enjoying simple pleasures

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When we came to the desert a little less than two years ago for A.’s interview, I sat on a park bench on the only green swatch of land I had seen for miles, nursed five-month-old CM and watched the black ravens fly from tree to tree. They looked at me with their beady, smart eyes, their wing-spans longer than I am tall and shouted: “Caw, caw!” I heard: “Scram, scram!”

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The playground was empty, a far cry from the always full playground in D.C. I felt lonely in that moment — and hormonal and exhausted — and I knew we were moving to place I never would have picked. I cried that afternoon on the car ride back to L.A. “I like change and I like to think I am adventurous,” I choked out to A. “But maybe I’m fooling myself.”

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A. was seeking a simpler life, away from the bustle of the city. He wanted quiet. Open land. Solitude. And the job was a perfect fit. I knew coupling with A. meant adventure and change, but this wasn’t the change I had in mind. All I could think of was what I was losing: a job I loved, my friends, my community. Logically, I knew this was a chance to explore California and the West Coast and stay home with my son, but even though the move was short-term, my heart was unsure.

We’ve lived here for a year and a half now, and this is what I can say with confidence: I choose my own happiness. All I have to do is focus on what’s beautiful about being here — the warm winters, the sunshine, the quiet, the fruit trees in our backyard, the undistracted time with my little ones, my pottery teacher and her studio, the mountains, A.’s flexible work schedule — and I feel at peace.

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Also, we are officially re-calibrated. The simplest things are now exciting. We went bowling a few weeks ago and I broke 100 for the first time in my life and it was a MAJOR LIFE ACCOMPLISHMENT. We took the train to San Francisco for a wedding when CP was a month old, and ate Indian food, and it was THE BEST INDIAN FOOD IN CALIFORNIA. I walked into an Anthropologie and saw THE MOST BEAUTIFUL DRESSES EVER MADE.

When we lived in the heart of the city, we took good food, good friends, good museums for granted. And, I often felt bad because I was over-booked, over-tired and felt under-accomplished.

I’ve learned that living simply — in a place with zero good restaurants, no shopping and little entertainment but an incredible amount of sunshine, fresh fruit and fresh air — is in many ways healthier for me. And it allows me to experience life’s pleasures in a more intense way.

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the eclipse from the Calif. desert

Star-gazing is among the coolest of our California-desert experiences. Last night, A. took these photos of the eclipse with a 300mm lens from our front patio.

I stretched out on our king bed and slept for a rare four hours, an exceptional feat since our seven-week old has a stomach virus. Little CP is on the mend, and A. got to see a once-in-a-lifetime event, so the whole family is happy this morning.

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12:14 a.m.
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surprises with baby no. 2

One of the biggest surprises when A. and I came home with baby no. 2 was how all of sudden my first baby seemed HUGE. Like, holy crap, my 27-month-old grew into a Godzilla-sized toddler over night. And he was no longer my baby. I don’t say that in a sad way — though I could see how hormones could make moms grieve this shift in relationship with their first baby — but rather in an awed way.

The other surprise is how I feel fine, this time, staying home all day every day. I’m no longer living in a poorly-lit two-bedroom dungeon in D.C. Our house in the desert is full of light, and the California sun and blue skies allow me breathe. Also, there is truly nowhere to go. And I’m OK with accomplishing what feels like nothing: no crocheting, no trying new recipes, no writing. I’ve let go of some of my over-achiever tendencies that gnaw at me.

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With CM, I walked everywhere — up to my favorite coffee shop, through the photo exhibits at National Geographic, to brunch spots with friends. And I was beyond exhausted.

Now I’m literally sitting in the rocker in my bedroom, or on a lawn chair in our backyard, nursing and cuddling CP, his full lips puckered against my chest. I watch him smile in his sleep, or squeak those adorable piglet squeaks. And instead of feeling stifled and penned in and emotional, I feel joyous.

I have this bad habit of looking ahead when I’m excited or inspired or filled with love. When I arrived in Peru solo for a trek to Machu Picchu — one of the best vacations I’ve ever been on — I went on a hike and looked out at the city of Cusco and found myself thinking about where I could travel next. And so it is, now, as I snuggle CP, my mind is wandering to baby no. 3 — something I never thought I’d desire.

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sweet baby, a week early

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The contractions start at 4 a.m. on Saturday. I recognize this cramping feeling. I peer out the window to gauge the daylight and roll over and drift back to sleep. At 5 a.m., I can’t sleep. I pick up my glowing phone and click on the “contraction” app: 60 seconds. 7-8 minutes apart. Hm, this could be it.

A. wakes at 5:30. “I think I’m having contractions,” I say. Nonchalant. We slowly get up, take a shower and pack our bags. I throw on a skirt. A. wakes ups my mother-in-law. “Is this it?” she says, beaming, in her pajamas. She hurries into the bathroom to get ready. I press my hands on the wall as I bear the peak of a contraction.

My best guy friend from college sleeps in the living room, his face buried in the dark brown couch. He has to catch a flight that morning from LAX. I eat a bowl of homemade granola in the dark kitchen.

I wander back toward the bedroom.

A.: “How are they now?”

He’s whispering. We’re in the hallway, near the bathroom.

Me: “Three minutes apart.” (I had one that was two apart, but didn’t tell A.)

A.: “Let’s go, I don’t want to deliver in the bathtub.”

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toddler boot camp

We had no idea we were about to put C. through boot camp this weekend, but that’s exactly what we did. And, in turn, we got our butts kicked too.

We ditched all diapers. Daytime, nighttime — gone.

And yes, this type of potty training is no joke. I wanted to run to the mountains. I wanted to drink several glasses of wine with a girlfriend. I wanted to go back to the pottery studio and throw pot after pot. And then I wanted to collapse. But I had to watch my little guy’s every move.

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the danger, thrill of raku firings

DSC_4980This weekend, I experienced my first raku firings at Lois Hinman‘s private pottery studio with views of the Sierras. It’s moments like these that make me thrilled to be in the isolated desert.

Of course, I couldn’t be all that involved in the firing because of the baby inside of me — not only is the process of moving the pots from the kiln into open flames dangerous, but also the fumes and the smoke are intense. But I could take a few pictures while wearing a heavy-duty mask that keeps out chemicals (after the first firing I decided to stay inside and wait patiently).

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The interesting part of raku is you have no idea what you’ll get. I glazed the vase below with imperial blue, but it often turns copper.

I made a few trivets, a few vases, a business card holder for A. (per request) and two garlic holders. (I also threw some bowls, but decided to high-fire those so that we can put them in the dishwasher.)

Here are my favorite two pieces:

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DSC_5081Up next (post-baby): Learning how to throw lids.

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food facts i wish i had known long ago

It’s February, less than a month from my due date with baby no. 2, and my new(ish) fascination with food and nutrients hasn’t abated. (Also, I’m nesting: The baby is doing full, uncomfortable turns inside of me). And now, I can’t contain myself: I need to share what I’ve learned. Do you ever have that feeling? You read something and you feel like everyone needs to know it now.

The book Eating on the Wild Side by journalist Jo Robinson, published last year, is filled with information about nutrients in our food. It’s information she gleaned from thousands of journal articles.

Here are a few things that have surprised me:

  • If you want to reap the benefits of garlic, you need to peel and either mince, chop or press garlic and let it sit for 10 minutes before adding it to heat. Garlic contains the ingredients to make allicin — a cancer-fighting agent — but they’re in separate compartments and need to interact with each other to turn into allicin. If you don’t let it sit and throw it in your frying pan, you get merely flavoring and zero of the garlic’s benefits. Crazy, no?
  • Canned tomatoes have more lycopene (from the heating process in canning) than fresh tomatoes.
  • Canned beans have more antioxidants than bagged beans (and here I thought I was somehow harming my family because I was relying on the convenience of the cans).
  • Don’t peel (organic) carrots. If you do, you lose 1/3 of their nutrients.
  • Blueberries have four times more antioxidant activity than any other fruit and 10 times more than most vegetables. Cooked blueberries are even better for you than fresh blueberries.
  • Steam or cook your broccoli immediately. The longer it sits in your fridge, the more nutrients it loses. Also, raw broccoli contains up to 20 times more sulforaphane (a cancer-fighting agent) than cooked broccoli.
  • Adding avocado to a salad can increase the amount of beta carotene and lutein from the greens by as much 1500 percent.

IMG_2046I’m learning how best to store vegetables and fruits and grains. I’ve given up white rice, white pasta and most bread, have cut down on my sugar (I’m using honey to bake and on my oatmeal), have cut out my every-other-day bacon habit and I’m trying tofu and soy sausage.

The Midwesterner in me is shocked at how my time in the desert has altered my food habits. Or maybe it’s California. Or maybe it’s the baby in utero. A. recently said to me, in jest: “You are not the woman I married who craved chicken pad thai and bulgogi weekly.” Regardless, it’s fun, for now. And — besides being 8 months pregnant and tired — I have been feeling great.

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single parents everywhere: i salute you

It’s MLK day, and C. is in the playroom singing to himself and building Lincoln Logs. I’m drinking a coffee and feeling relieved: the long weekend is almost over and A. will be home from Phoenix later this afternoon.

I was a bit stressed about him leaving — A. spends every weekend morning with C. He handles the night-time baths. He gets home from work around the witching hour, and plays with C. while I cook. (A. often cooks, too.)

This weekend, A. wanted to meet a grad-school friend for a getaway to play golf, watch football and have time to himself before baby no. 2 arrives. And he deserves it.

But at 34 weeks pregnant, I’ve been extra tired and my tolerance for the 2-year-old “I WANT IT!” is diminishing. So letting A. go from Friday afternoon till Monday evening sounded hard. I also don’t have a lot of friends in the desert (not like D.C., anyway), so a long weekend alone with C. sounded even harder.

So I put together a plan. Saturday, C. and I would drive to Lake Isabella and find a farmer’s market and have lunch at the Kernville Brewery (which I have liked in the past). A girlfriend would drive up from LA to hang for the evening, and on Sunday, another girlfriend would come over for dinner.

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Over the past three days, here’s what I learned — and this is with just one toddler, not two or more kids, and it’s also while I’m not working.

1. Showering is virtually impossible. At the end of the day, when I usually shower, I had no energy for it (or I had guests). Therefore, A. will come home to a filthy, crusty wife.

2. A few more days of doing this, and I would probably stop making C. clean up after himself (for lack of energy and patience) and he would turn into an oinking pig in a pigpen and I would probably trip and kill myself on Tinker Toys.

3. We don’t watch TV (except for my Downton Abbey indulgence) and we don’t have an iPad, but C. likes to watch videos of himself on my iPhone (am I raising a narcissist?). I generally let him watch videos for a minute or two and then take it away, but I have a feeling if it was just me all of the time, I’d let him watch more. And I might even get an iPad.

4. How, oh how do single parents work full-time and eat healthy, whole grain meals? The one meal we ate out (lunch at the brewery)  – chili and a chicken sandwich — made me feel awful after a few weeks of mostly vegetarian low-fat cooking. But cooking is exhausting — I would probably have to eat frozen meals on TV trays every day.

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The weekend ended up being really lovely — despite the few meltdowns (C.’s, not mine) and his refusing naps and his sniffles. We pretended we were bears living in a cave and we read books and we went for walks and he gave me kisses and hugs. He even said, “Mama, I miss you” (he must not know what that means). But I can’t wait for A. to get home so I can squeeze him tight and let him know how much I appreciate him.

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a food transformation

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I’m going through a massive transformation right now, and it’s not my bulging belly.

It started bubbling in me a year-and-a-half ago when C. was an infant and I made his baby food from scratch. Then, when he was a year old, we moved from D.C. to a town in California without any good restaurants. On our first day here, we picked up a farm box full of organic, seasonal fruits and vegetables. It was the first time I’d had a persimmon. Over time, I tried parsnips. Daikon radishes. Fresh lavender. We were bowled over by the green, leafy, full spinach. “This is the best spinach I’ve ever had,” A. said.

I started to teach myself how to cook and bake. In D.C., I ate carry out at least three times weekly, and met friends for brunch often. I let A. cook for me, and never cooked for friends because I was afraid I’d embarrass myself. But in the desert, I started cooking almost every meal — and mostly vegetarian because the meat and fish looked limp and slimy. I had disasters — including poisoning my family with raw beans and ruining a baking sheet that I used to broil pork — but over time, I improved.

Whole wheat carrot muffins

Whole wheat carrot muffins

I lost weight. And felt better. But I still craved sugar, and would make oatmeal cookies (still a major weakness) and buy daily chai lattes.

Then, about a month ago, the doctors were concerned I had gestational diabetes. I scored a 134 on my one-hour screening test — a marginal score, but my doctor ordered a three-hour test. Also, the baby, at 28 weeks, was in the 65th percentile but its belly was in the 86th percentile and my amniotic fluid was on the high side — all signs of diabetes. I took the three-hour test and passed. Since then, I’ve had two non-stress tests and my amniotic fluid is normal.

In the meantime, I investigated a diet for gestational diabetes. I started to really think — in a much deeper way — about the food I’m putting in my body. Our bodies — along with our relationships — are the most important assets we have. And we often abuse them.

moosewoodNow I’m reading about healthy eating and staving off diseases and preserving our bodies into old age so that we’re happy and healthy. Along with regular exercise, it means mostly eating (pesticide-free) fruits and vegetables. Getting Omega-3s (there is scant fish here, so I get it in flaxseed for now). Drinking a ton of water. Eating a lot of fiber. Cutting back — or eliminating — sugar. Eating whole grains — brown rice, quinoa, bulgur. It means discovering ingredients I’ve never considered before — like miso, tahini, wheat germ, barley. It means considering — really considering — everything I ingest.

I’ve picked up several cookbooks from the library, including Moosewood Cooking for Health (black bean veggie burgers! butternut squash whole wheat pasta! roasted beet salad!), and have several on request, including by Annie Somerville, Alice Waters, Yotam Ottolenghi, Heidi Swanson and Deborah Madison. I’m reading Barbara Kingsolver’s Animal, Vegetable, Miracle about her family’s adventure of living off of their garden, chickens, fruit trees and local producers for a year. And I’m feeling inspired to start a garden, get involved with local growers and cook healthy meals for my family every day. I finally have the time and energy to research healthy eating and cooking — and turn what I learn into a lifetime of eating well.

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lighting up a room

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It started with me saying we need a small lamp for our guest-room nightstand. It ended, two months later, with A.’s first lamp.

One evening in October, after C. was in bed, we sat together on our black leather lounger and scrolled through a New York company’s website for wood.

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We were looking for 4×4 blocks, and for wood that doesn’t irritate skin. We were looking for wood that would polish well, and that A. could shape on his three-inch metal lathe. We went with ebony and zapote.

A. bought miniature wood-turning tools. He practiced on small pieces of oak — and then made the base.

He turned and threaded ebony to hold the bulb socket and the shade that he bought from World Market.

And voila! Here it is. A. just got a bigger lathe for his next project. He’s hooked.

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