Undiscovered Pittsburgh

We had expected to spend our winter exploring southern Texas and Arizona, but God had other plans.

A minor medical procedure on Joe’s legs has forced us to spend the winter in Pittsburgh. But that doesn’t mean we’ve given up exploring.

Currently we’re living like college students above a store front on Warrington Avenue in the Allentown neighborhood of Pittsburgh.

Because we live upstairs, we can’t just tie Nikki out like we would in a motorhome. That means at least four times a day Joe takes the dog out for a walk in the neighborhood. Nik’s a great ambassador. People who won’t look up when you pass by will stop us to talk about our blue-eyed dog.

On his daily walks Joe found two really cool buildings.

On one of his walks Joe noticed was a two-story brick building and tower up on a hill a couple of blocks away.  Climbing the hill for a closer look he found the 1909 Beltzhoover Sub-District School.


The building was used as a school until sometime in the 2000s and is now for sale. It’s an impressive building that’s on the National Register of Historic Places. We don’t know why it was placed on the register. Did someone famous go there? Was it designed by a well-known architect? Information about the school is not yet digitized on the federal government’s website.

While researching the school, a story in the Tribune about one of the six oldest houses in Pittsburgh popped up. It’s a little field stone house near us on Climax Street.

old house pix

The building dates to 1794 when German immigrant Melchoir Beltzhoover, who bought 248 hilltop acres on what was then the western frontier and built a house on his farm. There’s a Facebook page that explains a lot about Beltzhoover, his family, business and how he came to Pittsburgh.

old house front
Beltzhoover homestead

The front of the building on Climax Street looks like a 1900s store front that was later converted to housing. The vacant lots beside it are weedy and overgrown. The store front is attached to the two-story field stone building. The news story says someone from Baltimore bought the building and land for $20,000, but he hasn’t done anything with it.

It’s not likely anything will be done to the building. Beltzhoover is not a prosperous area by any means. The properties around the homestead are run down or abandoned and that area of the city hasn’t drawn developers to redevelop properties like the South Side, the Mexican War Streets or Lawrenceville.

The Beltzhoover homestead sets me to dreaming. What would I do if I had the money to return that old house to its former glory? And what else lies undiscovered in this neighborhood?



We’re grounded

20181217_101051That’s right.

Joe and I will be spending our winter in Pittsburgh. Not a bad place to be, but not the sunny Texas gulf shores we had planned on.

Here’s how we got here.

After being on his feet for more than 30 years are as a retail manager and then a teacher, Joe has varicose veins.  This fall they started acting up while we were on the beach in North Carolina. He went to a doc in the box who recommended he visit a vein clinic.

He put it off. We were already scheduled to spend three weeks in Pittsburgh around the holidays where we had doctor appointments scheduled.

The doc at the Pittsburgh vein clinic evaluated Joe’s legs and recommended an out patient procedure. He could do it and Joe would be good to go in a week. But, that old ugly insurance raised its head.

The insurance company wants Joe to wear compression stockings for 12 weeks before it will even consider the surgery.  And the doc said the clotting in Joe’s legs is so severe he doesn’t want him to drive long hours.

That means we’re grounded, in a campground, in Pennsylvania, in the winter.


We could skirt the camper with sliver insulating panels and buy lots of propane. I could wrap my self in throws and sit in the dark with the shades pulled to keep warm.

I mean, we could do it. But I wouldn’t be happy.

Joe’s mantra has always been “Happy wife, happy life.”

So we began looking for a short-term rental apartment, an expensive proposition. We found one in the city, near a park and children’s museum. It had a gym and  dog park. It would even take Nikki and Pocket, for a fee.

We put down a deposit and paid an application fee. Then the nice young rental agent wanted a picture of the dog, for the insurance company. The complex restricts dogs. They don’t accept “lock jaw dogs,” like pitbulls.

Nikki is a lab mix rescued from the pound. She has blue eyes, which makes us think she has some husky in her. She’s also 13 years old, sleeps a lot and is such a scaredy cat she runs when you jangle your keys.



The insurance company wanted us to guarantee her breed. There was a lot of faxing and phone calls back and forth with the vet. Bottom line, no one can tell you what the mix is and we’re out of an apartment.

Plan B.

Luckily, my son-in-law is part of a co-working space co-op called Work Hard Pittsburgh, which has an apartment above its space. The tenant is scheduled to move out Jan. 1. The co-op has kindly allowed us to rent the apartment for a short time and they don’t care what kind of dog we have.


We’re three minutes away from my daughter, who has gym equipment and a washer- dryer in her house. There’s a park near by. And my cousins have graciously said they will allow us to park the motor home on their horse farm.

So, Jan. 1 we move in above an old hardware store. We’re reliving college. We don’t have a bed, a couch, a table or a lamp. We’re buying a futon and borrowing the rest.

We’ll be warm and close to family. If you have to be grounded, there’s no place I’d rather be than Pittsburgh.

Happy wife, happy life.




Lincoln, Starry Night and Route 66



We took a wrong turn in Pontiac, Illinois and ended up viewing art work worthy of public art in New York, Chicago or Philadelphia.

The three tall metal sculptures called “Seasons of Life” were located in a playground in this small city in Central Illinois. They depict three eras of life: childhood, young adulthood and old age. We wouldn’t have seen them if we hadn’t stayed in Pontiac for three weeks.

We were in Pontiac to work with NOMADS, a Methodist mission group that travels around the country rebuilding churches and camps or doing disaster relief. We were in Pontiac to repaint a senior citizen’s facility.

That’s one of the things I like about our new lifestyle. We travel to new places and stay long enough to get to know a community with all its little quirks.


I doubt there are many places like Pontiac, a city of just 13,000. You reach it either by driving on Interstate 55 or on two-lane roads stretching for miles through corn and soybean fields, which is what we did. Two-lanes give you a real feeling for just how far out there the middle of America is.

The city doesn’t look like much. There’s a Caterpillar plant and the county court house, a couple of restaurants. But this little place supports four museums, all free, plus several house museums. That’s a lot of museums for a small town. There’s even a free trolley to take you around, but really it’s so small you could probably walk it.

Route 66, in all its forms, runs through Pontiac, and the town capitalizes on it big time.


It hosts a Route 66 Museum and Hall of Fame, a Pontiac-Oakland Automobile Museum and Resource Center and The Bob Waldmire Experience (celebrating a man who traveled Route 66 handing out literature).


The Livingston County War Museum and the Life in the 1940s Exhibit are in the same building.  I was drawn to the dozens of newspapers from around the world that showed the run up to Pearl Harbor and its aftermath. And for some odd reason there is a recreation of an old radio station.


The city also hosts a Museum of Gilding Arts, which is the art of pounding gold or silver into into extremely thin sheets that are used for decorating.

The city boasts Murals on Main Street where people have also installed kiddie cars painted to look like Transformers, Lincoln and Van Gogh’s Starry Night.


We walked part of the Lincoln Trail,  which goes from the courthouse where the president practiced law as a young attorney to the house were he stayed for two weeks after a snow storm stopped the trains from running and kept him from returning to Springfield, Illinois.


And we walked across one of the three antique swinging bridges across the Vermilion River that used to bring workers from their homes on one side of the city to jobs on the other.


Then on the last day a wrong turn took us to the Seasons of Life Statues, public art worthy of the Met in a playground.


What odd things have you found on your travels?








How many full-time RVers are there?


Joe and I aren’t alone in our desire to become nomads late in life.

When we  pull out of Auburn, New York, we’ll be joining an estimated 250,000 to 1 million people living in their RVs full time. At least those are the numbers I see on blogs. Nobody really knows the actual number because no one has accurately counted them.

The U.S. Census Bureau doesn’t separate out full-time RV living from other housing structures. The American Community Survey for the years 2009-2011 estimated that the nation has 131.8 million housing structures. The vast majority of those, 61.5 percent, were traditional single family homes.

Then there are various kinds of row homes and apartment buildings.

The closest the survey comes to counting something like an RV is the estimated 8.6 million mobile homes, or 6.5 percent of the nation’s housing stock.

The Census Bureau puts RV living in the “other” category, which is where it puts occupied boats and people living in a van. The “others” represent an estimated 111,000 or 0.1 percent of the nation’s housing structures.

Based on what I see on full-time RV Facebook groups and books I’ve read, the full-time Rvers are way under represented in the survey.

In California, the housing crisis is so severe in some areas that people are living full time in RVs that they’re parking on city streets.


The Facebook sites that I belong to also show a number of young families with mom and dad and two, three, six or eight kids living in fifth wheel bunkhouse pulled by a big truck.  In many of those cases the kids are home schooled and the family is nomadic, traveling around the country  as parents chase jobs.

I’m also seeing a number of military families on Facebook who are living in RVs as they move from post to post.

Then there are those who buy a used RV and are parking it for free on a friend or family member’s land. They don’t travel.

In June, Joe and I will pull our 32-foot Jayco Precept out of the driveway and put Auburn in the rear view mirror. And at that point, I guess, we’ll fall off the Census Bureau’s radar. We’ll be “others.”

Our legal address will be at my daughter’s in Pittsburgh, but our home will be on the road.20180127_155455

Nobody wants your junk

This is Harvey.


He has guarded my box garden for years, through bunny invasions, liquid summers and pesky deer.

I’ve liked Harvey ever since I saw him in the Walmart garden center. I’m always happy to see him when I’m checking on the tomatoes. He hides behind them when the plants are full of leaves.

But we’re moving into a 32-foot motor home and Harvey, and all the other little things I’ve collected over the years won’t fit. They have to go.

The teapots I got as Christmas presents, the antique furniture, the books I had to have hard copies of, the fancy Christmas dishes and the Pampered Chef I bought out of guilt at my girlfriends’ parties, all has to go.

Here’s a hard truth. No one wants your crap.

In some countries it’s considered rude to die and leave your junk around for other people to ditch. Old people get rid of stuff before they die. In Sweden it’s called “death cleaning.”

So far, my daughters have passed on taking my childhood solid maple bedroom furniture, the child’s rocker Aunt Frankie gave me, the tea cups collected by my grandmother, the baseball signed by the Pirates who won the 1960 World Series.

They either don’t want the stuff because it’s not their style or they don’t have room to store it. They have their own junk.

A friend advised calling an auctioneer to sell the stuff off.

On the phone the auctioneer said he would be happy to come over to see what we had. When he came over he barely glanced at our stuff before trying to get us to sell the house through an auction, where we would pay for all the advertising up front and he would take a cut of the proceeds.

We said no thanks. We just want you to auction off our junk. He told us he couldn’t sell our stuff. There wasn’t enough of it to make it worth his while. I guess we should have been hoarders. Then he told a racist joke and left.

I’ve found homes for some things.

One daughter took her grandmother’s pedal sewing machine. I donated two other electric sewing machines. Another person has said she’ll take the piano for her church youth center.

And the rest of the stuff is gradually going to our local Rescue Mission. Maybe they’ll make some money off my junk.

What I’m finding is that I can do without. I don’t need fancy Christmas dishes to enjoy the holiday with my family. I don’t need heavy Pampered Chef cookware to make a meal. And I don’t need a blanket from World War II just because my mom got it as a wedding present.

So I’m saying goodbye to things including Harvey.

I ‘ll miss ya Harve. But I’m sure someone will pick you off the Rescue Mission shelf and put you in their garden. The tomatoes should be good this year.


I blame George Bush for our motor home

20180127_155455I blame George Bush the second for our motor home.

In 2008, to head off a recession Bush sent out a tax rebate to jump start the economy.

I thought we were going to use the $1,200 to buy a TV or pay off debts. Joe wanted a kayak. I didn’t even know he knew how to kayak.

We bought a tandem kayak.

There’s a lot we don’t know about each other. Like, after 30 years of marriage we both discovered we like slimy bacon. All those years we made crispy bacon because we thought that’s the way the other one like it. Who knew? But I digress.

After the kayak we bought a pop up camper.We’d always tent camped, but were now tired of sleeping on the ground. We bought an Aliner Ranger 12 with a bed that made up into a couch, a dinette that folded into a bed, a sink, stove, air conditioner and heater. We pulled it behind our four cylinder Jeep Compass.

Our first long trip was from our home in Auburn, New York to Yellowstone. That’s when I learned about “full timers.”

We stayed one night in a KOA outside Yellowstone before entering the park.  I met two women in the laundry. They both had just retired and were traveling around the country with their husbands in an RV, full time with no fixed address for a home.

That night I told Joe about my conversation with the women. I thought no more of it.

We never spoke about retirement. I’d never thought that far. When it did cross my mind I saw myself moving back to Pittsburgh, where I was born. I saw a little house in the city and a life full of volunteering, knitting and being closer to family.

Joe saw years of sitting in Pittsburgh with nothing to do.

Joe remembered the conversation about the traveling women. Two years ago he broached the subject of living full time in a motor home. We could travel the country, seeing all the great national parks. Stay for a month at a time in a great place. Live in new cities and experience new things. Volunteer for disaster relief and see our kids and grandkids for weeks at a time, not just on hurried holidays or weekends.

What did I think?

I called my daughters. YOUR father has gone off the deep end. He wants to buy a motor home.

The oldest, who lives outside of Detroit with her husband and two kids, counseled patience. Let him research it. He’ll soon grow tired of it, she advised.

The youngest, who lives with her husband in Pittsburgh, was all for it. Sounds like fun, she enthused.

So I went along with Joe to the RV shows. Researched traveling.

We picked up our 33 foot Jayco Precept in February and in June we’re hitting the road on a long adventure.

But, there’s still a lot of steps between now and June 22.