A visit to Phipps Conservatory

My sisters and I have lived far away from one another for a number of years. Now that our kids are grown up and on their own, we make a point of vacationing together at one of our houses every year.  This year, we met in western Pennsylvania for our yearly sister vacation.  Because this year’s vacation was at my sister Linda’s house, and because she lives not too awfully far away from the town we grew up in and where one sister still lives, we spent several days in the old hometown, too.

I  enjoyed seeing Linda’s new house. (Well, it’s not new to her, but it was the first time I had ever been there.) She sent her hubby away or maybe he volunteered to vacate the house for our visit! (Our husbands don’t care to hang around for the four sister act, although I can’t imagine why.) It’s a nice house and now I can visualize Linda in her kitchen or at her computer. She made a Pepper Steak dinner our first night there and she has promised to send it to me so I can post it on this website. (Super easy and super good.)

We spent one afternoon at Phipps Conservatory and Botanical Gardens. This is a beautiful steel and glass Victorian-style greenhouse located in Pittsburgh (at Schenley Park in the Oakland section of town).

What a wonderful place! It was built in 1893 by Henry Phipps as a gift to the city of Pittsburgh.

From the front. A sustainable perennial garden, requiring minimal water and fertilizers surrounds the front entryway.

A sustainable perennial garden, requiring minimal water and fertilizers surrounds the front entryway.

Once inside, the structure is divided up into different botanically themed “rooms.” The best way to tour it, according to our docent, is to start at the Palm Court and only make right turns. So, that is what we did. And, it was a rather smart idea, since we would have surely gotten lost a number of times had we strolled through it willy nilly.

There are something like 17 rooms and additional outdoor garden areas – Palm Court, Serpentine Room, Fern Room, Orchid Room, Outdoor Garden, Stove Room, South Conservatory, Tropical Fruit and Spice Room, Discovery Garden, Tropical Forest Conservatory, Sunken Garden, Desert Room, Japanese Courtyard, Victoria Room, Broderie Room, East Room, Aquatic Garden, Botany Hall…

An exhibition of  artwork by Hans Godo Frabel is currently on display throughout the conservatory. His glasswork is extraordinary and is so artfully interwoven into the gardens.

I believe this photo was taken in Palm Court. You can see several beautiful glass masks near the base of the palm.

I believe this photo was taken in Palm Court. You can see several beautiful glass masks near the base of the palm.

We ended our tour with a trip into the gift shop where Pam, bought each of us a glass teardrop shaped necklace followed by a visit to the cafe for a late lunch.

Of course, there is so much more to write about the sister vacation. Those stories are coming! But please view these remarkable pics of Phipps Conservatory and please visit there if you are ever near Pittsburgh, PA.


A secret place

I grew up, in what I considered as a child, a very rural area. I didn’t think living in the sticks was very cool when I was a little girl, but looking back now, I remember our neck of the woods as being ever so fascinating. We lived in the country and were surrounded by hundreds of miles of state game lands and state forests. And, as kids, we spent a lot of time exploring and playing in the woods. I’m sure that kind of upbringing is what gives me my love for cool, quiet walks in the woodlands.

We had a path leading from our back yard into some great woodland. Once there, we could go off in several different directions depending on where we wanted go. One place, we called, “Devil’s Canyon.” This is a very cool pile of big rocks, which from the top is a ten to 15 foot drop to the ground below.

We could go further on the path and turn left to go to The Ridge. Back then, The Ridge was a huge hunting lodge with basketball court, softball field, ski slope, ski lodge, pond, picnic pavilions, etc. The owners rented it to groups and we could hide in the woods and spy on their parties, or hang out there ourselves when no one was there. In the winter, we could ice skate on the basketball court or toboggan down the ski slope.

If you did not make these turns, the path from the edge of our yard ended at an old, washed out dirt road that climbed upward, very steeply at times, to the top of a mountain, known as Peterson Hill.  In the summer, we could hike to the top and pick wild blueberries and maybe see a bear.

I have some wonderful memories of Peterson Hill that deserve their own blog post, and I will probably write about them soon, but, for now, thinking about those woods made me remember my special place. 

I had a secret place that I could go to when I was mad at my sisters or ran away from home. It makes me laugh now, because it really wasn’t so secluded or very far from the house. But, to me, the place was magical – a bed of woodlands grass and ferns as the floor, and a nearby rock, so big, I had to use both hands to roll it to hid things under. 

What I remember most about my special place, though, is that for several hours every afternoon, the sun cast beams of sunlight through the canopy of tree branches high overhead warming the grass. I could lay on my soft warm bed and watch the branches sway with the breeze and the sunlight dance all around me. In the winter, the branches were bare and several feet of snow covered the ferns and grass and even my big rock. So, although I knew approximately where my spot was, I could never find it until springtime again.

I was very lucky to have the woods and the streams as a backdrop for my childhood. I was also fortunate to have a sweet special place to go to be by myself when a situation warranted it.

Do you remember your special place?

P.S. I have no pictures of me or my sisters playing in those woods, but I know I had a picture of Carrie and her cousins playing at Devil’s Canyon. I looked through five shoeboxes and eight photo albums but could not find it. If it ever turns up I will scan it and post it.


Of Dog Days and summer memories

Did you know that July 3rd was the start of the 40 day period in the summer known as Dog Days?

The term, Dog Days was coined in Ancient Rome. It was named after the Dog Star, also known as Sirius, the brightest star in our sky besides the sun. It was thought that since Sirius rose and set at the same time as the sun during this time of year, that Sirius added its heat to the sun’s heat, thereby making the days hotter, thus the term Dog Days.

Dog Days are hot, slow, lazy, languishing, stagnate times. Yep, that’s what this part of summer is – Dog Days.

So, last Sunday, after I worked up a sweat in the garden, I sat on the screened porch sipping an icy cold glass of tea. I noticed how quiet and still the world was at midday. There were no birds flitting about or singing and no breeze rustling the leaves on the trees. The air was hot, heavy and stagnate. This sound of silence was broken only by the cacophony of the male cicadas vibrating their timbals into a loud crescendo before the silence again.

It made me think of summer memories. Those lazy languid days when we had no set schedule of things to do.

Summer memories are days of butterflies and dragonflies and catching fireflies at night. It is the drive-in movie theater, and water fights and sleeping under the stars. It is Bible school, and picking blackberries and playing in the rain. It is sparklers, fudgesicles and pinwheels. It is swinging as high as you can go and bike riding and climbing trees. It is spending a week at my Cousin Tammy’s house and her coming to spend a week with me at mine.  It is our family picnics at Idlewild and at Shawnee State Park and the big one for all our relatives in our yard on the 4th of July.

When Brian thinks of summer, he thinks of his family’s yearly vacation in Florida to see his grandparents and of spending time with his favorite cousin, Ron.

What are your summer memories?