Thursday, December 30, 2010

Looking Back, Looking Forward

If you know me well, you know that I do NOT make New Year's Resolutions.  Ok, call them what you will, but I do NOT make the traditional list of "items I WILL accomplish" that is supposed to start with a well-intentioned BANG on January 1 every year.

I truly believe that doing so is actual personal sabotage.

That doesn't mean I don't make goals.  So, what is the difference? My goals don't necessarily have anything to do with the drop of the New Year's ball. They are year-round, life-style changes, whereas most New Year Resolutions fizzle out (the success rate isn't great).

Check out this post from last year.

Looking back, how'd I do?

  1. "Thank you".  Yep.  It's a natural habit of mine to vocalize my thanks.  Would I like to be a better thank-you note writer?  Sure.  Will I?  I don't know.  I am however sitting down to write out Christmas "thank-you's" with the kiddo's before Christmas break ends.  It's a start.
  2. "Time with friends".  Check.
  3. "Healthy Body".  It's really no secret that Beachbody has made a tremendous impact on my physical and financial life.
  4. "Daily Prayer".  I still need to work on this one.  It will be a life-long struggle.
  5. "Write".  I said hello to a weekly gig at this year.  
  6. "Morning space".  Nope.  I still don't get along with mornings.
  7. "Move in".  Yep.  Dining Room and Living Room got painted, garage demo'd, new attic playroom set up, kitchen overhauled, media/workout room organized.
So, do I have any plans for 2011? Yes.  Will I start them on January 1?  No.
  1. Accomplish P90X.  I'm doing so with over 20 other people.  My Beachbody business has grown leaps and bounds and thus, along with P90X, I'll continue to work this particular "love" as a real job.
  2. Daily Prayer.  I'm doing so by meeting for prayer one morning a week with two very special women in my life.
  3. Write.  I'm continuing with Pittsburgh Mom and will continue to hunt down new opportunities.  God has given me a new idea this year, and I've already contacted two writer friends to see if they will join me.  I would also like to get Cuppa Jo, and some older versions of that blog, made into books this year.
  4. Mornings.  I think, with the addition of P90X, I may need to get mornings kicking.  Ugh.
  5. Move in.  Time to tackle my bedroom (paint), create an outdoor patio space, and print and hang family photos.  Plus, I'd like to complete a photo book of our move in 2009.  I won a free photo book from Vistaprint - time to get it going.
  6. Pay off.  I got a good amount of debt paid down this year.  For 2011, I'm targeting a specific card.
That's it.  

Notice that three of the desires I have, include involving other people in the task.  There's nothing like asking others to join you to really get the party started.

What are your YEAR-LONG plans?

Sunday, December 19, 2010

But Enough About Me: Repost from The Bridge

This piece was recently published in The Bridge, a local publication for which I am a contributer.

But Enough About Me


It's fun to say.


Biba, a Latin dialect of the Spanish, bebida, means “drink”. But to hear the true inspiration behind the name of this new restaurant, check in with owner's Jason and Chrissy Benegasi.

“It's named after our dog.” Talk about honoring the legacy of your beloved pet. Biba, your name now lives on through Beaver's recent addition to ethnic dining. Good dog!

I sat down with Jason one October evening while under a tornado watch. A little wind and the threat of being whipped in the face by flying piles of crispy leaves wasn't about to stop me. I've played Dorothy. I know the adventure a twister can bring. There's no place like Biba!

Entering the restaurant, I was struck by the spaciousness of the tiny venue. Surprisingly, with room for only 11 tables, seating wasn't tight. And although Biba is considered one of Beaver's more upscale restaurants, there wasn't a hint of snootiness.

Jason, formerly of Lidia's Pittsburgh, dreamed of opening his own place for years.

Why Beaver?

“Beaver is obviously up and coming. It's a unique small town with a main drag feel – not commercial.” Here, we veered off, swapping opinions on local business vs. corporate establishments as it pertained to certain coffee shops. You can ask him for his thoughts on this subject. I agreed not to print details. Wink.

“Beaver is happening. Everyone here is really into their little town.”

He's exactly right. We adore our little town. What's not to love about our “main drag” which now boasts the flavors of Cuba, Jamaica, Puerto Rico, Peru, and Argentina, thanks to Biba, whose menu specializes in dishes from South America and the Caribbean, along with Central American and Mexican influences.

“Folks may not recognize what's on the menu, but it's really nothing weird,” Jason joked. Chicken, steak, pork, and fish are regulars in the line up, with some new surprises coming in December.

Not to be confused with tapas, (a rumor I think I actually started – oops), Biba is a Latin seasonal restaurant, offering “small plates” (as well as larger dishes) from a unique menu which changes weekly. “Sticking to their guns” by using seasonal, fresh, and local ingredients, Jason shops with venders from our very own community. And while one might find the prices a bit startling at first, the finest ingredients combined with the talent of Executive Chef David Plankenhorn naturally comes at a premium.

I act nonchalant when Jason asks if I'm hungry, but truthfully, I was so hoping he'd ask.

He whips up two of his favorites: a jerk chicken taco on a home-made tortilla, topped with cabbage, pineapple/Serrano pepper salsa and a drizzle of sour cream, followed by a soft taco filled with jumbo lump crab and chorizo, sprinkled with onion and chihuahua cheese.

“You may need a fork with that one,” he shares. Nope. I had no intention of attempting proper table manners. Those tasty tacos were gone in a snap.

No sooner had I finished than Chef David, a former Chocletier, quietly laid a spoon of chocolate gonache on my plate.

I love him.

Venture into Biba and be treated to a meal that will stretch your culinary palate with dishes from countries far beyond the land of Beaver Bobcats. And if you find “new” to be strange and intimidating, and aren't brave enough to go it alone, allow me to accompany you. I'll even hold your hand.

Biba is located at 406 Third Street. (724) 728-7700. Tell them Joline sent you.

Strip Searched

I don't know what took me so long.

Sure, there was that quick trip down to Klavon's on the last day of school back in June, but that doesn't count as a real trip to the Strip District in Pittsburgh.

There was also my half-marathon which took me through a deserted Strip District one Sunday morning in 2009.  It was vacant.  Shops closed.  No bystanders cheering me on.  It was my least favorite leg of the trip.

Today, however, was glorious.

Visiting the Strip was EVERYTHING I hoped it would be.

I ventured down this morning with Harper and my neighbors - cup of coffee in hand and grocery list in my purse.  The drive down took no time.  I still marvel at the lack of traffic that I hit whenever I wander into the city.

The Strip District was already alive and bustling with activity.  9:15 was pretty late for a visit to the area (especially a week before Christmas).  The crowds were thick and street vendors were hours into peddling their wares.  The sound of "Fresh bread!" rang through the air.  It was kind of like the "Who Will Buy" moment in Oliver - only with a rousing tune about the Steelers amplified above it.

Of course I bought some of that bread.

Actually, I bought the largest, most yummiest pepperoni roll I've ever scarfed down, for the cheapest price I've ever paid.  The thing was massive and fed four of us for $5.00.

My purpose in visiting the Strip, a week before Christmas, was to get some authentic Italian meats and cheeses for my annual antipasto, plus some surprise goodies for my parents who just can't get items like frizelles, and tarelles on the MD shore.  Last year, I tried to get all my ingredients at an Italian market in Monaca, only to have that plan fall short when I arrived to find them out of mozzarella balls.  I'm sorry, but what true Italian market runs out of mozzarella balls?  It's a staple.  Like flour.

So, I resigned myself to picking everything up at Giant Eagle, and while the antipasto was terrific - this girl really loves her cured meats - it was lacking the experience.  Back in Chicago, I loved visiting a certain market every year to get my goods.  The smells, the languages being spoken, and the hustle and bustle of everyone getting ready for Christmas by hitting up the deli counter,  was an experience - a treasured one.

I've been searching for that.

Now, I know everyone is all, "You gotta go to the Pennsylvania Macaroni Company", and I did, for the jarred ingredients and the tarelles, but for the meats and cheeses?  When I arrived the crowd was enormous.  My letter/number was G40.  The number being called?  E17.  The numbers went up to 100.  So, do the math.  And that was for the cheese counter only.  I didn't even have a number for the meat counter.  I was so sad.  I had been warned that this would happen.  Not even the announcement that they were serving free wine in the back room helped ease my disappointment.  I wasn't getting my stuff here.  I resigned myself to purchasing the ingredients at GE.  Again.

But, my neighbor, who is far more Strip-saavy than me, suggested we return to the deli where I first purchased that luscious pepperoni roll.

We returned to Sunseri Brothers (Jimmy and Nino's place) where I approached the deli - which was far less crowded then the Macaroni Company.

"Do I need a number?"

"Everybody pick a number!" was the response.

Which is when the handful of customers, including myself, all began yelling out random numbers in chorus.  With laughter.

I turned back to the guy and told him I was number one.

He chuckled and got my order of sharp provolone cut, while a male customer asked what cheese I was getting.

"Sharp provolone.  If you've never had it, you need to."

"Hey!  I'll take the half she doesn't purchase!"

The man helping me asked if the orders were together.

"What? For us?  What are you suggesting?  We just met!"

More laughter.

The climate was festive, everyone chatting, talking, and laughing over the coincidence of all having picked the number "one".  The feel was so different from the shoulder to shoulder ("excuse me", "pardon me", "coming through") mob over at Penn Mac.  And not only did I get great products, but Harper was able to hang with our neighbors on the deli's second floor while sipping a drink and munching on that same pepperoni roll. (We got hours of meals out of that thing).

This particular deli was so much more relaxing and "homey" than the bumper to bumper traffic inside "THE place", and I walked away with all the meats and cheeses that I needed and a warm feeling in my heart.

THIS was the Strip experience I was hoping to find.

"Wait!  Do you have pepper frizelles?"

"No.  Can't get 'em."

"Ugh.  My father is gonna write me out of his will.  I promised him."

Perhaps I'll need to make them myself?

The Strip is THE place.  Next time down?  DeLuca's for breakfast with the family.

And not only did I find my Italian deli of choice on my first visit to the Strip, but I also grabbed a sweet hat from a street vendor.

Cured cuts and cute caps.  I'd call that a great day.

Yinz have a favorite place dawn in da Strip?  Dish.

Monday, December 13, 2010


Thought I'd share a few blog posts and articles that I've read (or written) as of late.

From Ordinary Time (Life in the Big Ugly House), Elizabeth shares her Parenting Top Ten List.

Coach Jamie has a nice piece summing up the majority of excuses we have when it comes to incorporating regular, intentional exercise into our daily lives.

The latest issue of The Bridge is out!  You can read my thoughts about Biba, a new local restaurant, here. Scroll down to my column, "But Enough About Me."

This one really touched me.  If we all could be this generous.

Do you have any favorite blogs, specific posts, or articles that have made an impact on you?  Please share!

Thursday, December 9, 2010

THE Zaneism of the Year

Harper was reading to us when she came upon this sentence,

"And they came to find that 'so and so' grew an entire foot since last Christmas."

Without skipping a beat, Zane responded.

"Why?  Did he lose one last year?"

Monday, December 6, 2010

Merry This . . . Happy That . . . Um, This May Sting A Bit

This is a re-post from December 4, 2009.  The original post and comments can be found here.

I am a born-again Christian.

I believe that God became human, coming to us in the form of a baby named Jesus and would go on to suffer and die on the cross as payment for the sins of all man/womankind. I believe He rose again from the grave, thus conquering death, and that all can know Him personally during life here on Earth before joining Him in eternal glory.

I'm not interested in debating this. So don't start.

I believe it. I experience Him daily. I hear Him. I see Him. I have watched Him change the hearts of people, mine included. I have a unique ability to see His handiwork in the seemingly small stuff that I encounter in both my daily life, and in the lives of others. He has fashioned me this way. Where others see despair, I see hope - even when life is bleak. Yes, I experience darkness like any other human, and yet there is a wellspring of hope that floods my soul.

That Hope is Jesus.

Ok, now that I've shared this testimony, let me get right to it.

(Deep breath)

I find this whole debate over whether one should say "Merry Christmas" or "Happy Holidays" pointless and a complete waste of time. And, to go one step further, I believe it's just one more thing that widens the chasm and hinders our conversations with non-believers.

"But, but . . . ", you say. Just relax. Don't hurt yourself.

Obviously, I celebrate Christmas, and in doing so wish others a "Merry Christmas", for I hold in my heart the conviction that Christ is real, and in my head, the knowledge that I have both the freedom of speech and the freedom to worship.

And yet, I can not ignore my childhood years which were spent in a culturally diverse area and my 18 years in Chicago, surrounded by those who come from a variety of different faith backgrounds. I am thus accustomed, for instance, to wishing my Jewish friends "Happy Hanukkah". They, in turn, have always wished me a "Merry Christmas". In my relationships there has always been a mutual respect for one's personal faith.

I have often found dialoguing with those of different faiths to come, well, easy, having shared my faith with Jews, and Buddhists, and Mormons, through simple conversation, rather than by means of a one sided monologue where I do all the talking outlining why I worship Jesus.

Ping pong. Tennis. Back and forth. It's called discussion.

See, in our country, as opposed to others, we have the freedom to worship any way we choose.

While I happen to believe that Jesus is indeed the Way, the Truth, and the Life, others, do not. Thankfully, they live here, in the United States, where they have the freedom to worship - just as I do. Do I want them to know the love and forgiveness of Jesus? Of course! Do I believe that all streams lead to the big ocean - or whatever that saying is? Nope. See, I really do believe that Jesus is the answer. I do.

And yet, I could care less whether a clerk at a store wishes me "Merry Christmas" or "Happy Holidays" while I'm shopping. Look at me. Closely. How would one even know whether I celebrate Christmas just by looking at me? Honestly, based on looks alone, they'd be more apt to wish me "Happy Hanukkah." Oh yeah, I can pass. And that's from the mouths of my Jewish friends.

And secondly, why would I even expect a secular organization, like that of a corporation, to be committed to furthering the cause of Christ?

For that matter, why would I expect the choreography on the American Music Awards to be wholesome? Why should I be shocked by Adam Lambert? For what was he doing that was so contrary to what the "world" considers "entertainment."

I think we expect too much from the "world" - and when they don't comply with our beliefs, we stand in judgement. We stand in judgement over those who don't posses the power of the Holy Spirit to even assist them in making choices that would glorify God. We stand in judgement over those who don't even profess to know Jesus.

Sorry. That's not our job. That position has already been filled.


Instead, we threaten to boycott stores - stores whose ultimate purpose has absolutely nothing to do with expanding God's kingdom in the first place, but rather whose goal it is to make a profit. Why boycott just because the check-out person has been told not to wish you a "Merry Christmas"?

I don't remember Jesus boycotting dining with tax collectors, ignoring women of ill-repute, or moving to the other side of the road so as not to bump into lepers. He went where we are afraid to go.

(No, no, no . . . I'm not calling businesses crooks, (some are) adulterer's, (some are) or diseased (some are). I AM saying that Jesus didn't run from tough conversations.)

I propose that we are simply afraid to enter into a natural dialogue with those of different faiths, and those who may hold a different opinion regarding the season, and instead, hide behind our catchy slogans and phrases.

If it is so important to "Keep Christ in CHRISTmas", or if "Jesus is the reason for the season", how about upon being wished a "Happy Holiday" we resist the urge to pull a John Wayne, quickly drawing the "Merry Christmas" from the spiritual holster and firing it off in defense, and instead, actually engage that person in a simple exchange.

"Thank you. I celebrate Christmas. How about you?"
I'm sorry to tell you that the words "Merry Christmas" do not hold some sort of special evangelistic power. But by initiating true conversations with others, (albeit brief at times) rather than throwing out our scripted answers (sweetly, of course) and walking away with our purchases, we have actually offered more than the statement "Merry Christmas" could ever supply.

As we move away from trying to prove a point, and move into sharing a real moment with another human being, there is the possibility of leaving a lasting impression that will far exceed the month of December.

They will know we are Christians by our love, not whether we wish someone a "Merry Christmas".

Don't' get so bent out of shape.

You're going to pull something.

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Advent Thoughts

The town of Beaver thought it clever to get a major jump on the Christmas season by putting up the customary holiday wreaths and red velvet bows, THE WEEK BEFORE HALLOWEEN.

Yes, had I taken any photos during the Halloween parade, you would no doubt be able to make out the lampposts lining our main drag - all adorned in their Christmas best, while my Jawa, British punk rocker, and an entire host of ghosts, princesses, and the cast of the Wizard of Oz walked the street.

Back in Chicago, WLIT-FM dropped its regular Adult Contemporary programming on November 10th in order to flip over to 24 hours of Christmas music beginning with the the playing of "Jingle Bell Rock" by Bobby Helms.  Holiday Lite will continue until December 26th.

I adore this time of year.

But if it seems as if the Christmas season is creeping up on us faster and faster with every passing year, (you know the old cliche, "I can't believe it's already December), it's because it truly does feel like it.

Whether it be the introduction of holiday decorations, or the playing of Christmas music before Thanksgiving even rolls around, our December is being pushed back to October.

What happened to waiting with anticipation????

Here's some reading for you.

Want to hear a 12 year old's thoughts on this subject?  Check out what The Missy Times has to say.

Ever heard of "Chradvent"?  No?  Many celebrate this new tradition.  Do you?

And over at PittsburghMom, I wrote a tiny bit about how I approach the season.

I realized only today, that I've written about advent in year's past.  Here's a post.  And yet another.  You'll find one of my favorites right here.

Too much to read?

Maybe you ought to make yourself a cup of hot chocolate, tea, or better yet, coffee, and sit down for a bit.

Slow down.  You move too fast . . . yeah, I know that's a song.  But, really.  Pull back a bit with the rushing into and towards Christmas Day.  For Christmas morning was never meant to feel like the finish line.

But, rather, the Start.

Be well.