Monday, January 26, 2009


My friend, Mary, is fond of saying 'sometimes your heart gets broken and sometimes it gets broken open.'

This morning, my dog and I were walking in the park along the Monongahela River. The snow was falling in big fluffy flakes that stick on your nose and linger a moment before melting. Ours were the first footprints in the snow. I always love that.

Normally, we play a little frisbee in the mornings, the pup and I. Frisbee is her favorite, but today she was not having it. There were other distractions.

There was no wind and the still, cool air held a web of invisible trails too good to pass up. She led, I followed. She picked up one that took us in a loop-de-loop through the Pony League field and off under the fence where we picked up another more interesting trail that took us over to the giant pile of bird seed barely visible under the snow. Leaving that, we moved in a zigzag up through the parking lot to the pavilion perched on the bank of the river. One of my favorite spots for breakfast.

I sat on the picnic table and pulled a peanut butter and jelly sandwich out of my pocket.

A tug and eight barges filled with coal passed out of the lock and into a small lane cleared by traffic on the opposite side of the river. Our side was frozen. One solid sheet as far as I could see in either direction.

Twelve Canada geese marched back and forth on the ice honking taunts at the dog who was busy ignoring them. The canvasbacks sat quietly watching in parties of three or four. Two stark white domestic ducks wandered up furtively like out-of-towners looking for directions.

The coal-laden barges made small waves as they passed. I sat admiring the scene, a snapshot of my life. Frozen in place while the world passes by on the other side.

The small waves built momentum and slapped against the edge of the ice slab, sending a tiny spray up at the edge. The ice appeared to be holding its ground, or its water. Then a crack, like a gun shot, sped diagonally to the shore. The dog moved in under my feet. Another split a party of ducks in two. One quacked as he fell into the water, forgetting for a moment that he could swim. The little white ones flew off to the safety of the shore.

The ducks and geese flew in all directions while the waves hit the smaller slabs of ice into each other. They cracked and popped until the once solid sheet was in small pieces which slowly merged into the flow of the river and floated away.

So much for feeling sorry for myself. Time to get on with it.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009


A few months ago, I was sitting in the Monongahela Aquatorium with my family. It was my first real American 4th of July after living out of the country for six years. The threatening rain had passed us by and the skies cleared.

We had funnel cakes and frosty cold Coca Cola as we waited for the fireworks to start. The bleechers filled up.

The DJ called a limbo contest to entertain the waiting crowd. Kids were foisted by their parents onto the stage to compete. Others played in the mud by the river.

When the fireworks started, my young niece climbed onto my lap to get a better view. The DJ played a mixed collection of patriotic music. John Phillip Souza, et al. Not my style really, but the fireworks were spectacular.

Then the music changed to Ray Charles singing "America, the Beautiful" as the finale began. As I sat watching the fireworks and the perfectly perfect small town America crowd, I tried my best to conceal my tears.

"Why are you crying, Auntie?" asked my niece.

"Because this is so beautiful and I am so happy to be here." I answered.


All I can say is this, today, even when watched on TV from my living room instead of from the Mall as originally planned--this is a million times better. I am crying my lips off and truly grateful to be watching from this side of the ocean. It's good to be home!

Sunday, January 18, 2009

This Explains Everything...

I believe with reasonable certainty that I read an article on the National Geographic website this morning announcing that excess consumption of coffee can cause hallucinations.

The link, according to the little red bird hovering over my desk, is

Holy Cow. This explains everything.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009


Since returning to America a little over a year ago, I have been spending quite a bit of time thinking about home.

Yesterday, the anniversary of my mother's death, had a spark of realization, something I had never seen before.

With her final heartbeat, my sense of home was changed forever. For the first 19 years of my life, I never questioned what or where home was. Once she was gone, home was no longer home. The house in the Mon Valley was still there, but the home was gone.

I left the Mon Valley as if someone was chasing me and headed out into the world.

The place where I receive my mail has changed with my changing fortunes over the years, from college dorms to city row houses to a brief stint in a dark squat in a very, very scary neighborhood to a posh fifth floor apartment in Washington, DC to a little cottage by the sea in the west of Ireland. All of these places felt like home for a while.

I lived with roommates, housemates, a boyfriend. Mostly, I have lived on my own. Presently, I live on my own in an orange shag-carpeted apartment back in the Mon Valley with my border collie, Eloise.

I know that this isn't the last stop on my journey. Honestly, I have been thinking lately that if Eloise and I could arrange to spend six months or so living in a second floor flat with an iron balcony overlooking a lesser canal in the Cannareggio in Venice, I would be the happiest person in the world.

But still it might not feel like home.

When I left the Mon Valley many years ago, the Steelers were winning. This place is joyous when they are winning and it permeates everything.

Yesterday, as I drove to work, the Steelers Polka played on the radio. I recalled an image of my mother--hair in curlers, sitting at the kitchen table, cigarette in one hand, cup of coffee in the other bopping along to the song on KDKA radio. My feet moved in time with the music. I know the words. I didn't know I knew the words. I smiled in spite of myself.

I don't know where home is yet, but somewhere in the deep recesses of my soul I have the urge to polka.