Sunday, July 31, 2011

10 Signs That You Might Be A Fake Drinker

A friend of mine (JEM) just confessed to me that she is a "Fake Drinker." After a few conversations, I realized that I might be one of the lot. Normally, I write definitions to accompany new terms; however, creating a definition seemed like pigeonholing. So, I made a list of definitive possibilities instead:

10 Signs That You Might Be A Fake Drinker

10. You prefer to eat and/or take pictures at a tailgate.
9. You arrange for other people to drink your drinks during drinking games.
8. You have ordered mixers as beverages (i.e. Red Bull with lime, tonic with lime, etc.).
7. You prefer to order tapas or apps more than you like to order drinks at happy hour.
6. You do not need "libation-al" encouragement to have fun on the dance floor.
5. You avoid hangovers and drinking-related ailments like celebrities avoid carbs.
4. You think that any drink/shot/shooter with the word "bomb" in the title is totally overrated.
3. You are almost always the designated driver.
2. You do not have the phrase, "Let's get wasted!" in your lexicon.
1. You can remember everything that happened after a night ahhht on the town.

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Dance Moms: TV's Latest Taste of Crazy

On July 13, Lifetime debuted its latest installment to the reality television genre with a show called Dance Moms. Consequently, Episode 1 inspired a barrage of status updates on facebook. My "friends" seemed either outraged over the owner and instructor, Abby Lee Miller's teaching methods (I believe the word "lunatic" was used); or seemed disgusted with the actual "dance mom's" behavior. Curious, I checked it ahhht; and my preconcieved notions were correct: Dance Moms is TV's latest taste of crazy.

If you haven't heard of Dance Moms, the Post-Gazette covered it in this article last Thursday, because Pittsburgh just happens to be the home of the Abby Lee Dance Company.

The pyramid ranking of the dancers
Similarly, TV Guide published an interview last Thursday as well, which questions Miller regarding her teaching methods. Click here to read her responses. One question addressed the [now] infamous pyramid ranking of the dancers (pictured above). I find her comments rather interesting, as her words reiterate how unrealistic reality television can be: 

TV GUIDE: Your pyramid system of visually ranking your favorite students was very controversial on the Internet ...
Miller: I've never done that in my life. That has nothing to do with me. That's the show. They came up with that whole process. 

Fortunately (and I mean that), I have seen Abby Lee Miller's students perform numerous times; and honestly, they are very, very talented. Once, at the Dance Masters of America competition at Seven Springs, her students performed what I consider to be one of the most well-conceived, well-choreographed, and well-executed production numbers that I have ever seen. Performed to the song, Don't Stop Believin', this dance actually moved me... In fact, I was so entertained and captivated that I could not take my eyes off of the stage. I even went to her dance concert the following June so that I could see that dance number again. In addition, I've seen one of her former students, Asmeret Ghebremichael, on Broadway in Legally Blonde: The Musical. She was fantastic (in terms of talent- I give a third of the credit to Abby Lee Miller, a third to her Woodland Hills theater director Thomas Crone , and a third to natural ability). Check her out in this video... she's adorable.

Now, all of this hype about dance caused some personal sentiments to resurface. Why? Simply stated, dance changed my life. And in that aspect, I am not alone. Actually, it's abnormal to be from my generation ('80's and '90's) in the UT without having taken at least one year of dance at the Ginny Tanner Dance Studio (where I took lessons from '84-'98), Katy Lyon Dance Center, Houck Dance Studio, or Lorraine Susa Dance Unlimited. Parents in the UT shopped around, and registered their children for lessons at the studio which provided an experience to meet their children's needs. Luckily, PSB chose Ginny Tanner (my first class was tap, and I loved it from the very instant I put on those clickety clackety shoes); but I have friends who had amazing experiences at each of those juggernauts. 

In fact, dance is one of the experiences for which I'll never be able to repay my parents. It would be impossible! Starting with the tuition fees, the costumes, the pictures, the competitions, the recitals, etc., it would take quite the mathmetician to calculate an actual price... 

cost of lessons + cost of costumes + cost of pictures + cost of competitions X hours spent (driving, watching, waiting, bedazzling, shopping for sequins, french braiding) - the joy at seeing your child perform / knowing that your child has succeeded = ? 

Addtionally, I can't repay them for the priceless opportunities it afforded me... being a Raiderette; dancing at Kennywood; performing in Dancing with the Teachers (3 times!); dancing with the Pitt Dance Ensemble and Dance Alloy; performing in Margaret Emelson's musicals; winning a rump shaking contest (with RRM, TAF, JLS, and JAG in Myrtle Beach '00); representing my school in the Pennsylvania Bituminous Coal Queen Pageant; being a Gene Kelly Awards Judge, etc. Add the "forever" friendships that I made along the way to those opportunities... and the repayment cost goes up even more! 

Dancing with the Teachers '11
But most importantly, how do I properly repay my parents for trusting Ginny Tanner and her staff to teach me the life lessons that can only be learned through the performing arts? That's a huge leap of faith! Ginny Tanner could have been a crazy, whacked-out person; but instead, she was influential, graceful, and creative... and one of the best teachers from whom I ever learned. In my opinion, when combined with rhythm and talent, three essentials are needed for being a dancer: hard work, dedication, and showmanship... and those are exactly what my teachers at GTDS (GT, CF, GM and PK) emphasized by teaching dance. 

Similarly, hard work, dedication, and showmanship are at the heart of Abby Lee Miller's teaching style. Sure, she is abrasive, and oftentimes harsh. Yes, she refuses to coddle. In truth, she demands only the best. She only gives praise when her students' actions are praiseworthy. Guess what? We don't have enough of that anymore. We have an excess of parents who want their children to be the labeled as the "best," without genuinely having earned it. Not everyone has to get a first place trophy. Only one person wins a race. It's unrealistic to think that a dancer can climb to the pinnacle of success in the performing arts industry without hard work, dedication, and showmanship. These Dance Moms knew exactly what they were getting into when they enrolled their children with Abby Lee Miller... she trains children with the intent of preparing them for dance careers. There are plenty of dance schools in Southwestern PA that the Dance Moms could have chosen (some comparably successful, some not). If Abby's realistic approach (which might be the only realistic aspect of this show) to teaching and training is so offensive, then they could have gone somewhere else. Like Abby said in all of her Abby-ness, "You can go to the YMCA and have a nobody teach your kid if that's what you want..."

Clearly, the editors and producers are capitalizing on the "lunacy." And why shouldn't they? It's entertaining. Crazy sells (just watch My Strange Addiction or Hoarders if you don't believe me). So if you decide to watch Dance Moms (Wednesdays at 10 p.m.), watch with a critical eye. Who is the real lunatic? 

Monday, July 25, 2011

Grilled Cheese

If I had to name my favorite sandwich of all time, I would have to go with a traditional grilled cheese sandwich (pure, white bread, real butter, American cheese), summer camp style. Something about baking them in convection ovens gives these squares of melted bliss a supernatural quality. One is never enough. Luckily, the cafeteria at work makes them this way. Unluckily, when it's "grilled cheese day" and I don't have any cash, there's a high likelihood for an irreparable meltdown (pun intended) with a duration of up to two hours.

In addition to the traditional version,  I enjoy grilled cheese sandwiches with a twist... different cheeses (a slice of pepper jack provides a great kick), fresh tomato slices, granny smith apple slices, and/or bacon, just to name a few. If it's interesting, I'll try it. The only thing I cannot stand on a grilled cheese is mayo or Miracle Whip. In my formative years, PSB used to sneak Miracle Whip on my grilled cheese sandwiches when I wasn't paying attention. Ew, grossness.

Last night, I was skimming and scanning CNN for something newsworthy (anything not depressing and/or related to Amy Winehouse), and I caught this article about nothing other than grilled cheese sandwiches. It's Kate Krader's recommendations, and since she is the restaurant editor for Food & Wine, I suppose she knows plenty regarding this topic of choice.

Intuitively, I have a feeling that the grilled cheese sandwich shops are going to start popping up more often, similar to the burger joint trend. The last time I was in Cleveland, I had intended to go to Melt Bar and Grilled, but I ran out of time. Check out their menu... The Kindergarten, the Northcoast Shores, and the Tokyo Tuna Melt caught my eye.

It irritates me ever so slightly that Cleveland beat Pittsburgh to the grilled cheese sandwich shop (we beat them in more important areas of competition, so it's cool). However, there are two local restaurants that deserve recognition for their notable grilled cheese sandwiches (by my standards)...

Square Cafe in the Regent Square (Edgewood, if we are getting technical) neighborhood of Pittsburgh, has a great version called Square Grilled Cheese (basil pesto, fresh mozzarella on grilled focaccia). Served with a Tomato Bisque, it's a pretty darn tasty meal.

Square Cafe on Urbanspoon

And the Boston Beanery in Uniontown, PA (and Morgantown, WV) also has a great Grilled Cheese Sandwich... you can pick your cheese(s) and add vegetables if you so desire. Actually, their "Beacon Hill Grill" sandwiches are the best items on their menu, in my opinion. In UT, the Beanery is a typical first date destination largely for it's good food and its proximity to a movie theater. On one particular first date (age 16, Valentine's Day, quite nervous), I ordered their Grilled Cheese (safe, reasonable price, proven to be yummy). My date made fun of me (which should have been a sign), but the deliciousness of the sandwich (and the fact that he was a senior with prom date potential) made it all okay. Ah, to be young and [blissfully] ignorant...

Boston Beanery on Urbanspoon

Wednesday, July 20, 2011


A shady dude walks into the gym. No, this is not the start of a joke. Sadly, it is the start of an unfunny story. He took a woman's keys off of the peg board near the front desk, went outside, figured out which car was hers, and proceeded to rob her of all valuables. This, of course, is terrible. In the end, the police did catch the dude... because in addition to being a klepto-schmuck, he is also quite dumb. He was caught on camera, in broad daylight, and managed to put his fingerprints throughout the entire vehicle.

Fortunately, I have only had to experience robbery once. The robber broke my car door lock, and ripped the CD player out of the dash. Without knowing it, he also took one of my Rusted Root CD's. Nevertheless, it's hard to describe the feeling of violation that overcame me when I sat in my driver's seat, quietly assessing the damage. Someone had been in my car. And they didn't have my permission. While that was 2002, I still remember it vividly, thus allowing me to commiserate with the woman at the gym.

It could have happened to any of our gym's members, including me. I've been hanging my keys on that peg board for years. Consequently, this turn of events got me thinking... If I were robbed, would the robber find anything valuable in my car right now? I suppose it depends on whom you ask. Here's the current inventory...

Car: 2011 Honda Civic, white with tan interior
  • iPod Nano, 1st generation, 2 GB, with ear buds (in iPod years, this gadget is a senior citizen)
  • HTC Droid Incredible without a charger
  • Bath and Body Works Japanese Cherry Blossom Anti-Bacterial Sanitizing Hand Gel
  • some loose change
  • a cross made from palms on Palm Sunday
  • St. Benedict medallion and a heart charm (both hanging from my rear view mirror) 
  • pocket pop-up maps of NYC and Philadelphia (for nostalgic purposes... remember the days before GPS?)
  • an E-ZPass
  • a garage door opener
  • an empty Evian bottle
  • a clear, blue lighter
  • a travel toothbrush and toothpaste
  • a mezuzah 
  • aviator sunglasses from Forever 21 (I refuse to spend more than $19.99 on shades) 
  • and in the trunk, my purse
Purse: yellow leather (there are yellow cows, right?), a gift from PSB found in a boutique dahn in Savannah
  • five black pens of varying ink types
  • my Gallery Leather planner/address book (I insist on keeping a hard copy planner/address book. I know, I know. There's an app for that.) 
  • a small, spiral notebook (for you know, notes)
  • my wallet (no checks, no cash, a driver's license, a debit card that says "See ID," and a note from JTP that says "You look cute tonight.")

    ... and unless the robber wants an HGB treat bag with little to no cash value, he should stay away from my car. Let's not forgot that I grew up in the UT proper. We know how to get a little wild. Maybe I'll introduce him to the ninja

    However, looking at my inventory makes me wonder what I would miss the most. For obviously practical reasons, it would be an inconvenience to be robbed of the car itself. Second runner-up is the cell phone. Third runner-up is the wallet. Honorable mention goes to the planner/address book. But for sentimental reasons? The note from JTP. I've carried that in my wallet since 2009. It was the first time he wrote me anything, let alone in cursive. There's no runner-up for that. 

    Tuesday, July 19, 2011

    Deep Thoughts on T-Shirts

    Ah yes, The "I Am Sexy In My Trident Tee-Shirt" Award. Given in 1995, this award was earned for being involved in a Calvary Camp discussion called "Deep Thoughts," during which we were questioning body image, society's perception of sexy, etc. I remember saying, "It all comes down to this. Why can't I be sexy in my Trident t-shirt?" (which I was wearing at the time); and at the end of the camping session, my counselor gave me an award for my deep thinking (come on, I was 15). 

    In college, I started wearing random t-shirts more frequently... most students at Pitt didn't dress up for class and people actually thought that some of my t-shirts were "cool" and not "dorky" (like they did in high school). Some of my shirts were adult-sized (worn as nightgowns when I was little), and now fit normally (Best one... "Long Beach Marathon 1987"). Some were child-sized and now fit snugly (Best one..."I'm the Big Sister"). On weekends, I scoured thrift stores for anything unique. At any given moment, you could open my t-shirt drawer and find an eclectic mix of poly-cotton blends. One Tower B neighbor used to come to my room specifically for t-shirts to wear to the library because she liked mine better than hers. 

    "That HGB can really wear a t-shirt." Spoken in 2000, that statement remains one of the top ten greatest compliments that I have ever received. The t-shirt that I happened to be wearing at the time was a vintage St. Louis University Medical School shirt with a rainbow and the St. Louis arch on the front. I hadn't put any thought into it (we were at a cabin in the mountains... I was dressed for comfort, drinking, and campfires); but apparently the world had caught up to me. Wearing random t-shirts had officially become cool. Just ask Urban Outfitters... they practically invented the graphic tee.    

    So yeah, I guess that I have always liked t-shirts... but they need to be funny, ironic and/or interesting. A shirt that says "FBI (Female Body Inspector) is not funny, nor ironic. It's just dumb. 

    On the other hand, a t-shirt that looks like a tuxedo is funny and ironic... especially when you picture "Baby Jesus" wearing one like Cal Naughton Jr does in Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby

    Over the years as I became a grown-up, I quit wearing most of my t-shirts. I eliminated any ill-fitting ones, and kept only my classic favorites. Currently, those juggernauts are in a Rubbermaid vault (tub) in the basement... you know, just in case there's a dire situation when I need one that says, "Best Actress in a Comedy" or "Ben Franklin Quakers." 

    So why, all this rambling about t-shirts? Well, a witty couple (VCG and LWG) from Fayette County, PA has launched a t-shirt business called TeeMinus24. If you check their website ahhht, you'll find that their designs are pretty cool and inexpensive (unlike Urban Outfitters), in addition to fitting my criteria of "funny, ironic, and/or interesting." See for yourself...  

    I happen to be partial to their "Droid" design, which references Star Wars Episode IV

    And just for fun, I included the movie clip...  that Obi-Wan is something else. 

    Sunday, July 17, 2011

    A Midsummer Night's Dream: Pusadee's Garden

    Dahhhn in Lawrenceville in the 5300 block, sits a little oasis of a restaurant called Pusadee's Garden. Upon arrival, I was ready to give it 4/4 stars on outdoor ambiance alone; and if you look at the pictures on the website, you'll see what I mean. With the perfect breeze wafting through the garden dining area, colorful umbrellas dotting the skyscape, and twinkling lanterns aglow, Pusadee's Garden is quite romantic and intimate. If Puck peeked around the corner, I would not have been surprised.

    I don't eat Thai food very often; and admittedly, I am easy to please within this genre. I ordered the Tempura Vegetables (sweet potatoes and squash) and Chicken Satay, which were delicious. TLF let me try her Shrimp Salad, which was also tasty and topped with a notably nice vinaigrette dressing. I also sampled the Garlic Chicken, which was very good as well. Of the seven people in our party, everyone was pleased. DJF was brought the wrong order... an 8 on the spicy scale (with levels of 1-10), when he ordered a 3; but it was quickly remedied and we shared a few laughs by tasting it to determine if he was being overly dramatic or not. When I tried the 8, I got slightly lightheaded so I think my spicy comfort zone is probably between 3-5.

    Note: Although I did not have dessert (a Cotton Candy Cosmo at Savoy later in the evening took that spot), the coconut ice cream came highly recommended.

    Lastly, I want to note that the service was great (other than the spicy mix-up). My water glass was refilled several times without me noticing (which was key once I had tried the "8"); our BYOB white wine was placed on ice and glasses were supplied immediately; and the waitstaff was very helpful and friendly.

    Summer is my livelihood; and I will be back within a week to experience another midsummer night's dream.

    Pusadee's Garden on Urbanspoon

    (3 stars, 3/4)

    Saturday, July 16, 2011

    Awesome or Flawsome: Taco Bell's Border Salsa Verde

    Taco Smell (this is obvious... it's how you smell after you eat it) 

    Taco Hell (this is also obvious... it's how you feel after you eat it) 

    Without a doubt, Taco Bell is in the bottom tier of fast food restaurants. That chihuahua? God rest its soul, but it wasn't cute. And while I won't eat there anymore, I do accept it for what it is. In my opinion, Taco Bell has a place on the unintentional comedy scale somewhere between mullets and David Hasselhoff singing. 

    Typically, I'll try mostly anything once. Taco Bell had it's "once" in 1994 when it opened next to the "new" (which is now the "old") Wal-Mart in Uniontown, PA. If memory serves me correctly (and it usually does), I ordered a Soft Taco and those weird Cinnamon Twists. It was a rookie move, I know. But what does a 14 year old really know about ordering fast food Mexican? Anyway, the meal was gross; and I officially declared that the Cinnamon Twists were a lousy excuse for a side dish. 

    Since that inaugural trip, I responded to anyone's suggestion to "run for the border" with the standard HGB remark of, "Ew, grossness." However, after 2 a.m., anything was fair game.  Late night drive-thrus are funny... especially when you are craving that Fourth Meal. There was one such trip when I tried to get a Fourth Meal after a Steeler's playoff loss in 2008. My girlfriend, JSD was in the passenger seat, and this hilariously woeful tale goes something like this (she tells it much better than I do, so please bear with me): 

    JSD: Yay! Taco Bell! 
    DRIVE THRU: Welcome to Taco Bell. Can I take your order? 
    HGB: (checking out the menu) Ummmm. (pause) I would like 2 Chicken Ranchero Soft Tacos please and 2 drinks. 
    DRIVE THRU: (after a long pause) We are out of tacos. 
    HGB: (mind blown, but without hestitation) Wait. WHAT? You are out of tacos? But this is TACO BELL. That's like Burger King running ahhht of burgers and Pizza Hut running ahhht of pizza. 
    DRIVE THRU: (quickly) Can we get you something else? 
    HGB: (hungrily scanning the unfamiliar menu) Do you have Fiesta Potatoes?
    DRIVE THRU: (after another pause) No. Sorry. It's Sunday night. We don't get fresh food until Monday morning.  
    HGB: (at this point, yelling while JSD has dissolved into a puddle of laughter) ARE YOU KIDDING ME?!?!?! REALLY!? Well, what DO you have? 
    DRIVE THRU: Nacho chips. And cheese. 
    HGB: (not sure whether to laugh or cry at this point) We'll take it all. 
    DRIVE THRU: That'll be free. 

    When I pulled up to the window, he handed me a big plastic bag of about ten orders of nacho chips and containers of cheese. It was an epic failure of a drive-thru experience, capping off an epic failure on the Heinz Field. I don't even think we ate the nacho chips. And there were no drinks.  

    After that, I avoided Taco Bell whenever possible, Fourth Meal included. Then I met JTP. If it were up to him, we would go there on the way home each and every time we have been ahhhht dahn on the Sahhhthside. When this happens, I am driving. I don't order anything. He does. The routine is comfortable, and watching him order and eat that garbage actually makes me laugh. Fatefully, these late night excursions led to my discovery of Taco Bell's only acceptable menu item: Border Salsa Verde.

    Now, don't misunderstand. I don't use this sauce on food from Taco Bell. I use it on REAL food. The morning after one of these Taco Bell runs, I was making eggs only to discover that we had run out of fresh salsa (usually from Trader Joe's). What we did have was Salsa Verde, so I pulled an "ah, what the heck," and squeezed a few packets on top of my omelet. 

    The outcome? Salsa Verde complements the eggs with just enough spice and zing without squelching the egg's natural flavors. Actually, I do not want to eat eggs without it (at least the ones I make for myself). Seriously. I've tried it every which way I am capable of making eggs (fried, scrambled, sunny side up, etc.).  It's also tasty on baked potatoes. Bonus: There are 0 calories! 

    Why isn't this stuff bottled? I would totally buy it. But then again, I would miss the late night drive-thru shenanigans. 

    Salsa Verde is officially awesome. Like the packet says, it's a "way of life." 

    Wednesday, July 13, 2011

    The Boy Who Lived

    Note: This is a post dedicated to Harry Potter... and the people who believe in the boy who lived. Harry Potter isn't for everyone... and I respect that his wizarding world might not be your "cup of tea leaves," so to speak. If that's the case, and you keep reading, please be aware that you may need a Confundus Charm to make you forget this post. 
      Mr. and Mrs. Dursley, of number four, Privet Drive, were proud to say that they were perfectly normal, thank you very much. They were the last people you'd expect to be involved in anything strange or mysterious, because they just didn't hold with such nonsense. (Year 1, page 1)

    I once was like the Dursley's, "proud to say" that I was "perfectly normal."  But that ended over a decade ago. Now, I am proud to say that I am perfectly not normal... I am "one of those Harry Potter people" (to quote SAA).

    When the Harry Potter hype was starting to escalate, I was already 19. My cousin, MLB (age 20 at the time) was reading them and had mentioned that I might like them; and even my sister, MAB (age 9 at the time) was talking about how the kids at school were reading them. One of my co-workers had recieved the first two books, Year 1 (Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone) and Year 2 (Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets), for a Hanukkah gift; so, out of sheer curiosity,  I borrowed them from him to read. Honestly, neither book really impressed me. Sure, they were clever. Certainly, the details were thoughtful and the characters were largely memorable. Yes, I was slightly jealous that I was older than what I (and maybe even Scholastic) perceived to be the targeted audience.

    And then (for whatever reason), I read Year 3 (Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban). Suddenly, this story had an appeal. Without precedent, an addictingly rich backstory was emerging, filled with tragic history and complex characters. At one point, J.K. Rowling's words provided me with a bonafide lump in my throat... a lump of tangible evidence, thus solidifying my emotional connection to the storyline. Truthfully, I was in up to my Muggle ears (and if you are a fan, you will relate with how I felt).  
         "Well... your parents appointed me your guardian," said Black stiffly. "If anything happened to them..." 
         Harry waited. Did Black mean what he thought he meant? 
         "I'll understand, of course, if you want to stay with your aunt and uncle," said Black. "But... well... think about it. Once my name's cleared... if you wanted a... different home" 
         Some sort of explosion took place in the pit of Harry's stomach. "What- live with you?" he said, accidentally cracking his head on a bit of rock protruding from the ceiling. "Leave the Dursley's?" 
         "Of course, I thought you wouldn't want to," said Black quickly. "I understand, I just thought I'd-" 
         "Are you insane?" said Harry, his voice easily as croaky as Black's. "Of course I want to leave the Dursley's! Have you got a house? When can I move in?... 
         Black's gaunt face broke into the first true smile Harry had seen upon it. The difference it made was startling, as though a person ten years younger was shining through the starved mask; for a moment, he was recognizable as the man who had laughed at Harry's parents' wedding. (Year 3, page 379)

    Primarily, there are three reasons why I am "one of those Harry Potter people." First, it created a bridge over the ten year age gap between MAB and myself. In college, having a sister who was in elementary school had obvious obstacles. I was slinging cocktails at the Shadyside Saloon and she was playing with an American Girl doll. Simply stated, we were not on the same page... except for the Harry Potter series. It was something that we could discuss and enjoy together because it transcended the distance in time and space between us. For example, in 2000, MAB was Harry Potter for Halloween. As any good sister would, I scoured Pittsburgh for the perfect round, black eyeglasses to complete her costume (thank you, Kards Unlimited). Despite that sisterly gesture, there's one gesture on her part that really captured those years in our relationship. In the fall of 2001, I thought that it would be a good idea to get my left eyebrow pierced. In retrospect, this was not a good idea (of course). PSB was livid. So livid in fact, that she stopped the flow of all college-related funding. JDB thought that I had lost my mind. Like most egocentric 21 year olds, my stubbornness prevailed... that is until MAB got straight to the heart of the matter in a handwritten letter, with the following postscript, "P.S. If you have that hole in your face, I will not go to the Harry Potter movie with you." Needless to say, the eyebrow ring came out. For the record, we've seen 6 of the 8 movies together. Just last month, we made an "unbreakable vow." Yesterday she g-chatted a Harry Potter "your mama" joke to me (Your mama is so fat that the Sorting Hat placed her in the International House of Pancakes). Needless to say, it's been a fun experience to share with her.

    Secondly, it created the world's most universal book club (membership requirement: you must know what it's like to read Year 4, 5, 6, or 7 continuously from start to finish, only to take a break, and start all over again) whose members speak a universal language. How many ex's have we called "He (or She) Who Must Not Be Named?" How many times have we tried to unlock a door with "Alohomora?" How many of us would be totally excited when a coworker brought back Fizzing Whizbee's from The Wizarding World of Harry Potter (for the record, they are fantastic!)? How often have we secretly wished that Butterbeer was served at happy hour? On a busy day, how many of us wished we had a time-turner? How many of us have pondered what shape our patronus would take... or what wands would choose us at Olivander's... or into which Hogwarts house we would have been sorted? How many times have we argued about the proper pronunciation of "leviosa?"

    Nevertheless, there's plenty of us out there... and it's quite comforting that the Harry Potter series is something that I may have in common with a child, an adult, or anything in between. When I was in England a few years ago, I got to visit Christ Church where the first movie was filmed. While I was marveling at its grandeur, a little girl with a video camera walked past me, narrating as she went along, "Now here's where Harry finds out he made the quidditch team. And here's where..." That definitely put a smile on my face; as it would on anyone who's part of this "club." The room in the picture below was used for the Hogwarts Great Hall... and if you look closely, you can see the people in the paintings either moving or sleeping. Just kidding. But Henry VIII is dead center in the middle.

    Lastly, the Harry Potter series keeps my inner child alive. There's an anticipation (much like waiting for a new Babysitter's Club Super Special to come out); there's merchandise (I do have some Gryffindor socks); and now, there's a theme park! In December of this past year, I received an interesting message from a good friend, BMR. She wrote to inquire whether or not I would be interested in planning and facilitating a Harry Potter themed party for her daughter's 7th birthday. Having no children of my own (biologically/legally... I've unofficially adopted a few along the way), I jumped at the chance to use my creativity and love for the series to plan a party. Looking back, I am not sure what was more enjoyable: the research, the brainstorming, or the party. The guests received elaborate invitations, were greeted by the Fat Lady at the door, were "sorted" into Gryffindor, received robes and handmade wands, followed a class schedule (Potions, Divination, and Herbology), and ate an authentic menu of Bertie Bott's Every Flavor Beans, Pumpkin Juice, vegetables from Professor Sprout's Garden, Chocolate Frogs, pretzel wands, and a Gryffindor cake. That's me in the middle as Professor Minerva McGonagall, flanked by the birthday girl on my right, and her sister in front. It was an inexplicable delight to be involved with such a wonderful occasion.

    For the record, if I were a character in this series, my name would be Athena Black (Sirius Black's most fashion forward cousin / Hogwarts house: Slytherin, but not a Death Eater / patronus: seahorse / wand: ebony, 13 inches, aquamarine core). My favorite book in the series? Year 5 (Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix). My favorite familial backstory? Neville Longbottom's.

    Is it true that all good things must end?
         The last trace of steam evaporated in the autumn air. The train rounded a corner. Harry's hand was still raised in farewell. 
         "He'll be alright," murmured Ginny. 
         As Harry looked at her, he lowered his hand absentmindedly and touched the lightening scar on his forehead. 
         "I know he will." The scar had not pained Harry for nineteen years. All was well. (Year 7, page 759)

    The final movie is upon us; and seemingly, most of the hype will cease. Initially, I was fretting over the end of such a special era; but fortunately, Rowling has created an interactive web experience called Pottermore, which will keep the series aflame for our book club. More importantly though, I am holding onto a very special thought... someday I hope to experience the Harry Potter series all over again with a child of my own, and even again with a grandchild of my own. Like Fawkes the phoenix, this magical series of books can rise from the ashes again and again for generations to come. All is well.

    Tuesday, July 12, 2011

    Getting Real Mail

    Some things are better left unsaid, untyped, and untexted. This week, I came home from being away to a hilarious surprise in my mailbox... my real mailbox that is. You know, the one attached to the front of my house... the one I check every day because I LOVE GETTING REAL MAIL!

    Now, I remember getting Garbage Pail Kids cards at Hills Dept. Store (you know, "where the toys are") when I was in first grade*; but never had I come across one which had incorporated any part of my name. Twenty-five years later, BWW delivered. In a plain white envelope, protected in cardstock, with nothing but a hand-drawn smiley face for a message, was this little bit of 80's nostalgia...

    ...a collector's item, no doubt! So like I said, some things you just need to receive traditionally. The effort of obtaining my address; addressing an envelope; putting a stamp on it; and physically sending the item, is much appreciated. Thanks, BWW for bringing a genuine smile to my face.

    *This purchase was against PSB's better judgement; but I was insistent with something along the lines of: "COME ON, MOM. Everyone else has them. PUH-leeeeeeease." Being my mother, she was obviously right in her apprehension; because not long after getting home, I was asking JDB what a "Peepin' Tom" was...

    ... and if it was possible for someone to be half boy, and half girl. I don't recall his answer, but I know I felt badly for poor little Glandular Angela.

    Thursday, July 7, 2011

    Facebook Status Update Rule #21

    Facebook Status Update Rule #21 (courtesy of KLP): Don't complain about circumstances that you have created for yourself (i.e. being hungover, being tired from doing something fun, spending too much money on a new Coach purse, etc.) Check out White Whine- A Collection of First-World Problems for more information.

    Tuesday, July 5, 2011

    Less Of Me

    My ethereal heart has an amazing capacity to hold special memories to the point that some call me a steel trap. Deep within this emotional vault of mine, there's a place reserved for Sheldon Calvary Camp. I've never said or written much about Calvary because I've always felt like Calvary is best learned by being there yourself... it's more experiential than conversational.

    Thus, putting my memories into words would never fittingly articulate its influences. However, as I sit on the shores of Lake Erie for Calvary's 75th anniversary, I feel that I must say something... Why? Well, it's quite powerful (and dare I say, spiritual) to be among people who are celebrating this milestone. Many of us are strangers in the "real world," and yet all of us are connected by this place and to this place.  

    In the conventional sense, I have never been a deeply religious person; but I am deeply spiritual. Most of what I know about being genuine and traveling on a path of righteousness stems from my experiences at Calvary.

    On the bluff sits the chapel (one of the most beautiful houses of worship that I've ever been in), whose walls echo with generations of campers singing songs. One of those songs, "Less of Me," has a clarity and a beauty  to its message... a message that transcends superficial differences and represents my spirituality accurately. So for now, this is the part of Calvary that I want to share with you:

    "Less of Me" by Glen Campbell

    Let me be a little kinder, let me be a little blinder.
    To the faults of those around me, let me praise a little more.

    Let me be when I am weary, just a little bit more cheery.
    Think a little more of others, and a whole lot less of me.

    Let me be a little braver, when temptation bids me waver.
    Let me strive a little harder, to be all that I should be.

    Let me be a little meeker, with my brother who is weaker.
    Let me think more of my neighbor, and a whole lot less of me.

    Let me be when I am weary, just a little bit more cheery.
    Let me serve a little better, those that I am striving for.

    Let me be a little meeker, with my brother who is weaker.
    Think a little more of others, and a whole lot less of me.

    Sunday, July 3, 2011

    It Had an Olde English Aftertaste...

    ...absinthe, that is. But that's getting ahead of myself. Let's start at the beginning: 8:00 p.m., Friday night, Meat and Potatoes. With Heinz Hall across the street, the CLO Cabaret to the rear, and the O'Reilly Theater on one side, Meat and Potatoes might be the new heart of the Cultural District... in location and spirit.  It's a gastrobpub, which was not in my vernacular until I read the definition: a public house (a.k.a. pub) that specializes in high quality food and libations. Our experience proved the defiition to be correct... Meat and Potatoes is "high quality."

    If you know anything about the 20's, you will have a true appreciation for Meat and Potatoes. I know this because in 1995, I drew the 1920's out of the hat for our history class's research projects. While helping me with this project, my uncle, JFG asked me when I planned to use the information that I was learning; and I said with sincerity, "Probably never. Who cares about the Teapot Dome anyway?" I was fifteen, and age-appropriately disinterested in history. Ask JFG about how I fell asleep on the riding tour of Gettysburg a few weeks later. He'll tell any captive audience about that quintessential HGB incident. There were eight of us in a teal blue mini-van and the tour guide was so old that he may or may not have fought in the Civil War. Who can blame me? But back to the topic...

    One look around Meat and Potatoes brought that 1920's research project back to mind. Why? Because Meat and Potatoes is Prohibition chic. In other words, it's a plushly modern speakeasy. With aged mirrors; rich fabrics; creamy, textured wallpaper; Thonet-inspired seating; thick granite tabletops; bare retro lightbulbs; a lone vase of fresh sunflowers; and simplistic place settings (cotton dishtowels for napkins); the decor is as straightforward as the words, "meat and potatoes," but not saturated with faux nostalgia. The only missing element is Steve Buscemi in the corner wearing his Boardwalk Empire apparel.

    Since it was late evening, JTP and I focused on ordering one main course each, and the Moules (mussels) of the Day. There were three options for moules; and we chose the "sofrito, chorizo, piquillo and garlic" pot. We order mussels wherever they are served and by comparison, these were delicious and some of the best. It was a large order for an appetizer, so it's good that we didn't order more appetizers.

    While we were eating the mussels, we noticed that the couple next to us had something interesting on their table. If you know me, you know that I'm not shy, so I introduced myself and asked what they had ordered. They (PSM and NLM) were quite friendly, and told us it was the Bone Marrow (served with grilled bread and pinch pots of sea salt, gremolata, and ramp relish). They were kind enough to let is try it, and to quote them, it tastes like "meat butter." JTP and I agreed with them... this is something you must try at Meat and Potatoes.

    For dinner JTP and I ordered the Braised Veal Shanks (served with sofritto, creamy polenta, gremolata, and ricotta solata)...

    ...and the Pork (served with pastrami bacon, baked beans, and spicy apple slaw).

    The veal was the most tender we've ever eaten, and when paired with the polenta, created a wonderful, savory entree (proving once again, that Chef Richard DeShantz is brilliant). The pork was very flavorful, and adding the beans and bacon to a bite packed in even more flavor. The apple slaw was spicy, and crispy, which is always our preference for slaw. Who wants soggy slaw? JTP brought up a great point while we were eating with, "This place is right in the middle of the food trends: mussels, bacon, and finding new ways to make comfort food relevant."

    PSM (who uses "avant garde" very well in sentences) and NLM were daring enough to try the Meat and Potatoes' namesake menu item... served on a cutting board with a very large knife, onion rings (fried in dough, tasting like gourmet "Funyons"), roasted garlic potatoes, ramp, and wild mushrooms.

    Needless to say, they didn't finish the meal, but not because of poor quality. It's really a meal for four, so they had it wrapped for later.

    At this point, we truly were sharing our meal with this great couple, discussing our favorite Pittsburgh restaurants and neighborhoods. And isn't that one of the best things about Pittsburgh? We are a family... when we want to be.

    For dessert both couples ordered the Pot de Creme; and I almost passed ahhhht from pure bliss. No joke. Chilled hot chocolate creme with a thick, cold marshmallow creme on top is bliss. It was a heavenly "change-of-taste" for after the meal... and the presentation was quite clever (and synonymous with the decor).

    For his "change-of-taste," PSM ordered the absinthe, which we all tried. It tasted much like Sambvca, but warmed the chest much like West Virginia's state beverage, moonshine. PSM claims "it had an Olde English aftertaste," but that argument is up for debate.

    (4 stars, 4/4)

    Meat & Potatoes on Urbanspoon

    New Word

    change of taste (noun) /chayn-je of tay-ste/: that which I need after a hearty meal to cleanse my palate

    Wow, that meatloaf was delicious; but, can we go to the Dairy Queen? I need a change of taste.  

    Friday, July 1, 2011

    Awesome or Flawsome: Chocolate Covered Bacon?

    Awesome or Flawsome? You can check out the first edition of my "investigative reporting" here.

    flawsome (adj.) /flaw-sum/: the opposite of awesome (cool, hip, exciting, awe-inspiring). Listening to Rebecca Black is flawsome, along with getting root canals and sitting in traffic caused by rubber-neckers. 

    If you haven't noticed, bacon is pretty popular lately. Like, if people had to choose between Justin Bieber and bacon, I am sure that most would choose bacon. There's Bacon Freak for all of your bacon accessory needs (don't worry, I'm not promoting a meat outfit like Lady Gaga's... but you can check out this article to see where the meat dress has landed). 

    There's the Baconater at Wendy's. There's the Baconalia festival at Denny's. There's Bacon Night every Tuesday at  Harris Grill and its sister, Shiloh Grill. There's The Daily Bacon, a blog that covers all things bacon-related. And that's just naming a few... 

    This time around, it's chocolate covered bacon. I love bacon. I love chocolate. I love the combination of salty-sweet tastes in my mouth (try Ben and Jerry's new Late Night Snack if you do too). So it's only a natural assumption that covering bacon with chocolate is a good idea (and why not... I mean, people are deep frying butter). 

    Mrs. JTP (JTP's mother) served it on Father's Day. We had discussed it months earlier; and admittedly, I had forgotten all about it.  However, when I realized what was on the platter in front of me, my face lit up (as much as skin can "light up"). Excited? Yes! Curious? Heck yes! 

    Describing this "delicacy"doesn't do it justice... I recommend trying it for yourself if you have similar tastes to mine (and you are not watching your cholesterol). For me, the crispiness/chewiness of the bacon combined with the smoothness/sweetness of the milk chocolate created quite a flavor/texture explosion of yummy. 

    Chocolate covered bacon is officially awesome.