And we’re back!

Hello again, nice to see you! We’re back!

What, you didn’t know we were gone? Yep, been to the Wisconsin Dells and back again, a little mini-vacation for our son to celebrate the ending of another school year without his ending up in jail.

He’s eight years old, so that might not seem like much of an accomplishment to you, but I’m hoping to start a trend.

Everyone has goals for their children. Some want their children to be rock stars so they can live through them and somehow forget what complete wastes they are, others hope for a college journey, a career as a doctor, a veterinarian, a police officer or architect, a painter or even plumber.

Some might even harbor hopes that their child will be the next piano prodigy, professional athlete, astronaut or president.

Me, I hope for three things; still alive, no criminal record, no underage pregnancies.

If I had a fourth wish, it would probably be; dear god, not a lawyer. I dream that he’ll find something to engage his life that leaves him his soul. But, hey, you take what you get.

And for those lawyers that read my blog; you know I love you. Please don’t sue me.

Before moving on to the next week, I’d like to wrap up the last one.

Thursday, it was revealed that our plant will be closing towards the end of next year.

This marks the fifth of my last six jobs that have vanished due to a closed plant/failed business.

What I find ironic about this one, is that my last five previous jobs were in the electronic PCB manufacturing industry. You know, making those circuit boards that go in cell phones and computers? Each one of those companies closed down because they could not compete with the prices overseas manufacturers could offer, based on lower wages.

So, the last time a plant closed out from under me, I chose to flee a dying field for one that showed a healthy, robust energy and limitless opportunity for growth; the flexible packaging manufacturing market.

The company I joined innovated designs to manufacture flexible packaging… all those products you buy on supermarket shelves that you can get in eco-friendly packaging instead of metal cans, reuseable zipper pouches, all that stuff.

Say what you want about being green, if you’ve gotten into that business, you’re doing all right. It seemed like a smart move.

Well, I guess it was if you’re a shareholder; business has gone so well that they built a brand new massive manufacturing complex to consolidate two plants into, and really crank up production capacity.

The problem is, the new plant is located in Illinois, near Chicago. Umm, yay?

So, our plant here in Minnesota is going to shut down and all the assets get moved to Illinois. I’m SOOO happy to have worked my ass off the last three years to fix the nightmare problems our plant had that prevented us from meeting customer deadlines or ship commits. I can truthfully look back and see that the plant is closing due, in a major way, to my efforts to get all of our production capacity to the point that it was reliable and dependable and satisfying our customers. We run at least twice the production they did before I changed the entire operation around.

Congratulations! Things went so well that we’re moving it all somewhere else! I’m proud of our accomplishments, happy that the business has become so successful, and delighted that it’s continuing to grow.

I just wish I was going to continue being able to be a part of it.

They were nice enough to ask me if I wanted to relocate and move with the company. They certainly didn’t have to do that.

Sadly, we own our home here, and even if the housing market hadn’t taken a massive dump, we wouldn’t consider moving. All of our family is within a few miles of where we live, and that’s very important to all of us. We ain’t moving. But we were given the opportunity to choose. 

Anyway, happy Thursday, now go find a new job. At least I got to leave on vacation Friday.

Right after updating my resume and sending it out to a couple dozen interesting prospects.

Wish me luck, I had a few calls asking me to come in for interviews, and one of them will be with a company that, again, would be a perfect fit with tons of growth potential. In fact, it would be for a healthy raise, to work with a larger core stronger team, and would be a better fit for all of my skills. You never know, the shutdown may have been a blessing in disguise for my career potential.

The way I like to think of it; how many people in this economy get a years warning that their job is going away? I am blessed. The last time I was laid off, the way it was handled was, “Hey, can we see you and fifty other people upstairs in the conference room? Oh, and pack your shit in this box. kthxbye.” I wish I were joking.

So, the weekend. Or, as I like to think of it, the downside to having a backup plan.

Our son is eight years old, and isn’t very adventurous around water. He likes the kiddy water slides and stuff, so we were worried about putting all our eggs in one waterpark basket for a weekend at the Dells.

We’ve gone to Great Wolf Lodge several times, and it’s always been great. Alex LOVES the wave pool, and their kiddy slides. We like how professional the lifeguards are, they are ON POINT at all times, the place is huge, the indoor pools are ALL heated and nice, and the rooms tend to be very comfortable.

This year, Alex is tall enough that he would not be allowed in the kiddy pool area. Verboten. It’s for little kids, and he is just too big. So, going for the weekend, we worried. What happens when you book three days at a waterpark, and the only thing he’d be able to do is the wave pool? He’s always been too scared of the dumping water from the big bucket to do the climbing tree area, or the darkness of enclosed slides, or being dunked in the pool after a long slide. 

Well, we hatched a backup plan.

We booked Friday night at Great Wolf Lodge, with the MagiQuest package, and Saturday night at The Polynesian.

MagiQuest, if you haven’t heard of it before, is a live game where you purchase and activate a magic wand. YOU are the Magi, and armed with your wand, you enter a massive four story structure that is a combination of cunningly disguised touchscreen kiosks, artifacts and fantasy decor. Almost everything in the place is armed with sensors, and I’m not sure exactly how your wand interacts with it, whether it be infared sensors or RFID technology combined with movement detecting switches, but if you point your wand at something and give it a flamboyant gesture, the object lights up, and concealed speakers give you clues or move you on your way. Chests have lids that open to reveal riches, armor visors glow with an inner light, and large flatscreens with some terrbile drama0school dropouts come alive and talk to you in appropriate fantast garb.

Everything is tied in together with a computer system that tracks all of your quests, gold found, adventures achieved, all that stuff. There are quests to obtain runes of power that allow you to cast spells in adventures, and three adventures for you to take part in once you’ve obtained enough runes, culminating in the grand finale… challenging a red dragon to a duel!

It is all very, very cool… and it can get damn expensive. Oh, not the game itself. You buy and activate a wand for $25, and you’re playing the game. There are no ‘advanced’ play things to spend more money on, you don’t pay more for more quests, or to come back another day. We played the entire thing over two days, spent probably 7 hours total, and Alex walked away having defeated the red dragon (after three attempts and learning better each time), and became a 3rd level Master Magi.

No, the money can add up by purchasing wand accessories, if you would like. Wand belts and holsters, kits to modify the wand with chains and leather straps, screw on wand toppers that, okay, are freaking cool, different, fancier wands to choose from when you start, they even have fantasy clothing there you can buy to get into the whole experience.

It did my heart good to see all the people playing, who had spent the extra money to trick out their wands, or buy cloaks. Just put a big geek smile on my face. Everyone we met in the game area was nice, too. I strongly recommend it… but yeah, if you want to go whole hog, we’re talking $50 – $60 to buy and trick out your wand all flash and cool, so budget accordingly if that’s the direction you want to go.

I know I wish I’d have gotten one of the fancy wand toppers for Alex, but we bought him the Red Dragon pendant as an award for conquering the dragon instead. As much as he keeps that wand close to him since the game, I think I may have chosen poorly. Ah well. You pays your money and you takes your chances.

A brief mention on MagiQuest, dueling the red dragon, tips but no spoilers;

Once you have accepted the Red Dragon adventure, and found the clues on how to access the portal to his domain, you will need to travelt to the dragon location, find and activate a green crystal, THEN activate the three runes of entrance, activate your portal rune to allow you to enter… and THEN once inside you have to use your wand to activate the rune on the podium that has the letters “MQ” to start the duel, and wake the dragon up. After that, you are on your own, and it took us three tries before we learned how to battle and succeed. But I can’t tell you how many kids we saw get frustrated as HELL unable to figure out how to activate the starting point. We felt real bad about some of the teenagers that were really trying to puzzle it out, because there is no hint that once you’ve done all the runes and the crystal, that you’d need to activate the “MQ” letters to begin the fight. That was all ‘why the hell won’t this damn thing start, I did all the runes’ wasted time. So, if you go, there’s a tip. You don’t just walk in and point your wand, you have to listen to the clues and work it out, and activate the MQ to wake the dragon up.

So, we figured that with MagiQuest, we had the wave pool, we had hours of wand adventuring fun, and maybe he’d get into the big rides. If so, awesome!

But, if he couldn’t do any other rides or slides, just the wave pool, then we had the Saturday night at the Polynesian resort on the other side of town for backup.

That was it. That was our backup plan. I recalled that the Polynesian had like, outdoor pirate ships, pools, slides, indoor stuff, all kinda aimed at a more medium sized child. So, one way or the other, he’d have fun, damnit.

The key drawback to my plan became evident Saturday. The one thing I didn’t consider was, what if we were having SO MUCH fun at Great Wolf that we wouldn’t want to leave?

Great Wolf Lodge was outstanding. Simply wonderful. As I said before, the lifeguards are some of the best I’ve ever seen. I don’t know what kind of training they give them, what kind of supervision there is over them, but the kids there take it seriously. They patrol, they watch, they are alert and are 100% active in looking for any possible sign of a problem. They are scanning the water at all times, they are at the top and bottom of each slide giving each other the high sign when the slide is clear before sending the next rider down, I can’t stress enough how good they are.

From this, if you get the idea that I was less than thrilled with the lifeguards at the Polynesian… well, yeah. There were lifeguards there… yes there were. But they were bored out of their mind, clearly thinking about other stuff, and chatting in places. Just, a lot less attentive to what they were doing. They were there, it was a gig, no big deal.

When it comes to my sons safety at a waterpark, I like knowing that the lifeguards are as attentive as a pitbull eyeing a porterhouse. Just sayin’.

MagiQuest was, to my jaded geek eye, a LOT more fun than I expected. I figured it would suck. I’m sorry, but I did. I figured it was going to be a massive ripoff with shit that was lame or didn’t work.

For my cynicism, I apologise. My son had a BLAST. The MagiQuest facility at Great Wolf Lodge is built around the original playplace slide and climb structure, so while there are stairs all over the place you can take to each level, there are also slides, chutes, tubes and climbing netting for kids to take as ‘secret’ short cuts up and down and all around. We took quite a few of these with Alex, so don’t think it was just teeny-tot sized. It is probably aimed at the eight to twelve range, but it is by no means ONLY for them.

I’ll admit, by the end of the Friday, I had probably done a total of 200 flights of stairs. The reason I call this game a success is, I didn’t resent them, nor did they kill me. I was too focused on questing. I paid the price Saturday morning, but that’s what a hot tub is for.

This form of exercise should be encouraged. I would like our American Council of Fitness to look into making all of our gyms change over to adventure parks with quests. I’ll go. Gladly. Just watch my ass get in line!

The Great Wolf waterpark was a big success. Alex found the larger slides exciting, we all got crazy and frolicked in the water until checkout time Saturday.

From that point on, the weekend kind of sucked for Alex.

Polynesian just sucks. That’s all there is to it. I swear, nothing has been cleaned up or updated since we last visited seven years ago. And the reason it sucked for us was that none of the pools, inside or out, are heated. None of them.

I figured, silly me, that by the second week of June outdoor water pools and slides would be rocking. Sigh. Hello, freezing water and 50° F temperatures.

Don’t get me wrong, we did the slides… but everything was in crappy shape, and Alex spent the time split between hitting an indoor slide and hitting the hot tub to stop the shakes. He is a trouper, he had a great time, sliding and running and laughing, but it wasn’t the same as a second day at Great Wolf would have been.

We made up for the crappiness of Saturday night and Sunday morning with lots of mini-golf. 🙂 That was Cassie’s plan C.

All things considered, I think we would all have enjoyed a full weekend of Great Wolf, but as it happened, we had a great weekend anyway, we learned a lot for next time, and I won a game of mini-golf against Cassie.

You could tell that we were at Pirates Cove mini-golf, because the game we were playing was cutthroat. Aaargh. It came down to us tied at the end of hole 17, and I beat her by one point.

Not that she brooded on it or anything. Ahem. Love you dear!

That’s it. That’s a wrap. Now that I’ve got that out, I can move on to finding out what kind of crap everyone is spazzing about in World of Warcraft. I heard something on Twitter about Valor Points being changed, and it being a slap in the face to raiders? Or something?

That sounds fascinating!

I hope that everyone had a wonderful weekend, found some time for silly fun, and got as much exercise as I did. I’d love knowing that you’re all going to be feeling it every bit as much as I am right now.

Looking for More – Advice on Waterparks in the Wisconsin Dells

Hi folks, I’m looking for advice from anyone that has vacationed at a waterpark in the Wisconsin Dells recently, or who is familiar with the area. I’m asking you instead of relying on comments in tourism websites, because to be honest, I value your opinions more than those of other people, even on stuff that has nothing to do with WoW.

Here’s the deal. We’re trying to plan a quick weekend get-away, heading out right after our son’s school lets out in June. 

We haven’t been to the Wisconsin Dells in almost 2 years, but Alex keeps asking when we’re going back. He loves the waterparks there. Specifically, he loves the wave pool and the toddler/under 48″ mini-slides at Great Wolf Lodge.

The last few times we’ve visited, we’ve stayed at Great Wolf Lodge, so that is what he is most familiar with. 

Here’s where asking for your advice comes in.

Alex is 8-years-old now, but he is very anxious about trying new things. He is not very adventurous, and he doesn’t like ‘scary’ rides or attractions. Dark tubes or tunnels, super high slides, and loud noises are all out. He also doesn’t like the big 750 gallon dumping buckets most resorts have over their play areas. I’m hoping that he’s grown out of that fear in the last two years.

He does like big wave pools he can float on a tube in, and he likes small castle or climbing structures that have smallish slides into shallow water. 

What we’re concerned about is if we go to Great Wolf Lodge again, now that he’s 51″ tall he might be ordered to stay out of the toddler area that has a 48″ height restriction. The lifeguards at Great Wolf are good, but they are also literal.

If that happens, and if he also still won’t go in the climbing area because of the big bucket o’ dumpin’ doom overhead, then the only thing he will be willing to do for three days will be float on a tube in the wave pool.  

Now, we could do something else for a vacation for three days. Sure. But we are both very conscious of how precious these early years of his life are. He’s going to be a jaded teenager in no time at all, so we want him to have as much chance to enjoy the things he loves most now while he still can.

Call it my desire that he doesn’t have a childhood that sucks as much as mine did, if you’d like.

What we’re doing is looking at other waterparks, trying to find one that will have a very warm (read – indoor) area that will be intended for kids bigger than 48″ max toddlers, but is not intended to scare the shit out of teenagers. We’re looking for that middle ground.

We’ve checked out one waterpark, The Wilderness Resort, and it looks like they might have more “little” kid areas and don’t seem to have as strict a height maximum set for those play areas.  However, Cassie has done a ton of research and the Wilderness gets slammed pretty hard in consumer reviews for having incredibly lousy customer service, rooms badly in need of repair, very loud hall noise all night, having way too many people in a waterpark to even make it fun, having way too much walking from one park to another for adults, let alone smaller children, etc, etc.

Does that bother us? In answer I shall refer you to my above statement about wanting him to have fun NOW, and learn how much life sucks LATER.

So, we’re stuck in this weird stage between him being too big for the areas he likes, but not interested yet in going on the wilder stuff that he is height appropriate for. 

We’re hoping some of you out there may have hands-on experience with the Wilderness Resort, and could let us know if you think it might work for what we’re looking for, or clue us in if the reviews we’ve read really are accurate about the state of the place.

If not the Wilderness, maybe you have stayed at a different waterpark that aimed at satisfying the very picky interests of a bigger-than-a-toddler but not yet a crazy teen like Alex and could give us an idea how your stay went.

Thanks in advance!

Chicago – Day 3 – A massive boner

Today, we traveled across town on the red line subway, took some buses, and visited the Adler Planetarium and the Field Museum.

The Adler Planetarium was very cool to visit, Alex enjoyed it a great deal. He has always loved the planets, the stars and our solar system as fields of interest, and he tells me that, of the entire day, the giant Sun and planets that comprise a massive orerry on the second floor. He really did like the models. He also liked the Explorer area, where he could put on a jacket and a backpack and drive carts and move mechanical arms.

When we finished at Adler, we moved on down to the Field Museum, where we spent the rest of the day.

For the record, the Field Museum was wonderful. It’s freaking huge. We had to narrow down what we did, so we focused on Egypt, Africa, Mammals, Dinosaurs and the Mineral, Jade and Gem rooms.

So much to see, so much to read, so very little time!

Just a small sampling of the things we saw!

Tomorrow, we have the biggest day of all planned, as we visit the Science Museum all day, and at the very end of the day we’ll be wrapping our vacation up with a trip to Chinatown.

For tonight, since we are all together as a family, there was no carousing to celebrate St. Patrick’s Day, but you’ll be pleased to know I scandalized our Italian waiter by having Guinness with my braised beef canneloni. 🙂

Until tomorrow, my friends, and TGIF to everyone!