I ought to be finishing up the packing. Instead I am sat here in the air conditioning, reminiscing on our last week in Costa Mesa. My better judgement tells me to keep the sliding glass door open instead for real fresh air but I think better on it, seeing as last week, after a wasp nest was fumigated upstairs one of the poisoned blighters found it's way into our room, crawled across our pillows and stung the boy in the dead of night. Least we're hoping it was a wasp. It wasn't until the morning that I realised his fussing over his hand wasn't just me sleeping on it. The pharmacist, on inspection of the huge red swelling on the fleshy base of his thumb told me it looked like a bite and to keep an eye on it. If, after a spray of Benadryl, it started to spread into a rash or if boy developed strange feverish behaviour I was to take him immediately to ER. I think this is Californian for "it may be a bite of a venoumous spider such as the black widow, keep your wits about you."
Me, a self confessed arachnophobe am now having to deal with my fear head on. Well, up until I shut every door and turn on the air con that is. Our friends who we visited with on Cory's day off breezily told us about the infestation of these creatures and their regular extermination bills. That was after the lady of the house laughed off finding a snake in the back yard and her husband then sharing the story behind the dried rattle snake skin hung by his desk in his home office. The gentleman in question tells me he came across the unlucky snake one day whilst hiking. He had appeared to be in an aggressive temper (the snake I presume he meant) so, for the sake of fellow hikers, our friend's husband decided there was room for only one of them on the planet. I absolutely know I would not like to be on the wrong side of this fellow. Or snake for that matter, even if it is just a skin. Our journey to this friend's house took us through the largest expanse of tomato fields I have ever seen (some people do grow more than our Neopolitan neighbour down at the plot), onwards past a huge army base with the Pacific to our left for the entirety. I gawp up at the mountains to our left having the sensation of familiarity, Cory then tells me this is where they shot parts of MASH. The images of one of my favourite childhood shows flash before me. We start singing the theme tune. Obviously.
On arrival at our friend's home, we meet their adorable little two year old girl, who takes an instant shine to what she calls our "baby boeeeey" and he, in turn, takes on older brother role with gusto. Holding her hand at all times. Showing her how to do everything. Take turns and so on, just so long as he goes first. At least until she scrambles off for something new with him a breath away. We drive to a local burger joint round the corner passing a sign for the upcoming "quiet" auction. Oh to be a fly on the wall.
As we park my eye is drawn to the van next to us advertising Girl-Ease products, specifically disposable bra liners. For sweaty ladies. I think we call them nursing pads back home. I silently count myself lucky I have never encountered problems of the sweaty boob variety. Then again, if I lived in California rather than under the English drizzle I too, may develop this unfortunate problem. Especially if I filled them with silicone or wot-not I spose. The car park is full of entrepreneurial car advertisements I notice. Once you have mopped up your sweat you can then purchase advice from the van owner across the way who will teach you to grow your veggies at home. Failing that, you could always buy the self-watering self-fertilising garden boxes advertised for sale (delivered no less!) on the wall of Costa Mesa's The Lab. More of that later.
After our scoff, and during the young lady's nap, the family and Cory's friend head for a nearby park to do a spot of posing. Our hostess has recently been branching out into photography after a decade of more of astonishing dancing that took her onto Broadway and all over the world. She was happy to take our headshots as a favour, and to build up her portfolio. We must have looked quite a sight. Boy, customarily fedora'd, Dad in a suit (!) and mum, hair blow dried to infinity and our friend all 6ft something gorgeousness, slim as a bean but for a very taut baby bump. She is due in less than a month but I betcha you can still see her eight pack down the sides. It is lovely to be around such a radiant preggo, zip zapping about us with her lens capturing the afternoon light. I catch Cory in my periphery, shaking his head in wonder at my unashamed readiness to launch into poses. I little tilt of the head here, a half smile, full smile, serious glare, silly face. I am appalled at how easily I fall into the negative stereotype of our industry. Hey ho. The shots she sent through afterwards were pretty lovely, not so much of the poser, seeing as she looked, well, a little posey, but the boys look great. Especially the one in the tree with the hat and those big brown eyes.
Heading back to Costa Mesa the following day, we made time to frolic the beaches at Carlsbad on the way. Sounds like a German spa town but looks about as German as a bowl of Udon soup. The wide expanse of ocean glistening in the afternoon rays begging for us to jump in it. So we did. A lot. Got wet. And cold. And very very happy. Especially since our bellies were full of Ruby's delights. It is a chain of burger joints decorated in red and white retro decor. Waitresses wear a forties get up but somehow it manages to stay the right side of gimmicky, and the folk working there seem genuinely happy to be there. Food's good too. Especially if you like the kind of milkshakes that line your arteries in 0.4 seconds. On our way out boy asked for a toilet stop which would have been fine, only the lady waiting to go in next, whilst boy waxed lyrical about the size, shape and odour of his waste matter, was of a certain age, in a neck brace, with a walking stick, and clearly about to wet herself. She calls over the door,
"You nearly done in there?"
"Yeah!" I fib watching my son's face grimace for round two.
"I don't mena to rush you only - "
She cuts off and I wonder whether she has had an accident. In the end I choose to rush the boy. I have a change of clothes for him. The lady on the other hand, probably doesn't have another pair of slacks in her handbag. That I can tell. After our sandy frolics we drive back home. Boy is out to the world after the first few miles and stays that way till morning, with but a brief delirious wake up around midnight for a banana after which he promptly returns to his dreams.
The following day we continue our beach holiday with a trip to Laguna. The name itself oozes the kind of crystal turquoise waters we found there. Hopping onto route 1 we curved in and out of the rugged coast and after a turn or three the expanse of Pacific rolled out ahead of us, gentle mid morning waves reaching the vast shores. We come off the highway around Crystal Cove whereupon we stumble across jaw dropping ocean homes. Spanish styles, uber modern glass constructions and a world of unique beauty in between. Eventually, along from the main drag we arrive at Laguna Beach.
More cove like than the sweeping beaches I have come to associate with California it is a child's paradise. Not only because of its shallow, for the most part calmer waters or its proximity to the frozen yoghurt shop but also for the playground literally constructed on the sand. Boy cavorted between water and ladders and slides gathering and saying goodbye to friends along the way as the locals came and went. Mum got lost in a book. Dad got buried in the sand.
The following day we stayed inland. This time on a trip to the city of Orange. For the name alone really. And yes, Oranges do grow there. In the main square actually. Which is in the middle of a roundabout. With gardens, all Italian styley. Fountain and everything. From this centre, main streets crossroad out, lined with antique shops and cafes. By the time we arrived, after boy's gym class, we hit the lunchtime rush and followed our noses to The Filling Station. With all the outside tables taken we were ushered into a booth inside and were served by a rockabilly lady all tatooed and retro spectacled. Sam took an instant shine to her. I blame it on her smooth timbre. And the way she wore those glasses like she actually was from that time. On this vein boy turns to us and asks if he was in the olden days? I say I don't know was he? He says he wants to be. Later he absent mindly tells me he is practicing for yesterday. I think we are entering a quantum phase. I hope he stays there and helps me figure out my reluctance to be tied down to the supposed linearity of the universe. Incidentally I have been driving Cory mad recently. Every time he talks about the sun setting or rising I feel inclined to differ seeing as its us doing all the turning. "Fine" he tells me each time I offer up my point "come up with a different way of saying it." At which point I invariably stumble. It is a bit medieval though when you think about it? In Italian the term does not appertain to the sun's movements as such. Just a random thought is all.
After lunch we trawl main street, first off spending all of 30 cents on three "penny" sweets at the candystore and then oggling $3,000 tables at George's antiques. I tell Cory that if we ever did live here, I would miss the reasonably priced "antiques" from home. I never came across 1920s secretaire at home that cost $1,000+ even if it is in good nic. With only a few minutes to spare before the event that is tap class we take in the fountain. When we arrive Sam runs around a little two year old lady named Dahlia. Cory follows the kids and I make small talk with her dad. Turns out her great grandfather was quite an influential member of Orange and several generations of the family still live there. When his wife arrives, heavily pregnant but resplendent in Californian beauty it takes me a breath to figure out that this hormonal lady is none too happy with the fact that a strange man is watching her child whilst her husband chats about nothing and something with a lady. I put her at ease as best I can (I, of all people know not to set a preggo on the wrong foot) with questions about Dahlia and baby to be. Before long she is sitting, almost comfortably, in the shade and I take away a little slice of Orange life away with us.
Back at Team OC HQ Cory and I sit with the moms. Amongst the group another heavily pregnant lady (I wonder if it's contagious?!). We coo at our offspring and laugh at their antics, which, to be fair, are not too wild (shame) seeing as Miss Michelle has them under a tight ballerina grip. Least that's what we figure from through the glass. I would like to say that my eyes never left the boy only the mums started talking about a show which they were sure I would know. It took most of the ballet combination for me to figure out what they were talking about. For a while there, I really thought someone had come up with a show called Naughty. A sort of drum your kids into good behaviour via a tv screen jobby and never mind what happens around it sort of thing. When I took the cotton wool out of my brain it turns out Naughty translated into Brit is Noddy. There was I thinking I was getting the twang down.
This time when Miss Michelle (I love the Vaudevillian way the teachers are called Miss and then their first names) turns the lights out and the mirror ball starts turning I notice Sam's prop of choice is a glittering gold top hat number which he whips around him like a wannabe Gene Kelly, his feet stomping spasmodically trying to keep with his imagination. I feel my grin starting to make my face ache. At the end of class I do a bit of shameless swan necking of another mom's book. Before long we are entering into a lively conversation about her culture diversity studies. It is part of her training to become a social worker which, by the by, she is doing concurrent with mothering three children. I love the way conversation ripples through our days so effortlessly over here. The travel is allowing us such time to really engage with people so free are we of rigid schedules. Half an hour later or so, we have exchanged views on our experiences of different religions and cultures. She tells us of her embarrassment at becoming aware of Sikhs and Muslims only later in life, and at a fellow american who had unashamedly asked whether she had been scared going into a mosque for the first time. Prep-for-Princesses teacher wipes by us to begin her class. Seems like last week was the supply teacher. This lady's age, bleach blonde hair, ample (almost real) bosom and teeny tiny waist give altogether quite a different impression than the sardonic retro gal of last time. Wannabe princesses don't appear to mind in the least.
The following morning we head out into the sunshine for the last time to bask in the waters of Newport Beach, about ten minutes down the road. I scour the shore for incredible shells and boy goes loopy in the waves. We all reduce our inner noise to bare minimum, hushed into relaxation by the fresh air, rippling waters and the screeches of an elated three year old. After a cup of gelato we head reluctantly back to the hotel, escaping reality for as long as possible with a pit stop into the Lab. An eco conscious strip mall dotted with surfer urban warrior type stores. The day before we had inhaled a chilled blended coffee drink wotsit at Milk and Honey. A world away from the pink shop down on Golders Green High Road this was an all wooden affair complete with a sofa outside on their little slither of Japanese style garden. On the gravel were also a couple of tables, just enough for lone lap top writers to set up virtual shop of an afternoon. That is, until the internet cut out and I noticed them having to engage in conversation like old fashioned coffee houses used to be, only without the cigarette smoke. Next the coffee hang out is the intriguing 118 degrees restaurant. I walk in, to ask to look at the menu and the lady asks me if I have ever been before. When I answer in the negative she proceeds to educate me on their particular culinary art, which, essentially involves, dehydrating the organic locally sourced veggies, at, well, 118 degrees precisely to retain the mineral and nutritional value. After a browse over the menu where words like Kamut, agave and pistachio pesto jumped out at me I convinced the boys to come in. The food arrived, utterly wheat free, dairy free and almost taste free but for the punchy pesto lining the homemade paper thin coconut wrap stuffed with a crate of thinly sliced veggies. Having ordered two appetisers and a main, I did, in truth feel slightly duped by the fact that everything ion the menu could essentially be translated into home made paper thin wrap and veggies. Butternut squash ravioli, was, well, extra thin wrap over a raw butternut squash puree. Similarly the thai rolls we ordered. I sipped coconut water out of a coconut. Boy slurped electrolyte enhanced lemonade with agave nectar. That is until his dad tried it and made such a face of mild repulsion and then he went off it altogether. The ladies at the table next to us remarked at how nice it was to bring children so young to places such as these. They must have assumed we were on a well meaning educational kick. Little did they know it was purely mum's curiosity and desire to sample some genuine Californian crazy diet first hand. In fairness the veggies were uber fresh. All the super slim yogis feasting on leaves around us thought the same. I think a class had just dismissed from the Bikram studio at the other end of the strip. That's the strain where you do a class in, I think 118 degree heat, and come out looking like Madonna after 30 consecutive days of practice. I tried it in New York City one year, but I got really angry with the teacher wearing a microphone who, having found out I was a Limey, told me to stand upright like Big Ben. It was a standing posture admittedly but I could barely breathe at the time.
We left 118 degrees, small one still hungry, and stopped into Milk and Honey for a luscious pomegranate Iced tea and a bagel. Wheat-free schmeat-free. I am on a tea kick, which, for some would seem inevitable in view of my British upbringing, but it urks me that some of the best tea I have tasted has been over here. First off in Hartford at Jo-Jo's coffee house run by the coffee and tea obsessed Vietnamese guy who knew my regular cup of Java favourite after only one visit. Now at a recent discovery called Teavana. Wherein one will find horrendously overpriced but gorgeously laid out tea temptations. My favourite is the tea packers ritual when prospective buyer approaches the counter. It involves passionate and thorough descriptions of the teas and their properties from people who appear to live for the stuff. Your eyes dart across the multi coloured tins behind them, and, like in the olden days, your goods are weighed and served over the counter. If, like me, you a novice to their specialities, kindly ladies will run the gamut of cha to educate you. On our first visit I tell the lady I like the sample I drank at the doorway. She pulls down a purple tin, and, lifting the lid, she proceeds to waft it over the contents so all its fruity white tea goodness swirls about us on the wind. Sam and I breathe it in with a smile. Then she selects companion teas to mix. Wafting is then done with two lids, holding them cymbol-like. I can only wonder what happens when they get a greedy customer who inquires on a mixture of three types. After ooohs and aaaaahs we do buy some of the stuff. Balk at the price and hurry home to start steeping with our bamboo handled strainer, tea ensconced in our japanese paper covered caddy.
Back at The Lab we walk the long way round back to the car taking in the fat white font on the parking spaces that read, "Tofu", "Say Hi To Everybody", "Eat Your Greens", "Laugh Everyday" amongst other nuggets of new age wisdom. We carry onto the chrome Airstream caravan parked round the back laden with delicate succulent arrangements in drift wood, air plants hung about the place, art work and smelly candles. Boy, energy high on bagel strikes up thorough conversation with the shopkeeper on why and how her cash register is, in all intents and purposes a table and not a checkout. Much of our week has involved shop role-play. I think it pleases him to see his makeshift world is as bonefide as he had suspected. Onward we stroll past a sort of camping, world wisdom type of shop with a fat sign illuminting "Ideas Farm" on its upper level. I think I may have found my calling. We just have time to take in the Native Food Cafe, Cory remarking on the smell of barbecue. I glibly suggest they may be cooking the little 'uns who did not make it to the teepee after all. Utterly inappropriate. Made him laugh. Obviously.
Now I sit, with the clutter that is belongings all about me, chomping on a birthday cookie the man has brought home from work on account of it being a lady in the cast's birthday. In truth I am slightly irked by the fact that our birthdays fell outside of the wonderful tradition for buying cakes within the touring group. Once you have received a birthday offering (this case choc chip cookie creation with psychadelic icing) it remains to you to buy the next person's cake and so and so forth. The sugar high should see me through the next hour or so of bag filling. And into my dreams. Which most likely will envolve nightmarish images of the lady of a certain age who was parading around the stage at the mall today dressed as a pirate doing a show, on exacty whta I don't know, with her assistant, most likely in her late seventies, behind her checking her watch in between little yawns. That was before the Billy Elliot type boys came on to dance and the teenage orchestra played like semi-pros.
Or perhpas I will dream on Arizona, tomorrow's destination. My first memory of that place is arriving at our friend's house outisde Phoenix, to spy a terracotta coloured thing on the hallway floor only to find, on closer inspection, that it was a scorpion. Our friend's mum squished it like it was an uninvited ant. Hmmmmm. Irrational (maybe) insect fears to be allayed for now. Cory is home and I am wishing I had finished the packing before he got home. Nothing sets the scene for comedy and bickering than the two of us dancing about each other trying to stuff the many many shirts off our backs into our cases.
He won't miss that other half of cookie cake now will he?