Friday, November 30, 2007

Best of Sacramento

Last night, Andrew and I attended our first Sacramento event: the Best of Sacramento party, a benefit for the March of Dimes put on by Sacramento Magazine. We joined the crowds at the convention center and were given a wine glass, plate, and tote bag, then headed inside, where 300+ winners of the magazines annual “best of” competition plied their wares—which included excellent food, wines, desserts, music, shops, and services. We had Indian food; Greek food; Italian food; sushi. We had tiramisu and petit fours. We had some delicious wines, and local beer. Our hands-down favorite: the extensive cheese selections elaborately presented by The Firehouse Restaurant. The dance floor was packed by that time, but Andrew and I were content to look on, enjoying our cheese from the sidelines. There are few things more enjoyable—no matter where in the world we happen to find ourselves—than a cheese plate.

Newcomers as we are, watching Sacramentoans in action was as captivating as pursuing the food and wine. What is a Sacramentoan? It’s a question that’s been plaguing us—one we’re both interested in investigating, and writing about. Other cities have quickly identifiable characters (New York’s in-your-face attitude, Barcelona’s feisty Catalan spirit), expectations, dress codes, points of view. In some places, it takes only a few days to form a pretty clear picture of what makes that city unique: in Bucharest, for example, we knew within one weekend that the tension between the past and present had yielded what was clearly a jittery romance with new wealth; in Seville, the multi-generation families eating tapas at 1 a.m. told us all we needed to know about the city’s focus on family and food. But what of Sacramento?

We’re still searching. Last night, we saw fashionably dressed thirty-somethings wearing excellent shoes; we saw pairs of divorcees wearing surprisingly tight, short skirts. We saw a plethora of single older men wearing expensive suits, and teenagers in jeans and hoodies. There was a lot of politeness—excuse me’s when pushing through a crowd, I’m sorry’s when bags jostled bags—but rude line-cutting and harsh reprimands as well. The longest drink line we saw was for the Sac Brewing Company’s beer—a signal of something, or a result of the fact that the wine booths distributed only small tastings, while the beer was poured in full-glass servings?

We had fun at the party—hard not to, with so much food and drink and activity—and it was a good first step in our explorations. But we’re not zeroing in on anything yet. The search for the true Sacramento will continue. It’s our city now, and it’s time to start forming our own “best of” lists, finding the places that will truly make this city home.

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Home Delivery

On January 10, 2008, or thereabouts, all of our belongings will be joining us here in Sacramento. Unbelievable! We’ve found a moving solution that will, hopefully, work out; and we’ll be packing up our wedding gifts and repacking all the other boxes in the attic after Christmas, in preparation for the move.

Among the things that will be arriving in a few short weeks are my books—the many, many boxes of them that have remained sealed since I left New York. The kitchen things I didn’t throw away or sell will arrive as well; I have very little recollection of what I actually saved. Will my blue bowl be in one of the boxes, or did I leave it by the curb? Did I keep or pitch my soup ladle? Blankets; lamps; my alarm clock—I know they’re packed away, somewhere, among many other things I can’t even remember owning.

It will be strange discovering all of these things again. They’re relics from a different life—my New York life, my single life. I’ve gone through two hefty rounds of belongings since then, in Spain (all, for the most part, thrown or sold or given away now), and now in California (just last week I purchased, again, the Ikea desk lamp I had on my desk in Barcelona). Looking around our apartment, I see that everything—from the books to the plates to the hangers in the closet—is new. We’ve acquired an apartment’s worth of furniture in the past two weeks. Every single book on our bookshelf has been purchased since we’ve moved to California (a surprising number, given that we’ve lived here only since July). All of the things in the kitchen have been purchased here, or smuggled back in suitcases after trips home for the shower and wedding. Not one thing in this apartment has been with us for a significant length of time—we’re literally building our life together, our nest, twig by twig.

That’s strange, to be sure, but in this moment I realize it’s also not entirely true. There, in the cupboard in the dining room, is the Scrabble board, the letter-tiles in a small LeSport Sac pouch. Finally, a thread linking the past to the present, linking New York to Barcelona to Sacramento. It’s been with us in all of these places, a true relic compared to the shiny newness of everything else.

Anyway. Perhaps all this newness is one reason why Sacramento has felt so unfamiliar all these months, why I’ve felt so ungrounded here, as though there is simply one thin layer of existence that is as easily dispersed as sand. Yes, the history here—what there is of it—is a far cry from the heavy roots anchoring Barcelona and even New York, giving them character and substance. But my personal history is lacking here, too. There are no pictures, no favorite mugs, no familiar rows of books alphabetized by author on shelf after shelf. There are no worn blankets, no drawers of odds and ends, no box of recipes, no unruly plants with crinkled leaves scattered on the floor around them. There isn’t even a stack of New Yorkers piled by the couch, pages dog-eared, covers wrinkled. Until last week, when we moved and bought all our furniture, we could have packed up and been gone at a moment’s notice. Just as no grand architecture or defining culture tie Sacramento to what I will perhaps always consider “real” life, no history, no family, and no belongings tie us here.

This is changing quickly, and will continue to change, especially on January 10. Our life’s things will finally settle into California as we have, from our books to our measuring spoons to our souvenirs from our travels. When our Venetian masks are hanging on the wall—when my familiar dishes are in the cabinet—when I can make a soup from my favorite cookbook—my view of Sacramento may, quite possibly, change as well. It already feels more like home, thanks to our move downtown and this new apartment. Now it’s high time to unpack.

Monday, November 26, 2007

Wii Update

We did it: we found a Wii game I like for more than five minutes! It’s Guitar Hero III, and it is incredibly fun. After several days of experimentation, we've entered the Medium level, fumbling through songs including "Barracuda" and "Slow Ride." We’re making progress, definitely getting better; and it is far from the boring, exploratory drudgery that seem to weigh down all the other games I’ve tried. Hopes are high that this is the start of a renewed enjoyment of the Wii, and a glowing review in the Times of the new Mario Galaxy gives me hope that there just may be a second game out there for me as well...

Thanksgiving

It was our first Thanksgiving together—not the first we’d ever spent together (we spent a Thanksgiving together in Barcelona in 2005), but the first Thanksgiving for which we cooked an entire meal ourselves. The fact that we just returned from the East Coast wedding festivities three weeks ago prompted us to spend the holiday this year in Sacramento rather than fly cross-country yet again. Just because we weren’t with our families, however, didn’t mean we had to do without the traditional feast; so we set out to prepare it ourselves.

The bulk of our kitchen things are still in Pennsylvania, but over the past few trips we’d managed to squirrel away quite a few items, and with the purchase of a few extra necessities (a turkey platter, a carving set, a gravy boat), we were ready to cook Thanksgiving dinner. We bought the smallest turkey we could find (still twelve pounds), and everything we needed to make butternut squash, mashed potatoes, cranberry sauce, stuffing, gravy, cranberry/pumpkin bread, and desserts—pumpkin pie and apple pie. And we spent the day cooking in our cozy new apartment.

The meal was a rousing success—many emailed recipes from our mothers, a few phone calls, and some intuition added up to a delicious feast, and this little nesty Thanksgiving was as lovely as we could have hoped.

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Escape from Suburbia

We made it out! We’re free! I can hear traffic outside my window; there are non-chain stores and restaurants nearby; there was a crazy lady behind me in line at Target yesterday. Even more importantly, I can now walk from room to room—a studio apartment would be no problem if NYC was right outside the door, but a studio apartment in a suburban apartment complex was, to put it mildly, not really tenable. We now have a living room, a dining room, a kitchen, a bathroom, a bedroom, and an office alcove—as well as a large storage room and a walk in closet. It’s a huge apartment, and beautiful—lots of light, beautiful details, great wood floors. Pure charm.

The bathroom and kitchen also have “charm,” in the form of the following: only one electrical outlet in the kitchen; no garbage disposal; and separate hot-and-cold faucets in an ancient sink in the bathroom. The character of the apartment makes up for these deficits in modernization, of course, and we’ve made the rooms pleasant and fully functional. But we will both be very happy on the day when we have our own home and can install top-of-the-line, luxurious kitchen and bathroom fixtures.

As moves go, this one wasn’t bad—we didn’t have too much stuff, and one Uhaul trip was sufficient. The most arduous part of the move was making the trips to Target and Ikea to round up some furniture; we’re now proud owners of a couch, a desk, a kitchen island, a side table, a TV stand, a few lamps, and sundry other things. We even bought a bed—a real bed, from a real furniture store—that was delivered on Sunday. Our nest-building has truly begun.

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Honeymoon in Nevis

We hadn’t planned to take a honeymoon. Having spent the last year or so traveling, we decided we weren’t hurting for vacations and that we’d wait and plan a big trip once Andrew had been at his job a little longer. But it turned out that he was given two weeks off for the wedding—so we decided a honeymoon was in order.

Our plans started small—spending a few days in New Hampshire—but quickly grew larger. We went to a bookstore one night to peruse guidebooks for Panama, Costa Rica, Mexico, Puerto Rico. Fabulous as all of those destinations sounded, they didn’t say honeymoon. The Caribbean did.

We chose Nevis, a tiny island that’s part of the Dutch Antilles, with a population of around 10,000. Far from touristy, it’s a true tropical paradise; wild goats, sheep, and pigs wander about, and there are “monkey crossing” signs along the roads. Getting there required a long series of flights (Pittsburgh-Charlotte-St. Maarten-Nevis), with the final flight to Nevis on an old, tiny propeller plane so small we couldn’t stand upright, with no door blocking the cockpit from the passengers. We could hear the pilots shouting coordinates to each other as they descended—“Three hundred feet…Two hundred…”

We stayed in a cottage at the lovely Nisbet Plantation, where we had four days and five nights of blissful, sunny relaxation, with nothing to do but bask in newlywed happiness. We spent each day on the beach, reading and occasionally ordering a Ting and Sting (a local drink made with a grapefruit soda called Ting and rum) when a server wandered by. We each made it through a couple of books, though Andrew got stalled with his mammoth, hardcover, 800-page biography of Alexander Hamilton—in my view, neither a suitable beach read nor a practical book for traveling, but Andrew seemed to be enjoying it. (One of Nevis’s claims to fame is that Alexander Hamilton was born there—a historical fact that Andrew, not surprisingly, uncovered before we traveled there.)

One afternoon, we took a catamaran trip towards St. Kitts, where we planned to snorkel. This activity was a bit of a personal challenge for me—the last time I was on a boat or snorkeling was over seven years ago, and I not only got hideously seasick but actually panicked at being amidst some very large fish. The idea of snorkeling still appealed, however, prompting me to give it another try. And this time, it was wonderful—I didn’t get seasick at all (though I declined the rum punch served on the boat, just in case), and the snorkeling was amazing. We saw all kinds of colorful tropical fish and a few strange fishy creatures in the coral reef where the boat left us off; there was even a small, curious fish who followed me and Andrew for a very long time, actually bumping up against our arms and masks as though trying to get our attention. We celebrated a successful trip by going to the beach bar Sunshine’s for Killer Bees—a notoriously strong, secret-recipe island drink.

On another day, we rented a car to explore the island—not a very time-consuming activity, though driving on the left took a little attention—and visited Alexander Hamilton’s birthplace in Charlestown, Nevis’s main city. Away from the our breezy beach chairs, however, the temperature was stifling, and after a quick stop at the Caribbean’s oldest church, we returned to the Nisbet for a few more hours of reading and swimming.

Each night at the plantation, we dressed for dinner at the Great House, where we had wonderful three-course meals—usually seafood or an island-inspired dish like curried lamb or conch stew. Thursday night was the plantation’s weekly seafood barbeque, where a huge buffet was set up poolside, with an abundance of fish grilled fresh—mahi mahi, red snapper, shark, wahoo, shrimp—as well as steak, spare ribs, and salads.

It all ended much too soon, and on Saturday we found ourselves once again hovering in the air in an alarmingly small plane, journeying home. We spent the night in Pittsburgh; met my parents for lunch on Sunday; then continued on to Sacramento. (We took a total of ten flights in two weeks—definitely a record.) It was a perfect honeymoon, an ideal way to celebrate (and recover from) the wedding. Sad as we were to leave the island, it wasn’t meant to last forever—and our return to our new “real” life doesn’t seem so bad at all.

Wedding Weekend: Part II, The Wedding

It was exactly what we wanted, and much more than we expected—that’s the only way I can describe our wedding. It’s perhaps too soon to write about it; it doesn’t seem possible that our wedding was actually our wedding. It also doesn’t seem possible that it was only a little over a week ago—it was all such a whirlwind.

The day of the wedding someone said (or perhaps I said) that the day would be like a runaway train—once it started, there’d be no stopping it; anything that hadn’t been done would just have to remain undone. And it was very much that way. Early in the morning, after the bridesmaids’ hair appointments, we began setting up for the ceremony and reception. Determined not to see Andrew until the ceremony, he, the groomsmen, and assorted spouses handled the ceremony room; the bridesmaids and I handled the reception room. I was pleased that the hundreds of pinecones Andrew and I had shipped from California added the perfect fall touch to the tables. Everything looked splendid, true fall bounty: the leaf-bedecked favor boxes (each holding a river stone Dad had sandblasted with a marriage-appropriate word); the fall-colored tulle holding Jordan almonds; the fall-colored menus. The flowers arrived; the cake arrived; the band arrived to set up. All of our abstract plans were spinning out before our eyes.

Soon it was time to get dressed, to take pictures, and then to wait. And then it was all happening—waiting in the hallway while the bridesmaids processed; walking down the aisle with Dad; then joining Andrew, listening to the poems we'd chosen as readings, saying our vows, exchanging our rings, being introduced as “Mr. and Mrs. Littell.” We were married!

The reception was as happy and fun a celebration as we could have hoped, with a band that kept everyone dancing; lots of food and cookies; and more people to talk to than was humanly possible. Dad, Molly, and Andrew’s best man, Jon, gave wonderful toasts—Dad’s was complete with a mathematical equation proving that Andrew is, indeed, my necessary and perfect match. Andrew and I needed bride and groom clones to take it all in. As we were dancing together at one point, Andrew said—“Can you believe we’re dancing at our wedding?”

The night did have a surreal quality—this was it. Our wedding. Our life together didn’t necessarily begin from scratch on November 3—life was pretty real and pretty together before that. But our life as Mr. and Mrs. Littell did, indeed, begin—married life—and our send-off couldn’t have been any more perfect.

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Wedding Weekend: Part I, The Rehearsal Dinner

After a manic gathering of boxes and bags and suitcases and cookie trays, we managed to get ourselves to The Summit on Friday afternoon. There was just enough time to unload everything into our rooms before we had to get dressed, speed through the rehearsal, and head to the rehearsal dinner. The dinner was held at Caileigh’s, a restaurant in Uniontown inside a beautiful historic home. The dinner was organized around a Spanish theme—tapas-style appetizers, Spanish wine, and a steak/shrimp dinner. The tables were named after Spanish cities.

The dinner was lovely, and the perfect kick-off to the weekend—I had the sense the whole time that we were embarking on a kind of wedding adventure, and that this was the first big piece of it. My acceptance into the Littell family was solidified during Andrew’s father’s toast, when he bestowed on me a beloved Red Sox baseball cap—how far Andrew and I have come since those very first Yankees games he took me to!

Gathering back at The Summit’s bar was the perfect end to the evening. There were more arrivals—some of Andrew’s IESE friends had gotten lost on their way from the airport; more of our family members had arrived as well—and everyone chatted in the bar and the Summit’s beautiful, fireplace-adorned lobby/lounge.

For the Bride, the evening ended rather early. There was sleep to be had (or at least a lot of tossing and turning) before the big day ahead.

The One-Man Band

On the Thursday before the wedding, after a big gathering at the Orlando house, Andrew, Molly, Ian, Katherine, Barbra, Chris, and I went to Lynn’s for a beer. It’s a great little place, but it doesn’t see a lot of new faces; every head turned when our group walked in, not losing much interest even when we were settled at a table. We ordered drinks and settled in to enjoy the night’s entertainment—a one-man band.

Ah, Connellsville. You never know what to expect when you visit a place like Lynn’s. In this case, it was a true spectacle: a man singing, playing guitar, and playing drums simultaneously, using his right hand to both strum the guitar and hold his drumstick. Ian began craning his neck, explaining later he was trying to identify the source of a cowbell. A wild-haired woman materialized at his ear. “You lookin’ for the cowbell?” she asked in a low voice. “Look at his foot.” Indeed, there it was.

Our bill was delivered; it was $14, for 7 beers. Our amazement at the low cost drew yet more attention to our table. Ian handed the waitress a tip; she shook her head, unwilling to take it. “Where are we—Europe?” Ian said.

Leaving Lynn’s later, we were halfway out the door when Andrew heard someone at the bar say, “Margo and Molly” in a quiet, sinister voice (perhaps I made the sinister part up). We didn’t look back to see who it was; but it made a fitting end to our night at Lynn’s.

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

The Final Week of Planning

Andrew and I returned to Pennsylvania on Saturday, October 27, to begin preparing for the big day. Foolishly, we thought we’d spend much of the time packing up our voluminous belongings that keep building in the attic to prepare for the big move West in the next couple of months; little did we know how much wedding work remained to be done. Really, for being more or less organized and staying more or less on top of things over the past few months, the sheer amount of things to do was staggering. Of course, a lot of the work was self-inflicted—like the multi-step process that went into assembling all the little details, including the escort cards, cookie name labels, guest hospitality bags, favors, ceremony programs. It took a small village, gathered around the kitchen table, to get it all done. But it was all worthwhile—things turned out beautifully.

My birthday fell amidst all the craziness; I was surprised anyone remembered it at all. Indeed, Andrew baked me a cake, seizing a rare minute when the oven wasn’t being used by Mom for cookies; and we went out to a celebratory dinner of wings at Lynn’s, a small neighborhood bar/restaurant.

As the week progressed, Connellsville began gaining visitors. Molly and Ian arrived; Barbra and Chris arrived; Andrew’s family arrived. There were carloads of things to bring to The Summit; there were deliveries to make; there were last-minute errands to run. And then, Friday morning, we were all on our way to The Summit, the rehearsal dinner only hours away—it was time for it all to begin.

Return to Real Life

So much to catch up on! It’s been a whirlwind two weeks, and now, back to real life, it’s hard to believe it’s all over—the planning, the wedding, the honeymoon. All of these months of details and ideas and errands led up to an absolutely perfect event. On to married life now. My husband (!!) and I are both back at work; and we’ll move this week to our new apartment. In the meantime, I’ll work on catching up on my blog…