Tag Archives: Walking

After Atlas Shrugged

by Kate

Sometimes a long low haze descends upon Pittsburgh and it seems as if I could almost slip into an alley and into the past.

I can vividly imagine the great grey city, twice as populous as it is now, in its filthy and glorious industrial prime.

There is an evocative beauty in these post industrial remnants of the past, and in the symmetry of red brick, wires, soot, and glass.

I suspect that some of my fascination with Pittsburgh’s past stems from an ill advised early infatuation with the works on Ayn Rand, particularly Atlas Shrugged. Her characters may be cartoons and caricatures, but her scenes of American Industry are sweeping and powerful and romantic. Ayn Rand is definitely the reason I climbed upon a steep embankment yesterday while waiting for the bus. I’m glad I did.

I was surveying the grey rugged skyline with chin held high and the wind in my hair, feeling fiercely individualistic and Dagny Taggert like (albeit Dagny with a baby in a sling, clearly so unlikely as to be impossible) when to my great delight a railroad engine appeared.

If you have not read Atlas Shrugged, suffice it to say that nothing could have transported me into the realm of that novel than a railroad. Never has so much lavish prose been expended upon the engines of industry or the engines and tracks and fate of the railroads. The train rattled and rushed into the city skyline, and I reveled in the fleeting vision of a novel come to life.

I am glad that literature impels me to embark upon adventures, and slip into the past. Living in a dream world of books and of the past often makes me climb embankments of every sort and realize the beauty of the present.

A City Walk

by Kate

Unlike my two middle sisters, I am not a runner. They both glory in pounding the pavement of  the rough ridge roads, spinning gravel and leaping across the ridge leaving a trail of dust in their wake while breathing far more easily than should be possible and catching up on all the latest ridge gossip in a breathy chat back and forth as the wind whips by. I have always preferred to take it more slowly, and am a huge fan of the walk. I love the idea that I am setting out on a meandering adventure with a whole world to discover. I will admit that as a home schooled teenager reading Tolkein, this did sometimes involve wearing a cape and setting out with some sort of walking stick and a bag of bread and cheese. Passing farmers shook their heads and my brothers begged me to stop pretending that I was in Narnia, or Middle Earth, or Ireland and to please remember that I was firmly located on a ridgetop in dairy country in a solidly German settlement in Middle Ridge, Wisconsin.

Now I am living halfway up a ridge in the midst of a solidly Polish block in the Lawrenceville neighborhood of Pittsburgh, and I love walking through the city. City walking offers not only scope for the imagination, but the practical benefit of running errands while walking. I have left my cloak far behind (in fact it is located in the dress up bin at my parents farm) and exchanged it for a new accessory- my 20 lb baby slung in a sling.

That sling has been the most amazing child rearing tool in the world, making it possible for me to hang laundry, make breakfast, nurse the baby on the go, and accomplish innumerable things while walking about the city. I fear the day when I must succumb to the stroller. I am so not a stroller person, and can’t figure out how to become one. We have a big, beautiful, capacious stroller that has the storage space to provision a team hiking the Appalachian Trail for a month. Last year I hauled it out of the basement to take it to the farmers market so I could use it to purchase and transport a bushel of apples. I was wearing the baby in the sling, and as I twisted to lock the front door I accidentally let go of the stroller which hurtled down our steep set of stone steps and flipped end over end before settling on the sidewalk in front of the street full of horrified rush hour commuters in cars. I waved at them, pointing at the baby who was safe on my body, and contemplated the fact that I really shouldn’t use the stroller to transport a living creature until I was a bit better at it.

Let us continue on our walk, with no stroller in sight. I live across from Arsenal Park, a fact which delighted my sister Clare when she visited last year. Her class had just been studying the role of the Pittsburgh Arsenal in the Civil War.

I fully intend to learn more about the Arsenal and the great explosion there, and to share it with you. In the meantime, you can learn more at the Carnegie Street House Restoration blog which has some great pictures of the historical Arsenal. These days the old Arsenal spot is a park with soccer fields, play sets teeming with children, and a baseball diamond. Looking across the partk you can see the spires of St. Augustine’s Church, a beautiful red brick German edifice.

The red brick church and ball diamond soothe me and remind me of home every day, since I grew up on a ridge across from the red brick St. Peter’s church with a baseball diamond on our side of the road. Granted, the basketball courts here are flat and even. My brothers played and still play on the bottom of a hillside, with the ball bouncing crazily down into the pasture regularly.

Onward and up the hill! Just around the corner is the Carnegie Library of Lawrenceville.

This library opened with great fanfare in May, 1898, as the first branch of the Pittsburgh Carnegie Library system. It narrowly averted being closed last year due to severe budget shortfall. The residents of Lawrenceville fought hard to keep the library. It is an incredibly beautiful building, rich with history. There are soaring high ceilings, marble floors, decorative iron curlicues on the stacks. There is also an amazing children’s room.

We spend a lot of time here. In fact, Olympia is convinced that she is actually the Library Assistant.






Maybe Olympia could help (un)shelve something for you?

Oh dear. This is tiring. Time for a rest.

Moving along away from the libary and up the hill, we leave behind the Polish people of Lawrenceville and enter the gloriously Italian neighborhood of Bloomfield. This is where I holy cards, pasta, coffee beans, and homemade doughnuts. Well, no doughnuts during Lent, but it is still a great adventure. Casey is a religion teacher, and now and then for some reason he needs holy cards, a holy water font, or an obscure book of some sort. Luckily, I can pop into the Sacred Heart of Jesus store where there is always a pot of coffee and a heap of religious items to face any conceivable needs.

I always enjoy talking to the two sweet and surprisingly energetic ladies who run this store. I was surprised to learn that one of them was a bellydancer in her youth, before she became a nun. She makes undulating hand movements at Olympia and Olympia dances back while I browse through the holy cards.

There are heaps of obscure and useful books in the Sacred Heart of Jesus store.

They are musty and beautiful and besides inspiring me to step up my Spiritual Life, they remind me of the fact that Ikea and Anthropologie keep sending me catalogs full of stacks and stacks of hardcover books. They also remind me that we badly more bookcases at home. The nuns are not particularly orderly bookkeepers, but they have my current system beat.

Onwards to Donatelli’s, the little Italian grocery where I buy my anchovies, my pasta, and my coffee beans.

I always have a strange desire to buy the dried fish, but have no idea what to do with it. The little old Italian lady  with the black kerchief, camel coat, and white tennis shes does, though.

They have the cheapest and some of the best bulk coffee in town tucked in the tight aisles. After procuring my groceries, it is time to head down the hill and back home. I like to explore the allies, many of which are still cobblestoned. They have beautiful names. Here is one of my current favorites:

Bowery Way! These street names always conjure up visions of romance for me, especially as everything begins to blossom. I love finding bits of wildness in the midst of the city and cobblestoned history in the midst of the present. I also love that the dramatic ridges of my neighborhood remind me of the ridges of my Wisconsin home.

And so, down the hill with my bag full of coffee and sling full of baby, I reach my front door and my adventure is over for the morning. Thank you for virtually coming along  on this walk with me. Until next time,



anthropologie, slatterie style

by Kate

One of the benefits of living in a densely populated city is that you can walk out your door and keep walking till you come to a fancy store, the kind that exists only as a catalogue that you curl up with near the woodstove in the middle of the winter when you are living on a far flung farm. Granted, it may take an hour to get to said store on foot, which is about what it takes to drive into a real town where I’m from, but unlike my middle sisters I am not a runner. I am a rambling walker, meandering along as I gaze upon the world around me. I love walking in the city for the same reasons I love walking in the country- there is always a new story, new vista, new adventure to see.  A few days ago I bundled up the baby against the bitter chill of early spring, slung her in the sling, and headed out to peruse the wares at Anthropologie.

The dress in the front window display reminded me a great deal of the shipwreck dress that my incredibly talented friend Rebecca created for our North Carolina production of Twelfth Night. I am pretty sure that given lots of fabric and old hangars she could create a frock similar to this one.

Anthropologie is a high end retail chain that started here in Pennsylvania back in 1992 and has expanded rapidly. The stores specialize in high class bright bohemian shabby chic elegant and inordinately expensive household items and women’s clothing. The store received a great deal of press a couple years ago when Michelle Obama ordered some of their furniture for the White House. Some decorators were in an uproar at the proletarian nature of this move, but the store is anything but cheap, though presumably more accessible than your average White House furniture dealer. Here is the  bench that awaits customers in the entrance, inviting you to sit down at your peril and quite possibly snap it in two.

Let’s take a closer look at that pricetag, shall we?

Why yes, it is a wooden painted bench from Belgium, circa 1900. Yes, it is $1,300 dollars. Hmmmmn. I have a peeling painted rocking chair from Pittsburgh, circa 1900ish, with very similar (and probably arsenic based) peeling paint on it. Casey threatens to throw it out the window on a regular basis. Perhaps I should see if this high end retailer will take it off my hands?

It was at this point, pondering the bench, when I began to see the store through new eyes. I stepped back outside to view the other window display, a ramshackle weathered grey green structure that looked like it had been designed and implemented by none other than my father.

I kept the parking sign in lest you be led astray and think this was actually a scene from Sweet Ridge Farm. It does look eerily like something my father would build. It reminded me so much of home that from that point on, I made mental notes to have Clare photograph the flawlessly stylish high end anthropologie aspects lurking in plain sight back home at the farm. I think you will agree that the goat shed on the farm is significantly sleeker than the urban version. The sleekness is due entirely to the fact that my brother Robert, and not my father, built it.

Moving inside the store, the rustic rural motif continued with a full sized wheelbarrow- unlabeled and not priced as far as I could see but it looked as though it may have experienced hauling work during the French Revolutioin.

Of course Clare was able to locate a similar scene, minus the candles, out in the still snow covered fields.  Note the artistic nature of the apple trees, which my father has brutally attacked with his spring fervor of pruning. There are few things harder on my parent’s marriage than my father and his love of excessive pruning.

Back inside the tasteful, softly scented, flawlessly decorated interior of the store, I realized that the brilliant and tasteful designers had some serious common ground with my mother when it came to shelving and the kitchen/dining area. Here we have the store:

And here is the far less rickety version created by my farmwife mother. Well, it is less rickety now after Robert came and secured it into the wall. Having a son grow up to be a carpenter really allowed my mother to realize many of her dreams. It just took twenty five years or so.

As for aprons, well, if you saw the post Mary and Colleen did on Sunday baking, you’ll know we’ve got that covered.

The folks at the store had a huge wooden table and bench.

Which also looked strikingly familiar to our Amish built dining room table.

Ah but the store did have some pretty beautiful china, like this

whereupon the resourceful photographer/stylist  Clare brought out our Great Grandmother’s wedding china.

I loved wandering through the sophisticated big city store and viewing it through the prism of my Wisconsin ridgetop home, and to realize that you don’t need to pay two thousand dollars for a beat up cupboard from India in order to have beautiful style in your house. I’d go for the amish built table myself in a heartbeat. I found a great deal of inspiration in Anthropologie, which I think is a significant part of what they peddle- style and inspiration. I also have a newfound level of respect for my mother and her farmhouse decorating style. Who knows- perhaps she will be asked to consult in decorating the White House. I can see my father gleefully hoeing up the lawn to expand the White House garden, or perhaps volunteering to teach them a few lessons about pruning.


Loretta and Joe


On my way back from the library this morning I saw Loretta and Joe, a couple in their 80’s who are frequently walking arm and arm through the neighborhood. Today is soft and cool, with wet black boughs against a grey sky and the promise of more rain soon to soften the soil. Loretta and Joe wore windbreakers in shades of purple- his softer, hers brighter- and he carried a dapper black and white umbrella. Her arm was in his, and he steadied her as they made their way. They live at the top of the hill at Canterbury Place, a beautiful building that marries a hundred year old Episcopal Home and former orphanage with modern architecture and a sky high floor of glass walls with gas fireplaces and a spectacular view of the downtown.

Every other week I bundle the baby into her sling and halfway run up the hill, since I am almost late, to teach Gentle Stretch at Canterbury Place. There are a wide range of residents, some with Alzheimers and some in need of intensive care, but I teach a group of genteel elderly persons who are always thrilled to see me, mostly because I come bearing the baby. We spend half an hour reaching for the ceiling and swimming through invisible waves, rolling our shoulders and pointing our toes. After six months the regulars are surprisingly limber, which goes to show that it is never to late to stretch ourselves, but the real draw is clearly Olympia. She has been coming since she was a month old, and now on the cusp of a year, on the verge of walking, she is able to wave and coo and holler to express her delight in the roomful of adoring grandparents.

Loretta and Joe joined the group just after Christmas. They are white haired, lean, and have come to resemble each other in the way that long married couples often do. They are the only couple in the class, and so I have watched them closely. Loretta is blind in one blue eye, and at first she seemed vulnerable and confused. Joe is protective, one arm curved around her often, both eyes on her and ready to offer an explanation or a brief smile. Lately she is smiling more, and as the snow thaws and the spring slowly softens the edges of the world I have seen them walking together more and more. Joe told me that they used to walk all over the city- once taking an afternoon and covering twenty miles in one day. As the days lengthen, they plan to slowly lengthen their walks through this neighborhood.

Watching Loretta and Joe disappear down the hill , her hand on his arm and his body protecting hers, it is clear that the fact that they are still twined together is what strengthens them both, allowing them to stretch and explore the beauty of this world, even as their frailty increases. I am so grateful for my old people, and they way that they have taught me to stretch my conceptions of aging, marriage, and living.