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Krug the Thinker

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.

The Best Four (Plus Three) Years

Today is our fourth wedding anniversary, which means that we have been together for seven years. Woot! I love watching those numbers tick up, as the time I’ve spent with Eric starts slowly eclipsing the time I’ve spent without him. I won’t mince words: he is basically the best person ever, never failing to make me laugh, to intellectually engage me, to support every little thing I endeavor to do, to feed our baby in the middle of the night, and to make just about everything unreasonably fun. This is our first anniversary as parents, and we are sort of bleary-eyed and need to spend this anniversary eve baby-proofing our living room, but my oh my, this right here: it is all I ever dreamed of. I have been thinking today about the things we’ve seen and done and been through together, and I thought it might be fun to take a little walk down photographic memory lane. Also, I am silently laughing because Eric is sitting right next to me at the table eating blackberries and reading the New York Times and has no idea I am writing this post, and this, again, is all I ever dreamed of. Love is wonderful when it’s grand and romantic, but I think it’s even better in the sweet moments of the everyday. Here is an abbreviated and illustrated cheat sheet of the last seven happy years.

2008: Two book-loving grad students meet in Berkeley, discover that they go to the same church, and begin to spend every waking moment together. One grad student writes scientific papers while the other teaches literature.

September 2008 084

me and eric

2009: One grad student jets off to the wilds of New Mexico for three months to launch a stratospheric balloon. The other grad student reads an awful lot of Turgenev for her dissertation. There is much rejoicing upon his return.

ABQ May 09 028


September 09 025

Thanksgiving 2009 016

2010: One grad student jets off to the wilds of Australia for three months to launch a stratospheric balloon. The other grad student teaches Russian. There is much rejoicing upon his return. So much rejoicing, in fact, that it is punctuated by an engagement ring. More rejoicing ensues!

Summer 2010 036

Summer 2010 089


2011: Two book-loving grad students go on the academic job market, file their dissertations, get married, and move to Pasadena. Big year!

Spring 2011 734



2012: Two book-loving nerds do lots of cooking and traveling and reading. Much fun is had by all.




2013: Two book-loving nerds do more cooking, traveling, reading, and…learn that a new little book-lover is on the way!




2014: Two book-loving nerds welcome a tiny angel into the world and spend the rest of the year sleeping on the couch, making bottles, changing diapers, and being blissfully happy.





2015: Two book-loving nerds keep the cooking, traveling, and reading party going, with added adorable and hilarious baby bonus.



Happy anniversary, my love! Here’s to many many more!

Writing, Recording, and Scenes from Santa Barbara

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A Handful of Happy Things

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Use What You Have Club

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

My Little Studio

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

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

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

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

Every Little Thing is Magic

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Best Books I Read in 2014

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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