Springtime Means Frog Hunting and Property Improvements

It’s been a wet but fun spring so far.

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We’re trying very hard to not let the rain stop us from getting out there to frog hunt, fish, pick some flowers, hit the playground… I’ve been reading The Montessori Toddler and it’s giving me the extra push stay engaged and curious even when it can feel dreary out.

‘Tis also the season of property improvements before the summer rush at the Inn. I’ve been touching up scrapes and such in the rooms, getting screens replaced, repainting signs…

AND we expanded and re-graded our parking lot which sounds like such a snooze but it makes both me and Steven SO happy, haha!

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We’ve also got two house projects on the must-get-done-in-the-next-two-months list: Baby Girl #2’s room and a back deck for us all to enjoy!

Baby Girl #2’s room is slowly but surely coming together (pics soon!) and won’t take a construction crew to complete. The back of the house on the other hand has had quite a journey. Remember these pics from the first summer we lived here?

Here’s what it looks like now:

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That concrete pad basically serves as a spot to dry Steven’s waders on occasion and to get in and out of the basement. It’s awkward and unfinished and we really weren’t sure what we wanted to do with it longterm, but after completing the kitchen and having Amina, we realized it would be really lovely to have an enclosed outdoor space just for us.

What we’re looking to do is expand the footprint of it so it squares off the entire back of the house, then fence it in so it’s completely private. (We love you Inn guests, but you don’t really need to watch us drink coffee in our robes as we wrangle the kiddos, right?)

I am SO EXCITED. Obviously I’ll take pics and post about it as it comes along.

For now, we’ll just keep enjoying our outdoor blanket time and sunsets looking out over the new parking lot.

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We Should All Dress Like Toddlers

Seriously though. We should all dress like toddlers. Or at least like Amina dresses herself because girl is a sartorial INSPIRATION to me. I know I’m the one buying her clothes so I’m kind of giving her the supplies, but she is the one creating the art in these ensembles:

It’s kind of silly, but I really do look forward to seeing what she chooses every day, how she adds and subtracts to the outfit as the day goes on, (bandanas are BIG right now but seem to only make an appearance in the afternoons?), how she mixes all kinds of colors and prints and textures with abandon. I mean, why not put a bathing suit over tights and carry around a teapot given to you by your namesake? Maybe because it’s terribly uncomfortable and impractical, fine. Maybe we never actually left the house in that one. But all in all, dressing herself is absolutely a form of self-expression for her right now and I am loving what she has to say.

I Love Lamp: The House Lately

Did some spring cleaning. Thought I’d show you what the house looks like these days.

Last year we did some rearranging for Seder but have since gone back to this set up downstairs:

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We spend lots of time in this room with Amina rumbling around, reading books, playing with blocks and backhoes… And I love that we unpacked that bright orange Moroccan rug there right after our trip simply because we wanted to look at it immediately and that’s where it’s stayed.

Oh Waldo. Always so classy.

Oh Waldo. Always so classy.

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The main additions being a high chair on the barn door table and a swing from the rafters for the baby, no toddler, who has since arrived! Don’t know if we’re going to do two high chairs eventually with Baby Girl #2…

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Speaking of her though, we’ve got to start getting her room ready! It’s still set up as an in-a-pinch guest room/storage of non-maternity clothes and lots of art work.

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Like Amina, we’ll set her up in a bassinet in our bedroom for the first few months —

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—but I’d still like it to be ready for her by the time she arrives. What a relief to not be buying and registering for loads of baby things this time around! We keep joking that at the very least though, she has to get her own totally new outfit to wear home from the birthing center. I mean, that’s only right, right?

Bookshelf: Late Winter Reads

While my ideal reading situation is in a hammock on a summer day with a bowl of popcorn and a cold drink within reach, snuggled up by the wood stove in the winter isn’t half bad either. Here’s what I’ve been reading there lately:

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Future Perfect: a Skeptic’s Search for an Honest Mystic by Victoria Loustalot. Modern psychics. Horoscopes. Trump. I snuck down to NYC for the launch of this one because it’s written by my pal Victoria and ate it up in basically one sitting on the bus ride home.

My Sister The Serial Killer by Oyinkan Brath Waite. First off, PERFECT TITLE, right? Moving on: Like most Americans, I read embarrassingly little by non-American authors so I was extra happy to realize that this book I’d been hearing about was written by a Nigerian woman and takes place there. Yes, it’s a super dark murder story on one level, but it’s also just a great window into daily life as a young working woman in Lagos and this one very particular family. Super quick chapters, totally binge-able voice.

Priestdaddy by Patricia Lockwood. Her dad’s a Catholic priest, she’s a (frequently lewd) poet, she met her husband in a chat room at nineteen. She’s not really like anyone I’ve ever personally met or read before and I just LOVED THIS FREAKING BOOK SO MUCH. It’s a memoir mostly about the year or so she and her husband move back home to St. Louis with her family as they try to claw their way out of some medical debt. But it’s not one of those books you read for the plot. Rather, it’s her keen eye for humanizing detail, her sense of humor, and her (unsurprisingly) poetic turns of phrase. One of the only modern memoirs both Steven and I enjoyed equally.

Conversations With Friends by Sally Rooney. This one kept popping up in my media and was recommended by several friends. There’s some wonderful writing in there, but in all honesty I have a hard time getting excited about a book that at the end of the day is about an affair between a married actor and a much younger university student.

Bluets by Maggie Nelson. It’s been almost two years since I read The Argonauts and this book came up in conversation at the bar with one of our Inn’s Artist Residents Aditi Natasha Kini who is SUCH a hoot and a talent I had to abide by any and every recommendation of hers immediately. It’s short, it’s dreamy, it’s supposedly about the color blue but about many, many other things at the same time. I also enjoyed it in mostly one sitting.

Eileen by Ottessa Mosfegh. Intrigued by the interview where she confessed that this book started out as a “joke” or mostly an exercise in attempting something mainstream that could make her money and a name, I first read My Year of Rest and Relaxation which both fascinated and bored me, then her novella Mr McGlue which generally speaking I liked more. Both were incredibly dark and full of characters you’d never want anything to do with in real life but Mosfegh has something going on that just keeps compelling me despite also alienating me. Eileen fit right in. A strange little window into one very particular woman in very particular circumstances.

The Friend by Sigrid Nunez. SO MANY good lines about writing and writers and writing students. You could only pen something this spiteful and loving of that community with decades of experience. Such clear prose, such insight about everything from city life to dog owning to suicide. I’m excited to read more by her.

A Tale for The Time Being by Ruth Ozeki. I’ve been picking this one up and setting it down at bookstores for a few years now. I love a novel that weaves together two different stories, but I was intimidated by its length and subject matter (post-Tsunami Japan, teenage bullying). I brought it with me for my trip to Austin and really enjoyed having all that travel time to dig deep into it.

Like a Mother: a Feminist Journey through the Science and Culture of Pregnancy by Angela Garbes. Finally! A book that goes beyond, “Your baby is the size of an eggplant and has eyelashes now!” The chapter on the placenta is worth it alone. Lots of great science and cultural critique in here. It could also be called We Know So Much More About Viagra Than We Do About Any Part of Labor Because the Medical Industry Worships Men. It’s the only pregnancy-centered book I find myself recommending left and right.

Austin Getaway

Last weekend I snuck off to Austin to meet my dear college pal Kate for a long weekend and it was just the trip I needed to get me through these last doldrums of upstate winter.

We stayed at a little spot I’ve had my eye on for a few years now called Hotel San Jose. It was hip but not distractingly or annoyingly so. And as always, it was absolutely delightful to be on the other side of the Front Desk for a change!

Our room was tucked away on the second floor as far from the pool and bar as we could get which I had not requested in advance but was totally key since I was not exactly pounding the frosé and micheladas with the rest of the guests…

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Kate’s frosé. Which yes, I totally shared with her :)

Kate’s frosé. Which yes, I totally shared with her :)

It was a great spot to call home for a few days— the blooming wisteria and the bamboo bowing in the gentle breeze made the place feel so calm even when it was packed with people. It was also really conveniently located for all the neighborhoods we’d been told to explore.

Both Kate and I had rounded up a bunch of recommendations before arriving, oh so many more than we would ever be able to eat/see/do in just three days, but I figured I’d pass along the ones we particularly enjoyed:

FOOD & DRINK:

  • Elizabeth Street Café. Sweet little Vietnamese spot just a few blocks from the South Congress stretch. So good we went twice!

  • Launderette. Classy new-American spot tucked away in a residential neighborhood. I had prawns in shishito & Iberico ham butter something or other with grilled sour dough and ooh I’m drooling again just thinking about it.

  • Odd Duck. Kinda pricey but totally delicious and experimental farm to table. We tasted everything from goat chilli egg noodles to pork belly to curried carrots.

  • Torchy’s. Franchised taco spot that looks cheesy but was really damn good. The South Congress location was an easy walk from the hotel. Must admit that everyone had talked up the fried avocado taco but both Kate and I wound up liking the barbacoa and green chili pork ones more much to our own surprise.

  • La Condessa. Fancy Mexican worth every penny. The smokey octopus something or other was just amazing. Both Kate and I felt kinda trashy thinking the chips weren’t salty enough though, haha!

  • Lick Ice Cream. Looked super sterile and boring as a location but OMG the beet & mint and the goat cheese & thyme & honey flavors were so well balanced and delicious!

  • White Horse. A low key but popular honky tonk spot that totally hit the spot for us. They happened to be live recording the band that night which was cool. We saw my brother’s freaky doppleganger and Kate hit the dance floor with an old man named Dick who reeeeally wanted to take this pregnant lady for a spin too, but by that point our rather epic day was catching up with me and the idea of two-stepping my belly around for an entire song felt insurmountable. I would totally go back and get out there next time though!

  • Franklin’s BBQ. We went but we went too late— overheard chatter in the long line about everything that was sold out already so that’ll also have to be a next-time spot.

  • Room Service. We had rooms service the first morning at the hotel in our matching striped robes and it was a really fun treat.

SHOPPING & ART & SWIMMING ETC

  • Tesoros Tradiing Company. I had an afternoon on my own before Kate arrived and I happily spent a solid hour of it at Tesoro’s fawning over textiles and jewelry and pottery. I wound up getting a few straw baskets and hats as well as a beauuuutiful vintage Bolivian blanket that’s hot pink, bright orange, and teal. (Where should it live??) Easy walking distance of the hotel.

  • Allens Boots. Also on South Congress. It’s where Steven bought Amina her little black cowboy boots when he went on tour for Fred & The Lumberjack when she was just a few weeks old. I somehow managed to not buy myself a pair and frankly I’m still shocked.

  • Uncommon Objects. No photos allowed in this vintage spot that’s set up like an antique store had a baby with a museum. Found some good weird treasures, like a peach colored metal tape dispenser for Steven which sounds odd but trust me, the guy loves his old, hefty, metal office gear. * shrugs *

  • Blanton Art Museum. Bite sized (says this born and raised NYCer) and lovely. The Ellsworth Kelly was especially serene.

  • Barton Springs. I was totally dubious that a spring fed public pool would be at all my jam, but we went on Monday morning so it was just us and handful of senior citizens doing laps and it was sooooo lovely. Barely a ten minute ride from our hotel too!

It was restorative and fun, even with all my ridiculous flight connections and ending the whole thing with a drive from the Albany airport at 2 in the morning!

It was also the longest I’ve ever been away from Amina which was good and hard for all the obvious reasons. I missed her (and Steven!) like whoa, but I was also having plenty of fun and enjoying some independence. I think the fact that Steven and I regularly split childcare 50/50 made the trip easier for me than first big trips have been for some of my other mom friends who usually shoulder more of the day to day baby care— there was no filling Steven in on what her routine is or hoping she’d be ok with him doing everything. And being able to FaceTime them for even just a few minutes each night was so dang tender. I mean, iPhone kisses aren’t real kisses, but I’ve never been happier to see a little blurry face up so close!

All in all I obviously recommend Austin as a quick vacation spot!

Baby Girl #2!

Excited for summer not just for the sunshine but especially for the arrival of Baby Girl #2!

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Woohoo! Sisters! Sisters? It’s totally new territory for both me and Steven which is kinda fun. Growing up with a brother I was always fascinated by my girlfriends’ relationships with their sisters. There was an intimacy that was just so different from the closeness my brother and I shared. Like everyone with a second kid on the way we keep wondering how the two of them will be different, how they’ll be similar. At this point we’re so convinced they’ll be different that I think we’ll be genuinely shocked if #2 comes out anything other than dark haired, dark eyed, and super shy!

Ok, back to hanging out with Baby #1!

Austin And/Or New Orleans Recommendations?

I’m popping down to Austin at the end of the month. I went for an oh so brief 18 hours when we were on book tour for To Timbuktu, but I hardly got to experience it at all so I’m really excited to have a long weekend there! I’ll be staying at the Hotel San Jose which I’ve been hearing lovely things about for years now.

Do YOU have any recommendations for me when I’m there?

I’m also considering a trip to New Orleans. I went with a bunch of college girlfriends about four years ago and it’s calling my name again. I reeeeally want to stay at Hotel Peter and Paul. Any other recommendations for down there?

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Winter

Still very much winter out here!

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Though Amina, Waldo, and I did get about an hour out in the garden the other day to enjoy some sunshine and do some summer planting scheming. So looking forward to all that.

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For now though, we’ll be snuggling by the wood stove and generally just trying to lean in to the last of winter. For the next few weeks I’m going to be covering for our Assistant Innkeeper Hannah while she’s off on a trip to Morocco (SO JEALOUS, duh), so you’ll find me behind the bar more often that I usually am.

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See ya for a drink here Saturday night?

Florida

Steven, Amina, and I snuck off to St. Petersburg (Florida) earlier this week for some much needed sun, sand, fish, and grandparent hang-time.

Amina surprised us all with a complete aversion to the soft, silky sand. Whoddathunk??

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Once we got her in sandals she was a much happier gal.

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St. Pete’s is apparently where all the Midwestern grandparents go to vacation, so hanging out with her on the beach was basically like hanging out with a movie star. EVERYONE stopped. And EVERYONE told us about their own twenty-seven grandchildren.

It was actually quite sweet.

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Steven’s folks oh so kindly looked after the little movie star too so Steven and I could sneak away for greasy baskets of fried fish, take dips in the ocean, and read while stretched out in the sun.

Ohhhhhhh it was delightful.

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2018 Wrap Up

This year we got SLAMMED with wild weather, hosted 12 amazing Artist Residents at the Inn, took an unforgettable trip back to Morocco, renovated our barn, spent most of the summer in the garden and the creek, hosted loads of friends for visits, hosted five weddings at the Inn (and Seder and Thanksgiving!), watched the construction of my parents’ house across the street wrap up, snuck off for quick trips to Maryland and San Francisco to name a few, read Go Dog Go nine thousand times, hired two super rad ladies as Assistant Innkeepers, put the babe on skis and oh so much more!

Looking back on 2018, I’m most grateful for how much time I get to spend with Amina and Steven. I didn’t know what our work/life balance would like once we had a kid, but both of us working essentially from home and having such an amazing team at the Inn has meant that I don’t feel like I’m missing a moment of anything really.

Here’s to more growth and fun in 2019!

Another Itty Bitty Motel

Last weekend we headed further upstate for a dear friend’s wedding and stayed at The Brentwood in Saratoga Springs. It was so cute and and SO MUCH FUN to sit on the other side of their itty bitt bar and talk shop.

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We’ve stayed in plenty of other hotels since opening our own, but not one that was this similar in size, spirit, and style. They’re 12 rooms to our 9, a 6 seat bar to our 3. After the wedding festivities, we put Amina down for the night and snuck over to the bar for a sip of something and talked with the Innkeeper/bartender about all the funny, strange, and particular things that go into running places like ours. It was really a delight.

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Before we arrived I told Steven that he was going to have shut down any comparison whining I began immediately. I was worried I’d arrive and be like, “Ugh, look how much nicer their XYZ is and how much better their ABC is.” But maybe because I’d expelled the worry aloud already, or because the wedding was so dang lovely, or who knows— either way, I truly just enjoyed myself there and was able to share tales without being tempted to compare what we were up to in any kind of toxic/bummer way.

The next day we took our time heading home, stopping at the Asian Supermarket in Albany we’d heard so much about—

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JOY OF DUMPLING JOYS! We bought so much.

Then we stopped in the town of Catskill where I honestly don’t think I’ve been in a few years despite it being only an hour-ish away. We stopped in lots of sweet little shops and caught the tail end of some live piano to Charlie Brown Christmas at the Hi-Lo.

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Then of course we had a dumpling feast once home.

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Sometimes it can feel like a lot of effort to get it together to leave for a quick trip— setting the hotel up, arranging Waldo care, getting all our stuff packed, staying flexible but reasonable with Amina’s sleep schedule etc… but it’s always worth it.

Where should we head to next?

Sometimes

This might seem odd to confess on the heels of that NY Times piece, but: sometimes it feels really hard to live out here. Everything is far away. Everyone is far away. Especially all my friends from other parts of my life. I think it’s amplified by having a baby of course. It’s a time when you both desperately need community and when it’s simply really hard to get out of the goddam house.

At least we’ve got some sunshine today though! And the sunrise was quite beautiful.

Weddings at the Spruceton Inn

Last year we hosted five weddings at the Inn in the new (but yes, very old) barn. This year I think we’ll only do four maximum. They are, unsurprisingly, a TON of work and we enjoy being a hotel first and foremost.

All that said, how dreamy are these pics from a wedding we hosted here last September? Thank you Map & Compass Photography for sending them along! And thank you Maria & Jake for getting hitched here!

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Baby Amina in the NY Times!

Ok, so the article isn’t actually 100% focused on baby Amina, but she IS in the lead photograph!

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Steven and I were among a handful of folks interviewed about why we chose to leave NYC and head way out to the middle of nowhere instead of, say, the suburbs. We spoke to the reporter for about 45 minutes each, then about a week later a photographer came out for pics.

Naturally we were SUPER EXCITED about the exposure for the Inn. And just as naturally we were SUPER NERVOUS that we each said something incredibly dumb and embarrassing that would wind up in print forever… but I think we did ok!

*Wipes forehead of worry-induced sweat*

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There’s talk of how much further your money stretches out here, how enjoyable it is to live in such proximity to nature. And the word “hipster” is used only once. Imagine that!

You can read the whole thing here.

Bookshelf: Weird Winter Collection

I’ve been digging into an odd assortment of books lately.

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The Summer Book by Tove Jansson was recommended to me by a hotel guest and I found it completely charming. Easy to read but so thoughtful. It’s mostly about the relationship between a grandmother and a her 5-ish year old granddaughter. Full of insights that at first seem to simple and obvious but continue to resonate with you.

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Lake Success by Gary Shteyngart was also pretty easy to read because he’s a compelling storyteller. That said, I found the main character—a self-obsessed finance exec on the down and out— to be wildly irritating. Which I’m sure is part of the point. But when I finished the book I did breathe a bit of a sigh of a relief to have him out of my life. To anyone out there who hasn’t read any Shteyngart, I highly recommend starting with Super Sad True Love Story.

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Unsheltered by Barbara Kingsolver. The Poisonwood Bible is one of my absolute favorite books, so unfortunately I think every other book Kingsolver writes has a nearly impossible challenge of meeting those expectations. That said, I’m a sucker for books that take place in the same physical spot but over different periods of time, so I definitely enjoyed that element of this book. Like with Lake Success, I found most of the characters to be kind of irritating in all honesty. I also had limited patience for all the, “Oh Trump won’t win, he can’t!” talk in both this book and Unsheltered. I don’t find the dramatic irony entertaining at this point in time. We’re still too deep in this mess.

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After slogging a bit through those last two books I was like, gimme something I’ll binge read in a day. Liane Moriarty’s Nine Perfect Strangers it was. Loads of suspense, switching between points of view just when you started to find one character’s flaws suffocating, some interesting thoughts on the world of “self-care”. For some reason, Big Little Lies struck me as more plausible, but I still thoroughly enjoyed devouring this book in a day.

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I’ve known about the Clan of the Cave Bear by Jean M. Auel for years, and a reeeeally strange variety of people in my life love it. Most of whom read it at a pretty young age. It’s “prehistoric” fiction, looking a clan of Neanderthals who take in an orphaned Cro-Magnon girl. Lots of nature descriptions, lots of early religion. I haven’t finished it yet, but there’s apparently also a fair deal of prehistoric sex to come as well which was definitely what stuck with a lot of my friends, haha! So far it makes me want to eat beef jerky and go for long walks across grassy plains.

Returning to San Francisco

Winter arrived in full force just in time for Thanksgiving.

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We’ve been trying to do our usual lean-into-the-seasons-and-enjoy-what-they-have-to-offer… even if that offering is a measly 10 degrees and wind-chapped cheeks. Getting the babe on skis has been hilarious for sure too.

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Luckily, in the face of all this early snow, we’d had a three night trip to San Francisco planned!

Yes, we were willing to fly across the country with a 15 month old just to get some sunshine and Mexican food.

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Ok fine, we were also going see some of my very best friends in the world and their babies, but sunshine and Mexican food were a close second!

We booked an Airbnb just two blocks from our old apartment in The Mission where we lived in 2008-9ish. I was a tiny bit bummed to not experience a hotel as a guest, but renting a whole apartment made much more sense for this trip, especially since we also bunked up with pals and their kiddo.

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Literally all we did was eat, walk around, eat some more, repeat. AND IT WAS GLORIOUS. Amina is a voracious and enthusiastic food fan, so it was an absolute delight to bring her to all our favorite spots like Ritual Coffee

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And of course, Taqueria Cancun

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Since we had a living room and kiddos who were all tucked in bed by 8pm we also did take out from Delfina Pizza, Yamo Noodles, and Mission Chinese. (For the record, I am 100% salivating right now as I type this just remembering all these meals.) It was such a treat to eat such a variety of amazing food and to not have to cook anything ourselves. It was basically the exact opposite of our daily life here.

Also filed under “opposite of daily life here” was being able to meet with editors in person (Steven went to Chronicle Books to meet up with his whole team there) popping into bookstores (like our pal Leef’s spot Mission Comics and Art) and taking Amina to playgrounds. Girl had never been to a playground before.

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She would alternately get happily lost in playing and then suddenly become STUNNED by the fact that there were other children around. (As pictured above.) It was pretty hilarious.

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There was a little bit of that same time-traveling feeling we had back in Morocco. When we were living in San Francisco we were hustling so hard. We’d just returned to America after years abroad and sold our first book but I was also nannying and Steven was working at galleries and we were selling our art however we could. We biked everywhere and danced and drank our faces off definitely not just on the weekends. A life of some stability, with careers and reliable income and oh my gosh kids, it all seemed EONS away. And in a way it was— that was ten years ago. So it was just kind of… occasionally freaky feeling to be standing somewhere, holding Amina, and to remember standing in that same place ten years ago feeling somewhat different, but also very much still the same. Still me. Still here with Steven. Still with these other wonderful women in my life, even if we now live 3,000 miles apart.

Obviously I’m really glad we took this trip. It can be easy to get intimidated by the logistics or traveling so far with a little one, and yes it was 1,000 times harder to do with her than it would have been without, but I’m pretty sure it was 1,000 times more fun to have her there too. I mean just LOOK AT THIS ENTHUSIASM:

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Ok, back to winter! Back to home cooked meals. Back to the mountains.

Taking a Walk

Guess who’s walking everywhere these days??

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She walked all the way home from the brewery the other day! And when she got home, SHE JUST KEPT WALKING. Because hanging out with Amina these days basically entails walking from room to room, picking things up, pretending to smell whatever it is, laughing, then continuing to walk around some more. *shrugs*

Also, hello blue sky. Good god we’ve missed you!

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Spruceton Inn Artist Residents 2019

We just announced this year’s Spruceton Inn Artist Residents and I am SO EXCITED!

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We had just shy of 300 applications this year and it was so hard to whittle it down to these eight, but HOLY SH*T SERIOUSLY I AM SO EXCITED about these eight!

In alphabetical order they are:

Kamee Abrahamian, visual artist & writer / Lucy Ruth Cummins, visual artist & writer / Tatyana Fazlalizadeh, visual artist & writer / Aditi Natasha Kini, writer / Christina Wood Martinez, writer / Jenny Rosenstrach, writer / Sofia Warren, visual artist & writer / Alexandra Zsignmond, visual artist

They’ll be shacking up at the Inn one at a time for 5 days each this January through March. I can’t wait to talk to them about their novels and cookbooks and collages and street art projects and cartoons and fine art and kids books and installations and and AND!