Well. That was a year. I don't know if I would call it good. But it was full of change that resulted in good things coming our way.

Mark quit his job. I quit my job. This took guts and was probably a little crazy. We freelanced and began the steps to launch our own business. But by the end of the year, we had both found ourselves employed once again, this time in positions we're excited about and believe in. Filing our 2012 taxes is going to be a epic adventure, perhaps on par with the year we lived in 2 states and worked in 3.

I taught a bunch of algebra with my very favorite co-teacher of all time, Nicole. She was my polar opposite in so many ways, but taught me to enjoy glitter pens and fancy Starbucks drinks. (She could never get me to wear heels in the classroom, though.) She taught me a lot about building relationships with high school students. I really loved teaching math while I was in that room. When I finally put in my letter of resignation, the hardest thing to let go of was the prospect of another year of Algebra 1 with Nicole.

I got to know people I never thought I would, like gastroenterologists and acupuncturists. My body went haywire and was slowly and gently coaxed back to health through a change in diet, plenty of sleep, and some major CTFO. (And just in time to start gestating the newest member of our family, which thus far, has been a blessedly uneventful process.)

Laurel quit diapers, got bossy, learned to negotiate, developed empathy, and mastered all kinds of early reading skills that I get super excited about observing. (Phonemic awareness! Pattern recognition!)

M spent a lot of time working on Margaret's farm. He brought home crates and crates of seconds and now our freezer is full going into winter. He ran in a couple of super hike events, always amazing me with how big his grin gets after he's covered 20 or 30 miles of trail in the woods.

We took our first family road trip and explored Florida. We discovered that Laurel enjoys hitting the road as much as we do. In fact, it's one of the most common make-believe games she plays now.

This wasn't a year of accomplishments, or goal setting. It was a year of life happening. It was a year of us saying no to things we didn't want to do. We spent a lot of time walking away and waiting. The amazing thing to me is that when you walk away from what you don't want, you end up walking towards what you do. Life opens up. Gives you opportunities that you didn't know were there before.

It was scary, though. I think the biggest change in me during this year was how I dealt with fear. Aside from my infamous fear of lightening, I'm pretty gutsy in the face of danger. I handle emergencies with poise and a clear head.  I can get things done and I don't overreact. I do a lot of things other people might consider risky, but I don't do them in an irresponsible or cavalier way. I try to be informed of the facts, and weigh my decision based on a reasonable assessment of risk. And I don't want to miss out on the fun of life, just because there's a remote chance I'll be harmed in some way by it.

However, when it comes to the larger decisions in life, I waver. I make too many contingency plans, err on the side of caution, and avoid taking risks with my career and goals. And as a result, I found that I was going down a path I didn't really want to be on. I had a lot of fear of walking away from a contract teaching job, because it's supposed to be a good thing. Steady paycheck, good benefits, great hours for a mom of young children. I was pretty good at it. Plus I had spent all those years and money on the credentials and blah, blah, blah. Point is, I had tremendous fear of even imagining another way for myself. I dealt with that fear in 2012.

M bought me this poster last winter, when I was in a generally panic-stricken state, as things seemed to be getting worse and worse. I learned about the history of this poster, and breathed it in and out until I figured out what to do.

Happy New Year. Whatever 2013 brings our way, I'll be doing this.


Christmas 2012

Christmas is such a big deal when you have a little kid. There's a lot of pressure to make it really magical, and in America, "magical" seems to equate "spending lots of money to buy Stuff." Laurel goes to preschool and watches enough television that she's influenced by all kinds of things besides us. People love to ask little kids if they're being good and what Santa is going to bring them and all that. So even though we don't really "do" Santa around here, we had to talk about him a lot. Hopefully she doesn't ruin it for your kid. In our house, Santa is a story. Stories can be enjoyed or learned from, but there is no need to take them literally in order for that to be the case. Kind of like the bible. Literal interpretation only causes more confusion down the road.

Our holiday was magical enough, despite Laurel getting the flu. She had a fever of 105 one night! Not fun. We had to cancel most of our plans, but the benefit was that we had a really nice and quiet Christmas at home. We made a lot of hot chocolate and read stories and took naps. Since we're about to add a little chaos into our home in the form of newborn due to arrive sometime in the next month, it was nice to spend some time "all three together," as Laurel puts it. She loves it when the three of us sit down to paint or play with playdoh or hang out in her armada of pirate ships made out of boxes from Uncle Pete. There is something very therapeutic for M and I about getting some time off work and just playing. I'm hoping that next year we'll be able to get together with my family, but that I'll remember to preserve some quiet time for us at home. 


Good Tidings of Joy

I'm currently reading Brene Brown's Daring Greatly, and nodding my head along with agreement as I recognize so many of her ideas in my own life. One of the things she talks about is the difficulty some of us have in really experiencing joy without thinking about the next bad thing that must be coming our way. She calls it "Foreboding Joy."

Oh man, do I do this.

M and I both just started jobs that feel right, we're expecting a baby, we're all healthy. It feels like all the news we're getting now is good news. Our days contain lots of joyful moments. But instead of simply  experiencing the joy, I'm reluctant to embrace it. I worry that it means bad luck is on its way. I feel the need to constantly prepare myself for this impending bad luck, and my imagination runs away to places I'd rather not put in words.

Brown's research interviews with women revealed that I am not alone in this. Lots of her subjects reported these foreboding thoughts when they watched their children peacefully at sleep. They could not help but imagine a horrific car accident or getting a phone call from the police. I felt at once relieved that other women reported feeling this way, and then immediately horrified that so many of us are walking around with these mental images.

It's not the Connecticut shootings. I would be experiencing Foreboding Joy even if somebody hadn't just gone on a murderous rampage in a kindergarten. But it does beg the question....just because bad things can and do happen to people, is it right to live your life anticipating them? Would that make a really horrifying event easier to deal with, if it actually happened to you? People who have experienced tragedy tell Brown no. And furthermore, people who have experienced tragedy often still experience a lot of joy.

This season is about Big Joy. A savior's birth, if you celebrate Christmas, or the retaking of a sacred temple, if you are Jewish. You don't need to wait for Big Joy, though. Joy also comes in the small moments. Ordinary moments. Peeking out the window on a frosty morning to see snow. Laurel asking M what kind of hot sauce he wants and digging around in the fridge until she finds the right one. Running into neighbors at the grocery store. Getting an email from a friend you haven't heard from in a while. Sitting around with some paper and scissors and glue sticks and making holiday decorations.

So, look for the joy in your life today and lean into it. Forget about what may come next.


Safe Zones

One day, when I was teaching in Phoenix, an announcement came over the speaker, "Attention all teachers, the eagle is soaring."

My heart stopped because that was the shit-going-down code word for lock your doors and get away from the windows. Someone was on our campus with a gun. I read it in the faculty handbook, but never in a million years did I expect to hear it actually used. Maybe a drill? Then I saw a group of police officers run by, armed with rifles, wearing bullet proof vests. So....not a drill.

I locked the door and gathered my small group of K-2 special ed students on the carpet. I figured if we were sitting down, we'd be more out of sight. I remember mentally scanning the room, and trying to picture what I would do if a gunman got in. I remember picking up my emergency handbook and scanning it, looking for clues on what I was supposed to do next. It was very vague...wait for the all clear announcement.

We carried on with our lesson - I think - although I went into some kind of robo-teacher mode and can't remember what I said. The kids were game for it, though. Only after the normal dismissal time had come and gone did they ask any questions. And it being a primary level special education class, half the kids were entirely unphased, and a few were under the impression that an eagle was on the loose in the school and had perhaps attacked a student.

I could hear the helicopters overhead, which was actually pretty common in Phoenix - the police used them all the time to look for suspects. This time, though, they were hovering over the school.

The lockdown lasted perhaps an hour. I can't remember the details anymore, but it turned out to just be some criminals on the loose. They had carjacked somebody, or something. No one at our school was hurt. No one came with the intent to hurt us.

It's not the same at all as the school shooting in Connecticut. I can't imagine what it must be like for that community. I don't want to imagine it. When I heard the news break yesterday morning, I couldn't concentrate on my work and ended up sewing covers for my throw pillows all afternoon. Make it go away, my brain seemed to be saying.

I think there should be safe places and dangerous places. With ample signage. And everybody who wants to have a gun and hurt people or wage wars can do so in the clearly marked Danger Zones, and the rest of us can go happily about our business in the Safe Zones.

Wouldn't it be nice?

But there are no safe zones. Anywhere. I'm registering Laurel for preschool right now, and one of the schools we could send her to had a fatal shooting just outside its doors last week. Father dropped kids off at school and was shot in his car on his way out. But that's different, you might think. Obviously drug related, and well, maybe he had it coming to him. And there's no illusion of safety in that particular neighborhood, anyway. Not like Newton, CT. It's supposed to be safe there. Especially in the kindergarten.

I am personally kind of against anyone owning a gun, but in my humble opinion, there's something far beyond gun control that needs to be discussed here. I imagine as details of the shooter's history and motives come out, there were will be plenty o' heated rhetoric in the media. The details will make it not-so-simple. Pundits will shout. There will be press conferences.

In the meantime, compassion, not blame, is in order. Solutions, not finger pointing. Care for all members of community....not isolation or punishment or revenge. And before you think for a second that you have landed someplace safe, where that could never happen, release both that presumption and your need for it. This is not "their" problem...it's all of ours.


Random Friday Thoughts and Links

Slow start, Friday morning. It's sunny, but the frost is still thick on my porch shingles. My desk sits next to the window overlooking the porch roof, and I can see everyone walking by. Perfect location for a nosy neighborhood association president like myself.

M took Laurel to school this morning. We're trying to get in the habit of him taking her so that when the baby is born, I won't be trying to get out of the house with a newborn in the morning. See? Thinking ahead. M & K are catching on to this parenting thing.

She was in a fantastic mood this morning for some reason, and happily got ready (it took some convincing to get her to wear pants, though). He sits her on the back of his bike,  and she hangs onto the rack. I suppose if we lived in Uganda or India, he would just pedal over to school, but that's frowned upon here, so he just walks his bike. Perhaps not the way you would do it, but it looks very cute and seems to work.

Here's where I've been clicking around on this week.

This poster from Brene Brown captures a lot of what I believe as a parent.

Interesting thoughts on Santa?

Just heard about yet another pedestrian hit-and-run accident this morning. This year saw a lot of sad headlines about incidents with pedestrians and cyclists. Check out the City Paper's write up here. I will be attending a lot of traffic meetings in the new year.

I obviously need to buy this for our new baby.

New show I just discovered. Kind of like the Daily Show but more raw.

My letter on behalf of the Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh went out today via email. I feel slightly awkward having asked half the county for money (I just don't normally do stuff like that. I have trouble sending invoices to clients.) However, it's an institution I believe in, and really, even just $25 makes a difference. Let's all pitch in!


Jumping off the Cliff of Uncertainty - (and discovering you can swim)

Last year, we started to realize that our current life was not working for us, and thus began a year long quest for a more workable arrangement. (And by that, I mean, I got so insanely stressed out that I got seriously, physically ill for months and months, and M went nuts trying to figure out how to help me and everybody quit their jobs with no real plan in place to deal with mortgage payments or water bills.)

When I was doing my annual reflection journaling for 2011 and 2012, I wrote out a bunch of lists of how I wanted to see my days go. Big ideas and little details, I put them all down on paper. Some serious, some silly. For instance, I really wanted to work in my community - to give back to the people I pass on the street every day or ride the bus with, instead of commuting to another place. I really wanted to return to my focus on literacy. I wanted a flexible schedule and to sleep in until at least 6am. I wanted to be able to pee during the workday. And wear yoga pants. I wanted to be able to pick up my kid from daycare when she had a fever without it turning into the Most Stressful Event Ever.

It took me 11 months, but yesterday I realized that I actually made it happen.

I was bouncing on my exercise ball in my little makeshift office (well, corner of my bedroom), happily typing emails and reading Common Core standards and brainstorming. Working. From home. In yoga pants. Until the phone rang and it was Laurel's teacher, calling to report that she was crying and had a fever of 101. So I picked her up and brought her home. Gave her a popsicle and read a story and put her to bed. Worked a little more and emptied my calendar for the next day.

It took me longer than I thought to figure all this stuff out. It didn't fall easily into place and there were some scary times in the past year where I definitely had trouble believing that it would all work out. As a result, I ended up interviewing for jobs while 7 months pregnant. Turns out, I'm not so alone in this. Pregnant women are seeking jobs in ever increasing numbers, and while a lot of them are not getting hired (and then filing discrimination complaints), it's becoming more common. More on that later.

For me, a big part of the process was reconciling my identity as a mother and as a professional. I realized my family required a lot from me...not just the in-person caregiver-type demands that I expected from motherhood, but also as a financial contributor to the household, and as a role model to my children by engaging in work I was passionate about. (I have a lot more to say about that, too. Later.)

Anyway, life isn't suddenly perfect. There's the whole broke sink/aging plumbing thing to contend with. Our chimney is falling down. A baby coming in 4-9 weeks (why is human gestation so imprecise?), and very little preparation done so far.

But, whatever. I'm happy. Life is good.

I just found this link to a workbook of journal prompts to guide reflection on the past year and plan for the year to come. If you are feeling a little lost, I swear this is a key step in figuring out what you are supposed to be doing with your life. Click the link! Click it! Fill it out, pick a word!

Unraveling the Year Ahead

Have fun!


School Again

I stepped into a school for the first time since my last teaching gig, in June. It was after school hours....25 or so kids gathered in a lunchroom, doing homework and eating snacks. Fourteen years of working with kids and I'm always amazed at the universality of their character. Within 5 minutes, I had a hug, a question about my giant belly, and 3 requests that I read books. "I don't know who you are," they seem to say, "But come sit by me." 

Torrential downpours with falling temperatures, and a very early sunset made for a gloomy day in Pittsburgh. On my way to the lunchroom, I passed some teachers still working in their classrooms. Hunched over their desks, faces lit up by the glow of laptops, I knew they were looking for the perfect web resource for tomorrow's lesson or trying to clean out their inboxes. I immediately sensed their weariness. Or perhaps just remembered it.

I'm doing some curriculum development for after school programs. Learning time must be maximized. Lessons aligned to standards. Billions of dollars are poured into this problem...why do some places suffer from such abysmal graduation rates? Why do some children have trouble learning to read? Why is there such disparity across our public education system?

And the biggest question...what exactly should kids be learning?

I could write volumes on standards in education, but I already nearly slipped down that rabbit hole, and I need to get back to work. (Note to self: do NOT read comments on articles about education. So many trolls.)

However, I will leave you with this. Google recently joined the conversation on the Common Core Standards in this piece on why they think computer science needs to be included.

When I first read the Common Core it never occurred to me that computer science was missing. And I'm not convinced that high school graduates need to have a high level of understanding of computer technology or programming. After all, most of us use computers for the purpose of communicating...we don't need to know how the operating system works. 


Just do it.

Don't wait until everything is perfectly aligned to invite your friends and family over. Just do it. Make a big pot of macaroni and cheese and cut up some veggies and just tell everyone to come. If you wait until the bathroom is remodeled or you finish painting or you have enough money to throw a catered party, it will never happen. If it is raining and fifty degrees outside, scrap the luminaria...you ran out of time anyway. If constructing the gingerbread house goes too slowly, and it's not done, just make another batch of dough into gingerbread men and put out some sprinkles and let everybody decorate them. If you don't have very many holiday decorations, improvise a wreath with some construction paper and magazine clippings. It does not have to be perfect to be a good idea.

Last night our house was filled with noise and laughing and the clankity clang of young children banging on piano keys. Christmas music in the background, warm cups of wassail clutched in hands. A small crowd lingering until long past my normal bedtime, helping us tidy up and put away food. (Or just pick at the food until it was gone!)

I'm 8 months pregnant, M and I both got new jobs in the last two weeks and Laurel is so very three. There were a lot of reasons not to throw a party right now.

But there were more reasons to just do it. I'm so very glad for every opportunity we have to open our doors, and for the people who walk through them when we do.

So, don't wait to invite those new neighbors over for dinner (they won't care how messy your house is).  Haven't talked to an old friend in a while?...send her an email today. Take out your stationary and drop a note to your grandma. Bake some cookies and drop them off to your kid's teachers. Don't overthink it, just do it, and do it now. You won't regret it.



The calendar year is winding to a close, and soon it will be time to write 2013 on our checks, if you are the type of person who is still writing checks in 2013.

Last year I bought a workbook to reflect on the year. It felt sort of silly and indulgent at the time, but when I reread my list of things to do in 2012 and questions I answered about 2011, I realized that it was well worth it.

2012 was a very intentional year, and for the first time in a while, it involved a lot of quitting and waiting and scaling back. When you are engaged in that kind of work, especially if you are a busy body like me, it can feel like you are doing nothing. But all that nothing led to me checking off a good chunk of the items on my "50 things to do in 2012" list.

Some of them were bucket list items (go on a solo backpacking trip). Some were chores I wanted to get in the habit of doing (wash car regularly). Some were grandiose and vague and I didn't make all that much headway on (learn Drupal). Regardless, reviewing that list made me realize that I woke up everyday with some kind of purpose in the back of my mind, and that makes a big difference in being able to sustain through personal hardship.

I'll be spending some time in the next week or so journaling about what 2012 meant to me (quitting teaching!) and generating a new list of things to do in 2013 (have a baby!).


Lessons (in no particular order)

1. Be sure to have a Saint Jude candle on hand at all times, just in case.
2. If you are not sure whether or not to take a job, ask yourself the Powerball question. (If I won the Powerball, would I still want to work here? If the answer is yes, you should take the job.)
3. When you can't figure out anything else, just make gingerbread houses. People are oddly impressed by them. Also, it makes your house smell delicious.
4. Lentils should not be cooked in a crock pot.
5. Breakfast dates are better once you have reached a certain age.
6. The mere mention of Rick Sebak's name makes everyone smile.
7. Don't turn off the football game before it ends.


Wrong Side of the Bed

Every day I try to remember not to tell Laurel to go to the bathroom before we go downstairs for breakfast. It really pisses her off for some reason. And then there is a giant argument, tears, insistance that we carry her, that everything is wrong, that she does "not like what you are saying." Even after I rescind my very reasonable advice that one should empty one's bladder upon waking, it's too late. She's already over the edge.

The last two days, she protested a lot over her one waffle. She wanted two. She never eats two. I must admit, I'm a little less stingy with the foods I don't care for so much, but I love waffles. Especially $5 a box gluten free waffles. "You can have another one, if you finish that one," I say, and think about how much that makes me sound like a mom. She never finishes even one waffle. She eats all the bites that have jelly on them, but leaves the naked edge pieces.

The moods shift quickly. This morning, M made the mistake of suggesting a morning potty visit. After much ado, Laurel went into the bathroom to pee anyway, and said, "I have tears! Why do I have tears?"

Um, because you were freaking out for like ten minutes. For no apparent reason. Again.

I wonder if we are supposed to parent this out of her, or if it's just another phase she'll grow out of.

I wonder if other people have nutty 3 year olds living in their houses.

I wonder if everyone was like this when they were 3, even people like Barack Obama. Or Mother Theresa.


Thanks and all that

Yesterday I was overcome by wave after wave of joy and gratitude. Pregnancy hormones, perhaps? Early Thanksgiving spirit? Or just a really freakin' good life?

I'm totally blissed out. It's the little things. Breakfast conversations about dinosaurs. An abundance of amazing carrots and leeks for soup. The fact that our doorbell did not actually catch our house on fire. Our 60 year old boiler getting a clean bill of health for another winter. Watching M get good news and smile. Family dance parties. Neighbors that call out good morning to Laurel on our way to school.

I have a new tutoring client whom I adore. I'm 30 weeks pregnant, which is still cute, and not oh-mah-god-you-look-like-you're-gonna-pop pregnant. Of course, I'm now down to only 2 shirts that fit over my belly, but that makes it easy to get dressed in the morning. Not that I really need to dress to impress these days.

(Dang, I do not miss standing in front of the judgmental eyes of 16 year olds all day. As I flashback to this time last year when life had a train-wreck-in-slow-motion feel to it, I can actually feel my heart rate increasing. Ok, stop that. We're in a new phase now.)

And now for a funny story. At least if you think it's funny for your young child to be watching adult-content television in the middle of the night, unsupervised.

The other night, I woke up to see Laurel sitting on our bed, watching tv. It was the Late, Late show or something like that. M was conked out. Apparently he had rolled over on the remote control in the middle of the night, turning the tv on. It did not wake him up, but Laurel noticed and trotted in from her room to check it out. I have no idea how long she was sitting there but in the morning when I asked her if she turned on the tv, she said "Noooo!" When I asked her what she was watching, she said, "A scary show. With lots of talking."


In the Company of Friends (and strangers)

We went away for the weekend with Laurel's buddies and their families. Four three year olds, two pregnant ladies, a baby, good food, and a lot of jumping on the beds and playing monster. (That would be the dads.) Four women bonded forever by sharing the experience of those tentative first steps of motherhood.

It is amazing to watch these four kids after three years and recall the first time we lined them up on the couch for a photo. They were so little, they kept flopping over and half of them were asleep. It's a bit trickier to get them all in a photo these days. Now they play together, and we are left to eavesdrop on their conversations, and made up games, and unique methods of conflict resolution.

Surprisingly during the weekend, I had time to sit quietly and read! I'm continuing on in Healing the Heart of Democracy, and I've been thinking about Palmer means when he talks about "Life in the Company of Strangers."

Romney made some comments last week about Obama purchasing the support of blacks, Hispanics, women and young people. FoxNews pundits can't seem to shut up about the demise of traditional America. There seems to be a lot of fear and misinformation in these remarks. The fear of "other" is a dangerous one, Palmer writes.

Because our country is deeply segregated, most people live lives in which they are surrounded by people who are the same. People prefer to live this way because it is more comfortable, and I can certainly understand this. I often felt wildly uncomfortable when I lived in Phoenix and everybody else spoke better Spanish than I did, and the cultural norms were completely different. There were all these degrees of Hispanic and Latino that I didn't get, because where I came from, everything south of Texas is sort of lumped together. It's not the sort of thing you can really ask about, so you just figure it out along the way.

I wasn't a bad person for not getting it. But living, as Palmer says, in the company of strangers gave me the gift of broadening my views. Now, when I hear immigration policy being debated in the media, I know that Hispanic and Latino are awfully broad categories and include people of every economic class and many, many nationalities and backgrounds. I know that some of my prejudices had more than a few grains of truth, such as Latinos valuing education (as a teacher, I felt about a thousand times more respected by the community when I worked in south Phoenix, than any other place in the country). I know that some of my other assumptions ended up being very wrong (that Latinos all agree on immigration).

Sometimes it's messier. We have a regular cast of panhandlers and hustlers on our block. Their solicitations are annoying, and sometimes aggressive. I get tired of hearing their lines over and over again as they reach out to a new line up of cars at the traffic light, or the next truck that pulls into the gas station. Nonetheless, I choose to look them in the eye and say good morning. I choose to acknowledge their humanity first. Same with the drug dealers and prostitutes. Because, like me, they all have a story and a reason for being in the place they are.

I still call 911 and report anything that can even remotely be considered a crime.

But even this feels complex and terrible sometimes when the cops actually do show up and arrest someone and you know that incarceration really doesn't solve many problems except getting the problem temporarily out of your view.


Healing democracy is not going to be easy, Mr. Palmer. The more thoughtful you are about it, the less resolved you feel.


Healthcare Hissy Fits

Is anyone else bothered by the temper tantrums corporate leaders are having over being asked to provide health insurance options to their employees?

I watched this clip and read this article and it seems that many of our (ahem, very wealthy) CEO's are anticipating (though not yet experiencing) economic catastrophe, and are making a few proactive choices. Like symbolically firing people. And cutting full time workers to part time to avoid the requirement. And they have the audacity to get on tv and offer patronizing apologies to their workers.

So, yeah, here's some liberal bias showing, but Jon Stewart makes a good point.

However, I just got my copy of Healing the Heart of Democracy by Parker Palmer and I'm trying to have more civil conversations about health care. Parker says you should have humility to be a good citizen and defines it as: 
...accepting the fact that my truth is always partial and may not be true at all- so I need to listen with openness and respect, especially to "the other," as much as I need to speak my own voice with clarity and conviction.
So here's my truth. I spend a lot of time worrying about health care. Mainly about how I'm going to pay the premium if it goes up a lot next year. Crossing my fingers that this won't be a year that we max out our deductible, because high deductible plans with HSA's only work when you can actually afford your $5,000 deductible. Wondering each time I go to the doctor or midwife if the recommended screening is really necessary. Cringing when I open an EOB because nobody can tell you in advance how much an ultrasound or a blood draw is going to cost.

In the last few months, I have declined recommended medical treatment or screenings because of the cost. So has M. I'm not telling you that so you feel sorry for us. It's a calculated risk to ignore what your doctor tells you, and in the cases in which we did, the risks were low. I just think Americans need to start being more honest when we talk about how we manage our health care.

As I get older, I worry more. It was so cheap to buy insurance when I was 25. Every time I shop for a new policy now I'm inching up in the age brackets.

And I think I have it good. When I look around me, I am reminded that many of my neighbors don't earn as much, have pre-existing conditions, or lack the time or daytime availability to do the extensive amount of research, reviewing of fine print, and phone calls to manage your own health insurance and health care. Just try figuring out the difference between out of pocket maximum and meeting your deductible. (They are not the same. Except when they are.)

So that's my truth, or at least a part of it. I think it would be swell to have a single payer system in our country. Medicare for everyone. Get the uninsured and poor out of the ERs. Funnel some money away from pharmaceutical companies and put some more serious efforts into healing the preventable diseases that plague our nation with food and exercise. Rethink how we do things. Take care of our neighbors who have more significant medical needs, by making sure they have guaranteed access. Not because it's fair, but because it's just the right thing to do.

Yes, I'm willing to accept that my taxes would have to increase to make this possible.

So, this is an invitation to hear your truth. If you are someone who thinks insurance belongs in the private sector, I would love to hear from you. If you have some compelling reasons about why a medicare-like system that gives everyone health insurance coverage is a bad thing, please explain.

But let's leave death panel rants and other inflammatory and inaccurate sound bytes out of it. Tell me your truth. How it would impact you and your neighbors. What your experience with health care and health insurance has been like.


Listening to My Heart

She pauses one afternoon while we are playing and shouts, "My heart is beating!"
As if surprised, and looking for reassurance from me.
What is it like to realize for the first time that a small muscle in your chest is keeping rhythm?
What is it like to live a life where so much of your experience is Realizing For the First Time?
I press her small palm against my chest and the room becomes suddenly still.
"Your heart is beating" she tells me, in a quiet voice.
The cars rumble outside, the washing machine shifts to the rinse cycle in the basement, but
For a moment, we lock eyes and feel each other's hearts.
And then she leaps up and pulls out another block from the box, and chatters on about the castle she is building.
Like all especially magical moments of childhood, it is fleeting and soon to be forgotten.
By all but the mothers.


I Got Nothin'

I goofed up today. Do you want to hear about it? I made an appointment to have the car inspected, but didn't have the proper registration card. Turns out we had mixed up the registration for the Airstream with the registration for the car. There was nothing to be done, except reschedule and look for the card. We couldn't find it, so then I had to go to the AAA office and order a new one. Forty-one dollars and many, many hours later, and I have nothing to show for my day. Nothing to check off my list. Only things I had to do because I wasn't careful the first go-around.

The day wasn't lost, but I ditched the rest of it. I came to the library and picked out books for Laurel and me. M has a late meeting tonight and I had the notion that Laurel and I would get into our pajamas early and read a hundred books while tucked cozily in bed and sipping warm milk.

We don't have any milk, though. And it somehow seems complicated to walk into the grocery store and get some. We have too many greens in the fridge anyway. No room. Yesterday was our last CSA pick up and we were inundated with spinach, arugula, chard and kale.

It is much more fun to write about jaunts in the park with Laurel. To snap pictures of sun beams framing her head. To gush over the absolutely amazing salad dressing M whipped up for lunch today. To capture an Instagram-worthy life.

But instead, there is nothing worth photographing today. Even my magical iPhone can't fix this ugly fluorescent light or the stains on my shirts. There are undercurrents of uncertainty swirling about. (Forget small business life, who can be certain of anything with fiscal cliffs looming?) The kitchen floor has an unacceptable amount of crumbs coating it. We still don't have a working bathroom sink.

I started a half a dozen blog entries on all sorts of interesting topics. School report cards. And more Parker Palmer stuff. And a roundup of quotes that I got when I asked some friends and clients how they pick schools and childcare. Fabulous stuff. But it all fell flat.

Today, I got nothin'.


Post Election Contemplation

The maps are checkered with blue and red. Glad to see some of the these guys get voted down. Happy that equal rights for some of my friends and family are spreading across this country slowly but surely. Obama wins the electoral college rather decisively, but I'm left with a feeling that it's a tie.

We need some mediation. We need some training in civility. My childhood friend and now peace educator, Stephanie Knox Cubban, recently posted this interview with author Parker J. Palmer; the piece talks about his book, Healing the Heart of Democracy.

Parker says this about his book:

Violence is what happens when we don’t know what else to do with our suffering. That applies on every level of life. When individuals don’t know what to do with their suffering, they do violence to others or themselves — through substance abuse and extreme overwork, for example. When nations don’t know what to do with their suffering, as with the U.S. after 9/11, they go to war. I think it’s pretty evident by now that what we did in the wake of 9/11 only escalated our tensions with the Middle East and didn’t reduce the threat to this country. Surely our suffering could have led to more-creative actions and outcomes.

You can watch this play out with 3 year olds. When one of them feels hurt, ignored or otherwise wronged, they often don't know what to do with that suffering. They hit, push, or yell.

I saw a lot of this during the campaigning when it came to issues with the economy, particularly job loss. For people dealing with chronic or lengthy unemployment, the suffering isn't so much with the lack of money...but with the loss of purpose, with the loss of their provider role to their family, or their sense of belonging in the world. This suffering clouded the debate with blame towards Obama or Bush or regulation or bailout, and shut down any creative responses to the problem.

Palmer also talks about entitlement:
One of the problems with a lot of educated, reasonably well-off white males like me is our sense of entitlement. We’re too often driven by the thought that we’re supposed to be getting more than anybody else. When we don’t, it creates resentment and separates us from others and from our true selves. 

 Entitlement played an ugly and prominent role in campaign speech. I thought Romney was absolutely heartless and sick when I heard the way he ranted against people who believe they are "entitled to health care, to food, to housing..." But I heard equally vicious rants coming from those 47%-ers against the wealthy people who do not wish to be the only ones in the country footing the tax bill. We don't need to get in a debate about whether suffering for lack of food is the same as suffering for lack of third vacation home or whatever it is that wealthy people do with all of this extra money they wish to hang on to. The point is that both parties feel suffering to some degree and lash out before any kind of productive dialogue can take place.

How do we fix it?

Start by getting to know some people who are different from you. This is sort of hard, because mostly, Americans live pretty segregated lives. It's also incredibly uncomfortable to cross cultural and racial boundaries at times. Sometimes language barriers prevent us from talking to each other. Sometimes we don't like what we hear because it challenges core beliefs we've carried our whole lives. Nine times out of ten, when I come out of an interaction with someone who is really different from me, and I've listened to them, soaked up some of their story....well, I don't feel awesome. I feel threatened. I feel confused. I see the remaining black and white divisions that remain in my brain getting clouded into Gray.

But I sit with it. I carry their story with me. It shapes my future decisions in subtle ways. It pauses my overly quick judgment.

That's what we really need. Less quick judgment. Less sound bites from the pundits. We need to carry with us real stories of our fellow Americans so that the next time we vote, we are doing so out of a shared commitment to our country and everyone who lives here.


Happy Birthday, Laurel

Thanks to everyone who made Laurel's birthday so special. She told me after everyone had gone home that I did a "good, job, Mommy, on the cake". I took zero pictures - whoops - but what sticks with me is the image of her face lit up by three birthday candles. After we dimmed the lights, there was a pause before everyone started to sing, and in that quiet moment, I saw a look of pure delight and joy, because she's three, and it's all about the moment. She wasn't sitting there wondering what the next year would bring her. She doesn't have goals. She doesn't have unmet expectations about her year of being two. No birthday baggage at all. She just loves the song and that's it about her for that moment and when the lights come back on, you get to eat cake.


Goodbye Two

First thing in the morning, I can hear her feet hit the floor and then pitter patter across her room. She's talking before she opens the door; narrating her plans for the day or a talking about a dream or telling her stuffed animal something. I swear she talks nonstop for 12 hours a day. If I'm still in bed, she'll appear next to me, smile and climb in to cuddle for a minute (still talking the whole time). If I'm awake and downstairs already, she calls to me from the top of the stairs, "Hello! I'm coming down!" She likes oatmeal with raisins for breakfast. She likes rooibos tea. She does not like to be rushed.

We have a clipboard with her morning chores now. Go on the potty. Put pj's down laundry chute. Wash face. She's allowed to watch tv if she finishes quickly. I braid her hair while she watches Dinosaur Train or Superwhy. Life seems to be intense for her. Heartbreaking disappointment over changed plans leaves her crumpled on the floor in tears, wailing. If we tell her she can't do something, she waves her fists at us. "That is not what I am saying!" she cries.

She cannot pronounce "r" correctly. She is extremely excited to go to the dentist this week. She can spend hours peeling stickers out of a book and applying them to paper. She can find Maryland, Florida and Pennsylvania on a map. She asks incredibly thoughtful questions when we are reading a book. Her favorite dinosaur is triceratops. She has an insatiable sweet tooth.

She's a little leaner and a lot taller than she was a year ago. Longer hair that is starting to darken. Physically, she didn't change all that much in a year, having long ago lost her baby-ness. The change came in the way she relates to the world, especially since we drove so far on vacation this year. I can see how she anchors herself here, in between these rivers, and is starting to make sense of the vastness of our country. I like the way she explores maps, and draws her own, and goes on imaginary car trips on the living room sofa.

Goodbye, two. Hello, three.



By the Numbers

More unemployment stats are out. It appears jobs have been added, but also unemployment climbed slightly. Experts say this is because more people entered the job market, when they got excited about seeing falling unemployment numbers last month. This points out a big flaw in all of this data; who exactly is unemployed? M and I recently left our jobs. We jointly own an LLC, but are not legally employees of the LLC. But small business owners can't be unemployed, right? Are we job creators because we made some jobs for ourselves, and also left spots for other, previously unemployed people to take our old positions? Do I even count at all, being that I'm also a mom, and soon to be full-time caregiver to an infant? Laurel still goes to preschool every day so I don't consider myself a Stay at Home Mom, although if she were 2 years older and attended school during the same hours, then I possibly would claim that status. To complicate matters, if some pollster called me up and asked me about my status, I would indeed say that I'm looking for work. I apply to jobs with some regularity. Everyone I know does this, even when they have a job, because you never know how long you are going to have your job, or when you want to ask for a raise and need some leverage.

Whew. That was a bit of a ramble. But my point is stats are a useful way to measure change on a large-scale, but we must never stop asking the questions, "How did you arrive at that number? What was taken into consideration? Where did you get that data? Who is excluded? What do I know about this experience?"

I maintain that unemployment is a stupid way to measure the economy. We should be more focused on who can afford health care, food, and housing. Your employment status doesn't really matter so much as long as you can provide those things. If a lot of people are employed but can't afford health insurance, the country is not in a better position.

Hope everyone is planning to vote on Tuesday. Make sure you know where your poll is, read up on your local races, and please knock on your neighbors' doors and see if you can drive somebody who might not otherwise make it. Pennsylvania polls are open from 7:00am to 8:00pm. Check here if you are in another state.

Never has it been more important to have a high level of literacy. If you want to be an informed voter, do not watch television ads! Or read your mail. I just watched the much acclaimed documentary Big Sky, Big Money (embedded below for your viewing pleasure), which does a really good job of explaining campaign finance law and identifying who is behind the vast majority of ads that you see.

You can also review the issues at Fact Check.org or Politifact. I am especially fond of Politifact's "Truth-o-meter" graphics".

Watch Big Sky, Big Money on PBS. See more from FRONTLINE.


Happy November!

It's a soggy one. And cold. Rain gear is key if you want your kid to arrive in a semi-dry state at daycare after a mile long walk with a lot of puddles and a muddy patch of woods on the way. I remembered to give her mittens today and bribed her with some gummy snacks she got in a Halloween treat bag yesterday. (Parents - post-breakfast dessert is obviously the best time to give your child candy, especially if you are sending them off to be with the people who gave them said candy.) We spotted wet buckeyes and leaves plastered to the streets and several dogs wearing rain coats. I wished we had a second car for a moment, and then I remembered that one of the nicest things about fall and winter is going inside nice warm buildings after a long walk in the rain. I felt happy that Laurel really knows the seasons and the weather. The feel of a cold drizzle on her cheeks, the squish of mud and leaves under her rain boots. That she knows this mile-long stretch of city, that provides an interesting cross-section of urban life. We start at our busy corner. School zone lights flashing and commuters streaming by. Someone will stop their car and let us cross the street, and then we are on "the quiet street" as Laurel calls it. Traffic noises fade into the background and the houses grow in size. As we turn the corner, the trees tower over us, majestic in their old age. This is where people have money. In the summer, gardeners come and change their landscaping the way I change our sheets. Daffodils one month, impatiens the next. We never see the people that live here, except the well-dressed lady who reminds me of Martha Stewart and walks three bichon frise dogs. Then past the private school, kids in uniforms, lined up orderly to start classes. Along a well-used path in a small patch of woods, to the street where all the little kids live. In the afternoons, their moms chat on the sidewalk while they run between yards. They are friendly to us and invite us to stay and play. On warm summer mornings we can hear the clink of their breakfast dishes through open windows. On cold mornings like today, it's very quiet.

Next is the park. The bowling green with its bright green lawn. Crushed limestone paths winding off the main trail down into the ravine. Plenty of birds and sticks and leaves to catch our attention. The same friendly labs and golden retrievers being walked by neighbors before they go off to work. Finally, we can spot the crossing guard at the corner, and stroll past the mechanic, the barber, and the market. There is a child's handprint in the cement sidewalk on this stretch, and Laurel likes to stop and press her fingers into it. When we turn the last corner, she almost always starts running, and is already reaching for the door knob at the daycare center when I catch her.

Even if we leave this neighborhood now, I think this place is imprinted in Laurel's memory, and she'll have flashes of memory of it for as long as she lives.



I woke up in a funk and it's easy to blame the weather. A dreary, 40 degree and rainy Halloween here in Pittsburgh. If I didn't know about Sandy, I would probably just chalk it up to typical fall weather. Aside from some unusually blustery winds on Monday night, it's like this a lot in western Pennsylvania.  I personally enjoy the seasons and a reason to drink a warm cup of cider. I certainly can't complain about our weather when the situation is so much worse elsewhere.

I remember driving into Louisiana, a full year after Katrina hit. The devastation was unbelievable. Hurricanes and floods really do make it look like a war zone. People were still living in make-shift trailers or tents, cooking on portable propane stoves and showering outdoors. Electricity had only recently been restored. At the aid center where we volunteered, an alligator was rumored to be living in the swimming pool.

The days following a disaster - however big or small - are emotional. People hug each other. They get angry. Politicians survey and give consoling speeches. Response teams stream in. "We'll rebuild," they say determinedly. And it feels possible, because they have the support of the whole country at that stage...sending food donations and tweeting about the news coverage.

After a while, the rest of us will forget, and there will still be mud and mold and waiting on insurance checks and communities that are never the same again. The evening news doesn't report that part. There will be another storm, and then the people of New Jersey will be the veteran survivors who will advise the next victims. "You're in it for the long haul," they will say. They always say that.

I have an awesome appreciation for the weather systems of our planet. All this water cycling around and around, cleansing and changing our terrain. It looks beautiful from space. Check out this NASA footage of the storm's development. Amazing that the graceful swirl of that storm results in this.



After a week of Indian summer that left drifts of crackly fallen leaves on the sidewalks, the rain has arrived. A big storm on the way, perhaps snow by Halloween. I'm ready to hunker down for the winter, to layer my sweater with another sweater and a scarf, to wrap my fingers around a mug of steaming hot tea early in the morning to keep from shivering. But still, there are a lot of leaves left on the trees and I didn't finish weeding the front garden bed before the weather turned, and I hope the wind is not so strong that it damages the mums I just planted in my window boxes.

We went to the zoo today. I intended to stay only an hour as is our habit, but we stayed nearly three. We arrived as the gates opened and nobody was there at first. We spent almost a half an hour at the elephant exhibit, uninterrupted by other visitors, watching the elephants lumber about and spray each other with dust and hay. We ate almonds and watched the birds and inspected the grasses planted in the landscaping. After that it was off-to-the-races, and constantly losing sight of that blonde head as she bounced and ran down the paths on her way to the aquarium. We watched scuba divers carve jack o' lanterns under water and feed the scraps to the fish. We tried to summon the courage to touch the sting rays, but couldn't. We touched every one of the overpriced stuffed animals in the gift shop.

Then Laurel told me, "I am done looking at animals. I want to go home and watch tv."I like how she tells me what she wants. I don't like how it is sometimes not what I want to hear. I would like her to be so enthralled with the enriching experience of seeing a sampling of the world's creatures that she would like to go home and draw pictures about them. But she wanted to chill out and watch Dora. I didn't take a stroller today, which sometimes backfires, but today she walked/ran everywhere with little complaint and then took a two hour nap when we got home.

She woke up in a disagreeable state, and insisted on eating a rather unripe banana, sliced with jelly on each little piece. The jelly kept sliding off and there were a lot of tears. But after we got over that hump, we pulled out the blocks and built a giant tower and she dictated a lengthy imaginary game which involved traveling by "ka-motor boat", and a picnic on the sand and the Atlantic Ocean.

Tomorrow we'll carve a pumpkin and maybe make some pies. Drink pots of rooibos tea and look out the window at the falling leaves.


The Terrible Threes?

There's a famous book called Your Three Year Old: Friend or Enemy? (I feel like this was on my parents' bookshelves and it was, in fact, first published in the '70s.) I haven't read the book, but think about the title frequently. Because Laurel seems hell bent on disrupting my daily life to the greatest degree possible. It makes me feel incredibly important and loved because she NEEDS me at all times. Just me. No, DADDY! No, Mommmeeeeee. No, Daddy. No. Mommy.

Laurel talks a lot. She has a huge vocabulary and is very articulate about her feelings and there is a very detailed explanation for absolutely everything she does. Not necessarily based in the reality you and I live in, but a reason nonetheless.

She's mad a lot. Mad when friends don't share. Mad when something turns out different than she thought it would. Mad when we are trying to get through some necessary daily routine and she would like to be doing something different. Like arranging bobby pins on the bathroom floor instead of brushing her teeth. Or dragging large branches through the park and pretending they are a dog instead of just walking home from school.

For every developmental step forward, there is a step back. She is completely potty-trained, but is afraid to sleep by herself. She recognizes letters, but clings to me when I drop her off at school. She does not want to get in her car seat unless she can buckle it herself (as much as I am for autonomy for young children, this is problematic for me, as the person in charge of her safety).

In my twenties I imagined that I would get progressively better at Life...I would know more at 25 than 20 and more at 30 than 25. But it turned out that Life ebbs and flows, and you think you've learned a lesson, but then completely change your mind about it five years later. Or five minutes later. And some years you are completely free and filled with adventure, and other years you must hunker down and live quietly by yourself. My parenting style has turned out to be intuitive in this way...looking at each moment for what it is and responding accordingly. Initially, when there were many hard moments, I thought that there must be a style, a schedule, a philosophy that would shed some light and create peace and order. I read a lot of books and blogs. But in fact, all that can be done is to love each moment you have together and love everyone who is a part of each moment. Do that, and it will all be ok.


Super Cheesy Vacation Video

For your viewing pleasure....


Vacation Pics

Here's some more pictures from our Road Trip!


Memories, Ramblings, and Instagram

The only way I know when anything happened is by these blog archives. Or sorting through a digital photo album and making a note of the date/time stamp on a photo. So, I'm adding this now because it feels like a milestone I'll want to remember. About a month ago, Laurel got her first real haircut. We've been trimming her bangs ourselves, and once had our hair stylist do a quick evening out, but this was her first real salon trip. She liked getting her hair washed, and was fairly cooperative with keeping her head held a certain way. She's still a long haired child, though. I don't remember when she got her first tooth, other than it was early and there were two of them and then there weren't anymore for a long time. But if I look back on this blog, I can sort of piece together her story from the pictures. There's a digital imprint of her now, a shadow that can't be erased even if I wanted to. What did we do before all this clicking? M was carefully constructing mix tapes, to last exactly as long as the sides allowed, and with cover art. They were pretty fabulous in my memory, but when I found them in the basement I couldn't listen to them because we don't have a tape deck anymore. He's had a huge music collection for as long as I've known him, but now it's funny to think what took up a whole wall of book cases is now on an iPod in the glove compartment of our car (25,000 songs, baby. You'll run out of road before you run out of tunes). I'm not nostalgic for a time before the internet, but occasionally I want it to go away. Do you remember the first time you got jealous over somebody's dreamy Instagram feed? Instagram makes a cup of coffee look beautiful. Nobody's children ever have jam smeared on their mouth, of if they do, it looks artistic and does not have laundry fuzz stuck to it. I installed Instagram on my phone last week and was immediately infatuated with all the little filters and fuzzies, but at the same time, it killed some of the magic for me. You can blot out all of the imperfection from the reality of your life. Blur it, retro-ize it. Like in this last photo, M and Laurel look like they're in some kind of tropic paradise. And they are, kind of. I mean it's Key Largo after all. But what the photo does not reveal is that we're at a Hampton Inn on the side of a highway, and the beach is hard to walk on because there's a lot of pointy rocks and shells and we can't see the manatees we've been promised anywhere. But who wants to preserve the imperfections of life? I think the difference now is all the sharing and comparing. Too much Instagram popping up on your phone screen can mess with your mind. You gotta turn that stuff off and look around your own imperfect but fabulous life.


Road Trip 101

So, we just drove approximately 3,000 miles on our first big family road trip.

What kind of people decide that driving from Pittsburgh to Key West with your just-potty-trained 2 year old is a good idea? Brave people. Or crazy people. There were moments of both, let me tell you.

Good Ideas
1. Going to Florida in September/October, and traveling midweek. No crowds, no traffic.
2. REI pack towels. Packs so small and quick drying. In my opinion, better than beach towels.
3. Not making reservations anywhere. The mild uncertainty was worth being able to change plans in accordance to each of our needs. And the weather.
4. Camping at Bahia Honda. Despite the nasty seaweed everywhere. It is a really beautiful park.
5. Stopping at the world's cheesiest alligator park in the Everglades. Paying three dollars to have our picture taken with an alligator. Taking Laurel on an airboat ride (she looks so cute in a life jacket!)
6. Frozen cauliflower, Margaret's cherry tomatoes (dried), over corn pasta. Best meal we cooked.
7. Nokomis Beach - we stopped there on a whim on the way up Florida's west coast with the intention to let Laurel run around while we ate some dinner. Met a crazy old hippy who called me Earth Mama and gave terrible career advice to M. And then watched a bunch of other hippies and yuppies and conservative retirees gather for a drum circle, before we drove off into the night.

Bad Ideas
1. Giving your two year old a frozen Key Lime Pie on a stick to eat in the car.
2. Packing markers in the keep-your-kid-busy-in-the-car bag. Thank goodness they were washable.
3. Not getting maps in advance. Mostly we picked them up in welcome centers along the way, but in our enthusiasm to avoid Atlanta traffic, we entered Georgia in the, errr....rural part. No welcome center. And then stayed in the rural part. And then became bored of the rural part. And then stopped at the saddest Waffle House in the world with the saddest two year old in the world, while we tried to plot our course into a metro area of some type.
4. Not bringing a canopy of some type to put over the picnic table at campsites. It's definitely on our list of things to add to our car camping supplies.
5. Trying to be egalitarian and letting your kid have every third pick on the radio, because the only thing she wanted to listen to is her French music. "Tout le monde aime les bananas!" Thank you, Aunt Mary, for the Charlotte Diamond CD. It was awesome the first 20 times.


Hello, October....

Autumn came exactly on time and we fled south, through the mountains and over a pass and then down into a long, rolling stretch of Georgia, with nothing but red dirt peeking out from the edges of peanut fields. And then we pushed further and further south, stopping at wide, sandy beaches along the way. The very edges of the country are special places and we feel compelled to tag them before heading home. So onward into the Keys. Can driving thousands of miles satisfy our wanderlust before hunkering down for the winter and another baby? I sure hope so. Everything in the car is covered in sand and Laurel is perpetually messy, with wind blown hair and something sticky on her cheeks. (Most recently Key Lime Pie on a stick. OMG.)

Traveling as a family is far different than our last road trip in 2006. Or is it? Perhaps we stop more, but only because there is another voice in the back chiming in with "I need to pee!" Which sometimes means I need to pee and sometimes means I am just tired of riding in this car seat, please let me out so I can run around and scream outdoors.

I didn't pack well for this trip. We had no agenda or reservation, other than a family wedding this past weekend. However, I should have....I don't know.....checked the Weather Channel for Florida before we left. Or maybe just thought a bit about what Florida might be like. We had no sunglasses, 1 small mostly-empty bottle of sunblock and exactly one change of warm weather clothes for Laurel and me. Fleece pants and cold weather sleeping bags? Check.

Going south at the equinox when you are from someplace with distinct seasons is like gaining a special power that makes all time stop. Regular life absolutely ceases to exist when you were one day putting on a wool sweater to cook breakfast outside at your campsite, and the next day find yourself enveloped in 80 degree temperatures at dawn. I was not expecting the vastness of Florida, the rich and scary history of pirates and stormy seas and a parade of European nations that could not settle the land because it was too wild. I can imagine trying to push my way through the forest here, under a hardwood canopy, but pushing past saw palmetto and cabbage palms in the clearings.

All I know is that we won't stop until we run out of highway.


Wandering again....

Not all who wander are lost, they say.


Our Daily Walk

This morning Laurel burst into the daycare center clutching a large leaf that she had found while we were walking there (my pockets were already full of pebbles and maples leaves, other finds). She proudly took it around to show her teachers, and accurately identified it as an oak leaf.

One of the blessings of our neighborhood is the mile-long walk to Laurel's daycare. As we are shifting into a new season, the walk itself presents all kinds of lessons. The quality of the light changes as the days shorten. The same patch of woods looks entirely different from day to day. We know the neighbors and their dogs and shop owners and crossing guards.

There are lessons for me, too. Patience for one, because invariably, about halfway there I feel a bit tired of looking at yet another pebble/acorn/leaf and I'm feeling antsy to drop her off and trek back home so I can get some work done.

She has a new game she likes to play. At some point she will sit down on the sidewalk and say, "How about you leave me here and somebody else will get a Nugget?" And I make a big fuss and say, "No! You are my Nugget and you belong with our family." And she grins without looking at me and gets up and holds my hand and we go on with our walk.

It was pouring down rain the other day, and we got all suited up in rain coats and rain boots, and carried umbrellas and still arrived rather wet because there were a lot of puddles to jump through. And Laurel kept putting her umbrella away and pulling her hood back so she can feel the rain drops fall on her cheek. She especially liked the big fat ones that were coming off the trees.


Laurel and Her Best Buds


Fair. Share.

Have you ever stood in a room, feeling awkward because there's somebody going on and on about gay marriage or people on welfare or abortion or how ridiculous Christian Scientists are, and YOU know - but they don't - that someone else is in that very room falls into one of those categories? And can hear everything they're saying?

Yes, most of us have been there. Lots of us have been the ones to run their mouths, too. Ahem. Present company included. I'm wiser and more sober than I once was, but I have plenty of foot-in-the-mouth moments. And plenty of once-held opinions that I shed because I realized at some point that the world is not black and white. Lots of gray. Lots of stories to be told about navigating that gray. And now any time I feel a little too righteous about one of my beliefs I take that as a cue to go walk in somebody else's shoes for a bit.

Mitt Romney made some remarks at a private fundraiser that somebody recorded without his knowledge. Mother Jones wrote a story about it. If I had to wager a guess, he was simply trying to rally his supporters around who they should get the vote out to. Don't bother with the poor people. Or the old people. Or the people with disabilities. Or the people who are able to work in part because they can deduct childcare expenses.

You know, those Americans who don't take responsibility for our lives and expect a handout. Those 47% of Americans who don't pay income taxes.

Ok, I can feel a little anti-Romney righteousness coming on. Perhaps I should walk a mile in his shoes. What would it be like to live in a house where you can afford to make all the necessary repairs? What would it be like to "just" worry about the cancer your wife got, and not about how it could plunge you into financial ruin? What would it be like to have a private jet? To have enough spare income for a dressage horse?

Mitt - it would have been nicer to just say, "the Dems appeal to the poor and working classes. But we think our vision is good for the whole country. We're going to need to convince those who are a little better off to join our side, so we can show the whole country what we can do."

Of course, if that is indeed what Mitt Romney believes, which I am not convinced that he does.

If Mitt was my friend and I invited him to my party, I can imagine spending the whole time trying to steer him towards looking at my poster art collection or talking about recipes so he wouldn't offend my other guests by talking about anything of substance. And his apologies are just as bad.

I feel particularly prickly about this because I'm in that "5-10% in the center" that he is talking about recruiting votes from.  I paid my income taxes. But unlike people who bring in millions of dollars a year, I'm not obsessed with hanging on to every last penny of it. I can see the benefit of giving some of it away to others who don't have as much. My community works better when we all look out for each other and we don't try to measure each other's worth by how much income each of us generates. That means some people give a little more and some people get a little more.

The common sense reason that the top 2% of earners pay half the taxes is that they are the ones with the money. Ann Romney's horse is worth more than my house. "Fair share" is a bad phrase to use when talking about taxes. People think fair means, I pay what he pays. But the dictionary defines fair as meaning "free from injustice" or "legitimately done". Injustice is what happens when some of our neighbors don't have enough to eat, or safe housing, or access to health care. Share is what we do when we have a little more than we need. (Like a $100,000 horse for instance.) We give what we don't need to those who need it.

Fair. Share.


Dealing with Bedtime Fears

The school buses have just started to go by and it's still dark outside, with a single bright star framed in my window. I know my teacher friends are already at school, getting together for a cup of coffee before the bell rings, as they do every Friday. M and Laurel are still in bed, but I woke up early (tough habit to break). At the moment, we have only one bed, so we all pile in together. It's worked out well at this particular phase. As summer started, Laurel started to wake up at night. Nightmares or just not wanting to be alone in her room. I would end up sleeping in her room with her almost every night after she came and got me. When we sleep together, it's peaceful pretty much all night. (Thank goodness for a king size bed!)

I know a lot of parents would do some "sleep training" at this point, but as someone who has been afraid of the dark my entire life, I don't have the heart. Recently, she's had trouble falling asleep at night unless someone is with her.

I've noticed that kids come up with the most cockamainy stories to get their needs met. Teenagers construct elaborate dramas. Eight year olds flat out lie. And almost-three year olds convincingly spit out explanations that make you feel like you are in an existentialist essay.

I don't know if it's a human tendency to manipulate and lie to get our needs met, or something that has just evolved in our culture, but I'm trying to break the cycle here. It's simply more efficient and less confusing if everybody says exactly what they need and then you go from there to see whether or not it can be provided in the moment. (Hint: Usually it can.)

Don't tell me that you can't stay in your room with the gate up because, as Laurel put it last night, "I won't be where I am at."

M went up to address that particular concern and asked her what she really needed, which was a grown up to snuggle with. He laid down with her and she was asleep in 10 minutes.

The question is are we dealing with bedtime fears or just ignoring them? Are we validating our child's feelings as legitimate, or helping to reinforce her fear of the many scary things in life?

Is she going to want to sleep with us until she's 18?


Finding Your Katahdin

Happy Katahdin Day! It's the 5 year anniversary of M&K's summit of the final mountain in our Appalachian Trail Thru-Hike. It took us 6 months and 6 days to walk 2,174 miles from Georgia to Maine. And even though 10,000 other people have done it, I'm still pretty darn proud of myself for this accomplishment. We started this blog around the time we made the decision to hike the AT. At the time I would have expected to stop writing here long ago, but here we are, 837 posts later.

Ok, so five years later. Life is a bit different. We have a kid. Different careers.  A mortgage. A few more gray hairs. But what has stuck with us is the belief in ourselves that we can do anything we set our minds to. (That both simplifies and complicates life.)

M & K Thru-hike the Appalachian Trail

Back in the day, M & K were not outdoors-y people. Sure we did our fair share of drinking around a bonfire at the River House, but we didn't know how to read topo maps or what kinds of nasty critters need to be filtered out of water. When we took off from Springer Mountain in March of 2006, we had spent  about 3 nights backpacking. Ever. Like many wanna-be AT thru-hikers, we had no idea what we were getting into. In the first picture, our tentative smiles and clean hiking gear tell this story. And boy, you can almost see us straining under the weight of our too-heavy packs.

M & K Thru-hike the Appalachian Trail

Six months later, the smiles have an air of confidence in them that didn't just come from climbing that last peak. We know who we are and what we can do. We know what our limitations are and to give due respect to Mother Nature.


And now what? Same wild beard on M that seems to come and go regardless of whether we are living in the city or woods. And I have some crazy, fuzzy dreads going on these days, no job and a baby on the way. But ever since we climbed up that last peak on the AT, we've been looking for our next Katahdin.

We haven't found it. And it drives us nuts. You can see it in our eyes in the last photo. It's a wanderlust we thought we were supposed to outgrow, but haven't.

Where to next? That's the question that haunts us now. We play around with it at the breakfast table. On weekend camping trips. At the end of the month when we pay our bills and wonder what all this earning and spending is really for. I just googled "window treatments" - my next project. And we're not even sure we want windows.

The problem with learning that you can do anything that you set your mind to, is that it makes it hard to narrow down your options. Everything seems possible. And nothing gets done. Or lots gets done, but you never get where you thought you were going.


So let her eat cake....

With our entire upstairs in upheaval, M is still working out of a disaster of a home office. Hopefully this will be cleared up somewhat by the end of the week. He had to get some stuff done today, so I took Laurel to the zoo. (One thing we are discovering about being self-employed....no paid holidays. Ever.)

Laurel noticed right away that I did not take a stroller to the zoo. "Dang it," she said. She noticed that most of the under 3 crowd were sitting in strollers munching on snacks she coveted. Cheez-its. Honey Grahams. Juice boxes.

We had water bottles and leftover french toast bits from breakfast and a Lara bar. Definitely less appealing. By the way, I didn't "forget" the stroller. I wanted her to get some good exercise so she would take an afternoon nap. (Which she did. Two hours!) We saw giraffes, bears, painted dogs, and the sea lions. Her favorite animals were these goldfish, who live in the canal by the elephant exhibit. If you take your kid to see exotic animals and all they want to do is look at some goldfish, well, I think you should just roll with it. We sat there a long time and she pointed them out to everyone who approached the fence. They mostly looked confused by what she was saying because they came to see the baby elephant.

Ask Moxie, one of my favorite mom bloggers, wrote about food rules and kids today. We don't have much in the way of food rules in our house, and I'm not sure how it's working out. We don't have fights about food or dinner time or anything, so I think that makes it a little more peaceful. We generally have healthy food on hand, so that's mostly what she eats. I've been eating meat recently, but she won't touch it. She's a little picky about everything but will devour lentil soup by the bowlful, serves herself a tiny little salad whenever we have it for dinner, and is game enough to try most everything we give her, although she often spits the first bite out.

I recently heard about a mom whose two year old had never eaten refined sugar. Can you sense the waves of guilt that wash over moms everywhere when they hear things like that? We sense that it's something we ought to have been doing and it's too late now and our kids are now destined to have cavities and problems with obesity and it will be All. Our. Fault.

Hold on a second, rewind. The guilt washed over me and then receded immediately.

But seriously, M and I have certainly struggled to find a happy balance of food choice in our home over the last year with adjusting to my dietary concerns and our desire to avoid food that's laced with chemicals or hormones or trucked long distances. No matter what research I read, I always go back to Michael Pollan's "Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants."

Right now, I feel like I have a good handle on what to cook and serve and eat. I know what makes my body feel good and bad and how much I need. My only hope is that modeling eating this way would teach Laurel to do the same.

However, I think there's another food rule I need to work on, which is food waste. How can we look deeper into this issue without just a "clean your plate" motto? I just read this interesting piece on food waste and I think this is the next big thing my household has to tackle.