A Californian Christmas

'Twas the day before Christmas, and all through the house
Two toddlers were thundering...

... and so we went out to meet my lovely friend Lisa and her five-year-old son Niko. I first met Lisa when we were both students at UCSD (University of California, San Diego), and I've since seen her in England and in New York - isn't it excellent when friendships can span the globe? We had pancakes, then a play in a park, and it was a splendidly Californian way to spend Christmas Eve. It was particularly nice to have young company for our two as they don't really get much chance to socialise with other children - despite me looking for playgroups in every place we've stayed, our little ones tend to be too young for more formal classes (not to mention they're often full up or you have to commit for a full term), or too old for many of the baby groups run by the libraries. Sometimes we're lucky when we visit parks and there are some 2- or 3-year-olds there, but mostly children that age are in daycare or pre-school, so the only time they're around is at the weekends when the playgrounds are overrun by older kids. Obviously our two have each other for company all the time, but I would say that them not having regular contact with friends their own age has been something I've missed for them. Mind you, I'm probably projecting a bit here. At the tender ages of just 3 and 1, so long as they still have snacks, Paw Patrol and our undivided attention when they take a tumble maybe they don't give a hoot about hanging out with other kids?

Rather fortuitously our place has a chimney so in the evening we left out a mince pie, some carrots and a drop of red wine for the big fella and his reindeer. That night we braced ourselves for an early start... only to have to wake the sleeping children ourselves at 8.30am! I set my phone down for much of the present-opening fun, but did get a few snaps of the sleepy-eyed but very happy pair.





After opening pressies and speaking to family we set off to see our friends Jasmine and Dave, where we proceeded to repay the Thanksgiving favour and treat them to a British Christmas feast! Mr H did a sterling job, from the appetiser of mulled wine and mince pies to the flaming Christmas pudding at the end, with a triumphant turkey main course in the middle. We even called up good old Queenie to hear her speech as we all settled down on the couch afterwards.


Boxing Day however felt very odd. We didn't hit the shops because we don't have an iota of spare space in our cases. We didn't have tons of friends calling to ask how our Christmas was as I fondly (falsely?) remember they did in the days before Facebook broadcast everyone's news quicker than one could dial a (landline) telephone number. And there were no helpful BBC entertainment shows or ITV classic films to carry you through the day (the terrestrial telly in the States doesn't feel like it's 'with' the nation the way I always think British telly does. Maybe it's the lack of voice-overs connecting the programmes?). I know now we have little ones I'm remembering Christmases of yore as opposed to more recent ones, but still, the day felt nothing like any other Boxing Day I can recall.

So after a visit to a surprisingly quiet park I decided I might as well start doing some initial packing. It really took no time at all to fill the first case.


The next day we'd arranged to meet Lisa and Niko again, this time to visit the San Diego Zoo Safari Park where Lisa's family are members so she very kindly let us use their free guest passes. You can walk round most of the enclosures rather than take the very very very busy train (or pay for the pricey other special tour options), so we simply ambled around, taking in the birds, goats, elephants, and lions. By far the best bit however was when we got to the 'African Plains' area, where giraffes, zebras, rhinos and antelopes roam in a wonderfully large open space.




We only managed to see about half the park (though we did ride the carousel three times before Master H would let us leave) so if were back in San Diego this is one place I'd definitely visit again. Many people think it's better than the zoo; I'm inclined to agree.

The next day was a quiet home / supermarket shop day, then on the Friday, having given it some consideration, we visited Sea World. Yes, I'd heard about Blackfish (I've since seen it in full). Yes, I asked my San Diego friends what they thought about the place. In the end we decided to go. We went to the newly-launched "Orca Experience", where they make a big deal about how the work they do and the observations they make will help orcas in the wild. The whales did still do some tricks, but it was largely lots of splashing. They truly are majestic creatures.



I should probably add that I missed the first few minutes of the show due to a #parentingfail. Ever the planner I had proudly worked out how we could take as much in that day as possible and it involved legging it to the whale arena with five minutes to spare. In my haste I plonked my second-born on the bleachers beside me, turned to tuck the bag under my seat and heard a familiar wail. Turns out she'd slipped through the gap and was now in the row behind us. Oops!

After the whales we went through the shark tunnel and on to the turtles, though Miss H seemed to find the Christmas tree in the corner every bit as interesting.



Next up, it was the dolphin show. This was definitely much more of a "show", with lots of (human) entertainment before the event. I'm no longer sure how I feel about creatures doing tricks (is a free-flight bird show where they just fly across the area from one side to the other for a bit of food okay?), but the dolphins were certainly impressive.


After lunch, a wander past the touch pools and a very disappointing stop at the octopus aquarium (it's just a couple of small tanks), we finally made it into the sea lion show (this one has the smallest stadium by far so the seats fill up super quickly). The pre-show comedy was great, and the sea lions were every bit as comic as sea lion shows anywhere.



It was also very clear just how much affection the trainers have for these animals. Aargh, what are we to do, friends? Close all zoos and aquariums, and only ever keep injured or endangered animals in captivity? Maybe? I went to a museum the other day (future blog post to come) and saw some stuffed animals in a display case, and couldn't help but feel that was the only way I should be permitted to see them up that close. Hmm. As you can probably tell, I'm far from done thinking about this.

Anyway, let's move on. The next day we were due to go back to the tide pools with Lisa and Niko on their last day in San Diego but our two kids were struck down with a horrid cold and fever so we stayed home. The following day we went on our own as they seemed to have perked up a bit and Mr H and I felt we had another 24 hours in us before we would start to wilt, plus this was ultra low tide day so it was our best chance of seeing some interesting things in the water. Clearly half of San Diego clocked this too because the place was absolutely hoaching with waders! We had to park in the upper car park and walk along the coast a bit which gave us a nice wee bit of exercise, but ultimately the tide pools part itself revealed no more treasures than it had done previously. Still, Master H - who has recently become quite precious about getting his feet wet, making the whole experience rather tricky! - saw plenty of "emilys" (anemones) and Miss H, on the contrary, delighted in having a paddle.


That night was Hogmanay (New Year's Eve to the non-Scots), and we'd arranged to have a nice dinner out with Jasmine and Dave, after which they came back to our place for a few drinks. We decided to cheat the clock and ring in the east coast bells at 9pm - only to find the Times Square party programme on the telly was in fact running on a 3-hour delay so we ended up having to YouTube the celebrations in Sydney and London instead!

Our guests thoughtfully left shortly after 9pm so we could get the kids to bed (something that can take an age so there's really not much point in guests hanging around as a few of our friends will attest!) By this point Mr H and I were both reaching for the paracetamol rather than another glass of wine as our colds were starting to come out in force, so the whole house was tucked up and sniffling its way into 2018 well before the actual stroke of midnight.

On New Year's Day we all felt pretty lousy so managed nothing more than a short trip to Target to buy an extra carry-on suitcase (we have one more within our allowance; we're just not sure it's within our capabilities to manoeuvre in addition to the three pieces and two children we had to get on and off the plane coming out here!).

The following day the kids woke up feeling pretty well, while Mr H and I felt quite the opposite, but by the afternoon I had started to perk up so I strolled across the bay, over to where Sea World is located and took the kids back in, this time to visit the rides (we had 7-day passes which I'd found online for the same price as 1-day admission). Parking costs a lot so we didn't know if we would actually use our passes another day, but when I realised I could actually walk there in half an hour I decided it would be a good way to give Mr H some space to feel lousy without being jumped on by toddlers. So we went on one or two wee rides, and Master H was totally starstruck when he got to meet Rudolph.



This brings us up to nearly the very end of our trip, which deserves its own post, so I shall stop here. I'll also talk about my visit to UCSD in the next post - to any fellow alumni who are reading this blog and eagerly looking out for it, it's coming! I'm sorry to say the only reason I haven't written about UCSD yet is simply that I didn't get many good photos when we went so I was holding out in case we went back for a second visit, but that didn't happen, so the photo of me with my chai tea will have to suffice. (You think I'm kidding?)

So, coming up: UCSD, our final few days in California, and getting on that plane.


  1. We had a blast with you guys and are sorry you had to leave! I definitely feel like I was part of a new Christmas TV special, "A Very British Christmas!" Wife and I were just talking about the Christmas crackers yesterday. So much fun! Thanks for sharing your precious time with us while you were here!

  2. Aw thanks Dave - we had a blast with you too, as you can tell by how often you're mentioned in this blog!


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