perspective. sometimes you have it. sometimes you don’t.

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It’s the dead of summer. Our swamp cooler went out yesterday, and I watched the thermometer tick up — 80 degrees in the house, hm. 85. 87. A drip of sweat on my back. Oh yes, time to call property management. CP was in his crib, crying, his hair matted to his head. I took him for a loop around the town with the car air conditioning blasting. A. opened the swamp cooler, and saw that the water pump wasn’t working. “Look,” he said, when I returned. “It’s really simple.”

The heating and cooling people didn’t call. A. drove to Home Depot and replaced the pump himself. “Twenty-eight dollars,” he said. “And the receipt flew out the window.”

We went on vacation to Michigan and North Carolina over the 4th and came back to the desert more exhausted than when we left. CP cried on the flights. CM had a few epic meltdowns. Schedules altered. A flight cancelled. Our car shined a warning light before we drove into Death Valley (false alarm). You know the drill. Travel, as much as I love it and seeing family, is draining.

At almost five months, CP is waking twice a night minimum. I’m running on empty.

We’ve been talking a lot about our next move when we leave the desert. It’s all up in the air, but even though it’s a year away, it increases our anxieties. Eventually we’ll end up back in the D.C. area.

“Let’s get a farm house,” I say. “Deep in Virginia.”

“Let’s build a tiny house,” A. says. I think he means it. “I don’t want a two-hour commute.”

D.C. friends came to visit last week. They’re journalists — one for National Geographic, the other for the Washington Post — and they have two girls who are the same ages as CM and CP. They rented a van for three weeks with a pull-down bed and a kitchen to tour around California. We made sweet potato and black bean tacos with an avocado pepita dip and the kids ran in the sprinklers.

“I’m really digging your life,” she said.

“We’re happy,” I said. “For now.”

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It was cloudy today, which put A. in a funk. It’s sunny 350 days of the year.

“I need a project,” he said.

We drove to Cottonwood Meadows this morning. The signs said it was bear country. We walked about 100 yards on the dusty trail before CM wanted to hang out on a log (“This used to be a tree, mama”). He didn’t want to hike anymore.

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So I wandered. And I found a tree with a hole in the trunk, covered in dried sap. And I snapped dozens of photos. Same square of the tree, different exposures, different angles. How each of us see the world. Some with golden hues, some black; some with smooth lines, some with dead bark.

When I returned to the log, it started to drizzle. CP was ready for his nap. CM had sand in his shoes. Two crying babies. Two parents, shaking their heads. Ready for the next laugh, sun and a bit of inspiration.

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pure exhaustion from working again

My rhythm in the last week and a half has changed, and my mind is strained. I’m forgetting things, mis-speaking and generally feeling like I’m losing it. Especially when my 2 1/2 year old says: “Mama, you mean dishwasher, not washing machine.”

I started part-time work again for NPR from my kitchen table in the desert. Every week-day morning. I’m doing what I did for four years (and change), but it was two years ago. (Here is a glimpse of my fancy office.)

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And I’m currently not getting much sleep. CP still wakes two-three times a night, and CM moved into his homemade bunk-bed — and new bedroom — Sunday. He’s thrilled, but has been getting up in the middle of the night searching for me: “Mama? Mama?”

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So it feels hard. Really hard.

A. asked me what I thought would give once I started working again. Here’s what I’ve noticed so far: baking (probably better there isn’t a stash of cookies and muffins in the house anyway), phone calls with friends and family (they were few and far between anyway), exercise (though this is a priority, so the past two mornings I got up at 6 a.m. to run), blogging (rectifying that now) and playdates.

But those are just activities.

What I forgot was how much energy it takes to think. How, if my mind is focused on editing, I forget to return a library book. (We currently owe 50 cents.) How I couldn’t remember today if I’d signed CM out when I picked him up from school. How I forgot to put my wedding ring back on after pottery on Sunday. And I took both sets of car keys with me to the studio, leaving A. stranded with both boys when our swamp cooler stopped working in 110 degree weather. Yeah, that happened.

I didn’t suspect my mind would give.

At the end of the day, I collapse into bed because that kind of thinking — editing and writing headlines — saps me. It requires conditioning, like anything else, and I’m out of shape.

But I know I’m lucky to work part-time from home. It’s ideal, really. And the work is getting easier each day. My friend and co-worker said it’s like riding a bike, and it is. I am thrilled to be working again for an organization (and people) I love, and A. and I agree that I couldn’t say “no” (and I didn’t want to). I’m settling into a new rhythm, and I know — I know — I’ll get there. But man, I hope I get more sleep soon.

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so there i was, staring at a bear…

So there I was Sunday evening in the woods near Mammoth Lake, my 2 1/2 year old near our car, my 3 month old sleeping in his car seat next to our tent, my eyes locked with a big black bear’s.

We were ready to camp for a third consecutive night on the route home from a camping/climbing adventure near South Lake Tahoe.

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Earlier that day, we got a flat at the ghost town in Bodie, Calif. (My theory is the Wild West bandit/drunk ghosts were angry because they heard me say I don’t believe in ghosts. So they popped our tire.) A. put on a spare while I nursed and we hatched a plan. It was after 5 p.m., so we decided to drive near the closest town — Mammoth — camp and then get a new tire in the morning.

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We turned onto a side road off of the Mammoth scenic route. “Think we can camp here?” A. asked. We looked around. Seemed OK. “It’s so gorgeous,” A. said. “I wonder why no one else is out here.”

We set up our tent on a bed of pine needles and laid out the sleeping bags. We sat in our camping chairs and ate tortillas with peanut butter, grapes and Hershey’s chocolate. We spotted a small bear in the distance that wasn’t interested in us. We brushed our teeth. CM and I were at the car to put on PJs, and A. had moved our bear canister with everything I could think of: my deodorant, our baby wipes, sunscreen.

And then I saw a big blur moving through the trees.

… “Babe?”

It was camouflaged.

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A. and I yelled a few times, but the noise didn’t phase the bear. It stared at us, its ears standing up. I pretended to charge it. It took a few steps backward, but then cocked its head and took a few steps forward. I picked up a stick and yelled loudly and ran toward that m’f’ing bear — wild and crazy — before it turned and fled, kicking up pine needles as it ran. My heart was pounding and A. said he’d seen lots of bears in the wild, but that was the most nervous he’s been. And then: “If I was a bear, I would have been afraid of you, too.”

We had already spent two nights at a beautiful campsite about a half hour from South Lake Tahoe: Fire! S’mores! Privacy! Stars! Trees!

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A. went trad climbing on Saturday, while I wandered Tahoe with another mom and her two kids. We ate breakfast burritos at the funky Keys Cafe, went on a mini hike at the Taylor Creek Visitor Center where we gawked at trout and blew dandelions and then we dipped our feet in the ice-cold water at Pope Beach.

We were happy and didn’t need another night sleeping on the ground. So, after a short discussion, we decided it was wise to pack up and drive home the three hours on a spare. We can put everything that smells like food in the bear canister, except for me and CP. I’m not a shrinky dink. And this nursing mom didn’t want a bear sniffing around our tent for milk in the middle of the night. [Shudder.]

As we got on 395 in the last minutes of soft evening sun, we laughed together as the boys slept in the backseat. “Are we wimps?” “Yeah, we’re wimps. But it’s the right call.”

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toddler books, revisited

A year ago I wrote about how I was desperately tired of our collection of toddler books. And I needed recommendations. Several of you came through with awesome suggestions (like “Giraffes Can’t Dance” and “Little Blue Truck”) — some of you even sent us books (thank you!) — and now I can’t imagine running out of book ideas.

duck-on-a-bikeAlso, I love the library and have misgivings for calling it shabby. I’ve since decided that shabby is charming. The librarians are kind (is that a given?) and are smitten with CM. It’s now open on Fridays. And the online system — where I can literally “order” any book I want — is amazing.

Anyway, for those of you seeking book recommendations because your little ones often demand you read a book over and over and over again and you don’t want to read the same books over and over and over again and the thought of going through the same books with baby no. 2 is torture, here are some more suggestions. What we love about these books are the creativity, the illustrations and the rhythm and rhyme (some of them you can almost sing).

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  • “Kiss Good Night” by Amy Hest
  • “Bear Says Thanks,” “Bear’s New Friend” (and others in the series) by Karma Wilson
  • “Barnyard Song” by Rhonda Gowler Greene and Robert M. Bender
  • “Ladybug Girl and the Big Snow” (and others in the series) by Jackie Davis and David Soman
  • “And Then It’s Spring” by Julie Folgiano
  • “The Pencil” by Allan Ahlberg
  • “The Penguin Cha-Cha” by Kristi Valient
  • “To Market To Market” by Anne Miranda and Janet Stevens
  • “The Kissing Hand” by Audrey Penn
  • “Duck on a Bike” by David Shannon
  • “Penguin and Pinecone” by Salina Yoon

Also, a friend told me that Dolly Parton has a foundation called Imagination Library that will send your little ones books every month (depending on where you live). I never knew Dolly Parton was so cool.

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peaches, bunk-beds and heat

It’s starting to get hot in the desert. The kind of hot where I don’t want any of my skin exposed to the unforgiving sun. The kind of hot where when you walk into the scrub, you worry about snakes and occasionally see a sand-colored iguana dart past you. The kind of hot where it’s more quiet than usual around noon. And the sky seems bluer than usual.

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It’s also peach season. Our peach tree, which yielded 18 peaches last year, has a few hundred this year. So I’m blanching and freezing them for smoothies. And on Saturday, I made my first pie ever from scratch, using this crust and this filling. I cut the sugar in half and didn’t put any on top. It was Meditteranean-style delicious where we could actually enjoy the sweetness of the peaches. Last night, A. and CM walked freshly-picked soft peaches to the neighbors.

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A. is working hard on building bunk-beds for the boys. Over the past few weeks, he’s taken over the garage cutting and sanding and assembling the wood. This weekend he painted. CM wanted green, so we picked out three shades on Friday, ultimately deciding on Happy Camper. We ordered mattresses — splurging for organic to avoid chemicals — and I’ll pick out some sheets this week. We hope to move CM into his new room by next month so we can shift CP into the crib.

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As for the boys, CM now has six imaginary friends, who are always with us, on our hikes, in the backyard, in the car: Bevi, Doc, Wood, More Wood, Mud and … wait for it… Jason. CP, who’s not quite three months, rolled over and is kicking and coo-ing and smiling all of the time. He’s a calm, happy baby who sleeps well, and that makes for a calm and happy me.

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beauty in the Eastern Sierras

I took my best friend (who’s visiting from D.C.) and the boys into the mountains yesterday. We hiked among the pine trees. Tiny snowflakes swirled — the air was cool and fresh. We ate a picnic of veggie wraps, apricots, bananas and nuts and dried cranberries on a rock. A marmot peeked at us as we walked the trail, and CM lay in the dirt and tried to write his name with a stick. And then we stripped off our winter hats and fleeces, slipped on flip-flops, and drove on — through open land under blue skies — to Bishop while the boys slept. There we had coffee, soup and quiche at Black Sheep Coffee and saw climbers with chalk on their hands. It felt so good being on the road during the week.

On Sunday, A. and I went to Horseshoe Meadows in the Eastern Sierras. (Photos below.) We walked along a stream at 10,000 feet, searched for fish darting under the weeds and enjoyed the solitude.

My awe of the mountains is increasing every day I go into them. I said to A. as we wound our way down the mountainside: “It’s OK. You can say, ‘I told you so.'”

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sweet tooth, (mostly) healthy recipes

Ever since CP was born two months ago, my sweet tooth has been pestering me in a creepy horror film kind of way. There’s a low murmur in my head: “E., E., eaaaat me!” I don’t know if it was the amazingly delicious chocolate croissant I had within two hours of CP’s birth that set me off, but I’m fighting that voice in my head.

The thing is, I know that if I don’t satisfy my sweet tooth slightly, I’ll give myself over to the voice and make batch of crazy fattening oatmeal cookies and munch on at least 20 throughout the day.

So, along with making fruit smoothies, I’m seeking recipes that call for whole wheat flour (or are gluten free) as well as natural sweeteners like fruit, honey and maple syrup. And I’m making mini bites. That way, I can eat three or four guilt-free.

Here’s what I’ve made in the last few weeks that have been delicious (click on red to get to the recipe):

Chocolate Brownies (From the Longevity Kitchen cookbook by Rebecca Katz, made with maple syrup, almond flour and dark chocolate.)
photo 1-7Strawberry Cupcakes (I halved the frosting recipe, used only one cup of powdered sugar and frosted fewer than half of the cupcakes. I also used maple syrup and honey as the sweetener. I discovered that it’s tastier to eat them minus the frosting and doused in milk with extra strawberries.)
photo 2-9Banana Coconut Muffins (Made with whole wheat pastry flour and coconut oil. These were a hit at the park on Monday. I suggest doubling this recipe.)
photo-11 Orange Oatmeal Cookies (From the Healthy Kitchen cookbook by Rosie Daley. These are better cold, so I keep them in the freezer. And I make a batch at least every two weeks.)
photo-10Do you have any go-to “healthy” recipes that satisfy your sweet cravings?

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an oasis recharges my mom battery

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Last Thursday, I sent A. an email.

“I’m giving my two weeks notice as of today. I think that’s sufficient time for you to find a replacement. Thank you and good day.”

Hitting send made me chuckle with glee and my agitation abated.

I was having a ragged day, where both boys were crying at the same time all day long. My two-year-old refused his nap but was whiny because he was overtired. I was exhausted from being up all night with CP. All I wanted was some rest. I drank three cups of coffee (yes, I’m nursing). By the time A. got home, I handed him the boys and sat on the back patio with a glass of wine and my Edwidge Danticat book and took a few deep breaths.

A. had the next day off, so we drove to LA to have lunch with friends at A.’s alma mater Caltech, see a pediatrician for CP’s umbilical hernia (we had a doctor crush), play in the sand at Venice Beach and eat salmon tacos and plantains with another friend. The day was GLORIOUS.

Then, on Sunday, we drove to Darwin Falls in Death Valley and hiked one mile to a stunning oasis. Ah, that oasis and those wildflowers! The boys slept in the car and were happy and I felt re-set and ready to battle the toddler/baby demanding duo.

And, what can I say, but that both boys are napping as I write this. I am the victor!

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my pottery mojo

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When CP was three weeks old, I started the next pottery class. I knew I was exhausted, but my dear pottery teacher gave me a slight nudge. “How about you pay for half of a class?” she offered. “Just come when you can.”

That first evening, I left CP and CM with A. and my in-laws. I was a half hour late. It was the witching hour, so I was nervous about leaving a crying baby.

And here’s what happened: I forgot how to throw. I couldn’t center the clay and I felt cloudy and woozy. My body and mind were way more exhausted than I realized. I was putting everything into my little one and I was still recovering from giving birth.

“I lost my mojo!” I told Lois, panicked.

I usually make 15-20 pieces during a class. This time I made seven. My goal was to throw mugs, and I couldn’t form it into the right shape.

When it comes to creating art, I knew I had to be flexible and forgiving. So instead I learned how to throw a lid and I practiced throwing a plate.

And I gave myself the gift of pursuing a passion during a time when I’m giving so much to others.

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the glorious mountains

We hiked into the glorious Eastern Sierras yesterday. Onion Valley, north of Mt. Whitney, is only about an hour and a half drive from us, but it was my first time in the mountains since the fall. The smell of pine, the fresh air, the snow, the birds singing, the rush of a waterfall: I felt alive and rejuvenated. Happy Monday, all.

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