Category Archives: Philadelphia

She Knew What We Did Those Summers: Remembering Lois Duncan (1934-2016)

I Know What You Did Last SummerKilling Mr. Griffin

My teenage summers were spent poolside at the Valley Club,  sharing secrets with my best friends over orders of French fries blanketed in Cheez-Wiz.  We lounged on beach towels with our Sony Walkmans blasting ’80s pop music loud enough to drown out our immature siblings’ screeches of “Marco! Polo!” in the deep end of the pool. We doused ourselves with enough Hawaiian Tropic oil that made us as bronzed as an Olympic medal.

When we weren’t in the pool or discussing Luke and Laura on “General Hospital,” we were reading anything we could get our hands on.

Maybe it was characteristic of my group of friends at the time or the pre-Internet/pre-smartphone era, but we read A LOT. Like everything and anything.

All the time.

And perhaps it was because of our rather uneventful, vanilla, goody-two-shoes suburban middle-class upbringing (and attending school with peers whose families were in much, much higher economic echelons), but we seemed drawn to darker stories with just enough thrill factor to keep us turning the pages.

Aside from Judy Blume writing about our deepest insecurities and rites of passages and V.C. Andrews’ creepy as all freaking hell Flowers in the Attic series,  young adult author Lois Duncan’s teen suspense novels are the ones that are seared into my memory from those years.

Thrillers about a car accident involving well-off teens that resulted in murder (I Know What You Did Last Summer, 1973); sinister cousins (Summer of Fear, 1976) and a high school prank intended to scare a mean teacher that goes horribly wrong (Killing Mr. Griffin, 1978) were stories as drop-dead real as anything we saw on the evening broadcast of Action News. (These were the years when people still watched the news.  And when the world had to be ending for the news to be considered “breaking.”)

Lois Duncan’s fiction was chilling and terrifying and made those of us who led a relatively sheltered and privileged life wonder if such horrendous things could really happen. Through her groundbreaking writing for teens, Lois Duncan showed us that, at least in fiction, they could. As we got older, real life would have no shortage of atrocities — one only needs to look at the past week for proof of that.

Sadly, Lois Duncan herself experienced personal tragedy in 1989 when her daughter Kaitlyn was murdered — ironically, just a month after the publication of one of Duncan’s novels with a similar plot. For years, she devoted her life to writing about her daughter’s still unsolved murder and supporting others whose loved ones were homicide victims.

Lois Duncan died on Wednesday, June 15 at age 82, leaving a rich literary legacy of children’s books, young adult novels, short stories, magazine articles, and nonfiction. Those of us who grew up in the late ’70s through the mid-80s enjoyed what I believe was a golden age of young adult literature by writers who bravely took chances with their work and were trailblazers for many of today’s equally outspoken and daring young adult authors.

Until I read her obituary in Publisher’s Weekly, I had no idea that Lois Duncan Steinmetz was a Philadelphia native, which endears her to me even more. (Her family moved to Florida when she was young. Still, in my mind she’s a Philly girl like me, making my days of reading her novels while growing up in the Philadelphia suburbs especially nostalgic.)

I think the hallmark of a great writer is someone whose books are remembered decades after reading them. Even if some details of the plots have faded, we can immediately recall how books like Killing Mr. Griffin and I Know What You Did Last Summer always made us feel.

Deliciously chilled to the bone, even on the hottest of summer days.

99 Days of Summer BloggingThis is post #19 of 99 in my 99 Days of Summer Blogging project. 

 

 

 

 

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penguins, parades, and pittsburgh pride (17/99)

Philadelphia Zoo - solo penguin

Penguin. At the Philadelphia Zoo.

So there was a little parade in Pittsburgh today. You know, a small shindig with only about –oh, 400 bazillion people attending, give or take.  That’s a bazillion people for every time the Stanley Cup has been owned by this city. According to the crazy photos, most of them seemed to spend the day hanging out in –and on — parking garages. Or packed into a several-city block radius like sardines.

But here’s the amazing thing. As of this afternoon, NOBODY GOT ARRESTED.

Not a single person.

Aside from the fact that there really are cities that actually win not one but MULTIPLE championships once in the same century, that’s unfathomable to me.  I hate to say it, but as much as I love and am loyal to my Philadelphia, I’m pretty confident that this would not have been the same news story had the Cup traveled a little further east.

Whenever I’m asked about the difference between Philadelphia and Pittsburgh, I always answer the same way.

“It’s the people,” I say.  “They’re incredibly friendly here. I mean, they’re downright NICE.”

I’m always struck by this whenever I visit my hometown, as I did for several days last week.  The difference in demeanor is noticeable. While my mom and I were at the grocery store, I happened to leave my cart (and yeah, it’s a CART, not a buggy) a little too much in the aisle. Another customer came up alongside and I apologized for having the cart in her way.

No response.  Wait, I take that back.  I’m pretty sure she grunted.

In Pittsburgh, I would have been asked my thoughts on the gluten-free crackers I was holding, learned that her cousin’s daughter’s neighbor was one of my coworkers, and been invited over to her house for a BBQ this weekend.

Lest you think this was an isolated example, it wasn’t.  Similar thing happened at another store.

Almost every day brings more kudos for Pittsburgh.  We’re the Best This, the Most Livable That, and for sure, this town certainly has its issues, but for the most part these accolades are accurate. This really is a great place to live.

I doubt I’ll ever become a Penguins fan. But today?

Today I’m pretty damn proud to live in this city.

99 Days of Summer BloggingThis is post #17 of 99 in my 99 Days of Summer Blogging project. 

 

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beautiful day (13/99)

Philadelphia - City HallPhiladelphia - Suburban StationPhiladelphia - Friends Center - WelcomePhiladelphia - Friends Center 1

My city, today.

A day of journeys, similar, yet different.

A day of moments.

A day of remembering one of our own, gone.

A day of embraces and understanding.

A day of forgiveness and acceptance.

A day of declarations of independence from shame and stigma and loneliness.

A day of healing.

A day of laughter.

A day of tears.

A day of being seen and heard.

A day of compassion.

A day of release from guilt.

A day of sisterhood.

A day of bravery, of courage.

A day of sharing, of honesty.

A day of new ideas and exciting plans.

A day of hope.

A day of generosity and gratitude.

A day of threatened storms overpowered by brilliant light.

A day of love.

A day of the very best kind.

All this, today.

99 Days of Summer BloggingThis is post #13 of my 99 Days of Summer Blogging project. 

 

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On Being a Flyers Girl in a Penguins World (12/99)

Flyers - Pens

Chalk it up to the push-pull effect of place that I always feel when I’m here, but there I was:

Thursday night, solidly back home among everything Philly, hitting refresh on all my social media streams for the final score of the Pens game.

Believe me, I wasn’t sure who I was either.

You see, I’m a Philly girl, born and raised. I love and am proud of my hometown.

Most of the time.

Growing up, mine was not a sports family but it didn’t really matter. If you lived in the Philadelphia of the ’70s and ’80s, it was impossible to not cheer for the Eagles, Phillies, Sixers, and Flyers. Sports events became part of our births and christenings, our graduations and weddings, all the milestones that make up a life. Athletes were local celebrities, held up as heroes; on neighborhood streets and school playgrounds, every boy I knew dreamed of being Ron Jaworski, Mike Schmidt, Julius Irving, and Bobby Clarke.

I imagine — no, I know — the youth of Pittsburgh experienced a similar phenomenon. Different names, same dreams.

I completely get it, this passion for the home team when living in a sports-crazed town. Even if you’re not a sports person, which I admittedly am not, this loyalty has a way of seeping into your soul.

This summer will mark five years since we moved to Pittsburgh. Although there are aspects of our lives where we still feel like newcomers — our friendships are peripheral, at best; we don’t have the close relationships we have (had?) in Philly; we still get lost when driving —  in many ways, this city has become home. My kids identify more with being from Pittsburgh than Philly, as this is the longest stretch of time they’ve lived in one place.  They’ve made friends here, my work is here, and hopefully The Husband will again have a job here. Hopefully sooner rather than later.

And speaking for myself, I admit I have embraced most of the Pittsburgh sports teams. I’ll always root for my Eagles, but I admit my cheers are louder for the Steelers.  Our family reluctantly abandoned the Phillies years ago in favor of the Yankees, but I’ve discovered there’s a lot to love about the Pirates.

But the Penguins.

I can’t quite get there with the Penguins.

I think it has something to do with this dichotomy I have of being from one place I love and living in another that also has a hold on my heart. Loyalty to a sports team becomes something tangible when you find your identity and sense of place shifting, as I’ve discovered can so easily happen when you move away.

Maybe that’s why I found myself compulsively checking the Penguins score last night.  Because as much as I cling to the orange and black, and as much as I felt like an imposter for doing so, a part of me craved that sense of belonging, that rootedness of being home.

99 Days of Summer BloggingThis is Post #12 of my 99 Days of Summer Blogging project.

 

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Weekend Cooking: Goodbye to Geiger’s Bakery

Geiger's

photo courtesy of Geiger’s Bakery Facebook page

Come Monday, yet another piece of my childhood will cease to exist.

Michael Klein’s brief blog post on Philly.com tells of the imminent closing (due to retirement) of Geiger’s Bakery on Frankford Avenue in the Mayfair section of Philadelphia, where they’ve been a staple of the community for 38 years.

My grandparents lived a few blocks away from the bakery; whenever we visited (which was often) my grandfather would have already “walked up the Avenue” to get us a treat. It simply wasn’t a family dinner without a Geiger’s butter cake for dessert or a sleepover at Mom-Mom and Pop-Pop’s without half a dozen powdered cream doughnuts waiting for us for breakfast when we woke up in the morning.

Growing up, the Geiger family themselves lived right up the street from my family. Those were the days when you actually knew every single person in your neighborhood. One of my best friends from those days reminded me of how her family used to babysit the youngest Geiger son and how his mother would bring home an unsold butter cake from the bakery for them to enjoy.

If you didn’t grow up in Philadelphia, chances are you probably don’t know what I’m talking about with this butter cake. I was shocked when we moved out here to Pittsburgh and people had NEVER HEARD of this. Suffice it to say that butter cake is the food of the gods. I mean, if they serve food in heaven — and I would like to imagine that it’s a 24/7, all you can eat, calories and carbs be damned to hell smorgasbord — then Geiger’s has earned a place on the menu.

As decadent as their butter cake and doughnuts and pound cake was, this isn’t about the food. Because all of our memories of food are really about something else. It’s a reminder of a time and a place that’s gone and of the people who shared that time and those places with us. Read the comments on the Geiger’s Bakery Facebook page and it’s person after person remembering cakes for special occasions, probably celebrated in homes that have long been sold and with loved ones who are no longer here.

Thank you to the Geiger family for making my childhood so sweet.

Weekend Cooking - NewWeekend Cooking is hosted by Beth Fish Reads and is open to anyone who has any kind of food-related post to share: Book reviews (novel, nonfiction), cookbook reviews, movie reviews, recipes, random thoughts, gadgets, quotations, photographs, restaurant reviews, travel information, or fun food facts. If your post is even vaguely foodie, feel free to grab the button and link up anytime over the weekend.

 

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a quiet knotted faith

Pope Mass in Philly

I’ve been glued to the TV this weekend, captivated by the coverage of Pope Francis’ historic visit in my hometown of Philadelphia. My kids are perplexed at my interest (“Why are you watching this? We’re not even Catholic,” and “I’ve never seen you so religious, Mom,” have been common refrains, as if they’re expecting me to join a nunnery).

But with the exception of the Festival of Families ceremony last night, which struck me as .. well, kind of weird … I couldn’t get enough.  Like millions of others, I love this charismatic Pope and how his words and actions challenges and inspires every one of us to become better people.

The concept of faith is something that I’ve been thinking a lot about over the past few months. Raised Lutheran, I attended a Catholic college where I met and fell in love with a guy who was raised Jewish. (We were the only two non-Catholics in the Religion in America class that was the catalyst for our becoming friends.)  We were married in the Lutheran church by a pastor who embraced a new, modern approach to Christianity that emphasized a message of hope and optimism and God’s role in making us better people. So much of who I am and what I believe is because of this pastor and his sermons that are still on my bookshelves today.

At one point during our Infertility Years, my sister-in-law invited The Husband and I to attend a local Unitarian Universalist congregation … and no one was more surprised than we were when we kept coming back. That church became a rock for us in those tough years.

But over the past two years, my attendance at a UU fellowship here in Pittsburgh has been sporadic at best to non-existent. It has nothing to do with the church itself, as I really like the people, the services, and the minister. Part of it is timing: in our house, Sunday mornings and afternoons usually find the four of us relaxing in our respective ways:  with football, baseball or hockey on TV, depending on the sport of the season; with a book and some time spent on the deck communing with the birds and weather; with writing; with a hearty soup in the crockpot. It’s a simple time, a quasi-Sabbath, a reprieve during the week. Mass offered at different times is something I’ve always thought the Catholics do right; in 2012,  82% of Unitarian Universalist congregations had 249 members or less, so there’s a ways to go there. (Then again, there isn’t that whole weekly obligation thing.)

Still, ours is a family that’s unchurched and unaffiliated. The consequence of such ranges from my kids not knowing the basic principles of religion (“What does ‘bless’ mean?” my son asked this morning, as I watched on TV the Pope embracing prisoners) to my frustration on how faith communities often fail to accommodate children with disabilities — yes, even UUs — and my guilt that maybe raising our kids with a lack of religious fundamentals demonstrates how much The Husband and I have screwed up as parents.

I’m not sure what the answer is – and to be honest, because I’m not even sure the UU faith is working for me right now, I can’t prescribe it as a balm for everyone in our family. (Although there will be a monthly Wednesday evening service this fall, so that might be something.) The Unitarian Universalist religion’s heavy emphasis on social justice and seemingly relentless focus on certain societal and political issues (important as they are) often leaves me weary because there’s only so much I can do, only so much attention I can give, especially when — as has been the case recently — my own world feels out of control and chaotic.

Where the brand of Lutheranism of my youth, the Catholicism of my college years, and the Unitarian Universalist affiliations in my adulthood have been the faiths I’ve identified with the most, my faith has become akin to a smoothie. It’s somewhat of a potpourri of the past and the present these days: reading Anne LaMott; listening to UU blogs and podcasts; meditating before bedtime; performing infrequent random acts of kindness; being observant of the skies; submitting a struggle online for a stranger to add to the Mary, Undoer of Knots Grotto.

I wonder if it is all good enough, and then, amazingly, as I watched Pope Francis celebrate Mass with hundreds of thousands in the streets of my beloved Philadelphia, the  Pope says yes, it is.

“Faith opens a “window” to the presence and working of the Spirit. It shows us that, like happiness, holiness is always tied to little gestures. “Whoever gives you a cup of water in my name will not go unrewarded”, says Jesus (cf. Mk 9:41). These little gestures are those we learn at home, in the family; they get lost amid all the other things we do, yet they do make each day different. They are the quiet things done by mothers and grandmothers, by fathers and grandfathers, by children. They are little signs of tenderness, affection and compassion. Like the warm supper we look forward to at night, the early lunch awaiting someone who gets up early to go to work. Homely gestures.

Like a blessing before we go to bed, or a hug after we return from a hard day’s work. Love is shown by little things, by attention to small daily signs which make us feel at home. Faith grows when it is lived and shaped by love. That is why our families, our homes, are true domestic churches. They are the right place for faith to become life, and life to become faith.

Jesus tells us not to hold back these little miracles. Instead, he wants us to encourage them, to spread them. He asks us to go through life, our everyday life, encouraging all these little signs of love as signs of his own living and active presence in our world.

So we might ask ourselves: How are we trying to live this way in our homes, in our societies? What kind of world do we want to leave to our children (cf. Laudato Si’, 160)? We cannot answer these questions alone, by ourselves. It is the Spirit who challenges us to respond as part of the great human family. Our common house can no longer tolerate sterile divisions. The urgent challenge of protecting our home includes the effort to bring the entire human family together in the pursuit of a sustainable and integral development, for we know that things can change (cf. ibid., 13). May our children find in us models and incentives to communion! May our children find in us men and women capable of joining others in bringing to full flower all the good seeds which the Father has sown!”  (Text of Pope Francis’ homily, 9/27/2015, Philadelphia)

May it be so. Blessed be.

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Project Food Budget: Week 3

Project Food Budget 2015

Week 2 Recap:

We were on vacation last week, which completely blew our food budget out of the water given that we ate every meal out. I know some people don’t mind cooking an occasional meal in an efficiency-type of hotel room while on vacation, but I’m not one of those people. I hate lugging groceries to the shore and I hate going food shopping once I’m there. That’s precious time that could better be spent on the beach.

We did a few things to save money on our meals, though. I opted for water with almost every meal, as did The Boy on several occasions. We skipped appetizers and salads (at most of the places, meals were a la carte).  And with the exception of the last night, we skipped expensive desserts in favor of ice cream elsewhere.

I bought snacks for the 5 hour car ride to Philadelphia (the vacation was bookended by a few days at my mom and stepfather’s house) and for the beach itself.  I hit Target for some necessities beforehand and bought our snacks there (trail mix; dried fruit; shelled edamame; mini-muffins; veggie straws; chips; GF cookies for me and probably some more stuff I’m forgetting).  We came home with a decent amount left, so I didn’t need to purchase many snacks this week.

This Week:

Both kids are spending a few days back in Philly with the grandparents, so one would think our food expenditures for this week should be considerably less than usual. At least, that’s my hope. We will likely go out to dinner one night because it is highly unusual for us to be sans-kids.  To counter-balance that, I am going to be more diligent about bringing my lunch to work. (Possible lunch ideas: cheese sandwich on GF bread; salad; hummus/guacamole dips with chips; trail mix; plums.)

I went shopping at Giant Eagle on Monday afternoon and was pleased to have spent a total of $152.27.  (As we’ve discussed, GE is not my preferred supermarket; I only went there because we had prescriptions to pick up and I didn’t want to spend my last day before heading back to work running around doing errands). So, of that $152.27, the breakdown was $124.80 for food-related items and $27.47 for things like toilet paper, OTC allergy medicine, dental floss, etc.  My biggest splurge food-wise were 3 packs of Sprite for $10 (that will last us the rest of the month) and some frozen foods (pizza, Stouffers mac and cheese) because The Husband requested those for his lunches. (He’s off from work for a few additional days yet).

Dinner Plans
Monday
– We’ll order pizza. I have a Glutino pizza for myself (our preferred pizza place has GF pizza, but I strongly suspect it is Aldi’s. While I don’t mind their GF pizza – it’s OK, not my favorite – I won’t pay $9 for what I can get for $4.99).

Tuesday
– Tortellini for the husband; big salad for me, hopefully with leftovers for Wednesday’s lunch.

Wednesday
– Grilled cheese. Maybe with fresh fruit as a side.

Thursday
– I’m planning to go to a book journal making program at a local library, so The Husband will be on his own. Mac and cheese for him, most likely.

Friday
– This is usually pizza night for us, but we might go out.

Saturday
– We are contemplating going to the Heinz History Center because we really want to see the Mister Rogers Neighborhood exhibit (the kids weren’t too enthused about that idea awhile back so we’ve been saving that for ourselves). This could be a dinner out instead of Friday night. Not sure.

Time to see what the other Project: Food Budget participants have been up to. Follow along with us by checking out posts from:

 

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