Friday, April 29, 2011


After a month of disarray, our leaky bathroom is as good as new! New pipe, new fixtures, new paint.. all done on a budget.

What started as this:

Is now this:

My husband and our friend, Jim Sandor, worked hard to tear up the room, make the repairs, and put it back in order. I supervised. Not really, but I did help pick out furniture and trim the walls with paint.

The pink bathroom still has a cardboard box covering the floor.

Maybe we'll start a trend.

Sunday, April 24, 2011

oh glorious day

"Let the resurrection joy lift us from loneliness and weakness and despair to strength and beauty and happiness." - Floyd W. Tomkins

Fasting is over, let the season of jubilee begin!

After a somber Good Friday service, I quite enjoyed ending my Lent fast with a mini Blizzard from Dairy Queen. The same friends who invited us to DQ that night, invited us to their family's annual Hungarian Easter meal on Saturday. Oh, what a feast!

Today, we sang in our church's Easter cantata and spent the rest of the afternoon with our friends, the Sigels. I made my traditional Martha Stewart blueberry-lemon bundt cake with the lemony glaze, we read triumphant Scriptures aloud, shared family stories, and played games. I called my parents tonight and smiled at the sounds of holiday merriment in the background. Eggs were being dyed and candy was being worn.

This is what I'm talking about (thanks to my brother for the photo!):

I hope your day was filled with resurrection joy.

Saturday, April 23, 2011


Wooster, Ohio is 14.4 square miles in size with a population of 26,000 people. The downtown is cute, but the city is slim-pickin's when it comes to fine dining.

Enter South Market Bistro.

What a nice surprise! Thanks to Groupon, hubby and I ventured to a city we'd never been to before with hopes of something amazing to happen. We were not disappointed. South Market Bistro is everything we miss about living in a big city and traveling abroad.

The decor is what you would expect: quaint, charming, exposed brick wall, low light; and the wait staff is happy to meet you and eager to share their menu with you. Donna was our server and the one who greeted us at the door and checked on us throughout our meal. She sat us at a window table in front, which transported me back to Italy in my mind. Granted, the people we saw walking by were slightly less refined than those we saw in Rome, but I imagined it anyway.

Donna was lovely, and I think she was as pleased with our dinner choices as we were.

We started with drinks: Chris had a glass of malbec, while I enjoyed their hibiscus/champagne. Then, appetizers: scallops in truffle butter sauce and baked goat cheese. The scallops were melt-in-your-mouth perfection. Side note: the complimentary bread they served before our meals was worthy of it's own five stars. For our entrees we ordered the special 14oz rib eye steak and the duo of duck. My husband 'mmmm'ed his way through the beef and I savored every bite of my bird. The sides that accompanied each meat were well paired to create the perfect bite every time.

Hubby and I were in food heaven and left never needing to eat again. We were the right amount of full and deeply satisfied. It's meals like this that make me feel like the Top Chef judge I've always wanted to be.

South Market Bistro is a winner.

Sunday, April 17, 2011


Happy Palm Sunday everyone!

If you're a regular church-goer, you'll agree with me that one of the highlights of this particular service every year is when the children walk down the sanctuary aisles waving palm branches.

This morning, after the initial mewing (as my dad calls it - when you 'awww' over something with that high-pitch tone in your voice, like a mewing kitten), I had fun watching the kids get distracted during their time on stage. Some stayed as reverent as can be, while others looked around the room for their parents, some stood with wide-eyes and little movement, others pouted, and my favorite: the boys who played their branches like electric guitars.

The other highlight for me were the water baptisms.

Today, the first service went as expected. The music was exuberant, the kids were cute, people were dunked, and the mood was joyful, but it was at the second service when things erupted. I have never experienced anything like it before.

After all of the scheduled baptisms were finished, a gal in the front row shouted, "I want to be baptized!" So, in to the water she went with her pretty blouse and slacks on. Our senior pastor responded by sharing a sense of urgency with the congregation. He felt it heavy on his heart that there was no time to waste and people needed to be washed clean. The next thing you know, people of all ages lined up at the baptismal ready to take that step. There were ladies in skirts, old men in dress shirts, young men in jeans.. and not one of them giving care to anything but getting in the water.

The music kept playing, people got dunked, everyone cheered.

Strangers were high-fiveing each other, families were praying together, people shared prophecies and testimonies on the microphone, and everyone was out of their seats crowding the stage and hovering around the baptismal not wanting to miss a thing.

It was as exciting and spontaneous as a wild fire.

© photo credit: Nikki Lottig

I believe the church staff even ran out of towels at one point and ended up grabbing blankets from the nursery. I lost count of how many people were spontaneously baptized today, but it was close to thirty.

And I'm pretty sure I ended up in about a dozen photos and videos with a silly grin on my face and tears down my cheeks.

Today is a day to remember. Thank you Lord for letting me live long enough to see revival on this earth.

"We were therefore buried with him through baptism into death in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too may live a new life." - Romans 6:4 (NIV)

Friday, April 15, 2011

twilight zone

What you are about to read will sound peculiar.

I swear it's true.

Last year I received a text message telling me Nikki's water had broke and she was on her way to the hospital. My friend Nikki, in Seattle, was pregnant, but only eight months along.

Of course I was concerned, but also confused as to why I had received this text from a Cleveland number that I didn't recognize instead of from our mutual friend (and Nikki's best friend), Chelsea (also in Seattle). I replied to the message and asked a couple of questions, which led to the conclusion that the text was sent to me in error.

Chelsea confirmed this when she assured me that Nikki was still very pregnant with no signs of labor. What a relief!

I continued texting with this family anyway in hopes that 'Ohio Nikki''s baby was born without incident. She was and her proud grandma sent me a photo text of the baby girl's squishy little face the next day. I wished them well and shrugged it off as a sweet, yet random exchange.

Then, it happened again. This morning I received a text message from a different Cleveland number informing me that Tammy had given birth to her baby. I did not recognize the number nor do I know a Tammy in Cleveland, but I didn't want to be rude.

So I texted the number asking who the sender was, and was told it was Mary texting me. Mary who? Turns out, this message was also sent to me in error. Mary is another proud grandma who thought she was texting her friend Connie. She blamed it on 'a senior moment.' We had a laugh, I congratulated the family.. then I was left scratching my head.

I mean, does this seem at all bizarre to you?

If it happens a third time, I'm blaming Rod Serling.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011


One leg at a time, I put my big girl pants on today.

You see, I have dental anxiety. I like the dentist about as much I like taking tests. The truth is, I know the fear is all in my head, and kind of irrational. Still, I fret.

Since I found a troubled tooth in my mouth recently, I knew it was time to be brave and make an appointment. I got a few different referrals from friends, based on the following questions:

"Is your dentist generous with novocaine?"
"Does your dentist shame you when you haven't flossed in a year?"
"Is your dentist gentle and patient and make you feel safe?"
"Does your dentist give you a prize after your cleaning?"

Just kidding about the last one.

Gone are the days of stickers and pencils and temporary tattoos and little plastic stencils. In my thirties, I now get samples of toothpaste, floss and mouthwash. My last dentist in Seattle gave away free lip balm. Best grown-up prize ever!

This afternoon I went to my new dental office (located on the same street as our old apartment). The office itself is a converted house, so it felt cozy inside. Everyone I met was very nice and treated me with care. They reassured me that lots of patients are nervous the first time and that I had nothing to fear.

What I really loved was when my hygienist asked me to tell her exactly what I was afraid of. My answer was, "The possibility that something bad might happen."

Like I said, it's all in my head. I had dental trauma when I was a child, so my fear does have a source. I've just never been able to shake it, no matter how many positive experiences I've had since. Thankfully, Dr. Esterburg is kind and reminds me of my dad. I knew right away I was in good hands. Plus, several people from our church have seen him for dental care since they were young, and now their kids and grandkids see him, too.

That troubled tooth I told you about? It doesn't hurt, but it does have a notch at the top where tooth meets gumline. Strange and concerning. Turns out, it's from chewing too much. Perhaps my daily 1-3 pieces of gum habit has something to do with it. When both the hygienist and the dentist confirmed this, I asked Dr. Esterburg if he had ever tried Trident's Tropical Twist gum.

I'm kind of obsessed.

© photo credit:

I'm not sure if he was amused or not, but what he didn't do was change his mind about me changing my habit.  Even so, minus all of the scraping during my cleaning, the procedure wasn't too bad. I get to go back next month for a filling in the notched part of the tooth, which means novocaine.

And a future with orange-flavored Tic Tacs.

Monday, April 11, 2011


One of the coolest Christmas presents we ever received came from Chris's mom. It's a 5-in-1 countertop unit made by Cuisinart that grills, griddles and presses.

We call it "The Griddler."

Although we have yet to use it all five ways, we do enjoy cooking meat on the flat surface and making paninis with the grooved panini press. It is easy to use and grills the perfect sandwich every time!

While shopping at Trader Joe's today, I was inspired to buy organic basil and mozzarella and a sourdough boule. I had pesto and lemon juice in the fridge to mix with mayo and fresh tomatoes. With a touch of lemon pepper and spray butter (on the outside of each bread slice), we were in business.

Now if I were a professional chef, I would have arranged the sandwich halves a little differently, put the chips in a ramekin and, instead of eating the remaining pesto mayo with the ends of the bread loaf, I would have added a fancy swipe of it to the plate. How do real chefs resist eating their savory garnishes?

I don't know.

So, I'm sorry if this makes you hungry, but I am not sorry if it brings you to my house for dinner. Trust me, these grilled sammies are delicious and will inspire you to speak with Italian flare like this guy. Ciao!

Sunday, April 10, 2011

waking up

81 degrees. That's how hot it was today.

I promise you this was the scene eleven days ago.

As much as I'm wincing at the thought of summer heat, I did like opening up all my windows this morning and letting the fresh air in. I added some guatemalan lemongrass essential oil to my kitchen fragrance diffuser, and made my first batch of red potato salad with dill weed and garlic pickles.

I drove around some and saw little girls hula-hooping in their front yard, two old men sitting on their porch eating sunflower seeds, children in uniforms walking along West Liberty Street.. and flip-flops! Everyone is smiling, as if they've finally rubbed winter's sleep from their eyes.

This weather definitely puts people in a good mood.

As if by magic, all of the critters that were hiding during the cold months are out and about now. Bunnies, 'possum, skunk.. let the road kill count begin. And where did all the daffodils come from? Last year, we noticed only one or two bunches in our yard. Today I stopped counting at seventeen.

Spring has officially sprung.

Friday, April 8, 2011

southern style

Amanda's birthday is tomorrow, so I took her out for an afternoon on the town. When asked where she wanted to eat, she said Cracker Barrel. I was thrilled with this choice, since we don't have any Cracker Barrels on the west coast.

I don't know about you, but whenever I hear something about southern food, I immediately recall every Paula Deen episode I've ever watched on the Food Network.

Bring on the butter and collared greens!

As expected, the food was yum-my! I decided to throw my diet out the window and order a plate of BBQ pork with mac-n-cheese and hashbrown casserole on the side, accompanied by a buttermilk biscuit and corn muffin. Sadly, the muffin was dry, but the biscuit was heavenly. Now, if only they had had some Chatham
apple butter to smear on top, that would've been a good time. Amanda ordered a hearty chicken & strawberry salad, which looked pretty, but had nothing on my plate of carbs.

I pretty much inhaled my food, like the classy lady I am.

The gift shop was a fun place to browse. We found an abundance of Americana to cheese over, chocolate covered jelly beans, DVDs and toys that took me back to my youth, and lots of scented candles we stuck our noses in to. I was tempted to buy the picnic-themed pajama pants and a copy of Kenny Rogers' CD of hymns.

(Oh Kenny, why did you ever get that facelift?)

Overall, I give "The Cracker Barrel Experience" a 3.5 out of 5 stars. The food was satisfying, but the service was (surprisingly) mediocre. Next time, I'm going to will Paula Deen to show up and fill the place with her big hair and infectious laugh.. and those charming
things she says.

After all, "the more cheese to me, the better."

Wednesday, April 6, 2011


Some people collect stamps, others collect vinyl records.  My little brother collects autographs.

When I was a kid, I collected stickers.

Now, to quote my dad, I'm "a collector of people."

You may not have predicted that when I was small because I was painfully shy.  I was content to play by myself with my stuffed animals.  My parents were even asked not to bring me back to a church nursery because I would scream and cry to the point of throwing up.

I used to read a lot of books and draw for days.

One time I spent hours creating a magazine of animal pictures, that I ended up selling to my father for fifty cents.  It was enough to buy me nickel candy and one play on the arcade game at 'the yellow store' (a corner market about a half mile away from our house that was once painted yellow).  Another time, I drew pages and pages of Cabbage Patch Kid cartoons to sell to the neighbors for 10 cents a piece.  Some actually bought them!

Those were simpler times.

When I got to junior high, everything changed.

I have a penpal named Amie.  When we were kids, she lived in a city over an hour away from mine.  Our third grade teachers were friends and they paired us (and their other students) together as a fun writing assignment for the year.  Amie and I continued to send letters that summer and in to the following school year (and beyond - over 25 years now!).  We only wrote to each other then, until the 7th grade when we discovered that our churches were involved in the same youth organization and we would be able to meet at a statewide convention that Fall.  We were both so shy, but becoming friends and taking initiative in this youth program really helped us flourish.  We both found our voices and our strengths and pretty soon you couldn't shut us up.

Since then, it has become important to me to be surrounded by a wealth of friends.  Each relationship takes on its own personality, as some are more temporary and less accessible than others.  But each one matters to me, each person matters to me.  My husband likes to say that I keep in touch with everyone I meet.  This makes me laugh, because it's (kind of) true.  Having lived in three different states, I've crossed paths with a lot of interesting people.

Last week, I received a letter from my dear friend, Tara. Handwritten.  Yes, this vintage form of communication still exists. What a pleasure that was!

I used to write novellas to all the people I met at summer camp, and Amie got to hear about all the boys I had crushes on (there were many - they changed every week).  I don't remember my hands cramping back then, but they sure do now.

The letter from Tara was so sweet, as it shared with me about the day from her front porch vantage point.  She talked about her kids playing and making messes and the thoughts that were running through her head.  She is a high school teacher by profession, and has two very creative and active children of her own at home.  For her to take a break and choose me to spend it with was a blessing like no other.

Last night I had a long chat with one of my fellow foodies in Orange County.  I know, the phone!  I have become so accustomed to communicating through the written (typed) word that I often neglect the telephone for speaking.  This friend, Cindy, is so good at calling me anyway and leaving me the silliest and most endearing voicemail messages.

Facebook is magical for keeping in touch with loved ones.

Skype has also become a vital medium for staying connected.  Chris and I have enjoyed video chats with family and friends all over the country.  Some are short and sweet while others have gone in to the wee hours of morning.

I (heart) modern technology.

My other cherished way of engaging is in person, face to face.  If all goes as planned, we will have house guests three months in a row this summer.  Ukraine, Seattle, and California will all be represented.

Today, I'm meeting my friend Brenda for lunch at a cafe in town.

Friendships are a gift, and my priceless collection.

"Wherever you are, it is your friends who make your world." - William James

Saturday, April 2, 2011


I really really really like film festivals.


It's partly because of the energy and partly because of the viewing selections.

Everyone is there because they appreciate the art of filmmaking and a well-told story. You can literally hear and feel the buzz of excitement in the waiting lines, the theatre lobby, and the viewing rooms themselves. There are hundreds of movies to choose from, including short films, foreign films and documentaries. If you like a good character-driven plotline, you will love the projects shown here.

I have attended festivals in three different states now and the feeling is the same. The people even tend to look the same, with the exception of all the pony-tailed men I noticed in Cleveland this time around.

The two movies hubby and I chose for today were These Amazing Shadows and Surrogate Valentine.

As with most of the films screened at festivals, these selections had the director and featured cast members present. These Amazing Shadows even included a formal Film Forum moderated by the lovely Dee Perry (I totally had a public radio geek moment when I heard she was there). Surrogate Valentine included a presentation of CIFF's 'Someone to Watch' award (you can see the director receiving his prize in the photo below, with the lead actor in the second row capturing the speech on his phone), and an informal Q&A session afterwards.

So, make that the third thing I love about film festivals (directors engaging with the audience). I am now a Dave Boyle fan.

Cleveland's event was held in one location, the Tower City Center. It looks like a mall and smells like a mall, but it doesn't have the enthusiasm and sparkle of a mall. It seems to me, this shopping center was something special at one time, but has become a sad after-thought.

The one thing it did have going for it was it's architecture. This building is incredible by design. Since all of the stores closed at 7pm (on a Saturday!), we were left asking for coffee at the Hard Rock Cafe bar. Outside of the restaurant, we sat and discussed the first movie we watched and our anticipation of the second, then we noticed the lit arches inside reflecting on the glass window looking outside.

It was a stunning surprise.

My fellow film festival groupie/friend, Erika, and I often dream about meeting for Sundance, Tribeca, Telluride or Cannes. She went with me to my very first festival screening in Newport Beach in 2006. We were this close to meeting Edward Norton during The Illusionist showcase.

As with the other festivals around the world, CIFF's Vision Statement is simple: Cleveland International Film Festival is a leader in helping the world discover the power of the film arts to educate, entertain, and celebrate the human experience.

Celebrate the human experience.

Yes, please.