THE TALE OF BRIER HILL PIZZA

Even though I moved to the Columbus metro area 30+ years ago, Y-Town is my town: my family lives there, and it will always be “home.” Brier Hill pizza is one of my favorite Y-Town foods.

The Great Groceries Cart

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The Great Depression was a tough time for many across the United States. It hit especially hard in parts of the country where manufacturing drove the economy. That was the case here in Youngstown and the surrounding areas. Communities had to come together to make it through these hard times. Families pitched in however they could to put food on the table.

It was during these times that Italians in the Valley relied on their gardens to eat. The economic downturn meant that people did not always have the money to purchase groceries, so gardens were their lifeblood. Tomatoes and peppers were the easiest vegetables to grow in Northeast Ohio’s climate and therefore were easily accessible for all.  Flour was distributed to residents through social programs like welfare. The flour was then used by families to bake bread and pizza crust.

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Youngstown’s “Little Italy” was the Brier Hill neighborhood, as…

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The Catastrophic Consequences of Silence

Wisdom from my sweet cousin, Christine.

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Niemöller’s Famous Poem
“In Germany they came first for the Communists, and I didn’t speak up because I
wasn’t a Communist. Then they came for the Jews, and I didn’t speak up because
I wasn’t a Jew. Then they came for the trade unionists, and I didn’t speak up
because I wasn’t a trade unionist. Then they came for the Catholics, and I didn’t
speak up because I was a Protestant. Then they came for me, and by that time no
one was left to speak up.”
–Martin Niemöller, 1945 a Protestant Rev. He supported Hitler’s rise in the mid-1930s he began speaking out against Nazism. It was too late. He was sent to Dachau.

I stayed silent during the rise of Donald J. Trump. I stayed silent when he insulted Mexicans. I stayed silent when he insulted  prisoners of War . I stayed silent  when he insulted women…

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9.15.16

“Take advantage of your free time when you still have it…” Wise words from #MrsTrottersAPENG11 student to her middle school self.

Letters to Kelley

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“What are your hobbies?”

That’s probably one of most often heard questions during your childhood, or even now. That’s because your answer allows the person who asked to receive a brief glimpse of your life or what you’re like as a person. For example, if you like spending your time reading books, you may be seen as a more quiet and reserved person, whereas if you enjoy engaging in theatre performances, you may be viewed as a lively and confident person. Or maybe you’re equally fond of reading AND theatre, then you could be both placid and boisterous depending the situation you’re in.

That said, whatever it is you love doing, you should do more of it. 

That sounds like a counterintuitive statement because if you love doing something, you would naturally do it, right? Yet more often than not, people look back in their lives and wish that they had spent more time doing this, this or…

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#HillYes

On Monday, June 6, I made reservations for two hotel rooms in Fairfax, Virginia for January 19-22, 2017. I will be on the Mall when the 45th President of the United States takes the oath of office.

On Tuesday, June 7, I settled in to watch the election returns as I have done throughout this primary season. I watched as New Jersey delivered a huuuuge margin of victory, as New Mexico rallied, as South Dakota surprised everyone, and as California soundly put to rest any doubts as to who the Democratic nominee would be.

And I watched, through a cascade of tears, as Hillary Clinton took the stage.

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I made those hotel reservations on June 6 confident of her wins on June 7.

And, I made those hotel reservations anticipating her victory on November 8.

Between now and then, I will work my heart out to ensure that Hillary is the one standing at the podium on Friday, January 20, 2017.

On that historic day, my family – including my mother and my daughter – will be standing on the Mall with me for her.

 

Tomorrow is Today

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Yesterday, this sentiment popped up on my Facebook feed set in various backgrounds. I like this one particularly. That it was so popular yesterday is no coincidence, for yesterday was New Year’s Eve, and today, of course, New Year’s Day. 2016.

Today is the beginning of a brand spanking new year with a pristine new book of 365 blank pages. It makes sense. Let’s start the new year with a blank slate and write our stories day-by-day. Here’s the rub: while the pages may be blank, none of us is a blank slate. Instead of chalk, our slates may be stained with indelible ink. It’s not easy to erase what’s already been written.

Blank pages are an altogether different thing. Nothing is written on them. They can be intimidating. Staring at us in the face. Blank. And, as much as we desire to fill up the pages with inspired poetry and prose, with promises and hopes, with dreams and desires, those blank pages voraciously feed on fear or judgment or regret, inducing a painful paralysis. The blank pages thus remain blank or, worse still, carbon copies of bygone, ink-stained pages.

Blank pages can be intimidating.

So, here at the start of 2016, every day is a blank page; that’s something I need to remember. Certainly, factors and circumstances beyond my control will assail me every day. I can’t stop that from happening. But, I can write each day however I choose. I have that agency. I can create the setting and the scene. I can populate the cast of characters. I can shape the main character in every way, controlling the tenor of her attitude and the tone of her speech. I’m writing the dialogue, after all.

Blank pages can be intimidating.

But, oh, think, too, of their possibilities.

Next Year….Now….Simply

This is a re-run: it’s last year’s post. I should write a new post for the new year. I should. But, this one works. Still. So, here it is. Again.

Ruminations

We’re almost there.  Next year.  And, like many, I’m thinking of next year….now.  New Year’s resolutions abound everywhere. They are ubiquitous. Naturally.  The flip of the calendar from one year to the next has a way of doing that to most of us, me included.  It’s symbolic – out with the old, in with the new.  A fresh start.  A clean slate.  I didn’t publish resolutions last year; I kept them in my head, but I haven’t kept them.  Naturally.  At least, that is natural for me.  I start the year with good intentions.  Gung ho.  Brimming with vim and vigor.  Or maybe it’s piss and vinegar.  Anyway, I start the year with hope – hope that I’ll keep my resolutions.  Hope that I’ll change, that I’ll improve, that I’ll start, that I’ll stop.  “Hope,” as Emily Dickinson writes, “is the thing with feathers.” Hmmm.  It always seems to flit…

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The Scent of Summer

I’m on the brink of summer vacation. I have one more day – tomorrow – to finish out the school year. All of my exams are scored; the seemingly endless task of grading is complete: my grades are finalized (this always comes as a shock to me; I almost don’t believe it); I’ve ticked off everything on the year-end check-out list save one – I just need to organize and prepare my classroom for summer cleaning. It’s been a rough school year – not with my students. No, I’ve had a great bunch of kids this year. It’s been a rough year because of a failed school levy in November, because I lived on the bubble for months not knowing whether I’d have a job next year or not, because my job is safe but 54 of my colleagues have lost theirs, because tomorrow I have to say good-bye to some good friends and wonderful teachers – incredible teachers – some of the most passionate and innovative teachers I’ve ever had the pleasure to teach alongside, because the full effects of the levy failure are going to be excrutiatingly magnified next year, because the anticipation of that is heart-and-gut-wrenching, because I’m fearful that my district won’t recover from this for years.

But, I’m on the brink of summer vacation, and I need it.

As I write this, I am sitting in a reclining chair in my office, laptop on my lap, both windows open, indeed all windows in the house open. I am not a fan of air conditioning. Oh, it has its place, especially when it’s sweltering and humid, as is frequently the case in an Ohio summer; even then, though, my windows are almost always open; my neighbors joke that it must be really, really hot when we close our windows and turn on the air. I have an aversion to being closed in and cooped up in the house; it feels to me like I’m living in an insulated cave, like I’m breathing stale air, so the windows stay open. Today, it is neither sweltering nor humid. It’s a glorious morning. And the windows are open. The birds are singing. Someone nearby is cutting the grass; the whiz and whir of the mower faintly distinct in the distance. I can almost smell the freshly cut grass; the scent hangs in the air, mixed with the perfume of multitudinous blooms, a complex bouquet tickling my nose. Utterly delightful.

This is the scent of summer. It is a nostalgic scent. It transports me back through time and space to my childhood home where the windows were always open because we did not have air conditioning. A scent that restores me to my youth in my happy home with my dad – robust and healthy and alive, my mom, my brother, my sister. It is a fresh scent – a scent tinged with excitement, adventure, carefree fun. It is a scent that promises lazy days. A scent that divines the goodness and presages the endless possibilities of the day. It is a scent that expects me to stay up to all hours of the night and to sleep in late in the morning. At the same time, it is a scent that goads me out of bed to enjoy an invigorating walk at the crack of dawn. A scent the sees me sitting under the shade of a tall tree, reading a good book.

It is a scent that regenerates, rejuvenates, relaxes, renews, revives. And this summer more than most, I need it.

Smell You Later

What’s on My Walls?

Recently, I’ve been contemplating the idea of downsizing; with one child about to graduate from high school and set off to college, and with the other quickly moving through the ranks of middle school, sooner, rather than later, this house will be an empty nest.  And, it’s too big – even now.  Oh, it suited its purpose:  we built this house to accommodate not only our family, but also friends and strangers alike who were in need of hospitality and accommodation – some for a short time, others for extended stays.  But, as we and our children are aging and life is changing, so too are our own housing needs.

The prospect of putting this house on the market is a daunting one.  It is filled to the gills. Truly.  We have too much stuff.  I will be able to part with much of the stuff without much drama; it’s the kind of stuff that finds its way to the basement or to the dark recesses of the closet – stuff that I haven’t seen, let alone used, in years.  The other stuff, though, that’s going to be difficult to pare down.

But, pare down we must.  For awhile, I held a real estate license, working with my father-in-law in his brokerage.  So, using that experience, that knowledge, as I look around this house, I know that a lot of this stuff must go to get the place into instant show-worthy condition.

For an even longer time of my adult life, I worked in the travel business, and I had the great good fortune to travel – a lot.  Much of the stuff that adorns the walls and shelves of this house are momentos of those travels.  Many of these momentos were not costly or extravagant; many were post cards or prints that we’ve framed and hung on the walls.  Some were baubles or trifles or knick-knacks found in curiosity shops or open-air markets or tourist stores.  A few were genuine objet d’art.  A few.  All, however, are more than mere objects; each is a memory of a place in time; each has its own story with its own characters, its own setting, its own plot, its own atmosphere.  Each, regardless of original cost or quality, is a treasure.

Sometimes in the busyness of life, I pass by these momentos and don’t even see them.  Truly, there are some rooms of this house that I rarely use, and thus, the momentos in those rooms are likewise rarely seen.  But today, I looked around at the stuff on the walls of our house – not as the real estate agent apprising the show-worthiness of the place.  Rather, as the world traveller and adventurer, the resident of this house. And, I remembered.

Here are some of the momentos on my walls.

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Memories of Greece.

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A beautiful original of Piazza San Marco, Venezia, drawn for me by one of my travel clients. A delightful and thoughtful surprise.

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Books live in every room of this house.

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An etching.

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Memories of Israel

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A Darlene Erickson original painting. Dr. Erickson was my professor at Ohio Dominican University. View more of her work here: http://darleneerickson.com/

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Memories of Venezia.

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Memories of Venezia

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Memories of Venezia

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The Holy Family by Michaelangelo….my favorite

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Wall to Wall

Passing the Torch

The Winter Solstice has passed; we’ve turned the page from 2014 to 2015.  That means spring is around the corner with summer following closely on its heels.  But first, we need to make it through January and February – the dark months.  Summer is especially sweet for me: as a high school English teacher, it means time to recover, to recharge my batteries, to rest up for next year.  My preferred method of recharging is to get away from it all…to go camping.

I’m a camper from way back.  When I was growing up, my folks bought a Starcraft pop-up camper, and we went everywhere in it.  Everywhere.  Camping was an affordable way for my family to travel, and we did: we camped up and down the Eastern seaboard from Maine to Florida with notable stops in Washington, Myrtle Beach, and, of course, Disney World.  Oh, and Charleston.  Can’t forget Charleston, but that’s another story for another time. We ventured north of the border, too.  A fisherman’s mecca – Canada.  We made our northern pilgrimage often because my dad was a devotee; I, his neophyte.

Some of my best memories come from these camping trips.  Oh, we fought like cats and dogs; it inevitably rained when we were setting up camp or taking it down; we endured maybe a little too much togetherness.  But, we were together.  As a family.  Experiencing and exploring, sharing and playing, laughing and crying.  And yelling, lots of yelling. Together.

As an adult, with my own family, I wanted to offer the same experiences and promises of memories with my children.  So, many moons ago, I convinced my husband to buy a camper.  A pop-up camper.  Of course.  In the quiet of this cold, bleak, early January morning, my mind wandered back to our inaugural adventure in our new pop-up camper.

Being the romantic sentimentalist that I am, I wanted my mom and dad to come along with us.  It was important to me that they be a part of this trip, especially.  It seemed only fitting:  after all, they instilled in me the wanderlust, the love of nature, the sense of family. Their presence would signal a symbolic passing of the torch, an affirmation of their awesome parenting, a hope for my own family.

So, we set out from Dublin, heading north on I-71 toward Youngstown on Friday afternoon of Memorial Day weekend, our pop-up camper in tow, on our way to pick-up mom and dad.  I was (and remain) the tow-master.  The first really important lesson I learned as tow-master was that we definitely needed the sway bars that we did not have.  Our pop-up camper flipped and flopped around behind our van like a hooked fish at the end of my pole – a furious and indignant fish, desperately determined to free itself from its tether. It wasn’t just scary; it was terrifying.  But, somehow, we made it to Youngstown.  We loaded mom and dad, and we continued to our destination – Mosquito Lake.  What an unfortunate name.  Maybe it was an omen.

It was not raining when we arrived at Mosquito Lake.  But it was dark.  As a novice tow-master, the second really important lesson I learned was that I had seriously overestimated my trailoring abilities. I was not adept at all at backing into the campsite.  Since it was the first major holiday weekend of the camping season, the campground was, of course, packed.  Campers in neighboring sites were comfortably sitting around their campfires watching me try to back into the campsite.  Over and over again. I could feel their eyes on me; I could imagine their smirks.  The pressure was on.  Over and over again.  My pride was wounded. The pop-up camper wasn’t even set up, and I already felt a failure.  Well, a neighboring camper was watching, but he wasn’t judging my inept manuevering skills.  Campers are nice people.  Really nice people.  He came over and offered to back the camper in for me.  I relinquished my pride and gave up the wheel to him.

Finally, the camper was set up.  The beds were made, but the third really important lesson that I learned was that I seriously underestimated the number of blankets that we would need.  It was cold.  Really cold.  We needed to turn the heater on.  So, I went out, into the dark, with a small flashlight and a lighter to light the pilot light on the heater. I removed the cover over the heating element, and I flicked the lighter.  I held the flame to the element…to no avail; nothing happened.  No heater, no heat.  I did think it was odd, though, that there was insulation visible where the pilot light should be . . . so close to the flame of my lighter.  Hmmm.

I went back inside, and we all cuddled under the few blankets spread over each of the beds.  I woke at one point to see the silhouette of my dad sitting up in his bed, shivering, his blanket drawn around his shoulders.  He had to go, but he didn’t want to go out in the dark, in the cold, to the restroom down the lane.  I nodded to him.  He got up, hobbled over to the door, opened it to the cold, stood on the threshold, and peed into the weeds, baptizing our campsite.  When he returned to his bed, he looked back over at me across the pop-up camper.  And I learned the most important lesson.  We laughed silently together; I could imagine his eyes twinkling; then we settled down to sleep.

First!

Next Year….Now….Simply

We’re almost there.  Next year.  And, like many, I’m thinking of next year….now.  New Year’s resolutions abound everywhere. They are ubiquitous. Naturally.  The flip of the calendar from one year to the next has a way of doing that to most of us, me included.  It’s symbolic – out with the old, in with the new.  A fresh start.  A clean slate.  I didn’t publish resolutions last year; I kept them in my head, but I haven’t kept them.  Naturally.  At least, that is natural for me.  I start the year with good intentions.  Gung ho.  Brimming with vim and vigor.  Or maybe it’s piss and vinegar.  Anyway, I start the year with hope – hope that I’ll keep my resolutions.  Hope that I’ll change, that I’ll improve, that I’ll start, that I’ll stop.  “Hope,” as Emily Dickinson writes, “is the thing with feathers.” Hmmm.  It always seems to flit away – that hope – taking my resolutions with it.

I’m not sure why I have trouble keeping resolutions.  Maybe they’re too specific.  Or too broad.  Or too ambitious.  Or maybe I’m just lazy and unmotivated and undisciplined.  Maybe.

Thoreau (one of my favorites) advocates that we “Simplify! Simplify!”  I’m going to take his admonition to heart this year.

That’s my resolution.