a newspaper man adjusts his pen

Thursday, December 31, 2009

Suggestions for better luck next year

Some folks I know spread silver coins on their windowsills for good luck when they usher in a new year.

By Scott Beveridge

From eating a dozen grapes to shaking at the moon at midnight, my friends and relatives observe some silly New Year’s superstitions in the hopes of having better luck over the next 12 months.

And if ever there was a crappy year to be swept out the door with a superstition, 2009 fits the bill. I mean this was a year to send to the trash with the power of a street sweeper. It will forever be remembered for its high unemployment rate during a recession that was on the edge of another Great Depression, as well as playing host to the devastating swine flu epidemic.

So it’s an appropriate time to share a few of the following tricks to deep-six the Os and welcome in 2010:

* A male with dark hair needs to be the first person through your front door on New Year’s Day. (My grandmother actually sent her young dark-haired son door-to-door in Newell, Pa., during the Great Depression in the 1930s to bid her neighbors good luck. That’s how much she believed in this one.) This story has a few variations, one of which requires the visitor to also be a tall man. Another version requires the man be given coins for stopping by. If you will be handing out money, let me know and I’ll be happy to perform my civic duty and knock on your door.

* Eat a dozen grapes one at a time at the strokes of midnight. That one has something to do with wine producers in Spain, possibly as a way for them to dispose of their excess grapes. Keep the leftovers to yourself, please.

* The woman of the house must wear a new apron on New Year’s Day, making sure its pockets are filled with money. Say what in 2010?

* Pull out your empty pants pockets and shake them at the moon at midnight. Tonight is a full blue moon, which is supposed to hold extra magical powers. I would not pass up this opportunity for juju. Ladies it’s OK to shake your purses. Some guys prefer to shimmy shake under the moon with their empty wallets in hand.

* Be sure to eat pork on New Year’s Day. A pig roots forward while other animals scratch backwards. For the vegetarians out there, point a bunch of asparagus tips to the front of a baking dish beside of a chunk of tofu. (OK - I invented the tofu mojo story - magic cannot help that stuff)

* Sweep the house clean before New Year’s Day and also empty the wastepaper baskets. I’ll skip these, but it would be really good luck if someone stopped by tomorrow to clean my house.

* Put silver coins on the windowsills. That way the burglar won’t have to dilly-dally to steal your coin jar.

* Burn a bayberry candle down to the base of its wick on New Year’s Day. You are doomed if someone blows it out before all of its wax is melted. Don't try this if you have young children at home.

* A Southerner I know says you should eat black-eyed peas on New Year’s Day because “it’s a penny in your pocket” for every bean you eat. (That isn’t worth the payout) Another Southerner-wannabe says she cooks greens because they represent the color of moolah.

* Decorate the gate or door to your house with kadomatsu, as some folks do in Japan. It’s customary in that country to place this decoration of evergreen sprigs and bamboo at entrances to serve as a temporary shelter for the deity, Kami, who delivers longevity and wealth at the start of each year. Hey, it looks nice and can be a good alternative to someone calling the cops on those who howl at the moon.

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Teamwork needed to tackle blight

One of many examples of blight in Donora, Pa.

By Scott Beveridge

PITTSBURGH, Pa. ¬ – A nonprofit in Pittsburgh that promotes smart growth is suggesting the formation of a panel to address the growing problem of residential blight in the region.

Sustainable Pittsburgh this month released a report, Southwestern Pennsylvania Blighted and Abandoned Properties Solution Project, that identified a staggering list of 67,886 abandoned housing units in this corner of the state.

“The report substantiates that addressing blight and abandonment offers the chance to build assets in a community and deliver economic, environmental, and social equity benefits for both community and the region as a whole,” the report states.

However, there is no regional plan, decision-making body or coordinated effort to deal with this crisis that has impeded economic recovery.

Teamwork would foster and environment that would help create jobs, including those associated with demolition, and increase the value of properties whose owners still take pride in them, the report shows.

Here in the mid-Mon Valley in such municipalities as Charleroi and Donora, there is a perception that blight is epidemic and that local, county and state officials are not adequately addressing the problem. Houses are added each year to demolition lists through a complicated and costly system of obtaining legal permits to tear down ugly, decrepit buildings.

However, such municipalities typically do not see the real value in buying these houses, Sustainable Pittsburgh has concluded. A municipality’s property assets can increase their bonds, and it stands to gain significant sums of taxable income by putting vacant lots back on the market.

Someone with a good job might also want to invest in a house in one of these dying towns if the blight was erased. That is preferable to every other house being stripped of their copper by thieves after their last occupants move elsewhere.

Sunday, December 27, 2009

A lucky soldier

My father, James R. Beveridge, in the middle, celebrated with his steel mill buddies in Monessen, Pa, not long after returning to work after World War II ended.

Part VI: The second war ends

By Scott Beveridge

James R. Beveridge was going to have plenty of time for reading or playing cards to tackle the boredom of a long ocean journey to the war in Japan.

His ship was among a convoy that bid farewell to Europe at the Rock of Gibraltar, crossed the Atlantic Ocean and meandered through the Panama Canal during a 60 day journey that came to a halt off the Marshall Islands.

They were held back just before Japan’s informal World War II surrender on August 14, 1945. It was a week after the USAAF B-29 Enola Gay had devastated the Japanese city of Hiroshima in the first of two and only Atomic bombs ever dropped in the world brought an end to the war. As he had in Germany, my father was fortunate by a hair to escape the fighting.

Millions were left homeless in Europe, while “Allied peoples all over the world celebrated” the victory in Japan, newspapers across the world blared in headlines.

Meanwhile, the U.S. Army would be slow in returning to their homes such soldiers as my father who saw little or no fighting. Beveridge waited in a stretch in Okinawa before being discharges as a corporal in January 1946.

As a gesture of thanks, the White House issued veterans thank you letters stamped with President Truman’s signature, acknowledging them for answering the nation’s call to war.

“Because you demonstrated the fortitude, resourcefulness and calm judgment necessary to carry out that task, we now look to you for leadership and example in further exalting our country in peace,” the letter stated.

Dad eventually returned to his job in at a fence and wire mill in Monessen, Pa, after returning to his home in nearby Charleroi.

“The towns were full of vets,” he recalled in 2005.

Many former soldiers living there in the Monongahela River valley took advantage of something they nicknamed, “the 52 - 20 club,” he said.

Its so-called members received $20 a week for up to 52 weeks under the Servicemen’s Readjustment Act of 1944, more commonly known as the G.I. Bill.

“Every week, you had to stand in line to get your 20 bucks,” said Beveridge, adding that some veterans were known to take the money straight to a veterans club and spend it on beer and whiskey.

“Some of them drank themselves to death,” he said. “I guess they had seen too much war.”

Four years later he married the former June Hart, who he met at a dance at the Veterans Club of Charleroi. They would have three sons, James, Scott, and Kelly by 1958, raising them in the nearby village of Webster. Beveridge would go on to lose his job as a pipefitter in 1972, becoming one of the earlier victims of the steel industry’s sharp decline in the region. He took a low-wage job as a Pinkerton security guard until something better came along, after also giving up his long love affair with Iron City beer. Two years later, he met the qualifications to become a police officer at California University of Pennsylvania, a position from which he retired in 1986.

He died Monday, March 5, 2007, in UPMC-Shadyside Hospital, Pittsburgh, from congestive heart failure.

(Click here to return to Part 1: Preparing for a battle dad would never see)

(This oral history was written in 2005 to fulfill my graduate studies at Duquesne University in Pittsburgh. It is being edited and published here as a series.)

Saturday, December 26, 2009

Double chocolate Christmas craisenettes biscotti

It would be great if I could pass along a biscotti recipe from my beloved Italian grandmother who also knew how to brew a great tomato sauce. However, mine had genetic make-ups of mostly British origins and neither owned Italian cookbooks.

However, this is a great biscotti recipe, according to my waspish relatives, blended from one printed a few years ago by a local newspaper and ingredients that flowed from our having a few glasses of white wine the other day while preparing Christmas cookies. White Zinfandel is optional.

The things that made these cookies sing are Nestle Raisinets (chocolate covered dried cranberries) and chocolate. Does chocolate really ruin anything?

Double chocolate Christmas cranberry biscotti

6 eggs
5 cups flour
1 1/2 cups sugar
2 sticks margarine, room temperature
3 tsp baking power
1 tbsp anise
1 - 5.5 oz bag NESTLE® Cranberry RAISINETS®
1 - 4 oz. bag Diamond's slivered almonds
2 small bags of white chocolate wafers
1 small bag of regular chocolate wafers
1 small jar of red, white and green sugar crystals

Hand mix ingredients well with a dinner fork:

Cream butter
Add wet ingredients; then dry ingredients.
Fold in the almonds and craisinettes

Shape into two loaves, 2 inches wide and 14 inches long on a parchment paper-covered baking sheet.

Bake 350 degrees for about 15 minutes or until the loaves are firm to touch and beginning to brown around their edges. Allow loaves to coo. Cut them diagonal into cookies and place the cookies on their sides on the cookie sheet. Place the cookies put back into the oven long enough to harden.

Microwave white chocolate wafers in a small bowl, following the directions on the bags. Dip the cookies into the white chocolate and sprinkle the chocolate with the Christmas sugar. Then drizzle the other sides of the cookies with the brown chocolate.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Waiting for Santa

Waiting for Santa, originally uploaded by MMGoode.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Santa Claws

Santa Claws, originally uploaded by Megan E. Mitchell.

Drive-up Santa

Santa's helper, Terry Slebodnik, said he grew tired of waiting for visitors in Monongahela, Pa., so he turned to waving at passing motorists, many of whom stop to say hello. He calls himself the "Drive-up Santa" along W. Main Street, where no one seems to be following the yellow footprints that were stamped on the sidewalk for an unrelated summer event also sponsored by the Monongahela Area Chamber of Commerce.(Photo: Scott Beveridge)

Santa, sort of

Bling, originally uploaded by thecobwebbedcrucible.

Monday, December 21, 2009

Steelers Santa

P1050213_edited-1, originally uploaded by southside_johnny.

Still working on finding the right cat dressed as Santa Claws......

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Santa on a ladder truck

WEBSTER, Pa. – It's easy to explain in a photograph why I still live in a small town where Santa Claus rides around on a fire truck distributing chocolate bars to children.

Happy Holidays from Pearl

Happy Holidays from Pearl, originally uploaded by Laurie York.

Saturday, December 19, 2009

texas santa with his older brother

Thursday, December 17, 2009

No jobs at the candy factory

PITTSBURGH, Pa. – This sign at a chocolate factory in Pittsburgh needs no explanation in an American economy in the toilet. (Fudgie Wudgie Fudge and Chocolate Factory)


devil-cat!, originally uploaded by rosewithoutathorn84.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Props to senior citizens

Jeff Nystrom, a commissioner for the newly-organized National Senior League of Wii bowling, left, awaits the results of its championship match that left the Charleroi, Pa., team, whose members also are shown, in a disappointing second place.

By Scott Beveridge

CHARLEROI, Pa. – We are excited to announce it’s senior citizen week at this blog.

Yesterday, Travel with a Beveridge visited a senior citizens center in California, Pa., where older Americans were giving their brains a workout while singing Christmas carols in the German language.

The excitement peaked today in nearby Charleroi where members of Riverside Place Senior Center lost to Florida in the first National Senior League Wii bowling championship games.

Here is bit of the reporting of the match pulled from the Observer-Reporter newspaper:

Sighs of disappointment swept across (the room) when the four bowlers and about 30 of their fans learned Charleroi had fallen by 20 points.

“We did our best. We were the underdogs,” said Charleroi Wii bowler Cathy Martini, 52, of Roscoe.

No one cried. Rather, they immediately began to make plans to practice more and assemble a better team for next year’s championships.

The NSL was organized by Dennis Berkholtz of Atlanta, Ga. He played team handball in the 1972 and 1976 Olympics and wants to turn the senior Wii games into a business to provide more exciting activities for seniors, said Jeff Nystrom, an NSL commissioner who also lives in Atlanta.

Berkholtz may be onto something because, while the video gaming industry has been in a recession-era slump, Nintendo’s Wii grew in popularity among senior citizens, National Public Radio reported in July. The championship games even caught the eye of editors of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette newspaper, which dispatched a reporter and photographer to this small borough in the big city’s hinterlands to record the excitement.

Meanwhile, these new video bowling leagues attracted 186 teams from 24 states without a fee this year. Next year, though, it will cost $400 for a team to enter the contests.

“Wii makes it easy,” Nystrom said. “It keeps them active and it’s a great way for them to mingle.”

Larry Maraldo, 67, emerged as the most-valuable player for Charleroi, having “bowled” two perfect games. Cathy Cochran, 57, who has blurred vision, scored a number of strikes, too, despite her handicaps that also require her to use a wheelchair.

They had loads of fun. That’s all that counts. This blog will be hard-pressed to top this excitement tomorrow unless those kooky old ladies from Monongahela decide again to bare their shoulders for a naughty calendar to raise money for a good cause. It could happen.

Monday, December 14, 2009

Seniors jingle in Christmas with German song

CALIFORNIA, Pa. – Members of a German choir at the Center in the Woods senior citizens center welcome Christmas with a song, "Ihr Kindelein, kommet," during the opening number in a concert today.

As reported today in the Observer-Reporter newspaper in Washington, Pa.:

The group formed in 1994 and remains popular for several reasons, including the fact that there is a high concentration of World War II veterans living in the area who served in Germany, said Ernst Jung of Uniontown, the class leader.

“A lot of them went over and married German women and brought them back,” said Jung, 69, who emigrated at age 11 from Germany and went on to teach the language at the university level.

Saturday, December 12, 2009

Disorderly Santas

Santarchists in Pittsburgh set out to cause merry on the city's South Side District.

By Scott Beveridge

PITTSBURGH, Pa., – There was an invasion of sorts tonight of troublemakers in Pittsburgh involving nearly 30 quirky people dressed in outrageous Santa Claus costumes.

One man stood out wearing a beige flasher’s trench coat and exposing a purple gift-wrapped package over his package while another had a brown stitched-leather serial killer’s mask hiding his face. Yet another came to the party wearing a green and silver Mylar hat and robe only to strut alone on East Carson Street.

It’s just another Saturday night during the Christmas season in the city’s artsy South Side District where a young woman who was seemingly oblivious to the confusion danced with a Hula Hoop beside a homeless guy strumming a ukulele.

A rather harmless-looking, short female Santa passing out candy canes turned to me and explained that she was part of a worldwide event involving Santanarchists. They are part of a movement she identified as the Cacophony Society that was even holding such events as far away as Paris. The oddballs participating in the Pittsburgh shindig were supposed to donate a Christmas gift and food item to the poor while also honoring the intent of the Cacophonists.

The society’s mission, below, can be found in its Web site:

The Cacophony Society is a randomly gathered network of individuals united in the pursuit of experiences beyond the pale of mainstream society through subversion, pranks, art, fringe explorations and meaningless madness.

But, in Pittsburgh, the Santas had the appearance of being a bunch of wildly creative types on a bar crawl on a mission to get bombed, maybe on eggnog.

The most trouble they apparently caused involved their bursting in the Pittsburgh Scientology center to sing a traditional Christmas carol replaced with devilish and obscene lyrics.

It was hilarious.

Cacophony on Pittsburgh's South Side involving Rudolph wearing a flasher's trench coat and exposing a gift-wrapped purple package over his package.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

The bowling struts

Travel with a Beveridge is changing the way America bowls one lane at a time.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

For the gambler in the family

A small gift shop in southwestern Pennsylvania has the perfect gift for the gambler who either has everything or nothing.

The French Quarter at The Shoppes at Quail Acres in North Strabane Township is stocking a glittery slot machine Christmas ornament as that hard-to-find gift for those with a fondness for the one-arm bandit.

The fancy blown-glass ornament is an obvious hot seller at the shop at 1445 Washington Road because the business has drawn the lucky card of being next door to the hugely-successful slots parlor at The Meadows Racetrack & Casino.

Shop owner Nancy E. Komondor, shown in the background of the above photograph, will gladly sell you one of them and also put it in a fancy bag that will surely impress the person who scores the gift.

(Photo: Scott Beveridge/Observer-Reporter)

Saturday, December 5, 2009

Landmark Colonial house has important hinges

The landmark John and Presley Neville House, a Colonial gem in southwestern Pennsylvania, is hidden behind an unnatural wraparound porch addition along Washington Pike in Bridgeville.

By Scott Beveridge

BRIDGEVILLE, Pa. – It turns out a pair of closet hinges in the entrance hall are the most-valuable architectural details in the oldest house still standing in the county where Pittsburgh makes its home.

That’s the opinion of experts from Colonial Williamsburg who visited the John and Presley Neville House in Allegheny County and deemed the rustic hinges the oldest of their kind known to exist in North America.

“Who would have thought?” said Rob Windhorst, president of Neville House Associates, the nonprofit organization that owns the National Register of Landmarks property also known as Woodville Plantation in Bridgeville.

The 1 ½-story Colonial frame house is significant because it was built in 1774 by John Neville, a friend of President George Washington who came to the area to briefly claim Pittsburgh for Virginia.

However, Neville would soon make history as chief collector of a tax on whiskey Congress enacted to help pay down to then-new nation’s Revolutionary War debts. The local farmers who turned their rye into whiskey were quick to revolt in what became known as the Whiskey Rebellion.

When the insurrection was at its peaked, John Neville had relocated to an estate on nearby Bower Hill, a house that was burned down by the rebels during a two-day attack that began July 16, 1794 and resulted in a few casualties.

Neville and the women and children of his household were permitted to take refuge at Woodville, which had been given to his son, Presley.

“That’s probably what saved this house,” Windhorst said. “They really behaved with all the virtues of war.”

It is believed that Neville had a good relationship with the 13 slaves he owned because he armed them and they protected his family against the army of 500 rebels, Windhorst said while hosting a recent tour of the house. The slaves likely were skilled craftsmen and responsible for building the some of the house and carving its woodwork, he said.

The 6-room house is special because it’s the only country home built for the frontier-era gentry that is open for tours in southwestern Pennsylvania.

Aside from those rare foliated T-shaped cross garner hinges with leaf-like designs, the house’s living room is dressed in period furnishings and reproduction carpeting and wallpaper. Meanwhile, volunteers in Colonial-type costumes tend to a garden and chickens in a fattening pen off the kitchen in attempts to create an authentic 18th century Pennsylvania farm.

“This is truly exceptional,” Windhorst said.

The house at 1375 Washington Pike is open year around for guided tours from 1 to 4 p.m. Sunday, closing only from Dec. 14 and Jan. 2. For information, call 412-221-0348.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Dear Jay Leno

Demo, originally uploaded by Hoang Viet.

You would have a field day with this photo

The creepy mourning art of hair weaving

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Amanda's musings: A Cosmopolitan magazine want ad

7/365, originally uploaded by cootiebanini.

Dear Cosmo,

You need me.

As a writer, I realize the old cliché is true: There isn’t anything new under the sun. And as a longtime reader I know you’ve been recycling the same old stories for the past five years or so.

“What he thinks during sex” was an all-caps headline on the November issue. Then “His #1 Sex Wish” was the leader on this month’s.

Don’t get me wrong: I am empathetic to the needs of others – both lovers and friends. What you need up in this glossy is some practical advice. Pleasing your partner? That’s mostly instinct.

I’ve been out on two dates in the past month, and nothing in your magazine had anything close to practical advice for me.

The first guy, I Think I am EE Cummings, a friend from college who began wooing me online with poetry and music. In my mind? Score – a kind, funny, intelligent man who seemed to dig words as much as I do. The first date? The best I’d been on in many, many months. The goodbye kiss? Stellar. The problem?

The second date.

I knew it probably wasn’t going well when Cummings came in with an oversized bottle of Pinot Noir and poured himself a glass out of a tumbler. About 45 minutes and four humongous glasses later the bottle was gone and I had a wasted, 30-something man on my couch telling me about having worn an ex-girlfriend’s thong and his mother’s alcoholism.

I thought to myself, “What would Cosmo tell me to do?” and I came up empty.

So I told him what at least one bartender has said to a drunken hanger-on”: “You don’t have to go home but you can’t stay here.”

And nothing in your magazine prepared me for what to say when another date recently said off-the-cuff, “I think the government should eliminate the appeals process for people who are on death row or in for life. It would save a ton of money.”

I was still reeling from that remark when he followed it up with, “I think George W. Bush could have been the best president in history if he just would have gone with his guts more.”

Again, there was nothing in your pages to give me any insight into how NOT to start a political ideology fight in the middle of Mad Mex.

Then I thought: Would Would Amanda Blu Gillooly Do?

So I beckoned to the barkeep, asked for another expensive Belgium beer and hoped Mr. Reluctant Republican would ask for the check before we got into a discussion on who he respected more, Sarah Palin or Anne Coulter.

I know circulation is down at nearly every publication. There is extreme competition. But if you want honest and edgy you don’t need another “Foreplay Men Crave” story.

You obviously need more Gillooly.

So let me know when my first deadline is.

Warmest Regards,

Amanda “I work for cheap” Gillooly