Winter Guide | News | Pittsburgh | Pittsburgh City Paper

Winter Guide 

Go Out/Stay In

Winter doesn't mean you have to hunker down inside for two months. Right here in the Pittsburgh area, there are plenty of activities to take the psychic chill off the season. Hearty sorts can embrace winter full on and take an invigorating walk (and we've offered some suggestions), though most events happen indoors. But we also realize that just traveling through the cold to a toasty indoor spot (like the sure-to-be-overheated orchid room at the Phipps Conservatory) can be taxing. That's why we've paired an outdoor trip with a suggested related indoor activity to enjoy later in the warm bosom of your home.

So in that go-out-then-stay-in spirit, we present the following two-fers of exciting day/night entertainment.

Jan. 27
Water, Water Everywhere

OUT: This could be the year you get a boat! C'mon -- at least go look at 'em. The Pittsburgh Boat Show runs today through Jan. 29 and Feb. 3-5. The David L. Lawrence Convention Center, Downtown.

IN: Take a long, contemplative soak in the tub and reflect on how some water really is better with a boat between you and it.

Jan. 28
Making Sense of Clutter
OUT: Opening today is Possessions, Personalities and the Pursuit of Refinement: A Fresh Look at the Collections of the Frick Art & Historical Center. This exhibit draws from many of the Frick's diverse collections such as fine arts, cars, furniture and ephemera, and regroups objects to illustrate themes across traditional categories. Hopefully, this cross-pollination will allow objects that may have grown commonplace within their previous rigid categories to be re-appreciated in a new context. 7227 Reynolds St., Point Breeze. 412-371-0600 or

IN: Drawing inspiration from the Frick's in-house rearranging (and really, they have so much more stuff than you), tackle your own space. If you're tidy, try the museum's trick of re-positioning to give your rooms a fresh look. If you're over-crowded or a mess, get cracking on that annual household cleaning and purging. Experts advise working small: Do one room, closet, desktop, floor pile at a time.

Jan. 28-29
Ice, Ice Baby
OUT: At the annual Ligonier Ice Fest this weekend, artists create fantastic structures out of cold, hard ice for you to marvel at. On the Diamond, in Ligonier. or 724-238-4200.

IN: Taking inspiration from the oft-quoted Robert Benchley quip -- "Let's get out of these wet clothes and into a dry martini" -- top off your strenuous day co-mingling with large blocks of ice by studying -- ever so briefly -- the effects of pouring gin over small cubes of ice. Then, pop Touching the Void -- a harrowing tale based on a real instance of being stranded at 20,000 feet in the Andes -- into the VCR to further examine how in actuality one can't drink ice. Unlike, say, gin.

Jan. 29
Year of the Dog
OUT: Gung hay fat choy! Today is Chinese New Year, and eating is a big part of the celebration. Take a stroll through the Strip District, and stop in at the several Asian grocery stores to stock up for your own feast. Kick off the new year by trying a new-to-you food item.

IN: Coordinate a pot-luck banquet for the new year. Ask your friends and family to each bring a Chinese dish. Lucky foods include whole fish and bamboo shoots (tofu, because of its light color, is considered bad luck). Don't let the non-cooks off lightly: There's pre-made Chinese pastries and sweets, Chinese beer and soft drinks, condiments, and even though they're not authentically Chinese, everybody still appreciates fortune cookies. Traditionally, all guests bring oranges or tangerines.

Feb. 4
So Bearable
OUT: Grrrrrrrrrrrr! Learn about bears and how their habitats are increasingly endangered by human populations at a new exhibit opening today at the Carnegie Museum of Natural History. Photographer Jenny E. Ross spent nearly two years observing bears in the wild, and Bears! Icons of the Wild is a text-and-photograph exhibit of her experience. 4400 Forbes Ave., Oakland. 412-621-3131or

IN: Rent last year's acclaimed documentary from Werner Herzog, Grizzly Man, which depicts the very real and fatal dangers of man-bear encounters and the fallacies of assuming bears can be our friends. For lighter and more anthropomorphic bear fare, check out Disney's oddball flick, The Country Bears, in which humans and bears interact freely, and unite against Christopher Walken to save a fabled bear honky-tonk.

Feb. 5
Football Widowhood
OUT: Take advantage of America's obsession with over-hyped ads broadcast during the Super Bowl, today, and enjoy a pleasant afternoon of grocery shopping in a near-vacant store. But don't expect to find many chips.

IN: Watch a football movie that isn't really about football -- Brian's Song, the four-hanky weeper about the friendship between former Chicago Bears Gale Sayers and Brian Piccolo.

Feb. 5
Realms of the Unreal
OUT: Henry Darger was a Chicago recluse who spent decades creating an alternative universe out of pen, paint and paper. His magnum opus was a 15,000-page novel depicting an epic saga of good versus evil titled The Story of the Vivian Girls in What Is Known as the Realms of the Unreal. One volume of this work, as well as assorted source materials and other drawings from Darger, are on display at The Andy Warhol Museum beginning today, in a traveling exhibit from the American Folk Art Museum. 117 Sandusky St., North Side. 412-237-8300 or

IN: Darger worked on his art in seclusion and his incredible, highly personal works were discovered only after his death. Thus, much of his output remains mysterious; his motivations and intents can only be guessed at. Contemporary books that attempt to analyze and categorize the burgeoning "outsider art" scene -- such as Lyle Rexer's How to Look at Outside Art; Everyday Genius: Self-Taught Art and the Culture of Authenticity, by Gary Alan Fine; and Outsider Art: Spontaneous Alternatives, by Colin Rhodes -- may not provide exact answers, but should offer provocative points of study.

Feb. 11
OUT: Dream on: More than 500 brand-new cars, trucks and SUVs await your admiration at the Pittsburgh International Auto Show, from this year's basic family four-door to high-performance fantasy rides. The Dodge Challenger is back, as is that fabled mullet-mobile, the Chevy Camaro. Feb. 11-19, The David L. Lawrence Convention Center, Downtown. 1-866-575-3040.

IN: Indulge your inner speed-demon from the comfort of your couch. Speed Week kicks off today with the Bud Shootout race, and various NASCAR events are scheduled through the gearhead's High Holy Day, Sun., Feb. 19: The Daytona 500 starts at 2 p.m. on Fox.

Feb. 15
Beat Happening
OUT: Opening today at the Silver Eye Center for Photography is There Is No Eye: Photographs by John Cohen. Cohen, a photographer, filmmaker and musician, chronicled the Beat scene in the 1950s and '60s, and this collection of more than 100 black-and-white photographs captures some of the era's icons, such as Allen Ginsberg, Robert Frank, Jack Kerouac and Bob Dylan. 1015 E. Carson St., South Side. 412-431-1810 or

IN: It's hootenanny time! Cohen, who founded the New Lost City Ramblers musical group in 1958, is an avid campaigner for the recognition of traditional roots and folk music (he's credited with coining the term "high lonesome sound"). Invite friends over to enjoy some NLCR CDs, or some tunes from the folk and roots musicians Cohen has heralded, such as Roscoe Holcomb, Doc Watson, Mississippi John Hurt, Gus Cannon and Bessie Jones. Those in the advanced class can get together and play old-time music.

Feb. 19
Happy Trails
OUT: Bring decent walking shoes, a hat, gloves and a mug's worth of cut-up vegetables for Venture Outdoors' Stone Soup hike today, in Frick Park. Veggies go into a pot while you take an easy three-mile hike; upon your return, voila! hot, delicious nutritious soup. Family-friendly and open to all. Contact for reservations: 412-255-0564 or

IN: There's always room for more soup. Take what you learned in the woods and whip up another pot. Enjoy while leafing through Venture Outdoors' winter schedule, which offers dozens of hikes (including other food themes such as curry, chocolate, wine and cheese, and beer), as well as a panoply of outdoor winter activities. For other suggested treks, check out Tom Thwaites' guidebook 50 Hikes in Western Pennsylvania. The commonwealth also provides an online guide ( that outlines the many trails, activities and outdoor facilities available at regional state parks.

Feb. 25
Sugar Tree
OUT: Wonder no more where maple syrup comes from! After participating in this outdoor event, you'll know how to spot a maple -- even without its distinctive leaves -- as well as learning how to tap a tree, and to collect and process your own sap. The nature centers of Allegheny County Parks hold free, hour-long maple-sugaring demonstrations, and advance registration is suggested. Today (Ellis Frye Barn, Marshall Township Community Park) and Sat., March 4 (Nature Center Barn, in North Park); 724-935-2170. Sat., March 11 at Boyce Park; 724-733-4618

IN: Pittsburghers may take for granted how wooded even the inner city is, and what variety of trees grow here. Now that you've learned to identify a maple, get to know the other trees in your yard or neighborhood. Tree guides are available at any library or bookstore, or check out the online guide to Trees of Pittsburgh, created by the Western Pennsylvania Conservancy (

What's Black and White and Everywhere?

OUT: Stop by the National Aviary and ask the penguins how it feels to be this year's over-exposed cuties. There's an encounter with the Aviary's African penguins each day at 1 p.m. Don't expect an answer, but be prepared to forgive them when they waddle their way right back into your heart. While there, check out some of the Aviary's more than 600 other birds. Allegheny Commons West Park, North Side. 412-323-7235 or

IN: Support your local feathered friends by installing a bird feeder in your yard (or a friend's yard). This is a simple craft project the whole family can pitch in on (you can even recycle 2-liter pop bottles and coffee cans into feeders). Instructions, plus information on feed, discouraging predators and how to attract birds during the winter can be found at

Animal Action
OUT: The zoo's open year 'round and some of its habitats are indoors. Take a break from the chill in the Tropical Forest Complex, a steamy indoor jungle full of primates. Commune with our underwater neighbors in the PPG Aquarium: Crawl through the stingray tunnel, or just goggle at the Pacific giant octopus. One Wild Place, Highland Park. 412-665-3640 or

IN: Think it's easy running a zoo? This may be the time to test your mastery of animal skills with Zoo Tycoon, a popular computer game that'll have you up late building just the right enclosure for your virtual giraffe, plus managing your staff and satisfying the patrons. You can download a free trial at many Internet game sites.

Look to the Skies
OUT: While you could lounge around in a comfy chair in the Carnegie Science Center's Planetarium and take in shows including "The Sky Above Mister Rogers' Neighborhood" and "Stars Over Pittsburgh," the dedicated star-gazers make tracks for a SkyWatch session. On clear Saturday evenings, you can join the Science Center staff on the fifth-floor terrace for a peek at the heavens through their 16-inch Meade LX200 Schmidt-Cassegrain telescope. No reservations required; just bring your questions and a handful of change (for the $1 fee). One Allegheny Avenue, North Side. See for the full schedule, and call the SkyWatch hot line (412-237-3327) for that week's conditions.

IN: Most of us formed our images of outer space from classic sci-fi films. Recent science and actual space exploration may have put paid to some of our cherished theories: The moon is not made of cheese, nor does it harbor scantily clad space women. But why not indulge in a fantastic and entertaining voyage to our neighboring planet, Mars -- Rocketship X-M (1950); Flight to Mars (1951); Conquest of Space (1955); The Angry Red Planet (1959); or Robinson Caruso on Mars (1964) -- or to someplace totally off the astral map, such as Planet Altair IV in Forbidden Planet (1956). Who knows? Maybe you were staring straight at that place earlier tonight.

Among the QuietOUT: Winter is an ideal time to stroll through one of the area's beautifully landscaped cemeteries. The barren trees allow for views through the parks as well as across the city (like so much else here, many cemeteries sit atop hills). In the stark winterscape, contemplate the meaning of it all, marvel at the variety of statuary, or simply search for that one grave marker that gives you pause. Choices include: Pittsburgh's first public cemetery, Allegheny, in Bloomfield/Lawrenceville (; the final home of many of the region's industrial barons, Homewood, in Squirrel Hill/Frick Park (; two adjacent cemeteries, Uniondale and Highwood, on the North Side off Brighton Road; St. Michael's, atop the South Side Slopes; and, for a change of epitaphs ("Take Care of My Puppy, Lord"), the Rosedale Kennels' pet cemetery in Verona.

IN: It's not all pretty carved angels; it's a business. Page through Jessica Mitford's classic expose of the funeral business, The American Way of Death (the 1963 version was updated in 1996).

Where's the Fish?
OUT: The orange ball is in play as our very own American Basketball Association team, the Pittsburgh Xplosion, defends its home turf at the Mellon Arena (and occasionally the Petersen Events Center). Upcoming home games find the Xplosion - who are on a hot streak and recently put a 170-97 hurtin' on the Ohio Aviators -- on the boards against the Indiana Alleycats, the Detroit Wheels and the Toledo Ice. Tickets start at $12.50.

IN: The Fish That Saved Pittsburgh (1979) may not be the greatest sports movie, but it's surely the best film ever about a struggling Pittsburgh basketball team. For a more realistic look at how tough it is making basketball fantasies come true, rent the recently updated documentary Hoop Dreams on DVD.

The War at Home
OUT: Take a break from today's war's headlines by immersing yourself in one of our country's pivotal nation-building battles fought right here in Western Pennsylvania (with a little help from some guy named George Washington). The Clash of Empires: The British, French & Indian War, 1754-1763, an ongoing exhibit at the Heinz History Center, lays out this dramatic story with more than 300 artifacts and period paintings of the events. 1212 Smallman St., Strip District. 412-454-6000 or

IN: Nothing says "clash of empires" like a game of Risk. Create your own empires, wage war against your best friend, rail against imperialists (formerly your other good friend) and hope that the evening doesn't end in some aggrieved country tipping over the game board (i.e., the "nuclear option").

OUT: Your feet may be on the ground, but your mind will be in the skies at the Air Heritage Museum of Western Pennsylvania, a museum and aircraft restoration facility dedicated to the preservation of aviation heritage. Here you can see historic planes (including the A-20 Havoc and P39N Air Cobra), as well as study several restorations in progress. Beaver County Airport, Beaver Falls. 724-843-2820 or

IN: Apply what you've learned to the more-complex-than-you'd-think pursuit of paper airplanes. The Web site offers great information for the beginner, with easy-to-understand basics about aerodynamics and practical tips. For example, test your paper plane over a black-top surface, such as a parking lot, since the heat absorbed by the dark surface is released upwards, creating "thermals" for your plane to glide on.

Word Up
OUT: Check out one of the Carnegie Library's newly renovated facilities: Downtown, Squirrel Hill, Homewood, Hazelwood, Brookline and the Main Library, in Oakland. You'll find today's modern library a cozy place to sit, an ever-useful resource (now with free Internet access) and, still, the repository of hundreds of thousands of books, CDs and videorecordings. All free to check out. If you're missing one, get a library card, and be sure to ask how easy it is to use the online catalog and have materials routed to your favorite library. Various locations; 412-622-3114 or

IN: What are libraries but primarily collections of books, comprised of words built from letters? Go to the root: Whip up a batch of soup replete with alphabet noodles; then give that bag of wooden tiles a shake and challenge some friends to a Scrabble match. Q-A-T? Yup - it's a Middle Eastern shrub with narcotic properties.

History at Your Feet
OUT: The Pittsburgh Department of City Planning has laid out several self-guided walking tours at its Web site, including three tours of North Side residential neighborhoods, a trek past some of Downtown's historic structures, and a spin through several Downtown buildings' beautiful interiors (sadly, the gates of Mellon Bank/Lord & Taylor are still padlocked). No fair cheating with the online tour; print out the map and get hoofin'.

IN: After touring Allegheny West on foot, re-visit it in its heyday, when the ridge was lined with millionaires' mansions, by reading Marcia Davenport's 1942 novel, The Valley of Decision, set there amid the moguls and minions of the steel mills. The sprawling multigenerational book is ultimately more rewarding, but the 1945 film has Greer Garson and Gregory Peck (as well as a happier ending).

Hockey of the Future
OUT: Why pay those high prices for NHL hockey, a league of whining players and management, when you can enjoy puck action in its most primeval form? The Junior Penguins front a couple of dozen teams of kids and teens -- both boys and girls -- who hit the ice with the unbridled enthusiasm of youth. Sure, they're not the top-notch players ... yet. See for upcoming schedules.

IN: Fore more scrappy, low-rent Western Pennsylvania hockey, rent George Roy Hill's 1977 dramedy Slap Shot. Watch it for the on-ice mayhem (hey there, Hanson brothers), but dig it too as a larger mood piece about the collapsing regional economy.

A Growing Season
OUT: Enjoy nature indoors when you stop by the Phipps Conservatory, in Schenley Park. Be transported to a realm of exquisite beauty as you take in the Orchid Fantasy exhibit (through March 12) or learn how plants have been used to keep us beautiful in the ongoing Medicinal Plants: Fountain of Youth exhibit. 412-622-6914 or

IN: It's not too early to start planning plants for this year's garden. If you haven't got one, order a few seed catalogs tonight.

Tea Party
OUT: Sometimes the wealthy have troubles too. A new exhibit at the Carnegie Museum of Art, Tarnished: The Decline of Family Formality, looks at the rise and fall of silver tea and coffee sets. More than 64 objects, once used in social service and now relegated to the dusty cupboard, are on display. 4400 Forbes Ave., Oakland. 412-621-3131 or

IN: You don't have to be rich to host a successful tea party. Tea is the new coffee; there's never been so many varieties available. Unusual teas are available at Fortune's in the Strip, Whole Foods, the East End Food Co-op, and even some larger Giant Eagles. Brew up a pot, invite the gang over (ask them to bring their favorite outrageously expensive cookies), and let the socializing begin.

The Idea Man
OUT: Every day, directly or indirectly, we benefit from one of George Westinghouse's inventions -- from railroad safety to the alternating current we still use to fire up our electrical appliances. Get a full appreciation of his life and work at the George Westinghouse Museum, located in the firm's former offices in Wilmerding, a distinctive structure that resembles a castle. 325 Commerce Street, Wilmerding. or 412-823-0500.

IN: You don't miss something until it's gone. Cue up one of many films about runaway locomotives to vicariously thrill to Westinghouse's career-defining invention, compressed-air brakes for trains. Viewing selections range from classic (The General, 1927, set in a dangerous world before air brakes) to neo-classic (Runaway Train, 1985) to extra cheesy (Broken Arrow, 1996, or The Cassandra Crossing, 1976).

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