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

Secrets to a Happy Road Trip with a Two-year-old

When our son Nicholas was 2 years old, we drove from Pennsylvania to Oklahoma, stayed a while, and drove back.  In each direction, we spent 3 days in a row on the road for about 8 hours a day of actual driving time, plus rest stops.  My cousin who has older children gave me two very helpful tips, and I thought of another idea that proved even more useful than those!

Tip #1: Bring a Magna-Doodle or similar self-contained drawing toy, instead of crayons/markers and paper. It’s much less messy!

Tip #2: Plan for an extended rest stop every 100 miles.  Look at the map for a park, museum, or other pleasant spot.  You will not stop at all of these places.  Just have a list handy in your travel folder (or wherever you organize the information like directions and coupons).  When your child becomes restless, then you can say something like, “Just hang in there for another 20 miles, and we can hike in Englewood MetroPark!”  (That’s one of the stops we made, a very nice park off I-70 near Dayton, Ohio.) Read more of this post

National Drive Electric Week: Events Around the Country!

This is a guest post by Maria Ramos.  Maria is a freelance writer currently living in Chicago.  She has a Bachelor of Arts degree in English from the University of Illinois at Chicago with a minor in Communication.  She blogs about environmentally friendly tips, technological advancements, and healthy active lifestyles.

National Drive Electric Week is an annual event designed to educate the public about electric vehicles and the benefits of driving them. The event, taking place September 12 – 20,  2015, highlights the increasing availability of electric cars and the accompanying infrastructure. While electric vehicles, including motorcycles and trucks, face their own battery-related challenges, they are significantly better for the environment and can ultimately be less expensive, compared to their gasoline-dependent counterparts.

The concept of National Drive Electric Week originated in 2011. It was initially called National Plug-In Day, but the idea remains the same: to hold simultaneous events all over the United States to promote the use of electric vehicles. The first National Plug-In Day took place in a humble 26 cities, but come 2013, the event proved to be a monumental success.: The day’s events attracted 36,000 attendees to examine 3,000 electric vehicles in 98 cities. Inspired by the event’s success, its organizers decided to expand it, and the first National Drive Electric Week was held in 2014.

So far, over 160 events have been announced for 2015. Read more of this post

Sckoon Menstrual Cup and Cloth Pad Review

WARNING: People who are offended by graphic discussion of menstruation should go read something else.

I first tried a reusable menstrual cup in 1997 and reusable cloth menstrual pads in 2001.  Over the years, I’ve tried a number of different brands, and I’ve written about why these alternatives are better than disposable pads and tampons and lots more about how great they are, with details about how to use them.  This article is about one specific brand whose cup and pad I’ve tried in the past year.  This is my new favorite cup, and the pad is very good, too.

Sckoon is primarily an organic-cotton company.  They make lots of baby clothes and some other cotton items, including cloth menstrual pads.  Recently, they also started making a menstrual cup out of medical-grade silicone (and it comes in an organic cotton storage bag).  Their organic cotton is grown and processed in Egypt, but their menstrual cup is made in USA.  They use recycled materials in packaging.

What I haven’t been able to find out about Sckoon is how to pronounce their name.  They didn’t answer my question, choosing instead to maintain an air of mystery…so I’m going with “Skoon” unless I learn otherwise.

I have joined Sckoon’s affiliate program, so you can click here to get 10% off your order (or manually enter the discount code ER01HG) and I will earn a 10% commission! Read more of this post

6 Unnecessary Types of Cell Phone Call

Three years after I explained how I survive everyday life without a cell phone, I’m still doing fine without one.  I recently took a three-day vacation by myself, and as I often do when traveling alone, I borrowed my partner Daniel’s cell phone for the trip.  However, I found that none of the times I used it was essential, and having it along was as much of an inconvenience as it was a convenience!

I’m not a Luddite who doesn’t believe in modern communication.  Not only did I use email extensively when planning this trip before I left home, but I brought my iPad with me and used it frequently, using wifi in two restaurants as well as my friends’ home, not just to communicate by email about my travel plans and to check maps but also to do unrelated emailing, maintain this site, do some Websurfing just for fun, play some music, use some other apps….  I love being able to carry my computer in my bookbag when I choose to do so (typically, I leave it at home unless I’m traveling overnight) and to do all this fun and useful stuff.  But I also appreciate that the iPad doesn’t shriek at random (to me) moments when someone contacts me, and that using email doesn’t involve shouting in a public place or trying to understand buzzy sounds that resemble a friend’s voice.  It is cell phones, specifically, and the way they are getting used in our culture, that bother me so much.

I made six cell phone calls during the three days.  Every one of them was a type of call I’ve often heard other people making on cell phones in public places.  Every one of them was unnecessary, or could be made from a land line, in the era when we all understood how to live without cell phones.

Call #1: “What do you want from the store?”

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…

Change diapers in bathrooms.

When our child was wearing diapers, Daniel and I found it very easy to stick to this simple rule that teaches the child good habits for the future, simplifies clean-up of your hands and anything else that’s soiled, is more courteous to the people around you, minimizes the spread of germs, and is respectful of your child’s privacy: When you are in a place without a designated diaper-changing area, change diapers in the bathroom. 

Of course, there are some public places where the bathrooms have no changing tables and the floor is far too disgusting to kneel on.  Many parks, for example, have restrooms that are damp, dark, and dirty.  Others have portable toilets, where there simply isn’t space to change a baby.  In places where the bathroom is unusable, change diapers in a private location, on grass or an easily-cleaned surface.  The only situation I can think of where it is truly necessary to change a baby right where you are is on an airplane or long-distance bus, because the bathrooms there are so tiny and there’s really no other space available–you’d have to use your lap or the floor in front of your seat.  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…

A Doorstop from Reused Materials, Delivered By Airplane!

Today is the organizing tips edition of Works-for-Me Wednesday, but I have no new organizing tips to impart.  Check out my articles on Organizing Girl Scout Troop Information and Things Not To Do: Home Organizing Edition.  Meanwhile, here’s an idea for a homemade gift kids can use to surprise their faraway relatives!

In early December, my first-grader was looking at a book of crafts made from trash and came upon this idea: Make a doorstop by decorating a shoebox with scrap fabric or wrapping paper and filling it with gravel.  He wanted to make one. Read more…

Adventure in the Forest Across the Street

A few weeks ago, I explained how we appreciate the little forests within our city.  During our Thanksgiving trip, Nicholas (almost seven years old) and I found a much larger forest to explore–in a place where we never knew there was a forest.

Cousin Mike hosts Thanksgiving in his home near Albany, New York.  I’ve been there many times over the past 15 years.  It’s in a very suburban area, on a loop of roads lined with houses about 20 years old; the loop connects to a highway that leads to many similar residential developments and some businesses, but typically you have to drive several miles to do any errand.  His house is far enough from the highway that you can’t hear traffic.  Vehicles pass by only rarely.  There are no streetlights or curbs.  It feels rather remote to us city mice–but on the other hand, from every window of Mike’s house you can see at least one other house, so it is an obviously human-settled area.

Read more…

A Family Vacation by Public Transit

We took our six-year-old son to visit New York City; Montclair, New Jersey; and Philadelphia, leaving our car at home in Pittsburgh and traveling by train or bus the whole way.  It was great!  We felt it was more relaxing than driving, more pleasant than going by airplane, and generally pretty easy to do.

I’m not claiming that we saved time or money by taking transit.  That’s not the point!  Leaving our car at home reduced pollution, made getting there part of the fun, and allowed us to go 10 full days without driving, which made it a real vacation for us! Read more…

7 Quick Takes on visiting New York City again after 21 years

I grew up in Oklahoma, visiting my grandparents in New York City every summer from age 6 to 14.  Then my grandma died, and my grandpa began spending most of his time in Arizona.  I had two more brief visits in New York before he sold the house when I was 17.  I had thought I would move to New York when I grew up, but I fell in love with Pittsburgh.  I kept wanting to visit New York, but it kept not working out, until this summer.  These are just a few of the things I noticed: Read more…

The Power of Moose

This is a strategy for crossing the street safely in situations where vehicular traffic is reluctant to yield to pedestrians.  A friend of my brother’s explained it to me years ago.

It is based on a simple principle: Nobody will risk crashing a car into a moose.  Hitting a moose obviously would damage the car and driver.  Many drivers are sadly less concerned about hitting a person, perhaps because they figure a person will dart out of their way–moose are not known for darting.  Therefore, if you want cars to let you cross the street, you need the mass of a moose. Read more…

A family trip to Wheeling, West Virginia

Today is the backwards edition of Works-for-Me Wednesday, when writers get to ask for help, so I’ll start with a question: We are planning to visit New York City this summer.  Our son is six years old.  What are some things we should be sure to see, do, eat, etc.?  I visited my grandparents in New York every summer when I was a kid, so I know what was fun then and know that some of those places still exist, but I know some things have changed since I last visited New York in 1990!  [UPDATES: We did the whole trip by public transit, and indeed, some things have changed.]

Now, on to the topic of my headline, our spring-break visit to Wheeling.  We live in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, about an hour and 15 minutes’ drive from Wheeling, but we’d never visited there. Read more…

My Toyota Prius works for me…but not driving works even better!

Update in 2014: We’ve now had our hybrid car for six years, and we still love it!  It saves us even more money now that gas prices have risen; I updated the money-saving calculation below.  There are now several models of Prius available; the one we have seems most similar to the “midsize”.  I still do my daily commute by public transit, now with a new baby!

In this new year, I’ve been evaluating some things from the past year: our grocery spending, my favorite songs, and now our car’s mileage and fuel consumption.  Sure, hybrid cars are advertised as saving a lot of gas, but are they really that great in real-world conditions? Read more…

How to Do Everything!

This article is linked to the greatest tips edition of Works-for-Me Wednesday, where the hostess explains how to get a human on the phone when you call customer service, and more than 178 people have linked to their own helpful tips on how to do all sorts of things.  Here are my own greatest tips:

7 ways to eat less meat.

40 ways kids can help around the house.

13 ways to use less electricity for your lighting.

Toddler discipline in 3 easy steps!

7 product recommendations (NOT paid endorsements!). Read more…

This Crowded World

Today is the entertaining tips edition of Works-for-Me Wednesday, but I don’t feel very well equipped to give advice on entertaining since we don’t have guests nearly as often as I’d like; I’m one of the people who needs to read the host’s article “Entertaining Even When You’re Reluctant” and possibly the book she mentioned, since its Commandment 7 really speaks to me!  I expect that many of this week’s WFMW posts will be about how to entertain beautifully in your home and the wonderful virtue of hospitality, and I certainly agree that this is an important thing and look forward to picking up some tips.  (Actually, a quick glance at the links shows me that a lot of people chose to write about other topics despite the theme.  Oh well, those are probably good tips, too!)

But the idea of hospitality has connected with something else I’ve been thinking about recently, so I’m going to write about hospitality as treating guests and strangers in a warm, friendly, generous way outside our homes, and about how sharing public space has reduced the amount of private space I feel I truly need. Read more…

7 Product Recommendations

Here are some things I really like that I don’t think I’ve mentioned before (I’m not affiliated with nor paid off by any of these companies):

1. Maggie’s Organics cotton crew socks. At first I bought a few pairs because organic cotton is better for the environment, but then I found them so comfortable that I was hardly willing to wear other socks! Maggie’s hold their shape really well, don’t get grimy-looking soles as easily as most socks, don’t smell as bad when they get sweaty, and don’t do that annoying thing of semi-separating into ridges that position themselves at the most sensitive spots on my feet during a long walk. Read more…

Semi-disposable sippy cups

You might be surprised to see EnviroBecca touting the virtues of anything disposable.  After all, I’m all about cloth diapers and hankies and reusable menstrual gear and real dishes even at picnics and just generally reusing everything!

Notice I said semi-disposable.  The sippy cups we prefer are lightweight polypropylene similar to those Gladware and Ziploc containers for storing leftovers–you can wash and reuse them for years, but they’re so inexpensive (<$1 each) that you can treat them as disposable when the situation warrants it: give them away along with the contents, give up on retrieving one that’s rolled under someone else’s parked car, or discard one after something goes moldy in it.  And when you do discard them, they’re recyclable!

Recent conversations have led me to realize that some parents are unaware of this affordable, convenient option in sippy cups, so here’s a picture to help you recognize them in your local drugstore, supermarket, or discount store, and here are some more reasons why they work for us:

  • They’re easier to clean.  Most of the expensive sippy cups have a valve and some interior grooves that are prone to mildew.  The semi-disposable type have a smooth interior and a one-part spout, and they’re transparent so you can see if there’s any gunk remaining.  If milk or juice gets stuck in the tiny holes of the spout, a 10-minute soak in hydrogen peroxide usually will remove it.
  • They don’t lead to breastfeeding problems (if used to give pumped milk to a baby who won’t take a bottle when away from mom) because the one-part spout with small holes requires more suction than a valved spout, so the baby doesn’t become a lazy sucker.
  • They don’t contain bisphenol A or vinyl, both of which were common in expensive sippy cups until recent publicity about the health risks.  Polypropylene (#5 plastic) has no known risks.
  • Because the lids snap on rather than screw on, the cup has a smooth rim that’s comfortable for your mouth if you want to drink without the lid.  Consequently, we often use these cups for the whole family when we’re away from home, putting on a sippy lid only when our 4-year-old requests one.  Only the keenest observer will notice that your solid-colored plastic cup has a widdle doggy with checkered ears embossed on it!
  • They’re really pretty durable.  We’ve bought a total of 12 in 4 years, and we’ve still got most of them.  They do get damaged if your child decides to chew on them.  Oh, and if a semi-disposable sippy cup is very full and is hurled with great force at a hard surface, it can explode like a bomb–we learned that the exciting way!
  • They’re so thin that they stack very nicely, so a large supply takes up only a small space in the cabinet.  It’s nice to have enough for all the guests at a toddler’s birthday party–and if you buy a pack with a variety of colors, you can mix cup and lid colors so that each child has a unique-looking cup.

The only bad thing I’ve heard about them is that some babies (particularly those who are bottle-fed) are unwilling or unable to suck hard enough to use this type of spout . . . but they generally outgrow that after a few months.

We never encouraged our kid to walk around with a sippy cup all the time (may be bad for dental development; might turn him into one of those adults who can’t survive without a bottle of water at all times) but they sure are handy for long car trips, picnics on uneven territory, and transporting beverages from place to place!