Friday, June 26, 2009

Eastward-Bound!

Tomorrow, Andrew and I fly to New Hampshire for our annual Off the Grid week in Cornish. I am extremely excited. Cornish is one of my very favorite places in the world, and since we live in California we only get to go once a year. Unfortunately, I won’t be totally “off the grid” this year—I’ll have to check my email to keep up on a few freelance projects. I’m trying not to be resentful about this. Indeed, I’m trying to remember that it’s a good thing that I have work—a good thing that I have things to keep track of—that I’m lucky, in this economy, to still have work to do. That I’m lucky to have the kind of work where I can track things—or even do things, if need be—in Cornish, or, really, anywhere. As a freelancer, my perspective needs to be “yay, work,” not “oh no, more work.” I am not always successful at this. But I am trying.

Though I am excited about going to Cornish, and to spending a week in Connellsville afterward, I am also filled with dread. The problem is that these days on the East Coast will have to end, and I will then have to fly back to California. I can already feel myself back East—and I can already feel how awful it will be to leave. Last year, I had what many (Andrew and his parents) might call a “hysterical crying fit” when it was time to go to the airport. It was not pretty. I just couldn’t stand the idea of leaving New Hampshire, a place that just felt familiar and right, for what I kept calling “no man’s land.” Mix a departure with pregnancy hormones, and who knows what will happen this year.

Being in Cornish brings into sharp relief exactly the kind of life I want us to lead, the life I want our baby to have. Someplace where it isn’t so hot that it’s dangerous to go outside. Someplace where family is a brief plane ride or drive away. Someplace where small towns are shrouded in woods; where the sky is filled so dramatically with stars that you can see the Milky Way; where you feel rooted to something, with ghosts around every corner. I cannot think of a place that contrasts Roseville more ridiculously than Cornish. And though we are quite happy together here in our little house with the redwoods in the yard, we are still not in a place that feels pleasantly haunted. There’s no depth. That’s the only way I can describe what California feels like to me. The house in Cornish has been around for more years than California has been a state.

Being East makes me realize that there’s this whole other world existing in parallel with ours, just out of reach. Since we don’t go back East very often, it’s easy to get wrapped up in the day-to-day life right here, forgetting what it’s like to not feel like a fish out of water. Hence my dread—I can already feel myself in New Hampshire, and in Pennsylvania. And I’m going to like that feeling. And then I’m going to have to leave it behind and give birth to our daughter alongside a highway, across the street from an office park. I hope what our daughter remembers about her time in California is sitting outside by the redwood—not driving past the shopping plazas to get us home.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Vulnerable

Last night, I went maternity-clothes shopping at the mall’s only maternity store, seeking a maternity swimsuit. I found one, along with a cute top and a cute dress. A very nice sales associate was helping me find sizes. When I went to check out, I was offered the following: sleeping bras; a subscription to Parenting magazine; on-sale Capri pants; and a credit card linked to a 529 plan. I was also given a bag full of baby-related samples. Andrew was astounded by the level of up-sell that I, as a pregnant woman, was subjected to.

But this speaks to a larger state of vulnerability we’ve both found ourselves in. We know nothing about baby stuff—we have, at this point, no way to distinguish between what our baby will actually need and what she won’t. It seems like everything comes with a safety warning, and online reviews are all over the map. Crib mattresses, for example—some were denounced as too soft; others for having a chemical-y smell; some for being too plastic-y; organic ones for being not organic enough; others for costing $300. Should we look for an organic mattress? Will a regular mattress hurt the baby? Is $300 a lot for a mattress? Will we harm the baby if we go with a mid-range mattress—not the scary-cheap $50 one, but maybe the $120?

And those sleeping aids—the ones that look like napkin holders—that are supposed to keep an infant safely on her back at night? Seems necessary to me—of course! keep her safe on her back!—but is it?

It’s endless. If a canny sales associate took us aside right now and said, “Most parents spend $1,000 or more on a crib mattress,” we’d say fine, ring it up. Ring up that $1,500 stroller, too, if that’s what they’re supposed to cost. And that $800 crib. We have no critical facility in this area. We are extremely vulnerable. And I, at least, am afraid to use cost as a guide, fearful that buying a cost-conscious option will put our baby in danger in some way. I want only the safest and the best—but does this have to mean the most expensive? In non-baby life, the answer is not always yes. In baby world, I have no idea.

Laid low by this confusion, we are simply not buying anything except books our child will be too young to enjoy for many years. Books we know. Books we can do.

Goodbye to the MDPOE

We found out last week that the Extended Stay hotel chain has filed for bankruptcy. To that I say--not surprising. Goodbye and good riddance.

Longtime readers of "Skipping Town" will remember that Extended Stay America was one of the first places we stayed when we moved to California in 2007. It was so awful, and so depressing, that it nearly sent us packing back East, new job be damned. I was stuck there all day for several days while Andrew was at work, and I can honestly say that had I been forced to stay there any longer, I may have gone off the deep end. I christened it the MDPOE--the Most Depressing Place on Earth. While there, I had one of the most violent and scary dreams I've ever had. There's just something ominous about the place--as soon as you walk in you feel something bad is going to happen.

A few months later, we inadvertantly stayed there overnight again thanks to an unwise Priceline bid. Our room had one fork. (These are supposed to be "efficiency apartments"--sharing a fork doesn't seem that efficient to me.) Nate, in town to look for a home for his soon-to-move-West family, was there as well; he said his room featured what looked like a blood stain on the carpet.

So bankruptcy? Bring it on. I still have to pass the MDPOE when I drive Andrew to work, and I'd be happy to see the whole thing razed.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Fig Projects

In a desperate race against time—figs ripen fast and do not stay good for very long—Mom and I spent yesterday making a batch of fig jam and a delicious fig cake. Both were highly successful—I can’t stop eating the cake. By the end of the day I felt like I was on a kind of fig high. Next project: fig cookies. And we’ll still leave a treeful behind when we leave for New Hampshire this weekend.

Preparing the jam



Removing the processed jars



Waiting for the lids to pop to see if we were successful





Monday, June 22, 2009

Figs!

When we returned last night from San Francisco, Andrew and I went out to look at the fig tree—and were shocked to see that the figs had ripened over the weekend and were ready to be picked. Mom and Dad came out, and we all harvested some figs. There are countless more figs still growing, and countless figs we can’t reach at the top of the tree; it is fig bounty. Today Mom and I are going to make fig cookies, cake, and jam (yes, another canning attempt). And there will still be figs. Figs!



24 Weeks in San Francisco

Really, really pregnant.





The Orlandos' Visit


California was true to form this week, giving my visiting parents an accurate glimpse of what our summer life here is like. They arrived last Tuesday evening, and the week quickly grew hot. Making things worse is the fact that the AC in our Volvo is not working; so driving around on Wednesday was uncomfortable to say the least. But I took them to Babies R Us—their first time in the store—and we all got wrapped up in the voluminous world that is baby merchandise. Then they took me shopping for new maternity clothes, as I am now getting very close to being enormous. Dad helpfully calls me “Fatty McFatty,” assuming that I will not suddenly develop a weight complex in my fragile pregnant state. Fortunately, I do not feel a weight complex coming on. Wednesday evening was nice enough for us to cook dinner and eat outside, overlooking the redwood tree.

Thursday was brutal. It was in the high-nineties, and even being in our AC’d house was uncomfortable; my pregnant body seems to react to the heat even if I’m inside. We went to browse in a used bookstore in the afternoon (we bought three new kids’ books), then met Andrew for lunch. We cooked again Thursday night, but ate inside this time.

Friday was, once again, ghastly hot. In the morning, I took Mom and Dad to Denio’s (the flea and farmer’s market), which unfortunately is only a fraction of its usual size on Fridays; but they got the sense of what a treasure trove it is and were suitably impressed even with the reduced number of farmer’s stalls. Friday afternoon, Andrew left work early and we all set out for San Francisco, on what proved to be the Drive of Doom.

It was near 100 degrees, relentlessly sunny, and we were trapped in our non-air-conditioned car for an hour and a half. Traffic was, mercifully, light. But about halfway down, just outside of Fairfield, we saw smoke billowing in the sky; then smoke began filling our car; then we could barely see the road for all the smoke. Then, by the side of the road, mere inches from cars in the right lane, we spotted flames among scorched, blackened grasses. A fire Jeep was sitting idly near the flames, not doing much, which made us suspect it was a “controlled burn”; but who knows. Flanking the wildfire were endless shopping plazas and housing developments. Traffic going in the opposite direction had been stopped for at least forty miles, thanks to two big accidents. Even my mother, who usually chastises me for complaining about California, was forced to admit that this was pretty awful. And we were all so very, very hot.

Finally, finally, we arrived in San Francisco, where it was actually chilly outside—perfect for exploring. Friday night we walked a bit around Union Square, then went to dinner at the Nob Hill Café. As we walked from there back to Union Square, we spotted the San Francisco Twins on the street! They were walking together in matching leopard print capes and cowboy hats. Very exciting. The other exciting thing we saw as we walked was a tiny hummingbird—and we watched as it alighted on a branch overhanging the sidewalk, where she fed her tiny babies in a tiny nest. As we watched, two other people joined us—and another tiny bird flew over and landed on the man’s shoulder. It was pretty crazy. Then we went to see Away We Go, which was really cute, then collapsed from our long day back at the hotel.

Saturday was a day of exploring. For brunch we went to Sears Fine Food, where Dad had arranged to meet up with a former Geibel student. Then we went to the SF MoMA, where there was an exhibition of Ansel Adams and Georgia O’Keefe. From there we walked through Chinatown; had a snack of dim sum; took a trolley to Fisherman’s Wharf, where we saw hundreds of sea lions; walked through North Beach; browsed at City Lights; and had dinner in North Beach. It was a full, nice day, and I’m so glad my back didn’t hurt after all that walking. (As long as Andrew’s not reading this—Andrew, who was annoyed that I insisted on doing so much walking—I can say that, actually, my back was and is still presently killing me.)



Sunday we met a cousin for dim sum brunch in Richmond, walked a bit on the Golden Gate Bridge, then headed out of the city to Muir Woods. Our final CA-centric stop on the way home: In N Out Burger.

It was Mom and Dad’s first time in San Francisco, and they of course loved it. It’s always so much fun to be there.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

A Canning Fiasco


Monday night, around 8pm, Andrew and I decided to make and can a large batch of loquat chutney. We quadrupled the recipe, so preparing the chutney took forever—those loquats are not easy to work with; they have several large seeds and a white membrane around them, all of which must be removed. You get approximately a quarter’s worth of fruit for all that effort.

Anyway, we made the chutney and set it on the stove to boil for an hour. We then washed and sterilized the jars and lids Andrew had bought after work. After an hour, the chutney was still very liquidy. At this point it was around 11pm. I was exhausted, and my hips were killing me from standing for so long. We decided the chutney would set as it cooled, and so began the process of filling and sealing and processing the jars.






In the morning, the chutney had not set. The jars were simply filled with a vinegary liquid. We wondered if we could simply empty the jars, boil the chutney for another hour, resterilize the jars, and just have another go at it. I was extremely vexed, and spent the day taking frequent breaks from work to Google things like “chutney liquid reboil canning” and “chutney botulism.” I read on a canning message board that you have to use a “tested” canning recipe, or you put yourself at risk of botulism. If I weren’t pregnant, I might dismiss that as overly cautious; but I am pregnant, and the thought of getting botulism poisoning was a bit alarming. I had no idea what to do.

Ultimately, we heeded the botulism warning. We emptied the jars, reboiled the chutney to get the right consistency, and just put it in a Tupperware container in the fridge. We will be eating a lot of chutney, but at least we won’t get botulism poisoning.

We now have 24 empty jars. The only bright side is that our canning was technically successful—the lids vacuumed on properly, and everything seemed firmly sealed. So at least we learned the mechanics from this little episode. In the next couple of weeks we’re going to try our hand at jam, using an approved recipe from an official canning cookbook. And we will not be starting that project right around my bedtime.

Monday, June 15, 2009

Kicking?!

Every night when we go to bed, Andrew puts his hand or head on my belly, trying to identify signs of a baby inside. Last night, for the very first time, he felt something. I was lying on my side, and I could feel the baby moving around a lot; it almost felt like she was rolling over. Then, in the crease between my stomach and leg, I felt a more insistent movement, almost as though her foot was caught in the crease and she was trying to get it free. When Andrew put his hand right at that spot, he felt a kick. We looked at each other—feeling a little person moving inside my body is just…a little crazy. I felt tired all weekend, so maybe she was having a few days of intense growth, gearing up for those kicks. Or maybe she was expressing her appreciation for the figs I’ve been eating for the past couple of days. That’s my girl!

Sunday, June 14, 2009

The Chutney


So I actually did make loquat chutney last week, and it turned out splendidly. I found the recipe on a random person’s blog, and it was delicious—a perfect blend of loquats (which are sort of apricot-like), dried apricots, ginger, apples, mustard seed, cider vinegar, onion, sugar, salt, water, and chile pepper. The extremely vinegary mixture was tamed by over an hour of simmering, and the result is a perfect condiment that we’ve been enjoying with crackers and cheese.


It’s so good that we might do a bigger loquat harvest and do some canning. “How can we make sure we have enough of this to last us a year?” Andrew asked after a first taste. We’ve never canned before, but maybe this summer we’ll try our hand at the chutney and some jam. We’ll see.

I had to take a picture of the figs we bought at the farmer’s market on Saturday. Soon we’ll have figs of our own, but I was too impatient to wait for them to ripen. I bought a basket to tide me over.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Loquats

There’s a tree in our backyard that’s overburdened with bunches of fig-shaped orange fruit. We hadn’t paid much attention to the tree until earlier this week, when we arrived home and spotted some people in our backyard, harvesting some of the fruit. They scampered off when they saw us. Curious, we brought a piece of the fruit inside and cut it open, revealing a dark central pit.

I Googled “California stone fruits” and eventually found an image of a loquat, which seemed to match the fruit. I called our landlord today, and he confirmed it (he also said he hoped we wouldn’t mind that he’d invited a neighbor to sample some of the fruit—those must have been the interlopers).

Faced now with a tree full of loquats—many of which are already shriveled—I’m looking forward to making…chutney. It seems there’s not much to do with loquats except make chutney or jam, so that’s what I’m going to do.




Any edible backyard fruit is exciting to me, but I’m most excited about the harvest of figs we’ll have in the next few weeks. They’re still unripe right now, but they’re coming along:



Tuesday, June 09, 2009

Baby Madness

Sunday and yesterday, Andrew and I finally dove in and started registering for baby things. It was a haphazard process. We pointed and shot our scanner gun at an eclectic assortment of onesies, bibs, mittens, socks, bottles, and bedding, hoping we were somehow covering our bases. I haven’t counted, but I suspect between Target and Babies R Us we’ve registered for somewhere in the range of fifty onesies, mostly in packs of three; around ten pairs of baby mittens; ten different kinds and sizes of bottles, even though we’re not sure if we’ll even need them; twenty bibs; and five slipcovers for the Bobby nursing pillow. Of everything we registered for, the only things I can actually remember clearly are cute Dwell Studio outfits from Target--the least necessary things of all.

This was a far cry from registering for our wedding, when we could accurately assess our level of need. We did not, for example, register for a blender, since I already had one that worked just fine. We do not, this time, have any baby things whatsoever. But I think I’m giving up on this registry thing. There’s no way we can figure out in advance the day-to-day things we’re going to require—there were items in the stores whose function we couldn’t even figure out. (Lap pads? Anyone?) Once the baby’s here, I think we’ll just head out to the store on a need-to-buy basis. The good thing is that except for the larger things like strollers and furniture, baby stuff is pretty cheap, so running out to buy, say, another $5 fitted sheet isn’t going to break the bank. Buying, say, fifty onesies at once, however, or forty bottles we might not even use, might do a little damage.

Time to just rein this in, focus on selecting the stroller and the big things for the baby’s room, and be prepared for a lot of Target trips come October.

Sunday, June 07, 2009

21 Weeks, a Wine Barrel, and Ten Nancy Drews




This weekend, Andrew and I headed north to Mendocino County, home of our favorite winery, Husch Vineyards. We’re members of the winery (every six months we get a shipment of six wines), and each summer they have a picnic at the vineyard. We had a great time last year and so, Friday night, we made the three-hour drive again.

We arrived in Ukiah Friday night, just in time for dinner at the Ukiah Brewing Company, a great little place right on the main street of this very small town. We’ve had dinner here every time we’ve been in Ukiah; we like not only the food (mostly locally grown and organic) but also the off-the-beaten-path blend of aging hippies and hipsters who somehow find a way to make a living in the area. We didn’t stay to hear the live music—I was having an evening of feeling alien to my own body; both my back and my belly had minds of their own that night, and I’d spent the entire drive in a state of supreme discomfort. We retreated to our room at the Days Inn (the cutest Days Inn I’ve ever seen—really; if you find yourself in Ukiah, get a room on the second floor, with exposed wooden beams and sloped ceilings), where I promptly fell asleep.

Feeling back to normal on Saturday, we had breakfast at a little bakery then perused the local flea and farmer’s market, where we made our first purchase for our future child: ten old hardcover Nancy Drews. We may not have a crib or blankets or bottles, but at least we have books she’ll be ready to read in about ten years. Necessities.

Before heading to the picnic, we stopped at the John Hendy Woods State Park, our favorite redwood grove, for a restorative stroll. We don’t come here more than once a year, but there’s something about this place that feels comfortingly familiar every single time—it’s the most peaceful redwood grove I’ve been to in California.

Then it was on to the picnic, where I sadly forewent the many tastings of the winery’s new releases. A woman handing out wine glasses for the tastings extended one to me then quickly withdrew it. “You’re not drinking, are you?” she asked. I shook my head and watched longingly as my glass went to Andrew. Ah well. Fortunately, there’s food as well as wine at the picnic, and I could eat everything there except the rare beef tenderloin over bleu cheese. After a stroll through the grapevines, we headed for home.



We took the long(ish) way, down through the Napa Valley. It’s a wonderful drive, and we made a couple of stops—at a small farmer’s market for some apples and cherries, and at the Anderson Valley Brewing Company for a couple of six-packs of their limited availability Summer Solstice beer (I remember the taste!...).

Somewhere outside of St. Helena, we drove past a man selling old wine barrels by the side of the road. Intrigued, we stopped, and decided that yes, a wine barrel should be ours. We had no cash, so the man directed us to the local Indian casino, where we could find an ATM. This was truly a bizarre detour; the casino was in the middle of nowhere, rather deep into the reservation, and consisted of nothing more than an enormous tent-like structure and a parking garage. The tent-like structure was filled with video gambling and slot machines. The ATM gave us a $100 bill. We changed the bill and got out as fast as we could.

Purchasing the barrel proved to be a rather lengthy process thanks to the garrulousness of the seller. The man observed that we looked like a “romantic couple,” and it was so nice to see that, then launched into a detailed description of the business arrangement that linked him to a large parcel of land on the Mendocino coast. “You’d love it there,” he said. “I’ll give you my name and number. We can arrange a kind of horse trade.” He seemed to want us to buy part of the land, or something. Anyway, he said his wife was Frida Kahlo’s cousin, and that she’s so intense he can only be around here for limited periods of time. He told us how he made his fortune by buying and flipping houses in California, then by owning a winery. We left with a wine barrel filling the backseat of the car, promising to call him if we find ourselves in Mendocino.

Buying a wine barrel is probably something we won’t be doing once we have a baby:


A wine barrel and ten Nancy Drews. It was a weekend to remember.

Friday, June 05, 2009

Won Over

Every week, I become less skeptical and more gung-ho about my prenatal yoga class. Truth be told, I was skeptical only after the first class; now that I’ve been going for a few weeks, I’m won over. First, I’m happy to be able to do yoga at all with a belly. I know there are girls who do regular yoga and Pilates almost the whole way through (I’ve seen them), but I know myself, and I’d be worried the whole time about doing something painful to my round ligament or another tender area. So a lower-stress, lower-intensity class is perfect.

Second, the yoga itself, led by a woman who teaches childbirth preparation classes at local hospitals, is supplemented by tons of information about “positive positions” for labor, specific positions you can do for specific types/stages of labor, etc. At first, I couldn’t imagine executing a yoga pose during labor. Now, I’m getting excited about trying to use what I’m learning when the time comes (assuming nothing unexpected happens, which, obviously, isn’t something I can really assume, this being childbirth). Sometimes, when we’re doing a pose like tree or warrior II, our teacher points out that, when it comes to labor, the pose isn’t good for anything except freaking out the nurses. That always strikes me as funny.

Third, the non-labor information I get from class is easily as valuable as the yoga itself. I always try to get to class early so I can talk to or listen to the other pregnant women, whether the subject is baby gear, baby development, or what have you. Most are first-time moms, so it’s nice to hear other people’s points of view.

So, prenatal yoga! And then, after October, postpartum yoga with the baby. It’s a whole new world.

Thursday, June 04, 2009

Two Years Ago...

Two years ago, on June 4, Andrew and I were in between trips to the Costa Brava and Basque Country. Today, Andrew's flying back from a business trip, I'm deep into a massive selection of freelance projects, and I'm preoccupied with wondering if I have time to go to Target to look at baby stuff again. But we're having a baby, and live in a cute house, and are going to wine country this weekend to a picnic at our favorite winery...bright side...bright side...

Tuesday, June 02, 2009

A Big Day

Saturday was a big day: we bought a dining room table, and we had our first Roseville houseguests. We bought the table at Denio’s, the flea and farmer’s market we’ve been going to every weekend. The table is enormous, with six chairs but room for ten—the wide tabletop has me itching to take on some kind of complex craft project. When we found the table, we asked the seller if he’d deliver it to us. He initially said no, but after realizing we couldn’t buy it otherwise, he changed his mind and said yes. We gave him half the money and our address; I surreptitiously snapped a few pictures of him with my cell phone while Andrew gave him directions. We mused on whether we’d actually see the table later in the day. We did.

Beth and Nate and the babies came up from Napa Saturday afternoon, and we had a barbeque in our backyard. It was quite nice to eat outside in the shade of the redwood tree, eating fresh tomatillo salsa and guacamole and strawberry shortcake we’d made with produce we’d gotten that day from the farmer’s market. And the babies didn’t seem to mind that our entire downstairs area is unfurnished—they seemed to enjoy running around the completely empty space. Beth and Nate also lent us a car seat and a baby bathtub—two things I can cross off our voluminous baby registry list now. Other people doing the research and test-driving—ideal for us baby novices.

Monday, June 01, 2009

Baby Stuff Overload

I’m not sure why I thought shopping for baby stuff would be easy and fun. Maybe because baby stuff is cute, and we’re excited about having a baby, and it’s fun to think about actually having the baby in our lives—all good reasons. But the truth is that there is a lot of baby stuff out there, and figuring out what’s what is a lot different than, say, selecting china patterns and towels for the wedding registry. At least we knew what china and towels were, and what their function was, and what made one kind better than another.

Friday night, we took the plunge and went to Babies R Us. It seemed like a good place to start. But we wound up strolling the aisles a bit zombie-like, faced with questions we hadn’t even considered: Should a car seat convert to a stroller? Should a stroller convert to a pram? Should a car seat double as a cradle? Does a bouncy swing thing have to look so garish—and am I doing my impressionable, eager-for-sensory-stimulation baby a disservice if I choose one a little more toned down? Etc. No one was around to answer our questions, so these mysteries were left unresolved. We purchased a wedge pillow to help me sleep more comfortably, and left the store.

Sunday, we had better luck at a great local store called Goore’s, apparently a huge baby behemoth on the West Coast. It had a higher-end selection, including the $1,200 Stokke stroller that, of course, we instantly loved. Perhaps more important than the chance to push around a stroller used by Heidi Klum was the fact that helpful salespeople were everywhere. A woman showed us all kinds of things about strollers, and we perused about 20 binders (no exaggeration) of possible linens for the baby’s crib. We wandered around a veritable sea of cribs as well, but will devote ourselves to that another day. After our time at Goore’s, we felt a bit closer to selecting at least a few items.

Many questions remain, however, and there is much uncharted territory to explore. Baby-shopping is a difficult proposition when you don’t know anything whatsoever about baby stuff, but we will persevere. As long as we have what we need to make sure the baby is clothed and safe when she comes home, I’m sure we’ll be able to figure out the rest as we go along. (Is that a naïve new parent thing to say, or a wise new parent thing to say? Even that is a mystery.)