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CoCo’s Cupcake Cafe

I love this place.

I come on Saturdays, get a cup of coffee, and debate whether I want “The Ellworth,” “Vegan Red Velvet,” “Vegan Margarita,” or “Pumpkin.”

Every day there is a new menu to choose from, and they are all great.  The atmosphere is calm, the staff is friendly, and the overall feel is welcoming.  I can sit here a good portion of my Saturday and do homework…or even bring my sister when she is town.

Here’s the website for more info: cocoscupcakecafe.com

Check it out.  I will be here enjoying my cup of coffee and my Pumpkin cupcake.

There have been angels in my life.

There have been angels in my life.  While they have not arrived with a blast of trumpets or a rustle of wings, I have known them just the same.

Today, two of my angels are finally back together again…after five years of the far distance of heaven and earth between them.  They are in a peaceful embrace – the way they were here on earth, they will be for eternity.

Today I remember my angels…for the love they gave me…and the unconditional love they gave others.

Today I feel so far away.  In my sorrow, I find that a warm embrace is the best comfort…but being ten hours away, I find myself wishing for a consoling hug.  Instead, I am left with my thoughts to send out into the great void, which tonight seems larger.

So today, I send my thoughts of my angels out into the void.  I think of the way they have touched my life and the way I will always remember them.

Goodnight my angels.

1/6 of Grad School is Officially Over

This past week was (believe it or not) midterm and final week.  It is true, I am 1/6 of the way done with graduate school.  While I can attribute my “job well done” to my over-achiever, goody-two-shoes study habits, there were some things that helped make my first Mini painless.

Here are some goodies that I recommend.  Oh, and if you don’t know what a Mini is…it’s a 6-8 week semester where an entire 16 week course is crammed into that small amount of time.  I don’t like them.  Anyway…on with the goodies:

Musicovery (musicovery.com): Great site for free music…you can’t download, but you can choose your mood, or the genre of music you feel like listening to, and if a song ever comes on that you hate, you can block it forever.  I love it!

WebUrbanist (weburbanist.com): A great site for public art, architecture, and travel.  The most obscure stuff is here and WebUrbanist does an awesome way of writing about it.  My favorite is an eight-part article about the history of guerrilla marketing.  Check it out!

Miro (getmiro.com): Click it, download it, love it.  Free open source Internet TV.  I am addicted…I love the Discovery Channel and now I get it anywhere I am.  Miro=Love.

Honestly, I can’t take credit for “finding” these on my own.  I am not a full-grown geek, but I am afraid I may be one day.

Eat, Sleep, Homework (not necessarily in that order)

Ok, I know my program director and current students at the Heinz School told me that I would basically live in Hamburg Hall, but this is crazy! All of my days are 12+ hours of class and homework. My average wake up time is 6:15 in the morning, and my average bedtime is 12:15 in the morning. I literally eat and sleep homework. It’s sad that I look forward to a day without homework.

I want to make the statement that this is not a complaint…just a negative observation. The work I am doing is incredible. I am learning how to manage…how to lead…how to run an organization. And not even “just to get by,” but ethically, intelligently, and exceedingly better than anyone.

I had to write a lay off communication plan. I tell executives how a lay off plan is implemented throughout all levels of an organization. My professor stated, “This will probably be the hardest thing you will have to do as a manager, and believe me, you will all have to do it.” The real world application of my studies is invaluable.

Not one class stands alone. All of them integrate the same core values, concepts and ethics of how good leaders lead. I joke that my professors must have lunch together. In each class I attend, I gain more ways on applying this knowledge into all aspects of my management. It is truly amazing.

So, yes. I eat, sleep and do homework. So what if I look forward to a day with no homework? I love what I am learning…I love my program…and I love that I could have the potential of being a great leader one day…but mostly, I love being a student at the Heinz School.

A Tale of Two Apartments

Something very unexpected happened last week. The following is a day by day account of the events since my arrival in Pittsburgh last Saturday.

I was settled into my new apartment by Sunday night. By Tuesday I felt that it was a “home” and I was quite happy in my space.


I had orientation all day long at my graduate school. My mind was on the excitement of starting grad school and meeting all of my new peers. Wednesday brought the start of the drama.

I arrived at my new apartment to two notes taped on all residents’ doors. One was a letter from the Acting Chief of Pittsburgh’s Bureau of Building Inspection and the other was an announcement that the building was unfit to occupy. The letter from the Bureau of Building Inspection explained that, effective immediately, all residents of our building and the one next door needed to move out, or face a fine from the city of $1000.00. Also two of the violations were listed. The only words I understood were “construction” and “fire.” Awesome. The announcement listed only two numbers of contacts to call for help.

By the time I got home it was past 5pm. No contact information was listed on the letter from the Bureau of Building Inspection. So, I decided to call the two numbers listed on the other announcement. Calling the numbers proved to be no help. One referred me to a website, which said nothing. The other, which was the Red Cross, said they could not help.

The last thing I could think of to possibly get some answers…I called my roommate, who notified our landlord. Our landlord said he was working with the city and we were able to stay. So, we stayed.

We also learned that the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reported a story on the evacuation of the two apartments: http://www.post-gazette.com/pg/08135/881892-100.stm?cmpid=latest.xml

As well as KDKA news: http://kdka.com/local/Oakland.building.inspectors.2.724424.html and http://kdka.com/video/?cid=9


I still had orientation for grad school starting at 9am. Assuming I could remain in the apartment, I went to orientation like the other mornings.

Outside, reporters from the news stations waited for residents to come out. I was rushed by reporters and cameramen. I told them what I knew, and asked that my name not be used in reports and that I not be filmed and used for the news. The result was this: http://www.thepittsburghchannel.com/news/16271286/detail.html. On the news report, I was used on TV, but my name was changed to “Sarah Neilsen.”

Not fully believing the landlord, I knew I needed more information. I picked up the official document listing all of the violations in the two buildings. It was about 20 pages long. Each page was a new violation. There was no way we would be allowed to stay there.

My boyfriend suggested that I call the Bureau of Building Inspection to find out what exactly is going on. Together, from ten hours away from each other, we searched the city websites for people to contact. I ended up calling the city’s official office of the mayor and the chief of building inspection. From the conversation I had with a city building inspector, I learned the following:

  • The landlord was a liar.
  • We were not allowed to stay in the building.
  • The landlord knew of the violations since 2006 and of the warning of evacuation if the building was not fixed.
  • On Monday, the doors to the building would be chained, if needed.
  • Tenants have rights according to the Landlord/Tenant Act. He recommended that I read it.

Now knowing that my roommate and I would be homeless as of Monday, the panic set in about not knowing where to go. We needed to find an apartment that would house us immediately.

The people in the administrative offices at my grad school helped me in an initial search. They spent the afternoon searching, calling, contacting, and more searching. In the meantime, I called my roommate and she began her own search.

By that night, a supervisor of my roommate offered a duplex we could move into that night! We had somewhere to go…somewhere to live…somewhere to put our stuff. We were excited!

The excitement only lasted a few hours. The duplex was far from were we wanted to be…across the river and far up on a hill. The duplex was unbelievably dirty. It was inhabited a few days ago, and it was like the men still lived there. My roommate and I agreed that there was no way that duplex could be an option.

Back to square one.


That night, I did not sleep at all. At about 4am found a very distant wireless connection and searched craigslist. I began noting all available apartments. At 6am I went to a Panera and began looking up every realty company in the Pittsburgh area. By 9am I was hitting the phone and calling all of the numbers I wrote down.

Looking for an apartment on May 15 is near impossible. Leasing begins June 1, so there were not a lot of positive prospects. However, one contact offered my roommate and I an efficiency apartment now, then moving to a two bedroom apartment in the same building starting June 1. So, I made an appointment to meet the landlord and see the apartment.

The building was located on the north side of the current neighborhood we were in. It was in a great location and was an attractive building. As I was starting to feel better about the whole situation, a man shouted to me from across the street, “Are you looking for a two bedroom apartment? When you are done with him, you come and see me.” I responded with an “OK” and a thought of “OK, creep.”

Things did not get better from there. The landlord showed me an efficiency that made me wonder why my building was targeted by the Bureau of Building Inspection. This place was GROSS and it was FALLING APART! I had enough. I was heckled outside and shown the most awful apartment know in Pittsburgh. I hated the city, I hated landlords, I hated the fact I was supposed to starting grad school and I had to deal with this.

Determined to solve the problem, I called one more realty company, Lobos Management. I stated I was looking for an immediate move-in two bedroom apartment. The voice on the other end was familiar. He said, “Didn’t I tell you to come find me after you saw that other guy?” It was the “creep” from across the street! I could not believe it. I told him I just saw the worst apartment EVER, and I had enough of seeing crappy apartments and landlords taking advantage of me. After talking to him for a few moments, I agreed to meet him at an available two bedroom apartment. I left CMU and began another appointment/apartment viewing…but this time I expected the worst.

After seeing three GREAT apartments and many phone calls to and from my roommate, we agreed to sign the lease on the second one I viewed. It has new tiling, great light with so many windows, a big kitchen and living room…even living room furniture if we wanted.

The realtor was my savor. He was honest, kind, and answered everything openly. The only thing we needed to deal with in this new new apartment was the fact that there would not be electricity until Monday. Honestly, my roommate and I did not care…we had a roof for our head and an apartment that followed building codes.

We filled out all of the official paper work at the reality office. Once we had the keys in our hands and all the official stuff was done we stepped outside and for the first time in a week (it rained everyday of this ordeal), the sun came out. Everything seemed to be ok, and it was a great feeling.

My roommate and I had one more task that evening. We needed to attend a meeting with a lawyer who agreed to help the students caught up in the evacuation. As it turned out, all tenants of the two apartment buildings felt kicked when down, were frustrated and all noticed when the sun came out that evening. It’s funny how situations like this bring people together. It helped talking about everything with the student tenants…they knew exactly what we were going through.


I want to make the overview of these two days brief. The weekend was full of packing and unpacking. I had just completed this task the previous weekend…and I hated doing it. I just wanted to be settled.

My roommate, her boyfriend and two friends were amazing that weekend. People who just wanted to help out, just did with wanting nothing back in return. I had only known my roommate for a week, but it feels like we have known each other for a lifetime.


Our power was turned on Monday. In contrast, the plumbing in the bathroom did not work come Monday. We were with out water in our bathroom Monday and Tuesday. Everything works fine now. Thankfully.

I did a little research post-evacuation. It’s not much now that the drama is over. Here is what I found:


Mallory, Adam, Tyler, Dave, Mom, Matt, Jenny, Dad, Sean, Bob, Katy, Jerry, Rebekah, Dr. Bobbie, the lady at the bus stop with encouraging words, and the staff at PNC bank…

Pittsburgh is a great city with lots of caring people. Through this ordeal, I fell in love with the kindness the citizens have. Even though I felt cheated by landlords, the amount of help and support I received from people I only knew for a week or didn’t know at all was amazing.

Thanks to all of YOU.

CMU…here I come

Today was the big move…10 hours, 3 people, 1 truck, and about as much stuff that could possibly EVER fit into a Chevy Avalanche. We started the trip at about 5:00 in the morning. One more load to fit into the truck and a crappy cup of coffee later, my dad, my uncle and I were off.

Today is the day that the excitement of graduate school and moving to Pittsburgh set in. All the stress, anxiety and nerves went away and I finally felt what I should be feeling for such an adventure. Right now, I am running off of two hours of sleep and pure adrenaline. It’s a cool sunny morning in Wisconsin with the promise of 70 degree warm weather in Pittsburgh.

I finally feel like I am getting started on all the big plans that I have always talked about. I finally feel like I am not just talk when it comes to my future and my career. I always knew art was to be apart of my life, but to actually find that passion and drive in what I do for a living is one of the greatest feelings in the world. I just cannot express how incredibly and undoubtedly excited I am for this opportunity. This year will just be the greatest experience I could ask for…and I am totally going to take advantage of it.

So, CMU…here I come. Pretty sure I am ready to rock it’s world.

Getting Into Habits

I was told that I need to get into the habit…

Funny, even though I know with the looming job of graduate school is upon me and all of the prep that comes with it, I have been trying desperately to get out of habits. Packing has been awful. I have fell to materialism. I have so much stuff it’s just not even funny. Why do I need three sombreros? Why to I need ten nick-nacks from the same trip…will I remember it any differently? It’s just amazing how my habit of collecting clutter has grown.

I blame by habit of shopping. I love to buy. It doesn’t matter what. As long as it’s new, in my taste, and sparkles…I will have it in a shopping bag toting it home. I have been “trying” – with some success – to not buy. Shopping has become looking. How’s it going? It sucks – don’t ask me again.

Now, getting into habits…that has been on my mind ever since I first sent my application for grad school. I already knew that. In a matter of a week-and-a-half my habits are going to change drastically. I believe it will be automatic.

Getting into habits…only time will tell.

“So good night, dear void.”

There are a million questions I have about this next year of my life. Some are about the physical distance I am creating between my life in my hometown and my new life in Pittsburgh. Some are about my professional choices and future. And some are just about finding the nearest grocery store to my new apartment.

There are also a million things that I can be sure of. The most important being: How lucky I am to have people in my life to miss dearly when I am away. I will be sad…there is no getting around that. But, I am so lucky to feel that way. I am not running away, I am following a dream.

As for my questions, answers will come in time. I will just continue to send my thoughts, my worries, and my hopes of the future out into the void.

“So good night, dear void.”