Mother Blue

I photo. I take day trips. I lightsaber battle. I analyze the stuffing out of myself.

Category: Family

Happy Birthday, I Know You Are Not Special


Happy birth.

Happy birth.

A letter to my son on his 9th birthday. 

You are nine today. Mazel Tov!

The last of the single digits; one number shy of double digits, forever.

So, I gotta be straight with you.

Look, as much as I love you, you are not special; not as much as you would like to think you are; certainly not as much as the myth that your dad and I have perpetrated to you and to the world.

The truth is that the outside world is a son of a bitch and you are a number.





The truth is you will be nothing more than a series of numbers throughout your lifetime:

A student ID number

An employee number

A social security number

A paycheck

No matter how much I try to enhance your childhood and/or helicopter you and/or let you fail and/or fall on your face and/or get frustrated with you, you will still grow up to be an adult. You will venture out among your generation whilst trying to find your way. You will be lost. You will be off searching for meaning. You will be narcissistic and you won’t understand why the world can’t see you as the unique and beautiful snowflake that your mom and dad see in you in your daily funny faces and your very bizarre jokes.

I am a nihilist by nature. I often joke with your dad about which of the things we have done that will eventually land you in therapy. I watched “The Breakfast Club” the other day and it reminded me that we may already be on the path to becoming the parents that John Hughes once prophecized in my ear through the Brat Pack’s lips.

Pretty bleak birthday card, right? Well you should be used to this by now. I am always warning you of life’s dangers at the happiest of moments and at the most inopportune of times. It is my life’s preparatory course. But bear with me — you only have another 40 years of this.

The truth is you are a number to everyone.

To me you are 6:10 am, 4lbs 13oz, 4/3/05, 9 years

The truth is, as unfair as it is and as much as you would like to be, you won’t be special to everyone. You will simply be ANYONE. But hopefully throughout your life, you will find your tribes. The ones that tell you the truth, the ones that will have your back, the ones that will get you into epic trouble, and the ones that will make you laugh. And hopefully you will find the significant others that get you and your need for classic rock, TV commercial reciting, and varying other things. These are the people who will know you as SOMEONE. And vice versa. They will be your respite when the EVERYONE ELSES make life unbearable.

I have already seen the inklings of the grown up you. The one that sits next to a girl at the school dance until her friends arrive, just so she doesn’t have to sit alone.

The one that screams at the kid to apologize for pushing the other kid.

I have been pushing you since the day I met you. Your dad and I push you to do the things that suck. You didn’t want to go to the head table alone but I made you. You wanted a cookie but you were too embarrassed to ask. “No one is gonna give you anything unless you ask for it. So you can sit here with regret or you can make something happen. I am not always gonna be there to help you through the tough stuff.”

You whimpered all the way to the table, asked for a cookie, and wouldn’t look at me for the rest of the event. You were pissed and shot me eyeball daggers. I will deal with the fleeting hatred if it shows you what you are capable of.

• • •

I promised I would never lie to you about important things. So I am writing down these truths for you to read when you are ready.

The truth is, you know more about being a kid than I know about being an adult parent. Truthfully, I don’t know what the fuck I am doing.

The truth is that I sometimes paint the world as far too bleak when I should be reveling in the moment. Your dad already knows this about me. I am desperately trying to learn how to find the balance.

The truth is that you don’t need to be special to everyone. Just your tribe. All you need to be is authentically you. Don’t lie to yourself.

The truth is that you will need to work hard. Anything worth doing takes work.

The truth is that you will need to be strong. There are a series of head tables and cookies for the taking in this life. You have to be strong enough to ask for them or figure out a way to earn them.

The truth is that you will need to be independent or you won’t survive in this life for every long.

The truth is that you will need to pay your dues. Everyone does.

The truth is that we love you. No matter what. I say it now and I mean it always. That being said, you will never be too old for hugs and kisses. Deal with it.

• • •

I drove you to school today. Your little voice sang “Home Sweet Home” by Mötley Crüe along with me and the radio. You were belting out that tune as strongly as any person should sing on their birthday. The drive and the song made me think about you in kindergarten. One of the first things they have you memorize is your phone number and your house number.


The number you are always welcome to return to.

Happy 9th, Buddy.


Goofy face. First photo of 9.

Goofy face. First photo of 9.



I want to be a Sandwich

An exercise from a long ago desktop publishing class. 

“Make yourself a business card in QuarkXpress. Your occupation can be anything you want. Make a statement, graphically. Make it you.” 

— So and So, Journalist

— Such and Such, Designer

— Blah Blah Blah, Photographer

— etc.

One word descriptors for a career identity.

The possibilities sent my brain into overload. Over analyzing a simple exercise into prophecy has always been one of my neurotic fortes. I can take any simple assignment and somehow turned into a life plan, like I was carving my fate into the granite of my tombstone.

Jumbled phrases in my mind’s eye appeared like endless words on reams of paper from a teletype. It kind of looked like this except it went on and on and on:







I could not see my identity clearly. I frantically typed. I sweat over the details.

My finished card ended up looking like my mom sat down and wrote a letter of recommendation for me in crayon.

Mismatched fonts of Times New Roman italic and Garamond bold. A hand drawn stick figure version of myself, you know, to give it that professional yet personal touch.

I named myself a company. PICTURE THIS. I thought this was sooooooo clever. Photography (one of my many listed attributes) = Picture. I bet no one had ever though of such thing.

The almost 40 year me is eye rolling as we speak.

Kimberly McCarty, Graphically Designing Public Relations Journalist Photographer Artist

My professor told me that I had to narrow it down.

“You will never get good at any one thing until you narrow yourself down.”

But what if I want to do everything?

I guess I am still asking myself that same question.

I want to be this sandwich

I want to be this sandwich

I want to be this sandwich. I want to be every version of this sandwich. The one before it is bitten into, masticated and ground into something else. The sandwich of every flavor and condiment. The Schrödinger’s cat of sandwiches. The sandwich of the possible. One that can be both roast beef and braunschweiger, harmoniously.

Sigh, how do people know who they are? How do they narrow it down? I read the obits of all the greats and they find a way to make ONE thing uniquely their own.

You become great when you narrow things down. Not everyone can be Da Vinci.

• • •

Dinner time in our house is our daily catch up time. A few weeks ago, we allowed Jack the floor. We promised no interruptions. For the next 30 minutes, an Andy Kaufman-esque type dialogue combining television commercial dialogue and his own blend of witty humor and facial expressions came at us in a fast and furious delight.

We nodded and laughed and listened and asked questions.

I have been trying to be more open to giving him an outlet for his expressiveness. I am still too protective. I still don’t trust adults. I remember many of the adults around me not being very open about expressing myself when I was a kid. One time, when I was about 9 or 10, I attempted to sing the entire Annie soundtrack on my gram’s back porch, my gram begged me to stop singing.

“People are gonna think you are crazy.”

I worry about myself being a dream stifler as well. I worry about harping on him for the things that make me uncomfortable. I worry that I won’t be able to discern when I need to correct him and when to let him be a kid.

My boy is high-strung. He acts out every thought that enters his head. It is both overwhelming and delightful. I worry other people won’t get him. I get too protective. I quell his enthusiasm more than I should.

I wish I worried less. I worry that I worry. I worry that my worry is going to crush his spirit.

“What goes on in that brain of yours?” We asked this at the end of his dinner dialogue.

He laughed as he spoke. “My thoughts are crazy! They make me think so many things and want to do so many things. Like, what if I grow up and want to dress up like a marshmallow and walk down the street and give other people on the street hugs?”

Jackie Rullo, Marshmallow 

I have to figure out a way to allow him to be a marshmallow or a sandwich more often. Maybe I need to heed his vision, dress up like a marshmallow, and stretch out my arms and hug someone.

Or maybe in the most organic and healthiest of ways we should just try to be everything.

dancin with myself

Desk “Dancin with Myself”. Billy Idol. Whoa oh ah oh!

Copacetic Homesteads

I have said it before and I will say it again: I love The Copacetic Comics Company. (3138 Dobson Street, Third Floor, in the Polish Hill section of Pittsburgh).

I can barely finish the last syllable of “Let’s go to Copacetic,” before my son throws on his hat and coat and is standing by the front door. He loves nothing more than breathing in all the comic book smells (even when it makes him sneeze) and the muttery comic book chit chatter.

A short drive up Route 380 towards Bigelow Boulevard. When I have to pause at the traffic light at the intersection of Herron Avenue and Bigelow for more than a few seconds, I intuitively flashback to my younger self. Beat up car, hopelessly lost, trying to find the Electric Banana, (is it on Baum or Bigelow?) desperately hoping to find the club in time to see one of my friends’ bands, or at LEAST make it there before the last act. A decade or more before GPS,  only handwritten maps on slightly used napkins to guide us. I had myself convinced that they kept moving the location, like some sort of secret society or musical prohibition era speakeasy. As I drove back and forth with angered purpose in my 1985 Plymouth Reliant scouring the area for this dive bar beacon of music, I would comfort myself by imagining there was a guy who moved the giant banana that adorned the front awning of the building to a new “secret” location every weekend.

• • •

Copacetic is housed on the top floor of a three-story walk up with a record store and coffee shop on the lower floors. Usually when we enter the building, Jack ascends the stairs and  plops himself down just outside the indoor entrance of Copacetic. Crossed legged on the floor and focused on his own little pile of self accruing comics, he rummages through the piles of 50 cent and free comics, hoping to find a gem. When Jack finally emerges from his stash and decides to go through the main door to the cash register, the owner, Bill Boichel, takes the time to ask him about his favorite authors and book series, which in turn gets Jack even more excited about his Technicolor world. They aren’t very long talks, but Bill makes him feel a part of the scene and scenery in the best possible way. At the end of their last exchange, there was mention of a future tense possibility of a comic internship at the store, that is, “if he is still into such things as a teenager.” As if there is any doubt.

“I have decided right now, as a kid, that I am gonna be a comic book writer and illustrator… and you are gonna help me.” Jack’s declarative statement of career/occupation as we descend the stairs, past Mind Cure Records and out the front doors.

• • •


The storefront where Copacetic used to stand, Main Street, Wilkinsburg. Photo by Misty Cauthen.

Misty introduced us to the world of Copacetic a few years ago. It is a place that became deeply rooted in her childhood back when it was a simple storefront in Wilkinsburg. A die-hard comic book fan, she would spend hours, days, etc. with her Dad at the old location. Those moments fueled her love of comics and cemented a deeply personal relationship.

She, like Jack, sits crossed legged in front of the comics. Our boys listen to her stories. My old college friend’s eyes beam with excitement when she spoke of the that tiny place of her youth that has since expanded to the little less tiny space it is now.

“Bill was always so cool. He really liked my dad because he was such a geek. They’d talk about titles forever. Bill also carried records. Vinyl. Great finds, from Jazz to fabulous imports.”

A few years ago, she gave Jack a copy of Marvel Fantastic Firsts. For several months, we read a character origin religiously every night until completion.

Comic friendships run deep.


Our boys. Comic bliss. Copacetic.

Vintage Superheros. Misty and her daddy back in the day.

Vintage Superheroes. Misty and her papa. 1970 something.

• • •

Jack and I went to Copacetic on a whim right before the holidays. He was hoping to kill sometime before a dentist appointment. I was hoping to score a copy of “Hip Hop Family Tree” by Ed Piskor. Due to my work schedule, illnesses, small paychecks, and other acts of God and of the Universe, I missed all of the Piskor signing events. I knew this comic was gonna be a tough find due to the fact it already sold out of its first printing. Bill, who I realize now, totally reminds me of the 4th doctor from Dr. Who, told me that he would take my name down and if a copy became available he would call me. I never expected a call but I received one right before New Years. That kind of customer service is one of the many reasons I dig this place.

My new copy of Hip Hop Family Tree complete with Pirates Hat

My new copy of Hip Hop Family Tree. Check out the old school Pittsburgh Pirates cap.

• • •

I don’t pretend to be as deeply embedded in hip hop culture as the Piskor, but I have been following his illustrative process through his online posts and blog sketches since 2010 when he was an artist in a show that I guest curated. His passion for his art is the kind of passion and dedication that I see in so many of the local artists in our area. (Seriously if you have not already done it, you MUST check out some of the amazing artists of Pittsburgh.) Perhaps that was one of the other reasons I felt almost compelled to track down one of these hard to find books. I love supporting our local art scene.

Or maybe it is just knowing that the Homestead/Munhall area that Piskor and I once shared was such a huge influence on this project. Piskor is from Homestead and I spent eight years of my life attending elementary school in Munhall. Our shared regional borders of residence and education merge and blend together so seamlessly that when I was growing up I never knew where Homestead ended and Munhall began. Back then, I also never realized that the Homestead High Level Bridge was the only thing that separated us from the city of Pittsburgh. The city seemed so far away from where we were. Especially knowing I had to cross yet another bridge into my hometown of Duquesne. Either way, all of the nostalgia, the art, the comics, our roots, my dear friend, and all of our shared homesteads leads me somewhere. To a short drive over a long bridge, reminiscing:

Kickball on 10th Avenue in knee socks and plaid jumpers; Blue Bonnet bakery on 8th Avenue; The church at the end of the street where Liturgy was chanted in Slovak and in the basement there were 25 cent donuts prepared by little old ladies in hair nets; Sitting on the curb at recess while the boys played football and we listened to Run DMC and Licensed to Ill for the first time on a boom box that the nuns miraculously allowed us to have; To Another boom box in the back of our school van where the older kids played Roxanne’s Revenge, Slick Rick, and Grandmaster Flash. The older kids would sing along with the words and change the dirty ones, (I specifically remember a girl changing creamy thighs to creamy pies in Erotic City), screaming those alternate rhyming words so we wouldn’t get the boom box taken away by the van driver (not that he was really even paying attention.) We would kneel on the seat and face the older kids in the back, the cool seat. We were in awe and laughter as one by one we were dropped off to our destinations throughout the Mon Valley. Bouncing and humming and talking all the way home. Thinking on my next term paper: A Walkman, oversized headphones, LL Cool J and George Michael. A 1980s world to myself.

• • •

 A few snippets from my journey. (Homestead/Munhall/Polish Hill)

St. John's Cathedral, 1982-83

St. John’s Cathedral, 1982-83. I am the first person in the front row.

A snowy day, trying to look pensive outside of my old Elementary school. St. John's Cathedral which is now Ascension School.

A snowy day, trying to look pensive outside of my old Elementary school. St. John’s Cathedral which is now Ascension School. 10th ave.

St. John's Cathedral Church Steeple. 10th Ave.

St. John’s Cathedral Church Steeple. 10th Ave.


The Carnegie Library of Homstead. 10th Ave. We performed several plays there as tikes.


The Gazebo. 10th Ave.


The Top of the Gazebo. 10th Ave.


There were so many of these Wrought Iron fences in and around our school. 10th Ave.


Immaculate Heart of Mary Church, Polish Hill.


Copacetic Signage

Sunday Dresses and Subway Grates

Snowglobe from Chinatown given to me by Jack (cell phone pic)

“Stop spinning around, all over the aisle, young lady…”

Shopping for a few last-minute items necessary to complete Easter Sunday dinner, I overheard these words, uttered in complete exasperation, between mother and her tiny daughter.

“But I just look so pretty today. I just have to spin…”

She was dressed in her Sunday best for the Saturday Easter services. Lace and chiffon, ruffled anklets and patent leather shoes. She had to be no more than eight.

Her sister joined in, matching fluttery spins. Mom’s arms were filled with packages. She tried to quell their reverie, this time in a much sterner tone. “Stop Spinning! Just stop it! There are people trying to shop here.” They held back a bit and walked behind the weary mother. They spun again, quietly as they grabbed more groceries. They needed to play their not so secret, secret game for a few more moments.

• • •

I felt the guilt and weight of the above scenario almost immediately. Sometimes I am so very quick to stifle what appears to be useless nonsense in my eyes. Sometimes it is a necessary lesson in decorum, other times is it stupid grown up rules of “how to behave” and overall lack of little person patience.

On the car ride home, I began replaying the montage of Jack stifles I have doled out over the years, clocking in my head all the hours and wondering which one will be the ONE he tells a therapist about in later years. Hours of stifling laughter and mischief into a myriad of different versions of the phrase, “What the heck do you think you are doing? Saying? Eating? Etc.?” Sometimes I feel I am snuffing the life out of his childhood curiosity, one phrase at a time.

• • •

Driving through the Holland Tunnel (cell phone pic)

I had planned on a working, photo project oriented, NYC trip, but my travel partner’s illness and other circumstances altered the chain of events. At 11 am on the day before the trip, I called my husband and asked if he could take tomorrow off. I am usually not this spontaneous and I could have gone by myself, but Dave and I love New York and we have always wanted to share our love of that city with Jack. So we snatched the little one from school and headed east on an adventure.

Our trip became one of those unplanned, jump in the car and pick a direction, whirlwind family vacations. We had no idea what this adventure would bring but the weekend left us with some simple and truly magical in moments. There were so many little moments that the memories play out like snippets of text written out on an old-fashioned teletype machine.

Jack staring out our hotel room window, moments after we arrived. He was fascinated by the Chinese symbols on everything. He sat in that window for the next half hour and copied them all down into his notebook.

The trip was simple. The moments were simple.

• Jack asking us to spell the word “colorful” as he carefully scribbled every moment of this weekend into his journal. • Mom and dad singing to Foreigner and Hall and Oates. • Small hotel, the queen size bed nearly took up the whole room. Walking sideways was necessary to sneak around each other in order to get to the bathroom. • Four TV stations. The Food Network made us hungry for everything. • Saturday morning Starbucks and a walk contemplating the possibilities. • Jack on his first cab ride, more fascinated with the little televisions inside than the city view. • Walking the length of Times Square, ooohing and ahhing at giant M&Ms. • The Toys R Us had a giant kiddie ferris wheel piercing through three stories of merchandise. • Afternoon with an old friend, lunch, MOMA and Cindy Sherman. • Sleepiness and Washington Square Park. • West and East Village. • Tiramasu and people watching in a tiny restaurant in little Italy. • A walk to ground zero. • Three little rings, one for each one of us in Chinatown.

Rooftop bar with a view. (cell phone pic)

Our first evening there was our most magical one. We had no expectations for this day, so it made it all the more simple. Prior to the plan of taking the family on this trip, I had made plans to meet a friend for a drink in the city. So Dave and Jack made plans to check out the area around our hotel while I journeyed in the opposite direction.

We walked towards the village. I had always wanted to see Manhattan from above in real life. The weather was perfect. The sky was clear. I wanted to capture the moment from every angle. My friend found a place not too far from the hotel that had a rooftop bar. We crashed the fancy dinner party that was taking place around the bar and out on the roof. I was still slightly haggard from my long drive east. I was keenly aware that my less than dressy outfit complete with very worn tennis shoes and frayed pant cuffs looked very out-of-place. They asked if we were with “the party” and my friend immediately said yes. I drank my free wine and made it outside to the edge of the building, and looked out into this city that I love so much. The people looked so close yet so far away. I wanted to stand on the edge of the building and just dive into it all. I wanted to yell “helloooooooooo, I am hereeeeeee!” to the crowd of people rushing off to begin their Friday evening plans.

We walked back to meet my family, stopping at a tiny bakery along the way. We sang cheesy 80s tunes loudly, badly, joyously as we made our way through the beginnings of everyone’s evening. I felt the energy of everything. The energy of the possible. We all met up outside the hotel and began to walk around the city and chat. I felt alive. As Dave and my friend chatted about New York and the subways and the city sites. I turned to Jack, grabbed his hand and said, “Are you ready?” He giggled and said yes. We took off running down the block leaving our walking companions behind. We ran and jumped on the nearby subway grates, listening to the loud booms as we landed. It was the only thing I could think of to do to capture my excitement for being in this city with the people I love most. I was running toward something, feeling inspired and overwhelmed, unstifled.

I couldn’t sleep that night, too excited, too something. I listened to the cars outside and felt the subway roll underneath. I watched the thigh high boots and the late night walks of shame, and waited until dawn so I could step out into it all again. I felt like those little girls in their Sunday best and I just had to spin…

Remnants of fashion. Somewhere in the Village. (cell phone pic)

Bowery Street (cell phone pic)

Walking through Little Italy. (cell phone pic)

Little Italy and the Empire State Building. (cell phone pic)

Spying on the tourists in Dunkin Donuts. (cell phone pic)

Times Square (cell phone pic)

Jackie feigning shock and awe in Times Square (cell phone pic)

Walking to MOMA. (cell phone pic)

Ken laughing at Jack dancing to Kraftwerk at MOMA. (cell phone pic)

Jamming to Kraftwerk. (cell phone pic)

Sneaking a Sherman pic. (cell phone pic)

Intersection (cell phone pic)

Late Dinner in Little Italy. (cell phone pic)

Very Old Tombstones (cell phone pic)

Chinatown Starbucks. (cell phone pics)

Good and evil Jackie (cell phone pic)

Ruckus in the East Village. (cell phone pic)

Little Italy. (cell phone pic)

Little Italy. (cell phone pic)

Hotel. (cell phone pic)

Gas lights in the park. (cell phone pic)

Washington Square Park. (cell phone pic)

Tribeca. (cell phone pic)

Sleepy family. (cell phone pic)

Night Swimming and Happy Birthdays

Jack and Max, by Cara McDougal

A lot on my mind and a lot on my plate these past few weeks. Not the least of which has been suffocating feel of time progression that seems to get faster and faster with each passing day. My blog entries become less and less even though I still have so much to say. I have got my head in the game, the eye on the prize, and yet time seems to saunter mockingly all the while running at an electric pace. Time, oh no, you have not been a friend as of late.

• • •

The other morning as I was tired from a long night of work, fumbling for my keys, and working hard to get into my car. I overheard someone getting into the car next to me say “We are young” as in the context of “Why not, we are young. Let’s just do it.” For all I know they could have been discussing the possibility of switching from diet to regular soda, or excited over staying up past 10:30 p.m. on a school night (which is usually my version of a leap into adventure). We Are Young. The words hovered in the air for a second. For reasons I did not yet acknowledge in that particular moment, I was left sideswiped and so awestruck by the power of those three little words that I opened my car door and fumbled for something to write on in my overly cluttered glove box. I sat down in the driver’s seat and wrote those words down in big bold letters on the back of a scrap piece of paper (which may or may not have been the back of my registration card.) WE ARE YOUNG…

• • •

My little boy turns seven today. This birthday is the first one where both my husband and I have admitted to feeling the real impact of the weight of his age. A friend of mine encapsulated the reasons for this perfectly. Seven means our little ones are really in the full throes of being a kid. All signs of being a toddler are way in our rearview mirrors. The slow and steady pace of the endurance test that is adolescence to the wretched middle school years and beyond has begun.

 • • •

The photo at the top of this blog was taken last summer by a good friend of mine. Jack is the one on the left. This image took my breathe away when I first saw it. To me, it is youth personified. It is exactly how I see Jack. It is exactly how he feels to me, to us. She managed to capture it perfectly. I had thought of including many pictorial representations of Jack for this particular blog entry, but in the end this photo became the only one because I felt no other image could illustrate Jack more faithfully and beautifully than this image could.

• • •

After scrawling down the words WE ARE YOUNG and tracing over the letters a few times, I turned the key in the ignition. That ear worm of a song “We are Young” came on. I laughed at the timing and the coincidence and knew it had less to do with some magical, cosmic connection with the universe and more because you simply can not turn on the radio right now without hearing it or a station fading into it within moments. I knew everything about this moment was cliché as I was living it, but age and mommihood entitles you some cliché. Not to mention on this particular morning I had completely forgotten to pack Jack’s lunch and had raced over to the school unshowered and unkempt hoping to get his food to him before his foodless panic set in. My penchant for caring about how I looked or what was playing on the radio had pretty much flown out the window in that moment. So I sat back and listened to the poppy tune. Ah youth… that song’s intent was to manipulate the listener into an anthem of experiences of his or her own youth and declarations of living life to the fullest while things are still brand new, or at the very least a vehicle for which us older folks can reflect upon. But I didn’t reflect upon my own misspent or misguided and sometimes intoxicating youth. For the first time I really thought about his.

I mean I really thought about it. He is in IT. WOW. I always knew that this was his time, but I had to remember that it is actually HIS time. He is experiencing his youth right now; not this abstract or voyeuristic perspective I have of his growing up. These are his memories and they are all coming fast and furious while I am sipping my coffee and making my phone calls. His firsts, the life of his own, as a friend of mine put so eloquently in her blog post: I am beginning to watch him run toward something else, and away from me. The stuff I now reflect upon about myself as I get older. It is his slow motion montage that will be played through filtered glasses and “edited for television” at a later date. His journey to be whatever he wants it to be as he gets older, all slowed down and subtle, with all the feelings that those moments emote. The stuff that dreams are made of and car commercials run on.

My nostalgia level is probably waxing more lately not only because of Jack’s birthday, but because I had been working on my son’s elementary school yearbook. I had been logging in quotes and memories of the past school years from the staff and students, and had been pouring over current classroom photos that will eventually meld into “what were they thinking” hairstyles and faded memories. I was seeing and reading all the talk of the “possible” and knowing they don’t yet understand the gravity and weight of their choices, their voices, and their ideas at this stage of their game.

 • • •

The Youth song faded into a muffled and incoherent wall of sound. I left the radio scan for a bit as I journeyed home. “Nightswimming” was half over but I stopped the scan there anyways. My youth began to fade into my mind. I never night swam until I was an adult but the recollections of moments came into play. The simplistic beauty of that song took me back to every first everything, to the point that this whole morning car reflection experience felt corny and overly earnest but not necessarily in a Lifetime movie way. I guess more in the movie montage way or another contrived way that sometimes actually happens in real life when you sit in the parking lot of your son’s school in ripped sweatpants and tousled hairs on a random Tuesday.

• • •

I keep finding more and more reasons to want to be. I am still on the edge of exploring this newfound lust for life that has reared its adventurous head to a woman whose realistic, responsible self usually beats the idealistic one into submission. New people to love and appreciate, kisses to give as the credits roll, hugs to random strangers. I am waiting to go night swimming again and skinny dip off the highest cliff with the ones I love. Right now I am standing on the edge, naked, ready to dive in. I am getting ready to jump.

• • •

Happy birthday my dearest, Pumpkin King. You have made me want to believe that all is possible.

Spinning Spirals at the Passing Planes: Tension and Release

The end of fall

I realize haven’t written an entry this blog in a very long time. No excuses, just life and the participation in an extremely long two months, filled with too many distractions/projects/illness. Time and a reoccurring flu became the very personification of an enemy. But even when the clock and toxic phlegm keeps a person from their written thoughts, those thoughts still manage to emerge, just in a less linear, more imperfect fashion. Over these past few months, my brain did a lot of scattered thinking and I experienced a few random moments that seemed much more linear at the time.

• • •

View from the Mausoleum

I watched them lower the coffin into its casing before lowering it into the sealed structure into the ground for all eternity. Another funeral. My seventh for the year. I am running out of black clothing. (That is something that this normally dark attired person never thought would transpire.)

I marveled at my shoes in the reflection of the hearse’s hub caps, as I pondered whether or not to take its picture. I didn’t…

I guess this seemed an appropriate ending to this year. It began with a death in the second month and ended with another death in the second to the last month. Little did I know there would be yet another death only a few weeks after this one.

Roadside Flower

I watched my husband and his brother witness the sealing of the coffin into a larger cement box. The process reminded me of Russian stacking dolls. The deceased’s name was etched on the top of the outer box. I didn’t photograph that either… My not photographing these moments is something I regretted at the time but I now realize they weren’t the moments I was meant to/needed to capture. The air was thick with enough final goodbyes and tension. Theses “photo moments” were merely insignificant interruptions no one should dwell on. Someone whispered over my shoulder about the sadness of “said and done” and “being left with nothing but a casket.”

The “box” was transported by a small crane driven by one of the grave diggers, lifted far too high and descended far too quickly into it’s final resting place. I had never seen anything like this set up and delivery. The cement encasing was carried along by nothing but two ropes looped around the left and right sides of the lid. The ropes were taught but could be removed easily. I asked my husband how on earth did he think that casket was being suspended without a hook, wire, or other apparatus securely affixed to it.

What’s holding it up?


I exhaled as he walked over to someone. That word hung there. There couldn’t have been more perfect utterance of syllables in that moment though neither one of us realized it’s significance but later discussed on the car ride home.

Picking a direction

…I lost track of time and got bogged down in the process. In my quest for simplicity, the simple became complex… Missed opportunities. Missed moments…

After eight funerals and eight funeral home visits and eight reflections and eight observances, I realized the words that were being uttered there were the same words I was uttering to myself.

If we’re lucky, we choose to build our lives on ourselves first, and then on something or someone substantial. Relationships are led by our choices and finding joy within the company you keep. But sometimes we thrive on tensions, and those tensions are the only thing holding our everything together. We can not remove the tension without removing the supportive ropes. And the ropes are our only connective tissue. Observing things now, I have seen tension in place of too much for far too long for far too many, all bubbling underneath the surface.

• • •

Passenger planes outside my window

I watched the planes take off at the tiny restaurant beside the tiny airport. We dined in the Frank Sinatra room. There were pictures of Ol’ Blue Eyes everywhere. I couldn’t imagine Sinatra hanging out in Latrobe. But there he was, looking right at me in glossy black and white. We were the only ones dining that afternoon. The sky was beautiful. I was moving from window to window trying to see as much as I could. I had arrived at a restless sense of peace for a moment for the first time in a long year.

I watched my niece make faces in the kitschy wall-sized mirrors. I knew this transition year was coming to a close, and the Pandora’s box of revelations that have simultaneously surprised, and empowered, and exhausted me on an almost daily basis were temporarily at bay. The recognition of those I love and those who love me were coming into focus.

The food was delicious and the company calming. We drove home full and ready to nap.

Frank Sinatra Room

There are so many other thoughts to have, but they all seem distant and stale. So for now, I leave behind some imagery relating to this entry as well as a few random moments of “somethings” from the last two months. Hopefully I am leaving death behind and coming into newfound words and images in the weeks to come.

• • •


Nothing Gold Can Stay Clever

My Grandmother (left) and Aunt Rose (right) as teenagers.

What happens when you spend every waking moment waiting for the moment when your life is about to change? That was the random thought that awoke me from my sleep this morning. These are just the types of ridiculously clever words that usually creep into a person subconscious only after spending a lifetime watching and absorbing the language of too many “hipster” indie flicks. The ones that explain a lifetime of circumstance in 20 words or less.

I went to bed watching Me and You and Everyone We Know. Almost every word in that film oozes clever.

Clever words…

This past year, among other things, I have been searching for clever: clever words and clever images; clever words and clever subtext; clever words and clever meaning; Clever words in order to figure myself out, and more immediately, cleverness in order to write this blog. Things, events and moments keep coming full circle, however fast and furious. My indie upbringing has left me with clever and for me, clever equals clarity.


A few weeks ago, I attended on of my favorite Aunt’s funeral. She was just shy of 101 years old when she passed. When I think of my Aunt Rose, the first thing that always comes to my mind is her voice. It was a very unique in tone and sound, almost too difficult to describe. I always thought it sounded like what an aged elf might sound like but not annoying in that helium, Wizard of Oz munchkin type way; more like a soft toned, closed throat sound, as if her vocal chords were struggling to get all the air it expelled. It had resonance but was still slightly muffled. Her laugh was similar. Both gave me comfort and made me smile. I was told that she was the only adult, other than my mother, who had the ability to quell me in her arms. I cried for almost everyone else. I suppose her amazing voice had something to do with it. I was deemed as somewhat of  a “cold” baby because of my lack of calmness and inner peace.

I was compelled to write a few words in Rose’s honor due in part to this early bond. I wrote few random thoughts on some vacant scraps of paper. The pages were filled with scribbles, scratched out words and prose that, due to my penmanship, was quite indecipherable to most everyone else but me. After about 20 minutes, I was able to make my thoughts cohesive enough to complete my passage, so I folded the dog-eared, messy memoriam and placed them in my purse. The next day I walked into the viewing, said my hellos, gave my hugs, and handed the folded text to Rose’s daughter, Judy. My intention was have my words placed in the casket as a kind of silent remembrance.

“You should read these at the repass.”


Public speaking is quite daunting for me. I have done it on many occasions, but it is unnerving to say the least. I spent the whole next day thinking: people call me the Kim Reaper™, I am REALLY associated with death so I should REALLY feel more comfortable in this whole dearly departed/remembrance realm.

The Funeral Procession

Storm Approaching

I am fascinated with eulogies. I am also a huge fan of pop culture. For a period of time in my youth, our household was subscribed to People magazine. I always jumped to the celebrity death/obit/remembrance section first. My two hobbies in one fell swoop. WOO HOO! It was always fascinating (and a little heartbreaking) to me how a writer, who probably did not even know the deceased, could sum up a whole lifetime of achievements in a few small paragraphs. That a lifetime of work filled with blood, sweat and tears could be condensed into a few hundred characters, in a column format right next to an ad for baby formula or shoes. It almost felt like a Greek tragedy to me. I would read and reread each death notice trying to memorize who they were and reflect on impact they left behind. I would ask my mother detailed questions about select dearly departed if it was an actor/artist from before my time or whose work I was unfamiliar with. For a time, I would even cut the notices out and save them in a folder. I don’t know why I felt so obligated, I just felt sad that after these words were printed, the forgetting would begin. I knew it wasn’t the celebrity thing that left the impact, it was the horror of forgetting or being forgotten.

These days, I no longer clip and snip obits manually, instead I inform the masses through my Facebook page, posting the death notices as I find them. I have a reputation as the “you heard it here first” merchant of death. I have been dubbed the Kim Reaper™ because of these posts. In fact, I have hopes that my “reapering” will be mention in my eulogy at least listed as one of my occupations in my obituary. How poetic?

Crooked Jesus

Exiting the cemetery

Words… Remembering

I spent the whole night before the funeral reworking and agonizing over the honest words I had written in private for my Aunt. I was almost bastardizing the spirit in which they were written due to my insecurity over their weight. I felt that they somehow HAD to be changed, they had to be better, they had to have bells and whistles, they had to have more of an impact. I wanted people to remember. I wanted my words to almost rematerialize this person in front of the familial onlookers.

In the end, I found there were no better words than the ones I wrote for my Aunt the night before. The simplicity of them made sense. Relationships should be simple, honest, quiet and meaningful. The bells and whistles usually lack substance.

I read my words as my voice crackled and stammered and stumbled. My throat tightened as the prose spilled out. I spoke of endurance and perseverance. I spoke of family devotion and togetherness. I thought of how she called me “my Kimmy” every time she hugged me. Were these the right words? They lacked chutzpah, they lacked the cleverness-clarity. My aunt and I had not seen much of each other over the last few years. I said to my sister that something to the effect of, “there are so many more people here today WAY more qualified to honor her.”

The room was silent when I exited the stage. As I made it back to my seat, my sister hugged me with tears in her eyes. They meant something to her.

Despite the tears, I still debated in my mind whether my words were an adequate enough memoriam or even if I had the right to be on that stage at all. We began to say our goodbyes. The last hug I gave that day was to a woman, a distant cousin, someone who I had not seen in years. She grabbed my hands and uttered the phrase, “How beautiful.” I smiled. I think her words were one final gesture of love from my dear Aunt, spoken through my cousin.

Aunt Judy and Uncle Bob dancing with me (at my wedding) for our version of a father daughter dance to the song Rainbow Connection.

I spent the rest of the day remembering. Scattered, lovely, sad, happy thoughts swirled around as I drove home:

We had to be in bed by 8 or so my mother and Judy could enjoy their nightly telephone ritual… Rose was widowed so early in life… There were no pensions in those days… She cleaned the neighborhood church to make ends meet because that is “just what you did”…  The doctors feared Judy and Bob’s daughter’s leukemia may have been a result of the Agent Orange used in Vietnam… What would it be like to be drafted… Duquesne Rummy nights in our house were legendary… They always smiled. I knew all their laughs very well… I need to listen to the Rainbow Connection again… My niece called Rose her Uncle Rose. “If that’s what she wants to call me then I am ok with that”… They watched a lot of M*A*S*H … Bob, Judy and Rose lived in that tiny house in Duquesne  for as long as I can remember. It smelled like cookies and a department store. That smell always reminds me of family. 

Aunt Rose on her 100th

I ended my remembrance with two statements I felt appropriate. This was the first:

At the end of Rose’s life, when she could no longer get around, my Uncle Bob had to carry her from room to room. Aunt Judy was worried that Rose was far too heavy for him to carry. To this Uncle Bob replied, “I will let you know when it’s too heavy.” I thought to myself, “How beautiful.” That phrase sums up everything you ever needed to know about Rose, Judy and Bob.

I realized on that car ride home that is was not important whether my words were significant or not. The significance lies in a life well lived. And my words, however unpoetical or unclever, couldn’t give or take away from any of the italics.

The second statement was this: I could not get the words of Robert Frost out of my head throughout most of the funeral service, so I decided to end my eulogy the same way I am ending this blog. These perfect, simple words that seemed to make all the sense in the world. The universe had been giving me cues all day, so I figured it was best for me to oblige.

Nothing Gold Can Stay

Nature’s first green is gold,
Her hardest hue to hold.
Her early leaf’s a flower;
But only so an hour.
Then leaf subsides to leaf.
So Eden sank to grief,
So dawn goes down today.
Nothing gold can stay.

FAMILY PHOTOS, Courtesy of my cousin, Donna

Aunt Rose (right) and relatives from New Jersey

Aunt Rose and Judy

Aunt Rose

My mother (left), Judy (right)

Front Row: Judy and my mother, Back Row: My mother's brother, sister and cousin.

Lost and Found, Part 2: Belonging

My purse is filled with funeral cards.

My purse is filled with funeral cards. It seems as if I had been averaging a funeral home visit twice a month for the last six months. I guess that is the trappings of aging with an aged family.

I headed out the next day, triple checking the viewing schedule on all my smart phones and electronic devices. With my constant travel partner in tow, we set off on an encore performance of the previous day’s plans. I debated on wearing the same dress from the day before, but after revealing myself at Burgerfest I thought better of it. Me arriving in town in similar fashion and appearance from the day before came across to me as too deja vu, too trapped in limbo. It was like adding another ghost to this ghost town.

It was strange venturing out to the same location. The day before, I felt this weird sense of loss and reflection and today everything felt a little forced. I think I may have been exhausted from yesterday’s circumstance. As I drove, my mind drifted back and forth to past and present and the limitations of yesterday.

I arrived at my cousin’s funeral, just as I did every other funeral this past year, not knowing what to expect. I was the outsider and I knew it. I almost felt I did not have a right to be there, like a ghost or relic from the past. I was interrupting the grieving of family who spent the last 17 years together, celebrating birthdays, backyard BBQs, life, death and day-to-day struggles together. Maybe I should have adorned yesterday’s clothing.

Wow, we have not seen you in ages… I am such and such’s daughter…

Entering the room, I saw familiar faces that had aged slightly since I last laid eyes on them. I walked in and was recognized by a few, to other’s I explained my lineage. I offered my condolences. We began chatting about our shared histories.

August 1964. Aunt Lilly, top row, 4th person. I think Linda is next to her. My Grandma, second row, last person. Photo courtesy of my cousin, Donna.

I remember my cousin being one of the kindest women I had ever known. She had always seemed to make family appearances and miscellaneous functions with my other, equally kind aunt. Aunt Linda and Aunt Lilly, they always seemed so inseparable, like soulmates. In fact their names merged into one entity when referred to by the family. AuntLindaandAuntLilly. It seems so sad to me now that death separates them.

Growing up, there were two or three houses of cousins all in a row. Our neighborhood not being the greatest and my mother’s fear of the decline that had taken over the town led us elsewhere on certain holidays. As an alternate to the traditional door to door tricks and treats, every Halloween we would get dressed up in our costumes, walk over to grandparent’s apartment to show off our costumes and get some treats. Then we would pile into our Oldsmobile and drive to the trifecta of houses my cousin’s lived in. The most glorious bags of candy would be waiting there for us. They were packed to capacity. It was more candy than you could EVER collect in one night even if you scoured five neighborhoods. At least that is what I speculated in my young mind.

I don’t remember when the Halloween adventures ended, just as I can’t pinpoint when we all eventually lost touch. My grandfather died in 1990. Four years later mother died. Then my grandmother passed away four years after that. My closest connective tissue to that part of the family had rapidly started dying off and my siblings and I were trying to navigate in our own little “brave new world” that existed without the parents and grandparents that had guided us. Time simply marched on.

My grandparents on their wedding day.

I made my way around the room as Jack made friends with another cousin. They shared some goldfish crackers and talked shop. I began reintroducing myself to everyone and repeatedly telling my Halloween story. I get nervous in crowds and tend to talk… a lot. I think I was also trying to prove to myself (and others) that I had a right to be there, even when my cousins showed no signs of thinking I was out of place. In fact it was quite the opposite.

I began talking to another cousin’s wife and started to tell the Halloween story again. For some reason, I began to reflect on my words as I talked. It became less the rehearsed speech of a nervous person and more a story and heartfelt memory. I began to tear up as I repeated the same words of that same story. I thought of how AuntLindaandAuntLilly remembered to send us birthday cards every year without fail. I remembered being baby sat by another cousin, the cherry tomatoes we used to munch on laughing and talking in my living room, TV glowing in the background. I remembered the warmth I felt every time I was around those people.

We noticed the sounds of our respective sons cavorting in the back room and chuckled. I mentioned how sad it was that we all lost touch. How sad it was that most of my immediate family had passed away and that for my siblings, baring a few exceptions, there was not much of an immediate family left. She looked at me as if she understood my longing and feeling of loss of family on so many levels. Of course that may have been my perception of the moment, but in that instant, I felt a connectivity.

Goldfish crackers with cousins.

I gave my family a few more hugs and condolences as I was getting ready to leave. We were extended an invitation to their 4th of July celebration. Unfortunately, we were not able to attend because my husband had some major dental work done and needed cared for that weekend. I was sad we could not make it, but I hope to reconnect at their Labor Day extravaganza.

We got in the car and headed for home. We made one last stop at my old place on the way out. Jack wanted to see where I grew up.

Jack hamming it up.

Serious Jack.

Took a different route home than I normally do from this area. Instead of taking the parkway, I took the back roads through West Mifflin towards Century III Mall. There was one last place I wanted to see.

I wanted to live in that house. I constantly curious about the goings on there. The brick footbridge complete with the flowing creek underneath was always so romantic to me. Especially on our nighttime drives back from the mall. I stared longingly at this place each and every time we passed it. The warm glowing orange lights the space omitted at evening time was so inviting. On one of our nighttime travels, I passionately proclaimed how much I would love to live there one day. To this my mother responded, “Yeah it is lovely, but they probably have rats (because of that creek).” My mother had this gift of being both sharply acute and unknowingly obtuse all in one sentence. I think sometimes her overinflated sense of reality and practicality prohibited her from seeing the space in the gloriousness only my 13-year-old eyes could conjure and imagine.

I was irritated that my mother was so cautious, at times. But my mother’s love, fear, and harsh realities led to some brilliant Halloweens. I never tricked or treated until my son was born, but I thank her for giving us such a beautiful memory.

My "dream" house.

The creek below.

I made one last pilgrimage to my hometown the week following my cousin’s funeral. It was for the death of my godmother’s father who also happened to be my next door neighbor. He was the first person I ever knew to have tattoos. I think he got them while he was in the war. A blunt and funny man. They had a German Shepherd named Thor. He taught everyone in the neighborhood, including my mother, how to drive. My godmother asked if he taught me as well. I told her that he tried. He took me out on the highway to teach the basic rules of the road, but I guess my skill set was sorely lacking. He clutched the passenger seat with purpose. When we arrived back in Duquesne, he asked me to pull over at the local “Moose” so he could get out and grab a drink. I patiently waited in the car. Through all his years serving our country and his stature as the neighborhood driving guru, this 16 year old girl had somehow broken him. My godmother, her brother, and a few other funeral attendees laughed heartily at my story.

My godmother holding me as my parents looked on at my baptism.

I spoke to the director of the funeral home for a few moments after that. He had buried most of my family including my mother. I always promised myself I would thank him for being so kind to us in the days after my mother’s death so I set out to do just that. He remembered me once I mentioned my last name. We talked a lot about our town’s decline and some of the residents that were no longer there. After a few moments, I shook his hand and made my way home. I recounted the past few weeks of mourning and revisiting the past. I always had a sense of not feeling like I belonged to anything on so many occasions. These few weeks of retelling bits and pieces of my childhood gave me a sense of being tied to something; of being part of a shared memory of a collected group of people; of being part of a town’s history, and the documenter of my own, still developing… something…

The funeral home waiting area that I felt compelled to photograph. It looked so different from what I remembered.

Finding the right chair.

Still searching.

Receipts and funeral cards from the past several months finally expelled from my purse.

Jack horsing around with the camera while trying to take my pic. He told me later that if he took my photo he would like to be in the pic as well. Hence his two fingers. He did not explain this before taking the photo. I was nervous that someone may exit the house and complain about us being on the property. Jack captured my face at the height of my nervousness. We laughed heartily after this photo was taken when he explained what he was doing.

Lost and Found, Part 1: Father’s Day

Navigating my way.

I had to use the GPS to find my cousin’s funeral. The same roads where I once “cut my teeth” as a young driver were now all a little suspect, within my memory, at least. Kennedy Street or Grant Avenue? Kennedy Street or Grant Avenue? I have always interchanged the names of those two roads for as long as I can remember.

The monotoned electronic commands (and my severely atrophied muscle memory) signaled me to the correct street. Dressed in my Sunday best, I pulled into the empty parking lot and exited my car. The neighborhood always had it’s quaint charm harkened back from another era, but was never the very safest one for as long as I knew it. It is another casualty of the steel mill industry. Because of this, I expected a slight uneasiness when I arrived. But today was vastly different from anything I had anticipated. I exited the car into nothing, literally no one. The streets were dead, quiet, like a ghost town. I have never seen Duquesne in such a state. I used to pass by people all the time when I was growing up there. People driving their cars, people entering the tiny little grocery store, complete with a butcher that always resembled Sam from the Brady Bunch to my young eyes, the local pharmacy complete with soda fountain and a wall of black and white images documenting the town’s history. But after a decade’s absence, all was silent and askew. Burnt out buildings and abandoned businesses aligned part of my route as I turned towards my destination.

Moving towards home

Quick photo while driving across the bridge

I walked towards the stairs of the funeral home. I could hear my heels click on the brick surface of the road and echo off the leftover buildings. I felt nervous. It felt like a a nuclear holocaust had engulfed the town. I reached for the door. Locked! I slumped to the stairs calling my sister. The newspaper obituary had listed the times wrong.

The funeral home welcome mat

The brick road out front

Irritated, I hung up the phone and headed out. I ventured towards my old street. I don’t know what I was looking for but I wanted to find some reason to be in town on that day. I wanted to find something else other than the nothing I was given in that moment. I parked along side the neighbor’s house on 4th Street. I sat in my car for what felt like forever. I eventually got out to take some pics but was extremely timid about my approach. Now I regret not snapping a few more. The street was more active than any other spot in the town, but I felt a disconnect. I felt like an outsider. I was no longer on what was once my turf. I became distracted by the happenings in the church across the street.

I got back in my car and tried to decipher what was going on. I smelled food grilling. My need to pee overrode everything in that moment. I walked over to the tables and chairs that were set up on the parish lawn and asked what was going on. A burger benefit for the church was the reply. I began asking questions about my old neighborhood and in particular my old neighbor who was the priest at that particular church. I was told they were away, then the kindly gentleman cooking the burgers invited me to eat. I promised I would eat if I could use their restroom.

Burgerfest at the church across the street

As I gathered my burger and chips, they engaged me in small talk, asked me my last name, and asked me about my house across the street. Of course after being away for 17 years, a last name means very little to most town dwellers who never knew you. As the pleasantries ended, I found an empty table and began to eat my church cooked burger and store bought Lays potato chips. I was keenly aware of the irony of that moment, sitting at a table placed on the lawn of my father’s old Lutheran parish, on the day before father’s day, facing my old residence. Chewing and staring, chewing and staring, chewing and staring at this place that was once so familiar but now lies there askew, worn, and even more disconnected to me than I had ever imagined. A place that my grandfather built right after the second world war. A place that housed several generations of our clan and hosted numerous family get togethers, backyard BBQs and family picnics. In that moment, I felt so very small. I lost any sense I ever felt of belonging to that place, to the people, and to anything else resembling “home”. I imagined this as my final family picnic, laying to rest the ghosts of all who used to inhabit that space.

Old house number.

On the car ride back, I set Little River Band to play on repeat. I was looking for something that resembled WJAS radio to suit the distance, my melancholy, and to take me back to other memories. (“Reminiscing” was always a little too hokey for my taste, especially in this moment.) But the sound of the opening piano chord of “Lady” always takes me back inside the old Pizza Hut my family would frequent. I can still feel the texture of those tacky vinyl checkered tablecloths and see those tiny jukeboxes filled with soft hits of the 70s and 80s that sat on every table. Bad lyrics and melodic chorus crescendos always bring me back home.

I returned to the funeral home the next day with a new found sense of something but I was not sure of what.

continued next week: Lost and Found, Part 2: Belonging

One last photo before I leave.

Returning. Preview for next week.