The Open Roads With a Driving Permit

When you set sail for Ithaca,
wish for the road to be long,
full of adventures, full of knowledge.  ~
Constantinos P. Cavafis

Kyle-on-his-Home-Depot-car-for-his-1st-birthday-7-2002-Aunt-Heather-Piper

Kyle on his Home Depot car for his 1st birthday.  My cousin Heather in the background. 7/2002

It’s no secret I’ve been sneaking Kyle short drives here and there on back roads for a few months now.  Not to mention, over the years, I’d let him steer, shift and start the car.  I never wanted driving to be a totally foreign concept to him.

Kyle got his permit last Tuesday, August 8, 2017.  He passed on the first try!  Way to go buddy.  He’s officially allowed on the open roads with a legit driver.

It’s amazing how many rules and regulations have changed since I took my driving test, a few years ago.  (insert wink)  Like what?  Well, first of all the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation (PennDOT) is in a different location in Greensburg.  That’s right, it used to be closer to downtown Greensburg off Pittsburgh Street.  Now it’s in a strip mall leaving Greensburg on the outskirts.  Back then we were allowed to get our permit at fifteen and take our test the day we turned sixteen.  Or get our permit one day and the next take our test.  There was no waiting period.  Now the students have to be sixteen to get their permit, log so many hours of driving in all sorts of weather conditions and wait six months before taking the driving test.  At first I was sort of irritated over the new rules, but after I thought about it, if this process proves safer for our young drivers, I’m on board.

Last Tuesday, I actually got to meet Kyle at PennDOT before he took his test.  Somehow I was the possessor of his social security card.  Naturally, he needed it, Aunt Heather to the rescue.  Seeing him, even for a brief moment and wishing him luck made my day.  Not to mention receiving a text message shortly after, stating he passed his permit test made me even happier.

A week ago today, my cousin Stacey got married.  Congrats Stacey!!

I picked Kyle up early and asked if he wanted to take over the wheel.  He smiled, shrugged his shoulders and said, “I guess.”  While backing out of the driveway Kyle remarked, “I’ve never gone over 20 miles an hour.”  What?  It was then I realized he never logged time behind the wheel. No one took him out at all.  None. Zero. Zip. Now we were on our way up busy route 66, to get onto even busier route 22, then through town and finally back roads.  Pretty aggressive travel plans for a newbie.  My comment?  “Well, go slow.  You’ve got to learn to drive these roads some day, so I guess it’s today.  I’ll help.”

Stacey's Wedding 8-12-2017 Aunt Heather Piper

Me & Stacey at her wedding! Bridal dance 8/12/2017

Kyle seemed excited, yet a little nervous.  He was lucky it was me instructing him. (Ask Tree when I took her driving in my stick shift. She hit the curb at Legion Keener.) I’m really calm and patient in these situations, and I’m good at supplying detailed instructions, the way Kyle responds best.  I wanted to show him I had faith in his abilities, as well as use the opportunity to give him valuable intangible lessons.  There’s a fine line between confidence and arrogance.  I wanted Kyle to gain experience and build that confidence, while shying away from arrogance.  Plus, the more road time he got with an experienced driver, the better.

How did he do?  GREAT!  He did stress when cars passed us on the opposite side of the road going the other direction.  He was also uneasy when cars went around us on route 22.  Understandably.  Throughout the entire trip, I reiterated, “I know buddy, it’s stressful.  For now, just stay to your side and focus on the road.  Let everyone else wait or go around us.”

While we were on route 66, before reaching Delmont, not even a mile into our trip, a car passed Kyle illegally.  Yikes.  He looked at me alarmed, not knowing what to do.  I told him, “Stay on course.  Let them go around.”  Typical Kyle called out, “That’s illegal!”  My response?  “I know buddy but are you going to arrest them?  Let them get in trouble and focus on the road.”

Once we got to the point where a left turn was necessary to merge onto route 22, Kyle was forced to change lanes.  He was uneasy.  I found out he couldn’t turn his head to look, use the mirrors, drive, and turn on the turn signal.  We’ve all been there.  He did manage to use his side mirror without drifting into the other lane. I craned my neck to double check for oncoming cars.  In fact, I did that entire way just to play it safe.  We made a good team.

At the red light a lady in the passenger seat beside us spotted me giving Kyle hand motions in preparation for the turn left, to avoid sideswiping our neighbors and without driving headfirst into the opposite traffic making their turn.  At this intersection, if a driver isn’t careful, paths could cross resulting in devastation.  Our temporary neighbor lady was sweet.  She smiled and gave Kyle thumbs up.  Kyle grinned and remained focused on the red light.  I told him, “She knows you’re a new driver and she’s wishing you luck.  People are generally kind and understanding.”  Kyle kept his eyes on the road in anticipation of the left turn and zoned out of our unspoken conversation.

While making the successful turn, I explained we had the right away from merging traffic on our right.  Before I could get the words out, a car that was going too fast, cut in front of us without yielding.  I guess these are all good lessons for Kyle to learn and to know what to watch out for.

As quickly as that happened, we had to get onto route 22, merging left.  Now we were the yielding party on a busy road with cars in front, beside and behind us.  This time Kyle strictly kept his eyes on the road ahead.  To make a safe transition, I was his lookout spouting instructions regarding fast approaching traffic.  Kyle merged gracefully, while seemingly not sweating it.  However, upon closer inspection his knuckles were bright white.

Eventually, I’ll have Kyle practice changing lanes on route 22, but I didn’t want to give him added anxiety or press our luck.  He handled the road like a champ.

Kyle's Text Message 8-8-17 Aunt Heather PiperI did find Kyle was already driving like me, too fast.  More than a few times I caught him going 60+ miles an hour. All I said, without yelling or freaking out as to not startle my inexperienced driver was, “Kyle let off the gas.”  The first time I said it, Kyle looked surprised because he wasn’t doing it on purpose.  He glanced at the speedometer and said, “Oh” then did as instructed.  After it happened a few times Kyle admitted, “I’m just trying to keep up with the traffic.  Everyone is speeding!”  I had to laugh, he is so me.

To put things into perspective I said, “Kyle, you don’t have the experience they do.  Plus, you don’t have your driver’s license and I don’t know the consequences of getting pulled over for speeding with a permit.  And if I get in trouble for your speed, you’re in double trouble.”  His reply?  Typical me comment, “I don’t think anything would happen to me.”  I smiled and retorted, “You don’t think?  I bet the cop will make an example of you and take away your license for a year.  Maybe even make you retest for your permit.  Plus, I’m sure I’ll get in trouble too.”

On a side note, it would be funny for Kyle and I to take our driving tests together.  Not an ideal situation, but a good story for later.

Kyle pondered my words and soon after I noticed a big change in him. He kept asking me the speed limit and would confirm his speed out loud, more for himself than for my benefit.  He’s so funny.  He gives the exact speed.  Example:

Kyle:  “What’s the speed limit here?”
Me:  “Umm, I’m not sure, I bet it’s 45, just go slower to play it safe.”
Kyle:  “Yep, it’s 45. (I never saw the speed limit sign).  Okay, I’m going 46.”
Me:  “You’re doing good buddy.  Just don’t go over the speed.”
Kyle:  “Okay, I’ll let off the gas a little. Now I’m going 44.”

Kyle never slammed on the breaks when he realized he was going to fast or when he was easing into a stop sign or red light. Sometimes his stop was a little rushed but not totally abrupt.  I did explain about people rear-ending him and trying to avoid collisions, his fault or not.  His advance was sometimes a rushed.  I told to relax with the gas peddle, we weren’t in the Fast and the Furious.  We weren’t drag racing anyone.  He laughed.

Lilia at Stacey's Wedding 8-12-2017 Aunt Heather Piper

Me & Lilia sharing a smile at Stacey’s wedding. 8/12/2017

There were a few times cars looked like they were going to back into us, or they stopped without using their turn signal.  Every time, Kyle’s reaction was to let off the gas and I saw he was ready to use his breaks. All without panicking. I reiterated my observations to give him constructive praise.

Kyle did crack me up at four way stops.  He waved everyone on so no cars would be around when he turned or went through.  I remember those days too.  I reassured him, “I know it’s a little stressful going around other cars, just take your time.  If you use your turn signal and go slow, most people will see you’re a new driver and be patient.”  Sometimes cars waved Kyle on.  He grunted every time with distress but made it through unscathed.

During the entire 45-minute journey, there were only two scary instances.  One was making the right turn onto route 981 from route 22 at the light.  Kyle was going a little too fast and didn’t cut the turn tight enough.  I told him to slow down and tighten the turn.  He responded with, “I know, I am.”  Umm.  Not really.  I had to grab the steering wheel before we grazed the line of cars sitting at the red light.  He realized what had happened and I believe he learned from it.  Prior to that, when Kyle was in the passing lane in Delmont, he kept creeping toward the centerline.  He wasn’t used to that side of the road.  Again, minor instances.

During our trip I noticed when Kyle was off center, too close to the side of the road or the double line or he was speeding, he corrected himself before I called it out. Again, each time I gave him positive comments to reinforce good habits.

Kyle drove the rest of the weekend, to the store, the wedding and back home.  Each time, I could tell he was doing better and more comfortable around other cars on the road, slightly.

Kyle was also faced with unusual instances. While driving through Latrobe, he had to pull around a person on a bicycle.  I could see the fright in his eyes as I told him to go into the other lane to get around.  He didn’t like that scenario yet skirted past our bicyclist easily.  He also had to go around a parked truck that was unloading.

Finally, let’s discuss parking. Ironically, his issues were mine. I had Kyle pull up to the sidewalk while I ran into a store. I was half expecting him to scrap the sides of my tires. He didn’t and inquired, “How close am I? I need to be within 12 inches.” Not to burst his bubble but to be honest I stated, “Umm. It looks more like 18 inches buddy.” He retorted, “Well that’s the first time I parked like that.” I get it. It takes practice.

Kyle was forced to park at K-Mart, I spared him by not going to Wal-Mart. Playing it safe, he attempted his park job away from other cars, unsuccessfully. Laughing, I told him church people do a better job. He reiterated that he never parked before. No worries, I told him I’d take him out to practice a day of parking. I was never good at it either. We lived in the country and never had lines to park within, or other cars to park between. He’ll learn.

Fun Story. I’m notorious for never putting gas in my car, nor paying attention to how much is in the tank. Ever since I started driving, that task was never a concern to me. Did I run out of gas? You bet. Usually, I’d walk to the closest house and call Ryan to bring me gas. He always had some on hand, probably for me. Did it bother me? No. Maybe that’s why I never paid attention.

Kyle get’s in my car and immediately looks at the gas tank to exclaim I only have less than a half a tank. In my eyes, it’s nearly full. Kyle was not so blasé about the situation. As we were driving, the gas tank must have bothered him because he stated, “I know what I’ll do. When the gas hits the halfway mark, I’ll fill it up.” Yeah, now I’m not so sure we’re related, although, he did sound like my Dad.  I told him he can borrow my car any time he wanted.  I got a kick out of that comment!

One more funny story. Someone moved my car in my parent’s driveway, close to the side of an embankment. Directly behind it was a burn pile they burn boxes and papers but sometimes other items like nails and such get mixed in. I didn’t want Kyle to run into the pile for fear of puncturing my tires. I stood outside the car and had him cut the wheel into the driveway. He was seriously on edge (pun intended). Making sure he was in reverse (yes if he hit the gas in drive, it would not have been pretty) I gave him instructions. He kept the drivers door open. If I know Kyle he had an escape plan. He yelled at me, “This is illegal you know!” I told him to relax, he’s got it, and he did. If I thought he couldn’t handle it, then I would have taken over the wheel.

Okay, last funny story. Kyle drove us to the wedding. We had to park in a field with all the other guests. I was going to change places with him but he stated he could back into the parking spot. Okay, why not. As I gave him instructions to arch wide to give him enough room to straighten the car so he was backing straight, he misunderstood me. He drove in a big circle in the field. I was dying. The guys directing traffic were confused, as were the line of cars behind us. He did freak out on me, “You told to me to go this way!” I told him, “Calm down. It’s okay.” He managed to back up, with my help guiding the steering wheel.

He drove us home at night too.

Since Kyle was born, there wasn’t a day that’s gone by when I haven’t thought about him (and his Dad) and prayed for his well-being. The older he gets, I find myself adding to his prayer list. I could never handle Kyle meeting the same fate as his Dad. Maybe that’s why I’ve always insisted he gets experience behind the wheel. Ironically, Ryan was a great driver and that situation still doesn’t make any sense. God always has a plan.

 

Added:  8/27/17

On Monday August 21, 2017 was a solar eclipse.  Pretty cool.  It took place around 2:00 p.m.  I texted Kyle and told him he needed to go out and drive around during the natural phenomenon so he could write down in his ledger about the weather conditions.  His response.  Nothing.

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

From February Till Now, A Summary of Kyle

Don’t ever tell anybody anything. If you do, you start missing everybody.  ~J.D. Salinger

Planinsek Fishing Derby Kyle & a hug Aunt Heather Piper 5-13-17

I love my little man, who is now as tall as me! Planinsek Fishing Derby 5/13/2017

I can’t believe how long it’s been since I released a blog post.  The end of January.  Yikes!  I’ve thought about it, then got sidetracked or ran out of time.  Where have I been?  Bombarded with work, that’s where.  Marketing has kept me a pretty busy lady.  But the bigger question is, what’s Kyle been up to?

Let me give a monthly recap.

February

I really don’t remember what went on in February.  At least nothing so monumental that it warrants a call out.  We didn’t have much of a winter.  When snow did fall, I asked Kyle to go snowboarding, but my invitation was quickly declined.  He had other plans.  (Probably nothing)  He stated that he still likes snowboarding but wasn’t interested when asked.

Originally, I wanted to take Kyle and a few of his friends to Seven Springs.  However, the way the snow landed, or lack there of, I wasn’t given much notice to plan a trip to the slopes.  Personally, I want to see if Kyle remembers how to snowboard.  I also want him to feel comfortable again on the mountain without fear of him hurting himself.  I guess there’s always next year.  Maybe I’ll plan a trip out west. It’s been a while since I’ve ridden any real mountains and Kyle’s never had the chance.  Making a mental note.

March

First Day of Fishing Kingston Kyle 4-16-17 Aunt Heather Piper

First Day of FISHING! Kingston 4/16/2017

Again, another month without the steady presence of Kyle.  I do miss my little man.  This is in such contrast to when Kyle was a youngster.  He was around all the time.  I could count on him to answer my calls, my text messages and even Facetime me, talk and hang out.  He never passed up an opportunity to do something fun together.  Actually, it didn’t need to be fun, he was game to do anything as long as I was there doing it with him. (Yes that included cleaning)

It just goes to show, appreciate what you have when you have it.  I guess fifteen is the rejection age.  Although, this has been going on for about a year and a half since he was thirteen – fourteen.  Now I want to know when will it end and I get my buddy back?  Of course, I wouldn’t want to hang around a family that yells and argues all the time either.  I know he gets enough of that at home.

April

Kyle Derek Logan Band Concert 5-2-17 Aunt Heather Piper

Kyle, Derek & Logan watching the other band performances. Lookin’ good guys! 5/2/2017

Holidays are always a great excuse to see friends and family.  Kyle can’t escape hanging with his aunt for Easter.

A Saturday in either March or April
I got a call that Kyle wanted picked up.  Great!  Did I mind it was last minute and I had to change my plans to accommodate him?  Never.  I was excited to see my guy.

As recent history dictated, Kyle was quite on the ride.  When I asked him questions, he either shrugged his shoulders or gave his typical answers, “Good”, “No”, “Fine” or “I don’t know.”  Good talk buddy!

As we were driving to my parents house to visit, I got a great idea.  Knowing Kyle would be turning sixteen in July, I thought I’d surprise him with a little driving lesson.  For a change, we weren’t in a hurry and it was a lovely day.  Why not?

I pulled into the cemetery near my parent’s without informing Kyle of my plan.  I put the car in park and got out and walked around to the passenger side.  Kyle began to freak out like he was in trouble.  I definitely sported a snicker.  I opened the passenger door to find Kyle getting defensive and not willing to leave his seat.  I told him my plans and his response?  “But I’m not sixteen yet, I’m not allowed to drive.”  Kyle was always like that, never willing to break the rules, no matter.  My reply?  “Do you think you should wake up on your sixteenth birthday and be allowed to get behind the wheel on the highway without a little practice?  Besides, I’ve already had you driving since you were little.”

Kyle at Fishing Derby 5-13-17 Aunt Heather Piper

Kyle waiting for the big one at the Planinsek Fishing Derby 5/13/2017

Believe it or not, Kyle argued with me.  What kid does that?  Most teens would be all too excited to take the wheel, especially with me, who’s not going to freak out if he hits something.  I did mention, “This is where I learned to drive, of course I drove a stick on the hill.  But it’s a good place, no one’s around and everyone’s already dead.”  He gave me an uneasy look.  “The most I’ll have to do is owe someone a new headstone, so try and stick to the road.”  I was graced with a smirk for my candor.

After a little attitude, I got Kyle to drive.  I enforced using his turn signal (good habit) and showed him other basic car features.

He was pretty steady, although, Kyle did give me a fright when he approached a turn, that if not addressed properly would have resulted in us flying down over an embankment.  He was going to make the left turn but he was moving a bit too fast (not that he reached 10 miles an hour, but it was still too fast for the situation, especially a first time driver).  I grabbed the oh S#@$ handles and used my imaginary break.  My actions received me a full blown smile from my young driver.  Let it be known I never yelled.

Kyle by fire at Fishing Derby 5-13-17 Aunt Heather Piper

Kyle playing games by the fire at the Planinsek Fishing Derby 5/13/2017

As we began our decent down the grade, after he made the bend without launching us over the side of a cliff (large gully), it resulted in another sharp left turn.  This one I wasn’t so worried about.  The most Kyle could do was run into the grass.  As we approached the turn, it went something like this:

Me:  Better go slower.
Kyle:  I got it.
Me:  Left turn signal and you better slow down.  Cut your wheel sharp at the bottom.
Kyle:  (He used his turn signal) I know.
Me:  Kyle, you’re going to run off the road if you don’t go even slower and tighten your turn.
Kyle:  I’m good.
Me:  We’re going off the road.
Kyle ran off the road mid turn into the grass.  No damage but I did give him a look of listen next time.
Kyle: Oh, I guess we’re off the road.
Me:  Umm (I wasn’t mad in the slightest, infact I started to laugh at his funny expression)
Kyle chuckled and did as I instructed to give a little gas as to not dig up the grass.  He got back on the road and continued.

We ended up doing a couple loops around the cemetery.  The second, he clearly showed more confidence and skill.  He did a great job.  I even had him pull onto the road and drive into my parents driveway.  More to come regarding Kyle driving.

Friday, April 15, 2017 – Sunday, April 16, 2017

Fishing Derby Prizes 5-13-17 Aunt Heather Piper

Kyle hanging out with cousins at the Planinsek Fishing Derby, waiting for the prizes. 5/13/2017

Easter weekend.  We actually got Kyle on Friday, which was a nice surprise.  Me, Dad and Kyle caught up on our Fast & Furious movies, watching the marathon on television.  True to Kyle, he turned out all the lights to create the optimum movie watching environment.  It was a nice relaxing evening.  My sister came in late Friday night with Acorn.  The house was alive with activity.

On Saturday, we got up early for the first day of fishing.  Me, Dad and Kyle went to Kingston to fish our limit in trout.  We caught a few rainbows but mostly brook trout.  I was stuck cleaning a majority of the fish.  Kyle did lend a delicate hand, but he’s still not a fan of guts and blood and reluctantly assisted.  Dad sat there and critiqued my fish gutting abilities.  Although, I’ll give Dad credit, he did scale the rainbow.

Fishing was a blast, I saw Kyle smile and enjoy himself on a number of occasions.  He even put his phone away to focus.

Planinsek Fishing Derby Kyle Fishing 5-13-17 Aunt Heather Piper

My fisherman! My job was to catch the fish & bait the hook. Planinsek Fishing Derby 5/13/2017

Funny story.  Dad caught this HUGE trout, I mean BIG.  I’m surprised it didn’t break his pole.  We added the fish to our cooler of ice along with the other catches.

Kyle happened to be standing by the cooler when all of a sudden the monster sized fish, that was on ice for at least fifteen minutes, tried to make its escape.  The fish jumped out of the cooler.  (Yes the lid was closed and it still was able to project itself out) Kyle jumped.  He thought I threw something at the cooler, I was startled, thinking Kyle knocked the cooler over.  Dad focused on his fishing and only gave us a curious glance.  When Kyle looked down to see the behemoth fish flopping around, the truth dawned on us.  We looked at each other in shock and began laughing.  Kyle’s hands were full, I believe he was reeling in another trout, so I scooped up the slimy vertebrate and placed it back in the cooler.  It was a great fishing day!  (Secret: I’m still the worst fisherman in the family.  Dad remains at number one and Kyle is a close second.  I’m by far last, even after Nicole.)

Later, after we cleaned up and ate, Nicole, me and Kyle went to the movies to continue where we left off the night before with The Fate of the Furious, the most recent movie.

Earlier, I cornered Nicole to suggest we leave early and head to the cemetery for a little more practice in a different vehicle.  I said, “Just pull into the cemetery and don’t say anthing.”  Nicole giggled and was excited to join in on this milestone.

Once Nicole put the car in park, Kyle smiled knowing what she had in mind.  Without insidence Kyle changed seats with his Aunt.  I was in the backseat like Driving Miss Daisy.  In fact, Kyle seemed exctied to be practicing.  He did better than before and Nicole’s SUV is a lot bigger than mine.  Great practice.

We had a good time at the movies.  Hearing Kyle laugh out loud totally cracked me up.  His humor lights up my world even in the middle of a dark movie theater.  Those moments are most precious to me.  He has a great laugh.  It reminds me of his Dad’s.  Even the way he rolls his eyes, or grins, I see Ryan.

Kyle Band Concert 5-2-17 Aunt Heather Piper

Kyle at his spring concert sporting a tuxedo! Handsome guy. 5/2/2017

Would you believe Kyle ordered his usual, the Miss Piggy sandwich?  It’s nice to see some things never change.  He is definitely a creature of habit.  Now I have to get him out of the habit of ignoring us and we’re all set.

Once Sunday rolled around we went to church and came home to grub up.  Kyle stayed for most of the day before asking to leave.  I took him home.

While heading out to the driveway, I ran past him and darted for the passenger side.  Kyle stood there stunned.  He said, “I can’t drive all the way home.”  Oh, goodness no.  I told him I wasn’t suicidal.  I wanted him to practice backing out of the driveway.  If he can master mom and dad’s driveway and then my Uncle Walter’s, he was good to go in reverse.

While backing out, he snaked the straight path slightly, but overall did a great job.  On the one side of the driveway is the front yard, no big deal.  However, on the other side, it slopes down into my Uncle’s field.  To reassure Kyle in case of a lapse in reverse judgement, I said, “Don’t worry, if you go down over the bank, you won’t be the first, Pappy did it with the Honda once.”  That cracked me up and Kyle seemed relieved.  He tried to use the turnaround at the bottom of the driveway, but I wouldn’t let him.  I wanted him to get a feel for looking both ways, pulling out onto the road and not running into the ditch.  He drove us partially off the ridge back to the cemetery where we changed roles.

On our ride home I busted out laughing.  Curious, he asked, what?  I said, “You back up better than your Aunt Nikki.”  He found humor in that very true statement.  My sister backs out of the driveway live she’s trying to purposly miss the road, and she’s been practicing since before she was sixteen.  I guess she’s pretty consistent too.

Another true to form, Kyle fell asleep in the car.  He did that as a young tyke and is taking up the habit again.  I don’t mind.  I’m still hanging out with him, even if he is unconscience.

May

Tuesday, May 2, 2017

Kyle smiling at band concert 5-2-17 Aunt Heather Piper

Kyle trying not to smile Spring Band Concert. Great job buddy! 5/2/2017

About mid-day, I get a call from mom telling me Kyle called and he had a band concert that evening at school, which is over an hour away.  A little inconvenient, but I was excited he called to inform us, knowing I’d be upset if I missed it.

I shut down work early, canceled my evening plans and got ready.

Kyle was first tuba chair!  What a pleasant surprise.  AND he was wearing a tuxedo!  He looked so handsome, I just wanted to squeeze him and never let go.  (That would have been when hell froze over, the day Kyle would let me do that, especially in front of all his friends and their parents.)

I enjoyed the evening of music and special honors for the seniors.  I came home with a permanent smile on my face.  Seeing Kyle simply made me happy.

Sunday, May 14, 2017

First Day of Fishing Kyle & Dad Aunt Heather Piper 4-16-17

Kingston fishing for the first day, Dad & Kyle leading the way. 4/16/2017

Mother’s Day, which also marks the weekend of the Annual Planinsek Fishing Derby.  The kids are permitted to fish from sixteen years and younger.  Kyle has one more year.

He didn’t want to stop up for the bonfire on Friday night but requested we be there for 7:00 am breakfast.  I believe we made it by 7:30 am since Kyle had a hard time getting up.  He is certainly going through a growth spirt and he needs to learn to go to bed earlier.

He had a nice time fishing and playing dodge ball with the kids.  I enjoyed socializing and relaxing.

At the end, they fill picnic tables of toys and stuff for the kids.  I wasn’t sure if Kyle wanted me to purchase him tickets or not, so I did.  The first couple of times Kyle’s name was called, he took a variety of items, then he began to give away his turns to his cousins, Grant, Olivia, Piper, Owen, Lilia, Hailie, Mattox, Caleia and Kelsey.  That was nice seeing Kyle think of them.  Not only that, he also walked each child up to the table to help them pick out a prize.  Kyle’s a good kid.

Another funny story.  Kyle insisted he wasn’t going to be cold, even though it was chilly in the morning and the ridge is always colder.  Just in case, I packed an extra hoodie, socks and a change of cloths for Kyle.  Next thing I know, I saw Kyle zipping up the extra hoodie, that is until the sun peaked around noon.  When it comes to dressing and preparing for the weather, he never listens.

Monday, May 29, 2017
Memorial’s Day.  I was asked to chaperon the parade in Vandergrift for Kiski Marching Band.  Looking forward to seeing Kyle, everyone was asking me where he was.  I honestly had no idea.  I texted him and surprisingly he anwered me back.  He was sick.  I felt bad and offered to bring him ice-cream.  He declined.  I missed him terrribly.

June

June 25, 2017 – June 29, 2017

Kyle Playing in Band Concert 5-2-17 Aunt Heather Piper

Kyle playing the tuba at his spring band concert. Lead chair! 5/2/2017

This was Aunt Nikki and Kyle’s Week of Fun trip.  Where to?  Iceland.  Kyle seemed pretty excited, or at least as excited as he gets.  Nicole said they had a great time but it was cold.

Another funny story.  Kyle is notorious for not being prepared for the weather, specifically the cold, as mentioned above.  Before he left I asked him, “Are you good with packing?  Did you need me to get you anything?  Did you pack a pair of jeans and hoodie?”  Kyle’s entire response, “I’m good.”  Of course you are…

Nicole said when they got there it was around 40 degrees and the wind made it colder.  She said it was at that moment Kyle, who was obviously shivering (although he would never admit to it) informed her that he didn’t bring pants, only shorts.  Are you kidding me buddy?  You were going to ICELAND.  I’m guessing the irony had no effect on him. Nicole took our frozen package shopping and spent a lot of money to keep him comfortable.  I guess we’ll forever have a funny story.

When they got back, Nicole told us about the unplanned shopping trip.  I looked at Kyle half joking and said, “You suck at packing and being prepared.”  Kyle shrugged his shoulders.  He didn’t care.  I suppose I’m okay with him not sweating the small stuff and I guess shopping for jeans was minor.

Over the course of the weekend, Nicole and Kyle shared stories about their adventures.  I’ve always been happy to see Kyle explore the world and enjoy life.  He definitely has the Piper travel bug.  A good quality to have.

July

Spring Concert Band Booklet 5-2-2017 Aunt Heather PiperNow my rough timeline brings me up to last week.  Kyle, my Mr. Traveler, was at Northwestern University.  Yes, the college on the other side of Chicago.  Why was he there when he’s going to be junior in high school?  He’s smart.

Proudly, Kyle was informed that he was selected to represent Kiski at the National Student Leadership Council.  Way to go buddy!  Because of his interest in engineering, they outlined a select number of schools with that focus to include: Northwestern, UCLA, California at Berkley, Harvard Medical (biotechnology), Yale, Georgia Tech, Rice, American, Georgetown.

Kyle chose Northwestern.  Why?  I have no idea.  The last I heard he was thinking about Georgetown.  I would have chosen Yale or Harvard.  Why not?

Kyle got to spend a week on campus touring the facilities and studying his chosen specialty.  At the end he was to recieve a certificate of achievement and a letter of recommendation.  How cool is that?

I tried calling him to see how it went.  Nothing.  Crickets.  I hope he had a wonderful time.  What a great experience.

Well, those are some of the highlights for the first half of the year.  I also did some traveling to Salt Lake City, but only for work, nothing too exciting.  This week begins Kyle’s week long celebration for his birthday.  I hope I get to spend some good quality time with him. He’s a good egg and I love him to pieces.

Spring Concert Band Cover Booket 5-2-17 Aunt Heather Piper

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

Stink Bugs Do Have A Natural Enemy!

When one tugs at a single thing in nature, he finds it attached to the rest of the world.  ~John Muir

Stink bug close up Aunt Heather PiperI’m no expert on stink bugs, but I’m certainly no stranger to them either.  The weather in western Pennsylvania has been fluctuating lately, from snowy cold days, which is normal for January, to sunny abnormally warm days reaching the 60s.  Sometimes this temperature range happens within 24-hours.

Besides unfavorable road conditions, the up and down weather is tricking the stink bugs into an early spring.  The warmth draws them out to make their appearance in droves.

Annoyed with these stinkers, literally, I was curious about them, since I don’t remember the critters from my childhood.  Evidently, the stink bug were accidentally introduced into Pennsylvania, Allentown to be exact, in the mid-1990s.  They’re native to China, Japan, Korea and Taiwan.

Presently, the stink bug can be found in most states and are now posing a real problem with the fruit and vegetable farms.  The stink bugs feed on these plants as well as weeds and tree leaves.  Okay, now we’ve gone from annoying to a true issue.  Stink bugs don’t scare me as per say, but the thought of their ultimate damage doesn’t settle well with me.

Now some fun facts.  Stink bugs can lay 20 to 30 eggs, leading to developed adults within 35 to 45 days, in optimal conditions.  In the lifespan of a female stink bug, she can lay four hundred eggs.  That explains a lot.

From what I’ve read, these pests are impervious to insecticides.  Although, I’m not a fan of toxic remedies, especially when pesticides are harming the bee population.  I’m also not a fan of distributing the ecological structure of an area to deal with a single pest.  Sure, there’s more natural solutions such as soapy water, however, I don’t think that’s a reasonable solution for large farms.  What to do with the stink bugs?  I guess that’s the ultimate question.

Stinks bugs in mason jar Aunt Heather PiperI read an article on the consideration of introducing a parasitoid wasp, which is a primary predator to the stink bug, to solve the problem.  NO!  That’s not a solution.  That’s a recipe for an even bigger problem.  Instead, I have an idea.

Chickens!  Really?  Yes.  Since you can’t squash, frighten or even disturb a stink bug without it secreting its foul-smelling order, which seriously turns my stomach, I started collecting them.  Well, not in the collectible coin fashion, but rather for a food supply for my feathery friends.

Idiotic solution?  No more than using toxic chemicals and infesting the area with wasps.

Sure, stink bugs have always been a nuisance, but when they started flying into me while I slept, disrupting my sleep and freaking me out when I felt them walk across my skin, I had enough.  Using basic common sense,  I began capturing the smelly buzzing bugs in a pint size mason jar with a lid.  Originally, I started trapping them with the intent to kill the bugs behind glass doors, so to speak.  However, I realized they served a better purpose.  The chickens LOVE the stink bugs.

They do!  The chickens are now accustomed to the jar and flock toward the little protein crunchies.  It almost makes me want to find more stink bugs to deliver.

I’ve never read about chickens as a solution to stink bugs, but why not?  Now’s the time to get creative, through natural means.  Perhaps find safe traps for the stink bugs and deliver the tasty meal to some farm animal.   There could be other stink bug predators that are native to each area to use.  I don’t know if chickens could be the ultimate solution for farmers, but it might be a nice try.  This would also ensure we no longer have an egg shortage like we did a couple years ago.  Now that’s solving two problems at once, productive.

Anyone have a better solution?

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posted by auntheather in Common Sense,Education & Learning,Farming & Planting,Hiking & Outdoors,News,Observation & Imagination,Random Fun Facts 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

Scavenger-Hunt-Clue-for-a-Teen-Thrill-of-the-Hunt

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.

Clue#1

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. 

Behind-the-Guitar-Clue-Teen-Scavenger-Hunt-Thrill-of-the-Hunt

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.

Clue-4-Thrill-of-the-Hunt-Scavenger-Hunt-1

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.

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

Honoring a Fallen Friend With Music – Please Donate

Music, once admitted to the soul, becomes a sort of spirit, and never dies.  ~Edward Bulwer-Lytton

kyle-kiski-marching-band-2016-nemesis-aunt-heather-piper

Kyle & his fellow sousaphone members performing Nemesis 2016

I’ve talked about Chaperoning the Kiski Area Marching Band and being a band chaperone.  I truly love being apart of this organization, not only for Kyle’s sake but for all the students who work so very hard.  They’re a great group of students, staff and parents.

A few months ago, I was asked to take over the Kiski Bands social media.  Did I accept?  Of course.  I was honored to use my marketing experience and skills to help promote this talented and dedicated group.  Even though I’m still in the process of systematizing their online efforts, I was able to finalize a press release, one that needs to be shared far and wide.

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Kiski Area Marching Band performing Nemesis 2016

This past June, I addressed Dealing With Loss, the tragic accident that claimed the life of Nicholas Ursiny, a member of the Kiski Area Bands and a friend of Kyle’s.  I’m no stranger to tragedy, loss or grief, and I know nothing can truly ease the sadness when dealing with this emotionally powerful trio, but there are numerous ways to work through the heartache.  Many times God presents opportunities to help us heal and cope, and this one comes in the form of music.

The band directors and the student leadership collaborated to present a unique and truly inspirational opportunity for everyone to be involved and honor a young man, taken too soon.  How?  Through music of course.  The Kiski Area Bands is in the process of collecting monetary contributions to commission an original piece of music to honor Nick.  Once the music is completed, the bands will present this tribute in concert, open to the public for all to hear and enjoy.

This memorial will last a lifetime and beyond, and could touch the lives of countless souls, even those unaware of its origins.

Please help the Kiski Area Bands fulfill their mission of honoring one of their own through music.  All donations, made in any increment, may be made to:

KAIB (Kiski Area Instrumental Boosters)
c/o Nicholas Ursiny Memorial Commission
P.O. Box 124
Vandergrift, PA 15690
www.KiskiBands.org

I hope the next time I talk about this personal tribute, it will be while listening to the piece of music written specifically for Nick.  This gesture, however original and appropriate, won’t heal the hearts of those effected by Nick’s death, but it does give the students, teachers, staff and parents a goal to work towards and night of celebrating Nick’s life for all to hear.

Below is the original press release.  Please contact me at Heather@AuntHeather.com with any questions, suggestions or inquires.  Thank you in advance for taking the time to hear this story.

Kiski Band Raising Money for Nicholas Ursiny Memorial Commission

Nick Ursiny, a Kiski Band Member Passed Away In a Tragic Accident

December 14, 2016 – The Kiski Area Bands from Vandergrift, Pa. need help to complete their goal of raising $5,000 to commission a new piece of music composition in memory of Nicholas Ursiny, a Kiski Area Band student who tragically passed away in June. Thanks to generous donations, the Kiski Area Bands have raised approximately $3,500 and is asking to help close the gap for this unique memorial. Donations may be issued to KAIB (Kiski Area Instrumental Boosters) www.kiskibands.org/contact.

Nicholas Ursiny, a student at the Kiski Area High School, was going into his sophomore year. He was a member of the horn/mellophone section in the Kiski Area Bands and played French horn in the concert bands before a tragic accident claimed his life this past June. To keep the spirit of Nicholas alive, the Kiski Marching Band student leadership worked with directors, Robert Traugh, Chad Heiny and Shawn Pityk, to develop the idea of honoring Nicholas through a piece of commissioned music.

“This project is simple and heartfelt, offering the opportunity for all who were shocked by this tragedy to create a lasting memorial through music to a life lost too soon.” said Robert Traugh, Band Director of the Kiski Area Bands. “Nick was a valuable part of our organization and was truly missed this past season.”

Donations from friends, family, students and faculty have been gratefully received. Neighboring bands, Norwin, Gateway, Connellsville, Highlands and Mars, have paid their respects and generously donated to the Nicholas Ursiny Memorial Commission.

“The band is a close-knit community of passionate and talented individuals. While we compete against each other; we’re all family and we fully support each other.” Traugh replied. “We’ve been blessed with many donations and we hope to begin the process for this musical tribute and engage a composer soon.”

Information on the commissioned composer will be available as soon as the completed funds are available. Members of the Kiski Area Bands will premiere the piece of music in concert, open to the public.

For more information on the Kiski Area Bands including a list of events, concerts and competitions visit www.kiskibands.org.

About Kiski Area Bands

Kiski Area Bands, apart of the Kiski Area School District is from Vandergrift, Pa., about 35 miles northeast of Pittsburgh, Pa. Kiski Area Bands is a student organization lead by Band Directors Robert Traugh, Chad Heiny and Shawn Pityk and is comprised of students from grades five through twelve. The Kiski Area Marching Band is a division of the Kiski Area Bands consisting of students from grades ninth through twelfth.

KAIB (Kiski Area Instrumental Boosters)
P.O. Box 124
Vandergrift, PA 15690
www.KiskiBands.org

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

Age Is a State of Mind

It’s not denial. I’m just selective about the reality I accept.  ~Bill Watterson

grandpap-risher-glen-barb-mom-dad-buddy-jocye-u-sonny-carol-chad-1972-aunt-heather-piper

Glen & Barb, Mom & Dad, Buddy & Jocye, Uncle Sonny & Aunt Carol & Chad at Grandpap Risher’s 1972

My parent’s 47th anniversary was yesterday, as was my birthday.  While the old people are adding to their years (not me), my Dad doesn’t seem to notice his age, at least not mentally.  Sure he knows he’s getting older.  He moves a little slower each year, and his endurance has dwindled.  Yet, it doesn’t stop Dad from going outside, firing up the chainsaw and chopping firewood, which he never complains.  He still goes traipsing through the woods during hunting season, even though his traipsing requires less walking and more riding the quad.  Regardless, he stays active.  Don’t get me wrong, Dad’s no athlete, but he enjoys life and living it.

What really cracks me up is his perception of his age.  I’ve lost track of how many times we were going somewhere and I heard him say, “Come old man, get out of the way.”  or “Look it’s an old lady.  She needs to get off the road.”  Okay, that’s not really funny, in fact it’s kind of annoying, but the real humor lies in the fact that the “old” people Dad is referring to are his age!  One would think he’s talking about crypt keepers or those on the verge of death, nope.  Everyone one slightly younger than him and up, are old people in his eyes.  You should hear him in the grocery store!  He’ll comment about the old people getting in his way with their shopping carts, or taking forever in the checkout line because they can’t see the screen.  Isn’t that a hoot?  He has a hard time reading the credit card machine too.

Every time I hear Dad spout out about an “old” person, first I laugh, usually out loud, then I reply, “Dad!  You’re probably the same age!”  Sometimes he snickers and other times he ignores me, truly irritated with the person in question.  He means no harm.  He’s simply impatient, but it’s hilarious.  The pot calling the kettle black always comes to mind.

Now my own revelation.  I just noticed it this past year while chaperoning one of Kyle’s band competitions.  I don’t really pay attention to “old” people but I do have a skewed sense of age reality.  When speaking to someone, there’s never an age differentiation, for the most part.  If I’m conversing with someone in their twenties, there’s no age gap in my mind.  If I’m speaking to someone in their teens, my mind only registers that I’m slightly older.  Does it go the opposite for older people?  Depends.  When I’m at the gym talking with someone a decade older, then nope, we’re the same age.  But if the person shows or acts their age, and they’re older, then in my mind, I’m simply younger.  However, no matter the age in the room, it’s usually a guarantee I still act the youngest.

nicole-chad-heather-1976-aunt-heather-piper

My birthday with Nicole & Chad. 1976

Dad and I are the same!  In our minds, we really don’t have a clue to our own age or it doesn’t register.  I mean we’re not delusional, we’re well aware of how old we are, it just doesn’t change our thinking or perspective.  I’m going to go out on a limb and say, this is a good way to be.  I’m sure it could be considered a mental defect, but I like to think of it as a fresh approach to life.  After all, the mind is very powerful.

When I was in San Diego a few months ago, I shared my age related story in Adventures in San Diego on a Dog Scavenger Hunt.  Let me rehash.   While walking along the boardwalk I kept seeing people riding bikes and skateboards, unusual for the Latrobe scene but not for San Diego.  As a youth, I loved skateboarding, particularly the skateboarders.  Between the sound of the crashing waves and people milling around, I’d hear skateboard wheels and the clapping of the skateboard decks on the cement boardwalk.  I truly enjoyed revisiting this sound from my youth.  Eventually, I paid attention to the actual person riding the skateboard.  It occurred to me they were older people, for the most part.  Honestly, in my mind I kept thinking, Wow, they’re older.  This thought kept up until reality smacked me in the face.  I’m their age! 

You know, I think Kyle shares the same perspective on age?  He adapts to the ages of people around him.  I’ve seen it.  Whether or not he has a grasp on his own age, even though he’s only fifteen, I have no idea, but he has the ability to blend with older and younger persons.  Plus, let’s not forget, he’s a Piper and we tend to mature late.  I’m guessing, Kyle will always remain young at heart, at least I hope so.

In fact, the more I think about it, I bet my Pappy was the same way.  He never really treated his disability as an issue and I bet his age was never one either.

On a side note, I’ve never wanted to get older.  Ever.  Most teens can’t wait to turn sixteen to drive or turn 21 to drink.  Not me.  I’ve never said the words, “I can’t wait till I’m…”  Nope.  In fact, I remember the summer before I went into sixth grade.  I was depressed knowing it was my last year at Sacred Heart and I had to go to junior high school.  I wasn’t thrilled at all.  In my mind, it meant I was getting older and there would be added responsibility and expectations.  Did I want to get out of high school?  Not in the slightest.  I loved my high school days and I didn’t want them to end.  Don’t get me wrong, I’m glad for all the milestones in my life but I never had an urge to rush time.

God has blessed me and is keeping me young, at least at heart.  Cheers to all those young at heart!

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posted by auntheather in Common Sense,Family,Observation & Imagination,Patience and have No Comments

Don’t Hide Behind Love

Whatever it is you’re seeking won’t come in the form you’re expecting.  ~Haruki Murakami

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Trump house Youngstown, PA 2016

I believe, respecting the opinions of others is the first step to living in peace and understanding.  I’m not saying accepting morally wrong choices and actions, or approving criminal activity.  No.  Those are simply wrong and should not be tolerated or even considered.  There are many opinions and different ways of handling situations, some better than others.  Everyone working for the betterment of the people with truly good intentions, needs to be given a chance.  Let’s face it, the best way to handle a problem is to work together to find a solution, not create more problems.

Sure everyone has a right to protest and speak their voice, but when it’s done as a temper tantrum with complete disrespect, and then done alongside criminal activity, it’s simply wrong.  It’s abuse of a right.  Naturally, I’m referring to all the riots surrounding our President Elect Donald Trump.

The protesters are speaking for women’s right, immigration reform, and healthcare issues, among others.  At least that’s what their signs say and it appears on the surface.  Yes, those are some problems plaguing our country and certainly hot topics.  Agreed.  However, those topics are going to be addressed from our new president, at least that’s what’s promised.  It’s certainly not going to happen through violent and anger.

When it comes down to it, the protesters are displaying a complete lack of respect for our voting process, its citizens, and the American way.  Let’s cut to the chase, the protesters, are only mad because their candidate didn’t win.  End of story.  There wouldn’t be any riots if the outcome were different and yet, we’d have the same problems.  In fact, no one was rioting regarding those issues with our current administration.  These problems didn’t just surface.  They’re the same issues our president elect will be inheriting because our past administration didn’t address the problems properly or successfully.  Donald Trump didn’t cause them.   Sure his solutions seem a bit unconventional, but maybe that’s what we need turn our country around.

american-flag-taken-in-texas-aunt-heather-piper-2016To make things worse, Trump supporters have been attacked and physically beaten nearly to death.  Is that right way to handle your opinion?  No.  That’s taking those voters’ rights, and their right to basically live freely in the United States, the land of the free.  That’s just plain wrong.  Now to add more to this injustice, the protesters are looting and destroying personal and commercial property.  This is insane.  How are those actions solving any problems?  It’s not.  It’s only creating more problems without solutions.  Common sense needs to be reviewed and noted.  Those actions are hidden under one reason, but are really for selfish, destructive and disrespectful reasons that resemble anarchy, not what this nation stands for.  Get the irony?

The sad part?  Many of the protesters interviewed didn’t even vote!  What is wrong with these people?  Fighting for rights is good.   Leading with emotion is not wrong, but it is when it takes over common sense and breaks laws.  The protesters are basically saying my vote was not important, and only their opinion should be heard.  That’s also saying those that give respect and obey laws shouldn’t have a vote, or be bullied for different opinions?  I thought we lived in a Republic and not a dictatorship?  That’s not only disrespectful for the winner, Donald Trump, who won fair and square, but it’s also insulting to those who supported and voted for him, which was the majority.

It’s also a shame that we live in a society that doesn’t know how to loose and take it gracefully.  Basically, a society that’s never been told NO.  They think they have the right because they can scream and shout, throw a punch and steal at random.  No one is benefiting from their wasted energy, and they’re only showing they’re a bunch of spoiled brats.  I personally know those types of people, that throw a tantrum when they’re told NO or proven wrong.  They’re also the type that needs to be humbled and never given power, because if they do, they abuse it.

Personally, I didn’t vote for Obama, neither time, but I gave him the benefit of the doubt, both times.  I was willing to work with our new leader for the betterment of our country.  There wasn’t major chaos when he was voted in, and yet he wasn’t liked by everyone.

A few months ago, I read the book The Girls by Emma Cline.  Just to give an overview, it’s a fictional book interweaving a young girl, Evie, among the actions of the Manson family.  Really a neat twist.  It’s told through Evie’s eyes as an adult, recollecting those days.  I’ve also read Helter Skelter by Vincent Bugliosi and Curt Gentry.  Both books tell the accounts of the Manson family and their facade of being peace loving children.  However, what really happened?  That love was disguised as pure hate and selfishness.  Manson came across as loving and free at first, yet his underlying true nature slowly worked its way out, in the form of hate, resulting in murder, control and abuse of youngsters.  If Manson got his own way and became a rock star and was praised in the media, like he wanted, then possibly history would’ve been written differently.  Instead, Manson threw a temper tantrum, an extreme one, and he was the louder voice to recruit others, who followed him without using common sense.  Sound familiar?  Mason wanted attention like a child and wanted his own way.

american-flag-hanging-taken-in-texas-aunt-heather-piper-2016

The American flag standing proudly. Taken in Texas, 2016

Instead of wasting energies for negative rioting, vandalism and violence, use it to support a good cause, comfort someone who lost a family member or friend to a terminal illness, adopt a pet, volunteer with the elderly, or spend your Saturday mornings picking up trash to make America beautiful and clean instead of being the cause of the trash.

Our soon to be president is already moving in a positive direction.  It’s no secret our country and it’s people are in a financial rut, to put it mildly.  Donald Trump has already announced he will take office without a salary.  That alone says a lot to his true purpose of wanting to help our country.  The stupid, and I meant that, rioters should be happy.  Mr. Trump is already becoming a solution.  Did any other president ever deny a salary?  It’s not like Mr. Trump was pressured, he voluntary gave up it up.   The rioters are so self-centered, they don’t even want to hear positive aspects of our future.

I’m not a very loud person, figuratively speaking.  (I can be loud when talking and joking around.)  I prefer to show my stance through actions, not words, ironic since I’m writing this.  (I totally see the humor).  But it’s true, I’ll support a candidate or a cause, I’ll join The Race for the Cure and I’ll join any fundraiser, as long as my actions help a cause.  I don’t ever want to be a problem or the cause of a problem.  I try to make a difference through my actions, which do speak louder.

I’ve said this before the election, it really appears that history is repeating itself.  These events remind me when Abraham Lincoln was voted into office.  Not that I was alive during that time, but I’ve studied the Civil War in depth in college and I’m a big history buff.  The south did the same thing, with riots, vandalism, violence and even disrespecting our great country enough to secede.  Let’s learn from our past.  It didn’t end well for anyone back in 1860s, and if this action continues, it won’t end on a positive note for anyone presently.

President Obama and Hillary Clinton have both stood up and publicly and sincerely announced they are standing behind the vote of the American people.  They’ve all asked for a stop to the violence.  This goes to show those rioting simply want to have something to yell about with no respect to anyone, even their candidate.  They want to say something, but don’t have anything to say.  Is this generation so attention starved?

What is unfolding before my eyes is exactly the behavior I’ve always taught again with Kyle.  However, I started to teach him these lessons when he was a little tyke.   Maybe, the protestors need to be schooled and scaled like a child.

When it comes down to it, I’ve always said a prayer for our president elect, and for the people of the world.  I’m not blind to know he’s just a man, who’s made mistakes and will continue to do so, but he does deserve our respect until proven to not act in our best interests.  I bet a moment of silence and prayer would move more mountains than yelling and destroying.

God Bless the U.S.A.!

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

Our Marvel(ous) Bond

It is better to arm and strengthen your hero, than to disarm and enfeeble your foe.  ~Anne Brontë

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Kiski Marching Band performing Nemesis! Kyle is the left trombone in the trio. 10/2016

Life contains those subtle special moments that can be easily overlooked.  Personally, I love those moments, and this one really melted my heart.  I’d thought I’d share.

I had Kyle this past Sunday.  Actually, I also spent last weekend with him too!  When I picked Kyle up he seemed a bit cranky, but even toned for the most part.  I didn’t make a big deal of his attitude because I was excited to spend the day with him and I chalked it up to being tired.

Honestly, we don’t get Kyle too often anymore, not like when he was kid.  Kyle spent a lot of time with us, more than half time.  When his presence graces us nowadays, I can’t stop smiling.  Just having Kyle around puts me in such a good mood (as long as his attitude is subsided).  I miss my busy little teenager.

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Me in Bella Italia Restaurant in Port Angeles, Washington 5/2012

Kyle didn’t really want to do anything in particular.  I offered to take him for a hike, rollerskating and to the movies, but he wanted to hang out, mostly to play video games on his phone.  Not my idea of a fun day, but we were both vegging on the couch and catching up on a little television.  Still a nice bonding time, especially since I wasn’t going to see Kyle until Thanksgiving since Dad and I were going hunting in New York this weekend.

First we started to watch Mysteries at the Museum.  One of my Sunday favorites.  I loved watching Kyle pause his game to give his full attention to the history taught in the form of a half hour show.  I can’t remember what other shows we watched, but it was a nice relaxing start to our day.  Eventually, we agreed upon Iron Man, especially since we caught it at the beginning.

I took Kyle to see all the Iron Man movies in the theater, in addition to most of the Marvel movies.  We’re both big fans of movies and we love our superheros.

Sadly, like an old person, I started to doze off, to be abruptly awakened by Kyle.  What happened?  Kyle spotted Stan Lee, as he always makes his cameo appearances in the Marvel movies.

It wasn’t a passing comment.  No. Kyle actually paused the movie, got up to walk over to me, to shake my shoulder to get my fullest attention.  He wasn’t malicious in any way, but excited to show me his findings.

In a daze, I blinked and followed his finger as he pointed toward the television screen.  It was perfectly paused on Stan Lee.  I smiled and said, “Yep, there he is!  Good eye buddy.”  Kyle continued, “Yep, I saw him in Dr. Strange too!”

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Kyle helping to plant the Paw Paw tree at Gigi & Pappy’s 12/6/2015

Okay.  Is this really a big deal?  Maybe not to anyone one else but it was to me.  You see, I’ve always told Kyle to look out for Stan Lee, ever since we started watching the Marvel movies.  I taught him who the man was and his importance to the comic book world.  I’ve always pointed the guy out with every movie and commercial.

Kyle’s gesture showed that he does pay attention to what I say, even though it’s pretty trivial.  It also showed me that our bond is still as tight as ever and he wanted to share his movie night with his friends with me.

Recently, Kyle went to the movies accompanied with his friends to watch Dr. Strange.  I wanted to take Kyle, as tradition dictates, but alas my teenager had other plans.  No problem. I get it.

It was really neat to hear Kyle excited to tell me he spotted Stan Lee in the Dr. Strange movie.  Why didn’t he tell me earlier when I asked him how the movie was and who he went to the movies with, when I picked him up?  My guess, he didn’t think of it and I think he was still rubbing sleep from his eyes.  Once he saw Stan Lee in Iron Man, it triggered his memory and Kyle couldn’t wait to tell me the news and interest we share together.

As silly as this story sounds, it really means something to me.  Kyle and I are still a team, and those roots can’t easily be ripped up and destroyed, by no one.  He’s a good kid and I’m very blessed to have him in my life!

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posted by auntheather in Books, Movies, Shows,Education & Learning,Family,Observation & Imagination,Patience,Video Games & Games and have No Comments

Vote Informatively – Election 2016

Love lights more fires than hate extinguishes.  ~Ella Wheeler Wilcox

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Trump House, Youngstown, PA 11/7/16

Our country is torn in two, at least that’s what it seems.  Although, is it really that different from the 1860 election when Abraham Lincoln ran against his opponents Breckinridge, Douglas and Bell?  As much as we honor and respect Abraham Lincoln, he didn’t carry the popular vote.  In fact, he wasn’t liked by many people, hence his assassination.  However, in present day, most agree he was honest and tried to do right by all the American people, even though it wasn’t acknowledged until much later in textbooks.  Did you know Abraham Lincoln was the first Republican president?  Fun fact.

Now, going back in time, to the near past, one that I remember when George W. Bush ran against Al Gore in the 2000 election.  That was a very close race.  I’d like to say the 2016 elections reminds me of those days, yet the attitude is very different.  We seem to be truly divided down the middle, desperately in need of a leader to unite us.  Although, that doesn’t worry me.  In fact, it seems to be a repeating theme throughout history, regarding war, politicians, laws and even art.  What is disturbing, are the verbal attacks, lies and disrespectful actions of our candidates, some more than others.  That’s what makes this election classless and in poor taste.

As a nation, we’ll never have one hundred percent agreement on anything.  That we can to agree on, that and the idea of simple respect needs to be practiced more.  I’m not talking about compromising morals and what’s right as to not hurt another person’s feelings.  I’m talking about being honest, direct, listening and reacting with truly good intentions and selfishness.  Tall order right?  It is, but not impossible.  I’m referring to our candidates toward each other, the candidates toward the people (becoming humble and always being honest and truly doing what’s right) and the people toward each other including the media.

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Trump House, Youngstown, PA 11/7/16

On a side note, when did reporters stop doing their research and begin believing rumors and bringing their own personal opinion to the front page?  Reporters need to be held accountable for their work and their actions.

What I’d like to see is a responsible and honest election.  Let the people actually have a vote.  I guess I should correct that statement with saying living people (yes that’s not such a subtle dig on those who are using our deceased to sway the election).  Again, disrespect for the deceased, the families, and our country as a whole.  I personally don’t like my rights being taken away by such actions.  We have an obligation to show the rest of the world what a true republic is and how good honest actions prevail.

After this election, history will be remembered slightly differently, depending on the outcome.  Why does time change a situation?  Or does it allow us to reflect and learn?  I remember studying history in school and being taken back when I learned our soldiers returning from the Vietnam War, after risking their lives for our country (most drafted), were treated with hatred and anger and disrespect.  Of course that’s not in fashion now, thankfully.  Now my next biggest question, is it because it’s what’s trendy and popular or because it’s what’s right?  Again, I see history repeating itself and instead of using common sense and respect, the trendy path is chosen.

Evey person has the ability to change history and change the path of our future.  Every person.  Every person has a choice to do what’s right and to think of others before themselves.  Everyone.  I’m not trying to sway anyone.  I’m simply asking people to stop lying for others, stop being deceitful, and stop any illegal actions (that’s another tall order), starting with election fraud.  Stop the violence when you don’t get your own way, stop the disrespect and start working together for a better future.  No one wins when hate takes the reins, but we all win when love is in our hearts and actions.

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Trump House, Youngstown, PA 11/7/16

On another side note, without pushing one candidate over another, I’ve found this pretty neat.  The Trump House in Youngstown, Pennsylvania.  Little old Youngstown, Pennsylvania has made major news for their part in the election.  Perhaps there’s a Hilary House somewhere, and if so I’d love to hear about it.  Since I’ve never heard of any, I’m going to focus on what I know, the Trump House.

I love the involvement and dedication that resulted in the Trump House.   The Trump House owners spent their personal money for signage and other promotional pieces to give away.  Now a days, people expect reimbursement or compensation for such actions.  The owners of the house are not pushy or loud, except the house decor certainly makes a statement.  They really want to educate and do what’s right for America.  That I can respect.  Again, perhaps there’s a similar place dedicated to Hillary.  If so, wonderful.

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Me & Kyle at the Sarah Palin rally Latrobe Airport 2012

How can anyone not appreciate the effort in this house?  I mean, they have a fifteen foot tall (I really don’t know how tall it is) picture of Donald Trump!  What a fun idea!  Since the creation of the house, they’ve had nonstop traffic from supporters visiting, getting their pictures taken and honking when passing by.  This is what America is about, freedom to choose and freedom of expression.  This is what makes election season exciting, certainly not all the bashing commercials on television, the radio and online.

Not to end on a negative note, but the Trump House has every right to decorate their building any way they want and to support any candidate they choose.  So why did they need to hire personal security to deter violence and vandalism at the Trump House?  Why did they get major backlash from people criticizing the way they spent their money?   This is what I’m saying, no respect.  If it was for Hillary, I’d think it was equally neat.

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Kyle standing in line at the Sarah Palin rally. I actually took him out of school to join me. Latrobe Airport 2012

The house has been dedicated to the Trump campaign since I believe this past summer, and it took the Tribune until this past week to write a story on them, hidden among the pages.  I always thought the news was to be unbiased, but all I’ve heard are opinions running through the media, for both sides, again some more than others.  The majority of the news is obviously swayed to one side.  It’s still not right and basic propaganda, similar to Hitler’s tactics.  He used media to reinforce his ideals and he targeted children and the younger generation who were easily swayed.  Let’s get back to practicing respect, the truth, common sense, and good old-fashion morals.

Personally, I’ve always tried to involve Kyle as much as I can with the news and historical milestones, trying to avoid negativity and reinforcing good moral decision making.  In the past, I’ve taken Kyle to rallies.  I’ve even taken him into the voter’s booth with me.  I wanted to show him what to expect when he got older, and I tried to set the example of having an educated and sincere voice.

On Sunday night I asked Kyle if he wanted to come vote with me this year.  I was denied before I even got it out of my mouth.  He’ll come around with his own opinions when he’s older.

I’ll certainly be voting tomorrow, and I’ll be praying tonight for God to lead this country in the right direction.

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posted by auntheather in Church,Common Sense,Education & Learning,News,Observation & Imagination,Patience and have No Comments

Behind the Kiski Area Marching Band

Better a cruel truth than a comfortable delusion.   ~Edward Abbey

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Kyle (center) giving his all during the performance of Nemesis – Kiski Area Marching Band 2016

Last night, Kiski presented the showcase of bands, whereas the seventh through twelfth grade students in band, performed, including the marching band.  What a great talented group.

Mr. Robert Traugh is the Kiski Area Marching Band Director.  Watching him instruct his students and seeing how they truly respect him is very refreshing and a relief to me.  In fact, Mr. Traugh is a true leader.  Besides being musically talented himself and very creative, he never accepts passing the blame, he gets straight to the heart of a problem to find a solution, he pushes his students towards excellence and beyond, and he holds each and every band member accountable.  Like I said, a true leader and a good role model.

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Kyle (left) at practice before Bands of America in Newark, Delaware. 10/12/16

How do I know?  Simply watching from a distance, as well as a brief encounter not long ago.  Unbeknownst to Mr. Traugh, I was a bystander in the back of the room during one of his speeches to the entire band, after the Gateway Competition preliminaries when they first lost.  I heard the talk in the halls, the students where blaming the program and wanted to go back to last year’s Origins show.  Some where pointing fingers to this group, that person and so on.  It was upsetting to me because I’ve never tolerated such behavior from Kyle, and there I found him among it.  However, enter Mr. Traugh stage right (literally, the band members were on the stage in the auditorium) to put out the fire.

He must have heard or sensed the same negativity and gathered the students in the auditorium between performances for a little talk.  Since it was a long day of chaperoning, I brought my iPad to work during down time.  Coincidentally, I was seated among the spontaneous gathering site.  I thought about moving, but I was right in the middle of a few thoughts I wanted to jot down first.  Then, I didn’t want to bring any attention to myself by walking past the kids to exit during Mr. Traugh’s speech.  So I stayed put.

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Kyle napping on the bus before a competition after practicing all day. 9/17/16

He got straight to the point.  Calling out specifics during the performance for the band’s low score and placement.  In contrast, he pointed out the good aspects of their show, too.  Mr. Traugh humbled the students, in a good way, and really turned their attitude around.  Then, he drove it home by having the kids place themselves in the winners shoes and stated how good those kids must be feeling, especially since they haven’t placed first in a very long time.  I believe it was Norwin or Moon that beat them.  (Sorry I can’t remember)

Let me step back a few hours to right before Kiski’s first performance at Gateway.  I don’t want to say they were arrogant, but overtly confident with an air of privilege.  After all, in their minds, they swept last year’s first place seats time and time again, which they earned.  After the students didn’t place this year, they had a reality check that was evident on everyone’s faces.  Now, they were ready to fight for first place and earn their top spot again.  On a side note, I thought they had a wonderful performance.

The way the kids responded to Mr. Traught’s lecture and encouragement made me proud.  The kids are really a great group, and they wouldn’t be without proper leadership.  Not only from Mr. Traugh but from all the instructors and the band parents alike.  While the students are the face of the marching band, the parents and staff are the backbone.  Without that structure, the band wouldn’t be able to rise to greatness.

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Kiski Area Marching Band performing Nemesis 2016

During that day, which I believe was Saturday, September 24th, Ryan’s birthday, Kyle’s dad,  Kiski school was home base to Moon between performances.  Our kids were very welcoming and respectful, as was Moon.  In fact, Moon ordered enough frosties from Wendy’s for the entire Kiski Band, as a thank you to hosting them between performances.  Can you believe it?  What a nice gesture!  I’m guessing they have pretty stellar leaders too.

In fact, I’ve noticed during all performances, the Kiski Band has shown respect for all other bands.  Watching the band stand and clap for performances, cheering on other kids, simply showing good comrade.  They’ve also shown respect by they actions before, during and after performances, pitching in as a team to assist their own, and others and remaining quiet when needed.  Yes, I can’t be happier to have Kyle surrounded by this group and the Kiski leadership.

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Kyle on the move performing Nemesis for the Kiski Area Marching Band 2016

Last Saturday, October 15, 2016, Kiski Area Marching Band competed in Bands of America in Newark, Delaware.  How did they do?  Fantastic!  They took first place at preliminaries and second place overall, out of 27 top bands from the east coast.  That’s what happens when instructors listen to constructive criticism to make the students better, the students humble themselves to do their best, and everyone works hard.

Way to go Kiski!  Your show is really fantastic and you guys are very talented!  Great season!

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

Chaperoning the Kiski Area Marching Band

Love doesn’t just sit there, like a stone, it has to be made, like bread; remade all the time, made new.  ~Ursula K. Le Guin

Great job Kiski!  Everyone worked really hard and it showed.  I knew you guys could do it!

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A very drenched Kyle on the bus after the football game at McKeesport … boy does he remind me of his Dad 10/7/16

Saturday, the Kiski Area Marching Band participated in the Bands of America competition in Newark, Delaware.  How did Kiski do?  They took first place at preliminaries and second place overall, out of 27 top bands from the east coast.  They brought it and then some.

While I chose not to chaperon the Delaware trip, I’ve been honored with chaperoning pretty frequently throughout the season for football games and competitions.  Do I mind?  Not at all!  I love being involved with Kyle and supporting his interests and activities.  Plus a big bonus, the band kids, the band parents and the staff are wonderful people who are working to make this group the best it can be for each and every child.

Does Kyle want me chaperoning?  I really don’t think so, but the more I’m around the band, the more he’s acclimated to my presence, and the more he seems to accept it.  I try to give him his space, but sometimes I just can’t help myself, I want throw big hugs and kisses his way.  Trying not to overstep my bounds, I’ve ambushed him with a few hugs and a few waves, and certainly many shout outs during performances, but that’s it.  Anyone who knows me, knows I’m showing restraint.  I just love my sousaphone player and I’m very proud of him!

Now that Kyle’s older, sometimes it’s hard to see his Piper family influence.  Then, a situation happens that shows his roots. Once being the Latrobe verses Kiski football game.  It was at Latrobe.

I met the band at the Latrobe Memorial Stadium, which saved me a lot of driving.  As I waited around, waited around, waited around, I had a sneaky suspicion they got lost.  Knowing Kyle wouldn’t answer me, I texted him asking to give them some guidance to the stadium.  Just then, I get a return text saying We’re here.  While reading the message, the buses rounded the corner, everyone except for the equipment truck, who went to the high school.

Later I found out, during their travels a bus broke down and they got a late start.  It happens.

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Kyle in the Kiski Area Marching Band – performing Nemesis at Deer Lakes High School 2016

To offer a very rare assistance, (I’m very directionally challenged) I let the parents know I’m a Latrobean and I know the area very well.  In fact, I’ve traveled the route from Delmont to Latrobe too many times to count.  In addition, I informed them they had a secret weapon among their group, Kyle.  I made sure the parental crew was aware Kyle knows his way around Latrobe with absolute certainty, and if needed, they could lean on him to bring the entire marching band into Latrobe.  That’s when I received news that melted my heart.

The one mom told me Kyle was on her bus offering his assistance letting her know he’s from Latrobe.  That’s my little man!  Naturally, she was confused until I explained that I’m from Latrobe and Kyle has always lived with us half-time, until the band consumed his weekends.  (That brought a laugh from everyone.  It’s true the band is very dedicated and they practice a lot, which builds good character.)

I’m glad Kyle is apart of this group, but I do worry about him.  Not only in band, but in all aspects of his life.  During the beginning of the season, a few parents mentioned to me that they were concerned for Kyle.  Since the tragic passing of his friend Nick, Dealing With Loss.  Kyle took it hard.  Understandably.  What really melted my heart, besides the idea of Kyle suffering inside, was the heartfelt thoughts and concerns from these parents that I hardly knew.  They also stated an unknown fact, Kyle and Nick always sat together on the bus.  My poor Kyle.  What a constant reminder of the passing of a friend.  A few parents confessed to trying to talk to Kyle about Nick, but Kyle brushed them off.  I greatly appreciate their concern , and trying to ease Kyle’s pain.  Thank you!

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A very pensive Kyle on the bus to a Wednesday Competition. 9/21/16

Moving past the sadness, now a funny story that might have indirectly helped Kyle.  While I was in the auditorium between performance for the Gateway competition, I happened to stumble onto a conversation with a group of students in close proximity.  Being a nice bunch, I couldn’t resist, I showed them my wallpaper of me and Kyle at Legofest on my iPad.  The kids didn’t make fun of Kyle, but they were very excited to discover his childhood.  Ironically, the one student took a picture of Kyle earlier on the bus sleeping.  Naturally, I couldn’t pass it up, so I asked him to text it to me.  That was my little man, he looked exhausted.

The following week for a Wednesday competition, I received another mysterious text message, another picture of Kyle.  It kind of broke my heart.  He was sitting by himself, not talking to anyone, simply looking out the window.  It was almost a lonely picture.  Granted, every student on the bus could have been in that mood, or it was for a brief moment, or Kyle needed some quite time, but it still emotionally got to me.  I thanked the band member (I’m trying to keep names out) for the picture, saved it, and moved on.

Since my first encounter with those band kids, they’ve been calling me Aunt Heather, respectfully, and have been sharing stories about Kyle.  Nothing malicious, simply fun interactions with Kyle, stories they knew I’d appreciate.  Shortly after the previous picture was taken, the one kid told me he sat with Kyle on the bus.  Smiling and acknowledging his actions, I was grateful.  I don’t know if that’s what Kyle wanted, and I’m sure the student spoke of me during their bus ride, which Kyle probably wasn’t keen on, but it was a nice gesture.

Week after week, pictures began beeping across my phone showing a very different Kyle.  He was sincerely enjoying himself.  Several of those pictures of Kyle smiling and having a good time has since become my favorite.  I don’t know if one action is tied to the next, but if Kyle’s happy, who cares?

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Me & Sharon at the McKeesport game… chaperoning in the rain. 10/7/16

Without chaperoning, I wouldn’t have known about the bond with Nick and Kyle, I wouldn’t have those behind the scenes pictures, and I wouldn’t be apart of Kyle’s life that means so much to him.  Driving an hour to chaperon (plus going home), those long nights getting in late, and all day competitions were all worth more than I can verbally express.  Plus, I’ve gotten to know some stellar people, band chaperons and band staff.

Keep in mind, I’m not the chaperone superhero, not even close.  Those band parents, moms and dads, are really dedicated to their child(ren) and the band.  They go way above and beyond, making soups, arranging lunches, back and forth to practices, fundraising, helping with the equipment, even assisting with field setup and exiting.  They are extraordinary people.  I’m blessed to know them and to have them around my beloved Kyle.

Thank you!

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

I Met Leigh Bardugo!

When people say impossible, they usually mean improbable.  ~Leigh Bardugo, Siege and Storm

Anything worth doing always starts as a bad idea.  ~Leigh Bardugo, Siege and Storm

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Me & Leigh Bardugo at the book signing for Crooked Kingdom – South Euclid-Lyndhurst County Public Library, OH  9/28/16

This past Wednesday, I had the honor of meeting Leigh Bardugo.  Who is she?  If you have to ask, you just don’t get it, and you’re probably not into young adult fantasy fiction.  If that genre strikes your fancy, then I suggest diving into her world straightaway.  You’ll thank me later.

Leigh Bardugo is the New York Time’s Best Selling author of the Grisha Series (Shadow & Bone, Siege & Storm, Ruin & Rising) and the Six of Crows.  She was doing a book signing for her newest release, Crooked Kingdom, the sequel to Six of Crows.

How did I find out about this book signing?  When I heard Crooked Kingdom was being release this September, I immediately went to Leigh Bardugo’s website.  There, I reviewed her events and books signing gigs.  It was at that moment, I started plotting my adventure.

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Leigh Bardugo book signing for Crooked Kingdom – South Euclid-Lyndhurst County Public Library, OH 9/28/16

Where was she?  There were only a few locations in which she’d be in close proximity to me, Ohio, Maryland and Pittsburgh.  To be honest, I actually looked at all the states and their corresponding dates, to see if I was doing an event with Thrill of the Hunt around the same time.  Alas, nothing was easily working in my favor.  Pittsburgh would have been ideal, however she was one of several speakers at the YALSA event at the convention center on November 4th, and it wasn’t a book signing. Incidentally, I would like to attend the weekend activities with YALSA.  That might be a near future possibility, and a last minute decision.  Next on the list was Ohio, only because the date was a day before the release of Crooked Kingdom, and I couldn’t wait.  I was acting like Kyle, my nephew, when he was a kid and a new Lego was being released.

Initially, when I Googled the location of the book signing, it informed me that it was going to be about an hour and a half trip.  I can handle that.  However, on Wednesday, I called to confirm the evening’s book signing activity, and to ensure they did have copies of Crooked Kingdom for purchase.  I also retrieved the address to GPS.  That was when my jaw dropped.  Keep in mind, I was excited beyond words and I was leaving in plenty of time without rushing or stressing.  What happened?  The GPS said it was going to take me three and a half hours to get there!  What?  I must have previously Googled the branch location.  Yikes!  I was already going to be late.  Did my newest obstacle stop me?  Nope! I darted out the door and put the peddle to the metal.

Where did I go?  I ended up at the South Euclid-Lyndhurst County Public Library in South Euclid, Ohio, across from Notre Dame.  It was a long trip, but one worth it.

I arrived without incidence, but was ten minutes late.  Anyone who knows me, knows I absolutely detest being late, for anything.  Regardless, I scurried into a room full Leigh Bardugo fans without missing a beat.  It was an eclectic assortment of individuals, mostly young adults, but also a variety of ages and genders.  Naturally, Leigh was on time and was in the middle of talking about the book and other projects as I crossed the threshold. Crap!

Prior to Wednesday, I read that DC Comics was teaming up with some writers for a four book collection based on superheros.  I couldn’t believe my eyes when I saw Leigh Bardugo was writing the Wonder Woman book.  Can my days get any better?  I love reading her books and now she’s writing a book about my childhood idol!  Life is just getting better and better every minute!

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Leigh Bardugo speaking to her fans & answering questions for the release of Crooked Kingdom – South Euclid-Lyndhurst County Public Library, OH 9/28/16

Before meeting someone of influence and highly respected, there’s always a bit of anxiety.  Let’s face it, we’re all human, and no one is perfect.  There’s that slight chance that person may not be what was envisioned.  Was that the case with Leigh?  Not at all.  The minute I caught up to her conversation, I felt like she was already a friend.  I know that sounds a bit stalker, but it’s true.  She’s saucy, sarcastic, colorful, straight forward, and hilarious.  We’re practically sisters!  She’s the friend you call to go out for a drink, take a road trip or when you need cheering up.

After Leigh spoke and answered questions, we moved into the signing stage of the evening.  As I walked toward the table, I saw the heavens opened up and light streamed down onto Leigh with Crooked Kingdom in hand, like the heavens were pointing the way.  Okay, maybe it wasn’t a religious experience, but I did feel like a kid meeting a rock star.  Seriously?  Yes.  It was a mix between meeting this very cool chick I just heard speaking to the room full of fans, and the desire to jump back into the world of Kerch and Ketterdam, its capital. (Six of Crows and Crooked Kingdom)  Yes, her books are that captivating!

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Leigh Bardugo signed my copy of Crooked Kingdom (plus Shadow & Bone & Six of Crows) 9/28/16

Naturally, I grabbed a few of my books for Leigh to sign.  I was going to take them all but I chose against it, I didn’t want to seem like a super fan, even though I just drove three and half hours to meet an author I praise without reservation, even when no one asks.

Believe it or not, after reading the Six of Crows, I reached out to Leigh’s literary agent, to see if I could obtain copyrights to do a Grisha/Six of Crows themed scavenger hunt.  I was instantly and nicely denied.  But in my eyes, that doesn’t mean forever.  Before taking on my midweek road trip, I meant to grab some literature on Thrill of the Hunt to give to Leigh.  Well, I left in such haste I forgot.  I did have a business card, like any good business owner.

During my own personal two minute encounter with Leigh, I mentioned that I reached out to her literary agent.  And you know what?  She seemed very excited, and then asked if I was a writer.  Leigh’s comment actually threw me for a loop.  Of course, for normal people that would be a typical reason for reaching out to a literary agent.  Actually, I wrote a couple books, but nothing published.  Now it was my turn to throw her for a loop.  Briefly, I informed her that I own Thrill of the Hunt and I make theme scavenger hunts.  I mentioned I would like to do a scavenger hunt based off of her books.  For a second time, she had a twinkle of intrigue in her eye.  Then discreetly, (actually not so discreetly) I pulled out my business card and slid it across the table to her, where she graciously tucked it with her purse.

Will anything come from this meeting?  Who knows, but it sure was fun.

Just before I turned into a pumpkin at midnight, I stumbled into my bed.  I was exhausted, yet really excited to crack that book and jump into the twisted and yet exciting story of Kaz Brekker.  I really don’t have an addictive personality, and I can’t say I have any vices, except maybe my books.  Actually, only certain stories can capture my attention and chain my hyperactive antsy bum to a chair.  Leigh Bardugo is one such author.

I was going to take Kyle along, even though he never read Leigh’s books.  If I can get that Kyle off of those video games long enough to read her books, I know he’d really enjoy the story and enjoy the Grisha world.  Why didn’t I take Kyle?  He’s very busy with school and band, and I didn’t want to keep him out late on a school night, especially to meet an author Kyle will only appreciate down the road.  One day when Kyle returns to the land of enjoyable reading, and not just for school, we can hit up a few book signings.

Taking on adventures in made up worlds is so very relaxing to me and keeps me energized.  I have an addiction to traveling to these mysterious lands, and fighting for the good in people and for simple love.  Fantasy keeps me in check with reality.

Now I seriously can’t wait for Wonder Woman.  On a side note, I should have worn my Wonder Woman shirt!

Leigh Bardugo was donating 10% of her book sales from the Troublemakers Tour (9/29 – 10/10) to GEMS, and Macmillan Publishing was matching her donation up to $3000.

Leigh Bardugo Website:

Girls Educational and Mentoring Services (GEMS) mission is to empower girls and young women, ages 12–24, who have experienced commercial sexual exploitation and domestic trafficking to exit the commercial sex industry and develop to their full potential. GEMS is committed to ending commercial sexual exploitation and domestic trafficking of girls and young women by changing individual lives, transforming public perception, and revolutionizing the systems and policies that impact sexually exploited youth.

10/3/16 –  As I was wrapping up Crooked Kingdom, which is a great book, I had papers shoved in the book that fell out and made me think of an addendum to my story above.  While Leigh Bardugo was opening my books to sign, a few receipts and papers fell out.  Naturally, I apologized and then I felt like I should explain, so she didn’t think I was a junk collector.

Whenever I’m reading a book I tend to drag it along with me wherever I go.  Typically, during that time, I find myself taking care of daily activities that sometimes require waiting, such as getting an oil change, sitting at the veterinarian’s office, flying to a new location, and so forth.  Usually, I collect paperwork from those instances.  I intentionally place certain documentations among the pages of my book.  Granted, I can’t leave everything, or it would be a big pile of miscellaneous papers, but I do add a few select items, sometimes.  Why?  Those unrelated pieces of information are record keepers.  My books record my history in a sense, of what I was doing when I read them.  So the next time I re-read the book, it’s like a walk down memory lane.  Plus, one day if Kyle decides to take adventures into my books, he might find it interesting to see my past, even though it’s usually nothing exciting.

I’m also the one who likes to write in the margins of my books, especially if I know someone is going to read it after I do.  I like to make silly comments, or add inside jokes based off of the story.  It’s another way for others to share in my adventure, and I in theirs, because no matter what it, these entries stop a person in their tracks and sparks conversation.

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posted by auntheather in Books, Movies, Shows,Family,LEGO's,Milestone,News,Thrill of the Hunt Scavenger Hunts,Travels and have No Comments

Arnold Palmer was Already a Legend

Success in this game depends less on strength of body than strength of mind and character.  ~Arnold Palmer

The most rewarding things you do in life are often the ones that look like they cannot be done.  ~Arnold Palmer

September 10, 1929 – September 25, 2016

arnold-palmer-logo-aunt-heather-piperLatrobe lost one of our legends, golf great, Arnold Palmer.  He passed away yesterday due to heart complications at the ripe old age of 87.

arnold-palmer-painting-aunt-heather-piperBeing a Latrobean, I grew up around the legend of Arnold Palmer.  I was even honored by witnessing the man behind that legend in passing at the Arnold Palmer Regional Airport, and driving passing his house to find him retrieving his mail.  Not to mention, everyone knows at least one person with an Arnold Palmer story, always a benevolent encounter.  I’m not saying we were BFFs, I mean he didn’t know me, but when you’re from the same close-knit area like Latrobe, you’re automatically friends by default.

The news was blowing up all day today with stories, memories and past images of “The King”.  Rightfully so, he earned the kind words and the fame that accompanied him.  He definitely brought pride to Latrobe.  Whether you were a golfer or not, he was respected and a household name.

Why was Arnold Palmer so famous, not just locally, but around the world?  I mean, besides having a drink named after him.  Seriously?  You bet the Arnold Palmer, consisting of half ice-tea and half lemonade.  In addition, he won numerous events in golf, dating back to 1955, on the PGA Tour and Champions Tour.  What really made him a household name came from being the first superstar of the sport’s television age.  A man after my own heart, a true marketer.

arnold-palmer-drink-aunt-heather-piperMr. Palmer knew how to market himself and take his talent, along with his charm and good looks, to reach the masses.  Unlike a lot of superstars today, he wasn’t a troublemaker or a bad boy.  Nope, he was a positive role model and he was very appreciative of his own success, coming from humble beginnings.  His dad was a green-keeper at the local club where he took an interest in golfing.

Mr. Palmer even served our country in the United States Coast Guard.  That alone speaks volumes about him and his character.

I was not alive during the height of Arnold Palmer’s career, nor am I a golfer, but according to Wikipedia:

Palmer’s most prolific years were 1960–1963, when he won 29 PGA Tour events, including five major tournament victories, in four seasons. In 1960, he won the Hickok Belt as the top professional athlete of the year and Sports Illustrated magazine’s “Sportsman of the Year” award. He built up a wide fan base, often referred to as “Arnie’s Army”, and in 1967 he became the first man to reach one million dollars in career earnings on the PGA Tour. By the late 1960s Jack Nicklaus and Gary Player had both acquired clear ascendancy in their rivalry, but Palmer won a PGA Tour event every year from 1955 to 1971 inclusive, and in 1971 he enjoyed a revival, winning four events.

Granted these are just some of his accomplishments, which continued throughout his entire life.

After hearing the news of The King’s passing, my heart sank a little.  He really was a staple in our community.  The next thought that came to mind?  We’re going to be bombarded with celebrities.  I remember when Arnold’s first wife, Winnie passed away.  The biggest news was George H.W. Bush was spotted in K-Mart purchasing a belt for the funeral.

Arnold Palmer wasn’t a man in everyone’s face, riding the edge of controversy and reality television, but he was friend to many far and wide, high and low.  In my opinion, that made him a true legend.

While I don’t have the fame, nor the fortune of Arnold Palmer, I’m still very proud to announce Thrill of the Hunt is a Latrobe company, and I’m looking forward to the day when I join our prestigious line up local celebrities and keep the good name of Latrobe alive.

God Speed to all of Arnold Palmer’s friends and family.  Rest in peace.

10/3/16 – Recently, I heard a fun story about Arnold Palmer from my cousin John Olczak.  He said his dad, my Uncle Frank, my Grandpap Chester’s brother, and the other brothers caddied together with Arnold Palmer at the Latrobe Country Club when they were younger.  Apparently, they always had to keep track of Mr. Palmer because he would sneak way to hang out on the putting green and practice, instead of caddying.

It just goes to show Arnold Palmer was meant to be a golfer.  He had a natural talent that I’m guessing was driven by a true desire and a love to play the game.

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posted by auntheather in Books, Movies, Shows,Family,Hiking & Outdoors,Milestone,News,Observation & Imagination,Random Fun Facts,Reminiscing,Travels and have No Comments

Is Kyle Aware?

To truly be committed to a life of honesty, love and discipline, we must be willing to commit ourselves to reality.  ~John Bradshaw

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Yes, that’s Kyle with the backwards baseball cap! Go Kiski! 9/2/16

Kyle is a full blown teenager.  And with that status, there are certain acceptable and some non-acceptable aspects to that age and stage in life.  I get it, I do.  However, how do you know when the line has been overstepped into disrespect, not only because of the teenager status but due to outside influences?  And how do you correct it, especially since it’s being disguised and hidden as a teenager?

Personally, I can handle Kyle and his attitude.  He’s human, and a growing young man who’s trying to find his own path in life, and searching to adulthood.  I respect all of that, and I always make myself available to Kyle for guidance and support, whether he likes it or not.  My love for Kyle surpasses all that and beyond.  Granted, I don’t tolerate disrespect, but I do forgive and love unconditionally.  It’s no secret, I’ve reiterated these thoughts to Kyle a time or two, or three or four.

Is Kyle aware he likes to be difficult?  I guess all teenagers do to a certain extent, or at least they will.  I did, maybe not at the moment, but upon reflection, I did.  Again, normal growing pains, I understand and accept but shear snottiness I don’t.  Honestly, Kyle is a good kid.  How do I know?  I have proof!

Last Friday was the first football game of the season.  I was asked to do my “parental” duty and chaperon the band.  Gladly!  Keep in mind, I don’t do this for myself or for any other reason other than to spend time with Kyle and support his interests.  Driving an hour to and from the school is not my ideal way to spend a Friday night, plus being responsible for a group of teenagers.  I do it because I enjoy seeing Kyle happy, as well as the other kids.  I do it because family is important and sometimes that means going out of your way to being apart of it.  I don’t get paid, I don’t want recognition and I don’t need any special perks.  I love volunteering and being of assistance.  (I had to go into that dissertation because I was accused of such things when I became a band chaperone.)

How does this prove Kyle is a good kid?

Taking the long way to get the point, I have an example.  Trying to give Kyle respect and keeping my distance, I didn’t bother him at all on Friday, until just before the game was ending.  My Dad asked to see if Kyle would come home with me and I’d take him back the following day after a party he was invited to, near his house.  When I made my way to the top of the bleachers to talk to him, Kyle was just plain snotty and miserable.  He was a little crapper.  In fact, I had to look him in the eyes and say, “Be nice Kyle.”  I never yelled, or caused a scene, but I was stern to show not to push me.  Kyle’s response?  He continued with the major attitude, rolling his eyes and putting up walls.  Again, I repeated, “I’m asking you to be nice.  Just be nice.”  Kyle didn’t say anything but he certainly pouted and had a major attitude.  Not to stir an argument, I left him alone and retreated back to the band parent section.

Upon my return, the one mom, whom I’ve known since Kyle was little, (her daughter and Kyle have been in the same grade since elementary school) ask me how my talk went.  Now it was my turn to roll my eyes.  When I reiterated the conversation, she chuckled, knowing this teenage stage, but was also in a little shock.  She told me that Kyle is a very respectful and polite young man.  She’s never seen anything to the contrary come from him in public and towards parents or authority figures.  That I can live with!  I don’t want him to grow up to be a jerk to people.  I guess some influence has worn off and landed on Kyle.

Is Kyle aware he’s a pawn, and he’s being dramatically influenced, not for good?  That’s my bigger question.  The one question that truly keeps me up at night.  With teenagers especially, it’s easier to take the path of least resistance and the one that offers freedom, no accountability and less work.  Normal.  It’s not in Kyle’s best interest to support such actions, but understandable.  I know it’s also a normal response to want to dump added stress factors to make others happy, especially for a kid.  I get it.

How do you combat all that, not for ego, but simply for the betterment of a child?

I’m really not sure.  I guess me showing Kyle love, understanding and support.

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I tried to get a pic of Kyle, but he wouldn’t let me. I had to sneak this one… Kiski Band 9/2/16

Recently, I had the honor and privilege of being offered some very good advice from a retired school teacher. (Once a teacher always a teacher)  She told me to keep doing what I’m doing, no matter what.  Keep loving Kyle and being there for him.  She also advised me to let him fall, metaphorically speaking.  She said if no one is supporting you and Kyle’s giving major resistance, let him crash and burn, even with school.  She continued, “He has to fail to figure out how to grow.”  She also commented that it’s hard to stand back and let this happen.  I completely agree with her logic, but it’s not easy.  My heart breaks when Kyle is upset, or messes up, or doesn’t do well in school or has a hard day.  I’m happiest when he’s succeeding, and content in life, and simply happy with God in his life.  I wonder if Kyle’s aware of all that?

I’m glad Kyle has the influence of the band.  They’re a great group of kids and the parents really care for them.  All their actions are selfless and out of love.  Seeing Kyle surrounded in that environment puts me at ease.

On another somewhat related but side note, I don’t know what it is about me that puts seriously insecure people’s insecurities into overdrive.  Is it because I’m not a nurturer and I don’t coddle or baby others?  Maybe because I don’t tolerate excuses and finger pointing, but instead offer solutions?  Is it because I set my standards high and expect the same from others?  Maybe it’s because I call people out on their lies and ulterior motives?  Either way, I know Kyle has struggles in making certain people happy for their own arrogance and control.  I wish I could help more.  Now onto the funny.

The funny?  You bet, it’s never a story from me without a bit of humor and adventure.  This time I have two funnies.

While the band was practicing, before marching to the stadium for the football game, the parents where helping tape up gloves, pour water and be of assistance.  Just before leaving, the band director was going through the songs and having the band rehearse.  As our yellow shirt group chatted among ourselves, watching the Big K (that’s what they call Kiski Band), the band director announced, “Cold Water”.

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The Kiski Band practicing before the football game at home. 9/2/16

Just then, a few parents did an about face and headed for the area where the water was poured into cups, waiting to be passed to out to parched band members.  At that very moment, Diane, the head of the band chaperones, called over, “No wait, that’s the name of the song!”  What?  I about died laughing.  The band was playing Cold Water by Major Lazer and Justin Bieber .  To be honest, I was ready to head for the water too.  I couldn’t stop laughing.  It was too comical.

Now onto funny number two.

The band goes out before the game and plays the National Anthem and the school Anthem before returning to their seats in the bleachers.  Then, they do a few songs for halftime, plus they’re in the stands playing for every touchdown and for encourage.  All this playing builds up a thirst.  The band boosters serve cups of water.  Usually, we tray up the water and pass it out while the kids are entering the bleachers, and sometimes we wait and pass out refreshments while the students are already seated.

During this process, I made sure I stayed to my side of the bleachers, while Kyle was on the other.  Although, I couldn’t resist a funny idea I had.  I started to hand cups of water to kids who didn’t ask for it, and instructed them to pass it to Kyle.  I’m not talking about one or two cups, I asked Kyle about eight cups of water.  I don’t know why I thought that was so funny, but it was.  Some kids looked confused upon my request, until I flashed them an ornery grin (which I’m sure resembled Kyle’s).  Some students giggled, knowing what I was up to.

I told a couple of parents what I did and they started laughing.  I said, “Can you imagine him sitting there and everyone handing him a cup of water?”  I thought that was so funny.  I added, “Next time I’ll bring a marker and label his cups with a big old KYLE, LOVE AUNT HEATHER on it.”  The parents about died at that comment.  I thought that was clever, especially since Kyle wouldn’t talk to me.

I don’t want to embarrass him, but I do want Kyle to know I’m there for him and I love him deeply.  Believe it or not, the water is very symbolic with me and Kyle.  I’ve always encouraged him to drink water, and I’ve always made sure he was hydrated, his entire life.  His health was always important to me.  I love that little guy!

Good luck this weekend at the band competition.  It’s at Kiski.  Proud of you buddy, you look great!

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

A Visit to Google Pittsburgh… Continued

My life is like tofu—it’s what gets added that makes it interesting.  ~Angela Johnson

Google Pittsburgh Tour 7-27-16 Aunt Heather Piper

Our Google Pittsburgh Tour. Kyle, Duncan, Barb & Me Bakery Square 7/27/16

Last Wednesday, I took Kyle and his friend on A Visit to Google Pittsburgh to tour the facility as a birthday surprise.  Now I want to share my surprises and the details of the Google offices!

Yes, I knew the office would be Googled up, and fun, and unique, but what I saw blew me away.  First, I didn’t realize the size of Google Pittsburgh.  They employ about 500, and are planning on doubling that with the expansion of the new building.  Perhaps I had it in my head this office was the same office they originally occupied near Carnegie Mellon University (CMU).   Not that I was ever there, but I knew it was smaller.  Things have changed.

Google Pittsburgh is located in Bakery Square in Pittsburgh at the old Nabisco plant.  The office consists of seven floors of sheer fun.  There are no other words to describe it.  In addition to all the branding, which Google does it right, and the attention to detail, they’ve really honored Pittsburgh with the themes and designs.  Each floor has a different theme.  While I don’t remember which floor was which, and I don’t remember everything I saw, I’d like to give a general overview.

Floors

Kyle at Google Pittsburgh Candy bowl 7-27-16 Aunt Heather Piper

Kyle helping himself to the candy bowl at Google Pittsburgh Bakery Square 7/27/16

As I mentioned each floor has a different theme.  There are seven floors total.  When you arrive in the Google lobby, you’re on the seventh floor and once you pass a secure door, the awesomeness is reveled.

One floor pays homage to Nabisco.  Each room is named for one of their products.  They even have a huge original mixer on the floor they kept from the old plant.  It sits near the pool table and pinball machine.

Another floor is dedicated to Kennywood.  There’s an actual roller coaster car in the lobby facing down the stairwell, enough said!  While walking about, they’ve incorporated ramps and railings and Kennywood styled signs to give it the feel of being in Kennywood.  It worked for me!

Another floor is dedicated to the bridges of Pittsburgh, again naming the rooms for each bridge.  There are design elements everywhere representing our beloved bridges.

One floor has the parks and trails theme, with bamboo dividers, rough cut wood paneling and total nature theme.  I mean they even have a live tree stretching up through one of the stairwells that connects two floors interrupted by an occupied floor.  Me coming from a family of loggers and woodworkers, I fell in love with that idea instantly.  I’d love to have a live tree for Thrill of the Hunt one day.

One floor captures the essence of our tunnels with hallways resembling the archways of a tunnel, the textured walls of cement and even the lighting gives you the feel of the Fort Pitt Tunnel or the Squirrel Hill Tunnel.  As you’re walking through the hallway, you almost feel like the cityscape of Pittsburgh should appear before your eyes at the end.

I wish I could remember the other details of the themes and the floors, perhaps it’ll come back to me.  I was in complete aw during the entire tour.

“Cafeteria”

As I mentioned before with A Visit to Google Pittsburgh, the cafeteria is a huge beautiful space with snazzy chairs, booths, real plates and silverware, and food stations.  All complementary for all employees and visitors.  They have a quality chef on payroll with a full kitchen staff.  Google doesn’t take this job lightly.  I heard it’s no easy task becoming a chef for Google.

Google Pittsburgh Roller Coaster ride 7-27-16 Aunt Heather Piper

Duncan, Kyle, me & Barb in the roller coaster on the Kennywood floor at Google Pittsburgh Bakery Square 7/27/16

In the corner of the kitchen they grow select fresh vegetables and herbs, to be used by the kitchen or the employees can help themselves.  One the roof of one of the levels, they even have laying chickens and more herbs growing.  Yes, real chickens someone takes care of and picks the eggs.  All the fresh ingredients are used in making the grub.  Great idea!  In fact, every food item at each station is labeled with the ingredients.  They’re even color coded according to taste and nutritional value.  The goal is to feed the employees healthy food, without it appearing or sounding healthy.

They have stations for hot foods and cold.  The kitchen staff is even on hand during the lunch hours to mix up your personal salad or serve your hot meals.  You can help yourself to fresh fruits, vegetables, water infused with a variety of healthy organic ingredients, desserts or even simply peanut butter and jelly.  They’ve got it all!  And it’s all unlimited for zero dollars!

The area is spacious and clean and very inviting.

During the tour we walked past not one, but several smaller kitchens and coffee shops scattered throughout.  You’re never more than a few feet away from a kitchen stocked with a variety of drinks (healthy and not so much), snacks, cereals and so on.  The kitchen staff stocks those smaller kitchens and coffee shop style areas of the building every day.  The Google employees are seriously hooked up.

No employee ever has to worry about bringing their lunch or snacks.  Google is also ensuring its employees are eating a lot healthier, at least that’s the goal.  It’s a proven fact that individuals who eat healthier are more alert, think better, have more energy and in turn can give back to their job.  Plus, Google just removed a major stress out of the day, what to eat?

Upon entering the lobby into the front desk area, I did notice (how could anyone miss it) a huge candy bowl.  Again, it’s a help yourself area.  When we walked in, Kyle immediately helped himself to some candy.  I gave him an “are you kidding?” look stating, “Did you ask before you helped yourself?”  His response?  “No, it’s here for anyone to eat.”  Trying to ensure he always uses good manners, I said, “Still, you should always ask first and don’t assume.”

Google even holds cooking classes in their test kitchen area for the employees.  They sometimes bring in celebrity chefs.  Wow!

Details

Google Pittsburgh lobby with Kyle Duncan Barb 7-27-16 Aunt Heather Piper

Kyle, Duncan & Barb in the lobby at Google Pittsburgh Bakery Square 7/27/16

During our tour, Andrew, our tour guide, pointed out little corners of the offices, and side conference rooms to be used by anyone who needs a change of pace from their desk, or to meet up with fellow co-workers to discuss work.  It seemed like at every turn there was a sitting area or a mini escape from the daily grind.

While walking past a cubical section of the floor, watching our Google workers hard at making our lives searchably easy, Andrew pointed out a large hammock / jungle gym structure hovering over a corner of the work space.  He took us up there.  It was literally a huge hammock, suspended a floor above for anyone to sit and relax, take a nap or stretch your legs.  It lead to another private corner with a massage chair.

Speaking of massages.  They have a massage therapist on staff as another perk.  Another great idea!

Keeping with the theme of relaxation and exercise, in yet another area, they have a room with walking treadmills overlooking Bakery Square.  The employees can plug in and work while putting on mileage.  Although, traveling through the offices will certainly give you extra steps on your pedometer.

They have a couple lecture halls to keep up with continued education and to introduce new visitors, staff members and such.  Since they have so many visitors, they have a room containing several washers and dryers for anyone to use, especially for those out of town guests.  They’ve thought of everything!  Google is certainly very considerate.

Google even has their own tech support.  Sure that would make sense since they have not only enough computers for each employee, plus.

A few additional perks include, a fully equipped gym, a music room to jam out at the end of a day, and naturally it’s a dog friendly office.

Stories

While on tour, after walking through a vault style door, we came to a hallway sporting an enlarged image covering the entire wall.  Andrew shared one of his Google experiences with us.  It was a distant shot of a building with railroad tracks in the foreground.  The building held special significance to Andrew.

Google Pittsburgh lobby sign 7-27-16 Aunt Heather Piper

This starts our tour of Google Pittsbugh Bakery Square 7/27/16

One of his first visits to Google Pittsburgh, when the office was near CMU, he said he came to the front desk, who asked him what size t-shirt.  While the front desk chick had her back to Andrew, she placed the t-shirt over her shoulders and was messing with something in the corner.  He said she all of a sudden turned around pointing Nerf guns at him and said “This office isn’t safe.”

Apparently, a few times a day the trains passed and literally shook the entire building for three minutes.  In that time, no one can get any work done.  So instead of the disturbance being a hindrance, they took advantage of the downtime with Nerf wars.  I love it!  Andrew even said that as per Amazon, a person is only permitted to purchase so many of the same product, for fear of that person reselling the product.  His friend is forever banned for life from buying Nerf products on Amazon because of their daily recreation.

Andrew also told us that Google employees get credit for visiting other data centers and offices, when they swipe their badge.  What do they get?  Simply a virtual trophy or some sort.  I love how Google encourages its employees to go above and beyond, in a fun and productive way.  Now that’s a vision the company mastered.

Keep in mind this is all just in Google Pittsburgh.  Can you imagine the headquarters?  Which is now on my list to tour.  I thoroughly enjoyed by visit to Google Pittsburgh.  They have taken their success and done right by their employees and customers alike.  Great job Google!  I’d love to build a scavenger hunt in any Google office.

I can’t wait for Kyle’s next birthday.  It’s a big one, sixteen!

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posted by auntheather in Education & Learning,Family,News,Observation & Imagination,Random Fun Facts,Thrill of the Hunt Scavenger Hunts and have No Comments

A Visit to Google Pittsburgh

Being a nerd, which is to say going too far and caring too much about a subject, is the best way to make friends I know.  ~Sarah Vowell

Google Pittsburgh Tour 7-27-16 Aunt Heather Piper

Andrew Widdowson, Barb Planinsek, Kyle Piper, Duncan Jones & Me at Google offices in Pittsburgh at Bakery Square 7/27/16

This past Wednesday, I wanted to surprise Kyle and do something for his birthday, which is tomorrow.  Summer is nearly over, especially when Kyle begins bandcamp and I’ve hardly seen my little vacationer since school let out.  This weekend he’s heading to Virginia, deep south with my parents and family friends to go catfishing, at night.  (Actually, they left a few hours ago.)  Skirting around all the plans, Wednesday felt like the most opportune time to spend a day with Kyle.  Done.

With the help of a family friend, Barb Planinsek, we made arrangements to tour the Google offices in Pittsburgh.  You see Barb’s nephew, Andrew, is employed by Google and chose to work in Pittsburgh this summer. (Nephews are the best!)  He travels all around the world for his job, but is headquartered in Mountainview, California.  Of course I couldn’t pass up this opportunity.

Unbeknownst to Kyle, the plans for Wednesday were made months prior, when I met Andrew at the Fishing Derby in May.  Naturally, upon hearing who Andrew’s employer was, I instantly thought, Touring Google Pittsburgh would be a great experience for Kyle and a perfect birthday activity!  I’m not one hundred percent sure, but I think I was right.  Although, trying to get excitement out of that kid is hard, but by golly I saw it during our tour!

Unfortunately, because of everyone’s schedules, Wednesday was planned on Tuesday.  Not ideal but it worked out.  My goal was to surprise Kyle with an experience most don’t have, give him an educational activity he’d enjoy, and begin networking him for his future.  Bonus!

Kyle & Duncan at Google Pittsburgh 7-27-16 Aunt Heather Piper

Kyle & Duncan tour the Google offices in Pittsburgh as a birthday surprise! 7/27/16

Andrew kindly moved his day around to accommodate us.  Barb and I were on board from the beginning.  Now came the hard part, Kyle.  I tried calling, to let him know I arranged a surprise for him, but he never answered the phone. I thought about texting, and chose another route.  Initially, I was toying with the idea that Kyle might enjoy the experience more with a friend.  During the planning process, I got a hold of Jennifer, Kyle’s good friend Duncan’s mother.  (If you can follow that.)  She was more than happy to lend us her son for the day.  In fact, Duncan was in on the secret and helped me align Kyle.  Plus, Duncan was excited about the adventure too.

All day Tuesday, Jennifer kept me posted to Kyle’s responses to Duncan.  Duncan called Kyle and said he was coming over Wednesday morning around 7:30 am for a surprise.  I was told Kyle’s response was, “If I’m getting up early I want to know why.”  Boy is that kid stubborn!  Duncan remained steadfast and never told Kyle who was picking them up, and what they were doing.  Eventually, later in the day, I was told Kyle was intrigued about the surprise.  I believe he was excited because when I showed up on Wednesday, he was ready to roll.  He even tried to hide a smile from his lips, though I’m quick and I saw it!  I too was grinning from ear to ear ready to jump out of my skin.

Heading west, we eventually made our way to Bakery Square in Pittsburgh.  We stopped and had breakfast, figuring the boys would be hungry before our ultimate activity.  We actually had time to waste, since I didn’t know what traffic was going to be like, and we were so close to Shadyside, we headed to the area for some exploration.  What did the boys do with their freedom to shop and money in their hands?  They played Pokemon Go.  At least I got Kyle out moving around and he seemed to be in a pretty good mood.

Duncan & Kyle playing Pokemon Go in Shadyside 7-27-16 Aunt Heather Piper

Duncan & Kyle playing Pokemon Go in Shadyside before our Google Pittsburgh tour 7/27/16

Once we made our way back to Bakery Square and entered the lobby, Kyle read the list of companies on the elevator wall, while I told the guard we were heading to the seventh floor.  Even Kyle couldn’t miss the bright bold letters that read “Google”, seventh floor.  Then, suddenly without warning it happened again.  True happiness in the form of a smile left Kyle and was spotted!  Kyle’s smirk is like the elusive Sasquatch, it has been rumored to make its appearance and then vanish before your eyes.  Now I can say I was a first hand witness!  The facial gesture was something between ornery, knowing the secret, and being truly excited.  It was at that moment, I was honestly happy.

We get to the lobby and naturally I want to start snapping pictures.  Kyle wasn’t pleased about this part of our trip, but complied with minimal resistance.

Andrew met us at the front door and passed out our name tags, while I did the formal introductions.  Would you believe Kyle didn’t remember meeting Andrew at the Fishing Derby?  I made it a point to introduce him and of course his employer.  That kid cracks me up.

Andrew did a great job with the tour!  He shared his own personal stories and fun facts about Google, especially Google Pittsburgh.  I knew Andrew was the perfect tour guide, but what I didn’t expect is what I saw in the offices.  Wow.  In a separate post, I’ll explain later.  You would not believe.  Now it was my turn to be surprised.

Once the tour came to a close it was lunch time.  We joined Andrew in the “cafeteria” which resembled an upscale restaurant, with stations of gourmet food, real plates and utensils, a variety of infused waters, and restaurant quality tables and chairs, and booths.

Our lunch was fantastic!  Plus, it was all free.  Google has a full kitchen staff, including a quality chef to prepare these, nutritious (mostly aside from the desserts), delicious meals for all its employees as a perk.  There was so much, Andrew had to walk us around and show us everything, including the corner of the room where they grew some fresh vegetables and herbs.  Seriously?  Yes!

Not to downplay the tour, which is impossible, but the best part of the day was our conversation during lunch.  Andrew continued telling us about his job and sharing stories, always projecting enthusiasm.  You can tell he genuinely loves what he does, and is proud of his accomplishments at Google, which he should be.  Kyle and Duncan even stepped out of their comfort zone to ask questions, but mostly they listened.

Kyles birthday celebration at Google Pittsburgh 7-27-16 Aunt Heather Piper

We celebrated Kyle’s 15th birthday at Google Pittsburgh, Bakery Square 7/27/16

After we ate lunch, we sang Happy Birthday to Kyle and celebrated with cupcakes.  On Tuesday, during the planning stages, I ordered cupcakes from a local bakery and had them delivered for another little surprise twist.  I knew we were eating lunch there and I thought it would be fun to celebrate Kyle’s fifteenth birthday at Google Pittsburgh.  Yes, I even brought candles!  (Although, I forgot the matches, which Barb reminded me of when we were in Shadyside.  I bummed a pack from a smoker who worked in a bar.)

On a side note, I didn’t realize there are roughly five hundred employed in Google Pittsburgh.  I was going to order a sheet cake, thinking we’d share with everyone in the office.  Nope.  Besides, they’re well stocked with sweet treats, I’m sure they didn’t miss the cupcakes.

During the course of the Google experience, I noticed Kyle and Duncan were never distracted by their phones or video games (at least not that I was aware of).  They listened to Andrew and seemed interested in what he was saying, even during lunch.  I think the day was a success.  Now I’m starting to make plans for Kyle’s next birthday.  It’s a big one, his sixteenth.

After we said our goodbyes, we headed to Station Square to get on a Ducky Tour of Pittsburgh, keeping with the theme.  Unfortunately, the next ride was booked up.  I did make reservations the day prior, but I cancelled for fear we might not make the departure time.  I didn’t want to rush us out of Google.  It was a hot day and I could tell the boys had enough anyway.  We headed home.  It didn’t take them long to fall asleep.

On a side note, besides giving Kyle a memorable experience, there was just an equally great part to the adventure.  It was rubbing our personal tour of Google in my sister’s face, and continuing my claim to the coolest aunt!  At least that’s what I told her.

I hope Kyle and Duncan had a great day.  Happy Birthday Kyle!

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

Dealing With Loss

What we remember from childhood we remember forever – permanent ghosts, stamped, inked, imprinted, eternally seen.  ~Cynthia Ozick

Honestly, I’ve been toying around with this blog idea since last week.  The Aunt Heather blog may come from my perspective, but the stories are really for Kyle.  These accounts of Kyle’s life from my point-of-view are more important now than ever.  Since Kyle’s fully embraced his teenage years, I’ve seen less of him.  I always want Kyle to know how important he is, and not having him by my side is my own personal loss.

It is with a very heavy heart I talk about Kyle’s friend, fifteen year old Nick Ursiny.  He passed away last Sunday, June 19, 2016 from an accidental gun shot wound to the head.  The incidence happened on Friday, June 17th around 5:00 pm.

Kyle called on Sunday to tell us he was going to the hospital to visit his friend, that’s when we heard the news,  Shortly after speaking with Kyle, we received the news Nick passed away.  I spoke to Kyle on the phone, and naturally he seemed a little distraught.  I could heard the tears swelling in his eyes, which instantly broke my heart.  Not only for the pain Kyle was facing, and at such a young age, but for the family and all of Nick’s friends.

When I heard about the incidence, it really hit home with me.  My family target shoots pretty frequently, for fun and in preparation for hunting season, and Kyle’s been apart of that tradition since he was a little tyke.  My heart broke for Kyle, yes because of a tragic loss of his friend, but also because of Kyle’s reality.  Unlike some, he knows the sound, the smell, the feel of a fired weapon.  He knows first hand the damage it does, at least with respect to hunting.  Kyle’s awareness of this accident is so much more acute than many of his fellow students, those who have never fired a weapon.  I couldn’t imagine dealing with that situation, and the complete grief and feeling of accountability.

These thoughts have been rushing through me all week.  It’s weird how that depression from a very real experience of loss creeps back, and settles into your soul, even when you’re not completely aware.

Nick was in Kyle’s class and he was also a member of the band.  Even during my chaperoning experiences, I personally didn’t know Nick, nor his family, but I know the helplessness and sorrow that’s overcome them.  And worse, I know the road they’ll be facing and the healing process, which does not get easier as time passes, they”ll only learn to adjust.

The band visited the funeral home last night as a group.  I did reach out to Kyle and ask if he wanted me to go to support him.  His text response?  “I’m fine.”  Okay.  I know everyone handles grief in their own way, and I respect that.  I was still going to go, but I wanted to give Kyle his space, and let’s face it, that would have been hard even for the toughest of people.  Instead, my thoughts and prayers were focused on that family and Nick.

Accidents do happen, no matter how minor or major, even though you try to avoid them.  It’s such a shame, this accident cost the life of such a young promising person.  If anything else, I hope children and adults alike, learn from this story and are more careful.  I don’t know the details behind the accident, but addressing safety is always a good practice.

God speed to Nick’s friends and family.  Rest in peace Nick!

I grabbed a few screen captures of online stories, for reference.

Full Obit Aunt Heather Piper June 2016

Kiski Facebook post Aunt Heather Piper

News Article Aunt Heather Piper 6-18-16

News Aunt Heather Piper 6-20-16News Article Aunt Heather Piper 6-20-16

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posted by auntheather in Church,Common Sense,Family,Hunting & Fishing,News,Observation & Imagination,Patience and have No Comments

Hello Mary Kay Andrews!

The meeting of two personalities is like the contact of two chemical substances: if there is any reaction, both are transformed.  ~C.G. Jung

Mary Kay Andrews Book Signing 5-22-16 Aunt Heather Piper

Me & Mary Kay Andrews book signing for The Weekenders Great lady! Oakmont, PA 5/22/16

I love meeting authors.  Who doesn’t? (perhaps none readers, maybe?)  Especially ones I’ve followed and are very familiar with their work, not to down play meeting new and upcoming authors.  Nope, that’s a different kind of fun, the finding of a new book, a new author, especially one unheard of in the mainstream, and becoming one of their original fans and spreading the word on their new work.  On the other hand, meeting accomplished authors carries an intrigue and excitement with the encounter.  Plus, it tends to carry a celebrity status.  I’ve met a few authors, some mainstream and some nearly unheard of (not as many as I’d like), and they were all really amazing and down to earth people, just like my newest encounter.

Let’s talk Mary Kay Andrews.  She’s a New York Times Bestselling Author, of Hissy Fit, as well as other novels.  She’s also the author of one of my favorites, Summer Rental.  Currently, she’s on her book tour promoting her 24th novel, The Weekenders.

I was introduced to Mary Kay Andrews by a good friend of mine, Kelly Berger.  Yep, she was shopping and came across one of her books, and was instantly drawn to the idea of a story taking place at the beach.  Kelly’s a HUGE beach fan, especially the areas around Hilton Head, Cape Hatteras and the Outer Banks.  I don’t have to tell you, Kelly read Summer Rental and was an instant fan, purchasing all published pieces by Mary Kay Andrews.

Book Signing at MLB Mary Kay Andrews 5-22-16 Aunt Heather Piper

Mary Kay Andrews during a Q &A session at Mystery Lovers Bookstore in Oakmont, PA  5/22/16

Since Kelly and I have always swooped books, and discussed authors and new releases, it was only a matter of time before Mary Kay Andrews would remain a staple on my bookshelf, too.  Kelly and I mostly have similar tastes when it comes to reading material, although her interest stops shy of fantasy.  Summer Rental happened to be a story fit for both of our personalities, and once I’m hooked on an author, I’m hooked.

I met Kathy Hogan Trocheck, a.k.a. Mary Kay Andrews this past Sunday, May 22 at the Mystery Lovers Bookshop in Oakmont. (514 Allegheny River Blvd. Oakmont, PA 15139).  What a cute little bookstore!

The day started out rainy and kind of ugly, you know a typical Pittsburgh day, perfect for staying inside and getting acquainted with an accomplished author.  Since I had Kyle, I thought this was the perfect opportunity for him to meet an author too.  I didn’t think it mattered if he read her works or not.  At least that was my thinking.  Kyle had a different opinion.  I guess it would have been a better time for him if he knew the author, but regardless it was a good experience.

Mary Kay Andrews The Weekenders 5-22-16 Aunt Heather Piper

My signed copy of The Weekenders by Mary Kay Andrews. 5/22/16

All the ladies who showed up were fantastic!  I enjoyed the company as much as I did the purpose of my visit to MLB.  Mary Kay Andrews discussed The Weekenders and answered questions about her books, her influences, her family and so on.  It was great!  She’s so down to earth with a touch of sass!  I loved listening to her!

While waiting in line to get my book autographed (I got one for Kelly too), I struck up a conversation with the lady behind me.  We began talking about books, naturally, and somehow I mentioned I’ve written a book (plus a few started).  Let me step back, during the Q & A session, Mary Kay Andrews asked if we had any authors in the audience.  I didn’t raise my hand, only because my book still needs to be edited and isn’t published.  Well, by the time it was my turn, this wonderful lady, stepped in and informed Mary Kay Andrews of my secret.  You know, Mary Kay Andrews seemed very interested, and asked me questions about my book.  She told me to keep writing and go for it.  What an inspirational lady!

Mary Kay Andrews at MLB Oakmont 5-22-16 Aunt Heather Piper

Mary Kay Andrews discussing her newest novel, The Weekenders at MLB in Oakmont, PA 5/22/16

The entire day rocked.  Not only did I get to meet Mary Kay Andrews and get to purchase her latest book, and have it autographed, but spending the day with Kyle was much needed.  Granted, he played his video games during the entire book signing, but when it was my turn, Kyle jumped up and snapped a picture of me and Mary Kay Andrews.  Thanks buddy!  I really wanted a picture with all three of us, but Kyle already put his foot down in advance.  I didn’t want to push the issue and so I let it alone.  I simply happy to spend some time with Kyle.

During the Q & A session I learned a number of fun facts about Mary Kay Andrews.  Second to my addiction of reading, is my love of random fun facts.  Here are a few to wet your whistle.

Career

  • Mary Kay Andrews is a pseudonym for Kathy Hogan Trocheck
  • Received a B.A. in newspaper journalism from The University of Georgia in 1976
  • Began her career in newspaper journalism, working at the Savannah News-Press 1976-77
  • Worked for the Marietta Journal 1977-79
  • Reported for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution from 1980 until she left in 1991 to write books
Family
  • Born July 27, 1954, in Tampa, Florida
  • A native of St. Petersburg, Florida
  • Married her high school sweetheart
  • From a big Catholic family
  • Mary Kay Andrews is a combination of her children’s names—Mary Kay for her daughter Mary Kathleen, and Andrew, for her son, Andy
  • Self proclaimed “junker”
  • Owns two restored beach cottages on Tybee Island, GA, both of which named for fictional locations in her novels

I can’t wait to begin this book!  Check her out!  She’s a southern hoot!

Happy reading everyone!

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

Jury Duty

There must be those among whom we can sit down and weep and still be counted as warriors.  ~Adrienne Rich

Juror badge Aunt Heather PiperLast week I was called to do my civil duty, jury duty.  Actually, I was mailed a questionnaire that I either had to fill out and mail back, or get online to complete.  I chose the later, 1) because it was easier and 2) it said I needed to return it in seven days, and I honestly had no idea how long it sat in a pile of mail I didn’t get to sorting.

I remember in my early twenties I received a similar notice, of course there wasn’t an option to fill out a form online.  In fact, I had to call a supplied phone number the night before to see if I was required to attend.  This time, the night before, I received a text message and an email telling me to appear at the Greensburg County Court House at 8:30 am., no other instructions, simply the report time and location.  It might have been my wild imagination, but it had a James Bond feel to it.

Was I excited.  To be honest, no.  I had a ton of work to do for Thrill of the Hunt and my dog scavenger hunt events, and it really was inconvenient, but I guess such is life.

Upon walking up the sidewalk to the courthouse doors, I saw a small crowd of individuals holding their paperwork for jury duty.  Wondering why they were standing around and not going inside to report, I asked the one guy in line.  He told me, we weren’t allowed in yet.  Really?

Well, it wasn’t much longer after that, that we made our way through metal detectors monitored by armed police officers, to a large room prepared for the jurors.

What an interesting process.  There were about sixty of us, and we each had a bar code name badge we were required to sport and move around in groups like branded cattle.

Juror Handbook Aunt Heather PiperSomething that struck me as odd, no one asked to see my drivers license or any form of identification.  In fact, when I walked in the ground floor room, designated to host us for the majority of the day, they scanned each of our ID badges.  Out of curiosity, I quickly glanced at the computer screen once my tag was scanned.  Honestly, I thought I’d see a picture of me with my name and address, at the very least.  I didn’t think they’d have my facebook profile picture, but I thought maybe my driver’s license or even my gun permit picture.  Neither showed up, not even my address.  What I did see in a very ancient type of font and minimalist computer font in green coloring on a dark background, was simply my name.  It did include my middle initial, which I never use.  How did they know I was Heather Piper and not a stand in?

I know this is a bit far fetched, but I was watching The Big Bang Theory earlier in the week and it was the episode where Sheldon paid Stewart to fill in for him with Amy, and later to wait in line at the movies or something.   Instantly, I thought, I should pay someone to take my place for jury duty.  Not that I would do it, but the idea did cross my mind, especially after seeing the lack of authenticating for each individual.

Once in our large basement room, we were given instructions on restroom facilities, vending machines and what we were aloud to do and not allowed.  I was surprised they had two television screens for us, (as long as it wasn’t local news), a rack of magazines, a coffee and tea area (no water) and the seats weren’t completely awful.

A local judge came in to give us the run down of the day’s itinerary and to make a statement what jury duty is all about.  He did comment that most people try to get out of it, guilty, and don’t want to be there, guilty, and yet they’re the most important part of our judicial system.

Believe it or not, completely by happenstance, I was reading To Kill a Mockingbird for the thousandth time. (One of my most favorite books ever!)   I was at the part when Atticus Finch was in the courtroom and the lawyers were cross examining their witnesses.  I love the line at the end of chapter 21, page 242, when Revered Sykes said, “Miss Jean Louise (Scout), stand up, your father’s passin’.”

That actually made me stop to consider what jury duty really meant.  Before I walked into the courthouse that day, I was given all sorts of advice on how to get out jury duty, and what to say, blah blah blah.  It all sounded good to me until two things happened.  After listening to the judge, I began to wonder what it would be like to actually sit through an entire trial and be one of the deciding voices.  Then it hit me, what if I was on trial one day?  I’d want a group of my peers, those with reasonable common sense and good moral judgement, sitting there to rein on my verdict.  I soon began to think differently about the process and my call to civil duty.

Soon they organized us into the small groups, and escorted us upstairs via the elevator, to courtroom number five.  Being an art major, my eyes tend to get drawn into the architecture and artistry of my environment.  This room certainly sucked me in.

The courtroom showed its years of character with the dark stained wood finished trimming and pews.  The walls and columns surrounding the judge’s chair were painted a mint green matte finish.  Yes, it was a monochromatic mint green mess.  My first thought was a nice stone or taupe color would do the room some justice (pun totally intended).  There were three main murals on the ceiling each labeled Justice, Moderation, and Mercy.  Instantly, I understood the first and last, but the Moderation threw me for a loop.

It was a mural, I’m not sure if it was fresco or simply acrylic or oil painting, containing a nude younger man, forcefully holding a chain attached to the collar of a Boxer type of dog.  He was also holding something in his left hand, but it wasn’t quite clear.  Keep in mind he was laying face up on steps.  Odd.  I’m sure the meaning is very clear to those in the legal field, but it struck me as an enigma, especially since it was placed in the center sandwiched by Justice and Mercy.  I could go on and on about the decor but that would take me several blog posts to really capture the essence of the room.

Soon the judge arrived and introduced us to the witnesses, and the legal staff for both sides.  Everyone turned around and gave awkward smiles and nods to us.  Honestly, I was half paying attention.  The judge also gave us instructions on what to expect through the the day and stressed the importance of this process and the extreme importance of the jury.  He brought up a good point.  He said something along the lines of, “The jury is so important that’s why they’re seated toward the front so they can hear the trial but also see the facial expressions and body language as well.”

Everyone was given a clipboard with a questionnaire to fill out, to be signed and turned into the officers present.  Not trying to pry, but the guy beside me, who was probably in his late fifties early sixties, took Forever to fill his out.  It was a list of questions and we had to mark yes or no.  No essay involved, no major thought provoking questions, pretty basic simple straightforward stuff.  My first thought was, this man can’t read very well.  I don’t know that to be true, perhaps he had a dyslexia or a reading comprehension issue, or he was just a slow reader.  Either way, he was the last person, out of all sixty of us who turned in his form.  The last.  Is that important?  Not really, not in my eyes, that is until what happened next.

Eventually, we were asked to sit in silence (without food or drink, did I mention it was fast approaching lunch?) while they called each and everyone of us to be interviewed.  Are you kidding?  Nope.  I wasn’t expecting that at all.

On a side note, I tried to make the most of my unplugged quite time with To Kill a Mockingbird.  Within minutes of pulling out my book and getting comfy in my seat, the guy beside me, yes the questionnaire guy, began fidgeting.  I don’t mind being restless, because I can be the same way, but I don’t like the huffing and puffing and the comments said to himself, yet purposely loud enough so his neighbors could hear, type of behavior.  It’s true, misery does loves company.

He kept mumbling about making money, and huffing and puffing his breath, like it was going to speed things up.  Then, after they’d announce another number, he’d huff even louder, and under his breath say, “This is going to take all day.”  or something along those lines.  He was one of those people who wanted to get others joining in on his complaints.  He wanted everyone to feel his attitude and express it.  You know those types of people, who are simply miserable.

I almost got past all that, except he wasn’t allowed to wear his baseball camp in the courtroom.  He kept capping his knee and with each huff and puff he’d uncap it and recap it again, making subtle suction types of noise mixed with fabric rubbing together.  He’d cross his legs, resting his ankle across the opposite knee, cap and recap his hat.  Then, switch legs to continue the adjustment process of the hat.  It was simply irritating.  I looked around, and everyone else brought something to occupy their time, except him.

I could even get past all that, but the constantly making comments about our number in line was too much.  I mean, our numbers were in the twenties, not the sixties and I think they moved through the potential candidates rather quickly.

They called us by our numbers into another room where the key players, including the judge was seated at a large conference table ready to ask us questions.  I’m sorry, but that was intense, even though everyone was very nice and cordial.

Eventually, I was released without being chosen.  Honestly, it was bittersweet.  Perhaps, I wasn’t the best person for the case.  Maybe next time.

On a side note, I was very much surprised to find a court stenographer working her typing magic.  Seriously, with all this technology of recording voices and video, which is probably more accurate then a stenographer, why continue to use one?  Then, add all the apps and technology and services for transcribing the court case.  That one threw me for a loop.  Can anyone tell  me why the court systems haven’t moved along with technology?  Or perhaps it’s only the local court systems? 

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

Report Card. How Do I Help?

But Montague is bound as well as I,
In penalty alike, and ’tis not hard, I think,
For men so old as we to keep the peace.  ~Romeo and Juliet by William Shakespeare (1.2.1-3)

Kyle Christmas Eve 12-24-15 Aunt Heather Piper

Kyle opening gifts on Christmas Eve 12/24/15

Kyle is such a stinker, and he’s driving me absolutely batty!  Granted his attitude has certainly taken a slightly uphill turn, but there are issues lurking in the shadows that everyone one seems to turn a blind eye to (except me), yet need addressed, immediately.  I am somewhat laughing over the details of the situation, even though it’s not really funny.  What now?  Kyle’s ninth grade second quarter report card.

Over the summer, we made a deal, if he brings up his math grade, then he wouldn’t need a tutor, one I paid for. A Dip in the Grades / Teenager vs. Aunt Heather – Part 1 Math Tutor.  Being the reasonable Aunt Heather that I am, I agreed, even though he moaned and complained about going, every time, and only gave half effort.  Whatever.

The moment of truth was revealed last Monday.  On a side note, I love how Kyle still tries to hide his report from me, like I can’t find out or perhaps I’m going to forget, not probable.  I don’t forget, and I won’t waiver when it comes to Kyle’s well-being.  The verdict?  His Geometry grade did come up slightly, as did his Biology.  Great!  That’s a step in the right direction.  It’s wasn’t by leaps and bounds, but I’m still happy and a deals a deal.

Now what’s the problem?  A few other subjects dropped.  When I told him to bring up those problematic subjects, I didn’t mean sacrifice the other subjects to do so.  My heart is truly broken.  Why?  The subjects that dropped, and I mean considerably, were US History II and Honors English I, two my favorite subjects.  First of all, history doesn’t change!  Read the material, memorize a few details and done.  It should be an easy grade.  Kyle loves reading, what could be so difficult?  When I asked Kyle about said subjects, he simply shrugged his shoulders.

How Kyle views his Aunt Heather Piper

Teenage years are a struggle for us all! Since I’m always fighting an uphill battle, this is what it feels like every time I need to discuss anything of importance with Kyle….

Honestly, I never took note that all of Kyle’s classes were honors classes, which I do give grace.  However, I will never accept below average.  I about fell out of my seat when I saw the English grade, especially when it originated from a solid B.

Even better, Kyle informed me he was getting a little extra help.  Obviously, that wasn’t working.  In a very calm yet confused voice I asked, “Kyle, why didn’t you call me for help?”  His response, “I don’t know.”  There was more to it than that, but my blog isn’t about pointing fingers and I don’t need additional family drama.  The gist of his explanation included a college degree, although not specialized in English or literature.  It’s true, I don’t have my masters degree, but I do have two undergrad degrees from Seton Hill University.  Not to mention, I write, that’s what I do.  I’m in marketing and I write, ad copy, television and radio scripts, press releases, articles, stories, testimonials, website copy, I ghost write blogs in addition to mine and the list goes on.  I’ve even written books!  Although, unbeknownst to Kyle (a surprise for later).  Wanting to find the root problem, Kyle informed me he’s required to write a lot of papers.  To prove my worthiness, I explained my qualifications and I even explained I was on the deans list.  I’m not just talking out my butt and making a claim I can’t back up.  If I don’t know something, I’ve always been honest with him, and I’ll gladly admit to it, hence the math tutor.   How frustrating!  What does that kid think I do all day?

With sincerity and confidence, I told Kyle I can help him get his grade back up by the next quarter.  I asked him to please call me with the next assignment.  Kyle’s response?  He shrugged his shoulders and clearly wasn’t about to ask me for help.  Why?  I have no idea.  Again, I believe there’s more issues lurking in those shadows that he’ll never admit, it’s called ego, pride and self-esteem, not on Kyle’s behalf.  Personally, if I was a teenager with an attitude, I’d want to see my aunt take the challenge, either to fall miserably to rub it in, or to assist me with my grade.  Either way, Kyle wins!  Not Kyle, he doesn’t want to succeed if it means I’m helping.  He should at least call my sister.  She may not be a creative writer, but she’s an excellent technical writer and elegant with the written word.

Kiski Band getting ready for Bands of America 2015 Aunt Heather Piper

This picture was online in the paper showing Kiski Band getting ready for Bands of America 2015

All his grades weren’t bad.  In fact, his Band and P.E. remained at an A+ status.  Times have changed, in elementary school, P.E. was Kyle’s only class he didn’t excel.  I even told him, “Kyle just look like you’re sweating and I bet you’ll get an A.  Run around and show a little effort.”  Since Kyle’s in the marching band, I would hope his Band grade would be nothing less than stellar.

I know all grades are important, especially keeping up his GPA for college, but I’m picking my battles with the Video Game Design I class.  It too dropped a letter grade.  I’ve asked Kyle what they’re working on, and he never did give me a real answer.  Perhaps, that’s why his grade dropped, due to a lack of attentiveness.  Moving on.

Now one class I’m in a little shock, yet I’m very proud of, a class his grade increased, Chinese I.  At one point in the conversation, I said something along the lines of, “Your English tanks, but your Chinese gets better?  How is that possible?”  I know I said it as a half joke.  I was a bit confused and yet astounded.  I’ll admit we both laughed over that revelation.  Come one, how can you not?  His native language is English, yet he’s improving in Chinese?  My guess?  He needs to work at it, and chose not to give up.

This past week I contacted his tutor, who is a great lady and I’d highly recommend her, to cancel our tutoring until the next report card.  She understood and was very kind about giving me requested advice.  She simply said Kyle has to want to bring up his grades and has to want to earn them.  She also stated the obvious, that he needs to mature.  Little does she know, we Piper’s mature late, ever.   She’s right on all accounts.  But how can I just sit back and accept this?  The answer.  I guess I need to do some heavy praying.

Honestly, I don’t have a problem with who’s helping Kyle, as long as it’s working.  If not, then it’s time to consider another option.  It’s about what’s best for this young man.  I don’t care if Kyle chooses the family dog over my help, as long as it works.  I wish they’d give out grades for stubbornness and blasé behavior because Kyle would ace those every time.

Kyle during a band performance 10-23-15 Aunt Heather Piper

Kyle getting ready for a Kiski Band performance on their home field. 10/23/15

I love Kyle so much, I want him to succeed at anything he does.  He’s already expressed an interest in going to Carnegie Mellon University for engineering and I want to see that come to fruition.  Perhaps the tutor is right, he needs to find his own path.  Of course, that doesn’t mean step back entirely, because he still needs guidance and help along the way.

Am I pushing too hard?  If you could see what I’ve seen, you wouldn’t think so.  When Kyle was around four or five, he could add up a few items at the store and figure out the tax before the register gave the total.  By that age, I got him a wooden puzzle of the United States.  He could tell the state by the shape, show where it was located, name the capital and give a fun fact about each.  No he’s really bright, he just needs encouraged by the right people.

This quote was not by happenstance.  Kyle was working on Romeo and Juliet this quarter during English class.  Basically, Lord Capulet comes to terms with his age and doesn’t want to be apart of the family feud any longer.  He remains a peacekeeper from here on out.  Not saying that I’m old, not in the slightest, but I’m saying perhaps I need to assist from the sidelines.

posted by auntheather in Books, Movies, Shows,Common Sense,Education & Learning,Family,News,Observation & Imagination,Patience,Video Games & Games and have No Comments
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