Tag Archives: happy

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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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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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.”

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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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taking a moment to be thankful

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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What about you?

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what i learned on vacation (and on my return)

Do you ever come back from a vacation more tired than when you left? That’s how I feel today after 10 days in D.C. and New Jersey (with swings through Vegas, New York City and Atlantic City). I definitely overbooked myself — and though I had a blast, I’m glad to relax in the quiet, listen to the birds, make myself smoothies and decompress before heading to the Midwest next month.

Here’s what I learned on my vacation:

1. I don’t hate Vegas as much as I thought I did. We swam in the outdoor pool at New York, New York, and ate pizza and beet salad and drank good wine. Also, C. wasn’t ready to be dunked and he freaked out after I dipped him under (note his wary expression).

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2. C. is still a good traveler, and although long flights make me convulse with anxiety, he never ceases to amaze me. (Granted, with A. it’s 200 times easier.) Here, A. and I rigged him up to the suitcase, which elicited many laughs.

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3. It feels like nothing has changed in D.C. It’s been six months, but it felt like I was there yesterday. I loved connecting with dear friends, even if I ran myself ragged to do so. If only I could move one of them to the desert. Just one.

4. I also still feel connected to former NPR colleagues, although it’s been longer since I left there and they’ve since moved into a swanky new headquarters. They all made me (and C.!) feel loved. Despite the love — and I hate to admit it because I’m happy and I know this is a special time — I still harbor some insecurities about my status as a stay-at-home mom.

5. I’d much rather live in the oppressive desert heat than in chaotic, trash-strewn NYC. Though, we did have fun on our date (rooftop wedding in Soho).

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6. I miss running in cool, humid weather — and sweating. This was a little slice of heaven in New Jersey — I felt like I could run forever.

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7. It was really, really hot in the desert while we were gone and it’s not the dog days yet. Here is evidence.

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7. Our apricot tree has a two-week picking period, and then it’s done. We returned to a whole lot of this.

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I’m glad we told friends to help themselves and I’m even more glad our 82-year-old neighbor — who knew we were away — called A. to tell him there was a black SUV parked in our driveway. Thanks for watching out for us, sir.

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my new happy place

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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thank you palm springs

I love travel. Always have. But lately, I have quietly struggled when C. doesn’t sleep well on the road. Often, he’ll cry that first night in a new place, which stresses me out, and he won’t nap, which makes for a fussy baby. Not this weekend.

We met friends in Palm Springs for three nights, and C. slept like an angel. He went down easily for the night in his travel crib. He napped on two hikes — one overlooking Palm Springs and another in the Indian reservation (where we saw the spring for which the city is named — a true oasis). He napped in the car on the way to Joshua Tree.

And then, on our last day, he took a late afternoon nap so that A. and I could dip in the heated pool just outside the door of the condo we rented for the weekend. I fit into my pre-pregnancy bathing suit (yay!) and enjoyed the sun’s warmth and felt so relaxed and happy. Yeah, I like California in the winter.

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