Tag Archives: Sacramento

An Unexpected Birthday

So, today was my birthday and the lead up was NOT good.

Birthdays, holidays and milestones mean a lot to me. I demand real Christmas trees, that we hopefully have to cut down ourselves, and will stay up all night baking Christmas cookies with the girls because IT’S CHRISTMAS AND THATS WHAT PEOPLE DO.

Maybe it’s the ritual, or maybe I like the idea of setting days aside to make quality time spent with your loved ones the top priority, I don’t know. But either way, I spent my last birthday trying to keep the kids from killing each other and setting the house on fire and was determined not to do it again.

Because it made me really sad, like any holiday that passes without comment. Any day that’s supposed to count which brings feelings of loneliness and disconnection.

So, we planned to do something we’d never done before, which made me so happy:

We would wake up really early and go to Gilroy Gardens, a small amusement park with lots of waterslides and rides for the family. John and I had been hit with some unexpected expenses this month, so it couldn’t be anything extravagant, but I asked for a few chocolates for my birthday and a little trip with the family if he could comfortably get the day off from work.

He could, and the girls were EXCITED to hear about the fun trip to the water park. Since I firmly believe showmanship is 50% of proper parenting, I’d been pulling up internet  photos and planning for the past week, whetting the girls’ appetites until it turned into a nightly ritual of “How many more days until Gilroy Gardens?’ answered by “four more days,” “three more days,” “two more days.” Right after the book and before the goodnight kiss.

Well, things started going wrong on Two More Days.

'Well, yes. That's true, Gary. After you tackle and sting the other hive's quarterback...'First, after a week of 100+ degree weather, the pool was finally warm enough for me to swim in. I was laying stomach-down on a big blow-up alligator, closing my eyes and trailing my arms through the water as I felt a startling amount of stress magically float away, when suddenly I felt a sharp stinging in the worst place one could feel it…

Flipping up, bewildered and disoriented, falling off the alligator because someone just set my nether regions ON FIRE…


John: Hey, I tried to get him off you.

Me: Get…

And here, I stop talking because I find myself barking and yelling and trying really, really hard not to swear because I used to swear a blue streak before the kids were born but kids repeat what you say and I can’t have them dropping F-bombs everywhere because then people would think they were Born In A Barn and they just wouldn’t be received in the best houses and I’m trying to work out what John meant by “I tried to get him off you” as I wonder why  my first sense of timeless, weightless Nirvana in months had been interrupted by melting privates…

John: Hey, the bee was sitting there already when I knocked him away to help you. You want me to pull out the stinger?


John: Well, if…


He pulls it out and scrapes it off on the side of the pool as I notice a dead bee laying there.  Was that the bee who stung me? Stinging kills honey bees. Suddenly, it occurs to me…

Me: HEY, I have NEVER been stung by a bee since I was four years old and touched one, but YOU have been stung A GAZILLION TIMES.

John: Well, I grew up in the South, so…

Me: No. Just, NO.  I’ve seen TONS of bees and we have NEVER had a problem with each other. YOU get involved AND SUDDENLY, I HAVE BEES STINGING MY PRIVATES.



Well, once the raging pain subsided, I calmed down and asked John to just tell me next time instead of smacking it. Everything was going fine (apart from the trouble I was having sitting down) until the next day, when I was eating some toast for breakfast and half a tooth falls out in my mouth.

Oh, crap. This can’t be good.

This is about to suck. 

S1e10_doofyI look this up online to figure out whether this is an EMERGENCY before realizing that the tooth I’m holding in my hand is actually a broken crown, since my teeth have been good to me apart from two back molars which gave me enough trouble to ultimately get crowned a couple of years ago. I call the dentist…

Me: I think the crown broke because it’s just the top with no root and is it really a huge emergency because my birthday is tomorrow and my husband took the day off work so we could go do something fun and we have plans and I really, really don’t want to cancel them to spend my birthday having dental work done, so is it okay to handle this later?

Dentist Receptionist: Ummm… are you in a lot of pain?

Me: Noooooooo….. I mean. I have to chew everything on the left side of my mouth and if I make a mistake it’s pretty unpleasant, but other than that I’m totally fine. It’s great, actually. I’m not even noticing anything. Feels awesome.

DR: Hold on…

Okay, we can see you the next day after your birthday in the afternoon.

Me: Whew, okay sounds good.

Tomorrow was saved and I was so relieved. Even if I spent today dealing with a right-side-of-my-head headache as my kids spent their afternoon trying to solve their boredom by winding each other up. That’s when my husband came home from work…

He looked troubled, but didn’t say anything until the kids were outside playing. Which made it even scarier.

Turns out, the loan for the replacement HVAC just got added to our mortgage which unexpectedly drove up out mortgage this month, which we didn’t see coming. And, the deductible for our insurance for the mold issue that happened in our laundry room because the previous owners hadn’t built the washer outlet up to code had suddenly come out of our account. That, and a few other unexpected bills had cropped up, which meant we were squeezing by and didn’t have enough for luxuries this month, like going to Gilroy Gardens or buying chocolates.

I braced myself to tell the kids.

Because I felt sick about promising them something fun then having to cancel it because mom and dad, the Titans who rule their world, had gotten their math wrong and now we’d have to be super practical for a while. They had underestimated and maybe the entire universe was resting on shaky foundations because the demi-gods they answer to and expect to keep the trains running on time were apparently two bad events away from total chaos at any given moment…. I was afraid they would think.

But they took it surprisingly well. Until they got into the car to run a quick errand with John, where they cried their eyes out the entire way, he later told me.

Which means they kept up a brave face for my sake, which felt even worse.

Disappointing your children is agony.

While they were gone, I scrambled for something else to do and came up with the idea of visiting the Egyptian museum a couple of hours away. Tickets were pretty cheap.

“There’s a real mummy in there,” I told Brontë when she returned.

Ancient Egypt,” she asked in wonder.

“Yes,” I said. “And you can see the mummy’s tongue. It’s all black and dried up.”

“Ohhhhhh…” she said, grinning.

It wasn’t until after they went to bed that I looked up the hours and realized it would be closed today. As would be most other things.

I scrambled even harder and came up with a plan: we could go on an Underground Sacramento tour, which neither John nor I had done, before then checking out the Folsom Prison museum, which could be accomplished for $2 adult tickets and children-under-12 are free.

John and I had already bought the sacrificial Underground tour tickets online before reading that “TOUR NOT RECOMMENDED FOR CHILDREN UNDER SIX.”

And Bridget is four.

It’s an outside walking tour, over an hour long, and it would be over 100 degrees outside.

(Let’s hope for the best.)

So… we woke up early today, scrambled to get the kids’ hair brushed and shoes buckled and sunblock and snacks stuffed into backpacks, which took longer than it should’ve and meant we would hit bad traffic while watching the clock tick down to ten minutes before the tour would leave when we were still 20 minutes out.

We parked the car too far away because we saw an open space, then jogged to the ticket booth, grabbing the kids’ hands across the street as Bridget endlessly asked “why?” and finally passed the tour that had already started as the grey-bearded, prospector-looking tour guide in full, period costume saw us and said:

“It’s okay. You get your headsets and I’ll talk real slow.”

There have been a couple of desperate moments in parenting when a few kind words completely restored my faith in humanity.

One was when John and I took a screaming infant Brontë out in her stroller at 3AM, in the crazed hope that her five hours of tortured, window-shaking shrieks would be calmed by a gentle morning walk, and that she’d stop screaming outside before waking up the entire neighborhood. Another father took one look at our crippled faces, tilted his head in sincere sympathy and promised us, “It gets easier. it really does.”

And this was the other time.

We ran to the ticket office and fitted the kids with their headsets and receivers and scrambled outside to join the rest of the tour. I looked at Bridget and inwardly prayed… please, Bridget… Please don’t break the headset and don’t get bored and start babbling in the middle of the tour and throwing a fit until we have to leave and waste our money and time and deal with you freaking out while every other adult in the vicinity judges us and thinks we are terrible parents who are ruining everything…

And then the guide walked us to the Eagle Theater, made of canvas apparently because it’s a mockup of the kinds of canvas buildings built in Sacramento before brick became the standard because anyone could boat down the river and scoop up discarded, easily-transportable canvas for free when Bridget took my hand, lead over, and whispered:

“I love this, mama…”

And I smiled, and she kissed my hand. She was perfectly-behaved during the whole tour, beaming as she followed instructions and squeezed my hand the entire way. We went under a few buildings to learn how floods were destroying Old Sacramento and how rich people paid people to put cranks under buildings with the tenants still living there, raising the buildings, inch-by-inch, until Sacramento was lifted several feet up and the American river had been hand-diverted by workers shoveling dirt into buckets.

The guide even picked me out as the imaginary rich woman of Old Sacramento who would hire the lifting company to move my fancy brick building full of city bigwigs… I got special attention from the guide, even though he didn’t know it was my birthday, and any woman over 25 is always flattered to be referred to as “young miss” repeatedly, even if the referrer is over seventy if he is a day…

VC_UndergroundCalifornia_Module02_OldSacramentoTours_Supplied_daynastudios_140[1]_1280x640.jpgWe finally reached the underground building where an archeological dig is going on, which had unearthed surgeon/dentist/guy-who-owns-whisky-and-knives tools, where a ghost with a beard and red vest had apparently been spotted yelling at an angry woman who disappeared–on more than one occasion. The guide seemed reluctant to mention supernatural facts around my young children, but they were thrilled and would later call it their favorite moment.

We then bought a little candy from the nearby old-timey candy shop and I pretended the piece I just accidentally chewed on the right side wasn’t driving ice-picks into my right temple before departing for Folsom Prison, which Brontë could hardly believe.

Is it a real prison, she kept asking.

Yes, it is real.

They aren’t pretending?

No. They are real prisoners who did bad things. They killed people or did something really bad, and some of them have to stay there forever. See that tower over there? (She nods.) That’s where guards are watching to see if prisoners try to escape. They can shoot them from those towers.

Brontë blinks rapidly. Are they there now?, she asks.

Yes, real prisoners. Right now.

Can we see them?

No. But we can see the museum.

We enter the museum and are led to a video of Huell Howser visiting Folsom prison. Huell Howser was a very tall man with a very rural accent who once made a career at PBS out of being super impressed by simple things.

Like a box of rocks. Huell Howser once wouldn’t stop talking about a small box of rocks he saw at a quarry. Adam Corella called him exactly the guy you want seeing your new house in front of your mother-in-law. I really miss that guy.

Well, Huell was checking out the original Folsom Prison cells, which didn’t used to have air-holes and existed in open-air in 1890, when prisoners would poop in a bucket and empty said bucket every morning before breakfast.

Feeling the 100+ degree heat, I couldn’t help wondering how many of them died of heat exhaustion.


Huell may have been the most positive human being who ever lived. 


We also saw pictures of Death Row, where prisoners pooped in buckets in slightly bigger cells with a few more air-holes before being hanged with ropes and buried in graves whose gravestones and ropes we would soon see in the museum.

Which we did, along with early Gatling guns and a giant toothpick Ferris wheel built by a bored-but-talented prisoner. And roses made of toilet paper and marker pens, which smelled like roses, though the placards didn’t mention how the artist had infused the rose-like scent. We saw a wall of improvised shanks, dating back to the 1930’s, which John found titillating.

It was altogether most creepy and fascinating.

And on the ride home, the girls couldn’t stop talking about how awesome the day had been.

“What was your favorite part?” I asked them.

“Seeing where prisoners live, and how they made toys out of toothpicks. And getting candy. And hearing about ghosts,” said Brontë.

“See where the ghost with a beard likes to yell,” said Bridget. “And holding you hand because I love you.”

We grabbed a pizza and went home and to swim. The girls wanted me to hold them in the pool and talk about all the crazy, wonderful things they’d seen.

Which made it a pretty nice birthday, overall.















Are You A City Person or a Suburb Person?

Sacramento’s Tower bridge, or the “Golden Kitty Cat” bridge, according to my daughter

Seven years ago, I lived in a one-bedroom apartment in Midtown Sacramento. I owned six pieces of furniture and all of my clothes and shoes could fit into one of them: a wooden IKEA wardrobe with guitars and fencing sabres piled on top.

I could walk to work in thirteen minutes, bike to the grocery store, and go for weeks without using my car.

My future husband lived a few streets over, in a fancier TWO bedroom apartment. Our courtship involved lots of margaritas and backgammon, plays and quirky coffee shops. River walks, museums and running around the city  until 4…

We got married a few years later and found out I was pregnant a month after that… Surprise! With a family on the way, we figured it was high time to become conventional grown-ups. Time to settle down and buy ourselves a house.

The American Dream

And conventional wisdom says you should raise families in suburbs. Bigger houses, better school systems, less crime…

So we packed up our belongings and moved into a suburb roughly half an hour away. We found a big, beautiful house we could’ve never afforded in Sacramento and were incredibly excited about this new chapter of our lives.

But as time wore on, we couldn’t help wondering if we’d made a mistake. Especially after our car was vandalized, eventually stolen, and houses around us were broken into several times (so much for lower crime).

And now, four years later, we know that we did. Our house is lovely, but we’re isolated and bored. We feel it harder every time we visit Sacramento and will be putting our house on the market by the end of the month.

Which raises the question…

Is it better to to raise a family in the city or the suburbs?

I don’t think there’s a right answer.

Or at least, the right answer depends entirely on you.

Who are you and how do you define a good quality of life?

While the suburb I currently live in and Sacramento don’t necessarily represent all cities and suburbs as a whole, I’ve lived in a variety of cities and noticed some common differences. To help define priorities,  I’ve come up with five telling questions I think anyone considering the leap should maybe ask themselves first:

1. How do you feel about your car?

the-tech-meme_104621.jpgWhen living in Sacramento, I usually walked to work. Instead of fighting traffic, scrambling to find parking or investing in  passes, I’d listen to music while getting fresh air.

My monthly gasoline bill was a less than a hundred bucks.

Since I often came home for lunch, I had an hour of free exercise automatically  built into my day. So, no need to join a gym or find time to work out.

That may have been an ideal situation, but city people generally live closer to work. Walking or biking are feasible options, unlike for suburbanites, who mostly face long commutes in unpredictable traffic.

Since my husband still works in Downtown Sacramento, moving back means two extra hours in his day. Two more hours to spend with his family, play outside, or just get extra sleep. We both consider that time invaluable, even at the price of higher property rates.

How about you?

2.  How do you feel about your stuff?

stuff.pngWhile having two kids means I’ll never live as streamlined a life as I used to, now the pendulum has swung too far the other way. More space means accumulating more stuff… more stuff than we’ll be able to keep after moving back into a smaller house.

It’s great to have lots of  things, but there’s also some downsides. While I used to tidy my apartment within thirty minutes, now I’m endlessly scrubbing a house that’s never completely clean. A bigger house means higher heating and cooling costs, every nook and cranny an ongoing entropy challenge…

They say the things you own start to own you, and I believe that’s true. I wrestle daily with wanting to get outside to DO something while simultaneously not wanting to live like a pig. We have stuff we forget we own and space we barely ever use… that nevertheless needs be cleaned, organized and maintained.

Plus a giant lawn to keep presentable so our neighbors won’t assault us with pitchforks and burning sticks.

Of course, that’s just MY opinion.  We have a finite number of waking hours and I’d rather not spend half of them maintaining a bunch of stuff.

But others may feel differently, wanting nothing more than to build a gorgeous domestic palace, a vast receiving house for guests with a lush green lawn and extra bedrooms.

Whether you find this idea appealing or suffocating depends on you.

3.  How do you feel about going outside and talking to strangers?

City people spend more random time outside. Everything is closer, often in walking distance, so you tend to get out of the house more when going about your day.

Not that suburbanites don’t get outside, but it tends to be more organized: soccer or swimming practice for the kids, working out at the gym or spending the weekend doing sporty things.

Even restaurants and shops are smaller in the city. You’ll be closer to the next table over, which means you’re more likely to strike up conversations with random people next to you. I’ve had strangers offer to let me try out their bikes in Sacramento within ten minutes of saying “hi.”

It’s not that suburbanites are unfriendly, it’s just more awkward to talk to folks from twenty feet away. Suburban areas are spread out, so everyone has more personal space.  You’re less likely to transact with people unless you’re buying something or already know someone well.

Cramped city life, on the other hand, means people are relatively “in your face.” You have to deal with them, for better or worse.

And whether you like that depends on your comfort level. Are you a homebody who would rather keep to themselves, staying indoors to watch TV or read a book? If so, you might just want a bigger, nicer room to read it in.

4.  How do you feel about familiarity vs the unexpected?

cody-pirates-and-mermaids-1Not only will more city people talk to you, they’re more unconventional than folks in the ‘burbs.

Or even kinda weird. For example, my family attended a festival run by Sacramento Pirates last week.

And I mean PIRATES. They dress like pirates, talk like pirates, and run around doing pirate-y things (except for, of course, actually marauding ships).

Would that make you uncomfortable?

Personally, I think it’s great. The Sacramento Pirates are people who know what they want. At some point in their lives, they asked themselves what made them happy and decided, “the Hell with what anyone else thinks, I want to be a grownup who runs around acting like a pirate with my friends.”

That takes a lot of guts and I respect it.

The kids had the time of their lives, being incredibly popular amongst pirating folk. The pirates gave them loads of attention and make-believe gems. They even let them hold their parrot and lizard pets.

My kids also collected wheel presents from members of the Sacramento Chapter of Official Mermaids, longtime buddies of the pirates, of course.

My kids carried these gem and shell offerings in little buckets for hours, later hanging out with folks in the Sacramento Beard Society, a bunch of guys who grow unusual facial then run around wearing bowler hats and Victorian vests.

My 2-year-old settled immediately into pirating life

People dress weirder and are weirder in the city, which, depending on your personality, can be either creepy or liberating.  Creepy for unsettling your expectations, but liberating because it means YOU can be weirder too. With fewer social penalties.

So, do you like living a conventional life with clear expectations, surrounded by people who behave in familiar ways? Or are you cool with bizarre hair colors, piercings, tattoos, and perspectives outside the comfortable norm?

I’m always surprised by how much culture and social rules can vary across a distance only thirty minutes away.

5. What kind of culture are you into?

Speaking of culture, what is yours? Do you love sports, football players and cheerleaders?

Are you a committed, born-again Christian who loves to socialize with other members of your flock?

Because if you are, suburbia may be the place for you. At least that’s how it is around here, where impressive mega-churches dominate the landscape and folks are gunning to get Donald Trump in charge.

Which is fine (some of my best friends are extremely religious), but it can be isolating for Unitarian Universalists like us. There’s a massive churchgoing element to socialization around these parts and not being born-again Christians, it can be hard to connect.

Some people worry about un-Christian influences facing shaping their kids once they start attending school.

Me? I’m more worried about them coming home insisting the Earth is just 10,000 years old. Or that other kids will shun them if they don’t

On the other hand, if museums and art galleries are more your speed, the city may be the place for you. It’s littered in theaters, concerts, bookstores, and writers’ groups. Not that museums don’t exist in suburbia, churches in the city, but it’s a question of proportion and saturation degree.

In the end, it comes down to your personality and priorities. Do you want a nicer house for your kids or more things to do?

And for me, it comes down to where you feel an emotional connection.

I love Sacramento. I love the people, the vibe, and its one-of-a-kind restaurants and historical spots. I love Corti Brothers, an Italian family-owned market that includes a full-time butcher, a wall of pasta, and 80 year old Scotch locked behind glass.

Our suburb includes lots of great chain stores and restaurants, but for me, nothing with Sacramento’s unique, irreplaceable charm.

I love Old Sac with its 200-year-old underground city, reading Joan Didion’s thoughts about growing up there and picturing Mark Twain on a Riverboat nearby.  The underground flashlight Halloween tours offered for when you want to check out 19th century brothels, remains of the Gold Rush or old Pony Express.

I’ve  lived in Los Angeles, Monterey, and San Francisco, but have spent more adult years in Sacramento than anywhere else. Now I’ve spent four years in suburbia feeling like an outsider, like I’m on a vacation that’s gone on too long.

A vacation that needs to end so I can return to Sacramento.

Because it’s home.

This stuff happens here

Where is your home?

Because in the end, that’s the most important question of all.
















Governor Brown Moves Back Downtown

Whatever your personal politics may be, it’s hard not to love a guy like Jerry Brown.

Just look at his actual, official, portrait, hanging at the State Capitol:

Doesn't look even remotely 19th century
(Don Bachardy, 1984) Doesn’t look even remotely 19th century

It kind of stands out amongst all the stately oil-paintings of serious men standing next to bookcases.

We Sacramentons notice these sorts of things, living as we do in the stomping grounds of California’s governors. We noticed Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger’s smoky cigar tent outside his Capitol office and how he barely spent any time in the city, being too busy hanging out in his Brentwood mansion.

I have no clue, at any rate, why my fellow Californians decided to elect a Hollywood action figure in the middle of an energy crisis, water drought, and deep recession. Maybe we just wanted to be entertained while the state burned to the ground.

We also noticed when Ronald and Nancy Reagan decided they were too fancy pants to live in the Governor’s mansion.

Well… Supposedly, Nancy thought the place was a fire trap, but we all knew the real reason after the Reagans built a two million dollar mansion in the swankiest part of town.

It’s kind of a sore spot out here.

Despite being the state capitol, Sacramento is not a huge metropolitan city when compared to the likes of San Francisco or Los Angeles, and the Big City folk never let us forget it. Outsiders love to tell us how Sacramento is not a “real” city, and our agricultural roots have earned us the sarcastic nickname “Sacra-tomato.”

Still, most Sacramento dwellers have a deep affection for the place. We have the laid-back vibe of river folk out here, nestled as we are between the Sacramento and American Rivers, and we have a great deal of history (at least for the west coast).

We had the Gold Rush, the first Transcontinental Railroad, the telegraph, the Pony Express, Sutter’s Fort, and many historic Victorian buildings that the likes of Mark Twain have passed through. One of the most beloved is the Governor’s Mansion, built in 1877.

Not good enough for the Mr. and Mrs, Fancypants from Fancypants Angeles
Not good enough for the Mr. and Mrs. Fancypants from Fancypants Angeles

The Governor’s Mansion houses the accumulated history of the thirteen California governors who lived there. It’s a charming mixture of turn-of-the-century purple velvet sofas and Italian fireplaces. Photos of famous visitors, such as JFK, line the walls next to a 60’s-inspired turquoise kitchen.  It became a museum, once the Reagans moved out, as well as one of the city’s most treasured landmarks.

My favorite detail is the claw-footed bathtub with painted red nails. When Edmund “Pat” Brown and his family lived there, his daughter Kathleen decided to make the place just a little prettier.

Even bathtubs want to feel pretty sometimes
Cause even bathtubs need to feel pretty sometimes

Despite these adorable quirks, when it was announced that the place was closing for renovations, many predicted it would close for good. California can no longer afford the extravagance of housing our officials in the style to which they’ve become accustomed, and no one has lived in the mansion since 1967. Until now.

Governor Brown is coming back home.

The governor who once refused to move into the Reagan’s former mansion (calling it a pretentious “Taj Mahal”), rides to work in a blue Plymouth and walks his dogs downtown like a regular Joe,  planned these renovations in hopes of making the Governor’s mansion inhabitable again.

Not just for him, but for all future governor’s of California.

Governor Brown thinks our quirky little house is good enough.This move will bring him even nearer and dearer to our hearts.

What Happens to California Babies When the Temperature Plummets below 70

Temperature is a relative thing. I’ve heard tales about mailmen in upstate New York who walk around in shorts when it’s 50 degrees outside. For them, 50 degrees must seem positively balmy, accustomed as they are to Volkswagen-swallowing mounds of snow.

In California, that kind of behavior would make people wonder if you’re a couple sandwiches short of a picnic. We consider 50 degrees freakishly cold out here, though it depends on what part of the state you are from.

Whenever I travel, people picture sunny Baywatch beaches when they hear I’m from California. They think life here is one long kegger party, packed with bikinis and volleyballs. There’s an odd tendency to chuckle and mimic Valley girl accents.

“That’s Los Angeles,” I try to explain. “That’s about 400 miles from where I live. Like from Kentucky to Delaware.”

Yes, California is an enormous state. Not as big as Texas or Alaska, but still large enough to cover a huge range of weather patterns. Los Angeles is the land of constant sunniness, for example, whereas San Francisco lives in constant chilly fog.

I live in Sacramento, on the other hand, a place that would be Death Valley if it were’t for a couple of rivers running through it. This place’s 100+ degree days will blister the brains right out of your head during the summer months. It tops out around 114 (that’s 45.6 degrees celsius, if that’s how you roll).

Yes, it’s a dry heat, but 114 degrees is hot, no matter what kind of excuses you come up for it. No one wants to run a marathon in 114-degree heat. If global warming spikes the temperature out here much higher, the place will become downright uninhabitable.

When the Gold Rush hit, back in the days before air-conditioning, people pouring in from the northeast were in for a nasty surprise. Padded in petticoats, velvet, and other ridiculously stifling outfits, the wives of many gold miners wrote letters back home questioning why their husbands would bring them to Satan’s personal toaster oven.

I’m convinced that when no one was looking, these women locked the door, stripped down to their underwear, and spent their time fanning themselves while muttering under their breath. I picture them saying things like “Modesty, my left butt-cheek” or “Where’s that shovel so I can scrape my boots off the floor?”

We also get a lot of droughts. We’re in the middle of one now, in fact. It’s bad enough that the city has been paying people to rip out their lawns, since they require so much water, and that having a lush green front yard will get you some disapproving stares. You’re not considered a team player nowadays unless your lawn looks painted in napalm.

So when the temperature finally dipped under 70 degrees this past week, people were thrilled. It even misted a little rain for a couple days, which put everyone in a better mood. Since the kids weren’t in any danger of heat exhaustion any longer, John and I decided to round them up and take them to the park.

While we were getting ready to go, John dressed Bridget like this:

Ready for the Yukon.
Ready for the Yukon.

You can see the panic breaking out in her nervous eyes, peeking out from behind four layers of clothes. She’s wearing socks, mittens, a snow jacket, and has a thick blanket burrito-ing her toasty little body inside the stroller.

When I questioned the reasonableness of her attire, John insisted that he “didn’t want her to get cold.”

I figured there was a snowball’s chance of that happening, since she looked prepared for a winter in Minnesota.

Still, I didn’t want to question his parenting choices. It’s actually very sweet for him to worry about her like this. He was being a Papa Bear looking after his little one, worried about how babies get cold easily and the importance of keeping them warm. John tends to live on the cautious side, and wanted to make absolutely, positively, certain that our baby wasn’t uncomfortable.

So I decided to keep quiet as we strolled around the park, letting big sister Brontë run around the swings and tackle the monkey bars. But then Bridget started screaming and flailing her arms.

“Is she hungry?” John fretted, breaking out some of the carefully prepared snack rations she was about to smack out of his hands.

“is she tired?” he asked, while trying to hike down the back of the stroller as she flipped around in desperation, sweat pouring down her little forehead.

“She’s HOT,” I shouted, while scrambling to peel off a few layers of outerwear. I unrolled her damp socks, felt her forehead, and  tried to grab the poor thing some water. She choked it down.

As the breeze hit her drenched little body, she relaxed with a deep sigh. John hoisted her into his baby carrier and she smiled as the air hit her wet baby hair and the beads of sweat sprouting all over her plump legs.

Those are the kind of shenanigans that happen when California summers dip under 70. The Sacramento heat is boiling the sanity right out of us.

Happier now
Happier now

Bridget’s First Food and the Rice Cereal Conspiracy

I KNOW you're not gonna feed me gruel, right?
You’re not gonna feed me gruel, right?

My husband and I think it may be time to start supplementing Bridget’s breastmilk with solid food.

She has dropped a couple of hints lately about being ready for it, mostly with her copious drooling, frantic limb gyration and screaming whenever she smells or sees solid food.

It’s almost as though she were trying to tell us something…

I can no longer keep up with her food demands, at any rate. She nurses so much that I swear you can watch all the hydration leave my body as though you were looking at time lapse photography of a body in the desert.

She needs more.

I take the selection of my baby’s first food very seriously. Call it superstition, over-analysis, or just a personal quirk, but I’m convinced that whatever food babies first taste will set the tone for their future appetite. It becomes the default baseline against which they will compare all other foods.

Bearing that in mind, I’m reluctant to give babies rice cereal even though it’s the national standard. There’s nothing wrong with rice cereal, except it’s tasteless.

Rice cereal is bland. Put your taste buds into a coma bland. What if babies eat all this rice cereal then think that’s how food is supposed to taste?

If babies get used to rice cereal, maybe anything smacking of flavor will intimidate them and suddenly you have a lifetime uphill battle of cramming vegetables and interesting cheeses down their throats? You’ll say, “Here Sweetie, have some steak with roasted garlic,” but they’ll just be screaming for more freakin’ graham crackers.

Is that what you want, rice cereal!?

Again,  I’m not saying rice cereal is unhealthy, just that people are strangely convinced that it’s an absolute necessity for infants. After doing a little research, it turns out that there’s a historical basis for this belief, one that no longer applies.

Apparently, infant formula didn’t used to have enough iron in it. Rice cereal is fortified with iron. So back when practically every kid was formula fed, the ones who ate rice cereal were healthier.

Nowadays, infant formula has enough iron in it, yet we maintain this lingering cultural notion that babies NEED rice cereal. They don’t.

Even Paula Druckerman is convinced. She devoted an entire book to figuring out why French kids eat what Americans consider strictly “grown-up food,” without fuss. In Bringing Up Bebe, Druckerman wrote about how difficult it was to find rice cereal in France, since French parents don’t use it, ultimately finding some imported from Germany.

I had to wonder, while reading her book, why she remained utterly convinced that her babies needed rice cereal after living in a country packed with healthy children who never ate it. Some cultural beliefs are truly entrenched.

She never addressed this question, but did mention that French families start infants off with pureed vegetables when transitioning to food. You have to wonder if this makes any difference in what kids like to eat later on.

People, especially children, tend to like food they are used to. They are highly suspicious of food they consider “weird.”

In America, we talk a lot about adult food versus kid food. We feed children “kid food” for the first decade of their lives (grilled cheese, french fries, peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, etc.).

Then after getting children used to bland concoctions, we start throwing all these adult vegetables and gourmet foods at them, nagging for them to at least try a bite.

This can’t be necessary. How long has our culture even had a special industry of “kid foods?” Were kids in, say 1820, refusing to eat because no one had a box of dinosaur nuggets?

I decided to skip the rice cereal.

The first thing I did with my firstborn, Brontë, was dip her hands into grapefruit juice, which she sampled  with curiosity and intensity. I then gave her pineapple, since it’s the kind of sweet and sour combo I thought might get her past a future sweet & bland preference.

From there, we gave Brontë samples of most the foods my husband and I ate for dinner. Sometimes she rejected a food at first (like avocados), but ended up liking it after trying them a couple of times. I found it was better to keep an open mind about what she might like than automatically give her what we assume kids like.

So far, so good.

For Bridget, our younger daughter, we decided to start her with a Summer in Athens salad from Opa Opa in Sacramento. It’s a Greek salad containing cucumbers, tomatoes, feta, and olive oil.

I figured my kids are half made of this food, so they might enjoy it.

When I was pregnant, I had terrible morning sickness and after some desperate, hungry experimentation, I found that Greek food sat well. We used to frequent Opa Opa so I could get a decent meal.

The owner, bless him, is an absolute doll. I was obviously pregnant at the time and don’t know whether Greek culture values the importance of feeding pregnant women, or if he was personally a saint, but he would offer me delicious additions all the time.

“You like lamb?” he asked me once, while eyeing my Gyro. “Let me bring you something.”

He walked off for a few minutes then came back with a slab of lamb and mashed potatoes. “This is all roasted lamb,” he explained. “These are garlic mashed potatoes. Lots of fresh roasted garlic mashed right into the potatoes. Just made them.”

Then he would beam as I tore into the new plate of food like only a ravenous pregnant woman can.

I don’t know if the owner of Opa Opa is married or whether his wife had children and what kind of table-bending extravaganza he presented her with throughout her pregnancy, but I’m certain she was well fed.

So, being completely loyal to this restaurant, we brought Bridget to Opa Opa and ordered a Summer in Athens salad for her first meal. It went against everything the rice cereal enthusiasts would advise.

I fished out a vinaigrette-soaked, feta dusted slice of cucumber and presented it to Bridget. My husband and I watched with great anticipation.

Grabbing the cucumber in her tiny fist, Bridget glanced at it briefly, trying to focus, before tentatively nibbling. Her eyes lit up, she let out a squeal, then she made angry cartoon eyebrows in an upside-down “V” shape before attacking the cucumber like she had to kill it first.

Good baby. That’s how we eat.