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.”

And

“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.”

And

“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.”

Oh.

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. Just watch out for that special sharp metal, package-cutting machinery the USPS uses, okay?

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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.

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?

#lobsterbake2011

Last weekend was the annual lobster bake at the mountain house, a tradition started years ago by a group of work friends, which we were not, that grew to include families of those friends, which we are, and for which we are now tremendously grateful to be a part of.

The weather was practically perfect, unlike past years when the event was held later in the fall – yielding gorgeous photos of snow dusted foliage,

almost the same view of the woods from yesterday, with snow

but shivering lobster eaters huddled inside. (That photo is from #lobsterbake2009)

Avi is a big lobster fan, and much like we’ve had to start getting him his own mussels at restaurants (or be very careful with the rationing lest he eat our entire order), he had his own lobster this year.

He did a pretty solid number on the thing, gamely cracking and twisting to get to the meat and asking for help with the really tricky parts.

He almost gave away his entire tail, deeming the meat “too tough”, but we realized he had some thicker bits from the edge of the body in his mouth and convinced him to give the lusciously sweet tail a second try. Remind me again why we did that?

One of the best things about the lobster bake is the rest of the non-lobster food, a delicious smorgasbord of homemade delights and awesome store-bought crap food (Doritos!) that I don’t normally get to eat. In case I didn’t make it abundantly clear, lobster bakes are solidly in the cheat day category, i.e. 100% NOT x diet friendly!

But x diet influenced our day regardless, as I discovered that it’s difficult to go from one extreme to another, though maybe not how you’re thinking. I made chocolate chip cookies to add to the supplemental food extravaganza. Unfortunately, the thing about baking for real after baking like this is that you may not have all the ingredients in the house that ordinarily you’d take for granted. Like, uh, flour. And sugar. Oops.

My adaptation was a roaring success, however. Enough that I promised the recipe (!) to not one but three different people. Here goes nothing.

(Sort of) Coconut Chocolate Chip Cookies

1 cup all purpose flour
1 cup whole wheat flour
2 cups coconut flour
3/4 cup unsalted butter
3/4 cup coconut oil
2 cups dark brown sugar (I may have had to stop midway through mixing to acquire this.)
1 cup sugar (This one, too.)
1 tsp kosher salt
1 tsp baking soda
2 tbs vanilla extract
4 large (good) eggs
1 bar of decent semisweet baking chocolate
oil, spray or butter for coating the glassware

Right off the bat I should note that this makes a lot of cookies. A LOT. But they are done blondie style, so you can control the size of your cuts. They also freeze beautifully.

Preheat your oven to 325 degrees. I was able to do all three of my dishes of cookies together (more on that in a bit), but you may have to stagger your baking depending on your oven.

Mix dry ingredients (not sugars) really well  in one bowl and set aside. Melt butter then coconut oil into the butter (it helps them combine) and set aside to cool. Stir in brown sugar, sugar, vanilla to the  butter/oil combo. While it continues to cool (seriously, you don’t want your eggs to get funky, do you?) chip apart the chocolate bar. Add the eggs to the wet ingredients, then the dry to the wet. It’s going to be crumblier than your typical cookie dough, but that’s why we do them as blondies. Stir in the chocolate shavings/chips/whatever you managed to do with the bar.

For baking, I used 2 9 inch Pyrex pie plates and 2 small 5×5 glass dishes from Ikea. I baked one of the Ikea dishes at home, then chilled the rest of the dough and took it up to the mountains for the lobster bake. I could have easily fit all four dishes on two racks in my oven, though. There seemed to be no major baking-uniformity issue, either.

Spray or coat the glass dishes with whatever stick-free method you prefer. Press the dough in until the bottom is completely covered – I think most of my cookies were about 1 inch thick.

The coconut taste is so subtle that several coconut-haters were fooled. And the fine texture of the dough due to the coconut flour goes nicely with the irregular chocolate chunky slivers. Seriously, it does!

I recommend East End Fat Gary as the perfect accompaniment to these cookies, but then again, I recommend Fat Gary to go along with pretty much anything. I do not, however, recommend anyone try this at home:

Or else you will be mocked. And subject to inside jokes on The Internet.

But we were on a break!

Dammit, August. I was trying to simplify. Relax. Enjoy the moment. Stop recording life and try living it.

But then you had to go and be awesome, and I have no record of it for The Posterity.

There was great cooking (despite the so-called x diet), family vacations, beautiful beer money (what?!) and of course, Batman. All in a day’s work.

So here’s August:

I’ve been baking, sans gluten or grains of any sort. Raw almond flour is my new favorite ingredient, followed closely by raw, unsweetened coconut. These are delightful, x-friendly and even passed muster with non-x friends at a dinner party.

I also turned these

into these

with the same raw almond flour. Fried green tomatoes a la x. Or something.

Meanwhile, these came

signifying our official “membership” in the Good Beer Investor Program at East End Brewing Company. We were number 21, if I recall correctly. A good omen? Really looking forward to drinking and spreading the Good Beer Cheer (Scott, that should totally be a thing) with these (dare I say?) beautiful beer monies.

Midway through August was vacation time, but before we left for the  beach we had to deal with the snow in Pittsburgh.

As Batman filmed downtown, we were treated to all sorts of vehicle and star-sightings as well as a lovely dusting of prop snow for several days. I missed most of it because I was on campus, but caught a bit at the end. Crazy weather juxtapositioning, since approximately twelve hours after I took that picture, I got to see this

We had a wonderful time at Bethany Beach again this year, due to the fabulous generosity and awesomeness of family. The weather was mostly perfect

and even when it wasn’t, it was beautiful. Exactly what we all needed before the start of the school year(s), since I indeed came right back to this

and this

(Can somebody *please* explain to me the significance of the panda??)

Avi’s hockey practices with his first official team started this month, also. He is very excited.

No really, he is. And we are, too. SHAHA is amazing.  More than worth the lengthy drive to the South Hills several times a week. Also: my hair is so long. Wow. Also also: I was not driving when this picture was taken. But! I can’t wait to see how quickly Avi continues to develop with this sport his whole family loves. His skating skills are really impressive and we can actually see him putting it all together on the ice. So much love!

Yeah, so that was August. I also took my absolute favorite picture of Avi ever (so far) during this month, so even though I’ve shared it with The Entire Internet already, I would be remiss if I didn’t share it again here. He’s so freakin cute, it slays me.

Told ya so.

Bring on September!

Two-handed Birthday

Avi’s birthday was Monday, July 25. He turned 6 years old, which I was fine about until a friend pointed out that my little boy now needs two hands (unless the other party is fluent in ASL) to indicate his age. Whoa. Suddenly that seems so old!

Avi blows out the candles with a little help from his cousin Finley.

In the past year, Avi has learned how to read, count past 100, make his own soy butter and jelly sandwiches, pour his own milk, take showers alone and mostly ride his bike. His ice skating his improved exponentially, and he’s playing on his first mite hockey team. He’s also taking ballet and gymnastics, and if he could add one more activity it would absolutely be drum lessons. Or piano. No, soccer. Tap dancing? Definitely tennis. Or swimming. Oh my gosh, this kid loves everything!

He’s a champion sleeper like his dad and easily distracted like his mom. Good combination.

He is also at least fifty feet tall.

He’s a total ham, with an insatiable appetite for pop music, correct lyrics be damned.

"I throw my hands up in the air sometimes, singing hay-o...we're going to rock this house, like it's dynamite!"

And if you don’t believe me, you can ask youtube.

We recently finished the first Harry Potter book and watched the movie. He is fascinated with magic and spells and especially quidditch.

But he isn’t quite ready to start the second book yet. He is still painfully sensitive sometimes, and worried to the point of tears that Harry, Hermione and Ron might “get in trouble” when they were out of their beds at night.

Sometimes I look at him and can’t find that sleeping baby I remember so well.

So I look and look and look some more.

Universal blog signal for "looking everywhere", right?

Oh! There he is. My baby. My Avi.

Happy birthday.

My Soapbox, or Win Tickets To “The Sound of Music” For Your Family!

I’ve been traveling a lot for work lately. Last week was Chicago, next week is Baltimore. All great trips, but it really hits home how much I love my family when I’m away from them for a couple (or more) days. On top of that, we’ve been so busy already this summer with camp and hockey and ballet – all for Avi, of course – that when we are home we like to sloooooooow down. Much time is spent in the kitchen, and I have a lot of delicious things I should get around to posting, but we’ve also spent some quality time reading and (believe it or not) watching movies. Avi and I finally finished the first Harry Potter book

(Ahem. I have read them all many many many times. He was reading [with me] for the very first time.)

and then I let him watch the movie. We also recently watched one of my favorite movie musicals of all time, “The Sound of Music”. How can you not love this show?! I myself prefer to ignore the political undertones entirely and just enjoy the timeless music. Avi was pretty interested in the puppet show.

I was super excited to see that Pittsburgh CLO is doing the show this summer (that’s right, I said “doing”, as in “locally produced theater”, not a tour) because as everyone knows by this point (and if you don’t, you should) taking kids to live theater is my giant, sparkling clean soapbox. And this! This is theater with kids in it, even! These kids:

They look very Austrian, don’t they?

So, yeah. Pittsburgh CLO’s production of “The Sound of Music” opens next week, and I have a pack of 4 tickets to opening night, Tuesday, July 19, to give away to one lucky reader and his or her family. Just leave a comment below telling me the name of the first show you ever saw. If you want, tell me how old you were, also – but no worries if it was just last week and you’re 42 years old. Theater at any age can be magical. My soapbox has room for everyone. One entry per person, and entries must be in by noon on Sunday, July 17. I’ll use a random number generator to pick the winner and contact that individual directly.

Even the mountains are wholesome, aren’t they? You know you want to go to there.

Disclaimer: Pittsburgh CLO is providing me with four free tickets to use and four tickets to give away. But you knew that since I explained it up above.  You can purchase tickets for “The Sound of Music” here if you don’t win, but I’ll cross my fingers for you.