Coming to America – Day 3

After breakfasting at the hotel, we set out to visit our relatives in Brownsville.  It was an absolutely beautiful day with blue skies and warm, comfortable temperatures.  As I mentioned earlier, my mother took us by train to visit Brownsville in 1964.  As we drove onto the street, it was just like we remembered!  The main house that belonged to my mother’s uncle and aunt, and where we stayed in 1964, is in the middle of the block with two family homes above it and two family homes below it.  Such a lovely area, very green and open.  The chicken coops behind the main house are even still there, but no chickens today.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

We met our cousin Jim Despot (who remembers our visit in 1964) and his son Dustin and his two children who all live on the block.  Dustin was a fifth generation coal miner until recently.  They were so welcoming and kind.  We all sat around Jim’s dining room table talking family, both past and present.  Jim prepared a delicious lunch for us of pasta and meatballs and homemade apple pie.  Jim shared recipes with me, and I was very grateful for that.

On our way back, we followed Jim to another cemetery where his grandfather and grandmother are buried.  His grandfather was our grandfather’s older brother.  Jim and Dustin told us how he arrived in America by boat before World War II, where at some point he was drafted and sent to war back in Europe on the very same boat he came to America on!

Back in Pittsburgh at our hotel, Gary, Kyle, Kelsey and I went for a walk over the Sixth Street Bridge, also known as the Roberto Clemente Bridge, one of the nearly identical “Three Sister Bridges” that spans the Allegheny River in Pittsburgh.  This bridge was erected in 1927, and you have a beautiful view of the baseball stadium right on the river.  The bridge is closed to cars on game days so that fans can cross it.  On the walkways of the bridge, many locks (Love Locks) are placed on the railings, similar to what you might see in Europe.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Dinner that night was Clark’s choice, and we ate at a wonderful Mexican restaurant called Las Velas.  We all enjoyed the food very much.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

When we got back to the hotel, it was time for Liverpool Rummy, the favorite card game in our family.  My mom used to play this with her lady friends betting dimes.  They were quite the group!  Mom, my brothers, and I, along with Uncle Al when he was in from fishing, would play this game.  Mom taught it to all her grandchildren.  Luckily, Kelsey had purchased three decks of cards earlier that day.  We took over a large table in the hotel lounge area and proceeded to have a wonderful time.  It is always fun to play this with the family.  Shout out to Clark who won the game!

Coming to America – Day 2

June 20th

Our mission today was to travel to Cheswick, PA to find Deer Creek Cemetery and the graves of our Grandfather George and Uncle Felix.  We had breakfast at the hotel and set off with an overcast sky.  The scenery was beautiful, so green and so different from the Los Angeles area!  We found the very old cemetery and set out looking for the graves.  Gary had looked up the information, and we knew which sections they were in, or so we thought.  We all got a lot of steps in as we went back and forth, row after row looking at gravestones.

deer creek cemetery.

I personally find old cemeteries very interesting and can wander for hours looking at the headstones and wondering who these people were, what their lives were like, etc.  A lot of the people buried here were born in the mid- to late 1800s.

Kyle and Clark found George Despot’s headstone (1888-1941), and we gathered around.  He died of black lung from working in the coal mines.  It was emotional for Gary and I, remembering our mother had told us and knowing that she had been here when he was buried.

It started lightly raining as we looked for Felix’s grave.  Back and forth, up and down we went in the grass.  We couldn’t find the grave, but our shoes sure got wet!  We finally went to the office, and the groundskeeper looked it up right away, so we followed him in his vehicle to the correct section.  We found Felix’s headstone (1916-1947), who died of a burst appendix, and that of this daughter Judith.  We thought of the stories our mother had told us of her big brother.

Our mother had a younger brother who also came to America; his name was Albert, or Uncle Al as we all called him.  He joined the Navy and ended up settling in San Pedro, CA to work as a fisherman.  After our mother’s dad and brother Felix passed away, she moved out to Long Beach, CA to be near her brother Al.  Our next stop was in memory of him.  We climbed into the van and headed to Oakmont Country Club where Uncle Al had worked as a caddie when he was a kid.  Gary fondly remembers Uncle Al telling stories of working at Oakmont.  A little history for those who don’t follow golf:  the course at Oakmont Country Club, designed in 1903, is one of the most difficult in North America.  It has hosted more combined USGA and PGA championships than any other course in the United States.  We arrived at the guard shack and explained that we just wanted to go to the pro shop and pick up a few souvenirs because Uncle Al had worked here many, many years ago.  The gentleman gave us the once over (being sure we were properly dressed because golf courses can have dress codes) and said we could go in.  What we could see of the golf course was absolutely beautiful as well as the buildings.  We picked up some gifts to take back home and set off.

Continue reading

Coming to America – Day 1

Hello, my name is Aunt Cindy, and I am Kelsey’s aunt from California.  I am honored and a little scared to be a guest writer on her blog.  I recently flew to Pittsburgh from Los Angeles to meet up with my brother Gary (Kelsey’s dad and a former guest blogger) and my nephews Kyle and Clark for what I have named the “Coming to America” tour.

Our mother Goldie Despot came to America from the then Yugoslavia (now Croatia).  Her father Grgo (George) and Uncle Stipan (Steve) had arrived in America and were working in coal mines outside of Pittsburgh.  George sent for his children one-by-one; my mom Goldie was 11 and traveled by herself on a ship to New York.  She stayed on Ellis Island for several days and was then put on a train to Pittsburgh where her father was to pick her up.  My mother lived at different times with her father in Harmarville and uncle and aunt in Brownsville.  She grew up in these areas, went to school, and learned to speak English without an accent.  She eventually moved to California, married, and had my brothers and me.

My mother took us three kids on a train to Pittsburgh in 1965.  We all have memories of that great adventure.  My mother kept in contact with a few of her friends and cousins in Brownsville, but since she passed in 2001, no one has been in contact with them.  Gary decided he wanted to go back and visit and found a few relatives, so the new adventure began.

Wednesday, June 19th – Arrived in Pittsburgh

Gary and Kelsey drove to Pittsburgh from Atlanta and picked Kyle, Clark, and I up at the airport.  Here are a few photos of Gary and Kelsey’s driving adventure.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

We left the airport in the rented minivan and, thanks to the Neuwirths (friends of the Alabama Andrich family), we were ready to video this awesome sight as we came out of the tunnel into Pittsburgh.

After we checked into our hotel, the Springhill Suites Pittsburgh North Shore, we enjoyed tasty appetizers of crackers with three different flavors of easy cheese and whiskey shots in the boys’ room.

We set out to find something to eat and walked in the light rain to Mullen’s.  We ordered beers and other things to drink.  I spotted a Black and Tan on the menu.  I love a Black and Tan and this one was made with Yuengling Beer, which we on the west coast cannot get.  It was delicious!  Looking at the menu, the Pittsburgh Wrap caught my eye.  The menu said it was the #1 best seller, and I have to agree!  I loved it.  Grilled steak tossed with cheese sauce, coleslaw, and French fries.  My plan was to share it, but only a small portion went to Kelsey for a taste – I ate everything!  I never had French fries on a sandwich but have to say these French fries were not the usual boring fires.  I don’t know what they did, but they were delicious.

Kelsey went with the pierogis (which are filled dumplings of Central and Eastern European origin, made by wrapping unleavened dough around a savory or sweet filling and cooked in boiling water or pan-fried).  Kelsey and I were both looking forward to these, as they are not common in Atlanta or the South Bay area of Los Angeles.  Unfortunately, they were pretty firm without enough butter and, ultimately, very disappointing.  Clark had the chicken wings and enjoyed them very much.

After dinner we were all pretty worn out, so we walked back in the rain to our hotel for a good night’s rest.

national donut day!

recently, phillip and i have been big on celebrating all the national food days, and it would have been a shame if we had gone all day this past friday without celebrating national donut day.  in honor of these delectable, fried dough creations, i’ve decided to highlight some of our favorite donut shops here in the atlanta area.  warning:  this post may cause you to drool.  🙂

since moving to east atlanta late last year, we try to do our best and eat at local restaurants in the area that we cannot find elsewhere.  sure, we could hit up the local dunkin’ for a donut or two, but per suggestion from our eav neighbor lawrence, phillip ventured to happy donuts on friday to snag us a treat.  i was working away on my computer when he returned with a lovely variety that were made even better since it was a buy-one-get-one-free deal for the day.  don’t you just love when that happens?  i promise we did not eat all of these in one sitting, but don’t put it past us!  these donuts are plump and very flavorful.  my favorites include the red velvet, strawberry, boston creme, and maple icing.

another great local spot is the well-known sublime doughnuts.  i could not find a recent picture from our latest visit, but believe me when i say they are one of the favorite spots in town.  if you are in the city, especially on the west side, please go by and stay for a coffee and a donut.  this place will cheer you right on up and also fill you right on up.  🙂

down in fairburn, we love the king’s donuts.  this spot is on the way when we visit phillip’s parents in peachtree city, and if we are in town when they’re open, we almost always make a stop.  again, no pictures because we ate them all before i could snap one, but these donuts are just plain fun.  the other weekend we had one with grape-flavored icing, one with oreo cookie crumbles, and another with frosting and fruity pebbles!  if you’re young at heart or have young ones in your life, i think king’s donuts would be the perfect place to bring them.

last but certainly not least is probably our top spot for donuts:  duck donuts.  duck donuts opened up while we were still living at the condo and was barely a quarter mile from our neighborhood in buckhead.  i stopped in one morning after a workout to see what the buzz was about and became a fan almost instantly.  these made-to-order creations might be smaller than your average donut but are just as worthy of your hard-earned dollars as any of these other establishments.  they have suggested topping/flavor pairings, or you can build your own combination.  we almost always get a beach ball and blueberry pancake and then whatever else tickles our fancy.  they do have seasonal features, so visiting throughout the year is a must!  😀

i most certainly hope you are now craving something sweet, and the best part is you know where you can go to satisfy that craving!  i don’t doubt there are other incredible donut shops in our great state, so please share your personal recommendations.  we just might write about them someday!

national burger day!

last tuesday was national burger day, so after a grueling workout at orangetheory fitness, phillip and i decided it was only right that we join in the celebration.  i pulled up yelp, in search of a burger joint we had not yet tried.  as i scrolled through pages of results, i stumbled upon a burger place that is not only off buford highway (some of atlanta’s best restaurants are off buford highway) but is also inside a chevron gas station!  i asked phillip just how adventurous he was feeling that night, and he kindly obliged my curiosity, especially when i told him this spot has four stars.  so, we pulled out of the lot, drove about ten minutes north, and were ready to give burger baby a chance.

like many of the reviews state, two things are definitely true.  first, you most certainly will miss this place if you are not looking for it.  second, once you do know what you are looking for, things are going to look a little curious.  the signs are a bit beat up and nothing really looks official, but if you can get past that, you’ll find in the left back corner of the store the burger baby counter.  even before we ordered, i immediately knew this adventure and meal would be dedicated to anthony bourdain.  i’m most certain this is the type of place he would want us to try on such an occasion.

as we perused the menus, loads of fresh, delectable “wangs” were being dressed for some customers in front of us.  if i hadn’t come there with the mission of celebrating national burger day, i may have walked out of there with a basket of wings.  guess we’ll just have to come back another time!

it was our turn to order, so we asked the lovely patrice for some help in navigating the menu.  she made a few recommendations, and we ultimately decided on two orders of sliders (four sliders total), one with muenster and the other with swiss, and some french fries.  patrice was kind enough to hook us up with a side cup of parmesan garlic sauce for dipping, a creation she has self-named “patrice’s parm fries.”  spoiler alert – they did not disappoint.

all the burgers and fries are made fresh to order, so while we waited we jammed along to some “wild thoughts” by rihanna along with the lion king on the tv in the background.  doesn’t get much better than that!

along with the sweet tunes, here are other things you need to know about burger baby.  they do accept credit cards, something i mention because sometimes with smaller places that is not the case.  also, there is nowhere to sit and eat here.  there are a couple stools, but those are more for when you’re waiting.  so, definitely plan to eat this in your car (while it’s still hot!) or enjoy it elsewhere.

it wasn’t too long before patrice called out our name for food.  we thanked her for her friendly suggestions and wisher her luck at her birthday dinner later that week.  what can i say?  i can chat it up with just about anyone.  🙂

thumbs up, patrice!

Continue reading

old fourth distillery

after a yawn or two and some time in the backyard for grace, i begin each weekday morning with a cup of coffee, my computer, and the fun, entertaining fox 5 news team.  they’ve become my regular news crew ever since i started working from home last spring, and it wouldn’t be a good start to my day if they didn’t catch me up on all things weather, traffic, and politics related.

one of my favorite segments is with paul milliken and his drop-ins to interesting attractions around the state.  of the many places i’ve seen paul go, his recent visit to the old fourth distillery caught my attention so that i planned a get-together there myself!  a couple saturdays ago phillip and i met up at the distillery with mercy, kris, tommy, kaley, eric, and claire.  it wasn’t quite tour time (which, by the way, they prefer you reserve online before arriving), so we let the bartender fix us a couple of cocktails.  i enjoyed the refreshing blackberry bramble, phillip and kaley loved the frozen lemonade, and tommy sipped on his gin and tonic.  what better way to begin a distillery tour than with some of their finest spirits?

the top of the hour arrived, and our tour guide wrangled us all together.  one thing to mention about the distillery is that it is quite compact.  the bar area can handle probably 10 people comfortably, and the work space really was probably no more than a thousand square feet.  makes for an intimate setting!

you can take your cocktails with you during the tour and enjoy it between nuggets of distillery education and shots of alcohol.  now, i’ve been to plenty of breweries in my day, and for the most part, once you understand one brew process, you get the general idea.  however, before coming to the distillery, i knew nothing about these processes.  i was incredibly intrigued as i learned about how this distillery came to be, what types of ingredients you can use, and what different boiling points mean to it all.  by the end of our hour together, we were experts on heads, hearts, and tails and what makes all these spirits so tasty and special.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

i personally enjoyed the gin the most, likely because it didn’t have as much potency as the vodka and was infused with tons of different spices and herbs.  the lawn dart was one of the crowd favorites, and mercy enjoyed the bourbon so much that she took a bottle home with her.  when its been aged for such a while and when the next batch won’t be available until the fall, she figured it was a pretty excellent souvenir.  i agree!

mercy and phillip loved the frozen lemonade, especially with a bourbon floater!

Continue reading

presidential chicken

as you all know, i’m almost always up for trying a new recipe, and a few weeks ago was one of those nights.  my inspiration was from my dear friend jamie and his fiance caleb.  they have been dabbling in the podcast world and have multiple times mentioned the famous presidential chicken recipe from michigan state university, which is where jamie attended college.  after hearing them describe it as chicken with puff pastry, sour cream, and cream cheese, i demanded a copy of the recipe so that i could try it myself.

so, being the obliging podcast hosts they are, they sent me a link and off i went to kroger to get everything we would need.  as i took over the kitchen with pots and pans and knives and cutting boards, phillip walked in and asked, “what are you making?”

“presidential chicken!” i replied, as if he should have known all along.

he politely said “okay” and left me to my work.

making the stuffing was no big deal, but trying to get the puff pastry looking all nice and on purpose was not as successful.  i may have even ended up with some precious little mini pouches, over there, on the right…oh well!

while these bad boys baked away in the oven, i got to start on the sauce.  now, as i started on the sauce, i found myself confused.  my sauce was not thickening up at all and, with a taste here and there, was quite bland to me.  i double-checked the directions and was doing everything right, but perhaps there’s an msu trick to getting it to thicken properly.  i’ll just have to let one of you show me how it’s done!

eventually the puffs were baked to near-golden perfection.  ah, who doesn’t love a nicely browned, flaky pastry crust?

i plated the chicken up with some broccoli and a little bit of the sauce, but honestly, my sauce wasn’t even necessary (and promptly wound up going down the drain).  those heavenly pouches can stand on their own with piping hot chicken and a creamy, rich sour cream and cream cheese mixture.  this dish is easily one i can see us enjoying time and time again.  🙂

so, if you enjoyed this post, there are two things you need to do:

  1. go get the recipe and enjoy this dish yourself
  2. go listen to jamie and caleb’s podcast

for both, you’ll thank me later.

montana – day 4

hello, kelseyv.com blog followers!  phillip back here as a guest blogger with my dear wife, fellow companion, and my “amazingly uncommon” gal.  i am here to wrap things up from our big sky, montana trip and discuss the events and festivities we did during our last day on the slopes.  or, should i say off the slopes?  😊

kelsey and i decided, by nature of our bodies being sore and to save a penny or two on lift tickets, to take things a slope and a step back and enjoy our final day resting and relaxing (R&R’ing) around the resort.  we started off by sleeping in the cabin and ate the remaining breakfast that was prepared by some of our new friends that we met through kelsey’s work colleague, ben atkinson.  we ate scrambled eggs, toasted bagels with peanut butter, and one of our most important breakfast staples: bacon!  since the group still had loads of groceries in the cabin, they decided to exhaust the remaining breakfast items, including the massive box of bacon, so there was a lot to go around even after they left the cabin to go hit the slopes and snowmobiles for the day.  of course, being the meat aficionado i am, i was thoroughly impressed and excited to bring home the bacon by consuming roughly 8 slices!  i would probably guess that about half of those slices were consumed behind kelsey’s back, but hey, a man’s got to eat protein to keep energy and momentum for the relaxing day we were about to face together.

shortly after we ate our lovely breakfast, we sat down at the dining room table with our new friend, Ash.  Ash was studying on her laptop and catching up on personal emails while kelsey and i were reviewing our gopro footage we took during days 2 and 3.  everyone else either went to hit the slopes or took their day on a snowmobile excursion at yellowstone national park.

for kelsey and me, we decided to hit up one of big sky’s restaurants, the cabin bar & grill, and try out one of their popular entrée items, the elk/bison burger.  it was recommended from Jeanie, one of the employees from big sky’s ski and rental shop.  kelsey ordered her burger with blue cheese, and i ordered mine with swiss, and we both had fries, of course!  we must say that the burger was not as good as we expected it to be.  i think i enjoyed it more than kelsey; i thought it tasted like a pretty standard burger, but kelsey’s reaction was that the burger seemed to taste bland and dry.  we did, however, enjoy the beautiful scenery on the restaurant’s 2nd floor since it looked out at big sky’s iconic heated 8-seater chairlift, the ramcharger 8.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

after lunchtime, we went back to the cabin and relaxed for the remainder of the day.  everyone who went skiing came back around dinner time, so we all decided to go down to another big sky restaurant, M.R. Hummers.  those who went to yellowstone came back much later around 9pm or so.  kelsey and i went to Hummers to meet with Mohit, a friend and old coworker of kelsey’s.  he happened to be skiing at big sky for the week, and kelsey and mohit found out that same day that they were within walking distance from some of the most beautiful and biggest skiing that i’ve ever seen.  kelsey and i split a Hummers cheese waffle fries that were loaded with bacon, queso bravo, and scallions.  they were incredibly good, and i think that kelsey enjoyed them, too.

after catching up with mohit and team (yes, i say “and team” a lot since i work in HR), we walked back to the cabin with our crew and played werewolf again all throughout the night (puns intended here; werewolves could be howling during the night).  some folks had to leave the cabin around 3am since they had flights around six or so.  we went to bed and departed on a snowy “drive and fly” back to the warmer climate of atlanta a few hours later.

overall, the big sky trip was a “big” hit for us.  we enjoyed catching up with ben and some of his closest friends from work, school, and other walks of his life.  the crew was friendly, and the weather was perfect.  we’ll be back to big sky to ski down some more greens and possibly some blue slopes once we continue to become masters of the ski wedge.  😊

montana – day 3

with a whole first day of newly found confidence, we woke up saturday morning ready to take on the day.  i mean, i could just feel it was going to be a good day because it was loads easier to put on my boots.  🙂  once i got the rest of my gear all situated, the group decided to start things off together at the white otter lift since it was within skiing/snowboarding distance of the cabin.  in theory it sounded like a great idea, because this lift would take us up to a run that would get us to base a lot quicker than trekking through the snow.  plus, the crew felt i was ready for the white wing run, and i didn’t want to disappoint.

long story short, here is how things went on the white otter lift and white wing run.  i got onto the lift all by myself no problem.  i enjoyed the scenic and quiet ride up the lift.  i completely ate it when i got off the lift, one ski popping off but my energy still intact.  i watched as the crew, one by one, shooped down the very steep entrance from the lift onto the run.  i also observed, with much trepidation, as phillip made his way down as well, slowly but surely.  i took a big gulp of “i have to get down some way” reality, mustered all the spirit i could, and launched myself down the hill.  i’m not quite sure what happened, but the result was a quintessential wipeout right in the middle of the run.  the struggle was real one attempt after another as i tried to get my ski back on and get myself out of the way.  eventually i righted things and after a few more confidence-crushing falls, i shuffled my way to the finish line.  when i finally found phillip, all i could say was, “well, that is the least amount of fun i have had this entire time.”

there was good news out of this, though:  that i recognized what my abilities were and were not and, as such, spent the rest of the day back at bear basin.  phillip was a patient and positive cheerleader throughout the windy afternoon as i worked on weaving and faster turning and getting all the fresh mountain air that i could.

ultimately my goal for the second day of skiing was to end on a high note, and i think these pictures are evidence of just that.  🙂

Continue reading

montana – day 2

after an extremely restful sleep thursday night, we were awakened by the wafts of something delicious coming from the kitchen.  steve had whipped up a good ‘ole american breakfast for the crew, complete with eggs, bagels, fruit, and, of course, bacon.  what a delightful surprise!  i couldn’t think of a better way to start the day before hitting the slopes.  oh, wait.  yes, i could.  setting the theme song for the day!  while we were enjoying breakfast, for whatever reason people couldn’t stop singing “africa” by toto, and just like that, it was the song of the day.

everyone cleared and cleaned their dishes and then piled into the cars to drive over to base.  before we could go shredding anywhere, we first needed to pick up our passes.  ben led the group right over to the lodge and stuck us in line to wait with everyone else.  i felt quite out of place without all my gear on yet but did my best to look the part and act like i knew what i was doing.  i knew it wouldn’t be long before we were ready to go, so we patiently waited our turn as we took in the surroundings.

first of all, it amazed me how much energy there already was in the crowd.  it was my impression that the typical person coming to big sky knows the skiing and snowboarding ropes pretty well, and these people were ready to get on those lifts and tear up the mountain.  the energy was infectious, and i found that i was eager to get into my boots and find my way to the bunny slopes.

it wasn’t long before phillip was strapping my lift pass to my pants and we shuffled aside to get all suited up.  i already had on my base layers, pants, and jacket, so the next order of business was the boots.  the nice folks at lone mountain sports had given me a quick tutorial the day before on putting on boots, so i slipped off my sneakers and grabbed the left boot.  for about a solid 30 seconds, i sat there struggling, unable to bend my ankle at all and get my foot all the way forward.  i glanced around to see if anyone else was in a similar predicament.  nope, only me.  i grunted and tugged and pushed but could not get that thing on.  i finally decided i was wise enough to realize i needed help, so i hollered at ben to assist.  i was quite grateful when he told me that ski boots can be tricky to get on and that he would be more than willing to help out.  with a little more wiggling and pulling, boom!  the left boot was on!  i felt like a champion already!  with some new-found confidence, i tackled getting on the right boot all by myself.  it may have taken me a few minutes, but soon enough both boots were on and i was more ready to go than ever!

Continue reading