Author: mike

The Inverted Awkardness Conundrum

I’ve started to observe something with lil KJ.

Something very troubling, that I never experienced with my other kids.

He’s flipping the script on awkwardness!

As he has grown out of babyhood, and is heading towards the terrible twos, he has a knack with putting me in less than ideal situations with strangers.

What?

It’s a real problem, people! Here, lemme give you some examples:

  • Once,  KJ wandered over to a dad and just stared at him for a while, until I took him away. The dad was clearly super uncomfortable, too, and I don’t blame him. It’s like KJ had an awkward radar, and he picked out the person in the room who would get the most squirmy.
  • Sometimes, the radar is off. The person he’s randomly staring at will be OK with it, and then try to make him laugh. Instead of cracking a smile, KJ will continue to glare at them with a cold, hard gaze. Watching a grown person acting goofy, while a toddler looks on at them with the demeanour of a British guard, is as weird as it sounds. I will then have to start chuckling like an idiot, to ease the mood.
  • Speaking of chuckling, KJ has also walked up to strangers, pointed at them, and started laughing. What’s so funny? No clue. He lacks the vocabulary to explain.  All I know is that if I walked up to you, pointed, and laughed in your face, you’d  be justified in breaking my pointy finger and punching me in the face.
  • Speaking of violence, while walking through a park, we saw a father hide behind a statue, jump out, and scare his son, who looked to be about seven or eight years old. The boy proceeded to scream and lose his dang mind. Pure meltdown mode. Having been in public situations involving bad tantrums before, the worst part is when people stop to enjoy the show. You can almost feel them judging you as a parent. Thus, I tried to shoo KJ along and allow the dad to soothe his son in peace. KJ stopped to look, of course, and wouldn’t move. He’ll probably grow up to be the type who slows down to gawk at car wrecks on the highway. Anyway, the boy was holding a balloon during this meltdown. He accidentally lost the grip on it, though, sending it high into the sky.  The dad then noticed us noticing him, so he tried to laugh things off, but the kid went into sicko mode (word to Travis Scott). He yelled that he hated his dad. He hit him hard over and over, like he was trying to knock him out like a light (like a light). To distract KJ and move on from the ugly dispute, I pointed out the flying balloon, which got him to continue on walking. On last glance, the boy stopped hitting the guy, then stormed off in the opposite direction of us.
  • While at one of J’s baseball games, some kid had to use the portable toilet. KJ noticed this, so he went………and sat down outside of it. Worse, he tried to insist that I sit down beside him. He got mad when I picked him up, to take him away. Not sure what his intentions were here. He’s not even potty trained. Maybe he wanted to give them a standing ovation when they came out. Regardless, pretty sure most folks don’t want to see a seated audience when they emerge from a public washroom of any kind.

  • Long story, but I had to take KJ to the emergency room at the hospital recently. He’s fine, don’t worry. While there, however, his energy level somehow changed from lethargic to lit! So lit that he wanted to play Ring Around The Rosey. He’s too small to Fortnite dance, and he doesn’t like most songs, so this is his jam. I can only imagine what the staff there must have thought, listening to us going round and falling down. I’m surprised that they didn’t drug test me. Or escort us out of the building.
  • He took my hat off one time, ran off, and tried to give it away twice, to two different random men. Either he was trying to make some new adult friends by impressing them with his dope, stolen headgear, or he thought these guys had bad hair and needed to cover it up. Not sure. Doesn’t matter.  Anyway, the first dude at least politely declined. The second guy looked like he was considering keeping it, which meant that I had to intervene (awkwardly, of course). It was a nice hat, what can I say.

I could go on, but I think that you get the idea. Until KJ becomes a bit more socially refined, this is my life now. I apologize in advance for any awkward encounters that we may have.

 

Later, y’all.

 

 

 

It Seemed Like A Good Idea At The Time

 

Do you remember when I made a joke about becoming a Pentatonix fan?  Yeah, turns out that I wasn’t joking.  Even better, that lovable a cappella singing quintet was part of a milestone – our first family concert was to see them live!

How’d the concert go, you ask?

Well…..

First off, I should say that finding a musical act who we all could enjoy and who wasn’t inappropriate was surprisingly hard. Whereas I like Drake, I could never bring my eight, six, and almost two year old to his concert, for example. Pentatonix hit the sweet spot, though. Their music is pretty tame, plus they do a lot of cover versions of  popular, current songs.  Since K really likes them, B and J like the songs they cover, KJ has no choice as he has to go wherever we go, and I don’t hate them, we figured we would see them live.

The venue was Budweiser Stage, in Toronto. Our tickets were cheapo lawn seats. Having never been before, I had to do some research.  Reviews online, in general, said that the place was great for watching concerts, but food was expensive, and the parking sucked. Strollers and high lawn chairs were prohibited, but blankets were allowed. Taking the Go Train was recommended, but because of the kids/lack of stroller, it was a bit too much of a walk for us, so we had to drive. I figured we would go early-ish, to get a decent parking and lawn spot.

I’m telling you now, the reviews don’t do Budweiser Stage justice. The parking is atrocious. All lots near the premises were full by the time that we got there, but because of the limited entrances, it’s impossible to know they’re full until you get close to them. So picture a long lineup of cars, all being denied by attendants only as they approached them.  One open entrance clearly pointed to parking, so a lot of cars, including us, lined up to go into it. However, once you got in and drove up the lane, we discovered that it just led to a roundabout that went back down to the street, no parking. It was basically the equivalent of the escalator to nowhere on The Simpsons.

After waiting for a good half hour in line, one of the attendants finally advised us where the nearest parking lot was.  That lot was basically a million miles away, which, again, wasn’t ideal for our family. Now late for the concert, I decided to loop back, drop K and the kids off by the front gate, so they could at least enjoy the show, find a parking spot, then run to meet up with them after. After dropping the fam off, I headed over to the million mile lot. Believe it or not, it was full, too. I then tried a couple of other lots nearby. Also rammed. Who knew Pentatonix were so popular?

After driving around beautiful downtown Toronto aimlessly, I eventually found some open street parking two million miles away from Budweiser Stage. Yo, beggars can’t be choosy. I pulled over, and went to see the rates. After 9pm, it was free, but I was there a bit after 8pm, so it was only $2.

Score!

Reading more, it looked like the only way to pay was by mobile, via an app which had to be downloaded. The app required paying $20 upfront, to make an account balance, which could be used at any of the company’s parking spots in Toronto. You know, a city which I don’t live in.

Dang it!

Not wanting to miss more of the concert, but being about a marathon’s walk away, I paid the $20, then ordered a Lyft, to give me a ride back. On the way, the Lyft driver told me that people were waiting for an hour for their Ubers, taxis and Lyfts after another concert, the prior night at Budweiser Stage. He advised me to either leave the show early, or walk up the street when it was over and get a ride off-site, to avoid the long wait. Leaving early was the best solution. You know, to go with me being already late.

Finally, I arrived.  First stop was to the concessions.  I saw people ordering “bottomless” popcorn, so I asked for one of those. I was subsequently told by the cashier that there wasn’t any, and to try the other concession stand, on the other side of the place…..even though people were clearly buying popcorn near me.

Next, I had to seek out my family.  The place was jammed packed, and seating areas were limited. I found them in the very, very back, with a large pole blocking the view. Not only that, but despite the venue stating regular-sized lawn chairs were prohibited,  some people had come after my family had set up shop, and placed their regular-sized lawn chairs in front of our blanket,  which also impeded our view.

Fortunately, I hadn’t missed Pentatonix, as the opening act, Echosmith, was still performing.  All I could do was make the best of the less than ideal situation, and enjoy the evening.

Some random guy came up to us, looking for four people to switch seats. Since there was five of us, we declined. I saw him walking around for a bit, but then he came back over. Turns out, he was the promoter. No lie, he said that we could have his dead-centre box seats, no strings attached! #upgraded

We quickly relocated to his seats (which even had a velvet rope entrance to it)  just as Pentatonix hit the stage. They put on a really good show, I can’t hate. They had the whole crowd (mainly tweens with their parents, and people in their early to mid twenties) eating out of the palms of their hands. Err, almost the whole crowd. At one point, Kevin in the group did an amazing beatboxing solo while playing the cello. B was confused, though, as to why he was being such a buzz kill. In his words, it reminded him of the feeling when you lose your dog, so you walk around sad with your head down (note: we’ve never had a dog).

Alas, time flew, and I had to bizounce before the show ended, to get a ride to our car (facepalm), so we could get home in decent time. Don’t fret, though, my pets. Afterwards,  K made sure to tell me that I only missed out on the best parts – some hip-hop themed beatboxing medleys which apparently were amazing (double facepalm).

And there you have it. Our first family concert. In theory, it was a good idea, but, man, Budweiser Stage was not the right venue at all for us. Like, I doubt I’ll ever take my kids to a concert there again, unless they are much older.  Despite that, Pentatonix were great, we lucked out on the box seats, and the kids had a good time, so it wasn’t a bad night overall.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I gotta go to Toronto now, and find somewhere to burn up the $18 on my parking app.

Later.

This Is Awesome! WWE Smackdown LIVE in Toronto!

 

 

Note: The good folks at WWE hooked me up with tickets to the show. Opinions and thoughts expressed are 100% mine.

There really is nothing like watching wrestling live, especially when it’s a World Wrestling Entertainment (WWE) show. Having been to a few cards in my life, I can honestly say that they put on a good show, and the events that transpire during them are always interesting, to say the least.

Such was the case of the most recent one that we went to, Smackdown Live, at the recently renamed Scotiabank Arena in Toronto. In a bit of a swerve, my guests for the night were B and one of his friends, who’s a hardcore fan. My perspective on the WWE obviously differs from theirs (mine probably leans more to the “smark” side), so I was curious to see what their reactions would be like.

B has gone to houseshows before, but not to a TV taping. The main differences are the lighting (much brighter) and the breaks in the action (much more frequent, due to commercials).  During the breaks, videos were shown, though, to keep the crowd into things. Not that the crowd needed much help staying involved. The atmosphere was very energetic and loud, which was contagious. It’s hard not to scream “Yes!” and point along with Daniel Bryan, when 15,000 or so people are doing the same thing!

Among my group, the boys were most excited to see the New Day (B), and Randy Orton and AJ Styles (his friend) in action. While the New Day started off the show, Orton and Styles were saved for the non-televised main event, which didn’t happen until after another show took place, 205 Live. In all honesty, if the kids hadn’t been looking forward to the main event (Orton and Samoa Joe versus AJ Styles and Jeff Hardy), I probably would have left after Smackdown finished, as I’m not that into 205 Live (I can only watch so much wrestling in a week). However, I’m glad that we stayed, as 205 Live was great. The boys thought Hideo Itami beating up a local enhancement talent was hilarious. While we all were initially meh about the Kalisto/Buddy Murphy match that followed, the two tore the roof off and had an incredible encounter! By the end, all three of us were chanting “This Is Awesome!” with everyone else there.

The main event also didn’t disappoint, as the four stars did all of their greatest hits (or signature and finishers moves, as my video game playing young guests called them). The good guys won, too, and celebrated with the fans for a long time after, to send the crowd home happy.

Speaking of that, by far the most popular wrestler that night…..was a bad guy. Becky Lynch had ‘turned heel’ a few weeks before, by turning on her best friend, Charlotte Flair. The problem (I think) is that Becky was pretty justified in being mad, in the minds of many of the WWE fans. So instead of hating her, people seem to be liking her more and rallying behind her. I don’t think this is what the WWE intended with this story. At the end of Smackdown, after Charlotte retained her championships in a match with Carmella, Becky ran out and attacked her. Normally this results in boos from the crowd. On this night, though, the place went bananas. The “pop” or reaction or whatever was huge, and the chants for Becky were deafening.  B and his friend were a bit confused by this, and I legit had trouble explaining why the person who is supposed to be hated had the arena going crazy for them. Like I said, it’s always an interesting time when you see a show live!

This was the apparent overwhelming sentiment.

Three more observations then I’ll wrap this up. 1) Our seats were behind former WWE referee Jimmy Korderas.  Really nice guy, and was cool to the steady stream of people who came up to him. 2) The merchandise available wasn’t that impressive. There was a lot of stuff for Raw superstars who weren’t even there. Also, t-shirts were $35, but they kept showing promos during breaks that said you could buy shirts online that night for $10. Needless to say, we didn’t buy any merchandise. 3) In terms of kid demographics, besides the New Day, Styles, and Orton, as mentioned, B and his buddy were most into Samoa Joe (so good at being bad that he’s hard not to cheer for, if that makes sense), Daniel Bryan, and R-Truth.

All in all, it was a phenomenal night. Two solid hours of Smackdown Live, followed by an entertaining 205 Live, and a crowd-pleasing main event.  The boys that I was with weren’t the only kids that I saw there who left with big smiles on their faces!

 

 

On The Set Of Bajillionaires And Why It Might Be Your Kids’ Soon To Be Favorite TV Show

It’s 11:30AM on a picturesque morning in July, and I find myself staring at Drake.

Wait. Let’s back track a bit.

Now, it goes without saying that there is a lot of content available to watch, and lots of ways to consume it. However, quantity doesn’t always equal quality. Some of the content kind of sucks, for real.  J, for example, bless her six year old heart, will start down the YouTube rabbit hole of toy unboxing videos, yet somehow end up watching inappropriately profane Barbie and Ken videos. As a parent, you have no choice but to monitor your childrens’ screens more carefully. And, because I like to go the extra mile for y’all sometimes, I decided do some first-hand monitoring. I went behind the scenes to check out some content being made that I hope will be top notch quality for our children.

I’m sitting in the lobby of DHX Studios, a production company in Toronto, awaiting to meet Joanna, DHX’s communication manager. The popular Degrassi TV franchise is filmed here. Pictures of its well-known alumni are displayed prominently throughout the building, including those of a certain Aubrey Graham in his pre-Drake days, which immediately catch my eye. DHX is clearly very proud of the success of Degrassi,  and I’m sure that they are hoping to repeat that success with its newest series aimed for kids, Bajillionaires.

Bajillionaires is a single camera comedy series about Max Graham (newcomer Ricardo Ortiz) and the start-up, invention-based company that he runs in his parents’ garage with his friends. It’s an intriguing premise, to the point that it compelled two networks, Universal Kids and Family Channel, to pick up the show already, for 20 episodes, starting to air later this year.  It’s also being filmed at DHX Studios, hence my Drake-gazing that July day.

Eventually, Joanna arrives. She has a very friendly, approachable demeanor, and interacts easily with everyone we encounter that day.  As we walk outside towards the set of Bajillionaires, we pass the school set of Degrassi.  Even though the show was on hiatus, Drake’s presence still looms large, as he had filmed a video there recently, for his song I’m Upset. We then come up on a road lined with houses and stores, where we are joined by Adrienne. She has the same kind of demeanor as Joanna, and is there that day to help her out.

Having never been on a scripted TV show set before, I was surprised to learn that even though the street looked real, it wasn’t. The houses and stores are all part of the set. The attention to detail is what makes it work, an aspect which goes unnoticed by the casual viewer, but can’t be stressed enough during the production process.

To wit, Joanna and Adrienne lead me down the street, and to a house with a garage, where filming is taking place. There’s a large number of people on site, mostly cast and crew (while not all were present, over 200 people are involved with the making of the show), along with a plethora of film equipment in use. I duck into the ‘video village’, an almost space station-like area, with TV monitors, computers and soundboards set up in it. The director calls for action on a scene. It only involves a close shot of a laptop being opened up, but three takes are needed, to get it just right.

There’s a break in the filming, so Joanna takes the time to introduce me to the main cast of kids who the show is based around. Sitting around a table inside of Munchies (a coffee shop in the Bajillionaires universe), there’s a playfulness and sense of camaraderie amongst the young leads. As the conversation touches on topics like flossing and Fortnite,  I feel as if I’ve come across a group of friends who are just hanging out. This isn’t a mall or somone’s basement, though; it’s a TV show with some significant, expensive stakes put into it. These kids are professional actors who can work a pretty demanding schedule.  The silliness that you’d probably expect among a group of youngsters isn’t apparent (well, mostly, anyway. Jadian Toros, who plays the Chief Financial Officer Zeke, is a quick-witted ball of energy who lightens the mood with his jokes and funny comments. Not surprisingly, he’s also the youngest member of the cast).  Questions posed are met with honest, thoughtful answers, which is refreshing.  I guess the best thing that I can say is that they carry themselves like stars; Ricardo in particular has a leading-man vibe to him.

There’s a sincere earnestness about the show which is contagious. When Mya Singh, who plays Kaylyn, the head of marketing, tells me that kids will find the characters relatable, I believe it. When her and Arista Arhin (who plays Alicia Windsor) explain the risk taking element of the show, and how it’s nice to see kid characters ‘going for it’, I dig that, too. There’s also an educational aspect, in terms of the designs and concepts of the inventions that get concocted. Joanna shows me one of them later, and it was pretty wild.  The components of a quality show are all apparent here. It really is just a matter of what the finished product ends up looking like,  I think.

Lingering in the background at all times are the cast members’ parents. This probably also partially explains the well-mannered politeness on display. Being underage on a set like this requires parental supervision in close proximity at all times.  Really, the role of a stage parent here is a huge commitment. Having to up and leave your life for weeks at a time, to watch long days of filming, can’t be easy.

One thing that does make the days more palatable, for the palate, is taking a break for lunch. On the way to the lunchroom, we pass the living room set for  the Graham family. Again, I’m drawn to the attention to details, like the family pictures on the walls, and the decor used, to add to the authenticness.  After much hype by Joanna and Adrienne, the food did not disappoint. I join them in partaking in a delicious spread of pastas, chicken, and salads, along with desserts.  The cast all sit together at a table, with their parents dutifully situated at tables nearby. I notice that a couple of the child actors are decked out in  ridiculously over-sized novelty shirts. These are to protect their outfits underneath from possible food stains (unrelated, but I wonder if A-listers like Brad Pitt rock these during meals, when they’re filming stuff).  The mood in the room is upbeat.   At one point, Mya and Arista jump up to lead us in a rousing rendition of Happy Birthday to Jadian.

After lunch, it’s back to work for everyone on set. Joanna takes me up to the wardrobe area. There’s a ton of clothes and props there, including ones from Degrassi. To the hardcore fans, no, I did not see Drake/Jimmy’s wheelchair.  Finally, it’s time for yours truly to bid adieu to the lights, cameras and action. As Joanna walks with me back towards the lobby, past the Degrassi set, past the photos of the famous alumni, I wonder if I’ve come across the next Degrassi-like success story. Bajillionaires sounds like it’s going to be a cool, high quality show. I know me and my fam are going to peep it now, when it’s on.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Dad’s Night Out – Toronto’s Festival Of Beer

(Disclaimer: I received complimentary media passes, to come and check out the event. All opinions expressed are my own).

Despite how the saying goes, you can have too much a good thing. Take, for example, Toronto’s Festival Of Beer (TFOB).

Now, in theory, a festival dedicated to all things brewed sounds pretty freakin’ glorious. And make no mistake about, the TFOB is pretty sweet, especially as an option for a dad/mom night out sans kids.  Taking place at Bandshell Park at Exhibition Place, this sprawling festival featured over 90 breweries setting up shop and offering over 400 beers. Not surprisingly, it also featured thousands of people looking to party.

Upon arrival, you’re given a mug, which is the most important piece of equipment that you’ll need for the duration of your stay, because the breweries will only serve you beer in it. You need to buy tokens, too (I went with 20 tokens for $20).  Depending on the brewery, one token usually got you half a pour; two tokens got you a full mug.  Some places required more tokens, though. And this is where the problem of having too much of a good thing starts. With so many options, ranging from the big names, to less popular craft brews, to even non malt-based drinks, coming up with a game plan if you want to sample as much as possible isn’t easy. Shoot, even if you assume just sticking to the two-token half pours is a good idea, since a premium priced product should be superior, this isn’t even true. One of those that I tried was decidedly mediocre, and left me wondering what the fuss was about. To each their own though, especially when it comes to hops.

Complicating things is that TFOB isn’t just about drinking. There was also a nice selection of food choices, to satisfy many appetites. Not only that, but the music was banging, as well. On the night that I attended, the headliner on the OLG Bandshell Stage was Ludacris! I kind of forgot how many hits that guy has, but this didn’t seem lost on the 11000 or so other people in attendance that night, who showed Luda a lot of love and created a dope atmosphere.

 

In addition, there was even non alcohol/food/music stuff to enjoy. I ended up lining up at an OLG truck for a while, to get my picture taken, and to receive a free prize (lottery tickets), for example. Fireside Cannabis also had a big area set up, where you could toast smores over a fire pit. So, of course I hung out there for a bit, toasting smores over a fire pit.

Basically, between the myriad of options of things to do, eat and drink, plus the fact that I staked out a spot in the middle of the crowd to watch Ludacris (negating my ability to go back and forth to grab drinks), I can honestly say that I left TFOB disappointed. Disappointed in a good way, though. It was a ton of fun, and I only wish that I indulged and took advantage more.  And really, for kid-free night out, what more could you possibly you want?

See you at next year’s fest!

 

 

 

Wings And Things – A Minor League Baseball Story

(Disclaimer: I received complimentary tickets from the Buffalo Bisons in exchange for writing a post about the game. Opinions expressed are all mine, as usual).

Recently, I found myself doing something that I never would have dreamed of – cheering on a team of chicken wings.

Let’s set the scene.  The date in question was Father’s Day.  I had decided to celebrate by doing two of my favorite things – hanging out with the fam, and taking in a baseball game.  As a Toronto area guy, the obvious option would have been to go see the Toronto Blue Jays. In all honesty, though, that option was a pretty big meh for me. I love the Jays, but it costs a pretty penny to go a game. Which I get, don’t get it twisted. Big league product with the best players means you pay a premium to enjoy it. However, when you’re talking about an outing with a family of five, it ain’t a cheap afternoon. As well, the Jays just haven’t been all that good this year. I  really wasn’t feeling it, so I came up with a different idea – we’d go to Buffalo instead!

Buffalo is home to the Bisons, an AAA minor league team, who is a Blue Jays’ affiliate. While not major league quality, it’s not that far off, plus there are a bunch of recognizable names on the roster.  They were playing that day against the Rochester Red Wings.  I’ve probably mentioned this before, but I really do like the experience of attending a minor league game. For one, it’s more affordable. Not just the tickets, but also the concessions, too. As well, the teams usually do more for the fans, to make things more enjoyable, For example, the Father’s Day game also happened to be ‘Logo Baseball Giveaway Day’, and you were allowed to play catch on the field afterwards. Between innings also had lots of freebies and giveways, too. The manager of the Red Wings even took the time to walk over and throw B a ball! Little stuff like that really does go a long way.

The Bisons play their games in Coca Coca Field. If you’ve never been to Buffalo, the downtown area is fairly nondescript, but smack dab in the heart of it is this beautiful stadium.  And really, it was night and day watching a game there, versus the Rogers Centre, where the Jays play. The atmosphere is just so much better in a ‘real’ ballpark, for lack of a better term.

Ok, now let’s talk about the wings. The Bisons and Red Wings decided to re-name themselves the Buffalo Wings and the Rochester Plates, respectively, for that weekend, both named after popular local food fares. Their logos and uniforms were rebranded, too, accordingly.  I gots love for Rochester, but Buffalo has more of a soft spot for me, from the Jays connection. And so, for one day only, I found myself sitting at a ball diamond, cheering on a team of chicken wings.

I even got to take a picture with a giant celery!

All in all, it was a pretty unique Father’s Day, and an awesome time at the park.

 

Tips For Attending Toronto’s Festival Of Beer

It’s party time, people. Toronto’s Festival of Beer presented by the Beer Store is this weekend! For those that don’t know, the festival takes place July 26-29 at Bandshell Park, Exhibition Place, featuring over 400 (!!!) beers from about 100 brewers. I went for the first time last year, and it was such a boozy, kid-free blast, that I’m going again this year (this time, though, as invited media). It’s almost sold out now, too. With that said, if you are planning on attending, lemme give you some quick pointers, so you don’t make the same rookie mistakes that I did.

IT’S NOT JUST ABOUT BEER

The festival also features some stellar musical acts, too, performing on the OLG Bandshell Stage! Last year, my buddy and I copped tickets super early (like January early) to save a few bucks. We picked them for Saturday, without realizing that each day would have different headlining performers. It turned out that Canadian rock legends Sloan were the main act that Saturday. While cool, the headliners on the Friday, Method Man and Redman, were more up my alley, musically, and I was kicking myself for selecting Saturday tickets. Oh well. Live and learn. Here’s this year’s lineup (I’ll be there Friday):

Thursday, July 26:

  • Broken Social Scene
  • The Rural Alberta Advantage
  • The Darcys

Friday, July 27

  • Ludacris

Saturday, July 28

  • Dwayne Gretzky

Sunday, July 29

  • Finger Eleven
  • I Mother Earth

 

BRING CASH

It’s all about tokens at the festival, as that’s the currency. You buy them at booths (credit cards are accepted there), or from people are walking around selling them.  There were ATMs on site, but these usually had lineups at them. So, to maximize your drinking time (and save on the ATM fees), be sure to bring money, because it’s easier.

THEM MUG SHOTS, THOUGH

With your ticket comes a little commemorative mug, which you use to get your drank on. In general, one token costs a buck, which should get you about half a mug’s worth of beer. Some places will charge more for a pour, though, so keep an eye out for each place’s rates.

EAT, SUCKA

I pity the fool (word to Mr. T) that tries to booze it up on an empty stomach. While you can’t bring outside food, the festival is promoting its “culinary experience” this year. Some of Toronto’s most popular restaurants will be there, to happily take your money, so you can get your grub on, including La Palma, Campagnolo, Fidel Gastro’s, Tiny Tom Donuts, Queen Margherita Pizza, Smoke’s Poutinerie, South St. Burger, Jerk Brothers, Ted’s World Famous BBQ, Ted’s Beer Dogs, Heirloom Toronto, ONO Poké Bar, Melt Grilled Cheese, Ontario Corn Roasters, Oyster Boy, Hot Bunzz Street Cuizine, and Brando’s Fried Chicken.

ENJOY SOME NON-ALCOHOLIC, FREE REFRESHING H20

You can’t bring your own water, but luckily, a lot places had cold bottled water available. Be sure to take advantage.  Even better, you don’t have to sing like Justin Bieber on a Major Lazer track to get it for free!

PATIENCE IS A VIRTUE BEST SERVED COLD

I totally screwed up that cliche, but you get the idea. Like I said, the festival is sold out, so there’s going to be a lot of people. Last year, we went pretty early on the Saturday, and, while the line to get in moved decently enough…..it was still a really long line. I can only imagine what is was like later in the day. So chill, Bill.  Expect lines for everything, but try to make the best of it. We’re all in the same boat.

SLOW YOUR ROLL, HOMEY

I know, I know. The natural inclination, as soon as you enter the festival, is to blow all your tokens at the first few booths you see. And to that I say, slow down, son.  Pace yourself.  You paid good money for your ticket, so there’s no need to get escorted out by the cops for being a drunken idiot an hour after you get there. The festival covers a lot of area. Take your time and explore. You never know what might find, that will tickle your fancy.

Have fun and be merry this weekend. Cheers!

 

Casual Views From The Honda Indy Toronto

 

I’ll freely admit to not being much of a race car fan. Sure I appreciate the drivers’ abilities, and the engineering and speed of the vehicles. However, it’s just not something that I’ve ever gotten into. So, every year, when the Hondy Indy takes place in Toronto, since the race runs on streets near the lake shore, I’ve been one of those people who would complain about traffic sucking that weekend, and stayed away from  the city. And I don’t even live in Toronto!

This year was different, though. I discovered that the Indy puts on a Fan Friday event. Instead of paying admission, a voluntary donation to Make-A-Wish Canada gets you onto the grounds, to experience all kinds cool stuff, both on and off track. Stuff like watching the drivers’ practice on the course, autograph sessions, and tons of other festival attractions, games and activities. Figuring this was a great way to find out what all the fuss about the Indy was about, I secured a media pass, and checked out Fan Friday with B.  Here are some thoughts and views, random style!

  • To avoid the traffic, we took Go Transit. It stopped at the Exhibition GO Station, which was right where the gates for the Indy were. Even better, kids under 12 ride free, if an adult has a ticket to the Indy!
  • The cars are loud! It was just practice sessions that day, but the roars of them speeding by was pretty deafening. Ear protection was a must, especially for B.

  • The grandstands were open to everyone. B and I hung out for a little bit there, to scope out the action, but many fans were there for long periods.
  • B and I spent a lot of time in the Honda Speed Zone. This area had the most kid-friendly games and activities. It also had free popcorn, cotton candy and snow cones.
  • The various sponsors’ booths and displays had quite a bit of free swag available, actually. There was also a decent selection of food trucks there, too {not free), and numerous beer gardens (also not free).
  • We were really looking forward to doing the Junior Red Riders. Kids would put on the proper safety gear, and ride dirt bikes in a controlled evironment. However, I didn’t realize that you had to come early, to register for this, and registration filled up quick. While waiting in line to play a game at about 11:00AM, I overheard another dad saying that the earliest time to participate in the Junior Red Riders was 4:30PM. Then, when we went over afterwards, registration was full for the day. Pretty disappointing, especially since I don’t think the early registration was made clear anywhere.

  • Many people were also rocking gear of their favorite drivers. Canadian James Hinchcliffe, in particular, was a big favorite.

  • Man, I suck at remote controlled car driving. B and I raced a couple of them, and I got smoked by him. Don’t worry, he made sure to ask if I felt embarrased about the L.
  • Wandering around the paddock area was eye-opening.  Each team basically had an area set up, some more spacious than others. The cars are handled with such care and delicateness, too. It really was impressive, in terms of the amount of effort and manpower that was needed, to get those things in peak condition.

  • Again, B and I are Indy car novices. While in the paddock area, our main discussion was who had the coolest name (conclusion: Will Power).
  • You didn’t have to go through the paddock area to get up and close personal to cars. Sick rides were all over the grounds.

All in all, B and I enjoyed our time there. I do have a newfound respect for the Honda Indy.  The crowd wasn’t overwhelming at Fan Friday, too, so it was a good way for novice fans and young fans to ‘get their feet wet, in terms of attending an Indy. For the price you pay, you really can’t go wrong.

Ok, let’s wave the checkered flag on this post. Until the next time, peace!

 

Road Trippin’ – Harrisburg And Hershey Pennsylvania!

My good friends at Visit Harrisburg and Hershey generously invited us to explore the area recently, as part of their incentivised Media Days program.  If you’re thinking of doing a road trip this summer with your family, making the drive deep into the heart of Pennsylvania is definitely worth considering!

For us, it was about a seven hour ride with stops, because, well, kids. It’s a nice drive, though, as it’s pretty scenic.  Since it was kind of on the way to the hotel, and because we wanted to walk around after being in our van for so long, the first place we checked out was the Indian Echo Caverns at Echo Dell.  This is a limestone cave, located in Hummelstown, which also has a playground and petting zoo on site. Upon descending down a long flight of stairs (which feels longer when you ascend them afterwards, especially if carrying a one year kid, like I was), we were given a guided tour into the caverns.  The tour took about 45 minutes, and I was amazed at the various formations. It was really cool (no, for real, the temperature inside was 52 degrees), and our guide was entertainingly knowledgeable.  He also unintentionally took our best/worst family photo ever:

I asked him how the picture looked, and he said good. I shouldn’t have taken his word for it.

We next made our way over to the hotel, The Central Hotel And Conference Center, in Harrisburg.  For our purposes, this was a perfect place to stay, as it was in a central location to any place that we wanted to visit. Hershey, for example is about 14 miles from Harrisburg, so only about 20 minutes away from the hotel. I also understand that since Hershey is more of a known tourist destination, actually staying at one of the official Hershey lodging options is a bit expensive. If you don’t mind the short drive, I’d recommend staying in Harrisburg instead, and saving a few bucks.

B and J reacting to our welcome package at the hotel.

After dinner, it was time to satisfy our sweet teeth, as we headed over to Chocolatetown USA, to visit Hershey’s Chocolate World.  This place had all kinds of delicious, fun things to do, and also a store with the huge selection of Hershey’s goodies. Parking is free for up to three hours, which is plenty of time to enjoy a bunch of the attractions. We all did the Trolley Works tour, where we rode a trolley though Hershey and learned about the history of the city, while also sampling some chocolates. K and the kids then went on  the chocolate making tour (note: this is free, plus you get a chocolate sample at the end).  I went to unleash my inner Milton Hershey by creating my own candy bar!

 

Despite being tasty, The Daddy Realness bar will not be hitting store shelves any time soon.

The next day was spent at Hersheypark. For the uninitiated, this place is a Hershey’s themed family park, which has an amusement park, a water park and a zoo in it. Our plan was to hit up the water stuff in the morning, and then do the dry stuff in the afternoon, as we figured (correctly, as it turned out) most people would do the opposite, so the lines wouldn’t be as long. We tried to jam as many rides in as possible, but the place had over 70 of them. We barely made a dent. The selection was great, though, I gotta admit. They ranged from ones that KJ (a Hershey’s miniature, according to the height guide) could go on and enjoy, to ones the thrilliest seeker would like. Fahrenheit in particular, had me looking up at it, shaking my head in disbelief.

Yeah. Heck no.

Another nice aspect of the amusement park was the layout. I’ve been to parks that had a ‘kiddie section’, with the ‘adult’ rides at a separate spot. At Hersheypark, though, everything was mixed. So in theory, the parents could go lineup for a ride, while the kids went on a different one nearby. My kids were too young to do this, admittedly, but it’s a good thought.

One other thing to mention is that you should keep an eye out for the various Hershey characters throughout the park. J was lucky enough to be picked to play in the travelling Character Game Show, where she won a prize!

East Coast Waterworks was easily the favorite attraction, among my fam. It’s a kid friendly water play area, with lots of slides, tunnels and toys. We spent at least an hour there. I’ve noticed that I’ve become more of a chicken as I’ve gotten older, when it comes to thrill-seeking, so my favorite ride by far was the lazy river. All in all, it was jammed-pack, exhausting day at Hersheypark, and we didn’t even make it over to the zoo!

The following day started with a visit to Hershey Gardens. In addition to the 23 acre botanical part, it also houses a butterfly atrium.  Walking through the atrium was quite an experience. I’ve never seen so many butterflies before! There were dozens and dozens of different kinds, from all over the world, freely flying about.  I will say that they kept the temperature hot in there, which had me feeling like Nelly in 2002.

Sad attempt at a selfie with a butterfly.

 

Afterwards, we made our way outside, specifically, to the Children’s Gardens.  We followed the pathways while going past various gardens, many of which were interactive in nature. It unfortunately started to rain, so we didn’t check out the rest of the grounds. I’m not exactly a flower enthusiast, but I’ll vouch for the beauty of the Gardens as being something everyone can appreciate.

Afterwards,  it was time to go on a boat ride. Since Harrisburg actually lies on the Susquehanna River,  we took the bridge to City Island, to take a cruise on The Pride Of The Susquehanna. The Pride is one of only six authentic paddle wheel riverboats in the USA (so paddles only for steering and propulsion). Besides driving like a throwback, the interior is decorated as such, too, giving it an old-timey vibe. The sightseeing tour that we went on was about 45 minutes long.  I’d like to say that we relaxed and enjoyed the views while listening to the recording explaining the history of the river and Harrisburg. But, you know, kids. B and J were more excited about being on a boat than The Lonely Island ever was (note: T-Pain was not on the Pride).  They ran around like maniacs, getting excited about the littlest things (“HEY DADDY! LOOK! THERE’S A BATHROOM!). You were also able to buy some snacks on board, if that floats your boat (this fact really floated B and J’s boat).

After docking, it was time to hit up downtown Harrisburg. To be honest, it wasn’t quite what I expected. There were definitely some nice old buildings, like the Pennsylvania State Capitol, and a bunch of cool looking restaurants. Like most major cities, though, I get the feeling that you probably don’t want to be in certain streets when it’s dark. That’s not to say stay away from downtown, obviously; I’m just saying I felt a bit uncomfortable in certain spots during the day, but totally safe for the most part.

One of those safe places is the Whitaker Center. I loves me a good science center, and the Whitaker fit the bill. Three floors of over 200 hundred hand-on, interactive exhibits? Yes please! Kidsplace, in particular, was a favorite of KJ’s.

B and J really liked building cars and paper planes in the Move It! section. K and I had fun trying our hands at making stop-motion animated movies in the Backstage Studio. While my attempts predictably sucked, K apparently is Walt Disney’s grandchild or something, as she made a couple of mini masterpieces.  The Whitaker Center also has a cinema with a huge 38’x70′ screen, if you want to catch a flick, as well as an intimate performance theater.

There’s also plenty of cheesy tourist photo opportunities, don’t worry.

Not far from the Whitaker is the State Museum of Pennsylvania, so we headed there next. This museum is very comprehensive, in terms of covering different periods in Pennsylvania history. It was hard to soak in as much as I would have liked (because, you know, kids), but it was still a worthwhile visit. KJ loved the baby/toddler Curious Connection area. It’s the type of place where I saw a tunnel, so I was like, yo, I wonder where that goes. The next thing I know, I was on my hands and knees crawling through it like I was Andy in The Shawshank Redemption, and I ended up in a playhouse. Just a fun environment to put your little one down in, to let them explore. The rest of us liked the third floor the most, with the various animal and dinosaur exhibits.

Plus, there’s a huge statue of William Penn there.

Our last stop on our trip was my personal favorite. I was hoping to catch a Harrisburg Senators minor league baseball game, but alas, they were out of town. However, we got the next best thing – a private tour of their stadium, FNB Field! The team’s general manager, Randy Whitaker, generously took some time out of his day to show us around. FNB Field is located on City Island,  which made it unique from the other stadiums, because how many stadiums are even on an island?! Besides this, the coolest part is their Life Sized Bobblehead Hall of Fame, featuring numerous Harrisburg Senator legends.

All in all, it was a great trip!  Hershey on it’s own was awesome, but besides the Sweetest Place On Earth, our experience in Harrisburg was positive overall, too.

In J’s opinion, it was the best trip ever!

Until the next one, peace!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

How Not To Chaperone A School Trip

One thing I’ve learned about being a parent is that sometimes, you have to put yourself out there, and do stuff way outside your comfort zone. That’s how I found myself as a volunteer chaperone on my daughter’s kindergarten class trip to the zoo recently. See, when it comes to being in charge of a group of children, I tend to suck. As such, I tend to avoid putting myself in those situations. Trust me, people, it’s for the best.

However, when a notice came home requesting chaperones for the zoo trip, J wanted me to go. Like, really wanted me to go. I of course, said no, but J was persistent and insistent, so I finally relented. One mandatory police check, and one random drawing of names later (three volunteers were needed, but eight parents wanted to go), and I was in. Time to face my fears.

I quickly Googled tips for chaperoning, and it seemed like an easy enough gig. Kids would be so excited to see a new face, and I’d be treated like a rock star? Sweet! I pictured them looking up to me in awe at the zoo, and following me around like the Pied Piper, as I regaled them with my knowledge about the various creatures.

On the day of the trip, the first thing that I had to do was sign in at the office. While there, one of the teachers came up to me and said that he never saw many dads volunteering, so it was nice to see me there. While initially flattered, panic then set in. Where were the dads at, all this time? Did they know something that I didn’t?

Uh oh!

When I entered J’s class, J was really pumped to see me, but the other children? Yeah, not so much. A lot were indifferent. Some looked confused.  A few seemed excited, but it was more like how a pack of lions gets excited when some fat, tasty prey shows up at their den.

Me aka dead meat.

One little girl came up to me, and asked what my name is. When I told her, she immediately called me something else. She proceeded to spend the rest of the day calling me by everything but my name, and laughing about it.  Mr. Hat, Mr. Brown Eyes, Mr. Poop and so on.  I’ll give her credit for coming creative with it, despite me feeling like Darryl Strawberry on The Simpsons, when Bart and Lisa heckled him.

Unrelated, but his classic moment was immortalized in pin form! Click the pic, to check it out.

J’s teacher (who did a great job communicating and keeping things organized) split the class up into groups, so each volunteer had six kids that they were in charge of.  I took a head count, and rattled off their names. This would be the first of about 1250 times that day, where I would do this.  One little boy immediately wandered off, leaving me wondering where he went. This would be the first of about 1250 times that day, where I would wonder this about him.

The zoo was an hour away, which meant that we had to take a school bus there. My group sat in my general vicinity, including J, who plopped down beside me. I went to the Juno Awards (Canadian Grammys) a few years ago, and these girls near me kept losing their minds whenever Shawn Mendes appeared. All loud squeals and screams. Some tears, too.  Multiply that by a busload, and that pretty much describes how the ride went. No one was bad…..it was just noisy.

The stupid, confused expression on my face was pretty much how I looked the whole day.

Once we dispersed from the bus (and my group scurried off in different directions), my friend who also was volunteering, but happens to be a teacher, took pity on my over-matched butt.  She suggested that our groups stick together, which I happily agreed to.  Once we entered the zoo,  it was time to use the washrooms, have a quick bite, and put on some sunscreen.  As I helped the kids with their snacks and lotion, I guess the little wandering dude was new to the concept of sunscreen. I turned around and he was happily sitting there, eating his sandwich, covered in globs of the  white stuff. His hands and arms were gloopy.  It was smeared all over his face. He looked like a five year old Pennywise the Clown. Anyway, after a quick wipe down, it was time to catch the trolley to finally see some animals!

At our first stop, the kids all ran off. So much for listening to me regale them with my knowledge. There was no time to regale anyway, as I could only worry about keeping track of my six. While five of my six were into the animals, one little homey was only concerned with the trees. He spent the whole trip picking up sticks, progressively grabbing bigger and bigger ones. It started out as twigs, and eventually he was swinging branches around.  I didn’t want him swinging these things in the crowd, because getting licked with a stick hurts. At one point, I asked him to put it down, and he said no. I asked again, and he refused. I then realized that I had no clue how to properly handle this situation. He then happily walked off, stick in hand.

Later on, after he grabbed one dangerous-looking branch, I tried to take it from him. He accidentally got dinged in the process, and said that he was bleeding. Now, for real, it was the tiniest nick, with only a slight trickle of blood. He was 100% fine, trust me.  At the time, though, my last name might as well have been Myers and it may as well have been Halloween.  I felt like I hacked the poor boy’s hand off, causing blood to spew profusely like a fountain.

Moving on. The zoo had these dispensers around the park, where you put your money in, twisted the handle, and food pellets came out, for feeding the animals. My group had zero combined dollars. However, at one point, I found almost all of them (not the little wandering dude, obviously) around a dispenser, trying to get food out. Stick boy had a twig jammed up it, and was maneuvering it similar to how a thief breaks into a car.  “Hey mommy, guess what we learned at the zoo today? How to commit petty crime!”

The rest of the afternoon was a blur of lunch, counting to six, rattling off names, rounding up my group when they split up, and riding the trolley around the zoo, doing a quickie tour. One girl complained about being bored, but I think everyone else had fun. I definitely wasn’t a rock star, in anyone’s eyes in the end, including my daughter’s  Before the bus ride home, J nonchalantly asked me who I was sitting beside, because she was sitting with her friends now. #savage

And that’s how my first time chaperoning a school trip went.

Let’s finish with some takeaways. First, shout out to anyone (teachers, coaches, daycare providers, whoever) that successfully deals with large groups of children on the regular. It’s never easy, and I don’t know how you do it! Next, if I ever chaperone again, I’ll probably do better.  For example, one of the other volunteers there called their group the Wolf Pack, which made rounding them up easier. Thus, I know now to have a fancy group name. If I just had to yell “Yo! Mr. Poop’s Group! Where you at?”, that would have saved me a lot of counting to six.  Finally, all jokes aside, I am glad that I had a chance to chaperone. Sure, it was stressful, but it was enjoyable, and almost everyone made it home injury-free.  It was a nice to get outside of my comfort zone for a few hours. Plus, it gave me the chance to do things like explain to a kid why he couldn’t pee by a tree near the lunch area.  All in all, it was a pretty good day.

Until the next one, peace!

 

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