Tuesday, March 31, 2009

California Apartment #3

Though we love the charm of our current apartment, readers of this blog know it falls short in two major areas: no central AC, and an abundance of mosquitoes thanks to ancient, inept screens. We suffered through these for one summer but cannot do it again—or, rather, I, the pregnant girl, cannot do it again. Fortunately, Andrew seems to be on the same page, even though all the box-lifting during our upcoming move will be on his shoulders this time.

Our requirements for our next California apartment are clear: central AC, a washer and drier (or hookups for them), good screens in the windows, and not next to a highway, in a complex that will send me into a Valley of the Dolls-style meltdown. This time around, we’re willing to sacrifice the charm in favor of conveniences and comfort we’ll probably appreciate with a newborn—we’ll get back to charm when we get back East.

We’ve begun our search. At first, we decided to expand our reach beyond Sacramento into suburbs like Natomas and Roseville, just to see what was out there, perhaps in a newer development. But our exploration of Natomas and Roseville came to a quick halt when we failed to find any apartments that didn’t look like prison cells. “Looks like a prison,” we kept remarking. “Prison-like.” “Like being in prison.” Natomas is the kind of place where there are no trees, lots of highways, and an abundance of shopping plazas—like an alien invasion of shopping plazas. (Natomas is where Andrew and I saw a man with a snake around his neck walking across a Wal-Mart parking lot.) Needless to say, we will not be moving there.

So we’re back to searching in Sacramento, as well as in the foothills—Auburn, Nevada City, Grass Valley. I’m actually leaning towards those at this point. They’re cute little towns, very quaint, with a satisfying small-town feeling; I can imagine having a nice summer and fall there, and, eventually, pushing a little stroller around the charming streets. We shall see.

Last night we drove around Sacramento, checking out a few listings, with little luck: almost all of them had window AC units, a sure sign that there’s no central AC. I ask you: how can these people live in the hottest city on earth without central AC? And how did so many people have their windows open last night—windows without screens? Aren’t they attacked by mosquitoes at 3am? Obviously Andrew and I are missing the required tolerances one must have to live here. And so our search—our specific-requirement search—begins.

Monday, March 30, 2009

Don't Forget the Rat Poison, Honey

Last night at Trader Joe’s, I spotted a discarded grocery list on the ground in the parking lot. On a cheery piece of notepaper, in bright red pen, were scrawled the following items in a feminine script:

GROUND TURKEY

RAT POISON

That was it. Ground turkey and rat poison. This is funny on so many levels, and alarming as well. Was this shopper planning to put the rat poison into the ground turkey and feed it to her husband or some other unlucky soul for dinner? Was this shopper planning to set out a few rat traps while preparing some wholesome turkey burgers? If there are rats in this shopper’s home, then why would she be cooking/eating on the premises at all? Wouldn’t she want to purchase something neater—say, a box of crackers—that she could eat while locked safely in her car, away from the rats?

Furthermore, if you have a rat problem, do you really need to make a list to remind yourself to buy rat poison? Isn’t that something that would be at the forefront of your mind as you set out on a shopping trip? Wouldn’t you be more prone to forget, say, ground turkey, than you would be to forget RAT POISON? Does Trader Joe’s even sell rat poison?

And where, pray tell, does this woman live? The Trader Joe’s is located in one of the nicest parts of Sacramento. Maybe Sacramento is just a little more citylike than we’d thought.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Send Me Away

I’m trying to convince Andrew to Send Me Away, to remove me from the curious public eye like they used to do for girls who got “in trouble”—a brief stay with an “aunt” somewhere just far enough away so that there would be no visitors and no rumors. I myself am not exactly “in trouble”—though when I see screaming children and over-burdened parents I sometimes wonder if I am—but still, I think this idea of being Sent Away makes a lot of sense. Now that I’m pregnant, I’d like to make a formal request to Andrew: that I be Sent Away to San Francisco.

I’m actually in San Francisco right now, riding on the coattails of Andrew’s nearly weeklong business trip. Why not tag along, with my ridiculous feed bag to stave off my alarming hunger? Why not tag along, with my laptop and my very portable work? Why not tag along, especially when we get to stay at the Intercontinental Mark Hopkins on Nob Hill, one of the city’s swankiest hotels?

Looking out our hotel room window now that the sun has gone down, I can see the (tasteful) white-neon sign for the Huntington Hotel seemingly hovering in midair in the darkness; not far from there are the gothic towers of Grace Cathedral, framing the gorgeous rose window lit up in green and blue. Lights are sparkling in the hills, and on the streets below. We just had a lovely dinner at the Nob Hill Café before Andrew rushed off to a poker tournament (which is actually a work thing for him)—a small Italian restaurant where we spotted several solo diners reading the newspaper as they quietly enjoyed their meals, something we saw frequently in NYC but haven’t seen at all—never, not even once—in Sacramento. If Andrew deigns to Send Me Away, I might eat there every day.

A friend was in Sacramento for a job interview yesterday. When he arrived, he was enthusiastic about the job, under the illusion that living in Northern California was a delirious dream of wineries and golf courses and exceptional food. But after he actually drove to the job location, in Folsom, a town not far from Sacramento, he returned defeated. “It’s suburbia on steroids,” he said. I’ve never been to Folsom, but I don’t need to go. I know exactly what it’s like, from the endless shopping plazas to the “premium outlets.” Really, Send Me Away, far away, from there.

I have work to do while I’m here, but if I choose to tomorrow I can slip out of my hotel for a walk, blending in with the crowds on the sidewalk, taking in more sights and sounds on one city block than I would in a week in Sacramento. I can hop on a trolley, or hail a taxi, or step into a corner store for a ginger ale if my sometimes indigesting stomach requires one. Maybe someone will ask me for directions; maybe I’ll pretend I know how to answer. Maybe I’ll sit in Huntington Park and look at Grace Cathedral and read a book while all the city-people walk their dogs and push their strollers around me.

And I’ll plan my exit, plot my escape, and figure out how to convince Andrew that the best thing for our future baby is that his/her mother should have six months of “rest” in San Francisco.

Nice Days

It’s a beautiful time to be in Northern California. There are so very few times of the year that I can actually say that—and these rare days and weeks are among those times. Last weekend, Rachael came to visit, and we took her up to Sonoma and Glen Ellen, where we spent the night at the Jack London Lodge and had dinner at The Fig Café—our favorite wine country weekend itinerary. It had been raining for much of the time preceding Rachael’s visit, and everything was lush and green. The grapevines are still barren, but the spaces between them are bright with yellow mustard plants in full bloom—driving through wine country, the hills are as much yellow as green. The California poppies are in bloom by the roadside (they’d be blooming on my terrace, too, if the squirrels hadn’t eaten them down to the roots).

A visit to Beth and Nate in Napa finished off our weekend. And a stomach virus began the week for me and Rach. Nonetheless, we managed to visit the Crocker Art Museum and Sutter’s Fort in between exhausted collapses on the couch. It was in the seventies while she was here.

It’s sunny but chilly now, a brief return to “winter.” I dread the approaching summer. We had two mosquitoes in our room last night, sucking the blood from our hands and arms before buzzing into our ears and sending us on a hunt at 2am. Summer is lurking.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Normal Life

A more responsible blogger would have found something—anything—to blog about over the past week of so, but I’ve been lax. We’ve been shopping at Ikea, eating Mexican food, ordering Domino’s, paying taxes. We’ve been watching L’Auberge Espanol (and I now agree that it was wise for Andrew to forbid me from seeing this movie until our long-distance relationship was over—I still shot him death stares throughout). We’ve been playing Scrabble, and cooking baked ziti. We’ve been replanting a plant for Andrew’s office, adding to our wine collection, sweeping up dust bunnies. We’ve been buying ten-pound bags of oranges at the farmer’s market for $4. We’ve been grocery shopping and buying an emergency 9x13 pan at Target (how did we get through a shower and wedding with every size but the one we most needed?). We’ve been ordering books online and baking chocolate chip cookies (well, Andrew’s been baking).

Normal, busy life stuff. More interesting things to report soon, I hope.

Tuesday, March 03, 2009

The Rainy Season

During the long, hot, dry, fire-infested months of summer here in Sacramento, it’s hard to believe that rain has ever fallen—and, indeed, will someday fall again. But here we are in the rainy season, with steady downpours from mid-morning through the evening. Everything is lush and green; as we drove to San Francisco this weekend, we marveled at the verdant green hills, the vibrant farmland. In just a few months, those hills and that farmland will be a parched golden brown, and instead of skies gray with clouds we’ll have skies full of ash and smoke from wild fires.

For now, though, I’ll enjoy the sound of rain on the rooftops and sidewalks, the cozy feeling of security that comes from being warm and dry, out of the elements. It’s not a snowstorm, alas, at least not here—but snow is falling in the mountains, and perhaps this will be the weekend we finally get up to enjoy Lake Tahoe in winter. We shall see.

Monday, March 02, 2009

Swan Lake and a Search for Kapibaras

What a lovely weekend we had in San Francisco. We drove down Saturday morning and immediately had lunch at Taylor’s Automatic Refresher in the Ferry Building, which means we’ve now been to all three Taylor’s Automatic outposts. Our burgers and chili cheese fries fueled our trek to our hotel (not really a trek, since we took a trolley), the Huntingdon Nob Hill—a luxurious place where we had an enormous room, turndown service, and the use of the very nice spa. Thanks, Hotwire. Thanks, Andrew’s uncanny ability to sleuth out what the Hotwire hotel listings actually are.

Though we were hankering for a swim, we went to Japantown first—I was and am on a quest for more kapibaras, the extremely kawaii hedgehog/mole-like creatures I found in Japan, a quest that was, unfortunately, unsuccessful. The heart of Japantown is the Japan Center, a shopping complex full of Japanese restaurants and stores selling Japanese crafts and goods. One of the stores is as close to a 100-yen store as I think it’s possible to get outside of Japan. I purchased two new kawaii erasers to add to my collection: a sea lion and a basket of steamed buns. We’ll go back sometime for some shabu-shabu.

We did sneak in a swim after that, in the spa’s beautiful pool, before getting dressed for dinner and the ballet. After eating some good, quick food at Thai House Express, it felt wonderful to join the extremely dressed-up crowds as we made our way to the opera house. We had tickets to Swan Lake, which neither Andrew nor I had ever seen, and it was excellent—we especially loved the dances with the whole ensemble of thirty tutu-clad swans. We enjoyed it immensely.

We spent Sunday morning at the spa, swimming then eating fruit and reading the newspaper by the fireplace by the pool. Then we walked in the rain to brunch at the home of our friends Fabrice and Teresa, who have an adorable new six-week-old daughter. Reluctantly, we then headed back for the train and then on towards home.

It’s always hard to come back here after a weekend in such a great city, but our feelings are complicated by our growing fixation on just how cheap it is to live in Sacramento. Our rent is a third of what we’d pay in SF; and, other than our weekends away, groceries, and occasional dinners out, we spend almost nothing. It’s such a slippery slope—the gnashing of teeth of hating to live outside of a big city slowly gives way to the realization that if one year stretches to two or even three, we could have enough money saved to afford almost any house we want when we do move back East. (Well, not those houses on the Times website. But other nice houses.) There are so many tradeoffs, though. Our rent is a third of SF but we don’t have a bustling city outside our doorstep. All we have outside our doorstep are the annoying piles of yard trash by the curb that take up all the parking spaces. And squirrels that eat all my plants. But the cost of living…the cost of living…That’s the thing to focus on.