Secrets from the USPS

As most of you know, we traveled back to Pittsburgh for the holidays. That meant we had to figure out a way to get some presents home without the use of a car (because yes, driving across the country twice in one year was plenty).

No problem. I’ve shipped a box or seven in my day. We packed everything up into four well-taped packages and headed off to the post office. It was a Saturday. This will be important later.

On Tuesday the first box came. Followed on Wednesday by the next two. I thought it was a little weird that four boxes mailed together from the same place at the same wouldn’t arrive that way, but…I bet you see where this is heading.

The following Monday, a full week and two days from the original mail date, the fourth and final box arrived, sort of. It was dented and haphazardly wrapped in plastic, and when I got it inside, the bottom dropped out. Oh. Okay. So much for my spectacular taping job. Nothing seemed to be damaged, but hey…

Where was Avi’s video game? My new drawing pencils? The postcard kit? The sundial?!

All told there were about nine items missing. Not damaged, just…gone.

It gets better.

This note was inside:

USPS note

It’s possible that my favorite part is the fact that “San Francisco” is spelled wrong.

I spent several days trying to speak to someone at the bulk mail center and when I finally did, here’s what she said.

“What people don’t understand is, we have a lot of heavy machinery here. It doesn’t matter how well you wrap your boxes, they come in contact with very sharp metal that can just cut right through, even if you pack it real tight.”


“We have miles and miles and miles of conveyor belts. And a three story drop at the end. The boxes just fall right down. There are three drops, actually, so if items are separated from their boxes, they could go down different drops.”


“We have a policy about putting things back in boxes unless we know for sure they came from the box originally. Otherwise we have people ordering lingerie and getting car parts.”

I laughed a little at that.

“Don’t laugh! I took that phone call.”


She told me that the best they could do was send me a form that I could fill out describing all of the lost items in detail. That form would be sent to Atlanta, where there is apparently a warehouse of everything anyone has ever lost through the USPS. I’m picturing an Amazon-like environment (the company, not the jungle. Although: that’s funny.) with USPS employees walking up and down aisles trying to match my random shit on the list with the random shit in the bins. This will only end poorly.

Except there is a promising epilogue.

On January 31, roughly three and a half weeks from that ill-fated Saturday, my sister-in-law texted me a photo of Avi’s Just Dance Kids Wii game. She had tucked the sticker receipt on the back of the game and it still had her own address visible. It was in her mailbox – no packaging, just like, here. Have this. Thanks?

She’s mailing it to us.┬áJust watch out for that special sharp metal, package-cutting machinery the USPS uses, okay?


Coping Mechanism

My friend Adam posts these short lists on occasion, and the structure always makes me chuckle. I’ve had this one in my head since we arrived at the airport on Monday and I had to say goodbye to my parents again for what is probably quite a long time.

An Incomplete Lists of Things I Will Not Miss About Pittsburgh:

1) Snow.

2) Boots as a necessity (see item 1) rather than an accessory.

3) Single digit temperatures.

4) Winter coats (see item 3).

5) Dry skin (see item 3 again).

6) Living out of a suitcase.

Yup, this is a good list. It completely glosses over all the heavy stuff in favor of pithy climate commentary. Doesn’t at all touch on how much I will miss my family or friends, especially the ones I totally failed to meet up with when I was in town. Doesn’t cover how exciting it is to see big changes in little people – the unfortunate but joyous side effect of distance from two rapidly growing children.

But we’re home again on the west coast, and it’s good to be back. I told Avi that it’s okay to have two different feelings about one thing: in other words, we can feel pleased and relieved to be back home safe and sound while still being sad to leave Pittsburgh and the people we love.

It’s a complex way of thinking for a kid. For his adults, too.

Nothing says lovin’ like fried potatoes in the oven.

I’ve never really been in a position to establish new family traditions since I was always the one living close to Pittsburgh. But while going back east regularly is extremely important to us, it’s also pretty necessary that we have new plans in our new home. Luckily, April and I are very good at this, because we understand the essential component of a good tradition: food.

Did you know that until recently I had never made latkes from scratch? True story. I finally have a kitchen with enough surface area to thoroughly trash while doing so, so I figured what the heck. Let’s grate the potatoes by hand, even!


Yeah. So that was pretty successful, not going to lie.

Matzoh ball soup, check. April’s delicious brisket – whose one fatal flaw was not being bigger so there were more leftovers, check.

Hanukkah table

(This was about the point where I realized my casual plastic placemats and lack of tablecloth were, well, lacking. Next time I’ll work harder on the presentation. See also: not wearing my jammies to the dinner table.)

Candles were lit. Blessings were sung. Passive voice was written.

And then, dreidel. Popular among the under 8 crowd, especially. There is something intrinsically appealing about counting gold and silver coins.

Jonah with dreidel

Actual spinning is optional, however. (So is knowing the rules of the game.)

We ended the night with full bellies and happy hearts. Seriously. It would have been a Norman Rockwell-worthy evening if not for the soft pants.


Mussels: Achievement Unlocked

There’s a point when you’re making mussels for dinner where it becomes undeniably obvious that you are in fact preparing a live animal for consumption. That point most likely occurs during the “cleaning and de-bearding” stage – which, let’s be clear, is made worse by the use of the word “de-bearding” – when the mussels can get protective of their little beardy bits (seriously, what the hell are those, anyway?) and pull them back inside their shells.

Don’t freak out. This is perfectly normal self preservation behavior for a live animal about to become a tasty tasty snack. Says the former vegetarian.

I’d never prepared mussels at home, but our family’s love of all things mollusk is well documented (though we prefer them sans starfish, thank you very much). This weekend, inspired by San Francisco’s crab season (totally a thing) I went a little seafood crazy at the market. In addition to dungeness crabs, I also picked up 5 lbs of mussels.

Five pounds? you say. That sounds like a lot.


Oh yeah. It is.

I opted to go the traditional white wine route, adding tomatoes, onions, garlic, thyme, rosemary, sage and parsley, like you do. It made for a lovely presentation.

mussels with white wine sauce

Coupled with crusty bread for sauce sopping, I’d say this was a pretty successful first attempt at making mussels in the comfort of my own kitchen. We didn’t actually finish all 5 lbs, by the way. Not that you can tell from the carnage below.


But now Avi has an enviable lunch of leftovers to take to school, and I have conquered one aspect of a previously intimidating cooking category.

What should be next?

Generations of Artists

The first *real* artist I met was my nana. She was a quilter. She was also a nurse, wife, mother, grandmother and great grandmother. But she earned a reputation for her quilting, one that I was aware of even as a child. I think I have a memory of visiting a fabric store with her as she gathered supplies for a quilting contest celebrating Grand Lake St. Mary’s, but it’s possible I’m remembering a different time. I’m pretty sure I can also picture us visiting where her winning quilt was on display, but again, I unfortunately can’t be sure if what I have is a true recollection.

What I do have are several of her quilts and wall hangings. We just returned from our first visit to Pittsburgh since we Moved Across The Country, and I brought back the very first quilt my nana made for me.

(Cat not included. Since we returned home, she is practically attached to my hip and wasn’t interested in my attempts to capture the quilt for posterity sans feline.)

This quilt was completed in 1981. I know that because my nana always signed her work. Avi would probably tell you that’s what made her an artist.

Two observations: this was clearly done before I was calling her “nana”, and I recognized her “handwriting” in the embroidery. Wow.

While we were in Pittsburgh, I also got to make some great art with my four year old niece. We did some simple printmaking together and I watched her draw. She is extraordinary. Her understanding of spatial relationships and composition and expression is years and years ahead of most children her age. I am consistently astounded by what she is capable of, and this is me as a parent and former art teacher saying that.

I know a lot of *real* artists now. Masters of media of all types. Sometimes I even play that role myself. It’s such a part of my life that I often take it for granted. It was nurtured in me by family and teachers…it is who I am, no matter what I do.

And I would be honored to be a link between the artist my nana was and the artist my niece may become.

Pants on Fire

(My mom is going to have a field day with this one.)

So Avi has been fibbing. A lot. Almost always to cover up for something that he didn’t do (getting dressed for school, putting away his hockey equipment, finishing his homework) because instead he was doing something he’d rather do (mostly, read for fun).

I get it. I really do. I get lost in books all the time, and have for as long as I can remember. There is almost nothing negative I can say about that trait- except for the time management component, and it took me years to find a balance for it myself. (Some would argue I still haven’t.) He’s reading- and comprehending- almost four grade levels ahead, and consuming books at a voracious pace.* There is nothing cooler than watching your 7 year old fall in love with a book you remember reading at his age AND THEN TALKING WITH HIM ABOUT IT. I made my own private book club, you guys.

That being said, the fibbing thing? Opposite of cool. And he’s SO BAD AT IT. Not that I want him to be a good liar, but whoa. (Was I that bad at lying as a kid, mom? Probably. I always got caught.) He has like six definite physical tells, ranging from the way his eyes move to how he juts out his chin to the insistent tone of voice he uses. And then the things he says! For a kid with a super imagination, he really doesn’t put a lot of effort into creative explanations.

Last week he had a “book report” worksheet for school. We have a deal that he doesn’t have to use one of his regular chapter books for these worksheets, since they’re designed to be used with second grade level books. He basically has to write a sentence or two describing the beginning, middle and end of the story, so rather than trying to summarize Harriet The Spy in six sentences he uses something like Lyle, Lyle Crocodile.

I walked past his room and he was sitting on the floor reading a different book. I reminded him that he needed to finish his homework and that dinner would be ready in half an hour. Plenty of time. When I walked back to check on him right before dinner, he was still on the floor reading the same book. Okay. Not catastrophic, although kind of a bummer that he’d have to go back to working after dinner. But here’s where everything went sideways. When I said, “Avi, you were supposed to be finishing your homework,” he fake-startled, looked at me, looked at the book in his hands and said, “Oh! I must have picked up the wrong book by accident!”

Uh, what?

He then spent the entire dinner arguing that he had in fact gotten the wrong book accidentally and just hadn’t noticed, despite the fact that that didn’t make any sense whatsoever in this particular configuration of time and space. By the time he finished eating, he was finally able to acknowledge that he had just gotten caught up in the book he wanted to read and then was frustrated and embarrassed that he’d missed the chance to complete his homework as planned. Also annoyed that he’d gotten caught. Seriously, he said that. “It’s annoying to me that you noticed.” Sorry, buddy.

I’m torn about how to handle this. I don’t want the fibbing to continue or get worse, and I don’t want to discourage the reading. I want him to take care of the things he needs to take care of, and I want to give him the supervised autonomy to do them without me hucking him every five minutes. Is it impossible to have it both ways?

That Thing You Do

Is navel gazing strictly reserved for those with child? Or is my association of the two based on the book of photographs by Charlee Brodsky that my friend Alisa sent me when I was pregnant?

(Because I’m not. Pregnant.)

But I have been almost embarrassingly introspective these past few months year.

Strike that. It’s not (that) embarrassing. It’s actually understandable and appropriate and I guess I just needed time to reconcile all of those FEELINGS before trying to WRITE about them.

We made A Big Decision ten months (!!) ago and Moved Across The Country over the summer. (Anyone who doesn’t think selective capitalization [or parentheses] is effective should try their own Move for comparison.) It probably goes without saying that in order to do that I had to quit my job. It was (is) still weird not to be working full time. Hold that thought.

Two (!!!) cross-country drives and several hundred boxes later, California (and the Kralls) welcomed us.

It’s criminally beautiful here. I could gush about the produce all day. Avi has piles of new friends and we love his new school. Being less than a mile away from our closest friends is a perk I can’t even put into words most days.

If this place weren’t so far away from Pittsburgh it would truly be perfect. And by “Pittsburgh” I mean “the people we love and miss very dearly”. I said something today about “going home” – meaning Pittsburgh – and immediately felt guilty. I don’t know why. We’ve only been here five months. I lived there for most of 32 years.

I love the freedom and flexibility here. I love the time (and produce. Have I mentioned the produce?!) I have to cook healthy foods. I get to hang out with Avi more now than any other time since he was 9 months old. Awesome.

I’ve also been writing. And drawing. And writing and drawing. Apparently years of stifled creative energy can explode all at once if you’re not careful about how you release it when you finally have the time.

I have a lot of options, and that’s probably why I’ve been feeling so unmoored. And excited. And scared. Way back when we started talking about Moving Across The Country, the theme song (or lyric of choice, I guess) was usually Little Red’s “excited AND scared” from INTO THE WOODS. I think it’s taken me this long to realize that it wasn’t just the Move that had me feeling that way.