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 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.

Pittsburgh’s Hidden Stories

The best stories are always found behind the scenes and few things are what they appear on the surface.  Rich Engler is a nationally recognized concert promoter from Pittsburgh who experienced celebrity reality first hand.  He partnered with Pat DiCesare in 1973 to create DiCesare-Engler Productions and they brought some of the best talent in the world to our area.  Their name became synonymous with famous concerts and what went on backstage was a closely guarded secret until now.  This is the tell all year when Johnny Carson’s attorney wrote a surprising book about the real Johnny and Rich Engler decided to share his shocking exploits with his new book Behind The Stage Door that is hot off the press.  He doesn’t hold back with up close and personal encounters with Bruce Springsteen, The Rolling Stones, Jefferson Starship, Kansas and KISS to name a few.

In 1977 DiCesare-Engler Productions purchased an aging movie house called the Stanley Theater (3500 seats)  and quickly transformed it into one of the nation’s top concert halls. It is now known as the Benedum Center.  In 1978, Billboard magazine  named the Stanley the No. 1 mid-sized concert auditorium in the United States. DiCesare-Engler Productions was ranked as the No. 2 production team for the same year. Bill Graham Presents was No. 1.   Engler witnessed the transformation of the concert venue into a multi-billion dollar industry.  He was there when the business of rock ‘n’ roll began to overshadow the music and saw many changes throughout his career.  Pop stars were notoriously vain and unpredictable creatures.   He recalls Carly Simons freaking out backstage at the Stanley and canceling due to stage fright with 3,500 people waiting outside.  Madonna insisted that nobody working at the Arena look at her and Van Halen insisted on no brown M&M’s.  His career certainly appears to have been one wild ride and now you can come along for the view.  The book contains a lot of Pittsburgh nostalgia and tons of great pictures.  It will be a walk down memory lane for those who grew up here and wistful imagery for those who wish they did.

I Have A Dream

Martin Luther King Junior’s I Have A Dream speech is the most moving piece of verbal delivery I have ever heard. I had a lot to compare it to since I took rhetoric in college and studied a lot of famous speeches. But Dr. King was a natural speaker with a persuasive ability that cannot be taught. He also spoke from the heart and was as passionate about promoting peace as he was compassionate about human suffering. He was a great man and an admirable leader.

Carnegie Mellon is one of the few universities that does not close on Martin Luther King Day but they do have a good rationale. They call it a day on instead of a day off and offer events throughout the day to honor this great man. All classes are also cancelled after 12:30 p.m. The events are free and open to the public. These are great events to take your children to since they are off from school and will prove to be an enriching cultural experience.  This is also a great chance to see the Josh & Gab Show that I blogged about recently.


Happy Birthday Martin Luther King, Jr.!

Monday, January 20, 2014

Rangos Ballroom, University Center

Join President Subra Suresh for a special listening tour dedicated to the university’s commitment to diversity.
12:30 pm -3:00 pm

Children’s Programs/Activities

Check the information desk at the University Center located beside the football field for exact locations but most events will be held in the same building.  Activities and presentations appropriate for children of all ages will be offered. The Josh & Gab Show team will present a special Anti-Bullying Musical Comedy program for kids at 1:30 pm.  The Children’s School will feature arts and craft activities and story time. Children will also be decorating a Freedom Mural and a collage to be on display in the University Center. Snacks will be provided.

Connan Room & Wean Commons, University Center
12:30 pm– 1:30 pm
15th Anniversary Celebration for MLK Writing Awards

Rangos Ballroom, University Center
The School of Drama will feature a special chorale tribute in celebration of Dr. King.  Local high school and college students will also read personal narratives dealing with individual experiences with racial difference and discrimination. The students are recipients of writing awards sponsored by the Carnegie Mellon Creative Writing Program, Student Affairs and Office of the President.
1:30 pm – 2:30 pm

McConomy Auditorium, University Center

Students in Service: Habitat for Humanity Presentation –  there are nearly 2 billion people around the world who live in slum housing and more than 100 million are homeless. Habitat helps to building or renovate simple, decent houses in partnership with those in need.  This event will feature representatives from the HFH of Greater Pittsburgh and a local family. Learn more about how you can get involved with HFH local build opportunities, Habitat ReStore and student alternative break experiences – 2:00 p.m.-3:00 p.m.

Danforth Lounge, University Center

Story Circles: Social Justice & Community – circle stories provide a nexus for artistic, educational and culturally relevant conversations. This informal conversation will feature local Pittsburgh community leaders who are engaged in innovative social justice issues- 2:30 p.m.-3:30 p.m.

Kirr Commons, University Center
Join teens from the Arts Greenhouse hip-hop program who will feature music and prose celebrating art and culture while exploring the bitter-sweet relevance of Martin Luther King, Jr. to Pittsburgh youth. The Arts Greenhouse is a music education outreach program for facilitated by Carnegie Mellon – 3:30 p.m.-4:30 p.m. For more information, visit
Rangos Ballroom, University Center – Keynote Address and Dessert Reception
Featuring Jendayi E. Frazer, Ph.D – Former US Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs, CMU Distinguished Service Professor, Council of Foreign Relations
‘Leading with Courage and Conviction” – 4:30 p.m.


Skibo Cafe, University Center 8 p.m.
MLK Late Night Spoken Word – Transcending the Dream “Force though Speech”

Presented by SPIRIT in conjunction with Pittsburgh Poetry Collective – this event will showcase spoken word artists from our campus and the surrounding Pittsburgh community. The featured poet for the evening will be William Evans of Columbus, Ohio. For more information about the Pittsburgh Poetry Collective/Steel City Slam, please visit

To find out more details about these events contact 412-268-2075.

Fun Free Family Sundays

Weekends are the times we want to reserve for quality family fun.  It is essential to keep children active and interested despite the challenge of dipping temperatures that lead to limited outdoor activities.  There are lots of things to choose from in Pittsburgh but it is worth the venture to check out the Westmoreland Museum of American Art. It really isn’t that far.  I used to work with someone who traveled from Westmoreland County to Oakland every single day.

The Westmoreland Museum of American Art was established in 1949 at the bequest of Mary Marchand Woods.  She was was a long time resident of Greensburg interested in the arts. This visionary founder bequeathed her entire estate for the museum to be built.  It sits 35 miles east of Pittsburgh and opened its doors to the public in 1959.  It focuses on American and Southwestern Pennsylvania art.

It is known for its many award-winning, curriculum-based educational programs which have reached thousands of students in the region and have received both state and federal funding. The innovative programs utilize the Museum’s collection to teach students in grades Kindergarten through high school about art and history.

But one of the best things going are the free Imagine Nation Studio Sundays.  Every Sunday from 12-3 PM children of all ages and their favorite adult can stop by the Museum for a free themed art activity. Kids learn about art and have fun creating their own art project in the studio. There is a different art project featured each week.

Imagine American Art

January: Shine On – We are drawn to shiny objects like large metal sculptures, pieces of jewelry, mirrors and glass. So, lets bring in the New Year all bright and shiny by making art from materials that reflect, glimmer and sparkle.

February: By Design – A simple line can be just vertical, horizontal or diagonal. Or this line can go on an adventure to create shapes, patterns, textures, and movement. Bring your imagination to the studio each Sunday this month and see what interesting art can be created with lines.

March: You’ve Got to Move It – The world in which we live is full of moving objects of one kind or another. Artists have been inspired by movement in nature and man-made items to create forms of art. Let the winds of March carry you into the studio and make art projects inspired by movement.

April: The Primaries – A splash of color here, there and all around as seen every day and its all brought to you by the primaries; red, yellow and blue. These are the colors that make all others happen. Youll mix and match colors to create 2D and 3D art that contrast and complement each other, and even set a mood using music.

May: Building Blocks – Wood is very versatile piece of art material. It can be carved, assembled, and formed. The studio this month offers you a chance to use these various techniques along with painting, fusing and transfer of other art materials to make unusual and interesting masterpieces to go.

Shopping With Purpose

Shopping is a necessity that none of us can avoid.  There always seems to be something that you have to obtain and clothing presents one of the biggest challenges.  It always helps to take a friend to give you advice and make it more fun.  But the price of clothes can put you in a tailspin and finding bargains is just too labor intensive if  you shop normal retail stores.  Fortunately Pittsburgh has a trio of swanky, tasteful consignment stores that are run by my favorite non-profit – The National Council of Jewish Women.  Their most upscale store is the Designer Days Boutique in Squirrel Hill at 5873 Forbes Ave.  You will be thrilled to find labels like Chanel, Prada, Ralph Lauren, Gucci and Louis Vuitton at a fraction of normal retail prices.  They also have a knowledgeable sales force on the floor that are keen consultants for fashionable finds that they can hand pick just for you.

Once a year they have a huge Designer Day event at the Monroeville Expo Mart where you will find a warehouse of merchandise that is the equivalent of at least ten outlet stores combined.  I bought my husband a Ralph Lauren leather jacket there last year that feels like butter.  They also had a huge selection of barely worn tuxedos but I couldn’t persuade him to try one on.  But I plan on dragging him to enough black tie events this year that he will change his mind next time around.  You will also find formals, wedding gowns, children’s clothes, jewelry, luggage, coats, etc.  In fact, you could probably do all your shopping for the whole year under one roof if you just planned properly.  There is such a generosity of donations that it is impossible to sell everything so the leftovers are sent to their Thriftique store in Swissvale.  It is located at 7400 Church Street and their phone number is (412) 271-0544.  Since the Designer Day’s items have been hanging around since November, they are eager to find them good homes and marked everything down 75% today!  This is an awesome deal and you will actually feel good about spending money.

Your dollars will go to improve the quality of life for women, children and families by supporting their Women’s Center, Children’s Rooms in the Courts, Silent Witness Program and many more non-denominational projects.  They have been improving the lives of our residents for generations and are the best group of advocates I’ve ever encountered.

When you have completed your clothes buying spree at Thrifique you will want to check out their Home Goods store that is practically next door.  ImageThis upscale consignment store has everything from antique to modern designs to turn your home into a real showplace.  Mary Ann is almost always on the floor to share her expertise and eye for detail.  She is also a savvy at furniture refurbishing and can give you great advice on creative techniques.

DDB luxury items

Sophisticated Entertainment On A Dime

Another one of Pittsburgh’s best kept secrets is the treasure trove of talent found at the Carnegie Mellon School of Music.  Although their academic reputation is well renowned, their performances are not considered a mainstream venue of entertainment.  But you will be smitten with the world class talent hidden within the walls of the Purnell Center for the Arts and may find the experience life changing.  It can get quite addictive to experience the sheer ecstasy of watching these talented students perform and you can tell from the first they are headed for fame.   You will also be blown away by the bargain for such stellar entertainment.  Assigned seating is only $10.00 and I promise you there is not a bad seat in the Chosky Theater where they perform.  Seniors are $5.00 and all students are free.

Tonight they opened their production of Emmanuel Chabrier’s L’étoile.  It is set in a mythical fairy tale kingdom and begins with a disguised King Ouf in search of a subject to execute in celebration of his birthday. Laoula, the daughter of a monarch, is escorted to town by an Ambassador, Hérisson de Porc-Epic. Unbeknownst to Laoula, the mission of the trip is to arrange her marriage to the King. Unfortunately for Hérisson de Porc-Epic, Laoula falls in love with Lazuli, a poor peddler. Lazuli insults the King Ouf, not seeing through his disguise, and becomes a prime candidate for death by impalement in honor of the King’s birthday. However, the King Ouf’s astrologer, Siroco, devises that the two men will die within 24 hours of each other forcing the King to make a big decision.  It runs January 23-26 with three evening performances and one matinee.  You can purchase tickets off of their website or at the door.


There is also a master class performance Thursday, January 23 at 10:00 a.m.  Pianist Ian Hobson will lead a master class focusing on chamber music. This master class is free and open to the public.  A native of Wolverhampton, England, pianist and conductor Ian Hobson is recognized throughout the world for his masterful performances of the Romantic repertoire along with his deft and idiomatic readings of neglected piano scores.  As guest soloist Ian Hobson appears regularly with the world’s major orchestras and it is a rare treat to see him for free.  You do not want to miss this if you can possibly fit it into your schedule.


To keep track of a whole year of inspirational performances just subscribe to their concert series calendar on your mobile device or computer.  The School of Music is an outstanding asset to our city by showcasing such intellectually gifted musicians.  These students inspire imagination and creativity in music along with the construction of musical knowledge in all its diverse forms. Through their tradition and innovation they enrich our community and bring beauty to our lives.

Pittsburgh’s Best Kept Secret

The Cathedral of Learning is listed in the National Register of Historic Places and sits in the center of the University of Pittsburgh’s main campus.   This Late Gothic Revival Structure stands  535 feet with 42 stories making it the second tallest university building  in the world.  It is also the second tallest gothic-styled building in the world.  It was commissioned in 1921 and ground was broken in 1926.

A 42-story Gothic Revival skyscraper

It functions as a primary classroom and administrative center of the university but is also home to the Dietrich School of Arts and Sciences.  There are also many specialty spaces including a studio theater, food court, study lounges, offices, computer and language labs.  The entrance contains a cavernous half acre four-story vaulted Gothic study and event hall. Throughout the building are noted examples of stained glass, stone, wood, and iron work and is often used by the University in photographs, postcards, and other advertisements.

But one of the best kept secrets in Pittsburgh are the 29 Nationality Rooms that embody the architecture and artifacts of the different nationalities that settled here.  The first four rooms reflect the Russian, German, Swedish and Scottish heritages. The amazing aspect of the project is that each ethnic group was asked to raise the funds to complete the room. Some cost as much as $300,000 but recent additions have upped the price to $500,000.

The rooms are used as classrooms but can be toured for $3.00 per person. The period depicted in each of the rooms including cultural artifacts and architectural design elements must be prior to 1787 – the year the US Constitution was adopted. The variety of styles and ingenious design concepts displayed are truly amazing. The Polish Room is themed to the Polish Renaissance and Wawel Castle during Poland’s Golden Agew during the reign of King Sigismund the First. What makes the tour even better is the fact that visitors can also take the elevator to the top floor of the towering building and take in a panoramic view of the city.  This site is a Pittsburgh “must-see.”

The Wizard Woz

The Pittsburgh Speakers Series is known for bringing iconic people to town.  Last year’s series opened with President Bill Clinton and ended with Andes Mountain crash survivor Nando Parrado.  This season is just as impressive with Apple Co-Founder Steve Wozniak kicking off the January 2014 presentation.  There are seven total lectures in the series held on Wednesday nights from 8:00-9:30 pm at Heinz Hall.  The season runs October through April.

Steve Wozniak

Stephen Wozniak, known affectionately as Woz, is definitely the more human side of the Apple empire. His genius was evident when he invented both the Apple 1 and Apple II computers in the late 1970’s.   Steve Jobs was still in high school when a friend pointed him out to Woz as a person of interest.  They had a shared vision and formed Apple Computer in 1976.

In February 1981 Steve crashed a plane he was flying and and lost all memory.  This prompted him to leave Apple.   He eventually recovered by using the power of logical thought processing.  In 1983 he returned to Apple as an engineer and a motivating force for the Apple empire.  He permanently ended his full-time employment with them on February 6, 1987  but still receives a stipend.  He is also an Apple shareholder.  Although he kept in touch with Steve Jobs until his death they never became close friends.

This is a great opportunity to get an inside scoop on the real story behind Apple.  Although tickets are only sold for the entire subscription series, there is always someone with a conflict who can’t make it. You can call the Speaker Series office at (412) 392-4900 between 9:00 a.m.-6:00 p.m. to see if anyone has released tickets or arrive at the Heinz Hall box office close to the performance to check if  any seats were released.  The art lovers in Pittsburgh are a generous bunch and often give tickets away they cannot use.  There are also two tickets listed on Craigslist for $120.00 that sound legitimate although I normally would not recommend this venue.

A Wicked Good Deal

The Pittsburgh Cultural Arts Meetup group has reserved prime Directors Circle or Orchestra Floor tickets to WICKED on January 17, 2014 at the Benedum Center along with exclusive access to the post-show cast party with complimentary food/drinks, photo/autograph opportunities, etc. for an evening you’ll never forget.  New contributors will also receive a one year Partners membership with the Pittsburgh Cultural Trust during 2014!  This is a really great deal and an unusual offering.

Wicked is a musical with music and lyrics by Stephen Schwartz and a book by Winnie Holzman. It is based on the 1995 Gregory Maguire novel Wicked: The Life and Times of the Wicked Witch of the West, a parallel novel  of L.Frank Baum’s 1900 classic story The Wonderful Wizard of Oz. The musical is told from the perspective of the witches of the Land of Oz; its plot begins before and continues after Dorothy’s arrival in Oz from Kansas and includes several references to the film and novel.  It has won over 50 awards that include a Grammy and three Tony awards.

Show Photos - Wicked - Katie Rose Clarke - Lindsay Mendez  When it last played Pittsburgh in 2011 it broke box office records and sold out in record time.  This is a great offer with a lot of perks.  To order your tickets ($115 each) just  visit

Show Photos - Wicked - Jackie Burns

You can meet the group inside SPACE Gallery (812 Liberty Avenue) from 7-7:30 PM or Benedum lobby at 7:30 PM prior to 8 PM performance.  You can also go on your own if you prefer.  New contributors will also receive a one year Partners membership with the Pittsburgh Cultural Trust during 2014.  This is a wonderful opportunity that will put you on the A list.  It includes a one-year membership with the Pittsburgh Cultural Trust along with invitations to cast parties,  discounts and specials at Cultural District restaurants, member discount for Cosmopolitan Pittsburgh tickets, a complimentary one-year subscription to Pittsburgh Quarterly Magazine,  a TrustOvations Member Newsletter and Trust Events Catalog and a chance to purchase tickets for annual Members Night on Broadway Event.

Our Cultural Trust is truly one of brightest jewels in our city and has restored historic theaters, constructed new performance venues, commissioned public art projects and developed unique urban parks and riverfront recreation spaces.  It is one of the largest Downtown Pittsburgh property owners and manages one million square feet of property.  Becoming a member is a great way to reach the real pulse of our city and learn about the huge cache of talent we have hidden here.