Posted by mike On September 16, 2019
They say that the best laid plans of mice and men often go awry. Now, I haven’t planned anything with a mouse lately (or ever), but I have with my family, and, to paraphrase Lizzo:
why plans great til they gotta be great?
For example, we recently got to spend 24 hours in Chicago. Having never been to The Windy City before, I had a rough itinerary in mind for us, to maximize our time. I then envisioned coming back and telling y’all about our adventures. Luxurious shopping sprees along the Magnificent Mile. Family photos in front of iconic Chicago landmarks like the Bean and the Michael Jordan statue. Self indulgent visits to the locations of my favorite rapper’s childhood home (Kanye West) and the house where my favorite TV show is filmed in (Shameless). Scenes recreated throughout Chi-Town with the kids from my favorite 80s movie (Ferris Bueller’s Day Off). Potentially, it would be an epic Chicago day tour.
Believe it or not, our 24 hours in Chicago did not go as I thought that it would. At all. Here’s how it went down, to the best of my recollection:
9:00AM – Stopped by the Milwaukee Public Market to grab some breakfast, as part of the final stop on our Milwaukee trip. Planned to then make the almost two hour drive to Chicago afterwards. Arrived at the market, and realized that most of the vendors did not open up shop until 10:00AM. Sat outside the market in our van until then.
10:00AM – Stopped by the Milwaukee Public Market to grab some breakfast as part of the final stop on our Milwaukee trip. It had started to rain heavily while we were waiting outside. We got our food to go, and then headed to Chicago in some occasionally torrential downpours, surrounded by dangerously driving transport trucks. It’s a white knuckle drive.
11:00AM – Realized that the forecast in Chicago calls for rain all day. Realized that we’ll have to call an audible on most of the potential destinations on my agenda. Touring around in the rain with three small, soggy kids is a recipe for a sucktacular trip.
11:50AM – Arrived at our first destination, Water Tower Place, to go the American Girl Store, a giant doll store that J had been excited about visiting for months. Upon arrival, discovered that affordable parking in downtown Chicago is harder to find than Steve Bartman’s whereabouts. Some of the parking signage is harder to decipher than the Bulls’ old triangle offense. Proceeded to drive around aimlessly, looking for a reasonable, understandable parking spot.
12:20PM – Finally find a meter parking spot about two blocks away from Water Tower Place. Walked to the American Girl Store.
12:20AM – Kidding. It only felt like I spent 12 hours at the American Girl Store. We were actually there for an hour, with J loving every minute. If you’ve ever wanted to take your doll to a hair salon, or get your kid the same outfit as their doll, then this is the place for you, by the way.
1:20PM – The rain kiboshed the shopping spree along the Magnificent Mile. Well, the rain, and the price tags at some of the high end shops. Instead, we walked through Water Tower Place and went to Macy’s. It had eight floors in it, and clearance sections galore, perfect for Canadians like us looking to ball out on a budget. Unfortunately, it’s also perfect for toddlers like KJ to run around the store like Walter Payton, and to play hide and seek by himself in the clothing racks.
2:10PM – Back to the car, to make our way to an actual iconic Chicago landmark – the Skydeck at Willis Tower (courtesy of tickets from my good friends at the Skydeck. Thanks again, guys!). It’s about a 12 minute drive, to get there from where we were.
2:50PM – Finally find a parking spot after some difficulties, same reasons as before. We are basically closer to Water Tower Place than Willis Tower. We are at a confusingly worded meter, as well. From it, I conclude that we have until 4:00pm to park there, before Oprah Winfrey would come to take our car away, and give it to a member of a studio audience. My conclusion is most likely not even close to being correct. Regardless, we gotta book it to, and through, the Skydeck.
3:00-3:40PM – the Skydeck was not busy, so we were in, up (a 90 second elevator ride!) and enjoying the 1300 plus feet lookout in short fashion. It really was amazing up there. Spectacular views of the city. Tried to take some pics for da ‘Gram, none of which end up making the cut. For example, here’s a family shot of us on the Skydeck Ledge glass floor. If I look scared, it’s because I was scared. If our family looks short-handed, it’s because B didn’t want to come on the Ledge, for the picture. If KJ looks like he’s so hungry that he had to eat his shirt, it’s because he probably was.
Tried to get the kids to pose like Ferris, Sloane and Cam did in Ferris Buehller. Realized that they hadn’t seen the movie, and didn’t know what I was talking about. Settled for this shot:
In the spirit of the Toronto Raptors’ championship and “We The North”, here is “He The North”, as in I’m way up in sky, rocking a Raps’ hat:
3:45PM – Time to rush back to the car. At one point, instead of running, KJ dropped and starting doing push ups.
3:54PM – Noticed KJ crossing a bridge, with some of Chicago’s majestic skyscrapers in the background, would make for a cute pic. Say cheese, little man!
Thanks, white van, for the photobomb.
3:59PM – No sign of Oprah, so our car is safe. With rain pouring down, we decided to go to our hotel, The Willows Hotel, located near the Wrigleyville area of the city. On the way, a rain-drenched Wrigley Field field was not in the cards, so I did the next best thing – walked around the stadium and took some mediocre pictures!
5:00PM – Arrived at The Willows Hotel. It’s a lovely, smaller, boutique hotel, with an old, old school (think 19th century) feel. B will make repeated comments about how he can’t believe the TVs are so new in such a classic building.
6:00PM – The hotel is in a nice, quiet neighbourhood, so we decided to go for a walk. We end up in a clearance section at a T.J. Maxx, because we are apparently all about discounted stuff from department stores which aren’t in Canada. I have this convo with KJ there:
KJ – I miss you!
Me – You can’t miss me. You’re right beside me.
*KJ runs away, runs back*
KJ – I miss you!
I should also mention that, throughout these 24 hours in Chicago, B had been complaining about a headache. The poor kid kept freaking himself out, and escalating his symptoms via incorrect self-diagnosis. It started off in the morning as the slightest of headaches. Later, it increased to it hurting only when he shook his head violently, as if he was headbanging (note: B had never headbanged before in his life). By the time that we are in T.J. Maxx, he is essentially sulking around the place, thinking that he needs a brain transplant.
6:30PM – K had looked up restaurants in the area, so we start to head out to decent sounding one.
6:32PM – K looked up reviews of said restaurant, and read that the owner was allegedly openly racist. We walk to a different dining establishment (in the rain, of course).
8:00PM – After dinner, we walk to get dessert/breakfast, from Stan’s Donuts.
8:25PM – Back to the hotel. Yes, I realize that this seems early to call it a night for someone who wanted to maximize their 24 hours in Chicago. However, we were tired. Plus B had ‘inceptioned’ me, by planting seeds of doubt in my head about the crime rate in the city (“Hey dad, are we going to get shot in Chicago?“). Tapping out and enjoying the safety of our comfy hotel seemed like a good call.
6:00AM-7:00AM – Pack up, get some continental breakfast to go with our donuts, and check out of the hotel, so we can make the 8ish hour long drive home.
7:00AM – 7:30AM – We followed the Waze App, to guide us. The route that we take is very scenic, along the outskirts of the city. Between the skyline and architecture, it’s beautiful looking, in the distance.
7:30AM – We get led to the “Chicago Skyway”, which is a toll road. We pay $5 US to use it.
7:38AM – Waze leads us off of the Skyway, and onto another road. Huh? That’s it?! I immediately want my $5 US back.
We continued our way out of Chi-Town, until it was nothing but a recent memory.
Hopefully, a return trip will be in order, in the future, and hopefully, things will go as planned, too.
But, you know what they say about the best laid plans, right?
Posted by mike On September 11, 2019
Look, I get it. Milwaukee, Wisconsin doesn’t exactly scream family vacation destination. It’s a mid-sized Midwest city known for beer, bratwurst and cheese. How sexy is that? However, I read quite a bit about how internationally-born NBA Superstar Giannis Antetokounmpo loved it there. If the Greek Freak, a man who’s been all over the world, and could basically play anywhere that he wanted, chose freakin’ Milwaukee, then there must be more than meets the eye. For my family, I thought that it would make for, at the very least, an interesting road trip. Turns out, there’s actually lots of fun things to do in Milwaukee with kids, and it’s one of the coolest cities that I’ve been to.
Now, truth be told, it was a long drive, for us. It involved going through one province, and four states, plus a different time zone. Including stops, each way took a good 11 hours. To keep the kids
not at each other’s throats entertained, we pretty much brought more DVDs than an old Blockbuster Video store with us, for them to watch in the van, along with other devices and toys. As Milwaukee is situated on the coast of Lake Michigan, our drive consisted of going around the lake, to get there. A ferry called The Lake Express does depart from Muskegon, Michigan, and goes to Milwaukee. We looked into this, and while appealing, because it would have shaved hours off of the driving, it was fairly expensive, so we passed.
FAMILY FUN THINGS TO DO IN MILWAUKEE
Milwaukee is a big sports town. I couldn’t walk very far without seeing someone decked out in Bucks, Brewers or Green Bay Packers apparel. The aforementioned Giannis, in particular, seems to get a lot of love. While it wasn’t basketball season, we did scope out the not-brand-new-but-still-has-that-new-arena-smell Fiserv Forum, where the Bucks play.
Our visit happened during the summer, so we were able to watch a Brewers game, at Miller Park. The stadium is awesome, and is a great place to catch nine innings.
Beyond that, though, the Brewers do a nice job with the extra stuff. In case you or the little ones get bored, there are a couple of play areas in the park, for them to blow off some steam. One of them even has a mini version of the famous Bernie Brewer slide. On Sundays (when we went), you can play catch in the outfield of the Field of Dreams-esque Helfaer Field, located beside Miller Park, before then game. Then after the game, children can unleash their inner Christian Yelich, and run the bases on Miller Park’s field!
History is also featured prominently. There’s a Walk of Fame and a Wall of Honor commemorating legendary Brewers figures. For you Bud Selig fans, he’s a featured attraction at Miller Park, complete with a statue, retired number, and a section dedicated to him called the Bud Selig Experience.
Zoos are always a hit with our family, and the Milwaukee County Zoo was no exception. It houses over 3100 (!!) creatures of the land, sea and sky, sprawled across 190 acres. Coming up with a game plan seemed daunting, but once we got going, it wasn’t bad at all. It was easy to navigate and not very strenuous to walk (re: so no complaints about tired legs from B, J or KJ). The Milwaukee County Zoo also has some attractions like a carousel, Sky Safari, rope courses and a zip line on site, too (all for an added cost). In addition, numerous opportunities exist to see some of the animals up close, throughout the zoo.
I will admit to trying to cheat things a bit. We thought that if we took the Safari Train, then we could lap the park and see everything quickly. Word of advice – don’t do this. The train is a leisurely ride around the perimeter of the zoo, so you don’t get many glimpses of most of the crowd pleasing animals.
Another really fun thing to do in Milwaukee with kids is to go to Betty Brinn Children’s Museum. This museum is home to numerous exhibits, some of which are seasonal, but all of which are interactively hands-on with learning elements. KJ and J really enjoyed the Home Town exhibit, because of all the pretend, make believe, role playing aspects to it.
B spent a lot of time in the Big League Fun exhibit, putting his baseball abilities and knowledge to the test.
We barely scratched the surface of the other exhibits on hand (once my kids find stuff that they like, they tend to really like it), which was a shame, as they were all dope. Whereas my kiddos gravitated towards the ones mentioned, yours might like Science CITY more, for example.
Betty Brinn Children’s Museum was such a blast that I didn’t even realize how educational and skill-developing it was. I was too busy acting like a big kid with my kids. It even had an outdoor area, with amazing #views of Milwaukee’s waterfront, for you selfie-loving Instaparents.
Not far from Betty Brinn Children’s Museum is Discovery World. Focused mainly on technology and aquatic stuff, visiting here is another really fun thing to do in Milwaukee with kids. It’s a large, multi-level center, full of stations, labs and experiences, which appeal to the inner scientist and engineer of all ages. Not only that, but it has an aquarium, as well, with a robust collection of interesting underwater animals to check out.
Due to the size and number of activities to do, it was hard to try everything; we were even there for a few hours! Our visit also happened to coincide with a tournament and some other event happening nearby, so finding parking was quite a challenge. Apparently, it can be even worse during bigger events, like Summerfest. However, Discovery World is the only place where my family “touched lightning”, lied on a bed of nails, gawked at a poisonous dart frog, and walked on a replica schooner while humming “I’m On a Boat” by the Lonely Island (Fine. The last one was all me). How cool is that?
Discovery World is located on Milwaukee’s lakefront. I was surprised at how beautiful this area is. It looked like a great location to hang out, or go for a ride along the shoreline, or, as we noticed on the day that we were there anyway, get married and have the reception on a cruise ship. Unrelated, but who knew that Milwaukee had such nice beaches?!
Eating and Drinking There
Make no mistake about it, Milwaukee is a beer lover’s dream. It’s not just a city of MGD drinkers, however. Milwaukee’s micro and craft beer scene is thriving. I’m sure this isn’t even remotely true, so don’t hold me to it as fact, but when exploring the town, it felt like there was a brewery on every corner, each with their own unique offerings. Many of the breweries offer tours, too, with samplings. These obviously aren’t necessarily child friendly, though, so we didn’t partake in one while in search of family fun in Milwaukee. Regardless, whatever your taste is, you definitely won’t be hard-pressed to find good, satisfying suds anywhere during your travels
A city dubbed “The Beer Capital Of The World” having lots of beer in it is hardly a surprise. Conversely, Milwaukee’s culinary scene was pleasantly surprising. Brats are a Wisconsin staple, and the sheer number of people grilling them up as they tailgated before and after the Brewers game that we went to was impressive. Cheese curds are another staple, and I had no idea that there were so many different ways to make them. Beyond these, the cuisine in the city stretches way beyond traditional Midwest fares. Cool, trendy-looking restaurants to fill your belly are aplenty throughout the city.
For example, we went to Glass + Griddle one evening. It’s a large, open beer hall environment, with a bright, contemporary interior design. Picnic tables are one of the seating options on the premise which, if you’re with a large party, is actually kind of perfect. The bar was huge, and as Glass + Griddle is located directly beside MKE Brewing Co., their beers are featured prominently (but not exclusively). The food offered is more or less what you find at a gastropub. There was no kiddie menu, so, in terms of families, I’d probably recommended it as a place to go to while on the way to, or back from, somewhere, to grab a quick bite. We just picked a bunch of scrumptious apps and chowed down on those…..including, of course, cheese curds!
One of the most fun places to go in Milwauakee to eat is SafeHouse. I think that I’d describe it as a spy-themed speakeasy. The secret entrance is located in an alley, and once you find it, you need to know the password to get in (don’t worry, you can still enter, but no spoilers how here). Once inside, the restaurant takes the espionage theme very seriously. The staff are all “agents”, and you’re referred to as an agent. If you wanted someone to call you Austin Powers with a straight face, then this is the spot for you. Spy memorabilia and decor fill the walls; the menu is littered with spy references, too. You can even partake in a scavenger hunt, where you’re encouraged to walk around and find all of the hidden surprises scattered throughout the building. Stopping by the magic bar is encouraged, because, well, magicians rule, and the one at SafeHouse was really entertaining. The food was alright, but, as one of Milwaukee’s hot spots, SafeHouse is the type of place where you go to soak in the unique experience.
Another unique, diverse food destination that we checked out was the Milwaukee Public Market. This is an indoor food market located downtown, which houses many local vendors who offer a wide range of freshly-produced products. We went during breakfast, so we didn’t get to divulge in some of the tasty looking lunch/dinner options. However, I’ll vouch for the smoothies from On The Bus, the big cookies from C. Adam’s Bakery, the coffee from Anodyne Coffee Roasting Co. and the breakfast tacos from Margerita Paradise as all being outstanding.
Milwaukee does has lots of more traditional restaurants. Our favorite was Blue’s Egg. From what I’m told, this is a very popular breakfast/brunch joint, so the wait time to get in sometimes can be long. However, we experienced no delay, when we went. The food is American-style, with their own twist on things. The portion sizes were generous, and delicious. The stuffed hash browns came highly recommended, and for good reason! Not only that, but the service, no joke, was the best that I’ve ever had at a restaurant, above and beyond what you’d normally expect. Blue’s Egg exceeded the hype, for sure.
BEING THERE, SEEING THERE
During our trip, we stayed at The Hyatt Place Milwaukee Downtown. It’s very contemporary, and our room was bright, clean and comfortable. As a basketball fan, I found the subtle hoop themes in the lobby to be especially cool.
You can tell that downtown is experiencing a resurgence, as many buildings and areas are new, or have undergone changes to be more fresh and hip. The best example of this is Fiserv Forum, which I mentioned earlier. It’s the central point of Deer District, a revitalised neighbourhood that is one of the city’s best sports and entertainment destinations (it also happened to be a short stroll away from our hotel).
Marquette University is also located near downtown, so pockets of neighbourhoods had a youthful buzz about them, if that makes sense. Harley Davidson’s headquarters are in Milwaukee (there is even a Harley Davidson Museum, in town), so, coincidentally or not, I did notice all kinds of different folks cruising along on Harleys. Alternatively, it appeared that the electric scooter trend has taken the town by storm, as lots of people were zipping around on them.
Travelling around downtown Milwaukee wasn’t too bad, in terms of accessibility. Lots of stuff was withing walking distance, or a short drive (or scooter ride) away. Even getting over to Miller Park can be simplified. Several of the restaurants in the Deer District offered a shuttle bus service to games, where if you go and pre-drink, you can take the bus to the game, and it will pick you up afterwards (for the price of a tip to the driver). We took advantage of this service at The Mecca Sports Bar And Grill. The best part was that the driver acted as a de facto tour guide along the way, giving us the lowdown on some landmarks, as well as the head’s up on which parts of the city to avoid after dark.
THE WRAP UP
Don’t sleep on Milwaukee, my dudes. It’s not just another stereotypical, industrial, Midwestern city. Milwaukee is culturally diverse, artsy, random and eclectic, with a really chill vibe about it. It’s an unexpectedly vibrant place to check out with the family, full of stuff for you and them to enjoy.
Note: We were hosted by Visit Milwaukee for this trip, and many of the destinations discussed were complimentary in nature to us. All opinions expressed are my own, as always.
Posted by mike On August 20, 2019
It’s a sunny, muggy Friday afternoon in August, and I’m standing on the field of Atwood Stadium, in Flint Michigan, with my family. It’s busy here, full of kids and adults interacting with each other. There’s an excitement in the air, too. Lots of laughter. Lots of smiles. We exchange pleasantries with a complete and total stranger. Soon after, the stranger rounds up her children, and four others, including my nine year old son B. The stranger then says goodbye and leaves with them all. As I stand there, clutching my daughter’s hand, sweat now escaping my forehead more rapidly than before, watching as my son walked across the field with the stranger, and then disappeared out of the stadium, I wonder if I just made the biggest mistake of my life.
Welcome to the Canusa Games.
OK, OK, that’s a melodramatic opening paragraph, so I should probably provide some context.
The Canusa Games are, per their website, North America’s largest and longest running international games. Athletes mainly under the age of 18 from Hamilton, Ontario (my hometown) and Flint, Michigan compete against each other annually in various sports. The two cities take turns each year hosting, as well. This year, it involved over 1200 athletes across 13 different sports. Of those 1200 athletes, one of them happened to be my nine year old son B. He tried out for Canusa’s youngest age division’s basketball team, and ended up making it. Basically, picture the Olympics but on a smaller scale; replace all the countries in the world……with Hamilton and Flint.
The 2019 Canusa Games took place in Flint, over three days. Here’s the huge part of the equation, though. Unlike the Olympics, which has an Olympic village to house the participants, the Canusa Games relies on billets. The visiting athletes all take chartered buses to the hosting city, and are then paired with a local family for the weekend. That family houses them, feeds them, and gets them to their respective sports on time. It’s a longstanding tradition.
Now, back in the day, growing up in Hamilton, the Canusa Games to prepubescent/teenage me sounded awesome. Roll up into Michigan for a weekend by myself and get treated like a big shot while competing in a sport? Sign this boy up! Unfortunately, prepubescent/teenage me lacked the actual skills required to make a Canusa Games team, so the awesomeness remained in my head only.
Nowadays, the idea of leaving my little kids alone in a foreign city with a stranger for a weekend terrifies me. In fact, when B made the Canusa basketball team for his age group, I figured that we would take advantage of the modified billet system. The host family would handle B during the day, and we would come grab him at night. Unexpectedly, though, K wanted B to do the full billet! She HAD actually competed in the Canusa Games when she was younger. It was a great experience, with no incident.
Times change, of course, and your feelings evolve as you grow up. Nostalgia tends to cloud your memories, as well. The more that I thought about it, the more that I just didn’t get it. The billet system seemed like a quaint idea from a woebegone era to me, when people didn’t lock the doors of their homes, and children sat in the passenger seats of cars without using seatbelts. Society is just so much more different now. America is just so much more different now. What the heck was I missing, when it came to Canusa? How could so many people be so trusting in this system, when it defied common sense? My family was making the road trip to watch B, but some parents just left their kids at the bus stop in Hamilton. Good luck, see ya in a few days, essentially.
For my own sanity, I wanted to believe in Flint, Michigan. And then I learned this. And this. Shoot, there’s even a Netflix documentary about the city which, spoiler alert, doesn’t portray it very glowingly. Don’t forget the water crisis, too. You can’t even take in a Flint Tropics game, as they don’t actually exist! Well, maybe that one doesn’t count. Regardless, K, who’s usually more overprotective than me, was fine with B going it solo. Nothing on the old Google machine listed any horror stories from past Canusa Games, either.
What the heck was I missing?
These are the thoughts which raced through my sweaty head as I stood in Atwood Stadium on that fateful afternoon. Similar to the Olympics, the Canusa Games had an Opening Ceremonies, complete with the delegations walking into the stadium separately, national anthem performances, and a torch lighting run.
When the ceremony was complete, the athletes and their families met up with the billets on the field. Besides passing a police check, I knew nothing about the prospective host for B. If you didn’t know me at all, but knew that I was going to watch your precious child for three days, what would be going through your head? My perception beforehand was so rife with negativity that I will admit to grasping at judgemental straws. However, B’s billet gave off a strong first impression. As well, while most hosts were taking one or two young athletes, she was housing four. You’re either bananas or incredibly openhearted for taking on such a responsibility, and as they disappeared across the field, I was hoping that it was the latter.
B’s first game was later in the afternoon, which gave K, J, little KJ and I some time to check into our hotel and grab a snack. Every city has bad areas and good areas, no doubt. Driving around Flint was pretty eye-opening, nonetheless. Neighbourhoods full of rundown, vacant storefronts and houses, pocketed by empty plots of land. Instead of cars parked on streets, I saw more cars on cement blocks in front lawns with no rims than I’ve ever seen before, in one particular street. More people sitting on front porches glaring as we drove by than I’ve ever seen before, on another street. A Starbucks was temporarily closed, so we went to the adjacent Quizno’s, and I audibly gasped when the Quizno’s associate informed us that the Starbucks was closed because of a water problem (luckily, it had to do with a heating issue, and not because of the Flint water crisis). There’s quite a bit of “used to be” in Flint, which is better than being “never was”, I think.
At B’s game, we seated ourselves near the other Hamilton families in attendance. Conversations centred around how sad Flint was, and how scary. How there were doubts about drinking the water still. The funny thing was, as I looked around at the Flint families, there was no sadness or scariness. Just regular, happy people, having a good time. As the game went on, it became readily apparent that, when it comes to Canusa Games basketball, Flint has Hamilton’s number. The contest was never in doubt, and Flint won running away.
I’ve seen kids get pretty demoralised after such a defeat, but when the game ended, there were plenty of smiles and camaraderie among both sides, including from B. The billets were matched up by age and sport, for the most part. Evidently, it’s hard to be upset at your housemate for the weekend, after they beat you. The game the following day had the same result, and same vibe. Also, there was more mingling back and forth amongst the Flint and Hamilton family contingents. To top it off, not only was B safe, but he couldn’t wait to head back with his billet, and totally brushed us off! #theygrowupsofast
With B in good hands, we had the rest of the day to ourselves. As options are kind of limited, when it comes things to do in Flint with kids, K and I ended up taking little KJ and J to the Flint Children’s Museum. This is located downtown, near Atwood Stadium and Kettering University. This area is actually nice. Vibrant maybe isn’t the correct term. Let’s go with active and up-and-coming. On first glance, the Children’s Museum is pretty unremarkable on the outside. We had to double-check to make sure that we were at the right building. Once inside, though, holy Michael Moore-ly, is this place tons of fun for kids! It reminded me of Rochester’s The Strong Museum Of Play. There’s numerous exhibits, all designed to bust out your imagination and curiosity through hand’s on play. Many have an educational aspect, too.
We were there for hours, and KJ didn’t want to leave, which is always a good/bad sign. I had a coupon, so it only cost us about $10 in admission total, which was a steal. It’s such a simple, nice concept for a play centre that any city (cough, cough, Hamilton, cough, cough) could learn from it and implement it. If you’re looking for things do in Flint with kids, I do suggest hanging out here.
After our outing at the Flint Children’s Museum, we eventually made our way out to the suburbs, Grand Blanc, to pick up pizza for dinner, from Da Edoardo. This area didn’t feel or look like the same Flint at all, and I felt like I should have been wearing a tuxedo, when I entered Da Edoardo. The dichotomy between downtown and the suburbs can be quite striking in some cities, and Flint is no exception.
Later on that night, back at the hotel, I was chit-chatting with a few other Hamilton parents, whose children were there for hockey. The conversation turned to billets, naturally. They then told me something which I never realized. Billeting in the hockey community was common, one person said. The community is tight knit, and everyone looks after one another.
That was it then, for the Canusa Games, too, wasn’t it? I had been looking at the whole thing all wrong the entire time. I couldn’t get how two large, flawed cities could expect to keep kids who don’t live there safe every year. The thing is, the Canusa Games is like a 60 plus year old community in these cities, and it’s a community which protects their own, and looks after each other. Instead of focusing on the negatives, I should have considered the many positives of the games and Flint, which really weren’t that hard to find. To paraphrase Joel Embiid, I should have just trusted the process.
The next day, at the Closing Ceremonies, Canusa’s motto of “experience the friendship” was on full display. There was no separate congregations, as yellow shirt-wearing Hamilton athletes mixed with blue Flint ones. Lots of pictures were taken, and lots of contact information was exchanged, for keeping in touch. B was safe and sound, with memories that will last his whole life.
We met his billet one last time, the woman who I expressed so many doubts about prior to the weekend, but who generously housed four random kids, and literally even gave B the shoes off of her son’s feet (he had outgrown a pair of Jordan’s, and they were just going to throw them out). K asked how B was for her, and the billet replied “OK”.
In parent-speak, OK is what you say when you don’t want to say bad! So, you mean to tell me that I was worried about whether Flint, Michigan was good enough for my precious nine year old boy, when in the end, my boy wasn’t good enough for Flint?!
Hey, not now, Alanis Morrisette!
Anyway, next year’s Canusa Games are in Hamilton, and B has already expressed interest about participating again. If you’re apprehensive about billeting, like I was…..take a deep breath and trust the process. And if you somehow end up sending your kid to my house, don’t worry, B will be more than OK.
Posted by mike On August 14, 2019
On our last visit to Hershey and Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, we had a nice time hanging out in the area. Afterwards, we realized that there was a lot more around the Sweetest Place On Earth which we didn’t get to experience. There were so many things to do near Hershey PA, in fact, that we just had to make the fifteen hour round trip drive (don’t worry, with bickering small kids, it felt like twenty hours. Wait, what?) and go back again this summer!
Now, before we can talk about things to do near Hershey, PA, I need to mention THE attraction to do in Hershey – Hersheypark. I won’t go too deep here (note: you can check out this piece, where I discuss it extensively), but in terms of family fun, you really can’t go wrong with a visit to this park. If you aren’t into amusement parks, though, you can still have a memorable time in the area.
For example, Lake Tobias Wildlife Park is situated about 35 miles outside of Hershey. The park is home to animals, birds and reptiles from all over the world. There are zoo exhibits, a petting zoo, fishing, a reptile /exotics building, and my kids’ favorite, a safari tour! The tour is pretty wild. It has a Jurassic Park-vibe to it, as we got into a roofless “cruiser”, and then headed off into the yonder. As we drove through the open woodlands, we saw scores (500 approx., according to the website) of animals roaming about freely, some of whom weren’t shy about coming up, or in, to our cruiser!
You could easily spend half a day at Lake Tobias Wildlife Park, without the kids being bored. Concessions are available throughout the park, but you’re allowed to bring your own food, too.
Another fun thing to do near Hershey in the summer is hit up everything that Adventure Sports In Hershey has to offer. Located four miles south of Hershey, this entertainment park features stuff like bumper boats, go-karts, batting cages, an escape room and an arcade. While not ideal for little kids (since they are too small/not age appropriate to go on most of the attractions), it was still a fun way to spend a few hours, with the family. For example, B and J were both too short to ride the go-karts on their own, so they had to roll with an adult. This meant that I had to get behind the wheel, to predictably mediocre results.
It’s not as if little two year old KJ was bored, by the way. He loved pretending to play games in the arcade, and flexed some serious short game skills on Adventure Sports in Hershey’s beautiful mini-golf course!
Adventure Sports in Hershey is also home to a Turkey Hill ice cream parlour. Along those lines, another fun thing to do near Hershey, PA with the family is to learn more about Turkey Hill and their offerings. Located about 20 miles outside of Hershey, The Turkey Hill Experience is not an ice cream and tea factory like we thought, but a way cooler indoor attraction! It’s full of interactive exhibits and stations (re: so lots of opportunity for kids to play and run around) all centred on how Turkey Hill’s ice cream and tea is made. Yes, there are sampling stations around, to try them out.
As an add-on option, you can also take part in one of their Taste Labs, where you follow the steps that Turkey Hill uses, to create (and eat!) your own ice cream, and in Tea Discovery, where you learn about (and drink!) tea.
I’ll admit to not being familiar with Turkey Hill and their products before (around us, anyway, they aren’t readily seen in stores). This place is basically a big advertisement for them, which is pretty clever, and effective, in terms of brand awareness, and goodwill.
Now, on our last trip to Hershey/Harrisburg, we went to the lowest of the lows, on our Echo Caverns cave adventure. As such, it would only make sense to experience the highest of the highs this time around, which is what J and I did, when we went on a hot air balloon ride! The United States Hot Air Balloon Team are a premier ballooning company, with multiple locations. Our ride took place in Lancaster, PA, about 33 miles outside of Hershey, and smack dab in Amish country. Fun fact #1 – hot air balloon rides are VERY weather dependent, and for safety reasons, can only take place either super early in the morning, or early in the evening. Fun fact #2 – we chose the morning flight, and were there so early, that even the roosters next door weren’t awake.
I’ll tell you what, man. When you say to people that you’re going on a hot air balloon ride, they think you’re crazy, or awesome. I’ll own up to being in the former category. Heights aren’t exactly my jam. However, the staff, and pilots at the United States Hot Air Balloon Team are pros, and their calm attitudes made me feel better. Plus, once you’re up there, it’s such a breathtaking, serene experience that you can’t help but soak it all in and appreciate it. I know some people might question bringing a little child on a hot air balloon ride. The United States Hot Air Balloon Team did assure me that they take children on flights ‘all of the time’. As well, the basket that we were in was almost as tall as J. She had to sit down, and look out of peep holes, to see out, as opposed to trying to look over the edge. Again, I’m slightly acrophobic, and I tend to be more overprotective, when it comes to J. I at no point felt that we were in any imminent danger while we were on our hour long hot air balloon ride, for what it’s worth.
Zip lining, on the other hand, now that was a scary rush!
Roundtop Mountain Resort is a ski hill that is open year round, and offers a summer activities area called Roundtop Mountain Adventures. Located in Lewisberry, near Hershey PA, among the many fun things to do here is zip lining. K, B and yours truly took a whirl down the 700′ long “Dual Zip Lines”. J was too small for these, but, luckily, Roundtop Mountain Adventures has “Tree House Zips”, which are 100′ long lines, and more little kid appropriate (ages five and up). I think she went on this six times, so, suffice to say, it was a hit!
We received “Adventure Package” passes for the day. These give you unlimited access to all of the attractions in Roundtop Mountain Adventures. I’d recommend this as the way to go, if you and your family do make the trip. It’s enough to easily fill up most of a day. Besides zip lining, the kids enjoyed the 600′ downhill super water slides .and the OGO balls. I was digging their bumper boats, as it was an opportunity to smash into B and J, and squirt them in the face with water (but I say that as a loving dad)!
Little KJ was too small for that stuff, but he did enjoy the Woods Playground, which is full of things to climb, ride and play on. It’s surprisingly challenging in some parts. I did have to navigate my way high up at one point, to rescue J, when she got lost. Conversely, when I got lost in the nearby Cedar Maze, no one came to rescue me.
Speaking of matters which needed to be saved, my sorry attempt at throwing out the best first pitch ever clearly needed a lot of assistance. Regardless, the rest of the Harrisburg Senators minor baseball game that we checked out was cool. FNB Field where they play is uniquely located on an island (City Island). The stadium is also family friendly. For an added price, there’s a speed pitch cage, along with a kids’ zone section, with many inflatables and activities in it.
I’ve mentioned before on here that the closest place to watch professional baseball for us is at the Rogers Centre, the complex where the Toronto Blue Jays play. It’s OK, but it just doesn’t beat the atmosphere and intimate experience of seeing a game in a ‘real’ ballpark. The Harrisburg Senators also do a nice job with in-game entertainment to keep the vibe upbeat, and run numerous promotions during the season. Besides yours truly throwing out the first pitch, the other headliner (OK, OK, ONLY headliner) for our game was the Human Cannonball. They also had a cheap craft beer special before the first pitch, which made me flattered when the server asked to see my ID when I ordered, but then confused me, when she wasn’t sure whether my Canadian driver’s license was acceptable or not (it was, so don’t worry, my fellow Canucks).
Just like it’s impossible to talk about family fun things to do in and near Hershey PA without mentioning Hersheypark, it’s also really hard to talk about the city without mentioning the industry upon which the city is built on – chocolate! My family of choco-maniacs did have plenty of opportunities to indulge. For instance, we made a return visit to Hershey Chocolate World. We’ve done the Chocolate Making Tour before, but since little KJ is old enough to appreciate it more, we rode that again. I still can’t believe that it’s free, as it’s a neat, well-done ride (with a tasty sample at the end, to boot)!
We hadn’t watched the 4D Chocolate Movie before, and wow, that show was trippy, yo! An animated chocolate bar interacted live with us, between the action. We “helped” solve the mystery of the movie. The bar even used people in the audience’s names, while talking on screen! Having never experienced digital animation like this before, my easily amused brain was very impressed.
As of this writing, the newest attraction at Hershey Chocolate World is Hershey’s Unwrapped: A Chocolate Tasting Journey. I wasn’t sure what to expect, but it was a really lively, engaging theatrical performance. My kids were engaged throughout, and followed the chocolate sensory instructions dutifully. They don’t even follow instructions at home dutifully. This attraction also comes with a souvenir kit, as a bonus.
The 4D Chocolate Movie and Hershey’s Unwrapped are both about 30 minutes long. On their own, the pricing is a tad on the high side, so I’d suggest bundling them up with one of the packages available, with other attractions, and making an outing out of going to Hershey Chocolate World, as opposed to going specifically for these only.
Not far from Hershey Chocolate World is another popular location, The Hershey Story Museum. The feeling that I got from visiting the city is that it is very proud of its history. The Hershey Story Museum showcases this in the Museum Experience, where you see how Milton Hershey went from a failed entrepreneur to chocolate kingpin and beyond. My kids in particular liked the new, interactive kiosks, where they personalised a wooden coin at admissions, and used that at these kiosks to activate a little story about Mr. Hershey. Be sure not to miss the final one, too (no spoilers here).
The highlight of the museum was the Chocolate Lab, a hands on workshop where you learn about the chocolate making process, and get to partake in some pouring and decorating. Our lab consisted of making customized “beach bars”. KJ was too young for this experience, so K stayed behind with him, while I rolled up my sleeves with B and J. Don’t worry, we shared the finished results.
Final note. For accommodations, we were hosted at the newest hotel in Hershey, Tru by Hilton Hershey Chocolate Avenue. Located about five minutes away from Hersheypark, it’s very bright, casual, modern, and reasonably priced. TVs and foosball tables liven up the lobby. For the buffet breakfast, there isn’t a designated area. You just grab a seat and hang out. In terms of rooms, this hotel is big on efficiency. There’s lots of storage space (ie. racks), but the rooms are smallish. We were on the go a lot during our trip, and were only really there at nights to sleep. It wasn’t a huge deal, but the room was a bit cramped for the five of us, when we were in it. For other sized families, I can see this as not being a problem, however.
There you have it. Hopefully, this will help you enjoy the Hershey and Harrisburg PA area as much as we did. Until the next one, peace!
Note: My family was hosted by Visit Hershey and Harrisburg as part of a press trip, which included passes to many of the places mentioned. Opinions expressed are my own, as always.
Posted by mike On July 23, 2019
As my kids get older, their perception of me continues to evolve, too. Sure, Little KJ looks up to me with the awe that any two year old gives to their parents. However, to B and J, I’m no longer Superdad, high on a pedestal. The curtain has been pulled back, and I’m just regular dad now. For example, I used to read them the book Why I Love My Daddy, by Daniel Howarth, and they would compare me to each reason given in it (“I love my daddy because he’s strong.” “Hey, you’re strong, daddy!“). A while ago, though, I overheard them reading the book to each other, but then comparing me negatively (“Dad’s not THAT smart.” “He’s only KIND OF funny.” ). Page after page of little gut punches to me.
I realized that I needed to do something extraordinary to shake up how extra ordinary my kids seemed to think of me. And after thinking long and hard, I decided on what that was….
I WAS GOING TO THROW OUT THE GREATEST FIRST PITCH OF ALL TIME AT A BASEBALL GAME!
Ya darn right, I was serious! See, to really impress them, there would have to be a high degree of difficulty involved, which they could appreciate, and have a coolness factor to it. This checked all of the boxes, in my household of baseball fans/players. As well, throwing out a ceremonial first pitch is one of the few jobs where there are high hopes that you fail miserably. Everyone loves a good blooper, and asking non-pitchers to fire one in there can be a recipe for disaster. It’s a surprisingly daunting task!
Now, you have to be pretty special to have the honor of tossing out a ceremonial first pitch bestowed on you. Fortunately, I’m a top dawg who does top dawg things, so this was easy to arrange. Ok, none of the previous two sentences are even remotely true, but I did reach out to my man Randy Whitaker, who’s the General Manager of the MILB’s Harrisburg Senators, and he made it happen (in addition to hooking us up with tickets to the game, too, in the interest of full disclosure).
With the date and location set, my next step was to prepare. In order for this to truly be the greatest ever, to really wow my kids, I would have to respect the grind and put in some work. They say that those who ignore history are doomed to repeat it. With that in mind, I decided that some serious advice was required.
Unlike me, Monique Evans really was a top dawg doing top dawg things when she was asked to throw out the first pitch at a Texas Rangers game in 2014. At the time, she was Miss Texas, and it’s somewhat of a tradition by the Rangers to have the newly crowned winner do the honors! While the throw was lacking, the amazing, unorthodox flair in the delivery was not. I figured that I could learn a thing or two about showmanship, if I contacted her.
“Before, I was feeling pretty nervous and excited; during, I was feeling hopeful”, she told me via DM. “After, I just had to laugh because it didn’t happen like it did in my head. But I didn’t realize how truly bad it was until later.”
In my head, I pictured myself on the mound with the swagger of Prince, firing a Noah Syndergaard-esque fastball. I could see things not playing out like this at all, in real life, though. The pizzazz is certainly memorable, but if I truly wanted to make the best first pitch of all time, I probably needed to focus on the throw. I did ask Monique Evans for some advice.
“Have fun, smile, and don’t take yourself too seriously!”
When Jordan Leandre was a child, he had cancer, and went through the Jimmy Fund for his treatment, a foundation whom the Boston Red Sox work closely with. Over the years, he has had the opportunity to take part in several on-field ceremonies at Fenway Park. He was a varsity pitcher, as well. To summarize, not only does he have pitching experience, but he also has experience in performing in front of large baseball crowds. Yet, when you search “first pitch in the nuts”, or “first pitch hits guy in balls”, or something along those lines on YouTube and Google, Mr. Leandre’s infamous experience from 2017 immediately pops up. While hilarious, I didn’t want the second name to come up when you’re searching these phrases out to be mine. I just had to pick his brain a bit.
“I wasn’t overly nervous. There are obviously some nerves going in there because the crowd is so huge, but for me it wasn’t too bad,” says Jordan, via DM. “But I’d also done it before so I was more comfortable in front of the crowd. Some advice I’d give is to just zone in on whoever is catching you. If you can somehow zone out the people watching, it becomes a game of catch. Another piece of advice I’d give is to just have fun with it.”
Between Monique’s and Jordan’s experienced-based tips, I was now headed in the right direction for greatness. I still wanted to get some words from the toppest (yes, I know that’s not a word) dawg that I could think of.
When reached for comment by me for this post, the press office of Barack Obama politely declined, on his behalf.
Oh well. Maybe next time, Barack. My man Randy Whitaker of the Senators did give me one more tip, though, to complete my prep work: “JUST DON’T BOUNCE IT!”
After months of
sitting on my butt watching the Toronto Blue Jays perfecting my four seam fastball, the big day in Harrisburg finally arrived. I purposely delayed telling B and J about my moment, and when I did, I’m pleased to say that I saw glimmers of awe in their faces. B even sounded jealous.
Now all that I had to do was groove one into the catcher, and bask in my kids’ adulation afterwards.
B and J were allowed to accompany me down to the field, so I asked them each to record my pitch. Luckily, Harrisburg isn’t exactly Arlington or Boston. The crowd was still rolling in when I was announced, and not super large. Finally, it was time for greatness. Time to unleash the best first pitch ever. I took a deep breath, zoned in on the catcher, wound up, and threw. Here is what happened:
Dang it! I guess that I should have trained J better on making videos. Here is what actually happened, courtesy of B’s footage:
Yeah, I didn’t bounce it, but I almost pegged the mascot in the head. Ugh.
As I walked off of the field and up to our seats, there was no adulation. No basking. No good job. Nothing.
I tried, but greatness had alluded me. To be honest, I wasn’t super bummed about it, either. Throwing out a first pitch at a minor league game isn’t as big a deal as I’m making it out to be, obviously. I just randomly wanted to do it better than it’s ever been done before, because I thought that it might gain me some long lost cool points with my kids. It’s not like they think any worse of me now, however, after blowing it. Most importantly, it was a lot of fun!
We were in Harrisburg/Hershey for the week, as part of a media trip. When we returned home a few days later, one of B’s buddies came over and asked him how the trip was. To my surprise, the first thing that B told him about was me throwing out the first pitch! I mean, he also told him that it kind of sucked, but that’s not the point, right? #coolfather
Maybe I’ll never be the Superdad that I used to be. You know what, though?
I’m Ok with that.
Ordinary with an occasional touch of extraordinary is just fine. Things will never stop evolving with my children, but I’ll always be their dad, and that’s all that matters.
Yo, Daniel Howarth. I got a bonus chapter now, for your Why I Love My Daddy book:
Until the next one, peace!
Posted by mike On June 21, 2019
Congratulations! Your favorite professional sports team won the championship, and now it’s party time! Or more specifically, it’s victory parade time! But, what’s that, you say? You’ve never been to one before, and don’t know what it’s like? Well, have no fear, dear reader, as I’m about to hook you up, and give you some advice on how to attend a championship parade. Let’s get it on, FAQ style!
Have you even been to a championship parade before?
Yup. I was one of the two plus million who took part in the Toronto Raptors’ celebration this year. As someone who’s a lifelong fan of the Raptors, the Phoenix Suns, and the Toronto Blue Jays, all of whom aren’t exactly perennial champions, it was a pretty amazing day!
Your choice in teams is very questionable, so I don’t think that I trust your judgement, or your advice. Do you mind if I stop reading now?
Uh, yes, I mind? Please read on?
Fine. What should I bring with me?
I’ll start with what you should not bring. And that…..is little kids.
Huh?! You’re suggesting depriving my children of a historical moment that they’ll remember forever? You’re a terrible parent!
I’m just sayin’. For one, teams tend to schedule these things during the week, so they’ll have to miss a day of school, which may or may not be a big deal, to some folks. For another, kids are short. You’re planning on watching a parade with hundreds of thousands, maybe even millions, of other grown fans. You’re going to have to go early, to guarantee a spot in the front, so they can see over everyone. Otherwise, be prepared to have them lifted up on your shoulders for extended periods. Back to going early, though. It’s potentially a long day (in my case with the Raptors’, I was there around 9am, but the parade ran late, so it didn’t pass us until around 2pm). You don’t exactly have in and out privileges. If you claim a good spot up front, and then leave, you’re not getting that spot back. I don’t know about you, but my kids have this habit of wanting to use the bathroom at the most inopportune times. How would you feel if, you’ve been standing around for hours, crammed among a huge crowd of people, and in the distance, you finally see the team caravan coming, but you then hear these words: “Daddy? I have to go to the bathroom really bad! I can’t hold it!”
I’d be furious! ARGH!
Right. Furthermore, my kids get restless pretty easily, which leads to boredom complaints, or worse. It’s just potentially a long, tiring day of keeping them entertained. I overheard at least one unhappy little camper asking to go home, about two hours into the Raptors’ parade. Bringing lots of food and drinks is a good idea, in theory, but this will inevitably lead to bathroom breaks, which means spot-losing. My kids also have this habit of gobbling up everything in site and then, minutes later, complaining that they’re still hungry. Food runs again leads to spot-losing. I mean, sure, a championship parade is a fun event for families, and some, heck, maybe most families, have a positive experience, but I’d definitely put an asterisk next to them.
OK, OK, I get it. Ditch the kiddos. What should I bring, then?
Food and drinks are good, with the disclaimer mentioned above (if you’re moving around, throughout the parade route, that isn’t much of a problem, however). Comfortable shoes. Sunscreen. A fully charged phone, so when the good stuff happens, you have enough battery life to spam your social media with pictures to make your friends, to quote J-Lo, jelly. Some fresh, official championship merchandise to wear. An umbrella.
An umbrella? Because the parade goes on, rain or shine?
Nah. Because your favorite athlete might roll by drunkenly popping bottles of champagne and spraying them into the crowd. Champagne soaked clothes doesn’t sound like a comfortable look.
But if they’re pouring beer afterwards, I should be good, correct? Liquor before beer, you’re in the clear?
That saying doesn’t apply at all.
Whatever. What else shouldn’t I bring?
GUNS! Like, it’s a day about showing love to your team, and coming together as a community. There’s no need for weapons. Besides that, don’t bring giant signs that obstruct the view of those behind you. At the very least, if you do bring them, be smart about when you hold them up.
Do I need to do anything beforehand, to prepare? Should I memorize every player’s stats , so I’ll have some conversation points, when I’m standing for hours on end surrounded by strangers?
At the Raptors’ championship parade anyway, the crowd was massive, but it was a mixture of hardcore fans, casual fans, bandwagon fans who jumped on board when they realized the team might win the title, and people who were there out of FOMO. Basically, it wasn’t hard to make polite chit chat, so no need to bone up on statistics. Beyond that, know the parade route, and have a good entry/exit strategy. Large volumes of humans converging in one area makes getting there and going home a bit of an adventure. Also, you know how when you go to a Santa Claus parade, and before Santa’s float comes, there’s like a million other stuff before that? Bands, maybe some insurance company’s car, with smiling brokers waving in it, that kind of stuff?
Same thing for a championship parade. It’s not just the team on a bus with the trophy. The Raptors’ one had some cars and buses full of people most wouldn’t recognise who were invited to take part. Sponsors, front office executives, family members, etc.
Yeah. Shower and put on deodorant before you go. When the players do finally roll by, the mass of humanity around you will most likely lift up their arms to take pictures. I inhaled some interesting scents when that happened, to put it politely.
And just like those armpits, this post stinks, too!
OK, we’re done here. Enjoy the parade!
Posted by mike On June 13, 2019
Admittedly, I am not a golf fan. However, I’ve watched PGA and LPGA tournaments on TV before, and always thought that it would be cool to attend one in person. So, when the good folks at the RBC Canadian Open offered me a ticket to check out their event, I was all over it like Rory McIlory on a par 4 hole. Not only that, but I took my seven year old daughter J, who isn’t a golf fan at all, with me. I know, I know, this sounds like a bad idea, but we both actually had a good time! Here are my tips for attending a professional golf tournament with kids.
At the RBC Canadian Open, I misunderstood the prohibited items list, and didn’t bring any food or drinks, so I had to buy all that stuff there. It was a hot day, and J loves her snacks, so my wallet ended up taking a nice hit. There was also hours of interactive, kid friendly scheduled activities on site, but these didn’t happen on the day that we went. We knew, walking-wise, that we were going to get our steps in, but we both didn’t realize how ‘hilly’ the course was, which made things more physically demanding than expected, especially on J’s little legs. Also, between the walking and the heat, we had to stay hydrated. Places to grab a drink were scattered around the course, so being aware of where they were was important. Basically, as golf tournament novices, planning ahead was crucial. Knowing the schedule, course layout, and policies ahead of time can save you some disappointment and money later.
I have no clue what the parking situations are like for every professional golf tournament, but they probably all vary. So, along the lines of planning, be sure to look into it ahead of time. It might be on site, you might have to buy passes beforehand, who knows. In our case at the RBC Canadian Open, we paid to park at a nearby fairgrounds, and took a shuttle bus to the course. In case you were wondering, yes, J enjoyed the bus rides almost as much as the golfing.
HAVE A GAME PLAN
There are a few ways to maximize your experience when you attend a golf tournament with kids. If you and your child have a favorite golfer, you could find out when they tee off, and follow them during their round. For the less ambitious, bring chairs, plop yourselves down at a hole, and watch the entire field come through, so you see a wide range of golfers. If you guys are all about dat social media life, find out which holes or areas are famous/infamous, and hit them up, for Insta-worthy, ‘Gram-able pictures. If you don’t have a vested interest in any of the golfers or the course, like J and I, check to see if the event has a family /fun zone of some sort. We spent a while hanging out in the “Hamilton Fare Way” area, near the 18th hole, eating, playing mini putt and cornhole, and loading up on free swag. We also went to the RBC Canadian Open early, as I figured the crowds wouldn’t be as bad then as in the afternoon, when the big name PGA dudes teed off. We did eventually wander around the course for a few holes, before heading back the Fare Way area (it was pretty entertaining, there, what can I say).
TO QUOTE ALLEN IVERSON – “WE TALKING ABOUT PRACTISE, MAN”
You can see the pros up close, practising. It’s also a decent opportunity to possibly even score an autograph or selfie, if you’re nice about it.
J and I stumbled our way onto a large crowd of people watching some well known PGA stars work on their putting, and then squeezed our way through an even bigger crowd of people watching Canadian golfer MacKenzie Hughes on the driving range (I think).
Speaking of autographs, that’s another way to keep your kid engaged, while at a golf tournament. Besides the practise area, the 9th or 18th holes, where rounds end, are also usually primo locations to score someone’s John Hancock.
For J and I, this wasn’t that appealing (as we didn’t know who most of the golfers were), BUT we did overhear security talking about Kyle Lowry of the Toronto Raptors possibly coming to the RBC Canadian Open that afternoon.
Since he is her favorite player, we did figure out where the entrance was, and hung out there for a bit, in the hopes of getting his autograph (no luck on this, by the way).
Attending a professional golf tournament is unlike any other big time sporting event, as golf has certain etiquette which needs to be adhered to. You’ll have to keep your kid in the loop on this stuff. Even as spectators, you should probably dress a certain way, to look the part (though, because our experience at the RBC Canadian Open coincided with the Raptors’ NBA Finals run, there were a ton of people rocking Raptors shirts and jerseys, instead of fancy polos). You also can’t move at certain times, when the golfers are in action. You have to know when to be quiet, as well, which is important if your kid is a chatterbox like J. Don’t forget to tell them that if you see a ball, it’s not finders keepers. While strolling down a hole, we heard someone yell “WATCH OUT!” (unrelated sidenote: shouldn’t he have yelled “FORE!”?). Turns out, a golfer hit an errant tee shot which soared out of bounds and came flying down maybe 15 feet in front of us. J saw where it landed, said ‘Hey look! A ball!’, and immediately ran to get it, which caused me to sprint after her, to tell her not to touch it.
And finally, the most important tip of all, for attending a professional golf tournament with your kid…..
Seriously, it’s a cool experience, and a nice way to spend some quality time together. Enjoy it!
Posted by mike On April 30, 2019
To recline or not to recline. This is the age old question that has divided travellers on planes since the, uh, inception of reclining chairs on planes. Recently, however, that debate has crossed over into other facets of life where extra comfort is an option. Take movie theatres, for example. Some of them are equipped with reclining seats that let you lean back like you’re Fat Joe in 2004. And I use movies as an example, because, recently, I found myself smack dab in the middle of the reclining seat debate.
The scene was the local Cineplex, during the opening weekend of Avengers: Endgame. B and I had purchased tickets beforehand, and the theatre was jammed pack. In front of us was a man, with three boys. Irrelevant detail – the man kind of looked like the Trivago Guy. Second irrelevant detail – the man had a giant bottle of fancy water, which he clearly bought at a grocery store beforehand.
As the movie was about to start, a group of kids filtered in with some adult chaperones, who were all there for a birthday party. They weren’t especially quiet, so the man in front of us took it upon himself to loudly yell at them about how noisy they were. The same message probably could have been conveyed politely, and not so rudely, but I digress. Anyway, not long after, the man decided to recline his seat.
Now, I don’t know if you’ve been to a Cineplex with recliners, but you can get a pretty good lean on, and this guy had a nice one going. He was in front of B, but if he was in front of me, he would have squished my legs. B seemed pretty chill, though, so I didn’t pay much attention to it. The man spent the rest of the movie in varying degrees of recline. At one point, it almost looked like he was in a rocket ship during takeoff (OK, I’m exaggerating, but you get the point). Again, though, B was fine with it. I did try to recline once, too, but I immediately felt a knee behind me, so I propped back up.
B was cool, but he also was fidgety. It’s a looooong movie, after all. While adjusting in his seat, I did see him once, accidentally, kick Fat Joe’s, err, I mean Trivago Guy’s, err, I mean the reclining man’s seat lightly. The man didn’t say anything, but I told B to watch his feet, and not kick his seat. Even though his leg space was severely hampered, that was the polite, well-mannered thing to do. It wasn’t like we could move to another seat, either, as every one was filled.
Flash forward to the end of the movie. I saw B accidentally kick the seat again,
while Rocket Man was getting ready for takeoff as the man was reclined far back. The man then whipped around, and yelled at B to stop kicking his seat.
If this happened to you, and your child, what would you do?
Uh, I guess that’s an option, but not what I chose.
See, I was really annoyed. He could have just asked B politely, to stop. When it comes to kids, and there is an issue, I tend to take it up with the parents. If this man channelled his inner Hulk and just had to rage about the incidental kicking, he easily could have yelled at me instead. Snapping on B in this case seemed kind of bully-ish. Regardless, B did not deserve to be yelled at, in my opinion.
In the ‘to recline or not to recline’ debate, the main argument for reclining is that, hey, you paid for the seat, so you can sit however you want in it. If other people aren’t comfortable, too bad. The thing is, though, to misuse Newton’s Third Law, for every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction. If you choose to recline so far back in your seat that you are compromising the person behind you, then there will probably be some kind of consequence. Knowing that, are you really in any position to get upset at the resulting consequence? Dude is all up on B’s spot, so B can barely move without touching his seat, so dude gets mad that B touched his seat? To quote The Nappy Roots – awnaw, hell naw!
Sensing a confrontation going bad, and not wanting to miss the end of Endgame, I waited until the movie was over, to approach the man. He ducked into the washroom, which B had to use, too, so I waited there, near his group of boys, until he re-emerged. When he did, I basically told him, sternly, that he spent the whole movie leaned far back into B, and he had no right to yell at him for kicking his seat accidentally. He, wasn’t having it (shocker), and started to yell (More yelling? Double shocker) about how he wasn’t that far back, and that B and I didn’t have any manners, unlike his kids. I walked away as he raged on and on. I said my piece, but he didn’t get it, and I didn’t want to make the news over some pettiness.
So what are the takeaways here? Well, for one, until reclining seats are abolished, I guess it’s is on us to know the etiquette in using them, and to be aware of the effects on those behind you. I personally think that, if movie theatres, planes or wherever are going to be equipped with them, then the space in between the rows needs to be bigger, to not take away someone’s leg space. Clearly, this isn’t practical or realistic, but a dreamer’s gotta dream, right? Finally, based on my own informal research among some parenting peers, screaming at someone else’s child is a big no-no. Whatever side of the ‘to recline or not to recline’ argument you choose, and even if you think the man in front of us was justified in being mad at B, yelling at a stranger’s kid over something trivial is a real prick move.
Speaking of prick moves, B told me that, while in the bathroom, after our Trivago Guy-looking friend relieved himself, he washed his hands. However, instead of drying them, he shook them off, shamelessly spraying water droplets onto B and a couple of other people. Now on that, I hope we can all agree, no debate……
That’s just gross and ignorant.
Posted by mike On March 26, 2019
Even though that they lost, they were all still winners, in the end.
Now, that probably sounds like the ending to some cheesy, cliche sports story. It’s not, though! It’s the beginning to this non-cheesy, non-cliche sports story. Trust me, it’ll make sense later.
I don’t know about you, but I worry about what kind of people my children will be, when they’re older. B, in particular can be a handful, to put it mildly. We try to instil as much as we can, but at the end of the day, it’s on B to accept it or reject it. As such, putting him in the right environments is always a big factor for K and I. Sports, for example, are perfect, as they expose him to all kinds of life lessons in a structured, fun way.
Luckily, B loves basketball, and he played on a rep team in Hamilton this year. Even more luckily, the team was comprised of a good group of boys. Sure, skill and talent-wise, they were OK, but everyone got along, and their attitudes were fine. Off the court, whereas B’s the type who takes goofing around to new levels, I was surprised to see that, when with his team, he wasn’t any more rambunctious as anyone else (usually).
After an up and down season, the team competed in the provincial championships recently. The tournament covered a whole weekend, which meant staying out of town in a hotel. After the first game Friday evening, the team went out to a restaurant for dinner.
While there, some of the boys ended up at the bar area, to watch the Toronto Raptors game on TV, including B. Don’t worry, they weren’t drinking (they’re 9 years old. C’mon now). Eventually, though, B came running over to K and I, excited. He had worn his warm-up shirt to the restaurant, but now, he just had his jersey on. He told us that he gave away his shirt, to a kid at the bar. Since we had paid for the shirt, as part of his uniform, and B has a track record for silliness, like I mentioned earlier, our immediate reaction was to cut him off, and tell him to go get the shirt back. He ran back to the bar, and came back to show us that he got it.
I’ll admit to screwing up here, folks. Sometimes, like the Fresh Prince said, parents just don’t understand. After the shirt incident, J went over to snoop on her big bro, and reported back that the boy who the team was hanging with at the bar had a disability (not her words, but I’ll error on the side of vagueness here). Then, we started hearing from B’s teammates that the boy was really excited to be talking to, and chilling with, the team. Then, we heard that B and one of his buddies had given him their shirts, as a token of friendship, and that the boy was super excited about receiving them. B had come over to explain this, but K and I kiboshed it.
When B walked by, after we found out about his gesture, we told him that, of course, he could give his shirt to his new friend, if he wanted to. So he did. He then returned to say that the boy’s mom wanted to know where our games were the next day, as they wanted to come watch. K jotted down the address on a paper, which B delivered. Afterwards, when it was time to go, the mom approached the parents on the team, to say thank you, and compliment the boys.
The next morning, B kept nervously wondering if his new pal would actually show up, with his mom. As game time neared, I looked around the gym, and didn’t see them, which was disappointing, but understandable. Right before tip-off, though, they walked in! The dude was even rocking B’s warm-up shirt. B broke into a goofy grin, which made me goofily grin, too. After the game, the team went over to say hi, and give the boy props and stuff, which he was clearly thrilled about.
Needless to say, I was proud that B, unsolicited and unprompted, made a new buddy, not because he was ‘different’, not because it was ‘the right thing to do’, but just…….because. Maybe that guy will be alright, after all. We could all stand to be more tolerant, accepting and not quick to judge, right?
The only part that sucked was that the team kind of got killed in that game. However…..
Even though that they lost, they were all still winners, in the end.
Told ya that it would make sense. Til the next one, later!
Posted by mike On March 21, 2019
Three quick posts for the price of one today, dawg. Let’s go!
TRAPPED IN A CLOSET
A while ago, lil KJ outgrew his crib, so we upgraded him to his own bed. For the most part, it’s been alright. Sometimes, though, I miss the containment of the crib. Take the other night, for example.
I had put him down to sleep, which was a laborious, time-consuming process. About an hour later, I heard his door open. He happily came bouncing down the stairs, fresh as a daisy.
The increase in bed freedom has led to an increase in late night wandering. He usually comes to our room later, though. Why he was up so early now, no clue. Regardless, I took him back to his room, and he was out within minutes.
I had promised J that I would crash in her bed (that’s a whole ‘nother story), so that’s where I ended up. At around 3AM, I was awakened to KJ screaming for me, and crying. In theory, I should have just gotten up, but I was barely conscious, so I yelled for him to come to me. I must have dozed off, because, the next thing that I know, I heard KJ frantically yelling for me, plus a lot of indecipherable, two year old toddler gibberish (“Daddy, lkfjk$ajfuebt! Daddy!”). I had to get up now. I stumbled around upstairs, in the dark, trying to find where the yells were coming from. It was like the sorriest game of Marco Polo ever. Eventually, I realized that the screaming was coming from B’s room.
Or more specifically, B’s closet.
See, B has a dresser in his closet, with a gap between it and the wall. The gap is roomy enough for me to stand there, for example, but I’m too big to easily wedge myself into it. KJ, presumably in his hunt for me, in the dark, decided that I must have been in that gap.
He got himself into it, but then couldn’t get back out, and started freaking. I saw him, lifted him up, and as soon as I did, he calmed down. Fresh as a daisy, he then said ‘Oh, hi daddy!’ as if he was surprised to see me.
Legit, I think that, with R. Kelly making headlines, I had been reading a lot about him and his music lately. KJ must have been secretly reading along with me, too. Otherwise I don’t think that I’ll ever understand why he was trapped in a closet.
Speaking of big new stories, the Momo Challenge was a huge deal recently. As parents, K and I had the same sense of moral panic that you probably did, which meant that we had to confront what our kids were consuming on social media head-on. It’s crazy how impressionable a child’s mind is.
Take J, for instance. In her six year old eyes, a heavy set toy delivery man in a red suit, magic reindeers, unicorns and giant, chocolate-dropping bunnies are all very important to her. Shoot, for a minute, so was a ghost-hunting Elvis Presley.
Knowing this, a few weeks ago, J casually asked me the following:
“Is YouTube Real?”
I was slightly distracted, so I said of course it was real, without hesitation. Real live humans, posting real stuff. In retrospect, this was not the greatest idea. YouTube is reality, but there’s also a lot of phoney bologna which can fool a naive young brain. Later on, we had this conversation:
J – “Daddy, I’m scared of the Bad Elf.” ( J loves the Elf On A Shelf, and takes the whole thing very seriously. In turn, I have to treat it seriously. Imagine her dismay when she came across some dastardly video, of elves behaving badly and ruining Christmas for kids).
Me – “The Bad Elf isn’t real. You have nothing to be scared of.”
J – “But I saw him on YouTube.”
Me – “So?”
J – “You said YouTube is real.”
Oh. Right. I did say that.
Despite my attempts to explain myself, she was worried about this creepy little jerk for weeks afterwards.
Another time, while out for dinner, J casually told us that she had been watching the news. This was odd, as current events isn’t really her thing. She continued on by discussing how mermaids existed, and where you could go to find them. Believe it or not, she didn’t see this on CNN. It was some random YouTube news channel. Fake newz at its finest, which I had to explain to her.
I guess what I’m trying to say is, despite the Momo Challenge being (most likely) a hoax, the idea of the Momo Challenge was terrifying, because of how easy it could be real. In my house, anyway, it doesn’t always take much to sway one of my kids.
‘ROUND EVERY CORNER
Speaking of my house, I’d like to think it’s a pretty typical home. I still shake my head at the stuff that takes place in it, though. ‘Round every corner lies a possible surprise.
One night, I turned a corner and almost stepped on J. Instead of going to sleep as asked, she stubbornly put together a makeshift bed in her doorway, and slept there. I mean, based on the amount of effort that this would have taken, it would have been easier and more comfy to just to lie in her regular bed, but what do I know?
KJ was calling me here, on two phones (he drips too hard, as the kids say). They’re actually a calculator and a broken walkie talkie. The reception on those things is horrible.
On first glance, I was grossed out when I entered B’s room and almost stepped on this. Luckily, it’s just a brown deflated balloon.
B wasn’t home when I walked into his room to see this, so you can imagine my reaction. Luckily, it wasn’t some sort of bizarre, inappropriate class project. I found out later that he had an audition, and was practising some lines.
J decided to play dress up. Here she is, as Marshmello, the famous DJ. Curse you, Fortnite.
KJ was walking around eating and drinking. He then pulled a toddler David Blaine. I looked, and his snack had vanished. I finally found it here, down low, on a shoe rack. I’ve heard of waffle shoes before, but this is ridiculousness!
Anyway, you get the idea. You just never know what to expect, with kids.
One thing that I do know, however…..is that this post is over. Later, y’all.