Holiday Gift Idea – The Sony Xperia 1 Cell Phone

 

 


sony xperia 1 review

Disclaimer: Compensation was received from Best Buy in exchange for this post, but all opinions expressed are my own, as always.

 

It’s the most wonderful time of the year! If you are still looking for that extra special gift for an extra special person, then have you considered the Sony Xperia 1 Cell phone?  Since my FAQ posts are sometimes always popular, let’s do this in that way!

 

A POST ABOUT A PHONE? JEEZ, YOU’RE REALLY PHONING IT IN TODAY, HUH?

What? No! I like to keep up on the latest and greatest in mobile devices, and the Sony Xperia 1 is pretty sweet. Plus, Best Buy has a nice deal on it right now, too.

 

 

FINE, YOU CELL-OUT.  TELL ME ABOUT THIS PHONE THEN.

The Sony Xperia 1 smartphone has a triple-lens camera system and advanced autofocus technologies, which makes it easy to take stable, detailed images and capture 4K videos. It’s unlocked, and has a 6.5-inch 4K OLED touch screen that really brings out the detail in captured footage and streaming videos.

 

 

6.5 inches? that’s big! bigger than my current phone.

What phone do you currently have?

 

 

hey, i’m asking the questions here!

Right. My bad. Anyway, besides the screen, the storage is good-sized, too. 128 GB internal memory with a microSD slot.

 

 

go on.

It’s powered by a Qualcomm Snapdragon 855 processor with a respectable 6GB of RAM, and runs on the Android 9.0 Pie OS at 4G LTE speed.

 

 

SO YOU’RE SAYING THAT I CAN TAKE LOTS OF PICTURES OF MY KIDS PLAYING AT THE PARK, UPLOAD THEM IMMEDIATELY TO  MY “KIDS PLAYING AT THE PARK” FACEBOOK ALBUM, AND LIKE ALL THE PICTURES, TOO? ALL BEFORE THEY FINISH GOING DOWN A SLIDE?

 

I….I didn’t say that.  You’d have to try doing that on your own, and get back to me. The Sony Xperia 1 does have a 12.0MP triple-lens camera system and 2x optical zoom to capture details without losing quality.  Also featured is Motion Eye, which lets you capture slow motion videos at up to 906 frames per second,  and Optical SteadyShot image stabilization, to help keep your images free from motion blur.  All of this will result in some dope shots of your, uh, kids on slides.

Wait. Why do you like your own photos on Facebook?

 

 

I’M WARNING YOU, pal! STOP ASKING QUESTIONS! NOW, CAN I DROP THIS PHONE IN A TOILET, OR NOT?

 

Uh. I mean, the Sony Xperia 1 has an IB68 rating, so it can stand being submerged in static water, to a point. I wouldn’t want to find out if it can survive a toilet drop, though. Neither should you!

 

 

YOU SAID THAT BEST BUY HAD A DEAL? EXPLAIN IT, PLEASE.

From December 9 to 22 2019,  you can save $200 on the Sony Xperia 1 at Best Buy. Check it out here!

 

 

$200? do you hoW MANY SUBSCRIPTIONS TO DISNEY PLUS I CAN BUY WITH THAT?

Why do you need so many Disney Plus subscriptions?

 

 

THat’s it, mike! i warned you about asking questions. i’m leaving!

Yeah, I think we are about done here.

Happy Sony Xperia 1 smartphone shopping at Best Buy!

 

 

 

5 Times That I Failed As a Parent

 

Parenting, as we know, is a tough but rewarding gig. For every parenting win like this, though:

 

A sight seen less than Bigfoot – my three children all playing nicely together!

 

There are way more parenting fails. Head shaking, hand-wringing fails. Fails that can make you feel like a complete failure of a loser. Shoot, this past week alone, I feel like I’ve been throwing up Ls left and right, on the fatherhood front.  Here are five examples.

 

 

MY OLDEST SON DOESN’T APPRECIATE THE VALUE OF MONEY

I’ve told you before about B’s ongoing infatuation with the game Fortnite. Recently, he worked and saved up some money, so he could buy a Playstation gift card.  He really wanted the latest Fortnite battle pass, and a new skin. What’s a skin, you ask? This:

 

fortnite hot dog skin

 

When I was a kid, on more than one occasion, we had to scrounge up loose change, to be able to buy a cheap pack of hot dogs for dinner. Now, here’s my son spending perfectly good cash to buy a video game character dressed up like a bratwurst?

I’m sorry, people. I done messed up.

 

 

 RULES ARE MEANT TO BE BROKEN BY TODDLERS

 

I took B to his piano class at a music academy the other day, but I had little KJ with me.  KJ actually likes to go there, because the place has a toy area set up. We drove over, then walked along the snowy sidewalk to the building where the class was. When we entered the building, I noticed that there was a sign on the door of the academy which said to please remove your shoes.

No biggie, right?

B dutifully removed his sneakers and went in. KJ, however, refused to take off his shoes. Not just refused, but full on screaming and crying refused. It was an out of nowhere reaction. I was shell-shocked. I have no clue what was going on in his head. Maybe his feet smelled? Maybe he was embarrassed about his choice of socks?

Regardless, it’s been a minute since I’ve been apart of a ‘terrible twos’ tantrum, and that old familiar feeling of essentially being screwed set in real quick. If I took his shoes off, and carried him, that would just escalate the meltdown, and disrupt all of the classes. Standing in the hallway trying to be the stern father, followed by the bribing father, followed by the begging father, also didn’t work.  I couldn’t just let him go in, though, because cleaning up dirty wet little footprints wasn’t fair to anyone. I couldn’t even take him to the car. That would have involved leaving him in the hall while I went into the academy for who knows how long to find B, to let him know where I was going. After about  20 minutes, I scooped KJ up off of the ground (because no tantrum is complete without a good ol’ floor flopping), and carried him into the academy, shoes on, to sit on my lap for the rest of the class. He was less loud, but not quiet, during this time.

When the class ended, and we got back into my car, KJ, the newfound rebellious rule breaker, only had one thing to say for himself:

But I want to play with the toys!

 

Parenting fails

 

I FORGOT TO TELL THEM ABOUT R. KELLY

 

Driving home one night, with B and J in the back bickering about something ridiculous, ‘I Wish’ by R. Kelly came on the radio. I hadn’t heard that song in forever, so I cranked it up, to drown out the arguing. As I was jamming like it was Y2K all over again,  this conversation then happened:

B – “Hey, dad. Isn’t R. Kelly in jail?”

Me – “No. Well, yeah. He’s in jail while he’s on trial.”

J – “What did he do?”

I then thought about the answer, looked at my daughter in the rear view mirror…..and I chickened out, dude. That’s a complicated issue which I didn’t really want to talk about with her, or B, at that time. I mumbled something about he did some bad stuff, then we talked about what a trial is, and that was it.  Maybe that’s not a parenting fail. Maybe it is. I’m not sure. All  I know is that I didn’t feel like listening to ‘I Wish’ by R. Kelly anymore.

 

I put their health in jeopardy by making them swim too soon

 

Do you remember, back in the day, when your parents would tell you that you have to wait an hour after you eat, before you can go swimming? I gave KJ a hearty bowl of chicken noodle soup before his swim class the other day. This led to him turning the pool into a hearty bowl of chicken noodle puke.  For those keeping track at home, a half hour was not enough time, in this case.  Oops.

 

funny parenting fails

Who’s hungry for some soup now?

 

 

MY YOUNGEST SON IS AFRAID OF TURNING INTO A BLUEBERRY

 

KJ’s vocabulary has come on strong the last few months, and it seems like we hear him saying a new word daily. The other night’s word was “disgusting”. His toy cars were disgusting. Everything on his dinner plate was disgusting.  It was kind of annoying. I gave him a bath, and he complained that the water was disgusting. Finally, when he sneered, with one eye opened, that the soap was disgusting, I asked him why. With zero hesitation, he replied:

“Cuz soap makes you a blueberry! I don’t wanna be a blueberry! I’m a boy!”

Good googly moogly, there’s a lot to decompress here.  Is berrying by way of soaping even a real phobia?

Nope. And it’s really weird, Mike.

 

Thanks for the reassurance,  Sigmund Freud. Anyway, aren’t toddlers supposed to be afraid of monsters, and clowns, or Sir Topham Hatt, or something?  Clearly, I’ve failed at properly scaring my kids, in addition to failing at the other parenting stuff I’ve mentioned.

That’s all that I got for now. Until the next one, stay winning, y’all!

 

 

 

WHEN AND WHERE TO SEE SANTA CLAUS IN THE HAMILTON AREA 2019

Where to see santa in Hamilton

 

 

Tis the season to repeatedly take pictures of your little ones with the jolly dude in red!  To save you the Googling (or Bing-ing, or Yahoo-ing, or Ask Jeeves-ing etc), I looked into where to see Santa in Hamilton this year, and summarized my findings. Check it out!

 

HAMILTON SANTA CLAUS PARADE

November 16, 2019 – 4:30 PM

Parade details:

Starts on Barton St W & Bay St N

South on Bay St N to York Blvd

East on York Blvd to James St N

North on James St N to finish at James St N and Barton St W

Don’t forget to bring some non-perishable goods for the food drive.

Note: If you’re reading this and it’s too late (word to Drake!), the Stoney Creek Santa Claus Parade takes place December 7 at 2pm, in downtown Stoney Creek at King Street East.

LIMERIDGE MALL

Start Date: Sat Nov 16, 2019
End Date: Tue Dec 24, 2019

Unlike years past, you need to pre-register to experience Santa. Walks-ups will only be accepted if there are open spots.

The free Meet and Greet  is where you can take your own photos. Each child will receive a ME to WE colouring sheet and a surprise email from Santa on Christmas Eve.

For $17, kids can take part in Storytime with Santa.

Santa will read a special holiday book, “A Magical Canadian Christmas”. After storytime,  Elves will invite each child individually for a visit and photo with Santa. Each child will receive three professional digital photos, a copy of “A Magical Canadian Christmas” and a surprise email from Santa on Christmas Eve.  Families will also receive a Leon’s tote bag that includes a voucher for a free memory foam pillow redeemable in-store ($29 retail value).

EASTGATE SQUARE

Santa arrives to Centre Court November 17 at 2:00pm with some special guests and a performance!

November Hours:

Monday to Friday  10:00 a.m. to 9:00 p.m.

Saturday  9:30 a.m. to 6:00 p.m.

Sunday 11:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m.

Extended Holiday hours begin November 30:

Monday to Friday 9:00 a.m. to 9:30 p.m.

Saturday 9:00 a.m. to 9:30 p.m.

Sunday 10:00 a.m. to 6:00 p.m.

Black Friday (November 24)-  7:00 a.m. to 9:00 p.m.

Christmas Eve (December 24) – 8:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m

Special events:

Friday November 29 – 8am to 3pm is a Babies’ First Christmas Event. Donate a new unwrapped toy or a gift card for the CHCH Christmas Toy Drive and receive a preselected FREE photo with Santa (Newborn babies until age 12 months).

Dog & Cat Photos with Santa:

Saturday, November 23rd – 3pm to 6pm
Saturday, December 7th – 7pm to 9:30pm
Tuesday, December 10th – 7pm to 9:30pm

Regular Santa photo charges apply. Children are welcome without a pet, too, provided they do not have a pet allergy. $5 will be donated to the CHCH Christmas Toy Drive from each pet photo package purchased.

 

Where to see Santa claus in Hamilton

MAPLEVIEW MALL

Free 5″x7″ photos here!  Just bring a donation in support of McMaster Children’s Hospital Foundation.

NOVEMBER 30- DECEMBER 1

Saturday 10 AM – 8 PM
Sunday 10 AM – 5 PM

DECEMBER 5 – 8 

Thursday to Saturday 10 AM – 8 PM
Sunday 10 AM – 5 PM

DECEMBER 12 – 23 

Monday to Saturday 10 AM – 8 PM
Sunday 10 AM – 5 PM

BURLINGTON CENTRE

Santa will be arriving  on Saturday, November 23 at 9:30am via a freakin’ helicopter! Children will receive a gift from Santa upon arrival while enjoying a warm refreshment from Starbucks and Christmas cookies from Denningers.  Once Santa arrives, he will be paraded into the Centre.

November hours are:

Monday to Friday 10am – 9pm

Saturday 9:30am-6:00pm

Sunday from 11am – 6pm

Holiday Hours:

Monday, Dec 2 – Sunday, Dec 15:

Monday 9am – 9pm
Tuesday – Friday 9am–9pm
Saturday 9am–8pm
Sunday 10am–6pm

Monday, Dec 16 – Sunday, Dec 22:

Monday 9am – 9pm
Tuesday – Friday 9am–9pm
Saturday 9am–8pm
Sunday 10am–6pm

Monday, Dec 23 – Thursday, Dec 26:

Monday 9am – 9pm
Tuesday – Wednesday 9am–9pm
Monday 9am – 9pm
Tuesday Christmas Eve 9am–5pm
Wednesday Closed for Christmas Day
Thursday 9am–6pm

 

ROYAL BOTANICAL GARDENS

The RBG, as usual, has lots of holiday themed events going on, among the usual cool stuff to see and do there. Visits with Santa are included with your admission on these days, though:

Tuesdays, November 19 to December 17
Friday November 22 and 29

Tuesdays; 5 to 8 p.m.; Hendrie Park
Nov 22 and 29; 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.; Hendrie Park

Train rides out to Santa’s Cabin are available for $2 per child (12 and under) and $4 per adult.

 

 

Finally, Santa probably won’t be at these two events, but they’re worth busting out your festive sweaters for, anyway, to get you in the holiday spirit (if that’s what you do to get you in the holiday spirit. I don’t know, man!):

CP HOLIDAY TRAIN

Cp holiday train

Gage Park

November 28, 2019

7:45 PM to 8:40 PM

The train  features 14 rail cars decorated with hundreds of thousands lights and a modified boxcar that has been turned into a traveling stage.  The Hamilton stop will feature music artist Alan Doyle and Beautiful Band. Concert starts at 8 pm. It’s a free event, just make a cash or non-persishable donation to the Hamilton Food Share.

 

CHRISTMAS IN GORE PARK

Gore Park  will be hosting a Christmas Market Friday, December 7th from 5-11pm, Saturday, December 8th from 11am-11pm, and from noon to 6pm on Sunday, December 9th.  Admission is free, and the festivities include lots of local vendors, a kids’ craft area, carolers, holidays movies being shown, tasty beverages at a fully licensed bar, and  a mistletoe kissing station.

Most importantly (well, to me, anyway), is that there will be a ferris wheel running daily in Gore Park December 7 through December 23 from noon to 8pm (Dec 7th it will run 3pm to 9pm). Neat!

 

 

 

Holiday Gift Idea – The DJI Global Mavic Mini!

Disclaimer: This post is sponsored by Best Buy, but all thoughts expressed are my own, as always.

 

OK, so today we’re talking drones, and in particular, one that might be at the top of the photographer/tech toy fan in your life’s wish list, the DJI Global Mavic Mini! Let’s do this, FAQ-style!

 

 

Hold up. YOU’RE doing a post about a drone?

Yes.

 

YOU?!

Yes!

 

What do you even know about drones?

Well, I know that the Mavic Mini is small and lightweight, but it comes with many of the features of other quality drones.

 

How lightweight is it? If I sneeze, will it blow away like a tumbleweed?

249 grams, and no?

 

That’s a relief, because I’m allergic to tumbleweeds. List off some of the specs, now!

30-min Max. Flight Time

 

4 km HD Video Transmission

 

Vision Sensor + GPS Precise Hover

 

3-Axis Gimbal 2.7K Camera

 

 

explain the features, but do it in a way that makes you sound like you know what you’re talking about.

I do know what I’m talking about! Anyway, the Mavic Mini supports 12MP aerial photos and 2.7K Quad HD videos. It also has a 3-axis motorized gimbal, which provides great stability, and clear, smooth, vivid footage. When fully charged,  it can stay in the sky for up to 30 minutes, which is better than comparable drones. As well, the dedicated remote controller is easy to use, and it maintains an HD, low latency video feed of up to 4 KMs.  I should also mention that the DJI Fly app gives users integrated access to SkyPixel, a social media platform for users to share their aerial photos and videos.

 

 

What type of camera modes does the Mavic Mini have? Slow-motion establishing shots of  a city skyline at night, set to some groovy saxophone music are my thang.

That’s your thang? Regardless,  it has QuickShot modes, which include Dronie, Circle, Helix, and Rocket. Just select your QuickShot, and the Mavic Mini will execute an elaborate preset motion while recording.  For narrow or complex spaces, there is the CineSmooth mode, which slows down the flight speed and movements, for extra precision and stability.

What else does it come with?

Accessories include:

Two-Way Charging Hub: The Two-Way Charging Hub can charge up to three batteries in sequence. Itcan also be used to store and transport batteries, and even as a power bank to charge your mobile device.

DIY Creative Kit: Make your FlyCam truly yours with this kit that includes shell stickers and colorful markers.

Charging Base: Show off your Mavic Mini while charging it with the convenient charging base.

DJI Mini Bag: Pack your Mavic Mini and Two-Way Charging Hub easily with this signature shoulder bag that’s perfect for everyday use.

Snap Adapter: Personalize your Mavic Mini with a wide range of compatible accessories when you use the Snap Adapter.

Propeller Holder : This lightweight propeller holder protects your FlyCam propellers from being damaged during transportation. It can also be used to fasten your Mavic Mini to your bag or belt.

Did you just cut and paste that from the Best Buy website?

Nope! See for yourself here.

Fine. Any other points, Mike?

Sure. The Mavic Mini looks it would please drone rookies and hardcore enthusiasts alike. I wouldn’t mind getting one, as I think that the kids and I would have a lot of fun using it!

Hold up. YOU want a drone?

Yeah.

YOU?!

And we’re done here. Later!

 

 

What A Wonderful World

 

I had a really vivid nightmare a few months ago. One of my kids and I were on a roof of a house, when they suddenly lost their balance and fell. I tried to catch them, but I didn’t. I watched them fall and land gruesomely on the hard ground below. This image stuck in my head, and even now, I’ll randomly remember it and get chills. What’s even worse, though, is this feeling that, despite me trying to hold on and protect my kids from the evils and dangers that exist in this world, as they get older,  it’s getting so  much harder to do this. I’m losing my grip, but I don’t want to see them fall.

 

I say this because I’ve been thinking a lot about a horrific incident that happened here in Hamilton this week.  As of this writing, the full details aren’t completely clear, but a 14 year old kid named Devan Bracci-Selvey was stabbed to death outside of his downtown high school,  in front of his own mother. Two teens have been charged with first degree murder, teens who allegedly bullied this kid since the start of the school year. How the bullying escalated to the point that it culminated in killing someone in front of their own mother’s eyes is unfathomable.

Like most of the community,  I was shook when I heard about this tragedy. Things resonate more when they are so close to home. I mean, yeah, I mentioned my stupid nightmare, but to actually helplessly watch your child die in front of your eyes in such a sadistic way is unimaginable. Like most parents, it made me think about my children, too. Everyone that I talked to about this tragedy all had the same conclusion:

This could have happened to my kid.

 

I nodded in agreement every time that I had heard this. It makes me wonder, though, why do I nod at this conclusion? It’s almost like we’ve come to expect the worst-case scenario, and live our lives based on that.

The other day, I found J and KJ playing “school lockdown” with their stuffed animals at our house. Two little kids making a game with some teddy bears, out of running and hiding for their lives, in the event that some bad person wants to do something bad to them. J’s school had practised a lockdown recently, so in her seven year old head, she thought it was no biggie to explain it to her two year old brother.   When I suggested to J that they play something else, she was confused. In her mind, a lockdown was just as normal as doing math work, or drawing pictures, or anything that she does throughout the course of a school day.

And you know what?

She’s not wrong in thinking this, because that’s the way things are nowadays. It’s important and necessary…but it’s still kind of heartbreaking.

 

One of the criticisms of Devan’s situation already is that “the system” failed him. If he was being tormented for months by these people, and he went to the appropriate authority figures for help, why wasn’t more done to protect him?  If my kids were being relentlessly bullied, or being relentless bullies, I don’t know what exactly I’d do, to make it stop, if my kids weren’t able to, on their own.

Bullying has been around since the beginning of time. I get that, and educating kids about bullying and its effects is key. But what if who you’re dealing with goes behind being a bully? Is the kid who gives wedgies the same as the kid who decides to bring a knife to a school and commit cold-blooded murder for God know’s what reason? Which system is at failure here? The school system that Devan went to, trying to get the bullies to leave him be? What about the system that didn’t recognize the signs that the bullying teen was disturbed, and needed to be helped before he kills someone? That goes beyond the school and starts at home, no? Was this an extreme example of bullying, or the deplorable work of a depraved young individual who should have been diagnosed and stopped a long time ago?

Did we all fail Devan?

Not long ago, J and I drove past a candlelight vigil for Devan that our part of Hamilton had put on. J didn’t know what had happened, or what a vigil was, so we talked about it for a bit, her voice full of surprise and sadness.  She asked me why the ‘bullies’ did that, and I had no good reply for her. I don’t know, man. I don’t know. I’m just trying to make sense of something that makes no sense, looking for answers that may never be answered.  I don’t know why Devan was targeted to be the victim of torment which eventually cost him his life. It really could have happened to any kid, and that’s a scary thought.

R.I.P. Devan Bracci-Selvey. While your story isn’t unique, unfortunately,  hopefully your senseless death is not in vain and we can all come to grips with ensuring that a tragedy like this never happens again.

24 Hours In Chicago

 

24 hours in Chicago

 

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.

24 hours in chicago

 

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.

chicago day tour

KJ still made time to pose with J in front of this giant Lego statue, though.

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.

Skydeck Ledge

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:

 

24 hours in chicago

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:

skydeck ledge

I’m sorry, peeps, I’m really not very creative.

 

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!

chicago day tour

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!

24 hours in chicago

chicago day tour

wrigley field tour

The rain is temporary, but the stupid look on my face will last forever.

 

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.

Stan's Donuts Chicago

What? They were really good. That’s all.

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.

24 hours in chicago

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?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Milwaukee – The Unexpectedly Cool Family Road Trip City

 

things to do in Milwaukee With Kids

 

 

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.

 

GETTING THERE

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.

brewers home games

things to do in Milwaukee With Kids

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!

kids run the bases

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.

family fun in milwaukee

I’m more of a Hank Aaron fan myself.

 

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.

Milwaukee County Zoo

milwaukee county zoo

Milwaukee Kids Activities

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.

things to do in milwaukee with kids

Hey guys, if you squint, you can kind of see a monkey in the distance!

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.

Betty Brinn Children's Museum

KJ and J, puttin’ in dat work.

 

 

B spent a lot of time in the Big League Fun exhibit, putting his baseball abilities and knowledge to the test.

Betty Brinn Children's Museum

According to this simulation, B hit one home run 618 feet. The longest home run in MLB history, allegedly, was a 575 footer hit by Babe Ruth. Clearly, my nine year old son is better than Babe Ruth.

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.

best things to do in milwaukee

 

 

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.

Discovery World Milwaukee

Discovery World Milwaukee
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?

things to do in Milwaukee with kids

Y’all thought I was joking about the bed of nails.

 

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

Walk Off Tripel beer, by MKE Brewing Co.

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!

glass + griddle

 

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.

SafeHouse Milwauakee

A covert photo-op mission completed.

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 Public Market

Milwaukee Public Market

 

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.

Blue's Egg

Stuffed hash browns FTW!

 

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).

 

giannis antetokounmpo

Giannis the Greek Freak, larger than life!

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.

 

 

#visitmke

 

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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Canusa Games

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.

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.

Canusa Games

Canusa Games

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.

 

Pure Michigan

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.

canusa games

 

canusa games basketball

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

canusa games

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.

things to do in flint with kids

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.

things to do in flint with kids

 

things to do in flint with kids

things to do in flint with kids

Any place with mirrors that slim me is alright, in my books.

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.

Huh.

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”.

Uh-oh!

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?!

Isn’t it ironic? Don’t you think?

 

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.

Promise!

 

 

 

 

Your Guide To Summer Fun In Hershey PA

 

things to do near Hershey PA

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!

Lake Tobias. Things to do near Hershey PA.

Lake Tobias. Things to do near Hershey PA.

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.

Lake Tobias. Things to do near Hershey PA.

Just don’t give your food away in the petting zoo.

 

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. Things to do near Hershey PA.

Adventure Sports in Hershey. Things to do near Hershey PA.

Get them chips with the dip, young fella!

 

 

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.

Turkey Hill Experience. Things to do near Hershey PA.

Not a real sampling station.

 

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.

Turkey Hill Experience. Things to do near Hershey PA.

Turkey Hill Experience. Things to do near Hershey PA.

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.

Turkey Hill Experience. Things to do near Hershey PA.

Coincidentally, they have an exhibit where you can make your own big Turkey Hill advertisement.

 

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.

United States Hot Air Balloon Team. Things to do near Hershey PA.

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.

United States Hot Air Balloon Team. Things to do near Hershey PA.

United States Hot Air Balloon Team. Things to do near Hershey PA.

The face of someone who is totally not scared to be 2000+ feet in the sky.

 

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!

Roundtop Mountain Resort. Things to do near Hershey PA.

Wheeeeeeee!

 

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)!

Roundtop Mountain Resort. Things to do near Hershey PA.

If ya don’t know what an OGO ball is, now ya know.

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.

Roundtop Mountain Resort. Things to do near Hershey PA.

We gotta stop entrusting KJ with maps, to find the way.

 

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.

Harrisburg Senators. Things to do near Hershey PA.

 

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).

Harrisburg Senators. Things to do near Hershey PA.

 

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.

Hershey Chocolate World. Things to do near Hershey PA.

Yes, I realize that this looks like a 90s kid band album cover.

 

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.

 

Hershey Chocolate World. Things to do near Hershey PA.

 

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.

 

Hershey Chocolate World. Things to do near Hershey PA.

Don’t forget to check out the store there, too, for all of your hilariously oversized candy needs.

 

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).

 

Hershey Story Museum. Things to do near Hershey PA.

 

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.

Hershey Story Museum. Things to do near Hershey PA.

I called my beach bar the Tropic Like Its Hot.

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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Best First Pitch Of All Time

 

PHOTO CREDIT: HARRISBURG SENATORS

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.

Her response?

“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.

Sweet!

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!

 

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