A Christmas Tree Adventure

The one thing we can never get enough of is love. And the one thing we never give enough of is love.  ~Henry Miller

Pap at Christmas 1970s Aunt Heather Piper

My Pap at Christmas. c. 1970s

This past weekend was another family adventure.  Saturday was the last day of hunting, so I took off work Friday to join Dad both days.  I could tell that made the old man’s day.  He was happy to have me tag along.

Sometimes when Dad and I are sitting together in a tree stand, Kyle comes up in conversation.  Usually it consists of, “If Kyle was here” or “Remember when Kyle did this or that?”  We both miss hunting with him in the worst way.  Kyle really made the season fun.  Maybe one day he’ll rejoin us before Dad get’s too old.
While hunting on Friday, Dad mentioned we were getting Kyle on Saturday, as well as the Christmas tree.  I was surprised.  It wasn’t that long ago we were hanging out for Thanksgiving.  The idea of getting to see Kyle again without extended periods of time passing was a Christmas miracle.  Kyle usually spaces his appearances months apart, unless it’s a Holiday.  So here we were.
By the time Dad and I got out of the woods and back to his house on Saturday, Kyle was there.  Nothing brightens my day like seeing our teenager.  We had a lovely evening of relaxing and movie watching.
On a side note, I always ask Kyle if he wants to join me for church.  I want him to know the invitation is always open and I’m hoping one day he’ll surprise me.  Kyle politely turned me down, but I’m still going to keep trying.  I even offered to go to a later mass.  No dice.  Maybe next time.
Lord Fluffington 2017 Aunt Heather Piper

Lord Fluffington a.k.a. the Nugget in all his royal glory 2017

Right after church, I stopped by my parents to get the skinny on the events of the day.  Dad was already on the move and got a groggy teenager up and semi dressed.  It was during this time I was informed we had a situation.  What kind of situation?

Evidently, Kyle fell asleep the night prior on the couch, which I specifically asked him not to.  He was to retire to his own bed.  Problem number one.  My cat, Lord Fluffington, who was at the house, supposedly knocked Kyle’s glasses off the back of the couch.  His glasses should have been placed on an end table or his night stand if he would have gone to bed as instructed.  Problem number two.  The glasses rolled off the back of the couch onto the cushion, which wouldn’t have been tragic, except Kyle rolled over on them while sleeping and bent the frame and the screw came out, releasing the arm.  Problem number three.  Although, if that was the worst part of our Christmas then we were doing alright.
Using a paperclip and needle nose pliers we bent the frames back and attached the arm temporarily.  During this time, I was informed that I had to take Kyle to the mall to get his glasses fixed.  No problem.
First things first, we needed to get a tree.  Me, Dad and Kyle piled in the truck and headed out to retrieve the Piper family Christmas tree.  For some odd reason, Dad didn’t let Kyle drive there, but he let him drive home with a pine tree in the back.  Makes no sense, but that’s how the story rolled.
While on our way, Kyle kept teasing Dad about his driving.  Kyle was cracking himself up and in tern, I was finding pure amusement with Kyle’s instigating.  Sometimes I forget how much he’s like me.
Kyle:  “The speed limit is 35 mph Pap.”
Dad:  Rolled his eyes
Me:  “Oh snap he told you old man.”
Kyle:  Laughing said, “That wasn’t a proper stop.  You should have stopped for three full seconds.”
Dad:  At the next stop sign, Dad hit the breaks and sat for about a minute with an ornery grin on his face.
Kyle:  Sporting the same ornery grin, “Okay Pap that’s good you can go. It only needs to be three seconds”. Like Kyle was instructing Dad on driving.
Me:  LOL
Heather New York Hunting 11-2017 Aunt Heather Piper

Me hunting in New York with Dad. 11/2017

On the return trip, Kyle got his Pappy back.  When approaching a stop sign, Kyle hit the brakes hard and sat for a minute.  He was totally cracking himself up.  Dad was just grinning.  It’s been a while since we three hung out together.  It was a simple car ride, but one to last me a lifetime.

Once we got home, Dad fired up the chainsaw to trim the trunk and the lower branches.  Kyle gave his Pap a hand.
Kyle helped setup the tree and assisted in decorating.  I used the term “assisted” lightly.  Typical Kyle, he assumed the role of a manager and dictated what needed to happen as opposed to doing the actual work.  I personally didn’t care, he was there and I was happy.
Funny story.  Dad went out in the garage to grab the ratchet to bolt the tree trunk in.  Kyle dragged the tree in the living-room and was holding it upright waiting for Pap.  I was getting the decorations and the lights out.  Not paying attention to how long Kyle was standing there holding the tree, he finally said to me, “Aunt Heather where’s Pap?”  I started to laugh because it just hit me.  “I bet he got side tracked with the deer meat hanging.”
To find answers, I made my way to the garage to witness Dad cutting steaks for dinner.  Yep, deer season consumes that man’s mind.
After the tree was secured, I switched gears to embellish Ryan’s Christmas wreath for the cemetery.  Before heading to the mall to get Kyle’s glasses fixed, I thought it would be a good time to swing by the cemetery to decorate the headstone, since I had Kyle and before the roads got bad on the ridge.
Another funny story.  Naturally, Kyle jumped in the drivers seat, which I’m all for more practice but not being sidetracked.  Kyle was in the car messing with the radio before I got there.  Once I seat belted myself in, Kyle put the car in reverse to back out of the driveway.  Almost instantly, he said, “Something’s wrong.  It’s really hard to steer.”  I looked at him in disbelieve until I pulled on the steering wheel.  It was!   I had no idea what was wrong but I thought it must be the power steering.  My cousin Chucky who’s also my mechanic was on the way to the cemetery.  Informing Kyle of the added stop we needed to make, Kyle barely paid attention before loosing sight of the driveway.  He began to descend down over the bank before stopping the car.  (Which actually a piece of wood Dad cut got wedged behind the wheel to bring us to a stop)
Like a seasoned driver, Kyle put the car in drive to straighten it out, except he found he couldn’t go forward.  What the heck?  He said, “Aunt Heather, it won’t go forward.”  I was dumbfounded.  What was going on with my car?
Dad and Kyle c. 2004 Gutchess tour Aunt Heather Piper

Dad & his sidekick, Kyle touring the Latrobe Gutchess plant. c. 2004

Finally, I had Kyle put the car in park and get out.  I walked around, sat in the driver’s seat, and thought, let’s start again.  I turned the ignition completely off and turned it over again.  Instantly, Kyle’s lightbulb came on as he realized when he turned the radio on but he forgot to do the same with the engine.  We both laughed so hard.  The car was never on!  We were basically drifting in neutral.  That became the joke of the day.  Step 1: Turn on the car.

Kyle drove us to the cemetery on the ridge and to the mall.  He did a good job.
LensCrafters ultimately replaced Kyle’s frames, which were “looking a bit rough” as the lady pointed out.  He’s a teenager, what would one expect?  We were fortunate they had the same frames on hand.
Kyle can take any opportunity and make it work for him.  The eyeglass place was right across from Auntie Anne’s, his pretzel heaven.  He made sure we picked up pretzels for the family before exiting.  Whatever makes my little man happy.  He always did love getting a pretzel when I’d take him to the mall.  How could I refuse tradition?  Plus, it’s been ages since I was there with him.
Once the tree was all decorated, we used the remainder of Sunday to relax, before I took Kyle back.  That’s the hard part about spending time with Kyle, he leaves.  I just love him to pieces.  I’m glad he still participates in Christmas traditions with us.
posted by auntheather in Church,Common Sense,Education & Learning,Family,Milestone,Observation & Imagination,Patience and have No Comments

Kyle’s Christmas Scavenger Hunt

It’s true that adventures are good for people even when they are very young. Adventures can get in a person’s blood even if he doesn’t remember having them.  ~Eva Ibbotson


This year, I had grandiose plans for Kyle’s Christmas gift, but alas they fell through.  So I found myself scrambling for his gift.  Keep in mind, I was up against time constraints and a 15-year old who has way too much in terms of stuff.  I was at a loss for last minute Christmas gift ideas.  Reluctantly, I turned to the ever popular and safe bet, gift cards.  Yes, I buckled.  However, my gift cards were strategic.  I got him iTunes (which I found out he has Google play, so money took that place), a movie card, since he likes to frequent the movies with his friends, and a Seven Springs snowboarding gift card, something we haven’t done in the last couple of years, but something we’ve always done together.

Instead of simply handing the kid the gift cards, because where’s the fun in that, I got creative.  I wanted Kyle to work for his gifts, plus have a little adventure and fun.  I made Kyle a custom scavenger hunt.  Why not?  I make them all the time for Thrill of the Hunt, and I’ve yet to do one for Kyle.

The idea rocked!  At least from my perspective, and from the enthusiasm and smiles that radiated from Kyle’s face, I’d say my assumption was correct.

There’s so many different ways to create a scavenger hunt.  This one, I added a lot of items that mean something, heirloom furniture, inside jokes, Kyle’s dog and so on.  Truth be told, I had a blast creating the scavenger hunt, and I had an even better time watching Kyle go through it.

I started off making Kyle a Christmas card that was placed under the tree.  I knew he thought he was getting money or gift cards, he was correct, but not that easily.  The front of the card gave Kyle an overview of what was happening, that he had to follow the clues exactly, how many clues were given, and how many gifts:

Get ready for a Christmas adventure of fun & prizes
Follow 10 clues to find your gifts of all sizes
But be warned, follow the instructions to a T
Hints are few, your Christmas gift rewards are 3

Let’s get started.  Good luck Buddy!

On the inside of the card, I gave Kyle his first clue, which had multiple steps.


Venture out to see the ladies
Also stop by House of Hades
Collect the clues at each spot  
They’re hints for your next trot

The first part “ladies” is a joke in our household referring to our chickens in the chicken coop.  The second part “House of Hades” referred to the 4th book from Rick Riordan, Heroes of Olympus series.  Kyle was a big fan of the books.  Each location contained a clue, the chickens housed the clue – Bowl, and the book contained the other clue – Punch.

You got it.  Kyle had to look in our punch bowl, which was brought back from my parents when they lived in Germany while my Dad was in the service.  Our family tradition is to bring out the punch bowl every year for Thanksgiving and Christmas.  Over the years, Kyle has taken over the punch making responsibilities.

Clue number three was a blast, literally.  Dad just got me a new .12 gauge shotgun.  I figured I’d work it into the equation.  Plus, it’s been a while since Kyle shot a gun and I thought he might have a little fun blowing apart a milk jug.

Clue #3

Your next clue points to a gift
Remember backyard safety -be swift  
Any shotgun holds the key
Shoot the jug to set it free

In the backyard, I had a plastic milk jug filled with water and a clue floating inside (wrapped in a sandwich bag).  Kyle went straight toward the gun safe, pulled out my .12 gauge shotgun and shot at the jug, a few times for fun.  Once he was satisfied that the jug was pulverized sufficiently, he pulled out the clue Behind the guitar!  Not only did this location contain another clue, a rebus which was a little harder to solve, but he also received an iTunes gift card. 


The answer to the rubus was a bit tricky, but I couldn’t make it too easy on my guy.

The answer was, Aunt Heather’s Gravy Boat.  I made the gravy boat out of clay when I was in high school.  Since that time the gravy boat, like the punch bowl has made its appearance at the holidays.  The gravy boat housed a black light.  I wrote messages and some clues in invisible ink along the way.  Kyle loved that!  It added another element of excitement and adventure to the scavenger hunt.


Throughout the scavenger hunt, I included a Christmas ornament Kyle got my Dad in 2013, which held another clue hanging in the Christmas tree.  I included Kyle’s guitar, our punch bowl (mentioned above), a few books, a chess table built by my Grandpap Chester (a family heirloom piece, and Kyle and I like to play chess) and naturally Scooby, Kyle’s dog, who carried a clue around his neck.

Here’s the clue I placed around Scooby.  I didn’t place it on the dog until Kyle was close to the clue, for fear Kyle would jump ahead or worse, the dog would scratch it off.


Clue #5

Take a selfie with me Kyle!

Take me for a walk, let’s stop at the apple tree
Let’s take Seven, we’ll both run & be free

Kyle and I used to take the dogs (Seven is my dog) for walks all the time, and every Easter was spent in the orchard in the backyard collecting Easter eggs.  Kyle has also helped plant many of those trees on the property.  Not only was this location significant, but I also wanted to test Kyle’s tree knowledge.  He found it no problem.  Of course, I heard him ask my Dad which tree was the apple.  I had no problem with Kyle phoning a friend, so to speak.

In Kyle’s room, I hung one of my old snowboards as a shelf, and recently I added another snowboard to the wall.  Kyle and I have been snowboarding together since he was 4-years old, except for the last couple of years.

Clue #7

Under the Lamar, under the Ride
Another gift is found on the backside
For you & a friend to crush the slopes
You might have to show your friend the ropes

The one snowboard was a Lamar and my old snowboard was a Ride.  I got Kyle a gift card to Seven Springs for him and a friend.  I told Kyle I’d take him up alone so he could get his feet back on before going up with a friend, and I’d be tagging along.  Of course, I plan on riding the slopes, but I doubt I’d be welcomed with the young duo.

During the entire scavenger hunt, I had Kyle complete easy and difficult clues and challenges.   He even allowed me to shoot video clips of his excursion.  That really made my Christmas Eve day!  I’m sure Kyle won’t remember the gift cards or when he used them, but I’ll bet he’ll remember the scavenger hunt for ever.

Here’s my video montage of Kyle’s Christmas Scavenger Hunt adventure.

Great job Kyle!  I hope you enjoyed it.









posted by auntheather in Books, Movies, Shows,Common Sense,Education & Learning,Family,Milestone,Observation & Imagination,Patience,Random Fun Facts and have No Comments

Unconventional Gifts

Good books tell the truth, even when they’re about things that never have been and never will be. They’re truthful in a different way.  ~Stanisław Lem


Kyle taking the controls of a Piper, getting ready to hit the open skies for his 9th birthday. 7/30/10

The other day, I was speaking with a few friends of mine.  About what exactly?  Well, you name it, we covered most standard topics, but this part of the story was about Kyle and my belief in giving him unconventional gifts.  In honor of his birthday tomorrow, I thought this was appropriate.

I’ve mentioned it previously, as a child, Kyle always had way too much.  Too many toys, toys of all varieties, and he most certainly didn’t need anymore, especially from me.  Now that he’s a teenager, he has too many video games, and spends way too much time on them.  Do you see a pattern?

Since the birthday gifts I get Kyle are never the standard, go to the store and wrap them, type of presents, they need a fair amount of planning.  My goal here?  To get others thinking about gift giving in a nontraditional way, like I do.  Here are a few gift givings of years past.

So what do you get a child that is spoiled and flooded with their desirable material goods, at that particular moment in life?  Easy, spoil them with attention, love, knowledge, and opportunities.  How does one do this?  Simply with unconventional gifts.

First, what do I consider an unconventional gift?  In my eyes, unconventional gifts come with some sort of bonding or learning aspect.   They may also include life experiences to be engrained in the child forever, or skills to be used later in life.  Of course, these are very subjective, but it’s a place to start.

When Kyle was a tiny, tiny little baby, it’s true, I did get him toys.  One in particular was a large metal Optimus Prime transformer.  It was really cool!  It even spoke when a button was pushed, with a serious of prerecorded standard phrases including the noise the transformers make when changing from vehicle to robot or visa verse.  I believe that was the last toy I purchased Kyle.  He played with it for a short period of time, and I don’t think I saw it after that.  In fact, I have no idea what ever happened to it.  That’s when I decided to think of gifts for him differently.


Kyle celebrating his 5th birthday at Seabase in Greensburg. Bumper car fun! 7/2005

Wanting Kyle to have every opportunity in the world at his fingertips, and to be exposed to all things to help him grow as a goodhearted honest person in every aspect, I knew there was more value in gift giving then instant gratification.  It was time to pull out the thinking cap.  And I did in a big way!  I wish I recorded my gifts to Kyle when he was younger, but alas, I did not, so I’m not always exactly sure which gift went with which celebration, but not really relevant to this post anyway.

Secondly, what constitutes a celebration worthy of gift giving?  Of course, there’s the standard birthdays and Christmas.  However, I also give Kyle a gift for Easter, and I’ve been known to give him something for summer or for no particular reason.  Well, actually the reason would include a good deed, or good behavior, or to cheer him up due to illness, or sometimes just to surprise him.  That’s about it.  I don’t believe in turning every occasion into an excuse to spoil our little man more.  I don’t ever want him to grow up to expect material items from anyone, ever!

Please note, Kyle’s a great kid, he truly is!  So when I talk about spoiling him, it’s out of love.  He is certainly apart of this instant gratification generation, not waiting in anticipation or really working for things.  Who’s fault is that?  The family, me included, but I’m certainly not the main culprit.

Finally, what gifts have I given Kyle that fell under the classification of unconventional?  Here’s a brief list.  The items range in entertainment value, quality time, fundamental learning aspects, and some just plain different, or a combination of all things.


Swimming.  Kyle took swimming lessons once a week, all year long at the local YMCA from the time he was five years old to about ten or eleven years.  It was our time together and now he’s a great swimmer, and has no issues with being in water of all depth levels.

Gymnastics. He stayed in gymnastics for less than a year.  Even though Kyle was not the athletic type, it was great for him to run around and learn certain skills, such as doing jumping jacks and tumbling.  Again it was our bonding time, and I loved it.  Plus, he was able to socialize with other kids.

Soccer.  Kyle was really little when I had him in soccer, probably about three.  He never did understand the game, not that I could have helped him.  As a general rule, everyone knows I have no clue about sports.  He had the opportunity to have fun, socialize with other kids, and gained a great cardio workout.

Basketball.  I signed Kyle up to play on a basketball league, again through the YMCA.  My sister once asked me why?  I remarked, “I don’t expect him to get a call from the NBA, but if he ever wants to go shoot hoops with his friends, he would be familiar with dribbling and shooting baskets.  So he’s not singled out.”  Small skills that could be most invaluable to Kyle later in life.

Snowboarding.  When Kyle was four, I purchased him snowboarding lessons, which he loved!  Then, for a few years after that, I’d purchase him his season tickets for the slops, along with his rental and accessories (coats, pants, helmet etc.)  Again, it was always something we did together and enjoyed being outside in God’s country up in the mountains.  Neither one of us have been able to hit the slopes in the last couple of years, but I think we’ll both get back into it, maybe next year.



Kyle’s piano recital.  Yes I made him wear a suit, the one he wore for his 1st Holy Communion  5/17/09

Piano lessons & Keyboards.  Kyle received a keyboard to practice at my parent’s house, and one for his mom’s house, since his time was equally split.  This was for his sixth birthday, I believe, and the lessons continued until last August, right after he turned twelve.  Again, it was our quality time together, or whoever took him.  He also showed an interest in music early on, so I complied.  I believe this education really fine tuned his brain, and gave him an appreciation for music.  Since that time, Kyle took up the trumpet in school, joined the jazz band, and now started playing the tuba in the marching band.  He’s very accomplished at reading music, too.

Guitar and lessons.  Originally Kyle wanted to rock out on the guitar.  I made a deal with him, if he learned to play the piano, I’d get him guitar lessons.  He kept up his end of the deal, as did I.  For Christmas one year, I bought him a guitar and lessons.  He took to it very well, but never practiced enough to really be able to play.  He could strum the strings without looking at his fingers and follow along in his music books.  He took lessons off and on for a few years, and then called it quits.  He continued with the piano lessons at this time.  Most would say, playing both instruments at the same time, at a young age was too much for Kyle.  I completely disagree.  He had the talent and the knowledge to do so.  However, Kyle doesn’t like doing anything alone.  If I could have played with him, and practiced along side my musician, he would have excelled.  Alas, I have no music ability.  Hence why I want him to be so much better than me, at everything!


Lion King tickets and dinner.  For one Christmas, I purchased Kyle and the family tickets to see the Lion King at the Pittsburgh Benedium Theater.  It was a nice way to spend an evening with the family, while being exposed to culture.  Prior to this, Kyle loved the cartoon, The Lion King, as well as the music.  So therefore, I thought he’d enjoy the musical.  He did!  In a big way.  Although when asked about it in his early teens, Kyle doesn’t remember going.  Sad.  Kyle and I actually spent the entire day in Pittsburgh together, hanging out at the Carnegie Museum (mostly among dinosaurs) before meeting my parents and my sister for dinner and then off to the theater.

LegoFest Tickets.  Anything to do with Legos used to be the thing to get Kyle.  So when I saw LegoFest was planning on making an appearance in Pittsburgh, I jumped at the chance to get us tickets.  As expected, it was a hit.  Everyone gave Kyle money to purchase Legos, which only added to his experience and made it complete.  We were there all day, before returning to get a few hours of hunting in.


Kyle’s Piggy Bank. A ceramic pig I made for his fourth birday. It has a cork in the belly area to remove the moola, & a slot one its back to add the cash. Teh eyes are plastic shaking eyes, & it’s equipped with the a metal squiggle tail. 2005

Bricks 4 Kids Lego Camp.  I purchased Kyle two different Lego Camp sessions, one morning and one afternoon, at Saint Vincent College, for a week each.  He was able to socialize with other Lego lovers, and he enjoyed learning about different ways to build certain items.  He was exposed to other ideas and possibilities with Legos, all brightening his week.  Kyle was in heaven!  It also gave him something to do in the summer, instead of playing video games and watching television.  He stayed with me for the week, and I dropped him off, took him lunch, and picked him up at the end of his hard day.  This was a suggestion from Lori Planinsek!  Perfect!

Flash Cards.  One Christmas when Kyle was two years old, I decided to purchase him addition flash cards, as well as workbooks.  Did he put his nose up to them?  NOT AT ALL!  He loved working with me on the workbooks and he would ask me to quiz him on his math flashcards.  Everyone thought that gift was a bust, but in reality, it turned out to be a big hit.  So by the time he was three years old, Kyle was easily adding all numbers.  Soon after that I got him subtraction flashcards.  He did have a little more trouble learning, but not much.  It’s no surprise that math is one of Kyle’s beloved classes that he’s in the advanced program, at least he was until this past year.

Books.  It was always tradition with my family to receive books in our Easter baskets.  I took it a step further and began giving Kyle books for almost all occasions.  Some books I knew he wanted to read, and others I got him to expand his horizon.  Those books became our shared interests, for I read most of them or I wanted to, before purchasing them for Kyle.

Written Books.  With Kyle becoming a teenager, I noticed his interest in reading has become relaxed.  I don’t ever want Kyle to loose his love of reading, especially since it was a struggle getting him to this point.  I get it, he loves his video games, but reading is important too.  So what did I do?  I wrote Kyle a book.  Seriously?  Yep!  It’s roughly a 400 page survival book that takes place in a post apocalyptic world.  It includes hunting, fishing and snowboarding, all things we both love.  I added elements of education and fun trivia to make it informative.  It’s slightly sarcastic and witty and the main characters travel by foot from Colorado to Latrobe, Pennsylvania.  Surprisingly, the book is finished, and the second in the serious has begun.  All that remains is to have it professionally edited for accuracy, and then I’ll have a book printed.

Really?  Yes!  I truly enjoyed writing the book and I thought it’d be something Kyle would enjoy.  What a better way to encourage reading, than by writing a book specifically for my young man.  Once the book is at a point to publicly talk about, I’ll write a post on it. (I also started two other separate books, I’m getting into this writing thing!)  I hope to give Kyle the book for this Christmas.  I’m also planning on designing the cover too, with my own photography.

iPod Touch.  Originally, the iPod Touch was a way for the family to keep in touch with Kyle since he didn’t have a phone yet.  It was also a means to begin working him into a little bit of freedom with electronics, music and the internet, while being monitored.  I setup Kyle with face-time, which he occasionally did with the family.  I also setup his own iTunes account (and some credits) and of course I gave him the iPod with an engraving on the back.  I did place parental controls and a tracker on it.  All of which I explained to Kyle, as well as my reasoning.  I wanted him to be safe, but I never wanted to be sneaky about it or deceitful.  He accepted the terms of the gift, and almost appreciated my concerns.   Of course, he was simply excited to get an iPod Touch!  Since then, it’s been replaced and he’s been hooked up with a laptop and an iPhone 6.  He did get a lot of mileage out of that gift and we benefited too!

Out of the Ordinary/Adventure


Kyle’s King sized quilt I made for his 1st birthday. 7/2002

Quilt.  I wanted to do something really special for Kyle’s first birthday.  I mean the kid was turning one, without knowing his dad, nor would he ever remember his dad.  Ryan passed away nine months prior.  It was a difficult time, but I wanted to help celebrate this every special milestone with Kyle.  I was given the idea to use all of Ryan’s cloths to make Kyle a quilt.  I did!  It ended up being a king size quilt, made from Ryan’s flannel shirts and tee shirts!  To this day, I think that was the best gift I’ve ever given!  It was a long road to making this gift, with the help of friends, but one worth it.  Since then, I’ve never made another again.

Clay Pig.   I’ve always taken clay / ceramics classes, in high school and college.  I love working with clay!  So it’s no surprise that I gave my love of clay, to my beloved nephew, and made him a very unique gift I knew he’d love.  I made him a piggy bank!  Everyone in my clay class knew the pig was for Kyle, for his birthday gift.  At the time Kyle was about four years old and he was learning to count, particularly money.  I was also trying to teach him to save, and to earn enough money to buy himself whatever large gift he wanted.  This was also the time I taught him about tax.  That kid got it.  He could figure out the total of our purchases, including tax before the register would display the answer.  Truly amazing!  To this day, Kyle still stores his moola in the pig, and he knows I made it for him for his birthday.  I’m always thinking of my little man.

On a side note, Kyle mentioned he wanted to go to England and that’s what he was saving his money for.  Good choice! That was about the time Nicole and I traveled abroad.  We spent a lot of time in London.


Kyle getting acclimated to the Piper, before his flying lessons. 9th birthday 7/30/2010

Flying Lessons.  For Kyle’s ninth birthday I thought it’d be fun to get him flying lessons.  YES!  Again, not that I planned on him being a pilot, but it was the experience.  He always mentioned how he was never in a plane, so I thought for his first time defying gratify, we’d do it right and let him fly the open skies, with an instructor, naturally.  Result?  Kyle remembered that experience, and looks at it fondly, almost brags to others about him flying a plane.  I was so happy for him!  It was a fun day.  I even hired a photographer to capture the experience.

Train ride.  I purchased Kyle, my sister and myself train tickets.  We took the train from Latrobe to Johnstown for the day (only about a forty-minute trip).  Granted, it wasn’t exciting, but it was something different.  We rode the incline and explored the town of Johnstown, took a tour of the Flood Museum, and even caught a movie. (Maleficent)  When we got back, we surprised Kyle and celebrated with an ice-cream cake at my parent’s house.  Prior to that trip, I purchased him companion books to the Lord of the Rings.  He began reading one of the books on the train.

Over the years, I’ve had many ideas for gifts, but sometimes it wasn’t the right time, or it was too expensive, or I chose another path, or I haven’t used the idea, YET.  Regardless, I hope others can take my ideas for unconventional gifts and run with them, or get back to me other ideas.  I’d love to hear them!  Here are a few:

  • Hot air balloon ride
  • Surfing lessons
  • A plane ride to Vermont to snowboard for the weekend
  • Helicopter flying lessons or a ride
  • Movie passes (which I’ve done but not for a special occasion)
  • Museum passes
  • Bike trip on the Great Allegheny Passage and camping along the 400 miles (I thought it would be fun to bike to Washington DC and have my sister meet us and take us home)
  • Volunteer – Instead of getting Kyle anything, we’d spend a day or a week together volunteering somewhere, maybe not local to get us both out of the area and find a new adventure.
  • Membership to my gym to participate in the kids class
  • A robotics camp or some sort of geeky week with others like him

I know I gave Kyle many, many more gifts, and I’ve had a ton more ideas, but alas they’ve escaped me.  I already know what I’m getting Kyle when he graduates high school.  Really?  You bet I do, and it’s really good!  I’ve had this idea since he was a toddler.  It’s a two part gift, and Kyle’s going to LOVE it.  When the time comes, which is around the corner, I’ll let everyone in on the secret.

Here are a few blog posts about my choices for unconventional gifts:

Good Intentions
Gift of Music – The Final Piano Lesson
Bricks 4 Kids, Kyle’s Lego Camp Birthday Surprise
Family Time Through an iPod Touch
Flying Back to Kyle’s Ninth Birthday

Discovering Our Own Backyard – Johnstown
Memories Sewn Into a Quilt



posted by auntheather in Books, Movies, Shows,Church,Common Sense,Education & Learning,Family,Milestone,News,Observation & Imagination,Patience,Reminiscing,Travels and have No Comments

Santa Took My Bottle!

The reality of what we really are is often times found in the small snips, way down at the bottom of things.  ~Jean Shepherd


Ryan, me & Nicole with Santa at mom & dad’s house.  On the mantel is mom’s nativity scene from her mother & the same stockings we’ve always had.  12/1980

‘Tis the season for Christmas and Christmas memories!  Reading stories of friends and family reminiscing about Christmases past on Facebook, brings me back to my very own Christmas tragedy.  In all honesty, most of my childhood memories during the holiday season are very positive.  Actually, all of them, except one.  However, this story has stuck with me since I was in my single digits and funny enough, doesn’t take place around the holiday season, but in the dead of summer.  Yes!  Let me explain how it has everything to do with Christmas.

When I was little, I had this purple bottle.  Yes, a baby bottle.  Who got it for me?  No clue.  When did I get it?  No clue.   Do I really remember my bottle?  I do!  That bottle and my “banky” (blanket) were the only two things I cherished most as a kid.  (One day I’ll explain the horror story regarding my blanket)  Sure I had other toys, but for some reason, my memories are always focused on those two items.  Next in line would be my beloved Morticia (cat) and Jill (dog), both very sad stories.  Today, I’ll only explain the bottle, which isn’t a horror story, put a heartbreaking one.

This all started when I was about three or four years old.  Sure, I was probably too old for a bottle, but it’s not like I sucked on it day and night.  In fact, I usually drank out of my sippy cup.  I just really loved carrying around my bottle.  Where was the harm in that?  It wasn’t any different than a plastic doll.  Apparently, according to my mom and gram, I should not have been toting around such a baby item.  That’s where the story really begins.


Kyle helping take down the Christmas lights after the 2013 Christmas. 1/2014

For many years, my pap would dress up as Santa and stop by the house to visit us.  I know there were other people who dressed up as Santa, but this time I know it was pap.  How?  I’ll get to that.

One evening before Christmas, Santa stopped by to pay us a visit, checking in on Nicole, Ryan and myself, as well as my cousins, to see if we’ve been good.  It was awesome, having a real-life Santa in our living-room!  He always sat in the rocking chair, a detail to be used later for solving this riddle.

Well, anyway, we took turns sitting in Santa’s lap, telling him how good we were and what we wanted for Christmas.  You know the standard procedure.   While it was my turn, after rattling off what I wanted, Santa gave me a small gift.  Yeah!  But there was a catch.  With Santa?  Well, not exactly but with my grandma and mom.

Before I left Santa’s lap, gram stopped me and posed a question, “What are you going to give Santa since he gave you a gift?”  I didn’t know what to say.  In the back of  my mind, no one else was giving Santa a gift, nor were they asked, so why was I?  Guess what item was so graciously suggested by my mom and grandma to give Santa?  Yes, MY bottle!  Coincidentally, I was cradling my bottle, as I always did.  I don’t want to say my bottle was forcefully taken from me, but guilt was certainly used by the adult figures to aide them in me forking over the precious item.  Does anyone else smell a set up?

Being a good little girl, at least at Christmas time in the presence of Santa, (no pressure) I reluctantly gave Santa my beloved purple bottle.  He took it and gave me a big smile and a hug to match, thanked me for his “present”, before he tossed it in his sack.  What?  It should never have been tossed anywhere!  That was a priceless gift, at least in my eyes.  Truth be told, I was excited to get something new, but yet I felt bad I made the trade with my bottle like I betrayed an old friend.

Fast forward.  Months passed by and summer arrived, never really thinking about my bottle, in fact I almost forgot about it, ALMOST.  Back then, every summer we took turns going to gram and pap’s house to spend a week.  During one of those weeks, while gram was napping, I decided to play in the basement.  It was an unfinished cellar, divided by the stairs going up to the kitchen and a stone wall.  Usually we never went on that side of the basement, only because there wasn’t anything interesting over there.  It housed gram’s ringer washing machine (the kind that you had to crank the cloths through the rollers to squeeze out the excess water before hanging) and a ton of cloths lines were strung back and forth, to be used in the winter or rainy days.  Along the perimeter of the walls were shelves of canned goods.  I believe there was also a deep freezer in the corner, but not much of anything else.  Well, for no particular reason, I ventured to that side of the cellar to play with my barbies, cars or a toy of sorts.  I’m not sure how long I was in there before something on the shelf, among the jars, caught my eye.  Yes!  My beloved purple bottle!  I jumped up like lighting, and without thinking I gravitated toward the object of my past.  (keep in mind I was only about four or five years old at this point)  Funny enough it wasn’t out of my reach, at least nothing a chair couldn’t solve.  That beautiful purple plastic bottle was in plain sight, like it was absentmindedly placed there.


Nicole with Santa at mom & dad’s house. No that’s not my bottle, but looked very similar … foreseeing the future? 12/24/1974

Upon removing the bottle from the shelf and getting back on the concrete floor, I began inspecting the authenticity of what I was seeing, to ensure it wasn’t an imposter.  It was not!  How did I know?  There were scratches on it from years of abuse.  It was in deed my bottle!

At first, I was ready to get gram and wake her, letting her know Santa returned my bottle.  But then it hit me, what was MY bottle doing in gram’s basement after I gave it to Santa?  Yes, even as a young tyke I was thinking this through and I wanted to solve the mystery and get to the truth.

What did I do next?  Believe it or not, I was going to question my gram, but waking her in the middle of a nap was pure suicide.  So I went upstairs and raided my pap’s closet.  Why?  I have no idea, but it seemed like a good place to start, since gram was in her bed in her room and pap was working in the sawmill.

At the very top shelf, again not that far out of my reach with the assistance of a stepping stool, I found a big box.  Believe it or not, I didn’t open it.  That is until I was moving things around haphazardly and the lid popped open.  Instantly, my eyes were drawn to the bright red velvet suit the box was concealing.  A Santa suit!

Then my world came crashing down. (Not me, I was always a climber)  My pap was impersonating Santa Claus!  Truly, it never occurred to me that Santa wasn’t real, not  until my mom dropped that bomb on me years later.  No Santa?!  At Least There’s an Easter Bunny!  I couldn’t believe my pap would do something that cruel to me, ever!  Trying to get my mind around this discovery, flashes of pap sitting in our rocking  chair, his favorite seat, shot through my mind.  I almost started replaying that very tragic Christmas day, and I remembered, it was my gram’s idea to offer up my sacrificial bottle.  Mom was standing by and second the gesture.  It was all planned out!


Me & Ryan (background) at Christmas at mom & dad’s. In the background to the left is the toy chest I fell asleep in &  on the right is grandpap Chester’s cedar chest he made. 12/1977

After uncovering the facts, I quickly placed the suite back up in the closet, put the bottle back on the shelf downstairs and went out in the backyard to deal with my own personal dilemma.  I needed a moment of silence, for I was really upset over this conspiracy against me.  I couldn’t believe it!  Funny enough, I never did blame my pap, for he was the greatest!  I knew he would never ever, do anything to upset me or any of the grand kids.  Pap always treated us with love and respect and was an innately good person.  It was my grandma I didn’t trust, eventually the Morticia story adds to my ill feelings toward her, among other situations.  (Again a story to be told another day)  My mind was racing toward my mom, again there is a “banky” story behind her too.  With each of these I don’t remember which came first, but over the years they compiled and resonated in my mind, each bringing a sickening feeling to me, and perhaps a little bit of bitterness.

Did I confront my gram, pap or mom?  No.  Was my dad involved?  At the time, he didn’t seem to be a participant and I excused him from the suspect list.  I simply went outside and spent the rest of the day in the backyard, taking refuge in the barn and exploring the woods behind grams house.  Feral cats ran rampant on the ridge.  As a pastime, I would sit patiently and catch the cats to tame them.  Seriously?  Yes, I did it all the time.  (I have no patience except for cats for some reason)  They were used to me, plus I was quick and fearless, with the help of a very thick towel.

That night I went to bed early, which wasn’t unusual for me.  By the next morning I don’t remember how I felt.  But I do know that I remembered the entire day.  It left a scare on me that ran deep, one I still reflect back on to this day.

Even though that is one isolated story, one the adults were ignorant to for I buried it deep down inside, it still stuck with me.  However, I am blessed, for that is my only Christmas horror story from my childhood.  I could have had it worse, and I know others did.

I hope Kyle only has great Christmas memories, for we’ve gone out of our way to ensure that’s the case.  And if he doesn’t, perhaps he too will write about his tragedies as a therapy session.

Merry Christmas! 



posted by auntheather in Common Sense,Education & Learning,Family,Hiking & Outdoors,Milestone,Observation & Imagination,Patience,Pets,Reminiscing and have No Comments

Christmas Equals Childlike

I think you should be a child for as long as you can. I have been successful for 74 years being able to do that.  ~Bob Newhart


Nicole & santa, late 1970s.

Recently, I was talking to a friend of mine, who’s kids are now grown adults.  Let’s keep it into perspective, they’re only in their twenties.  We were laughing at how, especially boys, are sometimes grown and yet, they are still kids.  He called them man boys.  That about sums it up.  It’s those moments when they act like little adults and impress the heck out of you, but then turn around and make the stupidest or most immature decisions.

Example time.  The other week when we put up the Christmas tree at my parent’s house, Kyle was a huge help!  The Christmas Tree  He basically took the reins and screwed in the base of the tree by himself, and did it right and swiftly, without being asked.  It saved dad from laying on the hardwood floor and contorting his old out-of-shape body from doing it.  Dad and I were a bit astounded.  Literally, dad just stood there and asked if he needed help.  Nope.  None was needed.  Kyle even gave me direction on how to move the tree around to assist him and have it set correctly and sturdy.  Excellent job!

While we were adding the lights, I was jumping from couch to stool to recliner and back again.  On one of my trips, I caught the edge of the recliner, which caused it to tilt, into the tree, with me on it, out of balance.  During this seemingly slow motion event, Kyle instinctively reached for me, but threw himself on the recliner to counter the weight.  Eventually, I came crashing down on the edge of the recliner and into Kyle.  First, we both looked at each other in shock, and then I said, “Did you try saving the tree over me?”  Kyle snickered and said, “Well, it looked like the entire chair was going into the tree and I didn’t want it to fall over.”  Well played buddy!

Now for the mind of a kid.  After decorating, Kyle was going on a tangent about getting toys to build and play with.  Granted, he is thirteen and his interests now include Warmachine as well as his videos games.  However, he was getting excited like he was two years old again!  A few weeks before that, he comprised a list of what he really wanted and called my sister to review the items, just like he always has since before he was able to read and write. (Either mom or myself would write up the list as per his dictations)


Ryan at gram & pap’s. As far as I can remember, they always had a fake tree, which I never liked. 1984

This one is mind blowing!  Within the last few months, Nicole hurt her knee.  When Kyle found out that my sister was out of commission and was having a difficult time getting around, he exclaimed “What?  Well, can Aunt Nikki send my presents home for Christmas?”  That was his big concern.  Not for her, but for his gifts.  He also called her to remind her to order his presents so they will arrive in time for Christmas.  He is too much!

Recently, Kyle found out that his Aunt Nikki has to work a half day on Christmas Eve Day.  We always celebrate Christmas the day before, a tradition that has always been since I can remember.  That way Christmas Day is not so rushed and can be more relaxed.  Well, once Kyle got word of his Aunt Nikki’s schedule, he freaked!  “Can we still open presents throughout the day before she gets here?” he asked.

You see, ever since Kyle was a little tyke we set up Christmas Eve Day in that fashion so Kyle would enjoy each of his gifts, and more importantly so he wouldn’t explode while staring at the pile of wrapped packages under the tree.

It goes like this, once Kyle gets up, which is usually around 5:00 am or 6:00 am, he gets to pick one present to open.  He always staked out the presents before hand and had a plan of attack walking into the day.  That kid always knew the shapes of the boxes and the sounds made upon rattling.  He would play, or put together, or whatever needed applied to the first gift, then by the time he was done with the first toy, it was time for him to pick the second, not necessarily every hour on the hour, but whenever it was all agreed upon.  This continued all day, even after church into the evening.  It was a great way to spread out the fun of Christmas and allowed Kyle to enjoy and play with each gift, not that all of them were toys.  Nope, not with his Aunt Heather on the case bearing the unconventional gifts.

Anyway, Kyle was still holding this pre-arranged plan to heart for this Christmas Eve Day.  He was also walking around talking about the items he was going to put together.  I know he’s getting some Warmachine figurines that are little models to be glued and painted, but no one was getting him Legos or such.  What is going on in that mind of his?  He really wants to build something!

Another quick story.  About a week ago, I was picking Kyle up off of the bus.  I knew I was cutting it close, either the bus dropped him off or was on its way.  I called Kyle to inform him that I was waiting for him in the driveway.  He updated me that he was in the house.  Great!  In my mind, perfect timing.  Well, I was told differently.


Pap playing with Chad at gram & pap’s house. I have no idea who is sitting by pap with the barrel of the rifle pointed up. I bet that’s Chad’s rifle from pap! 1973

Kyle was not happy with my early arrival, questioning me why I was so early.  I simply responded that I was and I told him to get his stuff together so we can leave.  His response?  “Well, can you wait I wanted to play this video game for a little bit.”  Seriously?  Are you kidding me?  My response?  “So you want me to sit in the driveway (in the cold) and wait for you to play a video game, that you play during the week?”  Kyle’s response?  Crickets.  Then he said, “Well, ya, I really wanted to play this game and you weren’t suppose to be here till later.”  Kyle’s tone was whiny and mine was getting angry.  “Kyle!  Are you suicidal?  I can’t believe you actually expected me to sit in the car and wait for you to play a VIDEO game!  Let alone ask me!  Who do you think you are talking to?”  More crickets.  Then he proceeds to inform me,  he still needs to get his stuff together, like that put me in my place, until I responded.  “You’re not even ready?  And yet you planned on playing a video game first?  NO!  You have five minutes!”

Needless to say, Kyle made it in time, not very happy with me, but almost realizing the mistake he made, almost.  Yes, I did give him a good talking to.

I was telling another good friend of mine about this man boy phenomenon, while on the way to the gym.  Her one nephew is going through the same stage, although he is a few years younger than Kyle.  Her nephew is claiming to be nearly a teenager, (he’s only ten or eleven) and that he can watch “R” rated movies and he’s practically an adult.  Yet, his actions scream child.

Sometimes I wonder if my brother was the same way, for I truly don’t remember or never paid attention.  Ryan was always mature with his work ethic and drive.  He could always work on cars, like adults, but sometimes would construct the strangest contraptions, the imagination of a kid.  Who Does Kyle Favor More, His Dad?

I guess I should just face facts, Kyle is in deed a Piper, through and through.  Maturity is secondary to us and sometimes never achieved.  I love Kyle’s enthusiasm for Christmas, even though it’s about his gifts.  Regardless, Kyle always did say “Christmas lights make the whole world beautiful.”  Lighting Up the Holiday I also know Kyle does know the true meaning of Christmas, even though he doesn’t let on.

Kids do make Christmas!

posted by auntheather in Church,Common Sense,Education & Learning,Family,LEGO's,Observation & Imagination,Patience,Reminiscing,Video Games & Games and have No Comments

Ringing in the New Year

I hope that in this year to come, you make mistakes. Because if you are making mistakes…you’re Doing Something.  ~Neil Gaiman

Well here we are, 2014!  Happy New Year!


Me & Kyle celebrating New Years! Storm photo bombed us from her perch. 12/31/13

Kyle and I rang in the New Year like we always do.  We made our rice crispy treats, (actually I made them while Kyle watched Despicable Me 2).  Thanks to my friend Tree for helping to make that a New Year’s tradition!  We were making the delicious sticky treats when we were in high school and it stuck!  We ate our pork and sauerkraut and hot dogs, brats, and kielbasa.  Yep, the same sauerkraut we just made Family Traditions Through Sauerkraut in November.   Another tradition started by my mom when I was little, was the meat and cheese tray.  Usually, it’s complete with a variety of crackers, carrots and celery, olives and such, but this year we just nibbled on the meat and cheeses.

Keeping ourselves entertained, we played Trouble and a little Wii, even though I didn’t give Kyle hours on the game, we did play a few rounds of shooting and fishing and horse riding.  Since then, Kyle has a renewed interest in the video games.  Maybe this weekend we’ll bust out the Michael Jackson Experience and dance to a little MJ action.

We watched Dick Clark’s Rockin’ Eve as many do.  Mom and I were reminiscing days of New Year’s old.  One New Year’s, my sister went to New York and rang in the new year in Time Square.  That was fun having Kyle try and find his Aunt Nikki among the sea of celebratory people.  That is until he spotted the Lego store in the background.  Yes!  Only that kid would hone in on the Lego store among the crowds and crowds of people and on-air activity.  I remember he immediately called my sister and instructed her to go into the Lego store and take pictures and send them to him.  What a card!  He wanted the mission completed at that very moment, while my sister was corralled into limited space with millions of others.  Nicole was not able to tackle such fetes, but later that summer or the following one (I can’t remember) Nicole took Kyle to New York so he could experience the Lego store for himself on the ‘Aunt Nikki and Kyle’s Week of Fun’.


Seven celebrates New Year’s in style… Happy 2014! 12/31/13

Around 11:30 pm or so, we really humored ourselves by making the dogs wear party hats.  Once midnight hit, we blew our party horns and blasted our party favors till we covered the living-room with streamers.  Naturally, we took pictures and sent them to Aunt Nikki, keeping her in touch with all things Kyle.  We had a really good time!

New Year’s day we took the .22 and the 20 gauge out squirrel hunting.  We didn’t see any signs of life, but maybe that’s because of our invited guests, Seven and Scooby.  They had a blast running through the snow in the woods and jumping around.  This was the first walk I took them on since this past fall, when Seven broke his leg.  Great way to ring in the New Year!

Yep, it was a pretty good 2013.  I mean, I was able quit my nine-to-five office job at the ad agency and start working on Thrill of the Hunt full-time.  Thrill of the Hunt is going into our seventh month of business, full-time.  Technically we started Thrill of the Hunt in September of 2012, but it was only a part-time gig.  Even though the company is not self-sustaining, it is picking up notoriety and popularity.  My goal for the New Year is to make the company profitable and organize our finances and database.  Sounds simple enough, yet I know the challenges and I am ready to take them on ten fold.


Scooby receiving his New Year’s attire… Happy 2014! 12/31/13

Kyle is now in the seventh grade, taking advanced science and math classes and doing pretty well.  Nicole and I discussed it, and this year we’ll start training Kyle to take over all finances including entering expenses, accepting checks and possibly creating invoices in Quickbooks for The Piper Corporation.  Yep!  You heard that right!  I trust Kyle explicitly, and finances and dealing with numbers is kind of his thing.  Plus, I feel it gives him great work experience and exposure to business and will build good work ethic and character.  Not to mention he will truly be a part of the company.  He is now, especially with all his help promoting scavenger hunts and working the events, but he will be an integral part of the company.  Did I mention, I will follow-up on the information entered?  You bet!  I can’t very well expect Kyle to not make mistakes or do things incorrectly, at least not until he really learns the program and gets into a routine.  My accountant will also be aware of our unofficial employee and keep an eye out to ensure all is entered correctly.  How else is he going to get this experience and learn?  He’s worth the extra time!


Me & Seven celebrating New Years! 2014! 12/31/13

Nicole and I discussed Kyle’s new role with him over Christmas and he was truly excited!  Excited to be learning something new, excited to be dealing with numbers, exciting to be helping us out and excited to be getting paid.  I think the later was more important to him.  He called me yesterday asking when he was going to start working in Quickbooks.  Apparently, he wants to buy something.  What a stinker!  But a very ambitious one!

I asked Kyle, as I always do, what his New Year’s resolution was?  His reply?  A dismissively “Umm I don’t know.”  He could care less, but I guess that will come over time, although when I was his age I made resolutions.  I mean it’s good to set goals, right?  This year mine includes, blogging at a minimum of three days a week, finally writing my book (not sure about that one, but why not), branching out Thrill of the Hunt into Virginia, Maryland and Ohio, in addition to Pennsylvania and building the company to a profitable state.  I’m not looking for millions, just enough to say we’re profiting.  But I guess in time all things will work out the way they are suppose to.

The snow has been falling all day yesterday and all night long.  It’s beautiful out!  Even though we have my Uncle Ray’s funeral tonight, Uncle Ray – Passing of a Piper Legend it’s a bittersweet beginning to a new year.  I have faith that God will bless us with an extraordinary 2014!

posted by auntheather in Books, Movies, Shows,Common Sense,Cooking with Kyle,Education & Learning,Family,Hiking & Outdoors,Hunting & Fishing,Milestone,News,Observation & Imagination,Patience,Pets,Reminiscing,Thrill of the Hunt Scavenger Hunts and have No Comments

Perfect Gift – Chestnut Trees

He who has not Christmas in his heart will never find it under a tree.  ~Roy L. Smith

Continued…. Perfect Gift – The Ugly Quilt

roasted chestnuts Aunt Heather Piper

Roasted chestnuts popping out of their shells.

Now the next perfect gift of the 2013 Christmas season goes to … dad.  Mom came up with the idea and me, Nicole and Kyle were totally on board.  It was truly brilliant!  So what was this perfect gift?  Easy, it was two chestnut trees to be delivered this spring.  What?  Yup!

Dad loves chestnuts!  When he was younger my gram and pap had chestnut trees that dad would pick and roast and eat.  My pappy loved these seasonal nuts too, as do I.  Well, maybe not as much as dad.  They used to roast them in the fireplace, (on an open fire) but in modern times, mom pokes the chestnuts with a knife, sprinkles water and covers and microwaves them for a couple of minutes.  Voila!  Chestnuts ready to eat!  Not as good as fire roasted, but not bad.

On a side note, this story must be told.  Mom came home from the grocery store a couple of weeks ago with a really funny tale.  She said, while in the check-out line, the girl ringing her out asked mom what type of nuts was in the bag.  Naturally, mom replied “Chestnuts.”  As mom continued with the story, she was toppled over with sheer laughter.  Ok?  What is so funny about chestnuts?  Apparently, the girl asked mom in a very serious tone, “Are you going to roast these over an open fire?”  Ok, I’ll admit I lost it, I didn’t see that one coming.  Me and mom were rolling with gut stretching laughter.  Mom said, she didn’t want to be mean to the girl so she tried not to giggle and explained that she used to roast the chestnuts that way and you most certainly can, but now she just nukes (microwaves) them.  The girl was so enthralled she kept asking my mom about this newfangled method of cooking chestnuts.  She wanted to share your knowledge with her grandpap who apparently loves chestnuts too.  Great!  I hope we brought back the popularity of chestnuts!  They really are a unique treat.

young-chestnut-tree-Aunt Heather PiperYes, now-a-days, mom makes the chestnuts in the microwave, even though she complains about it every step of the way.  You see, if you leave them in for too long they explode, just like any other food item and obviously makes a mess all over the interior of the microwave.  To ease mom’s pain with this process of making dad happy, I got her a plastic cover to use, but she still chances it without the cover and grunts about making the chestnuts for dad.  Now on the opposite side, can dad make his own chestnuts?  Sure.  Does he know how?  Yep.  Will he?  Nope.  It’s just like making coffee.  Mom and dad have a Keurig, so basically it’s a matter of popping in the coffee pod and pressing a button, but dad won’t touch it.  Of course the man’s never used an ATM machine or touched a computer either in his life.  Ever!  Mom might always yell and complain about waiting on dad hand and foot, but who trained him to be like that?  Certainly not me.  That behavior has been going on since I can remember.  I guess that’s another blog topic.  Maybe one for the couch, one for the professionals.

Back to the chestnuts.  Since we didn’t have the actual chestnut trees on hand to place under the Christmas tree, we had Kyle read the receipt to dad.  Dad was totally surprised and excited!  I even added, “Yes dad and me and Kyle will help you dig the holes and plant them.”  In dad’s eyes, he was given the perfect gift!  Immediately, he started to discuss his ideas for placement of the chestnut trees.  Only dad!  I have a feeling this will be a whole adventure in itself.  Mom said she ordered two of the six or seven foot chestnut trees.  Yikes!  I have a feeling this one is going to make me sweat.  Although I don’t know what variety they are.    Merry Christmas to dad!

Aesculus_hippocastanum_fruit chestnuts Aunt Heather Piper

Chestnuts off of the tree … they are messy! Hence why I wanted to plant them far away from the house.

Dad is so stoked about his gift, he already started to ask when the trees would be coming in and when he would expect to harvest the chestnuts.  Sorry to burst dad’s bubble, but alas I guess we have a three year wait.  Or I should say, I have three free years before I have to go and pick chestnuts for dad.  I guess it doesn’t matter, that was truly the perfect gift!

On another side note, as I’ve mentioned I too like chestnuts, clearly not as much as dad, but regardless.  One year dad insisted that mom put chestnuts in her stuffing for Thanksgiving.  Why would anyone mess with mom’s stuffing  perfection?  No clue, but mom did as suggested.  No doubt someone saw an episode of chestnuts on the Cooking Channel and got the great idea.  The verdict?  Not a favorite.  It was just ok.  Even dad had to admit he didn’t like the buttery nuts mixed among his stuffing.  First, it was definitely the size of the nuts that threw us off.  Mom doesn’t believe in chopping food items up, so they were pretty whole throughout.  Luckily it was easy for me to pick them out and eat them separately. Lesson learned.  Eat stuffing or eat chestnuts.  Don’t combine them.

Naturally, Kyle got a bunch of Legos courtesy of Aunt Nikki and Gigi and pappy, which is always the perfect gift in his eyes.  I got Kyle the Chronicles of Narnia books, The Book Thief and the last Diary of a Wimpy Kid book.  Those were also perfect choices, just not for the immediate play time.  Although he already started to dive into the books.  I also got him for his Jazz Band concerts a new Calvin Klein tie.  Since I don’t want to spoil the good cheer in this blog post, I’ll save that story for later.  That one was a fight to the finish.  Spoiler alert, I won.  I think.

Yep, we are truly blessed!  Hope everyone had a very Merry Christmas as we did!

posted by auntheather in Books, Movies, Shows,Cooking with Kyle,Education & Learning,Family,Hiking & Outdoors,Observation & Imagination,Patience,Pets,Reminiscing and have No Comments

Perfect Gift – The Ugly Quilt!

Do give books – religious or otherwise – for Christmas. They’re never fattening, seldom sinful, and permanently personal.  ~Lenore Hershey


The Ugly Quilt, made from Nicole’s old quilt & my old childhood quilts originally made in 1976. Perfect Christmas idea! 12-24-13

Like many others, we go through the same list of questions every year for Christmas, ‘What do we want to get Nicole?” and “What should we get dad?”  Naturally, if we had unlimited resources, it wouldn’t be so difficult but let’s come back to reality, most people have budgets, at least I do.  Every year, generally speaking, some great idea takes shape to give the perfect gift.  Me, mom and Kyle were blessed with two great ideas.

Giving is great, I truly mean that!  However, I don’t like to give because I have to, or it’s the thing to do.  Nope, if I’m giving someone something, it’s because I mean it and I’m excited to surprise them with usually an unconventional gift.  That’s my favorite, the perfect gifts or practical ones.  I am very much a practical and simple type of gal.  Yes, I love receiving socks (the Under Armor running socks or good wool hiking socks etc) and blenders and books and running shoes and so on and so forth.  Now don’t get me wrong, I love frivolous too!  Such as jewelery or collectables, but I’m also equally happy with practical presents.

Last year, we got mom framed pictures.  Not just any pictures, but an old photo of all the cousins (close ones) and a recent shot of the same picture taken at the same location as the original, Twin Lakes Family In A Photo – Looking Back showing us all grown up.  Boy was she surprised!   Perfect!


Close up of Nicole’s quilt courtesy of Quilts by Reese. Perfect Christmas gift! Nicole never suspected it! 12/24/13

Who got the perfect gift this year?  There was a tie.  Dad and Nicole owned it!

First, lets start with Nicole.  What to get a gal who gets herself basically what she wants, when she wants it?  That was easy, something she wants and forgot she had.  This past summer while cleaning out mom and dad’s house, we came across Nicole’s old quilt.  Nicole and I both had matching quilts of different color schemes, given to us for Christmas in 1976.  They were nice twin sized quilts that kept us warm and cozy throughout our childhood and even into our twenties.  Nicole however, LOVED her quilt and drug, literally drug it around with her EVERYWHERE!  As a kid, she would drag it to the living-room to watch TV, through the kitchen, out on the porch and into the yard.  She would eat with it, sleep with it, and I bet she even drug it into the shower a time or two.  That quilt was like her giant “blanky”.  She even took it to college with her!  That is until it really fell apart.  I mean about half of it was MIA.  Over the years pieces of it would rip off, but she kept dragging it along.


Front & back of the Ugly quilt… combination of mine & Nicole’s old quilts from 1976. Nicole loved her quilt & now she kind of has it back! Perfect Christmas gift. Thanks Quilts by Reese! 12/24/13

What to do?  Call upon my friend Holly who makes quilts on the side Quilts by Reese to aide me in this perfect Christmas gift idea of course.  No, her thing is not to revitalize old torn up and extremely used quilts, but she agreed to help me out as a favor for a long time running friend.

Where to begin?  No clue, I delivered the pile of scrap fabric, which is what it basically was once it was washed one last time.  Holly took it from there.  Since finding fabric to match, texture and color wise, proved to be problematic, I gave Holly my old quilt, which was almost in perfect condition (you could tell I didn’t have such an affinity for my quilt like Nicole did hers) to tear up and use as needed.

Eventually, about a third of the quilt was Nicole’s original and the rest was mine.  It worked out perfectly since both quilts had the exact same fabric and patterns, just different color schemes.  The backing needed to be completely replaced as well as the trim, but it turned out nicely!  Better than expected actually!  Holly did an amazing job on such a difficult mission!  And she had it done well before Christmas!

With everything I do, it’s always an adventure.  As the quilt was being torn apart and assembled again, Holly would give me updates on the “ugly” quilt.  From what I gathered, it was a bit of a bugger with the thick seams and old seventy’s stretchy fabric.  Personally, I loved the name, ugly quilt and so it stuck!  Holly hated the quilt, that is until the end.  She said, “It’s so ugly it’s starting to look cute and wear on me.”  Yep that’s what happens when you put your heart and soul into something.  The fondness grows.  Now granted, Holly wasn’t so attached to it that she couldn’t give it back, but I could tell she sewed herself into the Piper quilt.


Combination of my old quilt & Nicole’s originally made in 1976. Perfect Christmas gift – Quilts by Reese 12-24-13

On a side note, one text message I received from Holly include a very close-up shot of the quilt fabric.  The text message asked me if Nicole had a bird?  Why yes she did!  How did Holly know?  Apparently, there was bird seed embedded in some of the fabric.  Only my sister!  That sounds about right.  Not to mentioned all the food stains all over her fabric.

It’s funny when I look at the quilt, I don’t see an ugly old seventy’s patchwork quilt.  Nope, I see our childhood!  And I know Nicole feels the same way.

Now the most important questions.  Was Nicole surprised?  And did she like the quilt?  Yes and yes.  She had no idea, none, not an ounce with respect to her Christmas gift.  Of course, it’s easy to keep things a secret from her when she lives two hundred miles away.  Kyle couldn’t wait to give her the blanket, although I could tell he didn’t see the importance and feel the true excitement like me, mom and dad, (well maybe me and mom) but it was still fun.

Quilts by Reese Facebook Post Ugly Quilt Aunt Heather PiperHolly wanted to see tears in Nicole’s eyes and urine on the floor from the surprise and happiness.  Well, neither happened and I’m personally more grateful for the later not occurring, but Nicole was presently surprised.  (Avery peed on the floor and that counts!)  I would love to show a picture of the original quilt, however I couldn’t find any pictures.  Actually, that’s not entirely true, I did find one, but since then I misplaced it.  I’ll look for the darn thing.

Now dad’s perfect gift.  Mom came up with the idea and me, Nicole and Kyle were totally on board.  Great idea!  So what was this perfect gift?  Easy it was …to be continued.

posted by auntheather in Education & Learning,Family,Milestone,Observation & Imagination,Patience,Reminiscing,Travels and have No Comments

Home Away From Home – Parker Dam

Home is where the heart is.  ~Pliny the Elder


Mom, Kyle & dad are packed & heading to Parker Dam. The boys (Seven & Scooby) are in the back. 6/13/13

Making another voyage to Parker Dam this past weekend, proved to be as nice of a time, as our other trips.  It was funny though, for some reason I really payed attention to my neighbors.  First, I’d like to explain that we always camp in the area approved for dogs.  Our favorite spot is lot number 90.  A nice little section out of the way, just outside the woods and near the restrooms and not far from the showers.

On Saturday, when Kyle and I were coming back from the Parker Dam beach, while riding my bike waiting for Kyle to drop his attitude and catch up to me, which incidentally he was moving so slow he could have grew moss, I people watched.  On a side note, I was reminded of something said to me last time we were riding our bikes at Parker Dam.  Kyle said, “Aunt Heather, we are on self propelled two wheel transportation devices.”  I have no idea where that came from, but it shot out of his mouth and almost made me fall off of my bike.  Anyway, as I peddled along, for some reason I really paid attention to the eclectic group of individuals staying on the camp grounds.  Some visitors only stay a night and move on, while others set up camp for what seems like a lifetime.   As different and unique as our fingerprints, same goes for the camp site setups and their dwellings.


Sunday morning it rained at Parker Dam. Look at Nicole heading to the restrooms! I was dying when I saw her…yep she blends. Is she going to the bathroom or hunting? 6/16/13

Looking around at the different types of campers, meaning the vehicle they reside in while camping, not a reference to the person, I was utterly amazed!  Some camp sites are very rugged, getting back to the basics with a simple tent on the ground, while others set up a second home complete with satellite TV and a name plate posted in front of their temporary residence.  To be honest, I never noticed everyone else before.  We tend to stay to our own little rented out corner until it’s time to depart.  Personally, I really don’t care what everyone else it doing.   I, like my family, enjoy a little solitude and peace with nature, however as I peddled along my eyes were wide open.  I couldn’t believe what I saw!  I mean lights strung up in all shapes and sizes including chili peppers and ice-cream cones; a neon palm tree stuck in the ground with pink flamingos positioned all around; potted plants hanging from awnings; and huge tents to fit a wedding party staked to the ground.  Can you believe others take all that extra time for such embellishments while camping?  You better believe it!

I’m a pretty simple traveler no matter the destination Traveling Habits, only taking the essentials, not extra stuff.  That certainly holds true for camping.  Before we left and started packing up the camper, I thought to myself, ‘Boy this is a lot of work just for one weekend.  Is this really worth it for a two hour trip, a three day stay in a camper?’  I can’t imagine how long it takes those elaborate campers to pack up for their weekend stay, let alone set up camp.

You know, at first I can sit back and kind of make fun and laugh, but the more I looked, the more I noticed something, these little pieces of grassy lots holding all this stuff, is a home.  It certainly is that way for us.  In fact, there was a couple of times mom would say, “When we get back home”, meaning our camper.   It’s true what they say, ‘Home Is Where the Heart Is’.  And as I watched everyone have a great time, their heart was fully into camping, maybe not so ruggedly but the experience was there.  It almost made me feel like I was a part of something bigger.


Seven & Scooby are packed & ready to head out to Parker Dam. They love the ride! 6/13/13

My parents had a neighbor, the Davis’ who used to take their RV camping.  They even had an electric golf cart so they could drive around the camp grounds visiting friends and socializing.  We are not that outgoing, but we did manage to break away for our isolation to chit chat with a few of our neighbors, who were nice and very interesting.  The one lady was in a wheelchair, yet she liked to camp, so their beast of a camper called the Wolf Pack folded down in the rear, allowing her to drive her motorized transportation up into her safe haven.

There was another lady walking her dog and kitten.  Yep!  Kitten!  A cute little tiger striped eight week old kitten.  The fury feline walked alongside the lady and her husband, while he walked their dog.  Now that kitten got me to stop and make a friend, as did Kyle.  He was obsessed with the fur ball!  When I told her I also brought my cat, she said, “O ya!  I had to, she’s still on the bottle and I didn’t want to leave her with my other cats.  I thought people would think I’m weird, camping with a cat.”  I totally laughed and said, “Cats are as much apart of the family as dogs are!”  Yep, we were surrounded by interesting and really down to earth people.

The weekend turned out to be another enjoyable trip.   It started off on Thursday night.  Kyle rode up with mom, dad, Seven and Scooby and the camper packed full, while Nicole and I left Friday during the day.  We were suppose to leave Latrobe around nine, however my sister convinced herself it was Saturday and apparently she wakes up later on the weekends.  Me?  I prefer to get up the same time all week long so my body is used to it and it becomes habit. Now I’m not saying I do wake up at 5:00 am every day of the week, but I do set that alarm to keep me in the rhythm.  Anyway, Nicole didn’t get up until around 8:00 am and she had a four hour drive to get me.  What?  Really?  Yep!  She finally got to the house at 1:00 pm and we made it to camp around 3:00 pm.  Not bad, even though I was looking forward to fishing with dad and Kyle in the morning, but no harm done.  Dad said the fish weren’t biting anyway.

Throughout our time at Parker Dam, we did a little biking, a little swimming and playing in the sand at the beach, we traipsed around with the dogs in the creek, made mountain pies and s’mores over the camp fire and relived the last time we were at Parker Dam.  Somewhere between Kyle’s need of an attitude adjustment and the fun and pleasant young man I know, he was singing uncontrollably.  All sorts of songs, including Christmas tunes.  What really brought a smile to my face and a song to the my lips, is when we were cautiously walking around in the creek and Kyle started singing Señor Don Gato!  I love that song!  I taught it to Kyle when he was just able to speak.  What brought that on?  I have no idea, but it was the perfect song for singing, while splashing around in a creek, in the middle of the woods.

Saturday night they had movie night!  They played Brave at their outside amphitheater.  It was really cool watching a movie in the middle of the woods outside in the nice cool air, while sitting under a blanket.  I loved it!  Almost like the drive in, only better!  While we were there we met a lady who was originally from Latrobe.  Incidentally, she was good friends of my parent’s neighbor, who were also friends of the family, the Ferry’s.  What a small a world!


Check out the Piper bonfire! We never do anything small, not even hanging around a campfire at Parker Dam. 6/16/13

Funny story:  Sorry I can’t remember her name, but she is a manager of the park.  She also previously came across my blog, finding it on her Google alerts for Parker Dam.  She read my last few blog posts about our camping experiences at the park.  Smart lady, doing her homework and hearing first hand what others are saying.  I can only say good things about Parker Dam.  The facilities and amenities are very clean and really nice and the park rangers are very pleasant and respectful.  I’m not the only one who thinks so.  I have a friend who goes there twice a year, they’ve been doing since she was a little girl.  Well done!  Two thumbs up for Parker Dam!

Sunday morning rained.  Did we care?  Nope not at all!  We were in our very own dry safe haven.  It was just like being at home.  Nicole, Kyle and I played card games, Three of a Kind was the game of choice, although sometimes we broke out a mean game of war.  I brought the chess set, however it never made its appearance.  Kyle and I both read, I was working on Lord of the Rings The Fellowship of the Ring and his journey took place in Lord of the Rings The Two Towers.  Mom, dad, the dogs and Storm?  They laid around and nodded off and on.

With all this “stuff”, guess what also managed to make its appearance?  Yes you guessed it the Legos!  On Saturday night I sat with Kyle on our big rock by the camp fire and helped him set up the battle and played a little.  Funny story!  Kyle thought me and his Aunt Nikki were taking my car to camp so right before he departed on Thursday night with mom and dad, he loaded my car up Legos.  I mean loaded!  They covered the backseat, the passenger seat and the floor of all three places.  When I opened the door I thought I was at war.  Kyle said, “Ya that’s so when you get there, I would have already set up my battle and you can bring the reinforcements.”  Naturally, that’s exactly what I was thinking for our camping trip, to drag around a ton of Legos.  Only a few made the trip.

Now looking back on the weekend, and realizing what I am remembering are now memories, memories of fun, memories of togetherness, memories at our home away from home, I realize all the packing and hulling stuff, setting it up and tearing it down, ‘YES it was totally worth it!’  Can’t wait to do it again!

Read other adventures at Parker Dame

Fishing Towards Independence
Just Had to Take It to Parker Dam
Parker Dam State Park Story
Lego Love

posted by auntheather in Common Sense,Education & Learning,Family,Hunting & Fishing,Observation & Imagination,Patience,Reminiscing,Travels and have No Comments

Loyal Traveling Television

When I got my first television set, I stopped caring so much about having close relationships.  ~Andy Warhol

With Christmas behind us, many people are putting their new gifts to use, especially the electronics.  This year, my sister got me the iPad3 with retina Display.  Boy was I surprised!  I didn’t expect that at all, and a really gracious gift it was.

Ryan & Aunt Heather Piper with old TV

Me & Ryan with Ryan’s “new” TV- not my sister’s.  He eventually blew it up when he decided to take it apart to see how it worked, he forgot to unplug it.  1980’s

While I was online reviewing accessories for my new toy, I got into talking to my friend Kelly.  She was helping me pick out the perfect messenger bag for toting my iPad.  I have no idea what made me think of it, but the memory of my sister’s dedicated television set just shot in my mind, no doubt due to the sheer humor of it.  Perhaps this walk down memory lane is so amazing because of the world of disposable goods we live in, but regardless it’s a tale worth sharing.

On the previous thought, let me rant for a few.  Everyone is used to getting rid of what they have for the desire of something new.  Personally, I think that’s a shame in most cases.  What really cracks me up, are those individuals who purchase the items that are old because they are retro and now the trendy thing to have again, when in fact, they probably had the same thing years prior and paid a lot less for it originally.  I will admit I have fallen into this trap a time or two, but for the most part I’m pretty content with what I have and I never feel the need for the newest, or something perceived as better or bigger or flashier or whatever.  I’m a pretty practical person and I love items that will be of use.

As with everything there are exceptions to the rule.  If I had serious loot, I mean Mark Zucherburg moola or Warren Buffett’s checkbook, I would have the grandest of all art collections.  Even though I am simple, I do appreciate the finer things and especially those that represent beauty and history.  A Caspar David Friedrich would certainly be at the top of my list since he is one of my favorite artists.  Admittingly, one of my biggest indulgence wishes would be to own a piece of Elizabeth Taylor’s jewelery collection.  I do love jewelery!  Did I mention it’s an investment piece that has longevity?  So in my mind a practical one.  Perhaps that’s the secret formula to my justification of purchases, will it have longevity?  Maybe, but what about items that are not suppose to last for decades, literally?  Again that’s why God made us all different, so we have to rely on one another to survive.  Plus I think it makes the world more interesting.

Now I’m back on track to outline my sister’s loyal TV story.  Way long time ago, in a galaxy far far away, Nicole and I received a color television set for Christmas.  Who’s TV set it really was, I have no idea, but we did get it sometime in elementary school, mid 1980’s.  Back then, it was a special thing to have a color television in our room, at least in our family.  We loved it!  The screen was probably a foot square and maybe 18 inches long with rabbit ears and no remote control.  Believe it or not, it was fresh off of the store shelves and represented a new shiny toy for us.  It meant more than something new, it mean TV freedom!

We only had the one large television set, which resembled a piece of furniture in the house.  It resided in the living-room.  The actual TV set was color, encompassed in a fake wooden box with rabbit ears sticking out of the top.  Only having a single TV unit in the house made watching our choice of shows far and few between.  Not that there was a lot to watch on TV back then, but the evenings were owned by dad.  The shows included the news and I’ve seen every episode of National Geographic and Marty Stouffer!  Reflecting back on it now, I really did enjoy those shows.  I am a big fan of the NATGEO channel, Animal Planet and the History Channel, as is Kyle.  But being young and not having an option, I didn’t welcome such shows into my list of favorites and put my nose up to them.  To not make it sound like we were always chained to undesirable shows, I must give a shout out to Saturday morning cartoons.  That was our time to watch whatever we wanted, up until noon.


Nicole graduates from Penn State with a B.S. in Electrical Engineering 1997

Nicole and I set the TV up on our desk and pointed it toward our twin beds, which ran parallel to the room.  We made sure we both had full access to the small screen while stretching out.  In our minds, this was the life!  We struck gold!  Now in the evenings or anytime mom and dad were watching something we didn’t want to view, we could retreat to our room and change the channel.  The TV was not beneficial when Nicole and I couldn’t agree on anything, but again lucky for us there weren’t a lot of choices.

That TV brought whole new worlds to our small corner of the globe.   Nicole introduced me to Saturday Night Live, she was always a night owl in the summer, perfect timing for the show.  To this day I remember watching Love Connection hosted by Chuck Woolery over our summer vacations.  We loved that show and would take most of the afternoon to plan for it, preparing snacks and making sure the TV was on the channel so we wouldn’t miss a beat.  Before MTV came to fruition, we would watch a music video show that was on late at night, can’t remember the name.  This was as hip as we could get, still about a decade behind everyone else, but we didn’t care.  Sometimes, Ryan would accompany us, pick a bed, and join in on the fun.  That was the perfect rainy day, lazy day, sick day, avoiding work day, gift.

As time passed, the TV would be moved around in our bedroom, but always positioned in plain sight.  That is until we reached senior high school.  Nicole was involved in her activities and I had colorguard, winterguard and my Friday Night Bonkers’ plans.  So no one had time for the now outdated and too small TV, but we always kept it.

Once Nicole went to college, she decided to take the TV with her.  This rejected but once loved piece of electronic, accompanied Nicole for two years at Penn State McKeesport before lugging it all the way up to main campus.  Come to think of it, I believe I was the one who physically moved it.  Then, while at Penn State main, the TV followed her to her different apartments before she graduated in 1997.

After that, Nicole moved home for a brief period, getting a job in her field locally.  I couldn’t believe my eyes when she brought the TV back!  It made a full circle over the course of five years.  I wanted her to get rid of it but she refused and that trusty TV was still working.  At this point that television set was roughly 15 years old!  What name brand?  I have no idea, but I was sincerely impressed.


Mom & Jake… check out the old TV & VCR behind

Then, within a months time, or so, Nicole got a job in Maryland.  Yep, you guessed it, the TV set traveled with her!  Being in shock, that first of all the TV still worked was one thing, but that my sister wanted to haul this outdated television set with her, was another baffling thought all together.  She did, with pride!  Having your first apartment outside of college and your first real job, I get it.  After all she really didn’t have anything, she was basically just starting out her life.

Then Nicole moved to Tucson, Arizona, where she remained for around five years.  Did I mentioned she moved there on a job promotion?  Staying with the same company all that time and making her way up the corporate ladder, Nicole kept her roots.  Let’s take inventory.  TV set still working and with Nicole?  YES!

Now I’m going to fast forward a few years, when Nicole lived and worked in West Virginia before landing to present day Virginia in the D.C. Metro Area.

First Nicole live in a townhouse, where her TV set had a place to call home.  By this time, we’ve all gotten used to this television set, so when visiting Nicole, wherever she resided, we started to look for the TV.  It’s funny but once when mom was talking to Nicole, dad yell out, “Ask her how her TV is doing?”  I cracked up over that comment.  Good one dad!

In recent years, now that we’ve hit the twenty first century and Nicole bought a house, one would think she would have dropped all dead weight, especially since her purchase of a brand new flat screen TV was welcomed in her living-room.  Nope!  Nicole kept that TV around.  But I’m not talking about putting it in storage.  It always had a shelf and was still used!

On my first trip to stay at Nicole’s, after moving into her house, I must say I was completely dumbstruck, as were mom and dad who were with me.  Kyle didn’t seem to think anything of this TV or our confusion.  Nicole seriously had this television set sitting on a shelf in her bedroom.  I was dying!  We all stood around and gazed at it as if we were in a museum and weren’t allowed to touch it.  I swear I saw the TV give us a defiant grin.  If you would have seen me, mom and dad standing there staring at this ancient piece of electronic, which projected entertainment from the eighties, you would have thought we just witnessed a miracle.  Dad even rolled his eyes!  Too funny!  Nicole laughed and showed us how it still worked, although the on/off switch was no longer there so she had to plug it in and unplug it to power off.  It still had the rabbit ears!  Now, that was dedication on my sister’s behalf for keeping this old TV around.

Eventually, the inevitable happened.  We got a call informing us the loyal television set, fired up for the last time and then turned off forever!  Wow, I must say mom and dad got their money’s worth.  That happened a few years ago, so I would have to guess the TV set was about 28 years old when it retired.  Not too shabby!  Maybe we should have given it a proper burial, but at least we always have the memories!

posted by auntheather in Common Sense,Education & Learning,Family,Milestone,News,Patience,Reminiscing,Travels and have No Comments

Happy Birthday Dad! – 62 Years & Counting

And in the end, it’s not the years in your life that count.  It’s the life in your years.  ~Abraham Lincoln

Happy Birthday dad!!  Dad has hit the 62 year mark today!  Believe it or not, I think dad has been hunting and fishing for most of those years, longer than we were around and certainly a lot longer than Kyle has been in existence.  Dad is our very own Grizzly Adams or sometimes I like to refer to him by one of his heroes, Jeremiah Johnson.  Take a few minutes to see the many years of dad.

The upper left corner picture shows mom and dad boarding a bus from Aschaffenburg, Germany for a weekend trip to Holland in the spring 1971.  Dad was still in the army.  Going clockwise, the next picture is dad catching salmon in Michigan.  He said he went there with the Schober boys (family friends).  Below, is a picture of dad with his beloved grandson, Kyle.   That was Kyle’s first Christmas in 2001.  He was five months old sporting his red long underwear that opened up at the rear, similar to a pair dad owns.  Moving to the left, dad was sitting there watching TV or talking to someone, c. 1990.  Mom said the picture was taken during the time period before dad left for Colorado.  He went there to naturally go on a hunting trip for shoot mule deer.  Then, the picture directly above, is dad at Somerset Lake catching a pike, 1971.  Check out the 1966 BelAir Chevy right behind him.

Years-of-dad Aunt Heather Piper

posted by auntheather in Family,Milestone,News,Observation & Imagination,Reminiscing,Travels and have No Comments

Family in a Photo – Looking Back

What greater thing is there for human souls than to feel that they are joined for life – to be with each other in silent unspeakable memories.  ~George Eliot


Kyle & Mom showing off the group shots of the cousins (new 2012  –  old 1985)      12/2012

It seems like every Christmas there is one person in particular that is receiving something of real meaning and importance, the big gift of the Christmas.  This year’s winners were mom and dad!  What was this victory gift?  Where did the idea come from?  How did it come together?

It started with when I was perusing boxes upon boxes of old photos, looking for a few to scan and upload to my blog.  I came across this image of a group of kids from July 1985.  The children, ranging in ages from 12 years to about 18 months happened to include Ryan, Nicole, our cousins, from mom’s side of the family and myself.  Upon closer examination I noticed that three of my cousins weren’t even born yet.  This was one of those rare pictures.  The unplanned kind, that only one person seems to have the photo, no one has the negative (yes back then there were negatives) and no one remembers taking the photo.  Later on, I asked around for another such picture that included everyone but alas no such luck.  My Aunt Irene, who is the queen of pictures and organization never saw another photo like the one I had.  By all means, this newly discovered photo didn’t include ALL the cousins, but a majority of us that have grown up around each other.  My Uncle Frank’s grandkids, my cousins Denise and Matthew were not present, just to name a few.  However, most of my life they lived closer to the Philadelphia area.  So we never really grew up around them like we did the Olczaks, Bobincheks and Milligans.

Something struck me about this picture, maybe because I actually remembered the day it captured.  We got together and met at Twin Lakes Park for a picnic.  Only later, did mom tell me that we were there celebrating my cousin Lisa’s birthday.  Believe it or not, I remember mom driving us up to the party spot in dad’s red truck.  My attire included a Madonna T-shirt, which I remember showing off to everyone, it’s pretty prominent in the picture.  It was a gorgeous sunny afternoon.  Aunt Irene (my godmother) welcomed us as we arrived and was ready for a serious picnic adventure.

Now, I really don’t recall what we did the rest of the day, but I remember getting there and snacking, and believe it or not the picture being taken.  If my memory serves me correctly, I can hear someone yelling for all of us to look over at the camera and say “cheese.”  Who the photographer was, is still a mystery.  But as I sat perched front row, I can still feel the worry for my, then little, cousin Mikey falling backwards off of the picnic table.  Again proven in the photo.  Mikey was maybe 18 months old, being born in 1983.

Now, really getting to the point of this mystery photograph.  As I scanned the picture into the computer and started cleaning it up, I couldn’t help but try and imagine each of my cousins in present day.  Then it hit me!  The idea which would be the big Christmas gift surprise of 2012.  I thought it would be great to get all the cousins together and get the picture taken again, at the same location, in the same seats.  My idea didn’t just stop there.  I thought it would also be nice for everyone, to get a picture of the cousins with their spouses and kids.  A huge family photo.  Boy do I know how to dream big!

As the brainstorming was starting to solidify in my head all the way to reality, I began to spread the word to each of the 11 cousins, my sister and Kyle.  Originally, I talked about the idea with Casey and later with Elizabeth and Marla before sending a private Facebook message along with the picture, to get everyone on the same page and to get their buy in.  Then, I created a group email to make this process easier.  It took a little bit of back and forth and a lot of planning and moving schedules around but I did it!  I got a day and time.  Mind you it was a very short window of time, but enough for a few pictures.  It was set!  Everyone was available over Labor Day weekend, that Sunday.  Keep in mind Casey and my sister were the two from out of state, and the ones I worried about the most trying to get them in town.  Unfortunately, my grandiose idea of having the spouses and kids involved was a bit too aggressive.  So I had to settle for my cousins who were all grown up.  I was happy with that!


Front Row: Me, Mikey Olczak, Joel Olczak, Ryan Piper
Middle Row: Christina (Milligan) Wineland, Lisa (Milligan) Amatucci, Tim Bobincheck, Lee Bobincheck, Elizabeth (Olczak) Eury
Back Row: Casey Olczak, Nicole Piper     7/1985

Just when it seemed like everything was going my way, the photographer was on board, all the cousins were organized, God threw me another obstacle, or potential obstacle as it sat.  Our area was going to be hit with part of hurricane Isaac, moving up through Western Pennsylvania.  Yikes!  Are you kidding me?  Nope, it was all true.  I simply emailed everyone and said, no matter what, we were going to get this picture, instructing the group to bring umbrellas.  My thinking was, push comes to shove we could get a cute picture with our lot under multicolored umbrellas.  Whatever was thrown at me, I was going to make this work, especially after all this back and forth and planning.

Houston we have another problem.  The Friday before the picture was to be taken, Nicole called and said she was sick and she couldn’t make it up.  What?  Really?  Are you kidding me?  Not on my watch.  I instructed her to drive up from the D.C. Metro Area anyway, after all it was only four hours (sarcasm).  She could get her picture taken and go back home.  Needless to say she was not very pleased with me, and she was slightly bitter about the situation on the day of the picture, but it had to be done!  This picture was meant to be!  The show must go on.

Keep in mind all this was done under the radar of mom and dad, not that dad pays much attention to anything non-hunting and fishing related.  That Friday, before speaking to me, Nicole called mom and said she wasn’t coming home.  Naturally, after mom picked Kyle up off the bus she told him that his Aunt Nikki wasn’t going to make it back.  Kyle was in on the mission and he was also aware that it was a big secret, mom and dad were to never find out.  While mom and Kyle were cruising home, and I was at work, Kyle called me and said, “Aunt Heather we have a problem, Aunt Nikki isn’t coming home this weekend.  What about the picture?”  I said, “Kyle are you sitting in the front seat right beside Gigi?”  He reassuringly said, “Ya but she doesn’t hear me and she doesn’t know about the picture.”  All spoken at full volume!  In complete shock, I said, “Kyle!  What did you say to Gigi? And yes she can hear you, she’s not deaf.”  He said, “O, well I did say ‘I guess we can’t get the picture taken then’ when Gigi said Aunt Nikki wasn’t coming home and she said ‘What picture?’ but I didn’t tell her about it.”  Really?  Is this conversation happening?  Is was playing out right in front of mom!  Trying to get Kyle off the phone and drop the conversation I assured him that Aunt Nikki was coming home and not to worry about it.  He started to insist on talking about her absence as if he knew more than I did.  I quickly defused his worry and changed topics.

So basically, Nicole was still a possible no show and Kyle pretty much spilled the beans.  This all happened within minutes from one another.  I managed to keep this Christmas gift under wraps for roughly four months and it unfolded in the blink of an eye.  Everyone knew this picture was only going to happen with all cousins present, including my sister.  The only person missing was Ryan and Kyle was sitting in for him.


Front Row: Me, Mikey Olczak, Joel Olczak Kyle Piper sitting in for Ryan Piper
Back Sitting Row: Christina (Milligan) Wineland, Lisa (Milligan) Amatucci, Tim Bobincheck, Lee Bobincheck, Elizabeth (Olczak) Eury
Standing: Marla (Olczak) Sutton, Stacey Olczak, Katie Milligan, Casey Olczak, Nicole Piper      8/2012

The day of the shoot…went pretty well.  Nicole did manage to get home.  She almost puked in my car on the ride to Twin Lakes, but as long as she didn’t get any on her cloths, I didn’t care.  As we gathered to get into position, the rain let up.  The last roadblock came from my cousin Stacey, also the youngest one of the bunch.  She slept in and lost her car keys.  But no worries she was close-by and her sisters stepped in and retrieved our missing link.  We remained a little behind schedule, but I think it worked in our favor since it gave the sun a chance to make its appearance.

Getting the finished piece from the framers also proved to be a challenge.  The day I was suppose to pick up this masterpiece, I happened to get the stomach flu and missed the call.  So now what?  The framer was gracious enough to meet me the next day, a day before giving the gift, taking time out of her schedule to do so.  The finished piece turned out really nice, I went to i frame it! in Youngstown, Pennsylvania.

Anyway, after all this planning and running around, the gift was finished and delivered, sitting in my mom’s hands.  Kyle gave the pictures, which were now matted and framed, to my mom.  I expected a big hurray, but alas all mom said was, “Kyle I can’t really see what I’m looking at, get me my glasses.”  Yes, I never took into account that mom would need her glasses to see the Christmas gift.  Naturally, no one knew where mom set her glasses, so while Kyle ran around the house looking, mom sat there and squinted at the pictures trying to make out what she was looking at.  Once her sight of vision was clear, she really liked seeing everyone together, all grown up.

It took 27 years for the photo to be retaken, well past due.  How I wished Ryan was present, but I guess he was in spirit.  He gave us the best stand-in, Kyle!  We added the pictures to the walls of family photos spread throughout the Piper household.  It’s really a nice addition!

Thank you to all my cousins who participated!  I really appreciate it! 

posted by auntheather in Common Sense,Education & Learning,Family,Milestone,News,Observation & Imagination,Patience,Reminiscing,Travels and have No Comments

Another Lego Christmas

Building another Christmas full of memories, one Lego building block at a time.  ~Aunt Heather Piper


First time Kyle visited Santa… mom bought the outfit! 5 months old 12/12/01

Well, it’s happened again.  This Christmas turned out to be another Piper Lego Fest for Kyle.  By default, everyone was expected to participate and gaze upon the Lego creations, starting from a large pile of tiny Lego building blocks, all the way to the final Lego creation.  Not to mention stopping in to examine and re-ensuring Kyle of his progress throughout the development.  In Kyle’s mind, Legos make everyday better!

Kyle knows I only buy him unconventional gifts.  This year’s theme was books.  The selected novels included the Lord of the Rings book set, Diary of a Wimpy Kid -The Third Wheel and Lincoln’s Last Days by Bill O’Reilly.  He seemed pretty thrilled to start Lord of the Rings, ever since he quickly wrapped up The Hunger Games series announcing,  “Finally, another book series I can start!”  Although he was also excited about the last Wimpy Kid book, keeping up with that series since its conception.  However, Kyle didn’t seem so thrilled with Lincoln’s Last Days, saying, “I just don’t really like history.”  To not torture my young Kyle and yet introduce him to anther genre of books, I ensured Kyle that I will read those pages to him.  Being pretty satisfied with my comment, Kyle instantly agreed knowing that was the best deal he was going to get.  He likes to read on his own, especially exciting books, but he does save a place for me to read to him.  It’s our together time and we both really enjoy it, plus I like to keep tabs on what he’s reading.  I always want to stay involved so I can answer any of his questions or guide his curious mind in the right direction.

Having nothing against Lego’s, they are great to satisfy Kyle’s need to build and shape his engineering mind, I also know he gets plenty of Lego’s to last him a lifetime or at least to get him through the holidays.  This year was nothing short of his dream Lego sets.  Since seeing The Hobbit with me in the movie theater, Kyle now wants to collect all The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings Lego sets.  I remember the days of the Indiana Jones Lego sets and the Star Wars Lego sets.  There was a time when that’s all he wanted, now it’s onto sometime new.

Kyle’s Christmas list did include something out of the ordinary.  Kyle requested Lego Mobile Devastator Exo-Force.  Apparently, this Lego has been discontinued and according to Kyle was “Rare”.  What did that mean to Kyle?  Nothing.  It meant that he would ask his Aunt Nikki for it, giving it five stars on his Christmas list, and she would deliver.  In fact, there was never a time when Kyle didn’t think he was going to get his requested Legos.   You know what?   He was right!  Nicole did pull through and find him his outlined items.

Before Nicole arrived home, she asked Kyle if she was expected to wrap the gifts.  He reassured her that all gifts needed to be wrapped and placed under the Christmas tree.  He wanted to be surprised and he “Didn’t want to be tortured seeding the box!”  Yes, I am being serious, that’s our little man.  He wants to be surprised but wants to be in control of what he wants.


Kyle with Santa, 4 years old… he loved those Bob the Builder Boots courtesy of his Aunt Heather 12/2005

About a week ago, Kyle was complaining about his socks again.  Mom snapped and said, “I’m going to buy a a dozen bushels of socks for you for Christmas!”  Later, Kyle questioned me about mom’s statement saying, “Would Gigi really buy me a dozen bushels of socks for Christmas?”  I confirmed the words spoken by saying, “O yes, don’t put it past Gigi, she’ll do it!  She’s done it before.  I’ll be surprised if she doesn’t get you a load of underwear too.”  A little stressed out Kyle said, “Ya but she’s also going to get me Lego’s too, right?”  I laughed and ensured him he will not be at a shortage of Legos for Christmas.

By the time I got to mom and dad’s house on Friday night, Kyle had already inspected all the boxes, sized them up, looked up the Legos he wanted and review the dimensions of the boxes on the Lego website.  This way he was doing an accurate comparison with the prizes under the Christmas tree and the outlined Christmas list items.  What?  Yep!  That’s how Kyle works.  He wants all gifts wrapped, so he can be surprised, but he wants to ensure his victory even up to the last minute!  He not only did that mom and dad’s gifts, but he really examined the gifts hauled into the house by his Aunt Nikki.  Naturally, he never felt a need to closely examine the gifts supplied by me.  Note to self, I should throw him off his game and purchase a Lego set for Easter.  He would be truly mind-blown!


Me, Nicole & Ryan Christmas c. 1980

Christmas went off without a hitch, keeping to our tradition of attending mass on Christmas Eve, where Kyle served.  He loves serving mass and helping father out, well maybe not with the incense, but being apart of the blessing of the manger and especially the assistance with the Eucharist.  Kyle is at that age where he is getting older now, but is still just a kid who likes to play with his Legos.  And he does!  Once the Lego sets are build, he sets up his battles and literally plays with the figures and the scenes.  This year it looked like the Mobile Devastator joined in on The Hobbit- Battle of Helms Deep, another five star favorite.  Upon closer inspection I saw some Star Wars Lego’s were also included on the epic battle in the living-room.  Legos, fun for hours and hours!

Merry Christmas everyone!  I hope you built your Christmas memories, as Kyle has done for us!


I’ll post some pictures of Kyle’s Lego sets when he takes the pictures.

posted by auntheather in Books, Movies, Shows,Church,Education & Learning,Family,LEGO's,Milestone,Observation & Imagination,Patience,Reminiscing and have No Comments

Community Service – Giving Back

It’s not how much we give but how much love we put into giving.  ~Mother Teresa


Kyle with his Youth Group leader Mrs. Milko at a senior care center 12/16/12

This year Kyle was old enough to join our church’s youth group.  They accept students who are in the sixth grade and Kyle will be able to participate until he graduates high school.  The Sacred Heart / Saint Cecilia youth group also accepts anyone meeting that criteria, students don’t necessary have to go to our church to join.  It seems like such a large span of ages, but I think it’s good experience for all parties, having such an eclectic group.  They are a great group and I highly recommend any child joining.

The Sacred Heart / Saint Cecilia youth group is well organized and pretty involved in the community.  Every year they elect their officers and vote on the activities they want to accomplish during the school year.  Yes!  The students make the suggestions on the community service work, the fundraisers and the fun activities they want to participate in.  The students are also the ones who vote on which suggestion from each of the categories they want to accomplish throughout the year, guided by their fearless leaders Mrs. Milko and Miss Janik.  Structuring the group this way, really truly makes it their own.  The young adults are held accountable and learn responsibility.

This past Sunday, the youth group went to a senior living center nearby and passed out ornaments and sang Christmas carols.  I know Kyle’s visited a similar facility in the past because of my grandma, but I don’t think Kyle really paid much attention to all the different types of elderly people and really saw them.  The first floor contained the seniors who needed consistent attention and care, nothing out of the ordinary for Kyle.  However, the top floor was slightly different.  The upper level was a secure section where they housed the mentally handicapped.  The assortment of individuals with varying degrees of sickness, was a whole new world for Kyle, and I’m glad he had the opportunity to experience it.  My goal was always to have Kyle see the world and experience everything.  This is part of it, it might not be the glamorous side of life, but it is reality.


The Sacred Heart / Saint Cecilia Youth Group 12/16/12

Besides being a little bit intimidating, the visit went every well.  It seemed like our presence was appreciated by those it was meant to benefit.  Our nurse tour guide, if you will, was great with the students!  After all the gift giving and the Christmas songs where sang, the nurse gathered the students together to tell them about the residence.  She wanted to let the youth group know that their efforts are recognized and their actions are more valuable than they realize.  Not naming any patients by name, the nurse gave broad stroke statements to drive several points home.

She (I wish I knew her name) mentioned that some of the elderly have no families and some have no one in their lives, except the caretakers.  She stressed how important it is to bring Christmas to them and how much it means to the recipient.  The upper level residence, those who have mental illnesses, were addressed to bring a strong message to the forefront.  She brought to light the fact that a majority of the patients upstairs where placed there due to drug usage and abuse.  Driving the point even further, she threw out a few numbers, the age ranges of the upper level residence, and they weren’t all elderly.  Surprisingly, she had a patient who was in his/her late twenties at one point.  Completely sad, especially when it’s unavoidable.  As the youth group and nearby adults were shocked over hearing this information and while they were pondering it, I discretely leaned toward Kyle and sternly whispered, “If I ever catch you trying drugs or cigarettes or hear of it, I will beat the crap out of you and put you in here permanently!”  He gave me a shaky ornery grin, knowing I might have sounded light about the comment, but meant the threat to its fullest extent.

As of now in life, Kyle hates needles.  He gets seriously ill  just from the shear sight of them and he hates to break rules.  So far so good.  Not to mention Kyle hates cigarettes!  That’s my man!  Like the nurse, I take ever opportunity to help drive home messages too.

When Kyle and I were leaving, I gave him a little inside, on the history our family has with that particular senior care center.  Kyle likes to hear these stories of our past and knowing he is indirectly apart of it.

Mom volunteered there in high school, reading books to the elderly.  I’m not sure how that came about, but it was a perfect job for her, for someone who loved to read.  I’m sure she was animated with her narration of the novels, just as I get when reading to Kyle, well maybe not that extreme.  When mom talks about those days it is with delight.  I think she really enjoyed reading and spending time with the seniors.

When Father Alred would administer mass to the sick and anoint the sick, the alter boys would assist him.  Being an alter boy, Ryan would volunteer when needed.  He did that all through elementary school.


Kyle snagging a cookie after passing out Christmas ornaments & singing Christmas carols to the elderly for his youth group. 12/16/12

Although Ryan’s volunteer days didn’t end there.  He also worked at this senior care center for a few months when he got in trouble in high school.  Ryan, who was really a good kid, but just did stupid stuff, was busted skipping school and drinking on school property.  Only my brother!  As punishment, besides the fines he had to pay and loosing his drivers license for a year, he had to do community service work.  Yes!  For an entire year, I had to cart his butt around everywhere, back and forth to work, school, you name it.  As part of the court order, he had to do so much community service time.  The judge was going to have Ryan pick up litter along side the highway.  That’s what they all thought, until mom interjected and requested he work in the senior care center.  Mom knew Ryan didn’t care about doing manual labor, but working with elderly people was a different story.  She also thought besides helping those who really need it, this activity would leave a lasting impression on Ryan, driving her point home.  I guess I know where I get it!

It did!  It even made an impression on me.  When I heard about mom’s suggestion, I thought “O crap, Ryan’s in for it!”  Ryan would come home and tell me all about the old people who would call him “sonny” and some of the things they said to him were hilarious!  He always had a story to two to tell me about this patient who would chase Ryan around in his wheelchair!  Why?  I have no idea and neither did Ryan, but he said sometimes he was quick!  A majority of the stories were funny!  We would roll around laughing.  The other stories just plain grossed me out.  Those usually involved exactly what you’d expect, the daily activities of cleaning bed pans etc.  At one point I said to Ryan, “Boy you made mom mad!”  He just shot me his ornery grin and a look of ‘Don’t I know it!’


Sacred Heart / Saint Cecilia Youth Group – passing out ornaments & singing Christmas carols to the elderly 12/16/12

While attending Sacred Heart School, Nicole and I would participate with our classes and sing Christmas carols to the elderly.  In fact, the entire school would sing through the halls, bringing Christmas cheer and a freshness to the otherwise mundane environment.  At the time, I didn’t realize what we meant to the patients and the caretakers.  I actually never thought about it until Kyle’s excursion.

All of our lives, we have been raised to volunteer and give back to the community, one way or another.  When I was in elementary school, all the students were required to work the church picnic every August.  We had to sign up for our booth and our shift, and we were responsible for being present and covering all open shifts.  Keep in mind, we were young kids who were responsible for the money being exchanged and stocking the booth of all the goods or administering to the game provided.  Granted we had adults following up on us and directing us when needed, but it was our duty to the community as students of Sacred Heart.  I enjoyed it!

Giving back to the community should be introduced and instilled in every child from a young age.  It’s good for the soul, it’s good for the recipients, it’s good to set an example, and it’s good for everyone’s over spiritual well-being.  It breaks my heart to hear of a child or an adult that has never volunteered for the community, or those that are not interested in giving back.  They are the ones missing out on a great experience given to us from God.  He made us all different so we can rely on one another.  Giving in the form of a monetary gift is certainly accepted and needed, but it is only one side of community service.  The act of volunteering your time and skills and getting involved is another side side all together and one worth trying.

It’s never too late to give back.  There are so many organizations in need of help!

posted by auntheather in Church,Common Sense,Education & Learning,Family,Milestone,Observation & Imagination,Reminiscing and have No Comments

No Santa?! At Least There’s an Easter Bunny!

I stopped believing in Santa Claus when I was six.  Mother took me to see him in a department store and he asked for my autograph.  ~Shirley Temple


Nicole, Ryan & Me. Check out the size of the walkie talkies c.1983

Now that we are fast approaching Christmas and the idea of Santa Clause is everywhere, it reminds me of how Kyle was informed of the truth about old Saint Nick.  I told him.  Yes, I know it sounds horrible, but it needed to be done.  Kyle turned eleven this past July, so this happened about a year and a half ago when Kyle was ten years old.

Up until last summer, as far as we knew, Kyle still believed in Santa, wholeheartedly.  This is kind of surprising to me because Kyle is such a realist.  He’s very practical with his thinking, always has been, and I can’t believe he didn’t poke holes in Santa’s story.  Of course, Kyle has also always been so innocent, like all children should be, and his faith in the magic of Christmas was always unwavering, like everyone’s should be.  Not to mention, the idea of a jolly man bringing him toys, especially Legos, was beyond him to question it.

Mom, Nicole and I discussed the situation before any action was taken.  I personally didn’t think this was a problem with Kyle still believing, but mom brought up a good point, she didn’t want kids making fun of Kyle for not knowing.  She also didn’t want Kyle finding out from the other youngsters at this age and not really understanding Christmas.  Well, upon further discussion it was established that Nicole was going to tell Kyle over the “Aunt Nikki and Kyle’s week of fun.”  Our reasoning was, Kyle would be having so much fun, hence the name, that he wouldn’t be upset.

Great!  The plan was laid out or so I thought.  Except, an opportunity presented itself and I took it.  Actually, the conversation happened so quickly, I really didn’t have time to think about it, but I knew I didn’t want to lie to Kyle, nor did I want him to possibly be upset on his vacation.

Kyle and I were heading somewhere and he brought up Christmas.  This is not unusual for Kyle to be thinking about his Christmas presents in the middle of summer.  He pre-plans his booty well in advance so we have time to fulfill his requests.  I was told by a friend of mine that when we did break the news, do not make it into such a big deal, be casual about the conversation.  Kyle said, “Ya Aunt Heather, for Christmas I want [something] from Santa Clause.”  Ok, now was the time to rip off the band-aide.  I interrupted him and said, “You know Kyle, there’s no such thing as Santa Clause.”  He stopped and thought for a moment and said, “But Saint Nicholas is real.”  You see Kyle’s chosen saint for his Confirmation was Saint Nicholas, after my sister Nicole.  I added to confirm his faith, “O yes, Saint Nicholas was a real man, who did great things.  But a fat jolly man running around and delivering gifts is not real.” trying to give him a clear comparison and trying to make this conversation flow a little more smoothly.  He said, “But am I still going to get my gifts under the tree?”  My poor confused and stressed out Kyle!  I replied, “Yes Kyle, you are not going to be at a loss of toys and gifts from all of us, as you never have been”  He seemed fine with that answer and I saw his facial expression change from concern to calm again.


Nicole (yes that’s a nurses hat & not a Burger King crown on her head, don’t ask) Dad holding Ryan & me. Check out my Christmas ensemble.. adorable. I even did my own pigtails.  12/25/1979

Eventually, Kyle turned to me and said, “It’s ok Aunt Heather, at least there’s an Easter Bunny.”  Yikes!  Not only am I handling Christmas but I just got thrown into Easter too!  Nonchalantly, I responded, “Ya, no there’s no Easter Bunny either, bud.”  He just stared out the windshield of my car.  I could tell he was really taking this in.  Making sure Kyle understood that we wanted him to believe in Santa Clause and the goodness of what Christmas is truly about, I ensured him, that we as a family don’t lie and we would never lied to him.  Of course, with the exceptions of the Easter Bunny, Tooth Fairy, Boogie Man (Kyle’s boogie man lived in his teeth, my way of having him brush his teeth thoroughly) and yes Santa Clause.  Although I didn’t say it quite like that, but I did want to cover all bases.

To break the silence I reiterated the importance of each of those holidays.  They are not to give kids toys and gifts, but they are celebrations of Jesus.  Kyle said, “Ya I know that.”  Good, at least I know Kyle has been paying attention to me, his CCD teacher and father during mass.  I guess that was my only real concern, that he would be confused with the real message of each holiday, but it seemed like he was up-to-speed on Jesus.  Good!  My job as a godmother is proving successful.


Ryan in the favorite rocking chair c.1990

As Kyle continued his conversation, before I rudely interrupted him and destroyed the idea of Santa Clause, he continued where he left off.  Amazing!  Without missing a beat!   As Kyle was going off into a dissertation of what gifts he wanted and instructing me for which celebration he wanted them, I couldn’t help but think of the first time I found out Santa wasn’t real.  I heard it from, MOM!

Yep, I remember it to this day.  Mom, Nicole and I were eating at Jioio’s and mom blurted out, “Well I guess you girls know there’s no such thing as Santa Clause.”  What?  Was mom being serious?  Then she continued without missing a beat, “Your father and I have been giving you kids the gifts, well it’s me buying the gifts and wrapping them.  But don’t tell your brother, he still believes in Santa.”  At that point I did too, until this shock of reality hit.  I looked to Nicole for some reinsurance, but she just nodded her head as if she knew about it all along.  Which means, this conversation was not ruining anyone’s appetite but mine!

Needless to say, I was sick in the stomach the rest of the day.  I was also a little bit miffed with mom for not easing into the conversation, but then again mom’s never been subtle and sensitive.  I guess that’s where I get it.  Even though Ryan still believed, I wasn’t about to play along with mom and dad’s deception.  That Christmas, I remember distinctly not bringing up Santa at all and I didn’t join in on any conversation that involved the bearded jolly giant.  I was taking a stand!  Keep in mind, I never told Ryan, but I didn’t add to the myth either.  I don’t really know how Ryan ever found out or when, probably mom just blurting it out one day, or one of my cousins who were older shared the secret.

Thinking back on it now, I remember one summer being at gram and pap’s house and finding my purple bottle in the basement.  What does that have to do with Santa?  Well, I remembered when Santa made his appearance at our house.  It was my pap dressed up, sometimes it was a family friend.  That year, me and my bottle must have been the focus of discussion because when Santa gave me my gift, I was immediately prompted by my gram, “Now what are you going to give Santa, Heather?”  I had nothing, I was just a kid!  So I forked over my beloved bottle.  So carelessly, my grandma left MY bottle on the shelves among the canned food in the basement and naturally I found it.  Then, I thought back, Santa took it so that must mean, Santa is pap?  Stealthy like, I investigated pap’s closet and found a box on the top shelf with a piece of red fabric peeking out.  Somehow I managed to get a chair past my grandma, who was napping, to investigate further.

Yes my suspicion was confirmed, it was pap who dressed as Santa.  I found the suit!  Yet, I still never fathomed there was not a Santa Clause.  I guess everyone has a major childhood trauma.  I’m just blessed to say, mine was minor and I knew I always had a great family!  Hope everyone still believes in the miracle of Christmas!  I know I do.  Merry Christmas!

posted by auntheather in Church,Education & Learning,Family,Milestone,Observation & Imagination,Reminiscing and have No Comments

43 Years of Mr. & Mrs. Piper

The bonds of matrimony are like any other bonds – they mature slowly.  ~Peter De Vries

It seems like mom and dad, who created our Piper Family, have beaten the odds of today’s statistics being married 43 years.  I bet when they exchanged their vows on December 12, 1969, they never guessed the journey that was ahead.  The years have taken many twists and turns but I bet it was all worth it.  Six years to the day, from mom and dad’s wedding, I was born, the infamous middle child of the Piper Family.

Happy Anniversary 43rd Anniversary Mom and Dad!!

mom-and-dad-Germany-Aunt Heather-Piper

Mom & Dad in Aschaffenburg, Germany where dad was stationed in the army during the Vietnam war. After they were married they lived there for 2 years. c.1970


Then six years passed and I came along to join the Piper Family…


Me & Santa, Christmas Eve 1975. I was 12 days old.

As I was reviewing my Facebook entries today, I laughed at mom’s birthday wish to me.  You got that all right! Let’s not forget today is 12/12/12!  All my favorite numbers.

Birthday wish Aunt Heather Piper 12-12-12

posted by auntheather in Church,Education & Learning,Family,Milestone,News,Observation & Imagination,Reminiscing and have No Comments

The Best Christmas Gift EVER!

Every gift which is given, even though it be small, if in reality great, if it is given with affection.  ~Pinda


Me & Kyle at Santa’s Workshop. I got a big hug this year… Kyle always gives me the best gifts ever! 12/5/12

Last Wednesday was Santa’s Workshop in school, and as tradition dictates I work a half day when Kyle is scheduled to shop.  I do truly love helping the kids and seeing them all excited over purchasing gifts for their family members.  Kyle sees it as a way of guaranteeing him additional gifts to give away.  Not that there’s anything wrong with that, because I know his intentions are the most sincere, he thinks of everyone in the family.  Of course he does include himself in that mix.  What a stinker!

When I first started working Santa’s Workshop, Kyle was in the first grade.  Even though I never missed a Christmas Season, Kyle would look surprised to see me working every year.  Although for this shopping event, Kyle told me the night before.  He said it with enthusiasm and almost as if he expected me to be there.  Well, I was way ahead of him making sure I took the morning off.  Kyle said, “O wait Aunt Heather, tomorrow is our Santa’s Workshop.”  Playing coy, I responded, “O ya?”  He continued, “Ya but I’m not sure what time.  They just told us.”  I started to chuckle.  If he thinks no one told the kids in advance about the shopping day ran by the PTA, he couldn’t be more wrong.  Calling him out on this, I said, “Kyle I doubt if the school never mentioned it to anyone before hand.  I bet you got a letter sent home and you didn’t know it.”  He really didn’t deny it, but I could tell he seriously was just reminded of the next days schedule.  Just to play with Kyle a little I said, “Well, honey that’s kind of last minute, what if I had meetings setup for tomorrow?  You’re telling me about this the night before.”  He kind of shrugged his shoulders as if to be blasé about my comment, like he didn’t care, but I could tell he wanted me to go.  As to not upset him, I broke character and said, “Yes I was planning on going.  Do you think I would rely on you telling me when it is, in advance?”  Kyle just smiled from ear-to-ear.  He asked me, “How did you know?”  I told him I reached out to a PTA mom and made sure she put me on the list when he was scheduled to shop.


Me & Kyle at Light Up Night in Pittsburgh 11/2011

As the kids filed in by class, I always look for familiar faces.  That gives me an indication if they are part of Kyle’s class or not. This year, I was posted at the gift wrapping table, unlike my previous duties of helping the kids pick out gifts and manage their moola.  I guess that’s a promotion!  While I was sitting there ready for the next group of young shoppers to grace us with their presence, Kyle rounded the corner with a huge grin on his face.  After he completed his first round of shopping, Kyle came and got me to get the rest of his gifts, Gigi, pappy and Aunt Nikki.  Of course Kyle always thinks of Seven and Scooby grabbing them a Christmas gift too.  I’m thinking he forgot about Storm, not that she would care, nor do I care.  What came next really made my heart fill with warmth and love.


Kyle & Santa, he did much better with Santa, unlike his earlier years… 4 years old

As we went through our short Christmas list, making sure we didn’t forget anyone, Kyle turned to me and was very hesitant.  At first, I thought he was going to ask me if he could buy himself something, as he has done in the past.  But this time he took me completely off guard.  Kyle said, “Well Aunt Heather, do you have five extra dollars?”  Not reading him correctly, I said, “Yes what do you want?”  He said, “Well, could you leave the room so I could pick something out for you?”  My little man!  I couldn’t help but shine with happiness, not over the gift but over the thought of considering me as part of his beloved shopping list.  I’ve been helping him with Santa’s Workshop for years and he never once thought to buy me a gift.  I was ever mad or even upset over it and I certainly never commented, I was just happy to help everyone else with their gifts. Another part of me helping, was to help show Kyle how to give.  His expression was so sincere and genuine, I just wanted to hug my little man and kiss his big round head!  It was his love for me that really made my day!  Heck, it made my lifetime!

Before Kyle was in school, my sister would take him to get small gifts for everyone.  That particular year, I remember he picked out this wire Christmas tree with blue ornaments.  It was not the prettiest thing I’ve ever seen, but it was from Kyle.  I still remember when he gave it to me for Christmas.  The enthusiasm he exuded, all for me to have this sparkly Christmas tree decoration was amazing and contagious.  The best part was when he demonstrated his thoughts by singing, “Look Aiya, Jingle bells, jingle bells, jingle all the way.”, as he shook my gift up and down allowing it to make ringing sounds.  He also said, “Ya Aiya, It’s shinny and I know you like shinny things!”  I don’t know how the young child associated me with shinny things, because I am not a glitter wearing flashy dresser, but something made him think of me in that light.  At that moment, I was placed me in the mind of Kyle and I saw the world through his eyes, at least with respect to the this gift.  Even to this day, Kyle loves singing Jingle Bells with me.  That was his favorite song and every time we were in the car, I would blast the Jingle Bells tunes and we would bust out in song.  He told me, “Aiya, now we can sing!” Love him!

Christmas Tree Aunt Heather PiperDo you know that each and every Christmas I still pull out the cheesy Christmas tree with blue ornaments?  Yep, I always display it somewhere in plain sight for all to see.  While going through my Christmas decorations, I actually tend to look for it.  Once I retrieve the sparkly aluminum made artwork, I shake it and always remember that Christmas Kyle was excited to give it to me.  It makes me laugh, especially remembering Nicole calling me after the purchase was made and giggling to herself saying, “Wait till you see what Kyle picked for you!”

Both gestures are locked away in my memory and remain in heart,  They are by far the BEST Christmas presents EVER!

posted by auntheather in Church,Education & Learning,Family,Milestone,Observation & Imagination,Patience,Reminiscing and have No Comments

Christmas Again Next Year

A good conscience is a continual Christmas.  ~Benjamin Franklin

Kyle and Santa Aunt Heather Piper

Kyle listing out the gifts he wanted

As Kyle and I were taking down my Christmas decorations last week, I couldn’t help but feel a bit of deja vu.

As I was removing my house of all signs of Christmas, and Kyle was removing ornaments from the tree,  I heard him make a comment, not really directed toward me, but out loud, as if talking to the tree, “Poor tree, doesn’t look happy now.”  And you know he was right, not only was the tree bare, but the needles were falling off.  Initially when I set up the tree in the tree stand, it had a slight lean that I never fixed.  Now, as I look at it, the lean has grown considerably.  Almost to the point where it will eventually meet the floor if I kept it in its current position.

The Piper Christmas Aunt Heather Piper

Ryan & Nicole waiting to open gifts on Christmas

We have come full circle in a months time from The Piper Christmas Tree.  Then I noticed that I still had my Christmas lights up.  Yep, I started out being the only person on the street without the glow of lights, and now I am the only one all lit up.  As I was taking down the multicolored light strands I started to laugh.  It did seem fitting that I put the lights up in the rain, and that’s how they’re coming down.  Lighting Up the Holiday.

You see, I never like to take down my Christmas decorations right away.  After all, the three wise men didn’t even get to present their gifts to baby Jesus the night he was born, even though we don’t have an exact date.  Plus we celebrate the Epiphany a week or so after Christmas Day.  Not to mention the Russian Orthodox Church doesn’t even celebrate Christmas until January 7th, well, after most of the population has taken down their decorations. I am never in a hurry to take them down.  Now don’t get me wrong, it’s nice to clean up and get ready for a new year, but it’s also nice to not rush through the blessed season.

I can’t wait to do it all over again next year!

posted by auntheather in Education & Learning,Family,Observation & Imagination and have No Comments
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