Monday, December 31, 2012

2013 Resolutions

After some tweaking on my resolutions, here are the 13 goals I am setting for 2013...

1. Send 13 packages or cards. 
thank you to my cousin Lisa for this idea! 
2. Run 400 miles. 
This is ambitious, considering no one in our neighborhood shovels a side walk, making winter running virtually impossible. However, I believe I can average 7.69 miles per week...maybe?
3. Read 5 biographies/autobiographies
I just borrowed a bunch of great books from "cousin" Nick, and reading about other people's lifes is something I don't often do. Kurt Cobain, Desmond Tutu, Elanor Roosevelt, and more and more. 
Its an untapped genre for me; I'm excited for this one!
4. Read 5 contemporary books written in 2012 or '13
Some great authors came out with books recently, from Zadie Smith to Anne Lamott. After a year of reading a bunch of classics, I would love a reason to curl up with some contemporaries.
5. Cook 13 new recipes.
How many cookbooks do I have and yet I cycle through our dozen or so recipes all the time. I'd like to  broaden my horizons a bit in this area.
6. Give up ranch dressing.
I pretty much took the most unhealthy thing I eat with the most frequency and I'm cutting it out (it was a close race with dark chocolate and craft beer.) So I'll see ya next year Ranch!
*note: after reading this list to Neil he said this was by far the toughest one for me... not running 400 miles... ranch abstention. I believe that indicates a bit of a problem.
7. Eat 5 ethnic cuisines I've never tried before.
I've been growing in my love of unique food while at the same time, really appreciating the stories of first generation americans. I would love to experience some authentic foods from all over the world while staying local. If you know any good restaurants in Pittsburgh, please let me know!
8. Write two books.
For years I wrote a book each year for Neil... 2012 really got away from me and I would love to make a push to keep this (very time consuming) tradition going.
9. Do 50 hours of yoga.
This can be at home or in a class. I love time relaxing and focusing and now that I'm feeling better - not needing yoga daily, I don't want the practice to slip away
10. Read a news article every day.
I realized I check facebook more than CNN and after watching a whole season of "Newsroom" in two sittings, I feel a renewed desire to stay informed
11. Run in at least 5 official races 
This will make the 400 miles I run way more exciting. This week I'm signing up for a relay team for the Pittsburgh Marathon, which is a really exciting start!
12. Make 5 homemade gifts. 
I love giving presents that took time and thought and care. This will inspire me to get those creative juices flowing.
13. Learn to Knit. 
I can crochet but I've always want to learn to knit. I believe it will go a long way in helping me achieve #12. Holler if you want a pot holder!

So that's the list. In a few more hours I'll wake up, go for a run, read some news, and relish a new year.
Hope you have fun tonight and I hope you find some great things to aim for in the next 365!

Saturday, December 29, 2012

and the Best Christmas Movie is...

We completed our Bracket Club Series voting just in time for Christmas (sadly I didn't update until now)... however the truly good ones you can watch all year right?

Our Final Four were "Elf", "Christmas Vacation", "Home Alone" and "Its A Wonderful Life"

After a passionate discussion, we ended up with "Its A Wonderful Life" as the overall victor.

Here's a bunch of little known facts about our winner. And of course a video to honor the second place film... (which I think should have won, but whatever, its over. I'm over it. Attaboy, Clarence, I guess.)

Here is a link to the field of 64 Christmas Movies or Specials, and how things played out.

Guess what, In February our tournament is "Break Up Songs"! So I'll ask you for some input - What are the top 10 best break-up songs? (any answer is taken into account for seeding) 

Now I don't want all of you just saying the obvious winner, I want some variety!

For inspiration, you can check out a great episode on This American Life about break-ups.

Friday, December 28, 2012

2012 Resolution Recap

As we approach the new year I figured it would be a good time to feel guilty about  review my 12 New Years Resolutions for 1012.

They're listed again below, along with my report... (spoiler alert, it's a good thing I picked 12 cause when I didn't nearly do them all, I could still hang my hat on a few)

 12 Goals for 2012
1. Eat in 12 New Restaurants in Pittsburgh
2. Learn how to fix a bike
3. Continue blogging through this year. 
4. Learn to cook with 12 new fruits or vegetables
5. Run a 5K in under a 9 minute mile. 
6. Watch 12 movies I've never seen from the AFI Top 100 Films list
7. Read 12 books I've never read from the BBC Top 100 Novels list. 
8. Learn how to make beer. 
9. Volunteer with 12 different events. 
10. Don't purchase any new clothing. 
11. Don't purchase any new books
12. Save $___ (a specific but secret amount)

1. yes. New Restaurants we went to this year: E2, Sausalido, Park Brugge, Ibiza, Mercurio's, Le Brew House, Industry, Conflict Kitchen, Pig and Chicken, Biddle Escape, Bites and Brews, and NOLA.
*Even though Biddle Escape is more of a coffee shop, I'm counting it. We loved just about all of them, but our favorites were Industry and NOLA. The only one we won't be going back to is Pig and Chicken.

a private party at the excellent Sausalido

2. no. I don't want to use a brain abnormality and subsequent brain surgery as a crutch for these resolutions, but riding a bike was something that gave me great head pains and it was off the table during my months of recovery - thus I did not try to learn how to fix a bike. Maybe next year I'll have a fresh interest in the sport.

3. yes. Despite a few weeks lost here and there, I feel I've been consistent about blogging. I did this practice even when I hurt and couldn't focus. I did this to help my concussion.... I'm not sure if I'll continue now that the resolution is finished, or how often I'll post. (thankfully it would be because have a newly exciting life to jump into)

4. yes. Cooking with new fruits and vegetables was the easiest one. I exceeded the number half way through the year and then stopped listing, but here's some: okra, rainbow chard, garlic rabe, butternut squash, acorn squash, bok choi, radish, beets, kale, pumpkin, celery root, fennel, rutabaga, and a strange pear/mango hybrid . My favorites being the fennel and the garlic rabe.

fennel made into a pesto with couscous and tomato

5. almost. I ran a 5K doing 9:02.6 minute miles (so close!). Then I started going fully numb and getting black outs when running. I still did races afterwards but couldn't push myself. Then learned of the arnold chiari and the risks and thought, maybe I'll shelve this one until next year.

my fastest race was in May, running 28:06

6. yes. I was the most disappointed with the 12 classic movies. Maybe its because I already watched all the ones that piqued my interest, leaving me with many a western to sit through (not my thing). Here's what I viewed: Annie Hall, Schendler's list, The Searchers, The Graduate, On the Waterfront, Lawrence of Arabia, To Kill a Mockingbird, Chinatown, Easy Rider, Grapes of Wrath, Its a Wonderful Life, and Psycho. My favorites were Annie Hall and The Graduate

7. yes Technically, I read 12 classics this year. However, I found myself veering from that BBC list for a few of them. (I mean how do you really argue that "The Princess Diaries" is more of a classic than "For Whom the Bell Tolls") so here's my adapted list: The Wind in the Willows - Grahame Kenneth, Pillars of the Earth - Ken Follett, On the Road - Jack Kerouac, The Handmaid's Tale - Margaret Atwood, Sidhartha - Hermann Hesse, Mrs Dalloway - Virginia Wolf, The Road - Cormac McCarthy, The Picture of Dorian Gray -  Ocsar Wilde, Sons and Lovers - D.H. Lawrence, Passage to India - E.M. Forster, For Whom the Bell Tolls - Ernest Hemingway, and A Christmas Carol - Charles Dickens. The best in that group were The Road, Sidhartha, and Handmaid's Tale.

8. yes. This year I learned how to make beer several times over. Neil brewed (and I observed/helped a bit) a model of "Fat Tire", light citrus ale, an orange ale with light hops, a pumpkin IPA, and a vanilla porter. All of which I adored...but the pumpkin IPA was really tops.

(the process is basically: boil, wait, siphon, wait, sterilize, pour, and cap)

9. not even close. I'm so ashamed to say that I only did 2 of my 12 volunteer aspirations. If you count places to which we donate money, we would be over that number, however I set out to give my time not our money. So this one won't get checked off the list.

10. no. This one I was SO close to doing. I made it to late August when I bought two pieces of clothing (mostly helpful for my recovery)... then I made it another stretch until November when I bought 4 more things (mostly to dress appropriately for occasions when my old clothes didn't fit). I won't beat myself up for this because I didn't anticipate losing weight this year.

11. yes? Um, technically, I didn't purchase any books. But I received 4 books as gifts this year. The idea was that I'd make better use of book sharing and I would utilize the library. Since I read over 40 non-purchased books this year doing what I set out to do, I'm allowing it.

Not buying books was tough (I have a problem with this) so the ones I received really made my day!

12. no. So does it count if you do save the desired amount of money, but then you spend it? Probably not. But again we had unforeseen events. We paid off Neil's car, and brain surgery is also quite costly. At least our thrifty ways put us in a place where we could afford those things and we could also end up with more in our savings at the end of 2012 than we had in 2011. (half victory?)

this leaves me with a grand total of 7/12

I got a lot of value out of these resolutions, even the ones I almost completed but fell a bit short on. I like choosing goal that can focus my time and efforts without feeling like punishment, does that make sense? Anyway, if I look at it that way, I can say it was a good year.

Do you make resolutions? What are yours for 2013?

Any suggestions for my next year - Should I recycle some past ones I didn't complete? I am trying to come up with 13 of them right now and could always use input!

Friday, December 21, 2012

topa-MAXED out

Wednesday of this week was my very first day with no medication (in years!)

Weaning off Topamax has always been a struggle for me. This time it was a bit easier, but I still felt exhausted and not quite right. I'm hoping these following days will allow for me to adjust and rest and find out how I really truly feel.

I'd love to share some of the reasons I"m so tired though (in addition to weaning and such). Cause they are all worthy events...

1. I began the process to begin volunteering!! That means I got a TB test and filled out a bunch of papers. It also means I'll be able to see how I do with a schedule and routine and florescent lighting. I start in the new year, and this is the first step towards working again and I am really really happy with it!!

2. Neil and I had the joy of attending some Pitt Basketball games and I don't get tingling and numbness in my arms when we walk the steps up to our seats! And when I jump up to cheer for an alley-oop, I don't get black out/stabby pains. And when we get to the final minutes, I don't feel like I need to go home. so LETS GO PITT!!

3. I was able to play picnic/doctor/fort/camping game with my nephew. I was present and happy and on top of it all - it was morning! I was happy in the morning!!

4. I've gone running - at least one mile - every single day since I was cleared (except for one rainy afternoon). Running today in 30 degree temps, with snow, had its small squirrels or other dogs are crazy enough to be out in that weather, which makes for smooth jogging with Dixon.

5. I got to snuggle a perfect new born boy! Marcus Canaan, you are the most adorably chill baby in the world.

6. We bottled, printed, cut, and labeled our Christmas Porter, "Midnight Mass" It's all ready to go for our cousin's case exchange.

7. We cleaned and readied for tonight's bracket club series: Christmas Movies. We got the home-made bracket board completed and we are ready to rumble!

**note: Dixon was left unattended and he put in an early vote for anything but "Love Actually" (maybe he isn't a rom-com kind of dog).

At least when we say "WHAT did you do?" 
He knows to avoid eye contact and belly slide his way underneath us.

So that's the exhaustive list of my exhaustion. If only I didn't have to rev up again to face a new list of chaos for Christmas!

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Air and Light

As Newtown wades through day after devastating day, I can't think of anything to contribute to the national conversation. Instead, I'll borrow a prayer from my favorite author. Knowing little else to do, I'll pray it over and over while a community lays its dearly departed to rest. 

"There are no words for the broken hearts of people losing people, So I ask God, with me in tow, to respond to them with graciousness and encouragement enough for the day. 

Everyone we love and for whom we pray with such passion will die, which is one real fly in the ointment, so we pray for miracles - please help this friend live, please help this friend die gracefully - and we pray for survivors to somehow come through... 

I try not to finagle God. Some days go better than others, especially during election years. I ask that God's will be done and I mostly sort of mean it. 

In prayer, I see the suffering bathed in light. In God, there is no darkness. I see God's light permeate them, soak into them, guide their feet. I want to tell God what to do: "Look, Pal, this is a catastrophe. You have got to shape up." But it wouldn't work. 

So I pray for people who are hurting, that they be filled with air and light. Air and light heal; they somehow get into those dark musty places, like spiritual antibiotics.

We don't have to figure out how this all works - "Figure it out" is not a good slogan. Its just enough to know it does."  
Anne Lamott, 
from "Help Thanks Wow, the Three Essential Prayers" 

Friday, December 14, 2012

Movies of a Lifetime

I knew this time would come in my healing... I feel good enough to add a bunch of things to my schedule, then exhausted enough to do NOTHING during the in-between times.

I see it as great progress that I can help someone get to a doctor's visit, spend hours in a waiting room, and come home without an increase in head pain. (especially because physician waiting rooms are a concussion nightmare)

I see it as an inevitable side effect that after these full days, all I can do is mentally check out and physically crash.

However, when my pain level is low like this - I honestly can't complain about fatigue.

In fact, with these crashes, I decided to make the best of it. I have taken pressure off of blogging something profound- or blogging anything at all (sorry, friends). I have allowed the dust to remain on shelves (sorry, husband). And I settle in for my favorite guilty pleasure....

A little ways back, I said to Neil "We've been married for a while, is there any secret guilty pleasure you have that you don't want people - even me - to know about." And he (alway wise and cautious) said "um, what do you mean?... you go first."

So I confessed to him that I have a deep love for every single Lifetime and Hallmark Holiday Movie. The cheesier the title the better... if the premise is that you think Santa moved into your apartment building than of course its called "Deck the Halls" (and I want to watch it). If an orphan girl, Hope, needs a  miracle, tadaa "Hope for the Holidays"... and don't even get me started on the ones with dogs or weddings.

Of course Neil followed this confession by quickly stating in disgust "oh no. I have nothing like that."

Right now, I am back from a 3 mile run (in under 35 minutes!) and I'm too exhausted to do anything but watch a perfectly predictable christmas movie. Its been a long week.

Don't leave me hanging. Do you have any secret guilty behavior? Do you ever get sucked into the "Its a Wonderful Lifetime" movie selection?

Plus - I need your help - our next bracket club is about Christmas Movies and Specials! So, what are your Top 10 favorite?  (Or Top 5, if you are having a hard time coming up with some. You can include Movies with a Christmas Backdrop, like Die Hard.) Can you believe we got a list well over the field of 64?!? That's a lot of Christmas

Monday, December 10, 2012

BCS: 90 Sitcoms

With everyone on the edge of their ergonomically correct work chair, I didn't want to wait any longer to post the results of the 90s Sitcom bracket.

These were our rules:
1. We go matchup by matchup until the round is over before moving into the next round
2. Everyone present gets a vote and majority wins
3. For any close calls (win by 2 or less), both sides will get an opportunity to make their case for the reason their choice is a better tv show.
                                                         a. This can be done verbal or through the use of media such as youtube clips (a laptop will be hooked up to the TV for  viewing)
                                  b. Once both sides have had a chance to make their argument we will re-vote
c. There is only one opportunity to revote per matchup
4. In the event of a tie (even after a revote) we will perform a phone a friend  (selected at random) to be the deciding vote, which is final

Some of our Biggest Arguments: Doogie Howser MD vs The Adventures of Pete and Pete, Married With Children vs Saved By The Bell, The Simpsons vs. Full House, Friends vs Fresh Prince of Bel Air, and the "blue collar battle" of Roseanne vs. Home Improvement

The Final Four were a predictable (yet respectable): Friends, Seinfeld, Fresh Prince, and Full House
The Overall Winner was: SEINFELD!!!  

To view the entire completed bracket go to this link.

Below I've added more stuff - mostly because I'm still hopped up on sugar from eating gushers and drinking spiked capri suns....

In honor of Seinfeld - here are some scenes we love: The Festivus and The Contest. And we can't be all that shocked it won, after this national survey.  I also happen to love this twitter site that presents plausible Seinfeld plot lines if the show were still on air today.

Despite our differences in voting, we found a uniting love in theme songs. They really don't make intros like they used to... in the 90s there was always an awesome song and a montage of exaggerated hijinx. I miss those days.

When Perfect Strangers was on the chopping block and someone said "who even knows the theme song?" About half of us burst out in unison "stand-ing TALL, on the wings or our dreams" And when Living Single made its exit, Sarah who had championed the show,  sang us a slow jam sad version of "In a 90s kind of world... I'm glad I've got my girls". Also I feel it was the theme song that got "Salute Your Shorts" the win over "Hey Dude."

In the end there can only be one winner, which leaves a lot of fallen soldiers and sad voters. But we had fun with clips and fights and Geno's Pizza Rolls. (speaking of clips... here's some classics from Friends, and Simpsons, and Saved By The Bell)

Finally, I give you Carlton, to dance this one out....

Do you have any grievances to air over our voting? (I'm still upset about a first round loss for Pete and Pete) 
Do you have any favorite moments from 90s shows? (sadly I tried to think of some for Full House and came up short - is that blaspheme?)

Friday, December 7, 2012

HAPPY WEEKEND! hope its paradise

"This morning, with her, having coffee"
~Johnny Cash,
when asked for his definition of paradise

My favorite thing about every weekend is staying curled up in bed, drinking coffee.
Now that we have a puppy that sits at the bedside, begging for attention, its much harder to keep up the practice. (no joke, when he wants us he makes the exact noise of Tim the tool man Taylor, huurrha!)
So we've found that paradise is also located curled up in the living room, drinking coffee, watching sports center, petting a dog.

I love when people flirt with Pittsburgh!!
Now the Huffington Post is taking a turn.

In case you felt DMX was missing from your holiday preparations there's this.

Have you experienced GooglePoetics?
its insightful, hilarious, and surprisingly deep.
check it out (if you have a free fifty minutes)
then go to and type in any start you want... it really gives you your own poem!

This video cracks me up!
mess with a frog, it will mess with you back

For any parents contemplating Elf on a Shelf, read this first.
such brilliant parenting!

The autopsy report was just released on Notorious BIG - and the plot thickens.

Maybe if I read this list of bad foods before every holiday party, I could avoid things like the full plate of cookies for dinner that I had last night!

If there's any truth to this article, then you weren't aware of the time you wasted spent looking on this site. And if you happened to be waiting for a bus, your welcome.

Is it me or is this song in every commercial... thus in my head all ever loving day
(although, I must say, I don't hate it)
in fact I'll play it to roll out the weekend.

I hope you have a good one - and you get that paradise in the morning!

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Bracket Club Series

This past weekend we took something that had been brewing between my cousin Ryan and Neil and I and we subjected it to our friends. Now I'm presenting it to the public...

See with all this down time as of late, we've gotten in the habit of choosing a topic and then discussing at length the "winners" and "losers" with in said topic (best Jay-Z song, best band front man, my career, etc). Soon we began organizing and seeding these things and before we knew it, we had full NCAA-esque brackets to determine an objective winner in subjective categories.

Not to seem like a small recluse group that does internet searches, and makes charts... we emailed our buddies, and before we knew it, a BRACKET CLUB SERIES was formed. We plan to meet almost monthly (or whatever) and kindly discuss (or fight about) any topic we feel like discussing. Really, its just a reason to gather and have fun!

First up was 90s Sitcoms... and even the term "sitcom" was up for debate (must it include a laugh track? can it be a cartoon? etc)

We collected everyone's top 10 votes plus honorable mentions, applied a point system to the votes, and used that point system to seed the bracket. We had the standard field of 64 (yes, there were 64 shows from the 90s that we used!) and we took on the hard work of whittling it down to just one (hey, someone had to do it).

Below, I've separated out each of the four regions, because I feel that's the easiest way to view things.
Also here's a link to the full bracket.

Since I know you're so very into this - I"m kidding (I'm not kidding) I'm going to add a level of suspense and not post the results just yet. Also, I need time to figure out which free online website will let me. Enjoy!

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Sleep in Heavenly Peace

Getting sleep used to be one of my biggest struggles. I would wake up 4-6 times a night, sometimes going right back to sleep, sometimes staying wide awake.

I recently went back and read my journal. I only wrote sporadically, usually at times of great difficulty. Even so, Its strange to see my desperate handwriting scrawled across an unlined page. One entry begins "today is 60 days with less than 1 hour sleep" (and it gets worse from there). I wrote that when I was on a particularly bad medication stretch that was clearly messing with me. Incidentally, it was also during the time I got engaged (such a committed guy).

I think I was only able to stay awake alive during those years was because my pain was so acute in the morning all the time. It kept me forcibly alert.

Now that things are changing for me (now that I have times without pain), I get waves of exhaustion unlike anything I've felt before. I read an article once that said you can't play "catch up" on the weekend for lost sleep through the week... that article should come and have a talk with my body, as it seems to be demanding years of back pay.

In the last two weeks, I've gone to bed at a reasonable hour. Then I've managed by some miracle above to sleep through the whole night!! Then I will wake up hours after Neil goes to work. So with weeks of getting 10 to 12 hours a night (a night!), plus sometimes a nap in the day (yep tack on 2 more hrs), I still feel so fatigued.

Once I fit in a bit of exercise and an online post and maayybe the dishes in the sink, I'm spent.

I'm accepting this as just a new phase in my healing. So far its better than any others because the sharp corners have rounded off my pain and I finally have rest.

On the other hand, I've never been more ready to jump back into life with both feet, yet it feels like I'm dragging cement shoes.

I got a wonderful card shortly after my accident that said "Grow Where You're Planted" - this is advice my restless soul has gone back to again and again. It helps me accept that right now I am in need of sleep, which is okay. So if you are looking for me, I'll be planted in my bed.

Monday, December 3, 2012

Taste of Victory

 Yesterday was extra special (if you are from Pittsburgh, you understand why)!

Against all odds, the scrappy Pittsburgh Steelers beat the Not Worth Mentionings by a field goal in the final seconds!!! And a tearful Charlie Batch hugged it out.

Prior to the game we took a bottle of the latest beer that Neil has worked many hours making (its FINALLY ready) and we said if they win, we'll drink it...

(here he is weeks ago, hard at work)

After the game we were thrilled. We put on some Christmas music and pulled out our decorations and began decking the halls. As we did we talked about the victory ("I mean what a guy, that Charlie, to block down field for his running backs!") and the holidays ("Maybe Christmas morning we skip presents and just take Dixon for a long walk.") and life ("Does it get better than this?").

With everything in place, we ceremoniously cracked open the very special brew Neil made for my recovery.

I took one sip of The Zipperhead Ale and was convinced it was the best beer I've ever tasted. Then, dripping with sentimental foolishness I suggested we take a stupid picture of it near our tiny tree.

aren't you blown away?

Dixon was also impressed by this holiday still life extravaganza and he saddled up to the scene just in time to knock over both glasses of that liquid gold. 

I'll answer your questions in the order they appear...
1. Yes, that is a bed sheet being used as a tree skirt.
2. Yes, I also noted that the puddle was deep enough to scoop some back into a glass... but I refrained.
3. No, I couldn't punish the frisky puppy. Not when I put a tree and two drinks on a wobbly stool. And not when he has such a cute guilty face.

The lesson we learned here was simple. On the eve of a Steeler victory, on the cusp of Christmas, the Orbin household doesn't cry over spilled anything.