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Next time, I’ll give the travel gods a sacrifice…

22 Jul

What a weekend! Whew.

Getting out of D.C. on a Friday afternoon is like trying to escape an impending zombie invasion by driving toward the only bridge out of town. Needless to say, our trip to Pittsburgh started with five hours navigating traffic on I-270, I-70, and the PA Turnpike. PennDOT, in its infinite wisdom had I-70 closed down to one lane for absolutely no reason. There was no one working and the pavement was fine, yet they were too lazy to pick up the cones which therefore led to a huge bottleneck. It was not pleasant. A trip that normally takes me 3 and a half or 4 hours took 5 and a half instead. We got in around 9:30 and headed out for a bite and a beer with my parents and brother.

Saturday was, of course, the big day–my Grandma’s 80th Birthday Party. We spent most of the day icing cupcakes, chopping vegetables, setting up the band, and running out for last minute things like ice, paper plates, and rolls for the pulled pork. After a quick dip in the pool, we all changed into our party clothes.

The guest of honor arrived in style wearing a beautiful black dress and a lovely corsage. Here she is with her daughter, granddaughters, and great-granddaughter. L to R: Sarah, Me, Aunt Armida, Grandma, Lily (the newest addition to the family), and Emily.


Soon, my parents’ backyard was full of family members chatting while an accordion played in the background. This was very clearly an Italian party (haha).


After a few words from my Aunt Armida, Rendezvous (my Aunt Regina’s band) began their set with my cousin John as their guest guitarist. He was in a state of nervous terror, but you’d never have known it by the way he played. He sounded great and my grandma was certainly beaming from her seat on the porch. My Aunt Armida had asked each of the grandchildren to do something special at the party. John played his guitar, Emily and Sarah gave short speeches, and my brother and did what we both do best (albeit verrrrrrrry differently). We sang. I was up first:


I joined the band on their rendition of K.T. Tunstall’s “Black Horse and a Cherry Tree.” As nervous as I felt beforehand, I just kind of blanked out and went with it. It was a blast to sing with a real band (something I don’t think I’ve ever done before outside of choir) and of course, my grandma really enjoyed it. Here she is smiling with her kids, my Aunt Armida and my Dad:

As soon as the Happy Birthday song ended, the kitchen was flooded with cookies (I think people in our family travel with cookie trays at all times), cupcakes, and copious amounts of fruit on skewers. This poor watermelon was impaled and sacrificed for the sake of aesthetics:


Then it was my brother Michael’s turn to be the center of attention. I should probably mention that he is a classically trained vocalist. Like I said, I’ve got the lounge act down, he can have the concert hall! My grandma was also trained when she was young, so she has a deep appreciation for opera. Michael sang two pieces by Tosti without breaking a sweat. All he needed was a swig of Corona in between songs (haha).


As the evening wound down and the crowd dwindled, I sat by the pool trying to make sure that Lily didn’t plunge in face first while she tried to catch the bubbles that the jets made. She reminds me of myself in the way that she “accidentally” slips into the water. She’s going to be quite the little fish. After finishing off the last of her sugar high (people were giving her cookies and fruit all day), she finally fell asleep in the living room. Joe and I gave my cousin Sarah a ride home and then sat on the porch with my brother, John and Katie until 1 am. After everyone went to bed, Joe and I sat out on the porch chatting. With how quiet it was, it was hard to believe that it had ever been remotely chaotic.

Alas, after a nice lunch with my folks and a couple rounds of Wii Bowling the next day, it was time to return to Virginia. For the first hour of our trip, everything went smoothly. Then this happened:


“What is this?” you ask? That, my friends is Joe and I standing at mile marker 131 on the Pennsylvania Turnpike. And yes, traffic is completely stopped. Supposedly, 9 miles ahead of us there was a huge accident that shut down BOTH sides of the highway. Fortunately, my family had sent us on our way with leftover pulled pork and chicken, and I had a bag full of protein bars. We had a picnic standing outside and then cleaned my car out of sheer boredom. Around 2 hours passed and suddenly we saw….cars!

Well, it took another 45 minutes before traffic started up in our direction, so I took some pictures of the sunset.

We finally got home around 12:30 and after inhaling a fudgesicle I crashed. Maybe we did something to tick off the travel gods or something, but this was the hardest time I’ve had getting to Pittsburgh and back. Still, it beats driving the 12 hours from Boston any day. All in all, it was a really fun weekend and I got to see everyone I wanted to see at once.

My boss was kind enough to let me go home an hour early on Monday after I told her about our debacle, so I got home early yesterday and the evening was very relaxing. Joe and I went to see “The Dark Knight” which I was so excited for I could barely sit still waiting for it to start. Since I really didn’t want any single frame spoiled for me, I won’t spoil it for anyone else. But it was undoubtedly brilliant.

There isn’t much on my agenda this week, which is absolutely fine by me. I ordered some samples of protein powder from a fellow WLS patient’s website to see if I can find a palatable chocolate flavor to use for ice cream. I’ve come to a revised conclusion regarding the NitroCore24. While my opinion of it still stands (quite highly, I might add), what I thought was a too-sweet taste from the sugar-free pudding mix I added to the last batch was actually from the powder itself. Others tasted it and didn’t notice, but that doesn’t surprise me. It’s very common for WLS patients to have a sensitivity to very sweet or very salty foods. So, while I will absolutely continue to use it for baking, I’m back to the drawing board for the ice cream. The search is on fo
r something as creamy and smooth as the NitroCore, with just a hair less sweetness. Luckily, the website I ordered from offers sample packets of different kinds, which is nice when you don’t want to spend $35 for a tub of something that might be gross. If you’re interested in sampling bars or protein powders on your own, you can find them here.

Also, I hope to have formed some opinions on the rather bizarre trades going on in the NFL right now, and any other training camp news that might pop up.

I hope everyone had a wonderful weekend. Ciao for now!

I Remember Petr Nedved (and Keith Primeau, too.)

3 Jun

Migrated from ESPN.com blog on Feb. 2, 2011

Originally published June 3, 2008
Last night started out innocently enough. I donned the Mario Lemieux jersey that’s been in my possession since I was nine years old, poured myself a glass of wine, and sat down to watch game 5 of the Stanley Cup Finals.

I figured this one was going to be a doozy, considering the Pens were backed into a “do or die” situation. I expected an evening of heavy hits, scuffles, rocket shots, and goalies doing moves most gymnasts would envy.

With the Pens up 2-1 at the end of the second period, I was just praying they could hang on to the lead and force a game 6 back in Pittsburgh. I barely blinked and suddenly it was 3-2 Detroit.

But it wasn’t those goals that made this game such a jaw-dropping affair. It was what happened with barely 30 seconds left in the game. By then, I was preparing to accept the celebration that would be happening soon. I flinched when I thought about Detroit raising the cup, but I couldn’t argue that they hadn’t fought hard for it. And out of the corner of my eye, I saw Max Talbot. There he was, on the left side of Chris Osgood, shuffling his feet almost nervously and watching for any sign of the puck. It finally arrived. “Shoot it! Shoot it!” I screamed, while my dog looked at me with a confused expression. The first attempt bounced back at him and my heart sank. In the very same second, Talbot batted it past the line and into the left corner of Chris Osgood’s goal. I think I almost blacked out.

Overtime.

Would it be the happy 1996 game vs. the Capitals where Petr Nedved put it to bed in quadruple overtime? Would it be the demoralizing 2000 game vs. the Flyers where Keith Primeau made a shot in quintuple overtime? I didn’t even consider the thought of it being short. Neither team was ready to give up a goal. It took 49 minutes and 57 seconds. By that time, the red on the Red Wings’ jerseys was bleeding into the white, Fleury and Osgood looked as though they were in trances, the bruise Ryan Malone sustained from a shot to the face during the third period was rainbow colored, and the legs of most of the players were jiggling with exhaustion. I can only imagine that they were running on pure adrenaline.

It was a different Petr who was the hero this time. This was the Petr Sykora that said jokingly to the NBC broadcasters in between overtime periods, “Guys, I’m just going to get one, so just don’t worry about the game. I’m going to get a goal.” With that final shot, Sykora sent the Cup back to it’s case and the series back home to the Mellon Arena. Intense. Incredible. And I absolutely cannot wait for Wednesday night. Go Pens!!!

A Moment of Nostalgia

19 May

Migrated from ESPN.com blog February 2, 2011

Originally published May 19, 2008

I usually try to keep this blog tied to current events in sports, but this may stray from that a bit. Yesterday the Pittsburgh Penguins defeated the Philadelphia Flyers 6-0 (ouch) to move on to the Stanley Cup Finals. I’m reading the local free paper on the Washington D.C. Metro this morning and see a picture of an elated Pascal Dupuis celebrating after his second goal of the evening. I can barely sit still. It’s the same maddening feeling I had two years ago when I realized that the Steelers were going to Super Bowl XL.

I was living in Boston and had to have had the most beaming smile on my face for the whole week before (and then after!) the Super Bowl. What’s so maddening about this feeling? Well, there’s no one to share it with when you live in a different city. In Pittsburgh, I know they must be bubbling over with nervous excitement. That is when I suddenly feel nostalgic and long for home.

In the Spring of 1992, I was almost seven years old. Every day my dad would get the paper and after he read it, I would take the sports section and clip out the latest article about the dominating Penguins. I had a binder full of those, along with trading cards for all of my favorite players. Like most Pittsburghers, I was a die-hard Lemieux fan. At such a young age, I didn’t completely understand all of the terminology, but I knew enough to understand that Lemieux was the best player I’d ever seen on skates and that the Pens had a chance to be back to back champions. I understood that the games the Pens were playing at that time were really important. I knew that they had to win them or get eliminated from having a chance to be the champions.

Looking back on it now, I can barely remember specifics about those final games sweeping the Blackhawks. The only thing that remains crystal clear is the image of Super Mario hoisting the Stanley Cup over his head to the sounds of deafening cheers.

…Then suddenly, I’m back on the D.C. Metro, wishing I could wear the Lemieux jersey I’ve loved since I was nine to work. (I’m ever grateful to my parents who bought it in an adult size that I can still wear at age 22!) I’m wishing I could be in Pittsburgh, hearing the Strip District buzzing with excitement, eating over-filled sandwiches at Primanti’s over game highlights, and home in that town full of black and gold.

Two stops later, a gentleman gets on the train wearing a Penguins ball cap. Shortly before I get off at my stop, I tell him that I like his hat and ask if he is excited for the upcoming finals. He answers with an elated “yes!” Not surprisingly, we are both transplants to the area from fairly close parts of Pittsburgh. As I exit the train and begin walking toward the escalator, I catch a glance of him through the train window. His smile is beaming, and I wonder if he’s back home for a moment too…

Go Pens!