If you haven’t seen it yet, you’ll want to click … … HERE … … to be whisked away to my annual World Famous (not really) Yinzer Gift Guide for Pittsburgh Magazine.
I’m not joking when I say I’ve spent months researching for this gift guide full of Burghy goodness. As I do that research, I buy stuff. And sometimes I am given stuff. And I always give them away to you, because you’re dear to me.
So here’s what one lucky winner is getting this year!
1. Four Audra Azoury Pittsburgh ornaments and one Pittsburgh bookmark.
Santa over Pittsburgh:
Fort Pitt Tunnel:
Skating at PPG.
And you’re not getting this one, but look at it. LOOK AT IT DAMN IT.
I miss baseball. Check out all her ornaments here.
This is the bookmark you’re getting:
2. Even though it didn’t make the list because I decided to go with the Mister Rogers Sticky Note Set instead, this fabulous shirt sold at the History Center and made by Commonwealth Press. It’s super super soft, girl fit, large. They run small, so it’s more like a medium. Again, can’t express how soft it is.
You can buy it here and check out the matching tote.
3. HONEY! Michelle Wright was kind enough to send me some of her honey to give away to you. So you’re getting her raw dark honey, raw light honey, tea infuser, beeswax/essential oils lotion (it is heaven. I’m not even joking.), and the adorable mug with spoon. Listen to me … any foodie or baker in your life will FLIP over this honey. It’s local. Raw. Meaningful. Would you just trust me? Geez.
Here’s the mug you’re getting in addition to the delicious, local raw honey:
Here’s her site if you want to order stuff from her. Local bees, saving the planet. I don’t need to explain to you how nature works and that if you don’t buy the honey before it all sells out, you have to wait until the bees make more honey. Her light honeycomb is already sold out, but you can snag the dark still.
4. Candles! You’re getting my three favorite Sugar Creek Candle Company scents. Waffles N’at (my favorite. It is AMAZING.), Monkey Farts (coconutty!) and butt naked. LOOK AT THE ART WORK.
I’ll also throw in the limited edition “Winter Flurry” scent which sort of tips its hat to Mark Andre Fleury. Candles you can give to ANY gender. Perfect.
Also gonna throw in some scented Sugar Creek chapsticks, and they are coconut and Butt Naked flavors. BUTTS. Here are the ingredients list on those.
LOVE them. Don’t know what meadowfoam is, other than a possible Sherwin Williams paint color name, but LOVE THEM.
5. The Pittsburgh coloring book for adults that I purchased for you.
Wait until you see the Kennywood page. So awesome.
6. The Yinz Might Be From Picksburgh calendar I purchased for you.
7. The winner will be receiving their choice of shirt from the Pittsburgh Shirt Company.
8. All four prints in the special set Dave Dicello and I put together for the gift guide, including mats for framing them.
I think that’s it. I didn’t total it up, but that is hundreds of dollars worth of gifts!
If anything else arrives, I’ll toss it in the box for you, and yes, I will mail this treasure to you as long as you live in the 48 contiguous states. Sorry, Alaska. Not sorry, Hawaii; you live in HAWAII.
If you’re local, it would be cool if you agreed to just swing by Las Velas in Downtown or Madero in Murrysville (our two restaurants) if one of them is convenient to you and pick them up there.
How to enter?
Well, this world is kind of depressing lately, and I’m not going to lie. It’s getting to me. It’s slowly chipping away at the Sue Heck in me. So how about you cheer me and my readers up? Tell me about the nicest thing a stranger has ever done for you, or the nicest thing you’ve ever done for a stranger. Help an elderly person cross the street? Carry groceries? Pay for the coffee order of the car behind you? Paid off someone’s layaway? ANYTHING. One nice thing. No matter how small. No matter how big. Brag. BRAG ABOUT YOUR AWESOMENESS in this world of turmoil. BRAG about that amazing thing that stranger did for you. Please. And we’re going to read them all and we’re going to feel better about humans taking the time to help other humans who they DON’T EVEN KNOW, okay? Group hug.
Yes, you can just write anything you want to comment and win, but how about you cheer me up instead? If you don’t use a real email address, I won’t be able to contact you and tell you that you won.
I want to get this in the mail in time for the holidays in case the winner plans to use them as gifts, so that means we’re going to shut this puppy down next Wednesday at noon at which time Random.org will pick the winning comment.
If your comment for some reason goes to spam, flip a table.
Don’t flip a table. Be patient and I’ll regularly dig them out of spam and publish them.
Good luck and group hug.
1. Let’s not call this a “Random n’at” post because it’s really just a list of some things I want to tell you. Don’t argue with me.
2. If you’re downtown tonight for Light Up Night, come say hello to me at Steel City Studios in Fifth Avenue Place around 5:30. I’ll be recording a podcast interview with the one and only Ya Jagoff. We’ll be chatting about my forthcoming Yinzer Gift Guide for Pittsburgh Magazine and hopefully my new puppy and Fred Rogers.
Here’s the last interview I did with him:
3. I just now realized I should have named my puppy Fred Rogers. How perfect is that? He could wear a red cardigan and tiny sneakers. Damn it. But alas, he is Milo Walker Montanez. He is perfect. He will tear your heart out and rip it to pieces like he does everything he can steal and scurry with under our bed.
Also, I haven’t peaked under our bed yet, but I’m guessing it looks like some raccoons had a meth-fueled rager under there.
You should follow me on Instagram (Janepitt) for more Milo fuzziliciousness. And because I get asked a lot, he is a broken-coat Jack Russell Shorty and he is five months old.
4. Speaking of Fred Rogers, in a fit of writer’s block a few months ago, I decided to read every single Post-Gazette article that has ever mentioned Fred Rogers ever. EVER. That meant starting way back in the 1890s when other people in Pittsburgh dared to be named Fred Rogers. As if. The real stuff started popping up when I got to the 1950s and that’s when I hit paydirt.
After around 2,000 articles, I wrote this column for Pittsburgh Magazine.
Isn’t that illustration by cartoonist Wayno just PERFECTION? The facial expression is exactly what it needed to be.
I learned so much and I’m going to bet you probably knew ZERO of the things I discovered.
If you did know some of them … no one likes a show off.
One thing I learned that didn’t make the column due to space and because some of you probably knew this and I really wanted to give you stuff you didn’t know, Mister Rogers’ other acting credit was a cameo in Dr. Quinn Medicine Woman!
5. This is so cool. Last night I headed to the Holiday Park Volunteer Fire Department bingo night with Mario Lemieux Foundation’s executive director Nancy Angus to accept a donation from the bingo players.
Thanks to one of their players nominating Make Room for Kids as their charity for the year, and it being selected in a vote, Nancy accepted a more than $4,200 check from the fire department that will go towards the 2016 Make Room for Kids install at Children’s Hospital. We will be placing in-room gaming in the GI Unit, which houses Crohn’s, colitis, cystic fibrosis, and some transplant kids.
How cool is that?
As we were leaving, we asked a lovely bingo player why she nominated Make Room for Kids as the charity for the year and she looked a bit sheepish and said, “I’m a Mario fan.”
6. Have a fabulous Thanksgiving. The next time you hear from me here will be the following week when I give away some of the fantastic items on this year’s Yinzer Holiday Gift Guide to one lucky reader.
“Reading comment sections on the Internet is like digging to the bottom of your refrigerator’s vegetable drawer to investigate a foul smell: You honestly don’t want to look because — although you never know exactly what you’ll find there — you’re 100 percent sure you’re going to be totally disgusted by it.”
That sentence I wrote for my October column in Pittsburgh Magazine is CHURCH. It is TRUTH. It is GOSPEL.
ANGELS SING FOR THAT KIND OF ROCK SOLID TRUTH AND THEY HIGH-WING EACH OTHER AND MAKE IT RAIN NUTELLA IN HEAVEN FOR THAT KIND OF TRUTH.
With that said, I read some comments and I really regret it, but I’m going to write about it and you’re going to read this and you’re either going to agree with me, or you’re going to go to bed tonight with a nagging feeling in your brain that you’re not being a good and decent member of the HUMAN RACE.
Do you know what Syria is like right now? It is HELL. The closest thing to actual hell. And at no fault of their own, the Syrian people have found themselves in grave danger. Their human lives in danger. Their children’s HUMAN lives in danger.
Look at your kid, who at no doing of their own but rather PURE LUCK, was born into safety. Look at your niece or nephew who will sleep tonight, safely. Fed. Comfortable. Educated. Living a life.
Imagine instead your child is in grave danger every day. Life is hell. Bombs are falling. There is no safety. There is no comfort. There is no school. There is hell and fear and pain and tears. IMAGINE IT.
And rather than stay there and face the death and hellfire, you will take a chance on a raft. You’ll put your kid on that raft out to the unpredictable sea because THAT is less of a risk than staying in your home.
Your child in America, like mine, probably gets a bit testy when his daily routine fluctuates. Imagine taking your child away from home and WALKING and WALKING and WAITING for days and days without shelter and minimal food. Imagine the fear, the crying, and your complete inability to comfort that level of life-upheaval for a child.
Be a human and imagine that please.
Your heart hurts. Like my Syrian heart hurts. My grandfather was born on the boat from Syria. He came to America with his many brothers and sisters. I am a moderate-conservative, Christian Arab-American, and you have ZERO idea what that actually means so for the love of Nutella do not email me and accuse me of supporting or not supporting anything that you hold dear to your heart.
Four million Syrians are on the run. HALF OF THEM ARE CHILDREN.
Read that again. Look in your kids’ eyes. Then read that again.
See that face?
Here’s what one commenter named called him and others like him, who he DOES NOT WANT TO COME TO PITTSBURGH …
These people aren’t fleeing death! They’re coming to us for holy war!
You can read the comments from some Pittsburghers yourself, but here’s an awful snippet of a few. Brace yourselves.
Oh, Jim Kramer, whoever you are at PNC, you are not a bad conservative republican. You are what we call a bad human being.
We are simply talking about America doing what America did to become America: bring in immigrants. Let them build a life here. Let them find safety here. Let them contribute here. Who knows what these children will grow up to be. Doctors? Journalists? Veterinarians? Robotics experts? Entrepreneurs? Philanthropists?
But I can pretty much guarantee they will not grow up to be jihadists.
Stop thinking with your politically poisoned brain and start thinking with your love-capable heart.
Peduto isn’t asking for half-a-million refugees to come to Pittsburgh. He’s asking Obama to increase the number of refugees he’ll bring into ALL of America, a number that currently stands at an embarrassingly low 10,000.
“Plenty of bridges they can live below.”
Say that to these children’s faces. GO LIVE UNDER A BRIDGE IN PITTSBURGH, YOU NASTY REFUGEE CHILDREN. EW! DIRTY!:
“It amazed me at the level of desperation these families are at.”
Did that commenter REALLY write that unironically? How unfeeling can you be? And that’s coming from a person who has been called a “heartless wench.”
The level of desperation THESE FAMILIES are at?! As an INSULT?!
Have you never felt desperation? I pray you never do. It’s a truly awful, awful feeling and I have felt it and I have gone to bed with it and I have woken up with it and if not for the safety net of my parents, me and my family could have been out on the streets.
Desperation. That environment would make any human feel desperation.
I’m a bit aghast, guys.
This callousness cannot represent Pittsburgh. We must be better. Become better. Think like humans not like political robots who just follow the party path all “beep-boop-Trump-no-like-immigrants-beep-boop-me-no-like-immigrants.”
Knowing another human is desperate must not become the foundation for insults and apathy, or we are no better than those who pledge allegiance to ISIS. Desperation, if we are to retain our humanity, must become the foundation for COMPASSION. That’s what makes us better than those who are causing the havoc in Syria. That’s what rises us above. That’s what changes things for the BETTER.
I wrote something recently, coincidentally, about prejudice in Pittsburgh. Maybe you should read it.
Open your hearts, Burghers. Open them wide to these FAMILIES. I don’t beg this of you as a Syrian; I beg this of you as a human being.
Because as John Fetterman calls it, “the lottery of our birth” is the ABSOLUTE ONLY REASON we aren’t fleeing Syria ourselves.
“Bear. Bear. Bear bear bear bear.”
This was my slightly panicked chant as I hied down a wooded trail in Forbes State Park toward three of my four sisters.
“Bear bear bear.”
I wasn’t screaming it. I was just very matter of factly telling them … “Girls? Bear.”
Let me back up.
Instead of heading to a salon for manicures or to a restaurant’s patio for a lazy sunny Sunday brunch, my four sisters and I decided we would spend the day before Labor Day, our designated Girls Day Out, doing something adventurous. Call it our mid-life crises. Call it misguided ambition. Call it epically dumb.
We ruled out biking because only 4/5ths of us were comfortable on a bike. We ruled out kayaking because 2/5 of us don’t “do” water. We ruled out Segways because 5/5 of us didn’t want to look ridiculous when we died. Ziplining? Too high and too screamy. Spelunking? Too suffocating to death-y. That left hiking. We could hike.
So with a shout of “ADVENTURE IS OUT THERE!” we headed toward Forbes State Park in Somerset with the goal of taking one of the longer trails up to the highest elevation in the state, Mt. Davis.
My sister Terri had spent a great deal of time recently watching survival reality shows and informed us that we would need to be prepared for bears. She said we would want to take precautions. Whistles. Bear repellent. Kung fu.
We couldn’t find any whistles because every mom in the world knows you don’t ever buy your kid a whistle. None of us even knew where to purchase bear repellent, if that’s a real thing. And the extent of our Kung fu was shouting “hi-ya!”
So instead we hit the trail with a free whistle app on my iPhone, pepper spray, two walking sticks, prayers, stones to smack together to make noise to let the bears know we were coming, and the plan to shout out “Hey, bear!” in regular intervals as Terri had seen contestants do on the survival shows.
Then our eldest sister Stacey told us of her friend who was actually mauled by a bear while on a hike. She managed to scare us just enough that we had conversations on the way to the park about how we would react should we encounter a bear. We all agreed that Tammy would pee her pants and Terri would freeze up like those fainting goats you see on YouTube.
We discussed which actress — or goat — would play us in the TV movie that would be made after they found our bodies in the woods.
Pulling up a map of the trails on Post-Gazette website showed us the newspaper had classified the trail as “Easy — until you see a big bear sitting in the trail up ahead.” Great.
Sufficiently 100% sure we would have a bear encounter, we set off into the trail.
[clacking of stones]
[whistle app sound] [whistle app sound]
We reached the fork in the trail that we believed would take us down the difficult trail because the easy trail was for sissy losers and we were empowered Katniss Everdeens if Katniss Everdeen carried pepper spray, a whistle app on her iPhone, and regularly shouted out “Hey, bear!” every 20 seconds like clockwork.
That trail we took down into an open rocky area ended up being a logging trail of some sort and we realized it after crawling through two sets of fallen trees and thousands of poison ivy plants while still shouting out “Hey, bear!”
After one and a half hours of being lost in the sun, we found our way back to that fork in the road and used GPS to realize we missed the turn to the difficult train way back at the beginning and would instead continue on the “easy” trail.
We were thankful to be walking in the shade of the tree canopy at this point, but at the same time, those trees could be hiding bears and we were more aware of it than ever.
I led the pack with Terri, both of us holding walking sticks. Both of us taking turns shouting “Hey, bear!” while behind us we could hear Marcia clacking her rocks together with an occasional “Hey, bear!” thrown in.
It was serene, save for the din of our scaredy pants caravan of middle-aged rock-clacking, whistling, “Hey, bear!”-shouting sissies.
We walked and chatted and laughed and “Hey, bear”-ed.
Then Terri hesitated. Stopped. Looked to her right into the forest. Her eyes became big and terrified. I don’t remember what words she used but I’m 90% sure they were, “WELL WE ARE GOING TO DIE NOW.”
I didn’t hesitate. I didn’t look where she was looking because why look at the shark’s teeth right before you feel them rip into your flesh? Instead, I grabbed my walking stick in both hands and held it straight out in front of my body like a dancing Fred Astaire holding a cane, and I literally high-knee-jogged back toward my three other sisters who were huddled together at a stop.
This is basically what I looked like but with terror on my face:
I looked like the receptionist at the Ministry of Silly Walks.
I neared them, calling out, “Bear bear bear bear bear bear.” I didn’t care about Terri. I left her in my dust. I just needed to outrun her and let her try to outrun the bear. I would give a stirring eulogy about her bravery at her closed-casket funeral to make up for my selfishness.
Watching my approaching high-stepping, walking-stick hoisting self run toward her, Stacey looked scared while mouthing, “DON’T RUN. STOP RUNNING.” Which, screw that, lady. Fight or flight, baby, and this girl FLYS.
Marcia’s face was immediately ashen. She didn’t so much look like she saw a ghost as she looked like she WAS a ghost. She began frantically banging her stones together fast enough to light tinder on fire, while screaming, “Hey bear!” at the top of her lungs over and over again, like a horrible broken record.
Tammy may have been fumbling for the safety release on her pepper spray, filming a goodbye message to her children, or peeing. I didn’t check.
When I reached my sisters, I turned back to see that a goat would definitely be playing Terri in the movie.
She was frozen to the spot only steps from where she had been, now doubled over clutching her chest. But we saw no bear. She breathlessly said, “My chest is pounding and all my muscles are cramped up!”
“What did you see, goat?!?”
“ARE YOU KIDDING US, GOAT?! We are of the age where actual cardiac events could do us in and you freak out over a rustling!?”
Marcia, the hypochondriac of the group, voted we turn around and go back to the car in case the rustling was indeed a bear. She was overruled because ADVENTURE IS OUT THERE, KATNISS!
We marched on.
The trail turned right into a much more narrow, darker trail. We hesitated. I asked, “We have to go in THERE?”
We started in.
The trail began to ascend steeply.
Up and up.
The trail became rocky.
Up and up.
That’s right. We were so worn out from fear, getting lost in a sea of poison ivy, our bear scare, and ascending the steep trail, that we had turned into Brick from The Middle.
We couldn’t even muster “Hey, bear.” We were just letting out an occasional whoop, and I’m not sure if it was to let the bears know we were coming so they better scoot, or to let the bears know our exact location with pinpoint accuracy so they could come and put us out of our misery.
Up and up and up.
Marcia tossed her rocks to the ground.
When we finally reached the clearing where the observation tower stood, we were gross and sweaty and no longer caring about all the bugs we accidentally swallowed or that we were probably covered in poison ivy oil and would probably wake up in three days looking like burnt baked potatoes.
But this was it. The end.
More steps upward. Up and up we climbed to the top to find breathtaking 360 degree views from the highest point in Pennsylvania. We forgot about the bears, the trail, the hike, the bugs, the sun. We had done it. Eat your heart out, Katniss. We don’t need you to volunteer as tribute. We got this.
We descended the tower ready to head home and share with our sure-to-be-impressed husbands and children how we had conquered Mt. Davis with bravery and determination and only a very little bit of pants pee. We had sought adventure and found it and hear us roar!
Then we saw the sign at the head of a narrow trail that snaked deep into the woods again. “Parking Lot. One mile.”
“Where are my rocks?”
“Who has the pepper spray?”
“This makes it feel like you don’t even have anything wrong with you.” — Taylor, 19, undergoing an infusion treatment at Children’s while playing on the new XBOX just installed in her station.
Taylor has been coming to Children’s for eight years for treatment, and each one lasts hours and hours. Before yesterday, she did not have gaming to occupy herself while sitting in a treatment chair in the Infusion/Dialysis unit. But this beautiful, soccer-playing young woman saw we had soccer games like FIFA in the box, and her eyes lit up and she got busy playing.
Now, Taylor’s words to KDKA, “This makes it feel like you don’t even have anything wrong with you,” is basically the entire idea behind Make Room for Kids and is the very foundation of why we continue to raise funds and operate … our belief, our strong belief that gaming takes young patients’ minds off of scary times and sometimes painful or long treatments.
To hear a patient voice that exact thing, completely unprompted and unscripted, well, it was something. I’ll never forget that ever. She validated with one statement everything we’ve been doing for the past six years with Make Room for Kids. You can watch the video of Taylor speaking to KDKA’s Heather Abraham and make note of how Heather’s face completely changes when Taylor utters that sentence. It’s powerful.
Now, let me walk you through the day so you can see where your donations went!
Arrival. 8:55 on the dot, two SUVs slowly pull up to the main entrance loaded with secret service —
Kidding. With boxes and boxes and boxes. And already there and waiting are lots of blue-shirted Microsoft employees, Mario Lemieux Foundation staff and hospital staff.
Here’s the mastermind of logistics, Microsoft’s Luke Sossi, who has basically run the “HOW THE HELL ARE WE GOING TO MAKE THIS HAPPEN” part of Make Room for Kids since the first year.
Assembled, time for a quick team picture!
And then Luke says, “Go to your places!” This year, the team split into two units because we had our biggest undertaking yet. Installing a new unit, maintenance on all units previously installed, and then pulling out and refurbishing/upgrading every XBOX in the transplant unit.
I head with Luke and crew to the fourth floor where the Infusion/Dialysis unit is and there they install the first XBOX in Taylor’s station.
She sweetly says thank you as if that’s the end, and I’m all, “Well, how about a game? Do you play?”
She mentions she plays Playstation with her brother, so she can pick up gaming pretty quickly. I grab the box of games and movies we designated for that unit. She saw soccer, eyes lit up, and that was that.
Across from Taylor, we have 15-year-old Haley. Who wants to do boring homework now that the XBOX is there? Not Haley.
She was playing some sort of racing game, I think. She was there with her “favorite uncle” who brought her in and sat with her during her treatment. Big Penguins fans, her family.
After installing all the XBOXs in that unit and leaving them with their games, controllers, and more, we headed up to the seventh floor where the staging area had been set up, and here’s how that room looked.
What is all this madness, you ask? This is the Microsoft team cleaning, refurbishing, and upgrading every original XBOX that was installed in the Transplant Unit five years ago, our first year of Make Room for Kids. A few XBOXs went on to replace broken or missing units and the rest were put in storage at the hospital so Child Life staff has backups should any unit break or need serviced. No kids in our units are going without gaming for long now that we have this backup refurbished stash.
They then installed brand new XBOXs in every transplant room, therefore, we did two COMPLETE units yesterday. Infusion/Dialysis and Transfusion. We also put XBOXs in the Cardiac Step Down unit which was relocated last year after our heart unit install.
Drew and Karen from the Mario Lemieux Foundation. Keeping an eye on that organized chaos.
In the transplant unit, we met Case, who isn’t quite two yet. While his XBOX was being replaced, Case wasn’t much feeling up to having visitors and certainly not having a camera on him. Until I asked him if he maybe wanted a game, and he was a changed child IMMEDIATELY. I ran to grab a few games he might like, thinking to give him one, and he grabbed all three in quick succession, squealing as he looked at each new title.
And then I said, “I don’t suppose you like Paw Patrol,” because he’s at the exact age for that. And he nearly exploded. Nancy Angus, executive director of the Mario Lemieux Foundation ran to get the DVD from the box and he was basically on Cloud 9.
His sweet mother was attempting to help him get his new stuff organized and he was all, “PAW PATROL PAW PATROL PUT ON PAW PATROL MOMMMMM.”
Further down the hall, this sweet girl who asked for a racing game and was thrilled we had a new Sonic the Hedgehog game in the box.
Here the Microsoft employee is showing her how to switch the TV over to the XBOX.
A little further down the hall, this adorable kiddo, watching the Microsoft employees install the new XBOX.
Smiles for days.
Back in the staging room, they’re still working furiously to upgrade so many old XBOXs, while Nancy Angus and I work on distributing the new games and movies to all the other units we’ve already outfitted.
Hospital staff chatting with Nancy Angus as we get closer to completion.
Back in the patient rooms, another happy kid, Noah!
Here’s Luke with hospital employee Frank. Frank works for months and months, often coming in extra early, to prepare rooms for installations. He’s the man. The man.
Finally, all XBOXs are installed, old are upgraded and refurbished, games, movies, cameras, music CDs and other requested goodies are distributed, all units received an extra stash of XBOX controllers, the Infusion unit received four Surface tablets, and we are done and ready to let the kids play … and forget for a bit.
It was a fantastic day that saw us reaching many areas of the building and that meant getting to see many many smiles.
Here’s the Lemieux Foundation’s photo gallery.
And here’s a hug from me to you for donating.
Group hug, guys.