Category: Pittsburghers

The Bottom Fell Out

The Bottom Fell OutThe bottom fell out this week.
(Who keeps an army of little butters in the fridge, anyway?)
Seize the day and enjoy a good belly laugh before cleaning up messes in the midst of chaos.

Some things just need to come first.

Author Jody Brown has been through the wringer this week. (As a child, her arm did go through the wringer of her Grandma’s washing machine, so that statement can be taken on authority.) Tomorrow is a new day. Have a good evening, All.

Trees postI’ve lived a little bit of everywhere, and each place has had its merits. From the country, the city, the beach, the mountains, and the plains, I’ve enjoyed the different ways of life that are built in to the topography. Now back in my home state again, I’m realizing just how much the landscape of my childhood has shaped my entire life.

Pennsylvania means “Penn’s Woods,” and is named after its founder, William Penn. There are so many trees here it’s astounding. And it’s because of all these trees that the horizon appears closer. Depending on the direction you look, the distance is even walkable.

Growing up in an area like this, that vision of attainability crafts a person. It shapes the way you look at the world, and seemingly, the way you will always look at the world. Everything is possible, because the horizon is always reachable.

The next time you find yourself in the woods, any woods, take a good look around. You’re moments away from that magical place where the earth and the sky meet. It’s all within your reach. Nothing is insurmountable when you put it in the proper perspective.

Jody Brown is the author of Upside Down Kingdom, and is a multi-blogger, poet, and traveler. Her current writing projects, including her daily blog endeavor, #Project365, can be found at

birthday eve postMy family, like most, has its own invented traditions. One particular year, my sister’s husband said he would take her out to her favorite restaurant on her birthday while simultaneously, my mom offered to make her favorite dinner for her at the house. My sister, wanting both, and more importantly, not wanting to disappoint either person, offered that both could happen, one on her birthday and one on her “birthday eve.”

Knowing my sister and her husband, and their witty repartee, I can see the conversation in my mind:

“There’s no Birthday Eve,” her husband says. “You made that up to get two dinners.”

“What? You’ve never heard of Birthday Eve?” my sister asks.

“Okay, if Birthday Eve exists, why have we never celebrated it before?”

“I know!” my sister says. “You forget every year and I don’t say anything.” [At this point, there are so many cracks in the story they’re both having a hard time keeping straight faces.]

“I smell a rat.”

“Nope. I’m supposed to get two dinners.” [Big smile on her face.]

“Oh, I see. Of course you are. Well, what will I have for dinner on my Birthday Eve? Look at that, I get my own Birthday Eve, too. With two dinners. And a snowblower. And…”

“Hey now,” my sister protested. “But, Birthday Eve is just for girls.”

“You made that up just now. If you get a Birthday Eve, then I get one, too.”

“Suit yourself, but it’s against the rules.”

[He did get a Birthday Eve. And has, every year since.]

When my sister called me and told me about the invention of Birthday Eve, we discussed that the birthday girl should get two cards, a funny one for the eve and a serious one on the actual birthday. This addition covers both the sentimentality and the hilarity birthdays. (At the time I was living out of state, so getting the extra card in the mail and the extra phone call sounded like a great perk.) We added it, and my sister filled my mom in on the new detail.

Mom was on board. We’re basically a family of food lovers and little gift givers who love to gather around the table in celebration. Even made-up celebrations.

Thus, Birthday Eve was born. Today is mine.

Jody Brown is the author of Upside Down Kingdom, and is a multi-blogger, poet, and traveler. Her current writing projects, including her daily blog endeavor, #Project365, can be found at

Juncture in the Road

road sign

Driving along one day, we approached this sign. My Dad said, “Don’t we always?”
We laughed and drove on.

Jody Brown is the author of Upside Down Kingdom.

Coal MineAppropriately, yesterday I visited the Tour-Ed Mine, a coal mine in Western Pennsylvania. Inside the mine, our tour guide, John, walked us through 100 years of coal mining technique and safety. Unfortunately, not much was done in the way of safety for the workers until it simply became too expensive not to keep them alive. As for technology, as our tour guide, John, put it, “Electricity was a godsend to the coalminer.” Interestingly, 37% of our electricity today is powered by coal.

Also, today, there are sensors built into the [extremely] loud mining equipment that test the air for gasses rather than sending in a fire boss (a man doused in water sent in first with a torch) or canaries for their faster susceptibility to airborne poisons. Miners wear hardhats with battery-operated lights built in, rather than candles fastened to a canvas hat or the later, carbide acetylene torches that were attached to leather “turtle shell” mine hats. Modern coal mines don’t have much need for the use of explosives, either, which does away with the warning, “Fire in the hole!” called out from relative “safety” around the corner as black powder blasted a hole (around the corner because explosions travel in a straight line).

Coal MineMy favorite parts of the tour were the rope line, patent filed as recently as 1998, consisting of a fire-retardant rope strung through the mine that miners could [hopefully] find and follow to the mine entrance in the event of a blackout. The rope line has little cones on it that indicate by touch which way is “in” and which way is “out” of the mine. Another favorite detail was the way John talked about superstitions in coal miners, even in modern day, as John himself mined coal for more than 20 years. Coal miners save part of their lunch for “later,” when they reach the surface again, and John said he’s never seen a coal miner kill a rat, ever. Rats, to this day, are an early warning system to ground tremors.

As we celebrate the Labor movement today, I thank our nation’s coal miners past and present for their backbreaking work in dark, cold, and incredibly dangerous conditions.

Today I’m reminded that, as far as we have come over the years, there is still so much further to go. Keep striving, America.

Jody Brown is the author of Upside Down Kingdom, and is a multi-blogger, poet, and traveler. Her current writing projects, including her daily blog endeavor, #Project365, can be found at

PittsburghToday I’m playing tourist in my own hometown because everyone should spend time being a tourist in their own home.

The morning began with a ride on the Duquesne Incline, built in 1877 as a way for people who lived on the hill (now called Mount Washington) to get down into the city and back up again. Following that was a rousing lunch at the Church Brew Works for a falafel hoagie and coconut stout. (How could I skip Primanti Bros., my ‘burgh friends will ask. But Primanti’s was yesterday. Pittsburgh My Way means there’s always food on the tour.)

After lunch, a quick look around at the Cathedral of Learning, my old haunt when I was a student at the University of Pittsburgh. All of my writing classes took place in this gothic-style building. I love not only taking pictures of this building but walking through it and putting my hands on the stones themselves.Pittsburgh

We then purposely headed south so we could turn around and burst through the Fort Pitt Tunnel for the dazzling panoramic view of the city of Pittsburgh.

And what day would be complete without zombies? We headed north to the tiny town of Evans City where Night of the Living Dead was filmed by Carnegie Mellon’s George Romero. Evans City is also the new location of the Living Dead Museum.

All in all, a great day, and it’s not over yet. Many people remember Pittsburgh of the 1970’s, with the smokestacks and the grit. Today’s city is a world away from that. It’s clean, it’s bright, and it’s filled with historical architecture, comfort food, and a spirit of whimsy that even the surrounding area cannot deny.

It’s so exciting for this world traveler to call Pittsburgh home.

Jody Brown is the author of Upside Down Kingdom, and is a multi-blogger, poet, and traveler. Her current writing projects, including her daily blog endeavor, #Project365, can be found at

The Mouse that Roared

The Mouse that Roared postMy great aunt Irene was the person in the family who told it like it was and she didn’t mince words. When you acted up at the dinner table and everyone sighed and looked at their peas, she was the one to voice what everyone was thinking, “Stop acting like a fool,” she’d say. And because she was opposing factions in one body (which are so very Pittsburgh), on the one hand an old, wise woman, who’d seen hardships; on the other, a bosomy hugger who opened her door to you when you needed comfort, advice, tea, and a cookie from the tin on her kitchen table, everyone listened when she talked. And she talked no-nonsense.

She’d tell you to “Cut the crap,” then plant you on the right path in a way that let you know you could do it. You left her house with a sense of purpose, and renewed belief in yourself no matter how crazy your dream. On your way out, she’d always remind you where she hid the key so you could return anytime you liked.

She passed a few years ago, and it seems another of my aunts is slowly becoming more and more like her. Typically an unassuming and quiet person, my younger aunt let it fly the other day when talking about some unruly children in church.

“The Pittsburgh fire burns within,” I thought to myself.

My sister said, “She’s the family’s new Aunt Irene.”

And my Dad remarked, “She’s turning into the mouse that roared.”

And in all this, it amazes me that we all strive to have her qualities—qualities of seeing the clear-eyed truth and converting hardship into belief. She developed these gorgeous gifts the hard way. And yet, you can ask anyone in my family, we’d choose the hard road any day for even the smallest blessing of these gifts.

Jody Brown is the author of Upside Down Kingdom, and is a multi-blogger, poet, and traveler. Her current writing projects, including her daily blog endeavor, #Project365, can be found at

The Booth on the Stone Hillside

The Booth postPitt campus sits in the heart of Oakland, in Pittsburgh. While there are some dorms and even a grassy space known as the Cathedral lawn, really the university buildings are sprinkled in among new and old city buildings that have nothing to do with the campus. When I went to school there, seven hospitals spread out on one side of the campus, each one with a different specialty and each connected by random interior corridors and stairways. Back then, Pitt stadium still stood in the middle of that same concrete hill, and across the street from it was a nondescript parking lot with a little booth that had one of those lever-arms for letting cars in and out of the lot. (And if the arm got stuck while open and you knew the booth operator, you got to drag a large piece of metal on a rope over a sensor in the ground to trick it into thinking a car had passed. And really, if you’re going to do that, you might as go all out and make car noises while you’re at it.)

The parking lot and the booth were nondescript until you knew they were there–and then they became a beacon. My friend Matt worked nights in that booth, checking IDs and letting cars in and out. He had various other duties, too, but nothing too taxing. For the most part, Matt got paid to sit in the booth and study.

It wasn’t long before most of us on the 12th floor of Brackenridge started visiting The Booth, because Matt lived on our floor. I remember when roommates found out that fellow roommates were also talking to Matt–about roommate troubles. Some of the guys would chat with Matt about girl troubles, girls would complain about guys, and in case you thought it was all social venting in our pre-Facebook era, Matt and our engineer roommates would dream up and work on designs for hospital equipment to aid in cancer research and a variety of other mind-boggling pursuits.

It seemed no matter your topic of choice or how big your dreams would become in that tiny booth, Matt would always open the door for you. It was our own warm, well-lighted place in the middle of a stone hillside.

I think of The Booth more and more the older I get. Everybody needs a place of sanctuary. Everyone needs a place to feel welcomed, understood, even celebrated. For us from 12th Brackenridge, that place was The Booth.

For Matt, Marie, Brian, Big D, & Sean T

Jody Brown is the author of Upside Down Kingdom, and is a multi-blogger, poet, and traveler. Her current writing projects, including her daily blog endeavor, #Project365, can be found at

From Dock to Storage

I spent the day on the road, driving my crates from the shipping dock north of Pittsburgh to my new  storage unit out in the country–roughly 25 miles each way. With four crates, I logged 12+ hours on the same two roads today, and I now know every inch of those roads, every hiding place of the speed trap police in their little SUV wagons, every driver who was naughty and who was nice, and I know that Shaler Township smells like Frankenberry cereal in the afternoon–thank you for that, by the way. And I know that the family restaurant northbound in Allison Park didn’t need a new dishwasher this afternoon; no, not until this evening. I also know where to go for my indoor garden tools, for my outdoor pond experience, and for my dentistry in the log cabin buildings with the spacious parking lot. I also know where all the road construction is, and especially the construction that involves all traffic condensing to one lane even though there are only cones and no actual construction happening… I saw innumerable signs of road closings and tar and chipping that is to happen starting tomorrow on all two of the roads I needed to travel from dock to storage.
I also know that it took great coordination on the part of many people, from shippers to movers to helpers to a major lack of accidents and near-misses these last 300 miles for me to get my trinkets and treasures from around the world to a location five minutes up the street from me, and I’m thankful.
To all of the miracles, great and small, that happened today:  You’re the reason for it all! Thank you, from the bottom of my heart.

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Having a Place

Like most kids, I loved to play hide and seek when I was little. I remember one day at my babysitter’s house wanting to play yet another round with my cousin Pam when she finally put her foot down.

“Not again,” she said. “All you do is run to the next room and cover your eyes. You’re not hiding.”

Pam was a few years older than me and I looked up to her, but even that didn’t make me believe her. I ran into the next room and I stood against the wall and put my hands over my eyes. I heard her come in.

“You’re standing right there with your hands over your eyes. I can see you,” she said.

Doubtful, I peeked through my fingers and saw her looking right in my direction.

When she left the room, I covered and uncovered my eyes and I thought about what she could see and not see. And suddenly I knew she was right. And it changed everything I knew about my place in the world, because it meant I had one.

Follow the blog! And check out my first book, Upside Down Kingdom, on Amazon.

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