pottery in my garage

A couple of months ago, a friend of one of A.’s work friends gave us a kick wheel. Scott drove over in his pick-up truck and unloaded the wheel caked with white clay and mounted in a wooden bench. He and his wife were moving; he had an electric wheel and didn’t use the kick wheel anymore. It was all ours.

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It sat in the corner of the garage through the holidays and our travels, buried in strollers, bikes and wood. But two weeks ago, I decided to order bats for it. I finally got some clay, a few buckets and I was ready to try. A. reorganized the garage and instead of watching the Super Bowl (we don’t have a TV anyway, and I confess that I dislike football — everything about it makes me recoil), I sat at my kick wheel and threw. I hit my shin against one of the boards (ow!) and CP woke up from his nap soon after I started, so I didn’t make much progress. But it felt like progress just getting going.

And now I’m feeling motivated. The weather helps — it’s a high of 70, sunny and the birds are singing. This morning I took CP out on our front patio and we listened to three owls hoot and a rooster crow. It rained a few inches this month, so grass is sprouting up everywhere. For the first time since I moved here, I’m seeing green in the desert near our house, and smelling damp soil and it fills me with gratitude. I’ve missed green while living here.

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Today, I threw a few pots and then I watched videos of people throwing pots while A. improved the wheel — he added a weight to the bottom to balance it, and he’s putting a shelf up top so the boys can’t grab the tools while I work. He’s also enclosing the bottom of the wheel with wood so CP can’t put his hands on it while it’s spinning.

We don’t have a community kiln in town, so for now, I’m just practicing so that I’m better for my next class with Lois, which starts next month. And because I find it relaxing and soothing to zone out and feel the clay mold between my hands. Also? It’s pretty cool to have dates in the garage with A. while he does his woodworking.

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new year’s inspiration

I’ve been struggling to stay up with this little blog since the holidays started. We traveled to Michigan for Thanksgiving, celebrated CM’s third birthday and then, unexpectedly, flew to Georgia for a funeral and drove up to misty North Carolina for Christmas.

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The long-distance travels were a blur, but the boys were happy and it’s always wonderful to see loved ones.

After Christmas, we drove to the coast to celebrate New Years with my aunts and uncles in Atascadero.

Now we’re back in the desert quiet, in our routine, and I’m putting together a list of projects I’ve been squirreling in the back of my mind.

Here are a few:

1. Make bread like my mother-in-law’s favorite seven-grain boule from Dearborn in New Jersey, where she used to shop before she moved down to North Carolina. Now she has the bread shipped overnight to her. I tried it last week and it was delicious.

2. Plant an herb garden. I’ll start with an indoor one, since we’re probably moving in the summer. I made little pots at my last pottery class — now I just have wait till it’s warm enough to buy fresh herbs from Home Depot.

3. Make lamps out of pottery. This is a hard one because I have to throw big things, which isn’t my strength. But I did make this vase during my last class — a shape I haven’t accomplished before. So I think I can do it.

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4. Make cushions for the two benches that A. made that also store some of the boys’ toys. I’ve already picked out the fabric, now A. and I have to pull out the sewing machine.

That’s a start. Of course, I have a longer, loftier list of to-dos, from making crepes and tortillas and homemade ice cream to writing another short story and actually shopping it around to getting our kick wheel going and throwing pots in our garage. I’m ready to start another crochet project and tumble another batch of rocks. I feel a strong need to compost — but I have to learn how to do it. I’m looking forward to getting to yoga and signing up some races and feeling fit and strong. And I’m excited about getting out on more hikes in the Eastern Sierras and camping in Death Valley (in two weeks).

My biggest goal — and I’m usually pretty good at this, but it’s hard work — is to be intentional about living in the moment — to appreciate not only my fleeting time in the desert but also my special time with the little ones. Because sometimes I think, when I’m waking up at 5:30 a.m. and when CP is screaming because I’m not feeding him fast enough, “This is a drag.” But I know — I know this incredibly adorable stage (3 and almost 1) isn’t going to last forever.

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What’s on your to-do list this year?

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recovering from ailments with tonics, broths and good spirits

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Our house has been filled with the sounds of dry coughs, CM looking at me blankly and saying, “Speak up, please, I can’t hear you,” and CP wailing when I put eye drops in his eyes. Both boys are recovering from pink eye and ear infections — and so am I. Well, I was spared the pink eye. The three of us are working our way through our prescribed antibiotics (CM is the winner, he’s done). Our pediatrician said she doesn’t like putting babies on amoxicillin, “so you know I think it’s pretty bad if he needs it.” Oh, it’s a jolly place here in the desert.

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So, inspired by my new cookbook At Home In The Whole Foods Kitchen by Amy Chaplin, I made homemade vegetable broth for soups; I juiced the last of our pomegranates (it wasn’t a strong season, but man CM loves pomegranate juice — I wish I had more to give him); I made almond butter and almond milk for kicks (also, almond butter at our local grocery store goes for $15 a pop?!).

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And today I wandered through the aisles in the Asian store, looking for miso and seaweed. I bought kombu and wakame and made my first batch of miso soup tonight. There is something about trying new foods — and making warming soups in the fall — that soothes me and my soul. I think about nourishing my boys and wonder what they’ll remember about cooking together and if they’ll have any favorite meals.

The weather has been beautiful here despite the coughs and exhaustion. The leaves on our backyard trees are turning yellow and the skies are blue and the mountains are beckoning me in a fierce way.

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Before I came down with Round 2 of my cold, I ran my first 5K in years — a local race — and I caught the race bug again. I’m ready to sign up for a 10K in Death Valley in January. It felt so good to run and feel my heart pump and feel competitive even though I wasn’t racing. I called my friend S. that afternoon and told her I finally felt like myself again — a run, time with my book (Brooklyn by Colm Toibin), time to call her.

And everything else is coming together. Work feels easier and easier. CP crawled for the first time this weekend. And he’s sleeping beautifully. And CM is in an insanely sweet phase — I want to bottle him up and never forget this phase. I can’t believe he’s almost three.

So even though being sick is not fun, never fun, we’re getting through it well — and I’m looking forward to getting back outdoors, hitting the pavement running and making more and more soups and pies and holiday treats that make our house smell warm and inviting — and healing.

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more homemade furniture for the boys

A. has been knocking off projects with the speed of the roadrunners I see darting through the desert — he’s made three pieces of furniture in the past few months. He made a bench — that could be used in a mudroom someday — to organize the toys in what we call the “front room.” We still need to sew a cushion for the top — and lucky for us, a Jo-Ann Fabric opened in our desert town at the end of August.

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He made an Amish-style bookshelf — meaning he didn’t use any nails or glue, just rustic joints — for the boys.

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And, his most recent project: A modern desk with metal legs (my favorite).

DSC_7997 DSC_8002 I just love peeking into CM’s room (which will eventually be both boys’ room) and seeing that almost everything in there — including the bunkbed — was handmade by their papa in his tiny workshop in the garage. Oh, and our neighbor gave us his miter saw two weeks ago because he sees A. working late into the evening: “You’ll get more use out of it than I do,” he says.

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a new batch of pottery (and relief that i can throw again)

A few days before I pick up my next batch of pottery, I have that burst of excitement I used to feel as a kid the night before Christmas. I push the feeling away so that it doesn’t consume me, but I really love seeing how the glazed pieces transform into usable dishes. They shrink so much that they’re often unrecognizable — I have to check the bottom for my initials to be sure they’re mine.

Earlier this year, I was feeling out of sorts and frustrated on the wheel because I had a newborn and was getting zero sleep and I felt like I forgot how to throw. I couldn’t make a mug, and I felt so frustrated, I wanted to crush the wet clay and slop it into the recycle bucket. This session, I finally felt better. In general, I feel more like myself: I’m getting (a little more) sleep; I’m editing confidently; I have my body back (mostly). I’m still tired — but it feels good to be (almost) back.

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constellations, decompressing and appreciating the night sky

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A. and I have fallen into a new rhythm where — if we don’t have other evening plans like pottery — we sit on our front patio after the sun sets and after the boys are asleep and look up at the sky. We turn off all of the lights in the house and we sit in the quiet — often with wine in hand — lying back in lounge chairs and gazing up. On average, we’ll see about seven or eight shooting stars. (One long streak about a month ago moved us both to our feet and we shouted, just like watching a game-winning goal in the last minute of a soccer match.)

Star-gazing is a great way to decompress from the craziness (I’ve been feeling about as stretched as I can ever remember feeling), disconnect from technology and connect with each other. 9780547132808_p0_v1_s260x420

Years ago, I bought a constellation book in hopes of one day cracking it and trying to identify them. A few weeks ago, I finally (finally!) sat and studied the book and the sky from my warm driveway, craning my neck up and down, up and down.Then A. did the same earlier this week, staying up till 1:30 a.m. (“I couldn’t help myself,” he said.) He also watched Cosmos on FX; I still need to.

Now when we look up, we can easily identify the Big and Little Dippers, Dragon, Cassiopeia, Cepheus and the Big Square. This week, we found Swan together — our heads bent together over the book lit by a flashlight. We turned the light on, turned it off, looked up and let our eyes adjust.

Some of my favorite memories are of staring at the stars in places where I could see the Milky Way — while camping in the Andes in Peru and on a beach on Chumbe Island in Tanzania.

Now I can see it from my front patio. And we’re an hour from Death Valley, where we plan to camp in January and identify different constellations than what we can see now.

The universe is amazing — and I can’t begin to understand it. But I do plan to continue to look up until I’m old and gray. It’s both mind-boggling and comforting to me to think about the generations before me seeing the same pictures as I see now. I hope to pass that appreciation on to my boys.

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kids’ music, kind older folks and serendipity

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A few weeks ago, A. and I had a rare dinner alone in Ridgecrest. OK, so it wasn’t alone, CP was with us, but he was still only nursing and would sit in his carseat, watchfully and quietly. We ate at Charlie’s, a bar restaurant with very little ambience — five or six TVs with sports programs, a pool table, high ceilings, cushy chairs on wheels and older patrons. One entire wall was a mirror, and we sat next to it.

An elderly couple came in and sat down across from us. And the woman kept looking over and smiling at CP, who A. was holding up on the table on his wobbly legs, his feet turned inward, his eyes focused on his image in the mirror. I finally smiled back at the woman, and she asked, “How old?” She was in her 70s at least, with curly gray hair and round glasses. Her husband had a hearing aide.

A. wheeled his chair over to their table, with CP on his lap, and they both lit up. It turns out, they were from Albuquerque, N.M., where we think we’d like to move next. And they have several grandchildren.

“Do you have a CD player in your car?” the woman asked us.

Confused, I said yes.

“Our daughter is a children’s singer,” she says. “She sings lullabies that will put your baby to sleep.”

They were on their way to Yosemite, so they were staying in the hotel where the restaurant is.

“Go get some of them,” the woman said to her husband, kindly.

He nodded, and a bit later, he returned with four wrapped albums and an article about their daughter, Susie Tallman, published in the Albuquerque Magazine.

We put the CDs in the diaper bag and thanked them.

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On the way home, I popped one in the player, and the first song — Six Little Ducks — was catchy.

Since, we’ve been listening to them — a song here, a song there. The lullabies do not put CP to sleep, as the woman guaranteed they would (in fact, I don’t care for them), but we have found a few songs that move us to our feet, including Five Little Speckled Frogs. The song has gone into our regular rotation, along with songs by the Laurie Berkner Band, Raffi, Elizabeth Mitchell and another new discovery: Johnny Bregar.

Now, every once in a while, CM (who will be three in December) will ask: “Can we listen to Five Speckled Fwogs?”

We turn on our stereo in the living room and act out the song — pretending to sit on a log and shovel delicious flies in our mouths. The joy on CM’s face makes me smile — it’s ridiculously cute. And every time we do it, I think of that couple, who are so proud of their daughter.  And I can’t help but think that maybe we’ll see them again, someday.

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hey facebook, I’m over you

photo 1-14I’ve been on Facebook since 2006. Eight years. In that time, I went on several international trips — Peru, Guatemala, Nicaragua, Cost Rica, Tanzania, Iceland. I ran my second marathon. I landed a dream job. I fell in love, had a baby, got married, quit my job, moved cross-country and had another baby.

And through all of this, I can’t recall Facebook ever making me feel bad. Until this summer.

There have been several articles about how Facebook makes people feel lonely or envious. This happens when people, I think, see photos of something they want — but either don’t have or can’t get. When a friend was trying to get pregnant, and ultimately went through in-vitro, she couldn’t stand seeing photos of babies on Facebook.

What got to me this summer was seeing photos of people laughing with their friends, and amazing summer-time scenes.

Summer in Ridgecrest is harsh. It’s too hot to spend much time outside during the day. (I get my fresh air at dusk after the boys are asleep).

What’s more, I started working in the mornings, and I’m in front of a computer from 8-12, the time I used to socialize. So not only am I far away from dear friends who live all over the country, but I’ve also been feeling even more isolated in a quiet place.

When I feel bad, I tackle it. What will get me back on track to feeling great? Exercise? A trip to see friends? Stop working? For starters, I deleted Facebook off of my phone. Now, I look at it seldom. So seldom that Facebook has started sending me messages — “Hey, E., look at what you’re missing!”

The site, to me, is the strangest beast. It makes me feel (kind of) connected to former colleagues. It opens the door to reconnect with long-lost friends. Sometimes, I crowd source for good reads or travel suggestions. But overall, the insincerity of it and the boastfulness of it and the well, faux social connection, makes me question its benefit. And really, it’s a complete time suck in a time when it feels like every moment is precious. I’d much rather read for a 1/2 hour than scroll through photos of people doing awesome things in beautiful places and longing to be where they are, instead of appreciating where I am. Because where I am is pretty damn great.

So, for now, I’m staying off of it. I’m spending time with the littles, like this one, who just turned six months old. And I’m truly the happier for it.

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chemical-free: hippy, or just smart?

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So, here’s another thing that has happened to me since moving to the desert almost two years ago: I have a strong desire to live chemical-free — even beyond eating organic fruits and vegetables. 

I used to get a pedicure every four-six weeks (from the time I was 27). It’s been almost a year since my last pedicure.

I used to use Windex to clean our stove. Now I use water.

I used to wash my dishes with Dawn. Now I use Seventh Generation.

I used to buy whatever brand of sunscreen that seemed to go on easily. Now I consult this website.

I used to wear mascara and lipstick every day. Now I do only on special occasions. 

I used to wear whatever deodorant smelled good. Now I use this. 

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I think I might be a little insecure about my new trend, because I found myself joking about it to my best friend S., who I saw in L.A. two weekends ago. She looked happy and refreshed, having driven cross-country from D.C., camping all along the way. She wore her curly hair natural (she always used to blow it dry) and it looked beautiful. 

“I bought a hippy stick,” I said. 

She laughed. 

“How sad that toxic-free is considered hippy,” she said.

I don’t even know if it is, but if living chemical-free is branded “hippy” — to deride it — I perpetuated the brand. Which is ridiculous.

From now on, I intend to embrace my choices. It may not make any difference in the world, but it feels good and right. Natural. 

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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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