Surviving the First Day of Kindergarten

Yesterday I sent my first born off to kindergarten and even though I’ve been joking all summer that I couldn’t wait for this day to get here, when it finally did I had mixed emotions.

 Teaspoon was excited. Strike that, he was a raging ball of pumped up excitement. He was telling me all morning about how cool it was going to be, the friends he would make, and more importantly, he was riding a bus like a big kid.

We sat on the porch for what felt like an eternity. Teaspoon kept looking around the corner in anticipation for his ride when he noticed my wife was in full blown tears. He kept saying “Mommy, don’t cry. I’ll be OK.” She said “It’s not that buddy, we’re just so proud of you!”

He smiled and gave her a huge hug. Then with a smirk said “Mommy, do me a favor. Don’t follow the bus.”

I choked on my water and we all laughed because honestly, we were thinking about it.

The bus arrived and as he got on I couldn’t help but think about everything we’ve been through with him. From his early birth and time in the NICU, time at home hooked up to monitors to the moment he was accepted to the school and tested in the top 10% of kids his age.

He has always been a curious kid and anxious to experience something new as seen when we became parents to a soccer / hockey / basketball / baseball player in leagues where he didn’t know many kids. If he wants to try something, he does it and we do our best to make it happen.

I could see the awe in his eyes. The excitement of the unknown.

Teaspoon on the bus

When he came home he shot out of my wife’s car like a bat out of hell. “DADDY! DADDY! DADDY! KWJHJKHDHHVDHBS!!!!!!” and for the next hour I sat back and listened to his stories from the day.

It has been a long and educational journey since I became a stay-at-home dad and this is why it happened, so I could experience these moments with him that wouldn’t have been possible if I was still working. This was the event where it became clear to me and now I’m ready to move on and get back to work.

For this guy, his brother and his mom.

Teaspoon 1st Day

ALS Ice Bucket Challenge

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.

(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

The Great Grill Caper

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.

Discovering Pittsburgh through my kids – Parks

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.