Hi,

Tomorrow is the anniversary of the last American hostage to be released from Lebanon (1991), the National Grange was founded (1786) and it’s St Barbara’s Day.  Birth anniversaries include entertainer Lillian Russel (1861), English author Samuel Butler (1835), Scottish essayist and historian Thomas Carlyle (1795) and Helen Chase, founder of Chase’s Calendar of Events where I get all this trivia (1924).

The Parador Inn is all spruced up and decorated for the holidays.  It’s quite festive and just waiting for a visit from you.  :)

The bald eagles in Hays are building a new nest, looks like they are going to be permanent residents.  Their first nest was built by the Monongahela River and fell out of the tree last year during a storm.  The youngster in the nest survived the fall.  Mom and dad got smarter and built the new nest in a more sturdy tree in the same area.  Eagle nests can last up to 30 years, if you’ve ever seen one, they’re pretty massive and sturdy.

Hunting season just opened.  Some hunters just hunt for the sport and aren’t interested in the venison.  If you are one of those from Allegheny County and want to donate it to feed the hungry, you can donate it to Kips Deer Processing.  If you are not from Allegheny County, but live in the state, Share the Deer is a statewide site that shows local processors that you can donate the deer to.  Although these processors do charge the food banks, they do so at a reduced rate.

Speaking of food banks and feeding the hungry, volunteers from eight United Methodist Churches in Armstrong County did a pretty amazing thing.  94 volunteers manned assembly lines and made packets to feed 27,000 people last weekend.  Coordinated and lead by Stop Hunger Now, these packets included enough rice, vitamins, dehydrated vegetables and soy to feed about six persons and only cost about twenty-five cents each.  These meals were packed into a truck and driven to Stop Hunger Now’s Philly headquarters and will be distributed based on previous commitments and need.

The Interim President (recently upgraded title from Acting President) of Cal U, Geraldine Jones is no stranger to the University.  She grew up a short distance from there, she graduated from there, her two daughters also graduated from there and other than a few years stint as a teacher, she has worked for the university all of her working life.  She took over after long time President Angelo Armenti was ousted for fiscal irresponsibility.  Armenti spearheaded a very costly unfunded building program that basically transformed the campus.  $97M in debt and a $11.5 deficit in the budget is what she inherited 18 months ago.  Through fiscal responsibility, this year’s budget not only is balanced, but it has a small surplus. Kudos to Geraldine.

Speaking of higher education, the Pennsylvania State System of Higher Education selected Frank Brogan as it’s new chancellor.  There was a recent article on Frank in the Trib.  Leaving a similiar position in Florida, where he faced similiar problems our system has.  Among them were declining enrollments, a shrinking college-age demographic, stagnant state support, a historically black university threatening court action over uneven support and tension among 14 universities seeking to maintain some autonomy.  When Frank took over Florida’s system, relationships between the educators and legislators was so bad they were suing each other in court.  Besides his experience as an educator and bureaucrat (I’m not saying that in a negative way), he is able to work with other groups by listening to them and sorting this information out making compromises.  With declining enrollments at state colleges, some programs no longer relevant to today’s  environment and new ones needed, we need someone to think outside the box, hopefully Frank’s the one to re-invent out system of higher education.  We can’t just keep spending money on things that don’t work and desperately need a better system to education our youth.

The Strip District certainly is becoming THE host spot in Pittsburgh for apartments.  Obviously well situated for shopping and close proximity to Downtown, there’s a huge growth in projects either shovel ready or in the planning stages.  Starting at the beginning of the Strip on the corner of 11th and Smallman Streets, that vacant building that’s had an “Available” sign on it since I came back to Pittsburgh eight years ago is now slated to become 59 apartments.  That huge building across from Lydia’s with the huge Wholey’s blinking fish was slated to become a hotel or office space.  Plans are now in the works to convert it into 144 apartments.  Next up is the development by the Evil Empire Buncher Group which plans to build 750 apartments in their mixed development along the Allegheny River.  (If you haven’t read my blog in the past, the Evil Empire wants to demolish 1/3 of the iconic Terminal Build for easy access to their government subsidized commercial development project.  Even though many residents have complained about their plans to destroy a landmark, the Buncher Group was “shocked” at the “last minute” move to designate the Terminal Building as historic.  What an idiot to be “shocked” that residents took this step after repeatedly refusing to look for alternatives to demolition and took this action).  Moving on, :)  there’s also Oxford Three Crossings’ 299 apartments being constructed between 26th and 27th down by Railroad Street. This is all happening due to the success of the Cork Factory that’s had 100% occupancy since opening (they even added Lot 24 next to it that has 96 units), the former owner of my Inn’s development of condos across from the Smallman Street Deli, the 31st Street condos on Smallman Street and the Otto Milk development on Smallman.  There’s even talk of high end condo’s down there STARTING at $1M.

There’s a new trend out there, Steampunk is a blend of Victorian and high tech like making iPhone covers out of leather, and other blending of newer technology with age old materials like wood, leather and metal.  An example is an iPhone docking station made of a 1910 phone box, a 1920′s gramophone to amplify the tinny sound of the iPhone.

County Executive Rich Fitzgerald started what I hope will be a re-occurring Pittsburgh tradition.  He invited local high schools to make ornaments for the tree at the City/County Building.  Carlynton Junior Senior High School won the competition with four ornaments.  One made to represent each  of the three neighborhoods that make up the school district and one representing the entire district.  Last weekend they hung their ornaments and the other 100 submitted by other high schools on the tree.

Well, it is the holidays.  What holiday wouldn’t be complete without at least two of the attractions below?

The Carnegie has their traditional five huge trees decorated by the Museum of Art Woman’s Committee.  The theme this year is the international Santa.  They have St Nick as depicted in the Byzantine Empire, Mexico, Holland, Italy and America.   The centerpiece of the Christmas Tree Display is the Neapolitan Presepio. More than 100 figures, created between 1700 and 1830 by Italian craftsmen, represent the Neapolitan concept of the Nativity in a panorama of village life at the time.  More info at their website or by calling 412-622-3131.

The Phipps has it’s annual Christmas flower show.   The South Conservatory has a miniature railroad with a whimsical miniature Jurassic Park theme.  The Palm Court has a large Christmas tree made out of poinsettias, two wooden carousel horses originally from Kennywood  and festive holiday flowers and gift boxes around.The Serpentine Room has glass snowflakes hanging from the ceiling and glass mushrooms that are lit at night created by Baltimore artists Matthew McCormack and Jenn Figg.  The Victoria Room has an 18′ tree decorated with ribbons and fabric butterfly towers.  More info at their website or by calling 412-622-6914.

The Clayton at Frick is decorated with a fitting Victorian theme.  On display is a gift shopping list by Adelaide Frick, their children’s stockings are hung on a fireplace and toys the children enjoyed.  Remember to call if you want a tour (the classic autos, grounds and cafe are open to the public, tours of the mansion are guided.)  More info at their website or by calling 412-371-0600.

Due to budget cuts, Hartwood Acres does not have their drive through light display.  Not to dismay, there’s other options.  Since 1985, Oglebay Park has had a drive through lighting display.  Yahoo Travel rated it as one of the top seven displays in the country.  It’s a six mile drive featuring 80 lighting displays.  Suggested donation of $15 per car gets you in.  More info at their website or by calling 800-624-6988.  The Westmoreland Fair Grounds has a two mile drive through of 2M lights, a Christmas Village, C Edgar & Sons General Store with handmade seasonal gifts, sleigh rides and more.  The Harry Overly home is also open (a tradition since 1956) with festive decorations.  The admission is $12 per car and more info can be found at their website or by calling 724-423-1400.  Although not a drive thru, Kennywood Park has a lighting display throughout the park.  There’s an animated light show at the lagoon, holiday concerts, Toy Soldiers keeping the peace :) , concerts and many of the family friendly rides are open.  Admission is $13.99.  More info at their website or by calling 412-461-0500.

Completed last week, just in time for the holidays, Ambridge’s Ohio Valley Lines Model Railroad Club finished their new facade last week.  The interior work isn’t completed, but the first floor has an HO-scale model railroad with a new addition, the City of Pittsburgh.  A Lionel Model train was added to the basement level.  Also in the basement an N-scale railroad is under construction.  Although not complete, the train lines are up and running.  They expect the scenery to take another ten years to finish.  Either these are extremely detailed people or slackers.  :)  It’s open from noon until 5 pm Saturdays and Sundays and a donation of $5 is requested.  Members will give away three train sets everyday at random, best of luck to you if you go.  More info at their website, warning, they site doesn’t always open at first click, try it again if it doesn’t work.

Enjoy this warm weather while we have it,

ed