10/30/18 – Prayers for Squirrel Hill

As has happened too often in my years of blogging, what I had planned to post today lost relevance in lieu of another senseless tragedy. 

Squirrel Hill is my favorite part of living in Pittsburgh. Coming to this area from the diversity of life in California, followed by years in Montana with a large quantity of people from everywhere, I have always felt most at home in Squirrel Hill.

The funerals began on Tuesday. Began. They will be held throughout the week as family members and friends celebrate the lives of those important to them and pray for their community to heal in the wake of such a great loss.

My heart grieves for the people here and across my country as they battle a long road to fighting for understanding and comprehension at having to grieve through unnecessary losses.

There is a crises in America—a country I love. The crises is not as simple as gun ownership. The crises includes unaddressed mental illnesses, of hate incited by leaders who should be bringing us together, not using words that separate us, and of unevenly applied rules for purchasing weapons.

Readers, friends, family—know that I am a Christian. There are many lessons Christ taught that I wish I could live up to daily. Among the largest is forgiveness. How hard a lesson is that to put into practice when lives are cut off because of prejudice.

In honor of those lost on the 27th, be kind during this month of our Thanksgiving. Reach out to others and express joy in the traits that differentiate us, coming together rather than being separate.

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Squirrel Hill is a diverse and inviting part of the city of Pittsburgh and one we like to spend time visiting.

When we want a dose of small town community, we desert our neck of the woods and head east to stroll the broad sidewalks of this hunk of the city.

My mystery series, Cosmic Cold Cases of Pittsburgh, is set in a 100-year-old, Victorian on a fictitious street in Squirrel Hill—based on a real poorly kept house we once debated purchasing.

With both Frick and Schenley Parks nearby, after a long hike we often end up in Squirrel Hill seeking food. The biggest problem is deciding which cuisine we’re in the mood for. The selections range from coffee house treats to Thai, Italian, Chinese, Middle Eastern, Jewish, American … you get the idea, right? For dessert, there are multiple chocolate shops to choose from, including a French patisserie, so make sure you save a little room.

Little’s Shoes is a remarkable store because as soon as you walk in, you’re greeted—not pounced upon—but greeted, with a friendly hello and a look directly catching your eye in friendliness. Eventually someone else will ask what you’re hoping to find, but never do you feel pressured or pushed to try on or buy anything.

Little’s Shoes staff know about the individual shoes and the brands of each. Do they run true to size, what’s the best use of, and do they take any breaking in or are they plug and play for your feet? I love being a member of REI for all their outdoor gear and good business practices, but when I need new shoes, it’s to Little’s that I go first.

Squirrel Hill has the widest sidewalks in town—it’s a place meant for ambling and people watching, for stopping to talk or stand still while you eat a summer ice cream cone. The Carnegie Library here is quite large and the Jewish Community Center offers programs for everyone–of any denomination.

There’s a Ten Thousand Villages offering an eclectic and unique selection of gifts for friends or yourself—fair trade.

Popping into Silky’s Bar my first time, was I even surprised that Jay, the bartender reached out a hand to Alex and said, Long time, my man. They hadn’t seen each other since Alex’s college days when I gather he spent a bit of time in the place. Nor am I surprised at this fellow who knows when we make our twice annual stop, to pour Alex a regular Guinness and me a half. He really does remember your name (and face, and drink).

I am a country girl and a small town girl who finds living in a Pittsburgh suburban neighborhood difficult. I like to know people on deeper-than-surface levels and feel lost by the lack of people I know well were I live. We have some neighbors we chat with, a few we hang out with, and a whole bunch whose dogs we call by name, but whose owners we don’t. It’s how the suburbs seem to work.

I’d move to Squirrel Hill in a minute—as I repeatedly tell my husband—because I’m captivated by the small town sense of being the place emits. I’d think I’m bugging him, but guess how many times I catch him hunting the real estate sites for that area?

Spending a day in Squirrel Hill makes me more aware of community and an easy mingling of multiple ethnic backgrounds and religions. I like people mixed together and getting along because that’s the way it’s always worked, not the opposite of that. With just over 25,000 residents, it’s the largest neighborhood within Pittsburgh’s city limits, and that’s about the perfect size for a city I want to live in.

The descriptive name supposedly comes from the first folks to reside here, Native Americans.

Our squirrels are messy psychos

The squirrel population was such a large one that they dubbed the hill with that moniker. With the number of red, fox, and gray squirrels inhabiting our yard, perhaps I shall name it SHS — squirrel hill south. Why not? I always wanted a name for our property like they bestow on Welsh cottages.

I mentioned Frick and Schenley Parks above, both tracts of land were founded by donations from the wealthy landowners and added to by other donations and purchases. Here’s a blog about hiking in Frick. Schenley Park has the honor of being the site for summer’s Vintage Grand Prix—both a car show on the largest scale and a street race. The park’s winding roads are closed and the vintage cars go speeding along with great pizzaz and enthusiasm. It’s fantastic fun and proceeds benefit two local charities.

 

If you know Pittsburgh at all, one of the best parts of living in Squirrel Hill—for a person with family east of the city—is not having to drive through the infamous, notorious, wretchedly clogged-for-no-reason, Squirrel Hill Tunnel on the parkway. In many years of living here, I’ve never deduced why people slow to a crawl going through this tunnel! It’s a total mystery to everyone.

Who does it first? There are no lights on either end of it and the highway is as good as any in Pittsburgh. If you’re reading this and you’re that decelerating person? STOP IT. No, speed up—yes, that’s what I really mean. Get your butt in gear and keep going. It’s exhausting to take forty-five minutes to get through a small wedge of mountain.

Murray Avenue in Squirrel Hill is home to the original Mineo’s Pizza—we’ve got a sister shop in our area. Cash only, folks, so make sure you come prepared. It’s classic red-sauce pizza and every so often we have to indulge in delivery.

This same, somewhat steep street, still boasts an abundance of locally owned shops from bookstores to yarn shops to both Christian and Jewish bookstores. If you’re looking for a unique gift, you’ll be able to find something here.

So, when are you planning to explore Squirrel Hill and get a bit of that small town vibe from a truly distinctive part of Pittsburgh?