Monday, August 10, 2009

Sunday Dinners

My mother is an amazing cook. She’s one of those inherently talented chefs that never use a recipe. She has the capability of throwing in “a dash of this”, adding a “pinch of this for some flavor” and ending up with a masterpiece. Not only does she have a gift for cooking, she loves doing it. This is one of the reasons that Sunday dinner at home was always a critical piece to my weekends. The hastily thrown together frozen or reheated weekday dinner were forgotten when we all sat down to one of my mother’s fragrant, delightful Sunday dinners. It was not only a chance for us to share her amazing kitchen creations, but also a set in stone time that we would all sit down together, even if only for an hour or so.

When I went off to college, I remember sitting in my dorm room around 5:00 on an autumn Sunday evening with my heart just aching to be at home at my mother’s dining room table. I instead shuffled down to the dining hall to eat food cooked to feed masses of people as inexpensively as possible. Food served by bitter work study students wearing hairnets and scowls. This wasn’t right at all. I wanted to be home. With my mom seated across from me, my sister to my left, and my dad to my right (don’t you all have “assigned” seats at your dining room tables?). I remember even craving the post dinner sounds. To be sitting in the living room watching the local news while my mom knitted in the armchair, hearing the clinking of dishes in the sink, and the eventual soothing whirr of the dishwasher that would signify that my dad was almost finished with the clean-up. Everyone would feel so peaceful and relaxed. This is another reason for the significance of these Sunday dinners. It was a way for everyone to wind down completely and prepare themselves to face the impending Monday.

After college, although I lived at home for a year, my friends all moved into an apartment in a trendy city neighborhood. Every weekend I would head to their place after work on Friday and spend my weekends like a crazy partying 22 year old. However, no matter what that weekend held… fights with girlfriends, boy drama, hangovers or heartache… I always knew that at 5:00 on Sunday there would be a place set for me at my parents’ dining room table.

When I was 25, I moved into a one bedroom apartment, and was living on my own for the first time in my life. It was slightly overwhelming, but I certainly enjoyed the freedom. As I set up my dining room table and unpacked my dishes, a thought occurred to me… I could host my own Sunday dinners now! I emailed my parents and invited them over to my place for an upcoming Sunday evening, and then spent days scouring cookbooks and recipes online to find something I could accomplish. I’m not going to lie; I needed a lot of cooking advice from my mom, but whom better to learn from than the master herself?

That Sunday finally arrived, and my parents showed up at my doorstep. My dad was bearing a bottle of wine, and my mom, her knitting bag. I ushered them to the living room and proudly danced around filling their wine glasses (with their own wine) and setting the table. When we sat down, and they tasted my spaghetti (my mom’s recipe, of course) and declared it delicious, I was overwhelmed with feelings of accomplishment. After dinner, I lead them back to the living room and put on the local news. This time my dad was able to put his feet up and relax, while my mom knitted in the armchair. I went to work in the kitchen, doing dishes and cleaning up, and couldn’t keep the grin off my face. This is the point in my life where I first felt like I was officially a grown-up. I was ecstatic not only because I had mastered a meal that people were enjoying, but also that I was able to pay back just a fraction of the comfort and peace that my parents had provided for me over the past 25 years of Sundays.

It’s not exactly a regular occurrence, but I still enjoy having my parents over for Sunday dinner at my place. These days I’m pretty handy in the kitchen myself, and although I still consult my mother regularly for cooking tips, I’m starting to create my own recipes. I don’t think I’ll ever be able to match her skill level, but I keep trying. I’ll keep practicing my cooking, with the hopes that some day in the future I’ll be able to host regular Sunday dinners for my children. I hope the food that I serve at my dining room table will be something that my future family will look forward to as much as I always did. And some day, way, way down the road, one of my children will invite me over to their first apartment for a Sunday dinner that they will cook.

I’ll bring the wine.

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Winter Itch

With this recent winter flashback we've been having after those few nice sunny days, it's making me realize how horrific this past winter was. Waking up to see an inch of snow on the ground this morning, having to dig out the scarf, gloves, winter coat and snow boots, and seeing the temperature at 33 degrees again brought back the memories of the past season. This weather is unfortunate, but I can deal with it because I know it really is the end, and that things are going to get warmer and sunnier and nicer now. Now. Not 3 months from now, but like, next week.

But seriously, I feel like I was at my breaking point with the bitter cold and snow and darkness that epitomized this winter. I just felt like I couldn't take one more pitch black morning of waking up, turning on the tv, and seeing the current temperature in the single digits. Then putting on long thermal underwear under my wool pants and sweater and shuffling down to the T station. Those winds felt angry in the morning. Like they were sick of being bitter too, and were wistfully remembering their days of being happy spring breezes. I felt like when I came through the alley onto the main street, those gusts of wind would slap me across the face, spin me around and then shove me down the sidewalk.

At least it was somewhat warmer once I got downtown. Maybe it was in my head, but someone told me once that it was all the big buildings that kept the temperatures a little warmer downtown. I like that... it makes me picture the buildings standing tall and wrapping their arms around the city... trying their damnedest to keep us little bundled commuters a little bit warmer on our way in to work.

We didn't even want to go out on the weekends anymore. It was just too cold. We started spending the weekend nights in, cooking dinner for each other, drinking wine, and watching movies. It wasn't bad, but after awhile I was seriously craving the ability to go do things outside. Things other than scraping off the car or sprinting from the car to the front door.

I don't know why this winter was so incredibly hard on me. It's not like I haven't been through Pittsburgh winters before (and four Erie winters, too). Maybe it's because it was my first winter commuting on public transportation. Either way, it started to feel like that hard, steel gray sky was pressing down on me every day. When daylight savings time came, and it started to get a little lighter, a little warmer, and a little less gray every day, I started to feel like I could breathe again. Now, with the last cold days passing by, I can't even describe how light my heart is knowing that those vicious frigid days are behind me. At least until November.

Friday, March 27, 2009

It's been awhile but...

So, this is the reason I never wanted to start a blog... the pressure! When I write, it's like this thing that hatches in my brain. I never know when it's going to start but when it does, it's like I have to write it or it itches at my brain until it's out. So... don't check back at this on a regular basis... it'll be a random posting every few months. Anyway, my older sister and I went on a vacation to Arizona last year. Something we had talked about and never done. We drove to the Grand Canyon, spent some time in Sedona... and this is what I wrote about it tonight:

Once upon a time, two sisters took a trip. Both looking for something… looking for answers that their day to day life couldn’t provide. These sisters joined in a new way. Somehow automatically forgiving each other’s prejudices, differences, opinions… somehow dismissing all that had kept them apart the years before. One day, the older sister left a rock offering at the tour guide’s suggestion. Hoping for that thing that everyone’s heartfelt wishes and prayers could not bestow. For that moment they both prayed to a god. Not the god that we had known…. The god that had created these mountains, this desert, this unabashed magnificence that literally could take your breath away. For a moment all worries, all negative thoughts, all hopelessness was eliminated by these towering rock formations. Out in the desert, beyond civilization. Something so much bigger then us had created this beauty. Something we should pay respect to and ask for intervention with the demons we were fighting. The younger sister cried when they parted ways at the airport when that trip ended. Knowing they would see each other again, but knowing that the bond they shared had changed them forever. Knowing that the lives they would lead would forever be changed by what they had encountered. Knowing that the god we had experienced would forever be at our sides. Knowing that when times got hard… when life got rough… when things changed and we got old... that we’d always be able to think back and remember a time when we stood under the majesty of nature and felt god put his hands on our shoulders and, for a moment, give us hope… that it would all be ok.

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Do you not see them?

So, does anyone have an extra pair of headphones? Mine still work ok, but I think for some reason they are invisible to the general public. For some reason, people ALWAYS want to strike up a conversation with me when I have headphones on. One of the worst times was when I was running at seriously, like 8.0 mph on the treadmill and the old man strolling next time thought it was an opportune time to discuss a political commercial on tv. I ignored him, but he didn't stop. I mean, it's not like they are flesh colored wires, or my hair is down and covering the ear buds. It happens at the gym, on the T, in the elevator at work. My question is, if people don't think I'm listening to music, what are they assuming those wires going into my ears are powering?

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Kids Together

My sister and I are four years apart. Not a huge age gap, but one that neatly placed me just out of the age bracket acceptable for us to be “friends” for the majority of our lives. When she was entering the world of first jobs, first apartments and independence, I was just starting out in my first year of college. When she started college, I was a terrified freshman in high school. And when she was that terrified freshman, I was a horrifically awkward, gangly, permed, 11 year old. We basically just kept missing each other. But for a brief time period of our lives, we were both “kids.” Kool-Aid fueled, cartoon loving, elementary schooled kids. And therefore, we got to share one of our favorite activities together: making up and performing dance routines in our parents’ basement.

This wasn’t a casual, carefree activity… my sister (as she would continue to do for most of her life) quickly fell into the leader role. This was serious. There were costumes, music selection, and at the end, a “recital” for any family members or neighbors that couldn’t think of excuses to get out of it. My sister would gather up the pink Sony cassette player, and the shoebox of cassette tapes, and pick out a Madonna or Gloria Estefan tape and start choreographing for me. Sometimes I’d get confused and forget what came next, or sometimes I wouldn’t be able to figure out how to do a step and she’d always just look right at me and say through gritted teeth “Do it again.”

But when we were all dressed up in our official recital costumes (consisting of a combination of hand me down leotards and discarded Halloween costumes) and performing for our “audience”, my sister was so proud of me and I was just elated that we were doing something together, and that I had impressed her.

After that time period, it took a long time for us to get back to a point where we understood each other again, and could share similar interests, and could be friends. It’s hard to maintain that sisterly bond when you are just at completely different stages of life, both fiercely independent and protective of each other. Now we are both officially grown-ups, and closer than we ever have been. But every now and then a radio station plays an 80’s flashback song, and I am immediately transported back to my parents basement. “Manic Monday’ playing on the pink cassette player, and my sister smiling proudly at me, both of us oblivious to what the road ahead would hold for us… for the time just happy to be kids together.

The quarterback shot an empty net goal in the outfield?

For honestly the first quarter of my life... I was not a sports fan. I was a Majorette for our high school (it was cool, I swear... Sonni Abatta was a Majorette, ok?) but when my mom picked me up after the football games I would seriously ask her who won. And.... ok... my dad was a coach for our high school football team, too. Black sheep of the family. In our house everyone would watch the Steelers and Pens games downstairs and I would watch MTV upstairs.

But really, not a big sports fan, not a big deal, right? Yeah, not in Pittsburgh. Do you even know the magnitude of the exclusion you feel when you aren't a sports fan in Pittsburgh? It is seriously all that anyone talks about, reads about, broadcasts about, throws parties for, etc. etc. Just try to get anyone at work to discuss anything but sports on the Monday morning after a Steelers game. And that's great... it's one of the coolest traits of this city. But I revolted against it. I was always the one who voluntarily took the seat without a view of the tv when we went out for a game. And seriously, I tried. I bought a Steeler jersey to wear when we went to Hi Tops to watch a game. I cheered when everyone else cheered. But I think the problem stemmed from the fact that it wasn't that I didn't like sports... I just didn't understand them. I'm a pretty smart girl, but when you've avoided sports for the first 20 years of your life, it's a little hard to just "jump into it". You think it's easy, because you've been watching them your whole life. I'm still trying to figure out what all the ref's fancy hand choreography means.

And I tried to get people to explain it to me. But just try asking "What does that mean?" during a bad call in a playoff game and see how helpful people are. I got alot of aggravated arm waves and "Just watch!" No one wanted to take the time to explain things. Commercial breaks, intermissions and half times are for pee breaks and beer runs. Not for breaking down penalties and yardlines. You know what? I cheered for the freaking Pirates because I played township softball when I was 10 and I pretty much understood the rules of that game.

So when I first starting dating my boyfriend, I was a little wary of the fact that he was a huge Pens and Steelers fan. But since he is incredibly patient and kind, he was happy to take the time to explain things to me. And you know what? It turns out I like sports after all. I can finally join in conversations about sports. I can watch them in public and make comments that make sense. My friends and family are all shocked at the turnaround, but I'm happy to finally be part of this Pittsburgh Sports clique that unknowingly excludes all of those out there that just don't "get" sports.

So the next time you're at a Steelers Party and there's a girl there with a Steelers jersey on, and she's watching the crowd to make sure she cheers at the right times, but she's staring at the tv with a furrowed brow during the game...trying to figure out what the heck they're doing... take a second during a commercial and try to explain something. She might become a fan too.

Blog you very much...

So... I guess my friends and family got a little tired of me sending them word docs of my stories and observations and kindly asked me (several times) to just start a blog so they could read my anecdotes in one place. I fought it.... oh did I fight it... But I'm not sure why. I always said that writing was something I loved so much, that if I felt any sort of obligation to do it, it would ruin it. Just like I told my mom, "You love to knit... but if someone was like 'Knit something! When are you going to knit something new!' it would take away some of the enjoyment." But whatever, I decided to man up and join the party. I don't know what this blog will be. I just gave birth to it, and I don't know how it will grow up (I hope it doesn't get into drugs... and I hope it gets along with the other blogs). But for now, it's my little blogspot to post my musings. The name stems from, well, the greatest city in the world. I'm a Pittsburgh girl, will always be a Pittsburgh girl, and I use terminology like "Jaggers" and "Jimmies" so that where we are. Welcome.