Guest Blog

GuestBlog

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Sometimes a staycation is the best vacation

Written by Heather Starr Fiedler. Posted in Guest Blog

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Today's guest post comes to us from Miranda Bauer, local Pittsburgh Mom and creator of The Pittsburgh Pass.  PittsburghPass is Pittsburgh’s first exclusive SUMMER PASS to all of our city’s greatest attractions; for one LOW price.


About five summers ago, my husband and I decided to take a week’s vacation from our jobs.  Instead of driving for eight hours and spending over $1,500 for our usual beach vacation we decided to stay “home.”  Not only did the thought of sitting in the car for that long make us cringe, but we were also doing work to our home and just didn’t have the extra money…(by the way, now that we have two little girls under the age of two, we can’t figure out why driving among the peace and quiet of two adults seemed like such a chore at the time…haha).   This decision to stay local created, by far, one of the most enjoyable weeks I have ever spent on “vacation” (a very close second to my honeymoon, spent in Montego Bay, Jamaica).

You see, Josh and I both grew up in Pittsburgh; but, I think that like many locals, we often failed to stop and smell the roses regarding the wonderful things that our city has to offer.  We really wanted to spend the week as “tourists” and do all of the things that we thought someone who had never been to Pittsburgh might do.  We visited Kennywood one night (very romantic), went on the Just Ducky Tour another afternoon, strolled through the Zoo the next day, enjoyed a delicious dinner at Silky’s Crow’s Nest (they have fabulous outdoor seating overlooking the Allegheny River Marina; you don’t even feel like you’re in Pittsburgh), and journeyed to Vanilla Pastry to handpick gourmet cupcakes. The entire experience was AMAZING (not to mention, these five attractions only put a small dent into all that Pittsburgh has to offer)!  Think about it, when most of us East Coasters go on a week-long summer vacation we leave on a Friday or a Saturday and spend a good 1-2 days recovering from the 6-10 hour drive; then, we return to town the following Saturday (often in the wee hours of Sunday morning), spend the next day readjusting to life: unpacking, doing mounds of laundry, and preparing to get right back to work on Monday (at least, this was the case for us).  Ever hear the phrase, “I need a vacation from my vacation”?  That year, Josh and I cut these stressful parts of vacation out of the equation.  We made a decision to relax that week, move at a slow pace, put household chores to the wayside, and treat ourselves just like we were on vacation…only we were in the comforts of our own home (as well as spending a lot less money and doing a lot less laundry).  ”Ironically,” we returned to work the following Monday rested, refreshed and happy (our bosses appreciated our staycation theme that year, too).


Fast forward three years and along came motherhood.  At that point, an even newer “Pittsburgh world” opened up to me.  All of the sudden, I was a stay-at-home mom who was often visiting places like 
 The Children’s Museum,  soaking up the sun at Sandcastle‘s Tad Pool, and exploring lots of neat things at the Carnegie Science Center.  That’s when it dawned on me!  Pittsburghers need a discount ticket package that includes a variety of the city’s most classic attractions at one low price!  Not only was I fondly remembering my Pittsburgh staycation experience, but now as a mom, I was looking for a variety of things to do in one product; so, I created PittsburghPass. My goal is to hopefully provide fellow mommies, their loved ones—and, really anybody looking for fun and affordable things to do in Pittsburgh--with the opportunity to create memories that they never imagined could be made on a staycation in the comforts of our very own city.


If you have not yet planned a summer vacation this season, or simply cannot afford one, I challenge you to take 3-5 days this summer and dedicate it to fun, adventure, and relaxation among the amenities that the Burgh has to offer.  Whether you decide to make PittsburghPass a part of this adventure, or not, I can tell you from experience that your staycation will be a surprisingly wonderful and memorable time.

 

 

 

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Guest Post - Finding "The One"

Written by Heather Starr Fiedler. Posted in Guest Blog

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Today's guest post comes from a local Pittsburgh mom and freelance writer, Tara Darazio. Tara blogs at http://apassionforthepen.wordpress.com.  How did you know when you'd found "the one"?

 


The Moment They Knew They Found The One

My friend gave me the idea for this post, and I am pretty in love with the results. I reached out to four couples and had them share their story of how they knew they had found the one. In reading them, and also in thinking of my own story, we all kind of said the same exact thing. We just knew. And we all know how hard it is to explain to someone who hasn’t had this feeling, what it’s like. But maybe these stories will give you a good idea. When you hear someone say it’s like someone hits you over the head with a sledgehammer, it really is true. It’s the most powerful feeling you will ever experience. I’m a sucker for love and romance, so I’ll start with my own:

Tara and Justin:
I met Justin in a bar. A totally random place to meet your one and only. And I’ve written about this before, but honestly, I saw him, and it was like a magnet was pulling me towards him. You know in movies when there is that tunnel vision and you can only focus on one thing and everything else around you disappears… that was how I felt. And I definitely wasn’t looking for anyone when I met Justin. I had just ended a long relationship, and was honestly ready to be single for a while. I had just graduated from college and had spent the summer with my friends, traveling and going out, not looking for anything serious. I went up and talked to Justin and we hit it off immediately. I actually offered to buy him a drink, because that’s the type of gal I am, and he said that really surprised him and he knew I was special. I want to keep these stories short, so I won’t get into too much detail, but after the entire night of talking and dancing, we were saying goodbye, and I was already in my car. I rolled down my window to wave, and he bent down and gave me the sweetest peck on the lips, like we had known each other for years. That was my momentI knew I wanted to marry him. I told my mom (ask her, seriously) that night, that I had met my husband. She laughed, but it was true. The stats: Dated for 6 weeks before getting engaged (yes, you read that right), engaged for 11 months, now married for 7 years, and we have one beautiful little boy :)

Rae Beth and Tim:
Tim and I have actually known each other since the 7th grade; however the signs were never there until about sometime in early 2007. I had been in another relationship but spending some time with Tim and his friends, as my boyfriend at the time lived further away. I could tell that something was different when spending time with Tim. Despite the signs that were all around me, I decided to move in with said boyfriend, about 1.5 hours south of my hometown. Within a month, I was constantly driving back and forth so I could spend time with my new-found friends, without the boyfriend. The most significant moment to me was Halloween 2007. I was in a friend’s apartment for a Halloween party, knowing Tim was going to be there (obviously, as these were his friends). I heard he arrived and was coming up the stairs, and those butterflies in my stomach, man they were strong! It was then that I knew I was with the wrong guy. It took me about 2 more months to muster up the energy to tell the current boyfriend that it was time for us to move on and I was moving back home.  The day after I moved home was when Tim and I went on our first date (January 19, 2008); we have been inseparable since.

I honestly think I always knew; I just felt a connection with him. When we were talking about the future (and that was pretty early on), we were talking of the exact same thing; and wanted those things with each other. I knew that he meant it. I knew it by the way he treated me, the way he comforted me.  He was always such a gentleman and everything I was hoping for in a significant other. The stats: Dated for 2 years before getting engaged, engaged for 18 months, married for 2 years, and are expecting our first baby, due December 31, 2013. We could not be any happier!

Stephanie and Dan: I was lucky enough to get both of their stories
Steph: We met at Martial Arts class. I was getting ready to begin class and I looked across the room and saw a guy come in and our eyes briefly met. I knew from the moment we looked at each other this was itHe was the one. After 1 year of serious flirting, Dan finally had the courage to ask me out! Of course I said yes!

Dan: I remember already being in class training and saw her out of the corner of my eye. I got excited but went back to training (I was pretty dedicated to training). Don’t remember how or when or how long we did, but we started talking and did the usual flirting and stuff.  Don’t remember the exact day but I think it was some time around Halloween because she still had her hair styled from a costume party or something.  I remember thinking how really good she looked with her hair that way. We were in the corner of the martial art school stretching together and talking and that’s when it hit me, I remember thinking to myself that I could spend the rest of my life with her.  It was a pretty long road after that, I was really shy back then and was afraid to ask her out.  We had a couple of near misses before we finally went out and started dating.  We had a lot of rough times throughout this whole ordeal but I always knew that I would marry herThe stats: Dated for 6 years before getting engaged, engaged for 9 months, married for 8 years, and have 2 beautiful and awesome daughters!

Cindi and Zach: From Zach’s point of view (love to hear the guys!)
Cindi and I have an interesting history. We actually started working with each other 3 years before we started dating. I was a third-party contractor at work and she was our boss on the client’s side. Side note: pretty much defining her role in our relationship as the boss (before I even knew it) :) . Anyway, we were pretty good friends for three years. I always knew I had a little crush on her, but never thought it would amount to anything. I was so set that she had no interest that I ignored the signs from her. She started asking me to hang out without any of our mutual friends…and, still, I had no idea. Had I known, I might not have blown her off to hang out with other friends! Who knew I was missing out on once-in-a-lifetime memories! One night we finally hung out, and it all came together. It was like fireworks in the sky!  I am pretty sure I knew from that night that she was the one. But, if I were to be conservative, one night about three months into our relationship it was cemented. We were lying on the couch snuggling. At that moment, I knew that she was the only one for me and that I wanted to be permanently in this surreal moment. So, it just came out, “I love you.” Thankfully, she felt the same way and now, we are destined to live the rest of our lives together! The stats: Dated 2.5 years before getting engaged, currently engaged with a wedding planned for September of 2014, which will make it a 19 month engagement.

Michelle and Domenic:
I was with a wonderful guy before I met Dom, there was nothing wrong with him at all, he just wasn’t the one for me. I met Dom at a mutual friend’s wedding, finding out some strange coincidences. We grew up in the same neighborhood, like literally the house behind me, but I went to Catholic school and he went to public school. He dated a girl who went to Kent and I dated a guy that went to Kent. He dated a girl who went to Point Park, and that is where I went to college! And we both weren’t even supposed to be at that wedding, but I went with a good friend, and Dom’s best friend had invited him to the wedding as a date. We talked at the wedding, but reconnected later thanks to Facebook. Social media strikes again! I don’t know if there was a black and white moment I knew he was the one, but meeting him at that wedding, made me realize I was with the wrong guy, a very strong feeling, that I hadn’t been able to fully grasp until that night. I felt immediately like I could be myself with Dom. I believe everything happens for a reason, and all my paths led me to Dom. The stats: Dated for 2 years before getting engaged, engaged for 2 years, married for 3 months and going strong!

Everybody has their own unique story, but it’s amazing how similar the stories turned out to be. I think what we can all agree upon, is that we can be ourselves with our significant others, and that we felt immediate connections with them for no reason at all, most of us, before we even spoke a single word. I do believe that our hearts have to find their other half, and if we are lucky enough to do that, fate will let us know. Maybe it’s not a moment for you, maybe it’s a feeling that happens over time, but no matter the case, you will know.

I keep singing this lately and it’s a perfect ending for this blog:
Wish that I could stay forever this young
Not afraid to close my eyes
Life’s a game made for everyone
And love is the prize
-Avicii

Love is definitely the prize. We all deserve someone who gives us butterflies, makes us feel like the only person in the room, and completes us. Please share your moments with me. I’d love to hear them!

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Make it Monday - Baked Ziti with Spinach

Written by Heather Starr Fiedler. Posted in Guest Blog

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Today we are starting a new series at Pittsburgh Mom called "Make it Monday".  On Mondays we will share something for you to make (including directions). It might be a craft, children's activity or a recipe. To submit a blog post for Make it Monday, email This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. . Our first "Make it Monday" post comes to us from Guest Blogger Suzanne Yip.

Today's guest post comes to us from Suzanne Yip.  Suzanne is a stay-at-home mom. who lives in the South Hills.  Her family relocated to Pittsburgh a little over a year ago for her  husband's work. Prior to moving to Pittsburgh she owned an alternative school lunch delivery service. Her company made, packed and delivered about 200 healthy lunches a day to schools in Northern New Jersey.  She recently started a food blog highlighting healthy family friendly recipes. Along with recipes she share some tips she learned in her over twenty years in the food service industry

You can find her blog at http://yipsonfoods.blogspot.com/

 

Baked Ziti with Spinach....that kids like!


I do not like to sneak veggies into kids food. I like to take nutrient dense veggies that kids may not particularly care for and use them in a recipe in hopes they may gain a new appreciation for the veggie.

 I have gone through most of my life hating spinach but wanting to like spinach. As a kid, I wanted to like spinach because of course, it made you stronger...according to Popeye cartoons. As an adult I have wanted to like spinach because it is full of calcium, vitamins, fiber and lots of good thing for my body.

Many years ago I began a quest to find spinach I like. I have tried spinach so many ways....thanks to the many chefs I have worked with. I still do not like spinach as a stand alone vegetable but I found I like in mixed in with other foods.

With this in mind I set out to use spinach in many of the recipes I served to the children through the school lunch program, Yipson Foods. This Baked Ziti recipe proved that yes, kids will eat spinach. When we debut this on our menu approximately half the orders for the day were for Baked Ziti. We noticed as we were cleaning out the lunch bags for the day that the kids ate all or almost all of the Baked Ziti (including the spinach!). More importantly, the next time we served Baked Ziti on the menu over eighty percent of the kids ordered the Baked Ziti and again, they actually ate it!

This became one of our most requested recipes by parents. Enjoy!

Baked Ziti
Yield 6

Ingredients

8 oz. uncooked whole wheat ziti pasta
8 oz container sliced mushrooms, chopped (I use baby bella)
1 medium onion, chopped
1 tbsp minced garlic
9 oz package of spinach leaves
1 cup light ricotta cheese
2 cups Marinara Sauce, heated (My recipe is posted on the blog)
1 cup part skim shredded mozzarella
grated Parmesan, for topping
1 Tablespoon Olive Oil

Preparation

1. Preheat oven to 375º.
2. Cook pasta according to package directions, omitting salt and fat. Drain and set aside in a large bowl.
3.  Meanwhile, coat a large skillet with olive oil and bring it to medium heat.
4.  Add onion and cook for 3-4 minutes.
5.  Add mushrooms and garlic, and cook for another 5 minutes, until mushrooms are soft.
6.  Add spinach and cook until wilted, about 5 minutes.
7.  Remove skillet from heat and stir in ricotta cheese.
8.  Add mixture to the bowl with the cooked pasta, then add the marinara sauce and ¾ cup mozzarella. Stir well.
9. Transfer the mixture to an 8×8 baking pan sprayed with nonstick spray. Top with remaining mozzarella, plus some grated Parmesan.
10. Bake until hot and bubbly, 15-20 minutes.

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Guest Blog - Review: Lion King's autism performance a special opportunity

Written by Heather Starr Fiedler. Posted in Guest Blog

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So, a Lion, a warthog and a meerkat walked into Pittsburgh....

Here's a little secret about some of us families who have a child with autism; we hate to go out in public. That sounds horrible but it’s the truth.  This is because autism is mainly a social syndrome, meaning that social situations including communication, interactions with new people and public places with large crowds can cause a huge reaction from our kids.  This also means that some of our kids do not interact the way society dictates.  Some are non-verbal, some are verbal but are monotone and expressionless, some have no problems communicating to one person but cannot handle more than one and so on and so forth.  Therefore, when our kids get into these public situations, they get scared and different reactions can result such as grunting, hiding, running away, flapping the arms, jumping up and down, screaming, crying, throw themselves on the ground and many other things. 

So really it is no surprise that we parents typically just stay at home with our kids.  And if we do venture out and one of the above reactions occurs, it can be an emotional drain on us parents.  We love our kids and many of us have built up a hard exterior wall to the reactions that we get from those ignorant people around us who glare, make comments, or snicker but even though we have this wall up, it still hurts. 

The reactions are not entirely the fault of people being ignorant to autism because our kiddos show no physical signs of the disorder and look like your typical child; therefore, many people think that we are just being "bad" parents and can't get control over our offspring.  And so the comfort of our homes or our typical places becomes the norm to avoid the behaviors of our kids and the reactions from those strangers.  

However, yesterday hundreds of families like ours ventured out of our safe zones to experience something that I know I thought I would never be able to take my autistic son to see:  the iconic musical production of Disney's The Lion King 

Pittsburgh is one of only three cities that offer an autism friendly version of The Lion King through funds provided by The Pittsburgh Cultural Trust.  The production is adapted to remove elements that would typically send our kiddos into a meltdown such as the removal of strobe lights, the quieting down of the music, only the dimming of house lights so total darkness is avoided, and the kids are allowed to be "free" to bounce, clap, flap and talk all they want.  When my husband and I saw the ads for this production we jumped on it and bought our tickets excited to do something new and different with our aspie (our son has Asperger’s Syndrome, and many call themselves aspies). We had no clue of what to expect and were more than pleasantly surprised by our experience. 

The moment we got out of our car form the Theater Parking garage we were relieved and knew we made the right decision to come.  The first thing we saw were tons of volunteers in bright yellow Lion King shirts that were ready and waiting passing out sensory toys to all the kids and were also helping all the families get to the theater with ease.  As we walked, our volunteer detailed us on the special sensory rooms that were set up at the Benedum to relax our son if he got to overwhelmed due to the people, the performance itself or the noise.  Our volunteer walked us all the way to the ticket attendant where she said her goodbyes and wished us a happy show.  Can you believe that?!  And every family that we saw come in had the same treatment with their own volunteer to help them along.  Amazing, if you ask me.  When we got inside, for every one child I would say that there was at least two volunteers to help the flow of traffic, to help if families needed it, to direct people to the sensory rooms they might be looking for, or to help you find your seat along with the regular attendants.  It was amazing to say the least.  Our son wanted to head for the "quiet" sensory room that was set up to relax the senses.  Inside the room was complete dark and silent, with multiple bean bag chairs, rocking chairs, and small colored light displays in each corner that gave an incredible relaxing feel to the room.  Our son loved it and immediately climbed into a chair to take a break from the outside world.  When he was ready we set out to find our seats and to get ready for the show.

So in a perfect world where there are rainbows and butterflies everyday I would begin to tell you how our son loved the show and had an excellent time.  However, we don't live in that world and unfortunately our son did not like the show.  Before I detail his reasons, let me first explain that many kids with autism, especially Asperger’s, do not like change.  They like things to be consistent and almost predictable, and because of this many of our aspie’s root problems with the show stemmed from this fact.  Here's what he informed us as to why he did not like it.

 1.      The Lion King cannot be on a stage.  It can only be on a screen or on TV.

2.      The costumes and painted faces "were all wrong."

3.      The stage version strayed from the movie in content.  And instant deal breaker for our son.

4.      It was "long".  And to be fair on this one, it seemed like many of the kids around us were struggling with the time thing.

And there you have it.  Why our son will tell you why he did not like the show.  But if you ask me, it was phenomenal and a pure success.  I know it doesn't make sense as to why I think it was a success even though my son didn't like it at all, and to be honest it doesn't have anything to do with the performance of the play itself, which was wonderful.  For me it has more to do with those around us than anything else. 

When we first got to our seats the boy that sat right in front of us looked to be around the same age as our son, who is five. When we sat down, my son started bouncing up and down and tapping me on the arm saying,  "Look mommy, look!  That boy has headphones on like me!!"  "Yes he does," I say, "that's totally cool!"  And it was. It was sooo cool for him to look around and see a bunch of kids have headphones on and to be bouncing in their chair like he was.  It was cool that he could see that there are so many others out there "like" him.  It was also so cool for me to look around and see all those parents who are in the same situation as we are, doing what they can for their child.  Many times my husband and I looked at each other with a knowing smile when we saw things that we have survived or been through, such as the several princesses, cowboys and pirates that walk by with their parents.  Been there, done that, I thought to myself knowing that the only way those parents probably could get out the door without a huge meltdown was to let their kiddo go out dressed as whatever pretend hero they are obsessed with at that time.  We also saw parents with their kids having a stress free day out because like us, they knew that the other parents around them knew exactly what they were going through and didn't judge them for a second.  

 

So, yes, my aspie didn't like it, but all in all we had a great day!  And as we were driving out of the city to go home I couldn't be more proud of the Steele city!  It's a great place to live for many reasons, but I have to say it did shine even more on that day.


Today's guest blog comes to us from Lisa Lohr.  Lisa is a stay-at-home mom of two boys ages 2 and 5, with the oldest having Asperger's Syndrome (an autism spectrum disorder). Also a wife, geochemist, dog lover, news junkie, travel bug, foodie, and blogger who recently got a new found love of social media. For more stories from the house of crazies check out www.lolwithbipolarandaspergers.com

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Guest Blog - Is it really always about who gets there first?

Written by Heather Starr Fiedler. Posted in Guest Blog

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Today's guest blog comes from mom Angie Ashbery.  She is a stay at home mom of 3, a 7 1/2 year old boy and 5 year old boy/girl twins.  She is also a member of SHOPMOM, South Hills of Pittsburgh Mothers of Multiples. Their life is busy, crazy and definitely never boring!

Spring! The season my family has been waiting for!!! It’s one step closer to summer vacation, camps and swimming pools. But, is that a good way to look at things?

Doesn’t the year fly by too fast already? It’s amazing to me when I see Facebook pictures of kids on their first day of school when I could swear that child was just born! I wish it was easier to take things day by day, slow down a little bit. But, I’m realizing that the quick ways of the world don’t just affect me…they affect my kids too.

The other day, I actually had to say to my twins, “Wait until the garage door goes up before you try to get out.” Seriously? This is because the day before, they were racing to see who could get to the car first and my son tried to run through the large, very visible garage door before it was even over his head. Needless to say, he had a small goose egg on his head for a couple days. Why does everything have to be a race? Is it really all about who gets there first? My kids race to see who can get to the car first, who can get up the stairs first, who can grab a toy first and who can get dressed and undressed first. Even though they’re five now, they’ve been doing this since they were little. Fast crawling was a must. Speedy toddling was a necessity. And now that they can run, it’s much more interesting.

Is that an advantage or a disadvantage to having a twin brother or sister? We’re just getting into the school adventure and sometimes I worry that their competition will cause them to rush and make mistakes. But, maybe it will force them to surge towards new ideas, teaching each other as they do so.

As time goes on and my kids move forward in their abilities and aspirations, sometimes I wish that times were slower. That I could keep them in this house forever, not subjecting them to sicknesses, bullies, failures and disappointments. But I also realize that those things are what life is about…and ultimately how they will learn the most. Maybe trying to be the first isn’t always so bad. After all, they also race to see who will be the first to give me a hug when I go somewhere. In those times, we’re all winners.

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