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Back to Reality July 26, 2008

Posted by alwaysjan in Travel.
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It took two cars to transport my friends from England to LAX with all their plunder. They gave it their all trying to buoy the U.S. economy. Lesley spent valiantly until the very end. Down to her last $20, she fixated on a lawn ornament at Joanne’s, a metal stake that featured a pyramid of farm animals. She carried this Americana saber around for half an hour before finally admitting it wouldn’t fit in her suitcase.

Instead, Lesley bought some new fangled things, evidently unavailable in England, called paper napkins.These matched the stack of plastic picnic plates she’d purchased on sale. Hey, the dollar is worth only 50 percent of the English pound and all items were 60 percent off. If you do the math, the cashier was handing out cash.

Facing the 11-hour flight back to Heathrow, our friends were in no great hurry to leave until I told them the tonic had run out. That sent them packing. Now we’re left with a big bottle of gin, no tonic, and sadly, no houseguests.

Who could ever have imagined that I’d meet someone over the internet, jet off to spend New Year’s Eve with their family in England, and they’d be sitting out on my porch in sunny California sipping G&Ts six months later? When Richard left for the airport with Ian and Lucy, he said they both waved to our house and said, “Goodbye our American home!”

So, after hosting a two-week long party that made the Boston Tea Party look like a rather sedate and proper affair, it’s back to reality. Reality sucks.

Here’s the skinny on the cultural exchange between the Brits and the Americans. Let’s keep score. (If you’re a teacher, you might want to use a Venn diagram.)

The British learned:

People in LA are way nicer than people in snotty San Francisco.

People in the U.S. have pigs living inside and broom closets outside.

If you use the toilet at a restaurant, someone will take away your salad.

The sun may never set on the British Empire, but it’s always sunny in California

If you order a hamburger “without salad,” you have to also specify that you don’t want lettuce, tomato, or anything green.

The Dewey Decimal system is alive and well in America. (Lesley made a surprise spot check)

Americans eat these strange contraptions called artichokes. Then, after performing a bizarre cutting ritual, consume their hearts, which are actually quite tasty.

The Americans learned:

Brits call leftovers “bits and pieces.”

Brits take this shagging thing quite seriously and also engage in something referred to as snogging, which they say the Scots also do with sheep. We talked about joining them in Scotland to check our the veracity of this claim.

Brits refer to the lowly rhinestone as “diamonte” and covet it like raccoons.

People from Manchester, England are referred to as Manculians, which is just downright kinky.

I’d say it was an even exchange with the common currency being laughter. I don’t think I’ve laughed so hard and so much in ages. What’s funny is that after all my obsessing about where to take my visitors, they seemed to be happiest when sitting out “in the garden.” That’s Brit-speak for a patio. They wallowed in the sun, as I believe it took them two full weeks just to dry out. After a few days they were casually stepping over the pig and throwing the mousetraps back on the couch, so the dogs wouldn’t sit on them. In short, they made themselves at home.

I can hardly wait to say, “Hello English home” again. Hugs across the pond to all my friends in the UK.

Lawn Long Gone July 17, 2008

Posted by alwaysjan in Gardening.
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36 Hours Before Houseguests Arrive

36 Hours Before Houseguests Arrive

It was already 9 a.m. and Steve aka The Yard Guy still hadn’t arrived with his crew.  I was always under the impression that on a hot day, it’s best to get an early start in the yard.  Before the sun’s rays turn to UV 10 Death Rays. Evidently, Steve hadn’t heard of this, so I thought it best to call and give him a head’s up. 

“Hey, what’s happening?” Steve said, sounding way too casual. 

“What’s happening is nothing is happening because you’re not here,” I replied, trying to sound casual though my teeth grinding was now audible.

“I’ll stop by in 10 minutes so we can talk about what you want to do,” he said.  Click.  Wait a minute.  He’d said, “I” and not “we.”  What was there to talk about?  It was Monday morning and my friends from England were arriving in 36 hours.  I called him right back.  

“You’re not just coming by yourself,” I said.  The desperation in my voice was now palatable.

“I’m bringing the guys,” Steve reassured me.

Now, I’m not one of those conspiracy nuts, but this is my theory.  I believe when I called Steve, he and “the guys” were probably parked around the corner.  I imagine they were just finishing their breakfast burritos while waiting for my panicked call.  This way, at the last possible minute, Steve and his crew arrive like the cavalry come to save the day.  That is if the cavalry travelled in a big white dump truck.  

Just hearing the sound of Steve’s truck rumbling out in the alley set me to salivating like Pavlov’s dog.  I’m convinced this is all part of Steve’s Master Plan.  Can you see how brilliant it is?

“So what were you thinking you’d like to do?” Steve asked as though this was the first time we’d ever talked about the job.  

“We’d talked about DG,” I reminded him.  DG being decomposed granite, but if you want to sound yard savvy, you have to speak in acronyms.  Steve walked over to the cab of the truck, reached inside and threw a switch.  A mountain of DG poured out in the alley.  Talk about dramatic effect.  Voila!  I say that only because it sounds more dramatic than, “Aqui!”

Meanwhile, Steve’s crew had swarmed over the backyard, devouring all traces of rocks, roots, and the dreaded grass.  They moved so quickly, if I blinked, it was like watching time-lapse photography.  I retreated inside to sit in front of the fan.  “I think Steve is going to pull this off,” I said to my husband, Richard.  

I spoke too soon.  Here’s what Richard swears he observed.  Only two hours later, one of Steve’s guys gave a signal.  Richard even demonstrated by cupping his hands over his mouth.  It sounds sort of like an owl hoot, “Who, Who!  Who, Who!”  Indians always use this signal in the movies, even in the later films where they’re Native Americans.  According to Richard’s account, all of the workers immediately grabbed their tools and ran out the back gate. We’re talking minutes here.  Que pasa?

I tried to be optimistic. It was lunchtime and Steve’s truck was still parked in the alley.  But where were my worker bees?  “Maybe they got called away on a lawn emergency,” Richard offered.  But the only lawn emergency I know of goes by the acronym INS.   

Three hours later, Richard spotted one of Steve’s workers in the alley and shadowed him.  The man entered the back gate of the house two doors down.  Richard came home and announced,  “We have competition!”  In movies, when you want to find out who’s behind something, they always say, “Follow the money.”  

Well, the money led to Chris and Chuck, my two gay (as in two disposable incomes) neighbors.  They were hosting a sit-down party for 100 the night after our stand-up party for 35.  Their guests would be served $10 wine.  My guests would be shown where the beer can opener and corkscrew were.  At the last minute, they’d decided to tear out their front lawn and put in a new one.  There was also the small detail of having someone scale a 100-foot palm tree so it could be lit so as to be visible from outer space.  Ka-ching! This constituted a lawn emergency, so my backyard had been triaged.  

Unfortunately, Steve had dramatically dumped the load of DG out in the alley in front of our garage door, so we were trapped.  Late Monday afternoon he sent some guys down to shovel the DG to the side.  The cavalry then retreated in their white truck.  “Manana!” Steve shouted as he disappeared in a cloud of dust.

I woke up Tuesday and felt as though I’d received a shot of adrenalin directly into my heart (a la Pulp Fiction).   We had 12 hours. To ratchet the stress level up a notch, Richard was trying to finish the guest bathroom next to the garage.  It was tiled with slate and featured two holes.  We’d called Luis from El Salvador to help paint and grout.

My friend Christine called and made the mistake of asking how I was doing. I said, “It’s December 24th at the North Pole and all of the elves are on crack.” Alarmed, she drove over to see for herself.  There hadn’t been so Latinos from different countries assembled in one place since the School of the Americas disbanded.

One hour before we had to leave for the airport, Steve’s guys finally rolled the pieces of the fountain into position.  This was akin to throwing Stonehenge together in a day.  Richard flipped the switch, and water began to trickle.  We had lift off!

Welcome to Sunny California!

America – Day One July 10, 2008

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I slept in so as not to wake the Brits.  I needn’t have bothered. By the time I wandered out into the kitchen at 8 a.m., Richard and Lesley were already returning from Home Depot with paint for the fence and pastries from the Union Bakery. Lesley was ecstatic. “I just saw my first two fatties!” she exclaimed. She and Richard debated how much the two people they saw weighed altogether, but when translating pounds to stones, they reached an impasse. As a compromise, it was agreed both people were about as big as a boulder.

Lesley dieted before for her trip here, all because she wanted to be able to say, “I want that supersized!” I had to break it to her gently that everything in America IS supersized.

On the way home from the airport the night before, I’d driven Lesley through my town’s historic district. “It looks like Australia,” she proclaimed. I didn’t take this as a compliment and went to great pains to point out the historical significance of the buildings we whizzed by. “Brisbane, Australia,” Lesley reiterated.

Today, Lucy’s all consuming goal was to go to Abercrombie & Fitch and once inside the inner sanctum, she began hyperventilating. She emerged an hour later with one, count it, one shirt. We then took a romp through H&M, The Gap, and another 135 stores. It’s so hard when you’re 15 and you look gorgeous in everything. At each store I got to hear, “I can’t believe how cheap this is!” Since my dollars convert to lowly dollars, I couldn’t make it a shopping menage a trois.

We took a break from all the frenzied spending to have lunch at Twin Palms where Lucy pulled out her new shirt from the Abercrombie & Fitch bag (and no, they’re not paying me for product placement) and buried her face in it. “It even smells like Abercrombie & Fitch,” she squealed. I was looking at the black and white photo of the very manly model on the bag, who evidently embodies the essence of A&F, armpit hair and all. Lucy’s mum, Lesley, suggested that the model had personally licked the new shirt to give it that unique smell. I think Lucy rather liked that idea.

We staggered back to the parking garage, came home and took a nap, which sounds a lot more exotic, if you call it a siesta.

This is what Lesley learned on Day 1:

Most of the streets in LA are quite straight and wide (supersized!)

Everyone in LA seems to drive a silver or black car (I’d noticed that myself recently)

Waiters don’t wait for everyone at the table to finish eating before removing your plate.

Here’s what I learned on Day 1:

A popsicle is actually an “ice lolly”

The school crossing guards who sit in lawn chairs and hold up the STOP sign so children can cross, are referred to in England as “lollipop ladies.”

The reason it’s incredibly rude for a waiter to take away your plate before everyone’s finished eating is because then everyone just stares at the person who’s still eating.

We then went out to Gus’s and ate hamburgers the size of the Isle of Wight and Lesley never even had to utter the “s” word. And the waiter took away my plate as soon as I’d finished, so I could then watch Lesley start packing on American-style pounds.

A Sorry Safari for Lucy June 29, 2008

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Where on earth will Lucy sleep?  Our friends, Lesley and Ian, are coming from England with lovely Lucy, their vivacious 15-year-old daughter.  All Lucy has to do is say, “Mummy!” and I get goosebumps.   We planned to put her parents out in the room next to the garage, but that would leave Lucy couch surfing in the midst of the mayhem that passes for our life.  

Then I had the most brilliant idea.  We’d put Lucy out back in a tent.  No, I’m not talking about a tent like THAT!  More like a room with drapes.  I’ve seen outdoor rooms at Target that would fit the bill.  They’re swathed in mosquito netting with canvas sides that can be artfully tied back.  It’s an oasis, really, at a fraction of the cost.  

I proposed that we move the daybed out into the tent along with a chest of drawers.  Hang a portrait of Queen Victoria and Lucy could pretend she was on safari!  Richard suggested we paint a view of Lake Victoria on the side of the garage.  We even have a pig who can pass as a warthog. What luck!  And for a pittance, I’m sure my neighbors, Mark and Eunice,  would don tribal make-up to recreate that bush-like ambiance.

The wonderful thing about Southern California is there are no insects.  Oh, that’s Hawaii.  Okay, there are no insects that a sturdy fly swatter and a hammer can’t take out.  We could set the legs of the daybed in coffee cans filled with kerosene to discourage bugs or reptilian bedmates.  I know that works cause I’ve seen it in movies.

I emailed Lesley to see if she’d warm up to my inspired idea.  Her only suggestion was that we add a picture of Russell Crowe alongside the Queen’s.  I took that as an enthusiastic yes.

Unfortunately, like all visionaries, I’m subject to the stinging barbs of criticism from the commoners aka my family.  Alas, Lucy’s safari was nixed. Lesley and Ian will stay in our bedroom so Lucy can sleep – dare I say it? – on the couch in the den.  Doesn’t sound nearly as exotic, but at least she won’t have to fend off wildlife. And Lucy will also have access to a computer and a TV.  No “EastEnders” though, and that could be the biggest hardship of all.

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