Total Magic

Oh you guys: as I mentioned in Eternal Memory this past week, we celebrated Dia de los Muertos at our house Friday night. Yeah, yeah…we’re not Mexican. I know. My oldest kinda rolled his eyes and said the same thing. The teenager in him was skeptical about my plans at first but since it involved doing something together as a family, he was game.

jarl-schmidt-557318-unsplashWe gathered in our family room, brought a bunch of candles in and lit them. Three on the fireplace, three near the fireplace, and three more scattered throughout the room. I love candlelight and it made our little gathering feel sacred.

We really didn’t know how to begin so my husband Ryun started off with a brief prayer. I made a comment about how those we know in heaven are gathered around us, at which point our oldest remarked that if he saw an extra face in the TV or in the corner of the room, he was outta there, which made us all laugh.

I didn’t know where to start, but I brought in several picture albums that my sister made for us siblings, copies of the photos my mom had in her stash. And then I started to talk about my dad, how he was one of seven kids who made it to adulthood, and how three had died as babies. I talked about his character, his parents, who he was close to, what he did in WWII, what he did for a living, and his courtship with my mom. How he had a booming, nasally singing voice such that I felt bad for the woman who sat in front of him in church as her ears had to be ringing by the end of service! How I’d stand next to him in church every Sunday, not much taller than his kneecap, and he’d peer down at me during the sung responses to say, “I can’t hear you”. Dad was the one who expected me to sing from the moment I could.

I told of how he was indebted to his older sister Sue for getting him his job at the local steel plant, a job he kept for 40+ years, and he repaid her year after year for decades by spending his vacation time traveling to Cleveland and working on whatever needed done at her house – like tiling the bathrooms. How he was laid off for a time before I was born and painted houses to get by and provide for his family of four at home. How he never advanced to foreman despite his obvious intelligence and work ethic, because he made the bold mistake of telling his boss that he was a liar….and I have no doubt his supervisor must have been all that and more for my dad to say so to his face. How proud he was to get a watch from the company upon his retirement.

I told our kids how dad broke his collarbone in his early 50s before there was physical therapy and had a hard time getting his arm above his head ever since. How much he hustled and worked hard. If something broke in our house he was ON IT immediately, tearing apart an entire washing machine, for example, until he could find the mechanical piece that wore out so he could run to the store for its replacement. My dad had a work ethic like NOBODY I’ve ever seen.

He was strong, quiet, sensitive, stubborn as hell, smart, hard-working, but a big old softie too. The first time I ever remember seeing him cry was my aunt’s funeral where he broke down sobbing. He had a genuine soft spot for kids too. He preferred to rent the little house behind our home to single mothers as he knew they’d be safe under his watch and they’d take good care of the place. He always kept the cookie jar in our kitchen filled to the brim and the kitchen door unlocked during the day so little kids could help themselves any time they wanted.

I told our kids that once dad made up his mind, you would not change it no matter how compelling your case. How he really disliked conflict but he would still make effort to right a wrong. How when he was in the hospital for the final time, he was unfailingly kind and grateful for the care he received.

Telling these stories was so cool.

Then I did the same for mom, who was one of eight kids. I talked about her twin sisters, her divorced, unapologetically bachelor, gambling, drinking brother Andy with the jet black hair who everyone called Blackie, her adored kid brother named Louis (Louie), a guy who loved to draw, who died way too young at 32…and it’s not lost on me what my last name is. How all her siblings were good-looking, well-groomed, and well dressed even though they didn’t have a lot of money to their name.

I talked about the Cut N Curl beauty shop that my Aunt Mary operated with her twin Nancy and mom during the war. Three tiny, drop-dead gorgeous, oh-so-feisty, lively women engaged in riotous laughter with the customers/friends – how that salon had to be THE place to be. Women worked in the factories while the men were gone off to war but the women didn’t sacrifice beauty: they got their hair done every week no matter what. How my beloved Aunt Nancy would squeeze my cheeks to give me a kiss followed immediately by a full-on bite, leaving a big old wet imprint of teeth marks that would hurt for a full minute after. So gross. Our kids begged me to demonstrate so I did, and they were as horrified as I always was when I was done. We broke down in a fit of giggles.

I told them how the best memories of my mom were when somebody would grab her at a wedding to polka. She loved to dance but dad didn’t know how. How I can still picture Sundays in our house, the sun pouring through the windows, and mom in our big kitchen heating up dinner in the early afternoon after church with the Polka Party blaring on the radio and the Steelers playing on TV in the living room. She’d walk in to tell my dad something and stop right in front of the TV, blocking the view every single time, and we’d all have to yell at her good-naturedly to move since she was completely oblivious to the game unfolding behind her. I can still picture her with a bandanna on her head and a giant heavy ceramic bowl on a chair while she bent over and kneaded dough for nut roll or pierogies a couple of times a year. It was always an all-day endeavor but these specialties of hers were delicious.

Unfortunately with mom comes very sad memories, like the time her sister Nancy died when I was all of ten years old. My mom never overcame her grief. So many of her siblings died too young. They had made it through the Depression, through life with a violent, alcoholic father, through the war, through weddings for most of them, and through an accident that left their mother invalid and wheelchair bound with my mother as her caretaker until grandma died. After making it through all of that, life was supposed to be grand but then tuberculosis, heart attacks, cancer, and cirrhosis took her siblings one by one.

My mother spent the last 10 years of her life crying virtually non-stop, head in hands at the kitchen table with a cup of coffee before her, or laying on the sofa, trying to sleep her life away. Society didn’t talk about mental illness or depression then in any sort of positive way – there was such a stigma – and the only sort of treatment for her condition was Valium, which I am pretty sure she took. She couldn’t focus on her husband, her kids including me, or her grandkids no matter how much joy they inherently brought. Her mother and her siblings were the most important part of her life and the joy of that life fizzled out for good when her best friend, my Aunt Nancy, died. In a year’s time, I was the only child left at home, with my brother off to college and my older two sisters married adults on their own at that point.

I told the story about how my grandfather ran a still during Prohibition, had horrific anger issues, and tried to kill his wife and kids on Christmas day with a shotgun, leaving them all to hide in a barn for their lives. The only reason I even know that story is because my godmother, his youngest daughter, shared that news in a rare moment of honesty in her elder years. Over the years in hushed tones, I learned how he ran off to New Jersey where he may have done something unspeakable. Who really knows.

My other grandfather hurt himself in the mines and couldn’t work after that; he couldn’t walk without the aid of a cane. There was no rehabilitation or social security at the time. He asked to borrow money from my dad under the premise it was needed for the family, and then used it to buy alcohol. My dad really never forgave him for it.

Not surprisingly, neither of my parents drank a sip of alcohol, and neither one ever spoke of their fathers. It was only at the end of my father’s 80-year-old life that I got him to tell that story of his own father, and he had a difficult time sharing even that tiny bit about him.

Their mothers, on the other hand, were revered, absolutely adored, practically worshiped. I told the kids how my grandmothers couldn’t have been more than 4′ 9″ tall. Our 10-year-old daughter is probably taller than they ever were and yet these women popped out how many kids? There’s a picture of maternal grandmother with a twinkle in her eye, one kid hitched to her hip, and a few of the others gathered around her, the oldest maybe 13 and as tall as she is. My dad is positioned in front in shorts, maybe three years old, and he looks antsy. This photo astonishes me and makes me laugh whenever I look at it. It is so unlike other photos of the time, nearly 100 years old at this point, taken outside, in a very candid and casual pose. Who would have taken this photo and under what circumstances?

I would much rather remember my mother in happier times, so I mimicked how my mom would hop on my dad’s lap, hug him, rub her hand on his face and bald head, and say “oh honey”, and dad would shake his head and admonish her, “You’re gonna break the chair!” but he wouldn’t push her off, and our kids giggled in fits. How I found my dad’s WWII love letters to mom one holiday gathering. My dad threatened to ground 10-year-old me if I read them, and I defied him by saying, “It’s worth it” and proceeded to do so so my sisters and brothers-in-law would hear. He was so mad he gathered up every last letter and burnt them! This was the same dad who crouched in the back of a car to surprise my mom who was asked to go on a car ride. He presented her with a rose-gold watch…one I believe I still have. This is the same man who wrecked his car for the first of only two times in his 80-year-long life, when he craned his neck to look at a pretty woman and hit a parked car. He was staring, apparently gobsmacked, at my mother.

We then started flipping through the albums. And the pictures came to life. My dad in his Army uniform, wearing an apron, drying dishes at my grandmother’s house while my mom, his girlfriend, washed. Mom is standing at the sink with long, wavy brown hair casting a silhouette that could just as easily been me. The pictures show that same house, the one I grew up in, before and after my dad remodeled it with his own hands, as well as the little house behind our house that my parents lived in at first. The pictures show my kitchen growing up, my grandparents, godparents, aunts and uncles, my parents, and my siblings and I when we were younger. Uncle Andy, or Blackie as they called him because of his jet black hair, dressed to the nines. My grandmothers side by side at my parents’ wedding. Our yard when it was my grandmother’s house and she made it into a huge flower garden. My mom, with her giant smile and dimples, and how much she looks like my sister and my niece today. Mom and Dad’s wedding day, kissing in front of the church.

The kids ate it up. Every last bit. But one of our kids had returned from an overnight camp and slowly began to drift off, so we had to call it quits for the night and resume later in the weekend when we could celebrate my husband’s family later on this weekend. We had planned to watch Coco… to cap off the night because it’s about music, and family, and well, that’s us too. We ended up watching it later that weekend as well. Next year we’ll build up it more, prepare some ancestral foods like Eastern European kielbasa and pierogies, or maybe some Chinese and Hawaiian food to celebrate.

As we wrapped things up, our youngest suggested we close with a prayer so Ryun asked him to do it. He didn’t want to at first, being unsure of what to do. But instead of succumbing to embarrassment, he gave it a go. That little heart inside of him thanked God for all that we have and then he closed the prayer by asking God to bless “all the souls in the world”. OMG. The tears. The pride inside my heart. He’s EIGHT. He gets it.

We don’t know what we’re doing as parents but we’re gonna keep doing it.

This was, hands down, the coolest thing we’ve done in a long time. I suggest you give it a whirl. You see, we pray for the dead all the time at church, but we don’t often celebrate them. And we Louies don’t live around a lot of family here in our part of Ohio, so the stories my husband and I tell are one of the only ways our kids will ever know about their family history. Ryun and I had huge extended families, and certainly on my end, there are so many stories that make me chuckle, and cry, and everything in between.

I plan to do it again this coming July, but focus entirely on my dad as this coming July would have been his 100th birthday.


There’s another reason I wanted to celebrate Dias de los Muertos. I’ve watched Mexicans get a bad rap in this country with this ridiculous political climate we’ve been in these last two+ years, the whole “they’re rapists, murders, etc.” claim which is false. My friends know how much that ticks me off but you, this blog audience of mine don’t necessarily know that.

I think what Mexicans do with this holiday is amazing. I have always thought we can learn from each other and borrow the best of what each of us has. For heaven’s sake, we turned St. Patrick’s Day into its own thing that even the Irish don’t recognize! We’ve hijacked Cinco de Mayo too and we Americans don’t even know what that’s supposed to be. Maybe I can be accused of cultural misappropriation here, but I think what our neighbors to the south do is remarkable. It reminds me of when we visited my mother in law’s hometown cemetery in Hawaii right after Memorial Day. The Hawaiians set up lawn chairs and flowers on the graves and hang out there all day, eating and telling stories about their loved ones who died.

Let’s embrace beautiful traditions we have and the stories about our loved ones on the other side of the veil. One day we just may learn that the thinnest of matter in the universe actually separates us from them at this moment in time.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Who’s the Victim Here?

Today I see a post making the rounds on Facebook. It stuns me to the core.

Just gonna throw this out there: I have ZERO sympathy for anyone who thinks poor little Trump is just getting SO BEAT UP by the press with all these lies told about him. It’s just “so unfair.” “No other president” had to “put up with that”. We’re told to just “let him do his job.”

That is the height of hypocrisy. The biggest bully our country has seen, who lies so “bigly” and so often, is a freaking VICTIM?

Cry me a river.

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No, actually, get your head out of your ass.
Yes, I said it.
  • HE tells the lies, not the press.
  • HE fosters an environment where fact checking every freaking word is a necessity.
  • HE stirs the pot with vitriol and hate.
  • Look to HIM for the horrific leadership he most definitely shows us every minute of every day.
YOU put him in office, you live with the consequences. We who didn’t put him in office certainly do.
Photo by Kai Pilger on Unsplash

The Day After

Oh, America. Do I even know you anymore? Those first 50 years of my life…were you just courting me, on your best behavior all that time? But now, you’re letting your true colors shine?

evan-brockett-624367-unsplashI’m disappointed in the election results, I’ll be honest. I wanted to believe that most Americans were thoroughly disgusted with the direction Trump has taken this country and a true blue wave would overtake Congress but of course, results on this day after show how Republicans still control the Senate. I guess I didn’t follow it closely enough to know how many Senate seats were up for grabs this year and likely to actually flip. I knew it wasn’t many, but still. Texans are actually sending smarmy Ted Cruz back to the Senate? Seriously?

It is nevertheless encouraging to learn that 100 women will sit in the House of Representatives, including a respectable increase in minority women of race, ethnicity, and creed. It’s about time. Maybe one day I’ll actually see women in the majority in the House, but I’ll take this historic win for now.

Trump has wasted no time, has he? Holding a ridiculous, disrespectful, sneering, self-congratulating press conference, facing a press corps that doesn’t call bullshit on his boldface lies, more lies perpetrated by the White House regarding CNN reporter Jim Acosta’s line of questioning today, accusing him of assaulting an aide when video clearly shows the aide attempting to yank the microphone from Jim’s hands. He never laid a hand on her. Jeff Sessions getting fired or offering his resignation. Ha, I had even added an entry in our family calendar weeks and weeks ago, to remind me that Trump would do that today (2nd line down in the picture provided). Not to forget the immediate img_0384-2appointment of an individual who is a threat to the Mueller investigation.

The current president, his posturing, and his lies are so predictable. And so, I suppose, was the outcome of this election. I had truly hoped America would crawl out from under its rock and emerge as the leader of the free world once again. I wanted to show the world that we do have a better nature and have returned to it. I wanted to restore the world’s faith in us and our ability to lead the way. Instead we collectively emboldened the evil in the White House.

My God, they should burn the place down after he’s out of there. He has desecrated it that much.

I have friends who are hopeful. I try so hard to be hopeful, to be positive, but I just don’t know anymore. I feel like America showed me her true nature. Floridians, Georgians, Texans, and Ohioans told me they prefer hate, fear, and greed in their governors. I don’t know that I want to live here anymore but I don’t know where to go.

In closing, I’ll share this poem offered up by my friend Teresa. I found the words to be powerful. I needed them. Maybe you do too.

Oh, my dear ones.
I know you were hoping
For a once-and-done.
For an earthquake,
A tidal wave.
Hoping that if we gave it our all,
A single push would be enough.
That after this, we could
Sink
Back into complacency,
Back into the comfort of our privilege.
I confess, in the secret corners of my heart,
I wanted to believe it could be that easy
That justice would emerge as from an egg
Fully grown
Not with wet down and weak wings…

But beloveds,
We are chipping away at a mountain,
Not a boulder.
Calcified structures
Created to oppress,
Control,
Kill.
2000 years of this stupid idea
That some are worthy,
Some deserve power by virtue of who they are.

Erosion is slow work, sweethearts.
Celebrate the progress
The triumphs.
Celebrate also the heartbreaking almosts.
Breathe.
Rest for a time.
Then get up and turn again toward kindness,
Toward your neighbor in need,
Toward those who are still trapped in the stone.
Tell them, “I won’t give up.”
Tell them, “I am with you.”
Tell them, “For you, I will learn to eat rocks.”
“For you, I will keep chewing, keep grinding,
Until the mountain crumbles to dust.”

-Elizabeth Stevens

Photo by Evan Brockett on Unsplash

The Soul of our Country

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Tomorrow is Election Day in our country. I’m genuinely surprised I haven’t broken out in a rash by now. This has been the longest two years for our country. I didn’t think this day would get here. I also hoped it wouldn’t take 24 months for a referendum of sorts on our current administration, but here we are.

It appears to me that voter registration is up, the number of those who voted early is up, the number of young people who otherwise sit out elections but are planning to vote this time is up, and the disgust level with politicians is also up. I hope this bodes well for our democratic process but I’ve gotten my hopes up before, two years ago to be exact.

I don’t know what I can say here about my disgust with the direction Donald Trump has taken our country that hasn’t already been said by so many others more eloquent than me. I can only hope that a majority of Americans feel the same way.

These last few days I’ve seen many posts by people who plan to vote a straight Democratic ticket for the first time in their life. I don’t know if that’s because more people plan to do it or I’ve blocked out the people who wouldn’t dare.

Part of me wishes a “blue wave”, the likes we’ve never seen before, would sweep this country tomorrow but I honestly don’t know. The likelihood of Russian interference in this election is pretty high, and our current administration knows that it is in their favor to allow it to happen. Vladimir Putin loves to sow discord throughout the world so we play a little less attention to what he does. His evil ambition knows no limits.

Very few things actually scare me. Losing one or more of my children? Check. Losing my health, my mobility or my wits? Check. Dying in a plane crash? Check. Being on the receiving end of a crazed, angry right-winger with a gun? Check.

That last one wasn’t even a remote possibility until recently but it’s pretty clear that America is doing a great job of creating home-grown terrorists using the same tactics of Al Qaeda and ISIS. Find a bunch of ignorant (white) men with nothing better going for them, instill fear in them over all they think they will lose, desensitize them from placing any value on the lives of others, give them weapons, and convince them they’ll be martyrs for the cause.

Really. It’s the exact same playbook. It works.

The biggest threat to Americans is angry, ignorant, white American men with guns.

A caravan of Central Americans 800 miles from our southern border, risking all to flee violence doesn’t scare me. Gay men and lesbian women wanting to love and marry the person of their choice doesn’t scare me. Anybody with a different religion than mine living peacefully and making a successful living in our country doesn’t scare me. People from the Middle East wanting to flee violence in their own country and make it here, even despite the mistrust so many Americans have against them doesn’t scare me. Anyone wanting to live in peace is ok by me. And for those coming from outside of our country, we have checks and controls in place to vet them and their intentions. Those processes work.

My fellow Americans are beginning to scare me, though. Their ignorance, apathy, and greed scare me. Trump scares, horrifies, and disgusts me. Republicans in office? They scare the bejesus outta me. Trump and anyone who refuses to renounce him have sold their souls to the devil, in ignorance, fear, greed, or all of the above. It has become that binary, that black and white, for me.

This election is a fight for the soul of our country, a reckoning on a massive scale. I don’t know which way the United States will go. I hope we lean toward peace, love, tolerance, and progress, but I really don’t know what the soul of this country is anymore.

Holding my breath, even though everybody knows it’s better to breathe instead.

PS – still holding.

Image by Element5 Digital on Unsplash

Eternal Memory

In late December 2002 as Nebraska newcomers, we moved into a small house about two blocks from Omaha’s St. Cecelia Cathedral. It was a majestic place of worship that sat on a high point in the city and we had a perfect view of it from our circa 1880s cottage.

You’d walk up the stairs to our second floor, and out of the corner of your eye, you’d catch a glimpse of the entire church facade through one of our bedroom windows. It was particularly breathtaking in the evening as the sunset cast a warm glow on the floodlit stone exterior against a dark cobalt blue sky. I’m kicking myself for never having taken a picture of it, it was that stunning.

The closest I can share is this image captured by talented Omaha photographer Colleen Laughlin on Flickr. Be sure to check out her other wow-worthy images, by the way. She took her photo from the northwest tower corner of the cathedral whereas our house had almost this exact same view but from the southwest tower corner.

It was like a saying prayer every time I caught a glimpse of that cathedral from our house or heard its melodic church bells. Breathtaking. Meditative. Peaceful. It was one of my favorite things about that cottage on California Street.

ivan-diaz-427783-unsplashI set foot inside St. Cecelia’s during my first week in Omaha, and it was there I got my first real exposure to Dia de los Muertos, a holiday celebrated today, November 2. Maybe I had heard a passing reference to the Mexican Day of the Dead before then, but it didn’t really click with me. I simply needed something to do so I went to check it out, given that it was just a short walk away from our new home.

My husband and I moved several states away to Omaha after our wedding. I was trying to get a consulting business up and running but I wasn’t extremely busy with it right after the move since my days were filled with unpacking boxes and writing thank yous. After the whirlwind of the wedding and leaving everyone I knew behind in Pittsburgh, I desperately needed to connect with people, some how, some way. I read about the church’s Day of the Dead display in its vestibule so it gave me a good excuse to go and get out of the house. Now the timing of it doesn’t make sense to me because we moved in December, which doesn’t align with the typical early November date of the celebration, but that’s what I remember. I even made it into the paper that day, my first week in the city.

Since then, I’ve learned a bit more about the Day of the Dead. Maybe it took the Pixar movie Coco for me to appreciate Mexican culture even more and the beauty of this day. I’m not Hispanic and while I have a few friends who are, not too many are actually Mexican and we’re not close enough to those who are to get exposure to their celebration.

Now I am Orthodox Christian, and we definitely pray for our dead. We don’t ever stop praying for the dead. Every Sunday we have petitions for those who have passed. We have special services 40 days after death, and on the anniversary of someone’s “falling asleep”. Our church sets aside several days throughout the year to pray for all those who have passed, but you know what? It isn’t something I remember my family or my church making much of a big deal about growing up. Maybe my dad went and left us at home…. And well, we prayed for people, but that was kind of it. My parents really didn’t talk about their parents too much, or anyone who had passed, despite the huge number of aunts and uncles I’ve had and lost.

And besides, you didn’t bring up the people who had died to my mom. EVER. All she did was think about them and cry. She cried endlessly over everyone who was gone, too much, really. It was all so very raw for her, and she had no coping skills to deal with it whatsoever, especially when the one person who could sympathize with her the best – her older sister – passed away too, when I was ten.

Man, that was rough. So my family had no rituals or happy remembrances to pull from.

But me? I spend an inordinate amount of time thinking about those who have passed. I can’t say I pray for them as much as I should. But neither do we celebrate their lives. I think we should celebrate them.

So tonight? I’m thinking all of us could take a page from the Mexican book of life to remember our loved ones who have died. For me, that’s quite the entourage: my parents, both sets of grandparents and the father-in-law I never met, 23 aunts and uncles, and even a couple of cousins at this point. Fortunately not very many friends have crossed but a few have, as did the father of our children’s sitter, a woman and friend who we now consider family, such that our kids called this man “grandpa”.

Even our dog, the mellowest basset hound in the world, Monk, has crossed the rainbow bridge.

I want to take a day to honor these souls in a happy way. Display pictures of them and tell their stories. Laugh, a lot. Find the joy, the passion, and humor in each individual. Let our kids know their family history. Pray for all dead we know. Perpetuate their memory. Strengthen the Silken Threads Through Time I once spoke of.

Wouldn’t it be nice if all Americans began to adopt this celebration to honor our roots,  our ancestors? And I say this deliberately, because of the awful rhetoric spewed by He-Who-Shall-Be-Unnamed that casts Hispanic culture in a poor light. I want us to adopt the best we have to offer and share with each other.

And regarding the souls who have passed, let me share something we say in church Slavonic:

Vichnaya pamyat, or “eternal memory”.

It is said that we die twice, the first time when we leave this earthly body, and a second time when the last person who knew us on earth dies themself. That’s a poignant thought and almost runs parallel to my irrational fear that one of my portraits will show up on the wall of a Cracker Barrel one day, just another tchotchke because no one will know who I am.

Maybe that’s what drives me to tell my stories, for what those are worth.

What do you do to remember and honor those who have passed? Maybe light a candle for them tonight, gather together, and share your stories. Smile and laugh. Celebrate life.

Photo by Ivan Diaz on Unsplash

Not Squirrel Hill

Stronger Than HateA friend posted on Facebook yesterday afternoon about an active shooter in Pittsburgh. I quickly learned that a gunman had opened fire on the Tree of Life Congregation Synagogue in the Squirrel Hill neighborhood.

No. Please, no. Not Squirrel Hill.

Squirrel Hill is where I bought my first house as a single woman in my late 20s.

Yes, it is a predominantly Jewish neighborhood in Pittsburgh. You would often see whole families walking together to worship on Saturday. I thought that was incredibly cool. A pedestrian, family-friendly neighborhood. A tree-lined, quiet, peaceful neighborhood of well-kept houses, with people pushing baby strollers, holding hands with each other, or walking their dog. You always saw people milling about.

But what really drew me to Squirrel Hill was how vibrant the community was…its little downtown area bustling with cafes, ice creameries, theatres, bookshops, boutiques, coffee shops, and the like. It was and still is incredibly eclectic. People of all faith and ethnicity live there in peace. My husband, who grew up in Utah, would sometimes shop at the Giant Eagle grocery store in his Birkenstocks and Hawaiian “lava lava” as mother called it, essentially a long skirt. No one batted an eye. This was nearly 20 years ago.  This was the same Giant Eagle where a long-haired hippie-looking violinist would play classical music on the sidewalk as you shopped. We hired her to serenade us and our guests as we stepped outside of the church after our wedding.

Squirrel Hill

Yep, you could walk the streets of Squirrel Hill any time day or night and feel perfectly safe. It was the first time in my life I felt I had come “home”. Man, I loved that community.

My love for that neighborhood and for Pittsburgh as a whole go hand-in-hand. For years I dreamed of moving back to that city and it was because of this funky, cozy little bustling community of friendly people, a hop, skip, and jump from downtown. Ok, that and my lifelong love of the Steelers.

Fred Rogers (aka “Mr. Rogers”) literally lived in Schenley Park, the neighborhood next to Squirrel Hill. His kindness and gentleness wasn’t a fluke. It seemed to me like everyone was that kind. Everyone was your neighbor.

To hear that 11 people were gunned down in Squirrel Hill yesterday, innocent lives who gathered for worship, is beyond heartbreaking. I don’t want this incident to define Squirrel Hill. I don’t want hate to define America. I’m sick of this happening.

I even had a Jewish friend of mine mark herself as “safe” on Facebook. I can’t believe this incident touches people I know. Frankly it doesn’t matter if it does or if it doesn’t: violence of this kind is abhorrent.

How can people be so incredibly fearful of and hate people they don’t know? How could this deranged human think it was plausible to connect the dots between peaceful Jews in going about their day in Pittsburgh and a “caravan” of Central Americans headed north at the Mexico/Guatemala border seeking asylum from violence themselves as a threat to himself or other Americans?

This gunman: did he feel like a man, a “real American”, gunning down 97-year-old Rose Mallinger  with his AK-15 assault rifle? These citizens ranged in age from their early 50s to 80s with Rose being the oldest. What a pitiful human this guy, needing to feel superior using an assault rifle to kill elderly people gathered to pray.

I’m tired of people saying that gun control won’t help. If it has any chance of stopping future home-grown terrorists by making it harder for them to get a gun they don’t already own, then let’s do it.

I just don’t understand the hate. I am stunned by Americans who take issue with immigrants and those who seek asylum. Americans who criticize or hate somehow think they’re special because they or their ancestors got here first. As I shared with some friends recently, 100+ years ago, the Irish, Poles, Italians, and Slavs were despised, spat upon, and discriminated against but now we wouldn’t bat an eye hanging with someone with that ethnic background today.  Today, Blacks, Jews, Arabs, and Hispanics are hated with slightly more tolerance for Asians. The fact is virtually every single one of us is the descendant of immigrant or is one.

What will it take? Alien invasion for us to realize we are one and the same?

The vast majority of people who come to or live in this country want to live in peace. Why can’t we just live in peace? What will it take to reverse the crazy?

God rest the departed souls who lived in peace as my neighbors once upon a time. God comfort those they leave behind. God help us all.

Me, March 1996, on the front porch of house I just bought by myself

Alone Time in Sin City

jonathan-petersson-607955-unsplashSitting here in my hotel room in Las Vegas, contemplating my professional life. I know how funny that sounds. A personally know several dozen people who would tell me my priorities are screwed up and I ought to be out right now, enjoying the night life here.

Eh. Vegas isn’t my favorite city in the world. The incessant ding-ding-ding of the slot machines the minute you get off the plane, the faint but lingering scent of stale cigarette smoke, the couples pushing baby strollers at 2 am, the cost of you-name-it here, the sparkling pasties attached to DDs on the Strip?  Eh.

I mean, God love Donnie and Marie, Celine, and everybody else here who has or ever once had a show.  The shows are pretty good. And I do love me some Cirque du Soleil. I make a point to catch at least one of those every time I come. But that was Sunday night upon arrival.

Now it’s Tuesday.  Tonight I need a little me time.

Besides, we may be back in the spring with the kids in tow! This is not a place I would normally prioritize bringing them, but the hubs is in conversations about teaching a master class at a university here so we all might tag along since his portion of the travel is a work expense. We do try to show the kids every little thing about the US so I guess it’s time to open their eyes to Vegas.

I’m sure the pasties will make an impression. Good thing we are up front and talk to the kids about everything. We don’t hide too much from them. We try to explain what the world is really like so they’re prepared for what they’ll see and encounter when they’re on their own.


Enough of that.

I came for a three-day conference on, get this: ethics and compliance. In Vegas. Isn’t that funny? It’s not really a town known for….ethics.

The conference is good stuff. Hearing the speakers lit a spark in me. I don’t want to sound arrogant, but honestly I could have spoken on a few of the topics. I’ve known that about myself for a while, 20-30 years at least. I used to teach our consultants, a few clients, and fellow auditors in the region when I worked at Protiviti and PricewaterhouseCoopers, so this isn’t an epiphany.

It’s simply been a while since I’ve done it and being here reminds me that not only should I teach classes again, but also I should do it on a national level. Besides, speakers often get comped for the conference fee and lodging, so why not? It’s a quick way to get known nationally for your work, and that is incredibly helpful especially during recessions and times like now when whole industries are being disrupted.

And so far, the blog is fun but it doesn’t pay the bills.

Besides, our CFO told me I would make for an awesome college professor because I can take an esoteric topic and make it tangible. Yes. Yes, I can.

Forget for a moment whether I’m doing that in this blog. I’m just sitting here typing tonight, stream-of-consciousness style, because this stuff is on my mind and I needed a little alone time in Sin City.

Sigh….the thing is, it’s been far too easy to just sit back, learn a few things, and passively collect my continuing education credits at these conferences but I get incredibly antsy if the speaker is bad. Or if they pull a bait-and-switch on the topic, like the one session that was supposed to be about artificial intelligence but turned out to be a 101-level class on data analytics for compliance purposes.

I can’t just sit there and listen to drivel. Nor can I just walk out all that easily. Truly, I’m there to learn (ethics and all….) but by the time I get up and try to find another worthwhile session, I’ll miss the crux of the conversation, so I stay put.

Sometimes you can get a nugget or two out of the talk. But sometimes you can’t. It’s situations like that when I start making a personal list of what groceries we need, what tasks I need to tackle for the kids if only I was home, what updates I should make to my LinkedIn profile, what work emails I need to send, and what I should be doing to market myself better.

And that leads me to my final point of the day.  One of the interesting tidbits that came up this week, echoed in recent conversations at work too, is how valuable authenticity is, especially to Millenials. And let’s face it….the torch is passing right now from the Boomers straight to the Millenials so it behooves a “middle-child” GenXer like me to pay attention to what Millenials need since they’re the economy of the future.

Millenials don’t want posturing. They don’t want fluff. They want people to be real with them. And I think I’m a pretty down-to-earth realist. I don’t try to sugarcoat. I DO try to be positive, though. So why shouldn’t I be me, and use humor to teach people the business concepts I work with every day? Why shouldn’t I share the knowledge I’ve gained? I’m a woman who understands technology, risk, and ethics, and I have a knack for communication. Why shouldn’t I give that a go?

Doesn’t this world need new leaders to step up? I’m not a new leader but it is time to step up. Time to roll the dice.

Photo by Jonathan Petersson on Unsplash