Today’s post is brought to you by the number three. You see, three is a big time number in our house, especially recently, as our third child, KJ, recently turned three years old! Since having a third child, we have been regularly asked three questions:
You have three kids?! This is always asked in a shocked voice, by anyone who has less than three children.
When are you having more? In my head, I follow up by giving the person a crisp slap to the face, for asking such a bananas question. In reality, I just laugh it off.
So who is the third kid most like?
Now this. This is a thinker. As KJ entered into the threes, he really has developed his own personality, to say the least. For example:
Despite not living at a nudist resort, or coming from a family of exhibitionists, KJ loves to not wear any clothes. On a typical evening, I’ll come home from work, and find him in nothing but a diaper, looking like Mowgli from The Jungle Book.
You might be thinking “But that’s cute, Mike. What’s the big deal?”. And sometimes, it is cute. Conversely, sometimes, when I’m trying to get him ready to go to daycare in the morning, and he’s refusing to get dressed, it’s not so cute. There are some things that you just can’t force someone to do. As a fun family game tonight, ask your kids to put a shirt and a pair of pants on you, but make this as humanly difficult as possible on them. You’d be surprised at the number of ways that there are to accomplish this. You’ll win every time! Anyway, I’ve loaded KJ’s diaper-only clad butt in my car on more than one occasion (because he wins every time). That, my dudes, ain’t so cute.
This happened, too, not long ago:
That right there is KJ standing shoeless on a busy winter afternoon in downtown Toronto. If you’ve never done this before….I don’t recommend it.
enunciation IS A WORK IN PROGRESS
KJ’s vocab game is ever-improving. His pronunciation and sentence-making skills are coming along, too. He still has his moments, though. For instance, I took him with me to J’s basketball recently, and we had this conversation while sitting on the sidelines:
KJ – You made me crap!
Me (looking around nervously, to see if anyone else heard) – What did I do?!
KJ (louder) – You made me crap! With your legs!
Me (stunned silence)
KJ – Crap me with your legs! Now!
At this point, I had no idea what he was talking about, so I just sat there with my legs spread. He then crawled between them, and pulled them together, so they were closed around him.
KJ – See? Crap!
I then realized that he meant to say trap. No bowel-moving maneuvers needed.
FICKLE, FICKLE, FICKLE!
When KJ is unhappy, we understand him loud and clear, because he will articulate his feelings loudly and clearly. In his little world, the most petty things tick him off. He’ll look at me pouting, and say “Dad, I’m so mad at you.” The reasons for the rage have ranged from understandable ones, like he didn’t want to stop watching his tablet, to irrational ones, like he didn’t love the voices that I made for the toys we were playing with, or he wanted two ice cubes in his sippy cup, but I only gave him one.
A CAREER IN COMEDY DOESN’T SEEM PROMISING
KJ – Knock knock.
Me – Who’s there?
KJ – My dad is so nice!
Me – My dad is so nice who?
KJ – My dad is so nice because he is nice.
And that was the joke.
He also thinks it’s hilarious to pinch my nose and ask if I’m Batman.
*tumbleweed blows by*
OK. This is pretty funny. When’s the next open mic night?
KJ’s perception of me has changed as he’s entered into the threes, as well. For some reason, he thinks our bedroom closet is my “room”, as if I go there every night, and curl up on a shelf to sleep, snuggled up in Drake shirts, with In My Feelings as my lullaby.
Furthermore, before, he thought this WWE action figure was me:
Professional wrestler Shelton Benjamin. Big, strong, muscular, handsome. I’ll take it!
Lately, though, he has called me this:
A half completed, goofy Mr. Potato Head?! I’m a bit of a hesi-tater when it comes to an una-peel-ing comparison!
A broken, ancient toy car? I’m not as young or as fast as I used to be, but c’mon!
If I were a firefighter, it wouldn’t be so bad. However, I am not. When I told this to J, she asked if I liked black shoes (sure?) and flashlights (I guess?). She then shrugged and said “close enough”.
So who is KJ most alike in our family? The answer can be summed up in three words:
Greetings, fly guys and fly girls! If you ever considered going on a hot air balloon ride, but don’t know what you’re getting into, then you’ve come to the right spot. Last summer, my daughter and I took flight in a hot air balloon, compliments of my friends at the US Hot Air Balloon Team. Boy, let me tell me you, the experience was something else! And as a certified balloonatic (OK, not really), I figure that gives me enough credibility (this is probably wrong, too) to debunk myths and spit hot truths about hot air balloon rides.
YOU CAN’T GO ON A HOT AIR BALLOON RIDE ANYTIME OF THE DAY
Ever notice that you’ve never looked up in sky during lunchtime in the summer, and seen a hot air balloon floating by? Me neither, but there is a reason for that. A hot air balloon ride is very susceptible to weather, and can only fly in the most stable of conditions. For scientific and technical reasons beyond my pay grade, this happens to be before dawn or occasionally at dusk.
For J and I, this meant taking a 45 minute long Uber ride at 4:30AM from our hotel to the heart of Amish country in Pennsylvania, Bird In Hand. We had to arrive by 5:30AM, at the US Hot Air Balloon Team’s headquarters. If you’ve ever wanted to wake roosters up, instead of vice versa, I highly recommend taking early morning hot air balloon rides. Also, to give you an idea of the high volatility/subjectivity of ballooning, ours was a shared flight, with two long-time friends, and an older couple. This was the older couple’s sixth attempt at trying to take a hot air balloon ride, as every other time that they tried, it ended up being cancelled because of the weather. Talk about your hardcore balloonatics!
Unlike an airplane, hot air balloons do not need an airport to depart from. After we arrived at the headquarters, we were then transported via white van to the launch point, which was just an open field. The van’s driver and navigator also doubled as set up and take down crew. Most interesting, though, is that the van was a chase vehicle. While in the air, the van followed the balloon around, until it landed. Watching this lonely white vehicle on the empty roads from high in the sky, kind of made me feel like a journalist in a chopper following OJ Simpson’s Bronco. Kind of.
up, up, and…..in?
At the launch point, the crew setup the hot air balloon, which was much larger in person (like, small building-sized) and inflate it. I then realized that the basket, which was also larger in person (the size of a small car, and about chest level high) didn’t have a door. So how the heck do you get in it, you ask?
The answer is….not delicately.
The older couple weren’t especially agile, for lack of a better term, especially the wife. They thought that the basket would be on its side, and that they would get in, sit on the bottom, and wait for the inflated balloon to pull it upright.
This wasn’t the case, though.
The crew are there to assist, but for the most part, you’re on your own, to enter the basket. In the couple’s case, the crew gently helped lift the wife up, and over, the edge of it. In the husband’s case, he climbed in on his own, with some struggle. When it came to J’s case, I gave her a boost and dropped her in, since the basket was too high for her to climb on her own. In my case, I tried to clear the edge by leaping over it, like how this guy jumped over the wrestling ropes. Spoiler alert: my leap was U-G-L-Y, and I ain’t got no alibi:
THE SOUND OF SILENCE
Once you’re in, there is nowhere to go but up. For real, when in flight, the experience of hot air balloon rides is as breathtaking as you probably imagine it to be. Our US Hot Air Balloon ride was over miles of farmland in Amish country. Picturesque views of the Pennsylvania landscape stretched as far as the eye could see. The world seems so different when you’re gliding through the sky, thousands of feet in the air. Surprisingly, it was very quiet. Besides the chit chat of those on board, the only sound was the hissing of the burners. At one point, we could hear dogs barking below!
BE PREPARED FOR A CRASH LANDING
Unlike planes, hot air balloons don’t just land on a runway. In our case, the pilots pointed out a spot in an open field that looked land-able, called down to the chase vehicle to see if it was OK or not, and after receiving affirmation, started the descent. They actually missed the spot, then had to re-ascend, and get the chase vehicle to confirm another location.
Unlike planes, hot air balloons don’t have wheels, to roll into a gentle landing. They literally just crash into the ground. Now depending on how skilled your pilot is, the crash landing varies in gentleness. In our case, it knocked me off of my feet (word to Stevie Wonder!), because I didn’t have time to brace myself, and J went tumbling into the side of the basket.
This was considered a good landing.
So….crash, and dash?
Once on the ground, you don’t just leave the balloon, and take off in the chase vehicle. Everything needs to be packed up, too. One of the dudes in the crew was jacked (re: very muscular), and he had the job of doing most of the heavy lifting (fun fact: a deflated hot air balloon still weighs a lot). I tried to help where I could, as well, though. We happened to be in an Amish family’s farm, so they all came out, too see what all the commotion was. I’m sure the scene was quite the culture shock to them! Once the van was loaded up, we headed back to the headquarters, where we celebrated our save travels with the traditional balloonist champagne toast. J had orange juice, by the way, so stop wagging your fingers, people.
ARE HOT AIR BALLOONS RIDES SAFE?
Aww, the proverbial elephant in the room, err, post. Are hot air balloons safe?
The answer is….I think so? I mean, it is a pretty outdated mode of transportation. When you’re planning a trip on Google Maps, a balloon is never an option for the fastest way there. It’s all for pleasure and enjoyment now, based on skills and techniques developed over centuries of balloon aviation.
Whereas, for example, people a long time ago stopped riding those bikes with the giant wheels, because of how dangerous they were, ballooning remains a popular past time today. If they weren’t suitable, they wouldn’t still be a “thing”, right? The accident rates online seem to support hot air balloons as being fairly safe, too.
J couldn’t peak over the edge unless I lifted her up, so there was no concern of the basket rocking, if that’s what you’re thinking (or at least that’s what I was thinking, after watching that episode of Family Matters recently, where Steve Urkel and Carl go up in a hot air balloon, and that’s what happens to Carl). The basket’s floor was sturdy, too. So, to me, as someone who is pretty cautious, somewhat afraid of heights, and flying with a child, I didn’t feel like we were in any real danger….except during the landing, as mentioned.
All in all, hot air balloon rides, while not for everyone, are a really cool experience. I’d recommend them anyone looking to book a flight with their kids, if they’re up for it.
Until the next one, you balloonatics, peace!
Disclaimer: we received a complimentary flight from US Hot Air Balloon Team while on a press trip in Hershey, PA. All opinions expressed are mine, as always.
Now, if you’re over the age of 25, this may or may not mean anything to you. However, if you have kids under the age of 25, especially teenaged ones or younger, it should mean something to you. I am by no means a TikTok expert (TikTokspert?). However, I have had some experiences with it, courtesy of my son B, who’s currently 10 years old. Since I’ve talked to other parents who don’t know squat about TikTok, I figured that I’d share my limited knowledge in the form of a parent’s guide to TikTok. Let’s do this, FAQ- style!
I love Ke$ha! Tik Tok is my jam!
Sorry, person-older-than-TikTok’s-main-demographic. I’m not talking about that classic song.
That’s a lot of people waking up feeling like P. Diddy! What is TikTok, exactly?
Still not talking about the Ke$ha song, dude. Anyway, TikTok is an app from China, where users can upload short form videos and share them on the network. The videos are usually only a few seconds long and musically oriented. Lots of lip-syncing, dancing, singing, and random clips set to songs are what you can expect to find on it. Plenty of memes and challenges, too. You know how you saw Ellen dancing to Old Town Road by Lil Nas X, and you pretended to know the song, when you really hadn’t heard it before?
I remember that day well.
A big part of that song’s initial popularity was because of how it blew up on TikTok, by people using it in their videos.
So TikTok iS like YouTube for people who can’t be bothered to watch videos longer than a minute long?? No wonder kids like it.
Not exactly. But yeah, kids do seem to love this app. Some of the stuff on there is pretty entertaining. Plus, with all the silly filters and effects available when creating the videos, it’s a fun way to flash some creativity.
Sounds awesome! I’m going to sign my seven year old up for it ASAP!
Hey slow down, pal. TikTok has a minimum age requirement of 13 years old.
But you signed your 10 year old up for it!
We did, and, in retrospect, it was a mistake. The first time that B had an account, it was because a lot of his schoolmates were on it, and he had a case of FOMO (Fear Of Missing Out. I’m down with that Gen Z lingo, too, sometimes. Not really). One thing with TikTok is that, unless you change the settings, anything you upload can be seen by anyone. K and I let B have an account, and monitored what he was posting, but not as closely as we should have. It’s easy, especially if you’re young and impressionable, to get caught up in likes/followers/comments chasing. Long story short, in most likely an effort to impress his friends, B posted some stuff that was reckless, embarrassing and inappropriate for a child of his age, so we deleted his account.
Did you say the first time?! You mean you let him have an account after this?
Sigh. Yes, we did. We thought B had learned his lesson, and was going to be more responsible. So, like his fondness for Fortnite, we gave him another chance. And, for a while, he was OK. His videos were mostly just self-made highlight reels of him playing basketball in his room, set to non-explicit songs. I mentioned before that TikTok is a social app, and another aspect to that is the ability to direct message people. Yes, you can slide into DMs (more Gen Z lingo!) on TikTok. Anyway, long story short again, but more recklessness happened. For example, he sneakily pulled an all-nighter one Wednesday night, to screw around on TikTok (with predictable sleep-deprived results the next day). He also posted a video in which he was lucky to have not resulted in more serious ramifications than it did. Because of those, and some other incidents, we deleted his new account, for good this time.
And the award for “Parents Of The Year” goes to.
Yeah, yeah, yeah. We screwed up. Every kid is different, right? You want to instil a sense of trust and responsibility in your children, and when it doesn’t work out, it sucks. On the surface, most social media has lots of redeeming qualities, like the positive interaction with your peers. Beneath that, though, sometimes, lies a toxic, addictive cesspool.
Daaaaang, Gina! Tell us how you really feel.
I’m just sayin’, you can’t be too careful when it comes to monitoring your kids’ TikTok usage. For instance, it’s all username based, unlike Facebook or Instagram. Say your friend is named Tyrone Biggums, and you want to follow him on TikTok. You can’t just search up Tyrone Biggums. He might have changed his username to AshyLarry or something. It really does take some effort to find your friends.
I remember B showing me a video that a girl at his school had made, which was pointless and dumb, but had a lot of likes. I quickly looked at her account, and all her videos were in the same vain, but she had, relatively speaking, a lot of followers. When I thought of how ‘out there’ she was, how anyone with or without an account could watch her videos, and how fairly anonymous most of her followers could have been, it made me wonder. Who exactly was following this little girl and why? How many of these people were trying to slide into her DMs?
Is TikTok SAFE FOR KIDS, OR IS IT full of creepy perverts?!?
I….I don’t know. I’m also just a dad with a blog with limited experience with this app. I’m guessing, at the very least, it has the same ratio of normal people to predatory creeps as anything else online, but it’s impossible to know for sure.
Besides monitoring, is there anything else that I can do to protect my child on TikTok?
To their credit, TikTok does have numerous parental controls and privacy measures available, which can help you in this regard. It’s also a great idea to talk to them about cyberbullying, and about making smart choices online.
You’ve said a lot, but I still don’t get TikTok, or its appeal. I’m too old for this app.
Nice self awareness. While you don’t have to like it, you should get used to it, as, data breach controversy aside, TikTok most likely isn’t going anywhere anytime soon.
Shoot, like all cool, hip things of the moment, more and more businesses are jumping on the TikTok bandwagon too, as a way to build brand awareness. If you really want to win brownie points at your work, tell your boss that you want to open and run your company’s TikTok account.
Well, if you want to win brownie points, you know what to do.
Just do it. c’MON. We’re about done here anyway.
Fine, here you go. And happy TikToking. Be safe out there, folks:
Even though Detroit has a rich music history, there’s a case to be made that the city’s theme song should be “Bad Reputation” by Joan Jett. Indeed, to outsiders like me, Detroit has a perception for being dangerous, unsafe and having a struggling economy. So, with that in mind, I figured a perfect road trip for my family would be to spend 24 hours in Detroit!
Reading that out loud makes it sound like a terrible idea. Anyway, there are actually plenty of things to do in Detroit with kids, that are safe and fun. During our brief time there, we scratched the surface of Motown’s sights and sounds like a DJ playing a vinyl record on a turntable. While that probably doesn’t make me qualified to give you and your family a guide of things to do if you’re spending 24 hours in Detroit, it’s too late now. To quote Marvin Gaye, let’s get it on!
WHAT BECOMES OF THE BROKENHEARTED LIONS FAN?
Detroit is a serious sports town, with professional teams represented across all four of the North American Big Four leagues. For the family of sports fans, you could base a short road trip to Detroit around attending a Tigers, Lions, Pistons or Red Wings game. This is actually what we did, as we were fortunate enough to check out an NFL game for free, courtesy of my friends at the Detroit Lions!
Now, almost every sporting event that we have been to over the last 10 years has been with a kid who was still in diapers, thus requiring us to bring a diaper bag. To our chagrin, the NFL ain’t about that. They have a strict clear bag policy and diaper bags are prohibited. Attempts to find an approved bag beforehand, last minute, were futile, so we Macgyvered a solution:
Our diaper bag for the day.
I tried to get clever with it, once we got inside the stadium. I stopped by a merchandise stand, and asked if they could give me a plastic bag. They, not surprisingly, said no, unless I bought something. I promptly purchased an official Detroit Lions clear bag, which I will probably never use again, but made for a nice souvenir.
Of the five people in my family, only B and I would consider ourselves true football fans. As such, the off-field stuff would need to be as on point as the on-field product, to entertain my clan. While we didn’t partake in any tailgating, we did arrive at Ford Field early, to check out the pre-game festivities. To the Lions’ credit, they did a pretty good job of getting even neutral bystanders like us to buy into the #onepride spirit. Games were set up, with chances to win Lions swag. A drumline roamed the stadium, playing some hyped-up jams. A live band rocked out near one of the gates, which had people dancing in the streets.
Coincidentally, Martha Reeves, who sang “Dancing In The Streets” with the Vandellas, was even in attendance.
Ford Field doesn’t wow you with anything, but everything about the stadium is OK, if that makes sense. As we wandered around Ford Field, I noticed that the concourses were very wide and spacious. I didn’t worry much about losing my kids in a crowd, as they were always within site. Guest services was helpful in this regard too, as they provided us wristbands which K and I wrote our contact information and the kids’ names on, for them to wear. Food and drink options were plentiful. The washrooms weren’t disgusting. Our complimentary seats were in the 100 level. Great sight lines, and comfortable enough.
I’ve been to football games before where drunk and belligerent fools made the experience less than family-friendly. Luckily, this wasn’t the case at our Lions game. The crowd was very lively and rawkus, but I didn’t see anyone being too out of control. Well, besides little KJ, I mean. He developed cranky toddleritis, so we had to leave before the game ended. This was for the good, as the Lions ended up losing in last-second, heartbreaking fashion. Beyond that, it was a solid afternoon of pigskin action, and I wouldn’t find checking out a Lions game again, in the future!
knocks me off my feet (to sleep)
Now, a good chunk of our 24 hours in Detroit was obviously dedicated to the Lions game. However, we still needed a place to rest our heads. If sports are the purpose of your trip, like ours, Ford Field, Comerica Park (where the Detroit Tigers play) and Little Caesars Arena (home of the Detroit Red Wings and Detroit Pistons) are located downtown. As such, it makes sense to try to stay downtown.
When looking into hotels, I found ones located in downtown Detroit to be a bit on the pricier side. For the most part, parking was an extra cost, too. The rates were not insignificant at that ($30 and up), especially if in and out privileges weren’t included. If you just plan on taking public transportation/taxis/Ubers around, this isn’t a big deal, of course. For us, it was potentially a costly issue.
We ended up staying at a Holiday Inn Express in Allen Park, Michigan, which is a 15 minute drive in the southwest direction from downtown Detroit. The room was about half the price of similarly rated rooms near Ford Field, plus free parking. This seemed to be typical of most hotels located outside of downtown, either in surrounding neighbourhoods or bordering cities. Speaking of that….
WHAT’S GOIN’ ON (in detroit)?
Look, man, there’s no way to sugarcoat it. Detroit is known for being a violent, unsafe city. When looking up hotels, I did do location research, too, to see what the crime vibe was like. I’m not trying to perpetuate any stereotypes. I’m just saying, in my case, a van with Canadian license plates, not in Canada, just screams tourist. This can be a petty criminal’s dream in any city with unreputable areas. It’s a good idea to be cognisant of these areas.
stop! in the name of the love of sightseeing!
When driving through, and walking around, downtown Detroit, the efforts to revitalize this neighbourhood were noticeable. Contemporary looking buildings are numerous, and beautiful artwork dots the streets. While the weather was too rainy for them on our visit, the Detroit Riverfront and Campus Meritus Park looked like fun places to take the family for some outdoor quality time. There were many theatres and concert venues downtown, too, which I guess is to be expected from a city with a rich music history like Motown.
Once you start to venture outside of downtown, things in the city start to look more….gritty, for lack of a better term. Some of the more popular tourist spots are sprinkled all over the town, which allows you to see the grittiness up close. If you only have 24 hours in Detroit, hitting up at least one of the tourist attractions really is a must, though.
For example, music lovers will appreciate a trip to Hitsville, USA, to check out the Motown Museum. For hardcore and casual art enthusiasts, the Detroit Institute Of the Arts and its huge collection is what’s up. In our case, my friends at Visit Detroit hooked us up with complimentary tickets to The Henry Ford, so we had the pleasure of checking that place out.
The Henry Ford is the brainchild of, you guessed it, Henry Ford. It’s located in Dearborn, Michigan and is a huge indoor/outdoor museum complex, with the overriding theme of it being a tribute to Americana. The campus is home to the Henry Ford Museum Of Innovation, Greenfield Village, the Ford Rouge Factory and a giant 4K screen. We focused our attention on the artifacts, exhibits and memorabilia of the Henry Ford Museum. There were lots of hands on activities, and things to climb on/in, which was great, in term of keeping B, J and KJ engaged. The amount of cool, eye-opening stuff to be seen was impressive.
The Kennedy Presidential Limousine.
Paper Planes weren’t M.IA. in this exhibit at the Henry Ford Museum.
I do wish that we explored Greenfield Village (which features, among many highlights, one of Thomas Edison’s lab), but weather and timing did not permit this. Regardless, The Henry Ford was awesome. Just be sure to budget a fair chunk of your 24 hours in Detroit there accordingly, if you go.
One other comment. On the way back to Canada, my kids really got a kick out of the Detroit-Windsor Tunnel. The whole ‘being underwater to cross the border’ aspect was pretty neat (though not recommended for any claustrophobes).
TAKEOUT, OR SIGN, SEALED, DELIVERED?
If you’re like me, your knowledge of Detroit cuisine consists of Little Caesars Pizza and Eminen’s mom’s spaghetti. You probably aren’t like me, however. Anyhoo, Detroit’s food scene is quite dynamic. On the one hand, the rejuvenated downtown core is littered with trendy, hip restaurants. On the other hand, Motor City is still a blue collar town, and the dining options tend to reflect this.
One thing that my family and I were confused about was why there were so many Coney Island restaurants, as we had never heard of them before. Turns out that these are a Detroit staple, and the Coney dog is one of the city’s signature foods. Detroiters love these pseudo-gourmet hot dogs the same way that my fellow Hamiltonians love Tim Horton’s coffee, apparently. Alas, I was not able to convince my family to indulge in one of these Detroit delicacies, as tasty as the sounded.
you heard it through the grapevine
Note: this is not a grapevine.
When it comes to visiting Motown, the city isn’t nearly as bad as its reputation. Not once did I feel like myself or my family where in any imminent danger during our 24 hours in Detroit. Just take the usual precautions that you would, when going to any major city, and you should be alright. I got the impression that it is slowly improving, one neighbourhood at a time. It’s truly a proud, unique place, and while living there may be a different story, I enjoyed our brief time in town.
While in downtown Hamilton this weekend, I ended up walking past Gore Park. A ferris wheel has been set up there this month, which you can ride for free. Despite being alone, I totally went on it, because, well, free ferris wheel ride, duh. As I sat in my carriage, going round and round, taking in the sky high view of my hometown, a Forrest Gump-like thought entered my head. Life is kind of like a ferris wheel. Through the highs and the lows, things tend to always come back around full circle.
I mention this because it relates back to the reason why I was downtown, to begin with. The Good Shepherd was hosting their annual Christmas dinner event, at the Hamilton Convention Centre by Carmen’s, and I had signed up to be a volunteer. While this was my first year volunteering, it was not my first year attending an event like this. Back in the day, things were always tight money-wise, to varying degrees. On more than one occasion, the best meal and toys that little Mike got over a holiday season came courtesy of the Good Shepherd, or a similar organisation which helped those in need. And yeah, for the longest time, I’ll admit to being a bit ashamed about this. I grew up being the dude who was usually “without”, surrounded by people who were “with”. These experiences were my own little secrets, ones that I tucked away and never really looked back at it.
Until this year.
I really wasn’t sure what to expect when I got to that dinner. One thing that I wasn’t expecting was the crowd. I arrived early, and had to wiggle my way through large throngs of people, to get to the door. Later, I was told that a lineup had formed, which stretched down to MacNab Street. All in all, there were more than 2000 guests and about 800 volunteers in attendance.
The calm before the storm…..
The other unexpected thing was how much time and effort was clearly put in to make it seem like you had been transported to a winter wonderland. A band and a choir comprised of volunteers performed holiday songs on the way into the dining rooms. The dining rooms themselves were festively done up. On the lower level, Santa was in the house, flocked with toys to give out. Some of the giant inflatables for kids to play on even fit the snowy theme. At the exit, a donation area was set up, for you to grab free winter clothing if needed, to help stay warm.
I was part of the serving team for the day, which basically involved running back and forth to the kitchen, making sure that there was always food on hand. No trays of turkey were dropped by yours truly, which was a win in my books. Another win was the amount of people young, old and in between, who came out to help. From my numerous conversations with other volunteers, the common theme seemed to be that, for many folks, this was annual tradition. My team leader, Lisa, for example, had, over the years, done almost every job possible at this event, and happily kept everything on track for us. Annette Hamm, a local news personality, was also on my team. She was a repeat offender (when it came to volunteering there!) and offered me some great advice.
The Good Shepherd opens the doors to their dinner to everyone and anyone. You can’t judge a book by its cover, but I can only assume that people from all walks of life came out to eat. At one point, among the sea of happy faces, I saw a little boy who resembled me when I was younger, sitting at a table with his mom (I’m assuming). I’d like to say that we then locked eyes, and that something profoundly, magically, Chistmas-spiritually happened, straight outta Hallmark. In reality, he probably wondered who this weird guy was that was staring at him, and I had to run off to get more mashed potatoes. At the end of the event, though, I did see the mom rummaging through the donated winter items, and giving him a scarf, which made him smile as if he just got a Playstation 5.
Look, parents tend to reflect on the jobs that their parents did on them, and want to do better than that with their own children. I’m no exception. When I see B and J’s annual Santa wish lists, and how thrilled they are, when they actually get what they asked for, I remember all of those years when little Mike would make his own lists, yet those lists had no chance of ever being filled. Shoot, on Black Friday this year, I woke up early, to go to a Real Canadian Superstore to buy a TV. On the way out, because I spent more than $250, the store gave me a free frozen turkey. When I told this to my family, no one cared, and we ended up giving it away to a friend. On some hungry nights, little Mike would have given his right leg for a right turkey leg, but here’s current Mike out here giving turkeys away, like it’s no biggie.
I guess what I’m rambling about is this. Though it’s been said many times, many ways (probably), everyone deserves a good meal this time of the year. Everyone deserves to feel a little bit special, too, especially kids. I’m glad that organisations like the Good Shepherd exist to help facilitate this. While not profoundly, magically Christmas-spiritual, it did finally dawn on me that we should be more appreciative, because things really do come around full circle. Ain’t no shame in that.
They say that the best laid plans of mice and men often go awry. Now, I haven’t planned anything with a mouse lately (or ever), but I have with my family, and, to paraphrase Lizzo:
why plans great til they gotta be great?
For example, we recently got to spend 24 hours in Chicago. Having never been to The Windy City before, I had a rough itinerary in mind for us, to maximize our time. I then envisioned coming back and telling y’all about our adventures. Luxurious shopping sprees along the Magnificent Mile. Family photos in front of iconic Chicago landmarks like the Bean and the Michael Jordan statue. Self indulgent visits to the locations of my favorite rapper’s childhood home (Kanye West) and the house where my favorite TV show is filmed in (Shameless). Scenes recreated throughout Chi-Town with the kids from my favorite 80s movie (Ferris Bueller’s Day Off). Potentially, it would be an epic Chicago day tour.
Believe it or not, our 24 hours in Chicago did not go as I thought that it would. At all. Here’s how it went down, to the best of my recollection:
9:00AM – Stopped by the Milwaukee Public Market to grab some breakfast, as part of the final stop on our Milwaukee trip. Planned to then make the almost two hour drive to Chicago afterwards. Arrived at the market, and realized that most of the vendors did not open up shop until 10:00AM. Sat outside the market in our van until then.
10:00AM – Stopped by the Milwaukee Public Market to grab some breakfast as part of the final stop on our Milwaukee trip. It had started to rain heavily while we were waiting outside. We got our food to go, and then headed to Chicago in some occasionally torrential downpours, surrounded by dangerously driving transport trucks. It’s a white knuckle drive.
11:00AM – Realized that the forecast in Chicago calls for rain all day. Realized that we’ll have to call an audible on most of the potential destinations on my agenda. Touring around in the rain with three small, soggy kids is a recipe for a sucktacular trip.
11:50AM – Arrived at our first destination, Water Tower Place, to go the American Girl Store, a giant doll store that J had been excited about visiting for months. Upon arrival, discovered that affordable parking in downtown Chicago is harder to find than Steve Bartman’s whereabouts. Some of the parking signage is harder to decipher than the Bulls’ old triangle offense. Proceeded to drive around aimlessly, looking for a reasonable, understandable parking spot.
12:20PM – Finally find a meter parking spot about two blocks away from Water Tower Place. Walked to the American Girl Store.
12:20AM – Kidding. It only felt like I spent 12 hours at the American Girl Store. We were actually there for an hour, with J loving every minute. If you’ve ever wanted to take your doll to a hair salon, or get your kid the same outfit as their doll, then this is the place for you, by the way.
1:20PM – The rain kiboshed the shopping spree along the Magnificent Mile. Well, the rain, and the price tags at some of the high end shops. Instead, we walked through Water Tower Place and went to Macy’s. It had eight floors in it, and clearance sections galore, perfect for Canadians like us looking to ball out on a budget. Unfortunately, it’s also perfect for toddlers like KJ to run around the store like Walter Payton, and to play hide and seek by himself in the clothing racks.
KJ still made time to pose with J in front of this giant Lego statue, though.
2:10PM – Back to the car, to make our way to an actual iconic Chicago landmark – the Skydeck at Willis Tower (courtesy of tickets from my good friends at the Skydeck. Thanks again, guys!). It’s about a 12 minute drive, to get there from where we were.
2:50PM – Finally find a parking spot after some difficulties, same reasons as before. We are basically closer to Water Tower Place than Willis Tower. We are at a confusingly worded meter, as well. From it, I conclude that we have until 4:00pm to park there, before Oprah Winfrey would come to take our car away, and give it to a member of a studio audience. My conclusion is most likely not even close to being correct. Regardless, we gotta book it to, and through, the Skydeck.
3:00-3:40PM – the Skydeck was not busy, so we were in, up (a 90 second elevator ride!) and enjoying the 1300 plus feet lookout in short fashion. It really was amazing up there. Spectacular views of the city. Tried to take some pics for da ‘Gram, none of which end up making the cut. For example, here’s a family shot of us on the Skydeck Ledge glass floor. If I look scared, it’s because I was scared. If our family looks short-handed, it’s because B didn’t want to come on the Ledge, for the picture. If KJ looks like he’s so hungry that he had to eat his shirt, it’s because he probably was.
Tried to get the kids to pose like Ferris, Sloane and Cam did in Ferris Buehller. Realized that they hadn’t seen the movie, and didn’t know what I was talking about. Settled for this shot:
In the spirit of the Toronto Raptors’ championship and “We The North”, here is “He The North”, as in I’m way up in sky, rocking a Raps’ hat:
I’m sorry, peeps, I’m really not very creative.
3:45PM – Time to rush back to the car. At one point, instead of running, KJ dropped and starting doing push ups.
3:54PM – Noticed KJ crossing a bridge, with some of Chicago’s majestic skyscrapers in the background, would make for a cute pic. Say cheese, little man!
Thanks, white van, for the photobomb.
3:59PM – No sign of Oprah, so our car is safe. With rain pouring down, we decided to go to our hotel, The Willows Hotel, located near the Wrigleyville area of the city. On the way, a rain-drenched Wrigley Field field was not in the cards, so I did the next best thing – walked around the stadium and took some mediocre pictures!
The rain is temporary, but the stupid look on my face will last forever.
5:00PM – Arrived at The Willows Hotel. It’s a lovely, smaller, boutique hotel, with an old, old school (think 19th century) feel. B will make repeated comments about how he can’t believe the TVs are so new in such a classic building.
6:00PM – The hotel is in a nice, quiet neighbourhood, so we decided to go for a walk. We end up in a clearance section at a T.J. Maxx, because we are apparently all about discounted stuff from department stores which aren’t in Canada. I have this convo with KJ there:
KJ – I miss you!
Me – You can’t miss me. You’re right beside me.
*KJ runs away, runs back*
KJ – I miss you!
I should also mention that, throughout these 24 hours in Chicago, B had been complaining about a headache. The poor kid kept freaking himself out, and escalating his symptoms via incorrect self-diagnosis. It started off in the morning as the slightest of headaches. Later, it increased to it hurting only when he shook his head violently, as if he was headbanging (note: B had never headbanged before in his life). By the time that we are in T.J. Maxx, he is essentially sulking around the place, thinking that he needs a brain transplant.
6:30PM – K had looked up restaurants in the area, so we start to head out to decent sounding one.
6:32PM – K looked up reviews of said restaurant, and read that the owner was allegedly openly racist. We walk to a different dining establishment (in the rain, of course).
8:00PM – After dinner, we walk to get dessert/breakfast, from Stan’s Donuts.
What? They were really good. That’s all.
8:25PM – Back to the hotel. Yes, I realize that this seems early to call it a night for someone who wanted to maximize their 24 hours in Chicago. However, we were tired. Plus B had ‘inceptioned’ me, by planting seeds of doubt in my head about the crime rate in the city (“Hey dad, are we going to get shot in Chicago?“). Tapping out and enjoying the safety of our comfy hotel seemed like a good call.
6:00AM-7:00AM – Pack up, get some continental breakfast to go with our donuts, and check out of the hotel, so we can make the 8ish hour long drive home.
7:00AM – 7:30AM – We followed the Waze App, to guide us. The route that we take is very scenic, along the outskirts of the city. Between the skyline and architecture, it’s beautiful looking, in the distance.
7:30AM – We get led to the “Chicago Skyway”, which is a toll road. We pay $5 US to use it.
7:38AM – Waze leads us off of the Skyway, and onto another road. Huh? That’s it?! I immediately want my $5 US back.
We continued our way out of Chi-Town, until it was nothing but a recent memory. 24 hours in Chicago, done just like that.
Hopefully, a return trip will be in order, in the future, and hopefully, things will go as planned, too.
But, you know what they say about the best laid plans, right?
Look, I get it. Milwaukee, Wisconsin doesn’t exactly scream family vacation destination. It’s a mid-sized Midwest city known for beer, bratwurst and cheese. How sexy is that? However, I read quite a bit about how internationally-born NBA Superstar Giannis Antetokounmpo loved it there. If the Greek Freak, a man who’s been all over the world, and could basically play anywhere that he wanted, chose freakin’ Milwaukee, then there must be more than meets the eye. For my family, I thought that it would make for, at the very least, an interesting road trip. Turns out, there’s actually lots of fun things to do in Milwaukee with kids, and it’s one of the coolest cities that I’ve been to.
things to do in milwaukee with kids: GETTING THERE
Now, truth be told, it was a long drive, for us. It involved going through one province, and four states, plus a different time zone. Including stops, each way took a good 11 hours. To keep the kids not at each other’s throats entertained, we pretty much brought more DVDs than an old Blockbuster Video store with us, for them to watch in the van, along with other devices and toys. As Milwaukee is situated on the coast of Lake Michigan, our drive consisted of going around the lake, to get there. A ferry called The Lake Express does depart from Muskegon, Michigan, and goes to Milwaukee. We looked into this, and while appealing, because it would have shaved hours off of the driving, it was fairly expensive, so we passed.
FUN THINGS TO DO IN MILWAUKEE with kids
Milwaukee is a big sports town. I couldn’t walk very far without seeing someone decked out in Bucks, Brewers or Green Bay Packers apparel. The aforementioned Giannis, in particular, seems to get a lot of love. While it wasn’t basketball season, we did scope out the not-brand-new-but-still-has-that-new-arena-smell Fiserv Forum, where the Bucks play.
Our visit happened during the summer, so we were able to watch a Brewers game, at Miller Park. The stadium is awesome, and is a great place to catch nine innings.
Beyond that, though, the Brewers do a nice job with the extra stuff. In case you or the little ones get bored, there are a couple of play areas in the park, for them to blow off some steam. One of them even has a mini version of the famous Bernie Brewer slide. On Sundays (when we went), you can play catch in the outfield of the Field of Dreams-esque Helfaer Field, located beside Miller Park, before then game. This is a really popular fun thing to do in Milwaukee with kids. Then after the game, children can unleash their inner Christian Yelich, and run the bases on Miller Park’s field!
When it comes to things to do in the Milwaukee Brewers’ stadium with kids, history features prominently. There’s a Walk of Fame and a Wall of Honor commemorating legendary Brewers figures. For you Bud Selig fans, he’s a main attraction at Miller Park, complete with a statue, retired number, and a section dedicated to him called the Bud Selig Experience.
I’m more of a Hank Aaron fan myself.
Zoos are always a hit with our family, and the Milwaukee County Zoo was no exception. It houses over 3100 (!!) creatures of the land, sea and sky, sprawled across 190 acres. Coming up with a game plan seemed daunting, but once we got going, it wasn’t bad at all. It was easy to navigate and not very strenuous to walk (re: so no complaints about tired legs from B, J or KJ). The Milwaukee County Zoo also has some attractions like a carousel, Sky Safari, rope courses and a zip line on site, too (all for an added cost). In addition, numerous opportunities exist to see some of the animals up close, throughout the zoo.
I will admit to trying to cheat things a bit. We thought that if we took the Safari Train, then we could lap the park and see everything quickly. Word of advice – don’t do this. The train is a leisurely ride around the perimeter of the zoo, so you don’t get many glimpses of most of the crowd pleasing animals.
Hey guys, if you squint, you can kind of see a monkey in the distance!
Another really fun thing to do in Milwaukee with kids is to go to Betty Brinn Children’s Museum. This museum is home to numerous exhibits, some of which are seasonal, but all of which are interactively hands-on with learning elements. KJ and J really enjoyed the Home Town exhibit, because of all the pretend, make believe, role playing aspects to it.
KJ and J, puttin’ in dat work.
B spent a lot of time in the Big League Fun exhibit, putting his baseball abilities and knowledge to the test.
According to this simulation, B hit one home run 618 feet. The longest home run in MLB history, allegedly, was a 575 footer hit by Babe Ruth. Clearly, my nine year old son is better than Babe Ruth.
We barely scratched the surface of the other exhibits on hand (once my kids find stuff that they like, they tend to really like it), which was a shame, as they were all dope. Whereas my kiddos gravitated towards the ones mentioned, yours might like Science CITY more, for example.
Betty Brinn Children’s Museum was such a blast that I didn’t even realize how educational and skill-developing it was. I was too busy acting like a big kid with my kids. It even had an outdoor area, with amazing #views of Milwaukee’s waterfront, for you selfie-loving Instaparents.
Not far from Betty Brinn Children’s Museum is Discovery World. Focused mainly on technology and aquatic stuff, visiting here is another really fun thing to do in Milwaukee with kids. It’s a large, multi-level center, full of stations, labs and experiences, which appeal to the inner scientist and engineer of all ages. Not only that, but it has an aquarium, as well, with a robust collection of interesting underwater animals to check out.
Due to the size and number of activities to do, it was hard to try everything; we were even there for a few hours! Our visit also happened to coincide with a tournament and some other event happening nearby, so finding parking was quite a challenge. Apparently, it can be even worse during bigger events, like Summerfest. However, Discovery World is the only place where my family “touched lightning”, lied on a bed of nails, gawked at a poisonous dart frog, and walked on a replica schooner while humming “I’m On a Boat” by the Lonely Island (Fine. The last one was all me). How cool is that?
Y’all thought I was joking about the bed of nails.
Discovery World is located on Milwaukee’s lakefront. I was surprised at how beautiful this area is. It looked like a great location to hang out, or go for a ride along the shoreline, or, as we noticed on the day that we were there anyway, get married and have the reception on a cruise ship. Unrelated, but who knew that Milwaukee had such nice beaches?!
things to do in milwaukee with kids : dining There
Make no mistake about it, Milwaukee is a beer lover’s dream. It’s not just a city of MGD drinkers, however. Milwaukee’s micro and craft beer scene is thriving. I’m sure this isn’t even remotely true, so don’t hold me to it as fact, but when exploring the town, it feels like there is a brewery on every corner, each with their own unique offerings. Many of the breweries offer tours, too, with samplings. These obviously aren’t necessarily child friendly, though, so we didn’t partake in one while in search of fun things to do in Milwaukee with kids. Regardless, whatever your taste is, you definitely won’t be hard-pressed to find good, satisfying suds anywhere during your travels
Walk Off Tripel beer, by MKE Brewing Co.
A city dubbed “The Beer Capital Of The World” having lots of beer in it is hardly a surprise. Conversely, Milwaukee’s culinary scene was pleasantly surprising. Brats are a Wisconsin staple, and the sheer number of people grilling them up as they tailgated before and after the Brewers game that we went to was impressive. Cheese curds are another staple, and I had no idea that there were so many different ways to make them. Beyond these, the cuisine in the city stretches way beyond traditional Midwest fares. Cool, trendy-looking restaurants to fill your belly are aplenty throughout the city.
For example, we went to Glass + Griddle one evening. It’s a large, open beer hall environment, with a bright, contemporary interior design. Picnic tables are one of the seating options on the premise which, if you’re with a large party, is actually kind of perfect. The bar was huge. As Glass + Griddle is located directly beside MKE Brewing Co., their beers are featured prominently (but not exclusively).
The food offered is more or less what you find at a gastropub. There was no kiddie menu, so, in terms of families, I’d probably recommended it as a place to go to while on the way to, or back from, somewhere, to grab a quick bite. We just picked a bunch of scrumptious apps and chowed down on those…..including, of course, cheese curds!
One of the most fun things to do in Milwauakee with kids is to go eat is SafeHouse. I think that I’d describe it as a spy-themed speakeasy. The secret entrance is located in an alley, and once you find it, you need to know the password to get in (don’t worry, you can still enter, but no spoilers how here). Once inside, the restaurant takes the espionage theme very seriously.
The staff are all “agents”, as well as you. If you want someone to call you Austin Powers with a straight face, then this is your spot. Spy memorabilia and decor fill the walls; the menu is contains spy references, too. You can even partake in a scavenger hunt, where you’re encouraged to walk around and find all of the hidden surprises scattered throughout the building. Stopping by the magic bar is encouraged, because, well, magicians rule, and the one at SafeHouse is really entertaining. The food was alright, but, as one of Milwaukee’s hot spots, SafeHouse is the type of place where you go to soak in the unique experience.
A covert photo-op mission completed.
Another unique, diverse food destination that we checked out was the Milwaukee Public Market. This is an indoor food market located downtown, which houses many local vendors who offer a wide range of freshly-produced products. We went during breakfast, so we didn’t get to divulge in some of the tasty looking lunch/dinner options. However, I’ll vouch for the smoothies from On The Bus, the big cookies from C. Adam’s Bakery, the coffee from Anodyne Coffee Roasting Co. and the breakfast tacos from Margerita Paradise as all being outstanding.
Milwaukee does has lots of more traditional restaurants. Our favorite was Blue’s Egg. From what I’m told, this is a very popular breakfast/brunch joint. Resultingly, the wait time to get in sometimes can be long. However, we experienced no delay, when we went. The food is American-style, with their own twist on things. The portion sizes were generous, and delicious. The stuffed hash browns came highly recommended, and for good reason! Not only that, but the service, no joke, was the best that I’ve ever had at a restaurant. Above and beyond what you’d normally expect. Blue’s Egg exceeded the hype, for sure.
Stuffed hash browns FTW!
BEING THERE, SEEING THERE
During our trip, we stayed at The Hyatt Place Milwaukee Downtown. It’s very contemporary, and our room was bright, clean and comfortable. As a basketball fan, the subtle hoop themes in the lobby is especially cool.
You can tell that downtown is experiencing a resurgence. Many buildings and areas are new, or have undergone changes to be more fresh and hip. The best example of this is Fiserv Forum, which I mentioned earlier. It’s the central point of Deer District, a revitalised neighbourhood that is one of the city’s best sports and entertainment destinations. It also happens to be a short stroll away from our hotel.
Giannis the Greek Freak, larger than life!
Marquette University is also located near downtown. Pockets of neighbourhoods have a youthful buzz about them, if that makes sense. Harley Davidson’s headquarters are in Milwaukee (there is even a Harley Davidson Museum, in town). Coincidentally or not, I did notice all kinds of different folks cruising along on Harleys. Alternatively, it appeared that the electric scooter trend has taken the town by storm. Lots of people were zipping around on them. In terms of things to do in Milwaukee with kids, it is probably safer to walk, when sightseeing.
Travelling around downtown Milwaukee wasn’t too bad, in terms of accessibility. Lots of stuff was withing walking distance, or a short drive (or scooter ride) away. Even getting over to Miller Park can be simplified. Several of the restaurants in the Deer District offered a shuttle bus service to games. If you go and pre-drink, you can take the bus to the game, and it will pick you up afterwards (for the price of a tip to the driver). We took advantage of this service at The Mecca Sports Bar And Grill. The best part is that the driver acted as a de facto tour guide along the way. She gave us the lowdown on some landmarks, as well as the head’s up on which parts of the city to avoid after dark.
THE WRAP UP
Don’t sleep on Milwaukee, my dudes. It’s not just another stereotypical, industrial, Midwestern city. Milwaukee is culturally diverse, artsy, random and eclectic, with a really chill vibe about it. Milwaukee is full of fun things to do with kids, as well. It’s an unexpectedly vibrant place to check out with the family, full of stuff for you and them to enjoy.
Note: We were hosted by Visit Milwaukee for this trip. Many of the destinations discussed were complimentary in nature to us. All opinions expressed are my own, as always.
It’s a sunny, muggy Friday afternoon in August, and I’m standing on the field of Atwood Stadium, in Flint Michigan, with my family. It’s busy here, full of kids and adults interacting with each other. There’s an excitement in the air, too. Lots of laughter. Lots of smiles. We exchange pleasantries with a complete and total stranger. Soon after, the stranger rounds up her children, and four others, including my nine year old son B. The stranger then says goodbye and leaves with them all. As I stand there, clutching my daughter’s hand, sweat now escaping my forehead more rapidly than before, watching as my son walked across the field with the stranger, and then disappeared out of the stadium, I wonder if I just made the biggest mistake of my life.
Welcome to the Canusa Games.
OK, OK, that’s a melodramatic opening paragraph, so I should probably provide some context.
The Canusa Games are, per their website, North America’s largest and longest running international games. Athletes mainly under the age of 18 from Hamilton, Ontario (my hometown) and Flint, Michigan compete against each other annually in various sports. The two cities take turns each year hosting, as well. This year, it involved over 1200 athletes across 13 different sports. Of those 1200 athletes, one of them happened to be my nine year old son B. He tried out for Canusa’s youngest age division’s basketball team, and ended up making it. Basically, picture the Olympics but on a smaller scale; replace all the countries in the world……with Hamilton and Flint.
The 2019 Canusa Games took place in Flint, over three days. Here’s the huge part of the equation, though. Unlike the Olympics, which has an Olympic village to house the participants, the Canusa Games relies on billets. The visiting athletes all take chartered buses to the hosting city, and are then paired with a local family for the weekend. That family houses them, feeds them, and gets them to their respective sports on time. It’s a longstanding tradition.
Now, back in the day, growing up in Hamilton, the Canusa Games to prepubescent/teenage me sounded awesome. Roll up into Michigan for a weekend by myself and get treated like a big shot while competing in a sport? Sign this boy up! Unfortunately, prepubescent/teenage me lacked the actual skills required to make a Canusa Games team, so the awesomeness remained in my head only.
Nowadays, the idea of leaving my little kids alone in a foreign city with a stranger for a weekend terrifies me. In fact, when B made the Canusa basketball team for his age group, I figured that we would take advantage of the modified billet system. The host family would handle B during the day, and we would come grab him at night. Unexpectedly, though, K wanted B to do the full billet! She HAD actually competed in the Canusa Games when she was younger. It was a great experience, with no incident.
Times change, of course, and your feelings evolve as you grow up. Nostalgia tends to cloud your memories, as well. The more that I thought about it, the more that I just didn’t get it. The billet system seemed like a quaint idea from a woebegone era to me, when people didn’t lock the doors of their homes, and children sat in the passenger seats of cars without using seatbelts. Society is just so much more different now. America is just so much more different now. What the heck was I missing, when it came to Canusa? How could so many people be so trusting in this system, when it defied common sense? My family was making the road trip to watch B, but some parents just left their kids at the bus stop in Hamilton. Good luck, see ya in a few days, essentially.
For my own sanity, I wanted to believe in Flint, Michigan. And then I learned this. And this. Shoot, there’s even a Netflix documentary about the city which, spoiler alert, doesn’t portray it very glowingly. Don’t forget the water crisis, too. You can’t even take in a Flint Tropics game, as they don’t actually exist! Well, maybe that one doesn’t count. Regardless, K, who’s usually more overprotective than me, was fine with B going it solo. Nothing on the old Google machine listed any horror stories from past Canusa Games, either.
What the heck was I missing?
These are the thoughts which raced through my sweaty head as I stood in Atwood Stadium on that fateful afternoon. Similar to the Olympics, the Canusa Games had an Opening Ceremonies, complete with the delegations walking into the stadium separately, national anthem performances, and a torch lighting run.
When the ceremony was complete, the athletes and their families met up with the billets on the field. Besides passing a police check, I knew nothing about the prospective host for B. If you didn’t know me at all, but knew that I was going to watch your precious child for three days, what would be going through your head? My perception beforehand was so rife with negativity that I will admit to grasping at judgemental straws. However, B’s billet gave off a strong first impression. As well, while most hosts were taking one or two young athletes, she was housing four. You’re either bananas or incredibly openhearted for taking on such a responsibility, and as they disappeared across the field, I was hoping that it was the latter.
B’s first game was later in the afternoon, which gave K, J, little KJ and I some time to check into our hotel and grab a snack. Every city has bad areas and good areas, no doubt. Driving around Flint was pretty eye-opening, nonetheless. Neighbourhoods full of rundown, vacant storefronts and houses, pocketed by empty plots of land. Instead of cars parked on streets, I saw more cars on cement blocks in front lawns with no rims than I’ve ever seen before, in one particular street. More people sitting on front porches glaring as we drove by than I’ve ever seen before, on another street. A Starbucks was temporarily closed, so we went to the adjacent Quizno’s, and I audibly gasped when the Quizno’s associate informed us that the Starbucks was closed because of a water problem (luckily, it had to do with a heating issue, and not because of the Flint water crisis). There’s quite a bit of “used to be” in Flint, which is better than being “never was”, I think.
At B’s game, we seated ourselves near the other Hamilton families in attendance. Conversations centred around how sad Flint was, and how scary. How there were doubts about drinking the water still. The funny thing was, as I looked around at the Flint families, there was no sadness or scariness. Just regular, happy people, having a good time. As the game went on, it became readily apparent that, when it comes to Canusa Games basketball, Flint has Hamilton’s number. The contest was never in doubt, and Flint won running away.
I’ve seen kids get pretty demoralised after such a defeat, but when the game ended, there were plenty of smiles and camaraderie among both sides, including from B. The billets were matched up by age and sport, for the most part. Evidently, it’s hard to be upset at your housemate for the weekend, after they beat you. The game the following day had the same result, and same vibe. Also, there was more mingling back and forth amongst the Flint and Hamilton family contingents. To top it off, not only was B safe, but he couldn’t wait to head back with his billet, and totally brushed us off! #theygrowupsofast
With B in good hands, we had the rest of the day to ourselves. As options are kind of limited, when it comes things to do in Flint with kids, K and I ended up taking little KJ and J to the Flint Children’s Museum. This is located downtown, near Atwood Stadium and Kettering University. This area is actually nice. Vibrant maybe isn’t the correct term. Let’s go with active and up-and-coming. On first glance, the Children’s Museum is pretty unremarkable on the outside. We had to double-check to make sure that we were at the right building. Once inside, though, holy Michael Moore-ly, is this place tons of fun for kids! It reminded me of Rochester’s The Strong Museum Of Play. There’s numerous exhibits, all designed to bust out your imagination and curiosity through hand’s on play. Many have an educational aspect, too.
We were there for hours, and KJ didn’t want to leave, which is always a good/bad sign. I had a coupon, so it only cost us about $10 in admission total, which was a steal. It’s such a simple, nice concept for a play centre that any city (cough, cough, Hamilton, cough, cough) could learn from it and implement it. If you’re looking for things do in Flint with kids, I do suggest hanging out here.
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.
That was it then, for the Canusa Games, too, wasn’t it? I had been looking at the whole thing all wrong the entire time. I couldn’t get how two large, flawed cities could expect to keep kids who don’t live there safe every year. The thing is, the Canusa Games is like a 60 plus year old community in these cities, and it’s a community which protects their own, and looks after each other. Instead of focusing on the negatives, I should have considered the many positives of the games and Flint, which really weren’t that hard to find. To paraphrase Joel Embiid, I should have just trusted the process.
The next day, at the Closing Ceremonies, Canusa’s motto of “experience the friendship” was on full display. There was no separate congregations, as yellow shirt-wearing Hamilton athletes mixed with blue Flint ones. Lots of pictures were taken, and lots of contact information was exchanged, for keeping in touch. B was safe and sound, with memories that will last his whole life.
We met his billet one last time, the woman who I expressed so many doubts about prior to the weekend, but who generously housed four random kids, and literally even gave B the shoes off of her son’s feet (he had outgrown a pair of Jordan’s, and they were just going to throw them out). K asked how B was for her, and the billet replied “OK”.
In parent-speak, OK is what you say when you don’t want to say bad! So, you mean to tell me that I was worried about whether Flint, Michigan was good enough for my precious nine year old boy, when in the end, my boy wasn’t good enough for Flint?!
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.
On our last visit to Hershey and Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, we had a nice time checking out a few of the things to do near Hershey PA. 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 more things to do near Hershey PA, in fact, that we just had to make the fifteen hour round trip drive (don’t worry, with bickering small kids, it felt like twenty hours. Wait, what?) and go back again this summer!
Now, before we can talk about things to do near Hershey, PA, I need to mention THE attraction to do in Hershey – Hersheypark. I won’t go too deep here (note: you can check out this piece, where I discuss it extensively), but in terms of family fun, you really can’t go wrong with a visit to this park. If you aren’t into amusement parks, though, you can still have a memorable time in the area.
For example, Lake Tobias Wildlife Park is situated about 35 miles outside of Hershey. The park is home to animals, birds and reptiles from all over the world. There are zoo exhibits, a petting zoo, fishing, a reptile /exotics building, and my kids’ favorite, a safari tour!
The tour is pretty wild. It has a Jurassic Park-vibe to it, as we got into a roofless “cruiser”, and then headed off into the yonder. As we drove through the open woodlands, we saw scores (500 approx., according to the website) of animals roaming about freely, some of whom weren’t shy about coming up, or in, to our cruiser!
You can 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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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. Luckily, Roundtop Mountain Adventures has “Tree House Zips”. These are 100′ long lines, and more little kid appropriate (ages five and up). I think she went on this six times, so, suffice to say, it was a hit!
We received “Adventure Package” passes for the day. These give you unlimited access to all of the attractions in Roundtop Mountain Adventures. I’d recommend this as the way to go, if you and your family do make the trip. It’s enough to easily fill up most of a day. Besides zip lining, the kids enjoyed the 600′ downhill super water slides .and the OGO balls. I was digging their bumper boats, as it was an opportunity to smash into B and J, and squirt them in the face with water (but I say that as a loving dad)!
If ya don’t know what an OGO ball is, now ya know.
Little KJ is too small for that stuff. 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.
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.
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. I was 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).
it’s hard to talk about Hershey without mentioning the industry upon which the city is built – 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. Since little KJ is old enough to appreciate it more now, we rode that again. I still can’t believe that it’s free. 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! I have ever experienced digital animation like this before. My easily amused brain is very impressed.
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.
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. I’d suggest bundling them up with one of the packages available, with other attractions. Make an outing out of going to Hershey Chocolate World, as opposed to going specifically for these only.
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 The Hershey Story Museum. This place is a very popular thing to do in or near Hershey PA. 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. Her,e you see how Milton Hershey went from a failed entrepreneur to chocolate kingpin and beyond. My kids in particular liked the new, interactive kiosks. They personalised a wooden coin at admissions, and used that at these kiosks to activate a little story about Mr. Hershey. Be sure not to miss the final one, too (no spoilers here).
The highlight of the museum was the Chocolate Lab. This is a hands on workshop where you learn about the chocolate making process. You also get to partake in some pouring and decorating. Our lab consisted of making customized “beach bars”. KJ was too young for this experience. K stayed behind with him, while I rolled up my sleeves with B and J. Don’t worry, we shared the finished results.
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. It isn’t a huge deal, but the rooms are a bit cramped for the five people. For other sized families, I can see this as not being a problem, however. Again, if you’re out enjoying all of the fun things to do near Hershey PA, this hotel is fine.
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.
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 has to be a high degree of difficulty, which they could appreciate. As well, it needs to have a coolness factor to it. This checked all of the boxes, in my household of baseball fans/players. As well, throwing out a ceremonial first pitch is one of the few jobs where there are high hopes that you fail miserably. Everyone loves a good blooper, and asking non-pitchers to fire one in there can be a recipe for disaster. It’s a surprisingly daunting task!
Now, you have to be pretty special to have the honor of tossing out a ceremonial first pitch bestowed on you. Fortunately, I’m a top dawg who does top dawg things, so this was easy to arrange. Ok, none of the previous two sentences are even remotely true, but I did reach out to my man Randy Whitaker, who’s the General Manager of the MILB’s Harrisburg Senators, and he made it happen (in addition to hooking us up with tickets to the game, too, in the interest of full disclosure).
With the date and location set, my next step was to prepare. In order for this to truly be the greatest ever, to really wow my kids, I would have to respect the grind and put in some work. They say that those who ignore history are doomed to repeat it. With that in mind, I decided that some serious advice was required.
Unlike me, Monique Evans really was a top dawg doing top dawg things when she was asked to throw out the first pitch at a Texas Rangers game in 2014. At the time, she was Miss Texas, and it’s somewhat of a tradition by the Rangers to have the newly crowned winner do the honors! While the throw was lacking, the amazing, unorthodox flair in the delivery was not. I figured that I could learn a thing or two about showmanship, if I contacted her.
“Before, I was feeling pretty nervous and excited; during, I was feeling hopeful”, she told me via DM. “After, I just had to laugh because it didn’t happen like it did in my head. But I didn’t realize how truly bad it was until later.”
In my head, I pictured myself on the mound with the swagger of Prince, firing a Noah Syndergaard-esque fastball. I could see things not playing out like this at all, in real life, though. The pizzazz is certainly memorable, but if I truly wanted to make the best first pitch of all time, I probably needed to focus on the throw. I did ask Monique Evans for some advice.
“Have fun, smile, and don’t take yourself too seriously!”
When Jordan Leandre was a child, he had cancer, and went through the Jimmy Fund for his treatment, a foundation whom the Boston Red Sox work closely with. Over the years, he has had the opportunity to take part in several on-field ceremonies at Fenway Park. He was a varsity pitcher, as well. To summarize, not only does he have pitching experience, but he also has experience in performing in front of large baseball crowds. Yet, when you search “first pitch in the nuts”, or “first pitch hits guy in balls”, or something along those lines on YouTube and Google, Mr. Leandre’s infamous experience from 2017 immediately pops up. While hilarious, I didn’t want the second name to come up when you’re searching these phrases out to be mine. I just had to pick his brain a bit.
“I wasn’t overly nervous. There are obviously some nerves going in there because the crowd is so huge, but for me it wasn’t too bad,” says Jordan, via DM. “But I’d also done it before so I was more comfortable in front of the crowd. Some advice I’d give is to just zone in on whoever is catching you. If you can somehow zone out the people watching, it becomes a game of catch. Another piece of advice I’d give is to just have fun with it.”
Between Monique’s and Jordan’s tips, I now head 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 delay telling B and J about my moment, and when I do, I’m happy to say that I see glimmers of awe in their faces. B even sounds jealous.
Now all that I had to do was groove one into the catcher, and bask in my kids’ adulation afterwards.
B and J were allowed to accompany me down to the field, so I asked them each to record my pitch. Luckily, Harrisburg isn’t exactly Arlington or Boston. The crowd is still rolling in when my name blares on the soundsystem, 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 am not very upset 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. 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: