Tag: boston

Pittsburgh’s Beauty off the Beaten Path: An Introduction

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

During the end of my years at Boston University, I developed an unusual habit for any college student. I started waking up close to dawn and taking a 1-2 hour walk.  I never started out with a path in mind.  Instead, I just allowed my natural curiousity to take me on a different journey each morning. And what did I find on those abandoned streets, all alone, on those crisp, quiet mornings?  I found beauty.  I found it everywhere.  I found it hiding on the banks of the Duck Pond in the Public Gardens where silent, serene men and women did early morning Tai-Chi.

I found it buried near the Fens, in the dew-covered Urban Gardens teeming with flowers and veggies.

And I found it appear, for just a moment, in the Christian Science Center’s Reflecting Pool awash with morning’s first light.

These discoveries quenched my thirst for adventure…and made me feel happy.  I became like my idol, Amelie, uncovering the quirky secrets of a bustling metropolis!  And when I left Boston, these images were what I ended up missing. They made the city feel like home to me.

Since I’ve moved to Pittsburgh and had children, I have tried to continue taking these types of walks. Only now I take my kids along and allow them to dictate my path!  I have found that children are particularly suited to this style of nomadic wandering.  They rebel against agenda.  They naturally run the other way if you set them on a definite trajectory.  For children it is the unknown path–the closed door, the mysterious gate, the almost-buried pathway–that is so intrinsically interesting.  And the unusual discoveries made along the way are the life’s-blood of a good outing for kids.   So..if it’s safe and we don’t have too much to do, I generally let my little ones take me on an adventure.  After all, I learned in Boston that beauty can be found in some very unusual places.

Because I have so much fun exploring Pittsburgh with my children in this way, I am starting a series on my blog entitled Pittsburgh’s Beauty off the Beaten Path.  When my children lead me to a particularly beautiful, but underappreciated, spot, I will write about it.  My goal in these posts is not to dissuade you from having your own adventures or making your own discoveries.  God no!  My goal instead is to give you some inspiration and to remind you that Pittsburgh, for all its industrial buildings and soot-covered past, is a city of astounding beauty.  Please join us in our adventures!

Coming tomorrow…our discovery of the Courtyard at the University of Pittsburgh’s Frick Fine Arts Building.

Boston and the Perils of Parenting in the Smartphone Era

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

Last week’s events in Boston had me attached to my smartphone more than ever before.  I wiped my son’s butt, I checked Twitter.  I kissed my daughter’s boo-boo, I checked Facebook. The kick-in-the-pants was the manhunt for Dzhokhar Tsarnaev on Friday.  I spent the entire day constantly reloading Facebook, Twitter, Boston.com’s live blog, and Nytimes.com live blog in rapid succession, hoping to get news about the hunt for the man (boy?) who was terrorizing my old city.  By the time they found Tsarnaev in the boat in Watertown, I had even added the live-stream of the actual Watertown police scanner to my own personal Command Post.

In the meantime, my kids woke up on Friday, got dressed, ate their meals, played with their toys, went to the grocery store with me, and participated in their other regularly scheduled activities.  I was with them throughout this day, but I was not really with them. Not at all.  During that day, I existed in a parallel universe–an absent-minded, hazy place where my body went through the regular motions, but my mind was constantly focused on my smartphone. After Tsarnaev was found and I finally put the damn thing down, a frightening truth revealed itself to me.  I had wasted an entire day of my life caught up in a technology loop.  So I decided to turn my phone off for the rest of the weekend and focus on my kids.  Here’s what I found:

1) I spend way more time and energy on my smartphone than I actually realize.

I don’t feel like a person who is dependent on their smartphone.  After all, I was one of the last of my friends to get one, I have < 5 apps, and I don’t have a job that necessitates checking my email constantly.  And yet, being without my phone this weekend showed me just how often I reach for it. Constantly.  And I don’t even realize that I’m doing it!  And even when I’m not actually using my smartphone, a little piece of my brain is reserved for thinking about it.  When I turned my phone off this weekend, I suddenly realized something very scary–I am spending a good portion of my life completely mentally removed from the present world–caught up in the fuzzy alternative social media “life” that parallels my real one.

2) I become more unreliable when I have my smartphone with me.  

Over the weekend, I had plans to attend the Pittsburgh Folk Festival with a friend and her kids.  En route, my 3 year old started throwing an epic temper tantrum and my 1 year old soon followed suit.  I reached for my phone to call my friend and see if we could reschedule. Only–I didn’t have my phone with me.  Since I couldn’t call and cancel and I didn’t want my friend sitting at our meeting spot waiting for me–I continued on.  My kids soon got over it and we ended up having a great time.  I know it seems counterintuitive, but I think I’m actually less dependable when I have my phone with me.  It’s easy to be fickle.  After all, I can effortlessly send a text message, Facebook message, or email at the last moment and I never even have to actually speak to anyone.  I am not proud of this behavior and it’s certainly not one I want my kids to emulate one day when they are more grown.

3) My children are more influenced by my smartphone use than I realize.  

During our trip to Oakland for the Folk Festival, I ended up getting mired in the sidewalk construction in front of Soldiers and Sailors.  I had my stroller with me and couldn’t figure out how to reach the handicapped entrance to the festival.  In an effort to keep my 3 year old engaged (and not to throw another tantrum!) I asked her, “How do you think we get into the building?” Rather than use her powers of observation to answer to my question, she reached into her pretend pocket, pulled out a pretend smartphone, punched in her pretend passcode, and started scrolling across her pretend screen.  “I’ll check my phone,” she said absent-mindedly.  I was horrified.  She had certainly learned this behavior from me.  And I do not want my kids to grow up so absorbed in technology that they forget how to appreciate and investigate the vibrant world around them.

4) Smartphones skew my priorities by giving me a false sense of my own importance in the world.

I got an incredible amount accomplished this weekend without my phone.  We had a fantastic outing to the festival. I cleaned my entire house, did some planting, cooked up some tasty dishes, went running.  And for the first time in a very long while–I actually finished the laundry.  So–why don’t I get all these things accomplished on a regular basis?  I believe it’s because I am constantly hampered by a false sense of self-importance that is fed my smartphone’s access to social media.  “I’ll start the laundry after I check my email [or facebook page, blog, twitter, etc]” because everyone in this world must be dying to get my response to them, of course.  Not.  In reality, my contribution to the social media world should not take priority over taking care of my real responsibilities–especially when it involves my two little child-sponges who are discovering the richness of this world from me.

5) It is a far more peaceful existence to limit smartphone use.  

Even after turning my smartphone off for only a weekend, it’s obvious that my entire family is much happier when I’m not using it.  I’m happier because I rediscovered what it’s like to feel intensely connected to my experiences.  And my connectedness bred an appreciation for the nuances of it all–the beauty, the emotions, the creative potential.  Essentially–the value of each moment that comes and goes in my life.  It also made a remarkable difference in my interactions with my children and my husband.  I was able to fully concentrate on what they were doing and participate with my entire consciousness.  I appreciated our time together so much more.  And they seemed far happier knowing that I was present for them.  I guess I’ve learned what essentially boils down to a Buddhist lesson– keep the mind focused in the present moment to find peace and fulfillment.  

My Heart is With You, Boston

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
View from the Esplanade in Boston
View from the Esplanade in Boston

Like many other people, the Boston Marathon holds a sacred place in my memory. Although a Pittsburgh resident now, I grew up in the northern suburbs of Boston.  When I was a kid, my dad used to take me down to the city for Marathon Monday.  We would sit on the sidewalk near the finishing line of the race, munching on jelly-filled donuts from DD’s and watching the elite runners stream past.  My father would regale me with stories of African runners who trained for the Boston Marathon during his childhood in Tanzania.  When my father passed away suddenly five years ago, our trips to the Boston Marathon represented some of the happiest memories I had of him.

When I was older, I attended Boston University for my undergraduate degree in English.  Marathon Monday became the much-anticipated social event of the year.  There were no classes on that day and we started partying well before noon.  Despite the rumors to the contrary, I have always thought of Boston as an incredibly welcoming city and Marathon Monday always proved me right.  Every door was open.  We celebrated with complete strangers, attending house parties everywhere from the elegant brownstones of the Back Bay to the fraternity houses in the Allston/Brighton area.  Some of my fondest memories of college involve this magical day.

Boston is a city that gets under your skin.  Its beauty is overwhelming–the ocean, the Public Gardens, the cobble-stoned streets lined by historical buildings, the views of the Charles River on the Esplanade.  And for those who come to Boston to attend college, it is a special place indeed.   People from everywhere in our vast world (including me!) come to Boston to become adults–to cut the umbilical cord and discover their own sense of identity.  It is a city that charms all that are lucky enough to have ever called it home.

This morning my kids woke up and thankfully didn’t have a clue about yesterday’s tragedy.  It was business-as-usual for them.  Yogurt and granola for breakfast, fierce sibling rivalry about toothbrushes, and lots of “I’ll do it myself!”  But I just felt hollow inside.  Although I live in the Steel City now, a piece of my heart will always be in Beantown.  I love you, Boston, and mourn what happened yesterday more than you will ever know.

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