The Sand Castle

A Lady Engineer in Afghanistan or Anywhere…

Old Trestle


I say old but definitely still in use, this gorgeous old steel camelback through truss – the West Warren Railroad Bridge – is on the Buffalo & Pittsburgh Railroad line (BPRR, formerly the Pennsylvania “Pennsy” Railroad) and crosses the Allegheny River outside of Warren, PA, about 45 minutes west of home sweet home here in Johnsonburg.

A couple of weekends ago a friend and I went exploring around Kinzua Dam and since we were close, went ahead and drove into Warren to look at the old victorian type houses in the historic part of town.  We eventually ended up back down on the river and came across this easily accessible structural beauty of a bridge.

The BPRR is a 368-mile regional freight railroad that interchanges with the Allegheny Valley Railroad, Canadian Pacific Railway, Canadian National, CSX Transportation, Nittany & Bald Eagle Railroad, Norfolk Southern, Rochester & Southern Railroad, and Western New York & Pennsylvania Railway.  I can hear the BPRR train horns from the house when they run through Johnsonburg, as well as at work when they go through Wilcox.  I haven’t gotten stopped at very many crossings around the area but it does happen from time to time.  I’ve always loved the sound of the horns as they echo across the landscape.

I have no idea when the trestle was constructed – internet searches couldn’t pin down the date.  At one time carrying two sets of rails, the bridge now carries just one but is still in daily use.

I love bridges…

Girders and Rails

26 September 2014 Posted by | Life in Rural Pennsylvania | , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Deck Blooms

Volunteer Sunflower

As the weather gets progressively cooler and the leaves have started to drift down onto the roadways, there is a bit of fall color on my little deck as well.

This sunflower is actually a very welcome volunteer – planted one can only presume by a wee bird who dropped a seed from my feeder into an opportune spot in the pot.  It is a nice complement to the tiny purple flowers on the Russian Sage which I added to the pot myself early this summer.

This past week I also added a few strategically placed mums.  These will be the extent of my fall decorating.


The pleasant mild summer, the cool temperatures and breezes of fall, the patchwork of color in the forests all around are all so wonderful and easily enjoyed.  I just hope this fall stretches out for a looong time before we have to deal with the reality of winter here in the Pennsylvania Wilds.

Lone Sun

22 September 2014 Posted by | Life in Rural Pennsylvania | , , , | 4 Comments

Decker’s Chapel

Decker Chapel

Tiny, quaint and picturesque, this wee church in St. Marys is a historic site I’ve been meaning to stop and explore for some time.  It’s easily accessed and is located on the main drag just south of town on Million Dollar Highway (SR 255).

Built in 1856, it is a one story gable-end oriented and clapboard clad wood frame structure measuring 12 feet in width by 18 feet deep and containing a single, plastered room.  It features a rectangular steeple with an open belfry capped with a cross tipped, pyramidal roof.  It’s old for sure, and looks it inside and out, but I really liked the place for that very reason.  Down to the ancient and ornate brass doorknob.  Definitely no frills as you can tell by the primitive ‘kneelers’ in the pictures below.

Interior Back of Chapel       Interior Towards Altar

Why a tiny chapel?  As the story goes, a few years after settling in St. Marys a deeply religious man named Decker fell from a tree in his orchard, injuring his back.  He made a vow with God to build and maintain a chapel if the injury was healed, and in the course of a year or two he had recuperated enough to fulfill the promise.  The Little Chapel was built shortly before Decker’s son Michael was ordained as a priest.

National Register

Decker’s Chapel has been called the smallest church in the United States and its visitor book includes names from throughout the country and the world.  Better take your own pen though – the tiny nub of a pencil by the visitor book didn’t have much lead left for signing anything. 

Also on the property is a granite commemorative marker dedicated in 1928 to the builder’s son, Monsignor Michael Joseph Decker.  The monument (shown in the photo below) reads as follows:



BORN. SEP. 3. 1839

ORDAINED. OCT. 5. 1862

MONS. FEB. 14. 1905

DIED. APR. 10. 1913

Decker Chapel and Marker

12 September 2014 Posted by | Life in Rural Pennsylvania | , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Saturday With Big Ben

Heinz Field Pregame

I should say, with Big Ben and Company…  Steelers Quarterback Ben Roethlisberger that is!

Experienced an unexpected perk from my trip to Pittsburgh this past weekend.  It’s kind of funny.  Once I decided to go to Pittsburgh for some BeachBody training on Saturday morning, I had checked to see if the Pirates were in town – thought I might catch a game on Friday night or Saturday afternoon.  The Pirates were away so okay, no baseball game this trip.

I arrived at my hotel Friday evening and discovered the Steelers were playing the Buffalo Bills Saturday night at 7:30pm in a Preseason match up.  I hadn’t even considered the fact that it was already football season.

So once I got settled into my complementary hotel room (thanks to Hilton Honors points) and connected to the complementary WiFi, I surfed over to StubHub to see what preseason tickets were going for and if any were up fpr grabs.  Not too many seats were available on this site which is hardly surprising in the Stiller-loving town of Da Burgh, but there were a few, at prices much less expensive than regular season tickets.  Found a single pretty decent seat in a lower section on the 20-yard line at about half the regular season price, and even less than its current face value.  Bonus!

Go Steelers

As you can see from the photo above, pretty decent seat indeed.

The main scoreboard at Heinz Field is pretty huge, even for a jumbotron.  You can get a better idea of the scale by noticing the people standing above the word “Heinz”.  And the two huge ketchup bottles?  They tilt and the lids open up when the Steelers are in the Red Zone (within 20 yards of the goal line) and will spill electronic ketchup out and down the scoreboard for touchdowns.  Kinda cool.  In 2007, ESPN named the tipping of the oversized Heinz bottles one of the top ten touchdown celebrations in the NFL.


It was very strange to attend a game at Heinz Field wearing a simple t-shirt instead of being bundled in seven layers of warmth carrying a blanket, warm hats and extra gloves.

The panorama shot above was pre-game and the stadium was still filling up. Official attendance was well over 50,000 mostly Steelers fans. Not too many obvious Bills fans even though it’s a relatively short 5 – 6 hour drive between the two cities. Perhaps they are waiting for the regular season games.

A sold-out Heinz Field packs in over 65,000 people, and every single regular season Steelers game has been sold-out since 1972.  They even sell tickets for ‘standing room only’ areas on the ramp shown in the photo below.  It was sure a gorgeous night to stand and watch the game – temps in the mid to upper 60’s.

I almost forgot to mention that the Steelers won 16 – 13 (thanks to a field goal with 0:02 left in the game)!

And the end of this season will be the 40th anniversary of the Steelers’ first Super Bowl win in 1975 – they defeated the Vikings in Super Bowl IX.  They have won a total of six Super Bowls, hence the common combination of the city and number – Sixburgh.

I think all will agree though that it’s a good time for number seven.

Standing Room Only

(Remember, clicking on each picture will open it up larger.)

19 August 2014 Posted by | Life in Rural Pennsylvania | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

Happy 100th to the Panama Canal

Panama Canal Logo

Do you know who built the Panama Canal?

We did.

It was our very own War Department and the US Army Corps of Engineers – my employer.  And it opened for business 100 years ago yesterday, on 15 August 1914.

The Corps of Engineers is celebrating this anniversary of one of the largest projects ever constructed, the Panama Canal.  Here is a link to our article:  OPENING OF THE CANAL

Canal de Panamá is a 48 mile long ship canal with double locks (2 lanes) at each end to lift ships up to Gatun Lake 85 feet above sea level.  Gatun is a man-made lake created to reduce the amount of excavation work required for the canal.  The current locks are 110 feet wide and a third, wider lane of locks is currently under construction, due to open in 2015.

The Canal

The earliest mention of a canal across the Isthmus of Panama dates back to 1534, when Charles the V, Holy Roman Emperor and King of Spain, ordered a survey for a route through the Americas that would ease the voyage for ships traveling between Spain and Peru. Such a route would have given the Spanish a military advantage over the Portuguese.

In 1849, the discovery of gold in California created great interest in a crossing between the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans. The Panama Railway was built to cross the Isthmus, opening in 1855.  This overland link became a vital piece of western hemisphere infrastructure, greatly facilitating trade and largely determining the later canal route.  An all-water route between the oceans was still seen as the ideal solution and in 1855 an engineer working for the United States government surveyed the isthmus and issued a report on a route for a proposed Panama Canal. His report was published in a book titled The Practicality and Importance of a Ship Canal to Connect the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans.

France began work on the canal in 1881 but had to stop because of engineering problems, high mortality due to disease and bankruptcy.  The United States took over the project in 1904 and finished the canal in a decade.

The Panama Canal is an engineering marvel that permanently changed world trade and still plays an essential role in global commerce, with the promise to keep doing so in the future.

On my bucket list is a cruise through the Canal…

Locking Through

16 August 2014 Posted by | US Army Corps of Engineers | , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Partly Sunny

Partly Sunny

The photo above was taken just after noon on this glorious breezy partly sunny day in the Pennsylvania Wilds.

The temperature here at East Branch? Sixty-two degrees.

The 14th of August, just after noon on a sunnyish day, and it’s 62 degrees.

Don’t get me wrong – I’m in no way complaining.  It’s perfectly wonderful outside!

It’s just so different from what I’ve been used to most of my life.  It’s mid-August so the temperatures and the humidities should be running neck and neck in the mid-nineties, right?  Well, maybe so back in Kentucky but in northwest Pennsylvania…    The summer here in Elk County has been nearly perfect with only a couple of days where it was what is locally considered “hot” – temps in the mid 80’s.

The windows in my apartment have been open every day and night now for months – and these mornings where the nightly low temps are already in the 40’s make for refreshing and invigorating wake-up routines – great for working out.

Loving the summer.  But there’s this nagging notion in the back of my head telling me it won’t be very long at all before the first frost, the first snow and the beginning of another winter of winters.

Our leaves are starting to change.

14 August 2014 Posted by | Life in Rural Kentucky, Life in Rural Pennsylvania | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

So Refreshed


One small step for health, one giant leap for Kim-kind…

Last week I completed the new 3-Day Refresh from BeachBody and was really amazed at the results.  I lost 6.7 pounds in just 3 days!  Plus, I had a ton of energy, felt great, slept better and in general had a more positive outlook on everything.  Best news is that a few days later none of the weight has come back.

The Refresh is like a cleanse or detox but very gentle and without the starvation or nasty side effects.   If you’ve ever done a detox, juice fast or an all-liquid cleanse you may have found that you felt weak, sad and sluggish.  Not to mention ravenous.  And any weight loss came right back.  That’s because liquid fasts can strain your organs and trash your metabolism.

The 3-Day Refresh is scientifically designed to do just the opposite.  It detoxifies and cleanses while supporting your metabolism with easy-to-prepare nutritious whole-foods to help your vital organs reenergize.  That’s why you can feel so good during the Refresh and still lose weight at the same time.  Your body functions more efficiently and it helps burn fat.  So instead of leaving you depleted from fasting, after 3 days you feel energized, lighter and yes, refreshed.

It’s just three days and they kept it simple – each day it’s 3 shakes, a fiber drink, plenty of water plus 3 small meals, fresh fruits and vegetables to keep your energy and metabolism going.

The Refresh has four steps:

1.  Shakeology for Breakfast – packed with potent superfoods, Shakeology starts each day with “Your Daily Dose of Dense Nutrition” to help improve and support all your body’s vital functions, while also helping to maximize energy and maintain healthy blood sugar levels.  You guys know I love this stuff and it’s always my go-to first thing in the morning.

ShakeO and Cinny

2.  Vanilla Fresh Shakes for Lunch and Dinner – this patent-pending, delicious and protein-rich formula helps curb your hunger with more than 20 grams of wholesome plant-based protein, 22 essential vitamins and minerals, probiotics for digestive health, and a patented potato protein extract clinically tested to satisfy your appetite.  And it really works because I was not hungry at all except when it was time for another meal.  But as I don’t care much for vanilla in general I didn’t like the taste so much – it tasted like vanilla bean ice cream and I kept wanting to dump hot fudge into it.  But I just blended it with fruit and it wasn’t so bad.

3. Fiber Sweep Drink –  gently and naturally eliminates waste from your digestive system with its patent-pending blend of whole ground flax, chia, and psyllium seed husks.  As part of a healthy diet low in saturated fat and cholesterol, Sweep helps lower cholesterol, support healthy blood sugar levels and may even reduce the risk of coronary heart disease.  I really liked the lemony taste of this although it was a bit thick at times.

4. Easy, Healthy and Delicious Recipes the kit includes nine easy-to-fix, healthy and delicious recipes for lunch and dinner, each one packed with rich flavor even veggie-haters might love.  Plus you get to treat yourself to fitness-friendly snacks to add a little tasty variety in every day.  I loved the cucumber-tomato salad as well as the roasted asparagus with almonds, and for my snacks I had yummy homemade hummus and sugar snap peas or fresh green beans – it all tasted fabulous!

The 3-Day Refresh will get your body back on the fast track to weight loss and new healthy eating habits – guaranteed or your money back.  Sure worked for me!

For more information about the 3 Day Refresh check out this video:  WHAT’S IT ALL ABOUT? , or to order one for yourself go to this link:  REFRESH

And I’d be happy to answer any questions or walk someone through the process – just let me know!

11 August 2014 Posted by | Health & Fitness, Life in Rural Pennsylvania | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Sports Mania

PNC Park

Being born and bred in the great Commonwealth of Kentucky, I’m no stranger to avid dedicated and at times fanatical sports enthusiasts.  Most of my experience is of course with college basketball and horse racing.  This particular part of Pennsylvania, while supporting all levels of various sports, has some major players on the professional level.

In Pittsburgh you have the Steelers (football), the Pirates (baseball) and the Penguins (hockey).  Locally and affectionately known to residents of Da Burgh as Da Stillers, Da Bucs and Da Pens.

The Pirates (or Buccaneers or Bucs) call PNC Park home as shown in the pic above.  From what I’ve seen and read, it’s one of this nicest in the nation, especially with its view of the downtown and location on the banks of the Allegheny River.  If fact, I was scanning a long list of reviews about the venue and the only complaint I could find was the oft-echoed lament that such a nice ballpark needed a better ballteam.

My personal scorecard on attending professional sports events in Pittsburgh isn’t too shabby (for me): three Steelers games, one Pirates game and zero Penguins games.   The only other professional game I’ve ever been to is a Rockies baseball game at (the then fairly new) Coors Field in Denver, decades ago.

As you can see from the photo below, the Steelers’ Heinz Field also sits on the Allegheny and has a great view of the downtown area – just a few blocks west of PNC Park.  Both fields are easily reached by a free subway system called the T, so the nightmare of fighting traffic and trying to park are negated completely.

View from Heinz Field

Price wise, a Pirates game is the most affordable, hands down.  $10 or so will get you in the gate and since every seat has a great view of the field, there’s no real need to shell out cash for the premium seating.  The Steelers and Penguins ticket prices are significantly more expensive, and the smaller Pen venue makes those tickets harder to come by.  As for me, if I’m gonna shell out the dough I’d rather watch the Steelers, twirl my terrible towel and sing Styx’s Renegade at the top of my lungs.

But I do need to get to a hockey game eventually, just because.

Of the three Steelers games attended this past season my record is 2 – 1, with the loss coming in our own personal Snow Bowl at the hands of Miami no less.

I didn’t take the picture below, but I was living it.  Had never sat in one place watching the snow drift over myself and the other dedicated fans in the stands.  A couple of amazingly intense snow squalls dropped several inches of snow within a few short minutes.  It was pretty cool actually (except for the loss that was almost a win but for the small sliver of one shoe on a white line).

Snow Game

Can’t wait for football season to arrive, and judging by the local temps it may not be that far away.


4 August 2014 Posted by | Life in Rural Pennsylvania | , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

We Broke Up

Kens Steakhouse Ranch

Yes, it’s true.  We are no longer together.  Ken is no longer in my fridge or allowed in my house.  Banned.  Scratched off my grocery list.  It’s been an up and down relationship for many years but it’s over.

Good-bye Ken’s Steakhouse Ranch.

So, I had myself a bit of a personal victory today…

I have always been a ranch dressing fiend.  If I ate a salad it had ranch dressing on it. Never ate salads much at all before ranch was invented.  I’ve tried many other dressings, didn’t like ’em.  Sometimes I ate ’em, but I didn’t like ’em.  In the last year and a half of trying to eat cleaner and healthier, all I could do was just add water to the ranch bottle to thin it out a bit.

Until today.

I created a large lovely salad in a big plastic bowl with ingredients from my farmers market foray on Tuesday – red romaine lettuce, black cherry tomatoes, green beans, sweet onion.  Along with some grilled chicken, a hard-boiled egg and sprinkle of shredded cheese.  I then drizzled a little balsamic vinegar over it, drizzled some Extra Virgin Olive Oil (EVOO) over it, put the lid on the bowl and shook the crap out of it.  (Isn’t that how everyone tosses a salad?)

And then I ate it.  It was wonderful!  I didn’t even notice that Ken wasn’t there.

I’ve broken my unhealthy addiction to Ken’s Ranch – toxic relationship that it was – and I am free.

Adding balsamic vinegar to my grocery list – EVOO has long been a good friend of mine.

Hello EVOO, you sexy thang…


27 July 2014 Posted by | Health & Fitness, Life in Rural Pennsylvania | , , , , | 7 Comments

The New Office Mascot


This little guy was found hiding under a corner of the sidewalk around our office today as we were clearing some grass and soil for replacement with crushed stone.

Actually he’s a pretty darn big little guy in my opinion – the largest I’ve seen.  And yes he will be released back into his natural habitat.

He has been dubbed Sammy the Salamander.

” I shall call him Sammy and he shall be mine and he shall be my Sammy.”

23 July 2014 Posted by | Life in Rural Pennsylvania | , | 3 Comments