Saturday, June 25, 2016

Chicago Lego Trip

Finn turned nine in April, but had to wait almost two full months to really get his gift. A few months before his birthday, Amanda and I saw that a Lego convention, Brickworld, was going to be in Chicago in June. We looked into it and decided to inform Finn on his birthday that his present from us was going to be a trip to the Chicago suburbs to take in the brick-y festivities. He was excited and he handled the seven-week wait well.

Julia was afraid her beta fish, Chance, would forget her while she was gone. To ensure that wouldn't happen, she taped a picture of herself on the outside of his tank. She said that this way he would know (in a creepy voice), "Mommy is always watching!"

We left pretty early Friday morning so that we could get to Chicagoland early enough to utilize the remaining part of the day. We stopped for an early lunch south of Madison at Lake Kegonsa State Park. We have a Wisconsin state park pass, so we try to check out some places we've never been when we travel. The weather was already getting hot, but it was still cool enough in the shade near the lake for a picnic lunch and some selfies for Amanda and the kids.

Next, we finished the drive to Schaumburg and arrived at the hotel. We got checked in and decided to head to the local Legoland store: we booked a package at the hotel that included four tickets. It's a retail store and also a mini-amusement park of sorts. There are interactive parts, large Lego constructions, a couple of rides, areas to build things, and a movie.

The kids posed with the great physicist at the entrance to Legoland.

A replica of the Chicago cityscape...complete with an alien invasion.

Finn posed with a number of the life-sized Lego creations.

We all took part in making a few little additions to a Lego city. And later we each built a vehicle to test run down a ramp to see if it would hold together.

After Finn made some purchases at the Legoland store, we headed back to the hotel. Near the entrance was a nicely dressed Lego man, greeting people for the conference that was held in the attached convention center. The convention had actually started a few days earlier, but the first part was for the people displaying their creations to get together, share ideas, and start to set up their displays.

The hotel had a really modern feel to it. The kids lounged in the one of the sitting areas.

Finn has a tendency to dig right in on putting together his newly acquired Lego sets.

Julia tried out one of the surprise amenities in the room - a television in the bathroom mirror! I discovered another bathroom surprise when I got out of the shower later: a square of the mirror was heated so that it never fogged up.

Friday night we decided to go the Medieval Times. If you're not familiar, it's a dinner theater that takes place in an arena made to look like a castle. Real horses are used, knights joust and sword fight, and a story is presented in front of you over the course of two hours. We ended up having front row seats so we were close to all the action.

They bring out courses of food, but NO silverware, so you have to drink the soup by slurping and eat the chicken and other food with your hands. Whether it was because of the close proximity of the combat or the food, each time Finn looked at me, his eyes were large and he had a smile on his face.

As a family we had been to Medieval Times once before. We went during Julia's Make-A-Wish trip to Florida. Julia remembered parts of it, but Finn didn't recall it at all (although, in his defense, he was only four at the time). It didn't help that I accidentally deleted all the pictures from that first experience. I still feel awful about that...

The area you sit indicates which knight you cheer for during the festivities. In Florida it was the Green Knight, but this time we called the Red Knight ours.

He did well in the choreographed battles and ended up in second place. We had a great time, and as you can see, I didn't destroy the evidence this time.

Saturday was Lego day! The convention hall was attached to our hotel, so it was just a short walk to where the doors were. We waited in line a little while to get in, and then everyone was set loose!

There were all sorts of different types of displays. Big ones, little ones, realistic ones, scenes from TV shows and movies, and anything you could imagine someone would try to create it with Lego bricks. The snails below are a good example of the time, effort, and shared work that goes into these displays. I asked the man putting the finishing touches on this one some questions. At last year's Brickworld, a group of people came up with the idea to build a snail race cooperatively. One person designed the snail and then they each built one in whatever colors they wanted. Then each person also designed their own structure to go on top of the snail and when they arrived, they set it all up and put together the building in the center together. A year in the making and it turned out great!

A number of Lego artists displayed their versions of framed works, all made with the plastic bricks, of course.

Many of the people found unique ways to enhance their displays. I loved how the use of plexiglass in this one was used to indicate the surface of the water and how the islands and other objects under the ocean were built.

Different spins on known objects and colors could be used for interesting creations.

There were a number of large castle setups. Pictures don't do them justice because of all of the tiny details people put into their work.

Julia found a table with all Harry Potter-themed items.

A couple of TV shows I watch had displays built for them. I knew exactly which two scenes from The Walking Dead they were showing in the pictures below. It's pretty cool the kind of minutiae people can get out of little plastic blocks.

From Game of Thrones, Castle Black, the Wall, and the area north of the Wall were built and displayed. Very well done!

Not everything was huge and grandiose. This well known scene from The Lion King was a good example of simple but well planned.

This Smurf village one of the biggest as far as square footage. The Smurf sign in the front slowly spun too.

This huge mountain scene was probably my favorite. It was tall and had a ton of detail. Waterfalls with froth where they hit bottom, vegetation all over the place, a volcano, and a ninja temple and pagodas built halfway up the mountain.

Making something from your imagination takes creativity, but making something that's real or historic takes accuracy as well as creatively figuring out how to put it all together. The Lincoln Memorial and the Washington Monument were included in this display of the National Mall.

This one aimed to be an accurate representation of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor.

This display was probably four feet across and twenty feet long. It was showing the D-Day invasion of Normandy. I spent a lot of time walking around it in amazement.

We stayed at the Lego event all day except for a break to leave for lunch. We had to go to Portillo's for Chicago-style hotdogs. We ate too much but it's hard not to when it's so good and it's not something we can get all the time. At the end of the day, the kids and I planned to go swimming. Unfortunately, our hotel's pool was closed. The hotel made a deal with the neighboring hotel to let people swim in their pool instead. Finn didn't want to make the trek. So Julia and walked over. We told Amanda and Finn to watch for us and then we all waved at each other from a distance. You can't see them in the window in the picture but I squared our room in red.

The pool was, not surprisingly, pretty crowded, so we didn't stay very long. We did stop long enough on the way out for me to get a picture of Julia in front of a fountain at the other hotel.

One tradition we do when we stay in a hotel is to order pizza from a local pizza place and watch a movie while we eat it. We chose deep dish from Lou Malnati's this time. We couldn't agree on toppings so we ended up with two small pizzas to split among us. While in the lobby to get the pies, Amanda stopped at the front desk to casually mention how the unexpected pool closing threw off our evening plans. They compensated with a free pay-per-view movie. We watched Zootopia with our pizza.

Sunday was our day to drive home. Amanda and I chatted about some different ideas of something to do along the way home to break up the drive a bit. Since it was ridiculously hot out, we opted to spend some time in the cool air under the earth. We toured Cave of the Mounds to the west of Madison.

Afterward we bought a few bags of sand that had fossils and mineral rocks in them. They had a panning site setup to run the sand through to see what you were left with. They had a special Father's Day bag for the dads to do too.

It was late afternoon by then and we hadn't had lunch, so we opted to try a place with an interesting name and ate at the Grumpy Troll in nearby Mt. Horeb.

We finished the second half of our drive and made it home. We had a great time but there's always something nice about getting home to your own house and your own bed again.

Wednesday, May 27, 2015

Spring into Summer

Checking out Minnehaha Falls in Minneapolis with a spring-time hike.

Finn had a bowling birthday party with a couple friends (and family).

Julia had some art displayed at the River Falls Public Library (next to her shoulder).

For Mother's Day, the kids made Amanda breakfast in bed and presented her with cards. Skippy attentively watched the card presentation. I'm sure it had nothing to with the food sitting in front of her.

Each spring at Westside is a day of end-of-the-year outdoor activities and competitions. It's a time of hanging out with buddies and participating with your class. Julia did well and won the hula hoop competition - video evidence. Both Julia and Finn participated in the three-legged race with friends (more video evidence linked on their names).

We always get a state park pass since we have two nice state parks close to us. We took a hike at Kinnickinnic State Park and walked down to the St. Croix River. The hill back up is much larger than it looks in the picture!

Julia crossed over in Girl Scouts from being a Junior to a Cadet.

We took the kids to their first Twins game at the end of the school year (and our first time at Target Field).

There was a great fireworks after the game. I wonder how we looked during the fireworks...