• Today is: Saturday, September 22, 2018

10 fun freebies for kids during Pittsburgh RADical Days

radical days
Rege Behe
September09/ 2018

For 17 years, Pittsburgh RADical Days have showcased the best of Western Pennsylvania. Arts organizations, museums, and other benefactors of the Allegheny Regional Asset District’s 1 percent local sales tax open their doors for those who have contributed to their funding. Families love to take advantage of these fun freebies from some of their favorite destinations.

Here’s a list of 10 activities that will delight kids of all ages. But don’t stop here. There are lots more events to be found on the RADical Days website.

1. Hay Days

Petting zoos, pony rides, puppet shows and, of course, hay rides, will be featured Sept. 22 at Hartwood Acres and Oct. 6 at South Park for Hay Days. The Hartwood Acres event features Family Green Fest, with educational activities focused on the environment. South Park hosts Public Safety Day with vehicles and equipment from Allegheny County’s public safety departments on display.

2. Pop-up Chamber Concerts

Calling all Beethoven, Bach and Mozart enthusiasts. Student groups from the Youth Chamber Connection will perform pop-up concerts at Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh locations in Lawrenceville, East Liberty, Homewood and the West End on Sunday, Sept. 23. Times will be announced on Sept. 16.

radical days
Giant flowers are part of the mesmerizing “Gardens of Sound and Motion” exhibit at Phipps Conservatory.

3. Gardens of Sound and Motion

Phipps Conservatory and Botanical Gardens is home to some of the most gorgeous landscapes in Pittsburgh. In addition to the Children’s Discovery Garden and the Tropical Forest, the Gardens of Sound and Motion, an interactive soundscape of visual and kinetic art, will be featured with free admission on Monday, Sept. 24.

4. Day of Art (and dinosaurs)

On Saturday, Sept. 29, a free day of art will be offered at three locations, including:

5. Doubleheader of Music and Words

Carnegie Music Hall in Oakland will host the Pittsburgh Youth Chorus at 2 p.m. Sunday, Sept. 30, followed by an appearance by children’s author Cuban-American Meg Medina, author of “The Girl Who Could Silence the Wind,” as part of Pittsburgh Arts & Lectures‘ Words & Pictures series. Reservations requested.

6. It’s a hoot

On Thursday, Oct. 4, the Audubon Society of Western Pennsylvania will host Owl Prowl at Beechwood Farms Nature Reserve in Fox Chapel, tracking the nocturnal birds of prey in their natural habitats. Space is limited, so you’ll want to reserve a space early at aswp.org.

7. Visit the Gilded Age

Step back in time on Saturday, Oct. 6, at The Frick Pittsburgh. Clayton, the Frick family’s mansion, will host free family activities, along with tours of The Frick Art Museum and the Car and Carriage Museum.

radical days
A free day at the zoo is a welcome treat.

8. Zoo Day

The Pittsburgh Zoo will offer free admission starting at 9 a.m. Sunday, Oct. 7, featuring its newest residents: the Canadian lynx kittens at Forest Passage and the baby gorilla at the Tropical Forest. At 10 a.m., kids’ activities start, accompanied by Chamber Music Pittsburgh. At noon, the River City Brass will perform.

9. Moon Glow

The Senator John Heinz History Center will feature the Smithsonian’s “Destination Moon: The Apollo 11 Mission” for all budding astronauts and their families on Monday, Oct. 8. The exhibit features items that including Neil Armstrong’s space suit and the Apollo 11 command module.

10. Dance Party

The dance ambassadors of Pittsburgh Musical Theater’s Xtreme Teen Broadway will take over South Main Street in the West End for Dancing in the Streets. Fan participation is optional but welcome. The performance starts at 11 a.m. Saturday, Oct. 13.

10 farm outings worth the drive

Sally Quinn
September06/ 2018

Head down to the farm this fall for apple picking, pumpkin festivals and an opportunity to talk to the animals.

These annual family-friendly adventures are not only a lot of fun, they give kids a chance to learn more about where and how their food is grown. Set your GPS, fill up your gas tank and hit the road.

Gobble, gobble! Check out the turkeys at Jones Poultry Farm.

Butler County Farm Tour

This free self-driving tour is a terrific way for city kids to experience the country. The Butler County Farm Tour, set for Sept. 15, comprises five farms with a range of specialties:

Thiele Farm was established in 1868, but this six-generation dairy farm keeps up with technology. Along with milking cows, visitors can see how hi-tech drones help to make farming decisions.

Feed the soft-coated alpacas at Asgard Acres Alpaca Farm, where cuteness overload is a promise. Hands-on activities are planned, along with demonstrations of weaving, spinning and working a felting machine. Be sure to check out the gift shop for finely crafted alpaca wool products. Ready for a break? The local 4-H club will offer hot dogs and drinks for sale.

Jones Poultry Farm has been in the family for 70 years, specializing in turkeys, chickens, corn and pumpkins. Families can visit with the birds, find out how they are raised, pick sweet corn and check out the big farming equipment. Samplings of deep-fried chicken and turkey will be available, along with sales and concessions.

The 52-year-old Har-Lo Farms grows grain, hay and potatoes and raises beef. Silver Crest Equestrian Center is a horse farm that offers boarding, lessons and competitive training.

The mini village at Soergel’s will give kids a chance to burn off energy.

Soergel Orchards

Kids can race through the Old West-style Tiny Town to play and pose for photo ops at Soergel Orchards. When it’s time for a break, the fresh food options are diverse and tasty. Mom and dad can relax with local craft beer or Arsenal Cider House offerings. Kids will love a visit to Soergel Scoops with a full menu of ice cream, sundaes and milkshakes.

Pick-your-own apples and pumpkins are ready for September and October harvest. Friday night hayrides begin Sept. 21, with Fall Festival weekends starting Sept. 22. Apple and pumpkin picking, tractor rides and games are part of the fun scheduled on Saturdays and Sundays through the end of October. And don’t forget about Soergel’s weekly story time at 10:30 a.m. Mondays.

Apple picking can be a team sport at Triple B Farms.

Triple B Farms

Weekend fun at Triple B Farms in Monongahela stars Pop’s Farmyard, a huge playground with a giant board game, Duck Derby and Bee Barn. Energetic kids will be challenged by the climbing rope maze and Liberty Tunnels slide. October weekends bring Triple B’s Fall Festival with additional activities, like a corn maze, scarecrow tent and slingshot target practice.

Pick-your-own apples and pumpkins are scheduled for weekends in September and October. Right now, kids can choose Honeycrisp, Fuji and Jonagold among the apples ripe and ready in the orchards. We hear there are a few peach trees with fruit remaining, too.

Brace yourself: Triple B is famous for its Sky-High Pies and farm fresh fudge. Irresistible!

Fall welcomes a big season of family fun at Trax Farms.

Trax Farms

This year marks the 49th-annual Fall Festival at Trax Farms, running Saturdays and Sundays from Sept. 29 to Oct. 28. Catch a hayride to the pumpkin patch and find the perfect pumpkin for a jack-o-lantern. Get lost – and found! – in the giant-sized 3-acre corn maze.

Entertainment includes train rides, a bouncy house and a great big slide. Little ones will love the petting zoo and pony rides, while older kids might be brave enough to try the bungee jump and rock wall.

No festival would be complete without yummy food. Temptations include apple dumplings with ice cream, pulled pork nachos and apple cider slushies. Food trucks will be on hand, too.

Flowers are part of the pick-your-own lineup of apples and pumpkins at Simmons Farm.

Simmons Farm

Simmons Farm in McMurray offers a different take on pick-your-own with Cut-Ur-Own Flowers. Grab a bucket and fill it with fresh blooms like snapdragons, zinnias, dahlias and marigolds. U-Pick Apples is in daily operation, too, with Gala, Molly Delicious and Golden Supreme currently ready to pop into a basket.

Fall activities begin Sept. 15 with 5 acres of pumpkins, rubber duck races and a human hamster wheel. Two corn mazes give an option to kids with a 2-acre version, as well as a more advanced 4-acre maze.

Take a scenic hayride into the fields to pick a pumpkin and an ear of Indian corn. Or gather friends and family to reserve a group night-time hayride that includes a bonfire and marshmallow roasting.

Is the biggest pumpkin the best one to pick? Decide for yourself at Shenot’s Farm.

Shenot’s Farm

There will be no shortage of delicious eats at fall gatherings on Shenot’s Farm in Wexford. The farm has a close association with delicious menus, having hosted a series of Farm-to-Table dinners throughout the summer.

Along with regular farm concessions of apple cider, caramel apples and kettle corn, food trucks are scheduled during the fall celebration weekends running from Sept. 29 through October. Be sure to visit the Fudge Room, where chocoholics could experience delirium from 50 flavors of small-batch fudge.

Climb aboard the hayride or stroll the ½-mile path to the pumpkin patch on this seventh-generation family farm.

But the best part is yet to come. Fall festivities end with an explosion of jack-o-lanterns and tired old pumpkins. Visit Shenot’s on the weekend after Halloween for the Pumpkin Smash when kids can wreck and roll their pumpkins with a blast of glee.

Pumpkins set the scene at Cheeseman Farm.

Cheeseman Farm

Combine a trip to Cheeseman Farm with a family hike and picnic at nearby McConnels Mill State Park for a rousing day trip.

The Portersville farm invites visitors to pick the perfect pumpkin on weekends from Oct. 6 to 28. Mom can shop for a seasonal supply of honey, apple butter and pumpkins. Kids can enjoy hayrides, hay jump and petting zoo of farm animals.

For families with older kids, the annual Fright Farm, complete with haunted hayride, corn maze and walkthrough attractions begins Sept. 14 through October. Warning: The ghoulish fun begins at dark and is geared toward teens and adults. Kids 12 and younger must be accompanied by an adult.

Rare heirloom varieties of apples will give kids the chance to experience a range of apple flavors, from sweet to tart.

Norman’s Orchard

Don’t expect the thrills and frills of hayrides and petting zoos at Norman’s Orchards in Tarentum. This 60-year-old, family-owned farm specializes in fruit trees with a season that begins with cherries. The trees include many heirloom and antique varieties of fruit. Right now, apples and Anjou pears are fat and juicy.

Fill a basket and revel in the sweet, crisp fruit with intriguing names like Roxbury Russett, Northern Spy and Myers Royal Limbertwig. There are lessons to be learned in the orchards (What the heck’s a peck?), and even more once at home in the kitchen.

Harvest Valley Farms has been in the same family for four generations. They share the joy during their annual Fall Festival.

Harvest Valley Farms

Pumpkin bowling, anyone?

Harvest Valley Farms in Valencia has been celebrating the fall season in a big way for 33 years. For five weekends from Sept. 30 through October, this small family farm is transformed from a self-sustaining vegetable farm into a fun-filled, pick-your-own pumpkin festival. Live music keeps a bouncy soundtrack with tunes from the likes of Rick Bruening, Laurel Colonello and Melody & Jackie with Sing, Sing, Sing.

Kid-friendly activities keep the little ones entertained with a corn pit, hayrides to the pumpkin patch, exploring a straw tunnel and, oh yeah, that pumpkin bowling we mentioned.

In addition to the more than 160 varieties of fruit and vegetables sold at the market, stop in the bakery for temptations like Apple Brown Betty Pie, frosted raisin bread and chocolate gobs.

And to keep your family more in tune with country life, sign up to receive Farmer Art King’s weekly “News About the Farm” newsletter.

Little farmers can get a look at how pumpkins grow at Hozak Farm.

Hozak Farms

Free tractor-drawn hayrides to the pumpkin patch are offered weekday afternoons in October at Hozak Farms in Hanover Township, near Raccoon State Park. The farm’s 33rd-annual Fall Festival runs on weekends from Sept. 30 through October. Kids can participate in pumpkin painting, explore the maze and meet farm animals. Check out the Gift Barn for seasonal decorations like scarecrows and corn stalks.

Once you know your way to the farm, come back during the holidays to cut-your-own Christmas tree or choose a pre-cut from the lot.

Birthday Boutique fashion truck offers “Hope on a Hanger” to kids in need

birthday boutique
Candy Williams
September06/ 2018

Above photo: Megs Yunn, executive director and founder of Beverly’s Birthdays, poses with the first kids to shop in the Birthday Boutique fashion truck. 

Helping kids in need is nothing new for Megs Yunn, executive director and founder of Beverly’s Birthdays. The nonprofit organization has celebrated birthdays with more than 30,000 Pittsburgh kids since 2012.

Her latest venture, the Birthday Boutique van, hit the road on its maiden voyage to deliver “Hope on a Hanger.” The fashion truck, outfitted with new clothing and accessories, allows kids to “shop” for outfits at Beverly’s Birthday parties held at homeless shelters and group homes.

The Birthday Boutique made its first stop at Duquesne Family Center, where 17 kids from toddlers to teens went on a shopping spree with donations from Delivering Good, Kidbox and American Eagle Outfitters. Each party guest left with a duffel bag, plus two outfits and a Beverly’s Basics Kit of underwear, socks and pajamas.

“The children really enjoyed selecting the outfits and oohed and aahed over the selection,” Megs says. “The majority of them selected cute, versatile outfits that could be worn for school or play – and the little girls loved matching their outfits to a new hair bow.”

The most rewarding part of her work is using kids’ birthdays as an occasion to show kids they matter.

“My world lit up when one of the little shoppers exclaimed, ‘All of this is making me feel so special.’ This is the sole reason why our organization exists,” Megs says.

Beverly’s Birthdays had its start after she met a girl named Beverly, who had never had her own birthday cake or party.

The idea for Birthday Boutique was born when Megs met another girl, Kayla, during a birthday celebration at a residential home for kids. Kayla told a board member that she loved the dress one volunteers was wearing and that she herself had never owned a dress.

“The next day our board member arranged with the agency to fund a trip for Kayla to go shopping at Target,” Megs says.

Kayla, who was not allowed to leave the facility due to safety concerns, was able to video chat with her aide to help her pick out two dresses and a pair of shoes to wear on her birthday the following day.

Birthday Boutique
Beverly’s Birthdays’ newest venture is the Birthday Boutique fashion truck.

Megs received funding for the Birthday Boutique from The Opportunity Fund and American Eagle Outfitters Foundation. She championed the renovation of a delivery truck to extend her mission of “spreading birthday cheer in a very fashionable way.”

Continuing the soft launch of the Birthday Boutique this fall, Megs and her team plan on taking the van to select agency partners to learn what works best, while providing clothing for 300 kids. Upcoming visits are scheduled at Homewood Brushton Family Support Center and Auberle in McKeesport. She estimates the boutique will outfit 600 kids in 2019.

“One year ago, this was simply an idea,” says Megs, who welcomes the opportunity to partner with companies and groups on the effort. “I saw a problem – children experiencing inadequate clothing – and so I wanted to start a program that could help combat the problem.”

Kristine Sorensen
September06/ 2018

Pennsylvania has new vaccine guidelines, and there are new ways to get some vaccines.  Details in this week’s Kidcast, plus a local family physician explains why it’s important for caregivers to get vaccinated too.

5 best mommy blogs in Pittsburgh

Rege Behe
September04/ 2018

Years ago, when moms needed advice or wanted to vent, they stepped outside and knocked on a neighbor’s door. Now they log onto the internet to find other moms seeking nutritional tips, the best places for ice cream, or how to handle a temper tantrum. Mommy blogs have become a daily stop for many mothers who want to connect with others.

In Pittsburgh, there are a variety of mom bloggers writing from distinct points of view. Some bloggers only want to connect. Others have found a way to monetize their blogs, featuring ads and sponsored content. Other mom bloggers have found specific niches.

The only thing missing?

Blogs by dads.

“We would love to bring a dad on our writing team,” says Meghan Meabon, founder and owner of Pittsburgh City Moms, a blog that provides advice on parenting and motherhood. “We’re also a good resource for dads.”

For now, moms rule in the parenting blogosphere. Here are five top Pittsburgh mom-oriented blogs that feature a range of subjects and topics.blogs

Pittsburgh Momtourage

When Kelly Hughes and her husband moved to Pittsburgh in 2009 with their first child, then five months old, she didn’t know anyone. Interested in starting a playgroup, she set up a Facebook page that listed family-friendly events.

Kelly heard from a lot of moms who weren’t necessarily interested in play dates but wanted more information about the events. The Facebook pages morphed into a website, companies started contacting Kelly about marketing opportunities, and Pittsburgh Momtourage was born.

“It wasn’t something I set out to do,” she says. “It happened organically.”

At first, Momtourage was like many other mommy blogs, sharing ideas about parenting and motherhood. But when Kelly and her husband decided to become foster parents in 2013, Pittsburgh Momtourage took a different focus. She started blogging about her experiences with foster kids. Currently, Hughes and her husband have two natural born children and two adopted children who joined their family through foster care.

Through Momtourage, Hughes was able to raise awareness for the Foster Love Project, which she started to collect clothing, toys and other items for kids entering foster care. While donations have increased – the non-profit organization put together 7,000 bags of goods during its last drive – the most satisfying result is raising awareness of what “an average foster family looks like,” Kellie says, “and also, the kids who end up going through foster care and all that that entails.”

“Originally (the blog) was about providing a resource for families that wasn’t there,” she says. “I enjoy finding needs that exist and trying to plug in and fill those holes.”


Pittsburgh Moms Blog

There’s no singular viewpoint featured on Pittsburgh Moms Blog posts. That’s because there are more than 40 contributors to the local site, which is part of the City Moms Blogs network of mommy bloggers.

“Those are moms in the Pittsburgh area of all different stages of life, of parenting,” says founder and owner Meghan Meabon. “We’re very diverse in many ways. Moms of just boys, moms of just girls, moms of kids with disabilities, married moms, divorced moms, you name it.”

The posts on Pittsburgh Moms Blog range from when to start kindergarten to being a lawnmower parent  who rushes ahead of a child to make sure all is well. There are links to local events, the Visiting Mom’s Guide to Pittsburgh, and road-trip suggestions.

Meghan thinks mommy blogs provide connections that aren’t always available in contemporary society due to an increasing sense of isolation caused by hectic work schedules and children’s activities.

“Being isolated and being in the trenches of the daily routine, often times there’s a feeling that there’s nowhere to turn,” she says. “`Am I the only one that feels this way?’ You can put a blinder on that everything is peachy-keen and happy-go-lucky, but when you dig through that and get to the core, there are a lot of people who just want someone to talk to.”

Heather Hopson, left, is transitioning her Diary of a First Time Mom blog into Single Moms Defined.

Diary of a First Time Mom

Heather Hopson’s blog Diary of a First Time Mom started while she was on maternity leave with her first daughter. She admits it was a difficult shift after being a full-time news reporter in the Cayman Islands and traveling around the world.

“I tried to merge the two things I loved most: my daughter and reporting,” Heather says, noting she launched the blog on her first Mother’s Day seven years ago.

Heather’s blog will soon undergo a transition built on the success of Single Moms Defined, which debuted at the Three Rivers Arts Festival as an online and in-person platform and art exhibition. Her focus will veer from the challenges of raising newborns to combating stereotypes about single mothers in the African-American community.

“I wanted to create a platform elevating black moms in conversations about race in America,” Heather says. “Often times, just due to the numbers game, black moms aren’t necessarily featured in the media as much as their white counterparts. We don’t necessarily have positive images. If you Google `single black moms,’ all these horrible things come up.”

Before she launched Diary of a First Time Mom, Hopson tried to emulate the business models of successful blogs. A grant from Advancing Black Arts in Pittsburgh, via the Pittsburgh Foundation and the Heinz Endowments, provided funding for website design and site hosting. Because the blog developed a loyal fan base, Heather was able to make money from the venture and launch Motor Mouth Multimedia, a communications and marketing business that features “creatives and consultants of color.”

To be successful, Heather sats, consistency is a must.

“You want to show up regularly in the lives of your readers,” she says. “People come to your site because you’re a source of information.”


Femme Frugality

Brynne Conroy started Femme Frugality seven years ago out of necessity. Expecting a child and living below the poverty line, she needed a source of income that would sustain her until she could resume working full-time.

Thus, Femme Frugality was born, targeting moms looking to save money and cut costs.

“I found ways to exercise more frugality than I already was,” says Brynne, the mother of two kids in elementary school. “I tried sharing that with the people in my life because I was so excited about it, and eventually got to the point where I was annoying them. But I knew that other people could use this information.”

Brynne’s posts range from upgrading a toddler bed cheaply to tips on saving money and family finance.

This fall, she will release The Feminist Financial Handbook, a guide for women who want to improve their finances. The blog has become her full-time occupation, and she’s passionate about reaching others who face the same dire situation she did seven years ago.

“I do write to readers who are lower-income or are lower middle-income,” she says. “That’s my primary audience, and surprisingly, a lot of them are college educated. That says a lot about the job market in this country.”


Adventures of the Mommy Homemaker

Maria Briggs is a stepmom to three boys who are mostly wonderful, she says, but can sometimes drive her a bit nuts. Her blog posts at Adventures of the Mommy Homemaker provide a release from parenting – lavish recipes that reflect her Venezuelan-Italian heritage, the pros and cons of buying a home with a hot tub, and tips for plus-size fashions.

But family always seems to seep into her work despite her original intent “not to be a mommy blogger,” Maria says. “But when you’re raising three kid, that’s kind of what happens.”

She tries to keep her posts lighthearted. At least once a month, she writes about a family drama – “take out your popcorn or grab a strong cup of espresso, because I’m about to hit the roof,” she jokes in her bio. But there’s a serious side to Adventures of a Mommy Homemaker. Maria suffers from polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS), a condition that has rendered her infertile and has no cure. Her posts about infertility draw readers from across the country.

“The posts about infertility struggles pick up tons of traffic,” she says. “I could easily do them two or three times a week. … I’m a stepmom, too, and a lot of the messages I get are from women who are trying to conceive or have blended families. A lot of them don’t leave comments because they like their privacy, but I do receive at least 10 emails a day saying thank you for the posts.”