My 2021 in 21 Instagram posts

While I spent much of the year navigating the pandemic, I still got to experience so many things. Every year is filled with love and loss and great memories. Here’s a slice of what my 2021 looked like.

Kicked off 2021 with … cold brew coffee

This was the first cold brew coffee of 2021. The first of many!

Presque Isle Lighthouse in snow

I don’t know if I had ever walked to the lakeshore side when there was snow on the ground.

I walked on (frozen) water

This was my first time walking on Presque Isle Bay from the Presque Isle side! I watched people ice fishing, playing hockey and doing other ice-related activities.

I got vaxxed

Doing the neighborly thing.

Visited the Erie Zoo!

This little baby orangutan is adorable!

I visited Wawa. (Twice)

We all make mistakes.

Saw the White House

Pennsylvania Avenue was closed, so this was the closest I could get.

Swam in this natural spring pool

My first visit to Bedford Springs! I had this pool to myself for at least 90 minutes.

Got to see this Gulf station!

Finally! I’d wanted to see this building ever since WQED’s Rick Sebak shared it on a history program.

Visited the United 93 crash site

I was here a week shy of the 20th anniversary.

Our beloved rescue Kaci died

❤️

Visited Ellicottville

Took a stroll to see old buildings, sites in Ellicottville

Selfied with world’s largest pickle

It’s a big dill.

Watched fireworks be lit off of Pittsburgh’s City-County Building

That had never been done before!

I got to see NYC decorated for Christmas

This was such a highlight of my life!

Saw Macy’s Christmas windows!

Hello, Tiptoe!

Saw the Rockettes!

What a great show!

Made new friends

Best NYC tour guide!

Saw old friends!

I love these guys.

Saw Erie history light up!

The Warner Theatre marquee had not been lit in more than 40 years.

Rode the Jack Rabbit on Christmas Eve

In the 101-year history of Kennywood Park’s Jack Rabbit, it had never operated in December. I got to ride it on Dec. 24! I also ate Potato Patch fries on Christmas Eve. Yinzplosion!

My 2021 Sheetz cold brew coffee count is ‘for the Kidz’

Back by nobody’s demand!

As the year winds down, I’m counting up the number of Sheetz cold brew coffees I’ve had in 2021! And, this year, I’m supporting Sheetz For the Kidz with this crazy cold brew coffee addiction.

As you might know, I’m slightly addicted to cold brew coffee from Sheetz. (If you don’t know, now you do.)

What began as a joke in 2020 from some people wondering how many Sheetz cold brew coffees I had during the year turned into a fun guessing game! Sheetz makes it easy to keep track in the MySheetz app.

The winner for my 2020 count was Sheetz worker Ashley who likely made a majority of those cold brew coffees.

So, let’s do it again for 2021.

Drop a guess under my tweet or Instagram post before the Times Square ball drops on Dec. 31.

That’s it! I’ll pull the guesses together and see who’s the closest.

I’ll share the actual total — and winner! — on Jan. 1!

As a bonus this year: For every cold brew coffee I had in 2021, I am going to donate $1 to the Sheetz For the Kidz nonprofit group that helps support children and their families in need in Sheetz communities.

The Sheetz employee-driven charity focuses on three areas: Gifts, wishes and food. Sheetz For the Kidz supports an annual holiday gift-giving program for children, Make-A-Wish Foundation and Feeding America.

Sheetz For the Kidz dates to 1992 when two Sheetz district managers raised $12,000 and took 126 children shopping for the holidays, according to its website. Today, the nonprofit organization supports 9,700 kids every year.

You can support Sheetz For the Kidz by making a donation here, using MySheetz rewards points to make a donation, buying Sheetz For the Kidz charity water and checking Sheetz stores for in-store efforts in July and December.

Need a hint for making a guess?

  • I offered a tip last year sharing how many cold brew coffees I had through the end of September. Not doing that this year! I have to make it a little more difficult. But here’s a tip to maybe help you get in the ballpark: In September, I had 35. In July, I had 40. Were other months higher, lower or about the same? ¯\_(ツ)_/¯ 

Quick rules and other things:

  • We’ll follow “The Price Is Right” method: The winner whose guess is closest without going over wins. (So, if you live under a rock: If the correct answer is 5 and you guess 6, you lost.)
  • There’s no prize for winning other than the satisfaction of making a lucky guess.
  • In the event of a tie, those with the correct answer will all be considered winners!
  • Post your guess to the above mentioned social media posts by 11:59:59 Dec. 31.
  • Disclaimer: Adding this disclaimer so you know that Sheetz is in no way connected to this, they didn’t ask me to do this, they’re not overseeing it, they’re going to find out at the same time you do when reading this. I’m just a crazy Sheetz Freak who loves Sheetz.

World AIDS Day: Ending the HIV epidemic

Today is World AIDS Day.

World AIDS Day was founded in 1988 and is considered the first global health day.

We’ve come a long way since the Reagan administration failed to act on the crisis in the 1980s, leading to more than 700,000 people dying in the years since from HIV-related illnesses.

Thanks to science and research, it was announced last month or so that a woman in Argentina might have become only the second known person whose own immune system may have cured her of HIV.

More than 1.2 million people are living with HIV in the U.S., according to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. There are more than 35,000 new infections each year.

HIV, in 2019, was the ninth leading cause of death for people 25-34, according to the Kaiser Family Foundation. It was the 10th leading cause of death for people 35-44.

For some populations, taking what’s scientifically known as pre-exposure prophylaxis (or PrEP) medicine helps to prevent HIV in people who are most at risk. The medicine is considered to be highly effective for HIV prevention. The medicine can, in many cases, be free from out-of-pocket costs with or without insurance.

But many general practice or primary care doctors still know very little about PrEP, and stigma and fear surrounding HIV can lead to someone having a difficult time getting the medicine. Medical clinics focusing on health initiatives for people who identify as LGBTQ are an option if people have access to such facilities.

People aren’t just living with HIV, they are thriving — with many people living as what’s known as “undetectable=untransmitable” (or “U=U”), meaning they have reached and maintained an undetectable viral load through daily antiretroviral therapy and cannot transmit the virus to others.

Similar to cancer and COVID-19, HIV disproportionately impacts certain age groups and populations — most particularly racial and ethnic minorities, and people who identify as LGBTQ. Fear, suppression, lack of education, stigma, lack of insurance, lack of access to prevention/treatment are among the reasons these communities are at a greater risk.

It is worth noting that, in 2018, 21 percent of new HIV diagnoses were among young people 13-24 years old, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

On Thanksgiving, I saw someone question why an ad for HIV treatment would air during the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade.

The information above is why having commercials and marketing efforts during large-scale events, such as the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade, can help lead to a better society for everybody.

Such efforts to advertise HIV treatment can help save lives and help to end stigmas.

There is no doubt that someone saw that commercial during the Thanksgiving Day parade and made a call. Or, maybe someone searched for information on HIV testing after seeing the commercial.

This would be similar to seeing an American Cancer Society commercial and then visiting cancer.org for information on testing and treatment.

There was a time in our society when cancer was stigmatized. People saw cancer as a death sentence and did not speak of it — similar to how some people still view HIV.

But through education and research, cancers have become widely understood — and there is generally no stigma attached to someone being diagnosed, at least compared to how society was just a few decades ago.

With any hope, efforts like Thursday’s ad during the Thanksgiving Day parade can help HIV follow a similar path of cancer, allowing society to destigmatize the virus.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has a wealth of information available to help people better understand HIV.

The CDC provides a section on stopping the stigma.

April 10 is National Youth HIV & AIDS Awareness Day. The CDC provides resources for educators and schools.

World AIDS Day is Dec. 1. The theme for 2021 is “Ending the HIV Epidemic: Equitable Access, Everyone’s Voice.

Other resources

Remembering Kaci

“You can’t buy love, but you can rescue it.”

Our beloved rescue mix Kaci died Tuesday, Sept. 28, 2021, after being diagnosed with an aggressive form of cancer last year. She was 11.

Ever the guardian of her family, Kaci was the gentlest giant who had a knack for keeping stuffed toys intact — though, later in life she would destroy the squeaker within minutes even as the toy remained fine — and loved cuddling on top of blankets.

Kaci rescued us with love in February 2010 from a Yukon, Pennsylvania, animal rescue organization. As a very young puppy, Kaci, originally named Ann, and a sibling were neglected by a previous owner.

She left those bad memories in the past when she became part of this family zoo.

While having no puppies of her own, Kaci had an incredible motherly instinct — always honing in on the emotions of the humans around her. And when any fellow furry family member had to go to the veterinarian, Kaci expressed concern, typically howling and scurrying around to find that particular animal when they returned.

She understood love, happiness and grief better than most humans do, which allowed her to also be a better caregiver than most people.

While her bark might have seemed off-putting to some, this was her way of expressing concern for those she loved.

And when she wasn’t keeping watch for every pizza delivery or FedEx driver, Kaci was an excellent teller of time — always knowing exactly when it was breakfast, dinner and snack time. Though, she couldn’t quite figure out the changing seasons and clock adjustments.

Never one to turn down food, Kaci enjoyed everything from blueberries to Wegmans butter cream icing. She ate better than many humans as her parents meal-prepped protein and vegetables each week to add to kibble.

While she tolerated spring and fall weather and downright hated even a slight bit of humidity, her love of snow was unmatched. She enjoyed intensely running in snow. Other than snow, Kaci enjoyed visits to Presque Isle, staying under the tent, away from the sun.

Though initially listed as a “pointer” mix, though no pointer ever seemed evident in her, Kaci grew to love her pointer family — first with Sidney and then with Anne and Macy.

In her waning months, as the aggressive form of cancer progressed, her spirits never diminished. While experiencing bad days among the good — sometimes, bad moments of a good day — her love for those around her never stopped. And Kaci still knew when it was feeding and snack time.

In lieu of squeaky toys and tasty treats, hug your furry little animals and remind them how much they mean to you.

Pittsburgh Light Up Night returns in 2021

What’s become the traditional kickoff of the holiday season in Pittsburgh is set to return.

Pittsburgh Light Up Night is back in 2021 — just in time for the 60th anniversary of the city’s first Light Up Night.

After pausing the event in 2020 due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, the Pittsburgh Downtown Partnership promises a “refresh” on the holiday celebration.

Though details were slim in the Sept. 16 announcement, organizers did announce one big change: Light Up Night is moving to Saturday — Nov. 20. Traditionally, the event has been held on the Friday before Thanksgiving.

The Holiday Market at Market Square will celebrate its 10th year in the city and will kick off Nov. 19.

Also new to Light Up Night this year is a new title sponsor: Highmark.

If you know anything about Downtown Pittsburgh and the holidays, you know that the iconic Horne’s tree that dazzles all season long at the corner of Penn and Stanwix streets is now home to Highmark.

“Pittsburgh’s annual Light Up Night is a tradition for our community. Our sponsorship of the event complements the lighting of the region’s most iconic and historic Christmas tree affixed to our building at the corner of Penn and Stanwix Streets,” Highmark Health Executive Vice President and Chief Corporate Affairs Officer Dan Onorato said in a statement released by the Pittsburgh Downtown Partnership. “We‘re excited that the move to Saturday will now make this signature event even more family-focused and welcoming to all.”

Did you know? Pittsburgh’s first Light Up Night was not tied to the holiday season. The city’s first “light up” event was held April 9, 1959, in honor of the Pirates.

It eventually moved to the holiday season. But Light Up Night took a nine-year hiatus beginning in 1973 in an effort to conserve energy.

Light Up Night returned in 1982 to help lift morale as the steel industry collapsed. Just a few years later, though, Gimbels — one of the last remaining Downtown department stores — would close.

Before COVID-19, Light Up Night, in recent years, recorded crowds of at least half a million people. In the ’90s, as the Downtown retail district began to implode, the event would see 25,000 to 50,000 people.

But something happened since then: The Downtown Pittsburgh Partnership has grown the event — along with the help of many other groups — which has attracted plenty more people to the city.

Gone are the days when Kaufmann’s would celebrate its grand window displays. (I wonder if any consideration has been given to pay homage to this tradition?)

Even once Kaufmann’s became Macy’s, the building would have festive events on nearly every floor.

And who can forget the Arcade Bakery thumbprint cookies with the iconic Kaufmann’s mile-high icing?

Gone are the days when people used Light Up Night and the holiday season to shop Downtown. Now, people shop online or at Target (guilty as charged).

Light Up Night has changed with the times to let Pittsburghers continue to usher in the holidays.