Category Archives: The Sunday Salon/Currently

Sunday Salon/Currently: Climbing My Family Tree

Maybe it was President Shithole’s hateful, racist remarks this week about people from other countries. Maybe it was a desire to spend less time on Facebook and more time with other interests.  Maybe I was seeking a distraction from a new development in a situation that’s been weighing heavily on my mind for awhile. Whatever the reason (probably some combination of all the above, plus a snowed-in day), I spent the majority of Saturday hunkered down in a genealogical rabbit hole.

Pittsburgh’s library system has a robust collection of free genealogy databases and subscriptions (including to Ancestry.com!), all accessible with one’s library card. I’ve known this for years but never explored any of these resources — all free, mind you, and the ones that are only accessible in the library happen to be located a mere two floors above my office. We had a major ice and snow storm Friday night into Saturday morning, making the beginning of this three-day weekend a lazy one of cancelled appointments and events. (I really feel bad for The Girl; she was really looking forward to a church youth group sleepover last night. I just wasn’t comfortable driving in this weather. She understood that and made the best of it by staying up late anyway and watching a Bowie documentary on HBO.)

I went on a genealogy binge a few months before the kids were born but never really did too much with it. Wait, that’s not true; I was able to reconnect The Husband’s grandmother with some of her long-lost cousins. That was nice. But wrangling newborn twins didn’t leave much free time for pursuits like climbing the family tree (most days I was just trying not to climb the walls!).

So yesterday I spent some time with my paternal great-grandparents Anton Middleman and Frederika Krause Middleman (also known as Freda and/or Frieda). All I really know about them was that they owned a cigar and candy store on Tioga Street in Philadelphia and that they were immigrants from Germany. It looks like they came to America together in 1889 and got married in 1892. They had six kids, the youngest being my grandfather, Edward.

I also looked into my maternal great-grandparents. According to the 1940 Census, my great-grandmother Mary Schiffler is listed as being the head of her household, which included seven children ranging from age 8 to age 21. This I knew. The Boy reminded me that today would have been my maternal grandfather’s 100th birthday. I miss them.

Currently …
Woke up with a wicked tension headache today which ends my headache-free streak for 2018. It has been two weeks since my last headache. I think that’s close to a record. Right now I have all my go-to remedies underway: hot shower; ginger and turmeric tea with honey; essential oils; Excedrin Tension.

Reading/Listening … 
I finished listening to It Was Me All Along by Andie Mitchell this week. At 20 years old, Mitchell weighed nearly 300 pounds and knew she had to begin addressing her life-long struggles with food, its connection to her relationship with her parents and her sense of self. It Was Me All Along is the story of that journey. I thought this memoir was heartfelt and honest, especially in recounting the emotional, difficult aspects of her childhood. Mitchell does an excellent job of narrating the audio version.

Celebrating …
Our Eagles won! The Steelers on the other hand … well, that’s a disappointment. (My football loyalties are complicated. I’m first and foremost an Eagles fan, but I can’t help but root for the Steelers too.)

Sweating … 
I finally went back to yoga for the first time in 2018 (and the first time since October). Thursday was a stressful day and I just needed some way to release some tension and work some shit out. This was my 3rd yoga class ever — and a hot yoga class at that.  (Hot yoga is IN.FREAKIN.TENSE.) It was hard. Really hard. I spent nearly half the class just laying on my mat. What I really love about this studio is its emphasis on being a non-judgmental, accepting place, especially for newbies like me.

Hope you have a great week!

 

 

 

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Sunday Salon/Currently … Stable Genius with a Big Button

 

“Mars ain’t the kind of place to raise your kids
In fact it’s cold as hell
And there’s no one there to raise them if you didn’t
And all this science, I don’t understand
It’s just my job, five days a week
A rocket man, a rocket man …” 
~ “Rocket Man” performed by Elton John, written by Elton John and Bernie Taupin

A mere seven days into a brand new year and — in what will undoubtedly be a common refrain for many of the 358 to come (should we be so lucky to see them) — this has been quite the week. We’ve had the Stable Genius boasting about the size and potency of his, um, nuclear button. There was a bombshell of a book release with a title that could be most Americans’ motto for this administration. (You know I got myself on the Fire and Fury holds list at the library — #180 out of #542, baby! I like my chances for the audio, for which I’m #37.)

Not to mention the weather has been downright frigid this week, with temperatures more suitable to Mars. All right, perhaps that’s a bit of an exaggeration for the sake of pithy blog fodder, but I think we can come together and agree that it’s goddamned fucking cold. Last night we got down to -14 and that’s the actual temperature, not the RealFeel (of which it was -20 on Friday.)

But here’s a little something that made me feel all warm and toasty. I woke up to find this from The Girl (who had a snow day) as I sat down to have my coffee at 5:30 am.

She’s a keeper, that one. She’s 16, so this is a proud teenage parenting moment for the win. (And yes, for the love of God and keeping the peace, please let it be known that she did spell out AWESOME. My phone camera cut it off and I’m too lazy to retake the photo.)

Reading
I had all good intentions of reading Tell Me More by Kelly Corrigan as my First Book of the Year, but decided I needed to get crackin’ on a review book, considering the review itself was due January 6. I’ll tell you more when it’s released in March. This week I’ll be reading another review book, so I don’t have much to talk about right now reading-wise.  Sorry.  I am reading a back issue of The New Yorker (10/23/2017) which includes this profile of our creepy-and-dangerous-as-fuck Vice President.

Blogging/Writing … 
Still hoping to finish my Best Books of 2017 post and a few other recaps of the year. Hopefully that will happen before, say, the Fourth of July.

I wrote a review for the aforementioned review book and submitted it within 29 minutes of the deadline. A great start to 2018. I’m working on another author piece, due tomorrow, so I need to spend some time with that today.

Oh, I almost forgot the biggest Blogging/Writing news. In what might be a regular occurrence or one time thing, The Husband made a return to blogging with this post (“Heaven and Hell Prepare For Massive Influx of Billions“)  It’s hilarious, but I may be biased. Anyway, consider giving it a look and showing him some blogger love.

Listening …

My current audiobook is It Was Me All Along by Andie Mitchell, a compelling memoir about Mitchell’s tumultuous childhood and how that affected her relationship to food. Mitchell writes candidly about her father’s alcoholism and destructive behavior, her mother working four jobs and preparing elaborate feasts for family gatherings (Mitchell’s descriptions of the food are mouth-watering), and how her traumatic formative years led to her weighing 300 pounds at age 20.

Many of the Goodreads reviews seem to be more complimentary to the first part of the book, but for now I’m finding this to be engaging yet heartbreaking. It seems odd to draw comparisons to The Glass Castle by Jeannette Walls but I think this would appeal to those who connected with that book.

Podcasts of the Week …
Being back to work after a long (12 days!) break means I’m back to podcast listening during my commute. (I alternate between audiobooks and podcasts, depending on my mood.)  For 2018, I want to get back to doing my Podcasts of the Week feature, either as part of these Salon posts or in a separate discussion, because I listen to so much great stuff that I want to a) remember and have a reference point of sorts and b) share it with you.

One that stood out this week was Ezra Klein’s discussion with Jon Favreau of Pod Save America. Both The Ezra Klein Show and Pod Save America are two of my favorites so this was a must-listen.  Others I enjoyed this week:

Getting Things Done: Tips for a Year-End Review (1/1/2018)
The Bob Cesca Show: Fire and Fury (1/4/2018)
The Readers: Farewell 2017 … Here’s to 2018 (12/30/2017)

Watching … 
To my delight, The Girl is on a quest to watch all the great ’80s movies. I am more than happy to oblige. This week her selection was “The Breakfast Club” and now she’s obsessed with all things Ally Sheedy, circa 1985.

Wherever you are and whatever you’re doing, hope you’re keeping warm this Sunday.

 

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Sunday Salon/Currently … Wrapping Up 2017

“And that’s what I think I need to focus on more in 2017 — the moments themselves. Otherwise, the weighty expectations, anxiety, and emotional quagmires become too overwhelming. This isn’t a new realization or epiphany—just one that’s become more clear to me lately. Because yes, even in this craptastic and depressing year, there were some good moments. There’s always some good. Sometimes it’s hidden and hard to find, which means we need to look closer, go deeper. Make no mistake, though: count me among those glad to be drop-kicking 2016 into the ether of time while remaining vigilant of the dark days awaiting this brave new world arriving in 2017.”

~ written by me ( “may we all have our hopes, our will to try“) 12/31/2016

And here we are, at the end of another year … and my God, what a year it was, right? What can I say that hasn’t already been said about 2017? I’m certainly glad it’s over, but at the same time, I’m apprehensive about what the new year will bring. I mean, there’s always some uncertainty but living in these times makes it even moreso. Still, we survived the first year of this godawful regime, which is no small feat.

For this last post of 2017, though, I don’t want to focus on the political.  There’s been plenty of that and next year promises more of the same. I’m planning to resist just as hard — if not more–in 2018. Nor do I want to dwell too much on what was difficult about this year. There have been more than a few disappointments and challenges, ones that won’t vanish at the stroke of midnight. They will still be with us in the days to come. But instead, as I wrote last year, I want to spend the last remaining hours remembering the good moments of the past 365 days while looking ahead to 2018.

Best Moments: Reading 
Reaching my goal of reading 50 books. For those of you who care about such things, I have a separate post in the works with my favorite books of the year and other fun bookish stats.

Best Moments: Writing
Writing for Shelf Awareness where I had 29 book reviews published. In addition to those, I had the privilege of interviewing Douglas Abrams (The Book of Joy: Lasting Happiness in a Changing World), John Boyne (The Heart’s Invisible Furies), Heather Harpham (Happiness: The Crooked Little Road to Happily Ever After), Natasha Pulley (The Bedlam Stacks), and Beatriz Williams (Cocoa Beach).  I only had one review in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, of a book (Lucky Boy) I didn’t like. I say this every year, but I’m hoping to write more in 2018, both on the blog and elsewhere. I need to develop a plan to make this happen.

Best Moments: In the Kitchen 
Getting an Instant Pot!  It has changed my life.

Best Moments: With the Family
Although the weather didn’t cooperate, we enjoyed a relaxing vacation at the shore. It was a nice break in the midst of an intense time. The Boy went to a four week day camp this summer, which also didn’t work out as well as we had hoped. It just wasn’t the best fit. He’s made at least one close friend this year at school and has actually joined an after-school club. He’s been doing a lot of writing. He helped another friend who was considering suicide.

The Girl volunteered at the library this summer, learned how to play the drums (and wants to learn the guitar) as part of Girls Rock Pittsburgh, and participated in two summer writing camp programs. She’s also become quite the artist and is in the Art Club at school. She’s helped several friends in crisis situations, too. Both kids made the High Honor Roll this semester. They’re not perfect — none of us are — and while I wish they would get along better, I’m incredibly proud of both of them.

Best Moments: In Music
Seeing Bon Jovi in concert with The Girl. A great show, even though it was a bit abbreviated because of Jon not feeling well.

Best Moments: At Church
I joined a women’s group at church. We meet monthly and discuss various topics. I’ve really enjoyed getting to know these women. The Girl became more active in the youth group.

Best Moments: Healthwise
I had some routine bloodwork done last week and was surprised to learn my cholesterol and triglyceride levels have actually gone DOWN! I’ve also maintained the 10 pound weight loss from when I was running. I haven’t kept up with running but in September, I decided to try yoga — and I really liked it. That’s among my goals for 2018. Oh, and I’ve also gotten into essential oils.

So, here we are. Another New Year’s Eve. Tonight is no different than any other night. We’re hanging out at home, just the four of us, no big plans. I’m finishing up my 50th book of the year. The Husband’s watching something on his iPad — basketball, I think. The kids are in their rooms, doing whatever. Maybe we’ll stay up till midnight and watch everyone freezing their asses off in Times Square. Maybe not.

Wishing you and yours a happy 2018. See you on the other side.

 

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Sunday Salon … Reading Elf

That’s a photo of one of my favorite ornaments on our tree and among the oldest. I remember receiving it as a child — I’m thinking it was a gift from my grandparents, because it’s the sort of thing my Mom-Mom would have bought me as a kid — but I can’t remember how old I was. Maybe 10? Anyway, I love it. We decorated the tree on Wednesday (I had a vacation day from work).

It’s been a lazy weekend, which is fine with me. Other than grocery shopping, I haven’t done much of anything. The Girl and I had plans to go to the art museum and a craft fair yesterday, but I just needed a quiet day. I planned our meals for the week and prepped some chicken tenders for the kids’ dinners — that’s about it.

We have a mere dusting of snow outside, but nothing compared to what others have gotten. I’m planning to be a reading elf today. I need to write a review of a book I think is going to be a huge hit early next year (can’t say much about it yet) and I have to spend some time with another book for an author interview I’m doing on Tuesday. It’s a nice feeling to be heading into 2018 with several freelance assignments on tap.

This week’s reading included Promise Me, Dad by Joe Biden which was everything I expected it to be — heartfelt, sad, real and honest. I’m planning a full review here on the blog soon, but one takeaway I had from this is while Promise Me, Dad is a memoir about a father’s (and a family’s) grief, first and foremost, it’s also a poignant and sobering reminder about how much we have lost as a country. While his son Beau was in treatment for aggressive glioblastoma, Joe was negotiating and managing world events in the Ukraine and Iraq. His recounting of those situations is like reading a national security brief. The depth of knowledge and understanding about the most volatile and complex regions, the familiarity and trust with global leaders … in a week that included the POSOTUS’s actions in regard to Jerusalem, it just underscores what should be apparent to any rational individual — that these fragile unprecedented times in which we live are being made even more so by the callousness and ignorance of the current regime.

And no, Joe Biden isn’t the author interview I have scheduled on Tuesday — how I wish! — but if I was so lucky, I know I’d be all full on Leslie Knope.

I could watch that Parks and Rec clip on a loop.  I love it.

Hope your Sunday is going well.

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Sunday Salon/Currently … Be Here Now

Currently …
Happy Sunday, everyone. It’s another cold one here in Pittsbrrrrgh today. We’ve had several consecutive days of temperatures in the 20s, making this weather somewhat a shock to the system. It feels like we went right from late summer (a few weeks ago we had a string of gorgeous days in the high 70s) to the dead of winter. Looking back at my Facebook memories tells me that on this day four years ago we had our first memorable snowfall of the season, so I suppose we can count ourselves lucky.

I’m not much of a fan of winter and cold weather. I can handle the cold but it just means that the snow and ice isn’t far behind. Ugh.

Today, I have to work this afternoon and help out at a special event (a lecture and VIP reception) for a few hours. The Boy is a bit under the weather. Nothing major, just the usual change of season congestion and sore throat. Young Living oils to the rescue … I’m diffusing eucalyptus radiata for him and have rubbed Thieves on his throat.

Weekend Recap …
Last night The Husband and I went out for what passes for a big night on the town to us. The Girl was attending an event in the city and it didn’t make logistical sense to drive all the way home and back, so we turned it into an actual date night. We wound up going to The Butterwood Bake Consortium in Lawrenceville for dessert and coffee.

I’ll do a full review of the experience in a separate post, but suffice it to say we enjoyed it.

Reading … 
I didn’t finish any books this week and the book I’m currently reading is a review book, so I can’t say much about that right now.

Listening …
Current audiobook is H is For Hawk by Helen Macdonald, a memoir that has been on my TBR list for awhile.

Be Here Now …
The subject line of today’s Salon post has several references. I loooovvvvveeeee the TV show “This Is Us” and on Tuesday’s episode they played a George Harrison song “Be Here Now” from 1973. I didn’t immediately recognize it until I checked the Spotify playlist (did you know there’s a “This Is Us” Spotify playlist with all the songs from this season and last? You’re welcome.)  I mentioned it to The Husband, who loves everything Beatles-related. The next day, it came up on his Spotify, totally at random, and then I stumbled on a friend’s blog post with that title. It just feels like a message being sent, a reminder for me to … well, be here now. It has relevance for a lot of things lately.

OK, time to wrap this up if I’m going to be at work on time. Here’s George to take us out.

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Sunday Salon/Currently … Fall Back

Currently …

We turned the clocks back last night, as one does to commemorate the first weekend in November. Yay for an extra hour in the weekend.

This has been a fairly quiet weekend. The Girl went to her Sibshop group yesterday and afterwards we had lunch at Hello Bistro (love their salads and fries!) then spent the rest of the day at the library.  I had all good intentions to go to church this morning but woke up with a sinus headache. Perhaps the weather is being a trigger. We had an intense thunderstorm last night and there’s another one underway as I write this — highly unusual for Pittsburgh at this time of year — so because of that and the headache, this might be a short post.

Reading

October was a pretty good reading month. I read four books, three of which were on audio.

Bored and Brilliant: How Spacing Out Can Unlock Your Most Productive and Creative Self, by Manoush Zamorodi.
Listeners of Zamorodi’s “Note to Self” podcast are likely familiar with the five day challenge she hosted to help reduce the amount of time we spend with our phones. This book is an extension of that.

Hope in the Dark: Untold Histories, Wild Possibilities, by Rebecca Solnit
How history shows us that hope is always possible, even in the most difficult times.

What Happened, by Hillary Rodham Clinton
Reflections on the 2016 presidential campaign by the woman who should be sitting in the White House right now.

We Were Eight Years in Power: An American Tragedy, by Ta-Nehisi Coates
A collection of powerfully insightful essays written by Coates during each of the eight years of Obama’s presidency.

Blogging …

Coincidentally, all the books I read in October were all nonfiction, a nice warm up for participating in Nonfiction November. I’m also enjoying discovering new blogs as part of NaBloPoMo.

Cooking

Made a delicious minestrone soup in the Instant Pot tonight. I love soup on Sundays and having leftovers to freeze or take for lunch.

Anticipating … 

Heading to bed now and hoping this headache goes away soon.

 

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Sunday Salon/Currently … Summer’s End

Sunrise over Wildwood Crest, NJ ~ June 9, 2017, 5:23 a.m. ~ Photo credit Melissa Firman

Count me among the many who consider Labor Day weekend as the official end of summer, regardless of what the calendar says. As much as I hate to see the longer days and warm weather leave (because I know what follows), I’m fine with saying goodbye to what was oftentimes a challenging couple of months and welcoming a new season.

I’m cognizant that this is my first Sunday Salon/Currently … post since May and likewise, that my posting frequency in general has been lackluster, with only 8 posts since Memorial Day. There are a few reasons for that. Several issues occupying my attention aren’t bloggable, and those that are — say, like the state of the world and daily onslaught of outrage provoked by Twitler, for example — often leave me apoplectic.

But, I really have missed being here more regularly and connecting with those of you who are actually still interested in what I have to say, so I’m going to try and be more of a frequent presence.

Let’s get caught up by recapping the summer, shall we?

June

We took our first family vacation in two years and headed downnashore. (That means the New Jersey beaches for those not fluent in Philly talk.)  Unfortunately, we picked the four worse consecutive days of the entire summer to spend by the ocean — cold, rainy and damp. Just miserable weather. I know, I know … a bad day at the shore is better than a good day at work, but it would have done our souls good to see the sun more than just the morning we left.

The Girl, during a very windy walk on the beach. She’s wearing a sweatshirt I purchased 24 years ago on our honeymoon.

As disappointing as the vacation was, there were some good moments. The sunrise above, for starters. I happened to wake up early and catch it, and I’m so glad I did. The Girl and I also enjoyed several nice walks on the beach, despite being bundled up in sweatshirts. (We walked a total of two miles on two separate days!) We had some great meals and only one not-so-great, and the place we stayed was fantastic.

Gluten free spaghetti with clams, Poppi’s Brick Oven Pizza, Wildwood, NJ

Mozzarella and Pesto Pearls (tomato, basil, mozzarella, pesto) at Panico’s Bistro, Cape May, NJ

Salmon with grilled asparagus over rice. Panico’s Bistro, Cape May, NJ

Rigatoni with marinara. This bowl was huge. Panico’s Bistro, Cape May, NJ

Mussels. Godmothers Restaurant, Cape May, NJ

We bookended the shore trip with stops in Philadelphia to spend several days with family and that coincided with a cousin’s graduation party. The Boy spent the whole day in the pool and was in his glory.

After we returned, The Boy went to a social skills camp for kids with Asperger’s. He participated in this program last year and it was a good experience. This summer? Not so much. A rough couple of weeks. It was a completely different group of kids and a new counselor from last summer and the dynamic just didn’t work.

The Girl did a writing camp for a week. This was her third year at this camp, which she loves. She also did another one-day writing camp at Chatham University and now she has her sights set on going to college there and working at the library. (She volunteered one day a week and we got to have lunch together, which was nice and one of the highlights of my summer.)

July   

The Girl and I were in a minor car accident on the 6th. Fortunately everyone was fine. My car was banged up a bit and wound up being in the shop for a month. These things are why one has insurance and I’m very glad we do.

Most of the month was spent dealing with some dental woes that involved several emergency appointments (two in one week), a consult with an endodontist (and potential oral surgery), three sick days from work, and copious amounts of Advil (we’re talking close to 12 per day) with an occasional Vicodin left over from my gallbladder surgery thrown in. It all just got resolved three weeks ago — with a root canal, not the aforementioned more extensive oral surgery — and this past Friday night, one of my crowns fell out. Here we go again.

August 

The Girl participated in Girls Rock Pittsburgh, a week-long camp where those who identify as girls and are tweens through age 18 learn an instrument, form a band, write an original song, create merchandise, take part in workshops (confidence building, healthy relationships), and record and perform their song in public. The Girl was initially reluctant to be part of this program but it turned out to be a fantastic experience. She played the drums and we’re now the proud renters of a drum set and an electric guitar for the next year.

Reading 

Between Memorial Day and Labor Day, I read 15 books.

Cocoa Beach, by Beatriz Williams
The Heart’s Invisible Furies, by John Boyne
The Marvelous Arithmetics of Distance: Poems 1987-1992, by Audre Lorde
The Resurrection of Joan Ashby, by Cherise Wolas
The Grip of It, by Jac Jemc
Anything is Possible, by Elizabeth Strout (audio)
The Fifth of July, by Kelly Simmons
The Bedlam Stacks, by Natasha Pulley
South and West: From a Notebook, by Joan Didion
Ageproof: How to Live Longer Without Breaking a Hip, Running Out of Money, or Forgetting Where You Put It, by Jean Chatzky and Michael Roizen (audio)
From Here to Eternity: Traveling the World to Find the Good Death, by Caitlin Doughty
Big Love: The Power of Living with a Wide Open Heart, by Scott Stabile
The Floating World, by C. Morgan Babst
Hit Makers: The Science of Popularity in an Age of Distraction, by Derek Thompson (audio)
Heather, The Totality, by Matthew Weiner

This weekend is pretty low key. Time to bring on fall.

 

 

 

 

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