Saturday, November 10, 2018

That's So Pittsburgh: Armistice Day at the Heinz Archive

In honor of the 100th anniversary of the armistice that ended World War I, the local British Heritage group Britsburgh displayed objects housed in the Archive at the Heinz History Center. There were scrapbooks and photographs from a variety of individuals and organizations, including a Captain Paul Howe from Beaver County, and even one from General John J. Pershing himself. I asked the curator how they had come into possession of that one, and she said she would have to get back to me. For his part, Howe had collected snippets from newspapers, his decommissioning papers, wallet-sized photographs, and menus from various officer dinners he attended in France. On the poppy strewn tables, there were also maps, a duty roster, and a little booklet of cartoons used to sell Liberty Bonds by a bank. The glass-enclosed reading room, boxes of documents, and gloves for handling them made me seriously nostalgic for the long quiet hours I have spent tracking down a hunch or curiously pondering over the remains of someone else's life.

After looking at the exhibit, we sat in some rocking chairs and enjoyed part of this mural of Pittsburgh, "The Visible City" (1992-1993) by local artist Douglas Cooper. His memories are in color water paints, while most of the image is rendered in charcoal. The more than 70 panels reaching 4 or 5 stories tall

Editor's Note: You know what else is so Pittsburgh? The Pirates Parrot and the St. Paul summer organ series.

Wednesday, October 24, 2018

Happy Halloween 2018!

Considering the amount of grief I give Dear Husband on the regular for his terrible, awful, no good puns, you'd think I would have more class than to choose punny Halloween costumes. Well, you'd be wrong. If I wear a costume in the hospital or clinic, it needs to be work appropriate, and I've decided punny is the way to go. Last year I taped candy Smarties to my slacks and went as a "Smarty Pants." This year my internet search yielded the following gem: bunny ears and a feather duster = "Dust Bunny." I already had the ears, and DH humored me by purchasing a handheld Swiffer. When I asked what he would be, he facetiously answered, "a vacuum cleaner." Ha! Challenge accepted. We stuffed a small pillow in a drawstring backpack like a canister, hooked together some vacuum parts to make a hose, and added the end of an old computer cord for a plug. DH went so far as to look up a YouTube video of vacuum cleaner sounds on his phone to put in his breast pocket as the finishing touch.

The perks of being an Elite Yelp!er include invitations to special events, such as the Ghostly Gallery costume party hosted by the Carnegie Museums of Art and Natural History. The night had an inauspicious start: I came home from clinic early but with enough time to create Dear Husband's costume. We headed out the door and managed to secure parking that was close and free...only to discover that we were 1 hour early...the museum was closed for hosting a separate private event...and I had forgotten to bring my photo ID. So we hopped back in the car and drove home. I had just enough time to finish my clinic notes, but by the time we arrived at the museum again, the free parking was all gone, and there were long lines both to get into the parking lot and into the museum.  

We waited in the COLD for at about 20 minutes before we could even get in the door, have our IDs scanned, receive our wristbands, get checked in, make a donation, and hang up my coat.
Finally, we were free to roam through the museum halls, enjoying DJed music and free samples of food and drink from local vendors. We sampled hard apple cider, savory flatbread, dessert crepes, chocolate milk, pork sliders, banana pepper bruschetta, pumpkin gelato, popcorn, deviled eggs, fancy juices, cookie dough, soda/cocktails, mini danishes, red velvet cupcakes, and the aroma of cooking waffles, because we just couldn't eat anything more.

The people-watching was excellent: an older man dressed as Fred Rogers and his wife wearing a red trolley costume; any number of witches and spiderwebs and an enormous evil Jack'o'lantern; Prince resplendent in purple; foods such as a banana and a hamburger; a school of Finding Nemo clownfish hats; two Grammar Police; several Harry Potter get-ups; Snow White and Prince Charming; an AED; and not one but two jelly fish made from umbrellas with tendrils--one of whom had rope lights and was accompanied by a woman in a light-up starfish onesie. Below is our action pose. We left tired but happy and sated. I hope they invite us next year!

Tuesday, October 23, 2018

What Residency Looks Like XXXXIIII: Blooming

The Neonatal ICU where I am currently rotating has a large coloring sheet hanging on the wall near the family lounge. When I was on night shifts, I stopped by a few times to add to the picture. The little pink flowers on the light green vine in the center are my handiwork. It's a good metaphor for the growth I've gone through this month. I was really trepidatious about working in the NICU triage area, as our major responsibility is to attend high-risk deliveries and resuscitate newborns in distress. It has been more than 2 years since the last time I rotated through the NICU and more than 1 year since I did my baby CPR training. Further, I had heard from other residents that the days are long, especially the 7a on Saturday to 7am on Sunday shift. Thankfully I have been assigned to work with another resident (except for that pesky 24-hour shift!). My first companion went to my first several deliveries with me, and for the really risky ones, the fellow has been there too. One fellow went out of her way to not only do practice drills with us but also to debrief with us after emergencies--especially the night I had to resuscitate 3 out of 4 infants. Best of all, NICU is a really interdisciplinary area of medicine, so a nurse is always at my side, and a respiratory therapist is only a phone call away. After the next 2 weeks, I will never work with newborns again, but I am glad I had to do this rotation, because it has helped me conquer my fears about unstable patients. Now, in a sort of daisy-chain effect, I am helping another resident get used to the duties, and she will do the same with my replacement.


Thursday, October 11, 2018

WRLL XXXXIII: Grand Rounds vs Mini Rounds


Sometimes residency looks like slim pickings after Grand Rounds. They used to serve full-sized bagels at this weekly lecture by a respected researcher. Then they switched to the little ones, which are probably better in terms of daily carb and caloric intake. But maybe it should be called Mini Rounds instead.


Saturday, September 22, 2018

That's So Pittsburgh: Outdoors Edition

About a year ago, Dear Husband and I joined the Western Pennsylvania Conservancy. We wanted to associate with a local organization doing good work in our area and were inspired to give of our time, money, and effort occasionally. In recognition for the couple of tree plantings we've done (here and here), we were invited to volunteer appreciation day. There was lunch of sandwiches and cookies at the WPC headquarters, followed by two nature walks and a drawing for door prizes.

Naturalist Charlie led the first talk, about the island now known as Washington's Landing (slick for neat photos from the Post-Gazette). During the French and Indian War, a young George Washington was traveling back from upstate New York to Virginia and spent the night  with a companion on this island in the Allegheny River. Or maybe it was Wainright's Island closer to the opposite shore, which has since been washed away. Anyhow, what was once a collection of glacier silt carried in the swift waters of the Allegheny has since been used as a cattle stopping ground on the railroad from Chicago and as an industrial complex. It was a brownfield eyesore until the 1990s, when various government and private groups came together to clean it up and turn 1/3 into riverfront housing, 1/3 into a corporate subdivision, and 1/3 into a public park. (Click here to find old aerial photographs from around Pennsylvania.)

We learned that both the river and the greenscape have changed a lot since the 1700s. Both of the rivers around Pittsburgh are now dammed to allow more water traffic, slowing the Allegheny considerably. Washington may have seen trees like the maple and sycamore growing on the banks, but the sweet gum and Chinese sumac (aka tree of heaven) that dominate now are recent additions. In fact, WPC might have to cut down the Chinese sumac, because a few years ago the Chinese spotted lantern fly was found in Pennsylvania. This non-native species is a big nuisance and apparently requires the Chinese sumac for its life cycle. And while emerald ash borer and chestnut blight are other tree diseases that have come into North America, we have exported things like sycamore canker stain to Europe. The vector for that one was taking sycamore back to England and crossing it to make London plane trees, another popular urban tree nowadays.

Arborist Brian told us all about those and other trees. Did you know that the Eastern White Pine was the first symbol on a flag of the American Revolution? That conifer was the rural version of tea taxed by the British, who wanted its tall straight trunks for ship masts. Unfortunately, people used the trees for all sorts of things, including furniture, matches, and roof shingles, without a thought to conservation. By the time Teddy Roosevelt came into national office in the 1900s, they were practically gone from the Eastern Seaboard. You can identify them by their soft needles that grow in groups of five (above). To the right he is standing underneath a redbud tree like the ones DH and I helped plant. They're hoping to make early April a tourist draw to the city to see their pink foliage, not unlike the cherry blossom festival in Washington, D.C. Judas Iscariot is said to have hanged himself from a Middle Eastern variant of the redbud tree, whose flowers turned from white to pink-red because of the blood on his hands.

Washington's Landing is a neat destination. DH and I talked about packing a lunch for a picnic overlooking the river. There's a trail that goes most or all of the way around the island, as well as a marina and a seafood restaurant. Come visit us, and maybe we'll take you over the river and through the woods!

Editor's Note: If you enjoyed this edition of That's So Pittsburgh, you might also like to read about the Pittsburgh Botanic Garden or an eating tour of the Strip District.

Friday, September 21, 2018

What Residency Looks Look XXXXII: Showing (Off) Your Work

Sometimes residency looks like showing (off) your work with a friend and colleague at the local medical education conference. We're trying to bring medical education to social media and invite you to follow Teaching Rounds on Facebook or Tumblr and @MedEdPGH on Twitter.


Tuesday, September 18, 2018

What Residency Looks Like XXXXI: Study Time

Sometimes residency looks like participating in a women's health research study. This is the mobile in the exam room. I don't mind putting my body to the uses of the advancement of science, and the extra cash didn't hurt either.


Sunday, September 16, 2018

Retreat! Retreat!

The weekend Dear Husband and I were supposed to travel to Charlotte, NC, for my grandfather's memorial service, Hurricane Florence invited herself to the party. The service was postponed, and we found ourselves suddenly available to join our United Methodist friends on retreat at Raccoon Creek State Park. This expanse of greenery houses a number of different kinds of campsites hard on the border with Ohio. It was incongruous to listen to the low-flying planes taking off from the airport just a few miles away. DH and I missed the early evening worship, which involved stones inscribed with things people wanted to let go of (below), but we arrived just in time for the campfire, complete with singing, s'mores, and silly round-robin stories about intrepid soap merchants capsizing their Conestoga wagons in the Mississippi River and distrustful heiresses offing each other in space capsules floating on the Atlantic Ocean.

We all stayed up much too late, and some of us--namely moi--did not sleep so well, as someone had tried to fix the sag in the mattress by placing a 2x4 down the middle. Besides being hard, it tilted the mattress, and I constantly felt like I was falling off my half. DH slept okay. We both missed the early morning yoga outside, but there was still first and second breakfast before morning worship and book study. The weather could not have been nicer.

After a late lunch we decided to hike to the Frankfort Mineral Springs (short historylong history). It was reported to be 1 mile each way, but the trail maintenance for the first half was almost nonexistent. At the point we had to clamber through fallen tree trunks, with chest-high flowers and brush beyond them, I and some of the other actually turned back to the cabin to change our shorts into long pants and sandals into closed-toed shoes. While the first half of the trail was low-lying along waterways, the second half that went over a hill was comparatively much easier. At one point we had to cross a narrow wooden bridge, and there were spontaneous cries of "You! Shall! Not! Pass!" and "What is the air-speed velocity off an unladen swallow?" Clearly, these are our people. After a long hour-plus of bushwhacking, we arrived at a grotto with a small waterfall on one side and the spring emerging from the face of the rock on the other. It was hot enough that we all dunked our heads and drank from the fresh water before hiking back to camp. On the way, we stopped to make a tableau among the ruins of the spa that used to profit from the springs (below).

We returned in time for a delicious dinner outdoors before some people packed up and the rest of us had quiet evenings before bedding down early. Breakfast was a delicious smorgasbord, even though we never did figure out what happened to the blueberries. While DH and I are still looking forward to celebrating my grandfather's life with our family, it was a blessing to say "yes" to this unexpected opportunity to commune with our friends in nature.

Thursday, September 6, 2018

That's So Pittsburgh: Hipster Food Scene

That's so Pittsburgh: the up-and-coming hipster foodie scene. For the last two years I have been a Elite Yelper. After the first year, I discovered this meant I was invited to free tasting events. As it happens, these rarely work with my and Dear Husband's schedules, but Thursday night I made it out to a Yelper-only coffee/cocktail shop in the Strip District called De Fer. After a long day at work (I spent 3 hours with my last patient), alcohol and hors d'oeuvres sounded like a great idea. I met a few other foodie types in town and enjoyed getting to know a new establishment on a part of the city I do not visit often enough. Check out the Alphonse Mucha-inspired mural on the brick wall (above). The menu includes waffles, panini, and meat & cheese platters. I could totally see bringing DH here if we happen to be in the area. I will also bookmark it as a potential workspace, if I have time out of the hospital and want to sit on my laptop for a couple of hours and (pay to*) get some work done. Bonus: they have a lending library and small play area for children.

See also: my blog posts on Pittsburgh Bits and Bites tours in the Strip District and the Allentown neighborhood.

*I generally prefer free places to work, namely libraries, especially if they will let me eat/drink. Thank you, Hillman Library!

Monday, September 3, 2018

What Residency Looks Like XXXX: Laboring

Sometimes residency looks like holing up in the university library with a friend, updating your curriculum vitae on your day off. This Labor Day I am laboring, but on my own terms, which is so important to feeling fulfilled with one's work. Adding items to my CV reminds me how much I have in fact accomplished, although there are so many things yet to do. Not pictured: the excellent leafy green view over the plaza.


Sunday, September 2, 2018

The Art of the Brick: Pittsburgh Edition

This year I had a three-day weekend for Labor Day. On Saturday I picked up a hospital shift to help out some colleagues. Although I made a little "mad money," it meant that I was working a six-day week for the sixth week in a row (if you count Camp CAMP), and I was sorry I had given up the chance to lie on the couch all day. On Sunday old friend A.S. came to visit, so Dear Husband and I took him to church for Klondike Sunday (ice cream bars after the service!) and out to lunch with church peeps at a Peruvian cafe called La Feria. Then we piled into the car and headed for the Carnegie Science Center on the North Side.

Our goal: The Art of the Brick, a special exhibit DH and I had tried to see when we visited Tampa earlier in the year, but TAOB is a traveling exhibit, and the advertising campaign had reached Tampa well before the objects d'arte. In 2004, Nathan Sawaya (1973- ) quit corporate law to become a full-time brickartist. Wikipedia tells me, "He is the only person ever to be recognized as both a LEGO Master Builder and a LEGO Certified Professional." His first solo exhibit was in 2007, and now he has a slick website and two studios, one in Manhattan and the other in Los Angeles.


The first room of the exhibit consisted of replicas of two-dimensional artworks--mostly paintings, but also the Sistine Chapel ceiling, and a cathedral rose window made out of translucent Legos so that a spotlight shone the colored pattern on the floor. Sawaya makes a conscientious effort to sample from a variety of artistic traditions, so while DH pointed out the Gustav Klimt "The Kiss" (we saw the original on our second trip to Vienna), I gravitated toward "The Great Wave off Kanagawa" by Katsushika Hokusai (2,877 blocks).

My favorite hall was the next one, for three-dimension pieces. For instance, Degas' "Little Dancer." I chose to pose with that one, because Degas and I share a birthday (July 19).

We took turns guessing how many Legos comprised the Moai "Easter Island head": A.S. and I were way over (by a factor of 5-10); DH nearly hit the nail on the head with 75,000 (actual answer: 75,450).

My next favorite pieces were his humanoid forms. This one is "Doorway": "Excuse me. I've just got to step outside of myself for a few minutes. But don't worry, I'll be back." (6,988 blocks) The person is executed so sensitively, and then there's the "back" with a working hinged door.

This is probably the apogee of his inspirational messages: "Step-ladder." "Sometimes when you're looking for a step up, you don't have to look any further than yourself. We're all capable of more than we think." (4,054 blocks)

This one is called "Please Do Not Touch." No wait, that's the instruction to parents when they realize their small children have grabbed handfuls of loose blue Legos from the display. Actually, it's a woman swimming. You can see there were light effects with this one. Altogether the exhibit was very nicely put together, except for the model of the globe that was rotating the wrong direction (east to west).

Ladies and gentlemen, a complete Tyrannosaurus rex skeleton, made out of Lego bricks. It took him an entire summer to build and requires 19 cables to steady it. After this was a shared gallery of digital photographs edited to include Lego objects in otherwise melancholy American landscapes made with an Australian artist.

All that standing and walking and snapping photos wore out your trusty blogger, so we stopped for a break on some benches. Upstairs A.S. and I scrabbled through shallow trays of Lego pieces to construct arched buildings before finally calling it a day. Originally DH and I had thought to use the excuse of accompanying some visiting kiddos to the exhibit, but honestly they probably would have wanted to speed through while we tried to revel in the mastery before indulging in a favorite (but not exclusively childhood) past time. I'm glad we took ourselves.

Sunday, August 26, 2018

That's So Pittsburgh: Music to my ears

Today is a rare day off in my residency schedule, so we had planned to meet up with friends of ours from out of town for lunch and a visit to the Carnegie Science Center. However, they had had an over full day the day before and were not ready to leave Hershey until after lunchime. Luckily, a friend of Dear Husband's texted at the last minute, inviting us to hang out with her and her wife at a local watering hole, Friendship Perk and Brews. From there we carpooled into downtown for the Piano Day Pittsburgh open-air music festival. Organizers had placed four pianos around the Cultural and Arts District. Local musicians volunteered to be scheduled to play at three of them, and one was reserved for the public to showcase their talents. We started there, at PPG Place, where Dear Husband accompanied while the friend sang a couple of pieces from their concert the previous night.

Next we bypassed the singer-songwriter set up in Market Square and headed to the classical music station at Heinz Hall, where we watched a succession of tykes play on a Steinway as if at a recital. We ended up at the jazz station, where we took up residence on a shady bench in front of a fountain to chat and enjoy the music. Along the way we bumped into some familiar faces, one of whom asked whether I had been working very much and whether we getting to spend any time together. "Yes," I answered, because despite my crazy schedule we have managed to find time for dinner, or walks. Or even just some silly texting during a slow moment.

Then we perambulated across the Roberto Clemente Bridge and along the River Front Walk, where I pointed out the trees we had planted a year ago, Gandalf, Galadriel, and Waldo. We had enough time for me to visit the Fred Rogers Memorial overlooking the river confluence across from the Point, where the fountain was gushing in its full glory. We sat in the shade to listen to the recording of Rogers singing songs and reading stories before finally heading to the Jerome Bettis Grille for a leisurely 2-hour dinner and conversation. As we walked back across the river to our car, we enjoyed the lights and a gentle breeze after the heat of the day.

Who still takes photographs with their fingers over the lense?!? Any way, this was me trying to set the scene through the Doomsday portal, with one of Pittsburgh yellow bridges, the Point Park fountain, and the Fred Rogers statue in the center.

Monday, August 20, 2018

What Residency Looks Like XXXIX: A Screw Loose

While working at the hospital over the weekend, my pager fell out of its holder onto the floor--again. The loose screw popped out, and the corner button got stuck in the "on" position (a compression fracture?). Despite performing emergency surgery on it with a suture removal kit and an eyeglasses repair kit, I had to declare its condition terminal. Today I made the long trek to the pager office and exchanged it for a new one--good thing we don't do that when our loved ones get sick!


Saturday, August 18, 2018

Reading The Handmaid's Tale

I'm a pretty passive reader. Even when reading for research, it takes more mental energy to engage critically with the author's ideas than to simply let them wash over me until I turn the last page. Margaret Atwood's The Handmaid's Tale (1985) is different. Not only did it transform me back into the kind of bookworm I was as a kid--reading while walking, getting dressed, or brushing my teeth--but it also inspired me to lie in bed on my one day off in seven, just thinking about it. Atwood herself observed once that The Handmaid's Tale has "haunted" her in the thirty years since the book was published, although at the time it was an intensely productive but not self-reflective period. Funnily enough, it was the historian's talk at the end that really got my juices flowing. The result is a blog review a whole four months in advance of my annual Books I Read This Year list.

Although I had loved Atwood's short story "Bluebeard's Egg" as an undergraduate, I had gotten all the way through college AND graduate school without reading The Handmaid's Tale in either a feminist studies class or on my own. I really only knew the premise from the promos around the current Hulu series (now confirmed for a third season), of a dystopian future in which a violent theocracy uses women as reproductive vessels. I was enthralled with this book from the first few pages. I was struck initially by two things: 1) the narrating character's word play, which I assume came from Atwood herself and which is so prominent throughout the book that I can't pull out a single favorite passage, and 2) the way that the reader's view is blinkered, the environment and context revealed piecemeal, much like the main character's point of view is physically limited by her headdress and practically limited by the regime's control of (mis)information. Fragmentation comes up repeatedly in the story, from the flashbacks set between action "in the present" to the body parts mailed to defectors to the bits of recording scattered among dozens of cassette tapes.

I found the characters nuanced but not entirely knowable, which fits the setting in an oppressive society wrought with spies (::cough:: DDR, USSR), as well the style of writing with a narrator who is not omniscient. I particularly appreciated that Atwood had Offred tell Moira's story in Moira's voice, letting this female figure speak as herself in a culture that sought to silence women. Finally, I thought about the passage of time. The table of contents contains seven "Nights," suggesting one week--of creation? By the narrator's description, the events in the present tense take place from early spring to late summer of one year. It was harder to tell how many years had elapsed since the Sons of Judah had taken over the country--perhaps three? And of course Offred's memories stretch back to her childhood in what sounded like the mid- to late twentieth century. Atwood's critiques of American culture and politics made me wonder what it would be like to read this book alongside Rachel Carson's Silent Spring, for its expose of physical and chemical danger to the environment.

Sunday, August 12, 2018

What Residency Looks Like XXXVIII: Gratitude

Sometimes residency looks like patients' gratitude. This last week was long and emotionally fraught, but it was made a little lighter by the patient who sent everyone baked goods, and by the family who was so appreciative that they dropped off this lovely bouquet. Other things patients have given me: fresh pizza, hugs, and a leather tag for a keychain he had stamped "KRISTINE."


Sunday, August 5, 2018

TSPGH: Bridges

That's so Pittsburgh: I laughed out loud the night I realized this crosswalk downtown near The Point was patterned like the famous bridges over the Allegheny River.

You know what else is "so Pittsburgh"? Random reminders of the city's industrial past. The way the airport celebrates its multicultural past/present. Hipster coffee houses that serve cocktails. Okay, maybe that last one isn't unique to the Steel City, but they do an excellent job representing the type!

Saturday, July 28, 2018

Butler, PA: Home of the Jeep

An hour north of Pittsburgh on Route 8, the city of Butler, PA, has 13,000 residents. It was founded in 1800 as the county seat and named for General, State Senator, and Judge Richard Butler (1743-1791). It used to be a manufacturing center for Pullman railroad cars, and the Bantam Jeep was born here in 1940. (There's a Jeep festival every June!) Now it's the home of Westinghouse Nuclear and was named Smithsonian Magazine's 7th Best Small Town in America in 2012. Local resources tout its Main Street and craft breweries, but I know it as an economically depressed and low-resource area from the patients I've taken care of who were transferred from its (still) independent community hospital. The pic to the left depicts one of the many wooden profiles of Jeeps decorated by various organizations, not unlike Baltimore's crabs, Berlin's bears, or Pittsburgh's dinosaurs.

After visiting the Maridon Museum (see previous post), Dear Husband and I took advantage of the nice weather to walk to the central square, where we visited the war memorials. Curiously, the large granite WWII memorial gives its end date as December 31, 1946. When we went to dinner at the home of our interim pastor and his wife, a high school history teacher, she confessed she had never noticed the discrepancy and didn't know why.

Butler was an interesting fellow: born in Ireland, as a boy he immigrated with his family to Pennsylvania. The family business was gun making, and they settled in successively more western locales, never quite making it as far as the area that now bears their names. All five sons fought with distinction in the American Revolution, and George Washington chose Butler to receive Cornwallis's sword of surrender. Things and things, and the Baron von Steuben nearly dueled him over this honor, so they just let von Steuben do it. Butler was apparently considered something of an expert in the Native American tribes living in the area, perhaps because he fathered a child with Nonhelema, a Shawnee chieftess. Wikipedia doesn't go into details, but he's probably responsible for deceiving the tribes about colonial intentions or otherwise bilking them out of their land.

After dinner, we tootled over to Kelly Automotive Park (used to be called Pullman Park) for some minor league baseball. On a mild night, we watched the hometown Blue Sox lose to the Kokomo (IN) Dragons. Then it was time to roll on down Route 8 and home.

Oh yeah, and on our way up to Butler, we stopped for a sub and some ice Hammer's Frozen Custard & Subs. Unfortunately, the girl working at the window wouldn't give Dear Husband a discount, even after he showed her his driver's license. The sub was okay (and cheap), but the ice cream was really good! We may drive back up Butler way again, as I hear the county fair is pretty good.

Editor's Note: This is part 2 of our day trip to Butler, PA. Click here for part 1.

The Maridon Museum

Among the summer fun Dear Husband and I had was a day trip to Butler, PA, an hour north of Pittsburgh. First we visited the Maridon Museum, an impressive private collection of Japonisme assembled by Mary Hulton Phillips (1920-2009). The museum's name combines hers and her husband's (Donald). To the left you can see "the scholar's table," complete with scroll and all the tools he would need to shape his brushes and mix his paints.

The unassuming building houses 800 items, including jade and ivory sculptures, textiles, and furniture. There is a whole wall of tiny netsuke (purse-string weights) set in front of mirrors so you can appreciate the carvings from all angles.  Below is a set of life-sized peacocks carved out of jade. We learned about symbols such as ruyi fungus for success, carp swimming upstream for perseverance, and bamboo for the scholar who bends but does not break. 

The small gallery of Meissen porcelain reminded me of the trip to the original factory I made with My Awesome Parents (MAP) on a chilly spring day in 2011 (here are all my photos on Flickr). Above is the lover the dog found under his master and mistress's bed.

The Maridon tries to be a vibrant center for Asian culture in rural Western Pennsylvania. Local school groups come for tours, there's a book club and meditation classes, and the museum hosts special events for holidays and lectures. These two suits of armor are a contemporary mixed-media sculpture called "Soldiers," created in 2002 by Fumino Hora (1959- ) and donated in 2011. They are part of an old Japanese tradition called "hina," which involved dolls of the imperial court passed down from mother to daughter meant to symbolize their happiness. Hora constructed these life-sized costumes out of brass mesh that she pleated and sewed with wire. The flat plates of metal are embossed with images from her mother's album of family photographs. Together, they make a striking testament to memory and history.

Editor's Note: This is part 1 of our trip to Butler, PA. Click here for part 2.