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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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.

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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.  🙂

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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!

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montana – day 1

a few months ago my friend and former coworker ben texted me, asking, “do you and phillip ski?”  i replied that phillip did when he was younger and living in michigan but that i never had.  that didn’t stress ben, who promptly invited us to join him and some friends on a ski trip to big sky, montana.  i approached phillip about the opportunity, not certain what he’d think, but the minute i explained it to him, he didn’t hesitate and said, “absolutely!”  pleasantly surprised by his quick decision, i told ben to count us in, and that is how we found ourselves on an early delta flight westward.

with no direct flights to montana (or at least to where we needed to be), our first leg of the trip was a smooth two hour flight up to minneapolis.  phillip slept and i did a little reading and writing and in no time we were deplaning for a brief layover.  if you’ve never had the pleasure of visiting the minneapolis-st. paul airport, i’d highly recommend it.  the airport was clean and spacious and fitted with nice shops and eateries everywhere.  even though we weren’t there for long, it was all-in-all a pleasant stop to make.

soon enough we were boarding our next plane, which took us to bozeman, montana, one stop closer to our final destination.  the airport definitely had the lodge vibe going for it, and everyone we encountered was just as nice as could be.  we didn’t have much time to mosey around, though, because the caravan of folks coming from butte was outside and ready for us.  we grabbed our suitcase from baggage claim, hustled into the cold, waved down our friends, and loaded on up.  phillip and i piled into an suv and met steve and fernando, friends and current coworkers of ben’s.

before making the drive down to big sky, we stopped for a little grocery shopping at the local albertson’s.  our digs for the weekend would be a big cabin right next to the resort, so we stocked up on breakfast food and coffee and snacks and, of course, some adult beverages.  it wouldn’t be much of a ski trip without a little fireside drinking, now would it?  oh, and i should mention the chips.  all the chips were ours!

three buggies later, we packed the cars a little fuller still and stopped for a quick bite at good ‘ole burger king.  over french fries and nuggets and whoppers the size of your head, more introductions were made and we met ashima and chris and james.  once all bellies were full and satisfied, we hit the road to big sky.  the drive wasn’t too long and was pleasant as the montana landscape revealed itself to us mile by mile.  i’ve never been surrounded by this kind of scenery and was quite taken with the mountain skyline and sturdy evergeens blanketed with soft white snow.  it was definitely quite a sight.

the views only became better as we pulled off of moose ridge road and into the driveway of our rental cabin.  ben did an excellent job finding this spot for us, and we all dropped our bags inside as we explored the main living space with its well-equipped kitchen, cozy leather furniture, and humongous wall of windows.  i mean, this shot isn’t too shabby, is it?

you’re so gorgeous.

we all picked our rooms and then took the cars into the resort to get all geared up by the kind folks at lone mountain sports.  employees steve and shelby assisted us in getting the right size boots, skis, poles, and helmets for our skiing experience, and before you know it, we were at least totally looking the part.  if you look good, you feel good, right?  i’m gonna go with yes.  🙂

with a long day of travel behind us all and our equipment all ready to go for the next day, the only thing left to do on day one was relax back at the cabin.  eventually curtis and kara arrived, and we cracked open beers, poured the wine, put on our bathings suits, and got the party started in the hot tub, complete with music and jets and light effects!  if this was any indication of how the rest of the trip would be, a great weekend was surely in store.

bye, buckhead

well, folks, the time came for phillip and i to sell the condo in buckhead and look forward to new adventures elsewhere.  you might wonder why now?  the most simple reason is that we just need more space.  now that i work from home and that we have grace, it’s time to spread out a bit.  we need a yard so that she can really be a dog.  we need a proper office for even better work.  did i mention we’d also like a slightly bigger kitchen and maybe a garage?  yeah, all those adult things.  🙂

our home hunt really has just begun, so stay tuned for details on our very own version of house hunters.  and i promise to not complain about the colors of the walls because, as we all know, you can paint them whatever you want!

saying goodbye to the condo wasn’t as emotional for me as i expected, which was interesting.  i mean, i lived a lot of my early adult life in those four little walls.  from bachelorette-hood to clark living with me to phillip moving in and getting married – wooh!  maybe it’s a good thing walls can’t talk. 😉  but really, i did think i’d be more choked up at the closing.  i mean, how will i survive without the location and restaurants and neighbors and purple walls?!

i really think that because everything happened so quickly i didn’t have much of a chance to slow down and process.  barely a month passed between staging, listing, and closing, so most of our downtime was spent buying boxes and taping boxes and packing boxes and then taping them again!  you get the picture.  and even after the closing and us moving to our adorable rental in east atlanta village (thank you, matt, for saving us) i thought i’d be a wreck, but i don’t think i have been.  all the things in the condo are now in our rental, and it honestly feels just like home.  and i think deep down i just knew we had outgrown the condo and are ready for the next step.  yes, there were many good memories made in buckhead, but we are looking forward to exploring the village for as long as we are here.  so, if you ever find yourself south of 20, give us a ring and come on over!  we have a spacious kitchen and open floor plan ready for entertaining.  😀

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phillip and kelsey do boston – day 3

okay, i know, you’ve been on the edge of your seat, waiting to hear how our trip to boston ended (now two months ago).  well, i’ve been a little preoccupied with work and becoming an aunt and everything, so i think the delay can be excused.  🙂  our last day in boston did eventually arrive, so we packed up our bags and wandered around the financial district in search of some coffee.  since our flight didn’t leave until dinnertime, we had a lot of time to kill and ended up posting up in render coffee for a couple of hours.  true to form, phillip ordered a sweet mocha and i ordered a frothy latte and we enjoyed reading and just watching the locals.  it was pretty chilly outside, so the cozy mugs and soft leather chairs warmly welcomed us to stay, which we did.

all hopped up on caffeine, we were ready to put some food in our stomachs, but not before we snagged a couple more classic boston pics.

now, had we had pizza the night before?  yes, but this next pizza place we went was meaningful to phillip.  when he and his family lived around boston, their parents would drive by regina’s to grab a few pies for the kiddos and scarf them down, and since phillip could eat pizza pretty much any day of the week, that is where we had lunch.

thank goodness we had the baby suitcase with us, because there is not a lot of extra space in regina’s.  tables are crammed together, booths line the walls, and the bathroom stalls are quite little.  regardless, it’s clear that regina pizzeria has been a boston institution for some time (since 1926 to be exact), so we ordered some beers and sat back and enjoyed.

the waitress recommended the giambotta pizza and the meat lover’s pizza, so that is exactly what we ordered.  i remember very specifically loving the crust and could easily picture myself ordering regina’s weekly if i lived anywhere nearby.  these pies were a good size, and with the appetites we had, only one slice remained.  but don’t worry, we took it to-go and ate it at the airport for dinner.  🙂  waste not want not!

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unfortunately, our visit to boston was coming to a close, so with our pizza in tow, we hopped on the blue line to the airport.  we were only a couple of quick stops away, and before we knew it, we had our boarding passes and were though security in no time at all.

but wait!  we had a surprise!  we couldn’t leave boston without one more trip to mike’s, so we had stopped there quickly after regina’s and took with us to the airport one peanut butter chocolate cannoli and one cookies’n’cream cannoli.  i savored every single bite as we watched the sun go down, the airplane arrive at the gate, and the line of passengers start to form.  although i would have loved a day or two more to explore some more, i thoroughly enjoyed our quick boston visit and highly recommend you give the city a try if you haven’t yet had the pleasure.

phillip and kelsey do boston – day 2

day two in boston started with breakfast at, where else, dunkin’ donuts!  we had some coffees, donuts, and breakfast sandwiches as we planned out the rest of our day.  our first stop, and probably the most important stop of the trip, was to visit the hospital where phillip and his sisters were born.  so we caught the train and headed to dorchester.

now the st. mary’s center for women and children, st. margaret’s is were michele and kim spent several months delivering their miracle babies over thirty years ago.  since we were there on a weekend, we couldn’t get the full tour, but the receptionist charlotte was happy to show us around the grounds as much as she could.

phillip & charlotte.

as charlotte led us through some of the buildings, she was happy to give us some history of the grounds.  it turned out she has been working there for quite some time, so she was able to tell us all about the purpose of the center now, how some of the rooms were used when the grounds were still a hospital, and even where some of the original architecture and artwork is still maintained.  it was so special to watch as phillip took it all in, soaking up the place where his story began so many years ago.

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eventually charlotte did have to return to her desk, but she suggested we go sit in the garden since the weather was so nice out, and that is exactly what we did.  it was so pleasant to slow down, even if just for a few moments, and appreciate all the good things going on at this place.  🙂

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