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All life is suffering

30 Aug

One morning I woke up to find one of my kids heading out of the house with a fishing net. He briefly noted that he was going outside to catch butterflies. I thought this was really sweet–and then this exchange happened:

Me: “Oh cool, you’re catching butterflies.”

Paul: “Yeah, we’re gonna kill them later with bb guns.”

Raising boys is __________.

They don’t dial 911. Home protected by Red Ryder BB Guns.

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Parenting: Pet fish by the pound

28 Aug

“Good morning, Gil. I said, good morning, Gil.”

Ahh, summer carnival season. It’s almost over, but if you’re lucky enough, you have one keepsake or two from that special night you spent with your family. Close your eyes and you can almost smell it. That warm June night where you dropped $85 on nine (9) rides (of dubious construction and unknown operator sobriety), one (1) funnel cake, five (5) chances on the balloon dart game (Beyonce poster, yes!), two (2) orders of cheese fries, a few spins of the wheel at the chuck-a-luck table, and five (5) chances to get a ping pong ball into a vase for a goldfish.

Carnival goldfish. It’s exciting to win “stuff” at a carnival, but winning a LIVING thing is just the apex of prize winning. You win a soul. I mean, a soul that will probably only live between 6 and 18 hours, that doesn’t feel empathy, that you can’t pet, and that cost the carnival ~$.015–but a soul nonetheless. If the good people who run these carnivals really thought about it, they would sell little “goldfish starter kits” for $20 right next to the game. (Small tank, canister of food, bag of rocks. Boom.) But, alas, the carnival cooperatives haven’t decided to do this quite yet. You cross your fingers that your goldfish makes it home alive (or not, perhaps) and then you scrounge around in your garage at 11:00 PM trying to find your old tank. Or worse, you grab the big ricotta cheese container you’ve been saving with the rest of your Tupperware (clean, preferably), fill it with water and tell yourself, “just for tonight.”

Carnival goldfish inevitably enable us to teach our kids about the circle of life. In a way, the carnival people might be providing one of the greatest services to us parents. We get the opportunity to discuss life and death with our kids. Understand care and feeding. Feel love for something that relies on you. Create burial practices, understand loss. Conversely, this “prize” allows parents to lie and deceive our children by any means possible (another great skill to hone to deflect discussing one of life’s difficult issues) to replace the dead fish with a similar looking one before the kid finds “the floater.”

When my kids won a goldfish this year at the fair, ONE goldfish, they decided to spend $100 of their birthday money on a 10 gallon tank setup the next day (complete with kitschy “No Fishing” sign, faux plants, “deep sea” backsplash, rocks, and the all important filter.) I have to admit, it was kind of cool to have a nice tank after all these years. I thought this new guy had a fighting chance.

If you can keep the fish–or a series of lookalikes–great. You’ve succeeded. However, if you’re like most people, even with a fancy schmancy new fish tank, the fish die and you are left with an empty tank. You can perform an unceremonious flush of the deceased, or have an all out funeral (with eulogy and burial.) I’ve had both and everything in between.

At a certain point, the death of your fish is no longer a sad event for everyone, it’s just annoying. Trip after trip to the pet store to pick up the next round of goldfish becomes onerous. There had to be an easier way.

The last time we went fishing, we caught a lot of bluegill and sunfish. A lot. I usually just let the kids catch them and then release them back into the lake. But I just kept thinking of that empty tank. That sad empty tank. Fast forward two hours to our 10 gallon tank full of 4 inch pan fish. I had just been to LL Bean store and they seemed to be *thriving* in their tanks at the retail location. Well, I never thought I’d say this out loud, but the next day I muttered, “I really hope that bluegill doesn’t get stuck in the toilet.”

So, what I’ve decided to do now, is to go down to the local bait shop and buy minnows. Yes, minnows. They are pretty hearty, they are active in the tank, and the best part, they are sold…by the pound. I’ve resorted to buying my pets based on weight. It’s come to this.

Thank God I didn’t have to buy my beagle this way.

“Gunner. ‘Big boned’ like his mom.”

Shopping list: glitter that can kill you.

5 Mar

Winding down our Sunday, the kids decided to take a break from basement roller hockey and made a little science project. If you’ve never seen it, there’s a neat little trick you can do to create a whirlpool using two empty two-liter bottles.

DIY whirlpool; lots of whirling going on in there.

It’s a fairly simple experiment and not horribly complicated to create–or get to work. The kids were pretty intrigued by the cyclone effect. I honestly didn’t see the big deal with the whole execution since it’s basically just what you see every time you flush a toilet. But being that my kids seldom (to never) flush, I guess I see the potential novelty with the “experiment.” There are even kits you can buy to make the assembly a little easier. We just used old faithful for our tool: duct tape.

Apparently, you can also do fancy things with your cyclone’s water. Today, we used some orange food coloring for that nice (inadvertent) “whiskey” effect. But the boys wanted more, they wanted to step it up a notch. They wanted to make the experiment their own. They wanted…to put glitter in the water. (Yes, my boys.)

So, I began pulling out craft supplies in the quest for glitter. Boxes and boxes of googly eyes, pipe cleaners, embroidery floss, candy molds, felt. Wait, I found it–glitter!

But, oh no! The only glitter I had was edible. Edible glitter! But the boys were still ecstatic. I explained that this type of glitter would most likely dissolve in the water and not look very cool. They would need *real* glitter for their trick–not the easily broken-down edible type. They were apprehensive of my warnings. So, I handed over my coveted cookie-making supply and let them have at it. It looked like glitter to them; they were one step closer to their dream: a real live glitter suspension whirlpool. (basically, children’s Goldschlager.)

So, of course it didn’t work. The edible glitter almost immediately dissolved in the cyclone. There was slight disappointment. They still played with it for a while. Then they used the assembled experiment as some sort of eastern martial art weapon. And then, finally, they went back to playing basement roller hockey. Abandoning the cyclone.

Getting ready for bed tonight, one of my 8-year-olds looked at me, point blank, and said, “Mummy, tomorrow on your way home from work, can you stop at the store and buy real glitter–the kind of glitter that can kill you? For our whirlpool?”

So, tomorrow, to make a young boy’s dream come true, I am going to buy a big canister of glitter. Non-edible glitter. Beautiful, non-disintegrating, deadly glitter.

Edible glitter. Note: NOT available at specialty stores catering to gay assassins.

{why i can’t have nice things} Urination edition.

3 Mar

“A weekly, or as close as I can get to weekly, ritual (who am I kidding that I think I can do this every week). Some photos – with or without tons of explanation – capturing a moment from the week.

A simple, special, extraordinary moment. A moment I want to pause, savor and remember. A moment that makes me remember why exactly it is that I can’t have nice things (but someday will).”

**A twisted step-cousin twice-removed of www.soulemama.com‘s {this moment}.

*********************************************************************************************************

Upon returning home from work one evening last week, I was met in the driveway by my baying 50-pound beagle and three (screaming) adoring fans (read: my children). I’m not sure why they still do this, maybe they’re just psyched that I decide to come home every night. Who knows. So, after I signed some autographs, reviewed the day’s artwork, and kissed everyone, I left the boys to their own devices outside. I wended my way through the garage junk labyrinth. I passed by my husband who was heading out to assist in the grocery unloading (greeting with a solid and meaningful “high five”!) and I then proceeded to drop my pack mule–sized parcels onto the kitchen floor. Alone in my kitchen. Home.

I’m not certain that anything would prepare me for the words I then heard, right after that four second period of quiet respite in that kitchen. From the driveway, and directed towards either a. the kids, b. me, or c. Jesus, my husband asked/(hollered) the following question:

“Who pissed on the Blazer?!?”

On.

The Blazer.

Which is a vehicle.

Yes.

Who pissed on the Blazer.

Now, it’s hard to pick out the most disturbing part to this story. But I made a list so you, the readers, can pick. In no specific order (except for that first one):

1. Why anyone would pee on a vehicle. I mean, it’s the most blatantly obvious choice.

2. That someone had to ASK who, *exactly* peed on a vehicle. I mean, in most families, there’s probably always “that kid.” Like, “oh shit, Pete pissed on the Blazer again.” But in my family, anyone–everyone–was a suspect.

3. That there’s a lot of outside pissing going on, just in general up here.

4. That these were the first words spoken to/at me by my husband after I came home. I mean, we greeted–remember that high-five–but these were the first words.

5. That there became a hillbilly CSI-like episode out in my driveway; an episode complete with accusations, denials, close visual examination of the liquid, claims that it was just “pop,” and even…smelling.

I stayed in the kitchen for most of the action, and then headed towards my room. Alone. Whether it was because of shock, concession, or malaise, it’s not important. To be honest, I really didn’t care. Pissing on the Blazer. So what?

There is an understanding in my house. When things spiral out of control, I sometimes go into my room and sit quietly. It’s my proverbial, “count to 10.” When I check out for a few minutes and disappear, and after my kids figure this out and ask where I am, I simply respond (from behind the locked door), “I am in Maine.” Maine: a state that I’ve always wanted to visit. Where I’ve never been. Where I dreamed of going to college. Where my patron saint of 21st century motherhood lives. It’s my happy place. It’s where I pretend I am. It’s where all my kids are not crying and I’m wearing sweet Wellies to collect the chicken eggs while the fresh blueberry pies are baking. I am “in Maine.” It’s a simple mental exercise. It can be done anywhere, not just when sequestered in one’s room. They understand this.

So, things settled down. They always do. The piss on the Blazer was cleaned. I never followed up on who the guilty party was. I made myself a cup of tea. I am OK with things. I am OK with being me. I hung out and played with my kids in the family room. I smiled.

Music was played and we all were at peace with our world. And then, from out of the ashes of what could have been a horrible, terrible, no good night, Spider-Man serenaded me…all the way back to Maine.

Spider-Man also weaves webs of music...to torture people.

The best parenting advice you can ever give. Ever.

12 Feb

I attended a lovey baby shower last week. After being seated, each guest was asked to write one piece of advice for the new mom-to-be. I assumed these notes would be assembled into a cute little memory book, to be enjoyed later by the new parents.

Woops.

Instead, a “piece of advice” was pulled every 15 minutes, read aloud, and then the person responsible for the advice received a prize (from a tree decorated with gift certificates). Towards the end of the shower, I thought I was home free. After countless and sweet “enjoy every minute,” and “assemble x, y, z into scrapbooks,” guess whose advice was chosen dead last to wrap up the whole shower? Yup, mine.

“Dear Maureen, my advice to you is to listen to everyone’s advice and to tell them that it is wonderful and that you will follow it exactly…then promptly ignore it and do whatever the hell you want.”

Thankfully, it went over surprisingly well with all of the other advice-givers.

"Even if he don't, he's gotta have his dip-tet. He's gotta have his dip-tet, honey!"

Parenting: Your Disney PSA

10 Feb

I am a non-confrontational person. It’s just my nature. I know and understand the topics that cause the most vehement, animated, thoughtful, and sometimes just plain angry discourse…and usually stay very far away from them. It’s difficult to change someone’s opinion, you can just love them and respect them and hope they do the same back to you.

Growing up, you are told that there are certain topics to avoid in polite conversations. The big ones: money, politics, and religion. Do yourself a favor and add “Disney” to that list. If you ever publicly speak ill of Disney or critique it in any way, please–be prepared. People Love Disney (TM) and they think something is wrong with you if you don’t. You need to know. No one else but me is going to have the balls to tell you this. You’re welcome.

PGH: field trips & activities (the list!)

31 Dec

A working list of things to do (that you might haven’t tried yet) around Pittsburgh!

Pure Pittsburgh

  • Klavon’s Ice Cream Parlor

http://klavonsicecream.com/

Located in Pittsburgh’s Strip District, Klavon’s is an authentic 1920’s Art Deco soda fountain/ drugstore. Everything in the building is original—you really feel like you stepped back in time.  Sit at the bar and order your favorite ice cream soda and then pick out some penny candy.

  • Pittsburgh Penguins open practice

If you like hockey, you know how expensive it can be to take your whole family to a game. For the last two years, the Pittsburgh Penguins have held “open practices” at the Consol Energy Center. Fans can come to the Consol and watch the Penguins practice for free. It’s a nice event, and a real treat to see all your favorite Penguins skating.

Shopping

  • Baldinger’s

http://www.baldingerscandy.com/

About an hour’s drive north of Pittsburgh lies the small hamlet of Zelionople, PA. Take your kids to an old fashioned candy store located right outside of the city, Baldinger’s Foods From All Nations. Check out the amazing candy selection and then the old timey way the clerks ring you up (the register won’t tally more than $9.99 at a time!) A really fun thing for the kids to do.

If you’re out and about on a weekend, check out a movie at The Strand Theater after your trip to Baldinger’s. The Strand is an historic theater in the heart of Zelionople. http://www.thestrandtheater.org/

Take cash.

  • Esther’s Hobby Shop

http://www.esthershobby.com/

Located in the heart of Millvale, PA, Esther’s is a wonderful little hobby shop. The owner is always available, friendly, and helpful. Although they specialize in HO gage trains, there are all sorts of cool kits and models for kids and adults.

After you’re done here, hop across the street to Pamela’s for lunch (Michelle Obama ate here!) and then over to Jean Marc Chatellier’s authentic French bakery  http://jeanmarcchatellier.com/  for some dessert. Round out your visit with a visit to the Attic Record Store http://atticrecordstoreinc.com/ for some old vinyl.

Random

Don’t ask. Just try it. Read all about it here.

I’m lucky enough to have a neighbor who puts up a rink every winter. More and more people are giving this a shot. It’s a great way to keep the kids busy during long cold winters.

Outdoors

  • Butler Farm tour

http://www.visitbutlercounty.com/festivals-events/agricultural-festivals/butler-county-farm-tour

Every September, farms across Butler open their doors to the public for an insider’s peek into how they work. In the past, participating farms have included a dairy farm, a wild game bird farm, and a working alpaca farm. Wonderful trip for a fall day, and the best part is: it’s free.

  • Allegheny County Outdoor Ice Rinks

http://www.alleghenycounty.us/parks/fees/skate.aspx

Beginning right around Thanksgiving, Allegheny County opens their outdoor ice rinks in North Park and South Park. My family and I go to North Park’s rink just about every winter weekend. It’s so nice to skate outside in the crisp air, right next to North Park Lake, especially with a light snow falling. The rates are very affordable and the buiding is an awesome retro 1960’s throwback.

Learn to bait a hook and take the kids fishing. Pack a lunch and your lawn chairs. Even if you don’t catch anything, you’ll have a good time.

Music/Entertainment

  • Hartwood Acres Free Summer Concert Series

http://www.alleghenycounty.us/parks/hwfac.aspx#events

Every Sunday during the summer months, the county hosts free concerts at Hartwood Acres and South Park. It’s great way to unwind after a hectic summer weekend. Lots of families, kids, Frisbee games, dogs, and a nice vibe in general. Always an eclectic mix of music and entertainment, we look forward to Sunday nights in the summer.

  • North Washington Rodeo

http://www.nwvfd.com/rodeo/

Since 1959, every third week of August, the small town of North Washington, PA has turned into the “Rodeo Capital of the East.” About an hour’s drive north of Pittsburgh, you can watch bull riding, calf roping, barrel racing and all other sorts of fun rodeo events. Food is cheap and good, and everyone is friendly. It’s a real American experience that’s a short drive from home. You can buy chances to win a live steer, pig, and pony. If you win and can’t bring it home (what, no barn!?)…no problem. Your prize also has an auction value that you can sell right back for the cash.

  • Pirate games

The kids don’t care that they stink and the tickets are always available and relatively cheap. Swing for the “All You Can Eat Tickets.” These tickets include admission in addition to unlimited amounts of hot dogs, hamburgers, popcorn, peanuts, pop, nachos, and ice cream for the duration of the game. The cost for the unlimited “stuff your face experience” starts at about $40. Regular tickets start at $10 for adults and $6 for kids. http://pittsburgh.pirates.mlb.com/pit/ticketing/ayce_seats.jsp

Education

  • FIRST Robotics Competition

http://www.pittsburghfirst.org/

When I attended this robotics competition a couple years ago, I couldn’t help but think, “I wish they had this when I was a nerd!” A robotics competition complete with pumping music from a DJ, professional lighting, electric vibe, and kids from all over the United States and Canada. High School teams compete at the University of Pittsburgh’s Peterson Event Center for a chance to participate at the national competition. The high schoolers are given their robotic challenge in January and are given only two months to complete a robot that can complete the challenge tasks. This is a great opportunity to see truly gifted young adults.

  • Zoo classes

http://www.pittsburghzoo.org/Education/ChildAndFamilyPrograms

The Pittsburgh Zoo and PPG Aquarium is always a big hit with kids. Since the zoo is open mostly every day of the year, we like to go on colder days (when the animals are more active) or overcast/rainy days (when there are no crowds!) The zoo offers great classes and often give participants a chance to get close up with some special animals, maybe even pet them!

  • Libraries

http://www.clpgh.org/

Pittsburgh offers a wonderful library system with access to interlibrary loans between almost every Carnegie and most suburban branches. There are always programs available for all ages. Check out the beautiful Carnegie locations, especially the main library in Oakland and the Homestead branch, which also hosts concerts in a lovingly restored theater.

History

  • Soldiers and Sailors Hall (Oakland section of Pittsburgh)

http://www.soldiersandsailorshall.org/index.html

Great place for the military history buff (and budding military history buff). Wonderful exhibits feature both a national and Pittsburgh-centric view of the military history of the United States. After your visit inside, the kids can hang from the cannons out front, then walk a block down the street and get some of “world famous” “O” French fries.

  • The Old Stone House (Slippery Rock, Pennsylvaia)

http://oldstonehousepa.org/

Special activities planned all year round. Try to check out the fronstierman/woman rendezvous and military re-enactment weekends. Lovingly curated by staff and volunteers from Slippery Rock University, experience a step back in time with unprecedented access to an historical gem of a building.

  • Heinz History Center

http://www.heinzhistorycenter.org/c

Built in the shell of an old ice house, the Heinz Hisotry Center is the  premiere western Pennsylvania history museum. Highlights include hands on exhibits for kids, stellar permanent exhibits, and world class traveling exhibits. Don’t miss the Special Collections section which is really like stepping into a well organized and super cool attic housing Pittsburgh history.

Long Weekend Trips

  • Oil Creek and Titusville Railroad

http://octrr.org/

Over 150 years ago, many small towns north of Pittsburgh were booming with the spoils of the oil industry. After the first successful us of a drilling rig, oil towns popped up all over northwestern Pennsylvania from the 1850’s into the early 20th century. This train trip takes a rider back in time, and gives a history lesson about a time when the back woods were littered with boom towns.

The train runs through the beautiful Pennsylvania woods, most notably Oil Creek State Park, and boasts of having the only working Railway Post Office. Riders can enjoy the trip from the comfort of the antique rail cars, or bike half of the trip and then pack their bike on the rail cars for the second half of the trip back to the station.

If you go and want to stay the night, you can stay in the railroad’s Caboose Motel: http://octrr.org/caboosemotel.htm. Stay in one of the 21 refurbished caboose cars (with all the amenities of a regular hotel room). The train offers seasonal trips such as a fall foliage tour, murder mystery trips, and rides with Santa and the Easter Bunny.

  • Toronto, Canada

It helps to have relatives here, but I would love this city, regardless. Border rules have changed, so a birth certificate is no longer adequate to cross over the border. I would suggest a passport card for the kids if you’re driving. It’s a cheaper alternative to a passport, but will only work when driving across the border. Check out Niagra Falls and the Hockey Hall of Fame. It’s such a wonderful city, and it’s only about 5 hours from Pittsburgh.

  • Washington, D.C.

A great destination trip to take with kids. We stay outside of the city for deeply discounted hotels (relative to staying in downtown DC). Plus, having to take the metro everywhere adds a bit of fun to anything. The key is to try not to do too much. For a two night, one day trip, pick one “must see” location and let the rest fall into place. You’ll always find interesting things to see, and won’t be disappointed.

  • Wheeling Nailers Game

http://www.wheelingnailers.com/

As I mentioned before, taking the whole family to a Pittsburgh Penguins hockey game can be expensive. However, for much less, you can drive to Wheeling WV (about an hour and a half away) and catch a Wheeling Nailers game. The Nailers are the ECHL affiliate team for the Pittsburgh Penguins. The team offers some really great deals for a family, and you can catch a game and stay overnight for under $150.

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