It's the last day of the year and I'm speechless. But here's a picture round up of the year.

I spent some time here staring at tufts of miniature green leaves, trying to determine if they were carrots or some unwanted intruder to be removed.

I spent a lot of time chasing after this girl. She never stops moving. 1106_Chicago_41

I thought a lot about justice and equality. I pondered my role in perpetuating social problems. I thought about the kind of teacher I want to be, and what I want my students to learn about the world.

I fell in love with this guy again. Can you believe it's been 15 years of M & K?

We ate a lot of bread.

Our family changed a lot.

We bought this. Still trying to figure out what to do with it.

I spent some good times with these women.


Merry Christmas to You...

I'm sitting here tonight, the night after Christmas, in a dim living room. It's not quiet, because I have Sufjan Stevens cranked up on the record player. Mark is working in the other room, doing a little coding. Laurel is upstairs, presumably falling asleep. Our Christmas tree is still lit by strings of multi-colored lights that seem to burn out and then come back spontaneously...a different section each time I plug in the tree. Must be a loose wire. Christmas this year was/is magical and chaotic, the way everything is when one of you is two.

I wish I had some photos to share. We tried to take some, and now I don't know where the camera is, and there's no way I'm coming out from my Santa Snuggie to hunt for it. (Especially since I cannot guarantee the quality of the images, when the parents were battling colds and the daughter was moving a hundred miles a minute.)

So, you'll have to rely on my words. Just picture the back of a thirty-some inch tall girl in red polka-dot tights, and bouncing blonde pig-tails, disappearing around the corner. Because she really didn't stop moving the whole weekend.

Christmas Eve and Christmas Day we visited with family. We're entering another phase where there seem to be more and more little ones running around each year. Mark's sister's daughter is just old enough to grab at wrapping paper and stare at Christmas lights. She has this way of making eye contact, bursting into a wide grin and then hiding her face in whoever's sleeve she happens to be sitting with. Also, she's little enough that she stays put. I love that age! (It's fleeting.)

The time with my family was characterized by good food, good drink and chasing Laurel all over whatever house we happened to be in. We did the traditional Christmas poppers, albeit in a very rushed way.

Christmas morning, we spent at home. Laurel definitely started to understand the concept of presents sometime around her birthday, so now she unwraps gifts with anticipation, and makes a lot of cute "oh, wow!" noises, regardless of what is inside. She likes to keep the bags and put other things in them, sometimes old toys or little scraps of paper. Later she'll pretend to go through the whole motion of openings gifts again, making equally cute and excited noises, even if what she's "opening" is a dirty sock.

M bought her (us?) a djembe. We also stocked up on art supplies, including a packet of googly eyes. Christmas carried over into today when we sat down together and did some spontaneous crafting. M surprised me with his early-childhood-educator skills (where did those come from??!!), as he designed a snow-man cut and paste art project on the fly.

The memories I will hold are mostly about things that just happened. Driving around late at night (well, late for us anyway) and looking at the Christmas lights. Listening to Laurel's jumbled Santa-Jesus-Birthday narrative. Secretly looking for mistletoe so I could kiss the guy who reminds me to Keep Calm and Carry On. Looking up at a sky full of stars - a rare event on our well-lit block - on Christmas Eve. Sitting here next to my Christmas tree, getting through the longest night of the year. Remembering that the dark nights are a necessary part of the cyclical nature of our existence.

Merry Christmas. I'm looking forward to spending the next week in reflection and preparation for 2012, and anticipating a happy new year.


Oh, December

December sucked and I've had about enough of it. But one good thing that happened was that this album arrived on our doorstop. Other good things included some incredibly well-timed play dates and moms-nights-out. They just happened, just when I needed them to...fitting perfectly into the fabric of an up-and-down life.

Anyway, I don't have any answers or wisdom. I just know that some days it makes sense to turn the record player up really loud.

I am here
You are all I have
Fire of fire
I'm insecure
For it is all
Been made to plan
Though I know
I will fail
I cannot
Be made to laugh
For in life
As in death
I'd rather be burned
Than be living in debt...



This is Laurel at 2 years 1 month. She smiles a lot. A big, toothy grin. She talks to us about everything, asks questions about how things work, and reminds us of things that happened in the past. Her favorite thing to talk about right now is this car accident that happened the weekend my Aunt Mary's neighbor Stephen stayed with us. The other day while we were driving she told me to go faster and I pointed out a speed limit sign and said, I want to follow the rule that is on that sign, and now she points out speed limit signs everywhere. When we decorated the tree she could find all the ornaments that had her name on them. "Oh my gosh," she says in a hushed voice, "Look at that orDAHment."

Her current favorite book is We're Going on a Bear Hunt, and her favorite activity is walking to school with M in the morning. I know this because on Friday we drove her to school and she completely flipped out because she wanted to walk. Also, people in the neighborhood sometimes approach me and say "I saw your husband walking with Laurel. They look like they're having such a fun time every day!"

We had a really hard week, but closed it out by getting a Christmas tree, and now the house smells good and the colored lights cast a warm glow in our living room.


Let's Talk Animals...and Drupal

Laurel went to the zoo yesterday with my parents while M and I went to Columbus for DrupalCamp Ohio. Drupal is an awesome open source platform for making websites. Drupal is doubly awesome for its community of enthusiastic volunteers who do everything from writing new code to improve functionality or fix bugs, to helping newbies like myself learn about it.

I'm in somewhat of a blissed out state this morning after spending all day with people who drove hours to meet up and talk about something they love, who actively learn new things and who want to help other people learn too.

I wish there was a Math Teacher Camp somewhere, where enthusiastic math teachers would come together and solve problems in our field and learn new things. Where I (a lowly Algebra 1 teacher) could sit down next to a calculus teacher, and not feel inferior. Where we could talk about problems in our field, say "this is stupid", and then actually do something about it.

Maybe I should organize one. In all my spare time.

Anyway, tonight the three of us will all be together again and we will share stories about our weekends. M will talk Drupal. I will talk math. Laurel will talk animals.

It is so important to be curious about something, and to foster that curiosity in your children. And beyond making sure that your kids have hobbies and interests, and access to books and information about whatever they are stoked about this week, YOU as a parent should have a hobby. They should see you reading a book, joining an online discussion group, attending a conference or meeting. Learning something. Loving something. Trying out something that is hard, and maybe even scares you a little bit.

Yesterday I got bold enough to sit in on a session with one of the top dogs in the Drupal community, and learn about building a module from scratch.


Holy crap.

Stretching my mind that far felt good. But it also felt scary. What if she calls on me and asks what a hook is? What if I do something wrong while I'm following along and blow up my computer?

2012 will be here before we know it. New Year's resolutions and all that. This holiday season, I encourage you to think about something new you'd like to learn. Make it bold. Make it hard. Don't worry about how you are going to learn it yet. Just pick it. And leave a comment with your 2012 passion/hobby/skill/knowledge...whatever it is that you can get excited about.


On Giving

M and I have been struggling with how we want to frame Christmas for Laurel.

At Halloween time, the candy became a very secondary focus, next to the snake costume. And while Laurel enjoyed trick or treating so much she pretended to do it in our house for weeks, I just discovered an uneaten bag of candy hanging in the closet. She never asked for it.

We're hoping to achieve that kind of balance for Christmas. How can we make it about people and celebration, without sounding like Bah Humbug Grinches that want to keep her from receiving gifts of any kind?

Well,this post pretty much sums up what we've been thinking.


Happy Buy Nothing Day!

Today, I will Buy Nothing.

I don't feel good about buying items unless I know how and where they were produced. Owning that item or giving it to somebody I care about will not feel good if it was made by some mistreated, underpaid worker from across the world. Or if the company that made it dumps gazillions of pounds of waste into the environment.

My guess is that if you are getting a bargain on something today, it probably came from a sweat shop. Merry Christmas.

It's a beautiful day in Pittsburgh today. Why not take a hike and enjoy some sunshine? Invite your neighbor over for some coffee and leftover pie? Break out the art supplies and get started on some homemade holiday cards?

All of this sounds much more relaxing, fun and sustainable than sitting in traffic and getting trampled by rapid shoppers.


Raindrops on roses, and....

....whiskers on kittens, bright yellow flowers....

I tried to remember the rest of the words, as rain beat down on the car and I squinted to see out through the windshield. "Sing it again, mommy!" Laurel shouted and kicked her feet with excitement. We had been in the car for about five minutes, and already she was not wearing shoes. She had somehow rolled her pants legs up to her thighs and one of her socks was on her head. Goldfish cracker crumbs covered the floor of the backseat.

It was a good day. I gave a test and my students impressed me with what they remembered. I had a meeting with a parent that I thought would be terrible, but turned out ok. I finished all my planning for December and sent off the materials to be photocopied. Laurel was sick, but my mom was able to take care of her. I remembered to fill up the gas tank when the empty light first turned on, instead of waiting until I-can't-remember-how-long-the-light-has-been-on-panic.

And now Laurel and I were on our way to pick up M from work, singing in the car and "talking animals".

I tuck these moments into my memory for safe-keeping. Someday it will seem like it was a very long time ago that Laurel was a little girl. Will we still sing together? Will I be happier without the goldfish cracker crumbs?


She can...

...put on her socks and shoes by herself.

...listen to us read the Lorax, all the way through.

...tell us what she wants to eat for dinner.

...and tell us why she doesn't want what we cooked (too spicy!).


...recognize her name.

...somehow take over our whole, king-size bed on the nights she sleeps with us.

...start a dinner table conversation by saying "Let's talk animals"...and then we do.

...count to three.

...spot letters and numbers in the world (street signs, house numbers).

...talk on the phone (somewhat, mostly only to my mom so far).

...operate the self check out machine at the library with minimal assistance. (Don't let that girl near an ATM!)

Two is great.


Talking About Difficult Subjects With (Little) Kids

It's tempting for us to water down what we say to young children. As a high school math teacher, my pet peeve is all the elementary teachers who tell kids "the bigger number goes first in a subtraction problem."

Well, no it doesn't, and the federal government is a prime example, as well as many of us regular folks who use debt to pay for roof repairs and college educations. I have to spend a lot of time helping kids to unlearn generalizations about how numbers work because nobody saw fit to offer them a clear and complete explanation from the beginning. I've noticed this getting worse since elementary teachers have been encouraged to teach math in a conceptual manner instead of the old-fashioned rote memorization of procedures way. In my opinion, if you want to talk about math concepts, even with first graders, you need to have a pretty strong concept of math yourself. Otherwise, it may be best to stick to worksheets.

We do this with all kinds of things. We talk about Santa but gloss over the inequity our kids surely notice when Santa seems to treat the children of wealthier parents so much better. We tell them that police officers are there to protect us, but then how do we explain the excessive force by the police against peaceful protesters that is being captured on video all around the country? (Not to mention the more serious police brutality in Egypt and Syria.)

Since moving to my neighborhood, I've been to public safety meetings and have gotten to know several detectives over coffee and bagels on Saturday mornings in cramped board rooms. We know the officers who patrol our neighborhood. Some of them will come to our neighborhood holiday party.

I can say with confidence, that the police officers I know as fellow citizens would not be able to look me in the face and discharge pepper spray at point blank range...even if I were engaged in peaceful civil disobedience in front of them. Clashes occur between protesters and police when one side or the other stops thinking of each other as fellow human beings.

M and I catch ourselves sometimes, offering explanations to Laurel's questions that are not really well thought out, or accurate.

Sometimes, I don't know might be the best answer.


What do you use the internet for?

And will you be able to continue using it for that purpose?

PROTECT IP Act Breaks The Internet from Fight for the Future on Vimeo.


Happy Birthday, Laurel


Barefoot College

What is learning and what is teaching? I spend a lot of time thinking about my role in these processes. What knowledge do I have to impart, and what could be learned from my students? What can students learn from each other? What can students teach themselves.

I really like watching television, but I'm alternately bored and outraged at the swill that is on both cable and network channels (Seriously, Anderson Cooper, why are you talking about Kim Kardashian? And what is up with all the murders on tv?).

So, I've become a fan of TED, where over 900 talks are available on incredibly diverse topics. I can't even describe it, you have to just go and look. The best thing is, they are all 18 minutes or less. Sitcom length! Tonight I watched this amazing artist who creates art through paper cutting. Her work is visually stunning, and she has a cute French accent.

However, what is really lingering with me, is the talk I saw on the "barefoot college"...it really challenges the stereotypes we have about who "should" be educated, and maybe even the definition of education itself.


Sick Kids and Gratitude

Laurel has been sick this week. She's not really eating anything because her throat is so sore. We even let her dig into her Halloween candy, but one bite made her cry out in pain and she abandoned the mini Hershey bar. The only thing I can get into her is chopped up bits of a popsicle, fed one at a time with a spoon. She spent the better part of Monday and Tuesday crying inconsolably. She'll only nap if we're holding her.

When I wasn't wallowing in self-pity (I have been battling my own health problems over the last two months, so just getting through the day without caring for other sick people has been a challenge), I had a flash of solidarity with mothers around the world. And my empathy immediately morphed into gratitude. Gratitude that Laurel has access to a pediatrician and antibiotics and that we don't worry about her actually having most of the serious childhood diseases, because she's been vaccinated. Gratitude that we can be reasonably assured that our drinking water is clean, and that I have the money to go to the drug store on our block and spend $6.00 on a bottle of pain reliever, to ease her symptoms. Gratitude that we are indoors and even when teenage trouble makers are roaming the streets slashing tires (they got our car), we are without the worries of those living in active war zones.

It's really terrible to watch your child cry, and not be able to do much to relieve their discomfort. How much more terrible would it be to know the solution was in something simple, like food or water or a mosquito net or an antibiotic? What if instead of knowing this is a simple infection or virus that we have to weather for a week, I had real doubts that Laurel would even survive?

The 7 billionth baby was born this week. Check out these graphics that I used to discuss ratio and proportions with my math students.


Here's a problem...

UPMC and Highmark are engaged in a turf war. I just saw a commercial on tv by UPMC claiming that they have some kind of plan and Highmark is the one holding things up.

UPMC has slowly branded themselves onto doctors, hospitals and other facilities throughout our region. While I typically receive good care when I visit these facilities, I am often shocked at the price that is billed to my insurance company. Can anyone tell me if it is typical to charge $200 for a lead test for a toddler?

The question I want to ask is why Jeffrey Romoff, CEO of UPMC, is making 4 million dollars a year and Ken Melani, CEO of Highmark, 3.6 million a year, and shouldn't we perhaps be talking about that.

And even though I am somebody who has a good job with good benefits, I stand with the movement who are camped out in freezing cold cities all over our country right now, asking that we all take a moment to question what we have been told, to assess the quality of our lives, and to make sure that we hold government and corporations (and those masquerading as non-profits) accountable for their actions. Listen to this explanation that uses candy corn to explain why it's not about hating rich people at all.


Yup, pretty much the best ever...

I played a game called "Nada" today. Sarah and I stole away for grown-up conversation and beer this week, and it was so crowded we ended up sharing a table with two strangers. Young. Hip - you know the type...they bike around town and know about things like Zombie Opera. One of them identified himself as a game designer, which I think both of us immediately understood as "video game designer", but it turns out he meant all kinds of games. Card games. Live action. Etc. He told me about this game although he was rather incomplete with his directions, so my sixth period class worked out a more formal set of rules.

Anyway, while we were talking, they asked what life with kids is like.


Awesome. Fun in the formerly mundane. Exhausting. Smile-inducing.

Halloween is no exception. Laurel is incredibly excited about costumes, trick or treating, pumpkins and skeletons. We created an outrageously fun snake costume for her, which she proudly wore to daycare. And if that doesn't make you smile, there is something wrong with you.


"Hello, pumpkins, hello!"

Laurel has taken to emphasizing all particularly awesome observations with the phrase "oh. my. gawd."

As in, "Oh my gawd, big cows eating the grass!"

"Oh my gawd. Pumpkins!"

I missed out on the pumpkin patch visit yesterday, because I'm still sick. Mark took Laurel and they met his parents, his sister and Baby Alexis. The weather was chilly but clear, and when Laurel burst through the front door and excitedly told me about everything they saw and did, I knew it was one of the best outings of the season.


We are in this together....

Do you know if you are part of the 99%? Polls show that lots of middle class people think they are doing better than they are…40% of Americans think they are in the top 1%. In reality, you would need a salary of $750,000 to be in that group. Follow this link to see how your income ranks.

I’m planning a personal finance unit for my ninth graders, so that they can get a clear picture of why a $12.00/hour job or even a $20.00/hour job may sound great now, but doesn’t go too far when it comes to paying for regular daily expenses, plus health care and saving for retirement. But we’ll also be talking about the pros and cons of taking out student loans for education, and what you can expect to happen to your wages over the long term, and what you can expect from your expenses. We’ll talk about what happens when you bump up through the tax brackets on your way to middle class success, and why sometimes you end up in situations where you work more and earn more, but you pay more taxes, have more expenses and end up wondering where that American dream is that you were chasing.

We’ll talk about how $20.00/hour is a great wage, and maybe you even have health insurance on top of that, but if your deductible is high and your kid gets leukemia and you max out your coverage, you better have an alternate plan. For a lot of people, that means spaghetti dinner fundraisers and begging for change from strangers via a container next to the register at the 7-11.

Older people are fond of recalling tough times and telling you how they always struggled and times were tough. This may be true for them, but to engage in a debate about national policy, one must have a clear picture of what is happening on a larger scale. I like this video because it rather quickly explains some of the talking points that we hear repeated in the media. Pay close attention to point number 5. Is that why you and I aren’t standing together?

This movement means a lot of things, but it’s not really about restoring fairness. Life is not fair, and we can’t make it that way. I don’t support Occupy Wall Street because I want things to be fair.

This is why trying to isolate economic inequality to problems with the tax code is a big mistake.

As a teacher, this movement matters to me, because a kid who doesn’t have stability in his home, who moves a lot, has a parent working 2 or 3 low-paying jobs, poor access to healthy foods, or healthcare, is a kid that is very difficult to educate.
And he’ll be sitting right next to your kid in school. Even in the nice, suburban, graffiti-free schools.

The difficult to educate kid will take a lot of my time. Your kid will get less. I’m sorry. I wish it weren’t that way. When this happens on a large scale, I’m pretty sure it has a strong impact on dumbing down the whole lot of us. Except of course, the super-rich, who have their own schools, their own gated communities, their own doctors, their own airports. And their own politicians.

Before you dismiss the Occupy Wall Street protests, consider how you actually fit into the big picture.



We went to the Occupy Pittsburgh march this morning. It was a blustery day for democracy. While Phat Mandee sang jazz, reports ran around Freedom Square, trying to pinpoint the goals of the movement. People smiled before they answered...there isn't one goal. There isn't one experience.

That's kind of the point.

My favorite sign of the day read, "There is enough for everyone."

And that kind of sums up my views.

When I stand up in front of my students and talk numbers with them (I am a math teacher, after all)...I feel like a fraud. Study hard, go to college, and you'll do well. That's a flat out lie these days. These charts make me feel not all that optimistic about the future for my high school students or my daughter. Unemployment is at its highest level since the Great Depression. CEO compensation is at an all-time high. There are people making 80 million dollars a year. I'm not against you having a good life or making some money, but seriously, what do you even do with that much money?

So yeah, I think the super-rich could be a little less greedy, and maybe stop taking so many bonuses, and pass that along to their workers in the form of fair wages that keep pace with inflation. I have a decent job as a public school teacher, but I essentially, make less money every year, because of the piddly raise. Or no raise, as is the case this year, since we are working without a contract. That would not take government regulation, that would just take corporations conducting themselves with a little more compassion.

But income disparity is not the only problem. People around me struggle with unemployment and underemployment, unexpected medical bills that push them over the edge into credit card debt, and threat of foreclosure on their homes. Not seeking necessary medical treatment, because they have no health insurance (you know who you are...go to the doctor!).

We're all ok, because I come from the kind of people who are ok no matter what. We share with each other and look out for each other during times of crisis. But if this is the American dream, I say we need a new dream.

This is what democracy looks like. Citizens standing up and saying, whoa there. Corporations, listen up. Politicians, listen up. We are telling you this is not ok. Change things so that everyone has enough. Don't make us come down there.


this is what democracy looks like...

In case you haven't heard, there is a movement....
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...in our house this morning.

Laurel wakes up and says "I like laughing, Daddy. I like laughing, Mommy."

And then we all have a good laugh. Life is very, very good when you wake up and those are the first words you hear.

All the neighbors know Laurel because we often walk her to and from daycare. There's something kind of Sesame Street about it, because we pass a mechanic and a barber and a crossing guard. Everyone smiles and waves and greets her by name. John and Maggie, who run the market know that she has really wanted a pumpkin ever since they put the rack of them up a couple of weeks ago. We stopped today and bought a little one.

It was pouring down rain today, so hard even the kids at the cross country meet in the park were huddled under the pavilion. Laurel and I wore our raincoats and got soaking wet and very muddy. Laurel showed me where the mushroom used to be but isn't anymore, and then looked around for new ones. We got a drink out of the brand new water fountain. We noticed that the black-eyed Susans are finally finished blooming.

I had a rough week, trying to recover from a crazy-bad sinus and ear infection. But taking an hour to walk a mile home from daycare under brilliant orange leaves in the pouring rain is a better cure for what ails me than any of the pills or shots my doctors gave me. Probably the laughing helps, too.



Laurel will be two in one month exactly. I think we're going to have a birthday party. You aren't supposed to make too big of a deal about toddler's birthdays, but Laurel likes a crowd, so you are all invited. Details to follow.

Favorite Laurelisms of the week include:

"Miss you sooo much, Mommy."
"Thanks coming over, Yia-Yia"
"Teacher Lisa put the leash on" (Explanation: Laurel currently has to wear a leash at daycare, because she refuses to hold the little rope thing the rest of the kids do while they walk to the playground.)
"Put it down right there" (Meaning, put Alexis down, I want to be the baby now)

She just received her copy of Baby Bug magazine that my Great Aunt Jan sends her. I really can't say enough good things about this magazine. It's on special thick paper, so it's hard to rip. The stories are well illustrated. (And you never know what that crazy Kim and Carrots are going to do next! Will they visit a farm? Have a picnic? Take a bath? Haha!) Seriously, though, Laurel loves this magazine enough to want to read it over and over again, and I love reading enough to be really excited that they make a high quality magazine for toddlers.


Do you hate working with parents of young children?

I called off again tomorrow. Whatever germs are floating around our house are persistent and Laurel is not quite right and got sent home from daycare today. I feel like crap, but I think it's because things happen like I go the whole day eating just a Luna bar and two cups of coffee because one of my students has decided that it's a good idea to tuck his belt into the back of his pants and wear it like a tail. Which wouldn't be that big of a deal, except he tries to whip people with his tail.

Did you know that dealing with crap like that was part of my job?

I've lost a whole pants size since the first day of school thanks to antics like that.

But I was thinking, as I pondered over possible solutions to this tail whipping thing, that it must suck to be my colleague, and never know when I am going to call off, but definitely know that it will be more than the allotted ten days. That I will sometimes be distracted because I'm thinking about the text I just got from my husband that says Laurel has a fever, and he's going to get her, but he's on the bus and it will be a little while. That I will pick up all kinds of germs myself, and always look a little disheveled and sniffly and tired.

That I will sometimes forget how to perform simple arithmetic while I'm demonstrating a problem on measures of central tendency on the board.

It's the health insurance that makes it worth it...me working, I mean. But sometime I wonder if we would even need the health insurance if Laurel and I didn't spend all day in germ factories, not sleeping enough due to five a.m. alarms, and forgetting to eat lunch because of tail whipping episodes.


Rough housing

"Do you think we would be as concerned if they were boys?" Stephanie asked me. The girls were tumbling on top of each other...headlocks...pushing.

Laurel plays rough sometimes. So does our neighbor, Olivia, apparently. But today we just let them duke it out until Laurel tapped out eventually. They were like puppies, rolling over each other, nipping, pulling hair and squealing, occasionally shouting out and getting mad and pouty and storming off to glare at us.

After Laurel seemed like she had enough, I grabbed both girls and said, "do you like pushing each other?" They both nodded yes. "It's fun to rough house. But sometimes it goes too far and then it's not fun anymore. Can we play a game that is fun for everyone?"

They both nodded, serious expressions on their face. Although, they are not quite two, so that expression sometimes means "Mom, I totally get you" and sometimes it means "You just said blah, blah, blah, blah and now I'm going to inexplicably take my shirt off and roll all over the ground while screaming and crying."

But then Olivia shouted "running!" and took off toward the baseball field. Laurel looked a little less sure, but she soon took off after her. From then on there was no more rough housing, and only a minor shouting match over a sippy cup.

Stephanie and I looked at each other. Did we do that right? Hopefully, because otherwise, they're both probably going to get kicked out of daycare by the end of the week. These girls can rumble.


You and your gold coins

I was tired that night, and considered canceling. Having ample Excuses on standby, this would be easy to do, and they would understand. Perhaps I would catch up on the laundry, write that contract that is embarrassingly overdue. Take the few precious minutes after Laurel's bedtime to discuss the household business that gets shoved into the mail baskets near the door. Go to bed early. Embarrassing items linger on my to-do list. Vacuum potting soil debris out of back seat of car (since August). Hem curtains in living room (since early summer). Paint door trim (since 2009). Yes, I could catch up. That would be a better way to spend my time.

And I had been fighting off a cold. School was chaotic, as usual. All sorts of drama and problems with teenagers, which required meetings, and observations and documentation. And these things fill me with a general sadness that I can't take this one or that one home with me, and give them a bowl of hot soup and make sure they finish their homework and then tuck them into bed at a reasonable hour.


But I made myself go. My mom friends had been planning this dinner out for a couple of weeks and it was hard to narrow down a date that worked for everybody, and what the heck is wrong with me that going out with my friends felt like another task to check off?

Of course, as soon as Sarah picked me up, I felt happy. Sarah is like that. Even if she's not particularly happy, she has this welcoming effect on everyone around her. You should see how excited Laurel gets every time she sees her. And by the time we sat down at the restaurant and toasted half glasses of wine, and heard the specials described in loving detail by our waiter, I was back in that place of why-don't-I-make-time-for-this-every-week. Because it is so nourishing, to sit with friends, and trade stories and laugh. And then Sarah posted a link to this article by Anne Lamott and it summed up all my excuses and why they are all stupid. You'll have to read the article to understand the title of my post.


I love weekends. Period.

This was last weekend. Flour on every surface. Delicious sourdough loaves that sustained us through the week.


And this was from a few weekends ago when Jamie visited. I wish we had a photo of her playing in the rain with Bridget. When I showed Laurel this picture she said, "When is Uncle Jamie coming over?"


And happy first day of fall! Driving home from school today, I noticed the leaves changing. But I finally uploaded some pictures I took at One Woman Farm over the summer, and this makes me smile. And remember the blisters on my hands. I have some other great shots, and I hope to put together something a little more in-depth about my experiences.



Bean Soup

Try it, mommy. Have a taste. Needs more pepper.
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Walking home from daycare

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Man Down!

Groan. Third week of school and I had to take a sick day. Yesterday at school, my throat started to hurt. By the time 6th period hit, I couldn't swallow without cringing, and my voice was no match for the boisterous energy of my afternoon classes. I set them up at the marker boards all around the room and they happily simplified expressions. I don't know why having them do the problems on the board elicits no complaints, when I am having them literally do the exact same problems that are on the worksheet, but hey, it works. I willed myself to sit through the after-school faculty meeting, and bleary-eyed, stumbled through Trader Joe's and the market to pick up our CSA. Then finally, I scooped Laurel up from daycare and got home. Thank goodness my mother had already planned to come over. She stepped in immediately to entertain Laurel and I drank cup after cup of hot water with lemon and honey. (Have I mentioned how much my mom rocks?)

Really, it's just a cold. I feel better today already. Actually, I felt better immediately upon making the decision to be gentle on myself, to give myself rest time, instead of trying to power through another day.

My school district has adopted an initiative this year called the "Whole Child", which my cynical side has dubbed "Teachers, you may not use the excuse that kids have crappy lives and arrive in your classroom sick/tired/hungry/scared...they should still be mastering grade level standards at all times".

But my cynical side is fading a bit with motherhood. When I spend time with Laurel, I choose to respect her time frame and needs (and believe me, a toddler's time frame is on a completely different scale that a busy mama's). This is bleeding over into my teaching a bit, and I have found myself with a greater sense of patience with them. I'm expanding the district's policy to include the "Whole Teacher". I meditate for a short time during my prep periods, and my desk is filled with all kinds of tea and snacks. I try to go slower. And, when I'm feeling crappy, I stay home in my jammies and curl up with tea and the Common Core Standards.

"Why are you so smiley all the time? Do you really like math that much?" one of them asked the other day.

"I like you that much," I told her.

Ha! Me. Smiley.

Now that's a thought...


We got a new record player...

...and it is awesome. Last Friday, M and I sat up (too) late and listened to records and drank some wine and talked. These days, it is a rare occasion that we can have a conversation that lasts longer than a few minutes. While we were sitting there I had a flashback of sitting on our tiny porch in Phoenix, bare feet propped up on the railing that always felt warm to the touch, even in the middle of the night. We didn't have a record player then (or did we? I seem to have a memory of putting Neko Case's Fox Confessor Brings the Flood on a turntable. Hmmm.), but we definitely had thousands of CDs, and we went to shows all the time and sometimes got home very late because we had driven to Tucson, which always seemed like a very good idea on the way there, but driving home on that flat, dark stretch of the 10 was another story. In those days, we were always going somewhere, with music blaring in the car, windows down and breeze in our hair. There was always a party, friends crowded into whatever tiny space we were living in at the moment, the din of conversation nearly drowning out the music in the background.

Now we put on a record and just listen to it. We enjoy the excuse to sit down for 20 minutes before it's time to get up again and flip it over.

Don't miss Bill Callahan's Apocalypse or tUnE-yArDs's whokill, some of our favorite releases of the year.

And don't worry, we're not total luddites....Laurel knows what a playlist is, too.


Back in the Swing of Things

I had a good first week of school. Things went relatively smoothly, I did the right amount of planning, and the principal happened to roll through my Algebra I class when the kids were actively debating the merits of two different equations they came up with to describe a puzzle.

That's right. Kids debating about equations. On the first day of school. Principal saw them.

The laundry didn't get backed up and nobody got sick. I went to bed early.

Nonetheless, even as smoothly as everything went last week, spending all day balancing the psychological needs of teenagers with my appointed task of teaching them math is exhausting.

I come home to my chatterbox toddler (kids racing! mail man! fire hydrant! moon out, mommy? squirrel eat nut berries? Sarah Kai park. what is that called? Want to paint, mommy. Sit in blue chair and paint brush, mommy. Want the other one. No. No. No. No.) She's very vocal, they report to me at daycare. They look serious when they say that. I decide to take it as a compliment. However, I do know that her rather large vocabulary includes the local term "jag-off", among other things, so I pack her up quickly and get out of there.

You would think that any toddler who had spent all day playing with friends at daycare and running around at the playground and racing her mommy through the park on the way home, would be highly willing and eager to go to sleep at night.

My friend's son is about the same age as Laurel and he recently learned how to get out of his crib. She texted me for advice for the post-crib bedtime era.

Good luck, I said. Bedtime has turned into a rather lengthy affair around here.

It's like Calvin and Hobbes. Or am I thinking Dennis the Menace? Laurel leaves a destructive path in her wake. Today, I was preparing dinner and turned my back on her for one second only to turn around again and see that she had dumped out an entire box of baby cereal into a bowl and was enthusiastically stirring a powdery mess.

"Yum, Mommy! Making eggs!"

It was in her hair. And all over the previously clean drying rack of dishes. It was not, however, on her clothes, since she wasn't wearing any. She stripped down at the store, earlier in the afternoon.

Bedtime is the same thing. I try to do all the right things. We have a routine. We turn out all the lights and get mellow and sing quiet songs and read books. We say a firm goodnight and tuck her in with an ever-expanding menagerie of stuffed animals. But some nights, she just won't go to sleep. She makes funny demands. "Lay down, mommy. Next to." There are requests to go to the potty. Another glass of water. Hungry. Or my personal favorite, "Ok, all done sleeping," as she dramatically flings her pacifier to the ground.

We had an interesting weekend...an impromptu party after the Big Pour, and we hosted a guy who biked from Charlottesville, VA to Pittsburgh. The house was loud with records playing and conversation. People gathered on the porch. Friends splashed with Laurel in puddles out front. It was the most fun I've had in ages.


Hello, again...

Well, that was a short month.

I remember days passing that were eternally long, but then nights came, and another day was born and then it was September. Just like that.

I wrote more letters and worked my way through five or six books from the library that did not have Elmo in the title, and went running and bought a bunch of art supplies at this super cool secondhand craft store and Laurel and I made giant messes with paint. We painted a lot of kayaks.

Laurel is somewhere between a holy terror and sheer delight. She lives life with the kind of exuberance that frequently results in some kind of mess. She fears nothing. She is friendly and inquisitive. She talks in brief phrases and sentences now. "Bees eating nectar?" and "Berries hiding the birds eat them." She calls napkins "lapkins" and it's so darn cute I can't bring myself to correct her (well, I corrected her six dozen times, but she doesn't seem to like my way of saying that word, so I've given up for now). I came home from running yesterday and Laurel and M were having a dance party of sorts in the bedroom. When I walked up to the house, she was standing on her little stool, pulled up to the window so she can watch for taxis and buses. She shouted "Mommy, out!" - which I knew to mean, "Please come inside, or else I will crawl out on the roof top and jump to you." I had a moment of panic until I saw M's head appear in the window. I went inside and while I stretched, Laurel stood alongside me and did toddler approximations of my movements. Which is to say, she contorted herself effortlessly with her not-yet-tense toddler muscles. When the three of us are together, Laurel shouts "Family hug!" and comes running over and we all hold onto each other and smile.

I just started working again. We have teacher inservice this week, and then the freshmen will come on Tuesday and regular school will start on Wednesday. I came home yesterday and was so utterly exhausted, not from the amount of work I did at school, but I think, from the lack of play. Play is therapeutic and energizing. Play makes people smile. I remember a couple of weeks ago, Laurel and I were hanging out in this field in the park. Just kind of shooting the breeze, the way one does with an almost-two-year old. Watching squirrels and looking for tiny flowers and spinning around in circles. That's what we were doing when this man walked by with his dog. I saw him smiling at us out of the corner of my eye as I twirled around, arms stretched wide, matching Laurel's movements. And then we fell ("ashes, ashes, down!" ) and stared at the clouds for a bit.

Tonight, we got stuck in a traffic jam on the way home, which might have been terrible, but Laurel calls it a traffic jamberry (do you know the Bruce Degen book?) and then we got some Spak Brothers takeout instead of cooking, and after dinner and a bath, we sat down and read Chicken Soup with Rice and Goodnight Moon, except Laurel wanted to read out loud, and she sort of did. And I was only a little bit amazed. Mostly I caught myself thinking, time and time again, I have never had such joy in all my life.

So, that was summer. We haven't really figured out a way to juggle everything on our plates and are desperately behind on just about everything. Except taking time as a family to love each other and play, whenever we have the chance, so I guess maybe we are not behind at all.

I'm a little worried now. I don't want to be tired for the rest of my life, and I don't want to feel like I am stealing time if I wander through the park, taking 2 hours to walk 1/2 a mile and stopping at every interesting stone in the path and hole in a tree trunk. I want to take time to explore pattern blocks with my ninth graders, and entertain their questions about real world math, and read some biographies of famous scientists and mathematicians. I want to ponder over problems.

Going into this school year, I prepared myself. I hate school (I know, teaching is probably not the best profession for me), so I stocked up on herbal tea and meditation recordings, and I just came across the following video, which makes me feel very calm, even though the awesomeness of August is gone. Alarm clocks are my new reality. Clutching a cup of coffee throughout most of the day, willing myself to stay upright and look interested while my principal talks about "the Whole Child".

So, watch this little video and slow down your life for a moment with me....

Growing is Forever from Jesse Rosten on Vimeo.


A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to Simplicity....

Almost as soon as M and I bought our house we had buyer's remorse. It isn't that we hate the house itself - it's a lovely place, classic and full of character. I love the built-in cabinets and weathered wood floors. The shiny glass door knobs and skeleton keys. I love how if you shut all the windows and pull the curtains it feels like there's air conditioning when you walk in from a hot summer day. I love that I have the kind of neighbors who pot extra herbs every summer and put them on our porch when we aren't looking. I love the terrific amount of space in the driveway to hang wet clothes and having a garage door with an automatic opener. And who doesn't appreciate the cozy heat our ancient boiler kicks out on cold January afternoons?

We have great access to public transportation. Frick Park right down the street. Walkable restaurants and groceries. Diversity that is not common in most Pittsburgh neighborhoods.

(We won't talk about the plumbing. The burglaries. The traffic. No place is paradise, after all.)

So, the buyer's remorse was not really about the house, or its location.

M has his own reasons, and maybe he'll comment on them here. For me it was about the space. There was too much of it, and we started to fill it up, consciously and unconsciously, with stuff and obligations and things to take care of and things that were supposed to make something easier, but were in fact harder. Like the vacuum.

So, we started to pare down. Summer break hit and with a sudden influx of time, I started to think about how we could simplify our cleaning and cooking, to prepare for the next school year. I decluttered using Flylady techniques and got brave enough to break out the tools and try my handiwork on a few nagging home improvement issues. Slowly, but surely, the house started to look better. Gradually, there was dinner on the table most days at 6 o'clock and the dishes were done and the sink wiped shiny by bedtime. I started to relax a little more at home. It felt less like the dorm-room we happened to crash in each night while we recovered from our busy lives, and more like a place to Be. A Home. I sold things on Craigslist and repurposed furniture and made some thoughtful additions, like houseplants, which help to clean indoor air.

With the decluttering of the house, I began a sort of decluttering of my soul. I started to examine the things that took up my time each day and considered what was beneficial to me and my family. A clearer picture of my hopes and vision emerged.

I got excited about what I was discovering on the internet. I clicked here and here and here and here. I read inspirational stories and poured over how-to's. I heard a whole lot of people saying things that I rang true to me. Consumerism will wear you down! Live more slowly! Be thoughtful about your contributions to the planet - whether it's your work or your garbage - and keep in mind that your neighbors are both down the street and in some hard-to-get-to slum in East Africa.

A funny thing happened.

I looked up one day and realized I was spending way too much time reading minimalist blogs, looking at systems to simplify and trying to streamline my life so that I could enjoy it. Trying to figure stuff out so I could get more done. More. Better. Faster.

This blog started off as a travelogue, because M and I were wanderers.

Our wanderlust was fueled by a life that had gotten away from us a bit in Phoenix. Money, cars, commuting, neckties, Teach for America. We desired simplicity. (You really can't get much simpler than backpacking. It's you and 30 pounds of stuff. And Nature, of course.)

That road, of course, led us on a 32 state camping trip and up and down the backbone of the Appalachian mountains. It brought us back to Pittsburgh and introduced new careers and along the way we acquired a daughter and a mortgage and volunteer work on various boards of directors. It started out as a pursuit of simplicity and it's led us back to the same place.

Now I could classify ourselves more as wonderers, as we watch Laurel explore and learn and grow, but it's all taking place right here in our house and our local park and the grocery store. And it's awesome.

I like telling these kind of stories, and I know you like reading them. But I've had the nagging feeling that I've allowed this blog to become too limiting. I've been censoring myself too much about what life is really like around here. It's not a true reflection of who we are or who we hope to become. I'm an honest writer, but I tell a very incomplete story.

I'm going to take a little blogging break. As my uncle described me during our recent family reunion, I can be a prolific writer, so I don't want you to think something awful happened when no new blog posts go up. I'm just at the park with Laurel, or maybe cleaning the basement. Life goes on, whether I document it or not.

This blog has been a marvelous outlet for my writer's spirit, and I think it captures a lot about me and our lives over the past five years. I especially like this post and this one about hiking in Vermont and maybe this one here, which sort of captures the lesson I keep learning over and over again...that I always feel like I'm searching for an answer about who I'm supposed to be, and it turns out I knew it all along.

So, I don't know what my plans are for this blog, only that I'm taking a bit of a break from it. Maybe we'll carry on in September, maybe something new and better will come out of it.

In any case, if you have any opinions on whether or not you'd like to see this blog continue, or questions about us, or other ideas you'd like to see me write about, feel free to leave them in the comments.

And until then, have a very nice summer.


Airing My Dirty Laundry

In polite society, we don't talk about cleaning that much. It is something you are just supposed to know how to do, and work it seamlessly into your day, without sweating, on a regular basis so that when guests arrive, there are clean glasses and the sofa is clear enough to offer them a seat.

I bought my first vacuum cleaner on Mother's Day (oh, the irony). It is a Bissell and it sucks up dirt pretty well, as far as I can tell. It's a little heavy, but it has a washable filter and canister and you don't need bags, and the hoses are really easy to get on and off.

At first, I was delighted. We have wall-to-wall carpet upstairs now and a very messy toddler and a cat who sheds. Not to mention all the dirt that gets tracked in from people who spend a lot of time biking around town and splashing in puddles in the park. I never had a new vacuum cleaner before, and I'm now convinced that the hand-me-down ones we always used did nothing except spew dust all over the house.

But recently I started to wonder if a broom isn't faster. I mean, the actual sweeping seems to take longer, but when you are done, you are done. No moving parts to break. Obviously I can't deal with the carpet with a broom, but why do I lug the Bissell all over the house? A broom is lighter. It doesn't take up as much space to store. It doesn't make any noise and you don't need electricity (actually a bigger problem than you might think when you live in a house with original wiring).

Cleaning is different depending on the type of house you live in. Those of you who live in old houses know that ancient dirt creeps up from behind baseboards and out of closet corners where plaster is crumbling. Sometimes we find bits of 75 year old newspapers that were shoved in cracks to prevent a draft. Buffalo nickels emerge from under the radiators.

Some people are very particular about cleaning techniques. They learn from their mothers the "right" way to mop a floor, or clean a toilet. I don't have any hereditary cleaning rituals. I just experiment with what what works best, preferably using baking soda and vinegar and perhaps a little Simple Green when necessary. Some people have special tools...a duster they can't live without, or a certain brand of toilet tank cleaner.

I recently ran across this video, and I'm sort of intrigued by the book, although she seems to be coming from a place of privilege that I can't relate to. I like the images of the "help" scrubbing the tile and changing the garbage can liner. When I was hanging my clothes on the line to dry yesterday, I tried to rethink the act...make it into something pleasurable. And then suddenly it was, the bending and stretching to reach the line, and gazing up into the sky as I did. Lifting up the heavy red bath towels to the highest part of the line. Tiny t-shirts and shorts all waving in a row in the breeze. It went from being something I do because I ought not use the dryer on a sunny warm day, into something that I actually enjoyed.

So what do you think? Should I keep vacuuming my wood floors and stairs, or just stick with a broom?


A really big box...

I remember when my parents got a new refrigerator. I must have been in middle school, on the brink of adolescence, but still in that stage where we played outside during summer vacation, for many, many hours at a time...my sister and brother and the neighbor, Billy. The box was huge, big enough for us to take turns lying down in it and rolling down the hill. We sat in it for shade when the sun got high. When it was finally too mangled to be box-like, we ripped it apart and slid down the hill on the pieces, across the dry grass.

When I dropped Laurel off at daycare this morning, there was a big box in the middle of the floor. Two pairs of tiny legs stuck out the end, and much giggling could be heard from within. This is one of the reassuring things about our daycare. Kids play in sand, and boxes and water, and come home dirty and I once caught the caregivers imagining themselves as bears, right alongside the 2 and 3 year-olds. Kids play, with stuff, using their imaginations.

As a reading specialist, I know that creative play is incredibly important for paving the neural pathways these little ones will need to become literate in the next 3 or 4 years.

As a mom, I simply enjoy talking to Laurel about whatever she has imagined that giant box to be. A house, a kayak, a mouth.


Baby's First Pronoun

It's a just-slightly-uncomfortable summer evening. We have the fans going and cool air is blowing through, but don't try to mop the floor, as I just did to wipe off an interesting mixture of peas and strawberry jam. You'll end up a sweaty mess and mildly irritated at those residents of your house who seem incapable of leaving the dining room without a disaster in their wake. Ahem, Laurel.

I took Laurel down to the river today to meet M and go for a bike ride. They went for a bike ride. I went to the Leaf and Bean and read a book about algebra. (No really, that's what I did with my kid-free hour.) M and L took the bike path down to the fountain near PNC Park and went for a swim. They saw many kayaks and several Ducky Tours. It was an exciting day for Laurel because we took the bus (money bus!) to Oakland to meet Grandma Cake for lunch and a ride on the merry-go-round. I strongly suggest that you ask Laurel about what animal she rode during your next conversation with her. The sound effects are hilarious.

All of these details are the sort that blend into a collective memory of fondness for summer. What I will specifically remember about today is Laurel's use of a pronoun.

On the way home from the North Shore, we drove by the bike track and we asked Laurel what the people were doing. "Riding their bikes," she said, very clearly. A bona fide phrase, with proper use of a pronoun. Only a linguist would get excited over these details, but it's the kind of thing I want to remember. Almost 21 months, and she uses possessive pronouns. She has said "it" for a while. Read it! Eat it! But tonight was the first time I heard her speak and thought, wow, she's going to be fluent in English very, very soon.


Farmers are Crazy

At lunchtime on Friday, we sat at the picnic table under the oak tree, dirty faces, sweat stained clothes...the Farmer, and the four of us who work there in various capacities. We had spent the morning transplanting rows of Swiss chard and lettuce and radicchio and escarole. Two people laid out plants, two followed along covering them with soil. We stretched out irrigation hoses. The Farmer seeded the upper end of the field with her ancient tractor, while we slowly moved from one side of the field to another at the lower end....drop, step, drop, step, drop, step. The temperature was in the upper 90s, the humidity and sunshine and poor air quality alert made it seem at least ten degrees hotter.

And for all that work, the best you can do is pray that the plants will take, that the right bugs will come and the wrong bugs stay away. That your irrigation system won't break because nature has already failed you this dry year. That market day will not be rained out, yet again, when you try to sell your harvested crops. If you're the Farmer that is. The rest of us simply have a newfound appreciation for what it takes to get the food from the land to our plates. I'm a tourist when it comes to farming, but it's a trip I'm glad I'm taking. The Farmer, on the other hand, lives this, day in and day out. That's why I think she's a little crazy. (But I'm very grateful for her beets.)


Not Quite Ready for This...

What do you do when you are not quite ready for something your child is ready for? We're at the brink of potty-training, and I don't know if I should move full-speed ahead and get her all the way out of diapers, or if I should just let it naturally evolve. To push, to strive, or to stand back and observe, watch, support...

Recently, Laurel has been asking to use the potty, and quite successfully at that. I think I used 3 diapers today, including the one I put her to bed in. She shows lots of signs that she's ready, heck she even pooped at my friend's house the other day. She asked to use the potty! (Which was a regular one and not a potty chair. In the midst of all the sugar-balloon-dancing-excitement of a birthday party.) She has trouble getting a cloth diaper off, but she can slide out of a disposable one. She often wakes up dry from a nap or even overnight.

So how can you tell if what's holding you back is your own reluctance to see your child grow up, or if you sense that there's some critical skill that's not quite developed yet. I have a feeling parenting will reveal lots of these kinds of dilemmas over the next few decades.

But seriously, is 20 months too young to be potty trained?



Laurel learned the word "why?"

And she uses it all the time.

Nothing like a constant barrage of "whys" to make you question absolutely everything yo are doing, nature, and public transportation, among other things. Life is good with a going-on-two-year old.


Welcome, Alexis

We welcomed a new baby into our family this week. M's sister gave birth to a beautiful little girl named Alexis. This is Laurel's first cousin, and we went to see the "tiny baby" as she calls her, in the hospital. Laurel made her a card, and it had a lot of snakes and kayaks on it, because this is what Laurel is into right now. Snakes. Have a body. (Do not try to have a conversation with a toddler about appropriate drawings to put on a Welcome Baby card. She will look at you with a blank expression of noncomprehension....why would a tiny baby NOT want to look at lots of pictures of snakes? Oh well, Alexis didn't seem to mind.)

It seems as if Laurel herself was that small, only moments ago. But she towered over Alexis, with her strong personality and toddler body. I remembered Laurel's personality as a tiny baby and how looking back, we could have seen who she would become now as a small girl. She cries the same way as she did in her first days, with great gusto, mouth wide open so you can see the back of her throat. She grins the same way, big toothy, squinty-eyed grins. She constantly moves, even in her sleep. Hungry all the time. Impatient. Eagerly seeks interaction. You can see her personality in her face, over the last year and a half. Laurel is in there.

Alexis is new, but she's not a blank slate. There's a strong, real girl in there and we'll take time to figure her out and get to know her. But before we know it, she'll be a toddler, too.



What is the role in a parent in facilitating play? Are we supposed to provide engaging and enriching experiences throughout the day and do they always involved commercially made toys? Is it better to leave the kids to their own devices and intervene only when there is a problem?

I think having only one little one at home is more challenging than having a bunch. Especially when they are at that busy toddler stage. Laurel can entertain herself for a little while, but she very much enjoys social interaction, and seems to really crave someone else to play with...or better yet, a whole room full of someone elses. I think she misses daycare. I'm enjoying the time off this summer, and definitely feel the desire to just hang out with her and play all day. But it's kind of like when you have a good friend come to town and stay and you spend so much time with them hanging out, loving it, but also ready to drop them off at the airport at the end of the week. I took Laurel to the Friends Meeting in Oakland this morning and she got to play with a group of kids for a little while, much to her delight.

Laurel enjoys coloring with crayons, looking out the window at the traffic, and pushing buttons (literally, not figuratively). Her newest favorite game is to take things out of the cupboards and put them in a basket. And then take them out. And then put them back. And then take them out. And then put them back. Best game ever for during dinner preparation time, unless, of course you happen to need the can of beans that she is using.


Awesome Day


Great Grandparents

L and I took a mini-road trip to Rices Landing to visit my grandparents, Aunt Donna, Uncle Tom and Ryan. Laurel's favorite part of the trip was sitting on the gazebo and a giant bowl of strawberry ice cream, and I enjoyed having a cup of coffee with my grandma and watching my grandpa read a book to her. Here are some photos from the day!


Dude, It's already the 6th....

Happy 20 month birthday to Laurel. Every month on the 6th, I think about her birthday and her life so far, and how much things can change in just a month. Do I change that much in a month? Who would write about me if I did?

I cannot tell you how much she weighs in pounds, only that she's heavy enough that I tell her to hold on tight when I'm carrying her and she wraps her arms around my neck like a little monkey. I don't know how tall she is in inches, only that the 18 month clothing fits but is awfully short and she can now climb out of her pack n play, and reach most anything on the edge of the counters by straining on her tippy-toes.

She sings a condensed version of the alphabet song to herself, when we're on long car trips. "...E-F-G, now I know..."

She talks in her sleep sometimes. She half-woke up in the car today, and started babbling on about bunnies and chickens, laughed to herself and then fell right back asleep. I think she dreams. She gets scared and sad and can say that. I'm sad. I'm scared. I'm tired. I'm happy.

She has this funny way of responding to a question. "Ummm....." she says, and there's this expectant pause, before she either ignores the question entirely, or makes very deliberate eye contact and answers in a serious tone.

She pooped on the potty today. On purpose. She was in the bathtub and said uh-oh, and then potty and I lifted her out, and she pooped. I refrained from taking a photo and posting it here, although I must admit, the thought did cross my mind.

We had to take the side off her crib. Over the weekend she escaped from the pack and play and also figured out how to unlatch the Airstream screen door, so she popped out of the camper, long after bedtime with an excited "hi!" to M and I, as we sat in our camp chairs under the awning. A new era. She's a climber, and she's fearless about falling, and when she gets stuck someplace high, she just flings herself over the edge. Bedtime is a lot more work for me now. She will still fall asleep on her own, but she needs to be really tired, and since we're not waking up at 5:30 anymore, she's not on-the-brink-of-collapse tired at the end of the day now. Which is probably a good thing.

But. It's time consuming.

One more story.

One more trip to the potty.

And that's IT. I mean it.

Stay in your bed.

Ok, one more hug.

Today, she called to me, "Rock!" I went upstairs and she was holding a blanket. "Tuck," she said. She pointed to the glider, which is now in the hallway, in an attempt to baby-proof her room (she likes to stand on the glider and rock back and forth, which has previously resulted in her flipping the entire chair over on top of herself).

Sure, I'll rock you. You will only be 20 months for one month longer. Someday I will be checking on you to make sure you are not hanging out your window smoking pot or something like that. A simple request to be cuddled to sleep is so very easy to honor. So, that is how I spent a good portion of the evening so far.



To M: Happy 15th anniversary of the day we met. You were awesome then, and you are at least 15 times as awesome now. I love you. Thanks for a rockin' 15 years.

Laurel's on this wacky sleep schedule as a result of much traveling and not sleeping in our own beds. So, she fell asleep after the BBQ at Tony's place and woke up around 8:30. We let her come out on the porch where we ate a little snack and watched the fireflies and fireworks. Boom, she said, and slapped her thigh each time for emphasis. You see, while I am a proponent of routine for young children, I cannot resist exposing her to the magic of the longest days of summer. When we finally took her upstairs for Real Bedtime, we read some library books and it smelled exactly like the long summer days when my dad took us to the Carnegie main branch and we wandered through the stacks...that book smell of many different fingerprints, and possibility. I know that all she will remember from these days is a sort of visceral sense of love, but what I will remember is the three of us standing on our front walk watching fireworks burst over the buildings in our neighborhood and Laurel leaning in, asking for a "family hug", and spreading cheese and jam on slices of french bread, and the deep sense of contentment of being Three.

Life is so good this summer. Laurel's first kayak trip at the River House, and watching cartoons with Grandpa Curly. Collecting flowers with Grandma Cake, and swimming in a pool at Yia-Yia's. Camping in our tent, where her tiny body curls up next to mine in the deepest part of the night, after crickets but before birds, when it is cool and damp and silent. Hot days bent over weeds at the farm, and seeking solace in our air conditioned bedrooms in the early evening, building block towers and waiting for the Drring-Drrring of M's bicycle bell as he comes home from work.


Transitions and More on Daycare

Today is Laurel's last day at her current daycare. We stumbled upon this place at just the right time, as we were going through another period of transition when M and I both started new jobs and we were getting used to the whole two working parent thing.

I really went back and forth about the decision to move her. She cried a lot during the first couple of months when she was in the baby room, but when they started her in the young toddler room, everything in our lives seemed to settle a bit. She started napping once a day, weaned easily from breastfeeding, slept through the night (amen!), stopped spitting up constantly, and got her molars so she could eat more regular food. She loves the coloring and songs and playground and the other kids. I watched her for a few minutes today, standing around with two other little girls comparing shoes, dresses and jewelry. She looked so independent, standing there "chatting" with her friends, and I thought about every woman who came up to me when I had her strapped to me in the Moby when she was an infant.

"Savor this time. It goes so fast," they always said.

Now I know what they mean. Sometimes, in the moments when you are explaining patiently for the 97,000th time why you cannot stop driving the car to pour more juice, time seems at a standstill. But here we are, getting ready to take another leap.

We've decided to move Laurel to a daycare center in our neighborhood, so that we can share the drop-off/pick-up duties. It's also cheaper, and the care seems comparable. I'm not super picky about daycare. I looked at a bunch of them and my personal preference is small, privately owned centers over chains. From what I observed, there is far less staff turnover at the small centers. I like places where you bring your own food - I'm not wild about starting her on a school lunch diet of tots and chicken fingers and mac & cheese, which seems to be what they serve. (HFCS. Empty calories. Nothing green on the plate. Ew.) I considered home based care which would save us a LOT of money, but Laurel is way too social, and loves being surrounded by a lot of kids, especially kids who are older than her. I will consider this option when I need something part-time, but for 40-50 hours a week, I think she likes being in a large group. Not all kids are like this, and you can spot them right away at daycares...they are the teary-eyed ones clinging to the teacher's leg or crying in a corner.

Sometimes I think parents obsess way too much about daycare - it's a frequent topic at the playground, but maybe we just lucked out on our first pick. I hope the second one turns out just as well.


It does grow on you...

I hate pretty much everything the first time. Ask M. It's one of the charming-slash-most-annoying qualities about me. This axiom applies to music, food, people...pretty much everything except jobs. I usually love jobs the first month, and then hate them. And then quit.

The thing is that I'll try most anything. I'll try it again, even after I find that I hate it. I just complain about it, or give it a bad review, or tune out when someone is talking about it. In general, I think I could be quite happy with vanilla ice cream and green curry and walking for exercise. At least, I like to say that. It would probably get boring. I never have to worry about getting bored, nor do I have to really do the work of introducing new music/food/hobbies into my life, since M pretty much takes care of that with his own varied and ever changing interests.

So this pattern has been repeating itself for years. Therefore, I always hate what the cool kids like, and then start to like it when it blows up and goes mainstream.

M downloaded the tUnE-yArDs' 2 albums a while ago, and I've been groaning when he requests them on car trips, but something clicked the other day. I'm now obsessed.

I love this video, especially the classroom scene at the beginning. But this is the song I can't get out of my head. You know that feeling you get when you're singing along to the radio in your car on a sunny day...wind in your hair, nary a care, and a landscaping truck passes you, and all three guys crammed in the cab of the truck turn and look at you, and you can just tell...they think you are rock star sexy?


Merrill Garbus is how I picture my inner sexy, rock star self.

I could not remember our Amazon Cloud Music password today, but it was fortuitous because in my search for tUnE-yArDs music, I came across this lovely little record store with a great collection of videos. It made me think about Music Saves in Cleveland, and Stinkweeds in Phoenix and Paul's here in Pittsburgh. All these places, M has dragged me around to, over the years, and we've heard some unbelievable music in tiny, sweaty venues, and carried home t-shirts and vinyl sold directly from the hands of the artists who carted themselves from city to city in rusty old vans.

Following their dreams. And looking bad-ass while they did it.

Confession: I am not following my dreams. I am living a very nice life. Blessed to be surrounded by such incredible, loving people. Food on the table, roof over my head, and all that. And when your life is so good, it is easy to get complacent and say, "This is good enough. I can be happy with this."

But....the idea of following my dreams? It's growing on me...


Semantics, AKA What the heck are they talking about??

M and I have a long-standing disagreement of sorts over the word "strive". He finds it somewhat distasteful. I live by it. As our relationship matures - or perhaps as we tire of having the same arguments repeatedly - I find myself reflecting on the nuances of the language I use. While sitting around a neighborhood association board meeting recently, I listened to an exchange that sounded on the surface as if they were disagreeing. As it went on, it became clear that they actually seemed to share the same opinion. It was the language chosen by one party that turned a common vision into an argument.

Strive has two definitions in the Merriam Webster dictionary...."to devote serious effort or energy" and "to struggle in opposition".

Strive has a positive context in my internalized definition. It's about working hard and accomplishing things, perhaps things that scared you. Perseverance. Pushing limits. Striving is a way to get substantially better at something in a timely fashion.

Now, in examining the second part of the definition, I was surprised to find the word opposition. Struggle made sense, because when I think about hard things, like hiking the Appalachian Trail, or moving to a far away state and teaching poor, learning disabled students to read, I remember the tears and confusion and feelings of almost-ready-to-throw-in-the-towel that happen along the way. But opposition? A force working against you to prevent you from reaching your goals? That's a whole other story. So, even though I really like the word strive, and all the schema I have built up around it, maybe I'll just use another word, like "endeavor" or "bang away" when I'm talking about it with M.

I got an email today advertising for this summer book club for teachers. I don't know Mike Schmoker. This is not a book review. Maybe his book is actually awesome, and the description doesn't do it justice. Maybe I'm the ridiculous one for being tired of books about education using phrase like "in no uncertain terms". I think it's funny that he calls standards documents "bloated". My interest is piqued enough that I will probably add this to my library request list. I tire of the endless parade of experts pushing their solution to school reform when none of it does anything to actually rethink schools. Kids don't grow up to work in factories anymore, so why do we school them in factories?

My point here is that maybe teachers should work to increase their own content knowledge. Less on how to teach. Don't even worry about your content area. My overall content knowledge of math is far broader than what I will ever talk about in class lectures, but without that understanding, I would fail in my ability to talk about the number line. Taking in new content (aka "stuff") puts you back in the experience of a learner, which is probably a highly valuable activity, and would probably teach you more about building understanding of unfamiliar topics than listening to yet another blow-hard describe the "essential" elements of instruction. Look beyond books. Look for some TED lectures online or go to a thesis defense at your local university or take a welding class.

And now I must go and take my own advice...


I Touched Your Peas...

I picked a bunch of peas when I worked at our CSA farm on Friday and they were lined up in baskets at the market today when we picked up our share. In the midst of our urban existence, we can still say that we know the farmer that grows our produce and have ourselves walked among the rows of leeks and lettuce. We've leaned over rows of carrots with a shuffle hoe, and delicately extracted tiny weeds with a pocket knife. We've jumped over the fence to wade into a flock of chickens to feed them, and then eaten the eggs we picked from their coop. I like being part of this gentle revolution, where I'm surrounded by people who think it's important and neat to buy food that is local and grown carefully without pesticides. Laurel will grow up knowing that vegetables have dirt on them when they come into your kitchen and chicken eggs have deep golden-orange yolks. She'll know that grass-fed cheese is worth the extra dollar a pound and you buy beer in growlers through an unmarked door under the busway and the guy who brewed that beer will often-times be the guy who pours it for you and he'll tell you how he came up with the recipe while you are waiting.

Blow up your tv, peaches, and all that. John Prine always did make a lot of sense to me.


Great American Backyard Camp Out

We camped out to celebrate this event. We cooked hamburgers and hot dogs, had a campfire, went on very short hikes around the yard, looked at bugs, played with a carnival fish pond game my mom had, and after a somewhat restful night in our tent, ate blueberry pancakes around the fire pit. It was fun, and now my hair smells like campfire smoke, and Laurel is conked out for a nap since she stayed up until ten o'clock, babbling to herself in the tent and rolling around in her sleeping bag. Sarah and Jeremy and Kai camped, too. The funniest part of the whole trip was when we pitched the tents and Laurel and Kai were jumping around in ours, which had not been staked yet, and they managed to roll it over down the hill. When I went in to fish them out, they were giggling hysterically.