It was very exciting to prepare for Marko's birthday. We lost about five cupcakes because I found little nibble bites in them...just one on each. I think it was a joint venture. 


Sick! (And Now Better)

Playing chess. Sort of.
Marko got some kind of wretched illness this last week. He was really sick for about 5 days. Laurel fled the scene and went to my parents' house. (School is closed for half of this week.) "I need to get away from all these sick people," she said. But really, I think she just wanted to go and be spoiled by grandparents. (Which I completely understand. I used to run down to my grandparents to escape my big sister responsibilities. My grandma would make me some Salada tea and give me a Nilla Wafer.)

Knock on wood, but M and I are still feeling ok. However, the other night I woke up at 2:00am craving oranges. I went downstairs, ate two of them and then crawled back into bed. I think my subconscious mind was trying to rally my immune system.

Our old-school pediatrician has sort of trained us to wait out all but the most serious illnesses, which I think is a pretty good thing, generally. But you may recall that Marko actually had a rather serious case of food poisoning last year, which causes me to go into somewhat of a panic whenever he gets more than a cold. He had to be hospitalized after many, many days of flu-like symptoms and trips to the doctor and emergency room. I would really prefer to never have to see that child get stuck with an IV ever again. Therefore, I have been laying awake listening to him breathe and then waking M up. "Was that a wheeze? Is he wheezing? Do you hear a rattle when he breathes??"

He's feeling much better now, though. The biggest challenge is keeping him occupied. There are only so many block towers you can build, so many wooden railroad tracks you can lay. Yesterday I let him go nuts in the kitchen. I gave him some old jars of spices that we don't really use and some measuring cups, and he spent a good long while sprinkling and stirring and shaking things up. It made a gigantic mess. Then he moved on to peeling garlic.

 We got him some play food you can "chop" - it's held together by velcro and comes with a little wooden knife and cutting board. He was delighted to use this toy for a few weeks, but now desperately wants to use a real knife and chop real things. Like garlic. I'm going to set up a little Montessori work like this banana chopping one for him.


Marko at Nearly Two (and me after two babies!)

Every couple of months I do a phone interview for a research study and they ask me various things about what we eat and living situation and health and Marko's development. I never know how tall he is or how many teeth he has and the interviewer gets annoyed because they have to type a number into a screen so then I just guess. We are pretty terrible at that baby book type stuff. We don't have any pencil marks on a door frame, marking their height. I did not save a clipping of their first hair cuts. (Actually, come to think of it, I don't believe Marko has ever had a haircut.)

We've been holed up this week with winter colds, which has given us the opportunity to look at some old photos and videos. Marko will be 2 next week and is starting to talk a lot more.

"Meer, Mom!" - Come here, mom.
"Quiet!" - mostly shouted at Laurel when she is yelling
"Stop it." - when I wash his face
"Sit down here!" - when he wants us to play with him

The more time they spend together, the better they seem to get along. Laurel has been home from school a lot lately due to snow, winter breaks and being sick. It could also be a result of them both getting a little older. Marko wants to imitate Laurel, as little brothers do. If she's writing something, he is write there next to her, scribbling on his own piece of paper. They like to play with Legos together. Fights break out, but are quickly resolved.

Marko was the best sleeper ever until he turned about 18 months. Now he goes to sleep in his own bed, but only if one of us is in there, either rocking him or sitting in the chair next to his bed. He'll stay there until we go to sleep and then will wander into our room and climb in with us. He's the total opposite of Laurel in the morning. Laurel takes a good long while to wake up and is often grumpy and doesn't want to eat right away. Marko wakes up with a smile every morning around 6 or 6:30. "Good morning, mommy! Good morning, daddy!" He's super excited for coffee, to play with trains, to look out the window. Every single day is like this. My mood in the morning tends to be more like Laurel, but with Marko around, I'm a lot more cheerful and excited to start the day.

Marko loves taking bubble baths and reading books. He's really good at throwing a ball overhand. He loves dogs and is very good at approaching a dog in a calm way. We spend a lot of time walking around the city these days and he's very friendly. When we get on the city bus to take Laurel to school, he says hello and waves to everyone on it.

I think we are conscious of the differences of raising a boy and a girl. And while our boy is just as likely as the girl to dress up in a tutu or ask to have his toenails painted and we don't really have "boy" or "girl" toys, I do think that our own biases have an impact on how we react and discipline them. I find that I am way more vigilant in correcting Marko's behavior with other children, like if he hits or snatches a toy away. With Laurel, I prefer to see her retain her scrappiness. I don't want to extinguish all tendencies towards assertion, although I do think society still expects little girls (and grown women) to be quiet, polite and not ask for much.

Having a second child has been a wonderful experience for me. So many of the things I worried about with Laurel were just not even on my radar with Marko. One thing that helped was staying away from parenting websites and books for advice. I still love reading essays about parenting, especially from other women, but I'm no longer looking for validation for my choices or a way to "fix" things that are just normal parts of babies being babies, or the growing pains of me becoming a mom.

I had one c-section and one vaginal birth and found the recovery to be about the same. Also, birth was not an empowering experience for me. I just felt grateful to make it through alive and with a healthy baby. (And a good OB.)

I breastfed both of my kids for a little over a year, more or less on demand, although I was also working for a lot of that time. I pumped what I could and gave them formula when I didn't have enough. I worried a great deal about all things related to breastfeeding with Laurel and not so much with Marko. Weaning them was not hard and they had a bunch of teeth and were pretty much eating table food all the time by then.

I tried various cry it out and no-cry sleep training methods with both kids. Some were very effective at the time, others caused a great deal of anguish for all parties involved. Both kids ended up in our bed a lot. Laurel sleeps pretty well now and mostly stays in her bed all night. Marko not so much, but I see sleep as something that changes a lot with age and I'm sure before I know it, M and I will have that king bed to ourselves again.

I have been a graduate student mom, a part-time working mom, a stay-at-home mom and a full-time working mom. We have used a babysitter in our house and three different day care centers. I have had a schedule that I managed myself and  also worked at a high school where I had to be there precisely at 7:00am and had no flexibility but had summers off and got out every day by 3. All were good and bad in their own ways. The kids were fine in pretty much all situations. What I figured out is that when I'm happy and healthy, the kids do better. You know how they say that with the oxygen masks on the airplane.

I cherish the bonds I formed with other first-time moms who were going through the same stuff, but I've got a lot more friends with older kids now and appreciate the wisdom and perspective they give me. But mainly, I've learned that you don't raise kids so much as you raise each other up. I'm growing because they challenge me to.



A year split in half, punctuated by a month-long nap. It was more pruning than growth. Necessary, though. Eleven years of marriage is symbolized by steel and it felt fitting enough that M bought us new wedding bands made of stainless steel. Laurel turned 5 and I became a five year veteran of motherhood. I did some of the best work of my life and then walked away from it. I'm sorry for not telling more stories here lately. Everything feels too complicated to share with a broad audience. That's not to say 2014 was a bad year. Quite the opposite. I have before never felt so consistently satiated in my marriage, my kids, my body, and in the day-to-day activities of life. Last year I did a journaling exercise from Susannah Conway. I did it again recently. (You can check out her workbook here, it's free to download.) I wrote "prioritize" as a guiding word at the beginning of 2014. When I looked back at the last 12 months or so, these words emerged to describe it: "Human. Savor. Slash & Burn." Prioritize feels very orderly compared to how the year actually went. But it feels like I landed in exactly the right spot.

It was a lot of walking in on this....oh my God, those toes!

And watching them become siblings.

So glad to be in the Lego phase now. Even when I step on them.

Laurel can read! And she has a very willing audience most of the time. 

Laurel really wants a dog and every time we visit someone who has one, she tries to make her case by being super helpful. I have not seen her pick up dog poo in a plastic bag, though, which is kind of the sticking point for me.

We're figuring out how to plan activities that are fun for everyone (including the adults). I felt really amazing after we did the 300 mile bike trip to Cumberland and back and it is giving me confidence to plan more adventures.
I wore out my library card. Literally. 

Looking back at the 2014 photos was kind of hard, because they were filled with candid shots of Reading Warriors doing all sorts of awesome things. I genuinely enjoyed getting to know those teens and kids. I really wish I could share more of those stories and photos with you, but everyone was a minor and privacy issues and all that. But beyond that, I think those stories are theirs to tell, and I'm sure they are telling them in their own ways. I miss them, though.

Anniversary selfie in the steel town.

I have a feeling I'm going to be spending a lot of time cheering these two on in races. Laurel ran her first official races this year. Mark also ran in several races, although when I think of Mark running it is not usually about the race or his time, although he certainly trains for races and keeps meticulous records of his pace and mileage. Running for him seems to be more about the meditation of a long run, or the act of becoming more aware of his body and how it moves. And he always looks like he's having a really good time. 

I finally made it to San Diego for a much needed sister visit!

My grandpa died in December, but we had some good times with him this year. He always enjoyed the kids.



When I was waiting for the bus today, somebody lit up a clove cigarette and suddenly I was 20 again and in my first apartment. You know those smells that evoke memories you have no reason to ever summon up purposefully? They aren't bad, they aren't good. Just inconsequential things you forget over time.

But when I smelled that cigarette, I could remember the exact shade and texture of the carpet (gray-blue, threadbare near the door). How many paces it was from the front door to the light switch on the other side of the living room and how unnerving it could be to walk in alone at night. The picture book that roommate gave me for Christmas. Drinking cheap beer out of red plastic cups and the sound the dial-up connection made when I logged on at night. It was always easier to get on after midnight.

We had friends over the other day. "Your house is very hygge," they said when they came in. They just went to Denmark, where it's even darker in the winter. I had never heard that word, but I fell in love with it immediately. My house is old and proud but sort of shabby. We try to keep it clean and uncluttered, but like my middle-aged self, it looks a lot better in soft light. It is cozy inside, though, especially welcoming in the winter with our boiler heat. Furniture is arranged to allow for intimate conversation, although not exactly by design. More like the kids push the couches together when they play. And always the smell of something cooking.

Hope you have some hygge in your life as we approach the darkest day.


Reading Practice


A Quiet Night

Last night my grandpa died after a brief illness, at the age of 85. My brother and I went down to the hospital yesterday to see him and despite the fact that he was lying in bed, unable to really speak or eat, and drifting in and out of sleep, he perked up as soon as we came in the room. He smiled and reached out his hand for us. This made me immediately grateful that I had spent the morning hurriedly making arrangements for the kids and had taken the time to come and see him. But also, it reminded me of how he always greeted me, whether I was calling on the phone to say hello or coming down to visit them for lunch, he was always so excited to see us, gave enthusiastic hugs, and made me feel like my visit or call was important to him. When I saw him yesterday, it really hit me for the first time how much it meant to me that he was always happy to see me and made sure I knew it. The was a real gift he gave me.

My parents went to sit with my grandma today and took Marko with them to cheer everybody up. Marko seemed to know he had an important job...when they picked him up this morning he said goodbye to M, Laurel and I, and seemed eager to get out the door. Now he's staying over for his very first overnight away from us without Laurel. At first she was enjoying our undivided attention, but she was too lonely to go to sleep in their room by herself, so she set up a little camp next to our bed.

My grandparents would have been married 63 years in January, and for many years my grandfather would tell us how long they had been married to the day. I guess it was a bit of a hobby for him, to keep track of all that. He always, up to the last time I took the kids down in September, showed us his tomato plants. He wasn't fancy and you could generally count on there being ice cream in the freezer and Coor's Light cans in the fridge door. He felt every year he lived was an accomplishment and a gift.

Here's a link to some photos of Bennie Belski. Rest in peace, we will miss you and always remember you.


Pittsburgh and Bikes (And Pedestrians)

Pittsburgh is getting a lot of positive press these days. Just last month, the Atlantic put out this video, this article on what millennials like about the city, and this article and video about Pittsburgh's political leadership on the issue.

So it must be awesome, right?

January 2008, same bike,
same tights.
Well.....I guess you could say we've come a long way. But we have a long way to go.

When we rode to Cumberland and back, the last few miles as we navigated downtown were by far the most nerve-wracking. The signage into Point State Park on the GAP, when coupled with road construction that closed some lanes, made it really difficult to figure out where we were even supposed to be riding. Most drivers of cars seemed to think we had no business being in the road, but obviously, you can't take two fully loaded bikes with trailers down the sidewalk in a business district. From the Point, we still had to get back to our home on the far eastern edge of the city. We chose to ride over to the North Shore and up the river trail to the 31st Street Bridge, so we could ride the bike lane on Liberty Avenue. It's a long hill, and I preferred to stay out of the car lane, since I was moving pretty slow with such a heavy load. Alas, construction shut down the entire shoulder, including the bike lane. Traffic was moving too quickly to easily merge in and the police officer on duty did not appear to notice us and made no effort to help us get around the construction. (So sorry to all of you who were stuck behind me on Liberty Avenue that day. I had to use the granny gear.)

October 2014, so much more stuff.
I went to a play group this morning where a woman asked me about biking in the city with kids. She has two little ones just a bit younger than my kids. We talked trailers and her fear of the hills. Here in the East End, I don't think there are any hills to really be concerned about other than maybe Negley, and it's more about going down them and being able to brake, rather than going up. We talked about weather, which frankly sucks about 6 months out of the year. And then finally, we talked about safety. Whether you are towing a trailer, or have a kid in a seat on your bike, your biggest fear is getting hit by a car. This is a valid fear because everyone is looking at their phones while they drive. And drivers, unless they spend some time on bicycles as well, tend not to be thinking about them and act as if they have just spotted an alien space craft. She's warming up to it, and I bet if we go out together a couple of times, she'll gain confidence and start doing it more.

I applaud the efforts of BikePGH and Bill Peduto and I definitely think we're moving in the right direction. But the fact is, it's still a relatively terrifying experience to get from point A to point B. There are simply too many gaps in the bike infrastructure. You ride down Forbes Avenue and boom, out of nowhere the bike lane ends AND there's no shoulder on that bridge. So much fun to merge into traffic that's often moving fast than the 35mph speed limit. Braddock Avenue has a bike lane on one side, but just sharrows on the other side. And while the sheltered bike lane downtown looks super sweet in those videos, they don't really show how weird and awkward it is to make a right turn out of that thing.

I've spent hundreds of hours advocating for better road safety (for bikes, pedestrians and automobiles) over the last few years. I 311 the heck out of any problems I see. I have put on a banana suit and marched up and down the street to raise awareness of our crosswalks. And I know the city is listening. No Parking signs and yellow paint recently appeared near my house (cars parking too close to intersections and crosswalks makes visibility really difficult for drivers. Pedestrians really do appear to "come out of nowhere" when they emerge from between two tall SUVs.) But at the end of the day PENNDOT and the city traffic engineers prioritize one thing, and that's flow of automobile traffic. This is a pretty typical response when we make any suggestions about putting in signals that stop traffic to allow people to cross.
"As per the Transportation and Engineering Department, Adding more phases on to the signal operation will reduce the overall capacity through the intersection."

Capacity trumps all. And that would be automobile capacity. 

Unfortunately, it's a bit of a catch 22 to move forward. Despite all the news stories and boosterism by the flood of millennials coming into our city, lots of people don't bike or walk anywhere. More of us have to, in order to make a better case for it. The more our streets are used in multi-modal ways, the more comfortable everyone gets with interacting with each other there. 



We take our time. It's cold then pleasant then cold again. My days are long and slow. My stories are equal parts mundane and magical. Better for you to just look for now.


Kid Party

Laurel wanted a "glow in the dark" birthday party for her friends this year. For the last several years she's obsessed over her birthday party for at least six months before it happens. If she had her way, every year would be a "blow-out" and everyone she ever met would come. We tried to scale back those expectations. I bought a 100 pack of glow sticks and looked up some recipes for glow in the dark playdough. I never made playdough before, but this recipe was really easy, though I bought decoupage instead of paint and it didn't glow very well.

To give the kids something structured to do during the party, we started off actually making up batches of playdough as they arrived. This was sort of messy, but the kids were surprisingly engaged for at least a half an hour. I gave them all aprons to put on, and covered my table with a layer of newspaper and a plastic tablecloth that I just stripped off and threw away when we were done. The parents who stuck around were able to just chill out in the living room during that time, which I'm sure they appreciated. Next we gave everybody pizza to eat. They also liked the veggie tray we made (Laurel's idea). It looked sort of like this.

Next we broke out the glow sticks. While they were making crowns and bracelets and necklaces to wear, we shut all the curtains and converted our living room into a night club. We have black-out curtains because we live on a busy, well-lit street corner, so it was pretty easy to make it dark, even though it was a sunny afternoon. They danced like crazy. The adults danced like crazy. We probably could have kept the dance party going for way longer, but in the interest of keeping our party to 2 hours, we opened presents and dug into the Dave and Andy's ice cream cake.

I didn't take any photos or videos. I think M got a couple, but mostly we were just hanging with the kids, keeping the activities going and having a good time. I think I was smart to limit the guest list. Our house isn't super huge and more than 20 people would have been uncomfortable. She invited about 10 kids. Eight came and with siblings and parents we were at just about 20.

Planning and setting up the party with Laurel was a lot of fun. She assembled goody bags, and helped to test the playdough recipe and arranged the veggie tray. We talked about etiquette and she learned how to open the door, greet her guests and take their coats. Today we'll write some thank you notes. She got some really awesome gifts and it was cute how excited each guest was to show Laurel what they brought for her.