Monday, May 8, 2017

The Camp-In at the Museum of Science and Industry

This past weekend we slept under a Tesla Coil, and next to some Van der Graaf generators.  They weren't on, and although I haven't run my family through a Geiger counter recently, I'm pretty sure that there were no radiation burns.

We spent the night at one of the best museums in the country, the Museum of Science and Industry.  This was our first time doing so, and I don't think it will be our last.

But first, a little backstory.  This is one of our favorite museums and had been even before we moved to Chicago.  Once a year, we'd been making pilgrimages from New York to Chicago to the MSI, to see the humongous train set of Chicago, the giant doll house, walk inside the coal mine, and take the tour of the giant submarine.

The inscription reads "Science discerns the Laws of Nature."
Even at some of the admittedly great museums we've been to, including the Queens Science Center, the Philadelphia Children's Museum, the Franklin Institute, etc., MSI Chicago is the standard by which all others are judged.  We've been members for that long as well, although we've had some lapses (it turns out that if you plan on visiting the museum more than twice in a year, and you drive there, you will do better to be a member than not.  I did the math.)

The Storm Gallery.  this is the room we slept in.

Once a year, the Museum stages a camp-in where 600 lucky people get the opportunity to spend the evening at the exhibits.  It's a privilege reserved for members, they do it once a year, and we'd never done it before, so my wife marked the calendar, and made it happen.  Members get to select sleeping spots next to many of their favorite exhibits, there are smores, and more importantly, the museum is open until 11 pm, so you get to do all of the exhibits you want, relatively uncrowded, and at your leisure.  (It turns out that a lot of the Chicago museums do something similar.  That same night, the Planetarium was having an event as well, and I know the Aquarium, the Zoo, the Field Museum, and the Chicago Cultural Center all have similar programs)

(And it turns out that the Museum has a similar event coming up called the Snoozeum.    I don't think you have to be a member for this one, and it seems like it is much more crowded.  Next one is December 15.   Find out more here.)

The Tesla Coil
After we made plans for the camp-in, my son's class planned a field trip to the museum for the day before.  We were already planning on surprising him, so we kept it up.  He would never suspect.  When I brought him and his 4 classmates around, we couldn't see everything he wanted to see.  "Next time we go, " I kept telling him.  He didn't realize the next time would be the next day.  Later that day, reviewing the field trip, I jokingly told him that the museum was so big that we could sleep there and still not see everything!  He laughed, not knowing that less than 24 hours later he'd be doing just that!

My wife and I taking a rare moment enjoying museum together.
We checked in around 6 pm, brought our stuff over to a potential sleeping area, and started exploring the museum.  In addition to my son, we brought his older cousin B.  Dinner was in the surprisingly good cafeteria, where we saw our favorite Rube Goldbergesque Swiss Jollyball machine.

 Many of the exhibits you still needed to have timed tickets for, although they were all included in the price of admission.  In the one night that we were there, we saw The Mirror Maze, the U-505 submarine, the chicks, the bike exhibit, the extreme ice exhibit, the circus exhibit, the body exhibit, the kid's imagination center, and ended our evening with a late night tour of the Coal Mine.   And of course Jolly ball. We didn't go over to the space center, see the trains, the smart house, the fairy house, or see the brick by brick lego exhibit. (we saw that the day before)  The Robot exhibit had not yet opened, sadly.

This is not my video, but a pretty good look at the jollyball apparatus.  We watch this every time we go to the museum!

What was great about all of these is that because the museum was so uncrowded we could still see all of those things and take our time about it.  We normally only see about half of that in a museum exhibit.

Some things to know if you go next year.

  1. You have to be a member to attend.
  2. They don't shut off lots of light for safety reasons.  Many people brought tents so that they wouldn't be sleeping in the light.  We had picked one place, but the boys thought it was too light, so we moved to a place that was equally light.  Next time, don't trust the boys!
  3. Many people (clearly veterans) brought blow-up beds.  We slept on the ground in sleeping bags, which was not nearly as comfortable as we would have hoped.  Next time, a blow-up bed.
  4. We brought everything in to the museum using a wagon.  The museum is almost entirely handicapped accessible, so that wasn't too much of a problem.  I definitely recommend it, as the museum is large, and your stuff is probably heavy.

Overall, it was a great experience, and we would do it again!

Friday, May 5, 2017

Plumbing the Depths of My Confidence With DIYZ

 Sometimes, it’s not what you know about home improvement, it’s what you don’t know that is important.

Disclosure: I am a compensated DIYZ-sponsored blogger. Opinions are 100% my own.

Check out the hashtag #DIYGuys to find other cool posts about the app.

If you’d like to check out DIYZ, The DIYZ App is free to download and is available in the Apple App Store for iPhone and Google Play for Android. For a limited time, the video chat feature is FREE!

My son and I are a little afraid of the evil toilet fill valve.
PLEASE NOTE: I am not a plumber, nor do I play one on TV.  I don’t have any real plumbing skills or experience to speak of.

My experience with plumbing usually entails checking out the issue, despairing a little, freaking out a lot, and finally calling a plumber who then comes over, charges a whole lot of money to do nearly nothing, while the whole time I watch like a hawk, trying to figure out what he’s doing so I won’t have to call him next time.

One time, a guy came and literally just flicked the switch to fix a problem.  It cost me $150 to have him do that.  As he explained as I wrote the check- “It’s not what I did that you are paying for- it’s the knowledge to do what I did.”  Needless to say, I never called that guy again.

Over the years I have gained a little bit of knowledge.  But it’s not just knowledge that you need.  It’s the confidence to use that knowledge.  And that’s not something I have a lot of.

 I’ve recently discovered  the DIYZ app, which is a mobile app that helps Do It Yourselfers with a lack of confidence or knowledge to complete projects around the house.   DIYZ stands for "Do It Yourself.  Do It Wise."

Here's what I like about the DIYZ app:
  • They have a vast list of over 50 home improvement projects that can be accomplished.
  • They have easy to understand step-by-step videos that display clearly how to complete each project.
  • They have TRAINED PROFESSIONALS on call who are ready to video chat with you to help solve any problems that might arise. If video chat isn't your thing, you can send them photos they can annotate, or just talk over the phone.
  • They have a project materials/tools list that you can purchase directly on Amazon or you can take the list straight to your local hardware store, 

It’s perfect for guys like me with a dangerous amount of knowledge (read: just a little) and a lack of confidence.

(As mentioned above, this is a sponsored post, and I’m being compensated for writing it, but my opinions and experiences are my own)

Currently, their video specialists are free to chat with!  (I imagine that will change over time.  After all, there is no such thing as a free lunch.  Or a free plumbing consult!)

The Project I chose to do.
Our downstairs toilet has had problems for a while.  I’ve thought of just having the whole toilet replaced, but financially that doesn’t make sense.  It still works, it just doesn’t work great.  One of the biggest problems has always been that once you flush, the water doesn’t get into it fast enough.  As I mentioned above, I am not a plumber, but it seemed to me that the water valve was to blame.  Occasionally I’d get no water through it, and if I opened the tank and massaged the water valve a little, a tiny stream would come out.  When I was looking for a good DIYZ project to try out the service, this is one of the projects on the DIYZ list! SCORE!

I went to the local hardware store and showed them the picture of what I was trying to replace.  They informed me it was a toilet fill valve.  I purchased it (they only had one generic one, but apparently the fixtures are all the same.)

My 8-year-old son was with me helping me out.  He videotaped and took some photographs, and of course, dressed up like a Pikacsuper hero with a sword and bow and arrow. Because, WHY NOT?

I took home my purchases and opened up the packaging.  I looked at the directions which were amazingly complicated, and started to despair. But then I remembered DIYZ!  I watched their  4-step video on ADJUSTING OR REPLACING A TOILET FILL VALVE.  It looked pretty easy…

An unscheduled stop to ... review the intructions.
And it was! I completed the project on my own, with the help of my assistant!

From reviewing the diagrams and the videos and the old valve (with an unscheduled stop to … ummm... use the facilities)  I was able to figure it out.  And when I turned the water back on and flushed the toilet, I was amazed to discover that it all worked properly! I felt like a plumbing hero!

I’m sure that an actual plumber would have been able to fix this in nothing flat without the anxiety or fear, but it would have cost a lot more.  And now I have more confidence to go on and do the next project! (And as my wife never fails to remind me, there are plenty of projects available to do in my house if I would only set my mind to them!)

The plumbing hero battles against the evil Toilet Valve!
And conquers it!  All is right in the world!
This was an easy project to do and I would definitely use the DIYZ app again.  The how-to video was very clear, but what I like most about it is the possibility of on-call help when you need it.  (And the fact that it turned out I didn’t need it was even cooler!)  

I am now looking for other projects around the house that might be on the DIYZ list. (Looking around, I see that INSTALL A DOOR SWEEP is also on the list, and that's something that is on my list as well!) As I mentioned there are over 50 projects, including building a breakfast tray, replacing a light fixture, installing a USB outlet, and much more.

If you’d like to check out DIYZ,  it is free to download and is available in the Apple App Store for iPhone and Google Play for Android. For a limited time, the video chat feature is FREE! (Please note: Video hours are limited currently.  Check the app for details)

Here's a video of my son helping me.  He says in the video that it is his first time using a sponge.  I don't know if that's really true, he's at the very beginning of his plumbing career from this project I know he's building confidence to do his own plumbing projects in the future!


Thursday, May 4, 2017

Cirque du Soleil Luzia in Chicago: 20% off for Mother's Day

I've mentioned in a previous post that Cirque du Soleil's ode to Mexico Luzia will be coming to Chicago this summer.  At the time, there was too much going on in Chicago, Circus wise to talk about it, and I wanted to give Luzia the right amount of space.  The right time is now, because Luzia is offering 20% off tickets for a limited time only.  And I'm also doing a special giveaway with Cirque du Soleil!

Read below to find out more:


In partnership with Cirque du Soleil, I'm hosting a rafflecopter
giveaway, in which you have the chance to win a pair of tickets to the show.  It's a perfect gift for Mother's Day!  (or just a great date night!)

a Rafflecopter giveaway

There are a number of ways to increase your chance for the raffle.   But if you don't win the raffle, don't worry, Cirque du Soleil has you covered with a special Mother's Day 20% discount off of tickets.  to find out more, visit their local deals page:

Both the discount and the raffle expire on May 14, so act quickly!


Luzia is Cirque du Soleil's show about Mexico-- and it is one of 18 shows that Cirque du Soleil currently has performing around the world (with more coming all the time)

Freely inspired by the rich traditions and culture of Mexico, LUZIA is a poetic and acrobatic ode to the rich, vibrant culture of the country to our South, and has many more aspects, ideas, and a deepness of thought and spirit that are not usually reflected in contemporary portrayals of Mexico.

Instead of representing Mexico in a realistic fashion, the creative team of LUZIA decided to create an evocation of the country. They imagined a dream woven from memories, experiences and encounters, laden with inspirations deeply rooted in Mexican identity.  The dream appears through a series of fragments- slivers of the country, rather than explanations.  “A fragment is like a pebble you slip in your pocket, keep close to your heart and safeguard like a cherished memory”, explains show director Daniel Finzi Pasca. These small details are the building blocks of the colorful mosaic that is LUZIA.

The name LUZIA fuses the sound of “luz” (light in Spanish) and “lluvia” (rain), two elements at the core of the show’s creation.

Rain is an inspiration for the show.  This is the first time that water has been used by Cirque in a Big Top Show.  It presented a number of challenges and possibilities.  The video and photos that I have seen look awesome.  The show's director, Daniel Finzi Pasca, used the idea of rain in a show previously for Cirque Eloize, which I saw at the New Victory Theatre a long while back.  the show was awesome then, and I'm sure he's got a few more tricks up his sleeves.

Expect as well a routine about soccer, mind-blowing contortion and gymnastics, amazing lights, costumes, sets, and sound, and of course a clown or three.  And there's at least one clown scuba-diving act, which looks like a lot of fun.


Just buy your tickets from this page:

Here's a promo video of the show:

Tuesday, May 2, 2017

Jimmy John's $1 Subs Today only 4-8 pm

Just as they did last year, Jimmy John's sandwich shops around the country will offer $1 subs as part of their Customer Appreciation day.   The smells will still remain free.

Here's the deal:

Jimmy John's locations across the country will sell you a sub for just $1 on Tuesday, May 2, from 4pm to 8pm. Like last year, the discount applies to the #1-#6 sandwiches on the chain's menu along with the J.J.B.L.T. and Plain Slims.

The price doesn't include sales tax, does not count towards delivery (although that would be AWESOME!) and you might have to pay a little extra if you want your sandwich on wheat bread or anything fancy.

If you are not sure where your local Jimmy Johns is, just look for the place with the line around the block:  failing that, the company has a location search tool that you can check before showing up at a random place and demanding a cheap sandwich. I looked up Chicago, and it looks like a lot of the stores are participating.

I already know the #1 question, (IT WAS MINE) which Jimmy John's delightfully answered on their FAQ page.
  "Can I go through the line more than once for a $1 sub?"

The answer is:
"Yes! You may go through the line multiple times, at the store’s discretion."

So the question you have to ask yourself is:  How many hours are you willing to wait in line to save $5?


Sunday, April 30, 2017

Running a School Like Walt Disney World!

I got alerted via google to a new post recently on EDSURGE, which details information about a principal from a Virginia elementary school
(Lynn Col√≥n of MARY WILLIAMS ELEMENTARY) who is using the principles of Walt Disney World to run her school.  

While education and entertainment don't normally mix in a school setting, they are doing their part to make their school a Happier place.

 Maybe not the Happiest Place on Earth (that sobriquet is already taken)

As detailed in the article, those principles include

• CUSTOMER FOCUS:  Making sure that all of the programs (and all of the employees/teachers) are serving the kids.   
• APPROPRIATE TECHNOLOGY: Using technology as a tool to make education fun. They also use technology to communicate more effectively with students, parents, and teachers. 
• SECOND CHANCES:  They don't expel kids or exclude them from activities. They host extra activities like lunches, book clubs, and feedback sessions to allow the kids to have a say in what's working and what isn't. 
• STAKE HOLDER FEEDBACK:  During teacher training, teachers lead what needs to be taught to them. Parents are given transparent data about how students are doing, and give feedback on how the school is run. 

Most of these sound like good ideas, but it would be easy to pay them lip service without actually doing them. 

 But apparently, doing them makes a big difference. The principal was
was recently recognized as a National School Board Association's "20 to Watch."  And the school has won a "School of Excellence Award" from their county.

What do you think?  Would your school benefit from adding these ideas into the mix?

Wednesday, April 26, 2017

REVIEW: Aladdin in Chicago!

We saw Aladdin last week as part of my son's perfect day.   Since then, I realized I haven't reviewed it!

To make a long story short:  It's awesome and you should definitely see it!

And here's the rest of the story.

Aladdin the musical has a pretty hard job-- it has to take a beloved animated musical, full of all kinds of crazy special effects, cartoon animals, pitch perfect and very distinctive songs (Hello, Robin Williams as the Genie!), and a pretty strong love story, and turn it into a live in front of you Broadway Musical.

 It does it, and more. I think it does a great job of transforming the movie into a Broadway show, and a Broadway show that is appealing to lots of different people.

Here's a clip to give you an idea of the all out Broadway glitziness of the show. (This clip is from the musical's website, and contains some of the New York actors)

In Chicago, the lead actor Aladdin is played by Adam Jacobs, the same person who opened the show on Broadway.  He is fabulous, as are all of the actors in the Chicago production.

I'd be remiss not to mention four of the actors by name:

Jonathan Weir as Jafar. The perfect villain!
• Isabella McCalla, who does an amazing job as Princess Jasmine, managing to be sexy, childlike, brash, and spunky all at the same time.  We can see why Aladdin falls in love with her.
•Jonathan Weir as Jafar, who has a thundering voice, and can turn on a dime to be overly obsequious and imperious.
•Reggie DeLeon as Iago, who absolutely kills it as Iago, the bloodthirsty henchman.  He is hilarious, and didn't quite steal every scene he was in, but made me want to see a whole play just about Iago.
•Anthony Murphy as the Genie, who also kills every scene he was in.  He had particularly big shoes to fill, both substituting for Robin Williams (the movie Genie) and James Monroe Iglehart, who won the Tony for his original portrayal of the Genie and is now moving to Hamilton to become Lafayette/Jefferson.  Murphy does stuff his own way, and it works!  He's funny, real, and makes the part his own.

Here's a video clip of the end of the knockout song Friend Like Me.  After this number there was a standing ovation for about a minute before people sat down.  In fact, that might be my one quibble, after this song, they should have just had the intermission, but instead there's a a finale song that does nothing but simmer down the audience.

I mentioned earlier that they made some adaptations to make it better and more suitable for Broadway

In the movie, Aladdin has a pet monkey Abu, and Jafar has his pet parrot Iago.   Rather than mess around with animatronics, or try to match the movie note for note, the musical wisely casts Iago the parrot as a person and the monkey as three people, Aladdin's best friends.

As I mentioned above, Iago is fantastic, and the three friends and Aladdin get a buddy song "Babkak, Omar, Aladdin, Kassim" (to introduce themselves to us (and it's where Jasmine and Aladdin meet for the first time)  During the song they sing about their unbreakable friendship, as well as repeating their names a bunch of times for people who might be saying "But they are not in the movie!" . (As Princess Jasmine later notes in the show, "I know your name, you sang it like 50 times!")

Aladdin and Jasmine together for the first time.
From the musical/ story perspective, this works out better than the monkey, both because there's a lot of opportunity for comedy and jokes (I especially liked Babkak, who made a number of funny puns about food during the show) and because it sets up Aladdin not as a weird creepy thief/loner, but as someone with a community who is loved.  I think one of the essential problems for Aladdin is always, "He's a criminal, but he's the hero."
By giving him a community to fit into, that makes it easier for us to accept his criminality.  It also gives  a bigger storyline when Aladdin becomes a Prince, and seems to forget his friends. More is at risk.

There are some special effects including a flying carpet that is nice, but no great shakes.  It does give the actors the opportunity to sing their love song "A Whole New World" up in the air, and that was pretty spectacular.

All in all, you should definitely see this show. The show has been extended at least until September 10.  This is the first leg of the national tour, so you should see it before it must move.

Tickets for Aladdin at the Cadillac Palace Theatre range from $44 – $153. In Chicago, tickets are available at all Broadway In Chicago Box Offices (24 W. Randolph St., 151 W. Randolph St., 18 W. Monroe St. and 175 E. Chestnut), the Broadway In Chicago Ticket Line at (800) 775-2000, all Ticketmaster retail locations and online at

 A select number of Premium Ticket Packages, which include a prime seat location, a commemorative souvenir program and an exclusive merchandise item, are also available for many performances.

For a complete performance schedule for Aladdin, please visit

Ticket buyers are reminded that Broadway In Chicago theatres and are the only official retail ticket outlets for all performances at the Cadillac Palace Theatre.

Ticket buyers who purchase tickets from a ticket broker or any third party should be aware that Broadway In Chicago is unable to reprint or replace lost or stolen tickets and is unable to contact patrons with information regarding time changes or other pertinent updates regarding the performance.

Thursday, April 20, 2017

My Son's Pretty Perfect Day

Every once in a while, you get a perfect day.  Everything seems to go your way, and you get to fit a little bit of all of your favorites in.

You can't quite plan it like that.  It just happens.

Yesterday, there was no school because of Report Card Pickup, so we planned accordingly.  Everything fell into place, and  here's the rundown of my son's perfect day.

Helping me with my Blog Project (more to come soon!)
  • Got to sleep in until around 7 (he's normally up at 6 am, as school starts at 7:30 am)
  • Then he got to play video games until about 8:30
  • I made him his favorite breakfast (pancakes and a cereal bar and strawberries)
  • After that, he helped me with a blog project/household project.  He got to use my video camera to help me document stuff for my blog.  He also got to pretend to be a superhero, and fight off the evil Toilet Fill Valve of Doom.
  • We got dressed and went to Report card pickup, where he got straight A's.
    Straight A's for the bear!
  • After that we went to the Post Office to get his passport taken care of so that we can go on a wild European adventure this summer.
  • We then went to his friend's house in preparation to going to our first Cubs game of the year.
  • It was a little cold, so his friend gave him a jacket that was too small, and is now his to keep!
  • At the game, he got to eat his favorite meal (chicken nuggets)
  • At the game, we hung out with his friend for a while, and then also saw his cousin, and her boyfriend, who had great seats behind the dugout.  The boyfriend is kind of a kid rockstar. While we were visiting them there, an opposing player gave my son a game ball!
  • It was getting too cold, and the Cubs were losing 4-2, so we left the game in the sixth inning and got a donut on the way back to his friend's house.
    At the Cubs-Brewers game with his friend.
  • At his friend's house, the friend realized that they'd bought some extra Skylander games at a flea market that they already had and he generously gave them to my son.
  • We left the friend's house to purportedly get a special treat for having straight A's.  What my son didn't know is that we had tickets for the opening night of Aladdin.  The Cubs were still losing.   
We arrived at Aladdin.  He had no idea!
  • We had dinner at Roti, and my son got to eat his favorite Pita.

  • Our seats were in the dress circle, so were EXCELLENT!
  • The show was phenomenal (Look for a review coming soon!)
  • At the intermission, he got M and Ms.
  • At the end of the show, we took the subway home, where a very nice lady let him watch the end of the Dodgers/Rockies game on her phone. (I allowed it)
  • While we were on the El home, we discovered that the Cubs scored 4 in the ninth inning to come back and win the game!
  • When we got home, his mom was waiting for him to give him a big hug and kiss and ask about the show.
We planned some of this, but not all.  Some of it just happened.  It wasn't until it was almost over that I realized that he had a nearly perfect day, and got to do just about everything he loves to do in one day.  I mentioned it to him and he agreed.

What's in your perfect day?