Archive for the ‘Heritage & Family’ Category

The Summer of Becoming Friends

This morning as I sat outside sipping a hot cup of coffee to jump start the day, a cold breeze whipped through the air. 

The news reporters say that Pittsburgh is experiencing residual wind from Irene, but I’ve felt these breezes before.  A chilling morning wind is always the first indication of  summer birthing into fall.  Autumn is my favorite season, but this year, I don’t want summer to end.

The End of Summer

This summer has been VERY interesting to me for a lot of different reasons, all rooted in the circumstance of it being the first summer without my mom.  

As many of you know, my mom passed away in March after a long, horrible illness.  When I think back about our relationship, one of my biggest regrets is that my mom and I never had the chance to be friends.  I left home at 17, went to college, moved to the west coast, and lived away from my family until I came back to Pennsylvania at age 35.  A few months later, my mom got sick.

Home Cooked MealBefore leaving home, I was the kid and she was the mom.  Shortly after moving back, she got ill and needed me…like I needed her so many years ago.

There is only one thing that I would have changed about our relationship.  I would have made time to get to know my mom as a woman and a friend. 

At her funeral, people said some wonderful things about her that I never knew…like how she was so compassionate that after her nursing shift ended, she’d punch out , come home, change her clothes, and go back to her workplace to be with a dying patient…because she believed that no one should die alone.  You’d think that I would have known that about her….but I didn’t.  After all, I was the kid.  She was the mom. 

I vowed not to make the same mistake with my dad…not knowing him as a person and only as a dad.   

Being Friends with your DadThis year has been the summer of becoming friends.  Yesterday, we made the time to go golfing together.  When we got to the 11th hole and he lit up the cigar I gave him for Father’s Day, I wished that time would stand still.  I wished that the moment of knowing and loving my dad as a friend would never pass.  I wished that I could find the right words to tell him that even though I still need him to be my daddy, I love him for the person he is, in a non dad-ness kind of way. 

As our team’s putt plunked into the last hole, he held up his hand and expressed the universal sign of friendship.  With a wide smile forming across my face, I raised my own hand to meet his.  And there under the blue, breezy sky of a Pennsylvania summer was a father and daughter engaged in a high-five as he said, “Good one, girl”  and I responded, “Good game, dad.” 

Can parents and kids be friends?

#8 – Pow Wow WOW

Have you ever had a once in a lifetime experience?  You know….a WOW moment that would be very difficult to duplicate.

This past weekend while on a girls trip to New Mexico, we came upon an authentic Native American Pow Wow.   The only word that can describe it is WOW.

Taos Pow Wow 1 Taos Pow Wow 2

Taos Pow Wow 3

The trip was very spontaneous.  When we found out that a Pow Wow was happening about 60 miles from where we were staying in Santa Fe, we packed our bags, checked out of the hotel and headed north…following the sound of a beating drum. 

Taos Pow Wow 4 

The goose bump part was the opening speech, introduced in English but delivered in one of the Pueblo languages.  Everyone was very quiet, listening with intensity to the words being spoken about culture and tradition and spirituality.  I couldn’t understand the words, but the aura of the crowd was unmistakable. 

Taos Pow Wow 5 Taos Pow Wow 6 Taos Pow Wow 7

Like any traditional fair or festival, there were arts and crafts for sale…

 Taos Pow Wow 20

good food…

Taos Pow Wow 15 Taos Pow Wow 9

and lots and lots of dancing.

 Taos Pow Wow 11Taos Pow Wow 12  Taos Pow Wow 13

And then it got dark under the arbor and it was time to pack our moccasins and go.

Taos Pow Wow 10

Absolutely amazing experience.

Regarding #8 in my battle of the UNs, “Travel and Make it Worthwhile” suggested by Jo, I declare you complete.  The UNs are definitely leaving my life.  I’m going to backtrack and complete #5 and #6 this weekend so that I can finish up all 12 tasks before the end of summer!  Also, it’s time for me to get back on a regular blogging schedule.   The recent spurt of travel is now over…back to regular programming. 

Have you ever been to a Pow Wow or experienced a traditional culture up close? 

If you liked this post, you may also like Folking Around.

B: My Brother Bobby and the Blue and Brown-Eyed Beast

I have one brother – He prefers Bob or the more formal, Robert.   I’m the big sister, so he’ll always be Bobby to me.  Also, Bobby is easier to say when you’re referring to the three of us siblings down the line:  Tracy, Debbie, Bobby.

I guess my parents had a thing for names that end in the eeeee sound.  It’s more fun to yell at kids, too, when you can string out their name in the middle…and the end.  I can still hear my dad yelling for at me now…


Bobby is nearly 13 years younger than me.  When I was in high-school, he was in pre-K.  When I went to college, he was 5. 

It was great to have a little kid around the house in those days.  I can still remember him playing with his He-Man toys and plastic dinosaurs while I was studying for the college entry exams.


By the time Bobby entered the picture, the family dog was getting up there in years.  Her name was Beast.  You didn’t misread that – Beast was her name.  She had one blue eye and one brown eye.  Every time she would make a run for it, my sister and I would have to walk around the neighborhood looking for her, yelling…

Heeeere, Beast!  Heeeeere, Beast!

That’s enough to traumatize a teenaged girl.  But add to that Beast-calling walk…a baby stroller containing your little brother, and….you’d rather the dog stayed home and you’d run away yourself.

Have a great weekend everyone!  Be back at you on Monday with the letter C.

Let Your Sham Rock

One great thing about living in Pittsburgh is that the people here know how to have a good time.  Pittsburgh is known to have one of the longest St. Patrick’s Day parades in the country.  I watched for about 2 1/2 hours on Saturday, and it was still going strong…


It wasn’t like exactly like the parades you see on TV, with professional floats, and bands, and dancing performances.  It was more like a big party on the street with local groups and organizations walking by.  Everyone was wearing green, blowing horns, and handing out Mardi-gras beads.

Parade 2

The most enjoyable part…was people-watching .  Isn’t this little boy just adorable with his red Irish beard?!

 Parade 3     Parade 4

After the parade came the parties.  There were strict rules this year that no alcohol was allowed on the parade route.  But, a few blocks away in Market Square there was one giant party going on. 

Market Square 

If you had any fear that the (hundreds of ) kegs might run dry at the bars…


No worries.  Simply stop in this place and pick up a suitcase of beer…

Drink Up

Some people I saw had too many green beers…and it was before 2PM.  Most of the overly-intoxicated were being taken good care of by their friends.  For others, things got a little crazy.  This guy decided it would be a good idea to jump in the Allegheny River while his friends cheered him on.  It’s cold here.  There’s been rain.  The river is flooded and brown.  A person could die in there.  DON’T JUMP!!!

Flooded Allegheney     River Jump

I have never been a wild and crazy party-girl, but I recognize that I’m far past the stage of my life when it seems like an acceptable idea to pass out on a public sidewalk.  Or spray paint my entire body green.  Or jump in a freezing cold river.  But for those who did, it was fun to watch. 

Merry Christmas.  Happy St. Patrick’s Day.

Irish Santa

Do you ever act wild and crazy in public?  Was there a point in your life when you decided “I’m too old to party that hard.”

If you liked this post you may also like Folking Around.

Meaty, Cheesy, Well-Done…and Oh So Good

Feast your eyes on this…


Quite an image for a Friday.  No?

Lately I’ve been thinking about my collection of friends and all the people who I like to spend time around.  The people in your social circle can say a lot about you and your own personality. 

So, I set out to describe my friends…hoping to shed some light on myself.  The trouble was, many of my friends  have very different and sometimes completely opposing characteristics.  They are young, old, intellects, rebels, physically fit, overweight, beer drinkers, wine drinkers,  men, women, travelers, stay-at-homers, church-goers, and even bad-ass bikers.

I struggled to find the commonalities.  But then, it hit me.  Every single one of the people I enjoy spending time with have four traits in common. 

They are…


They have substance.  They’re nothing like a tofu-dog    just filling up space in a bun (not to hate on vegetarians, but how can they think tofu tastes good disguised as a hot dog –I  just don’t get it)

People of substance believe that their lives have    meaning and purpose.  They care about and talk about   the important things in life, and aren’t superficial. 



Did you hear the one about the elephant who went to Japan?  Every single one of my friends has a funny/ odd/cheesy sense of humor.  Or, they appreciate and enjoy laughing along with the cheesy people around them.  If you’re not cheesy and don’t like your friends     to walk around with a block of cheese on their head,     step aside.



What’s your opinion on rare meat?  I hate rare meat.  I even hate watching someone else eat a rare piece of meat.  I mean, how appetizing can the side of mashed potatoes be when the blood from your steak just rushed on over across the plate turned them bright red?  Super, super gross!  I order my steaks, and my friends, medium-well.   If your raw, bloody emotions immediately spill    out the second I poke you with my fork, chances are,    you won’t stay in my friend-circle for long.  I can handle justified, rational emotion, but I don’t do drama.


…and oh so good

Have you ever tried one of those chocolate lava cakes?  They’ve just got to serve those in heaven, don’t ya think?  Yummy.  Yum.  Yum.  I like to surround myself with people who are  genuinely good on the inside.  They’re well-intentioned, honest, learn from their mistakes, and are naturally compelled to help others.  Even when they do something wrong, bad, or have a  major f-up moment (because we all do), they were well-intentioned while doing it.

Some of my close friends read this blog…and now they know that I’ve just compared them to 3,000 calorie meal.  Sorry, friends…I call it like I see it.

What personality traits are common among your friends and the people who are close to you?  What do you think that says about you, if anything?

If you liked this post, you may also like Freeze Power and Emotional Osmosis.  Have a great weekend!

Images are borrowed from,, and

A Birthday Card for Mom

Dear Mom,

Happy Birthday!  Dad told me that you got the card I sent.  I hope it made you smile!  

This year’s card took a long time to pick out.  I stood in front of the Hallmark wall of cards under the category “Mother” for quite a while.  There were funny ones…and serious ones…and religious ones…and even one that played a Phil Collins song.  I almost bought that one.  It reminded me of the time we went to the Genesis concert together two decades ago.  I was 20 and you were just a little older than the age I am now!  Do you remember that night?  It was really fun and a special memory that I’ll never forget.  Anyways, that’s why I almost bought you the musical card; but, it played You’ll Be In My Heart, which was a little too sappy.

There was another card that had a nice design and simple message:  Happy Birthday – I Love You.  I passed on that one too – it didn’t quite say enough.  Then, I almost bought a religious-type card that said something about how special you are and that only God could have given me such a precious mother.  Again I decided that it wasn’t quite right.  The message was just too serious and made me cry.

So, that’s why you were probably surprised to get the card that opens into a 3-D paper flower arrangement!  I wrote out all the words to the Happy Birthday Song on the little tag.  I hope Dad sang it to you when he read you the card.  His voice is better than mine anyway.   

I’ll see you this weekend.  XOXO,


Hallmark enjoyed my company for an hour on Sunday, looking at every card they sell.  Selecting the last birthday card that I might ever buy for my mom was more difficult that I imagined it would be.  When you know the last day is closer than you’d like, even the smallest decisions seem monumental. 

Every day needs to count…each and every one of them. 

What will you do to make today count for you?

If you liked this post you may also like Love, Part 1 and The Gold Seal.

I’m Not KIDding

If you’re a regular reader (or if you know me), then you understand that no one has ever called me Mom.  My kitty cats are cuter than some human babies I’ve seen, but their meows have never sounded like mommy.

Given that I’m a middle-aged chick who’s still married to her high-school sweetheart, most people who meet me for the first time assume that we’ve reproduced ourselves in miniature. 

The typical conversation goes like this…

Stranger:  Are you married?

Me:  Yep, for almost 15 years.

Stranger: Do you have any children?

Me:  Nope.

Short pause

Stranger: Oh!  I’m so sorry (with a head tilt, confused look, and body language suggesting that I should fully explain why the joy of motherhood has escaped my grasp).

You would be surprised how many people say “I’m Sorry” when they find out that I’ve never birthed a kid, adopted one, or acquired one by any legal means possible.  “I’m Sorry” is an expression of sympathy for a loss or failure.  It implies that I tried to have kids and failed.  Or, that in some way, I have defied all laws of nature and moral responsibility to repopulate. 

To tell the truth, we did want to have a family.  But, believing that God has a plan that we shouldn’t mess with, we didn’t seek alternative courses.  Also, neither of us had a raging desire to be parents.  As it turned out, we couldn’t be happier with our lives as they are today…happily married…and childless.

As much as I’d love to quip back at the “I’m Sorry” with an equally impolite response, I usually either ignore the person’s look of dread and concern, or smile and give a polite answer.  After all, when someone becomes a parent, I think it’s hard for them to imagine life any other way.  “I’m Sorry” is probably the first thing that comes to their mind and they don’t realize that this expression is inappropriate.  I asked my husband if he ever gets the “I‘m Sorry.”  He said no, and that the most frequent response to him is a joking “Aren’t You Lucky.”  Huh? 

There are many wonderful people in my circle of friends who are awesome parents.  And for those who allow me to borrow their kids so that I’m not embarrassed going to the playground alone…I thank you!

Being a parent can certainly affect your BACKBONE.  The question is…does it change who you are as a person?  Not being a parent, I can’t answer this.  So, I’ll leave it up to you to ponder in the comments area above.

Does being a parent (or not) affect a person’s personality?  Does it change who you are as a person? 

Next week on Monday (December 6) you will have the chance to win a free book!  The Chameleon’s Backbone will be featuring a book review on the subject of Adoption and will be hosting a drawing for a free copy.  Remember to check back!

Place Matters

I said in my last post that I like tropical vacations.  I do.  I really do.  However, I also really appreciate my own city – Pittsburgh. 

When out-of-towners think of Pittsburgh, they usually envision the downtown…

But, the true soul of the City lies in its neighborhoods.  As part of my job, I got to tag along with an architectural historian to check out the City’s historic districts.  He told me that Pittsburgh ranks 7th in the country for the highest percentage of buildings over 50 years old.  To someone like me who gets a natural high from communities with authentic character, it makes me love Pittsburgh even more.

Just look at what is waiting to be discovered in the historic neighborhoods…

I love tropical islands, but I  love cities even more.  Maybe it’s because I don’t live in either.  I live in a suburb of Pittsburgh that I sometimes call Borings-ville for the lack of a beach…and high-rises.

What types of places to you love the most?  Is where you live consistent with your lifestyle?

Folking Around

Labor Day Weekend = start of the fall festival season.  Let the games begin….    

On Saturday I went to a local folk festival with my sister.  We both love outdoor festivals, especially ones with live music, good food, and interesting people.  There are a lot of heritage festivals here in Western PA.  Irish, German, Italian, Polish, and so on.  Mix it all together and you have a Folk Fest – those are the most fun.    

There was just one problem this time… one big problem.  We didn’t get there until 8 p.m. By that time, most of the folk dancers were gone and the festival had the atmosphere of a beer-drinking street party.  Just our luck.    

We wanted to see a Celtic rock band.   


Instead, we got a  crowd of beer-drinkers wearing tee-shirts that read I Got Folked Up.  If you’ve ever wondered what a folk festival after party looks like…well, now ya know.   



Despite the crowd, we still had a great time.  I say despite the crowd because there were some strange looking people there.  At one point we could have sworn that we saw two different men somewhere in the middle of a transition from human to werewolf.  Not like Eclipse.  Ever see the 1985 movie Teen Wolf?  Or maybe the ’87 sequel Teen Wolf Too?  Well, it was something like that.  I tried to snap a photo but it was too dark – those man-wolves are evasive.    

The setting of this festival is on a street in a working man’s part of town.  You know the kind – with a tavern on every corner and a church on every block.  In this part of the country, European immigrants arrived in large numbers between 1800 and 1920.  They worked in the mills and settled together in their own neighborhoods, each with their own grocers, taverns, social clubs, and churches.  Life was hard, but the possibilities that America offered were endless.    

Most of us don’t have a clue how our ancestors got here.  Today, we tend to think of ourselves as American.  We rarely associate with our ethnic roots, even if we can even trace them back.  For me and my siblings, we know that we are Hungarian.  My grandma made foods like pierogi, halupki, haluski, and goulash; and she danced to what she called gypsy music.  Knowing about my ethnicity explains a lot about my family’s beliefs and traditions.  I’m glad some of those were passed along to me, but don’t ask me to dance like a gypsy.

My Grandma's Hungarian Catholic Church, c. 1905

Does your heritage intrigue you?  Does your family have any interesting traditions?

When Roles Reverse

I spent the past week wishing that I had a magical human cloning machine.  They’ve done it for sheep don’t ya know.  Yes, world, I wanted two or three of me walking around on this planet.  Why?  Cause one just wasn’t nearly enough.

I spent the week juggling work and spending time at the hospital with my Dad.

Waiting in rooms…

…sporting the ever-so-fashionable “Cancer Sucks” Bondi Band

Reading signs…

Staring at doors waiting for doctors to appear.…

And acting like a comfortable visitor…

Learning the news that a parent is sick is not easy.  I know.  The role of parent/child gets turned on its head faster than you can say Jack Robinson, and you’re suddenly in the role of caregiver and supporter. 

Being there for a parent when they really need you is something that lots of children experience in their lifetime.  When and if this time will ever come for you…who knows.  It hit me before 40, but it’s hitting my brother at 27.  That’s young in my book.  Others don’t confront this situation until their 60s or later, and some never will.

My parents played a big part in shaping who I am today.  They influenced the development of my BACKBONE and helped establish my morals and values.   I also have Dad’s ridiculous sense of humor and Mom’s cautionary approach to trying new things.  Plus, probably tons of other quirks that I either credit to them or curse them for passing on through their stupid genetic merge. 

Caring for a parent (when you are so used to them being there for you instead), is a major wake up call to the precious thing called life.  A big alarm bell goes off reminding you to make every day count.  Beep, Beep, Beep…  Only this time, you can’t hit the snooze. 

Did your parents play a large role in shaping who you are as person?  If you weren’t raised by your biological parents, who most influenced your life?