This weekend, we’re heading to some of our favorite places for the holidays in Pittsburgh: the PPG Wintergarden, the Pittsburgh Symphony, Gemini Theater and more. I’m sharing all the festive details in this week’s events Kidcast, your guide to the weekend in 2 minutes!
Do you practice mindfulness? It’s becoming a popular technique in schools to help kids focus. In this Kidcast, our expert shows your family how to do it, leading us all in a breathing exercise! Trust me, you’ll feel more relaxed after you do it with us.
On a cold, rainy day in Lawrenceville, crossing guard Cathy Gamble brings a ray of sunshine to the neighborhood.
“Hi, pal,” she says walking to the corner of Butler and 44th streets, where 4-year-old Dexter Nee and his mom, Lauren, are waiting to cross.
“Did you ever hear that song? The ‘Rain, Rain’ song? I’ll bet you know it,” says Gamble, bursting out with “Rain, rain, go away. Come again some other day!” as Dexter follows along.
Gamble, 59, of Lawrenceville, has worked as a crossing guard in Pittsburgh for the last 18 years, 15 at this intersection.
Kids are the favorite part of the job for Gamble, who takes their safety seriously while adding an entertaining aspect that is lighthearted, compassionate and a little silly, too.
“When you have a little one that comes up running to you to tell you ‘Good morning,’ and they give you a hug, and I give them a little kiss on the forehead, it feels like joy,” she says.
The crossing guard is on a mission to make new friends every day. She talks to anyone and everyone, always making eye contact and taking an interest.
“Hi, honey, how are ya?” she hollers repeatedly. “Hi, darling! Hi, Princess!”
At the bustling intersection, Gamble hardly stays still. One minute she’s helping kids off the bus and the next she’s making hearts in the air and blowing a kiss at a passing car while directing traffic in the middle of the street.
“Movin’ and a-groovin’ — that’s what I do,” she says.
Gamble occasionally breaks out in a dance while bursting into song, a trait her young charges appreciate.
“She has a really funny personality,” says 12-year-old Eva Schumacher.
“She’s funny, caring and she brings people happiness,” says Isabella Farnan, 13. “You could be sad, and she’ll put a smile on your face.”
At week’s end, Gamble serenades kids with her personal “Friday Song” as they walk by: “Happy Friday, uh huh! It’s a my day. It’s Friday. It’s Friday. Happy Friday!”
The song ends with a “Woo!” as Gamble jumps in the air in excitement.
“After these kids have been in school all week, they need a little pep up,” she says.
Keona Plummer, mom to 10-year-old Aeona, who crosses the intersection every day, describes Gamble as refreshing. “She always brightens up my day. … She makes me smile, even when I don’t want to.”
Holidays are a special time at Butler and 44th streets. Around Christmas, Gamble buys candy and stuffed animals and has her brother dress up as Santa Claus. Together they pass out goodies to the kids. She offers candy for Halloween, and hearts for Valentine’s Day.
“Children are such a blessing,” she says. “They’re going to be our future. Someday, they’re going to take care of me, so I’m going to take care of them now.”
For moms and dads, Gamble’s lovable, energetic, caring personality is uplifting.
Dad Tim Conti, waiting for his daughter’s school bus, admires Gamble’s unique personality: “In a world that has so much conflict, she makes you feel like there’s still hope.”
Miniature railroads are so much fun. All the tiny people, buildings and chugging trains in these Lilliputian worlds are fascinating to find and point out. But many train exhibits also offer a history lesson of eras long past. Some of our favorite railroad exhibits are set in specific time periods, which allow kids to look back at our city and picture the past in completely new ways.
The model railroad holiday tradition, which began in the late 1800s, continues to attract crowds of all ages. Here are six of our favorites:
1. Carnegie Science Center Miniature Railroad & Village
The Carnegie Science Center Miniature Railroad & Village focuses on the period between 1880 and the 1930s. Despite its old-timey era, the artisans who create new features every year are now using the latest technology in their work. A 3-D printer is being employed to make various components, although the finishing details are still done by hand.
This year’s addition to the railroad display is Cement City in Donora. Thomas Edison’s 1916 experiment was intended to build inexpensive homes from poured concrete that could be completed within a week. These houses for factory workers proved to be more costly than anticipated, so Edison only built 80 of the planned 120 houses. The exhibit’s Cement City includes six concrete houses designed from original blueprints, along with one under construction. The tableau shows a block party of neighbors, the spirit of which remains in those who now live in the 100-plus-year-old homes.
This new feature is a fine example of why the exhibit attracts more than 400,000 annual visitors, who look closely at all the tiny bits that make up the 83-foot-by-30-foot platform. Kids are at just the right height to get the best eye-level view of the O-scale Lionel trains.
See if you can spot all 115 animations, which include kids on swings, a mother walking a fussy baby, and a homebody relaxing in a front porch rocking chair. More obvious movements include spinning rides in Luna Park and a steamboat operating via magnets through the 3-inch deep river.
Look for familiar businesses that have survived over the years, like Primanti Brothers and Klavon’s Ice Cream Parlor. Examine the 23,000 fans at Forbes Field and all those heads made of Q-tips. Be sure to check out the motorcycle cop hiding behind a billboard, just waiting to catch a speeding car!
Every time we stop by, we find something we’re overlooked before – like Punxsutawney Phil up on Gobbler’s Knob – so we love that the exhibit is open year-round, allowing for multiple visits.
2. Phipps Conservatory & Botanical Garden
As part of Phipps Conservatory’s 125th anniversary, the redesigned Garden Railroad’s “Memories in Motion” sets scenes from 1893 to 2018 as the history of the conservatory unfolds over the years.
A model train carries exotic plants from the 1893 Columbian World Fair to Pittsburgh to start the collection. Spot philanthropist Henry Phipps, whose gift to the city resulted in the original $100,000 Victorian glass house.
Unlike other model railroads, the tiny trees and shrubs are live plants, adding a different aspect to the miniature landscape.
Several animatronics features allow kids to push a button to put things in motion, adding to the fun history lessons. Activate antique race cars speeding through Schenley Park or turn on the lights and music of a merry-go-round and concert band shell that once were part of the property. Watch boats cruise through Panther Hollow Lake and under the Panther Hollow Bridge.
Time your stop with visits with Santa on select dates between Nov. 23 and Dec. 23.
3. Western Pennsylvania Model Railroad Museum
Founded in 1938, Western Pennsylvania Model Railroad Museum in Gibsonia is one of the oldest miniature railroad organizations in the country. The 4,000-square-foot layout fixes on the 1950s, a booming time for regional railroads that transported products to and from steel mills. The era was a changeover period between steam and diesel engines, which allows the organization to run both types of locomotives.
Local landmarks are depicted within the HO-scale display’s more than 6,500 feet of track, 300 locomotives and over 2,000 cars. Look for the P&LE train station (now Station Square), the J&L Steel Mill and Fallingwater. Volunteers add more details of street scenes and built-from-scratch buildings every year.
A handout offers a fun scavenger hunt for kids to search from a list of items, like a garage under construction, servicemen waiting for a train and a woman on a bicycle.
Little engineers will love the interactive displays with wooden trains and pushing the switch that sends Thomas the Tank racing on an HO track. The Toy Train display is fun, too, where two levels include an alien crash site, a dinosaur zone, and a drive-in theater.
On Friday nights, the exhibit rolls back to 1949 to visit the “Twilight of Steam,” when all the steam locomotives run.
The museum’s season runs through Jan. 13, followed by classes for those caught up in model railroading excitement.
4. Ohio Valley Line
Philanthropy is part of the mission of Ohio Valley Lines in Ambridge. The club train enthusiasts extend their excitement for model railroads with a Trains for Tots program, which promotes the hobby in the next generation.
Members collect and repair trains for donation. Each starter set includes a transformer, terminal track, engine, caboose, and four cars. Three sets are given away at random every day during the holiday display open house. Train donations also are made to organizations like The Salvation Army, the Moose Club “Heart to Heart Club,” and the Marines Toys for Tots program.
Ohio Valley Lines is a combination model railroad display, museum, and library. The train layout includes an HO-scale and N-scale track and trains available to view on weekends from Nov. 24 to Jan. 6.
5. McKeesport Model Railroad Club
The 68-year-old McKeesport Model Railroad Club holds an annual open house for model train enthusiasts to view its 2,200-square-foot train display throughout the holidays. This year, the open house runs Fridays through Sundays from Dec. 7-30.
The club’s fictitious Mon Yough Valley Railroad is set in the era between 1950 and 1960. The settings of HO-scale trains, people and buildings range from city scenes to mountain bridges and rural life. Look for a man shining shoes, kids playing at a picnic and a Clark Bar billboard among the tiny features.
6. Pennsylvania Trolley Museum
The Lionel train exhibit at the Pennsylvania Trolley Museum is more of a fanciful village dressed for the holidays than any particular era. The Victorian buildings could double for the town of Bedford in “It’s a Wonderful Life” – except for the golden arches of a McDonald’s!
Kids can combine the train exhibit with a ride on the Santa Trolley and a visit with the big guy himself. The restored and decorated streetcar travels along a 2-mile track.
Other activities during “Trolleys and Toy Trains” include making a holiday craft, free hot chocolate and cookies, plus a look at the fanciful LEGO layout built by Steel City Lug members. And the collection of nearly 50 trolley cars is worth browsing through.
These Maker Monday Film Canister Rockets shoot into the sky with a loud, satisfying “pop!” at take off. It’s a cool STEM activity that can be replicated again and again.
Use a film canister and a little water, plus the secret rocket fuel — Alka-Seltzer or its generic form — which fizzes and bubbles until exploding the lid off the upside-down canister.
This activity is a fine way to illustrate Newton’s Third Law of Motion: For every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction. When the chemical reaction of the water and tablets produce enough carbon dioxide, its force not only pushes the lid off the canister, the opposite reaction sends the canister flying up 10 to 20 feet in the air. It’s not very different from the science NASA uses to send real rockets into outer space.
Want to see that once more? Just rinse the canister and do it again!
Don’t worry about the mess. A quick hose down of water cleans it up easily.
For added fun, we decorated the canisters before setting off our rockets.
Film canisters (Find them at craft stores or online.)
Alka-Seltzer or generic effervescent antacid tablets
Optional decorations: Ribbon, stickers, markers, glue gun, etc.
Decorate the canisters, if you like. Once they fly off, it might be easier to identify and see where the rocket ended up following its flight.
Set the canister on a hard outdoor surface, like a driveway or sidewalk. Fill the canister about one-third with water. Break a tablet for each canister into three or four pieces. Drop the pieces into the water and quickly snap the cap on the canister. Set the canister lid-down and step away.
You will hear the fizzing followed by a loud pop as the canister opens, blasting off your rocket into the air.
Older kids can add a bit of experimentation to the process and takes notes. Does hot water react differently than cold? Do plain canisters react differently from those with decorations? Does more or less water make a difference in your rocket’s flight? You can probably come up with a number of other factors to compare and learn from.
For more Maker Monday projects and other fun stuff for kids, visit the Kidsburgh Activities page.