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PGH: field trips & activities (the list!)

31 Dec

A working list of things to do (that you might haven’t tried yet) around Pittsburgh!

Pure Pittsburgh

  • Klavon’s Ice Cream Parlor

http://klavonsicecream.com/

Located in Pittsburgh’s Strip District, Klavon’s is an authentic 1920’s Art Deco soda fountain/ drugstore. Everything in the building is original—you really feel like you stepped back in time.  Sit at the bar and order your favorite ice cream soda and then pick out some penny candy.

  • Pittsburgh Penguins open practice

If you like hockey, you know how expensive it can be to take your whole family to a game. For the last two years, the Pittsburgh Penguins have held “open practices” at the Consol Energy Center. Fans can come to the Consol and watch the Penguins practice for free. It’s a nice event, and a real treat to see all your favorite Penguins skating.

Shopping

  • Baldinger’s

http://www.baldingerscandy.com/

About an hour’s drive north of Pittsburgh lies the small hamlet of Zelionople, PA. Take your kids to an old fashioned candy store located right outside of the city, Baldinger’s Foods From All Nations. Check out the amazing candy selection and then the old timey way the clerks ring you up (the register won’t tally more than $9.99 at a time!) A really fun thing for the kids to do.

If you’re out and about on a weekend, check out a movie at The Strand Theater after your trip to Baldinger’s. The Strand is an historic theater in the heart of Zelionople. http://www.thestrandtheater.org/

Take cash.

  • Esther’s Hobby Shop

http://www.esthershobby.com/

Located in the heart of Millvale, PA, Esther’s is a wonderful little hobby shop. The owner is always available, friendly, and helpful. Although they specialize in HO gage trains, there are all sorts of cool kits and models for kids and adults.

After you’re done here, hop across the street to Pamela’s for lunch (Michelle Obama ate here!) and then over to Jean Marc Chatellier’s authentic French bakery  http://jeanmarcchatellier.com/  for some dessert. Round out your visit with a visit to the Attic Record Store http://atticrecordstoreinc.com/ for some old vinyl.

Random

Don’t ask. Just try it. Read all about it here.

I’m lucky enough to have a neighbor who puts up a rink every winter. More and more people are giving this a shot. It’s a great way to keep the kids busy during long cold winters.

Outdoors

  • Butler Farm tour

http://www.visitbutlercounty.com/festivals-events/agricultural-festivals/butler-county-farm-tour

Every September, farms across Butler open their doors to the public for an insider’s peek into how they work. In the past, participating farms have included a dairy farm, a wild game bird farm, and a working alpaca farm. Wonderful trip for a fall day, and the best part is: it’s free.

  • Allegheny County Outdoor Ice Rinks

http://www.alleghenycounty.us/parks/fees/skate.aspx

Beginning right around Thanksgiving, Allegheny County opens their outdoor ice rinks in North Park and South Park. My family and I go to North Park’s rink just about every winter weekend. It’s so nice to skate outside in the crisp air, right next to North Park Lake, especially with a light snow falling. The rates are very affordable and the buiding is an awesome retro 1960’s throwback.

Learn to bait a hook and take the kids fishing. Pack a lunch and your lawn chairs. Even if you don’t catch anything, you’ll have a good time.

Music/Entertainment

  • Hartwood Acres Free Summer Concert Series

http://www.alleghenycounty.us/parks/hwfac.aspx#events

Every Sunday during the summer months, the county hosts free concerts at Hartwood Acres and South Park. It’s great way to unwind after a hectic summer weekend. Lots of families, kids, Frisbee games, dogs, and a nice vibe in general. Always an eclectic mix of music and entertainment, we look forward to Sunday nights in the summer.

  • North Washington Rodeo

http://www.nwvfd.com/rodeo/

Since 1959, every third week of August, the small town of North Washington, PA has turned into the “Rodeo Capital of the East.” About an hour’s drive north of Pittsburgh, you can watch bull riding, calf roping, barrel racing and all other sorts of fun rodeo events. Food is cheap and good, and everyone is friendly. It’s a real American experience that’s a short drive from home. You can buy chances to win a live steer, pig, and pony. If you win and can’t bring it home (what, no barn!?)…no problem. Your prize also has an auction value that you can sell right back for the cash.

  • Pirate games

The kids don’t care that they stink and the tickets are always available and relatively cheap. Swing for the “All You Can Eat Tickets.” These tickets include admission in addition to unlimited amounts of hot dogs, hamburgers, popcorn, peanuts, pop, nachos, and ice cream for the duration of the game. The cost for the unlimited “stuff your face experience” starts at about $40. Regular tickets start at $10 for adults and $6 for kids. http://pittsburgh.pirates.mlb.com/pit/ticketing/ayce_seats.jsp

Education

  • FIRST Robotics Competition

http://www.pittsburghfirst.org/

When I attended this robotics competition a couple years ago, I couldn’t help but think, “I wish they had this when I was a nerd!” A robotics competition complete with pumping music from a DJ, professional lighting, electric vibe, and kids from all over the United States and Canada. High School teams compete at the University of Pittsburgh’s Peterson Event Center for a chance to participate at the national competition. The high schoolers are given their robotic challenge in January and are given only two months to complete a robot that can complete the challenge tasks. This is a great opportunity to see truly gifted young adults.

  • Zoo classes

http://www.pittsburghzoo.org/Education/ChildAndFamilyPrograms

The Pittsburgh Zoo and PPG Aquarium is always a big hit with kids. Since the zoo is open mostly every day of the year, we like to go on colder days (when the animals are more active) or overcast/rainy days (when there are no crowds!) The zoo offers great classes and often give participants a chance to get close up with some special animals, maybe even pet them!

  • Libraries

http://www.clpgh.org/

Pittsburgh offers a wonderful library system with access to interlibrary loans between almost every Carnegie and most suburban branches. There are always programs available for all ages. Check out the beautiful Carnegie locations, especially the main library in Oakland and the Homestead branch, which also hosts concerts in a lovingly restored theater.

History

  • Soldiers and Sailors Hall (Oakland section of Pittsburgh)

http://www.soldiersandsailorshall.org/index.html

Great place for the military history buff (and budding military history buff). Wonderful exhibits feature both a national and Pittsburgh-centric view of the military history of the United States. After your visit inside, the kids can hang from the cannons out front, then walk a block down the street and get some of “world famous” “O” French fries.

  • The Old Stone House (Slippery Rock, Pennsylvaia)

http://oldstonehousepa.org/

Special activities planned all year round. Try to check out the fronstierman/woman rendezvous and military re-enactment weekends. Lovingly curated by staff and volunteers from Slippery Rock University, experience a step back in time with unprecedented access to an historical gem of a building.

  • Heinz History Center

http://www.heinzhistorycenter.org/c

Built in the shell of an old ice house, the Heinz Hisotry Center is the  premiere western Pennsylvania history museum. Highlights include hands on exhibits for kids, stellar permanent exhibits, and world class traveling exhibits. Don’t miss the Special Collections section which is really like stepping into a well organized and super cool attic housing Pittsburgh history.

Long Weekend Trips

  • Oil Creek and Titusville Railroad

http://octrr.org/

Over 150 years ago, many small towns north of Pittsburgh were booming with the spoils of the oil industry. After the first successful us of a drilling rig, oil towns popped up all over northwestern Pennsylvania from the 1850’s into the early 20th century. This train trip takes a rider back in time, and gives a history lesson about a time when the back woods were littered with boom towns.

The train runs through the beautiful Pennsylvania woods, most notably Oil Creek State Park, and boasts of having the only working Railway Post Office. Riders can enjoy the trip from the comfort of the antique rail cars, or bike half of the trip and then pack their bike on the rail cars for the second half of the trip back to the station.

If you go and want to stay the night, you can stay in the railroad’s Caboose Motel: http://octrr.org/caboosemotel.htm. Stay in one of the 21 refurbished caboose cars (with all the amenities of a regular hotel room). The train offers seasonal trips such as a fall foliage tour, murder mystery trips, and rides with Santa and the Easter Bunny.

  • Toronto, Canada

It helps to have relatives here, but I would love this city, regardless. Border rules have changed, so a birth certificate is no longer adequate to cross over the border. I would suggest a passport card for the kids if you’re driving. It’s a cheaper alternative to a passport, but will only work when driving across the border. Check out Niagra Falls and the Hockey Hall of Fame. It’s such a wonderful city, and it’s only about 5 hours from Pittsburgh.

  • Washington, D.C.

A great destination trip to take with kids. We stay outside of the city for deeply discounted hotels (relative to staying in downtown DC). Plus, having to take the metro everywhere adds a bit of fun to anything. The key is to try not to do too much. For a two night, one day trip, pick one “must see” location and let the rest fall into place. You’ll always find interesting things to see, and won’t be disappointed.

  • Wheeling Nailers Game

http://www.wheelingnailers.com/

As I mentioned before, taking the whole family to a Pittsburgh Penguins hockey game can be expensive. However, for much less, you can drive to Wheeling WV (about an hour and a half away) and catch a Wheeling Nailers game. The Nailers are the ECHL affiliate team for the Pittsburgh Penguins. The team offers some really great deals for a family, and you can catch a game and stay overnight for under $150.

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Spooky Halloween Soup!

30 Oct

Leaves are falling, the sweet smell of burning wood is making its way up chimneys and wafting throughout the neighborhood, the kids are all hopped up on sugar from the 17 parties they have attended while dressed up as giant hot dogs: yup, must be Halloween time.

Along with Halloween comes the beginning of soup season. Soup season is a frame of time that runs concurrently between the months of October and March. Not that soup can’t be enjoyed outside of soup season, but it seriously helps.

Why not make some chicken noodle soup and add a special little touch for Halloween: spooky cutout dumplings.

Start with a basic broth. I boiled a few chicken breasts in a pot with bouillon, carrots and onions. Next add some noodles. Barilla makes these cool little noodles like the kind you find in those little Mrs. Grass chicken soup boxes.

Next make the dumplings. I put 6 eggs, 3 cups of flour, salt, and some Italian seasoning into a food processor and mixed using the dough hook. Add flour until you get a piece of dough you can easily roll out. You don’t need a food processor for this step, but it definitely helps.

After you make the dumpling dough, roll it out onto a floured surface (to about 1/4 inch thickness).

Next, you’ll need some miniature cookie cutters. These cutters are also used to cut decorative pieces for pie crusts. I used ghosts for this particular soup. If you don’t have cutters, you can cut a few out by hand, but it’s not going to be easy.

After you cut a bunch of ghouls out, put them into the boiling soup.

We also put the “extra” dumplings parts into the soup (the large “holey” pieces left over from cutting out the little dumpling shapes) and pull them out to eat separately. My kids especially love to eat these pieces (see below).

Let the dumplings boil for about 2 minutes; they’ll be done when they float to the top of the soup.

The kids really enjoyed helping to make the little ghost cutouts and they loved to eat the finished soup. This “spooky” soup would be a nice dish to serve at a little Halloween get together for friends and family or a meal for the kids before trick-or-treating.


Enjoy your spooky Halloween soup!

Give a kid a fish and he can eat, teach a kid to fish: you have attained a state of zen yet to be described

23 May

I come from a family of avid fishers (Not of the weasel family. And “fisherpeople” just sounded like an extinct humanoid species found in a dried up lake bed in Montana, so I’m rolling with fishers, kay?). I grew up hearing great fishing stories from my dad about his fishing trips with my grandfather. And by fishing stories, I want to be clear that these stories had absolutely NOTHING to do with fish size, and most of the time were not even about the act of fishing itself.

The very awkward 1980’s looking author: very proud of her trout

They were some of the stories that helped me to delineate (at an early age) 1. what I think is funny 2. what is considered horribly wrong and 3. how sometimes horribly wrong things can be very funny. For example, a family favorite story was when my dad was fishing with my grandfather, and my dad’s line got snagged. Now when you’re 8-years-old and you think that your line is stuck in a bush/tree/unknown brush pile, it is normal for that kid to pull on that line AS HARD AS HE CAN to get it unstuck. The only problem was that my dad’s line was connected to my grandfather’s neck. Horrible: yes. Hilarious: yes. Sorry, it’s just how things evolved for me. But fishing is how my family has spent a lot of time together through many, many generations and years.

I’ve fished my whole life. One time, my friend Amy and I went to a little pond around our camp in Clarion County, PA where I used to fish as a kid. A sweet honey hole of a place, tucked into the back 40 of a farm. We drove for miles and miles and then started down the long dirt road to the pond. We passed the old farmhouse and furiously waved at the family that lived there who were out in the yard. Since I hadn’t really known them well from my childhood, I just figured since they waved back, they remembered me and everything was cool. We settled into their canoe, fished for the afternoon, caught some trout for dinner, and then headed back to the camp. When we came back to the camp we told my dad about our awesome day of fishing. My father broke the news to us: the people we knew who owned that farm hadn’t lived there for years. So since I’m sure they’re reading this, I’d like to take this opportunity to thank the landowners that let those two crazily waving and friendly girls drive to their pond, jump into their canoe, and have a great day of fishing. Thanks again, that was awesome. Here’s a shot of Amy after that day.

Amy very proud of her fish; also, dinner.

Now that I have kids of my own, I’ve made it one of my jobs to teach them about fishing. Not just about the sport (baiting, setting a hook, casting, and in most cases, releasing) but about the experience (keeping your gear organized, packing light, bringing snacks, leaving your fishing spot better than how you found it, sitting peacefully, and respecting the quietness of the outdoors). Now I have three kids between the ages of 3 and 8. I take them all with me every time I go, which is fairly often as I have a county park with three great lakes within 5 minutes of my house. This is something I do without my husband, he hasn’t the patience or the desire. It’s our time: me and my boys, and it is my favorite time.

Paulie in a state of zen, thinking about where his 4 opened root beers are.

What I’m learning is that taking a child fishing is really not about the child at all, it’s not even about fishing. If you take a kid fishing, you will not do one thing for yourself. and I mean that sincerely. You will completely give yourself over to something else, and most importantly somebody else.

Aside from all that squishy stuff, you’re going to create great memories and garner some funny stories of your own, for posterity’s sake. A few weeks ago I took the boys out to the lakes. It began raining torentially. My three-year old decided to run away from me, around the lake. Now, normally, this is not a big deal. But he has become FAST and I was after him in hot pursuit, and I was losing miserably. To add insult to injury, the men who were fishing across the lake began shouting “Run Mummy, RUN!!” ala Forrest Gump. Now that I look back, yep, that was both horrible and hilarious. So, to those guys who, again, are surely reading this blog, thanks for that. It didn’t strike me as funny when it was happening, and the joke was about 10 years too late, but, yeah, I’ll give you some funny points in hindsight. But guess what, I win. I’m a wicked-cool mummy who takes her boys fishing.

The one “who got away” ala Forrest Gump. Glo Bait is also great for a toddler’s lunch.

So, in short, let me prepare you for a day of fishing with your children:

  • Children change bait like James Brown changed outfits. This is approximately 30 times; you will be responsible for most of the hooking and unhooking.
  • They will be able to cast out after the first year, but expect lots of snags. Sometimes they will bring you rods/lines that are so enmeshed that you just have to cut all the lines and start over. You’re not Houdini; don’t try to be.
  • They will all of a sudden begin acting as if they have just ended a 40 day Master Cleanse and will demand copious amounts of food and beverages. Factor in about 25 minutes of just opening pop cans and chip bags.
  • When they get bored, they will entertain the possibility of catching a duck and ask accordingly. (Answer: no)
  • Don’t think that you will be able to cast your own rod out and fish. Your main job is to ensure that your youngest child does not a.)  jump into the lake or b.) throw his rod into the lake (too many times.)
  • Just remember that you are there, there is nothing else going on, and you are all together.

If you can take three kids fishing, you can seriously do anything. Really, you should try it, just make sure you have some good running shoes.

Carmie very proud of catching some type of kelp-like water vegetation.

Fun stuff for the weekend: Pittsburgh style

11 Mar

My Birthday

Saturday, March 12

All day event.

I am one of the few people who actually admit to enjoying their birthday. What’s NOT to like? I get presents, people are nice or NICER to me, and I get to go to a Pens game every year. Boom.

Also, today is the day that fellow Pisces Jack Kerouac was born, so have a drink for us. So help me God, if it is green…(see below)

Pens vs. Montreal home game

Saturday March 12, 2011 @ 2:00 PM

I’ll see YOU in the beer line.

Pens vs. Oilers home game

Sunday March 13, 2011 @ 3:00 PM

Saint Patrick’s (Amateur) Day / Downtown Parade

You’re on your own here. I have never been able to, and still can’t, *stand* Saint Patrick’s Day celebrations. Don’t even get me started on green beer. And beads. Ugh.

Pittsburgh Regional FIRST Robotics Competition

When: March 10-12

Time: 9:00 AM – 4:30 PM

Web: http://www.pittsburghfirst.org/

Price: FREE

Where: Peterson Events Center, University of Pittsburgh campus in Oakland

Last year, my friend was a mentor to a high school team competing in the 2010 FIRST Robotics Competition. I took my kids to last year’s event because it was a dreary late winter day, the kids were itching to get out, and I thought they would like to see some robots. I never expected how much fun this event would be. At one point, I said to myself: “Why didn’t they have stuff like this when *I* was a nerd in high school?”

Some footage from last year:

Whether you are a nerd or not (come on, we all are in SOME way), the FIRST Robotics Competition is an entertaining way to spend a day, especially with kids. There is the hustling and bustling of activity in a great venue, lots of people from around the region, a cool DJ playing loud music, and cheering…for robots. Well, and for the really cool kids (and adults) that put these robots together.

The premise: a high school team is given just 6 weeks to construct and program a 120-lb robot to complete various tasks (that change every year). There are teams of high schoolers from 8 states and Canada competing in the Pittsburgh regional to go to the national competition.

The following description of the 2011 challenge, LogoMotion, is taken from http://www.pittsburghfirst.org/frc/

“LogoMotion is played by two competing alliances on a flat 27’ x 54’ foot field. Each alliance consists of three robots each. They compete to hang as many inflated plastic shapes (triangles, circles, and squares) on their grids as they can during a 2 minute and 15 second match. The higher the teams hang their game pieces on their scoring grid, the more points their alliance receives.

The match begins with one 15-second Autonomous Period in which robots operate independently of driver inputs and must hang Ubertubes to score extra points. For the rest of the match, drivers control robots and try to maximize their alliance score by hanging as many logo pieces as possible. Any logo piece hung on the same peg as an Ubertube receives double points. If teams assemble the logo pieces on their scoring grids to form the FIRST logo (triangle, circle, square, in a horizontal row in that order), the points for the entire row are doubled.

The match ends with robots deploying minibots, small electro-mechanical assemblies that are independent of the host robot, onto vertical poles. The minibots race to the top of the pole to trigger a sensor and earn additional bonus points.”

Have some lunch at The O and head on over to the Pete. It’s a great way to spend a March weekend in Pittsburgh!


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