Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Buffalo Ranch and Horseback Riding- Hanover, MI

The Buffalo Ranch- Hanover, MI

Ages- 4 and up

Cost-   Horseback Riding-$5.00 for 5 minute lead around; $20.00 for 1/2 hour; $25.00 for 1 hour; and $45.00 for 2 hours

Buffalo Tour- $35.00 for a wagon ride to feed the buffalo (up to 7 people) $5.00 for each additional person;  $25.00 to take the Bronco to feed the buffalo (up to 4 people)

Check website for other prices

Location- 12770 Rountree Road, Hanover, MI 49241-    Phone- (517)563-8249 Email-

Parking- Free On Site

Other attractions nearby- Not is 240 acres in the middle of farm country.

Places to eat nearby- Snacks there..The Cuttyshark (American) and Backwoods Bar and Grill (American)

Why to go there:  Feeding buffalo and riding horses are both awesome.  You also have interesting and colorful wranglers to take you out to the buffalo or help your kids ride horses.  If the kids are 6 or over, they can ride their own horse (Chloe rode an older horse and she was able to do it all on own).  Max and Will
needed help.  I would recommend the 30 minute horseback ride.  We got to go through trails, across a small stream, and even got to gallop.  The kids just beamed about it both then and for the rest of the day.

The buffalo tour comes with an interesting tale of a white buffalo who was born on the premises.  Feeding the buffalo is not for the weak at heart; those dudes are really big. 

They also have zip lining and other things for families to do.

What I really liked was it was like a Michigan safari.  You get in the back of a Bronco and ride out to buffalo.  It is not well paved or overly slick.  You’re going into the woods in Michigan.  The air is fresh; you get to kick it with the animals.  A really refreshing experience.

It is a little expensive.  Basically, you have one or two of their employees with you all of the time, so you 
have to compensate those folks for their time. 

For four people to ride horses and do the buffalo tour, it is about $100.  For a safe and real ride of horses (with the buffalo thrown in), it seemed worth it.

You’ll need snacks, but my kids were so excited they didn’t realize we missed lunch until we were pulling into our hometown.

Be careful:  Eat first.  Call ahead and make reservations, so you won’t have to wait.

Summary:  They all wanted to go back on the weekend, just two days away.  Kids loved it.

Monday, July 28, 2014

Form or fun: How to teach your kids sports

Basketball.  Hockey.  Soccer.  Baseball.  Gymnastics.   There are few parents who would not like their kids to be physically skilled and able in sports.  Maybe this is because parents see their kids as little versions of themselves.  Maybe it is because athletics are so important in many American high schools.  Maybe it is because many parents think they were just a little bit better than the coach thought and see their kids as a way to get it right.  Whatever the reason, it seems a certainty of raising kids.

It’s one thing for your offspring to be dominant in backyard sports and not to play official sports (for whatever reason: lack of interest, choosing another sport, and so on).  It is quite another situation if your son or daughter cannot play a sandlot game because they are afraid or do not know how to play.  Of course, there are a range of dispositions to sports in between.  Overall, every parent wants their kid to be able to make a hoop, score a goal, and hit a ball.

I’m sure there are kids (mine are not one of them) who have beautiful shots, wonderful swings, and slingshot arms.  For the rest of us, we have to teach our kids how to do those things.  Learning these things and how to do them consistently well can be pretty boring. should you do it?

The key is fun.  Fun comes with variance, encouragement, and making it into a game.  We’ll go over each.  then I read this..I now always try to praise effort, not outcomes.  Third, my kids never wanted to line up soccer balls and kick them into the goal..until I became the goalie monster and kept their balls we can try to kick balls in every night.  Another side tip: the goalie monster has to allow goals.  It hurts my pride, but I do.  There has to be occasional proverbial pay dirt.  There will be a time when I can try hard, but not to start. 
First, variance means you increase and decrease the difficulty of whatever you’re trying to do.  If you’re playing catch, move further away and then closer.  Then, further.  Count the number of tosses, include a brother or sister.  Keep it moving.  Second, make a big deal about the effort.  If a kid is throwing overhand, encourage the effort (not the outcome).  It sounds a little soft and maybe a little too politically correct.  I thought it was kind of lame too..

Expanding on the gotta watch the sports on tv with the kids.  And on the radio.  This might sound like a desparate plea from a Sportscenter  addict.  It is..sort of.  After bath on summer nights, we watch some of the Tigers game.  On Sunday nights, we curl up in our mother in law room and watch Chris Berman et al go over the football highlights.  In the winter, it is hoops.  It explain the game.  We cheer our team.  As much as possible.  It underlines the point: this sport is fun.  I talk a little more about it in this blog post.

Eventually, though, it comes down to a basic question, what happens when your child kicks with his/her toes?  Or shoots two handed?  Or doesn’t put his back elbow up when he/she hits?  Or throws underhand?  Or catches with his/her chest?

My daughter, Chloe (7), wants to shoot with a basketball that is bigger than she can control and shoot with good form.  She DOES NOT want to use a mini-ball (like you’d see in a pop-a-shot) because we used bigger basketball s in her first formal basketball league last winter.  However, she cannot shoot the ball with one hand (with the other as a guide) with the bigger ball.  I had to choose: her pride or form.  I chose to let her shoot the ball.  I concentrated on her shooting from her chin.

In situations like this one, I think it is important to focus on skills kids can do well.  For example, Chloe can do dribbling and passing with good form.  She also can learn how to move without the ball.  I can teach (or reteach) her how to shoot later.  Fun first.  

However, there are still ways you can encourage good form.  Lighter equipment, larger goals, anything to make good form and success both attainable.

I’ve also had success with making things like races, monkey in the middle, and swat-aways the way to learn good form.   When I work with one, two, or three, I can do this well.

I think form is important, as long as the kid is having fun and can have some success, while keeping form.  Overall, fun is more important than form.  You (or a more educated coach) can teach the kids form.  They cannot teach them games are awesome and sports rule.

Friday, July 25, 2014

The People Mover to Tour Detroit

Ages- 4 and up

Cost- $0.75/person

Locations- Station Guide (stations are in a circle; you can ride around the whole thing)

Parking- You can park at any of the stations, but parking tickets are now $45.  I’d park at the Joe or 
Cobo, easy in, easy out.

Other attractions nearby- You can access anything in downtown: Comerica/Ford Field, the museums, Wayne State, Renaissance Center, and the riverfront.

Places to eat nearby- If you click on the Station Guide, you will find all the stations.  Each station is listed with the places to eat nearby.

Why to go there: It is a great way to experience the city.  Detroit does not have any double-decker red buses cruising around, but it does have the people mover, an object of derision because of its simplicity.  It is
a little bit run down, but my kids, who have been visiting Detroit frequently over the last year, were able to point out many of the places we’d been.  There also is a tunnel.

Max and Will, both 4, love trains, so they really enjoyed just riding on one.  Compared to the $100 I spent to see Thomas the Train show, I’d say they liked the People Mover way better.

The best part of the day was the smile my son, Will, who has been saying he’d like to live in New York City since he was 2, had on his face throughout the ride.  He pointed to the Ren Cen and asked, “can we live there, Daddy?”

For a person who wants his kids to love cities, that was magic.

What to do before hand: History of Detroit, things to do there, and why cities are important.  Read up on the different sites you will see so you can talk to the kids about them.  Bring quarters and single dollars (for parking and tickets to the People Mover).

Be careful:  Park somewhere you can pay an attendant.

Summary:  Under $5 for a family of 5 to see Detroit.  One of my kids’ favorite activities this summer.

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Modcontempern art museums for kids? Nah

I will admit I am not artsy, especially not visually.  I think Hopper’s Nighthawk.  I like various renderings of Yoda.  I naturally am interested in art that I understand.  I like to understand what the artist was feeling or the story s/he was telling.  Throughout the years, in various cities like New York, Boston, and Austin, I’ve tried Modern/Contemporary/Abstract Art Museums. In cities I’ve lived like Chicago and Ann Arbor, I’ve gone several times to get modern art.  It just merits a shrug from me.

The biggest reason, I think, is that I’ve haven’t ever studied the basic elements of art.  So, when I see a one foot diameter circle, drawn in pencil, over and over again, I think it looks like sophomore year Geometry class, not art.  I admit that.

I also admit I wish modabern art galleries and/or museums would give the viewer/visitor a little more. What is the artist’s story?  What is he/she trying to represent?  What was he or she feeling?

Emoting.  I know that is what I am supposed to do when I look at modern art.  I am supposed to look at the pile of laundry strewn across the ground and think of my responsibilities in life, the distress of the human condition, or the stench of humiliation the artist felt.  I can emote.  For ten seconds.  Then, I want to move past the post modern approach to art and get to the puzzle.   What does this pile of clothing mean to the artist?  What was his/her life like?

There just isn’t enough description.

I’ve also typically found people at abstmodary art museums to be snooty.  They don’t want questions.
I realize this piece might sound like sour grapes.  It might be.  Maybe there are great modern/contemp art museums.  I don’t want to over-generalize.  On the other hand…I have never experienced one.  I’ve experienced enough modcontemp museums to see some trends.  I’d just like to give fellow parents some advice, so they don’t have to struggle through like I did today…

You can see that I probably am not the best advocate of a modern art museum.  I do want to let me kids see, feel, and understand art and other things that are completely beyond me.

On a summer day, I took the three kids to MOCAD.  I thought modern art was a way to connect to the youngsters, who struggled with all the religious and royalty paintings at the DIA, would enjoy seeing paint/poo splattered on white walls in the name of art.

I was wrong.

When we got there, the entry person was very enthusiastic that I brought my kids.  She gave me a map and a warning not to go into the movie because it contained adult themes.  Great, I thought, that helps.  Then we went to see the art.  There were several people, as my kids charged ahead from what my daughter described as “someone scribbling on the wall” that gave us dirty looks. 

I felt badly for disrupting the whole bare warehouse feel of the place, I mandated everyone hold hands.  

However, it was hard to get into the “there’s no one else to blame” exhibit while holding hands.  I let the kids free.  Several people with nametags on started barking at my kids, who were trying to touch materials that should be touchable.  Like broken disk drives or crayons melted together or sketches on sticks.  No warnings on the art. 

The kids got scared.  I got mad.  First at the guy yelling at them.  Second at them for not listening.  Third at myself for bring the kids to a modern art museum.

I understand it is not a hands on museum.  The mad looks at my kids trying to get into art would not have happened at a hands on museum.  Or the DIA, for that matter.

It seems like if you want kids and adults to engage with modern art in a post modern way, you should let them touch the art.  Feel the art.  Emote? 



So, I forced handholding, as much as I could through the rest of the exhibits.  Some of which were disturbing.  Some of which were confusing.  None of which taught the kids anything about art.
Here is why I am not taking the kids to a modern art museum until they hit double digit age.
  1.  I don’t understand the art
  2. It is not self evident to my kids.
  3. There is no help to understand the art
  4. What the emote is boredom and wanting to leave
  5. People are too picky that you might knock over their conglomeration of balloons with a dog-head mounted on the top
  6. Everyone wants to shush the kids
  7. It makes me be overly strict
  8. Museums should be fun
  9. In my experience, the modern art workers think kids should not be allowed into museums
  10. They don’t learn anything.
Unless your home modern art museum varies from what I describe above, pick a hands on center, a history museum, or just look at some modern art on the internet.  Modern art museums=not for kids.

Wednesday, July 2, 2014

How To Train Your Dragon II: Movie Review

How To Train a Dragon II Review


Ages:  4-10 (there are a few scary parts and frightening bad guys).  If your kids have been raised on PBS, Disney, and Nick Jr, 4 is the youngest I would go.

 Summary- Hiccup, the dragon trainer and adolescent introvert, stumbles upon a bad guy trying to take over the world with dragons (and hurting them while he does it).  Hiccup also finds his mother.  Lots of action and fighting ensue.  A tragic death, a boy’s rise to become a man and a leader of his people, and a friendship for the ages all are included.  Funny parts too, with all of Hiccup’s friends.

Opinion- When I got see a movie, I like to see engagement from the kids.  I also like to see a fast moving story line that will prepare them for future and important story lines.  I also like character development, funniness, and a few jokes for me.  I do not want to see bad messages passed along quietly like everyone has to fall in love, heroes have to be strong, and violence pays off.  I also like good music and cool looking backgrounds.

All of that being said, I thought 
How To Train a Dragon II delivered.  I hadn’t seen the first one, so that took a few minutes with the medieval names and all the dragons.  The kids and I picked things up pretty quickly.

The story introduced who the characters were in an exciting way.  I liked the themes of respecting nature and animals (in this case, dragons).  Though “finding your birth mom” is as old as the hills, it was okay in this one, as it was a manner to explore how to respect nature.

I also liked the way Hiccup, the main character, tried to “talk things out.”  We could use a little more talking out in our house.

In terms of connections to future stories, I like the Lion king/Hamlet rise of Hiccup and Toothless (Hiccup’s dragon).  I’d love to see a national leader like Hiccup.

A side comment: I’ve seen 3D movies now several times (this one wasn’t).  I like the backdrops and the artistic flair of this movie far more than any 3D movie I have seen this year.  Cool colors, lots of depth.

Hiccup and the rest of the characters changes throughout the story.  The funny characters, of course, stay the same and are funny.  Really was able to track that with my 4 year olds.

Rating- I had low expectations because I hadn’t seen the first movie.  I thought it ended up to be an energetic and neat movie.  The kids were totally into it.

Official Preview from Youtube

Saturday, June 28, 2014

Vehicleshop Paradox: Minivan or SUV

You just had or are expecting your third child.  The sedan or small SUV you’ve been driving is now absolute.  The kids have to be in car seats until they are in their mid-20s, and all of those seats cannot fit into the back of your current ride.  You also have to take all of their things on big trips or

little adventures.  Strollers, bags, books, toys, and Ipads for long trips. It’s a lot of pure material to store.  You want to be able to get in and out easily.  Also..those groceries.  You cannot forget about needing to fit all of those and, in unfortunate times, the kids into your vehicle.
Mini-vans and SUVS really have merged, in some senses over the years.  SUVs don’t look quite as sporty.  Mini-vans (the few that are still made) look a little more like SUVS.  The delineation between the two has blurred.  But, saying these two are the same would make for a pretty uninteresting piece, right?  So, we’re going to start with the similarities.
  • We don’t want the kids being able to punch, pull, or steal from each other.  I know when they are cuddly babies and toddlers, this may seem impossible.  With two 4 year olds and a 7 year old, I am enterally thankful they cannot smack each other.
  • We need room in the back.  We have to be able to put all of the stuff listed above into our vehicle.  We need it be at least big enough to fit all our groceries.
  • We want it to be safe.  We want five stars on crash tests.  Safety seemed like something only people who listened to NPR and drove Volvos  or Subarus cared about, until we all started listening to NPR or quietly began yearning for Volvos or Subarus.
  • We want a nice sound system.  We will be in this van or SUV for extended periods of time.
  • We want the AC and heat to work, no matter what.
  • We don’t want it to be breaking down.  Sitting in a car dealership or other car service provider with kids is the epitome of the Poison hit, “Nothing But a Bad Time.”
  • We want it to be stain resistant.  Stains come.  If they can come out, that is best.
  • We need fold down seats so we can carry stuff home without paying for delivery

Your list might be longer.  Let’s say it is.  There are pros with each vehicle.  Each will be reviewed below.

Mini-van Positives
  • Generally cheaper
  • Bigger
  • Can have extra storage systems like “stow and go”
  • Fit more people and things into them
  • Called “great deal” by people like Consumer Reports
  • 25 mpg
  • Available sliding doors with remotes

I should mention one thing I found confusing about Consumer Reports lists, as I was making this decision for myself a few years back.  If you just look up “minivan ratings,” what you will get is consumer reports or another similar publication talking about how good the car looks, price, safety, and “predicted” reliability.
Though those are informative, what I really wanted to know, especially after suffering through a minivan I had into the shop every month after my first year of ownership.  In fact, there is a list of “do not buy” or “worst used” vehicles.  Frequent visitor :  mini-vans.
When you think about it, minivans are not quite a truck (rugged) and not exactly a car (nimble, compact).  It is something in between.  There is less competition in the market too, since Ford and GM really don’t produce one any more.  Less competition may mean less quality and reliability.
As someone who has owned both, I can tell you that I never wanted to be driving our Town and County in the snow.  It went through tires like a race car.  It also skidded and slid.  But..the kids have to get to school every day.  I had to go to my job.  I had to drive the van in bad weather conditions.  I hated it.

Minivans do give you a lot of vehicle for the money, offer better MPG, and more room.  They also give you the opportunity to show that the style of your car doesn’t define you as a parent.  This shows strong moral character and models for your kids that externals don’t matter.   I felt like this was a good lesson when I owned a mini-van.
SUVs definitely have some downside.  They are typically are more expensive up front.  They get lower MPG.  They do have some positives, though.
  • Positives of SUVs:
  • Especially AWD handle well in the snow
  • Safe in accidents
  • Seem to more typically contain at least mediocre sound systems
  • Generally more reliable (fewer issues with internal and external systems with the car)
  • Generally more available features
  • Maintain value better

If we got five parents into the room, we likely could debate this until we all were blue in the face.  Much like many decisions in parenting, you have to prioritize what you care about, make your decision, and then be happy with what you decide. My preference is with the SUV....fewer headaches, better features, generally a better experience for our family.

Please leave comments if you’d like me to add to the article.

Saturday, June 21, 2014

Updates on the Detroit Zoo Tips- June 2014

Visited Detroit Zoo on Father's Day and Royal Oak Brewery for dinner.  Good time.  Here's some tips.

  • Get the full package with all of the attractions, even adults.  We enjoyed the Rio show and Journey to the Center of the Earth (well, a few of us got a little nauseous, but the kids loved it).  We rode the train to the back to start the day and walked toward the front.  Good move.  We also loved the carousel.
  • You can take strollers on train, despite the signs that say otherwise.  I had to run to the back to catch up to the train and the back train station is not clearly identified.
  • Canvas shoes are cool for pics.  Not cool for walking around the zoo.  Big blisters.  Will, one of my twin boys, had to take his shoes off for almost 2 hours.  A little unsanitary, but his blister was bulging.
  • Wild Kratts watching enhanced the zoo experience. 
  • Bring your own waters.  They are plenty of places to fill up the water.   Waters there cost $3.
  • Sunscreen a must.  I suggest shades for adults and hats for kids.
  • Now that the youngest in the group is 4, a lot more fun.
  • Lions, peacocks, and rhinos were big hits.
  • Royal Oak Brewery has good kids' food, nice bathrooms, and Korean tacos.  
  • 3 hours is all you need to make the rounds.

Specific questions?  You always can email me.