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 September 3rd, 2013 3 Comments

Working Is Amazing

Why have I waited so long to go back to working outside my house? Working is amazing! Gosh, it’s thrilling even. I dropped my kids off in the morning, drove in to campus (I know! Luxurious! Parking in Oakland is insane, so I won’t do that again) and taught my class. It was fine–I used the microphone without screeching, I spelled my own name correctly when I wrote it on the white board.

I even managed not to use the word “douchebag,” which is a big word with me and one I try really hard not to use when I’m teaching.

I assigned the quiz, administered it, dealt with some administrative stuff, and then had the day to myself! I walked over and ate lunch at Conflict Kitchen (which has moved in to Oakland since I wrote about it) and then! The most amazing thing happened. Something that warrants liberal use of exclamation points. I drove home and spent the rest of the day grading papers in my underpants.

This coming week I don’t even have to go into the classroom as the students have a paper due. I am meeting some students on campus in the morning and finding space in one of the buildings filled with adults to work on some of my other writing assignments. Then, because the kids will be at school/loving caregiver until 3:30, I can meet my mom and show her the Knit the Bridge project. More on that later.

The point, for me, is that I found leaving home and working to be liberating. Totally fulfilling and not just financially. I’m not sure if going back earlier would have been as awesome–this is a great time for Felix and if he were more upset, I’d be more stressed about it. He spent the summer practicing being away from me because two mornings a week, I dropped the kids at a play-based daycare while I worked.

Team Lev was ready for this. We’ll see if I still love it this much when I’m grading finals, but probably I will because I tend to get laser-focused when facing a deadline.

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Posted by on September 1st, 2013 1 Comment

Dusting Off My Teacher Shoes

Tomorrow is my first day back at the lectern. It really sneaked up on me, because I’m really in a place where I can only deal with one day at a time right now. I found myself scrambling around to print lesson plans and quizzes and locate folders as soon as the kids were asleep.

(I’m part of a team of teachers in the program teaching freshmen comp to engineering students. I didn’t opt to give a quiz the first day–it’s a team decision! All of the many hundreds of freshmen engineers will have a quiz the first day)

Corey just described me to my mom as nervous, but that’s not quite the right word. I’m worried about little logistical things–did I put my wallet in my bag? Will I remember the right door to access 229 Benedum?–but the actual introducing of the syllabus is kind of old hat to me. Once I start talking, I like to think I’ll be pretty comfortable.

Sure, there will be 75 glazed pairs of eyes staring at me and I’ll be wearing a microphone. But I’ve done that before. I’ve been working with freshmen comp papers since the spring of 2000 (my first stint working in the writing center at Penn State). That’s almost as long as these students have been alive!

It’s not the doing of the job that has me worked up. It’s all the rest of it–getting the children dropped off at childcare, navigating my way into campus (the worst 2 mile journey in the history of the modern United States). I suppose that’s a good thing, right? That I have confidence in my ability to do this thing but agonize over the small details leading up to it?

Regardless, I’m sweating now and I’m going to be sweating until I start talking into my microphone at 10am. After that, I’ll just go back to sweating my upcoming deadlines in between grading quizzes. Easy stuff, you know!

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Posted by on August 28th, 2013 1 Comment

Knowing My Limits

Many freelance writers I speak with have this same disease I have where I CAN NOT say no to a project that’s offered to me. I gobble up the work, even if I’m already neck deep in work, because I know there’s a lot of ebb and flow for me, mostly because I only work part time.

This year, I’ve accepted a contract to return to teaching at the University of Pittsburgh. I’ll be working with the freshmen engineers. I actually really like how their program envelopes composition into the freshmen engineering seminar. The students spend the whole year working on comp alongside their overview of engineering skills, focal points, etc.

They don’t write any old essays, either. The program has a carefully developed set of papers that lead the students up to a conference paper in the spring, where they write and present at a freshmen conference that gets attention from local firms where they might one day work or intern. It’s all very practical and hands-on.

I’m sad, obviously, that these students don’t get to do a lot of creative writing or waxing philosophical about various Banking Systems of Education, etc. But they learn argumentative writing, good documentation skills, and research techniques while doing something they value as relevant–when I taught regular old freshmen comp, I often wound up having long arguments discussions with students required to take the course and finding it all to be irrelevant.

So yay! A regular, year-long gig, with a predictable pay schedule! And pretty predictable time commitments.

Amidst this, I had my interview with the company last week who needed a writer, the one about whom I’d just sort of made a side remark hoping they’d think about hiring me. And I loved talking to them about my work, their work, what they were looking for. How lovely the job sounded! Still sounds!

As I sat down to look into getting the credentials I’d need to write for them with authority, I realized I just couldn’t commit to the timing they wanted their writing completed. They want and need someone available every week day, if just for a short time.

I just can’t do that. The days I’m home with my boys? I don’t pee. I really don’t check email. I dash over to facebook on my phone while I’m waiting to wipe a bottom or in the few seconds it takes to toast some bread. I decided it was better to let this opportunity pass than to commit to it and either fall short or make my life nuts trying to find daily time I just don’t have.

My babies are only small this once. As I watch Felix explode into a big kid before my eyes, this becomes painfully evident. You only get one year out of a baby and maybe one more out of a toddler. Soon enough, they’ll be in school full days and need me a bit less for their immediate survival skills.

Hopefully, I can reach back out to that company and start with them. For now, they seemed appreciative of my honest assessment of my time. I can’t believe I turned down a writing gig! I just cannot believe it. And yet I know I made the right choice.

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Posted by on August 22nd, 2013 1 Comment

Speak Up!

Last week, I was working on a blog post for a client. This involved trying to read through a rather complicated press release and parse the information for the client’s target audience. I kept reading the press release over again thinking I should have written this press release.

When I submitted the work to my client, I added a line to my email, saying, “Gosh I wish they’d hire me to do their press releases!” And that is how I found out this organization is, in fact, looking for a writer.

I have a phone interview next week with the client to see what they’re looking for specifically and whether I’d be a good fit for their organization (they’re looking for someone with some credentials I don’t have, but am willing to obtain).

What a nice reminder that you can’t get something if you don’t ask for it. I can think of a few other things I’d like to work on. Perhaps it’s time for me to speak up across the board!

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Posted by on August 9th, 2013 1 Comment

Still More Shit to Be Gotten Together

The August/September issue of Bust is out, along with my article on getting shit together. So, lately, when people say, “What’ve you been up to?” I feel like I have something really meaningful to say, and I tell them about my article and about the mobile notary party we hosted. The response has been overwhelming!

I’ll tell you what. People are walking around every single day dealing with a lot of pain, a lot of drama, and a lot of administrative bullshit. So much of it can be avoided, I’m learning, through simple paperwork and organization.

I met a mom who is raising two kids and nursing her ailing mother through a terminal illness, and still this woman’s parents don’t have their shit together. This poor mama, in addition to her heartache over losing her own mother, is filled with anxiety thinking of the logistical nightmare that will follow the illness.

I meet people every day who can’t access funds to pay their parents’ bills because they aren’t agent-in-fact. People who can’t legally authorize medical care for step-parents. People who, lacking passwords or social security numbers, spend entire days circuiting through hold menus with utility companies and insurance agencies. It’s ugly.

Corey and I have done a pretty good job gathering our passwords and account numbers, easily accessible to one another. I feel pretty comfortable. I know Corey’s parents have their shit together…actually I’m assuming this based on the fact that Corey’s dad is super fastidious and also that they all had a big meeting with lawyers since Corey will eventually become the shared guardian of his sister. Maybe his parents don’t actually have their own shit together and I need to nag them?

At any rate, I know my parents have only a few elements of their shit together, so my new task is to hound them until they get their stuff situated. It’ll be bad enough dealing with my grief when one of my parents passes on. I don’t know if I’ll have the strength to also deal with probate court!

Do your parents have their shit together? Do you and your siblings have access to the shit? How (apart from surprising them with a weblog post) did you have this discussion with them?

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Posted by on July 31st, 2013 No Comments


I am a bit beside myself. I’ve been nominated for something called a Liebster award, which is a way for small bloggers to give recognition to other small bloggers (200 followers or fewer). What a wonderful thing to discover while reading one of my favorite blogs! So, I’d like to begin my acceptance speech by thanking Allison of Two Moms Two Be for nominating me–I’ve loved reading their blog, chronicling life with their expanding family. I see them write about similar joys and also similar struggles with kids and employment and balance.

When you’re nominated for a Liebster, here’s what you do:
1.    Thank the Liebster Blog presenter who nominated you and link back to their blog.
2.    Nominate 11 blogs who you feel deserve to be noticed and leave a comment on their blog letting them know they have been chosen.
3.    Answer the 11 questions you were asked and create 11 questions for your nominees. [I love this because I always begin teaching writing classes with an exercise in creating questions that are not cliched and the students and I have great fun thinking of questions for each other]
4.    Display the Liebster Award logo.
5.    No tag backs, meaning you can’t just re-nominate the person who nominated you.

 So, here are the questions I’ve been asked:

1. What is your quirkiest quirk? I cannot stop picking at my blemishes. I pick until they are gaping wounds.

2. What is your favourite song and what do you like about it? Right now, I’m way into singing “The Lion Sleeps Tonight,” because I just really love the chorus and it always puts me in a good mood.

3. What do you like doing in your spare time? If I had spare time, I’d spend it exercising, then cooking something complicated, then knitting something fascinating.

4. What is something you wish you were better at? I wish I were better at being patient. I’m hopelessly impatient in all ways.

5. What made you fall in love with your partner? I love the way he meticulously rigs up solutions to problems. For instance, we don’t have a clothesline and Corey wanted to sun-dry his athletic wear, so he strung straps and bungee cords and hiking ropes to make a web in the back yard to dangle his performance socks.

6. What is your favourite colour combination? Blue + Orange

7. If you could do anything for a living (including stay-at-home parenting), what would it be? Writer!

8. If you could do anything for a living (including stay-at-home parenting), what would it be? Still writer :)

9. What is your favourite physical attribute? I used to really love my eyelashes, but they all fell out after Miles was born. Instead, I’ll give some loving to my powerful thighs.

10. Do you prefer cooking or baking? Cooking

11. If you could change something about your past, would you?  If yes, how do you think this change would affect who you are today? What a tough question for the finish. I will say that I would change my past so that I birthed Miles vaginally. This would, I believe, change my present by kicking off my parenting experience with more confidence in my body’s biological functioning and the way it translates to my innate ability to nurture my child. I think I’d feel more connected to the circle of my female relatives who’ve blasted out babies and gone on to (in my eyes) mother with grace. This would most likely have led to me birthing Felix vaginally and avoiding months of intense, painful, grotesque surgical recovery this time around. It also would have changed our family planning, because we’d have been able to safely put a smaller distance between children and think more positively about a potential third.

So there you have it. As for my nominees, I’m not entirely sure how to tell if a blog has more than 200 followers, so I hope the people I picked are not offended–I think all of them should have hundreds of thousands of followers. I also realize that answering questions such as these might not fit into the aesthetic of all the blogs I selected, since some of them are very themed, and that’s ok. I choose them because I love to read them, even if I don’t always remember to comment. The 11 blogs I choose for the Liebster award are (in no particular order):

1. A Heart In Progress
2. Charmingly Modern
3. The E is for Erin
4. While the Water Boils
5. I Hope This Old Train Breaks Down
6. These Sandwich Days
7. Warm As Pie
8. Imperfectly Whole
9. Previously On
10. Bilgewater Cocktail
11. Domestica Horribilis

Here are my questions for my nominees:

1. What sort of milk do you prefer to drink?
2. Do you prefer baths or showers and why?
3.  What percentage cocoa do you prefer your chocolate to contain?
4. What is your about-to-begin-the-workday ritual?
5. Describe your perfect lunch meal.
6. What are your thoughts on flavored dental floss?
7.  What is the most important thing about a dwelling? (Bonus: does your dwelling succeed at this thing?)
8. Do you really untie your shoes before you remove them? Every time?
9. What is your goal in blogging?
10. What part(s) of your current life is/are the way you imagined when you were in middle school?
11. What would you say to your young self if you encountered her on her first day of college?

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Posted by on July 28th, 2013 5 Comments

Feeling Flush

I’m in a boom, in terms of writing gigs. Whenever I’m in a trough, I forget how invigorating it is to get new assignments. This week, I got 3…maybe even 5 new projects. Best part? They showed up unsolicited! Past clients came to me seeking more work, and all about something different. I’ll be checking out a winery in Erie, learning about asthma research, thinking about engineering curriculum, and I’m still writing about food rescue. God, I love that.

This is why I wanted to be a writer, because I get to dive into so many different worlds. I can’t help but observe this latest gush of new work comes on the heels of my efforts at going out into the world (networking, parties, generally leaving the house).

Some days, I think When will the children grow old enough for me to work full time? When will I get to stop wiping poop off the floor?? because really, I want to do this writing work all the time. All the time! It’s so addicting, and I know from experience that if I keep dedicating time into it, I’ll eventually stop having troughs of no work. Someday, with enough effort, each morning will bring new assignments to my inbox.

This is, however, a marathon and not a sprint. So this week, I’m feeling really lucky and excited about my sense of balance. I get to be there when my baby squeals with unfettered delight at the sight of a flamingo at the zoo and I also get to interview a woman whose research was just published in the New England Journal of Medicine. I helped my son climb a rope ladder and interviewed a chef rescuing 15,000 pounds of food every month.

The last of these new assignments is due mid-September, so by October I might be whinging again about the challenges of making a go as a self-employed person. Isn’t that the way with everything, though? The good stuff is unthinkably great and the hard parts seem utterly unmanageable. With practice and persistence, I know I can find a middle ground. Which is great, because in this line of work a middle ground still means touring wineries and reviewing art exhibits.

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Posted by on July 25th, 2013 No Comments

Work-People Party, Family-style

I’ve been pretty vocal in saying one of my real goals is to go out into the world and see other people, and talk about work-things, not just family things. In the past 2 weeks, I’ve done this–gone to a specific networking event for female entrepreneurs, which is super wonderful. Today, an editor friend invited me and my family to a party at her house–not an editor party, but a family party with people from “work”…writerly people I met in graduate school.

The party was being held 5.5 miles from our house, near the Blue Slide Park of YouTube song fame, in Squirrel Hill. This neighborhood is called Squirrel Hill because…it’s a big-ass hill. I know this. And yet, while we were waiting for the kids to wake up from nap, I heard the following words fall out of my mouth to Corey: We should ride bikes to the party!

Of course, having just watched Le Tour de France for 3 weeks, Corey was All. About. this idea. He even mobilized off the couch to pump up tires and help me get the trailer set up. Because we were taking a pie and wine to the party, we had to bring the bike trailer. We decided it would be more challenging to hook up the rear rack on my bike than to hook up the trailer and have me tow a cooler, ice, wine, pie, and Felix (plus diapers, water bottles, epi-pens…kid stuff) while Corey rode with Miles on the tandem bike.

Two and a half miles into this journey, I was really sad that I’d suggested it. But then, Corey started pushing me (which usually I find embarrassing, but loved this time) and Miles was singing songs of encouragement, and it was all around a really nice adventure.

We made it just before it started raining, and I met some delightful people. We even met someone who works with Highlights! I talked about work, all the grownups talked about sleep (deprivation), and I ate delicious garlic scape pesto.

And then my big, four-year-old son impressed me so much with our journey home through the wet roads. Miles is usually afraid of rain (or extremely uncomfortable about it at any rate), but he declined to ride in the trailer with Felix, hopping right on the tandem behind Corey.

I just pedaled behind him, marveling at his strong little legs pumping the bike, loving him yabbering observations about the party and the cars around him. He was thoroughly soaked both from drizzle and from the splash off Corey’s mountain bike tires, but he didn’t say a thing. Then the sun popped out and the world was red and orange and magical and it didn’t feel at all like I was ten miles into an 11-mile ride with huge hills at each end.

What a wonderful thing it is to go and be among people, to talk about work stuff and exercise while my children eat Legos and learn about fondu. I loved watching all of my family members stretch their comfort zones, talking to new people, trying new things, and braving uncomfortable travel conditions in the name of family adventure.

It’s hard for me to stretch my comfort zone. If I’m honest, I would have easily spent the entire day watching Orange is the New Black at my house today. I’m so glad I got up off the couch.

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Posted by on July 21st, 2013 1 Comment

Wait for the Contract

My own advice keeps going unheeded re: work lately. Most recently, I fell into the trap of working before I had an inked contract. I keep doing this and it bites me in the butt!

I’ve been chasing down a story since this winter, one I feel really passionate about, and have been dismayed not to be able to sell the story. Of course, I’m sure this means both that my pitch needs some work and that I need to do some more clear thinking about my target publications. But, still, I should know better than to invest too much time into researching and writing before I have a contract to ensure I get paid for that work.

Needless to say, I conducted a few interviews and spent some time gathering some notes, setting up scenes and pulling out quotes from specific sources, so confident was I that I’d get a contract and write the article. And I did! Just the other day I got a contract for this story. Excellent, right?

Well…when I called back my sources to set up one “final” interview to finish off the story, I learned that there’s been a ton of restructuring with this company. Folks I’m quoting no longer even work there! Heck, the website changed for the company. I’m basically going to have to re-do the interviews and re-draft the piece I was feeling so smug about having almost finished by the time I got my official assignment.

Increasingly, I’m finding that different sorts of publications want differing amounts of research and information for the basic pitch stage of an article. Some people want a full outline of the story, with suggested sources, before they’ll even send a contract! This is a lot of work and a lot of risk for a freelance writer, because it means doing just what I did–conducting interviews and doing the work of writing–with no promise of payment for the work. If an editor then passes on such a developed pitch, I’m really out double work because I already didn’t get paid for the time I spent developing the pitch and then I have to do more unpaid work to try to land another contract.

Other folks just want a short paragraph to see if it’s something they’ll be interested in, then they’ll ask for a few more details, assign the contract, and I get to research and write knowing I’ll be able to earn back the money I’m paying the sitter to watch my kids while I work.

So, I think perhaps because I’m struggling with this balance of information required in pitches, I tend toward over-researching.

For now, I’m excited to finally have a home for this story, because I think it’s a good one. I’ve got another one brewing and I’m going to challenge myself to minimize the work I put into it until I have the signed contract in hand to develop it fully!

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Posted by on July 21st, 2013 No Comments