Here, not home, for the holidays

Spare a moment during the hectic holiday season to think of Mario Hausdoerfer. He comes from Bavaria, where they do Christmas better than almost anywhere. And yet he will be here in Pittsburgh, selling his hand-blown glass ornaments. I spent some time with him this week…

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Mario Hausdoerfer of Haselbach, Germany, hangs glass ornaments from the ceiling of his Holiday Market chalet as dusk settles in Market Square Downtown. Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, Stephanie Strasburg

Few places do Christmas better than Germany, home of “O Tannenbaum,” wooden nutcrackers and vast holiday markets in every town square.

And, yet, Bavaria resident Mario Hausdoerfer, 41, will mark a 10th straight year an ocean away from the crackle of a Yule log in his own home fire.

That’s because the maker of hand-blown glass Christmas ornaments will be in America, where his wares are more rare and buyers are willing to pay a premium for artisan crafts.

He is among a half-dozen foreign vendors relocating to Pittsburgh for the next month to participate in the Peoples Gas Holiday Market in Market Square.

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Hausdoerfer will miss spending the holidays with his children, a daughter, 20, and son, 11, to work at his “Old German Christmas” chalet selling wares from Germany through the holiday. Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, Stephanie Strasburg

The market, which opens at 10 a.m. Nov. 23, has grown 250 percent larger since its inaugural season last year and features fresh Christmas trees for the first time, more vendors and Santa, of course. Every vendor from last year returned.

Hausdoerfer has put a lot on the line to be here: He and his wife, who traveled to the United States with him, will miss spending the holidays with their children, a daughter, 20, and son, 11.

But if he has to be away from home, he welcomed the idea of returning to Pittsburgh.

“I like the city, and I like the people,” he says. “So, that makes it easy to come back. The city was very friendly to me.” To read the rest of the story, click here.

Also, I made a video to run with the story that shows Drew Hine making glass snowmen at his South Side factory, Vessel Studio: Click here

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Real food. Real men.

Sure, the food was supposed to be a prop — but you can’t put breakfast in front of me and then tell me it’s not breakfast. Eat up! Even my calorie-conscious cohort got in on the action. Thanks to DeLuca’s in the Strip for supplying the authentic Pittsburgh background.

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And I’m not saying that DeLuca’s has to replace that old plaque on our seat with a new one…

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…but I’m pretty they will want to. There’s really no comparison…

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Right?

Donor Dilemma receives national recognition

The Association of Health Care Journalists is running a story this month about our investigative series on organ and tissue recovery, Donor Dilemma

Philip G. Pavely | Tribune-ReviewThe Center for Organ Recovery & Education in O’Hara uses these boxes to ship tissue to LifeNet Health. The Virginia Beach-based organization paid CORE $5.2 million in 2011 for tissue recovery.

Philip G. Pavely | Tribune-Review
The Center for Organ Recovery & Education in O’Hara uses these boxes to ship tissue to LifeNet Health. The Virginia Beach-based organization paid CORE $5.2 million in 2011 for tissue recovery.

Every reporter knows the stories that organ recovery nonprofits pitch to media outlets, about donors’ families receiving praise from recipients at annual events with flowers, medals and teary speeches.

The Pittsburgh Tribune-Review has covered these stories for years, often reporting some heartwarming stories of turning loss from death into life for someone else. But investigative reporters Andrew Conte and Luis Fabregas started wondering what happens at these organ procurement organizations the rest of the year.

The national investigation, “Donor Dilemma,” revealed that the nonprofits collected $1.2 billion in 2011 from recovering more than 80,000 organs, bones and other tissue. They paid top executives $320,000 a year on average and, in some cases, hired family members to work at their nonprofits. Other nonprofits rented a private jet, threw large retirement parties, bought Rose Bowl Tickets and held a retreat at a five-star oceanfront resort – with the federal government and taxpayers picking up part of the cost.

The only ones who cannot receive any money from this trade in human flesh and bone are the families of donors, blocked by a federal law that prohibits the transfer of anything of value for human parts. Too often, these families are struggling with medical bills and other expenses and don’t have enough money to pay for a funeral or a headstone.

You can read the rest of the story here.

Talk to strangers

Sometimes the best stories come from doing what your mother always told you not to do: Talking to strangers. PPNS reporter Joel Anderson and I were walking through Pittsburgh’s South Side this fall when we stopped to talk with a man picking up litter. Joel turned it into this article about one man’s Sisyphean obsession with cleaning up his neighborhood — and how others are helping out.

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Dressed in his Sunday best of khakis, a button-down shirt and a Habitat for Humanity hat, Adam Christian walks the streets of the South Side carrying a white bucket, red broom and dust-pan. Christian is doing his best to keep his neighborhood clean.

“I’m looking for any kind of honest work,” he said. “I have some spare time, so I’ve been pitching in and cleaning litter around the house, literally around the house – not in the house.”

For the residents of South Side, trash is an everyday problem. As soon as they make headway cleaning up the barrage of garbage, party crowds of 20,000 to 30,000 non-residents visit the area’s amenities, messing it all up again.

“I love the South Side,” Christian said. “I think it’s the greatest place I’ve ever lived. That’s why I try to help keep it clean.”

To read the rest of the story, click here.

A story that sings — or stings?

A few times in my teaching career I have come across a student’s story that sings to me. This is one of those times. I’m in love with this story by Akasha Chamberlain of the Point Park News Service, and I don’t care who knows it. Let me know whether you agree…

The secret life of a beekeeper

Beekeeper Mitch Markovich puts on his protective gear. Photo: Submitted.

Beekeeper Mitch Markovich puts on his protective gear. Photo: Submitted.

It was the 1970s in Aliquippa, and Mitch Markovich liked his Honda motorcycle and the two neighbor girls down the street, but he didn’t like bees.

The tiny black-and-yellow honey-makers scared him, but the Rogish sisters loved honey about as much as they liked riding on Markovich’s motorcycle, which is to say, quite a lot.

“’Well, if you’re going to marry any of my daughters, they like to eat honey; you’re going to have to keep bees,’” Markovich recalled the words of the girls’ father, Miles Rogish.

Begrudgingly, Markovich agreed to catch bees with the old well-digger the next time there was a swarm — thinking the old man would forget.

He didn’t.

Read the rest of the story by clicking here.

Brewer focuses on fresh, local

Steve Sloan serves patrons samples and sells growlers of concoctions such as “Polish Hill Pils” and “Jacked Up O Lantern Stout.” Photo: Lauren Dantella | Point Park News Service

Steve Sloan serves patrons samples and sells growlers of concoctions such as “Polish Hill Pils” and “Jacked Up O Lantern Stout.” Photo: Lauren Dantella | Point Park News Service

Pumpkin spice beers, the hoppiest IPAs and other creative concoctions are outdoing one another as the latest fad in the still-growing craft beer industry – but one local brewer isn’t buying it.

 “I just want to use quality ingredients to bring fresh, local beer to my neighborhood,” said Steve Sloan of Roundabout Brewery.

After working for 17 breweries around the world and winning numerous awards for his creations, Sloan created Roundabout Brewery in Lawrenceville, calling it a modest brewery with a New Zealand theme.

Despite his travels, Sloan said he doesn’t have hopes for world fame; his ambitions are based on his craft and his community.

Check out this latest Point Park News Service story by Lauren Dantella.

Cyber Bonnie & Clyde target banks online

The bank robbers drove around New York City for more than 10 hours, collecting some $2.4 million — from ATM machines. They posed for selfies with the cash.

The financial industry’s global electronic networks mean that banks are as secure only as their weakest computer links. A tech-savvy Bonnie or Clyde could exploit vulnerabilities to log into a bank’s computer systems from a distant country with little chance of getting caught and seemingly endless targets.  Andrew Russell | Tribune-Review

Banks are as secure only as their weakest computer links. A tech-savvy Bonnie or Clyde could exploit vulnerabilities. Andrew Russell | Tribune-Review

But the real theft took place earlier, 7,800 miles away in India. Hackers cracked into a financial outsourcing company there, resetting software to allow unlimited withdrawals and clearing the way for robbers to withdraw $40 million from ATMs worldwide.

Because of the financial industry’s global electronic networks, even the most secure institutions are as strong only as their weakest international computer links.

Check out the latest investigation in the Trib’s Cyber Rattling series on computer security.