Collective Soul and King Washington rock Pittsburgh

Collective Soul has been a staple in my music rotation for years. During the 90s their self titled CD was deemed the ultimate mix to listen to while cleaning the apartment. After their 2001 Greatest Hits release, Seven Year Itch, though I stopped paying attention. It wasn’t that I fell out of love for their music but the relationship was more “out of sight, out of mind”.

I wasn’t buying many CDs, Napster and downloading whatever tunes I could get my hands on had me falling down the black hole of awful music. This was before legit digital downloads, iTunes and streaming services were available. The thought of only music in a non-digital platform may blow some of your minds today.

Adult Sippy Cup

Fast forward to 2015 and Collective Soul’s “See What You Started” tour supporting their 9th studio album rolled into Pittsburgh’s Carnegie Music Hall of Homestead with jamming opener King Washington.

Prior to last Thursday I had no idea the album or the tour were taking place but something told me I should open the City Paper weekly email. “WIN TICKETS TO SEE COLLECTIVE SOUL IN PITTSBURGH!”. Sure, why not. Later that afternoon I received the email saying I won the tickets so date night was now set – Sunday night at 8pm.

Before kids this would have been a no-brainer. After kids my thoughts are “How will we find a sitter on a Sunday night?”, “What is the parking situation like?”, “What time do I have to be up for work in the morning?” and the most important part “Who won’t be tethered to their phone all night?”. You’d be surprised how often that last one is the deal breaker.

Since it was short notice we flew solo on this trip and had a great time reliving our college days. King Washington is new to me so every song was a treat. I liked their stage presence and most of the songs but I enjoyed their sound more once I got home and checked out their music online. Now I’m kicking myself for passing up a chance to chat after the show.

Collective Soul exceeded expectations (geez that sounds like I’m doing an HR performance review) and kept the crowd going for close to 2 hours. Lead singer Ed Roland is one helluva entertainer and painted the stage like an artist. The show reminds you of going to see your buddy’s band and feels like he’s playing just for you. They played the classic singalongs and mixed in the new release which had me in a mad rush to download when I got home. Joining Ed from the original line up were his brother Dean and bassist with mad skills Will Turpin. Rounding out the band is drummer Johnny Rabb who had me mesmerized and lead guitarist Jesse Triplett who could freaking THRASH! Not kidding. Every song was like a contest between Johnny and Jesse to see who could outshine the other. They both turned it up to 11.

The night ended with an extended version of Run which made the experience come full circle. I stood there looking at these guys not much older than me (well, except for Ed) and realized that we all grew up but not old. I now understand and appreciate what my brother feels when he goes to see bands from his younger days. We have shorter hair and even a few grey ones, but music is still bringing us together and for 2 hours everything in the world was good.

Visiting Western PA Model Railroad Museum

Teaspoon doesn't have time for signs

Dating back to the early 1900s my family had a connection with the railroad. My grandfather helped build the rails through Erie while my granduncles, uncles and father worked on the lines as well. The railroad has quite the spot in Derda family history (as does grape farming but that’s another story) so seeing my boys take a fascination with the trains and rails make part of me glow inside.

My family was invited out to the Western PA Model Railroad Museum last weekend and it was a throwback to childhood geekdom. My dad would take me to many model train stores and visit friends on the rails (note: NOT hobos. Actual people working for the Conrail) when I was about my kids age and walking in here felt like I was going back to that time.

Crazy townThe main floor is all decked out for kids to lose their mind on so much awesome. The displays fit perfectly into the short attention span that most children have. They’re very busy, filled with bright colors and things you don’t see every day. Heck even the creepy Burger King was hanging with McDonalds. See, we all can get along! This is the area where parents can take a breather if their kids touch something because the valuables are behind glass.

This place isn’t just for the kiddos! Venture upstairs and be taken back to the summer of 1952 with a scaled down version of the ride from downtown Pittsburgh to Cumberland, Md. What amazed me more than the enormous size of the display was the attention to detail in the scenes. Granted I wasn’t live in the 50s, but I wasn’t raised here either so all I have to go on are photos from that time. I was fortunate to have an older gentleman in line next to me telling stories of the railroad in his youth and added to the authenticity of the layout. He kept saying it was very similar to how he remembered the time and that’s when I paused. I started thinking about my dad’s stories of the railroad and that’s when I realized this is more than just a hobby, it’s a story. Most of the people I chatted with talked about their collections and memories with their families growing up.

After we left we talked with the boys about what their favorite part was, and of course they couldn’t pick just one, they asked if they could ride in a train some day. My wife handed me a few fliers she snagged on the way out for train rides in western PA so you can guess what we’re planning for next fall.

Check out the WPMRM website for details on hours and directions. They have well made videos showcasing their display but trust me, you’ll want to see this in person!

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It’s all about the ribs at The Smokehouse Bar & Grill

Smokehouse Bar and GrillPittsburgh has a BBQ boom to match the craft beer explosion so we are living in a very delicious time. I was told about this place from a trusted BBQ friend and they did not let me down. The ownership had just changed so there were a few kinks to work out but you would never know that with the food. LOVED IT!

I had an order of garlic parm wings that were amazing. Hard to believed they were fried. Slight crisp and flavorful but not greasy.

1/2 slab of St Louis style ribs were meaty, perfectly cooked (unlike others I’ve had who cook the meat and leave it in warming pans so its a mess) and the coleslaw side was fantastic.

Bartender was very pleasant and the patrons were very friendly as well. It felt like I was hanging out with friends and that is what really drove it home for me on having a quality experience.

Beer selection wasn’t bad and prices were very reasonable. I stopped in on a Sunday afternoon and would easily go back to catch a Steelers game. $2.50 you call it drinks  and $.35 wings make the day even better.


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Pittsburgh Polish Festival

Polish Dancers

There’s a lot about my Polish heritage that I’m unfamiliar with. Until recently while working on my family tree, I knew I was Polish but I didn’t know where on the tree it came from. My mom’s family is hardcore German so I knew the answer was on my dad’s side, but where? When I heard the Pittsburgh Polish Festival was going on I knew I had to be there. Handmade pierogies, smoked meats and chocolates on every corner along with exposure to a culture I wanted to learn more about.

Last Sunday Teaspoon and I made the trip to the Cathedral of Learning to see what it was all about and the things we found were amazing.

This was my first trip to the Cathedral since I was a student at Pitt in the 90’s and right away I felt like I was at home. We were greeted by a very friendly polish couple who explained what was going on and asked what brought us in. Saying that you want to find out more about your heritage is the golden ticket as they gave me more handouts than I could handle, offered Teaspoon free homemade bread and told me who I should speak with if I have questions. Awesome people.

I have attended the Polish fest in Erie called Zabawa a few times but really went for the food and beer. When you’re 22 that’s all which matters. They were nice events but nothing to this scale. Although I’m sure going back now would be a different experience.

We watched the dancers for a few minutes and Teaspoon was in awe at how the little kids moved plus I think deep down he wants one of their outfits. We sampled foods, walked around the upper floors of the building since it was Teaspoon’s first trip, and met with a few elders who were able to help me out with family tree info I brought along.

One thing the Cathedral doesn’t have is a steady flow of air so after awhile it got REALLY warm and we were ready to go. Teaspoon asked if I could show him our family tree and what I do to work on it. A 5yr old wants to know about history? WIN! We walked across the street to the Carnegie Library and visited the 3rd floor which is where I spend a lot of time when I get a break from the kids. I showed him how to use the microfilm machine and how to do research on the computers which is similar to what I do at home. I could see the little guy was wearing down so we picked up and left. Well I thought we were done.

As we pulled out of the parking garage he realized he didn’t have sunglasses and the meltdown began. Library was closing in 6 minutes, he wanted his glasses and I really didn’t want to drive back to Oakland later this week. I floor it around Oakland and somehow manage to find a parking spot in front. We sprinted in and back up to the 3rd floor to see his specs sitting behind the microfilm machine. Of course, he blamed this one me.

The day was fun and it brought me joy discovering our family heritage together. My wish is that someday he carries on the mission to find out more about our family and history.

Oh, and just because it’s freaking beautiful, here’s a pic of the Cathedral of Learning we took before leaving.

Cathedral Of Learning


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.