Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Explorations: Riverfront Park

This blog is the first in a series entitles “Explorations”, in which I will explore aspects of my small town which are new to me.

I have always been a sucker for a walk in the park. I just love parks, I have ever since I was a little girl. I guess it is because my childhood home was on a hill, which made learning to skate and ride a bike, or talking a leisurely stroll somewhat prohibitive. Parks, on the other hand, now, they had playgrounds, and walking trails, benches and ponds. They were great places for reflection. Everywhere I have lived, I have always sought out parks, whether they were close enough to walk to, or so far I had to drive 30 minutes.

When I first visited Kittanning, one of the places I immediately fell in love with was Riverfront Park. Running along Water Street, it was newly renovated in the late 1990’s, and includes several memorials, pavilions, and an amphitheater. In fact, the John P. Murtha Amphitheater was the originally planned site for our wedding, until Mother Nature intervened.

I am sure people drive by the park every day, without giving it a second look. But because I did not grown up with it, I find it beautiful, and interesting.

I have driven by this park hundreds of times, and of course spent time in the amphitheater during the wedding prep, but never really took the time to explore the park. I decided today was the day. While the weather was gorgeous, the only flowers blooming were some daffodils (in my head I always call these daffy down dillies). Maybe later in the spring, when more flowers are blooming, I will post more pictures. But in the mean time, please take a few moments to enjoy the pictures of my exploration through Riverfront Park. It looks a bit messy in spots; being close to the river and several days of rain last week has led to sandy debris in the amphitheater. Still, I think there is a quiet, gentle beauty in the images.

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Small town elements: Colorful Characters

I am beginning a new series on my blog, in which I will be writing entries on the elements of a small town that make it interesting.

Are you from a small town? If you are, I bet you know at least one "colorful character" from your town or surrounding area. You know what I am talking about. This person is usually older, often homeless, what many would consider odd, and yet...something about the person pulls on your heartstrings. This person belongs to you, your town, your culture.

I grew up in a small town, not the same one I live in now, but we have our own colorful character back home. His name, or at least the name we all know him by, is Moon Dog. Moon Dog is an older African American man, who rides around on a bike covered with flags. Everyone knows who he is, as soon as they see him. He is well knows for riding in the Christmas Parades of all the local towns. So popular is Moon Dog, the local minor league affiliate hockey team made a bobble head in his likeness for a give away at a game.

Now that I live in a new small town, there is a new "colorful character" for me to get to know. Actually, not one, two, but they function as one unit. Sadly, I have not yet learned their names, and can only refer to them as The Twins.

The Twins are older women, tiny little things, from what I can tell, identical twins. I do not know if they are homeless, rumors say they are. Rumors also say they are wealthy and eccentric, so who knows. All I know is they are always in the same clothes, no matter what the weather (and of course they match each other). They can be seen in local stores and restaurants where they often clean up in the restrooms. They carry bags with them, which seem to hold all their worldly possessions, though who knows what they really contain. And they often fight with each other in a secret twin language.

Not that long ago, some punk tried to mug one of the twins, stealing her bag. It happened in the parking lot of a local store, and one of the store employees chased the hooligan into a wooded area, and tackled him, keeping him in custody until the police came. The Twin's bag was recovered. I am not sure what happened after that.

It seems there is much that is unclear or unknown about The Twins, as is common with "colorful characters" in any small town. But what I do know is this...we take care of our own. I remember someone once stole Moon Dog's bike, and someone in the community gave him a new one. The same with The Twins, and that employee chasing down their mugger. We may not understand these folks, though I personally would love to, but we do recognize them as a part of our community, and we take care of them in the ways we can.

Sunday, March 28, 2010

My Grandfather's Grocery Store

When I was a kid, we often played a game I refer to as My Grandfather's Grocery Store. Basically, a group of people are sitting around and one says "My grandfather owns a grocery store, and in it he sells something that begins with the letter A". Everyone tries to guess what the item is, and who ever guesses goes next, using the letter B, and so on through the entire alphabet. It was a great game to keep us kids occupied on long car trips.

Once my sister's kids were old enough, we played the game with them as well. It was great on holidays when everyone was too full from the obligatory feasting to move anything other than their mouths. Even though my niece and nephew were of the Playstation generation, often needing special effects or high tech graphics to keep them entertained, they did seem to find this game pretty engaging. It was a challenge to see if you could stump everyone else, to see who could guess the item first, and to see who guessed correctly the most times. It is a game that really allowed kids to use their imagination, because let's face it, that letter Q is a toughie.

However, I fear that in a couple more generations, this game may become extinct to the majority of kids, because the small town grocery store is dying. Even in my small town, and the small towns around me, there are only a couple of actual small town grocery stores, not belonging to a national chain. My husband will often tell me that 10 years ago, it was a different story.

It is hard for mom and pop places to compete with national chain stores. And I myself am completely guilty of favoring the convenience of one stop shop, or a shopping center, over shopping in town. Also, it is hard to beat the prices of a bigger chain. But still, when I lived closer to Pittsburgh, I would often shop in the Strip District, and see it as an adventure. So, maybe as the weather warms, I should explore the small shops in my town, and surrounding small towns, to try to give them some of my business. I do not want the small town store to die. Because, let's face it, My Grandfathers Walmart and My Grandfather's Whole Foods just do not have the same ring to them.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

The beauty of a failure

My biggest fear in life? Failure. That I will fail myself, my loved ones, my God. For years I would go to great lengths to avoid failure. Even if that length meant sacrificing something, for fear I would fail at it. I have done that so many times.

Recently, I failed at something that I thought I really wanted. And I failed epically. In 2008, while working for a company that was involved in higher education, I decided to pursue a doctorate degree in educational leadership. This was a huge undertaking for me, and I told everyone I knew. I put it on my myspace page, I put it on my facebook page, I sent emails to my friends. Someday, everyone would call me "Dr.". I was excited and scared and proud all at the same time.

In my first class, I made an amazing connection with my professor, which was even more incredible being that I was taking classes online. She supported and encouraged me, and set me as an example to the other students in the class. She treated me as a peer. I got 100% in that first doctorate class. I felt certain this was the path I was supposed to be on. Several months later, I had to travel to Chicago for a residency weekend, and again, I was in love with the program, and my path. This is most definitely for me. However, by that time, I had started dating Hubby, the Boyfriend, so it was hard to balance everything. But I could handle it. Right?

Then, I got a promotion at work. I had been working toward this for several months, taking on part of the responsibilities to prove I was worthy, so I could handle this, right? Wrong. I failed at the promotion. Best thing that ever happened to me. I am so not management material. In retrospect, I should have listened to my heart a few months into the hiring process and withdrew my name from contention. The other girl would have done a better job. But I think she is happier now anyway. All things for a reason, eh? So, ok, that failure was out of the way, I could focus more on school again.

Except, then Hubby, then Boyfriend,'s dad died. And everything else ceased to matter. Then the engagement, the wedding plans, the house purchase and was no longer a priority, and it was no longer the path God wanted me on. I tried, I fought Him tooth and nail. And I failed classes. Me, who never so much as got an F on a homework assignment in any of my previous 21 years of education, kindergarten through masters degree, ME. I was a failure. It was humbling.

I realized that God wanted me to focus on myself, and my health, my physical, emotional, and spiritual health. He wanted me to focus on my Hubby, and our home, and helping to establish ourselves as a family.

But...was this really a failure? In some ways, most definitely yes. My transcript will attest to that, as will my student loan payments. And my pride most certainly felt it at the time.

But, this was something I had to experience. I needed to learn that failure is not the worst thing in the world, and the only way to learn that was to fail. God loves me despite my failings. That is the beauty of grace. Our failures do not define us, but they do shape us into the person God wants us to be.

And I always knew that, I just had to believe it. And in order to believe it, I had to experience it.

So, there you have it. I failed. I was a failure. And it was a blessing.

Saturday, March 20, 2010

Small Town Government in Action

I usually try to stay away from politics. I just find it a little too brutal. So much bashing going on, left vs. right, Church vs. state, red vs. blue. I know some of that is to be expected, but anymore, it seems to be so, well, personal, focusing on the evils of a specific person, or an entire party, instead of a flawed theory, action, or ideology.

But politics, unfortunately, are everywhere, and can make life miserable. Politics exist in schools, the workplace, and in small town living.

However, I want to focus on politics in government, specifically, small town government, and even more specifically, my small town.

Back in January, out town started this project on the streets, digging them up and replacing sewage and gas lines in my part of town. My street was completely dug up. As in, we have no real road left in most places, just piles of dirt and gravel. When the snows hit, our street really did not get plowed because of this, until someone (yours truly) called the streets department and complained after Hubby's car got stuck.

So now that the snow has melted, our street is a dirty, gravely, dusty mess every time a car goes down. Even worse, the construction vehicles are being stored on the end of the street, so, our poor street has some major wear and tear.

At this point, I should mention that an elected official lives on our street. In terms of small town government, he is pretty influential. And yet our street looks positively post apocalyptic, and will for another seven weeks I am told.

This week, a huge hole developed in the street. So bad that you really could not drive over it. The crew working on the street put a cone in it. Then they put some dirt in it. And then it rained. So you know what happened, the hole opened up again. So frustrating.

Yesterday, as I sat outside waiting for Hubby to get home from work, I saw aforementioned elected official take two wheel barrow loads of gravel and dirt and fill the hole, then spread it around evenly so cars can safely pass over it.

To me, this was a tremendous metaphor for government in action. He could have pointed fingers, and complained, but instead, he rolled up his sleeves, and did the job himself. I think if more of this would happen, we could all meet closer to the middle.

Friday, March 19, 2010

Storms and rainbows

About this time last year, Hubby and I were looking for an house. And we found a house that we had absolutely loved. It was in the middle of the triangle that housed my then employer, his employer, and his parents' home. It seemed perfect. Good price too, because it was being sold on a short sale. So, we made a bid.

Here is a tip for anyone looking to buy a home.....never try to buy a short sale.

For one thing, it is never short. It is a step above a foreclosure, meaning there are still owners, but the bank on the current mortgage is the actual seller. Often they are just trying to cut their losses before foreclosure happens. At least this was the way we understood it. So, knowing we had to be into a house before the end of last summer, we made an offer in March of 2009. And we waited. And waited. AND WAITED. We knew it would take a while, but we were getting antsy.

Then, Hubby's dad passed away in May, and our world sort of stood still for a while. Suddenly we had so many things to sort through, decisions to make, and I was not even sure we would still be proceeding with out future together in the same time frame as we had been. That is, until Hubby proposed to me in June. Within a few days, we had set the date for October, yes, just s few months to plan the wedding, and get the house and move in. But the realtor assurred us that we could fill out pre-occupancy paperwork on the house we were in the works on, waiting for the closing.

Just as we thought we were home free, another blow.....the house, the one we had just spent almost 4 months waiting on....we were not getting it. The bank canceled the sale. We later learned that the owners were squatting there, and we suspect they made a deal with the bank to keep the house. I will never forget the day Hubby told me this news. It was the middle of a terrible storm in the Pittsburgh area, a storm that was echoed in my heart.

At a loss, we agreed to meet at the Get Go in Sarver, where they had free Wi-fi, and look for house listings. We sat there as the storm raged on. We did not find anything that night, and the storm was so bad, I was stuck in Kittanning, I even had to buy clothes to wear to work the next day. I was heartbroken, and felt like my life would never be settled again. But the Lord had other plans for me, just as promised in Jeremiah.

Eventually, we did find a house, and a new realtor, who made it happen for us. She got us in our home in the time frame we needed . One of the many rainbows after a storm.

The next storm was the wedding. We planned a gorgeous outdoor wedding, only to wake up on our wedding day to......storms. It poured all day. I was once again heartbroken. Then, through the intervention of angels, as well as good friends, we got the wedding moved to a church just a block away from our outdoor site, just 30 minutes before the ceremony started. It went off without a hitch. Again, another rainbow.

The last few months have been a little rough for me. I have not been working, out of choice, and have been trying to find my path in life. I recently withdrew from my doctoral program, something that I thought was a dream and a passion of mine. I felt like I was never going to find my passion or purpose. Another storm, and again, another chance for intervention from above.

I decided last month to start blogging again, and I have 3 blogs total. This one, one on our pets, and one on book reviews. It started out as a creative outlet. It has since turned into a rainbow.

On my book review blog, I have been reviewing books, and when possible, trying to increase exposure by posting links to the blogs on related fan pages and such. When I reviewed a book called Pregnant Pause, I sent the blog to the author. She put the link to it in her personal blog. I was astounded. Then I reviewed a book about and by a holocaust survivor, called Four Perfect Pebbles. On a whim, I sent the review to the authoress and survivor, Marion Blumenthal Lazan. Not only did she read it, but she emailed me back asking if she could call me. So today, she called me, and asked if she could use my review to help promote her book, and for publicity purposes. Again, I was astounded. I told her I would be honored, and I swear, my heart sang a little. Perhaps, I am finding my passion, and God is helping me make connections that will allow me to successfully pursue it; I really hope so, but I guess only time will tell.

For now, what I can tell you, without a doubt, is that when life presents you with a storm, God presents you with a rainbow.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Norman Rockwell Moment

One of the things I most love about living in a small town is the realness of life and people you meet. There is little reason to be phony or put on airs in a small town, because everyone know who you really are anyway.

Last night, we caught a glimpse of the genuine, in what I call a Norman Rockwell Moment. One of those moments of pure Americana, where no one cares about the Healthcare Bill, or the price of gas, where bipartisan affiliation plays no part, where social standing has no effect.

After we ate dinner last night, Hubby asked what I wanted to do. I immediately said, let's go to Jordan's. Jordan's Soft Serve is an ice cream parlor owned and operated by hubby's old neighbors, who live next to my mother in law. They make the BEST banana splits in the world, and I wanted to have one. He agreed.

So we go, and we order our banana split as we chat to the owner, who promptly tells us, its on the house, a "wedding gift" (we have been married almost 6 months). He also upgrades it from a small to a large. So we totter into the section where the booths are, and I select a booth next to an older couple. A large party of people, maybe about 6-8, were at a table a few feet away. Suddenly, the owner comes out to that table to wish one of the women at the table Happy Birthday.

As he does, the man from the table behind us starts to play the Happy Birthday Song on a harmonica. I can not tell you how long it has been since I heard a harmonica. I think it was actually the woman's birthday too, which I am guessing was his wife, so a mini celebration happened via harmonica. He then launched into Danny Boy, and How Great Thou Art.

Moments like these only happen in small towns. And while this may not be the same small town I was raised in, this is now my small town, and I am quickly growing to love it.

Sunday, March 14, 2010

Being married to a "10"

Last night my husband, our friend JKB, and I all went to see the movie "She's Out of My League". I really recommend it. Even though the movie was kind of predictable, I absolutely loved it, for 2 reasons.

Reason #1: I love Pittsburgh

This movie was set and filmed in Pittsburgh. And it made no bones about it. If you knew anything about Pittsburgh, you knew immediately that this was where the film was set. And let me tell you, the cinematography made this city shine. In this movie, Pittsburgh looked like the most beautiful city in the world. It was a city full of culture, and pizazz, but also full of simple hard working folks. As a non-native to Pittsburgh, this is exactly how I have always seen the city. I have been having a love affair with this city for as long as I can remember, and this movie reiterated why. While the movie may not get rave reviews for plot or acting, both of which I enjoyed, I hope people all over can see the loveliness of our town.

Reason #2: It summed up exactly how I feel about my husband.

The whole premise of the movie is this guy who sees himself as a "5" gets involved with a girl who is a "10", and feels like it won't work, when in reality, the girl sees him as a "10" as well. I know exactly how she feels. All the time, since we first became friends, then dated, now are married, my husband has always said I am too good for him, or out of his league, or that he does not deserve me, and he does not seem to understand why I ended up with him. He always says he is so lucky.

But to me, he is a 10.

First of all, despite what he may think, my husband is so handsome. So many people tell me so. He has the most beautiful brown eyes, so warm, and his smile, it makes him look like a little boy, and I just melt. I think we make an incredibly good looking couple. Do we have flaws, sure. But I think he is the sexiest, most handsome man I have ever known.

Second, he is so smart, and he challenges and pushes me intellectually. This is not something I often find in men. Beyond the trite "how was your day" discussions, we often talk about politics, or history, or philosophy, over the dinner table.

Third, and most importantly, he waited for me. His patience is beyond compare. For 2.5 years, he patiently and prudently waited, listening to me drone on about all the terrible dates I had been on, and all the awful experiences I had in my life, all the while turning him down for dates. I would not even meet him in public, yet he was pretty much my best friend. He cared about me in a way no one ever has, or ever will again. It is hard for me to put into words how much it meant that he gave me the time I needed to realize I was desperately in love with him.

My husband sees all the ways he is different from other men, and he thinks these things are bad. And I must admit, at first, I was taken aback by some of them as well. But all these things turned out to be a blessing. His differences are what makes him him. They are what makes him a 10.

And I will forever think I am the lucky one.

Monday, March 8, 2010

And here I thought the Swedish Made Penis Enhancer Pump Gag Died with Austin Powers

Life as a stay at home wife during a really snowy winter has left me with lots of down time. Add occasional insomnia, potty training a puppy, and a cat in heat to the mix, and, well, I watch a lot of t.v. Sometimes the channels and hours are odd, and for that, I can accept that I will see commercials that are unsavory to say the least. Party lines. Girls Gone Wild. Online Booty Call websites. Ok, at 4 am or on Spike TV, these commercials, while not entirely acceptable, are some what expected.

However, today, I have been watching AMC. American Movie Classics. All morning. First Philadelphia, now Silence of the Lambs. In between doing house work and taking care of the pets, I have been watching snippets of these movies. And at least 15 times now, on this channel, in the middle of the day, I have seen commercials for ExtenZe. And it is the same damn commercial.

It shows a guy putting an orange into a penis pump,

and freaking out when it gets sucked up.

So instead he buys EntenZe. What the hell?

Come on AMC are you hurting for money that bad? Or is this just the damn Dish Network not discriminating on their advertising spots. Save that shit for the late night shows.

Thursday, March 4, 2010

First comes love, then comes marriage, then.....we wait.

I have always been what you would consider maternal. Many of my friends’ children warm to me pretty well, and I think many people can see that I love kids a lot. And I guess once people know you are getting married, the next logical step is children. But I wish people would have let the ink on the marriage license dry before the pressure started.

I know that I am thirtysomething, and that my time to conceive is limited, but my husband and I needed, and still need, some time to adjust. In the year before our marriage we dealt with a long distance relationship, cancer of a loved one, death of a loved one, engagement, losing a deal on a home, finding another home and buying it, moving, planning a wedding, a doctoral program, a promotion, and stepping down from the promotion, in addition to the every day stressors. It was imperative that we have time to ourselves. We would never be newlyweds again, and we wanted to enjoy it.

But immediately, the pressure started. Several friends, from several different circles of friends, announced they were pregnant, and the question always loomed, when will you be? When I would not drink a glass of wine one night, my mom asked in front of everyone if I was pregnant. His mom gave me a box of baby clothes as one of my Christmas gifts. If I mentioned on my facebook status that I was under the weather, everyone assumed it was morning sickness.

What makes it socially acceptable for people to pressure us and interrogate us as to why we are not pregnant? Had you considered some of the possible answers? What if we are trying unsuccessfully? What if I have quietly and privately suffered a miscarriage? What if I am dealing with some health concerns that make it a bad time to conceive? What if we can not afford it right now? What if we are not sure we want kids at all?

How do I tactfully address this with the people applying the pressure? I have covered it with my family, and they get it, but in laws and friends are a bit tougher. I do not feel the need to explain why I am not pregnant, and I am angry that I am expected to explain it at all. How does one politely say, without severing relationships, keep your nose out of my uterus?

I recently stumbled upon a book online that talks about dealing with the pressure to get pregnant, so I ordered it, and can not wait to read it (look for the review on my book review blog). And if we are supposed to get pregnant, well that is when we will. In the mean time, I am content with the pitter patter of little feet in our house belonging to our new puppy.

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

What are you proud of?

One of my facebook friends posted a picture of a small child holding the "God hates f@gs" signs in Washington today, with the monumental happenings there on same sex marriage, and because of that, I felt the need to reflect on something I wrote over two years ago. It was the summer of 2007, and I had gone to the Pride celebration in Columbus Ohio with my brother and his partner, both of whom bring me immense pride.

So please indulge me by revisiting my musings on Pride....

Pride weekend is a celebration of the diversity brought to our culture by individuals who are gay or lesbian, and the attempts to move toward ending prejudice based on sexual orientation. It is a way to acknowledge how far the GLBT (gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender) community has come, and how far it has to go, toward having rights that are equal to their straight counterparts.

Regardless of one's personal feelings toward homosexuality, I see no need for the outpouring of hate. For people who are opposed to homosexuality on moral or religious grounds, I ask, are you sinless? I have heard people say that gay people deserve to go to hell simply because they are gay. First off, who gave you the right to condemn? Second of all, those that believe in Jesus usually believe that He dies for the sin of all, so that all may be saved. Can someone tell me in what Gospel it says Jesus died to save the righteous? It doesn't, He came to save sinners. Where in the Bible does it say Jesus saved only heterosexuals? By saying homosexuals should go to hell for being gay, should we not say that thieves should go to hell for being thieves? The saddest thing I saw all weekened was a man protesting at the parade. Now the man didn't bother me; what bothered me was that he brought his son, who looked to be all of 11, to protest as well. "Come on little Bobby, lets go learn how to be hate mongers and bigots, because that's what Jesus would do". That is seriously how these people think.

When hanging on the cross, suffering for all our sins, Jesus was joined by criminals. Criminals who were pardoned by Christ's death. Jesus taught us to not hate, so for anyone who hates homosexuals based on religious or moral grounds, your logic is faulty. The sin of your HATRED hurts Christ far more than the "sin" of being gay.

For those who feel that homosexuality is a sickness or mental illness, need I remind you that over 30 years ago the American Psychological Association deemed that it was not. So, just like the medieval community thinking those with schizophrenia were possessed by the devil, people today things that homosexuals are "sick".

People also think homosexuality it a result of childhood sexual abuse. Sorry, are you straight because an opposite sex adult molested you? No. Neither are they gay because a same sex adult molested them.

Gay people deserve the same basic human rights that straight people get. Why? Because they are HUMAN. Why should I be privileged to live free of fear of losing a job, being driven from town, and having no dignity, when my brother is not? Why can't the world just focus on love?

Maybe I need to speak up more, be more vigilant. But that is something I need to reconcile within myself. In the mean time, I will continue to speak my mind in whatever way I feel comfortable. At work, I have family photos on my desk. This includes a picture of my brother and his boyfriend. If people do not like it, they do not have to look. I will continue to go where ever I please, whether it is a gay establishment or a straight one. Why must me segment and compartmentalize the human race? White, black, gay, straight, rich, poor.....we are all fighting to distinguish "us" from "them", but don't you realize, as some point, we are all part of a "them" for some reason or another?

Pride weekend is about being proud of who you are and how you live your life. I have pride. I am proud of my brother, as well as my sister. I am proud of my friends, and parents. And most of all, I am proud of myself. So at the end of the day, when you look at how you lived your life that day, tell me, what is it about you, what is it you did, that makes you feel a healthy sense of PRIDE. What are you proud of?

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Spring Awakening

Well, it was inevitable I suppose. The weather has warmed enough to melt the 3 foot pile of snow in my Western Pennsylvania yard down to 2.5 feet, so of course I was bound to see a sure sign of spring today. What was it, you ask? A crocus? A robin? No, no, something less….tangible. Examples of spring romance? No, something less…..beautiful. I am talking, of course, of incidents of vehicular asshattery.

All winter long, people tend to either not drive, because they are scared, or drive in an overly cautious manner the moment a single flake of snow touches the ground. For this reason, driving time to anywhere is tripled between the months of December and February, or in Western PA, October and April. But the moment the Spring Thaw appears to be around the corner, every driver forgets every driving law and skill they have learned since they were 16 years old.

I was on the road for exactly 25 minutes, long enough to go pay for my husband’s car inspection and get a Mac Snack Wrap for lunch, a total of maybe 5 miles, round trip, and during that time, I saw at least 8 counts of vehicular asshattery. It all culminated in the fact that a delivery truck was blocking the entrance to the ONE WAY street on which I live.

Dammit, I would have settled for a crocus.