Category: Super Fun Adventures

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 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!

 

How To Attend A Championship Parade

Toronto Raptors NBA Championship Parade

Congratulations! Your favorite professional sports team won the championship, and now it’s party time! Or more specifically, it’s victory parade time! But, what’s that, you say? You’ve never been to one before, and don’t know what it’s like? Well, have no fear, dear reader, as I’m about to hook you up, and give you some advice on how to attend a championship parade. Let’s get it on, FAQ style!

Have you even been to a championship parade before?

Yup. I was one of the two plus million who took part in the Toronto Raptors’ celebration this year. As someone who’s a lifelong fan of the Raptors, the Phoenix Suns, and the Toronto Blue Jays, all of whom aren’t exactly perennial champions, it was a pretty amazing day!

Your choice in teams is very questionable, so I don’t think that I trust your judgement, or your advice. Do you mind if I stop reading now?

Uh, yes, I mind? Please read on?

Fine.  What should I bring with me?

I’ll start with what you should not bring.  And that…..is little kids.

Huh?! You’re suggesting depriving my children of a historical moment that they’ll remember forever? You’re a terrible parent!

I’m just sayin’. For one, teams tend to schedule these things during the week, so they’ll have to miss a day of school, which may or may not be a big deal, to some folks. For another, kids are short. You’re planning on watching a parade with hundreds of thousands, maybe even millions, of other grown fans. You’re going to have to go early, to guarantee a spot in the front, so they can see over everyone. Otherwise, be prepared to have them lifted up on your shoulders for extended periods. Back to going early, though. It’s potentially a long day (in my case with the Raptors’, I was there around 9am, but the parade ran late, so it didn’t pass us until around 2pm). You don’t exactly have in and out privileges. If you claim a good spot up front, and then leave, you’re not getting that spot back.   I don’t know about you, but my kids have this habit of wanting to use the bathroom at the most inopportune times.  How would you feel if, you’ve been standing around for hours, crammed among a huge crowd of people, and in the distance, you finally see the team caravan coming, but you then hear these words: “Daddy? I have to go to the bathroom really bad! I can’t hold it!”

I’d be furious! ARGH!

Right.  Furthermore, my kids get restless pretty easily, which leads to boredom complaints, or worse. It’s just potentially a long, tiring day of keeping them entertained. I overheard at least one unhappy little camper asking to go home, about two hours into the Raptors’ parade. Bringing lots of food and drinks is a good idea, in theory, but this will inevitably lead to bathroom breaks, which means spot-losing. My kids also have this habit of gobbling up everything in site and then, minutes later,  complaining that they’re still hungry. Food runs again leads to spot-losing.  I mean, sure, a championship parade is a fun event for families, and some, heck, maybe most families, have a positive experience, but I’d definitely put an asterisk next to them.

Kawhi Leonard at the Toronto Raptors NBA Championship Parade

Kawhi Leonard waving the trophy in the air like he just don’t care. What a fun guy!

OK, OK, I get it. Ditch the kiddos. What should I bring, then?

Food and drinks are good, with the disclaimer mentioned above (if you’re moving around, throughout the parade route, that isn’t much of a problem, however). Comfortable shoes. Sunscreen. A fully charged phone, so when the good stuff happens, you have enough battery life to spam your social media with pictures to make your friends, to quote J-Lo, jelly.  Some fresh, official championship merchandise to wear.  An umbrella.

An umbrella? Because the parade goes on, rain or shine?

Nah. Because your favorite athlete might roll by drunkenly popping bottles of champagne and spraying them into the crowd. Champagne soaked clothes doesn’t sound like a comfortable look.

 

Toronto Raptors NBA Championship Parade

Watch out! He has an open bottle!!!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

But if they’re pouring beer afterwards, I should be good, correct? Liquor before beer, you’re in the clear?

 

That saying doesn’t apply at all.

Whatever. What else shouldn’t I bring?

GUNS! Like, it’s a day about showing love to your team, and coming together as a community. There’s no need for weapons. Besides that, don’t bring giant signs that obstruct the view of those behind you. At the very least, if you do bring them, be smart about when you hold them up.

Do I need to do anything beforehand, to prepare? Should I memorize every player’s stats , so I’ll have some conversation points, when I’m standing for hours on end surrounded by strangers?

At the Raptors’ championship parade anyway, the crowd was massive, but it was a mixture of hardcore fans, casual fans, bandwagon fans who jumped on board when they realized the team might win the title, and people who were there out of FOMO. Basically, it wasn’t hard to make polite chit chat, so no need to bone up on statistics. Beyond that, know the parade route, and have a good entry/exit strategy. Large volumes of humans converging in one area makes getting there and going home a bit of an adventure. Also, you know how when you go to a Santa Claus parade, and before Santa’s float comes, there’s like a million other stuff before that? Bands, maybe some insurance company’s car, with smiling brokers waving in it, that kind of stuff?

Yes?

Same thing for a championship parade. It’s not just the team on a bus with the trophy. The Raptors’ one had some cars and buses full of people most wouldn’t recognise who were invited to take part. Sponsors, front office executives,  family members, etc.

Anything else?

Yeah. Shower and put on deodorant before you go. When the players do finally roll by, the mass of humanity around you will most likely lift up their arms to take pictures. I inhaled some interesting scents when that happened, to put it politely.

And just like those armpits, this post stinks, too!

OK, we’re done here. Enjoy the parade!

Masai Ujiri at the Toronto Raptors NBA Championship Parade

Hand’s up, to take pictures of Raptors’ president Masai Ujiri’s butt!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Tips For Attending a Professional Golf Tournament With Kids

A View of the RBC Canadian Open

Admittedly, I am not a golf fan. However, I’ve watched PGA and LPGA tournaments on TV before, and always thought that it would be cool to attend one in person.  So, when the good folks at the RBC Canadian Open offered me a ticket to check out their event, I was all over it like Rory McIlory on a par 4 hole. Not only that, but I took my seven year old daughter J, who isn’t a golf fan at all, with me. I know, I know, this sounds like a bad idea, but we both actually had a good time! Here are my tips for attending a professional golf tournament with kids.

 

PLAN AHEAD

At the RBC Canadian Open,  I misunderstood the prohibited items list, and didn’t bring any food or drinks, so I had to buy all that stuff there.  It was a hot day, and J loves her snacks, so my wallet ended up taking a nice hit. There was also hours of interactive, kid friendly scheduled activities on site, but these didn’t happen on the day that we went. We knew, walking-wise, that we were going to get our steps in, but we both didn’t realize how ‘hilly’ the course was, which made things more physically demanding than expected, especially on J’s little legs. Also, between the walking and the heat, we had to stay hydrated. Places to grab a drink were scattered around the course, so being aware of where they were was important. Basically, as golf tournament novices, planning ahead was crucial. Knowing the schedule, course layout, and policies ahead of time can save you some disappointment and money later.

Attending the RBC Canadian Open PGA Event With Kids

PARKING

I have no clue what the parking situations are like for every professional golf tournament, but they probably all vary. So, along the lines of planning, be sure to look into it ahead of time. It might be on site, you might have to buy passes beforehand, who knows. In our case at the RBC Canadian Open, we paid to park at a nearby fairgrounds, and took a shuttle bus to the course.  In case you were wondering, yes, J enjoyed the bus rides almost as much as the golfing.

HAVE  A GAME PLAN

There are a few ways to maximize your experience when you attend a golf tournament with kids. If you and your child have a favorite golfer, you could find out when they tee off, and follow them during their round. For the less ambitious, bring chairs,  plop yourselves down at a hole, and watch the entire field come through, so you see a wide range of golfers. If you guys are all about dat social media life, find out which holes or areas are famous/infamous, and hit them up, for Insta-worthy, ‘Gram-able pictures. If you don’t have a vested interest in any of the golfers or the course, like J and I, check to see if the event has a family /fun zone of some sort.  We spent a while hanging out in the “Hamilton Fare Way” area, near the 18th hole, eating, playing mini putt and cornhole, and loading up on free swag.  We also went to the RBC Canadian Open early, as I figured the crowds wouldn’t be as bad then as in the afternoon, when the big name PGA dudes teed off.  We did eventually wander around the course for a few holes, before heading back the Fare Way area (it was pretty entertaining, there, what can I say).

Attending the RBC Canadian Open PGA Event With Kids

 

 

TO QUOTE ALLEN IVERSON – “WE TALKING ABOUT PRACTISE, MAN”

If the course of the golf tournament that you are attending has them and allows it, make time to stop by the driving range and putting greens.Attending the RBC Canadian Open PGA Event With Kids

You can see the pros up close, practising. It’s also a decent opportunity to possibly even score an autograph or selfie, if you’re nice about it.

J and I stumbled our way onto a large crowd of people watching some well known PGA stars work on their putting, and then squeezed our way through an even bigger crowd of people watching Canadian golfer MacKenzie Hughes on the driving range (I think).

 

AUTOGRAPHS

Speaking of autographs, that’s another way to keep your kid engaged, while at a golf tournament. Besides the practise area, the 9th or 18th holes, where rounds end, are also usually primo locations to score someone’s John Hancock. Attending the RBC Canadian Open PGA Event With Kids

For J and I, this wasn’t that appealing (as we didn’t know who most of the golfers were), BUT we did overhear security talking about  Kyle Lowry of the Toronto Raptors possibly coming to the RBC Canadian Open that afternoon.

Since he is her favorite player, we did figure out where the entrance was, and hung out there for a bit, in the hopes of getting his autograph (no luck on this, by the way).

 

ETIQUETTE

Attending a professional golf tournament is unlike any other big time sporting event, as golf has certain etiquette which needs to be adhered to. You’ll have to keep your kid in the loop on this stuff. Even as spectators, you should probably dress a certain way, to look the part (though, because our experience at the RBC Canadian Open coincided with the Raptors’ NBA Finals run, there were a ton of people rocking Raptors shirts and jerseys, instead of fancy polos).  You also can’t move at certain times, when the golfers are in action. You have to know when to be quiet, as well, which is important if your kid is a chatterbox like J.  Don’t forget to tell them that if you see a ball, it’s not finders keepers. While strolling down a hole, we heard someone yell “WATCH OUT!” (unrelated sidenote: shouldn’t he have yelled “FORE!”?). Turns out, a golfer hit an errant tee shot which soared out of bounds and came flying down maybe 15 feet in front of us. J saw where it landed, said ‘Hey look! A  ball!’, and immediately ran to get it, which caused me to sprint after her, to tell her not to touch it.

Attending the RBC Canadian Open PGA Event With Kids

Hey look! A ball!

 

And finally, the most important tip of all, for attending a professional golf tournament with your kid…..

 

HAVE FUN!!!

Seriously, it’s a cool experience, and a nice way to spend some quality time together. Enjoy it!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Road Trippin’ – Winter Fun in Cooperstown, New York!

 

things to do in cooperstown ny winter

When I think of Cooperstown, New York, I think of one thing – baseball.  Similar to how Augusta, Georgia is revered by golf aficionados, baseball fans like yours truly hold Cooperstown in the highest esteem. As such, many people flock there in the summer, especially during the Hall of Fame induction festivities. However, being so closely tied to a summer pastime does pose an interesting  question- what the heck goes on in Cooperstown, after the bases are put away, and the diamonds are cleared up for the season? Fortunately for my family and I, we were able to find out the answer to that question, when my friends at This Is Cooperstown invited us down for a fun-filled almost winter weekend! Turns out there are plenty of things to do in Cooperstown in the winter!

Regular readers know that we love road trippin’, and Cooperstown was a perfect destination. To my fellow Canucks in the Hamilton/Toronto area – our drives there and back each took about five hours, with stops. Upon arrival, it becomes apparent quickly how unique a place Cooperstown is. It’s a small village, nestled at the end of a lake, basically. The downtown area has one stoplight. There’s only one grocery store in town. Main Street is lined with restaurants, shoppes and the Hall of Fame, but you can’t exactly drive very fast down it.  I kind of felt like that I was in Stars Hollow, actually, and expected to bump into Rory or Lorelai Gilmore at any time. I don’t mean that to throw shade; I love Gilmore Girls. I’m just sayin’, picture Stars Hollow with a baseball focus, and that’s Cooperstown.

Things To Do in Cooperstown in the Winter

This Joltin Joe Dimaggio song is now on my daughter’s playlist of favorite songs, no joke.

Most of that focus obviously is on the town’s biggest attraction, the Baseball Hall Of Fame. Things To Do in Cooperstown in the WinterAs someone who’s dreamed of strolling the hallowed halls since I was a lil dude, I was in heaven. The amount of history that it covers, and the items and memorabilia on display, is overwhelming, but in the best way possible.  Walking past the walls filled with the plaques of all of the inductees gave me goosies (word to Jennifer Lopez!).  Things To Do in Cooperstown in the WinterThe Hall does provide a scavenger hunt for children to do, with a prize given out, for completing it. B and J, to their credit, were determined to finish it, which was cool. The only thing was that they zipped through the place to find the answers, and didn’t really want to drink in the awesomeness of it all, which meant that I couldn’t either. I left thirsty (for more).  K thought that more interactive exhibits probably would have helped engage them better, which is probably true. Regardless, my family, who range in levels of baseball fandom, all enjoyed the Hall Of Fame to varying degrees, and it’s definitely THE must-see attraction, when in Cooperstown. Be sure to grab a bite at the iconic Doubleday Cafe, too, before or afterwards. Besides having delicious food with generous portions,  it’s like a two minute walk from the Hall, and there’s lots of interesting baseball memorabilia on display there, as well.

Along those lines, a visit to the Cooperstown Bat Company was also in the cards. They offer tours of their factory, including a bat turning demonstration. The people there were very friendly, knowledgeable and legit seemed to love their jobs. To be honest, my kids, while initially really into it, did get bored after a while.  Maybe just plan on a quick trip, if you go with little children.  However, it’s a fascinating place.  Don’t let the size of the facility fool you, too.  Their capabilities and clients are impressive.  One of the coolest things that they offer is a custom engraving service. A high quality wood bat with a name engraved on it makes a great souvenir.  Since they have an online store that ships all over, it makes a great gift, too, for Christmas!

Things To Do in Cooperstown in the Winter

Balancing bats on random things is fun!

Along those lines, the timing of our trip (late November) happened to coincide with some local holiday festivities. For example, we braved the cold one night to check out the Santa’s Arrival Parade. Main Street  was filled on both sides with families eagerly awaiting Santa’s appearance. Things To Do in Cooperstown in the WinterThere was a buzz in the air, as only St. Nick can create, among excited children.  Well, a buzz and a lot of chattering, too. From people’s teeth. For real, it was chilly!

Eventually, after the floats and performers and whatnot went by,  Mr. and Mrs. Claus arrived with their ‘reindeer”, police escort in tow, like they were rock stars or something. They set up shop in a park on Main Street, which had been transformed into a Christmas village. Kids then lined up to meet them, which was a nice touch, different from other parades that we’ve been to. Anyway, it was nice to see the community come out, to interact and enjoy the event. I really felt at home there, and not like a tourist.

Things To Do in Cooperstown in the Winter

 

Also on our agenda was an adventure on The Santa Express, courtesy of the Cooperstown & Charlotte Valley Railroad.  Train cars were decorated on the inside and outside with a holiday theme. While on board, we went for a slow, relaxing, heated ride along the tracks, while enjoying goodies and Christmas music. The highlight, of course, was an appearance from Santa and Mrs. Claus. They had gifts for each of the kids on board, and handed them out to everyone, by name. B and J couldn’t believe it, when they received a couple of toys on their wish lists.  The magic of Christmas, I tell ya.

Things To Do in Cooperstown in the Winter

 

Along those lines, we were magically transported back in time, while in Cooperstown, too! Well, not really, but we did venture out to the Farmer’s Museum, to see what life what life was like 100+ years ago. Things To Do in Cooperstown in the WinterCooperstown in general has a throwback, old-school vibe to it, especially in terms of the architecture, but the Museum takes it up a notch. Past the main barn (which had various interactive exhibits and displays in it) was a historic village. It was comprised of buildings and characters which would have been common in the 18th and 19th centuries, like a school house (with a teacher) and a tavern/hotel.  There’s also a farmstead on site.  My kids’ favorite part, though, was the Empire State Carousel, a retro merry go round.

Things To Do in Cooperstown in the Winter

Alright. Maybe it was my fav part, too.

Along those lines, my family LOVED our accommodations for the weekend! We stayed at the Oneida Lodge North, courtesy of CooperstownLuxury.com.  This was basically the most spectacular cottage that I’ve ever seen. The lodge was multi-levels,  featuring a beautiful, intricately designed staircase that wrapped around a pine tree.   It was huge and spacious, too, which meant that the kids had lots of room to run around acting lit, or in B’s case,  to work on his Fortnite dance moves. I tried to play hide and seek with B and J at one point, but I gave up after one round, in trying to find them. The place was that big.   It’s also located on a lake, with access to a boat house, and a dock. In the summer, it would be dope. However, even during a frosty November weekend, it was still fun.  There was a games room, loaded with board games, and plenty of flat screen TVs throughout. Fireplaces, too, if you want to level up the cozy factor.

Things To Do in Cooperstown in the Winter

With lots of windows and balconies, the views were outstanding, and peaceful. Nature rules!

Things To Do in Cooperstown in the Winter

The kitchen was well stocked with utensils, and lots of modern appliances, including a dishwasher. No paper plates and plastic spoons for us. Everything about the lodge that I could see was high quality, made with a fine attention to details. Things To Do in Cooperstown in the WinterThe owners and staff were even nice and responsive.  They were in communication our whole time, making sure things were going well.  Things To Do in Cooperstown in the Winter If you’re planning on staying with a large group of people, this is a great option, too, as our lodge could sleep 10, with bedrooms that were very roomy.  Seriously, if want to treat yourself to something a bit different and more secluded than a regular hotel, I can’t recommend staying at a CooperstownLuxury.com property enough.

Things To Do in Cooperstown in the Winter

 

Things To Do in Cooperstown in the Winter

So there you have it. After spending three days in Cooperstown, I think that the question has been answered. What goes on there, after the baseball season has ended?

A lot of fun stuff still, that’s what.

Until the next one, peace!

 

Disclaimer:  while we received complimentary accommodations and tickets/passes to various attractions, thoughts/opinions expressed are 100% my own.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Dad’s Night Out – Being An Extra On A TV Show

Have you ever watched a TV show or movie, and wondered about the people in the background? You know, the ones dancing up a storm at the party, or quietly working away at their cubicle, or cheering on the home team at the football game? What did they do to end up in that spot, and what was it like? Despite not being an actor, but always being up for a random adventure, I figured that I’d ditch the kids one evening, to find out, first hand.

My opportunity came from a Facebook post that my wife noticed, from a casting company looking for background ‘talent’ for a TV show that was filming in Hamilton (I can’t disclose the name, sorry). $14/hour, with more for speaking parts.  I filled out the application, uploaded a head shot picture, giggled at the section asking for my acting resume, and fired it off. The next day, I got a call from the casting director saying that I was hired!

I was to play the role of an aircraft marshall, and possibly something else.  No problem. I pictured myself being in a scene as a small blur from a distance, waving in a plane.  Not long after, I received a call sheet, which was basically the schedule for the filming the next day.

Now, if you’re a fan of stifling boredom for long hours, being an extra is the job for you! My schedule involved meeting with wardrobe, then waiting for my scene about three hours later, followed by waiting for up to another three hours, for another potential scene.

The filming location was an old, small airport. Picture a hangar, a runway, and a couple of portable classroom-like bulidings, which doubled as a wardrobe department, and main hangout location, respectively. When I arrived, I changed into the attire that wardrobe selected for me, then I went to the hangout spot…..and hung out with the other extras.

Some of them were engaged in conversation with each other, while the rest were reading books, or playing around on their phones. Various crew members would also come there occasionally, all of whom were cordial ( I had heard horror stories about people treating background actors like trash on sets, but this wasn’t the case at all). I was given a stack of forms to fill out, which killed some time. I had brought some snacks, in case I got hungry, but luckily, this set had sweet craft services  (as it is known in the biz), full of goodies. Lunch break for the crew also happen to coincide with my schedule, and they ordered enough for the extras, too. Yo, free food, can’t hate on that!

For this filming, there were no big name stars or anything. The scenes that they were doing were reenactments, as part of the series. Because I had nothing else to do, and totally felt out of my element, I eavesdropped on the other extras’ conversations, as I waited. There was a lot of stories about prior jobs that they had done. I was surrounded by some seasoned pros. Eventually, the talk turned to me. There were some raised eyebrows when I mentioned that I had never done anything like this before.  And then it happened. Not long before lunch, one of the crew told me that I was needed on set!

Showtime!

I was surprised, as this scene wasn’t in the schedule, but off I went. I should note that it was really cold, and they were filming outdoors. The scene involved a jet plane, and a UFO sighting. Two extras playing pilots were already there. The director then explained what I was to do. Remember when I said that I assumed that I would just be off in the yonder, waving in a plane? Yeah, not so much.  I had to actually ACT! Like walk, hit my cue, look certain ways,  point into the sky, give various facial expressions, and pretend to talk on a walkie talkie. Instead of off in the distance, the cameras were all up in my grill. I did the best that I could, but I would say that my performance befit the level of someone who’s only acting experience was a grade 9 drama class many years ago.

But wait. There’s more!

Later, it was time for my actual scene. This time it was on the runway, again in the freezing cold. I was right about the waving in a plane part.  And, for real, you think that would be easy, but I kept messing up. I guess that I was waving incorrectly, and looked unnatural (go figure), so they had to shoot me over and over. I was wrong about my involvement, too. Again, more closeups. Hopefully they didn’t catch my eyes watering from the chilly wind ripping across my face.  And also, more acting, as I had to pretend to see and react to the UFO. One the one hand, I felt kind of bad about my amateur hour thespian skills. On the other hand…for 14 bucks an hour and some pizza, they couldn’t have expected to get Sidney Poitier, right?

Keep my name out ya’ mouth, Mike!

Sorry, Sidney.

Anyway, my day wasn’t done. One more scene, thankfully indoors, and, thankfully, just the background work that I initially expected. They switched up my outfit, and I would only be seen from behind, as part of a crowd of people at a window, looking at a UFO. The back of my head gave an Emmy-worthy performance, if I do say so myself. After that, I submitted my time sheet, and bounced, a job well done, as the world’s worst aircraft marshall.

I can definitely see the appeal in background extra work. The actual time in front of the camera was fun. Depending on the set, the chance to see stars in action would be neat, too.  A couple of the extras that I met were retirees, and they just wanted something cool to do, to keep busy, which makes sense.  It also helps to live near a filming hot spot (Toronto, for me), where there are lots gigs to be had. However, it’s very repetitive work which requires a flexible schedule, the money isn’t great, and there’s long gaps of inaction on set, too, which can be a bit of a grind. I’m glad to say that I tried it, but I’m good now. Film studios, y’all are safe from my mediocre acting talents.

 

Until the next night out, peace!

 

 

 

 

Why Fort Wayne? Here’s Why!

Of the numerous road trips that we’ve been on, the one that got the most confused reactions by far, when I told people where we were going, was our recent visit to Fort Wayne, Indiana.

“Fort Wayne?? Why Fort Wayne?!”

Man, even my family was skeptical, initially. However, despite it not being a traditional weekend getaway destination, I had a hunch that this place might be a hidden gem. After spending four days there,  courtesy of the generosity of my friends at Visit Fort Wayne, I can now say that my hunch was right.

So why Fort Wayne? There’s plenty of reasons actually.

LOCATION

The key to any weekend road trip with the family is travel time. In our case, with multiple stops, it was about a seven hour drive, which was fine. The kids watched a bunch of movies, which meant no boredom complaints. Plus, even though it is a bit of a trek, it’s the type of drive where you can leave in the morning, get there in the afternoon, and still have time to do stuff that day.  As well, it’s not all that far from large cities like Detroit, Cleveland, Indianapolis and Chicago.

A RIVER RUNS THROUGH IT….AND ANOTHER RIVER….AND ANOTHER RIVER

Fort Wayne is built on three rivers, which is really unique. Plus, with over 80 parks, over 50 playgrounds, and over 100 miles of trails, it’s a place for anyone who loves the outdoors

Fort Wayne Outfitters hooked my family up with some bikes, so we went for a family bike ride along the riverfront. In theory, this should have been awesome. In reality, my daughter was a grump, and refused to ride, so she and I (because I couldn’t ride slow enough to match her stomping, sulking pace) went for bike walks. At least it was scenic.

Also, never trust a one year old with directions.

 

FORT WAYNE CHILDREN’S ZOO

Speaking of the outdoors, checking out the Fort Wayne Children’s Zoo was a must on our list, and should be on yours, too. Even though my kids all loved it, don’t get it twisted; it’s not just a children’s zoo. I saw a lot of childless people there, which I am sure is the norm.  Ranked as one of the top zoos in the US, it’s  really well laid out, clean and interactive. The animals all looked healthy, and seemed to be in their more natural-looking habitats. We were able to get a nice view of almost all of them (instead of them hiding and/or being out of site, as is the case sometimes). It’s a decent sized zoo, but I didn’t feel winded after we strolled through it, and B and J didn’t whine once about being tired, either. There were also a bunch of rides, too, that were very reasonably priced and enjoyable.

Fake surfing wasn’t a ride, FYI. Just a photo op!

THE VIBE

While touring around the city, I noticed that there were a lot of places of worship. I later learned that Fort Wayne has been called ‘the city of churches’, because it has over 360 of them.  There are also reports which indicate that Fort Wayne has one of the lower costs of living, in the USA.  It seemed like the city was pretty spread out, too, with some pockets being better than others, like you’d expect from any big city. We were graciously given accommodations at the Hilton Fort Wayne At The Grand Wayne Convention Center.  This hotel is located downtown, which is one of the nicer parts of the area, and is within walking distance to several attractions.  When out and about, I never felt unsafe. I even walked around downtown basically in isolation one Sunday evening, as many businesses closed by 5pm.

A view from our hotel room. That rainbow, though!

All in all, my takeaway of Fort Wayne is that it’s a laid-back, down to earth city that’s family-friendly.

FALL FUN ON THE FARM!

One of the best things about travelling is when an experience completely blows away your expectations. Such was the case when we checked out Kuehnert Dairy Farm’s Fall Festival. We’ve been to events on farms before, but this was easily the best. It was well organized, and had a ton of stuff for the kids to do. Hay rides, corn pits, corn mazes, playgrounds, games, farm tours, jump pad, bonfires and ninja warrior courses, just to name a few. For me, the best part was the Mouse Trap, their famous grilled cheese sandwich.

The only bad thing was that the weather sucked, and the rain shortened our visit. Otherwise, we could have easily stayed there for the whole afternoon!

 

CULTURE (NO, NOT THE MIGOS ALBUM)

Besides the outdoorsy activities, Fort Wayne also has some nice indoor attractions, which are very sophistimicated and edumucational. Science Central is the only science center in the region, and it’s multi-level, with 200+ exhibits. The kids got their learn on, while playing and exploring the surroundings.

It also hosts events throughout the year. When we were there, a sci-fi convention was going on. Ohhhhh Chewy!

That’s a person in a costume, believe it or not.

 

Debrand Fine Chocolates is the only chocolate store that I’ve been to where I felt like I needed to wear a suit and bow tie when entering it. You don’t need to dress up, of course, but the decor and ambience give it a very fancy feeling. We did a tour of the headquarters (highly recommended, plus tasty!), and the attention to detail that they put into each of their chocolates to ensure that they are of the finest quality is really impressive.

J and I hit up the Fort Wayne Museum Of Art. I will wholeheartedly admit to being  clueless, in terms of being an art connoisseur. The people there all seemed to be enjoying silently taking in the artwork, though. I thought the Chuck Sperry exhibit was pretty wild. J really liked the kids area, where little ones can create their own masterpieces.

Also, time didn’t permit us to visit it, but the Botanical Conservatory looks very expansive, and beautiful.

GAME ON

Now, two things that Fort Wayne doesn’t have going for it are a major league sports team, and an amusement park. However, it does have minor league teams (sidenote: we only drove by, but Parkview Field looked like a cool place to watch a Tincaps baseball game!). In addition, it has Crazy Pinz, a 50,000 square foot entertainment complex, which features bowling, a rope course, laser tag, mini-golf, rock climbing, bar, restaurant and an arcade/prize store.

 

Do you see what I mean, now? Despite initial doubts, we ended up having an awesome little trip.

So, why Fort Wayne?

That’s why!

Until the next one, peace!

 

Disclosure: Visit Fort Wayne provided us with accommodations and passes to the attractions mentioned. Opinions expressed are my own.

 

 

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.

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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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