Winter Hiking?

So, I did end up going out this weekend to do the last 30 miles of the Laurel Highlands Hiking Trail. M was not feeling great, so he stayed home, but Caveman of Ohio came with me. They were calling for rain, but we mostly dodged it, making it to the Grindle Ridge Shelter about an hour before the torrential downpour started. By morning, it was clear and sunny, and warm enough for short sleeves. The trail was pretty wet, though. On Sunday, we made it to within a mile and a half of the car before we had to put on our pack covers and rain gear. A nasty cold front was blowing in, and this photo shows the wind really whipping me around as I pose for a photo on a rocky outcropping overlooking the Youghiogheny River. I did take some video footage this weekend and am in the process of splicing together the highlights.

The forest is different in every season, and even though the weather was unseasonably warm this weekend, the sun still cast long, winter shadows, and very few birds or other animals made themselves known. Every now and then, the roaring noise of miles-away wind on the next ridge reminded me that no matter how much clear cutting or strip mining is done to a place, the forest and the mountains will reclaim themselves as wild places.

M is feeling better and we are enjoying the holiday break. He noticed my mood was greatly improved as a result of a little fresh mountain air.



Yes, it's that time to reflect on another year come and gone. Here are some personal highlights from '08, the Year of the Rat, according to the Chinese Calendar.

Given my feelings at the end of 2007, I have to say that much of what happened in 2008 was not expected.

1. M and I celebrated five years of marriage and 12 years of general togetherness. We celebrated the occasion by taking a secret, last minute trip.
2. I joined Facebook, and found that a bunch of old friends are doing lots of awesome things.
3. I earned a 4.0 in my first semester of grad school.
4. I finally got my PA teaching certificate. Now, the question is, where should I try to get a job?
5. We went to Africa.
6. We bought a house.
7. We got a tv. And a Wii.
8. We made lots and lots of pierogies.


One Weekend in the Woods....

Over the summer, we foolishly attempted to hike all 70 miles of the Laurel Highlands Trail in three days. This might have been ok, if it hadn't included the time required to do a 70 mile car shuttle, not to mention all the additional miles hiked in and out of shelter areas in search of water (who puts a shelter 1.5 miles off trail???). We started off strong, but due to some unexpected footwear problems (I did not expect boots I had successfully worn the summer before for over 500 miles would suddenly not fit), we only ended up doing the first 40 miles of the trail, and went home a day early. We hope to return to the Laurel Highlands next weekend to finish the last 30 miles. This video tells the story of part 1 of this adventure.

Pittsburgh: December


Take Me to the River....

We did a little urban bushwacking today. One of the benefits of our new house is its proximity to Frick Park, with an expansive trail system. We set out today with one mission in mind....get to the river. Nine Mile Run flows through the valley, and we felt certain that if we could follow this creek, we would make it to the Monongahala, eventually. Unfortunately the park ends over by the Irish Cultural Center underneath the parkway, and the nice, wide, gravel packed trails also cease. But we were determined.

And so, for the afternoon, we were ten years old again, scrambling on a narrow, side-hill deer trail, and hopping across the stream on rocks. We saw some fish, and a lot of interesting trash.

Eventually we did make it to the river, but were forced up out of the creek bed onto a trail along a slag heap, which led to Browns Hill Road, and over across the Hi Level Bridge. We then attempted to do some Christmas shopping at the Waterfront, which is not really set up for pedestrians, by the way. Plus, we looked a bit worse for the wear, all muddy and rosy-cheeked. I even had some burrs stuck in my hair. Not sure how many miles we walked, but I definitely broke in my new hiking shoes.


Tis the Season

Once upon a time, M made a gingerbread house for Christmas. I apologize for the graininess of this photo...like I said, this was once upon a time, long before high resolution digital cameras. Anyway, this was no ordinary gingerbread house. M carefully applied individual shingles, made out of Triscuits and chimney bricks from Big Red gum, Jolly Rancher window panes, and a dusting of powdered sugar for freshly fallen snow. It was detailed and amazing and magical. During the same time, M made a crockpot full of wassail and invited all his friends over to watch Charlie Brown's Christmas. And although the tradition of wassail has carried on, there has never been a gingerbread house like that one.

We have not made any gingerbread yet this year, but we did fire up our Robert Goulet Christmas album and put up our tree this weekend. We also wrapped some tinsel around our banister, now that we have a banister. We have limited resources for the outside (i.e. one sad string of LED lights), so I think we'll just stick to a wreath on the door for this year. However, I do plan to haunt the post-Christmas sales in order to stock up on gaudy decorations and lights for next year.

In unpacking our Christmas decorations I also came across the DVD backups of all our photos from the past eight years or so. More on that later.


Rosie the Cat, as requested...




I have finished my first semester of grad school! I turned in my last paper only moments ago. I love, love, love grad school. Here are ten ways it is a thousand times better than my undergrad experience.

1. It was a very sober semester, not much in the way of hangovers, which generally put me in a much better mood.
2. I was not attempting to work full-time and go to school full-time. Twenty hours of work a week gave me enough work to stay busy, while still having time to complete my school work in thoughtful and intelligent ways. Ok, ok, I admit that I wrote a few papers while watching football, but I still got As on them.
3. No all-nighters...the only time in recent history that I've seen 3:00am was the night we closed on our house, and that was totally an accident. And it was a Saturday, so I had time to recover before Monday.
4. I was interested in all the classes I took.
5. I don't drink 27 cups of coffee a day anymore.
6. I see a deep and meaningful connection between work that I've done and the material I'm learning.
7. I live in a nice, calm house with people I like.
8. I have an office (no wait, two offices!) on campus so I don't have to use the computer labs.
9. As a GSA I have lots more interaction with professors.
10.It was free.


Maybe YOU'RE Not Ready to Learn

I'm writing my directed study paper for this term, which is basically just a write-up of a survey that my professors gave to a bunch of principals and reading coaches. In case you are not hip to post-NCLB literacy lingo, a reading coach is an instructional leader who is supposed to help classroom teachers by observing, modeling, providing resources and professional development and helping to manage the copious amounts of data that schools now collect on their students. Coaching can be very effective, when done right, because it essentially embeds ongoing professional development right into the daily rhythm of planning that goes on at school. And since elementary teachers, in particular, are inclined to plan lessons based on the current season, instead of setting specific, measurable goals and teaching them in a sequential fashion, having someone around to remind them of the data while they are planning their lessons is a good thing.

But a coach might also be a really terrible, yet tenured, teacher that the principal just wants to get out of the classroom. Or it could be a teacher that decides now is the time to have a baby, and gosh, wouldn't it be hard to come back from maternity leave to a regular classroom full of kids, so I'll just take on the position of coach, even though I have no real interest in doing this job. I'm not saying teachers with babies can't be be good coaches, just that they shouldn't take on that job because they think it will be less work.

In any case, I'm doing qualitative analysis on the survey question in which they were asked to describe the biggest challenges. And one response that popped up here, and in fact, has popped up in many conversations I've had with teachers is that kids show up to school "not ready to learn."

What the %$#@ does that mean? Have you ever met a kid without at least a glimmer of curiosity about how the world works? Maybe they don't give two hoots about what the teacher has to say to them, but that doesn't mean they're not ready to learn.

More on this later...I'm only 11 pages written and I have a ways to go.


Home Sweet Home

One room down, seven (?) to go. We have more or less furnished our living room and it is up to having-people-over-to-watch-football standard. Yes, that's right, we have a television. And cable. It is a bit of a lifestyle change, but we have already saved beaucoup dollars by not going to the bar to watch football. And hockey. And political debates. M and I have basically moved into this room, first of all, because we are used to eating, sleeping and entertaining ourselves in one room, and second of all, because we purchased one of these, which is a thousand times more comfortable than our bed.

The rest of the house is a bit empty, so we invited Pete and Meg to move in with us, to help fill it up. They should be arriving in the next week or so, and hopefully helping us to refinish all the miscellaneous discarded furniture we've been collecting in our basement. And painting. And for that matter, cleaning up all the cobwebs I keep finding around the house. For now, the house echoes a bit.


Butler Outdoor Club

In all the confusion of moving, I lost my camera cable, and was unable to upload new pictures. But today, I found it, so now I can tell you all about the Butler Outdoor Club annual dinner, where M and I spoke about the Appalachian Trail. First of all, it was a terrific opportunity to invite thru-hikers to Pittsburgh, and Caveman of Ohio and Flick came to the dinner. Flick hiked with us for a few hundred miles at the beginning and Caveman hiked with us for the last few hundred miles, so it was appropriate that they should be there with us.

The Butler Outdoor Club is a great organization, that not only organizes hikes and bike trips and boating trips, but also is involved in a lot of volunteer work in the outdoor community in Western Pennsylvania. At their annual dinner, they honored four organizations who do incredible work in our region. We are very lucky to have, right in our region, things like the Butler Freeport Trail, the Audubon Society, and the the Armstrong Trail, as well as the organizations who promote water activities in Butler County. The event included a silent auction and a delicious dinner, as well as our slide show presentation about our 2007 thru-hike of the AT. The event was a great success, and we thoroughly enjoyed meeting everybody. We plan to keep this organization on our radar.

FYI, anybody can join this club, you don't have to live in Butler. Check out their website for upcoming events.


Welcome to the Neighborhood

I have to admit, I've been waiting all week for the Welcome Wagon Lady, but she never came. Maybe it's not very twenty-first century. Maybe it only happens on TV.

But I did see flyers for the neighborhood association potluck holiday party. I whipped up a batch of my famous peanut noodle salad, and off we went.

Since our prior experience with neighbors consisted of listening to our downstairs crack addict neighbor shouting "Pow!" at 3 o'clock in the morning, we didn't really know what to expect. Would the neighbors like us? Would we like them? Would we now feel guilty about playing our drums really loud, once we met them face to face?

However, it was an enjoyable party and a very efficient way to meet everybody in the neighborhood. It was oddly warming to hear people introduce us as the "couple who bought Ms. Lucy's house." We were also pleasantly surprised to discover that our neighborhood is filled with excellent cooks. There is even a neighborhood supper club! We both walked out of the party feeling even happier that we moved here than we did before.


What's the deal with all these dogs?

We didn't get a dog. However, we are dog-sitting four huskies that belong to our friends, Tony and Rita. If you've been following my Facebook updates, that's what all the dog references are about.

At first, I was really freaked out about even telling these dogs apart. (I have the same problem with children, unfortunately, it always takes me a long time to figure out their names at the beginning of a school year). Luckily, Rita left extremely thorough directions including pictures of each dog with their identifying characteristics. With that help, I was able to very quickly get to know them. She also labeled the dog dishes and their crates. (Thank you, Rita!) Each day, at 6 am and 6 pm, we feed the dogs. This involves lots of measuring and stirring, and then a precise feeding order. The dogs finish their food in about 3 minutes. They are efficient. I would not dare face four overly hungry huskies, and therefore we have really stuck to the clock all week.

Tomorrow they are coming home from Hawaii, and M and I will be going back to our new house, where we will finally have a chance to unpack our boxes, and possibly create some much-needed order in our lives. It's been a while.


Good News from the Bureaucrats

One thing that has been a constant source of angst and irritation for me over the past year has been my on-going battle with the excessively bureaucratic Pennsylvania Department of Education. You may remember that I actually drove three and a half hours to the state capital for a 15 minute meeting in August.

Luckily, they liked what I had to say. Fifteen weeks later, I finally received my letter saying that the initial rejection was overturned and I am deemed qualified enough to teach the good children of Pennsylvania! This is especially good since I am currently in a grad program that requires certification and in fact my degree would have been rather useless without this little piece of paper from the state. Just in time for Thanksgiving, so I have something else to be thankful for.


My First Mistake as a Homeowner....

I really ought to be studying for finals right now. However, I thought that I would just check my email real quick, and found it full of inquiries about this latest adventure. Well, readers, I hate to leave you hanging, so let me tell you about the hilarious escapades of M & K and their first 24 hours as homeowners.

After we pestered the closing attorney endlessly last week, he suddenly consented to coming down and doing our closing on Saturday. Hooray, we thought, but then remembered that we had agreed to be the keynote speakers at the Butler Outdoor Club annual dinner. More on that later. In any event, we were hoping that the closing would be fast and without problems, so that we could go up and present our awesome slide show. Plus, Caveman of Ohio and Flick were coming into town for the big event, so we were eager to see them.

The first problem started when we went to do the final walk through, and Could Not Get Into the house. The key just wouldn't work. We tried everything. I thought there was a disgruntled spirit, and so began addressing this spirit and trying to convince it that we were worthy of taking care of their property. Turned out, there is a tricky little latch lock that absolutely cannot be opened from the outside, so we had to get other keys from the seller, and go in the back. Luckily, that was the only hold up of the event. Signing papers took approximately 20 minutes, leaving us with a breathless did-we-really-just-do-that feeling. But off to Butler we went, had a stellar time, met up with Caveman and Flick, and then decided that we should all take our Thermarests back to the house and camp out on the floor. Matt and Sloan joined us for champagne, and we were having the best time. Before we knew it, it was 3:30 in the morning. Yikes. I woke up the next morning at just barely after 7, starving, and very excited. I am only saying this so that you will understand that my fatigue had something to do with my very dumb mistake, later in the day.

Caveman had watched some Food Network special featuring the Dor-Stop Diner, and although we are always reluctant to cross the river and go through the tunnel, we made the trek, and let me tell you, it was well worth it...their pumpkin pancakes taste like pumpkin pie.

Anyway, despite some rather nasty hail-sleet-snow combination of precipitation, we decided to move our furniture. Back and forth, back and forth, all day long. We stopped to watch the Steelers game, with the intention of going back to our apartment later in the evening to take showers, get Rosie the Cat, and pick up our work clothes.

So then comes the end of the game, which was very exciting down to the last second, and M says to me, "K, where's the garage door opener?"

"Why, M," I say, "it's in the car!"

Flashback to earlier in the afternoon. I went out for cleaning supplies, then drove back home and parked in the garage, leaving the opener on the visor, taking all of my shopping bags out, and hitting the button on the inside of the door on the way out.

"How much better this is than parking on the street," I thought to myself. And went inside, where I did a very bad job of cleaning the bathroom, partly because the drains were all backing up, and partly because I was really, freakin' tired.

But we have only one garage door opener.

There is no regular door into the garage.

I had effectively trapped the car inside the garage.

We could not take showers at our new house, because the drains needed to be snaked.

M took this news very calmly, considering that he had to get up very early the next morning and go to work, and had not had a shower or changed his clothes in two days.

Then I realized that I had removed Rosie's food and water dish from the apartment, so we really couldn't leave her there for another night.

After attempting to disengage the automatic garage door by turning off the breaker (which obviously didn't work), I called Sloan, who came to the rescue, driving us back to the apartment so we could pick up Rosie the Cat and get our clothes.

But then, the problem remained...although we don't use our car most days, eventually, we were probably going to want it again, if for nothing else to move the rest of our crap out of the apartment. So how does one free their car from inside a locked garage?

Enter, the Garage Door Doctor. I was skeptical of his service when I talked to him on the phone. I was expecting him to have some sort of electronic radio devise that would open the door, which he did not. But he assured me that he "always gets in", so I told him to come over. This guy is essentially a burglar. I will not post how he got into the garage, because it was ingeniously easy, and I don't want any would-be robbers to read it. But if you come and visit us in our new house, I will show you!


We're out there somewhere...not anymore

Yes, it's true. M and I bought a house. We can't guarantee that we won't show up un-announced on your doorstep...but now that we have a doorstep of our own, we invite you to return the favor. Of course, we have no furniture yet, so it's BYOC (Bring your own chair).

I have several amusing stories about the first 24 hours of home-ownership.

I also want to tell you about the presentation we gave on Saturday to the Butler Outdoor Club.

Alas, there is no internet at the new house, but that should be resolved in a few days, so stay tuned...


The Looming Strike

The big news in the Burgh right now is the possible Port Authority strike that will shut down bus service around the county.

PAT has been plagued by problems for years, one of which, in my opinion, is their really terrible website. Critics of PAT claim that ridership has decreased in recent years, as fares have increased to one of the highest in the nation. Last year, I occasionally commuted to my job in McKeesport, and paid $6.50 each day for the convenience. Well, convenience is a bit of a stretch. I left home at 5:30am, walked two miles to the 61C bus stop, rode for 45 minutes, and then walked another half mile up a giant hill.

I'm not sure where ridership has decreased...the 54C is packed every time it goes by. So is the 71A. So is every bus, for that matter, that runs between Bloomfield, Downtown, Oakland, Shadyside and Squirrel Hill. Since agreements between the universities and PAT were forged several years ago, thousands of students have come to rely on this mode of transportation to get to class.

I already ride the bus far less than I used to. When I lived in Pittsburgh before, Bloomfield seemed like it was too far away to be convenient to Oakland. Now, I either walk the 2 1/2 miles (30 minutes) or ride my bike (10 minutes).

However, this summer, when I was hanging out with my three-year-old buddies, I learned quickly that walking is definitely out of the realm of possibility for busy parents. Kids walk slow, have to go to the bathroom at all kinds of random times, and stop to look at every dog/twig/crack in the sidewalk. While this is highly entertaining, forget about it, if you're actually trying to get somewhere.

Lots of people are talking about biking to work...they can take advantage of Bike PGH's new street map, to plan their routes. I've even heard about people who will plan to meet up and ride with others. I personally, have purchased a new jacket and gloves to get ready for the winter season. Once we move over to Point Breeze, it will be a little too far to walk (about 4 miles), so I'll probably be biking every day, especially if the buses aren't running.


The House

I thought that by this time tonight I would be able to write to you about our descent into buyer's remorse induced depression, as we sat in our newly acquired 3 bedroom house with a detached two car garage.

However, it is difficult to have buyer's remorse for something you have not yet bought.

Difficult, but not impossible.

On Friday, we got a call from the Title Insurance people, who were all in a tizzy about the survey not being right. Naturally, they waited until the day before the closing to look into this. According to our lawyer-y friends...this is par for the course in real estate.

The problem has something to do with a pin at a distance of 83.84 feet from the Westerly corner of Braddock Avenue. And Nellie G. Coll's property. Nellie is unmarried, by the way. It says that on the deed.

Anyway, tomorrow is a holiday. For some people, not me. The courthouse is closed. Nobody can go there and sift through crumbling, faded papers to see if they can clear up the problem with that pin that is 83.84 feet from the corner. So we wait.

Unlike the title insurance people, I'll be going to work, which is good because I already have some of the new expenses of home ownership. I turned on the utilities in anticipation of the closing, so that they would be on and we could have heat and hot water when we acquired our property today. So in addition to all this other crap, I am paying utilities on a house I don't own. Although, really it is M who is working to pay for these expenses, since I make peanuts right now, on account of my other problem. I'll get to that in a minute.

Instead of enjoying the heat and hot water in my new house, I am sitting in my crappy apartment listening to the downstairs neighbor say "Pow!" and the upstairs neighbor...nevermind, you don't want to know what I can hear him doing.

Additionally, I am still waiting to hear from the Pennsylvania Department of Education to find out if they will grant me a license to teach here. You may recall that my saga has to date involved approximately $2,000 in testing and administrative fees, $15,000 in lost wages, and $350 in travel expenses. It was a mere 14 weeks ago that I traveled to Harrisburg to plead my case in front of the Certification Appeals Committee. You may remember that one of the first remarks after I gave my well-crafted and impassioned speech as to why I should be permitted to educate the youth of this Commonwealth was, "I don't see why this girl doesn't have her certification. What's the problem here?" This was from the former head of education in the Department of Corrections. He's a real no-nonsense kind of guy. He also was on a first name basis with the very girl whose position I took when I moved to Phoenix. Small world.

The committee was, naturally, quite charmed by my eloquent words, and I'm sure would have issued a certificate on the spot, if they could. However, for some reason they have to wait 12-16 weeks before making a recommendation. I was going to call them tomorrow, just to check on the status, since I've heard NOTHING so far, but, of course, they'll be closed.

Par for the course.


My Life as a Student

I know I've said this before, but being a student again rocks.

I have not been taking enough advantage of the free goodies available to me. For instance, I walked into Hillman Library Saturday morning, and discovered rows upon rows of free computers, free printing (well, limited to 900 sheets per term, but still...), free wi-fi, and endless empty tables in quiet nooks and crannies.

There is even a coffee bar. In the library.

Pitt was not like this when I was an undergrad.

Plus, the library was virtually empty. Of course, I (unlike the current undergrads) am too old to stay up all night drinking. Also, there was a football game going on.

In any case, I quickly churned out a brilliant piece of analysis on social cognitive theory and phobia therapy, and realized that I should stop trying (and constantly failing) to do my homework at my home. There is always something better to do at home. Like cleaning my bicycle chain. Or making butternut squash ravioli. Mmmmm.

Or packing.

We finally made a mutually agreed upon arrangement with our landlord, in which we found a new tenant for him, and he agreed to terminate our lease without charging us $1,710.00.

In other news, on Thursday night, M and I were sitting around saying, "boy oh boy, this buying a house thing sure is easy."

Then on Friday, we got a call from the closing attorney who seemed to be freaking out over a problem with the survey. So, I guess we jinxed ourselves somehow. Anyway, hopefully all that will be straightened out soon. In the meantime, Rosie the Cat is looking more and more perturbed over the accumulation of boxes. Where did we get all this stuff? Just a little over a year ago, we had only two backpacks worth of stuff!

Well, I'm off to study some more flashcards and watch the Steelers.



I went to bed early last night...long before any network was calling the election. I woke up to a loud bang...firecrackers, and audible cheers, ringing up and down the alleys of Bloomfield and Garfield.

Mark and I both woke up at once.

We won, we said to each other. And smiled.

Like most of our generation, we have a collective memory of September 11. I could pick out the exact shade of blue of the sky that Tuesday morning. Can see the towers crumbling on the television screen over and over again. I intimately know the sense of dread, that hasn't left me since, when President Bush announced war, and then war again. I remember the sickening feeling of seeing an old high school friend's picture on the television, when he was killed in Iraq. My adult life has a constant backdrop of casualties and uncertainty and fear. And Bush has used fear as a motivator for action, time and time again. It's hard to listen to all that fear talk without having it sink in a little bit, and permeate other aspects of your life.

Barack Obama is different. He didn't promise me anything. He simply gave me, and my generation, permission to take back our country. To act in our own best interest. To reject fear as a reason to form national policy. He gave us the courage to collectively stand up and say, things can be different. We can live peaceably. We don't have to fear the rest of the world. We can take care of each other.

I get all tingly when I think about his acceptance speech. Although I have a certain sense of relief that this election is over, and my chosen candidate has prevailed, I know the work has only just begun.

And I'm excited. I'm excited to see what I can do in the coming months and years to make sure that every single child in this country gets a decent education. I'm excited to help solve the public health crisis of uninsured Americans, a group I've been a part of on several occasions. I'm excited to think of a world that I can proudly travel as an ambassador of this great country.

This sense of excitement seemed to energize the whole city today. Everybody had a spring in their step that was not there yesterday.

And yes, Barack Obama is the first black president and that's historic and wonderful in its own right.

But even better is the message he brings. There are problems, but together, we can fix them.

Yes, we can.



Well, not really.

But the polling machines were not working when I went to vote this morning. Luckily they had a stash of "emergency ballots," one of which I filled out and stuffed into a "secrecy envelope". Supposedly they will take them downtown this morning and count them there.

But then the machines started working again, and M got to vote on one of them.

I hope my vote counts. But it's really an act of faith, this whole voting thing. You do your little piece, and then you have to trust the octogenarians manning the voting polls to follow all the procedures correctly. And then you have to trust that the television networks won't prematurely and inaccurately call the race, causing the western states to not bother showing up to vote. And then you have to cross your fingers and hope that voting patterns will fall such that the electoral college results will line up with what the people actually demand. Not to mention, hoping that there is no need to involve the supreme court at the end of all this.

Hope. Trust. Faith.

Democracy is kind of like a religion.


Happy Birthday!

October is a big month for birthdays in my family. Here is my Grandma, who turned 77 this weekend, with her offspring. I could find NO picture with everybody looking normal and at the camera and all that, but this was the most flattering shot of my Gram. Doesn't she look lovely? We had a big party and lots of people, including my sister (Surprise!), came in to town to celebrate. On my dad's side of the family, my Grandpa had a birthday this weekend, and also turned 77.

Mark's sister celebrated her birthday and her fiance organized a little surprise party down on the South Side. Here she is attempting, to no avail, to blow out the trick candles. Gotta love those trick candles. Mark's mom's birthday is coming up on Halloween, and that should be it for October birthdays. (And, for that matter, October.)


I am not a plumber. Or a six pack.

What is up with all the rich, white guys running for office, thinking they can connect with me by calling me Joe Six Pack? Ok, well, I guess this year, they're not all white. Or guys. Nonetheless, I can't help but feel alienated by this label. It's not that I don't like beer, I just don't usually use it as an identifying characteristic.

Also, what work has Sarah Palin done for children with special needs, anyway, other than popping one out? As a special education teacher, believe me, nothing thrills me more than the idea of actually funding my work. I'm just having trouble locating her track record on this issue.

I just had to get that out. Now, I'm going to try and listen to the debate. I hope they don't say "maverick" tonight.


Weirdest Stuff Ever

M and I went to Ocean City, MD this weekend. I have fond childhood memories of trips to this lovely seaside town when we visited my Uncle Bob. He worked at the Purple Moose Saloon. At the time I thought it was the coolest place ever, although M and I went there a few years ago, and much to my dismay, I realized it was basically just a bar. And kind of overpriced. However, in 1987, THE most popular Christmas present among my cousins was the Purple Moose t-shirt. But that's not weird.

This weekend we went to his cousin Laura's wedding. Laura and Eric got married on a gazebo at the end of a dock in the Assawoman Bay, at Fager's Island. It was really beautiful, and we offer many congratulations to the happy couple. That's not weird either.

M's family has vacationed here for a long time. One of our favorite things to do is go the strip mall next door to their condo and wander through Rose's, which is sort of like Ames or Big Lots with a distinctly beach-y feel. There are tons of cheap beach toys and chairs, off-off-brand clothing, and a wide collection of toys and knick-knacks that can only be described as the Weirdest Stuff Ever. Exhibit A is the cheerleader doll with the inexplicably long legs.

After checking out the toy aisles, we headed over to the household decorations. This is where you get stuff like a "Somebody's Crabby in Maryland" door mat for your beach house. And then there are displays of handcrafted souvenirs, which will really make you pause and think. One particular display was covered in souvenir magnets that said "Shipley Island, NC" for those who want a souvenir from someplace they are not at. And then there was this sad looking magnet, Congratulations on your new bundle of.....is that a turd? It really, really looks like a turd. I cannot imagine ever giving something like this to new parents.


The End

I cleaned my apartment and found more pennies. Now I'm sure they aren't mine, and instead rise up from the floorboards, or maybe from our downstairs neighbor Geoffrey's apartment. He's the one that makes the strange superhero "POW!" sound, so in my mind, all kinds of supernatural circumstances are possible.

I care about money, but it's no longer something I associate with security. I used to think that there was some magic number, some amount of income that I could generate in a year, that would lead me to upper-middle-class satisfaction...health care, school, retirement, house. But it was an elusive beast, and the more I worked, the farther away the satisfaction seemed. Plus, it seems that the more you have, the more that can be taken away from you. But wanting a house for security, and wanting a house because you are tired of living in small apartments run by slum lords and would like to set up your drum kit are really the same thing at the end of the day. You still want a house. It's something M and I have been exploring, even in these uncertain times.

Ah, these uncertain times. Sitting here watching my retirement account plunge into oblivion, watching as the world panics, and yesterday when my entire neighborhood lost power for a long time, even though there was no storm, I have to admit that it crossed my mind that this could be the end. Maybe we broke America. The house of credit cards has collapsed. And if it were really the end, how long until I would know about it?

So I was sitting here yesterday, at my cheerful, yellow kitchen table, surrounded by foul-smelling IKEA candles (cheap for a reason, apparently), typing away about what else, but Africa. When the power goes out, an unnatural silence settles around the neighborhood, as all the refrigerators stop their buzzing and stereos power off. All I could hear was the clickity-clack of the keys. (It seems strange that I can't listen to a record when the power goes out, but I can use my laptop, doesn't it?)

In Uganda, as is the case across most of the developing world, people don't usually have access to credit, so it takes a long time to save up for things like a new metal roof for the house, or a motorcycle, and things are always coming up like your kid getting sick and needing to go to the clinic, or school fees coming due, and maybe you never do get around to getting that motorcycle, and just end up walking everywhere for your entire life.

I guess we'd all be walking, without credit. I don't know too many people who just buy their cars with cash. Of course, we don't have quite the income problem of our friends in Uganda, who have a per capita annual income of $300, rather low even for sub-Saharan Africa. So it may be a bit more conceivable for us to save up automobile money. What credit really does in America is increase the quality and quantity of what you can "afford". You could save for a used Honda Civic hatchback but you can buy a brand new Ford Explorer right now. But with this distorted scale of affordability, it can be hard to figure out what you really have money for. Credit pumps up the whole economy, but my salary is just as much a part of that economy as the Ford Explorer, which is why I don't make $300 a year. Economics majors, feel free to write in if I'm wrong about this.

Enough about money, though. I finished the piece of text I was working on for our Uganda presentation, and the world didn't end, although, when the lights came back on, I discovered that those crappy IKEA candles had melted wax all over my cheerful, yellow kitchen table.

Tomorrow, we're going to Ocean City for M's cousin's wedding. It's been a while since I've dipped my toes in the Atlantic.



Your plan is a white flag of surrender.

So there.

Gravy Train

I've been a little busy lately. Whirlwind busy. Ten million thoughts running around in circles in my head busy. Not enough room left in my planner busy. This is more or less a natural state of being for me. However, there is a point of overload. Do you know how I knew I had reached this?

I brought gravy for lunch.

I thought it was lentil soup. If I wasn't in such a hurry to leave, I would have remembered that we finished all the lentil soup weeks ago, and this tiny container was filled with gravy. I didn't notice until I took it out of the microwave at work. It smelled delicious, but even I cannot eat a whole bowlful of gravy.

Gravy has gotten a bad rap. Maybe it's because some gravies are very fattening and seem, well, glutenous. It's ok for Thanksgiving, but not for Tuesday night dinner.

However, I think it's a highly delicious and useful condiment. Now that cold weather has descended upon the Burgh, I will be eating a lot more gravy on my potatoes and chickpea patties and cauliflower millet mash and mushroom loaf. The art of gravy making has been somewhat lost...died out with our grandmas, I suppose, and nobody bothered to teach my generation. Now we're all waking up and saying, "Holy crap, I'm the grown-up! I'm in charge here. And I don't even know how to make gravy!"

So here's a rough tutorial...which just happens to be low-fat and vegan.

First, chop up some onions. Maybe 3 big ones. It depends on how much gravy you want.
Heat up a teeny, tiny bit of oil. Dump the onions in. You want to carmelize the onions, and this goes better with less oil. You need medium heat. To low, and they get soft without burning, too high and they turn black. If they start to burn, deglaze with some water. This means, put some water in the pan. It will sizzle, and unstick your onions. Cook these onions for a long time, until they are brown and soft. Keep adding water and adjusting the heat as necessary.

Next, blend them up with some water.

While you are blending them up, make a roux with some oil and flour. This means, you heat up some oil (a few tablespoons) and slowly add some flour (teaspoon by teasoon), stirring rapidly, so it doesn't clump too much. It will be kind of pasty. Then slowly add in your onion water mixture that is all blended up. Stir rapidly while you are pouring it in.

It is very likely at this point that you have gravy that is either too thick or too thin. DO NOT FEAR! Just add more water to thin it out, or let it cook uncovered on medium heat for a while to thicken it up.

That's it. Now you have gravy. The bigger challenge is deciding what you want to put your gravy on.

Rosie the Cat Update

Some of you may know that for the past ten days, one of our evening routines has involved capturing Rosie the Cat, holding her down and forcing a pill into her little mouth. We smooshed the pill into this little cat treat called a pill pocket, which she hated (Rosie is very particular about what she will eat, until recently it has been Purina Hairball formula or nothing for her).

Luckily, her infection is gone, and she has been acting much happier. Unfortunately, she still has some kidney problems. This could be due to age. We don't really know how old she is, although we suspect at least nine. We've had her for about six years. You may notice from the picture that her hair has grown back from her summer 'do...fortunate, since the temperatures have dropped and our radiators are still stone cold. For right now she is happy and doesn't seem too bothered by her symptoms.


What's in a day?

On Mondays, I work as a graduate student researcher.

This can be alternately mind-numbingly boring (and reminiscent of my various stints as a Temp doing data entry) and really, really fun. Well, fun for me.

I just discovered that Eric has a "cite this article" button, in which the appropriate citations for MLA, APA, even Chicago Turabian pop up, and you can just cut and paste them into your paper. This is a phenomenal development in library technology since I last attended college.

So, what's the fun part of what I do? Well, right now, I'm reading these surveys from the principals of our Reading First schools. I'm supposed to read their open-ended responses and classify them by categories that I make up based on themes I see. The fun part is that it leads me to ask all kinds of questions about the science of teaching reading and the politics of implementing it well, and then I go look for articles and read more about it. Right now I am reading:

Stern, S., & Thomas B. Fordham Foundation, W. (2008, March 1). Too Good to Last: The True Story of Reading First. Thomas B. Fordham Institute, (ERIC Document Reproduction Service No. ED500480) Retrieved September 29, 2008, from ERIC database. (yes I used that special citation button right there)

This article reads like a telanovela. Oh, the scandals! The lies! The deceit. And the billions of YOUR tax dollars. It's pretty good stuff.

Anyway, I read and I think, and then I type some ideas, and then I think some more. It is not a bad way to spend a day. Thinking about teaching is far less taxing than teaching.

And now, I'll go off to class for a few hours, which has turned out to be sort of easy, although I'm behind in locating a student to work with, on account of the whole tutoring program debacle, a story I would relate to you, if only I could think of a way to tell it without engaging in the defamation of certain involved parties.


What M and K are doing...

The problem with having an amazing life of adventure is that it sets a high bar for blogging. And then, when one is going about daily business, it is difficult to summon the energy to write. And when one is not writing, one doesn't even realize how tedious and uninteresting life has become. But the next logical step from this realization is to move to New Zealand to WWOOF on a sheep farm.

Perhaps I'm being a bit dramatic. Things are not that bad. Nobody is going to New Zealand (right now). We've just been hangin' out in the 'Burgh, watching football, studying, and eating a lot of dumplings.

So, we've been looking for a house to buy. The consequence of buying $100,000 worth of anything, however, has made us pause and reconsider our general approach to Major Life Decisions. This has resulted in us significantly narrowing down our criteria, much to the relief of our fearless real estate agent, Matt. But even in a buyers market, it's tough to find a cheap, old, classy, place with 3 bedrooms and hardwood floors, and charm, within walking distance to Pitt, a grocery, a coffee shop and a vet. And a porch. And a roof that doesn't leak. And not with a converted coal furnace. But we're looking, and one of these days we'll find a place. Or not. In any event, I got so excited about moving into a new house that I already started collecting boxes and packing stuff up. This is fairly typical of my non-linear approach.

In other news, M bought a ukulele. This is much quieter than an accordion, with a gentle, tinkling sound and I don't mind it at all. So far, he has learned to play lots of Jens Lekman songs, and also the them to Super Mario Brothers. But while he was learning to play the Mario theme song, I nearly went mad, and one night had dreams that all occurred in video-gameboard-like settings, and I didn't much like the 2D, never-ending aspect of it.

I've been babysitting. Twins. Three sets, but not all at once. It just seems that every family that contacted me had twins. Well, every family that was not psycho. It's kind of funny, but the families always think when you meet them that THEY are the ones checking to make sure you aren't nuts, but they don't seem to realize that I'm sizing them up, too. Basically, I only sit for families where the parents seem pretty chill. Anybody who gets excited about kids getting a little dirty, or spilling juice on the carpet, or requires the babysitter to drive them to all kinds of activities, is not for me. And so far, I've found 4 decent families.


Summer Table

It is still pretty prime farmer's market season, and we got some awesome peppers last week. They have a deep, rich, hot flavor that lingers on your tongue. And the tomatoes are so ripe they burst open all over the cutting board the second the knife pierces their skins. M made a fantastic breakfast scramble two days in a row. We paired the tomatoes with marinated tofu and basil, for a delicious caprese salad. And we shared slices of a red, juicy watermelon with my cousin Eric, who stopped by on Saturday afternoon.



Yet another thing that happens when you do not own a television....

M and I would have liked to watch television on Monday night. We are really busy, with lots of projects on our respective plates. We wanted to relax. Unwind. Veg out. But lacking the comfort of that familiar, glowing box, we turned to the kitchen. And nothing is more comforting than spending 3 hours making Korean Kimchee Dumplings. At first it was fun. And then, it felt like it might never end. But at the end of the night, we agreed that being a human assembly line of dumpling making goodness, actually achieved the same effect as watching a few hours of television. But now we have six dozen dumplings in our freezer.

(And we still kind of want a television.)


Penny for your thoughts...

Does anyone else find pennies everywhere when you are cleaning?

We live in an old apartment building, and dozens of people have occupied the space we call home. I was wondering today, as I picked up pennies wedged underneath the chair legs, and tucked into the space between the carpet and the wall, how many of these pennies were ours and how many had been transported here by other hands. Some of them were very old and dirty.

I've never lived in a new house. When I was a child, we moved into a property owned by my grandfather. He had been renting it to a magician and his family, and they left all sorts of strange and thought-provoking junk behind. My parents now own this house, but the history of those who have lived, and died, there is still strong.

I'm collecting all my pennies, and dropping them into a ceramic canister that my sister gave me. When I have enough, I'll take them to Coinstar and exchange them for paper bills. And then I'll use those paper bills to buy coffee and sandwiches and other things that don't cost exactly one dollar or two or five. And then more pennies will fall out of my pockets when I do laundry. They will roll across the floor and I will be too distracted to find them and pick them up in that moment. And the next time I decide to lift the furniture and sweep underneath, they will be there waiting for me.



I started graduate school last week. It's a bit of a surreal experience. First, I'm working with some of the same people I did before we moved to Arizona. Second, I have a research position at the school, which sounds a lot more exciting than it actually is - I spent all day yesterday entering 0s and 1s into a spreadsheet. I'm sure it will get better.

I work in the same building I did when I was an Americorps*VISTA volunteer. The echo of the cavernous hallways and rumbling escalators is so familiar.

I spent all summer outside in sunshine and fresh air, and it's strange to be deep in the bowels of a climate controlled building, fluorescent lights buzzing overhead.

I sit in my office and catch up on my reading, hi-liter in hand. I sit in class and scribble notes on a tiny pad. I was shocked when out of a class of 30, only I raised my hand as having experience in a Title I school. I had forgotten that education existed outside of high-poverty areas. I realized how much of my educational philosophy had been shaped by working with kids who did not show up to school ready to learn, and that these kids do, in fact, represent a minority, albeit a sizable one.

M and I went backpacking this weekend with Caveman of Ohio in the Laurel Highlands. I will post some trail photos soon, which you will find hilarious because what we were trying to do and what we ended up doing was rather ridiculous on a number of levels.

Anyway, while hiking along the ridge line, through an endless, waist-high carpet of ferns, I noticed bugs swarming around my face. I sweat a lot when I hike, and maybe they like that. The bugs made a weird deja-vu feeling wash over me and I remembered that I spent a good 10 hours a day, walking and sweating and hearing the high-pitched whine of mosquitoes and gnats when we were on the AT in the hottest summer months. At first, I applied bug spray, which I promptly sweat off. Then I swatted at them. I tied my bandanna in creative ways around my head. I cursed at them.

And when I had exhausted all possible strategies to eliminate this annoyance...I did nothing. I just walked with the bugs, and low and behold, this was the magic pill.

What I realized this weekend is that it's the magic pill for just about everything. It's how I live in Pittsburgh again, happy to experience things that used to drive me crazy. It's how I conserve my energy to tackle things that matter, instead of getting bogged down in situations I can't win. It's how I can do exactly the same thing that I did seven years ago, and not only be cool with it, but love it.

So is that what maturity is? Giving up on swatting the flies from your face?



The harvest season is upon us, and as you may know, this makes me very nervous. Being that our kitchen is already full of enormous jars of saurkraut, thanks to the abundance of cabbage all summer, I just knew that M's enthusiasm for the Fermenting Arts could render the rest of the kitchen unusable. Ok, I'm exaggerating a little bit. But M's mother did bring us four quarts of cucumbers from King's Farm the other day, most of which became pickles. The first step is to wash all the cucumbers and cut off any weird blemishes.Next, find some jars. Make your brine. You can add anything you want, but M put in bay leaves, fresh dill, peppercorns, and a few hot peppers, and tons of garlic. The salt water is 6% brine - about 2.5 oz of salt to a gallon of water. Cooking is like science, and it comes in handy to have lots of measuring devices and scales so your kitchen looks like a lab and you can make sure your brine is the right proportion.

After you mix up your brine and chop your pickles, just jam them into the jar and let sit. And if you have trouble getting all the pickles into the jar because your hands are too big...well, just ask your small-handed wife to take care of it. And that is how M and K make pickles.



Really. That's how we do it.


The Other Part of the Story

I neglected to tell you about the other part of my weekend...the part where Tony and Rita and Mark and I went out to Freeport to ride on the rail trail that (supposedly) runs to Butler. I anticipated a leisurely, flat, shaded ride, which is exactly what we got for the first 15 or so miles.

Then we hit the "undeveloped" part of the trail. Technically, the trail runs from Freeport to Butler, but up until Herman, it is a lovely, developed, fairly flat and pothole-free surface. After that, they din-get-tha-fah, as our beloved, former math teacher, Ray Peters, would say. They removed the rail ties, but that is pretty much it. We carried on even after the sign that warned us, "Rifle Range Next 3/4 Mile".

But really, the best was when we encountered an enormous pile of railroad ties across the path...clearly a sign that the TRAIL WAS CLOSED. Nonetheless, we hoisted our bikes and clamoured over and kept going. That is, until M could literally go no further.

Well, after that, nobody wished to go back on the 6 miles of bumpy rocks, eerily red industrial run-off, and rifle range, so we decided just to take the road that appeared to be parallel to the trail and then get back on in Herman. Well, let me tell you, rail trails are flat, but roads are not. Rita was not happy. Also, after a little while it became apparent that we were no longer directly paralleling the trail, so I had to go into a little country biker bar and ask for directions. And I have to say that some members of our party resembled my little friends from yesterday's post in that they sat down in a stranger's yard and refused to go any further until we threatened to leave them.

Don't worry, everyone survived the journey. Here we are enjoying icy cold beer at Red Robin after we finally finished. We biked about 40 miles, but it took us literally, all day, what with the getting lost, and trying to mountain bike with our road bikes, etc. Next time, I will turn around after the first mile or so of really bad trail, instead of assuming it will get better very soon. Also, we plan to volunteer as soon as possible to help get this trail completely finished.


The last thing a mother wants to hear...

No, it's not, "Um, your kid fell in some cinders and I tried to clean them out but they are sort of stuck in his knee and he screams bloody murder whenever I come near him, so I just gave him a popsicle, and it will probably be ok, but you might want to keep an eye out for an infection."

And it's not, "Your kid kept saying 'sh*t' today, and he said it's something YOU say."

But when you hear your kid say, "But I don't want Katy to leave! Waaaaahhhhhhh!" - I can see how that would be really, really annoying.

My general goal in childcare is similar to my teaching philosophy...to provide a supportive learning environment in which children master skills that they can apply to ALL their environments - not just when they are under my supervision. So I feel kind of bad when I work really hard to eliminate temper tantrums from the kids, only to have them punish their poor, hard-working parents when I leave. I would much rather leave smiling, happy children in my wake.

Today, Twin #1 told me, "Katy, yesterday I cried, and I had a fight with Mama. I wanted to call you on the phone and she said no."

"Ahhh," I nodded, thinking to myself that I was glad Mama stuck to her guns on that one...as much as I love these little guys, their telephone skills leave something to be desired, and I have no desire to waste my precious cell phone minutes listening to heavy breathing while Twin #1 forgets what he wanted to say to me.

I decided to take them to the Trader Joe's because I had a few things to pick up (they have the best prices on nuts), and riding the bus there would burn up a good half hour of the afternoon. But it didn't take nearly as long as I thought it would, so I took them to Melon Park, where there is a fabulous sprinkler in the playground perfect for a hot day. They were slightly intimidated by some of the other kids at the park, but I encouraged them to throw a few elbows and claim their turn on the swings, which they did.

I then tricked them into walking the rest of the way home instead of waiting for the PAT bus again. (I just googled the mileage, and I got them to walk 1.1 miles - this is pretty amazing for three year olds - I think they will sleep soundly tonight.) About halfway home they started sitting down in random yards, declaring that they were done walking and would be living in this or that house instead. I lured them on with cookies and juice, and we made it in under an hour.

They start daycare in September, which will put an end to my brief adventures in pre-school childcare.

I wonder if they will remember me....


Now that's a lesson....

I gave up on participating in experiments in lieu of taking on babysitting gigs. Neither are particularly lucrative, however, nor are they particularly taxing. It's also cash in hand at the end of the day, which I like.

Right now I'm watching three-year-old twin boys. Despite a rocky start (Twin #2 screamed nearly the entire first day, and both have a tendency towards tantrum-throwing), we are really hitting it off. Every day, I ride my bike up to their house and I hear scampering little feet running to the door shouting, "She's here, she's here!" Then, we spend the next eight hours riding tricycles, walking to the park, shopping at the corner market, drinking copious amounts of juice, and scribbling with sidewalk chalk. When this gets old, we move on to my favorite child care strategy....PAT bus tours. PAT takes a lot of criticism, and like most forms of public transportation, I do not rely on it heavily for its punctuality. However, this can really work to your advantage when you are trying to entertain three-year-olds for hours on end. Waiting for even one bus ride can usually burn up at least a half an hour. If you ever ride the bus, you know about the jerky, sudden stops and lurching gait one acquires while attempting to make your way to the front. When three-year-olds are busy clinging to your hand and the rails to keep from tumbling over, they are too busy to be making trouble or throwing tantrums.

Twin #1 is in the "but, why?" phase...this is his standard response to everything. So, yesterday, as we were getting off the bus and getting ready to cross the street, I warned them about the dangers of running into a busy street, and made them hold my hand. Twin #1 launched into his "but, why?" thing, which continued even as we safely made it across the street.

Just then, some punk kid went running across the street, against the light, and got hit by a car. Bam! Never have I been presented with so relevant an answer to a "why?". (Don't worry, the kid was a little bloody, but was still up and moving around.)

And that's WHY, Twin #1...so there.


What are you doing next Wednesday?

Maybe it should be this.

The Most Important ID Card I Carry

I got my student ID today.

All my official papers for my graduate student researcher position are in order, and I am registered for classes.

I have a slight urge to shop for school supplies, maybe get some folders.

I'm excited about being a student again, and doubly excited to have a chance to go for free. Which brings me back to the student ID. Not to detract from the actual Going to School part, which I'm sure is going to be very cool, but this ID has many benefits.

First of all, I can ride the bus for free again. Not just the campus shuttles, but the county bus. I can also print something like 900 sheets per semester in the computer lab. That's a lot of paper. I can go to see a movie at the Harris Theater for $3. I can use the student gyms and swimming pools. I can visit the Carnegie Museum. I can visit the Andy Warhol Museum. I can even ride the Incline!


Egad!! Where does the summer go?!

I have been a bit lax in keeping this blog updated. Sorry for that. It is mainly because, since New Orleans, we have not had any wild adventures to report. Frankly, going to Africa set a rather high bar, and I'm not sure what I can do to top it.

However, I have discovered a few new things over the course of my slow-paced summer, and I guess I may as well share them now. First of all, shampoo is bunk. I realize I am a bit late to this, as I am to most internet phenoms (like Twitter and the Peanut Butter Jelly Banana video), but as they say, better late than never. I last washed my hair with shampoo over 3 weeks ago and it is shinier and healthier than ever before. Now I know that those of you who have seen me in my Jesus rope sandals probably have an image of a dread-headed hippie. Yes, I will admit that I am certainly leaning in that direction these days. But the lack of shampoo has not created dreads for me, in fact, quite the opposite.

The "no-poo" method is springing up on green blogs everywhere. I have wild, thick, wavy, course hair and have never found a hair care regime that worked for me. Even hours spent carefully straightening my mop would result in its springing back to its original state within a few hours.

I think the key to this method is to experiment with the proportions, because the pH on your scalp is unique. Mine apparently, was so unique that no shampoo manufacture had ever created a product for it. So here's what I do, although this varies somewhat with the directions I read on the internet.

About twice a week, I dilute about a teaspoon and a half of baking soda in about a cup of water. I carefully pour it on my scalp and massage for a minute or two, then rinse thoroughly. Once or twice a week I dilute a tablespoon of apple cider vinegar or lemon juice in a cup of water and pour it on my hair, more towards the end. I let it sit for about 5 minutes and then rinse it out. I also made this crazy flax seed hair gel, mainly because I have a TON of flax seeds in my freezer. If you follow the link, you can watch a very informative video about how to make it. I personally do a lot of things in my daily life, like ride my bike all around town, that make my head all sweaty and dirty, so every night when I take my shower, I rinse my head off with water. Then I put some flax gel on my hair and let it air dry. I have had really bad dandruff my whole life, even when using prescription strength products, but this has cleared it up, making me happy on one hand, but also irritated that I have spent so much money and time trying products that were not effective. Capitalism made me do it.

The other thing I discovered is that if you have a high powered blender, you can grind up kale and spinach in your fruit smoothies, which turn them bright clean, but they still taste like fruit! Not like a weird health food! You can eat at least 2-3 servings of dark green, leafy vegetables with very little effort, which is very important for nutrition, and also very cheap at this time of the year when you frequent the farmer's markets and buy way too much produce to possibly eat without actually grinding it up.

Yeah, I've been real busy this summer. Smoothies and hair care. Please don't ask me how the book is coming.

Also, for those of you who read this and also live close to us, please save us some boxes. We're going to be moving sometime soon, and for once, it won't make sense to sell all our stuff!


Happy Anniversary, M & K!

Five years ago, this very day, M and I walked down the aisle of Sacred Heart Church to profess our love and devotion for each other. Then, we proceeded up the street to the Pittsburgh Center for the Arts where we rocked out with friends and family. And THEN we went to New Orleans for seven days of excessive consumption. This year, we unexpectedly found ourselves back in New Orleans, delighted that vegetarianism in Nola is not only possible, but absolutely delightful. Happy Anniversary, M! Thanks for the best Secret Anniversary Get-Away Ever!


A New Suit of Clothes

Special thanks to my 9th grade geometry (and 11th grade Calculus) teacher, Ray Peters, of Hampton, PA for the title. I can't even remember what he used it for (something about moving numbers or variables to different sides of the equation -'you take the 8, divide both sides, give it a new suit of cothes' or something like that)... but it's stuck with as a turn of phrase since.

At any rate, the recipient of the aforementioned 'new clothes' in this case is not a digit or a variable, but my bicycle handlebars. Having become enamored with the look of nicely taped and shellacked bars, and the look they lend to the bike as a whole, upon receiving my Surly Long Haul Trucker this last year, I applied a roll of Cinelli 'natural' cork tape and several coats of shellac. After many miles in the saddle, I not only found my cork tape to be uncomfortably (for me... I know a lot of folks love it) squishy, but the shellac was cracking, to boot. So what's a fellow to do? You take the bars, move them over here, and give 'em a new suit of clothes.

But what kind? Well... they had to be less squishy and still look good. And I suck at starting and finishing the ends, so the whole electrical tape or twine thing had to go. I ordered some yellow and brown tressostar cloth tape from Velo-Orange, and followed these instructions. While it took several tries, the harlequin weave really looks nice. It's not perfect, but it's not too bad. It's very difficult to keep the cloth tape from buckling or wrinkling while wrapping an irregularly shaped tube at an angle. 2 layers of cloth (from the weave) will hopefully be soft enough but not squishy (I'm a big fan of the Fizik tape, which seems to have just the right balance). And let's face it, it just looks pretty.

Here it is after one coat:
apologies for the Trib in the background.

The Story of Stuff

Interesting and informative...

If you have a few minutes, check out this video about consumerism.

The Slump of Mid-Summer News Has Come to an End

Pittsburgh gets a little slow in the summer. First of all, it's terrifically hot and muggy in the city, so anyone who can get out, does, and everyone else is holed up in dark, little rooms huddled around clattering window AC units. Most of the students have left. And of course, there is a void in news coverage, as both the Penguins and the Steelers are off. I know baseball season is in full-swing, but frankly the Pirates provide more of a background, static noise, rather than a team that Yinzers religiously follow. (That does not diminish the fun whatsoever of going down to PNC Park and watching a ballgame. We went with Caveman of Ohio, and despite the 9-6 loss, had a phenomenal time.)

Anyway, Steelers camp has started resulting in dozens of daily stories about who was at camp, what Coach Tomlin has to say, what the players have to say about Coach Tomlin, who is too fat to practice, what the ladies who clean the players' rooms think, what random yinzers on the street think, etc. Finally the crew on the DVE morning show have something to talk about again.


KJ - They Reposted...

I spend way too much time on Craigslist looking for weird, part-time gigs.

Anyway, I found the ad I was talking about before.

Title: (event gigs) Person with Dwarfism Wanted to Perform Wedding
The term as related to human beings (the major subject of this article) is often used to refer specifically to those forms of extreme shortness characterized by disproportion of body parts, typically due to an inheritable disorder in bone or cartilage development

We are looking to get married on Halloween by a dwarf. Our wedding theme is Carnival Sideshow-ish so if you are offended by this please do not apply!

I will pay for your ordination in the Universal Life Church. You will be able to use this life-long to legally perform marriages. I will also pay $100 in cash for your services after the ceremony which I will write. We don't want a long speech nor do we want a god, yours or anyone elses, involved. We're atheists.

You and a guest will be invited to stay for the reception which will be at the same place as the ceremony. Other than the food, booze & wacked out people dressed in costumes there will be a sword swallower performing and a DJ playing punk/new wave/alternative/metal/oldies. Probably no dancing.

You are not required to wear any type of religious garb. A suit is fine. Possibly a costume as it's Halloween. Children will be present so no costumes or language over a PG-13 rating.

Edited to ad: not to be rude but I do not need a photographer, DJ or anything else, JUST A DWARF. If you are not a true midget please do not reply. Notice that I have not checked the box allowing people to contact me for other services!


To All My Cyclist Friends - Why we should not get the $%^&* out of the road...Part 1

Today I was verbally assaulted by a man for riding my bicycle in the road. This is not the first time I have heard profanity in reference to my means of transportation. I can only assume that it comes from

(a) frustration over sitting in traffic while commuting. The average commute time in this country is over 100 hours per year, which is more than the two weeks vacation most workers get.

(b) frustration over gas prices, now over $4.00 gallon on average.

(c) frustration over the fuel inefficiency of their vehicles, guzzling down that expensive gasoline

(d) frustration over not getting enough exercise, less than 16% of Americans exercise on any given day...a common reason given is long commute times.

and finally

(e) a lack of understanding of laws applicable to bicycles

I can't really do anything about frustrations a-d, other than say, "get a new job, closer to your home and ride your bike there. You will save mad time and money and even get some exercise to boot." But frankly, that sounds snarky.

So instead, I'll direct your attention to the Pennsylvania Bicycle Laws.

It's not that complicated.

Bikes are considered to be vehicles, and therefore have a right to be on most roads. Bikes are considered to be vehicles, and therefore have a responsibility to follow traffic laws.

I will let everybody digest that one for a minute.

Stay tuned for Part 2.



I've been making some pocket money by answering ads on Craigslist. There are some very interesting jobs out there. I can't apply for this one, but I hope, I hope I am invited to this wedding.


Movies in the Park

Just one more great thing about Pittsburgh. Also everybody cheers when the good guys win. I love that.



Matt and Loren are on their honeymoon in France this week, following the Tour de France on their bicycles. Those of us left behind are jealous, but are compensating by biking every day. By the time they get back, I might actually be bike-fit enough to do some riding with them.

On Saturday M and I went out for a spin around town. It was blazin' hot, and their was an ozone warning, so we ended up not staying out as long as we had originally planned. We headed down Penn Avenue, then cut down to the river, where there is a trail of sorts that goes by the Convention Center. We biked around the Point, where there were plenty of yinzers having barbeques on their boats. Next we sort of got lost, but in the process ended up in the Mon Wharf parking lot. Now I had never been there before, although I had seen countless episodes of WPXI 11 at 11 showing cars quickly being consumed by rising flood water. The picture on the left shows M in Point State Park, gazing at the Best View of Downtown, the Fort Pitt Bridge. This is also the third most terrifying merge in all of Allegheny County. We went across the Smithfield Street Bridge and up the South Side bike trail. When we got to the end of that, we decided not to attempt to bushwhack through the overgrowth to find the rest of the trail, and instead turned around and headed back over the Hot Metal Bridge, up the Panther Hollow Connector Trail and back to Bloomfield via the newly paved Neville Street.

On Sunday, we went with Rita and Tony to the Butler Freeport Trail. We started out in Freeport and basically rode towards Butler until we had had enough. Then we turned around. In between the torrential downpours, the trail was quite pleasant. The portion we traveled on was well-maintained, free from litter and had plenty of benches and picnic tables along the way. There were even a few little three sided shelters, which reminded me somewhat of my AT days. Naturally, we were nowhere near them until we were already completely drenched, but it was a warm day, so no risk of hypothermia. If the weather had been slightly more pleasant, and if we had not gotten such a late start, we certainly would have gone all the way to Butler. As it happened, we were about 5 miles shy.

On Tuesday night, we went out with the Tazza D'oro with Team Decaf. When we showed up and I saw everybody with their fancy cycling shoes and spandex shorts, I started to get a little nervous. When I saw that the route map was 22 miles, I got a little short of breath. And when people started joking about going up 57th street, I was about ready to slip out quietly and pretend I never even had the idea to embark on such an adventure. However, although some of the more serious, or at least more seriously outfitted, folks took off and lost us at the first traffic light, we had a substantial pack with us, pulling up the rear. We met some cool new people, and I absolutely recommend this bike ride, if you would like to get into cycling.

Here are a couple of useful links for biking in the Burgh.
Free Ride
Bike PGH
The Great Allegheny Passage
Yough River Trail - M and I did this one in January. There is an awesome campground in Connellsville, that has heated cabins in the winter!

What's on My Agenda?

While perusing the classifieds for babysitting gigs, I ran across this this intriguing event. I make a mean vegan lasagna, and I'm thinking of entering. Does anyone want to sponsor me? I would love to be able to add Best Lasagna in Pittsburgh to my resume.


Blink of an Eye

That's about how fast the drag races last at Pittsburgh Raceway Park. M and I found ourselves there on Sunday morning, courtesy of M's dad, who gave us some tickets to the Pittsburgh Thunder Nationals. The storm clouds were gathering as we drove out there, but the rain held off for the morning. RVs and trailers were scattered across the Park, and shortly after we arrived, cars started lining up for the elimination rounds. Each race starts with the dramatic "burnout", where each car revs its engines and lays down some rubber. Then they both back up to the starting line, and wait for the light to turn green (known as a "Christmas tree" in the biz). I really wish I had read this wikipedia article before I went on Sunday, because I would have understood the specifics of the different races. Nonetheless, I was able to appreciate the awe-inspiring mechanical feats achieved by these drivers and their teams. There is nothing like seeing two cars barrel down a straight-away at 170 mph. We didn't take the big video camera, but did manage to capture the essence of this event with the regular camera, which has some small video recording abilities.



Given enough time, M and I will walk pretty much anywhere, as evidenced by our voluntary choice to walk across half the country. For fun.

But I know not everybody is into such an extreme form of pedestrian movement. With gas prices rising, it has become very fashionable to talk about alternative forms of transportation. But over the past fifty years we've created some very auto-dependent communities, and walkability is not something most people consider high on their priority list when choosing a place to live. Walkscore is a website that judges neighborhoods based on how many errands and recreation can be done on foot.

Here is my score for Bloomfield. My neighborhood is deemed a

"Walkers' Paradise: Most errands can be accomplished on foot and many people get by without owning a car. "

What's your score?


Pirates 10-Astros 7-Kids 0

Mark had the brilliant idea of going to a baseball game this evening. Undeterred by the monsoon-like rain of the afternoon, we planned to have a picnic dinner of hot dogs and saurkraut, bike downtown to pick up some peanuts at Nicholas, and then head over to get our Buy-One-Get-One tickets. But as I was preparing our (vegetarian) dogs, I discovered they had an interesting moldy growth on them. This was disappointing, since we are always looking for ways to consume our homemade saurkraut. Also, yesterday, M had baked bread in the shape of hot dog rolls for the express purpose of eating these hot dogs. No matter, I headed down to meet M at his office. But when I got there, I realized that I had left the coupon for the tickets at home. This was very bad because we had only a limited time to get to Nicholas before they closed. And, oddly, it is very difficult to get good, unsalted peanuts at the ballpark. To save time, we split up. Back to Bloomfield I went to pick up the coupon, and M biked downtown via the Panther Hollow trail and got those peanuts just in time. Then there was the matter of dinner. We settled on Primanti Brothers where there is exactly one vegan item, the Garden Patch Salad. This is basically iceberg lettuce with french fries on top. I know, not the most nutritious, but we had all those peanuts for protein.

Finally we made it to the game. There were some, err, enthusiastic, youths sitting behind us. Sometimes shouting is good, especially in the upper decks, but they were shouting things like "Let's go Pens!", which apparently bothered somebody, and it was soon revealed that they had smuggled in some Natty Ice. They were quickly escorted away by security. Since they never returned to their seats, I assume somebody called their moms. Or took them to jail. I have to wonder, kids, was it worth it to have a can of watery beer?

After that, we settled in for some action packed baseball. The headline on the Pirates website pretty much describes the game, "Pirates seize slugfest from Astros!". After all that sitting, it was nice to bike home in the cool, evening air.