Step into Another World – Florida Renaissance Festival

Have you ever wanted to escape?  Dreamt of being a lord or lady strolling through the market  stalls together?  Or a pirate with a tankard of cold ale and stories to share?  How about something a little more fanciful than all of that?

Step over to a Renaissance Faire or in this particular case the Florida Renaissance Festival, in Quiet Waters Park, Deerfield Beach Florida. (Day use park or camping with lots going on.  Cable water park, mountain bike trails, fishing, splash park and more)

This is our second visit to a Ren-Fest (Mid-Michigan Renaissance Festival was our first – Review) and I have to say no matter where you live find one and go, don’t even worry about not having any Renaissance style garb to wear.  Just GO!!!  (Besides you can likely buy something amazing to wear when you get there if you really wanted to)

It’s like stepping into a whole other world and time, one which is a true melting pot of modern, historical and utter fantasy.



From our visit to the Florida Renaissance Festival (#FLARF) one thing that was noticeable across the board for all of our crew was that it has a welcoming, eclectic, vibrant and very accepting vibe.  Everywhere we went we found this to be true.  I personally loved the amount of open body acceptance, the lack of body shamming and judgement.


Before I get on to touring you through a few of the vendors, foods, activities, shows, personalities and even human powered rides available I want to let you in on something that was a surprise to me and ended up being something that put this even higher up on my list of places to go.  The washrooms.  Yup the washrooms, from the portable trailers to the actual buildings onsite, they all had a bathroom attendant to see to the cleanliness of the facilities and make sure that if you found yourself in sudden need of anything that they could likely help you out.  Women everywhere have all run into the same problem at many events where after standing in long lines, you get to a toilet only to find it out of toilet paper or worse dirty.  You end up spending part of your day trying to keep an eye out for THAT dependably clean bathroom.  Not here, at FLARF, here you can just enjoy your day and pop into any washroom and know that the attendants keep the lines moving and the facilities spotless.  Personally Thank you.

Gardyloo Sisters – Privy Cleaners. They have a great level of detail, & are good “clean” fun.

Want to pick up garb to wear?  There is everything from leather to lace and all in between.  Jewelry abounds everywhere and in many styles.  Musical instruments and of course weapons for those less peacefully inclined.  If you are interested in something for yourself or maybe just even a quirky handmade gift, then take some time to stroll and shop you will find it worth your while.

Glass designs

Design your own pendant coin stamped as you watch. Beautiful designs with the bonus that his patter & personality are great entertainment.  Somewear Beyond – Coin Mint

There were so many entertainers from the usual musicians to stage comedy acts and who would miss the horse displays, live action sword fights, jousting and even chariot races in the Xtreme action arena (make sure to check out Debracey productions & their FaceBook page).  There is likely something to enchant and entertain each person of your group.

There are so many things to do including a few human powered rides like the Hurlinator (as you sit spinning around you and your friends control the speed by cranking a lever) or the Giant Rocking horse and Merlins Magic Bubble (you are the hamster and your ball is floating on water with you in it).

How about playing a few old fashioned inspired games like throwing some ninja stars, or Water balloon wars,  archery range or maybe even throwing tomatoes at a fool.

With all the games, shopping and entertainment you of course will need to refuel.  Pickle vendors with their calls outs to entice you, or real shaved ice in many flavors, plus the usual deep fried goodness, and let’s not forget giant Turkey Legs.

As you wander around you may even get to run across crowds gathering to dance  and enjoy the music in the town square, or join in on the end of the Royal Parade as it wanders through the Festival.  I loved walking out of the Festival after the Royal Parade at the end of the day, all sorts of characters from the day were lined up outside the castle walls and thanked all of us for coming to visit and thanked and cheered and danced.  We even stayed to watch the firing of the cannons.  So worth it, make a plan to head down to the Florida Renaissance Festival, especially if you are a Canadian snow bird and are heading down for March Break, plan a day to GO!!!

The only real downside is that when traveling with a large family the price really adds up, especially if your kids are 12 and up. Make sure to look on the web site for ways to save a few bucks on tickets.  Although I do wish that they had a family package available.  Make sure to go early and catch a full day of entertainment to make the most of it.


Jump Into Family Fun – Knuckleheads, Wisconsin Dells

Having teens sometimes means that as they get older it can be harder to find family friendly activity locations that they all will enjoy, and won’t break the bank.

Knuckleheads in Wisconsin Dells is an indoor venue that has a little bit of everything for everyone.  There is a mix of arcade games, rides, bowling, a trampoline park and food.

The facility is free to enter so you can even stroll through and see if there is something you would like to do.  They have individual pricing for the different attractions, but I’m not sure why you would do it that way when they also offer all day wristbands at three different age / pricing levels.

The lower level includes only the rides suitable for the wee little ones (Chaperones are free), like the Jumping Bag or the Ball-O-City (little jealous of the little kids on this one – they get to shoot balls at each other, and use air drop tubes to send balls from one level up to the next one).  The next level included the previous level and adds in the Roller Coaster and the XD Theatre (and more).  Finally the last level, the Need 4 Speed wristband includes it all (except bowling & the trampoline park).  So you can hop onto the go karts as often as you would like, or look down at your friends from the heights of the Ropes Course.  Knuckleheads also offers discounts to locals.  Overall I’d say splurge on the all day Need 4 Speed pass if your kids are into go Karts and heights.

The Trampoline Park and the Cosmic Bowling are separate pay to play attractions.  Included in the trampoline park is Slam Basketball Hoops in 3 different heights, the lower heights were kept pretty busy while we were there.  The tallest hoop provided a challenge even for our tall teens so there really was something for each of them, just no hanging off the hoops after you dunk, and with the trampoline below you there is no need to worry about trying to stick the landing.  You can just go for it.

If you aren’t feeling your Air Jordan moment, how about getting out a little family revenge and square off against each other in some trampoline dodge ball.   Thankfully this game is well supervised by a very “on the ball” encouraging and entertaining staff member; otherwise the two of our boys may have let the competitive spirit overtake them.  The trampoline and padding allowed for some pretty cool matrix level dodges.

Of course if balls and jumping combined together isn’t your jam, then step over to the open jump trampolines.  You can literally bounce off the walls, and it’s more of a work out than you would expect.  Old or young as you are bouncing along like Tigger you will be laughing and smiling and not realize just how many muscles you have used until you step back onto solid ground.

If you are like me and ever did a jump as a kid into a foam pit, you will remember getting stuck and struggling to “swim” your way back to the edge.  Or worse still having it eat a sock and trying to find it.  None of that is an issue with the Big Air Bag(a new feature), which is my personal favourite.   Just jump and let yourself flop into the Air Bag, then walk (or crawl) on the top and do it again.

You will need grip socks to do any of the trampoline park, they are required and can be bought there for around $3.  Then you have a colourful souvenir of your visit after the fact, or can re-use if you are coming back for more.

Buy your 60 mins of jump time for after 8pm and you will get an extra 30 mins.  Everyone will sleep well after that.  Also if you are looking to save time in line when you get there, fill out your waiver form for you and your family online ahead of time.  Plus you can book your jump time online as well.

One small issue for us was that the bins for leaving your footwear in when entering the Trampoline park are a bit on the small size.  It barely fit my hiking shoes and our son’s big footed shoes were hanging out, plus dad’s footwear had to sit off to the side.  Mind you it sadly didn’t look like too many parents were taking the jump themselves, so it’s likely not a problem that affects too many.

Knuckleheads arcade has a variety of games some that will give you tickets that can later be turned in for prizes.  If you have kids you have likely spent a mint in a few places like this before.   The prizes that at the end of the day the kids usually go home with is candy and junky little pieces of plastic.  I have to say I was genuinely impressed with what I saw at the redemption centre.  Yes there was candy and some smaller trinkets, but overall the quality and variety was way better than what we have run across.

If you have a chance to hit the XD theatre I’d say go sit down and try it.  We left it up to the operator to pick which movie for us, and he had us racing through a derelict mine shaft.  You watch a 3D style movie while your chair responds with motion to what it going on, putting you right into the action.  Two issues, one being that the glasses leave the visuals less than clear (not much 3D difference between glasses on or off – and we did this one twice), and are reused between rounds and were not cleaned (disinfected) for us, the other issue that the handles on the side of the seats are sticky.  If you can let those two go (I just avoided holding the handles as much as possible – I hate sticky) the ride was quite fun.  Our personal favourite was when the giant Indian Jones inspired ball started rolling towards us, we really felt like we started racing backwards away from it.  There were several other choices in movies to watch so again something for each level.

If your kids get thirsty running from one end to the other there are water fountains available as well as of course places to order food and drinks.  We ended up having a couple of 5 meat pizzas and sat overlooking the bowling area.  It was a nice way to reconnect with the family who had all gone their separate ways after the trampoline park.  The pizza was ready in good time, delivered to us with our pitcher of pop and cups.  I loved the dark polished wood look of the area, along with all the sport gear and of course if you need to keep up with the game, the tv’s are on around the bar.  With a good variety of games going on, there are options.

The pizza crust but was cooked to a perfect crisp, with lots of toppings and a generous amount of gooey cheese.  The cheese itself was very tasty (yay Wisconsin Mozzarella).  We did find the amount of sauce to be a little sparse, although the cheese somewhat made up for that.  Overall it was a pretty decent and flavourful pizza that satisfied and filled the kids and us up nicely, before going back to the attractions.  Safe to say we would order it again, but would ask for it to be saucey.

I could see that on a busy day seating may be difficult to find, especially since it looks like some parents camp out at a table or leave their stuff there to hold their place and yet never sit there.  But when we were there we didn’t have any issue and in fact liked that the seating was spread out and not one on top of each other.  That parents could if they wanted sit and watch the kids at play (or the game).

Knuckleheads is also directly attached to Buffalo Phil’s Pizza & Grille, you can stay indoors and walk between one and the other.  So a combined day of dinning out and all day game play would be easy to do.

There is enough here especially with the Trampoline Park and the Cosmic Bowling and of course the Arcade to keep teens interested.  There really is something fun for the whole family to do and enjoy, in any weather.  They also have theme room party spaces available.

I do wish they had an Instagram page for the teens and us to share and tag while there.  One thing that we didn’t end up noticing while there because we were all so busy having fun, was if there is wifi available.  Which in itself says a lot, but of course wifi is also always nice, making posting your trampoline jumps to twitter easier and faster.

If you are in the Wisconsin Dells area feel free to put Knuckleheads on your to do list, particularly make time to hit the trampolines and join in with your kids or teens.








Step Into the Mind Blowing VR Gaming World – at Kalahari Resort

I grew up with Commodores, IBM’s, DOS prompts, and Atari, with games like Pong, ET, Below the Root, Ultima and Doom.  From tapes, to floppies, to CD’s, to thumb drives and wifi.  I really am quite happy to have seen the evolution of technologies along the way.  Although I haven’t gamed like I used to in a long time I still enjoy it, just now as a more casual nostalgia style gamer.  Recently we ran across something that changes gaming from sitting in front of a screen at home to being totally immersed in a interactive new world with your friends and family.

While planning a trip to Wisconsin Dells I accidentally stumbled upon Kalahari Resorts new edition called The Arena.  A quick read of what it was and next thing you know it was top our to do list.

Between, Chris, the kids and myself we are a mix of gamers and non-gamers, with preferences ranging from puzzle adventures to first person shooter styles.

What is it: The Arena is a free roaming virtual reality game world.  Where the technology doesn’t tether you in place, but you can actually walk and crouch and move freely without feeling any restrictions of harnesses or other equipment.  You get to interact with not only the virtual world but also with up to 5 other players (6 total in game).  Keep in mind that this is relatively new, and is one of only 3 locations in America (2 owned by Kalahari) and of only 6 in the entire world.  So it’s high up on the unique scale.

No matter how well it is described, or photographed, it doesn’t do it justice.  It really is totally immersive, very realistic, and you feel like you have been transported into the gaming world.

Currently two games are offered, Zombie Survival and Engineerium (I’ll try to explain that one a little later).  We went with Zombie Survival first, since it’s been a long running family conversational joke about the future outcome of a zombie apocalypse.  Plus it initially has some similarities to Call of Duty zombies, which is a familiar game.

Once we were signed in for our game choice, we had to fill out a digital form, with all the usual info and waivers, as well as height & sex.  Then we were escorted to a separate room (complete with small lockers to store our valuables) for our game briefing with our game master Matt.  (Great guy, answered all our geeky and non-geeky questions)  The game master stays will you through your entire game, from briefing, to “suiting” up, and is even there in case you have any issues in game.  It was a nice touch having the same person throughout.

From all the how to’s and what not to do’s (it’s actually all pretty simple) in the briefing you go into the game room, which is pretty underwhelming itself.  A basic black room with a grid on the floor.  You stand where you are told, pull down your goggles, put on your headset, and adjust your lenses.  At first you are ethereal looking, kind of like a blue and white light outline ghost with your name floating above.  Then your weapon is handed to you and you wait until the game is initialized, and that my friend is when the magic happens.

Zombie Survival: Your vision goes black, the sound of our fellow gamers in your headset goes dark too, you are alone, then life comes back on and you are in the game.  Your avatar is the sex you choose when you signed in and the height you listed.  Other details are randomized.  Some of this part reminded me a little of movies like Tron (old & new) where you get sucked into the game.  The Arena has good graphics, yet it’s not so overly realistic as to be super gory and scary.

As you look around you are in the centre of a debris strewn warehouse.  The goal is simple, shoot zombies, repair barriers, survive until the end, and try to get a high score.  Helping each other out along the way isn’t a bad idea either.  (note:  there is no friendly fire accidents in game so thankfully no siblings could take each other or the parents out)  If zombies do happen to kill you, don’t worry you will respawn (that’s come back to life for those non-gamers).

As you walk around the warehouse space (real and VR) the view around you tracks and changes accordingly.  Above you floats your name, plus at your feet you can see your score.   If you walk too close to a real world wall, or another person an alarm will sound, think of it as a bubble of safety.  So there really is very little danger of smacking into another person while playing.  This was something I was nervous about, that I would walk into someone as if I was blindfolded, but that never was an issue.  I was completely comfortable once in game.

The game is so immersive that you will step back from attacks, or flinch when a zombie falls from above at your feet.  As you look down at the gun in your hand you may even find yourself reaching to reload a clip that in the real world isn’t there but that your brain full believes should be right there.  I laughed a few times at myself for avoiding stepping on debris on the ground and watching my step so I didn’t stub a toe……on nothing….nada…doesn’t exist.  That is just how all encompassing this is.  You almost could swear you feel the elevator move up and down even though in reality it is just you standing in one place in the real world.  Even the acoustics of the headsets help to accomplish the goal of being totally absorbed into the game.

Everyone worked well together in game, but at the end only one of us understood to get to the platform for rescue, the rest of us were in the elevator.  (Atta girl Frenchie) Afterwards your scores are sent to your email address, so you can compare bragging rights.

So would we play this game again? Absolutely in a geeky enthusiastic heartbeat.

Engineerium: A much more family friendly game, no violence (unless you count your kids threatening to push each other off into the water).  It was described initially as a puzzle solving adventure.  I ended up viewing it as a fanciful walk around a colourful Aztec inspired dreamscape.  It is a peculiar and beautiful world, of floating stone paths, waterfalls, sea creatures, birds and butterflies.   As you walked along you needed to locate and stand on virtual pressure plates in the game, to trigger another pathway to form or change and allow you to get to a glowing orb. This glowing orb would transport you to the next level of the game world. So less of a puzzle and more of a family stroll through an odd and fantastic world of bright colours, unique views, and interesting creatures.

I often found myself gawking upwards or peering precariously over a ledge in order to watch a blue whale float/fly by.  Again picture leaning over to look at something trying not to fall over the ledge and in reality you are just bending randomly in an empty room.  At one point I was even dancing back and forth.  We all found ourselves trying to point things out to each other and although your body moves as you move, and your head moves and looks where and how you look, your hands do not, there is no tracking abilities on your hands and arms, so pointing is ….. well pointless.

As you wander along in Engineerium some of the pathways will spiral or slope sharply up or down, and you may find yourself struggling to walk upright.  It’s a little freaky but definitely fun.

This game was simple but beautiful and you could take your time to look around you in wonder and amazement of the world.  Each time as you triggered the glowing orb the world would shift and you would have a new pathway and a new perspective of this unique and mystical realm.

While we thoroughly enjoyed it and every one of us found it a fun, otherworldly experience, for us it was a one and done.  However if we had someone new with us, or they were younger or not at all into shooter games then I would be happy to experience this again.

Overall:   Even if someone isn’t going in game with you they can watch you on the video screen (no audio thankfully) in the lobby as you wander around, which is kind of weird and definitely not as cool as being in game.  The lobby screen also shows them what you see in your goggles, but it’s not nearly the same as being immersed in game.   If you get a chance to play, don’t stand outside looking in, go into the game and leave everyone else watching you wondering what’s up with all the pointing and waiving and even booty shaking.

First off everything with the staff and the in game experience was absolutely professional and top notch.

There were a couple of things that we counted as negative.  Trying to find The Arena in the first place required two stops, and asking three different times for directions.  We were not staying on the resort this time and came in strictly as outsiders.  There was no clear signage directing players to the location. There was only one we found even saying specifically where it was.  This however was not much help since it said it was beside the waterpark front desk, so we had to find out where that was in order to find The Arena.  Lack of clear signage was a big issue for us.

Also of note regarding the set up, is as one group is coming out of the game to get their items from the lockers they come into the room where the next briefing is ongoing.  This is more than a little distracting, since the team coming out is excited and pumped and talking about their experience.

When looking online on the Kalahari web page, there is a great write up and overview of The Arena game play and a couple detailed photos of the games available; however there is no specific description of the individual games.  You don’t even know there are two options if you don’t look at the photos and guess or until you click on the bookings page.  Zombie Survival seems relatively self explanatory, Engineerium however is really kind of a mystery in that regard.

The last point is likely more of a personal preference but was something that our entire group felt to one extent or another.  That Engineerium was an awkward and not very easy to remember name (writing this article I had to look it up a couple times before I just gave up and wrote it down), and again it is also relatively non-descript.  The game itself would be a more difficult one to name or to describe.  For us when talking to others about it we have tried describing it as an alternate reality walking adventure, where you can visually explore a curious reimagining of an Aztec dream world.  For us the name Engineerium conjures up more of a Minecraft vibe and calling it a puzzle seems a bit off base as well, but all of that could just be because our group is skewed a little older on this trip.

So to sum it all up, GO, ENJOY, and GO AGAIN.  Even at $25 per person I think this is a good rate and would pay that to experience The Arena again .

The Arena opens up a whole new level of gaming experience, on your own or with your family (I actually want to take Grandma to do this).  Add it to your list now.  Challenge your perception of the world around you, step into today’s version of the book Ready Player One


Things to Keep in Mind

  • Arrive 10 mins before your booked start time
  • Leave hooded sweatshirts at home or be prepared to tuck your hood inside your shirt. The hood can cover the air vents for the system in the back pack and this could cause overheating
  • You will be asked to remove your glasses, but don’t worry the optics are easy to adjust to suit your vision level (although I imagine there may be some limitations, but it worked well for all of us, including those that need glasses)
  • Book early – Space is easy to find now, but likely as word spreads and people try it out bookings will fill up. Especially during the busy tourist season.

Must be at least 13 years (we asked why and a big portion of it is related to the equipment weight and size.  Likely there are other reasons as well but after wearing the headset I can see why the restriction.)

Kalahari Resorts, Wisconsin

The Arena

Wisconsin Dells Tourism

Kalahari Resorts, Poconos

Ski & Board at Cascade Mountain in Wisconsin

Kids 12 & Under Ski FREE

Our kids ski and snowboard, or at least they do rather casually about two times a year.  So I’m always on the lookout for a good deal on a new place to ski and make a trip out of it.  This time a rather good deal came up for the Wisconsin Dells area.  So we booked it, planned it and a few weeks later we loaded everyone up and off we went.  The weather was great (almost too much like spring), travel went fine and then after a 10 hour drive when we arrived the slopes we had planned to ski were closed due to unseasonably warm weather and a posted desire to extend the season at a later date.

A quick internet search led us 15 mins down the road from our hotel in the Dells to Cascade Mountain.  The signs were easy to follow right off the highway.  Happily they also open early (9am) and are open late (10pm – remember to check online or call)

At this point any ole open ski slope would do, just so we could get the kids out like we had promised.  Cascade Mountain had us pleasantly surprised, with plenty of snow, lots of trails and all were open (not all the lifts were – but it was also midweek), including the 8 new trails that were put in as part of a $9 million expansion project.  This being the first of three phases.

Our crew for this trip was made up of two skiers, one very experienced and one novice, plus two beginner(ish) snowboarders.  The skiers hit every trail that Cascade had to offer, while the boarders kept it a little more tame for the day.  We had some of our own gear and needed some rentals so it gave us a chance to see what the full experience is for someone new coming to the slopes.

Walking up it’s a little tough to see where the lift ticket area is until you walk a little between the buildings, but after that it’s all pretty much straight forward.  Alongside the rentals is the usual tech shop as well as ski shop.  The rentals were organized out well and had more than enough gear to accommodate a busy day on the slopes.  Keep an eye out for some of the quirky and fun details in an around the tech shop, including photos of past rental staff.  Getting sorted out for rentals was quick and easy.  The ski poles however took a little bit more to find, despite being told, and there being some signage telling us where to look, for whatever reason it took us a bit (I’m  blaming the kids on this one, since I was busy gawking elsewhere and taking pics)

If you have forgotten something clothing or ski related, they have you covered, even if you don’t have on the right socks, they have lots of choices for that, plus the usual helmets, gloves, face protection and skis.  If your boards or skis need a wax or some TLC the tech shop will take care of you (we didn’t use them this time but always good to know it’s an option).

Add a special flair to your day, contact Cascade Mountain to arrange a special message on your ski pass.

Add flair to your day, contact Cascade Mountain to arrange a special message on your ski pass.

As I was poking around and the kids were skiing I bumped into Jessica at the ski school and she was absolutely wonderful in talking to me about the recent renovations, and answered any question I had.  She even suggested a longer yet still beginner slope that the kids would like and how to get there as well as showing me how the higher level kids could get to the chair lift at the new runs without walking along the base. For the record all of our kids went together on the suggested  Adele’s run several times, it was a long enough run to interest the more experienced and easy enough for the beginners.  Thank you Jessica, a perfect recommendation.

I want this level of boot dryer. All the rental boots are dried out before the next rental run.

I want this level of boot dryer. All the rental boots are dried out before the next rental run.

From the kids perspectives the runs were many, had great views and were fun.  To them it seemed like there were less options to blend between the different runs than they would have liked (lol….picky, picky).  The only negative all the kids had to say was that some of the lift operators seemed a bit short when someone would have a fall getting on or off the lift.  Just curtly telling the person “move”.  Anyone we interacted with as adults were professional and friendly and we were also able to observe several times staff coming up and even out of buildings to help young skiers, so we have mixed reviews about the staff friendliness at this point.

On the Kudo’s side, we regularly saw ski patrol going up and down the slopes.  Even stopping to ask us if we found where we wanted to go when they saw us talking and looking at the map.  A ski patrol member also came out of the coffee shop to help a kid that was having trouble getting out of their ski bindings.

In the afternoon there is tubing and the fire pit was lit up, plus there is lots of seating at the outdoor picnic tables.  Cascade Mountain seems to be family friendly and there were quite a few family groups there with a wide range of kids ages and levels enjoying the day.

Something else that is in the small but appreciated detail category, Cascade Mountain has water bottle friendly water fountains readily available and in the washrooms there are baskets to hold your gloves while using the facilities.

If you want a place to sit and enjoy the views and have a nice warm apple cider (by the way it was super delicious) or other snacks and beverages, then head up to the Peak Bar and enjoy the large windows giving you a panoramic view of the hills and skiers.  On weekends we were told that there is even a place at the top of the hill called The Daisy.

Would we go back to Cascade Mountain? Absolutley.  I’m interested in what other upgrades and changes will be made in the coming years.

Cascade Mountain

  • 44 trails (38% Beginner runs & 38% Advanced runs)
  • 11 lifts
  • Tubing park
  • Terrain park throughout some runs – 22 rails
  • 100% snowmaking abilities
  • Kids 12yrs and under ski FREE with adult or Jr (LOVE, LOVE, LOVE this)
  • Public wifi at the Chalet & Peak Lodge area
  • Pleanty parking and easy to find garbage bins
  • Several places to get refreshments on site
  • Snow updates available by phone or online

March 4th they are having their Spring Carnival with rail jam, bouncy house, games, vendors and more.  Be sure to check it out.  Cascade Mountain web page,  Facebook,  Twitter,   Instagram,   Youtube.     Travel Wisconsin.    Wisconsin Dells- Waterpark Capital 

Expected closure date March 19, 2017

Another detail to find.


Crafty New Christmas Traditions

This Christmas we started a new tradition. The quick explanation is we painted letters onto glass Christmas bulbs to spell out Family Christmas  (we also ended up including our family name).

2017-02-05 061The “sign” can now be hung each year on our Christmas tree or elsewhere in our house.  Depending on that particular years mood (or who gets a hold of the box of ornaments first).

What makes this ornament collection have even deeper sentimentality and meaning to us is that each letter is drawn onto the bulb by a close kidlette friend or a family member.

They either wrote directly onto the bulb or sent us a a picture of their written letter to be transferred onto the ornament (thank you internet for how easy & immediate that was).  The next step was to put a layer of glue following the marker lines of the individual letters.  Then its time to add the glitter and jazz it up, (Trumpets sound….release the glitter fairies) by sprinkling green, red or silver fine cut glitter over the glue.  Making sure to shake off the excess, allow it too dry and finish it all up by locking the design in place with a layer of shellac.

Each Christmas bulb is finished with the special persons name printed on the bottom as well as the year the letter was done as well as the year the person came into our lives.  This way as time marches on and the (my) mind gets too cluttered with memories the important dates and people won’t fade or get mixed up. (Trust me it happens)

Not all the letters are filled this year.  So a place holder letter is taped onto the bulb until someone special comes along & signs it.

2017-02-06 003My personal hope is that the tradition will grow and we will need to add new festive words. Ultimately the plan is to put a photo collage of all the people who have signed an ornament and display their photo in the order of the Family Christmas letters.  Using the collage of photos to further cement just how special in our hearts they are (plus just an added insurance to immortalize the ornament in case one breaks along the way).

But this year for now I’m happy to have some of the ornaments filled, glitter and all.  I’m also grateful for loved ones near and far, old and new that are now part of our unique Christmas tradition.

Take a moment to think outside the box store Christmas and find ways to include your favourite people or family memories with your yearly celebrations.  Let your Christmas tree tell the story of the people, places and moments you love.

Background Moments of Media Passes

It’s been an odd switch for me going from being a show organizer and participant in the horse world, where providing media with information and photo ops were part of a regular occurrence, to going to places and events as media.

As life has changed I’ve been very lucky to have been given some wonderful invites and opportunities to get backstage and up close at a variety of events.  Giving our readers and followers a chance to learn and see more of what’s going on and what’s available for their family.

So far no two media experiences have been the same.  Some have had very fancy passes complete with prepared packets of information, opportunities for one on one interviews with participants and even snacks for us all the way to just being welcomed into the door and told to enjoy ourselves.  No matter what the format we have approached each event from our family lifestyle base.

Letting our followers know about the event, the good and the bad, as well as what about it may be of interest to them and their families and how to get out and get involved for themselves.  With tips and tricks to help make their day out run smoother.

Which means sometimes on our end it has been a family affair in reporting.  The teens have sometimes had some great insight into what was working or not for a location as well as unique points of perspective and what was worth coming back for.  Good to have some differing points of view, after all isn’t that often what families are about.

We have along the way had a lot of positive feedback, especially regarding the fact that we are encouraging families to get out and to try new activities.  To put down the technology for a day, weekend or week, and to plug in instead to family time.  Find ways to take what you see in the movies, your favourite tv shows or on a FB meme and make your own memories that were inspired by it.  To take the idea of a bucket list and to start working on it in the now, with your kids and spouse.  That adventures big and small are all around us, just that sometimes you have to look outside the box every once in a while to find them.

2016-03-16 028I have to admit despite having been at one point in my life on the other side of the media experience, and knowing about the performer only entrances, and private areas of venues I’m still a little bit geeking out while doing this.  When now as media I get to go backstage and see just how these events come together, I appreciate the work done, as well as that I get to have that moment of viewing it all up close and personal.   Seeing the big media companies putting on their shows for primetime audience members while we walk past them and ultimately share the same work space is humbling and thrilling at the same time.  Quite a bit goes into pulling together these events as well as getting all the variety of media coverage out there.

On the other side of geeking out because I have a media pass around my neck I’ve been enjoying using my camera to capture the moments.  The public ones as well as the backstage nuances, the quiet moments and the high energy bone crushing, chaotic ones.

I’m looking forward to sharing more of these moments and venues with our followers.  I’m excited about some of our upcoming events and adventures, both personally and professionally.  I would also like to thank all those that run the media departments at the fairs, shows, sports facilities, and private businesses, thank you for your hard work as well as generously welcoming attitude towards us.  We appreciate the opportunities to showcase your events to our readers as well as to enjoy them with our family.

Remember to like and follow us on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter in order to keep up-to-date with all of the media visits big and small.

Go or No Go for Your Family – #GotToCatchThemAll

Pokémon Go is letting people fulfill their dreams of growing up to be a Pokémon trainer and to have a Pikachu of their own.

Already you know about the game, and likely by this point in time have a pretty good handle on how the augmented reality uses your phones camera to show game characters out and about in the real world.

It’s been a huge socially engaged game.  Literally getting people out of the house in droves.  You have to get outside in order to go to the special locations (Pokestops and training gyms) and to find the rarer Pokémon.

The numbers are astounding.  Niantic (creators of the game) servers can’t keep up, causing delays in the planned roll out of the game in several countries, and frustrations for those that already have the game.  Gradually this will of course all settle out and crashes should become less of an issue.

Some very real positive points to why you and your family should play Pokémon (whether you were a fan of the show or not – sadly it was a bit after my time)

  • Gets you outside and moving. Especially to hatch eggs, they incubate for a set distance travelled and not time played like other games.  Car travel does not help you short cut this stage, walking, jogging, bike rides, and skateboarding all work as long as you aren’t travelling too fast.  Distances can be only 2 Km up to 10km.  The bigger the distance needed to travel, the rarer the Pokémon may be.  (The game has had me getting more movement snuck into my day without it feeling like much extra at the time, but the in game log says that it’s adding up.)
  • Interact with your kids, neighbours and random people. Gives a common point of connection with people.  (Remember to talk to your kids about points of personal safety)
  • Communities are even getting involved hosting gatherings and events in public parks. This is encouraging people to visit parks and even local monuments that they may not have gone to prior to this.  Encouraging families to explore their own cities.   Pokestops are often at local landmarks and will sometimes even include factoids about the location.
  • Can take some fun and funky photo’s of your Pokemon catches (and your family)

There are some negatives to the game (some are way less an issue than you may have thought).

  • The app is free but to fully play the game you need data. Users have reported that one hr of PokemonGo uses approx  5 – 10 mb of data which is less than FB or other apps and is similar to a 3 min youtube video.  (WAY less data than I thought it would eat)

Tip:  our kids do not have data and manage to get out and play but catching Pokémon at home, at friend’s houses, and at public areas that have wifi.  In fact they plan their walking route accordingly.  Local libraries, coffee shops, schools and other locations (some are even Pokestops).

  • Drains your batteries. Yup this one is true.  While light on data, it’s a killer on the batteries, prompting dedicated users to carry battery packs.  Switching to low power mode under Battery in your settings will help.  Dimming your screen brightness or turning off the AR (augmented reality) function will stop the game from using your phones camera and will save more power. (Turning off AR is my least favourite way to save – I like seeing the Pokémon in the real world settings.  For me that’s part of the fun)
  • Lures and rare Pokémon mean larger and predictable groups of people making it a target to those up to no good (thieves, terrorists). While there is some truth to this point brought up by internet nay sayers, the same can be said for most any time humans gather together for parades, sporting events or concerts.  Common sense should of course always be used by players.
  • Gives Niantic (the creators) full access to your Google account. True – ish.  Very true in the beginning, but the “oversight” is being changed to basic Google profile access.  If you are still concerned about this you can however create a Pokémon trainer account and sign in that way instead
  • People going onto private property, walking out into traffic, driving while playing, creeping around after dark, and of course walking into people and objects has all been reported. This isn’t a game issue so much as a human choices issue.  When the app is open there is no need to walk around not looking at your surroundings because the game will vibrate to let you know that you are near a Pokémon, stop or gym.  At that point (if safe) you can stop, look at your phone and catch them.  Choosing to drive and Pokémon is just stupid, irresponsible and a poor choice – likely these same people post on social media or text while driving prior to the games release.

Now is a great time to talk to your kids about safety, responsibility and awareness.  Teach them that missing out on a Pokémon because it’s on private property, or in a location that is not safe to go to is okay.  That it’s not a once in a life time moment.  Use this social storm to have the conversations with your kids.

Some of the other points brought up is that it’s “stupid”, “juvenile”, for gamers to “grow up”, “get a job”, “find some friends”, to “be a parent” and go find “real adventures” with your kids.

My personal thought on that is that for many people this is a chance to experience and be part of a new user friendly development in technology, (augmented reality on our phones to be used all around the world – digest that for a moment will you.  I have used a rotary phone.  I gamed on a commodore 64 with a tape deck.  Remember when pixilated pong was cutting edge and cartoons could only be watched on Saturday mornings for a few precious hours.) Players also get a chance to be a part of a world wide experience.

If it’s not for you, let it go and move one.  Sure the over posting about everything Pokémon is annoying on your news feed but that will gradually start to fade out.  Getting mad at those who are enjoying playing and judging them harshly for how they spend their time is a bit over the top.  We have enough daily negativity in the world, so let those that want to enjoy this moment in time with this game enjoy it.

As for saying parents need to “be a parent” and to have “real adventures” with their kids instead of more screen time, I don’t think the two worlds are in this case mutually exclusive.

As you likely already are well aware from reading this blog we are big on real world adventures as a family, but I’m also enjoying participating in this alongside the kids too.  This has been a fun interlude during the summer.

My take away from this is if you don’t like it move on.  If you do enjoy it do so responsibly.

Rumours / Tips

  • The more people that get together in a spot the better chance of a rare Pokémon showing up
  • You can submit a request to have your business or location (not a home) turned into a gym or stop

I’m planning on trying to catch some Pokémon that the kids don’t have in hopes of trading them (when that option becomes available) for chores.  In the meantime whenever I get any lures that can be used at our nearby Pokestop (with available wifi) I’ll be sure to invite my kids out for a walk and to go see what we can catch and who in the neighbourhood will come join us.  Now if the system would just let me in so I can take my walk and catch some more I’d appreciate it.


Size Envy

My camera has long been a part of almost daily life as I am my own family’s personal stalkerazzi.   Since starting to blog about our family travels and adventures my camera has continued to be a big part of life.  It allows me to be up-close and personal in the moment or to be a distant observer.  To connect and to immortalize those moments of connection and memories.   When feeling unsure of how to proceed at a social event my camera has often been both a buffer as well as an ice breaker, a substitute wing man almost.

Interestingly enough I’ve rarely had moments of insecurity regarding size.  That was until being down amongst the other photogs at the Canada vs Italy Rugby Test match in Toronto.  I will admit that I had a few moments feeling like I was being looked over and judged by the size of what hung there.  (I feel for you guys in the locker room moments) Reminding myself that it’s not always the size that maters but how you use it I soldiered on and got a few pictures that I was quite happy with for the day.  Guess now I have an excuse to add another item to this year’s Christmas wish list, a bigger lens for sporting events.

Sideline Parents Guide to Sports – Rugby

(for those that are sportingly impaired, but have a kid that’s not)

Try, pitch, half-fly, maul, ruck, scrum, test, hooker, props, locks, scrumhalf, eightman, advantage and laws.  Know what all the words mean?  I didn’t.

If you have watched a game of rugby perhaps it has crossed your mind of why in the world would anyone want to play this aggressive looking game with no protection?  The second thought is what the heck is going on, why are those guys pushing into each other that way?  Why are they lifting each other up like cheerleaders?  At first it seems chaotic and unfathomable.

We first started learning about rugby initially because of our son Little Man joining the school team. So as dutiful and supportive parents we went and sat enthusiastically cheering on the sideline with much confusion as to what we were cheering for.

All during the weeks prior to their first game when he was talking about getting a try, I assumed it was like their coach saying good job…..nope….wrong.  Very wrong.

After a season of watching the boys play and getting used to the fact that we were now a rugby family, we thought maybe it was time to understand it a little more.
So for those that are or have been just as lost and confused as we were about Rugby as a sport, hopefully you can find some answers here, so keep on reading and take heart, even if you still don’t understand most of it, full understanding isn’t needed to enjoy this fast paced sport.

Rugby Basics (Union)

  • Union Rugby has 15 men in each team (Sevens has only 7 – and will be in the Rio 2016 Olympics – more about that another time)
  • First off remember almost all sports have one major commonality, it’s all about scoring more points than the other person or team.
  • Laws are the rules of play for rugby.
  • The team is made up of 15 players.  8 Forwards – a forwards job is to push the other guys’ team back.  They are big guys of solid muscle that hit and push hard.  7 Backs – slightly smaller (still solid muscle that take and give hard hits if they need to) and quicker, it’s their job to run with the ball and to get it back whenever it goes to ground.

  • A try as it turns out is a “goal” worth 5 points.  There are also conversions, which is kicking the ball over the goal posts after a try is scored, from a point in line with where the try happened, leading to some odd angled kicks.  A conversion is 2 points.  A penalty kick can earn you 3 points (they are very serious about their penalties).  Speaking of penalties, in rugby the Sin-bin is where a player is given a yellow card offence and is benched to sit out of the game.
  • No passing the ball forward – you can run it forward, kick it forward, but to pass you have to pass backwards.
  • Game play keeps going after a tackle happens.

  • Ruck – Think of it as a pile up where most of the players are in contact with each other while still on their feet, and where you are using your feet to keep your sides possession of the ball.  Trampling can happen, even from your own teammates, nothing personal.
  • Maul is where player with the ball is held and all the players are struggling to get it, even to the point of pushing their own teammate forward towards the goal or try line.

  • Scrum – this one of the ways that play is restarted.  The men line up, link in with teammates, bind up and push into the other team, while the ball is put into the tunnel and the players fight to heel it back for possession.
  • Lineout – is a way to restart play after the ball has gone out of bounds.  This is when as the ball is thrown back in the player is lifted up.  (I found these lifts pretty impressive, especially given the size of these men.  It really reminded me of cheerleading lifts.)

  • Team player positions have some really interesting names and specific jobs, but we’ll keep that for another day.  So until later, here’s to the props, the hooker, the locks, the flankers, the eightman, the scrumhalf, the flyhalf, the wings, and the inside and outside centers and the fullback.

So here’s my quick game summary, these big quick moving men are working hard together to move the ball towards their try (goal) line, they can run it, kick it, or pass it backwards.  Anytime the play gets stopped watch for either a scrum (where they lock into each other and push as they struggle to heel the ball out to a teammate) or a lineout (cheerleading like lifts).  A try is worth 5 points, conversion worth 2 and a penalty is 3.

The action is fast and has almost constant movement, with lots of contact, meaning that there is always something going on to watch for, making it an exciting event to be a spectator for.  Add to it all the level of sportsmanship, teamwork and respect that are all part of rugby’s core value system, including amongst the fans so it makes for a great sport to go and watch live with your family.  The sport is growing here in Canada and the USA so go on out and find a local Rugby club to cheer on, or if you are lucky enough catch a national or international game.

Where Else But At a Renaissance Festival?

Mid-Michigan Renaissance Festival’s Enchanged Forest – Review
Good morrow (good day)
.  Where else will you pull into a parking lot beside a Zombie Escape Vehicle, while seeing a man all dressed up in leather Pirates wear pushing a baby stroller past a woman in full renaissance garb?  At the village of Kleeves of course.

First off drop your concerns about
period accuracy, and keep an open mind.  Be ready to enjoy the workmanship on the costumes and the greetings, banter and genuine smiles of those that fully immerse themselves into their RenFest personas.

Even though I have long been enamoured of medieval recreationists (hello teen years) and later in life those that participate in cos-play I sadly must admit that I have not been to a Renaissance Festival, until now.

A huge thank you goes out to the Mid Michigan Renaissance Festival  (near Frankenmuth) for hosting us this year.   We went out on the Steam Punk and Cosplay themed weekend.  I’m so happy we went.  The detail of some of the steam punk costuming gave us lot of ideas and inspiration.  Plus they were great sports to talk to and take some photo’s of.  Actually for that matter everyone we met was very friendly and welcoming.  Even the ones that warned of my contraption that stole the souls (my trusty camera).

Not having much to compare this event to we asked around from some of the vendors, entertainers and patrons as to how this event compared to others they had been to.  We found out that the one of the two best features of this particular RenFest was that it wasn’t quite as crowded as some other venues, allowing people to interact easier, and to shop the variety of booths without having to wait in line, or throw any elbows.  The second stellar feature that stood out for people going to this particular event is being in the shade of the woods.  Not only does it separate you off from the modern world and provide you with a better sense of other worldliness, but it also served to keep everyone cooler.  Especially those in layers of leather and yards and yards of fabric.  I know I very much enjoyed wandering the pathways under the shade of the trees.  Being in the woods made immersing yourself in it all so much easier.

Some of the participants even have full themed campsites set up and stay the weekend. Thanks to those in the Viking encampment that showed us their set up.  They made us want to put together an outfit and tent and join in the fun.

We didn’t have all the kids with us due to schedule conflicts, and believe me they were bummed to have missed out.  In fact we have started looking into getting ourselves set up with an outfit so that next time we attend a Renaissance Festival we can participate at a new level.  Right now we are comparing genres, time frames as well as whether to purchase or to make our own.  The big question is also to dress as one clan or regional family (we already joke that we travel in horde formation) or to give everyone free rein to dress to their own drummer.  As we look more into this we’ll be sure to share and let you know what was decided, and how you too can get geared up for heading to the Faire.

There is a tavern as well as a couple of food vendors to enjoy, as you stroll through the woods looking at all the great costumes that the guests and the shop keepers are wearing, you should also pause and be sure to check out all the great shops.  There was a wide selection of goods, from handmade soaps and chocolates, to carved wooden plates and bowls, to armour and a variety of clothing in various styles, plus of course jewelry.   There was even a working smithy in the Viking village.  Plenty of fantasy items, trinkets and useful pieces were all around the wooded pathways.  While you strolled you also came across stages in the different areas offering entertainment, sword fights, Fire charmers, belly dancers, comedy, archery demonstrations, story time, Royal steeds and of course musicians.   There were also areas were children and adults could take a turn and try out some of the activities.  So from kids to adults there was something new always going on.

Two minor notes, the tire ruts along the drive into the parking are a little tougher for a lower slung vehicle (we were in the car instead of the Man Van so were really aware of this issue).  Also some of the porta-johns there were in need of a cleaning, hopefully someone saw to that later throughout the day.  (Sadly many events have similar issues with Port-A-Potties, someone should be assigned to regularly patrol them to make sure they are clean for guests – This is for ALL events, not just this one)  These are relatively minor issues, and did not negatively impact our enjoyment of the day.

The only negative for us was the girls selling flowers, they were almost rudely pushy.  Thankfully we only ran into them twice.  I get the aspect of the hard sell, or “joking” around with potential buyers, but at a certain point no means no, and no amount of trying to guilt or push is going to get me to change my mind.  Quite the opposite.

Fare-thee-anon (until later).  For more useful words and phrases for your Ren Fest visit check out this link.