Why My 12-year-old Is Riding Public Transit Alone

I’m nervous posting this because of the freakout when Lenore Skenazy let her 9-year-old ride public transit alone.  I don’t want to be the next “America’s Worst Mom”!  But I think it’s important to talk about how to approach children’s independence safely and gradually so that they learn the skills they’ll need as adults.

Nicholas is 12 now.  He was 11 last summer when he started riding Pittsburgh city buses by himself.  His father and I think he could have handled it just fine when he was 10, too, but his day camp required that an adult sign him in and out every day until age 11.

Nicholas has been attending this day camp at the Carnegie Museum of Art & Natural History since he was 5.  He used to go every week as his summer childcare while we were working.  Now that he’s old enough to keep himself occupied while his father works from home, he only signs up for the week-long camp sessions that interest him most.

I used to work 4 blocks away from the museum, taking public transit to/from the bus stop right outside the museum.  It was easy for me to drop off Nicholas on my way to work and pick him up on my way home.  But the summer he was 9, I was on maternity leave until late July, and he wanted to attend some weeks of camp anyway.  Baby Lydia and I got an early start practicing getting out of the house on time, in order to drop off Nicholas by 9:00 each morning and pick him up at 3:00!  (When I wasn’t working, he didn’t stay for the optional “post-camp” until 6:00.)  We enjoyed the daily outings and sometimes did other things before heading home.

Last summer, I was between jobs.  My feelings about time were very different from maternity leave; I felt constantly busy and stressed about job-searching and trying to catch up on all those projects that are hard to do while working full-time.  It was a great relief to hear that Nicholas was excited about finally being old enough to sign himself in and out of camp!

We prepared carefully for his first solo bus trip.  Here are the details to consider and the ways they worked out for us: Read more of this post

Public Transit and Convenient Commuting

It’s getting harder and harder for me to believe that the majority of Americans who work outside the home commute by car.

I understand that many small towns and suburban and rural areas have no public transit at all, and that many cities have inadequate public transit providing infrequent service to just a few neighborhoods.  What I don’t understand is why so many people put up with it!  Of course there are situations in which people have good reasons for living and/or working in remote areas.  But there are millions more who just seem to be taking for granted that, as a grown-up, every day you get into your car.  It hasn’t occurred to them to try their local public transit or to ask why there isn’t any.

What really staggers me is when I hear people who live and/or work in the very same neighborhoods I do, talking about driving to and from work–especially if they’re employed by one of the local universities whose every employee/student ID card functions as a bus pass!  Seriously!  You don’t need a special card; you don’t need to sign up for the transit program; as soon as you get your ID, you can hop on a bus, tap it against the card reader, and get a free ride to anywhere in Allegheny County the transit authority goes, any time buses (or light-rail trains or inclines) are running!  You can use it all weekend, not just for commuting!

Pardon all the exclamation points, but I’m excited to be working for the University of Pittsburgh now.  None of my previous employers offered free transit, so I’m accustomed to paying slightly over $1,000 per year for an annual bus pass giving me unlimited rides all year.  It was convenient even when it was a series of monthly passes arriving by mail, even more convenient with the ConnectCard that lasted all year.  It cost much less than paying cash fare for my workday commute, with the additional bonus of free rides for other travel.  But it was a substantial expense each year, which I don’t have now, whee!

It took me until last week, my fourth week at the new job, to realize just how staggeringly convenient my new commute is: Read more of this post

Go Green in 2017: Drink Better Milk

Did you make a new year’s resolution to “eat better” without defining specifically what you meant? or did you try to start the new year choosing all the healthiest, most responsible foods, and now you’re reeling at the difficulty of changing too many habits at once?

Sometimes it’s best to make one change at a time so you can focus on getting it right.  (To make more changes in a year, try a new month’s resolution each month, or give up something for Lent.)  One change you might make is choosing milk that’s better for your health and the environment.

Here are some factors to consider:

  • Where does the milk come from?  Where do the cows live, and where is the milk processed and packaged?  Milk that travels a shorter distance from farm to packaging plant to store is better for the environment because less fuel is burned to transport it.  Here’s a handy online tool for finding your milk’s source.
  • Are hormones, antibiotics, or pesticides involved in the production of the milk?  Did the cows eat grass in a pasture or eat genetically-modified corn or even gummy worms in a crowded barn?  Grass is what cows are made to eat, and the milk of grass-fed cows contains more conjugated linoleic acid, which is good for the heart.  Grassy pastures are better for the environment than concentrated animal feeding operationsCertified organic milk comes from cows who were not treated with hormones or antibiotics, ate food that was not treated with pesticides or synthetic fertilizers, and got at least some outdoor grazing time eating fresh grass.  Many small farmers that can’t afford every detail of organic certification still manage to meet most of these standards.
  • How is the milk packaged?  Milk stored in light-permeable containers loses riboflavin and Vitamin A.  If your milk containers are recyclable, will you actually recycle them?  If you won’t recycle, do you have a second use for those empty containers?  If you’re able to buy milk in returnable, refillable containers, that is the option with the lowest environmental impact: Washing and sterilizing a bottle uses much less energy than making a new bottle even from recycled material.
  • Where can you buy the milk?  If the milk that’s best according to all the other criteria is available only from a store that you otherwise wouldn’t visit, and you have to drive to get there, your car is burning fuel, which might be enough to offset the environmental benefits of that milk.  Also, if buying better milk is inconvenient and time-consuming, you’re unlikely to keep up the habit.  Aim to buy the best milk you can get at stores where you’re going anyway, where you can easily stop on your way home from somewhere, or within walking/biking distance (so you can double up with that resolution about exercise!).

I wrote about my family’s milk choices in 2012–check out that article for more detail.  Since then, the milk that used to be our #1 choice is no longer available, but we’ve found a new favorite milk. Read more of this post

Book Reviews: Good, Bad, and Coincidental

Imagine my surprise when one of the paperback mysteries I’d picked up at a used-book sale turned out to reference one of the others!  In Harm Done, which I reviewed last month, a girl claims she was kidnapped by two women who forced her to do housework, and an irritated Inspector Wexford demands to know if she has read The Franchise Affair.  She has–apparently it’s such a classic in Britain that it’s required reading for university entrance exams–but she’s indignant at what he’s implying.  I didn’t understand until I read The Franchise Affair myself.  How convenient that it happened to be the next book in my stack!

The Franchise Affair by Josephine Tey

This 1949 mystery begins with a languid, small-town lawyer getting a phone call from a woman who’s been utterly surprised by the police coming to her door.  Marion Sharpe and her elderly mother live in an isolated house (called The Franchise) on the edge of town, and 15-year-old Betty Kane claims that when she was waiting for the bus that would take her home from spring vacation at her aunt’s house, Miss Sharpe and Mrs. Sharpe offered her a ride but instead held her prisoner at The Franchise, forced her to do housework, and beat her severely before she finally escaped.  The Sharpes claim no knowledge of this at all!  The lawyer and police suspect that the Sharpes are innocent and Betty is lying to conceal what she was really doing for four weeks, but finding the truth requires a long investigation. Read more of this post

Wallflowers and Oranges Unbound! (book reviews)

I’ve been catching up on my magazines this month, but I’ve also read three books…

The Perks of Being a Wallflower by Stephen Chbosky

Charlie is a friendless teenager beginning his freshman year at a high school in the affluent southern suburbs of Pittsburgh.  The book is a series of “Dear friend,” letters he’s writing anonymously.  His writing style and some of his perceptions of things are weirdly innocent, like he’s four or five years younger, which made me feel afraid for him right away.

Charlie soon makes friends with two seniors, Patrick and his stepsister Sam, who introduce him to “good music” and parties with lots of drugs.  The friendship is valuable and helpful to all three of them, but there’s a lot of drama of many kinds (romantic issues, conflict with the popular crowd, family problems, sexual orientation, academic struggles, abuse, mental illness) constantly twisting all of them around and destabilizing their relationships.  Some of this story is about the joy of having a few good friends in a school where you’re mostly an outsider.  Most of it is about struggling along trying to deny that something is very wrong with you. Read more of this post

What I’ve Learned By Reading Too Much (and 4 other books!)

In addition to finishing the books I got for Christmas in time for my birthday, I’ve read a few other new-to-me books recently, including one that actually has the alternate title What I’ve Learned By Reading Too Much!  I learned something from each of these books.

The Dance of Anger by Harriet G. Lerner

This is one of the most helpful self-help books I’ve ever read.  It explains several ways that anger typically functions in women’s relationships (with men, family members, friends, and co-workers) and how our handling of anger often keeps a relationship stuck in frustrating patterns.  Although the book focuses on women and makes some generalizations about what women do vs. what men do, it’s more insightful than stereotypical, and some of the strategies could easily be useful to men, too, when they find themselves stuck in the same situations.  A particularly helpful section talks about the formation of triangles in which “we reduce anxiety in one relationship by focusing on a third party, who we unconsciously pull into the situation to lower the emotional intensity in the original pair.”  I’ve sometimes realized that I was doing this, or that two people had pulled me into the middle of a conflict that was really between them, but I haven’t been able to figure out how to get out of it.  The book explains how to figure out why it’s happening and how to get out of it by “staying calm, staying out, and hanging in”–none of which is especially easy to do, but the clear explanation of steps makes it sound possible, at least!  I also appreciate this book’s clear explanation of a pattern in which one person consistently “over-functions” (does too much) and the other “under-functions” and why both people find this difficult to stop.

The Word Exchange by Alena Graedon

This dystopian techno-thriller starts with a fascinating premise and goes on into a saga that seemed kind of muddled… Read more of this post

The City of Slim Shadies

On days like this, when the sky is so heavy with clouds that we never glimpse the sun, and the wind is cold and damp, and it seems like winter will never end . . . I think of Eminem.

I guess I don’t mean the rapper himself so much as the character he played in 8 Mile [plot synopsis], which I saw when it came out in 2002 mostly because I was so impressed with the rap “Lose Yourself” [lyrics].  It very strikingly captures a young man’s desperation to escape the life he’s always known by seizing a fleeting chance to express himself in a way that will be heard and magnified to bring his family a better future.  The film amazed me with its very consistent, insistent pull, bringing me right into Rabbit’s story that he was not only telling me but making me see and feel.  I left the theater and had to walk around in the cold drizzle for a long time letting him speak to me some more.

And I thought, I work for that guy.  I work for 1,517 guys, a lot of whom are a lot like that.

Disclaimer: This article is not in any way an official statement by the Pittsburgh Youth Study or any of its funding entities.  This is a statement of my personal opinions and feelings.  For information about the Pittsburgh Youth Study, see our many publications.

Now, most people would say that I “work for” the principal investigators of the study, or that I “work for” a psychiatric hospital that is part of a corporate health-care system, or that I “work for” a research study that is funded by federal grants.  Yes, those are the ways my work is organized and paid.  But who have I been working for in my 17 years of data management and analysis of a longitudinal study of Pittsburgh’s at-risk boys?  I’m working for them.  I’m doing what I can to help us as a society understand why some boys break laws and hurt people and often wind up dead at a young age, while others somehow find their way to a stable and responsible adult life. Read more of this post

Book Reviews and Giveaway!

The silver lining of being mildly disabled for months after a car accident is that I’ve had lots of time for reading!  I’m grateful that I had the type of concussion that makes computer work difficult but isn’t hampered by reading on paper.  Here are some of the books I’ve read.

I’m giving away my copy of Last Call in the City of Bridges because, although I mostly enjoyed the book, I don’t feel like I’ll need to read it again.  [UPDATE: Laura Reu is the winner!]

Digging to America by Anne Tyler

Two infertile couples each adopt a little girl from Korea.  They meet at the airport, where Bitsy Donaldson has an elaborate plan for enthusiastically welcoming her new daughter and capturing every memory, while the Yazdan family has a quieter approach.  Bitsy sees this other family as connected to hers by the shared experience and organizes annual shared celebrations of Arrival Day for years to come.  The gradual accumulation of Arrival Day traditions is very sweet and realistic, the interplay between various members of the two families is fascinating, and the eventual romance between two of the grandparents is superbly poignant and unique.  One of the most interesting things about this story is that, while the Donaldsons are typical white Baltimore natives, the Yazdans are Iranian immigrants, so they have their own non-American culture in addition to the daughter from Korea.  Anne Tyler’s long marriage to an Iranian-American surely helped to inform and inspire the Yazdans’ customs and attitudes.  This wonderfully immersive story of very real people gives Saint Maybe (reviewed here) some serious competition as my favorite Anne Tyler novel!

The Minotaur by Barbara Vine

Read more…

A Day as Mama and Data Manager

Welcome to the March 2015 Carnival of Natural Parenting: Day in the Life

This post was written for inclusion in the monthly Carnival of Natural Parenting hosted by Hobo Mama and Code Name: Mama. This month our participants have given us a special glimpse into their everyday.

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There are three main things I do in my day-to-day life: mothering Lydia (10 months old) and Nicholas (10 years old), working 40 hours a week as the data manager of a social science research study, and writing this Handbook.  I write quite a bit about the first activity, and if you are reading this you’re obviously aware of the third.  But I’ve written very little about my job.  What is a “data manager of a social science research study,” anyway?

My job is to organize the HUGE PILES OF DATA collected by interviewing 1,517 men every 6 months for 4 years, then every year for 9 years, and 3 more times since then (whenever we got a grant to follow up).  Other people do the interviews; I just work with the data.  The study started when the guys were in elementary school.  They answered questions for about 2 hours each time, and in the early years their parents and teachers were interviewed, too.  Each person’s answer to each question is encoded as a number in a data file, which looks like a spreadsheet.  The row is the data on that participant, who is identified by a 5-digit number.  The column is the question, which is identified by a string of 8 letters and numbers.  There is a separate data file for each questionnaire, each time it was asked; each data file has a name, also 8 letters and numbers.  There are patterns to these 8-character strings, which I can “read” and remember very easily after 16 years working for the study.

In addition to organizing the data from the interviews, I make variables called “constructs”, each of which represents an idea that is measured by a bunch of different questions.  I write computer programs that do arithmetic and algebra with the “raw data” from the questions to create the constructs.  For example, the construct Parental Stress sums up the parent’s answers to these 14 questions; a parent with a score of 14 is exceptionally calm, while a parent with a score of 70 is a frazzled wreck.  My programs attach labels to the constructs and their values so we can keep track of what all the numeric values and 8-letter-and-number variable names mean.  (No, “frazzled wreck” is not the actual value label!  It’s “very high stress”.)

So, it’s my job to know what questions we asked, how the answers were coded, what constructs were made, and where everything is in thousands and thousands of data files.  I also spend a lot of time looking for things that don’t make sense, figuring out what’s wrong, and fixing it.  The higher-level statistical analysis is done by other people, as well as most of the writing of papers about our findings–but because I like to write and am a grammar zealot, they often ask me to proofread and sometimes let me write a section.

The main focus of the study is juvenile delinquency: which boys do it in the first place, which ones outgrow it rather than becoming adult criminals, and what factors make crime more or less likely.  We also have lots of data on mental health, substance use, parenting practices, and demographics.  Interesting stuff!  I love my job.  I’m surprised I managed to summarize it this briefly!  Okay, let’s get on with A Typical Day In My Life…. Read more of this post

Recycling Used-Up Pens and Markers

This is a guest post by Nicholas Efran, nine-year-old son of ‘Becca and Daniel. He wrote this article for the June 2014 issue of the Colfax Communicator, his school‘s newsletter. (Mr. Sikorski is the principal.) We hope it inspires other kids to start recycling things that are getting thrown away in their schools!

Three third-graders started a recycling program for used-up markers, pens, and highlighters at Colfax. Nicholas Efran, Sadie Rothaus, and Emma Reints got enthusiastic support from Mr. Sikorski in setting up bins around the school, next to the staircase entrances. Anyone may bring their used-up pens, markers, and highlighters from home, as well as those used in school. Read more…

Saving Money on Sports Fan Gear

We aren’t sports fans in our family.  Exercise is good, but we’re not much interested in playing sports and even less interested in watching sports.

But we live in Pittsburgh, a city with three professional sports teams that are a major focus of the local culture.  We can’t help noticing when one of the teams is doing well: We see people wearing black and gold even more often than normal, all the city buses have some slogan like “Beat ’em Bucs!” flashing across their foreheads in between route announcements, and we know when a game has been won because we hear people hollering, “Woo!!” as they drive down the main street behind our house.  Sometimes even we feel caught up in rooting for the home team–after all, it’s in our best interest for our fellow citizens to be happy instead of dejected.

When our son Nicholas was four years old, the Steelers made it to the Super Bowl.  Attending preschool that fall and winter, he could not help noticing that all the other kids had Steelers shirts and the teachers were constantly talking about Steelers.  This was not the first time he’d asked for a Steelers shirt, or a Penguins shirt, or a Pirates shirt–these garments are popular even among the youngest children and typically are pretty sharp-looking compared to standard little kids’ clothes–but this was the point at which Daniel and I began to think it might really make sense to get him one.  We believe that resisting peer pressure is a valuable skill and have modeled questioning what “everybody” does, but we also remember the feeling of wanting to fit in with our classmates.  While we aren’t really into sports, we don’t think they’re a terrible evil to be avoided on principle.

The trouble is that official licensed sports team logo gear is expensive.  We didn’t want to pay $20 for a tiny shirt our kid would outgrow in a year!  But the cheap knock-off gear is not only less attractive and poorly made, it’s technically illegal.  Luckily, we learned two handy ways around this dilemma:

  1. When the team is winning successive rounds of championships, the merchandise commemorating the previous win will go on sale.  Nicholas didn’t mind at all that his first Steelers shirt said something about divisional champs.  We picked it up for $6 in the supermarket the week after the Steelers’ next victory.
  2. Kids outgrow their team shirts, and these tend to be sturdy garments that are re-sold in good condition.  There’s nothing illegal about this, as the team received the licensing fee at the first purchase.  We’ve picked up half a dozen Steelers, Penguins, and Pirates shirts for $2 or $3 at Goodwill or yard sales.

It works for me!  Visit Waste Not Want Not Wednesday and Fabulously Frugal Thursday and Thrifty Thursday for more money-saving ideas!

A Positive Experience at the Post Office

The United States Postal Service has had a rough time in recent years. “Snail mail” just seems so slow, now that we can do a lot of things online.  FedEx and UPS have made their services more convenient to use, so a lot of people no longer choose the post office as their method of sending a package.  As the USPS struggles, it’s had to raise stamp prices frequently and cut staffing at some locations so that customers wait in line longer.  Even I have complained about the post office vending machine and its horrible fake “stamps”.  The Christmas season is an especially busy time for the post office, and we grouchy citizens tend to focus on the tedious standing-in-line and the worries about whether our gifts will arrive in time for Christmas, instead of marveling at the number of cards and packages that arrive promptly in perfect condition despite icy roads and runways.

But this week, I had a great experience with the post office!

Read more…

An Abundance of Apples

Returning from a family vacation last Tuesday, waiting at a traffic light around the corner from our home, I glanced up and noticed many red apples decorating the trees at the edge of a neglected parking lot. This lot belonged to a restaurant that closed several years ago, and the building’s been vacant ever since. Nobody is using that parking lot. I doubt that anyone feels a sense of ownership about those apples. I’m almost certain that nobody would bother spraying pesticides on those trees, which means the apples are organic. FREE ORGANIC APPLES!!

I love saving money, and I love saving food from being wasted. Also, it was a nice day, and we were getting home with time to spare before dinner. As soon as we’d unloaded the car, my eight-year-old Nicholas and I walked over to the parking lot with a couple of bags and started picking apples.

We soon found that most of the apples were out of our reach. Read more…

Buying Bulk Food in Reused Containers

Many of the foods my family eats most are purchased from the bulk section of the East End Food Co-op, our local health-food supermarket in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. You do not have to buy a membership to shop at this co-op, but members get a discount in exchange for a one-time payment, which is a pretty sweet deal. (If you don’t live here, search for a similar store in your area.)

“Bulk” here does not mean buying an enormous package. In this wonderful section of the store, you get to scoop your own food into your own container, buying exactly the amount you want. First you weigh your empty container and write its weight on the co-op label that you stick on your container. You also write the Price Look Up number, which tells the cash register the price per pound for that food. At checkout, the cashier subtracts the weight of the container from the total weight, and you pay for the food only.

I love this system! Instead of paying for a bunch of packaging that we’d throw away or recycle, we use the same containers over and over again. Most of these containers are better than disposable packaging at keeping the food fresh, and they’re at least as easy to open and close. The co-op sells a few types of containers in the bulk section, but we use mostly containers that we saved from packaged foods. Here are some randomly selected examples, neatly photographed by my eight-year-old Nicholas.
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Read more…

Great Shoes at a Fraction of the Price!

I’ve had some shoe trouble in the past couple of years, since Keen stopped making that style I raved about.  All I want is a pair of black leather shoes that are comfortable for walking, don’t smash my high arches, look good with skirts or jeans, and don’t have Velcro.  (I hate that ripping sound Velcro makes–and on shoes, it always gets full of dust and hair and debris so that it looks awful and may actually stop working.)  I don’t want to pay more than $50 unless the shoes are made with fair labor and/or in an environmentally friendly factory.  Why is this so hard?!  I live in a major city with many shopping options, including a large independent shoe store less than a mile from my home, other shoe stores, major department stores like Macy’s and Kohl’s, and DSW Shoe Warehouse which has an enormous selection and sends me substantial-discount offers several times a year.  It seems that the current trends in shoe styles just aren’t very compatible with my preferences.

Instead of replacing my everyday shoes every year or two, as I’d prefer, in just over 2 years I’ve bought 5 pairs of black leatherish shoes (one pair actually is made of some kind of techno-mesh), and only the third pair was comfortable.  These are some slip-on shoes with a little elasticized criss-cross strap near the toe, Clarks brand, that I got at DSW.  The only problem with them is that the heels wore down rapidly, so after about 6 months they had holes all the way through the heels and I couldn’t walk on wet pavement without getting wet socks.  At that point I began shopping for new shoes but continuing to wear these in dry weather.

I don’t actually like shopping for shoes, so it’s easy to procrastinate–while hurting my feet by wearing bad shoes as I run around doing more interesting things.  When I finally got myself to some shoe stores, I wasn’t finding anything I liked, and both times I grudgingly bought the most-acceptable shoes they had, those shoes turned out to be really uncomfortable after ten minutes of real walking.  A lot of the time I was wearing my plaid canvas sneakers with white rubber toes–which are cute but don’t really look right with business clothes–just so I could walk comfortably.

Then I remembered to actually try the affordable, resource-conserving alternative that is available right in my neighborhood where I walk past it every day!! Read more…

Multiple Shopping Lists: Key to Grocery-Shopping Sanity!

My grocery-shopping strategy attempts to maximize the quality of food we get for our money, and one key tactic is shopping at multiple stores. Since I have limited time and don’t like to waste gasoline, I want to make sure that in each shopping trip I get all the things we need that are best-priced or best-quality at that store, but I don’t want to be stocking up on stuff “just in case we need it” only to find that we already have several of those in the pantry. Over the years, Daniel and I have worked out a system that makes it easy to keep track of our grocery purchasing plans.

We keep a separate shopping list for each store. The moment we open up the last package of a staple food, use up something we’d like to have more of as soon as possible, are notified of a sale, or think of a food we haven’t had in a while and would like, we write it on the appropriate list. Any coupons for that store (or for a specific product on that list) are stored with the list. I keep an eye on the lists and decide when it’s time to visit a particular store, and then I take that list and coupons and put them in the outer pocket of one of the cloth tote bags I am taking to the store.

It’s easy for me to remember which store is the best place to get a particular thing, because I am the primary grocery shopper and have a great memory. Daniel isn’t so good at this, but a large proportion of our foods give him clues by being store-brand products or in reusable containers labeled for refilling with bulk foods at the East End Food Co-op. Other things, though, he would sometimes write on the wrong list or, worse, decide that when I was around he would tell me what we needed so I could write it on the correct list–and then he might forget. Recently, he thought of a solution: Read more of this post

A Different Party Favor–thrifty and earth-friendly!

Our seven-year-old Nicholas recently had a party.  He also has attended several kids’ parties this year and has come home from every one of them with a bag or bucket of items that he considers treasures and his parents consider crap–you know, cheap plastic toys made in China and low-quality, over-packaged candy and gum.  We didn’t want to buy any of that stuff for him to give away, but neither did we want to have a lame party with no goodies to take home.

Several weeks before the party, Daniel and I decided we were not going to be able to fix two pieces of broken furniture that had been stashed in our basement ever since each of them had a sudden dramatic collapse in which two legs came off.  One of them was an antique end-table we’d bought at an auction.  The other was a Gothic-style chair with a high, arched back filled in with carved wooden tracery, which his grandparents had found in their basement, mysteriously–they couldn’t recall how it got there!  Both were beautiful pieces of woodworking, so we couldn’t bear to put them out for the trash, but we were skeptical about our abilities with wood glue or carpentry techniques, and we have so many chairs and end-tables that we didn’t really need these.

I did some searching online, and that’s how I discovered the Pittsburgh Center for Creative Reuse.  This excellent organization takes donations of assorted stuff that might be useful and sells it to people who want to use it.  I spoke with someone there who agreed that our broken furniture might become part of someone’s art project.  When Nicholas and I brought in the broken furniture, we saw PCCR’s store for the first time.  It’s great!  So much cool stuff!  We had fun browsing…but I wouldn’t let him buy anything because we are trying to clear clutter out of our house.  He was very disappointed.

Then, when we needed party favors, we realized we could get them at PCCR!  We knew just what to get.  For only $1 each, we could give every guest a very special gift that any seven-year-old would be thrilled and honored to receive: Read more…

Public Transit and Summer Fun (Plus tips on vacationing in Pittsburgh!)

Warm weather is here, and I’m looking forward to summer!  We won’t be taking any big vacations; most weekdays, I’ll be going to work in my office as usual, and our seven-year-old Nicholas will be attending art and natural history day camps at the Carnegie Museum while his dad works from home.  I take a city bus to work, getting off right in front of the museum, so it will be easy for me to take Nicholas there each morning.  I’m looking forward to riding the bus with him again like I did for three years while he was in preschool!  I have missed my commuting companion since he started going to a school within walking distance of our home.

I will admit, it’s a little bit annoying that he has to pay to ride the bus now and that the transit authority doesn’t sell bus passes for children.  Most days, Daniel will be picking up Nicholas and usually will do it by car, so Nicholas will be paying child’s fare for only 5 rides a week, a total cost of $5.50–much less than the $22.50 price of a weekly pass.  At least we’ll be able to avoid the hassle of finding exact change every day, by buying ten-trip ticket books, which they do sell in a half-fare version; the price is the same ($11 for 10 rides) but the tickets can’t get accidentally spent on something else!  If I drove him to the museum and then parked my car all day in the neighborhood, I’d burn through that $11 every two days!  (Parents of day campers get a parking pass for the museum garage, but it’s good only for short times for drop-off and pick-up, not for a full day.)

On the bus, and while waiting for the bus, I can read books to Nicholas–or my first-grade alumnus can read to me!  That’s another change from his preschool days.  I look forward to sharing more stories with him and having more reading time than we do at bedtime.

Every day, we’ll get to walk together from our house to the bus stop on the main street.  Our route to school goes the other way, and it’s been striking to me these last two years how much of the daily excitement of our neighborhood Nicholas misses by not hitting Murray Avenue every day!  (Sometimes I’ve taken him for a walk in the evening to see a digging machine, an antique storefront newly exposed during a renovation, or something else of interest that may vanish before the weekend.)  We’ll ride past a new apartment building every day and watch its construction. Read more…

The Beauty of a Bus Pass

[UPDATE: Port Authority Transit now offers annual, monthly, and weekly passes or cash debit on the ConnectCard, which you can refill online.  It’s even more convenient than the paper passes were!  Also, we no longer have zones; all trips are the same price.]

In my purse is a 2″x3″ piece of paper that is worth $90.  It may not be the loveliest thing to look at–although this month’s is a nice shade of purple!–but this handy item has a beautiful effect on my daily life.

It is my Port Authority monthly bus pass.  It lets me ride the bus, trolley, or incline anytime I like, anywhere I want to go within the city of Pittsburgh and many suburbs.  All I have to do is flash that card.  I can hop on and off vehicles all day, if I like.  For just one dollar more, I can ride all the way out to the airport and other faraway parts of the metro area.

$90 a month, $990 a year if you pay up front to get one month free.  It might sound like a lot.  But when we tracked the actual fuel efficiency of our hybrid car, I calculated that taking public transit to work saves 37 gallons of gas each year–even for my little three-mile commute–and gas is $3.69 a gallon today, so that’s $136.53 a year; a parking lease in my office building’s garage costs $125 a month, so that’s $1,500 a year; driving to work would cost $1,636.53 a year even before considering the extra wear-and-tear on the car and the higher insurance premium on a car that’s used for commuting.  Read more…

It’s high school musical season!

No, no, I don’t mean those tawdry movies–I mean the musical theater productions put on by many real-life high schools every spring.  My family sees at least one every year, and we always have a great time, for just $3 to $10 per person with all the profits going to a good cause.

The amazing energy and enthusiasm of teenagers can make these productions almost professional quality. Read more…