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.

My Language

IMG_4171-001I was watching a show the other day, and I was struck when one of the characters said, “I’m working on my Spanish.” Okay, it was Narcos. Because I have a cold. And because it is awesome! It made me think about how we use the possessive for language. My French. My German. My Turkish. I realized that the same possessive construction is used in almost every language with which I have even a passing acquaintance. I started thinking about how our language really does belong to us. And then I started thinking about what a beautiful thing that is.

IMG_1603-001In all this world, there are probably no two people who have the exact same vocabulary in any one language. Some know all the terms for heart surgery, others the specialized terminology of salmon migration (my friend Leah!), still others the idiom of historiography. Some know the names of all the native wildflowers and prairie grasses in their region, others every type of airplane that ever taken to the sky. Some know all the intricate parts of exploding stars, others the proper vocabulary for corporate litigation. In addition to the language we gather to ourselves through our careers and interests, we all carry words with us that we learned from our parents and grandparents (“nuthammer” is my personal favorite), from our friends, from our colleagues, from books or articles we read (or translated) that sent us running to the dictionary. We all speak the vernacular of the place we’re from (y’all!), the places we have lived and studied and traveled. And, of course, we all have our own private and personal languages–with our parents, with our friends, with our partners. Half the fun of being in love is having a language shared only by two.

Eastern Europe 2007 Full 062In all of this world, there are probably no two people who have the exact same vocabulary in multiple languages. One person may know a smattering of Bulgarian and a few words of French in addition to their native Japanese, while another is fluent in Greek and Spanish, with a bit of Cantonese on the side. Our languages are layered, the more of them we learn. My Spanish, for instance, is buried under my French and German, my Latin deeper still. Every now and then there is an earthquake, though, and a few words from those languages rise from the rubble. Puella (Latin, Girl). Abre la puerta (Spanish, Open the door). C’est la deuxieme fois! (French, That’s the second time!) And then there are the words that drift over from other languages and settle on my little Grand Canyon. Kol hakavod! (Hebrew, Good job!). Dobrze (Polish, Alright). Kamsahamnida (Korean, Thank you). I like to imagine that all these linguistic layers are just as bright and beautiful as our most beloved geological formation. And, of course, we all have our own.

Parizh-Berlin-Praha 2006 081-001Beyond simple proficiency, though, we make our language(s) our own because we inhabit them. We have our favorite words and pet phrases in each language that we speak. And we have our own personal windows onto the worldview of a culture with every little bit of language we acquire. I used to make my friends in the German department laugh by shouting all my favorite words at their German parties: “Kugelschreiber! Vorgeschichte! Umweltverschmutzung!” (“Pen! Foreword! Pollution!” For the record, I am not a fan of pollution, only of the literal translation of this word: the schmutzing up of the environment). And all of my friends in Russia used to laugh at me for my penchant for the cheery “Vse poluchitsia!” (“It will all work out!”) And also possibly for my great love for the ultimate quotidian joke: “Who’s gonna wash these dishes? [Nineteenth-century poet and national treaure] Pushkin?!” In Istanbul I never tired of saying, “Iyi akshamlar” (“Good evening”) or of waving down a waiter to request, “Hesap, lütfen” (“Check, please”). And is there anything more perfect than “L’esprit de l’escalier?” (French, literally, staircase wit; the clever retort you think of only as you are leaving the place where you were challenged). What are languages but ways of understanding ourselves and the world around us? There is so much to celebrate in each and every one.

Parizh-Berlin-Praha 2006 319We all have our individual love affair with language, down to its nuts and bolts. I have an undying affection for the Russian case system (particularly the instrumental plural), and I am dumbstruck by the elegance of vowel harmony in Turkish, even though I will probably never master it. I also carry a candle for the Turkish plural –lar (or –ler, depending on the vowel harmony). But maybe what I love the most is the melody of a language. Russian intonation patterns are a beautiful roller coaster. I do not speak Romanian, but it sounds to me like the most beautiful marriage between Italian and Polish. I love the lilting notes of Italian and the gentle hushes of German. And who could ever be immune to the charms of French?

Eastern Europe 2007 Full 173I’m reading Gretchen Rubin’s The Happiness Project, and one thing she mentions that really resonates with me is the idea that happiness is always tied to growth, and that learning a new skill is a pretty sure path to happiness. Why? Because it enlarges our sense of ourselves–suddenly we can fly fish or sculpt or speak Mandarin. And, I would add, this feeling of capably adding new facets to ourselves also makes the whole rest of the world seem that much more accessible. If we can fly fish, why not learn to waterski? If we can sculpt, why not learn how to grow an herb garden? Learning another language, I think, makes the rest of the world seem smaller, and at the same time, closer. Now we have more ways of understanding and describing emotions and paradoxes, as well as flowers and trees. (It is a particular and hilarious pleasure, I think, to be working a crossword puzzle in one language and to think the answer to every clue is…the same word in a different language). But what I love best about languages are the untranslatable parts of them–the words and phrases and grammatical constructs that express some aspect of our lives in a wholly unique way. Languages give us more ways of understanding and inhabiting this wild and wonderful world.

IMG_4165-001And then there is the pure magic of watching your child develop his own language. So far Micah has twenty-five words (!!), along with a nice smattering of gleeful shrieks, dissatisfied grunts, and hilarious babble. He strolls through our apartment naming everything he sees (“Ball! Bear! Shoes! Water!”), like Adam in the garden. It’s amazing to watch. And amazing to see him begin to understand our language. He answers, “What’s this?” and “Where’s Daddy?” He definitely understands a playful “Mommy’s gonna get you!” He pretends not to understand “No,” but will sometimes humor me by responding to, “Look at Mommy.” But the thing I most want him to understand is the thing I can never ever say to him enough, “Mommy loves you so much.” I love him in every language, in every untranslatable word.

Baby in the Bay

I kind of feel like this is turning into a travel blog, and I…have no real problem with that! I am, however, super behind, but this will hopefully be remedied by the blog accountability club I just set up with my BFF. There is only one tenet we hold to in our club: blog post by Friday! My BFF just made a cross-country move and is working remotely for a law firm while planning two weddings (one in Greece and one in the States!), and I am chasing a tiny angel around all day, so once a week seemed like a good place to start. Here we go!

A few weeks ago we hit a major milestone: baby’s first trip to the Bay! Berkeley will always be such a special place for us: it’s where Eric and I met and fell in love, and where, after only a few weeks of dating, I was already certain that he was the man I wanted to marry and grow a family with. What can I say, he is just the brightest and most brilliant gem of a human being I’ve ever met (tiny angel excluded). It’s where we got engaged and planned our wedding and wrote our dissertations and cooked millions of dinners together in the rain. It’s where we went to football games and museums and parks, where we took day trips and scenic routes and little hikes and exploratory missions, where we put on funny robes and hats and walked across a stage to become PhDs. It’s where we rode trains and buses and bikes and climbed steep stairs to fall into each other’s waiting arms. It’s the locus of love. And also, independently of all those marvelous memories, it’s one of my favorite places on earth.

I haven’t been back to the Bay since before I was pregnant with Micah (on this majestic trip!), and I was thrilled to go back and start showing our baby the wonders of this beautiful place. The only sad part was that our Daddy couldn’t come–he was at a meeting in Berlin. However, as with our trip to Memphis, the timing was in our favor–being with family in the Bay kept me from shouldering all of the childcare while Eric was away. We missed him so much, but would probably have missed him even more if we’d been at home. I am happy to say, though, that all three of us will be back in the Bay together twice in October! What wonderful life is this?

The reason for the trip was a happy one: for years and years and years my dad has taught a course in San Francisco, always during the week of my birthday. When I lived in Berkeley, my parents would both come every year, and we’d party it up. This was even more fun when my brother also moved to San Francisco. As soon as I found out the dates that the course would be held, I invited myself on the trip. As I have mentioned before, I am very good at inviting myself on my parents’ vacations. We found out about the Berlin trip shortly after that, so I booked a flight just for myself and my tiny companion.

This was my second solo trip with Micah, and I wasn’t too worried about it for two reasons: 1) flying out of Burbank is a dream, and 2) it’s a really short flight. While I am sure I looked like something of a clown car (wearing baby, pulling suitcase, pushing stroller topped with carseat topped with diaper bag), it all went very smoothly. Thank goodness! However, be warned, airlines now charge $100 if your bag is over 50 pounds. Even if it’s just by a little bit! Thankfully, they will let you put stuff in your carry-on to avoid the charge, and that is how I came to fly home with a diaper bag crammed so full I was afraid to open it and a stroller zipper pouch full of Peet’s coffee. Whatever works!

On to our adventures: on Friday we met up with my parents at the airport, much to Micah’s glee, got checked in, and headed over to my brother’s place. I sadly took no pictures of our dinner at Pizzeria Delfina, for it was deeply delicious, if punctuated by a lot of walks up and down the street with periodic little exclamations of “Bear!” because someone very adorable thinks that dogs are bears.

IMG_3454On Saturday we drove over to Half Moon Bay, a lovely little town on the coast that I hadn’t been to in years and years. My dad and my brother had driven over earlier that morning to buy a huge salmon straight off a fishing boat, and my dad had scoped out this pumpkin patch that he thought I might like. Sweet sweet. Half Moon Bay has a huge pumpkin festival in October, and it looked like they were gearing up for it. The traffic is so treacherous that weekend that I’ve never been…but perhaps someday we can sneak into town a few days early and stay locally to avoid the standstill on 92.

Spring 2011 224Just for fun, here’s a picture of us at the Half Moon Bay tidepools in 2011, a few months before we were married. Babies!

IMG_3455About an hour before lunch, I was ravenous, so I ate BOTH of these cookies with a huge Cappuccino. YOLO.

IMG_3466This did not stop me from eating fish tacos a few hours later at a little brewery by the water. Magnifique. We met my brother and sister-in-law and her parents there, and they brought me flowers and Russian chocolates for my birthday. So sweet!

IMG_3467That night my brother cooked the salmon in herbs de provence, and it was unreal. I don’t even particularly like salmon, but it was incredible. And, of course, there was cake.

IMG_3469And what would a trip to the Bay be without some time in Berkeley? Here we are at the original Peet’s on Vine in North Berkeley. There were a bunch of old gentlemen playing guitar outside, a fall breeze was blowing, and the scent of coffee was in the air. Heaven. It was like coming home.

IMG_3474We took Micah to campus to see some of my friends and professors and meet a fellow Slavic baby boy: ten months, and as cute as the day is long.

IMG_3482My sweet and awesome parents pushed the babies around campus so I could catch up with my friends.

IMG_3485We wore ourselves out with a trip to Berkeley Bowl (o land of glorious wonders!), and then we headed back down to the peninsula. We had hoped to make it over to Rockridge, my old stomping grounds, for a cup of coffee at Cole, but…next time! Thankfully, next time is coming very soon.

IMG_3502On Tuesday we had lunch in Burlingame and headed up to Golden Gate Park, where someone very cute did not want to wear his hat.

IMG_3508The weather was prefect, breezy and crisp and enough to make anyone fall in love. I am always amazed that every time I go I end up finding something I’ve never seen before. This time it was the dahlia garden, gorgeously blooming, tucked along beside the conservatory of flowers. And the carousel! Which was heartily enjoyed by our little tiger.

IMG_3530On Wednesday while my dad was working, my mom and I had lunch with Micah at Plant. Delicious, as evidenced by these meager morsels of food left on our plates.

IMG_3531We had a mission that day: baby shoes! Micah’s feet are wide and, as Eric says, look like little dinner rolls. Getting them properly fitted with walking shoes was one of the more adorable errands I’ve ever run.

IMG_3535Big boy wearing big boy shoes! This child, he brings us immeasurable joy.

IMG_3545The next day we took the train into the city (holding a BART card in my hand! Oceans of memories!) to go to the Mission. The neighborhood and the actual Mission, which, unbelievably, after all those years in the Bay, I had never actually visited.

IMG_3549Inside the chapel. I travel so differently with Micah. I definitely don’t take as many pictures as I used to. I don’t even bother bringing my real camera (an awesome Canon Powershot that Eric gave me for our first (dating!) anniversary six years ago). I don’t collect as much ephemera, and heavens knows I’m years behind on my scrapbook. But seeing beautiful things like this with my precious boy in my arms, the sweet smell of his baby hair perfuming every experience? I would not trade it for anything in the world.

IMG_3582After the mission we walked over to Tartine, where I had the croissant of my dreams, tried my mom’s chocolate rye tart, and only had a little bit of my cappuccino spilled by my curious baby. A great success! With a side of Cheerios for our little explorer.

IMG_3565We let him stretch his legs in the sunshine at Dolores Park, where he befriended everyone while pushing his stroller through the grass. Adorable.

IMG_3567And we saw way too much beauty to photograph.

IMG_3580Then we boarded the train again to head up to Britex Fabrics in Union Square, a place I have always wanted to visit. Four stories of fabric and notions! Paradise! Our tiny angel slept in the Ergo while my mom and I ogled cottons and wools and buttons and zippers.

IMG_3573Not pictured in this photo are the wooden ladders they use to reach the fabrics at the top. Ladders!

IMG_3578Buttons and crystals!

IMG_3579Zippers and binding! All those pretty colors made me anxious to sew pillows and quilts and dresses.

IMG_3581After a lovely dinner with my brother and sister-in-law, we headed for bed and a low-key last day in town. I somehow have no pictures of that day, but here is what I remember: a stroll through Anthropologie in Burlingame, my mom asking me if I wanted a cup of coffee, to which I replied, “I would MARRY a cup of coffee,” a wonderful chat with my parents in the sunshine, a marathon of stair-climbing in the hotel, a quiet dinner, an early bedtime, a morning dash to the airport. My parents got off the airport shuttle first to go to a different terminal, and we got off to kiss them goodbye. As soon as we got back on the shuttle and Micah realized that they weren’t with us anymore, he burst into tears. Poor sweet baby!

IMG_3570After the aforementioned suitcase drama, we spent a long time hanging out at the meteorology-themed playground at gate 87 (What?! I love you, SFO!) and flew on home to wait for our Daddy’s arrival from Berlin. It was a wonderful week, just too short! San Francisco, we will be back soon!

Memphis, How Do I Love Thee? Let Me Count the Ways

A month or so ago, I was FaceTiming my mom, as I do every morning, all praise be to modern technology. She was talking about seeing my sweet niece (seven adorable months old!) and about what she and my dad were going to do over the weekend. Suddenly a wave of longing swept over me. “If only there was some way I could get myself on a plane..” I said. Twenty minutes later, we had the flight all but booked, and all that was left was to talk to Eric about it. (It is so awesome being married to me: “Good morning! I love you! What would you think about me taking the baby home to Memphis in three weeks?”) As it turned out, he had a huge conference at Caltech during the week in question, so it made sense for us to go; we wouldn’t have seen much of him that week between long meetings and dinners and presentations. So! I booked it, for this crazy and mysterious low rate that I will probably never see again. Fortune favors the impulsive! At least in this case.

My reasons for wanting to go home were myriad. We were home in February, which was great, but the weather was so rough (ice! bad roads!) that we really didn’t get out of the house much. Before that, we hadn’t been home since Christmas 2012?! Clearly this oversight needed to be corrected. I love being with my family at Christmas, but there is a special magic to Memphis in the summer, 100% humidity notwithstanding. It’s green and lush and, if you’re lucky, you’ll get to experience the wonders of a summer thunderstorm.

I also really wanted to see everything that’s new. I was born and raised in Memphis, and I lived there my whole life until I went away to college in 2000, but I’ve never lived there as an adult. Recently my best friend and her family moved back home, and between her enthusiastic reports and the daily play-by-plays of my parents’ fun explorations, I was really just itching to experience it myself. A lot of this development has taken place within the last 5-7 years, I would say, and now it’s like a whole new city, at least to me. I spent a lot of my adolescence wanting to get the heck out of dodge, but now in addition to my old standbys, there are four (FOUR) local breweries, a greenline for biking that stretches the length of the entire city, more amazing restaurants than you can shake a stick at, so many growing neighborhoods, a lively non-profit and arts scene, and endless possibilities for your every Friday night. Wow. My parents are perfectly positioned for all this fun because they have a little condo in Midtown, which has always been, and will always be, my very favorite part of town, amen and amen.

IMG_3264So, basically, I went home to drink beer with my parents. I went home to spend time with my best friend. I went home to see this beautiful new city that has blossomed in the last decade. I went home to see (and kiss!) my baby niece. I went home to watch Micah push his walker in circles around my parents’ house, all of us smiling adoringly. And I did all of that, and so much more. It was a truly magnificent week, and it was so hard to pack my suitcase and head back to LA (except that we missed our daddy so much! He was the only piece missing in our delightful puzzle).

Ack, I think this is going to be a long one (mom: refill your coffee!) because before we get to all the fun, there is also this little bit of the picture to contend with: taking my baby on a plane by myself for two four-ish-hour flights. One of which was a red-eye. I was so nervous in the hours before we left! I actually texted Hillary, “I can do this, right? Right?!” Thankfully, it all went so smoothly. It was not exactly easy, but it was not terrible. And for that I am so grateful! A huge thank you to Hillary for the Ergo, without which we never would have made it! I doubt anyone really wants to hear the details, but leave me a comment if you do, and I will lay down the specifics. Short version: free gate-checking of strollers and carseats is the greatest achievement of modern aviation!

Without further ado, a smattering of our adventures in pictorial form:

IMG_3040My angelic dad picked us up at 5:30am and took us to the condo, where we changed the baby and drank coffee, and it was glorious. My mom took us home, where we took a three-hour nap, and then we were ready to spend the day with my niece! I will put pictures of the kids on Micah’s baby blog–so cute! We had lunch at Cheffie’s, which is my platonic ideal of a salad place. Can y’all please just install one in my kitchen? I would never eat anything else.

IMG_3081The next day we started our beer parade. It was so fantastic to just walk out the door of the condo and walk over to The Second Line.

IMG_3089I was utterly charmed from start to finish.

IMG_3090Oh, yes.

IMG_3092I liked this too.

IMG_3094Good times!

IMG_3096This was the on the door to the kitchen. There’s something about this warm, comforting feeling of being home in the South–it’s almost like when I came home after a semester in Russia, and I just couldn’t stop thinking, “Y’all speak my language!”

IMG_3109On Wednesday my dad worked from home, and we walked Micah around the lake. It’s a great trail, and it’s a three-mile roundtrip from our house. Someone demanded to be carried for most of it, so we passed him back and forth and had a double workout.

IMG_3111Pretty, pretty. Makes me want to get out there with a kayak.

IMG_3122That night we went to The Flying Saucer, where my parents have plates on the ceiling commemorating their induction into the UFO Club for trying 200 different beers. Impressive!

IMG_3123We ordered big pretzels and salads, and I got this lovely tasting flight.

IMG_3124Just me and my beers.

IMG_3132And now for an interlude in praise of my parents’ backyard. They claim not to have done much with it this year, but it still looks gorgeous to me. That ladder is for harvesting figs.

IMG_3134Under the pergola.

IMG_3136A gourd vine walking itself across the patio. Its tiny little tendrils were so beautiful.

IMG_3137Passion flowers growing wild!

IMG_3144And big fat caterpillars feasting on them. I could not get enough of them.

IMG_3149On Thursday my mom and I took Micah to the zoo, which I was really excited about because 1) it is actually a pretty impressive zoo, 2) they have pandas, grizzly bears, and polar bears, and 3) Micah knows how to say “bear” now (it sounds like “bee-uh!”), and I was wondering if he would say it when he saw them.

IMG_4243The grizzly bears were a bit out of sight, and the pandas were asleep, but once the polar bear adopted a fairly stuffed-animal-looking pose, there was a precious baby voice proclaiming, “Bear!” You better believe I bought him one in the gift shop. He loves it.

IMG_4253We went to the condo for Micah to take his afternoon nap, and I fell asleep on the couch. We didn’t have a blanket handy, so my mom covered me with dish towels from the kitchen. So indescribably sweet, especially because I would, of course, have done the same for my own child.

IMG_3184That night we set out from the condo to go to Memphis Made Brewery, but, alas, they weren’t open. But we still took this picture outside, and it has to be one of my favorites ever.

IMG_3185Memphis Made, for reference.

IMG_3186Undaunted, we headed over to Hammer & Ale, passing under this sweet little village scene, which I have loved since my high school days.

IMG_3187Cute popsicle truck!

IMG_3189Hammer & Ale was so charming. They serve only local beers, and they used to be called The Growler, since they’d happily fill one up for you to take home.

IMG_3197A blurry beer shot with my mom, while Micah very doggedly persisted in trying to get himself a job by crawling behind the counter. Sweet baby. My brother and his girlfriend came over with my niece to meet us, and more baby cuteness ensued.

IMG_4287We had dinner at Young Avenue Deli, where I used to go when I wanted to pretend I was cool in high school. The fries and veggie hoagie are still just as good, and, as an added bonus, Micah danced away to a Michael Jackson song in his high chair and munched up all the cucumbers on our hummus plate. Precious. (And yes, I know, isn’t Heather *gorgeous*? And Lily adorable?!)

IMG_4290We walked back to the condo in the moonlight. I can’t say enough about how much I love being able to walk to dinner, especially in such a cute neighborhood.

IMG_3206On Friday we had visitors! Eric’s sweet parents came down to see the little tiger, and we all had a wonderful time playing together. It’s always a treat to get to see them. And my best friend and her daughter came over to swim and have a picnic. It was adorable. I will put pictures of the kids (who look like siblings!) on Micah’s baby blog.

IMG_3241On Saturday morning I took a stroll down memory lane with my high school yearbooks. I had forgotten that these ridiculous shoes were featured there. My best friend and I painted these with nail polish because we were oh so edgy, haha!

IMG_3259After a trip to the Children’s Museum and a visit with my niece, we made it back to Memphis Made. I loved this photo wall.

IMG_4342Our sweet baby fell asleep, snoozed through the live band, and then woke up and knocked a beer glass onto the ground. I’d say he lived it up.

IMG_3266For dinner we went next door to Aldo’s, which I am still not over. It broke my heart right in two with its delicious food, gorgeous second-floor patio, and unremittingly 90s playlist. It hurt to peel myself away from there.

IMG_3265-001This picture is for Eric’s benefit, since I think that Figgy Piggy sandwich was made for him. As an added bonus, Micah had a prime view of the bussing station, which kept him heartily entertained all evening.

IMG_3274On Sunday my mom and I made a quick trip to the Bargain Barn, International Thrifting Mecca! This is a maternity dress that I will never stop wearing because it is so. very. comfy!

IMG_3275The real treat was this: Sunday night my best friend and I went out on the town and spent the night at the condo, sans kids. It was so good for our souls. I do not think we have had an uninterrupted conversation like that since…her baby shower. And now her baby is almost three and a half. We dropped our things off at the condo and discovered these little treasures in our purses. Mom life.

IMG_3278We walked down to Overton Square, and I ogled all the charming public art, some old, some new to me.

IMG_3280Cute, cute, cute.

IMG_3287Pretty, pretty, pretty.

IMG_3281We even have a shuttle from Cooper-Young to Overton Square now! I am really sorry that I did not see it in action because it is apparently a bus with a gigantic kangaroo on top of it.

IMG_3285We went to LBOE for dinner and ate this. YOLO.

IMG_3288After dinner and a stroll we went (somewhat ironically) to our old high school hangout, Java Cabana. Oh, the untold hours we spent here, writing poetry and brooding over boys! It still gave me shivers a bit to be there. Of course, it’s not the same. There used to be empty journals lying about for people to write in, and we couldn’t find them, so we could not relive our ridiculous high school glory. It is a weird, weird thing to bump elbows with the ghost of your former self. Mostly it just makes me so grateful to be happily settled and non-broody now!

IMG_3289This is the only picture I took of us, and I moved my hand right as the shutter clicked. Still, I kind of think it’s perfect. That’s me on the left, Emily on the right.

IMG_3294We stayed up late (10:45!) talking and had such a lovely relaxed morning at the condo, where my dad had Peet’s coffee stocked for us. I will always consider good coffee to be one of life’s greatest luxuries.

IMG_3297On the way back home, we stopped by Muddy’s Grind House, which is indescribably cute. By this point, I was already so sad to be leaving my friend and so sad to be leaving Memphis the next morning. It really was just such a tremendously wonderful time.

Memphis is something I carry with me, I think. When I was thinking about all the things I love about it, I realized they probably sounded kind of strange, or at least not like something you find in a travel recommendation article. Nonetheless, here they are. What do I love about Memphis? 1) Tall trees. Really, really tall trees. We just don’t have them like that here. 2) Brick. It’s a Southern thing, but I didn’t really notice it until I went away to college in Ohio and couldn’t figure out why things looked so funny to me (all the houses were wood-paneled!) There’s something stolid and comforting to me about brick. 3) Businesses in former homes. This is one of my favorite things on earth. I love eating in old restaurants with creaky floors and putting together that the room I’m sitting in was once a parlor, the bathroom once a pantry. I love old things of all kinds, and the stories they can tell. A very stark contrast to strip malls. 4) It’s green, green, green. There’s such a lushness and sense of open space in the summer. It’s magnificent. 5) Civic pride. Places like Los Angeles and New York don’t need to work hard to get anyone to come see them. They’re huge metropolises with lots of offer. But I find that often in mid-sized and smaller cities, the creative and civic-minded people band together, and they build incredible things. There’s so much of that going on in Memphis right now that it makes my heart swell. And, finally 6) My family, my family, my family (including my best friend). These are my people, and any chance to spend time with them is an occasion for fireworks and dancing shoes and all the champagne you’ve got. And I guess that’s what I really love best about Memphis: love.

Hermosa Beach

IMG_2698Going to the beach feels like a big undertaking. We live a good 30-60 minutes away (depending on which beach), and there’s always the curse of LA traffic to consider. On top of that, there are a million things you need to bring, and a million more if you have a baby. However! We decided to do it, and it was awesome! We had planned to meet our friends, Carmen and Jason and their sweet baby boy, at Manhattan Beach on Saturday morning, but then Eric accidentally discovered that the Manhattan Beach Volleyball Open was going on that weekend. Thank you, Twitter! We were so glad to have learned that in advance because this tournament is a BIG DEAL (like Kerri Walsh big deal), and a bunch of streets and parking garages were closed through the weekend. So, we decided to head a bit south to Hermosa Beach instead. We had never been there, but it was so nice!

Part of the plan was to get there as early as possible to beat the traffic. Micah did his part by waking up at 4:45am, wheee! We arrived and parked at about 9:20 in a lot right next to the pier. So easy! Our friends arrived around the same time, and we headed down to find a place to set up camp. There was so much open beach tent real estate, so we had a front row seat for the waves.

IMG_2693We ordered this beach tent for our adventures, and it was a great thing to have. The door flap (ha, I don’t know the technical term) folds down for extra non-sand seating, and it zips up so you can change clothes. Genius! That back mesh part also allows for a nice breeze. I was actually cold by the time we left. (Please note Micah’s crossed ankles. I will never get over how cute this is.)

IMG_2677How did the little tiger do? Well, he was not too interested in the sand, but he did like watching the waves. Was he interested in getting his tiny baby grape toes wet? No sir! But he was content to be held by mommy at the shoreline.

IMG_2687While Micah was playing with Eric I ran out to swim. The water was glorious, the warmest I’ve ever felt it in California. Jason came out at the same time, and we had a great time talking and ducking waves. I bobbed up and down and side to side with the current, and I laughed with glee like a toddler ever time I got smacked in the head by a huge wave. It’s hard to describe how much swimming in the ocean means to me. It makes me feel so deeply alive, and so grateful for being alive. It always makes me think of this verse from Psalms: “Deep calls to deep in the roar of your waterfalls; all your waves and breakers have swept over me.” It feels amazing to be a tiny dot in something that is so much bigger than I can possibly imagine, that works in ways I will never fully understand. I love that feeling of being completely surrounded by something so large and so good.

IMG_6969Aside from swimming, my favorite part of the day was the time I spent talking with Carmen as the waves rolled in. It is just. so. good. to talk to another mom about all the crazy adventures of baby-hood, and about how to find ourselves in them. On top of that, Carmen is a seriously incredible human being. So kind, so unfailingly generous, so brilliant. She is a lawyer for the ACLU, and I am so inspired by the work she does to fight injustice. I have so much to learn from her. And I hope I am not embarrassing her too much by saying all this. Thanks for being my friend, Carmen! (And thanks for taking this shot, Eric!)

IMG_6976After Eric took a dip, we were getting hungry, so we sent the menfolk off to pick up lunch while we rocked our babies. Micah was still asleep when they came back, so I ate a burger while rocking him. Stealth mom level 11! Eric got fruit as a side for his burger, so when Micah woke up, he happily feasted on “balls” (aka grapes; in continued adorableness, he calls everything round “ball.”)

IMG_6975Eric took one more dip, and I had planned to, but was just too cold! I was wearing this vintage suit that my awesome aunt Ellen found at an estate sale (I believe). I love it, right down to the handmade tag that proclaims “Original Rose Marie Reid of California Draped Sheath.” However, it’s made of a very thick fabric (no lycra in the 60s, I suppose), and it doesn’t dry very quickly. But I decided I’d had more than enough fun for one day, and that I’d be back. I have some family shots and a few more of Micah that I will put up on his baby blog this afternoon (fingers crossed). In conclusion: a grand time was had by all!

Gigantic Road Trip, Part the First: Las Vegas and St. George, Utah

So! This summer we set out to sail our trusty Honda east to Aspen. With our baby! This is the kind of thing that would have sounded a four-alarm crazy alert for me before I had Micah. Whyyyyyy would anyone do that?! And now I am happy to be able to answer my own question: because it is awesomely fun! It seriously went so well I am still pinching myself (and expecting the other travel shoe to drop on some future trip). I want to write all about it, and will probably do so in one thousand small installments while said baby is sleeping. Here goes!

Eric was actually out of town at a conference in Baton Rouge just before we left. He got back after midnight on May 21, and we left town early May 23. More fuel for the crazy fire! I did my best with pre-packing and list-making and laundry-doing while he was away, and then Blessed Saint Hillary came over to play with Micah on the 22nd while we packed and pre-loaded the car (thank you!!!!) It took about an hour on Saturday morning to get everything crammed in the car, and then we hit the road. We reached Vegas about lunch time, and it was, true to legend, a bizarre adult fairy land rising up out of nowhere in the desert. It was also kind of stressful trying to find a place to eat on the go, where we wouldn’t have to pay for valet parking or pawn our jewelry to pay for some sort of gold-encrusted filet mignon (only 40% kidding). We finally found a decent sandwich place, which was unfortunately contaminated by the smoke from an old school steakhouse several doors down, one that the Rat Pack had frequented. On the other side of our sandwich shop, which was staffed by an innocent-looking teenager, was a plus-size strip club, complete with black-clad limo drivers idling out front. It was a bit of a weird experience! But the sandwiches were good, and we went on our merry way. Micah left a trail of cracker crumbs behind him.

IMG_1099We wove our way up past the golf course that is Mesquite, Nevada and into beautiful Utah: red rock as far as the eye could see. We had never been to Utah, and we fell in love right away. I provided all the seedy Vegas detail above not to judge, but to highlight our hilarious cultural whiplash at arriving in one of the most family-friendly places we’ve ever been: huge downtown playground, 20 high chairs at every restaurant. We felt out of place for only having one child!

IMG_1096This was the view from our quaint little hotel. The auto shop is not super scenic, but gives some idea of high those rocks are, towering over the city.

IMG_1095Someone was very excited to be out of the car and made a beeline for the forbidden zone of the bathroom.

IMG_1098There was a lot of public art downtown, including this rather fabulous shoe.

IMG_1110But this was my favorite part of St. George. There was a carousel, and we had never taken Micah on one, but we decided to give it a try. We thought it might scare him, but…he laughed uproariously the whole time! It was one of the most joyful moments of my life, for sure. There’s nothing better than seeing your child happy.

IMG_1118This tiny angel gives St. George his stamp of approval!

The Dream List

IMG_1612I’ve been thinking a lot lately about bucket lists. This summer we visited *three* amazing national parks that I learned about in my undergrad geology class. I never imagined I would get to see those incredible places in person, and it’s inspired me to dream big and bigger. It’s so true that if we don’t let ourselves imagine things, we’ll never let ourselves do them. When I was working my way through The Artist’s Way a few years ago (one of the best things I ever did for myself, BTW; ever so highly recommended!), a lot of the exercises were about imagining and visualization. What would I do with a day that suddenly became free? A magical two weeks of paid vacation? Where would I want to live if I could live anywhere? What kind of house would it be? How would I spend my free time if I had an endless supply of it? I had so much fun imagining the window seats and sunny kitchens and wildflowers, the bazaars of Istanbul and the spices of Morocco and the mysteries of all the languages I had yet to learn. There’s a power in it, and a beautiful connection to the world within us and the world around us. When it comes down to it, that’s what creativity really is. (And I have been having so much fun putting together a future talk on this topic, heavily peppered with big ideas from my favorite Russians).

Eric’s mom has a bucket list, and I think that is so awesome. She recently went to France by herself on a pilgrimage, and it was her first time abroad. How amazing is that! What an adventurous lady she is, and an inspiring one too. After reading a bit about bucket lists in a library book and pondering all the fun things I’ve been able to do and all the ones that I hope lie ahead of me, I’ve started putting together my own list. I’m calling it my dream list because I just like the ring of it. It’s so much fun!! It’s sort of like being at this amazing buffet of life, and thinking, “Yes, I’ll try that, and, ohh, that looks good, and, oh definitely, I can find some room on my plate for that too!” It makes me feel like I’m living more fully, and that is a gift, even if it takes me some years to tackle anything on the list. So, here’s what I’ve got so far, in no particular order, broken up by pictures of pretty things:

IMG_16801) Visit all 50 states (I think I’ve been to 27 or so thus far). (Update: it’s actually 31! Only 19 to go!)

2) See all the National Parks. Woohoo! There are 408 locations in the National Park Service (59 of them are National Parks), so this will take me a while. And that’s to say nothing of the National Forest Service and State and Regional Parks as well!

3) Learn Turkish. And maybe even Ottoman Turk. This is a big dream and one I’ve made some progress on, but it’s fallen by the wayside for a while. I’d love to pick it up again in the future.

4) Climb a mountain. I think I did this once on a family vacation when I was in early high school? But it’s been so long!

5) Hike a big trail. I’m definitely not ready for the whole Appalachian Trail or anything. But I’d love to train and do some day hiking and maybe even work my way up to a bit of backpacking.
6) Go camping. I never camped much growing up, and my girl scout troop always stayed in cabins. So I would like to really sleep under the stars!

IMG_18697) Swim with the sea turtles again. Holy wow, this was one of the most beautiful experiences of my entire life. I would love to get back to Hawaii (or anywhere else they live!) and glide along with these majestic creatures again. (Also…I will tack on the Great Barrier Reef here because…gorgeous).

8) Learn how to embroider. I can cross-stitch pretty well, but I would really like the learn the stitches of free-hand embroidery. It’s so pretty!

9) Take a pottery class. I did a bit of pottery with my cousin at Montreat when I was in high school, and I cannot get this fantasy of shaping clay on a porch by a lake on a rainy day out of my head. Oh yeah, this is a very specific fantasy.

10) Go to Natchitoches with my Dad. This is the little river town in Louisiana where my Dad was born. They have pretty lights over the river at Christmas, and they are famous for their meat pies, and I have never had one. My Dad has been writing a lot about his childhood on his blog (which is so, so, so sweet), and it has really made me want to experience this special place with him.

11) Develop good posture. Hoo boy, this one will probably take a lifetime. I slouch. It is not good for me. I have been through a bunch of physical therapy for my back troubles, and it is all so preventable if I just do the stuff I learned there. (As a side note, I wonder why it is so hard to do the little things that will improve our health? I *just* started wearing sunscreen every day, and I’m 32. Better late than never, but still! I would like to put all of our wonderful modern knowledge about health and the body to good use).

12) Read some giant novels. I will probably never stop lamenting that my awesome book club read all of Proust right before I met them all and joined the group. I have made it about halfway through the second volume, but I had trouble getting into it (honestly, after reading an awful lot of Dostoevsky, Proust’s narrator just seemed so…whiny. But I shall persevere!) There is nothing I love more than a big fat novel, so I want to tackle a bunch of them. Anyone have suggestions?

IMG_129213) *Really* learn how to sew. I am a sewing dilettante, but I have some great reference guides and e-courses to walk me through it. This one will probably not be tackled in full until the kids are bigger and I have some free time and detail-space in my brain, but I am looking forward to it. Sewing patterns, you shall no longer be a mystery to me!

14) Learn botanical sketching and painting. We are so lucky to have the Huntington Gardens here in Pasadena, and Hillary gave us a free membership!!! They frequently have events and classes on botanical drawing and painting, and it just looks so awesome to me. The level of detail is stunning, and I really want to be able to capture all the bewildering beauty of the world around us.

15) Learn oil painting. I have the supplies, and I have dabbled a bit, but this one requires a bit more planning and time.

16) Read around the world. I heard about this blog a few years ago and have become really intrigued by the idea (and impressed!) This woman read one book from each country, with great recommendations from locals. She includes a list of all the books she considered, and the one that she read. I want to do this! I know a lot about Russian literature, but there are so many other literary traditions about which I know nothing at all. I am ready to armchair travel to Japan and China and India!

17) Take a hip hop/modern dance class. The older I get, the better it feels to really move my body. I love to dance, and I think this would be so much fun.

18) Go white water rafting! This has all the makings of a fantastic and slightly terrifying adventure!

So, that’s what I’ve got so far. Pretty please, tell me what’s on your dream list! I love comparing notes on this endlessly fun stuff.


A Handful of Happy Things

IMG_2022Thank you all so much for your sweet comments on the farm post! They really make a girl’s day. I want to write about our giant road trip, but I don’t want to pass these sweet summer days by. So I thought I’d put together a little slice of life post. There are all kinds of happy gems lurking in my Picasa albums. Like this one! Today is Hillary’s birthday (hurray! ok, technically it will be yesterday by the time this post publishes), and for one of her presents I embroidered her this map of the Pacific Crest Trail. It was an experiment, really, and I was so pumped that my slapdash method ended up working so well. Said method: 1) print an image and resize it with a copier to fit your embroidery hoop, 2) trace the image on tissue paper, 3) clamp the tissue paper down right on top of the fabric in the hoop, 4) stitch, and 5) rip away the tissue paper. Tada! I am now embroidery-emboldened! It was probably more fun for me to give this present to her than for to receive it, but she is such a sweet and gracious friend that she probably didn’t mind. I hope! (Supporting role played by my iPad, on which I was listening to the Undisclosed podcast: aaahhhh! Friends, Romans, countrymen, lend it your ears!)

IMG_2036Here is the lovely lady herself on a lunch date with me and my little tiger. Happiness! This was a historic day: the first time I ever had fish tacos. Now I shall have many more.

IMG_2078This is one of my favorite parts of the morning routine. Micah gets up about 6:00 (or 5:30 if I am very unlucky), and he is very happy to be reunited with his beloved toys. He is no longer scared of the sound of the coffeemaker, so I brew a small pot and then climb into my little barricade at the end of the couch, where an end table pushed up against the coffee table blocks the access of tiny fingers. I rest my coffee on the bookcase while I FaceTime with my mom and then catch up on blogs. It is a truly lovely 20 minutes, punctuated by all kinds of shrieks and giggles and the sounds of little garbage trucks and bouncing balls. This is the kind of picture that will probably make me cry five years from now. And there may be a few more tears before then because…someone has figured out how to shimmy his way under the coffee table to reach the delicious but forbidden power cords that hide beyond his grasp.

IMG_2492Here is the barricade from another angle, just so I don’t forget what it looks like. (All those bookcases are bolted and strapped to the wall, which gives me so much mommy peace of mind.)

IMG_2394Our sweet angel turned one on Friday, and it was the happiest weekend of celebrating our happy and hilarious boy. I made these invitations for his little birthday party, based on his favorite toy, pictured below.

IMG_2569I like putting these little things in here because sometimes I feel like it’s been ages since I made anything. It’s good to remind myself of the little projects I can squeeze in during naptime. (However! Sometimes I imagine life with two, and then I think I will absolutely look back on this one-baby-time and laugh myself silly that I thought I was busy!)

IMG_2395Library books! There are some real gems in this stack. The Bar Tartine one is lovely, but I do not think I will be making anything in it anytime soon. (Mom! Let’s go there in September!) I am struggling with Panic in a Suitcase. Anyone care to convince me to carry on? In non-library news, I just started Marilynne Robinson’s Lila last night for the Hillary and Cameron Book Club, and holy wow, it’s beautiful.

IMG_2402I go to the post office across from Eric’s building a fair bit (I shall never again have such easy access to a post office, I am sure), and on this day I was struck by the beauty of the rust-colored metal against the pale and ivory-like trunks of the eucalyptus trees. California, you’re pretty.

IMG_2410I bought Micah these tiny neon orange flip flops. He hates them. I love them.

IMG_2434We got these California flashcards for Micah at Kidspace, and…I think so far we like them even more than he does. Avocados and palm trees forever!

IMG_2451This is rather a poor picture, but I was excited to color in Utah and Nevada on my state map. I have a standing invitation to Montana, and a dear friend who is moving to Delaware, so…time to sharpen those colored pencils!

IMG_2453I realized last week that I was back in the elevator where I took a few of my bump shots when I was pregnant, and even wearing a dress that carried me through those last few months (not maternity, but stretchy enough), so I took this picture: one year later. Sob. I miss feeling those little kicks and wiggles and wondering about who might be making them. It’s the most wonderful thing in the world to look into the eyes of your newborn and know them instantly and think, “Of course! It was you all along!”

IMG_2513I’m going to write a whole post about Micah’s birthday party and his adorable antics on his baby blog, but here is a picture of his cake. Well, this was the grown-up cake–his was an unfrosted little banana cake, but still, I was proud that this one did not turn into a leaning tower because I finally listened to Smitten Kitchen’s advice and froze the layers and trimmed them before putting on the frosting. Magic!

IMG_2517Ok, fine, I’ll show you his little cake too. He loved it! And only threw half of it on the floor, a true sign of deliciousness. I realize it looks like a doughnut, but it’s actually a mini-bundt.

IMG_2548We were the recipients of some mighty fine liquor for our first birthday as parents, so we had a drink after we got everything all cleaned up and the little tiger in bed. This gin is so delicious. Thank you, Hillary and Danny!

IMG_2562-001And, because there is no real rhyme or reason to this post, here is the card I made for Hillary’s birthday. Yay for cute stamps! And for the awesome ink she gave me for my birthday last year. Synchronicity!

IMG_2566And finally, a few words about walks. Every afternoon between Micah’s naps, we walk for about an hour. We usually take the same route, passing business people headed to lunch, dogs trotting along the sidewalk, and catching up on openings and closings of stores and restaurants in our neighborhood. We’re so lucky to have such a walkable area near us. I love to get out and stretch my legs, but no one loves walks more than Micah. Often the first words he will say when I get him out of his crib at 6am are, “…bye bye?” Our stroller is truly awesome, and we have added our own little accoutrements. I keep a bottle of bubbles in the cupholder so I can entertain Micah while we’re waiting for lights to change so we can cross the street.

IMG_2567In the evenings we walk over to pick up daddy from work. These two boys are always so adorably happy to see each other.

IMG_2564My favorite stroller addition is Mary. My awesome aunt Ellen sent us these tiny saints a few months ago, and we love them. St. Christopher and St. Joseph are on our suitcases, and Mary keeps watch over us as we trek through the city. At the risk of sounding repetitive…these are the happiest, happiest days.

Fun on the Farm

Please imagine that title sung to the tune of “Home on the Range,” which is one of the many songs played by Micah’s amazing walker, and which has the distinction of being my very favorite. With that little bit of housekeeping out of the way, helloooo from your long-lost Pasadena correspondent! It feels so good to be settled enough to write a bit here. We have had the most awesome whirlwind of travel this summer, and I have been so wanting to post about it, but have been suffering from Too Many Pictures-itis. You know, when you have so many pictures that it feels daunting to even choose which ones to use, to say nothing of resizing and exporting them? I know, a silly problem. I have conquered it (perhaps…) by telling myself to just choose five pictures from each big event. I don’t think there’s a lot of hope for me actually sticking to that number, but…if it gets me to open Picasa, then I’ll take it!

Anyway! Enough blathering about the photographic riches of the digital age! On to the travels. (Please, please forgive me for throwing in a Gogolian “Follow me, reader!” It fills my nerdy heart with glee!) So, we drove from Pasadena to Aspen in May, spending three days on the road through Nevada and Utah into Colorado. We spent three weeks in Aspen, with a few side trips on the weekends, and then we drove back, at a slightly more leisurely pace, accompanied all along by our adorable baby. How did it go? Awesome! Just totally shockingly awesome! One million blog posts about this will surely follow.

Two weeks after we got home, we flew out (with adorable baby in tow) to visit Eric’s family on their farm, and my parents drove up to spend the 4th of July with us all. How did that go? Awesome! And that shall be the subject of today’s post. Because when starting from the beginning is too daunting…one must start from the end!

IMG_2102One of my favorite things about visiting the farm is that it’s full of simple pleasures that make me feel so much closer to the earth: frogs singing in the evening, deer snacking on the corn just beyond the window, owls hooting in the trees, wild asparagus springing up by the pond, Queen Anne’s lace lining every road. Here is a small gaggle of baby-admirers heading out to pick blueberries in the sunshine.

IMG_2127Look at this glory.

IMG_2116I had actually never picked blueberries before, so it was my first time seeing this gorgeous riot of shading on the way to ripeness. If I were in charge of naming them, I’d call them moon berries in honor of their pale luminosity.

IMG_2110And there are grapes too! What a wonder it is, as a human, to have the chance to watch something grow, day by day. I have only been to the farm in the summer and winter, but I aspire to get there in the fall and spring too, to see things just starting to bloom and just about to fall off the trees with ripeness.

IMG_2104Speaking of growing, look at these gorgeous robin’s eggs, safely nestled into a corner of the water tank.

IMG_2342By the day we left to fly back to California, they had hatched. Precious, precious, precious.

A few days later Eric’s dad sent me an update. Amazing!

unnamedAnd he sent me a picture of this adorable little snapping turtle he found in the driveway, less than 2″ long. I show you all of this to prove my cliched but true point: on the farm wonders never cease.

IMG_2126-001And there are other wonders too. It would be impossible to begin to describe the joy that Micah has brought us with his toothy little grins, turbo speed crawling, and relentless curiosity about the world around him. However, it is a special treat to see his grandparents join in the adoration too, and get to share with him the things that are so special to them too. If this picture isn’t frame-worthy, then I don’t know what is.

IMG_2134There is also always so. much. laughter. I modeled all my farm chic outfits for Eric. The sound of him laughing is one of my favorite sounds on earth. Dad let me borrow his rubber boots, and this is Eric’s shirt. I bought these ripped-up and faded Levi’s when I was in about the eighth grade…and now they are back in style. I don’t know whether to be excited or horrified.

IMG_2146The second day we were there, my parents arrived from Memphis: woohoo! It was their first time on the farm, and we did it up right. We took them to town for dinner and took a few celebratory shots in the square. Fact: in a photo that includes a baby, it is impossible for all subjects to be looking at the camera. Three out of four ain’t bad!

IMG_2147The next day we came back to town for more exploring. There are some cute shops on the square, and I was taken by this jewelry display. I was trying to frame it so that it looked like I was wearing the necklace. Fail. But a pretty fail!

IMG_2150We all know that Illinois is the Land of Lincoln, but I did not know that Lincoln once practiced as a circuit lawyer right here in town, and that this commemorative painting was done by a distant relative of Eric’s. Cool!

IMG_2165There is an antique shop on the square in what was once a pharmacy (and before that a grand hotel). Dad remembers going here as a little boy. It is all kinds of beautiful inside, truly. Look at those cabinets! And the ladder! And the old pharmacy bottles up top! And the ceiling tiles! I would be happy to move right in, or at least house a very esoteric-looking library here.

IMG_2166This picture is kind of blurry (lame), but I wanted to include it because you can just barely make out the little enclosed alcoves in the back, where I assume the pharmacist once mixed prescriptions. So awesome.

IMG_2169After our foray through the antique store, where, sadly, the gorgeous cowboy boots I tried on were just a hair away from fitting, we went to Refuge, a great coffee house. The way the tacks were placed to hold up this little deer made it look like they were earrings, so, naturally, I found this worthy of a picture.

IMG_2170I was actually just there with my parents, and it was such a sweet time with them, a time to remember that I’m their baby too. But I was kind of sorry that I didn’t have my baby with me because they have this incredible play room for kids!

IMG_2175Including a nursing and changing room?! What is this, mom heaven?!

IMG_2176I made friends with a group of ladies who were knitting, and who were so impossibly kind to me (like everyone else in this welcoming little town). When I lamented that I didn’t have any knitting to work on, one of them offered to let me come to her house and borrow some yarn and needles. Ah, the sweetness! And then my mom let me work on her knitting so she could finish a letter to Ellen. True generosity.

IMG_2177Me and my sweet daddy.

IMG_2181That night we went down to the winery where my parents were staying for dinner. I really try not to put up too many pictures of my baby, but…look at my beautiful angel.

IMG_2194Annnnnd look at him again. He truly is the sweetest and happiest little tiger I have ever met. I took about 10 shots of him smiling with his daddy, and my finger is in every single one of them. Small price to pay for this extreme cuteness.

IMG_2211The next day we were back on the farm for the annual 4th of July pictures in the field. Eric’s family has been doing this since before he was a twinkle in their eyes. We were so happy to be there for it, although, alas, I don’t have the pictures we took with his family on my camera. But they do exist! (And, in case you’re wondering, yes, farm chic outfits are good for more than one wear.)

IMG_2219We also got a farm-style pick-up ride! I told my mom I wasn’t going to let her ride on the side like this because I am the world’s most overprotective daughter, but eventually I had mercy and relented.

IMG_2242We gave Micah a little practice birthday cake, which was hilarious and adorable.

IMG_2238And then we gave him a bath. And then he played the piano with his daddy. Sweet fuzzy head.

IMG_2260My dad was basically in heaven on his tractor lesson. Adorable!

IMG_2276And mom had her turn.

IMG_2277And I did too! It was serious fun, I must say. And not too hard!

IMG_2308We stayed the night with my parents at their cabin and then bid them a sad farewell in the morning before we headed back up to town for church, where Micah got to meet some of his cousins and made very good friends with the man sitting in the pew behind us. The next couple of days were a whirlwind of happy visits with family and friends and two, count them, TWO, dates. Thank you, grandparents! Here is Eric with his breakfast horseshoe at Jubelt’s before we took a quick spin through Rural King (looking for tiny John Deere shirts, of course) and went to the movies. Dinner and a movie! We haven’t done that since…I was pregnant.

IMG_2310One of the coolest things about Eric’s part of Illinois is that Route 66 ran right through it. I am nothing if not a map nerd and amateur travel historian, so this kind of thing is a thrill for me. Lots of people actually fly to Chicago, rent motorcycles, and drive the entirety of Route 66, bringing them right through Eric’s town. I think that is so awesome. This is a new Route 66 Museum in the town where we ate dinner. And this picture is for my dad. We didn’t get to go inside, but it would be fun to do on our next visit.

IMG_2314We also got to see the famous Ariston: sadly, closed on Mondays, but we will be back! This place is extra special because Eric’s parents ate here the night they got engaged. It’s so fun to me to keep discovering new places every time we come to visit.

IMG_2327But what I really carry with me are the little things: Micah smiling on the swingset, Eric’s mom laughing with us at the table, Eric’s dad waking up bright and early to play with us every morning, fireflies filling the summer air, martins and swallows swooping, frogs singing every evening. We all were so excited for Micah to experience all of this for the first time. I think it’s safe to say he loved it as much as we did.

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