Tuesday, October 13, 2015

The Summer I Broke Down Across America: An Odyssey

As the plane began its ascent, I was reading a book that I bought in Hudson News, purely because it had a rainbow-tiered cake on the cover. I hate take off and the delicious story was serving as a distraction. Unfortunately, as the plane slowed to what felt like a stop and the loud whoosh of the engines turned into a dull hum and the cabin smelled a little like gas, I realized stories about cake and the promise of red beans and rice when I landed at home in New Orleans would not be enough of a distraction.

Suspended in the sky, with an increasingly worrisome air filling the cabin, our captain announced that there was, “nothing to worry about.” He had hit a bird, but we would need to return to the Nashville airport for an inspection. Nashville, where I just had a two-hour layover. In the moment, I didn’t care. I was relieved that we had only hit a bird — poor bird. I felt a little apprehensive to take off again, but that was all. I didn’t know what a long journey, and long summer, I still had ahead.

Exactly one week later, I was visiting family in Louisiana. My parents and I drove from our family home, in a suburb of New Orleans, about three hours west to Lake Charles, Louisiana. We did some visiting and I conducted an oral history interview, and we set off for home. Things were going well for the first hour or so. Then, we rolled onto the Atchafalaya Basin Bridge, which spans a little more than 18 miles and is the second longest bridge in the U.S. – according to Wikipedia lol. We were in the home stretch on the bridge when traffic came to a complete and total stop. We would be stopped there for two hours in the Louisiana summer heat because a truck carrying mangoes was on fire a couple of miles ahead, really. On the bridge over the swamp, people walked their dogs, fished and, in true Louisiana fashion, broke out coolers of beer. We were stuck until the accident was cleared. When we passed the burned out truck, with a claw pulling out debris and scorched citrus, we took in the unique smell of singed mangoes and gasoline.

The following Wednesday, I flew back to Pittsburgh, where I had been living for 15-ish months, via Chicago Midway. And on Saturday, one-week post mango truck and two weeks post bird strike, I was travelling again through Chicago O’Hare to Seattle, where my fiancé and I were hoping to move. It was Pride weekend in Seattle, so we had a blast, and my fiancé had a positive job interview.  We left, fingers crossed, and flew home via SFO on a redeye. We bounced across the country through mild turbulence, nodding in and out of sleep.

We landed at 6 a.m. and my fiancé flew out again at 4 a.m. (22 hours later) for a business trip. He returned late Thursday and Friday we set off from Pittsburgh to visit family in DC. We drove home on a Monday. And, exactly a week later, I returned for a convention in DC. I spent the week with my sister and, again on a Monday, I travelled back to Pittsburgh. This time, with complication.  My bus broke down three times, trying desperately to chug along and make it to a rest stop. Three hours into the trip, we were only an hour and a half outside DC. We finally rolled into Pittsburgh. And Robert, finally received word that we were moving to Seattle. He packed the car and drove it cross country. I packed my bag and flew to Seattle by way of Louisiana, where I had my bachelorette party and bridal shower.


If you didn't make it through this epic Odyssey, here's the Spark Notes version. This summer I broke down on every mode of transportation — across this beautiful country. Robert and I are now finally settled in Seattle and enjoying getting to know our new city, and staying put.


Tuesday, May 26, 2015

Life in a Weekend

Sometimes it feels like everything happens all at once. And this sentiment is often supported in clichés: When it rains, it pours, When God shuts a door, he opens a window, etc.

I was recently caught up in the nittiest, grittiest versions of one of these spells. My car was hit in a parking lot (thankfully, I wasn’t in it), my hard drive crashed and burned (even the guy at the Genius Bar said, “Oh, that’s really bad.”), I changed jobs and I suddenly had to find a new apartment. I complained and I was annoyed. And, I bet, I was also pretty annoying — because who likes a complainer?

I was also weighted with the stress of traveling home for the whirlwind wedding weekend of my fiancé’s sister. I was very excited about the actual wedding, but telecommuting for work was proving difficult without a hard drive and we weren’t sure if the car was drivable to the airport and we would only have days to pack the apartment upon our return, and there were one hundred other questions piling up about work, life and where to live.

A week before the trip, my cousin had a baby and I was excited to add, “visit beautiful baby” to the itinerary.  Then, just days before the trip, my uncle, who had been battling an illness, passed away. I felt very guilty that my flight, long on the books, had me landing in the middle of the funeral. The logistics of changing the flight and attending the funeral were unbeatable. 

I was navigating a family loss and additions in one weekend. While I am being added to my fiancé’s family in November, I felt honored to be part of the group welcoming my soon-to-be sister-in-law’s new husband. In a way, this wasn’t just a weekend where we gained the groom, but I felt I had already gained a new extended family as we celebrated the couple together, aunts, uncles, cousins, grandparents — the whole shebang. I also found a moment in the wedding festivities to pick up my own wedding dress and bring it to the seamstress.

That’s the thing about living far away. You squeeze in everything you can on visits home. Sometimes, it’s seeing the family dentist out of convenience and, for me, it’s been wedding plans on my last few trips home. This rigid scheduling can be hard when all you want to do is grab froyo with your best friend and watch Netflix guilty pleasures with your mom.

Add life events to your trip, and you won’t have a moment to yourself. But that’s ok because going home is its own therapeutic vortex.

Considering additions on this most recent trip, I welcomed my cousin’s beautiful new baby girl. The wedding was on Sunday night and Monday morning I went to my cousin’s home and met a very new and delicate member of the family. I haven’t been around a lot of new babies, but Camellia (isn’t that a lovely name?!) was small and strong and so full of love. It was so beautiful to see my cousin in a new role. Her house was now a family home. And the visit was very happy. The big happy pink hydrangeas from the day before’s centerpieces brightened my cousin’s home and looked like they had been intended for the new little girl all along.

I picked up some maroon potted flowers that my dad thought would look nice in his sister’s garden. We went to my aunt’s house and visited with her and my cousins. There was coffee like always and lots of talk about new babies and weddings like always (a big family is often fodder for happy gossip). But, the visit, like all visits after a loss, had a cloud of sadness. Though, for the moment, we were simply enjoying togetherness and catching up.

The weekend was beautiful. And fulfilling. And sad. While I know not every weekend is so full of life, thank goodness, it made me wonder what else I miss living so far from home. There is a wholeness that I feel on my trips back to Louisiana. And, when life is good in Pennsylvania, I don’t always feel the void. Though there is always a small ache in living away. There’s a twinge when you realize you have to consult a map to go anywhere in a city where you are a new resident. A coldness when you don’t intuitively expect the seasonal weather. A loneliness when you feel you’ve exhausted new friends. And, a pang on Mother’s Day when you realize mom is two flights away.

While there is adventure in uncertainty and excitement in discovering new cities, there’s no place like home.

Tuesday, May 5, 2015

National Geographic Photo Walk in Pittsburgh's Strip District

This weekend National Geographic Your Shot hosted a photo walk and workshop in the Pittsburgh Strip District. Local photographers could meet up and go on a guided photo walk with bona fide National Geographic photographers. I am not a photographer, but I heard about the event through the grapevine as a Nat Geo contractor and Young Explorer. I have always wanted to learn more about photography and have used this blog in the past as a way to push myself. I threw myself into the deep end with the photo walk. And, though my pictures aren't technically the best (some of the people at this meet up were amazing!), it was really fun to step outside my comfort zone and try something new. It was my first time shooting manual. And, it was the first time I walked around with the sole purpose of taking pictures. 

For my final assignment at the workshop, I took pictures in one of my favorite Strip District bakeries, Colangelo's ... in the kitchen.  It was a little bit trial by fire. But, I got one shot that I really like, I call it, "Take the cannoli" ;) 

Thanks so much to Colangelo's for letting me in behind the scenes! Thanks to Grandpa Joe's Candy, S&D Polish Deli and many other people and businesses in the Strip for putting up with me and my clumsy picture taking! And a big thank you to Your Shot for hosting the event! 

Wednesday, April 29, 2015

Today in adorable things ... a crochet baby bunny hat

I'm the baby of the family, so I don't know a lot about babies. Don't get me wrong, I've always liked babies. They are just sort of a mystery to me. Now, I'm getting to the age where they are becoming less mysterious. No, not because I am having a baby. C'mon, I'm still just a 25-year-old who isn't sure what she wants to be when she grows up.  But, because some of the people I love most are having babies. One of my bridesmaids had the most beautiful little girl in the world -- I'm not exaggerating -- last December. And, my cousin (also a bridesmaid) is due any day.

With babies, come baby showers. I recently helped host my cousin's baby shower. As a gift, I decided to crochet a hat for the baby girl — with bunny ears, because hello they're adorable. 

I'm still really new to crochet, though. I only picked it up in January (there were a couple of failed attempts just before Christmas). During the harsh Pittsburgh winter, I needed a new hobby.  I mean I just spent SO MUCH TIME indoors. So, after finishing a fabulous infinity scarf, I decided to make something for the new bundle. It was my first time making something for a baby. And, making something for a baby (even when it's not yours) gives you warm fuzzies like you wouldn't believe. It requires lots of imagination, daydreaming, anticipation and love. While you are excited for the new little life to wear your gift, you are ten times more excited to get to know the new little person. 

Since I am new to crochet, I used two tutorials to make this adorable hat (link) with bunny ears (link). 

Hoppy stitching! 

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Bicycle! Bicycle! Bicycle!

Last fall, my super talented fiance built a bike. Yep, he cut the pipes and brazed them together to build a bespoke frame, with the perfect geometry that makes his ride fit like a glove. With our wedding at the end of the year, he came up with the idea that our send off could be on bikes that he built. I agreed, because Solange. So, he set off to build me the dream bike I have been imagining since second grade, down to my dream color. Although in second grade, I called my favorite color, recently and trendily referred to as mint, seafoam green. When I texted my mom a picture of me on the bike's maiden voyage, she replied "seafoam green." This has been a long time coming, y'all. While I can't give you all of the details about how to DIY a bike (I want to but I don't know how to myself ... maybe Robert can do a guest post in the future?), I wanted to share all of my favorite bike details. 

I'm not sure we'll be able to ride off from our reception — weather and safety permitting. But, I do know that we will treasure the adventures we have on our his and hers bikes, and that the little details seem to be embodiments of us. And, I have to say, these bikes look good together. 

I <3 my heart lugs!

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Engagement Pictures

Robert and I wanted our engagement pictures to capture a moment in our lives. We didn't want to focus on the ring or take pictures in a place where we had never been before. Instead, we worked with Ben Filio, who snapped pictures of us in our natural habitat. Ben took pictures of us -- all three of us, including Rasco -- at home in our apartment and on a stroll in our neighborhood, The Pittsburgh Strip District. Our pictures feel so natural and special to me, because I think they are truly a reflection on Robert's and my time together as a young couple in a new city. 

Monday, April 13, 2015

The Old Country Blog is now ...

Welcome to Menu du Jour
The blog formerly known as The Old Country Blog

Dear Readers, 

When I started blogging in 2012 as a student at Louisiana State University, it was a way to record the traditional Lebanese, New Orleans and German recipes my grandma taught me — along with global food roots and traditions.

But this little blog grew to document all of life's celebrations and reflected my own changing life as I graduated, moved to Washington DC and then to Pittsburgh and worked as a writer.

There are so many new things happening today, that I wanted to share more aspects of my life on cgerdes.blogspot.com. I was talking to my mom about how, like a diary, I wanted to blog about daily moments like wedding planning (I’m engaged!), travel stories, crafts and FOOD — but maybe now I’m not always the one cooking it. She suggested renaming the blog Menu du Jour, or Menu of the Day, because it fits my mission of blogging about food and daily life — like a peak into my journal.  So, thanks for the new name Mom, and, you know, my actual name …

I hope you stay awhile for recipes, travel stories, wedding planning, crafts and cute pictures of my dog Rasco.


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