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Krug the Thinker

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.

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!

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