Category Archives: Looking Back

‘Now it’s time to say goodbye’: Disney Store magic is about to run out

The clock is about to strike midnight on dozens of Disney Store locations.

Keepers of the happiest place on Earth will shut about 40 Disney Store locations on or before March 23. This includes the final Disney Store in Western Pennsylvania — at South Hills Village mall.

The news shouldn’t have come as a surprise to me as retailers continue a mass exodus of brick-and-mortar locations in an effort to stave off losses brought on by online shopping and to appease shareholders.

As a millennial, I’ve mourned the loss of many childhood spots: Children’s Palace, KB Toys, Hills, Kaufmann’s, Sam Goody and, of course, Toys R Us.

But there was something about the Disney Store news that seemed like a tipping point for me.

As a child, shopping wasn’t always a fun experience. I hated what seemed like hours spent in Kaufmann’s fitting rooms trying on clothes. Being dragged to the crowded grocery store on weekend mornings as a kid also wasn’t a magical experience.

Visits to Toys R Us, Hills and the Disney Store always offered a reprieve from the doom and gloom of grown up stores.

The Disney Store always offered that chance to pretend like I was at Disney World — a place I have only visited once as a sophomore in high school on a choir trip. I came close to Disney World again around 2010 but didn’t get a chance to visit.

In true Disney fashion, every inch of the store was steeped in magic — from the decorative columns to the artistic character scenes to the overall theme of the store.

Even as an adult, I regularly stop into the Disney Store and become lost in the magic of childhood stories. (And don’t even ask how many Christmas ornaments I’ve purchased from the Disney Store.)

Browsing the colorful displays as cheerful and very recognizable music pumped through the store added to the magic of Disney. I still got excited seeing stuffed animals, action figures and other collectibles with beloved characters on them.

Slogging through pages and categories and pop up windows and filters on the Disney Store website doesn’t seem to have the same magic as being inside of a brick-and-mortar Disney Store.

On what might have been my final visit to Pittsburgh’s last Disney Store, I purchased what is a very 2021 purchase: Several Disney face masks.

Disney is using lyrics from a version of “The Mickey Mouse Club” theme song to say farewell to fans: “Now it’s time to say goodbye.” Unfortunately, how that song ends (“See you real soon!”) is not how the Disney Store story ends.

‘I don’t have to apologize for letting go or choosing things in the name of my peace and healing’

I did something this week that was long overdue: I stepped away from all of my volunteer and extracurricular activities.

I stepped back from volunteering* with an organization I’ve been heavily involved with for more than 25 years.

I officially resigned from a nonprofit board position, stepped back from a few other nonprofits where I’ve offered assistance or volunteered and said no to some recent asks for my help in other activities.

And it feels good.

(Continue reading below the Instagram post.)

Being forced last year to pause so much helped me take a hard look at what I was spending my life doing. Like a lot of you, I said “yes” far too much.

I’ve been going hard at volunteering for nonprofits for way too long. For many years, I tried to keep track of my hours spent volunteering and I easily racked up anywhere from 1,800 to 2,600 hours a year volunteering.

I’ve put so much time in, and I just needed to take a break — something I’ve been trying to do for a few years now. But every time I found myself with extra time, I found some nonprofit group or activity to fill its void. I’ve said “yes” too often just thinking it would be a simple ask, and it usually wasn’t.

The ongoing global pandemic has taught me that I need to slow down and live my life.

The nonprofit groups will continue. The other activities will go on.

When I’m ready, I’ll find my way back into volunteering — either for groups I’ve recently hit pause on or new endeavors.

There’s a song from one of the greatest musicals — “Avenue Q” — that I often am reminded of: “For Now.” The lyrics go: “Nothing lasts. Life goes on, full of surprises. … Except for death and paying taxes, everything in life is only for now.” This pause is only for now.

What led me to this decision that, from the outside, seems drastic? As I said earlier, it’s been a long time coming. When doing any kind of volunteering, I think of another “Avenue Q” song that goes: “When you help others, you’re really helping yourself.” Helping nonprofit groups began to feel like tasks mounting with no end in sight — and I started to feel as though I wasn’t helping myself.

A friend suggested that nonprofit work should still — at the core — be fun and fulfilling.

The other day, I ran across a post on Facebook with the quote posted above. I found Yasmine Cheyenne’s Instagram account to give her proper credit. But that quote (“I don’t have to apologize for letting go or choosing things in the name of my peace and healing”) really resonated with me. It’s OK to let go.

* Besides, did you really think I could completely step away? I’m still going to raise some money for the American Cancer Society because I signed up as a team captain and don’t want to have a zero-dollar team. But I’m going to do it with as little effort this year. And I still plan to help with a journalism group.

Of course, with an ongoing pandemic, there is little to fill this large chunk of time with. And maybe that’s for the best for now.

My 2020 in Instagram posts.

2020 has been a year. Here are some moments from mine. In Instagram photos.

I started the year with a trip to … Erie.

Oh, and then I started a new job with familiar digs.

I visited Cincinnati.

I went to Sheetz … a lot.

I saw ‘Cats’ for the first time … and it was also the last live theater show (for now) unbeknownst to me.

I used a lot of hand sanitizer.

The last actual fundraiser/nonprofit event I did (for now)

I hung out with these two a lot.

I dog sat this guy twice this summer!

I learned a lot.

This short-lived Planters peanut mascot arrived.

I ate some fun stuff.

I went to Presque Isle a lot.

While I haven’t seen friends much, the folks at Sheetz have been very friendly familiar faces to see.

Got a fun package from Sheetz because of this tweet.

I did get to Kennywood Park. Once.

My sweet little Belle died. (Not a highlight, but certainly something that I reflect on.)

I got to see a friend I haven’t in a few years! In Erie!

Visited Ellicottville, N.Y. Somehow, I never posted any photos from my visit to the Lucille Ball museum.

This front window I designed is a major highlight.

I got to enjoy a rare hefty December snowfall in Pittsburgh.

I stayed at the Sheraton Erie Bayfront Hotel quite a bit.

I, of course, let me personality shine with face masks.

Remembering Belle

Belle Cherry, a catnip enthusiast, sleep specialist and Fancy Feast connoisseur who despised dogs and nurtured feral-turned-house cats, died Sept. 15, 2020, at home. She was 17.

The cause was complications from thyroid disease.

With her mostly snowy white coat and sparkling eyes, Isabella Christmas Cherry, known by all as Belle, caught the eye of her human companion Bobby on Sept. 18, 2003, at a pet store inside the Millcreek Mall in Erie. At about eight weeks old, Belle had snagged her tiny claws onto Bobby’s hoodie. It was love at first sight.

Belle was named to honor Bobby’s love of “Days of our Lives” and Christmas. She did not receive a name for several days as Bobby worked to find the best name to capture her energy and the spirit of those interests.

The first several months of her life were lived mostly in secret, breaking on-campus college housing rules to live with Bobby. Masking tape was used on the blinds to keep her from wandering onto a windowsill to lazily gaze at the city life that passed by, and, of course, the birds in nearby trees.

It is in this Erie apartment where Belle grew to enjoy using the bathroom sink as a napping spot, sitting on the bathtub ledge to catch water falling from the shower, stealing lunch meat from already made sandwiches on the kitchen counter, playing with Christmas village pieces, and, best of all, snuggling in warm blankets in a cool room with Bobby.

She eventually grew out of her interest in scooping water out of glasses before knocking them onto the floor.

Ultimately, though, the masking tape was no match for a young and curious Belle. Her mischievous behavior to sneak into the window led to her being discovered by a maintenance worker.

When Belle embarked on her new life at the Cherry family estate, she quickly became the Belle of the ball, making friends with Snowflake and Midnight, and being chased by Mindy, whom she detested.

She had a love/hate relationship with housemate Rocket. Simply put, she loved to hate him. On very rare occasions, such as when the house was cold, the pair could be spotted near one another.

Most of the time, though, the pair dueled. Belle always came out victorious in her quest to be the best cat of the house — the true Belle of the ball.

She disliked all dogs and had mild interest in other cats. She is survived by her human companions, including Bobby and his parents and Ryan and Robin, and by four-legged creatures she didn’t really care for — Rocket, Kaci, Anne, Macy, Quiver and Tuffy — and by her close four-legged friends Boo and Charlotte. She was preceded in death by Noel, Max, Sidney, Mindy, Midnight and Snowflake.

Some cats are independent, only seeking attention when they desire it. Belle could be described this way, except that she always sought out the companionship of humans. She craved a warm lap, a chest to knead, an arm to snuggle — however close she could get to a human is what she preferred.

Her infectious love of cuddling was like no other. Belle was a regal companion who could turn a moment of sadness into one filled with happiness and love just by purring, kneading or meowing in her soft and inviting tone.

In her waning months, as the disease progressed, her energy and love remained strong. Belle still found the drive to climb to the top of the cat tree house to gaze out the window, and somehow jumped down from the tallest perch.

Belle’s 17 years and a few months will live on in memory — a memory filled with all sorts of little moments to keep close and remember in times of sadness and joy.

In lieu of cardboard boxes and sparkly toys, Bobby requests you hug your furry little animals and remind them how much they mean to you.

Looking at local journalism as the Sewickley Herald marks 116 years

Happy birthday, Sewickley Herald!

For 116 years (Sept. 19, 1903), the Sewickley Herald has served as the record keeper, fact checker and voice of the Sewickley Valley.

I played a small part in the storied history of the Sewickley Herald, serving as a reporter and then editor of the venerable weekly publication for about 11 years.

To say I loved that newspaper is an understatement. The Sewickley Herald and its core mission of providing quality news and information meant such a great deal to me.

I knew my role as a steward of that newspaper was important. Things don’t last that long without passion, pride and commitment.

In a 2013 story celebrating the 110th anniversary of the Herald, I wrote: “Founding publishers J.L. Kochenderfer and James Stinson likely had little idea of the legacy the Herald would carry with it more than a century later.”

By nature of the business, I was part of some pretty big stories impacting the Sewickley Valley — just in my short part of its legacy.

Community journalism sometimes gets a bad rap. Too often, I had then-colleagues snicker at the thought of covering hyperlocal journalism. They didn’t see the value in covering local school board meetings or road paving projects. To them, journalism was about big news in big areas with big crime.

And yet, there we were at the Sewickley Herald, covering bank robberies and business districts, middle school musicals and council members violating state ethics laws.

Thankfully, I’m bad at math, because I would not want to know how much unpaid time I put in at the Sewickley Herald (and in later years at The Signal Item in Carnegie and the South Hills Record — two papers I later became editor of at the same time as I was editor of the Sewickley Herald … doing more with far less).

As time went on, our staffs were slashed. I began with the Sewickley Herald in 2007. At the time, there was an editor (Dona Dreeland), two reporters, a sports editor and a photographer. I was a part-time reporter early on, splitting my time with the Herald and Signal Item (the two papers I would close out my Trib career as editor of).

By the end, we were a staff of an editor (me!), plus a photographer who was split in a million different directions … and a group of freelancers who I owe so much to for helping me look like I had it all together.

And somehow, we still put out quality work, covering school board meetings, student achievements, asking the tough questions and getting in all those local events and briefs.

And somewhere in there we managed to have some fun with (and win several awards for) our online presence/community, photo, news stories, feature stories and sports stories.

Stepping away from the Sewickley Herald was one of the hardest things I’ve ever done. But as much as I love the Herald, I knew it was time.

In my farewell column, I wrote, “As one of the oldest community newspapers still in operation in the region, the Sewickley Herald has documented quite a bit of change across the Sewickley Valley over the years. After all, change is news. And things always are changing.”

I’ve known and understood the role of a community newspaper for years, but I didn’t find quite the right way to articulate it until I was nearly done:

In my 2018 Herald Citizens of the Year celebration speech, I described how the role of a community newspaper is much like the role of a mother.

“The Herald is there to comfort when there is pain, question when there is conflict, and celebrate when there is joy,” I explained at that celebration. Mothers get to the bottom of disagreements between children, can tell when someone isn’t telling the truth, and know everything that happens at home even if they didn’t witness it.

– Sewickley Herald, Aug. 2, 2018

I miss local journalism. And, sadly, locally and nationally, local journalism has drastically changed just in the last year, as more companies seek to squeeze every last penny out of the success of decades old community newspapers.

I ended my 2018 farewell column with a quote from a musical (“Avenue Q”) that I think of every single day: “Everything in life is only for now.”