Category Archives: happy

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

how life is so very different in the desert


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, 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.


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.


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.


Filed under desert, happy, Uncategorized

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!”


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.



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.


What about you?


Filed under family, happy, Uncategorized

my new happy place


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.”



Filed under crafts, happy, pottery, Uncategorized

my little jokester: i’m in trouble

My parents ventured from Michigan to the final frontier (my new name for the Mojave desert) last Saturday for the week.

It’s been wonderful having them — lots of laughter and chatting. I was also busy taking care of a house full of four adults and a toddler. I made pots of minestrone, potato and cabbage soups. I grocery shopped daily, did several loads of laundry and wiped down the kitchen floor at least twice a day. My dad said yesterday, as I slid a baking sheet of potatoes into the oven, “Boy, you’ve really turned into a domestic goddess.” (If you knew me, you’d probably burst out laughing at this.)

Throughout the week, I let my parents soak up time with C. I also slipped out when I could for a run and a pedicure (first one since October).

This morning, my parents left to drive to the West coast, so C. had me all to himself. After lunch, I told him to run around and let me know when he was ready for his nap.

I was in the kitchen when I heard a door click close and a muffled “mama!” “mama!” He shut himself in the guest room. “C.!” I called. “Where’s C.?” I opened the door, and he giggled. Then he pushed the door shut again and waited for me to say, “C.! Where’s C.?” It became a game: I’d turn the knob, he’d emerge in a fit of giggles and run into my arms, hug me, turn and toddle back into the room.

We laughed really hard for about 15 minutes before he finally collapsed in my arms and signed that he wanted to nap. I think my little guy was happy to have me focused entirely on him once again.

Also, he’s such a jokester (check out some of these expressions), I can’t help but wonder when he’s going to start playing practical jokes on me. I think I’m in trouble. Deep, deep trouble.






Filed under happy, mom, Uncategorized

5 things that make me happy

When I was a teenager, I watched an episode of Oprah and she suggested writing down things that make you feel good about yourself. Since I was navigating boys — and I cared about taming my frizzy hair and how my butt looked in my  jeans and what everyone thought of me — I took this to heart. I started self-esteem lists — all of the qualities I loved about myself. I even listed how many boys I had kissed (I actually think I did this one in my 20s, since I didn’t have my first kiss till I was 16 and I had a boyfriend my entire senior year.) It worked, these lists. They gave me a spring in my step.

Through my 20s and early 30s,  I dated and broke up and dated and broke up and thought, dramatically, “When am I ever going to meet the person for me?” I dealt with my frustration by chanting positive self talk during yoga. “You are pretty,” or, “You are strong.”

Since I moved to Ridgecrest, I have met several people who say things like, “You came from D.C.? Most people leave here to go there,” or, “It’s not so bad here,” or, “The summers are terrible.” Last week, I struck up small talk with a Sri Lankan woman at the playground whose first words were, “I hate it here.” The negativity really gets to me, just as the positive self talk helps. So I’ve decided to befriend people who lift me up — and I’ve met three women so far who are joys to be around.

So today, I decided to share five things that make me happy. So many things make me happy, this is just what comes top of mind.

1. Early morning, just after the sun comes up. The air is crisp, the morning light is soft, it’s serene outside. And earlier this week, I saw these birds taking flight.


2. The pottery class I started on Tuesday evening. Lois, who’s in her 70s, is a kind, creative woman and her space — an industrial building with high ceilings and adorned with her pottery and paintings — is magic. I love, love working with the clay on the wheel. I was giddy when I came home that night.

3. Fresh-cut flowers on my kitchen table.


4. C.’s giggles. Right now, we’re playing a game where he digs out a handful of Cheerios from the box and he toddles to a kitchen chair, sets them on top and eats them one at a time. When he’s done, he opens the cupboard, does the sign for “please,” and when I open the box again for him, he pants and giggles with excitement. It’s awesome.

5. Exploring new places. Road trips. Mountains! (This is from a short trip to Lake Isabella last week, where S. and I stopped to take photos and had beers at the Kern River Brewery. Yum.)


What are some things that make you happy?


Filed under happy, Uncategorized

wedding day: ‘OK, it was worth it’


A few days before our wedding day, A. said to me, “I have trouble believing that all of this money and effort is worth it.” We were putting together programs (we had our favorite singer-songwriter David Berkeley write a personal song for us that we walked down the aisle to, and wanted people to see the lyrics). A. was designing the escort cards with Greek letters to communicate to the waitstaff what everyone was eating (Pi was pork, Sigma salmon… yes, we really did that for you math geeks). I was trying to keep track of everything we had to bring: fixings for S’mores, Bells beer, a wagon, etc. etc. And we were TIRED.

But the day of, there was a buzz in the hotel room where the ladies got their hair and makeup done. M. popped the champagne, and after I gently rubbed off some of the foundation (why do they always go overboard?) I felt better.



We got on the shuttle from Frederick to Thurmont — A. sat in the back, and I sat in the front so we wouldn’t see each other.



We drove past trees full of red, orange and yellow leaves to Thorpewood, a mountain retreat on 150 acres in Maryland.


I put on my dress downstairs in the dressing room and I felt beautiful (and I wasn’t sure I would.)


We took photos and wandered around the venue…Image



While my brother rehearsed the ceremony in the loft (he was AMAZING and made both me and A. cry).


By just before 4 p.m., the ladies took a golf cart to the pine forest —


And while A. walked up the aisle with his parents, I hung back by myself in the cart, anxiously waiting.


And by the time my dad walked me up to the trellis where A. waited for me, holding C., I was relaxed. Happy.


I put C. down at my feet, and he played with the pine needles and didn’t make a peep the entire ceremony.


A. and I wrote our own vows. A. made me laugh —


and I couldn’t get through the first words — “When I met you more than 3 years ago, I knew you were different” — without crying.Image Many people later said they cried along with me: A.’s uncle said in his New York Italian accent: “What were you trying to do to me? I haven’t cried at a wedding in 40 years.”


At the cocktail hour, I drank red wine, which had several people worried I was going to spill (I didn’t.)


We had butternut squash soup shooters and crispy avocado rolls —


and I tried to talk to as many people as possible. Even though we had 115 guests, it felt like this: “Hi! How are you!” Hug. “Oh, hi! Haha, yes, thank you!” Hug. “Ohhh really? Hi!” Hug.

During dinner, I was trying to make the rounds after checking on C.


I was at the Caltech table, when our babysitter came up to me, holding a flushed C. The babysitter looked concerned, upset and sheepish all at once. “He just threw up,” she said. At the time, C. was almost 11 months and had never been sick. “Oh dear,” I said and I reached to grab him. He was covered in towels and had a glazed look. His cheeks were the color of the red tulips in my bouquet. “He’s warm.” A. was there, too, and we agreed to take C. up to the loft to take his temperature. 101.9. “Go talk to C.,” A. said, referring to the pediatric-oncologist in the house. Oh my god, thank goodness for C. She suggested we give baby C. ibuprofen (which my sister-in-law had) and try to get him some sleep. (By the next afternoon, his fever was up to 103.3, but went away by Tuesday morning on its own.) The lovely N. held him all night, and assuaged any worry I might have had.


Then it was time for speeches. Adam’s brother E. gave a speech that had A. literally sweating and me doubled over with laughter.


S. gave a speech that made A. bawl (“Any mention of C.’s birth makes me cry!” he says).


I awkwardly thanked everyone for coming and then said something about how we know what happens when I talk — I cry — so let’s go dance.


And that’s what we did. We danced.


I haven’t had that much fun at a dance party in years. My cousins were hysterical, my friends were fun as usual.






I never made it to the fire pit outside to roast a S’more. I forgot about our desserts (my mother-in-law’s homemade Italian cookies, cake from Queens and pies from New Jersey). There were a few people (regretfully) I didn’t say hi to. But all in all, I left that night feeling full of love — and madly in love. I wouldn’t have done anything different. And A., the man who always said he’d never get married, said to me the next day, while nodding his head: “It was worth it.”


*All photos by Channing Johnson (and more here), All Rights Reserved


Filed under happy, photography, Uncategorized