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Wednesday, October 19, 2016

Do You Know these Pittsburgh Places?

At the end of September, I went on a tour of Pittsburgh with the Pittsburgh History and Landmarks Foundation called "Downtown Dragons." Even though it was a cold and rainy day,  our tour group of hearty sixth graders (I was a chaperone) visited some lovely places in Pittsburgh. I snapped some photos of a few of my favorite things. See if you can identify these six Pittsburgh places!

Pittsburgh Place 1

Pittsburgh Place 2

Pittsburgh Place 3

Pittsburgh Place 4

Pittsburgh Place 5

Pittsburgh Place 6

Wednesday, October 12, 2016

House Renovation: Art Edition

Our house renovation continues apace!

The construction is done, but now we're working on small details like adjusting some painting and hanging art and figuring out what new furniture is needed and right for the place.

Hanging art and doing design layout is not really my thing. But luckily we have a very helpful designer and project manager in Susan. Susan makes things look nice. But Susan's design view is different than my design view. Sometimes we argue. Here's an example. As we arranged one corner of the kitchen, she selected two pottery goblets that looked nice.

"But there's no story with those," I complained.

"Not everything has to have a story," she said.

"Oh really?" I shouted replied in a calm, reasonable tone of voice.

We compromised. She finally agreed to put our jade Buddha up instead of the goblets. I promised to try and use the goblets in a cool way. Honestly, though, Susan does a great job. I have a sneaking suspicion she doesn't mind having a healthy banter with me. And she helped me win my campaign for a new toaster.

We met with Susan to hang art pieces today. It wasn't easy, but the tough part came when she tells me I need to "edit." I remind her that I'm quite good at editing the words, but this is different. These are my memories. Here are some of our pieces, after already doing one round of edits!

Taiwanese scroll, German calendar,
Spanish clock from Barcelona

Pittsburgh coffee company crate found in an old shed at our first house

Masks from Bahamas, Hawaii, Malawi and Belize

Spanish table top from Granada

Dragon candlesticks from Chautauqua, NY,
brass candlesticks from my grandmother in Baltimore

Pysanky eggs from Pittsburgh

Irish street scene photographs, St. Brigid's cross,
Welsh love spoon, Pittsburgh door hinge, Russian icon

Two original Leslie Belloso paintings,
one original oil from another Eastern Shore artist

Photos from East Berlin, a Joan Miro print

Steel Mill photos from Pittsburgh, printed on metal

 As you can see, it's an eclectic mix that reflects where we've lived and traveled. I couldn't imagine tucking a single one of those pieces away in storage in the basement or *gasp* parting with any. So Susan worked with us to really select the ones that were absolute must-stays and designed a gallery wall in our new open concept living room.

Here's a far away shot.

Here's a pano.

As you can see, many important memories made their way on to the wall. And there's a nice spot above the Miro print for a new feature! I love that.

Although we're still looking for a home for our incredible curved wood carving from Palau, several of the other must-keeps are distributed around the house in new locations.

Instead of displaying our pysankys on little brass holders, I won praise from Susan for arranging them in this redwood bowl from our trip to California.

Our Irish stoneware pottery used to rest on the large easel stand. Now it holds a chalkboard and highlights our cocktail of the day. The tallest piece of pottery is there on the right along with our vase with our seashell and driftwood collection from Gimli, Manitoba.

Check out these floating shelves! Across the top is more Irish stoneware and an Irish teapot. Next you see my beloved jade Buddha and two elephants our designer selected. On the bottom shelf are three more Irish stoneware bowls that will now be used instead of displayed. (We will soon have a new toaster.)

Our clay pot from Belize with the cool head now holds wooden cooking tools. And Maneki Neko is in a place of honor where she can keep an eye on the kitchen.

The Arbuckle's coffee crate is still under design review and I've been ruthless as I edited down our family photos. As soon as we get more furniture in the dining area, I expect to have a nicely curated collection to display. And I can't wait for our table from Bones and All to arrive.

But Susan is right. It's good to do a refresh and reboot and make room for new memories. Come on over anytime and check out the house as it transforms. We're the ones with the bright yellow door!

Wednesday, October 5, 2016

The Creepiest Part of a House Renovation

Our home renovation is plodding along  progressing nicely, but like many large projects, we have made some surprising, even creepy discoveries. No, I'm not talking about the obscenities I discovered carved into the insulation that was installed in our kitchen. (That was not done by our crew, BTW.). I'm talking about the creepy, unsettling, almost shocking number of moths and insects that have converged on our front door. 

Let me back up a little. 

Our house used to be brown. Brown front porch, tan siding, brown roof, brown windows, brown shutters. All brown. Boring Brown. Not all browns are boring. I'm a brunette and I'm not boring. Brownies are not boring, they are delicious. And coffee is best consumed with a slight brown color, so that's also not boring. But our brown house was boring.

Now we have a blue house (which I adore) and a yellow door (paint color: Honey bees!) and a white trim. The ceiling of our front porch roof is also white. We have lovely big new front porch lights, too. 
I love the new door color, porch color, and lights. But so do moths and insects. LOTS of them. 

One morning in early September, I stepped outside to take a closer look at the variety of moths and insects that are now in love with our front door and porch. It was pretty incredible. Were the moths always there and just perfectly camouflaged against the brown? 

I am fairly interested in moths. I used to teach kids about the Peppered Moth when I worked for Carnegie Science Center. Last year, I spotted the incredibly unique Hawkmoth visiting our purple-blue cardinal flowers last year. I'm even working on a MySci Spotlight submission for Highlights for Children about the incredible features of the hawkmoth. 

So, I snapped a ton of amateur iPhone photos and thought it would be fun to play a moth identification game! 

Moth 1. I'd call this Ghost Moth.
What's it's real name?

Check our the intricate camouflage on Moth 2!
Perfect for hiding on tree bark, but not on my white porch.
Can we uncover it's real name?

I'd name Moth 3 Lichen Moth but I bet it has a different real name.

The sweep of the wings on Moth 4 makes it look like a comic book hero.
But it's really called…??

I think Moth 5 is a moth, but it's hiding it's wings so it's hard to tell.

Such a blurry photo of Moth 6. It's ok if it's too hard to identify.

Moth 8 again wows me with it's wing patterns!! 

I nicknamed Moth 9 Gossamer Green.
I'm sure it's real name is less poetic.

This is combo shot of Moth 6 and a new moth, Moth 10.
I have nicknamed Moth 10 French Toast Moth.

Is this a moth?? I have no idea.
It has wings, six spindly legs. It's creepy awesome.
I call Moth 11 Stick Moth.

Moth 12, the Tiniest Moth.
Smaller than my fingernail!! 

Ok, I'm going to work with my kids to identify the 12 moths that have made our front porch their home for today. I may try to contact an entomologist for confirmation, or I may ask some scientifically minded friends for help. Either way, I hope to have some answers!

P.P.S. Going through a house renovation is tough. It always takes longer than planned, costs more than budgeted, and strange unexpected challenges appear without notice. We started our renovation back on May 23 and the project is still continuing as of September October. Now, the bulk of the work is done but there are small yet crucial pieces still remaining, like drawer pulls and outlet covers. But having it drawn out like this is tough. Like my middle son said, he's "holding the end of his rope!"

Monday, September 26, 2016

Leaving It All Out There: The 2016 Richard S. Caliguri City of Pittsburgh Great Race

Feeling GREAT! (And loving my new CUCB arm warmers!)

If you've never run the Richard S. Caliguri City of Pittsburgh Great Race…what is WRONG WITH YOU?? This race is more than great. More than fantastic. It's amazing. I run it every year and I love it.

Things I love about the Great Race:

1. It starts at 9:30am. No 7:00am starts with a 5am wake-up call! I was able to roll out of bed at 7:30am, leisurely eat breakfast, drink my coffee, use the bathroom and get dressed. So relaxing. Perfect for race day.

2. It's mostly downhill. Not completely downhill, because this is still Pittsburgh. And mostly downhill is something to celebrate in this town. Yes, the race starts uphill, ok, I admit it. But that's a good wake-up. Then you get to roll down from Squirrel Hill past CMU into Oakland, chug up a gentle hill through Pitt, then down a nice hill onto the Blvd of the Allies and get a sweeping city view. Push up the hill at Duquesne and then you are literally downhill to the finish. Those downhills help my pace tremendously. It's perfect.

3. It's point to point. I love the feeling that I'm going somewhere. I love that when I'm done with a hill I'm DONE and I don't have to loop around it again - or, what would be even worse, turn around and GO BACK UP the hills we just went down.

4. It's a big race. Some people don't like running in crowds, but honestly, I don't mind. Big races mean pace groups, lots of water stops, plenty of people to pace off of, crowds cheering you on, and lots of people to pass. It can be hard to run on your own and having a crowd keeps you going. Well, it keeps me going. And a big race means extra features like getting your 5K split and 10K finish time texted right to you!

5. It's in September. Spring races are a little tough for me because my winter training can be sabotaged by bad weather and short daylight. Fall races are usually better because I'm coming off a summer chock full of cross training and good mileage. And September is my lucky month.

6. It's in my adopted hometown. This may not seem like such a big deal, but when you're a running mom, it's really handy to have a wonderful race like this nearby. I love that there are so many friends willing to help take care of the kids so my husband and I can run this together. We have a little routine that includes a bathroom break at a donut shop in Squirrel Hill, a traditional selfie before the race, and he always seems to find me right after I finish no matter how big the crowd is.

I worried about this race, frankly, because the week leading up to the race was focused mainly on writing. I had a huge idea I needed to get down on paper. That meant staying up later than I wanted to and missing some easy taper runs. But sometimes the needs of the writing mom outweigh the needs of the running mom. Friday I had an excellent run with a friend when we looped North Park lake. The word that kept popping into my head on that run was "restorative." I felt like my reserves had been refilled.

This year's race was my third fastest Great Race time, but second fastest post-baby time: 51:13, about 8:14 or 8:15 average pace.

In 2012, I ran my PR of 46:17 and in 1998 (before kids) I ran a 50:33. My mile splits were relatively even and when I crossed the mat at the 5K, my finish time prediction was right on!

5K Split Text

10K Finish Text

When I got home, I told my boys I left it all out on the race course. And I did. Every mile I ran my best and I don't think there is a spot in the race where I think I could've done better or pushed harder. I feel like I ran smart and I'm very proud of my finish. I hate those races where I feel strong and move quick for the first 75% and absolutely die for the last 25%. That did not happen yesterday. I used my first mile as warm-up then pushed hard through each subsequent mile to keep my cadence close to 90 and my pace strong. 

So, like I said to my boys, I left it all out there yesterday. And I told them I wanted to see them leave it all out there in their activities. 

And now I'm telling you: Leave it all out there. Do your best. Be proud of yourself. 

Have a great race. 

Saturday, September 17, 2016

I Miss My Hawk

I had a guardian hawk.

My hawk symbolized soaring over obstacles and taking action. 

My hawk was a good hunter.

But my hawk is missing, and the bunnies are growing bolder.

A guardian rabbit does not seem nearly as intimidating as a guardian hawk.

But these bunnies are not wimps.

There are two that are seen everyday in our yard. This mottled brown one and one with a white stripe. They don't run when we come near. They are very calm, very bold. Especially the one with a white stripe down her nose. She's not scared of anything. She sits out there, daring as the daylight, nibbling on our overgrown weeds and flowers in the middle of our backyard.

I miss my hawk, but I was born in the Year of the Rabbit.

And Rabbit symbolizes abundance, good luck, and the arrival of something new. Perhaps I need to open my mind to the possibility that new things are on the way.

The bunnies are bold. The hawk is missing. Changes are on their way.

Monday, September 12, 2016

Playlist for a Kitchen Renovation

Since the end of May, our first floor has been under renovation. Contractors have been in, out and around our house every day from 8am to 5pm. They work hard and have done a great job, but one thing I have noticed is that each set of contractors has a different musical presence.

The main crew is all about classic rock. Lots of Pink Floyd, Bowie, late Beatles, Paul Simon was in there. Some early big hair bands. Nothing too metal. 

The plasterers came in to fix the ripple textured ceiling. They straddling balance beam scaffolding and stared at the ceiling all day and alt rock was their jam. Not modern alt, but late 90s and early 2000 in the grunge and post-grunge scene. 

Then the painters arrived. They brought with them a country vibe. Cold beer, trucks, cold beer. 

The guys who did our closet were here and gone in less than 2 hours and worked without music.

When the countertops were installed, we got to listen to banjo music. I couldn't tell you if it was by one band or more than one, old or new. But I recognized a banjo. And the countertop guys also wore beards. 

Then the painters came back and painted the outside of the house. This time all I heard was classical music.

For my part, I played NPR and WESA from my iPhone.

The main crew lead, John, asked me one time who my favorite band or kind of music was. I was at a loss. How could I answer this? How could I explain I knew all the words to "Sweet Child O' Mine" and did a great rendition of the Axl Rose dance but also had a blast at The Decembrists and loved singing "Sons and Daughters" at the top of my lungs? I couldn't show him my running playlist that featured a Nicki Minaj song, (Super Bass) an Eminem song, (Without Me) and a Carly Simon song (Nobody Does it Better).

My favorite band or music depends a lot on where I am and what I'm doing.

So I fell back on an old standby and said, "Oh, I like Radiohead."

"Radio who?' he said.

I'm just hoping we've got everything in its right place.

Thursday, September 1, 2016

Board Meeting Live Blog

7:01 - arrived and signed in, had to choose if I was going to make comments based on agenda items at the beginning of the meeting or public comments at the end. 

7:02 we are asked to stand for a moment of silence and for the pledge. I briefly consider going Kapernick. 

7:04 after I stand for pledge (I'm weaker than Kap) we hear from student reps. That's exactly the kind of job I would have wanted in high school. 

7:05 superintendent introduces new online computer systems. He says it's great but I remember hearing from teachers that they are still writing grades on paper because they know other apps like this have deleted data. Hope there are no problems because they fired the computer tech. 

7:07 Super brings up bus problem for the first time. PowerSchool (the app) and ABC Transit apparently can't work together?? No further detail.

7:08 Project Connect is mentioned. We are reassured iPads won't replace teachers. (Yet)

7:09 West View is getting some cosmetic updates. But is this just lipstick on an over enrolled pig?? 

There were a lot of changes this summer according to the super. Perhaps too many?? Or not enough??

7:14 classroom enrollment numbers reviewed. 

7:18 WHOA. Whoa. Super was going to show us what happened if we didn't redistrict. But he zoomed right by the slides!! He didn't go through them. But I did catch a glimpse that Ross 2nd grade would not have 24 students a class. I'll have to review those slides. Hmm. 

7:20 On to busing. Gloria retired. She graciously agreed to stay on. Super met with ABC staff. Today. Is that his first meeting with them?? 
"Revising routes is common" says the super. I revise every day. But their revisions aren't working. It happened every day as the driver revised our bus rote each afternoon. 
Traffic was so bad on day 1, buses couldn't get out of the hilltop. Sounds like a safety hazard in the event of an evacuation. 

7:24 - board member asks how many students might be fraudulently enrolled. Students must "lay their head" in Ross and WV. 

7:28 Ross PTO president asks why 2nd grade has 4 sections with 25 students .

7:29 I go up and embarass myself. I asked these four questions:

- will second grade be at the limit again next year?? 
- how did the district determine what percentage of parents had wifi for 6th grade iPads? Were they really told to use wifi at McDonalds?? 
- what's being done to make sure these busing problems don't continue??
- will the school board advocate for parents about the new ordinance stating they can't park or "wait in line" for their kids?? 

7:49 Friend gets up and asks why kids on her bus are sitting 3-4 to a seat. 

7:51 Another mom gets up and is angry that we are told to call the bus company and when she did she got the run around and transferred to dead end numbers??? 
Are people supposed to leave work early? Late? Over a week. This mom is mad. 

7:55 Ross PTO president doesn't have bus problems but asks why kids who were arriving late were marked tardy. Board DENIES this. Interesting. 

7:59 Board member tells me offline that the township doesn't respect a thing the school board does, doesn't care at all what the school board thinks. Pretty damning. 

8:02 discussion continues about the seeming failures of redistricting.