Habitat Pittsburgh

Pittsburgh has come a long way on the food scene since I moved here 20 years ago.  We now have restaurants to rival any west coast bistro or New York trend spot.  Habitat has hit the food scene with a huge flair of excitement that rivals the big duck floating its way to fame on the Allegheny River. This unique restaurant sits atop a spectacular floating staircase overlooking the bustling lobby of the Fairmont.  A distinctive residential decor with warm earth tones and wood accents gives diners the sense of being at home. A beautiful glass-etched map of Pittsburgh hangs in the main bar area and is a must-see.


This is a great place to escape the rigors of a stressful day or a winter blitz.  In fact, you might even enjoy the beauty of our wintry mix from the spectacular view this restaurant offers.  Executive Chef Jason Dalling  is a native of Vancouver and began cooking professionally at age 14.   He  focuses on world flavors and a commitment to locally sourced ingredients. Habitat features Asian-influenced dishes and updated versions of American classics created with locally-sourced seasonal ingredients.

It is located in the heart of downtown and the perfect stopping place for an night on the town.  I remember years ago attending late night events and struggling to find one decent place open to eat.  It is so nice to have a great selection of world class eating establishments at our fingertips.  However, I still mourn the loss of Top of the Triangle in the U.S. Steel Building.  So far I have found nothing that comes close to replacing it.  But Habitat is unique in it’s own way and their signature communal table is the centerpiece of the restaurant. This stunning table was produced from a single piece of wood and is completed with a natural earthy finish.  I love supporting local endeavors and all the furniture in this establishment was sourced within 100 miles of the restaurant. It comfortably seats 12 in front of the dynamic exhibition kitchen where diners can watch Chef Andrew Morrison and his team prepare internationally inspired dishes with the kitchen’s unique wok station and tandoori oven.  What better evening could you ask for?  Forget the cold, forget the wind, grab a friend or meet a new one at this friendly spot with intimate appeal.


Junior Roller Derby League

I loved roller skating growing up and used to hang out on Friday nights at the B&K Roller Rink in Salisbury, N.C.  There were many great memories that transpired on that hardwood floor with a disco ball spinning in the dark.  And one of my favorite movies of about the same era was Kansas City Bombers.  Raquel Welch plays a roller derby skater called K.C. Carr and she fights all the dirty politics of this hard core sport in her desire for stardom.  She was such a strong role model and remains one of my favorite actresses of all time.

I was excited to find out that Pittsburgh has their own Junior Roller Derby League that develops and empowers young women 10-17 years of age.  Roller Derby is the fastest growing sport in America.  It challenges players to be bold, confident and united through the strength, balance and strategic thinking of competitive roller derby. The sport is aggressive but focuses on talent and teamwork over brute strength to win. A player of any size can be a champion if they have the passion for it.  Currently there are over 140 junior leagues across the United States and in Europe.
The Pittsburgh Derby Brats was established in February of 2013 and practice twice a week.  They  welcome all those who are interested.  Many of the players have never been on skates before joining but are confidently flying around the rink in no time.  Each member must train to develop levels of skills before they can participate in a competition but from day one each member is a part of the team. Results have been dramatic in many of the players: fitness, confidence, camaraderie and increase in academic focus. There are even scholarships for college.

Practices are normally held at the Neville Roller Drome on Thursdays 6:45-8:45 and Saturdays 10am-12pm. Parents and young women interested in the sport are welcome to come and visit practice.  Check out their website http://www.PittsburghDerbyBrats.com to glean more info.

Pottery Pittsburgh

Daniel Kuhn grew up in the Allegheny Valley and studied at California University of Pennsylvania for his undergraduate degree and Indiana University of Pennsylvania for his MFA. He has worked as a teacher and technician at Wortendyke Studio, Chautauqua School of Art, Society for Contemporary Crafts, Touchstone Center for Crafts and Community College of Allegheny County.  I am very excited that Daniel is opening a wonderful new business in Lawrenceville called Ton Pottery.  It is a teaching facility and retail space dedicated to the Ceramics Arts.  This is such an exciting addition to a vibrant section of the city that is growing at a really rapid pace.

Pottery is our oldest handicraft.  It originated during the Neolithic period or New Stone Age when humans first starting using tools, machines, crafts, etc.  Water was carried in woven baskets lined with river clay. After the water was poured out of the container the layer of clay dried. The loss of moisture caused the shape to shrink and separate from the sides of the basket. When the clay was removed it was shaped like a pot and retained the pattern from the basket after being dried in the sun.  A clever person discovered they could harden the molded pottery in hot ashes and make sturdy containers to transport and store foodstuffs.  This pottery is still being discovered in tombs and varies greatly in shape and size.


Pottery is great way to unwind and a very sensual process.  Just think of that memorable scene between Patrick Swayze and Demi Moore in the movie Ghost.  If you haven’t seen it and are thinking of learning to make pottery, you should seriously check it out.  It has been known to reduce stress and create euphoria.  Some people take their art very seriously.  It is also a fun activity for children and a great way to introduce art into their lives.

Ton Pottery will kick off with a grand-opening community party on February 22nd and 23rd, 2014, 10am-4pm. This event is free and open to the public.  It will feature demonstrations, door prizes and a chance to try your hands at the potter’s wheel.  They will be offering 12-week beginner, advanced and children’s pottery classes, one day workshops, open studio time and professional services beginning March 1st at their new studio.  Pottery parties are available for all occasions as well.  This is a breath of fresh air for anyone planning children’s birthday parties.  You can only take so much Gymkhana and Fun Fest Bowling.  Just visit  their website www.tonpottery.com for more details!

Extreme Winter Blast

This will be a winter to remember.  The city is actually in danger of running out of salt!  We are breaking all sorts of records this year with our continual freezing temperatures and icy accumulation.  We normally have around 42 inches of snow for the whole winter and we are well past that mark now.  It has put an extreme demand on our PennDOT road crews who have used around 22,000 tons of road salt in Allegheny County this winter. They used 5,000 tons around the same time last year.  This winter is to say the least abnormal.

So how do your prepare for an anomaly?  My personal mantra is to always be prepared for disaster but it doesn’t not make me fatalistic in nature.  I just like to adopt the old Boy Scout mantra “Be Prepared” in general.  But I firmly believe in deferring to others who are more accustomed to such chilly climes.  In Alaska anything above -10 is considered great weather.  They must know a thing or two about dealing with the cold.  Warming their cars up for 20 minutes or so and keeping their gas tank full to avoid condensation is commonplace.  They also make sure the power steering pump warms up before making tight turns out of their driveway. Otherwise you could be replacing your power steering hose which suffers from ice cold fluid entering at very high pressure through the hose.

Being prepared really can lessen the impact of extreme weather.  But there are some days when you just don’t want to step outside all – even in Alaska.  Simple advice.  If it is -20 below with wind chill, stay home.  Make hot chocolate.  Clean the house.  Read a novel.  Work from home.  Do anything but subject your delicate skin and internal infrastructure to abnormally low temperature.  The human body is far worse at acclimatizing to frigid conditions than it is to heat or altitude.  The two main cold-weather illnesses are frostbite and hypothermia.  Frostbite means that yo­ur skin has fallen below the freezing point and ice crystals are forming within your skin cells and killing them.  Frostbite can happen within 30 minutes if wind chill makes the temperature feel like -28 or colder. If it is -40, it only takes 10 minutes for a person to get frostbite. At -55, frostbite can set in within 2 minutes.

Severe frostbite penetrates all the way to the muscle and bone and is characterized by tingling of extremities and changes in your skin’s color and texture. The stages of frostbite are:

  • Red skin – initial stage
  • White skin – middle stage
  • Hard skin – getting severe
  • Blisters – severe
  • Blackened skin – advanced stage

Hypothermia is when your body loses more heat than it produces and your core body temperature drops. Some of the symptoms of hypothermia are:

  • Slurred speech
  • Stiff joints
  • Loss of coordination
  • Slow pulse
  • Uncontrollable shivering
  • Loss of bladder control
  • Puffy face
  • Mental confusion

So stay inside if at all possible and use caution if you have to go out.  All body parts and skin should be completely covered.  It is all about core heating and dressing in layers.

Base Layer

Consists of thermal underwear or other comfy tight-fitting apparel worn against the body.  Should be made of fabrics like silk, polyester and poly blends that are excellent at  wicking moisture off your skin. This is critical because after you’ve generated perspiration you don’t want to suffer dramatic drops in body temp when you stop moving.

Mid Layer

Everyday items like a T-shirt, casual pair of pants, etc. make up your mid layer. The object is to provide a little insulation and look good when you head inside and remove outer layers. Wool, cotton, and nylon often make good mid layers.

Insulating Layer

Can make an insulated jacket even warmer or can act as the primary source of warmth inside a shell. Should be lightweight and low-bulk for active sports and is commonly a pullover jacket, sweater or vest. Some great insulating materials include Polartec® polyester fleece, boiled wool, goose down and synthetic fill.

Table Top Tesla Coil

Nikola Tesla is directly responsible for lighting up our world after developing the alternating current supply system to transfer electricity.  It became the standard for electrical power generation and remains so today.  The Tesla coil is one of his most famous inventions.  It is essentially a high-frequency air-core transformer.  Tesla coils are unique in the fact that they create extremely powerful electrical fields.  Large coils have been known to wirelessly light up florescent lights up to 50 feet away.  Since the electric field goes directly into the light and doesn’t use electrodes you can even get burned out florescent lights to glow.

This true father of the electric age sold several patent rights along with his alternating-current machinery to our famous resident George Westinghouse.  It is understandable why Tesla has such a loyal following in Pittsburgh that 2014 heralds a new Tesla Club.  I just knew this was going to be a year of great beginnings along with legendary weather.  If you want attend the first meeting, just show up at HackPittsburgh on Thursday, January 30, 2014 from 7:00 PM to 9:00 PM.  They are located at 1936 5th Avenue, Pittsburgh, PA in the garage around back on Watson.  Just look for their flag above the door.  It is free and open to the public.

HackPittsburgh member Geno will show off a powerful musical Tesla coil and play various midi songs using lightning/thunder.  They even take song requests! A keyboard piano will also be connected to the Tesla Coil so that people can play their favorite song on it.  The will discuss the purpose of the club, its mission, its goals, and plans for various events.

If you want to learn more about Tesla and his famous coil I strongly suggest that you read The Genius Who Lit The World and join this club.

Free Drum & Dance Performance

The best way to fight cabin fever is to embrace the cold and venture forth in search of entertainment.  The place you want to be on Sunday, January 26, 2014 is the Quiet Reading Room in the Main Library First Floor at 4400 Forbes Avenue.  I am a big proponent for all our local libraries and love to promote the wide scope of events they offer.  They are known for digging up the best talent in Pittsburgh and offering it to the public free of charge.  If you show up between 2:00 PM – 3:00 PM you can catch a performance of a unique African arrangement.

In December of 2007 Yamoussa Camara formed Camara Drum & Dance to perform the music and dance of Guinea and West Africa.   He includes unique and exciting arrangements of West African music punctuated by original choreography and authentic costumes made for the group in Guinea.  Camara was born in the village of Boke, Guinea, West Africa in 1966 and took to his drum at an early age. In 1995 he immigrated to the United States. He taught drum and dance at Yale University for 10 years then traveled the U.S. teaching, performing, choreographing and polishing presentations for various dance ensembles.  We are indeed fortunate that he has decided to call our region home and join the huge base of talent our city holds.

Mito Camara

Yamoussa Camara currently resides in Pittsburgh and teaches West African dance at Carnegie Mellon University, the African Drum Ensemble at the University of Pittsburgh and West African drumming at The Irma Freeman Center for Imagination.  This is a busy guy with lots of positive energy you can absorb from every performance.  Hey, maybe you even want to take a class.   He teaches drum and dance workshops for children and adults.   This Renaissance man can be contacted for private classes or performances as well.  What better way to warm up on a cold winter night.   You can reach him at 412-403-7502 or check out his website http://www.camaradrumanddance.com.


Zuma Zuma at Shadyside Academy

Yes, that is zuma zuma not zumba zumba.  But they both have African origins and have added a lot of spice and vitality to our midwestern culture.   A Cirque Zuma Zuma performance is coming to The Hillman Center for Performing Arts at Shady Side Academy.  I am emphasizing the school because I drove around Fox Chapel for 30 minutes looking for the center the first time I went there for a performance.  Your jaw will drop when you first drive through the campus if you have not been there before.  It truly is another world and the atmosphere is conducive to absorbing education in a mellifluous manner.

There is also not a bad seat in this center for performing arts that has become a gathering place for cultured enthusiasts.  The Zuma Zuma acrobats stunned the audience during their America’s Got Talent performance in 2011.  You will find splashed across the stage over 120 talented singers, dancers, contortionists, and tumblers from 16 African nations who will amaze you with a high- energy, action-packed performance on February 15.

   zuma-zulu-dance-207   zuma-zuma-contortionists-205  zuma-zulu-dance-201  IMG_0708

The location address is 423 Fox Chapel Road and the phone is 412-968-3040.  You can always buy tickets at the door or simply check the website thehillman.org.

John Jacob is the producer of Cirque Zuma Zuma and traveled the world as an acrobat, circus and street performer.  He returned to his African homeland to gather young talent and founded a circus training school to give them a professional edge.  The school creates shows  featuring an array of never before seen talents mixed with some of the best cultural skills associated with African variety arts.  Many describe it as an African-style Cirque du Soleil.  They have definitely earned the same standard of performers and high quality live musical scores.

It is a great way to get in from the cold and beat these winter blues.  Transport yourself to Africa and let this performance heat you up.


Third Annual Bad Art Sale

There are a lot of talented artists in Pittsburgh.  When I worked at CMU people would strategically watch the dumpster outside the College of Fine Arts and unabashedly dumpster dive when the students threw out their unwanted masterpieces.  This was mainly due to sheer volume and space issues.  Those art students produced a lot of work and a dorm room can only hold so much.  Plus, those large canvasses are not that easy to haul around.  I’m sure that someone has an early Andy Warhol or Burton Morris treasure squirreled away from this sought after quest.  I was never able to time it right to find anything since the artwork disappeared within minutes and I don’t doubt that people staked out spots in sleeping bags to get to the best pieces first.


The main thing is that art is subjective.  A student’s rejected failure may be the best piece of art you’ve ever seen.  One man’s trash is another man’s treasure literally.  I think that is the reason that the annual Shaw Gallery  bad art sale has become such a wildly popular event.  It will take place on Friday, January 24 and Saturday, January 25 from from 11:00 a.m. – 9:00 p.m.  These are pieces that gallery owner Kurt Shaw has secretly procured and hidden away over the past eleven years.  He is adding to the booty this year by including used art books, art supplies, mats and frames.  I think he may be a bit of an obsessive compulsive buyer.  You can find him and his bounty at 805 Liberty Avenue in the heart of the cultural district.  In fact, there is a gallery crawl this weekend where you can check out lots of great places in this artistically restored downtown section.

So warm up with a bottle of wine and gaze at the new painting of the Côte d’Azur you just picked up for a steal at the bad art sale.  Build a fire and bundle up.  Great art soothes the soul.

Familylinks Social Media Jazz Contest

Familylinks serves nearly 8,000 people annually through its service locations throughout Southwestern PA.  It plays a unique role in keeping troubled families whole, strong, independent and productive while providing  services that benefit children, youth and families.  It provides each of its clients with a compassionate response designed specifically to deal with their own distinct problems.  They provide critical services in three broad areas:  behavioral health, education/community services and youth/family services.  Last year they assisted a total of 7, 737 people who turned to them for help.

They are having a fabulous fundraiser on March 21, 2014 at the Twentieth Century Club in Oakland called Just Jazz II that they are combining with a YouTube video contest.  I just love people who think outside the box! Applicants need to be students in high school or college. They can perform individually or in dance combos, trios, quartets and quintets.  To apply just upload a video to Familylinks’ Dropbox account by 11:59 p.m. on February 1 (log-in information is available at familylinks.org). Judges that include vocalist Lisa Ferraro and jazz trumpeter Benny Benack III will choose five finalists for the public to vote on.

Finalists will be announced on February 8 and those videos will be posted to Familylinks’ YouTube page. Voting will run from February 8-28 and will be calculated by each like the video receives. The video with the most likes will be declared the winner on March 1 and the video will be marketed through social media and e-blasts prior to the event. The winners will then perform during Just Jazz II’s cocktail hour!

Benny Benack, III and Elevations are scheduled to open the show and you can cap off the night at an after party at the James Street Gastropub and Speakeasy on the Northside.   One of my favorite jazz artists, Houston Person, is performing along with Lisa Ferraro, Roger Humphries, Dwayne Dolphin and Max Leake.  VIP tickets are $150 while general admission tickets are $75.  Click here to purchase tickets!


Meditation with a Monk

Meditation is a great way to improve creative thinking, success, energy and stress levels.  Studies show that it improves a variety of psychological areas that include istress, anxiety, addiction, depression, eating disorders and cognitive function.  There’s also research to suggest that it can reduce blood pressure, pain response, stress hormone levels and even cellular health. But most people aren’t easily convinced to try it and there are a lot of misconceptions about how it really works.  For one thing it changes our brain. The cells and neurons in the brain are constantly making new connections and disrupting old ones based on response to stimuli – a quality that researchers call experience-based neuroplasticity. This affects the neural circuits of the brain which in turn affects how we respond to situations. It also affects the actual structure of our brains – thickening some areas and making others less dense.  Yes, you read that right, meditating can really make structural changes to the brain.  It can change the way neurons talk to each other by creating new circuits.

Just take it from Dr. Hedy Kober a neuroscientist who who studies the effects of mindfulness meditation which she has practiced for 10 years at her lab at Yale University. She admitted during a TED talk that she started meditating to deal with a break up but found that it helped her handle stress and unpleasant feelings in all areas of her life.  What a great way to start out the new year.  I am always looking for new things to try and leading a more peaceful existence is definitely at the top of my list.

Monks have been meditating for centuries and now you have the opportunity to learn from them.  Just check out the Meditation with a Monk Series that starts February 4th at the Oakmont Library  on 700 Allegheny River Boulevard.   It will take place every Tuesday at 6:30 p.m. through May 27.  The course is free but sign up now to make sure you retain a spot.   This Introduction to Meditation is designed for beginners as a gradual training program and as a secular meditation practice. It covers how to find your seat, ways to maintain awareness with body movements, techniques for breath meditation and ways to face common challenges in meditation such as physical pains, drowsiness and distracting thoughts. Although the instructor is a Buddhist monk, the meditation techniques that will be taught are secular and are appropriate for all adults regardless of your other beliefs or religious affiliations.  At the end of the course participants will be able to be familiar with basic meditation techniques to gradually calm our mind and to develop a sense of equanimity and loving kindness.

I hope you are able to fit this into your schedule or explore it on your own right.  It truly is a mindful way to start the new year and keep yourself centered.