Wednesday, 27 March 2013

Cat Tales

It's 8.30 in the morning, and already this day has been nuts. I'll start with the lovely surprise of finding some of our wedding pics on East Side Bride this morning (I think my bestie Jen finally thinks I'm cool. She should stop reading now though because the rest of this post will change her mind back...) Kirsty has written the best guide to (getting married in) Edinburgh I've read in ages, and I have realised I've not eaten in a single one of the restaurants she's recommended so shall have to rectify that straight away. It made me super homesick- I love how quirky and interesting things in Edinburgh are. Even the Starbucks' are squished into the original architecture of the city. I am SO excited about my trip home in a mere 6 weeks!

Anyway, this post is about my morning, which has largely centred around Joan. We've had her now for 4 months, but it feels longer. She is really odd. Husband keeps reminding me that all cats are weird, but she seems particularly strange. Joan only answers to 'Cat'. Particularly 'Cat' said with an Aberdonian accent (I guess if you say 'coht' you're close...) This is, I'm aware, my own damn fault. But it certainly adds to her quirks. She's pretty violent. Her way of greeting is to bite you in the soft, tender bit of your wrist. She doesn't break the skin, but she does leave a good bruise. We are slightly concerned when we have kids she will treat them as a wriggly chew toy, but we'll cross that bridge when we come to it.

Joan's worst habit is her insistence in getting up (and therefore getting us up) at 6.30 every damn morning. We have been trying to figure out how to keep her from scratching the bedroom door to shreds, and have a pretty complicated system in place. It doesn't work. We have a plastic draft excluder that slides over the door. This was an attempt to stop her putting her paws under and scratching the carpet. It worked, until she figured out she could just pick at the excluder, which would make an unholy noise and eventually drive us out of bed to shut her up. So I used duct tape to stick the excluder to the door. This worked for a few nights, but then she figured out the duct tape was more fun to scratch at than her scratching post, so we were back to step one. Eventually, we discovered the SSSCAT motion detector spray. This is magic and whenever she came close to the door, the spray went off, and she ran.

Eventually, though, she figured out that she could bypass it running through her tunnel, then lying very flat against the door to scratch it. Seriously. We moved the spray around a bit to see if we could get it into a position she couldn't escape. This resulted in disasterous morning number one.

I had woken up early to pee, and went to open the door to let her in. The door wouldn't open. At all. I figured out that the night before, I had stuck the sprayer on to the door with duct tape, and during the night Joan had knocked it over, and it was jammed between the door and the cupboard next to it. Yup, the cat had locked us in our bedroom. Every time I stuck my hand in the gap in the door, Joan would pounce, thinking it was a game. I bashed away trying to move it for ages, and all I managed to do was remove the duct tape, but it didn't shift the sprayer. Eventually the grumpiest husband in the world came over and managed to flick the can away with one move. Disaster (mostly) averted.

This morning, the usual scratching started at 6.30 (she is now just not scared of the sprayer, and ignores it.) At quarter to seven, the scratching went crazy, and I could hear her chewing on something. I opened the door, and she bounced into the room and onto the bed. Everything seemed fine. Until she came over and sat on me. She had managed to get the duct tape completely stuck to her front paw. And she was chewing at it to get it off. I don't know exactly how bad it is for your cat to eat duct tape, but I'm going to presume it's not good. I knew I had to pull the tape off, but equally knew it was going to be the hardest thing ever. I was right. It was wrapped completely around one of her claws. 5 minutes (felt longer) and MANY bites and scratches later, she was unstuck. She jumped around happily for a few minutes, then proceeded to chew at the other paw.

Both feet were duct taped. I laughed out loud. Mother effing cat. The second paw was a LOT harder. It was totally wrapped round, was stuck in the fur, generally just a big sticky nightmare. This one took longer, Joan was even more aggitated and I was grumpier. Thankfully she is free now, and dozing happily in her basket. I am tired and grumpy and ready for a cat-fur handbag. Pet ownership. Just magical.

Monday, 25 March 2013

Where the streets have no name...

I am writing this from the sofa in my PJs, utterly shattered with the smell of bonfire lingering in the living room. This must mean I have been camping. This was our first US camping trip, using the tent we brought over with our tiny amount of shipped furniture. We used to go camping fairly often at home, but honestly the weather prohibits it most of the time, but every so often we would manage a good day or two. 

In order to ensure we wouldn't wake up cold and a bit damp, we decided this time we would  camp in the desert. Quite a few of husband's colleagues are the outdoor types and had recommended Joshua Tree National Park, so I booked a campsite and on Saturday morning we got up early, packed up the car and went. 
Well travelled tent
It's only about 2 and a half hours from west LA to the park, and the sun was shining gloriously the whole time. It was such a strange feeling to put up the tent and unpack everything without panicking that the rain was about to hit or that we had to move fast. It turns out sand and rock are a lot harder to drive tent pegs into the sodden earth, but once we had the tent up it was fine.Keeping the inner door zipped shut to keep out lizards was different to the usual midges, but the lizards are less bitey, so I was a fan.

Once we were unpacked, we decided to check out the Hidden Valley. It was pretty incredible. The desert fascinates me, coming from a country famed for it's greenery. It's the complete opposite of home, and it's so interesting to me. The Joshua Trees (for which the park, and the U2 album are named) are some of the strangest things I've ever seen. It is no surprise that they feature in a Dr Seuss book (The Lorax.) 
The Hidden Valley. Husband cracked his head off this tree and now has a big scab. I hardly laughed at all.
We made it back to the campsite before the sun went down, since we knew it would be cold and very dark, so we wanted the fire going before the temperature dropped. some yummy burgers, badly burnt corn-on-the-cob and hundreds of cups of tea. I had downloaded the radio play of 'Neverwhere' by Neil Gaiman from the Radio 4 podcast, and we listened to it under the stars. This is the reason I love camping. It's not something I ever did growing up, but I love the feeling of being outside, having no where else to go and nothing to do.

After an awesome night's sleep (the fresh air agrees with me) and a delicious breakfast at Denny's in the local town, we headed out to Key's Point, another area of the park. We were able to drive up the mountain and look down over the Coachella Valley (as in the music festival, which is in a few weeks.) The view was incredible, but it was a bit hazy so the pictures on our pocket camera couldn't really give an idea of the scale, but there was just desert as far as we could see. Incredible.
The view from Key's Point, driving through the desert
I was pretty relieved to get home to my cat (she was alone for 24 hours- the longest I've ever left her. She had plenty to eat so didn't care) and a shower. We were both pretty dehydrated and in desperate need of moisturiser. It was so arid in the park that the moisture was just sucked out of your skin. My lips have never been so dry. It wasn't the most pleasant sensation, but honestly, it's still better than the rain!

All in, an amazing weekend, especially since it won't be camping weather at home for at least another 6 months. Shall try not to boast...

Sunday, 17 March 2013

The Graffiti Run

Part of the fun in moving to Los Angeles, aside from ditching the rain and snow in favour of glorious sunshine, has been trying new things. Whether that be vegan food (and my first celebrity spot! Queen Latifah at the Urth Cafe in West Hollywood) or just, y'know, getting up quite early. In the spirit of this new sense of adventure, we signed up to do the Graffiti Run. This is basically a 5k where people through packets of coloured powder at you.

Husband read about it in the LA Times, which ran an article saying, basically, 'The LA marathon is on Sunday. This is on Saturday and is was less stressful and way more fun.' We found a half price deal for it on Living Social and that was that. Except the last time I did any kind of distance running was, quite seriously, during Field in 1999. (As a side note, did other schools call 'outdoor' PE 'Field' and only call it PE when it was indoors? Or is this another one of those odd 1950s throw-backs on Paisley Grammar School used, like how we had a Rector instead of a Headmaster?) 

Yup, it has indeed been 14 years since I ran more than a mile at a time. Frightening. With that in mind, we decided to do a bit of training in the week we had between signing up and the race. Essentially, this involved going for a run along the beach in the sunshine a couple of times. As training goes, it's a pretty pleasant way to do it. Beats those poor sods you see with rain dripping off their noses and purple legs running in a florescent waterproof on the Meadows in Edinburgh. Unfortunately this only proved that I get a stitch after about 1.5k and then have to slow down to a fast walk and gasp a bit. It wasn't a very good omen.

Our only pre-dust picture, sunny and clean!
Next thing we knew, it was 6am on Saturday and we had to get up and drive to Pomona, a city about an hour away from where we are in the West of LA. Husband was miserable and grumpy, I was excitable and almost certainly quite irritating. I took a mug of tea with me in the car which gave me just enough caffeine to survive (note to self- must buy travel mug...) whereas husband had refused one, and insisted on listening to NPR discussing the right-wing Republican conference the whole way. It was grey and cloudy and pretty cold. We were ready to kill each other as we sat in the thirty minutes of traffic leading into the car park. When we got out the car, we realised we were amongst the first few thousand people there. We got a sweet parking spot near the action and the sun was starting to shine brightly on a glorious day. Husband went off to find coffee whilst I joined the registration queue. After that, we were both decidedly chipper. Everyone was in a great mood, the atmosphere was awesome and the St. Patrick's day theme made it all the more festive. 

The fact you could buy green beer at the starting line at 8.30am- and believe me people were- made my own lack of athletic ability seem rather less of a problem. There were so many families, babies in prams, kids on scooters (I wish I'd known that was an option...) and young people in wheel chairs being pushed by relatives and friends. People had started throwing powder already. We were in the fourth group to start, so people were already finished. I am seriously proud to announce that I actually ran 3/4 of the 5k, only walking a few times to drink a bottle of water or 3 (WHO are these people who can drink and run?! My chin was the only clean bit of my as I dribbled all over myself.) At the 1k marker, they hit us with red powder. I was COVERED. I've no idea how, but husband was way cleaner than me. As we hit the next markers, I kept building up more and more dust, as he stayed relatively clean, until at the 4k mark a volunteer noticed and just sprayed it directly in his hair. We hit the 5k in a flurry of orange dust. It was really good fun. Despite realising that the family with the 8 year old and baby in a pram that we had started with had beaten us to the finish. 

Same view, different colour
The party atmosphere was brilliant. I slugged some more water as we danced and collected some packets of powder of our own to throw at one another. The amount of green (husband's signature colour) I am covered in shows you that he was better at getting the packet open than I was... When we were done with the party atmosphere/not inclined to get drunk at 10am since we're no longer students, we brushed off the worst of the colour and headed for a McDonalds. Heavenly.

Anyone know how to get dust off a camera lense?!
Husband now thinks we should do some more running. He's talking half marathon. I'm not convinced. I did really enjoy it, but I suspect that was the atmosphere (and the fact it was decidedly non-competitive.) We'll see, shall keep going with the beach runs in the evening since I really am quite lazy and it's nice to watch the sunset and listen to the crashing waves. But running and being timed? I'll have to stop the stitches first. 

Thursday, 7 March 2013

International Women's Day

I could write a big, long, ranty post about so many important issues affecting women today.

Instead, I will be spending the whole day covered in dust and grime, sorting out baby equipment and helping social workers find what they need in order to support the poorest women in Los Angeles.

The poor in America are staggeringly poor (if you are in the UK, this is amazing and heartbreaking and awful. You should watch it with a LARGE glass of wine.) In it's essence, Baby 2 Baby is the living embodiment of International Women's Day. It's women, helping other women. Men are welcomed and encouraged but generally our donors, volunteers, social workers and clients are all women. 

Happy International Women's Day. Let's celebrate being kick-ass lady types.

Tuesday, 5 March 2013

Sew I think we should talk...

Have I mentioned before that my favourite thing about sewing is the sheer volume of awesome puns? I feel it's important to get that out there early on. I am unapologetic about my punning. I recently completed my first EVER proper, from scratch patchwork quilt. It was a present for the rather delicious Lucy Erwin. I've made other quilts before (for babies Aoife and Emily respectively) but this was my first time sewing all the squares together etc. It ended up looking like this...

Chevron-ed back and red, grey and white patchwork quilt. Fabric by Marisa and Creative Thursday 

I love sewing. I REALLY love sewing something useful. Baby quilts are essentially useless when you have a newborn. They are too big and bulky and really you need something softer and smaller for wrapping them up in. Where they really come into their own is when you have a sick toddler on the sofa, needing a blanket and ribena and cuddles. Something made with love is the perfect remedy to ear infections/the cold/chicken pox. (When someone I say something is 'made with love' what I actually mean is 'I used so many obscenities whilst making this a sailor would blush, and the fact I didn't throw the whole thing in the trash is a testament to my affection for you.')

Lucy's quilt was REALLY simple. So simple that literally any one of you reading this can do it. I'm hoping to inspire a few people to try it, because it is totally, completely do-able and I would like to have a friend to talk to about it. The hardest part is knowing where to start, which is what I'm attempting here. I'm also about to make two more quilts (one for the ridiculously gorgeous Leila Paton and one for as yet unknown baby Magowan) which I thought I would update you on as I go through then you will be able to see how easy, if at times cuss-worthy, the whole process is.

I used this website as my starting point. Amy Smart is a seriously talented lady, and she has created the best tutorials ever on how to go about making a quilt. My only sewing lessons were school Home Economics in first and second year of High School, but I'd remembered the basics and figured the rest out as I went along (stitches can always be ripped out. Always.) Amy doesn't use fancy kit, or a fancy machine or anything like that. Her beginners series was essentially the only way I could have completed Lucy's quilt. I have tried patchwork quilts before and totally failed, but her tips on how to start the whole thing have completely changed my confidence about it. I also used the instructions in this book, but if I'm honest I'm not a fan of patchwork for anything other than quilts and the skill level was a bit above mine. I'm saving it for future use though.

I can't really say anything about getting started any better than her, but I will say that getting a rotary cutter, self-healing matt and quilters ruler set for $30 on Amazon made it super easy to cut* straight lines. This is 80% of the battle. My sewing machine is the bright purple version of the John Lewis basic one. It was a present from Dave (birthday? christmas? I don't remember any more...) and I love it. It's not ideal for thicker fabrics like fleece or towelling, but it copes beautifully with a crib sized quilt and the stitching required for it. The non-patchwork ones I made for Aoife and Emily were all done by hand, and were also seriously simple.

My newest fabric purchase. Lots of colour and contrast. 'Modern'  by Robin Zigon

Finally, I'll briefly talk about fabric, which is kind of the whole point of these things. I am a bit of a cheat about these things, and Lucy's quilt was a bundle of 7 fat quarters I bought together, then a load of awesome red and white chevron pattern for the back. I didn't know what a fat quarter was when I started, but it's basically a quarter of a metre (or yard, here in the US) of fabric. Today, I bought another bundle of 9 fat quarters. I'll add these to the bits of fabric I already have leftover from Lucy's (and other little projects) to create both Leila's and baby Magowan's. Pros will tell you that it's better to pick fabrics separately to add together to create your quilt, as just using one designer's collection can look a bit one dimensional. I totally agree with this, but in all honesty, I don't have the experience to pick and choose individual ones that will look good together, I don't have enough fabric saved up to create a 'stash' as they call it and I don't have the money to just buy half a yard of whatever I like. The bundles are a pretty affordable way to do it (about $25 per bundle.) I buy them in this amazing shop, but if you are in Scotland, I know Mandors does some great ones too. I know you can buy fabric online, but I'm just too tactile for that. There was a few really cool fabrics I liked, but when I got to the store today they were much tougher than I wanted for a baby quilt. I had to touch them to know.

Sew that's my introduction to making a baby quilt. I'll post some pictures as I go through the process and show you the progress I'm making. I hope I've inspired you, or at least given you some hints at how to get inspired by other people. I really love making things- it's easier to be creative when you have something positive at the end of it, and if you are like me, things like sewing serve as an antidote to work (well, volunteering) which I love, but doesn't have a creative outlet. Let me know if you decide to give it a try!

*I still struggle to sew straight lines- This is the other 20%. Lucy's quilt is seriously squint in places. Thankfully, I think her mother's hormones are warping her vision, as she claims not to mind.

Sunday, 3 March 2013

Here comes the sun

The last week has been spectacularly sunny in LA. I'm not quite sure what I imagined when I moved out here, but we probably have sunshine 80% of the time. I get to properly enjoy this on our magical sun terrace in our apartment complex. If the sun is out at all, it is warm enough to sunbathe in a bikini. It's completely sheltered and gets so hot. It was grey this morning, so we decided to go to Home Depot to pick up some rawl plugs (lest you think life in LA is all glitz and glamour.) By the time we left the store the sun was out and it was warming up, so we made the drive to Santa Monica for some coffee. The sun was coming and going behind the clouds, but sitting in the beach front cafe with a coffee with our feet in the sand was still heavenly. 

Permanent exposure to gorgeous sun creates some problems as I am super pale and Scottish. My natural skin colour has a faint blue tinge underneath it. I have never had a tan in my entire life- even after spending 6 weeks in the Sahara Desert on a mission trip when I was 15. Skin cancer isn't just a pithy punchline for jokes about my freckled skin, but is pretty dangerous when you are as fair as I am. I take this 'not getting burnt' thing pretty seriously. You would think that people would congratulate me on having such a healthy attitude towards my skin and safety. They do not. Case in point, a quote from my mum yesterday- "You're still really pale, aren't you?"

On top of this, our courtyard is overlooked by about 50 apartment windows. It would be really easy to have skin like an elephant (grey, dry, kind of hairy) without a tiny bit of effort. This has become my essential daily kit: 
Aveeno face sunscreen, Vaseline moisturiser with Aloe, Phillips razor, Coppertone waterproof, sweatproof and towel proof spray sunscreen.
My essentials list is the result of trying lots of things that I didn't like or just didn't work for me. Firstly, I cannot believe it took me so long to buy an electric razor. I don't have particularly sensitive skin, but every single damn time I shave my legs I get a rash. This rash is nothing compared to the one I get when I try cream/wax/crystals/incantations or any other type of hair removal you could possibly dream of. The electric razor isn't quite as effective but I can use it every day without so much as a single red mark. It's actually changed my life.

I use SPF 30. This is because I never, ever get cocky about it. I reapply roughly every 20 minutes. I remember a doctor telling my mum that it was better to reapply a lower SPF often than get complacent about a higher SPF. When we first moved here, I used SPF 50 but I don't think that's quite so necessary any more. The spray sunscreen was also something of a revelation. When we first came over we were going to the beach a lot. Suncream and sand are a crappy combination, and for poor husband is was just a nightmare. We also swim a lot (since we have a pool right outside our window, would be rude not to) and waterproof creams are the consistency of treacle. The sun is too strong to take the chance when you are in the water (especially in the sea) so we were kind of stuck. Then we discovered waterproof spray, and life has been so much better. It is a bit more expensive, but it literally takes 30 seconds to apply, and perhaps most importantly I can do every awkward bit of my back when I am here by myself. No more burnt patches!

The downside of this awesome spray is that the waterproofing means it doesn't really wash off. We end up looking like we have dirty PVA glue stuck to us. The only real way to get it off is to scrub it. Since I was going through so much exfoliator, I've ended up making my own. It's basically just sugar, salt and olive oil. Super effective, leaves skin soft and costs about $1 a month to make.

The other downside of the spray is that you cannot use it on your face. Since we use it every single day, I splashed out a bit and got Aveeno face sunscreen. It smells heavenly, is super effective and stops us from getting hundreds of spots. Worth every penny.

I've never been very good with moisturiser. In Edinburgh it was generally far too cold to faff around after the shower, my skin isn't that dry really so it never really mattered that much. Obviously, it is another story here, and the Vaseline one with Aloe is my favourite thing ever. It's dirt cheap, so perfect for everyday use, and is the best consistency, smells really refreshing and is pretty much everything you could hope for. I love it. I do have fancier stuff for special occasions but the Aloe one is the first one I grab for if I've had a day in the sun and I'm feeling hot and bothered. I'm desperately hoping it's enough to stave off the 'leather' look sported by so many of the older people here 

So there you have it. My sun survival kit. Any top tips or sun essential recommendations for me?