Wednesday, April 04, 2007

If I Had a Million Dollars

I'd open a coffeehouse. I'd call it Snowball's Chance Café and the slogan on the door would read "a hell of a cup of coffee." The coffee would be locally roasted. Any food would be prepared fresh daily and would not contain saturated fats. There would always be in-season fruit and vegetables available. Staff would be paid a living wage so they don't have to live on tips. In fact, I would not allow a tip jar.

This would be more than a place to get a cup of coffee, though. There would be free wi-fi for anyone who brings their computer, and two or three limited-use house computers available for customers. The house computers would be in an area filled with all sorts of career information, local free events, and an official BookCrossing Zone. This would be a community gathering place.

I'd have local music as many nights as I could get it. Community groups wanting to spread out and create would always be welcome, and I'd have a photo gallery showcasing their meetings all over the walls. I wouldn't sell handcrafted items, though, since I am rather particular about that sort of stuff, but we would keep contact info for artists on-hand.

What I would sell that isn't coffee or food, though, are postcards. I'd run an art/photography contest twice a year and the winning selections would be made into postcards. I'd encourage people to write.... postcards, letters to friends and families, maybe even letters to political and business leaders. As much as I love the instant gratification of email, putting pen to paper is still an important means of communication.

I even know where I'd open my coffeehouse... in the city, in what is often considered a "bad part of town." I love this section of Pittsburgh because it has so much more character than the neighborhoods with the Starbucks, Crate and Barrels, and Gaps. I would do my homework so I would know how to deal with a business in an economically depressed neighborhood. I'd be active in the community so that I'd have a better chance at holding out against the chains when they do come, because I know they will eventually come to that area of town.

If I had a million dollars...

Tuesday, March 27, 2007

Julia Child is Laughing At Me

I peeled my first ever tomato today, but, no, that is not why Julia Child is laughing at me. After I peeled the tomato I had to go lie down for a bit, else swoon right there at the kitchen counter.

One of the very few good things about being unemployed is I have more time to cook. My 20-odd years of vegetarian diet prior to moving to Pittsburgh three years ago consisted mostly of pasta, rice, beans, ordinary salads, and, of course, vegetables...but only a few vegetables, and always raw because I hate squishy cooked vegetables and that is usually what happened when I tried to cook them. After moving here, and cooking for, and with, someone not afraid to try different things, I started to expand my repertoire. Soy in all its many forms started appearing in meals. Salads became more than greens and a cucumber. After learning the delights of steaming and roasting vegetables, I even started eating asparagus, a vegetable I thought I hated. Vegetarian cookbooks were piling up in my kitchen and dinner became an adventure.

So, this afternoon I was preparing a new recipe, one with an odd name, Moors and Christians. It is an adaptation of a Cuban recipe and the author of the cookbook, 125 Best Vegetarian Slow Cooker Recipes (Judith Finlayson), says the name refers to the time when Spanish and Moorish were at war. That made me think of the book I just finished reading, José Saramago's The History of the Siege of Lisbon, a delightful contemporary love story with a goodly amount of historic blood and gore spilled by Portuguese and Moors (and yes I know that Portuguese is not Spanish). So I am thinking about the book, which I really enjoyed, as I start peeling the tomato.

I really have never peeled a tomato before. Not in all my 50 years. I usually use canned tomatoes in recipes. But this one calls for one fresh tomato, peeled and seeded. I got my Wüsthof 4.5 inch utility knife (another thing about my new cooking skills...good tools!) and set to peeling. First pull of the skin, my knees buckle. The sound is what I can only imagine skin coming away from meat, human meat, would sound like. It is the sound I hear in my head when reading medieval stories of torture. Scenes in the Saramago book came to life in my head. In my hands I held a pulpy mess of red. Trying to put the images and sounds away, I quickly worked to get the rest of the tomato peeled, seeded and chopped, then put a cover over it and retired to my bed.

I'm going back to canned tomatoes. Already chopped canned tomatoes.

Friday, February 02, 2007

So perfect

Not sure if this is an illegal action, but can't resist. Click the image for a larger view.

Wednesday, January 31, 2007

Remembering Nana

The Morris chair belonged to my great-grandmother, Nana, when she was a child. I used to sit in it when I was little and watch Lawrence Welk with her.

Nana used to make me wear a crinoline to school. I'd take it off as soon as I got there and stuff it in my jacket or behind something if I didn't have a jacket. And then I'd have to remember it before going home.

Nana also used to make my lunch. She was quite active for an elderly woman, but she did get confused at times. One day she mixed two of my favorite sandwiches together by accident, so I ended up with cheese, mayonnaise and jelly sandwich. I ate it because I always ate what Nana made. And I liked it, too! Actually asked for it from then on. Good thing she didn't put peanut butter in with the other three things, 'cause that would have been just crazy to eat.

Sunday, January 28, 2007

Es tu Tigger?

Went to visit the baby tigers at the Pittsburgh Zoo yesterday. Nice to get out of the house for a while. I'm not a huge fan of zoos, but Pittsburgh's is winning me over.

Wednesday, January 24, 2007

Saturday, January 13, 2007


The little spark of hope last week was quickly extinguished this week. Came so close (three interviews) to a very cool job at a very cool tech company here in Pittsburgh, only to find out I'd lost out. And then an opportunity that would have helped me follow a dream fell through on Thursday. I was 100% sure I had the later. 100%. And it fell through. I am having a very hard time getting over this and back into career search mode. And this blog may end up a casualty. I don't much feel like doing anything at all.

Friday, January 05, 2007

Something Different Happened Today

After days of only getting out of bed to give the cat her medicine I decided to do something constructive today and mail out a few more cover letters and resumés. I haven't been sick. I've just been feeling defeated and hopeless. When 2006 ended, I had three decent interviews under my belt and I really thought 2 January 2007 would bring at least one job offer, if not a choice. Oh, how disappointed I was when the phone didn't ring on Tuesday or Wednesday. I knew the companies would be making those calls at the very first opportunity because the positions needed to be filled quickly. I went to bed Tuesday afternoon in a blue funk, and by Wednesday afternoon the funk had become full-blown depression. Didn't get out of bed at all on Wednesday. Thursday morning the phone did ring. A request to come in for a 3rd interview at a technology company I'd love to work for over on the Southside. But, the interview was amazingly short and didn't feel so great. I don't hold out much hope on that one. Never did, even though I've had three interviews. Just doesn't seem like I'm a good fit. Anyway, I went to bed when I got home and this morning I woke up thinking I'd give the cat her medicine, and maybe spend some time reading in bed, since I wasn't really sleepy. Reading is at least productive.

But, instead, I decided to apply for a couple of jobs that aren't exciting or very interesting, but might get me back in the career search mode. Don't know why I changed my plans. Maybe it was an email from a dear friend in the UK who usually manages to make me smile when I'm down. Maybe it was G's gentle hug and kiss this morning when he left for work this morning. It has been an incredibly rough week for him, and he really has put his own pain aside to comfort me. Maybe it was just that damned Protestant work ethic (minus the "being saved" part) I've always had, kicking me out of the bed. Whatever it was, I am very glad for it. Something different happened today.

I stopped at a local Starbucks for a latte, a treat to myself for getting out of bed (maybe it isn't that work ethic after all...), and decided to drink it at one of the tables, from a real mug, rather than take it to-go and risk spilling it or having it get cold while I waiting in the post office queue. As usual, I had a book, The History of the Siege of Lisbon by José Saramago (a true delight), and I had a couple of postcards I had not yet written. So I took a seat by the window, read a few chapters, wrote the postcards, and started to get ready to head out. It was a dismal, rainy, grey, bleak day and the café was crowded with people who looked to be wanting a bit of warmth. One woman, in particular, looked like she really needed warmth. All sorts of warmth. She was putting sugar into her coffee-to-go and a man who had been sitting nearby walked up and quietly struck up a conversation. I was sitting right next to the condiment bar, so I overheard them talking.

He asked if she was from around here. She answered that she wasn't and told him where she lived, which I didn't catch as I really wasn't eavesdropping, just sort of caught in their conversation by my location. She asked where he lived and again I didn't catch the name of the town, but it did seem like it was local because she commented that it is very pretty around here. He agreed, and added "But you don't see many black folk," and laughed quietly. She also laughed, and agreed. They were the only two black people in that Starbucks. And both of them stood out from the well-dressed majority, myself included.

She had on jeans and a long-sleeved hooded sweatshirt. Bright red. It had seen better days, and the cuffs looked like she had been using them as mitts. All stretched out and hanging over her hands. She held the coffee cup tight to her chest, as if it would warm her soul. She seemed so out-of-place, and not because of her color. Just out of place in life. She asked the man about the bus to the city and he told her where it stopped, but said she might have to wait a long time because city buses don't run all that often up here in the northern suburbs. She didn't seemed worried, just resigned.

By now I had returned my cup and was ready to walk out the door. Something stopped me and instead I went over and asked her if she wanted a ride into the city. She accepted immediately, thanking me over and over. We walked out the door together and over to my car, and she told me she had had a terrible day, but didn't offer details. She settled in, not putting her seatbelt on, and I thought I should ask her to do so, but, totally unlike me, I didn't. She offered me some of her cookie, but I declined. As I headed out of the parking lot, I caught sight of someone running up to me in my sideview mirror. A police officer.

I had seen two police cars in the parking lot when I was sitting inside. I didn't think anything of them. Police cars and coffeeshops go together. Seeing the policeman running up to my moving car really scared me. Did I do something wrong taking this stranger in my car? Was she supposed to be with him? With a line of traffic behind me, I stopped and opened my window. He asked if I knew my passenger, where I was taking her, and my name and telephone number. I asked him if something was wrong. He assured me there wasn't, but he wanted to make sure everything was okay. I told him everything was fine and I just didn't want to see the woman standing out in the miserable weather for an indefinite period of time waiting for a bus. He wrote down the telephone number to the barracks and told me to call it as soon as I got home and leave him a message that I was fine. He also wrote the number down for my passenger, and told her to put on her seatbelt. Then he told me to wait while he took down my plate. As he walked off to his car, I called "It's Slovak for "ice cream" (my vanity plate), and he called back, "I know...I'm Polish!" and shouted a Polish goodbye which I can't recall how to spell, or pronounce. I don't even know Slovak... just a few words.... enough to be polite, and sometimes get me in trouble.

Perhaps I should have been nervous at this point. But I wasn't. Not even a little bit. Perhaps the officer thought I was some sort of Good Samaritan and did stuff like this all the time without giving thought to the dangers that might be involved. But, I wasn't giving this woman a ride out of any sense of goodness. I don't normally take strangers in my car. I just did it because there wasn't anything else I was doing and she needed to be warm. It was kindness, but I don't think any sort of out of the way kindness. I wasn't frightened. I didn't consider she could be directing me to drop her off somewhere I wouldn't be safe. I didn't consider she might try to get me to help her in other ways. I just wanted to make sure she got to where she was going without having to stand in cold rain.

As we got on the highway, she told me the same officer had given her a ride from a rural area further north. She said she had trusted someone who had left her stranded up there, with no money. She told me the officer gave her $20 and a ride to the Starbucks. He said he would have liked to have driven her home, but couldn't do that. Then she and I just started talking about our kids (she has four, ages 2-15, and she is 29), our dreams, Pittsburgh, and just general chit-chat you would have with a friend over coffee. The trip to the city went by very fast, even in the driving rain.

She directed me through an area of the city called the North Side. Along the way she pointed out Max's and said it was a great place for dinner. She asked if I like jazz. When I said I did, she pointed out the James Street Tavern and said she knew a guy who "played the horn" there and I should really go and listen. The place looks to be under renovation right now. She asked if I had been to the Aviary, and I said I had. She said it was one of her favorite places. And she asked if I had been to the Observatory, and I haven't. "Oh," she said, "it is the best place to go. I don't know what I am looking at or understand any of it, but I love it."

She spoke as if she had been giving tours of the North Side all her life. She brought everything alive and was so very excited about the area. But then she said she wishes she could leave. Move somewhere different. I told her I had done just that when I moved to Pittsburgh from Boston nearly three years ago. She said it was a brave thing to do. I said it was a crazy thing to do, but it was a necessary thing to do. When I pulled over to let her out, I reached over and hugged her. I am not a touchy-feeling sort of person. I don't even hug friends and relatives all that much. But I wanted to hug Melee (may-LEE). She walked away, not looking back, her bright red sweatshirt like a beacon in the grey rain. I hope she is well right now. I hope she finds whatever she needs in life, and gets a whole lot more warmth and kindness. When I got home I did leave a message with the barracks letting Officer M know I was fine. I am more than fine. I am ready to find my dream.