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.



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.


Reading Practice


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.


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.