Sunday, October 2, 2011

Activity: Camping at Clinton Lake

Location: 798 N 1415 Rd, Lawrence KS. Park Office Phone: 785-842-8562

Cost: Varies depending on what type of site you want. But in general: Under 10 for a basic site, Under 20 for site with hookups. There is also a park registration vehicle fee upon entering the park, $4.

Age Appropriate: Depends upon the child, Dad's call on this one.

KCDADS do like to camp and hopefully I'll be able to put up all the sites we go to on the blog here for future KCDADS so that they will know what to expect. I won't be able to include all that there is to offer but will do my best to tell you about our experiences there.

We have been camping at Clinton Lake several times and have had an enjoyable experience each time. Let's start with the campsites themselves. There are many to choose from and I believe that Clinton Lake has 3 separate campgrounds to choose from. Some may be closed at times so make sure you call if you have your heart set on any specific campground to check availability.

The sites that we have been to I have found to be pretty decent. They are spacious and offer heavy tree areas if that is what you are looking for, which we were. But there are also camp sites that are more open and spacious so feel free to use those. We wanted areas that provided good shade and space and we were easily accommodated. You will also want to check the website for the rules of the campground and hours of operation. But in general, the park closes down at 10pm and quiet time is from 11pm to 6 am. The campsites we stayed at were well drained and offered nice flat levels. I believe that the rule is 2 tents per site max but again, please check the campground and sites.

As for activities, there is plenty to do around Clinton Lake and you wont' be disappointed if you are eager to get your outdoors on. We'll start with the beach because this is one area that I was a bit disappointed about. The beach itself is a bit rocky and access is not easy. It's a pretty good hike to reach it and you have to climb down long stairs to get to it. This makes it difficult when you are trying to lug a cooler out that way. It's not bad but it could be better. There won't be much in the way of building sand castles here though and your feet will get a bit sore after a while.

Clinton lake does offer some great hiking trails that I found pretty decent, maybe around average from what I've seen around her. But there are plenty of them so if you like to hike this is a good place. They offer a little challenge but do give you some great scenic views of the lake. The upkeep is ok, not great, but I don't think that's a bad thing at all considering the number of miles that there are to hike.

If you have a boat, this is a great lake for that. Easy access to the lake which is a must when boating. The lake itself offers some great places to roam around on and the kids will have a great time out on the water. The other boaters are courteous and it makes for a very good time.

Now back to the campsite. Sitting out by the campfire enjoying the stars is what makes this a great place to go. Clear skies and easy going park staff make a night here worth it. If you are looking for an easy experience, this is a good place to start. There are some playground equipment at some of the campgrounds but they are older and not much to write about. The second time we went camping here we didn't even bother with going to them.

As for the bathroom and facilities, I would again say it's about average. Showers are neither hot nor cold but spacious which makes it easy when trying to get a kid to wash off mud. The toilet area can be bug covered so if you have a kiddo, go in there first and kill some bugs and spiders first so that they don't freak out.

Clinton Lake is a good campground for us to go to. It's decently close and offers what we like best: peace and quiet.

Activity: Puppet Show, Downtown Library

Location: Downtown Kansas City Library, the best library in the state. 14 w 10th St, KC MO.

Cost: Free

Age Appropriate: All ages

Once again our children's librarian, Claire, takes care of the KCDADS. I have no idea why she takes such good care of us and our kids, but she does and we are grateful for it. This time, Claire and her library had a puppeteer come in and put on a puppet show for Kansas City. Claire made sure that we knew the date and the time and we offer her our thanks for making sure we were included.

When Claire does bigger events such as this, it's usually not held on the 2nd floor of the library but up on the 5th floor. Keep that in mind if you get lost. And if you remember, this is also where you go to have lunch on the roof, one of our favorite places in all of KC.

Now for the puppet show. It was amazing. There was quite a large crowd there but seating was plentiful. The kids got to sit on the floor in front of the stage and it was easily accessible for the rest of us. The show itself was fun and kept the attention span of both us and the children. The jokes were pretty decent and the kids loved it when the puppets ran into stuff or banged each other with fake swords. The show lasted for about 30 minutes which was a good amount of time to expect the kids to stay still.

One of the best parts though was after the show when the puppeteer came out from behind the stage and answered questions. He also brought the puppets out for the kids to see and gave a short demonstration on how they worked.

Once again, another great free even put on by Claire and the KC Library.

Activity: Ice Skating

Location: There are several ice skating rinks and community centers that offer this activity. We went to: Line Creek Ice Arena. Contact nubmer 816-513-0760.

Cost: Varies depending on where you go. Look for the fee to be under 10 bucks a head. Our cost was 5 bucks for ice time and 2 bucks for skate rental.

Age appropriate: 3 and up. Keep the younger kids at home.

The KCDADS were fortunate enough to have a KCDAD set this up for us which might have made all the difference in the world. He offered to take us and our kids out on the ice and give us Ice Skating lessons. We would like to offer a big thank you to Jimmy for taking the time to do this for us!

With that said, I did find that the staff at the community center very helpful. They took their time with us and helped make sure that we got the right sized skates for the kids. Most of our kids, and some dads, had never been out on the ice before so it was reassuring that we had Jimmy there and the staff to help us make a smooth transition.

As for the ice itself, I have no idea what makes "good" ice and "bad" ice so I will say that it seemed great to me. Another neat little thing that they had was bleachers and a locker room with a glass wall so that you could watch others skate while you tied your own boots on. As you would imagine, this was helpful when some of our kids darting out that way while we were still lacing up.

What made this a great activity for us and the kids though was the home made "ice walkers" that they provided to us. As you can imagine, none of our kids really knew how to ice skate. To avoid a bad experience of noses and butts hitting the floor, we were giving the ice walkers. These were little walkers were made out of plastic tubing and resembled a walker. The kids would grab on to these to maintain balance while out on the ice. We had enough of them as well so that almost every child could have one. And when we were short the kids easily shared between breaks. As you can imagine, this can be a physically challenging task which is good. We need to push our kids at times and this was a good activity to do that.

We were able to skate for about an hour while our KCDAD gave pointers to the kids. As this ice rink was inside, this is also an activity that is good year round. It was a good activity and something that I think we will do again next year. I know that this activity can sound daunting but don't let that deter you from giving this a shot with the kids.

Activity: The Berry Patch

Location: The Berry Patch, 22509 S. State Line Road, Cleveland Mo. For directions see website!

Cost: Varies upon how much you pick. It's free to go and play but you pay for what you pick. I found the prices way, way cheaper than buying blue berries at the store though!

Age appropriate: All Ages

Hours of operation: Varies based on season. Visit website for more details but in general, harvest time are in the months of June, July and August.

Go and pick some blueberries! It's a fun and great thing to do and this is the place to do it at.

For starters, you should check the website provided here for more information on how to get to the Berry Patch and what can be picked at the moment. Crops size and availability will vary from year to year based on growing conditions. Also make sure you check the picking report that is also on the website to see what the harvest will be like.

Now, on to the picking. We went when the it apparently was a "low harvest" and the picking report did not make it sound all that great. I was pleasantly surprised though when we showed up and there appeared to be plenty left to choose from. There are big fields where the blueberry bushes are and there were still some to be had. You had to work for them a bit more than usual apparently, but the group and our kids were up for the task. What we learned was that a 3 foot tall kid is the perfect height to get right up under the bushes for those hard to get berries that most people would skip. After an hour of fun work, and it was fun, my kids and I were able to walk away with a good 2 pounds of blueberries and that doesn't count the ones that they ate directly from the bushes.

The fields themselves were well kept and easy to navigate. Be warned though that you do need to keep an eye on the kiddos for several reasons. 1. blueberries stain. 2. The bushes are high enough that it is easy to lose track of your shorter kiddos. It was also somewhat of a busy weekend when we went as well but I found the entire site well organized, the staff friendly, and the other visitors friendly as well. It made for a good time.

Now once your picking is done, there are other farm like things to be done here. For a small fee (2 bucks a kid) you can have your child ride on their "train" which is a bunch of little cars being pulled by a tractor. There are also plenty of hay bales to climb on which is always a great activity for the kids. Finally, there is a small playground that the kids can run around on. It's a bit run down but still fun. There was a large drainage tube there as well that the kids loved to get inside of while their friends pushed it down a hill. Don't worry, this is intentional and it's not a construction site leftover. It's really fun and there are plenty of places from some great pictures with the family.

Once you have picked your berries, it's now time to pay for them. If it's busy, you are going to have a bit of a wait. You have your berries weighed at the front and then get in line to pay for them. The line to pay for them though is through the actual gift shop, which I'm pretty sure is intentional as they are trying to get you to buy various nick nacks. It works and we walked out of there with some honey sticks and also the best glass of blue berry lemonade that I have ever had. Honestly, it was worth waiting in line just for that glass. I didn't even know there was such a thing. However, if your kids are waiting in line with you be prepared to grab a lot of darting hands here and there. There are a lot of interesting things in the gift shop and they love to grab them when you are not looking.

If you have planned well, and I'm assuming you did as you are reading this, you have brought a packed lunch. This is a great place to have lunch at on a good cloudless day. There are picnic tables but also bring a blanket and throw it between some trees. We did this and it worked out very well.

This is defiantly an activity that we will do again next year. I'm also hearing that Blackberries will be good to go in 2012. Expect to see the KCDADS in full force.

Activity: Drive in Movie Theater

Location: There are several around time, please use Google. We used the Twin Drive In located at 1320 N. 291 Highway, Independence Mo

Cost: The Price of a movie ticket, about 8 bucks

Age Appropriate: 2 years of age and up. I think the younger kids would be a bit bored.

There are some good things to say about this place and some bad things. The idea was great and the KCDADS and wives got together for a showing of the Smurfs. I won't comment on the movie.

The drive in costs the same as you would pay for a movie ticket so that's a good thing. The facilities though are a bit worn down. There is no grass to lay blankets on and most of the joint is in need of a serious paint job. I can't comment on the quality or cost of the concessions either becasuse we brought our own stuff.

That is one of the great things about doing a drive in movie. Basically, we tailgated. And that's what made this place worth it. We had a whole set up. We had blankets to go over the gravel, coolers that acted as tables with fresh refreshments. We brought in prepopped popcorn and plenty of other snacks.

We found four great little spots in the middle and backed our vans up. We then popped the trunks and the kids could either sit in there (sometimes they did), on the blankets, or in the lawn chairs. It was mostly wives at first but another dad did join us. One of the other things that I liked about doing a drive in, other than reminding me about my own youth, was that if the kids did get bored, they could run around a bit. It wasn't very crowded and they didn't bother anyone and there was enough space to run between our parked cars. This became an issue the later the movie got.

It was like a late night picnic was some easy entertainment. The adults could also catch up and talk and since we were outside, it didn't really bother anyone. The sound for the movie now comes through your radio as well so that was acutally a nice touch.

Finally, if you were so inclined and the smurfs were about to melt your brain, there were 3 other movies showing behind us. I found it fun to turn around and watch 10 minutes of Planet of the Apes to a Smurf soundtrack. This probably explains my last beef with this place: there was some pot smoking going on. I don't know who and I don't know where but I know what doobage smells like. Just a word of caution on this one.

It's a fun activity and we will go again next summer but I'm guessing we might try to find a different place.

Activity: Kansas City Community Gardens

Location: 6917 Kensington, KC MO
Phone: 816-931-3877

Hours: Monday Through Friday: 9am to 5 pm

Cost: Free

Age appropriate: All

From their website: a not-for-profit organization that provides self-help and educational assistance to low-income people, children and community groups in the metropolitan area to grow their own food from garden plots located in backyards, vacant lots, schoolyards and at community sites.

This description just doesn't do this place justice. Yet another KC gem hidden in the rough. For starters, this place is what it sounds like, a community garden. But it is much more than that. It's a place where we can all learn about sustainable growing and have a good time doing. And as usual with most of the places we visit, this place is made even better by the attentive staff that gave us our tour. Our tour guide was patient and worked extremely well with the kids.

The garden is a couple acres big and does have many native MO and Kansas plants growing there but they also have many wonderful fruit and vegetables. In fact, the tour is not just a mindless information only kind of thing. It's highlighted by picking your own peppers, figs, Asian pears and other interesting oddities right off the tree and eating them right there. Our tour guide brought along a small knife and would cut up each sample for us right after it was picked. For the record, fresh cantaloupe that you pick your self tastes very, very good.

The tour did include seeing some of the native plants and our tour guide was great at answering any growing questions that we had. As one of our local farmer boys was with us, this was a great thing to have as we had a lot of questions.

We also got to try some things that we never would have tried before such as French Sorrel (leaves taste like a sour patch), a Mouse Melon (looks like a baby watermelon, tastes like a cucumber) and fresh peanuts that we dug out ourselves. Interesting note about peanuts, they are dry roasted for a reason. Eating one straight out of the ground was not so good. Kind of mushy.

The kids enjoyed all of it though and were very game to try everything from the candy peppers to the purple beans. So with that said, it turns out we were actually healthier just for going.

The tour didn't end there either. Once completed with the outside, we went inside where we planted our own Sweet Basil that we got to take home. For Free. We love free stuff. The kids also got a chance to look at a very big spider that I wanted to smush and to play with a very large Praying Mantis that I wanted to run away from.

In the spring or late summer, make this one of your destinations, you won't regret it.

Sunday, July 31, 2011

Activity: Longview Lake Beach

Location: Take I-470 to Raytown Road and turn south, go approximately two miles, turn left.

Ages: Appropriate for All

Cost: $3.00 for children under 15, $5.00 for adults

Hours of Operation: WEEKDAY

May 31 - June 10

3:00 p.m. - 7:00 p.m

June 13 - August 12 1:00 p.m - 7:00 p.m.
August 15 - August 19

3:00 p.m. - 7:00 p.m.


May 28 - September 5 11:00 a.m. - 7:00 p.m.

This is the second great lake beach we have found in the KC area. In the summer, it's a great place to go.

Located on west side of Longview lake, it can be a bit difficult to find. But just drive around the lake and you'll come across the facility that serves as the gate for the beach. A word of caution though, the gate to get in can be a bit tricky if you are carrying a load of stuff that going to the beach with children requires. But be patient and persistent, the beach is worth it.

This is a large beach, probably a bit smaller than a football field. It's covered with good sand, not the crap that you can sometimes find at lake beaches. This sand extends into the lake itself so there is no mud or seaweed that could freak the kids out. However, there is no shade or chairs on the beach itself so you will need to bring an umbrella (if you have it) and chairs. Or you could just lay down on a towel which is fine but just remember that the sand can get mighty hot. Bring sandals or flip flops for the whole family to make it past some of the hotter spots.

But once the kids get down to the water, it's all play. Sand castles, moats, little wars between good and evil, it's perfect. The water itself also slopes gently and goes for a pretty long way so it is deceptive about how deep it is. Make sure you keep a good eye on the kiddos when they are out there.

There are also a couple of beach volleyball courts out there for a couple of you more athletic dads. As for locker rooms and bathrooms, I honestly can't say as we had no need for them.

This is worth several trips in the summer where you can spend a great day at the beach.


Saturday, June 25, 2011

Activity: The Fort at Ft. Scott, KS

Location: Ft. Scott, Ks. You can probably, ya know, find the city.

Ages: Appropriate for All

Cost: Free

Hours of Operation: Open year round. April through October--8:00am to 5:00pm. November through March--9:00am to 5:00pm

I love history and I love free. Put them together and give me some free history and I'm a pretty damn happy guy.

The Fort of Ft. Scott is located about an hour south of Kansas City. Head straight down highway 69 and you will run smack into the town. The Fort itself is actually part of the town and it's really hard to miss. It's across the street from down town.

So that's where it is, but now let's get to what it is. From their website:
  • The story of Fort Scott is the story of America growing up. When the fort was established in 1842, the nation was still young and confined largely to the area east of the Mississippi River. Yet within a few years, Fort Scott's soldiers became involved in events that would lead to tremendous spurts of growth and expansion

It's a Fort. Should be pretty obvious as it's in the name and all. Actually, it's 1/2 original and restored from from 1842 and it's 1/2 recreated. Somewhere in it's long history several buildings were lost and destroyed. They have been rebuilt to match the restorations of the other buildings and this provides a very nice scene when you arrive.

The Fort is layed out in a square, as you would expect from forts, with the armory located in the middle. It's bigger than some of the other forts that I have been to and takes a little over an hour to walk around with the kids if you stop to read some of the history markers that are presented.

They do offer guided tours but as I had a 3 and 5 year old, we tend to skip these. Thankfully they also let you do self guided tours.

On these self guided tours you basically go from building to building exploring the lives of the soldiers that lived there. It's really well done, the exhibits in each house are well presented, simple and informative. I was able to get a lot out of it and still keep my kids from wrecking something historic and expensive.

There are the officers quarters, the stables, armory, bakery, quartermaster's house and the commanders house and a lot more. When arriving, the visitor's center provides you with maps so you will always know where you are going and what you are seeing.

I do want to add that the bathrooms are located throughout the property and are all very well kept. When you are traveling with kids, this is a pretty big deal.

As for lunch, I would recommend eating across the street in the downtown area. We ate at the 1950's style cafe and it was super cheap and good. Lunch for the kids and myself and we got out of there for about 15 bucks.

Take a road trip, Ft. Scott is a great place to spend a day and as it's only an hour away from KC, give it a shot.

Friday, May 27, 2011

Hiking: Burr Oaks, Habitat Trail

Location: Burr Oaks, Habitat Trail, 1401 NW Park Rd, Blue Springs MO

Cost: Free

Appropriate for: All ages, no strollers though on this one.

Hike Length: 1.5 miles

Who's up for a good hike? If you are and you want to bring the kids with you, try this pretty easy trail. Check the website for a map of the trail and the others that they have there, it's located a little bit before you get to the nature center on the left.

This is an easier hike that my 3 year old and 5 year old did without to much trouble. Of course, we took frequent breaks at the numerous benches provided along the way. This was a nice addition as it gave us a chance to try and see some wildlife while we were out there. Along with the benches are educational placards placed to describe what it is your are seeing and what you are looking for. As our hike was a little bit later in the day, we didn't get a chance to see much but we have come across deer and rabbits in the past. These were all nice touches when hiking with toddlers.

The trail itself is decently well maintained and free of any overhanging or over grown grass. For the most part, it is covered in gravel or rock and flows well with it's surroundings. Several bridges span streams and these are also nice places to stop and watch some wildlife while teaching your kids about nature and stuff. Also while we were walking, I did not see any trash or garbage left behind by previous hikers. This is something that I always look for and can tell you alot about the people who walk the trail and those that maintain it.

For the most part, the trail is not difficult with few hills. However, the habitat trail does feature some "limestone bluffs" in the middle of the trail and these provide just a touch of excitement for the little ones. They are really no more than 6 foot high out croppings but provide a decent beginners challenge for kids that like to climb them. They are easily navigated and provided a good chance for the kids to break up the hike a little bit.

All in all, it's a good hike for the younger kids wanting to get the kids outside. Nicely covered by a canopy of trees, the hike provides just the right amount of activity and challenge for younger ones.

The Kite Festival

Location: Metropolitan Community College Longview, 500 SW Longview Rd, Lee's Summit Mo

Ages: Appropriate for all

Cost: Free!

Dates: Check website but it is normally an annual event held in April.

Yet another festival in the KC area that is a must see. We seem to have a lot of these but this one might be the best. Located on the front lawn and surrounding campus of the Longview Community, the kite festival features hundreds and hundreds of kites. This is pretty much what you would expect from a Kite Festival I suppose but it's still pretty awesome to look up into the sky and see 500 kites being flown like a scene from Mary Poppins.

The majority of kites being flown will be amateurs and families that have come out for the day. All crowd on the lawn and send up their little representations of their families. It can become crowded at times, both on the ground and in the air, but this in no way has ever taken away from the joyful experience that it is. Everyone seems to be very respectful and courteous to everyone else. Sure, there are times when you kite gets tangled with others, but this is always handled well and with laughs.

Not all the kites in the are are amateurs though (and there are some bitchin kites by amateurs). On the far end of the field is a special roped off section that features the more hard core kite enthusiast. If there is such a thing as a professional kite flyer, and I don't know if there is, this would be it. This section of the field is not for people to wander around in but to gather at the edges and look up and some the spectacular things that are flying.

There are kites and windsocks as large as football fields. There are cartoon characters, animals, flags, just about anything that you could imagine. And they are HUGE. And of course, because this has to be part of it, there are several dragon kites because those are cool and would eat your little kite for lunch.

But don't dispair if you don't have a kite, you can buy one here for a pretty reasonable price. Sure, they have some of the more expensive and creative kites, but they also have good quality kites for the everyday family that can't spend 50 bucks on a kite. We bought our triangle kite here for 15 bucks and it's been going strong for three years.

There are also things to do as you would expect at such a festival. Booths are plenty and there is even a little workshop where kids can make their own kites out of paper. To the credit of the craftsman, these things actually fly and the kids seem to love them. Just be warned though, this is the most crowded part of the festival and if you hit it at the wrong time you may be in for a bit of a wait.

The best part about the fesitval is just being able to sit on the grass, look up and enjoy all the kites in the air while your little one takes the helm of your family crest that took you a good 30 minutes to get airborne.

Check the website in April and make it a point to go to this thing. Your family will love it.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Negro Leagues Baseball Museum

Negro Leagues Baseball Museum

Hours: Tuesday-Saturday: 9:00 am to 6:00pm. Sunday: Noon to 6:00pm

Cost: $8.00 for adults. $3.00 For children under 12. Free for children under 5.

Appropriate Ages: Stroller kids. Kids probably aged 7 and up and enjoy baseball. Not the best place for toddlers.

Location: 1616 East 18th, Street. KC MO

Parking: Parking is free and on the street in front of the museum. This area can get a little busy so you might have to drive around a bit. We parked on a Thursday morning and really had no problems.

Review: The museum is in the 18th and Vine area which does give off a very cool vibe. It's a place that has some history and the museum fits in well here. The museum itself is in the center of the street and shares the same space as the Jazz Museum. We didn't get a chance to do that one but it's worth a second visit to do so.

Like many museums in the KC area, this one is well done. It tells the story of the players and the people behind the Negro leagues. There are historical exhibits here to see but this is a more of a read as you go thing. That's not to say that there are not artifacts there as well, there are. But the true greatness of this museum is the story that is told that is behind all the artifacts.

The museum does a great job telling you this story. Pretty soon, you feel like you are taken back to that era. The owners, executives and the players guide you through that time. As one of the dad's said, it does a great job or recreating the era that we were there to learn about.

There are a few interactive type exhibits there but not many. You can type in a players name and it will search for it and give you the background or known information on them. There is also a movie but we were unable to see it as the kids tend to have problems staying still for very long.

We did the self guided tour and it ended in one of the highlights of the museum. They have recreated a miniture baseball field at the end and have statues of at each of the positions of famous players. This is actually pretty cool with the low lighting.

A quick note about taking the kids though. There is way to much reading for kids unable to read to really enjoy this. You'll spend most of your time chasing them around. The kids did like looking at the bats, uniforms and balls as much as the dads did. However, they had little patience for the abundance of reading. My advice is to leave toddlers at home and only take stroller kids or older kids that can truly get this a little bit better than ours did.

All in all, this is something that I would want to visit again without the kids with me. Take a chance on it and you won't be sorry.

Monday, April 11, 2011

Activity: Grocery Store Tour

Who tours a grocery store? Who would come up with this idea? The KCDADS apparently. When I first heard that we were doing this, I was a bit surprised. Don't get me wrong, we like doing new things. It has become the hallmark of our group to do things with the kids just for the sake of doing them. Psych museum? We did that. Mormon historical site? We were all over that. But this, this might be pushing it. How awesome cold it really be?

Apparently really freaking awesome. I know, who would have thought. And yet, it was. It was an original idea and executed perfectly by our fearless leader. The kids had an absolute blast and the dads were pretty much laughing the entire time we were there just from watching the kids.

As for the set-up, I can tell you a little bit on how we did this. We contacted the manager of the store and told them that we would like to a tour of their store if at all possible. We told them a little about our group, that on a scale of 1 to 10, we were an 11. They thought it would be a great idea to. So we set up a Friday adventure day and met the store manager at the front of the store. I suppose any store would work so to do this, just call the one that you go to most.

But what is there to tour at a grocery store. After all, don't the kids go there every week for our shopping. Surprisingly, there is a lot. We started in the cafeteria section that most stores seem to carry now. The kids got free fortune cookies and then everyone had fun poking pizza dough. The kids seem to feed off each other's enthusiasm when we do this and this is I think what got the dad's laughing so much.

Next was the bakery which is surely one of the highlights of tour. We got to go behind the scenes and watch them do their thing. This particular grocery store, Hy-Vee, makes their own bread. They showed us how they made the bread by putting dough in some sort of flattening machine thing. They also showed us the actual dough making mixer. This got the kids more excited than just about anything else. They kids loved seeing the big dough hook rip through the dough.

I do want to mention at this time how great the staff of the store was. They seemed to be enjoying themselves as well and all of them were willing to talk to us for a little bit and show us how things work. And they gave us free cheese, who doesn't like free cheese. The staff was great and I think that this outing was great because of them.

We also got to see the staff decorate a few cakes. The Dad's took special notice of this I think in hopes of recreating this. Good luck with that boys.

Next was the seafood section for our big surprise. They had live lobsters and the staff actually took on meaty looking bastard out for the kids to get a closer look at. At first the kids were a bit standoffish but excited. The staff here encouraged the kids and waited patiently. Eventually they kids each came up for a quick pet of a the lobster. Personally, I think those things look like the devils spawn but the kids liked it. When the lobster jumped a little bit so did the kids. The funniest part of the whole tour.

We got a chance to also meet the in house chief and the Dad's made a point of getting the recipe for his awesome fish that he had cooked up for us. The tour then went into the back but just at the beginning of the back doors. The kids enjoyed yelling here.

We ended up at their classroom/meeting room where the manager had taken the time to make us some homemade chips. Very nice touch, stay classy San Diego.

And of course we had to tour the pharmacy where no free samples were given.

This tour was an unexpected fun thing to do. I would highly recommend it to any group looking for something to do thats free and fun with the kids.

Sunday, April 10, 2011

Man Vs. Weeds

It's going to be tough today. I know it, my wife knows it, and the kids sense it. They notice that good old dad isn't talking. They see a worried look on my face, my brows are creased in thought. They hit me in the balls a couple of times and are shocked that I don't react. They look at each other and then run off.

I've got other things on my mind today, I've got a job to do and I'm not feeling good about it. I've got to go out to the yard. I have to face something that so far has gotten the best of me. This is my last chance or I'll lose it. I'll lose it bad. I'll go to a very dark place and I may not come back from it.

It's the weeds. It's always the weeds. They're back. And they're out front. Waiting for me to come back, waiting for the final battle.

When we bought this house, no one had lived in it for 2 years. That means that no one put any weed prevent down either. The first year we lived here I didn't do much. I didn't have time, I was trying to settle the family in a new city. The second year I launched my first offensive. I laid down prevent, weeded, aerated and laid down new grass seed. Some of it came up to. And the weeds came back up.

About a week ago the dandelions came back followed quickly by the clover. The clover came back in strips so it looks like it was intentionally planted. It's either aliens or my neighbors, I'm not sure. But I am sure that they have allies. But that's ok, because I do to now.

I bought a special chemical. Something deadly. Something that I'm pretty sure I'm not qualified to handle. If it was any stronger I think I would need military clearance and an FBI background check. It is the agent orange of suburbanite weed killers. My sperm count goes down just when I hold the bottle.

I do not have good experiences with chemicals but I feel that drastic measures are necessary at this point. I'm losing this battle, this war is not going my way. Those who follow the blog know that I've had a bad experiences with weeds and weed killers. Last year the big war was against the vine killing my evergreen bush. So I took drastic measures then to.

Oh, I won. There is no doubt that I won. But at what cost? At what cost! I killed the vine. I killed it good. And I killed the bush.

It's time, I head outside. I read the bottle. Mix with water, be careful not to get into eyes, blah blah blah. The bottle says that I should add 1 table spoon per gallon of water. I took this to mean to add 1 tablespoon if you had sand in your vagina and liked to sing show tunes. 2 to 3 will work better. Trust me, I've got a good feeling about this. Maybe I can turn the tide right now??

I pour the chemical into the sprayer. I add water. The vapors sting my eyes and I get a little light headed. Suddenly, and for no apparent reason, I'm feeling down right giddy about this. I'm positive that this will work. In fact, I'm feeling damn fine about everything in my life. I'm also a little hungry.

I step out into the lawn and I eyeball the weeds. They eyeball me right back. The clover gives me the finger. I start to cry a little bit. There is no turning back now, I've reached the point of no return.

I grip the sprayer. I walk into the yard with the Ipod blasting. One of us isn't coming back, the only question is which one.

Monday, April 4, 2011

Activity: Cars at Crown Center

Location: 2450 Grand Blvd, KC MO:

Website: Crown Center. This link takes you to the Crown Center Event Calendar.

Ages: Appropriate for All usually, depending on what activity is being offered at Crown Center.

Cost: Usually Free, however an UNVALIDATED parking ticket will cost a min of $7.00.

Hours of Operation: Visit Crown Center Event Calendar for more details.

Although we will be talking about seeing the replica vehicles from the movie "Cars", this review is really for all of Crown Center.

Crown Center, one of our area shopping centers, can offer some pretty great stuff from time to time as far as free little programs come through it. We have seen the Lego Exhibit, a replica of The Wizard of Oz, Santa and now the "Cars" cars.

So let's get right to it. Parking kinda sucks. It just does. There are some free lots around the mall but expect a pretty long walk. There are parking garages that offer pretty good spaces though and that's what I went with. However, if you do not have a validated ticket from someone in the mall, it's going to cost you a min of 7 bucks. If it's validated, you get 3 hours free. I forgot to get my ticket validated so I had to pay. In general, I hate paying for parking and I hate it even more for something like this. 7 bucks is just way to much to pay for parking unless there is beer involved. So that part was a bit of a rip off.

Onto the event itself. The cars were in front of the mall in the fountain area. Other Crown Center Programs are usually on the second floor. For this one though, there were 3 cars to look at. Lightning McQueen, Mater, and the new car from the new movie. They were full size and I will say, were very well done. They looked exactly like they did in the animated movie. If your kid is a fan of Cars, this was a cool thing to do. They also had 2 bounce houses that the kids could play in. The set up was pretty nice and really well done visually.

Now this is where I start panning Crown Center stuff.

The organization for this event, and for several Crown Center events usually just isn't that good. In this case, it was a one day showing so everyone and their dog was there. The crowd was huge. I don't like crowds so maybe this sours me a little. However, I don't think so. In order to see the front of the cars, you had to wait in a very long line for about an hour. Then a professional photographer would take your picture in front of the cars, which were roped off and no touching rule was in force. I thought this was kind of crap.

Have you ever waited an hour in line with a kid for a 3 second payoff? Not good man. And since other people were behind you waiting their turn, you couldn't really just sit and look. To do this, you had to go around the side and see the cars that way. Mater, a child favorite, was just to far away for the kids to really get into it. I chose not to wait in line that long and we just looked from the side and took a few quick pictures. It was a lot of hype and waiting for very little payoff. The kids quickly lost interest and it was time to move on.

For us, this is the story with events at Crown Center. They can host some really cool and original ideas. But if you go, you have to be prepared to fight the crowds as they are always, always busy. And that means that you won't be able to spend much time at any individual thing as other people are waiting to get in. It's a tough call on whether to go to these things or not. Good and original ideas with bad organization. So it's a crap shoot.

I believe this is our fourth venture into Crown Center for a display and it's been true each time. To many people in to small of a space with to little time to actually enjoy it. We've even gone on "off times" but there usually a crowd waiting. There is to little space to accommodate the large crowds. Use your own judgement on whether or not to go to the next event held there. It will probably be well done, but chances are you and 5000 other parents will be knocking elbows while your child tries to see what there is to see. Just don't forget to buy $1 dollar worth of some crap to get your ticket validated.

Saturday, January 8, 2011

How to make a Yoda cake

By Mr. Rogers

My son wanted a Star wars cake for his birthday. Being a Dad and thus the maker of miracles meant a sheet cake with the words "May the force be with you" wasn't going to cut it. If my son wanted the force to be with him on his birthday then he was going to have the mother of all Jedi - Yoda himself.

Several KC Dads had mentioned they had made cakes out of marshmallow fondant so I wanted to give it a try. Thanks to Teacher Dad and Enforcer Dad for all of their advice on the application of this alternative to icing. It turned out pretty well so I figured I would share how I did it.

1. If I was going to make his head out of fondant I figured I'd better get real acquainted with what it looks like so I printed up a bunch of Yoda head shots from the Internet and then using the kids play dough made a small model of Yoda.

2. I found several recipes for marshmallow fondant on the internet and it was easy to make. Mine consisted of: 24oz mini marshmallows, 3lbs powdered sugar, 6-7tbsp water and Crisco Shorting to keep it from sticking to everything. I made the fondant earlier in the week and stored in the fridge with no coloring.

3. I cut some thick cardboard 15” by 9.5” and wrapped it in foil for my cake to sit on. It was just small enough to fit in my freezer (damn the side by side) but barely big enough for the cake.

4. I then baked two sheet cakes using a boxed Betty Crocker chocolate cake mix in a 9” x 13” baking pan. Some websites recommend using a denser cake so it can hold the weight of the fondant. I didn't notice any collapsing using the boxed mix, but when it came to carving the face it might have been advantageous to have a denser cake. Once cool I leveled them at about 1.5 inches in height.

5. I then placed my templates on top and cut out my shapes for stacking. I used a can of Betty Crocker butter cream frosting between the sections.

6. The next morning I stuck the cake in the freezer for about two hours to firm it up before carving it. It did make it firmer (mainly due to the frozen Icing). I then carved the cake, taking a little off at a time. It looked horrible at this stage. It was such a fluffy cake that it was hard to shape it without tearing sections of it off. A denser cake may have made this process less troublesome.

7. Next I crumb coated the entire thing in butter cream frosting.

8. I had taken my fondant out the night before to get to room temperature, but I still had to knead it a little to get it workable again. I separated a little of the fondant to use as the white of Yoda’s eyes. Then I added green and a little black Wiltons gel food coloring to dye it the right shade of green. A little goes a long way when it comes to the gel food coloring.

9. I then rolled out the fondant to a little over 1/8 of an inch thick, using corn starch to keep it from sticking to everything. Some sites say to use Crisco Shortening and I might try that next time. Once on the cake, I had to stop working details into the fondant after the surface started drying out and Crisco might extend that time by holding the moisture in longer.

10. I transferred the fondant to the cake by rolling it up on a rolling pin. (avoid using a french rolling pin if you can) In the process it started stretching like crazy so I think next time I might roll it out a little thicker.

11. I then just shaped in the details using a tool I stole from my kids play dough set (gotta love that play dough). I added the white eyes and used additional green fondant to make the eye lids.

12. I then mixed the Wiltons gel food coloring with vodka to make a kind of water color to shade the face. I used a much thicker consistency to color the eyes. And then presto I had a Yoda cake.

Materials used:
24 oz mini marshmallows,
3 lbs powdered sugar,
6-7 tbsp water
Crisco Shorting
2 Betty Crocker chocolate cake mixes
2 cans of Betty Crocker Whipped Buttercream frosting
Wiltons Gel Coloring for Frosting (Black, Brown and Green)
1 Fondant Paint Brush