Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Tuesday Twitters

I can’t believe tomorrow is October

There are two small squirrels in the tree today, different ones from yesterday, I think

A bit of squirrel-tail fluff drifted onto the table this afternoon as I sat there

Gym tonight

Will CBS, as rumored, release more juicy Sarah Palin clips?

Early voting has begun in some states

Just read a few articles about self-diagnosis/Googling symptoms in the Times and feel compelled to Google something, like “delt pain”

I wish my New Yorker came at the beginning of the week

Last night we had pasta with sausage, zucchini, and cherry tomatoes for dinner

Perhaps I’ll make a tomato tarte tatin tonight, a recipe from last weeks NYT

But that involves another trip to the grocery store

It was in the high-80s today

Andrew, alarmed, reported last night that a few drops of something wet had fallen from the sky onto his windshield as he drove home; what could that be?

I think I’ve checked my regular roster of political/news websites about ten times each today

That’s ridiculous

You'd Better Not Bake Cookies

Several weeks ago, Andrew idly suggested he make a batch of his delicious chocolate chip cookies. It didn’t happen. The next day, I asked if he’d like to make cookies; again, it didn’t happen. Day after day for the rest of that week, he’d arrive home from work and I’d ask, my eyes filled with hope, if today was the day for cookies. And yet no cookies were made.

Shrewdly, I revised my strategy. “I hope you’re not planning to make cookies tonight,” I said loudly one day. In the days that followed, I intensified the strategy. “The last thing I want you to do tonight is make those cookies,” I’d say. If Andrew would begin a sentence with, “You know what we should do?” I’d sigh in aggravation, roll my eyes, and say, “You better not say ‘bake cookies.’ I hate cookies.”

This has continued for nearly a month.

Last night, after watching some CNN and pulling out our hair for a while, Andrew said, “Tonight’s the night. I’m making cookies. Should I bake them tonight or let the dough rest till tomorrow?”

“Whatever,” I scoffed. “I’m not going to eat them either way.”

“I’m not falling for your Jedi mind tricks,” he said. This is how he simplifies my complex reverse psychology method, which I think I must have learned during college in my very valuable, very difficult, Psychology courses. (Non-college acquaintances of mind might miss the sarcasm in that statement, but trust me, it’s there.)

Andrew did indeed make the cookies last night, baking one tray and saving the rest of the dough for today. They were delicious. If you like cookies, I mean. I hope he doesn’t try to make another fruit crisp anytime soon. (Andrew, are you reading this?) I hate those. Maybe even more than I hate cookies.

Monday, September 29, 2008

Monday Twitters

I just watched a squirrel take a nap in a tree

Before he fell asleep, he was leaping from branch to branch with another squirrel

Squirrels are really cute and have human-like paws

I just inhaled a bowl of pistachios

Once again, it’s warm outside, though not as bad as this weekend

Every day I search obsessively for news about Sarah Palin

We bought a bag of plums at the farmer’s market that seem to be a bit hard

Last night we had crackers, cheese, spinach dip, and pears instead of an actual dinner

When I typed that last sentence I capitalized “spinach”—weird

I’m mildly obsessed with Mojidoku puzzles

Andrew found three mosquitoes in the bathroom yesterday

There were two full pages of articles about Barcelona in Saturday’s Financial Times. Very annoying.

This afternoon I called Andrew to report that the Dow had fallen 400 points, then realized I had little idea what that actually meant

Now it’s fallen 700

I heard rumors of a bank run

Perhaps I’ll make a bank run

My shoulders are sore from yoga yesterday

Sonoma, Shopping, and an Endless Countdown

It’s hot again. High-90s, not a hint of the famed “Delta breeze” (but is there ever?). To escape our quickly heating-up apartment Saturday we joined Beth and Nate and the babies for lunch in Sonoma. It wasn’t much cooler there; usually wine country tends to be a bit more bearable. Nonetheless, we had lunch at a Mexican restaurant just off the main plaza, then wandered around for a bit. There was a wine-tasting festival going on, with a band, and lots of veteran tasters walking around with wine glasses in hand, and the requisite peppering of aging hippies, one walking a large parrot.

While Beth and Nate did a little shopping in a kids’ store, they challenged us to keep an eye on baby Henry. After about three minutes of cleaning up a variety of things tossed in his (adorable) wake and chasing him up and down a small ramp and etc., Andrew and I were exhausted. I’m pretty sure Beth and Nate were secretly laughing.

On the way home, Andrew and I stopped at The Outlets to begin our shopping for Japan. We had some success—we got a few things at J. Crew, and we both got shoes. I discovered it’s a lot easier for men to find stylish, comfortable, slip-on shoes that are good for walking than it is for women. (Slip-on is a requirement for Japan, we’ve read, to ease the following of shoes on/shoes off customs.) Most of the selections for women resembled an unappetizing blend of slipper, moccasin, clog, and the kind of loafer I remember wearing in grade school. But I found a pair I think will work. They’re not the most stylish shoes I’ve ever owned, but they’ll suffice.

Yesterday we spent some time planning the trip itself, beyond the confines of our suitcases; and I think we’re now ready to take the next big step of booking hotels and train tickets. Somehow there are still eight weeks to go: every time I try to do a countdown, it’s eight weeks. It was eight weeks two weeks ago. This same frustrating phenomenon happened when I was moving to Spain, too—that tricky, tricky calendar.

Friday, September 26, 2008

Friday Twitters

Yay, the weekend

Big surprise: McCain will be in the debate tonight

Watching Palin speak is painful

I’ve never seen anyone so skilled at butchering the English language—and that’s after 8 years of Bush

Prepositions, subordinate clauses, and restrictive phrases, oh my

Andrew and I went to our favorite pizza place, Zelda’s, for dinner last night

Andrew took baked ziti to work today for lunch

I had leftover Zelda’s for lunch

Very glad The Office has started up again

It’s quite hot here today

Andrew had a dentist appointment this morning

I have a few mosquito bites

A bird is screeching outside the window

Maybe I’ll go to the gym tonight

I need a drink of water

Just got up and drank some water

My California poppies seem to be growing again, after being parched and dead

Where’s my new New Yorker???

Watching spoofs of Sarah Palin is becoming an obsession

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Thursday Twitters

It was 98 degrees here yesterday afternoon, and 55 degrees last night

The thought of Sarah Palin in NYC actually makes my skin crawl

Unazukin believes Obama will win the election

Maybe I’ll get a neck tattoo of Spanish moss

Andrew and I might go apple-picking soon

This weekend we’ll try to book Japan hotels

Our trash is a bio-hazard. Ick.

I had a bowl of cereal and an avocado for lunch to avoid baked ziti

Last night for dinner I had crackers, cheese, figs, and a bowl of apple crisp with ice cream…to avoid baked ziti

The neck of my t-shirt is strangling me

When I opened the paper this morning I found a moth

I took the moth outside

Tonight is the premier of The Office

Last night Andrew and I watched reruns of The Office, including the one where Michael is going to Sandals in Jamaica and says he’s never been out of the country before

Sarah Palin seems like she could be a character on The Office

“I can see Russia from Alaska” seems like a line straight out of The Office

I can see West Virginia from Farmington

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Wednesday Twitters

Tomorrow is the season premiere of The Office

A mariachi band was just playing for a while at the park down the street

Baked ziti meal count: three. Approximately seven to go. Andrew has his third business dinner in a row tonight so I’m on my own with this.

My shoulders are stiff

I'm tired of baked ziti

Watching CNN last night kind of gave me a panic attack

Our Mourning Doves seem to have abandoned us for greener pastures

A squirrel was watching me from a tree branch yesterday

Two Kyoto books we ordered from Amazon have arrived

I think I’ll go to the gym tonight

I wonder if I should wear pants or shorts to work out later

There were a few mosquitoes in our apartment yesterday; one bit Andrew

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Tuesday Twitters

The backs of my knees hurt

I wonder if the Mourning Doves are back

Yesterday there was only one Dove—I’m afraid the other was eaten by a cat

My neck is kind of stiff

Thinking about the debates on Friday makes me kind of jittery and sick

Thinking about Palin meeting world leaders in NYC today makes me even more sick, not to mention embarrassed

I think I’d like to extend our Japan trip from two weeks to one year

I really love that red pen I was just using

Should I put in my contacts?

I can’t believe how many dishes I used last night making baked ziti

There won’t be enough milk for my cereal tomorrow

There are crumbs on the table

Should I have leftover baked ziti or leftover gazpacho for lunch?

Monday, September 22, 2008

Goodbye, Yankee Stadium

Last night was the last game at the existing Yankee stadium, which was somehow sad even for a quasi-baseball fan like me. Andrew, of course, has no love lost for the Yankees, but that was the team he got to see most often when we lived in NYC; he had season tickets, went to countless games. And it was at that stadium that our relationship actually began—so I’ll miss it there, despite the fact that my game-going consisted more of people-watching than game-watching.

Andrew took me to a Yankees game—my first MLB game ever—several months before we started dating. I don’t remember exactly, but I think it was a weekend, and I think we met up at the stadium—somehow finding each other in the crowd. Andrew introduced me to his baseball-game rituals—beer, peanuts—and explained the game now and then. I remember being floored by the vast size of the ballpark—the population of more than five Connellsvilles could fit inside. Afterwards, we hugged goodbye at the entrance to the subway, as I headed back to my apartment in Harlem, and he headed back to Brooklyn.

We’ve been to many baseball games since then, in all different places on two different coasts; but I’ll always remember that particular Yankee ballpark as playing a small role in bringing us together.

Friday, September 19, 2008

Mourning Doves

For the past couple of weeks, a pair of Mourning Doves has been visiting our terrace and the tree that hovers in front of it. I first noticed one of the doves sitting peacefully on the railing; it stayed there for a large part of one afternoon, flying away only when I inched a bit too close as I was watering my plants. After a few days I noticed it on a tree branch nearby; eventually, it was joined by another dove. Those two have been together, and usually well within sight, all week. They sit very close together on the terrace, or in the leaf-padded gutter, or in the tree; they’re never apart. They are quite beautiful, and seem so content just to sit together for hours in front of my crispy, dead plants.

One of them seems a bit rounder than the others; I’ve looked for a nest but haven’t yet found one.

Last night, I dreamed about the birds. They were sitting on the terrace with their backs to me, and they were very large—like the size of small dogs. One was a bright red cardinal. The other was a bright yellow finch of some sort, very fat and squat. I can’t help but see these doves as auspicious somehow—as though this happy pair was somehow drawn to our own quite happy home.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Reading List

Our trip to Japan is coming up in just 8 weeks. There’s still lots of time to make plans, etc., but it’s also time to start figuring out just how we’re going to structure this trip, start booking hotels and train tickets, and basically start getting our trip in order. I don’t think Japan is the place to make plans on the fly, calling hotels from the side of the road as we decide at the last minute what town to stay in overnight. This was easy enough to do in Spain, with Andrew’s language skills; not so easy, I’d imagine, in Japan.

Along with studying guidebooks, we’ve begun reading books that are either set in Japan or written by Japanese authors. David Sedaris’s new book, If You Are Engulfed in Flames, was a good place to start—much of his quitting-smoking section takes place in Japan. I read a couple of light mysteries set in Japan, by a writer named Sujata Massey. Yesterday I finished a memoir, Learning to Bow, by Bruce Feiler, writing about his year spent teaching in rural Japan. I’ve just started Untangling My Chopsticks, a memoir about learning the art of tea kaiseki in Kyoto, by Victoria Abbott Riccardi. I read Banana Yoshimoto’s Kitchen, which I liked; but couldn’t make it all the way through Amrita. I have books lined up by Laura Joh Rowland, Nakano Makiko, and Junichiro Tanizaki. If I’m in a dark enough mood I could revisit some Kenzaburo Oe.

Of course I’m interested in quality literature…but I’m actually more interested right now in getting glimpses of what makes up life in Japan—details about dining etiquette, the procedures of bathing in an onsen, the repertoire of greeting and bowing, arriving and departing. I know I’ll see all of this first-hand in just two months, but reading these books is a way to calm my impatience a little. I cannot wait to get there!

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Toothbrush, Toothpaste, New York Clothes

Living next door to us are a few elderly women who seem to have some sort of assisted-living arrangement. Don’t get me wrong—these aren’t frail old ladies with walking sticks. These are the women who called me to complain about the parking barriers I’d rented in January to save space for our ReloCube; these are the women who, we realized one Saturday afternoon, were roasting some kind of whole, large animal on a spit in their backyard.

One of the women tends to talk extremely loudly on the phone while sitting on their back deck, which is just outside of our bedroom window. I heard her yesterday, yelling. “WELL, DON’T FORGET YOUR NEW YORK CLOTHES,” she shouted. “NEW YORK CLOTHES DON’T WORK HERE, AND CLOTHES FROM HERE DON’T WORK IN NEW YORK. DON’T FORGET THEM. JUST DON’T FORGET YOUR NEW YORK CLOTHES.”

Words to live by, certainly. Don’t forget your New York Clothes. (Sacramentan men, in particular, should leave behind their Hawaiian-style shirts printed with beer bottles and the phrase “It’s 5 o’clock somewhere!”) I love the idea that the person on the other end of this phone call has a particular set of clothes he/she wears only on trips to New York--someone whose packing list might read "Toothbrush, wallet, New York Clothes."

Saturday, September 13, 2008

A Blizzard of Banality

So many of today’s technological communications methods (“texting,” “IM-ing,” leaving comments on people’s “walls” on Facebook) seem irrelevant to my life. Such a statement dates me, and ages me, and reveals that there was actually a point in my adult life when I rolled my eyes and said “Email? Why would I ever use that?” That point was freshman year of college. How far I’ve come.

This dinosaur, email, serves every one of my communication needs. Yes, I occasionally send a text message, but maybe once a month at most. My point is this: I am not planning to begin Twittering anytime soon.

Twitter, as I understand it, is a way to send updates about your every thought and action to a large group of people who have elected to “follow” you. These missives must be 140 characters or fewer. Dedicated Twitterers might send out dozens of updates a day. The missives have practical uses—if you report that you’re at a certain bar, then all your friends will immediately find out and come and meet you—but mostly they’re kind of like mini-blog posts.

Were I still living in Spain, or even in New York, I might have been tempted. But now? Thinking about this over the past couple of days, I can imagine what my Twitters would have been like:

“Just spent four hours working at my computer and my eyes really hurt.”

“I’m heading over to look out the kitchen window now to see what that noise was.”

“Just checked the New York Times website to see if Sarah Palin’s withdrawn from the race.”

“I just turned down the fan because it was drying out my contacts.”

“Just Googled ‘Sarah Palin withdraw McCain.’”

“Going down to see if the mail’s come yet.”

“That peach from the farmer’s market was bruised, but good.”

“The Venetian mask in the bedroom is really scaring me.”

“I wish I had a garbage disposal.”

Still with me? It would be a blizzard of banality. I haven’t “followed” any Twitterers myself, so perhaps I don’t really have the concept down. For now, I will spare you all, and myself, these numbingly dull haikus. Actually, if they were haikus they’d probably be kind of fun:

“The Venetian mask in the bedroom
seems to be staring
right at me.”

“Those dishes in the sink
have to be washed by someone:
maybe Andrew.

Friday, September 12, 2008

A Year Ago...Oh.

Last night, over dinner, Andrew remarked that when we think back to what we were doing a year ago, we’ve now reached the point that we’re thinking back to California. Until June, thinking about what we were doing a year ago was pretty painful, since we were usually doing something ridiculously fabulous: journeying to Madrid, or having a seafood lunch somewhere on the Costa Brava, or taking a road trip through Basque country, or swimming at a Barcelona beach, or drinking one-euro wine on our terrace with La Pedrera just out of sight around the corner. We’d always recount those “year ago” observations while doing something not-so-fabulous, like sitting in traffic or waiting at the Laundromat or passing out from the heat, and it was enough to bring about a difficult-to-shake malaise.

Now, however, when we think back to a year ago, we admit that we have it pretty good: after all, a year ago, we were still in the studio apartment Citrus Heights. We may have had an air mattress and a chair by then; I’m not sure. Oh, how far we’ve come.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Now I'm Am Cookin'

Andrew and I found these books on the discount racks at Borders in San Francisco. They were produced in Prague, Germany, and the Netherlands, and, along the way, a little error seemed to have slipped through. Six times. I couldn't not help but take these pictures.

Monday, September 08, 2008

Making It Home

This weekend, Andrew and I went to San Francisco overnight, which is one of my very favorite things to do. We drove down Saturday morning and headed immediately to the de Young museum to see an exhibition of works by Dale Chihuly, glass-blower and sculptor extraordinaire. It was an amazing show—I especially loved his Ikebana series, not least because I’ve got Japan on the brain lately, what with our swiftly approaching trip. Chihuly makes glass look as fluid and malleable as clay, though the documentary being screened at the end of the exhibition revealed the work to be less delicate and more physically arduous than one might expect. It took two men (in full-body, heat-resistant garb that looked like silver beekeeping suits) to lift some of the larger spheres. I’ve definitely been inspired—though setting up a glass-blowing studio might be a bit difficult in our apartment, what with the need for a large, white-hot oven and all.

The exhibition was one of two reasons we had for visiting SF this weekend, the second being a Pirates/Giants game on Sunday with Beth and Nate and the babies. (They’re always an inspiration to us—they make it look downright easy to take a weekend trip with two one-year-olds.) We had dinner in the city; and once the babies and their parents headed off to bed, Andrew and I had a drink at the bar on the top floor of our hotel, overlooking the sparkling city. Long days spent in Sacramento sometimes make me forget how different a city makes me feel—and being back in one is like waking up from a nap. A bit startling, but then the realization—hey, I’m back in the world! I don't know if it's the comfortable familiarity of being surrounded by towering buildings and crowds, or the comforting certainty of being surrounded by like-minded people in a time when the entire country seems to have gone off its rocker, but it was definitely nice to be back in a big city.

The game on Sunday didn’t end well for the Pirates, but I’ll never, ever complain about sitting outside for a few hours and not turning into a rotisserie chicken.

Sunday afternoon proved to be an "adventure" for me: Andrew had to fly from SF to NYC for a business trip, so getting back to Sacramento was up to me. The challenge was two-fold: first, take the BART to Walnut Creek, where we’d parked the car; then drive home to Sacramento from there. Andrew wrote out directions for me, he went with me to the BART station to make sure I got on the right train, and we reviewed the directions up to the moment I left. I made it home without incident, surprising both of us. "Oh, thank goodness," Andrew said from the airport when I called to report I had made it to the apartment.

I recount this unexciting story because it is ridiculous. SF is one and a half hours away from Sacramento. I had to get on one and only one train. All the road signs are, obviously, in English. So why, why, was this such a challenge for me, such a white-knuckled journey? It’s mystifying, and frustrating. I've navigated the often unwieldy NYC subway on a daily basis! I've traveled to pretty far-flung places by myself—Iceland! Poland! Ireland! Scotland! I've made my way from NYC to Iceland despite a cancelled flight and an unexpected rerouting through London. I've forewent the easy tour-bus way of getting to Polish tourist attractions and braved Polish public buses, where not one sign was in English, let alone a familiar alphabet. I've made my way from Galway to Edinburgh to Barcelona without a hitch, using a staggering array of trains and buses and single-leg flights. I've voluntarily stranded myself overnight in Amsterdam and managed to get home in one piece.

So why on earth can’t I make an easy drive, straight down one highway, in my own car? It’s like the independent traveler and adventurer in me decided to skip town once I hit California soil. Maybe it’s because I got married, and now happily yield the driving and navigation tasks to Andrew. Maybe it’s because I went for eight years without driving regularly, though now that we’ve been here a year, that excuse is becoming a bit flimsy. Maybe my resistance to living in CA is carrying over into other areas as well. Who knows? What I do know is that I am ready for a journey like this to stop seeming like such an accomplishment. I’ve done far more difficult things in my life. Managing to stay on one highway and make it to my front door without calling Andrew in tears from a gas station is not one of them.

Goodbye, SacLights

It looks like my days of being a paid blogger have come to an end: As of the end of this month, SacLights.com will no longer be in existence, and my final blog post for the site was last Friday. But blogging three times a week is a habit I’ll try to keep—it’s time to return my attention to much-neglected Skipping Town. More to come…

Wednesday, September 03, 2008

Finding Fall

Our mission for Labor Day weekend was clear: spend two days by the water, relax, read, and avoid the sight, sound, and chatter about Sarah Palin. And so we were soon blissfully ensconced in one of our favorite places in/near Northern California: at the Cal Neva Resort in North Lake Tahoe.

Andrew and I stayed here last year around this same time, but this time was even better. We had a “terrace room” set apart from the main hotel, with our own little deck and a lovely view of the lake. We felt separated from the world.

The Cal Neva, indeed, is its own little world, one of those funny places you find in Nevada where you have to walk through a casino to get to the restroom or the elevator. There’s a small-ish casino on the ground floor of the Cal Neva, along with a restaurant and a bar; there are large chandeliers made from deer antlers, and a “circle bar” overhung with ornate stained-glass light fixture. The Cal Neva opened in 1926, and it was owned by Frank Sinatra in the 1950s—when it was a haven for Marilyn Monroe and the Mafia. It straddles the California/Nevada border (hence its name), and there’s a line down the middle of the ballroom and through the swimming pool that marks where the states divide.

For $8 you can take a tour that shows you the complex of secret tunnels where Sinatra used to squirrel his Mafia patrons to safety if the police happened to arrive—as well as a secret tunnel connecting two small cabins on the resort’s grounds…the cabins that were once the regular haunts of Marilyn and JFK.

I say “haunt” deliberately, because the Cal Neva has ghosts to spare. Marilyn sightings have occurred in the tunnels and in the cabin where she used to stay; and though I haven’t seen her for myself, I do get a very strong sense of ghostliness in the lodge and on the grounds. There’s a little run-of-the-mill casino sleaziness at the Cal Neva, but not too much; the atmosphere is more relaxing and laid-back than that.

It was the perfect place to stay for a couple of nights, and we spent our time hanging out on the sand by the lake at King’s Beach and Sand Harbor, reading books (not newspapers). It was cool and windy—in the high 60s—and being up there among the Ponderosa pines, wrapped up in a sweater, made it seem like fall was really on its way.