Junior Roller Derby League

I loved roller skating growing up and used to hang out on Friday nights at the B&K Roller Rink in Salisbury, N.C.  There were many great memories that transpired on that hardwood floor with a disco ball spinning in the dark.  And one of my favorite movies of about the same era was Kansas City Bombers.  Raquel Welch plays a roller derby skater called K.C. Carr and she fights all the dirty politics of this hard core sport in her desire for stardom.  She was such a strong role model and remains one of my favorite actresses of all time.

I was excited to find out that Pittsburgh has their own Junior Roller Derby League that develops and empowers young women 10-17 years of age.  Roller Derby is the fastest growing sport in America.  It challenges players to be bold, confident and united through the strength, balance and strategic thinking of competitive roller derby. The sport is aggressive but focuses on talent and teamwork over brute strength to win. A player of any size can be a champion if they have the passion for it.  Currently there are over 140 junior leagues across the United States and in Europe.
The Pittsburgh Derby Brats was established in February of 2013 and practice twice a week.  They  welcome all those who are interested.  Many of the players have never been on skates before joining but are confidently flying around the rink in no time.  Each member must train to develop levels of skills before they can participate in a competition but from day one each member is a part of the team. Results have been dramatic in many of the players: fitness, confidence, camaraderie and increase in academic focus. There are even scholarships for college.

Practices are normally held at the Neville Roller Drome on Thursdays 6:45-8:45 and Saturdays 10am-12pm. Parents and young women interested in the sport are welcome to come and visit practice.  Check out their website http://www.PittsburghDerbyBrats.com to glean more info.


Pottery Pittsburgh

Daniel Kuhn grew up in the Allegheny Valley and studied at California University of Pennsylvania for his undergraduate degree and Indiana University of Pennsylvania for his MFA. He has worked as a teacher and technician at Wortendyke Studio, Chautauqua School of Art, Society for Contemporary Crafts, Touchstone Center for Crafts and Community College of Allegheny County.  I am very excited that Daniel is opening a wonderful new business in Lawrenceville called Ton Pottery.  It is a teaching facility and retail space dedicated to the Ceramics Arts.  This is such an exciting addition to a vibrant section of the city that is growing at a really rapid pace.

Pottery is our oldest handicraft.  It originated during the Neolithic period or New Stone Age when humans first starting using tools, machines, crafts, etc.  Water was carried in woven baskets lined with river clay. After the water was poured out of the container the layer of clay dried. The loss of moisture caused the shape to shrink and separate from the sides of the basket. When the clay was removed it was shaped like a pot and retained the pattern from the basket after being dried in the sun.  A clever person discovered they could harden the molded pottery in hot ashes and make sturdy containers to transport and store foodstuffs.  This pottery is still being discovered in tombs and varies greatly in shape and size.


Pottery is great way to unwind and a very sensual process.  Just think of that memorable scene between Patrick Swayze and Demi Moore in the movie Ghost.  If you haven’t seen it and are thinking of learning to make pottery, you should seriously check it out.  It has been known to reduce stress and create euphoria.  Some people take their art very seriously.  It is also a fun activity for children and a great way to introduce art into their lives.

Ton Pottery will kick off with a grand-opening community party on February 22nd and 23rd, 2014, 10am-4pm. This event is free and open to the public.  It will feature demonstrations, door prizes and a chance to try your hands at the potter’s wheel.  They will be offering 12-week beginner, advanced and children’s pottery classes, one day workshops, open studio time and professional services beginning March 1st at their new studio.  Pottery parties are available for all occasions as well.  This is a breath of fresh air for anyone planning children’s birthday parties.  You can only take so much Gymkhana and Fun Fest Bowling.  Just visit  their website www.tonpottery.com for more details!

Free Drum & Dance Performance

The best way to fight cabin fever is to embrace the cold and venture forth in search of entertainment.  The place you want to be on Sunday, January 26, 2014 is the Quiet Reading Room in the Main Library First Floor at 4400 Forbes Avenue.  I am a big proponent for all our local libraries and love to promote the wide scope of events they offer.  They are known for digging up the best talent in Pittsburgh and offering it to the public free of charge.  If you show up between 2:00 PM – 3:00 PM you can catch a performance of a unique African arrangement.

In December of 2007 Yamoussa Camara formed Camara Drum & Dance to perform the music and dance of Guinea and West Africa.   He includes unique and exciting arrangements of West African music punctuated by original choreography and authentic costumes made for the group in Guinea.  Camara was born in the village of Boke, Guinea, West Africa in 1966 and took to his drum at an early age. In 1995 he immigrated to the United States. He taught drum and dance at Yale University for 10 years then traveled the U.S. teaching, performing, choreographing and polishing presentations for various dance ensembles.  We are indeed fortunate that he has decided to call our region home and join the huge base of talent our city holds.

Mito Camara

Yamoussa Camara currently resides in Pittsburgh and teaches West African dance at Carnegie Mellon University, the African Drum Ensemble at the University of Pittsburgh and West African drumming at The Irma Freeman Center for Imagination.  This is a busy guy with lots of positive energy you can absorb from every performance.  Hey, maybe you even want to take a class.   He teaches drum and dance workshops for children and adults.   This Renaissance man can be contacted for private classes or performances as well.  What better way to warm up on a cold winter night.   You can reach him at 412-403-7502 or check out his website http://www.camaradrumanddance.com.


Zuma Zuma at Shadyside Academy

Yes, that is zuma zuma not zumba zumba.  But they both have African origins and have added a lot of spice and vitality to our midwestern culture.   A Cirque Zuma Zuma performance is coming to The Hillman Center for Performing Arts at Shady Side Academy.  I am emphasizing the school because I drove around Fox Chapel for 30 minutes looking for the center the first time I went there for a performance.  Your jaw will drop when you first drive through the campus if you have not been there before.  It truly is another world and the atmosphere is conducive to absorbing education in a mellifluous manner.

There is also not a bad seat in this center for performing arts that has become a gathering place for cultured enthusiasts.  The Zuma Zuma acrobats stunned the audience during their America’s Got Talent performance in 2011.  You will find splashed across the stage over 120 talented singers, dancers, contortionists, and tumblers from 16 African nations who will amaze you with a high- energy, action-packed performance on February 15.

   zuma-zulu-dance-207   zuma-zuma-contortionists-205  zuma-zulu-dance-201  IMG_0708

The location address is 423 Fox Chapel Road and the phone is 412-968-3040.  You can always buy tickets at the door or simply check the website thehillman.org.

John Jacob is the producer of Cirque Zuma Zuma and traveled the world as an acrobat, circus and street performer.  He returned to his African homeland to gather young talent and founded a circus training school to give them a professional edge.  The school creates shows  featuring an array of never before seen talents mixed with some of the best cultural skills associated with African variety arts.  Many describe it as an African-style Cirque du Soleil.  They have definitely earned the same standard of performers and high quality live musical scores.

It is a great way to get in from the cold and beat these winter blues.  Transport yourself to Africa and let this performance heat you up.


I Have A Dream

Martin Luther King Junior’s I Have A Dream speech is the most moving piece of verbal delivery I have ever heard. I had a lot to compare it to since I took rhetoric in college and studied a lot of famous speeches. But Dr. King was a natural speaker with a persuasive ability that cannot be taught. He also spoke from the heart and was as passionate about promoting peace as he was compassionate about human suffering. He was a great man and an admirable leader.

Carnegie Mellon is one of the few universities that does not close on Martin Luther King Day but they do have a good rationale. They call it a day on instead of a day off and offer events throughout the day to honor this great man. All classes are also cancelled after 12:30 p.m. The events are free and open to the public. These are great events to take your children to since they are off from school and will prove to be an enriching cultural experience.  This is also a great chance to see the Josh & Gab Show that I blogged about recently.


Happy Birthday Martin Luther King, Jr.!

Monday, January 20, 2014

Rangos Ballroom, University Center

Join President Subra Suresh for a special listening tour dedicated to the university’s commitment to diversity.
12:30 pm -3:00 pm

Children’s Programs/Activities

Check the information desk at the University Center located beside the football field for exact locations but most events will be held in the same building.  Activities and presentations appropriate for children of all ages will be offered. The Josh & Gab Show team will present a special Anti-Bullying Musical Comedy program for kids at 1:30 pm.  The Children’s School will feature arts and craft activities and story time. Children will also be decorating a Freedom Mural and a collage to be on display in the University Center. Snacks will be provided.

Connan Room & Wean Commons, University Center
12:30 pm– 1:30 pm
15th Anniversary Celebration for MLK Writing Awards

Rangos Ballroom, University Center
The School of Drama will feature a special chorale tribute in celebration of Dr. King.  Local high school and college students will also read personal narratives dealing with individual experiences with racial difference and discrimination. The students are recipients of writing awards sponsored by the Carnegie Mellon Creative Writing Program, Student Affairs and Office of the President.
1:30 pm – 2:30 pm

McConomy Auditorium, University Center

Students in Service: Habitat for Humanity Presentation –  there are nearly 2 billion people around the world who live in slum housing and more than 100 million are homeless. Habitat helps to building or renovate simple, decent houses in partnership with those in need.  This event will feature representatives from the HFH of Greater Pittsburgh and a local family. Learn more about how you can get involved with HFH local build opportunities, Habitat ReStore and student alternative break experiences – 2:00 p.m.-3:00 p.m.

Danforth Lounge, University Center

Story Circles: Social Justice & Community – circle stories provide a nexus for artistic, educational and culturally relevant conversations. This informal conversation will feature local Pittsburgh community leaders who are engaged in innovative social justice issues- 2:30 p.m.-3:30 p.m.

Kirr Commons, University Center
Join teens from the Arts Greenhouse hip-hop program who will feature music and prose celebrating art and culture while exploring the bitter-sweet relevance of Martin Luther King, Jr. to Pittsburgh youth. The Arts Greenhouse is a music education outreach program for facilitated by Carnegie Mellon – 3:30 p.m.-4:30 p.m. For more information, visit http://www.pghbeatmakers.org.
Rangos Ballroom, University Center – Keynote Address and Dessert Reception
Featuring Jendayi E. Frazer, Ph.D – Former US Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs, CMU Distinguished Service Professor, Council of Foreign Relations
‘Leading with Courage and Conviction” – 4:30 p.m.


Skibo Cafe, University Center 8 p.m.
MLK Late Night Spoken Word – Transcending the Dream “Force though Speech”

Presented by SPIRIT in conjunction with Pittsburgh Poetry Collective – this event will showcase spoken word artists from our campus and the surrounding Pittsburgh community. The featured poet for the evening will be William Evans of Columbus, Ohio. For more information about the Pittsburgh Poetry Collective/Steel City Slam, please visit pghpoetry.org

To find out more details about these events contact 412-268-2075.

Aviary Canaries and Bats Oh My!

Canaries have played a large part in our coal mining heritage and are now being recognized by the National Aviary.  Their unique exhibit called Canary’s Call is a new venture that involves museum-style storytelling.  It features interpretive displays to enhance the stories that the birds are telling.  Canaries have been telling us about our natural world since they were first used in coal mines to detect toxic fumes.  This exhibit brings those stories to life.

It not only shows how our winged friends affect our world but also illustrates how humans have negatively impacted their world with population, pollution, habitat loss, invasive species and over consumption.  But it is not just for the birds.  This exhibit includes the amazing flying mammals known as Malayan Flying Foxes. They are giant fruit bats from Asia that are part of the mega-bat family and can reach up to 16  inches long with  six-foot wingspans.  These are the largest bats in the world and really fascinating creatures.  The aviary is known for realistic interaction so I will surprise with this one.  You just have to visit!

It is only fitting to present a such an unusual attraction to mark the 20th Anniversary of the National Aviary.  They have been doing it well for over two decades and pulled out all the stops with this exhibit.  It  also features a larger than life canary cage, a custom built tree for the bat exhibit and two touchscreen kiosks with interactive games.  The piece de resistance are the transformational back-lit LED panels that complement the live exhibits.

This is the nations largest aviary and the only independent nonprofit one.  We have a bountiful bevy of philanthropists in this city that really spoil us with such wonderful venues.  Just another shining example of why Pittsburgh is such a great place to live.

A Magical World of Glass, Light and Bloom

It looks like something out of a fairytale and will instantly transport you to an ethereal state of surreal calm.  Phipps Conservatory and Botanical Gardens has done it again.  I thought the Chihuly exhibit would be tough to beat but this is an excellent equivalent.  When you put glass and light together it has an astounding effect.  Add the back drop of a distant city skyline and it becomes astoundingly breathtaking.  Get prepared to transition to another world when you visit the Winter Light Garden and Flower Show.  You will even forget how cold it is when you gaze on this feast for the eyes.   It runs through this Sunday – January 12 and the hours are 9:30 am – 11:00 pm.  Metered parking along Schenley Drive in front of the Conservatory is free after 6 p.m. and all day on Sunday.

In 1893 Phipps Conservatory was built by Henry Phipps as a gift to the city.  He would be very proud of the current exhibit and I have a feeling he is gazing down from above.  You can definitely feel his presence in the botanical nirvana he created.

Photo: It was magical! Glad I am a member.

Add a little night music to the enchanting displays and you will be in a zen like trance that you can carry with you throughout the year.  You definitely want to include as many magical moments in 2014 as possible.  Take a night to relax and stroll through The Conservatory’s west wing to see  glass mushrooms, ferns, bromeliads and tillandsia illuminated from within as a breathtaking network of constellations transforms the ceiling overhead with twinkling stars against a soft aurora borealis-like glow.  Step outside and you will be dazzled by glowing orbs, dripping snowballs, luminous trees and a brilliant fountain of light as you follow meandering pathways through a winter wonderland.

            Photo: Great night to enjoy the wonderful displays at Phipps.

Be sure to take advantage of this sought after attraction right in your own backyard.  The TripAdvisor rates it as a must see in Pittsburgh and you can go anytime you want.  Just one more great reason to call our great city home.

Photo: A FB ready cover photo for anyone that would like to use.  Courtesy  of Mattucci Photography and Graphics.

Pennyslvania Farm Show

Pennsylvania is a state full of surprises and just happens to be the host  of the largest indoor agricultural exposition in the country.  They offer up a whopping 6,000 animals, 10,000 competitive exhibits and 300 commercial exhibits.  It runs January 4th through 11th and is well worth the trip to Harrisburg for this annual event.  They have a website that details events, directions and places to stay.  People travel the world over just to see the famous butter sculpture.  It has a different theme every year and have focused on the dairy industry with their current milkshake exhibit.  It is made from nearly 1000 pounds of high grade butter and commemorates 60 years of milkshakes at the show.  The sculpture by Jim Victor takes its cue from the song Shake, Rattle and Roll and features a family enjoying a delicious milkshake while watching a cow couple dance.

The famous milkshakes have a faithful following at the show and represent the state’s 7,200 dairy farm families who grow Pennsylvania by driving the economy, creating jobs and supplying quality products to consumers.

They serve 140,000 of vanilla, chocolate and mixed milkshakes each year in the show’s famous Food Court and Food Court Annex.  They also serve farm fresh baked potatoes, potato donuts, and baked sweet potatoes.  The Bee Keepers Association supplies honey ice cream, honey waffles and bottles of fresh honey.  The Livestock Association serves up pork barbeque sandwiches, roast beef sandwiches, lamb stew, ham and cheese sandwiches, beef meatball sandwiches, beef sausage, Jumbo beef/pork hot dogs, Italian sausage, steak salad, ham salad, horseradish and pink lemonade.  The SHAP booth is committed to raising money for the apple and fruit tree industry and one of their major benefactors is the fruit research lab in Biglerville. They sell apple cider, fresh apples, apple dumplings with ice cream, apple butter, cider floats, caramel apples on a stick, dried apple snacks, cider slushies and apple or peach sundaes. There are over a dozen official associations serving the widest array of fresh food you are likely to find in one place for a long time.

While the food alone is reason enough to go, there are plenty of other attractions to entertain and intrigue.  Where else will you find twelve year old girls roping cattle, cooking demonstrations and Christmas tree exhibits all within easy reach of each other.  I promise you will see the largest pies and livestock you ever imagined and wonders you will talk about for ages.  There is even a fashion show.  Just think back to Home Economics 101.

               Apple Pie- Kim 339.jpg               Bred Gilt Show            Horses

There is an educational series called Farm Show Quests that teach about agriculture in a fun and engaging way.  It makes for a great family outing that is more wholesome than Disney.  Don’t even get me started on that one.   But we are lucky to have this grand event so close to home and it is something sure to surpass your wildest expectations.

Free Kid Events at Frick

The Frick Art and Historical Center is definitely one of the hidden gems of Pittsburgh.  It is tucked away on Penn Avenue with a reverent air of old world class and charm.  I am always surprised by the number of people who live in Pittsburgh and have never been to this gracious old home with such an historical past.  When I first moved to Pittsburgh Helen Clay Frick was still living in the mansion where she spent her childhood.  She decided to return to her birthplace in 1981 after living for many years in New York.  Her family had relocated there in 1905 but she always considered our city home and was excited to return.

Her long-time wish was for her home and the surrounding estate to be preserved and opened to the public.  The mansion is known as Clayton from Henry Clay Frick’s maternal side of the family. Helen had The Frick Art Museum constructed in 1970 to allow the public to enjoy  her art collection.  You can tour the art museum for free with the price of  a mansion tour which runs $12.00 for adults and $6.00 for children.  However, the Car and Carriage Museum is always open for free.  It is one of my favorite places on the estate and includes Henry Clay Frick’s 1914 Rolls Royce Silver Ghost touring car and Howard Heinz’s 1898 Panhard (reputed to be the first car in Pittsburgh).


Check the schedule for free  kids programs on the first Saturday of the month that are focused on art and history.  On January 4th you can check out the galleries for cool colors and shifty shapes.  You can then put your good ideas to work and make a calendar to help you keep track of 2014 for free.  They also have great films for free at The Frick Art Museum.  Check on The Red Badge of Courage on Friday, January 10 at 12:00 p.m.

If you can’t make it this weekend, be sure and check out one of the following.  There is no better way to spend time with the family and learn something in the process.  It is a worthy endeavor that will ensure lasting memories.

GreenKids: It’s For the Birds

Saturday, February 1

11:00–11:45 a.m.

Meet at Lexington Education Center

Even in the coldest weather, the Frick’s trees are home to birds.  Come learn about birds in winter, and make a feeder to take home for the feathery friends in your own backyard.

Free, drop-in program.

Art Kids: Mad about Mardi Gras

Saturday, March 1


Meet at the Frick Art Museum.

Liven up your Saturday morning with a festive Mardi Gras celebration.  The gallery’s fanciful shapes and vibrant colors serve as inspiration for cool and creative mask making.  The real fun begins with a spirited parade around the museum. Free, drop in program.

March Madness at the Frick for Families!

No, not basketball—it’s just the chance to get out of the house and try something new as winter turns into spring.

ArtKids: Mad about Mardi Gras

Saturday March 1


Meet at the Frick Art Museum. Free.

Family Fun Day: American Adventure

Saturday, March 15
11:00 a.m.–3:00 p.m.

The Frick Art Museum. Free.

Family Kite Workshop: Make It! Fly It!

Saturday, March 29

10:00 a.m.–12:00 p.m.

Ages 7 and up with an adult. Free.

CarKids: Merrily We Roll Along

Saturday, April 5

11:00–11:45 a.m.  Meet at the Car and Carriage Museum.

See what road trips in the 1890’s were like compared to family travel today as we check out the Frick family carriages and cars.  Make a travel game to take on your next journey.

Free, drop-in program.

There is no end of fun to be had in Pittsburgh.  Brave the cold and seek forth on an adventure.


Anti-Bullying Rock N’ Roll

Pittsburgh is home to a unique and unforgettable anti-bullying musical comedy program for children called the The Josh & Gab Show.  Gab Bonesso is a nationally renowned comedian, performer and comedy writer.  Josh Verbanets is an award winning songwriter, singer and musician.  Together they form an inspiring team that promotes positive behavior in young children.  Their performances utilize humor, original songs, interactive exercises and energetic storytelling in a very fun and heartfelt way.

Josh and Gab

The duo has performed their groundbreaking anti-bullying shows at over 75 schools, camps, and community venues that include Western Pennsylvania’s Montour School District,Carnegie Mellon University’s Waffle Shop and the Pittsburgh International Children’s Festival.  They target kindergarten through 8th grade audiences because they are most primed to receive and absorb positive influence.  By the time they reach high school it is a much tougher sell.  But this talented team take motivational speaking and singing to a new level.  It is almost impossible not be touched by their performance regardless of your age.  It truly inspires you to be a better person and help those around you.

You can check their website joshandgab.com for an upcoming performance schedule or contact them to request an appearance.  I think every guidance counselor in every school should have them on speed dial.  Although most schools try to adhere to anti-bullying policies, it is always a challenge enforce them.  Plus bullying is fear based and my own daughter has been afraid to tell on people for fear of repercussion.  We have worked through a lot of issues and her school has a great staff that has been very helpful.  But it is a constant battle and can wear down the resolve of the most stoic victim.  Positive reinforcement is the best approach to keep self esteem high.

Make this a year for instilling positive values in yourself and those around you.  The rewards will be ten fold and each day will take on new meaning.