Thursday, December 22, 2011

Merry Christmas & Happy New Year

Dear friends,

I wish all of you wonderful Christmas days with your family & friends. I hope you can enjoy some days out of the daily routine, relax a bit and celebrate.

A few days after Christmas a new year starts and I wish you all the very best for the adventures that will wait for you in 2012. May it be a happy, healthy and successful year full of love and light.

I personally will be mostly offline for the next week and the plan is:

No (almost - sadly 100% no is not possible) to work
No to running around like a maniac
No to multitasking

Yes to sleep

Yes to good food
Yes to family time especially with my niece who I will hug and kiss until she says "Nooohooo moooore!"

Next year I will be back with new stories, thoughts, ideas, travel tales and more here on this blog, because my plan for the new year is:


Be safe, be happy - see you in 2012.



Monday, December 19, 2011

Resolution & Inspiration

People who do not use social media have lots of prejudices about it. You hear stuff like "You sit alone in front of your computer - it's lonely." Or "When you are home with your notebook you cannot find any inspiration." 
As a social media addicted person I can proof it all wrong. Of course you need to go to meet people out there. Also a good portion of fresh air and enjoying the beauty of mother nature is good, healthy and inspiring, but social media is very powerful as well. 

I met not only fantastic people that way, made new friendships and recovered old ones, the internet and especially the social media platforms have been also a great source of inspiration
One reason for the inspirational power is that is so easy to share your thoughts and ideas but also your great findings - like this one (I even forgot who shared it first), which is one my all time favorites:

Not only the name is awesome, but also the selection of quotes, pieces of art, movie quotes and much more you can find here.

And it was the place where I found my perfect resolution and inspiration for 2012: 

That's the plan. 

Friday, December 2, 2011

Tack så mycket, Friska Viljor

Friska Viljor, Augsburg - 11/2011
This is Swedish and means "Thank you, Friska Viljor" and before you ask … I do not speak Swedish and I know not much more than in this one phrase.
Okay – but where to start with this one?  I have two alternate beginnings of this posting:

Version 1 starts with my BFF Anita – the one who also feeds my keychain. We are friends for almost 9 years already, traveled approximately a million miles and went through quite some ups and downs of life together.

Anita's Swedish is much better than mine and she loves Swedish rock music.  When I found out that Friska Viljor – one of her favorite bands – would play on a November Saturday in Augsburg, I knew that it would be a great teaser to make her drive down to Munich and visit me (we live about 600 km apart).  That’s quite some trip and she would be jetlagged just coming back from New York, but honestly … we already did crazier stuff. I invited her over for the concert and I knew my chance to get a "Yes" would be around 95+% - and I was right :o)
And so after having a great Mexican dinner we made it to the "Kantine" in Augsburg at November 12 2011 for the show, entered the club and ...

Version 2 is much more egocentric I am afraid, because it's mainly about me although this concert was great night out with one my best and closest friends.

The story is: I miss music (and I am not talking about running around with earphones and just listen). I am getting older and I am kind of fine with it. I do not want to miss one bit of my experience, I do not want to go back, but I have to admit I miss parts of my old life. I for example badly miss going out and dancing.  It is not that I feel too old to go to a club and dance (although I might be). My problem is that I miss MY club and MY music (which does not just equal "oldies but goldies" - I am not THAT old) and I can't go back because the place closed its doors years ago and I never found anything like it again. 
It got so bad lately that I consider to organize a dance night on my own (meaning: a party at good location with my people and my music). You will hear more about it here at the blog because I will – at least – post the growing playlist and give you a better idea what MY music means soon. 
When we decided to go to the Friska Viljor show the timing could not have been better, because there is only one thing that is better than dancing through a night with the right music and that is a damn good live concert with real guitars and great songs.
And so after having a great Mexican dinner we made it to the "Kantine" in Augsburg at November 12 2011 for the show, entered the club and ...

... sometimes you come to a new place the for the first time and you know it’s just RIGHT.  The "Kantine" looked great painted in red and black, had the right size (not too small and not too big), even smelled right (the weird mix of lots of parties,  the beer pump ready to use and the slight sweetness of stage fog)  and had a surprisingly big and well equipped stage. I stepped into the room and knew we would have a great night – the type of night I missed for too long.

Friska Viljor

Friska Viljor - Useless, Augsburg - 11/2011

... are basically best friends and partners in crime Daniel Johansson and Joakim Sveningsson, but on the road they travel with a lot more friends to make more noise (Markus Bergkvist aka William the Contractor – drums, Thobias Eidevald – bass, Emil Nilsson – organ / keyboard). 
All band biographies will tell you how Daniel and Joakim were left by their girlfriends, drank too much, recorded a record – mostly drunk – and started their music career in a slightly dizzy state of mind. This is a nice and for sure at least in some parts true story, but seriously … it was about six years ago. 
A lot of things happened in between: broken hearts healed, kids were born, lots and lots of shows were played and new songs were written - some of them certainly too complex to be performed drunken and for our show the guys were (my impression) perfectly sober. 

o it was a different thing that took while reading about Friska Viljor for this blog post much more my attention than the urban legends about the early days of the band. The expression was "Friska Viljor is a Swedish Indie Rock band".  There you go … Independent / Indie Rock – a critically endangered type of music that survives only at small festivals like at our home base ground of the Halderner Open Air, vanilla-stage-fog smelling clubs that are rare like diamonds and deeply committed but financially limited record labels – and my sister’s living room.  Not kidding … when the genre sign "INDEPENDENT" was removed from our favorite record shop, because music nowadays is just called Rock - Pop and if you are a wild kid "Hard & Heavy" or "Alternative" my sister took the huge sign home and pinned at her own wall.  So you guessed it already:  We have a heart for threatened species - we love Indie Rock

Before the show I had listened to some songs of Friska Viljor and liked them. This does not sound really enthusiastic, but I can tell you that it happens not too often lately that I hear a new band and really like it (except the Cold War Kids who stole my heart and run away with it). 

I could list now about a dozen of cliché phrases to describe the sound of Friska Viljor and why I like it, but I prefer to break it down to a relatively simple formula: They play the music they like and do it in a way they like and that actually creates a pretty unique, very lovable Friska sound and from slow and heartbreaking to fast & funny all kind of tunes can be found on their records and set lists

set list is the keyword here, because we do not talk records here, we talk a concert. We talk a band that is touring for about a year now from club to club and festival to festival and … THESE GUYS STILL PLAY THEIR HEART OUT! 
And if you are a fan or not – you cannot escape this special Friska Viljor magic that is driven by the love and respect of the band members for each other and their absolutely obvious love for what they are doing:  MAKING MUSIC! 

And that was exactly what I was missing pretty badly for quite some time:  the feeling of just getting carried away by the fun and intensity of really enjoying
music - on stage and in the audience. Good, handmade, honest, emotional music.  What a night, what a GOOD NIGHT!

To my friend Anita, who is in Stockholm this weekend:   

Just in case you run into one of the guys, tell them "Tack så mycket" from me -  Thank you for the music

All pictures by Anita Ivanković

Thank you for the music!  Friska Viljor, Augsburg - 11/2011

Some tunes to listen to ...

My book in November - The Apology


I am really sorry, but there will be no book review in November.

I am reading a wonderful book about the European adventures of a Nobel Prize winning American writer (no, I am not reading Steinbeck again), but I did not make it more than ten pages into the book.

My reading time is usually to and from work in the train, but at the moment I am so exhausted that I need this time for napping in the morning and blowing out my tired brain with music in the evening. I tried reading in the after work train but I am just staring at letters and it has nothing to do with really reading.

I'll be back next month when I had some airport time (my favorite reading place) and a couple of vacation days to catch up. 

Thanks for your patience.

Saturday, November 26, 2011

Sometimes things are more than just ... things

In the last couple of days I watched America first devote a day to turkey and thankfulness for family, friends and all the other things that are good in life but mostly non-material ... and then collapse in the shopping craziness of Black Friday.

That combination kicked off my
little reflection on things ... stuff ... material belongings. I guess it is kind of common sense that things itself do not make happy and it's true. But on the other hand they can make you happy and actually mean something, but not because of themselves or their value in money, but of the stories they tell, the connections they symbolize.

So what I decided today to do with this blog posting is showing you some of my stuff, that means something to me for different reasons and tell you the stories behind.

The Keychain-Diary

Yes .. there are also keys if you look closely

I had never planned on this. For most of my life almost nothing was attached to my keychain besides a bottle opener, one lucky charm and .. keys. Now I have ... THIS.  Talking about the self-dynamic of things.

So let's see what we have going clockwise starting at noon.

1)  The Black Crowes:
 What looks very old school is actually the newest edition to this epic collection. I found it on the website where I ordered Rich Robinson's latest solo album. I had to have it because it is the classic "Heckel & Jeckel" design that goes back to The Black Crowes debut record "Shake Your Money Maker" and symbolizes for me my over 20 years of loving this band.

2) Pittsburgh Penguins bottle opener:
 It's a proven fact - I cannot open a beer bottle with a lighter. So a long (!) time ago during my time at the university - when opening a beer bottle was an essential thing - I started to have an opener at my keychain. When the last bottle-shark, which I used over ten years, had lost its last teeth and could not do his job anymore, I replaced it with this nice Pens version.

3) Penguin:
My friend, who actually loves this keychain and keeps feeding it, thought that a Penguin shouldn't be alone and gave me this one as a little gift.

4) Aigner A
: The most important piece on this keychain and if I ever lose it, I will be heartbroken. The A stands for the fancy brand Aigner, but that doesn't matter. What makes this one so special is that it belonged to my dad. He died in 1991.

5) The Keys:
Yes, surprisingly enough there are really keys on this keychain.

6) The Steelers:
Ironically enough this Steelers pendant is NOT made of stainless steel and it rusts. I need a new one every season. This is already No 3.

7) Merlotte's:
 On New Year's Day 2011 I was hanging around lazy at my friend's place and we decided to watch some DVDs. Since she had a box of True Blood DVDs lying around that was what we watched - and got HOOKED! This little thingy she just brought me from her recent trip to New York and her visit at the HBO shop.

8) Croatian Coat of Arms:
This one is already for a very long time on my keychain and expresses my love for my wonderful summer residence, my Croatian friends, the language, culture and country.

9) Yoda:
When I started learning Croatian I was doing okay with grammar and vocabulary, but I had a hard time to get the words in the right order since there are almost no rules and just sentences that sound right or wrong in the native speaker's ears ... and I had a huge talent to mostly choose the version that would sound wrong or at least slightly off - just like the short green Jedi does. That way Yoda became one of my nicknames, but I didn't mind. First it sounds kind of cute when Yoda talks and secondly he is a damn cool and powerful dude. The little Lego pendant is btw also a gift of my friend feeding my keychain.

10) Red & White Gaudi Cross:
Last year in November I went to Barcelona for a few days and had the chance to visit the Sagrada Familia. The church impressed me a lot with the limitless craziness of the facades and the so contrasting clear, much calmer, spiritual design of the inside. So I got myself this Gaudi style cross at the museum shop as lucky charm for my travels - may I'll be guided to more places like this that feed my soul. 

And there you go ... my life decorated around a little ring hidden in my pocket.

Winning Again

And the winner is - me

I continue to love Pittsburgh and Pittsburgh continues to love me back. Me - the person that almost never won any contest before - first won a wonderful pendant in a Twitter contest and now the winning streak went on.

At the website of Boring Pittsburgh I first won the new issue of the Moon Handbook Pittsburgh by Dan Eldridge. I had praised the first issue earlier this year because it was the only really good travel book for Pittsburgh I could get. Now I can use the updated and even better new issue on my 2012 trips. The book arrived with nice greetings written on the first page and signed by Dan himself. It will be for sure a great travel companion and help a lot to plan as much good stuff in my short stays as possible. 

Only a short time later The Mario Lemieux Foundation started a little Twitter contest. The prize was one of their hoodies - something that was on my shopping list anyway - and here it is! Lucky me!
The hoodie is so warm and comfortable and I am really proud to support them for not only being the organisational home of Virginia Montanez' "Make Room For Kids" but also supporting lymphoma research. After recovering from cancer himself Mario Lemieux launched this foundation to support the search for cure and better treatments - a goal I could not stronger agree with after losing my mother to a lymphoma

No Chance, Grinch!

The rest of Christmas the Grinch could not get

Knowing about Christmas (pre-Christmas to be exact) being only stress for me my sister reactivated an old tradition between us and sent me a chocolate Christmas calendar. 

You think the design is ... let's say ... questionable? It is NOT, because my two-year-old niece made the choice and that makes this calendar even more special. Yes, it's pink, but the spirit of Christmas survived well hidden inside this piece of Hello Kitty Merch  ;) 

The Question of Timing

Months late, but in the end - perfect timing
The German customs hate me. Several times I already hat to make the trip to Garching (one hour, one way) to pick up stuff in person and almost every time I order overseas the stuff gets stuck in customs for WEEKS and then it arrives in cut open boxes. 

This time I ordered very much at the beginning of the season some new Pens stuff and it did not arrive and it did not 
arrive and it did still not arrive. THEN I had a note in my letterbox that the parcel arrived and could be picked up at the post office. I went there the next day and ... no parcel. They could not find it. Lost. They took my info to call me. Nobody ever called. I called the customer service, they promised to call back - never happened. I went at the next weekend back to the post office just to make sure it did not arrive in the meantime - not there. 

But then ... about an hour after I left the post office saying good bye to about 150$ worth in clothes and deco they called me back telling me that they found it.

I went back on Monday to finally, finally pick up my precious parcel.  It should be THE Monday. The day Sidney Crosby took the ice after 320 days for the first time and started his incredible comeback. So for ever now every single thing in this parcel will be connected in my memory with one of the greatest hockey nights ever.

Coincidence - I do not believe in you.

If you would add up the value in money of the thing displayed in this posting it would not be much, but the stories, the thoughts, the love and the spirit in these things makes them priceless

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

O Captain, my captain

Welcome back, Sid! (© Pittsburgh Penguins)

Attention: If you do not care about hockey, you better skip this post ;)

This has to be a really quick one since I need to work (the shark ... you know), but last night was so huge that I have to put this post up here to create myself a place where I can come back to and remember this.

You all know already that I am a hockey geek and last night was one of  the best nights EVER.  Sidney Crosby, the captain of my Pittsburgh Penguins and the undoubtedly best hockey player of his generation, returned to the ice after 320 days he was out recovering from a concussion.

Before we come to the game last night, let me say that I was never one of the fans who were pushing for Sid's return. Yes, of course he was badly missed, but
- a concussion is a very dangerous injury and the time it takes to heal is different from person to person. If you do not let it heal (and lots of sports professionals don't), it can cause very awful long term health problems as incredibly bad headaches, problems with the vision, memory loss and more. It can end a career and shorten a life. So for Sid's sake I never wanted him to come back before he was not 100% okay.

- this is a fantastic TEAM. There was a lot of great hockey happening without him and that made me and many other fans proud and happy. I guess in the end the Pens grew a lot in these 320 days. They now know better than ever that they are one of the best teams in the league even without their superstar.

evertheless ... from that moment on Sunday it was confirmed that Sid would be back Monday night against the New York Islanders the excitement was HUGE! My twitter practically exploded and the whole hockey community got really emotional. And yes - you can find it silly or not - we (me, too) used quite some tissues these days.

I for myself took an early evening nap on Monday to be able to watch the game without being totally broken at work the next day.
Not watching this game was never an option. 

And it was
so worth it.  This has been the most beautiful hockey game I have seen in a long time. It is amazing what a difference this guy makes. Sid is not only a top scorer that makes defensemen around the world thinking about a getting a new job off the ice, he changes the whole game, he puts his boys in the right place to shine and his spirit, just the way he is, is truly amazing - he is the captain, our captain.

Sid scored for the first time about 5 minutes into the game
. It took him only 5 minutes.  The Consol Energy Center, the city of Pittsburgh, a giant number of sports bars and countless living rooms around the world turned into a screaming mess - including mine. And this was just the beginning.

The Pittsburgh Penguins won 5:0. Sid
scored twice, assisted two more times and was elected as the No 1 star of the game.

If you want to understand better why
this incredible comeback was such a heroic act, please read this article of my favorite hockey writer, Sean Conboy:

Sidney Crosby is the Biggest Man in the Room 

And for your
watching pleasure again and again and again .... all goals from last night:

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Media Buzz - The Lady Power Edition

As you know my little Snappy fish morphed into the ususal pre-christmas-shark with an unstoppable appetite for my time. 12 hours workdays plus 2 hours commute are the standard at the moment and so my writing time is really short.

What to do about it? Not posting? Naaaa. Write nonsense without putting some time and thought into it? Naaa. Let awesome people write for me? YES!

1) Please check out this beautiful article Michelle Fabio of  Bleeding Espresso (a must-read-blog) wrote for The Ambassador Magazine - The official magazine of the Italian American Foundation.

Profile:  Gina de Palma - Fighting Ovarian Cancer, Italian American Cowgirl Style

Michelle turns the spotlight on our amazing friend Gina de Palma, who is not only "a hell of a girl", a James Beard Award winning pastry chef at Babbo, New York, a great cook book writer, but also a cancer warrior fighting ovarian cancer since 2008. 

Besides battling her own disease with all she got, Gina also started the a non profit organization called The Cowgirl Cure Foundation (donations welcome) to raise awareness, teach us ladies to take care for ourselves and support the research for better medications and cure.
Please also check out my blog post about ovarian cancer here for more information.

Gina you meet one of my best and oldest friends, who is one of the most influential persons in my life. She not only invited me over 10 years ago to New York for my first US trip ever, she also introduced me to Twitter when she chose it as her way to share her most recent updates and best way to stay in touch. What a life changer, because Twitter and me?  LOVE ever since :)

2) You remember when I told you about the AMAZING,
custom handmade Pittsburgh skyline pendant I won joining a social media contest of jewelry designer Sharon Massey? Check out the whole story here

A little while ago now journalist Emily Pesko of Point Park News Service wrote me an email that she planned to write a feature about Sharon and would like me to answer some questions about me being an international customer of Jewelry N’at”, winning the contest, Pittsburgh and my pendant. I of course was happy to get back to her with some words and the result is this lovely article about Sharon, that was just published at the Pittsburgh Tribune

Pittsburgh-area artists cater to an international market

Of course Emily could not use all the stuff I sent her (never ask a writer for short answers - #fail), but I would like to use the chance to post here an additional paragraph out of my email.

The question was if I would say that Jewelry N’atis a good representation of the city and I put some of the stuff that makes Pittsburgh special for me into the answer:

"One of the things that fascinates me about Pittsburgh is that people who live there, who are natives but live somewhere else or sometimes even just came along as visitors (like me), have such a strong bond with the city, represent it with proud and defend it against stupid old prejudices (like that is grey, dirty and boring) if necessary with lots of passion. Pittsburgh has a special, hard to describe magic for people who are open to it. The city has also a lot of very talented artists who use their creativity to support and represent their hometown and make the city, its history and special state of mind part of their work. Sharon is one of these great artists and yes, I think she is a perfect representative of the city."  

Thanks for reading and meeting some of my favorite ladies!

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

My book in October

Kurt Vonnegut - God Bless You, Dr. Kevorkian


Being deeply in love with Kurt Vonnegut's "A Man Without A Country" - a book, which in my opinion everybody - and especially every American - should read and that is as up-to-date and relevant today as it was at the day of its release in 2005 - I expected to love this one as well, but I got a little stuck on the level of "like". I will later explain why, but let's get some background information first.

So who is
Dr. Kevorkian? I guess, for most US readers of this blog this is crystal clear, but not so much for the ones in Europe.
Jack Kevorkian was born in 1928 in Michigan as the son of immigrants from Armenia and died in June 2011 at the age of 83. He became famous for actively assisting suicides. He had the strong believe, that it is human right to decide yourself about life or death. He famously said about it "Death is not a crime."  He never killed his patients himself. He "just" assisted them - in lots of cases with the help of his "death machine" called Thanatron, which injected a fatal dose of poison. 

Of course this topic opens the gates to endless discussions about morality, life and death, religion, the relativity of suffering and much more - especially when it comes to the fact that not all of
Kevorkian's patients were proven being fatally ill. I won't go down this road now, but just one word: I have seen lots of suffering and there is a certain point of no return, where I am at least critical when it comes to life prolonging procedures and I respect the free will of those people who are beyond this point. 

Up from early 1999
Kevorkian served eight years of a 10 to 25 years sentence for second-degree murder. He was released in 2007 on condition he would never assist a suicide again. 

Kurt Vonnegut
picks up the idea of Kevorkian's Thanatron together with another controversially discussed topic:  near death experience.
In this collection of 21 short stories Vonnegut serves as his own fictional main character who works with Kevorkian to experience a bigger number of controlled near death experiences he uses to interview dead people. As you would expect from Vonnegut the episodes are very trenchant and full of his dry sense of humor.

There are a couple of short stops in after life I enjoyed in particular. One is for sure the story of him meeting American union leader  Eugene Victor Debs:

"I thanked him for words of his, which I quote again and again in lectures: " As long as there is a lower class, I am in it. As long as there is a criminal element, I am of it. As long as there is a soul in prison, I am not free." 

He asked me how those words were received here on earth in America nowadays. I said they were ridiculed. "People snicker and snort," I said. He asked what our fastest growing industry was . "The building of prisons," I said.
"What a shame", he said and then he asked me how the Sermon on the Mount was going over these days and then he spread his wings and flew away." 

Another favorite of mine is
Vonnegut's dialogue with writer Mary Shelley:

"I said many ignorant people nowadays thought "Frankenstein" was the name of the monster, and not of the scientist who created him.

She said: "That's not so ignorant after all. There are two monsters in my story, not one. And one of them, the scientist, is indeed named Frankenstein."

But my by far most loved episode is the one about meeting William Shakespeare. It already kicks off hilariously: 

"He said the English dialect I spoke was the ugliest English he had ever heard, "fit to split the ears of groundlings." He asked if it had a name, and I said "Indianapolis.""

There is a full interview following with 
Shakespeare mostly answering the questions with quoting his own body of work, which is very entertaining. 
Oh, and by the way ... there is no need  to watch Roland Emmerich's "Anonymous" that brings up the question if Shakespeare was really written by Shakespeare, because the answer to this question is here: 

"That which we call a rose by any other name would smell as sweet," he [Shakespeare] said. "Ask Saint Peter!"

And so did the fictional Vonnegut: "He told me that nobody arriving in Heaven, and there was no Hell, had claimed authorship of any of it. Saint Peter added, "Nobody, that is, who was willing to submit to my lie-dector test."

See - Shakespeare is no fraud - case closed. 

The full list
of interviews made on the gates to heaven:
Dr. Mary D. Ainsworth, Salvatore Biagini, Birnum Birnum, John Brown, Gorsuch Burke, Clarence Darrow, Eugene Victor Debs, Harold Epstein, Vivian Hallinan, Adolf Hitler, John Wesley Joyce, Frances Keane, Sir Isaac Newton, Peter Pellegrino, James Earl Ray, William Shakespeare, Mary Wollenstonecraft Shelley, Dr. Philip Strax, Carla Faye Tucker, Kilgore Trout, Isaac Asimov

So why is it just
a like although this little book is obviously packed with quite some awesomeness?
I think it is for the slight disappointment I felt reading along. The whole concept is so much bigger. A great science fiction author like Vonnegut could have done so much more with the idea of traveling back and forth between the here and now and the afterlife. The episodes are also very short and although they are so much to the point (which is brilliant) it is sometimes hard to keep the pace. There is a lot to think about in many of the stories and as the reader I felt the quite often the impulse to ask back and go a bit deeper, but before I could really catch up with the things pointed out, Vonnegut jumps over to the next case. 

Christmas time approaches work life comes to its peak and reading time becomes very limited, but for November I have already downloaded a nice piece to my Kindle that looks very promising and has the potential to become one of my favorites. I will keep you posted :)

Monday, October 24, 2011

The evolution of the fish and other random thoughts

This week I did not really feel the energy to write much and I thought about skipping this post but I decided not to. Instead I will tell you a bit more about why time might a bit short for blogging for a while and post some short news from the last week.

The evolution of the fish ...
This is a good chance to tell you a bit more about something I did not talk much about here yet - my work. Let me introduce you to Snappy - that is the cute fishy friend on the left hand side. He is my boss. Kind of.

As you may have guessed a person that is on Twitter, Facebook, google + (*yawn*) etc and writes a blog, has a serious crush on the internet and might make the money for living online, too. Correct - that's the way it is. I am working for eCommerce companies for more than 11 years now and very soon, November 1st, I have my 4th anniversary of working with Snappy.

Our fish was born about 11 years ago in San Francisco, CA. He is a happy little creature and he works with photos - Snapfish by HP is a photofinishing service. That means that you can upload your photos from your camera, computer, Facebook, Flickr and so on to our website. Once you have your pictures stored you can share them, improve them with great online tools and - most importantly order prints and create and order a whole LOT of fantastic photo products like books, calendars, cards, mugs and many more. 

I am working in the European marketing team but Snappy - the native Californian - has residences in over 20 countries around the world from the US over to Europe over to Asia and Australia.

As you can imagine our products make wonderful Christmas gifts for a couple of reasons:

- You can create absolutely personal and individual gifts with your own pictures.  
- We offer great products for very good prices and we crazy marketing people also offer you lots of great deals to save some money. Make sure you sign up for the newsletters to not miss the best offers and to make me and my colleagues happy, who send you the funny little mails ;)
- There is a huge world wide team behind Snappy - lovely, crazy (the best way), smart and talented people, who especially in the wild Christmas season work very hard to make you and your loved ones, who will receive your gifts, happy. You always thought eCommerce is kind of anonymous business? See - it's not. It's me and my fellow Snappy people :)

As you can imagine Christmas season is our busiest part of the year and that is the time when for us behind the scenes Snappy turns from a cute little fish into a big time eating shark (the evolution of the fish ;)). So bear with me if my blog posts will be a bit shorter and not so in time every weekend - I am very likely busy filling Santa's bag ;)

And if you have friends and family who also work in Christmas business - be nice to them in the next weeks even if they make themselves scarce. We need a bit of special patience, extra hugs and lots of homemade cookies. Oh - and one or two glasses hot wine punch don't hurt, too. Thank you :)

WOW ... look at my blog baby ...

A little while ago my dear friend, the Pittsburgh poet and writer Justin Hopper, encouraged me to introduce my blog and especially the parts about The Burgh to the team of Pop City Media - one of my favorite Pittsburgh websites I read on regular basis for over a year already.
To my great pleasure they liked what they read and in the past week they featured the blog in their buzz section. I am feeling really honored and LOOK what it did to my blog statistics! That is the October graph and guess, when the newsletter went out. Awesome isn't it? Thanks so much for the shout out and the support.

Dear new readers:  Welcome to my blog! I will keep on writing about Pittsburgh. My next trip is planned for early 2012 and another one for September 2012.  Of course I will post here my travel diaries again with lots of pictures and stories about my favorite city. So watch out :)

Speaking about blog statistics ...
As incredible as the results after the Pop City Media shout out have been, so small have been the click rates on last week's post about bone marrow / stem cell donation and that made me a sad panda, because it is one of my most important blog posts ever.

I of course cannot force you to read it and I totally understand that reading about cancer is not exactly fun, but this post is not about death - it is about life and how relatively easy it can be to save a life. So if you have a spare minute, please check it out and give the whole thing a thought. It is so important that as many people as possible register to give patients with no related donor the chance to live. Thank you in advance for your time and attention. 

Never judge the magic of a moment too early ...
Do you remember when I bought about a year ago tickets for a Pittsburgh Penguins game in February 2011 and organized my New York and Pittsburgh vacation around it?  Do you also remember how only weeks / days later Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin - two of the world's best hockey players - suffered season ending injuries both still not yet fully recovered from? I was not exactly a lucky person, I have to say.

I loved going to my game anyway. I enjoyed it a lot and thank god nobody hurt Kris Letang and Marc-André Fleury and so I got to see two of my favorite players. What I did not realize the moment it happened was, that my game was a very special one - it was James Neal's first game for the Pens. Shame on me, but I barely paid attention. I was more like: "Aha - two new dudes. Anyway ... where is Tanger? Ah - there he is."  

Dear James, sorry for being so ignorant. To see you playing and scoring and scoring and scoring this season is pure pleasure.  I - and I think with me a LOT of Pens fans - am very happy to have you in Pittsburgh. Thank you very much for a GREAT start into the new season and keep it comin'! 

I will be very likely back to Pittsburgh in February / March 2012 for another home game and this year I will definitely watch out for our top scorer with #18.

Monday, October 17, 2011

BE THE MATCH - Save a Life

Wow ... Saving a life. That sounds HUGE, doesn't it? It sounds like something that super heroes with super powers do or fire fighters or paramedics or doctors, but does it also sound like something I could do? Actually - it does.

It was a weird feeling to hold my HLA analysis in my hands these days. For me it's a pretty random set of letters and numbers, but probably it will some day for another person mean a chance to survive a life threatening disease. 

But lets start with the beginning of the story. Back in 1991, only months after my dad lost his fight against a brain tumor and died, my mother was diagnosed with multiple myeloma  - a lymphoma ("blood cancer").  It is a long story I already told here in some parts. For many years the cancer was showing almost no activity before she suddenly became very sick and urgently needed to start chemo therapy (VAD - Vincristine, Adriamycin, Dexamethasone for the specialists between my readers) to save her life. It was the first of what would become an endless number of critical situations and complications - the rough roller coaster ride of lymphoma treatment.

A myeloma is often a slow progressing cancer, but until now there is no cure. That means the goal of every treatment is to keep the patient in remission as long as possible. The standard procedure is a high dose chemo with a stem cell transplant. There are basically two options:

- the autologous stem cell transplant with the own stem cells of the patient
- the allogeneic stem cell transplant with donated cells of from a related (family member) or unrelated donor 

We had some discussions with the doctors which option would be best for my mom and that was when I first considered to get myself registered as a bone marrow donor. First of all I of course would have done it to find out if I could be a donor for my mom although the chance that it works in a mother / child combination is very low. Siblings are usually the best option with about 25% to 30% chance to be a fit.

The decision was finally made to go for the autologous stem cell transplant. This is the therapy standard for myeloma because usually the result of the allogeneic stem cell transplant is not so significantly better that it would compensate the much higher risk of complications. This is different for other lymphoma types like leukemia where an allogeneic transplant can really save a life and be the cure for the patient.
Of course I could have registered myself as a donor at that time although it was not an option for my mom and I remember that I seriously considered it, but honestly we were so caught up in our own struggle with the disease that I did not really made the move.

When my mom finally died it I thought of becoming a donor again, because it would maybe help not only a patient in need but also me to get over the immense feeling of helplessness that was my companion for all the years I watched my dad and my mom struggling.

One important reason, why I still did not register at that time is, that I became pretty sick myself. As a result of my own health problem I was very anemic and could easily compete with the bad haemoglobin test results of a leukemia patient. It took me months after the big surgery two years ago that fixed the basic problem to recover my haemogram and before that a donation was out of question.
Additionally I was so emotionally tired of fighting cancer that when we lost our mom, I tried for a little while to ignore the fact that cancer even exists. But of course it did not really work and soon I was confronted again with close friends or the loved ones of friends fighting cancer. There is no way to hide and when bone marrow / stem cell transplants became part of the treatment plans of some cases in my wider circle, I decided finally to take the plan I was carrying around now for years into action and got myself registered.

How does it work?

If you live in the United States you go here, read all the information and register: BE THE MATCH

If you live in Germany you go here, read all the information and register: DKMS 

PLEASE ... do NOT register with more than one database. They are all connected to each other to a world wide network. If you would register more than once it just leads to chaos in the databases.  

Being based in Germany I ordered the DKMS registration set and received something that really looked like what you know from watching CSI. The package included two big Q-Tips you need to rub inside your mouth against the jawbone. Once that is done the Q-Tips need to dry (make sure they do not touch your hands or the table) and then you pack and label them. Finally you the send the whole package over to the organization and a few weeks later you get your registration number and your HLA result - and you are ready to save a life. Easy isn't?

To be realistic:

The statistical chance that you will one day really receive a call is not so big. Only 1 out of 20.000 people have a genetic set up that is close enough to yours to allow stem cell donation. And that is the statistics for the general population and not of patients in need versus registered donors. But this statistic shows more than anything else how tremendously important it is that as many people as possible get themselves registered to increase the chance for the patients without a related donor to have a chance for cure

But what does happen, when it really happens?

There are two ways to donate stem cells. The choice of the procedure depends on the needs of the patient.

20% really donate bone marrow. In a small surgery under general aesthetic about 1 liter of marrow and blood is taken from the iliac crest of the donor. A 2-3 stay in the hospital will be necessary. The cuts are usually so small that they barely need stitches and the pain is like the pain from a bad bruise.
80% of the donors donate stem cells. For a couple of days before the donation the donor injects a special drug under the skin that increases the natural production of stem cells. When that is done the blood of the donor is filtered in a procedure very similar to a dialysis. Sometimes one session (ca. 4 hours) is enough sometimes it needs two. It basically works like this:

I know - none of the options sound like fun, but one thing is for sure:
Compared with what the patient is going through from the high dose chemo therapy that kills of the whole bone marrow and deletes the patients immune systems to the stem cell transplantation including the risk of a graft versus host effect (when the body of the patient despite all genetic match up does not accept the transplant) it is a walk in the park. For the donor it's just a couple of slightly uncomfortable days - a cheap price for giving somebody the chance for cure, an almost normal and healthy life

BTW - the body of a healthy donor needs only two weeks to fill in the gap of bone marrow / stem cells that results from the donation.

A registration costs about 50 EUR for the genetic analysis. Of course it is for free for the donor since it is important to get as many people as possible registered. On the other hand the non-profit organizations who run the internationally connected databases highly appreciate if you could donate the amount for your registration (I did that) and in general donations are of course more than welcome. Just check the websites for more information.

And now (excuse my French in advance):  LET'S FUCK CANCER!

Monday, October 10, 2011

My book in September

Patti Smith - Just Kids


When Patti Smith's book "Just Kids" was released it just jumped up the bestseller lists and became very popular especially between "my kind of people" - means people with a crush on rock music that was released before or around the year of my birth (1973) or at least sounds like that, people who love poetry, people who love art and especially American art of the 20th century. 

I was personally only mildly attracted because I usually look at booming bestsellers with a bit of skepticism and - even more important - as influential and brilliant Patti Smith doubtlessly is as an artist, I am not much of a fan. Her poetry and music doesn't really work for me. I know this is a bit surprising since I am a huge fan of almost all the incredible artists she mentions in her book, but that's like it is. And I think it's a fair point - my position always is that I can definitely value the creativity and talent of an artist but say at the same time "this is not mine". I see art from a very emotional point of view and you cannot force emotions.

Then came the day when I changed my mind and decided that I HAVE to read this book - February 21st 2011. I was standing thunderstruck in front of Robert Mapplethorpe's self portrait at the Whitney Museum in New York. This picture shows Robert suffering from AIDS, death already present. His face his slightly blurry, he wears black in front of a black background what has the effect that his body is almost vanishing. The center of the picture is his hand - crisp and clear - embracing a walking stick with a silver skull at the top. In my old post I linked to the picture instead of showing it and I do not want to show it here as well, because there is no image I could find in the internet that does the original justice. It looses too much in the usual low web resolution.  

This photography is for sure one of the biggest and most meaningful pieces of art I have ever seen. Robert managed to make the process of dying visible. He captures the in-between. He is alive but he knows he is dying. The process has already started. His presence in this shot is incredibly intense. For me - and I know this sounds like a contradiction - this picture of him dying makes him immortal. There is more presence, emotion, intensity and LIFE in this picture than - sad enough - in many "living" people I met on my way.
When I will go back to New York next year, I'll visit Robert again. That's for sure. I generally want to visit the Whitney again on a weekday morning because a crowded Sunday afternoon was not a good idea - no air to breath in that building. 

And so it was Robert and not Patti who made me download the book to my Kindle and go with them on their journey together and what a trip it was. 

Looking at the book in its entirety I was surprised how unpretentious the language is - especially for  a powerfully eloquent poetess like Patti Smith. Don't get me wrong - I did not expect long and winding florid metaphors from somebody who shared the table with the writers of the Beat Generation, but the structure is really simple and the wording sometimes slightly repetitive. It's not that I did not not enjoy reading a lot - it's just does not rank in my personal list of best literary experiences and maybe it's just me and Patti not having "the groove" - like with her music. 

I also had the impression that Patti really makes sure that she is not gossiping about the incredibly famous people mentioned in the book. She is especially careful with her own ex-boyfriends - famous artists, musicians, writers and actors like for example Sam Shepard. When she describes the ends of her relationships it is often very abstract and modest. She never blames her partners although she sometimes must have been really hurt. On one hand it's a good move because this way she is not driving the attention away from the story of Robert's and hers relationship, but it also keeps the reader sometimes on a certain distance. 

What I really loved is that all the people who crossed her way at the Chelsea Hotel and other places, who became legends and icons of the 20th century like the crowd around Andy Warhol, Janis Joplin, Jimi Hendrix and many more become "human" again in her writing described at eye level, with impressions from real encounters and some cases friendships. Here the unpretentious language is definitely a plus.

But the most moving, most intense and most essential parts of the book are really the ones who focus on the relationship between Robert and Patti - a relationship that was from the first to the last day defined by the deep love and respect both felt for each other. It survived their break up as a couple (drifting away seems to describe it better since there was never a real break up), Robert's confession of his homosexuality, periods of personal and creative development that made them more fall apart than pulling them together. It for sure wasn't an easy love, but which really rich and intense relationship ever was easy?

Most impressed I was about the fact how confident both of them and especially Robert were always about their art. He never seemed to doubt that this was the way to go. Both always defined themselves as artists despite all setbacks and although they had to work many years long hours in other jobs simply to survive. For a long, long time they were neither rich nor famous but poor and starving. 

My two favorite episodes directly relate to this aspect of the book:

When Robert and Patti were very young they would not have enough money for two tickets to a museum or exhibition (I can still feel the pain - museum admissions in New York are still painfully expensive). So only one of them would go in and the other would wait outside to get then a detailed descriptions of what the one inside had seen. One day Robert was waiting in front of the Whitney smoking and when Patti came out he told her that one day they would be both go inside together - for their own exhibitions with their art displayed. It's the same Whitney Museum where I froze in front of his self portrait, the same Whitney where he had several exhibitions, the same Whitney where his memorial service was held. He had a dream and he made it happen. 

In the last couple of days you could find a lot of quotes of  the late Steve Jobs all over the internet. Another person who believed in his dreams, made them happen and who left us the message not to give up but believe in ourselves. What he said fits very well to the way Robert lived:

"Your time is limited, so don't waste it living someone else's life. Don't be trapped by dogma - which is living with the result of other people's thinking. Don't let the voice of other's opinions drown out your own inner voice. And most important have the courage to follow your heart and intuition. They somehow know what you truly want to become." 

The other episode describes one of Patti's first concerts and suddenly she realizes that Bob Dylan is there. He is her idol - the man she modeled her life after (strong words, but that is what she said), but instead of freezing and getting nervous she takes in the energy and feels more confident than ever. His presence doesn't make her feel small it makes her stronger. She doesn't even mention if she later talked to Dylan and I guess she didn't, because it did not matter anymore. 

All together "Just Kids" is the story about love, about two people being life long soul mates, about the power of creativity, art and dreams. 

It starts and ends with Robert's death. I cried both times. 

Sunday, October 9, 2011

So much I love about my favorite city put in a video

Last night Sylvia Emmenegger McCoy of Burgh Bits & Bites posted a link on Facebook that shows so many of the things I love about Pittsburgh that I want to share it with you here.

Enjoy the great sights, watch Sylvia showing the film crew the Strip District - one of my favorite neighborhoods in town - and sneak with them into Enrico Biscotti Company (it would be so nice if you could hit a "smell the scent" button at your computer).
You can also watch the lovely Sharon Massey of Jagoff Jewelry, who already made some wonderful pieces of jewelry for me,  creating beautiful pendants with the crew at the Society of Contemporary Craft and explore much more awesome things.
And the best is: these guys do a lot of fun things, but there is so much more to explore in Pittsburgh. Some of it you find already listed and described in the postings about my trip last February and there will be much more when I will blog about the two trips I am planning for 2012. 

Watch the full episode. See more Explore PA.

PS:  As cute as the Pirates Parrot is, I perfer to have fun with this cool dude :)!  LET'S GO PENS!

I also have to add here another beautiful video that I found on my favorite Pittsburgh blog "That's Church".  The featured artist's name is Pat. He is from Pittsburgh and works at the Cirque du Soleil. Pure magic ...