March is the best time to spring into action.

The new decade keeps building momentum here in the Steel City as well as for all of us at Sensi and across the country. We’ve been on a journey in one of the greatest cities in the world for more than six months now. When I started working with the Sensi team, I had no idea just how incredibly rich the history and culture of Pittsburgh really were. I’m grateful for the opportunity to get to know many of you and share so many gems of this historic city with our ever-broadening readership.

And yes, though it’s hard to believe as I write this, spring is in the air. Even when there’s snow on the ground, we believe that March is the best time to spring into action, whether that be in your community, your state, or in your personal life. It may be to embark on a new volunteer service project, to focus on personal health and wellness goals, kickstart new home renovations, or plan your summer vacation. There’s no better way to shake off any wintery blues.

There are so many local nonprofits that can use a lending hand in the spring, including many we’ve tried to include here—such as Grow Pittsburgh, Project Love Coalition, and Tree Pittsburgh. Spring is an invigorating time that gives us motivation to start anew. So find a new perspective, learn a new hobby, or support a new community project.

“I’m excited for the first moment when the sprouts cut through the frost, and the leaves share their green glow,” says publisher Gina Vensel. “It’s a sign that we’ll revive once again, and this time hopefully with a full heart and open mind. Our world continues to show its harsh realities, and I find comfort in moments when we embrace the true meaning of community: helping others, giving back, and moving our city forward.”

Join us in these sentiments. Crack open this month’s issue of Sensi Pittsburgh to see what’s new and inspiring inside. And remember, Sensi is a place for your stories to be heard.

Aaron H. Bible

On the Calendar: Pittsburgh, March 2020

Following is our exclusive listing of where we’ll be this month. There’s nothing like connecting to our people, our readers, and our supporters at real life events, and we’ve scoured the streets and the calendars to bring you an exclusive look at all the haps that will matter to you, and to us, this month.

Sportsburgh 10k Tour

Mar. 1, 2020
Fifth Avenue, Downtown

African American Art in the 20th Century

Mar. 1–May 10, 2020
Westmoreland Museum of Art, Greensburg

14th Annual Farm to Table Local Expo

March 6–15, 2020
David L. Lawrence Convention Center, Downtown


March 7, 2020
The Rex Theater, South Side

Steve Aoki

March 8, 2020
Stage AE, North Shore

AgraPharm Hemp Symposium

March 9, 2020
275 Georgetown Ln., Beaver

Tickets on Eventbrite
Learn from seasoned hemp farmers about the realities of hemp farming, from planting and growing to harvesting and processing. Beginners and current licensees alike will learn about new avenues to save the ailing farm. Lunch is provided.

Donnybrook 2020

March 13, 2020
The Priory Hotel, North Side

Event info on Facebook

Speakeasy After Dark

March 13, 2020
Carnegie Museum of Natural History, Oakland

Steel City Blues Festival

March 13-15, 2020
Rangos Auditorium, Carnegie Mellon University Campus

St. Patrick’s Day Parade

March 14, 2020
Downtown Pittsburgh

Event info on Facebook

Pittsburgh Electronic Music Record Fair

March 14, 2020
Ace Hotel, East Liberty

Event Info on Facebook

Bastard Bearded Irishmen’s Saint Party’s Day

March 14, 2020
The Rex Theatre, South Side

Event info on Facebook

Black Forge II Drag Brunch

March 15, 2020
Black Forge Coffee House, McKees Rocks

Eric Gales

March 15, 2020
Thunderbird Cafe & Music Hall, Lawrenceville

Pittsburgh Psychedelic Club Support Group Meeting

March 18 & 25, 2020
Pennsylvania MMJ Education Center, Strip District

Event info on Facebook

Keller Williams’ Grateful Grass featuring Love Canon

March 19, 2020
Byham Theatre, Downtown

Bob Weir and Wolf Bros

March 20, 2020
Roxian Theatre, McKees Rocks

Pittsburgh Arts & Crafts Spring Fever Festival

March 20-22, 2020
Monroeville Convention Center, Monroeville

Event info on Facebook

Bugs Bunny at the Symphony

March 20-22, 2020
Heinz Hall for the Performing Arts, Downtown

Allies Ball 2020

March 21, 2020
Soldiers and Sailors Memorial, Oakland

Tickets on Eventbrite

Scott Bradlee’s Postmodern Jukebox

March 23, 2020
Carnegie of Homestead Music Hall, Munhall

Tickets on Eventbrite


March 25, 2020
Thunderbird Cafe & Music Hall, Lawrenceville

ANTIfest 2020

March 28, 2020
Roxian Theatre, McKees Rocks

Tickets on Eventbrite

Going Deep Summit 3.0

March 28, 2020
Union Trust Building, Downtown

Tickets on Eventbrite

30th Annual Pittsburgh Bridal Showcase

March 29, 2020
David L. Lawrence Convention Center, Downtown

AIGA Design Conference 2020

March 30-April 1, 2020
David L. Lawrence Convention Center, Downtown

Ira Glass headlines Pittsburgh Humanities Festival at Carnegie Mellon University.

Cover Photo by Rah Petherbridge Photography

The annual Humanities Festival returns to Pittsburgh this spring for its fifth year running. The festival features an impressive lineup of experts and professionals from all across the artistic spectrum. Theater, history, music, visual art, literature, sociology, politics, and entrepreneurship all come together through a variety of avenues to help connect the community.

Leaders in all of these intellectual and creative spheres will occupy the Cultural District from March 20 to 22 for three full days of interviews, roundtable discussions, performances, readings, and exhibitions. Community members also have the chance to present alongside these pundits, thanks to the Public Open Call opportunity, which invites anyone with their own knowledge or work to audition for a spot in the Festival’s lineup. The Festival includes events each of the three evenings along with Core Conversations presentations during the days.

Kicking off the featured evening events, Sh!t-faced Shakespeare takes the stage at Byham Theater on March 20 to perform its unconventional interpretation of Macbeth. Combine copious amounts of alcohol with dignified Shakespearean actors in front of a live audience, and no censors, and you get a version of “the Scottish Play” that would make even the playwright himself roll—or laugh along—in his grave. Join the cast in its rowdy imbibement throughout the show for a lighter take on tragedy.
Ira Glass from This American Life shares “Seven Things I’ve Learned” on the same stage the following night. He will discuss his experience developing and sustaining his iconic broadcast show and share more of the anecdotes that keep his nearly 5 million listeners coming back week after week. The broadcast, which boasts six Peabody awards, has led Glass throughout communities and environments all over the spectrum and left him with more lessons from the road than some might ever garner—but he’s eager to spread the love through storytelling from a bright, wide perspective.

Sunday night takes us to the Greer Cabaret Theater to hear from Blair Imani, who tackles issues of civil rights, equality, safety, and culture through the lens of the Great Migration. Imani titles her talk Making Our Way Home and focuses on how the flow of Black culture out of the South and throughout the rest of the United States has created the complex, diverse society that we know today—for better or for worse. Her two publications, alongside her nonprofit organization Equality for HER and countless public speaking appearances, have taken Imani to the forefront of the ongoing fight for equal rights, both within the Black community and beyond it in support of LGBTQ rights and female empowerment. Above all, she represents the intersectionality of minority identities as proof that there are no limits on individuals or communities when it comes to all the puzzle pieces of our character.

Throughout the daylight hours, Core Conversations sessions meet at the Trust Arts Education Center for discussions on topics ranging from musical influence to political predictions, beer brewing, film awards, racial relations, the criminal justice system, nutrition, and more. Core Conversations are an opportunity for attendees to absorb the topics and presenters in a more close-knit setting, engaging in what the Humanities Festival calls, “smart talk about stuff that matters.” The selections align with current issues of controversy and significance within and far beyond the local Pittsburgh community, and include something for anyone interested in diving deep through cultural layers. One of these presentations will be led by whoever wins the Public Open Call audition.

The Humanities Festival is the brainchild of Carnegie Mellon and the Pittsburgh Cultural Trust, whose relationship helps create this intersection between lofty intellectual thought and everyday street smarts. The University brings in strong research and solid ideas, while the Cultural Trust helps install those elements within the community. Because the festival focuses so heavily on public involvement, you can be sure to leave this event feeling rejuvenated and interested, not just talked at.

March Horoscope

Feb. 19–Mar. 20

Listen to the compliment that presents itself to you as a criticism; energies will make you better through jealousy and roadblocks. It could be that you realize it’s time for a change.

Mar. 21–Apr. 19

There is something to celebrate that presents itself to you. To thank the universe for this opportunity or inspiration, donate to an organization a few times this month.

Apr. 20–May 20

Do not try to impress anyone who isn’t treating you well. Please agree with the vibration that you are perfect the way you are—and totally step back from the people who are taking advantage of your good nature.

May 21–June 20

It’s time to apologize for the things you have done to hurt people. If your ego won’t let you actually call them to apologize, write them a “spiritual” letter telling them you were unfair to them and that you are sorry.

June 21–July 22

“Today is the first day of the rest of your life.” The door to your future couldn’t open any wider. If you want the job, you can have it. If you want that relationship to go to the next level, you can have it.

July 23–Aug. 22

People are about to prove to you how much they love you. March is when your gratitude toward people who are supporting you will make all the difference.

Aug. 23–Sept. 22

There are angels surrounding you. Pennies and feathers in your path are likely. This is a month of being aware of how things are lining up for you. Accept all invitations.

Sept. 23–Oct. 22

Coincidence will be your best friend this month. It’s time to drop (old) ideas that you can’t have what you want…you totally can. Pay attention!

Oct. 23–Nov. 21

Practice saying nice things about people. Do not take on the bad karma right now of backstabbing those who truly do not deserve it. Ask yourself: “Am I basing my opinion on someone else’s agenda?”

Nov. 22–Dec. 21

You are the owner of this lifetime and acting as though you do have the power to change things will make all the difference this month. You will get a sign that you are on the right track.

Dec. 22–Jan. 19

When you focus on one thing at a time, you are a genius. Avoid multitasking this month. Better to spend the time to make sure it’s done right the first time.

Jan. 20–Feb. 18

Embrace the high energy of spinning lots of plates right now. You are the chef who has many pots simmering, and it’s time to admit that you like it this way. Thrive by making the magic happen with all the resources available to you.

Tiny homes are an obvious solution to housing and climate issues.

I visited Jay Shafer’s meticulous American Gothic–style house in a sun-dappled Iowa City backyard shortly after we launched Natural Home magazine in 1999. The Dow had just surpassed 10,000, mortgage credit requirements were melting into oblivion, and America had a bad case of McMansion Mania. Shafer’s 130-square-foot home (yes, you read that right), built for $40,000, was a hard “no” to all that. It was also cozy and inviting, and Shafer described himself as a claustrophile (someone who loves closed-in spaces).

Shafer won the Philosophy and Innovation Award in our Natural Home of the Year contest because his adorable house embodied everything the magazine stood for, and he wasn’t afraid to say things. He said that we Americans like our homes like we like our food—big and cheap—and he was the first to figure out that putting a tiny house on wheels makes it an RV and therefore not subject to city and county minimum-size standards and codes. He wasn’t shy about his intention to make tiny homes a revolutionary alternative in a housing market headed for disaster.

“I am certainly not proposing that everyone should live in a house as small as mine,” Shafer wrote in the letter accompanying his contest entry. “Such minimalism would be excessive for most people. What I am saying is that the scale of our homes should be as varied as the spatial needs of their inhabitants, and that it is those needs rather than government regulations and conspicuous consumption that should determine house size.”

Shafer’s message was radical, and largely ignored, in the frenzy leading up to the 2008 crash. But his company, Tumbleweed Tiny Homes, built a following, and he built a name for himself as the godfather of a fledgling tiny house movement (one blogger called him “the George Washington of simple and sustainable living”). He wrote The Small House Book and was on The Oprah Winfrey Show. Then he lost the company in a business dispute and his house in a divorce, and he was homeless for a while, living in a pigpen inside a shed. Determined never to live that way again, Shafer designed a 50-square-foot home that cost $5,000 in Sebastopol, California. He gives master class workshops at tiny house festivals around the world (including the Tiny House Festival Australia in Bendigo, Victoria, March 21–22).

“The evolution of tiny houses has paralleled the digital revolution, since this whole tiny thing started at the turn of the century,” Shafer told in 2014. “Once it became possible to have a remote little phone instead of a landline and a wall-mounted flat screen instead of a 2-foot-by-1-foot chunk on the dresser, folks started seeing the potential for living in what basically amounts to a laptop with a roof.”

A Status Symbol for Humble Braggers

Though 82 percent of renters say they would like to buy a home someday, according to Fannie Mae, homeownership is at its lowest point since 1965. Ordinary people can’t afford the American Dream (median listing price: $310,000). In the Bay Area, homebuyers paid twice their annual income for a house in the 1960s; today, they shell out nine times their yearly salary. Only 13 percent of millennial renters in the United States will have enough cash to put 20 percent down on a house in the next five years, according to an Apartment List survey.

Tiny homes are much cheaper, with prices ranging from $10,000 to more than $200,000 (averaging about $65,000), and operating and maintaining them costs a lot less. When the International Code Commission made changes to its residential code to facilitate tiny house construction in 2018, it reported lifetime conditioning costs as low as 7 percent of conventional homes.

That reality is driving the spike in interest in tiny homes, which are getting a lot of attention as a solution to the affordable housing and homeless crises, with the added bonus of being kinder to the planet than a traditional three-bedroom/two-bath. Whether they live in tiny homes for financial reasons or not, climate-aware homebuyers get a status symbol that flaunts their honorable choice to reduce their footprint and live with less—no easy thing to do, even in this post-Kondo age.

It doesn’t hurt that tiny homes—generally defined as homes with less than 400 square feet—are now readily available in every style, from your basic shed to sleek Dwell-worthy models. You can buy plans and build a tiny house yourself or pick out one online and have it shipped to you. You can even order one on Amazon. Used tiny homes, along with inspirational stories and information, can be found at sites like,, and Tiny Home Nation: 10K Strong

More than half of Americans would consider a tiny home, according to a National Association of Home Builders survey. Potential buyers and just-dreamers flock to check out micro-houses, “schoolies” (converted school buses), and vans at tiny home festivals like the Florida Suncoast Tiny Home Festival in St. Petersburg (March 28–29) and the People’s Tiny House Festival in Golden, Colorado (June 6–7). But the reality is that only about 10,000 people in North America—the lucky ones who have managed to find parking spots—actually live in tiny homes.

Like anything that disrupts the norm in a conformist capitalist culture, building a tiny home in a world of ticky-tacky boxes is not easy. The good news is that times are changing, as municipalities consider tiny home villages as a way to house the homeless and marginalized communities. Still, most states only allow tiny homes to be parked in rural areas (Massachusetts, California, Florida, and Oregon are somewhat more lenient). Because most zoning laws in the United States don’t have a classification for tiny houses, most owners have to follow Shafer’s lead and register them as RVs, trailers, or mobile homes.

In most places, zoning ordinances won’t allow you to buy land, park your tiny home/RV, and live happily ever after. You either have to rely on the kindness of family and friends with backyards or pay a monthly park fee to rent a space in one of the tiny home villages cropping up across the country. Park Delta Bay, an RV resort in Isleton, California, now has a row reserved for tiny homes. At Village Farm, an RV resort that’s turning into a tiny-home community in Austin, Texas, residents pay about $600 to $700 a month to park and use the services.

Slowly, city and state governments are responding to homebuyers’ demands for tiny home opportunities beyond RV resorts. Portland, Oregon, (but of course) has relaxed its ordinances to allow for everything from tiny house communities to tiny house hotels. In Rockledge, Florida, citizens demanded zoning changes allowing for a pocket neighborhood with homes ranging from 150 to 700 square feet. A tiny home community for low-income residents is under way on Detroit’s west side, and Vail, Arizona, built two dozen 300- to 400-square-foot houses for schoolteachers.

Advocacy groups have been paving the way for tiny homes since Shafer and a few friends founded the Small Home Society in 2002, and they’re seeing a resurgence. In 2017, a group of University of California-Berkeley students launched the Tiny House in My Backyard (THIMBY) project to promote research and development and raise awareness of tiny house communities. Operation Tiny Home is a national nonprofit that helps people “maintain a life of dignity” through high-quality tiny housing and empowerment training programs.

In Canada, activists calling themselves Tiny House Warriors are taking the revolution to the next level, placing “resistance-homes-on-wheels” along the pathway of the proposed Trans Mountain Pipeline. “We are asserting our inherent, God-given right to our lands,” says Kanahus Manuel, a leader of Tiny House Warrior. “We’re defending what’s ours, and tiny homes are how we’re doing it.”

Greeting Cards with Chocolate, Youth Artists, African American Art, and more.

  • A comedian, a radio personality, and a cartoonist create greeting cards and chocolate bars that capture the heart and soul of Pittsburgh. Read
  • Upcoming art exhibition supports local youth artists. Read
  • New industry-specific workwear is made for growers who are tough on their clothes. Read
  • One of the most significant collections of African American art is on display at The Westmoreland. Read
  • Our editor-in-chief’s hottest hits of the month. Read
  • Promescent promises longer-lasting sex. Read

Yinzer Cards and Bars

A comedian, a radio personality, and a cartoonist create greeting cards and chocolate bars that capture the heart and soul of Pittsburgh.

In 2007, Bill Cowher held a press conference to announce his retirement as head coach of the Pittsburgh Steelers. As he stood in front of the collected news media, he said, “I’m one of you. Yinz know what I mean?” He wasn’t just saying he was a Pittsburgher; he was showing it using a word that’s meant to foster camaraderie with his hometown.

“There’s a reason Coach Cowher took that approach,” said Jim Krenn, a Pittsburgh stand-up comedian. “That’s because in Pittsburgh, ‘Yinzer’ and ‘Jagoff’ are terms of endearment. Saying ‘dahntahn’ is as much a beloved tradition as putting french fries on a ‘sammich’ or waving a yellow towel.”

As a way to celebrate the city they love while supporting causes they care about, Krenn, radio personality Larry Richert, and cartoonist Rob Rogers teamed up to create a specialty greeting card and chocolate bar line called Yinzer.

This uniquely Pittsburgh line of cards and chocolate bars is now available in the greeting card and candy departments of local Giant Eagle, Market District, and Hallmark stores, as well as the Heinz History Center and Visit Pittsburgh gift shops. Yinzer cards retail for $5 and include greetings for birthdays, anniversaries, Mother’s Day, Father’s Day, graduation, new baby, weddings, Christmas, and Valentine’s Day.

Yinzer Bars retail for $3 and feature downtown Pittsburgh and “The Immaculate Confection,” a spin on the most famous play in NFL history. A portion of Yinzer card proceeds will benefit Animal Friends, while the bars benefit Spenser’s Voice Fund.

Future Artists

Upcoming art exhibition supports local youth artists.

Boom Concepts needs submissions for its youth art exhibition this April. This organization works to provide art education and opportunity for students throughout Pittsburgh. The upcoming show, titled Our Future!, encourages young artists to consider what lies ahead, both in their own lives and for their city. What does our future—as individuals and as a community—look like? What do we need to do to get there? What needs to change so that our future remains bright? For this show, the next generation gets the chance to answer some of these questions.

Artists from preschool through 12th grade are welcome to submit their work to Boom Concepts for consideration. As part of the exhibition process, Boom Concepts will organize two separate TeenBloc studio sessions in February and March as opportunities for artists to spend time in a creative space, complete with supplies and guidance, to craft their work. There will also be an installation session to prepare for the show as a cohesive group.

The exhibition will be up through the month of April and will also feature related events and workshops. Donations for the event will go to supporting BoomConcepts’ citywide youth programs.

Sheard Industry Apparel

New industry-specific workwear is made for growers who are tough on their clothes.

Growing is dirty, rugged, and exhausting work. It’s a livelihood that can wreak havoc on your body and your wardrobe. Enter Sheard Industry Apparel’s line of workwear designed specifically for growers and extractors.

These garments take all of a grower’s needs into account—durability for years of use, protection from the elements, comfort through a long day’s effort, accessibility and storage for tools, and, of course, style.

Sheard Industries offers workwear grow shirts, gaitered pants, and wash jackets, as well as casual logo wear. The company is based in Nederland, Colorado, a nationwide growing hub where cannabis culture and outdoor enthusiasm collide, inspiring apparel that outlasts the grittiest conditions.

Courtesy of The Westmoreland Museum of American Art

The Eyes of History and Heritage

One of the most significant collections of African American art is on display at The Westmoreland.

From February 15 to May 10, The Westmoreland Museum of American Art will present African American Art in the 20th Century, a traveling exhibition from the Smithsonian American Art Museum’s collection, on view in the Cantilever Gallery. The exhibition features 45 works by 34 black artists, painters, sculptors, and printmakers from the 1930s through the 1990s. The artworks encompass diverse subjects and a variety of genres, from representational to modern abstraction to the postmodern assemblage of found objects.

“The art reflects the American experience through the eyes of these artists, and we are excited to offer our visitors the opportunity to learn more about them,” says chief curator Barbara L. Jones.

The Harlem Renaissance, World War II, the Civil Rights movement, and forces for freedom around the world shaped the lives and worldviews of these artists. Family and personal history became subtexts for some. Others interpreted the syncopations of jazz in visual form. Still others translated observation into powerful emotional statements. In styles that range from painterly expressionism to abstractions that glow with color, these artists explore myth and memory, acknowledging the heritage of Africa.

African American Art in the 20th Century
Wed.–Fri., 11 a.m.–7p.m. / Sat.–Sun., 10 a.m.–5 p.m.
Free /

African American Art in the 20th Century is organized by the Smithsonian American Art Museum. The C.F. Foundation in Atlanta supports the museum’s traveling exhibition program, Treasures to Go. Support for this exhibition has been provided by the Hillman Exhibition Fund of The Westmoreland Museum of American Art. Additional financial support provided by the William R. Kenan Jr. Endowment Fund.


By Stephanie Wilson, Editor In Chief

The Glass Hotel by Emily St. John Mandel (Knopf, $27). Showcasing her signature literary prowess, Mandel explores the infinite ways we search for meaning in this much-hyped new release, expected March 24. Also out this month: It’s Not All Downhill from Here by How Stella Got Her Groove Back author Terry McMillan.

Freeform’s The Bold Type. Now in its third season, this sleeper hit could be your new favorite series. It’s mine, in no small part because it centers on three young women working for a New York mag. But also because it’s witty AF, aspirational, and depicts successful women who are defined not by their relationships but by their careers. It’s empowering, and you should watch it for free on Freeform, or on your favorite streaming platform.

NPR’s Life Kit podcast offers tools to keep it together. And by you, I mean me; I need all the help I can get. Picking out a lightbulb last fall had me staring mouth agape in a store aisle for a half hour trying to make sense of all the options. After listening to “Picking Out a Lightbulb, Made Easy,” I know which bulb’s for me. Life Kit’s episodes are short, to the point, and offer tips on how to do things like start therapy, start a book club, master your budget, remove stains, and juggle paperwork, appointments, and repairs. Basically how to adult.

Pot in Pots. The Swiss-cheese-leafed Monstera is last year’s “It” plant. Cannabis is the hashtagable houseplant of 2020. Get in on the trend. Depending where you live, you can find clones or seeds at select dispensaries with an easy google—while you’re at it, look up local laws regarding home grows. Cannabis cuttings (a.k.a. clones) are pretty easy to root—check for tips—and you should definitely bring some to your next plant swap. Spread the word, spread the love.

The Next Viagra?

Promescent promises longer-lasting sex.

Although PE, or premature ejaculation, doesn’t have quite the same stigma as ED (erectile dysfunction), it can definitely become a barrier to intimate and meaningful lovemaking. It’s also a common problem for couples. In fact, Psychology Today recently reported on the “orgasm gap.” In case you hadn’t noticed, men tend to reach an orgasm during heterosexual lovemaking about three times faster than women—5.5 minutes vs. 18 minutes. According to the new brand and product Promescent, up to two billion women go without orgasms each year as a result of this issue. Makers of Promescent, a climax-delay spray, claim it prolongs lovemaking. So, will it become the next Viagra? Check it out for yourself and see if it improves your sex life.

The delicate art of wabi-sabi and how difficult it can be to live out the philosophy

When I started writing about wabi-sabi, right around 9/11, the Japanese philosophy of finding beauty in imperfection had a serious underground following. But most people still thought wabi-sabi was that spicy green stuff you eat with sushi. Marie Kondo was, like, 10.

Wabi-sabi was a great umbrella for a lot of conversations I was enmeshed in as the editor of a green lifestyle magazine: simplicity, the Slow movement (starting with Slow Food and evolving into Slow Everything), reduction, recycling, reuse. It was still pretty early for a lot of those conversations in 2001, though, and it was early for wabi-sabi in America too.

In those first few months after the planes hit the towers, my agent and I and a handful of people in publishing were pretty certain Americans would retreat and nest, plant Victory gardens, and live more thriftily, as they always had during times of war. I got a fat advance to write The Wabi-Sabi House just as Americans—at the directive of President George W. Bush, who told them it was the patriotic thing to do—embraced easy credit and went shopping. My book wasn’t the runaway bestseller we thought it would be.

Wabi-sabi—if you’re being real about it—is a tough sell for Americans. An ancient philosophy with roots in Zen, it’s about revering austerity, nature, and the everyday and accepting the natural cycle of growth, decay, and death. A reaction to the prevailing aesthetic of lavishness, ornamentation, and rich materials in 15th-century Japan, wabi-sabi is the art of finding beauty in imperfection and profundity in earthiness, and revering authenticity above all.

“It’s everything our sleek, mass-produced, technology-saturated culture isn’t,” I wrote in The Wabi-Sabi House. “It’s flea markets, not warehouse stores (today I would say Amazon); aged wood, not Pergo (today I would say vinyl planks); rice paper, not glass. Wabi-sabi celebrates cracks and crevices and rot, reminding us that we are all transient beings—that our bodies, as well as the material world around us, are in the process of returning to the dust from which we came.”

Well, this didn’t land all that well in the forever-rich, forever-young early aughts, which launched the Kardashians and eventually crashed into the Great Recession.

A simple, unpretentious oasis in a weary world.

In 2011, while Americans were still smarting from the financial meltdown four years earlier, I wrote a follow-up book, Simply Imperfect: Revisiting the Wabi-Sabi House, for a small, progressive Canadian publisher. I didn’t get a fat advance. But it seemed like the time might finally be right for wabi-sabi, and I wanted to see it have its day. If everyone embraced it, we would have a completely different world.

Wabi-sabi was born from the Japanese Tea Ceremony, a simple Zen ritual for making and sharing a cup of tea that warlords in 15th-century Japan turned into a means of showing off their immense wealth through gaudy Tea houses full of gilded imported goods. The wabi way of Tea (wabichado) grew out of a backlash to that, championed by a master so powerful his style is practiced to this day. Sen no Rikyu’s quiet, simple Tea ceremony, with tea served in locally fired bowls and flowers in fishermen’s baskets, was what everyone wanted. Wood, bamboo, and hospitality were in; porcelain, lacquer, and pretension were out.

Japan had just gone through several centuries of war and extravagant consumerism, and Rikyu’s Tea ceremony provided the simple, unpretentious oasis that society craved. For wealthy merchants and shoguns, it felt like the ultimate luxury, the epitome of high art. For peasants and commoners, it made the art of Tea accessible. Preparing and serving the bitter green tea became a means for everyday samurai, who had few material comforts, to escape for a moment and share a ritual. Ichigo, ichie, or “once in a lifetime,” is perhaps the most important tenet when learning the art of Tea. We never know what might happen tomorrow, or even later today, but right now we can stop for a cup of tea.

Wabi, the name for Rikyu’s style of Tea, was often used by poets to evoke melancholy. One of my favorite descriptions of it is “the feeling you have when you’re waiting for your lover.” It evokes a little monk in his torn robe, enjoying a night by the fire, content in poverty. No one’s quite sure how or when the word sabi got hooked up with wabi, but conjoined it takes on an entourage effect. Meaning “the bloom of time,” sabi connotes tarnish and rust; the enchantment of old things; appreciation for dignified, graceful aging. Wabi-sabi, then, is a philosophy that reveres age, imperfection, and natural order.

We don’t practice Tea in this culture, though, and it can be hard to see how it translates for 21st-century Westerners who drink lots of coffee. Like all good philosophies, wabi-sabi gives us a launching point toward thinking about what matters. To practice it, or to become what is called a wabibito, means living modestly, satisfied with things as they are, owning only what’s necessary for its utility or beauty (ideally, both).

But what’s under those stairs?

Both of my books have entire chapters on the importance of uncluttering and how to do it. I’m something of an expert. Unfortunately, they both have chapters on decorating with salvage and flea market finds and how to find them, so I’m something of an expert on that as well. These areas of expertise don’t play nice together, as you can imagine.

I wrote Simply Imperfect post-divorce, after I’d moved into a townhouse and left most everything behind. Looking back, I’m hilarious. “Living in a small space keeps me from acquiring things,” I wrote. “Except for storage, my little house has just enough of everything.”

I was so smug and such a wabi-fraudie, hiding everything under the stairs in the basement.

My townhome had a terrible little crawl space, far too deep and narrow, that encouraged layers upon layers of crap to build up. When the space became impenetrable, I would stand in the doorway and throw stuff in. The woman I bought the house from warned me about it during the closing. She’d thought she could show the house furnished until she looked in there. When it came time for me to sell the place 10 years later, I felt her pain.

“Where the hell has all this stuff been?” everybody asked as I unearthed bins and boxes of my memorabilia, my kids’ art projects, photo albums, toys, sports equipment, appliances, file cabinets, record albums, CDs, books, dishes, phones (four of them!), textiles, dog beds, jars, tools, old paint, door, light fixtures, screws, nails (so many screws and nails), and assorted other crap I had tucked in there and forgotten about over a decade. “In hell,” I would say.

Clutter smudges clarity.

I spent a solid three months clearing out that townhouse, mostly under the stairs. I dumped a camper truck and several carloads of stuff at Goodwill and left weekly loads for the Vietnam Veterans Association. I had a garage sale and got depressed watching no one want my coffee table books and pink midcentury nesting ashtrays, even for a dollar. I got tired of being rejected by my son when I texted, “Sure you don’t want those red dishes from your childhood?”

Some people did want my junk. It felt good to give away an Eastlake chair I tripped over in my bedroom for nine years to a furniture refinisher who understood its value and could give it the love and attention it deserved. I sold my daughter’s bed to a woman who had gotten rid of everything to hit the road in her van 10 years earlier and was starting over again. I gave her all the bedding too. When it was all over, I felt like I’d had an ayahuasca-strength purging.

“Clutter smudges clarity, both physically and metaphorically,” I wrote in Simply Imperfect. “Things you’re holding onto because they were expensive, because they were from your mother-in-law, or because you might need them someday are all getting in your way. In a wabi-sabi home, space and light are the most desirable ornaments.”

I bought an Airstream with brilliant space and light, limited but efficient storage, no room for furniture, and no basement. After all these years and all these words, I might finally be a wabibito.

If not, I can always find a bed on Craigslist.

Paper-engineering obsessives create the first pop-up book to explore the world of cannabis.

Collaboration is a wonderful thing. When my friend Rosston Meyer told me a few years ago that he was planning a pop-up cannabis book, I thought it sounded like a great idea. I knew Meyer ran an independent publishing house designing pop-up books in collaboration with artists. Meyer is a designer with a passion for art and pop culture, so I imagined his books were a modern upgrade of the old-school pop-up books I played with as a child—3-D elements and foldouts, tabs to pull and wheels to spin—but with a modern aesthetic that appeals to adults. “A pop-up on pot would be cool to flip through and play with,” I remember thinking. “I hope he does it.”

A few years later, Meyer came around to show me a physical mock-up of his pot-themed pop-up, which he’d titled Dimensional Cannabis. What he showed me was a modern art form I wasn’t aware existed. Yes, the book featured 3-D elements and foldouts, with tabs to pull and wheels to spin, but what I had pictured was similar only in concept. These were intricate and elaborate kinetic paper sculptures that painted a picture and brought it to life. I was blown away. So, when he asked if I’d be interested in writing the words to go on the pages before me, I signed on immediately.

Altogether, Dimensional Cannabis took more than three years to complete, with a total of nine people contributing to the final product published by Poposition Press, Meyer’s independent publishing house. A small press, Poposition designs, publishes, and distributes limited-edition pop-up books that feature artists or subjects that Meyer finds of deep personal interest. He got started in the genre in 2013, when he started working on a collaboration with Jim Mahfood, a comic book creator known as Food One. The resulting Pop-Up Funk features Mahfood’s diverse designs transformed into interactive three-dimensional pop-ups. The limited-edition run of 100 copies were all constructed by hand.

Since then, Poposition has worked with a number of contemporary artists to publish titles like Triad by cute-culture artist Junko Mizuno and Necronomicon by macabre master Skinner.

Meyer has been fascinated by pop-up books since he was a kid, and in 2013, he began concentrating on paper engineering and book production. “After making a couple books focused on just artists, I thought that creating a pop-up book about cannabis would be a good idea,” he says. “There’s nothing else like it in the market, and there’s an audience for adult-themed pop-up books.”

For Dimensional Cannabis, Meyer collaborated with Mike Giant, a renowned American illustrator, graffiti writer, tattooer, and artist. Giant’s medium of choice is a Sharpie, and Giant’s detailed line work is instantly recognizable. An avid proponent of cannabis, Giant illustrated the entire Dimensional Cannabis book.

Giant and Meyer met at a weekly open studio Giant hosted in Boulder. “When the idea of doing a pop-up book about cannabis came up, he asked if I would illustrate it,” Giant says. “I’ve been an advocate for cannabis use for decades, so it didn’t take long for me to agree to work on the project.”

Meyer began by sending Giant reference materials to visualize. “I’d get it drawn out, hand it off, and get some more stuff to illustrate,” Giant says. “He’d send me previews of the finished pages as we went. It was really cool to see my line drawings colored and cut to shape. That process went on for months and months until everything for the book was accounted for.”

The process of making pop-up books is called “paper engineering.” I love obsessives, and the engineers who put this book together, make no mistake, are the ones who spend endless hours figuring out the tiniest details of the folds and materials necessary so that water pipe emerges every time you open the paraphernalia page.

“David Carter and I started talking about the idea a couple years prior to actually starting on the book,” Meyer says. “The initial concepts for each spread were figured out, and a different paper-engineer peer was asked to design each spread so that the book had variation throughout.”

Dimensional Cannabis is divided into six pages, or spreads, covering the cannabis plant’s biology, medical properties, cultivation, history, and influence on popular culture. The paraphernalia page features many items we associate with cannabis consumption over the years in America, from rolling papers and pipes to vaporizers, dabs, and concentrates—and that foot-long bong that miraculously appears as you turn the page.

One spread opens to the full plant, with information on its unique and fascinating properties. Another opens to a colorful, meditating figure with text about the healing properties of cannabis. One page is dedicated to its cultivation possibilities, basic genetics, and the differences between indoor and outdoor growing.

The history spread takes us back to the beginnings of the curious and long-standing connection between humans and cannabis. Engineer Simon Arizpe had worked with Meyer before and jumped at the chance to work on that one. “I wanted it to be Eurasian-centric as the viewer opens the page, showing the early uses of cannabis in ancient Vietnam and China,” Arizpe says. “As the viewer engages with the pop-up, cannabis’s use in the new world spreads across the page,” he adds. “We decided [to focus] on moments in time that were either politically relevant, like weed legalization, or culturally significant, like Reefer Madness.”

Arizpe feels like the entire project is an example of what can be done working with talented people outside the traditional publishing engine. “Rosston came up with an idea that has a big following and made it happen,” he says. “It is pretty exciting when people can do that out of nothing.”

For Meyer, who says he likes a good sativa when he’s working, the project was a labor of love that spans all his areas of interest. “Not only was this a great experience putting together such a unique book, but having different paper engineers work on each spread made this a real collaboration,” he says. “There have only been a couple pop-up books produced with a roster of engineers. Dimensional Cannabis is for cannabis lovers and pop-up book collectors alike.”

Grow Pittsburgh partners with Garden Dreams to grow the legacy of urban agriculture—and fosters community along the way.

Grow Pittsburgh’s mission is simple enough: to teach people how to grow food—and, in the process, to promote the benefits that gardens bring to neighborhoods. With its focus on three main program pillars—School Gardens, Community Projects, and Farm Education & Production—Grow Pittsburgh is also assuming the reins at Garden Dreams Urban Farm & Nursery in neighboring Wilkinsburg, Pennsylvania, this year. It will allow them to up their seedling production from about 10,000 seedlings per year to more than 30,000.

Currently the nonprofit grows its starter plants in greenhouses located at The Frick Pittsburgh, including all types of small vegetable plants, tomatoes, peppers, herbs, and flowers to promote pollinators. The organization was founded in 2005 and has been a registered 501c(3) entity since 2008.

Photos Courtesy of Grow Pittsburgh

According to Jake Seltman, Grow Pittsburgh executive director, simply planting one seed is the best way to get involved in the movement. “It’s easy to get involved and to experience the positive benefits that growing food can bring to your life,” explains Seltman, who has been at the helm of the nonprofit for three years now. “I personally love to grow food, and I have a large vegetable, herb, and flower garden here in Pittsburgh. Growing food helps us connect to the world around us. It connects us to our food, to the soil and our environment, to our community, to our history, and to ourselves. Food is one thing that brings us all together.”

Grow Pittsburgh uses growing food “as a platform to bring people and communities together,” according to the group’s website, “while inspiring them to be healthier, learn new skills, care for the earth, [and make] the region a more livable, equitable, and desirable place to be.”

Seltman began with Grow Pittsburgh as the director of educational programming in 2012, tapping into his deep background in education and a specific passion and belief in the value of experiential farm-based programming for people of all ages. He manages a staff of about 20, which grows seasonally, no pun intended. With a budget of approximately $1.5 million annually, Grow Pittsburgh is on the average to medium size for national nonprofits..

So, how exactly does gardening and growing food build community and uplift people? “When we ask people what they love most about participating in a community garden or urban farm, in addition to providing access to delicious fresh fruits and vegetables, we often hear that the sense of community that is built when working alongside neighbors toward a shared goal of growing, preparing, and sharing food is unique and extraordinary,” Seltman says.

It is simple yet powerful food for thought. “We see growing food as a vehicle toward creating positive and impactful change in the social, economic, environmental, and educational sectors of our lives,” he says. “One of Grow Pittsburgh’s values is food sovereignty—which we define as supporting everyone’s right to access, produce, and distribute healthy and culturally relevant food. We know that urban farms and gardens are one of the ways in which we can support this effort.”

Photos Courtesy of Grow Pittsburgh

In terms of reach, the group has helped start 37 community gardens in Allegheny County (with a population of about 1.2 million people) and supported another 65 by making mini-grants of tools, seedlings, and equipment. Grow Pittsburgh has started 40 school gardens as well, including 30 in the Pittsburgh public school system. It estimates 15,000 backyard gardeners are active in the area through clubs and seedling sales.

A community garden differs from an educational garden program in that it is adult- and neighbor-driven. “We help with community participation work and get buy-in before they start,” explains Ryan Walsh, Grow Pittsburgh development and communications director. “These vary widely in terms of space, number of beds, and why they grow.” For example, the goal might be to stock a food pantry or to feed a family.” School gardens, on the other hand, are intended for learning about growing food and finding ways to integrate eating healthy and gardening into a school’s curriculum.

Another reason all this matters is the group’s mission to assist designated “food deserts” throughout the US by partnering with other organizations in the region and nationally. Much of the programming happens in places where there’s no access to fresh food within a walkable distance (defined as about a mile). In another program, called the Youth Market, Grow Pittsburgh hires 20 high school students for the summer so that they have a paid job while learning how to grow food, cook it, and sell it at farm stands that pop up in communities without access to fresh food. The students sell the produce at a low price, even though it’s organically grown, keeping it on par with local grocery store prices. All proceeds go back into the programs.

Photos Courtesy of Grow Pittsburgh

Another great partner for Grow Pittsburgh is Tree Pittsburgh, which grows trees to be planted all over the city. The group offers educational programming and organizes tree giveaways. It’s working to reforest the city’s urban canopy of shade trees, ensuring open spaces and curb strips are full of diverse and healthy trees.

Chasing the Next Dream

After two decades as an urban agricultural resource and private business, Garden Dreams is beginning a new chapter. Garden Dreams owner Mindy Schwartz, who also co-founded Grow Pittsburgh, donated her garden center property to the Allegheny Land Trust, preserving it as part of the new Three Rivers Agricultural Land Initiative, a joint venture with Grow Pittsburgh to support the major functions of acquiring and supporting land and projects for long-term agricultural use. Garden Dreams grows seedlings for backyard and community gardeners, making for a perfect alignment with Grow Pittsburgh and its seed growing project. A new agreement between Grow Pittsburgh and Garden Dreams will give Grow Pittsburgh one more place for its production, tripling or quadrupling its seedling growth.

Grow Pittsburgh will expand its operations to the site immediately and will retain the Garden Dreams name for the location. This long-time urban farm and plant nursery joins Grow Pittsburgh’s other urban agriculture production sites at Braddock Farms in Braddock and Shiloh Farm in Point Breeze North, as well as its partnership with The Frick Pittsburgh. Grow Pittsburgh plans to build upon the Garden Dreams legacy and increase capacity for urban farmers and gardeners by creating an agriculture hub and social enterprise in Wilkinsburg that will be home to a retail seedling business, youth job training program, a new greenhouse space, and an urban farmer workshare program. A robust educational workshop series will support the network of gardeners and urban farmers throughout Allegheny County.

Grow Pittsburgh will provide seedlings for sale to gardeners at the Garden Dreams site this spring while implementing plans to demolish two abandoned buildings on the property and build three new greenhouses that will host a workshare program with urban farmers in the region and bolster organic seedling production.

“We are thrilled to continue the long tradition of farming and growing,” says Seltman. “Garden Dreams has been a great resource and pillar in the urban agriculture community, and we are honored to be charged with continuing to grow the legacy that Mindy has created.”

Early funding partners in support of the project include Neighborhood Allies, the Segal Family Foundation, and the Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture. Grow Pittsburgh will host an open house, seedling sales, and other public events throughout the spring to ensure that Garden Dreams customers, neighbors, and local gardeners can help guide future programming on the site.

Every spring, Pittsburgh Opera mashes up fashion and music. Join the pageant with Carmen this month.

Photo Courtesy Pittsburgh Opera

Ready yourself, toreador. Bizet’s classic Carmen will premiere at Pittsburgh Opera on March 28. And while the soaring story of the sultry Spanish cigarette factory worker, which will be directed by Garnett Bruce and conducted by Timothy Myers, is sure to leave audiences thrilled, the best way to kick off the season is the opera’s annual fashion show, which melds music and style.

The March 9 event, “Roses and Thorns,” brings Carmen to the runway via a partnership with designer Lela Rose and Choices Pittsburgh as well as hair and makeup by Studio Booth. There will be cocktails and hors d’oeuvres before and after the event and music throughout. Tickets ($45 for general admission, which includes a free glass of wine) are available online or in person the night of the event.

Love. How can one four-letter word have so many meanings?

Being a lifelong skier, I’ve always been fascinated by the fact that the Eskimos have 30 different words for “snow.” wouldn’t it be amazing if we had that many ways to describe love? With Valentine’s Day approaching this month, it’s a great time to reflect on what love means to you. Here at Sensi, we are all about showing love. And we invite you to join us.

We’re living and carrying forward the ethos of Sensi as we continue to celebrate a new year and a new decade.

“In a world where so many have fought to love one another, February is our month to celebrate that love is love,” Sensi Pittsburgh publisher Gina Vensel told me last month as we were putting this issue together. “And the love we share is compassionate and filled with a giving spirit and understanding heart.”

But one thing we know to be true: When you think about love, you think about music. And given that music is one of our greatest loves here at Sensi, we wanted to bring you as much musical inspiration as possible this month. February is also Black History Month, and in this issue, we take a look into the history jazz, a truly American musical genre, forged in large part by African Americans, that many of us feel a special connection to and gratitude for.

Thanks for picking up the magazine and for coming along for the ride. We love you.

Aaron H. Bible

On the Calendar: Pittsburgh, February 2020

Check out our intrepid roundup of things to do to follow your desires during the month of love. From jazz to opera, classic cocktails, networking sessions, and love-themed events, get out on the town during the month of February. There’s a medical marijuana educational seminar you don’t want to miss, along with a talk on Buddhism and Psychedelics (we’ve added that one to our personal calendars). Whether it’s fashion, music, art, food and drink, or polar plunges you’re interested in, we’ll help you find it. Read on for events to fill your own calendar. Now get out there, Pittsburgh.

Mummies of the World: The Exhibition

Now through April 19, 2020
Carnegie Science Center, North Shore

Photos courtesy (from top): Carnegie Science Center, Beyond Boss

Beyond Boss: An Event for Girl Bosses

February 1, 2020
Energy Innovation Center, Downtown/Hill District

Roots of Creation: Grateful Roots Tour

February 1, 2020
Thunderbird Cafe and Music Hall, Lawrenceville

Thrice: Vheissu 15th Anniversary Tour

February 3, 2020
Stage AE, North Shore

Medical Marijuana Educational Event

February 5, 2020
Brentwood Library, Brentwood, Free

Tickets on Eventbrite


February 7, 2020
Carnegie Science Center, North Shore

Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra’s Blockbuster Broadway!

February 7–9, 2020
Heinz Hall, Downtown

Market: I Made It! Mine 2020

February 8, 2020
The Block at Northway, North Hills/McCandless

Book Club: Zig Zag Zen: Buddhism and Psychedelics

February 10, 2020
Code & Supply, Friendship


Tech Elevator Open House

February 11, 2020, 6:30 p.m.
Tech Elevator Pittsburgh, North Side

Galentine’s Day Sushi Rolling and Sake Tasting

February 13, 2020
Social House 7, Downtown, $55

Soulive with Mike Dillon Band

February 13, 2020, 8 p.m.
Roxian Theatre, McKees Rocks

CMOA pARTy: Valentine’s Day

February 14, 2020
Carnegie Museum of Art, Oakland

The Ark Band: A Celebration to Bob Marley

February 14, 2020, 9 p.m.
Hard Rock Cafe Pittsburgh, Station Square

Tickets on Eventbrite

Pittsburgh International Auto Show

February 14–17, 2020
David L. Lawrence Convention Center, Downtown

Pittsburgh Bloody Mary Festival

February 15–16, 2020
The Pennsylvanian, Downtown

Tickets on Showclix

CMU Art Lecture: Hilton Als

February 18, 2020, 6:30 p.m.
Carnegie Mellon School of Art, North Oakland


Trixie Mattel: Grown Up

February 21, 2020, 7 p.m.
Stage AE, North Shore

History Uncorked: ’80s Night

February 21, 2020, 7:30 p.m.
Heinz History Center, Strip District

Pittsburgh Opera: The Last American Hammer

February 22, 25, 28 & March 1, 2020
Benedum Center, Downtown

Hi-Tide Winter Holiday

February 22, 2020
This is Red, Munhall

Tickets on Eventbrite

2020 Pittsburgh Fermentation Festival

February 23, 2020
Spirit, Lawrenceville

Pittsburgh Fashion Summit

February 24, 2020
Union Trust Building, Downtown


February 25, 2020
PPG Paints Arena, Uptown

Lending Hearts Gala

February 27, 2020
Fairmont Pittsburgh, Downtown

Pittsburgh Winter Beerfest 2020

February 28–29, 2020
David L. Lawrence Convention Center, Downtown

Pittsburgh Heart Ball

February 29, 2020, 6 p.m.
Wyndham Grand Pittsburgh, Downtown

Pittsburgh Polar Plunge

February 29, 2020
Heinz Field, North Shore

Pittsburgh Opera’s debut of The Last American Hammer will change your mind about opera.

Pittsburgh Opera’s production of The Last American Hammer (Feb. 22, 25, 28; March 1) at the Pittsburgh Opera Headquarters in Pittsburgh’s Strip District promises an engaging and surprising introduction to opera for new audiences. With a run time of only 75 minutes, it’s approachable to first-time operagoers.

The Last American Hammer will star current and former Pittsburgh Opera Resident Artists and be performed in an intimate setting. The opera is sung in English with supertitles projected above the stage. The Pittsburgh events mark only the second set of performances of this opera. It premiered in Washington D.C.’s Atlas Performing Arts Center in September 2018.

The action of the performance unfolds in a rural Toby jug museum in rural Ohio, where conspiracy theorist Milcom Negley holds a rare, 17th-century British pitcher hostage with a hammer. Negley, a one-man militia, rages against the tyranny of federal overreach.

Negley is a “Thirteenther”—he believes an obscure, would-be Thirteenth Amendment negates the authority of our government. He occupies the museum because it is the only place left in town to receive federal funds—a grant for the upkeep of a rare 17th-century British pitcher known as “Sir Oswyn.”

Although Negley expects to be swarmed by military drones, attention is paid only by Agent Reyes, a young rookie FBI field specialist. Negley explains that the town’s only major source of employment—a hammer manufacturer—has gone under, leaving the residents lost. He is armed with the last hammer to roll off the plant’s line and intends to hold a proxy trial against the US government using Toby jugs as physical stand-ins for a court. Toby Jugs are pottery jugs in the form of a seated person. (The real American Toby Jug Museum is in Evanston, Illinois.)

Though many think of opera as a waning 19th-century art form, a tremendous wave of new operas is currently revitalizing the genre with timely stories and fresh approaches. “People have stereotypical views about operas such as: ‘they’re all hundreds of years old, set in other countries, and are performed in large concert halls in a foreign language.’ Those operas do exist (we are doing two of them later this spring–Carmen and Norma), but The Last American Hammer is different. It’s in English, it premiered last year, it takes place in present-day America, and it’s being performed in a 195-seat venue,” says Chris Cox, director of marketing and communications for the Pittsburgh Opera. “This show could definitely change the way some people think about opera. The art form is actually in the midst of a Renaissance, with a large volume of new works being produced, many of them contemporary chamber pieces—in English—designed for intimate venues like ours.” It’s also notable that Pittsburgh Opera is doing a brand-new production of Hammer. The company will make its own sets and costumes—different from those featured in the world premiere. “That’s also something many folks don’t realize about opera: it’s not a traveling Broadway show that rolls from town to town. These performances will have their own separate cast, musicians, sets, and costumes,” Cox says. “Another little-known-fact about opera is that the singers don’t use microphones.”

The production highlights members of Pittsburgh Opera’s Resident Artist program, which has been a launch pad to international prominence for many young singers. Urban Arias, which commissioned the piece, describes it as “a satirical but heartfelt examination of the fallout that occurs when the American Dream fails to materialize. [It] features a bluegrass-infused score that brings American roots to the operatic stage.” Composer Peter Hilliard will attend the Feb. 25 performance and librettist Matt Boresi will be in town through opening night.

February Horoscope

Jan. 20–Feb. 18

Sometimes you do know what’s best for the people you love, but this month is all about celebrating what people can do without your assistance. Explore your own potential without the burden of helping others.

Feb. 19–March 20

Don’t be surprised if a new job or major project presents itself to you. As reluctant as you may be to let go of your current situation, your legacy may be better served by considering what the universe is offering.

March 21–April 19

Concentrate on loving yourself this month. It’s not about proving yourself; it’s about filling yourself up and supporting your unique energy. February resonates with the signs of Aquarius (power of mind) and Pisces (power of intuitive). These are the elements to balance.

April 20–May 20

You will meet two amazing people. The man is a leader in his industry who has earned everything he has. The woman is unconditional love in action. Pay attention to the impression they leave with you.

May 21–June 20

You may feel frustrated that some people are questioning your credibility. They may not be the people to align with in the future. However, if these people have struck a nerve, that may indicate a skill to hone.

June 21–July 22

Ignore any past “stuff” this month. Although you may feel an innate obligation to heal, it is not your responsibility to do so. It’s time to forget the past and move forward. Trust yourself enough to enjoy this life.

July 23–Aug. 22

Claim your spotlight this month. This is the month of announcements and commitments to a new future. The unjust element of last year has finally fallen away, and as such, your mojo and energy are (again) being celebrated.

Aug. 23–Sept. 22

Are you being stingy with your power? Have you done for people at the same level that they have done for you? Have you kept your promises? Are you telling the truth (not your version of it)? Balance the scales: reciprocity is your gift this month.

Sept. 23–Oct. 22

Perhaps your dream is about to be fulfilled because you take an interest in your art or hobby. The more interested you are in the people who have followed their dreams, the more ideas and inspiration come to you.

Oct. 23–Nov. 21

There are people who deserve your forgiveness. The grudge(s) you’re hanging onto could hinder the good energy coming toward you. There may be a new career opportunity that presents itself by the end of May, though you may hear about it this month.

Nov. 22–Dec. 21

You’re discovering what love means. You’ve figured out the emotional and financial issues and gotten yourself back on track. Your priorities are moving in the right direction, and you’ve accepted what you can and cannot do. Blessings on all of this!

Dec. 22–Jan. 19

There’s a mistaken belief that Capricorns are cold and unemotional. Nothing could be further from the truth. You are drawn to puppies and kittens and are incredibly loyal to long-time relationships. You feel things to the core of your being; it’s time to let others see a glimpse of that.

Find friends and save money in shared living spaces.

Loneliness is a killer, more dangerous than obesity and smoking. Studies have found it leads to heart disease, stroke, and immune system problems, and it could even impair cancer recovery. A researcher at Copenhagen University Hospital in Denmark found loneliness a strong predictor of premature death, declining mental health, and lower quality of life in cardiovascular patients, and a Brigham Young University professor’s meta-analysis of studies from around the world found that socially isolated adults have a 50 percent greater risk of dying from any cause than people who have community.

That’s sobering, especially when you consider that 40 percent of American adults suffer from loneliness, according to an AARP study. And it’s one reason coliving—a new form of housing in which residents with similar interests, values, or intentions share living space, costs, and amenities—is exploding.

Coliving situations run a spectrum, from the resident-driven model to small homes with a half-dozen or so people to massive corporate complexes like The Collective tower with 550 beds in London. Residents, who stay anywhere from a few days to several years and usually don’t have to sign a lease or pay a security deposit, sleep in their own small private rooms (sometimes with bathrooms) and share common spaces such as large kitchens and dining areas, gardens, and work areas. They’re encouraged to interact with one another, often through organized happy hours and brunches. Ollie, which operates coliving spaces in New York and other cities, advertises that “friends are included.”

“Coliving is different than just having roommates, who may be people you found on Craigslist and just happen to share [your] living space. It’s done with more intention,” says Christine McDannell, who lived in unincorporated coliving houses for years before she launched Kindred Quarters, a coliving operator with homes in San Diego and Los Angeles, in 2017.

Author of The Coliving Code: How to Find Your Tribe, Share Resources, and Design Your Life, McDannell also runs Kndrd, a software company for coliving managers and residents, and she hosts the weekly Coliving Code Show every Wednesday on YouTube, iTunes, Soundcloud, and She has watched—and helped—the industry grow up, and she’s amazed at how few, if any, horror stories she hears. That’s largely because millennials—by far the largest demographic among colivers—are accustomed to sharing and being held accountable through online reviews, she adds.

“You just don’t hear the crazy stories about roommating with strangers in an unfamiliar city,” she says. “When people write bad reviews, it’s usually about the Wi-Fi.”

As companies fat with funding expand into cities across the globe, coliving is newly corporatized—but it’s hardly a novel concept. Boarding houses provided rooms and shared meals for single men and women in the 19th and early 20th centuries; one of the most famous, the Barbizon Hotel in New York, was a “club residence for professional women” from 1927 until the 1980s.

People lived communally throughout most of history until industrialization facilitated privatization of family life and housing throughout the 20th century—with a few disruptions. In Israel, people have been living in communal villages called kibbutzim for more than 100 years. In the US, hippies attempted to create communes in the 1960s, but they were destroyed by free love, drugs, and egos (which did a lot to discourage coliving, even today).

At the same time in Denmark, however, cohousing (an earlier iteration of coliving) was emerging as a way to share childcare. Today, more than 700 communities thrive in Denmark. In Sweden, the government provides cohousing facilities.

A handful of cohousing communities following the Danish model have been established in the US, and hacker houses are common in tech capitals like Silicon Valley and Austin, Texas, but the concept has been slow to catch on until recently.

As it becomes increasingly impossible for mere mortals to afford skyrocketing rents in desirable cities, Americans are coming around to coliving and finding creative solutions to all sorts of social issues. Older women are shacking up together following the Golden Girls model. matches single moms who want to raise kids together. At Hope Meadows in Chicago, retirees live with foster kids.

The opportunity to pay lower rent (in many but not all cases) and share expenses makes all the difference in places like New York, San Francisco, Boston, and Los Angeles. When New York–based coliving operator Common opened a development with 24 furnished spaces in Los Angeles for between $1,300 and $1,800 a month, more than 9,000 people applied.

McDannell says coliving is exploding because it solves important challenges that plague modern society. “People are signing away their paychecks on rent and feeling increasingly isolated,” she wrote in “Why We’re Building a CoLiving Community Ecosystem” on LinkedIn. “It is due time that HaaS (Housing as a Service) disrupts the antiquated industry of property management and real estate.”

Sneakers, Exhibitions, and Oleo

  • A new book explores the evolution, style, and intrigue of the running shoe. Read
  • The Prairie State becomes the first state to legalize recreational marijuana by state legislation. Read
  • The newly opened Bar Botanico in Lawrenceville is a hip new spot. Read
  • Pittsburgh’s blossoming Sharpsburg neighborhood has a hip new gallery called Zynka. Read
  • Our editor-in-chief’s hottest hits of the month. Read
  • Seattle-based OLEO offers a variety of delicious powdered CBD drink mixes that are 100 percent THC-free. Read
  • Indulge your sweet tooth this Valentine’s Day at Pittsburgh’s first Chocolate, Wine & Whiskey Fest. Read
  • Backes discusses the crucial differences between unregulated and medical marijuana. Read

Calling All Sneakerheads

A new book explores the evolution, style, and intrigue of the running shoe.

In Kicksology: The Hype, Science, Culture & Cool of Running Shoes, author Brian Metzler delves deep into the stories and hype of shoes and brands that have made running cool—and certain kicks that are collectible-worthy. He examines every facet of this lucrative, innovative, and massively popular industry with insider access, following the rise and innovation of running shoes through major cultural fads, attempts at injury prevention, and techy experiments done in the name of speed and performance.

To research the book, Metzler went overseas to factories where shoes are built and into brick-and-mortar shops facing extinction. Adding to the wealth of shoe intrigue, he interviewed Olympians, ultrarunners, and other celebrities of the sport like Kara Goucher, Scott Jurek, and Deena Kastor, who add personal anecdotes around their own favorites. Metzler is a sports journalist who has tested more than 1,500 pairs of running shoes and has raced every distance from 50 yards to 100 miles.

Illinois Goes Legal

The Prairie State becomes the first state to legalize recreational marijuana by state legislation.

The state legislature of Illinois rang in the new year and made history as the first state in the US voting to pass a cannabis regulation and tax act as a piece of state legislation. All other sales legalizations have been passed in their respective states through voter initiatives, so the Illinois state legislature has distinguished itself by being the first to legally support and organize the cannabis industry in such a way. The Illinois Cannabis Regulation and Tax Act will help to support the 96,000 and counting Illinois residents who rely on medical marijuana programs, as well as offer an organized atmosphere for recreational users. The act will also provide the state of Illinois with billions of dollars in cannabis sales funds and set a precedent for other states.

Chef’s Pick

The newly opened Bar Botanico in Lawrenceville is a hip new spot on Butler Street that takes “chef’s choice” to a whole new level. The eatery has no set menu. Diners discuss their likes, dislikes, and dietary needs with their server, and then the chef prepares a custom meal based on those preferences. When the plate arrives, it’s a surprise. For foodies looking for fresh meals and craft cocktails, check out this inventive new hot spot.

Debut Exhibition Sizzles

Pittsburgh’s blossoming Sharpsburg neighborhood has a hip new gallery called Zynka, owned and operated by Jeffrey Jarzynka. The success of the opening exhibit Current: The Art of Now in Pittsburgh, a collaboration with The Andy Warhol Museum, was so successful that it was extended into early January.


By Stephanie Wilson, Editor in Chief

1. Primary Focus
A New Hampshire law requires the Granite State to be the first presidential primary in the nation. This election cycle, that goes down on February 11, after which my home state becomes irrelevant for another four years.

2. Leap of Faith
While the calendar year is 365 days, it takes the Earth 365.24 days to orbit the sun. Every four years, we add an extra day to the month of February because without it, the calendar would be misaligned with the seasons by 25 days after just 100 years.

3. Born This Way
The odds of being a “leapling”—a person born on a leap day—is 1 in 1,461.

4. Right On
On February 29, some places celebrate Bachelor’s Day or Sadie Hawkins Day—both a nod to the old Irish tradition that gave women the right to propose marriage to a man on leap day. If he declined, he was required by law to pay a penalty, often in the form of gloves so she could hide the shame of her bare ring finger.

5. Modern Love
Since we’re not all Irish, but we are all feminists (because we all believe in the equality of the sexes, of course), any of us can propose to whomever our heart desires whenever we want. Except Valentine’s Day. There’s no law prohibiting it but, sweetie, pay-as-you-go forced romance is anything but romantic.

6. PETA Violation
The origins of the canned-love holiday are as cruel as a red rose delivery in February is clichéd. According to NPR, V-day traces back to the ancient Roman festival of Lupercalia, a brutal fete during which naked men sacrificed dogs and goats—and whipped women with the animal hides. Stop, in the name of love.

Oleo CBD Brand Plays to the Active Lifestyle

Ideal for athletes, fitness enthusiasts, outdoor adventurers, and anyone enjoying an active lifestyle, Seattle-based OLEO offers a variety of delicious powdered CBD drink mixes that are 100 percent THC-free and are designed to help support total body recovery and maintain a healthy, active lifestyle on-the-go. OLEO is the only CBD company using proprietary and patent-pending micro-encapsulation technology that converts 100 percent THC-free, pure CBD oil into a water-soluble powder known as OleoCBDTM. OleoCBD powdered beverage mix offers double the bioaccessibility in comparison to regular CBD and CBD oil. That means that your body can absorb the highest possible amount of the active ingredient because this proprietary powdered CBD is twice as absorbable. The micro-encapsulation process also removes any bitter aftertaste, allowing OLEO to offer a variety of drink mixes that range from completely flavorless to delicious and rejuvenating flavors.

Available in single-serving, on-the-go packets or multi-serving jars, OLEO drink mixes combine the benefits of 25 mg of OleoCBDTM per serving with the power of functional ingredients such as freeze-dried coconut water and real rooibos and black tea, available with or without caffeine to either energize or unwind. All of OLEO’s drink mixes dissolve quickly into cold or hot water (or even in your post-workout smoothie), making it easy to consume at any point throughout the day to help support full body recovery after physical activity. The entire product line not only offers consistent made-in-the-USA quality, but it’s also guaranteed to consistently be 100 percent THC-free with zero intoxicating effects.

Trifecta of Worldly Pleasures

Indulge your sweet tooth this Valentine’s Day at Pittsburgh’s first Chocolate, Wine & Whiskey Fest, slated for February 15 at Rivers Casino. A celebration of all things rich and decadent, this festival boasts unlimited tastings of luxury chocolates, fine wines, and smooth whiskeys alongside treats like a fondue fountain and savory bites to balance it all out.

Tickets now available at with both General Admission and VIP options.

Celebrated Cannabis Author Speaks

Solevo Wellness hosted author Michael Backes in Pittsburgh with a full house on December 16 to discuss medical marijuana and his book, Cannabis Pharmacy: The Practical Guide to Medical Marijauna. Backes lays claim to founding the country’s first evidence-based dispensary over a decade ago, and he remains a leader in the medical marijuana industry. In his book, Backes discusses the crucial differences between unregulated and medical marijuana, how research into the character of the marijuana plant has helped establish safe and specific treatment strategies, and the rumors versus realities of proper medical marijuana practices. Solevo Wellness itself represents a slice of the cannabis industry dedicated to intensive medical marijuana care, and the brand welcomed Michael Backes as a valued partner in the community.

So Sad: For people with Seasonal Affective Disorder.

You know you need to exercise and socialize, but it’s all you can do to drag yourself to work in the dark, try to focus while you’re there, then drag yourself back home in the dark.

Maybe you rely a little too much on your favorite substance to numb your aggro. Maybe you binge on pretzel crisps, then beat yourself up because you should be eating kale chips—or no chips at all.

You wonder why you’re even on this cold, bleak planet. Every morning you want to pull the covers over your head and pretend your life isn’t happening. Some days you do.

For about five percent of Americans, this nightmare is a recurring reality. Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) settles in just as winter does and doesn’t lift until spring. It’s been plaguing humans for centuries—French physician Philippe Pinel noted the onset of mental deterioration in psychiatric patients in his 1806 Treatise on Insanity—but it wasn’t included in the American Psychiatric Association’s official manual until 1987.

While studying the impact of light on mental health in the early 1980s, National Institute of Mental Health researcher Norman Rosenthal discovered Seasonal Affective Disorder, a recurrent annual depression characterized by hypersomnia, social withdrawal, overeating and carbohydrate cravings, and a lack of sexual energy that seems to respond to changes in climate and latitude. About 1.5 percent of Floridians have SAD, Rosenthal found, compared with nearly 10 percent of New Hampshirites.
No one knows why some people get SAD and others don’t. There seems to be a link to alcoholism as well as a genetic history of depression and bipolar disorder. Numerous studies have shown a correlation between SAD and the reduced ability to transport the mood-regulating neurotransmitter serotonin. According to the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH), people with SAD produce too much serotonin transporter protein in winter, leaving less of the “feel good” hormone available.

Rosenthal suggests lack of sunlight throws off circadian rhythm and interferes with the hypothalamus, the part of the brain responsible for hormones. This causes abnormalities in the genes responsible for both serotonin transmission and retinal light sensitivity. Just recently, Johns Hopkins researchers discovered a third photo receptor in the eye that syncs our internal clocks with daylight and provides a direct pathway to the areas of the brain that affect mood—backing up the ocular part of Rosenthal’s theory.

When your brain stops producing serotonin, it starts pumping out melatonin, the sleep hormone that responds to darkness, instead. This naturally makes you lethargic and groggy, and your brain’s instinct to correct serotonin deficiency could be the cause of your monster carb cravings, according to NIMH.

Studies have also found a link between vitamin D, which the skin produces after sunlight exposure, and serotonin production. In northern climates, rays aren’t strong enough to trigger vitamin D production during winter months. This suggests that vitamin D supplements might help with SAD, but studies have been inconclusive.

Torch It

There is no cure, per se, for SAD. The most prominent treatment is light therapy to replace sunlight with bright artificial light. You need to sit for about 30 minutes in the morning in front of a light box (readily available online) that exposes you to at least 10,000 lux of UV-free cool-white fluorescent or full-spectrum light—20 times more than regular indoor lighting. (You get 50,000 lux on a sunny day.)

The treatment is not unlike indoor tanning beds (but without the tan), and researchers speculate that frequent tanners might be self-medicating for SAD as much as getting their tans on. (Excessive indoor tanning is now recognized as a psychological disorder.) Red River College in Manitoba, Canada, offers light therapy stations for students who are suffering and also loans out portable SAD lamps.

Response to light therapy generally begins within a week or two, and its effectiveness seems to depend on how severe your SAD is. Studies have found that light treatment in the morning causes remission in two-thirds of patients with mild episodes but less than half with moderate to severe cases.

Light therapy is also being studied as a treatment for other types of depression, sleep disorders, and dementia, among other conditions. It’s not safe for people with diabetes and retinopathies and may contraindicate with certain medications.

Greens and Goals

Experts will try to tell you that your best bet for dealing with SAD is to get yourself up and out there, living your best life. This is clearly easier said than done when your serotonin-deprived, melatonin-drenched brain is begging for a long winter nap. You need outside help.

Lean on a good therapist or coach, in person or online, and let your inner circle know you need a little extra attention. Tell them not to take no for an answer when you try to weasel out of the Mardi Gras party. Find a workout buddy.

No matter what, succumbing to the urge to sink back under the covers will only make things worse. Sunlight is most effective against SAD in the morning, so that’s the time to get out there. An intense morning workout can do a lot—but again, be nice to yourself if you can’t make that happen. Taking a brisk walk whenever you can—even on cloudy days, sunlight filters through—is powerful medicine.

Moving your body, whether running or practicing yoga, and eating a diet rich in protein and greens are helpful when SAD is hovering. It also can’t hurt to give yourself something to live for as the dreary months drag along. Set short-term goals and see yourself reaping the benefits in the spring. This could be as simple as knitting an afghan, reading a classic, or trimming your fall harvest—anything you find worth getting out of bed for.

Those instincts to pull the duvet over your head and sleep the winter away aren’t wrong, by the way. Humans evolved to be less active in winter because they needed to save energy when food was scarce, but modern Type A culture never cuts us any slack—even when we’re going to and coming home from work in the dark.

Seeing red, feeling blue, tickled pink. What you see is what you feel is what you are.

Humans have used color to express ideas and emotion for thousands of years, according to color specialist and trend forecaster Leatrice Eisman. As executive director of the Pantone Color Institute, Eisman is the world’s leading authority on the topic of color, authoring many books on the subject. In The Complete Color Harmony, Eisman describes how even the most subtle nuances in color can result in shades that excite or calm, pacify or energize, and even suggest strength or vulnerability. “They can nurture you with their warmth, soothe you with their quiet coolness, and heighten your awareness of the world around you. Color enriches our universe and our perception of it,” she writes.

According to her research, we all respond to color at a very visceral level, associating specific hues with another time or place. “Color invariably conveys moods that attach themselves to human feelings or reactions,” she notes. “Part of our psychic development, color is tied to our emotions as well as our intellect. Every color has meaning that we either inherently sense or have learned by association and/or conditioning, which enables us to recognize the messages and meanings delivered.”

It’s with all this in mind that she and a team of experts choose the Pantone Color of the Year, which the institute has named annually for more than two decades, gaining more attention and having more impact with each passing declaration. So this year, expect to see a lot of blue. The 2020 Pantone Color of the Year is known as Classic Blue.

Describing the shade as “evocative of the nighttime sky,” Eisman explains the choice: “We are living in a time that requires trust and faith It is this kind of constancy and confidence that is expressed by Classic Blue, a solid and dependable blue hue we can always rely on.”

She contends that Classic Blue encourages us to look beyond the obvious, expand our thinking, open the flow of communication. Her comments are rooted in color theory, which says that a good part of the emotions that colors evoke is tied to natural phenomena. Classic Blue is the color of outer space (look beyond), of the celestial sky (look beyond), of the deep ocean (open the flow).

One of the earliest formal explorations of color theory came from German poet and politician Johann Wolfgang von Goethe. His 1820 book Theory of Colours explored the psychological impact of colors on mood and emotion. Yellow, Goethe wrote, is the color nearest the light, yet when applied to dull, coarse surfaces, it is no longer filled with its signature energy. “By a slight and scarcely perceptible change, the beautiful impression of fire and gold is transformed into one not undeserving the epithet foul; and the colour of honour and joy reversed to that of ignominy and aversion.”

Of red: “All that we have said of yellow is applicable here, in a higher degree.” Goethe’s theories continue to intrigue, possibly because of the lyrical prose rather than its scientific facts.

Today, it’s generally accepted that shades of blue are associated with steady dependability, calm, and serenity. Yellow evokes the color of the sun, associated with warmth and joy. Green connects with nature, health, and revival. White stands for simplicity; black for sophistication.

A 1970s study on the body’s physiological responses to colors revealed that warm hues (red, orange, yellow—the colors of the sun) aroused people troubled with depression and increased muscle tone or blood pressure in hypertensive folks. Cool colors (green, blue, violet) elicited the reverse, but the important finding was that all colors produced clinically tangible results.

It’s not woo-woo science; humans have been using color as medicine, a practice known as chromotherapy, since ancient Egypt. In fact, chromotherapy is as tested a practice as any other alternative medicine—Ayurveda, acupuncture, homeopathy, aromatherapy, reflexology. While it is widely accepted that color affects one’s health—physically, mentally, emotionally—more studies are needed to determine the full scope of impact as well as its potential to help heal.

This isn’t a new theory, either. In the late 1800s, rays of color/light were shown to affect the blood stream. Later research found color to be “a complete therapeutic system for 123 major illnesses,” according to a critical analysis of chromotherapy published in 2005 by Oxford University Press.
Today, bright white, full-spectrum light is being used in the treatment of cancers, seasonal affective disorder, anorexia, bulimia, insomnia, jet lag, alcohol and drug addiction, and more. Blue light is used to help treat rheumatoid arthritis. Red light helps with cancer and constipation. And that’s just the beginning.

On the Bright Side

When your physical landscape is devoid of bright, vibrant hues, your emotional one is affected as well. That’s where color therapy comes in. It has a deep effect on physical, psychological, and emotional aspects of our lives, and it comes in many forms: light sessions that include color wheels. Colored crystal lights. Breathing in colors through meditation. Infrared saunas with chromotherapy add-ons.

There are actually many ways of adjusting the color in your life, and not all of them require a trip to see a specialist. Unlike trying to self-administer acupuncture (don’t do that), techniques can be as simple as putting on colorful attire or getting some bright throw pillows or plants. You can never have too many plants. And you should eat more plants, too, filling your plate with healthful fruits, vegetables, and spices from every part of the spectrum.

If a lack of sunlight has you feeling a lack of joy, paint your home or office—warm, vibrant yellows and oranges showcase excitement and warmth; browns and neutrals decidedly do not. Choose wisely. Painting not an option? Consider temporary wallpaper or hanging large artworks. On a budget? Head to the thrift shop and repurpose an old canvas by painting it white and then adding whatever hues you are vibing with this winter. If it doesn’t turn out well, cover it up with more white paint and start again.

Have fun with it, consider it art therapy.

There are also an array of therapeutic options popping up as add-ons, as wellness studios, spas, and alternative medicine practices incorporate chromotherapy treatments into their offerings. Many infrared saunas are starting to offer chromotherapy benefits, and the combination of the full-light spectrum and the heat effectively tricks the brain into thinking it spent a full day basking in the sun, causing it to release those sweet endorphins that flood your body when the warm rays of spring hit your face when you step outside. It feels good and really, that is everything. Color is everything.

Pittsburgh’s best kept secret? All that jazz.

We all know the great legends of the Pittsburgh sports teams and the legendary culinary contribution of Primanti Bros putting French fries on sandwiches, but many people may not be aware that the jazz legacy and heritage of Pittsburgh rivals any other city in the world.

Did you know that Pittsburgh–born pianist Mary Lou Williams was one of the first to pave the way for women instrumentalists in jazz? Or that Billy Strayhorn, Duke Ellington’s right hand man in composing, was also from Pittsburgh? How about that Pittsburgh-born Kenny Clarke took the drums from being an instrument strictly for keeping time to an instrument of wildly expressionistic purpose, paving the way for other drummers such as Pittsburgh’s Art Blakey and eventually Elvin Jones, who then deeply influenced rock ’n’ roll drummers such as Keith Moon and John Bonham? There are many more stories of luminaries from Pittsburgh who made such an important contribution to America’s classical music.

First, though, you have to understand what jazz music is. One way to understand jazz is as the confluence of African rhythmic sensibilities and European harmonic sensibilities on American soil, which is what makes it one of this country’s great exports.

In Pittsburgh, because of the city’s hills and limited transportation back in the day, schools were unable to enforce segregation like other cities were. Therefore, young black children were studying music with white European school teachers, learning European harmony way ahead of the curve, before others of the same age had the chance.

Back then, rivers were basically the highways, and Pittsburgh was more directly connected to New Orleans (the number-one jazz city historically) by River Boat culture. The musicians who played aboard the boats frequently stopped off and shared their music culture.

Also, because of the steel mill boom, the economy was strong and everybody had work. This led to many popular live music clubs, like the Hurricane and Crawford Grill in areas such as the Hill District and East Liberty, all hosting musicians playing popular music of the day.

There are more Steel City legends to celebrate. Pittsburgh Singer Billy Eckstine redefined jazz, singing through his rhythm and lyricism and in 1944 started one of the most important big bands of all time featuring future jazz luminaries Dexter Gordon, Miles Davis, Dizzy Gillespie, Charlie Parker, and Sarah Vaughan. Pianist Earl “Fatha” Hines, born in Pittsburgh, is regarded to be one of a small number of pianists whose playing shaped the history of jazz.

Two other pianists who many would agree belong on that short list as well are also Pittsburgh natives, Earl Hines and Ahmad Jamal. You can pretty much name an instrument, and there is a jazz musician from Pittsburgh who contributed greatly to its development within the jazz genre. Saxophone? Stanley Turrentine. Upright bass? Ray Brown. Trumpet? Tommy Turrentine. Guitar? George Benson. Trombone? Slide Hampton, and the list goes on.

The beautiful thing is that the jazz scene is still alive and well in Pittsburgh today, with world-class players, avid jazz fans, and a growing honor for the city’s jazz legacy. Pittsburgh is still known as a place that holds musicians who “swing hard” and play with deep soul. A friend told me about meeting world-famous jazz drummer Louis Hayes in New York City. My friend mentioned to Hayes that he was from Pittsburgh, and the drummer responded with one word: “Soulsville.”

One of the few remaining jazz drummers from the golden age of jazz is the 75-year-old Pittsburgh native Roger Humphries, who plays every Thursday at Con Alma in Shadyside. To hear Humphries play is to get a real glimpse and feeling of that deep soul and swing that Pittsburgh has contributed to the music.

There are also so many important jazz families in Pittsburgh whose third generation musicians carry the torch today, continuing to explore this incredibly important music in a way that is somehow so naturally Pittsburgh.

Maybe it’s something in the water or in the valley air. Whatever the reason, it’s a part of Pittsburgh’s identity and should not be forgotten, no matter how time rolls along like the lazy rivers that made this town. Some people say it takes a certain marriage of intellect and soul to not only play jazz music but to listen to it. This connects us back to that intersection of African rhythms and European harmony that makes this music so unique to American history and its continuing development. As Pittsburghers, we should be proud of and celebrate this great heritage.

The Anchor of Our Jazz Community

The Manchester Craftsmen’s Guild (MCG) is a school and musical preservation group rooted in the common vision born from founder Bill Strickland’s personal experience that, “Through direct involvement in the making of art and through exposure to the masters who teach and perform it, our lives will be enriched, even transformed.” As an extension, MCG Jazz’s mission is to preserve, present, and promote jazz, which they’ve been doing in a unique format with some of the greatest international names in the genre for more than 30 years.

In its private music hall near downtown Pittsburgh, MCG Jazz hosts performances that the guild says “strengthen the longtime Pittsburgh jazz community and contribute to the overall cultural and artistic diversity of the region.” Its live recordings reach a global audience. The guild’s educational programs allow students to attend sessions at a reduced cost, make artists available for master classes, provide internship opportunities.

Jazz greats including Joe Williams, Billy Taylor, Dizzy Gillespie, Stanley Turrentine, and Ray Brown have helped create more than 300 CDs in the MCG Jazz Archives, representing the past, present, and future of jazz music. The guild says the performance series—one of the oldest in the nation—is an anchor of Pittsburgh cultural and community life. Artists frequently return to create unique recordings on the MCG Jazz label, generously donating proceeds back to the guild in support of future programming.

Two years ago, the guild produced an incredible documentary entitled We Knew What He Had: The Greatest Jazz Story Never Told that explores the social conditions and historical events that came together to make Pittsburgh one of the leading contributors to the legacy of jazz music in the world. This one-hour program is packed with interesting interviews, historical photographs, and more than 20 live performance clips of the Jazz Masters, including George Benson, Ahmad Jamal, Stanley Turrentine, Billy Eckstine, Kenny Clarke, Art Blakey, Billy Strayhorn, Mary Lou Williams, and more—all Pittsburghers. The film was produced for a general audience and captures the spirit of a distinctly American art form, the character of a regional locale, and the soul of a hardy and determined people. Check your local listings and for programming.

Visit one of Pittsburgh’s latest and most local locales for food, libations, and jazz.

Opened just last June on Ellsworth in Shadyside, Con Alma is nothing less than a continuation of the great Pittsburgh jazz tradition. This new restaurant and jazz bar is also an embodiment of the booming locavore trend—especially when it comes to consuming local music.

“The local movement…we’re doing that with a music genre, championing Pittsburgh jazz and its legacy exclusively. For it to exist on such a world-class level in a city of this size is really unique and special,” says John Shannon, music curator and co-owner of Con Alma.

Shannon says they almost exclusively book Pittsburgh-based jazz musicians: “Every night of the week, you can hear world-class jazz musicians because they live here.The scene here is really all about playing the music and serving family, or simply existing in a city that’s still livable. There’s really no other smaller city in America that has a jazz scene like this.”

Open seven nights a week starting in February, this new jazz bar is quickly becoming the “it” spot—and not just for the music.

Shannon says Con Alma, named for the 1954 jazz standard by Dizzy Gillespie, gets is cachet from the trifecta of its offerings: “It’s the sum of its parts—the music, food, and drink—that creates this other element, the atmosphere, throwing back to the days of an old Pittsburgh spot like the Hurricane or the Crawford Grill.”

Partner and chef Josh Ross, of the former Pirata downtown and Pan in Lawrenceville, has created a menu with nods to Mexico, the Caribbean, and South America. Meanwhile, partner Aimee Marshall heads up the beverage program, which features, not shockingly, Prohibition-style cocktails and drinks inspired by Old World Cuba.

Savor the taste of old PGH with a modern dining experience

The holidays are the best time to indulge with Southern Italian cuisine in the heart of downtown Pittsburgh. Browse and shop at the Downtown Holiday Market that takes place in Market Square and take in the tastes and smells of Italy with dishes crafted by one of Pittsburgh’s most renowned chefs, Domenico Cornacchia. Molinaro’s knowledgeable and famously friendly staff will assist you in selecting the best wines to pair with your holiday celebrations and toasts to the final days of 2019.

Editor’s Note

This cozy time of year can be hard on many people. Short days bring on depression, and the call to be happy and close to family can trigger difficult and deep-rooted pain. The city of Pittsburgh can be cold in the winter. But I think the stories in the pages of this magazine also prove that it’s a place where the community rallies to help those facing tough times. Our feature story on 412 Food Rescue proves that point. That people in Pittsburgh see themselves as a big family.

It’s a tough city. It’s a city that has seen boom, bust, and hard-nosed revival—and it’s a city full of love.

Gina Vensel, the publisher of Sensi Pittsburgh, epitomizes the way this city can unite to build a better place for everyone. I was lucky enough to be paired up with her during a team-building exercise at the annual Sensi Leadership Conference. She was born and raised here. She’s connected to Pittsburgh, from the nonprofit world to the local music scene. And she’s seen the community come together over tragedies and support one another after devastation. 

When I asked Vensel what makes Pittsburgh such a powerful community, she said this: “To truly be Pittsburgh Strong, we need to set aside what makes us different and focus on what we share in common—living in one of the best cities in the world. My hope for Sensi Pittsburgh is to create a community of caring and compassionate readers who want to help one another and uplift the community. What better way to end the year than with community in mind? Smile at a stranger, donate to a cause that matters to you, take time for an old friend. When we take time to acknowledge that we are all in this together and to connect authentically, that is the true meaning of being Pittsburgh Strong.”

It’s people like Vensel, 412 Food Rescue’s Leah Lizarondo, and others you’ll read about in this magazine—whether they are working to ease pain though medical cannabis solutions, helping to feed the hungry, or just mixing up a holiday treat—who bring light to the dark days. Let’s all celebrate the vibrancy of this city this season.

Doug Schnitzspahn

The pet wellness industry is taking off, with a barkload of new ways to give your pooch some extra pampering.

I’m sitting at my desk in the early hours of the morning struggling to write the anecdotal opener to this story. There’s soft music playing, so soft I can hear Gidget’s content snores coming from the pineapple dome she sleeps in when I’m at my desk. 

If the music were too loud, she would stomp as much as a chihuahua could out to the living room to get in her pressure-activated heated bed, engulfed by the soft white throw blanket I bought for myself. Gidget saw it, she liked it, she wanted it, she got it.

This is the way it works. The nails on my fingertips are past due for a manicure (Gidget got hers done today). My dinner was peanut butter spooned from the jar. Gidget dined on a gourmet blend specially formulated to deliver the exact level of antioxidants, vitamins, fiber, probiotics, and minerals she needs for optimal health. After dinner, she got a bath and a towel massage before tucking into the pineapple. That’s when I sat down to start writing. 

I work hard so my dog can have a better life. The meme is real.

Hoomans and Floofers

I wouldn’t have it any other way. Gidget may be a furry freeloader, but she’s my furry freeloader and I love her hard. Because she is awesome. All dogs are. Fight me: I’m an elder millennial, and I’ve got a generational army of pet-pampering 20- and 30-somethings to back me up.

Millennials have been accused of killing a whole host of things.* Really, we’re just redirecting our limited discretionary funds to things we deem more worthy than, say, an intrinsically worthless shiny stone that De Beers’ marketing firm convinced Americans is a token of love and esteem that lasts forever. (Read: millennials are killing diamonds.) 

Millennials do spend money on pets. This year, the US pet industry is projected to rake in $75.28 billion, up more than 30 percent since 2010 according to the American Pet Product Association (APPA). A majority of millennials (76 percent) would be more likely to splurge on luxury items like expensive treats or a custom bed for their pets than for themselves.

“The pet care industry is booming, as people around the world—especially millennials—blur the line between human child and animal,” according to Business Insider. The senior brand manager of Purina, Ryan Gass, suggests that millennials are putting off marriage and having children, turning to pets to “fill that void,” but I don’t know what void he’s talking about, so we’re moving on. 

Millennials’ love for their pups is so intense, it’s spawned its own language. Us hoomans chase our heckin floofers, iPhones in hand, snapping pics of their snoots and bleps to share with frens, posting with captions about the goodest boy in the world. 

This has all led to a rise in what more serious folks call the “humanization of pets.” Sounds ominous. But it indicates how much our lives and our pets’ lives are intertwined—and therefore following the same trends. And what’s trendier or more millennial than wellness, wellness everywhere? 

In 1979, veteran journalist Dan Rather quipped during an episode of 60 Minutes, “Wellness…that’s a word you don’t hear every day.” Fast forward 40 years, and we’re hearing the word so much every day it’s almost lost all meaning. The fresh “pet wellness” phrase could mean pets are doing well overall or it could mean pets are judging you for not drinking kombucha. 

Don’t worry, dogs don’t judge. But they are getting more probiotics in their diets, just not from kombucha. Probiotics in sales of pet foods grew by 139 percent last year, according to the Nielsen market report, “Trends in Pet Care Mirror Those of Pet Owners.” We eat super foods; our dogs eat super foods. We take CBD; our pups take CBD. We get massages; our dogs get massages. We have fitness studios where you can work out with your dog, acupuncture for pets, doggy day spas with swimming pools you can rent out for puppy parties. 

Laying on Hands

Oh, yeah, and dog Reiki is a thing here, too. Gidget hasn’t tried it yet; she—like me—thinks it sounds a little bit woo-woo. 

This is how Health mag describes the basic principle: “Energy medicine (or biofield therapies) is the act of channeling and manipulating the energy that courses through your body in order to heal it. This can be done with hands-on practices such as acupuncture and Reiki, as well as sensory-based experiences, like the use of crystals, sound baths, and aromatherapy.”

In Denver, Zen Pet is all about these modalities. Run by Dr. Becca Klobuchar, the mobile holistic veterinary medicine’s range of services is rooted in energy balancing and Chinese medicine.

“I began exploring holistic therapies in an effort to provide pets with additional healing options when traditional treatments were unsuccessful,” says Klobuchar. “The intuitive treatment modalities I use approach pets’ health from the physical, energetic, and spiritual perspectives.” 

The energy balancing service is based on the concept that all living things have their own energy field that, when not in balance, can lead to disease, emotional stress, and pain. During a session, the ancient practice of “laying on of hands” transmits the healing energy of the universe through the practitioner to the animal for healing effects. 

While energy medicine is the farthest mystical extreme of the modern wellness world, there are some forms backed by science. Acupuncture, for one, and even Reiki. Health reports that a 2010 review of research in the International Journal of Behavioral Medicine found strong evidence that bio- field therapies such as Reiki and therapeutic touch can alleviate pain. 

The caveat: It could be a placebo effect, and our pups aren’t swayed by the power of suggestion. But if you think it’s working for her, then the session is working—for you. It’s called the “caregiver placebo effect,” and there’s nothing wrong with it. As long as it’s used in conjunction with traditional vet visits—a supplemental part of a whole wellness plan. 

Chiro for Canines

Dog chiropractic is an another emerging field gaining traction as a beneficial supplemental treatment therapy. At Denver Central Chiropractic (DCC) in Centennial, Dr. Erin Moran is providing holistic health care to both people and pets—“holistic health care for you and your dogs.” While it’s still an emerging field, animal chiropractic at its core follows the same principles and practices as the human kind. She suggests you consider chiropractic treatments if your pooch is showing signs of pain: reluctant to climb stairs, difficulty getting up after laying down, constantly licking or chewing paws, walking differently.

“Dogs get the same back issues as people, and chiropractic is a great option to address those issues without the use of drugs or surgery,” says Moran. “People get great results from seeing a chiropractor, and I want people to know that their dog can experience the same benefits.” 

It’s a nonsurgical, drug-free option for correcting disorders related to a fixation in the spine or joint. When vertebrae become immovable through trauma, injury, or standard wear-and-tear, the joints between them become jammed, often affecting the nerves in the congested area. Those nerves are the communication link between the brain and the spinal cord, so when they are out of order, it can set off a cascade of effects that leads to pain and loss of function. 

But pets can’t tell us where they hurt or why they’re limping, so treatments are a bit more complicated. When working with animals, Moran looks for abnormal or restricted movement, with a goal of restoring it to reduce pain and improve mobility. 

“The results I’ve seen have been amazing,” she says. Moran has helped dogs who have lost the use of their back legs because of slipped discs; after adjustments, they’re able to regain use of their legs and walk again. She also treats arthritic dogs, “getting the pep back in their step so they can have a better quality of life.”

Healthy pets can experience benefits of spine checkups, too, she points out—especially active and athletic ones. The DCC website is clear that the practice is not meant to replace veterinary medicine. Rather, animal chiropractors work in conjunction with veterinarians, treating areas that often go unnoticed by traditional care.

And that pain in your back as a result of hunching over your desk spoon-feeding yourself peanut butter while your pooch snuggles in your new comforter? As it turns out, living with a dog is good for human health as well. Having a pet lowers stress, reduces blood pressure, and may even help you live longer. So says science. So they deserve to live the same aspirational lifestyle to which we have made them accustomed. It’s the least we can do to repay the unconditional love 

Rebecca Treon contributed to this piece.

Luxury has gone to pot.

 At the end of October, the Wall Street Journal ran an article titled “Cannabis Open Houses Are Putting the High in High-End Real Estate.” The trend piece by author Katherine Clarke revealed the emerging discovery being used by developers and real-estate agents to move luxe properties in communities where recreational cannabis is not just legal but widely accepted. 

It’s not unlike Los Angeles, where the rising industry is being hailed as an untapped source for buyers of high-priced homes. Throwing cannabis-related events—everything from elaborate seven-course pairing dinners with vapes in lieu of vino to live trimming classes—at multimillion-dollar properties on the market is garnering attention, building social buzz, and attracting buyers with money earned in, around, or on cannabis.

Not everyone sees the genius behind the trend, however. Clarke spoke to one agent in New York, where recreational cannabis is still a pipe dream and old tropes live on about munchie-motivated stoners. “When I think about cannabis, I don’t think about buying an expensive house,” says Warburg Realty’s Jason Haber. “It’s not a call for action as much as a call for Doritos.”

Someone should tell him friends don’t let friends make tired stoner jokes anymore. Especially ones implying cannabis consumers indulge their munchies with mindless consumption of unhealthy snacks when the reality is cannabis appeals to what The Economist dubs the “health-conscious inebriate,” citing a poll that 72 percent of American consumers thought cannabis was safer than alcohol. A 2018 The New Yorker headline declared cannabis to be a wellness industry in California where, in fact, a cannabinoid cousin of THC and CBD is starting to garner a whole lot of buzz. Instead of stimulating appetites, THCV may suppress those hunger pangs. When 2021 is declared the year of THCV, you can say you heard it here first. 

Consumption and consumerism

Cannabis has moved so far beyond the clichés of yore. Tie-dye tees, bell-bottom cords, dancing bear patches, plastic bongs, Ziploc baggies: these tired trends are so out of style, some have already circled back and left again. (Looking at you, tie-dye.) The stoner kids of yesterday are the cannabis entrepreneurs, enthusiasts, and connoisseurs of today. And as they’ve aged, their tastes in cannabis aged with them, like the fine wine they can now afford. Cannabis consumers have money to burn. 

And since we live in a capitalist society (an unjust one where people remain locked up for nonviolent drug charges in states that earn taxes off now-legal cannabis sales—that’s a whole layered story for a different day), money makes things happen. And what’s happening now is the emergence of a cannabis experience elevated to a higher level.

If you were paying attention to the pop-culture cues over the decades, you would have seen the high-end highs coming. When cannabis prohibition began its slow-and-steady march to its forthcoming end, it emerged from the black market with an established following of consumers—loyal cannabis consumers with no brand loyalty, because cannabis brands didn’t exist. Dealers did, growers did, activists, advocates, and believers, too. But the concept of cannabis brands was all brand-new. 

With strict laws surrounding where the substance can be marketed, sold, advertised, distributed, and more, establishing customer loyalty in this industry is more difficult than it would seem on the surface. What differentiates one edible brand from another, one vape pen from the next is complicated to discern for those who aren’t well versed in the modern verbiage or its meaning. (Full-spectrum distillate, live resin, 2:1 ratios, oh my!)

This is where marketing and branding comes into play. And with marketing and branding comes the emergence of new market segments, including the ultra-luxury category. It is from within that category that future trends are likely to emerge. That’s how trends play out, as Miranda Priestly (played by Meryl Streep) explained to her new assistant in one iconic scene of The Devil Wears Prada. (If you haven’t seen it in a while, a quick refresher: “The color of the shirt you are wearing right now was determined years ago by high-end designers preparing their collections for fashion week runways.”) 

Trickle-down trends are a hierarchical process whereby individuals with high status establish fashion trends, only to be imitated by lower-status individuals wearing cheaper versions of the same styles.

“It’s always been a thing,” says Karyn Wagner, CEO of Paradigm Cannabis Group, a women-owned extraction company specializing in pre-rolls and extracts made from small-batch sun-grown flower. “There’s always been those products that are better than others. But now, with adult use, we have to be more brand-conscious. With that, how do you distinguish yourself from someone else? Why is this better? What makes it better?”

Some like it haute

With any luxury good, consumers want the assurance of quality and efficacy, Wagner says. But you can never underestimate the prestige that comes with a high price tag. “The moneyed class always loves expensive items,” she says. “This normalizes it in their world. It brings in folks who didn’t normally have the desire. It made it OK in their class. Expensive breeds expensive things. You wouldn’t have expensive cannabis if you didn’t have people who wanted to buy expensive cannabis.”

Jenny Le Coq, president of Le Coq & Associates, a marketing and communications firm in San Francisco that represents Kikoko cannabis-infused botanical mints, points out that most people typically don’t seek out a cheap bottle of wine, but look for something fine, trustworthy, and familiar. They want to know the winery, its reputation, who recommends the vintage. “People are looking at wines today with a more discerning eye—how their grapes are grown, for example,” Le Coq says. “People are looking at cannabis in the same way: with a discerning eye.” 

“Discerning” can add up to big money, for sure. Anecdotal stories abound in national media outlets, suggesting couples in Colorado will drop several bills on “cannagars” and other high-end party favors to celebrate weddings and anniversaries. At The High End, Barneys New York’s luxury cannabis lifestyle shop in Beverly Hills, shoppers can splurge on a $1,475 sterling silver bud grinder or a $950 water pipe. New York fashion brand Alice + Olivia partnered with luxury cannabis brand Kush Queen to debut a CBD wellness line earlier this year—bath bomb, body lotion, bubble bath with lavender. Alice + Olivia packaging features CEO Stacey Bendet’s signature “StaceFace” motif, with big sunglasses and a bold red lip. A timeless statement-making style that trendsetters of every era make their own while trendy types try to emulate the overall aesthetic. That’s just the way things work.

To be fair, luxury doesn’t have to mean $$$$. What it must indicate, however, is quality. “Luxury is an assigned label. It is typically assigned by marketers,” Le Coq says. “So, what do you want cannabis to be? As a consumer, how do you perceive luxury? The concept is really defined differently by every person. We want people to experience something that is luxurious. Not only the packaging is beautiful, the taste is beautiful, the place you are put into mentally is a nice, beautiful place.” 

They say they’re not alcoholics, and they’re certainly not anonymous. What is sober curious—and can sobriety really be fluid?

I drink badly, and I have a lot of fun doing it (when I remember). That’s a lethal combination, and when you throw in my unfortunate discovery of White Claw—I can drink as many as I want and never feel full!—I flamed out with alcohol last winter. 

On February 1, just as everyone else was celebrating the end of Dry January and just ahead of the Summer of the Claw, I swore off the seltzer. I figured I’d give myself one month (note: the year’s shortest) to reset. It wasn’t an easy 28 days, but when March 1 rolled around, I felt better than I’d felt in years. The chronic inflammation I had attributed to everything from gluten sensitivity to genetics was clearing. I saw the light, and there was no going back. 

I thought sobriety would be lonely, that every Saturday night would be Netflix. I forgot the Brett Kavanaugh generation isn’t in charge of culture anymore (thank God). 

Millennials and Gen Xers aren’t interested in swilling beer until they black out like we did in the ’80s. Sober is sexy—or, as sees it, “sobriety is the new black.” 

On Instagram, there are influencers such as @stylishlysober, @thesoberglow, and the darker @fucking_sober and hashtags like
#soberliving, #soberAF, and #sobercurious. Millie Gooch, who posts as @sobergirlsociety, encourages her nearly 60,000 followers with inspirational messages like “Mocks not cocks” and “Sobriety: a surefire way to improve your wellbeing and your Uber rating.” 

Just like that, I’m a cool kid—with a huge range of new options on Saturday night (and beyond). I’m exploring elixirs made with raw cacao, maca, and horny goat weed at Tonic Herban Lounge just a few blocks from my home in downtown Boulder (I can walk home after imbibing, and it amuses me that I don’t need to). I can do yoga and shake it before dawn at a Daybreaker dance party ( in Denver, one of 27 cities where the alcohol-free early morning rave pops up and invites people to “sweat, dance, and connect with ourselves in community.”    

I’m surely not alone in this realization that life is better without booze. Worldwide, alcohol consumption fell by 1.6 percent last year. Led by young people, heavy-hitting countries like Russia, Canada, Japan, and the UK are seeing drinking rates as well as tolerance toward intoxication decline. An international survey found that about a third of people wanted to reduce their alcohol intake because of everything from sexual regret and embarrassment to physical health. A 2018 survey found that nearly 40 percent of global consumers want to drink less for health reasons.

In the US, CNBC reports, 52 percent of adults are trying to lower their alcohol intake, and underage drinking has steadily declined in the last 10 years. But only 21 percent of US adults in a CivicScience poll said they had any interest in drinking less or not at all, and most of those were 21- to 34-year-old, vegan-leaning flexitarians who practice yoga and consume cannabis daily. Women, especially those in their 30s and 40s, are drinking more than ever.

Booze still rules for most Americans, and “increased stress and demoralization” is actually pushing more women, minorities, and poor people to the bottle, according to a study published in JAMA Psychiatry. The national Institute for Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism reports that 17 million adults in the US are alcohol dependent, and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says one in six binge drink—defined as drinking four or more drinks over two hours or until blood alcohol reaches 0.08—nearly once a week. For this White Claw guzzler, that definition is, well, sobering. I called that happy hour.

Giving up alcohol isn’t a hashtag for a lot of people. It’s not even a choice. As Sean Paul Mahoney writes on The Fix, a website about addiction and recovery, “I didn’t get sober to be cool. I just got sober to stop dying.”

A Little Bit Addicted?

“Sober curious” became a thing after HarperCollins released Ruby Warrington’s Sober Curious: The Blissful Sleep, Greater Focus, Limitless Presence, and Deep Connection Awaiting Us All on the Other Side of Alcohol in 2018. Warrington also has a podcast, runs Club SÖda NYC (featuring sober events like Kundalini Disco), and stages events (“Sober Curious: Choosing Sobriety for Focus, Presence, and Deep Connection” is February 14–16, 2020, at Massachusetts’ renowned wellness retreat center Kripalu). Her take is that a lot of Americans might not have a “problem” with alcohol but see it as getting in the way of their healthy lifestyles. “We eat well. We exercise. We meditate,” the press release for Sober Curious states. “So, why do we…still drink?”

Warrington wants to know why the only people who don’t drink are the ones who can’t and asks, “What if I am just…a little bit addicted?” 

Call me old school, but a little bit addicted sounds a lot like a little bit pregnant. I worry that people who shouldn’t will take the advice of John Costa, who writes on that being sober curious is like being bi-curious—you don’t always hook up with people of the same sex, and you don’t have to cut out drinking forever. “Be sober half the time,” he writes, “and sauced the other half.” He’s joking, but those are dangerous words for me. That’s the life I was living: sober by day + tanked by night = balance.

Like all disorders (and pretty much everything in our culture), alcohol use runs on a spectrum. I was at the end that spent hours upon hours researching whether drinking while on this antibiotic would really make me projectile vomit and scoffed at friends as they struggled through Dry January, Dry July, Sober September, and Sober October. I wasn’t interested in giving up drinking for any reason or any amount of time, until I had to give it up for life.

Warrington, who sees reducing alcohol intake as another step in the wellness revolution, is at the other end of the spectrum—and she is aware of the difference between recovering from alcohol addiction and feeling better during yoga. I hope all of her followers are, too, because the last thing most drinkers need is a loophole.  

I want to believe the trend Warrington is leading toward spirits-free activities and thoughtfulness about alcohol’s role in our culture—where every ritual, celebration, loss, entertainment, and even sporting event is cause for a drink—is not a trend but a movement. That we’ll look back at “mommyjuice” like we shake our heads at “mother’s little helper” pills from the ’60s and ’70s. The infrastructure to support sobriety is being built, and public opinion is turning. After centuries of going hard, America is getting woke, not wasted.

Cheers to that. 

Literally tons of prepared food in the US ends up in the trash. The Pittsburgh nonprofit 412 Food Rescue is on a mission to reduce this waste.

According to the USDA, an estimated 1 in 9 Americans were “food insecure” in 2018, equating to more than 37 million Americans, including more than 11 million children. The US Department of Agriculture (USDA) defines food insecurity as “a lack of consistent access to enough food for an active, healthy life.” And if you’re wondering what that 40 percent figure on food waste looks like, it’s about 20 pounds of food per person per month, worth about $165 billion per year in the US.

Adding to these startling stats, the United Nations says that if we recover all the food that is lost or wasted, we would have enough to feed all those who are hungry, four times over.

There’s a group of folks in Pittsburgh who are doing something unique to eradicate this issue, a problem that we often think of as happening in other countries, but not right here in the United States. Founded in 2015, 412 Food Rescue simply wants to keep perfectly good food from entering the waste stream. Doesn’t seem like too much to ask. 

This Pittsburgh- born startup is creating a national impact, driven by the belief that good food should go to people, not landfills. It works to redirect healthy food from the waste stream to nonprofits that serve food to populations in need. 

According to the group, in the US, one in every seven people goes hungry, while 40 percent of food produced is wasted. The 412 Food Rescue group addresses both these problems through technology-coordinated, community-powered networks. As the only organization in Allegheny County focused on food that would otherwise be discarded, 412 Food Rescue has developed innovative solutions to eliminate food waste in the region—and is now expanding its model to cities nationwide. The solutions are tested right here in Pittsburgh, as they are developed, benefiting local communities, then scaled up for what works nationally. To date, 412 Food Rescue has redirected more than seven million pounds of perfectly good food from landfills. The organization works with 1,600 food retailers, 650 nonprofit partners, and more than 8,000 volunteers. 

There are also environmental consequences to food waste. According to stats available on the group’s website, food production uses 10 percent of the energy budget, 50 percent of the land, and 80 percent of all fresh water consumed in the US. According to the Environmental Protection Agency, more than 97 percent of food waste generated ends up in the landfill. It makes up the single largest component of municipal solid waste—generating a large portion of US methane emissions (a greenhouse gas 21 times more potent than carbon dioxide).

Appetite for Life

Of note, 412 Food Rescue is the parent company of Food Rescue Hero, a platform that helps food rescue and hunger organizations launch and scale food recovery, tackling the growing problems of food waste and food insecurity. In 2016, the group launched the Food Rescue Hero app, and that has saved more than seven million pounds of food by mobilizing the largest on-demand network of volunteer food-recovery drivers anywhere on the planet. Food Rescue Hero has been thriving in Pittsburgh, and now measurably reduces food insecurity in Cleveland, Philadelphia, San Francisco, northern Virginia, and soon, Los Angeles—with a goal of 100 cities by 2030.

“I like to call myself an ‘app-stalker.’ If I’m already running errands, I always check the app to see if I can fit a food rescue into my day. I usually can,” says 412 volunteer Lorien Benet Hart, also a member of the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra. “Everyone is busy, but we all have 30 minutes or an hour to rescue food that will make a huge difference in someone else’s life. When you see the impact that a little time makes, you’ll want to go back for more.”

The group’s 2018 Impact Report details its new transport and distribution model, which, leveraging technology, civic engagement, and public-private partnerships, effectively responds to the opportunity of retail food surplus and has significantly impacted hunger in the Pittsburgh community.

An active advocate for food, health, and innovation, Leah Lizarondo cofounded 412 Food Rescue a year after her TEDx Talk entitled, “Why the Farm is Not Getting to the Table.” By 2017, she was named by SmartBusiness as one of the individuals “poised to shape the Pittsburgh region in 2017 and beyond” and one of FoodTank’s “17 Food Heroes to Inspire Us in 2017.”

Lizarondo brings a 15-year track record of leadership positions with global corporations and nonprofits. She left her career as a product manager in Southeast Asia, where she worked in consumer-packaged goods and technology, moving on to pursue her passion in food and health advocacy. She has also trained at the Natural Gourmet Institute in New York City and received a Certification in Plant-based Nutrition from Cornell University. 

Built on the “Impossible”

Lizarondo is interested in the intersection of social good and technology, and she has mined her experience in launching startups as she works to grow 412 Food Rescue. 

“412 Food Rescue’s model is fully built around something we were told was ‘impossible’: our unwavering belief that people will step up,” she says. “That people will take action. One day at a time. Thirty minutes at a time. Over and over again. And our volunteers deliver (pun intended!). Together, we’re proving that change is only possible if all of us participate, if all of us take responsibility, if all of us let the good in our hearts prevail.”

Lizarondo is one of five We Empower honorees recognized for advancing the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals. During the UN General Assembly in New York City, September 23–27, the group participated in summits and a pitch competition hosted by Diane von Furstenberg. Lizarondo won, receiving a $20,000 grant.

“We have set audacious goals for 412 Food Rescue. We are aiming to truly end hunger in communities here in Pittsburgh, working with some amazing organizations to do so,” Lizarondo says. Our tech platform, Food Rescue Hero, is also expanding nationally. By the first quarter of 2020, we will be in 10 cities.” 

Visit for more information on how to get involved.