Monday, May 22, 2017

Kids in a Candy Store

As we stepped across the threshold of the Stirling General Mercantile, it was as if we stepped back in time. There were all the favourite treats of my childhood; candies that I didn't even know were made anymore.  There are black balls and black licorice pipes, Big League Chew and Thrills gum, countless flavours of salt water taffy, old fashioned candy sticks and more. But more than just a candy store, the Stirling General Mercantile is an experience.

I don't know who was more excited, me or the kids. It was fun to point out all of my childhood favourites. The most exciting part of the experience, however, is the option to fill a bag from the rows of jars on and behind the counter.

It reminded me of when I was a child. On Sundays I would put a coin in the Sunday School offering and then after church I would go to the General Store next door. With a two dollar allowance, I would have money to give, enough to get a pop and bag of chips and a brown paper bag full of penny candy, and still have a little leftover to save.

At the Mercantile you can still get a nice paper bag full of candy for a couple of dollars. You let them know your budget and they help you fill your bag, letting you know when you are near reaching your limit. We had fun selecting candy. There is so much to choose from, the children wanted to try one of everything. From jelly beans to sour gummies they have it all.

At one point a young boy came through the door, having parked his scooter on the sidewalk in front of the store. He asked if there was any "counter candy" and proceeded to search in between the jars for any candy that had fallen in the process of filling bags. Apparently "counter candy" is something that is known to local kids; anything on the counter is fair game. He left with his pockets full and was out the door and back on his scooter again.

I can see this becoming a regular family outing. Sweet memories for a sweet tooth.

Saturday, April 15, 2017

Breakout Fever!

This past year I celebrated a significant birthday. When asked what I would like to do to mark the occasion, I replied that I couldn't think of anything I'd rather do than be locked in a room with my in-laws, and be forced to stay there until we worked together on some problems.

I got my wish; we played an escape room game at Breakout Belleville. We weren't literally locked in the room, but we did have an hour to look for clues, solve riddles and figure out a pile of locks to finally win the game. Our game hostess was fantastic (thank you for the hints under the door when we were pulling our hair out), and the venue and staging was great too. It was interesting to see how each person had a different perspective, how our personalities really came out, and how ultimately we worked together to win the game (with just two minutes to spare). Here we are immediately following our successful break out. I think those are pretty happy faces for a family that just spent an hour "locked" in a room together.

This was the second escape room game I had played. The first was at a Google Apps for Education Summit that I attended in the fall. There we had the opportunity to play a game designed by the folks at Breakout EDU. Breakout EDU brings all of the excitement and challenges of a breakout game into the classroom. Rather than trying to break out out of a room, players need to break in to a locked box. All you need is the Breakout EDU kit, and you can play any of the hundreds of free games on their site (

We now have boxes at a couple of the schools where I work. I have set up many games for students and staff, and even made a custom game for a class review for a test. I've learned more than I ever thought I could about setting, troubleshooting and sometimes even,, yes, decoding (ie. picking) locks. It has been fun to watch the players enjoying the games. They are learning, making connections, and working cooperatively. I love seeing the lightbulb moments, and seeing how each one contributes to the group. Even when there are tense moments, when a group successfully "breaks out" I almost always see the same kind of smiles as in our picture above. Who knew learning could be so fun?

This weekend I am setting up an Easter Breakout for my family. It will be a new twist on the old Easter egg hunt. In about a month I'll be heading to Ottawa to present Breakout at the Ontario Association of Library Technicians/Association des bibliotechniciens de l'Ontario 44th Annual Conference. You could say I've got Breakout fever. Don't worry though Breakout Belleville, I will be back. I want to be able to play sometimes too!

Thursday, April 13, 2017

An Ode to Spring (With Apologies to the Neighbours)

It has been quite some time since I posted. I have been hibernating for the winter. Leaving for work and coming home in the dark has been quite uninspiring. Then suddenly, with the start of Daylight Savings Time and the longer warmer days, I feel like I am waking up again. My Canada 150 tulips that survived the foraging squirrels have popped up lush and green. The grass is growing, birds are singing, and best of all the kids are outside in full force, the whole neighbourhood alive with the laughter, hoots and hollers of childhood fun.

Neighbours we practically haven't seen all winter are out visiting on the front steps. The bikes and scooters are all out. My kids got a pogo stick for Christmas and he has enjoyed bouncing around the neighbourhood.  His friend went and got one too, and now they jump around together, trying out new tricks or seeing who can stay on the longest. Last I checked they had invented a type of pogo derby--bouncing while trying to knock the other one off. Ba-dunk, ba-dunk, ba-dunk. It has a distinct sound. Turns out that it is also a sound that the neighbours can hear inside their houses! Sorry neighbours and friends; we will try to keep it between the hours of 9am and 8pm. Ba-dunk-ba-dunk!