French-German ARTE TV Likes Pittsburgh

People all over the globe seem to be fascinated with Pittsburgh.  It truly is unlike any other city in the world and recently caught the attention of French-German ARTE TV.  They are similar to our own WQED and have programs centered on culture and the arts.  The transformation of our city from steel town to high tech holds such a aura of fascination that they are doing a web-based documentary about Pittsburgh.  What a wow factor!  This is the most exciting thing I’ve come across in our film mecca metropolis.  Although Rick Sebak has done a great job of documenting our city, it so much more flattering to be recognized by other countries.

For one of the film segments the AERTE crew was interested in showcasing Pittsburgh homes and talking to residents who have experienced the city’s transformation first hand.  They approached none other than our own Jonathan Barnes, who is a recognized world news correspondent and a Carnegie Mellon graduate.  In addition to helping the foreign journalists understand Western Pennsylvania’s history and culture, he helped the French crew define stories and arrange interviews and shoots.

Life is all about connections and Jonathan just happened to have a close relationship with Hilary Masters.  He is a long time resident who is also a renowned author, expert storyteller, world traveler and famous professor.  He watched the city transform first hand during the renovation of his Mexican War Street row-house where he has lived for the past 30 years.    He taught Jonathan in college and became the perfect subject for his successful student.  You can see the interview here:  http://bit.ly/WdzuSw.

I will keep you posted on where to watch the entire documentary.  The clip of Hilary is wonderful and I happy to learn of the elevated status of our city.

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Pittsburgh Chamber Music Society

Chamber music is a form of classical music that is composed for a small group of instruments— traditionally a group that could fit in a palace chamber.  The musicians are usually in trios or quartets so it is a much more intimate concert that a whole symphony orchestra.  And therein lies the beauty of this exquisite and unique musical compilation.

The Pittsburgh Chamber Music Society was established in 1961 by a group who wanted to bring the world’s finest artists to our city.   And they have done so over and over for the past five decades.  Their board is made up of a zealous group of aficionados with the highest of standards.  The groups that they bring to Pittsburgh are simply the best in the world.

The concerts are also held in one of the most beautiful performance venues in the world.  The Carnegie Music Hall in Oakland is encased with gorgeous marble and adorned with exquisite chandeliers.  It reeks of the grandeur of the late 1800’s  and has to have a few ghosts sequestered within it’s walls.    It is an absolutely awe inspiring venue.  I love to pause on the second floor balcony as I exit and just spend a few moments looking down on the lobby.  It is so beautiful that it takes your breath away.

The society has a long established group of subscribers who share an intimate love of chamber music and respond to the evocative draw of this incredible society of connoisseurs.  I once had the honor of working closely with this wonderful society and promise that you will never find a more loyal group of followers.  I got the opportunity to speak with dedicated subscribers who shared wonderful stories with me.  There was the woman who told me she had held the same seat for every concert since she was in college and that was over 40 years ago.  There were the four men in their 80’s who met for every concert and the couple in Sewickley who hated to give up their membership but found it too far to travel at age 97.  The people I dealt with were the nicest I’ve ever encountered from the longtime subscribers to the dedicated board members.  I promise that  you will meet some of the most interesting people in Pittsburgh if you just come out for one of their  concerts.

Annie Mollova is the  director and has been able to bring a fresh perspective to the concert series.  Along with her new marketing coordinator, Rebecca MaNamee, she is instilling a whole new social aspect to the concert experience.  They have added a new concierge service for those that wish to be dropped off at the carriage driveway.  How much old world can you get than that?  I’m sure that Andrew Carnegie would approve.  They have a lobby concert before each concert that runs from 7:00 – 7:20 and have a post concert gathering at the Porch at Schenley that provides a chance to meet and mingle with the performers.  It is a rare opportunity that you will cherish for life.

Check out the next concert tomorrow night, January 29 at 7:30 pm.  You can buy tickets at the door and Annie is great at letting you sit wherever you please.  The prestigious  Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center Winds and Piano will be performing and this is one that you will not want to miss.

Stress Free Shopping

I was picking up my daughter after school on Friday when the librarian commented on my scarf and asked me where I got it.  It was not a short answer.  I tend to go off the beaten path when searching for clothing and accessories.  I hate the mall and anything mass produced.  If I had the time and the talent to sew my own clothes I would do it.

I had to pause and think about the best way to describe where I got the scarf in question.   I always get comments on it and I guess it is a bit unusual.  It has tones of grey and black in a leopard print that is flecked with sparkle throughout and spouts feathers on each end.  I discovered it during a unique personal shopping experience I had over a year ago.  I met this fabulous woman named Marsha Murman at a professional women’s meeting.  She started her own traveling boutique in 2004 and has a mission statement of adorning the world.  It really is the little things that matter in an outfit and getting it right is hard.  Too much looks garish and the wrong thing stands out.  But Marsha is an expert at making the clothes in your closet look like runway pieces.

I went to her home and ended up having the most stress free shopping experience of my life.  It was comforting and stimulating at the same time.  I was amazed at the transformation of my outfit with just the right scarf.  Marsha guided me the whole way and showed me ingenious ways to wear the accessories that I would never have thought of on my own.  There were no lines to wait in or parking places to find.  And the choices were not too overwhelming.  I once sent my husband to buy pantyhose at a department store and I’ve never seen him so shook up.  There were literally hundreds of selections and the graphs on the back of the package were too much for him.  He ended up begging a woman to help him and he actually made it back home with the right pair.  But he swore he would never go through that again.

It is so much nicer to browse through unique hand selected items that have been carefully chosen from all over the country.  Marsha’s business is called Chloe’s Adornments and her website is chloesadornments.com.  You can find her contact information there and learn more about her business as well.  She is not only a true professional but a genuinely good person as well.  She supports many charitable organizations and has a Woman of Honor Award that she sends out monthly.  You can sign up a deserving person that you know online.  Marsha randomly chooses a name once a month and sends them a free item from her collection.  It is a heart warming act from a person with a big heart.

Below Average Genius

Today I was getting cabin fever after all the snow so I made a spurious decision to rush out to the Andrew Carnegie Free Library and Music Hall to see comedian and newspaper columnist Mike Buzzelli share excerpts from his book Below Average Genius.  I’m so glad I went.  It was one of those life defining moments.  Here was a person I could really relate to who made me laugh.

Mike was immediately likeable and unpretentious.  He is a Pittsburgh native who recently relocated here from L.A.  I  keep running into people who have done this.  Despite the glamour and great weather of the west coast, they prefer to live here.  It used to baffle me but it is starting to make sense.  Pittsburgh is an amazing city that offers a lot for it’s size.  It has a large selection of cultural arts, fine dining and free events.  The concentration of academic institutions and medical  centers provide endless access to stimulating lectures and events.  The popularity of our intellectual audiences never fail to draw the best speakers, authors and entertainers.  Even President Obama has chosen to come here four times.

But the people in this city provide the most magic and Mike’s presentation today was filled with family and friends.  The talk was informal and funny.  Before long the audience participation took on the feel of a family gathering or a class reunion.  I asked so many questions that Michael asked me my name and even invited one person on stage with him.  He is an incredibly gifted writer and comedian who seems to lack an ego.  I am so glad he chose to come back home to Pittsburgh.

I suggest you go and buy his book.  It is filled with comical real life essays that reflect hilarious adventures and west coast culture.  I read it to my husband while he prepared dinner tonight and he could not stop laughing.  You can also follow Mike on Twitter to find out when he will be performing.  He is truly a Pittsburgh gem that you don’t want to miss.

The Eyes Have It

It took me years to establish a reliable set of doctors I trust in Pittsburgh and now I have so many that I can never leave.  But it is always a quest when I need to find a new practitioner.  I recently succumbed to my deteriorating eyesight and went in search of an optometrist.  I got a few recommendations and looked online but ended up opting for convenience.  I chose a vanity boutique that carried an impressive collection of fashionable frames.  I thought I should invest in an attractive pair that really reflected my personality.  But it was a decision I was soon to regret.  The appointment was prolonged for hours because there was only one doctor on call and an emergency had occurred.  I had little guidance in picking my frames and the ones I really wanted were not recommended due to my progressive prescription.  I was told that larger lenses would make the adjustment easier.  The price point was higher than I expected and I left the appointment with a rather heavy heart.  I was so exhausted after my long wait that my decision making was compromised.

When my daughter came home with a poor eye test score, I vowed to find the perfect optometrist.  It was actually pretty easy.  Oakmont Eye Care had five star reviews and came highly recommended.  The location was nearby and the office was so pleasant that it felt like a spa.  Low lighting, calm tones and tasteful decorating.  We were treated like rock stars from the moment we came through the door.  Dr. Patricia Napolitan was great with my daughter and actually made the experience fun.  She had state of the art equipment that was able to take a microscopic color photo of the eye and blow it up on a computer screen.  It actually uncovered scar tissue that otherwise would have been impossible to detect.

But my favorite part was picking out the frames.  The optician, Stacey Marinacci, was nothing short of amazing.  She zeroed in on exactly what my daughter Clarice wanted and selected the most flattering options for her to try.   I offered my opinion but it was easy for her to make a decision due to the skillful guidance she received.

The service was so friendly from start to finish that I left actually feeling refreshed.  It was a great start to my day and I now have another expert to add to my list.

World Book Night

I don’t know who came up with the idea of World Book Night but I think it is a great one.  It is a celebration of books and reading held on April 23 of each year.  It is fueled by passionate volunteers across America who distribute books within their communities to those who don’t regularly read.  Last year it was celebrated in the U.S., the UK, Ireland and Germany.  It resulted in over 80,000 people gifting more than 2.5 million books.  And you can take part in this wonderful event for free!

When you sign up you get to choose three books that you would like to give away.  A panel then reviews all the suggestions from volunteers and chooses 30 titles to give away.  The authors of the books waive their royalties and the publishers agree to pay the costs of producing the specially-printed editions.  The books are then dropped off at participating host locations.  The Mystery Lovers Bookshop in Oakmont is hosting this event locally and you can sign up on their website.  The deadline has been extended until tomorrow.  It is such a simple and gratifying way to give back.  I have always loved to read and feel that the right book can truly change your life.  If you don’t believe me, just read Phyllis Diller’s biography.

All you have to do is  pick up your books the week before World Book Night.  Then on April 23 you give them away to those who don’t regularly read.  These people are easy to find.  Go to any doctor’s office, airport departure gate or bus stop and look for people idly waiting around.  Give them a book and improve their day.

Reading offers the ability to escape from the world around you.  It can comfort and soothe or encourage and inspire. It is is also a great deterrent to keep people from talking to you on the bus, plane or doctor’s office.

I should mention that you do have to be chosen for the honor of bestowing this special gift on the unaware populace.  Each application is carefully read and analyzed by a team of serious bibliophiles.  You will be contacted mid-February if chosen.

I hope you join me on this quest.  The deadline has been extended until tomorrow so make haste.

Buy of the Week – Thoroughly Modern Playhouse

One of my favorite places to shop is the gift store at the Carnegie Museum of Art in Oakland.  I was there today and came across what has to be the coolest toy playhouse on the planet.  I think my daughter will love it and her architect grandfather may even want one for himself.  In fact, the picture on the box looks exactly like his living room with the same seating arrangement and fireplace design.  He even has a Navajo rug.  It is down right uncanny now that I think about it.  But this is just one of the arrangements you can create with this innovative set of modular nesting boxes.  It includes eight mix-and-match furniture pieces along with 12 removable vinyl clings for endless decorating.  The furniture is a snap to assemble.  You just punch it out, insert the tabs into the slots and you are ready to go.  The table tops and seat cushions are reversible offering multiple options.  Luckily, a helpful museum employee pointed out the Modern Play Family accessory kit that I just had to buy.  It includes two adult and three child press out figures, two dogs, a doghouse, one cat and over 150 mix-and-match reusable hair and clothing items.  If you think it can’t get any better than this, it does.  You can actually fit everything back in the box making it a truly portable house that you can take anywhere.

MoMA Modern Play House

    Perhaps the best part about this toy is the creativity and manual dexterity it involves.  It is not driven by high technology and visual special effects.  It does not make noise or run risk of injury.  It is simply fueled by the imagination and can be played with alone or with others.  Sometimes I just like returning to the simple pleasures in life.  One of my happiest memories as a child was playing with the box of paper dolls that my dad brought me home from work one day.

I hope my daughter appreciates this as much as I do.  I think we are all guilty of buying others things that we love that are not always appreciated by the recipient.  But this is a win/win situation.  I will gladly claim this as my own if my daughter does not appreciate the value of this unique gift.  But I know her pretty well and can bet money that this will be a hit.

Nostalgia on Walnut Street

Every time we are on Walnut Street my daughter wants to visit The Shadyside Variety Store.  It is the same store my husband walked to from his home on Howe Street when he was growing up.  That was when children roamed the streets freely and parents were oblivious to the perils that lay in wait for their untended offspring.

The variety store is one of the last vestiges of the quaint shopping district that used to exist.  Walnut Street was once a comfortable and humble neighborhood shopping destination that was dotted with shop owners who could all walk to work.  One of the anchors was the William Penn Hat and Gown where the best ball wear could be found complete with white gloves and a purse to match.  Next door was Rollier’s Hardware which was started in 1922 by the Satterfeld family.  It contained everything the home owner could hope for and operated on a friendly first name basis.  Around the corner on Copeland Avenue was Will Sell Chocolates.  I thought this was just a clever name for a candy store until I met Mr. Will Sell himself.

When I moved to Pittsburgh in 1985 there were still a few of the original shops, bars and restaurants from my husband’s youth.  His favorite hangout, The Raspberry Rhinocerous, was long gone but Pasta Piatto was still going strong.  To this day it is remembered as one of the best Italian restaurants to ever open.

The retail conglomerates that line Walnut Street now have pushed out most of the family owned businesses.   The merchandise is manufactured in mass quantity and marked up to reflect the high cost of being trendy.  Quality has suffered dearly during this transformation but you can still find some great pieces at privately owned Pamar and The Dress Circle.

For new residents Shadyside still holds a lot of appeal but the charm of the past will never be replaced.

Dumpster Diving at the Apple Store

A trip to the Apple store is always an adventure.  You are greeted immediately by an impeccable employee who ushers you into the hands of a waiting sales clerk or resident genius.  If you are waiting for the latter it can take a while. I find this time awkward.  It is usually hard to find a place to even sit down and this is not a browsing store.  It has a purpose driven environment.  Most people know what they want to buy before ever gracing the door.  It’s pretty simple since they only sell about four actual products outside of accessories.

There is always a sea of interesting people milling around with different levels of intent.  I just recently learned that over half of these are really disguised security people since theft is simply unacceptable at Apple.  And I find it intriguing to watch the stylish young posing beside the rumpled intellectuals.   I always seem to run into someone I know so it is usually  a socially gratifying experience.

I was there today to pick up my sick computer.  It had been wheezing horribly and was in need of a new fan.  A simple repair but I still needed to leave it overnight.  I thought I could just pick it up at the door in the back alley.  This is great discovery for those  I frequently see lugging  iMacs through the front door or double parking out front to unload.  I admit to doing the same thing until a Genius let me in on his little secret.

In fact, the real treasure is in the alley at the dumpster.  It is filled to the brim with the best quality cardboard money can buy and it is a shame to see it all go to waste.  Since I started hanging out at the Pittsburgh Center for Creative Reuse I look at garbage in a whole new light.  My daughter just built a house within our house out of large cardboard containers and I hardly see her anymore.  She even devised a clever lighting system out of binder clips and small flashlights.  It is the perfect place for her to hide away with her iPad.

So I simply couldn’t help myself from poking around the garbage after I rang the doorbell for service.  It took a while for someone to answer and I completely admitted to admiring their trash.  When I got full permission to help myself, I loaded down my white Honda station wagon with all the cardboard it could hold.  There were thick squares of intriguing triangles and large flat boxes that will be perfect for lining my guinea pig cage.

My trash will truly turn to treasure and I left the Apple store without spending a dime.