Saturday, September 29, 2007

We're In

We’re in. We’re staying. A week of talks and lists and pros and cons—and it added up to a decision we know is the right one. It’s a good job, and we’ll move to a nicer apartment, buy furniture, and move our stuff—all of it, every last book—at last. I’ll set up a real work space rather than a haphazard takeover of our dining room table. It will feel more like home. If we had tried to write a job description for the ideal job for Andrew post-MBA, the perfect job to demonstrate clearly his move from editing to business, it would have been this job. It supports what his MBA and his summer internship suggested—that he’s serious about changing paths. This makes it more than just a good faith effort—someone has given him an amazing chance to actually do it. We couldn’t pass it up.

We celebrated over a big sushi dinner at a restaurant in Roseville—actual good sushi right in our little suburbia. A bright spot, certainly.

We’re in L.A. this weekend—Andrew had a business trip and I joined him—and I like it here a lot. It’s a big, crazy city, with lots of things I can’t afford, more cultural activities than we could possibly do in a year, things to see around every corner, tempting restaurants and cafes on every block. I don’t hate California—our weekend trips have made that clear (even though we have no doubt that this is a 1-2 year move, no more). Our decision to stay here means that we just have to work a little harder—a lot harder—to give Sacramento a chance.

We’re Californians. Who would have thought?...

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Kiawah Island

The East, the East! The Atlantic Ocean—the real ocean! It was such a short flight—just 4 or so hours to Atlanta—and there I was, back again on the side of the country I consider home. Even the air felt more substantial, heavy and thick with muggy heat, unlike the thin, dry atmosphere of California.

I met Michelle at the Charleston airport Friday afternoon, and we spent the day walking around the city. Charleston has a lot of charm—beautiful old homes, cute shopping streets, and lots of excellent restaurants serving seafood and Southern specialties. When Rachael and Barbra arrived, we went for dinner at Coast, a great seafood restaurant, then headed to our bungalow on Kiawah Island.

I’ve always loved South Carolina’s beaches, and Kiawah was wonderful. It’s a private island, unspoiled by development, and there were broad expanses of sand and perfect water temperature. The weather, despite the forecast, was ideal, sunny and hot, and we spent the day swimming and chatting on the sand. We had local Southern cooking for dinner, sitting on the restaurant’s broad front porch.

Sunday lunch was at Jestine’s in Charleston, with more excellent Southern cooking, followed by a tour of the historic Aiken-Rhett House—apparently inhabited until 1975, a fact made hard to believe by the peeling paint, faded wallpaper, uneven floor, and seeming nonexistence of a kitchen.

It was a fast weekend—a bit of stolen time together—and just a taste of the East Coast that, soon enough, I was leaving behind. It was late when my flight arrived in California. Andrew met me at the airport, and we made the long drive from San Francisco to our apartment, together once again in this version of home.

Thursday, September 20, 2007

Return to the East

....but only for the weekend. I'm heading back to the East Coast tonight, on the redeye to Charleston, SC, to spend the weekend with Barbra, Rachael, and Michelle--the first time I'll have seen Michelle in a year and Barbra in nearly as long. I'm very excited to see them AND to be back in a normal time zone--being 3 hours behind is far less fun than being hours ahead, as we were in Spain. It will be wonderful to swim in the warm Atlantic, to have a sense of history, of depth. To actually walk around a city and sight-see. But it will be strange to take such a long flight and find myself in the same country. And who knows: my return on Sunday may be very short-term. Or it may begin a more extended commitment.

Strangely, it's chilly outside here, a lovely fall-type day following last night's rainstorm that sent Californians into a confused panic. (Clouds? Rain? Here?) It's fitting: fall always signals transition for me, and this time is nothing if not transitory. Answers, soon. Surely.

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

I'm Dog, the Big Bad Dog, the Bounty Hunter

Against all odds, Dog the Bounty Hunter has become my favorite television show. Ordinarily I have no patience for reality shows, but Dog is somehow in a different category. Dog is a bounty hunter, hunting down fugitives along with his wife Beth, his sons Leland and Duane Lee, his brother Tim, whom he calls Youngblood, and his daughter, whom everyone calls Baby Lyssa. Each bounty-hunting member is all but indescribable. Leland and Tim both sport partially shaved heads with long, ornately secured rat-tail style ponytails. Beth is a shockingly voluptuous, shockingly big-haired blonde. Duane Lee looks like your everyday thug. And Dog: with his generous assortment of heavy chains and leather wrist-wraps, constantly worn wraparound sunglasses, and his own shockingly long, big blonde mane with a regularly changing selection of clip-on hair ornaments streaming down either side of his weather-worn face, he is a character who proves that real life trumps fiction every time. One of the most remarkable aspects of the bounty hunters’ get-ups is that the men wear bullet-proof vests without any shirts on underneath. Everyone is generously tattooed.

There’s never a dull day for Dog and his crew, and when a bounty call comes in, they swiftly propel themselves into action. They call the bounty-requester on the speaker phone and listen as a mother, husband, wife, or sister pleas for Dog to save their loved one from their own self-destructive ways. “We’ll do an intervention, honey,” Dog promises. Dog is always full of love and reassurance. To his family, he grins and says, “It’ll be a good chase.” They then gather in the parking lot for a prayer, holding hands in a circle, and pile into two enormous vans driven by Beth and Tim to chase their bounty.

And chase they do—shouting and running, yelling at one another to run, run, as Beth follows, cursing, in her van. They always catch their fugitive, who always seems ready and willing to reform. In the back seat of the van post-capture, Beth and Dog sit on either side of him or her, lecturing about love, family, hope, and the promise of the future. Before bringing the quarry to prison, they take them back to the office for more heart-to-heart, and perhaps a teary, promise-filled phone call to the fugitive’s family. Beth and Dog always hug the quarry just before releasing them to prison, saying “I love you,” and “Call me.”

There’s nothing not to love about Dog the Bounty Hunter. It is just pure outlandish fun, made more so because it’s actually real. Dog is scary, with such a dark, ex-convict past as well as some genuine sad family tragedy (a daughter died the day before his wedding to Beth), yet so nurturing. But my favorite thing about the show is that it takes place in Honolulu, a fittingly random spot. I started watching Dog the first week we moved to CA—we stumbled onto it in our room at the Hyatt—and I think what I like most about the show is that I recognize something about this world they inhabit, this strange, distant Hawaiian world. Who lives in Honolulu, really? What kind of life could one possibly have there? Watching Dog, intensely hunting his bounty in a city that seems more make-believe than reality, I recognize the strange, distant world as similar to my own. Who lives, really, in Citrus Heights? It’s an un-real place, dramatically separated from everything I know. And there’s not even a Dog here to redeem it.

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Wii Update

I’m getting frustrated with the Wii. Andrew has brought home several more games in the hopes of finding one that will finally unlock the mysteries of Gaming—that is, in the hopes of helping me understand just what the attraction really is. So far, after stints with various sports games, Mario Party, Metroid Prime 3: Corruption, Zelda: Twilight Princess, and Surf’s Up, I am perhaps even more baffled than I was before.

Here’s the thing: for me, the games are boring. With Metroid and Zelda, I actually fell asleep while Andrew was maneuvering the characters through dull, seemingly endless rooms and paths with absolutely no clear understanding of what the characters were supposed to be doing or looking for. In Zelda, if you toss a pumpkin against the ground, a green emerald comes out. But so what? What’s it for? Who cares? In theory, I could enjoy exploring the “worlds” of Zelda, but I couldn’t seem to maneuver my horse without just running head-long into trees and stone embankments. Surf’s Up was more entertaining, but I lost interest quickly while Andrew developed a quiet obsession with obtaining more and more points.

I remember my first experience with Gaming: our original Nintendo, with the original Mario game. That, I loved. Running at high speeds through different levels, killing clearly defined (and often cute) enemies, collecting coins, growing to a super-sized Mario or a tiny Mario, dodging fireballs. And Mario 3—the water world, the ice world. Those were fun; those were suspenseful; I remember wanting to play them for hours. So what’s changed?

Andrew explained it this way: the current world of Gaming must cater to super-advanced Gamers who want far more than what the early games had to offer. They want elaborate worlds that require total immersion and dedication to crack. These new-generation games require vast knowledge of “cheats” and “codes” in order to unlock the game’s mysteries. Clearly, any Gaming tendencies I have or had rest exclusively with games that no one, in these Gaming days, has any interest in.

Andrew’s livelihood currently lies within the world of Gaming, and so I’ll continue on, trying more games; but for me, even though the Gaming world is closer now than it ever has been or ever will be again, an understanding of this subculture remains stubbornly out of reach.

Monday, September 17, 2007


It’s hard to believe, but we could very well be headed back East in as little as 14 days. This time, we’d actually be making the trip by car, driving our new (old) Volvo cross-country with our suitcases, a random assortment of plates, and piles of pinecones, taking our time to see some of the sights as we make the long journey. Our destination: undecided. My shower and our wedding will initially lead us back to PA, but we’ll essentially be homeless once again, adding more things to our already voluminous collection in the attic and re-packing our suitcases with the fall clothes currently buried in boxes. Where we’ll go next is anyone’s guess.

Or we might just stay here, swallowing our dislike for our suburban existence in reluctant exchange for an excellent business opportunity for Andrew that will, surely, lead us back to New York or beyond in the not-so-far future. Just as we were on pins and needles pretty much until we boarded the plane to fly to CA in July, we are putting off plane ticket purchases and any sort of planning until we know what’s going to happen.

We’re both incredibly torn. I love the idea (obviously) of leaving CA behind and starting up a cozier, more culturally rich life back in familiar territory. The downside is that there could be months of limbo-time, living-out-of-suitcases time, while Andrew seeks the right opportunity. The downside of staying here is obvious—we hate it. I have the strange sense of missing out on something, of being outside of real life, of being in a no man’s land thousands of miles away from anything that’s meaningful to me. The upsides are that this job really is perfect for Andrew, it could lead to great things for him, and, once we know we’re staying, we’ll move all our stuff out and actually live here. Surely, that will help this feel more like a home.

And so we wait, setting up elaborate “if this…then this” scenarios and trying to decide exactly what will make us most happy. There are potentially 2 weeks to go. Much could happen any day, at any time.

Tuesday, September 04, 2007

Wine Country

Wine, livestock, a geyser: an unlikely trifecta that shaped our first foray into wine country. This Labor Day weekend, we road-tested our Volvo by driving about three hours north to the Anderson Valley, a stunningly beautiful wine region that’s much less famous (and expensive) than Napa.

First stop on Saturday: the Ceago winery, where we sampled a few tasty wines then strolled through the beautiful grounds and garden, lush with lavender bushes, wispy dill plants, rosemary, squash, melons, sunflowers, and many acres of grapevines. What better way to follow up this serene peacefulness than attending a livestock auction?

We’d planned to stop at a local county fair on our way to our hotel in Ukiah, and, seeing “LIVESTOCK” marked on the fair map, were intrigued. A huge pavilion was crawling with 4-H kids, rabbits and turkeys and roosters huddled in cages, and pens full of goats, sheep, pigs, and cattle. A steady stream of visibly proud kids were leading their prized pigs and cows to the auction platform where, we were horrified to realize, they were selling off their animals for slaughter. “Half a beef,” the auctioneer said at one point. “Anyone for half a beef?”

The serenity of more wineries was much needed after that, and, fortunately, Anderson Valley has no shortage of them. We drove past many more than we could possibly visit, through acres and acres of lush vineyards, and did what we could in the time we had left; we stopped at the Brutocao and Parducci tasting rooms as the afternoon waned.

Along the way, we were shadowed by our firm belief that THE “CHRISTIAN RIGHT” IS NEITHER. “You put that bumper sticker on?” a man asked us at the Parducci winery, as his group crossed paths with us at the winery door. Andrew and I froze. It’s an impossible question. “We bought the car used,” we hedged. “We were admiring it as you drove by,” he said. We sighed in relief. We were fortunate, this time.

Ukiah, where our hotel was located, was a charming place with a cute little downtown. After a nice dinner at a brewery, we headed back to the hotel—where, that night, there was a total power outage. “You have electricity?” people began calling to one another from their doorways. The parking lot was pitch-black. A flashlight swept over the cars. Someone turned their headlights on; we could hear confused and angry murmuring. It was more than a little creepy, and we settled into an uneasy sleep.

We started our Sunday in a grove of redwoods at the Hendy Woods State Park. Amazing—the trees are endlessly tall, and many have enormous trunks. Some are hollowed-out at the base, as though some sort of woodland creature has carved out a home. We hiked along a trail through the forest, utterly silent, and cool thanks to the treetops blocking the sun. It was a beautiful place.

Souls refreshed, we began our wine exploration in earnest. First, the Roederer Estates, where we tasted a few sparkling wines. Then onto Husch Vineyards, our favorite of the day—the small tasting room was in a rustic wooden room, and we made small talk with another taster who told us she moved to San Francisco from MA and took 5 years to adjust. “I’m sorry,” she said when we told her we lived near Sacramento. The good wines took the sting out of our predicament, sort of.

After lunch at a local Mexican restaurant, we continued on, choosing wineries more or less at random as we drove along the winding roads: Navarro Vineyards, Greenwood Ridge Vineyards, Handley Cellars, Scharffenberger Cellars. Over dinner at the Bluebird CafĂ© in Hopland, we discussed what we’ll name our vineyard when we purchase one of the lovely expanses we saw for sale, and congratulated ourselves on our fledgling wine knowledge—nowhere near fluent, but definitely a little better than before we started out.

Monday, Labor Day, we rewarded the labor of a local bakery by having breakfast there, then headed towards home—stopping along the way in Calistoga for picnic supplies, then eating at an oak-shaded picnic table at the Cuvaison Winery in Napa, where we indulged in one final tasting.

We ended our trip by visiting a local geyser, apparently one of only three “faithful” geysers in the world. We waited for a very, very long time for the geyser to go off, staring at a small steaming opening in the center of a pond in what felt like the middle of nowhere. There was a distinct shady-carnival atmosphere, a bit of the grotesque, as we walked along a rickety wooden walkway past a pen of “fainting goats” towards the pond. Eventually, the geyser did go off, and everyone snapped pictures. And kept snapping pictures. The geyser continued to spew. We dutifully watched, but finally felt we had to get on our way.

It was a lovely weekend, perhaps my favorite weekend trip so far in CA—the area is just incredibly peaceful and beautiful, worlds away from our strip-mall-dominated home.