Category Archives: family

back to the basics

Two days before we flew to North Carolina for Christmas, I was a sniveling, sad mess. Our dear friends had visited us — one of whom I’ve known for more than 20 years — and we had said our goodbyes, which left me feeling oddly bereft.

Earlier that day, we went to the Los Angeles zoo — me and the three boys; my friends and their 3-year-old daughter — and I pushed it with L., who was yawning on the ride down. I knew I was tempting fate (never mess with a 2-year-old’s nap), but I didn’t know he’d turn quickly into a bellowing terror. He was a screaming tyrant by the time we were saying “hi” to the gorillas, throwing apples with tremendous force, thrashing his body around and running away from me. I blocked out the side-eye glances from the other spectators, but all of my energy seeped out of my body.

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By that evening, I felt wrecked. It didn’t help that I hadn’t run in three weeks or that I wasn’t eating well and had gained a few pounds. It didn’t help that I drank one too many the night before, which is rare for me now. It didn’t help that I was anxious about showing our friends a good time and that I felt sad when they left because I miss banter with people who get me. It didn’t help that I had seen their happiness and realized I was missing mine.

I broke down and wet A.’s chest with my tears. I was sad. Depleted. Exhausted. Uninspired. Lonely. (A. said, “Remember when we had one kid? Life was easier.”)

The meltdown was enough to nudge me into action, and start with the basics, which often get ignored when you’re a mom — especially a mom of three under 7. These are things I always did naturally, but now I have to prioritize.

1. Exercise. This is now my priority above all else — exercise eases my stress and makes me a better mom. It’s my foundation for happiness. I’ve signed up for the San Luis Obispo half marathon at the end of April. Also, I plan to get to some yoga and practice weight training at home.

2. Coffee. I have noticed that if I have more than two coffees, I’m a grump. So my plan is to dial it back to two, no matter how tired I am late in the day. I’m also looking into other fun drinks to replace my habit.

3. Writing. I plan to carve out more time for writing this year as well as reading great writing and finding author talks, which always inspires me.

4. Friends and Community. I’m still figuring out how to tackle this one, because I want more local friends who are positive and inspiring (it’s been hard to find here), and a stronger community vibe. I’ve joined the PTA board, but I need to find another outlet. Indoor soccer? Volunteering? We’ll see.

5. The Arts. New music, new art, great books. These are the things that fill me and feed me. Two places I plan to visit this year are The Getty and The Broad museums. Speaking of — what has inspired you lately?

I know I have to give myself a break — I’ve been in a seven-year fog of either pregnant, baby or toddler soaking up all of my time and demanding more of me than I ever imagined. Now it’s time for me to reclaim my time, for me. This also means not letting social media overtake my mind. No more, “Wait, why did I get on my computer,” or, “Ugh, where did the last 30 minutes go?”

More reading. More healthy cooking. More listening to new music. More exploring. More making friends with people who are excited about life. Because life is beautiful.

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i find happiness in dreaming

I find happiness in dreaming. One thing that drives A. crazy is when we’re on a trip — an amazing trip where we’re kayaking in Costa Rica past sea turtles — and I’m so full of life and excitement, I say, “Where can we go NEXT?” I get it, I also like to live in the moment especially while life is good — and the people we love are doing well. But sometimes I can’t help myself — thinking about what’s next is a bubbling up, my-cup-runneth-over feeling.

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Lately I’ve been thinking a lot about what’s next: What’s my next goal, what can I get involved in, where can I find the community I’ve been longing for. I don’t have answers, but here’s a list of places I’d love to go and dreams I’d love to fulfill. Some of these ideas come from friends who have lived them.

  • An artist’s residency for pottery in Maine or Australia
  • A writer’s retreat where I’m with other writers and someone cooks for me (oh I love when people cook for me!). Bonus if it’s someplace like Italy.
  • A yoga retreat. I saw one in Bali that would be amazing.
  • A biking trip in Northern Spain
  • Working on a farm in Maine
  • Learning how to make cheese
  • Sailing in Turkey
  • Sight-seeing in the Galapagos Islands
  • A running race in Hawaii
  • Volunteering for a cause I believe in
  • Traveling to the caves and story-book settings in France
  • Seeing the Northern Lights in Norway and visiting one of my favorite potters I found on Instagram

When I was single (nearly 10 years ago, woah), if I was struggling with feeling lonely or during a breakup, I would write lists like this and it always, always cheered me up. There’s so much to do! So much to look forward to!

Speaking of pottery, I continue to see progress with each firing, and I continue to be motivated when I sell. Today, a woman I don’t know bought a mug off of Etsy and I went to my shop while the boys were occupied and I threw three more pieces in a surge of excitement.

 

I’ve also really been enjoying the kids in a profound way. In a “they are growing up and I love them within the deepest reaches of my soul” kind of way. The song “Have It All” by Jason Mraz, which is about kids leaving the nest, makes me cry (twice this week!) because even though my boys are 6, 4 and 2, it doesn’t seem that far off when they’ll leave to explore and discover themselves. I already know how deeply I’ll miss them.

This summer, the boys and I spent two weeks in Michigan, including a week up north at a lake house. Every year I get older, the more connected I feel to my home state — the people are down to earth and kind and the landscape up north on the water is serene and beautiful. And of course, many of my friends and family are there. It makes me want to have a house there to spend in the summers when A. and I are retired. One there, and maybe one in California for the winter. I don’t know where we’ll be in a few years, but every time we move and every time I travel, I’m looking, and feeling and trying to understand what I want and where I want to be. I’m dreaming. Because dreaming makes me happy.

 

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spring, t-ball and pottery

Spring has sprung here in the Antelope Valley. The birds are singing, the trees are blooming, I see bright orange poppies sprouting in the fields. I’m spending hours — no exaggeration — weeding our lawn. I constantly have dirt under my fingernails and it smells like grass, always. The evenings are getting longer, and the boys are happy spending hours outside. I planted tomatoes, strawberries and jalapenos.

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My oldest started T-ball practice, which may be the cutest thing I’ve ever watched. I love sitting in the stands without any cares in the world — I’m not compelled to check my phone or do anything but sit and watch my boy chew on his glove, swing and miss the ball and on a grounder let the ball dribble through his legs.

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I’m starting to run regularly. It’s painful, but after five hard runs in a week and a half, I’m already feeling better. I know I have to slog through it to get to a place where it feels good, but this part does not feel good. But I am grateful that I have good knees and that I can run.

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I’m also spending a lot of time in my pottery shop, which A. finished. I fired my first set of pots in the new kiln. I picked a conservative setting because I was worried about the glaze running over onto the shelves, and it was my best firing yet. It’s thrilling to have the power to make mugs, bowls, planters, plates, vases, etc. The list is endless. The catch is I still don’t have much time, but I get in my shop when I can and I try not to put any pressure on myself to produce. It’s still just a hobby, afterall.

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An expensive hobby. So I re-opened my Etsy shop (erinkillianpottery) and I’m listing pots in the evenings, before my dose of This Is Us, which I’m binging on right now.

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I’m thinking a lot about preschool next year. And summer travel. And if I should be worried that my youngest only has a few words when he should have more. And doctor appointments. And what to make for dinner.

This is my life right now. My happy, imperfect life that is mostly at home and so different from 10 years ago when I was dating and traveling and working. It’s amazing where life will take you.

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a doctor, a preschool, a friend and a whole lot of patience

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When we moved to the Antelope Valley in January, I expected to find all of my resources fairly quickly. A pediatrician I love. A preschool for the boys brimming with laughing children, art projects and books. Neighbors with kids who come over and we sit and drink wine or coffee while they run around the yard.

None of it happened. Turns out, dreamy expectations can disappoint.

In fact, at the first doctor appointment I made for little C. for his 3 year appointment in February, I waited in a tiny, stuffy room filled with coughing kids for TWO HOURS. By the time I saw the doctor, my 7 month old was in hysterics, I was furious, and the doctor was condescending to my boy, asking me, “Can he understand simple instructions?” when little C. didn’t respond to him immediately. I left the office with hungry, weepy kids and I was close to weeping myself.

Then, the first preschool I visited was dirty and dingy and a 4 year old boy was screaming while the teacher looked disheveled and OVER IT. And the school charges $200 per week and I was thinking, “Are you kidding me?”

And all of our neighbors, while mostly kind, are older, their kids are grown and they’re ready to move to escape California taxes in their retirement.

I was depressed over it. I had all three boys in a house that was gutted for renovations, so I had little time for myself and I was struggling to find friends and inspiration. In May, I traveled to the East Coast and said, “I’ll deal with it later.” We were back for a month, and then I traveled to Michigan and said, “I’ll deal with it later.” But I couldn’t put it off, I needed answers — I spent hours on Facebook looking for doctors and preschools and activities and something to make me feel happy about where we live. HOURS.

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Also, the elementary school around the corner doesn’t have the greatest of reputations, so I was back and forth on whether to send big C. there. It’s going through a multi-million renovation, school officials rebranded it, and as of this year, it’s a STEAM (science, technology, engineering, arts and math) school of choice (lottery).

My mind was in knots and I felt like I really had to work to be patient to figure it all out. I had to find my niche, especially in a largely conservative bedroom community where people aren’t the friendliest.

Everyone says it takes a year to find your groove in a new city. It was true in Albuquerque, and then I was wistful about leaving.

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And now, after 9 months here, I can happily report that everything is starting to fall into place. I’ve found our pediatrician (it’s a 45-minute drive to Valencia, but the office is immaculate, there are separate sick and well waiting rooms, the doctors are kind and smart and the wait is negligible.) After touring six places, I’ve found a preschool (though we’re on the waitlist, I’m hoping to start little C. in January.) Big C. loves school — he’s making friends of all different ethnic and economical backgrounds. It may not be the best school in the world, but at least he’s learning and happy and for now that’s all I care about.

And, most importantly, I may have found a friend who lives — crazy to say — 5 houses away. She has an almost 3 year old and a six year old — perfect ages for my boys. And she’s a former professional dancer who lived in D.C. and NY and whose mom is a professor at the University of Maryland. She showed me a dance that she and her mom choreographed based on German sheet music from the 1920s that’s housed at the university. I left our play date this morning feeling full — finally, FINALLY a friend who’s around the corner.

And A. is almost done with my pottery shop so after a year hiatus, I’m close to reviving that creative energy.

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I may not be in the town I want to live in forever, but I do want to make the most of being here and enjoy the access to the ocean, the California sunshine, a cost of living that allows me to soak in my little guys while they’re little and do pottery and work on my writing. Everything has a positive and a negative side — and right now, I’m practicing gratitude and reminding myself of all of the positives of California living.

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the outdoors, northern new mexico and more pots

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Last weekend, we drove up to Northern New Mexico, where one of A.’s coworkers owns 220 acres of land that’s been in his family for a century. He’s an Army guy who went to West Point and carries a gun on his hip (but I didn’t see it). It was the first time I’d chatted with his wife, and she was easy to talk to and had many qualities I admire (easy going and a problem solver).

We stayed in the house that’s been in the family for 100 years. It was built in 1898 and there are no hallways. The house feels like it’s out of the ’50s, with a TV from that era, a kitchen with a stove that has an opening to burn wood and a toilet that’s so low it was easy for my 4 year old and 2 year old to get on it.

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There were Readers Digest books from the ’40s on the shelves. The floral curtains and the smell — oh that smell — reminded me of my grandma’s and grandpa’s house in Flint, Mich.

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The next morning, we drove up to the land. Open, beautiful land where elk and bears roam at almost 9,000 feet. The leaves were starting to turn color. A. brought a newly crafted tire swing for the boys, and another guy made ribs on the slow cooker. I had decided to go home that night because L., at 2 1/2 months, is a bit young to camp — he’s already had two colds in his short life — and the temps got down to the 30s. But I enjoyed my morning/early afternoon out there and I know it was the right decision, even if I missed the ribs and the stars. Just being out in the fresh air and staying in what felt like a museum invigorated me.

Another thing that has invigorated me: I opened my Etsy shop (Erin Killian Pottery) more than a month ago and already have 15 sales and 9 good reviews. I was worried I’d be overwhelmed — you know, with three kids under 5 including a newborn — but I haven’t felt like that at all. It’s a fun challenge.

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The pace has been perfect — a sale every few days. With the two older boys in preschool three days a week, I’ve been able to get an hour in here and there to throw more.

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And I was pleased with my last firing. One of the potters at New Mexico Clay, where I do my firings, said, “They’re looking really good,” and she sounded surprised when she said, “You did all of this with a new baby?” Well, babies do sleep a lot and L. is particularly chill. (Besides a few days of gas, but gripe water helped with that.)

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I bought a book Mastering the Potter’s Wheel: Techniques, Tips, and Tricks for Potters, which has some important tips for me and is also inspiring. I keep waiting for my love of pottery to wear off and it hasn’t happened yet. So I’ll keep on throwing and keep on growing and keep on finding ways to feel invigorated. I’m sure the cool fall air will help with that, too, and getting ready for family to visit soon. Here’s to making the most of life and living in the moment. Hugs to you all.

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getting ready for babe no. 3

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I’m two weeks away from my due date, and feel like I’m barely holding this baby in. Achey back, waddling when I walk, pressure on my bladder, swollen ankles. The baby is doing constant dance parties inside of me and punching me in uncomfortable places. I’m amazed I ever worked in this state. I’m eating well — I cut out all ice cream and treats in the last three weeks — and yet I’ve still gained 45 pounds. This pregnancy? Hardest yet. It’s probably because I’m 39. And because we’re living in a dry climate at almost 6,000 feet. And I’m spending my time with a 4 year old and a 2 year old. And it was 100 degrees today.

But the end is near. And the sleepless nights holding a sweet newborn are quickly approaching. We still don’t have a name. A. is finishing up a dresser for the big boys — made entirely out of 2x4s — so we can move the one with a changing pad into our room. I registered at UNM hospital last week, and A. installed the car seat (three seats in the back of a tiny Mazda 3, thank you very much).

I’ve been trying to keep the boys engaged with fun summer activities while I rest. Play dough, ice pops, the trampoline park, playing with the hose in the backyard, play dates with friends, library time and dinners on the deck.

Today, I picked up the last batch of pottery I’ll do for a while. My mind spins daily thinking about different combinations of glazes and what my “style” is. I’m cleaning up my shop, knowing I’ll have to shut it down till probably the end of August, though the thought makes me cringe. Then, I’ll throw more and open an Etsy shop. I’ve realized I can’t keep this hobby up without selling — it’s expensive and we can’t keep everything I’m making. And the truth is, I’m excited about a new challenge, but I won’t be able to launch it till the fall. Until then, I’ll put my energy into three boys under 5 years old. Wish me luck.

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early morning bliss

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I went to bed early last night with a sore throat, woke up this morning feeling refreshed. The house is dark and chilly, the sun is just now coming up, and all of the boys are sleeping. I can hear owls hooting in the distance, birds tweeting in the pine trees in the backyard above our deck. I want to grind some coffee beans, but I don’t want to wake anyone up. This quiet is so rare.

We have tulips sprouting in the back yard, and the leaves on my beets are growing bigger by the day. I hope the tulips flower next week when my parents arrive, and that I can dig out the beets from the soil and share them on the dinner table. I swept the deck of pine needles; I’m excited for spring.

I’m feeling the baby kick often now. I’m only 24 weeks along, but it’s an active baby, says my kindly doctor from Michigan, who hugged me the last time I saw her. I tried to have CM feel the kicks — I put his chubby four-year-old hand on my round belly. “Be patient,” I said, but the baby didn’t kick. “I love my new baby brother,” he said.

I’ve been absorbed every day in this presidential race — consuming as much information as I can find. I sit in my pottery shop and trim wet clay off of the feet, listening to my friends at NPR. I’m comforted by their voices in my shop. Today is mega Tuesday — and this evening, after dinner, I’ll watch the numbers roll in on my phone.

I’m waiting for the click of the door, for CM to peer at me with adjusting eyes and then collapse into my arms. For CP to call out, “Mama, I’m awake! Hi mama!” And then we start our day together. Every moment with them, I think about how we can spend as much time outside as possible — the park, a hike, the Botanical Gardens. I want my boys to love the fresh air, to get dirty and feel free and unencumbered by the world.

And now that the sun is fully up, I’m ready to grind my beans and smell my espresso bubble up from the stovetop.

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travels, another boy and the NYT cooking app

Our household has been a cesspool of germs for the last month — coughing, sneezing, runny noses. Once I gain my voice back, we should be (mostly) healthy (god, I hope). But despite the colds, I’ve been traveling, throwing pots and feeling like myself again after hibernating this winter during my first trimester.

I flew up to Seattle in February to see my best friend S., who is ready for a life change (and she already met an awesome man!). Before I left, I was the crazy mom who worried about getting in a plane crash. It was the first time I’d flown without my boys and I couldn’t help but think: How would my boys deal with that grief? A., who is awesome, would be a great single dad, but I think something like that would destroy my oldest. Needlessness to say, I’m OK. The flight was easy and relaxing. S. is staying in an airbnb in Capitol Hill. It was a beautiful space full of plants, personality and a view of the Cascades. (It inspired me to throw more potting pots for our house.) We cozied up in the rainy weather and talked for hours, and it refreshed my soul.

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And then A.’s parents arrived, and they gave A. and me a weekend away. We drove to Utah and camped in Canyonlands with our telescope. I had no idea Utah was so pretty? It was amazing to see the winter Milky Way and inhale the fresh air. In the middle of the night, I heard coyotes howling and we woke up to cows mooing.

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In the last month, we also found out that our third baby is healthy with big lips (ha). We’re having another boy. Three boys! I wasn’t surprised — there hasn’t been an girl born into A.’s dad’s side of the family since the ’40s. But in 10 years, I’ll need to plan a lot of girls’ weekends. A lot of them.

I’ve been throwing pots and writing more. My pottery skills are getting better and better — the progress is incredible. I’m considering trying to sell some pots once I can function again after the first 6 months or so of sleepless nights with my third. I’ve been spending a lot of time on Instagram lately looking at potters’ photos — what they make, the dimensions and how they developed a style.

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I’ve also been trying many new recipes I found on the NYT Cooking site — including my favorites (both easy to make), the Vaguely Vietnamese Slow Cooker Pork Tacos and the Red Lentil Soup with Lemon. And the Banana Oatmeal Almond Smoothie — yum.

And I harvested my first broccoli head and the beets and spinach are (finally) coming in. I’m excited to plant tomatoes and basil in May. Our backyard is blooming with tulips — it’s almost spring!

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rain, a funeral and thanksgiving

It rained here for three days, a strange event in the desert. The clouds rolled in Thursday, the day after we found out my mom’s brother died — one of eight siblings, and the third youngest. Plans were swift — on two days’ notice, family flew cross-country and we drove four hours to Atascadero on the California coast. My cousins and aunts and uncles packed into my aunts’ houses and hugged and cried and laughed and sang and drank and ate. After the funeral Sunday, we had the traditional Pennsylvania Dutch New Years’ meal of pork and sauerkraut, mashed potatoes and cabbage.

The whole time, I kept thinking of this article: “Always Go To The Funeral.” It’s true — a mantra to live by. And I kept thinking about how precious life is. And how much I love my family. And how thankful I am my parents — who live in Michigan — can join us and A.’s parents and brother for the holiday. And how I’ll tell A. and C. how much I love them over and over and continue to squeeze them tight. Happy Thanksgiving, all.

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our first fall in the desert

The leaves are turning — golden hues that light up our backyard. It feels like fall in the desert with a few cloudy days, and I’ve been bursting with happiness.

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Our days are still quiet, but I’ve finally, finally — after nearly a year of living in the California desert — invited a few friends over for playdates. The kids are kind, and the moms are cool. C., our almost two-year-old, who is saying things like, “We’re having a conversation, mama,” and, “It’s cloudy outside, mama,” and “You’re my angel, mama,” is ready to be social and gets giddy when I tell him N. or K. are coming over. We sit on our backyard patio in the morning in slippers and sweaters, eating vanilla chai scones and chatting, while the kids chase each other under the pomegranate trees.

Last week, I realized that it would be nice for the little ones to have a table to sit at on the patio. So, in three days, A. made a kiddie picnic table out of cedar, which I love. A. often designs his own furniture, but he “stole” (his word) this idea from a woman in Alaska, who provides drawings and dimensions on her beautiful blog, though he added his own touches.

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C and his picnic table

The cooler weather makes me want to read in the evenings, snuggled up under blankets, feeling the baby kick me gently (I’m 25 weeks already, where is the time going?). I’m crocheting like a madwoman: my latest challenge is to teach myself how to cable. I made mittens (using a pattern provided by this woman, who is also from Alaska) and I’m in the midst of making a hat that is more complex. Next, I’ll  turn to Christmas stockings to hang on our fireplace, since family is coming to us this year.

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During C.’s naps, I warm hot chocolate or malted milk with vanilla, bake muffins or bread and listen to author interviews on NPR. I’ve been experimenting with cooking: carrot soup with lemon tahini sauce, sweet potato and kale frittata, roasted spaghetti squash with parmesan. I’m putting pomegranate seeds on everything: my morning oatmeal, spinach salads with feta, apple muffins.

The days are still warm — in the 60s — so I can enjoy walks along the bike path and marvel at the mountains.

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I love fall, and I love that though we’re in the desert, we still get a taste of it before the high winds blow, the leaves fall off of the trees, and the ground freezes over.

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