Suburban Living: The top stories of 2012

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We call them, in the parlance of the newsroom, "cover stories." These are the stories and photos or illustrations that are the main focus of the front page of each edition of Xtra throughout the year: stories that inform, instruct, inspire and sometimes even make you laugh -- or cry. Regardless of the subject, they all reflect on the quality and diversity of life here. Here is a look back at 12 from 2012 -- a dozen of our most talked-about cover stories, according to phone, email and website feedback.

JANUARY -- It's a "Full House" at the home of Belinda Aquino of O'Hara. Ms. Aquino lives with daughter Keri Aquino; Keri's 6-year-old son Tyler Jennings; and Grace Salac, 2, and Renny Salac, 3, the children of Ms. Aquino's deceased daughter Brittany. The multigenerational family, profiled in the Jan. 19 Xtra, is part of a national trend of such households in the suburbs. Economics, of course, is a leading reason for many multigenerational households. But for the Aquinos, it is also a way of dealing with tragedy. Brittany Aquino, mother of two, died in a house fire in 2011.

FEBRUARY -- In time for Valentine's Day, we collected "Recipes For a Long, Happy Marriage." The Feb. 9 Xtra featured a handful of couples who have been married for more than half a century. Cliff and Joan Morton of Bethel Park told us that the secret to staying lifelong valentines is to remain friends and be realistic: "Marriage is not being lovey-dovey 24 hours a day," said Mr. Morton, who is mayor of Bethel Park and a retired furniture shop owner. The couple, married 55 years, met their freshman year at Allegheny College in Meadville. He proposed a few years later after doing particularly well in a card game. "I always say I won her in a poker game," Mr. Morton said.

MARCH -- It's often said that everyone is Irish on St. Patrick's Day, and the March 15 Xtra showed how we "Kick-start Tradition." We visited "green" spots such as the Shovlin Academy of Irish Dance in Dormont for lessons and Magill's Grill and Mogie's Irish Pub in Lower Burrell for stout and stew.

APRIL -- From the Pentagon to the Oscars to the Kentucky Derby, chocolate crafted in our backyard is tempting the nation's taste buds. "Sweet Success" in the April 5 Xtra told us that is because this region had skilled immigrants and quality dairy products.

MAY -- The Duquesne University Tamburitzans are an inextricable part of the region's landscape and soundtrack of life. In "Tammies Turn 75" in our May 3 Xtra, we talked to a few of the more than 640 elite performers who are eligible to call themselves "Tammies." Alumni from all walks of life were in town to mark the ethnic song and dance troupe's anniversary at an event in St. Clair Country Club in Upper St. Clair.

JUNE -- Some couples spend their time together at home and work. And when it's work in the very public eye, it can be taxing. But we found couples who enjoy "Sharing the Limelight" in the June 21 Xtra. Couples such as KDKA television's Marty Griffin and Kristine Sorenson, both on-air talents, explained the delicate balancing act.

JULY -- For baby boomers, it's no longer "to be or not to be." The question now is "To Retire or Not To Retire." The July 26 Xtra told how some baby boomers are handling that momentous question and what was behind their decision to retire at the first blush of eligibility at age 62 -- as did Joanne Kehris, now 65, of Plum -- or wait until the official age of 66 -- as did newly retired but still working attorney James Antoniono of Greensburg. We also talked to those who are crossing their fingers and waiting it out until age 70, the age at which benefits maximize.

AUGUST -- "Fan-tastic!" We're talking Steelers fans, of course, who came from near and far and braved the heat and pop-up summer thunderstorms to catch the first public practice of the season at Chuck Noll Field on the Saint Vincent College campus in Unity. In the crowd of die-hards we interviewed in the Aug. 2 Xtra were Martin Shields and Gerry Mulholland, who were part of a team that brought 140 disadvantaged kids from Newry, Ireland. The Rooney family, Steelers team owners, have roots in Newry.

SEPTEMBER -- "Music in Motion" in the Sept. 6 Xtra reminded us that players aren't the only ones sweating it out on the football field. We watched the rehearsals of high school marching bands as they got ready for football season's halftime shows and grueling band competitions. Young musicians and dancers from Shaler Area, Moon Area, Norwin and Upper St. Clair high schools gave us a preview of the practice, practice, practice it takes to make those straight lines and mellow sounds.

OCTOBER -- For many, the craft of historical re-enactment begins with simple curiosity and grows to a passion. We interviewed such devotees in "Dressing Up History" in the Oct. 18 Xtra. We talked to re-enactors at some of the many historical sites that dot our landscape, places such as the Enoch Wright House in Peters and Fort Ligonier in Ligonier. We also shared "Tea with the First Ladies," a group of women from North Huntingdon, Port Vue and Mt. Lebanon who portray, at a variety of venues, first wives Bess Truman, Eleanor Roosevelt and Mary Todd Lincoln. All of the re-enactors said they enjoy doing the research, wearing the period clothes and bringing history to life.

NOVEMBER -- While you figure out how to budget for this winter's utility bills, ponder life with all the conveniences but none of the bills. Ted and Kathy Carns of Ligonier Township showed us it is possible in the Nov. 1 Xtra titled "Taking Self-Sufficiency to a New Level." The couple -- with amazing inventiveness and hard work -- has managed to go off-the-grid and live green. The Carnses share tips from their new book: "Off On Our Own: Living Off-Grid in Comfortable Independence."

DECEMBER -- More grandparents are finding themselves raising a second set of children at a time of life when conventional expectations would have them spending time in a rocking chair or on the golf course. In "Grandfamilies: Parents Raising Their Kids' Kids" in the Dec. 6 Xtra, we talked to families who represent this growing demographic often called "grandfamilies." According to, 5.8 million children are living in their grandparents' homes in the U.S. More than 2.5 million grandparents have responsibility for these children, 1 million of whom are in homes where neither parent is present.

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Virginia Kopas Joe: or 412-263-1414.


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