Thursday, April 23, 2015

EARWORM: Where Did You Get That Hat? by Al Simmons

 I've been a fan of Al Simmons for a long time.  I saw him first at a festival in Canada, where he did a showcase of delightful comedy/novelty songs that I would play in my car and sing along with long before I had a child.  And since I've had a child, I continue to play those songs.

Al is a Canadian performer who tours all over the US and Canada.  His show has a lot of visual comedy, audience participation, (including the hilarious "Don't Make Me Sing Along" which of course, is a singalong), and lots of crazy costumes and props.  Another of his songs that I really like is the eye exam song "I M 4 U" , in which he sings a series of letters and numbers that work out as words also)

I M 4 U
S I M, S I M
G I 1 2 B 4 U 4 F-R  (say them out loud for full effect)

Now sing them fast!  Here's the video to practice!

One of my favorite songs of his is actually not his, as it turns out.  Where Did You Get That Hat is a Tin Pan Alley song first done in 1888 in Joseph J. Sullivan, a blackface comedian and acrobat. Al sings it (and adapted some of the lyrics) and he does a great job with it.

The song lyrics are great, about a hat he inherited from his grandfather, and now everybody wants to know where he got the hat.

The chorus goes:

Where did you get that hat?
Where did you get that tile?
Isn't it a nobby one,
And just the proper style?
I should like to have one
Just the same as that!
Where e'er I go they shout:
"Hello! where did you get that hat?"

When Al performs it, he has a number of crazy prop hats that he wears.

Al also does a number of other songs, including a couple of songs that are all really bad puns- one about vegetables:  ("The Celery Stalks At Midnight")   and another about tailoring ("Sam's Men Wear")

His latest show is all about music and invention.  He talks about the science behind taking junk and turning it into instruments that make music.  The show is appropriately enough called "Sounds Crazy" and the short video clips I've seen are hilarious.

If you have an opportunity, you should see him live.  Your kids will thank you for it! (And you will probably thank yourself also!)

(and here's some of the songs mentioned above, as well as a link to the album on Amazon.)


Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Taste Test: Chocolate Chip Cookies

My son is a very picky eater, and will sometimes say he doesn't like something without tasting it.  On occasion we do blind taste tests with my son to see if he likes something better.  A few weeks ago we did it when he complained that he didn't like whole grain goldfish.  We did a blind taste test with him, and it turns out he COULD tell them apart.  My kid is not just picky- he has a palate!

Of course, I didn't document that taste test, but then I got to thinking that it would be fun to do taste testing on a little more formal basis.  (Like, for a blog post)  So when I was in the grocery store trying to decide between two kinds of chocolate chip cookies on sale, I thought the best thing I could do is buy them both.  You know, for SCIENCE.

Please note that this test is not sponsored by either of the brands.  They are just two of the brands at our local Jewel that were on sale, and relatively natural.   I'd be open to doing a branded/sponsored taste test-- but if I do, the results would have to be undoctored, genuine, and authentic.  So if you are a food manufacturer with a great product, get in touch!

Also, please note that this is not a scientific test.  The samplers were myself and my son.

The Products

A) Keebler Simply Made Chocolate Chip Cookies

These cookies are not supposed to contain a lot of chemicals or other crazy things.  They are supposedly made with things from your own pantry.  According to their website, they also include Elfin ingenuity.  I am skeptical.

Calories:  140 for 2 cookies

We paid $1.99 for a 10 oz package. (19.9 cents per oz)

 B) Matt's Real Chocolate Chip Cookies

Matt's also prides itself on not containing chemicals.  Their website touts that they are made from ingredients you can pronounce.  They are also "homemade style" and they recommend putting them in the microwave for 10 seconds or so.

Interestingly, Matt's has no dairy in it.

For parity, we ate both of the cookies out of the package.

Calories: 139 for 1 cookie.

We paid $3.00 for a 16 oz package (18.75 cents per oz)



Some observations.
  • Matt's cookies were thicker and chewier than the Keebler's.
  • Matt's cookies were much bigger, which makes sense considering that 1 cookie of Matt's is equivalent to 2 Keebler's cookies, calorie-wise.
  • There's no dairy in Matt's cookies, which makes them a Kosher Parve dessert (meaning you can eat them with milk or meat if you keep kosher.)  While we don't keep kosher, we visit people who do, and that makes this a good dessert choice (and something easy to bring) for any kosher meal.
  • The Keebler's were dry and a little crunchy, and had a coconut after-taste, which is a little weird, since there's no coconut in the ingredients.
  • Matt's were cheaper by the ounce, which would be hard to figure, since they are $1 cheaper by the package.  It pays off to do the math!
  • Matt's are made in Wheeling IL, so it's possible that they were fresher. 


Here's what our expert cookie eater had to say.  In a nutshell, he preferred Matt's.  (I did as well)

Now we just have to figure out what to do with the uneaten Keebler's.   (Oh, the humanity!)


Tuesday, April 21, 2015

SHOW: Emerald City Theater's Elephant and Piggie's We Are In A Play

Thanks to the generosity of the Emerald City Theatre, I am going to be leading 5 dads and their kids to a complimentary performance of a kid's musical this weekend.  It's part of my work as the Cultural Coordinator for the Chicago Dad's Group.

The show, produced by the Emerald City Theatre, is  Elephant & Piggie's We Are In A Play!

The show is based on the fantastic books of Mo Willems (and if you don't know these books and you have a toddler, do yourself a favor and buy them on Amazon or get them out of the library immediately).

There are two characters, Elephant & Piggie.  They are best friends, but they couldn't be more different.  Each book focuses on a specific problem that they have together, and the creative ways they solve it.  The musical puts together a few of the books to make a more cohesive story. The books are short on words, and long on pictures, which will make hearing the musical even more interesting.

The show also has vaudevillian/clown elements, as the careful pachyderm and the playful swine could be construed as classic clown types. And they will be supported by back up singers The Squirelles.

The show is  being billed as a silly songfest of friendship and fun, and is suitable for kids age 3 and over.

The show will be held at the Apollo Theatre, 2540 N. Lincoln Ave, Chicago, about 2.5 blocks from the Fullerton stop on the El.  There's also valet parking and street parking usually available.

Website for more info or to purchase tickets:

Schedule: The show will run through June 20, and has a number of matinees throughout the week.

Cost: Tickets start at $15 each.  Because they are sold online at Ticketmaster, you can avoid the online fees and get the best price by calling the Apollo Theatre Box Office directly. 773.935.6100.

Promo Video: 

Monday, April 20, 2015

Chicago Parent Playdate April 26 10-4am in Northbrook

On Sunday April 26, Chicago Parent's magazine is hosting their inaugural Playdate event in Northbrook.

The event is being billed as a giant playdate, and will features tons of activities and entertainment, including bounce houses, train rides, obstacle courses, sporting competitions, character appearances, and lots lots more.  Entertainment will include theatre, opera, improv, and sing along music from some of Chicagoland's finest kid's entertainers and companies.

It's a great way to have a playdate with a bunch of your kid's friends, but not have to clean up afterwards!

A portion of ticket proceeds will benefit Bernie’s Book Bank of Lake Forest. Families are encouraged to bring unwanted/under used books, which Bernie's will donate to those who need them. Families who donate five used books for Bernie’s Book Bank will receive a Chicago Parent backpack.

Refreshments will also be available for purchase.

Parents and children under 2 are admitted free to the event, with a maximum admission price of $15 per family.

The Chicago Parent Playdate

WHEN:  10 a.m.-4 p.m. April 26
WHERE: The Accelerated Center, 1900 Old Willow Road, Northbrook
COST: Admission: $5 kids 2-14; free under 2 and adults. Maximum fee $15 per family. Tickets $8 at the door.
REGISTER: to buy tickets and complete the waiver form

Friday, April 17, 2015

The Week of Eating Dangerously Part 2

In our last episode, we were slowly eating our way through all of Chicago with our house guests the McGills.  Here we continue.


Just one portion of the Museum of Science & Industry
We spent most of the day at the Museum of Science and Industry.  It is one of our favorite museums in the city.  It's a Kid's science museum, with lots of historical stuff to boot, but it's really about applied science, so everything there is about how science is used to make stuff, do stuff, or create stuff.  They've done a wonderful job on all of the exhibits.  They have machinery from a real live Coal Mine, then and show how coal mines work.  They have airplanes that you can walk into and a train you can walk into and a German sub you can walk into--it's pretty awesome how participatory the whole place is. They have a tornado machine that creates a tornado that... (you guessed it) you can walk into.

The Baby Chicks
You can't see the whole museum in one day no matter how hard you try. (And believe me we've tried.)  Some exhibits not to miss include the above mentioned tornado, the coal mine (you have to pay extra and book your trip, but it's worth it) The circus exhibit is a lot of fun also, with model circuses and a couple of dioramas and goofy trick mirrors.  We also love the baby chicks, where you can sit and watch baby chicks hatch in an incubator.  It's fascinating.

Also, the Museum has one of the best food courts of just about any museum anywhere.  There's a ton of food choices, from a salad bar to a grill station, to a pasta bar, and you can get almost anything there.  They also have a lot of capacity for people.  The trick is to get there early.  Eat lunch at 11:30, so that when most people are eating lunch, you are seeing exhibits.  And that's what we did.

The Jolly Ball flipper machine
While you are in the lunchroom, make sure to check out the Swiss Jolly Ball.  It's the world's largest flipper machine (variation on a pinball machine) as certified by Guinness World Records.  It is an advertisement for vacation in Switzerland, and in it's 5 minute or so journey the pinball takes in a number of Swiss vacation sites in a Rube Goldberg-esque machine that is fascinating to watch.

Here's a pretty good video of the Jolly Ball in action.

At the end of the day we had a little snack of ice cream before leaving the museum.  They have an old-fashioned ice cream parlor (Finegan's) in the museum.  Everything is old fashioned except for their price.  And the long wait to get ice cream.  Unlike our lunch we did not time it well, but after the miles of walking in the museum and being stimulated, we needed a little downtime, so it worked out well.

Some of the awesome food at Indie Cafe.
Click picture to see it larger.
After the museum we came home for a little rest and relaxation.  We hadn't made dinner plans for the evening, so we went local and walked over to Indie Cafe, our local sushi place.  They serve both Japanese and Thai food, with a lot of very creative rolls.  It worked out well, because the nine of us that went all had different desires, and the combinations of foods there pretty much worked out for everyone.  The kids loved the Chicken Katsu, my wife loved her vegetarian sushi, and the McGills loved a whole lot of Thai food, including a simple Pad Thai and a beef curry dish.  I had a sashimi salad which was awesome, and then a couple of rolls (also great). The kids were very tired, and so went to bed right away.  It had been a long day.

In the morning the kids played video games, (Disney Infinity is ultra high on their list now)  and then around 11 am we rolled out and drove down to the Lincoln Park Zoo.  It's a great zoo, and it's free to enter, but it costs money to park.  We ended up getting a free parking spot on Stockton in front of the zoo, and very close to our lunchtime dining destination RJ Grunts.  Grunts is the original Lettuce Entertain You restaurant, and is the base stone on which the Lettuce empire is based.  They serve hearty hamburgers and American fare, and have a great salad bar.  They are also well known for their milkshakes, but strangely no one ordered one.  Grunts opens at 11:30 am and we got there right when they opened, which was great because by noon the place was packed out.

After lunch we moseyed on over to the zoo and had a delightful day looking at all of the animals.  We got to see them feed and train the gorillas, saw all kinds of exotic animals we'd never heard of before, and marveled at the sleepy lions.  (Even sleeping lions are pretty cool cats.)  We didn't see all of the zoo but had a great time walking around for a couple of hours.  We missed the giraffes, even though

After the zoo, we walked back to the car and got a chance to play on the playground.  There the kids played around and ran off whatever energy they had.  I practiced some slow motion video.  Then we went home and had a little downtime before our big blow out dinner.


The McGills know a lot of people in Chicago, so to celebrate them all, and kind of make a meeting of the minds, we had a 21 person dinner at Francesca's.  It's a local Italian restaurant and serves lots of delicious Italian food.  I had a linguine with seafood (kind of a frutti di mare, but they didn't call it that) that was really wonderful.  I didn't taste anybody else's food, but everybody raved about their dishes.  They have 3 or 4 throughout the city, and although we hadn't been to our local one, we had been to the one in Lake View.  We will definitely be back!

And that's it.  The next day, the McGills hung out with some local cousins before heading to the airport and back to NYC.  It was so much fun to get the kids together and pick up where we had left off, especially in our culinary extravaganza's.  We've already got plans to see them this summer, and I'm sure the food (and the company) will be wonderful.


Thursday, April 16, 2015

EARWORM: Keith Munslow Tiny Destroyer

I need to warn you in advance that I am prejudiced towards Keith Munslow.  I have been listening to him play for nearly 25 years, in a ton of different musical incarnations, and I've loved all of it.  So if you are looking for an unbiased review, you should look elsewhere.  My opinion of his work is biased by experience and knowledge.

I first met Keith in 1989.  I was stage managing a vaudeville festival in Maine, and Big Nazo Puppets was playing the festival, and the closing night party was a fundraiser being held in a giant mansion.  Keith was playing piano for the puppets, and we all ended up at 3 am playing ping pong and eating pizza in the attic of this huge house.

A couple of year's later, I was performing with Big Nazo, and spending time with Keith in rehearsal, in performance, and then at very late night diners, eating breakfast at 3 am and trading stories about gigs.  Keith also taught me what a jazz monster Fred Rogers was.

I have also enjoyed Keith's work as a composer for the Perishable Theatre's original musicals that toured around the state; his work with the Neo 90's Dance Band, the house band for AS-220; his barrel-house blues bands The Smoking Jackets (and later the Superchief Trio);  and a variety of other gigs, bands, and other musical configurations and conflagrations.   And Keith is also an excellent visual artist.

When I was the director of Bright Night Providence, I hired Keith nearly every year to perform, both his kid's performances, and his blues band.  He's that good.

So without even listening to his new cd  Tiny Destroyer, I can tell you with confidence that it's really good and you should get it.

After listening to it, I think you should run out and get it right away.  I will wait.

Keith's work over the years has matured, and his abilities to blend the comic and the sweet have deepened with time.  I think it's a combination of practice and good mentoring (Keith has played and worked with Bill Harley for a number of years, and you can hear Bill's influence in Keith's storytelling.)

Luc and Keith (photo from Providence Journal article)
I also think that Keith's work has benefited from the arrival of his own Tiny Destroyer, 2-year-old Luc (or Prince Luc if you are so inclined)  Keith's work has always been funny and original, but I think Luc has changed his understanding of kids (and parents) in a way that makes most of his funny songs hit home a little harder, and his more soulful songs have a little something something.

My favorite song on the album is probably "Dad Is Takin' A Nap"  (click to hear a sample) which lays down a funk groove while warning kids not to wake the big man, and that perhaps they should consider practicing their mime routines.  It's got Munslow's blues feeling, with some funk and rap thrown in for good measure, and it's a song that will leave you humming it for months.  I also really like "Coffee Breath" which exposes a major flaw in java-juicing adults.  And also "Intelligent Clam" which tells the story of a marvelous mollusk.  And the title song "Tiny Destroyer" an anthem to the destructive power of toddlers.

Basically I like all the songs, and I think you will too. (But I'm biased by experience.)

Here's where you can get the CD on Amazon.

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Poetry For Kids: Resources & Celebrations

I learned just recently that on Saturday April 18, the Poetry Foundation  in Chicago is going to have a free event in honor of National Poetry Month, celebrating poetry for and by kids. (details below)

I am a big fan of both poetry and children, and while I don't think I can make it to this event, I hope that some of my readers can attend, and if you can't attend, that you take a moment to celebrate poetry with your own child.

To that end, I've pointed out some excellent web resources for children's poetry (reading and writing) below.

Also here's one of my favorite poems ever: Eating Poetry by Mark Strand.

Mark passed away last year, but this poem of his lives on, and is a great reminder of the joy of reading (and eating) poetry.  It was one of the first poems I remember reading and completely loving.  It makes several leaps of metaphor that just make perfect sense to me. I have been hungry for poetry ever since.

If you've got other resources to add, please tell me in the comments below and I'll add them to the list.

Children's Poetry Day: A Poetry Menagerie

Children's Poetry Day:<em> A Poetry Menagerie </em> : Foundation Events
Illustration by Diana Sudyka
Saturday, Apr 18, 10:00AM–1:00PM
Poetry Foundation
61 West Superior Street Chicago IL
Free Admission

Celebrate National Poetry Month with a delightful open house just for kids at the Poetry Foundation Library. This special weekend event will feature performances by Adventure Sandwich and Jasmine Barber, Animal Shadow Puppets led by Youth and Family Programs at the Art Institute of Chicago, and poetry writing activities for children up to 13 years old.