Monday, January 18, 2016

Dissapointed in my Neighbors

One of my last blog posts on my Mommy blog More Than A Weed was about a man named Bill who washed windows for donations at the gas station near our house. That post here. Bill was a soft spoken man who would not take handouts, only whatever wage he earned by doing an exceptional job washing car windows. He never seemed to remember me, as he was always surprised when I called him by name and asked how he was doing.

He stood out front of the gas station, and when cars pulled in he would amble over with squeegee in hand and ask if he could wash the windows to earn "money for a little something to eat". At the rare time I didn't have any cash on me, he would take my decline with a polite nod of his head and move on to the next motorist. He was hard working, persistent, and unobtrusive.

Which is why my heart hurt when I heard the news on Sunday that he was no longer permitted to work at the gas station. Apparently, the owners of the place had received too many complaints from the community about Bill and his requests to earn money to feed himself by providing a basic service. He made people uncomfortable and they wanted their right to fill their gas tanks without being asked to help a hard working fellow man. Who, by the way, gave no guilty or angry rebuttal when his request to earn his wage was declined.

I am not a saint and there are many ways in which I fail to use my resources to serve those around me. But I could always count on Bill to remind me that my life is not the only one I need to care for. He blessed me every time I stopped for gas by asking me to write his paycheck, even just for his next meal. He answered the prayer that we pray before every meal in our home: Give us grateful hearts our Father for all thy gifts, and make us mindful of the needs of others, through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

As the weather turns cold and I drive past that corner gas station, I find myself looking for Bill. And in the empty spot where he used to stand, I think of him and pray that wherever he is finding shelter and doing other work to earn his wage, that he is safe and warm. I send those thoughts through my car windows that are not as clean as they were when Bill blessed our family with his excellent service.

Friday, January 15, 2016

The Life-Changing Magic

I just recently and spontaneously purchased the popular Marie Kondo book, The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up.


I'm not present season of life involves quite a few things outside of my control or time constraints, most of which are quite untidy and even border on unsanitary, in the case of my small children. I just can't be at every bathroom trip to make sure the final steps are done to my satisfaction. Being tidy is low on my list of daily goals, and even lower on my list of magical things. At the end of the day, my magic is found in a day where everyone made it to where they needed to be and back again. Where bellies were filled and bodies were clothed and we all connected around the dinner table to talk about our days. Being the parent of young children, my goals for the day sometimes don't include laundry or cut grass or oil changes or other necessities of life in the 21st century first world.

Literally there are some days where my magical goal is that no one dies.

Basic human needs. Food, clothing, shelter, school, other humans. This is all I can do some days. Of course it's not always that way...some days we find extra hours to play at the park before dinner, or grab a coffee with a friend before preschool pickup, or fold a drier full of underpants, or have sex before we fall asleep. In this season of life, magic is in the extras.

So I bought this book, perhaps because the fingers of Amazon Prime reached into my brain and scrolled down the list of Recommended Reading? Or perhaps there is something in every human soul that longs for their embodied life to be tidy. Living in the city, there are resources available to me that I like to take advantage of. There are big trucks that thunder down my street every Monday morning to take away trash and recycling from the front sidewalk. This is amazing. As are the sanitation workers who do this essential service- before Pursy was in school every Monday morning we used to sit on the front steps and wait for the garbage truck to come so the kids could yell "Thank You!" from the porch. The guys would give us a wave and a friendly chat while they disposed of our trash, and both of my kids at one point wanted to be garbage men when they grew up. I told them if that's the case then they should watch the guys who work our street because they do their job with excellence.

I also have a Target a few blocks from my house, with endless aisles of tubs, crates, barrels, bags, shelves, etc. to help me organize anything in any room. I can create a place for anything I don't want lying about on the floor. We have small lidded boxes for individual Lego sets, large cloth bins for gloves and hats, big plastic tubs for Christmas decorations and outgrown baby clothes and power tools. If I wanted to, I literally would never have to actually look at anything we possess. Just a stack of containers with a lid that snaps tight.

It does (and is) begging the question in my head and heart, why do I keep all the things I put away? If I am not using it and don't want it within arms reach, why do I need to hang on to it? I believe this is the questions Ms Kondo raises in her book, and her answer is to pass along things to others who might benefit from having that particular item within arms reach. That magic is found not in acquiring, but appreciating. This is all from reading the description on the back of the book and chatting with other people who have read it. Maybe I can save myself some time?... but I've already purchased it (acquiring fail already).

Of course, this is not a new concept from Ms Kondo nor is it a revolutionary idea for me. I have a habit of purchasing things spontaneously and there is a stack of books on my bedside table bearing witness to my love of buying books. Is a beautiful but unread book in a pile better then one lonely book with a bookmark in it?

Knox comes home from wherever his travels take him and immediately runs upstairs to put on his feetie pajamas. And this habit annoys me to death, especially when we weren't done doing things that require clothing, but the look of joy on his face when he runs into the kitchen in those damn feetie pajamas is better for him than a pile of Octonauts toys. He knows what magic is. And he knows where to find it. At immediate arms reach.

Saturday, January 9, 2016

The Welfare of my City

Urban Sunrise. Not exactly the Rockies...

I grew up in the suburbs of Columbus, Ohio. My parents still live in the same type of home, quiet neighborhood, driving distance to grocery store and movie theatre and mall. We moved exactly twice during my time living in my parents house and I have happy memories of playing with neighborhood kids, taking the bus to my private school, mowing the grass on the weekends, going for dinner at places like Bob Evans and Applebees. It was nice. Suburban living has its own charms.

When I moved away for college, I began living urban and have never looked back. Four years ago we settled in a neighborhood in Pittsburgh's East End, and we have put down roots literally and figuratively (our backyard raised bed gardens are a work in progress, but I am optimistic). Although I drive more then I would like, I am within walking distance of just about anything I need to sustain life: food, work, bookstore, hospital, Target. My neighborhood coffee shop is Zeke's, and the owner is a single Dad named Chris who named the place after his grandfather. I am still trying to figure out the baking schedule so I can write in my Moleskin day planner the day they have the cream scones. I would rearrange my life for those scones. A new oyster bar just opened 4 blocks away from us and mixed me a fairly decent sazerac when Grant and I tried out the place for our anniversary last week.

I throw my glass milk jug in the front seat when I need to run up to Bryant Street market, and I hate paying the $2 jug fee when I forget to bring mine in to trade. The dairy farm that sells me my hormone free, roughly homogenized whole milk also provides me with free range eggs that sometimes still have bits of chicken stuff on the shells. I try not to think about what that stuff is...I live in the city because I prefer to be a bit removed from whatever lines the inside of a chicken's egg chute. In the months when Pittsburgh is not a frozen tundra, I can walk to several neighborhood parks and the city pool, ride my bike to work, and map my run to the reservoir at Highland Park for an exactly 4.1 mile loop.

I know my neighbors. When we first moved into East Liberty, the house on the right was rented by a small time drug dealer and his girlfriend, their 3 girls, and several rotating house guests. They were the nicest people you could ever want to live beside, and my kids enjoyed greeting their clients as they came through the backyard on their way to a bag of weed. Across the street live a college professor and her computer engineer husband, down the street is the owner of one of our favorite restaurants for Sunday brunch, and our neighbors on the left encourage us to borrow their gas powered lawn mower every time Ernie sees me outside push mowing our tiny front yard. It really bugs him that I mow the grass at our place, and usually after I have waved at him while mowing, his 15 year old son Tyrese casually wanders over and offers to mow the grass for me. I always decline and he always makes sure I know that his Dad made him come over.

Living in the city isn't always charming and sometimes the excitement is not the sort that makes you want to invite your parents to move next door. The year we moved in there were 3 murders of young kids in quick succession, revenge killings, that rocked the neighborhood pretty hard and led a group of local pastors and city advocates to have Friday evening prayer gatherings for a few months after. Some evenings we sit on the couch in the living room with our heads cocked trying to figure out if that sound we heard was gunshots or fireworks. We have picked endless pieces of litter out of our front yard, my purse was stolen off of the front seat of our car while I carried groceries up the steps of the house, and my parking tickets for forgetting to move my car on street sweeping day are paying for some renovations on a wing of the courthouse.

The verse from Jeremiah talks about seeking the welfare of the city. The prophet was speaking to the Israelites who were in exile from their homeland. Jeremiah was encouraging them to build homes, marry locals, work hard, and be successful. Because as the city prospered, they would prosper. It would do them no good to cloister themselves off and wait to be returned to Israel and the promised land. They were living NOW in the city God had placed them in, and their charge was to seek the welfare of that city.

Grant and I take this call as our own, and want to seek the welfare of Pittsburgh, this city God has placed us in. We are sending our daughter to Pittsburgh Public Schools, we are going to an urban Anglican church, we buy our food from the local farmers co-op, have our neighbors around for G&Ts on the back porch, and I drive a particular way home to get gas from the place where a homeless guy named Bill does a bang up job washing my windows while we chat about the weather.

We live here. We want this city and the inhabitants of it to thrive because our welfare is tied to the welfare of the city. Statistically, 80% of my daughters classmates will be below proficiency reading level by the 3rd grade. So I spend a few hours every Friday morning in her classroom hanging out with these kids, because Pursy's welfare is tied to theirs. I have a network of working Mamas in my neighborhood that I can call when my babysitter has an emergency and I need help with my kids so I can get to the hospital for my shift. Their kids are in our homes, and ours are in theirs. We have to balance work and family so we need each other. Because as their welfare goes, so does ours.

Knox and Pursy take gymnastics classes and swimming lessons at the local Boys and Girls Club. Their coaches are dedicated and wonderful, and I regularly have a random kid ask me if he can use my phone to watch YouTube videos while I sit in the cafeteria waiting for the end of class. Not sure if I am contributing to productive welfare for that kid, but I have seen lots of Silento music videos I would never otherwise have seen. We have a group of Christians in the East End who get together on regular Tuesday evenings for happy hour because not many of us have family in the area and community is essential for health and life. Our welfare is tied to the heartbeat of this beautiful City of Bridges. So I want to write about life here, and how we keep deciding it's worth it to give up a bigger backyard and a garage and a premier school system and a quiet street and a view of the night sky for a life in the city where our vectors intersect in the most beautiful chaos we could ever want for our selves and our kids.

Thanks for reading.