Monthly Archives: November 2011

Snow Memories

By Mary

Just as the meteorologists predicted, the world is covered in the first coat of snow here in Southwestern Wisconsin. Snow is not an element that I welcome with peace. However, I have been musing of favorite snow memories. In the past I have had my share of good times in the flakes: Slating, sledding, the traditional first snowfall ride that I would take on my horse, building forts and jumps, and of course making snow angels. No childhood snow memories are as dear to me as a later favorite snow memory though.

This memory takes me back to Raminika.

Raminika is a poor military village far, far away in a mountainous region of Russia dotted by the shrubbery of trees and little dachas on steep hillsides. When I spent the winter in Russia, there were times when I would make the 4 hour round trip from the city of Vladivostok to the little village of Raminika. I would go with a most  joyful group of Catholic sisters that had originally come over from Spain. The trip would be a vernacular collage of Russian, Spanish, and English. The only background noise that could be understood by all passengers was the emotional booming opera music that the sisters were especially found of playing while navigating the twisting roads on those longs trips into the countryside. The operatic ensemble was a deserved relief to the sisters, some of whom would make the trip up to 5 days a weekly. A children’s center had recently been opened by the order for children to have a safe place to play. In addition to making the trips to the village, the sisters also taught at the University in the city and maintained a very detailed prayer life.

While I viewed these incredible ladies with utmost admiration, it was perfectly evident to me that the children at the center did too. On the days that I rode along, when we would arrive at the little rented building, a flock of children would greet us. Entering into the cramped space, the charismatic Sisters would be right in the midst of the excitement, chasing balls and dancing with the children.  Every child there would get to drink heavily sugared tea from a plastic cup and have a large chunk of donated bread as an early afternoon meal before playing more games and heading home before dark.

I can still remember the taste of the bread, the sweetness of the tea, the hours and hours of volleyball that I would play with the kids, and the painful Russian lessons that a gaggle of school-aged children would capture me to partake in!

One Saturday, a young woman from the University in the city made the trip with the Spanish Sisters, and just before dark she asked the golden question in the golden language (English!) ” would I like to take a walk with her?”

This walk turned into my favorite snow memory ever. The stillness and crispness of the cold after such a long day in the midst of the close quartered commotion greeted me with a special refreshing lure. My breath floating like a white sheet of fog into the cold air calmed me as we set off to view the fallen ruins of an old military officers club at the edge of the village.

After some time of walking, a little girl who looked to be about seven or so and who had been one of my former volleyball buddies throughout the day, ran up from behind us and linked her little arm in mine. How I enjoyed our unspoken friendship on the remote walk in the crisp snow. After some time, we came to a shack with straw spread in front and a rusty clothesline spread with the hanging of frozen laundry.

My new friend waved goodbye to me. I hugged her and watched as her blue coated back darted into the little house. And just for a second everything seemed beautiful.

Even snow.

A Family Friend So Dear to Us

by Clare

This man is crazy. But in a good way.

Peter Drake has been living with us since I was five years old, and I can barely, if at all, remember a time when he wasn’t in our house. At times this makes me angry, feeling that I shouldn’t have to share my family and my home all my life with a man who’s not even related. But I know that Peter has been nothing but a gift to us, and living here has been a giant blessing for him.

Peter is a very eccentric person, truly one of a kind. After leaving the Navy, he spent much of his money buying an encyclopedia set and read the entire thing. And somehow he retained all that knowledge, spouting out things most people will never know. He loves digging into visitor’s family backgrounds, and gets awful excited when he finds something interesting (he loves to tell everyone about how he is 1/32 African American). He often comments on how much he’s enjoyed meeting our family and our family’s friends, and how these people are some of the best he’s ever met. He especially enjoys telling Ole and Lena jokes, which are always a crowd pleaser.

He grew up in what was probably the craziest town with the craziest people who ever lived, and the stories he tells about his younger days are things you’d think only happen with characters from a ridiculous Hollywood film. A lover of all things Norwegian, he often attends Norwegian events in the area, and loves parish lutefisk suppers.

Peter is not a picky person to house. He eats pretty much everything we serve, and loves it, and it very quiet and peaceful. Except for when he is on the phone. I think he think that for the person on the other line to hear you, you have to shout very loudly and distinctly into the phone. It’s kind of amusing. He only complains when his heater is not heating his room well enough, or if, God forbid, the coffee runs out. For Peter, when the coffee runs out, the world stops.

Peter’s a hater of sports, and couldn’t care less about any of it. My dad teases him terribly about it, asking him if he’s been keeping up with the Green Bay Packers, and if he thinks they’re defense is off or not. This disturbs Peter greatly, and makes him raise his voice and shake is head and state , “I don’t know, I don’t know!” There are often a few swear words mixed in too. Swear words are a regular part of Peter’s vocabulary. I think it’s just a habit. He and my dad have kind of a love-hate relationship. They’ve been friends for years, and my Dad’s the reason Peter’s not still stuck in a nursing home.

He’s also extremely generous, and is always giving away Social Security money to a worthy cause. A convert to Catholicism, he sometimes has trouble making it over across the road to church, because he’s often struck with a sudden dizziness that inhibits him from making the long walk. We call it dizzy disease, but we should call it a mental disease, because its all in his head. There’s nothing wrong with him really.

Fact is, I could tell you a million things about Peter Drake, and I’d still have more to say about him. He’s a character alright, and we’re sure glad to know him.

Happy Birthday, Peter Drake!

The Belle of Halloween

By: Mary

Many years ago I made a special effort to have a fun Halloween. This effort involved driving across the country to Chapel Hill, NC with my older brother Rob and with Cale to go to a street party . From start to finish, this was a very bad plan. I ended up spending the weekend in a fetal position on Kate’s cabin floor vomiting and sobbing while the flu hit down hard.

Skipping ahead to 2011, I put much less effort into making fun happen, and had a super fun day. Cale and I opted to attend a costume party at a family friends house. We were about 15 years younger or older than everyone else (minus Clare who tagged along much to her regret).

It took me about 1o minutes to throw myself together as Bell from Beauty and the Beast. Cale decided to stop at the store on the way to boy a $3 mustache for his costume. When we got to the store, Clare told me that I shouldn’t get out of my car. Well, I may not be like my older sister who traipses about Pittsburgh in a ball gown with the baby in a sling and her harp, but I can handle going into Wal-Mart on a rainy afternoon as Bell in my yellow bridesmaid dress.

Cales humor was infectious. Clare didn’t get infected by it though because she was careful to stray behind us at a distance. I think she just needs to grow up to realize how much fun it is to be a kid.

The toy isle hasn’t been such fun to me in years! I almost made the impulse buy of a  tiara, but I stood strong.

The Halloween isle was equally as tempting to Cale. An Angry Bird thingamabob was beckoning to him. He tried to use his 26 year old logic to prevent him from wasting $21 on it. He walked away, really I promise you!

But the Angry Bird was just too tempting, so back he went to buy it.

I was still laughing when we left the store. Out in the parking lot a little girl said loudly to her mom “look Mama it’s a girl in a beautiful dress!” Clare slyly stuck her tongue out a the preschooler.

When we got to the party Cale became Angry Bird.

Clare was a girl from the old west in my boots and a costume from Colleen.

Being Bell meant that the little girls at the party wanted to hangout with me.

What little girl doesn’t want to tag along with a fake princess? The Angry Bird was a hit with the kids too. He jammed down in the basement on a guitar. Clare liked the resident Saint Bernards.

Celebrating Halloween year was great. I hope you readers all hade a wonderful Halloween too.

Until next time,

~Belle

Caffe Mona

by Kate

There are benefits to setting out on foot to pound the pavement hanging posters all over town. I have been flyering for rock shows and Shakespearean productions and dance performances and bellydance classes for years now, and have come to love the work. It’s a great way to learn a neighborhood, and to discover where to find everything from an amazing bookshop to a great cup of coffee.

Yesterday I was hanging flyers for the  grand Gala Bellydance Show featuring Sherena happening Saturday here in Pittsburgh. It is going to be a great show, and if you are in the area you should come. Live band, great dancing, Turkish food available for purchase, beautiful space, family friendly, kids under 12 get in free. In the course of my ceaseless promotions, I stopped to hang a flyer at the Caffe Mona.

The Caffe Mona is located just across the street from the gargantuan and internationally renowned Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh. As coffeeshops often do, it has recently undergone a change of ownership. By all accounts, the former owner was a bit… aggressively friendly, particularly with female customers. Perhaps as a result, the new owner is distinctively courteous and respectful.

He is also Turkish, which means I heavily encouraged him to attend the upcoming bellydance show, and also that the menu at Caffe Mona is extremely enticing. The Caffe does catering as well as a full line of breakfast including sweet and savory seasonal crepes of all sorts and salads and sandwiches for lunch and dinner. My flyering companion had a pumpkin stuffed crepe, and I was torn between the Caprese Bagel or a Steak Omelet. I had the Omelet, but I’ll definitely head back for the bagel. The coffee is very good.

And the general atmosphere is warm, welcoming, and calm. I imagine that it would be a welcome respite for the staff and visitors at the UPMC Children’s Hospital across the street.

It was also a great place to have breakfast with a friend and a wiggling, ululating toddler. Meaning that perhaps during our stay there it wasn’t as great a spot as usual to get some work done in a contemplative manner.

If you’re near the Children’s Hospital or looking for a new coffeshop or lunch experience in Bloomfield or Lawrenceville any time soon, check out the Caffe Mona.

And now, if you’ll excuse me, I’m off. I have some flyers to hang.

Running in Sewanee, Tennessee

by Colleen

45 degree weather never felt so good as it did this past Saturday as I ran in the last cross country race of the season in Sewanee, Tennessee.  Yes, I am quite in the same mind as Mary about winter weather and cold and gloom and all that, but coming from Dallas  (same old sun and 80 degree weather), I was completely exhilarated by the fall weather.

On Friday afternoon, my cross country team and I flew out of the DFW airport, and touched down again just a few hours later in Chattanooga, TN, in weather that I would typically dub horrid.  It was cool, gray, and rainy.  And absolutely gorgeous.  I wore a sweater!  After dinner in a beautiful renovated train station, the team and I explored a little.

We all ended up on one of those famous Chattanooga Choo-Choos (do you know that song?  I do-thank you high school choir!)

Soon enough it was off to bed, and morning came early.  Well, relatively.  Although both of my roommates at the hotel set alarms along with me, not one of us woke up.  We ended scrambling down to the bus with breakfasts in our hands.

The course for the race was absolutely beautiful.  We were running on the campus of Sewanee College, “The College of the South”.  It didn’t look southern at all, though.

There were little stone cottage-like houses for the students, and everywhere there were trees in the height of their autumnal beauty.  I expected to see smoke rising from the tiny chimneys, and missed our chubby black woodstove back home.  (We had a very close relationship-I have the burn marks to prove it).

We got out and ran our warm-up, and boy, did most of the UDers need it!  It was quite brisk out, even for a Wisconsinite.  I stretched and simultaneously posed for pictures quite nonchalantly, so cool in my head band from my little brother, James.

And then we were off!  Running up and around and crunching over the glorious fall leaves, breath frosting the air before our cold noses.  I didn’t run the fastest race of my life, but in the end it didn’t matter.  I was just happy to be there with my team and doing something I love.  Our team ended up getting 9th out of 10 at the Conference meet, but we still had the heart to celebrate.  The world is beautiful, especially when there are maples leaves to throw in the air under a sunny fall sky.