Films that Make, Break, and Wake you into Solace

“O” by Timothy Blake Nelson

Modern day Shakespeare has alway been my favorite.  It is has been ages since I watched and read the plot of Othello, so it is easy to be swept away with a modern version and remember Shakespeare was involved.  Yet, even without remembering details of the plot, Shakespeare leaves his mark; tragedy, conflict, embittered lovers, rivalry, dark secrets, everyone in circles having a secret, (being involved and not at all) – and more – yes, Shakespeare.  Contrasted to the modern version of Romeo & Juliet, and as someone very involved with school, I was left reeling.  Almost dizzy, but it was a comfort to go to sleep to put some of the realistic moments of “O” to rest. Racial tensions, high school and drug elements, and power, the power of position, academics, sorts –  it all becomes unsettling, that worrisome, that realistic.  Kudos to Shakespeare, all characters in “O” fell in line and pulled it off, congrats Timothy Blake Nelson for pulling off the same shock factor that Shakespeare is still capable of.


October Sky by Joe Johnston

One gets a false sense of security throughout, and yet, the feel of The Waltons is always there.  It was magic to see how unsettling moments seeped into the plot, during the threat of the Cold War beginnings, stemming from the race to space, the dependent survival of coal to keep families and whole towns alive, and ultimately, the presence of the realistic moments of how Hodgkin’s disease, the status associated with football versus living a life in the mines – the culture and economy of West Virgina and Pennsylvania hills, and the bonds tat are strained in families with all these elements.  The presence of family and family value is never strayed far from, and that element in itself helps soften these above-mentioned issues as they appear in random sequences.  Yet, the strength and believability, based on the real story, leaves you not wanting to cower under the blankets, not sleep off traces of a nightmare, but look back in a Forrest Gump fashion and make comparisons to your own life as an American growing up through the may representations that come across the screen.  Truly a feel-good film that captures the elements of triumph when it seems all odds are against you.


The Revenant by Alejandro G. Iñárritu.

I immediately thought of an interview, my first teaching position in Lusby, MD, and I was asked, “Who is your favorite author and why?”  Before I reveal the answer I gave, let me share that the next two candidates being interviews that were sitting around me?  – the person that came out and the person that came in? – what are the chances we said the same author?  We did.  I still can’t get over what that must have looked like to the interviewers.  However, Jack London was our choice due to his brutal, realistic, photographic ability to capture every detail that you couldn’t, and possibly cold – imagine, cold included.

The music chills you first.

The Revenant takes Jack London and placed him on a new level not even conceived.  Yes graphic, yes shocking, yes brutal, capturing the recreation of the true story (and some we still wonder) – but believe – of the life of Hugh Glass.  You honestly take Dances with Wolves and To Build a Fire, and elements of the most daring to survive stories like Alive, and take it a little higher, well ALOT higher, and you have The Revenant, (with a scene that Luke Skywalker imitated to stay alive in the middle of a blizzard) – and you know why Leonardo DiCaprio should win an award – when you see how the movie ends – you know without a word being uttered.

Yet, you manage to see the unfolding of these chilling events, at first as a spectator as the tale is being unwound to you, and slowly, without realization, you are in the middle of the story.

The cold seeps into your bones, the violence causes you to look over your shoulder, and when you leave the theatre, you want to stay within your house for days – until the realization of what survival meant in the wild, let alone anything out of the ordinary breaking survival skills acquired – this movie erases everything you thought you knew about the frontier and redefines it with shock – and does it well, BEYOND well, try PERFECTLY.  This gets under your skin and instantly climbs to your memory, to stay.


The Hateful Eight by Quentin Tarantino

There is no doubt that the films Tombstone, Bone Tomahawk, and yes, Pulp Fiction, all had a play in this production.  Jarring music unnerves you from the beginning, and classic Tarantino traits haunt this film as total confusion, mystery, and aspects similar to the game Clue unfold.  the 360 degree, (without cut panning), view from a character’s head as if you are that character, the camera shots as if you had died with the character that is lying on the floor, dead, and the ability to invoke such violence amid a plot that escapes you until the VERY, VERY end, all are here to be witnessed.  Your mind jumps to a hundred conclusions as the class western takes place in all the modern traits of a Tarantino film, as well as repeating scenes as you uncover details you did not know, through the progression of the film.  There is much to be uncovered and much that is able to be kept secret, until Tarantino deems it time to let information be known to the viewer – that alone will have you walk away from this film amazed at how and why the pieces actually did fit all together, and how you were unable to see any of it, until at the cusp of each, single detail.

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Opting for Opera – Turandot

Chance.  Usually there is someone behind every action that helps facilitate an opportunity.  So it was with my first experience in seeing at opera in January 2016.  With the generosity of someone who could not make the Season ticket Opera series at the Auditorio in Mexico City, I was offered a place a place to view Turandot from the Metropolitan Theatre in New York.

Here is a simple guide I learned from being a first timer to opera:

  1. Always spend a day ahead finding out about the producer, the director, the creator of the opera you are seeing. This background information can make a huge difference, it is everything.
  2. Know that there are intermissions between Acts – this varies depending on the production.                              Screen Shot 2016-01-31 at 7.47.43 AM
  3. Do realize that you need to leave your preconceptions of the visual behind, this has no impact on the meaning of the opera.  We are a visual culture, but train yourself to be completely bias about the visual aspects of how a character is made up, and let the sound carry the majority of the meaning for you.

When you find out the similarity of Puccini’s life and the resemblance to events in this opera – that is a story in itself.  This being his last opera, I found myself interested in what and who was Giacomo Puccini.

I love the three riddles that the prince has to solve to advance and change history:

Riddle No. 1: What is born each night and dies each dawn?

Riddle No. 2: What flickers red and warm but is not fire?

Riddle No. 3: What is like ice, yet sets you on fire?

The set is probably the most elaborate and amazing thing I have seen, and I mean in Turandot as well as in a production that is not theatre.

In seeing Anita Hartig, not really the lead role yet, I found her to be my all time favorite in this production, for me she made the opera – 100%.  Her emotions, her ability, she was IT.  Paolo Carignani as the conductor was amazingly capable of delivering a sound you just took for granted as a soundtrack and found difficult to realize how “real” it was.

Of course the classic talents of Franco Zeffirelli showed through with the attention to details.  Marco Berti was very stoic and capable of winning Turandot, (Nia Stemme) an icy and frosty princess with a heart of stone until the very end.  Marco Berti does NOT interview well (just FYI).  Alexander Tsymbalyuk?  You would never, ever, know he is young in real life, but is Timur – it is shocking.

No need for English to be influenced by opera, none.  The background information you can discover, and the reactions to such emotions that feed out from an opera – this tells a story individual to every viewer.  As a result, you walk away in this case, understanding the themes of perseverance, faith, loyalty, and a belief in your own inner strength, all virtues that are quite universal and cross the language barrier.

Sidenote – Ping, Pang, Pong?  You have to see to believe but AMAZING.





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“The Ties that Bind…”

Since the death instinct exists in the heart of everything that lives, since we suffer from trying to repress it, since everything that lives longs for rest, let us unfasten the ties that bind us to life, let us cultivate our death wish, let us develop it, water it like a plant, let it grow unhindered. Suffering and fear are born from the repression of the death wish.” – Eugene Ionesco quotes

In going into Josie Rourke’s / Shakespeare production of Coriolano, of which I knew nothing about, following a version of Hamlet I was not greatly keen on, I had mixed feeling and slight trepidation.  Yet, as many know, you always leave with something in your back pocket when it comes to Shakespeare.

Recognizing another great lead actor, Tom Hiddleson (No, this time no Loki from Marvel Comics), but from Warhorse, and many more, brought some familiarity to the strength again to a potential blockbuster.  The stage, in the historical Donmar Warehouse, being one single black box stage, offered limited space but also offered a wealth of creative possiblity within a defined and marked stage.  The drama that surrounds Coriolanus is that of a public figure and the conflicts that run deep.  The irony is not lost on how the blood among family can cause the rise & success of a society, as well as the salvation of a multitude, & the fall of an individual as well.

Power and maintaining that power has many costs, and the graphic nature of the bloody conflicts that to many, marked success, strikes you truly to the heart.  With the supporting actors such as Mark Gatiss, Birgitte Hjort Sorenson (I fell in love with her in what, five seconds?  – Her strength and fears flow into you quickly), foe and friend Hadley Fraser, Elliot Levey (A strange resemblance to Ben Stiller), the chance to love to hate the character Helen Schlesinger, and the motive behind Coriolanus – Deborah Findlay, as well as many more supporting actors that make this deeply felt and stirring.

A moment where all characters stand as if readying for an ovation – yet being selected as game pieces one by one, is not unnoticed and a creative addition to the unfolding of the tale, as well as the leader, Coriolanus.  The 2 hours and 40 minutes are just enough to fill you with the desperation, disappointment, responsibility, and ability, as well as inability of maintaining control in a switch of areans, which definitely does NOT leave you disappointed as an audience to Shakespare’s late production of Coriolanus.

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“To be or Not…” National Theatre’s Performance of Hamlet in Review

Pumped.  Anytime Hamlet is to be shown, I get excited.   Next to my favorite all time Shakespeare play of all time, The Twelfth Night.   I also love the fact that many people are brave enough to modernize scenes, switch around the set, the costumes, and more to reinterpret Shakespeare, that is the art of Shakespeare to be truthful, the timelessness and the ability to have meaning come through differing interpretations.

On Tuesday, January 19th, Director Lyndsey Turner’s Hamlet caused anticipation – as it is Shakespeare, it is the Lunario, and it IS Hamlet.

Beforehand I previewed any information I could find about this production, with little except knowing the profound actor, Benedict Cumberbatch, who has been in so many of London’s produtions from the Lunario, SUPERB, also was a cause for an inkling of greatness.

I could take this step by step throughout the whole production, but actually, it is much easier to cut to the chase, where actually, I thought was part of the main problem I found in this particular production not making me a fan 100% as is /was the case with many of Lunario’s productions.

The weaknesses I found and were disappointed with were that often, I found so extreme tension and emotion in the characters of Hamlet (Benedict Cumberbatch), Hamlet’s Mother, Gertrude (Anastasia Hille) and Hamlet’s Uncle, Claudius (Ciaran Hinds) had moments where honestly, I felt they were going to fall over and hemorrage but they fell short of being directed towards the source, at least to me.  The buildup was definitely there, but I felt this pressure was contained in a vessel that never actually escaped – which at times was frustrating.  I am thinking of the scenes of when Hamlet’s Uncle becomes seemingly trapped and frustrated, in private, of Hamlet seeking him out in inadvertent ways, the acting troupe that was brought in, as well as the dismay of Ophelia’s fate, (although Hamlet’s mother seemed to be more distressed than others around her).  I felt the ending as well mimicked these very characteristics I found lacking throughout, emotion that found no definite direction to be sent into, towards, or having an emotional effect on the audience.

I loved the set – even though it could be tricky, and confusing to differentiate between outside and inside, personally, being the person I am, I sought out and realized tons of symbolism, the ash blowing in once the complete disintegration of individual’s motives or souls could not be cleansed – possibly inability to differentiate between what was right and wrong inside the person and the things going on outside the person amid chaos of emotion.  Also the internal versus external conflicts of the characters and trying to find their way through this mess we know as Denmark slowly disintegrating.  I loved the toy soldier’s scene Benedict Cumberbacth found himself in, I loved the gravedigger’s scene and multiple skulls being discovered and ruminated on, the inner working and undoings of Ophelia (Sian Brooke), and the vengeful nature of Laertes (Kobna Holdbrook-Smith).

Of course, the elephant in the room is what is the most famous line going to be like, what will it FEEL like?  The To be or Not to Be Setting was emotional and definitely a buildup to be seen -this I enjoyed being depicted differently and felt was done well.

I felt clips in certain cases went too quickly, the reaction of Hamlet’s Uncle to the acting troupe, the acting troupe during the actual production, the changing /deletion of some lines that I recall from past Hamlet’s, and possibly confusing items such as why was Hamlet cuffed when we was sent away?  I thought he was not a prisoner, but yet, maybe it was to show the false pretense of looking as if he was being punished, when supposedly he was being saved by being sent away, only to be secretly plotted against to be killed.

There is so much to dive into here, and yet, that is ot just the power of Hamlet, but of Shakespeare.  Whether you are a 100% fan or not – simply, there can be discussion, contemplation, analysis, and that is a tool you discover continually way past being a student with Shakespeare as part of the curriculum.  And there are the countless example sof Hamlet, some I did not even realize!   26 Actors That Have Become Hamlet

and many to still discover way past the time they did become Hamlet.

10 Best Hamlet’s

Seeing a glimpse into some of the more famous Hamlet’s is still a buildup as you see below:




…and yet the simple fact is having the ability to see all forms of Shakespeare, the ability to see productions as this from London? – you are able to obtain something out of every show.  With Hamlet you see the effects of injustice and the breakdown deception can have in all arenas, and sometimes, just sometimes, you feel the consequences that reach across the stage.

Tonight, we see the production Coriolano, which I know nothing about.  So I have found this – and wonder what Shakespeare has left behind for us to discover.  All the world is a stage when we are free to bring our own experiences to that stage.  Then to come, Jane Eyre and As You Like It!

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Crane on the Sidewalk

One of the best times is the times I walk my dogs – at night – in the AM, in the quiet of the weekends – time to reflect, contemplate, refresh myself and think about opportunities not yet realized.  If you’re lucky, sometimes you will stumble on things that will challenge you in the midst of despair, frustration, and just when you think you’ve given it your all – voila! – a moment – THOSE are priceless moments!

Crane on the Sidewalk

Crane on the Sidewalk

Walking a windy January night in Mexico

Dogs beside me


what the park has to offer

a crane

or a piece of trash on the sidewalk?

THAT in itself is a personality test/question/indicator

Walk the circle,

come back

shine the light and behold

truly, a crane

from a handed out flyer from one of many

making their living

on how much they take in the AM

and how much the return with in the PM


Of all we see and don’t see in the word around us

We do the right thing to be successful


Never do the “Write” thing to realize who we are

We jump through the correctly placed hoops

And are praised for doing it the way it should be done


Who allows the frontiers to be broken,

Never yet explored?

“I have a dream” uttered,  changed a nation


Dr. King imagined a possibility of freedom

Beyond step one of social segregation

Encouraging the opportunities

Not yet capitalized on to be created

Some of the quietest voices we have

Have the potential to be some of the loudest

We have to just allow the opening

for those to be released

Everyday individuals drive

over the very concrete

that could be bitten, tasted, and discovered

outside of a bullet-proof bubble that

silently takes us back and forth

no risk

no connection

no experience

no chance

of discovering a crane on the sidewalk.

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Steeler Sentiments 2015-2016

Thank you.  Pittsburgh, you continue to be the city and team of many cities and countries around thw world.

You gave us heart when we couldn’t find ours.

Major injuries occurred and you continued to trudge through the mire, when it looked like all hope was lost – you continued to push through – push others to the forefront, have others take advantage of stepping up – and step up you did.

You gave us extra weeks we by all rights should not have had.   You gavce us hope through injury, through abesences, and you showed what the black and gold means on and off the field.

Today’s game was a complete heart break yes, but Big Ben, you returning gave everyone the flame, on and off the team, of what is possible with heart.

Toussaint – you made some amazing plays all throughout the year and it is difficult to hold one fumble against you, but you realize the importance of ONE play, and the difference between third string and first string, that one play determined so much of our game today, but took nothing away from our season.

Bryant, Wheaton, Williams, and Heath, you stepped up when we thought we were at a disadvantage, and turned all into advantages.  Defense, we love you.  Brown, you always make us proud.  Offense, you hung in there.  Thank you Boswell for coming in and making a difference this year when we needed it.  Jones, thank you for putting up with having to do the best you could do.  Vic, sigh, sorry but I don’t any help that was long term.

Please please PLEASE – improve the one hit one tackle approach and don’t let crucial tackles slip by next year, please improve the punt returns and special teams ability, and please, PLEASE try to improve calling running plays when yardage is needed.  Haley, I question your decisions sometimes, Tomlin, I don’t question and appreciate your honesty at press conferences.

This year has been so nerve wracking and it has been a great season due to the close calls, luck of the draw, dumb luck (Yup Sarah, you hit that right on the head), and the fan time we had watching games this season, it is what part of being a true Black and Gold fan is all about, the good, the bad, the ugly.

I am so impressed to see Carolina, Denver, and Arizona head to the Superbowl, and I do appreciate the Patriot fans, they are die hard fans for sure, but the team?  Most people know how I feel, when a team has had so many questionable acts that have been brought to the NFL involving legality as the Patriots – I feel they are the least of all teams deserving of a chance at a 6th ring, the Patriots fans themselves deserve better.  I am doing all I can to hope, pray, plead, and insure that any team, ANYONE could have a shot at the Superbowl worth the hard work, grit, and sweat it takes to add that next ring, as long as it is not the Patriots. Patriots to me are those loyal to a nation, a group loyal to a belief, loyal to the game of football.  This is not the category I would, could, or ever will see the Patriots team in, the fans yes, the team, no.

From the 2007 illegal game taping, to illegal enhancement drugs used in 2007, to the 1986 injury reserve use, (illegal), to the 2013 false injury reports, to the 2002 illegal taping of a game, to the 2015 inflated balls incident, to the special clearing of a snow path for the New England kicker alone in 1982, and the rest to be honest,( I would say questionable or not valid accusations) but at least with the five that are rock solid, it hurts my heart to see a team be rewarded for so many trips to the NFL commissioner.  Do other teams including the Steelers have questionable actions, heck yes.  But to be fair, New England is the one team that had tried to do the most to cover those acts most blatantly, which I am sorry, is not what the game of football is truly defined by, with the Superbowl or what that Lombardi trophy was meant to represent.

Denver – you took advantage of opportunities that came your way and you earned your tickets, however, if you drop the number of passes you did today in the future, your future will be shortlived.   I see Denver (with a tighetned team) and Arizona being the choice that would make this year’s Superbowl, but my gut is New England and Carolina –  A Superbowl one to watch even without the Steelers as part of the equation.

Thank you for a great season Pittsburgh – and being the team of choice for so many!


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Stores of Stories

Day Two Reading marathon, whoa, wow and WHEW!  Sunday – Steller Steeler Sunday, two books down for the 24in48 hours marathon, blpwn away after reading All the Light We Cannot See, and anxious to reveal the stories of ancient Indian heads, preserved Indian artifcats, and the tales of France and Serbia should be great blog posts.

If nothing else, I have reaized through excess reading that there are so many stories we have to tell, sometimes it just comes out right and much better in reading ourselves.  We are a storeroom of stories, and it is a gift to find a means for them to come out.  Stay tuned for some stories that will connect with some of your own!


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Six Hours into, Yes, a Reading Marathon

Screen Shot 2016-01-16 at 12.35.34 PMYes, I was creative and crazy enough to do the Rock ‘N Roll Marathon in San Diego, and I loved it, and finished relatively well – finished and all!  (and for a Great cause – Leukemia!)

Now, we are looking down the barrel of pages of the Reading Marathon, and it is now 6:16am!  After checking in at the 6th hour, and pulling myself from sleep after starting 2 hours, it is easy to get back to it.  Here was my answers to the check in :

Where in the world are you reading from this weekend?

Several places! PHYSICALLY reading from Mexico City! In my books reading from Elorium (A Grimm Legacy), Paris (All the Light We Cannot See), and Iowa (Early Warning!)

Have you done the 24in48 readathon before?

Never! This is my first time!

Where did you hear about the readathon?

From Kristen Dixie, a colleague at The American School Foundation in Mexico City!

What book are you most excited about reading this weekend?

All the Light You Cannot See (from it’s hype on New York Times list and more!)
Tell us something about yourself.

I love blogging at, I love traveling, running XC, the outdoors, international/multicultural literature, photography, Repentino. magazine, networking, food, The Pittsburgh Steelers!, and that is just the beginning!

Remind us where to find you online this weekend.
Find me at, on Facebook at Harry Robert Brake, on Twitter at @Michigan01!

Screen Shot 2016-01-16 at 12.35.44 PM

I think the world needs more proponents of literacy and creative ways to allow it to occur in so many ways, (my public statement done for this early).  Back to reading and wherever you are, go ahead, jump in!

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“Yardsticks By Which Our Lives Should Be Judged.”

1988.   Ten years old.  I don’t remember a solid picture but I do remember in slow motion like a slideshow. My grandparent’s house in Shaler, dressed up and not understanding why – a long black limousine pulls up in the front of the house, I am gaping as a ten year old at this vehicle.  Never been this close to one.  Ever.  Inside, it is like a small house, wonderng what is happening and my grandparents and Mom reassuring me trying to calm me down as a hyper ten year old.  (Ten year old?  What about now?)

The room looks like it rises up to meet me – it is so large, it is packed with people, I mean PACKED.  But I do see this – Steelers upon Steelers in uniform, with helmets – honoring Art Rooney‘s wife, Kathleen McNulty Rooney.  It was a respect to a family that was humble and had humble beginnings. I remember the players striding by, seeing #12 brush me a simple ten year old wondering, how someone on television can be that close to you in reality.  Legends.

I remember from that day on, realizing what the weekends meant watching the Steelers at my grandparents in Pittsburgh – it was more than a game after that frozen Rooney moment.  From that moment on, the Pittsburgh Steelers were never JUST the Pittsburgh Steelers, I was raised on the Pittsburgh Steelers alongside the virtues of steel workers, the gridiron, working for everything you received, being humble and thankful for the rewards you received, giving back, and that was just a portion of what was reinforced alongside the game of football and specifically the Pittsburgh Steelers, it became a trait that was to be found in everything we did, in every waking day of our lives.

Fast forward – 1993-1995 – working as a DJ at the Edinboro University radio station, and you know, I had the deep voice that seemed to work well with being a radio host –  I loved being in the radio station studio.  I knew this is what I wanted to do.  Those students a year above me not finding any jobs and myself a mess trying to find myself, with one semester left to graduate, I found myself leaving to Slippery Rock University and leaving a dream behind to pursue a career in education to hopefully sustain my future, aside from the landscaping business I helped run over the summer.  Little did I know what coming to Slippery Rock University would do to tie me back to Pittsburgh.

1997.  Slippery Rock University.  An amazing young lady, Kim Miller, (Kim D at the time) – as an intern at the Pittsburgh Pirates, the only female, I knew to date, that was spectacular at what she did as a statistic intern for the Pittsburgh Pirates.  The position was open following her year, and I was not needing to think about  whether I wanted to do it for a second.  I remember walking with Dr. McCarren into the stadium, meeting all the executives that would introduce me to the job at hand, and just, no words.  Walking around the stadium in the back halls, on the field, in the dugout.

July 12, 1997.

Francisco Córdova and Ricardo Rincón. TEN INNINGS.  Mark Smith.

I was an Pirate intern that year, and I will never forget this night, EVER.  The Three Rivers Stadium SHOOK.  All that concrete, shook.  It was  The Houston Astros, and again, no words, you could feel the stadium shaking, I remember the autographed balls and cards from the players that night,


and STILL have priceless memories in storage, and remember Cordova and Rincon from Mexico saved the night – it was magical.  It was a year of tragedy in my personal life, and yet, there were these moments that just – changed so much about me.  Steve Blass, Bob Walk, Willie Stargell that year as part of the Pirate organization (back!),  Lanny Frattare, and my boss, Marc Garda – there was nothing like it – it was an honor to see so many things, (even exploding hot dogs from the Pirate Parrot) aimed at us

(this is where I received my first experience of mascots and what power they have on an audience – sound familiar?)…

the classic conversations on-air and hearing them live among the broadcasters, Kurt Engle coming to the booth, seeing and keeping the first scorecard Bob Walk ever completed from a game, and so much memorabilia I have in storage, it was not just an intern – it was a personal experience, tied to the expectation of carrying on what an amazing job Kim M. set in place, and that was the reason Slippery Rock students were so treasured with the Pirates, they carried that integrity with them and we were expected to inherit that expecation in and out of the game as well in what we did.  A Pittsbugh tradition.

Walking out with Jose Guillen,

Jason Kendall, and so many more after a night’s game, I was amazed at how casual converstions were and amazed at how “human” the players really were.  Many notes were passed and given and one truly stands out right now:

Lanny Frattare

Lanny had alot also going on in his life, as did all the announcers, yet Lanny and everyone always remembered to keep me moving forward with my life despite the things that try to hold you from “rounding the bases.”

What I was learning was that despite being powerhouses in the Pirate organization, when you put your heart in whatever you do, your spirit, your trust, your everything, nothing but good will eventually occur over the bad – taught to me by Marc Garda, showing me that everything, even the smallest detail mattered, to Doran Check, who inspired me to know that the person behind the scenes is often the most important – all the announcers and former/current players of the Pirates that year, the lessons that had been instilled from the Rooney family, that conflicted with all the negative things that could possibly happen, and given the choice to succumb to the negative or rise above it – all was still associated with what Pittsburgh, not just a city, not just a team, but the way you lived your life, came to mean.

Despite almost losing my belief in being able to ride out some pretty rough waters, near death experiences, and so many times I should have never been able to make it through, I was carried through these times thanks to the love and concern of those around me, whether my friends as we travelled through Slippery Rock University together, my professors who believed in me, the Pirate team who worked together as a team on and off the field, my family, my friends from all walks of life, and my students from the very first day I stepped into that classroom.  I inherited the spirit of expecting nothing,  give everything, and measure your moments.  Hard times will come, but can you measure the bad things that happen all the time or how focus on how you overcame them.  Slowly, thanks to all those mentioned above, I found the latter to be true and stronger than anything I came to know.

Graduating from Slippery Rock University first in 1998, then on 2003, and having my Dad there –

Screen Shot 2016-01-10 at 1.30.28 AMand my Moms – was bittersweet and they know why.  The fact that they never stopped believing in me when I did – that was everything.


2011.  I find myself in Mexico (Mexico?  Seriously?  Me working in MEXICO?!  I KNOW.  My first year and I slowly started to realize, there are individuals here from Slippery Rock?  NO WAY.  There are students coming here from SLIPPERY ROCK to student teach?  No WAY.  “Jason, I know you are from Grove City, and you love the Steelers, where can we see a Steeler Game?”  After that, everything was a magic ride to the ‘Burgh itself.  Finding Charlie Blanco,

proprietor of the largest football fan club in Mexico, and just finding that place where all of my past and reasons for working hard “jelled” – I laughed at how some things you will never see how they will or could connect, in fact do later in life, it just is hard to put into words, impossible even.

January 10, 2016 I found myself surrounded by amazing friends and in that one room in Mexico City, we have the pride of Pittsburgh running through our screams, yells, and near heart-attacks, and the memories of everyting in the past comes back and yet one things was always there.  The underlying theme we all held and have done – we believe in putting our everything into what we do – and as a result, good things are going to happen as a result, maybe not right away, and no one said it was going ot be easy, but if you have enough grit to keep your head up and look down the field, whether the pakying field or this extended game we call life, there are bound to be positive results, “if you just hang in there.”

I can easily say I can measure my life by yardsticks, but every single measurement has been the measurement of those around me – allowing me to keep going.  From Harry Hawk, a brother in spirit and from Edinboro’s Phi Kappa Psi, even though we have not seen each other we still carry on like we haven’t missed a day, to Jason Schell keeping this life of memories alive every weekend game to John Powell being the most hysterical  & reliable Commish alive, to all the people above, to all the coaches I was lucky enough to coach alongside, to my brother Bob throwing that football back in forth that day on Mercer Street in PA!, to the athletes that put their soul into everything, to the students who believed in me and made me stronger, to every single fiber that connected itself to the same grit that the Black and Gold represents, going “the extra mile” was just the way we lived our lives thanks to you.  That is work everything Black and Gold, immaculate even…

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Oldvidarte – Ways to Not.

Over and over and OVER.  I think I finally know how to learn Spanish.  Sit in a Mexican Bank and anything is possible.  So it was Tuesday, after about 2 and a half hours with three people cutting in front of a few of us, and hearing the preview for a new album titled Oldvidarte – I had alot of time to do things – Create my 2016 Christmas list, create a To do list for the week, and know what I wanted to blog about next.  I should have brought a book, but hopefully that is the last time I needed to be a frequent flyer in the Customer Service area of Bancomer Bank, while they were amazing and helped 100%, the wait is just half the story, right?

I get this question alot, “How does Mexico Celebrate Christmas and Day of the Dead?” While I have covered this in past blog posts in past years, I think it is worthy of revisiting.  Regarding Christmas, I like the fact that Christmas is actually celebrated from December 16th to January 6th.  Whoa, really?  Absolutely.  Similar to vendors starting right after Halloween in the states to bring out Christmas, at least in Mexico, while this does occur, the emphasis on the holiday is more tradition and family-based which you HAVE to love and can handle the early-ness due to the fact that it is obvious more emphasis is put on the tradition, family and friends – you can feel it.

There are what are called posadas, (the sequence of looking for an inn like Mary and Joseph) and nine of them.  Basically, a posada is an inn or play to stay like lodging.  To kick off the December tradition, a fiesta is held for the Virgin de la Soledad, the patron saint of Oaxaca.  Often a staple there is the main centerpiece of the holiday,  A different church is visited from the 18th to the 24th, with celebration on the 25th.  Also, on December 23, the annual Noche de los Rabanos takes place in Centro, which still is kind of funny to me, but in the Zocolo, booths exhibit “hand-carved, giant radishes. Most often, these sculptures carry a religious theme. But this is not necessarily so. The subject could be comical, a scene from a bullfight or anything that strikes the fancy of the sculptor. On Nochebuena, processions from various churches fan out to the zocalo. There are also colorfully decorated floats, music, traditional dancing, and pinata prizes. The crowning glory of this fiesta is a mammoth fireworks display.”

Three Kings Day, which is huge here, on January 6th (there were three kings dressed up outside several restaurant establishments, with thousands (literally, I went to Costco and I stopped  counting at like 980 on pallets) of boxes of Rosca de Reyes. Screen Shot 2016-01-07 at 1.52.26 AM IF you are lucky enough to find the baby Jesus that is baked inside, guess what?  You get to host the meal February 2nd, for Dia de Candelaria.  (I have one of these but found it on my own, not in company, and kept it.  Sorry, no party).  I am resolving to at least keep some of this tradition next year and make sure we make the Rosca de Reyes in the states  :) I might be “sick” early net year to truly capture the whole period of this tradition in honor of family, friends, and the tradition – Plus, there are SO MANY PLACES in Mexico that do a variety of celebrations – check them out.

Not exactly linking  El Dia de Muertos, Day of the Dead with Christmas, but there is a common them I will get to in a minute if you haven’t guessed already.  For Day of the Dead, the states’ equivalent of Halloween, but ranging from October 31st to November 2nd.  Again, Halloween in the states is about candy (at least it was for me ) – in Mexico, amazing and awesome displays of family, tradition, and friends.  Family being the highest ranking factor here.  Altars, or ofrendas, are created and wow, they are usually amazing.  Graveyards are filled with family remembering loved ones, (usually occurring on Nov 2nd)  and usually completely surrounded by candles and the flowers, yellow marigolds, that light the way for the deceased.  Not eerie at all as it sounds actually, when you change the theme of the celebration to family, friends, and this sense of tradition, it is amazing what meaning days and events take on.

Spending my time this year in Patzcuaro was 100% worth it, as this is one of, if not the, largest center to celebrate Day of the Dead.  The true crux is November 1st (Day of the Innocents)  and the 2nd, All Souls Day, which is officially (Day of the Dead).  Symbols are of course the ofrendas (altars) with food left for family members that are remembered, the skulls made out of sugar, as well as the bread, Pan de MuertoLa Catrina – the Day of the Dead symbol, and the one main flower – yellow marigolds or empasuchil, lighting the way among all the graves.

None of it is horrifying, scary, or horrible, actually all of it is so much more enriching than the spiderman masks I used to slide into with the bags to gather candy, I like the fact that there is a much more familial tradition attached to the idea of Halloween I used to always know.  Being a huge Prehispanic tradition, this idea of tradition and ritual is deeply embedded.

Take all this, and throw in the mix my visit to The Holocaust Museum in Washington D.C..  Not tied to either holiday by tradition, but by that one word, Oldvidarte, meaning to forget, you see now.  There are a variety of ways to celebrate holidays no matter where you are in the world, but I realized, after had taken a Seminar on the Holocaust years ago at the University of Delaware, as well as having been lucky to have a student group that created a travelling mural project imitating the children’s tile project in the Holocaust museum, to not forget is one of the largest reason holidays are exemplified and important.

There are a thousand reasons to get caught up in Black Friday, or Christmas shopping, but without the deep-seeded reasons of celebrating, everything else is just superficial.  I was at one point caught up in the lack of being prepared gift-wise this year, and then as soon as a set that aside and took just being among friends and family, the former fell into place and seemed to matter less.  The same was true of being again in the Holocaust Museum, it IS a museum but is so much more than that, it is a symbol of why it is important to pass generations afterwards the importance that comes out of such a tragedy.  Perpetrators, collaborators, Some Were Neighbors, dissenters,  but then once realizing those divisions, taking all this memory and applying it today.  That is the second level of awareness, where individuals that did not remember or did not live during the Holocaust learn from it and apply it to what happens every single day today in some areas.

Obviously The United States Holocaust Museum is an education in itself, but even more, whether Day of the Dead or Halloween, Christmas or posadas/Kings Day, or the Holocaust of the past or the recent/ current Holocausts that occur all over the world, Screen Shot 2016-01-07 at 2.53.19 AMto not forget is crucial. Only then can we make a difference.  In this light, when I see Martin Luther King Day, it takes on a whole new meaning of what we should do, observe, and commit ourselves to pledge to make a difference, every chance we get.  Walking through, amid, and among The Holocaust Museum, I realized, not necessarily thinking about which celebration is better than another in any given country, but being willing to, and taking advantage of being exposed to so many different views, allows you to take all of these practices and blend them into more meaningful ways to things about holidays, as well as past generations, and let the superficial elements of purchasing, buying elaborate gifts, and just the commercialism to be pushed back and let the real meanings of events and celebrations, and generations, come to the surface.  That is the real gift that occurs when the ability to synthesize a variety of events, traditions, and celebrations, the real education settles in, and in this case, the Holocaust Museums helped represent all the reasons why definite acts should never be forgotten.  They guide us to a better future if we are willing to open our eyes to it.

Not realizing the book I had purchased, in a thrift store for $1.99 no less, I poured through a book titled Resistence, by Anita Shreve, and it is just funny how you never know when themes of books, events, celebrations, etc will align with each other.  Yet, here was a book taking place in Belgium during World War II reflecting on the atrocities that occur and individuals that risked their lives to fight against the overall theme of a holocaust of groups of people, and they certainly decided to become resistors, while the majority around them chose to be collaborators against a human race.  The point is, you never know when elements of events, although seemingly unrelated – will “gel” or synthesize – and that truly is when education occurs.

I know at one time it was determined true grit and responsiblity to be at a job, and remain in that job for your whole life.  I am truly grateful that is and has not ever been the case for me.  I have found the amazing plethora of unique internships, jobs, and volunteerism I have taken so far in my life have been that very element, diversity that sometimes years later would synthesise together when I least expected it.  The same is true of the responsibility of being a teacher, but now as a Media Specialist/Librarian, I am grateful for this position so that I can find so many different avenues of discovery and connect them to a wide range of experiences and make points when least expected. Part of not being able to forget is creating experiences that won’t be forgotten, whether in the classroom, in the work place, or in the day-to-day activities we decide to be involved in.   In 2016, it is important to pledge energies to make a better life for yourself and those around you, often defined by the way we spend out time and choose to spend our time.  Pledging to take in the widest array of traditions, beliefs, and individuals, to make a better future is not a bad way to initiate a change.  Never forgetting in certain cases is the best thing we can do for that.  Thank you Holocaust Museum, Mexico, United States, and friends that help me never “forget” that.



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