Category Archives: the great outdoors

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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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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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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perspective. sometimes you have it. sometimes you don’t.

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It’s the dead of summer. Our swamp cooler went out yesterday, and I watched the thermometer tick up — 80 degrees in the house, hm. 85. 87. A drip of sweat on my back. Oh yes, time to call property management. CP was in his crib, crying, his hair matted to his head. I took him for a loop around the town with the car air conditioning blasting. A. opened the swamp cooler, and saw that the water pump wasn’t working. “Look,” he said, when I returned. “It’s really simple.”

The heating and cooling people didn’t call. A. drove to Home Depot and replaced the pump himself. “Twenty-eight dollars,” he said. “And the receipt flew out the window.”

We went on vacation to Michigan and North Carolina over the 4th and came back to the desert more exhausted than when we left. CP cried on the flights. CM had a few epic meltdowns. Schedules altered. A flight cancelled. Our car shined a warning light before we drove into Death Valley (false alarm). You know the drill. Travel, as much as I love it and seeing family, is draining.

At almost five months, CP is waking twice a night minimum. I’m running on empty.

We’ve been talking a lot about our next move when we leave the desert. It’s all up in the air, but even though it’s a year away, it increases our anxieties. Eventually we’ll end up back in the D.C. area.

“Let’s get a farm house,” I say. “Deep in Virginia.”

“Let’s build a tiny house,” A. says. I think he means it. “I don’t want a two-hour commute.”

D.C. friends came to visit last week. They’re journalists — one for National Geographic, the other for the Washington Post — and they have two girls who are the same ages as CM and CP. They rented a van for three weeks with a pull-down bed and a kitchen to tour around California. We made sweet potato and black bean tacos with an avocado pepita dip and the kids ran in the sprinklers.

“I’m really digging your life,” she said.

“We’re happy,” I said. “For now.”

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It was cloudy today, which put A. in a funk. It’s sunny 350 days of the year.

“I need a project,” he said.

We drove to Cottonwood Meadows this morning. The signs said it was bear country. We walked about 100 yards on the dusty trail before CM wanted to hang out on a log (“This used to be a tree, mama”). He didn’t want to hike anymore.

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So I wandered. And I found a tree with a hole in the trunk, covered in dried sap. And I snapped dozens of photos. Same square of the tree, different exposures, different angles. How each of us see the world. Some with golden hues, some black; some with smooth lines, some with dead bark.

When I returned to the log, it started to drizzle. CP was ready for his nap. CM had sand in his shoes. Two crying babies. Two parents, shaking their heads. Ready for the next laugh, sun and a bit of inspiration.

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we scared off a bear in yosemite

I’ve had visions of what I would do to protect C. if our house flooded or if a fire blazed or if we were attacked by a mountain lion on a hike. I’ve even envisioned sacrificing my life for C.’s I’m sure I’m not the only mother to do this.

But when I looked up on Friday evening as we sat in our camping chairs with our jet boils making dinner in Yosemite on Lake Harden, this came out of my mouth, very quietly and calmly: “There’s a bear.”

It was walking toward our campsite, its head peeking over logs, sniffing our cous-cous. It looked small — at first I thought it was a baby. A. and I and our friends R. and R. looked at each other and said, “What should we do?” and then we remembered to make a racket to scare off a black bear. We started yelling, and the bear ran off, but at a safe distance it looked back at us.

All the while, I knew that C. was by my left side, but I didn’t know where, exactly, just close, and my eyes were fully focused on the bear. Our friend R. took A.’s walking stick and chased after it to ensure it wouldn’t come back (and it didn’t).

Here’s what surprised me: That I didn’t grab C. and hold him tight. But I also wasn’t scared – and I didn’t want to scare C. The bear was ambling along and it looked lumbering and curious, but not angry and certainly more frightened of us. Had it come closer, I most surely would have nabbed C.

A friend of mine said, “Good work” for scaring the bear away. I said I was more proud of myself for hiking three miles with 35 pounds of toddler on my back and sleeping two nights in a tent as dirty as can be with an equally dirty child.

I admit that I find back-country camping a bit stressful because of the wildlife, the physical strain, the lack of sleep, wondering if we packed enough food and being far away from any help if there is an accident.

But on this trip it was all worth it when I had one of the sweetest moments so far in C.’s 20 months, as we lay in our sleeping bags in the dark, looking at each other. He kept putting his hand near my mouth and I said, “If you put that near my mouth, I’m going to kiss it!” And he did and I lunged with puckered lips and he giggled like crazy, over and over. Then he rubbed my arm before taking my hand and closing his eyes and falling asleep in the woods.

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camping with a toddler: how we survived (and some tips)

OK, so I was dragging my feet. Every now and then, A. would say, “When do you want to go camping again?” and I’d change the subject to what should we have for dinner, or, “Look! Look at the big cat wandering through our backyard!”

The first time we took C. camping was on the Appalachian Trail in Maryland. It was September, and C. was nine months old. We hiked two miles along a creek deep into the woods. I held C. on my chest and a few other “essentials” on my back and A. carried everything else: tent, sleeping bags, sleeping pads, food (he had back spasms the next day). When we came to a suitable campsite, I nursed C. against a log while the mosquitoes buzzed and nipped at me and A. ran off to filter water from a nearby stream.

It was humid and I was exhausted. And I still cherished sleep like a queen cherishes her jewels.

Then, when I laid C. down in a tent within a tent and I said, “Good night,” he freaked the hell out. He was full-on panicking with his fire-alarm cry like, “Um, EXCUSE ME? I’m sleeping WHERE?” So we got him up and sat around a warm fire and smelled the pines and watched the flames dance and spooned him some beans until we all laid down in the tent together.

In the middle of the night, I heard a growl that sounded like a big cat. I nabbed a hysterical C. — now panicking myself — and whispered loudly to A. “Did you hear that?” and A. mumbled something in his half-sleep about how it was probably a bird and I actually believed him and relaxed. But C. was now sleeping with me and kept rolling off the mat and I spent the whole night making sure we didn’t squish him.

Here is a photo after we hiked out — my smile reflects relief that the three of us were alive:

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So, I have to say that I’m pretty awesome for agreeing to go again not even a year later.

On Saturday, we drove to Sequoia along twisting roads, parked and loaded up our packs. We hiked a mile in and C. ran around picking up sticks while we set up camp. A. fired up the jet-boil and we ate a dinner of lentils, cous-cous and long-grain-and-wild rice on a huge platform rock and watched the sun set. And then we all went to bed together, around 8 p.m. We read C. “Harry the Dirty Dog” and told him he was sleeping next to mama and papa and isn’t this fun? C. was wired — he was singing and standing up and saying, “Woah!” and babbling and making us laugh.

This time, C. fell asleep with his little head on my sleeping bag, my cheek squished against the top of his head and his body cradled like a C against mine. And oh my god, I love sleeping next to this sweet little guy who would wake up now and then and look at me and smile and lay his head back down.

We got up with the sun and C. was happy and we ate oatmeal with dates and honey-roasted almonds and took down camp and went to find the majestic Sequoias before the crowds arrived.

And I felt relaxed and more than relieved — I was happy. We did it and C. loved it.

So next time A. asks, “When do you want to go camping again?” I expect I’ll say: “Let’s pick a weekend!”

Here are a few tips for camping with a toddler:

  • Bring something you know know he/she likes to eat. I’m so happy we had two peanut butter sandwiches — one for the evening and one for the morning — that filled up C.’s belly because he wasn’t interested in the oatmeal.
  • Don’t forget the winter hats. Even if you don’t think it will be cold, they pack well and it’s worth it if you need them.
  • Bring one more diaper than you think you’ll need.
  • Tell the toddler well in advance that you’re going to camp and sleep in a tent with mama and papa for one night. I think this helped take away the surprise factor.
  • Bring a water filter. Carrying water and a toddler and, well, everything else, is too much and you might end up breaking your backs.
  • Get a sleeping bag for the little one. We had C. in a fleece sleep sack on his own sleeping pad and he was fine, but I would have gotten more sleep (i.e. worried less) if he was in an actual sleeping bag. We plan to buy one for him before our next trip.
  • Relax and enjoy! Losing one night of sleep isn’t the end of the world — and finding adventures is soul-charging. At least, it is for me.

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the desert’s hidden beauties

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When A. told me he wanted to move to the desert, I’m pretty sure I laughed in his face.

“Have you seen my skin?” I said, pointing to the Irish white dotted with freckles.

He had spent several years in Pasadena, and had fallen in love with Joshua Tree National Park and this was very, very important to him.

I had just delivered a baby, loved my job and my friends and city-living and really, the desert was a place I never considered. I am drawn to the beach and to the mountains — the desert sounded lonely and inhospitable.

When we visited the first time, last April, I noticed the ravens. In the parking lots, in the streets, hopping around and staring at me with their beady eyes and opening their long beaks and croaking at me. I felt dread, then, and I found the only green swatch of public land in the dusty town and hunched on a park bench to nurse the then 4-month-old C. I called my best friend, exhausted, and pleaded with her to tell me it was going to be OK. And then, on the drive back to LA, I cried.

We’ve been here for five months. And what I’ve noticed about the desert is its hidden beauties. Small white and yellow wildflowers hiding in shrubs (the smallest we’ve ever seen) and hummingbirds zipping by and Joshua trees bending and twisting and blooming and red and green and striped rocks sparkling in the sun.

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Lately, we’ve been going on weekly hikes, sometimes more, and have explored Indian Wells Canyon and Short Canyon.

A. said last weekend, “It amazes me that I lived in LA for so long and never considered coming here for hikes.” Neither have the others, it seems, for we have the trails to ourselves and can enjoy the quiet and catch roadrunners sprinting by and birds swooping overhead and flowers ruffling in the wind.

It surprises me how much life is here, even though we’re less than an hour from one of the hottest places on Earth.

And it amazes me I was so narrow-minded to never consider the desert: It’s no coincidence that writers and artists find their muse in its subtle magic.

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operation clean up wagon wheel

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There’s a climbing area east of us, toward Death Valley, that A. likes to frequent. He slips out of bed at 6 a.m. to be at the rocks as the sun rises and warms him. When he returns, he’s often giddy from fresh air, beautiful views and exercise.

There’s only one problem: It’s also the world capital for dirt bikers (at least it feels that way) who arrive in masses in RVs (I never knew about dirt biking till I moved here? I think I grew up in a cave?). So the rock outcroppings are littered with nails and green and purple and clear glass shards from rowdy parties around fire pits. The trash not only detracts from the area’s beauty, but it also makes it hard to let C. roam.

So A. has decided to clean it up. At first he was filling up one large empty Fage yogurt carton at a time, but now he takes a much bigger box every time he goes. He also bought a giant magnet to drag along the dirt and pick up the nails in bulk. (Below is one quick sweep.) He brings home the debris and wraps it up so it’s safe for our trash collectors to take away.

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On the weekends, I join him. It’s a daunting project, but the theory is much like the broken window theory: if there are no broken bottles or glass, new visitors won’t think to smash or shoot their beer bottles. You laugh, but we really hope it will work, especially because some of these glass shards are so smooth and weathered, we think they’ve been here for decades.

Here’s to making our beautiful public land pristine once again.

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our first ‘long’ hike in (what feels like) years

We used our new baby backpack for the first time on Friday and it was awesome.

We were with S. (who left yesterday, sniff) and decided to try some random trails not too far from home.

A. hoisted C. (and his cheeks and belly — all 24 pounds of him) on his back.

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We marched toward Owens Peak, well in the distance, along a dirt road taking photos and chatting.

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An hour in, we heard a car ripping up the narrow dirt road, kicking up dust. “Woah,” A. said, and we all scrambled to jump into the shrubs, afraid the driver wouldn’t see us around the bend. The jeep stopped hard, and we stood looking at each other, dumbfounded.

“Sorry about that,” a gray-bearded man rolled down his window and asked where we were headed. Turns out, he lives 1/4 mile up, on a farm with four yipping dogs and a donkey, off the grid.

His farm was where we turned around. Shortly after, we came to a “V” in the road and got confused (yes, all three of us). We unintentionally took the path we didn’t take up, but we thought we could find our way anyway. I was anxious — it was getting cold and dark and C. was whining (turns out, he lost a shoe and none of us noticed his little toes were frozen).

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When we finally saw our car, it went like this:

[Points, jumps up and down.]

“There it is! There’s our car!”

“Oh, thank god.”

“Yeah! We did it!”

[Everyone cheers.]

We blasted the heat and stopped in Inyokern for Mexican food, all smiles.

It was so fun to be out on a 2-hour hike for the first time since well before C. was born. I can’t wait to go again. We’ll have to get as many hikes in as we can before the little man adds more pounds to his cheeks, belly and ankles.

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miles and miles of empty desert trails

C. had a fever on Saturday, which spoiled our plans to try out our new baby backpack at Owens Peak. That means that I got cabin fever — too much time in the house and I just about lose it. So after I put C. down for a nap on Sunday, I headed to the trails behind Cerro Coso Community College, about 2 miles from our home. There are miles and miles of desert, and the views are stunning — you can see all of Ridgecrest below. I inhaled the fresh air and the absolute quiet — there wasn’t another soul out there — and let out an audible “ahhhh.”

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