Loving Lebo

One of the many things I find myself enjoying about Pittsburgh this time around is the restaurant scene. Frank and I go to the Strip District almost every weekend, we head over to Lawrenceville, Bloomfield, the Cultural District, the South Side and on and on. Since moving back we hadn’t yet hit our old stomping grounds, Mt. Lebanon. The reason in part was because this was so hard for me because I LOVE MT. LEBANON. I do!  I think I love Lebo because that’s where we lived the first time around, back in 1993. Frank did a fellowship in Pittsburgh and we bought our first home ever there. Chip, our first born, was just a little guy and I was eight months pregnant with Katie when we landed there. Oh it was just the BEST place for our new, little family. They had a public pool, lots of city services and it was close to downtown. Our neighbors were amazing and we had block parties. I don’t think “perfect” would even be the correct word to describe my love for Mt. Lebanon. We didn’t have that much back in those days but Frank and I always made it a point to go out every weekend for a date night. We would check out restaurants and coming from Ann Arbor, Michigan, Pittsburgh honestly couldn’t hold a candle. Sure, we had a few favorites but Ann Arbor was such a fun food destination and Pittsburgh…not so much. Well, boy oh boy have things changed!!! Ann Arbor is STILL my favorite food town in Michigan BUT Pittsburgh! {{insert audible sigh here}} Well, just check out any major publication and you’ll see I’m not just blowing smoke.

Which brings me back round to Mt. Lebanon. Last Saturday, Frank and I decided to drive to the South Hills and visit Mt. Lebo. It was a lot of fun to retrace our steps, to drive through the Fort Pitt Tunnel and pass familiar sights along the way. Although over 20 years have passed it still looks the same, just as beautiful as ever. It was an unseasonably warm day so we decided to park the car and walk along Washington Avenue. We noticed that Il Pizzaiolo had al fresco dining and we lucked out and got a two top with the warm sun shining down on us. We were hungry but not too hungry and thirsty but not too thirsty. So we kind of ordered two smaller menu items and shared. I started off with an amazing glass of sauvignon blanc. Just sitting outside with my husband, drinking a glass of wine and talking made my heart happy. Our waitress was wonderful and suggested the Gnocchi Verde, little pasta pillows made of ricotta and spinach, tossed in butter, Parmigiano-Reggiano and sage and we ordered Insalata Ceasre (or Caesar Salad to you and me). Every bite was delicious. I’m a sucker for gnocchi and Caesar salad and this did not disappoint. More talking ensued and before we knew it we had eaten everything on both plates. The weather was still warm, the sun was still out and I wasn’t ready to move, so in order to prolong and milk every possible moment out of this experience we each ordered latte’s. Frank had his with some Bailey’s Irish Cream on the side (to celebrate St. Patty’s Day of course) and I had Frangelico with mine. When we finally finished the perfect afternoon the dinner crowd had begun to trickle in. Needless to say, this will become one of our go to’s.

Walking down the street we saw The Saloon of Mt. Lebanon. When we lived there I had always wanted to try this place but for some reason we never really did. I’m going out on a limb and guessing it was because we had two little ones and not a lot of time to frequent bars. I don’t know…just a guess. Actually we don’t frequent bars now, but it is fun to go into a bar and have a beer now and then. The Saloon was full of people celebrating because everyone is Irish on St. Patrick’s Day! We bellied up to a table in the back and began to people watch. Right next to me was a cigarette machine which reminded me of my dad. I’m not a smoker myself but I used to LOVE to pull the lever after inserting the money and delivering a pack of cigarettes to my dad when I was a little girl. They were in restaurants way back in the old days and I swear I haven’t seen once since. After some intense people watching we were ready to drive home. But if you knew Frank you would know that he can eat more than anyone in the entire world and never gain a pound. He is pretty much always up for fifth meal or a second snack or anything that involves food. So as luck would have it we parked by Mineo’s Pizza House…imagine that! At Mineo’s you can sit down and enjoy a pie or you can grab a couple slices and get them to go, which is what we did! I had a bite (because although I COULD eat as much as my husband I know I SHOULDN’T eat as much as my husband) and remembered what all the fuss was about. Next time we are in Mt. Lebanon or Squirrel Hill and hungry for pizza we will definitely be ordering from Mineo’s.

All in all it was a great day because we dined outside in early March. WE DINED OUTSIDE IN EARLY MARCH IN PITTSBURGH, PENNSYLVANIA. Let that sink in. Aaahhhh! I love my life!

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Happy 101

Today is March 15, the Ides of March and it also happens to be my grandmother’s birthday. She was born 101 years ago today in Ontario, Canada. Rose was the oldest of five children, her parents immigrating from Armenia before all the trouble began with the Turks in 1915. Her father, whom I never met, was a professor in his native country but relegated to mining coal in Canada. My grandmother was married when she was 15. The marriage that was arranged and she divorced when my mom and her older sister were very young. I always wonder what it was like to get a divorce in the 1940’s, imagining that it was anything but easy or looked upon favorably. She married the man I called “Grandpa” in 1953. My grandfather came to the United States after WWII ended, in a program championed by Eleanor Roosevelt. He was born in Russia and Armenian as well. By this time my grandmother had been in Detroit for years, working jobs to support her two girls. I imagine she was relieved and thankful to marry my grandfather as he was kind, loving and very handsome. A hard worker and talented, he was employed at a lumber yard. He drove a hi-lo and I loved to go pick him up from work. He lost part of his lung to TB and in a testament of his strength, he took himself to the hospital via a city bus for the surgery.

All the grandchildren called her Nan and she was great fun. There were six of us cousins but my aunt and uncle were only eight and ten years older than me respectively so they were more like cousins as well. We had so much fun at Nan’s house on Minock Street in Detroit. She was game for anything and loved to laugh. She pronounced “Detroit” differently than anyone else, saying “dee-troy’-it” and I always loved to hear her say the word. In the summer when it was hot all the cousins would sleep on the floor in the living room with the fan blowing on us. The winter was my favorite time to spend the night because we would beg to sleep on the floor and my Nan would cover us with quilts and winter coats. It was always a big adventure and so different from my own home. Once we went to McDonalds, all of us kids with my Nan and got a huge takeout order. In those days McDonalds was a treat and not an everyday occurrence. We got so many cheeseburgers and french fries! They came in a big box with a bunch of punch outs that turned the box into a puppet stage and we naturally put on a puppet show.

I wouldn’t say that I was my Nan’s favorite but I felt like I was. I think if you asked any of the cousins they would say they felt the same as me. I was the second youngest though and I did spend a lot of time with her. I got to sleep with her in the little bedroom she and my grandpa shared. We would lay in bed at night and she would tell me stories from when she was girl. It was in that room that I learned she was run over by a street car when she was a child. Amazingly she didn’t get hurt, not one scratch but she did lose her hearing in one ear. She would also tell me how the circus came to Brantford, Ontario where she grew up. The highlight was a whale that came into town on a train. I have to admit that I never believed her. It sounded so far fetched that I thought maybe she made it up to entertain me. Years later I was reading Gloria Swanson’s autobiography and lo and behold she told the same story I listened to my Nan tell many times over.  She often rented a felt board from a local Christian book store and told all of us stories from the Bible via the felt board. It was important to her that we have a personal relationship with Jesus. I still have a Ten Commandments charm bracelet she gave me when I was young. The tiny New Testament she wrote in and gave me in 1967 is in the night stand next to my bed. And I kept a little tiny round pin that was given to every child that visited her church, Brightmoor Tabernacle. It is colorful with a picture of Jesus surrounded by children. I remember you got a comb in the packet as well but that is long gone now. I also saved a couple birthday cards. She would write scripture in every piece of correspondence and to this day I think she had the most beautiful penmanship.

My Nan always had station wagons when I was growing up. First a blue and then a fire engine red one. Nan had long, black hair and in the summer she wore it pinned up. On the back of her neck she had a mole and when my cousin Scott and I would sit behind her in the blue station wagon we used to press her mole as she drove, believing that the harder we pressed the faster she would drive. In the red station wagon, Scott and I were relegated to the very back. We believed this was the best seat because we had our backs to the front of the car and our face to traffic. As we passed other drivers on the road or faced drivers at red lights, Scott and I would make faces, or peace signs or wave. It seems like everything we did was met with approval or laughter by my Nan.

As I got older, my Nan would do kind things for me. When my aunt went to Northland Mall to buy clothes, my Nan always made sure that she bought me something as well. When I was away at college she would send me letters with a ten dollar bill enclosed. When I got my first “real” job, I would visit her once a week and she would make me my favorite dinner: barbecue chicken, pilaf (hers was THE BEST), frozen peas and salad.

My Nan passed away September 28, 1993, just about a month after I had my daughter, Katherine Rose. I miss her and think of her often. I try to be like her in word and deed. I also like to think that part of Nan lives on in Katie. Not only does my daughter look the most Armenian, the most like my Nan, she has the same heart, one filled with love and kindness and acceptance. And she has the same mole in the exact same spot on the back of her neck. Maybe someday she’ll have grandchildren that will press it and be forever shaped by her love, kindness and acceptance.

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Empty Nest, Best Nest?

I love life! I love being alive because the alternative is, well…you know what the alternative is. Have you ever given any thought to what you love about life? I mean, what inspires you to live your best life?

Priorities change, they seem to ebb and flow. When my husband Frank and I were newly married and he was in school, I always seemed to be interested in getting to the next stage of life. Then I had kids and tried to become the best parent I  could be. Reading how-to books, making millions of mistakes and learning from them, growing and changing with our kids…we focused on the four of us. Being a mom is absolutely the best job I have ever had. I loved every single moment, good and not so good. Dance lessons, Scouts, soccer, school activities – these were some of the things that filled my days when I first became a mom. And then all at once those things came to an end when both of the kids went away to school, one after the other. Suddenly the small town that was such a great place to raise a family didn’t have the same draw anymore. I wanted a bigger city. I wanted more to do…more restaurants, more variety, more entertainment options. Kind of just more of EVERYTHING. And more of my kids. Living where we did, it would be difficult to see them as often as we wanted. So Frank and I had to ask ourselves: What will make us continue to love life?

Cut to September 2014 when the hubs and I moved from Northern Michigan to Pittsburgh. That’s a whopping 530 miles door to door, just in case you’re at all curious! All this when we’re in our early 50’s with no friends or family around. Pretty daring, right? I’ve never been as proud of my husband; he embarked on another phase of his career, he was brave enough to take a chance so that we could live out a dream. Would it have been easier and more comfortable to stay put until Frank retired? Sure, but where would the fun be in that? Life is short…even if I live to be over one hundred (which, by the way, Frank and I plan on doing), that’s not a ton of time. Why simply exist when you can really LIVE?

So dear reader, my aim for Empty Nest Full Heart is to encourage you to live life and have fun! To know that a full heart is not only a possibility but a requirement for your best life. I would love to have you come along with me as I share my thoughts and experiences on life, travel, family and fun!


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