Friday, December 5, 2014

REVIEW: When Good Broccoli Goes Bad: MPAACT

We had the opportunity to see a play at our local park (Broadway Armory)  It was a free play put on by a Chicago group called MPAACT  a group who according to their website...

"exists to develop, nurture, and sustain Afrikan Centered Theatre (ACT), an artistic expression grounded in the many cultures and traditions of the Afrikan continent and its Diaspora"   

A noble cause, for sure, and while not particularly my cause, one of the reasons I like to go to the theatre is to open my mind.  (One of my favorite theatres in Providence is Brown University's Rites and Reasons Theatre for just that reason.  They don't put on the plays I like the best or I think are the best produced or the best written, but it comes at issues and ideas from a whole different angle than I ever would have, and that's plain awesome.

Broccoli (also known as Baby B)
The play we saw was called "When Good Broccoli Goes Bad" and it was a musical that used a lot of popular music styles (gospel, blues, r&b, rap) to provide a cautionary tale about a young Broccoli who gets curious about the world she doesn't know.  

The show started with a gospel sermon of vegetables in the crisper (people dressed as vegetables)  Brother Spinach is laying it out why fresh vegetables are good to be eaten, Sister Corn is testifying, and Brother Collards is a little bit afraid of the Ham Hocks.  In this world it's noble to be eaten for a healthy purpose.

Little B (Baby Broccoli) wants to see the great wide refrigerator,however, and goes on a quest up the refrigerator, along the way meeting   2 quasi-friends- Salty Pork and Bacon, and a super slick singer named CS  (corn syrup).  There's a dance fight between White Bread and Whole Wheat, and at the end, Honey and Cane Sugar (and oh yes, Beet sugar too) help save the day. At the end, Little B is safe and sound in the crisper, has shed her bacon jacket, and is ready to be healthily consumed.

Corn Syrup was the villain of the show.
There was a lot to like about this show-- the singing was good, and the original music was fun ( although the sound in the room wasn't very good (they had 3 mikes for the 8 singers, plus a 4 person band, and everything was muddled. They really needed to either have each singer grab the mic directly, or get headsets for the main players.  The costumes were also fun, if a bit silly.  (Baby B's Broccoli Afro was really the best of it-- the rest were like pretty constrictive and not so suggestive vegetable costumes.)  The actors were for the most part fine-- I particularly liked the actor who played Brother Spinach. 

My only criticism other than the technical element is that it doesn't seem to be very cost efficient-- they've got 12 people performing in this show, and either they aren't being paid enough, or they are charging venues too much.  I think they could get the gospel of the vegetable out a lot more if they pared down the actors to 6 with 2 musicians (still expensive, but  doable)

Baby B wants to be good, but her "Friend"
Salty Pork is very tempting
I like that this play is being done, It's a simple story that reminds me of an elementary school version of the gospel melodramas that tour on the chitlin' circuit.  And it speaks directly to the food desert problems that some areas of the inner city have.  And they gave out vegetables at the start of the show!)  

And the kids (including my 6 year old, who is not as vegetable tolerant as he should be) really seemed to like it!
Visit the MPAACT website to find out more about there work, and (hopefully) they'll put up some info about where the show is performing next.  And if not, just keep on eating stuff in the crisper, and stay away from Corn Syrup!

Here's a short video of one of the early Gospel numbers in the show:


And here's one of the blues numbers with a dance sequence in between.  You can see the costumes are clever.

Monday, December 1, 2014

A Thanksgiving Weekend That Couldn't Be Beat

We normally host Thanksgiving, which has involved form as few as 8 to as many as 22 people.

This year we had dinner at my sister-in-law's.  They also recently moved to Chicago (Evanston) and were part of the reason for our move here.

We had dinner there primarily because her house is a little larger and she has TWO ovens (a feature we used to have in Yonkers)  We haven't quite gotten there yet, but I'm guessing that in the next year or so, we might upgrade our oven for a double.  And there were 25 people at Thanksgiving this year!

Just because we weren't hosting, didn't mean we didn't cook.  We made the turkey gravy (my wife is very fond of gravy, and the bird being cooked this year was already in parts, so gravy had to be done separately!)  We also made two different kinds of cranberry sauce (raw, and cooked, my mother-in-law loves raw cranberries!) and the brussel sprouts.

I'm a big believer in Brussel Sprouts.  And when I saw them at Trader Joe's on the stalk, I thought "Thanksgiving, done!"  Except.

  • Although they look cool, you can't serve them on the stalk because you still have to cut them, and it's unwieldy on the table.
  • They cook very unevenly.
  • In our oven, I could cook maybe 2 stalks at a time if I crammed them in.  We needed 100 brussel sprouts, which meant cooking them 4 times.
After a test run of the stalk kind, I went to the local grocery, bought 100 large brussel sprouts and roasted them. Cut them in half, brushed them with maple syrup and olive oil and salted and peppered.   They were a palpable hit!  (And although I was worried about running out, we did have a few leftovers)

The next day, we went to a potluck at a local synagogue, and they were a hit again!

A selection of cured meats and cheeses hand-picked by their chefs from their very 
own cheese and charcuterie cave.
 Accompanied by house made preserves, pickles, and jams.
Saturday we went for Breakfast with some in town cousins at the Sofitel (which was fantastic, and considering it was a high end brunch joint, wasn't terribly expensive (although as it turned out, my wife's cousin insisted on paying, so SCORE!  Thank you Paul!) There I had the Artisanal cheese and meat plate with pickles and jellies  It was very very good.)

My son emulating the conductor at the
symphony.  He's got the look!
On Sunday we went to see the Music of Pixar at the CSO.  It was a great concert!  One of the best things about it was viewing many of those movies again, but through the lense of their sound.  They displayed scenes from the movies, but without dialog, and with the CSO playing, you could really hear (and see) the complexity of the music.

They've got a few more Symphony at the Movies events coming up (2001 a Space Odyssey and Metropolis, both of which would be great for older kids)  

The weekend capped off where I was supposed to drive my mother-in-law to the airport, and SCORE AGAIN, one of the other in-laws agreed to do it.  I lead a charmed life, apparently!

How was your Thanksgiving Weekend?

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Chicago Toy and Game Fair

We went to the Chicago Toy and Game Fair on Saturday, and it was a really wonderful event.  I've been to toy rollouts for bloggers before, and they are primarily about the bloggers.  This was an actual show, open to the public, and they were selling the toys too.

There were lots of cool things going on, including this giant roaring dinosaur roaming around:

One of the things I loved about this event was that it was open to all toy and game companies, even those just starting out.  Yes, we saw some great new toys from the big companies, including Spin Master and MayFair and Rainbow Looms, but there were guys just starting out also, seeking representation, floating their ideas to see if they would work.  I love that ChiTAG gives these guys a chance to meet the public even if they are not quite ready for prime time (though many just need the break)

Here are some of the quirkier little guys

• Two sisters from Canada, who made up a game called Query, which is like Trivial Pursuit, but based on Google Queries.

• a guy who had created a card game based on football plays.  You played an offense card against someone else's defense card, and it either works or it doesn't.  He told me that he'd been figuring it out since he was 11, and he's over 50 now!

The Fluffy Friends may or may not be anatomically correct.
• A hippiesh chess master, who invented a four-handed chess game that combines the tactics of Risk with traditional chess.

• A woman who had created a sight word game for her daughter based on the idea of gold mining, and was making the container/bags/covers out of thrift store jeans she was buying.

A biting plush toy originally created for adults that may or may not have anatomically correct parts.

They also had a competition for kids to invent games.  We were there on Saturday.  Most of the games were super complicated and interminably long and ... science project handmade, to be kind, (and listen, they are kids, and the fact that they are inventing games is good enough for me!)

One of them was super impressive.  It was a game called Road Trip, and it was created by two science and math girls who wanted to STEM the math summer slide (losing math skills over the summer)  Their project was very professionally thought out and designed.

I almost felt like they were ready to go into production.  Very impressive!

Over the next couple of weeks, I'll talk about some of the interesting bigger games I saw and thought would make great gifts.....

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Giving Thanks for Music Options: Symphony edition

In our newly adopted city of Chicago, this will be our first Thanksgiving. (Well, technically not true, because over the past 10 years we've been in the Chicagoland area for Thanksgiving at least 3 times.  But this will be our first time as Chi-CAG-oans.  So that should count.)

One of the things that continues to amaze me is the amount of cultural options for kids here.  Coming from NY, there was never a dearth of things to do.  But it seems like there are just as many things to do here.  Or maybe they just seem more accessible here.

This is certainly the season, at any rate.  There's tons of culture for kids to participate and revel in.

For example, the CSO is chock full of family friendly music over the next 6 weeks.  Here are just 4 of the amazing things going on, and I'm not counting specifically Christmasy stuff like their Nutcracker excerpts or their Yule show, which are specifically designed to cash in on that family friendly feeling that December engenders.

Any one of these concerts would be a great way to expose your child (and yourself) to the wonder of live music.

Downtown Sounds Sat Nov 22 at 11 am and 12:45pm (featuring the music of Gershwin, Strauss, and Tchaikovsky, among others).  Check out the link for a kids book about the music and for Parent and Teacher guides.  Yes, Music can be educational!

The Vienna Boys Choir  Sat Nov 29 at 3 pm.  The legendary sweet sounding kids pull into Chicago for a one show retrospective which I am reliably informed by people in the know is a Thanksgiving classic!)

Pixar in Concert Fri Nov 28 at 8pm, Sat Nov 29 at 8pm, Sun Nov 30 at 3pm Scores from 14 Pixar films will be played, along with some of the most memorable film clips from the movies.  Highly recommended for young film buffs.

Sweet Honey In The Rock Sun Dec 7 at 3 pm.  Legendary a cappella group sings holyday songs from around the world and from many different cultures. Their music and their harmony is just astounding.

For more information about these shows and others, including showtimes, ticket prices, and tickets, please visit the CSO website  

Please note that in my work as a blogger I do from time to time receive free tickets for performances or sample items for review from some of the groups or companies mentioned above.  I promise you that my reviews and previews are not influenced by the free-ness of the tickets/items.  I call them as I see them!

Monday, November 10, 2014

Weekend trip to Detroit!

We had a couple of days off of school due to Teacher Improvement Day in Chicago, so we used our time wisely and visited some friends who live outside of Detroit.  It was a great weekend, and chockful of eating great food and going to museums.

First things first:  We took the train up there.  For all three of us, it was around $160 roundtrip, which I estimate is about what it would of cost us in gas and wear and tear on the car.  And we didn't have to drive, and it took about the same amount of time.  Plus:  TRAIN!

While we were in the Detroit metro area (weirdly, I don't think we ever were in downtown Detroit) we visited 3 pretty great museums.

Shalom Street.  There are 3 Jewish children's museums in the US.  There's one in Brooklyn, there's one in L.A., and there's one in... suburban Detroit?  The JCC of Detroit has a huge campus in West Bloomfield, and they have used their acreage well.  Their giant JCC has a space dedicated to children's exhibits.  Each year, Shalom Street comes up with an interactive themed exhibit on some aspect of the Jewish experience.  This year the them was Jewish toy inventors.  And since that encompasses Fisher Price, Hasbro, Parker Brothers, Mattel, and just about everyone else in the toy industry, it was a great exhibit, and well worth checking out if you are in the area.

The JCC also has a Jewish Michigan Athlete's Hall of Fame (a very small exhibit as you might imagine) and pools and gyms and in the back there's an adventure course for teens to do during the summer.  If you are Jewish in the Detroit area, it seems like this is a resource you don't want to ignore.

Marvin's Marvelous Mechanical Museum:
We then went to an arcade/museum of magic and amusement memorabilia, which featured pinball machines, tic tac toe playing chickens, magic memorabilia, a weather forecasting rock, and a number of crazy oddities.  It was exactly up my alley, and we spent an hour or so (and over $20) playing games, checking out coin operated wonders of the past, and having a ball.
The video above is on Marvin's site.

You can also see some more of the photos I took on flickr  

Henry Ford Museum  The last museum we went to (and spent nearly the whole day, and didn't see it all) was the Henry Ford Museum.  It's a fantastic museum, filled with the history of America via transportation.  It had some amazing exhibits, including the series of Presidential Limousines, the actual 1952 Wienermobile, a history of early aviation, and an interactive exhibit where, EVERYDAY, museum goers help build a Model T Ford, and at th end of the day, they can sit in it.  (The docents assured me that it also runs, although I didn't see that)  That was simply amazing.

Another fantastic exhibit is Buckminster Fuller's Dymaxion house.  A one of a kind prototype that never got made, it's a round house made entirely of surplus aviation aluminum.  Only one was ever produced, and the guy lived in it for 20 years before donating it back to the museum, where they painstakingly restored it.  It's completely ahead of its time, and also fairly flawed.  It's still fantastic and amazing to walk around inside this house.

Perhaps my favorite exhibit, though, was Rosa Parks bus.  They have the actual bus that Rosa Parks refused to sit in the back of, and they've completely restored it.  They also have a tape of Rosa Parks talking about that day.  Listening to it in her bus literally gave me chills.  History being made right there.

All in all, it was a great time in suburban Detroit!

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

Family Fun Day- 125 years of amazement! Sunday Nov 9 at Roosevelt University

The Auditorium Theatre at Roosevelt University is celebrating their 125th Anniversary Season and to make sure everyone knows how wonderful the place is, they are opening their doors on Sunday, November 9 for a FREE Family Fun Day!

Families are invited to explore this landmark arts building (built by Dankmar Adler and Louis Sullivan, beautifully restored, and a building that Frank Lloyd Wright said was "... the greatest room for music and opera in the world- bar none.")

During the free festivities, you can enjoy dance classes from Joffrey Ballet dancers, acting lessons from Roosevelt University professionals, Arts & Crafts, a special Brownie making demonstration with one of FOX TV’s Master Chefs and lots more.

It's all free, and it's all fun!

Here's a schedule of what's going on, and a promotional video which shows some of the planning for what's going on!

 For specific times, or if you need more info, visit


Scavenger Hunt (Recommended for ALL AGES): Explore the nooks and crannies of the Auditorium, and ensure you don’t miss a thing by completing the Family Scavenger Hunt! Guests can show completed booklets to staff at two check-in points treat and to be entered in our “Family Night Out” Raffle!

Stained Glass Ornaments (Recommended for ALL AGES): Create an ornament to take home with you!

Birthday Doodles (Recommended for ALL AGES): Many of the famous performers who have stepped onto our stage left a doodle for our theatre crew. Check out some celebrity doodles, then add your own birthday doodle to our collection!

CJP Instrument Petting Zoo (Recommended for ALL AGES): Interact with the instruments played by musicians on our stage!

Lyric Opera (Recommended for ALL AGES): Discover the connection that this iconic Chicago opera company has with the Auditorium Theatre, while participating in fun, interactive activities!

Make ‘Em Laugh (Recommended for ages 7+): Jump in and improvise with some of our favorite improvisers and comedians!

FAMILY DANCE CLASSES WITH JOFFREY BALLET (Recommended for ALL AGES): Learn to move like a Joffrey dancer in this family experience fitting for all ages and abilities! (Absolutely no dance experience needed!

BACKUP SINGER DANCE MOVES WITH JENNIFER EDGECOMB (Recommended for ages 7+): Test out your best backup moves as you explore the rock-n-roll performers who have stepped onto the Auditorium Theatre’s stage over the years.

CREATIVE DRAMA WITH DREAM BIG PERFORMING ARTS WORKSHOP(Recommended for ages 3-7): Young artists take center stage as they explore their favorite stories!

INTERACTIVE TOURS Meet in front of patron services (Recommended for ALL AGES): Explore behind the scenes of the Auditorium Theatre and walk across the historic stage! Tours last approximately 30 minutes

GHOSTS OF CHICAGO THEATRES (Recommended for ages 7+):
Families can stop by to hear about the haunts of our theater and other Chicago theatres. No sign-in necessary.

Families can gather around at the specified times to watch Elise Mayfield, from FOX’s Master Chef, demo the Palmer House Brownie recipe and taste this world famous dessert!

Thursday, October 23, 2014

Halloween Fun in Chicago: A Roundup

Being in a new city means disruptions of our typical routines.  For the last couple of years, we've been going to Safe Halloween in New York, and we've been trick or treating in various places in NY.  This year, in Chicago, it's to steal a Disney musical song, "A Whole New World

But it's not too shabby here in Chicago.  There's a million things to do that are Halloween related.  We can't do everything, but it would be intriguing to try!   Here's some of the more promising things on the potential menu:

OCTOBER 25 AT 3 PM  (pre-show activities for kids start at 1:30pm)

"Hallowed Haunts" is a special family show at the Symphony Center that brings scary and magical classical and popular music together for a selection  that will  delight (and perhaps very slightly haunt) your children.  It's a great way to introduce your kids to some pretty amazing classical music, including music from Grieg's Peer Gynt, Stravinski's Firebird, and John Williams score for the first Harry Potter movie! The concert is an annual event, and has been successful enough that it is the only Civic Orchestra event for which there is a charge.  There are also some school performances scheduled for the day before.  Costumes are encouraged (even the musicians get dressed up!)  Tickets range from $15-$60 (depending on where you are sitting.
More info and tickets available on their website: or by calling 312.294.3076.

HAPPY HAUNTINGS at the Chicago Cultural Center

The Chicago Cultural Center is hosting the City of Chicago's Halloween Festival, which is a free celebration of all things Halloween.  The entire event is free, and features magic and puppet shows, a Ghost tour of the Cultural Center, and my friends the Midnight Circus who will be doing a number of free shows over the course of the weekend.  They'll also show some scary movies, have face painting and arts and crafts, and on Saturday there's a costume contest and parade. Food trucks on one side of building will add to the festivities.  You can get a full schedule of events at .

BOO! AT THE ZOO at Brookfield Zoo
The local zoos make sure to get in the act with activities for kids.  They are both happening on the weekend.  The Lincoln Park Zoo has some family entertainment planned, some arts and crafts, and a fairly tame haunted house with trick or treating (Forget about what the fox says-- what kind of candy does he give out for Halloween?)
At the Brookfield Zoo (in the western suburbs) they are doing the Boo! at the Zoo, which includes pumpkin carving, performances by local high school bands, a Halloween themed carousel, a Haunted Hay Ride (extra charge) and you also get to watch some animals enjoy their own pumpkins.

More information about Spooky Zoo Spectacular: LINCOLN PARK ZOO
More information about Boo! At the Zoo: BROOKFIELD ZOO

Chicago Park District
The Chicago Park District has tons of Halloween events going on at many of their parks.  It looks like there are a number of haunted houses, halloween parties, costume parades, pumpkin patches, and lots of other stuff.  There's almost certainly a park within walking or travel distance to you if you live in Chicago.  So you should definitely check them out! More information at their website:

There are a number of other events going on, far too many to list, including stuff going on at Navy Pier (which includes a Zombie themed haunted house, a masquerade ball, and trick-or-treating sponsored by a candy company!) and lots of safe trick or treating events and costume parades at many various neighborhoods, including Lincoln Square, Roscoe Village and Andersonville , to name just a couple.

If you can't figure out what to do from this list, you should just stay home!