a newspaper man adjusts his pen

Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Great ideas sometimes blow in the wind

Harry F. Fischer of Midway, Pa., used recycled objects to create his whirligigs.  (Observer-Reporter photo)

By Scott Beveridge

A snooty lover of fine sculpture would probably cringe at the sight of the tacky whirligig perched atop an old tomato stake driven into my front yard.

The same thought strikes me when I see houses with too many flowering plants around their foundations. Drab houses surrounded in too many daisies, rose bushes, azaleas, geraniums and petunias tend to look like caskets surrounded by mismatched floral arrangements.

But it wouldn't bother me if someone said my whirligig in the shape of a cardinal would be suited for a trailer park. That same person has probably seen one there beside a plastic sunflower with a smiley face and a pickup truck dotted with flat, brown primer paint hiding rusted fenders.

Mine stirs a more endearing mental picture in my head.

The whirligig reminds me of my grandfather, whose thick, patient fingers spent hours in his basement creating such wooden objects that flutter with the wind.  Some of his looked like lumberjacks that chopped away at wood piles when the wind hit them in the right direction.

He needed something interesting to brighten his ugly lawn, which had been stripped of its grass by pollution from a steel and zinc mill in Donora, Pa., before pollution standards came along. Fancy architecture was not on his creative mind when he lived in what was once the armpit of America's industrial heartland.

Whirligigs among dead blossoms are nothing compared to the lengths others have gone to make their houses stand out from rest.

For example, the zany Mexican artist Armando Munoz Garcia made his house out of concrete and steel and shaped like a 50-foot statue of a nude woman named La Dona (The Doll). His family dined in its stomach, slept in its breasts and used a bathroom tucked inside the buttocks, according to a 2002 issue of Preservation Magazine.

Toys became one woman's inspiration for a funky bathroom featured in the book, "Pad: The Guide to Ultra-Living." She plastered plastic dolls over nearly every inch of its walls and door to cover ugly yellow paint. The book also shows a man's blue bedroom lined from the floor to ceiling with junked hubcaps.

Meanwhile, rifle heiress Sarah L. Winchester went on a four-decades building spree, expanding her Victorian house in San Jose, Calif.,  to include 160 rooms, 47 fireplaces, 40 bedrooms, 52 skylights and 950 doors. It has been widely reported that she was tormented to remodel like a mad woman to ward off the evil spirits of those killed by guns her family manufactured.

Someone wanting a time-tested design might turn to the theories of Italian Renaissance architect Andrea Palladio, who is regarded as the most popular and imitated builder in history.

His rules were strict. Every front door must be centered on the first floor of a building in perfect symmetry with its surroundings. If there were to be three windows to the left of that door, three windows of identical size and shape must be to its right. All of the windows on the second floor must correspond directly above to maintain prefect balance.

Houses were ugly beyond belief, Palladio believed, if they sat in dark, damp valleys and couldn't be seen from a distance. Too much shade in a residence, he thought, made their occupants as dumb and unsightly as their houses.

The revered 20th century master architect Frank Lloyd Wright took everything he learned from Palladio and tossed it out the window. Wright preferred buildings with low lines that appeared to sprout from the landscape. The front doors to his houses were hard to find.

Wright likely hesitated to suggest a swimming pool for his most-famous house, Fallingwater, which was built over a waterfall in Fayette County, because he thought they looked like glorified bathtubs.

However, he did see something pretty in old, rubber toilet tank floats, and incorporated them in a weather vane for Taliesin East, his summer home in Wisconsin.

The guy who designed my whirligig was a genius of a different sort. It offers direction to the wind, too, when it spins around a ten-penny nail that holds it in place. Recycled objects were selected for its design by Harry F. Fischer of Midway, Pa., who built and sold these contraptions to offset the cost of his health care.

Fischer, before he died, fashioned its wings from discarded gray vinyl siding because its fake wood grain reminded him of bird feathers.

I hope some of his whirligigs were handed down to his 11 grandchildren and 11 great-grandchildren, and that they also recognize the beauty in his creations.

Monday, March 29, 2010

The John A. Swanson Science Center

An old Roman Catholic convent has been demolished to make room for the new $33-million John A. Swanson Science Center at Washington & Jefferson College in Washington, Pa. The new building's style blends old world architecture with the latest technology, readying this college for the needs of the 21st century.

Click here to read a story about this new building in the Observer-Reporter

Sunday, March 28, 2010

King Tut's coffin in Bendaroos with apple mummies

By Kenzie Hart Beveridge, winner of first place for her mummy project in the fourth-grade division at her school's annual science project competition

The reason I chose the mummy model is because I was Googling projects and saw the mummification processes and thought it was interesting.

So, I looked through "millions" of things about mummies and especially liked how in the oldin times they preserved bodies.

I found the apple mummies. The Egyptian thing fit because it was kind of how it all started.

How to make your own APPLE MUMMY ...

1. You will need the following ingredients: 
    1 apple
    Popsicle stick or craft stick
    1 med. sized plastic bag that seals
    Natron solution - 1/2 cup table salt
                                1/2 cup sodium carbonate (powder bleach)
                                1/2 cup baking soda
2. Stir together Nation ingredients in plastic bag
3. Carve your apple head into a face. You can leave some skin on or take it off. You can take out the cor or leave it in.
4. Put the Popsicle stick through the apple and dip into Natron solution making sure the whole apple is covered.
5. Leave apple in solution until it is dried out. This will take about a month or so.

INFO: The Natron solution dries the apple just as it would dry out the human body for the mummifying process

(Kenzie is the extraordinary niece of the publisher of this blog)

Thursday, March 25, 2010

This journalism bug bites hard

Novelist John Grisham speaks Wednesday at an event sponsored by the Innocence Institute of Point Park University, Pittsburgh. (Camelia Montoy photo)

PITTSBURGH – An assistant professor at Point Park University came up with an interesting assignment using social media before a famous novelist visited his campus Wednesday.

Christopher Rolinson, who teaches photojournalism at the Pittsburgh school, offered to pay for the first three students who responded to his Facebook invitation to attend a swanky affair with novelist John Grisham.

As soon as a few students chimed in, he assigned the winners to “get a picture published from the event.”

“Where do you want it published?” one of the students inquired in a subsequent post.

“That’s your job to figure out,” Rolinson replied on the Web chain.

So I sent him an email, offering this blog as a place for his students to find an outlet to get a photo published.

Camelia Montoy quickly took the bait, even though this blog doesn’t have the money to pay for submissions. That’s how fast this blogging, Facebooking, Twittering and Digging works these days.

Her photograph arrived today, the afternoon after the lawyer/author best known for his legal thrillers attended the event to help raise money for the university’s Innocence Institute.

The shot, above, is great. I especially like Montoy’s use of positive and negative spaces, and the crop she has chosen. The freshman from Waynesboro, Pa., certainly is a motivated student photographer.

“I've never really been part of the media before. It was awesome!” she said after the experience.

The bread of life

By Barbara S. Miller

MUSE, Pa. – To Christians of Eastern European origin, the Easter basket signifies more than an opportunity to satisfy the sweet tooth with meltingly smooth chocolate bunnies and fruity or spicy jelly beans.

Descendants of coal miners, Jim and Dolores Cox of Muse preserve Easter traditions their ancestors brought from Europe.

Amid their ethnic Easter basket, one finds ham, homemade cheese, lamb-shaped butter, kielbasa, dyed eggs, salt and, of course, a round crown of rich, raisiny bread known as paska.

Eating the blessed food on Easter breaks the fast that Byzantine Christians begin on Good Friday.

Both Eastern European and Mennonite Christians bake Easter paska, a rich, typically golden yeast dough studded with jewel-like raisins. It symbolizes the risen Christ's body as the bread of life.

The name of the Easter paska is derived from Paschal, referring to Passover. "Paschal Lamb" refers to the victorious risen Christ, who celebrated a Passover meal with his disciples before his crucifixion.

Dolores Cox, 81, bakes paskas each spring, employing a recipe from her late mother.

"I make a different one. My mother made a white dough and a yellow dough," she said. "I've been trying to keep my mother's thing going." The two-tone dough may be unique to Cox and her extended family; it's not something one sees at supermarkets or bakeries.

Her mother, Anna Pozonsky, made the bread solely from memory, but Cox wrote down the ingredients and formulated amounts. She uses only egg yolks in each dough because she thinks egg whites make the dough too dry.

"I put a little more sugar in mine than she did," Cox said. Soaking raisins makes them more pliable and helps set them in the raw dough. Golden raisins keep the bread moist after baking.

Cox, 81, a member of St. Michael Byzantine Catholic Church in Canonsburg, bakes a dozen loaves at a time, using either a deep round pan or an angel food cake pan.

No bread machine or fancy mixers with dough hooks pass muster with Cox.

"You have to feel the texture of the dough," she said. "If it sticks to your hand, you need a little more flour. You use your muscles."

Her recipe:

Dolores Cox’s
Two-Tone Paska
n MAKES 6 loaves
Yellow Dough
1 large cake yeast
1 (12-ounces) can evaporated milk
1 can hot water
1⁄2 cup oil
4 egg yolks
5 cups flour
1⁄2 cup sugar
1 tablespoon salt
1 stick of butter (1⁄4 pound),
room temperature
1 cup cooked white rice
1⁄2 ounce turmeric
1 (1-pound) box of golden raisins, soaked in hot water to soften. (Discard water once raisins are added to dough.)
Pour can of evaporated milk into small mixing bowl. Remove lid and fill can with hot water, then pour into bowl with milk. Add yeast to milk-hot water mixture, breaking it up and stirring to dissolve. Set aside for 15 to 20 minutes, then add 1⁄2 cup oil.
Beat egg yolks with whisk and set aside.
Sift flour into large bowl. Add sugar, salt and turmeric to the flour and mix. Then rub butter into the flour mixture. Add rice in same manner.
First temper egg yolks with a bit of the milk-water-yeast mixture, then add yolks back to the milk-water-yeast mixture. Mix, then pour into flour-turmeric mixture. Add raisins. Work thoroughly. Add more flour until dough is not sticky.
Cover bowl with a kitchen towel and allow dough to rise in a warm place for one hour; punch down. Allow to rise for another hour before shaping.
In meantime, start second batch of dough.

White Dough
1 large cake of yeast
1 (12-ounces) can evaporated milk
1 can of hot water
4 egg yolks, beaten
6 cups sifted flour
1 tablespoon salt
1 cup sugar
2 sticks butter (1⁄2 pound),
room temperature
1⁄2 cup oil
1 (1-pound) box of golden raisins, soaked in hot water (Discard water once raisins are added to dough)
Pour can of evaporated milk into small mixing bowl. Remove lid and fill with can with hot water, then pour into bowl with milk. Add yeast to milk-hot water mixture, breaking it up and stirring to dissolve. Set aside for 15 to 20 minutes. Then add 1⁄2 cup oil.
Beat egg yolks with whisk and set aside.
Sift flour into large bowl. Add sugar and salt and mix. Then rub butter into flour mixture.
First temper egg yolks with a bit of the milk-water-yeast mixture, then add yolks back to the milk-water-yeast mixture. Mix, then pour into flour mixture, add raisins and work thoroughly. Add more flour until dough is not sticky.
Cover white dough bowl with a towel and allow to rise for one hour in a warm place. Punch down and allow to rise for an additional hour.
Note: White dough does NOT contain rice as an ingredient.
Preheat oven to 400 degrees.
Shaping dough: Score yellow dough into sixths and do the same with white dough. On floured board, place one portion of white dough and flatten into a round. Place flattened round of yellow dough on top. If using angel food cake pan, make hole in center of dough. Stretch white dough up and around yellow dough to wrap it around on outside and center of ring shape. Flip over, seal any seams and place in lightly greased or sprayed angel food cake pan. Remove any raisins that poke through top or sides of pan because they can burn. Pinch off a few pieces of white dough from remaining dough in bowl and roll into long, rod-shaped strands to make a cross or two to decorate top of bread. Repeat for remaining five loaves.
Brush tops of bread with a mixture of whole egg, 1⁄4 cup of milk and 1 teaspoon of sugar.
Allow to rise in pan on tabletop for 20 minutes to 1⁄2 hour, until even with top of pan.
Bake in oven at 400 degrees for 15 minutes, then turn oven temperature down to 350 degrees and bake for an additional 30 minutes. Remove from oven and allow to cool somewhat, tapping pan to loosen paska before inverting and continuing to cool on wire rack. Serve as is or toasted and buttered.

(This story originally appeared in Living in Washington County, a publication of the Observer-Reporter. Photo: Robin Richards. They are republished with permission.)

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

A woman breaks down a barrier in local law enforcement

Tracy Vitale gets a nod of approval from her canine officer, Argo, after she was named acting police chief in California, Pa., an appointment that makes her the first female police chief in Washington County history. (Scott Beveridge photo)

Below is part of the story from today's Observer-Reporter newspaper's online edition in Washington, Pa.:

CALIFORNIA, Pa. – Members of California Borough council didn’t realize they were making history Thursday by appointing the first female police chief in Washington County history.

“You know that never crossed my mind,” said Sheila Chambers, new council president in the Mon Valley borough, about the decision to name Tracy Vitale to the position of acting police chief.

“It wasn’t done to make history. It was done to put a very efficient person in charge of this police department,” Chambers said. “She’s fearless, a heroine.”

Monday, March 22, 2010

Following the president one tweet at a time

By Scott Beveridge

Pittsburgh’s sometimes-cocky Mayor Luke Ravenstahl threw a hissy fit last month when reporters had the nerve to question why he kept disappearing during a snowstorm that created a disaster in his city.

Their questions followed a ski trip he made to the mountains in advance of the storm that dumped 2 feet of snow, and rumors he later traveled to New Orleans for Mardi Gras as the region was still dealing with nasty weather.

The 30-year-old Democrat lashed out at them in front of television cameras, seeming quite na├»ve in suggesting the public doesn’t have a right to know the schedule he keeps when taxpayers pay his salary.

Maybe Ravenstahl should take a cue from the big man on his party’s campus, President Barack Obama, whose schedule is regularly posted throughout each day on the Web via tweets on Twitter.

They are "anonymously" posted under the username, WestWingReport, by a someone claiming to be a journalist with incredible access to the president.

The tweets often look like this:

President's Tuesday Schedule: 9:30-intelligence briefing; 10:00-economic briefing; 10:30-senior advisers;

Earlier today, one post took a more serious tone when it announced the FBI was investigating an Obama death threat made on Twitter in response to Sunday’s contentious House vote on health care reform.

An earlier tweet after the House approved that bill carried a link to the first photograph taken of Obama upon his learning the measure had been approved.

Sometimes the feed includes humor like this one referencing a Washington, D.C. bar prior to the big vote:

"If I were running the Hawk & Dove, I would raise the price of beer tonight. Those celebrating or downing their sorrows will pay up."

This dude even tweeted once when Obama disappeared from the public eye only to announce in a tweet upon the president’s return that he had ducked away to watch his daughter Sasha play basketball at her school.

For the record, I began to follow WestWingReport solely because it’s an interesting experiment in new media, and not as a way to lend my support to Obama's policies.

Even the moron who spat on U.S. Rep. Emanuel Cleaver, D-Mo., as the black congressman entered the Capitol to vote Sunday would have to admit that Americans have a vested interest in what the president is doing at any given moment of each day. OK, maybe that is wishful thinking on my part that racists have intelligence.

Regardless, we’ve come a long way since people gathered around their radios 30 times between 1933 and 1944 to hear President Franklin D. Roosevelt issue his historic fireside chats. Every president since has done weekly radio addresses, while Obama has chosen to regularly issue some of his on the Web via YouTube.

Meanwhile, back in Pittsburgh, what appears to be Ravenstahl’s official Twitter feed hasn’t been updated since Thanksgiving.

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Military do-gooders

Props to the ROTC cadets at California University of Pennsylvania who organized a cleanup today of litter in the community surrounding their campus in southwestern Pennsylvania.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Random local music

The Depressionaires perform at the Black Cat Bar in California, Pa., on a Thursday open stage. The alternative-country band members are: Todd Edwards, vocals, guitar and harmonica; Bob Houston, bass guitar; Scott Kennedy, banjo, guitar; and Tom "Catfish" Johnson - drums.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

An Irish lassie

Happy St. Patrick's Day, 1907 style.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

More inclusive histories, finally

By Scott Beveridge

Local historians are including the contributions and struggles of black people for the first time in the things they publish about their communities.

Record keepers in Washington, Pa., have been collecting the oral histories of older black people who lived during the Civil Rights Movement, including those about segregated movie theaters and swimming pools.

Until then, the black story had largely been overlooked there, unless told through the eyes of prosperous white people who helped escaped slaves seeking freedom on the Underground Railroad, said Tom Mainwaring, a professor at Washington & Jefferson College.

The folks in Donora, Pa., have followed suit.

The Donora Historical Society has included a number of photos of black people in a new book on the Washington County borough’s history in what probably is the first time an integrated story has been told there.

The photo that stands out, above, shows a dozen Boy Scouts in uniform posing outside their Baptist church in 1940 with their leader and troop and country flags at a time when the United States was poised to enter World War II.

The paperback photo album also includes a head shot of U.S. District Court Judge Reggie Walton, a black Donora native who served as a federal drug czar and also presided over the perjury trial of Lewis “Scooter” Libby, chief of staff to former Vice President Dick Cheney. Meanwhile, the book holds a portrait of Loretta Ross Jones, a black woman who has spent her life working to help improve the lives of troubled local children.

The book also shows off a fantastic collection of photographs that tell the story of how the town grew up around steel. It’s only because the society was fortunate to have inherited the remarkable collection of a professional photographer, Bruce Dreisbach, who spent most of his life in Donora after locating there in 1906.

The book is a project of Charles Stacey, a retired public school superintendent, and two other historical society members, Brian Charlton and David Lonich. It can be purchased at local retailers, online bookstores or through its publisher, Arcadia Publishing at www.arcadiapublishing.com

(The society will officially launch the book at 1 p.m. April 10, 2010, at the Donora Smog Museum, 595 McKean Ave.)

Monday, March 15, 2010

Ageless beauty

A photographer over at Flicker had something interesting to say the other day about this old portrait of an unknown young woman on my photostream, offering this statement:

"Too bad that most contemporary portrait photographers aren't up to this level," he commented.

He made a valid point when considering all the tacky, over-staged, poorly-lit and ridiculously-expensive photographs that are mailed out every high school graduation season.

The photographer who staged the photo, above, shunned fancy backdrops and silly props to capture this portrait that I found in an old family album. Instead, he brilliantly used lighting that captured the entire grayscale, drawing the eye straight to her face and beautiful smile and eyes.

Sunday, March 14, 2010

The Peeps® game is on

The Observer-Reporter newspaper in Washington, Pa., is hosting an online Peeps® show contest, each Monday, Wednesday and Friday through Easter. Unless, of course, breaking news gets in the way of the game.

Readers can play along and attempt to identify the locations where its photographers snapped pictures of the sugar-coated Marshmallows around Washington and Greene counties.

The rules will be posted online, with winners receiving such O-R gear as an umbrella or ice scraper.

Saturday, March 13, 2010

A flood on the Mon is anyone's guess

The flood gauge in Belle Vernon, Pa., as the Monongahela River was on the rise this afternoon. (Scott Beveridge photo)

ALONG THE MONONGAHELA RIVER, Pa. – Over the last few days, as rain melted a massive snowmelt in the headwaters of the Monongahela River, the flooding forecast has been all over board.

The National Weather Service in Pittsburgh issued flood warnings for the Mon in Charleroi, Pa., which have ranged from expectations of minor damages to major problems and back to nothing to be of concern by Sunday. In the service’s defense, it has no way of knowing how the river will behave until this rain passes.

The forecast was pulled back as the region missed heavy rain that threatened to turn February’s historic snowfall known as Stormageddon into Floodageddon.

This new storm and strong winds hit the Northeast coast hard today, knocking out power more than 450,000 customers in Connecticut, New York, New Jersey and Pennsylvania.

Meanwhile, the 2-feet of snow that fell here in the hinterlands last month killed the power to nearly half as customers, but that didn’t make headlines beyond these borders.

And tonight, as we Appalachians sit on pins and needles wondering what tomorrow will bring on the Mon, the weather service’s Web site with the latest local flooding forecasts has crashed. It is either getting too much traffic or possibly relying on a Web guru near Philadelphia whose office has lost its electricity.

That’s OK because those of us in southwestern Pennsylvania have grown accustomed to being left in the dark, and relying on each other in times of need.

That said, many people around here have been discussing the other big floods along the Mon and attempting to recall the dates, crests and records.

Here is the list, thanks to a cached Web copy of that dead link to the weather service’s current flooding forecast:

Flood categories in feet at Charleroi:

Major flood stage: 35
Moderate flood stage: 31
Flood stage: 28

Historic crests
1. Nov. 5, 1985 – 42.7
2. March 9, 1967 - 41.1
3. March 18, 1936 – 39.9
4. Jan. 20, 1996 – 39.8
5. March 5, 1963 – 39.4
6. June 4, 1941 – 39.2
7. Feb. 19, 2000 – 38.5
8. Oct. 16, 1954 – 38
9. Aug. 6, 1956 – 37.2
10. March 28, 1963 – 36.1

(It ended up being a significant flood that wasn't - with a 25.3 foot crest Sunday morning in Charleroi)

Thursday, March 11, 2010

He used to be Curtis Kyles

By Scott Beveridge

PITTSBURGH, Pa. – Curtis Kyles had been a young man of patience before a killer framed him in the murder of a woman in Louisiana.

Exonerated after spending 14 years in prison, Kyles head still swirls with fear and shame, and it wanders in many directions, so his feelings are expressed in art.

“Now I don’t even know who Curtis Kyles is,” the man’s words peer from the background of his portrait by Pittsburgh artist Daniel Bolick.

The painting of Kyles is included in an exhibit of Bolick’s “Resurrected” series on display at David Lawrence Hall lobby at Point Park University. The paintings feature men who were freed with the help of innocence projects after being wrongly sentenced to death or life in prison.

“You could not write fiction as astounding as what these men’s realities are,” Bolick stated. “Their life experiences had to show on their faces.”

And Bolick captures their sadness brilliantly in powerful, bold colors, and especially in the use of controlled runs of paint. The paint spills off foreheads, around eye crevices and down checks as if it cries with the subjects.

It’s impossible to look at these paintings without absorbing some of the pain these men feel. No mere apology would seem to be enough to erase these wrongs.

As for Kyles, the prosecution in the Orleans Parish homicide withheld evidence from the defense that could have cleared him of the murder. The killer was later murdered after having confessed to the slaying to a number of people.

Prosecutors still tried Kyles three more times, even after the U.S. Supreme Court overturned his conviction. Eventually he was released in 1998 when the local district attorney dropped the case.

It’s no wonder the subject of the painting sobs, or makes such statements as, “I used to be Curtis Kyles.”

The exhibit sponsored by the Innocence Institute of Point Park University ends April 2.

(Editor's note: After this post, Kyles was implicated in another homicide. Our sympathies go out to the victims in that case. This blog does not accept negative comments, nor does it endorse criminals. This posting was simply a review of an art exhibit)

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

One person's dream is another's nighmare

By Scott Beveridge

PITTSBURGH, Pa. – It would be spiffy to be able to afford a $4,000 instant coffeemaker to brew top shelf java in any kitchen.

The fancy machine is one of the luxuries on display at a "dream home" installed behind black curtains at the Pittsburgh Home & Garden Show this month at the David L. Lawrence Convention Center. Just how dreamy these surrounds are, though, is up to interpretation.

One of the first things that catches my eye is a lifelike sculpture of a tribesman squatting on the floor of what I believe to be the master bathroom. I'm taken aback because it looks as if an unwelcome guest is doing his business on the floor of what turns out to be a mediation room.

I can see myself tripping over this thing in the night, and cannot imagine trying to find my zen in the lotus position with it staring me down.

Moments later, two women pass by with frowns on their faces.

"This is supposed to be a dream home?" one of them says. "More like a nightmare," the other responds.

This display is the work of CJ Interior Design Studio of Pittsburgh, and it obviously put a lot of work into the details.

Yet, somehow the designers believe it is stylish to put plastic chairs beside a rustic wooden dining room table. That seems kind of cold and uninviting.

Everything else here appears to be rather expensive, down to the high-tech LED television in the bathroom.

This highbrow stuff is genius and pretentious wrapped in one fake 8-room residence. And, this probably is the wrong time for many people to tour such extravagances.

Some of my furloughed newspaper friends have yet to find full time work eight months after they received their pink slips. While this horrible recession appears to be lifting, they say there still are not any good jobs out there for them to secure.

To play it safe, I will keep my auto-drip coffeemaker that leaks from the bottom until the pot is brewed.

(The home show ends Sunday)

Sunday, March 7, 2010

How to bare the soul with a smile

Lorys Crisafulli acting silly on a recent photo shoot for her upcoming charity calendar featuring scantily-clad old people.

By Scott Beveridge

MONONGAHELA, Pa. – The zany Lorys Crisafulli sums up her many successes with a common sense positive attitude.

“It comes back to how you treat people,” said Crisafulli, 83, of Carroll Township, Pa., who has had at least two great careers and a busy retirement that sent her name around the world.

The retired schoolteacher and antiques dealer is best known for taking off some of her clothes, and convincing 11 of her old female friends to do the same, and posing for a 2008 charity calendar that caught the attention of news organizations from Japan to Washington, Pa.

She’s at it again, in production for a mildly naughty 2011 calendar, one that also will feature a dozen male senior citizens in photographs with the ladies known as the “Vixens of the Valley.”

The first calendar sold 3,000 copies, earning $15,000 for the money-strapped Monongahela Area Historical Society. It also drew sneers from younger people who think old people are ugly.

Here is one example:

“I may be branded a shallow bitch for saying this … but there are certain types of folks who should never pose nude… old people,” a much younger Pittsburgh blogger, Virginia Montanez, stated on her blog, That’s Church, about these models.

Well Montanez branded her personality with that statement, so I won’t use this platform to do the same, although she missed the point in a big way.

These women did something good for their financially strapped community, while also having some oddball fun to make a statement that old people can feel sexy, too. At the same time, they brought themselves a lot of happiness through a vehicle that made them global role models for seniors who want to stay active and give back to the community.

Crisafulli has it right when she says success is best earned by treating people with kindness, generosity and spunk. You won’t hear her snark rudely, or, tell an unattractive person to hide in a closet from the pretty people. That kind of attitude turns to gold.

Click here to read more about her new calendar project. (The link will not last forever)

Friday, March 5, 2010

Cat caught in the headlights

Lusy, originally uploaded by Viola Life.

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

The techno generation gap

Allegheny Power executives, from left, Jim Myers, Rodney L. Dickens, Mike Doran and Mark Myers appear today before the Pennsylvania House Policy Committee to explain the company's response to a disastrous snowstorm last month.

By Scott Beveridge

SPEERS, Pa. – The older guys - those from fire departments and the Pennsylvania Emergency Management Agency - sat front and center today to explain to state officials why some people claim they let local residents down last month in their response to a disastrous snowstorm.

The younger, better dressed executives sat in the back rows at the Pennsylvania House Policy Committee hearing into the storm response with their cell phones in hand, tuned into the live news feeds some journalists were filing from the room.

"We're following you on Twitter," one of those technology-minded guys told me after I had just updated the Observer-Reporter newspaper web site with a fresh report on the testimony.

His statement seemed to cement the problems news agencies face in adapting to social media with some staff members who resist the rapidly-changing ways in which breaking news is being delivered. So many reporters are still holding pens to notebooks and then taking even longer time to get their stories to print when that method of telling stories has been quickly losing an audience.

Yet, the comment from the audience member about our Twitter feed spoke to an even broader issue relating to a new "generation gap" facing society.

A generation ago, the big understanding gap existed between young adults who opposed the Vietnam War and their parents who then seemed to be living on another planet.

These days, we are separated in a big way between those who get the Internet and those who still pick up the telephone book to call the local florist. This distance knows no age group.

My 80-year-old mother has better Web skills than do many of my colleagues in the local media. An older friend who lives nearby uses Skype with ease to Web chat with her young granddaughter a continent away in San Francisco.

Those who don't get it often say Twitterers, Skypers and Facebookers have way too much time on their hands. In many instances they are right when they point to employees who eat up the payroll via their unchecked addictions to blogs and such.

The criticism from the uninformed, however, also speaks to its hesitation to climb out of the modern dinosaur age.

If only those who are being left behind knew how much time, trouble and money can be saved through effective use of the technology at hand these days.

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Meet Chris Hardie

Chris Hardie is flanked on a recent run by Waynesburg University student Tiffany Davis and Waynesburg Mayor Blair Zimmerman.

By Colleen Nelson

WAYNESBURG, Pa. – When Chris Hardie says, "Gotta Run," you can believe him.

The Greene County, Pa., Office of Development and Planning staffer is out the door running whenever he gets the chance – lunchtime, before work, after work and on weekends.

He is on a mission and the mission has a name – Chris Cross the County for the cure.

While many cancer survivors and their supporters walk the track at Central Greene High School for 24 hours for Relay for Life the first weekend each May, Hardie, 32, puts a longer distance face on what he challenges himself to do for cancer in April.

Chris Cross the County takes him from one end of the county to the other, or even across the county line heading for Pittsburgh.

Hardie has been charting a different course each year since 2007 when he ran his first 51 miles for Relay and raised $3,500. His determination to run no matter what the weather attracts the kind of publicity and sponsorship that adds up to thousands of research dollars for the American Cancer Society.

Getting to know the man so many have only seen on the fly isn’t easy. Hardie is on the go even when he's not wearing his running shoes. It’s a rare moment when he can be found in his office with enough time to chat and even then, he is answering the phone, making copies, organizing notes or checking his watch for the next scheduled meeting while he talks.

He’s been up since 6 a.m. on the day of this interview, and there isn’t a day that he doesn’t work out – boxing, Pilates, aerobics and weight training.

“Whatever I’m in the mood for.”

And then there is the almost daily running regime.

“Out of 365 days I’d say I run 350. I’m in training year-round.”

His shaven head, neat goatee and direct gaze complement his compact muscular build. A white bulletin board behind his desk is neatly gridded with his workday tasks – meetings and projects for the county, tucked around his hours as part-time track and field and cross country coach at Waynesburg University.

“I have to keep organized – there’s a lot of things going on here in planning,” Hardie admits. “Any new construction or business coming into the county goes through this office for ordinance compliance. Storm drains, noise, tax abatement, we deal with it. We plan ahead and connect the dots and make sure it’s done the right way.”

Hardie found his own right way as a high school senior, when he realized his body had found its athletic niche in running.

“I have a strong gas tank – I can keep going. The name Hardie is mostly German but my dad’s Cherokee, too. I’m built like him and we’re a lot alike. He has a little gray in his beard and he’s more into working out than running, but that’s about it. He doesn’t think so but he’s the one who taught me to be able to do this. He gave me his work ethic growing up.”

Hardie grew up in Blair County near Altoona, Pa., on land that his great-grandfather once farmed. He lost a grandmother to cancer, then an aunt.

California University of Pennsylvania gave him a chance to run track and field while earning a bachelor’s degree in political science and a master’s in geography and regional planning. It also gave him another close encounter with cancer.

“One of my running partners, Pablo Prego, started having calf cramps. It turned out to be cancer and it spread quickly. He was only 24. A bunch of us college runners had a run in his honor and the idea evolved over time. When I was at Mount Aloysis College in 2003 I discovered Relay for Life and started helping out. When I moved to Greene County in 2005 and saw there was a Relay here, I got involved.”

When April rolls around, Hardie is ready to run - rain, snow or shine. He has a stock answer for his commitment that is not lessened by being repeated.

“Cancer victims don’t get to choose when they have good days or bad days, so I don’t care what it’s like out there – I’m running.”

This year, Hardie has decided to run in circles for the cure – coordinating the 4th annual Chris Cross with Waynesburg University’s popular Mini-Relay for Life from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. April 18.

“I’ll be running on campus around Johnson’s Commons, doing as many laps as I can. My wife Kelley is the sponsor of the Mini-Relay and our goal is $7,000. The checks are beginning to come in already.”

Hardie bends down and adjusts his laces. He’s bundled up but his legs are bare against another chilly day – a toboggan warms his head. He grins, straightens up and surveys the road before him. It’s lunchtime and Hardie just has time for a quick sprint and a bite to eat.

“See ya now. Gotta run!”

(Colleen Nelson is freelance writer and artist in Holbrook, Pa. She teachers creative writing at Bowlby Library in Waynesburg, Pa. Reprinted from Living in Greene County magazine, a publication of the Observer-Reporter)