Category Archives: me

‘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.

Uhh, where’s my car?

Rarely do I misplace anything. Sure, I might bury important paperwork in my backpack or place the Apple TV remote in a different spot, but I never misplace stuff.

Especially my car.

Well, there’s a first for everything.

I was flustered Wednesday afternoon around 5 p.m. driving into rush hour traffic Downtown looking for a place to park.

I pulled into the far right lane of the Boulevard of the Allies near Market Street to park on the street.

It’s very clearly marked that parking is not permitted between 4 p.m. and 6 p.m. But other vehicles were parked there already.

I sat there for a few minutes contemplating what to do.

Scared of the threat of being towed and the clock not being closer to 6 p.m., I moved my car to Third Avenue and Market Street.

Fast forward to my dinner meeting ending. I agree to take one person home.

Upon reaching the Boulevard of the Allies and Market Street, I calmly kept pushing my car’s unlock button. Nothing.

Still calm on the outside (but just about freaking out on the inside), I call the parking authority. I get the tow company number and call.

The woman asks where my car was. I tell her. As I’m on hold, my mind is racing and it starts to unravel my steps just about 2 hours prior.

It slowly hits me that I didn’t park on the Boulevard of the Allies.

The woman said they had no cars with my description and none that came in from that area in that time.

I tell her I think I might have parked on another corner. She laughed and said to call back if I didn’t find my car.

Turning the corner onto Third Avenue, I’m clicking my car button nonstop until I finally see the lights blink.

Success!

I might have gone crazy, but at least my car wasn’t towed!

Remembering Edith Hughes…

Unlike many colleagues and friends, my stories of Edith Hughes don’t involve what seemed to be a haphazard interview session or a layout filled with red ink corrections.

My first run-in with Edith came one morning in 2007 in the Gateway Newspapers former office on Greentree Road. It was early that morning — just myself and Signal Item editor Bob Pastin were in. Edith quickly zipped through the office, pausing just enough to look at me — a new face. She rushed into Bob’s cubicle and asked, “Who is that?”

Bob replied, explaining I was the new (at the time) part-time reporter for the Signal Item and Sewickley Herald. She came back out of his cubicle, looked at me as I awkwardly smiled at her — unsure of what just took place, and then she left.

The first time I spoke to Edith was in Harrisburg for a Pennsylvania Newspaper Association weeklies conference. Her first statement: “Did you get breakfast?” No, I said. She then looked me up and down and asked how I was liking the Sewickley Herald. Before I could finish a sentence, she said, “Interesting attire, young man.” I had on khakis, a polo shirt and tennis shoes — my usual work attire.

She then said, “Maybe you’ll learn something here to take back to Sewickley.”

What she didn’t know is that it wasn’t the guest speakers from The Patriot-News or any other newspaper that I’d learn from that day. It was Edith who would teach me more than I ever thought I could know.

You see, Edith had a way with more than just journalism. She had a way with life. In her eyes, good manners, proper attire and fine detail meant everything. You didn’t cut corners. You gave more than your best. And you did all of that out of respect for yourself, your talent and your colleagues.

I got to know her more through stories from colleagues and from her random visits to the Sewickley Herald office. She played a major role in the Herald’s annual honors dinner, recognizing the great community-minded individuals of the year. Place cards were handwritten, not typed. The menu offered nothing but the best food. And the entire evening was as perfect as perfect could be. Why? Because she’d settle for nothing less.

At one of the honors dinners, she looked at me and said, “You clean up well. I almost didn’t recognize you.”

In January of this year, I returned from a nearly two-week-long vacation. I had a missed call and e-mail from Edith. Odd, I thought. Out of the more than 20 voice mails and 200 e-mails, Edith’s were the first messages I responded to.

Days later, I heard from her. She wanted to talk to me in person. I was nervous, to say the least. She couldn’t fire me, she didn’t have that authority anymore. Right? But what did I do to be getting a visit exclusively from Edith?

I dressed a tad nicer than my average wardrobe (no tie, though), and awaited her visit. Snowflakes were flying. Edith called and said she’d be late. Finally, Edith arrived and whisked me away into the conference room where she shut the door.

“I need you to talk at the weeklies seminar about everything you do with technology,” she said. “It’s in April.”

This was early January — many months and inches of snow away from April.

“Yeah, I’ll do it,” I nervously said, scribbling down the words “April” and “PNA.”

“Yes, you’ll do it,” Edith said, either repeating what I said, but probably correcting my language.

She expected an outline by mid-February. I e-mailed her an outline by the end of that week in January.

The morning of the conference, Edith — oddly enough — was late. As it turned out, the massive rain and flooding from the previous day and night knocked the power out at her hotel. I stayed elsewhere in the Harrisburg area, which was unheard of in Edith’s mind because I did not get breakfast options at my hotel (though, she was impressed that I got a better room rate than she!).

Right before my turn to present, I completely re-did my entire presentation because the previous speakers took most of what I was going to say. Introducing me to the crowd, Edith explained what a dedicated and passionate reporter I was, and what I had done to help make the Sewickley Herald a newsier paper. I can remember standing there thinking, “Holy crap, Edith is saying this about me?”

Afterward, Edith told me I was the best presenter (even though I went over by 15 minutes). “That was some talk you gave” she said. “Even I was surprised. You knocked their socks off.”  She paused and said, “You’re already booked for next year.” I didn’t get a chance to agree because she grabbed a mint and walked away.

I wasn’t hired by her or even worked under her, but I still felt I needed her approval as a journalist. And I’m pretty sure I got it that day.

She didn’t make the Herald’s honors dinner this year because she was traveling. But I did sit next to her in May at the Keystone Press Awards, where she, again, spoke highly of my presentation a month earlier. At the Keystone Press Awards dinner, we talked about my presentation for next April and how she thought the awards dinner chicken was too dry and the speakers were mostly boring.

She, no doubt, has made a lasting impact on my career — and more importantly, my life. Thanks to Edith, I hold myself in higher regard and respect the decisions I make and the stories I cover, knowing that my name is on whatever story I’m writing at the moment, so it better be the best it can be.

“Reporters are a dime a dozen,” she once told me. That phrase has stuck with me, allowing me to remember what my job is and to carry it out with dignity and respect.

Edith made me realize just how important grammar and proper communication skills are, and to be poignant, sharp and decisive.

My world is a better place thanks to Edith.