Farewell, Los Angeles

By now I ought to have an encyclopaedic knowledge of the animal kingdom. Los Angeles Zoo marked our fourth zoo trip, and this time we identified the animals we really wanted to see, headed in a zig-zag fashion from one to the next, and took in anything else that was interesting along the way. Previously I would plot a nice, logical route which makes sense on the map - if you're an adult. If however you are approximately 18 months old and have that oft-but-not-always-endearing habit of walking in circles / backwards / any direction other than the planned one I've found it helps to direct the party towards the next exciting animal on the checklist and hey, if an ocelot happens to be en route then we'll all stop and look at an ocelot. (True story.)

We don't tend to take many photos at zoos, mostly because we're either running after a child each or it's just too hard to capture animal + child in one shot. But if you look closely here you can just see the giraffes on the left, and of course chappie on the right. Success!

la-zoo

And from land to sea: Long Beach, a suburb a few miles south of Hermosa Beach, has a famous aquarium. At first it doesn't seem that it's actually that big, but as you go upstairs there's really quite a lot still to see. That said, the outdoor area is by far where you'll want to spend the most time as it's got touch pools, a small play area and interactive displays about water usage. (Miss H loved it when the "rain" came down and Master H loved pressing the "rain" button. Win-win!) They even had a storytime session with a puppet shark which, to my surprise, Master H was keen to sit through.

But above all, to our kids the word "aquarium" means a place that Master H can see sharks and Miss H can swing from the nearest available rail. And aquarium trip number five kindly obliged...

long-beach-aquariumlong-beach-aquarium

long-beach-aquarium

long-beach-aquarium


By this time late November had started to roll around, bringing with it the country-stopping tradition of Thanksgiving. We were very fortunate indeed to be invited to a real American family Thanksgiving day: my dear Californian friend Jasmine and her husband Dave were to be spending it with her sister in Orange County, an hour south of L.A., and her sister kindly welcomed us into her home too. Add in the sister's husband and kids, a few grandparents, and even a great-grandma at 99 years young, and in total there were 14 of us round the table. And there were still leftovers!

At first it felt a bit like we were gatecrashing someone's Christmas (only without the wrapping paper excitedly strewn everywhere by the children and the neat piles of calendars, socks and chocolates boringly stacked on coffee tables by the grown-ups). But the lovely Robinson+ family quickly made it seem perfectly normal that we should be there, retrieving old toys that Jasmine's nieces had outgrown but not discarded, and allowing us to casually mill around their house the way the other family members did. I think in some ways it helped that the day didn't have all the trimmings that come with Christmas, as there was no expectation around present exchanges, or all-systems-stop at 3 o'clock for the Queen's speech, or an abundance of Quality Street sweeties to gorge on and hope nobody notices that you've surreptitiously been fishing out all the toffee pennies.

So we had a very lovely time, and enjoyed a feast of pumpkin soup (served IN the pumpkin which looked amazing!), followed by roast turkey, salmon, cornbread stuffing, potatoes, green beans and gravy (and cranberry sauce). After a pause we felt brave enough to tackle the final course: apple and cranberry pie, pumpkin cheesecake, and homemade salted caramel ice cream. Yum!

Sated with good food, oodles of conversation and two gloriously exhausted toddlers we drove home in the early evening. I don't have any great photos of the Thanksgiving day, but I do have these nice shots of the lazy beach afternoon we had the following day:

hermosa-beach

hermosa-beach


Our stay in Hermosa Beach was now drawing to a close, but we still had some Tinseltown things to do. Firstly, I had applied to be an audience member on "Talking Dead", the chat show which follows the zombie apocalypse television series "The Walking Dead". (One of my favourite programmes ever. Didn't think that about me, did you?). I missed out on a ticket the first time I applied, but I had one more request in progress so I had my fingers crossed they would be one person short and, as a lone applicant, I might strike it lucky. Secondly, on a rather different note, and with a pre-purchased ticket in my electronic hand (aka smartphone), I went out to see Tim Minchin play at The Wiltern one evening. Rather appropriately the show was entitled "Leaving Los Angeles" as Tim is, well, leaving L.A. soon to return to Australia. His four years in the city are somewhat more significant than my four weeks, but I still enjoyed sharing the sentiment. The show was tremendous, with some new songs thrown in and an extremely talented band to complement many of the bigger numbers. The audience was clearly pretty international, and everyone seemed nicely relaxed and intent on having a good time. I was a lone misfit in exactly the right place.

Our final few days in L.A. gave us more fond memories, many unexpected. We went back to our favourite local park (South Park) and found a child-sized picnic bench (Mr H isn't secretly a giant) which the kids decided would be an optimum snack spot so I got a rare photo of them both almost smiling into the camera at the same time:

south-park


We visited the nearby Hopkins Wilderness Park where we looked for insects, climbed trees, and fed fish. Such a great idea: they have a machine there which releases a small amount of fish food for 25c. Thank goodness I had quite a few quarters on me!

hopkins-wilderness-park hopkins-wilderness-park

hopkins-wilderness-park


One of the drawbacks of our place in Hermosa Beach was the lack of a dishwasher. But by the end of our time there we were all experts at washing up.

washing-up


And on our last night we strolled along to the pedestrianised zone where we knew they would be lighting the Christmas tree. We were expecting a small podium with a few local councillors cheerfully doing one of their more fun tasks, but BAM! We were hit with a full-on band rocking out Christmas carols, stalls selling hot cocoa and homemade cookies, a carousel which was entirely free for all the kiddies to go on, and then to top it off, at 6pm, just after the tree lights went on, Santa arrived on the back of a lifeguard vehicle and set up in a grotto ready to meet the kids! Our two little ones had a blast (with the exception of Miss H freaking out when we suggested she sit on Santa's lap), and we wandered happily home an hour or two later, full of Christmas cheer and affection for this dear little community.

hermosa-christmas-street-party

hermosa-christmas-street-party

hermosa-christmas-street-party

hermosa-christmas-street-party    hermosa-christmas-street-party

The next morning as we did the last of the packing and Mr H played an amazing game of real life Tetris getting it all into the boot, I glanced at my emails. Tucked away a couple of days down the list was a message from sender I faintly recognised. Have you guessed it yet? Yep, it turns out I got that final ticket to "Talking Dead", but hadn't seen the email in time to confirm I still wanted it, never mind actually go. My initial reaction was that stomach-churning realisation that you've made a mistake - albeit not a harmful one - but the disappointment was only minor. You see the show taping time was exactly over the Christmas lights time, and given we thought it would just be a short, low-key event I would have gone to the recording instead. Then I wouldn't have seen the joy on the kids' faces as we set them up on the carousel. I wouldn't have watched Master H be fascinated by the live band. I wouldn't have danced round the tree with my 1-year-old daughter as she giggled in my arms. Sure, all of those things are occasions that can happen again, but on that night, in that moment, with that feeling all around us, they were especially special. And those were the best tickets in (tinsel)town.

Coming up: Hello San Diego!

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