10 years gone – celebrating Dad

Derda Stone

I was debating making a post about Dad’s anniversary which was earlier this month. Over the years I think I’ve been able to express the hurt and emotional roller coaster his passing caused and now I focus on celebrating being a dad.

This year his anniversary came during the week so the boys and I made a trip to Erie to visit Mom for the weekend. Amazingly it was a weekend where there wasn’t any snow up north which really is a mystery. Don’t worry, they have over a foot of snow on the ground now.

I was psyched for Saturday. I crowd sourced to find out where I could go as a solo parent with 2 boys and we ended up going to two venues that I have never visited.

First stop caters to every 80s/90s mall rat sweet spot, Play Port Arcade! My kids know what video games are but they’ve never really seen an arcade since the business is almost extinct. Growing up in Erie I spent every quarter I could get my hands on at Red Baron arcade in the Millcreek Mall. There was also TILT but you only went there when the Baron was filled.

Play Port is quite possibly the best deal I’ve ever seen for a fun activity, $10 gets you over 100 arcade games, free throw game, air hockey, billiards, foosball and old OLD school bowling game that requires you to roll a ball on free play for 3 hours plus a round of glow golf! This was childhood explosion for me with the Mortal Kombat series, Kangaroo and AfterBurner. Oh yeah, and they have Contra!

After a quick breather I ran out to get pizza for the kids and my mom while I made a pit stop at a drunk food mecca of my college drinking days, the greek dog home known as Coney Island Lunch. The food is inexpensive, you can eat a lot and, well it’s like the White Castle of Erie. Hotdogs are around $1.00 and are served first with onions on the sides of the meat missile and then bathed in a beef sauce which is has a chili consistency with a spicy nip. Again, food you should never eat sober. Now image that covered on fries. Welcome to my neighborhood.

Now it was time for the big surprise, I picked up tickets for the kids and myself to attend a pajama party viewing of Polar Express at the Experience Children’s Museum in Erie.  Growing up I don’t recall there ever being much for kids in town but living in Pittsburgh we have become rabid fans of museums, science and art. Especially the Children’s Museum.

I spoke with a few volunteers who said this was something new they were trying and were thrilled with the turnout. From a parent’s perspective the staff was very welcoming, the museum was filled with bright colors and had interactive displays to make science relating to the area a fun adventure. The city is on Lake Erie so the theme was heavy on water which my kids loved. Following the movie Santa arrived to talk to each child and present them with a small gift of a bell which my kids loved and rang and rang and rang and rang and STILL ring to this day.

Sunday our trip concluded with breakfast at The Breakfast Place which is in the former home of Urbaniak Meats a.k.a. my first job. I was 15 and cutting meats, cleaning saws, cutting chickens and scrubbing dishes. You can see where my early BBQ passion came from now eh? After a hearty meal we drove to the cemetery to see Dad.

Unlike previous trips this one hit me hard and the boys realized it. They both hugged me while my oldest asked me about my favorite memories with their Pop-Pops.  We walked around and visited other relatives of mine and I continued to tell stories. The blessing in disguise while walking around was finally locating the grave of my buddy Marc who passed away 5 years ago. His Grateful Dead stone is a fitting tribute to a man who was always on a long strange trip but found the best in everyone and everything.

We dropped Mom off and made one more stop before leaving, a visit to my childhood best bud Mario. Getting together has been difficult over the years since we both have active families and in fact his daughter was getting ready for her basketball game when we arrived. My boys played with his kids while we kicked back and tried to realize how the hell life happened so fast. One day we were driving around in his dad’s truck blasting Motley Crüe on our way to a Eastway Billiards and now we’re in our 40’s talking about raising kids.

I can’t say the trip brought me any more closure with my Dad’s passing but it did put a smile on my face to see my kids enjoy my hometown.

Weekend in Erie – Part 2 – Polka, festival and new family

St James Festival - Pizza time

St James Festival - Pony RideIt started with the family going to a polka mass at my old parish, which my mom is still an active member in. I go there maybe once a year because mom likes when we’re all together but she also like to sit up front which is a huge pet peeve of mine. It’s cool though because I end up seeing parents of friends and people who still pinch my cheeks and tell me they knew me as a baby. My dad was the head of ushers, my mom was in the choir and my brother and I were both altar boys. Everyone was involved in the parish.

The parish festival was in its final day and part of that tradition is a turkey dinner. Turkey in August? Yeah you might think that’s crazy but the meal is good. REALLY good! We walk around so the kids can play games, dad can play Bingo and while the size of the festival has diminished over the years it really is a stellar place to go. That was until we got to The Fish Pond.

I worked the festival in various roles from grade school until I left for college. You can ask any alumni since the early days and they’ll tell you the same, the fish will die by the time you get them home. I never knew anything about fish. I don’t care about fish. Damn the fis… oh hey son, you want to win a fish? Sure go for it!

$1 for 7 balls so I figured I was safe. Apparently Teaspoon has the beer pong skills of his old man and nailed it. Unfortunately he couldn’t repeat the feat so I have 1 kid with a fish and 1 without. Know what that means? We’re going to the fish store.

After packing up and saying goodbye to my mom we went to a local pet store to now buy a fish for Cheeseburger and a fish tank. $40 later we leave and head back to Pittsburgh with our new family members.

Ladies and gentlemen, Kevin and Bob.

Kevin and Bob - The Derda Fish

Here are pics from the rest of the day.

Did you miss out on part 1 of our weekend adventure in Erie? Check out Swimming in greatness!

Weekend in Erie – Part 1 – Swimming in greatness

Teaspoon on the Beach

Growing up in Erie it was always easy to spot the tourists at Presque Isle, they were the only people swimming in the lake. I guess this could be said for any native in a tourist hot spot but going back now with a family I have a new appreciation for the beach.

Feet in the water at Presque IsleLast Saturday I took the family on a quick weekend trip to Erie. If you’re in Pittsburgh the journey up I-79 really is fast. You can be there in 2.5 hours and the drive flies by as you watch the Steel City skyline turn into beautiful country driving, errr just with an interstate running through it.

When I lived in Erie the place to be was Beach 6. This was the home of sand volleyball tournaments, best concession stand on the peninsula and where the good looking people hang out. If you’re a teenager or single person, this is your reality TV show. Married dude in his 30’s with 2 kids, ummm yeeeaaaahhh we scooted down to Beach 7/Water Works a.k.a. the “family beach”.

If you’re a family traveling up there, here is why you’ll love this spot.

  1. Affordable large cabins for rent if you’re having a gathering. We’re talking 50-100 people.
  2. Picnic tables if you want to pack your lunch and hang out plus grills are available.
  3. Excellent fishing spots for the kids.
  4. Playground if they’re done with the swimming/sand thing.
  5. Bike Rental station and hub of anything “touristy” you want to do.
  6. The beach area is rarely crowded, spacious area to set up a tent or umbrella and then lay out in the sun
  7. Plenty of lifeguards on hand for additional peace of mind.
  8. Incredible sunset with Canada off in the distance

This trip was unique for us as the water in the bay was higher than normal and the winds whipping around causing waves close to 4 feet high. The parent in me was “OMFG MY KIDS WILL BE CARRIED OUT TO SEA!” but once I got in the water with them I turned into “WOOOOOOOOO THIS IS FREAKING AWESOME! GET ME A BOOGIE BOARD!”. Both of my kids laughed harder than they ever have as they would either ride the waves or get sucked down shore as the waves crashed.  4 hours later we head to my mom’s for dinner and to hang out.

Sunday would turn out to be a slightly awkward day and you can read about that next…

 

 

The Day I Played Chicken with a MACK Truck

Me next to the Monte Carlo

2 inches more inches and I wouldn’t be writing this post.

I shouldn’t be here.

20 years ago today I was in accident which if the MACK truck hit me any harder I would have had a part of my car through my head.

Me inside the 1981 Monte Carlo
My 18th birthday and the new ride

The year was 1994, I was a freshman at UPT and it was the day before Thanksgiving break. I told my friend Kristi that I would drive her home so her parents wouldn’t have to come get her. It wasn’t really on the route that I would normally drive home but it wasn’t too far out of the way either and I like driving through PA in the fall. What we didn’t expect was the amount of snow that would fall while we were sleeping.

My car was a gem. Near mint condition Midnight Blue 1981 Monte Carlo. FAT wheels on the back and the car could haul some serious ass. It was a present from my parents for my 18th birthday and I loved this car. I was never a car guy growing up but this beast was amazing. It was fast, powerful and turned heads everywhere I went. I can still feel the steering wheel grip in my hands and myself sitting in it. The car was my baby.

When we woke on the morning of November 23rd, the ground was covered in white. We heard there might be snow but this was more than a dusting. We got slammed. Growing up in Erie, driving in the snow is like any other day so I didn’t think twice about it. I loaded up the car with my clothes, an N64 I rented from the local video store and her luggage. No sweat. This drive will be longer but easy.

We were just outside of Spartansburg when the snow was starting to let up but all cars were taking it slow as we were starting to come down a hill. As we approached a bend I saw a MACK truck was coming up the hill but something was off. He was driving in the middle of the road! With the roads covered in snow there wasn’t much to do but hold on. I tried to move the car off to the side of the road but it was too late. My focus went from the whole road to zooming in on the point of impact.

BOOM! CRASH! KABLAM!

The car is thrown partially into a ditch and someone’s front yard plus I’m knocked out. Kristi shakes me to wake me up and all I see is a mangled hood through my windshield and the engine on fire. People from the house came out to check on me and phoned 911 but they were Amish (I was told) so they had to run to a nearby building which had a phone. Medics arrive on the scene and load me into the ambulance. State police arrive and start grilling me on what happened. I’m barely functional and this guy wont let up to get me to say I caused the accident. What I didn’t know at the time was that the car behind me was my English professor and saw the whole thing. I would find out later that she confirmed my story but that apparently wasn’t enough for the trooper.

I’m rushed to the hospital in nearby Corry where Kristi’s mom happens to work. I’m in and out of consciousness and recall my trip to get scanned but not much more. I can hear the doctors talking but I can’t open my eyes. I was freaking out and relaxed at the same time. Was I dead?

By the grace of God the only injuries I had were a banged up knee that smashed into the dashboard and a concussion from my head hitting the steering wheel since cars weren’t made with airbags back then. The medics apparently waited around to see if I was OK and handed me the hood ornament from my car which I still have today. The doctors tell me that one of the medics said that if I was hit any harder or moved in the slightest, a piece of the frame would have shot up through the floor and killed me instantly.

I’m discharged and spend time back at Kristi’s house while we wait for my parent’s to arrive. I’m sure that wasn’t a pleasant phone call to my parents to let them know their son was in an accident with a MACK truck. We meet at a McDonald’s in town and then made the tough trip to the junk yard where my car was towed. I do a quick job cleaning out my personal materials out of the car and say goodbye. If I was driving any other car my family had at the time I know I wouldn’t be writing this now.

I was lucky. No, I was DAMN lucky.

It would take me a few years before I was back to 100%. My headaches were severe for a few months following and what  a lot of people don’t know is that I was a distance runner for years. After that wreck I wouldn’t even attempt to run again for 20 years.

I have never gone back to the site of the accident after we took pictures to have on record but thanks to Google Maps and Photoshop here is the location with a little from 1994 and 20 years later and a very young version of me.

The accident 1994 and 2014

This is a collection of all of the photos of the car after the accident when we visited the junkyard to collect the rest of my personal items.

 

Discovering Pittsburgh through my kids – Museums

I’m a history junkie. Most of my friends know this and if you didn’t, now you do also. I love historical events and stories more than saaaay art.

trex

Growing up I dragged my family to Gettysburg roughly 18 times while dad was on his business trips for the state. Something about the Civil War sucked me in (ask me about General Lee being a midget some day) but I had zero interest in the history of my hometown of Erie.

Looking back we never learned about the War of 1812 even though we’re the home of the Flagship Niagara and the only reason why I liked going to the Erie Historical Museum was to touch the kettle Mad Anthony Wayne had his bones boiled in. What adolescent boy wouldn’t love that!

I loved the Carnegie Museum of Natural History when we would visit Pittsburgh because they had a T-Rex and dinosaur bones galore. I had the shirts, posters, heck I WAS Dino Dan… err Doug.  Beyond that though most museums were kinda boring to a kid. Technology wasn’t like it is today and honestly you can only look at so many pieces of paper, clay figurines and touch a piece of wood that was on something famous before you get bored.

Today is different and Pittsburgh makes learning fun.

Carnegie Museum of Natural History
Locals already know how cool this place is but if you’re new to the area, grew up with experiences such as mine, or are parents, let me explain.

This museum is tricked out. There are interactive screens and movies that can suck you in. The displays are filed with color and excitement and my kids LOVE that they can be hands on with many of the items. Gone are the days of walking in line and getting yelled at if you touch something. OK within reason touching something. Don’t take selfies with the bears.

Derda Boys Carnegie Museum

My kids love the excavation site where they can get down and dirty “unearthing” remains with their picks, goggles and brushes. Every weekend we’ve attended there has been something hands on so they can feel the science. Not everything has gone to the kids so don’t get the impression that it’s getting cartoonish. The museum has made the experience interactive so you feel like you’re a part of it. They made history fun!

It is also attached to the Carnegie Library, which has made an impact on me, and I’ll touch on it tomorrow.

Membership information can be found here. Join and you also get admission into Carnegie Museum of Art, The Andy Warhol Museum, and Carnegie Science Center (including Highmark SportsWorks®) This is seriously a great deal even if you only visit a couple of places. Parking is relatively cheap also at around $5.

Carnegie Science Center
The science center isn’t a museum but is part of the membership you can purchase here so I wanted to make sure it gets a mention. I love it for the submarine, planetarium and omnimax theater. Kids love the Highmark SportsWorks because they can get tossed and thrown around by science.

DerdaBoysScienceCenter

Its a win-win for all families and deserves a post of it’s own on here down the road. With 20 breweries in the SWPA area I hope to one day see a small segment dedicated to the brewing process. Give me a call people, we’ll make it work.

Children’s Museum
This isn’t your traditional museum and is more of a creative playhouse for all ages. I’ve learned a lot about my boys from spending the past 7.5 months home with them but the Children’s Museum taught me so much more. My 3yr old is very much into electronics and building. I’m not talking about video games but he loves building with different materials and also completing circuits to make things move.

TeaspoonChildrensMuseumHighlight is the 3rd floor, or as my kids call it, Water World.

Waterplay is a place where children can experience nearly 20 different new exhibit components that let them pump, move, channel and dam the flow of water, and experience rain, spray and ice.  Have fun with hands-on activities highlighting water texture, flow, reflection and tension, and learn about the principles of buoyancy, hydraulics and conservation.

My kids have learned about teamwork in managing water flow, how water can create power and how to make any adult soaked with little effort. Don’t worry, they have dryers.

You can easily spend 3-4 hours in there without realizing it and no two trips are ever the same. To find out more and join, visit them at pittsburghkids.org

Those are the 3 that we hit up quite frequently. On our list to visit in the area also are the Roberto Clemente Museum, Andy Warhol MuseumWestern Pennsylvania Model Railroad Museum and Senator John Heinz History Center.

Do you have suggestions on places to check out?

This is the 1st in a 3 part series on how, after living here for 16 years, I’m discovering Pittsburgh with the help of my little boys.