Friday, July 3, 2015

Medieval Times:- Dinner Jousting in Schaumburg.

Disclosure: I and my party were given a meal and free admission to this event.  As always, my opinions and critical view are all my own. 

Last weekend our family and some friends went to Medieval Times, a medieval dinner/jousting experience in Schaumburg.   It was a lot of fun!

The experience brings you back to an eleventh-century king's feast and tournament.  You get served a four course meal by a wench (well, in our case we had a self-proclaimed mensch- a male wench!) You eat with your hands.  You wear a crown.  And you watch knights ride around on horses, jousting and fighting for the championship.

When you go, you should go a little bit early to take in all of the pageantry.  As you enter, you are given a crown, and then  have your picture taken with a princess or a lord, for possible purchasing afterwards.  You are also assigned to a color (the color of your knight, who you will be cheering for)  You then enter a great ante-room, which is also the gift shop, bar, dance floor, and fun area.  (Yes, they make no bones about it-- here you ENTER through the gift shop.)

Before too long the king's minister came out to make some announcements, sounding like a medieval flight attendant.  Finally, you get to enter the arena,  which is approximately the size of a football field.  The arena is in the round, with tables and seats flanking the playing area, and go up probably 6 or 7 rows.  Every seat has a very good view.  I estimated that the arena can seat around 1000 people, maybe even more.

The food is served in between portions of the show.  The menu is the same for everyone-- chicken, corn, roasted potato, tomato soup, garlic bread, and a pastry.  No silverware, you eat with your hands just like eleventh-century nobility did.  My wife has some dietary issues, and they were pretty accomodating, with  gluten free and vegetarian options.  The food was quite good, especially considering that they were turning out about 1000 meals per show.  You can also get served libations, including ale, mead, wine, and soft drinks.  I am pretty sure Ye Olde Pepsi is not a medieval drink, but what the heck!

The show was fun, with lots of swashbuckling, horsemanship, and a falconry exhibition.  I joked to my wife afterwards that it was like a circus, but without the clowns.  (There was some chatter/repartee between the king and the princess as a lead in to some of the competitions, but it wasn't comedy.)  In fact, now that I think about it, it's a little surprising there was not a comedy element to this.  A jester lampooning  the jousting, or a comedy fire juggling act with a pre-renaissance feel would go over quite well.  (Shades of Game of Thrones!)

The stage combat was pretty good, and thrilling to see.  

Here's a 30 second video of the end of one of the swashbuckling fights:

And here's a video I took of 2 and half minutes of fighting, including some jousting!

As you can see, the fighting is pretty entertaining.

Over all, this is a great event for families, and group gatherings (work buddies, etc) My kid and his friends had a wonderful time.  (And so did we parents!)

There are nine castles throughout the United States, and my guess is that they will build a few more over the next couple of years.

To find out more about Medieval Times in your area, go to

Thursday, July 2, 2015

GreenApple Campus Camp-- Cool Contraptions

I thought we were all set for camp this summer, but then I heard from a friend of ours about a camp (GreenApple® Campus) that seemed too good to not try. When I read the descriptions of the classes to my son, he just about cried with joy.

As devoted readers will remember, my son is very excited by the Maker Movement.  We've been to a number of Maker Faires, and a couple of years ago, he was all about building mousetraps and Rube Goldberg machines after we saw the Life Sized Mousetrap  at Maker Faire NY.



These machines continue to fascinate.  So it's no surprise that my  son will be attending the GreenApple® Campus class COOL CONTRAPTIONS.  This invention based program is all about building contraptions, vehicles and machines that move. Gears, beams, pulleys, wheels, axles, pieces that snap and flex.  All of the kind of gizmos that will inspire the aspiring Rube Goldberg. (And will hopefully inspire him to use up the buckets and boxes of springs, cardboard tubes, rubber bands, and various detritus that he refuses to throw out!)

GreenApple® Campus is an educational not-for-profit 501(c)3 organization. Their mission is to inspire the innovators of the future through creative, challenging STEM or STEAM programs for kids. All of the classes, programs, and workshops feature some combination of science, technology, engineering, math, architecture, design, and invention.  Classes are offered in robotics, programming and app development, tinkering and making.  (And there are also some Lego robotics and Minecraft modeling classes!)

They also have an entrepreneurship startup program called Startup to Achieve for kids grades 6-9 that brings you the basics of being an entrepreneur (and very cool, one of those sessions is Just For Girls, so that gender stereotypes about girls and science won't be fulfilled.)

In the Chicagoland area, GreenApple® Campus has 4 locations, plus the StartUp to Achieve program is in a couple of different places.  Go to their schedule page to find out where their classes are offered and which classes are offered when.  They've got a lot of classes available, and I'm sure one of them will be right for your tech-hungry child.

DISCLOSURE:  We are being provided free tuition at GreenApple® Campus in order to try the camp out.  As always my opinions and my son's unfettered desire to build cool contraptions are our own.  I take my critical reputation seriously, and so should you.

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

Home Alone

I've had the last few days by myself, and it's been kind of nice and kind of terrible.

Here's what is going on:  Once we knew when school was going to end, my wife wanted to go to Florida to see her mom. And my son is always up for a trip to Florida, because his grandma has a pool in their complex and he can go everyday and eat McDonalds.  Oh yeah, and he loves his grandmother too!

I might have gone too, but there was a big circus festival in town, and I wanted to attend.  And it cost an extra $400 to go. And I'll see the MIL next month  in July and then again in August, which is plenty.  I don't have a bad relationship with her, (slightly contentious is probably most accurate) but too much of something is still too much.

So on Saturday, after our big awesome Lego adventure, my wife and son took off, and I went to the circus festival.  It was awesome!  I saw a bunch of friends, saw some amazing shows (I counted 10 shows that I saw in a 4-day span, and I was sad because I missed a couple.)  I also got to meet some new people, and in general had a lot of fun at the event.

For the last couple of days, I've been rattling around the house.  I've been sleeping late and going to bed late, and reading, and doing some of those things I was supposed to do while my wife was gone (but not all, honey.  There's still plenty left to nag about, don't you worry! :O) )  And not one RISKY BUSINESS moment at all!  I must be getting old!

This is the first time I've been home alone for an extended time in a while.  I generally like it, but I really do miss my wife and son.  The house seems so empty without them.

Before I had a kid, I spent plenty of time by myself, (I was a little bit of a hermit-- I could spend several days in my apartment by myself and never leave it)  I just don't remember it being so lonely.  I wonder if I was just inured to it, or that I've gotten used to having my family around.  Or maybe I really do love them that much!

When they get home, I'll probably remember all the things that bug me about them, but I don't care.   They get back on Thursday, and it can't be soon enough for me.

Monday, June 15, 2015

The Chicago Contemporary Circus Festival- This Week!

It had nearly slipped my attention, but the Chicago Contemporary Circus Festival is this week, which means there will be tons of great circus in Chicago this weekend.

While not EVERY SHOW is family friendly, a good portion of them are, and most of them (except for perhaps The Girlie Show) are suitable for ages 12 and over.

Of special interest to families will be the American Youth Circus Organization's Youth Circus Showcase, which will feature some of the most talented young performers of our generation who are getting the opportunity to perform.

Also a good bet for families with kids is The Magmanus Show, an outdoor street show that features acrobatics and circus skills at a pretty advanced level (Admission is free, but audience is encouraged to donate to the performers.)

Peter Davidson in Tossed and Found
Two other shows of interest:  Peter Davidson's Tossed and Found, a fun and family friendly vaudeville/juggling one man performance with lots of comedy, and Cirque Mechanic's Pedal Punk, a stunt show/circus for bikes that the New York Times called "exceptional, evocative, eye-catching and grossly entertaining…in a word, excellent."

There's a few more shows that would be perfect for kids too- especially older kids.  
To decide take a look at the images below, read the descriptions and explore the shows of interest.  


Shows take place at the Atheneum Theatre (Mainstage and Blackbox theatres) as well as at the Chopin Theatre.  Tickets range from free to $50.

chiconcircusfestlogo SHOWS OF THE
  American Youth Circus Organization Youth Circus Showcase

“Youth Circus” means kids, teens, and young adults who practice or perform circus arts. This includes young people who are learning circus skills at home, at a circus school, through an organization, at camp, school, college, or in a professional circus setting. There are about 10,000 youth that we know of doing circus all around the USA—and hundreds of thousands of others around the world with the numbers growing.
  Bindlestiff Family Circus Third Coast Cabaret

This late night cabaret features circus artists from across the globe and across the spectrum of circus and variety skills. Two completely different lineups of world-class aerialists, jugglers, physical comedians, acrobats, and novelty acts will be presented on Friday and Saturday. The Bindlestiffs are the glue, adding their own twisted spin on circus tradition. Composer and musician Peter Bufano adds live, original music to the mix.
  Bearded Lady Productions The Girlie Show

The Girlie Show is about celebrating the female body's strength and vulnerability, through circus, music and comedy. Burlesque comes
from the Italian word Burlo which means to joke. Burlesque is classic entertainment that although with a recent spike in interest, has almost vanished over the last few decades. Our goal in creating "The Girlie Show" is to act as preservation for Burlesque.

Casus Circus Knee Deep

Internationally renowned Casus Circus present their premier work Knee Deep. Four performers explore the boundaries of strength and fragility. Bodies are pushed and pulled, weighed and tested, unlikely bonds are forged and acts of intimacy cohabit space with thrilling physical feats. The Casus artists bring a raw emotional edge and honesty to the stage revealing the strong connection of the quartet throughout the journey. Delicacy does not necessarily equate to fragility, although it is often a fine line the performers tread.

Cirque Mechanics Pedal Punk

Enter the world of Pedal Punk, a Steampunk inspired place where cycling is the way to escape the technology obsessed society. In Pedal Punk we experience the excitement, artistry and thrill that occurs when a wacky bike shop mechanic interacts with cyclists and bikes, he repairs more than broken pieces. He creates wondrous machines and inspires the cyclist in all of us to become a Pedal Punk.

Company McQuiggs PLD

Company McQuiggs is composed of Willem McGowan, Kellin Quinn, and Nathan Biggs-Penton; three young and immensely talented performers. Together, they bring to the stage amazing skills and technical abilities infused with an undeniable youthful energy. Their show PLD blends juggling with comedy and dance to bring you an hour of jaw dropping, bucket stacking, balls flying fun!

Gandini Juggling Smashed

Smashed: 9 jugglers, 80 apples, 4 crockery sets. A sensational mix of skills and theatricality inspired by the work of Pina Bausch. A series of nostalgic filmic scenes exploring conflict, tense relationships, lost love and quaint afternoon tea... In Smashed, the manipulation of the forbidden fruit takes a sagacious look at the strained relations between seven men and two women, kindly flaying traditional juggling and contemporary circus.

Kate & Pasi Suhde

The relationship between a man and a woman is the main theme of the contemporary circus performance ”Suhde”. As the performance is running, we want to be able to answer the following questions in a comical way: How does a 50 kg woman win over a 100 kg man? How does a relationship work as these two different-sized persons meet? Which leads and which follows? How does a relationship form?

Magmanus Company Magmanus Show

Magmanus Company is a Swedish circus company founded in 2009 by the Franco-Norwegian duo Manu Tiger and Magnus Bjoru. Together they perform in a street circus show with jaw dropping skills and stomach turning comedy. It is filled with Bollywood juggling, teeterboard dancing and handstands, and has a high flying acrobatic grand finale performed in – a g-string. A show you will never forget! ALL AGES

Peter Davison Tossed & Found

Imagine a cross between Charlie Chaplin and Fred Astaire, who has a knack for juggling. In fact, he dances with objects. Peter’s partners onstage include a garbage can, garbage bags, furniture, dishes, bicycle tires, an umbrella, and a piece of paper (a love letter), all of which reveal unique personalities. With a great deal of creativity and skill, Peter Davison reveals how ordinary things can become extraordinary. ALL AGES

Slater Penney & Jaron Hollander The Submarine Show

Two men crash their submarine on bottom of the sea. You will laugh as they cry, swim, fly and go insane in a one hour award-winning critically acclaimed madcap journey from the ocean to the sky and back. ALL AGES.

To find out more about the festival,  visit their website:

Friday, June 12, 2015

Stouffer's #Fitkitchen- My Partner in Eating Better

Disclosure: I have partnered with Life of Dad and STOUFFER’S® for this promotion. I have received compensation and product for my participation, but my opinions and my voracious appetites are my own.

I've been trying to be better about working out and eating in a more healthy way.  Honest, I have.  But as many of you know, it's difficult.  Especially because.
• I'm an older dad (I'm 50!  I know, I don't look a day over 49!)
• I have a voracious appetite. 
• I used to be active, but have been sedentary for the last couple of years.

A couple of weeks ago I joined my local gym, primarily because I can walk there and they have a pool. I'm a big fan of swimming, and so are my busted-out basketball knees. And especially with the summer coming on here in Chicago, I think it will be a good activity to do every morning.

I'd been threatening to join the gym for a while, but somehow never quite got there to do it. I managed to go, sign up for the full year, and now I'm good to go. All I have to do is attend!

I've gone 8 out of the last 14 days, which is pretty good. Mostly swimming, but a little running too. (And by running, I mean walking on the treadmill/elliptical at a moderate pace - I'm in the 3.8/3.9 mph territory in the gym). Back when I was in my 30's, I'd swim a mile in about 41 minutes. And I'd regularly go 5-6 mph on the treadmill. And now, I'm swimming a little over half a mile in 30 minutes. Hey, you have to start somewhere.

In terms of eating, I've been trying to cook more and eat out less. It doesn't always work out because I run out of time and energy. Especially for lunch or after a workout. And let's face it, a dad can not live by kale alone.

For the last couple of days I've been coming home from the gym very hungry, and just haven't had the energy to cook.  And this is where Stouffer's ® Fit Kitchen has been a great help in satisfying my hunger.

They've got six varieties available, and they all sounded pretty good.

STEAK FAJITA in smoked red chile sauce with a mix of red & green peppers and seasoned brown rice.

CILANTRO LIME CHICKEN white meat chicken with a black bean & corn mix, seasoned brown rice, and a verde tomatillo sauce.

ROTISSERIE SEASONED TURKEY with a mix of diced red skin sweet potatoes & green beans.

MONTEREY CHICKEN with diced red skin & sweet potatoes, lightly buttered green beans with BBQ style sauce.

BOURBON STEAK with chipotle mashed sweet potatoes, seasoned broccoli & red peppers.

OVEN ROASTED CHICKEN with diced red skin potatoes, seasoned broccoli and a savory wine sauce.

 I tried both the Bourbon Steak and the Rotisserie Turkey.  Seriously, they were the best frozen meals I've ever had!

The before picture.  Looks good!
The meals are easy to prepare. You open the box, tear off a corner for venting (with the bourbon steak they recommended opening up the cover over the broccoli) and cook for 6 minutes. You open it, you stir the vegetables up a little, you cover it and cook it for 1 more minute. Let it stand one more minute and then enjoy. Pretty easy. 
The after picture.  Delicious!
 The food was plentiful and tasted fresh.  The meat was in nice juicy chunks, and clearly pretty high quality stuff.  The vegetables were good and not soggy and didn't have that "frozen" flavor.  With both I finished the plate and was pretty full (although I will admit that I used a piece of bread to sop up the delicious Bourbon Steak's gravy.  I couldn't let all that deliciousness go to waste, right?)  I really feel like Stouffers ® Fit Kitchen did a great job of making these meals delicious.

The Bourbon Steak has 410 calories and 26 g of protein.   The Rotisserie Turkey has 330 calories and 25 g of protein.   They both have no trans-fat.  I wouldn't classify them as "diet meals" because that somehow implies that they are skimpy or small, which they are not. They are hearty meals of good ingredients for people that need quick energy. They do have a fair amount of sodium (890mg for the steak and 960mg for the turkey)  but that's less than 40% of the RDA.  You shouldn't have them for every meal, but one a day will be fine, even if you are watching your salt intake (which I am.)


These meals are great for after a workout, or when you need to make something quick and satisfying.  I heartily recommend checking them out; you can find STOUFFER’S® Fit Kitchen in the frozen aisle at your local Walmart, Target or grocery store; visit to find a store near you.

Wednesday, June 10, 2015

I'm Having Domestic Problems

The offending "light" switch
I've been having domestic problems lately.

No, not the kind where somebody has to sleep on the couch.  That area is relatively quiet lately (knock wood)

And not the kind where you have to fire somebody for stealing.

The problems I've been having have to do with appliances.

Last week, I could not get the dishwasher to turn on.  I thought it was a fuse at first, but no circuits were blown.  I looked for a reset button, I set and reset the GCI buttons in the kitchen.  No love.  So, it's got to be something.

I call the dishwasher company.  It's probably $350 to replace the dishwasher.  Sounds to them like a blown motherboard.  Our dishwasher is from 2007, out of warranty, and a brand new one is $600.  We were like "Okay, let's get a new one!"

So we go to ABT  (the giant appliance store in Glen View that has EVERYTHING, including that $125,000 television for when you win the lottery.)  We spent about 40 minutes with an incredibly knowledgable salesman (and that's why you go to ABT-- these guys really know their stuff.  Unlike many of the employees at your local Giant Hardware store (if you can find a guy there)  Also, if you have good credit, they have 0% financing, which is preferable for us.

Anyway, he tells us all about our dishwasher, and how we've been washing dishes wrong for years. I'll have to write a separate post on this.

We settle on a dishwasher, and while we are there, take a look at refrigerators.

We'd had a fridge come with our place, but it was a side by side, which is not ideal.  My wife has been coveting a French door refrigerator with a bottom freezer (like we had in Yonkers)

Long story short, we got a great deal on the fridge, and 0% financing as well.

Domestic bliss right?  Think again!

They couldn't deliver for a few days, so we were washing dishes by hand.

The new dishwasher- ALMOST in place
Two days before they are set to arrive, the electrician comes over to pick up his check.  I mention that my dishwasher is being replaced.  He says, let me take a look.  Then he says, what does this switch do? I thought it turned on some under-cabinet lights that we never used.

 It turns out, it turns on the dishwasher!  Why there is a light switch that is not clearly marked that turns on the dishwasher-- well, let us say I was non-plussed.  With a LOT of swearing.

So now we've got a dishwasher coming the next day, and we don't really need it.  After a long discussion, I succumb to my wife's point of view that all of our appliances will be new-- let's just bite the bullet.

Finally the day comes for delivery.  They show up just as I'm about to take my son to gymnastics.  No problem, my wife is home, so she takes over the delivery.  When I get back, it turns out that our new dishwasher can't be connected.  The electrical connection is in the wrong place.  It needs to be moved and/or replaced with a flexible electrical connection.

So I call the electrician.  He can come on Wednesday (that's today) to fix the electric.

We had to clean out the hallways so that they could get the fridge in the door (and take the old fridge and put it downstairs.  So my office and our bedroom are full of all the things that used to be in the hallways (a bench for shoes, random umbrella stands, some shelves, the circus ring.  You know, the usual!)

Dirty dishes
In the meantime, my wife goes to NY on business, leaving me a full load of dirty dishes to clean (we hadn't done them, because we thought the dishwasher would be installed by then.)

 I fill up the sinks to clean the dishes.  But when I drain the sinks, there is a terrible rushing sound underneath-- the dishwasher out valve has not been connected to the garbage disposal! There is all sorts of water under the sink!  I clean that out.

So now we have our old fridge downstairs, and our old dishwasher (which works perfectly, and is on Craig's List.)  If you mention this blogpost when purchasing the dishwasher, you can get $25 off!

We've got our new fridge upstairs, which is pretty nice, and a non-working dishwasher waiting to be installed.  I'm pretty happy with the new fridge, and very happy that we have a fridge downstairs (in our previous home, we had an extra fridge AND a standup freezer)

We probably should have left well enough alone and not gotten a new dishwasher.  It would have been a LOT less expensive.

Monday, June 8, 2015

Brickworld Chicago- The top Lego Exposition in the area!

Brickworld, one of the premier Lego events in the country, is coming to Chicago June 20-21.

 The exposition, which will be held at the Renaissance Convention Center in Schaumburg, will feature over 66,000 square feet of displays, interactive activities, stop-action lego films, and vendors.

 Nearly 400 artists and engineers will display their creations, which include everything from scenes from mythology and history to futuristic space stations.  Also on display will be replicas of famous paintings, replicas of actual buildings, robots,working trains, cityscapes,  and many more things built entirely of Legos.   Last year they presented the largest LEGO great ball contraption in North America, and that will be back this year as well. (see video to the right)

There will be a play area with 20,000 bricks for kids to build their own Legos, and plenty of Lego vendors and enthusiasts on hand to give tips and sell models and other Lego gear.

There are a number of regional Brickworld expositions, but Chicago is one of the largest.  Says Bryan Bonahoom, organizer of the festival, "Chicago is the crowning jewel of our shows."

(Brickworld is a private company not connected with the Lego company.  Brickworld brings together Lego enthusiasts of all ages to celebrate the creativity, diversity, and inventiveness that characterizes the best of what Lego can represent.)

Brickworld Chicago will be held on June 20 and 21, 2015 at the Renaissance Convention Center in Schaumburg, IL.

Hours are 10 AM – 4 PM on Saturday and 10 AM – 3 PM on Sunday.

General admission tickets are $10 in advance, $11 at the door and kids under 3 are free.

DISCOUNTED TICKETS: Readers of this blog before June 17 can get in for $8.50.  To do so, purchase tickets online at and use the code DADA15.

Click the image to the left.

This is going to be an awesome event for everybody who likes Legos.  Hope to see you there!

If you are unsure of what to expect, you can take a VERY VERY COMPLETE video tour of the 2014 event.  This video is presented by BEYOND THE BRICK.

And here are some more photos of past events (click to enlarge):