how I’m spending every spare minute

You know you found a passion when you spend all of your free time dedicated to it. For me, unsurprisingly, it’s pottery. My “shop” — the shed in our backyard — is in full force. I go in it daily. This weekend, A. laid bricks for a path to it through our backyard.


I picked up my first batch of 34 pieces two weeks ago, which I had fired at New Mexico Clay. I was surprised by the results; it was completely different from anything I’ve tried before. I experimented with four clays (three stoneware, one porcelain), eight glazes and, for the first time, I had to paint on the glaze instead of dip it, which gave me wildly different results than what I’m used to. The hottest temperature I can fire at New Mexico Clay is Cone 6 in an electric kiln, by contrast my friend and teacher Lois¬†in Ridgecrest, Calif., fired at Cone 10 in a gas kiln.

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Each time I sit down at the wheel — relaxed, focused and listening to NPR One — I see progress. The walls on my pots are more even. The feet aren’t as chunky. And I can throw bigger and higher. The feeling is incredible. When I sit down to write, I work through problems in my mind, and I have breakthroughs, too, but for me working with something physical is more immediate, and often more gratifying.

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I’m toying with buying a kiln, but I’m not sure I can yet because we’re renting and not equipped for the size I would want to buy. But it would be nice to make my own glazes, test tiles and really immerse myself in this art more fully than I already am. Someday I’ll make it happen, I’m sure of it. But for now, I’m trying one glaze combination at a time and seeing what I can create. Slowly, surely and patiently.



Filed under ceramics, pottery

all moved in to our new home in new mexico

So, we moved. From one desert to another. From a dusty remote town at 2,000 feet to a small(ish) city at almost 6,000 feet. I stopped working at the end of April and we’ve been traveling and exploring and enjoying the summer. The warm, relaxed pool and fresh tomatoes in North Carolina. Fireflies, carpets of green grass and the sounds of trains rushing by in Michigan. Spray parks and sushi in Chicago. And now we’re settling into New Mexico, exploring pueblos (cave dwellings!) and the Biopark and the Rio Grande.



I’m putting pictures on the walls, thinking about what’s next and looking for friends. A woman down the road who’s a writer with two small kids came by last night — the kids were chasing each other in circles and giggling uncontrollably, while she and I drank a bottle of wine and chatted without taking a breath. The cool air blew through the screen doors and through the chaos, I felt light. A few weeks ago, I met another woman and her two boys, 3 and 10 months, at story time at the International Balloon Museum and we’ve been meeting up routinely at the Natural History Museum, the children’s museum, the aquarium.


Our new house has turtles that have lived here for 15 years (the photo tells the story). Wide open space, an expansive deck and lots of light.


And two workshops — one for me, and one for A. With electricity and lights and enough space for my electric pottery wheel I bought on Craigslist last week. Over the weekend, I bought clay and have been thinking about it ever since. What tools do I need? Where should I take classes? Should I sell any of this? What if I actually tried to start a business?



I also bought boxes to grow vegetables, and the trays to grow seeds — carrots, beets and spinach. I’ve never gardened, so I find it daunting, but I plan to start this week. As the young bearded guy at the gardening store said when I sheepishly told him that I haven’t a clue: “You gotta start somewhere.” I also have a few essays rolling around in my head and the thought of writing them and selling them also feels hard.

But isn’t that what makes life worth it? Pushing yourself, trying new things, growing, learning? Yes, I definitely think so.


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managing the letdown at the end of a pottery class

Whenever I take a pottery class, I feel an intense letdown when it’s over. Where we live in the desert, I can only take a class every few months — so I know that I won’t start up again for what feels like a long time.

At the end of each session, after all of the pieces are fired in the gas kiln, my teacher holds a potluck party at the studio. Everyone brings a guest, we drink wine and we walk around and look at the finished results. We discuss what worked and what didn’t. The day of the party, I get so anxious about seeing the pieces, I have to train my mind to think about something else. And as soon as I see how they turned out, I want to start creating again. Immediately.

My last class ended Tuesday, and this time, somehow, the letdown feels more intense. I learned how to make a lamp, where I threw two separate pieces that totaled about 10 pounds and attached them on the wheel. A. says he’ll wire it when the shade arrives from World Market this week. I also finally got comfortable making mugs — I made nine of them, five of which I love.

When we move, I’ll be able to take classes consecutively, or throw from home and glaze and fire at a community kiln. But for now, I’m trying to manage my latest letdown — and dream about what I can make in the future.

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my key to happiness: exercise. so boring, so true

I’ve been thinking a lot about taking care of myself physically since recovering from childbirth the second time around. It’s a painful SLOG to get back into shape. I get why some mamas never do it. When I realized that going on 20-30 minute slow jogs once or twice a week wasn’t going to cut it, I decided I needed to sign up for a half marathon: Not only to motivate myself out the door, but also to carve out that time for myself. When I run regularly, I drop weight, I sleep better, I have less stress, I’m happier, and — most importantly — I have much more patience for my little ones. Also, I age better. I want to be fit and spry when I’m an old woman and¬†minimize inevitable pain I might encounter.

I’m now up to 9 miles for my long run — mostly through the desert. (One house I avoid since a little yipping dog chased me and bit my leg, yeah — that happened.) May 23 is the big day.

Also: Yogaglo? The best thing I’ve discovered online. Check it out. Your body will thank you for it.



Filed under athletics, happy, running

the california desert in full bloom

Since January, it’s rained a handful of times in the desert. I don’t know how many inches, but enough to make the mountains turn green and to feed the wildflowers so they blossom. It’s radiant here. The birds are singing, the owls are hooting, the lizards are basking in the sun, the flowers are open and full. The air is fresh and crisp. And I’m thankful that we’re experiencing this just as we’re getting ready to make some big life transitions.


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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.


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.


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.


What’s on your to-do list this year?


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recovering from ailments with tonics, broths and good spirits


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.


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?!).



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.


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.


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


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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