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 :)