The last several weeks have featured a bevy of local non profit workshops and presentations.
Two of which happened last Wednesday night— the second in the Yes! Empowerment Series from the YWCA of Bethlehem and a panel on Quality of Life Women’s Issues hosted by American Association of University Women Easton Branch featuring Megan Lago (who coincidentally is my neighbor), the communications director for Lisa Boscola; Janice Thomas, homeless services director for Third Street Alliance for Women and Children; and my former colleague Antoinette Cavaliere (pictured below), program director for ProJeCt of Easton.
It’s energizing that local non profits can interact with each other and the public so fluidly and easily through social media and video conferencing platforms.
The focus of the AAUW panel was the problems facing families during the pandemic, which many of them seemed to revert to age old problems like lack of education and domestic violence.
This week’s YWCA session was on giving and receiving feedback, another interesting reflection on how we communicate and interact with others.
Then I opened my LinkedIn to discover that the United Way of the Greater Lehigh Valley featured a photo of me, my colleagues and one of our Women United supporters on their LinkedIn post to promote their upcoming Women United event.
George and I worked together at Lehigh Valley News Group in 2006, when he served as editor of the E… oh dear me I am old and senile… I know it was East Penn/Emmaus area, but I can’t remember what the newspaper’s name was… East Penn News sounds right because each paper was named after the school district and it’s the East Penn School District and Emmaus High School.
Sorry to babble like that but it was almost 15 years ago. My teenager was younger than his daughter is now.
I served as managing editor when those papers launched and George always had a certainty creativity and a penchant for thinking outside the box. We had a weekly entertainment column shared by all six of our papers and if I remember correctly George pitched most of our concepts.
So I was not surprised when George developed his own media company and that he’s scooped the main media outlets in town and created some phenomena— google “Lehigh Valley Snow Camel” and know that George broke that story.
Now, like George, Darnell has a big creative energy, vivacious speech, and will not shy away from what needs to be said.
So I wanted to get these two together. And George put a call out for potential guests on his podcast.
Today George shared with me the link for that final podcast. And I’ve very excited to share it. The content may get heavy at times but these guys kept the conversation going in a natural organic manner.
They reference some of the Valley’s food— I won’t spoil it here. But when it comes to cheesesteaks I vote for Joe’s Steak Shop in Phillipsburg and hot dogs would have to be from outside the Lehigh Valley and go with Hot Dog Johnny’s in Belvidere, N.J. A few years ago it would have had to be Charlie’s Pool Room in Alpha, N.J.
I ended last night with a delightful (super super delightful) tapas of succulent olives, hummus, blue cheese and pita chips with my neighbor.
Tonight I’m ending the night with blisters from going for my evening walk while wearing flip flops and feeling a little guilty for taking advantage of my DQ reward points to get a free chicken strip basket at Dairy Queen.
I have gained 10 pounds since the pandemic started. I am happy to say that my daily steps have tripled, but I haven’t used my dumbbells for anything other than doorstops, and I suppose I should go ahead and cancel my gym membership. Because I’m unemployed and I don’t want to go pay someone for something I can do at home without a mask.
If only I could stop the junk food habit.
But that is not the point of this post. The point of this post is to touch on two topics. I’m going to briefly touch on what I love about the business and non-profit environment here in the Lehigh Valley.
Then I’m going to sing the praises of Feline Urban Rescue and Rehab and report that our adorable pseudo-Russian Blue kittens, now about nine months old got neutered today and are still stoned out of their fuzzy little minds.
Life in the Lehigh Valley
So, I grew up in the Slate Belt and then moved to Bethlehem for my college years at Moravian College. I’ve always loved the diversity of the Lehigh Valley region, the diversity of urban vs. rural, the infrastructure, the businesses, the farms, the corporations.
Today, I attended a meeting with the person in charge of corporate giving for a major corporation that has offices all over the world, and a huge influence historically and currently in the Valley.
I attended that meeting as a representative of Aspire to Autonomy, Inc., and supported one of the founders of the organization in this important private conversation we were having.
And suddenly I was awestruck again.
Periodically, I am annoyed with the Valley for the same reasons that I love the Lehigh Valley. But today I felt enamored.
The Lehigh Valley, in part because of its proximity to the ports of New Jersey and the cities of New York and Philadelphia, and the local highway infrastructure connecting it everywhere, attracts a wide variety of businesses while hosting some economic mainstays—like Air Products, Just Born Candy, Martin Guitar and Crayola.
We have two major hospital networks competing madly locally— St. Luke’s and Lehigh Valley Hospital.
But the region, despite having three cities just about touching (and Allentown, with its population of more than 122,000, is the third largest city in the state), is amazingly small. It’s not that hard to travel from one end to the other and people seem to know everyone, especially in the business world.
Or maybe it just feels that way to me because I spent 15 years as a local journalist.
So, here I am in the meeting, immediately recognized as the former Development Manager for ProJeCt of Easton, helping sell this two-year-old non-profit to a potential major funder.
I even dressed up for the Zoom— and then the person we were meeting dialed in, so I got to put on makeup for my stoned cats.
But because of the “smallness” of the Lehigh Valley, this very busy executive took more time than she had to to meet with us. As a result, we all left with an increased understanding.
We have a better fundraising plan regarding this corporation and this person learned more about how all the anti-trafficking organizations here in the Valley work together.
But what impressed me was the willingness of this individual to work with the “little guy.” That is something that makes me proud to live in the Lehigh Valley.
Therescued kittens have been neutered
I rambled quite a bit on that earlier bit.
Today, the teenager and I left the house at 7:30 to transport the kittens to FURR for a low-cost neutering.
Stephanie, the woman from FURR we have been working with, was even kind enough to place Fog and Misty on the backseat of her car with their cat carriers facing each other instead of in the big cat pile of carriers in the back of the car.
That made me happy. That the brothers could see each other.
On the way home, I stopped at Grocery Outlet as the teenager had announced that cheap instant coffee was garbage and we were going to need more Nescafé.
And then the teenager filled out an adoption/foster application with FURR on her phone in the parking lot.
Because we need more menagerie.
Oz enjoyed being my main baby today while the kittens were gone.
And I also did my nails.
And it seemed like it took forever until it was time to retrieve the boys. They are both about 9 3/4 pounds. They are Feline Leukemia negative. They have their shots now, nails trimmed, flea meds and deworming.
And they are ridiculously mellow and stoned right now. I think Fog fell asleep with his head in the water bowl.
The last two days I have been hectic busy. But, yesterday, despite my activities and the sporadic heavy rain, I still walked about 9,400 steps.
I started my day with a video chat with my fellow volunteers at Aspire to Autonomy, Inc. This anti-human trafficking organization helps connect underserved populations with services, while educating about human trafficking and looking for trafficking victims. It then helps victims rebuild their lives and get whatever help they need to reach autonomy.
They are also currently hosting monthly “Feed Northampton County” pandemic response food distributions at the Hispanic Center of the Lehigh Valley and in the West Ward of Easton. Using a pop-up food pantry model, Aspire and their network of ambassadors distribute food, masks and hand sanitizer.
The organization works with interns from Kutztown University’s Master’s of Social Work program. Currently I am working closely with Sarah, who has embraced the idea of learning more about public relations and how it can benefit her in promoting her future activities in her career.
Sarah and I were scheduled to have a video chat to strategize pitching the press release she had written the day before on a training session she and two other interns—Kayla and Sam—are facilitating next week on Pennsylvania’s Act 197. (More on that in a few paragraphs.)
Kayla and organization co-founder Darnell (and my supervisor) joined us to catch up on the list of activities we have going on right now.
I left the meeting energized and started pitching to my end of the media list, while Sarah handled the others. This morning, we noticed that The Valley Ledger had already posted our material. Thank you to them!
To read more about our upcoming training (please come!), click here: Act 197 training .
I hopped from there to a meeting for the fundraising committee of Mary Meuser Memorial Library. We had to cancel our annual book fair, due to Covid-19, and met to discuss future possibilities for fundraising. I floated what I felt was a good idea to use key space in the library (and facing a major thoroughfare) to promote local businesses. The committee like the idea and I am to prepare a proposal.
And the teenager made arrangements with Feline Urban Rescue and Rehab (FURR) to get our kittens fixed next week.
The rest of the afternoon is a blur. But I know I helped with some correspondence for Aspire and pursued some networking opportunities on behalf of the group. I also asked my peers at the organization about an idea I had to promote the enforcement of Act 197 via a social media campaign.
Last night, I visited with my neighbors, watched Golden Girls with the teenager, went for a walk with “my other half,” Buddy’s mom who lives in the other side of my house, cuddled with my cockatoo and watched Indian Matchmaking on Netflix.
This morning somehow I slept until 8:30. And my email alerted me that it was National Drive Thru Day. I wrote a corporate sponsorship letter for Aspire and submitted it to the founders for review. Then, the teenager borrowed Buddy and we went to gather up cheap eats at the drive thru.
First I stopped at Dunkin as I still have more than $30 on my Dunkin gift card. They were offering 100 points on any purchase. I cashed in the free beverage I had on my card and bought the teenager hash browns. Then we stopped at McDonald’s as they were offering a free medium fry with any $1 purchase.
I bought her a $1 large Diet Coke and they kept offering me a $1 McChicken. The teenager told me to get it, so I did, but I had them make one without mayo and with lots of pickles.
There is still much work to be done in coming days as Aspire has several major happenings next week, but it’s exciting that between Aspire and the library board I have the opportunity to freely share my ideas and work to move both agencies forward.
My teenager will be the first to tell you that I think too much about things no one else will challenge.
And I’m about to go on a rant. This rant might make me unpopular in some circles.
And I blame it all on the Freddies.
Now, if you are not from the Lehigh Valley, you probably don’t know what the Freddies are. Basically, a local non-profit theater and the regional television station created a competition for high school musicals. (For more info, visit State Theatre for the Arts.)
In my opinion, this created a “need” for schools to do productions outside their range in order to look good in the local media. Our public schools should not have to prove the value of their arts programs via a popularity contest aired on TV.
Today the teenager and I went to see “Once Upon a Mattress” (the princess and the pea musical) at a fairly small local high school. The first thing that shocked me was paid adult musicians in the pit. It’s a high school play. Why aren’t there high school musicians? Isn’t it cheating to use paid musicians?
The kids did an amazing job, but the show seemed like some of the kids were out of their range or needed another week of rehearsal time. Which, in their defense again, it is very hard to pace a high school show to peak at the right time.
But I can’t find any fault with the performers. They gave their hearts and souls and full effort.
I just wish schools would stop pushing big production musicals if the student body isn’t equipped to do it. And so I blame the Freddies.
Now, for my second rant. This one is attacking the show from a feminist perspective.
The director says in her letter printed in the program that she was excited to do such a classic theatre piece with a strong female lead. She also praises the script for its themes, that people will find acceptance and love despite their quirks.
This play is based on the premise that a woman has to pass tests and prove herself to be loved and accepted. That even other women will test a woman’s intentions and doubt her worth. Meanwhile, the father (the mute King Sextimus) chases every female character he encounters and the audience laughs.
And the Queen is hardest of all when it comes to accepting a mate for her son. She dreams up the impossible tests and only allows the marriage when she is suddenly struck mute.
She also gives a long monologue about how it’s fine that she be miserable in marriage and that’s her duty as a true princess.
Not to mention, we’re laughing at a play extolling arranged marriage. Now in the end, the castle staff fixes the test so the woman the prince loves will pass. Prince Dauntless then marries for love.
But he doesn’t marry for love.
He marries because she’s a princess. In the end, love didn’t unite them. Her princess status did. Which maybe you can argue because the Queen tries to stop it and Dauntless yells at his mother and insists he’s going to do it anyway. In my view, he waited too long to make that point valid.
Last night, I attended the audio-described performance of Tartuffe at DeSales University last night. The teenager and my blind friend, Nancy, accompanied me.
Act I Productions always does a fantastic job and at this point, I know the staff almost as well as Nancy. (I wrote more about this yesterday, Tartuffe tonight.)
I was technically an English Literature and Language major in college for my first bachelors degree, but probably three-quarters of my degree was actually theatre classes as “Doc” Jack Ramsey was my favorite professor and I was active in the theatre company. I was also technically a French minor, but I was only one class shy of a double major. About a decade after I graduated, I did take an additional French class at my alma mater (Moravian College) and several more at Lafayette College when I earned my second bachelors in International Affairs.
That’s a long-winded way to say I’m a huge nerd who has studied Moliere.
DeSales University has a great theatre department offering majors in various forms of performing arts, so their shows are always top notch.
They offer one performance of every major production as an audio described show for the visually impaired. As I mentioned in yesterday’s post, this is a great way to include everyone in theatre.
I also provided my companions with a mini-lesson in farce versus comedy, where farce is quicker paced, has more characters entering and exit, and includes more physical humor than mere comedy.
Additionally we discussed Moliere and 17th Century Drama in general. This particular play is almost 400-years-old. It tackles heavy themes, philosophizing about religion and God (or perhaps religion versus pure spiritual intentions), gullibility, and how to change someone’s mind when they can’t see the truth.
Moliere is only slightly more modern than Shakespeare and, and this is totally my opinion, I find the French drama more accessible, funnier and more sexually-charged than Shakespeare’s canon.
The basic premise, and one that angered the Roman Catholic Church, is that a wealthy man invites a beggar into his home. The beggar, Tartuffe, has demonstrated piety that has impressed the master of the house. Tartuffe then tries to win over the master’s goods and family, and almost succeeds. The family would have been left in ruins, if not for a convenient intervention of the king, which of course, was Moliere’s way of keeping in the good graces of the crown.
The production at DeSales included a brilliant set, the paint hues of the set walls shifted colors based at the lighting. They created the illusion of a huge estate house on a small stage with an amazing display of perspective. They designed a set with six doors, about twelve stairs and three levels in a comparatively small space.
I only noticed maybe two line mix-ups. Acting was solid. I’m starting to recognize some of the actors. I think the daughter and the stepmother might have been my favorite.
I thoroughly liked the translation. It maintained much of the original rhyme without sounding forced in English. And some of the word choice was very rich. I very much enjoyed the vocabulary.
The costumes deliberately code the characters. The daughter and her suitor, as young and naive lovers, wear pink and pale blue. The stepmother wears an elaborate gown of pale blue and a light turquoise. The father wears various shades of blue and purple, but the hot-headed son wears vivid orange.
The religious themes, and the theme of being suckered in and acting stupid, still hold true today. I feel like the American political climate also seems like a “Tartuffe” story.
Today I made my final attempts to flood my heart with holiday spirit.
My daughter visited my office on my lunch break and played some impromptu carols with my office mate, George, and I really think they should rehearse and take the show on the road, at least to local nursing homes.
One of my newspaper bosses, my favorite newsroom personality ever, liked to bet on horses at the racetrack or play some cards in Vegas. He said he gave himself a budget, and since he didn’t smoke or go to the movies or play video games or have an expensive car, that this was his hobby.
I have a similar past-time that overwhelms me with guilt sometimes. I love to go out to eat. It’s my stress relief. I also love to cook, so you think I’d spend more on groceries and less on restaurants.
I’ve tried. I’ve cut the landline, canceled the Internet, lowered the thermostat, only bought meat on clearance and cat food when on sale. I can run a lean household. But I can’t resist the allure of a family meal in a fun restaurant.
Twice this week I was reminded why. A great meal is a lot like a mini-vacation. Without jet lag or clogged ears or piles of dirty laundry or traveler’s diarrhea.
And sometimes, you’re a mile away from home.
Like this penne with vodka sauce:
We all have that neighborhood restaurant we’ve been meaning to try. For me, it was George’s Pizzeria. I never really noticed it until my daughter moved from the elementary school to the intermediate school. We finally checked it out and were impressed by the prices, the quality of the food, and the efficient but understated soft sell of the staff as they met our needs.
Once we left, I couldn’t stop thinking about trying their penne with vodka sauce. So, I returned this week after a long pre-Easter day in retail.
You notice things the second time to visit a restaurant. I anticipated this and looked forward to discovering some nuances to this small, plain pizzeria. It was unexpectedly busy for the before-dinner hour. My daughter and I ordered drinks. We watched the hustle and bustle and customers came, some stayed and some picked up their food and left.
After a few minutes, a staff member ran to us. “Did anyone take your food order?”
No. He apologized so genuinely and honestly I didn’t mind because the atmosphere was like hanging out in someone’s kitchen. My daughter adores calimari. I ordered her an appetizer. I ordered my pasta, which is a $10 dish, asking if they could add chicken and broccoli.
It was the best meal I’ve had in a long time. The broccoli was fresh, not frozen. The chicken was real, not processed. (And they put so much in there I kept joking that I couldn’t find the noodles.) The sauce was smooth and no one ingredient overpowered. The texture was creamy but amazingly light.
My daughter devoured the calimari, despite the fact that it was the “hoops” kind and not the baby squid shape that she prefers. I enjoy calimari, but I still can’t bring myself to eat anything breaded in its original full-size form and shape.
My husband joined us late, so my daughter and I had dessert. I asked for coffee and they brought it in a New Orleans mug from the French coffee market. The Francophile in me was tickled.
When I went to pay the bill, they asked if I wanted more coffee. I declined as I do need to sleep eventually. They offered to prepare some “to go” since they had brewed me a fresh pot!
We were there two hours. I chatted with my family and enjoyed three courses. It was the most at ease I’d felt in a long time. It was the same feeling I get when my traveling companion and I find a special restaurant overseas. Like vacation.
I had a similar experience today. I finally visited Full of Crêpe in South Bethlehem. I had some delightful concoction of Brie, ham, and raspberry jam. Soooo good.
It was like being in Paris. Except the staff was helpful. And crêpe was served in a restaurant not on the street. We shared a dessert crêpe.
The crêpes came in a fancy cardboard sleeve with perforations so you could eat in without having it flop all over. Each time you ate more, you tore down the sleeve. I couldn’t get the hang of it. I took the sleeve off and ate out of the tissue paper. Like Paris. Except I didn’t drip cheese all over myself.
I have special stories attached to all of my articles, but I think this one makes me proud because it could be considered a “scoop.” If I remember correctly, I heard something at a West Easton council meeting referencing a bigger project in the county seat, Easton. The news for West Easton was that this developer, Ashley Development, a known name in the Lehigh Valley, would not be moving forward as scheduled with a West Easton project because of the economy.
For some reason, perhaps because of my charm and politeness, but more likely it was because of the news entity I represented, the head of Ashley Development (Lou Pektor) returned my phone call. I confirmed information about the West Easton project but I also got information about the project in Easton and another big redevelopment, “the Dixie cup,” in Wilson borough.