Saturday, September 6, 2008

I Have Returned! or Heather Does Pennsylvania

So did you miss me? Oh, I know you did, you don't have to say it. Allow me to hit you with the highlights of my whirlwind trip across the great state of Pennsylvania. Because I know you're dying to know the details. Yes, I am about to cram an entire vacation into one post. Yes, this will probably be very, very long even by my standards. Feel free to scroll to the end and leave a comment which implies you read the post whether you did or not.

The trip began in Pittsburgh. My mom and dad were both born and raised in Pittsburgh and three of their four kids, including me, were born there as well. Even though I was just a baby when Dad got transferred to Birmingham, Pittsburgh has always had a really special place in my heart. Almost any time we went out-of-town when I was a kid, we piled in the car and headed there. One of my very favorite childhood memories is when we would finally arrive late at night, me tired and groggy, curled up against the window in the backseat. When I knew we were getting close I'd peer out the window, waiting for that moment when we'd exit the Fort Pitt Tunnel and boom! all of a sudden Pittsburgh was laid out in front of us, all those beautiful bridges and buildings lit up against the three rivers. It was breath-taking every single time. The New Yorker once said Pittsburgh is the only city with its own entrance and that's exactly the way it feels. (You MUST click on the image below to get the full effect.)

Photo courtesy of

Some of us drove in from Buffalo and some of us flew into Pittsburgh. Those of us who drove - my mom, brothers Chris and Lee and me - arrived a little earlier than planned which gave us a little time to kill. When Mom asked if there was something we wanted to do, I imposed my will on the group and we headed off to see the Wall. The Wall, for those not in the know, is the remaining chunk of the outfield wall from Forbes Field, former home to the Pittsburgh Pirates.

Forbes is probably best known for this moment. When I was a kid I had one wall of my bedroom pretty much covered with Andy Van Slyke but this picture was tucked away in one corner.

Bill Mazeroski hits the only Game 7 walk-off home run in World Series history, 1960. Let's go Bucs!

I've always wanted to visit the Wall and I was in the middle of reading The Best Game Ever: Pirates 10, Yankees 9: October 13, 1960 which made the visit even more timely. (As an aside, I highly recommend the book to baseball fans out there, particularly my fellow Pirates fans. And I know there are a couple out there, Lee, so zip it.)

I'm not kidding when I say I got a little choked up. I was standing in the same space as Roberto Clemente!

Lee patrols the outfield, ready to leap into action.

Your intrepid blogger.

The first thing we did once we were all together was have a birthday party for my nephew Luke who will turn 2 in a week or so. The little guy did pretty well for himself, I have to say.

Here Luke keeps a close eye on Daddy as he opens his presents. Dad kept taking the presents Luke had already opened and taking a closer look at them and Luke was not entirely sure he liked this. Smart move by the kid. I can still see Lee standing in the middle of the street outside our house on Christmas morning, in tears while John and Chris ran his new remote controlled tank up and down the street, refusing to let Lee play with it.

Don't worry, Bills fans. I talked to the little guy about that football later.

Monday morning the group - my grandmother and aunt (both Pittsburghers), my mom, my three brothers, my sister-in-law, my nephew and me - took a ride on the Gateway Clipper. The Gateway Clipper travels along the three rivers of Pittsburgh while a tour guide occasionally shares some interesting facts, allowing you to take in the sights of the city. Here are some of my favorite views.

Bridges galore in Pittsburgh! I have this site marked just so I can look at them when I want to.

The Point, where the Allegheny and Monongahela Rivers meet and form the Ohio River. When you're up close, that fountain is pretty impressive.

When we rode by PNC Park, I taught Luke how to say "baseball." Later in the trip when there was a baseball game on a TV in the restaurant where we were eating, he pointed at it and said, "Baseball!" Clearly, he's a genius and I'm the best aunt ever.

John and Chris (with camera) acting like the grown-ups that they are.

After a quick lunch we piled into the car and headed off for Gettysburg. Since the other car was packed full of people I rode with John, Sarah and Luke. Look how happy Lukie Ookie was to have Aunt Hea-er in his car. (I was "Hea-er," Chris was "Tris" and Lee was "Fee/Flee/Lee" depending on the day. But really we were all "Tris" interchangeably for the most of the week.)

The next morning John, Sarah (sister-in-law), Luke, Lee and I set out for a tour of Gettysburg. John purchased a CD guide to listen to in the car but between varying levels of interest and the little guy in the back, we ended up doing the abbreviated version. Oh, there was also the fact that Mom, who was supposed to be taking Grandma to Lancaster for the afternoon, called a few minutes into the tour to inform us that she had somehow locked her purse and keys in the trunk of her car which meant she and Grandma were stuck at the visitors center where we'd left them until Lee came back with his key.

Still I did learn that the improved artillery and accuracy made the Civil War the first war where it was more advantageous to hold the defensive position than to be on the offensive all the time. And I did, of course, take pictures.

I did NOT learn about communication via text messaging or pink rifles.

Little Round Top and Big Round Top. (Big Round Top is the big one.)

Pretty crazy to imagine one of the bloodiest battles in history in the middle of all that beautiful scenery.

John explains to Lee how the cannon works. Lee appears to be interested. Not that it matters because John would be talking anyway.

That night we went on a Gettysburg ghost tour but it was a bit of a snooze. At that point I was pretty wiped out though and the ol' ankle was starting to cramp a bit so it's possible I just wasn't in the mood. Anyway, I have no pictures!

On our way out of Gettysburg we had to stop at Boyds Bear Country. My sister-in-law Sarah is a huge fan of Boyds and this place is like a temple for collectors. It is huuuuge and stuffed to the rafters with bears and other stuffed animals of every size. I don't really collect Boyds but when I was wandering through the nursery portion of the store - complete with baby bears in cradles and nurses walking around burping bears - I saw this little guy and well, he had to come home with me. The tag around his neck had a name on it but I didn't like it so I named him Harry instead. Harry really enjoyed his portion of the trip, I think.

Meet Harry!

Harry passes time in the hotel by reading...

Checking in on the Pirates (he called Scott Boras some pretty unprintable words)...

And watching the Mets-Phillies game.

I'll be honest, things got a little dicey at this point in the trip. John and his family were staying in a different hotel than we were at the next stop so Mom, Grandma, Chris, Lee and I all had to cram into one car. This would be fine if we were still 4, 6 and 16 but we're not. We are not small people in the Henderson family so the squeeze, it was tight. I had to make sure I had my book and iPod out and in the correct position because once we were all in, there was no moving of the arms going on.

Fortunately, halfway to Harrsiburg (I think - I admit my days are getting muddied) we stopped at the Dollhouse Museum. Despite the name, the Dollhouse Museum is really a toy museum. There are dolls involved but there were lots of other things to look at too which is nice since outside of a Cabbage Patch preemie, I wasn't a big doll kid.

This is more my speed:

Hot wheels! (This was really supposed to be G.I. Joes but none of my photos of that display turned out.)

One of the best things about brothers who are much older than you are all the hand me down toys. Even though some of these things were before my time, I remember them being around probably because of John and Chris.

Bert. Hey, Bert. Bert?

Chris says he had the Schroeder pillow but I kind of remember it being Linus. I'm sure I'm right.

And then the last room was like one huge flashback for Lee and me. Observant readers will remember a story I once told about Chris "accidentally" melting Lee's Mr. T doll. Well, you should have heard us when we spotted this guy:

First name Mister, middle name period, last name T!

Can't you just hear him saying, "I pity the fool!" I offered to the distract the curator while Lee lifted the Mr. T - it didn't look like they had a very high-tech security set-up - but Mom frowned upon talk of theft and we didn't want her and Grandma to get mixed up in our schemes. Chris, on the other hand, totally owes Lee and should have been ready to take the fall if it came to that. (We totally had that stuffed Alf too.)

Here we have my entire late elementary/early junior high years on one shelf: MC Hammer, Vanilla Ice and of course, the New Kids on the Block. (Eeeeeeeee! I LOVE YOU, DONNIE!!!!111!!!)

Oh, oh, oh, oh, oh! Oh, oh, oh, oh! Oh, oh, oh, oh, oh! The right stuff!

Buffalo represent!

Oh. Oh, wait. Never mind. But hey, look at the young Thomas Vanek action figure!

See, because the doll is from Austria... and Vanek is from Austria. Get it? Come on, the idea of little Thomas dressed up like that isn't funny? Oh, fine. Never mind.

Despite the fun distraction of the toys, as soon as we got back in the car, misery set in. We still had a little bit of a drive to Harrisburg and quite frankly, dear readers, I didn't think I was going to make it. I totally snuck out of there before my family to see if I could find a hotspot for my laptop to connect to and I got nothing. The final blow. Harry and I plugged in the iPod and tried to think happy thoughts for the next hour and a half.

After a night's sleep in Harrisburg however I was feeling better and ready to take on the Pennsylvania Capitol building.

The main rotunda

My favorite part of the building were these mosaics in the main floor showing the history of Pennsylvania and things important to the state.

At the building's dedication, Roosevelt called the Capitol "the handsomest building I ever saw." Roosevelt was probably not wearing flip flops at the time.

Luke and Uncle Fee check out the sights. Luke kept pointing and saying, "Ooooh!"

Unfortunately most of my pictures inside the building came out really dark and I've already been working on this post for days so I don't feel like messing with them to get them to look better. I know you're all heart-broken. The building really is beautiful though. If you're interested in pictures you can actually see, check out this site.

As the week wound down, we finally headed back to Pittsburgh. It was the first time in a few years we've had a day to spend there so we did a couple of our favorite things.

First up, the Carnegie Museum of Natural History. The museum has the world's third largest collection of dinosaur fossils and is considered one of the top Natural History museums in the country. It's very cool.

Before we get to the dinosaurs however, a quick Top Shelf geology quiz for you, taken from a display in the museum.

Question: Granite is an igneous rock that is formed as magma solidified. What is the best way to date such rocks?
Correct answer: Bring flowers and candy.

Question: Can you date sedimentary rock which was carried along and rounded by a river?
Correct answer: No, it's already married.

(First joke is Lee's, second joke is mine. Yes, this is exactly the kind of humor the Henderson family excels in.)

Most of my pictures are the result of me telling Lee to do something ridiculous. What else are little brothers for, you know?


Lee provides some perspective.

Lee's femur doesn't quite measure up to these guys.

The view from above. Pretty impressive in real-life.

Let's go Buff-a-lo! (Okay, they were oxen. My heart's in the right place.)

Quite possibly my favorite thing in the museum. You know this sign means someone actually tried to chew one of those rocks, probably cracking a few teeth in the process.

After the museum, a baseball game! It's been a number of years since we made it to a Pirates game during our Pennsylvania trip so I was super stoked.

Let's go Bucs! Let's go Bucs!

Before we went in for the game, Lee and I wandered around a bit. We were running a little late because of the other part of the family but we wanted to look at some things outside before it got too dark.

Lee faces off with a very intimidating Willie Stargell. (We are fam-i-ly!)

These player statues are pretty popular photo stops and there's often a line of people waiting to pose with them. After the game some of us were cracking up at a guy who ran over to the Stargell statue and put an arm up behind him and leaned back for a quick picture, without really paying attention to where his hand was. He's going to be pretty surprised when he looks at his photos and realizes he was grabbing Pops' package.

The Roberto Clemente Bridge, right behind the outfield wall, is closed to automobiles during games, allowing fans to walk over from other parking areas.

PNC Park is one of my very favorite places on the face of the earth. It's built along the Allegheny River and the city skyline lies right behind the outfield wall which makes for some beautiful scenery. It consistently comes up in polls as one of the best parks in the Major Leagues. It's really very lovely. Click on the next few images to get a better look.

The out-of-town scoreboard in right field shows the score, the inning, which team is currently hitting and how many outs there are which made it very easy for Lee to keep tabs on the Mets. (As an aside, I was trying to remember if the Mets won or lost that night but the scoreboard calendar on pops up under the sidebar ad making it impossible to actually read. Nice move, My favorite tidbit about PNC is that the right field wall is 21 feet tall in honor of Roberto Clemente who played right field and wore 21.

Uuuuunfortunately, the team playing INSIDE the park isn't nearly as beautiful as the park itself. The score at the end of the first was a pretty good indicator of what it's been like to be a Pirates fan for the last oh, 16 years or so.


Around the fifth inning or so we made a trip to the main gift shop at PNC. There was all kinds of stuff to wade through as we tried to zero in on our souvenirs.

I decided against the 70's flat-top. Pretty sharp though, right?

Lee picked up a classic black hat with gold P, Chris purchased a Roberto Clemente jersey (something he's been talking about doing for years now) and I scored a pile of jersey tees - a Jason Bay (yes, I know he's no longer a Pirate but it was on clearance and I feel very strongly that you can never have too many t-shirts), a Nate McClouth (been too long since I owned a current Pirate) and a Bill Mazeroski (in honor of our trip to the Wall and my then-current reading material). I think it's worth pointing out that immediately after I pulled on my McClouth tee, Nate hit a home run for the Pirates only run of the game. Atta boy, Natey.

Nate McClouth, sporting the really awful red jersey. Which reminds me...

The Pirates' opponent this fine August evening was the Milwaukee Brewers. Once upon a time, the Brewers logo looked like this:

That logo is sweet. It's an M! And a B! In the shape of a baseball glove and ball! Come on, that's awesome! And it's drawn in bright, distinct colors!

Now the Brewers logo looks like this:

It's an M. Just an M. In dark boring colors like everyone in the world wears now. Oh, sure they made a stab at referencing the team name by slapping a piece of barley under the M but let's face it, this logo blows.

Anyway, the game ended with a 3-1 Pirates loss. Sad. Thanks goodness Andy Van Slyke was there to make me feel better.

The hearts were painted right on the poster! It was crazy!

Anybody still out there? Anybody? Hey, if you're still reading at this point, congratulations, I'm pretty sure that makes you my favorite reader! Sorry for the long and arduous slog. Now that I've gotten this post out of my system hopefully things can go back to normal: Really, really short posts that are ALWAYS about the Sabres. Heh.

Say goodbye, Luke!
Goodbye, Luke!


amy said...

I read the whole thing and looked at all the pictures. You weren't lying when you said it was long. :)

I love that picture of the Pittsburgh skyline. It would make such a good wallpaper for a computer.

The toy museum looks like it would be a load of fun, and it looks bigger than the toy museum in East Aurora (which is also fun to go to).

Life_As_A_Redhead said...

"This would be fine if we were still 4, 6 and 16 but we're not. We are not small people in the Henderson family so the squeeze, it was tight."

Ha, this sounds EXACTLY like my family. We're 6'4", 6'0", 5'10" (dad), 5'9", and 5'6" (mom) so when we "cram" we "cram". We have all gotten in the cab of a single seat pick-up truck.

I read the whole thing, and loved every bit.

Erin said...

Fun post! I always enjoy reading a post about a trip.

Jennifer said...

Heather, that was a great post and I am proud to say that I made it all the way through. OMG that skyline is amazingly spectacular. WOW!

It looks like you guys had a ton of fun and I'm glad you had a chance to get away for a nice vacation, but I'm looking forward to your regulard posts again. And it's practically October already, just a little longer!!!!!

Chaz said...


Sounds like you had a GREAT vacation. Your nephew, Luke, is adorable. =)

I've driven by the Boyds store, but never stopped in because I know i'd be poor by the time I came out. After seeing Harry, I may have to re-think that. I want a Harry, he's adorable.

I laughed at your Ernie picture because I still have that Miss Piggy puppet in the background. Its in the attic at my parents house!

Kathee said...

OMG! I remembered that my cousins had the Bert and Ernie puppets once I saw the picture of them. :*)
And welcome back, Heather! I missed seeing regular posts!

S.A.M. said...

What a fantastic post! You know I read it all, I love hearing about other peoples' adventures. Sounds like a good time, Luke is too cute and you fam sounds great! I want to check the dinosaurs, maybe I'll add the museum to the list of places to go. For that matter, I've never been to Pittsburgh. (and of course growing up in southwestern Ohio and living up here in WNY, I am told that Pittsburgh is teh devil but ya know it's really just a football thing so I can like the city!) The bridges are super cool, the views actually remind me a lot of Cincinnati. (but don't tell them that LOL)

Glad to have you back and keep posting! :)

C.Byrd said...

Nice Pittburgh pics...I lived there in the late town...

S.A.M. said...

and that toy museum looks out of this world cool!

Patty (in Dallas) said...

The Roberto Clemente bridge is very pretty.

Great post! I read the whole thing, too. :D

Ebscer said...

lol, Vanek...

LeeAndrew said...

The Mets lost the night we were at PNC Park. Actually, they lost four times that week when I "watched" them and only won once. Maybe it's a good thing I don't have the Mets network.

peter-usrt said...

Wow, long post about Pittsburgh with no reference to Primanti's.
100 % correct about Fort Pitt tunnel/entrance to the city.

Will be there Sunday, go Bucs!


Heather B. said...

Thanks for the reading the whole thing, guys! I wrote it a little bit a night over the course of a week so I really lost sight of just how long it was getting.

The toy museum wasn't HUGE but it was well worth the $5 admission fee for sure.

Patty, the Roberto Clemente Bridge is one of three nearly identical bridges in a row, the Rachel Carson Bridge and the Andy Warhol Bridge being the other two. They're the first self-anchored suspension spans built in the U.S.

Ebscer, I appreciate that laughter :-D

Peter, you're right. Not mentioning Primanti's in a Pittsburgh post is a crime. I apologize! And go Bucs!

Schnookie said...

I read the whole thing, too! (And look! I'm even commenting!) What a delightful travelogue -- and your family rocks. :D

We used to do driving tours of Civil War battlefields when we were kids, and they were all brutally dull. But then we visited Gettysburg, and it was amazing. That is such an incredible place to visit, pink rifles or no. Did you guys see the cyclorama?

And I think that doll is the spitting image of Tomas Vanek.

Oh, and I have it on pretty good authority that TR wore flip flops everywhere he went. BULLY!

(Oh, and next time we're in Pittsburgh, we are SO going to the Natural History Museum. That looks AMAZING.)

LeeAndrew said...

No mention of the awesome restaurant I picked? Boooo!

Maz's home run MIGHT be the best of all time but I still don't think it was the best game ever. It was 10 - 9! What happened to pitching! That was even a pitching dominated era and they couldn't keep each other under 9 runs?

No the best game ever was Game 7 of the 1991 World Series. Twins 1, Braves 0. I'll take Jack Morris pitching a 10 inning complete game shut out over Maz going 2 for 4 with a home run.

Also you failed to mention that Harry is watching none other than David Wright bat. Go Wright!

Mom said...

I read the whole thing, too. Of course, since I was there (smashed in the middle of the back seat), it sounded familiar.

Since I haven't gotten a response to my email, thought I'd try posting a comment....your Mother is looking for you!