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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.”

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.

Santa is not a “first responder.”

6 Dec

Every year around this time, our local fire department (one of three in the township) drives a big fire truck around the streets; sirens blaring, lights flashing, and Christmas music playing. That would probably be cool enough for my kids, but, there’s something even more awesome to this scenario, something even better: Santa is standing up on that fire truck! Waving! Ho Ho Ho-ing! Big spotlight on him! BIG! When we hear the sirens within about a 3 mile radius we are like Navajo Wind Talkers trying to figure out how close or far off the engine is. When he (HE) finally arrives, the kids excitedly run up to the road, talk to Santa for a minute or two, and get a few candy canes. My husband and I usually duke the firemen a little to cover gas, or beers for later. Whatever, we don’t care. It’s awesome.

The only problem with this event, is that this fire department doesn’t come past our house with Santa on an engine every year. Our township is huge, and in many parts pretty sparsely populated. I understand it’s probably tough to get to every street every year, I understand. The worst thing, though, the absolute WORST, are the years when the bedazzled engine crosses over our road at the corner and just keeps going. They don’t turn on our street, nary a stop at the stop sign. The crossroads is about 200 yards away…so the kids could run for it, but they’re usually just too busy freaking out that the engine isn’t turning. For as fun as this happening is some years, other years it is just torturous.

Santa in front of our house, 2008.

So last night on our way to Cub Scouts, there, at the end of our street we saw *gasp* a fire truck with lights a blazing! This was it! The big guy was. On. Our. Street!

Finally. Our turn.

So, being mother of the year, I roll down EVERYONE’S windows. We’re gonna see him. We’re gonna talk to him. He’s *our* road’s Santa tonight!

Now, as we approach the engine, the boys are really having at it. Screaming: “SANTA!! IT’S SANTA!!!!! HE’S HEEEERREEEE! WHHHHHHHHHHHOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO!!” Loud. I mean, Santa’s not gonna miss us this time.

Then, as we get a little closer, I notice that the truck isn’t moving. Hmm, I figure Santa’s just inside the engine, doing some last minute primping. Getting candy canes in order. Texting the missus. Brushing his beard. You know, Santa stuff. But those lights are still going. He has to be in there!

Finally, we’re right in front of the engine, and–boy this is weird–it’s in MY lane? Facing me. Parked. Now, the kids are still screaming. And they’re still loud. They’re not letting Santa pass them by this year. I will also add that they are now unbuckled and halfway out of their respective windows. Whooooo! Throw caution to the wind, this is Santa!

At this point of the story, I would like to take this opportunity to extend my sincerest apologies to the family at the end of our street who may (or may not) have been dealing with a very serious emergency last night when *that* fire engine was parked right outside of their house. With the engine’s emergency lights on. Red and white lights spinning.

On an emergency call.

When we were screaming with joy out of the Blazer’s windows, we really, I mean really, didn’t know that someone inside might have, oh, say, just had a heart attack, or that maybe your basement was on fire. I swear. And I really hope everything’s OK today. I sincerely do. And please, I don’t want you to think that we were celebrating your hardship, and subsequently booing for any reason other than our disappointment that Santa was not on that engine.

I’m sure you understand, right? When I drove past you and your family members (slow motion movie scene style) and you were all glaring at us from your front porch, I could see a glimmer of understanding.

Hope you duked the drivers…

I sincerely hope to see you again in 2011, big guy.

Saint Nicholas Day: a parent’s guide on what *not* to do

6 Dec

Growing up, we didn’t celebrate Saint Nicholas Day. I remember certain kids coming into school talking about this cool and mysterious holiday. All I could gather was that they put their shoes out one night and got little gifts in them the next…and I did not. I’m not (that) bitter, but that’s about all I remember about the holiday.

Recently, my mother and sister took a trip to Holland for my beautiful cousin’s wedding. They brought us back these awesome wooden shoes. Now, I guess we found out the rule for fitting wooden shoes a little too late: take what your shoe “looks” like and then buy a pair of wooden shoes TWICE that size. The older boys (kind of THANK GOD) couldn’t wear theirs, but the youngest took full advantage of clogging around in a pair.

Since the shoes were just so beautiful (and let’s be honest: super annoying), we decided that the best use of these art pieces would be to set them out for Saint Nicholas Day.

So, like I explained earlier, I didn’t grow up with this tradition, so I rely on the internet for all the backup (i.e. country of origin, date to place out shoes, etc.). My kids don’t mind that I’m pretty vague about it, they just know that they’re getting some stuff in their shoes. However, one of my kids was very curious this year…

Carmen: “So, where does Saint Nicholas come from?”

Me: “Germany.”

Carmen” “Does he speak German?”

Me: “Yes.”

Carmen: “Well how does he sound?”

Me (in my best 11th grade German): “Ich bin blah, blah, blah, blah.”

Carmen (after a thoughtful pause): “I’m kind of…freaked out by Germans.”

Me: “Well, Germans aren’t scary. AND, Saint Nick has helpers. Maybe helpful and friendly ghosts will help deliver the gifts. Maybe Pap Pap!”

So, the kid is slightly appeased. But, let’s break this down: I basically just told him the ghost of HIS DEAD GRANDFATHER was coming into the house to deliver his goodies.

What is wrong with me?

I mean if GERMANS freak him out, what is the thought of a ghost in the house going to do?

I really did have good intentions, but fast forward about five minutes. He comes out crying. He doesn’t want a German OR a ghost bringing absolutely anything into the house. We talk. We compromise. We decide that the shoes can go outside. He was pleased with this idea, and he was asleep almost as soon as his head hit the pillow.

Happy Saint Nicholas Day!

One more punch in my kid’s future therapy card.

Staycation: 2011

30 Aug

Every year, I am forced to take a “vacation” during the third week of August. Daycare is closed for the youngest that week and all summer programs for the older boys have finished. It’s an odd paradigm for working parents, this forced vacation, but a common one. I seldom plan a real, live “go away” vacation. Going anywhere with three kids aged 8 and under is neither appealing to me, nor feasible for many reasons–but that’s for another post. So, the third week of August is devoted to me and the kids and our week-long local adventures and distractions undertaken from basecamp (read: home). Here are some outtakes from the week taken from my field journal (read: scraps of paper and previous facebook posts).

Pyramid of cuteness and destruction.

Field report: Monday.

First day of “staycation” with all the boys. West Deer, PA. Carmen found a fossil in the front yard, Paul broke my antique framed print of a girl and her dog that I’ve had since I was little, I made homemade stuffed crust pizza, and Anthony got caught in a mouse trap (the glue kind). Overall, a moderate success.

Homemade Pizza: Boom.

Field report: Tuesday.

Second day of “staycation” with all the boys. West Deer, PA. Tired. Carmen caught a huge, angry snapping turtle (I commandeered the line, totally froze and had no idea what to do, and promptly (and kind of thankfully) lost it), Paul didn’t break anything, I lost one of the last four fly fishing flies that I had of my father’s, and when I asked Anthony what time it was on his Spiderman watch, he said “27.” When asked again, “banana.” Overall, a moderate success.

Seriously scary snapping turtle.

Field report: Wednesday.

Third day of “staycation” with all the boys. West Deer, PA. Disgruntled; losing good humor and motivation. Almost had fisticuffs with the crazy lady in the vet waiting room who repeatedly called Gunner fat. Stopped at Sheetz on the way home and the kids insisted on “accidentally” mispronouncing it “Shitz” the remainder of the day. Welcomed home the in-laws from their 3 week trip to Greece and hometown in Italy; got lots of swag. Not dead. Overall, a moderate success.

Field report: Thursday.

Four “Funday” passes to Kennywood: $80
Playing games until the boys each won a prize: $20
Potato Patch Fries and drinks: $25
The look on your kids faces when they’re feeding their soft pretzel to ducks in the Kennywood pond: a total goddamn waste of $3.75

Trying to hurt/maim Cowboy Joe

Field report: Friday.

Details are sparse. Only things in field journal: “Thinking about going to the rodeo tonight and sitting on aluminum bleachers with chance of thunderstorms. #badideajeans?” and “Lost: Very small frog. Reward: Anthony.”

Frog that was lost sometime Friday.

Field report: Saturday.

Sums Saturday afternoon up pretty nicely.

Kim Kardashian is having her $25M nups today. Here’s *my* day in a nutshell: 1. I’m drinking Miller Light for lunch, 2. my youngest just threw a hoe at me (not a prostitute), 3. a spider was building a web *in the bill of the hat I was wearing,* 4. I just took 2 Imodiums, 5. my kitchen floor looks like a scene from M*A*S*H (seriously, who needed 14 band-aids, I didn’t even see any blood or hear screaming).
And if you ask me if I’d like to trade places with Kim for the day: absofuckinglutely.

Medical waste? We’ll never really know.

Oh, and we went to the North Washington Rodeo.  We bought tickets for $1 for chances to win a live steer, a live pig, a live colt, and a live miniature pony. “Sadly,” we did not win.

Parades and rodeos…forget it. I get all USA and misty eyed.

There is a town called Hooker, PA that you drive through to get to the rodeo. Never gets old for me.

Field report: Sunday.

We drove by a cemetery today and there were about 100 crows covering a section close to the road. It was a poignant sight to me, and  it cut a beautiful shape against the morning sky. Not macabe, just symbolic and there for the looking.

My one twin spoke up after taking in the sight, “You mean to tell me…all these birds, they’re allllll visiting dead people?”: head in the stars.

My other twin to his brother, “They are just. Eating. Worms. Duh.”: anvil of truth.

****

Well I think they’re both right…it’s just in how you want to look at things, what you *want* to believe.  I was a stay-at-home mom for three years. It was wonderful, and lonely, and fun, and freeing, and maddening, and a little sad. After careful thought, I made a choice to go back to a wage-earning job. My recent staycation was the first week since then that I missed staying home. Parenting is hard, and you seldom know if you are doing the right thing. Don’t worry, if you are doing your best, your kids will love you either way.

Anthony totally tangled in fishing line; confused; filthy.

Your time with your children (in any capacity) will provide a lifetime of wonderful memories for them to cherish. They will remember so many mundane details and thank you someday : head in the stars.

As long as you love them, feed them, house them, clothe them, and provide—your kids will probably (for real) not remember much of the details that you pine over, but—you will have succeeded in getting them into adulthood as functional members of society: anvil of truth.

Just try to enjoy the ride. Most importantly, relax. Seriously. Take it easy on yourself. Everything will be OK. As long as all the frogs are accounted for at the end of the day, you will have succeeded.

Back to school. Paul is probably hiding the lost frog behind his back there…

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