5 MORE Things I Miss About England

I miss my commute. It wasn't always this route, maybe about 50/50. This route would often be a good 5-10 minutes faster than the main roads. This route would also mean a 5-10 beats per second increase to your heart rate. Some days there would be HUGE farm trucks coming at you. Some days a ton of other cars (with far more experience on these roads). Some days no oncoming traffic at all. 


I miss Pret-A-Manger. Pret became known to me in 2006 when I went to London to work for about three weeks. It was the cheapest, best quality quick lunch or coffee place in Soho. I still love it to this day. Fantastic variety, lots of veggie options, hot food, cold food, kid sized food. I wish we had one here. 


Speaking of good eats: Wagamama is also a big favorite. Lovingly referred to as "Snobby Noodle" by friends here who have spent time in London and love Wagamama as well, we were so pleased there was one in St. Albans. We must have eaten there at least every other week. Sometimes we'd order it in for lunch when I was working. (In my brief window of working.) My favorite was the Shiitake Donburi. Or the Vegatsu. Or any of the ramens. 

Dammit. Now I want some. 

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Moving on to dessert -- Bakewell Tarts. I'd never heard of them before this trip. (Astonishing) A tart made with raspberry jam and almond? DONE. I haven't looked for any here. I haven't learned how to bake it. YET. I asked someone at a cafe what a Bakewell Tart was. And they were so confused.

"It's a bakewell tart." 

"Okay but what's in it?"

"It's a Bakewell." 

Okay sold. 


(picture by Brynn from Wikimedia Commons)

These horses who lived on our route to Harper's school. 


I asked Harper if she wanted to live in another country again and she said yes. And I said, England? And she said, Yes! So. Watch this space. I'm going to figure out how to make that happen.






Back To The Usual Tourist Stuff

There's this famous tower nearby in a town called Pisa. You may have heard of it. It leans. We went to see it on Monday. Some of us climbed up. Some of did not and were cranky.




Then the crankiness as children younger than 8 cannot ascend the tower...


So we went into the cathedral to look for skulls and to light candles and make good wishes for the world. 


For the tower climbers, the view was spectacular.


Harper did get to run on the grass, she liked that part.


After the tower we drove to the ocean, Il Mediteraneo. 



later we grabbed a bite and I liked this handsome fellow hanging on the balcony next door.


A good day out!


The Crow And The Crepe Myrtle Tree

CrowEvery morning for about a week now, a crow has come to our crepe myrtle tree. She hops around on the branches, looking for just the right twig. When she finds it, she snaps it off and flies away. A while later, she'll be back for more.

I've never noticed this before. Then again, every spring before now - when Myrtle was still bare from winter - I didn't have this direct vantage to witness the twig gathering.

Are the twigs suddenly pumped with spring life and therefore the crow needs to pick them now? Not when they are on the ground and dead? Does Ms. Crow pick twigs from other Myrtles in the neighborhood or just ours? (I ask, selfishly.) Does she pick twigs from other types of trees that are in their pre-spring nakedness? 

I assume Ms. Crow is building a strong nest to lay her eggs and I wish her and her new family well. 

She can have all the twigs she needs from Myrtle. I just wish I could fly with her and see the progress.


Eulogy For An Old Cat

DynamoLastDaysDynamo belonged to Kurt's mom, Dot. He was born in Texas in 2001 and we met him when he was a teenage kitty, all legs and a ball of energy, hence his name. He grew into a large handsome tomcat and eventually grew out of his name as he mellowed. Every visit to Texas was made more enjoyable by this big lug of a cat who would come in and plop down on his back so you could rub his belly.

When Dot moved to Los Angeles, Dynamo was in the car with she and Kurt, a big road trip to mark the new beginning. Dynamo rode out the long miles on the floor of the Buick, not happy, but never complaining.

Dynamo adjusted to being an indoor cat, chill dude that he was, after years of roaming the neighborhoods in Texas. He grew fat and lazy, but always loving and sweet. He was such a comfort to Dot and was with her when she died.

He moved in with us a few days after Dot's death and adjusted well. We called him Big Mo. Willoughby was not happy, hissing and batting at him all the time. Dynamo let Willoughby do her thing, even though he outweighed her by a good eight pounds and could have really put her in her place. The best part was, he could go outside again and he loved it. With all the backyard roaming and different cat food, he soon lost his bowling ball like looks and became the sleek cat he had been, strong and regal.

My favorite thing about The Big Mo was his cold wet nose that he would smoosh into yours at night, followed immediately by a big head-butt. He pile-drived his love to you. He was an under-the-covers sleeper, like Bunny was, mostly attaching himself to Kurt's side, usually having walked over my head/pillow to get there.

Willoughby eventually mellowed out around him, though they still never were pals. More like indifferent roommates. IMG_2262

We thought he'd be around for a few more years, Kurt and I both having had 18 and 19 year old cats in our lives. Fifteen is old for a cat, but not nearly old enough for us. Dynamo suffered from kidney disease, which is treatable and we were doing the IV fluids routine for the past few months, then his heart gave out, poor sweet thing.

We are fortunate to be able to call in a vet and do what needed to be done at home. No cold sterile room with dogs howling in the back. Harper was at preschool when it all happened. Easier to tell her after the fact.

Bringing a pet into your life comes with the knowledge that you will need to escort them out of their lives at some point. You are their caretaker and have to make the tough choice. Even when you know it's the right thing to do to avoid suffering and distress on their part, it's so hard.

Dynamo died in his favorite kitty bed in Kurt's lap, with lots of petting from me. After he was gone, the vet left us alone with him for a little while and we just talked about his long life with Dot, remembering when we first met him and his long road trip and his short time with us. We both were so glad he could have his outdoor life again before he died. The picture above at left was taken the day before he died, outside in the sun. We have been in a rental while we remodel our house and haven't let the cats out in our temporary neighborhood. When Kurt texted me this when I was at work, I burst into tears. Dynamo hadn't been outside for 3 months and I was so glad he could do a bit of basking again.

Our house has a hole in it again. I wonder how long it will take me to stop checking under the covers for Big Mo before I put things down on the bed. I miss his wet nose and his concussive head hits. I'm so glad we got to care him, knowing how he cared for Dot. When we told Harper about his death, she thought for a moment then said, "Well, is he going to come back as a shadow?" I hope so, Harper, I hope so.

You will be missed, Dynamo.


Mimus_polyglottos1As someone who named their daughter Harper, I will never be able to write a book with the word "Mockingbird" in the title. I'm thinking of titles like:

To Kill A Mockingbird at 3am With An Axe Without Waking Your Neighbors

Silencing the Mockingbird With Poison Darts

Mockingbirds: Loud Mouth Bastards In Your Backyard All Night

Will I Ever Sleep Again? A Tail of Mockingbird Revenge


Can't wait for our own happy mockingbird to FIND A GIRLFRIEND.




Needs Improvement: The Los Angeles Zoo

I'm working the Your Turn Challenge and today is Day 3. Here is my post to answer the question: Tell us about something that you think should be improved.

Last Sunday, Harper (my three year old) and I went to the LA Zoo. It was not a great experience, mainly because Harper just doesn’t seem to be into looking at animals. We took her about eight months ago and it was the same then, but I thought/hoped that she might be more interested now at her advanced age. I was incorrect. She was just as interested in pushing buttons on “interactive exhibits”, looking at the trash cans and turning the crank on the “make a souvenir penny” machine. The animals were the least interesting thing there. Of course, none of that is the Zoo’s fault and she might be the same at any zoo.

I, however, like going to the zoo. Kurt and I had been a few times just for fun before Harper came along. But I realized on Sunday that the LA Zoo is designed really poorly. My biggest issues:
—The LA Zoo needs modernization. They have updated the Chimpaneze, Orangutan, Gorilla and Elephant exhibits in the last 10-15 years, but the rest of the zoo is very much an artifact of the 60’s (it opened in 1966).
—It takes a long time before you see any animals. (see the map here) Oh there are sea animals (sea lions, I think) in a small tank just as you come in the gate and after a short walk you can veer off to the goats/sheep petting area to the right, but the first 10-15 minutes is a hike through security, food places and gift shops before you get to the meerkats and flamingos and then more hike to get to anything else.
—It’s uphill all the way to get to “significant” animals. When you have a three year old who loves the movie Madagascar, seeing lions, zebras, giraffes and hippos is important and getting there quickly is helpful. Look, I admit I need to be in better shape so a good walk is not a bad thing for me. But hiking through a zoo with an impatient child is not a “good walk.” The LA Zoo went through a massive remake of it’s elephant area after much outcry in the city over the handling of the elephants. I’m glad they did. But I’ve been to the zoo twice in the last year and have never seen an elephant. Apparently there is an 11am Elephant Training Demonstration but we’ve not ever been there on time for that. So yes, that is my problem, not the zoo’s, I know that. But how do you see elephants during the rest of the day? I guess I missed that part chasing after Harper. (Again, my problem, not the zoo’s.)

Good things about the LA Zoo are: Free Parking and it’s mostly shady.

Overhauling a zoo is not small feat. Knowing nothing about zoos, even I can see that it would take a massive civic undertaking, a LOT of money and possibly even finding a whole new location to really modernize. I just wish that when you walked in the first things you saw were animals, not gift shops and restaurants.

Milestones: Of House Cats and Houses

MouseOn December 30, we said good bye to our cat, Mouse. She was 18 years old and lived her long lucky life indoors, mostly trying to snuggle with Bunny, and not always succeeding.

In the fall of 1996, a friend's alley cat had kittens and since I already had Bunny and was working a million hours at Sony, I thought a new cat would be good for Bunny, so I adopted Mouse. She got her name from the fact that when she was just days old I saw her for the first time and she was grey all over and looked like a little mouse.

It was purely coincidence that I named both cats after other animals.

Mouse was an odd cat. She never slept in your lap or curled up and slept next to you. She liked attention but always seemed riled up and a bit frantic when asking for it. She sort of liked to be petted, but not in the usual cat ways. In her old age she would ask for attention, you would pet her and then she would bite you. That got a little tiresome, I'll be honest.

Bunny151Bunny died about six weeks after Harper was born and poor Mouse grieved heavily for the loss and massive changes in the house. Every night for almost a year she would yowl in the wee small hours of the morning. The first few times I thought something was horribly wrong with her and would leap up and come and see but she would just be sitting in the living room (not unlike that photo above).

She seemed comfortable this last year, though clearly getting quite old. Rather quickly, her heart gave out during the day on the 30th and we made the quick call not to resuscitate. Her time really had come and with average life span of cats at 10-15 years, she had a lot of time on this planet.

We tried to explain to Harper, very directly and honestly, that Mouse had died. Harper didn't seem too interested, just wanted to watch Curious George. But a couple of days later she and I were having breakfast and she told Willoughby not to play with a cat toy. I told Harper it was okay for Willoughby to play with it. Harper said, "It's Mouse's toy." And I said, "But Mouse isn't here any more." She said, "Mouse is in the hospital." And I said, "Well, I took her to the hospital, but Mouse was very old and she was sick and she died." Harper thought about it for a minute then she said, "Can she get a new battery?" That just warmed my heart. I said, "No sweetie, only toys can get new batteries when they die. Animals and people only get one battery." She then moved on to another topic.

Good bye Mouse, thanks for being part of our lives, sorry you only had one battery.

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Another milestone is that January marks 17 years that I've lived in this house. I'm amazed it's been this long already! I'm also amazed that we've made it work all this time with very little change. I'm proud of myself for buying it all those years ago (when houses were affordable!) instead of blowing my down payment on a car. But in those days (like it was 50 years ago) this would have been considered a "starter home" and five years later I would have upgraded to a larger one. But five years later we were already two years married and both freelance, so we made the space work.

Now that there are three of us, the house does seem to be getting smaller and smaller! I have to remind myself to put on my "perspectacles" because we own a house with heating and plumbing and modern appliances in a great school district. Okay okay, but I'd like at least another bathroom soon (now that all three of us are potty trained) and modern sized counters in the kitchen (they are still original to 1938).

The house is cozy and has a working fireplace and sweet period details. I am so glad I found it and bought way back when. Happy anniversary little house!

Catching Up With Willoughby Some More

Willoughby is growing into a fine young cat. She is frisky and sweet and cuddly, all the things you want in an almost one year old cat. She sleeps on the bed and likes to lay on my chest when I'm waking up. So sweet to wake up to that. She also likes to hang in the bathroom when I (or Kurt) are showering. It always cracks me up to see this:


She is FASCINATED by the refrigerator. On a hot day she especially likes it.


Of course a nice pile of dirt is also fun. Look at that expression, pure bliss.