Wednesday, October 7, 2015

The Well-Rounded Bear

Raising a well-rounded bear is a balancing act!

At school he's learning Chinese, digital music, and coding.  After school he's got gymnastics, piano, basketball, and skating starts up in a couple of weeks.  Not sure when, but we'll also get back into swim class, I'm pretty sure, and the bear is talking about his desire to take parkour class.

Despite all of this, it's important to bring the bear to a variety of cultural and social events.

Here's just a few of our extracurricular extravaganzas over the past few weeks.  (and I'm sure we've missed a few too!)

Nerf gun party-- A friend of his had a birthday party at POWkids! where he and his friends got to learn to be Nerf gun warriors.  It wouldn't have been my choice for a party, but the kids (predictably) loved it.  And the place that hosted it, the guys were amazing.  They also do a superhero party and a ninja party that look awesome!  POW KIDS CHICAGO

Movie Night- We went to his school on a Friday night to see the live action movie Cinderella with a couple of his pals.  It's a good live action movie, with well-drawn characters, no caricatures, and it moves along.  And they had dollar popcorn!   At the end I realized why I liked it so much-- it was directed by Kenneth Branagh.  That guy knows how to tell a classical story. BUY IT ON AMAZON.

Midnight Circus - we had a belated birthday party with my pals over at the Midnight Circus.  We brought 40+ people to the show, which featured cupcakes and juice with the cast at intermission.
The show is a family show (the main people in it are a family of 4) along with a bunch of other amazing performers.  I've seen a lot of circus, and just about all of this was amazing.  They have a few more shows coming up this fall in the parks, and they are definitely worth seeing.

Here's a video of one small part of the show, in which 10 year old Max Jenkins does a Rolla Bolla act while his dad Jeff looks on.  I didn't take the video.
A video posted by Midnight Circus (@mncircus) on
Find out more about the Midnight Circus 

Northwestern Football.  We took in  a classic battle between Wildcats and the Minnesota Gophers.  Suffice to say the Wildcats won 27-0.  We took the train there, And the bear sat next to the tubas, and loved it!

NU Sports

The Lyric Opera- The day after the football game we went to the Lyric Opera to see the bear's first full length opera in a different language.  It was a good choice- Cinderella.  He already knew the story (although they change the classic story a fair amount for the opera- her name is Angelina!)  The bear enjoyed it, didn't fall asleep, unlike his dad, who took a couple of catnaps during the production.  (But saw the best parts, including the rat costumes, and Dandini, the valet who pretends to be the prince, to great comic effect.)  Overall the show was great, and the perfect opera for a kid like my son to cut his teeth on.  Lyric Opera 

The Edgewater Arts Fest.  We walked around our neighborhood and saw a great variety of artists, a very wacky puppet show put on by Bob Anderson, masks made by Jeff Semmerling, (the bear really wanted the duck mask, but I had to demur) It won't happen again until next year, but in the meantime, put it in on your radar!  Edgewater Arts In Motion.

Friday, October 2, 2015

The Lyric's Cinderella- Family Friendly Opera Fun!

Isabel Leonard in the title role
photo by Scott Suchman
Washington National Opera
After last year's introduction to opera, we've been looking for an opportunity to bring our son to a show that's full length and family/kid friendly.

We (and you) have the perfect opportunity this October, as the Lyric is presenting a very family friendly production of Rossini's Cinderella.  It's a story that he already knows (we just finished watching the newly released live action movie at a school movie night), and this particular opera seems designed for people who have never been to the opera before- projected titles in English, lots of colorful costumes, dancers in mouse costumes, and lots of other stuff.

The show is directed by the co-founder of a Barcelona Street theatre company, Els Comediants, and is full of colorful costumes, lots of comedy and zany activity, and Grammy Award-winning mezzo-soprano Isabel Leonard in the title role. (Although in the opera, her name is Angelina, and not Cinderella!)

Here's Leonard doing a funny gig on Sesame Street:(The People In Your Neighborhood.)

The production is new to Chicago, but it has been presented successfully in a number of places, including at the Kennedy Center, at the Welsh National Opera, and in Houston.

Here are some photos of a previous production at the Washington National Opera.  The sets and costumes will be VERY similar!)

"Cinderella," images by Scott Suchman (Washington National Opera).

Cinderella opens on Sunday, October 4 with 8 performances through Friday, October 30. Performance dates are Oct. 7, 10, 13, 17, 23, 26 at 7:30pm; and Oct 4 and 30 at 2pm. 

For tickets and information call (312) 827-5600 or go to

(And by the way, the Lyric is also sponsoring Operathon on Saturday October 3, an almost full day of opera on the radio at WFMT, supported in part by opera loving power forward Pau Gasol.  You'll hear interviews with some of the opera stars of the Lyric, including cast members of Cinderella, get great deals on tickets and merchandise, and in general, support the Lyric's operations.)

To find out more, visit this link online.

Thursday, October 1, 2015

Mermaid Theatre delayed, but Ralph Covert is Pinch Hitting!

The Chicago Children's Theatre is sending in a very capable pinch hitter!

Mermaid Theatre of Nova Scotia's production of Goodnight Moon and The Runaway Bunny was supposed to open this week, but there were some unexpected delays in getting the artist's visas.  As a result, Mermaid's production won't be seen this week (they are still trying to work it out for next week.)  (Artist visa problems also plagued the Chicago Contemporary Circus Festival, who couldn't get their top-billed act the Gandini's in from England.)

Instead, CCT is sending in Ralph Covert, who is one of the best known and top-rated kid's rock music makers in Chicago.  He's debuting his show Ralph's World Rocks and Reads! -a best-of live concert and multimedia experience featuring every family's favorite Ralph's World songs.

 Covert's top tunes correspond with his ever popular early learning children's picture books including "Sawdust & Spangles" and his newest book, "Ralph's World Rocks!"   The show is backed up with a multimedia backdrop and lots of opportunities to sing along, play along, and get along.

And no, Covert will not be performing in a mermaid costume.

Covert had already been planning to present the concert at the Chicago Children's Theatre at some point in the future, and he's simply accelerated the schedule.  Ralph is a great performer, and if you are looking for something wonderful to do for your tiny kids (this show is a Younger Stages production best for kids ages 3 and up), this would be great.  This weekend's performances are Friday, October 2 at 10 a.m. and 6:30 pm, Saturday, October 4 at 11 a.m., 2 p.m. and 6 p.m., and Sunday, October 5 at 11 a.m. and 2 p.m. 

Chicago Children's Theatre productions are presented at the Ruth Page Center for the Arts, 1016 N. Dearborn St. in Chicago. Tickets are $10-$39. For tickets and information, visit or call (872) 222-9555.

Next week's performances of Goodnight Moon & The Runaway Bunny, originally slated to run through next Sunday, October 11, are still on the CCT schedule. Covert, however, is on standby and ready to perform Ralph's World Rocks and Reads! through October 11 as well.

Stay tuned for an announcement early next week about next week's performances.

Currently, the Chicago Children's Theatre box office is contacting all Goodnight Moon ticket buyers to review their options, including staying with their current performance date and time but seeing Ralph's World Rocks and Reads! instead, exchanges into other Younger Stages productions coming this season, or refunds.

Monday, September 28, 2015

EAR WORM: Andrew & Polly's Odds and Ends

Andrew & Polly with ukelele & accordion
I've been admirers of Andrew & Polly's work for some time.  I hear them a lot on Kid's Place Live, and their work is kooky, fun, and original.  I just got a hold of their new album Odds & Ends, and it collects a lot of the songs that I've heard over the last year.

Andrew Barkan and Polly Hall are a married couple that live in Los Angeles, where they work and perform.  Andrew, originally from San Francisco, has been instrumental (yes, I meant that pun!) in all kinds of film music and scoring, working on the Smurfs movie, and has composed the scores for over 30 independent films.

Polly, originally from Arkansas, co-founded a music for interactive company in Brooklyn, holds an MA in Computer Music from Brown University, and is a former Suzuki violinist.  Together, they have written music for Nickolodeon, lots of commercials, and they won the  2012 ASCAP Foundation Joe Raposo Childrens' Music Award for their first album Up and At' Em!

There's a great interview with them on ZooGlobble,  where you can find out that among other things, they are parents of an 18 month old, that they met in college where they both sang for A Cappella groups, and that they lived in Providence in 2006 when I was doing Bright Night.  I would have totally hired them for the New Year's Eve Festival, if I had known about them then!

Zooglobble, by the way, is a great resource for all things Kindie music.  You should definitely be reading it!

Buy Odds & Ends on Amazon.
The album Odds & Ends is a collection of songs that they've written over the last 5 years.  I've heard a few of them over the last couple of years. for a few years on Kids Place Live.  They do really delightful cover versions of Ghostbusters, the Beatles song Here Comes The Sun, and the Dylan song Forever Young.

 But it's their original songs that are the real winners.  I especially liked their song Grapes, which has a Laurie Anderson meets kid's music kind of feel, with a lot of talking/story.  It's funny and quirky and weird, and most importantly it's catchy.  It caught my attention, anyway.

 Most of their original songs are like that.

 Here's the song Grapes on Youtube:

The album came out on Friday (although it apparently previewed in Los Angeles at a 1 year old's birthday party!) Awesome party favor!

Other than the album, their latest project together is a cool  podcast for kids called EarSnacks.  It's for kids, featuring kids, and has lots of interactive features, questions, and just some wacky stuff.  Their latest episode is about all kinds of Balls (get your mind out of the gutter!) They play sounds of different bouncing balls, talk about boogers, which leads to a discussion of atoms, planets, and just about everything else.  It's a fun hang out session with them.  They produce a new podcast once a month or so.  (And I believe it also airs on KPL.)

You can listen to their podcast for free on iTunes, Stitcher, SoundCloud or tunein.

Find out more about Andrew and Polly on their website:

Thursday, September 17, 2015

Car Seats on the Move-- Traveling edition.

Child Passenger Safety Week is this week September 13-19 (and it will culminate on September 19 with National Seat Check Saturday!)

In honor of the occasion, I wrote a story for the City Dads Group blog about an accident that the bear and I had, and why he will be in a 5 point harness until he learns to drive.

That being said, I realize that you can't always bring a bulky car seat everywhere you go.  I'd also like to point out a couple of alternative safety systems.  One which we use all the time is great, especially when you are traveling. And one that is just being made, and we are going to try.

Get the Ride Safer on Amazon.
Please note, the vest to the right is NOT A 5 point harness vest.  But it's better than nothing when traveling.

It's called the RIDE SAFER.  We've had ours since he was 5 (over 40 lbs), and it's been a life saver when travelling (and in a pinch as an extra car seat.  It packs small, requires no installation, and is very easy to set up.  It uses a regular seatbelt system to place the seatbelt in the appropriate place on a child, so that they can use a seatbelt like an adult would.  When using this system, it's important that kids sit up straight.  If they slouch over, it will not work.

Ours is slightly different than this one (it's blue) but it's the same idea.

The other one that we have been checking out just finished an Indie-Go-Go round, and we are waiting for them to ship us one so we can check it out. It's a British invention called the Mifold Grab-n-Go Booster Seat, and they bill themselves as the first innovation in car seats in 50 years.  I'm not sure that I believe it, but it seems like a good idea.  (And their video is great!)

It's also not a 5 point harness.

The basic idea is that instead of bringing the car seat up to the position of an adult, it holds the seatbelt down to the kid's level.

The Indie-Go-Go round is over, but I'm sure you'll be able to continue to pre-order mifolds for the foreseeable future.

Find out more about mifold at

There's no question that the 5 point harness is safer.  But having a car seat, any car seat, when travelling, when in a taxi, or in a pinch is better than none.

If you've got other suggestions, I'd be happy to hear about them in the comments.

Wednesday, September 16, 2015

EAR WORM: Tim Kubart and the Space Cadets- Saturday Sept 19

This Saturday, we are going down to the Old Town School of Folk Music to see Brooklyn kindie musician Tim Kubart and his merry band of Space Cadets perform songs from their new album HOME as well as a bunch of songs from their old albums.

You may know Tim as the host of the Sprout channel's The Sunny Side Up Show, which is the only live morning show for pre-schoolers. Broadcasting live from 30 Rock in New York, Tim and his co-host Chica the Chicken sing songs, perform sketches, and celebrate everyday moments for an audience of millions of kids and families. They've had lots of special guests on the show including William Shatner, the internet sensation OK GO, and the First Lady of the United States, Michelle Obama.  Here's a video of Tim choreographing a dance with Mrs. Obama.

I saw Tim perform about 3 years ago at Kindie-Fest, and he's great.  While his day job is about pre-schoolers, his music and shows are for all ages.  His shows have a lot of authentic storytelling, songs with heartfelt and beautiful lyrics, and a lot of up-tempo fun numbers  with a danceable beat.  I had the opportunity to speak with him recently, and he told me that people should come to this show prepared to move and have a great time.

Tim also has achieved internet notoriety for being the super energetic Tambourine Guy with the viral music collective PostModern Jukebox.  His work with PostModern Jukebox is pretty clownish and lots of fun to watch. He gets really into the music. You can see a video of him performing in this milieu below:

This Chicago show is the first stop on an album promotion tour. (For other cities, and shows,  visit Tim's website.) Tim's group the Space Cadets are a loose group of musician friends of his who play and tour with him whenever they are available.  Most of them are in other bands as well, making albums and touring around the world.  At some of the other shows around the country, Tim will be joined by Mario the Magician, a fantastic Brooklyn magician who I reviewed a couple of years ago on my clown blog.  Sadly, Mario couldn't make it to Chicago.  Maybe next time!

Buy the album on Amazon (available Sept 18)
The album they are promoting is called Home.  Tim’s first album for families was Anthems for Adventure, and it was a lot about going out and having adventures.  This album stays a little closer to home, having adventures in the privacy of your own home, including a Sunday Crafternoon, backyard swinging, doing chores, and the wistful sadness of moving day. The album is a mix of danceable songs and heartfelt ballads, and has special guest vocalists including Laurie Berkner , Drue Davis, and Tim's co-host on Sprout Carly Ciarocchi.  My favorite song on the album is Showtime, which is kind of an anthem for putting on a show in your living room.  Another great song is the ballad that he sings with Laurie Berkner, Better.

Tim and his friends are playing at the Old Town School of Folk Music, 4544 N. Lincoln Ave at 10:30 am.  Tickets are $15 for the General Public, $13 for OTSFM members and are available at the Old Town Website.  BUY TICKETS HERE.
For more info about Tim Kubart, visit

DISCLOSURE:  I received a copy of the album and concert tickets for review purposes.  As always, the free-ness of these things does not influence my opinion of them. I take my critical reputation seriously, and so should you.

Thursday, September 3, 2015

Free Divvy- Next 3 Saturdays!

 I've been using Divvy, Chicago's bike-sharing system for the last couple of months.  It's a pretty good way to get a little extra exercise as I travel.  Because I'm close to the bike path, taking a divvy is usually just as fast (and sometimes faster) than taking a train or bus.    I bought the annual membership ($75, and even a little cheaper if you have Blue Cross)

Divvy has a couple of drawbacks-- the bikes are okay, but not very fast (they are 3 speed bikes, and the third gear is not as fast as I would like)

The other drawback is that they limit you to 30 minute rides (well, after 30 minutes you have to pay a fee.  You can return the bike to a station and take it out for another 30 minutes, but it's incovenient.  I'd love to have it for 45 minutes or an hour for free.  (I'd even pay an upgrade.)

All that not withstanding, Divvy is my favorite way to get around the city on a nice day.

If you'd like to try out Divvy yourself for free, now's your chance!  For the next three Saturdays – September 5, 12, and 19 – Divvy, Chicago's bike sharing system, is teaming up with T-Mobile to offer free 24-hour passes to any Chicago resident or visitor at all 475 Divvy stations!

On September 5th, 12th, and 19th, riders can simply walk up to any Divvy station, select “Get a Ride” and follow the prompts on the screen. The 24-Hour Pass, regularly $9.95, will cost nothing, thanks to T-Mobile, when purchased on any of these three days.

A credit or debit card is required as usage fees still will apply to all trips over 30 minutes. Riders can choose to take multiple rides during the 24-hour period simply by going to the kiosk and selecting “Request a New Ride Code”.

For video instructions on how to access the free rides, Chicagoans and visitors can go to

To accommodate the expected increase in ridership, they will be boosting their Valet Service with our ambassadors at select "hotspot" locations. Valet Service is designed to guarantee you a space to dock your bike, even at the busiest stations, and to help riders learn more about the bike share system.

Valet Service will be at the following stations between 12-6pm on each Saturday:
Millennium Park
Theater on the Lake
Lake Shore Dr & Monroe St
Streeter Dr & Illinois St
Lake Shore Dr & North Ave
Michigan Ave & Oak St
Montrose Harbor
Shedd Aquarium
Indiana Ave & Roosevelt Rd
Adler Planetarium
Clark St & Armitage Ave
Lake Shore Dr & Ohio St
Buckingham Fountain

Station locations and real-time bike and dock availability can be viewed at or by downloading the free “CycleFinder” app for iPhone or Android devices.

For more information, visit