Joshua Tree!

IMG_5493Oh heyyyyy, blog. I missed you. And I am so happy that the two-week span of sickness that kept me from my computer has passed, and indeed that it passed *just* in time for our trip to Joshua Tree! A few months ago, Eric showed me this cool map thing that would tell you where your closest National Park was. And it’s Joshua Tree! I guess I sort of already knew that since we had passed it on our way to Vegas during the gigantic road trip of 2015. I pretty much fixated on getting to see those majestic trees, and I had read that the rock formations and history were pretty cool too. Also, Joshua Tree is home of the tiny World Famous Crochet Museum! And just a short drive away is the old Western film set known as Pioneertown, complete with the ever delicious Pappy and Harriet’s Pioneertown Palace. So, basically, resistance was futile. I was a moth to a desert flame. AND I talked Hillary and her family into coming, thus quadrupling the awesome and making this the Second Annual Cartibellm Desert Extravaganza! (Last year we went to Julian and Anza Borrego. I appear to have not written a blog post about this, which is quite a shame!)

IMG_5442Although we hit some major traffic on our way (and both swore never again to leave LA on a Friday after noon), the house we rented made up for all that with its great gorgeousness (I mean, seriously, check it out!). When we went to Julian last year, our little tiger cried most of the night. This time he did much better! However, my traitorous iPhone randomly started playing a podcast REALLY LOUD at 4:53am on Saturday, and I, in my asleep state, kept turning it back on when I was trying to turn it off, so the little tiger can hardly be blamed for his rooster-like morning appearance, can he? Here he is enjoying his breakfast. Tiny angel.

IMG_5447And here he is strapping his bear in for breakfast. Heart. Broken. Plus two bonus adorable girls in the background reading Roald Dahl. Micah was IN LOVE with them. I can hardly blame him!

IMG_5457After much coffee, we were ready to head to the park. We really must get a National Parks pass because Danny and Hillary zipped right past us in the fast lane! I will try to limit myself to just a few pictures of the trees and landscape because I have millions of them.

IMG_5487The Joshua trees were in bloom! So exciting for this desert nerd.

IMG_5461This is a baby Joshua Tree. I always thought that the green shoots looked soft, but they are actually hard and spiky. Apparently they belong to the also spiky yucca family. Cool.

IMG_5465Jumping cholla! I love it so much. I just don’t want to be super close to it. For reasons of stabbiness.

IMG_5480When cholla dies, it leaves these amazing sticks behind. I gathered up 2(00) of them from the back yard of our rental house. Ones with no spikes still attached, of course.

IMG_5479Before too long, we came across this rusted old car, which was a very big hit with the kids.

IMG_5466How did our little tiger do? Great! I think his life motto is, “Have graham cracker, will travel.” He likes being up high in the backpack so he can see. It helped that the weather was just about perfect–not too hot, not too windy. And we got there pretty early in the day (thank you, rooster), so it wasn’t too crowded for a while.

IMG_5484A nice Joshua Tree family portrait. Micah is looking at the car, of course.

IMG_5494An atmospheric ruin of a desert home.

IMG_5499After this first foray we took a climb through the rocks down to Barker Dam. Such cool rocks.

IMG_5509This is the view from the southern tip of the park. We could see the Salton Sea and Mount Signal, almost to Mexico. Wow.

IMG_5512We were all pretty beat after that, and we headed back to the house for a flurry of naps, followed by Danny grilling burgers for us for dinner. How did I get these amazing friends?! And someone very sweet read his books in the evening.

IMG_5521Saturday night we switched to daylight savings time, and we, like all other parents, thought that maybe our child would sleep late? Hahaha, another 5am wakeup. But this gave us lots of time to savor breakfast, pack up, and swing on the hammock outside. Our little rooster is so thoughtful! Hillary drew this quail in the guestbook, in case you needed any further proof that she is awesome.

IMG_5528You know how people say they are dating up? I am friending up. Way up!

IMG_5534Although, sadly, the line was way too long at Joshua Tree Coffee Company (siphon brew?!), we did get to explore the art community, anchored by The World Famous Crochet Museum. It is tiny! And full to the brim with cuteness.

IMG_5538For human scale.


IMG_5546Tiny pastries!

IMG_5548Pretty cakes!

IMG_5556Tacos! That is the outdoor movie theatre in the background.

IMG_5562Inside a barn next door was the studio of Shari Elf (the artist behind the museum), full to the brim with bright and interesting things. Shari makes good and sturdy art from trash, including lots of screen-printing on discarded garments. That’s the fitting room in the corner. Love!

IMG_5569Micah slept through this part of the trip, and I am sorry that he missed this pillowcase.

IMG_5572Aaaahhhh, my friends are so cool! Album cover. Soliciting titles.

IMG_5585After this we had lunch at Pappy and Harriet’s, where the wait for food was very long, but someone sat very happily in his high chair driving his trucks and eating graham crackers for an hour and a half!! Joshua Tree must hold some baby magic.

IMG_5589Even though this post is already about four times too long, I can’t leave out our last stop, Pioneertown. Our little cowboy took right to it.

IMG_5608Thus ended the Second Annual Cartibellm Desert Extravaganza, and thus ends this post!

Grow: My One Little Word for 2016

IMG_5246Words come to us in funny ways. I think this is the furthest in advance I have ever come upon one, sometime around the summer of 2015. I so distinctly remember the moment. I was strolling down a shady sidewalk with Micah, enjoying a quiet moment and thinking about my life. Thinking about where I was, what I was hoping for, what was coming next. I felt so happy. I am so happy. And so grateful for that! And what I most wanted and hoped for was to just keep growing, as a person, as a mom, as a wife. I wanted to keep learning and experiencing new things. I wanted to keep traveling to new places. I wanted to become kinder, more generous, more compassionate, more patient, more good.

One of the ideas I got from doing Ali Edwards’ One Little Word class a few years ago was to look up the synonyms and definitions of your word. I love the ones for grow so much. Advance. Become. (Ohhh, I love that one!) Build, cultivate, develop, flourish, mature, rise, thrive. I want all of those things for myself. And for all of you! This is my favorite definition of grow: “to increase by natural development, as any living organism or part by assimilation of nutriment; increase in size or substance.” I love that connection with the natural world. I want to turn my face to the sun and soak up every good thing like roots draw water. I want to work at growing every day, even and especially in infinitesimal, undetectable increments that somehow add up to a sturdy green stem and a riotously colorful bloom.

It doesn’t surprise me at all that learning new things is a big happiness booster. It expands our conception of our selves. It makes the world seem full of possibility. It gives us new tools, whether they are languages or skills or insights. And it doesn’t require much from us–not necessarily any money at all, just a bit of time and maybe a library card (and, okay, maybe a bit of planning). I have always been the kind of person who thinks nothing sounds more fun than learning a new language, and lately I am endeavoring to learn more of the names of the birds and trees and flowers and succulents that make up the moving wallpaper of my daily walks with Micah. The world is truly so full of splendors.

Of course, not all of this growing is going to be joyful. There’s also the growth that comes from pruning, which will definitely be painful. I don’t know yet what sort of pruning will come my way this year, but I hope that I can meet it with grace. And humor. And the memory of all the basil I lost a few summers ago when it went to seed due to…lack of pruning. It is my great hope that at the end of this year, I will look back and think, “Yes, I grew, and I learned, and I gave, and it was good.”

(Words from previous years, just for fun: grateful, open, nurture, savor.)

Mommy’s Holiday

IMG_5171I can’t even count the number of flights we’ve taken Micah on in his sweet eighteen months (partly because there is no longer a direct flight to Memphis, boooooo!), but somewhere in that time it has begun to feel routine to roll through the airport wearing a baby, pulling a suitcase, and pushing a stroller piled high with a carseat and diaper bag. I am not sure I ever imagined myself being a baby/toddler jet setter (hahahaha!), but I feel very grateful that we haven’t had any real problems, and that everyone has been so kind and helpful to us. However! I can hardly remember what I used to do on planes. Sleep? Watch movies? Read books? Listen to Jeremy Irons read Lolita for the 87th time? (Um, yes, it was the latter.) My rusty solo flight game got a little chance to shine this past weekend, though, when I flew up to the Bay Area to see my brother’s family. My mom was already going to be there, and, as has been amply documented previously, I am very good at inviting myself on other people’s vacations. Although I have flown by myself with Micah here and there, usually we travel as a family. It just didn’t work out that way this time, though, so off I went into the great unknown of solo mommy travel.

How did it go? Really well! It was very sad driving away from my precious baby, but I have never ever been through security that fast. (TSA Pre-Check plus Burbank airport = approximately 10 seconds).  At the gate, a headache kept me from tearing into my book, but the flight was smooth and peaceful. And I had to laugh at a group of people who were angling for the best seats on a one-hour flight. It was impossible not to think, “Hey, you’re flying without a wiggling toddler, you’re doing great!” Perspective, I haz it. Perspective, I did not used to haz it.

IMG_5142I landed at 10pm, and my awesome friend Steve picked me up. I thought he was just going to circle the exit and wait for me to come out, but he actually parked his car and came in to meet me. And he had my last name displayed on my phone (not seen here for reasons of camera focus or something). So sweet! We went to get a drink and catch up, and I stayed up way past my bedtime, and it was otherworldly and fun.

IMG_5143In the morning I got to hang out with my mom and my brother, who introduced me to Philz Coffee. Mind blown. Let me explain: I like my coffee black and strong. My brother has described it as a steel rod. I have never met a coffee in the wild that is so strong it actually NEEDS cream. Until that day. I had forgotten how luxurious creamed coffee is because most coffee is too muted by the cream to have any flavor, and thus it never meets my lips. However, this was a revelation. I asked if we could come back the next day, and my brother kindly obliged. They are opening one in Pasadena, but not until this summer. Fly, fly, time!

IMG_5169My 48 hours with family was spent walking and talking and eating good food, with a little bonus of the chance to get my nails done with my mom (last manicure: August 2014). And that’s when the trouble hit.

I was in town Thursday night through Saturday night, and it was Saturday afternoon. Eric called. My phone was in my coat pocket, far from my wet nails, so I didn’t hear it. Eric texted my mom. But he didn’t want me to worry my way through my manicure, so he told her not to tell me until I was finished. He is deserving of husband epaulets, no?

When I reached him, he told me that our sweet baby was sick. He had thrown up. Several times. Of course, I was devastated not to be there, but relieved that my flight was in a few short hours. I was sorry not to be there to help, but I knew Eric had things well in hand. As the hours stretched on, he kept throwing up. A total of seven times.

IMG_5175I present to you, ladies and gentlemen, the saddest picture ever taken. Thankfully, the last episode passed, and he was asleep by the time I got home. But I have never been happier to rock my child in the middle of the night, singing, “Mommy’s Here” to the tune of Brahms’ Lullaby. He is all better now, thank goodness, but mommy is so happy to be home.

How did Eric do? Oh, fantastically. I had no doubt or worries about him taking the helm for a few days. But I do have to brag a little. What did he do while I was gone? Got up at 4:30am with the baby (I mean for the day), took him to the park for the afternoon, went to the grocery store and pharmacy, and secretly cooked surprise pulled pork in the slow cooker. All of that was before Micah got sick. Then he soothed and comforted him, followed him around with a metal bowl, changed and soaked his clothes several times, and scrubbed the carpet (seven times, I remind you). When I got home, he had disinfected the whole kitchen, washed all the bottles, and was getting ready to steamvac the carpet. Swoon. It’s not that I thought him incapable of any of this. It’s just that I was so touched by the reminder that we are equal partners, in life and in love. I had just asked him to pick up some milk, but it turns out that he had actually done most of the week’s shopping before I got home. I totally teared up when I opened the cabinet and found my favorite croutons in there (the ones he doesn’t even like). He seemed a bit baffled when I came crying to him with a bag of Texas Toast croutons (mysteriously manufactured by a company called New York), and I didn’t know how to explain it except that I was just so touched. Touched that he’d encouraged me so much to go, touched that he’d done so much more than I’d expected, touched that he’d done so many little surprise kindnesses for me. On top of taking care of our sweet sick baby. I’m not sure how to end this post except to say that I am grateful: grateful to have gone, grateful to be home, grateful to have seen, once again, how amazing my husband is, grateful to have had another chance to fall wholeheartedly in love with him.

Plans and Goals for 2016

IMG_4840Yes, it’s one of my favorite times of year! Time to look back and look forward, like Janus of old, and assess, reflect, and plan. When we were in Nashville this Christmas with Eric’s family (three more uncanonized saints!), I was telling Eric’s dad that I have never felt quite so unprepared for a new year, but that I thought it was a good thing. My word for 2015 was savor, and I take it as a good sign that I was so busy savoring things that I had not a moment to spare for reflecting and planning. Savor is a very good word for baby days! I usually set about four goals for each year, which seems to be just about right for me, but I hadn’t thought about it at all yet on that cold and windy day while we took turns catching Micah at the bottom of the slide (the big boy slide! the twisty one!). I wasn’t worried, though. A new year can start any time we like, and mine usually do start sometime after we’ve settled back in at home after holiday travels. Still, that very afternoon, I curled up in an armchair while Micah’s sweet grandparents were playing cars with him, and I typed four little things into a note on my phone. And here they are! In no particular order.

IMG_49661) Learn embroidery. I like to try to pick up at least one new skill each year. In the past it has been quilting and candle-making (still not a pro at either, but have had unquantifiable amounts of fun with each, which is the whole point anyway), but this year I’d like to build on my skills with a needle and thread. I started doing cross-stitch a few years ago (probably this was also a yearly goal), and would call myself moderately proficient at it. It’s fun and relaxing, and I love seeing images come together in tiny little stretches of thread. This past year I have been experimenting with images on linen, in my delightfully rudimentary way: a traced image on tissue paper and my trusty companion, back-stitch. It has been great fun, but I’d like to learn some new stitches and expand my repertoire. Time for seed stitch and satin stitch!

IMG_48542) Dig deep into my faith traditions. I was raised Catholic and spent most of my young adult years away from the church before coming home in my mid-twenties. I would say that one of the greatest delights of this past decade has been discovering so many beautiful prayer traditions that I really knew nothing about, Catholic school notwithstanding! I love exploring these (centuries-old) spiritualities like a kid in candy shop. It fills my heart with joy that it seems there is truly something for everyone and for every season of life, whether it’s the rosary or the examen or the divine office or novenas or Simbang Gabi or lectio divina or Las Posadas or meditation or labyrinth-walking or learning about the saints or celebrating the liturgical year. Even just the little bit of exploring I have done has been so deeply rewarding, and I want to keep it up all year. (And just a small note to say that I have great love and respect for all spiritual traditions and never want to make anyone feel uncomfortable in talking about my faith. One of the things I love most about my faith is its affirmation that every person is wholly beautiful, unique, and filled with light. Whatever shape that light may take, I love and honor it.)

IMG_48573) Use my time better. Hoo boy, this is a big one! It includes, but is not limited to the following:

-Plan my days more effectively. Plan activities and outings for Micah. I have been doing much better at this by just having a list for each day. I make it the night before so I can hit the ground running in the morning, and it makes all the difference. Plus, who can deny the thrill of crossing things off a list?! Instant motivation.
-Be more efficient with those hours after Micah has gone to bed. 7:03pm rolls around every evening, and my head spins with all the things I have been waiting for just a few minutes of quiet to accomplish. But I’ll just check my email first. And then 40 minutes have gone by, and I realize I am really exhausted because my sweet baby keeps getting up at 5am. No more! The benefit of typing up goals after you’ve started working on them is that you have learned a bit already. What have I learned? Honestly, to keep moving. Wash those bottles, start that laundry, clean out that closet, work on that sketch. And then, when exhaustion hits, cozy up with a book or some needlework and a podcast (Serial! Undisclosed! Bookworm! The Moth! I have no new wisdom here, but all of these are beloved for a reason) before bed, with the glorious bonus of not having any tasks hanging over your head when you do.
-Get babysitters more frequently. We love a date every now and again, but I would like to have someone come sometimes for a few hours during the week so I can get to the gym or just read a book and drink tea in perfect silence. Ahhhh! I know that time off makes me a better and more attentive mom, so I heartily intend to make it happen.
-Go to Joshua Tree! It is our closest national park. Thus, it is a very good use of our time to go there. So says me!
-Help others. Simply put, I have so much. I want this to be a year of giving and doing and helping.

IMG_49054) Make more art. Because it feeds my soul.

IMG_50065) And this very last one came to me about a week ago: read a book in Russian. I spent a lot of years studying this completely intoxicating language, and I want to keep sharpening my linguistic knives (ohhhhh, they are pretty dull right now). I haven’t decided which book yet, but heaven knows my bookshelves are full of shiny new paperbacks and musty old editions that I rather perilously hauled back with me from Russia (perilous because I could really have injured my back or incurred exorbitant overweight luggage fees. If not for that kind KLM agent taking pity on me…I’d be about 100 Euros poorer today). K-Sos! Shelly! Any other intrepid Russian-speaking readers of this blog! Long-distance book club?

This probably seems like an awfully long list of goals for someone who is raising a toddler, but I find it so helpful to think about what I really want to focus on. Goals are like Voldemort–the more you speak them aloud, the more powerful they become. I am sure I won’t knock all of these out in 2016, but I am sure going to have a good time trying. Happy new year to all!!

And also, THANK YOU! You sweet and wonderful people, you have brought tears to my eyes with your beautiful comments. It amazes me that I can disappear for a month or so, show back up, and have you all shower me with your kinds words and affirmation. You are the best! The bestest best! I am so thankful for each and every one of you!

My Two Uncanonized Saints

IMG_4997Hello, 2016! I am excited to kick you off with this little blog post I wrote in my head during midnight rocking sessions and diaper changes and toddler chasing sessions. Our little family spent the holidays with my family in Memphis (plus one week in Nashville with Eric’s sweet family). We spent two weeks in Memphis, and during one of them, Eric was at a conference in Florida. We set it up this way so I wouldn’t be flying solo with my adorable sidekick for a whole week. And boy did I ever feel the relief. I started thinking that we probably (hopefully!) all have some uncanonized saints in our lives. What are saints but those who love and do good things? Mine are my parents.

Mommy, thank you for getting up in the middle of the night with me while my baby was inexplicably screaming for an hour. And thank you for ordering me to take a nap the next day.

Daddy, thank you for picking us and our traveling luggage circus up from the airport at awfully early and awfully late hours.

IMG_4994Mommy, thank you for taking walks with us and going above and beyond in helping to keep our little tiger entertained (by this I mean…helping me pick up all the chairs he overturned at the library).

IMG_4954Daddy, thank you for making two (two!!) full pots of coffee every morning so we would never run out. What unspeakable luxury! And thank you for baking bread and for doing the dishes and cleaning Micah’s high chair tray, every night, without fail. More unspeakable luxury!

Mommy, thank you for watching Transparent with me, even though you’d already seen it twice.

Daddy, thank you for moving an obstreperous car seat more times than I can count, and thank you for taking my baby home so I could go to yoga and knitting with mommy.

Mommy, thank you for spending every afternoon in the kitchen so that I could have such a glorious break from cooking.

Daddy, thank you for running in circles all over Molly’s La Casita (and Republic Coffee and Huey’s and that Japanese place I can’t remember the name of) with Micah so I could finish my dinner.

IMG_4979Mommy, thank you for buying a new car so you could fit carseats and have an automatic on hand for your non-stick-driving daughter. And thank you for figuring out how to adjust the mirrors!

IMG_4767Daddy, thank you for reading books and playing cars and teaching Micah how to go up and down the stairs safely. And also for letting him roll a bowling ball around in the garage.

IMG_4974Mommy, thank you for filling every day with your kindness and your sharp and hilarious wit.

Daddy, thank you for filling every day with joy just by being your sweet and gentle self.

Mommy and Daddy, thank you for re-scheduling your anniversary dinner (!!!) so that Eric and I could spend a night out at your condo. And thank you for instead celebrating your anniversary with fistfuls of pasta and green peas (oh wait, that was Micah!)

IMG_4961Mommy and Daddy, thank you for 1,000 meals, most of them at kid-friendly places, for letting your house be taken over by our little zoo, for getting up early to keep me and my little explorer company, for staying up late to read and talk with me, for delighting with me in my sweet and beautiful and hilarious child, for making this trip full of the happiest of happy memories.

And if I could just add one more little point to my case for canonization…I am pretty sure you would think that none of these extraordinary kindnesses are things that you need to be thanked for. But thank you, thank you, thank you, all the same.

It’s Beginning to Look a Bit Like Christmas

IMG_4661-001We will be traveling for Christmas this year, so I am sure the bulk of the holiday pictures will be taken with family (hurray!), but I realized the other day that I didn’t want to forget the little Christmas we are having here before we go, starting with holiday breakfast at the Athenaeum. We’ve had this happy tradition for the past four years, and this year Micah was ready for his own high chair (and, mercifully, was very well behaved!) They really go all out with the decorations at the Ath, and it is so much fun to be there. I do not see myself ever having a fifteen-foot-tall tree with coordinating ornaments and fancy ribbons, and that is why I love this one so much!

IMG_4708Decor has been a little bit sparse this year because our little explorer is…very into exploring. Bless you, parents of toddlers who put up real trees with real ornaments! Eric and I have always had a real tree since we got married, usually installed with glee the day after Thanksgiving, even on the years when we were traveling. I do miss the lights and the ornaments, but I just cannot imagine that the tree would be left standing for even ten minutes. (Micah’s current hobbies include flipping over all lightweight furniture and lifting five-pound weights…until his mommy takes them away!) When I was grocery shopping for Thanksgiving, though, I saw these cute little trees at the store and knew they’d be just right, safely placed in the middle of the table. I was won over by the little pinecones and ornaments. Please do not think the table is usually this clean; I have removed its usual inhabitants: the Sunday paper, which we read all week, two books on book stands (one for me and one for Eric), and a short stack of library books that I am always hoping to get to during nap time.

Behind the table is our string of Jesse tree ornaments. This is the first year we have done a Jesse tree, and I really love it. Each ornament tells the story of one of the people in Jesus’ lineage, going all the way back to creation. Each night we light the Advent candles, read the story, and sing a verse of O Come, O Come, Emmanuel. Micah does pretty well with it, and he sometimes dances. So cute. The other things back there are permanent residents: palm fronds from a million Palm Sundays ago, a giant canvas to block Micah from the bookshelf, little chandeliers my mom got for me at a Punjabi shop, and the perennial BART map in the entryway.

IMG_4710Last year our Advent candles dripped alllllll over this pretty wreath, and I had quite a time getting all the wax out of the pine needles. I got some different candles this year, and they do. not. drip! Thank you, science, or magic, or whoever wants to take credit for this.

IMG_4698Now, there was one problem with our little tabletop tree. It didn’t smell like a Christmas tree. As you all know, this is the whole point of the Christmas tree! So, to remedy this terrible situation, I bought a live wreath for $10 at Trader Joe’s and hung it on our coat closet door. It is pretty much dead now (as is the little tree!), but it still smells good, and that’s all that matters. I added the bow from my ribbon stash.

IMG_4707And finally, the mantle. I was thinking and thinking about where to put our nativity scene (a beautiful gift from Eric’s aunt), and then I realized, duh! The mantle. That’s kind of what mantles are made for. So up it went, and I slid our stockings behind the banner of Micah’s baby pictures, which I will probably never take down. I have a Bucilla stocking kit for Micah, the same kind I had growing up, and it is, so far, my sole goal of 2016 to have it finished before Christmas. In the meantime, I told Micah that he could have both of our stockings. To the left of the nativity is one of our favorite Christmas things–it’s a little Swedish angel chime that Eric got in Stockholm. You light the candles, and the heat makes the angels spin and lightly tap the bells. It’s our little bit of Christmas magic. I hope you have plenty too!

An Ode to Thanksgivings Past and Present

IMG_4575We had the loveliest Thanksgiving this year with sweet friends. It was so wonderfully low-key: two couples, two babies, and an awful lot of laughter. I brought two pies and whipped cream, and Eric made us American Trilogies. I gave mine a hearty douse of Martinelli’s because I am a lightweight, and it turned out to be delicious. Huzzah!

IMG_4566Jason made the turkey, and Carmen made stuffing, brussels sprouts, and the most addictive sweet potato casserole I have ever tasted (no marshmallows, just tons of nuts and sugar!)

IMG_4570It was so much fun to watch our sweet boys play together (entirely peaceably!) We ate in shifts and shared with Micah. He was a huge fan of everything, but most especially the stuffing.

IMG_4577Carmen and Jason have been friends with Eric since freshman year in college, long before my entry onto the scene, and I am so happy they live so close to us. They are five-star human beings, those two (three!) We took this picture with the timer on my iPhone, and, well, you can see four of six people’s faces, which is slightly more than half, except that the two missing faces are cuter than the other four of us combined.

IMG_4563I love this picture.

IMG_4550This is what our adorable baby looked like this year.

IMG_5143And this was last year (2014), at 3 months, wearing his uncle’s dressy outfit. Let’s go further down Thanksgiving memory lane!

IMG_4885-001The year before that (2013), I was 5 weeks pregnant, and as soon as we arrived at Hillary’s house, Maggie and Rosie ran out to the car and said, “We invited your baby to Thanksgiving!!” It was the sweetest thing ever.

IMG_2486The year before that (2012), Eric and I had a little Thanksgiving at home, just the two of us. Eric made quail. And I made this crazy pie!

Fall 2011 907The year before that (2011), we were newlyweds. Eric made Cornish game hens with lavender (so good!), and I appear to have made a cranberry apple crisp.

Fall 2010 337The year before that (2010), we were engaged and spent Thanksgiving with my whole family at Sea Ranch, in a house that backed up to a rotating sheep pen. It was awesome.

Thanksgiving 2009 016The year before that (2009), we were also at Sea Ranch with my family. Awesome again. Or rather, awesome for the first time.

November 2008 020The year before that (2008), we both stayed in Berkeley and hosted Thanksgiving together for our friends at my apartment. I made this crazy pumpkin stew in a pumpkin thing that required three days of work and is still a running joke. My exhaustion is evidenced by my shirt being on inside out!

November 2008 040It was our first Thanksgiving together, and we were still celebrating every month anniversary of dating. Sweet kids. Seven Thanksgivings later…I’d like to say we love each other just as much…but the truth is that we love each other even more.

What to Do When Your Mom is Both Angel and Saint

IMG_4257I believe my mom’s unsurpassable awesomeness has been well-documented here, and thus the reader can imagine what euphoria came over me when she mentioned a few months ago that she ought to come out and see me. And help me with the baby. What?! I love my precious child as boundlessly as the universe is expanding, but sometimes it is difficult not having family in town. But this visit was a double gift–not only would she come and Mary Poppins her way through our apartment and daily routines, but she would also fill them with wit and laughter. She can’t help it. She’s just contagiously fun.

AND she offered to keep the baby so Eric and I could go on a little getaway to Palm Springs! Our first one since before he was born. But first she spent a few days here with us. I wish I had taken more pictures, but sometimes it is difficult to wrangle a camera and an inquisitive toddler. I am just happy I have the ones I do.

IMG_4253This one captures the most important element of the trip: drinking coffee together while gazing adoringly at our sweet boy. (John Deere shirt courtesy of his grandparents!)

IMG_4240We went to all the thrift stores. Of course.

IMG_4277We went exploring at the San Gabriel Mission and Historic District. We cooked, we cleaned, we drank cocktails and ate enormous pastries. And we talked about everything under the sun.

IMG_4297-001And then it was time for Mommy and Daddy to hit the road so Mimi and Micah could party it up on their own. Did we worry? Not one tiny bit. Did they have a raucous good time? Yes, yes, they did!

IMG_4284When we came home, we learned that not only had my mom taken care of Micah, but she had swept and mopped our kitchen floor. And she had taken out our stovetop rings and scrubbed them. And she had scoured our sink. And she had taken Micah to TJ Maxx to get a linen basket for his train set, which was previously residing in an Amazon box on the living room floor. And she had loaded the baby up in the car and taken him to a park I’ve never even been to. And Eric and I had been away for only a little more than 24 hours. Do you see what I mean about both angel and saint?

IMG_4272The thing about my mom is that she is the most can-do person I have ever met in my life. She is endlessly giving, incomparably generous, and always willing to do just about any kindness for just about anyone. And she will also make you laugh while doing it. Do you have some annoying thing in your life that you have never even dared to consider solvable? She will roll up her sleeves and get right to it. Can’t get the baby to nap? No problem. Can’t figure out how to get your towels to stop smelling? She’s on it. Can’t keep your shoddy Ikea furniture from falling apart? She will fix it. Or buy you a new one. Before she came, I actually told her, “Mom, be on the lookout for things that can be made better, either in our apartment or in our routine.” Sometimes we assume that our little niggling annoyances can’t be overcome, but my mom? She will find a way to overcome them. It’s amazing (and horrifying!) the things we don’t really see because we see them every day. And it’s amazing and wonderful what a fresh eye and a helping hand can accomplish in just a few short days.

IMG_4283What did she do while she was here? Helped me find a Kindermusik class for Micah. Looked up YouTube videos about how to unclog my drain. Tried to do it herself with my Walgreens screwdriver (sorry, mom). Helped me figure out how to better ventilate the bathroom. Folded laundry, washed dishes, changed diapers, sang songs, chopped vegetables. All while playing with the baby. I DID NOT KNOW THIS WAS POSSIBLE. That probably sounds a little ridiculous, but there were so many things I wouldn’t have attempted to do while Micah was awake that are actually so very do-able. Now I feel so much more productive during the days when we are at home, and our home is so much nicer! It has been revelatory. Just revelatory.

IMG_4280What have I done since my mom was here? Taken apart the tub and sink drains to unclog them. Washed all our towels in vinegar (and then in detergent). Dusted the baby’s room and sorted his clothes, putting the ones that are too small (sob!) in storage. Deep cleaned the bathrooms and soaked the faucets in vinegar to remove the lime scale. Researched a bunch of toddler Montessori activities I can do with Micah. Established a family cleaning night (Tuesday!) And I am totally going to re-caulk our tub this weekend.

None of this is really about cleaning, though, or baby activities. It’s about recognizing that if something is bothering me, I can fix it. It’s about discovering the exhilarating and empowering endorphins of constantly accomplishing little things that add up to so much more. It’s about laughing a little more, enjoying life a little bit more. And none of this would have happened without my mom. Who is both angel and saint. What can you say to such a person? Only thank you, and thank you, and thank you again.

The Happiness Project and Gender Equality

IMG_3731It’s a little bit rare for me these days to write an entire post about what I’m reading. But this book deserves it. I picked up Gretchen Rubin’s The Happiness Project during a gleeful memoir spree while we were in Aspen (I love the library in Aspen SO much). I only read a few chapters before we had to leave town, but I always hoped I’d find it at our (stellar) library in Pasadena. Finally I remembered! And I devoured it.

I think I liked it so much because I agree that little things can make us very happy. I am a big believer in the idea that ordinary life is full of magic, that the quotidian often trumps the special, that everyday sights and sounds are very much worth celebrating. I am not a quote person at all, but I came across this one a few weeks ago that really sums it up for me:

“Normal day, let me be aware of the treasure you are. Let me learn from you, love you, bless you before you depart. Let me not pass you by in quest of some rare and perfect tomorrow. Let me hold you while I may, for it may not always be so. One day I shall dig my nails into the earth, or bury my face in the pillow, or stretch myself taut, or raise my hands to the sky and want, more than all the world, your return.” -Mary Jean Irion

And I think it sums it up for Rubin as well. Her motivation is that she doesn’t want her life to pass her by without her being grateful for it, without her really living it. I could not agree more, and, luckily, grateful people are happy people. It’s probably the most circular Venn diagram you could ever create. Like Rubin, I am happy, and I am grateful, but I am always open to new ideas about how to be more of both.

IMG_3992I can honestly say that this book has been transformative for me, primarily in getting me to do little things that don’t take long, but can make your whole day feel better. I never really feel like clearing away Micah’s toys at the end of the day, but it makes our living space feel so much more expansive, and it is so utterly nice to wake up to a clean house. It even somehow makes the day feel more expansive, as if it holds more possibility. It’s also been really helpful for me to try to keep our kitchen table clear of clutter. I don’t always succeed at that one (newspapers and mail and half-finished projects seem to multiply all the time), but that clean slate of a table is one that I feel I can use, and one that gives me great pleasure, however fleeting it might be. I am no big fan of washing Micah’s highchair tray and bib, but I like it even less when I am trying to do it in a hurry because he is hungry. Now I do it right away, and it makes mealtime so much smoother.

IMG_4009Part of this clearing up is more practical, since it allows me to actually use the spaces in our home. I spent one afternoon clearing my cluttered desk and another organizing the chaos of my craft table. It makes me so happy to see these little islands of order, and I am so much more likely to use them now. I think this kind of task is having a cultural moment right now, what with our Marie Kondo-ing and our capsule wardrobes and our determination to simplify our lives and enjoy the things we have. But Rubin beat us all to the punch, starting her project in 2006.

IMG_3997One of the best ideas in the book, to my mind, is that if anything takes less than one minute, just do it now. I have started making our bed in the mornings, and now our room feels like this marvelous oasis that I can retreat to during nap time to read and rest. I am really spending a lot more time in there. It is glorious!

IMG_4002I also joked for a long time that I had an unintentional capsule wardrobe because my clothes went straight out of the dryer and into my desk chair, or into neat little folded piles in front of my dresser. Part of the problem was that I couldn’t fit everything into my dresser (now at least partially remedied by some sorting), but the bigger part of the problem was that I just really don’t like hanging up clothes. But I did it! Now I can sit at my desk and not trip over piles of clothes by my dresser. Again, glorious! It is amazing how good these little things make me feel. It’s almost like having a new home, just by being able to use the spaces that were once so cluttered. And you also get the bonus of feeling virtuous for having tackled an annoying task.

Rubin and I are both devotees of the small pleasures: fresh sheets and clean towels, morning rituals and long walks, uncluttered bedside tables and happy little everyday adventures. But of equal importance are the things we do to invest in future happiness. I never skip off with glee to pick up toys or start laundry, but I know it will make me so happy to have it done. It does make me wonder why we often don’t do the things that will make us happy. For instance, Rubin strives to get more sleep, and I know I would feel better if I spent some time stretching every day, but I usually don’t. It makes me wonder if Dostoevsky’s Underground Man isn’t right–is there some pleasure to be found in acting against our own self-interest? Or is it just that we derive a greater pleasure now by not doing something that will make us happy later? Probably the latter, I think, or else 95% of the internet wouldn’t exist (you know, that 95% you’re always reading when you should be going to bed or starting the dishes). Ah, well. We are human after all. But I am trying to think more about future happiness when faced with everyday tasks. The other day Eric and I were on a brunch date (yay!), and I said to him, “I want to do something really crazy.” “You have my attention,” he said. I leaned in and confided, “I want to take down all the light fixtures and wash them. They’re covered with dust.” Eric didn’t think that was particularly crazy, but it sort of seems that way when there are so many other pressing obligations in the day. Still, I will feel so happy every time I look up at them and don’t see years’ worth of dust!

IMG_3999I am also experimenting with changing my attitude by changing my thinking. There are plenty of tiresome tasks in our lives, but the drudgery can be countered by grateful thinking. I would really love to sleep in someday, but every morning when I hear Micah happily talking to himself in his crib, I remind myself of what an intense joy he is, and how utterly grateful I am that he is healthy and happy. Every time I have to do some annoying thing with the car, I remind myself how much easier that car makes my life. This isn’t to say that our negative feelings aren’t valid, but just that they needn’t ruin our days if we can channel them in a more positive direction.

Some of the key points in Rubin’s theory of happiness are the importance of growth and learning new things, as well as helping and being kind to others. Of course, beautifully, everyone is different and will have their own individual paths to happiness. For me, I know I am happier on a daily basis when I am making things with my hands, when I’m reading, when I’m writing, when I’ve got a home that feels like a clean slate, when I’m learning new things or seeing new places (or seeing old places with new eyes). I think it’s key to be realistic, and it’s true that not all of those things are possible every day, but some of them really are. It would be really easy to say, “Well, I have a baby, I can’t really be expected to do much these days.” But the thing is that this is my life right now, and I know that I will mourn its passing when my sweet boy is grown up. Why not do everything I can to enjoy it to the fullest?

None of this is really revolutionary, of course, but that’s kind of the point. The best part of all this wisdom is that it is all renewable–there will always be a long trip, a harvest season, a new baby, or a job change that will throw these little things to the very end of the priority list. And then we can take joy in rediscovering them. I am not foolish enough to imagine that my desk and craft table will not need re-clearing by the end of the year. But instead of dreading it, I am looking forward to the wonderful feeling I know I will have when I get them in order again.

And, as if this weren’t already the world’s longest blog post, I have a concern. I was, frankly, not terribly impressed with Rubin’s husband, so I looked at Amazon reviews of the book to see if anyone else had the same visceral reaction I did. (I don’t know, maybe I am just spoiled in the husband department? Probably. But if my husband did and said some of the things her husband does and says…let’s just say it would be a real impediment to my happiness.) I was rather horrified to see numerous reviews stating that Rubin is an annoying neurotic nag, and that her husband should get a medal for putting up with her. What?! It is a brave thing to publish a book about personal self-improvement. Rubin mentions her husband’s faults, yes, but she spends far more time and detail on hers. I couldn’t help but wonder if the response would be the same if Rubin were a man? Benjamin Franklin also had a boatload of faults, and yet people see him as inspiring and upstanding. This disturbs me.

Another common complaint was that we have nothing to learn from Rubin because she is a rich, skinny white lady. What?! This statement particularly rankles the literature teacher in me, who has heard too many times, “Why read F. Scott Fitzgerald? He was a drunk.” Separating a work from the biography of a writer is the very first step toward achieving an insightful reading of any text. (The author can be brought back in later to add to analysis, but should never be the basis of an entire reading.) Rubin is upfront about her life situation and is not trying to hide anything in that regard. Yes, she is lucky to be able to do this work, but you know what? She does a great job at it. I would love to spend a year researching this stuff, but since I don’t have time, I am happy to let her do it for me. More importantly, it truly isn’t money that brings happiness to people. Arguably, it’s some of the wealthiest people who are the most unhappy on an ontological level. Yes, we need to acknowledge the baseline happiness our circumstances provide (and research does indicate that a modest amount of money–enough to cover our basic needs–is necessary for happiness, but more money does not make us happier): we have homes and health and family and friends. To a certain extent, these privileges are what allow us to contemplate any higher meaning or art–the same way that hunter-gatherers did not create cave paintings until they had food to eat and a place to sleep at night. It is a privilege to be able to devote our minds to higher concerns, that is true, and this is a truth worth recognizing and being thankful for.

The reviews in The New York Times were even more upsetting. They seemed to gently mock Rubin for focusing on this project, the more barbed of them suggesting that trying to be happy, to be more present and grateful, is a moral wrong. These reviews also harped upon Rubin’s privilege, actually suggesting that Rubin and her project are disingenuous because her house is bigger than the houses on the cover of The Happiness Project. This, I confess, made my blood boil. There is always some mockery of self-help books, but deciding that Rubin is not qualified to speak to us about happiness because she happens to be wealthy is both petty and ridiculous. And there is nothing Rubin is doing that really requires a lot of money. I never once thought, “Oh, huh, I’m not rich, so I can’t do that.” Instead, her project is really about making decisions on a very small personal level to enjoy and be more grateful for the lives we have. We can all do that, regardless of income bracket, and Rubin’s does not disqualify her discoveries. The thing about small pleasures is that they’re scaleable. I kind of thought that when she mentioned a modest splurge, it would be some kind of $400 purse (for some, it is a modest splurge). What did she buy? A box of roller ball pens. A boxed set of some of her favorite books. A drawing class. My modest splurges almost always occur at the thrift store, where I never have to feel guilty about them, or when traveling, which is, frankly, my favorite kind of modest splurge anyway. But there were times in my life (grad school!) when a $2 cup of coffee was a weekly treat I always looked forward to. I think we all know, on some level, that money doesn’t buy happiness. What makes us happy, I think, in connection with money, is the idea that we are doing some small good thing for ourselves, whether it’s a weekend away or a new candle.

I saved the most concerning point for last. This is an actual quote from an article about Rubin in The New York Times: “And to those who may feel daunted by how she does it all — the charts, the reading, writing, exercising, volunteering, socializing, parenting, scrapbooking and glue-gunning? Relax. She has a sitter and a housecleaner.” I am really kind of appalled that The Times would publish this. First of all, would we ever ask this of a man? No! And secondly, are they shaming her for working full time and having childcare? Yes, yes, they are. Is this ever going to end? My goodness, I hope so. This is a tightrope I think every mother walks. In my case, I am currently staying home with my baby. Should I feel guilty for not working? When I start working again, should I feel guilty for not staying home? These decisions (and their attendant emotions) are difficult enough without criticism being leveled from every direction, toward every decision.

As to the housekeeper, who cares? I have a lot of things in my life that others would probably consider luxuries: a husband who does all the dishes, a baby who sleeps through the night, a gym I can walk to. Does that mean that nothing I say about building happiness and contentment in my life is of value?

But there is something even more alarming about this quote. Isn’t it really saying that what a woman should be doing is raising children and cleaning the house? …IT IS. IN THE YEAR 2010. If I weren’t five years late to the game, you’d better believe I’d be writing a letter to the editor.To be clear, I don’t mean to say that Rubin’s work shouldn’t be subjected to fair criticism (I read her second book, for instance, and found it be a mostly unnecessary retread of her first). I do find it very upsetting, though, that both popular opinion and multiple reporters at the newspaper of record have chosen to harp on some aspect of Rubin as a person in order to discredit all of her work. Frankly, it is as unprofessional as it is insulting and unfair.

I didn’t set out to write an essay about gender equality, but my goodness, every now and again I am just hit right in the face with devastating evidence that things are just not the same for women and men. We can do better. Let’s do better. I really do think it would make us all, dare I say, happier.

Gigantic Road Trip, Part the Second: Zion National Park

IMG_1155And now let us return to the glorious wilds of Utah! After leaving St. George, we drove to Zion National Park. There was a long line to get in, and I was so excited to see the official sign in the distance. It turns out that, in an unlikely twist for a girl who has never even been on a proper camping trip (but aspires to!), the National Park System is kind of my Disneyland (where I have also never been!). I like roller coasters as much as the next person, but that arrowhead-shaped marker…it makes my heart sing. Thank you, Teddy Roosevelt, for the parks and for the bears (Micah is a big fan of both).

IMG_1131It was an overcast morning, which somehow lent even more gorgeousness to the coral shades of the rocks as we drove in. This was our first time putting Micah in the hiking backpack (thank you, Hillary and Danny!), so we weren’t sure what he would think. He loved it! He laughed for half of our hike and slept the other half. A small miracle. You can’t see it in these pictures, but we dressed him in his special bear onesie, a gift his godparents got him at Yellowstone, for a little extra National Park love.

During the peak season at Zion you have to ride a little shuttle bus to the trailheads and other points of interest. It seems like a bit of a bummer, but I really did not mind at all. It was amazing that there were no cars on the park roads, and we never had to wait long for a shuttle (even though the line at the entrance looked frighteningly long). It’s also so much easier for us not to have to get Micah in and out of his carseat.

IMG_1136We decided to ride the bus all the way to the last stop, Temple of Sinawava, and explore there first. There is a beautiful trail down to the beginning of The Narrows, where you can actually hike through the Virgin River, gorgeous canyon surrounding you on all sides. You can rent special river shoes and pants to do this, and we weren’t able to pull it off on this trip, but it looked so utterly awesome. My friend Kam (who is also one of the creators of 30 Days of Lists!) recently hiked The Narrows, and I totally encourage you to check our her post and this one, which has just unreal photos. None of mine come close to doing justice to this incredible place.

IMG_1139It’s hard to describe how BIG these rocks are. Do you see that tiny-looking person at the bottom of the picture? This rock soared way beyond the top of the picture too. Whoa.

IMG_1145As we approached the river on a little trail along the side of the canyon, it started to rain a bit. It felt so lovely, since we were all wearing hats and had our pick of rock overhangs to duck under. I was carrying a backpack with both our laptops (we never want to leave them in the car), and Eric was carrying Micah, so we were kind of proud to make it to the end of the trail to see people setting off into The Narrows. Someday! It makes me shiver with joy to think of all the adventures that are ahead of us.

IMG_1160After the hike back (and a sighting of a beautiful mule deer with his antlers in velvet), we boarded the shuttle and make a quick stop at Big Bend to see Angel’s Landing. We could just barely make out the tiny dots that were actually people winding along the precarious trail.

We would really have loved to have time to hike down to the Emerald Pools or even stay the night in the Zion Lodge (a historic lodge in a National Park?! This is more or less my dream vacation), but we had a five-hour drive to Green River ahead of us, so we had to hit the road just after lunch. Still, we were so happy to have seen the bit that we did. Visiting a place like this feels sacred to me, just as swimming in the ocean does. There is a powerful joy in experiencing this kind of beauty that I think is a deeply human thing. It makes me so grateful to be alive.

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