Tubing (Our Camping Experience)

There are several places you can go tubing when camping at Cook Forest State Park. We didn’t really plan ahead, and ended up checking out three places before we actually hit the river.

Take our word for it, make yourself a reservation if you’re skeptical. Or, figure out a way to take your own tubes and get dropped off and picked up. Our first choice would probably be the best place, but we opted out due to long lines and our own impatience. 😉

We ended up renting tubes from Pine Crest, but it’s not one of their main attractions. It ended up being the best choice for us because the whole day led to some fun(ny) experiences that we would not have gotten from any other place in the Forest.

Like the discovery of the tubes back behind a shed, and learning that the woman running the desk worked with me at Pizza Hut when I worked there in college. Or the van ride there (and back). I mean, how could you not enjoy this?

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I joke, a ‘lil.

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We set out in our tubes, only thing really missing on them was a cupholder or a way to secure our cooler (thanks to Tom for taking care of it for us).

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The river was beautiful, but a bit shallow. We took our time (maybe too much–we were over an hour late for our pickup, but “no watch!”) and enjoyed the views, some laughs (like making sure the trail mix was saved over all else), and jumped off a rock. (Ok, one of us jumped off a rock, bet you can’t guess who.)

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As if our first post about tubing wasn’t enough to convince you to let things go and enjoy a day on the river, hopefully this one will.

Eggs in a Bag

(*articles may contain affiliate links*) As I hinted in the first camping memory post, Missy wowed us with Eggs in a Bag. I know, it sounds really gross and I am sure you are skeptical that this would result in runny eggs and food poisoning, something you don’t want while camping, right? Greg will eat anything, so he supported Missy’s efforts; Tom and I were willing to try, but had back up plans just in case. Oh, thank goodness we trusted her.

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You see, “Eggs in a Bag” became our breakfast both days. It was that good.

Missy found a recipe online and we set out to make our own versions (once we fought with the fire and pan to get water boiling–note, this takes forever while camping, so maybe next time we’ll try this kettle).

Eggs in a Bag

Ingredients: 
Eggs
Veggies, Meat, and Cheese (as desired)
Milk (if you like it in your eggs)
Seasonings (such as salt and pepper, the ‘lil Burghers LOVE paprika and red pepper flakes)

Tools:
Pot with Boiling Water
Sealable Plastic Bags – we used Quart Size
Tongs

Step One: Put your eggs and a tablespoon of milk per egg in a ziploc bag. You can do up to three eggs in a bag. I opted for egg whites (from the carton) and skim milk for a healthy twist.

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Step Two: Add any add-ons you’d like. We opted for variations of ham, veggies, and shredded cheese (I’d suggest getting ham cubes and pre-chopped veggies if camping).

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Step Three: Seal your bag very tight. I am BAD at this. Once sealed, squish everything around real good. This was kind of fun!

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(Here’s what they all look like, ready to go in the pot.)

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Step Four: Place the bags in the boiling water and put on the fire. We had to leave ours on for almost ten minutes. (BTW, best tip ever with sausage, get the pre-cooked, it’s much faster and safer if you’re worried!)

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Step Five: Slip out of the bag and enjoy. Just trust us, okay? (Our other name for these is “egg loaf”, they are like omelettes, but in a loaf form.)

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Eggs in a Bag will definitely be on our camping must list every time from now on. So glad we trusted you, Missy!

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Pro Tip: One other thing we learned while camping? Don’t get eggs in cardboard containers. Instead, put them in a plastic container like this before putting them in your cooler. Otherwise, this is what happens:

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You’re welcome.

City Mouse and Country Mouse Go Camping

If you have never gone camping, do it. If you have never gone camping with your best friend, do it. A few weeks ago, the City Mouse (me) and Country Mouse (my best friend, Missy) decided to go camping. We’d been camping before as kids with our parents for church camping weekends, but neither of us had ever gone camping “by ourselves” as adults.

We’d played with the idea of two years. Our husbands (Greg and Tom) had been on board from the get go, but when meeting up with Missy and Tom for their birthday dinner, it was clear that we needed to make it happen this year. They were campaigning for us to purchase a three room tent “for only $139”, but it wasn’t in the budget books for this summer. Instead, Missy and I started to search for campground pricing.

Our hearts were set on Clear Creek State Park, but God had other plans. The park was flooded in early summer, closing the main road into it and the swimming area. We decided to ditch our childhood park of memory and give Cook Forest State Park a go instead.

The City Mouse really didn’t plan for much other than some meals. This is where the Country Mouse had the upper hand–she was so prepared with everything we’d need. (We brought a lot of stuff, but there wasn’t anything we took that we didn’t use.) She even secured her dad’s pop up camper to borrow so we wouldn’t have to sleep on the ground in a tent. This was probably what sealed us to loving camping and wanting to be back again sooner rather than later. The City Mouse’s mom offered up a cover for our table, something we totally didn’t think about and ended up being a life saver, too.

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When we first set out, we thought the odds that the Country Mouse and her husband were going to be scoring all the “points” this weekend and the City Mouse and her husband would give up the camping quicker than you could say the alphabet. Turns out, we were wrong. Each one of the four of us brought a beautiful chemistry to the camping weekend, and we found a great balance in taking on the tasks of camping. Note: Those of you who can set up a site like we did with only two people? Send us your stories. It took all four of us to figure that configuration out!

Tom was great at tending the fire and adapting it to our needs (like hot coals for mountain pies, warmth for boiling water, and just a general fire).

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Greg was great at fending off zombies, killer squirrels, and keeping us connected to the real world with his radio. (Tom, Missy, and I have smart phones and none of them had much service…admittedly, being disconnected felt amazing.)

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Missy was great at everything, as usual, but she really stunned us with her ability to make food that didn’t sound like it would be amazing (i.e. eggs in a bag, which will be a separate post), amazing!

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And me, the City Mouse, was good at the “mom stuff” like having hand sanitizer, bug spray, and sunscreen at hand, but also in capturing the memories (including this silly selfie).

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Our camping weekend was everything we’d hoped it would be and more, too much to share in one post. Since it’s Labor Day Weekend and we’d rather be camping (okay, not all of us, someone has a big game to watch tonight, ahem), I figure I’ll keep sharing our memories with you to live vicariously along with us. Enjoy!

Dr. King’s Speech: In Dad’s Eye’s

Fifty years ago, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. addressed a nation with his “I Have a Dream” speech. As you know, our family is living that dream. Our dad (Pop Pop) was there for the March on Washington–he and his Dad rode a bus from Harlem to D.C. We asked him some questions about the day, and are so glad to be able to hear his recollection of this moment in our history. He was 24 years old at the time. 

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Why did you and your dad decide to go? Were you going to listen to Dr. King, or take in the whole “March on Washington for Freedom and Jobs” experience? What prompted you and your Dad to join those who traveled to DC for this? 

Part of the reason we went was for our descendants, so to have you ask about the March makes it worth it to have gone that day [and be able to share it with you]. To be able to look back and say, “Great-Great Grandpa was there” and ask questions, to let the significance live on in our family. That’s important.

Martin Luther King wasn’t the big name, it was about equal rights. I went back and forth and back and forth on whether or not I was going to go (due to perceived threats of violence). Late in the decision, my Dad decided to go…and then we had to find a way to get there. The National Maritime Union was taking buses. We left late in the night and rode to Washington and got in around dawn.

Were you afraid of any violence? 

Not when I was there. When I was deciding to go, I hesitated, thinking “it may be a mess”. But when I was there? It was very calm, and I don’t even think there was a large police presence to alarm you.

Were there a lot of white people there with you? 

There was a good mixture of whites in the crowd, a fair number of whites in the civil rights movement. This was the day to be there, the place to be.

How did it feel to be one man among many standing there along the pool, waiting to listen to the speech? This is Dr. King’s speech, but our story. How did you feel when Dr. King spoke those historical words, “I have a dream”? 

Dad said he was about a third of the way back on the left side of the Pool as you looked toward the Lincoln monument, so he was able to hear and see the events. 

As I recall, it was kind of humbling. You couldn’t claim to be special–there were a quarter million people as I remember. It was quite a crowd, and so it was sort of humbling to be one of the people. The talks before Dr. King were interesting, but they tended to be what we’d heard before, by and large. When Dr. King started speaking (he was a fantastic speaker), the feeling grew that this was special. As the speech built, I could feel with certainty that this was a special speech. There were high points, like:

“little black boys and black girls will be able to join hands with little white boys and white girls”

and of course, the “I have a dream” theme was very dramatic. It was rousing, it really moved the crowd. It made the hot day worth it as we stood along the reflecting pool with no trees and no shade. The importance of so many people coming to Washington and saying silently (other than the speakers) that they wanted equal rights was exciting. It made it seem entirely feasible, and it was a great crowd. It achieved its purpose and negated the naysayers who were fear mongers, saying there would be rioting in the streets. It was a great day.

What else should we, your children & grandchildren, know about your experience? 

There’s a historic context to that day and to that experience that it’s important for my descendants to know that I was there. It draws their attention to where it was and why they were there…a great day in our country. It’s important that some of us remember it, what it was about, the aim, the goal.

Following our questions, Greg and Dad talked about the impact of the March on our lives today, on having the first Black President. This March made strides to get us to where we are today. Thank you, Dad, for sharing your story, this legacy, with us. 

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Dad’s only souvenir from the March on Washington–a shirt from the Union he rode with on the bus to D.C.

Deer Lakes Park

Today, I am sharing a local gem with you, Deer Lakes Park. We’ve been there many times before, but this last trip was an eye opener–there’s a secret playground that is hands-down the best in the area. (Thanks to my co-worker for sharing it with me!) This post will also be posted on South Hills Mom, a blog about kid-friendly resources in Pittsburgh’s South Hills. Head on over and say hello for me, ok? 

My family is no stranger to Deer Lakes Park, an Allegheny County Park in Tarentum. (Okay, technically it’s a lot closer to West Deer than it is to Tarentum, where we live.) We’ve spent hours running around the ponds, searching for frogs and fish, and enjoying this playground:

Source: Allegheny County Park’s Website

The playground is just fine, there is a variety of equipment that the kids enjoy, but it’s pretty much just a standard playground. (I’ll admit, the mulch ground cover isn’t my favorite since the four of us typically wear flip flops.) Not shown is a spray park, but we’ve never taken the kids there because when it is open, it is quite busy.

When a co-worker told me about a “hidden” playground out in the picnic grove area, I was excited. When cousin E spent the day with us, we decided it would be the perfect day to burn some extra calories and have a picnic and playdate in the park.

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Our Picnic at Deer Lakes Park

That picture doesn’t do the park justice, but I’ll admit blogging about the day wasn’t at the top of my mind (sorry!). What is behind our picnic table is a park that has a rubberized ground cover, is accessible, and has sections for ages 2-5 and 5-12. Probably not surprising, our accident prone Evan fell while there, but it wasn’t on the rubber, just inches away. If he had fallen on the rubber, he likely would not have skinned his ‘lil knee. By accessible, I mean that you can get the entire way up to the top via a ramp that starts right at ground level. And the age levels are marked off by clear signs:

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And the swings are even clearly marked as to what age they are for. We know this, because it helped us determine that Evan is a ‘lil peanut for sure:

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Beyond your “standard” swings, slides, and monkey bars, this playground has a rock climbing wall, spiders’ nest, bridge, fun mirrors, telescope, balance beams, “crocodile rock” swinging obstacle, and more. Greg may not have been the best role model and took on the playground as though it were an “American Ninja Warrior” course because the equipment was so fun. Arianna loved being a ‘lil daredevil and climbed to the top of anything and everything she could. E and Evan equally enjoyed the course, too.

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While I love the park, I feel that I would have hated it if Evan had been any younger (he’s a small 32 months). There are a few educational tic-tac-toe boards and artwork (like the American Sign Language Alphabet and “hello” in several languages) ; however, there are no parts geared toward under 2, including the swings.

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Educational Tic-Tac-Toe about trees!

Adults would appreciate the rubberized ground, but there’s not a track nearby. One other thing I didn’t love about it was the porta potty (never fun with a ‘lil one who is usually potty trained but has stress accidents). (To be fair, I think many parks have porta potties.)

All in all, Deer Lakes Park is definitely a gem that we’ll keep in our back pocket for nice days. Sure, it’s a bit out of the way, even for us; however, the kids (and adults) loved it. The ‘lil Burghers definitely give this portion of the park our seal of approval.

Deer Lakes Park, 1090 Bailey Run Road, Tarentum, PA 15084

Navigating to the park wasn’t tough, but if you’re not from the area, it’s not the easiest to find. First, to get to Deer Lakes Park, you’d probably exit 28 at Creighton, then turn to the right and then left at the light by Sheetz. At the next light, Bailey Run Road, turn left and follow it out to a stop sign a few miles in. Take a left, then the park entrance is off on the right about a mile up that road. You’ll see the (original) playground on the right, then about a mile up the road on the left is the entrance to the grove area. Take it all the way back. All the way! At the last grove, down on the right, is THE playground. (Okay, talk about Pittsburgh directions!)

If you’re interested in more photos from our adventure, check out my set on Flickr–there were so many fun moments that I couldn’t include them all in this post.

Reminders

Yesterday morning, I wasn’t having the greatest day (and to be honest, it didn’t end all that well, either). As I looked to my left before turning onto the road that would take me to 28, I saw my Pappy Peterson. There he was, on a Conrail train. No, Pappy wasn’t Conrail, he was Union Railroad, but he was there on that train, telling me the day was going to be okay.

Just this afternoon, he reminded me that he is here, again. This time, in the form of bowling thunder over my office building as I was trying to finish the day up. The strikes just kept on coming, he was up there bowling hard. I’d put money that he and George found each other and were having some kind of competition, probably whomever won had to buy the buttermilk, for Pappy, or Diet Coke, for George.

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The reminders may not always be cheerful like they were, but those we’ve loved and lost are always with us. Whether it’s coming up on 27 years or only days, they are always there to remind us of their love.

I was reminded of that on Saturday when Greg and I went to the Relay for Life. First, we celebrated Deb, Aaron, Tracy, and Dad (Pop-Pop). Then, as we rounded the track, I sobbed for Wendy, for Pappy McPherson. As many times as we’d hoped and prayed for a cure, they didn’t get one. But, they, are always with me.

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Not Just Any Play House

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It is a beautiful day here in Pittsburgh, and we took advantage of sprucing up the yard for summer. That includes patio prep and cleaning the toys.

Yesterday, I asked Greg to clean the kids’ play house, but while he is off getting fill dirt, I decided to clean it instead. Why? Because even though he is good at cleaning things and this was an easy honey-do list item, I really don’t think he would put the care into cleaning it like I would. That sounds really mean…but let me explain, okay?

This isn’t just any play house. This is my play house. Greg would clean it the same way I did, heck, maybe even a little cleaner, but he would not put the heart into it that I did. And maybe, just maybe, I really needed the cleansing practice of cleaning this house.

As I cleaned the play house, I thought about what it meant to me. The memories began to flow:
* Pretending the play house was a drive through–and realizing Arianna does this, too.
* Eating my first ever onion rings inside it on the porch of our house at Wall–one of my earliest memories of time with my cousin Richie! (Burger King, too.)
* Watching my brother through the windows when we lived in Brookville.
* Serving as a clubhouse for Elizabeth and I in Wren…and writing names of our crushes using squiggle pens and dot matrix printer paper.
* Watching the house get packed up on moving truck after moving truck from Wren, to Brookville, to Townville, to Ford City. My parents had plenty of yard sales, but they never sold this childhood treasure, keeping it in pristine condition.
* Watching a 9-month-old Arianna poke her head out of it to watch her cousins playing in my parents’ yard.
* My dad bringing it to our first house so Arianna (and now Evan) can enjoy it just as much.

That house is almost 30 years old, but I cannot tell. The only thing “dating” it is the corded phone, which the kids sort of understand. I will be sure we keep it clean and ready for the next adventures. Maybe we will even be able to use it for another generation of Peterson or Willis kids, who knows!

That house sure isn’t just another play house handed down on Craigslist. It has a heart and soul, and deserved the bath it got today.

30 Years Ago

Thirty years ago, Wendy was born. Little did anyone expect that she’d only be on this earth for just shy of 17 years, or that she’d have such a huge impact on the people around her in those short years.

Tonight, I am celebrating for her. While cancer took her away from her earthly home, she lives on in the hearts of those who knew and loved her.

Tears filled my eyes earlier as I remembered taking birthday wishes, cards, and flowers to her grave site 13 years ago, angry that soon I would get to celebrate my 17th birthday, something she’d never get to do. While I am aware that she’s gone, it doesn’t change the pain  or the the fact that I don’t know what she’d be doing if she had survived…but knowing that we got to enjoy a few good years together sure does help.

For Wendy, on her 30th birthday, I wish you all a beautiful day full of love, joy, butterflies, green, *N Sync, and Tweety Bird. Heck, even some Green Bay Packers. Why not. This one’s for you, Wendy. xoxo

 

While I have you here, consider giving to my goal to raise money for Kids With Cancer. If there is anything I can do to help other families, children, and friends with dealing with cancer, I’d love to. Help me out, please! 

Mysterious Ways

My parents always reminded me that God works in mysterious ways. They sure were right.

When we took toys to Stuff a Bus in November, we stopped at the Steelers Store first. I found a cute plastic dinosaur that I just knew was going to make some ‘lil kids’ Christmas. See it down there in the bottom left?

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Well, my parents picked one up for ‘lil Man and give it to him with his “McStuffins” costume. By far, it was his favorite toy (especially compared to the lantern, no hard feelings, huh?). It seriously made his Christmas.

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By the way, if anyone knows the lyrics to the never ending song this thing plays, send them my way. We can’t get the tune out of our heads, but it sure is catchy.