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

A Golden Day

Three very excited and interrelated things happened today.

First, I met a new friend on my street. She has a son Miles’ age and a baby Oren’s age. She lives on our side of the street, so I could conceivably send Miles there solo because there would be no street crossings, and so not only was I excited to meet someone approximately my age on my street, but I feel optimistic about more potential friends for my kiddos.

Right after I left, I learned that the expensive grocery store now offers curbside pickup. This means I can order all of my groceries online and drive to the store, not get anyone out of their carseat, not drag anyone across a parking lot full of maniacs, and not listen to anyone weep while we wait in line to check out. I simply order my groceries online at home while my children play Tegu blocks, drive to the store, and Deyonte brings them out.

He puts them all in the back of my van for me and hands me my receipt through the window, which I don’t have to open all the way if I don’t want to.

I was so excited by everything about this that I forgot to order peaches, which I need to make the peach poundcake I’ve been hankering after. I will admit, I did a fair bit of moping at not having these peaches. I mean, the weather has cooled off. I could conceive of turning on the oven! Alas.

But! Then! My first new neighbor friend texted me to see if I wanted any peaches, as her father brought a peck she couldn’t eat in time. I am back to having neighbors who drop fruit on the doorknob. Golden, juicy peaches.

I whipped up the batter and, while we still have no overhead light in the living room, I’m sitting on my sofa enjoying my Internet while I wait for my pound cake to bake up. Tomorrow, I get to deliver some slices to my new neighbors.

Posted by on August 26th, 2015 No Comments

The Settling

We’ve decided we’re as unpacked as we are going to be. If it’s not out of a box yet, we probably don’t need it much. So now we just putter around avoiding all the small things necessary to make it a home. We have hung most of the toilet paper holders. We still need a shelf in the lazy-Susan-cabinet, so all the stuff for that cabinet is on the counter.

We’re also meeting the neighbors and getting familiar with neighborhood.

So now we need to settle in to this chapter of our lives. We need to settle on the best route to school. We need to settle back into our jobs. We need to settle in to life with enough space for all of us and room to spare (I just agreed to host 40 people for a potluck to celebrate a visit from the author of this wonderful essay).

This is it. We live here now. There are 5 of us, and we are all settling into our new Team Lev Headquarters. We’ve even settled on a new team name. My father-in-law coined us “Lady McPherson and the Point Breeze Boys.”

Posted by on August 24th, 2015 No Comments

A Decade of Pittsburgh

Last weekend, after we sold our house, we sneaked out of town to the farm where we got married. My boys ran around the yard where we said our vows. Our rabbi came back and we held a naming ceremony for Oren in Corey’s grandmother’s house, where we signed our ketubah. It was lovely.

And when we got back, we remembered we’ve been in Pittsburgh for 10 years. A decade of living in this place that was once thought to be a stop-over in between “things” in our lives. A rest stop for graduate school.

Now we’re on our second home here, we’ve made 3 little boys here, we’ve dived into the public school system here and joined nonprofit boards and made careers. I mean, Corey has a career and I’m feeling like I have a career, even if it’s small because I’ve made choices around my parenting.

But we can make these sorts of choices here, because Pittsburgh!

When we moved here, Corey felt like I should have a blog. I didn’t even know what blogs were, so he made one for me and wrote the first post. Then, the same day, I wrote my first ever blog post. It was about moving and finding a wonderful building and falling in love with it online.

How true this felt, as I sit at the dining room table in my new house that I knew we’d buy when I saw the pictures online.

Thanks, Pittsburgh, for one decade of awesome. I hope to stick around here for another 2 at least!

Posted by on August 19th, 2015 No Comments

Why I’m Eating Chocolate Squares Today

  1. It’s pouring, pouring, vomiting rain outside and I’m able to see just how badly damaged our downspouts are.
  2. Related to this, I’m standing outside under my children’s Eric Carle umbrella watching the rain pour from the broken downspout right into my basement window wells
  3. I’m profiling a woman who works for WIC in Allegheny County, which means I have to get permission to interview her, which means dealing with multiple layers of administrative offices for social services. And having to re-explain why I’m calling each time. And having to re-spell my name each time.
  4. Yes, L-E-V. No Y. Right. Just 3 letters. I know, it does sound like Love, doesn’t it?
  5. There’s still no electricity in my living room and it’s hot and I just want to turn on the ceiling fan, which I couldn’t do if there was electricity because we weren’t given a remote control for it. 
  6. I have to take all 3 kids for blood tests for lead since we now live in a 120-year-old house and we’re having work done. That’s right. Someone will approach Miles with a needle, and I’m going to have to be in charge of him during this. 
  7. We have basically zero dollars in our checking account today, but provided closing goes well tomorrow we will have tens of thousands of dollars…
  8. The main reason I am eating chocolate squares today is that we close on our house tomorrow. I hope.

Look at that river of inexplicably-soapy water just flowing into my window well and, subsequently, my basement.

Posted by on August 10th, 2015 No Comments