ALS Ice Bucket Challenge

August 18th, 2014 No comments

I’ve been helping out with charities since I was a little kid. In my twenties I spent a lot of time with Cystic Fibrosis and the Muscular Dystrophy Association and when I became a parent it was always March of Dimes. I did all of those because I knew someone directly involved and wanted to help out. Honestly, with so many charities out there you can only spread your money so far especially when on a fixed income.

When I first heard about the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge I thought it was just a bunch of celebs being recruited to feel good that they had money to share. “Hey look at me, I’m donating!” but this kind of thing is in the media so much that I barely pay attention to it.

ALS Ice Bucket Challenge

Then the Pens did it. Uh oh it’s getting local.

Soon people I knew were doing it.

I started thinking to myself that if Kevin Bacon did it the whole world would be connected and this thing would blow up, and it has. (Has Kevin done it yet anyways? It seems like he would be the go-to person for anything viral.)

My good friend Phil from My Life as a Foodie nominated myself and 2 others from our beer circles to take the challenge. The deal is you either donate money to ALSA or you have to dump a bucket of ice water over your head. Well we did both.

It seems like this challenge is drawing a lot of anger out of people also. Frankly the complainers are generally the ones griping about most things. Will dumping a bucket of ice over my head cure anything? No but it was REALLY refreshing. Is it raising awareness? I think it is and most people I know have donated money along with doing the challenge. Personally I used this opportunity to teach my kids about charities, get them involved in something fun to do and use their creativity to plan out the video. Not everything has to be entertaining but when you’re 3 and 5 it sure and heck helps get them interested.

Here is the video we came up with.

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(Watch on YouTube)

I have nominated my beloved older brother Bob Derda Jr., former altar boy partner and Tiger Beat cover boy Mario Scutella II and founder of the Pavel Bure bro-mance, Mr. Chris “Stoosh” Jiuliante.

Find out more about ALS, the challenge and to donate, go to

Categories: charity, Family, Fatherhood

The Great Grill Caper

August 6th, 2014 No comments

Earlier this summer I put a call out for help.  My beloved Kenmore gas grill, which has been a staple in my house since 2004, was on its last leg and I needed to find a replacement. I debated trying to salvage it but after many discussions with my wife, OK one talk that ended in “You’re not going to buy a torch and welder’s mask. You’ll burn down Dormont.” it was decided that I would get a new grill as an early Father’s Day present. The big debate would be gas or charcoal.

Kenmore Grill

We were always gas people since it was fast and, well it was fast. We never had bad meals because of the source of the heat and since we spent some time in townhouses charcoal wasn’t an option. I’ve always wanted to smoke and bbq but with gas that could get expensive. In a surprising twist my wife was the one who said to go charcoal because there’s something unique about the taste charcoal gives.  Knowing she was on board with taste over convenience, and figuring out our budget, it came down to 2 models. Brinkmann Charcoal Grill with Off Set Smoker (810-3015-S) vs Weber One Touch Gold 22.5 at my toy store, Home Depot.

I’ve always wanted a Weber. There’s something about the culture and community with owning one and I always thought they were pretty sweet. They look simple but get the job done and of course “the pros use it”. The Brinkmann though had an off-set smoker which I really liked too and could help me as I work on my bbq. In the end my wife went out and bought the one she thought I would like.

Introducing the Brinkmann!

Brinkmann GrillShe pulled in with the grill, a chimney starter, hickory charcoal and a few other grilling toys. Yes, I was loving this and ready to get cooking. It took roughly 2.5 hours to put together and then a few hours to season. According to the manual, if I didn’t do this correctly there would be fumes or some toxic overload would rise and kill us all.

I managed to cook chicken one night on it and it was a disaster. The barrel couldn’t hold heat at all. Smoke poured out of it and the air flow was miserable to manage. Quickly my disappointment set it for both of us and when it came to cleaning, I would rather take care of my kids with the flu. They’re less of a mess.

Brinkmann Grill RustI had a cover put over it and even with that it began to rust within a week. The pics show some of the rust but it was all over. Heartbroken I went online and found out that this is a problem with the model and that there are sites dedicated to hacks for most Brinkmann grills because of countless issues. Emails to the company were never returned either.

Thanks to Home Depot‘s 90 return policy and the incredible assistance by the Ben Avon store superstar Kelly, she made sure I was fitted with the perfect grill.

Winner Winner Weber errr grill!

Set up was simple and only took 20 minutes and when I was finished light shined off the the death star of grilling. The big difference between the One Touch Gold and Silver is that the gold has a very easy to remove ash trap and cleaning system. It is absolutely worth the extra $50 between the models for it.
Weber One Touch Gold Grill

The quality and craftsmanship is impeccable. While gas will probably come back to play some day I’m sold on this brand for my charcoal needs.

The biggest obstacle I’ve had is learning the air flow for controlling temp. It’s not difficult but a matter of getting it to fit my preference. There is a manual which came with the grill that shows you estimated cook times and how to adjust the intake to get temps where you need  it. Also there is an incredible online community for support and plenty of how-to videos on YouTube and their site.

Added bonus is the selection of accessories you can get for your grill and collection of recipes available which I have taken advantage of.

I wanted to get this post online so I could not only give you an update but start posting some of the dinners I’ve made so far. I’ve already done ribs, burgers, steaks, chicken and last weekend was brisket! Ugh I’m making myself hungry again.

Weber has taken something as simple as a grill and turned it into a way of life. I’m reading up on rubs and have joined a few bbq boards so I can get up to speed on not only my tools but grilling and bbq in general.

Categories: BBQ & Grilling, Food

Discovering Pittsburgh through my kids – Parks

August 5th, 2014 2 comments

I had no idea the amount of green available in Pittsburgh until I became a parent. I knew there were some big parks but I don’t think I really comprehended how much was available. I grew up with Presque Isle State Park and Frontier Park minutes from my house and didn’t appreciate them as much as I should have. Going back for visits now I LOVE Presque Isle but when I lived there it was the last place I wanted to spend time. It was always “there”.

Teaspoon Beach Lookout

Since I became a stay-at-home I’ve found the value of parks, both inside and out. They’re free (bonus!), they’re great for kids to run their butts off and get tired, they get to meet and play with other kids and parents get a chance to socialize also with someone not crying to have their butts wiped.

Here are a few of the ones we love to visit.

Dormont Park – Castle Park
Wooden structure with tire swings, slides and plenty of room to have battles from one castle to the other. This is our home park and we love that kids of all ages can play here. Even if we didn’t live here, this would be my favorite because it also reminds me of the old (and now gone) Jefferson School Park in Erie. People are pretty respectful of the area when it comes to keeping it clean and there are a few picnic tables if you want to bring a snack. The park is not completely enclosed though so you have to pay attention to the little ones if the wander.

Black and Gold Park
Located in South Park, this is a real gem when it comes to safety. The ground is that playground safe cushion material, there are kid safe swings, and has plenty of plastic so your kids aren’t getting dinged up. Plus side, it’s completely fenced in! There are some areas if you want to have a picnic and you’re also close to other playgrounds.

Blue Slide Park
This is a Pittsburgh icon that we finally visited a few months ago. The actual playground is fantastic for kids but a nightmare for parents if you’re watching more than a few kiddos. It’s multilevel so you may find yourself running around a lot. The blue slide is simple but genius when you think about it. Concrete slide built into the side of a hill which you ride down on cardboard. I spent a good hour watching my boys ride down it.

Teaspoon Blue Slide Park

Spray Parks
Here is a list of all the spray parks in Pittsburgh. They’re mini water parks for kids set up with sprinklers and other water art. We’ve only been to a few and deserves a post of its own once we hit them all.

State Parks
Raccoon Creek State Park and Moraine State Park are deserving of their own posts. I went to Raccoon last summer and we’ve made a few trips this year to their man made beach area. You’re out in the woods with no cell service and feel like you’re back to the days of old time family vacations. If you’re looking to disconnect and get away, this is the idea place to hang out for the day.

Moraine was my Father’s Day treat from my family. Biking, swimming, trails, and only an hour away.

North Boundary Park
We loved Cranberry when we lived there and this park is a main reason why. The kids park was great for our then 1yr old but also offered plenty of options as kids get older. This was the first park we experienced as a parent and still hold a soft sport for it. There are also multiple picnic groves and probably the best swimming pool in the area is a few steps away.

Carnegie Park
This was a popular hangout for the stay-at-home parents when we had time in between picking up kids from school. Small but nice play area and soon there will be a skate park opening up on site also. Not far is a dog park and a dek hockey rink.

There are other parks we want to check out. I lived in Oakland when I moved to Pittsburgh but haven’t been back to Schenley in many years. Mt. Lebo I’ve heard has a cool park also. Over the winter I became a connoisseur of mall parks and will hit on those later.

What are some of your favorite parks to check out?

This is the 3rd in a 3 part series on how, after living here for 16 years, I’m discovering Pittsburgh with the help of my little boys.

Everybody Walk the Dinosaur

July 31st, 2014 No comments

Boom! Boom! Acka Lacka Boom!

Boom! Boom! Acka Lacka Boom! Boom!

Walking with Dinosaurs

I don’t know if there has ever been a boy who didn’t love dinosaurs at some point in their life. They’re larger than life, ruled the world, and as my 5yr old pointed out, “Man could they poop!”. Well until that whole asteroid thing wiped them away.

Last night My father-in-law and I took Teaspoon to see Walking with Dinosaurs at the CONSOL Energy Center thanks to Lushie scoring tickets from Q92.9 FM. I’ve been trying for weeks to win tickets and of course it’s my wife’s golden touch at winning radio contests that did it.

I was sly. For 2 days I laid on the guilt with “you better be good or you won’t get your surprise” tactic to keep his butt in line. It wasn’t until we walked up to the area that he figured out what was going on.

“Daddy, nice move. I had no ideaaaaaaaOOOOOMG DINOSAAAAUUUUURRRRSSS!”

We walked in and it’s merchandise blowup. Teaspoon’s eyes bugged out and insisted he must own it all. With most items ranging $20 that wasn’t happening. We opted for unlimited popcorn and a root beer which I think was a fair trade. Bonus to the night was bumping into my buddy Val from Small Town Dad and his family. Since we share the same childhood obsessions I knew this was going to be good event.

The show is absolutely amazing. There is no other way to explain it, but I’ll try without giving any spoilers. The dinosaurs are every bit as awesome as you see in the commercials or online and they are as life-like as I can imagine. Gone are the cheesy robotics from when I was a kid and now you have a smooth moving realistic experience.

Will your kids get scared? Possibly. Teaspoon said at times it was too loud and a few younger kids did cry but for the most part I don’t see any nightmares coming from it. This isn’t Barney running around singing songs, this is as close to nature as we can imagine. The T-rex at times gave me chills especially when he came towards my section and roared.

The show runs for 2 hours and has a 20 minute intermission in between. Based on the show times there is a good chance you won’t miss any bedtimes.

The night was a huge success for us and this morning Teaspoon gave me a huge hug and said thanks for taking him.

Here are some pics I took my with camera phone. I’m also in the market for a digital camera that would be ideal in settings like this and won’t have a security guard yelling at me so feel free to send suggestions also.


Check out the gallery from the night here.

And because I can’t resist it any longer…

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(Watch on YouTube)

Categories: Family, Fatherhood, Pittsburgh

Discovering Pittsburgh through my kids – Libraries

July 25th, 2014 4 comments

Libraries were a place of dread going up. I didn’t come from a family of readers, we watched TV. When I was young my future sister-in-law came into the picture and would say “Don’t you want to read a good book?” I’d laugh and reply “Why, when I have cable with a gajillion channels?”.

Doug Kids Homebrewing

Quality time reading with the kids

Reading seemed like a chore to me because I did a ton of it in catholic school so why would I want to do it in my spare time? The problem was I didn’t have anyone saying “Hey there’s something cool to discover.”

Erie then built, at the time, the state-of-the-art Blasco Library. I was getting into computers and picked up loads of programming books. I would spend time in the computer center working on code and sending emails because I didn’t have a machine of my own.

When I moved to Pittsburgh I had my own computer and only used the Hillman for hoarding blazing net speeds. Years would pass before I stepped back into a library and, thanks to my kids, I’ve rediscovered how great we have it in Pittsburgh!

Carnegie Library (Oakland)
My wife has always been a big reader and when she was the one staying home, would take the kids to the library constantly. When it was my turn, the kids would tell me how much fun it really was. At the urging of my wife we went as a family and it changed me forever. I fell in love with the library.

The kids section of this library is exceptional. Bright colors, computer stations, play area, and of course books galore. I figured it would be chaos with kids running around but  the children are mindful of their surroundings and there are designated reading areas for the kids to chill with a book. The librarians are polite and understanding to the children and as a parent, felt very comfortable. They have programs for reading time and other creative development which is a perk to your free membership.

Return Of Marriage

Doc found at Carnegie Library for my great-grandparents

My favorite section is the genealogy department on the 3rd floor. I was intimidated at first because as someone getting into research, I walked into a huge room feeling overwhelmed with no idea where to start. The staff is unbelievable with helping and explaining how everything works and where to look for information. Without them I wouldn’t have made so many advances on my family tree. I am absolutely addicted to spending time there and discovering more about this city I now call home.

They also have access to world records. While you can’t save to your account, you can write down the info you need. Accessing local records via microfilm is a snap and you can make copies for $.10 each. Bring some dimes.

What surprised me most was the amount of programs the library offers so check out the website for a listing of current events. I know there are others like me who were “eh, its just a place of books. boring. whatever.” but you can see that, unlike other industries, they’re evolving and embracing technology instead of fighting it.

Easter Bunny at Greentree Library

Easter Bunny at Greentree Library

Greentree Library
Being home with the boys all day I’m always looking for something to do with them and Ms. Shannon at Greentree is without a doubt the best librarian in Pittsburgh. Her reading time with the kids is very hands on and my boys rave about it all the time. During the holidays she brings in Mrs. Claus to read to the kids, there are Easter egg hunts and other holiday themed events. As a parent the kids thirst for learning makes me proud.

Following the reading adventures, kids are invited to play in the community gym (when available) which is located in the same building.

Hanging out in the kids section

Hanging out in the kids section

Mt. Lebanon Library
I’m a South Hills guy now so this is my go-to library. I use the Dormont library quite a bit also but this is the one I call home. The kids section is HUGE and complete with computer center, creative play area, hearty supply of DVDs/video games to rent and access to the outdoor reading garden.  They’ve also embraced digital audio books, have a very easy book check in/out system and have events such as a chili tasting and beer sampling. Mt.Lebo does a great job making it a community gathering spot.

Pittsburgh has an incredible library system that I would have never discovered without the quality programs offered to bring my kids in.

Pittsburgh libraries aren’t the dull, out-of-date, old lady behind the desk yelling at you for breathing too loud experience many of us grew up with. They’re relaxing, fun, educational and make you want to visit.

Genealogy research and historical societies seem to have a reputation as being for the older generations. If there is anyone interested in making it appeal to all generations, maybe we can do something about it.

Obviously this is a short list of the places I go. What is your favorite library and why?

This is the 2nd in a 3 part series on how, after living here for 16 years, I’m discovering Pittsburgh with the help of my little boys.