The Best Career Advice I Ever Got: Don’t Be Your Job

I knew I wanted to be a writer since I was in 4th grade. When I told my mother this, she said, “Well, maybe you can go to school for pharmacy, and you can write in your spare time!”

I realized that we were not speaking the same language.

Also: My mother is a pharmacist. So is my father.

At any rate, I did not take my mother’s sage advice. Although I did attend my parents’ alma mater, Duquesne University, I did not go into the pharmacy program. I got a liberal arts education. I majored in print journalism — yeah, that’s right PRINT journalism — with a minor in American literature. I also took several women’s studies classes, which probably explains a lot.

My last semester of college was 1992. I had two classes on campus, and I had a full-time internship at an alternative newspaper as the editorial assistant. As editorial assistant, I pretty much was a girl Friday — typing other writers’ copy; I took dictation over the phone on occasion — writing headlines and photo captions, helping with print production, and also writing articles.

I was in heaven. It was what I wanted to do.

I was who I wanted to be.

I graduated from my program in December of 1992 — and got laid off in January 1993. My position was eliminated. I managed to wrangle another three months out of the job because the listings and events editor went on maternity leave.

My last day at In Pittsburgh was March 19, 1993.

I went home and sobbed. And called my mother.

Now, let me explain something about my mom. She entered a male-dominated science field in 1963. She started college at Villa Maria College in Erie, PA, taking mostly science classes. She transferred into the Duquesne University pharmacy program in 1965. (This is where she and my father met, which is a whole nother story.)

She graduated in 1968, one of three women who graduated from the program that year. She and my father married in 1970, and I was born in 1971.

When I and my siblings were little, my mom stayed home. (They did not call them stay-at-home mothers in the ’70s. They were just moms.) She had a part-time job, about one day a week. My father worked full-time, and more than full-time, opening and managing pharmacies in the area.

My mother eventually did go to work full-time, I believe when my little sister was in 1st grade. She and my father became business partners, and worked together. In pharmacies. My mom continued her education, taking classes in geriatric medicine and nutrition (I think). She and my dad eventually sold the business they had built together, and my mother became a pharmacy consultant to nursing homes in the area.

My mom was a freelance pharmacist.

In any case, when I called her on March 19, 1993, sobbing into the phone, she did all the motherly things. And then she said something I’ve never forgotten.

“Dawn, remember: You are more than your job.”

She went on (and I’m paraphrasing here, I’m sure), “Don’t identify too strongly with the job you have. It’s important to have a career, but it’s also important to realize you are bigger than any job you have at anytime.”

In other words, a job is a means to an end — money, healthcare, building a career.

But it’s not the be-all, end-all of WHO YOU ARE AS A PERSON.

I am a writer. I said so right here. It’s very much part of my identity, and has been since 4th grade. But I am not my job as a writer. I have held several writing positions; I have freelanced; I have written just about everything from poetry to feature articles to marketing copy for KVM switches.

And I am a mother, a wife, a daughter, a sister, a friend. These roles, too, are very much part of my identity.

Jobs come and go. They change. My job is not who I am, it’s just what I’m doing right now in service of my career as a writer — and in service to my partner (Dan) and family.

I think my mom’s advice goes hand-in-hand with Kim’s advice. Work is an important part of who we are as people — but don’t be so essential to your job, or identify so strongly with it, that it’s hard to leave.

Like my daddy says, the graveyard is full of irreplaceable people.

What’s the best career advice you ever received?

My mom on her 70th birthday.
(h/t to Kim Z. Dale for the subject matter.)

Playing Favorites?

Growing up (and, frankly, to this day), I always thought that my brother was my mother’s favorite. It wasn’t overt, it’s not like she gave him better desserts, or let him off the hook in terms of chores because he was a boy. Ultimately, even suspecting that Dr. Bro was her favorite didn’t hurt me or our relationship.

I never felt that my father had a favorite, although I think he enjoyed his two “daddy’s girls”. He liked to play the protector, the knight. He wanted to give Dr. Sis and I a healthy male role model to look up to — someone who was a breadwinner, who loved and respected our mother, a man who prioritized his marriage, and who pulled his weight around the house. He was tougher on my brother in terms of discipline because he wanted him to grow up to be a good man. (Well, done, Dad. I think it worked.)

I think maybe I was at times resentful of being the oldest child; I found certain things unfair. For example, I was the one testing the boundaries, and when I busted them — and boy howdy, did I know how to bust a boundary, especially as a teenager — I got well and appropriately punished. But I didn’t see the Dr. Bro get the same consequences. Which isn’t to say that he didn’t. I just didn’t see it.

And never mind Dr. Sis. Raising three children now, I get the baby-syndrome thing. When it comes to parenting Michael, I understand. I’m tired. Whatever works to get him to a) stop whining and b) go to sleep. I’m in.

I’m sure Dr. Bro and Dr. Sis have their own feelings about all of this, and I suspect that one of them is totally assured that he is the favorite child, forever and ever, amen. *ahem*

Author, Dr. Bro, Dr. Sis
I think we are 7, 5, and 3 in this picture.


On the way to school Monday morning, this story came on NPR, and the girls and I listened to it. (I am not sure how *closely* they listened to it.)

And yes, my first instinct was to stab the button to change the channel, but I overrode that instinct. I like riding in the car and talking about stuff with my children. It’s probably a captive audience type thing.

When the story was over, I asked Kate and Flora if they thought I had a favorite. They said no, they didn’t think I did. I asked if they felt I treated them differently. In the car, they said no. However, I know that Flora often feels the burden of being the oldest, and knowing that her father and I have higher expectations of her, than we do for her siblings (at this point). And I know that she struggles with that (as did I). And I also know that both girls think I spoil Michael rotten. Or at least let him get his way more often than they get their way.

They may not be wrong. (I’m tired, I said it.)


The mother of four adult children passed away. She had been a good wife and mother, and active in her church, at her job, and in her community. She was well-loved and well-regarded, and her funeral was very well attended.

Of course, all four of her children were there, all with their spouses and children. They celebrated her life. Over the course of the wake after the funeral, her oldest child finally couldn’t stand it anymore. At dinner that evening, he called all his siblings together, and said, “Now that mom’s gone, I just can’t hold it in anymore. I have to tell you all: She always told me I was her favorite.”

His brother and two sisters were shocked. “I don’t know why she would tell you that,” the older sister said. “She told me all the time that I was her favorite.”

“Yeah, well,” said the younger brother, and baby of the family. “She told me that all the time, too.”

The younger sister was nodding. “Yup. All the time. ‘Don’t tell the others,’ Mom would whisper while putting me to bed. ‘But you’re my absolute favorite.'”


Do I have a favorite? While I love all my children equally, I do sometimes think I have a favorite. Of course it varies from day to day and hour to hour. And the reason varies too. Michael has a special place in my heart for being the boy I get to raise; I love Kate’s complete enthusiasm — she may have been my favorite for a while Sunday while roller skating. She was utterly fearless, not afraid to look silly or fall down. She got out on that rink, and didn’t stop skating until we told her it was time to go. (Yesterday morning, Kate groaned, “I’m really sore.” I didn’t see her make it once around the rink without taking a spill. But that didn’t stop her.) I love Flora’s curiosity and growing sense of responsibility.

When we put the children to bed, we usually say to them, “You’re my favorite Flora.” And Kate, “You’re my favorite Kate.” Or I’ll tell Michael, “You’re my favorite little boy.” And it’s true.

They are my favorite.

M, Kate, Flora
How could I choose just one?

Who’s your favorite? I promise not to tell.

Random Thoughts: The Extended Family Edition

I may have mentioned this before, but: I come from a large family, on both sides. My father’s family is larger — he is one of seven children, six of whom are still alive. They married and had children (I have 17 first cousins), and most of their children have married and/or have had children.

Most of us live in Pittsburgh. And when there’s an event (First Holy Communion, high school graduation), we get to have a party.

Sunday, my family of 5 went to a party to celebrate a first communion. It was quite an afternoon.

Generally, the clan gets together about once a year at Seven Springs. Which means last time many of these people saw Michael he was an infant.

Most of them exclaimed over how much he’s grown. He now is walking, has hair, and is eating real food (quite a bit of it, actually). My Aunt N is especially in love with M, and she couldn’t believe how “her baby” is getting so big.

M took it all in stride. He was, surprisingly, not too clingy, and Dan and I couldn’t help bragging on him a little. He really is a happy, charming, pleasant little man, and he proved us true to our word on Sunday.


Flora brought BB to the party, where apparently he found a friend.

Flora also brought a couple of books.

This was me at nearly every family event. Sitting off to the side with a book. I always said my hellos, and was quiet and polite, and when I could, I slipped away to another world. And then said my thank yous and good-byes.

I don’t think it’s a bad way to be.


Kate, on the other hand, was the life of the party.

Here are comments my middle child elicited from others on Sunday:

“She’s certainly very outgoing!”
“She has a lot of energy, doesn’t she?”
“She’s got a delightful personality.”
“She’s so full of life.”

And, over and over again, from various people: “I love Kate!” Said enthusiastically and with much affection.

Let’s understand, that I, too, love Kate — and Michael and Flora — and would willingly lay down my life for them.

But I wonder if some of the comments I get about Kate stem from admiration for Dan and me for resisting the urge to duct tape her to the nearest piece of furniture after the fifteenth time we’ve peeled her off of someone, or are said with the knowledge that the person expressing his or her love and affection is relieved that she isn’t going home with them.

Either way, I probably shouldn’t fret. After all, one of the most beautiful things about coming from a large family is learning to love and accept all kinds of different personalities, from the loud and physically affectionate to the quiet bookworms.


As a side note: I shouldn’t have worried about entertaining BB. The journal that the kids filled out was full of prosaic activities that they did with the bear: shopping, reading, watching a movie, going to church. I didn’t see him on a Kennywood ride anywhere.

We went to the park and the library, baked cupcakes and took him to a family event. Flora ended her journal entry on Sunday with, “BB had a lot of fun.” And you know what? I think he did.

Lake Effect

When I was a teenager, I thought a lot about leaving Erie.

That desire to flee one’s hometown is probably endemic to teenagers everywhere, though.

In the years I have been living in Pittsburgh — not surprisingly — Erie has changed and grown. Now visiting as an adult, I find Erie a fun get-a-way, and a great place to go with my kids, in no small part because my parents live there still.

Yesterday we got home from a picture perfect weekend. The weather was ideal; the kids were fantastic; and much fun was had by all. I went to a spa (yes, Erie has a spa, has for about 10 years now — who knew?), out to dinner with my best friends in the entire world, met my husband for drinks when he final managed to get away from work and make the 2-hour drive. And that was just Saturday.

My best friends and I in front of the Freeport Bar. The conversation was awesome.

Sunday, I was forcibly (in a good way) reminded how fantastic roller coasters are to ride. I got to enjoy an amusement park — a far cry from the Waldameer of my childhood — and a water park with my children. Flora and Kate shrieked through every ride. The most fun was Waldameer’s version of the LogJammer — my dad water bombed the car my mother, Kate, and I were in. We got soaked, and I loved it.

The park worked out perfectly; we strolled around for a while with my parents and my Aunt N (one of my father’s sisters) and the three kids, then they took Michael home while Dan, Flora, Kate and I went to the water park.

We went on (almost) every water slide. I chickened out on the enclosed slides. It was so refreshing to just be a party of four, where we could pair off easily. Not surprisingly Flora wanted to be with her daddy, and Kate wanted to be with me.

The weekend was just delightful. We saw family and friends, ate good food (well, mostly. The Saturday restaurant was perfect if you liked fried food and meat. But the company made me really not care that my cheese raviolis clearly came out of a bag),  and the joy I took in my children, whether we were riding down water slides, running with sparklers, or just cuddling on the couch at the end of a long day, was just a reminder of how great a love I have. How blessed I am in my life.

Did I say “picture” perfect? Well, not quite. But it was still fantastic.

Memory Lane: Erie Ghost Story

(For Father Spoon)

Every town has one: The haunted house or field where one day a father (sometimes a mother) snaps and murders his spouse and children. (Doesn’t every town have one?)

In Erie, it was called Axe Murder Hollow. Mr. Jones (I don’t actually know the alleged family’s name) slaughtered his wife and four (?) children with — you guessed it — an axe. It was a deserted field on the west (maybe east) side of town.

And one night, after watching The Exorcist with some of my friends, including my prom date/boyfriend-for-six-weeks-afterwards Mike, we decided to pile in Mike’s beater and take a ride out there.

We weren’t even drinking.


The Exorcist is a very scary film. Still, I think Poltergeist (the original) is way scarier. And that’s because I suppressed most of my memories of The Exorcist. When people say, “Have you seen The Exorcist?” I say, “Yes.” And then when they’re all, “Do you remember the part when her head spun around/she said those things/she did that thing with the crucifix?” I’m all, “No. No I do not.”

Poltergeist, on the other hand, I vividly remember. Especially the part when the guy rips his face off. That scene may be a prime reason I’m a vegetarian today.

In terms of today’s horror films — the Saw franchise springs to mind, not that I have seen a one of them — Poltergeist is probably pretty damn tame (or lame, your pick). But nothing at that time was scarier to me than trees that could reach through windows and eat you, or clown dolls.

CLOWN DOLLS, people. *shudder* That’s like taking the scariest two things from my childhood and combining them. And then bringing them to life onscreen.


I love horror films, incidentally. I love the suspense and the chills, and being too scared to sleep. But I haven’t watched horror films in a long time. (And regardless of how scared I get, I’m too tired now-a-days to *not* sleep. So, win, I guess.)

Because my husband is a wimp. He *hates* horror movies, and won’t watch them. And I won’t watch them alone. I mean, what good is that?

Although we did watch 28 Days Later together. And Sean of the Dead. (Okay, technically speaking, not a horror movie.) And Identity. That was kind of an accident; we thought it was a mystery, plus it starred John Cusack. We like John Cusack.


So: I bring home The Exorcist from Home Video Exchange (where I worked) one night. I have a few friends over for a viewing.

And it is terrifying. (Incidentally, I think I got in trouble for bringing it home, too. My father was not pleased. Although that may have been another movie… Darn if I can remember though.)

And somehow the subject of Axe Murder Hollow comes up. Six teenagers decide to get in a car, and drive out to the scariest part of Erie.

And we were *smart* teenagers, too.

The entire ride, we were giving each other the willies. I believe Tim made up an entire story line about a gypsy that cursed the family because they wouldn’t let said gypsies camp on their land, and one of the gypsy children died in a car accident.

So, as we descended the hill into the “hollow” of Axe Murder Hollow in Mike’s car, and H “saw” a gypsy woman on the side of the road, we started getting even more freaked out. Crying may have been involved at this point.

Mike parked the car and turned it off. Then something — a noise, a shadow, a raccoon — spooked us, and that pretty much sent this carload of teens (three girls, three boys) over the edge. Pleas to get us out of there started.

Mike’s car wouldn’t start. Or so he claimed. I was sitting in the front seat, and I saw him turning that key for all he was worth. I may have even given it a shot, because by now we were sure we were going to be pulled bodily from the car by ghosts and ripped into tiny pieces.

Scary movies, ghost stories, and teenage hormones. Do not mix.

Mike’s car finally, mercifully, and reluctantly came back to life, and we drove hell bent for leather out of Axe Murder Hollow. I’m sure we recovered over cheese fries, with ranch dressing and ketchup, at the nearest Perkins.

The next day, Mike called. “I took my car to the mechanic,” he said.


“He said he couldn’t believe it had started again last night. My [very vital car engine part] is fried. He can’t even get it going.”

“You lie!”


True Story.


What’s the scariest movie you’ve seen? What’s the scariest thing that ever happened to you? Does your neck of the woods have an Axe Murder Hollow?

Memory Lane: Grandpa Frank

My mom’s dad — and Olympia’s husband — had some interesting sayings.

“When not in use, turn out the juice.”

“‘I see,’ said the blind man, as he picked up his hammer and saw.”

“Know what I mean, Jellybean?”

That’s what he used to call me: Jellybean — and Twiggy. (Hey, I was a skinny kid.) I used to protest Jellybean as a nickname because I didn’t like jellybeans; still don’t for that matter. “Well, what do you like?” he would ask. “String beans,” I would say.

Yeah, I was a weird kid, too.

My grandfather was, for me, the quintessential old Italian man. He was incredibly stoic, often grumpy. He didn’t say a lot. He had a garden and a plum tree that he cultivated, and while it looked as if he wore the pants in the family, looking back, I think my grandmother ruled the roost from the kitchen. Grandpa drank dago red — probably made in the basement — at Sunday dinners. He hated Germans (Krauts he called them) and Jews — which is something I never understood. Not that he was pretty racist (hey, it was a different, less politically correct time), but that he chose these two groups for his specific ire. It seems to me you would kind of love Germans if you hated Jewish people, or hate Germans but like Jewish people.

His basement was a treasure trove. He had a workbench with a vise, and numerous jars filled with nuts, bolts, screws, washers, and just about any other small metal object you can think of, plus magnets galore. To this day, I have no idea what he did with this stuff. He also had a garage simply filled with useless junk and toys from Marx Toys, where he and my grandmother had worked.

One of the things I remember the most about my grandfather was how he would look after my little sister when she was sick and my mother had to go to work. My mother didn’t go back to work full time until Krissy was in first grade, so we never were really in daycare. Whenever Dr. Sis would get too sick for school, Mom would call Grandpa, and he would come over.

My sister has fond memories of this time. They bickered constantly and they were best friends. My grandfather used to poke, and poke, and poke. “Noooooo,” my sister would whine when he antagonized her. Yet, she brought out the sweetness in him. I honestly don’t think any of us grandchildren got him to smile the way Krissy did. I believe he used to make her egg drop chicken noodle soup, too. He made her feel better, always, every time.


My Kate — who shares a birthday with Dr. Sis — has been running a fever since Sunday afternoon. (As an aside: I have noticed a pattern with Kate: when she is run down — if a day or weekend has been over-the-top busy, she will spike a temperature that lasts a few days. I’m going to talk to her pediatrician about it. Maybe it’s a chicken egg thing: She is run down and a bug she has been fighting off takes advantage of a weakened immune system, or she picks up a bug because she’s run down. But I don’t know, and I think I should talk to a doctor.)

She has been hanging out with her Tadone — her Italian grandfather. He’s different than Grandpa Frank — much more cheerful, for one! — but I see the same kind of dynamic with the two of them. He calls Kate “a pistol”, and she is, and they share a love of music and YouTube videos.

Hey, it’s better than Fox News.

Seeing them together reminded me of Krissy and Grandpa Frank. Right down to the antagonizing. “Bob the Sponge.” “Spongebob, Tadone!” “Bobbie the Spongie.” “Noooo, Tadone, Spongebob.” Said with an Italian accent, “Sponge-a Bob-a.” “Taadoooone!”

I hope their love for each other is just as enduring.

Faith-Based, Part 1

We got the official word last week that the Catholic grade school where we send Flora and Kate is closing this spring.

It’s heartbreaking, especially to my husband, who is an alumnus of the school. The girls love their teachers and classmates, and I’m sure it’s going to be difficult for them in the short run.

That being said, Catholic schools all over Pittsburgh — all over the United States, I suppose — have been struggling. St. J has been on the block for three years now, and with the inability to bring enrollment up past 90 students, the diocese and the church decided to close the school.

When Dan told me, I wasn’t sure what we were going to do. Or, rather, I wasn’t sure what other Catholic school we were going to send our children too. I don’t know anything about the other schools, and I am going to have to do some serious homework, with Dan, to see the best fit for us. And right quick, too.

When asked about switching the girls to a public school, I thought to myself, “Oh, I don’t think so.”

It’s hard to put into words why I think it’s important that my children get a Catholic education.

But, being a writer and all, I’m sure going to try.

1. I will admit, some of why I want my kids to go to Catholic schools is as elementary as the fact that *I* went to Catholic schools. It’s what I know; it’s what I am comfortable with. I had a Catholic education from pre-k through college graduation. And I benefitted from it, academically as well as spiritually.

2. While it’s important that I participate with my children in their education, it’s also important that they get the most in-depth education they can get. I could no more teach higher level mathematics than I could guide my children in an informative Bible study. While I might know more about my Catholic faith than the average Joe, I think my kids would do better to get formally educated in it.

3. This is probably an arguable point: The quality of a Catholic education is often superior to a public education. This is kind of inevitable, and I don’t think public education should be written off. However, from my POV, Catholic (and private schools, in general) attract very dedicated teachers. In my experience, teaching wasn’t just a job for the men and women (some of them nuns) from whom I learned; it was a vocation, a calling. Lord knows (pun intended) they don’t get paid a lot of money — this probably varies from school to school, and some hoity toity private schools can probably attract the talent with a high paycheck. (Which isn’t to write off hoity toity schools, either. Each system has its place.)

4. School uniforms. You have no idea how simplifying having school uniforms is. It really levels the playing field in some respects, socially. And I expect it to make my life as a mom much easier during the week. Once they start wearing uniforms (Flora, still in kindergarten, isn’t subject to the uniform rule yet), my mornings will be that much easier.

5. Finally, and this is where I get religion-y on you: I believe our lives should be God-centered. What we do and the way we do it should give glory to our creator. This is at the very heart of Catholic education. No, that doesn’t mean talking about God in every class. But that means that learning about one’s faith is as vital as learning math, English, science, computer, etc.

What are your thoughts about education? Public, private, Christian-based? Why?

Memory Lane: My Front Tooth

In the melee the other day, Kate chipped a tooth. I didn’t notice it until bedtime, probably because of all the blood at the time of the accident, and the tooth wasn’t radically displaced. She complained of a little bit of pain after she brushed her teeth, which is probably why I was looking at her mouth in the first place.

When I noticed, when I was tucking her into bed (well, into Flora’s bed), I said, “Oh! You chipped your tooth.” It is the eyetooth, on the left.

She got very worried. “Is it all yellow like yours?” she asked, clearly concerned.

“No,” I said wryly. “But you have to go to the dentist anyway.”


When I was 9 years old, I fell down the stairs.

I didn’t really fall so much as fly down the stairs, actually. I remember running. I was definitely running. Whether I was running because I was late, or my mother was calling me, or I was simply taking joy in speed and my 9-year-old body — I was a long-legged lightweight at 9, and over short distances, I could go very fast — I don’t know.

In any case, I went running down the stairs, flying down the stairs, and in my ineffable graceless ways, I skipped probably the last three stairs, went soaring through the air, and landed on my face.

I blacked out, although I definitely remember screaming. Maybe I blacked out when my mother, in an attempt to save my front tooth, tried to gently point it the right way down in my gum.

It was a lost cause.

Whether or not I actually fractured my nose is up for debate. I used to claim that of course I did, because, hello, look at my nose. But now that I’m older, I have to admit: I just have my dad’s nose. My mother doesn’t remember a bloody nose; she just remembers the tooth.

When I fell, or to be more precise, when I landed, I landed on the faux stone foyer by our front door. I chipped the right front tooth cleanly in half — on the diagonal.

My mother says I was face down and screaming when she got to me, and when she turned me over, she noticed the tooth — what was left of my tooth — sticking straight out — straight forward out — of my gum. She tried to, as I said, push it down. Then she called the dentist. Who wouldn’t see me because it was a Saturday.

We changed dentists.

Anyhoo, I went to school on Monday, knowing I had a dentist appointment later. I do not remember eating the rest of the weekend, although I must have. Maybe I just drank my meals for a couple of days. (Milkshakes!)

I do remember, very clearly and painfully, deciding to get a drink of water from the fountain at school at one point. I don’t recall if anyone told me beforehand about exposed nerves, but I learned about them damn fast in that hallway. I never realized how much cold water could hurt.

The dentist did his best to repair what was left. I have blocked out that process; I’m sure some kind of novacaine was involved, because I emerged with a new, whole front tooth.

For some reason, this same dentist decided not to do a root canal at the time. He thought that maybe the nerves hadn’t really been damaged, and maybe I wouldn’t need a root canal. Or at least he hoped.

He was wrong. When I was 12, my front tooth started to hurt. At first, it was just a little tender. But the pain built, and started to radiate up into the gum, and by the time I finally saw the dentist again, the whole front of my face from that tooth up to about my sinus cavities was a giant, roaring hurt.

It you have ever had an abcessed tooth, you know what I’m talking about. If not, there probably are comparable pains. Like, if you hit your thumb with a hammer. Only imagine you hit your thumb with a hammer, and then instead of stopping and getting some ice, you hit it a couple more times. Until maybe you broke your thumb and it swelled up and you could feel the pain in your elbow. That’s what an abcessed tooth feels like. Kind of.

I had a root canal. The details are hazy. At some point, my front tooth was shaved down to a peg and then they bonded something on there that loosely resembles a tooth. If you’ve ever met me, I’m sure you’ve noticed that my front tooth is discolored. It’s been this way since I was a teen.

I keep meaning to do something about it. I’m quite self conscious about it in pictures, and I always keep my lips over my teeth when smiling for them. I don’t know what would be done about it — dentists always seem to focus on the fact that I still have my wisdom teeth, and most of them don’t discuss my front tooth in any depth. I don’t know what doing something would cost, although for some reason the amount $1500 sticks in my head.

That’s a lot of diapers.


The dentist says Kate’s mouth is fine. He took an x-ray, then smoothed out the tooth. He says there doesn’t appear to be any further trauma to the mouth, but she has to eat soft foods for a time, or foods that are cut up small. We go back in six weeks. Thank goodness it’s just a baby tooth, and her gums and permanent teeth all appear to be unaffected. *knock wood*

What’s the most traumatic injury you got as a kid? How much would you pay to erase the scars, if any?

An Unsolicited Review of Davio’s Restaurant

Saturday was my father’s 65th birthday, and to celebrate, he and Mom came down to Pittsburgh. They were here to spend time with their grandchildren (my brother and his wife have four boys); Sunday he was going to the Steelers’ game — good one! — and to really complete the festivities, he wanted to see Dr. Bro, SIL, Dan, and me for dinner.

After talking about the options, SIL and I decided Davio’s in Beechview was a good choice. The food is always highly rated, and it is a BYOB joint, which we all love.

We had a great time. Davio’s is not very big, maybe about 15 total tables, including about four 2-tops, four 4-tops, and a couple 6- and 12-tops. But it doesn’t feel crowded, and tables aren’t butting up against each other. Wait staff has plenty of room to move around, and you’re not overhearing conversations from other tables. (Laughter, yes, and we were probably the most guilty party on this score.)

Dan and I missed the ordering of appetizers because the movie we went to see (Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Pt. 1) let out at exactly our dinner reservation time (8 p.m.). But it looked like they ordered a seafood app, that Dan had, and a cheese and olive dish, that he and I finished off when we got there.

The bread sticks are served with several dips and oil; I only tried the bean dip, which was good and garlicky. The other was a Roquefort or gorgonzola dip that I couldn’t sample. The bread sticks were crunchy and cheesy, less Olive Garden, more cracker-like.

Our dinners came with salad, and the salad either had fennel in it or the dressing was flavored with anise. After a couple of bites, my father, brother, and I put it aside; we really don’t like anise (or, for those who aren’t familiar with that flavor: black licorice).

The menu is heavy on meat, which is fine if you are a meat eater. Dan had the DelMonico rib-eye; my father had the elephant’s ear veal; and my brother had the pasta with meat sauce. They were all very pleased with their dinners. My SIL and mom had fish dishes they really liked.

I had the choice of pasta with marinara sauce, pasta primavera with garlic and olive oil, or the pasta marinara with some grilled veggies. Marinara primavera, I guess.


The marinara with grilled veggies — don’t get me wrong — was very, very tasty. The server had asked if I wanted or didn’t want any particular vegetables, and I asked for no peppers or onions, which spell heartburn for me now. The grilled zucchini, eggplant, and yellow squash were lovely, and the sauce was garlicky with no hint of onion or sweetness. (Some red tomato sauces either use sugar or onion, neither of which I approve of for a marinara sauce.)

But at a place that prides itself on outstanding food, I would think Davio’s chef(s) would come up with something a little more interesting for vegetarians (who don’t eat fish).

As an aside, my mother, Dan and I stumbled onto Davio’s some ten or so years ago (maybe more; Dan was pretty sure that we weren’t even engaged yet). They had a tortellini appetizer that I asked for as an entree, and it was amazing. No such luck this time around.

The green beans, which came family-style with the dinners, were buttery, rather than done in garlic and olive oil. My mom really liked them, but I did not; everyone else said they were okay.

The desserts, all of which are made on the premises, were outstanding. We only ordered two, for sharing: the cannoli, whose creamy filling was flavored with orange zest, and a mascarpone cheesecake topped with blueberries, which was light and fluffy.

My other beef with Davio’s (see what I did there?) is that they allow smoking right outside their side door, in a small alleyway there. Now, I know I am super sensitive to smoke because I’m a former smoker AND I’m pregnant, but toward the end of the meal, it was getting obnoxious. I wish they had a policy for people to smoke further away from a door because I was very distracted. For the record, though, when I mentioned it to my father (a former smoker as well) he said he didn’t notice it. So, again, it may have just been me.

The best part of the evening, of course, was the company. Several bottles of wine were shared. I had about a 1/2 glass of one of them, the name of which I can’t recall right now. It was an Italian red of some sort. I’ll have to ask Dan. We laughed and told stories, and made fun of my Mom a little bit (as always). At one point, after listening to my brother hold forth on something about which I feel the exact opposite way, I remember turning to my father and saying, “How did you end up with three such radically different children?” [This story from NPR may explain some of it. I’m going to have to look into this.] He laughed. We told jokes, and talked about my sister’s upcoming nuptials, as well as worked out some logistics of Thanksgiving weekend.

In short, Davio’s seems a lovely place to mark a special occasion or impress a date. Bring a bottle of good wine or two; the food will take care of itself. If you’re a vegetarian, maybe call ahead, and let them know you are coming. When I have done this other places, I have been rewarded with something more remarkable than a pasta dish with vegetables.


My grandmother died yesterday.

After Dan got home, he said, “I miss her already.”

My feeling is a little different. I’ve been missing my grandmother for years now. I feel like now I can begin to grieve. I wrote about it in this post two years ago:

In contrast, I have been losing Gigi for a number of years now. Her memory started fading probably 10 years ago. Five years ago, it started fleeing. And then about two years ago, she took a fall and fractured her pelvis, and her memory loss was, abruptly, memory lost.

When we visit, she says she remembers who we are, but I have my doubts. These visits are pleasant because my grandmother, despite her complete absence of presence, is cheerful. She isn’t angry, or depressed, or crabby. She just smiles and hmms and nods as we tell her our stories, remark on the weather, or talk about food. She doesn’t seem to be in any pain or discomfort. She is in good health, although my mother reports she is steadily weakening. Unlike Nanny, Gigi isn’t struggling. What would she struggle against?

If I had one wish before Gigi dies, it would be, for one day, to spend it with the grandmother I remember from, say, fifteen or twenty years ago. That woman, my children, and a tape recorder, for 24 hours. I would like Monkey to have something more than the vague woman she has met. Bun may not have any memories of Gigi at all.

Which leaves it up to me, I guess. To remember for all of us.

Olympia was a first generation American. Her parents’ love story is right out of an Italian romance novel — the older man spotting the teenage beauty in the piazza; his travel to America to “make his fortune”; sending for his love and her family. They had children; they lost a daughter in an accident when she was only 6 years old. My grandmother used to tell us how much that hurt her mother. The parents died within a year of each other.

My grandmother grew up in Little Italy in Erie, Pennsylvania. She was a hat check girl at the Italian Club, and later, worked in the Marx Toy factory. My grandfather, Frank, worked there too. I wonder sometimes how he caught my grandmother. She was a classic Italian beauty — small in stature, with dark eyes and hair, a smile that seemed to hold secrets. Not that my grandfather was not a handsome man. I just used to watch them bicker sometimes and wonder.

The story I learned later was that the house in which they lived — the one that wasn’t in Little Italy — was bought by my grandmother after her second son was born. Olympia and Frank had a boy, then a girl (my mother) and then, nine years later, another boy.

With an infant, two school-aged children, herself, her mother-in-law, and her husband all under one roof, my grandma decided it was time to move. Her MIL wasn’t going to budge from Little Italy, and it looked like my grandfather wasn’t going to either. He didn’t think they needed to move and he didn’t look at houses. But my grandmother was a working woman, too, and she had some money put away. So she found the house. My grandma gave my grandpa an ultimatum. She and the kids were moving; he could come with ’em if he wanted. My mom always said that until they moved there, her parents never fought with each other.

It was a great house for grandkids. My grandfather had a garden and there was a huge plum tree in the backyard. They had toys from Marx — a Big Wheel, a two-seated pedaled scooter. The basement and the attic were treasure troves. I remember Sundays of speeding around the driveway with my cousins; exploring upstairs and downstairs (even though we weren’t supposed to be in the attic); of dinners of lasagna and raviolis. I remember my dad eyeing his jelly glass of dago red suspiciously, and the men — my dad, his father-in-law and two brothers-in-law — sitting silently in the living room watching football.

I don’t think my dad ever had more than one glass of that wine each week.

My grandmother was a widow for more than 30 years. Frank died of his second heart attack, in the doctor’s office. She used to joke with my sister and me: “The first time you marry for love; the second for money.” We used to ask her when she was going to find a rich boyfriend.

She never did. She considered herself married…. well, I can’t say until the day she died. I don’t know what was locked inside my grandma’s head in the end.

We had just been in Erie in July, and had celebrated her 92nd birthday on the lawn of her long-term care home. I’m glad, so glad, we had the time with her we had. She may have faded from the lively Italian grandma I knew, but I like to think that somewhere in her heart, she still knew us all and loved us all. That she still remembered. Everything.