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Running in the Limestone Mine

This weekend, I ran an underground 5k. It was every bit as awesome as it sounds. At first, I didn’t even want to register for this race, despite thinking it was awesome. My irrational fear of the mine collapsing kept me from signing up and when we had a board meeting scheduled for the Toy Lending Library, I breathed a sigh of relief that I wouldn’t have to face my fear.

But then the board meeting got moved and I had no more excuses. I’d already told all my friends about the mine race. So I registered. It was the coolest thing I’ve done for a long time.

The Wampum mine, in Beaver Falls (about an hour northwest of Pittsburgh), stopped actively mining limestone in the 30s. Now, it’s a 50-acre storage facility. Underground, it’s 55 degrees year round. It’s a bit humid and the entire interior of the mine is all gravelly. I rather thought it would be paved for some reason…

The start and finish lines had to be above ground because the timing chips wouldn’t work underground, so the race started and finished outside in the 14-degree weather. That was pretty awful. But otherwise, as I wound through 49 turns inside, I just kept thinking about how interesting it all was. All these carefully constructed support columns served as dividers between rows of RVs, airstream trailers, carnival rides, boats, and food carts. Parking spot numbers were painted on the walls in yellow spray paint.

The ceiling was high enough that tractor trailers fit in there with plenty of room to spare and, well, they were able to construct a 3-mile running course inside. It was so vast. I never felt claustrophobic for a moment in there, but I did trip a few times where the gravel was uneven.

I saw a few runners wearing head lamps at the start and I thought they were being snarky, but the mine is only lit by wee strands of bare light bulbs, so it was pretty dark in there. Next time, I’ll bring a headlamp, too.

Corey and Miles came along to cheer for me, but primarily because they wanted to check out the mine. They were disappointed not to be allowed inside. They could only sit at the exit tunnel and wait for me to come by, and even to do that they had to register and sign out afterward. I was happy to have them there even if they were bummed to have made the trip!

I’ve been spending a lot of time researching depression and anxiety, so it was nice to get away from that heavy sort of work for awhile and just concentrate on running during the race. I didn’t train for it–I just don’t want to run outside when it’s icy and it’s been below freezing (well, well below freezing) for almost 2 months straight. So it was nice to re-awaken my muscles for something so interesting!

Here’s a video from the race 2 years ago to give you an idea of what it all looked like in there:

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Posted by on February 11th, 2014 1 Comment

Sunday Trip to the Grocery Store

I’ve been wooing 2 potential clients lately, so I’ve been sort of distracted while I both work out my proposals and fantasize about the summer cottage I’ll buy with all my projected earnings. Which means I left my meal planning and grocery list-making until the last minute and found myself at the grocery store Sunday morning, the day of the Super Bowl and the day before a predicted snowstorm. Whoops!

This grocery store has an on-site childcare center for kids 3 and up, which we’ve loved using since the very day Miles turned 3. It was closed for a week for renovations and I was worried it wouldn’t be opened yet, and I’d have a disappointed kid to drag through the store. Thankfully, Miles got to explore all the “new toys,” while I anxiously navigated all the rearranged aisles.

You see, this grocery store is undergoing a transformation from regular grocery store into “fancy” grocery store. This chain has gradually been converting their stores into sort of Wegman’s-esque shopping meccas, only their store brands are not as affordable as Wegman’s and their fancy stuff is not as nice.

But in the mean time, they’ve been moving crap all over the place until nothing makes sense.

I spent an hour wandering around with other agitated grownups. Everyone held out their lists, sort of pleading with one another. “Have you seen bread???” someone asked me.

“It’s right there, next to the laundry detergent,” I’d say [not actually where the bread was...can't remember where they moved it], “but have you seen pasta??”

I definitely found cereal a row over from toilet paper and for some reason, chocolate chips were in the same aisle as the olive oil. Like, right next to the olive oil.

I saw one couple in their 60s or so in a screaming fight with one another because they COULD NOT find the butter and the husband kept yelling, “It’s been a half hour. Where the hell could it be?”

I kind of liked how all these strangers were coming together to help one another find party snacks, but didn’t like how angrily people talked to the random store employees they’d find and then verbally throttle over misplaced salsa. I very nearly walked out of there without going to get Miles from the childcare place. I managed to leave without 3 things on my list–freezer waffles among them, which means breakfasts this week will have to be prepared by me.

The whole experience made me realize what creatures of habits we all are, how we’re all used to cruising through the grocery store on autopilot. It made me feel better about the crushing sense of anxiety I felt at my utter disorientation in this rearranged store.

Having stepped so far from my comfort zone (which, the fact that a rearranged grocery store counts as stepping out of my comfort zone is very telling!), I was excited to get back home to the rest of my family and my day. It somehow energized me, refreshed my thinking. I have no idea what the week ahead will bring–other than a lot of labor at breakfast time–but I know I’ll probably emerge ok.

I mean, I’ve been to a place where the kosher food is next to the dried beans. I can surely survive anything.

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Posted by on February 2nd, 2014 No Comments

Getting Other People to Get Their Shit Together

For the past year or so, I’ve been researching and writing about getting one’s shit together. Several things have happened in the past year that have made this mission seem ever more important and made me ever more grateful Corey and I finally got our own shit together last summer.

A month ago, a young father whose kids go to Miles’ school was killed in a car accident on the PA Turnpike. His death rattled a lot of young families from school and the larger community. That same week, my long-ailing step-grandfather died.

I’ve now seen first hand how even when someone like Pop Pop dies, someone who had his shit together in terms of will and pensions and life insurance and all that–even then, it sucks so much for the surviving family members. My poor Nanny has been submerged in paperwork for the past month. My extended family is helping her with forms, but my God! It’s horrifying to deal with someone’s death, just from a paperwork standpoint. Imagine adding to that the horrors of probate court because assets weren’t properly designated or allocated?

Ever since my article published and I joined the board of directors at the Pittsburgh Toy Lending Library, I’ve wanted to host a Get Your Shit Together event in the play space so other young families could do what Corey and I did. We finally held our event on Monday, Polar Vortex be damned.

I hired our trusted mobile notaries for the event, got people to pre-register and pre-pay, and sent out some unhelpful document templates paired with suggestions for more helpful document sources. 22 young parents filled out paperwork and came to our event and got their shit together! They all served as each other’s witnesses while their last will, power of attorney, living will, and medical power of attorney documents were notarized.

What a truly amazing thing to behold, to have helped facilitate! Here are families who can rest easier knowing their wishes for their children are made known should the worst happen. Here are families with a plan in place.

Our event reached (actually exceeded) capacity within a few hours of my sending out the email to our membership, which tells me this idea has weight and power and means something. It looks like 2014 will be another year spent researching getting shit together. There is more work to be done!

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Posted by on January 9th, 2014 1 Comment

Solder vs Welding or How I’ll Fix My Favorite Shirt

Today, I learned the difference between soldering and welding!

I should back up.

In 2007, Corey bought me a reversible Pearl Izumi fleece that had a 2-way zipper. It’s my favorite garment in the whole world. Most pictures of me in existence since then show me wearing it. See here:

Me, the fleece, and Baby Miles on the beach in San Francisco in 2010

Here it is again:

Me, the fleece, baby on back, baby in front!

I love it both for working out and also for maternity/nursing because it can UNZIP FROM THE BOTTOM as well as the top.

Well, a bit ago (probably 8 months or more) the bottom zipper pull fell off. It’s still usable as a 2-way zipper, but I have to dig my fingers into the zipper thingy and it’s annoying and I started wearing the fleece less and less.

Today, I finally got around to calling the company to see about their warranty policy and replacing it. They are happy to replace the fleece with something new…but they no longer make this reversible fleece and they only made the 2-way reversible zipper that one, single season in Fall 2007. There’s really nothing new that appeals to me as much as this fleece.

If it were any other garment, I’d forget it and just get a regular fleece. But this one! One side is fuzzy and has two zippered pockets, one on each side. The other is sleek and wind resistant, with one back pocket–for goo or fuel or what have you during a work out. It just fits me so well. And I’ve had it for so long!

The guy I talked with says he can replace the whole zipper for me, making it a one way zipper. One that only unzips from the top. Who wants a zipper that only opens from the top? That’s the whole point! How will I use the fleece as a nursing shirt if I have to open up the whole top, I ask you? (I realize this isn’t the goal of an athletic apparel company, but I made sure to tell them about this awesome side benefit)

So then I started texting my arty friend who blows glass to see if she could help me weld a new zipper pull. I have a vision, you see. I sat and jiggered the zipper around and ran a paper clip through the bottom and made something passable. Surely, a bit of metal a bit firmer than a paperclip could be a more permanent solution.

But my friend says that what I’m describing should be soldered, not welded. Something about flames and polyester fabric not mixing well. She doesn’t know how to solder. But her husband does!

So then, I called back the manufacturer and told them to forget about replacing the zipper. I was going to solder something myself. He, intrigued, is going to mail me a new zipper pull and wishes me luck. Now I just need to find a wee bit of metal to hook the zipper pull on to, get my friend’s husband to teach me to solder (not weld!) and I’m back in the business of wearing my very most favorite shirt!

Just a girl and her fleece hiking in Cinque Terre, May 2008.

What’d you do with yourself this holiday season? Surely someone else spent this amount of time investigating zipper repair on a beloved outer layer?

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Posted by on January 2nd, 2014 3 Comments

Post Office

I know I just bemoaned the challenges of self-employment, but one of the undisputed perks is the opportunity to run errands as they crop up. Today, I had to go to the post office–not to mail work things, but family gifts.

The post office nearest to me has a parking lot, is a distribution hub, and is generally insanely busy. I have never been there with more than one employee working, so the line bends out into the lobby and everyone has a dramatic issue to be dealt with. Packages don’t get delivered. Mailmen walk through flower beds and crush plants. Money orders cost too damn much. Everyone’s got issues.

Today, the week before Christmas, I feared it would be doubly insane and armed myself with an audio book, planning to wait in line for an hour. I had my packages addressed, taped up, ready to go. Imagine my shock when I arrived to find TWO employees working! The long line moved, not glacially slow, but only rather slowly.

The woman in front of me had a loud argument with a credit card company, trying to cancel her account and demanding refunds for certain purchases.

The woman behind me needs more money, works until 5 pm, and doesn’t know when the hell she’s supposed to run to the check cashing place. She narrated this entire exchange via voice-to-text.

Another person was shredding advertisements and scrap paper from the trash to cushion something breakable to be placed in a box barely clinging to life as a solid object.

And then at last it was my turn, and I quickly paid for my postage and took off.

I was sad my kids weren’t along–the Lamar people were changing over one of the billboards outside, which was very exciting, and a car had plowed down a signal light while I was inside, so there was a lot of excitement with police officers and city workers, and flashing lights all around.

The whole trip took a half hour, leaving plenty of time for me to make tea. Self-employment at its best.

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Posted by on December 18th, 2013 No Comments

Update on Tossin’ Turkeys

Well, we dragged our bags out of bed to do the Pottstown Toss Your Turkey 5k on Thursday. It was 27 degrees. TWENTY-SEVEN. And windy! Ugh. I hated my face for the first while we were out there.

I am sorry to say that neither my future-sister-in-law nor I won the turkey toss. I was the only tosser I saw try for an overhead soccer/rugby-style throw. I came within a foot of the leader, but alas. I also felt something crackle in my back and have felt sore ever since, so that’ll learn me for tossing frozen turkeys with no warm-up or practice.

We have a medicine ball at home, too. I should have been out back practicing! I should have been doing a lot of things…

Corey opted not to even toss the turkey, because he didn’t want to hurt his back. Everyone else I saw did a little side throw or else tried to shot-putt it. Those turkeys didn’t make it very far.

Anyway, I had a PR (personal record) for the race! My FSIL is such a great motivator and we kept a nice pace the whole time. The winner passed us coming back the other way before we’d gone a mile. He finished in 15-something minutes. I can’t even begin to think about that. We went slow and steady and felt great.

I think I want to do a turkey trot every Thanksgiving. Totally invigorating!

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Posted by on December 1st, 2013 No Comments

Late Night Scones

Today is one of those endless days, where Corey has a board meeting well past the children’s bedtimes, they won’t go to sleep, and I am exhausted, but too tired to go to bed. Plus, I have to stay up with the children, who won’t go to sleep.

In my former life, when I had a day like this, I’d exercise. Intensely. I get hyper-focused while exercising and the rest of the world melts away. Plus, rugby (my former exercise of choice) is great for getting out aggression and working through feelings of frustration at such things like children who won’t go to sleep.

Today, I’m baking scones at 8pm. There’s nothing like a recipe to get my mind off the lede I can’t quite perfect, the invoice that hasn’t been paid and the client I’ll have to pester about it in the morning.

We’re thinning out our fridge and pantry in anticipation of Thanksgiving travel, and so I don’t have a ton of ingredients around. Today I chose scones because they don’t require much. I usually fail at scone-baking. I follow the recipe, but end up using Smart Balance because we don’t buy butter and skim milk because I don’t buy cream (we don’t drink coffee…).

And so, usually, my scones melt into a soupy mess, just like my patience by the time I get around to nighttime-frustrated-scone baking. They bake into something firm, not quite a cookie but not really a biscuit. With enough butter and jam, anything tastes good at 5am when the troops start crying.

But today, we had real butter and I had a half cup of cream leftover from something else earlier in the week. And wouldn’t you know it? My scone batter wound up firm enough to not only knead, but to slice into triangles as the recipe suggests!

I was so pleased to have firm little balls of scone on my parchment paper, I actually bothered to paint them with the last dregs of the cream and sprinkle sugar on top before sliding them in to the oven. By the end of the whole thing, both boys had finally submitted to sleep (an aquarium night light and stuffed owl did the trick).

I had decided on an image to use for my lede* and I tucked into the couch to catch up on Glee while I waited for Corey to get home from his board meeting.

I don’t feel as awesome as I might if I’d gone for a long run, but I’d say a piping hot scone and some trashy television are a nice compromise.

*You might think I keep misspelling this word, but really this is how you spell the word that means “first part of an article below the headline,” usually the big, teaser text before the meat of the story gets going. The more you know!

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Posted by on November 20th, 2013 2 Comments

Out of My Element

A few weeks ago I turned in a writing assignment that was such a challenge to complete. What made it most challenging was my initial assumption that the subject matter was right up my alley and, so, the article would just come to me easily.

This happens sometime–a subject is so riveting to me or else I know enough about a topic that the words flow forth from my fingers. Every now and again, I link right up with the MUSE and she does my “work” for me.

Not this time! I was writing some marketing copy for a tourism agency, writing about winter adventures. Now, I’m outdoorsy. I registered at REI for my wedding. I like to think this sort of assignment lies well within my expertise.

But there was just some sort of blockage for me. I haven’t actually ever skied, so I didn’t feel like I had much to say about different ski resorts throughout our state. I’ve never gone bob-sledding or ice fishing. I’m not even really sure if I’ve been to the Poconos. Maybe once when I was 12?

Because the project had a tight deadline, I didn’t know what to do about my lack of firsthand knowledge, and so I panicked a bit. And in my panic I procrastinated.

Eventually I snapped out of it and came to terms with the fact that reality was not meeting my expectations. I needed to tackle this assignment just like I would any other and conduct actual research. It seems like such an obvious thing. A writer needing to conduct research in order to create. But because I assumed I had more knowledge than I actually had, I lost sight of my job for a little while.

The nights leading up to my deadline found me on the phone with various Eagle Scouts and outdoors enthusiasts, gathering narratives about ski trips and snowshoeing adventures until I felt like I could actually put words to screen. Some of these research interviews went so well, I almost felt like I had been the one schussing down the slopes.

It was nice to remember the importance of a good interview and how even the tiniest sensory detail can add so much zing to an article. It felt good to eventually finish the draft, sleep on it, and read it again in the morning with rested, satisfied eyes.

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Posted by on October 29th, 2013 No Comments

Turkey Tossin’

If you know me at all, you know that I am competitive. So, so, so competitive. It gives me great pleasure that my eldest child confessed to me, “Mommy, I just love to win things.” I happily race him up stairs, race him to finish eating fruits, and challenge him to see who can pee the longest. Winning!!

So Corey and I were searching for a Turkey Trot to run on Thanksgiving Day since we’ll be staying with his family this year. He found one close by that includes a bonus feature: a turkey tossing contest. If, before the race, someone (me!) can toss a frozen turkey the farthest and still complete the 5k in under 35 minutes, that person wins a free pair of running shoes.

My ears and sense of competition perked up immediately! I have been averaging 12-minute miles, but I can push myself a bit when shoes are on the line. Corey says my bigger problem is winning the turkey toss. He suspects a lot of former, or worse–current, softball players and soccer players will enter this event.

But I played rugby for 12 years as a front-row forward. I have a lot of experience throwing the ball for lineouts. And I hoist babies around all day. Provided this frozen turkey doesn’t weigh more than Miles, I think I have a shot at winning.

And by gum, I’m going to give it my all.

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Posted by on October 10th, 2013 1 Comment

How Quickly I Forgot

I had forgotten what the highest highs and the lowest lows of teaching felt like. I forgot how fantastic I feel when I meet one-on-one with a motivated, curious student to discuss writing. We bend our heads over the paper and talk about ideas, what he’s trying to say, how he might more effectively do so. It’s a rush! We talk about organization and the next time I see the paper, it’s transformed into something that makes an argument in a coherent way. Beautiful.

I’d also forgotten about the students with a ghastly sense of entitlement, who insist I make time to meet with them on days I’m not on campus, who email at 3 in the morning expecting to see a response in their inbox when they wake up. Students even text me late at night now because I forgot to remove my signature (containing my phone number) from an email correspondence.

I try to ignore those students and the A- grade-grubbers who want to squabble over 3 points here and 1.5 points there. I try instead to think about the students who really want to work hard and learn something new about writing and to do well in the course. For them, I’ll happily come into campus at 8 in the morning or stay later in the afternoon.

Tonight I pick up a batch of essays to grade. I’m glad this batch comes in at a time I find myself between other projects and with some client blog posts pre-scheduled. I’ll have time to breathe in between rounds of grading.

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Posted by on October 1st, 2013 No Comments