Category Archives: Product Review

Escape Room Adventure

Company team building event

I received word that we were going out on Thursday night after our company meetings. No one knew where we were going which resulted in many conversations with growing anticipation. Since there was a high level of secrecy, I knew it was going to be good. Turns out, Seattle Escape Games was our destination and most of us were excited.

Let the games begin

After we arrived and signed in, we waited in a lounge area for the 1st round of teams to enter their Escape Rooms. Along with the event, our company provided catering. With 4 escape rooms and 7 teams, each round had time to kill.

I watched with anticipation as the 1st round of groups went to the escape rooms. I was in the 2nd round which gave me time to play a couple of games of Corn Hole. Along with this, I had the pleasure of watching 2 team members play a mean game of Jenga. They were amazing at it.

As we were relaxing in the lounge area, we could hear teams celebrating their accomplishments which added to our excitement. Each team has 60 minutes to figure out all the clues and escape the room. Each room has a watcher guiding us through the do’s and don’ts of the game. We were allowed to ask for help solving a clue, the 1st one was free. Each clue we asked for after the freebie, cost us a minute of our allotted time.

Turns out there was a low success rate with the 1st round, only one team made it out. Wow, this was going to be hard.

The Bank Job

We got the call to proceed to our Escape Room, which we chose The Bank Job. We were robbing a rival Mob Boss with an inside man that was supposed to be helping us. First, it was a poor choice to trust a Con Man, second, what am I doing locking myself in a room with 3 other people looking for an escape? Our company is full of smart, High D type of personalities, which can cause conflict if we don’t work together. I decided as a team member to let my other team members work their strengths and I would work mine. Needless to say, I was grateful we had a couple of “numbers” people on our team. I knew that would be important.

Finding the 1st clue

It was absolutely exciting to find that 1st clue. We went to work fast looking for that 1st clue which resulted in a quick find. The clue we found was easy. The problem was we were clearly overthinking the solution which slowed us down. With each clue, came new problems to overcome. Figuring out the clues resulted in an extremely rewarding feeling of accomplishment. We opened False doors, and crawl spaces. Sometimes, a new clue would send us running back to the starting point to retrieve corresponding clues. I remember bursting through a crawl space on my way back to the team with an answer, took the turn too quickly, and rammed my arm into a door jam. Yep, that was going to leave a mark.

Does it ever end

Every time we thought this clue would lead to our escape, we were wrong; the clues kept coming. We pulled together as a team and ended up getting out of volt in the end. When the volt door opened, we started yelling, throwing high fives, congratulating ourselves and enjoying the celebration. Our watcher comes down and congratulates us for getting out. Something told me that he was delivering bad news. We ended up asking for help 3 times which used up 2 minutes of our time which left us with only 45 seconds left on the clock. Darn! We were 1 minute 15 seconds over our time and considered “Captured”

Lessons learned

  • We are only as strong as our other team members. We couldn’t have done it without each other
  • Observation is key
  • Don’t dismiss something you see or hear
  • Don’t over think situations
  • Slow down; I still have a bit of a bruise on my arm. :=)

Is it for you?

I had a blast! If you are not afraid of small spaces and being locked in a room for an hour, I highly recommend you find an Escape Room and give it a try. If you like challenges, this is for you. Can you work with other team members and utilize each other’s strengths? If you can, this is for you.

Add another to my list

I wanted to try an escape room adventure. I can gladly say that I did. My next escape room adventure is on my horizon; maybe next time I am in Seattle or I understand we have one that has opened near my home. My list of Been There Done That adventures is growing.

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The Sword Experience

The Sword Experience

My latest adventure

In January, I wrote down my top goals for 2019. Attending The Sword Experience was on that list and I can now check it off as complete. Watching the tour dates, I saw they booked a Texas event at the Austin Comic Con 2019. It was the perfect weekend getaway I had been looking for. I bought a Comic Con ticket and booked the event.

Picking up a sword was new to me. I am always looking for ways to enhance my fitness journey and I wanted to try it. I’m glad that I did. The experience made me recognize some areas in my life that I have been struggling with for 6 years now.

Check-in

I checked-in at Adrian’s booth at the Comic Con as instructed. The team delivered all of the promised benefits for the Gold level of The Sword Experience. (Autographed picture of Adrian Paul, armband for the event, a picture with Adrian Paul, and my bokken autographed the 2nd day.) I had the pleasure of meeting Anise and Beverly, as they revealed that they are amazing and bring a high level of customer care to the table. It is evident they take pride in Adrian and his work.

What is The Sword Experience?

Adrian founded The Sword Experience, as a way to pass on some of the knowledge he learned while working with world renowned action stars, stunt choreographers, and sword masters. To date, the testimonials speak for themselves. Not only has it given people a chance to receive the best sword fighting tips and techniques, training with some of the best sword experts around, but it has also given people a chance to do something different, to improve their fitness, their communication skills, their abilities, along with the chance to do something they may have only dreamed about.

The Sword Experience website-click to read entire about us page

The Event

It was exciting and nerve-racking to be in a room full of people swinging bokkens (practice swords). I was feeling a sense of empowerment as we practiced the Attack Numbering system and the Defense Numbering system. Adrian Paul (the founder of The Sword Experience and The Peace Fund, Actor, Director, Martial Arts Expert) and Anthony Buonomo (Teacher from Austin Historical Weapons Guild) were guiding us on our form and footwork.

There were many age groups and many different personalities in the room. The large diversity of the attendees and spectators was surprising. Each one of us had personal reasons for being there. Mine was to step out of my comfort zone and investigate the adventurous side of myself that I have tucked away.

Practice

We learned choreographed moves that were based on a scene out of Batman Returns. There were different moves in each of the 4 groups. We split up into practice groups and practiced our moves with an attacker coming at us. The feeling of Empowerment shifted to fear. It was a totally different experience with someone coming at you, which changed my frame of mind completely. I now feel exposed and uncomfortable.

The attackers learned the choreography for all 4 groups. They would alternate between attacking a person in each of the groups.

I continued to practice my moves off to the side as they shuffled practice groups in and out. I kept walking through the routine knowing how challenging it was to face off with someone. Anthony was a big help and guided me through my struggles with form and footwork.

Filming

After learning and practicing for 2 1/2 hours, it was time to film the scene. I am looking forward to seeing the results of the footage. We all lined up in 3 rows, down on 1 knee. We followed the command to stand, step out and present our bokkens. That was cool to see a group of people work together as a team and perform those moves as a group. Keep in mind we had 2 1/2 hours to learn it and practice it.

Oh, by the way, we were all dressed as Ninjas, except for the attackers. After shooting the opening entrance and the presentation, the attacks began. I had a great time and watching the filming process was actually like working on a movie set.

What I learned about myself

I have been trying to rediscover myself again for some time now. After the event, I did some soul searching and dug into some things that Adrian pointed out to me. He mentioned that I am holding onto stress and tension and instructed me to loosen my grip to let the bokken move with the hits. That stress and tension were holding me back. I wanted to know how and why I went from being confident, and outgoing to becoming a weekend recluse and homebody.

I can trace it back to 2 life-changing events. The accident I suffered 6 years ago affected my outlook and personality in many ways. I no longer trust myself or my decisions, I let fear hold me back which restrains my inner self (click to read about my accident). I have a friend and mentor that reminds me to let my inner Catherine out. Recognizing why I am holding back has been a struggle for me. This experience has helped me piece together the why’s which should help me overcome it.

Thank you

The event ran late and The Sword Experience team asked the Gold Experience attendees to come back to the booth at the Comic Con the next day to have our bokken autographed as promised. This would give me the opportunity to thank Adrian, Beverly, and Anise.

I arrive at the booth with bokken in hand and thanked Anise. She handed me a certificate that stated that I had crossed swords with Adrian Paul and survived. That was a cool certificate. I approached Adrian and handed him my bokken. He asked me if I enjoyed the event and I expressed that I was disappointed in my performance. He seemed confused and asked, why? I started talking and tears started pouring out of my eyes.

Remember, I have been holding back for a long time. Crying is one of those things I hold back on. I try to control my emotions and not let my emotions control me. I felt absolutely mortified by my actions. Adrian was gracious and understanding. As he reassured me, I regained my composure and thanked him and Beverly.

From a fitness standpoint

I have been teaching fitness classes for over 30 years. It was my 1st career and is now my “hobby” career. Before my accident, I taught a kickboxing class 2 to 3 times per week. The bag was a great place to let out the tension from my daily, high-stress job that I held at the time. After my accident, returning to kickboxing was difficult and I eventually gave it up. I currently teach PiYo and Turbo Kick. Both are great workouts but I enjoy trying new things to kick it up a notch.

When Adrian pointed out that I was holding on to tension, it brought me back to my kickboxing days. Punching and kicking that bag resulted in letting all that tension out. Adrian grabbed the bokken, started moving it and instructed me to let it move with the hit to let the tension out. He later told me, during my emotional moment, still embarrassed about that, to use the bokken as a tool to release the tension. In my mind, I went back to the boxing bag and how I used that as a tool for stress relief. Each piece of the puzzle is helping me understand myself better.

By the way, that was an amazing workout! The warm-up started with holding a squat for a minute. Everyone was like, yeah, I can do that. Adrian chuckled and said, “you say that now”. Within 30 seconds the room started erupting with loud breath releases and groaning. It was awesome! By the time we were done with the learning and practice sessions, everyone was sweating, red-faced and in disbelief of how challenging and invigorating it was.

Will I do it again?

Yes, I want to participate in this event again. I am going to continue to practice the attack and defense numbering system and maybe find a local teacher that can help instruct me. Now I know what to expect and it won’t be the first time having a bokken swung at me. That should boost my confidence.

One more thing added to my “Been There Done That” list. Whoop Whoop!

Catherine Bares

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Hiking Boots Blow Out

Hiking in the Smoky Mountains

Recently, my husband and I took a trip to one of my favorite spots, The Smoky Mountains. Hiking is one of my favorite activities to do while visiting this region. We picked a trail within the Cades Cove Loop; Abrams Falls. It’s a moderate level hike that is 2.5 miles in and 5 miles round trip. It leads us to a beautiful water fall and is well worth the hike.

During the hike in, I started to notice a drag in my walk; I thought I picked up a vine or a stick on the trail. It turns out that the soul of my boot was peeling off from the front of the shoe. Every time I took a step the soul would be pulled under and it was causing me to trip. Luckily my camera backpack had some bungee cords attached to it. So, my husband jumped into action and made a temporary repair so I could make it to our destination.

During the hike out of the trail, my other boot started to lose the soul from the back of the shoe. Total blow out on both boots. I ended up having to pull that soul completely off. It was our first hike on this trip and we planned to make at least 2 hikes. What should I do? Well, in Pigeon Forge, there is a huge Outlet mall so, we went shopping. There was a Columbia Outlet Store that had my size and was priced right.

New Boot Risks

Now, experience tells me not to go hiking in a brand new pair of boots before breaking them in, but determination took over. The next morning I bandaged up all the blister prone areas and pulled my new boots on. Although I liked the fit better than my old pair, and they were more comfortable, the risk of blisters was ever present in my mind. We decided to hike the same trail since it was fairly short, and we knew the terrain.

It is a pleasure to announce that my proactive efforts paid off-No blisters! The Columbia boots were comfortable and supportive. I give them a 5 star rating.

Stay tuned for more posts about this trip with pictures.

Catherine Bares

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Stepping out of my Comfort Zone

New adventures

Trying new adventures is exciting for me.  I look forward to stepping out of my comfort zone and experiencing new adventures, new food, and meeting new people. My experience was amazing and I hope you enjoy reading about my stay at Travaasa Spa and Resort, Austin, TX (now Miraval, Austin).

Stand-up paddle boarding

I remember relaxing at the edge of the infinity pool, looking out over Lake Travis. The water was beautiful and inviting sitting at the bottom of the valley the pool overlooked. After closing my eyes I visualized a memory that I had while relaxing (click to read that story). Upon opening my eyes, I decided to figure out what the rest of my day was going to include.

Stand up Paddle Boarding was my choice for the day.  The water in Lake Travis was beautiful.  The view from the top of the hill at the resort’s infinity pool enticed and called me to participate in the excursion that I noticed on the event board for the day. It would be an adventure that I could write about.

Launch time

We launched our boards and I started in a kneeling position to paddle into a nearby cove.  I followed my coach’s instructions on proper feet and body placement on the board, to make the transition from kneeling to standing.  What happened next was a huge surprise to me.

Fear stepping out of my comfort zone

“Fear” set in; I stepped out of my comfort zone.  Balance in my PiYo class is completely different than balancing on a board in the water.  I was always comfortable on the water boating, skiing, fishing, trawling, and swimming. The fear surprised me.

Running all of my Coach’s instructions through my thoughts, I worked towards connecting on a physical and cognitive level. Going back to my boating days, I kept Imitating the body shifts that I would make to keep my balance. I struggled with the technique as my Coach kept walking me through it and encouraging me.  He inspired me to let go of the fear and relax through the motions.  Enjoy the scenery” he said, and “if you feel like you are going to fall, just fall into the water, don’t try to catch yourself.” -I am happy to report that I did not fall.

Soaking in the scenery-creating new memories

Upon exiting the cove and heading to our destination spot, I was able to work through the challenges and really connect my body to the movements of bending my knees, leaning forward and pulling the paddle board across the water. I found the most challenging part was the steering. As my balance improved, the steering kicked in.

Along the way, I soaked in the scenery.  The aquamarine colored water was clear as day. In amazement, I watched Garfish swim up to the surface only to dart back down after seeing me.   I watched water plants as my board glided over them.  The hillside that we were heading towards grew larger with each stroke moving me towards it.  Curious bystanders were everywhere.  I paddled my way past some anchored boats. Their passengers were enjoying the cool water with their friends and family, on big floating islands.  I saw Jet skis zipping around the middle of the lake, causing wakes that we had to maneuver our boards across. Pulling out of the marina, there were tour boats filled with adventurers wanting to share and enjoy the environment. I could hear screams from a nearby Zipline excursion that were exploding, and echoing off the hills which traveled across the water.

Precious resource returned to its glory

It occurred to me that on my first trip to Travaasa, this very lake that we were all enjoying, was completely dried up due to a 5-year drought.  The thought of this beautiful, precious resource completely dried up and gone saddened me.  It reminded me, once again, how delicate life and nature truly are.  So, that day, I lived in the moment, appreciated the experience, felt empowered by my success, enjoyed the company of my fellow adventurers and thanked God for every moment and for restoring this precious resource. 

Catherine Bares

Add another to my Been There Done That List!

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Wicked Sister

Ever in Sault St. Marie, Michigan?

If you ever find yourself in Sault St. Marie, Michigan you should stop in at a local restaurant grill and bar called “Wicked Sister”.  The name caught my attention but after 2 people recommended this establishment for their food I decided to give it a try.

To my delight, the food lived up to its local reputation so I visited their website for their story.  Much to my surprise, they offer daily kitchen tours.  Wow, they are confident! What a concept?  My biggest concerns with eating out:

  • How clean is the kitchen
  • How fresh is the food? 
  • Do they have healthy options?
  • How clean are the bathrooms?

Their story, straight from the website:

  • Located at 716 Ashmun St., The Wicked Sister opened January 6, 2015, and is a family owned business proudly serving quality ingredients and made-from-scratch items. John Graham bid on the former Gin Mill at auction in early 2014, and desiring to leave a legacy to his family, helped his three daughters, Jeanne McCulligh, Nancy Rose, and Laurie Jarvie, purchase the bar.

The building was extensively renovated, including the addition of a full kitchen. New lighting, tables, and custom-built bar top are probably the most noticeable changes when a customer walks into The Wicked Sister. Many have asked where the family came up with the name. “It was a random thought tossed out there in the beginning months, but since it was a joke at [the ladies] expense, it wasn’t too well received. But it must have grown on them over a few months because, by August, we had our name,” says Cathy Howell, general manager of The Wicked Sister and daughter/niece to the owners. The question that always follows is, “So who is the ‘wicked sister’?” The husbands are quick to reply that the answer to that question changes daily.

 

The food that comes out of the kitchen

The Wicked Sister’s menu is dominated by homemade and specialty items. “I’m really proud of the food that comes out of the kitchen. We were really choosy about the ingredients and sought out the best we could get while still keeping our food affordable. For example, our chicken breast comes in fresh, and is hormone and antibiotic free.” The bar-restaurant is also taking steps to minimize its impact on the environment by recycling, and later this spring will work with a local gardener to test out a composting program.
And the current menu is just the beginning according to Cathy. “We had to keep it simple to start. I wanted to make sure that what we served, we did very well, even if that was only a handful of items. As our staff becomes more comfortable with the menu, we are definitely going to expand and bring in new ideas.”

The Wicked Sister Website

The bar

The food coming out of the kitchen is not the only reason to check out The Wicked Sister. The bar menu has over 40 beers, many of which are craft beers brewed in Michigan.
Custom cocktails have been big business for The Wicked Sister, too. With a drink list featuring a bacon Bloody Mary and cocktails rimmed in sprinkles, patrons are able to get drinks that match the quality and uniqueness of the food.
“This has been an amazing experience and working so closely with my family is something I didn’t think I’d ever had the opportunity to do. The positive feedback from customers has been outstanding and rewarding. But, perhaps my favorite part of this entire process was being able to take a building that was essentially a blight on the community and turn it into a spot where everyone wants to come to hang out. As someone who is raising a family in the Sault, and has deep ties to the community that is huge for me,” says Cathy.

The Wicked Sister Website
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