Category Archives: happy

my new happy place and more

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Whenever I move, I need to find a happy place away from the chaos of little boys. Where I can unwind and think. (Lately I’ve been squeezing my temples with my palms when I have all three boys clamoring at me, as if my head will explode. Sometimes I think it will.) And because I don’t have my pottery shop yet (soon!), I’ve been looking in the community for this place.

So far, the trails behind our house up to the aqua duct have been where I go to get away. I take the dirt trails to the paved path, and up there, if it’s not too windy, it’s quiet and I can see the houses and yards below — small, as if I can hold them in my palm. The other day, I ran up there as fast as I could. The mountains stood in the distance, beckoning me. And, down below, there was a grove of Joshua trees. I wandered down into the quiet. About 20 ravens gathered in a tree and were chatting with each other, as if on a break from their hunting and flying to gossip. A lizard darted across the path in front of my feet. A butterfly flitted by my face. And for a moment, I forgot that we live in a city. I stood still and absorbed the quiet.

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Yesterday, after registering C. in Kindergarten (to my disbelief), I wandered into a coffee shop in Quartz Hill called the Sagebrush Cafe. A local artist’s acrylic paintings adorned the walls. Women in skirts and pony tails sat cross-legged, chatting and laughing. The cafe sold sandwiches (avocado toast!) and a delicious latte and I felt, for a moment, I was back in an urban center instead of a conservative enclave in California. I could see myself meeting girlfriends there and talking about schools and parenting and arts. And I could also see my pottery in there — perhaps some mugs and pour overs.

Our house, thankfully, is coming together. Our kitchen is (mostly) done — we still plan to add a counter, another cabinet and a backsplash. The floors are in.

 

IMG_9944We painted the kitchen, living room and dining room. Our window seat is done save for the doors — and I love our cushion and pillows. The bathroom is usable. We’re working on the yard and the garage now.  The projects are never-ending, but now we’re not living in a construction zone and I’ve been cooking healthy foods (thank you Cookie and Kate blog!) And I feel so much better than I did in the winter.

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And… and! We have a summer full of travels and friends and then I can get back to this community when C. starts school and we can both make friends. Yes, after a long winter with some scary family illnesses and a renovation, I’m feeling good. Hope you are too, wherever you are. Happy weekend. x

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on healing, exercise and pottery

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It’s been six weeks since my surgery, and I feel back to normal. Well, as normal as you can feel with a newborn. Luckily, L. is a decent sleeper. Usually. OK, last night not so much, when he was up at 2 a.m., 4 a.m., 5 a.m. and 6 a.m. But three nights ago my little 7 week-old gave me a 6-hour stretch, which had me dancing to “Foot Loose” around my living room. (Another exaggeration, I can’t help myself today.)

I’ve been walking and I tried to run a few days ago. That wasn’t happening. It’s hard enough to run after a pregnancy, but now I have a surgery to contend with, so it will take more time. I’m trying to be patient.

We took the boys rock climbing in the Jemez mountains yesterday and A. set an easy climb for them (and me), but I wasn’t feeling up to it. Rock climbing is harder when you’re carrying extra weight and I have 10 more pounds to go. But it was lovely being in nature — trees! Fresh air! Sunshine! I’ve missed day trips like this.

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In other news, I opened an Etsy shop to sell my pottery. I was simply investigating how to do it, and then suddenly it was done. I went with Erin Killian Pottery so it’s easy to find. My sister-in-law is a graphic designer (check out her stuff at Beth Killian Design) and she whipped up a logo for me.

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I haven’t formally announced the shop to family and friends yet — I want to tweak it a bit and maybe add a few more items. I’ve read it’s good to have 20-30 items to start and I have 16 up there. Who knows, that might be enough. On Saturday, I started to throw again for the first time in two months. I made four mugs and three small ring bowls and felt relaxed and in my element. I’m pretty sure I think better when I’m throwing clay. A. said, “Look at you, you’re filthy!” and I nodded and gave him the biggest grin. It feels good to be back to myself again.

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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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live like it’s your last year

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I’ve heard the mantra before: Imagine it’s your last year on earth, and you’ll live more deeply. It’s a message that keeps resonating: It’s now in The New York Times most popular stories, “To Be Happier, Start Thinking More About Your Death,” by Arthur C. Brooks.

He writes: “The secret is not simply a resolution to stop wasting time. … It is to find a systematic way to raise the scarcity of time to our consciousness.”

I actually think about this quite a bit. Perhaps because it’s a fear of mine (dying and/or losing A.), I’m drawn to stories of people dying young. On Facebook, I was friends with people who knew White House adviser Jacob Brewer, who was struck and killed by a car while on a charity bicycle ride. A lovely woman I knew in high school (though not well), who was a year younger than me, died of cancer this fall. She had three young boys. And I’m embarrassed to admit I spent hours trying to find out what kind of cancer could take the life of a woman who just had a baby (the answer, I’m pretty sure: cervical). And this tribute by a woman who lost her 37-year-old doctor husband to lung cancer (he has a forthcoming book out), was one of the most beautiful things I’ve read in a  while.

So I’ve been thinking: What would I do differently if I knew this was my last year? And I can’t say that I’d change much. I’m not working right now so that I can be with my young boys and take care of the house so we’re all happier and not stressed. I’d probably make sure I worked on Curtis’ baby book and write a few tributes to the boys, so they know what I value and how much I love them. I’d probably try to get to a few places that I’ve always wanted to see (Turkey, Galapagos Islands, Argentina). And I’d connect with friends. But other than that, I’d squeeze A. and my boys every day and tell them I love them. Thankfully, I already do that.

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5 things that made me happy this week

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For me, it’s often the simple pleasures that flood my brain with serotonin. Discovering a new favorite song. Devouring a treat. Getting huge hugs around my neck from my boys. And … relief. Here are five things that made me happy this week — reflecting on them revives and reinforces the feelings.

  1. Health. This week, we found out that our next baby is healthy. (Yep, we’re going to be a family of five!) We passed the first trimester screening, which was an incredible relief. I’m 38, and the baby is due July 2, when I’ll be 39. So the geneticist at the University of Mexico, who last week sat me down in her office and listed in a grave tone all of the age-related disorders the baby could have, said on my voicemail (bless her): “We got your results back and it’s good news. Give me a call. Again, it’s good news.”
  2. Music. I’ve been spending time in the evenings going through NPR Music’s favorite list from 2015. “Get Up” by Caitlin Canty, “The Eye” by Brandi Carlisle and “24 Frames” by Jason Isbell are now rolling on repeat.
  3. Sweet Treat. In one of the many “how to cut sugar” articles I read this week, a food writer said she often turns to dates stuffed with almond butter. Can I just tell you I’m on my second container of dates this week?
  4. A Dear Friend. A friend from college who lives in Takoma Park, Md., was in Albuquerque for one night for a conference on Wednesday. She has three kids — twin 6-year-old boys and a 3-year-old daughter. We had dinner at Vinaigrette in Old Town before heading to Nob Hill for dessert. Conversation flowed nonstop about psychology (she has a Phd in developmental psych), parenting, fears and hopes. Happiness is spending time with friends you love and trust and have known for years.
  5. Short Stories. Now that I’m out of my first trimester fog where all I wanted to do is curl up in a ball and sleep, I’m revisiting short stories I started last year and the year before. And I’m thrilled to find that they’re not terrible. I plan to revive some, and brainstorm some new ones.

What happy moments have you had this week?

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rejuvinated and inspired

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Every year around this time, I have a natural, internal monologue about what I could be doing better with my time. What do I want to accomplish? What is important to me? It’s a check-in with myself that happens after we take down the tree and the outside lights, after our parents board their plane and while I’m scrubbing the bathroom floors and washing the towels and sheets. The house is quiet and my mind has space to confront my longings. I try to focus on living in the moment, and I also know that it takes training — otherwise my mind wanders to the anxiety-inducing what-ifs. What I’ve settled on this year are not resolutions, because, like promises, I believe those are meant to be broken.
Last year my list contained a short to-do list of what I wanted to make (a few of which I never did), and then a brain dump that overwhelmed me. Here is what I’ve settled on this year.

  1. Less Screen Time: Even though we got rid of our TV, I still spend too much time on my phone — specifically my three go-to sites: The New York Times, FaceBook and Instagram. Sometimes, I find myself scrolling mindlessly, often not finishing articles, or diverging to parenting articles or mindless feel-good videos — and often I’m left with a headache. I plan to work on putting down my phone before this happens — and picking up my pen.
  2. More Writing: I haven’t been productive regarding my personal projects recently (and will explain why in a later post), but now I feel inspired to write more and really focus on the craft. That means lots of practice. Setting aside time to write. And studying the masters. I printed out two of my favorite essays: “My Christmas in New York” by Harper Lee and “A Sudden Illness” by Laura Hillenbrand, so that I can read them again and again and understand their structures. This means getting back to blogging, too.
  3. A Pottery Plan: I’m still on the fence as to whether I want to start a business, but I do get a thrill from selling, so I’m debating opening an Etsy shop. The real question is: Do I want to throw a few things on there that I’ve already made, or shall I actually create a business plan and persona and style beforehand? I don’t know yet. I want to explore this.
  4. More Exploration: Since it turned frigid outside, we haven’t gone on many trips, but exploring gives me a thrill. The second weekend in December, we drove to Taos for a night and stayed at the Old Taos Guesthouse B&B. We booked a suite with three rooms — a living area and two bedrooms. The living area was small, tasteful and intimate with a white couch, wicker chair and a gas fireplace. After we put the boys to bed, A. and I stayed up chatting for a few hours and I felt connected and happy. Breakfast the next morning was homemade granola, green chili omelettes, blueberry bread and rich coffee. I’m looking forward to seeking out trips to more of New Mexico, and also Arizona and Colorado.
  5. More Positive Thinking, Gratitude: I’ve been tired and grumpy and missing my “me” time lately. I am grateful that I can be home with my little ones — now 4 and almost 2 — but I have moments where I just want more time for myself. Here are the thoughts that I have run through my head recently: “Our house is too cold”; “I’m tired of coming up with dinners”; “I’m in a rut with going to the same places with the kids”; “I miss my friends.” Sure, that’s all true, but I plan to alter my thinking to: “I’ll cuddle under a blanket, make some kick-ass hot chocolate and use the space heater to beat this cold”; “I’ll go to Smitten Kitchen and Green Kitchen Stories and BBC Good Food and get inspired”; “I’ll seek out some new places — why not go to Santa Fe for the day?”; “I’ll book a trip to see my friends.” Positive talk makes me happy. (Also? This kid, below.)

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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.

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how life is so very different in the desert

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We’ve lived in the desert for almost a year now (I can’t believe it) and I can’t help but muse how life is so very different in the California sun than in a bustling East-coast city.

After getting my masters north of Chicago, I moved down to Lincoln Park near the ball field for a few years and then moved to D.C. in my late 20s, where I lived for eight years.

I spent many days walking Dupont Circle, where people in tailored suits and sundresses hurried past, looking all-important and serious. They had somewhere to be dammit. I sneezed when the cherry blossoms bloomed in April, and relaxed by roof-top pools in July and went apple picking and on hikes on the Appalachian Trail in October.

I frequented coffee shops like Tryst in Adams Morgan, ate out at crammed restaurants and, in the early, single years, bought jumbo slices or stumbled into El Tamarindo at 2 a.m., drunk after a party or playing pool at the bar. I lived in cheap townhouses with great roommates and dirty carpets and tried to avoid the rats in the summer. I took the Metro most mornings, which vaguely smelled of soot, and pushed my way onto crammed trains with grumpy commuters. I dated, a lot — I met men on Match.com, in cabs, at the bars. I had great stories, and I worried I’d be single forever. I dreamed about living abroad. I was always on the move — I had plans most nights of the week — volleyball, yoga, dinner with friends, parties, running in Rock Creek, talks at National Geographic, author chats, indy concerts like Blind Pilot.

Then I fell in love. And life sped up, just like that. I met him, the man I wasn’t sure existed. And, after a year-and-a-half of courting, all hell broke loose: I had a baby, quit my job, got married and moved cross country to a three-bedroom house and retired neighbors.

I moved from a crammed two-bedroom apartment in a 100-year-old building to a house with a backyard full of fruit trees (it’s pomegranate season!). From hectic city noises — police sirens and drunken carousing — to the quiet. From city buildings to mountains and sunshine. From liberal 20-somethings to church-going 70-somethings. From playgrounds packed with 20 kids, to those five times the size with one kid. From eating Thai and Korean and seafood at restaurants to canning peaches and making whole-wheat pizza from scratch.

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I moved from spending my days hurrying from one place to another, to spending my days mostly at home, reading novels, cooking and playing with my toddler. From alarm clocks to waking up with the sun. From shopping at Anthropologie, blow-drying my hair daily and brushing on mascara to wearing yoga pants, flip-flops and sunscreen.  From spending my time with friends to spending my time creating. From winning marathon medals to winning ribbons at the county fair.

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My pace of life is so much slower — more like When Harry Met Sally rather than Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon — and, after giving myself time to adjust, I’m good with that. I miss my friends, deeply, but I don’t miss feeling stressed or over-scheduled. I miss inspiring and intellectual conversations, but I don’t miss the drama. I miss eating good food out, but I don’t miss the crowds or the noise. I miss feeling accomplished at work, Tiny Desk Concerts and my coworkers, but I don’t miss sitting at a desk eight hours a day.

My best friend S. muses that I’m doing my version of the Peace Corps. Perhaps she’s right, or perhaps we’re finding a lifestyle that fits us better, right now, while we have little ones. I’m not sure where we’ll go after our few years are up here. This much I know: I would struggle more emotionally if I thought living here was long-term. But this much I also know: I love exploring, I love my boys, and I think we can be happy anywhere. After our time is up in the dry desert teeming with ravens circling the blue sky, we may go elsewhere for a few years or back to the D.C. area. In the meantime, I feel confident in allowing myself to slow down, breathe, relax and enjoy the quiet.

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taking a moment to be thankful

When A. and I were in New Jersey less than two weeks ago, A.’s best friend J. asked me if I was happy living in the desert.

“I’m pretty happy,” I replied. “Not extremely happy like this guy (I pointed to A., who was sitting on the carpet), but pretty happy.”

We joke that A. doesn’t need to be social — in fact, he likes being far away from people — whereas I miss long gab sessions with girlfriends over a glass of wine (and no kids around).

And then, about a week ago, I was walking the aisles of Albertsons while A. took C. to the playground (cause he has every other Friday off), and I admitted to S. on the phone that I said I was “pretty happy.” And that I was ashamed. Because, really?

I’m healthy. I’m in love with my husband. He’s healthy. We have a hilarious, loving 18-month-old who giggles constantly and says, “Mama, kiss?” and leans in with sparkling eyes. And he’s healthy and he takes three-hour naps and sleeps through the night. All of our parents are doing well. We live in a house full of light with a backyard full of fruit trees. We aren’t wealthy, but we aren’t penny pinching. And I’m “pretty happy?”

No, I’m really happy. I just wanted to take a moment and say that. I’m really happy. And I’m thankful. I’m thankful for this adventure and the ability to explore a different part of the country. I’m thankful I met A. I’m thankful we have C., who’s a crazy amazing kid. And I’m thankful we have our health. Sometimes, it’s nice to recalibrate and think a little bit harder about what comes out of our mouths. Because someday we will hurt, all of us. Me, A. and C. It’s part of life. And we’re not hurting at all right now. We’re exploring, relaxing and growing.

Here are a few things we’ve been up to this week.

1. Every morning, C. and I have been picking grapes off of our vines outside. As I open the back door, C. gets excited and shouts, “Gapes, gapes!”

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2. I’m finally, finally into a novel. I enjoyed Eowyn Ivey’s “The Snow Child,” which I read two months ago, but haven’t cracked anything intriguing until now. I’m reading, “The Sense of an Ending” by Julian Barnes, and I’m pretty sure I’ll finish it in three or four days.

3. This week, the sunsets (and the super moon) have been spectacular.

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4. This little dude has been chasing me around the house with full belly laughs that can light up even the darkest day. And he’s been singing “Old MacDonald” quite clearly, which is a total joy.

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What about you?

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my new happy place

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I always say that bookstores are my happy place. I miss Kramerbooks in D.C. and Unabridged in Chicago, where I’ve spent hundreds of hours collectively. The only bookstore in Ridgecrest doesn’t inspire. It’s a bit dingy and dark, the children’s area smells musty and I’ve read the majority of books marked “new memoirs” — some of them 10 years ago or more.

And then. Then I found Lois. She was selling her pottery at Santa’s Art Show at the fairgrounds in December. I asked her if she gives classes. “Yes,” she said, “I’ll email you.” Her card had her address — she lives less than a mile up the road, toward the mountains, in the heart of the desert. I stalked her house: Every time we drove out of town (I didn’t have her card handy), I’d say to A.: “I wonder if that’s where she lives.”

In January, Lois sent an email announcing her class times and said it was first come first serve. I put a check in the mailbox that evening.

The moment I walked in, I fell in love. Her studio is behind her house — off of a dirt driveway. It feels like a warehouse with high ceilings — industrial, but newly built. Immaculate and organized. She has shelves to display her pots — vases, mugs, bowls. She has partitions to display her paintings. There are six pottery wheels. There were three other women in my class (I was the youngest by far). We each bought a bag of clay. And went to it. That first night I was rusty — it had been three years since I had thrown on a wheel. It took a few tries to get the hang of it again. Lois, who I would guess is in her late 60s, is patient, kind and encouraging.

That night, I left her studio giddy. It was intensely dark out, as it is in the desert. I turned out of her driveway, music off, enjoying the silence and my deep happiness that I had found Lois.

At the end of the last class I told her: “You’ve created monster.” And I found A. in the garage, my sleeves caked with clay, and I said: “Alright, that’s it. It’s time to buy me a wheel.” (I was half-kidding, I’m not ready for the work of taking care of clay, etc., but maybe someday I will be.)

Last night, A., C. and I went to the studio for a potluck and to pick up my work. When I was describing to the group the different glazes I used, Lois piped in and said that I brighten up the studio every time I arrive. As I left last night, Lois gave me a hug and then I picked up my box of about 20 bowls. I said, “I told A. that this is my new happy place.” She smiled and said, “You make it happy.”

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