Thursday, April 30, 2009

The Volvo Clause

Who knew our Volvo would open so many doors for us? We always feel an surge of affection when we happen to park next to a similarly well-worn Volvo in a parking lot, or drive past one on the road. And now we’re convinced our car is what ultimately led our new landlord to accept us over other potential tenants. When we first got the lease, the landlord asserted that he couldn’t wait to introduce us to another couple who rent another of his properties nearby. “I think you’ll get along great,” he said. “They have a Volvo.” And last night at the house, our landlord let it slip that he once owned 6 Volvos (old ones, not new ones) at one time. I’m not sure why—I came into the conversation late—but all I know is that we probably shouldn’t get rid of our car for the duration of our lease. I didn’t look at it too closely; but I wonder now if there’s some sort of Volvo-requirement clause.

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Spring Bounty

The farmer’s market is starting to feature some of the first vestiges of summer. We’ve seen strawberries there for a couple of weeks now, but now there are even more strawberries, and even the first few tomatoes. Artichokes and asparagus are in full display. We took some pictures there on Sunday; and Monday night, I made some stuffed artichokes that turned out, if I do say so myself, splendidly. Enjoy some of California’s spring bounty:

Some paper-wrapped flowers

Fresh asparagus

Selecting a giant head of lettuce

Excited about making the first fresh pesto of the season

My masterpiece

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Last Weekend in Sacramento

It should feel more satisfying to write the words that form the title of this post; but alas, it is our last weekend here only because we are moving twenty minutes away to Roseville. The day I write “last weekend” and mean it in the sense we all wish I did just might be a day I write two simple words for the post: THANK GOD.

In the meantime, we enjoyed our “last weekend in Sacramento” in one of our favorite ways: getting the heck out of Sacramento, with a nice Saturday visit to Beth and Nate and the babies in Napa. The babies didn’t cry when they saw me and Andrew this time, which I think is a first. Perhaps they could sense my imminent motherly-ness and were somewhat less terrified of us than they usually are. Andrew was also wearnig his "butter" pants from J. Crew (they're not made of butter; they're butter-colored). It's hard to have an adverse reaction to someone wearing butter pants, unless that reaction is dirisive laughter. That's another story. No, really, I love the pants. Really.

After our usual morning trip to the farmer’s market (artichokes and asparagus are in season—spring bounty), we spent Sunday moving stuff to Roseville. I’ve made an interesting discovery: the most-difficult-to-move thing we own is our cake stand. It is large, delicate, impossible to wrap and pack—almost impossible even to wash and store. I carried it on my lap during one of our drives to the house. I’m not sure how it’ll ever make it back East. We’re making progress, moving methodically through each room as we pack up that day’s boxes and bags. It is certainly less chaotic to pack a little at a time, “casually” packing things in cloth bags rather than wrapping everything in a million boxes. It’s too soon to make a final call, but this might be our easiest move yet. If it gets to be 100 degrees here again this week, then I will be revising that statement.

Friday, April 24, 2009

Where Even Sacramentans Refuse to Tread

To us, moving to Roseville isn’t really that much of a shift from where we are. It’s suburbia through and through, but for us, when it comes to choosing between Roseville and Sacramento, it’s six of one. (More to the point, it’s all NorCal.) To hear Sacramentans talk about it, though, you’d think we were moving from a brownstone on the Upper West Side to an apartment complex next to The Outlets in Vacaville.

Roseville?” said our downstairs neighbor when we told her we were moving. “The suburbs?” She gave us a confused, pitying look while nodding and pretending to go along with our reasoning (reasoning that consists of two things: big, cheap house and baby on the way).

“You’re moving to Roseville?” said another of our neighbors. “We’re having a baby,” we reminded her. “We need space.” “Well, that's going to be...a change,” she said.

Yesterday, at the eye doctor, I mentioned our move, and the doctor pushed his rolling chair back in undisguised horror. “Roseville? The suburbs? You’re going to hate it there!” he said bluntly. I know we are, I said. I know. But we found a big house. We’re having a baby. And did I mention the redwoods in the yard, and the central AC?

So it seems we’re heading off to the no-man’s-land of no-man’s-land, the place at which even Sacramentans turn up their noses. But I’m having a hard time taking this too much to heart. It’s the right decision for us, for now, and, more importantly, it’s not forever. What none of these people realize is that no matter where we are out here, whether it’s P Street or Roseville or where-the-hell-ever, our eye remains firmly fixed on the prize: the day when we load up our Volvo with our baby, the satisfaction of our low-cost-of-living savings, and what remains of our belongings and drive away at top speed, cheering and crying with joy, without looking back.

Until that day, we might as well have space to breathe in. We might as well have redwoods in the yard.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

The Joys of Moving

Ah, the joys of moving. Of packing one’s belongings in endless boxes, hauling those boxes down stairs and into trucks, piling those boxes in one’s new home, searching for places to put everything that once had a home, collapsing boxes, carting empty boxes to the trash. What fun.

We’re easing into this move in what we hope is a calm, organized manner. Rather than choose one mammoth, exhausting moving day, we’ve decided to do this move over a two-week period—our leases overlap somewhat, and our new landlord has been nice enough to invite us to start moving our things into the house even before our lease actually begins. Each night, Andrew and I pack up a few boxes, which Andrew then delivers to the new house during his lunch hour. So far, we’ve almost finished the living room, which contained the bulk of our books. We’re moving into the dining room now. We’ve hired two guys with a truck to move our furniture out next weekend.

Moving is chaotic no matter how organized one tries to be. But I’m really hoping this will be easier than our last couple of moves. A summary:

My move from NYC to Barcelona: Besides a major purging, this move involved U-Hauling all my remaining stuff to Connellsville, carrying it up three flights of stairs to the attic, then repacking select items to take to Spain.

Moving from Barcelona to the U.S.: A major purge, and ten—yes, ten—oversize and overweight bags, with two international connections to get us home. Not to mention the several large bags we forced on the Littells when they came for Andrew’s graduation. The bags that didn’t journey to Jacksonville subsequently went, yes, into my parents’ attic.

Moving to CA, Part I: We moved with almost nothing, and lived with no furniture. The furniture we had in our hideous studio apartment in Citrus Heights was stuff we found on the street on trash day.

Moving to CA, Part II: When we finally moved to a new apartment, we had no furniture. We had to buy everything, from a bed to a couch to a desk, coffee table, bookshelves, and etc etc. Since most of those items were purchased from Ikea, we not only had to get everything home—we then had to put it all together.

Moving to CA, Part III: When it was time to bring out all my stuff from Connellsville, the move involved a snowy day of packing up a ReloCube in Connellsville, carrying all those boxes of books down from the attic. When the ReloCube arrived in CA, we were still improvising furniture-wise to some extent and had to buy (and assemble) still more furniture to house all the newly arrived things.

Sigh. It’s exhausting to remember it all. Compared to those moves, this one does seem a bit simpler: we move the things we already own from one place to another, then replace them on the furniture we already have, furniture that is already assembled and ready to go. Will it be easy? No move is easy. But it might just be a little less mind-boggling than those that have come before.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Freudian Slip

I was just on the phone, lining up a mover for our big move to Roseville. When he asked where I was moving from, I said, "We live in Midtown Manhattan." It took me a moment to realize my mistake, and then I stammered, "I mean, Midtown Sacramento. Ha, ha. I wish." But I don't actually wish I were moving from Manhattan to Roseville--that would be even more depressing than moving from Sacramento to Roseville. What a funny little slip. But I did line up the movers.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

High Summer in April

Yesterday, it was in the 90s here. Today, it is in the 90s here. Last night, we slept with the AC on in our bedroom. When we turned it off in the middle of the night, a mosquito soon woke us, and a hunt began. Andrew loaded a few boxes in the car this morning and almost melted. I’ve put anything that could possibly get moldy in the refrigerator. Our trash rots as soon as anything is thrown away. It is stiflingly, horribly hot. And it’s April. Welcome to the early summer of NorCal.

We are moving to our central-AC’d home in 12 days. That move cannot come fast enough. I find it funny now that when we were apartment-hunting, we paid close attention to where I’d be able to walk in the neighborhood—forgetting that in the high heat of a NorCal summer, the only walking I’ll be doing is from one AC’d room to another.

Monday, April 20, 2009

Friday Night in San Francisco

Our weekend in San Francisco with Andrew’s dad started off on an exciting note for me: with a sighting of the San Francisco Twins. Friday night, Andrew and his dad headed off to a Giants game, and I took myself to dinner at my favorite restaurant in SF, the Nob Hill Café. (Last time I was in SF, Andrew and I ate there three times.) I was sitting at a small table, engrossed in my gnocchi and a book, when I heard some slight commotion to my left. When I looked up, I saw them: the San Francisco Twins, two tables away, happily posing for pictures.

The SF Twins, aka Marian and Vivian Brown, are 82-year-old twin sisters who live in the Nob Hill neighborhood; they’re famous in San Francisco for their jaunty identical getups. A quick Wikipedia search has informed me that they eat every meal together, have dressed identically their entire lives except for a brief time in their twenties, and have won prizes as “most identical” at international twin conventions. When I saw them on Friday, they were wearing leopard-spotted cowboy hats, red blazers with large sparkly star brooches on the right side, black skirts, and black sandals. Over the backs of their chairs were leopard-spotted coats. They clearly loved the attention they received from well-wishers and picture-takers. And they were clearly regulars—Beth and Nate saw them at the restaurant last time they were in SF, and I overheard the waitress say to one sister when her food arrived, holding her pepper-grinder at the ready, “One twist?”

Happy with my meal and with my sighting of the iconic SF sisters, I next headed to a small corner store to buy a bottle of water. As I selected my water, I overheard a brawny man talking loudly to the salesclerk. “Can I walk outside and pick vegetables for my meal? Can I go five minutes and slaughter my own lambs and pigs? No. And that’s why I don’t live in San Francisco.” I approached the counter as he went on to explain that he was in SF for a few days to help his buddy throw out a roommate. “The guy’s crazy,” he said. “This guy, Martin—absolutely nuts. My buddy needed backup.”

At the mention of “Martin,” the salesclerk began gesturing animatedly. “Martin?! Martin, from this neighborhood? He crazy! He really crazy! He come in here last week and he was all”—she gestured crazily to indicate a crazy person—“stressed out!”

I paid for my water and said “Good luck” to the man as I left. “Thanks, Sweetie,” he said.

Even happier now with my good meal, my SF Twins sighting, and this strange overheard conversation, I walked to Huntington Park as the sun went down. On the edge of the fountain in the center of the park, a man was trying to do a headstand. He was barefoot. A barefoot friend was helping him as another friend stood poised with a camera. The headstand was not a success. The friend then assumed a strange yoga-like pose on the ground in front of the fountain, her feet stretching back over her head, as the camera snapped. A man in a straw hat joined the group, also taking pictures. The poses and pictures continued. I couldn’t figure this out at all—these people were not very adept at their stunts; I could have done the things they were doing. They then began leaning over and putting their hands in the water, taking close-up pictures of…I’m not sure.

A fluffy white dog hopped up next to me on the bench, then dropped her ball into my lap. I threw it. The dog could not find it. The dog’s owner came to the rescue.

As I walked back to my hotel, I passed a group of teenagers on the corner. All of a sudden, one of them whipped off what appeared to be a long black jumpsuit, revealing a black miniskirt, a bright pink and yellow top, and silver knee-high boots. “Shake a leg!!” she shouted, and the group took off running.

All of this is why I miss a city.

Friday, April 17, 2009

New Clothes, Round One

We’re off to San Francisco for the weekend, a trip that always brings a good bit of excitement. This time, it also brought a bit of complexity—specifically, because none of my pants fit anymore.

This is not a problem in uber-casual Sacramento, where going grocery shopping in one’s yoga pants, even if one is not going to or returning from a yoga class, is the norm. When I’m working here at home, walking around with my pants unbuttoned matters to no one. Yet neither of these options is viable in San Francisco. Beth lent me a “belly band” to minimize that open-button look, but I don’t yet have any shirts long enough to make that work. My t-shirts are alarming short and tight now in a way that is simply not flattering.

And so last night Andrew and I embarked on a quasi-maternity-clothes shopping trip. I really just need a decent outfit that I can wear in this in-between time, before I really start showing—something that will tide me over for a while. Or at least for this weekend. It seems like my belly popped overnight—who knows what I’ll look like by next week, or the next? Stretchy leggings from Express (size large—a first) and a cute tunic top from Macy’s, plus two long t-shirt-type tunics from Target, should hold me over quite well until the real body-changing begins.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Yesterday, in an ill-advised bout of procrastination, I entered our address in Barcelona into Google Street View. Suddenly, there it was—our street, Pau Claris, in near-real-time, cars and motos and pedestrians captured in situ. There was our building’s doorway; there, next door, were the stylishly filled windows of the design shop Vinçon. I “walked” down the block—there was a bakery; there was the French restaurant where we went for steak frites. It felt like looking at pictures of someone who had died.

I then Google Street Viewed our current apartment. All it showed was garbage cans in the alley.

Andrew’s at work and won’t be reading this blog for a few hours, so, free from his disapproval and his reasonable reassurances, I’ll indulge in a brief spell of pregnancy-hormone-induced hand-wringing. Where the *&^% are we? What on earth are we doing here? Where are the people, the places, the things we love the most? How on earth can we live in this remote, godforsaken outpost with a baby who should have a village (perhaps a West or East one) to raise it? Though Andrew’s picking up the keys to our new house today, and though yesterday we talked of how excited we are to move in, I’m having one of those mornings where I’m ready for us to just chuck it all and move to a studio in Brooklyn where we might not have much space or money but at least we’d have a city outside our door. A city where, if we indeed decide to use Andrew’s corporate cash baby-bonus to buy the Lamborghini of strollers, people will raise their eyebrows and actually recognize that we’re pushing the Lamborghini of strollers. Or, more likely, not raise their eyebrows because they’re pushing Lamborghini strollers too.

What a horrible thing to say. We’re not Lamborghini stroller people; we’ll probably start a college fund. This is a strange morning. It started off just fine, with grapefruit juice and a bowl of cereal, and it’s sunny and blue-skied outside and Andrew’s dad is arriving tonight and we’re going to have a lovely weekend in San Francisco, but then BAM. I began this blog post and this weepy mood just descended on me like the Devil’s Breath of summer will soon descend on Sacramento.

Stupid Google Street View. It should be banned for pregnant women who are far from all the places they once considered home.

Monday, April 13, 2009


I had my second doctor’s appointment this morning. I heard the baby’s heartbeat for the first time (at the last appointment, I saw it fluttering on a screen) and was feeling quite happy when I went to the desk to make my next couple of appointments. But then my midwife appeared at my shoulder with a quiet, confidential aside for the nurse’s assistant. “Dori would like to speak to Margo when you’re done,” she said.

Indeed, down the hall came Dori, who shook my hand and began leading me back to her office. “Would you mind if I got my husband?” I asked. Andrew was in the waiting room, scared out of the exam room by the possibility of some graphic internal exploration, and I didn’t want him to miss any pregnancy-related discussion. “Well…” she hemmed and hawed and made it quite clear that his was to be just between us.

In her office, she sat me down. “I wanted to talk to you because I noticed that on your initial paperwork you mentioned drinking alcohol every day before your pregnancy,” she said earnestly. “Alcohol can be a great stress reliever, and I just wanted to make sure you had other resources for support. Alcohol can be very bad for your baby.”

The paperwork she referred to was from my first appointment, when I dutifully noted that I usually had a glass of wine each day with dinner.

Mortified, I extolled my main resource, the fabulousness of Andrew as a husband. This didn’t seem to cut it, especially when I told her that our entire families are back East. I almost said “Yep, it’s just us out here,” but thought better of it. I also fought the urge to explain “my drinking”—I’m certain this would only have made things worse. Instead, I tried to emphasize that I’m stridently conservative when it comes to my pregnancy and would never think of drinking alcohol, etc. “I just want you to know that resources are available,” she kept saying. “Especially for newer couples—we have a class discussing how a baby can change your relationship.”

“Thank you,” I said. “I’ll definitely talk to my husband about these resources.”

I felt bad about laughing about this encounter with Andrew (he’s been enjoying sharing with his office the fact that he apparently has a wife with a drinking problem), since I know many women are not as lucky as I am to be so financially and emotionally stable when they get pregnant, or to have such a supportive husband, out in the waiting room patiently reading the New York Times while his wife is gently asked about “her drinking.” It’s good to know about resources should I find I have problems with anxiety, depression, etc. later on; and everyone I’ve encountered so far at the practice has been perfectly nice.

But it did strike us as quite funny that I of all people would have been flagged as a potential needer of intervention—whether for drinking or for not realizing a baby could change things or for having a “newish” marriage that might not be ready for the changes coming its way. Of course we don’t know all the changes that are in store. But I could not be less worried about our ability to handle it all together, without either one of us rushing desperately out for a cocktail.

Friday, April 10, 2009

Pregnancy Dreams

My favorite part of pregnancy so far is that every night I spend approximately eight hours being entertained/alarmed by a circus of crazy freak-dreams. I’ve always had vivid dreams, but the dreams I’ve been having now that I’m a hormone-riddled “vessel” have been on another level entirely. It’s not just that the dreams are weird—it’s that they are incredibly physical and visceral. And they are populated by characters I wouldn’t expect to see in my dreams—people from high school I haven’t talked to in years; deceased relatives; imaginary animals.

A few of the dreams have been disturbing, baby-based dreams (dropping, accidentally drowning, holding a baby and being unsure whether or not it’s mine), which I try not to be too alarmed by—many books I’ve read have said that disturbing baby dreams are normal.

What I don’t consider by-the-book “normal” are dreams like this one:

I’m walking outside, in a zoo-like area, near a huge body of water, like a lake. The water is teeming with what people are calling seals—so many seals that you can barely see the water. When a seal raises its head, however, I see that it’s not a seal as I know it in real life. Instead, it resembles a Weimaraner with an extraordinarily long snout.

Or this one:

I’m at the home of some family friends, who, in the dream, live in an area that is a strange cross between woods and jungle, near a large body of water. Suddenly, out of the water rises a giraffe, with one of the friends riding on its back. No one reacts. Then I see a leopard swimming through the water. Nearby is a table covered in miniature objects, something that would realistically exist in this family’s home. But when I peer at the objects, I see that I’m one of them.

I realize that reading about other people’s dreams is highly uninteresting, but these dreams have been so crazy that I feel compelled to recount some of them here now and then. Each night is an adventure.

Tuesday, April 07, 2009

The Eye of the Storm

I ask you this: Does the fact that we’re moving to bona fide suburbia mean we’re making the best of a bad situation—or giving into that situation, becoming part of the badness?

Before you answer, consider this. After several days of apartment- and house-hunting, we’ve found a single-family home we love. It’s huge—three bedrooms plus office, breakfast nook, laundry room, living room, dining room, kitchen, bathroom, porch, and huge backyard. In the front and back of the house are two enormous redwood trees, and the house has the calm, almost mystical silence you feel in a redwood grove.

The downside is that the house is in Roseville, among the worst places on earth. Roseville is where Andrew works, home to office parks and suburban sprawl, housing complexes with no trees, shopping plazas and highways and malls. It’s where we stayed at the MDPOE (most depressing place on earth) when we first arrived in California—and it’s where Andrew nearly had a nervous breakdown (“We can’t live here. We can’t. We can’t. We have to leave immediately.”) when he saw the office park where he’d be working. During our search, we drove around two apartment complexes—not to actually look for a place, just to horrify ourselves. Both were built under buzzing power lines, with “views” of office parks, just off the highway. We shuddered and quickly drove on.

But there’s another side of Roseville too, one we only became aware of during our housing hunt: Old Roseville. In Old Roseville, there are cute, old-tree-lined neighborhoods full of restored Victorian bungalows with nice yards. There’s a small downtown with some shops and restaurants, reminiscent of an old Gold Rush town. There’s a pretty park, where we saw lots of kids and parents playing. We were told about festivals at the park and in the neighborhood during the summer. I can walk to all of this from the home we found within minutes (on sidewalks, not on the side of the highway). And there’s a Whole Foods and a Target not far away.

We ultimately decided to focus our search in Roseville because Andrew will have an eight-minute commute; we could get a lot more space than in Midtown Sacramento, where we are now; and Andrew will be able to come home for lunch once we have the baby—I imagine I’ll be happy to see him and have a small baby-holding break. We’re very excited about the house.

But beneath the excitement is our worry that we’re not just making the best of things out here (if we live in CA, we might as well enjoy whatever ample space we can afford, etc.); we worry that this is a step toward giving in. Just giving up and giving in. Andrew pointed out that moving to Roseville is moving into the eye of the storm; we’ll have to be even more vigilant about remembering who we are and what we ultimately want. No going to Wal-Mart. No hanging out at the mall. No enrolling our baby in any group that involves selling candy outside the Wal-Mart while wearing cheerleading uniforms. No going to Chile’s.

We are conflicted. But to us, staying in Sacramento itself or moving to a place like Roseville is six of one. And the space we’ll have in Roseville is almost literally six rooms to one. Let’s hope seeing those redwoods from our windows everyday will help us come to terms with our choice.

Friday, April 03, 2009


Knock on wood, I haven’t been plagued (yet) by pregnancy symptoms. The only exception is occasional extreme exhaustion. It hits me all of a sudden—sometimes in the afternoon, sometimes in the early evening—and it really knocks me out. Lately, when the exhaustion hits me at night, it’s been compounded with an unusual symptom I haven’t read about in any of my pregnancy books: a sudden, clear-eyed realization that one’s apartment is a rat’s nest of clutter and mess, and an attendant compulsion to clean it up immediately.

Wednesday night, we returned late from our foray into Grass Valley, and I was exhausted. Zombie-like wouldn’t be an overstatement. Andrew was calmly typing at the computer while I brushed my teeth and got ready for bed. But when I left the bathroom and walked into the dining room, I saw it—piles of newspapers on the coffee table, and a dining table covered in mail, rubber bands from the newspaper, notes, printouts of apartments, and much, much more. Andrew had about ten pairs of shoes strewn around the apartment. “It’s…it’s a mess,” I suddenly said. “This apartment—it’s a disaster. I can’t stand it! This is awful! When I wake up in the morning and try to read the paper—“ –here I mimed what would happen when I opened up a newspaper, an avalanche of things tumbling to the floor.

“Leave it,” Andrew said mildly. “I’ll pick everything up.”

But I couldn’t leave it. Andrew’s been doing the brunt of the cleaning-up and dish-washing at night now that I’m unconscious by 10pm, and I (sometimes) feel bad about it. And so I began maniacally cleaning—zombie-cleaning. And then I went to bed.

One additional note—I, proudly known as being highly organized, managed to lead us on our Grass Valley excursion with only one out of three street addresses at hand. I’d just…forgotten to find out the addresses of the other places we were supposed to visit. Our GPS and a well-timed phone call from a realtor saved us, but wow. What is wrong with me?

Thursday, April 02, 2009

No Freezer, Cute Town, and Will the Baby Fit in That Closet?

Last night we visited three apartments in a charming town called Grass Valley, in the Sierra Nevada foothills. We were told that snow actually falls in the area—a definite plus—and the downtown is perfectly lovely, with streets full of small shops and restaurants. We liked all three apartments, but only one turned out to be a truly viable option. The first was a cute townhouse with a fireplace and a perfect place for my office, but it was too far from the downtown—only a shopping plaza was in sort-of walking distance—not exactly a place I'll enjoy strolling with a baby. The second was great—a restored Victorian with pretty stained-glass windows and a brand-new kitchen. The third was a restored Victorian as well, but with a strange quirk in the new-ish kitchen: a refrigerator without a freezer. When I noticed it, I said to the realtor, “No freezer?” “Oh, you noticed,” he replied. “I was going to bring that up.” He pointed out a large freezer in the garage that he said we could bring into the kitchen if we wanted. That seems a bit…haphazard. And so one option it is.

The only real problem with Grass Valley is that it’s a 45-minute commute for Andrew, about 15-20 minutes longer than he has now. Not impossible, but not ideal. So we’ll just take our time and keep looking. Next up: Auburn. Much closer to Andrew’s work…but is it charming? Andrew’s headed out there tonight to do some reconnaissance and see a place. The search continues.

One thing about apartment-hunting in NorCal: you get a lot of bang for your buck. All three places yesterday were full single-family homes with 2 bedrooms, garages, porches, and backyards for about what I paid for my one-bedroom in NYC. As I’ve said before, I can complain about a lot of things, and do, but ICCA the low cost of living.

This is a funny apartment search. Usually I’m focused on where I’ll put my desk. Now I’m equally focused on where we’ll put a baby.