Fun website

I have been a member of Bzz Agent for a while. Recently I learned of a fun site called Influenster. You get "points" for your thoughts, reviews, etc. If you are lucky, you get selected to receive a box of samples. I recently joined and was invited to take a qualification survey for a box. Unfortunately, I did not qualify, but hopefully I will in the near future.

Found a new staple for my beauty routine

About two years ago, a friend told me about Bzz Agent. For those that aren't familiar, it is a website where you sign up, complete surveys and can qualify to receive free products. In return for you receiving the free products, you "Bzz" about the product. Write reviews, connect on FB with the product, tell your friends and family members. Sometimes it is hard to do these activities, especially if you don't love a product. Other times, you can't stop talking about it even if your Bzz Agent campaign activities have long been completed. One of these products is Paula's Choice Skin Perfecting 2% BHA Liquid. I have sensitive, fair toned skin that is prone to breakouts. A lot of products will help with the breakout but make my skin dry and flaky. Or they cause redness that becomes extremely visible because of how pale I am. This always makes me skeptical to try new things. I wasn't sure what to expect from Paula's. It had great reviews online, but then again, so did Proactive and that killed my skin. The first time I used it, I was pleased that when applying, it didn't burn my skin or cause tingling as this type of product sometimes can. It has a texture thicker then water but not my much and almost no scent (which is a plus in my book). I didn't really notice anything with my skin until about three days into using the product. I've never had smooth or glowing skin and I started to notice that for the first time, my skin felt smooth to the touch. Perhaps the most surprising was that I didn't get my usual hormonal breakout around the time of my period like I usually do. I had one small pimple on my chin instead of the multiple breakout locations I can sometimes have. I am very grateful to have been a part of this Bzz Campaign and can picture myself using and talking about this product long after the campaign ends.

Starting Over

I started this blog when I began my visits to Pittsburgh to record some of my observations, thoughts and experiences. To say a lot has happened since the last time I posted would be a massive understatement. Since my last post, I got engaged, moved to Pittsburgh, changed jobs, got married, honeymooned in Rome, met Pope Francis and have been adjusting to the daily struggles of newlywed life. All that being said, I am going to start writing in this blog again but instead focus on the daily life of a Catholic girl who got married later in life (I was 34 when I got married). What are some of the ups and downs? Good things that happen? The bad? Emotions associated with it and everything in between.

A Valentine's Day Surprise

Valentine's Day was on a Tuesday this year.  Not really an ideal date night for anyone, but especially not if you are in a long distance relationship.  Chris had resigned himself to the fact that we weren't going to see each other that night and we made plans to celebrate while he was in Buffalo the previous weekend.  What he didn't know is that I had made plans to come down for a surprise visit and treat him to a dinner cruise on the Gateway Clipper. 

I've pulled off surprise parties and events before without a hitch but I was worried about this one.  What if Chris made other plans?  What if he had the same crazy idea and decided to come to Buffalo and we passed each other on the 79?  Luckily my friend Jason works in the same office as Chris and kept tabs on him throughout out the day.  I kept getting updates like "Chris just went to a meeting" or "Chris is away but not offline." 

I had given away the secret that Chris was getting a Valentine's Day surprise but he was convinced it was something like a cookie bouquet or Sherri's Berries.  When I called to thank him for the beautiful purple roses he sent to my office, he commented "I still don't have my surprise."  When we talked at various points throughout the day, I assured him that it was coming.  When I left the office to head to Pittsburgh, I texted him that I had just received confirmation that his surprise was officially on the road.  As I approached Pittsburgh, I (not surprisingly) got stuck in traffic.  Right around the same time (as the end of the work day was fast approaching), Chris texted me again to say that his surprise had not yet arrived.  I giggled as I replied "it is stuck in traffic but should be there soon." At this point he was convinced that his surprise was something I left with my friend Jason to deliver to him and not something being delivered by a company to his office. 

Chris was shocked to learn that his surprise was actually me coming down to visit him.  He was very excited that I was there but we almost weren't able to take the dinner cruise!  A test he had to run was scheduled for 7:00 that night - right when we'd be cruising on one of Pittsburgh's three rivers.  Thankfully the test was cancelled and didn't interfere with our plans. 

We met up at Station Square, the home of the Gateway Clipper Fleet (and also where Chris parks for work and where we first met).  With time to kill, we took a trek up the Monongahela Incline.  As the incline inched away from the Station Square station to the top of Mount Washington, the Pittsburgh skyline came into full view.  I don't think I'll ever lose the awe over the stunning views from multiple angles that the City of Pittsburgh provides.  After departing the incline, we spend some time observing from the platforms that jut out over the edge of Mt. Washington.  It was chilly so we didn't stay too long but I could picture myself sitting on a bench on a summer day enjoying the view and getting lost in thought about all the stories that were taking place down below.

The Valentine's day dinner cruise on the Gateway Clipper exceeded my expectations.  We boarded the Majestic and the interior resembled a two story banquet hall.  The decor and atmosphere were much different than I expected as I felt more like I was in a hotel ballroom than on a boat.  We were escorted to our window seats (after a quick photo opportunity) and were greeted with a friendly waitress presenting is with drink and appetizer options.  Drinks were a bit pricey but that is to be expected at something like this. 

Dinner was served buffet style and with great precision as the large number of tables were all served quickly and efficiently.  There were a variety of options and I found the food to be quite tasty considering it was generic banquet food.

The cruise itself was a lot of fun.  There was some narration about the buildings we were passing along the way but not so much that it distracted from the romantic experience of the dinner cruise.  There was a live "band" that played the music for the evening.  I'm a musician so I'm a bit of a snob when it comes to musical quality and this group was certainly not destined for large scale success any time soon.  But they knew how to get a crowd into the music and have fun and ultimately, that is what really matters.  After dancing the night away we took some time to explore the other decks of the ship.  It is quite spacious and each area has its own character. 

It was fantastic seeing the skyline of Pittsburgh and the areas surrounding downtown Pittsburgh via the water at night.  Once again I marveled at what a fun and unique experience was available in the Steel City, especially in the middle of winter.  I look forward to taking a Gateway Clipper cruise again - perhaps one of the one hour sight seeing tours.

Back to School

From the first time I checked out, I knew I wanted to see the Cathedral of Learning.  I love architecture, history and culture so to visit a place that combined all three was going to be thrilling!  The Cathedral of Learning itself was interesting architecturally.  It is one of the tallest classroom buildings in the world and the descriptions show stunning features similar to the late Gothic revival style.  It also contains the Nationality Rooms.  The Nationality Rooms are classrooms designed to represent the culture of various ethnic groups that settled in Allegheny County.  What made them a must see this trip was the fact that each would be decorated according to the Christmas/holiday traditions of that culture.  I was so excited when we pulled up to the building that I literally almost skipped up the steps past the Heinz Chapel (a gorgeous church on the University of Pittsburgh campus used for weddings, concerts, etc).  That may also have had something to do with the fact that it had started to snow and it was quite chilly outside, though.

When we pulled open the doors and ventured into the building, I quickly saw why the building was called "Cathedral."  I felt as if I had been transported to one of the grand cathedrals of Europe. 

When we checked in for the tour, I was a bit surprised at the "technology" that they offered.  In today's day of podcasts, iPods and digital everything, we were handed a cassette player circa 1990.  That just added to the entertainment factor of the morning as we raced to make sure we pressed 'stop' at the appropriate time in each room.  For $3, you receive a map of the rooms, the key that gets you in to all of the rooms and the audio cassette tour.  As we unlocked and opened each door, I never failed to gasp in awe and say "wow, that is amazing" or "how incredibly beautiful."  It was interesting to learn about the culture of each country and even more incredible to see the traditional holiday customs on display.  Each room had a sheet that described the holiday decor and the traditions that went along with it.  It was fun to test our knowledge of certain cultures and customs and learn more about those that we were not familiar with.  Room after room I was impressed with the attention to detail and uniqueness of each space.  Dramatic colors, stained glass windows, student and professor chairs, paintings and murals and even blackboards all tied back into the theme and time period of the room.  In about two hours, we had travelled around the world without even leaving Pittsburgh!  We visited Czechoslovakia, Italy, Germany, Hungary, Poland, Ireland, Lithuania, Romania, Sweden, China, Greece, Scotland, Yugoslavia, England, France, Russia and Syria/Lebanon.  Unfortunately, due to time constraints (and the amount we had put in the parking meter) we didn't have time to visit the third floor classrooms of Austria, Japan, Armenia, India, Africa, Israel or the Ukraine.  It was a bit disappointing to not see it all, but at the same time, I am excited to go back and experience the rooms all over again - this time bringing my camera.  To cap off the experience, there is a gift shop that features items that originate from many of the countries featured in the classrooms.  I left with an amber ring from Poland and a guidebook of the rooms and my friend purchased a dreidel.

Continuing with the school theme, this visit, the Buffalo Sabres were schooled by the Pittsburgh Penguins.  Buffalo is a HUGE hockey town with all of our home games selling out and plenty of parties and ways to watch the game when we are away.  Our fans are passionate, crazy and a lot of fun.  Since the Pens had won a cup recently, I was pretty sure the atmosphere at a Pen's game would be equally as electric.  Chris and I are both huge hockey fans so we got tickets to see our teams battle it out at the Consol Energy Center.  It is a brand new arena clean, bright and full of amenities.  As someone who is 6 feet tall, I wish there was more leg room but the seats were still decently comfortable.  It was a little surprising to see their luxury/club level was named for First Niagara since that is a local Buffalo company that holds the naming rights to our arena.  But it was good to see a local company with such far reaching exposure.  Concession prices were about average for an arena setting and the lines moved quickly and efficiently.  Too bad the same can't be said about my Sabres.  I had high hopes for my team.  After all, we had beat the Pens when we played them earlier in the season.  The Sabres had defeated the Toronto Maple Leaves the night before and I think that they may have done a little too much celebrating the night before.  The end result is that we lost 8-3, but I still proudly sported my Tyler Myers Jersey and supported my team.  Even if it meant I received a few friendly taunts on my way out. 

It was another great visit to Pittsburgh and I was a little sad when I realized it would be over a month before I would be back.

Fun, Food and Flowers

This trip to Pittsburgh featured a packed itinerary.  There was a Christmas party, a get together with friends and church obligations.  That didn't stop me from wanting to experience more of Pittsburgh.  Checking out, I noticed that the Carnegie Art Museum had free admission on Saturday, that there was a large outdoor nativity scene and that Phipps had special evening hours.  I was determined to fit some touristy activity into the weekend.

Once again I took the Megabus and pulled into the convention center around dinner time.  Starving because I hadn't eaten lunch, Primanti Brothers was suggested.  I had tried a Pittsburgh salad before (a tasty combination of steak, french fries and riveria dressing) but had only heard about the bizarre sandwich that combined coleslaw, fries and whatever meat you chose.  We went to the original location in the Strip District. Since it was after 5:00, most of the shops and vendors in that area were closed, but I made note of the fact that I would need to return to this eclectic community filled with food vendors (including many ethnic varieties), Pittsburgh sports memorabilia, arts and culture venues and speciality boutiques to name just a few.  The menu at Primanti Brothers was simple but I still had a hard time deciding which sandwich to try.  I was assured by our friendly server that regardless of what I chose I would not be disappointed so I quickly surveyed the menu and chose turkey breast and cheese.  The server told the story about how the original sandwich was constructed so workers could combine their favorite ingredients into one easy to handle lunch package.  It was enjoyable to know a little more about the history of the sandwich I was about to try.  When our sandwiches arrived, I was amazed at the size.  Even though I was hungry, I doubted I could finish.  I took my first bite and knew I'd be back to this restaurant.  Not only was the sandwich tasty, but somehow the fries maintained some crispness and the bread didn't get soggy!  I ate the whole sandwich (probably quicker than I should have) and had plenty of praise to pass on to our server.  I can't wait to go back and try other varieties!

Saturday was a busy day but the schedule opened up around 5:00 that evening.  By then the art museum was closed but Phipps Conservatory had evening hours for their Christmas displays.  Having been to the Buffalo and Erie County Botanical Gardens, I had an idea of what it might be like, but was blown away by my experience there.

When we first entered, the main lobby had a gorgeous Chihuly glass piece hanging from the ceiling. 

I became a fan of his work many years ago when there was an exhibit at the Albright Knox in Buffalo so I recognized it was his work almost immediately.  After stopping for the obligatory photo, we moved on into the main area of the gardens.  The domes of the gardens were lit with soft white Christmas lights and all of the pathways were illuminated by tea light candles.  A beautiful touch to add to the already fantastic atmosphere.  The first room we entered (the Serpentine Room) had a Nutcracker theme.  Each tree was decorated in the various themes of the dances of the popular Christmastime ballet.  There was the Russian tree, the Spanish tree, the Chinese tree.  Each meticulously decorated according to the theme.  I was disappointed I didn't have my camera with me but was glad my iPhone takes decent shots.  Buffalo has a reputation for being the "city of good neighbors" but Pittsburghers must be similarly inclined because every time it was apparent we were going to take a photo, there were offers to take one of both of us.  People even framed better shots for us and offered to hold our coats so they didn't disrupt the picture!  We ended up taking many more pictures than we probably would have because of the helpfulness of complete strangers.  Room after room, I continued to be impressed by the beauty of the plants on display and the settings around them.   The Nutcracker theme carried throughout the gardens and seeing the kids with their stamp activity books brought me back to experiencing the Nutcracker for the first time as a child.    I was also astonished by the number of Chihuly pieces scattered throughout the gardens and how they were embedded so cleverly into the landscape.  I especially enjoyed the gold star in the Desert room and various pieces scattered throughout the Palm Court.  I almost felt like I was on a scavenger hunt to see where I could spot the next Chihuly piece!  I really enjoyed the Orchid room and the Sunken Garden but the real highlight for me (aside from all the Chihuly glass) was the garden railroad.  This model train spanned across the whole South Conservatory room and had incredible detail.  I followed the trains around the massive layout with more wonder and excitement than the kids who were also in the room!  I also had a first time experience that evening - a kiss under the mistletoe (or, as it was labeled there, a "kissing ball").  After a photo in front of the huge Christmas tree in the Palm Court, we left Phipps with a lot of great memories and pictures.  I am sure I'll make a return visit, perhaps in the spring or summer.

There is a saying that all good things must come to an end and that meant that my weekend in the Steel City also had to end.  Before I hopped back onto the Megabus, we had one last stop in downtown Pittsburgh, the Pittsburgh Creche.  The Creche is the world’s only authorized replica of the crèche in St. Peter’s Square in Rome. It was constructed from plans by Vatican architect and has larger-than-life-size renderings of the Holy Family, the magi, an angel, shepherds, animals and a stable.  There was stunning, life like detail and in today's world of political correctness, I appreciated the public display of such an important part of my Catholic faith.  As we spent a few minutes visiting the Creche, I wondered how many people drove by every day without even noticing the beautiful display and how many others may have noticed but not taken the time to appreciate the event in a meager stable that would change the world forever.

I boarded the bus sad to be leaving but excited to return the next week for even more adventures.


The Adventure Begins

It is no secret that I love Buffalo.  I am constantly talking about how great it is to live here.  I'm always the 'go to' person when anyone is looking for something to do, and I'm always finding new and exciting things to see and events to attend.  To top it off, I am a Buffalo Ambassador through Visit Buffalo Niagara

My love of seeing and experiencing new things is not limited to Buffalo.  One of my goals in life is to visit at least one new place every year.  2011 brought a lot of exciting opportunities with visits to New Orleans, Nicaragua, Lake Geneva, WI, Minneapolis/St. Paul, MN and Pittsburgh, PA.  I am not content with visiting someplace unless I've done my research and have an idea of what some of the must sees are and I catch at least a few of them. 

When my friends Chris and Jason (through comments on a FaceBook check in at Chick-Fil-A in Erie) suggested that I take a trip to Pittsburgh on Veteran's Day to have dinner with them at Chick-Fil-A, it didn't take very long before tickets were booked on the Megabus and I was committed to having an adventure on my day off.  The idea was crazy for a number of reasons.  First of all, due to the schedule of the Megabus, I'd only be in Pittsburgh for about six hours.  Second, I would be arriving back in Buffalo at 3:30 a.m. That in and of itself wouldn't be too bad.  Except that I had to be at Villa Maria College at 9:00 a.m. for the taping of a Christmas Eve Mass that was going to be broadcast on national television.  None of that really mattered to me.  I was excited to visit someplace I've never seen before and see two friends that I hadn't seen recently.

Prior to boarding the bus that morning, I had done some research on Pittsburgh.  I wasn't sure what to expect from the city, but I had certain perceptions in mind.  It was going to be small.  I thought it might look run down and possibly even dirty.  I hadn't really heard anything positive about Pittsburgh except that they had many championship sports teams and none of them were playing that night. 

In my research on the Pittsburgh CVB's website I learned about the Duquesne Incline.  I thought it was a perfect way to get a glimpse of the city knowing that I wouldn't have much time for the visit.  I also had back  up plans of visiting a laser show at the Carnegie Science Center or checking out the Warhol Museum which is apparently open on Friday evenings.  On the bus, I continued to look through the website and started to see how many interesting things there were to do in Pittsburgh.  Despite all of the potential to be awesome, I still had my reservations.  Then the bus rounded a turn (after what seemed like days of being on the bus) and I caught my first glimpse of the skyline.  It was beautiful.  There were a variety of architectural styles and the skyline combined with the bright yellow bridges had an instant appeal.  I tried to snap a picture but I was sitting on the wrong side of the bus to get anything other than the heads of the people across the aisle.  The bus pulled into the David Lawrence Convention Center and once again I was impressed.  The complex was huge and looked brand new.  Plus it was right on the water - a huge plus for me as I enjoy being near the water. 

Moments later - just as I had decided to walk towards the river and check it out, my friend Chris pulled up.  We had directions through an iPhone and attempted to make our way to the Incline.  I say attempted because we had a mini adventure trying to make it across the river to the Incline.  We circumvented Heinz Field about five times, crossed the rivers at least that many times and I saw PNC Park.  All the while longing to be at the Incline across the river.  After a half hour of driving around, I finally convinved Chris to pull over and we called Jason.  He graciosuly agreed to meet us at Heinz Field and be the lead car to take us to the incline.  Eventually we made it to the incline and I approached the building with child like anticipation.  I was about to experience a historic funicular and get an awesome view of the skyline right at dusk.  As the inclune inched its way up, I sat there in awe of the view I was taking in.  What appeared before me was not some dingy has been rust belt city.  It was a city that glowed with excitement and activity.  There were things to do right along the river.  Trains were constantly rolling by and there were commercial and tourist boats dotting the river (even though it was November).  I was excited to see and do more so I picked up a Visitor's Guide from the kiosk at the top of the incline. 

As is typical in my group of friends, we stood around at the top of the incline and talked for about a half hour about what we wanted to do next.  The entire purpose for my visit was to have dinner at Chick-Fil-A but it was determined that it was "too far" to head there that evening so we needed alternatives.  Jason suggested Station Square.  I enjoy trains, architecture and history so I thought the idea was fantastic.  It was also close by which appealed to the fact that I was extremely hungry.  We made our way over to Station Square and entered the complex.  After another 30 minutes of discussion (and a push on my part for sushi) we decided on Kiku Japanese Restaurant.  The food and service were good and we had plenty of laughs along the way.

As dinner was coming to a close, we tried to figure out what the next activity would be.  Since we were at Station Square, we decided to just take in the sights and sounds of that area.  I stopped at Hard Rock Cafe to get the souvenier pin I always get from Hard Rock and we walked to the riverfront area of Station Square.  There was a fun fountain show set to music (think a mini version of the one at Bellagio in Las Vegas).  Not to mention an exquisite view of the downtown skyline.  We strolled along the river and took in the sights, including a close up view of the Gateway Clipper Fleet. 

Unfortunately, all good adventures must come to an end knowing I had to be presentable for a national television recording by 9 a.m., we left the Steel City around 11:30 that night.  Before we said goodbye, though, we had one last amazing glimpse at the beauty of Pittsburgh - the view of the skyline that opens up to you just as you exit the tunnel.  It was exquisite.  I even commented that perhaps they should post a warning sign in the tunnel for the unsuspecting tourists like myself who did not expect the tunnel to open to such a remarkable view.

I'm leaving a MAJOR part of this adventure out of this post.  I'll share it in the next one because it directly relates to why I've had so many subsequent visits to Pittsburgh.