Get Your Act Together, 2015 Edition

papers in the air

You probably aren’t aware that my husband was hospitalized with Lyme carditis this summer. He was just discharged from cardiology and infectious disease on Yom Kippur, so everyone is super healthy right now, but that was not the case in June.

You know what else we did in June? We bought a house. Or, rather, I bought us a house, because he was in the hospital. Thankfully, I had durable power of attorney, a document that allows a person to designate another person to do things like buy or sell property in our stead if we should be incapacitated.

This kind of thing–a rogue hospitalization–can happen to anyone. So can a much worse accident. That’s why I’m going to nag you to get your act together and fill out your growup-papers.

Ideally, you’d do these things with a lawyer, but this is expensive. In a pinch, DIY documents will do the trick. Ask me how I know!

I’m planning to organize two more notary sessions this fall where families can bring their prepared documents and get it all witnessed and notarized. I have a hot tip on a great new location for our collective children to run amuck, too, so you don’t even need to worry about childcare.

Meanwhile, you can hop over to a site like Rocket Lawyer or even check out software from the library. Get started filling out your Durable Power of Attorney, Living Will, and Last Will so you’ll be all set for the notary. These papers take some thought (especially if you have children and would like to designate someone to be their guardian should the worst happen).

But let me tell you! The ticks are still out there spreading Lyme in Pittsburgh. Don’t let these buggers derail your real estate plans.

More information is forthcoming! Start your paperwork today, though.

Note: I do not work for Rocket Lawyer, but I just find their forms super user-friendly. They ask you questions like Turbo Tax and you just click and print!

Posted by on October 19th, 2015 No Comments

Archery Season

Last week, our family joined Miles’ cub scout pack (den? I’m still not sure and say “troop” frequently) for archery and s’mores at the Boy Scout camp.

That’s right. Archery.

I’m still adjusting to the idea that this activity puts weapons in the hands of my kids. In like a year he’ll do a course on knife safety and he’s sold enough popcorn to earn a trip to a shooting range. He’s six.

We skipped the range this year but Corey feels like he should go next year to learn gun safety. I’m not done deciding how I feel about that but do concede that my son is super curious and should know what to do if he does find a gun when he’s playing.

Anyway! Range master Bob took great care to teach the kids safety before they could enter the archery range. Miles took him so seriously and I loved how he paid extra careful attention to form. When he did finally enter the range, he and Corey worked to set up each arrow meticulously.

Our perfectionist boy told me he would be “very frustrated!!!!” if he didn’t get a bullseye, and we had to prepare him for the reality that he might not even hit the paper. Or the foam backing, for that matter.

Then I got very distracted because there was a spare slot and the scouts let Felix have a turn. Felix couldn’t even draw the string back alone, so I was helping him while also wearing Oren on my back.

I mention all of this because today, I was hiking with some mom friends in a nearby park. We were meandering along a stream. Felix was building a house for a worm he found. Oren was throwing things in the creek.

And then, from the corner of my eye, I saw something emerge from the leaves. It rose from the forest, like a monster in a fairy tale.

The man was in head to toe camouflage, with only his eyes peeping from a slit in his leaf-patterned gear. He carried arrows and a bow. A man wielding weapons in the woods where I was hiking with my babies.

All I could think to say was, “I didn’t see you there…I guess that’s the point.”

He told us he doesn’t hunt in the park proper. Just on the ridge above our heads. Also he had special permission to do so. Then he walked away, and we called the police.

Apparently he’s allowed to be in there hunting, but only with a bow.

I’m trying to remember how difficult it was to draw back the bow we used at the scout range, how arrows can really only travel a short distance with enough force to harm someone.

But I’m not succeeding! I keep remembering how we saw the man walk from the strip of trees behind our old house. He’d been in there hunting with a crossbow a few hundred feet from an elementary school.

I feel like hunting makes sense to me as something people do. But why do these hunters do it so close to children? Hikers? Surely there are other places they can shoot their bows and arrows?

I’m sure I’m opening myself up for heated discussion, but I’m rattled by that hunter and I need some time to calm down.

Posted by on October 13th, 2015 No Comments

Identity Slivers

“I accidentally broke it!” I heard Miles shouting the second after I heard the glass shatter on our new, tile kitchen floor. He’d dropped my keepsake beer tasting glass from the 2008 Brufest, the last I was able to help host with my former rugby team.

I almost never get to see anyone from this sphere of my life anymore. While I was pregnant with Miles, I fully intended to return to the sport and compete in nationals after his birth. Women do it all the time. All the time! They even compete internationally with babies in tow. I love that about rugby and was so excited to maintain this aspect of my self while adding in a layer of Mother.

His arrival shattered life as Corey and I knew it, so utterly and so completely we are still catching our breath 6 years later. We know a little bit more about what’s going on with our son neurologically now, but we had no idea what to make of that baby who screamed in outrage, almost every second of every day. And then later, when the screaming stopped and he was mobile, he ran from us, constantly endangering himself until keeping my son alive was the only thing I had energy to accomplish.

As I ushered my boys out of the kitchen, I told them to be safe. This glass that once sat as a wistful reminder of a life I once led was now a heap of dangerous shards that could cut the big, fat feet of my little boys. “Go and find your house shoes,” I told them. This was on my to-do list for the weekend anyway: find slippers for the boys to keep them warm in our big, drafty, old house.

The life we have now is a good life, with family and laughter and people who care about us deeply. We ride trains and sniff herbs from the garden, drill holes in chestnuts to smash conkers…and there’s almost always ice cream.

My sons inspired deeply fulfilling activism and I feel good about ways I’ve helped to make women’s lives better. This new role as their mother helped shift my work in a different direction, and I love the word wrangling I’m doing in the service of family and health arenas.

But still, there were those beer tasting glasses, lined up in the cupboard. We used them for tiny sips of sparkling water or practice for wee hands who wanted to learn to use an open cup. And now, the last one is broken.

Oh, how I miss rugby. I miss the work of team practice, the smell of it all and the effort. I miss the jitters of competition and the easy laughter with a car full of teammates driving to away matches. Above all, I miss the people! People who operate on a schedule so different from mine, I often feel like I live in Greenland, 2 time zones ahead.

I swept and vacuumed the glass from the floor until I felt like my family was safe to come back down for ice cream cones before bed. I nursed my last baby to sleep, looking in to the closet, where my rugby jerseys still hang in the very back, because still I might one day slip them back on and head to the pitch, just to say hello.

Posted by on October 5th, 2015 No Comments

The Day I Yelled “Neckerchief” in an Angry Voice

I thought the order and regimented structure of scouting would appeal to me as a rather rigid person. And maybe it does, but I’m just not familiar enough with the handbook to feel comfortable yet. Whatever the case may be, Miles went to a Tiger Scout meeting tonight wearing a uniform that cost $97 (just for the top half), and I freaked out when he got acrylic paint on his orange neckerchief.

2 boys aren’t quite strong enough to ring that sucker

Corey had been taking Miles to scouts the first few meetings, and came home with a cobbled list of uniform requirements. It included an item spelled “appelet,” and so I knew I couldn’t trust this list as accurate for online ordering.

I had to go to the Boy Scout store.

We have one of these in Pittsburgh. It’s a giant, solemn building across a few highways from the hockey arena. To enter the parking lot, one has to sort of do a U-turn amidst commuters entering the HOV lane, which I’m sure was built much after the scouting building.

There’s a giant bell outside, one of the original 9 bells cast in the mold from the Liberty Bell. This one has no crack, and you can ring it any time you want, which is much harder and far more satisfying than you can ever imagine.

In we went, with my many boys and Corey’s cobbled list of uniform essentials. I’m not quite ready to take seriously the adults who wear the scouting uniforms. I’m just not there yet. But all the staff members are very interested in helping me buy neckerchiefs and den numbers. And pants! They push pants on you so hard, and I declined because we bought pants at Old Navy. I had a very, very excited Tiger Scout who left the store decked out.

He let me take a picture, but I was only supposed to send it to Corey and I already broke my promise and sent it to some other doting admirers, so I won’t post it here. Trust me that it’s cute. You’ve seen boy scouts. They’re cute.

Then we went to the meeting, where there’s a flag processional and some pomp before all the 6 year old boys are sent outside to run around like crazy. And they love it! They gleam with the exertion of it all, and then they go inside to work toward “achievements” by painting bird houses from bits of recycling.

And so it came to be that Miles painted a cardboard box pink, using acrylic paint. He takes these things so seriously, and paints with his entire body. I sat back with the other parents as long as possible.

Until I saw the $24 neckerchief go into the paint. Then I lost my damn mind.

I hissed “YOU GOT PAINT ON YOUR NECKERCHIEF!” in my most Mommish of all Mom-Voices.

Then, my kid whose temperament mirrors mine, threw down his brush and hissed back, “This is why Daddy is supposed to bring me here!”

And I yanked the neckerchief off his neck and said, “If Daddy brought you, he wouldn’t know how to get the paint off your NECKERCHIEF!”

I actually stomped out of the room to scrub it in a sink. As if all the other kids weren’t covered in acrylic paint.

They somehow all had hand-me-down uniforms, though. We seem to be the only family without a pack of older brothers or neighbors with older scouts. Oh well. By the time Oren is a Tiger, we’ll have gotten our per-kid cost for the uniform down to $32…and the entire thing will be covered in paint and blood and manure.

Eventually I’ll calm down about it all. For now, I’m reading the handbook and learning about proper badge placement, because I understand I’ll be caring for these uniforms for many, many years.

Posted by on September 23rd, 2015 No Comments

Cinnamon and Carrot Skins

Our boys’ school participates in the Edible Schoolyard program. For years, I’ve loved hearing my older son talk about his love for “Farmer Courtney” and everything that falls out of her mouth.

Courtney is the garden educator in our urban school garden, and she guides the students as they churn out compost and melons, corn and herbs, and various fruits all through the year.

I remember one year, when Miles was deep in a bug-fear phase, Farmer Courtney convinced him to touch an earthworm as it crawled along a piece of paper.

Miles brought the paper home and showed me the glistening trail it had left on the page.

Some days, he comes home and tells me all about ground cherries, and how you can shuck them “just like corn.” He’s learning so much about how things grow.

This year, Courtney arranged for our school to host Chef in the Garden, where local chefs come in to prepare a meal in the garden, using seasonal produce and prepping simple meals with the kids. I finally (finally!) don’t have a newborn baby or a swollen, pregnant body, so I volunteered to assist Chef Zack.

Not until I stood on that end of the garden classroom did I fully appreciate the magic of this program. Chef Zack had the kids make carrot soup and mint cocoa. The vegetable peeler seemed as magical to them as the microplane and cinnamon stick. Each child took a turn to peel an entire carrot, learning how to hold the carrot properly and use the peeler safely.

Very few of the kids had any peeling experience, so I found it thrilling to explain “this is the blade. You pull it gently along the carrot.” Some of the kids peeled the whole carrot down to a stub. A small handful expertly whipped the skin off as if they’d been working as sous chefs most of their 9 years.

Each stage of the process was riveting to them. They loved harvesting mint (though many of them picked sage by accident) and washing the leaves. They loved watching as the cinnamon stick grew holes “like Swiss cheese” and smelling the difference it made to both the simmering cocoa and the carrot soup.

I heard the children discussing how they’d like to make this soup at home–one boy thought it would help his sick mother feel better. Chef Zack let them feel the pulp after he juiced some of the carrots, had them take turns grinding the mint into the cocoa powder with the mortar and pestle.

It was altogether magical to help these kids experience this type of tactile learning and careful observation of the garden. Most days I trudge past it quickly as I hurry to pick up the boys from school. Today, we walked by slowly and wondered together what Farmer Courtney and tomorrow’s chef would prepare when it was my boys’ turn for Chef in the Garden.

Posted by on September 21st, 2015 No Comments

Shit Show in Review

So today, ALCOSAN, the county’s sewage treatment facility, has its annual open house. As we tried explaining to the boys where we’d be going, they didn’t understand and I was just bursting to yell out, “We’re going to a shit show!” And so I did and that’s what we’ve been calling it.

Now, I didn’t take a single family photo at the shit show, so I apologize, but I would like to paint pictures for you with my words to describe what was a fantastic family outing I hope to repeat in years to come. And we were only able to stay for an hour and a half!

(I am not being compensated for this blog post, but if any of ALCOSAN’s marketing people are reading this and want to invite me in for another tour, I can totally get behind that)

The whole facility was open to the public today for free, including free lunch and snacks and tons of candy. And apple cider.

We went on a bus tour of the facility, led by a fascinating man named Pete, who regaled us with stories about times the various filters sifted out cart-loads of peaches or snapping turtles. Recently, he said, a tire rose to the surface with such force that it broke some of the machinery.

As we stood before the massive stuff-sorters, a Girl Scout raised her hand to ask if there’s a lost and found at ALCOSAN for folks to come claim the rings and credit cards Pete says turn up.

While there is not a lost and found, there was a woman Pete named “life guard of the year” because she once dove into one of the tanks filled with water not-quite-ready to be released back into the river…to rescue a cat.

Evidently there are also divers who must dive into the raw sewage to shove things out of the way of the flaps and traps–things like massive logs or soccer balls that wash through the pipes and jam the valves.

We learned about the operators, and how they work grueling swing shifts monitoring the equipment that sanitizes our sewage. We looked down massive, multi-story tanks. We rode a bus through an incinerator.

Back at the “festival” portion of the shit show, the kids could “fish” for trash in the river or examine tanks of many, many species of fish pulled from the Ohio river that morning. Oren ate his own bucket of complimentary popcorn while examining various heads on industrial pipe-snakes. One of the heads was the size of him! Imagine the debris that thing can blast through?

For lunch, they served hot dogs, hamburgers, AND veggie burgers. One girl in front of me told the server she doesn’t eat meat. The server said, “Well, you can take a bun and put a tomato on it. Oh! Or you could eat one of these veggie burgers?” I tasted one. It was great.

We sat down for lunch next to a Mad Science tent where kids were learning about various chemical reactions at play in the facility around us. Next year, I’m very anxious to take the lab tour and watch the scientists testing things.

I wish I’d known not to bring our giant stroller along. It was unnecessary, because we didn’t need snacks or drinks and they had a whole area set up for diapering. Plus, we couldn’t bring it with us on the bus tour and had to leave it behind the registration tent. Also we forgot sunscreen.

We’re already game planning for next year’s event!

I also regret telling Miles we went to a “shit show,” because now that’s how he’s, of course, describing it to other people. I had to sit down with him and have a conversation about why I thought it was funny and how I was sorry to use a bad word. We decided “sewage demonstration” felt ok for him to say.

Then we spent the rest of the day yelling, “Going to ALCOSAN!” each time we flushed a toilet.

Posted by on September 19th, 2015 No Comments

Getting a Groove Back

We’ve had a long quarter as a family, and the thing that’s suffered most is my ability to plan out food. I can’t plan a shopping list, so I wander around the aisles and just put things in the cart. I never think about how they will fit together to make meals. I don’t even want to think about how much I’ve been spending on food since May. The start of school seemed like a good point to try to get back in some sort of groove.

The first thing I wanted to try was one of those services where you order the ingredients and recipes and it all gets delivered, pre-measured and grouped by meal. We used a local version, which was only a teeny bit more expensive than some of the national versions, and I liked supporting the list of farms. The meals sounded complex and flavorful, but The Internet assured me that kids love these recipes, they love helping to make the meals, and that everything truly does take 45 minutes.

I ordered a box of meals for the first week of school, thinking I could at least take the planning and shopping out of the equation. The food showed up as planned and the meals were all meted out and separated. The recipes were easy to follow. But…this didn’t really save me any time or even make my week easier. I still had to chop things while Oren clung to my leg weeping. I still had to get one of the big boys to hold the baby back while I opened the oven.

Oh, and I had to turn the oven on during the early September heat wave. In my house without air conditioning. Because I wasn’t about to freestyle a new, ovenless meal out of the ingredients that came all prepared for the recipe they were intended for.

Corey and I thought all the meals were delicious. I certainly would never, ever have made a tomatillo sauce for chicken enchiladas. I would never have made corn cakes from scratch or breaded and baked zucchini fries. But the kids ate basically none of the food and I still had to go grocery shopping for lunch, breakfast, and snack food.

Another friend suggested a service where you pay for a weekly meal plan that comes arranged with a shopping list. Each week has 5 meals based on 20 ingredients and all the flavors are related, so you’re using potatoes from Monday for a potato salad Wednesday and extra meatballs for tacos later in the week. There’s a lot of prep early in the week, but the recipes get easier and faster as the week goes on.

So far, it seems really kid-friendly and fast and sustainable. It seems like what I’ve been needing. Someone else has made the decisions for me about what to eat and what to buy. All that’s left for me to plan is lunch (which is, increasingly, deli meat sandwiches…easy!), breakfast, and snacks. I signed up for a 3-month subscription. I think it’ll be good for me and I bet I end up saving the $24 fee in the long run not impulse-buying frozen stuff at Trader Joe’s.

This new service, with it’s pre-typed out grocery list, came into my life at the exact same time as curbside pickup arrived at the fancy grocery store. So now, I can order the stuff for my meal plan online and go pick it up the next day.All for a $5 fee! That’s like one box of expensive cookies the children won’t be smashing in a rage as we race through the aisles. I don’t have to leave my minivan or unbuckle my wailing children. A little dude scurries out with my bags and puts them in the back of the van while another dude swipes my credit car.

I round this out with a trip through the drive-through beer distributor and I’m suddenly feeling very good about the food aspect of my life. Surely the rest all builds from there, right?

Posted by on September 10th, 2015 No Comments

Groundhog Chronicles: Chapter 2

Have I mentioned before that the Pittsburgh Public School Transportation system is a clusterf*^k at best? At best! This is important information as I prepare to tell the second chapter of our groundhog adventure.

When I got the permit to trap the varmint, I was specifically told not to set the trap outside of office hours for Animal Control. Their office hours are 730am-330pm M-F. So, basically, I assumed I’d set the trap in the morning when I got up and un-set it before I left to get Miles from the bus stop.

We’ve been shoving all sorts of treats in this cage to entice the groundhog. Something sure has been getting in there and eating the food, but not setting off the trap. This morning, for the first time, I didn’t feel rage when I saw Felix’s dinner plate still sitting on our table.

“Boys!” I shouted. “Take Felix’s dinner out back and put it in the groundhog trap.”

And so they stomped out back and carefully arranged hours-old zucchini fries and lemon chicken on the trigger thingy. When Felix didn’t eat his breakfast, Miles shoved the scrambled eggs and pretzel roll in there, too.

I forgot to look at the trap and I certainly forgot to unset it at 330. In fact, at 330, I was busy cramming Oren’s screaming, stiff body into the front seat of the double stroller. Then, I was busy cramming Felix’s sobbing body into the back seat of the double stroller and jamming shoes on his feet and arranging his Eric Carle umbrella.

I felt like I needed to be at the bus stop right at the time the city told me his bus was due home (4:03pm) on the minute chance it worked out. I shudder to think what would happen if my kiddo got off the bus alone at this insane intersection.

So, off I huffed, to wait in the rain for a half hour.

When we finally got home, we saw this in the back yard:

This is not the brazen ground hog who looked me in the eye and shat in my yard. This is, like, his grandson or something. He wasn’t even angry. My friend who loaned me the trap said he’d get angry and poop. He just sat there.

He continued to sit there as my children “examined” him. There was pretty much nothing I could do to keep them away from this cage. At one point, Felix climbed out the mud room window after I locked the back door. Moths to a flame, I’m telling you.

And, of course, Animal Control was not open at 430 when we got home from the damn bus stop. I called all sorts of people. I called Animal Rescue League’s wildlife division. I called 911…which I’m not super proud of. Thankfully (??), they didn’t answer.

Eventually, I got through to someone in communications, who said they would dispatch Animal Control to my house. Soon after, 2 men came and dumped this guy into their own cage and drove off with him to be euthanized.

Now. I’m going to load Felix’s uneaten tomatillo chicken enchilada casserole into the trap in the morning and see if I can’t catch the brazen hog.

Side note: I somehow got the idea they just drove the ground hog off somewhere and released him, which I understand now is ridiculous. I asked the animal control guys whether they release the hogs or just euthanize them, and they got very snippy with me. “Do you want me to just set it free, ma’am?” You can probably feel this man’s eyes rolling at me right now, can’t you?

Posted by on September 3rd, 2015 No Comments

Vandalism: The Honeymoon Has Ended

I looked forward to today for weeks. Felix didn’t have school, but no longer has a daycare spot. Miles had school. Oren had daycare. It was going to be a Mommy-Feefer adventure day, just the two of us, and we were going to see the Minions movie and eat popcorn for lunch.

I felt it would be just the thing we needed, as my poor middle child is still struggling with this invasive baby in addition to fearing the new house.

So, as we walked out to get in the van and head to our show, the teenager next door shouted to me from the porch, “I’m so sorry.”

As it turns out, this teen is banging a girl. This girl’s ex-boyfriend is enraged at the situation and decided he would demonstrate his feelings by vandalizing my neighbors’ house. He threw some eggs, evidently, threatened the neighbors with a knife and, along the way, slashed our van tires. Because he thought it was the neighbors’ van.

I felt a great many feelings today, but top among them was utter sadness that this golden day with Felix would now be spent in the crucible of police reports and insurance reports. It was a crushing blow to me because I feel like my life is a precarious row of dominos and this event really sent the whole line crumbling.

I called the police, made a report, and waited for roadside assistance to come help me put the donut on the van so I could get the tire replaced in time to gather the other children.

Bless his soul, Felix said we didn’t have to go see Minions. We could find ants and drown them! Or feed leaves to a caterpillar. Or play Zingo! So we did all those things, and then I put him down for nap and tried to quell my panic that, 3 hours later, there was still no donut on the car and I was going to miss the last available appointment to get the tire replaced before Gathering Hour.

I felt all the familiar panic feelings, went through all the phases of problem solving. Could I call Uber and put my car seats in another vehicle? Could I somehow ride my bike? Could I call upon people to at least stay home with some of the kids while I…what?

A new friend stopped at Target and brought us some popcorn as I tried to salvage some more adventure from the day.

Other neighbors implied that I’ve broken a social taboo in involving the police. I actually witnessed an old van drive slowly past, 2 men inside shouting, “That’s just what he needs! To be thrown in jail. God damn, he did slash those fucking tires.”

The parents of the banging-teen came out to wrangle another neighbor to put the donut on my van. They offered me cash for the tire, told me not to call the police. Assured me this punk wouldn’t be back.

The damage is done. I feel unsafe at our house right now, I feel uncomfortable accepting their money for the tire, and I just want to crawl into a hole and hide.

For now, all is well with the van and all boys were retrieved. I’m still really angry that I didn’t get to take my boy to the movies.

Posted by on September 3rd, 2015 No Comments

Ground Hog Chronicles: Chapter 1

Groundhogs infuriate me. I used to not give a crap about them, until the groundhog at the old house ate my entire hydrangea bush I planted in honor of Felix’s birth. I planted it atop his placenta, and so it bloomed brilliant and bright and bountiful. And that varmint ate the entire thing, stems and twigs and leaves and all.

I’m pretty sure the same pig followed me to the new house, where I’ve planted nothing of value, but have seen this massive creature ambling around my back yard.

This Point Breeze Groundhog (PBG) gives absolutely zero shits about me. He made eye contact with me, maintained eye contact, and pooped in the middle of my yard. Like a human toddler marking his territory.

When I told facebook this story, some of my new neighbors urged me to get a trap. Except the city has this whole new procedure where you have to apply for a permit to trap something in your urban yard.

Ok, I filled out the paperwork and awaited my permission. I was not anticipating a phone call, during which a city employee asked me questions like, “And why would you like to trap this groundhog?” I had to pretend he was eating my hostas, because I couldn’t bring myself to tell this dude I needed to beat this groundhog, who’d challenged me with aggressive pooping.

Once I got permission to trap the beast, I decided I’d walk to my new friend’s house to borrow her trap. Except she lives much farther away than anticipated and the trap was about the size of Felix. Probably weighed as much.

I alternated carrying techniques to lug that sucker the half-mile home, and fielded many, many questions along the way. “You trappin’ a raccoon??”

“What you trying to kill?”

“What in the hell is that cage for?”

It was an awkward and interesting way to engage the new neighbors for sure.

This morning, Felix and I set the trap with produce of his choosing: half an apple, 5 grapes, 3 strawberries (sliced, obviously), and a tomato (only slightly bruised).

When Miles got off the bus in the afternoon, he and Felix went to check the trap. Lo, some beast had eaten all the fruit and not tripped the trap.

Until tomorrow, groundhog.

Posted by on September 2nd, 2015 No Comments