Fish Out of Water

Musings and observations about life from an East Coast native now living on the Left Coast in the California State Capitol since 2004. This fish has made her home in Madison, WI (7 years); Portland, OR (2 years); Las Vegas, NV (7 months); Middlebury, VT (3 summers); Marne-la-Vallee, a small town east of Paris, France (6 months); Middletown, CT (3 years); and Marshfield, MA, the fish's coastal hometown 40 miles south of Boston (17 years).

Location: Sacramento, California, United States


Chicago Trip

Mr. E and I recently spent some time together in Chicago visiting with his parents and running the BTN 5K race, which we did for the first time last year.

Friday, July 20-Monday, July 24
Mr. E actually headed to Chicago on Thursday, July 19th, but I stayed in Sac one more day before joining him in the Midwest. He picked up our race packets at Fleet Feet on Thursday, which was very helpful. My direct flight on American was uneventful right up until we landed, when heavy thunderstorms and lightning blew into the area. We landed just in time to avoid getting stuck in airport ground crew closures due to a nearby lighting strike -- phew! Given the nasty weather, we took a taxi into the city and caught a glimpse of a full rainbow half-arc on the way as the rain started to taper off and the sun emerged. After dropping off my bag in the apartment, we trotted off to Mariano's to pick up dinner items to bring back to the apartment for ourselves and Mr. E's parents.

On Saturday, I started off the morning with an hour swim in the awesome pool that's part of the 7th floor Fitness Center, and we grabbed a taxi to head north to the Chicago History Museum. Neither of us had been there before, and I had read about a fashion exhibit currently on display at the Museum in my France-Amérique magazine. We both enjoyed the Making Mainbocher exhibition as well as the extensive information detailing the fascinating history of the city of Chicago. Mr. E had a snack at the Museum Café -- a classic Chicago Dog with homemade chips:

We then walked a couple of blocks to find some Divvy bikes and pedaled our way back south along State Street to a Divvy station near Millennium Park, as I wanted to get some froyo at the underground station. A combo of dairy-free coconut and pineapple -- yum! Mr. E worked out in the afternoon while I found a cozy spot to read, and we then met up with M, R, and MK at the London House roof-top bar. The outdoor terrace was a bit too warm and sunny for me, so we managed to find a bit of shade to linger in before heading down one level to the indoor lounge for additional drinks and snacks. When we departed, R and I made a detour to Dylan's Candy Bar on Michigan Ave for some sweets and then met up with Mr. E, M, and MK just around the corner at Howell's & Hood for more snacks and drinks, including the awesome Shark Week themed Shore Thing cocktail for me, which came with a shark accent and red vines straw and with some of the proceeds going to support the Shedd Aquarium:

Sunday morning was warmer and more humid -- not ideal conditions for our run! We had already decided to run separately, since Mr. E had a time goal in mind and is definitely faster than I am. He ended up placing 5th in his age group and was pleased with his time. We met up at the UW alumni tent at the end, and he took advantage of the free beer and brats while I went back to his parents' building and swam for about 30 minutes to help cool down and stretch out. Coincidentally, my mentee R, who currently lives and works in D.C. but is originally from the Chicago area, was also in Chicago for the weekend for a friend's bridal shower and bachelorette party, so we were able to coordinate our schedules to meet for late morning coffee at one of the many Starbucks on Michigan Ave. I then caught up with Mr. E and M at the AMC Dine-In Theatre just a block away, where we watched the expensive new Luc Besson production, "Valerian." The effects were pretty spectacular, but the storyline was rather predictable, and the love story in particular between the lead characters Valerian and Laureline felt incredibly trite and forced. After the movie, we went across the street to Eataly for late-afternoon drinks and then walked back to the apartment, passing by the innovative and interesting female-architect designed Aqua building. Mr. E had taken a great photo of it from the underside during his earlier walk:

From this angle, it doesn't even look like a building! All of the sinewy patterns are a result of the staggered and differently shaped balconies that crawl up the sides of the building, making it look like a wave (hence the name -- Aqua). We enjoyed a yummy homemade shrimp spring roll and chicken pho dinner with M and Mr. E's parents at the apartment. M left after we ate, so Mr. E and I had some additional conversation time alone with his parents.

On Monday, Mr. E's mom left early for work, as she's teaching two courses for the summer session at the School of the Art Institute through mid-August. I did a final swim preceded by some yoga, and we had breakfast with Mr. E's dad before going to the Art Institute to view the Gaughin: Artist as Alchemist exhibition, which had also been featured in France-Amérique. Thanks to the Family Pass from Mr. E's mom, entry to both the museum and the special exhibit was free! We finished up some leftovers back at the apartment for lunch and chatted a bit with Mr. E's dad before he left for a clinic appointment. Before heading off to the train for the airport, we did some travel planning for upcoming trips and then walked to the Metra station to catch the Blue Line to O'Hare. Mr. E walked me to Terminal 3 for my American flight and then went off to Terminal 1 for his United flight. We checked in with each other during his layover in Denver, which coincided with my arrival in Sac (yay for direct flights!), and I fetched Odo from the daily parking lot and drove home, where the kitties greeted me with meows and purrs and fur. By the time Mr. E got home near midnight, the felines and I were all in bed!


Belated Travel Updates -- J Family Trips

Friday, June 30-Sunday, July 2: Lakewood
On my way back east for my annual 4th of July week visit to Mom, I stopped off for a long weekend in Lakewood, CO, to hang out with my girl A. R and F were off on their own adventure in Kentucky for about a week, so A and I got to have some in-depth girls-only time together to chat and catch up.

We took advantage of the sunny and relatively cool weather on Friday to go for a hike and then focused on indoor (air-conditioned) activities on Saturday and Sunday, which were both warmer and more humid. Yuck! Not my favorite!

During the weekend, we hit up Ikea for breakfast and a bit of shopping (note to self: bulk candy display apparently doesn't get refilled until later in the day - darn!), did prep for several "freezer meals" that will be easy to pull out and cook when the new baby arrives, put together the crib and new changing table, assembled a new lamp, decorated the back of F's door with an animal growth chart decal, played several games, and put together an entire puzzle in one evening. Oh - we also went to the Alamo Drafthouse to see "The Beguiled." Neither of us was blown away by the movie, despite the great cast and positive critical reviews, but we definitely enjoyed the fresh popcorn and veggie pizza. And my cocktail was also quite tasty!

It was great to have some quality time for just the two of us, and I'm looking forward to a return trip around Halloween to help celebrate the holiday and meet the new family member, who is due to arrive within the next few weeks.

Monday, July 3-Monday, July 10: Marshfield
My flight from Denver landed in Boston in the early morning hours of Monday, July 3rd. The drive to Mom's was pretty quick at that time of day, and I did minimal unpacking before going to bed. This visit was relatively quiet and mostly restful. A few doctor's visits for both Mom and me, but luckily we managed to fit them all in even with the July 4th holiday.

We finished Mom's entire project list, including some computer work and some house chores, so the week was also quite productive. And we even got some beach time early in the week before the tide schedule got a bit tricky and prior to the heavy rainstorm on Friday.

Mom and I both worked on Wednesday & Thursday, and Mr. E arrived on Thursday afternoon for the weekend. He had been in Chicago visiting with his family since Saturday. I was also able to meet up with my high school pal, E, for lunch on Thursday, and we had our traditional lobster dinner with Aunt M & Uncle J on Saturday evening, since Mr. E left mid-afternoon on Sunday.

Mr. E and I took advantage of the very rainy weather on Friday to catch "Wonder Woman." We initially attempted to see the show at the Patriot Cinemas in Hanover, but the rain and an accident on Route 3 delayed us by nearly 25 minutes, so we were too late for the show time we wanted. Instead, we grabbed lunch at a nearby D'Angelo's and then headed south to the Kingston Mall to see the movie later in the afternoon. I'd definitely rate "Wonder Woman" more highly than "The Beguiled" that I saw with A!

Throughout the week, I headed several times to the Percy Walker Pool in Duxbury to swim laps and also went to multiple Zumba classes at The Workout Club, which is always one of my favorite activities when visiting Marshfield since the CAC here in Sac no longer offers Zumba as part of the Group Fitness programming.

My return flight on Monday was direct from Boston to Sac on Jet Blue, and I was lucky enough to have a middle seat empty next to me, just as I had had during my Southwest flight from Denver the week before. Mr. E and the kitties welcomed me home, and we all settled back into our regular routines for the week.


Rome Trip (Day 8) -- End of Trip!

Day 8: Tuesday, May 24
We hit the road at 7:30am to avoid any potential conflict with the motorcade that was due to pass through in the morning (the U.S. Ambassador's Residence is only about five minutes from the hotel), and we were at the airport and through security within one hour. The Star Alliance airport lounge, Le Anfore, provided some basic breakfast items along with the necessary morning coffee. During our nine-hour flight to Washington, D.C., I took full advantage of the seat-back personal entertainment system by watching five (!) movies, including three foreign films (Japanese, French, and Spanish) and two selections from the Tribeca Film Festival. Sweet!

Our flight arrived in D.C. almost one hour early, so we had an even longer layover than we expected. We spent the 3+ hours in the United Lounge, which we were able to access for no fee since we were traveling on an international itinerary. Sweet again! The lounge was relatively empty when we first arrived, so I was able to find a quiet corner to spread out and do a bit of yoga before settling in to enjoy the snacks and adult beverages available in the lounge. As we were waiting to board our flight to Sacramento, I looked up and saw my colleague L waiting for the same flight. She was coming back from a work conference... small world, right?!

After a long day of travel, we got home to the kitties around 9:45pm Sacramento time, which gave us just enough time to unpack and get ready to return to work the next day and still get to bed by about 10:30pm in an attempt to counter-act the effects of jet lag.

Rome Trip (Day 7)

Day 7: Tuesday, May 23
Art Museum + Vatican Area Tour
Our first stop on our final day in Rome was the nearby Galleria Nazionale d'Arte Moderna e Contemporaneo (GNAM), which was just down the hill from our hotel.

The collection is currently displayed in a unique manner in alignment with the theme Time is Out of Joint, so instead of having artwork organized in a traditional way based on century or style or artist, each gallery contained an eclectic assortment of art, and it was left up to the viewer to determine what theme or concept might link the works together or how each piece of art might reference or reflect another. Fascinating! We particularly enjoyed several of the sculptures and some of the other pieces composed of non-traditional materials.

The GNAM collection includes works by some very well-known artists, including Monet, Klimt, Jackson Pollock, and Andy Warhol.

Our original plan was to take the tram from the GNAM over to the Vatican area for our afternoon tour. However, after waiting nearly 15 minutes and not seeing any trams pass by, I decided to double-check the info at the station and luckily noticed a small sign indicating that the tram stop by the GNAM wouldn't be in service on May 23 or May 24. So instead we retraced our route through the Villa Borghese to board the Metro at Flaminio and ride it two stops to Ottaviano to save ourselves some walking (and some sweating -- another warm & sunny day!).

Once we managed to dodge the annoying folks along the sidewalk trying to sell Vatican tours and tickets, we found the lovely, quiet, and air-conditioned Rendez-Vous cafe as a lunch spot. Mr. E had pizza, and I had a salad with tuna along with an Aperol spritz.

We stayed in the shade as much as possible on the way to our tour group meeting spot. This was another tour booked through Trip Advisor/Viator and operated by City Wonders. And again, we had an excellent guide, the very knowledgeable, friendly, and unflappable Rosanna, who kept her calm and pleasant demeanor even when one of the other guests somehow managed to lose her Vatican Museums ticket about two minutes after Rosanna had distributed them to the group and warned us that we'd need them for entry!

Our 3-hour tour included parts of the Vatican Museums, beginning with the courtyard, where we also stopped in front of some explanatory posters about the Sistine Chapel, since Rosanna wouldn't be able to make any group presentation during that part of the tour.

We then joined the herds of people touring through various parts of the Vatican Museums, including the Raphael Rooms. Yikes. Way too many people. We couldn't linger in any area for very long, and even just trying to see the art was challenging sometimes due to the enormous crowds. Mr. E did still get some good photos, but I'd definitely recommend to anyone else to opt for the early-morning 7:30am group tour option in order to access the site before anything is open to the general public.

Our tour finished with a rather quick stroll through the Sistine Chapel, where we glimpsed the famous ceiling, and then Rosanna released us near the entry to St. Peter's so that we could explore the cathedral on our own.

As we left the Cathedral to walk through St. Peter's Square, we finally saw some of the Papal Swiss guards in their colorful uniforms.

Although we had hoped and planned to see the other part of the Menorah joint exhibition, we weren't able to find the right spot to access, so we just walked back to the Metro to return to the Flaminio station and find somewhere for dinner. Our primary criterion for an eating spot was functional air conditioning, as we were a bit overheated from all of the wandering around during the day, and we luckily found the nearby My Bags cafe, which offered fresh, light, made-to-order salads and sandwiches. Yum! And of course I had to order an Aperol spritz to go with dinner. We finished the evening with a final walk up the hill to our hotel to pack up and get ready for our departure the next morning.


Rome Trip (Day 6)

Day 6: Monday, May 22
Roma-ing + Jewish Ghetto & Museum
I started off the day with some yoga and then Mr. E joined me for a run that retraced my route from earlier in the week and added another bridge to extend the distance and time a bit. Much busier and warmer even just one hour later in the morning! We enjoyed a leisurely breakfast back at the hotel and then took the tram two stops to the other side of the River Tiber. Our original plan was to walk to the hop on/hop off boat loading dock, but as we strolled along the river, we began to realize that J's cautions about the boat tour were well founded -- the embankment walls are rather high, so you can't see much from the river's surface, and the water itself is rather murky. Definitely nothing like the Bateaux Mouches experience in Paris on the Seine!

So instead we decided to just walk all the way to the Jewish Ghetto and the Ebraico Museum, which were our final destinations for the day. We got some great views of the city, including St. Peter's Cathedral, as we crossed back over the river to the shadier side.

Our route took us past the Campo de' Fiori, with its large street market, and through the Piazza where the French Embassy is located.

We reached the Museo Ebraico just before noon, so we were able to begin looking around the exhibits on our own before joining the [very] brief 12:15pm tour in English of the Synagogue, which is right above the Museum. The tour consisted of sitting in the pews and hearing an overview of the history of the Jews in Italy, which is quite different from the two other primary strands of Juadism (Sephardic or Ashkenazi). We learned, for example, that all of the synagogues here follow the Orthodox traditions, including separation of men and women during services. Also, the liturgy in Rome is apparently different, as is some of the pronunciation of Hebrew.

Once the presentation was finished, we returned to the Museum to explore the rest of the exhibits, including a special exhibition about the Menorah, which was jointly organized with the Vatican Museums. In fact, our ticket price was reduced due to this special and first-in-history occasion, and we also received a pass to access the other part of the exhibition at the Vatican.

J had recommended a restaurant to us called Nonna Betta, which was just around the corner from the Museum, so we decided to try it out despite the busyness of the lunch hour.

We had to wait a bit for our order to be taken, but the food was delicious and the server was extremely friendly once we had his attention (thanks to the efforts of a fellow diner at the next table). Mr. E was persuaded to try to specialty of the house, a lightly fried artichoke, and then we shared the eggplant parmigiana and a white-fish stuffed ravioli. We also both ordered the kosher house wine -- red for Mr. E and white for me. We were a bit surprised when they arrived as half bottles rather than just glasses. Should have read the menu more attentively to note the 375ml next in the description!

After lunch, we made several purchases at the shop next door, including some Nonna Betta branded risotto mix and coffee beans, and then started to make our way out of the Jewish Ghetto area, stopping at a gelateria along the way. Mr. E had the pistachio (of course), and I was thrilled to have numerous and unusual non-dairy choices (makes sense in a kosher environment). I ordered the cinnamon apple sorbetto, which included bits of real apple and peel. Fabulous!

We took a different street on our way back towards the Campo de' Fiori, and I found a great bag for S that included free monogramming. The market was starting to close down for the day, but we still got to browse through several of the stalls to admire the local products, including oils, pasta, fruits and veggies, and leather goods.

We got back to the hotel with enough time to change into our swimsuits and hit the pool to cool down a bit and enjoy a poolside cocktail before the 6pm closing time. Dinner consisted of leftovers and items from our Carrefour trip along with a fresh pizza for Mr. E from a nearby restaurant that the porter recommended. We also shared the bottle of kosher Merlot that we had procured earlier in the day (and which was the same wine that Mr. E enjoyed with lunch).