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.