We Love Clifford the Big Red Dog!

All of our children have been huge Clifford the Big Red Dog fans, so they were very excited to go see the Clifford exhibit at the Magic House on Saturday. No one was more excited than Turkey…he was just old enough when we went 11 years ago to kind of remember it, and he couldn’t wait to see his old friend Clifford, and see how much smaller Clifford seemed to him now!

We had a great time exploring Birdwell Island and seeing all of our old friends!

Kantorei Kamp 2017

For the third summer in a row, “The Bigs” attended Kantorei Kamp at Hope Lutheran Church in St. Louis. It is definitely the highlight of June!

The sang for three different services at three different locations for camp. On Thursday, they assisted with chapel at Concordia Seminary St. Louis, where they sang a verse of “Lord, Keep Us Steadfast in Your Word,” in addition to other pieces:

On Friday, they assisted with chapel at the LC-MS International Center, where they sang some  of the pieces they had done at the Seminary, and some they hadn’t. My favorite of these was “Lord, Thee I Love With All My Heart.”

Another of their pieces, “For You, O Lord, Have Delivered My Soul From Death,” is based on Psalm 116.

They also sang Cantate Domino, which they have sung in the past:

They worked on a sung version of the Choristers’ Prayer at camp, although they didn’t sing it publicly. I got to hear it while I was waiting for them to finish up one day, though!

They sang all of the pieces they did for both chapel services for the Divine Service at Hope this morning, and they also sang a verse of Hope’s 100th anniversary hymn, “As Stone on Living Stone Is Set.”

And they even got to play “Lord of All Hopefulness” on handbells!

It was a fun week for everybody, even Chickadee, who got to spend a lot of time with just me this week. And she turned into something of the camp mascot…she even got her own T-shirt!

This is the last year all four of “The Bigs” will get to participate in Kantorei Kamp, because Turkey has aged (and voice-changed) out of it. The rest of the children are already looking forward to next year’s camp, though!

Medieval Times

While we were up in the Chicago area for Combo Breaker, we enjoyed an evening at Medieval Times in Schaumburg. It was difficult to find a comprehensive guide to the experience before we went, so I have attempted to create one here.

First of all, yes, the facility is built to look like a castle. The children loved it from first glance!

Our tickets were to the 7:30 p.m. show. We were advised that the doors would open at 6:15, and we were there promptly (actually, a few minutes early). This ended up being a good thing, because it was a rainy evening, and there was only so much room indoors for the line, but we were there in time so we didn’t have to wait out in the rain.

There is quite a bit to look at while you wait, and the farther in you get, the more there is to see. There was also a photo opportunity with the king, before we approached the counter where we showed our tickets and received our seating assignment for the night. We were given yellow cards, which signified that we would be rooting for the yellow knight. We were directed toward table nine, which kept our entire group of eight together. There was a bit more of a wait before we were given our yellow crowns and admitted to the main hall, but the map of the Crusades held our interest while we waited.

Once we were in the main hall, we took a moment to get our bearings. Fortunately, there were sings pointing to the different points of interest. We decided to go down the Hall of Stallions first. There were plenty of souvenir opportunities along the way!

In addition to a few of the horses, we also saw the falconer with his falcon, examples of different kinds of medieval weapons, such as flail, lance, and alabarda, and the entrance to the torture museum, which we didn’t tour. There were also seating areas for those who wanted to stop and enjoy the view or a drink.

Speaking of drinks, there was a bar with non-alcoholic slushes, and adult drinks like “The Executioner” and “Maiden’s Kiss.”

The Hall of Arms was really the place to be. In addition to more souvenir stands, this was where the king performed knightings for paying guests before the show. And yes, there were herald trumpets to introduce the king!

Finally, about 15 minutes before the scheduled start time, they let people into the arena. The door you entered was based on the color of your knight. The different sections of the arena were lit up in the colors of the six knights, and each section also had a name. We were in the Kingdom of Navarra.

Part of the experience included a meal, which was served in courses by serving wenches, and included absolutely no utensils. We enjoyed a dragon scale (garlic toast), dragon blood (tomato bisque), a baby dragon (half a roasted chicken), a dragon horn (ear of corn), a dragon egg (roast potato half), and lemon pound cake. The menu was written on the napkin, which I thought was very clever.

Once most everyone was seated, the show began. Fog filled the arena, and lights and music kicked off the event (I particularly enjoyed the score). First was a single white horse and the horse master (or mistress):

Then the knights were introduced by the narrator, who also tells the story of the 11th century show throughout the evening. While you are assigned to a specific knight, there are also alliances in the kingdom, which means that your knight is associated with two others, and they are the sworn enemies of the other three:

Once all of the knights had entered, the king was introduced, with much pomp and ceremony:

There were more beautiful performances by the Andalusian horses:

And the flight of the falcon:

More riders on horseback:

And then the feats of skills and gallantry by the knights on horseback in the Tournament of Games. There were many contests, such as relays, accuracy, and flag tossing. After each, there were winners proclaimed, and those knights received flowers from Princess Catalina, which they then threw to people in their section. Chickadee received a flower from our knight!

After those contests, there was a bit of intrigue, as a foreign kingdom sent a gift (a horseman), to the king:

And then the real contests began with the Tournament Royal! Jousting and sword fighting were the main events. A safety net rolled down from the ceiling, because in addition to sparks shooting from the sword fights, wooden splinters from the joust flew everywhere! There was cheering and booing all throughout the contests…Bunny yelled so much and so loudly that she lost her voice! The atmosphere and energy of the crowd was fantastic, and really made you feel like you were part of a real medieval tournament.

As different knights lost the grand finale was building, to the final knight (sadly, the blue knight), competing against the treacherous visitor from the other kingdom, who has declared that upon his victory, his king will wed the Princess Catalina to unite the kingdoms. I don’t suppose I need to tell you who won! The loser’s life was spared, but he was taken to the dungeon, where I suppose some of the torture devices found in the museum were used on him.

After the show was over, there were plenty of photo opportunities with the king, princess, knights, and even the villain, in the Hall of Arms:

As we left the castle, we discovered that it was lit up in the color of the wining knight. Not our yellow knight, sadly, or even one of his allies, but the previously-mentioned blue knight:

It’s not a cheap event, although there are plenty of coupons available that make it more accessible, but it’s a really fun evening, especially for those who are interested in that time period. It’s a truly immersive experience, and for the time you’re there, it’s easy to forget you’re in modern-day suburban Chicago. My children are already talking about when they might be able to go back, because they really loved it!

Markel Family Weekend Getaway–Day Four

We were up bright and early once again for the final day of our weekend getaway, because we had things to do before we headed home!

First things first. I was still pretty upset about our lost day in downtown Chicago. Now, most of the stuff I had planned for Saturday we couldn’t do in the time we had on Monday, but there was one thing we could do…visit The Bean. Fortunately, Ryan was able to find a parking space nearby, so the children and I took a quick walk over to the shiny sculpture, and admired the architecture (and pigeons) along the way.

We then set out for our last big Chicago activity…visiting the Museum of Science and Industry. Between our membership at the St. Louis Science Center, which offers a great reciprocal agreement, and homeschool discounts, we were able to get into the museum for free, as well as get tickets for both the Lego exhibit, “Brick by Brick,” that is on display currently, and the popular U-boat tour, for an insane discount. The museum is much bigger than I remembered, so we couldn’t see anywhere close to everything, but we did see as much as possible in the approximately five hours we had there!

Before we left Chicago, there was one last thing I wanted to do…get a good look at Lake Michigan. Fortunately, as we were driving north on Lake Shore Drive to get to I-55, we found an exit for the Oakwood-41st Street beach. It was a quick off and on, so Ryan just circled the parking lot a few times while I had my lake moment.

That’s it for our big weekend getaway this year. Ryan got to spend an extra day in St. Charles compared to last year, but the rest of us were there for one day less. Hopefully next year, we’ll all get to go up on Wednesday, and have an extra day to explore Chicagoland…there’s lots more we want to see!

Markel Family Weekend Getaway–Day Two

We were up early again on day two of our weekend getaway (although not as early as on day one), to get ready to go to downtown Chicago for our big day of exploring. We decided to depart from the West Chicago Metra station this year. I was impressed by how cute the station was as soon as we drove up.

And then our plans for the day came to a screeching halt. It turns out that there are no ticket agents on duty inside any Metra station on the weekend. We did discuss one other option for getting on the train, but we decided it just wouldn’t work out, and so we had to cancel our big plans for the day (an especially big disappointment for Bunny, who was really looking forward to going to the Art Institute), and come up with a “Plan B.”

While we were thinking, we took a walk around the outside of Pheasant Run (it was a beautiful day!), and hit the pool again, which is pretty much our default when we don’t have any firm plans.

We then decided that since the weather was so nice, we’d shift our plans for Sunday (visiting the historic Naper Settlement), up one day. We had a really great time, even if it wasn’t Chicago!

We also took a short walk on Naperville’s River Walk while we were down there, mostly so I could see the Dandelion Fountain:

Our big family dinner out for the trip was at Muldoon’s in downtown Wheaton. The food was delicious and the atmosphere just like I remembered from the old days when it was Cafe Wheaton.

After another evening walk around Pheasant Run (there’s seriously so much to explore!), and more swimming, we went back to Combo Breaker, and the children tried out the arcade machines that were set up in one of the resort ballrooms for attendees to play for free:

After that, we were ready to head back to our room, and enjoy a little more TV before bed. One of the nice things about not having cable at home is that it’s a real treat when we get to watch it on vacation! And while I was admiring the view from our 15th floor window, I discovered that we could even see the Sears Tower (about 40 miles east of us) in the distance! We didn’t make it downtown to see it, but at least were able to get a glimpse of it!

Stay tuned for Day Three!

Markel Family Weekend Getaway–Day One

One week ago today, the children and I loaded up the car and hit the road at five a.m., so we could join Ryan in St. Charles, IL, for what I now assume is the annual Markel Family weekend getaway for Combo Breaker. It took us pretty much exactly five hours to reach our destination, so we had plenty of time to explore Pheasant Run after we took all of our stuff up to our room (which was on the 15th floor and had an amazing view!).

After reacquainting ourselves with the resort, we hit the pool:

Once the Combo Breaker floor officially opened, we took a walk around. We got to see Ryan both play in the Mystery Tournament and run a bracket.

Some of the children had hoped to find a new plush friend while we were there. I somehow ended buying one for everybody!

No trip to Pheasant Run would be complete without shopping at the mythical Super Target that’s just across the street:

The real highlight of the day, however, was a trip to Medieval Times in Schaumburg. We all really enjoyed the dinner and tournament…Bunny enjoyed it so much, she lost her voice cheering for our knight!

We did also sneak in a little Food Network and HGTV on cable TV when we got back to our room, but it was pretty late, and most of the children crashed quickly. Plus, they wanted to be well-rested for our big trip into Chicago the next day!