Thursday, November 22, 2007

Happy Thanksgiving

Welcoming sign saying "Have a very Blessed Thanksgiving", Central Presbyterian Church's Community Thanksgiving Dinner, Nov. 22, 2007We had a wonderful time at the Community Thanksgiving Dinner this afternoon. We had a record number of volunteers helping us serve over eighty meals to people who came for many different reasons. Some came because they could not afford to get the ingredients to make a Thanksgiving meal at home; some couldn't cook; some came because they did not want to have their Thanksgiving meal alone; and some came to serve. Some came promptly at 1:00 when the meal began; and some came at 2:45 when we were in the process of cleaning up and putting away our leftovers.

There was a good spirit in the room as old friends and new gave thanks for God's many blessings.

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Steel City Grill House continues great traditions

At risk of having to wait for a seat at a nice local restaurant, I just want to add a ditto to today's review in the Valley News Dispatch of Steel City Pizza.

I first learned about Steel City early in the summer when some young people were passing out menus/fliers in Riverview Park in Tarentum. They explained that Tarentum was part of the area to which Steel City would deliver. I learned that Steel City was at that time in the same place locals had come to know as Portofino Pizza (that had a reputation for a great place to get a gyro). "Steel City Pizza and Wings" (as it was named on the sign out front) was being run by the same family that had operated Portofino for 16 years. I found that Steel City was a great place to order pizza, wings, or gyros earlier in the summer.

A few months later a banner appeared in front of the former Babe's Restaurant at 2709 Leechburg Road in Lower Burrell, announcing that "Steel City Pizza and Grill" would be there. Once they opened I paid a visit for dinner, and was not sorry.

I can't make any comparisons with the former Babe's Diner (that closed just before I moved to the area). The gyros are still great at the new restaurant, as are the pizzas and sandwiches. It is also a good place to go for an evening meal. They offer a few very nice pasta entrees.

I am only mystified by the constantly changing name. In addition to the banner out front they now have letters on the high illuminated sign, naming the restaurant the "Steel City Grill House." I am sure that eventually they will settle on one name. But in the meantime I just like the fact that the food is great.

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Monday, November 19, 2007

What is a small church without a trophy case supposed to do?

2nd place trophy awarded to Central Presbyterian Church for its float in the 2007 Tarentum Brackenridge Holiday ParadeI had mentioned earlier that one of the big events this month was the 2007 Tarentum Brackenridge Holiday Parade.

The parade was a lot of fun, as I described in the last post. When the parade ended the children who had been on the float went on to the other events happening in Tarentum, while some of us set to work taking the float apart so that we could return the trailer to the person who let us use it. In the middle of our work I received a text message that our float had won Second Prize among the floats that had been in the parade.

This was really funny because all the people who had been involved in the project had not been aware that there would be any judging of the floats. We just went into the parade as an opportunity to participate in a community event and show a little bit about what our church was like.

Central Presbyterian Church float in line before the 2007 Tarentum Brackenridge Holiday ParadeThe kids who went to receive the trophy were just delighted.

I've been told that our church does have a few trophies from various events over the years, but we have no trophy case. We probably don't need one. I hope we'll continue to be involved in events around Tarentum without feeling that we have to compete with other organizations.

There is a full list of the prizes awarded for the 2007 Tarentum Brackenridge Holiday Parade here.

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Sunday, November 18, 2007

Tarentum Brackenridge Holiday Parade 2007

The Tarentum Brackenridge Holiday Parade on Saturday, November 17 continued the great tradition the two towns established last year. The parade took about 40 minutes to pass the place where I viewed it, and it is clearly become the kind of community event people turn out to support.

While I was waiting for the parade to start, the Highlands Education Association was giving out free cups of hot cocoa and hot apple cider.

The parade had a number of marching units.

Highlands Varsity Marching Band, Tarentum Brackenridge Holiday Parade, Nov. 17, 2007

Highlands Varsity Marching Band, Tarentum Brackenridge Holiday Parade, Nov. 17, 2007

an unidentified dance group, Tarentum Brackenridge Holiday Parade, Nov. 17, 2007

Steel City Ambassadors, Tarentum Brackenridge Holiday Parade, Nov. 17, 2007

Butler Vagabonds, Tarentum Brackenridge Holiday Parade, Nov. 17, 2007

There were lots of local fire departments in the parade, and it seemed that some came from further than the previous year's parade.


Eureka firedog, Tarentum Brackenridge Holiday Parade, Nov. 17, 2007

New Kensington Fire Department, Tarentum Brackenridge Holiday Parade, Nov. 17, 2007

There were floats from a number of organizations.

Abundant Joy Fellowship's float, Tarentum Brackenridge Holiday Parade, Nov. 17, 2007

Central Presbyterian Church's float, Tarentum Brackenridge Holiday Parade, Nov. 17, 2007

Holy Martyrs' float, Tarentum Brackenridge Holiday Parade, Nov. 17, 2007

In addition to all the politicians who made an appearance, we even had a meteorologist in the parade. But with the weatherman busy riding in the parade I was wondering who was making sure the rains would hold off?

Don Schwenneker, WTAE meteorologist, Tarentum Brackenridge Holiday Parade, Nov. 17, 2007

And there were mascots of all sorts:

The Pirates' Parrot, Tarentum Brackenridge Holiday Parade, Nov. 17, 2007

Steely McBeam, Tarentum Brackenridge Holiday Parade, Nov. 17, 2007

The King's Frownie, Tarentum Brackenridge Holiday Parade, Nov. 17, 2007

Hot Dog Guy, Tarentum Brackenridge Holiday Parade, Nov. 17, 2007

KFC Chicken, Tarentum Brackenridge Holiday Parade, Nov. 17, 2007

Red Robin, Tarentum Brackenridge Holiday Parade, Nov. 17, 2007

Wendy, Tarentum Brackenridge Holiday Parade, Nov. 17, 2007

And of course the parade concluded with the arrival of Santa.

Santa, Tarentum Brackenridge Holiday Parade, Nov. 17, 2007

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Friday, November 16, 2007

You can't always see the gritted teeth behind the smiley



This is the kind of lawsuit that I think will give lawyers and litigation a bad name among the public. (HT: Pittsblog for writing about the suit and some of its anticipated problems.) The notion that a company can claim an exclusive right to draw a facial expression that is at least as old as the human race on a cookie seems absurd. Although lawyers can picture how the case might go either way, I think the public is going to see through it all to recognize the fierce greed that motivates a lawsuit like this.

If you give someone a smile you lose nothing, and can gain so much. If you sue to defend a claimed exclusive right to draw smiles, there is nothing to gain but perhaps a lot of money. I am likely to remember the obvious greed behind the smiley the next time I dine at an Eat'nPark and see the display of cookies at the counter as I leave.

Those aren't friendly smiles on the cookies. They are just the distracting smiles of someone who is eyeing your wallet.

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McDonald's in Lower Burrell opens new restaurant

McDonald's Restaurant in Lower Burrell, PA, November 15, 2007Yesterday was the day that the new McDonald's opened in Lower Burrell, right next to where the previous McDonald's had been on Leechburg Road. The opening was eagerly awaited by many in the Valley, including a group of retirees who were accustomed to meeting at the old restaurant each day for coffee; they were forced temporarily into a nomadic existence when the old restaurant closed and was demolished.

As someone who drives past the site twice a day, I was impressed by the speed with which the new restaurant was built, and the coordination of the workers who accomplished so many different tasks simultaneously on a small piece of land. They worked quickly and efficiently from the time ground was broken for the new restaurant, to the time the old restaurant was closed and its demolition began, through the time they paved the parking lot and finished the new restaurant. I don't think there was a day when I did not notice big changes on the construction site.

There was a crowd in the new restaurant yesterday, eager to see what it looked like from the inside. I thought the dining area was attractive; the large windows let in more sunlight than there had been in the old restaurant. There were two flatscreen TV's mounted to the wall, and a variety of possibilities for seating in booths or at tables with different sizes.

Outside, there was a lot of fascination with the drive-through window. The new restaurant has a double drive-thru lane. It is easy to see how two drivers can be placing orders simultaneously. What is not yet obvious to me is how people in the two drive-thru lanes pick up their food.

It's good to have the McDonald's back.

And have I mentioned that McDonald's is socially responsible in working with the Coalition of Immokalee Workers to ensure better wages for the people who pick their tomatoes?

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Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Did Choppers turn out as advertised?

When the owners of Choppers Bar And Grille came to the Tarentum Borough Council in May, they went to great lengths to emphasize that the establishment for which they were seeking a liquor license was going to be different from the previous "Hog Heaven" that had closed in the same location (see here or here). The owners had not been part of the previous bar's operation and did not want to be held responsible for the problems of the past.

They described their dream of having an upscale biker bar -- a place where doctors, lawyers, and bankers who ride motorcycles could bring their families for dinner. They pointed out that there was no restaurant in the borough of Tarentum where one could go out for supper on a Monday night, and that Choppers would make Monday night dining a possibility in Tarentum. A dining area out along the sidewalk was going to be another draw for their desired upscale clientele.

Meanwhile, people who lived in the neighborhood on streets uphill from the bar wondered whether Choppers was going to be a new manifestation of the previous nuisance bar.

As the renovations and decoration of the space proceeded, ambivalent messages kept the question unresolved as to what kind of establishment Choppers would be.

sign announcing "Chopper's Bar & Grille opening soon Under New Management", photo taken June 30, 2007 In June a sign announced that Choppers Bar and Grille was opening soon "under new management". According to what had been told to the Borough Council, Choppers was brand new to Tarentum, and was to open under its very first management in Tarentum. The phrase "under new management" does point to a new reality and a new way in which things will be done, but at the same time, it hints at some degree of continuity with something in the past. The only explanation I can imagine for this phrase is that Choppers wanted to communicate something to the customers of the former Hog Heaven, hoping to get them in the door.

In any event, it is not clear whether Choppers is a new business in Tarentum or just an old business with a new name and new management.

When Choppers opened, the Valley News Dispatch carried a review of the "upscale biker bar", describing in very positive terms a visit by the paper's Lunch Bunch. I visited it on a Monday evening, and did not post anything about my experience, which was not as good. I thought the food was adequate and appropriately priced. The service was extremely slow -- I waited over a half hour for a sandwich. They did comp my beverage, which was a soft drink. It might just have been a problem of getting the kitchen up to speed shortly after opening, but I am not likely to go back. I did not observe any delays in serving drinks, but I saw other people waiting a long time for food as well. Better staffed to function as a bar than as a restaurant, the setting did not feel comfortable to me as a place for family dining.

According to a neighbor two streets away from Choppers, the noise from the bar is very disruptive through the evening and into the night, getting even worse right after closing at 2:00 AM when the customers leave and warm up their motorcycles.

I understand that Choppers has a bouncer carding people on weekends. On the one hand, this points to the clear intention of the owners for the bar to be a place where problems do not occur. On the other hand, it also points to the potential for problems to occur, and raises the question whether Choppers genuinely intends to provide bikers with a family restaurant where liquor is served, or whether it is just a biker bar that occasionally serves some items of food. After all, this is the only restaurant in Tarentum that has or needs a bouncer while claiming to be an option for family dining.

I am interested in how other people see this. I started a poll on Topix.com, asking the question "Did Choppers in Tarentum turn out as advertised?" You are welcome to vote there. What was promoted to the Borough Council back in May was a restaurant that would play a role in the revitalization of Tarentum. I wonder whether Choppers will have that positive influence.

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Friday, November 09, 2007

Can you hear me standing now?

sign with message "American Christians stand up and be heard!"

I thought normally the cliche was to "stand up to be counted", but something is lost when it is mixed with other ideas like speaking out in order to be heard.

So here I am standing up as loudly as I can, but not even I can hear my own joints creak. Can you hear me standing?

Some other turns of phrase can lose a lot when elements are dropped out of the middle. The other day I overheard one worker warn another: "Be careful when you handle that glass or it will slice your hands like hot butter."

And yet ... no restaurant that gave me a dish of melted butter ever warned me of the dangers of being sliced by my food.


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Thursday, November 08, 2007

Looking ahead at a busy month

As if the past week has not been busy enough I have been looking ahead at four major events for Central Presbyterian Church this month.

This Saturday, November 10, we have our last ham loaf dinner of the year. These dinners are the fundraisers that have a real following in the community, and when this one is past I anticipate a few months of people asking me through the winter when the next one will be.

November 10th 4pm - 6pm 2007Ham Loaf Dinner— at Central Presbyterian Church, 305 Allegheny Street, Tarentum, PA
Our Final Ham Loaf Dinner for 2007, Ham loaf, parsley potatoes, green beans, apple sauce, cole slaw, and a selection of desserts.

The next day, Sunday, November 11 will be Veterans Day, and the people of the church have been going all out to plan a special observance of the national holiday during our main worship service. Some new and old voices have been recruited to augment the Westminster Choir for a special anthem, "Hymn to America", being planned for the day. We have collected photographs of war monuments and honor rolls from many of the communities in the Alle-Kiski Valley, and the slide show will be projected during the anthem. Following the service, our deacons will provide a luncheon.

November 11th 10:50am - 11:50am 2007A Salute to America's Veterans— at Central Presbyterian Church
The main worship service at Central Presbyterian Church will be a special time of recognizing veterans for their contribution to our nation.

The very next Saturday, November 17, will be the Tarentum Brackenridge Holiday Parade. This would not normally be a church event, but this year some of the creative people at Central have been working on having a float in the parade. This will be the first time in many years (if ever) that Central has participated in a community parade in this way. I am looking forward to seeing how it turns out.

November 17th 10am, 11am 2007Tarentum Brackenridge Holiday Parade— at First Avenue
This is a cooperative parade organized by the communities of Tarentum and Brackenridge. The parade will follow the First Avenue parade route between the towns. It will be followed by a "Santa Fest" at the Tarena. The tree lighting will be in the park at the corner of Cherry Street and First Avenue. Highlands Variations will perform in Dreshar Stadium at 4:30 PM.

And later during that week Thursday, November 22 will be Thanksgiving, when Central Church will host a Community Thanksgiving Dinner. We have done it five years in a row, and a few times before that -- and it has been a blessing every time. The free dinner has been deeply appreciated by many of our neighbors and friends in the community.

November 22th 1pm - 3pm 2007Community Thanksgiving Dinner— at Central Presbyterian Church
Central Presbyterian Church will host a Thanksgiving dinner for church members, their relatives, and friends and neighbors from the community. Reservations are recommended, but not required; call 724-224-9220.

Many volunteers will be needed to help prepare and serve the dinner, and to donate food items for the dinner.

These hCalendar events brought to you by the hCalendar Creator.

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Wednesday, November 07, 2007

Tarentum Skateboard Park lockout is over

Last night I drove past the James E. Wolfe Skateboard Park in Tarentum. I was pleased to be able to see in the dark that the gate on the skate park was unlocked and open. I assume that this means that the lockout that began a month ago after some vandalism in the Dreshar recreational complex has now ended.

Given that warmer temperatures are being predicted for the weekend, there are a number of people I know who will be glad to have a place to skate.

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Sunday, November 04, 2007

Pay no attention to the hole behind the fence

Pile of dirt beside the sinkhole at the Giant Eagle parking lot, New Kensington, PA, November 4, 2007Over the last few months if you had asked me to compose a sentence using the words "ground" and "Giant Eagle", I would probably have composed something like:

"If you shop at the Giant Eagle in New Kensington, remember that the ground could open up beneath your feet and swallow you whole."

This morning I opened my door to pick up my Sunday Valley News Dispatch, and the top story with a headline in a font I thought they were saving for the next time the Steelers go to the championships was "Giant Eagle ground beef recalled". And I thought to myself, "that's a new way to put those words together."

At various times during the summer the sinkhole repair site has had equipment positioned such that it was hard for anyone outside to see just what was happening. In recent weeks a huge pile of dirt appeared between the sinkhole and the Clarion Hotel parking lot. And the pile is so high that it obstructs the view of the hole from the higher ground. I have been wondering whether all that dirt actually came out of the repair site, or whether it was brought here in order to keep filling the sinkhole.

Repairs ongoing at the sinkhole at the Giant Eagle in New Kensington, PA, 11-04-07Near the end of this week it became possible to see into the repair site again. It seems as if the contaminated meat scare pulls attention away from the unexplained hole in the ground. The story that there is bad meat that you can throw away or return to the store gets headlines. The story that there is an unexplained hole in the ground that has grown since it first appeared in mid-July gets yawns -- as big as the yawning hole one can now see through the fence.

This is such a strange place to live.

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Thursday, November 01, 2007

Trick or Treat 2007

Halloween in Tarentum was a very safe day because of the hard work of the police and fire departments who patrolled the streets. Of course, there were others who helped to keep the streets safe.

part of the Highlands marching band in the Grandview Halloween Parade, 2007

The religious were hard at prayer during the Grandview Halloween Parade.


Some of the teachers in the Grandview Halloween Parade, 2007

There were superheros to keep the vampires in line.

Batman, in Tarentum on Halloween 2007

There were lots of versions of Batman out keeping evildoers at bay.

Mustard and Ketchup in Tarentum on Halloween 2007

Wheaties, in Tarentum on Halloween, 2007

Food can be non-threatening, sometimes.

Geisha in Tarentum, Halloween 2007

The exotic and beautiful, the strange but harmless were all out on the streets.


Scary Ghost, in Tarentum on Halloween 2007.

And Halloween would not have been complete without at least one scary ghost.

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