Saturday, December 15, 2018

Day 313 Phipps Conservatory “Let it Glow”- Relax and Share the Wonder of the Season

The weeks surrounding  the Holiday Season often involve that panic rush feeling "to get it all done.” We forget as my blog inspiration book, “Everything I Learned About Christmas, I Learned From A Little Golden Book”, reminds us that Christmas should be a “time of wonder, a time like no other time of the year.”   At Phipps Conservatory,  the beauty brings back the wonder of the season as you navigate through the 8 rooms of nature infused with lights, Christmas trees and  poinsettias,  as well as 6 permanent  botanical  gardens.

It is so magical that I have decided to make experiencing the winter wonderland at the Phipps an empty nest tradition. It is even better to share this magic with friends and family making memories and even getting that perfect Holiday card picture.

Penguins in East Room
The ascetics found in natural beauty has a way of relaxing the soul. The plants, flowers and lights always put me in the holiday spirit.  That being said, the experience is so much more enjoyable when you are not following a line of people through the 14 rooms and the Outdoor Garden.

Outdoor Garden at night, a must see

Try going after 9 pm or  week day to avoid crowds
This is the second year that the Conservatory is trying a new timed ticketing reservation system.  We went on a sold-out Saturday night. At first we were part of  a continual line of spectators but it  seemed to clear out after 9:30 pm.  To have a more peaceful experience, visit on a week day or latter in the evening  on the weekends since they are open nightly until 11 pm (we empty- nesters don’t have kids to worry about).  

"Let it Glow" seemed extra spectacular this year, maybe because it offset some of the unfortunate recent current events and the lack of Pittsburgh sunshine. In fact, my date who needed a little push to attend, soon perked up with excitement to discover  what  would be found in each room. His  favorite was the Cuba Exhibit  in Tropical Forest that intermixed plants native to Cuba and was adorned with 250 feet of lights.  

We discovered  20 decorated Christmas trees and 2,300 poinsettias scattered  throughout the Conservatory,  Storybook characters in the Serpentine room, flowered penguins in the East Room and a Fraser Fir that glistened like a star  towering  up 22 feet over a reflecting pool in the Victoria room. We went at night and enjoyed the 25,000 LED lights inside the Conservatory and  the glistening 62,000 square- foot illuminated Outdoor Garden (see map here ).

Story Book, Serpentine Room
As I looked around everyone seemed to be smiling and in “awe” of something. Maybe it was the 23 different varieties of Poinsettias or  maybe it was the huge train layout depicting the history of Phipps' past that produced the smiles.  Whatever it was, “Let it Glow”sure gave us the needed  feeling of wonder just like a child discovering something beautiful and new. It will  keep the wonder in your Christmas Season no matter how you enjoy it.

Spiritual Source
And amazement seized them all, and they glorified God and were filled with awe, saying "We have seen extraordinary things today" (Luke 5:26)

Other Sources

Thursday, December 6, 2018

Day 311 Hilaree Nelson-Adventurer- Explorer-Live Outside the Box

Hilaree Nelson is one of the first Women to summit Mt Everest and its neighbor peak, Lhotse, in a single 24 hour  period. As part of the Pittsburgh Cultural Trust lecture series, this adventurer recently brought her  National Geographic Live Tour, The Point of No Return, to Pittsburgh. She shared her adventure of leading a team of elite climbers on a grueling climb to the summit of Bruma's Hkakobo Razi (a remote peak in the Asian country of Myanmar). Her amazing story of determination and passion for the climb was an inspiration to never quit and “live outside the box”.

My blog inspiration Book, “Everything I Need to Know I Learned From a Little Golden Book” recommends that we “Dare to explore”. That is just what Hilaree has done her entire life. Her sense of adventure and survival started as a child when her family spent summers on a boat along the western intercostal of Canada where she learned to play and live off the harvest of the sea. She was a competitive high school athlete and after graduating college in Colorado, she spent 5 years climbing and skiing the French Alps.

 A horrific skiing accident that occurred during her guide of a heli-skiing expedition changed  her life direction. She found her peace and solace in the mountains and in 2012 conquered Everest and a neighboring peak. Adversity can fuel self -discovery as it causes us to make a change or sink. That is just what this blog is about: finding your passion by trying new things after hitting  bumps in the road of life. Maybe that is why her story had a magnetic pull on me and seemingly the audience because this woman found and lived her passion.

The retelling of the climb to Hkakobo Razi, in the remote Asian country of Myanmar, reminded me of the Star Trek opening: “To explore strange new worlds. To seek out new life and civilizations and to boldly go where no man has gone before.”  Just to get to this mountain’s  base, Hilaree planned travel by bus, boat, train, small plane and  through a dense jungle. The rain forest  trek was so difficult that at one point they  only went 80 miles in 4 days on motorcycles. The team endured  leeches, spider bites and  precarious hanging bamboo bridges across rivers and deep valleys.  I was amazed that they  kept going. I wondered what really drives a person to proceed - love for the adventure or fear of failure?

The month of grueling travel was the pre-game before the  challenging mountain climb that was only successfully conquered once before. They had no road map through Hkakobo Razi’s jagged ridges and the team hit several dead ends having to retrace  steps. They endured bitter winds of 50 to 70 miles an hour and battled hypothermia and a diminished food supply. Hilaree had to be creative in the planning of this climb  and this team had to fall back on their gut, skill, and unbelievable determination in order to survive and press forward.  

*Team depleted at end of expedition- Renan Ozturk,Mark Jenkins, Cory Richard, Emily Harrington, Hilaree O'Neill
Photo by Taylor Rees
This was a true  story of stamina with many “points of no return”.  There were disappointments when the  team had to split because the climb was too technical, leaving  the 3 men to peruse the peak and the two women to wait at camp. Even  though they did not  reach the peak of Hkakobo Razi, they all dared to explore it.  Hilaree was an honest storyteller. Her  words were heartfelt  as she shared how the trip evoked self discovery and personal life lessons ( see National Geographic video here).

Hilaree was inspiring and a heartfelt story teller
Her life and story was a reminder to "live outside the box”. Our personal life expeditions  might not be as magnanimous as climbing a remote mountain. I am just trying to conquer the Rachel Carson Trail Challenge (see Day 278  ) but this story is a reminder to keep a forward trajectory in life, follow our passions and continue, as Hilaree reminded, to “explore, dream and discover”.

(For more Talks and Poets sponsored by the Pittsburgh Cultural Trust go

Spiritual Source
I Lift up my eyes to the mountains-where does my help come from? My help comes from the LORD, the Maker of heaven and earth (Psalm 121 1-2)

 Other Sources

Wednesday, December 5, 2018

December Preview of Events

A Magical Cirque Christmas-Pittsburgh Premier-December 13,2018-Benadum

A Magical Cirque Christmas is a show of illusions, speed juggling, shoulder ballet, trapeze and more. This show also features the trapeze of Duo Transcend a finalist on the television show “America’s Got Talent”. This should be a night to kindle that spirit of Christmas with a sprinkle of amazement as they preform to favorite holiday music.

Join me for this Pittsburgh premier show, Magical Cirque Christmas, on December 13, 2018 at the Benedum Center. For tickets go to

Blog Post to Follow 

Sunday, December 2, 2018

310 Sweat-Pittsburgh Public Theater-Riveting, Powerful, so Real

Sweat is a 2017 Pulitzer Prize winning play about the struggles of the Olstead’s Steel Tubing workers in Reading, Pennsylvania. This play dives into the lives of close friends from 2000 to 2008 as they face the consequences of a changing economy. It’s a powerful story on how our livelihood is the thread that holds together identities, relationships and survival. Sweat is a riveting experience that exposes what happens when that thread is cut.    

Friday, November 23, 2018

Day 309 Fiddler on The Roof- Family, Love, Faith, Traditions

Fiddler on the Roof, which opened in 1964 winning 8 Tony awards, is one of those iconic musicals that many of us have either experienced on the stage (since it’s a favorite high school production) or at the movies (classic 1971 film). It tells the story of Tevye, the father of five daughters, that tries to maintain his family’s Jewish religious and cultural traditions as his world and his community changes in 1905 Russia. It’s a play packed with masterful songs  that  celebrates family, love, faith, and the traditions that give a sense of belonging and stability during life changes and even hardships.

Monday, November 12, 2018

Day 308 Pittsburgh Jazz Orchestra Wrapped Up The International Festival of Firsts with Liberation- A Jazz Explosion

On November 11, 2018, Pittsburgh International Festival of Firsts  (Day 300) wrapped up 8 weeks of never before seen shows from around with world with  LiberationThis show featured The Pittsburgh Jazz Orchestra (PJO) together with trumpet player Sean Jones. PJO brought together an assembly of Pittsburgh’s best jazz artists for a celebration of jazz and to premier a new commissioned composition. This show was a jazz explosion and a dedication to all artists.  

Saturday, November 10, 2018

Day 307 Hansel & Gretel-Pittsburgh Opera-Tap Into Your Childhood

The opera, Hansel &Gretel, is based on the fairy tale by Brothers Grimm.  We all know the story of the siblings who become lost in an enchanted forest, encounter the gingerbread house and  must fend off the witch  who turns children into gingerbread before she eats them. This Opera by Engelbart Humperdinck (not the singer) was  originally written in the 1800’s in German but Pittsburgh Opera performed it in English. It was an evening to kick back and tap into your childhood as you enjoyed this playful night of music. 

Day 306-Beethoven on Period Instruments-Chatham Baroque- Early Classical Chamber Music

My blog inspiration book, Everything I Need to Know I Learned from a Little Golden Book recommends that we “Take in some culture once in a while”.  That is just what  you get with the Chatham Baroque Concert Series  that showcases music of the Middle Ages, Renaissance, Baroque, and Early Classical periods (roughly 1200 to 1800).  

The concert, Beethoven: the music for piano and cello was a rare opportunity to hear Beethoven’s music on the period instruments of his time with guests Dutch cellist Jasp ter Linden and historical fortepiano expert David Breitman. It was a night back in time with music played the way  that it was done in the 1700-1800’s!

Sunday, November 4, 2018

Day 305-Espaece-International Festival of First-Unique Canvas

For the last 7 weeks the International Festival of Firsts  has  brought  never before seen shows spanning the globe to Pittsburgh. This festival celebrates  the idea that "there is more that unites than divides us".

Espaece  was a US premiere work of origin from France created by theater director AurĂ©lien Bory. Spatial awareness was his canvas  for  this visual art. Using acrobatic dancers, actors, an opera singer, a flexible wall and more, he created a unique stage experience that focused on man's placement in a space.

Saturday, November 3, 2018

November Preview of Events

(This November I mixed in some of  Pittsburgh's most  unique shows to add fuel to my passion for new experiences. I hope that you will continue to join me on this journey of  "newness". )

Sweat-Pittsburgh Public Theater-Nov 8- Dec 9, 2018 at O’Rielly Theater

Sweat is a 2017 Pulitzer Prize winning play about the struggles of the Olstead’s Steel Tubing workers in Reading, Pennsylvania. This play dives into the lives of nine close friends in 2000 to 2008 as they face the consequences of the troubled economy. 

Join me for Sweat, a powerful drama, which runs from  Nov 8 through Dec 9th at the O’Rielly Theater. For tickets go to

(Blog post here)