Tag Archives: desert

back in the california desert in a fixer-upper


It happened so fast. And then I was in denial. And then I was excited. But by late fall, we found out that we were moving back to the California desert. In January. After only a year and 1/2 in Albuquerque. Just as I had found a community of cool moms.

Then, we decided to buy a house. First-time homebuyers. You know, to make things easy. We were moving to a market that doesn’t have a lot of rentals. We were moving to a market that plans to add a lot of jobs in the next few years. Interest rates were still low. And I wanted a kiln.

So the week after Thanksgiving, we flew to Palmdale with baby L. and left big C. and little C. with my parents. We found a real estate agent and we decided we’d buy a house that week. The first day, we walked into a house the right size for us with vaulted ceilings and lots of light on a corner lot in the right neighborhood. We knew it would need work, but we said what the hell. Let’s do it. We put in an offer, and we closed within 30 days.


The house, built in 1990, turned out to be more of a fixer-upper than we expected. That first week in town, we stayed in a hotel. We pulled out the carpets; we scrubbed the floors and walls. We demolished the kitchen. We pulled out the bathtub. We laid carpet in the bedrooms. And then we called in A.’s father for emergency help. “We need you,” we said. (And by “we,” I really mean A.)

The second weekend, I drove the boys to my aunt’s and uncle’s house in Atascadero. I teared up when I saw the ocean. It had been a year and a half since I’d seen it — the glorious, vast ocean that makes me feel alive and connected to the earth. And what a year it was — the closest brush I’d ever had with death.


Now, we’re living in a construction zone. I didn’t enroll the boys in preschool since big C. starts kinder in the fall and it’s our last chance for freedom — to not be bound by a schedule. So they’re adjusting to no schedule and a new space. And I’m adjusting to very little “me” time. But we’re exploring our new town. We met my parents in San Diego last week. We can go anywhere and do anything and it feels good.


A. rigged up a sink and we bought all new appliances. It’s livable, but a bit cluttered. All I really want to find is my blender so I can make L. varied baby food. He’s living on banana, sweet potato and baby oatmeal lately. But he just turned 7 months so he’ll be OK.


Dad O. has painted the bedrooms — the boys’ room, the baby’s room, the guest room — and he’s working on the master now. (I had no idea colors were so hard to pick out.)


We’re slowly unpacking. It sounds hectic. It feels like it should be hard, but since I’m not working, I don’t have much stress. A. is doing the bulk of the work (he’s my hero). I put my Etsy shop on hold till I have the space to throw again. I bought a kiln — it arrived today and it will be a while till I try my first firing. But for now, I’m living in the moment with these boys in our new house that we have yet to call “home.” But we will call it that — soon.



Filed under desert, moving, parenting, Uncategorized

hey facebook, I’m over you

photo 1-14I’ve been on Facebook since 2006. Eight years. In that time, I went on several international trips — Peru, Guatemala, Nicaragua, Cost Rica, Tanzania, Iceland. I ran my second marathon. I landed a dream job. I fell in love, had a baby, got married, quit my job, moved cross-country and had another baby.

And through all of this, I can’t recall Facebook ever making me feel bad. Until this summer.

There have been several articles about how Facebook makes people feel lonely or envious. This happens when people, I think, see photos of something they want — but either don’t have or can’t get. When a friend was trying to get pregnant, and ultimately went through in-vitro, she couldn’t stand seeing photos of babies on Facebook.

What got to me this summer was seeing photos of people laughing with their friends, and amazing summer-time scenes.

Summer in Ridgecrest is harsh. It’s too hot to spend much time outside during the day. (I get my fresh air at dusk after the boys are asleep).

What’s more, I started working in the mornings, and I’m in front of a computer from 8-12, the time I used to socialize. So not only am I far away from dear friends who live all over the country, but I’ve also been feeling even more isolated in a quiet place.

When I feel bad, I tackle it. What will get me back on track to feeling great? Exercise? A trip to see friends? Stop working? For starters, I deleted Facebook off of my phone. Now, I look at it seldom. So seldom that Facebook has started sending me messages — “Hey, E., look at what you’re missing!”

The site, to me, is the strangest beast. It makes me feel (kind of) connected to former colleagues. It opens the door to reconnect with long-lost friends. Sometimes, I crowd source for good reads or travel suggestions. But overall, the insincerity of it and the boastfulness of it and the well, faux social connection, makes me question its benefit. And really, it’s a complete time suck in a time when it feels like every moment is precious. I’d much rather read for a 1/2 hour than scroll through photos of people doing awesome things in beautiful places and longing to be where they are, instead of appreciating where I am. Because where I am is pretty damn great.

So, for now, I’m staying off of it. I’m spending time with the littles, like this one, who just turned six months old. And I’m truly the happier for it.



Filed under baby, desert

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.


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.





Filed under desert, great outdoors, mountains, photography, the great outdoors, Uncategorized

peaches, bunk-beds and heat

It’s starting to get hot in the desert. The kind of hot where I don’t want any of my skin exposed to the unforgiving sun. The kind of hot where when you walk into the scrub, you worry about snakes and occasionally see a sand-colored iguana dart past you. The kind of hot where it’s more quiet than usual around noon. And the sky seems bluer than usual.

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It’s also peach season. Our peach tree, which yielded 18 peaches last year, has a few hundred this year. So I’m blanching and freezing them for smoothies. And on Saturday, I made my first pie ever from scratch, using this crust and this filling. I cut the sugar in half and didn’t put any on top. It was Meditteranean-style delicious where we could actually enjoy the sweetness of the peaches. Last night, A. and CM walked freshly-picked soft peaches to the neighbors.


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A. is working hard on building bunk-beds for the boys. Over the past few weeks, he’s taken over the garage cutting and sanding and assembling the wood. This weekend he painted. CM wanted green, so we picked out three shades on Friday, ultimately deciding on Happy Camper. We ordered mattresses — splurging for organic to avoid chemicals — and I’ll pick out some sheets this week. We hope to move CM into his new room by next month so we can shift CP into the crib.


As for the boys, CM now has six imaginary friends, who are always with us, on our hikes, in the backyard, in the car: Bevi, Doc, Wood, More Wood, Mud and … wait for it… Jason. CP, who’s not quite three months, rolled over and is kicking and coo-ing and smiling all of the time. He’s a calm, happy baby who sleeps well, and that makes for a calm and happy me.


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Filed under baking, desert, food, Uncategorized

enjoying simple pleasures

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When we came to the desert a little less than two years ago for A.’s interview, I sat on a park bench on the only green swatch of land I had seen for miles, nursed five-month-old CM and watched the black ravens fly from tree to tree. They looked at me with their beady, smart eyes, their wing-spans longer than I am tall and shouted: “Caw, caw!” I heard: “Scram, scram!”

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The playground was empty, a far cry from the always full playground in D.C. I felt lonely in that moment — and hormonal and exhausted — and I knew we were moving to place I never would have picked. I cried that afternoon on the car ride back to L.A. “I like change and I like to think I am adventurous,” I choked out to A. “But maybe I’m fooling myself.”


A. was seeking a simpler life, away from the bustle of the city. He wanted quiet. Open land. Solitude. And the job was a perfect fit. I knew coupling with A. meant adventure and change, but this wasn’t the change I had in mind. All I could think of was what I was losing: a job I loved, my friends, my community. Logically, I knew this was a chance to explore California and the West Coast and stay home with my son, but even though the move was short-term, my heart was unsure.

We’ve lived here for a year and a half now, and this is what I can say with confidence: I choose my own happiness. All I have to do is focus on what’s beautiful about being here — the warm winters, the sunshine, the quiet, the fruit trees in our backyard, the undistracted time with my little ones, my pottery teacher and her studio, the mountains, A.’s flexible work schedule — and I feel at peace.

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Also, we are officially re-calibrated. The simplest things are now exciting. We went bowling a few weeks ago and I broke 100 for the first time in my life and it was a MAJOR LIFE ACCOMPLISHMENT. We took the train to San Francisco for a wedding when CP was a month old, and ate Indian food, and it was THE BEST INDIAN FOOD IN CALIFORNIA. I walked into an Anthropologie and saw THE MOST BEAUTIFUL DRESSES EVER MADE.

When we lived in the heart of the city, we took good food, good friends, good museums for granted. And, I often felt bad because I was over-booked, over-tired and felt under-accomplished.

I’ve learned that living simply — in a place with zero good restaurants, no shopping and little entertainment but an incredible amount of sunshine, fresh fruit and fresh air — is in many ways healthier for me. And it allows me to experience life’s pleasures in a more intense way.


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the eclipse from the Calif. desert

Star-gazing is among the coolest of our California-desert experiences. Last night, A. took these photos of the eclipse with a 300mm lens from our front patio.

I stretched out on our king bed and slept for a rare four hours, an exceptional feat since our seven-week old has a stomach virus. Little CP is on the mend, and A. got to see a once-in-a-lifetime event, so the whole family is happy this morning.

11:33 p.m.

11:52 p.m.

12:14 a.m.


Filed under desert, Uncategorized

sweet baby, a week early


The contractions start at 4 a.m. on Saturday. I recognize this cramping feeling. I peer out the window to gauge the daylight and roll over and drift back to sleep. At 5 a.m., I can’t sleep. I pick up my glowing phone and click on the “contraction” app: 60 seconds. 7-8 minutes apart. Hm, this could be it.

A. wakes at 5:30. “I think I’m having contractions,” I say. Nonchalant. We slowly get up, take a shower and pack our bags. I throw on a skirt. A. wakes ups my mother-in-law. “Is this it?” she says, beaming, in her pajamas. She hurries into the bathroom to get ready. I press my hands on the wall as I bear the peak of a contraction.

My best guy friend from college sleeps in the living room, his face buried in the dark brown couch. He has to catch a flight that morning from LAX. I eat a bowl of homemade granola in the dark kitchen.

I wander back toward the bedroom.

A.: “How are they now?”

He’s whispering. We’re in the hallway, near the bathroom.

Me: “Three minutes apart.” (I had one that was two apart, but didn’t tell A.)

A.: “Let’s go, I don’t want to deliver in the bathtub.”

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rain, a funeral and thanksgiving

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

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




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our first fall in the desert

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


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

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


C and his picnic table

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

cabled mittens and hat

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

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


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

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Filed under crochet, desert, family, Uncategorized, woodworking

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 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.


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