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Well, yesterday was a glorious day.  Yim and I had Prantl’s burnt almond torte for breakfast with coffee.  It was left over from Yim‘s birthday celebration on Tuesday.  After breakfast we ran a couple of errands together.  We went to Home Depot for anchors and to Market District for lunch meat, rolls, Gerolsteiner and . . . Kennywood tickets!  (Yimmy loves it when I refer to Giant Eagle as Market District!  But, hey, my friend Alyssa calls it Hot Man Mecca!)

While I made a picnic lunch for us, Yimmy re-mounted my mailbox on the front of the house.  I’d given the mailbox a shiny new coat of black paint.  Incidentally, the mail has already come today, and the mailman opened the screen door and dropped the mail inside again, without any notice whatsoever of my newly painted and mounted box.

Once the chores were done and the picnic lunch was packed, Yim and I headed out to Kennywood.  The weather was phenomenal; clear, bright blue sky, dry warmth under the sun with wispy high clouds up above and a cool air circulating just enough so that one never felt uncomfortably hot.  The occasion was Yim‘s boy’s school Kennywood day and all three of his boys went there with their mother.  We shared the responsibility with her, trading off between the older and the younger so that everyone had the opportunity to ride.

Throughout the day Yim and I were prone to our own memories of childhood days spent running the park, from ride to ride, with our friends.  We didn’t leave until the park closed at 10pm and when we got home I collapsed on my bed, feeling the same satisfied exhaustion as I did at the end of a day back when I was 9 years old and had spent the hours running, laughing, riding and eating funnel cakes with Elisabeth.  I fell to sleep fast, with physical heaviness but mental levity, dreaming of all good things.

And so it was a great day, but there is more!

Yesterday marked the last day in the house of the Earth sign Taurus, which, other than my own Capricornian sign, I love the most.  It seems that so many of my favorite people have been born under the sign of the Bull:  Zia, Lord Mycol, Yim, and my brother, Rock.  If you follow the philosophy of the stars, it’s no wonder why.  Consider the following:

The Taurus and Capricorn combination is considered to be one of the best astrological combinations. When they unite there is a union of similar and positive creative forces and a subtle but powerful physical attraction. They understand each other’s weaknesses and strengths perfectly and act accordingly. Since both require a certain amount of acknowledgment of their positive qualities they do the same for each other. They fulfill each other emotionally, physically, intellectually and financially. Saturn and Venus the ruling planet of Capricorn and Taurus respectively complement each other. Taurus loves money and Capricorn wants security and sees financial stability as a way of security. Both are practical, sensual and calculative. They believe in hard work and success. So nothing can be better than this!!

Also, yesterday was, indeed, Rock’s birthday.

Before I get into wishing Rock a belated birthday I’d like to point out that I seem to have developed a habit of birthday posting, which puts a new kind of pressure on a person.  I no longer merely have to remember to check the calendar and get a card off in the mail, but now I must come up with some sort of brilliant tribute to the ones I love, lest any of them feel jilted.  This all started with a ridiculously fun post I wrote, a roast post, if you will, for the birthday of Elisabeth’s husband Dag.  It was one of the easiest and most fun things I’ve written to date.  On that day my blog stats reached their highest rating.  This created a two-fold reason to continue writing birthday blogs: 1) so as not to offend the others, hahaha, and 2) to strive towards beating my personal best where my stats are concerned (I’m talking about daily readership, folks).  This week I won some and lost some.  Let me put it to you this way; I beat my personal best on Tuesday, May 18th with “Feelin’ Good”.  That’s right, Dag, my post for Yim surpassed my post for you!  If I were a statistician I’d tell you by what percent.  On the other hand, I failed to put up a post for one of my most cherished Taureans, my brother Rock.  And so, short and late as it may be, without further adieu . . .

I’d like to tell you all the truth about how I feel about my brother.  I used to wish he was a sister!  I remember telling my mother that I wanted a playmate.  In my recollection of the past, like she’d waved a magic wand to grant my wish, the next thing I knew was that she’d gotten herself pregnant with a playmate exclusively for my sake.  Imagine my utter horror when, after months of giddy anticipation, she came home from the hospital with a boy-child!  What had gone wrong?  It went down like this:

One day my mother was so swollen with pregnancy that she could not find the energy to play with me.  I had no one else to play with at all.  I played imaginary games all by myself with my wooden farm set on the coffee table while she lie big on the sofa with heavy eyelids.  Then, in the dark of night in the middle of a spring rain, we had to leave the house.  There was a mild urgency – do you understand that? From the back seat on the way to my grandparents’ house I peered at blurry street lights through the rain drops on the windshield, glowing white, red, yellow, green, intermittently through the slash of the wipers.

It was likely 4 days later when Mummy returned from the hospital.  It was a sunny spring afternoon.  My grandparents lived in a 3 story large Victorian house and my mother came in through the back door to the sun-lit kitchen carrying the swaddled babe.  The excitement and joy expressed by those around me could not befog the circumstance.  There’d been a dirty trick played and this was not my requested playmate.  As I ran up the dramatic staircase in the entry hall, I stopped two-thirds of the way up, stuck my little head over the banister and screamed past the chandelier, “Why didn’t you tell the doctor we wanted a girl?!”

Oh, the follies of youth.  I’d like to tell you now that I would have it no other way than to have my playmate be my brother Rock.  Despite a fight here and there we got along marvelously.  I love him so much.

In the winter time when we were confined to playing indoors a lot, we used to take his crib mattress and prop it against the bedroom wall.  We mimicked Muhammed Ali and Leon Spinks, sparring with the mattress, fancy-footing around the room and sticking our faces in the mist from the humidifier for the dramatic effect of profuse sweating.

We have been playing together since he could walk and talk and the fun has never come to an end.  There is only one person in the world who really understands what my childhood experience was all about and that is him.  And vice versa.

Still, I did dress him up as a girl and call him Rebecca for about 4 years, until Mummy made me stop.  There is photographic evidence to support this claim.  I suppose you’re wondering which years, as from 12 to 16 would be rather strange, huh?  Don’t worry, he was hardly big enough to defend himself.

I called my brother yesterday and wished him a Happy Birthday and he told me it was his second best to date, the first best being the day he was actually born.  I am so glad his wishes came true.  He met one of his idols, Dave Matthews, who, ironically, shares his birthday with mine.  You see how Taureans and Capricorns love each other?  Rock and his wife, Luvy, were granted a backstage audience (with photos) with Dave, Tim Reynolds and Jane Goodall before enjoying the show up close.  An ecstatic experience for my brother and I am happy for him.

Happy Birthday, Rock!  I love you, brother!

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Feelin’ Good

On this day thirty-nine years ago a woman gave birth to her first child, a son, and he would become my best friend.  The world is indeed a wondrous place.  Consider all of the possible outcomes with the actual results and wonder: how?  why?  And be amazed.

Every person is a bundle of possibilities and he is worth what life may get out of him before it is through. — Harry Emerson Fosdick

Last night we went out for a celebratory glass of wine.  A toast to life, love and the pursuit of happiness, which is what we have been doing heartily since we joined forces: living, loving, and pursuing happiness.

We went to Ava Lounge to enjoy the jazzy notes of Howie Alexander’s Interval Jam.  What is happening here on the jazz scene is the making of history.  Having just recently lost a hometown jazz gal, Lena Horne, whose career spanned the test of time and whose beauty and music touched many beyond the borders of this steel town and the Hill District scene, I like to imagine that someday Yim and I will be talking about how we used to rub elbows with none other than the jazz greats of the turn of the century, just like those who hung around the Crawford Grill would have spoken about Lena.  We will fondly reminisce about Howie, Doc Nelson, Roby Supersax, Chris Hemingway, and my favorite Sean Jones.

In between sets on Monday nights, JMalls spins throwback vinyl.  Last night, as Yim and I raised our glasses and enjoyed each other’s conversation, another fateful thing occurred.  A familiar voice rang through the lounge.  Who knows, perhaps it was at the very moment in time that this woman went into labor . . . Yes, Yim‘s mother’s voice sang out from the deejay booth, like a birthday reminder and gift from the source.  And we were all “Feelin’ Good”.  So, now, for your listening pleasure . . . ladies and gentlemen, Lynn Marino!

There’s a divinity that shapes our ends, rough-hew them how we will. — Shakespeare

And one more thing . . .

Happy Birthday, Yim!

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Pick Me Up

Two weeks ago I made strawberry tiramisu for Zia’s birthday.  Click the link for the recipe.  It tasted great and I didn’t use any high fructose corn syrup!  Here’s how it looked . . .

The plastic forks were used to hold the plastic wrap above the strawberries.

I know one person who is salivating enviously, but I shall not name any names!  If you think you are the one, let me know in comments and if you are right, I’ll confirm.   😉

Then, for Lord Mycol’s birthday, I made a lemon cloud tart with blackberry compote.

I’ve always loved making desserts.  In fact, I learned to bake before I learned to cook, however, neither of the desserts shown here require any baking!

Maybe you made something yummy for your mummy today?  I hope so!

Happy Mother’s Day to all of the dedicated moms in the world today!

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Of all nature’s gifts to the human race, what is sweeter to a man than his children. — Cicero

I have a vivid memory from my childhood of playing on Broughton Street and plotting out my future in my imagination.  When I married, my husband and I would live in the country and have a small farm where we would raise a brood of children.  I was thinking of Little House on the Prairie and how ideal that lifestyle seemed to me.  Later, in high school, I imagined I’d rather just have 3 children, and could they all please be boys?  In real life, I did have a baby boy, just as I hoped.  He was the biggest fish, too, weighing in at 9 lbs. 6 oz.  I remember thinking then that I loved him so much, how could I possibly love a second child equally as my first?  But I never had to cross that road and he wound up getting all the love that I had in my heart to give to ten children all to himself.  Now, so many years later, I am wondering what I will do with myself when my only chick decides to fly the coop.

Today, May 1st, is my son Mycol’s 19th birthday.  I have been thinking all week long about what to post here on this special day, but I don’t even think Mycol reads my blog!  Even so, I have decided to take a photographic trip, mostly to 1994 and ’95, while I share with you some of the things that make Mycol who he is.

Mycol knew his numbers when he was little.  While he wasn’t a great artist, he would still take crayon in hand and write all of the numbers from zero on up, until there was no more room on the paper.  He did this a lot, and all of the many sheets of paper covered in numbers are a good example of how he has always kept hundreds of objects or facts organized in his brain.

For instance, Mycol got his first Legos for Christmas when he was 2 1/2 years old.

By the time he was 10, he had at least 5,000 pieces.  He constantly played with them.  After the initial assembly, following the directions, his Legos would be dismantled and rebuilt into myriad constructions.  As I made dinner he would dump the bins of Legos in a pile on his bedroom floor and build.  I cannot tell you how many times he called me in to help him find a piece.  He would say, “Mom, can you help me find a piece like this?” and he would show me the piece.  “I have 4 more of them in gray and I have 6 in red.  I need a gray one.”  I would look at the pile and look at him in astonishment.  How could he keep track of all those tiny blocks?

Mycol was the most pleasant of babies.  He never fussed, he never threw tantrums.  I don’t know how I got so lucky.  It’s not selective memory.  He was just content.  He let me know when he was hungry and he let me know when he needed changed, and once he was satisfied, that was that.  Smiling and relaxed again.  We didn’t have to survive the ‘terrible twos’.  He never threw himself onto the floor of a store because he couldn’t have something or because he was tired and wanted to leave.  I never had to wrestle with the dead weight of his little resisting body.  He was such a good eater, determined to get every morsel in his mouth, I hardly had any mess to clean up behind him.  He never once fussed to get out of the car seat.  I swear, not once!

When Mycol was about 5, UB started getting baseball and football trading cards for him.  Mycol’s collection began to grow as big as his collection of Legos.  Grand Mere started getting him binders with clear plastic sleeves to keep the cards organized.  Mycol would arrange and rearrange the cards in ordered stacks on the floor according to different statistics.  Sometimes he arranged by team and other times by position or college or rookie year.  By the time he was 8 years old, he could hold his own weight in a sports conversation with 45 year old men.  He could spew stats from players that were drafted 30 years before he was even born.  Grown men were always impressed with his knowledge.

Over the years, Mycol has traveled the world with me and been a great side-kick.  He likes to explore new places, meet new people, and try new foods.  He is open minded and unbiased, which makes me proud.

Every single one of Mycol’s teachers, from kindergarten through high school, has told me that while he is enthusiastic and smart, he talks too much in class and has to try and curb himself.  It’s true, Mycol is a conversationalist and has never, ever been able to sit through class without talking to someone.  Believe me, he loves to talk to teachers, too!

Whenever I meet an adult who has interacted with my son, whether on the job or from the neighborhood, they compliment me on what a bright and polite young man I’ve raised.  I know my family can’t believe it, because he’s not afraid to exercise some lip at home, but out in the world I’m confident he minds his P’s and Q’s.

Some of Mycol’s favorite things to do were riding his bike on the trails, watching Kratt’s Creatures and Marty Stouffer’s Wild America on PBS, spending the weekend at Zia’s, and playing with his Spiderman, Venom, and other action figures.

When he was 3, he said he wanted to live on the North Pole because he couldn’t stand to be too hot in the summer time.  Born in San Diego, it took him years to adapt to the humidity of the northeastern summer.

In middle school Mycol started putting his organizational skills and love of sports together and began putting together pick-up games and teams.  There have always been papers lying all over the house covered in team and stat lists for his players.  He started playing school basketball, football, and baseball.  When there wasn’t an organized sport to play, he organized it.  All those years of rounding up players culminated in his participation with a local semi-pro league.  These days, if Mycol is not in class, at work, or at home, he’s most likely “down the field” playing football or shooting hoops.  I have encouraged him not to chase money, but rather to follow his passion and the money will follow.  So far, he majors in kinesiology, and if he continues, I think someday he will make an excellent coach.

Because I am the Duchess, he is the Lord.  And because Lord Mycol is my number one son, I am making him a lemon cloud tart with blackberry compote for his birthday dessert.  The boy loves berries, always has.  I asked him, “For your birthday, would you prefer chocolate or berries?”  I only asked because I prefer chocolate and I was hoping for that off-chance.  Of course, he replied, “berries,” as expected.  And what the Lord wants, the Lord gets.  After all, he is my favorite son.  (You’ll notice the recipe calls for rhubarb compote, but we prefer the blackberries).

So, it’s hard to believe he is 19 years old today and I can still remember the day he was born clear as ever.  Just look at him now!

Happy Birthday, Mycol!  I love you and may you have many, many more years filled with progress, love, and happiness!

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Buon Compleanno, Zia!

To honor Zia on this day of her birth, I would like to say a few things about her character.

Ask anyone who knows our family, “Who has the biggest heart?” and they will tell you it is Zia.  She never had children of her own to share her love with, but she has dispensed her unconditional love on me, Rock, and Lord Mycol.

She plays better with children than anyone I’ve ever seen before – she enters the world of make-believe and connects with the spirit of the child.  No wonder she was always my favorite aunt.

She loves to dance and has light rhythm in her petite feet.  She used to have the most marvelous variety of high-heeled shoes and I can only imagine her dancing away the night in them.

She was born in an American camp for Italian refugees in the deep south of Italy.  Born into struggle, she has the strongest character and never suffers the pitfalls of a low self-esteem.  Because of her strength, she has no need to utter biting words towards others.  She is always kind and giving.

She is the caregiver of the family.  She dedicated much of her life to taking care of her parents, me and my son.  She gladly cooks and cleans for you – her maternal instincts – it is one way she shows her affection and she knows it is appreciated.

She embraces her heritage, loves the opera and tango music.  She can laugh with all her heart at your jokes and she has a quick wit for humor herself.

She doesn’t pronounce ‘H’ at the beginning of a word.  For instance, ‘Howard’ becomes ‘Oward’ or ‘hang’ becomes ‘ang’.  But she puts an ‘H’ in front of words where it doesn’t belong.  ‘Apple’  becomes ‘happle’.  And so . . . “Do you ave any happles?”  leads to gales of laughter and iperhactivity.  She says ‘her’ ‘are’, and ‘worm’ ‘warm’.  She doesn’t like it if you spend too much time ‘ting-a-ring’ around.  But hall you ave to do is talk to are in are hown language, hand she will laugh hout loud.

She knows all the old movie stars and could have been in pictures herself.  She could’ve been a spy, the way she can talk to anyone comfortably.

She was the style maven of the family, with closets full of fun clothes and jewelry boxes filled to the brim.

She is an example of loyalty, honesty, strength and love that is much needed in any family.  I am blessed that she is a part of mine.

And on top of all of that, she is beautiful and sexy, too.

Happy Birthday, Zia!  You are always Number One in my heart.

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The Easter Parade

Before April comes to its utter end, I should let my dear loved ones in on my take on Easter Sunday – right?  If for no other reason than they may have fond memories themselves which will be triggered by the photos posted herein.  So, without further ado . . .

Usually Easter is cold and wet enough around here to wear your winter coat and a scarf.  For someone like me, who longs for equatorial heat even on some “cooler” evenings in July, cold Easters mean that I cannot even stand to wear a dress under my winter coat, but rather have to don pants and my winter boots over heavy socks.  But this Easter was anything but usual.

It was a true Easter Parade outside of St. Paul’s Cathedral.  All the women and little girls looked darling, while the men looked dashing in their spring suits.  The cathedral was full at high mass and looked lovely adorned with white lilies.  Unfortunately, I didn’t take my camera with me and if I thought I might manage to get pictures at home of everyone in their Easter best, well, forget about it.  Before I could say, “Say cheese,” my family had changed back into their casual clothes. Which was okay, I guess, because we had an Easter-egg hunt to attend.

The day before, Luvy and I planned to head down to the playground after church and hide 3 dozen colored plastic eggs filled with money for the kids to hunt.  Yim was on his way into the city with his 3 boys and time was of the essence.  Lord Mycol pitched in and helped Luvy and I hide the eggs.  Once they were hidden, Rock brought Rockwell down, and Yim arrived with Bird, Choc, and NB.  These four boys hit the ground running and scoured the playground for Easter-eggs.  In a half an hour’s time, each of them had a nice blue grocery sac of eggs, which they wouldn’t dare put down for fear of losing them.  They ran, climbed, and played all over the playground.  Their bags rustled and jingled behind the sounds of shouts and laughter.

Lord Mycol was being the best big cousin that day.  I enjoyed watching him help Rockwell, the youngest boy in the bunch, find his share of eggs.  He helped him reach things by picking him up, he helped him get his shoes back on when he had stones in them, and he helped him count his booty.

The Easter Bunny stopped by the playground after the hunt.

That is Yim and NB’s bunny, Wolverine.  He was a birthday gift for NB, who says, “I’m going to be a zoo-keeper, a scientist, and work at the pet store.  I’m gonna be a busy man!”

While us big kids occupied the little kids at the schoolyard, the real grown-ups got the feast ready and the table set back at the house.

The entire holiday was spent in anticipation of mealtimes, which are the keystones of family life.  On holidays past and also in Italy, I have spent a good 6 hours at the dining table, listening to stories, eating great food, and drinking a little vino!

Well, until next year, Buona Pasqua!

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Last year I cleared out all of my photo and music files from the computer and stored them on external hard drives.  But I just noticed a rather large file on my desktop that somehow managed to escape the clean-up.  Going through photos is always fun.  Here are some from the batch.

In the summer of 2008 the whole family vacationed in Ocean City and Assateague, Maryland.  The day it rained we gathered on the sun-porch and Yimmy, Rock and I played our guitars while everyone clapped and sang along.  We covered the tables with paper and had crab feasts for dinner.  We played cards for money at night.

Mycol was 17 years & Rockwell was 18 months.

We dipped our toes in the Atlantic and watched the wild ponies saunter on by.

In the fall, Yimmy took me to the pumpkin patch at Schramm’s with him and his boys to pick pumpkins for Halloween jack-o-lanterns.

Last winter was as glorious as this one.  Yim and I went out in the night storm and delighted in the sights.  The Pennsylvanian looked like the backdrop to an old mystery movie, with it’s lighted clock above the archway glowing through the falling snow.

And the row-houses along Friendship Avenue reminded me of a quaint English neighborhood.  These lighted stars go up every holiday season, to the joy of everyone I know in the area.  They are magical.

I remember Christmas that year was great.  I hosted La Vigilia and Alison and Peppino were honored guests of the family.  At midnight, Yimmy joined us and we all went to a Polish church, Immaculate Heart of Mary, with respect for UB.

For Valentine’s Day, Yim and I enjoyed a weekend in the Laurel Highlands at the Campbell House B & B, and I liked the matching fluffy bathrobes.

By March I’d had enough of the snow and cold.  I was in misery with tension just trying to stay warm.  Yimmy took me to the mall to walk around.  That was okay, but not quite what the doctor ordered.  But how about this?  He took me over to Phipps Conservatory for an afternoon of walking through the gardens, breathing the oxygen and smelling the soil.

As a matter of fact, my banner picture of the ferns with spores was taken on that day at Phipps.

In the spring, when it was mild enough, we went on an urban hike.  We were on a quest for all things interesting.  Interesting food, which we found, interesting shops, which we found, and interesting photos.  I had my camera at the ready.  This is the most interesting door pull I’ve ever seen.

Also that spring, we were invited to see La Boheme with good friends of mine and we dressed for the occasion.  After the opera, we went salsa dancing.

Soon, Mycol celebrated his 18th birthday.  My handsome son requested a birthday meal of pulled pork sandwiches with sweet potato french fries, tangy cole slaw, and chocolate cream pies for dessert.  We partied on Zia and UB’s deck and had a grand old time.

Rockwell got another year older, too.

And we are all ready for summer again.

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