M took the kids on a quick overnight camping trip this weekend. I declined to go because I recently developed some sort of crippling problem with my sacroiliac joint. I cannot walk without hobbling, turn over in bed without gasping or sit for very long periods of time unless it is on an exercise ball. I got a referral to physical therapy, which is very helpful, but the only cure is to birth this baby and that is potentially a month away, or further. (I hereby offer my apologies to any miserable pregnant woman I ever arrogantly suggested should "try a little yoga for that pain." I had no idea, I'm sorry.) But all things considered, it's certainly doesn't fall into the calamitous category and maybe it's even a good thing to be forced to rest a bit more in your third trimester.

So, while M was chasing after the kids in the pouring down rain, I was at home, moving from couch to exercise ball to kitchen. I baked this cake, chopped up all that remained of last week's CSA and made a soup, and roasted and froze 6 quarts of pumpkin. I slept for about 10 hours straight. I watched a lot of "Call the Midwife" and read the entire Sunday newspaper in one go. They had a good time and slept in the car instead of pitching a tent. The pictures M took show smiling children holding hands in front of a backdrop of peak leaf season. I think it was also really good for M to get some time on his own with the kids, which hasn't really happened much lately.

Last Friday a cyclist was hit and killed on her way home from work. The initial headline of the story that appeared on the local news referred to something about "delayed commute times." I think that was before they knew she was dead, but still what a horribly crass way to gloss over something really crappy. I made the mistake of scrolling through the comments. Never read the comments on a story about a traffic accident that involves a bicycle. M usually bikes to work, so it hits close to home. He's very safe and law-abiding. Always wears a helmet and lights up his bike like the sun. He had a close call with a bread truck last spring (not his fault) and has lots of stories about hostile drivers shouting at him (also not usually his fault). I remember last year, when we came back into town after pedaling to Cumberland, getting tsk'd tsk'd by a crossing guard for having my kids in a trailer behind me. In a bike lane on a designated bike route!

Even walking Laurel a short distance to school, I can feel the hostility and indifference of people inside their cars. Looking right past me as they roll through the stop sign and crosswalk, pretending not to see a heavily pregnant woman holding hands with a toddler and a five year old. Sometimes I am the driver, but I have to put a post it note on my dash board that says "25" - a reference to the most common speed limit in my city, but really a reminder to drive like I did when I was first learning. Two hands on the wheel, keep a gap between you and the next vehicle, constantly scan ahead and the mirrors. Everyone is in a hurry and I know I was that way not too long ago, glancing down at my phone to check emails at stop lights, and hitting the gas to pass the 71C. I never hit a cyclist or a pedestrian, or even another car, but I can't say I haven't had close calls.

Today when we came back together, the four-almost-five of us ate soup and chocolate cake. Everyone was tired and a little cranky. We muddled our way through the rest of Sunday. The house is still a mess but at least the trash got put out.

And this, all of this, is what parenting is turning out to be. Yes, we are still mired a bit in potty training and bedtimes and the things I read in books when Laurel was a baby. But it's mostly figuring out how to all live together without going nuts. Figuring out ways to balance everyone's needs, not just the children. Giving them more responsibility to take care of themselves and our house and our world. Explaining horrible things that happen. Showing them how to give help and to receive it. Calculating risk for all of us. There are no books for this part, just feeling it out with each other. We mess it up sometimes. Then we fix it.


It's the Dishes

I know exactly why there are so many dishes, and it's because there is a lot of cooking. I was thinking about this while Marko stood next to me on a stool at the counter. We were shelling roasted peanuts that were leftover from baseball season to add to something we call peanut butter spinach, but that rarely contains spinach. Marko is terrible at shelling peanuts because he pretty much just eats the nuts as he goes. However, it is a valuable early childhood fine motor activity. I was throwing in a variety of greens we got in our CSA last week, the tomatoes that were just a little bit soft, and a tiny bit of onion. The scrapings of a peanut butter jar, and then these peanuts. We ate it on a trip to Uganda many years ago and it turns out a little different each time. Cook until soft, blend in the food processor. Serve with rice. Cooking with a CSA takes some practice, especially if you are amenable to taking the farmer's "seconds" or produce not quite good enough to sell at the market. This is often free or very cheap, but also sometimes needs to be cooked, or prepared to be stored, immediately. Last week I got a fantastic deal on red bell peppers, so I blanched and flash froze them. One of the reasons I like being a homemaker right now is that I have time to do this and our freezer is always stocked with something interesting. But it makes a lot of dishes. And a lot of compost. We don't have a dishwasher, so everything has to be handwashed and dried. Every five or six days I make it to the bottom of the dish pile, putting everything away, wiping out the sink and storing the drying rack. But normally, there is a stack waiting in the dishpan, nagging at me.

The dishes are a metaphor for much of what happens in this job as stay-at-home-parent. It's busy all day long, but you have very little of interest to say about it to anyone else. Everything you do must be redone in a day or a week. What you make is consumed, used, dirtied. With the right mindset, this repetition can be meditative. Having little kids around punctuates the chores with lots of silliness and fun. The kids also remind me that even though the daily tasks make it feel like there is no end in sight, that this phase of life is finite. They will grow up, be out of the house more, take care of their own chores. They will stop dumping everything out of every container in the house when I'm not looking and won't pee on the toilet seat anymore. I won't run the bath water for them. We won't sing silly songs when we are cleaning up. There is a season for everything.

Marko is deeply engaged in imaginative play these days. He rescues animals, carefully scooping baby ducklings and chicks into his hands in such a convincing manner that the other children at the playground run to see what he has. He pantomimes putting on a stethoscope, his gaze drifting to the side as he pretends to listen to a heartbeat. He cooks them elaborate meals made out of scrabble tiles and poker chips and pots and pans he sneaks out of the kitchen. The other day he built a campfire out of sticks he found in the park, then reached deep into his pocket to pull out an imaginary lighter, flicking it with his thumb and holding it for a few seconds before releasing it. I could almost feel the heat. His play is his own take on us. He adds his own elements, performs the tasks with a unique touch. But there's so much of M and I that I see in our kids, especially in this sort of play. They are always watching.


Things Marko Got Mad About Today

1. I wouldn't let him eat a raw egg.
2. The squirrel he was chasing ran up a tree.
3. I put his left shoe on his left foot.
4. We have no more cheese left.


What It's Like to Watch a Hundred Mile Race

Laurel has another school holiday so both kids are home today and I'm trying my best not to jump in when they start to argue. It does seem to work itself out in a matter of 3 or 4 minutes, which feels like eternity and would definitely drive most people bonkers. But I have saintly levels of patience, developed during my years as a special ed teacher. This has turned out to be a handy attribute, both in stay-at-home-parenting, and in being married to someone who turned into an ultra-marathoner.

This past weekend we went to Oil Creek State Park so M could run in a hundred mile race. Yes, 100. Miles. I don't want to make it sound like it was easy for him, because dang, that's a really crazy thing to take on, you know? But the whole weekend was really fun. I don't normally go to his races, because of the kids, but this weekend my parents offered to watch them. It will be like a babymoon, I joked.

Girls in the woods! We are not
running a hundred miles today
because we are pregnant. Yes,
that's it. Also, we are not crazy.
Watching a hundred mile race involves a lot of waiting. I'm sure there are scenarios in which this would be terrible, but it's peak leaf season up in Oil Creek right now and the weather was quite pleasant. Plus several of our friends showed up to help me "crew" so I had lots of company. Many thanks to Sarah, Greg and Ruthie, and Caveman of Ohio for keeping me company all day. The course had 3 big loops of approximately 30 miles and one little loop to make up the difference. Two aid stations were accessible to family and crew, which meant for every 3 or so hours of running, we saw M for about 5 or 10 minutes. Bring a lawn chair. The sun started to set around the time M finished his second loop, and that's when his running buddies showed up to run with him as pacers. I had never met Jeff or Paul before, but they all run together in Frick Park before work every week or so, and share an equal passion for running on trails.

The other part of watching a hundred mile race is acting as "crew." This was a really well supported race, with lots of snacks and water available at the aid stations. You could definitely run it on your own. We brought some extra food - soba noodles, tofu, rice pudding, bacon and nutella. The other thing you have to do as crew is be prepared to prop your runner up if they get dejected over their admittedly crazy decision to take on such a challenge. To be honest, M looked pretty rough to me when he got to the aid station. He had run 62 miles, further than he had ever gone before, and had been up since about 4am. His gait didn't have the usual bounce to it. The sun was setting and he was facing almost another 40 miles, in the dark. For the first time I could remember, he looked a little bit tired of running. "This is kind of hard," he said to me, while I was shoving a cup of noodles and a peanut butter and bacon sandwich into his hands. Jeff and Paul immediately lightened the mood. "You look great!" they told him, and started talking about his pace and shoes and other technicalities that runners can go on for hours about.

Jeff and Paul, dishing post-race. I need
to point out that these guys just ran 40
miles collectively alongside M. In the
dark. And they don't even look tired.
Paul took off with M with a plan for Jeff to meet them at the next aid station. Paul kept sending the most hilarious text messages with updates on their progress. ("He's singing Taylor Swift!") I realized they were seasoned enough runners to remember to make him put on a dry shirt and a warmer layer at the next stop. I felt satisfied he was in good hands, and crawled back into the truck to sleep for a few hours. When I woke up, they were about to head out on the final, much shorter loop, and there was a real celebratory feel at the aid station as finishers were starting to trickle in. I dragged my sleeping bag out to the finish line and camped out with a couple of other families who were waiting until we saw those headlamps bobbing in. And finally M cruised in looking like he usually does at the end of a run...a little bounce in his step, a smile on his face, beard streaming behind him.

He finished way faster than his goal, in 20 hours and 19 minutes, placing 6th. Well, his goal was to finish. Period. He blew that out of the water. The cutoff time was around 33 hours so while he was done by about 1:30am, there were tons of people out on that course until well into the next day. I have a lot of respect for people who can keep going through two sunrises.

Well, if you run fast enough you get a
"golden" belt buckle. So shiny.
The final thing about watching a hundred mile race is that some people just won't get it. They won't understand why someone would want to do such a thing, and they definitely won't understand hanging around and watching them do it. Or maybe they think it comes easily to some people (I assure you, it does not. Finishing one of these things is pretty much pure stubbornness and grit.) There is an element of privilege in being able to run for sport, but there's no greater purpose to it, not even any prize money usually. You get a belt buckle and a t-shirt. Personal satisfaction. The urge to keep running. It doesn't seem like many people run one and then are like, oh that was great, I think I've achieved all I want to in distance trail running and I'm going to retire. They may eventually give up races, and just go out with their friends. But they do not stop running.

One of my "rules" about M's running is that it can't interfere with family life and responsibilities too much. So, if he runs a marathon, he's got to save enough energy to mow the lawn when he gets home. But this time we just pretty much lounged when we got home. I think we both needed that, and the race gave us a good reason to. Now we're just hunkering down for winter and getting ready for this new baby.

If you want to know more about the Oil Creek 100, check out the website here, or the Facebook group here.



My mother was actually the one who taught me to make corn tortillas.  I use a tortilla press and Bob's Red Mill Masa Harina, mainly because it's organic and gluten free and they sell it at our neighborhood grocery and we live in that kind of neighborhood. I shake it out of the mason jar where I keep it so the mice don't get into it. A pinch of salt. Microwave a mug of water and pour slowly until it looks too wet. Never measure. Then I let it sit awhile and it firms up. I pinch off bits of dough and roll them into balls. The blue plastic Giant Eagle bags are the best liners to use to keep it from sticking to the press. Last year, our friend Jack moved to Portland and gave away all his stuff. We got a little dish from him - metal on the bottom with a glass dome lid. It fits our tortillas perfectly and can hold a healthy stack. They steam up in there. I used to fry them in my cast iron pans, but now I use our electric griddle because you can fit more on at one time.

The table set with taco toppings is one of my favorite household scenes. Shredded pork or chicken, maybe some pinto beans. Rice. A red cabbage slaw. Cheese and sour cream. Tiny lime wedges in a wide brim coffee cup. Avocado slices, if I can find a ripe one - not an easy task around here. Sauteed red and orange bell peppers. Salsa. Kohlrabi or finely chopped turnips depending on what Margaret puts in our CSA. All the plates in the house stacked up, mismatched and with chips around the edges. A colorful pile of napkins.

The kids will be too loud and will drip the taco contents onto the floor. Two or three will squeeze onto the piano bench. Someone will hold a baby. I have my regular guests, but try to invite other people, too. Tuesday nights are busy, but you can eat and run, we won't be offended. If lots of people show up we just make more tortillas. Stretch everything out with some rice and beans.

Tuesdays are what I had in mind when we bought this house almost 7 years ago. I didn't know it would be tacos or that there would be so many kids underfoot, but I wanted to feed people around my dining room table. Making the same basic thing every week makes preparing the food a meditative experience for me. Often Marko is next to me, rolling the dough into little balls. Laurel sets the table. Making it a weekly event keeps me from the temptation to cancel if I'm tired or something. And I'm always glad we did it. Every single Tuesday.


Kindergarten, how's it going?

Laurel has been in school for 8 weeks now and we are feeling pretty good about our decision to send her there (and grateful to have won a lottery seat for a very small amount of kindergarten slots). The word that keeps coming up for me is "thoughtful." A great deal of reflection and planning seems to go into a lot of what she does. The communications from the school to home make sense. That's kind of a low bar to set, but last year I volunteered to be a classroom parent at her old school and 90% of what I did was track down information because fliers came home that were vague, or dates weren't correct and if you asked anyone for clarification they would sometimes have no idea what you were talking about.

As a former public school teacher, I just feel bad for everyone who is muddling through situations like that. I'm starting to be far enough removed from my classroom experience that I feel like I can start writing about some of the things that happened. Sometimes it can be difficult to tell stories, especially if you are in special education, because you don't want to violate your students' privacy. Or lose your job. Worse than that would be to make your principal angry with you so they don't back you up when sh*t goes down. So in the past, I would write about the cockroaches that would fall out of the ceilings at my first job, because it was too complicated to get into why we were illegally instructing children in their first language because everyone knew that was the right thing for those kids to keep making progress. Just FYI, math is the same in Spanish as it is in English. And often I revert to talking about how terrible it is when teens lose their lives to gun violence - which it is. But that keeps me from talking about how PPS has classes that are labeled "AP" in their course catalogs, but then only read 1 or 2 novels the entire YEAR in AP English and nobody passes the AP test. It's not just a slacker teacher at fault. Talk to the teacher and you'll find out how they have never taught the same course two years in a row and have maybe been pulled into that classroom because they meet some technical certification requirement but haven't actually ever studied how to teach that subject. Ahem, that would be me. Teaching high school math because I passed college calculus once upon a time. (I was actually a certified Reading Specialist and took ONE class in a post-bac teaching certification program about teaching math.) It's an icky, sticky mess and an uncomfortable one to discuss because I have to take responsibility for actions I took - however well-intentioned - that were probably not the best path to serving an underserved community.

But this self-censorship is ultimately very damaging to the many kids and families who are dealing with complete crap. I always knew Laurel would get a better deal than the kids I was teaching. I feel guilty about it everyday. But I also want to tell you about the cool stuff that she gets to do.

Every Friday they go on a hike in the nearby park. I am thrilled just that they are getting outside for a little fresh air and exercise, but when they go they usually have a purpose. At first, they talked a lot about traffic and safe pedestrian behavior. Then they started to observe wildlife. They learned to do scientific sketching of their observations and her art and sketching at home became much more realistic. PE is often outside and her teacher is apparently telling her a lot about general health practices and not just teaching them to play dodgeball, or whatever they let kids do nowadays, because she comes home and talks about heart rate and started to get really interested in "eating a rainbow" of vegetables.

Science and Art are an integrated class they call "Thinking Lab." I also get a weekly email from this teacher that has the guiding questions for the unit. They interview and record the kids as part of their ongoing assessment, although I haven't yet heard the recordings.

There is no homework until they get to the upper school in 4th grade. We get a paper every week that says what phonics and sight words she is learning. We are encouraged to read every day. I cannot tell you how grateful I am to not have to deal with a thick "packet" filled with worksheets that will never be thoroughly checked by an overworked teacher and can't be done independently by anyone because the directions are puzzling and were written by some unemployed teacher freelancing for Scholastic or Pearson and making $10 an hour. This also means that we have time after school and on the weekends to do whatever we want.

And school lunch? I will save that gem for another day. It's freshly prepared, recognizable food. You would happily eat it.

It's not a utopia. The school day is long and I think that's a little hard on her. She gets super excited and talks too much and gets in trouble for it. Cliques are real and they start in kindergarten or before. They told us that they would take the kids out in "all weather" but that doesn't seem to be 100% accurate as recess has been indoors a couple of times.  They don't have a librarian or even a library.

Laurel goes to a publicly funded charter school that happens to be in our neighborhood, but we didn't get any preference to get in. We don't pay tuition and it's open to anyone in the district (but lots of people want to come, so there's a random lottery held each winter to see who gets a slot). Lots of people think charter schools are terrible because they pull the "better" kids out of the main public school population and suck resources from the districts. There's an interesting breakdown of Facts/Myths on this Facebook page and unlike most comment sections, these are pretty thoughtful and not a cesspool of internet trolls. Her school claims to spend $14K per pupil, far less than the PPS average of $20K, but it's a little hard to compare those figures directly.

Pennsylvania is currently at an impasse with the budget and this is really hurting all schools, but her school was recently informed that PPS wouldn't be making full payments until it's resolved. I think they'll get 50% of what they are supposed to.

I'm going to really go down a rabbit hole if I get any further into this budget stuff, but I would urge everyone who reads this to review how your public schools are funded from local, state, federal and random Mark Zuckerberg investments (I guarantee that unless you already work for a public school district in a budget department, you will learn something new). And while you are at it, look at a district that has a higher population of low-income kids than yours does and check out their revenue streams. More money does not always equal better results.

Laurel's school journey (and eventually Marko's and their soon-to-be-born little brother....eek! 9 weeks until  my due date!) is always going to occur alongside my own journey as an educator and advocate. It's a tough space to want the best for your kids and to also keep in mind the needs of all your neighbors' kids.