Tag Archives: inspiration

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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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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quiet moments and creative inspiration

On Friday after a Mexican dinner out — once C. was asleep in his crib — A. and I migrated to our bright yellow kitchen. A. stood and painted lettering on hand-held signs for our friends’ wedding in Soho in NYC in two weeks. I sat cross-legged on a chair and crocheted a hat for my niece. The table was full of paints and paper and water and yarn and we worked in the quiet, enjoying each others’ company and the warm night breeze through the window screens.

I find I work best in quiet, whether I’m writing or photographing or throwing pots. It’s in the quiet that I can really focus. It’s true for A., too, who never wants me to interrupt him while he’s wood-working.

Here are a few things we’ve made out of our recent quiet — plus a cool sewing project from my MIL. All of these things make me smile.

Purple flowers in our backyard. I love photographing flowers (and I need a better macro lens). On Friday, the after-sunset splash of color — like a painting — surprised me.

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A hat I crocheted a few weeks ago with yarn I bought in L.A. It gives me the urge to throw on a thick wool sweater and go to Nova Scotia and look out at fishing boats while sipping steaming hot cocoa. (I must be ready for a cold-weather vacation.)

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Wedding signs A. made for friends on request — he bought and cut the wood, painted the pieces pink, put on the dark gray border, sanded off spots to make it “shabby chic” and then wrote the script. I can’t wait to see the stunning bride (who’s marrying this guy) holding them. (Also, maybe A. can have a side business?)

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This photo that I took about a month or two ago of C. wearing a robe that his nonna sewed for him. It fits him so perfectly that it makes me consider pulling our sewing machine down off of a shelf in our closet. With zero shopping in our quiet desert town, maybe I should make myself a skirt or two. (Hmmmmm….)

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What has inspired you lately?

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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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inspired by new york

Every time I go to New York, I’m inspired.

When I get off of the train at Penn Station and spill onto 7th Avenue into a throng of people, I often see women wearing beautiful skirts, or unusual shoes or unique earrings. I usually feel the antithesis of hip, but it doesn’t bother me — I go to steal ideas. The hustle and bustle of New York — yes, even the car horns and flashing lights — gives me a burst of energy (though I know I couldn’t live there at this stage in my life).

Last weekend, I went up for a two-day excursion with my dear friend S., who has gorgeous 19-month-old twins. It was a girls’ weekend getaway — the goal was to shop, walk, talk and eat good food. And that’s where I found my inspiration this time, in the food. Actually, more precisely in the drinks.

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meals, snow and possibilities

When I approached her last night at the booth in the quiet Italian restaurant on the fourth floor of a new Kimpton hotel in Rosslyn overlooking Georgetown she said, “I feel like we should hug.”

I was meeting M. for the first time. She and her husband, who’s retired in Florida, graduated from Kalamazoo College with my parents in 1972. My parents saw them at their 35-year class reunion at homecoming in Kalamazoo, Mich. in October and my mom rightly surmised she would be someone I would want to meet. M. is a diplomat and has seen the world from Sweden to Slovakia to Surinam.

We hugged and then we settled into the red booth for Pinot Noir, salads, sushi-grade tuna, bream with artichokes and finally tiramisu and frothy cappuccinos in big white mugs. It was the first snowfall of the winter and the snow whirled outside, white specks against the black sky.

M. wore a black suit, funky plastic glasses and white smile. She told me stories like the time she was alone in the embassy in Surinam during a coup and she was checking in with Marines on a walkie-talkie. She said she was so psyched out because she expected the rebels to march down the street shooting wildly that she thought she heard gunfire. She had been crawling on the ground toward the window when she realized it was the static from the radio and she rolled over and laughed. Years later, after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, M. said she and her husband had four body guards with them at all times in Amsterdam for two full years. She said it felt unreal having that kind of constant shadowing and protection. She also told me about how she toured Bratislava with the man who delivered news to the Slovakians for 20 years via Voice of America and everyone they ran across were enraptured with him. During a scary and uncertain time, he was their hope and comfort.

As she told her stories about her 25 years as a foreign service officer, I was enraptured by her independence and confidence and storytelling ability. And I envied her first-hand experience as a witness to world events.

When we wrapped up at 8:30 pm, I was meeting R. at the Verizon Center to catch the end of the Washington Wizards and Cleveland Cavaliers basketball game. I gave M. a big hug goodbye and we agreed I’d see her in the New Year and meet her husband. I rode the metro to Gallery Place. When I emerged, there were flurries falling softly. I called R. and walked down 7th street NW with my light blue hat pulled over my ears, excited to see him, excited about the snow and change of seasons and most of all, excited about the possibilities.

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