12.31.2014

2014

A year split in half, punctuated by a month-long nap. It was more pruning than growth. Necessary, though. Eleven years of marriage is symbolized by steel and it felt fitting enough that M bought us new wedding bands made of stainless steel. Laurel turned 5 and I became a five year veteran of motherhood. I did some of the best work of my life and then walked away from it. I'm sorry for not telling more stories here lately. Everything feels too complicated to share with a broad audience. That's not to say 2014 was a bad year. Quite the opposite. I have before never felt so consistently satiated in my marriage, my kids, my body, and in the day-to-day activities of life. Last year I did a journaling exercise from Susannah Conway. I did it again recently. (You can check out her workbook here, it's free to download.) I wrote "prioritize" as a guiding word at the beginning of 2014. When I looked back at the last 12 months or so, these words emerged to describe it: "Human. Savor. Slash & Burn." Prioritize feels very orderly compared to how the year actually went. But it feels like I landed in exactly the right spot.


It was a lot of walking in on this....oh my God, those toes!


And watching them become siblings.

So glad to be in the Lego phase now. Even when I step on them.

Laurel can read! And she has a very willing audience most of the time. 

Laurel really wants a dog and every time we visit someone who has one, she tries to make her case by being super helpful. I have not seen her pick up dog poo in a plastic bag, though, which is kind of the sticking point for me.

We're figuring out how to plan activities that are fun for everyone (including the adults). I felt really amazing after we did the 300 mile bike trip to Cumberland and back and it is giving me confidence to plan more adventures.
I wore out my library card. Literally. 

Looking back at the 2014 photos was kind of hard, because they were filled with candid shots of Reading Warriors doing all sorts of awesome things. I genuinely enjoyed getting to know those teens and kids. I really wish I could share more of those stories and photos with you, but everyone was a minor and privacy issues and all that. But beyond that, I think those stories are theirs to tell, and I'm sure they are telling them in their own ways. I miss them, though.

Anniversary selfie in the steel town.

I have a feeling I'm going to be spending a lot of time cheering these two on in races. Laurel ran her first official races this year. Mark also ran in several races, although when I think of Mark running it is not usually about the race or his time, although he certainly trains for races and keeps meticulous records of his pace and mileage. Running for him seems to be more about the meditation of a long run, or the act of becoming more aware of his body and how it moves. And he always looks like he's having a really good time. 








I finally made it to San Diego for a much needed sister visit!


My grandpa died in December, but we had some good times with him this year. He always enjoyed the kids.

12.18.2014

Hygge

When I was waiting for the bus today, somebody lit up a clove cigarette and suddenly I was 20 again and in my first apartment. You know those smells that evoke memories you have no reason to ever summon up purposefully? They aren't bad, they aren't good. Just inconsequential things you forget over time.

But when I smelled that cigarette, I could remember the exact shade and texture of the carpet (gray-blue, threadbare near the door). How many paces it was from the front door to the light switch on the other side of the living room and how unnerving it could be to walk in alone at night. The picture book that roommate gave me for Christmas. Drinking cheap beer out of red plastic cups and the sound the dial-up connection made when I logged on at night. It was always easier to get on after midnight.

We had friends over the other day. "Your house is very hygge," they said when they came in. They just went to Denmark, where it's even darker in the winter. I had never heard that word, but I fell in love with it immediately. My house is old and proud but sort of shabby. We try to keep it clean and uncluttered, but like my middle-aged self, it looks a lot better in soft light. It is cozy inside, though, especially welcoming in the winter with our boiler heat. Furniture is arranged to allow for intimate conversation, although not exactly by design. More like the kids push the couches together when they play. And always the smell of something cooking.

Hope you have some hygge in your life as we approach the darkest day.

12.14.2014

Reading Practice


12.06.2014

A Quiet Night

Last night my grandpa died after a brief illness, at the age of 85. My brother and I went down to the hospital yesterday to see him and despite the fact that he was lying in bed, unable to really speak or eat, and drifting in and out of sleep, he perked up as soon as we came in the room. He smiled and reached out his hand for us. This made me immediately grateful that I had spent the morning hurriedly making arrangements for the kids and had taken the time to come and see him. But also, it reminded me of how he always greeted me, whether I was calling on the phone to say hello or coming down to visit them for lunch, he was always so excited to see us, gave enthusiastic hugs, and made me feel like my visit or call was important to him. When I saw him yesterday, it really hit me for the first time how much it meant to me that he was always happy to see me and made sure I knew it. The was a real gift he gave me.

My parents went to sit with my grandma today and took Marko with them to cheer everybody up. Marko seemed to know he had an important job...when they picked him up this morning he said goodbye to M, Laurel and I, and seemed eager to get out the door. Now he's staying over for his very first overnight away from us without Laurel. At first she was enjoying our undivided attention, but she was too lonely to go to sleep in their room by herself, so she set up a little camp next to our bed.

My grandparents would have been married 63 years in January, and for many years my grandfather would tell us how long they had been married to the day. I guess it was a bit of a hobby for him, to keep track of all that. He always, up to the last time I took the kids down in September, showed us his tomato plants. He wasn't fancy and you could generally count on there being ice cream in the freezer and Coor's Light cans in the fridge door. He felt every year he lived was an accomplishment and a gift.

Here's a link to some photos of Bennie Belski. Rest in peace, we will miss you and always remember you.

12.04.2014

Pittsburgh and Bikes (And Pedestrians)

Pittsburgh is getting a lot of positive press these days. Just last month, the Atlantic put out this video, this article on what millennials like about the city, and this article and video about Pittsburgh's political leadership on the issue.

So it must be awesome, right?

January 2008, same bike,
same tights.
Well.....I guess you could say we've come a long way. But we have a long way to go.

When we rode to Cumberland and back, the last few miles as we navigated downtown were by far the most nerve-wracking. The signage into Point State Park on the GAP, when coupled with road construction that closed some lanes, made it really difficult to figure out where we were even supposed to be riding. Most drivers of cars seemed to think we had no business being in the road, but obviously, you can't take two fully loaded bikes with trailers down the sidewalk in a business district. From the Point, we still had to get back to our home on the far eastern edge of the city. We chose to ride over to the North Shore and up the river trail to the 31st Street Bridge, so we could ride the bike lane on Liberty Avenue. It's a long hill, and I preferred to stay out of the car lane, since I was moving pretty slow with such a heavy load. Alas, construction shut down the entire shoulder, including the bike lane. Traffic was moving too quickly to easily merge in and the police officer on duty did not appear to notice us and made no effort to help us get around the construction. (So sorry to all of you who were stuck behind me on Liberty Avenue that day. I had to use the granny gear.)

October 2014, so much more stuff.
I went to a play group this morning where a woman asked me about biking in the city with kids. She has two little ones just a bit younger than my kids. We talked trailers and her fear of the hills. Here in the East End, I don't think there are any hills to really be concerned about other than maybe Negley, and it's more about going down them and being able to brake, rather than going up. We talked about weather, which frankly sucks about 6 months out of the year. And then finally, we talked about safety. Whether you are towing a trailer, or have a kid in a seat on your bike, your biggest fear is getting hit by a car. This is a valid fear because everyone is looking at their phones while they drive. And drivers, unless they spend some time on bicycles as well, tend not to be thinking about them and act as if they have just spotted an alien space craft. She's warming up to it, and I bet if we go out together a couple of times, she'll gain confidence and start doing it more.

I applaud the efforts of BikePGH and Bill Peduto and I definitely think we're moving in the right direction. But the fact is, it's still a relatively terrifying experience to get from point A to point B. There are simply too many gaps in the bike infrastructure. You ride down Forbes Avenue and boom, out of nowhere the bike lane ends AND there's no shoulder on that bridge. So much fun to merge into traffic that's often moving fast than the 35mph speed limit. Braddock Avenue has a bike lane on one side, but just sharrows on the other side. And while the sheltered bike lane downtown looks super sweet in those videos, they don't really show how weird and awkward it is to make a right turn out of that thing.

I've spent hundreds of hours advocating for better road safety (for bikes, pedestrians and automobiles) over the last few years. I 311 the heck out of any problems I see. I have put on a banana suit and marched up and down the street to raise awareness of our crosswalks. And I know the city is listening. No Parking signs and yellow paint recently appeared near my house (cars parking too close to intersections and crosswalks makes visibility really difficult for drivers. Pedestrians really do appear to "come out of nowhere" when they emerge from between two tall SUVs.) But at the end of the day PENNDOT and the city traffic engineers prioritize one thing, and that's flow of automobile traffic. This is a pretty typical response when we make any suggestions about putting in signals that stop traffic to allow people to cross.
"As per the Transportation and Engineering Department, Adding more phases on to the signal operation will reduce the overall capacity through the intersection."


Capacity trumps all. And that would be automobile capacity. 

Unfortunately, it's a bit of a catch 22 to move forward. Despite all the news stories and boosterism by the flood of millennials coming into our city, lots of people don't bike or walk anywhere. More of us have to, in order to make a better case for it. The more our streets are used in multi-modal ways, the more comfortable everyone gets with interacting with each other there. 

11.25.2014

November

We take our time. It's cold then pleasant then cold again. My days are long and slow. My stories are equal parts mundane and magical. Better for you to just look for now.



11.16.2014

Kid Party

Laurel wanted a "glow in the dark" birthday party for her friends this year. For the last several years she's obsessed over her birthday party for at least six months before it happens. If she had her way, every year would be a "blow-out" and everyone she ever met would come. We tried to scale back those expectations. I bought a 100 pack of glow sticks and looked up some recipes for glow in the dark playdough. I never made playdough before, but this recipe was really easy, though I bought decoupage instead of paint and it didn't glow very well.

To give the kids something structured to do during the party, we started off actually making up batches of playdough as they arrived. This was sort of messy, but the kids were surprisingly engaged for at least a half an hour. I gave them all aprons to put on, and covered my table with a layer of newspaper and a plastic tablecloth that I just stripped off and threw away when we were done. The parents who stuck around were able to just chill out in the living room during that time, which I'm sure they appreciated. Next we gave everybody pizza to eat. They also liked the veggie tray we made (Laurel's idea). It looked sort of like this.

Next we broke out the glow sticks. While they were making crowns and bracelets and necklaces to wear, we shut all the curtains and converted our living room into a night club. We have black-out curtains because we live on a busy, well-lit street corner, so it was pretty easy to make it dark, even though it was a sunny afternoon. They danced like crazy. The adults danced like crazy. We probably could have kept the dance party going for way longer, but in the interest of keeping our party to 2 hours, we opened presents and dug into the Dave and Andy's ice cream cake.

I didn't take any photos or videos. I think M got a couple, but mostly we were just hanging with the kids, keeping the activities going and having a good time. I think I was smart to limit the guest list. Our house isn't super huge and more than 20 people would have been uncomfortable. She invited about 10 kids. Eight came and with siblings and parents we were at just about 20.

Planning and setting up the party with Laurel was a lot of fun. She assembled goody bags, and helped to test the playdough recipe and arranged the veggie tray. We talked about etiquette and she learned how to open the door, greet her guests and take their coats. Today we'll write some thank you notes. She got some really awesome gifts and it was cute how excited each guest was to show Laurel what they brought for her.

11.14.2014

Lockdown

Laurel's school was on lockdown at dismissal time yesterday and the police situation (which was around the block and had nothing to do with the school) wasn't resolved for some two and a half hours. Of course I had taken the bus over there and it started snowing and I had no snacks and only one diaper because the plan was to grab her quick and get home to our warm house.

Marko gets a piano lesson
while we wait for Laurel.
Plans. I rarely make them, and this is why.

But grace surrounded us. After we stood there for a while, as other parents arrived and squinted at the hand-written note taped to the side door, it became clear that waiting outside may not be a good idea, especially for those of us with younger children in tow. First of all, it was snowing harder all the time and I had deliberately left Marko's mittens at home, because I am searching for the mitten clips that my Aunt Mary sent to Laurel because I know he will try to take them off and we will lose them forever. Everyone was getting a little chapped in the wind. One of the mothers suggested the church basement across the street. She had a key. A group of us marched over there together, texting as we went, because people's mothers and spouses were getting wind of the situation and inquiring about our safety. (There were a ton of police officers closing off the area, but it's not as if bullets were flying.)

The church was beautiful. We walked through a chapel, hushed by the wall to wall carpet and the dome high above. Marko and I stopped at the alter. I'm used to a dying Jesus holding prominent place in front of a chapel, but this just had a cross and a bible open to Thessalonians. It was very quiet and Marko said "shhhhh" and put his finger to his lip. Amen, I said. Amen, said Marko.

Then we went through another hallway and there was a room with a stage and a piano, and then a playroom where babies were rolling about on a carpet and toddlers were climbing on a miniature jungle gym.

A little girl stopped what she was doing and asked, "What's that boy's name?"

"Marko," I said, and she replied, "Marko. I like that."

She was four, I learned, and she made an equally complimentary remark about the name of every other child that showed up.

Then a cheerful man, who looked just slightly older than me, came in and told us to help ourselves to anything. He had to go out and pay the mechanic for his car and could someone fetch his son if this was all resolved soon? He rushed out shouting, there's grape juice in the kitchen!

He's a church elder, said one of the mothers. He seemed young to be an elder, but he was so pleasant with the little ones and happy to be able to offer his church building to us. I immediately wanted to join this church. People were just hanging around, texting and playing with the kids. Another call came from the school informing us that nothing had changed and our children were fine. Eating snacks and nobody was scared, they said.

The church elder soon returned with grocery bags. We poured milk for the little ones and stood around eating cheese and apples. It got dark. The snow stopped.

I thought about the man, barricaded inside the apartment down the street. They said he was older, and that it was dispute over an eviction. He had a shotgun and was refusing to leave. It's a changing neighborhood, property values going up. This happens a lot, said someone. Not the gun part. The eviction part.

I've never been pressed that hard by circumstance. I can't imagine clinging to our house like that. But it's cold and what if we had nowhere else to go?

Some people felt scared that their children were so close to all this police activity. They were angry at the man. Some people just felt angry at the inconvenience of it all. The angry people were mostly waiting outside. They would come inside for a moment to give a report, and then return outside to pace and badger the police officers directing traffic at the corner. A long time passed before the school called again. Eventually, everything was "resolved" and we were permitted to line up inside the school building and get our kids. Marko fell asleep on my shoulder as we walked to the bus stop together. Laurel cried because she was exhausted and confused.

The only thing to be done was to talk about it and order a pizza. M and Laurel read a book about leopards. Marko woke up briefly to eat and then went back to sleep.

Today, the neighborhood was back to normal when we approached the school, but Laurel didn't want to go in. She begged to stay home, then came up with a series of excuses. I finally negotiated her down to an early pick up, which satisfied her enough to take her coat off and join her classmates on the carpet. 

11.13.2014

November

It is noon, but it could be dawn. It could be dusk. A ceiling of thick gray clouds is a Pittsburgh sky. It stays all day, maybe all week. The bare trees, the periodic shower of snow flurries, says winter (or spring or fall). You can lose yourself in this bleakness. Down the street, the beeping and humming of construction vehicles shuttling dirt around, turning housing project into parking garage. But here this corner has rusty light poles and faded paint and the bus never comes on time.  Marko is strapped to my chest in a baby carrier, not too heavy but just getting a little too bulky to carry him like this. Legs dangle and his winter coat and mine make for a snug fit. But he's sleeping and his head still has that sweet baby smell. There is no rush to get anywhere and no point fretting anyway. It's just me and the Pittsburgh sky, same as it ever was.

11.10.2014

So My Family Had Its First Same Sex Wedding

Over the weekend my aunt was finally able to marry her partner of 11 years, giving legal recognition to what was already a long established family and household. 

It also gave most of my extended family a chance to attend their first same-sex wedding. 

Basically, it was simply a really nice wedding and we all had a blast. The venue was out in the country, lovely with the lingering fall leaves. Cousins and aunts and uncles arrived from all over the country, some in time to join us to celebrate Laurel's birthday on Thursday. All of the great-nieces and great-nephews (my kids included) were the flower girls and ring bearers, which made for an adorable start of the ceremony and much enthusiastic dancing throughout the reception. My brother and cousin played some music together, the scripture passages were fitting for the day, and everybody cried when they exchanged vows. We ate, drank, danced and posed for pictures. 

However, in what I thought was a lovely speech, they did acknowledge that it might seem a little different and strange. I believe their choice to marry went beyond a declaration of love and commitment toward each other, although that much was certainly obvious. It was also an act of bravery. They didn't know how everyone would react, and in fact, there were some who chose not to come. But while those folks might have been missed, the love in that room was just way too big to worry about what was missing.

That notion of it being "weird" went right over Laurel's head, by the way. She knows that families come in different configurations. I asked her once what was different between our family and my aunt's and she said, "They have a cat." 

As families around the country experience what we just did, I hope it helps to soften the discourse on marriage equality. When we talk about marriage we are talking about real people, who mow the grass and babysit their nieces and nephews and host Christmas dinner and pay taxes. It's not weird. It's not even really that different.

So, congrats to my aunts for making it official! 

11.06.2014

Happy 5th Birthday, Laurel!

Laurel turned 5 today and we went out to breakfast at the Square Cafe. She ordered babycakes, of course, because she always does. Five year olds know what they like.

I especially enjoy Laurel at this age with the contrast of Marko, who is nearly two. He doesn't talk much, other than to name objects, and is utterly impossible to reason with. If he doesn't want to hold your hand when crossing the street, he collapses into a toddler puddle, leaving you to drag his limp body as onlookers tsk and impatient drivers inch close to the crosswalk. Laurel, on the other hand, can understand consequences, even things that are somewhat abstract. She can imagine scenarios other than the one we are in. Plus she has five years of experience to draw upon. She holds your hand without asking because she knows which intersections are particularly dangerous and that collisions can and do happen.

We are storytellers in this house, so our adventures are told and retold and Laurel knows them. "Remember when I was 2 and we drove to Key West and I ate a key lime pie on a stick and it was a DISASTER?!" she says gleefully.

I do. And it was a sticky mess. I paid a hundred dollars to get the car detailed after that trip. I remember the first time she went down a slide by herself and bouncing all night on a yoga ball to keep her from screaming and the way her newborn fingers clutched mine the day she was born and I knew her name was Laurel for all of the Laurelness we saw in her eyes that day. I remember her standing on a stool in the kitchen with M, kneading dough. I remember her first day of school last year, and this year, and how she suddenly turns shy and standoffish at the oddest moments.

This year she ran her first race (placed third) and tried ballet (hated it).  It feels appropriate that she's off at school by herself right now, instead of with me, because this is the direction her childhood is going. She has her own gigs now. She spends six and a half hours a day in the company of peers and adults she is not related to. When we go to the park to play she can roam far from me, without me worrying too much. She can go as high into a tree as she can without assistance and it doesn't bother me.

Her favorite things are My Little Ponies, climbing on just about anything, writing stories and watching Wild Kratts on tv. She loves all things sparkly and pink and purple. She does chores around the house and goes to bed easily. She still crawls into my lap for stories or when she just needs a snuggle. When she is unhappy, she is able to clearly articulate why and offer a solution.

And for Laurel to be five means I have been a mom for five years. Half a decade. A blink of an eye, but also, that's a lot of bandaids and sleepless nights and patty-cake. I like being a mom, but I don't really like talking about it anymore. The first couple of years I suppose I didn't really know what the hell I was doing, so it made sense to obsess over car seats and introducing solids and sleep training. I felt bad and guilty a lot of the time because I would try these things and they didn't work the way they were supposed to. Nonetheless, we muddled through and everyone is still alive and well, although I think that can be mostly chalked up to luck, vaccines and abundant supplies of potable water.

The core work of mothering now feels more like building relationships. Here is the thing that nobody really talked to me about before I had kids....you are inviting real human beings with distinct personalities into your life. You don't know who those people are going to be, although they will hold some of your most vexing attributes (as well as your most charming ones, no doubt). So of course, a big part of mothering is getting to know your own kids and building a really secure and loving relationship with them.

But what I didn't understand until Laurel started to talk about her feelings and personal struggles was that all those other relationships you have really, really matter. Your kids are watching how you navigate conflict with your spouse and parents. They see who you spend time with and what you talk about and how you support each other. They learn how to cultivate....or how to terminate. They see you mess up, and repair it, or neglect it. If I watch them closely, I can see what I am unconsciously teaching my kids because children learn what they live. They carry it out on the playground and with each other.

So, I guess after 5 years, that is what has been most challenging for me, but also what I'm most grateful for.

Happy Birthday, Laurel!



11.03.2014

Daylight Savings Cont.

The kids were practically staggering by 6:15. More snuggles for me!

11.02.2014

Daylight Savings Time

6:59 and everybody's toast.

10.29.2014

GAP Bike Vacation: Traveling With Kids

In October 2014, we rode the Great Allegheny Passage bike trail from Pittsburgh to Cumberland and back, approximately 300 mile trip. Read more about that trip here:
Part 1
Part 2

Lots of people ask us about traveling this way with kids. At the time of this vacation, Laurel was 4 and Marko was 1. We decided to pull them in 2 Burley trailers that we bought off Craigslist. Laurel doesn't really ride a bike too well yet (she just mastered a scooter) and we only had 6 days to do 300 miles, so we thought she wouldn't last for that mileage on a tag-along. Plus, our kids are pretty small for their age. Marko's about 21 pounds and Laurel isn't much over 35. Very towable.

Snug as a bug.
A Family is More than the Kids
First, let's establish this...neither of our kids was like, "hey, can you pleeeease take us on a 300 mile bike trip? pretty please?" This was something M and I have wanted to do for a long time. Our desires and interests are just as important as those of our kids.

Basic Needs
Our first priority was to make sure they would be warm and dry enough. The trailers were awesome for that. I packed tons of fleece blankets and just padded them up in there. I got some books on tape for them to listen to, but that was kind of a bust. I also packed some small toys and books. Mostly they just looked around or fell asleep while we were moving, which frankly is not all that different from a car trip. Looking out the window is not a bad way to pass the time. If it had been raining, we would have closed the rainfly and they would stay snug and dry.

Our second consideration was keeping them fed. This is no problem on the GAP as there are country diners and stores every 10 or 20 miles. We ate a ton of pizza, ice cream and french fries. I packed little baggies of cheerios and crackers that we could toss at them if they got hungry along the way. Everyone had a water bottle they could reach.

Train-themed playground in
Connellsville, PA.
Balancing the Activity
One of the challenges was that M and I got a ton of exercise along the way. The kids, on the other hand, needed to run around. We tried to stop every hour or two and find someplace where we could sit and they could run. We also kept them up a little later at night and just all went to bed together. They napped plenty during the day so they weren't too cranky with this arrangement.

We also made sure that Laurel got to do some of her favorite activities so we stayed at a hotel in Cumberland that had a pool. The visitor center at Meyersdale had lots of model trains, as well as a real caboose to explore. She usually just climbed on rocks or fence posts when we stopped, though.

Sometimes They Will Cry


He wanted milk. (This is milk.)
Just the other day, Marko threw himself on the floor with rage because I would not give him an extremely hot pepper to eat. Laurel is now more in the can-be-reasoned-with stage, but she still bursts into tears several times a day. My job is not to keep them happy or entertained 100% of the time. Usually we can help Laurel talk about what's really bothering her and help her find a solution. With Marko? He still doesn't talk enough so we have no clue what he's thinking. We usually just give him a hug and that clears things up.

Will They Remember?
Some people wonder if it is a waste to take your kids on cool trips when they are little because they might not remember it. However, this trip is now part of our family narrative. Laurel, at least, has a slightly deeper understanding of how the rivers flow and can trace that on a map. They both must have gotten something out of the experience of having the sights and sounds and smells of autumn all around them. Marko loved seeing real trains and the river (two of his words that he shouted over and over again). Maybe it mostly matters that M and I will remember this trip. I think we all just genuinely like hanging out with each other and it was 6 days where we got to do that.



Lessons Learned
1.) Pay attention to weight. Just because you can haul a hundred pounds of stuff doesn't mean you should. This was hard mostly because of how heavy the load was.
2.) Plan 40 mile days instead of 60 mile days (at least if you are going in the fall or spring when there is not as much daylight).
3.) Try camping along the way.
4.) Pack healthier food. Fried got old.
5.) Just go for it! We weren't sure how this would turn out, and had lots of challenges along the way and it was still fun.

GAP Bike Vacation Part 2

Read Part 1 here.

It was a pretty ambitious plan to try to get from Cumberland to Confluence in one day, especially with M being sick. We needed to make 62 miles plus another mile off trail to our B&B that night. And all before 6pm when it started getting dark. Just as I was about to throw in the towel and book some train tickets home, M rallied. We figured we would at least start up the mountain and then, if he wasn't well enough, it would be an easy ride back into town and the trail didn't leave until 7pm.


So, we started up the mountain. On the way up, the train passed us twice, as did lots of folks on bikes. I have no good photos of this stretch because I had to just keep going. No stopping. No thinking about the mile markers slowly ticking by. The weather was perfect, the scenery gorgeous, and several hours later, we were back at the Eastern Continental Divide. All downhill from here!



We paused again at Meyersdale for some lunch and to let the kids play in the caboose. And it really was noticeably downhill into Confluence. We went much faster and with much less effort. M started to feel better. When we got to Stepping Stone Farm, the kids were delighted to find playmates (grandkids of the owners) and chickens!

Chickens also roamed around the yard.
The owners, Vicki and Larry, had actually been in Frostburg the day before and saw us there. (Our trailer train made quite a spectacle wherever we went.) There were 3 other families staying at the Farm that night and we had a campfire with smores. In the morning, they showed the kids how to milk a goat. Breakfast was delicious and included raspberries and pears they had grown, as well as a taste of paw-paw fruit. The weather was once again warm and sunny and we coasted back through Ohiopyle and Connellsville on our way to our final stop of the trip, West Newton.

Rocky cliffs line the trail.
That night we stayed at Bright Morning B&B, which sits directly on the trail. The room was large and had a really comfortable king bed and a private bathroom. The B&B actually takes up 3 separate houses and we had the place to ourselves. Unfortunately, that night I slipped and hurt my calf pretty badly. I couldn't even walk! But luckily there was a drug store and a restaurant only a few hundred yards from where we were staying. Ice on my leg and a cold beer improved my spirits. The next morning I found that I could still pedal. We were only 30 or so miles from Pittsburgh, so it seemed a shame to not actually finish the trail at that point.

The final stretch of trail takes you past steel mills and scrap yards. Busy train tracks parallel the trail. Stacks of rusty old pipes and mill equipment lay everywhere. The air is tangibly gritty and the noise from the mill in Braddock is deafening. I cannot imagine living in this valley when it had many more mills and factories. I started to think about the "new" Pittsburgh, reborn from the ashes, as they say. We are a tech and ed and med city now, right? But the 20 or so miles into town tell a different story. From the bike trail, you can really see and hear and smell what the effects of industry are. I'm not saying they shouldn't be there....I have a house and a car and use plenty of fossil fuels and plastic and steel. Over the last five years, I've spent a lot of time getting to know how food ends up on my table. I've adjusted my expectations about what it's worth as a result. I haven't really done this for the other resources I use, but this trip definitely made me think more about it.

The GAP ends downtown, at the Point. It was exhilarating to finally be back in Pittsburgh, but also stressful. Signs marked the way, but there were no sharrows or bike lanes so it was a little unclear where we were supposed to use sidewalks and where we should be on the street. Construction vehicles blocked the right lane on portions.

You can go no further.
Point State Park was under construction for a long time so I haven't hung out there much, but it really is beautiful. Even if you don't want to go on a long distance bike ride, it would make a great destination for a town ride, and you can stick to trails if you start on the North Shore. We hung out at the fountain for a while, and then had another 8 or so miles back to our house. M ran this app on his phone to collect mileage data for our entire trip, so he'll post our stats. (Slow and steady is what you'll see.)

Fall is a perfect time to do the GAP. Enough leaves had fallen that we had excellent views of the river and mountains along the way. We lucked out with the weather, but even if it had rained or was cold there are plenty of places to stop along the way to eat or warm up. Overall, I was really pleased with our lodging options, but I think next time we'll take advantage of some of the adirondack shelters and do a little camping. People from the towns along the way were friendly and very excited to see our kids. We learned a lot about the geography of southwestern PA and western Maryland, railroad history, coal and coke processing and saw a lot of birds. Other than the actual pedaling, the trip was pretty undemanding. There is something extremely therapeutic about spending so many hours a day outside, just watching leaves float down from above and listening to the river churn.

10.28.2014

GAP Bike Vacation Part 1

M and I have wanted to do the bike path from Pittsburgh to DC ever since Matt and Loren did it back in 2007. But aside from an overnight trip to Connellsville and a few day trips around Ohiopyle, we never did much traveling on bikes, although M commutes by bike to work. But we finally got some time to do it this month. We decided to haul both kids and our stuff in trailers and to avoid the hassle and expense of shuttling our stuff back from DC, we planned a round trip from Pittsburgh to Cumberland and back. The trip took us 6 days and was about 300 miles.

I look happy as I am about to go down
the big hill. Panic about getting back up
will set in shortly.
Most people don't do this because there is a mountain in the way, and who wants to go over that twice? The elevation change is actually very minor, but you definitely feel it when towing a trailer.

On the first day, we set out from our house on a harrowing ride down Browns Hill Road to get to the Great Allegheny Passage in Homestead. The weather was chilly and overcast and a little windy. The trail winds along the Monongahela River to McKeesport, and then up the Youghiogheny. There were still plenty of leaves on the trees. We saw a whole line of coke ovens and other decaying structures from the Pittsburgh Coal Company along the way. The signage along the trail isn't terribly detailed or informative, but I was prompted to read more later. This article describes the Darr Mine disaster, and I also learned more about coke ovens here. (More about the history of the Steel Valley later.)

As for us, we mostly looked like this:

Pedal, pedal, pedal, pedal, pedal.....














The trail in this section passes through many small towns and we stopped and ate lunch in Smithton. The kids were pretty chill in their respective trailers and listened to books on tape when they got bored of looking at beautiful fall scenery.


That night we stayed at a cabin at the River's Edge Campground in Adelaide (MP 92). The next day we continued our uphill climb with a plan to reach Meyersdale. Between Connellsville and Ohiopyle is one of my favorite stretches. The trail sits high above the river and you start to feel like you are in the mountains. We stopped at our favorite place in Ohiopyle for breakfast after knocking off the first 20 miles of the day.

With 58 miles planned, this was a hard day, I'm not going to lie. I may even have cried a little bit and I definitely cursed out all the stuff we had loaded in the trailer. We also had to keep on moving because the sun sets pretty early in late October. We stopped for a snack in Rockwood, at the Opera House, which has a very interesting collection of things in their shops and excellent pizza. As we got closer to Meyersdale the trail opens up and you can see a lot of farms. We passed by some grazing cows and could also see the windmills lining the ridge. I had been looking forward to the Salisbury Viaduct, and we hit it right before sunset. It's crazy the degree of effort that was put into building the railroad here.

Salisbury Viaduct
That night we stayed at the Morguen Toole Company, which was a cool space, but at $140 it seemed a bit pricey. They did nice things like turn on the space heater to warm our room up before we got there, and there were ample towels and a nice bathroom with a shower (no tub). One bed was very comfortable, the other one sagged. The rooms were clean. However, their continental breakfast sucked. No coffee.

The next morning I woke up feeling confident. We had a short day planned into Cumberland and it was mostly downhill. Hands down, my favorite part of the trip was going through the Big Savage Tunnel and then coming out to the view of the valley. We coasted into Frostburg, just in time to see the steam engine come in, which is a big theatrical production. The only downside was that the town sits up the hill, but they have kindly made some switchbacks to follow, so you can avoid the steep country road. After that, we continued on to Cumberland, still coasting downhill. I actually found it sort of frightening to be going as fast as we were, because the path has a lot of loose gravel on it and I was afraid of wiping out. Riding in to Cumberland was weird after spending so much time rolling quietly through forest and farmland. We found Mile 0 and congratulated ourselves for finishing half of our trip.
View from Savage Tunnel

That night we stayed at the Fairfield Inn and Suites, which sits, literally, right next to C&O Towpath, and I really can't say enough good things about the place. They let us take our bikes into our room and found us a spot for the trailers downstairs. There was a pool and a hot tub and it was walking distance to a playground and some little restaurants and the train station.

Unfortunately, M wasn't feeling so hot. Actually, he was feeling really hot, then really cold. Turned out he had a pretty high fever. It looked like we were going to have to end our trip early and figure out another way to get home.

10.17.2014

Going Home


You never know what will happen on the way home from school.

10.16.2014

Itchy Feet

10.15.2014

Picture This

I have no photos on my phone to share today, except an ugly one of my medicine cabinet that I sent to my sister. I'm attempting to strip 90 years of paint off of it. At first, I imagined that I would just repaint it, but it seems silly to invest all this time and effort and then cover up the wood again. So you can picture that, me applying coat after coat of Citristrip and painstakingly removing one layer of paint at a time with a scraper.

You can also picture me at a cutting board with a very sharp knife, in an effort to clear out our fridge from the overabundance of produce we received at Monday's market. Broccoli soup with greens. Then green smoothies for the children. They suck them down but I think it's because they like the mango chunks I throw in there. Biscuits to go with the soup, which have nothing to do with the farmshare, other than the fact that freshly baked biscuits can turn a pot of cream of broccoli soup into a meal.

The other thing I did today was run home from Laurel's school after I dropped her and Marko off, and then in the afternoon, I ran back there to pick them up. It only took 5 more minutes to run than it normally does to drive, and that may only have been because I briefly got lost behind these new apartments that have just gone up. I'm very interested in this idea of running as transportation, although it certainly works less well with small children in tow. (We took the bus home.)

Marko learned to nod his head yes, which has improved our communication tremendously, and he's now in bed, listening to Brian Eno. Laurel just shared all of her news of the day with M, who just got home from work. It was picture day at school. I ordered the cheapest package possible because I have a backlog of school pictures that I owe to all of you. Then Laurel told a bizarre story of Katy Perry sneaking into her friend's room to leave a KitKat, which somehow ended up in her possession at lunchtime. Laurel hates the grilled cheeses they serve at lunch. "They give us stale bread!" she says. The highlight of the day is always the hour or so we spend at the playground after school. Kids running every which way, dangling from the playground equipment, daring each other to drop from ever increasing heights. They climb the fruit trees and the little kids gather around and stare up in awe and then run over to the smallest tree that has a low branch and climb up all together. They perch on the branches like monkeys. I'm only a little worried that the tree will break.

10.14.2014

Big

Marko insisted on carrying the bag of apples but it was so heavy he staggered under the weight. I discretely plucked a few out and hid them in my purse to make the load more manageable for a not-quite-two year old. He waved goodbye to everyone we passed as we left the market. Laurel busies herself with visiting the other vendors. Clutching money in her hand, she says a loud "excuse me!" and gets a pound of coffee, or a container of hummus. Italian ices ("icetalians" she calls them) are her favorite, but they are gone for the season. She's learning about money and scrubbed the bathroom floor and tub today. (She's working off a ten dollar debt right now. Long story.)

Margaret gave us bunches and bunches of broccoli this week. I tossed it in olive oil and stuck it under the boiler for a few minutes. You can also slow roast if you have more time.



10.12.2014

Fall Camping

Let's just get this out of the way...yes, it's cold and you might be a little uncomfortable. Once you get beyond that, it's quite enjoyable to go camping with kids. Bring hats. The leaves were pretty close to peak in Ohiopyle this weekend. It was super misty on the ridge where we dropped M off to run. We didn't buy nearly enough firewood but it was enough to cook some lamb sausage. Everyone slept peacefully in the backpacking tent. We practiced for our bike vacation by heading to Confluence and back. 1% does make a difference. I always feel like I'm home when I'm near the Laurel Ridge.


10.08.2014

Early morning bike maintenance tutorial

Their favorite thing is probably the bell. I shout to please not get greasy because we are on our way to school. Marko can't help but spin the tire. 

10.07.2014

The Rain Is Welcome Anytime



Nearly Five

Laurel is nearly five, which means a few things. She'll soon be old enough for Real School necessitating some real decisions on our part, we'll teach her to use a knife (house rule) and she is so firmly into childhood that her baby-ness is just a memory now. I don't even think about it when she climbs in my lap anymore. She's all legs and complicated questions.

But also, I've been someone's mother for five years. Five years! The transformation into motherhood was jolting at first, and then all-encompassing as I obsessed over the proper way to diaper, wean or sleep-train my way through the first years, and has now faded to a layer that sits beneath the surface...always there, but not the most important thing about me anymore. Having kids helped me to realize a part of my personality that was always there, but I didn't know I had. And now there is no separating the mother part of me from any other part.

After five years, my biggest lesson is that in having kids, you are inviting actual people to come into your life for a really long time. (Wanting a "baby" is kind of dangerous. Like wanting a kitten, it goes by really fast and they are super cute and cuddly and then you have a cat for like 15 years. Hope you like cats.)

The books make it sound like child-rearing is this series of gameboards you must conquer before moving on to the next level. There's infant sleep then potty training then tantrums. Then school. Peer pressure. Tweens and teen stuff. Apply each solution to the appropriate developmental stage and WIN!

Parenting has been more like committing to a long-term relationship before I really knew what I was getting into. Along the way you learn about each other...likes and dislikes and how to get along. How to disagree and make up. What you can share together joyfully. What you should just avoid in the spirit of family harmony. How to balance everyone's needs.

10.06.2014

Hello, Autumn!

Suddenly, after a September filled with blue-sky days and pleasant temperatures, autumn is upon us. I took Laurel out in the bike trailer on Saturday where she had her very first experience of getting hailed on. It was windy and rainy and cold enough to chase M out of the woods, where he had planned to do a long run. M really loves to run so you know it had to be pretty unpleasant for him to cut that short. Laurel declared it the "worst bike trailer trip ever," but she can be sort of melodramatic about these sorts of things. The hail wasn't really that big and we were only biking around my parents' neighborhood. Note to self: buy her a winter coat.

I haven't blogged for a while for a lot of reasons. Maybe I'll write more about that, maybe not. All of us are fine here. Sort of cocooning for the winter. Folding into each other and slowing things down.

Last week we had a visit from my friend, Leah, and her two year old son. We took them to Ohiopyle for the day where we wandered around the Ferncliff peninsula trails and splashed in the Youghiogheny River. Hiking is very slow....basically Laurel sets our pace these days because she's too big to be carried. Four-almost-five-year-olds cannot be hurried. I love to watch my children in the woods, noticing little bugs and flowers.  Running their hands across mossy rocks, and climbing over decomposing tree branches. Everything I've ever seen and become familiar with is new again as I watch through their eyes. It was fun to take Leah to a place that is special to us. We've been friends for a decade, but spent most of that time on opposite coasts, growing our friendship through emails and letters and the shared experience of motherhood. We could have just hiked somewhere closer to my house....we do live near a 500 acre wooded park. Taking Leah there was a way to reveal something else about myself that could never be communicated another way. Plus her kid really likes to splash in water. (Unless it is a bathtub. Oddly, he is vehemently opposed to baths, but had no qualms about the river, or the water tables at the Children's Museum.)

I have a lot more to say, but running out of time. Here's what you should know in case I forget to blog for another month. (1) I quit my job and have zero regrets about that. I will not be writing about that here, but feel free to ask me in person. (2) We're planning a bike trip down the Great Allegheny Passage in a couple of weeks. Pray for no hail. It will probably be kind of cold. I welcome your suggestions for long distance biking with small children. They'll be in a trailer and it's about 300 miles total, I think. (3) Laurel is reading! Sounding words out on her own and blending sounds. Spending hours sitting on the couch paging through her magazines. So cool to see it happening before my very eyes. (4) Wassail Fest is ON for this year. I seriously will tune my piano, once we set a date. Mid-December.

8.31.2014

The Great Milestone that is Back To School Time

Laurel's first day of school was on Wednesday and I did not take a picture. This was partly because I got a bonk on the head a couple of weeks ago and have lingering concussion symptoms, so just getting her to the school building itself on time was feeling like a pretty epic accomplishment. Even with the concussion, I did remember to pull out my phone as we approached the building but Laurel gave me a firm no. I think she was nervous.

School went fine and by Friday she happily posed for a "first day" picture. School is a funny thing. As a person with teaching experience, I ought to have a fairly good idea of what happens there, but so much of it is a mystery. Side conversations with her peers that happen out of the earshot of adults. Her perception of a disciplinary choice of her gym teacher. Why she's there in the first place. So much of the whole experience has nothing to do with the curriculum. At our parent conference last week, the teacher asked me what my goals were for Laurel for this year and I didn't really know how to answer the question. I mean, it's preK. I hope that she emerges from the year relatively unharmed and has a good time playing with a lot of kids on the playground. Read her some cool stories. Teach her to count.

On the first day, she came home delighted to be back in school. I got to make orange juice, she said, and then I got to drink it!

That seems like a pretty good thing to be doing in preK, I think.

It will be two more years before Marko is old enough for this school, but he is firmly out of "baby" territory and exerting his will as an active toddler. He mimics everything that Laurel does, so getting him to act properly is very much about getting her to do it. He can say a few words: dog, duck, Lah-lu (Laurel), and apple. He still uses the sign for more. I'm learning a little bit about using Montessori with him and he loves to help around the house. Although he doesn't talk too much, he can definitely follow 1 and 2 step directions.

Last night, I was doing the dishes and realized it was pitch dark and only 8:30. That's the other part of Back to School. It marks the coming of the autumnal equinox. Our garden phlox has just about given up blooming. The dill went to seed. Our sunflowers, which we planted very late, are now towering over the rest of the garden, with thick stalks and umbrella-like leaves. When walking home from the playground yesterday, we found a few red leaves on the ground. We've now lived in this house for nearly six years and - the longest I've spent anywhere since my childhood home, and it's interesting to note what I have grown to notice and expect from my surroundings. The sunrise drifts from one end of the dining room window to the other and back again. The gingko trees across the street will not be the first to turn, but will be the most brilliant. The grass in our front yard will slowly turn to yellow as the winter deepens. The house itself will shift, tightening up as the moisture from the air disappears when the boiler turns on. The doors may shut properly in their frames again. We will change our habits, sleeping more and earlier.

As for me, I'm taking it easy. A few weeks ago I hit my head while I was cleaning the house. It really hurt, but I put some ice on it and didn't think too much about it. Next day, I still had a headache and a few other troublesome symptoms, and was instructed to rest from pretty much everything....no computer, tv, driving, exercise. This week, I'm trying to ease back in so I can return to work.

8.11.2014

Summer Here

Summer has been pretty great. Lots of time on the porch and swimming pools. Marko is very much on his way to Two, with daily assertions of his displeasure at the rules I impose (no, you cannot cut your cheese stick with a butcher knife), but also lots of hugs and snuggles. He finally likes to read (whew) and brings me his favorite books, then turns around and plops himself into my lap.

Laurel says at least 50 amazing things a day and I keep thinking I need to catalog them or video tape her or something. We had this conversation about hang gliding and parachuting the other day that was just not what I was expecting to talk about with my four year old. She still loves reading about animals and science. Today I had a meeting with a biologist and we talked about using microscopes and magnifying glasses with some of the kiddos I work with, and I kept thinking that Laurel would really love every single one of those lessons - looking at insect legs and your fingerprint and the stomata of leaves.

The two of them together are a tornado of destruction, though. Tumbling over each other, wrestling like puppies. Taking out every single puzzle or toy or book. Food dropped all over the place, even though we are really trying to enforce eating at the table. They yell at each other and laugh really loudly and share everything. Lollipops and books and germs. They are not afraid of new people. Marko just learned to shake hands from the Councilman Burgess, who stopped by our ice cream social. Laurel will tell you everything five minutes after you meet. At the swimming pool, she bobs and gossips with a group of moms hanging out in the far opposite corner of the kiddie pool. In the grocery store, she tells the clerk what we are having for dinner, where we went this morning and whatever embarrassing piece of information I really wish she hadn't overheard.

She says "Jeeee-sus" when she is awed or irritated. (Wonder where she got that from?)

Marko says "taco" and "backpack" and shakes his head no.

I wish we had a hundred more years of summer, but I'll be glad when fall gets here and we can tuck ourselves under covers and watch the leaves blow into our yard.

7.21.2014

Come Read With Us

Sometimes when I have a side conversation with Amy (my collaborator on the Reading Warriors project) before training starts, where we decide how much time to dedicate to processing the murder that occurred on the playground last night, and we decide 15 minutes is good and to let the teens moderate it, and it turns out 15 minutes is a good amount of time, and then they go on to do utterly amazing planning work with more dedication and thoughtfulness than I've seen from most classroom teachers in the last ten years....well....I am simultaneously grinning from ear to ear with satisfaction and pride over this program we have built together and utterly sick with the scope of poverty, violence and hopelessness that a quarter of this city's children are growing up in.

Sorry for the run-on. And dropping that bit about the murder in there. But that's kind of what the inside of my head feels like when I'm at work. So. Many. Problems.

No choice except to deal and move on. Even when the problems are serious.

Because we've got a solution.

At the core, it is simple. Reading Warriors focus their efforts on shrinking the word gap. How do we do that? By reading and having rich conversations with kids. Teens really can do this! It starts with a book and ends with crafting a patchwork quilt out of construction paper or making smoothies or finding 6 different kinds of a maple leaves in the blocks around our program sites. They come up with amazing ideas when I can restrain myself and stop meddling in their lesson planning.

During the next couple of weeks, you can support our work and it's easy.

On Wednesday July 23 or Thursday July 31 you can join us. If you are local, come to the events in the Hill or East Liberty. Bring a book, or use one of ours and just sit and read for a minute. You can bring a kid or an office-mate. Bring your mom. Bring your dog. Bring your goldfish. You'll probably hear some P-O-W-E-R, or see some of their trademarked "animation reading" (seriously, they made it up) and it's just really fun. If you can't join us in person, read wherever you are, take a selfie and post it on FB or Instagram with #ReadingWarriors. Buy a book for a kid you know or send a donation to your local library. If you see a Reading Warrior out and about, ask them about their work. Make sure the kids you know read 100 books this summer (it's only 2-3 a day). Or you can do a hundred chapters, if they are a bit older.

7.13.2014

Summer on the Porch

My neighbor Marlene joins us for
lemonade and story time.
We live on a super busy corner, and therefore do not experience the oasis of peace and quiet that I formerly associated with porch swings and pitchers of lemonade. No matter, the porch is a great place to gather a few neighbors, drink lemonade, read, paint, splash in the kiddy pool, and tend our little garden. The kids help with weeding and watering. M recently started a new job and my job is super busy in the summer, so we don't really have any big vacation plans. We take the kids to the city pool, M plays in a softball league once a week, and we've been on a couple of short camping trips in the Laurel Highlands.

When we started writing this blog, M and I didn't even really have a home. We were staying with relatives in between various road trips and backpacking adventures. I was thinking about how much online connectivity we have these days, compared to 2006. Back then we really had to hunt for a public library to send email or  upload photos! We didn't even carry a cell phone with us on the AT...just used pay phones. I don't even know if you can rely on that anymore as an option. You never knew where we would pop up next because a few days or a week would go by in between phone calls or blog posts. Thus the name of the blog. It felt exciting and free to spend a lot of days out of reach from everyone I knew.

Now you pretty much know where to find us. Happy hour after work is on the porch. Less beer, more iced rooibos tea. We carefully watch our phlox as they come into bloom and try to keep the lemon balm from taking over the entire yard. Laurel is a creative artist, always doing something new with the way she applies and layers paint. Marko just likes to dump things into and out of buckets....whether it's dirt or water or a collection of small toys. He's very busy and serious about it. He makes it look like work, but work he enjoys.

In a couple of weeks, we're going to crack open a few cartons of ice cream and make sundaes for anyone who walks by, for National Night Out. I'll drag every chair I own out to the little patch of grass in my front yard, and hopefully we'll meet some new neighbors. It's Laurel's favorite event of the entire year, and she's been inviting everyone she runs into.

4.27.2014

Find Your Place and Watch It Grow

Sometimes Marko pulls out our laminated map of the United States where it sits, rolled up, tucked in between the refrigerator and the wall. We unroll it on the living room floor and he walks back and forth over it. Laurel traces the lines with her finger, finding "Big Texas" and Chicago and Key West. M and I took our first big road trip when we were in in college, a month long loop following Route 66 for part of the way. We carried little glass vials with us and filled them with sand and water along the way. They sit in our attic, packed away, their labels have been rubbed off so they are vaguely mysterious, although you cannot mistake the silty Mississippi River water for the red dust of Kansas. As a family, we daydream often about our next road trip.

But there are plenty of adventures to be had close to home. When Laurel was Marko's age, we walked her to and from daycare and thus had built-in outdoor exploration time every day. The same 3/4 mile long journey, watching the trees and flowers move through seasonal cycles. Watching the shadows inch their way further and further across the park and then retreating again as winter approaches. 

Marko spends way more time in the car, way more time on my back or on M's shoulders. We don't make time for 2 hours of walking a toddler to and from daycare every day. If you ask Laurel what she wants to do, she will say watch tv. But once you get her outside, she's very comfortable, curious and observant. I want to be able to give Marko the same gift of time. No lesson plans or nature hike. Just traveling from place to place on foot, at one's own comfortable pace.

4.10.2014

And then we got a hamster....

We got a hamster. His name is Jojo and he came from our babysitter, Jessie, who also provided a complete and luxurious hamster habitat and a starter supply of bedding and food. Marko calls him "Ball" and is not allowed to touch him. Laurel is supposed to be in charge of taking care of him, but let's be real....I'm the one who is going to be dumping soiled wood shavings. She did a good job of changing the water today, though. Jojo got off to sort of a rough start when he bit Laurel last night. To be fair, she did put her finger directly between his sharp rodent teeth. There was blood, and tears. But the transgression was forgotten the next morning when the kids woke up; the first thing they wanted to do was check on Jojo. They desperately wanted to feed him again but it wasn't time. They were disappointed that he was sleeping and Laurel cried when I said that he was nocturnal. The thing I love most is seeing them next to each other, peering into the cage.

Happy Siblings Day, to my dear siblings. Pete and Danna, I can only hope that my kids have as much fun together as we did growing up. Love you both so much.

4.07.2014

Game Changers

Today while I was at work I had a conversation with a second grade child about honey. She had an old faded copy of a Winnie the Pooh book. She actually looked pretty engrossed in it when I walked by; she was definitely reading the words. I asked her if she liked Winnie the Pooh. "He's kind of a dope," I said, "Always getting stuck in those honey pots." She smiled and then said, "What's honey?"

Later, M and I lay in bed with Laurel, paging through her First Human Body Encyclopedia and looking for the pages on blood. When we got to the part about where blood cells are produced - in the bone marrow - she told us about tasmanian devils and how they eat marrow. When we looked at the magnified photo of the white blood cell, she said, "Reeve has lots of those because he is sick right now."

I'm the sort of girl who wears an "I love books" t-shirt to work, so yes, my kids read a lot. But it's not just about the reading. Bring a wide variety of reading materials and have rich discussions to build comprehension and vocabulary, that's what I tell my Reading Warriors. Also known as "Read stuff your kids are interested in and talk about it." Laurel learned the thing about the tasmanian devils from Wild Kratts, so sometimes "reading" is replaced by "watch a video." Whatever, it's the interaction that matters.

Do you know how hard it is to describe honey to a child who eats all of her meals in the school cafeteria and has never seen a bee hive?

So much word gap, so little time. One of the reasons I am so devoted to teaching teens about reading has nothing to do with the elementary kids they are tutoring now. I want them to understand the extent and complexity of the word gap and make sure they have babies that know what white blood cells are when they are four.

3.24.2014

I keep trying to post here but then....

....these two little munchkins suggest we stop by the playground or go out to eat at D's or there's just really crazy free form art being created in our dining room by Laurel. Last night M prepared a cartoonishly large pot of milk to make skyr and we got the kids bathed and ready for bed in record time, but the weekend wasn't ready to be done with us. First Marko popped back up, then Laurel, then they were both up and we gave up on putting them back in bed. Everyone ate more food and read more stories and snuggled more. I tried not to look at the clock, or think about our alarms going off in the dark in the morning. We were all pleasant with each other, Laurel helping M out and Marko peering curiously into the giant pot. I gave up on waiting until the kids were in bed and just poured myself a glass of wine. I avoided wishing that all days were like weekends and dreading Monday and instead just enjoyed the moment for what it was. Sunday. Bluegrass on the radio. Cozy in our house, together. But still, this morning I was back to resenting that moment for being so fleeting, until my friend posted something about writing a "Get To Do" list instead of a "to do" list, and it was exactly what I needed to hear to just celebrate the fact that I "get to do payroll" this week (actually, it's super nice to have funding to compensate my wonderful teen employees), and "get to suspend some of those teens for ditching training" (because really, it's a privilege to be able to have a calm and respectful conversation with a teen about consequence and balancing our time and bus schedules, and watch them grow into their responsibilities).

Soon, it will be evening and my Get To Do's will be giving more baths and more stories and more snuggles and the rhythm continues. Mostly there's really ordinary things going on here, but it makes me think of what poet William Martin wrote:


Make the Ordinary Come Alive Do not ask your children to strive for extraordinary lives.
Such striving may seem admirable,but it is a way of foolishness.
Help them instead to find the wonder and the marvel of an ordinary life.
Show them the joy of tasting tomatoes, apples, and pears.
Show them how to cry when pets and people die.
Show them the infinite pleasure in the touch of a hand.
And make the ordinary come alive for them.
The extraordinary will take care of itself.