Monday, September 19, 2011

Destination Walking

It's about a mile and a half from the parking lot in the Strip to Heinz Field.  One of the strategies I have been trying to use to get in exercise is destination walking -- not movement for movement's sake, but getting from point A to point B.   That's JB walking along the river.   One hour a day seems overwhelming when it's on a treadmill.   But checking out the scenery with a destination in mind and a companion sure makes it go faster.  


After a stinging 35-7 loss to the arch rival Baltimore Ravens on their home turf in last week's NFL season opener, the Pittsburgh Steelers delivered a 24-0 win at Heinz Field yesterday.   How does that happen?  I know the "any given Sunday" argument.  But the Steelers were humiliated last week and looked like they were completely unprepared for all of the tricks Baltimore pulled out of its playbook.  One of the pundits suggested that it was because the Ravens played like it was the Superbowl and the Steelers played like it was the first game of the season.  Baltimore and Joe Flacco clearly had something to prove.  During the week following, there has been much discussion about the character, preparation and the age of the team.  Yesterday, they put some of that to rest with a win, albeit against a team that was pretty bad.  And they could not convert a couple of first and goal situations.  These players are pros; they clearly go into a game thinking they can win and want to win. But what happens when they have a day like the one in Baltimore.  Their flubs, fumbles and flaws are out there for the world to see, to be dissected in print, in the blogosphere and on sports talk shows.  How do they turn it around?
Somehow they did.
I have been thinking a lot about turnarounds myself and think there is something to learn from the pros. 
Coaching must be a part of it.  I would love to be a silent bystander to have heard the message delivered by Mike Tomlin to his team last week.  And then analysis -- watching film, seeing what went wrong and making adjustments.   And practice.  And not giving up.  That's why these guys are pros. 
Watching the game on TV and in person are such different experiences.  In the stadium yesterday, the players played to the home crowd.  They sought adulation, waving their arms to the assembled fans to encourage cheers and towel waving demonstrations.  They clearly feed off the emotional energy of 66 thousand plus people. 
But they must have a fundamental belief in their ability to succeed. 
All good lessons.

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Am I in Denial?

Yes, I am apparently in the throes of denial.  Following my most recent checkup and much improved A1C, my behavior could best be described as having 'fallen off the wagon'.   It has been downright awful.  The aforementioned family reunion, with its dessert table laden with 20 or so different varieties of carb and calorie filled delights, was a challenge that I did not meet particularly well. 
I had the opportunity to attend another family's 'family reunion' earlier this summer.  It was a wake-up call about the food culture differences between my family and the way other families might approach such an event.  It was a cookout --  burgers -- regular, turkey and veggie.  There were a few salads and one dessert.  Yes, truly, just one.  Dessert shells with blueberries and ice cream/cool whip.  Perfectly lovely and delicious.  The quantities of food were adequate for the numbers of people and there were healthy choices all around.
Contrast that with our most recent reunion.   There is an Italian word that was once the punch line of a commercial for something I can't remember -- ABBONDANZA.  Abundance, it seems, is the way we do food.  It you don't have a least twice as much food as you really need, then you are not really being a proper host or hostess. 
And in addition to quantity, we also have quality.  Remember I said that we had published two family cookbooks for previously family reunions?  If I close my eyes, I can recall and taste traditional family recipes like Aunt Rose's manicotti and my cousin Michele's fudge.   Carbs and sugar.  The best.
But in an effort to get myself back on track, I googled "Diabetes Back On Track" (how original).  One of the entries that appeared was a pretty direct essay about how easy it is to exist in denial.  And it is a family trait (OK, a human trait).  What I once judged my mom about is now clearly me too.  Diabetes is an insidious, slow, killer disease.   It is so easy to sacrifice long term health for short term satisfaction. 
I am only now beginning to fully realize how this is a moment by moment battle.  And it is about habits, not rules.  And how it is hard. 

Family Reunion

In 1973, my mom got the idea to have a family reunion of her brothers and sisters on the day before Labor Day.  The idea got legs.  This past Sunday we had the 32nd one.  We have missed a few years and some years we had a family event that was a surrogate reunion, like Aunt Rose and Uncle Ray's 50th anniversary celebration or Mary Lou and Bob's wedding. We have gathered 32 times in celebration of family on a September Sunday.   About half of the reunions were in New Castle, PA, hosted by one of my cousins in her home.   The rest were held in other PA locations, including Mars, Somerset, North Huntingdon and Indiana.  
Our reunions are mostly about reconnecting and keeping people connected.  There have been games (egg toss, badminton, sack races) and competitions (cookie bake offs, creative uses for zucchini) and group projects (a family quilt and two cookbooks) and songs ("Hello Aunt Mary" and "We are the Fredas").    We keep a 'family tree', with biographical details, up to date, thanks to one of my cousin's daughters. 
I love this family.  As previously written, growing up it was only my mom's family that I knew in any depth.  My dad's family was scattered and distant.  But on my mom's side, I have two first cousins that were born in the same year as me.  And of the 16 'first cousins', seven of us went to the same Catholic grade school and high school.  And two of my cousins married people we went to high school with.  So there is a lot of history and shared experience.
When the reunions started, it was my mom and her six siblings and their children and grandchildren.  Now my mom is gone and there are only two of her siblings left -- aged 96 and 92.   This year nearly 60 descendants of Nicola and Carina Freda gathered.  This year for me was a kind of watershed event.  The family homestead has been sold.  It was the house my grandparents bought in 1931 and it held 80 years of both memories and stuff.   I wrote and posted the reflection below on one of the display boards at this year's reunion.  
Thanks to my cousin John, a talented artist who created replicas of the family homes in Whitsett and Munhall, we can remember these special places that housed such special people.   

The Places of the Freda Family

Family histories are the stories of people and places.  In the case of the Freda Family, Nicola and Carina and their children, these stories are inextricably linked to three places on two continents – Rivisondoli, Italy, Whitsett, PA and Homestead/Munhall, PA. 

Nicola Freda was born on February 24, 1876 in Rivisondoli. 
Carina Adele Buono was born in Rivisondoli on June 28, 1881. 

Rivisondoli is in the province of l’Aquila in the Abruzzo region of Italy, southeast of Rome.  Thanks to the Internet, there is a site devoted to “leave a trace of the Rivisondolesi’s emigration in the United States, a True History that deserves of being handed down to the future generations, because they don’t forget and knows to give the just value to the work for which, supporting 
inexpressible renunciations and sacrifices, they threw the solid foundations on which it rests, for better of for worse, our today’s life.”

The website contains the “first ten recurrent last names of our country”.  One of the ten names is ‘Freda’; another is Iarussi (Aunt Irma’s maiden name).   It also includes a list compiled by the local parish priest of donations received from emigrants for the ‘Mother Church of S. Nicola’ in Rivisondoli in 1922.  That list includes the names of Angelo Freda (presumably ‘Uncle Angelo’) and Antonio Iarussi. 

Nicola (Nick) arrived through Ellis Island on January 16, 1900 via the S.S. Auguste Victoria (departed from Naples) with his brother Marco.  The date of Carina’s arrival is unknown. 

Upon arrival, Nick promptly got to work.  In his application for Railroad Retirement Benefits, he recaps his employment history beginning on January 20, 1900 as a laborer with the Union Railroad in Homestead, PA. 

He was employed by the P & L E Railroad on July 3, 1901 where he stayed until August 8, 1916.  He then returned to the
Union Rail Road
in Clairton until September 8, 1921.   The family lived in Wilson, PA – the exact dates are not certain. 

From 1921 to 1931, he returned to the P & LE as a Section Foreman in Whitsett Junction.   I remember a few stories my mom told me about Whitsett.   She said that Nonna told her when the truck arrived, she told them not to unpack it.  Nonna was apparently not impressed by the small, isolated coal mining town, having spent the early part of her married life in a more urban setting.  And the Whitsett house had an 'outhouse', not the indoor plumbing that she had in the city.

Whitsett is about 30 miles south of Pittsburgh.  Founded in1845 by Ralph C. Whitsett,Sr., the community is made up of mostly “company” houses that were built for workers that worked in a large coal mine located nearby, Banning #2. Most of the houses were ½ houses built to accommodate two families.

Now the Mon Yough Trail, part of the Great Allegheny Passage, runs through Whitsett.  The trail was built on the old lines of the Pittsburgh & Lake Erie railroad. Whitsett was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1995.

Then there is Homestead and the house in Munhall.    The family moved back to the Homestead area in November 1931.   This year, the house was sold. 

Homestead has seen glory days and hard times.  It was once the steel capital of the world, with U.S. Steel’s Homestead Works, ethic churches and a bustling retail core.  Today, a shopping and apartment complex called the Waterfront occupies the site of the former Homestead Works.  It also is on the National Register of Historic Places. 

Yet this reunion – of the children, grandchildren, great-grandchildren and yes, great-great grandchildren of Nicola and Carina is a celebration, not of place, but of family.