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.

Their First “Hail to Pitt” – a tradition continues

Future Pitt Alumni

I remember my first Pitt game as a kid. The energy of the crowd at the old Pitt Stadium, the intensity of the game… I could feel the hatred for PSU grow inside of my 11yr old frame as the Panthers shut out the Nittany Lions. It was at that moment I knew I was going to, and did end up at, Pitt.

Once the rivalry ended in 2000 my emotions towards Penn State diminished and even after the renewal this year kicking off with Pitt’s upset 42-39 win, I find getting worked up over anything sports related as humorous (unless it’s the Flyers. God I hate Philly.)

HAIL TO PITT!
HAIL TO PITT!

Twenty nine years later I’m taking my boys to their first Pitt football game but at Heinz Field and for the last game of the season against Syracuse. Not really a big rival, in fact the stadium was barely 1/2 full, but they’re small enough that this would be a good environment to test the waters. Wait. Did I just say that? *UGH* I’m becoming THAT parent.

We were invited with friends of ours to the game which had the added perk of going out on the field for pre-game. Yeah, kids first game and they get on the field. We watched warmups, I explained to my boys the story of fellow Erie native James Conner fighting back from Hodgkin lymphoma to become a top draft prospect and how on Sunday the Steelers play here.

Teaspoon: “Will Big Ben (Roethlisberger) be here?”
Me: “no”
Teaspoon: “Oh, well maybe he’s tailgating with Uncle Bob?”
Me: “Good chance.”
Teaspoon: “Yeah I bet he likes a lot of burgers and dogs.”

First impressions of a Pitt game by the boys:

  • Those girls dancing look cold. They should wear jackets or they’ll miss school
  • Why are there ketchup bottleeeeeOMG THEY POUR KETCHUP ON THE SCOREBOARD!
  • PANTHER HAAAAAAAATTTTTTTT!!!!!! (see below)
  • (while in the bathroom) OMG YOU PEE IN A BATH TUB!
  • “We need more popcorn!” as the bottomless bucket was refilled twice
  • LOOK AT ALL OF THOSE DRUMS! – Cheeseburger. “What? No guitars? How can you have a band without guitars?” – Teaspoon

The temps at game time were a balmy 35 degrees and didn’t change for the rest of the day.

We made it until Halftime before finally caving and heading back with Pitt leading 35-21 and little did we know the scoring blitz wasn’t over. By the end of the game Pitt would win 76-61. You’re reading that correctly. SEVENTY SIX TO SIXTY ONE!

The boys asked if we could come back for more games next season so it looks like I’ll be busy on Stub Hub (seriously, tickets on the 50 are sometimes $6-$10) next season. Attention span is short at their age so making it until half time is a good milestone for us.

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Winning at Elf on the Shelf

Elf on the Shelf 2016

Elf on the Shelf has been a staple in our house for a few years and every year after we finish Thanksgiving dinner we know the countdown is on until he graces us with his presence. This year he showed up briefly in November as a last resort to give my knuckleheads an attitude adjustment. As expected it lasted until Elfie went home. Now that he’s returned it’s the parents who are winning.

Elf on the Shelf 2016Quick overview if you’re not familiar with my fair little friend. Santa sends the elf to families on December 1st and sits on a shelf. He reports back to the North Pole if the children of the house have been good or bad. Basically it’s the ultimate Catholic guilt trip. The kids also can’t touch him or his magic goes away. Nice, eh? When Santa arrives while everyone is sleeping on Christmas Eve, the elf hitches a ride home.  Not all elves are nice though and have been known to get into trouble.

This year we’ve reached a new level of awesome when dealing with Elfie. You see our elf is stuck in bed and can’t move UNTIL SANTA ARRIVES. Jealous, right? How you ask? Well here, let me show you the letter Santa sent with Elfie.


Happy Holidays Teaspoon & Cheeseburger!

Letter from SantaI’m sorry Elfie was running late but he has a small accident while snowboarding at the North Pole. He thought he could eat BBQ ribs like your daddy while speeding down Mount Super Gutchies and crashed into a moose. That silly Elfie!

This yeah Elfie has a cast on his leg and needs to relax. I have given him a secret smartphone to text me updates on you boys.

I know my favorite Derda boys won’t let me down and will behave for Mommy and Daddy!

I have some really cool presents coming your way. Be nice to each other! Remember, Santa is ALWAYS watching!

HO! HO! HO!

(signed Santa)

P.S. Tell Steve the Fish I said hi!


 

Bringing home the first family gold

2016 Derda Chule Car Racers

After decades of defeat, a Derda finally brings home the gold!

Pinewood Derby was a staple in our house starting with my brother (who tells me the Selingers always cheated) and continued with myself 18 years later (my car stopped dead on the tracks due to a substance on the tires, thanks Dad). Now my sons are carrying on the tradition but in a slightly different way, with chule cars.

Pre Painted Cars

What’s the difference? My guess is  the type of material you can use plus different colored wheels. Either way it’s a block of wood, 4 wheels and every father’s obsessive nature to show his manliness to build with wood. Me? Yeah I own a drill and one of those hacksaw thingers. I don’t even pretend to know what I’m doing, I left this one up to PaPa.

While in Texas a few weeks ago we brought our kits with us so we could work on them with PaPa and Uncle Josh. The kids weren’t allowed to cut with power tools but they aided in how they wanted the car to look and learned how the cars were made. I also found out I need a dremel kit because now I want to carve away at some wood.

It’s all about how good you look

That’s what I thought at least. I’m thinking of sleek designs and paint jobs only to get the bitch slap of reality on weigh in night that when you need to make modifications, anything goes. In our case the lanes have an inside track to keep the cars straight which also means the weights we had glued to the bottom were coming off and got duct taped to the top. This worked to our advantage for a few reasons.

  1. Teaspoon’s car was camouflaged painted so the weights became “guns”
  2. Moving the weights to the top allowed me to add additional weight which made the car faster and in time trials went from 6th place to 2nd.

Race Day. This is some hi-tech sh*t.

When we arrived at the track for race day it was nothing like Pinewood Derby when I was a kid. TVs were on with instant replay views of the races and there was a projection screen showing the current/upcoming racers. Wait, what? Oh and to top it off there was a digital finish line that went to .000 so serious detail on your time.

When I grew up was based solely on the opinion of the dad watching the finish line when his kid wasn’t racing and ties were settled with the flip of a coin.

Each racer ran 6 heats so each car had 1 race in each lane. It was easy to figure out which lanes were slower based on the dads screaming about lanes 2 and 3. Like I said, this was a serious event. At the end Teapoon’s car finished first in our group overall which won him gold and top half of the racers. 1st through 20 were separated by less than a second so next year I have a mission to shave at least 1-2 seconds off our time.

I’m proud that he took interest in not only designing the car but wanting to learn more about how one car is faster than the other. Looks like I need to upgrade my basement work area if his curiosity keeps growing and that’s one home upgrade that will be well worth it.

2/19/09 – a moment in time

Driving with Kids

I was up at 4:30am this morning, sitting on my couch, binge watching MadMed and thinking about how great it was to have quiet time to write. Just as I was in the perfect spot I heard the slow rattle of a bear and shuffle of my youngest son’s feet across the carpet.

Driving with Kids“UUUUGGGHHH there goes my free time” I thought but as he curled up on me he said “I just want to lay here with you. I love your birthday every day.” and fell back asleep.

Yeah, I went “awwww” too just like you did.

How did I get to this point in my life though? Not saying it’s a bad thing but what has happened over the years to bring me to this specific moment? Let’s as the Doc.

Doc Brown made this quote in Back to the Future 2 ” Unbelievable, that old Biff could have chosen that particular date. It could mean that that point in time inherently contains some sort of cosmic significance. Almost as if it were the temporal junction point for the entire space-time continuum. On the other hand, it could just be an amazing coincidence.”. I’ve joked about trying to figure out the significant moments in my life that could have changed the course of everything and skewed the timeline, similar to Marty, Doc and Biff. I found the date.

2/19/2009

I look at this as a red letter date in my history. Significant things were about to happen and I was scared shitless. I won’t sugar coat it for you, I was freaking terrified but every bit of who I am today started on this date.

After 11 years this was the last day at my first “professional” job. Dad was a hard core union guy for the state and always told me that once you get into a corporation, you work there for life and retire with a pension. It’s “what you do”. That was before dot-coms disrupted all business models and I still thought we would last forever. Adding to the drama, we were expecting our first child in April, cars weren’t running well, our townhouse landlord was terrible to us. I thought the world was over and we’d have to pack up and leave.

I didn’t have time to sit back and dwell in my fear and anxieties. Six days later my first son decided he was ready and kicked his way out 2 months early. Everything in my life changed within hours and there was no one I could turn to because really, who the hell does all of this happen to at once?

There I was at 33, unemployed, baby in the NICU, fighting with the state over unemployment benefits, and experiencing levels of stress I didn’t know existed. My world was collapsing and I was on the verge of having a complete mental breakdown.

Thanks to amazing friends and family I kept going. I made myself stay strong and who I was started to come out.

I jumped full steam into my podcast and taught myself this new thing called social marketing and how I was going to sell my show which shot to the top of the iTunes charts. My corporate experience and new found knack for digital marketing lead to gigs in higher ed at RMU and back in the corporate world of CONSOL Energy before being laid off due to a sale in 2013. The silver lining was spending an amazing year at home raising 2 sons where I became a respected dad blogger and craft beer writer. No matter how much of a kick in the nuts each situation was, I came out a stronger person.

Today I enjoy my job kicking ass at all things digital along with speaking engagements on the topic, I have 2 rockstar knuckleheads for kids and the podcast is still a top 20 on iTunes. While I miss the old company and the people I worked with, I wouldn’t be the person I am today if February 19, 2009 never happened.

This is post 4 in the “100 Days of Blogging” with the Pittsburgh bloggers. If you’d like to find out more about the group, join us on Facebook.