Category: New PGH Family Fun

New PGH Family Fun: Hike It Baby Pittsburgh

Nadine Champsi

Nadine Champsi

I am a doctor turned write-at-home-mom who runs the Pittsburgh Mommy Blog and is editor of Kidsburgh. I have two wonderful young children and am happily married. My interests include cooking, green-living, gardening, being in the outdoors, listening to great music, checking out the city's cool art, coming up with creative things to do with my kids, and having as many adventures as I can!
Nadine Champsi
Caitlin&Henrietta
Caitlin Venczel of Hike It Baby Pittsburgh

In the dead of last winter, I got an email that reminded me of sunshine and springtime. “Want to go on a hike with your kids and some other Pittsburgh parents?” the sender wrote. A hike? In the winter? Although I love to hike a lot, I hate cold more…so I declined. But I was intrigued. Who was this adventurous soul leading hikes with kids in the most challenging of seasons?

Shortly afterwards I learned that the email came from Caitlin Venczel, a fun and energetic Pittsburgh mom who recently started the Hike It Baby Pittsburgh group. An archeologist by training, Caitlin is now a stay-at-home mom to her young daughter. Like many of us, her professional path definitely changed directions after having her daughter–but not her archaeologist’s spirit of adventure. She is determined to unite Pittsburgh families through free, inclusive, kid-friendly hiking in the city, woods, museums and basically anywhere else that curiousity takes them. And I love the idea. Not only is she helping families connect with each other and our beautiful city, she’s also helping them get outdoors and lead healthier lifestyles.

I recently had the chance to interview Caitlin about Hike It Baby Pittsburgh. Here’s what I found out:

What is Hike It Baby Pittsburgh? 

Hike it Baby (HIB) is a new parents group focused on getting families outside and active. Hiking with babies and children comes with a different set of challenges and because everyone that you’re hiking with is in the same situation, it’s a very supportive environment. We have a motto – leave no mama (or papa, or baby, or anyone for that matter) behind. We’ve got you.

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What sorts of hikes do you do? 

We do all kinds – gorgeous trail hikes, urban hikes, fast-paced hikes for parents wanting some catch-your-breath exercise, slower-paced toddler or kid-led hikes and many more. We’re also hoping to get bike rides organized, as well as swim outings, Jog it Baby, Hike it Baby picnics and maybe even a camping trip!

We try to hike all over the city and beyond. Of course, we frequent Pittsburgh’s many spectacular city parks. We’ve done riverfront hikes, hikes in the north and the south and segments of popular trails like the Rachel Carson trail, the Montour Trail and the Three Rivers Heritage Trail. If there’s a trail, we’ll hike it! And even if there’s not. Does walking in the Strip and sampling food count as hiking? In my book, yes.

What are the lengths of hikes? Difficulty levels?

Our hikes are rated as green/easy, blue/moderate or black/difficult. What might be a black for a super serious hiker (summiting mountains or hiking the Appalachian Trail) is very different than what we consider a black. We rate our hikes using a newly postpartum mama as our baseline. How would a mama joining us with a six week old feel about doing this hike? We want to make our hikes accessible to everyone!

They are all posted to our website’s Hike it Baby calendar where we also have wonderful information regarding the trail (length, location, level, etc.), whether strollers will work, if it’s good for little toddling legs or if strong walkers are recommended for that particular trail. It also has information on if bathrooms/changing tables are available, if dogs are welcome on the trails and many other details. We try to be very clear on the hike level and exactly what to expect on the trail so you’re able to make the best decision for yourself and your family about going on a hike.

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When are your hikes held?

Right now we have about three to four hikes a week but I’d love to see that increase. As for hike times, we try to have hikes at different times during the week and on the weekend to accommodate different schedules. Sometimes the hike time is dictated by the weather. For instance, in the winter we tried to hike during the warmest part of the day and in the summer we’ll start pushing the hikes earlier to avoid the mid-day heat. Even with weather restrictions, there’s still room for variation.

How much does it cost to be a part of Hike It Baby? 

Hike it Baby is 100% free. Our hikes are always free and will always be free. The only time something may cost is if parking has a fee, or if we visit Phipps or the Zoo and they have an entrance fee. And if that is the case, it is clearly marked on the Hike it Baby calendar so there are no surprises.

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Is this group just for moms?

Everyone is welcome on Hike it Baby hikes. We say “mom, dad, nanny, and granny” are welcome, and more! And so far, we do see a great mix of the whole family coming out to hike. We tend to see more moms hiking solo during the week, but on the weekends it’s much more of a mixed crowd.

Why did you start Hike It Baby Pittsburgh? 

After I had my daughter Henrietta in July 2014, I was looking around for a hiking group that was baby/kid-friendly. It’s super intimidating (or at least it was for me) to get out and go hiking with a baby, let alone doing it by myself. I wanted to go with a group, but one that would understand if my baby was having a cry or needed to stop to eat or had a diaper situation on the trail. I also couldn’t find anything that had hikes that were free and happened as often as I wanted to get out.

I was just about to start a Meet-up group when I stumbled onto the national Hike it Baby program. It was serendipity! We found out about Hike it Baby in October 2014, talked about the fact that if we started the Pittsburgh branch immediately then we’d have to hike through the winter and decided to go for it! I’m so glad we did because Hike it Baby has already had a major impact on our lives. We’re getting regular exercise and seeing results (yay!), we’ve met amazing people, and we’ve seen this AWESOME community start to form. I see so much support happening on the trail between parents – it’s pretty powerful.

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After interviewing Caitlin it was clear to me that she has superpowers. A baby? Organizing three to four hikes per week? Trekking all over the city? I was impressed by her energy and passion.

It also became clear to me that she’s a very innovative thinker. Hike It Baby Pittsburgh redefines the traditional weekday AM, mom-only playgroup. I like to think of it as a 21st century version–where dads (and other caregivers) are welcome, where health is a priority and where we never lose our sense of adventure–even after our babies join the family!

Interested in becoming a part of Hike It Baby Pittsburgh or learning more? Join their Facebook group page or see their calendar of upcoming hikes.

New PGH Family Fun: Pittsburgh Mills Sky Trail

Nadine Champsi

Nadine Champsi

I am a doctor turned write-at-home-mom who runs the Pittsburgh Mommy Blog and is editor of Kidsburgh. I have two wonderful young children and am happily married. My interests include cooking, green-living, gardening, being in the outdoors, listening to great music, checking out the city's cool art, coming up with creative things to do with my kids, and having as many adventures as I can!
Nadine Champsi
New Pittsburgh Mills Sky Trail, Photo courtesy of Sky Trail LLC
New Pittsburgh Mills Sky Trail, Photo courtesy of Sky Trail LLC

I recently took my kids to see Paddington (great movie btw!) at The Galleria at Pittsburgh Mills in Tarentum. While wandering around the mall prior to the movie, we happened upon a massive construction project in the Food Court. It looked like the beginning phases of a roller coaster or a floor-to-ceiling jungle gym or something equally as alluring. Curious, I went home and did some googling. I was excited to discover that the Pittsburgh Mills will soon be home to a kid-friendly indoor 32-foot aerial adventure ropes course! I managed to connect with Lori Gunthorp, the project’s marketing manager and got some of my questions answered. Here’s what she had to say:

Can you tell me more about this new attraction?

The new attraction is called Sky Trail® Explorer and is an all-ages adventure course owned and operated by Sky Trail, LLC. The  attraction includes two levels. The first is called the Sky Trail, which is a 32-foot high course with 30 elements including rope ladders and cargo nets to climb, a zig-zag beam to balance on, a plank to jump off and a zip line to slide on. Participants are able to choose their own path through the course while going at their own pace with the ability to pass other participants at each platform. Participants must be at least 48 inches to use Sky Trail alone, or 42 inches if accompanied by a parent.

There is also a scaled version of the full course called Sky Tykes, which is designed specifically for children less than 48 inches tall. The platforms are less than 3 feet from the ground allowing the young adventurers to traverse the elements at a comfortable height. Any walking child can use this course and parents can follow alongside.

Is it safe?

Each participant is outfitted with a full body harness and sling line. The sling line is inserted into an overhead track and allows the participant to traverse each element by walking, balancing or climbing. The overhead tracking system prevents participants from disconnecting their sling line from the course at any time. The sling line is inserted into the track before they leave the ground and it cannot be unhooked from the system until they are back on the ground. Training is not required to use the course, but certified course operators go over the rules with each visitor before they participate.

What’s the cost?

The cost for the Sky Trail is $14 per person and the Sky Tykes is $7. There is also a 10-percent discount on groups of 10 or more.

What will be the hours of the new course?

The new course will open sometime in April. Although the opening date has not been announced, there will be a special event on this day so please check the Facebook page regularly for more information on it. After opening day, the adventure course will be open during regular mall hours, which are 10-9pm on Monday-Saturday and 12-6pm on Sundays.

What is the idea behind this course? Why is it a good activity for families?

The Sky Trail is a unique and fun activity for all ages and parents can partake in it right alongside their children. It’s also a great activity for families looking to stay healthy and active, even when they can’t be outside because of weather or other reasons.

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Seems like the Pittsburgh Mills Sky Trail might be a cool new addition to the indoor play scene here in Pittsburgh–especially during the cold weather months when I’m always looking for ways to help my kids burn off some energy!

New PGH Family Fun: Half-Pint Prints at The Andy Warhol Museum

Nadine Champsi

Nadine Champsi

I am a doctor turned write-at-home-mom who runs the Pittsburgh Mommy Blog and is editor of Kidsburgh. I have two wonderful young children and am happily married. My interests include cooking, green-living, gardening, being in the outdoors, listening to great music, checking out the city's cool art, coming up with creative things to do with my kids, and having as many adventures as I can!
Nadine Champsi

Our family was lucky enough to receive a Carnegie Museums of Pittsburgh membership as a gift last fall. Since then, we’ve been popping into the Natural History Museum and the Science Center at least a few times per month. But The Andy Warhol Museum? The Andy Warhol Museum has been the black hole of our Carnegie Museums membership. Although my husband and I always talk about of having a romantic date night at The Warhol, it has been an elusive dream. We can’t find babysitters. Our kids get sick. Netflix becomes too tempting. For some reason, we have never even considered bringing our kids to the museum with us. Until now!

I recently learned that The Andy Warhol Museum has named 2015 as “The Year of the Family” with a specific goal of making the museum an increasingly family-friendly place to visit. Patrick Moore, deputy director of the Warhol says, “The Warhol knows that many young people are moving into Pittsburgh along with their children, creating a period of growth for the city. These young families might not think of The Warhol or other art museums as a comfortable environment to bring children. The Warhol thinks that these families represent a growth audience for the museum and we know from experience that children actually love Warhol’s work.”

As a part of the “Year of the Family” The Warhol is launching a new weekend program for young children and their caregivers called Half-Pint Prints. I recently had the chance to interview Nicole Dezelon, assistant curator of education at The Warhol about Half-Pint Prints and here’s what she had to say:

 

Half-Pint Prints, Photo courtesy of The Andy Warhol Museum
Half-Pint Prints, Photo courtesy of The Andy Warhol Museum

What is Half-Pint Prints?

The Andy Warhol Museum is introducing Half-Pint Prints, a monthly silkscreen printing activity for families with children ages 1-4 years old. This drop-in studio program happens on the first Saturday of each month from 10 a.m. to noon. It is free with admission and the first program will be held on March 7. During Half-Pint Prints, children will create silkscreen prints that often complement current exhibits at the museum. In the first session, kids will be creating alphabet prints in honor of the Someday is Now: The Art of Corita Kent special exhibit.

 

Who will be leading the program?

The programs are led by museum educators, who are working artists who bring their own practice, innovative ideas and experiences to the interpretation of Warhol’s art. Children will learn basic silkscreen printing techniques, using silkscreens prepared by museum educators.

 

Why did the Andy Warhol Museum decide to start this program?

The program is part of a larger museum initiative that focuses on the theme “Year of the Family” in 2015. In addition to these family-friendly art-making activities, the museum will be offering performances, programs and gallery installations for families throughout the year. 2015 will also be the first year we’re offering Summer Camps for children ages 8–13. We hope kids will explore the museum at these camps and then bring their families back! We will be adding programming throughout the year in our galleries and in our underground education space. Check our calendar often as we update it with additional events.

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I was excited to learn that The Andy Warhol Museum is launching the Half-Pint Prints program and even more excited to learn that the Museum has affirmed a commitment to local families. We look forward to adding the museum to our repertoire of places to visit in the city!

To keep up-to-date with the happenings at The Andy Warhol Museum, you can check their blog or follow the museum on Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr and Pinterest.

New PGH Family Fun: Hatch The Chicken!

Nadine Champsi

Nadine Champsi

I am a doctor turned write-at-home-mom who runs the Pittsburgh Mommy Blog and is editor of Kidsburgh. I have two wonderful young children and am happily married. My interests include cooking, green-living, gardening, being in the outdoors, listening to great music, checking out the city's cool art, coming up with creative things to do with my kids, and having as many adventures as I can!
Nadine Champsi

Some of you may remember my backyard chicken-induced frenzy after writing my Rent The Chicken article last year. If not, here’s a brief refresher. Rent The Chicken is a new-ish regional business that allows Pittsburgh families to rent egg-laying hens plus a coop and supplies. They deliver the hens to your home in the spring and then pick them up in the fall. And I think it’s a brilliant solution for prospective urban farmers who don’t want the long-term commitment of keeping chickens year-round.

Well, I’m absolutely giddy to announce that the masterminds behind Rent The Chicken have come up with a new adventure for Pittsburgh families–HATCH THE CHICKEN!! Think fertilized chicken eggs hatching in an incubator in your very own living room. Think tiny little chicks running around a brooder delighting kids and parents alike. For 5 weeks. And then they take the chicks back to their rightful place at the farm. I will be placing my order shortly :).

I recently had the chance to interview Homestead Jenn, cofounder of Rent The Chicken, to find out more about this new program. Here’s what she had to say:

 

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What is Hatch The Chicken?

Hatch The Chicken is a five-week hatching rental without the commitment of raising chicks. For the first three weeks, the eggs are in the provided incubator. Once hatched, they are moved to the provided brooder cage. Two weeks later we pick them up and return them to the farm. We supply everything needed for the incubator process and for the first two weeks of life for the chicks.

What supplies are provided?

We provide an auto-turning incubator, seven fertilized eggs, a high-powered “candling light” to examine the eggs during incubation, a Rent The Chicken Chick Starter Kit (brooder box, wood chips, chick feed, water dish, feed dish, heat lamp and thermometer), quick guide on caring for chicks and the book “Where Do Chicks Come From?” by Amy Sklansky. The hatched chicks are Sex Links – Red Stars and Black Stars so gender is known immediately after hatching.

What is the cost?

The price of the Hatch The Chicken program is $150. If Hatch The Chicken is paired up with a Rent The Chicken rental, Hatch The Chicken is discounted to $125.

How is pick-up and drop-off handled?

Hatch The Chicken is delivered and picked up by Rent The Chicken for free within 50 miles of Freeport, PA which includes Pittsburgh. For an additional transportation fee, deliveries can be made beyond the 50 mile free delivery area.

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What if you want to keep the chicks?

Adoption is available at the end of the five-week rental period as Partial Adoption and Full Adoption. Partial Adoption includes all hatched chicks, the Rent The Chicken Chick Starter Kit and continued full support from Rent The Chicken. Partial Adoption is priced at $75. Full Adoption includes a four hen guarantee (no matter the outcome of the 7 eggs provided, we guarantee 4 female chicks. A chick swap may be necessary to fulfill this clause), the Rent The Chicken Chick Starter Kit, Rent The Chicken Deluxe Chicken Coop, 50 pounds of chick starter feed and continued full support from Rent The Chicken.

How does this program fit in with Rent The Chicken?

Here at Rent The Chicken, we know that the two best parts of having backyard hens is experiencing the hatching process and then having egg-laying hens. Rent The Chicken with Hatch The Chicken brings those two exciting experiences together. It takes a long 4-6 months from the time of hatching until a hen starts laying eggs and these two rentals help to bridge that gap. Also, an additional tidbit about Hatch The Chicken–it’s a great program for families who want to experience hatching, but don’t have any yard or are not permitted to raise backyard chickens in their community.

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I can’t tell you how excited I am to hatch some chicks in my house this spring! Interested in getting some wee little chicks of your own? You can call 724-305-0782 to place an order.

For updates on Hatch the Chicken and Rent the Chicken, please check their website, Facebook page and Twitter account.

New PGH Family Fun: Weather Permitting Winter Edition

Nadine Champsi

Nadine Champsi

I am a doctor turned write-at-home-mom who runs the Pittsburgh Mommy Blog and is editor of Kidsburgh. I have two wonderful young children and am happily married. My interests include cooking, green-living, gardening, being in the outdoors, listening to great music, checking out the city's cool art, coming up with creative things to do with my kids, and having as many adventures as I can!
Nadine Champsi

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Now that Christmas is over, I must admit that my spirits are a bit low. New Year’s Eve is good, but not great. Then three months of cold, gray and wet stretch out before us. Frankly, it’s depressing. In the interest of staying positive, I’ve been looking for something to get excited about.

Enter Pete Spynda, the local DJ/events producer who brought us the Weather Permitting family-friendly concert series at the Shadyside Nursery. Some of you may remember my first and second blog posts about Weather Permitting and how much my family enjoyed it. We listened to great music, ate from food trucks, drank beer from plentiful kegs and ran around in our bare feet. And it was OK. Parents were encouraged to let loose and have a fun time. No judgment at Weather Permitting. Just laid-back, relaxed fun.

Well, I’m happy to report that my prayers have been answered. Pete Spynda has done what I always hoped he would–created a wintertime version of Weather Permitting debuting in January. I recently had the chance to interview Pete and here’s what he had to say about his new concert series.

What are the details for the new Weather Permitting Winter Edition?

The concert series will kick off on Sunday, January 25 from 3-8 p.m. at the New Bohemian on the North Side. The first show will feature three bands–The Working Poor, The Pressure and Charlie Hustle and the Grifters. We will also have the Steer and Wheel food truck selling burgers and beer from Rock Bottom Brewery. We are lining up children’s activities–probably arts & crafts stations and a few other options to keep the kids entertained. The cost is $10 for adults and free for kids. We plan on having one concert per month in January, February, March and maybe April.

Why the New Bohemian?

The New Bohemian is located on the North Side. It’s a former church used for a variety of community events now. I’ve been to the venue a few times before and really liked the laid-back vibe of the place. There’s a lot of open space for running around, carpets, tables and ample parking. Also, the owner is a super nice guy who also happens to have a daughter. I think that families will enjoy it and the kids will have enough space.

How do you choose the bands?

My goal with the bands during Weather Permitting is really to present a diversity of musical genres. Although the full lineup has not been determined for all the shows, we plan on having reggae, acoustic , blues-rockish type groups and probably more.

Is the beer included in the price of the ticket?

The space is BYOB, so attendees are welcome to bring their own alcohol. Rock Bottom Brewery will also have beer there available for a donation.

Why did you decide to create this concert series?

If you would have asked me five years ago, I would have never guessed that I would be producing concert series specifically geared toward families. But, then I had my daughter. After that, I found it very hard to do what I love–go to live shows. Either they started too late in the evening or they were too packed or there was smoking. I wanted to change that for myself and for other parents who also enjoyed concerts before they had kids. So I created both the summer and winter versions of Weather Permitting. Also, I think we’re all looking for ways to keep our kids busy in the cold months. I think this concert series will be equally as fun for parents and for kids.

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I’m definitely not ready to face the hard truth that we have MONTHS until sandals, sundresses and suntans. Luckily, I can relive some of my summertime glory at Weather Permitting Winter Edition. Will I see you there?

 

New PGH Family Fun: The Pittsburgh Botanic Garden!

Nadine Champsi

Nadine Champsi

I am a doctor turned write-at-home-mom who runs the Pittsburgh Mommy Blog and is editor of Kidsburgh. I have two wonderful young children and am happily married. My interests include cooking, green-living, gardening, being in the outdoors, listening to great music, checking out the city's cool art, coming up with creative things to do with my kids, and having as many adventures as I can!
Nadine Champsi
In my New PGH Family Fun series, I highlight new family-friendly entertainment opportunities within Pittsburgh.  I monitor social media sites and conventional news sources to find the most interesting and unique NEW adventure options for families in Pittsburgh.  Then, I write about them here! 

 

I have some BIG NEWS this week!! The Pittsburgh Botanic Garden is FINALLY opening to the public this coming Friday, August 1! This 460-acre property is located about 20-30 minutes west of Downtown Pittsburgh and is situated in the lower third of Settler’s Cabin Park. Phase 1 of its development has just been completed after over 20 years in the making! I recently had the chance to interview the Garden’s Director of Development, Kitty Vagley. Here’s what I learned about the Garden, its history, and the family-friendly parts of it!

 

Map courtesy of Pittsburgh Botanic Garden
Map courtesy of Pittsburgh Botanic Garden

What portions of the Garden will open to the public on August 1?

On August 1st, the 60-acre Woodlands section and the six-acre Homestead will be opening to the public. This portion of the Garden includes 3 miles of trails, an Asian Lotus Pond, a gazebo, a dogwood meadow, a historic farmstead, and several “Family Moments,” or play and discovery areas for children.

 

Can you tell me more about the “Family Moments?”

We have five “Family Moments” in the Garden. The first is our Bookworm Glen with its Storybook House. We also have a Meadow Maze, a giant Bird’s Nest, a “Trees are People” section with faces on the trees, and a “Root of the Matter” area. In this last section, children can use large Lincoln Logs to build homes, use natural materials to build fairy houses, dig in a “digging garden,” and use magnifying glasses attached to tree stumps.

 

Storybook House in the Bookworm Glen
Storybook House in the Bookworm Glen

Will you have kid-friendly educational programming at the Garden?

Yes! We have a free kid-friendly Forest Stories program running on Friday mornings from 10-11:30 a.m. until the end of the summer. During this program, families can take a small hike, participate in a storytime with our partners at the Western Allegheny Community Library, and do craft activities. We are also looking into creating more programming for children in the Fall and in the 2015 season.

 

When will the Garden be open?

The Pittsburgh Botanic Garden will be open from Thursday through Sunday each week from August until November in 2014.  On Saturdays, the Garden is open from  9am-dusk. On the other days, it will close at 5pm.

 

What is the cost to visit the Garden?

Admission to the Garden is $9 for adults, $6 for children 3-18 yo, and free for children less than 3. All Allegheny County residents get one dollar off their admission price. You can also buy a family membership to the Garden for $100, which will give you free admission for two adults and all children OR grandchildren under 18 yo throughout our open season. For info on other membership levels, please click here.

 

Sitting on an egg in the giant Bird's nest
Sitting on an egg in the giant Bird’s nest

What is the address of the Garden?

The GPS address is 1082 Pinkerton Run Road, Oakdale PA 15071. Please note that if you search Pittsburgh Botanic Garden on Google Maps, it will send you to our office address, located about 10-15 minutes from the actual Garden. We will have a welcome tent where you can buy your admission tickets.

 

What other portions of the Garden are still under development?

Construction will begin in the core of the Garden in 2015. This work must be completed by 2025 and will include an Orangery, auto gardens, the tent lawn, an amphitheater, a Mr. Rogers’ Garden of Make Believe, and two display gardens:  the Four Seasons Garden and the Hanging Garden.

 

How was the idea for this Garden conceived?

A group of horticulturists got together monthly at Max’s Allegheny Tavern in the North Side to talk about common horticultural problems in the region. After about a year of meeting, they looked at each other and said, “Every time we meet, we talk about how we need a botanic garden. Why don’t we make this happen?” So, they did! They spoke to others about the idea until they had a fairly sizable and committed volunteer group. They incorporated the fledgling organization in 1991 and spent many years fundraising and searching for a site. They signed a lease in 1998 with Allegheny County, taking over the bottom third of Settler’s Cabin Park. Construction on the Woodlands portion began in 2010 and here we are today!

 

What will happen on Opening Day this week?

August 1 is a quiet opening. We will be holding our Forest Stories program beginning at 10 a.m. with a very special guest reader. We also have a 10:45 ribbon-cutting ceremony at the Woodlands entrance. We are truly looking forward to welcoming our first public visitors!

 

Fairy houses!
Fairy houses!

Finally, what role do you hope the Garden will play for families in the city?

We hope that the Garden will serve as a recreational and educational resource for generations of families. We also hope that the Garden will foster an awareness of the preciousness of our natural resources, since this land was considerably damaged by human activities before we took it over. Finally, we hope families will find a relaxing refuge in the serenity of the Woodlands with all of the nurturing power of nature to teach and heal.

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Earlier this summer, I took my kids out to take a look at the Pittsburgh Botanic Garden with Kitty. We trekked through the Woodlands, played in the Bookworm Glen, ogled some fairy houses, sat in a giant bird’s nest, and saw some real birds’ nests, too. It was idyllic. It was gorgeous. It was just awesome. In case you can’t tell, I’m absolutely thrilled to have it in our city!

As the development on the site continues, I’m sure it will become a major attraction for tourists and residents alike. More importantly, it will become a part of our lives. People will get married there. Children will grow up playing there. Elderly couples will walk together there, hand-in-hand, until they can’t do it anymore. It feels special to be in this city during the opening of something so big and beautiful.

Thank you to all the dedicated horticultural enthusiasts who made this dream happen. From conversations over beers at Max’s Allegheny Tavern to THIS beautiful new outdoor space! Well done!!

Want to stay connected with the Garden? Here are links to its Facebook page and Twitter account.

 

New PGH Family Fun: Volunteer Princesses (and Princes, too!)

Rachel Makary, Founder of Volunteer Princesses
Nadine Champsi

Nadine Champsi

I am a doctor turned write-at-home-mom who runs the Pittsburgh Mommy Blog and is editor of Kidsburgh. I have two wonderful young children and am happily married. My interests include cooking, green-living, gardening, being in the outdoors, listening to great music, checking out the city's cool art, coming up with creative things to do with my kids, and having as many adventures as I can!
Nadine Champsi

In my New PGH Family Fun series, I highlight new family-friendly entertainment opportunities within Pittsburgh.  I monitor social media sites and conventional news sources to find the most interesting and unique NEW adventure options for families in Pittsburgh.  Then, I write about them here! 

I was recently doing some aimless internet surfing when I stumbled upon a Facebook page for a Pittsburgh organization that I had never heard of before: Volunteer Princesses. My interest was piqued. After all, I’m the mom of a 4 year old girl and, whether we like it or not, we are definitely in the throes of a Disney Princess fetish around our house. I know I’m not alone.

Rachel Makary, Founder of Volunteer Princesses
Rachel Makary, Founder of Volunteer Princesses

I decided to investigate the program further and ended up meeting and interviewing its founder, 18 YEAR OLD (!!) Rachel Makary. I learned that Volunteer Princesses is an organization bringing princesses, princes, superheroes and eager little ones together at community events, hospitals, long term care facilities, domestic violence shelters and other places near YOU for FREE. Just because it makes the volunteers happy to see your children smile. Although the organization initially started in 2012, it has recently relaunched and significantly expanded its programming. Want to learn more? Here’s my interview with Rachel:

 

Princesses and Helpers
Some Princesses and their Helpers

Can you tell me more about what Volunteer Princesses does?

Our organization is comprised of a group of dedicated volunteers ranging in age from 15 to mid-30’s who enjoy bringing the magic of princesses, princes, and superheroes to children. Each volunteer carefully crafts his or her own handmade costume and then attends our events “in character.” At these events, our volunteers offer free “Meet and Greets” and photo opportunities for children. We also organize other activities including story-telling, coloring, puzzles, face-painting, jump-roping, blowing bubbles and handing out stickers. Sometimes, we even have sing-alongs and organized games like Red Rover; Red Light, Green Light; etc). We also hold events with individual characters, such as art classes with our Tangled Princess and superhero training clinics.

 

Where are your events?

When we first started, we organized events mostly at local nonprofits like the Ronald Mcdonald House, HEARTH Women’s Transitional Home, and the Children’s Institute. We then decided to expand our services to all the children of Pittsburgh, so we started setting up community events for everyone to enjoy for free. We had an event at Market Square a couple weeks ago and another one in Schenley Plaza recently, too. We plan on having many more throughout the city in the coming months. Please LIKE our Facebook page to find out about our upcoming events.

Parents or community organizers are also welcome to book our characters for parties or events. Although, we never charge for our services, we welcome TIPS! To book, just send us a message on our facebook page and we will reply back to you as fast as we can.

 

Reading a book with Rapunzel
Reading a book with Rapunzel

Why did you decide to start Volunteer Princesses?

I have always enjoyed making costumes for myself and first developed a cosplay hobby in 2012 when I was 16. One day, I was wearing a Merida costume near the Carnegie Library in Oakland when a bunch of little kids came over and wanted me to read them stories and take pictures with them. After that experience, I realized that my costumes could be used to make kids happy. I told a few of my friends about my plans for Volunteer Princesses and they agreed to join. We bought puzzles, face-paint, coloring books, stickers, books, jump ropes, and plastic balls.

Our first event was at the Ronald Mcdonald House. I was supposed to meet a girl who had just had a bone marrow transplant. Although her mom had initially warned me that the little girl probably wouldn’t have the energy to get up out of her bed, she got up, got dressed, and was ready to meet the princesses when we came in!

 

*****
Meeting Rapunzel!
Meeting Rapunzel!

After learning more about the Volunteer Princesses and their programming, it was obvious to me that my kids would freak at this chance. So…I hauled them down to the Carnegie Library in Oakland for an art class with Rapunzel. The experience was ridiculously cute. A group of little girls sat around a table with Rapunzel, each one decorating a handmade coloring page and chatting with each other.

“Where’s Pascal?” one little girl asked of the group.

“He’s in the tower,” another little girl chirped in. Rapunzel nodded in agreement.

“Did Mother Gothel let you out?” asked one worried-looking girl of Rapunzel.

“Only after I did my chores,” said the barefooted, long-haired princess.

The girls nodded to each other in silent understanding. They continued with their work.

The dialogue continued on in this manner, punctuated only by the shrieks of other little children as they spotted Rapunzel for the first time. It was priceless!

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Although my kids didn’t do anything fancy with Rapunzel, it was just perfect. Instead of rushing through a lame photo opp, they had the highly unusual opportunity to just sit down and chill out with her. They loved it.

And I was just SO impressed by Rachel and her initiative in organizing this program. She’s only 18 years old! Just starting college. And somehow, she already has the leadership and organizational skills to pull this all together. More importantly, she has a mature-beyond-her-years spirit. An 18 year old that goes above and beyond to make Pittsburgh children happy? I think that’s really special!

You are a truly exceptional young adult, Rachel, and I foresee very wonderful things in your future. Thank you for what you are doing for Pittsburgh families!

 

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