Thursday

Who is the master builder in your house? - plus a chance to win free tickets for Legoland Westchester




Beat the summer heat while igniting your creativity at LEGOLAND® Discovery Center Westchester with the Kids vs. Grown-Ups Imagination Build-Off Challenge. LEGOLAND® Discovery Centers across the globe are inviting kids and adults to go head-to-head in the ultimate test of creativity. LEGOLAND Discovery Center Westchester’s Model Builders will judge the build-off competitions every weekday through Friday, July 28.

Who will reign supreme when it comes to creative creation: kids or grown-ups?

The Kids vs. Grown-Ups Imagination Build-Off Challenge will be held twice daily, at 3:30pm and 5:30pm, and consist of a five-minute challenge where kids and adults build a creation straight from their imagination – no limits, no boundaries, no rules – just pure creativity. Challenges will be officiated and judged by Model Builders including LEGOLAND Discovery Center Westchester’s Master Model Builder, Anthony Maddaloni.

All participants will be entered into a final Imagination Build-Off contest with the chance to win a one-hour private build session with Maddaloni and a Summer Pass ($35 value). The Summer Pass, good through Labor Day, allows the pass holder to build memories all summer long with unlimited visits and additional discounts in the cafĂ©, LEGO® Store and on birthday parties.

“LEGOLAND Discovery Center Westchester is designed to provide LEGO play experiences that power creativity and learning through shared LEGO fun for adults and children,” said Master Model Builder Anthony Maddaloni. “We are really excited to see the energy and imagination that comes from kids and adults alike.”

A number of studies suggest that creativity tends to take a sharp decline at around six years old. Although children are still using about 80 percent of their creative potential at age five, research reveals that creative output drops to a shocking two percent by the time they are twelve.

“Especially for adults, the stress of everyday life can impact our creativity levels,” said Maddaloni. “With an overall lack of time in the day, our imaginations are not being exercised – and, as a result, kids might just have the upper hand when it comes to creativity, but I guess we’ll find out for sure during the upcoming build challenges! Whatever your age, our goal here at LEGOLAND Discovery Center Westchester is to reignite your imagination and love of play.”

Located at Westchester’s Ridge Hill in Yonkers, LEGOLAND Discovery Center Westchester stimulates young minds to imagine, discover and create. Ideal for children aged 3-10 years, the attraction offers a wide range of educational and interactive elements. Visitors can see New York's top landmarks made out of LEGO bricks, learn secrets from the Master Model Builder, experience the attraction’s indoor soft play, score big on two LEGO rides, and enjoy a 4D LEGO Movie.


So not only can you win prizes at the Discovery Center during their daily kids vs adults battles but you can win a family pack of tickets if you follow the link the giveaway powered by Rafflecopter.

Tuesday

Tabeltop Tuesday - Cathedral

In an effort to alleviate screen time, my kids and I are playing tabletop games. Some are full games with boards some are simple card games. All are fun!


Cathedral
Mattel
Ages 10+
Players 2

I have always been into so-called “high fantasy”. Probably never more than my obsession with Game of Thrones. I'm pretty sure that the obsession didn't start when I watched Sean Bean execute a Night’s Watch deserter, I can trace it back to two amazing games I had as a child. One was called Crossbows and Catapults and the other one was called Cathedral.


The version of Cathedral I played was the molded plastic version that Mattel produced in the mid to late 1980s. There is a set of red buildings and gray buildings, the kinds you would find in your typical medieval stronghold. And a large white cathedral. After you place the cathedral on the playing surface, the players take turns placing their pieces. The object is to get all of your pieces on the grid, while stopping your opponent from doing the same thing.

You can win by luck, but tried and true strategies are almost unbeatable.

While searching for something in my mothers basement, I found my old Cathedral set. It had been decades since I had played it. All but one piece was in the box, which was an easy fix as I just had to pull the corresponding piece from the other side. At the time my kids were too young to play, so I tried it out with some of my Game of Thrones friends. Some games took minutes others stretched out close to an hour as we plotted and planned each move trying to anticipate moves in the future.

As my kids got older and I thought they would understand the basic concept of the game I introduced it to them. My daughter is very strategic when she plays while my son just goes at it with reckless abandon. Even though they have not been able to beat me they both really enjoy it and like the overall look of the game. To be fair the game is for ages 10 and up, and my kids are 9&7, but they have a head start.

It's also equally enjoyable to watch my kids play with a “toy” that I enjoyed when I was little. Cathedral is not only fun, it's not only a thinker it is a timeless classic.

Disclosure: The maker of this game did not compensate me for this review. It was a gift from my mother when I was 11 years old.

Tabletop Tuesday - Snappy Dressers

In an effort to alleviate screen time, my kids and I are playing tabletop games. Some are full games with boards some are simple card games. All are fun!

Snappy Dressers
Mattel
Ages 7+
Players 1-10








I picked up a new card game from the store the other day called Snappy Dressers. The game appears to be a matching game with hipster animals decked out in their trendiest and funkiest outfits. But it's way more.

There are 10 different games that you can play with the uniquely dressed Foxes, Sloths, Zebras, Giraffes, Pandas, and Owls. We played the basic version of the game where all the animals are trying to get into a very cool party, and to get in you need to match one item from your card to one on the “host” card. Play continues until your stack of cards is gone.

Each card matches every other card in one unique way. Players can match by animal, clothing color, and party gifts. Within a few rounds you will find yourself screaming “Blue scarf! Blue scarf! Blue Scarf” as you try to beat your friends and family.

Like any card game around our house it can get pretty competitive. Kids and adults trying to win. As I mentioned earlier there are 10 different ways to play including a solo game, in Party of 1 you start with a random card and then have to make a 3x3 grid with a match in every direction. As fast as you can. You can either time yourself or if you have a friend with a deck go head to head. It took me 2:06, it was not super easy.


I really liked this game, the art is neat and somewhat sophisticated in a very ironic way. Unlike a lot of card games we have tried my kids have been very enthusiastic about playing Snappy Dressers over and over again. A great game that you can throw in your backpack and is ready to play anywhere with a flat surface.

Disclosure: The maker of this game did not supply a copy of this game nor did they compensate me for this review.









Wednesday

The Art and Science of ANGRY BIRDS


For many of us, Angry Birds was the first game we played on an iPhone. It got us hooked. And subsequently, it got our kids hooked on gaming on iPhones and iPads. Toys, movies, and dozens of upgrades later, Angry Birds has become part of the fabric of our lives. That is why I was so excited when I learned that the New York Hall of Science was going to have an Angry Birds exhibit.
I was a little skeptical, but they had me at life-sized slingshots that you could use to destroy structures and knock down pigs. No actual pigs were harmed in this exhibit, they are just large green vinyl pillows. We went early in the afternoon and the exhibit (which is actually open already) was not very full. Which was good.


 

The highlight of the exhibit is the slingshot area, where you have to build a structure. Place your “pigs” and then fire Angry Bird kickballs at them. You could hear squeals of delight and laughter as kids and grownups alike played. The staff keeps it safe by being very firm with the rules, about when you could fire. Since there were very few people there, we were able to go back on line over and over again. But during busy times, there may be a wait.


But there is more. There are stations where you can play the classic version of the game, it is actually behind a beautiful display of the Angry Birds, with descriptions of the characters. There are stations to draw, to compose music, design scenes on the computer and even make short animations.

Science!

The staff that developed the Angry Birds Universe exhibit, are very clever as they snuck in a lot of science in the fun. Don’t tell the kids but they are learning. One of my favorite parts is the interactive pulley display. There are three birds that say they weigh 25kg and you can try to pull them up by a rope. The secret is each of the pulleys that are attached to the birds makes it easier or harder to lift the bird. My son insisted that one of the birds was heavier. Then I explained the pulleys and he saw why one seemed much heavier than the others.

On the weekends this exhibit will be really crowded (especially at first) but take the opportunity to see some of the other great exhibits. My personal favorite is Connected Worlds, which is basically the virtual waterfall room. It is beautiful and relaxing and simply amazing. And you should interact with the staff, they are all very enthusiastic, great with kids and love sharing their love of science.


The exhibit which officially opens July 1st and runs all summer through August 27th is free with admission. The Hall of Science is located at 47-01 111th St, Corona, NY 11368

Tuesday

Spending the day with my little guy and the stars of MONSTER JAM



For the last few months my son has been acting up. Is it being nearly 7? Maybe. Is it dealing with me who is grumpy and tired all the time from my night job. Maybe. Combo of the two yes.

I know I get mad, frustrated and have a really hard time hiding that. And it has really affected the little guy, in a different way than my daughter. When she gets upset she lets it out. The little guy holds it in and then explodes. He is stubborn, impatient and doesn't want to give an inch. I'm glad he got some of my great traits.

A few weeks ago my wife texts me saying how nice and helpful the little guy has been recently. And asks if I have been doing anything differently. I told her I was being more patient with him. He is going to do things I don't like, but I stopped making a federal case about it. And it worked.

Along came an awesome opportunity for us, where we were given great seats to view Monster Jam. My son grew interested in seeing Monster Jam after seeing some pictures my brother posted with him and his son at a show near them. He was so excited.

I knew that we would be able to bond even more in what turned out to be a long long day at Monster Jam. We packed up our essentials, including some noise muffling earphones for him and some ear plugs for me. A change of clothes and rain gear since it was pouring as we left.


We arrived at Met Life Stadium soon before the gates were opening. And as if the Gods of Monster Trucks were revving their engines as they looked down on us, the skies began to clear. A light drizzle replaced the deluge. Having a few hours before our first planned activity, we went to the Pit Party.

All of the Monster Trucks that would be performing in that evening's show were out there with their drivers. You could take pictures and get autographs. We saw some dirt bike racers jumping over very very wet ramps. It was a celebration of everything Monster Jam. Took some pictures of some of the trucks including the world famous Grave Digger.

There were modified monster truck hayrides going on in the back of the pit party but the long line discouraged us from trying that out. The little guy did race around on a mini ride-on version of Grave Digger.


We ventured inside the stadium to get an up close look at the track. Unfortunately, the earlier bad weather made walking the track impossible but we met up with the course designer and I learned a lot of neat facts. The track takes about a week to construct, and a day to take down. There are other crews prepping events across the globe, the next night they would be in Madrid. The crew at MetLife Stadium would then be heading down to Nashville. My son was amazed at how big the stadium was and that it could 83,000 people in it.

They escorted us up to see some of the new toys and other products that are in stores now and will be in the next few months. I was blown away by the depth of their line. Everything from $5 mini trucks to a nearly $400 ride on Grave Digger with lights sound and steel suspension. Beyond actual truck toys, they have sneakers, home wares, video games, and glasses. Monster Jam is a multibillion dollar business. It's not just amazing trucks and their drivers doing amazing things.

Soon it was time for the show. The little guy and the other children we were sitting with were going nuts as the mini trucks (they were full sized just not Monster sized) raced around the track. This was the opening act. It sounded like a smarm of a million bees buzzing through the curves of the home of the New York football Giants and New York Jets.

Then a countdown appeared on MetLife’s giant screens. Then crashing through a wall came the stars of the show. These larger than life trucks came roaring out into the dirt track. They all took their spots and paired off on a single elimination racing tournament. The big star was a truck named Max-D.

Max-D looks exactly what a monster truck would look like if you asked an 8-year-old boy to draw one. Shiny and loud with spikes all over. Kind of like a four-wheeled personification of Judas Priest era Rob Halford.
Full disclosure we were in a luxury box, and as I always say if you have the opportunity to watch and event from one, by all means, do. So there was an inside room and seats outside. My son and the other kids were running all around. Did I scold him when marinara sauce got everywhere? No. It wasn't a big deal. The kids had kind of cleaned it up. Did he stay in his seat? No. But also no biggie. He was having fun. I was having fun. And we were watching something pretty cool.

Max-D and the others competed in three separate competitions, in the aforementioned race. The Two-Wheel Challenge, where the trucks had to do stunts on two wheels. Lots of wheelies, and donuts. The fans voted for the winner through an app. Then finally the main event, the Freestyle.

Freestyle is what everyone pictures when they think about Monster trucks. One on one they battled the course. Leaping over the ramps, seemingly defy all of nature's laws by flying through the night. Crushing some late model cars that were used as props, and for many of the cars doing front and back flips. The trucks used a special steeper ramp for their flips. As the zoomed over it fireworks would shoot out, as if a 10,000-pound vehicle safely flipping 30 feet above the field of a football stadium wasn't amazing enough. Max-D made his flip and landed on his roof, the crowd gasped momentarily as he revved his engines and somehow willed himself back onto his wheels on route to a victory lap. The little guy was beside himself as the competition continued.

The competition ended with Son-uva Digger (an offshoot of the Grave Digger team), who had already lost the roof of his car while jumping through the main portion of the track flipping and crashing on top of the firework launching area. The driver was ok. And though battered all the trucks would be headed for some repairs on their way to the next stop on the tour.

We soon headed back home. Thanks to the ear protection, our ears were not ringing and we talked about how cool and fun our long day at Monster Jam was.

The evening ended with us searching the mid-sixties along 1st avenue for some iced tea. It was nearly 11pm but that was ok. You'd be surprised how hard it is to find Brisk iced tea in that part of town.


Disclosure: We received complimentary passes to this event but all opinions as always are mine alone.

Wednesday

Bonding over muddy boots and hot coffee




“When is this coffee going to be ready?” A slim man who kind of looks like a shaggier Tom Skerritt, paces around a damp picnic table at Camp Alpine. He is wearing the same beat up Jets t-shirt and gray sweat pants he always wore on those Sunday mornings as we prepared to break camp. Soon he would take the blue enamel coffee pot off of the propane burner and pour himself what would be the first of many cups of coffee he would drink that morning.

My old scoutmaster Lee wasn't tired, he just loved the taste of a hot cup of coffee on a cool fall morning. Or a frigid cold winter morning. You get the drift. To him it was part of the camp experience. And for me it was a rite of passage. At home my mother was, and is, an enthusiastic coffee drinker. But I never wanted to drink coffee at home. But I could picture myself, standing around in muddy boots with the men enjoying a cup of coffee with the crackle of last night’s fire still audible.

We had a rule back then, and still do now, that only adults are allowed to drink coffee on Troop outings.

Soon after my eighteenth birthday, our troop was at the annual Trailblazer District Wint-o-Ree. It was cold with a little bit of snow on the ground. I was, and am, an early riser at camp. When I woke up, Lee was already awake making his morning coffee. He told me to grab a camp cup. He poured me some coffee. He had milk and sugar on hand, because he drank his coffee regular, and apparently so did I. Now, that I use higher quality coffee like Folgers® Coffeehouse Blend, as opposed to whatever we had left over from the pancake breakfast, I skip the sugar so I can enjoy the smooth yet bold taste.

Without the distraction of the boys and the day's competition. We talked about a lot of things. What he expected of me as an Assistant Scoutmaster. That morning I got so many words of wisdom that #shouldbeonacoffeemug probably enough to fill an entire kitchen cabinet with coffee mugs. And then we just shot the breeze, until he made a loud proclamation that the entire cabin could hear, about when was breakfast going to start. After that day, when a future marine would be dragged underneath a sledge that was being pulled by his fellow scouts as he yelled at them not to stop till they passed the finish line, my morning cups of coffee were just part of camping. I wasn't getting words of wisdom on how to be an adult scouter.

As the years went by and I rose in the ranks of our troop’s hierarchy, I remember many times sitting by the fire talking to a newly minted Assistant Scoutmaster and passing along my “wisdom” over a cup of coffee. For some it went in one ear out the other. Others took it to heart. It was in those moments that scout leaders become friends. No longer kid and adult, but two adults talking as equals. Just I like I was that morning with Lee.

Flash forward a few years, and I am that Scoutmaster impatiently waiting for a pot of Folgers Coffeehouse Blend to percolate in that same coffee pot, as the scouts slept, in their tents, leantos or in the cabin. Coffee at camp was never about getting a buzz or cstaying awake, it was about savoring the flavors and the moments. Those quiet moments when you can hear a woodpecker in the distance, or see a few deer walk by, you look at them, and they look at you.

These were the times that camping is perfect, and despite being a few minutes away from “civilization” you can be one with nature. You, your thoughts, and a steamy cup of coffee in your mug.

For more information and ideas on ways to enjoy Folgers Coffeehouse Blend be sure to follow Folgers on Twitter and like them on Facebook


This is a sponsored post on behalf of J. M. Smucker Company. I received compensation for this post; however, all opinions stated are my own.










Monday

I let my kid quit Little League





I called my son into the living room and confirmed with him that it was what he really wanted. He said it was. So I hit send on a note to his baseball coach letting him know that the season was over for him. The team still has two games and the playoffs to go. But #42 would not be joining them anymore.

A few weeks back on a surprisingly chilly May evening the Plumbers were in a tight game. The boys 7 and 8 year olds (and some 6s who are technically 7) are one of the smaller teams. No behemoth 2nd graders, just a group of scrappy little guys. My son stood at the plate. Elbow up. Knees slightly bent. The other team's pitchers were wild already five of our guys had been hit. The bases were loaded. And the pitch came in. It was way inside, and smashed into my sons hand.

Like his teammates before him he collapsed down into a crying mess. His coach came running over from third base and tried to encourage him as he walked over to first base. He couldn't stay out there, they brought in a pinch runner and I came over to the dug out. He was inconsolable.

I was sure he'd be good to go by the next game. I got him some extra pads for his hands. A security blanket. We went to the batting cage and all seemed great. He was driving the ball with authority. At practice he was great. And then it was game day. He walked into the dugout and was in tears. He refused to play. Eventually he played half an inning of left field.

That would be the last time he saw the field. The next game he couldn't even make it into the dugout. And spent the entire game off the field playing with the little sister of one of his teammates.



I reached out to everyone I knew who might give me some advice. Dads with kids as young as 6 and some with kids almost out of high school. They all said, he'll be ready when he is ready. I didn't push it.

So after a rain-out and a few scheduling conflicts. We were going to get ready to play again. When I told him we were going to start to get ready. His face sunk.

I knew he was scared. I asked him if playing was making him unhappy. He said it was. Forcing him would just make him sad. He is six (and 3/4) he deserves to be happy. And me forcing him to play isn't doing that. I love watching him play. He has a wonderful and powerful swing the kind that is usually reserved for lefties. He is so willing to throw himself around to get a ball. We even got him catchers gear so he could try to be a catcher. And through coaching and practice. He can actually catch the ball well.

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I never got a chance to play little league, so it was important to me to see him play. That's why I never missed a game of corporate softball. It just became not right for him.

When I sent that email he was so relieved. We are still going to have catches in the back yard and the park. I'll still throw him batting practice. But he won't be on the team, at least not this year. And if that makes him happy. In happy with it too.

Friday

A tribute to a ranch, and a dad

Image result for stone cold steve austin

I have always been a fan of pro wrestling and in recent years I have become a fan of podcasts. And one of the podcasts that I listen to regularly fits into both of those interests it's The Steve Austin Show (both regular and unleashed). I was never the hugest Steve Austin fan but I really like how he tells a story and conducts an interview. I'm much more of a fan of his podcast than I was as a sports entertainer.

In a recent episode Steve was talking about selling his ranch in South Texas, the so-called Broken Skull Ranch. It soon evolved into the story of the man he calls dad. Ken Williams.


Steve Austin, was born Steve Anderson. But his parents split up and he and his brothers moved with their mom to a small town in Texas, where she met and eventually married an country western guitar playing insurance salesman named Ken Williams. He adopted her sons and they went on to have two more kids. Mr.Williams was (and still is) an avid hunter and outdoorsman. He found himself with three sons so he passed his love for the outdoors onto them. Because as Steve said that is what a dad does shares his passions with his kids.

The four Williams boys are all outdoorsy, not all of them hunt but that is only a part of what Mr.Williams past along. His daughter (and her kids) are talented singers and musicians. Another thing he passed along.

I was really taken aback, a big portion of this tribute to this ranch, was really a tribute to his dad. You could hear the pride in his voice when he spoke about his dads hunts on the ranch and the same routine he followed every day.

That ranch was not just a place for Stone Cold Steve Austin to hang out, do some hunting, drink some Broken Skull margaritas and drive around on his off road vehicles. It was about following a tradition that his dad gave to him. It was about a legacy.

Not a lot of men would step up and marry a divorced telephone operator with three kids. But Ken Williams was the kind of man who did. And that's why to this day he is so loved and revered by one of the most famous professional wrestlers of all time.