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.