl ask to have her picture taken with Hillary, just like a princess at Disneyland. In the picture below, Hillary is telling me that the man with the impressive hair behind her made the same request, and she had to tell him she would take photos with children only. Perhaps he'd noticed the street style blogger who'd taken her picture earlier.

Do you remember Susan from Seinfeld? George's fiancée who died from licking cheap wedding invitation envelopes? When Hillary met Heidi Swedberg at the library, she only knew her as a ukulele player with a children's album she liked.

Ms. Swedberg closed out the program with a rather wordy song about Proposition L. Take a minor celebrity, a manifesto, and a ukulele, and what you get is a perfectly Seinfeld-ian moment.

Hillary had another event to run to after the rally, so we stayed for a bit and let the boys play on the playground. "Isn't Auntie Hillary good at reading stories?" I asked Willem. He nodded.

"And she's beautiful," he said reverently.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

California Continued

The second full day of our trip was spent criss-crossing Los Angeles County with the Childs family.

Our first stop was The Blue Star, in the industrial part of LA, for breakfast. A block from the restaurant we had to drive around a long line of pick-ups with scrap metal to sell, waiting for the giant magnet to swing over and relieve them of their loads. 'Twas colorful.

We ate a hearty breakfast in the sunshine on this outdoor patio. The outsize pleasure (and novelty) of eating outside in March made me feel like a rubbernecker. These days it's hard to remember that I'm a native Californian.

The excellent Thorne.

After breakfast we headed to Pasadena to check out a house. (We aren't in the market, but Steve and Danica are.) We stumbled across an estate sale at a super fancy, super tacky house. Being us, of course we stopped.

Next it was down the hill to play at the park (and use the bathrooms) at the Rose Bowl. Once we were plenty hot and sweaty, we drove to Alhambra to the legendary Fosselman's. My stout (as in beer) ice cream was delicious, but if you go, do as the locals do and get the cappuccino ice cream. It has chocolate in it and it is good. If I had noticed the brown butter flavor (which I just saw on their website), I definitely would have asked for a taste. I have never considered myself an "ice cream person," but I loved everything I tried. I can't believe I lived in California for all those years and never went to Fosselman's. Don't be like me.

Sometimes we miss California.

We relaxed for a bit in Los Feliz at Steve and Danica's and then it was off to dinner at Umami Burger, which we've been hearing lots about. Their namesake burger didn't blow me away, but the California burger and the Truffle burger were finger-licking good. (No, I didn't eat three whole hamburgers myself, but I probably could have.) It was such a treat.

The whole day was a treat, in fact. Driving all over the place was part of the fun, since it had been so long since we'd been to California. It could only have been better if we'd fit into one car and enjoyed everyone's company all day. (We split up; boys in one car, girls in the other.)

Our family is so blessed to have great friends. If only we could figure out how to live near all of them.

Monday, March 14, 2011


Four years ago today, I was the proud mother of two teeny boys and a brand new blog. As stick-to-it-iveness is not one of the qualities I'm known for, this may be a personal record for my pursuit of a non-required activity.

So here's a tip of the hat from Nels of four years ago to you, my friends who check in and make this so much fun to do.

A Day at Knott's

I've loved living in Oregon and Washington, but I do wish my kids could share many of the experiences I had growing up in Southern California. My grandparents lived just down the road from Knott's Berry Farm, and my grandpa has always loved roller coasters, so Knott's was a big part of my childhood. Even though this was a short trip, I figured an afternoon there was a great way to spend some time with Grandpa and do something the boys would enjoy.

We had gorgeous weather, and the park was all but empty. The sparse crowd was actually kind of a downer, but it meant that we didn't have to wait in any lines. We often got to ride again without getting off the ride at all, which was a good thing with two tired little boys. I graded the day "exceeds expectations."

Reporting for fun.


The Sierra Sidewinder was our first ride, and I was afraid it was going to break Grandpa and scare the boys off trying anything else. It's a swiveling roller coaster. Scared me to death. The boys were total troopers (as was Grandpa) and it turns out that Willem is something of an adrenaline junky. Surprise, surprise.

Matching dimples.

Willem is looking over my shoulder as I write this. He just pointed to the picture below and said, "Say that one is the boring-est." That one is the boring-est.

These cars went really slowly and then whipped around the corners.

Pure joy.

This little roller coaster was the favorite ride of the day. I think they went on it nine times.

We stopped in at the Calico Saloon so Grandpa could wet his whistle ($9 beers ensured that he didn't get sidetracked too long) and we happened to catch this (family friendly) performance. Man, that is one tough way to make a living. The banter between the actors and the crowd was quite lively, and Nels loved every minute of it. That boy is just itching to get on stage.

The show took me back to the days after college when I used to circle the amusement park entertainer jobs in the classifieds and bemoan the fact that I was a third-rate singer and that my dancing didn't rate at all. Some day I'd love to do community theater again, but the dream of being an actor is one youthful wish that it's a big relief to have outgrown.

I really talked up the Log Ride, both because it has always been one of my favorites, and because the cross street we live off of in Camas was originally a chute that conveyed logs down to the mill at the bottom of our hill. The ride's unexpected plunge into pitch blackness scared the boys more than anything that day. And Willem ended up in front (bad mom), taking the brunt of the splash from a grateful Grandpa (who nevertheless let slip his only profanity of the day.)

Guess who's terrified of Ferris Wheels?

It wasn't until Shaun started teasing me that Grandpa noticed how freaked out I was and started rocking the seat. (To the best of his ability, anyway. He's too tiny to do much.) This is my "trying not to lose it in front of the kids" face.

We ended our day with a feast at Ma Knott's Chicken Dinner restaurant. The boys were almost too tired to put their forks to their mouths.

Loaded with leftovers, we stopped by Grandpa's place (where he gave each of the boys a $2 bill and a pen that says Shay's Pour House) and then made our way back to the quiet sanctuary of Shaun's sister's house, where we were made to feel right at home for the duration of our stay.

There's an excellent brewery in Placentia, and we were thrilled to find their fine brews available at Albertons when we stopped in for some cough syrup and our own whistle-wetter. If you ever see something from The Bruery available at your local bottle shop, jump on it. Everything we've tried has been delicious.


Friday, March 11, 2011

And We're Off

Somebody's excited.

Just taking the shuttle bus from long-term parking was a thrilling novelty for our easily entertained crew. At some point, Willem scooted over to put his arm around Nels. Which was a thrilling novelty for me.

Buckling up! This was our our first time flying together as a family of four.

It's ginger ale, I swear.

The boys went to school on Thursday and our flight didn't leave until dinner time, which made for a very long day. They didn't get to bed until eleven o'clock, and I worried about the toll that might take on our Friday. But it's hard to worry too much when you wake up to this:

Well, ok, I could still worry. Because the first order of business was to go pick up my grandpa on our way to an afternoon at Knott's Berry Farm. And my grandpa is a bit...hmm.... I will go with the word "eccentric" for our purposes today.

Here's his house in Garden Grove, peeking out from behind his prodigiously overgrown front yard.

It's kind of like the Disneyland Jungle Cruise but with a silver Miata instead of boats.

And reminders not to forget your fanny pack.

Seriously. Do not forget the fanny pack.

Knott's is next!