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

Happy Birthday Dad! 66-Years!

The best teachers impart knowledge through sleight of hand, like a magician.  Kate Betts

Happy Birthday Dad! January 16, 1951

Dad U Sonny Pap Gram Aunt Heather Piper

Dad, Uncle Sonny, Pap & Gram (plus a mystery person) at a mystery location during a mystery year.

Just to reiterate, Dad despises me talking about him online. (So don’t say anything)  I rarely do, at least he’s not the focus of most of my stories, except for today.

Dad’s added another digit to his age.  He’s still moving forward, a lot slower, but still going.  I couldn’t live without the old man.  It’s funny, I never realized it until recent times just how much Dad loves us, all of us.

Dad’s a unique individual, in more ways than one.  He truly loves us and always wishes the best for us in a selfless manner.  His heart is true.  He reminds me of my Pappy, Ryan and Kyle in that respect.  His definition of success isn’t the type of car a person drives or any other superficial means.  Nope.  His definition of a good person is how well they can shoot a gun.  (Half joking)  Dad looks at a person from the inside first, except when watching television, then he’s not so kind with his words.  I’m not saying Dad’s some holy person, not even close, but he is a decent guy.  A bit opinionated, and a many times irritating when he wants something done, but I’ll take that over someone who’s spiteful, materialistic and out for themselves any day.  I’m aware of Dad’s shortcomings and they’re trumped by his good qualities, in my opinion.

This past year we had a great hunting season.  I personally, had a record year, and Dad was excited about it.  Truly.  He’s so proud when I harvest a deer, I hear him telling EVERYONE.  Not only that, but when I’m a good shot and his friends witness it or even if they don’t, boy does Dad beam with delight.  He’s genuinely happy for me.

Dad & U Sonny on Ridge building grams house c.1953 Aunt Heather Piper

Dad & Uncle Sonny. Gram & Pap’s house being built on the ridge c. 1953

Before rifle season started, Dad went bow hunting and muzzle-loader.  I’m glad he has something he looks forward to doing and it keeps him moving.

As history dictates, we went hunting in New York, where I harvested a buck, and poor Dad didn’t see a single deer.  A week later, the Monday after Thanksgiving, we went hunting in Pennsylvania.  I filled most of my tags and Dad filled a couple.  The best part?  We had a great time together, especially sitting in a small tree stand with the big guy.  Sometimes he gets on my nerves and is a bit too serious, but other times he totally cracks me up.

During the hunting season, most of our conversations focus on Ryan and Kyle.  We all miss Ryan, but hunting season heightens Dad’s longing for his son.  That was their time together.  Every once in a while Dad would comment “Boy, Ryan would be enjoying himself”, or he’d say “I wish Kyle was here.”

We did more than hunt deer this year.  For the first time ever, I got to go pheasant (ringneck) hunting.  We had a blast!  When I was little, Dad used to bring home a pheasant periodically, so it’s not like I was unfamiliar with the birds but it was neat to be directly involved.  Dad and I went a couple of times and filled our limit of two birds each, both times.  Dad didn’t stop talking about it for weeks.  The first time we brought home our pheasants Kyle was home.  Without hesitation, Kyle helped up skin the birds.  Kyle wouldn’t gut them, but he did wash them out.  The best part of that day?  Kyle sat with me and Dad during the process and hung out, plus he learned the trait.  It was a nice time together.

Dad’s been doing a lot of goose hunting this year.  I joined him a few time and I know nothing would make him happier than if I’d go with him every day, but like I’ve told him, repeatedly, “I have to work.  I’m not retired.”  Occasionally, I sneak out but I can’t do it day in and day out like he wants to.  Even if I could, goose hunting doesn’t excite me that much.  Perhaps it’s because I’m not a fan of goose meat.  While we’re on it, I don’t even really like duck.

A funny trait about Dad?  He doesn’t look at himself as an old person.  In fact, he gets irritated with elderly people.  In many cases, they’re the same age as Dad!  Doesn’t that just crack you up?  I find such humor in Dad calling a person driving beside us “old”, when clearly they’re the same age.

One a side note, I have a funny story.  The other day I was walking through a store and this lady stopped me and asked if I was Ron Piper’s daughter.  Believe it or not, this has happened to me many, many times over the years.  She couldn’t remember my name, but she knew exactly who I was.  I’ve always been told I look like my Dad and more than not, I was told, in a negative way, that I act like him too.  I’m okay with that and I’m proud to be like Dad.  As it turns out, the lady was Shirley Achhammer, another relative.  How funny!

Happy Birthday old man.  Keep kicking and doing what you do!

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posted by auntheather in Common Sense,Family,Milestone,Reminiscing 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.

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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.

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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

Pumpkin Guts, No Thanks

Tis “the witching time of night”, / Orbed is the moon and bright, / And the stars they glisten, glisten, / Seeming with bright eyes to listen  ~John Keats

Happy Halloween or technically All Hallows’ Eve!

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Kyle as Jay Jay the Jet Plane, courtesy of Aunt Nikki at Gigi & Pappy’s house 10/2004

Did you know the root word of Halloween is ”hallow,” meaning ”holy?”  The suffix “een” is an abbreviation of “evening.” Halloween refers to the Eve of All Hallows, the night before All Saints’ Day, the Catholic Holy day that honors saints of the past and a time to pray for those in purgatory.  Note, anyone can pray for anyone, living or deceased at any time.

Just for a reference, All Saints’ Day is November 1st, followed by All Souls’ day on November 2nd.

It’s always this time of year, when I see the pumpkin patches full of kids and Jack-O-Lanterns light up doorsteps and windows that I can’t help but chuckling.  Why?  Kyle of course.

When Kyle was a little tyke, and into the recent few years before he gave up on the trick-or-treating tradition, pumpkin carving was always an issue.  Really?  You bet!

Kyle loved searching the pumpkin patches for the perfect pumpkin.  He loved selecting the largest pumpkin imaginable, even when he couldn’t pick it up.  Kyle truly loved the idea of Halloween and the activities that went with the holiday, event pumpkin carving.  However, Kyle never liked the actual carving of a pumpkin, not in the slightest.  Don’t believe me or think I’m exaggerating?  Not even close.

Halloween activities were never the same since the first time Kyle tried carving his pumpkin.  The moments leading up to this point where exciting and eventful.  It was all good and dandy until Kyle actually put his hand in the pumpkin.  As standard protocol dictates, I cut the top off of our pumpkins, Kyle wanted me to have a pumpkin too, and I showed him how to pull the guts out.  Kyle looked down into the center of his pumpkin, sniffed it, and hesitantly reached in.  What happened next took me by surprise and honestly baffled me a bit.

Kyle proclaimed he didn’t like the feeling of the guts on his hand and he wouldn’t continue.  Instead, he looked toward me to do his dirty work for him, literally.  At first, I thought he was being silly, but he was serious.

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Kyle as Jay Jay the Jet Plane, Karen’s house 10/2004

After my shock wore off, I tried to work with Kyle and his pumpkin gut issue.  I gave him a long handled metal serving spoon to scrap the guts.  I thought this would get him past the beginning stages of the pumpkin carving activity and move him toward the actual carving fun.  Something I thought Kyle would enjoy.  Wrong.

Eventually, after I gutted my pumpkin, Kyle abandoned his and took ownership of my project.  He had a good time carving, but certainly not complete excitement like I was expecting.

Every year since, Kyle remembered that faithful day, and reiterated his disgust for pumpkin guts.  It really left an impression on him.  Kyle would prompt our pumpkin patch activity by telling me I had to gut his pumpkin.  Seriously!  Yes.  While walking through the pumpkin patch and making his selection, which always had to be bigger than mine, Kyle would state I was gutting his pumpkin for him.

Trying to get creative, I even had Kyle wear gloves one year, which worked out fine until his bare arms hit the side of the inner pumpkin wall and that ended that.  I should also add, Kyle never liked long sleeves, or cloths for that matter.

I even tried bribing him, yet he would not budge.

Another tradition is taking the seeds and roasting them with a little salt.  Kyle would not even entertain the idea of sorting through the pumpkin guts to retrieve the seeds.  He did eat the roasted pumpkin seeds, but that was about it.

Eventually, we would purchase pumpkins and Kyle would draw faces on them, and watch me carve my pumpkin.  Although, that didn’t really keep his interest for too long.  But I will say, Kyle loved watching the lit pumpkins sit on the porch banister at night.  Standing outside at night, staring upon the flicker light in the shape of a face would creep him out, but he loved it  That is, as long as someone stood with him.

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Kyle as Jay Jay the Jet Plane. 10/2004

This time of year makes me laugh out loud, every time I think of Kyle carving a pumpkin, or more accurately passing the carving buck.  Kyle was never shy about telling others about his pumpkin gut aversion.  Too funny!

As for the rest of the commercially celebrated Halloween celebration, Kyle adored.  The selecting a costume, getting dressed and receiving bag fulls of candy he could handle.

I say that, but there was a year that wasn’t exactly true.  The year when Kyle was Jay Jay the Jet Plane.  Would you believe Kyle wouldn’t put his costume on?  Why?  He thought he was going to take flight.  Seriously?  I’m not making this up.

My sister bought him that costume and it took a few attempts before he would put it on.  The first few Halloween activities we did that year, I had to walk around holding Kyle’s hand on my one side, while I carried his costume in the other hand.  That was one of those situations when I couldn’t stop laughing.  Eventually, he did wear the colorful costume, but it took a while, and I think it was after Halloween pasted.

My little guy, he has his quarks, which makes life interesting and fun.

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posted by auntheather in Cooking with Kyle,Education & Learning,Family,Observation & Imagination,Patience,Reminiscing and have No Comments

15 Years of Missing Ryan, Another Year Closer to Him

Life seems sometimes like nothing more than a series of losses, from beginning to end. That’s the given. How you respond to those losses, what you make of what’s left, that’s the part you have to make up as you go.   ~Katharine Weber

September 24,  1977 – October 23, 2001

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Ryan’s confirmation at St. Vincent Basilica with his godfather, our cousin Jim Olczak. c. 1990

Every year it’s the same pattern of celebrating Kyle’s birthday in July, then observing Ryan’s birthday in September, then the reminder of Ryan’s death in October.  Not that I think of the later during Kyle’s month long birthday celebration, but I do reflect on it this time of year.

Kyle’s fifteen years old, the same number of years we’ve been trudging through life without Ryan.  The two will forever correlate, which I guess it’s fitting for Kyle to be tied to his Dad in an unconventional way.

Sometimes I wonder how Ryan would have adapted to the present world.  A lot has changed in fifteen years.  Ryan used a computer, only when needed, but would he have a smart phone?  Would he be in business for himself?  Would he be bald at the age of thirty-nine?  (My own little joke.  I always teased Ryan about going bald.  Not that I cared, but he did.)  Those are the thoughts that will never be turned into reality, merely kept as thoughts.  Although, I do know for certain, Ryan’s world would have revolved around Kyle, and Kyle would have greatly benefited from being raised by Ryan.

Recently, I had to give cliff notes of our family situation.  While chaperoning the band for the Latrobe football game at Latrobe, it wasn’t making sense to the band parents how Kyle and I knew the area so well.  Kyle actually told a few parents he lives in Latrobe, which he always did halftime.  It’s been a while since I had to give the family tree of how Kyle’s my nephew.  Sadly, yet proudly, I always state Kyle’s my brother’s kid.  Then, after a quizzical stare, I have to slightly elaborate that my brother passed away and my family is from Latrobe.  Do I mind?  Not really, I’d rather people know the truth.  Not that it changes anything, but it fills in the gaps for others and it shows just how important Kyle is to me.  Only if asked do I get into details, which again I don’t mind because fact is fact and it’s the way it is.

Sometimes I find peace thinking about the “What Ifs” and writing about Ryan and remembering my only brother, yet, sometimes it’s extremely difficult.  Which is it this time?  It’s a well guarded secret, but every day is a day I miss Ryan, and some are still harder than others.  Admittedly, it was difficult getting out of bed today.

I sit here wishing Kyle would call me to spend the day together, but I know he had a busy weekend of band, and I’m sure he’s tired and wants to loaf around.  Kyle has always been the one constant that eases my grief, even when he’s not in close proximity.  Although, today I’m missing Ryan AND Kyle.

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posted by auntheather in Church,Family,News,Observation & Imagination,Reminiscing 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

Adventures in San Diego On a Dog Scavenger Hunt

Reading is like thinking, like praying, like talking to a friend, like expressing your ideas, like listening to other people’s ideas, like listening to music, like looking at the view, like taking a walk on the beach.  ~Roberto Bolaño

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Mission Basilica in San Diego. What a great place & such history 9/10/16

Recently, I trekked across the United States from Latrobe, Pennsylvania to San Diego, California.  Why?  Thrill of the Hunt was hosting a scavenger hunt.  What an adventure!

On Saturday, September 10, 2016, Thrill of the Hunt hosted our very first public scavenger hunt in San Diego.  It was a dog scavenger hunt.  Yes, Thrill of the Hunt is going to new distances with our events and we’re really expanding, bringing our adventures to others.

How did the trip go?  Honestly, it was very stress free and actually relaxing.  Is this unusual?  Sure.  I mean keep in mind, planning an event and getting all the logistics in order prior to leaving is a challenge all it’s own.  Then, tack on making sure everything gets packed, arriving on location in good time, and getting acclimated to the area, plus dealing with any changes or roadblocks along the way, and making the event happen as best as possible is a huge task.  One I relish in.

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Sunset at Mission Beach, San Diego, CA 9/10/16

Usually, the first issue begins with me catching my plane on time.  Yes, believe it or not, that’s always an issue.  Is it because I’m naturally a late person?  No.  In fact, I’m notorious for being early.  Unfortunately, when flying, I always underestimate my departure time, or I run into unforeseen problems or literal roadblocks.

This time was different, I left with more than enough time and guess what happened?  Nothing!  No traffic, no getting lost, which does happen to me a lot, even though I know where I’m going, no plane delay, no suitcase lost, nothing.  I thought of everything, although I did forget the dog bowls to refresh the dogs, but the Bark Park had an actual water fountain for dogs.  Really?  Yes!

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The Bark Park at Westfield UTC Shopping Plaza for the dog scavenger hunt in San Diego, Ca. 9/10/16

We’re did I go?  I flew into San Diego.  The dog scavenger hunt was held at Westfield UTC shopping plaza.  I met the participants at the Bark Park and they maneuvered their way throughout the dog friendly shopping area.  It’s a lovely place with the store entrances in close proximity to one another and isolated from traffic. Perfect for dogs on the move.

Check out the pictures and videos from the dog scavenger hunt.  They’re a hoot!   Facebook  •  Pinterest  •  Youtube.

What else did I do while in sunny San Diego?  I didn’t have much time, but I did explore a little.  I went to Mission Beach, which was breathtakingly beautiful.  I loved the boardwalk (cement).  It stretched along the coast, with sandy beaches and crashing waves on one side, and houses, restaurants and retails stores on the other.  People on skateboards, bikes and some with dogs traveled up and down enjoying God’s handiwork.

Did I swim, go surfing, or jog while there?  No.  In fact, I didn’t realize I never packed my swimsuit and I forgot sunscreen.  I was so focused on the event, it never occurred to me that I’d have extracurricular time.  So I walked and walked up and down the coast until dark, watching the sun set Friday night.

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Mission Beach boardwalk, San Diego 9/10/16

After the dog scavenger hunt on Saturday, I was given a recommendation to visit Mission Basilica San Diego de Alcalá.  It’s the first Franciscan mission in The Californias, a province of New Spain.  Let me tell you, VERY COOL!  I even arrived in good time to tour around, hit the confessional, sit and pray, and then I attended mass, which incidentally they played a bunch of my favorite songs.   It was a very spiritually enhancing and refreshing experience.  I’ll admit, while I was praying for Kyle’s well-being, I wished he was there, knowing he’d be intrigued by the history and structure of the buildings and gardens.

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Mission Basilica in San Diego. Very spiritual place! 9/10/16

After church, I headed back to Mission Beach.  One could say, I was hooked, even though I’m not much of a beach person.  I stopped at a taco stand and ate my dinner sitting in the sand watching the waves roll in while the sun set.  I continued where I left off the night before, walking around, stretching my legs and enjoying the atmosphere until darkness fell.  I was going to stop in a pub for a drink, to relax and soak up more of the energy, but I didn’t want to push my luck.  After hours and packed bars on a Saturday night, plus an out-of-towner, seemed like a recipe for trouble.

By the time Sunday rolled around, it was time to pack and head home.

What books did I read?  One part about traveling that I absolutely love, beside the adventure of it all, is the time I get to read.  Usually, on any trip, especially one that involves an airplane, I read a book leaving and one coming home.  This trip was no exception.  I read The Girls by Emma Cline heading to San Diego.  I knew the book took place in California so I thought it appropriate.  Coming back, I read the Young Elites by Marie Lu.  This is a series, which I need to get the next book, and the third will soon be released.

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Mission Beach boardwalk. Lovely beach! San Diego, Ca. 9/10/16

Next year when I head out to San Diego, I’m going to be prepared and bring my swimsuit, sunscreen and maybe I’ll try a few surf lessons.  I’ve always wanted to learn.  Actually so did Kyle, when he was little.

I missed my little man.  Where was he?  He had a football game Friday night, and a band competition and practice all day Saturday, on their home field.  I wished I was there to cheer him on, but alas I was almost 2,500 miles away expanding Thrill of the Hunt into new territory.  I texted him on Saturday wishing him good luck, with no response.  I also texted and called him on Sunday before leaving, and again no answer.  I just wanted to hear how his weekend went and to tell him how much I love him before flying home.  Maybe one day Kyle will rejoin Thrill of the Hunt and we can travel together.

Kyle’s a great traveler, even at the age of fifteen.  We’ve trained him well, he’s been traveling since he was a little tyke, to either my sister’s in Virginia, New York for mom’s work, West Virginia to visit Casey, plus the trips Nicole and Kyle took.  Yep, he’s already a world traveler.

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Mission Beach … lovely sandy beach & white waters. Great beach! San Diego 9/10/16

Now for the funny story.  After everything is an adventure with me.  It’s actually only a funny for me, but I’ll share.  Being a Latrobe native, we don’t have many skateboarders around, it’s not a lifestyle like it is in San Diego.  While walking around the boardwalk, I’d hear the wheels and the clapping of decks from skateboard after skateboard.  Sure there were some roller blades and a lot of bikes, but equally as many skateboards.  Eventually, I paid attention to the people riding the skateboards.  More than not, I made a mental note that they were older people, with the exception of a few youngsters.  Then it dawned on me, Wait, I’m their age!  I do have this thing about me.  I seriously forget how old I really am.  That made me chuckle.  The noise was very soothing to me, taking me back to my childhood.

I had a great adventure and I look forward to the next.

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posted by auntheather in Books, Movies, Shows,Church,Education & Learning,Family,News,Thrill of the Hunt Scavenger Hunts,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

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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.

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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

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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

Happy Birthday Kyle! 15 Years!

I have accepted fear as part of life – specifically the fear of change… I have gone ahead despite the pounding in the heart that says: turn back….   ~Erica Jong

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

Turning the page to another year, I’m happy to arrive at my little man’s fifteenth birthday!  As Kyle ages, one of my biggest fears is the person he will become.  However, in actuality, he’s already been a huge success and I couldn’t be more proud.

What stresses me about his character?  You see, when he’s with the family, he’s a bit of a smarty pants, curt, sarcastic (which I appreciate), stubborn and even a bit negative.  Granted, this isn’t a constant, and it seems to be more heightened when he hit his teenage years, but a fear regardless.  I don’t want Kyle to act disrespectful with his friends, friends’ parents, teachers or even strangers.  I don’t ever want Kyle to be labeled as such (I’m not concerned about the stubbornness unless it’s a hindrance), and I want him to be happy and have friends and experience life with love in his heart and a positive outlook.  However, while investigating Kyle’s behavior, I’ve been proudly informed time and time again, he’s a kind, polite, and a typical teenage boy. (Yes, I do constantly check up, things change and quickly.)

How do I know?  Simply, I ask and pay attention.  Really?  Yes, I do care for Kyle that much that I take the time to inquire, and I’m not talking about a passing comment.  When I get the chance to speak with a parent Kyle recently spent time with, I ask how he’s acted.  Usually, you can get a feeling when a parent is telling you the straight up truth or whether they’re sugar coating.  Asking the right questions also helps.  While chaperoning the band, I watch from a distance.  Again, my observations with the way he interacts with friends and fellow band members shows a lot about Kyle’s outside behavior and the real person he is.

You see, I was told once that teenagers need a means to get it out.  They’re hormonal and finding themselves, and they need a safe place to act out and dump everything from the inside, out.  I was also told a child will only do this with those he loves and is one hundred comfortable with.  Yeah for us. (sarcasm)

What would I do if I saw appropriate behavior?  Tell him.  As his aunt, and anyone who loves and respects him, it’s our job to call him out.  Perhaps he’s not aware of his actions, or if he is, it’s our job to correct bad behavior.  It’s in his best interest to shape into the person he will one day be. I know no ones perfect, we’re all  human, but it doesn’t mean we don’t try.

I am very proud of Kyle.  He’s always been my inspiration, and even if he longer believes it, we’re still a team.  I’ve always got his back no matter what.

Happy Birthday buddy!

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posted by auntheather in Education & Learning,Family,Milestone,Observation & Imagination,Patience 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

Escape Room Experience

Shut your eyes and see.  ~James Joyce

Escape Room Latrobe 5-29-16 Aunt Heather Piper

Me, Kyle & Aunt Nikki at Escape Reality in Latrobe, escape room. We nearly had it… 5/29/16

I’m a little late in telling about our escape room experience two weekends ago, but I believe it’s never too late to tell a good story.

Why am I so late?  Between Thrill of the Hunt, my garden, the bees, and just keeping up on every day life, the hours are limited and the days run together.

On May 28th I had the Dog Gone! Scavenger Hunt in Winchester, Virginia.  It was a great event!  Shortly after wrapping up, I headed back to Latrobe, knowing my sister came home and Kyle was hanging out for the weekend.  My parents were camping, so it was an eventful weekend of the three of us.

Saturday night Nicole, Kyle and myself went to see X-Men: Apocalypse.  Nicole wanted to see Captain America: Civil War, however I took Kyle the weekend prior, which was his second time seeing the movie anyway.  Regardless, we had a nice time.

Now the big highlight of the weekend, Sunday, Nicole made reservations for us at Escape Reality in Latrobe.  You know those increasingly popular facilities that create a mystery to solve, and riddles and puzzles to figure out, in order to escape a locked room?  None of us had ever participated in an escape room, and certainly not in Latrobe.  Why not?

At this particular facility, six people were permitted in a group.  No one else signed up to join our trio, so the pressure was on.  We had the room to ourselves!  They had two different experiences, The Discovery or The Experiment.  We chose The Experiment, whereas we were captured by a doctor who spent his life trying to find a cure for the common cold.  Sounds good!

Four square check in Aunt Heather Piper 5-28-16

This was my check in on Four Square when we went to the movies… I thought this was hilarious! 5/28/16

Upon arrival and check in, we were given safety instructions and basic overall goals of the event.  They informed us no one has yet to escape the room without the assistance of clues.  During our hour long mystery experience, we were permitted to ask for clues to move us along.  How did we ask?  Simply by saying, “We need a clue.”  Each room is equipped with security cameras, as well as a monitor.  The wall mounted monitor displays the remaining time through a countdown.  It also communicates with the participants by typing messages to us or giving us clues.  The monitor also keeps a tally of the clues requested and those left.  I believe we were permitted to ask for six different clues.

Upon entering the relatively gloomy windowless room,  I immediately felt like I was placed in our story.  It was fairly chilly and almost creepy.  The facility stated that anything not bolted down is permitted to be moved and investigated and used for clues.  Great.

Surprisingly, Kyle wasn’t shy about digging in a getting started.  He was the first to really go to town, opening up drawers and digging through papers.  Nicole and I simply laughed at his sudden enthusiasm.  Prior to arriving he was very blasé and didn’t seem to care about hanging out with his aunts.  He was also very adamant about his plans later in the day, the typical Kyle.  Well, all that changed the minute we were locked in the room and the clock started ticking.

Honestly, I was the one who wasn’t aggressively looked through the supplied material.  I felt like I was prying in someone’s person stuff and it took me a while to get past that aspect.  Once I did, I was totally on board.

At first we didn’t really work as a team, but instead scattered independently trying to find the first clue or something that pointed toward a clue.  Kyle surprised us by literally crawling all over the floor, digging in every drawer, and even pulling out a variety of coins from a bowl and counting the change to see if the total dollar amount was a clue.  He was on a mission and he did a great job!  Kyle was able to look at the room from a different perspective that scored us our first major clue, a notebook of clues hidden under the desk.  Nicole and I looked at each other with wide eyes and the biggest surprise ever.  The funny part?  Kyle missed the clues leading him to the notebook, he only found the leather bound note pages stuffed under the desk.  While he was down there digging under the desk, I commented, “You look like your in National Treasure.”  Kyle didn’t care, he was focused.

Eventually, we found a few more clues that lead us to others and others.  Kyle scored us with another major breakthrough, without the aide of a previous clue.  He actually found words written in invisible ink on the baseboard around the room!  Seriously!   Among the phrases were missing letters, which contained letters to another clue.  Soon we opened a lock box that housed the black light.  A little late, but the fun of turning out the lights and using the black light to read the glow-in-the-dark letters was worth it.  It really made the experience and Kyle beamed with excitement.

At one point there were two lock boxes with four digit number combinations.  We found a four digit number that we hoped would unlock one of them.  Kyle tried the one lock and I the other.  However, due to Kyle’s due diligence, we realized that even with the correct lock combination, I still couldn’t open a lock.  After Kyle checked my work and realized I failed the test, I got the famous Kyle eye roll and ornery grin.  That’s my buddy!  Apparently, I’m lock challenged too.

I swear the entire time Nicole was stressed out and couldn’t handle the countdown of the clock, while Kyle was anxious and very energetic.  Those two cracked me up.  Eventually, we began working as a team, as we found more clues and answers were revealed.  That was exciting, getting closer to solving the riddles.

Did we escape?  Nope.  We were told we were about half way, using all six of our clues.  At the end, they asked us if we wanted to know the answer.  In unison, all three of us said, “NO!”  Actually, at first Nicole asked, “How often do you update the rooms?”  When they commented, “About once a year.” we chose to make plans to come back, take on the challenge and figure it out ourselves.

One the way home, we even recapped our discoveries and how we came to them, committing the event to memory to be later called upon.

Everyone was very nice and energetic.  I was impressed how they created the clues and guided us from one clue to the next.  They were very mindful of details, which really made the experience.  I hope we turn this into a yearly tradition, if not more often.  Maybe we can start hitting up different locations.

Nicole and I agreed that Kyle was the biggest surprise.  He basically mopped the floor, and really dove in without reservation.   I highly recommend trying an escape room.  Being a scavenger hunt enthusiast, I love solving puzzles and the adventure of it all.  I’d love to incorporate an escape room to one of my scavenger hunts.  Maybe in the future.

All that fun spoiled me.  The following weekend Kyle didn’t grace us with his presence at all.  I know he wanted to do his own thing, but I do miss him terribly when I don’t see him.  Maybe now that summer is upon us and school is out, he’ll surprise us by wanting to do more, or not.

posted by auntheather in Books, Movies, Shows,Common Sense,Education & Learning,Family,News,Observation & Imagination,Patience,Thrill of the Hunt Scavenger Hunts,Video Games & Games 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

Fishing & Fun

Every moment happens twice: inside and outside, and they are two different histories.  ~Zadie Smith

Kyle Aunt Heather Piper Planinsek Fishing Derby 5-7-16

Yep that’s the attitude I’ve come to know & almost tolerate from my 14 year old. My batman was trying not to smile, he had to look unfazed by his Aunt Heather…. ya right! Planinsek Fishing Derby 5/7/16

Yep, we survived the 27th Annual Louise Planinsek Fishing Derby, two Saturdays ago on May 7th.  Did Kyle go?  Of course.  Did he really want to go?  You know, I believe he did!  After all, he asked me about it, and dictated the time we were to get up and be there for breakfast, although he never expressed an interest in camping out Friday night.  Let me translate, that’s fourteen year old code for “I’m really excited about the fishing derby and I can’t wait!”

Kyle has always seemed to enjoy fishing, much like his dad and pappy.  Since the first day of fishing this year, Kyle’s been going with my dad nearly every weekend.  Let me tell you, that makes dad extremely happy, to spend time with Kyle, and to fish.  If I had to choose, I’d pick hunting over fishing, but I do love a fresh caught trout.

Kyle’s allowed to participate in the fishing derby until he’s sixteen.  It looks like he has another two years left.  He can always join in eating and drinking (nonalcoholic beverages), and I’m sure everyone would love to see him regardless if he fishes or not, but the rules state he can’t fish past sixteen.  However, he’d be really good at assisting the youngsters, if he’s still interested in attending the fishing derby by then.  Of course, I’ve learned with a teenager, you never know.

On Saturday, Kyle did just that, he fished, naturally, but he also helped his cousins with their bait and casting.  Kyle was surrounded by Hailey, Lila, Owen, Grant, and Olivia.  In addition to keeping the lines untangled and the hooks prepped for a catch, I gave Kyle another responsibility, a huge one at that.  What else could I possibly have expected from him?  After all, his attitude was stellar and pleasant, and he was having a great time.

I told Kyle to be on the lookout for kids falling into the pond.  It seems like every year one child manages to become submerged in pond water.  Especially since Kyle was within arms reach of the little ones, he had to keep his eyes peeled.  You know, I don’t believe I had to say anything.  Kyle acknowledged my request with an “Okay” and continued fishing, yet I sensed he knew trouble is a real possibility and he was ready for it.  Boy is that kid growing up!

Abby her boys and her dad Planinsek Fishing Derby 5-7-16 Aunt Heather Piper

Abby handing with her boys & her dad. Planinsek Fishing Derby 5/7/16

Was there a child to fall in?  You bet.  This year, Grant, Casey’s step-son.  He was okay and it didn’t seem to phase him.  This happened on the opposite side of the pond from us, Kyle was off the hook (pun intended).

It was at that moment, I saw Kyle’s maturity take shape.  He knew he was the older kid, not that adults weren’t all around at every two feet.  Kyle also trusts his swimming skills, as do I.  He was keeping an eye out for more than himself while fishing.  He was helping more than himself.  He was truly a little mature man.

To be honest, spending the entire day at the fishing derby from 7:00 am till about 9:00 pm was a long day, one I really didn’t want to go without getting some work done, yet, I’m glad I did.  There were times I thought about bugging out to work on my dog scavenger hunt events for Thrill of the Hunt, but then I thought, I never get to hang with Kyle and He only has a couple of years left to fish.  Plus, my parents weren’t there, again not that I didn’t have friends and family at every step, but staying was my way of showing Kyle we’re still a team, and I’m there to support him because he’s that important to me.

Boo and Bennet Planinsek Fishing Derby 5-7-16 Aunt Heather Piper

Uncle Boo with his nephew, Bennett at the Planinsek Fishing Derby 5/7/16

It was nice to see Kyle hang with his local friends.  They kept the tradition of dodge ball alive.  I did have to interject once.  I watched Kyle hurl the ball at a few slightly younger kids.  He certainly wasn’t trying to be malicious, Kyle was having fun and didn’t realize he’s gotten a lot taller and stronger than he used to be.  I simply asked him to not throw so hard and certainly not at anyone’s face.  He did give me a crappy little grin, like, “That’s how the game is won.” but after that, I never saw him face shot again.

We’ve had some ups and downs with these teenage years, but I’ll admit Kyle is a good kid!  He’s a nice guy, a little sassy, but his heart is still much like his dad’s and great grandpap Walter’s, good and sincere.

As Kyle was waiting around watching the seasoned gentlemen make breakfast, someone spoke up and asked who was going to do the french toast.  Kyle offered his hand and went to work.  The guys were impressed.  I wasn’t, I know what a good cook Kyle is and he knows his way around a skillet.  Unbeknownst to that crew, I’ve had Kyle cooking since he was little.  He did a great job and seemed to enjoy himself.  They all joked around, and said Kyle was now expected to help with breakfast next year.  I hope he does.

Lori Raffling off flowers Planinsek Fishing Derby 5-7-16 Aunt Heather Piper

Lori with flowers to raffle. Planinsek Fishing Derby 5/7/16

Now time for a funny, slightly scary story.  While I was among Kyle and the kids along the pond’s edge, I was helping Grant bait his hook.  To set the scene, Kyle had placed the earth worms on his seat directly behind him.  Just as I migrated into Kyle’s space, I bent over to retrieve a fat juicy warm.  I was met with something squishy and wet that hit me squarely in the forehead.  Just a fraction of a second beforehand, I saw and heard a few people jump and yell “Watch out!”  What was going on?  Kyle instantly turned around in confusion too.  What happened?

Kyle cast his line, without looking behind him, just as I moved in the exact location of the flying bait, causing it to hit me in the face with live, pond water covered group of warms strung on a hook!  The nearby witnesses thought I got a hook in the eye, but by the Grace of God, I was only smacked with grossness.  It took me and Kyle a minute to understand what happened, while everyone around looked upon us with freight and amazement.  Kyle laughed, as did I, even though it was a serious offense.  I know he didn’t mean it, but it’s true he could have taken out my eye.  It was a lesson for all the kids and a rather unpleasant one for me.  It was also partially my fault, I should have paid attention to Kyle, since I invaded his territory unannounced.

At the end of the night Cindy and Dave Planinsek, plus the rest of the Planinsek gang, who worked hard to organized this annually anticipated event, purchased a variety of toys and fishing gear for the kid’s raffle.  Tickets are purchased and each ticket contains the name of a child.  The booty is placed on several picnic tables for the children to see.  Names are drawn and the children, with major excitement, approach the table to select a prize.  This continues until all the items are claimed.  I wasn’t sure if I should add Kyle’s name to the list or not, so I chose to purchase tickets, better play it safe.  There were other items in addition to toys, such as fishing poles, tackles boxes and bags, hats, and such.  Why not?

Kyle Fishing Pose c. 2003 Aunt Heather Piper

How my little man has grown… He always did love to fish, real or plastic fish. (about 2 years old) c. 2003

While all the kids settled down under the pavilion, I looked for Kyle.  I asked around were that kid was located.  Only because everyone was in one central location under the pavilion, where he was suppose to be.  I eventually found Kyle hanging out by the volleyball / dodge ball court, talking with a few kids his age.  Boy how times have changed!

Kyle used to be the first one, up front, ready for the drawing to begin.  Now he was very blasé about it.  I told him to join the crowd, which he was hesitant, but did so.  I stood in the back, nervously waiting for his name to be called, knowing it was either a good or bad decision to purchase him tickets.

Finally, I heard, KYLE PIPER.  He didn’t seem to hear his name.  I walked over and tapped him on the shoulder letting him know he should go and get a prize.  His response?  He rolled his eyes at me and shrugged his shoulders like, “There’s nothing I want.”  To assist and keep the once exciting part of the day in momentum, I pointed to the fishing poles and such.  Without much effort, he selected a fishing pole.  Kyle’s name was drawn a few more times, which he graciously gave to his little cousins to take his spot.  At the end, I asked him where his fishing pole was?  His response?  “I gave it to Grant, he wanted it.”  Okay, buddy, that was a nice gesture!

I love that kid!  I’m already looking forward to next year, as I believe Kyle is.  It’s days like that, that I’m grateful to have taken the time to spend with Kyle and to appreciate the little man he is and mature man he’s turning into.

Did Kyle catch any fish?  He did, a very small blue gill.  Now that was a definite laugh out loud moment.  Aside from the three inch killer whale, Kyle had no other luck.

On another side note, Kyle woke up Sunday morning in a rather crabby mood.  Maybe he had too much excitement and needed more sleep.

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