Sunday, February 24, 2013

Truth and lies

If you have been reading this blog for awhile, you know that honestly and doing the right thing are common themes. They are things I ponder more than occasionally.

I have never served on a jury, and I hope I never have to. Why? Because other than with my own child, I am not very good at discerning the truth. For the most part it is because I am extremely honest (and open, for that matter), and I tend to think/hope that everyone else is too. For me that means that almost every time someone lies or is telling a half-truth, either I refuse to believe said person is lying or I am genuinely surprised that that person is lying. So how I am supposed to determine someone's guilt or innocence?

Let's say Man A said that Man B shot Man A in cold blood/in an attempt to kill. Man B said the shooting was in self-defense. Someone is lying, and I doubt I would be able to figure it out. And what bothers me even more is what if I am wrong? You can say that you make your decision based on the evidence presented, but lawyers usually know the right questions to ask. They often spin things. People have been wrongly convicted, and guilty people have been set free. I don't want the weight of that on my shoulders.

A few weeks ago double amputee/Olympic runner Oscar Pistorius shot and killed his girlfriend in the house bathroom, insisting he thought she was an intruder. The prosecution said it was premeditated, that he knew it was she. So what is the real story? Based on the little I have read, even if it was accidental, I have a problem with a man getting out of bed because he thinks an intruder is in the bathroom but does not check to see that the person whom he is sharing a bed with is there/okay. If nothing else, what he did gives the gun-control (anti-gun) crowd more ammunition, no pun intended. If he did not have a gun, he certainly could not have killed his girlfriend.

Regardless, it is not up to me to decide his guilt or innocence. But don't many of us have to ferret out the truth most days? Was your spouse really stuck in traffic and therefore could not go to the bank before it closed? Did the copier at work randomly die without anyone's causing it? Was your kid truly one of the few who was not actually talking when everyone else supposedly was? Did your buddy really not get your text or email?

I do lunch duty once or twice a week, and I sub a handful of times a month. On a typical day, several conflicts are brought to my attention. They often go like this:
Sally: Ms. M., Lucy called me a jerk.
Lucy: No, I didn't. She is lying.

Or like this:
Mike: Ms. M., Billy just pushed me on purpose.
Billy: No, I didn't. It was an accident. We were just playing.

Even though I see these kids often, I am lousy at figuring it out who is lying. And even if several kids vouch for Mike or Sally, because Lucy and Billy are often so convincing and sincere, I don't know whom to believe. [Typically, I tell the kids that they should not lie, I throw in God when I can, and I let them go on their way, separating them as necessary. I don't punish them because I did not see what really happened.] Yep, it is pretty obvious why I should not be on a jury.

I wish I could tell when people lie to me. I suppose I should be grateful that when my kid tries to keep something from me or is not truthful, I can pretty much tell, and I ultimately get it out of her. As for the rest of the world? I guess I will have to try to accept that people are just going to lie, as much as it bothers me, and particularly when it directly affects me or a decision I will have to make. But in the meantime, I would love to read about how you determine when someone is lying and/or how you get the truth out of people. Now please don't lie to me!

Monday, February 18, 2013

Do you want my prayers?

I mostly believe in the power of prayer. I have no solid proof that praying for something or about someone actually works, but as a person of faith, albeit not of the rock-solid kind, I like to think it helps. And I don't see how it could hurt. Right? I am looking at you, my faithless/atheist/agnostic blogging friends (and I will really be looking at you at the end of this post as well).

As I commented in another blog (probably in several blogs, actually, and perhaps even here), last year, a priest said that God answers our prayers, but not necessarily how we want them. I liked that thought. Well, not so much that it means I may not get what I want, but more so that it helps to explain why sometimes legions of people pray for something for days and weeks, and then it all seems for naught as they did not get what they so fervently prayed for. I can't say that if I prayed for something major, like the health of a loved one, and I did not get what I wanted, I would be okay with that. But thinking that my prayers are being answered in the way God planned helps me in everyday things.

Regardless, for me, praying is pretty personal. I tend to do it at home or at church, and I am not one to broadcast it. Which is why I often get annoyed when people or a news entity on Facebook posts about something bad that happened, and several or even dozens of people post that they are praying. It would be weird for me to pray for people I don't know or don't know well. But even if I do know the person, I don't feel the need to announce on Facebook that I just prayed for them. The whole thing seems a little insincere to me.

And that leads me to the larger point of this post: Should you pray for someone if you were not asked to? Will the people you saw on the news who just lost their house to a fire know or even care that you sent your prayers to them? What if they don't believe in God? Is it enough if you do, or will it just be offensive to them? And what about when you read about someone's exciting news or difficult event in their blog or twitter feed? There have been times I wanted to say, "I will say a prayer for you that you get through this" or something to that effect, but I don't if I know the person is not a believer or if I am unsure. So I may instead say something like, "I will keep you in my thoughts," even though that seems almost insincere to me. But I just don't want to risk offending that person.

Prayer can be a tricky thing, and it is obviously something I have thought about. What do you think about praying for people who don't necessarily want your prayers? If you don't believe in God, would you be offended if someone prays for you? Whether or not you are a person of faith, does it make sense to pray for random people? Is it a nice gesture that can't hurt or somewhat pointless because you have no connection to them?

I find myself ending this blog with "Like a Prayer" (Madonna) and "That's Why We Pray" (MC Hammer) rolling around my head. Maybe I better pray that that goes away...

P.S. I have a job interview on Thursday, and I will happily and gratefully accept your prayers, positive vibes, wishes of good luck, and anything else positive you might want to throw my way. :-)

Monday, February 11, 2013

To Pittsburgh, with love

I have written about my love for Pittsburgh before. In fact, a Pittsburgh blog picked up a post I wrote a few years ago, which was the first time anything like that had ever happened to me. I am purposefully not going to find that post; I want to write a new love letter to the city I have had long-term relationship with. The impetus: Momalom, a blog written by two sisters who have six children between them (the blog is in my Blog List at right).

My dearest Pittsburgh,

I have loved you since I was a child, living two counties away. Back then you were many things to me: trips to the Buhl Planetarium, a ride on the incline or one of the Gateway Clipper boats, a chance to be on KDKA radio and visit Santa at Horne's during the holidays, the Ice Capades and an occasional child-friendly concert, a show at Heinz Hall and later the Benedum, the arts festival and regatta, and, pretty important to my family, the home of the Pittsburgh Steelers.

In 1984, we had season tickets to see the Pittsburgh Maulers, the USFL team that lasted in the city only one year. I hardly liked football then, but at the time I thought the Flashdancers (the cheerleaders) were pretty cool. Within a year or two my family managed to procure four season tickets for the Pittsburgh Steelers, and my love for you (and football) grew as I now visited you even more frequently.

During my college years at Penn State, I would come to your great city to see friends who went to school there, and it was then that I discovered the nightlife you had. I had such fun dancing and hanging out with friends and one year ringing in the new year. During that time, I also came to love hockey and your Pittsburgh Penguins, which were just more reasons to love you. I attended my first Penguins game in 1993, right after I had graduated from college. It was my first time driving into the city, and I was a little scared, but, Pittsburgh, you had my back.

In the mid '90s, I applied for a job in the Northside at a place near Three Rivers Stadium, home to the Steelers and the Pirates. I figured it was destiny, and with that job obtained, so also was my new hometown. I came to discover various neighborhoods in the Burgh, and I spent many a weekend night having a few drinks and/or singing karaoke.

In addition to attending Steeler games pretty regularly and a couple Pens ones, I also hit some Pirates games over the years, each year hoping that this would be the year they would break .500. Well, love is not always smooth. I eventually came to root for the Pitt Panthers, something I never thought I would or could do. But, Pittsburgh, they are a part of you, so I love them too.

I also spent the late '90s and early 2000s attending various concerts, plays, and musicals. It was so nice being a subscriber to the Pittsburgh Musical Theatre (nee Gargaro) for several years. Before I moved to your fair city, I did not have all these cultural options. Now I had a place that gave me laughter, drama, tears, and romance on stage.

And the food. How can I not mention the food?! Pittsburgh, it was you who led me to try Indian, Vietnamese, Portuguese, and Spanish cuisine. I love them all now! Just as I love a Primanti's sandwich piled with fries and coleslaw and the various coffee places in the area. You sure know how to speak to me, great city.

Pittsburgh, you have also given me the opportunity to stay in shape and support causes while doing so. From the Great Race, which runs through Downtown; to the MS Walk, which used to be a 10-mile walk through several Pittsburgh neighborhoods; to the Run Around the Square in Regent Square and lovely Frick Park; to runs on the Northside, up the Allegheny River, along the Mon, and in other places in and around the city, I have gotten to see places I might not have otherwise.

Now that I have a child, I don't get to many Steelers, Pens, and Pirates games (in fact, 2012 was the first year since I have lived here that I did not go to a pro-sporting event in town), but I am still a die-hard fan, proudly wearing my support, particularly when the Mayor calls for a Black and Gold day in the city. I like to think of it as a way of showing my love for you.

But, Pittsburgh, I now have the pleasure of experiencing you through the eyes of a child. A ride on the incline or on a boat is just as much fun now as it was 25 or 30 years ago. I have played in many parks, appreciating the beauty. I have discovered the Science Center and the other Carnegie Museums anew. I so enjoyed the Children's Museum when my child was younger. And the Zoo and Aviary are wonderful places to learn about and experience animals. I can take my child to see a show at the Gemini Children's Theater and watch her appreciate the singing and dancing. And, just this past weekend, I took my kid to her first symphony at Heinz Hall. She seemed to enjoy it; it almost brought tears to my eyes as it had been years since I had gone to something like that.

Pittsburgh, I hope our relationship continues for another 40 or 50 years. I would miss you so very much if we were ever apart for too long. But no matter what, through the ups and downs (which I won't mention in this love letter), know that I will always love you. Thanks for loving me too.


Saturday, February 9, 2013

No parking

I tend to drive downtown (Pittsburgh) during the week only a few times a year, typically to meet a friend or two for lunch and most years to attend a Steelers pep rally. I generally have no reasons to be downtown during the week, and the pricey parking options, traffic, and triangular grid (kind of an oxymoron) peppered with one-way streets give me even more excuses to avoid the area.

Two days ago, I headed downtown to pick up tickets I had won from a radio station. That winning phone call came only a couple days after I had won a free pizza from Papa John's for picking heads for the Super Bowl coin toss (something good did happen as a result of the Super Bowl). So I was in a pretty good mood as I headed into the city, a mood made even better as I arrived in about 20 minutes thanks to my waiting until after 10 a.m.

I called up a friend who works downtown to get his advice on parking. Typically I park in the First Avenue Garage, which is located near the jail and at the beginning of town from the southeast side. However, the walk from there to the radio station was probably going to take me over 20 minutes one way, and since it was my original intent to be in the eastern suburbs within an hour for something, that did not seem like the best bet. So I tried to get to Smithfield Street, my destination and where said friend thought there should be metered parking. Since I was only going to be stopping for short time, that seemed to be the way to go. Unfortunately, from the street I was on, once I reached Smithfield, I could make neither a left nor a right turn onto it. So I drove around a few more streets, hoping to hit it from another street. Still no luck. I next found an alley, but ended up stuck behind a delivery truck until I held my breath and drove onto the sidewalk and around the truck.

After making a Pittsburgh left or two (and again holding my breath), I found what looked like empty spaces on various streets, but each time I saw the dreaded "No Parking" or "Loading Zone" signs. At this point, I was practically screaming, "Where the hell are you supposed to park in this town!" Next I decided to try Market Square. I recall driving there in the mid '90s with friends and our practically getting trapped in the loop (square) as we could not exit. Well, about 17 or 18 years later, it happened to me again. There is only one way in and one (different) way out. I was too busy looking for a place to park that I missed the exit my first loop through. I apparently also missed my hubby's car, as he was in that very same loop for an on-site visit.

Eventually, I made it to Smithfield Street (apparently you can get to it from only a few streets), but there were no spaces to be had (I also did not notice any meters), save one for a small car. Have I mentioned I can parallel park only if there is enough space for almost two cars? By this time I had passed at least four different garages and would have been willing to pay $10 for a lousy 5 to 10 minutes of parking, but all the garages were full. Had I not been talking on the phone with my friend, I probably would have been in tears at this point. I told him if I had been smart, I would have picked him up in front of his building and had him drive my car to the radio station, so I could have jumped out and gotten the tickets. Unfortunately by that time, the friend had to go to a meeting, and I contemplated just heading home, as my gas tank was now on empty and I feared I would never find parking.

I made a last-ditch effort to head down 9th Street, near the river, and there it was: space to park! I pulled right into the giant space between some other cars and was surprised to see no meters. Free parking after all this?! As I walked away from my car and headed down the street, I noticed what resembled a freestanding ATM with a P on it. Then I remembered something I had read months ago: Pittsburgh was doing away with (at least some) meters and replacing them with a multi-space meter at which you enter your license plate and pay via credit card or quarters. I walked back to my car to read my plate number and headed back to the machine and put a quarter in. Unfortunately, with all my pockets, I could not find the other quarters I had stashed somewhere, and the machine must have thought I was done. After a minute or two, I came up with four or five more quarters and re-entered my license plate (I had to run back to my car because I had already forgotten half of the numbers. Ugh). And then I ran, because I had 20 minutes, which I decided was enough time to try to buy or exchange the tickets at the box office after I first procured the tickets at the radio station.

Fortunately, in that small amount of time, I managed to jog to and find the building, head to the 22nd floor, pick up the tickets, complain to the receptionist about parking, sign a release form, head back downstairs, avoid ice falling from buildings, jog to Heinz Hall, convince the woman there to let me exchange two good seats for two lesser seats so we could buy a third (they made out on that deal), listen to hundreds of loud kids exit Heinz Hall, weave in and out of throngs of kids, and eventually make it back to my car as the time had expired. Who knew I was going to get in a cardio workout?!

So what have I learned about parking in downtown Pittsburgh on a weekday after that ordeal?
  • Always try the First Avenue Garage first, since it tends to have parking available.
  • Pay attention to the signs on the streets, some of which may have actually been signs to park.
  • If you find street parking, make sure you have your license plate number and many quarters or a credit card handy (I had the latter, but I was not sure if it could be used for only a dollar or two).
  • If you need to make a quick trip, see if you can beg someone to go with you so you can avoid the whole parking fiasco.
  • Always have your tennis shoes with you as you never know when you might need to jog.
Here's hoping when we head back downtown to the performance, I won't have any painful parking tales to tell...

Saturday, February 2, 2013

This is why I do it.

Since mid September I have been volunteering at a one-day-a-week after-school program. Most days, there have been times when I have wanted to scream. Some of the kids just don't listen. Some seem not to be able to stop talking when asked. Many have trouble sitting still. Just last week, I told a girl to sit up during a presentation (the kids were seated on the floor, and this girl was alternating between lying down and rolling around). She just looked at me with a half-confused/half-glare expression but stayed reclined. I repeated my direction, and I received the same look. By the third time, she actually listened, though it took only a couple of minutes before we did that same dance all over again. I am unsure what I could have done differently, short of dragging her out of the room. But not only would that have been disruptive to the presenter and everyone else (though probably not a whole lot more than the kid's rolling around), but manhandling kids is not something teachers/leaders do in this century. You know how sue-happy this country has become...

But despite the frustration and headaches that sometimes occur, I know this is what I should be doing for now, making a difference even in some small way. Some of these kids have grown to like me and want to be around me, whether they request that I help them with homework or they ask to sit next to me (or on my lap) during presentations. And there is just something about getting an exuberant hug from some of these kids; you can almost feel their love pouring out.

After I had finished helping one second grader with her homework last week, she suggested we play hangman. She came up with a phrase, and I managed to correctly guess only two letters before I lost. She asked me to keep the paper, because she wanted me to have it from her.

Yes, this is a good reminder of why I do this.

And besides, I would much rather focus on that than my trying to maintain order amid the chaos of  indoor recess yesterday. Nothing like trying to keep almost 70 or 80 kids from running over and wrestling one another. I was just trying to get the kids to dance! :-)