Category Archives: happy

my Washington Post article and a finished shop

Hooray! My piece for the Washington Post ran last week. Last year, I mentioned what a traumatic time I had a week after giving birth to baby L., and it felt good to write out the details. I never realized how difficult it was write about medical issues — it’s so nuanced I was a bit stressed about getting the details right. But after pestering the Stanford doctor and the CDC press officer, I felt confident when the story ran.

I also have so much more to tell, like how lonely it felt to be that sick even though my husband didn’t leave my side or how I wished I had those early days with my last newborn at home instead of in the hospital or how I sometimes look at the horizon and talk to the woman who saved my life even though I don’t believe in heaven. Lots to unpack there, I know. Maybe I can work on another piece — I just have to find the right angle.

A few weeks ago, A. finished my pottery shop and I’m throwing during my spare time. I’m a bit rusty and I need a full weekend to throw and throw to get in the groove, but I think I’ll find that in the new year and will be able to re-open my Etsy shop.

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Exciting things are on the horizon! I don’t think I’ll pull off Christmas cards this year (sadly), but we’ll see. It’s hard to get a picture of the five of us. Have a happy and relaxing holiday!

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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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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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