External Heart

There’s a saying that parenting is like wearing your heart on the outside. I feel the truth of this statement every day.

Last week, Miles was glum when I picked him up from school. I had to press him for a long time, but finally convinced him to tell me that he’d asked some kids to play with him at recess and they’d said no. And that he’d cried about it.

I mean, I haven’t felt myself shatter like that in a long time. I just scooped him into my arms and wanted to rock and cuddle him, except he’s nearly 8 years old and just wanted to go play Minecraft. I made sure to remind him that he has a group of really nice friends who care about him. I wasn’t sure why he’d reached out to another group…I’m sure there are things he wasn’t telling me.

But all I could remember was all the times I wanted someone to hang out with me and got turned down and there I was, reliving all the hard parts of being a kid. I want to spare him this pain! But I don’t know how and I don’t know if it’s possible to do that. All I can do is reassure him that he’s loved.

Thankfully he had some cup-filling opportunities to play with other kids since then and doesn’t seem to be upset about it anymore.

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Posted by on November 13th, 2017 No Comments

Getting Acts Together!

This week was the April Get Your Act Together notary event at the Pittsburgh Toy Lending Library. What a great turnout! I’ve been so excited that several local blog and news outlets picked up the story about the events, and word spread fast–April sold out within minutes of one story’s publication and the May event just sold out this morning.

It’s such a joy for me to see these families breathe deeply as they sign the last document, the weight of the world lifted from their shoulders (at least for a few minutes). One of the notaries shared that it’s so important for young people to think about these documents–she told a story of being called into pre-op at Presby hospital as the anesthesiologist waited at the foot of a patient’s bed. The patient hadn’t finalized documents and was about to enter a very complicated surgery. Everyone had to wait until he could sign and notarize his wishes.

None of the folks attending these mobile notary signing events have to worry about this.

So I’m looking forward to the May event at Shining Light Prenatal Education, where 20 more people will sign their way to peace of mind. What an honor to help facilitate!

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Posted by on November 30th, 2014 No Comments

Knit the Bridge

This month, Pittsburghers did something extraordinary. We–thousands of us!–knit a bridge. A fiber artist decided several years ago she wanted to yarn bomb the Andy Warhol Bridge and set about doing it, not just knitting the thousands upon millions of yards of yarn herself but inspiring an entire region to work together for this eclectic public art project.

View of the bridge from the bike path headed toward the Point

The result is stunning, and I think Andy Warhol would have loved it.

I did not find out about the project early enough to contribute an entire knitted panel. Or, rather, I found out about it but had a newborn baby and a sleepless preschooler and couldn’t imagine knitting the work required.

But! I did find out they needed knitters to knit great, long tubes of black yarn meant to go in between the colorful panels and accentuate the art, create a border to make it pop. Heck, I could knit a big tube in garter stitch! So I did.

The knitting went fast at first, but I ended up being glad I had the entire month of July to finish just my one long tube. I loved going to the studio to turn in my work, to see the heaps of yarn all ready to go up on the bridge, zip tied in little bundles and labeled.

One of my favorite panels

My BIL was in town the weekend it went up and so we planned bike rides and Duck-boat tours ostensibly to see downtown, but actually to see the Knit the Bridge project going up. I sneaked away from my family a few weeks later to attend the celebration alone. I was too hot and tired to stay in the blazing sun to do yoga on the bridge, but I bought some juice and walked along it a few times, checking it out from all angles.

When I left the party, I asked a stranger if she’d take my picture with the bridge in the background. “I knit a railing,” I gushed to her.

“Hey! Me, too!” she said. She’d been able to make it to the training and, thus, the installation of the project. She was just sitting on a bench along the bike path admiring and feeling proud.I got to add the yarn pin for my neighborhood! Morningside, represent!

The project has gotten a ton of publicity, which is great. Even my little old grandmother heard about it on television, though she hadn’t realized I knitted part of it.

Interested persons can check the database to search for favorite panels or look up their favorite knitter…maybe you’ll even find me!

The work comes down this weekend. I’m sad to see it go, but I’m so very excited I was a part of this project. How wonderful to join needles together with so many people!

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Posted by on November 3rd, 2013 3 Comments

Bitter, Bitter, Bitter

A conversation with Corey:

C: Hey Miles, I’m so proud of you for sleeping through the night! That was pretty great.

Me: What are you talking about?

C: Didn’t he sleep through the night?

Me: Of course not! Didn’t you hear me get up with him?

C: No…

Me: You didn’t hear me changing the wet sheets, arguing with Miles about which clean pajamas were acceptable?

C:…

Me: You slept through our argument about whether he wanted Peter, Paul, & Mary?

C: I guess?

Me: You missed the part where I tossed a screaming toddler into bed with you and left to sleep in the guest room?

C: Miles slept in bed with me? Last night? Huh. I must have told my subconscious that it was ok to sleep, that you had it covered.

Later this evening, I received a text from him informing me that he was super tired, would be going to be at 7:30 in the guest room with Miles, and that he can’t set an alarm clock or risk waking our toddler, too. Forgive the 30-week-pregnant person if she’s a little salty about all the sleep everyone else is getting around Team Lev Headquarters.

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Posted by on November 28th, 2012 3 Comments

Toys These Days…

I mentioned to Corey’s parents that I was excited about the new Disney movie Wreck It Ralph because it had a character named Felix, and because they are grandparents, they got us a Disney gift card to buy the boys some stuff.

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I ordered a Fix-It Felix doll for my Felix, which he loves.

He already loves bashing the doll against the floor.

And then for Miles, I ordered a Partysaurus Rex, which is really the T-rex from Toy Story. Miles had been *so* into the animated short flick Partysaurus Rex that it really saddened our lives when Disney made it unavailable to view online anymore. So he was pretty snazzed to see this dino arrive in the mail.

I was a bit befuddled to see it packaged with what I can only logically describe as a turd. Look closely at this photo. What does the brown bit look like to you?

Partysaurus…and a pile of???

We’ve been calling it Partysaurus’s poop. I learned, when I scrounged up the shreds of packaging he scattered in his excited opening of the package, that it’s the leg of some other critter. Evidently, if you buy enough Toy Story dolls, you can acquire all the body parts for this critter, whose leg looks so much like a log of dung.

What I find most amusing about the whole thing is how Miles took it in stride that his toy would come with plastic poop. I mean, we talk about poop all the time at home. He’s working on using the potty. We’ve already incorporated the poop into our play.

“Where will Partysaurus put his poop? Does he use a Pull-up, Miles?”

“No. He poops in the dirty, silly!”

When I showed Miles the two photo options, he asked me to put them both on the website. Boy, dino, dung.

Posted by on November 9th, 2012 No Comments

Kraut Update

I get so excited to go in the basement and press down on the weights in my kraut crock! According to fermenting lore, I’m supposed to visit the contraption twice a day to press down on the weights. I’ve been going down every few minutes to press and smell and make sure the brine is properly covering the vegetables, just in case botulism gets in there or something.

I was incredibly worried (I know! Big shock!) that the brine wouldn’t develop or that I had done something wrong, but my friend and the internet assured me I just needed to give my kraut a few hours. Sure enough, an orange liquid gradually began to rise until now, the whole mass of vegetables is firmly packed and under liquid. All there is to do now is wait for foam to develop, skim it off, and decide how soon I want to dip into my fermented delights.

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You can see the baby bathtub in the photograph, with an entire 4-pound head of cabbage plus two carrots packed into the bottom portion. I found a smaller ceramic plate to use as a weight and topped that with two glass jars of water. Then, I’ve been putting some of our weight plates on top of that–the whole thing is under about 25# of weight at all times. The juice just sort of rises above the weights and I cover the whole thing with a towel to keep out stink bugs. Voila! (Or so I hope…)

Posted by on October 18th, 2011 3 Comments

Here We Go Again!

It seems I picked just the right time to move to Pittsburgh–the Steelers have been to three Super Bowls since we landed in the Iron City. I am so interested in the ways that my life has changed, and my experience of Steeler Nation, since that epic win of 2006. That year, I arrived to this place not really caring about football (I was, after all, a graduate student in the English department at Pitt). I was initially shocked and then enamored by the fact that college professors discussed football games at staff meetings, that Whole Foods broadcast the games over the muzak in the store, and that Penn Ave became a bacchanalia of New Orleans proportions. I started to love football, this city, and the people who loved both so much they became inextricable.

I went “out” to watch each playoff game, fully experiencing the celebration in public, driving through the joyful riots after each road win. Corey and I basically walked from our apartment to the South Side for the big game, since many roads were closed and buses were few. We thought we were so hip walking across the Birmingham Bridge in the snow, waiting with drunken multitudes for a bus home that never arrived.

The next Super Bowl, I was pregnant and too tired/cigarette-smoke-averse to go watch the games in public. We had gotten rid of television at our house by then, so I was listening to a lot of the games on the radio. In comparison, the experience lacked luster. We did go to a Super Bowl party with Corey’s friend and watched the game on the projector, got to celebrate with friends and periodically run into the streets to high five strangers…the works. The obvious DD for the night, I got to drive through the rioting Burghers honking my horn like crazy and swerving.

And here we are a third time, with a kid who doesn’t sleep too much, limited funds based on our decision for only one of us to work full-time, and no television at home. We got to watch one of the playoff games with friends in a kid-friendly house, but since bedtime routine has taken precedence above all else, late kickoffs meant only one of us could leave the house to watch the game with others. That meant leaving the other behind to listen to a radio broadcast–which interferes with the baby monitor!

So Corey went out and bought a converter box and an antenna. I made soup and set up tray tables. We made use of our 35% “effective” reception and watched some of the game from the comfort of our living room, taking it in shifts to coerce a crying toddler to go to sleep. I miss the public, shared joy of watching this football team play in this city. I suppose I could crack the windows to hear the collective gasps and cheers all down our street…

I miss the drive home afterwards, when the streets teem with weeping, proud Yinzers. I do not miss living in an apartment building above a busy intersection, where a weeping, joyful man stood out in the cold singing the “Here we go, Steelers, here we go!” song until dawn after the AFC championship in 2006. I don’t miss the disrupted sleep when celebrations get rowdy and draw police sirens.

But I was so, so happy this morning to pass a man in black and gold striped trousers, staggering hom from last night’s bar celebration. He clutched a PBR pounder in one hand, had his other fist raised in the air, and seemed not to notice that he was wandering down the highway during morning rush hour. I can only hope a similar joyful resident helps me appreciate the atmosphere on February 7.

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Posted by on August 24th, 2011 No Comments

Dear Melissa And/Or Doug

Dear Melissa &/Or Doug:

First, I’d like to tell you what huge fans we all are here at Team Lev Headquarters. We just love everything you make–the watercolor sets, the shopping cart, alphabet puzzles…I mean, you make tiny wooden sushi sets! You guys are so creative.

We also have a wide selection of Melissa & Doug instruments, which we love and use daily around here. My question to you, then: are your harmonicas dishwasher safe?

You see, my son was playing the blues the other day waiting for his lunch. Once I served it to him (mac n’ cheese!), I went off to prepare my own food and did not notice him using his harmonica as a spoon. I guess it makes sense, sort of. Both the noodles and the harmonic go into his mouth in some capacity, right?

Only now, his harmonica is filled with noodle parts and chunky cheese sauce. How do I get that out of there? I feel worried about submerging the harmonic to soak it. Do we have the first toddler to use your harmonica product as a spoon? I noticed the instructions for the instrument did not mention dishwasher compatibility. Thought I’d write to you and double check!

Certainly hoping our mouth organ isn’t a goner–

Sincerely,

Team Lev

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Posted by on August 8th, 2011 1 Comment

Shit storm

Today  I finally wondered what the hell is wrong with me in regards to elimination communication. Why do I do this to myself? What am I thinking will improve?

Picture this: Miles walks away from me and gets very, very quiet. This either means he is doing something terribly naughty (eating a shoe, unwinding toilet paper, digging in garbage…) or taking a crap. His “poop” behavior has changed from grunty squatting to total silence in a private space.

So I locate him, determine that he is indeed about to poop, and whip off his diaper to stick him on the potty. By now, he knows the drill. Even though he is mid-poop at this point, he gets really excited and starts mimicking the “pssssss” noise I make when I sit him on the potty. He looks up at me, all eager for me to be excited about his recognition of the sound you’re supposed to make on the potty. I just keep telling him he’s supposed to actually make the pee-pee to go with the sound effect, or even maybe finish his poop into the toilet.

But he just sits there for about 13 seconds, going “pssssss psssssss” until he is tired of doing that. At which point, he springs into the air and manages to eliminate his bones. He becomes a total heap of mush, flopping all over the place like a pizza box in the breeze. Meanwhile, the poopy diaper on the floor is not clear from harm’s way, nor is his bottom clean of poop.

Without going into detail, that boy unleashed a shit-i-cane on Team Lev Headquarters, the aftermath of which was only slightly less devastating than Hurricane Andrew. So what the hell do you do? How the hell do you clean something like that up while your kid is simultaneously determined to touch the mess and “help” you?

My son has taught himself to climb up and over the baby gates, so there is no longer a safe place for him in our home. I had nowhere safe to lock him up while I cleaned up the mess that was mostly my fault, so, with one arm, I held him upside-down by his ankles and disinfected the bathtub. Once he was in there with his ducks, I could scrub the rest of the bathroom and eventually his skin (and then, of course, re-scrub the bathtub after I removed him from it).

Did I mention this happened as we were supposed to head out the door for a play-date? I think this might be the day where I realize that early toilet training is not meant to be for this baby. What on earth made me think that removing a diaper mid-poop would be anything but catastrophically stupid?

Far better for him to crap in his diaper until he is 19 years old than for me to spend another morning like this one, terrified that I missed a spot on the walls or in one of his thigh-folds.

I walked away from the morning with several convictions. First, the homemade all-purpose spray and toilet bowl cleaner seem to work just fine on even the nastiest of disasters. Score! Second, Team Lev is not meant to use elimination communication. Third, it is possible to triage a shit storm without paper towels! And finally, people who put their children on a leash are much smarter than I am.

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Posted by on November 17th, 2010 2 Comments

From the Archives: Breast is Best

From the very beginning of my pregnancy, Corey and I knew we were going to breastfeed Miles. This meant we needed to seek out a pediatrician who was supportive of this practice in addition to the midwifery team in charge of my pre- and postnatal care.

Many pediatricians say, “Oh yes! Of course we are supportive of breastfeeding…UNLESS…” and then they either outright reveal that they want the kid on formula if weight gain isn’t uber-fast or they will sneakily not support you if you have troubles.

At any rate, we found Dr. H, who is so supportive of breastfeeding that we tease him a little bit at our house. In his first visit to Miles at the hospital, Dr. H. wanted my entire family to know that Miles should be spending the majority of his time at my breast, that this should be his “primary place of comfort and nourishment.” He wanted to see Miles latch, he wanted me to be nursing when he popped into the room…he wants that baby on the tit all the time. Which is great!

When we went for our checkup yesterday, Miles wasn’t quite back to his birth weight. I got panicky a little bit. Dr. H. just said, “Feel free to feed right now, please.” Which was pretty much code for “get that baby back on your boob, lady! Stat!” And despite my furious eye signals, Corey was asleep with his head against the wall and didn’t hand me my “modesty blanket.” So I had to get out my huge nipple in front of our pediatrician while my son made oinking noises and slobbered all over the place.

After the three grownups chatted about breastfeeding for awhile, it was time for Dr. H. to examine Miles. I got ready to detach him from my breast, but Dr. H. intervened. “Oh, no! I can do the whole examination right there at your breast,” he said. So we just sort of unswaddled Miles and rotated him a little. He kept eating away while he got the business and a clean bill of health. And all the while I’m trying to cover my aereola with a burp cloth, much like trying to cover one’s butt cheek with a postage stamp, because Corey is still asleep with his head against the wall and the blanket it juuuuuuuust out of my reach. And I was thinking how weird it was that I became so tired, I didn’t even care that a wild-haired baby doctor was leaning across my bosom to poke my baby’s penis and tell us that the white stuff oozing out was just “smegma” and that’s perfectly ok. All this information and eye contact while we are hunched over my naked breast.

And then the visit was over and I had no choice but to remove Miles from my breast so we could take him home in the car. This small action, I’m sure, started off a domino effect that made the whole rest of my day miserable. Miles needed to eat every half hour until…well he’s still eating right now. I’m typing one-handed while he oinks and slurps. I haven’t slept at all. Not one minute.

But just as I’m about to give up and gnash my teeth or pound my fists into Corey’s sleeping nutsack, Miles will look up at me and pat my breast with one hand. Then he’ll smile a little bit in the brief instant between gasping, heaving gulps and I forget that this is the most difficult thing I have ever, ever thought about doing.

**I felt like I had to add, out of fairness, that all new parents fall asleep with their heads against walls at moments like when waiting for the scale or when Dr. H steps out to wash hands, etc. Corey is very alert when actually speaking with the doctor.

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Posted by on August 31st, 2010 No Comments

Holiday Spirit

In this week leading up to Christmas, I find myself running around like a skittish cockroach. Thankfully, the publishing world grinds to a halt and I’ve submitted my college students’ final grades, so I have some time during the day to take care of All The Things.

One such thing is getting/baking cookies for the Cub Scouts holiday party this week. My plan was to buy a bag of cookie mix and add water and stick that in the oven and be done. When I told this to Miles, his face fell. He reminded me that some scouts are allergic to nuts and gluten, and the bagged mixes aren’t safe for those scouts to eat.

Miles, who doesn’t often seem aware of others’ feelings, wanted me to think of those scouts and asked if we could make something that was safe for everyone.

After I took a few minutes to sit with my feelings about this, I agreed that we could find a safe recipe. Amidst all my buzzing around and thinking about things that are, ultimately, inconsequential, my son reminded me how valuable it is to be inclusive. It won’t be that much extra work for me to get cookies that all the scouts can enjoy. (There are even mixes to make this easier)

What we ended up doing was a two-fold approach to this holiday party. First, we wrote to Miles’s teacher to ask permission for this project to substitute as his homework this week. They’re studying liquid measurements in math class. They’re thinking of others’ feelings in their discussions of Grace and Courtesy (yes, Montessori school students study Grace and Courtesy as part of their curriculum! Which I heartily endorse!!!). Miles would have an opportunity to work on his handwriting when he filled out the index card of ingredients to go with the cookies.

Next up, we needed to make our kitchen safe. Like a Kosher woman preparing for Passover, I set about scouring the kitchen and all the tools we will use to bake and transport the cookies. All crumbs of gluten are (I think) gone, and all traces of nuts have been banished from our work space. I even got out a fresh sponge to wash the mixing bowl.

The scouring process took a long time, but I used that time to think about what I was doing and why. Most likely, the parents of the kids with the severe allergies won’t allow them to eat these cookies, anyway, because it’s just so hard to avoid contamination with items baked at home. Will they trust me to get fresh butter that has never had a toast-knife smeared on top? Do they know that I looked for GF vanilla extract? Kids with food allergies spend their lives in danger of hospitalization from sitting across the table from a kid eating Lo Mein. I know they tend not to trust food they didn’t prepare with their own hands.

I’m grateful that this fear and fastidious checking isn’t part of my daily life. And so I shook the crumbs from my toaster oven into the trash can.

Whenever anyone has kids, they get asked “What traits and qualities would you like to see in your children when they grow up??” and for years I’ve listed curiosity, kindness, and resourcefulness as the traits I most want to instill in my offspring. Most days, I fear I have failed miserably at transferring all three of these. As my children pound each other in the temples with hard plastic dinosaurs, as they push each other down the wooden stairs and smear boogers in each other’s eyes, I fear they are going to become apathetic monsters.

So during these rare moments when my sons speak up to tell me they are, actually, thinking of others and seeing a way to make life just a wee bit more normal for the kids around them, well, I feel really proud. And so I scour the stand mixer, scrape the baking sheets, and read the labels on the bag of chocolate chips. I drive to our friend’s house for a bag of gluten free flour mix, and I thank my oldest son for reminding me that it feels better to include everyone at the table.

Can I always rid my home of hametz before a Cub Scout party? No. But this week I could, and I’m grateful that my son thought it was important to try.

Posted by on December 19th, 2017 No Comments

The Pennsyl-vania-LotterYyyyyyy

I hope you sang that post title to the tune of the lottery commercial. I need to share a story about my comedy of errors this morning.

First, let me assure you that I have many skills. I can help a nursing mother with an oversupply problem. I can tell if a cut needs stitches. I can flush a PICC line for a loved one. I cannot, evidently, gamble properly.

Today was Post Office Day, the day I planned to mail all the packages of gifts we bought for loved ones who live in far off places. I dread this day all year and really have to psych myself up for waiting in line among the masses who have neither tape for their boxes nor customs slips for their packages of popcorn going to Germany. So, before I crammed all the kids in the van, I made sure I had everything I needed for all my outings. Because who wants to go back out into the madness, right? I had a pretty long checklist of things I needed, which did not include PURSE.

After the post office, I planned to stop in and buy some scratch off lottery tickets for our mail carrier and the crossing guard and the lunch lady at school. Sounds easy enough, right? I didn’t get around to it last year, but I know I bought them from a machine somewhere the year before…

To my surprise, the post office had 3 people working and I only waited in line 18 minutes. I then went to the grocery store, where I learned you can’t use a credit card to buy lottery tickets from the machine. Error number one!

I drove home and grabbed some cash from our babysitter box of cash. Not my purse or debit card, mind you. Just a wad of cash.

I went back to the grocery store and waited my turn again for the lottery machine. How hard could it be to buy scratch tickets, right? I had cash! And so I slid the cash in the machine and clicked to buy 25 Stocking Stuffers, which sounded to me like scratch tickets.

Only it wasn’t scratch tickets. I bought 25 actual lottery tickets, which started spewing out of the machine one at a time while I laughed and laughed at myself. I have to take these tickets home and watch the news tonight and see if my numbers get drawn, because I’ve got 25…like actual lottery tickets. My sister, when I called her to make fun of myself, says maybe I bought Power Ball tickets. I don’t even know. I don’t know the terms for lottery tickets.

So, out of cash and getting frustrated, I drove home AGAIN and got my purse. Keep in mind that each time I go home, I’m parallel parking a minivan on a crowded city street where I’ve saved my space using a pair of recycling bins.

Too ashamed to show my face again at the grocery store, I went to Walgreens. Only Walgreens as a chain has opted not to sell lottery tickets. I did make use of their ATM at least, and bought some butter while I was there.

Back in the van again, laughing at myself until tears rolled down my face, I asked my sister what to do and she said I have to go to a gas station to buy scratch tickets. She knows these things because her husband plays the lottery! Apparently every morning, he gets a banana and coffee and lottery tickets. Who knew?

Inside the gas station, I presented my pile of useless not-scratch-cards, and told the clerk I have no idea what I’m doing and I just want to buy some scratch tickets for the mailman and the crossing guard. He promised he was going to help me and showed me how to use some sort of bar code reader on the wall to check my pile of not-Power-Ball tickets. When all was said and done, I won $4 from the heap of tickets. “See,” he said. “You’re only $21 in the hole now!”

He helped me pick out some scratch tickets and told me it would be ok. That he expected to see me in line the next morning with all his regulars playing my numbers.

All I can hope is that the damn crossing guard (or maybe the lunch lady!) wins $2,500. I share this story primarily to reference for next year when I can’t remember how one goes about buying scratch tickets.

Posted by on December 18th, 2017 1 Comment

Making a Difference: Start Small

I’ve been disheartened since Election Day 2016. Disheartened is an understatement. I’ve felt powerless, angry, and fearful. But I’ve done what I can to take small actions and help myself feel better, more in control of the laws and policies of the world around me.

A dear friend in New Jersey had a similar reaction to our newly-elected government, and she decided to take it a step further. She told me she was going to run for a council seat in her borough. In the grand scheme of things, a council seat in a town borough doesn’t seem to matter much, right? It’s “just” town council, right?

My friend decided that it did matter, and she asked me to help her with her campaign. She lived in an overwhelmingly democratic community, yet the town council was entirely composed of republicans. Further, the entire council was male. They referred to themselves as “the town fathers.”

My friend saw a way to make a difference and decided to work toward that change. I worked with her to set up her social media accounts and initial candidate statements, to set up her talking points with the press. I’m proud of the work she did and the ways she made meaningful connections with her neighbors.

Jess talked about how she knew the borough needed to pay attention to its roads because she turned her ankle jogging in a pothole. She knew the street lights needed attention because she walks to the commuter train every morning before it’s light out. She formed a team of change-makers and they knocked on doors, talked to people in parks, had conversations during soccer games.

And she won!

She won’t be shaping tax reform or legislating immigration policy, but she can make changes like putting council meeting agendas online for citizens to see. She can make redevelopment documents public so residents can see how their tax dollars are being spent. Small change matters and small elections lead to change people can see and feel in their everyday lives.

I’m proud of Jessica Dunne and I’m proud to have played a small part in her campaign!

 

Posted by on November 8th, 2017 No Comments

A Poem for Thursday

Things I Had to Move from My Desk in Order to Work Today, None of Which Were Mine

  • two plastic water buffalo
  • one silver shark tooth
  • a can of crayon bits
  • many drawings of zombies
  • a package of Scotch tape
  • a half-eaten, pumpkin-pie-flavored Pop Tart
  • a blue cloth napkin
  • a giant marble
  • a plastic skull with a metal screw threaded through its eye

Posted by on October 26th, 2017 No Comments

Visiting the Moth

I went to The Moth story slam last night for the second time. The first time, I just went to support some friends, and both of them were picked to tell their story on stage! Last night I prepared a story, but alas. My name was not drawn from the bag. So today, I will share the story I would have told, with the theme of Caution (or, in Felix’s case, a lack thereof).

If you know me even a little bit, you know that I have 3 feral sons. My kids are wild. They ride scooters down the stairs. They shove each other into the radiators to see what will happen. When they have friends over to play, I hear them suggest games like “let’s kick each other in the head over and over again.”

So as you can imagine, it’s sort of hard for me to find childcare.

The oldest one is in public school, where they have to keep you no matter what. Which is good, because my kid did things like escape the building and run into the street. I’d get calls from the gym teacher telling me about her skinned knees from tackling him during bolting episodes.

I spend my entire day at work staring at my cell phone, praying I won’t see the school’s number come up on my caller ID.

It does. Frequently.

Eventually I found a daycare for the younger 2 boys while the big kid was in school beating his friends with sticks.

This was a cute little in-home daycare, run by a perky woman in her early 20s. She had the play space decorated with owls and helped the kids make hand print ornaments. Finger paintings. That sort of thing.

I was used to getting calls from this daycare. “Felix wouldn’t eat the lunch you packed,” was a common one. Oh. Ok.

“Felix wet his cot again at nap time.” Meh. Ok.

He generally seemed to like it there, primarily because the owner had driven to some exotic animal dealer in Canada and bought a baby hedgehog to be the daycare pet.

So when my caller ID showed the daycare number one day, I took a deep breath. Ok. Maybe he hit his brother with a metal train again.

Maybe he peed on the carpet again. Deep breath. “Hello?”

“Hey. So. Felix kicked a hole in the drywall.”

Woah. This is unexpected! “He did what now?”

My kid, who weighs 30 pounds, evidently spent the morning in the book nook slowly kicking a hole in the drywall. A tunnel, if you will.

Like Andy Dufresne from the fucking Shawshank Redemption, except he hid his work behind a rack of plastic baked goods instead of a Rita Hayworth poster.

But wait!

There’s more!

“I found him in the hole trying to get the other kids to come inside.”

In other words, my son was initiating a mutiny. A mass escape attempt while the daycare lady was distracted by a diaper change. He crouched in this tunnel he carved in the wall and lured his brother in first.

I’m trying to imagine this. Like, “Hey! Oren! Come with me into this jagged hole I’ve kicked into the wall of our daycare! If you don’t listen to me, I’m going to pee on your minions blanket!”

And then I got off the phone, because I needed to go somewhere and be alone and cry.

And I also had to try to figure out what the hell I do in this situation. Do I offer to pay to repair it? Does insurance cover that sort of thing? What the hell would she even say to the insurance company?

Of course she wanted me to come a retrieve my child from daycare.

I decided to stop at Home Depot on my way and buy a gift card. There’s really no “I’m sorry” card pre-made for when your kid burrows into the wall at daycare.

I worked on controlling my face and the tone of my voice when I finally got there, because I just had to know.

“Felix. Why did you dig a hole in the wall?”

And of course he just shrugged. “I didn’t want to be there anymore.”

Well, buddy, mission accomplished.

Posted by on August 9th, 2017 No Comments

Bodice Rippers: A Dabbling Tale

In early February, we had an ice dam that caused a lot of water to flood into our house and we needed to spend thousands of dollars to repair our roof. Suddenly, my work slump became a lot more serious and I had to quickly get back into the game of earning money. I began applying for any job I saw, went on more interviews than I care to remember, and (woo hoo!) landed some great new clients.

Throughout this process, my friend kept suggesting I write bodice rippers to self publish and sell on Amazon. I laughed him off a few times, and then thought what the hell? And I wrote a filthy, horrible smut story, self published it on Amazon, and began obsessively reading about how to earn money selling erotica.

It turns out there is a whole world of erotica out there. Amazon supposedly sells 19,000 short stories per day, and my basic research so far shows me that most of it is really, truly awful. It turns out there is an art to working the search engines, an unknown algorithm authors need to beat to come up when potential readers type in key words. There’s an art to all of it.

Above all, it seems the people who earn a living selling erotica view it as a business. It is work. The writing of the short stories (which are about 7,500 words) is the easiest part, and writers need to churn out 2 per week to stay fresh in search engines. The harder part is making a cover, a title, and “blurb” text (the little bit people read about your story before deciding whether to click “buy”).

I published my first, awful piece of erotica on February 14. I have now published a total of 15 short stories, one “bundle,” and one novella. To date, I have earned just under $100 USD and a few cents here and there in currencies from around the world.

All the sources I had been reading suggested that nothing would truly take off for me until I published 30 things, because readers who like my story will want a nice, robust “back catalogue” when they click to buy more things.

This is going to be a bit of a ramble, so I’m going to get to the point right away and that is this: I don’t see myself doing this long term.

I am an objectively good writer with fancy publications and an MFA. I think my terrible smut stories are probably better than much of the terrible smut selling like hotcakes, but here are some things I haven’t done well yet:

–my covers are lousy. I didn’t pay for any images, so most of my cover pictures are carrots or honey dippers or water pipes. What sells? Muscular, male chests.

–my titles are wrong. I have given my short stories names that would sell better if they were full-length romance books. Since they are short stories, the titles need to be different, filthier. I’m considering retitling the stories and republishing to see what happens to my sales, but most likely I’m just going to move on.

It’s also very hard for me to sit with writing bodice rippers. I’m used to spending days pondering a sentence, and this is a ruthless industry that demands an unfathomable pace. Short erotica means very, very loose plot elements and no character development to speak of. I’ve often forgotten the name of my characters by the time I reach the end of a short story and have to go back through and check what I named them. Considering I spent months working on the 5-minute essay I read in Listen To Your Mother, you can imagine how it feels for me to write a bodice ripper in 3 hours.

This leads me to my novella. It’s 100 pages long, and it was agonizing. I don’t want to write novellas. I don’t want to write romance novellas. I didn’t want to have to care about why Girl loved Boy but couldn’t be with him, or create conflict, or resolve the conflict. I didn’t want to write dialogue.

I also don’t want to write short erotica right now. I’m grossed out by many of the sub-genres that sell well and have zero interest in writing about billionaires, which is the Hot Genre since the success of 50 Shades.

I don’t want to say that I’m done writing erotica forever, because I’ve got my pen name all set up and all my Amazon accounts ready to go. But I’m certainly on time-out from this experiment. I’m glad I gave it a go. I’m glad I connected with other smut writers. I was not able to finance my roof repair selling smut, but that’s ok.

What I’ll likely do is “bundle” my existing stories together and republish them in wee anthologies, which means I might get closer to my 30 Titles benchmark. Then I’ll ponder whether I want to continue ripping bodices and revisit once school starts.

Posted by on July 10th, 2017 1 Comment

Salted Wounds and Crusty Resolve: A Decade of Marriage

“My tea tastes salty,” my husband said, putting down his mug as I flushed saline solution through his PICC line. I pulsed the syringe, like the home health nurse taught me, wiping his arm with an alcohol pad like I’d been doing it for years.

The first time I held a syringe of concentrated antibiotics and pushed it into his body, I felt bile rise in my mouth. He sat next to me at the kitchen table, his hand on mine as I opened the cap in his arm covering a hole-that-should-not-be. I pushed the infusion through his veins, meeting his eye, and then ran upstairs to vomit as soon as I re-capped the hole in his body.

As I approach my ten-year wedding anniversary, I think back on that period as one of the greatest test of my vows. At 26 years old, I promised to hold him in sickness and health, not really understanding what that meant.

I didn’t know then that he would contract Lyme carditis the night before we closed on the purchase of our second home. He spent that time in the cardiac ICU while I found a traveling notary public, combed the halls for witnesses to make sure I had Power of Attorney to complete a real estate transaction for him in absentia. I believe I wrote the phrase “Katy Adair Rank Lev, his attorney-in-fact” 200 times that day, before I went back to retrieve his car from the parking lot at the emergency room. He’d driven himself there in the middle of the night, failing to notice that our beloved Mazda’s odometer had turned to 100,000 miles along the way.

Whenever I had to open my husband’s hole-that-should-not-be, we first corralled our three wild sons into the learning tower nearby, commanding the oldest to keep his brothers’ grubby hands away from our medical procedures. On one of these occasions, the baby got loose. Our first and honored son narrated the baby’s process of dumping a gallon of white vinegar on the kitchen floor. What could we do but keep on measuring out heparin? As the vinegar oozed down the basement stairs, the children wept, I sweated profusely, and I understood what marriage meant.

At first it was refinishing floors and fighting over the last beer in the fridge. Asking him to rub sunscreen on my back, holding hands to go vote for the first African American President of the United States.

Slowly, our marriage came to mean “look this person in the eye during your moment of greatest suffering.” Like the time I had childbirth-induced urinary retention and Corey took me and our newborn son to the emergency room. He held our brand new infant at the foot of my bed, gazing in horror at the shredded, swollen center of my body, as the staff collected enough urine to fill two wine bottles. When we went to leave, the nurse strapped a catheter bag to my leg and told me nobody would even know it was there, if I wanted to wear a cute skirt or something. But my husband knew it was there, the warm bag of piss strapped to my thigh, and he held my hand.

He stood with me for all those things, and I stood by him.

For ten years, I have cursed that man for leaving soy milk caps on the counter and granola bar wrappers behind the couch. He has, for the same period of time, scolded me for blowing my monthly budget downloading romance novels I don’t even like reading.

Better or worse, I promised. Is it worse when we transform into writhing bundles of rage in response to 30-pound humans who refuse to put on shoes or consume food? When we scream at each other and keep score of who got more minutes of sleep–who started more loads of piss laundry? I’m still barely able to talk about the loss of my mother, and how her sudden death affected every element of my life. This grief I carry will certainly test that section of my vows. The better parts, the healthy parts…those have felt easy.

What I think about today is all the hard parts and what I see is that I need him with me for all of those things. Through the sickness and the hard times and the grief and agony, it’s felt absolutely necessary to be in a marriage with this man.

Our decade has been loud and messy, punctuated by loss and cardiac distress. It has been all that I promised, though I did not know then what that would look like. I feel like I’m entering our next decade with a better idea of what it really meant to promise those things to each other.

Here’s to ten years, Cookie Pie. Here’s to fifty more as well.

Posted by on May 27th, 2017 3 Comments

Hold That?

Our neighborhood playground is quite a magical place lately. A trio of 100+ year old oak trees fell over in a terrible wind storm a few weeks ago. The kids have been making Terebithia in there, climbing the massive trunks, hiding in the caves the branches form. Poachers come with chainsaws to take bits of the wood before the city can break down the trees, so there are also deep piles of sawdust. Felix calls this “snow” and sprinkles it around like he’s a wood fairy.

Then! The city seems to have heaped its entire stash of mulch on our basketball courts, so there’s a mountain at least 12 feet high. Dump trucks come to haul bits of it away every day, but for the most part, it forms a massive playground the kids have pretended into a Minecraft mine, a throwing platform for logs, a snow-covered mountain from Frozen…really they just spend hours there.

We’ve been going to the playground every day it’s not actively raining. I’m willing to stand around in the mud and deal with 3 dirty boys. I’m not willing to stand around in the rain. *shrugs*

We met a neighboring family there the other day and I had the most lovely experience. Bethany was supervising kids climbing around the fallen trees. I was over near mulch mountain. One of B’s kids wandered over and, seeing just two of mine, asked, “Where’s the other one?”

I pointed behind a heap of mulch and B’s son shrugged. Then he thrust a bag of chips at me and asked if I could hold it so he could climb with two hands. I already had a pair of binoculars and a soft pretzel in my hoodie pocket, so what’s a bag of chips?

By the time I made it over to Bethany to share this story, she was holding sweatshirts for both of her kids and one of mine. We each had picked up a sprinkling of random things other kids asked us to hold.

This is what moms do, right? We hold all the stuff.

Whenever we went to an amusement park, my mom never rode a single ride. She stood at the exit and held all the stuff for us. I can see her there, wearing her big sunglasses, arms laden with water bottles and coats, bags and snacks.

I felt this very deep connection to her in that moment, standing in the park holding all the stuff. I wanted so badly to call her and tell her about it, the binoculars in my pocket with the chips and a rock with googly eyes glued on top.

I often think about why it feels so important to me to work part-time. For many years, my parents worked opposite shifts because of childcare. My mom worked 3-11pm, and that meant I didn’t really see her during the school year. Those weekends holding our crap while we road the whip and the bumper cars were all she got to enjoy.

Standing in the playground, with the magical mulch and the ruined trees, I felt like I was exactly where I need to be. Present, with my kids, watching as they discover a nest of snails in the mulch or blowing sawdust snow into each other’s hair. I’m so fortunate to be able to afford this, that our family is financially stable on 1.5 incomes.

So yes. I’ll hold that. I’ll hold whatever you hand me.

Except yesterday, I took a tote bag along for our things so that I, too, could climb mulch mountain and watch the freight trains rattle past.

Posted by on March 23rd, 2017 2 Comments

Crabitat

image shows hermit crab "crabitat"

note how you can still see the sharpie words “maternity clothes” on the side of the bin. Please do not worry: we drilled air holes in the lid.

So Felix has been begging us for a pet for ages. I tried to bring him into this gently by buying him an ant farm for Christmas. I even ordered the ants around Thanksgiving so I wouldn’t forget. Of course, the ants are gathered from the wild in Utah, I learned, and are dormant in winter. Also they don’t ship live critters until it’s reliably warm outside. So that brings us to mid-spring with an empty ant farm and a sad boy still wanting a pet.

Mammals are out of the question. I don’t want a reptile. I wanted a fish, damn it, but Felix can’t cuddle a fish. We took him to the Animal Rescue League to look at the animals and pet the bunnies, hoping this would appease him a bit. Nope. He wants a pet he can hold. So Corey went and bought a damn hermit crab named Teapot.

We brought Teapot home in his tiny little pet store plastic box, filled with pet store rocks and pet store food. And Teapot was pretty boring. But then we started reading about hermit crabs online and realized we were giving Teapot a really miserable life in this pet store box. So what did we do?

We had to go out and spend $100 getting more things to give Teapot a nice life. We built him a lovely crabitat (as it’s called) in the huge bin that used to house my maternity clothes. We also had to buy Teapot a friend, because hermit crabs are social animals. Now we have Lightning, too.

And so, after rehydrating coconut fiber and creating moist tunnels for the crabs, planting succulents in the humid crabitat, and filling soaking pools with specially formulated salt water, we also had to slice up some steak for the crabs. Steak. Because crabs like meat. And coconut, evidently.

There was a bit of drama last night because we came upon Lightning on top of Teapot, and it looked like maybe Lightning was trying to eat Teapot? This was very traumatic for everyone. Further research from Smithsonian magazine taught me two things. 1. I’m insanely jealous that I did not write that article about canibalistic habits of hermit crabs. 2. Most likely, the crabs were just sniffing each other.

I checked on Teapot periodically throughout the night, as I would an infant baby, because I don’t have enough to worry about. He seemed fine overnight. The steak is mostly eaten. This morning, I cannot find any trace of Teapot at all. Not even his shell, which is encouraging because if Lightning ate him, he’d surely leave the shell behind. My best hope is that Teapot has buried himself somewhere deep within the rehydrated coconut substrate, preparing to molt.

So, if you need me, I’ll be off crocheting a hammock for the hermit crabs. Because they like to climb.

Posted by on March 13th, 2017 3 Comments