Wednesday, 26 December 2012

A post- Christmas analysis...

The grove, celebrity mall- those specks in the picture are fake snow they pump in from the rooftops
We have successfully navigated our first LA christmas. It was also our first married christmas and our first not spent with our respective families. Christmas Eve involved cocktails with my LA friend and her partner. After they left I insisted we open our gifts of new Christmas PJs and drunkenly watch 'The Snowman'. It was awesome. After some terrible alcohol-challenged sleep, we were up early on Christmas day, both of us feeling rather grim. I had saved a bottle of Irn Bru specially for this scenario, so we cracked it open to help us open our presents. I received some AMAZING gifts. My sisters-in-law obviously know me rather well, highlighted by a selection of Cath Kidston accessories. My wonderful friends sent a crate of Irn Bru, something that will help us survive the Holiday season... I got awesome Fox earrings from both husband and best friend (I obviously went on about wanting some a lot!) The rest of the morning was spent on skype with husband's family. Niece and nephew had consumed vast quantities of chocolate and wanted to show off ALL their gifts. Nephew won quote of the day, however, advising us he 'wasn't very good' in his church nativity play...

Adding to the list of firsts, I made the whole of our Christmas dinner. From scratch. I baked a ham, made cranberry sauce, roasted a turkey, minced pork shoulder and created bread crumbs to make stuffing. I rolled pastry for apple pie then baked and iced cookies. It all took me two full days. After church and a long skyping session to my family (which honestly felt like I was in the living room with them. It was noisy and marvellous,) it was time to eat.

Want to come to my house for turkey sandwiches? seriously. we have tons...

Everything was, rather surprisingly, cooked properly and tasted amazing. We ended up in a food coma. Another skype session to my lovely friends at home was followed by 'The Snowdog' which I adored. I've spent the best part of the last month trying to figure out the difference between US and UK christmas, and I think I've decided it comes down to the collective consciousness of the Perfect Christmas. The 'Golden Age' of the US is the 1950s. Most of their Christmas music comes from then, or is at least in a Frank Sinatra style. Candy canes decorate everything.The idea of Family Christmas is the 1950s ideal, Mom, Dad, Grandma and the Kids. Extended family is for Thanksgiving. 

The UK, by comparison, seems to be based firmly in the 1970s. The music is glam rock, the decorations glittery and tinsel-based. The colours are glaring and the family large and chaotic. I enjoyed Christmas here, but I missed the tackiness and forced togetherness of a traditional British Christmas. There was no Christmas TV on here, families go to the Movies instead. I want my kids to sing Slade and Wizard, to think foil ceiling decorations are magical the way I did when I was young. I want them to pour over the Radio Times circling the things they want to watch. There are so many wonderful things about bringing up your children in the US, but for us, Christmas wasn't one of them.

Post-Christmas came Boxing Day, or Wednesday, as it is known as here. In fairness, husband got Christmas Eve as a public holiday instead, but the TV is back to normal and it doesn't feel like the second day of Christmas, just business as usual. With that in mind, we decided to travel to the LA Weekly Best Coffee Shop in LA, having been to number 4 on Christmas Eve. It was delicious. It was also in Venice Beach, one of the quirkiest places in LA, which gives rise to things like this...

This horror is above a CVS. I don't understand it either...

It was sunny, we got to wear our Christmas Sunglasses (a tradition we'll probably only manage whilst in California...) and wander around for a while. Abbott Kinney Boulevard is a super cool wee street with awesome independent shops and coffee shops and restaurants. It is chock-full of heavily bearded men with babies in ergo's and women in stripy T-Shirts. There are hundreds of 'antique' shops, containing mostly driftwood and old beach furniture. It's the kind of place surfing hipster types hang out in. I didn't know they existed, but they do, and they live in Venice. The boardwalk has the reputation of being kind of skeezy, but we didn't make it that far today. The Santa Monica bus goes that way though, so when it starts to properly heat up I'll head down and report back.

Husband at Venice Beach

Tonight we went to see the Hobbit. This will be surprising to people who know me for two reasons: I famously thought Lord of The Rings was, well, shite, quite frankly. My brother and I suffered through the first one, slept through the second one, then ditched the third in favour of  just going to sleep and dropping the pretence (we were working at summer camp, we gave up most things in favour of sleep.) Secondly, I am also notorious for my hatred of films, and in particular movies at the cinema. They are too long, you can't get nearly as invested with the characters as TV and if you have to watch them at the cinema then you are stuck in the dark with a room full of strangers who mind if you get up for a wander every so often. All this being said, husband really wanted to see it, and I really want to watch Call the Midwife on the iplayer, so it seemed like a fair trade. Unfortunately, the only option in Westwood was 3D, which was borderline unwatchable (even husband complained about the weird focus and odd movement) so I ended up taking the glasses off and watching it all a bit blurry. I didn't really enjoy it, but I was trying to be nice, since we don't have that many people to do fun things with. I shall try not to complain too much about it.

So there you have it, an epic about our Christmas adventures. It was strange to spend it just the two of us, but I liked making up some of our traditions. We incorporated bits of each others' families Christmas' as well as adding in a few brand new things. It was super relaxed, and I loved making up our own rules. Husband is off until next Wednesday, for which I am exceedingly thankful. Partly because he needs the break (it's been a busy few months curing cancer) and partly because it feels more like home when he's around. I am now the proud owner of a Social Security Number so shall be stepping up the job search. Probably just as well, all that Food Network is not good for you...

Wednesday, 19 December 2012

Christmas cheer

The staggeringly obnoxious tree  at Universal Studios
It is finally feeling like Christmas in Los Angeles. There are so many reasons for this, but the main one is that it is actually pretty cold. Like, normal person cold, not 'cold for here'. The weatherman (who is called Dallas Raines. I wish I were kidding.) is treating this like a sign of the apocalypse, but I've watched enough crappy TV to know that it always 'surprise snows' in LA at Christmas.

This is the first Christmas in 3 years I've not had exams/wedding/work/mind-blowing stress in the lead up to the holidays. I do have a cat that is CHOKED with the cold, and an extremely reluctant taker of her prescribed antibiotics, so I would hardly say life is dull, but I am enjoying the more laid-back approach. Especially compared to last year, which involved an examiner telling me 'your patient is dead, you need to fix it...', an experience I don't care to repeat.

I'm learning, particularly living in the area I do, to say 'Happy Holidays' to people instead of Merry Christmas. I can hear some of you (*coughCHRIScough*) saying something about 'PC gone mad' but the reality is that there is a really significant Jewish population in West LA, and I want to be respectful to others' cultures. I've learnt more about Channukah in the last few weeks than in my life up til now. It's so interesting living somewhere so multi-cultural. I always thought of Edinburgh as multi-cultural, but it makes me laugh now. I am frequently the only white face in a shop, with people from every corner of the world gathering in LA. This week alone in our church they have had the feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe (compete with Tamales and hot chocolate) and a Phillipino feast on Friday, which comes with a spit-roast pig in the car park. It's fascinating, and makes me excited about the possibility of bringing up our kids here. The world seems both big and small in LA, with exposure to so many different, interesting things.

 Since I love making things, I decided to undertake Christmas Stockings for husband and I this year. They were the hardest thing I've ever made (including my arsenal of skirts and quilts) but I persevered and learnt lots of new sewing techniques (this is quite boring if you don't sew, but I am feeling pretty smug.) They are FAR from perfect, but I think they will last for a very long time. I also made one of husband's Christmas presents. He is pretty snack-centric, so I made these. I don't like nuts, so I only tried the flavouring, but they were so good. Super spicy but pleasantly sweet too. I gave them to him straight away, since I wasn't sure how long they'd last. They seem to have gone down well and were so easy to make. I'd definitely recommend them!

Hope you are getting into the Christmas spirit!

Sunday, 16 December 2012

Rescue me...

Meet Joan.She's mine. Or rather, I'm hers. 

You've probably seen this picture on twitter or facebook, but she's really hard to photograph...
I've wanted a cat for ages and ages. I was a proper adult about the decision, which is remarkably unlike me. I made sure I can take her home with me if I move back to the UK. I scoped out pet sitting services for when we go on holiday. Husband got permission from our landlord, since we really don't want to lose our amazing apartment over a cat, no matter how cute. 

I knew I wanted to use the LA City Shelter. I know that voluntary organisations run great programmes, but my hardcore liberal streak believes in utilising state run facilities. I want to support them because they really are the last line of defence. If everything else failed, these shelters would still be there taking in animals. Unfortunately, since LA is enormous, flat broke and over-run with unwanted pets, the city-run shelters put down 40% of the animals they receive. 

I wanted a little kitten. I am at home most of the time, so I have the time and energy to put into training a kitten. I watched the number of kitten's available in the shelter dwindle right down, I was so worried there would be none left on Saturday morning. I made husband get up super early (I fed him waffles, so he forgave me...) so we could rush down to the West LA shelter. I had never actually been in an animal shelter, but the noise was STAGGERING. The dogs were all competing to out-shout each other. It was so loud you could hardly hear yourself think. As we walked in, the volunteers was putting the cats into travelling cases to take them to the local mall, where they have an adoption shop.

Joan was in one of these travelling cages. It was tiny, and she was thoroughly unimpressed about being in there. I had actually seen her before, in the store at the mall. She slept the whole time and didn't come out and say hello. I looked at all the cats, saying hello to the ones of were up for socialising. There was a teeny tiny kitten, only 10 weeks old. But I already knew I wanted Joan. I kept coming back to her, with her grumpy lime green eyes and big bushy tail. I managed to persuade the volunteer to let me hold her before they left for the mall, even though they were already late. He was the most cheerful volunteer ever, chatting away about his cat, travelling and generally how awesome Joan was, which was blindingly obvious. I knew I wanted her.

She is not a kitten, but a proper grown-up lady (well, she's 3...) She's exceptionally well behaved. She doesn't jump up on the counters, or knock things over or drink out of your water glass. When we eat our dinner, she goes and eats hers. She is super cuddly. Her favourite place to be is sandwiched in between husband and I in a space that didn't exist before. She takes up 90% of the sofa and we get to sit on the edges. She doesn't like to be left alone. Ever. She follows us to the bathroom. She likes to play for 5 minutes, then wants to go back to sitting on the sofa. We are very similar in this respect. She is definitely a Joan. When we got her from the shelter, they had named her Felicia. She is not a Felicia. Everyone in the shelter agreed it was a terrible name (the receptionist hated it with a rather bizarre passion.) I doubt many of them will be fans of Joan, but it suits her to a T. 

Tuesday, 11 December 2012

Christmas in LA

our christmas tree. (and hideous, yet essential air conditioning unit)

First of all, thank you all so much for the comments, emails, messages, tweets and general loveliness following my crappy week. I felt loved, supported and generally marvellous, and I appreciate it so much. I feel SO much better this week. I have been banned from many of my favourite activities (it has been 9 weeks since I was in our hot tub. The situation is critical) and been on fairly strict 'just rest for heaven's sake' instructions, which thankfully all end on Friday. I'm going to swim, hot tub, drink champagne and go for a run. Probably not in that order.

Now it's time to talk about Christmas. Or rather, how the hell do you get all Christmas-sy in the least Christmas-sy city ever? Important question. With that I present to you- 

Lorna's Top 5 Christmas Spirit-Inducing Activities (and the ways I am unable to participate in them here...)

5. The best christmas jumper I've ever seen. It cost £19 from H&M. It is the perfect amount of Christmas snowflakes whilst also nice enough to wear around and not feel like you are going to a 'bad christmas jumper' party. I wear it from November to February. Unfortunately, this jumper is totally useless when the temperature is in the 20s, like it is today. Anyone have any good ideas for Christmas t-shirts?

4. Christmas shopping. I'll be honest, I don't really like Christmas shopping that much. I find it a bit stressful. Generally I am flat broke and can't really afford presents anyways. BUT, I have developed a system whereby I can get all my presents on one trip to Princes Street, with maybe the odd Amazon purchase on top of it. I love coming home with lots of bags, knowing I have done my best to get people nice things they'll like within a super tight budget.

The shipping costs are SO crazy here that unfortunately I will be buying things on Amazon and just having them delivered to people instead. This is problematic for a number of reasons. Firstly, I LOVE a good boycott (looking squarely at you, Chik-fil-A.) Whilst everyone else at home is ditching tax-avoiding scurge Amazon, I don't really have a choice. Secondly, you can only really do online shopping if you know what you want to get people. I don't have a clue. This means I will have to wander round the shops for ideas and then come home and order them online. Which is, quite frankly, the worst of both worlds.

3. Writing Christmas cards with mulled wine and 'Love Actually'. I have 2 copies of Love Actually. Both are currently in my parents' attic. It's not been on TV here yet. Also, due to ridiculous cost of postage, I only sent 16 christmas cards. I wrote and sent them last week to make sure they got there on time. This means there was no good Christmas TV on, instead I wrote them whilst watching a 'Monster Inside Me' marathon, which is about people with gross parasites.

2. The German Market for Gluhwein, Bratkartofflen and unsuccessful pleas for me to get husband on fair-ground rides with me. The closest we will make it this year is to The Grove, which pumps fake snow into the ENTIRE mall at 7pm and 8pm every night. The fake snow is actually fairy liquid bubbles. It is RIDICULOUS. The 'dumb californians' love it. (True story- I went with my friend Hilary to see it, and the girl behind us said: "OMG the dumb Californians will be totally excited by this- they've probably never even seen snow. Wait, I haven't seen snow. I'm a dumb Californian...")

1. Watching 'A Muppet Christmas Carol' in my jammies with a bottle of red wine, my noisy siblings and even noisier parents on Christmas eve having just munched a curry. This will be a family-less Christmas. In some ways, this is a good thing. Husband and I are going to navigate our own Christmas traditions this year. It will certainly still involve 'A Muppet Christmas Carol' and lots of red wine at some point, but it will be quieter, with no one else singing along to the songs. There also won't be any curry, since you cannot get a decent Curry any further west than Glasgow. I'm not sad about our small-scale Christmas. In fact, I'm actually quite excited by it. Not that I won't miss being woken up at 2am to my mum singing 'Karma Chameleon' at the top of her lungs or 13 of us squeezing round the dinner table or shouty pub quiz questions where my dad beats everyone. Again. But I am excited to make our own mark. 

Next time- a list of Christmas activities you CAN undertake in 20 degree heat. Irrelevant to many, but exciting none-the-less...

Monday, 3 December 2012

The worst kind of week

This is not a pleasant story, I'm sorry. It's long (ETA: it's really long). It's about grief and pain and I want to warn you because not everyone is in a place to read it. But it's my story and writing it down and sharing it makes it a little less scary and a little less painful. (It's also my husband's story. He's ok with me telling it. I asked, which only seemed polite.)  

We had nearly ten days to worry about it. A seven week scan was not the wonderful experience I hoped it would be. They told me I wasn't as far along as I thought I was (actually, an exceptionally rude lady said "well she's obviously not 7 weeks" without looking at me, despite having her arm half way up my lady parts. I'm in the process of complaining about her.) I knew they were wrong, but no one asked my opinion. There was a heartbeat, but it wasn't very strong or fast. I was dismissed with a 'come back next week' but no information. I googled it. This was a brutal introduction to the fact the outcome was probably going to be poor: miscarriage. My friends and family sent prayers and love and support. 

Unfortunately, the dye was cast already. I have never believed in pre-destination; but in pregnancy the future is set the millisecond it starts. I was never going to be pregnant for more than 8 weeks. The minutes, hours, days were all decided already. There was no way for us to change any of it. 

By the time we reached our second scan appointment, I was sure it was over. The scan, that ten days before had shown me a tiny blob in a black space was now a cloudy, messy grey screen. The trainee was the lovely. She calmly asked the sonographer for some help, but her face told me everything I needed to know. The sonographer tried to get a clearer picture. In the end I introduced the subject: "it's not good news, is it?" I can't remember how she answered, but she went to get the consultant. The consultant apologised: "I'm so sorry..." I've heard that a lot the last few days. We sat in the waiting room for 45 minutes, she had other patients who needed her too. We watched ladies with bumps, newborns, the happy families come and go whilst I tried not to sob out loud. I didn't want to upset them, have their happy experience tarnished by the fear my grief could cause. I engrossed myself in People magazines- the October editions with celebrity pumpkin-patch photos. 

I already knew what I wanted. My ten days of terror had given me ample time to research. I wanted the D & C. I wanted it as quickly as possible. The only way to make it happen that day was for it to be under sedation in the same ultrasound room I'd endured both scans. Fine, I said. I just wanted it over. An hour and a half later I was insuffiently drugged and lying with my husband by my side.

I don't think I'll ever be able to explain how wonderful my husband was. He sat next to me, held my hand, kept me calm. He was calm and strong and everything I was unable to muster. The procedure was the worst thing I've ever experienced. I remember every scrape, every stab, every moment. It was excrutiating. Stephen Fry gently whispered Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire in my ear as I screamed and writhed around in pain, eventually begging them to stop. Except that I didn't. Husband insists I was quiet and barely moved. It was over so quickly. I kept trying to sit up but the support worker wouldn't let me. Husband asked for a sick bowl and they handed me one so small I nearly laughed out loud. I thought of my nurse friends, how we would look at each other and snort with derision and laugh that it was useless.

They let me go home after one last blood pressure check. The department was empty. I wondered when the staff looking after me would get their lunch. It was shuttered and abandoned and silent and I was so thankful I didn't have to walk out and pass the bumps and the babies. I went home and I slept. The sedation had finally kicked in.

It's hard to explain how I feel now. Sometimes I am angry. Angry because I didn't choose this. Because I wasted $50 on pregnancy tests and didn't eat for 4 weeks due to heartburn and because we'll be brilliant parents and because it's not fucking fair. This doesn't last long. The voice in my head (who, rather strangely, sounds remarkably like Dame Maggie Smith) says "of course it's not fair, why would you expect it to be fair?!" As a nurse, you know that rather than 'why me?', life operates on a 'why not you?' basis. We are no better, no more special or important than anyone else who has been through this. The crap things in life are indiscriminate, and it is simply our turn.

Other times I am sad. Paralysingly, desperately sad where I can't move my head because it hurts too much. This rarely lasts long either. I have always tried to approach sadness using the John Grisham method. I was a teenager when I read 'The Pelican Brief', and I remember vividly that the main character accepts that she's going to go on the run, but first she has to give in to her grief for the one night she has, otherwise she will not cope. I let myself be sad when I need to, because otherwise I will never be able to cope. When the worst has passed, I get up and do something. I watch Lewis or Miss Marple on Amazon prime. I go for coffee. It works for me.

All this being said, at times we experience proper joy and happiness. This often involves wine and silly jokes. I have missed wine. We are ok. We will be ok. I know that eventually the joy and happiness will take over, become the predominant emotion again. I'll be ready for it when it comes.