Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Mellon Arena Christmas Ornaments!

The Civic Arena will probably be coming down after much dispute and arguments by those on both sides of the issue.  But whether you are pro or con, the Pittsburgh Penguins Foundation has come up with a very cool use for the arena's famous steel roof.  They are offering two Christmas ornaments, hand-hammered from pieces of the steel roof.

The pieces were designed and produced by Wendell August Forge in Grove City. One side depicts either the Civic Arena with a Downtown backdrop or the logo of the Pittsburgh Penguins, who played there from 1967 to 2010. The back of each ornament bears an authenticity stamp and the initials of the artisan who made the piece. They weigh about a pound and a half each, and measure roughly 4 by 5 inches.   They are priced at $29 each plus shipping and can be purchased at the foundation's web site. Proceeds will fund a new sports program in Allegheny County schools.

If you do plan on ordering, you'd better do it quick!  1000 were sold in the first 3 hours after the press release went out on Tuesday. 

Metro Pittsburgh Real Estate
Pittsburgh Penguins Foundation

Monday, November 28, 2011

Bike Racks On ALL Buses

Port Authority Transit buses have had a face lift. The entire fleet of buses had been outfitted with mounted bike racks. The installation of the bike racks should open up a wide variety of recreational opportunities for cyclists. For example, city dwelling mountain bikers will now have easier access to urban trails such as those at Frick Park which are considered the best mountain biking trails available inside the city limits.  You could ride to the trail, but a lot of times mountain bikes aren't suitable for riding on city streets.  So being able to jump on a bus and take your bike to the trail is pretty huge.

Conversely, city cyclists can now easily head to the suburbs and ride beautiful country trails or experience portions of the Montour Trail that may not have been easily accessible before. The buses can also transport those looking to pedal the Great Allegheny Passage to trailheads in McKeesport and Duquesne.
For suburban cyclists who may fear city meter readers or shy away from the high price of a city parking garage, the bus bike racks make it easy to access the city trails.  A lot of people come into the city on the weekends to ride the trails.  Every bus goes to Downtown and the trail system starts there, so that just makes life very easy for all biking enthusiasts. 

Sunday, November 27, 2011

2011 Dirty Dozen Bike Race

Steve Cummings, overall winner of the Saturday's "2011 Dirty Dozen Bike Race"

It started out in 1983 with a quirky idea among 5 friends .... Outrageous bike rides where they could challenge themselves and hang out with their buddies.  They decided on a "Dirty Dozen" Bike race where they would take on twelve of the area's steepest hills.  Why not celebrate one of our biggest "natural resources" ...... our hills.

The friendly, low-key, quirky race for five has grown over the years to a friendly, low-key, quirky race with over 300 participants this year.  Even with increases to these numbers, organizer Danny Chew, one of the original co-founders, still resists making the event more formally organized.  Even though there is now a $15 registration fee, the grass-roots race which is now Pittsburgh's biggest bike race, still doesn't take out permits with the cities it runs through, there's no title sponsor, and all finish lines are hand-drawn orange chalk lines on the streets.

This year, anticipating more riders, Mr. Chew rounded up more volunteer marshals to help control traffic and watch the cyclists at each of the 87 intersections they cross during the six hours they are out on the streets of Pittsburgh and several surrounding suburbs. He also asked his two supporters, Big Bank Bikes and Eat'n Park, to help out a bit more with funding and contributions.  Brooks Broadhurst, vice president of Eat'n Park and a cyclist, came out to help as a marshal and contributed Smiley Cookies, peanut-butter-and-jelly sandwiches and hot chocolate.

Two years ago, Pittsburgh Police let Chew know that the event was becoming "unwieldy." They asked him to not take the cyclists through the Liberty Tunnel on the way back into the city near the end of the race.  He stopped going through the tunnel because he wanted to remain on good terms with them.  Mr. Chew, a nationally renowned long-distance cyclist who has twice won the Race Across America, still resists the idea of making it an officially sanctioned race.

Many who have supported the race and spread the word of its insane beauty over the years believe that its current popularity means it will soon have to change.  300 cyclists simultaneously clambering to the top of hills with a MINIMUM 20 percent grade, on narrow streets designed two centuries ago, is at least a very good definition of "unweildy."

Only a couple dozen riders ever hope to score a point in the race -- the top 10 men and top five women up each hill get points in descending order.  The one with the most cumulative points at the end of the day is declared the overall winner.  The rest of the racers are merely trying to complete each hill, whether riding, walking or whatever.  Walking up the hills does not count as completing a hill, however.

Bob Stumph had just finished 4th in the race to the top of Canton Avenue, the steepest of this year's "Baker's Dozen" 13 hills.  Nearly 200 spectators lined both sides of the 100-yard-long cobblestone street to cheer on other cyclists trying -- many in vain -- to climb the 37 percent grade hill.

Ann-Marie Alderson of Etna won the women's race for the first time, one of only three women to finish every hill out of 13 women who competed. In the men's race, Steve Cummings from Lawrenceville, won the men's race for the eighth time in a row. Before the race he insisted he was "scared" because it was "so much pain" to contemplate doing the race again -- a sentiment he couldn't completely let go, even after winning.  "I don't want to come back," he said with a smile while leaning on his bike, still breathing heavily after completing the last hill on Tesla Street in Hazelwood. "I hope it snows a lot next year so we don't have to do it."

"Well, racing this is like hitting yourself with a hammer: When you stop, it feels real good," said Jim Switzer, 56, a high school automotive technology teacher from Dimock, Pa., who came out for his first race Saturday.

But with all of this year's success, the question remains, would Mr. Chew allow it to become more professionally run with a title sponsor and all that that means? He would, though he conceded, "It is a little upsetting, because it started so small, and it was kind of nice when I knew everybody in the race, but there's something nice about having hundreds of people trying all of these hills."

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

New Boutique in Squirrel Hill

Jordanna Younger, owner of Chic Boutique
Jordanna's dad, Irv Younger, owned a real estate company on Murray Ave in Squirrel Hill.  So after returning to Pittsburgh from Los Angeles, Jordanna was very happy to find just the right spot for her new boutique ...... 2236 Murray Ave, a few doors away from where her dad's business used to be. 

The 24-year-old Squirrel Hill native has had a longtime interest in fashion and wanted to be able to offer Pittsburghers men and women's clothing from Los Angeles and New York.  The shop carries dress and casual clothes, accessories and women's shoes, all hand-picked by Jordanna.  The merchandise will most likely appeal to teens through 30-somethings and is largely priced below $150.

Chic Boutique is open 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. Monday through Saturday and 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. Sunday. 
Chic Boutique

Monday, November 21, 2011

Fox Chapel Teen CEO of Her Own Company

Lani Lazzari, 17-yr-old CEO of Simple Sugars

17-year-old Lani Lazzari of Fox Chapel has dealt with eczema and other skin problems for years.  Because of this, she has spent more than a third of her life perfecting a formula for smoother skin.  Lani's first scrub creations were given as gifts when she was 11. Her mother, Gina Lazzari, asked her children to hand-make presents for family and friends. The scrubs were so well-received that Lani went on to create an entire line of body, facial and foot scrubs and Simple Sugars was born. She started with ingredients found in the family kitchen and still buys sugar at local grocery stores.

Simple Sugars is the Pittsburgh-based, all-natural skincare company she started in 2005.  She knew there were a lot of chemicals in other skin products and her instincts told her that if you can't eat it, you shouldn't put it on your body.  So her line is all about being natural.

She has had to give up many things that normal teens love, but she has been happy with her choices because she is passionate about what she is doing.

Simple Sugars offers 15 varieties of body scrubs (including special seasonal scents), four facial scrubs and a peppermint foot scrub. A 5-ounce jar of body scrub is $9.95, a 5-ounce facial scrub is $14.95 and a 5-ounce foot scrub is $9.95.

In 2010, Lani launched products for vegans, and, in June, introduced a line for men called Smooth. All products are made by hand in her home.

The products have been featured in Lucky Magazine, Teen Vogue, Allure and Self. Products are available online and at Giant Eagle Market District stores, Soergel Orchards in Franklin Park and So Me in Fox Chapel. Lani says she as sold more than 2,500 orders so far this year.

"I think it is really awesome," says mom Gina Lazzari, who works for her daughter. "I am so very proud of her."

Earlier this fall, mother and daughter embarked on cross-country trip from Sept. 15 to Oct. 27. The journey from Pittsburgh to Los Angeles included 26 cities where they shared the story with girls and women, encouraging them to follow their dreams and create their own opportunities for financial independence.
Simple Sugars Web Site

Friday, November 18, 2011

VERY Interesting Foreclosure Lawsuit

A Plum man has filed a lawsuit challenging the legality of the process by which millions of mortgages have been turned into investment vehicles, and then made the subjects of foreclosure filings.  In a complaint filed in U.S Disctrict Court, Jayson Schott said he got a $97,500 adjustable rate mortgage from America's Wholesale Lender in 2004. The rate went up, and he went into default. Bank of America, which bought America's Wholesale Lender, filed for foreclosure in 2008.

In the meantime, though, Mr. Schott's mortgage was "securitized", which means it was bundled into an investment vehicle called a Real Estate Mortgage Investment Conduit or REMIC.   REMICs are tax-exempt investments and thousands of shareholders have bought stakes in REMICs, according to the lawsuit by his Durham, N.C., attorney Luke Lucas.

"The mortgage thus became a stock", Mr. Lucas wrote.  Because mortgages and stocks are entirely separate under U.S. law, it ceased to become a loan secured by a house, according to the lawsuit.  Furthermore, when it went into default, the investors got a tax credit from the IRS, further invalidating the mortgage note. So, according to Attorney Lucas, the foreclosure of Jayson Schott's home was invalid because, in essence, the mortgage ceased to be a mortgage the moment it was securitized.

"You can't make oranges out of orange juice, and once the note is securitized, it is orange juice," Mr. Lucas said in a phone interview.

Mr. Lucas said he has filed several dozen similar lawsuits nationally, though this is the first in Western Pennsylvania. If his contention were broadly approved by courts, it could undermine efforts to collect or foreclose on millions of mortgages, and he acknowledged that it would "take a brave judiciary" to do that.

The lawsuit alleges violations of multiple federal laws, and seeks cancellation of Mr. Schott's debt, repayment of interest paid times three, and damages including punitive damages. It has been assigned to U.S. District Judge Terrence F. McVerry. Besides Bank of America and several of its subsidiaries, the lawsuit names Bank of New York Mellon as a defendant, because it became the trustee for the investment vehicle.

Law Offices of Lucas & Nowak