The Rachel Carson Homestead - A Work in Progress

Julia is very interested in local history. Our part of the world is rich with pioneer living, coal, oil, and steel stories. We've visited the Drake Oil Well Museum, the Frick house, and Old Economy Village (that's a weird one). We toured the Hartwood Acres mansion and spent a lot of time at the Depreciation Lands museum. Each place has given a unique peek into the lives of the people that lived in our area during different eras.

For a long time, we knew that Rachel Carson (author of Silent Spring) was born in Springdale, PA. Springdale is a small town about twenty minutes from our house. It's in another school district, but the town plays host each summer to a sports day camp that's one of the best things Julia's ever done. As part of the camp, the kids visit the Rachel Carson Homestead. Julia has toured the homestead several times without us.

The Rachel Carson Homestead, Springdale, PA
We also have the Rachel Carson Trail, a 38.2 mile hiking trail that winds its way all around our community. In June, they have the Rachel Carson Trail Challenge which is a single day when a whole lot of people run or walk 34-miles of the trail. This is called doing "the Rachel" and I've set a lofty goal of never doing it. I once hiked about six miles of the trail with a friend. My quads ached for two months straight. I'm too weak for "the Rachel."

With all this Rachel Carson-age all around, I really thought she'd done something here.


She was born, attended college at what is now Chatham University, and moved to Maryland. This makes sense as she wrote about the ocean, something we can't see from Pittsburgh. Also, it was the advice of nearly all my college professors that you'd need to leave Pittsburgh to ever "be anything."


We visited the Rachel Carson Homestead yesterday for the first time as a family. Since we've already studied Rachel Carson quite a bit, there wasn't any new information given during our 60-minute docent led tour. It is interesting to imagine her childhood home as it must have been when she took to the outdoors to learn about wildlife with her mother. It was a humble beginning for a woman that would undertake to educate the whole world about the dangers of pesticides and nuclear proliferation.

The house was purchased by a school teacher in the 1930s and the Carson family took everything with them when they moved. Consequently, the farmhouse has only one artifact that was owned by Rachel Carson. The charity that now owns the house is working to fill it with period appropriate furniture.

One interesting feature we enjoyed was a short nature trail behind the house. It was a gloomy morning with a huge storm looming, but we took a quick lap on the loop where weatherproof signs highlight Rachel's writings and accomplishments.

This trail photo turned out a bit blurry in the low light before Saturday morning's storm.

The Rachel Carson Homestead is open on Saturdays during the summer and by appointment. The Rachel Carson Council has plans to restore the homestead by re-building its porch and returning the spring house pump to working order. I look forward to seeing what they do with the place in the future.

The 7.5 Year Kitchen Refresh

My kitchen was U-G-L-Y. It had no alibi. It was ugly.

Pinkish cabinets, pink Formica counter tops, horrible wall paper border... the list of offenses was long. The dirty white linoleum looked like the former owner was practicing to become a hibachi chef. It didn't look like they'd ever mastered the knife juggling.

I wanted a new, pretty kitchen, but our twelve-year-old house had lots of other needs when we took possession of it. We embarked on a lot of home improvement projects that kept me from doing much in the kitchen. For my own benefit, here's a list:

  • Patched walls and painted EVERY room in the house
  • Removed pink floral wallpaper from dining room
  • Patched dining room walls and painted
  • Removed wall paper, patched and painted half bath
  • New sink and toilet in half bath
  • New carpet in entire house
  • Installed asphalt driveway
  • Put a deck on the back of the house allowing the kitchen sliding door to be opened for the first time ever
  • Complete redo of the kid's full bath (except for the tub shower combo which is in decent shape)
  • New HVAC system
  • New roof
  • Replaced horrific half wall in entry way with a beautiful railing, painted the whole way up the two story entry way and put in a new chandelier
  • All new exterior lighting
  • Replaced floppy wood covering over the attic access with an actual door and an attic ladder
In the midst of doing all that (or hiring people to do it or having my dad work for free **thanks, Dad!**), I took down the kitchen wall paper border, patched and painted, put in new appliances, and painted the cabinets. I covered the plain sides of the cabinets and the center island with beadboard wallpaper. We put up a pot rack and changed out the fluorescent lights.

Paintable textured beadboard wallpaper is the most amazing thing ever!

It was still sort of ugly.

At the end of 2016, with nothing more pressing left to do house-wise, I was able to order new counter tops and finally fix the kitchen floor. The final baseboard touches on the island were put in place this summer.

Seven and a half years later, my kitchen is beautiful! It's really beautiful!

Dad removed another horrible Maronda half wall and built this amazing shelf
where I can hide so much junk!

I replaced two of the cabinet doors with these glass front ones.
The to-do list for DIY projects is getting short. So short, I think we can take some time and enjoy this kitchen. Do you think it will make my cooking better?

The Pittsburgh Vintage Grand Prix

The Pittsburgh Vintage Grand Prix held each summer in Pittsburgh's Schenley Park has been on our radar for many years. We hear, after the fact, that it happened and think: huh, we should go to that sometime. 

This year, in a new turn of events, we knew about the race BEFORE it happened. So we went for lunch and a day of looking at cars interspersed with watching fun classic race cars toss themselves through twisty wooded paths.

The center piece at our lunch table was a go cart tire.

The Grand Prix is free with parking fees ($20 to park somewhere by Phipp's Conservatory) and the International Car Show entry fee ($40) collected to support PVGP charities. We entered the car show and were directed to a parking spot on German Hill, one of the designated world areas. For the final weekend of the Grand Prix the whole 456-acre Bob O'Connor Golf Course is a giant car show.

The fitness tracker says I walked 3.5 miles. I'd estimate we saw about 1/3 of the cars in the show. After reaching the point of exhaustion, we decided to carry our chairs to the race course spectator area and watch some of the cars on their qualifying laps.

Tim determined that this forest path was a short cut to the Westinghouse Pond and track
viewing area. He was right. We only had to circumnavigate two snow fence blockades.
To quote Julia, "we look sketchy."

The Westinghouse Pond has a very fancy memorial to George Westinghouse.
I would have stopped to read about him but my feet hurt and I could see a shady
place to park my chair. I went there.

Young George Westinghouse, I presume?

George's pond is beautiful.

From (because I had no idea what this word meant or why it was everywhere):
"'The Cortile' is the Italian Car Show, at The Pittsburgh Vintage Grand Prix. In Italian "Cortile" translates into courtyard which is an appropriate name for our display of fine Italian macchina on the 18th fairway of the Bob O'Connor Golf Course at Schenley Park during the Pittsburgh Vintage Grand Prix."

Is that a Mini zipping down the road? I need a cheat sheet to identify cars, so I'm going to go ahead
and say that it is.
This was definitely the mother of all car shows. It was way more enjoyable than the Pittsburgh International Car Show held each February in the David L. Lawrence Convention Center. Events are happening all day today, July 16th, 2017 (8:30-5pm). Get out and look at some cars, Pittsburgh!

Julia and I posing while wearing hats.

Sports Apathy in the City of Champions

My husband and I used to be fans of the Pittsburgh Steelers. We both grew up in Washington County (south of the 'Burgh). We made an annual pilgrimage to training camp in Latrobe. We waived a Terrible Towel. We knew most of the roster.

In March of 2005, we had a baby. By the 2005 football season, she was six months old. We put her in our living room and tried to watch the games. She did not like anything that distracted us from giving her our full attention.

The following year, she was walking. We had to blockade the TV so she couldn't turn it off. We tried desperately to entertain her in the living room. She wanted to go in the play room. Eventually, I gave up the games and interest in the Steelers faded. Family time became precious and we lacked the fortitude to force our daughter into fandom.

Wearing her first Steelers apparel. Not watching the game.

All these many years later, I can name only one current Steelers' player. Julia has a collection of Steelers' t-shirts because her school will have black and gold day almost every Friday in the fall. My Terrible Towel is on a shelf with a discolored commemorative bottle of Heinz ketchup that marked the day Heinz Field was supposed to hold its first game. After the NFL games were cancelled that weekend due to 9/11, new ketchup bottles were released with the correct date. Someday I'll take that ketchup bottle on Antiques Roadshow.

Hockey and baseball never captured my interest. I no longer own any black and gold clothing. Occasionally, I check to see if any of the sports teams are playing in town in an effort to avoid traffic.

Our anti-fandom caused us to feel quite out of place when we visited the Fort Pitt Museum of all places. Just one week after the Stanley Cup victory parade, we assembled in the lobby of the museum for a docent led tour. The docent appeared ten minutes before the scheduled meeting time. She was dressed like a giant Stanley Cup.

I'm exaggerating.

But this woman, bubbling charm and enthusiasm, was wearing a floor length black skirt, a black long-sleeved Penguins shirt adorned with wide diamond cuffs on both wrists, and a shiny silver wide-brimmed hat with a homemade Stanley Cup champion ornament glued to the top. She mentioned the Pittsburgh Penguins fifteen times while we waited and started her presentation with a survey.

"Who here is a fan of the Stanley Cup Champion Pittsburgh Penguins?" She bounced with each syllable. Most of the museum guests raised their hands.

"Who here is a Steeler fan?" More hands raised.

"Who is a Pittsburgh Pirate fan?" Now every hand had gone up except for our three. Why didn't we just lie?

The docent spun toward us and asked, "so where are you from?"

"We're from Pittsburgh," I said. "We just don't follow the sports ball."

"That's all right," she says. "We love you anyway!"

The Fort Pitt Museum tour included a long discussion of the city's three sports teams including the controversy surrounding the Penguins change from blue and white jerseys to black and gold in 1980. Eventually we determined that nothing really happened at Fort Pitt, but it's a great place to wander around before a Pirate game. That must have been what George Washington* had in mind.

The docent's enthusiasm might have spurred some return to interest sporting world. She was ecstatic for her team and the camaraderie and all, but I don't miss having my well being tied to the performance of a group of highly compensated sportsmen.

For all the talk of a shared pursuit that helps humanity put differences aside, there's a very dark undercurrent of despair. Especially for the Steeler fan. A local radio station used to call it "Steelers Schizophrenia." The mood in an office on Monday morning is directly related to the performance of the team on Sunday. I recall being in the dumps for weeks after the Steelers lost in the final minutes of an AFC Championship game against the Colts. Sure it's great when they win, but the losses are brutal.

That shared humanity is fickle too. When someone finds out I'm from Pittsburgh, they're afraid to tell me they're from Cleveland. Or Baltimore. Or Dallas. When did it become okay to have these built in rivalries that show us who to hate? I'm not even sure which cities the Penguins have issues with. Maybe all of Canada?

And so I persist in passive pride for our City of Champions. My happiness isn't tied to their victory. Game time gives us a fine window of people-free grocery shopping, park strolling, and any other activity that's not tied to a television. In this case, apathy is a good thing.

*George Washington visited but did not build Fort Pitt. I did pay attention on our tour!