Writing, Recording, and Scenes from Santa Barbara

IMG_0959-001I’ve been reading my old high school journals over the past few weeks, and holy drama, am I glad not to be a teenager anymore. So! Many! Feelings! I can still touch all their ghosts drifting through me when I read my words. Every joy and every (numerous! plentiful!) heartache in those pages cuts me deep and makes me so grateful to be a happily married adult (and married, no less, to someone as completely awesome and skilled at communication, and, oh, everything else, as Eric). But I am so very happy that I wrote all those things down. Because I come across episodes here and there that I can’t even remember. But also because so much of it I do remember, but not in the degree of detail with which I wrote about it. I love the moments of laughing again at something whispered to me in my high school days, as if for the first time.

I opened one of my journals last week to find this inscription staring me in the face:

“The stuff that’s going on, that’s happening now…will not happen forever and will not happen again. So get your pen out and write it down.” It’s attributed to Neil Forrester, who is either an actor or a research scientist, or, most likely, a friend of my friend Mandy from Governor’s School wayyyy back in 1998. (Mandy! You’re the best!)

Whoever said it, I agree so very wholeheartedly. I’ve kept journals and diaries all my life, with some pauses here and there, and they are my treasures. This blog also holds so many happy memories, as does my Flickr account, which houses three years of daily pictures from the early-ish days of dating Eric straight past our wedding and honeymoon. Watching my baby boy grow up has reminded me once again of this truth: one day it seems that your baby will be kicking his legs and cooing at his mobile forever, and then the next he’s standing and talking and doing his darnedest to maneuver himself into a good position from which to attain his ultimate and most elusive prize: your computer power cord.

I know this truth about writing and recording so deeply, and yet I am not sure if I’ve ever been so neglectful of it. I wrote every day during my first trimester, and even though there’s a lot of “I feel terrible. I wonder how many times I will throw up today?”, I am so glad I wrote it all down. Nausea aside, those are my first letters to my son. Now that he’s here, I have so much more joy in my life, but the quiet moments to reflect and write seem few and far between. It’s funny too to recognize how different I am on trips and outings–I used to take millions of pictures and gather all kinds of ephemera for my scrapbook, but now I usually don’t have my hands free, so I just tell myself to remember, like Nabokov’s mother used to lovingly command him when he saw something beautiful–“Vot eto zapomni” (“That there–remember it”). I am nothing if not a collector of beautiful things, whether in words or pictures.

These probably seem like funny reflections for someone who is averaging one blog post per month. And it probably seems an odd time to expound on all this for someone who is getting ready to go on a three-week trip (Aspen! Driving through Utah! National Park bonanza!), but this is not meant to be a self-chastisement or an apology. It’s just meant to be a small act of lighting a candle for myself, to say, “Remember. Write when you can.”

So! How about some tales from our trip to Santa Barbara? We were there last week for a conference for Eric, living it up in a swank hotel, and/or feeling weird about being in a swank hotel, since we are more the Holiday Inn type. However! About the abundant free coffee I shall not complain. Good hotel coffee is pretty much an oxymoron, but this place got a solid A-. That’s high praise!

I have been to Santa Barbara about four times, once with my brother, and three times (I think) with Eric for an annual meeting, but this was my/our first time staying right downtown. It was so nice to be able to just walk right out the door and stroll to all the cool stuff.

IMG_0954We found this awesome house on one of our walks. My favorite panel is the Mt. Fuji one below the window. But I am also really fond of the sea turtle on the right.

IMG_0953In front of the house was this adorable free little library. Library lover that I am, my heart kind of skips a beat when I see one of these. I love that they are all so different, such an act of love and creativity by the people who made them. The detail on this one left me grinning from ear to ear.

IMG_0951We also went to Art from Scrap, which is always a delight. I actually didn’t buy anything because it was a bit hard to shop with Micah, so chalk one up for saving money! But look at these beautiful sequins. Magpie. It’s my middle name.

IMG_0962Wherever there is an aquarium, you can bet that I’ll be going there, now with bonus excuse of introducing Micah to the wonders of the deep sea. Ever since I spent most of my trip to the Monterey Aquarium in tears over the intricate beauty of sea anemones and jellyfish and starfish, I’m like a moth to a flame wherever I can see them again. The Santa Barbara Aquarium is right out on the pier, and it’s small, but thus also perfectly manageable. I cannot say enough about how wonderful the staff were. Many were volunteers, and they were just so incredibly kind and excited to share all the juicy details of these amazing creatures. We felt so very welcome, and even doted upon. There were a lot of touch pools, where we saw swell sharks and sea stars hiding in the sand, and the marvelous array above. Sea cucumbers! Limpets! Sea anemones! Starfish! Sea urchins! Can you see how gorgeous the colors of the sea anemones are? Soft and silky and vibrant shades of purple and turquoise, oh my. (Please excuse reflections of overhead light on water!)

IMG_0961I’m not exaggerating when I say that I saw one of the most moving things I have ever laid eyes on. What you see above are swell shark egg pods. The female shark releases these pods, containing an embryo and a yolk for sustenance. The pods look like vegetation, and they have these curly tendrils so that the mother shark can attach them to kelp to camouflage them, protecting them from predators. The baby sharks gestate in the sacs for 9-12 months, attached to the yolk by an umbilical cord. The ones above are of different ages, and the one at the far right is getting close to hatching! I stood there with my jaw dropped for about five minutes. It was like being able to see inside the womb (something so close to my heart, of course). Seeing something mysterious and sacred and holy, something I never ever thought I would be able to see. It shook me in the most beautiful way. The world is so full of such unimaginable wonders.

IMG_0964Speaking of which, this is a terrible picture with my finger in it, but please google “Spanish shawl” for a day-maker. I bet you will as astonished as I am that something so gorgeously colored could possibly exist.

IMG_0980The next day I took Micah to the zoo, where I’d been before before I knew I was pregnant with him! Poor baby was having trouble with teething, so we didn’t stay too long, but we did get to see the giraffes against the backdrop of the ocean. This zoo is truly beautiful, as much a botanic garden as a zoo, and I love it dearly.

IMG_0982Finally he fell asleep in his stroller, and I read for a few minutes in the shade while listening to the lionesses roar at each other. Thunderous!

IMG_0977On our third day in town, it was rainy, so we didn’t spend too much time outside. We take this little stroll over to the courthouse, which is always stunning.

IMG_0985Back at the hotel, we did a lot of looking out the windows at the rain. My precious, beautiful baby.

IMG_0995Among the other little things I don’t want to forget are our morning phone calls with my mom while playing in the bathroom so as not to wake Daddy up (he takes the night shift, so I get up with Micah around 6 every morning). Why yes, I FaceTime my mom every morning, and she coos with me at our sweet boy, and, yes, she is currently in Amsterdam, and I have separation anxiety at the age of 32! I can’t help it, my mom is awesome.

IMG_0971Here he is showing off his new favorite toy, a cup they gave me at Chipotle that I didn’t end up using. Hilarious.

IMG_0987And a few more things. I know you might not believe me, but this. was. delicious.

IMG_0943And finally, a change of perspective I think we could all use. Thanks for reading! Hopefully I will be back soon with more travel tales.

A Handful of Happy Things

IMG_0742Hellooo, blog! You know what they say. Absence makes the heart grow…more verbose! I had planned to wait until we were all over this cold to get back to writing, but after a week and a half we are all still sick. Boo! I think it’s probably going to be at least another full week before we’re back to 100%, but there is light at the end of the tunnel. We are all at least a bit better, if not exactly well yet. And it’s been so long since I wrote that I just wanted to throw together a few things that are making me happy lately. Now once again I realize that I have a whole series for this. I guess I’ll change the name of this post for the third time! Forgetful, thy name is Cameron. Anyway, on to the happy!

IMG_0736Micah got sick just before Easter, so we had to cancel all our weekend plans, which was a super bummer, but we were heartily sustained by Easter candy sent by Eric’s parents. Never underestimate the healing powers of chocolate!

IMG_0680A few weekends ago we took Micah swimming for the first time. He was totally adorable, but more than a little confused by the whole experience. He did eventually figure out the joy of splashing, but did not like it when said splashing sent water into his face. Luckily, he discovered that it was even more fun to slap the concrete edge of the pool with his little hands. It’s warming up around here again, so maybe we can take him again in a few weeks when we’re all better.

IMG_0729We got a new forward-facing stroller with a gigantic sun canopy, and Micah loves it. We usually take at least one long walk per day, sometimes punctuated by coffee for Mommy or pauses to take pictures of pretty flowers. Spring surprises me every year. I love it. On lots of days we take a late afternoon walk to pick up Eric from work. Micah is a big fan of the elevator.

One truly amazing side effect of this whole sickness thing has been all the time Eric and I have been spending together, since it takes two to wrangle a sick baby. Every weekend feels like Christmas. Micah is madly in love with his Daddy, and never fails to break into a huge grin within 6 seconds of laying eyes on him. It’s just about the sweetest thing I’ve ever seen, and it makes my heart swell with joy. Every time he does it, I think, “Yeah! I know! He’s awesome! I love him too!” Micah was so very happy this weekend spending so much time with both of us. When Eric was holding him, he’d gleefully smile at me, as if to say, “Mommy! Daddy’s here!” And when I was holding him, he’d smile at Eric, as if to say, “Daddy! Mommy’s here!”

I so love the rhythm of our days during the week, and I’m looking forward to being back in full swing once we’re better. But some things have stayed the same. One of my favorites is talking to Eric while we’re bathing Micah. It’s a little thing, but I look forward to it (and baby bath time shrieks of glee). And I love that sometimes after he’s down for the night, one of us will be looking at pictures of him, and the other will be drawn like a moth to a flame; we smile and laugh and wonder that Micah was once so tiny, and now is so big.

In news of the random, I have gotten into the habit of baking chocolate chip cookies to thank people for various things, and so I decided it would be a very sound financial investment to buy a giant bag of chocolate chips at Costco. I share this in case any of you are also looking for such airtight logical justification. Also, I told Eric that once we’re all better, I am going to bake an enormous chocolate-chocolate-chip cake. I am super looking forward to it.

IMG_0720I am working on this patchwork pillow, but I have to rip out of row of seams because I did it wrong. Ah well. Try and try again. I am excited because I haven’t worked with equilateral triangles before, and I like picking up a new skill every time I work on a project. Also, I plan to test my newfound knowledge of putting in a zipper. This all probably won’t happen until sometime next week, so for now these cheerful triangles are spread out on our bedroom floor. On the bright side, I have probably rearranged the triangles five times already, and it’s always fun trying to find the best organization. Happy the wife whose husband never complains about craft projects being strewn all over the house! I’m making this pillow with fabric I bought a few summers ago, so it definitely qualifies for the Use What You have Club.

Speaking of which, I have been brainstorming about my first real contribution to that project. I think I want to make pretty clutches out of this black and red lace I have, with a sturdy black fabric background and red silk lining. I have enough to make a good little handful of them, zippers and all, and I can’t wait to make the prototype.

I am reading David Grossman’s To the End of the Land for my book club, and it is so beautiful and so heartbreaking. A tough read for a mother. I got all caught up on Better Call Saul and Downton Abbey and now have nothing to watch while knitting and cross-stitching, so I think I’m going to listen to the Serial podcast. I know, I am the last passenger on this train! I am excited about it. And that’s about all for now. Happy spring!

The Use What You Have Club

IMG_5249Let me tell you about something I am super excited about. Excited enough to end a sentence with a preposition! It’s probably the biggest project I have planned for the whole year. It’s called the Use What You Have Club.

It was developed, of course, in conversation with Hillary. We were talking sometime in January about wanting to be a  little more conscious of our shopping habits, particularly in the craft supply arena. Eric and I had just had a budget meeting, and while we’re very fortunate indeed to have everything we need, there’s not usually much left at the end of the month. I’ve always kind of loved budgeting–I so appreciate the sacrifice when I can tangibly see the reward. It’s empowering to feel like I am choosing not to buy things in one area so that I can put that little bit of money toward something else. I’ve been doing it since my childhood days. Just ask my mom, who remembers me asking for a receipt for 74 cents’ worth of candy at Mr. Bulky.

This year there are three big things we want to put our savings toward: 1) savings for Micah, 2) travel, and 3) childcare and front-end investments for the career I am working on building. (The childcare dovetails with it, since I need some time to work). Since that meeting in January, I’ve been in savings mode. I get books from the library. (I mean, I always have, but I’ve been extra serious about it of late.) I don’t buy coffee while I’m out. (However! Peet’s makes this very easy on me. Every time I buy beans there, about every two weeks, they give me a card for a free coffee or tea. I have about 20 of them, so…free coffee dates for Mommy! What I am telling you here is that is you live nearby and want to be my friend…there is free coffee in it for you. This little bit of free luxury is so very nice.) The exception is that Micah, of course, gets whatever he needs. If it’s clothes, though, I try to find them secondhand first, my humble homage to any parent who was able to keep baby clothes clean enough for resale. (However! It’s getting hot here, and I just ordered him a swim float and a swim diaper. Based on his great love for bath time, I think swimming is going to be a huge hit!)

There is always a delicate balance, though, between the virtuous satisfaction of saving money and a burdensome feeling of privation. In order to alleviate the latter, the Use What You Have Club lets me have tons and tons of fun with the stuff I already have. And boy howdy, do I have a lot. Most of it was given to me or bought dirt cheap at places like the Depot or even thrift stores, but some of it was bought for specific projects (with coupons! I cannot resist the siren song of saving money!). Since I’ve finally gotten my little studio organized, I’ve been working on a huge Google spreadsheet of all my arts and crafts supplies. Hillary and I are doing it jointly, to add to the crafting fun, so we have a column for the supply, where it is, and what we plan to make with it. It’s divided into pages by category: knitting, sewing, paper crafts, etc. It’s a majestic thing to feel so organized. And it also helps tremendously when I don’t have much time on my hands. I open the spreadsheet, do a quick scroll through, and find something that sounds like fun to work on. I love it.

This little project has another end goal too. For a long time Hillary and I have talked about opening an Etsy shop. It will be called “Dilettante Status,” in reference to my joke with her that I am basically a dilettante at everything, but that doesn’t stop me from doing it! I don’t know when this shop will actually be created because we are two moms with three kids, and our sweet ones always take precedence. But we have a big dream for it. Even though we are trying to save money and be intentional about our spending, we are so very aware of how much we have. We wanted to find a way to give to others through our shop, and specifically to empower other women. We are planning to use our (very hypothetical at this point!) proceeds to make Kiva loans to women supporting themselves and their families around the world. If you’re not familiar with Kiva, it’s a micro-loan non-profit. You can make a $25 investment in someone’s business (agriculture, sales, the whole gamut), which will then be repaid to your account at a specific time. Each loan has multiple contributors, and each of them are repaid; once the money is back in your account, it can be loaned again. My parents put $50 in an account for me in 2009, and I have lent it out 13 times since then. I love that my tiny little bit of money has been able to help so many people. And I love the organization, which Charity Navigator gives 4 out of 4 stars (nobody paid me to say all this–I just really like them!)

So that’s our project and our plan! I am so happy that we found a way to save money and use it more purposefully for our families, to enjoy using the things we have, and, hopefully, to share with others from the great abundance of what we have. Three cheers for the Use What You have Club!

*An addendum! I realize that I forgot to add two other little accommodations to this savings plan. One is called Reasonable Investments. I am keeping a list of things I could buy that would allow me to use seven other things that I already have, instead of buying one thing that requires me to buy seven other things in order to use it. This is partly because my assortment of craft stuff is a bit haphazard, so I’ll be saving my Michael’s coupons for those things. Also, there is a special coffer of Christmas money, generously supplied by my wonderful parents (all four of them), so that is available for the occasional meal out, thrift store splurge, or something I really want or need. Those two things keep me from feeling too squeezed in by the savings plan. Balance! It’s a beautiful thing.

My Little Studio

IMG_5204Eric and I used to use our second bedroom as an office, and it was a sweet little luxury to have after lots of years of working at our desks in our living rooms. But we always hoped that the office was a placeholder for the room’s real purpose: the nursery. After I made it through my first trimester, we started working on moving our stuff out, so we could move our little one’s stuff in. We are really lucky to have a good-sized bedroom, but I credit Eric’s spatial engineering genius for finding a way to make it all fit! A bit of rearranging allowed us to fit our two desks in along the walls, and left a little corner for me to use as a studio. I really, really love it.

IMG_5206The narrow little card table is a perfect profile for the space, and gives me room for my sewing machine and a good little bit of stuff I use frequently, along with some projects in progress. It’s lightly paint-spattered, and I like that. Underneath it is a bin full of fabric, and a few other odds and ends. The walls will probably never be finished because I have been wallpapering with little things I clip out of magazines and brochures since I was a teenager, and I’ll never stop. Featured here are some maps, a Palomar poster that preceded the studio space, a few postcards from The Museum of Innocence in Istanbul, a couple of little images I made, and a giant dinosaur birthday poster I made for Eric when we were dating.

IMG_5207My ribbons are just wound around cardboard tubes. They double as decor and a reminder to use them.

IMG_5211To the left are my supply drawers, full to bursting. I love being able to see what I have. I’m so grateful to have this little bit of space and a little bit of time to work in it. In the mornings I make the bed, open the shutters, and turn on the lamps, and then my studio is ready for the day.

Every Little Thing is Magic

What have we here? A relic of life in my early twenties. A sink full of apples. When I first moved to Berkeley to start grad school in 2004, I was there for a month before I got my first stipend check from my fellowship. Given that I’d just come back from an unpaid internship at the Dostoevsky Museum in St. Petersburg, things were pretty tight there for a little while. Luckily, I discovered the magic of the bargain produce bin at Berkeley (sadly, it took me a few more years to discover that the Bowl’s produce prices were so good that I probably could have afforded non-bruised apples. Oh well.). I’d show up right when they opened in the morning and get all the fruits and vegetables I could: huge bags of slightly bruised apples, bell peppers with a few blemishes, grapes that had come loose from their bunches, pears a bit past their prime, whole artichokes slowly grading from green to brown. All of these big hulking bags were one dollar or less, and I considered them treasures. A few minutes with a paring knife, and they were good as new.

When I got home to my little apartment, with its hardwood floors, bright kitchen, double tiled sinks, and rush of traffic from busy Dwight Way, I’d wash everything right away, so I could just grab a few pieces of fruit as I ran out the door. I remember lots of trips to the Bowl and tons of these clear plastic bags, but what I remember more than anything was the apples. They were one of my main food groups that first year. I was so overwhelmed and overworked that I mostly ate a simple rotation of quesadillas, spinach lasagna, and yogurt/fruit/nuts. I didn’t actually learn to cook for four more years.

It’s crazy how this one little photo (stumbled upon in Picasa while looking for something else) brought all those days right back to me. All the pots of coffee I made to fuel the late-night homework sessions, with my papers, notebooks, and dictionaries spread all over the table. Long walks in the pouring rain to my Descriptive Grammar class. The post-it note I left by my front door during that long winter: “Turn off electric blanket.” Saturdays spent in the department library trying to translate Soviet poetry lauding concrete (no joke). Fall afternoons baking pumpkin bread and reading Doctor Zhivago. Trekking through all four levels of the subterranean library, my backpack full to bursting with books. Having my breath taken away every time I saw the city lights driving back to the East Bay from San Francisco. Not being able to believe, on a daily basis, that I could possibly live in such a gorgeous place and be paid to read books and discuss them with brilliant people. An ocean of memories, full of waves and tides, caught in a few hundred pixels.

I had a similar experience recently when I was checking my Amazon account to see when something was going to be delivered. In a flash, there were all of my orders from the past year.The one that brought tears to my eyes was a set of newborn mittens, which we found waiting for us the day we brought our sweet baby home from the hospital. It was hot, and we were hungry, and we had this tiny precious new person to care for. I fed him in the afternoon sunlight, and then those mittens went straight on, since we were too scared to cut his nails for weeks on end.

And just yesterday I went to Trader Joe’s to get a few things (mostly cottage cheese…and chocolate), and I picked up a few bags of Eric’s favorite trail mix. It’s kind of the holy grail of trail mix: almonds, cashews, pistachios, cherries, cranberries, chocolate chips. I put a handful in my mouth and was immediately taken back to the first days we had Micah home. I lived on that trail mix, often inhaled at 6am after an early feed, along with scones and pastrami sandwiches, delivered by the world’s greatest friend.

And so for several months now I’ve been thinking about this: how every little thing is magic. I sometimes feel a pressure to keep lots of things for the sake of memory, and there are indeed plenty of storehouses of them around here. But there are also quite a lot of things I’ve let go. And so I just had this wonderful sense of peace that whatever little thing it is that I decide to keep, or whatever thing is automatically archived for me online or on the shelves of my local grocery store, that little thing holds a whole world within it.

The Best Books I Read in 2014

It’ll probably be along about June before I finish my end-of-year blog posts. That’s cool, right? Oh, good! Now for an old favorite–the best books post. It’s a varied line-up this year, and I mostly have my book club to thank for that. They are always choosing fascinating books, and I basically want to be just like them when I grow up: remarkably well-read, highly intelligent, and surrounded by cool art. Three cheers for the most fortuitous random meeting at Peet’s! (That’s how I met the woman who invited me to join, through a conversation about War and Peace while waiting in line for beans. Life is so beautiful.) Ok, here we go! These are in the order I read them.

von-bremzen-coverMastering the Art of Soviet Cooking, by Anya von Bremzen. I was already familiar with this writer, and I do so love to take walks down the memory lane of my former field of study. This one was particularly pleasing because my research was on the 19th century, so the Soviet period is of eternal interest for me. A beautifully written tale of life during and after the Soviet period, it is also a fascinating look at food culture and its official place in the Soviet system. The memoir achieves that rare and perfect blend of research and personal story, with recipes to boot. I could not put this book down, and I have such fond memories of curling up with it on the chaise lounge at our B&B in Carlsbad while about 5 months pregnant. Micah kicked his approval from the womb.

9780374102418_custom-ee9a42e2ad4808c0d3b65458a4adad25b91fb217-s6-c30The Unwinding, by George Packer. My book club chose this book as a follow-up to John dos Passos’ America Trilogy, which I, sadly, did not read because I was so sick during my first trimester. I was also familiar with Packer because he had a bit of a spat with a former professor of mine in the Letters to the Editor of the New York Times Book Review (I must concede that Packer came away with the victory, since my professor was being extraordinarily antagonistic, and Packer took the high road.) I don’t read as much non-fiction as I do fiction, but this book was truly fabulous. It follows several individuals from the decades of excess through the recent recession, and it is so compellingly written. I devoured it on our babymoon in Hawaii and then had a lot of good conversations with Eric about politics and the mortgage crisis and a lot of the other problems our country faces. This book made me sad and angry, but in the best possible way. Highly recommended.

The Paris Wifex-inset-communityThe Paris Wife, by Paula McLain. Hoo boy, this was one that stayed with me, as the anguish of the hopelessly wounded fumbling their way through love is so beautifully expressed. The love story of Ernest Hemingway and his first wife, it could not but end sadly, but nonetheless offered moments of such luminous joy.

527141df7cd2b-preview-300The Goldfinch, by Donna Tartt. This one was on everyone’s nightstand last year, and for good reason. Nothing makes me click my heels with more glee than a seriously long novel (I am a Tolstoyevsky girl at heart, and I like to make myself at home in the wide expanse of fiction), and this one is so terribly compelling. Equal parts unbelievable and perfectly natural, it left me reeling. It was not my favorite book of the year, but it was surely up there.

i.1.dave-eggers-the-circle-bookThe Circle, by Dave Eggers. I read an excerpt of this novel in the New York Times Magazine and was intrigued. I’ve not read a lot of Eggers, but I did love this satire that hit frighteningly close to home. It subtly asks where our technological age is leading us, and concluded in such an unexpected way that it took my breath away.

Wanderlust-frontcover-ead36951d79129b0acefcabb1d8758b6Wanderlust, by Rebecca Solnit. I have loved Solnit ever since I saw her incredible maps of San Francisco at SFMoma. This book is a history of walking, from the early days of our species through nineteenth-century ramblers’ clubs, through Baudelaire and our modern urban experience. It’s a strange book in the most wonderful way, and though it starts slowly, I was quickly hooked. Another five-star pick from my book club.

18142414Sous Chef, by Micahel Gibney. Given the amount of Top Chef I watched while pregnant and in those early newborn days (um…all of it), I was more than excited to read this insider’s walk through 24 hours in a fine dining restaurant. I read it in bits and pieces when Micah was tiny, and I looked forward to it every morning.

61bw173FLKL._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_Portrait of the Mother as a Young Woman, by Friedrich Christian Delius. Another book club pick, this novel tells the story, in one long and lyrical sentence, of a pregnant German woman walking to a concert at a church in Rome during WWII. Her husband is stationed in Africa, and she turns in his direction at every vista as she ponders her childhood in Germany, how her deep faith clashes with the beliefs of the Nazi party, and the new life inside her. It’s a tiny little novel, but so very worth the read.

And that’s it! I read 44 books last year–not bad for being almost entirely out of commission for the first few months. Usually there are at least 10 top picks (2012, 2013), but I attribute this year’s shorter list as evidence of pulpy stuff read while sleep-deprived in Micah’s early days. Still, it was a wonderful year in reading. I hope yours was too!

Seattle Highlight Reel

IMG_9927Yes, yes, yes!! The stars have aligned to grant me a few hours of energy before bedtime, so…time for a bunch of photos and meandering thoughts about our trip to Seattle. We had been planning this trip since before Micah was born–it was for a work conference for Eric, so we had lots of notice. Since it was a full week, I imagined I wouldn’t want to be on my own with Micah that long at home, but also, even more than that, I hoped that I would still be able to find a way to do one of my favorite things–travel–as a mom and with my family. In those early newborn days, I couldn’t imagine going to the grocery store, much less Seattle, but it really DOES get easier, and soon I was looking forward to the trip. Micah and I would go to the aquarium! And walk around Pike Place Market! And, more importantly, drink ALL the coffee and eat ALL the fish (well, those last two apply to me only). I admit to being a little nervous about the airport, but I could pretty easily talk myself down because Burbank, beloved Burbank, is the tiniest and easiest airport. And then…right after Christmas Eric got sick. And then Micah got sick. And then I got sick. And for several days I was considering the awfulness of spending a week in Seattle with a baby within the confines of a hotel room. A sick baby. And a sick me. Thankfully, we all more or less recovered before our departure date, just carrying enough sniffles with us to keep anyone from getting too close. (Also, Micah lost his voice. Poor sweet angel. There is nothing sadder than the sound of a hoarse baby crying). Anyway! Enough prelude! On to the main course.

IMG_5552How did he do on the flight? Kind of amazing! We brought chocolates and earplugs for the people seated near us, and some people took them, but others said they wouldn’t mind. The flight was just over two hours, and he did his usual baby things: ate, slept, shook his rattly toys, protested when he got bored and wanted to be walked around, and threw zero fits. Huzzah! When we got to Seattle, we had to ride the airport train to get to a cab, and I think that was his favorite part of all. The look on his face pretty much said, “Mom! Can we come here every day?”

We didn’t know exactly what to expect, but we did our best to be prepared. The most excellent decision we made in this regard was to stay at a Homewood Suites. It was actually closer to the conference center than the conference hotel, and, for a lower rate, we got a suite with a full kitchen and a separate bedroom, complete with closing door (very useful when putting a baby to bed to have two separate spaces!), a REAL hot breakfast, and FREE DINNER Monday through Friday. What?! I had never even heard of that last one, but it was so awesome to just be able to go downstairs and eat without having to get everyone bundled up. The dinners were actually really good too! They always had a salad, and on bratwurst night I wanted to eat about 80 of those things. Yum!

IMG_5555Another point of nervousness: Micah has never been a HUGE fan of the stroller. He loves looking around, but he gets annoyed after a while and wants to be held. At this point, he is too big and squirmy for me to hold him and push the stroller at the same time, so…woe be to any pedestrians between the point of dissatisfaction and home. Whenever I tell my mom about my worries about how something will go with the baby, she says, “He may just surprise you.” And, thankfully, she is so often right. We bought Micah a bear suit (technically it’s a bunting, but it has little ears, so I feel justified in calling it a bear suit!) and got a waterproof cover for the stroller, and then we hoped for the best. And it was better than we could have imagined. He not only happily assented to be pushed around in the stroller all day, but even took naps in there. Long naps. And then he’d wake up and look at me like, “Oh, hey, you took me to another museum! Cool! How ’bout you pick me up and I’ll give you some adorable smiles?” It was kind of heavenly. We were so grateful. (I don’t usually post pictures of Micah here, but this is too cute not to share. Also, now you all know what a bear suit looks like. The ears are the same gray as the carseat cover, so they might be a little hard to see, but they are there!)

IMG_9856Another wonderful surprise was how kind and accommodating everyone was to our little tiger. I think we hit a world record of how many restaurants cheerfully made space for the stroller in one week. And Micah surprised us by sleeping through plenty of meals, or at least being very content to be passed from parent to parent, based on who was eating.

IMG_9874Eric had a free day to spend with us before the conference started, which was super fun. We went down to Pike Place Market, where Micah slept for two and a half hours in the stroller. Bonanza!! The market was decidedly less fun in the winter just because the flowers and produce are less impressive, and there aren’t any outdoor booths. Oh well. Still pretty cool. After we fed Micah, we headed over to Pioneer Square, where we ate giant sandwiches and wandered around in the rain. On the way back up to the hotel, I suggested that we stop by the Seattle Library, which was designed by Rem Koolhaus and is really fantastically interesting and beautiful. My brother took me there ten years ago on our way from Berkeley to Vancouver (ah, youth!) It was a hilariously steep climb up to get there, but it was worth it.

IMG_9888Monday through Thursday Micah and I were exploring solo, and we were lucky enough to be in a very walkable neighborhood (First Hill). On Monday we stopped at the Honeyhole for a quick lunch before heading down to the aquarium. I walked right in to a storm cloud of incense and Led Zeppelin blaring, and I instantly felt sixteen again. It was kind of amazing. Micah was mesmerized by the red walls, which made it easy for me to eat.

IMG_9903I had been really excited about taking Micah to the aquarium because I knew he’d like to look at everything, but also because…I have discovered that secret goldmine of being a parent: you get to be a kid again! Micah was asleep for the first hour while I ogled the sea anemones (my favorite!) and starfish and seahorses. When he woke up, he looked right at the sea otters and said, “Oooooh, ooooh.” Precious.

IMG_9907He fell asleep again on the way up the hill, so I went another block further than our hotel to have a cappuccino at Victrola. Mmmm.

IMG_9932For the rest of the week, we explored the neighborhood, headed down to the water almost every day, rode the monorail to the Space Needle, and generally put jillions of steps on Mommy’s Fitbit, steps which were periodically punctuated by cappuccinos. It was awesome. I don’t have pictures from my two favorite places we went, but they both get gold stars. Any place that offered indoor sanctuary, restrooms, places to sit and feed Micah, and required no admission fee would already be heel-click-worthy. But these two really were the creme de la creme.

IMG_9947The first was the Klondike Gold Rush National Historic Park. Eric had read that it was pretty cool (and freeeeee!), so Micah and I trekked on over. It’s actually more of a museum, but it’s part of the national park system, so it was manned by park rangers. The nicest, most welcoming park rangers ever. I asked them about the start times for the short films they show, and they said, “Oh, we can just start one for you anytime you like.” Awesome. Micah and I watched a whole bunch of them, and we spent a good couple of hours learning about the crazy history of this Alaskan gold rush. Seattle was the main departure point, and it was such a harrowing journey that it still gives me chills. That evening at the hotel, I said to Eric, “Hey, how would you like to spend several months on an overcrowded boat to Alaska in 1897, and then spent another couple of months hiking north through the snow, including making 40 trips up and down 1500 stairs carved into a mountain of ice in order to get your 2,000 pounds of required food and supplies up to the top? I forgot to mention that there are thousands of other people there, so there’s a long line and you can only make one trip a day. And then how would you like to spend the winter in a makeshift tent while waiting for the river to thaw, and bide your time by trying to build a boat out of whatever wood you can find? And then how would you like to almost die in the rapids of that river, only to arrive at your final destination and find that there’s no gold left?” That’s pretty much how it went. I am amazed that people made this journey and lived to tell the tale. And the museum does such a great job of presenting individual stories of that experience. After several hours of happily history-ing it up, we hit the gift shop, only to discover that they had National Park passports, so, naturally, I had to get one for Micah and collect his first stamp for him. Awesome!

IMG_9935The second awesome place was the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation Visitors’ Center. I had seen a brief mention of it somewhere, and it sounded cool. I wasn’t planning to do any of the other Seattle Center attractions, so I thought we would check it out. As soon as we walked in, we were ever so kindly greeted by a man who led us to the stroller ramp and showed us where the restrooms were for when we needed them. Such kindness. But even that immense kindness was quickly surpassed by all the amazing things the foundation is doing. My mind was kind of blown by all of their projects both in the US and abroad, and the huge range of issues they tackle: homelessness, sanitation, access to clean water, education, disease prevention, women’s health, the list went on and on. Whoa. I was seriously impressed by their dedication to finding innovative solutions for tackling age-old problems such as poverty and access to healthcare. Instead of just throwing money at these problems, they do things like hold design contests for more efficient toilets and work to create drought-resistant plants for the driest climates most in danger of famine. The spirit of creativity was easy to find in the visitors’ center, which had tons of interactive opportunities for kids (and adults!) to brainstorm about how to do the most good with a fixed amount of resources, and about how to look at old problems in new ways.

There were so many things that deeply impressed me. Quite frankly, the Gates Foundation made me feel proud to be a human being. I was tremendously moved by their simple, powerful vision, that every person deserves the chance to live a healthy, productive life. I love that they invest in organizations already in place here and abroad, often giving quietly and without fanfare, so that the people who work for and are helped by these organizations often have no idea that Gates is involved. I was in tears so many, many times when confronted with how easy my life is, compared to how difficult so many others have it. I came away with a much greater awareness of global and local issues and a greater determination to see the needs of the people around me (and those far away) and respond to them with love. I came right on home determined to donate some money to the foundation. Bill Gates is a smart dude, and I would feel so good about how he and his team would spend whatever little bit I could give them. And then I looked it up and realized that it’s a foundation. Which means that Bill Gates does not need my money. However, they list all of the organizations they partner with, so it would be very easy to give to those organizations individually. I am really happy to have that as a resource. Whew, this paragraph has kind of turned into a novella. But here’s the point: I walked into the center grateful for a warm place to spend a cold afternoon, and I walked out shaken to my core. I couldn’t stop asking myself how I should have so much and others so little, and what I could do to bridge that gap. Although that inequality is heart-rending and overwhelming, I came out with so much hope and assurance that it starts with doing what you can and giving what you can. I can’t do what Bill Gates is doing, but I can do what I am able to do. And just as fantastic foundations like this one overlap in meeting the needs of people all over the world, so our small actions are brought together, like tiny pieces in a huge puzzle, to bring what’s needed to where it’s needed most.

There are more Seattle stories to tell, but they’ll have to wait for another post because the hour grows late, and really, I think that’s the best note I could possibly end on. In the meantime, I’ll be doing my best to keep carrying with me what I found there, to keep giving all that I can give.

My One Little Word for 2015: Savor

IMG_0060Before I say anything else, let me give a huge thank you to Hillary, who engraved this key with my word and some sweet little design elements. She is the best! This is going to make the loveliest necklace (worn under my shirt, of course, to keep it from baby hands)!

So! This is my fourth year choosing a word (the others are here: 2012 grateful, 2013 open, 2014 nurture). How do I come up with them? Well, it’s sort of more of a feeling than a decision. Somewhere around November or so, I start to ask myself what I really want for the year to come, how I would be most happy to see myself living. There’s a distinction for me between action-based words (rah, rah, accomplish things!) and experience-based words (take a deep breath). I wrestled with it a little bit this year because I just don’t know what this year holds (besides a lot of baby smiles and kisses). Micah is changing so fast that I don’t know what to expect a few weeks from now, to say nothing of a few months from now. For instance, for a long time he has only taken seriously short naps. But maybe soon he will take longer ones? (Please?) Right now he does a little bit of independent play, but he will do more as he grows. On the other hand, when he’s mobile, things will change again! There are some things I’d really like to accomplish personally and professionally this year, but I just don’t know how much time I can realistically commit to them. So…action? Or experience?

It turns out that my wrestling was more or less for naught. When I asked myself what I really wanted for this year, the answer came right away. I want to really live. I want to really enjoy everything that comes my way, whatever it might be. I want to be present in every moment, whether it’s a triumphant one or a tired one. I want to enjoy all the things I accomplish, whether it’s booking speaking gigs or getting my baby to laugh. And so I thought of this word savor, which encapsulates it all, bypassing the question of action vs. experience. The answer is not either/or, but yes/and. I think that’s a pretty exciting way to start a year.

I am not doing any kind of formal class with my word this year, but I did look it up to get a richer sense of its meanings. It’s about the senses, of course–tasting and smelling–which I love in a metaphorical sense as well as a literal one; I do love good food and am becoming increasingly appreciative of a scented candle. The secondary definition is “to enjoy with appreciation, to dwell on with delight.” Another dictionary offers a more explicitly temporal element: “to enjoy the taste or smell of something for as long as possible, to enjoy something for a long time.” I love that so much, especially since things change so fast with a little one. The thesaurus entries are even more awesome: “appreciate, bask in, delight in, enjoy, enjoy being alive, relish, revel in.” Yes. Yes to all of this.

So that’s what I’ll be doing this year–savoring my sacred cup of coffee in the morning, savoring every little baby giggle, savoring every moment I have to spend on work and art, savoring even the hard days, knowing that soon they’ll be slipping away from me into the realm of memory.

I am pretty excited about it. Happy new year to all!

2015 Thus Far: Sickness, Seattle, and a Restart Button

IMG_9876Well, this is going to be a hodgepodge of a post, but I kind of like those! The end of the year is one of my favorite times because I love to look back and look forward (Janus, you are the coolest of the ancient gods). I always plan lots of posts for December/January and love reading everyone else’s. I was particularly excited this year because we had a week between Christmas and New Years when Eric would be home from work. All kinds of reflecting and planning would be done! The budget would be balanced! Work and writing plans would be discussed! I would sit down and get to all the year-end posts I wanted to write! And then…Eric got sick right after Christmas. And then…Micah got sick. And then…I got sick. Ugh! I spent a few days feeling really disappointed that we weren’t going to have the week we had planned, and then…I was too sick to have any emotions other than sad sad sad. I haven’t been sick like that since I was in my first trimester, and boy howdy, was I unhappy to go back there. I really think the worst part of illness is emotional, but feeling terrible and taking care of a sick baby is also…terrible.

Lest this turn into a retrospective sobfest, we are all better! Hallelujah! And I have to share this one sweet moment. On one of my worst days, I was lonely and bored and so I got out of bed to go see the boys (it should go without saying that Eric is a saint and picked up the slack for me when I was at my worst). Eric and I were talking about accepting that we were in survival mode, and I suggested that we sit across the room from each other while he held Micah, and we just drove his wheeled toys back and forth between us. Micah loved it, and we played some silly songs on YouTube, and Eric said we would probably look back fondly on this time, even though we wouldn’t have chosen it. And then I teared up. Because that husband of mine, he is made of gold.

IMG_9924Anyway! The whole reason why we hoped to accomplish so much in that in-between week is because we’re in Seattle for the first week of January. Woohoo! I love to travel, and I love Seattle, so I was happy as a clam to invite myself and Micah on Eric’s work trip. And also nervous. But now we have Micah’s first flight behind us, and it went totally fine. He’s also been a real champ as I’ve tromped all over the city with him. I feel like a boss going up and down all these hills with the stroller, and hopefully all this walking is counteracting the millions of cookies I’ve been eating.

IMG_9934I want to write a lot more about Seattle, and I hope I will, but I think I will head to bed soon and want to get to the last point in the title’s little trinity. I love new beginnings and fresh goals, but sometimes you just have to hit the reset button. January 1 isn’t going to be until sometime next week for me, and that’s okay. Life happens. I got this really cool goal calendar that helps you track your progress in doing one thing every day for a year…and nary a day is checked off yet. But that’s okay. I’ll get there, whether my 2015 starts in January or July. For now I am enjoying the hills and the ocean view and my unofficial cappuccino tour of the city. All those fresh starts will be waiting for me when I get home.

Motherhood and the Ocean

IMG_6009-001Several months ago I was thinking of writing a blog post called “Life Without a To-Do List.” It’s not that I don’t have one. It’s just that I don’t exactly have time to look at it most days. But then last night I had this idea, which I think might express it better.

Being a mother is like standing on the beach, looking out at the ocean. And having the cutest, sweetest, and happiest baby in your arms. (Seriously, Micah laughed with glee for five minutes straight last night when his Daddy got home from work.) You watch the waves come in, and every one brings in a new crop of beautiful seashells. Those seashells are things you want to do, things you used to do, and they sparkle and glitter in the sunlight. You want to gather them up, but you have a baby in your arms. Every now and again you can grab one, but it requires a deft move, and you can only grab the smallest one–usually it’s cooking dinner or making a birthday card.

As each wave comes in, you make a mental list of the shells–the things you’ll add to your to-do list, which is mostly a fun list. You might grab one shell, but then a new wave comes right in, bringing new shells that make you forget about the ones that were already there. As the wave rolls back out to sea, the shells are washed in every direction on the sand, mixing them all up.

In order to gather them all, you’d have to put the baby down and pull up your skirt to use as a damp and sandy bag for them. But you’re busy looking into sweet blue eyes and rubbing the softest head of blonde hair you’ve ever felt. You’re listening for coos and cries and shrieks of baby glee. Each night you head back home from the beach to sleep, and you leave the shells behind, gleaming in the moonlight. “Oh yeah,” you think, “I was going to go the library. And I wanted to finish knitting that blanket.” But you leave these shells for tomorrow.

Each day, like each wave, brings new shells, and you admire them, even though you can’t reach for them, not just yet. You can’t complain because you are so very happy. You’re at the beach, watching the ocean, tasting the salt in the air, smiling at someone you love more than you can even comprehend. Those shells will still be there when he’s walking and talking and ready to collect them with you. Until then, collect some for me. Enjoy them, just as I’m enjoying this sweet baby time.

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