Life in Progress: A weblog by Heidi Price


One day, you are sitting at a table with him, watching him guzzle two Margarita's during dinner, and then listening to him tell the same jokes he told the last time you saw him, and you think that's my dad.

Three days later, he is in a hospital bed, tubes running into his nose because he's fallen and tests reveal that his oxygen levels are low and the doctors can't figure out why.

The call comes, as calls like this often do, on a Tuesday afternoon. I am leaving work and rushing to the tennis courts. I am hoping to get three sets in before dark.

It's my mom and she tells me he fell on Monday. On Tuesday, he went to the doctor and they took him to the hospital. It didn't catch me completely off guard. He has been exhausted for weeks new. As I drove home, I remember how often many times during the past few months, I would go home to visit my family and my dad would either still be in bed or napping on the couch.

I stayed late at the hospital the first night. Driving back home, I scan the radio stations, hoping to find something to keep me awake. I find Delilah. I hate this show. This stupid sappy, hallmarky, show.

Thirty miles later, I am completely engrossed in the story of two people who found love a second time around and remarry.

I never got to hear their wedding song. Delilah played it at the end of their story but I couldn't hear it. I think it was something by Air Supply and the cry, the seriously good cry I needed to have since getting that phone call earlier in the day, finally comes.



I have been working on a series of stories about kids who enlist in the military while still in high school.

One day earlier this week, I interviewed a group of young men at their high school. As the interview concluded, they told me they had a question for me.

"Why does the media only report bad things about the war?" one of the students asked me. Another soldier-to-be asked why newspaper and television reporters only focus on the violent images of the war in Iraq, but do not show the good, like pictures of soldiers handing out candy and toys to children in Iraq.

"My dad calls CNN, the Communist News Network," another told me.

I don't know what to say to them. I try to explain that I think reporters sometimes are biased. No matter how hard a reporter tries to be perfectly neutral, it is sometimes difficult to keep your thoughts, your beliefs, your experiences out of a story. I hope that their story will be good news. These are high school students who talk with complete sincerity about serving their county, how it is their duty.

On the drive back to the office, I think about how goodness seems to be in short supply these days, especially during a war. Try as a might, all I could think of was a story I heard on NPR Monday morning about photographer Chris Hondros, who witnessed an accidental shooting at a checkpoint that killed a young girl's parents.

Hondros' words about the events that unfolded one January evening, events that left a little girl "all alone in the world" were so poignant that as soon as I got to work, I looked it up on NPR's Web site. Hondros' photos can be viewed at the story link. Just click on the audio slidehow link, just above the boots picture.

Every time I hear about the war, these images flash into my mind and nothing else. I hope that someday soon, another image, a good news image, will replace them.


The Lives of Others

"Have you seen The Lives of Others?" our entertainment writer, Brad Hundt asks me.

It's Monday and I'm embarrassed. Brad recommended this movie two weeks ago and we were supposed to see it last weekend. Now I have to admit to him that last Friday night we went to the Regent Square Theaterwhere the film is playing, but I got the start time wrong. I do things like that a lot.

But as my luck would have it, the Pittsburgh Filmmakers extended the run bless their souls. We went this past weekend and all I can tell you is go. Please go and watch this movie. I haven't seen film making like this in such a long time. The characters are real, with wrinkles and rolls of fat and bald spots and faults and strengths. The script is honest and not Hollywood at all and that is what makes it so fine.

It's not something I would take a young child to see, but I would definitely take a teenager, just to inspire them. It's honest and real and one of the best stories I've seen in some time.

I know I sound like a broken blogger here, but if you want to make a night of it, go to D's Six Pax & Dogz. You can eat in or, better even, get yourself two Chicagos and two beers to go and take them to the move theater with you. That is how cool the Regent is. They let you do stuff like that as long as you clean up after yourself.

In truth, we didn't hit D's before the movie. We went to my second favorite restaurant, Aladdin's on Forbes Avenue in Squirrel Hill ( I couldn't find a link, sorry). My only mistake was I got an Aladdin's Salad and while delicious, it was a little difficult to eat bits of lettuce in a darkened movie theater.

But I digress. See this movie. You've only got four days left.

It's playing at 8 p.m. every night Monday through Thursday, March 29. If you can't make it, don't worry. In a few weeks it will be out on dvd. I'm going to buy it and I'll lend it to you.


Just say no

I have never really been good at telling people no. And, lately it seems like more and more people want a piece of my time. I feel rushed and find myself committing to things I don't really want to do. Even worse, my always-honest friend who works in a bank, told me that lately, every time I've gone out with him, I have seemed really distracted and in a hurry.

My worst fear has been realized. I've become one of those people. You know the ones. They constantly look at their watch or cell phone to check the time in the middle of conversations with friends. Those people who say "uh-huh" when you talk, but you can tell they aren't really listening.

The thing is, I'm not really that important. None of us are. So I made a vow, last week, to try to protect my own time and the time I need to spend with the people who really matter in my life.

I was tested within hours of making this vow. A friend, who I hadn't seen in some time, called to ask if on Sunday I could help her write a public relations proposal for a neighborhood action group she had joined. The phone call caught me off guard and I agreed. A few minutes later, I called her back.

I told her about my vow. I told her that I work five days a week at a newspaper and on Saturday, I usually work for my mom's auction company to make extra money. I told her that Sunday is my one day when I don't work and that "I'm really sorry but I'm going to have to cancel."

So it's Sunday. It's beautiful outside, almost 70 degrees. I've gone to the track to run and then we played three sets of tennis. I am sitting on his front porch, a glass of Coppola Rosa in my hand, and I am typing this blog.

The first seven...

(I like this artwork from the cover of Iron and Wine's latest album, In the Reins with Calexico.)

The librarian has lost her friendly face. Just seconds earlier, she had been smiling. Then I asked if she could possibly, just once more, renew "The 8th Habit" by Steven Covey.


"You have already renewed it 16 times," she said in a voice which, I think to myself, is far too loud for a library.

The kicker is, the book isn't even for me. Sometime early last year, my friend who works in a bank was promoted. I saw the book in the library and thought it might help him manage better. It's been almost a year now and he's never even opened it and, with the amount of late fines I've accrued, I could have purchased the 8th habit along with the seven before it.

Banker friend and I see each other often but we can never seem to remember to have him give me the book back.

I call banker friend who points out the irony. Neither one of us can get a book on self-improvement back to the library on time. We wonder if maybe we should have mastered Steven Covey's first seven habits of highly successful people before we jumped ahead to the 8th.

We just got ahead of ourselves, we agree.

My overdue fines are high, so high that they make me pay them down until my balance is under $10 before they'll let me take out the Iron and Wine cds I have requested from the library.

The paydown was completely worth it. I recently discovered Iron and Wine after I heard them playing on the stereo at the coffee shop near my house. Check out these clips from one of the cds I requested, Woman King and Jezebel.


"Have you ever stopped to get gas and realize you don't have enough money to make it above E?" I asked my also-impoverished-yet-creative friend during a recent lunch. "And does it depress you?"

That morning I had pumped $5 worth of gas in my car on the way to work and as I pulled out of the gas station I realized the gas gauge needle hadn't made it above E. I hadn't even made it to mid-E. I held my breath the entire way to work. I had two extra dollars but I couldn't even stop for Sixbucks because I thought idling in the drive-thru might waste fuel I just did not have. Impoverished friend and I are both in our 30's, wildly creative, and a little depressed that after a decade's hard work we still can't afford things like cable or fuel for our cars.

Impoverished-yet-creative-friend ponders my question and takes a bite of the feta cheese plate we are sharing before answering.

"Yes," he says. "But there are many different levels of e-driving."

Take his car for example. When the gas gauge needle hits a mid-E, he knows he can make it from Washington to Pittsburgh before his tank even begins to near empty status. People riding with him sometimes get nervous, but he knows what his car is capable of on a nearly empty tank.

We finish our lunch and I realize I feel much better, the way you do when you realize you are not the only struggling soul on this earth.

What I don't want to become...

About an hour after our plane touched down in Fort Myers, we were standing in front Hammond Stadium, home of the Minnesota Twins spring training. They just happened to be playing the Pirates that day.

At first we sat in the sun, on the first-base line. There, I saw an exchange between a woman and two young children that reminded me of the type of person I do not want to become.

The woman was sitting three seats into the row in front of us. She was sweating, fanning herself and complaining ad nauseum about the heat. The first two seats in the row right next to the woman were vacant.

A girl and a boy, both no older than 10, wearing everything Minnesota Twins and baseball gloves glued to thier hands, approached the woman asking if anyone was sitting in the two seats. There had been a lot of popups down the first-base line so far in the game.

"Yes," the woman snipped. The kids walked away and for several innings after, the seats next to the woman remained empty.

This is the type of person I don't want to become.

After a few innings, we moved back, high in the stands behind home plate, to get out of the sun. A few sections over, an entire section of young men wearing maroon and gold baseball t-shirts and hats were dominating the crowd chatter.

They were obviously Pirates fans because every time a Twins player struck out, overthrew the plate or made an error, they chanted "You Can't Do That." And because they were young and they had lung capacity, their voices carried across the stadium. After another player made a mistake they shouted "Former-Pirate."

They were a blast. Several Twins fans tried shouting back but they just weren't loud enough. When I asked where the rowdy boys were from, one said "Seton Hill University ma'am." This is the type of baseball fan I want to be. This Pirate season, back at PNC Park, I want to be so rowdy that I transform hundreds of mild-mannered fans into rabid, crazy chanters. I want loud. I want spirited. I want PNC Park to be mistaken for Heinz Field.

But back to the Seton Hill boys. They did the Buccos proud. The Pirates won for the first time that spring training and snapped a four-game losing streak.


If an alligator charges you...

"If an alligator charges you just turn sharply to the right or left," his adventuresome friend tells me one night at dinner. Adventuresome friend then tells me that he had been charged by an alligator a few years back and he just veered sharply to one side because they (alligators) can only see straight ahead. That same alligator, he tells me, killed a woman in Florida not long after.

We are going to Florida. And because he's the adventurous type, I know we will be kayaking in Everglades City, home to swamps and mangrove trees and alligators. We kayaked in the Everglades last year on my birthday and, at times, our kayaks glided just inches from their watchful eyes. I love kayaking. I fear alligators. The experience terrified me. I vowed I would never do it again when, a few months later, I read an article about three fatal attacks believed to be the work of alligators.

But at least this time I would have a plan. Knowledge is power. Kryptonite. Veer to the right. Veer to the left.

"No that's not true," my downstairs neighbor tells me a few days later when I tell him about my newfound knowledge of alligator weaknesses. He tells me that alligators can see in all directions and they can run up to 140 mph. "I saw a show on Animal Planet."

I have nothing.

Flash forward to Florida vacation. We are driving on 41 south out of Naples and into the Everglades. Instead of the swampland and reeds I remember from last year, I see commercial development lots of it. I remember reading last year, right after the attacks, about how one reason alligators may becoming more aggressive is that much of their natural habitat is being converted into strip malls and condos.

We arrive at the Ivey Inn at Everglades City where we will be renting our kayaks for the day.

And because he is sweet and because he knows how scared I am, he choses a route that takes our tandem kayak out on the saltwater side of the Everglades where there are no alligators - only ocean, hundreds of tiny islands, herrons and fish that jumped out of the water in search of water insects. It was so amazingly cool, we decided to come back again and, next time, kayak out to one of the small islands, pitch a tent and spend the night.


Sophie Scholl

A few weeks back, my friend, whom I call Critter Bee, told me to rent the movie Sophie Scholl.

"You'll really enjoy it," she said. She has never guided me wrong in movies or books so I requested it from the library. I was one of several in a queue and it finally came last week.

We watched it Sunday night and I am still thinking about it. It's that kind of movie. The main character is so well written and she stays with you long after you've hit the eject button. The film answers a question that I often, in my sheer ignorance of this time period, wondered - did any of the Germans question or challenge the Nazi way during and/or in the events leading up to the Holocaust?

It's worth watching this film to find out.


I'm sorry, she says

I have a friend who, while in the dog park one day, was nabbed by the Animal Control officers for having her three dogs off leash. Words were exchanged. She engaged in some cussing and some yelling, and the two animal control officers ended up writing her a $6,047.50 ticket. I know. I didn't believe her either until she showed me the ticket. I'm not sure, but I think they cited her for absolutely every possible infraction under the city's code dealing with animals.

I'm not proud of this, but in the year before and after she got that ticket, in that same park, I have been busted at least two dozen times by those same two animal control officers for having my dog off leash.

"We know you know the rules," the one animal control officer told me, pointing out that he had explained them to me the last time he busted me.

"I know," I say. "I'm really sorry."

They don't give me a ticket. A while back, I got a ticket for making an illegal left hand turn. When I went to court, not to fight it, but to see if I could maybe make payment arrangements, the officer who issued the ticket to me showed up. He told the judge how agreeable and cooperative I had been. The judge dismissed it.

A few days back, after seeing non-sufficient fund fees charged to my account, I called to explain that I could have transferred funds over from the $25 nest egg in my savings to avoid the $4 overdraft and the subsequent $31 fee, but I was confused about the difference between available and ledger balances. The woman on the phone refunds my overdraft charge.

I am not being insincere. I am not employing kindness simply to get out of fees and tickets. I just believe in treating people decently and accepting full responsibility when you make a mistake. Most of the time, that's all people want to hear. The minute you become belligerent, the minute you raise your voice, all attempts at civility disappear.

"I am so sorry. This is completely my fault," the woman at the park ranger's office is telling us. It is early in the morning. We had arrived at our cabin late the night before to find it locked. It was near midnight so we another 40 minutes through the mountains and snow until we found a hotel.

We tell her that it's fine. Really. We understand. Mistakes happen.

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