1.30.2017

America, the Beautiful

The first thing I can remember learning about America was that people came here to escape religious persecution. My family was very religious so this narrative made sense to me at age 8 and I felt personally grateful that I was free to go to church. The second thing I learned was that America was a melting pot. This was an appealing idea as well, although as a child I had very limited experience actually living alongside people with different languages, cultures, religions or skin tones. Obviously, these lessons were a bit on the overly simplistic side. As I grew up I discovered all the ways that make it hard to live next to people who are different than you are and all the ways people can fight about it and offend each other, and how this is a human problem and not limited to my country.

The next thing I learned about America was how beautiful she is. I fell in love with her as M and I traveled thousands of miles by car and on foot. A lot of that is captured on this blog. I can still remember the first time I saw the land start to drop away into canyons as we drove into Texas. Hugging redwoods in California. Catching my first glimpses of the Smoky Mountains from the AT. Katahdin rising up over the lakes of Maine. All along the way, we experienced incredible hospitality and a lot of our preconceived notions about people from a particular area were changed.

Now with three children of my own, I view every issue through the lens of Mother. I can't help it. I sympathize with parents around the world who want to keep their children safe and fed and healthy but are out of options in their home countries. What if I had to watch out for suicide bombers when I got on a bus or went to the market? What if Laurel couldn't go to school or vote or have a job when she grew up? What would it be like to get on a raft with them and cross a sea? How would I handle it if I had to be separated from M? It makes me absolutely sick to think of every political conversation, policy, law and speech that does not explicitly acknowledge the fact that we are talking about PEOPLE, who are all pretty much just trying to do the best they can with what they've got.

Of course for lots of immigrants, the situation is not that dire. Perhaps they just want to be a part of America...go to school, run a business, practice their religion, or live in a place that has such natural marvels as the Grand Canyon, or just live around a great big mix of different sorts of people and be generally free to be yourself. I think people coming here - and bringing their religious beliefs, languages, food and culture - makes my life better and improves our country as a whole. (The food/restaurant situation in America without our immigrants would be terrible. No falafel?? No green curry??)

Am I worried about somebody harming my family? I'm a mom, so yes, I worry about everything. But foreign terrorists are waaaay back in the line....behind car wrecks, lead poisoning, cancer, and accidental shootings by toddlers because these are all higher on the list of things that are actually likely to happen to us...or have already happened to us.

One thing I wonder is if it makes sense to teach kids an idealized version of America when they are little and let their understanding of the complexities evolve over time. Or, do they need the full story from the beginning....

1.25.2017

Back to Life, Back to Reality

Remember that time I went away for 7 days by myself? Yes, it was amazing. Yes, the kids were fine with M (Well not "fine" since a stomach virus went through the house, causing massive loads of laundry and lack of sleep, but fine in the general sense that he just handled it. As parents do.) And yes, I missed my family. Max especially, because we are usually together. He formed a stronger bond with M, though, and that was kind of neat to see. I also remember that happening sort of naturally with each kid as they got out of the baby phase. I remember the first time Laurel got hurt and ran to M instead of me. It was Mother's Day 2011.

However.... it was amazing to sleep for 7 days, uninterrupted, and wake up on my own. I marveled at how easy it was to get dressed and leave the house. Traveling alone is a totally different experience. I basically had to stop myself from asking the other passengers if they needed to go to the potty. I read three books and two magazines, and subscribed to three new podcasts. I also just sat in silence and stared out the window quite a bit. My sister and I went to the aquarium in La Jolla and spent hours staring at the fish tanks and not moving on until we found every single fish or anemone that was on the sign. I get to do lots of educational trips with the kids at home, but there is usually a steady 1-2-3 count going on in my head (or 1-2-3-4-5 if I'm babysitting) as I track the kids.

I knew that Max was probably not going to move immediately into sleeping through the night, but he's gotten a lot better. Most night, I only wake up with him once after I've gone to sleep. I don't feel like a zombie anymore. I'd like to wean myself off the serious coffee habit I've developed over the past year, but other than that, I'm feeling pretty good.

1.19.2017

Greetings from Not So Sunny San Diego

Never mind, the sun did just peek out! Even a rainy day has some moments of sunshine here, apparently. I'm writing from the Treehouse, a brightly painted backyard-shed-loft sort of place I found on AirBnB. I spent the last four days visiting my friend Leah and her family in Oakland and am now in San Diego to visit my sister.

It surprised me, how easy it was to arrange, once I had it in my head that it was possible. Partly I was craving the visits with two people I am very close with but rarely see in person. The other part was certainly the ease of being alone, a rare experience for me over the past year. Seven days of this seems outlandish! How will they survive without me?! But of course they are fine at home with M. This trip came about mostly because I needed sleep. The first four nights I slept 8 or 10 hours but still woke up feeling the same way I have been all year. I actually started to think that maybe it wasn't sleep deprivation after all. But this morning, I woke up feeling truly rested, clear headed and the world suddenly made sense again.

Besides sleeping, I've had a chance to publish a dozen posts that were written over the past year and a half but forgotten in the drafts folder. Forgive the grammar and spelling, as I did very little editing. I posted them with the dates that they were written, so if you want to see what we were up to, you can scroll back through the archives of 2016 and 2015. While in Oakland, I had a chance to meet some of Leah's friends who have read the blog over the years and they were very complimentary about my ideas (thank you!) but they also reminded me about how much I love writing here, and how much I treasure the ability to look back. It's the yearbook for my family. There are 1,050 published posts on this blog and it is over 10 years old.

On Tuesday I went for a long walk around Oakland, following a loose checklist and directions that Leah made for me. I ended up spending most of my time just walking around people watching and window shopping. At one point I got a little lost and consulted my phone, which then directed me right through a rose garden. It was mostly dormant but there was one bright red rose. The other fun thing about that garden was that the road ended at a staircase and then resumed at the top of the hill, reminding me of Pittsburgh. I found many bookstores and many book sales. By the time I get home on Saturday, I'll have read 3 books and 2 magazines and that is more than I read in the past year, other than children's books.

The skies have now cleared and I think it's a perfect time for another little wander, plus I need to get away from the airplanes. #flightpath #cheaptravel

12.31.2016

2016

Last night I was reading through some old blog posts and remembering how much I liked to write about our ordinary days. It's really fun to go back and remember the little things about each kid that I've since forgotten. The writing itself was therapeutic for me, and I actually think some of what I wrote was pretty good.

I haven't done it in ages, though. To be honest, putting together a few coherent sentences is pretty much beyond my current abilities. It takes me so long to think of the right word, my spelling is so bad even spellcheck is confused and I have a broken finger so typing is not the fastest. Sleep deprivation is really bad for your brain. Top priority for 2017 is to address that and perhaps I will start blogging more again.

We faced many challenges this year. I learned a lot about accepting other people as they are and not who you wish they were. I also did a lot of reflecting on the importance of setting and holding  boundaries.

Highlights from this year? M kept running. He slogged his way through the brutal Eastern States 100 and finished in 13th place. (Perhaps I can convince him to post a race report, because it sounded adventurous in a I'm-sure-glad-that-didn't-kill-me kind of way.) He beat his time from last year in the Oil Creek 100 and finished 2nd in that one! We all went up for that race to cheer him on, which was really fun. I started riding my bike again and went on a 150 mile trip on the Great Allegheny Passage with my friend Prachi during peak fall leaf season in October. The views were outstanding and we stayed in some really cool Airbnb's that weekend.  As a family, we came up with the idea of "Running Club" and had a pretty successful summer season of it. It was fun to do something like that all together, and I look forward to future family collaborations. I organized a neighborhood clean-up and an ice cream social, and volunteered for Laurel's Girl Scout troop.

Max has brought us a lot of joy this year. He makes funny poses when someone takes his picture. He has a cute little crinkle-nose smile that makes him look so much like me as a baby, and he has an obsession with looking for people's belly buttons that makes us all laugh. His favorite activity is getting inside a box, but only if it's half-filled with toys or books or something. He loves going down the slides at the park.

Marko at age 3 always has something interesting to say. This morning he asked me, "how would you feel when you don't have what you don't want?" Very philosophical, indeed.  It's hard to imagine he was once a 2 year old who rarely spoke. He wears a tie pretty much every day. He's learning to write letters and numbers, although he still insists that his name is spelled MRKO. He loves Pokemon and he sleeps with a light shining directly into his eyes because, as he puts it, "that's the only way they will close." I don't really care since he's finally sleeping in his own bed.

Laurel started 1st grade, lost all her front teeth and when the new adult teeth came in, it totally transformed her face. She cut off 12 inches of her hair and donated it to Wigs for Kids, joined a Daisy Scout Troop, and did well in a few races. Her work as an artist is quite impressive. She can read independently, but still likes to hear us read a few chapters before bed.

Above all, I feel like our family unit really solidified this year. We have a pack mentality now, and have learned to function together somewhat. We are each other's favorite people and there is something really grounding and beautiful to love and to be loved that way.

10.31.2016

K's Big Ride

Two years ago, M and I took the kids (at the time it was just Laurel and Marko) on bike trip from our house to Cumberland, MD and back. We are so lucky to have the Great Allegheny Passage close to home...it's one of the best rails to trails projects in the country and the scenery in October can't be beat. About six months ago, I hatched a plan to spend a weekend away biking on the GAP. I booked a couple of AirBnBs and convinced my friend Prachi to come along. After that, I pretty much forgot about it. I did a couple of practice rides to make sure my bike was in good shape, and it really just needed a good cleaning. I would not say I was in peak physical shape when the weekend finally (quickly?) arrived, but like most things, I figured I could do it if I tried.

The weather was great. Cold enough to wear my lobster claw gloves when we set out from Ohiopyle, but sunny. It warmed up by midday enough to be comfortable sitting for a while when we ate lunch. Our plan for day 1 was to ride from Ohiopyle to Frostburg, which was about 60 miles. This was slightly ambitious since we had to drive from Pittsburgh to Ohiopyle first, and the days are pretty short in October. However, I knew from experience that it could be done. I expected it to be easier since the last time I rode 60 miles I was hauling a small child and loads of gear in a Bob trailer. It turns out you will feel the burn from a steady, ever-so-slightly uphill from Ohiopyle to the Continental Divide whether you have a trailer or just overstuffed panniers. We felt like we were flying once we crested the mountain and started heading down towards Frostburg.

In Frostburg I had booked a really quirky AirBnB that ended up being super comfortable and incredibly well stocked (It's called Wesley's Playhouse, and I definitely recommend it). There were tons of games and books, but I just went to bed. The host advertised "free continental breakfast" but had left us a fridge full of groceries...local milk and bacon and pastured eggs. After breakfast we headed down the trail with the intention of making it to Cumberland. It was freezing! I had on a hat and gloves, but the grade is a little steeper on this stretch so you can go pretty fast. With only a mile to go, we were surrounded by a mob of pink-clad breast cancer awareness walkers, practically shoulder to shoulder. We decided not to wait for them to pass (they were moving very slowly and there were literally a thousand of them), and turned around to head back up the mountain. Today, we only had 50 miles to go, so we took our time. Pedaling back up Savage Mountain took a while. At one point we stopped at a cluster of picnic tables to make some soup. Just as I was lighting my stove, the tourist train pulled up, the conductors jumped out and started setting up umbrellas on the tables and putting out ash trays and then people started pouring out of the train! Apparently there was a small land slide on the tracks up ahead and instead of doing their usual stop in Frostburg, they were stopping here. Many of them were curious about us and one guy even took a video of us. (I have no idea who he was or where this footage will end up.)

It took pretty much all day to pedal those 50 miles, but we both appreciated the freedom of being able to take our time and not have to worry about kids. That night we stopped in Meyersdale and stayed at a more traditional B&B. A big group of cyclists from California was also staying there - they had plans to ride all the way from Pittsburgh to Washington DC. We had dinner and beer at the Morguen Toole Company, and once again I fell asleep early. On the final day, we pedaled back to my car in Ohiopyle. Since it was Sunday and the weather was quite warm, the trail was packed with cyclists. We stopped in Confluence for a beer and a snack and our conversation immediately went towards planning another bike ride.

I love riding on rail trails because all of the anxiety about sharing the road with cars is removed. The grade means that pretty much anyone can handle it, although you will definitely burn a few calories with the steady pedaling. The Great Allegheny Passage now has water fountains right at the trail crossings, as well as some bathrooms, and the towns are rarely more than 10 or 15 miles apart. You always know exactly where you are because there are markers at every mile. More and more long-distance cyclists are using it, and the tourism has really turned around some of the little towns along the way. But you also see a lot of local people out there, walking dogs, or taking their kids out for a ride.

What kind of bike do you need?
I have a touring bike with drop bars and pretty narrow tires. Prachi rode a hybrid with thicker tires and upright seating. There are pros and cons to each. I like mine because there are a lot of different positions you can ride in, so during a 6 or 8 hour day you don't get as stiff. But I was definitely envying her suspension. The trail is pretty rough in places.

What happens if you get a flat tire?
Luckily we didn't! But we did carry tools, a pump, chain lubricant and extra tubes. I actually had an extra folding tire as well, but that may have been overkill. I would definitely at least be prepared to change a tire and have something to make adjustments/tighten things, but if you have a more serious problem there are actually a number of bike shops along the way.

Aren't you breastfeeding Max? How did that work?
I pumped a stash before I left (it took me three months to store enough for 3 days, although I wasn't very diligent about pumping extra every day). On the trail I carried a hand pump and used it whenever we took a break. No real good way to store that milk so I just dumped it. I'm writing this a few weeks after the trip and my supply did not seem to have been negatively affected and Max was mad at me for a few minutes after I got home, but he got over it quickly.

What does a trip like this cost?
I booked through AirBnB and spent about $100 each night, which we split. We ate dinner at a restaurant twice, but breakfast was included in our lodging and we carried food for lunch and snacks. I brought my Jetboil stove so we could heat up water for tea and soup along the way. The biggest expense is obviously the bicycles, but we already had those. If you wanted to save on lodging, you could camp.

Was it hard?
I was definitely sore and tired at the end of the day. But I had only a few moments when I thought, what the heck are we doing? Why am I not at a spa on my getaway weekend?

What would you do differently?
Carry less stuff.

On New Years Eve, M and I each made a list of things we wanted to do in 2016. This was the most ambitious thing I wrote down. At the time I had a newborn and had not even been on my bike in over a year. But with a little planning and some support from M, I made it happen. Some of the other things from my list that I tried, I ended up not really liking (like the climbing gym). But riding my bike turned out to be something I really, really enjoyed. I don't think I would actually like a spa weekend anyway, and having something really physical to do during the day meant I slept great at night. The fresh air and being outside the city was really restorative. As soon as we know what our spring schedule looks like, I'm going to book another few nights of AirBnB and make this happen again!

10.02.2016

October 2

Yesterday I went out with my friend and rode 30 miles on the Butler Freeport Trail. It rained overnight, but by the time we got to the trail just before 8, the skies were clear. We enjoyed fresh air blue sky, and a mostly empty trail, although it was a bit soggy. Our bikes definitely need to be sprayed off. The morning gave me a much-needed break from the kids, and it also felt good to really stretch my legs and get a little bit of a workout.

Life with three kids definitely makes for full days (and nights). Max still requires a lot of help with sleeping at night. I consider it a huge win if I get a three hour stretch and I am mostly not winning. But sleep aside, I really enjoy being with the kids, which was always the part of work that I liked the best. We keep it pretty simple around here....we play in the park, make art, go to the library and build stuff with Legos. I babysit some of our neighbors, and find that more kids are generally easier to manage. As my kids get older, I am starting to have a sense of what the next stage of parenting will look like and coming to grips with the realization that baths and rocking to sleep and wiping butts is probably the easiest and most gratifying stage of this whole gig.

Last night when I was tucking the kids in to bed, I sang the words to Taps (Laurel is in Girl Scouts so our repertoire of songs is expanding greatly).

"....All is well, safely rest...." is one of the lines.

"Not everyone is safe," said Laurel when the song was done. She looked a little sad. I think she was sad because she truly values the feeling of safety and was enjoying some of that in the moment, tucked in with her brother in a great big bed inside a house on a cool, fall night. The realization that not everyone gets what she has is a tough issue to grapple with for six year olds, who have an unusual obsession with fairness.

As she leaves our proverbial nest and her exposure to the world both puts her at greater risk, and offers her a greater perspective, she will develop her own ideas about her place in the equation. And probably do a fair amount of screwing up, hurting other people, getting hurt herself. When I think about this right now, I usually think about Laurel, although of course Marko and Max will shortly follow in her footsteps. I just still have a lot of control and contact with Marko and Max, but Laurel is off doing her own thing for big parts of the day. First grade is basically a full work day, she goes to play dates by herself, etc.

Rather than thinking about what I need to do with my kids (i.e. my "parenting"), I've been thinking about my own actions, activities, and interactions with the world. Those are the things they'll actually take the most lessons from, I think. There are a couple of things we're involved in that we really loved but have turned into sources of tension. I don't have any answers or even cohesive thoughts about them at the moment. I wish I had some more time to read and write, but I have used up all of that time just on this short blog post. Back to wiping butts for now!

8.16.2016

Camping with Kids: More Lessons

Always with the lessons....

We went for five days to Poe Valley State Park at the beginning of August. This was the park we went to three years ago when Marko was a baby and Laurel was 3 years old. Three years ago, I wrote:

Twenty minutes later, there's a poopsplosion at the same time somebody falls in a mud puddle and you realize you did not pack enough dinners for the entire week and it is a good hour to the nearest town. You desperately want to be at an all-inclusive Sandals resort with childcare. Or at least some place with a television. But then it gets better. (And then worse. And then better again.)
Yup. This is still so, so true. Camping with kids - life with kids really - is just a series of terribly messy moments alternating with pure joy. I laughed when I read through the ten lessons I learned, especially since I still haven't gotten around to replacing the coolers. You really need coolers with drains! Also, we got rid of the Fit and bought a 4Runner, partly because of trips like these, so space is less of an issue. M continues to love running trail, so most of our camping trips involve trying to find a place that is adjacent to state or national forest. We've added fishing poles to our supplies, and the kids love to swim, so we also like to find places with water.

We still haven't bought a big tent. We have two smaller backpacking tents and we split up. Personally I prefer this. The tents can be set up very quickly by one person and we never have a problem finding spots big enough to pitch them. We have a fancy screened in dining canopy that we can hang out in if it rains or gets buggy. Max has a folding high chair and I also brought a pack n play to keep him contained while we were in camp.

The biggest challenge right now is balancing the needs of all three kids. They are each 3 years apart, so Marko is still sort of in nap territory, while Laurel never needs one. Max still needs three a day. Laurel is big enough to ride her bike around the campground, but I don't trust Marko to go quite as far. Laurel will eat pretty much anything, Marko is super picky and Max still breastfeeds but also likes to make a giant mess by feeding himself finger foods when we eat. I feel like all of my brainpower goes towards just figuring out the logistics of eating and sleeping for the three of them.

We spent a lot of time swimming at the beach. I took the kids on a hike where we found a few wild blueberry and some black raspberry bushes. M took the kids fishing. We sat around a fire, toasted marshmallows and made friends with the other campers. We brought bikes for the kids and they spent hours riding back and forth.

Poe Valley is a neat place to stay. They have a mix of tent and RV sites, some with electric and some without. There is only one bath house, but it is very well maintained and the cleanest I have ever seen. Water was hot and you could not control it, since you just hit the button and it turns on for 30 seconds (the only annoying thing about it was having to hit the button over and over again).

So, here are my lessons this time....

1) Foil packet dinners are bomb. We put mushrooms, bell peppers, pieces of sweet Italian sausage, and summer squash from our Ugly CSA on the fire, tightly wrapped in heavy duty foil. Just toss with a little oil, salt and pepper.
2) Less toys. The less I gave them, the more they just played with rocks and stuff. I brought some old yogurt containers to use as buckets.
3) We NEED to get some kind of kitchen organizer. Our campsite was a total mess and when we had to leave in a hurry when Marko got hurt, it was terrible.
4) Meeting other campers is starting to get more fun! We met another family and the kids played so well together that we exchanged addresses and hope to be pen pals.

7.24.2016

A Moment of Quiet

Last weekend, M cut his ankle badly enough to need stitches, so he has been stuck at home. And by stuck, I mean wandering around Frick Park with Laurel and Marko trying to catch Pokemon instead of out doing his big training runs on the trails. He's antsy, but I think the forced rest is probably a good for him. I think he will get back out this week sometime.

Right now, he's gone with the kids and I'm trying to move as little as possible while I watch Max carefully eat little bits of sweet potato. It's very hot. Sticky midsummer Pittsburgh hot. I've had to really slow down our activities this past week and concentrate on keeping the kids hydrated and cool, especially Max. When we go out on a walk we tuck little ice packs under his stroller pad. I finally ventured out again to the pool with three kids and it was a success, ie no drownings or near drownings, but I will definitely be avoiding crowds for now.

Running Club has been going on for a good few weeks now and we've hit a place where families are stepping up to volunteer to lay the course and others bring ideas for tag games. We get a rotating crowd of regulars and between 15 and 20 people show up every week. I try to keep it to an hour so anyone with early bedtimes can jet out at 7, but a few families always stay a little later. If anyone wants to start a Kids Running Club, it's pretty easy. It's basically a hash, but shorter and without the beer. And plus a game of tag! We picked a day and a time to meet regularly and started posting it on Facebook as an event so people could share the link with their friends. On the event page, I wrote an FAQ to address common questions. We decided that we would run for about an hour and do four parts. First a warm up game that could be started as people arrived. Then stretching and review of the rules and introductions since new people show up all the time. We have three regular rules and one silly rule. 1) Be kind and have fun. 2) Take good care of your body. 3) Leave the park better than you found it. The silly rule is Go before you come (no bathrooms here!). Then we run the course which we've kept to about a 1/4 mile- 1/3 mile loop. Some kids do 2-3 laps, others just go once. In the future, I think I'd like to have a bunch of cheap stopwatches so they could each time themselves (instead of racing for 1st, 2nd, 3rd place). The best part is the cheer we do at the end. "2-4-6-8 Running Club is really great!" - I am actually surprised that the kids like it as much as they do but Marko chants it all week long.

Sometimes I feel like I'm doing nothing but just barely getting through the day, but the fact that I was able to make something like Running Club happen means there's more here than just surviving. And that feels pretty good.

7.13.2016

Summer Update

Sometimes I think 3 kids is not that many, and other times, well, let's just say it's a miracle that anything at all happens beyond breakfast.

Summer is passing quickly. Today we made our first attempt at going to the pool and it was a pretty successful trip, mostly because my friend Anne was there with her daughter and she entertained Marko and Laurel. I put them both in life jackets when we got there until I had Max situated and I could figure out the dynamics of this pool, since I hadn't been there in a while. But the massive thunderstorms of the morning seemed to have scared away any regulars and maybe canceled all the camp kids swimming so it was pretty empty the whole afternoon. Eventually I let Laurel take her life jacket off and test out her swimming skills from last summer and I am happy to report that she did pretty well. She just needs to work on her strokes and become a more efficient swimmer. Marko doesn't know how to swim at all, but now that I finally bought our pool tags, I think I'll try to teach him. With Laurel I watched this video, which is a bit old and has a pretty freaky intro, but has some very sound principles. She's good at holding her breath, diving, treading water and staying afloat, but definitely needs to learn some strokes so she can get across the pool more quickly.

I wish our city pools opened to the public in the morning. They open at 1, which is peak sunburn hour and also post-lunch nap time, but I think if I wait until 3 to go, we'll just not end up going. Luckily Max will sleep in his stroller pretty happily wherever we go.

7.12.2016

Pool Memories

I can remember what the bottom of that pool felt like on my toes when I was big enough to walk across it. It wasn't very deep so I think I could probably do it when I was about 10. By then, my grandfather had put these solar heaters on the roof to heat the water, so if it was a sunny day the water would be almost too warm. But on an overcast day, it could be very cold. The thermometer hung from a metal wire into the water. It was easy to stub your toe on the bricks surrounding the pool. Then and now my favorite part of swimming was getting out of the cold water and laying in the sun on a towel until I was completely dry and then jumping back in. By the way, doesn't my mother's hair look beautiful in that picture?