Backstage at Cirque du Soleil’s Dralion + 5 questions!

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We recently attended one of the final performances of Cirque du Soleil’s Dralion (in Charlottesville, VA), and Zoey had the opportunity to interview one of the performers before the show…who was also kind enough to give us a backstage tour after the show!

Over the summer, we had the opportunity to tour Cirque du Soleil’s International Headquarters in Montreal. The kids loved the tour and seeing how everything was made, but this performance of Dralion was the first time they saw a live Cirque du Soleil show in person.

Surprising no one, they loved it. Read our review for details of the show itself.

Before the show, Zoey sat down with Alejandro “Toro” Cuenca, who is one of the main performers in the trampoline act. During the act, Toro and three other aerialists use trampolines to seemingly float through the air and walk up walls. It looks like a blast, and I’d love to try it sometime.

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NASA Social: Orion EFT-1 Launch @ Goddard Space Flight Center

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On December 3, I was invited to take part in a NASA Social event to celebrate the launch of Orion EFT-1: the first test flight of the Orion spacecraft, which will eventually be humanity’s first step to Mars.

To commemorate this historic event, NASA took the unprecedented step of opening the doors to 10 of its locations around the country on the same day. I was fortunate enough to be one of 25 people invited to Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, MD, just outside of Washington, DC.

Along with learning about Orion, we were treated to a behind-the-scenes tour of the Goddard complex, met some remarkable NASA employees literally bringing science fiction to life, and got a tantalizing glimpse of the James Webb Space Telescope under construction.

When I was a kid, I wanted to be one of three things: an archaeologist, a writer, or an astronaut. I’ve been the first two; I’m forever dreaming of the third. This might be the closest I’ll ever come to it.

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Monster on the Hill

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  • Monster on the Hill
  • written and illustrated by Rob Harrell
  • published by Top Shelf Productions (2013)
  • Roar Score: 5/5

Imagine a world where every town has its own monster, and that monster is part menace/part savior. Like a hometown sports team, the monster is a point of pride. The townsfolk are terrified of its attacks, but they also delight in its rampages. This is hometown pride on an entirely new, wackadoo level.

And just like sports teams, it all boils down to being able to taunt “OUR monster is better than YOUR monster.”

Some monsters win the World Series every year. Some are the Chicago Cubs of the monster world. Enter Rayburn: the pathetic monster that has totally disappointed his townspeople.

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Ripley’s Believe It or Not! Odditorium – Baltimore

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It’s been a long time since I entertained the notion of going to a Ripley’s Believe It or Not! museum. When I was a kid, I used to love them. But I also used to love Twinkies and Fun Dip.

I didn’t have very discerning taste, is what I’m trying to say.

Maybe it’s just nostalgia, but it seems like these places were a dime a dozen when I was younger. If you had asked 8-year-old me, a place wasn’t worth visiting if it didn’t have miniature golf, a wax museum, or either a Ripley’s museum or a Guinness Book of World Records museum.

As a kid, I ate these places up and couldn’t get enough of them. I loved ‘em. But they weren’t very good. They were often thrown together for knucklehead kids like me who didn’t know any better. The museum was small, the exhibits were cheap, and you usually felt ripped off in the end.

It was therefore with some skepticism that we visited the brand-new Ripley’s Odditorium in Baltimore. I have to hand it to them, though, they know how to make themselves compelling. The museum has perfect placement right on the Inner Harbor, and that huge green dragon snaking its way around the entrance sure is eye-catching.

It caught the eye of my son, and that was all it took to bring me back inside a Ripley’s museum. And, believe it or not (sorry, had to do it at least once), this place is actually really great!

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Crayola Experience

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The Crayola Experience is one of those museums we’ve been dying to check out forever, but it was just so…out of the way. It’s located in Easton, PA, which is about an hour and half north of Philadelphia and west of New York.

In truth, it’s not near much else, so the chance that you’d make it quick add-on side trip while visiting someplace else is slim. However, we took a roundabout route up to New York on a recent trip with the express purpose of checking this place out.

And I’m glad we did. It’s pretty outstanding.

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DisneyKids Preschool Playdate

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We were recently invited by Disney Parks and MomSelect to host a DisneyKids preschool playdate for our little guy—a Jake and the Neverland Pirates playdate, no less. Arr, matey!

Sam (like most younger siblings) seems to forever live in his older sister’s shadow. Even though we made a concerted effort to set up playdates and help Zoey (his sister) make new friends when she was very young, we unfortunately haven’t had the same energy for Sam. Sound familiar?

Well, when the package of party goodies arrived from Disney, Sam immediately knew it was all about him. And he was thrilled.

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Busch Gardens Williamsburg: Christmas Town

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Busch Gardens Williamsburg is already one of the prettiest theme parks in the country, so it doesn’t really take much to make it truly spectacular. Millions of sparkly Christmas lights and decorations?

Yep, that’ll do it.

From late November through the end of the year (check calendar here), the park transforms into Christmas Town. Everything is draped in lights and other decorations, shops turn into Christmas stores, and all of the shows switch to different holiday-themed shows, among other changes.

On the surface, these are all remarkable changes that really beautify the park and put you in the ol’ holiday spirit. But are all of the changes good? Is the event worth it? Let’s dig a little deeper.

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Holiday Fluxx

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  • Holiday Fluxx
  • Designer: Andrew Looney
  • Publisher: Looney Labs
  • Plays 2–6
  • Ages 8+
  • Playing Time: 10–40 minutes
  • Initial Release: 2014
  • Elevator Pitch: It’s Fluxx with a holiday theme.
  • Roar Score: 3/5

Let’s get this out of the way from the start: I’d only played Fluxx once before trying out this new Holiday Fluxx. And I didn’t really like it. I think there are two kinds of people in this world: those who really like Fluxx and those who…don’t. There is no middle. No one’s ambivalent about Fluxx. At least no one I’ve ever met.

The group that played this game had one person who is firmly in the “dislike” camp, but there were three others who had never played the game before. Blank slates, if you will.

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ICE! at Gaylord National: Frosty the Snowman

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  • ICE! featuring Frosty the Snowman
  • Where: Gaylord National, National Harbor, MD
  • What: part of the annual Christmas on the Potomac events
  • When: Now through January 4, 2015

The annual Christmas on the Potomac events at the Gaylord National and National Harbor (just outside of DC) have become a family tradition with us. We’ve been every year (except one) since our oldest was born. We missed last year.

The reason why we skipped it last year is because we felt the ICE! attraction was getting smaller and more expensive every year. Plus, we had grown tired of the DreamWorks (Shrek) themes.

This year, I’m happy to say, ICE! is once again a must-do (if only because of nostalgia)! It’s themed to the classic Rankin Bass animated special Frosty the Snowman, and the sculptures are incredible!

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5 Questions with Kevin Conroy

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(previous interviews in this series can be found here.)

Welcome to another installment of 5 Questions with a 5-Year-Old. Today, Zoey chats with Kevin Conroy, voice actor best known as the voice of Batman on Batman: The Animated Series.

For my money, Kevin Conroy is Batman. Pure and simple. He’s the best Batman that ever was and probably ever will be. It’s his voice that defines the character for me—and for many, many other people. Not Christian Bale’s ridiculous growl. Not Michael Keaton’s ominous tenor. No.

Through 85 episodes of Batman: The Animated Series (and the renamed The Adventures of Batman & Robin), Kevin Conroy and his impressive baritone delivered not only the seminal Batman voice but also one of the classic Bruce Waynes.

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Disney’s The Little Mermaid

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Disney’s The Little Mermaid

  • playing at Olney Theatre Centre (Olney, MD)
  • dates: now through December 28, 2014
  • directed by Mark Waldrop
  • Roar Score: 4/5

Can you believe Disney’s The Little Mermaid is having its 25th anniversary this year? Hard to believe, I know. Ariel is all grown up.

Timed to coincide with this anniversary and capitalize on the perennial appeal of that red-headed mermaid, Olney Theatre Center in Olney, MD (about 45 minutes from both DC and Baltimore) recently launched its performance of the stage version.

Is it ok to use the word splashtastic? Probably not, but I will anyway. This production is very, very good.

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Tiny Tim’s Christmas Carol

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Tiny Tim’s Christmas Carol

  • playing at Adventure Theatre MTC (Glen Echo, MD)
  • dates: now through January 1, 2015
  • directed by Jerry Whiddon
  • Roar Score: 5/5

Christmas is coming. This invariably means performances of The Nutcracker and A Christmas Carol are (or soon will be) everywhere. Children’s theater is no exception. I’ll admit that we went into Adventure Theatre’s production of Tiny Tim’s Christmas Carol expecting it to be a scaled-down, “family-friendly” version of Dickens’s classic story.

Thankfully, we were wrong.

This show is funny—refreshingly, surprisingly funny. It’s not something you really expect out of A Christmas Carol, but the sharp script and fantastic acting combine to present the funniest version of the story you’re likely to see outside of Bill Murray’s Scrooged.

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5 Questions with Abby Cadabby

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(previous interviews in this series can be found here.)

Welcome to another installment of 5 Questions with a 5-Year-Old. Today, Zoey chats with the one and only Abby Cadabby, Sesame Street’s resident fairy-in-training. Be sure to also check out Zoey’s chat with the woman behind the voice, Leslie Carrara-Rudolph!

Believe it or not, Sesame Street has been on the air for 45 incredible years. It’s one of the few pieces of popular culture that has truly stood the test of time and become a touchstone for several generations. I grew up with it, and my children are growing up with it.

When you think about it, that’s amazing.

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5 Questions with Leslie Carrara-Rudolph

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(previous interviews in this series can be found here.)

Welcome to another installment of 5 Questions with a 5-Year-Old. Today, Zoey chats with Leslie Carrara-Rudolph, the amazing Muppeteer behind Sesame Street’s Abby Cadabby. Be sure to also check out Zoey’s chat with Abby!

Yes, Leslie is the voice and talent behind (under?) everyone’s favorite fairy-in-training, Abby Cadabby. Both Leslie and Abby debuted on Sesame Street in 2006 (Season 37), and Leslie has since gone on to voice several other characters.

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Avengers STATION

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The Avengers S.T.A.T.I.O.N exhibit in Times Square is something I’ve been looking forward to seeing since it opened. However, first things first. That acronym? Scientific Training and Tactical Intelligence Operative Network. Of course.

Officially, the exhibit is “a completely immersive experience that brings visitors into the world of The Avengers. Visitors of all ages are granted S.H.I.E.L.D. access to the official S.T.A.T.I.O.N. headquarters and taken deep into the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Here visitors will have open access to a vast array of intelligence files, classified studies and experiments that explores the history and scientific origins of Marvel’s The Avengers.”

It’s important to note that this exhibit is almost exclusively based on the Marvel Cinematic Universe. If you’ve seen (and enjoy) the movies, then you’ll enjoy this exhibit. No comic book knowledge is required.

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5 Questions with Peter Beagle

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(previous interviews in this series can be found here.)

Welcome to another installment of 5 Questions with a 5-Year-Old. Today, Zoey chats with Peter Beagle, author of the classic The Last Unicorn.

Originally published in 1968, The Last Unicorn is a fantasy novel about a unicorn who thinks she is the last of her kind and sets out on a quest to discover what happened to the other unicorns. Along the way, she teams up with the magician Schmendrick, gets attacked by the demon Red Bull, becomes human, falls in love, attacks the villainous King Haggard, and saves the kingdom.

Not only is it a classic work of fantasy literature, but the 1982 Rankin-Bass animated film solidified its place in popular culture and became a classic for the 80s generation. Despite the fact that the novel has been in print for more than 45 years, for many people my age, the movie is the only version of the story they know.

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Sesame Place: The Count’s Halloween Spooktacular

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OK, so Halloween is technically behind us, and Sesame Place is already gearing up for A Very Furry Christmas. But I still wanted to post about The Count’s Halloween Spooktacular.

  • Reason #1: It was simply awesome.
  • Reason #2: It’ll be back next year. And the Internet is forever.
  • Reason #3: Did I mention that it was awesome?

We’ve been to Sesame Place several times this year. The kids (3 and 5) are the prime age for the park, and they just love it. We’re actually Busch Gardens Platinum Pass holders, which means we basically have season passes to all 11 of their parks (including Sesame Place, Sea World, Busch Gardens, and the water parks). We live about halfway between Sesame Place and Busch Gardens Williamsburg, so it’s a great deal.

This was our first time attending one of the special holiday events, though. Sesame Place is located just outside of Philadelphia, and as such, it gets cold weather. At the end of the summer, the park closes down and only reopens on the weekends through October and December for the Halloween and Christmas events.

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5 Questions with LEGO Master Builder Chris Steininger

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(previous interviews in this series can be found here.)

Welcome to another installment of 5 Questions with a 5-Year-Old. Today, Zoey chats with LEGO Master Builder Chris Steininger.

“Master Builder” is one of those terms that you hear associated with LEGO bricks if you spend any time with them or reading about them. Especially now, after The LEGO Movie made the term so popular.

But few people really know what it means. Are they really like Emmet, Wildstyle, Vitruvius, and Batman? Do they have superpowers? Are they really able to stop Lord Business, destroy the Kragle, and save the universe?

Not quite. But they’re still incredibly cool. Case in point: Chris Steininger.

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The Princess in Black

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  • The Princess in Black
  • written by Shannon Hale & Dean Hale
  • illustrated by LeUyen Pham
  • published by Candlewick Press (2014)
  • Roar Score: 4/5

Princess Magnolia is having hot chocolate and scones with Duchess Wigtower when….wait a minute, wait a minute. Duchess Wigtower? How awesome a name is that? And it doesn’t end there.

How can you not love a book with a passage like this:

 In the courtyard, Frimplepants was nibbling an apple. He swished his sparkly tail. He pranced on his golden hooves. He gave the horn upon his brow a little toss.
 Clearly, Frimplepants was a unicorn.
 Or was he?

Stupendous! Isn’t the suspense killing you? Was he or wasn’t he a unicorn??

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5 Questions with G. Willow Wilson

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(previous interviews in this series can be found here.)

Welcome to another installment of 5 Questions with a 5-Year-Old. Today, Zoey chats with G. Willow Wilson: author of the ongoing Ms. Marvel series with Marvel Comics.

I should probably preface this with a brief history of how and why Ms. Marvel (Kamala Khan) found her way home with us. Luckily, I’ve already written about that. So please go read about it here. Go on. I’ll wait for you.

It should therefore go without saying that when Zoey found out the woman responsible for writing and bringing Kamala Khan/Ms. Marvel to life was going to be at New York Comic-Con, she was right up there at the top of the list of people she wanted to meet.

If Zoey’s costume hadn’t given it away, she’s still very much a huge fan of the series, 9 issues (and 9 months) in. As am I.

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