Wednesday, 29 July 2015

Child portion

There comes a time in every young American child's life when they have to realise that obesity isn't a national epidemic, it's a way of life (it's in the constitution, between gun ownership and slavery).  Where better to teach my own American boy this than at The Cheesecake Factory - for so long the national leader in portion sizes and calorie counts and consequently one of my favourite places in the whole world.

And today is National Cheesecake Day.  Yes, it's true, although I don't know who legislates these things as it turns out it's National Chicken Wing Day too.  Tomorrow, National Heartburn Week begins.

I may have celebrated this day on more than one occasion in the past, but have missed out for a couple of years given Canada's laughable dedication to the well-being of its citizens.  And all slices are half price today.  It was high time to introduce Pete to one of the cornerstones of his birth culture.

The specific cornerstones we chose were Salted Caramel, Lemon Meringue, and Chocolate Mousse.  All the major food groups.  We didn't want to do anything crazy like ordering Adam's Peanut Butter Cup Fudge Ripple which boasts 1,330 calories per slice.  My metabolism is not as young as I like to believe.

Our dessert trifecta was washed down with milk and a latte, and Pete's grin was possibly even wider than when we were in that ball pool at the beach.  Welcome home son.

What's the definition of "eager expectation"?

All for me?

Sadly not.  The US government recommends only five thousands calories a day for toddlers.

Sunday, 26 July 2015

A load of balls

We're a bit far away from the sea here, which means the hot-and-humid weather that would usually send Brits running to the ocean instead has us running inside to the air conditioning.  If only they had an air-conditioned beach nearby in the city.  That would be so convenient.

But this is the USA, the land of convenience, so of course they have one!  The National Building Museum is a few metro stops from us and together with "a collaborative and experimental practice operating in territories between art and architecture" (?!) called Snarkitecture they've transformed their large central hall into a beach - it's been featured in a few UK papers.  It's actually a lot better than a real beach, because you don't have to cower in whatever small patch of shade you can find and the sand is AstroTurf so your sarnies don't get crunchy.

The "ocean" is made of a million recycled plastic balls.  Yes, it's a huge ball pool, and all the things that only children are usually allowed to do are permitted for adults on a grand scale.  Despite beach rules to the contrary jumping, shouting, throwing, etc. were all in evidence.  And you didn't even have to take off your socks (after removing your sandals), which made this Englishman very happy.

I'm not sure I've ever seen Pete so happy.  His face must have hurt from all the grinning.  He didn't seem the least bit perturbed to be fully "underwater" in the deep end while Hannah and I struggled.  It's not easy to right yourself when you're on your back, covered with spherical plastic.  Wading/walking/swimming is a full body workout, and constantly pulling a laughing toddler from underneath so as not to lose him completely does wonders for the biceps.

Like all the best beaches, the place was packed.  We arrived as soon as it opened and shortly after that the one-in-one-out policy started.  Also, in a copy of the real world, people left shoes and clothing on deckchairs to reserve them before jumping in.  Insert your own German tourist joke here.

After two hours I was well and truly spent, which is significantly longer than I last at a real beach.  Keeping with the holiday tradition it was time to find omelet and chips served with a pint of beer for lunch.  Wish you were here!

Private beach - King Salman of Saudi would approve.

Inside, a very nice view but prohibitive for my favourite beach activity of kite flying.

Dipping my toes in the water.

Pete dived straight in.

Like Weymouth beach on Bank Holiday Monday.

Taking a breather (no, those are not my sandals).

Dragging mummy under.

Swimming for it.

Rules, but whatever.

Just like one of those flotation tanks.

The view from the middle of the ocean.

Family holiday selfie.

Because it was actually pretty difficult to move around, the far corners were surprisingly quiet. Or "boring" as Pete now likes to tell us.

Looking back at the "pier".

The view from above.

And a few beers for lunch.  Hey - I'm on holiday!

Sunday, 19 July 2015

Roasted butterflies

I enjoyed the British climate in Vancouver, in that I always felt comfortably damp whatever the season, but Washington DC lays claim to its own style of Britishness by its weather's changeability.  Just like in the mother country, you have to carry both an umbrella and a sunhat, wellington boots and flip-flops, whenever you leave the house.  Rainstorms are diluvial downpours that threaten to wash out the bridge before the sun comes out and tries to crack the flagstones minutes later.  Humidity normally runs at 110%, whether it's falling on you or steaming up from the ground.

All of which makes butterflies very happy!  Our local park is running its annual "Wings Of Fancy" exhibition at the moment, where you can walk around a greenhouse while assorted winged creatures flutter about and you can almost hear the very hungry caterpillars munching through their green leaves.  Outside in the gardens it's roughly the same story, with moth-attracting plants to encourage the beating of gossamer wings.

It's all very lovely, even if butterflies are basically creepy-crawlies with nice plumage. That's why something like this is popular whereas a "mosquito house" wouldn't capture the tourist dollar.  It also wasn't the most sensible thing to go into a greenhouse on a day when temperatures hit 39C outside - Hannah loved it but Pete and I, as true British gentlemen, sweated through the whole thing.  Luckily my fears of being the owner of the two-year-old who crushed/ate the prize livestock were unfounded.

Another great thing about butterflies and caterpillars is that they sit still to be photographed, unlike the aforementioned child.  I took along my big serious camera to take advantage, only to be shown up by everyone else there having bigger and more serious cameras.  There's a lot of love for butterflies in these parts.  Still, I bet I sound more like David Attenborough than any of them.

Some like it hot.  But not that hot.

He wasn't a little caterpillar anymore.

And another (actual size).

Butterfly peeping.

There's one, enjoying a nice nectar snack.

This is Dryas Iulia, of course.

Classic black-and-white.

Temperatures are rising.

I know one of those.

Another happily-posing butterfly.

Wings like angels.

Feeling some lens envy.

Outside in the ornamental gardens.  If Pete couldn't touch the butterflies he was going to grab a fish.

My little rays of sunshine.

Pupa and butterfly.

Sunday, 5 July 2015

Diplomatic incident

Some are born great, some achieve greatness, etc.  But if you're clever you simply hang around great people and reap the benefits without having to put in the effort.  I reflected how well this has been working out for me as I hung off my wife's arm and wandered into the Benjamin Franklin Room at the US Department of State.

Back in California, Chevron sponsors various charitable events and I got to go along as a trophy husband to fill a seat at a table and clap loudly whenever Chevron was mentioned.  Here in DC Chevron doesn't sponsor charities, it sponsors the government!  Which is why, when no one else wants to go, I get to attend an Ambassadorial Reception.  This is a relatively new event I'm told, where all the top diplomats in Washington come to the State Department on 4th July to celebrate patriotism or something.  The theme this year was "Baseball: America's Pastime".  There was free food and drink, which is all that really matters to me.

The State Department is a nondescript concrete building just over from the White House, but inside it's been decked out in fine style and stocked full of historical items from the US's long and illustrious history of diplomacy ("speak softly, and carry a big stick", as someone once said).  As I meandered through the The John Quincy Adams State Drawing Room I passed the desk on which the Treaty of Paris was signed in 1783, when the UK formally recognised the USA as a country and ended the so-called Revolutionary War.  A dark day that one, but I resisted scratching "Dave woz ere 2015" into the surface.

The main Franklin room was stuffed with diplomatic entourages.  I held the door for the Israeli Ambassador, brushed shoulders with the top man from The Vatican, and exchanged a knowing glance with the Ambassador from Malta.  I then tucked into the gourmet hot dogs, popcorn, candyfloss, and ton of other baseball-themed goodies.  It was, to use the language of these parts, awesome.

The best thing was that it was a family occasion, so Pete was able to come along.  The 4th July fireworks didn't start until well past his bedtime but we kept him fueled-up on sugar and carbs from the aforementioned snacks.  A gorgeous 2-yr-old girl whose parents were from Turkey came up to him, started stroking his shirt and took his hand, but following British protocol he just stood there frowning and refused to return her affections.  "In a few years you'll be begging for beautiful Turkish girls to give you that sort of attention!" I told him as he walked coldly-but-politely away.  Ah, but the young always ignore the advice of the older and wiser.

After I'd enjoyed the generous hospitality to its full it was time for fireworks.  To add to the ridiculousness of the whole situation, Chevron had a roped-off VIP section that none of the great-and-good were allowed into.  But we let them in, because big oil is nothing if not philanthropic, especially where future international drilling rights might be concerned.

The fireworks were spectacular, if only red, white and blue for some reason.  After the oohs and aahs were over we had to make our way home.  A helicopter to get us out of DC had been strangely overlooked by the Secretary of State and we once again joined thousands of hoi polloi and shuffled towards a metro station and back to real life, where I feel a lot less of a fraud and where my diplomatic skills are put to daily use negotiating with a toddler.  Maybe I am qualified to work in the State Department.

We were greeted by an ex-president, William Howard Taft (that really famous one), who is one of the local baseball team Washington Nationals' mascots.  Pete was not entirely freaked out.

The Adams Drawing Room, with the addition of pics of past presidents throwing out first pitches at various baseball games.

Here's Ronnie, winding up for a curveball.  Not the best attendance I have to say Ron.

And here's that Treaty of Paris desk.  The genuine article!  Although the treaty on there is a copy.  They have a painting of the signing hanging in the room, incomplete as the Brits refused to pose.  We refuse to play baseball to this day!

Ah, some civilisation in this place.

Take me out to the ball game.

Keeping him going with a balanced diet.

Patriots, but sadly for this country only one of us will become president.

The view from the balcony.  Yeah, nice.

I enjoy a Department-of-State-sized G&T, all on the taxpayer's dollar!  Or probably Chevron's, who already pay for all my G&Ts anyway.

The host was Ambassador Selfridge, the Chief of Protocol.  Americans have protocol?  I thought normally they just push in.  They also had the organist and announcer from the Washington Nationals' stadium, as well as the team manager, who I believe is famous.

Looking out from the VIP area.

Eager anticipation.

Off they go!




Until next year.

I needed a trophy, and with Pete ferreting through every cupboard he eventually unearthed these paper towels with the seal of state on!  I pocketed a year's supply, so our guests can enjoy official DC bathroom luxury while staying.  Happy Independence Day!