Sunday, December 29, 2013

The Last Warm, Sunny Day in 2013 ?

The Last Warm, Sunny Day in 2013 ?


by Phil Breidenbach

                It is Sunday morning, I am sitting at the table in my "library", looking out the window at the rain splashing in the puddles in the back yard.  The roads in the valley are slightly hidden by the rain and the low laying clouds.  In the distance, everything is reduced to various shades of grey.

                The fresh coffee and my Christmas tree gives the room a wonderful smell.  The sparkling tree beside me and the soft music from the radio transforms the room into a nice warm, comfy place to spend the day. 

                Yesterday, Saturday, was just the opposite of today.  Let me tell you a little about what we did during it...

                The day started out early for me, the sun was still below the horizon and there were still a couple of the brighter stars visible in the sky.  The eastern horizon was getting brighter, the day was well on its way.  While walking the dog, I got my first glimpse of the sun.  The clouds were tinged in pink just before it came over the top of the near-by hills.  I'm pretty sure I have said this before, but it is worth repeating...There is nothing like watching the sun rise.  What a great way to start the day!

                I put the dog in the car, collected my gear, and headed over to pick up a couple breakfast sandwiches and some coffee for Ann Marie and myself.  Then I picked up Ann Marie and we pointed the car towards Pittsburgh.

St. Nicholas Parish House

                Driving into the Northside, we saw that the Parish House, beside the spot where St. Nicholas Church used to stand, was half torn down.  There were no workers around so we stopped to take some pictures.  They have blocked off one lane for access and they graded the land where buildings and sidewalks used to be.  They had also uncovered a couple of the cold cellars that were exposed during demolition.  Originally, they had piled dirt against the openings to either hide them or keep people out.  Now they were exposed once again.  I find these holes very interesting, hidden from light for decades, if not centuries, now exposed for the last couple weeks of their existence.

                Most of them are rather shallow and usually filled with debris.  There were three that we looked into yesterday.  One was partially filled with fresh cement.  Who knows why, it didn't fill the room beyond and it didn't hide the hole, perhaps it was just some extra cement that they needed to get rid of...I can't figure it out. 
Exposed cold cellars
                A bit closer to the Parish House were two other holes.  These were at one time hidden by a auto repair company.  Anyone who has driven down this road in the last 10 years has seen the orange building just past the Church.  This was the last place to be abandoned, the owner holding off for years trying to get paid a bit more from Pendot.  The building didn't last very long after they moved out. 
                The first of the two holes was rather shallow, though much taller than the next.  Dirt nearly filled the back room, all that was visible was about 3-4 foot of the passageway leading into the room.  The room beyond was dark and looked filled. 
Inside the rectangular hole
The room inside
Tunnel leading to the outside
                The second hole was rectangular in shape and a tunnel led into a spacious room beyond.  I had to crouch down to work my way into the room.  The passageway was only about 4 feet high., opening up to a much higher room beyond.  The room was shaped like a Quonset hut.  The walls were tapered a bit and then arched over as they became a roof.  The room was hand hewn, the walls were far from uniform.
                 On the floor were puddles, empty cans, broken bottles and old car parts, evidence of the business that once hide this room from sight.  Worn tires lay in the puddles giving me an idea of how deep the room went.  I didn't go much further that the beginning of the room since my flashlight was back in the car. (duh)  The light that filtered in from the small opening quickly dissipated moving away from the doorway.   My flash on the camera barely made it to the back end.   I would guess the room was about 30 feet deep and about 15 to 20 foot wide.  After taking a couple shots, I turned around and returned to the bright day beyond.
Going, going...
                We went over to the remains of the Priests House and looked around a bit.  We kept our distance not wanting to get too close, not knowing how unstable it was.  More than half of the house was removed.  On the one side it looked like an average abandoned house, a couple broken windows with a hole in the roof.  The other side looked like a crushed doll house, the walls removed and the floors exposed.  Doors were cracked and broken, staircases were filled with wood and plaster.  Curtains still fluttered in the windows.  I am guessing that it will all be gone by the time 2014 gets here.  As we left, 6 deer crossed the hillside behind the house.  They made climbing the steep hill look easy!
                Our next stop on this bright, clear day was the West End.  There was a structure I've noticed numerous times when I was crossing the West End Bridge.  It looked like the opening of a tunnel.   If that is what it was, it went under the hillside below the West End Overlook.  It is situated right along Rt.51.  At some time, the opening was filled with large stones.  The top of it is open and I was thinking I might be able to "see" what was beyond the opening.
Under the West End Bridge
                Due to construction on the road, we had to take a small walk to get to the structure.  We parked under the West End Bridge and couldn't help but stop and admire its shape.  Now this is the way bridges should be built!   Standing tall and arched, it makes a beautiful frame for the city.  It looks so much more distinctive, so much more regal than the plain modern bridges of today.
Was it a tunnel?
                We walked along a slippery ice covered sidewalk to the cement fabrication.   It was set into a stone wall on one side and a cement wall on the other.  The stones that filled it were stacked rather amateurishly, taped away from the road as they rose up. The top 5 or 6 feet were open,  the rocks here covered with dirt, small trees and dead leaves.  The back end was hidden in shadow and I couldn't see if it was open or not.  I was tempted to attempt climbing up the face but once again, my "fear" of pain and disability kept me on the ground.  A construction ladder sat a short distance away... but then again, it was daylight and cars were going by.  No, tempted as I was...I held off.   I took some pictures and we continued on our way. Later, looking at my photos, I could see that it had a cement back hidden in the shadows.  What it was...I still have no idea.
Nice day in the "burg"
                Since it was such a nice day, we went up to the overlook above us.  We gazed out at the city and its environs, talked about what neighborhoods were where and talked about some of our adventures in them.  We decided to go down and visit the Northside next.
Beech Avenue
                Driving towards West Park, we decided to take a stroll down Beech Avenue.  This is what I have always considered one of Pittsburgh's hidden treasures.  Bordered on one side by West Park and the beautiful Calvary Methodist Episcopal Church on the other end, it is a small neighborhood that is closed off from traffic by use of one way restrictions.  The only way in is from the center of the blocks.  The road is a one way street from here, in both directions, you have to go either left or right.  You can't get in from the ends.  This drastically reduces the through traffic!  The neighborhood is an older one, I'm guessing the houses were built in the earlier 1800's.  The buildings are well taken care of, painted nicely and they are almost always nicely decorated for the Christmas season.
Fence posts
Window box holder
                While we walked up and down the street here, we saw a couple dog walkers and a couple pedestrians.  Being Pittsburghers, everyone said "hi".  Only one or two cars passed by.  It was nice and quiet.  The noise of the rushing traffic on the roads that bordered the area never made into the neighborhood.   Brick paved sidewalks, their flatness marred by the roots underneath them add to the hominess of the area.  A lot of the houses here have slender yards, with long side porches.  All the houses have a fence of some type, most of them wrought iron, sporting various designs, each unique from the others. 
                We returned home then and hung out for a bit until it was time for Church.  After Church, we drove over to the local cemetery to watch the space station go past.  (What better place to observe the sky than a cemetery?)
                The night before, I had gone outside with a couple friends from work to see an Iridium flare. We then returned later to watch the Space Station drift overhead.  I get excited to see these things, I can't help it.  I get even more excited to share them with others.
                The ISS (International Space Station) was due to cross our sky about a half hour after Mass was over.  Rather than going back home and watching it from there, we opted for the graveyard.  I had the camera and a tripod and was going to try and catch it as it went by.  I set things up, took a couple shots to determine my exposures and then waited.  While I waited, I fretted.  "Will it be where I think it will be, will it pass through the shot I have lined up?"   I went over its path in my mind and then reset up the camera...and fretted some more.  The sky was getting murky, rain was predicted for the next day. I couldn't see any stars yet.  were they hidden by faint clouds or were they just not visible yet?  The time slowly moved on. 
            Then, right on time, it appeared in the north west.  Faint at first, it gained brightness as it rose higher and higher in the sky.  I took a couple pictures, moved the tripod and snapped a couple more.  The ISS slowly moved off into the east south east and faded away.  I checked the shots and they looked good! Yeah! (Picture my fist pumping into the air)
 Waving to the International Space Station above
                We returned to my house for some dinner and a couple TV shows.  I went outside to watch for an Iridium Flare but the clouds had moved in by then, not a single star was visible.  Still, I saw the clouds  briefly glow where the flare was predicted to occur.  I'll take that as a "has seen"!
                We played a game of Scrabble on our new game board (I got trounced) as we ate dinner and then AMB went home to the place where she would find herself in the morning.  It was a good day, the sun shone, it was warm outside and the clouds held off until after the ISS passed by.
                I woke up this morning to rain.   Looking outside my nice warm room, I see that the rain is still coming down.  The drips off the tree limbs make circles in the puddles below, like the ticking of a clock, ticking the last three days of the year away.  Maybe we'll have another bright sunny warm day this year...but I doubt it.  Just goes to show... enjoy the good stuff when you can, you don't know when they will return next!
Happy New Year!

Sunday, December 22, 2013

A Short Sunday Thought


by Phil Breidenbach

                Coming home from Sunday Mass, humming one of the songs we sang, I was thinking about my Church.  I was thinking about the people I see there weekly,  my fellow parishioners, the ushers, the Priests, the Deacon, the Musical Director, all the people who contribute to my Sunday visit.


                I should say before anything else, my major reason for my weekly visit is to worship.  To thank God for all He has given me, to ask for forgiveness for the stupid human things I do and to receive His body and blood in communion.  I come away from Church with a wonderful feeling and a knowledge that God loves me, no matter how much of a fool I am.


                Today, that feeling of wellbeing was increased by the singing of a wonderful choir.  It consisted of two young men and three young women, assisted by the musical director.  I didn't know until later that they were all cousins and were singing at the Mass celebrated for their uncle.


                Their voices blended together the way an experienced, seasoned group sounds.  To my untrained ear, they did everything flawlessly.  As they sang while the parishioners came up for communion, I couldn't help it, my eyes were tearing up.  I saw a couple others in the pews, dabbing at their eyes as the service continued. 


                There are so many different kinds of beauty in our world.  Seeing the sunrise or set, just opened flowers in the Spring, waterfalls, I've been lucky enough to see lots of these in my life.  Here, at Church, was another thing of beauty, the blending of these young voices in song, in hymns of praise.


                Today, as always,  I took home a lot more than I arrived with.  A feeling of contentment and happiness accompanied me home.   There are a lot of things that gave me this feeling, there are a lot of people who contributed to it and to all of them I owe a big debt of gratitude.  I am truly lucky, I am blessed in so many ways, both in my personal life and in my public life.


                Hearing these 5 (6) people sing was another blessing given to me, and believe me, I am truly grateful for it!


                Christmas is just a couple days away, I'd like to wish everyone a wonderful Christmas, a truly happy Holiday and a spectacular New Year!  Who knows what adventures the new year will bring!

"God bless you all!"

He's almost here!

Monday, December 16, 2013

Behind the Walls

Behind the Walls


by Phil Breidenbach

                Anyone who regularly takes Rt.28 into or out of the city has seen the nice wall near the Heinz plant on the Northside.  Once upon a time, this wall held up the front yard to a large, nice looking house.  The house had been deserted and then torn down and the wall will be soon following it.  Right now, a set of steps, covered with dirt leads up to an empty lot, scored with the tracks of bulldozers.

                The work on the road involves widening it, putting in Jersey Barriers and making it a "safe" roadway.  I figure that there is no way this wall will survive.  I can remember the neighborhood that used to be just a short distance further into the Northside.  A church used to be here, a cemetery and a lumber yard, not to mention lots of other businesses and houses.  These places were removed in the mid-80's.  Now, it is a concrete canyon, populated with speeding cars.  This wall is part of a small section that needs widened to complete the highway.

The Wall

(pictures will enlarge when clicked)

                On our way over to the Southside of Pittsburgh, AMB and I stopped for a few minutes to look around and to explore a bit, and to take a few pictures.  I walked on the remains of a sidewalk in front of the wall and then  started up the steps leading to where the house used to stand.
The address, 1??? East Ohio Street
                 At the top, the steps turned to the right and on the wall facing the street was what was left of the houses address.  All that remains is a single number, a one.  Three other numbers used to be attached here, but they have long since disappeared.
                Some debris is scattered around, pushed up against a chain link fence.  An old pair of steel toed shoes, some broken dishes, old plastic gas cans and bits and pieces of broken tools. 
Hidden treasure!
                As I crested the stairs, I noticed some ground off to the side that looked sunken, a bit depressed.  A dark crescent was visible poking out of the ground.  Going over for a better look, I could see it was the top of an arched room that had been exposed.
Looking inside the room
                Treading carefully, I looked down into a fairly large crypt, constructed out of stones.  The curvature of its roof was what I had seen.   It was an old root cellar, a room used to keep fruit and vegetables in the days before refrigeration.  The room was fairly empty, a couple tires and an overturned toilet and some scattered junk was all that was in it.  Other rooms like this that I've seen in this area were usually very shallow and also, usually filled with trash and dirt.  This room looked as if it hadn't been visited in many years.
                I was tempted to investigate further, but "Common Sense" and our time constraints kept me outside.  The fact I would get rather dirty along with the possibility of it all collapsing on top of me was plenty of reason to stay where I was.
                A passageway led off to the side, dirt blocked off whatever it led to.  I took a few pictures and then returned to the yard above the wall.
                The yard had been cleared, bulldozed flat.  A tree that once graced the front yard had been shorn of its limbs, leaving a tall misshapen stump.  Looking away from the road, I could see where there once was a garden.  A course of large stones lay up against the hillside.  Who knows how deep this wall went into the ground.
The ramp and the walls
                Returning to where the car was parked, I walked down the path cut by the tractors.  What was a thick patch of briers and bushes a week ago was now open once again to the sunlight.   A couple old stone walls bordered the ramp. At the bottom, a concrete wall covered the front of another arched room, a squared off doorway allowed us to look inside.  The roof of this room had collapsed long ago, dropping a tree trunk into the room along with lots of dirt.  Trash and old boards further filled it.
Holding up  the hillside
                We walked along the road towards where St. Nicholas Church used to stand.  The walls of the buildings which used to stand here now held the hillside back.  Some of the walls were cement and looked rather solid, while others were built out of stone and showed the passage of time.  We had to admire how some of them were still standing straight and true after all these years.  We saw a couple more cellars, with dirt piled against them in an effort to hide them and keep people out.
                After admiring the walls and lamenting the removal that was sure to come, we got back into the car and continued on our way.
                I couldn't help but think about all the people who used to call these walls home, the people who built these rooms and used them to keep food cool, the people who called this area a neighborhood.  Are any of them still alive?  Their houses and businesses have been slowly removed over decades now.  Most of the houses had been deserted, though there were a few people that stuck it out. 
The Wall, December 15th, 2013
                Once upon a time, the house that used to sit here was someone's pride and joy and soon, it will be a lane of a highway.   I may not have known the people who lived here, but I know for a fact...I'll always remember the wall that used to be here!

Thursday, December 12, 2013




by Phil Breidenbach
Photo courtesy of
                It is pretty much the same, each day, eying my climb.  The hand and footholds are memorized but still, I look at them daily, committing them to memory.  I look for any changes, any dangers that have appeared overnight, any slippery spots, anything that might grab my feet.
                I make sure the ground is clear of debris, ensuring that my landing back on the ground will be uneventful.
                My footwear is ready for the challenge,  able to hold me on a thin edge or to keep me from slipping off a slippery surface.   Their soles enable me to smear on a sloped surface without fear of sliding.   Though they are a bit heavy, I've come to rely on them, they have yet to let me down.
                As far as fall protection, I have none.  No ropes, no harness and no helmet.  I'll be free climbing today.  There will be no belayers involved.  Some might think I'm tempting fate, but I've only fallen a couple times and it has never been serious.  A fall here "could" be fatal, but then again, so could walking across a street.  In all the times I've slipped or fallen, it has been my own fault, something I overlooked or missed.  All the more reason to make a careful inspection of my climbing area!
                Perhaps I'm a bit over confident you might think, but the thought of a fall is never far from my mind.  I've found out that my bones aren't quite as strong as they used to be thirty or forty years ago.  A slight miscalculation on the rocks a few years ago proved that.  While it was only (?)  a cracked shoulder bone, my reach has been definitely altered.
                Still, I enjoy my daily climbs!
                Placing my hand onto the ledge I'll be pulling against, I can feel the chill seeping into my skin.  My foot is positioned in front of me, snug in its own special spot, I lean back a bit and then raise myself up to my first step.  I continue on up until there is nowhere else to go.  I can't get all the way up since it is only an inch or two across at the peak and to stand on it would be pure foolishness.
                The view from the top isn't spectacular, but I can see into the bay on the other side.  The people look a bit smaller from this height but I have no problem identifying them or seeing what they're doing.  Noise from their activities drifts up to me.  In the distance, other bays can be seen along with people who populate them.
                As the day progresses, I establish a routine.  I go up and then downclimb , over and over.  Occasionally I take a different route or do it backwards just to change the pace a bit, but the destination is always the same, up to the top, up to the summit.
                My time in the rock school comes in handy.  My time on the rocks helps me with my balance.  Climbing up and down makes my day go a bit quicker.  I may only be doing a climb of seven or eight feet off the floor, but the big chunk of metal bolted to my mill gives me plenty of opportunities to use my climbing skills.  It might not be quite the same as climbing at Seneca, but's climbing!
                Well, I'm off again, my cut has finished and I need to climb up and measure it and make sure my dimensions are correct.  In my mind...I'm in West Virginia, ready for the next attempt at Seneca.

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

The End of Your Life Book Club

The End of Your Life Book Club


by Phil Breidenbach

Written this morning in my nice WARM house!
                I keep a list of the various books I read, it is a Word document with a brief synopsis of the book, its author etc.  It helps me remember the mundane books as well as the great books I read as the year goes by.  I just finished reading this book and thought I'd post my notes on it, perhaps it will excite someone else to read it.

                 I chanced across the book while looking for something to read on my Kindle at the library.  Going through the "available" non-fiction books, this was one of 3 I downloaded.  After starting it, it became the "go to" book until I was finished.  All other books fell to the side.


The End of Your Life Book Club                 Schwalbe, Will   NF(K)    13/12/10              A++        This is about the "club" the author and his Mom formed after she was diagnosed with cancer.  They would talk about the books they had read while she was waiting in doctors' offices, enduring chemo therapy or at various family get togethers.  His Mom was involved in various charitable organizations, had gone to refugee camps to help out, was big into fundraising for the causes she believed in and was a religious woman.  She also was a very family based woman, her children and grandchildren were the most important things in her life.  Being the type of woman she was, she often invited others into her family, often young adults who had come to America to better themselves.  These people would remain in her family for the rest of their lives!   It is much more than a book about "a book club", it is about his Mom, her life and her decline into death and also her beliefs and her desires.

                I loved this book!  I have made a few additions to my "To Read" list as I read this book, and it made me think a few things over, which is always a good thing about reading!  I also enjoyed it because of how much it made me think of my own Mother and her final years. 

                There were lots of things I wanted to remember and since I was reading this on a Kindle, I was easily able to highlight them or write a note to myself.  One thing I noticed was that compared to a can wipe a tear off a Kindle and it doesn't leave a mark, unlike a book where that bit of sadness becomes part of the book itself!

Some notes and underlined things from the book...

·         One of the things I love about bound books is their sheer physicality.  Electronic books live out of sight and out of mind.  But printed books have body, presence.

·         1.Ask: "Do you want to talk about how you're feeling?"  2. Don't ask if there is anything you can do.  Suggest things, or if it's not intrusive, just do them.  3. You don't have to talk all the time.  Sometimes just being there is enough.( from The Etiquette of Illness)

·         She (the authors Mom) used questions to get people to talk more about how they felt or what they'd learned or who they met or what they thought would happen next.

·         "That's one of the things books do.  They help talk.  But they also give us something we all can talk about when we don't want to talk about ourselves." (talking about books about war and the soldiers who lived through them, giving books to help explain what they went through)

·         Mom continued, "I'm not sure I've ever met anyone who really liked both Tolkien and (C.S.) Lewis.  Everyone seems to like one or the other. (Myself, I'm a Lewis fan)

·         Felicia's Journey   by William Trevor  (add to my To Read list)

·         Appointment in Samerra by John O'Hara (add to my To Read list)

·         People of the Book by Geraldine Brooks (next on my list to Reread)

·         I was learning that when you're with someone who is dying, you may need to celebrate the past, live the present and morn the future all at the same time.

·         The greatest gift you can give someone is your undivided attention-

·         "Loneliness is the price we have to pay for being born in this modern world, so full of freedom, independence and our own egotistical selves." (from Kokoro, by Nutsume Soseki)

·         There is great joy in thanking

·         Dad believed in sweaters in lieu of heating and kept the house somewhere between freezing and frozen.

·         The written word, on the page or read aloud, was to be accorded the utmost respect. (One of the authors Mom's unspoken rules)

·         What I suddenly understood was that a thank-you note isn't the price you pay for receiving a gift, as so many children think it is, a kind of minimum tribute or toll, but an opportunity to count your blessings. And gratitude isn't what you give in exchange for something; it is what you feel when you are blessed- blessed to have family and friends who care about you, and who want to see you happy.

·         Naikan reminds people to be grateful for everything.  If you are sitting on a chair, you need to realize that someone made that chair, and someone sold it, and someone delivered it- and you are the beneficiary of all that. Just because they didn't do it especially for you doesn't mean you aren't blessed to be using it or enjoying it.

·         And Mom didn't answer yes or no.  She just smiled and said, "This is my last party."

·         The best thing anyone can teach their children is the obligation we all have to each other

·         "It's amazing," Mom said, "just to see the effect of a schedule. They're children, and they want to be told what to do.  That's both the problem and the way back." 

·         We are all in the end of our life book club, whether we acknowledge it or not; each book we read may well be the last, each conversation the final one.

·         You should tell your family every day that you love them. And make sure they know that you're proud of them too. (my own "bolding" I've always thought this was Very Important!)

·         But I could see why Mom loved that story the most.  All readers have reading in common. (talking about Too Much Happiness by Alice Munro)

·         And finally, I want to thank my mother.  (Final note in the acknowledgements)

                One final thing I learned as I was reading this was that Ian Fleming wrote the book Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, who would've guessed the author of the James Bond series was also the author of this tale.