Thursday, January 22, 2009

Continuing to Live Vicariously Through Hines Ward...

I hope President Obama doesn't mind if we borrow his slogan...

In celebration of his Inauguration, the Rooneys presented the new President of the United States with the game ball from Sunday night's AFC Championship game. To quote Dan Rooney,
"He's a Bears fan first, he admits that...But he's a Steelers' fan. He's said it, and all his staff, they're rooting for us [in the Super Bowl]."

Before my sports blog made its move over from ESPN’s website, I posted my thoughts on the Penguins making it to the Stanley Cup Finals. With the Steelers now headed to Tampa for the Super Bowl, I was reminded of something I wrote then…

Yesterday the Pittsburgh Penguins defeated the Philadelphia Flyers 6-0 (ouch) to move on to the Stanley Cup Finals. I’m reading the local free paper on the Washington D.C. Metro this morning and see a picture of an elated Pascal Dupuis celebrating after his second goal of the evening. I can barely sit still. It’s the same maddening feeling I had two years ago when I realized that the Steelers were going to Super Bowl XL. I was living in Boston and had to have had the most ridiculous, goofy smile on my face for the whole week before (and then after!) the Super Bowl.
What’s so maddening about this feeling? Well, there’s no one to share it with when you live in a different city. In Pittsburgh, I know they must be bubbling over with nervous excitement. That is when I suddenly feel nostalgic and long for home.

I’m wishing I could be in Pittsburgh, watching the Strip District buzzing with excitement, sharing enormous sandwiches at Primanti’s over game highlights, listening to “Here We Go” on repeat, and immersing myself in that sea of black and gold.

Two stops later, a gentleman gets on the train wearing a Penguins ball cap. Shortly before I get off at my stop, I tell him that I like his hat and ask if he is excited for the upcoming finals. He answers with an elated “yes!” Not surprisingly, we are both transplants to the area from fairly close parts of Pittsburgh.

As I exit the train and begin walking toward the escalator, I catch a glance of him through the train window.

His smile is beaming, and I wonder if he’s back home for a moment too.

Writing that (8 months ago!) made me start noticing fan gear anywhere and everywhere. While the occasional Sidney Crosby jersey or Pirates hat would float by, it was mostly Steeler paraphernalia that caught my eye. From the quiet island of Chincoteague where a man in a Hines Ward jersey told me to “keep an eye on those Redskins fans,” to a bar in Northwest DC where a fellow fan and I debated the effectiveness of Casey Hampton, there were dozens of folks who noticed my hat (or super-awesome-$1-in-the-Strip-charm-bracelet) and stopped to chat. In any case, I’m on the lookout for the next week and a half for anyone in the area wearing Steeler gear. So if you happen to be doing just that in the NoVa/DC area, and a short 23 year old girl comes running up to high-five you, please don’t be alarmed. I can’t help it.

Right now I can barely let myself think about the possibility that in less than two weeks, the Pittsburgh Steelers could become the first NFL team to have six Lombardi trophies. But I definitely don’t want to get ahead of myself either (pompous fans anywhere are obnoxious). The Cardinals are a formidable opponent and it’s going to be a really exciting game. I plan to have more in-depth analysis and some thoughts on the game as it gets closer. For now, I'm just enjoying the excitement.

Some Useless Trivia!

*Coach Mike Tomlin and linebacker James Farrior played against one another in college. Farrior was a linebacker for The University of Virginia while Tomlin was a wide receiver at William and Mary. In the game on October 4, 1994 Farrior finished with 2 tackles and an interception, and Tomlin finished with 4 catches for 58 yards.

*Larry Fitzgerald, Sr. has been covering the Super Bowl for the Minnesota Spokesman-Recorder for 28 years. This year, he will be covering his own son, Larry Fitzgerald, Jr., the standout wide receiver for the Arizona Cardinals.

*At age 36, Mike Tomlin is the youngest coach to take his team to a Super Bowl.

*Kurt Warner didn’t start a game in the NFL until age 27. He is 37 this year and on to his 3rd Super Bowl appearance.

*The Steelers and the Cardinals are the only teams this year to have swept their respective divisions (the AFC North and NFC West).

Oh, and as for the title of this blog post? On my old ESPN blog, it asked me to describe myself "in my own words." Here's what I said:

I bleed black and gold.

I follow most professional sports, but my favorite is football. I play fantasy football on a couple different websites and dream about being a wide receiver in the NFL. (Alas, I am 5 ft 3.)

Debating players and sports is one of my favorite activities, but it's all in good fun. While passionate about the teams and players I love, I am in no way like my angry neighbor who broke his TV when the Pats lost the Super Bowl this year.

Here we go, Steelers.

Friday, January 16, 2009

A Pleasant Observation...

(Late) Lunchtime! I thought I’d share an observation…

It’s been bitterly cold here in DC the past couple of days. Well, since most of my dear friends and readers are in Pittsburgh and Boston, I suppose it’s even colder for you. I won’t complain too much, I promise. It’s not even the cold that I mind so much, just the wind! Brr!

Anyway, I have to say that while the arctic chill has made me reluctant to go outside, I am absolutely amazed by the clear skies. When I lived in Boston, winter (particularly mid-January and February) meant cold, wind, mounds of snow, and GREY. It was always grey. It drove me nuts. There was one day last January so grey and cold (-20 with the wind chill) in fact, that I called into work sick because I couldn’t stand the thought of going out in it. (In fairness to me, being really anemic made it difficult for me to keep warm.) Here in NoVa/DC however, it’s still freezing, but the sun is shining! I wish I could express how good that is for my mood. It makes more of a difference than I previously thought.

Outside my window right now I see a powder blue sky and the bright sun gleaming off the dome of the Capitol. The trees are mostly bare, but the Capitol grounds and the Library of Congress campus are green and meticulously mowed to a perfect evenness. I’m sure that’s mostly because the Presidential Inauguration is on Tuesday, but it really does look great.

The whole city is buzzing with excitement. I saw some rehearsals outside of the Capitol earlier this week and watched some of the set up. Lots of street vendors are stocked with Obama merchandise (Obama lunchbox anyone?) and the city is preparing itself for the onslaught of people expected to attend the festivities. Restaurants are featuring some very cool specials as well. I particularly like Good Stuff Eatery’s Obama Burger. If you are a fan of Top Chef, that’s Spike’s (from Season 4) burger joint and I think it’s a pretty tasty place.

Joe and I (along with most area residents) will be watching everything from home. We’re both off both Monday and Tuesday (Martin Luther King, Jr. Day and the Inauguration, respectively) and we’re welcoming the mini-vacation. They’ve closed off most of the roads/bridges leading from Virginia into DC, so we plan to hibernate and enjoy some quality relaxation time at home with the dog. To anyone planning to get to DC, I’d say good luck—it’s going to be packed!

Oh, and as for this weekend, I have this picture from my mom that says it all:

Go Steelers!

Have a lovely weekend, all.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Things Change

At the beginning of December, I stopped tracking my daily eating habits and gave myself a bit of a break from the somewhat stringent self-imposed standard I’d set. Feeling guilty when I “messed up” and ate something outside of my plan was really getting to me, so I decided to reevaluate my habits.

Over the holiday, I ate white flour, had some cookies with real sugar in them, and even had a hamburger from a fast food joint (and found that it was less tasty than I remembered). I’d estimate I wavered between a 5lb. weight difference. Partially, I wanted to see how much of my practice with healthier eating has become intuitive, and at the same time I felt the need to give myself a little bit of breathing room during the holiday season.

After some evaluation, I was able to come to a few conclusions about my attitude towards eating and food in general. This helped me get a better idea of what I’m doing well and what I’m struggling with. Also, I have to admit that it was really fun to do my holiday baking without thinking about re-writing recipes.

A Cookie Is Not The End of the World

I admit it. I love peanut butter blossoms. I’m not sure who woke up one day and thought how awesome it would be to put a Hershey kiss in the middle of a peanut butter cookie, but this was a brilliant person. Sweet, savory, and rich all at once, I’m pretty sure that it’s my favorite cookie.

And I had several over the holiday. Did I balloon up to 200lbs.? No. Did my stomach feel a little queasy the evening that I ate three of them? It sure did! My point is that a cookie is simply not the end of the world or the end of a successful weight loss journey. By allowing myself some wiggle room, I took the guilt out of eating. With the guilt gone, there were no bad feelings to *gasp* drive me to want to eat more.

Flour Power

Many of the cookies I made over the holiday had a portion of the all-purpose flour replaced with whole wheat flour, ground almonds, ground oats, or whole wheat pastry flour. These grains and nuts added greater depth and texture to my baked goods while the all-purpose flour kept them from becoming too dense or crumbly.

White flour doesn’t provide much in the way of nutrition though, so where it could be replaced without the risk of lowering the quality of the final product, I did so. More and more, I’m realizing that an “all or nothing” approach to ingredients is somewhat foolish.

Karo Syrup Has Other Uses Besides Stage Blood

My senior year of high school, we had a group project where we needed to act out (and videotape) a scene from King Lear. Ours happened to be the one wherein Edmund wounds himself with his sword to make it look like he has been attacked by his brother Edgar. Karo syrup mixed with red food coloring makes excellent on-camera blood.

It also keeps sugar from crystallizing and making grainy, cloudy candy. My nut brittle and toffee never would have been the same without it. Again, it’s not something I’d advocate using on a regular basis, but corn syrup has its place in the kitchen.

Make A Friend at the Dinner Table

My mom and I sat next to each other at Christmas dinner and shared a plate of food so that we could each try everything without getting stuffed. This was a brilliant idea.

It’s Okay To Change Your Mind

Before I began writing this blog entry, I worried that it might disappoint some of my readers to hear of my holiday revelations. And that’s when I had the most important realization of all. Dear friends, every day we continue to grow and change. Had you asked me this past summer if I would ever have consented to that “holiday leniency,” I would have stubbornly said “no.” At that time, what was best for me was a strict eating regimen that included careful planning and calorie counting. It helped me develop the habits that kept me from gaining weight when I relaxed things a bit.

When autumn came, I was not only working full-time but also starting graduate school. Admittedly, weight loss moved down on my list of priorities. I was more concerned with getting good marks in my core classes. Since I had less time to plan, I needed to recognize that my meals would not always be ideal, but that I would do my best (whatever “my best” was on any given day) to make good choices. I consider it a success that I am around the same weight I was when autumn began. Strangely enough, removing the pressure and guilt from the situation actually helped me lose a pound or two over the holiday.

Simply put, it comes down to something I mentioned in my last blog post: Do what makes you happy. At the end of the day, you have to be okay with yourself. Sometimes that means admitting that you need some help to finish that big job, and sometimes it means giving yourself a kick in the behind. Know that it’s okay for “what you need” to be different the next day. Be flexible. Be adaptable.

Be happy.

Thursday, January 8, 2009

New Lessons for a New Year (and Football Predictions!)

As a rule, I don't really have New Year's resolutions. I love goal-setting, but having something set in stone doesn't work well for someone who tends to chastise herself when things don't go according to plan. Instead, I thought I'd share with you some of the lessons 2008 taught me (and that I will hopefully apply in '09!)

1. Guilt has no place in every day life.

We all have certain things we do out of a sense of obligation. What I discovered is that there are many things I've convinced myself that I have to do without any outside pressure. So, I started asking why. Why do I feel bad when I don't do the dishes in the sink immediately when I come home from work? Why do I feel obliged to go to a crowded party? (I'm not saying you should let your dwelling become a pig sty or that you should become a social recluse.) What I've learned is that I can take control of my decisions and own them. It's okay to let those dishes sit until a little later if I'd rather just have some quiet time after work.

2. Being healthy means taking a very honest look at yourself.

Taking my vitamins every day is not optional. 2007 taught me what I stood to lose by being ill-informed about my own health. This past year taught me an even greater lesson, and it was about being honest. I stopped drinking alcohol. I spent four years trying to keep up with other people my age at college parties before (finally) acknowledging that my post-op digestive system is simply no longer equipped to digest alcohol at a normal rate. I was not being honest with myself about my physical limitations. I accepted that there were certain foods I can't eat anymore, I accepted that I can only eat limited portions, but I couldn't accept the idea of going out for happy hour and not being able to have a drink with everyone. I don't know why--I felt like I wouldn't fit in at parties anymore. Once I stopped, I felt so much better. I didn't have to worry if the evening would be one where I was okay, or if it would be one of those nights where my stomach just couldn't tolerate it. Going out knowing that I won't have to worry about feeling sick is an amazing feeling. It's also great to know that I always have a designated driver!

3. I work to live. I do not live to work.

Our society places a lot of value on people who work tirelessly at their jobs. These people are to be commended for their sacrifice and dedication. Some people truly feel their best when they are working. But daily, I see nervous businessmen/women typing frantically on their Blackberrys while attempting to swallow a cup of soup for lunch. I hear people on the Metro say on their mobile phone, "Hey, I won't be home until after 8 or 9 tonight."

I like my job very much. I work with good people, I enjoy the work I do, and it's something I can do well. Part of the reason I am no longer at my previous job is because of the rigorous expectations of the corporate world. I had no wish to rush all day and work long hours for what was barely a living wage in Boston. I really believe that it doesn't have to be like that. I can hear the chorus of people calling me naive from here, but I honestly believe that things would still get done if people truly worked 9-5 every day and spent the rest of their time living.

We all have responsibilities at work. But tell me why those responsibilities should trump our responsibilities to ourselves, our families, our pets, and even our hobbies? It doesn't make sense to have priorities skewed so much toward what is only ONE part of life. This leads into my next point...

4. Slow down.

I don't want this year to fly by. Our family has so much to savor. My brother is getting married to someone wonderful (and I get to be in a wedding!), my cousin is having a baby, my dad opened a brand new office, and Joe and I are exploring what is still a relatively new home for us.

But sometimes with workworkworkworkschoolschoolschoolschool, I forget to just slow down and take some time to enjoy the things around me. It amazes me how far Dioji has come from the scared, shy, and wary dog he was the day we brought him home. Now he sleeps on my feet when I sit on the couch so that he'll know if I move. He's learned to play with toys (he was so confused for those first few months), he is too smart for his own good, and he makes me smile every day. Right now, I'm in my basement writing this blog and enjoying the smell coming from the pot of coffee I just brewed. It's a really simple moment, but what I'm doing right now is exactly what I want to be doing. That's a nice feeling.

6. It's ok that things don't go according to plan.

This has been a difficult one for me to learn. It's not that I haven't been aware of the fact that things don't always go according to plan. The problem I've had in the past is being at peace with that. I'd get very flustered and frustrated. After going with the flow a little more during the latter part of 2008, I started recognizing that sometimes change is better than the original plan. Things do, in fact happen for a reason. Allowing a little flexibility in life makes it more exciting. I ought to just enjoy the ride more often.

So, Happy New Year, folks. In the new year, I encourage you to follow your heart, trust your instincts, and remember this:

"Smart people do what they like to do, not what the world thinks." -Elia Aboumrad

Cheers, friends!

And now for something completely off-topic...

Seeing as my Pick'em league ended (Joe won! Congratulations!) before the playoffs, I thought I'd put my football picks for the playoffs up on here. This Sunday is the Divisional Round and the team I list in bold is the one I pick to win.

Baltimore @ Tennessee, 4:30pm Saturday: This is one of those games I see going into overtime and ending with a lot of very battered players on both sides. Two of the best teams in football right now are playing in what I expect to be the epitome of a smash mouth game. On the Tennessee side, this game is going to come down to Collins' timing with his receivers. If Ed Reed manages to get his hands on a pick, look out. To win, Tennessee must not commit turnovers and they have to find a way to run the ball against Baltimore's very stingy run defense. Baltimore also has areas where they need to step up. Rookie QB Joe Flacco has progressed well throughout the season under the leadership of new coach John Harbaugh. What I want to see is how some of the veteran leadership on the team (Ray Lewis, Ed Reed, Derrick Mason) can help their young QB and first-time head coach avoid mistakes caused by inexperience. To win, the Ravens must continue to hold teams on 3rd down and force turnovers. That said, it's hard to decide who really has an edge in this game. Even with the game being in Nashville, I've got to think that Baltimore wants it more. Ravens win it on a Stover field goal.

Arizona @ Carolina, 8:15pm Saturday: If you'd told me this time last year that Jake Delhomme would come back after Tommy John surgery and help lead the Carolina Panthers into the playoffs, I might have scoffed a little. I didn't count on Deangelo Williams pulling out a 1500 yard rushing season or Steve Smith having a 1400 yard receiving season. Bottom line? Carolina has a well-balanced offense that's poised to adapt to its opponents. In contrast, Arizona has an excellent passing game with Kurt Warner having thrown for over 4500 yards this season, but a meager running game. If Carolina's secondary shuts down the pass, the Cardinals are in some serious trouble. Statistically, Arizona also fumbles more than Carolina does. In the end, I think that Carolina's balanced play will overwhelm the pass heavy Cardinals. Panthers by a touchdown.

Philadelphia @ New York (G), 1:00pm Sunday: This is an exceptionally hard game to call. Division games always are. Teams in the same division play so often that they really get to know the nuances of their opponents. Statistically, there's no category where one team has a distinct advantage over the other. The X factors in this game are the running backs. New York has to contain Brian Westbrook and force Donovan McNabb to make snap decisions. If McNabb has time in the pocket, the Eagles will win. Conversely, Philadelphia has to contain the trifecta of Brandon Jacobs, Derrick Ward, and Ahmad Bradshaw. With such depth in the running game, I predict a more confident Eli Manning in the pocket and a Giants win by 10.

San Diego @ Pittsburgh, 4:45pm Sunday: After last week's game against Indianapolis, let me say that I don't believe any of the injury reports coming out of San Diego. Tomlinson says now that he has a tear in the tendon near his groin. Nate Kaeding is also questionable with a groin injury. Losing either of these players could be a kick in the gut for San Diego. However, I think losing Kaeding might actually be worse. Let's not forget how excellent Darren Sproles has looked on the ground lately. Kaeding has a reputation as one of the most reliable kickers in the game, and if this one comes down to 3 points they're going to want the best guy they have trying to put it through the uprights at Heinz Field (a stadium infamously difficult to kick in). The other factor on the Chargers side is of course, Philip Rivers. In order to win this game, Rivers has got to keep his cool. The Steelers #1 ranked defense is going to throw everything it has at him, and in the past, Rivers has shown that he becomes flustered and makes bad decisions under pressure. As for the Steelers, I find myself less concerned about Roethlisberger's return from his (3rd?) concussion because I have confidence in the Parker-Moore-Russell tandem. Admittedly, it hasn't been Willie Parker's best season. It's possible that breaking his leg last season has left him a little bit gun shy. However, the multi-angled approach to the run has worked well for Pittsburgh this season. The receiving core hasn't looked too bad either. While the numbers don't look especially spectacular, Nate Washington, Santonio Holmes, and Hines Ward have all made plays when they needed to happen. At the end of the day, it doesn't matter if it's 1 point or 20 points--a win is a win. The Steelers have been somewhat reliant on their defense to propel them forward. In order to win, the offensive line must keep San Diego from pressuring Roethlisberger in the pocket. During running plays, blocking needs to be a team effort in order to give the Steelers' running backs space to make big plays. I say Pittsburgh takes it by a Jeff Reed field goal.