John Denny: Jersey Sore

It may seem odd to be thinking about A Christmas Carol in the dog days of summer, but July is the time of year when I actually find myself playing Scrooge. Every year for the past nineteen years, our family has been going to the same place for summer vacation – Stone Harbor, New Jersey. And every year, I swear we’re going different next summer.

For those who know me, you know I don’t do heat very well. So why do we go to a hot beach during the hottest time of year?  And I really don’t enjoy beach sitting. After fifteen minutes of Coppertone, sweat, and sand, I’m done.

I’m also not someone who enjoys always doing the same thing. But every time I suggest we go somewhere new, my family says, “you mean in addition to Stone Harbor,” when I really mean instead of.

But the reality is this: the reason I (mostly) put my grumbling aside and find myself coming back each year is simple. It’s family. The sense of tradition, joy, and freedom my wife and kids get at the shore manages to melt even my cold, cold heart (or maybe that’s just the heat). The excitement builds weeks before we leave and at least one of my three children always sheds tears when we leave.  And now that they are all older and making their way in life, Stone Harbor is one of the few places and times of year when we can all be together – even if “together” means them at the beach and me getting my ocean views through the windows of the air-conditioned Coffee Talk shop.

This year though, there was finally something just for me at the beach: last week was Christmas in July in Stone Harbor! I met up with the Stone Harbor Santa Claus and promised him, just as old Ebenezer Scrooge did, that I’ll keep Christmas (and Stone Harbor) in my heart the whole year long. Or should I say for the next nineteen years long?

Charlie Lotz: Officially an Officiant

John may go to the same place every year, but this July marked a totally brand new experience for me. A few weeks ago, I was lucky enough to not only visit the beautiful Pacific Northwest for the first time, but to do so for a very special reason: officiating the wedding of two dear friends.

The wedding was a great excuse for my wife and I to visit Vancouver, Seattle, Portland, and lots of the Pacific Coast in between. But the real highlight was the wedding itself, as we celebrated the marriage of our friends Scot and Molly, two incredible elementary school teachers who live in western Washington State.

While I’m still baffled that they picked me (were they trying to test the limits of how many puns could be crammed into one wedding ceremony?), I was obviously incredibly touched and honored to be part of such a special day for two wonderful people. 

It was also a great opportunity to learn about the wild and wonderful world of online ordination. And while it was definitely the most strenuous 30 seconds of my life, I’m proud to announce that I’m now officially licensed to conduct weddings!  

…in Washington State. Pennsylvania has other thoughts on the matter. Oh well!

Cassie Rusnak: Love is a Roller Coaster

I had only been dating Ryan for about 1 month before I met his family in July 2017, and I was determined to make a great first impression.  When the conversation switched to travel, I figured I’d fit right in, but I was shocked to learn that their travel all seemed to revolve around amusement parks, roller coasters, and other terrifying thrill-seeking experiences I avoid at all costs.  I’d harbored a massive fear of roller coasters all my life and hadn’t been on a coaster in over 20 years. 

As everyone around the table shared their epic coaster tales, I quietly prayed no one would notice my silence and how lame I apparently was.  Roller coaster-ing was clearly an important part of Ryan’s life, so I figured I’d break the bad news to him later so he could reevaluate this roller coaster-less relationship in private.

That’s when his sister turned to me and said, “Cassie, we haven’t heard from you… you do like roller coasters, right??”  “Oh, um… yeah. Yes. Of course!” I heard myself say. So now I was not only lame, but a liar, too.

I didn’t work up the courage to tell Ryan the truth until a month later, prefacing with, “We need to talk.  I have something I need to tell you… I’m afraid of roller coasters.”

Luckily for me, Ryan laughed instead of breaking up with me when I told him the truth.  Luckily for Ryan, my desire to impress him and be a fun girlfriend actually led me to agree to ride a coaster again – for the first time in over 20 years – in an attempt to overcome my lifelong fear.

Fast forward 2 years to July 2019, and Ryan and I are happily engaged and happily roller coasteri-ng almost every weekend this summer.  It didn’t take long for me to discover and enjoy all the fun I’d been missing out on for the past 20 years, and the liberating thrill of overcoming a lifelong fear really never gets old.  So far in 2019 we’ve traveled to 10 different theme parks in 8 different states, and my “coaster credits” (yeah, that’s a thing) have jumped from a total of 2 to 82 different coasters that I’ve proudly conquered in less than 2 years.  I’m looking forward to my next weekend coaster adventure with Ryan and a lifetime of thrills together, in and out of the parks.

Anna Havrilla: Love is a Roller Derby

Over 5 years ago, in June 2014, I received a shared invitation to a roller derby open registration on Facebook. There was no cost involved and I had very faint, somewhat repressed memories of being in a roller rink, which was enough to get me excited about the prospect. Something new, physically demanding, and the possibility of an adventure seemed intoxicating, so two weeks later I parked outside the Delmont Center Ice Skating Rink and asked the front desk where I could find the roller derby team.

Fast-forward to November 2014, my first bout with the Pittsburgh East Roller Villains: painted face, fresh contacts, and the newly-granted nickname of Anamaul. Cue the one hundred tips and tricks for the first game in a derby girl’s life: roll over the tape to see how it feels, always find a buddy, watch out for the other team’s jammer, listen for Coach, and on and on. Despite my nerves (and some seriously wobbly knees), I survived this first game with some much needed advice from my best friend: “Hit somebody – they’re just pushing you around out there! ” A sentiment I reminded myself before every bout, game, and scrimmage for years. 

Playing roller derby has been the most rewarding experience. Not only because the Pittsburgh East Roller Villains are some of the most patient and fierce individuals, but because their determination to be better, faster, and stronger motivates you to  step up to the challenge. Derby is more than just a group of friends rolling around and bumping into each other; it is a fast-paced, hard-hitting and quick-footed frenzy of wheels, color, and lap after lap. 

In the five years I have played (as Anamaul) and coached (as Coach Sundae) for the Gal Capones, I have been able to make friends from all over the East Coast, twisted my ankle(s), bruised my brain a bit, received a few MVP Blocker awards, and skated my best games and my worst. I’ve shared the pride of my teammates when we skate to win, fast and without hesitation, and I’ve shared the frustration when we have fallen short, become frustrated, and lost. But even in defeat, we have learned and grown from our mistakes. If there is one thing derby has ingrained in me, it is that it truly does not matter how many times you fall down, but rather how many bruises you can show off when you get back up.