PittsburghMom is our original, featured blog by Heather Starr Fiedler.  Heather created PittsburghMom in March 2008 and began this journey.  Heather is the mom to two young boys, Matthew (9) and Benjamin (7), a college professor and General Manager of PittsburghMom. She's busy, but not too busy to blog about her sometimes serious, sometimes painful and often humorous thoughts on life and share her favorite Pittsburgh spots for families.


Pittsburgh Holiday Train Displays

Written by Heather Starr Fiedler. Posted in PittsburghMom

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We've had several readers ask recently ask where the best holiday train displays are in the region. As a mom of boys myself, I'm no stranger to train displays. Pittsburgh is home to several impressive train displays, and the holidays are a great time to go visit them. Here's a list of the best displays around the region.


PPG Wintergarden Trains and Gingerbread Display

Two PPG Place
Pittsburgh, PA  15222
Monday – Thursday 7:30AM – 8:00PM
Friday 7:30AM – 10:00PM
Saturday 9:00AM – 10:00PM
Sunday 9:00AM – 8:00PM
Free Admission
It’s “Home SWEET Home” once again at PPG Place this holiday season! Don’t miss this magnificent display of delicious dwellings created by area students, chefs, organizations, and individuals. The houses are surrounded by a display of model trains created by local artist Don Jones.


Western Pennsylvania Railroad Museum

5509 Lakeside Dr, Gibsonia, PA 15044
Recommend donation is $6 for adults and $4 for children
Fridays 6-9 pm, Saturday & Sunday 11 am-5 pm
The WPRM, which is located off of Route 910 in the North Hills was founded in 1938, which makes it one of the oldest model railroad organizations in the country.  Each year they set up a holiday train display and on Friday nights, they offer a special "Steam at Twilight" session.


Carnegie Science Center Miniature Railroad Village

One Allegheny Avenue
Pittsburgh, PA  15212
Sunday-Friday 10 am-5 pm
Saturday 10 am-7 pm
Admission to Science Center $18.95 adults, $11.95 children
Take a walking tour of western Pennsylvania at the world-renowned Miniature Railroad & Village open for its 90th season! This beloved exhibit's story began in 1920 with a man named Charles Bowdish of Brookville, Pa.  features hundreds of wonderfully realistic animated scenes that illustrate how people lived, worked, and played in our region during an era spanning the 1880s to the late 1930s. A replica of the historic Manchester-Farms is the latest gem added to this extraordinary display.


Olgebay Resort 

465 Lodge Drive
Wheeling, West Virginia 26003
Admission Adults $9, Kids $5.75
Sunday-Thursday 11am-8pm  Friday & Saturday 11am - 9 pm
Mountainous topography, numerous detailed structures and careful attention to scenery, typical of 20th century Appalachia, give the visitor a real sense of nostalgia. The layout also features a working river with two steamboats, a scale model blast furnace, a steel arch bridge, a wooden trestle bridge, a logging operation complete with saw mill, a coal mine, an amusement park, a working drive-in theater (seasonal) and a handcrafted "Pennsy" caboose that serves as the operator's console. 


Pennsylvania Trolley Museum

1 Museum Road
Washington PA 15301
November 28-30, December 6-7, 13-14
Adults $10  Children $7
Trolleys and Toy Train Fridays - December 5 & 12. See our huge Lionel toy train layout and enjoy all day trolly rides. Trolley's depart every hour.  And celebrate the season with Santa Claus on the Trolley!  See the Lionel toy train display and decorated street cars. Enjoy caroling on the trolley and a holiday craft in the Events room, where you can enjoy our newest addition, Steel City LUG’s Lego® train display. Purchase tickets in advance to ride the Santa Trolley (advance purchase strongly recommended) and stop in to ride the Yuletide Shuttle. 


Mid Mon Valley Model Railroad Club Holiday Open House

159 Main Street
New Eagle, PA  15067
Saturday & Sundays 12-5 pm
Annual Holiday Open House is an opportunity for the public to view the club layout. It is opened on weekends from the Saturday after Thanksgiving through the first weekend after the New Year. The doors are open from 12:00 p.m. (noon) until 5:00 p.m. At the Open House we run 3 or 4 trains simultaneously over the entire layout and we change out the trains as running conditions and desire dictate. In 2014, our Open House event will run from November 29, 2014 through January 4, 2015.


McKeesport Model Railroad Club Open House

Our Club models the fictitious ‘Mon Yough Valley Railroad’ (MYV). This ‘model railroad’ name was copyrighted when the Club was chartered in 1950. 
Layout tour minimum donation for December 5, 2014 Through January 3, 2015
Age 18 & Over: $4.00  Ages 5 – 17: $2.00 Under Age 5: FREE
BSA & GSA Members (In Troop Uniform), and Active US Military (with Proper ID) are admitted FREE of charge.
Fridays 7-10 pm Saturdays 1-8 pm  Sundays 1-6 pm (most days. Check website for exact hours)
Santa visiting Saturday Dec 20 (5-8 pm) and Sunday Dec 21 (5-8 pm)

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Play it Forward toy drive

Written by Heather Starr Fiedler. Posted in PittsburghMom

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Every year around this time, I borrow my PittsburghMom page to talk about another project near and dear to my heart, my charity, Play it Forward Pittsburgh.  Play it Forward is a gently used toy drive that happens every year in November and December. This year I invite you to help us make 2014 the best drive yet.

Like every parent, I want my kids to grow up to be happy, successful and charitable.  I not only want them to find whatever career path or lifestyle makes them most happy, but I want them to realize the important of spreading love and charity.

Throughout the years we've "dabbled" in charitable giving. We've donated our time to the local library, bought toys for Toys for Tots and planted flowers for Cub Scouts.

Two years ago, however, on a whim, a friend and I started a charity that has allowed us to really show our children the value of giving.

Play it Forward Pittsburgh is a gently used children's toy drive. We ask local families to clean out their playrooms and donate things they're not using anymore or would like to see go to a new home, then turn around and give them all out to families in need  at a "shop for free" day in December. This year's drive will be held at the Century III Mall in West Mifflin.  We will collect toys there from December 1 - December 12 and then have our "shopping day" there on December 13.  The idea started when I was cleaning out my children's playroom and wanted to give our unused toys to  a new family.  

We have several toy drop off/donation locations scattered throughout the region (they can be found on our website). www.playitforwarpittsburgh.com or you can bring donations directly to the mall beginning December (hours are listed on the website as well).

We started the project on a whim and it was an instant hit.  The first year in the course of two weeks we collected 5,000 toys. Last year, our third year, that number grew to well over 50,000 toys.  We hope it's even bigger this year.

I like that it allows my children to look through their own toys and decide what to keep and what to donate to a new little boy.  They enjoy helping at the donation site to clean and sort toys and even on the "Shopping Day" to help families select toys for their kids.

What I love most about the toy drive, in addition to helping local families, is the lesson it's teaching my kids. They now understand that we have more than we need and that some people don't. They see us working hard to give to others. They know it's possible and worthwhile to help others.

I am always so impressed that so many volunteers bring their children to both the drop off days to help sort as well as the "shopping" day. And they all said the same thing, that they wanted their kids to see it for themselves. To help, to give back. And the kids all seemed to "get it". Some were older than my kids, but some were younger. All of them were there for the same reason. To help people.

Most parents thank us afterwards for giving them the opportunity to share this lesson with their kids.  I think it's important and I'm so glad they do as well. It warms my heart to know we are raising a generation of altruistic people.

To find more information on how to donate toys, receive toys, or donate your time or money, please vist our website www.playitforwardpittsburgh.com or visit us on Facebook at www.facebook.com/playitforwardpittsburgh

2012 Play it Forward Shopping Day
Photo by Allie Wynands, Point Park News Service

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Proud to be all American

Written by Heather Starr Fiedler. Posted in PittsburghMom

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It came home in the backpack last week. The dreaded canary colored paper with the words Family Cultural Heritage at the top.

Every year that paper comes home and every year I dread it. You probably know the one I'm talking about; the one where the kids are asked to bring in a story, dance, song, food, dress to show their family heritage and customs.

Why do I dread it? I dread it because apparently both my husband and I were raised as Whitebread Americans with nary any cultural traditions whatsoever.

Of course, our great grandparents did come from England, Germany and Poland. But apparently their traditions and food and customs really never trickled down to our parents. Neither of us can remember having any kind of special food or song or dance from the 'old country' at the holidays.

So when the paper comes home and my children are asked to write about their cultural traditions or heaven forbid, bring in a costume or food that they used to make with their grandparents, I panic.

My mother works full-time and really didn't love to cook.  My grandmothers lived out of state. Our Christmases were spent in a very traditional American way, opening presents, watching "A Christmas Story" and playing board games. My husband's mother was an excellent baker but she mostly baked apple pies, which are as American as it gets. Does American count as a culture? Because I could definitely whip up my mother-in-law's apple pie if that was allowed :-)

I feel bad for my kids that they don't have this rich cultural heritage, especially in a city like Pittsburgh where it seems so many people were brought up making handmade pierogies with their grandma while wearing matching babushkas. Or hiding the pickle every year in the Christmas tree. We do some of those things now but I can't really claim them as our family's heritage. We just do them because they're fun and I like the significance.

So last week we got the dreaded canary colored cultural celebration paper. Matthew was asked to write about his heritage and he chose to write about his great great-grandparents that came from England. We were able to research our family names and find out where in England they likely lived. We were also able to fill in the section about England itself. Done.  Phew.

Just as I was wiping the sweat off my brow I turned the paper over and read back where it said "now you can bring in a homemade food item that celebrates your heritage.
Ooooh crap. What do I know about cooking English food?

Matthew suggested fish and chips because he'd seen it on a TV show. I voted for tea because who can't make tea, right? We settled on scones because that sounded very English. Of course I've never even eaten a scone in my life but I'm going to trust in my faith (i.e. Alton Brown) and pretend that they're part of my family heritage and I've been making them all along with my great-grandmother, while wearing matching aprons, of course. 

Wish me luck. 

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Pittsburgh Family Fun - Road Trip to Sharon/Hermitage

Written by Heather Starr Fiedler. Posted in PittsburghMom

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Every now and then we like to just escape from the daily routine of life and go on a short road trip to explore the surrounding counties. This weekend we had two days with nothing on the schedule so we decided to do just that. Our trip this weekend took us to Sharon and Hermitage (about 10 minutes apart from one another). We found plenty enough there to keep us occupied for the day and then we treated ourselves to a night in a hotel with a nice warm pool and hot tub and let the kids swim for hours. It was a very special treat to celebrate their first successful report card of the year.

Drive Time: 1 hour 15 minutes

Direction: Northwest

Family Fun: Our first stop of the day was at Olympic Fun Center. Olympic Fun Center is like most indoor play places. For a one-price wristband, kids (or adults) can partake in rollerskating, laser tag, a climbing structure and a rock wall. For an extra price they have bumper cars and arcade games

The wristbands are normally $13 but if you buy them ahead online the price is $11 per person.  On the weekends they have open family sessions from 11:30 to 5:30 PM (Saturday) and 12:30-4:30 (Sunday). We spent several hours there bouncing back-and-forth between laser tag and rollerskating. My younger, daredevil, son tackled the climbing wall and both kids enjoyed the play structure.  

In my opinion it was a great deal for $11. My husband and I got wristbands as well and enjoyed a couple of games of laser tag and a fun family rollerskating session.

Our second stop was to Kranyaks. Kranyaks is a large store that boasts decorations and tchotchkes for all seasons. You can find everything from baby shower favors to Halloween decorations. They are best-known, however, for their Christmas decorations and their annual Christmasland displays. If you plan to go to Kranyaks you might want to head up there soon, as the line to get in gets extremely long as the Christmas season nears. Christmasland is a walk-through display of a dozen or so different rooms a decorated in all different styles with numerous Christmas trees. When we went to this weekend there was no line to get in and we were able to walk right through the displays. In years past, however, when we've gone in December we waited all the way outside to get into Christmasland. The line constantly moves, so it's not typically too bad of a wait. Once you are finished looking at all the rooms it pops you out into their massive Christmas decoration area. You can find every ornament and type of tree imaginable. We enjoy spending lots of time just browsing the aisles.

Right next door to Kranyaks is the Avenue of 444 Flags. It's a quick stop and this is a great place to take the kids to teach them a little bit of history and see the impressive display of all of the flags and the eternal flame. The flags were erected during the Iran hostage crisis of 1979 - 1981 to honor the American diplomats held hostage in Iran. The owner of the memorial park decided to erect 100 flags and raise one flag every day afterward until the hostages were freed. The American hostages were held in Iran from November 4, 1979 to January 20, 1981. At the end, there were 444 flags, one for each day of captivity.

Daffins Candy was the next stop on our 'tour'. Billed as the "World's Largest Candy Store", it's a quick stop but worth a visit. They have some fantastic displays of chocolate in their "Chocolate Kingdom" area that are sure to delight the children. It's similar to what you would see at Sarris, but with more molded chocolate animals.

 Good Eats: Any time we can go within a close proximity to a Springfield Group restaurant we jump at the chance. They are the purveyors of Rachel's roadhouse, the Iron Bridge Inn, the Log Cabin Inn and The Springfield Grille. You may have heard of one of these. One of their lesser-known properties is called the Hickory Bar & Grill and in Hermitage. The menu is very similar to that of their other properties and in our opinion they all meet the challenge. The prices are reasonable, the atmosphere is cozy and the food is fantastic.

If you are a wing lover it's worth it to drive the few minutes into Sharon to make the pilgrimage to the original Quaker Steak and Lube. This was where it all started, in an old garage. It still has some of the original cars up on lifts and the wings are just as good as all of their other Pittsburgh locations.

Good Night's Rest:  While the drive from Pittsburgh to the Sharon/Hermitage area is an easy one to do for a day trip, we decided to make a night out of it and get a hotel room with a pool so the kids could swim. We chose the Hampton Inn in Sharon and were extremely pleased. It is a relatively new property and is very modern and clean. The pool was small but the perfect size for the kids and the hot tub was just the right temperature for mom and dad.

The breakfast in the morning was your standard continental breakfast fare but was all hot and fresh and the staff at the hotel was wonderfully friendly. There are also several other hotels in the area including a Holiday Inn Express, Red Roof Inn and a Quality Inn

We really enjoyed our little mini-vacation and it wasn't that expensive because we were able to use hotel points for the overnight stay. Daffins, Kranyaks and Avenue of 444 Flags are all free to browse and so we just paid for dinner and our $44 for the Olypmpic Fun Center wristbands.  If you're looking for a quick getaway to beat the fall doldrums, check out Mercer County this month.

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Flying solo is easier than it used to be

Written by Heather Starr Fiedler. Posted in PittsburghMom

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My husband was traveling this week. He spent the week in Seattle, WA. This is his second trip this month and he will travel again in November to LasVegas for a week. I had a lot of time to think while he was away about our differences in routine when we have two parents in the house every day versus one.

When my children were very little he used to travel an average of one week a month. Looking back now, I'm not really sure how I got through that. It certainly was challenging. I remember finding it most difficult in the summer when I was home with them all day. I actually preferred going to work when I could get a little bit of a break and some adult time and only had to find a few hours worth of "toddler entertainment activities" a day. But somehow I survived it and I seem to of forgotten much of how hard it was.

Now my children are seven and nine and life is really so much easier. I kind of chuckled to myself this week when I sent them upstairs to take a bath and get their pajamas on and read their library books while I did my exercise video. A few years ago that whole concept would have been so foreign to me. But just like I asked, they manage to get themselves bathed, dressed, and get their homework done without any help at all. It makes solo parenting so very much different than when they were little.

What I came to realize this week is that not much changes in our daily routine now when my husband is away these days. The kids are very independent and can help out around the house. They can get themselves dressed, brush their teeth, and even clean up around the house.  They eat regular meals (adult food) and so I can cook a normal dinner and the three of us can eat together just like we would if my husband was home. In those early days I would make them their baby/toddler food and I would end up eating a bowl of cereal at 10 o'clock at night.

I think the two biggest differences now are that when my husband travels I get to binge watch on things like Gray's Anatomy and Scandal (which I rather enjoy) :-) and now when he leaves instead of him kissing me goodbye and saying "Take care of the kids", he kisses them goodbye and says "Take care of mama"  And they do.

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