Friday, August 21, 2015

Laurie Berkner at Ravinia this weekend!

This weekend kindie music icon Laurie Berkner comes to the Ravinia festival for an amazing afternoon of music.

I met up with her a couple of years ago at Kindie fest,  (and again when I reviewed her musical Wanda's Monster in NY for the City Dads Group)

She's a great person. a great musician, and has the magic touch with kids.  She's delightful and a little magical in person, and it shows in her music.

Her concert is sure to be a blast (in fact, lawn tickets are already sold out!)

If you want to go, you should get the reserved tickets.  Your kids will have a great time!

Here's the link to buy tickets directly from Ravinia.

The concert starts at 1 pm, but there's a kids lawn that is supposed to be a lot of fun from 12-1 pm.  Bring plenty of sunblock, and plenty of delicious food!

To get you in the mood, here's some links to some of her best albums via Amazon.

These albums should have links to listen to song samples on them.

Thursday, August 13, 2015

Cirque du Soleil at the United Center through Sept 20

We had the opportunity to see Cirque du Soleil's new show Kurios at the United Center last week, and it was really wonderful.  It may be the best Cirque show I've seen.  (and I've seen 10 or 11 Cirque shows over the last 15 years so I am speaking with a certain amount of expertise.)

Based on the idea of a nineteenth century curio cabinet (also known as a Cabinet of Wonder), the show transports the audience to a fantastical world where time seems to stop and just about anything can happen. The curio cabinet is stocked with exotic and interesting performers who can do all sorts of things that will amaze, astound, and entertain the audience.

Mr. Microcosmos and his amazing suit.  Here, one of the tiniest performers
(Ms Lil) is inhabiting the world inside his costume.  Photo by Martin Girard
As with just about every Cirque show, the tent, costumes, and makeup are all great.  And the individual circus performers were all marvelous. This show has sort of a steampunky feel, and you say that in the costumes, and some of the gadgets, gizmos, and costumes that the performers use.  There are more props in this show than in any other Cirque du Soleil show, and some of them are wonderful.  I'm  thinking specifically of two costumes, an accordion costume  that seems to get longer and grow as need be, and an amazing suit that contains worlds within it.

Poetry, virtuosity, and simplicity in the
Theatre of Hands act.
One of my favorite acts in the show is a hand puppet act.  Using just their hands and a video camera/projector (projecting onto a hot air balloon), the performers create the illusion of larger performers doing skateboard and hip hop dance tricks that look nearly impossible and very lifelike.  They then move their setup into the audience, playing and improvising with a couple of audience members in a way that was just amazing.  Part of why I loved this so much is that it was something so small and delicate that they figured out a way to play to the thousand people in the tent, and part of it was just their incredible virtuosity in performance. (And the fact that it wasn't a typical circus act also helped.)

Traditional circus acts performed with breath-taking virtuosity were also in abundance, including some amazing contortionists, a trapeze trampoline act that allowed the jumper to hurtle 40 feet in the air on each jump, and a stunning duo bungee straps act performed by two men filled with equal amounts of strength and grace.  The clowns of the show were also quite good, and brought a good amount of surprise and laughter to the two pieces, including an invisible circus where the props come to life, and a seduction piece where the performer brings someone on to the stage to seduce them, but keeps on getting distracted.

There was also a rola bola act, an amazing yo-yo performer, and a lot of other jaw-dropping stuff.

The show moves to California in October, so you've got a few more weeks to see the show in Chicago before it must close.  Don't miss it!

Find out more about the show:

Monday, July 27, 2015

NYC- visiting Family and Friends

We are back in NYC for a week, visiting family and friends and checking in our house in Yonkers (we are renting it out, because it made much more sense than selling it, from the financial perspective)  This is our first time back east as a family since moving almost exactly 1 year ago.

My new favorite candy store- better than Dylan's Candy Bar!
We got into Kennedy at midnight, and the bear was a complete trooper-- he didn't even sleep on the plane!  And then we arrived at my brother's house at around 1 am.  Fortunately they had the bed made up for us, and we got to tool around in Manhattan in the morning.  We found a great Lebanese fast-food place,SemSom  (which is an international franchise!) an amazing candy store, and my wife's favorite pastime, shopping!  There are 3 or 4 stores that are not in Chicago, ONLY IN NY, and she enjoys shopping the bargains there. (UNiqlo, Joe Fresh, and Muji)

We then went to Brooklyn to my brother's sister-in-law's house (confused yet?) to hang out with my other brother, his wife, their kids, and my brother's sister-in-law and her wife.  We had some fun time with them at a local park, followed by dinner.  My brother's sister-in-law and her wife are great people-- the kind of people that we choose to have as relatives!  They are expecting twins in the next couple of weeks, (to be named Gustave and Camille, to which my other brother apparently responded-- "Really?  Do you want them to be teased?  How about Bob and Mike?") which is that brother in pretty much a nut-shell.  Outspoken and without a filter!

After the playground we walked by a cool Brooklyn street festival on our way to dinner, where they closed off the street and put on Shakespeare in the middle of the street, which was pretty darned awesome!  They were doing Much Ado, and while the performance looked middling to good (to be fair it was their first performance!), they had a huge crowd, who were clearly enjoying themselves, so I say MORE POWER TO THEM!  Shakespeare in the Streets is something that should happen more often!  And it will a few more times On different blocks of the festival there was music and yoga classes and fencing and all kinds of fun stuff.

After dinner, we were so tired, that we ubered home rather than take the subway, which was financially unfeasible but physically necessary.

Fun at Le Pain Quotidien
Sunday  morning we ended up having 4 get togethers with various friends.  Early breakfast with my host brother and his wife at the always delightful Le Pain Quotidien (although my brother ended up not making it- not feeling well)  We then packed up and moved north to some friends in Yonkers who are out of town and lending us their car  and beautiful house for the week.  We then had brunch in Tuckahoe, an informal high tea (ice cream, iced tea, and cookies!)  on the upper west side, and then dinner with friends in Riverdale.  

It's so much fun to see all these people from our past and pick up with them where we left off. With most of them we have been keeping in touch via Facebook, but seeing how a kid has grown in a year (and how quickly the kids can just jump into playing with one another) is pretty awesome.

This morning was lazy recovery morning, but this whole week we've got a full schedule of sightseeing, friend seeing, theatre going (scored tickets to An American in Paris!) and in general fun fun fun times.  We then pack it all up and go on the road again to Rhode Island, my ancestral homeland, where we will do it all again!  I think I might need a vacation after my vacation!

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

BOOK REPORT: NatGeo Kids Guide to Photography

Book arrives in stores Aug 4!
My son (almost 7) has gotten very interested in photography. He loves to view my various photo accounts, and see all the pictures that people post on instagram, facebook, etc.  (Sometimes I have to do a little quick editing/flipping, because there are definitely some NSFW images floating around my social stratosphere. )

As for equipment, he's got my old disabled iphone, an Ipad, an older digital camera, and a discontinued flipcam.  In other words, this kid is loaded with equipment.

But having the tools doesn't make you able to see which photos are great shots, any more than having a paintbrush makes you a great painter. You have to learn to use the tools.  And you have to practice.

Annie Griffiths

I recently received for review a book that aims to help kids learn to use photographic tools. The book National Geographic Kids  Guide To Photography , written by awesome and experienced National Geographic photographer Annie Griffiths and accomplished children's author and editor Nancy Honovich, covers all facets of photography, from aperture to editing to composition to selecting your equipment.  (sorry kid, you've got whatever I used to have!)

 Hard to understand terms and tricky concepts are clearly laid out for kids to see and comprehend.

The book is written in short and easy to understand segments, and has a series of exercises after each chapter so that kids can practice what they are learning.  Tips are given, and even bad shots are dissected to see what went wrong.

Kids are also invited to (with their parents permission) set up an account and showcase their work on the National Geographic Kids MyShot site.

MYSHOT is the only moderated online photography community where kids can safely share photos, comment on each other's pictures, and take challenges from National Geographic editors.

This is a great book.  It's comprehensive, it's interactive, it's easy to understand, and it is the next best thing to having Annie Griffiths come to your house teach your kid a workshop in photography. (And that is probably prohibitively expensive!)

The book starts shipping on August 4, but you can pre-order it online at Amazon or you can pre-order it directly from the National Geographic store.  After August 4, it will be available in bookstores.

If you do get the book, let me know how you like it in the comments!

Thursday, July 9, 2015

Fantasia at Ravinia July 12 at 7 pm

Ravinia is the oldest outdoor musical festival in the US.  It's been going since 1904, and each year it attracts nearly 600,000 visitors to listen to world-class music.  My wife has been raving about Ravinia since I've known her.  Now that we live in Chicago, a trip to Ravinia has become a must.  So on Sunday our family is off to Highland Park for our first trip there, an afternoon of fun, music, and Disney.

Fantasia & Fantasia 2000 available on
The Chicago Symphony Orchestra will play the soundtrack for Walt Disney's classic movie Fantasia, and sections of Fantasia 2000. (which was a continuation of Fantasia, with the idea of giving more classical music the Disney Fantasia treatment)

The history of Fantasia is pretty fascinating and covered thoroughly (along with the CSO connection to Fantasia 2000) on the Ravinia blog.

We've got lawn tickets, which means that we'll be bringing a blanket and some chairs, as well as picnic stuff.  (according to the Ravinia Firsttimers guide, photographic/video equipment is NOT ALLOWED inside Ravinia, so don't bring your expensive cameras.)  There are restaurants, bars, gift shops, and other shopping available at Ravinia, as well as chair rental.  There's also a Pavilion which is under cover.  You see, at Ravinia, the rain falls mainly on the plain. (sorry, I couldn't resist!)

At most concerts at Ravinia, the stage is not actually viewable from the Lawn, but there will be a lawn-screen for this concert. Ravinia also will have fun stuff for kids to do on the North lawn, their "KidsLawn", with interactive exhibits, including a classic "instrument petting zoo." Sounds like a blast!

It's going to be an afternoon of lots of fun, and an evening of lots of great music.  Here's the program:

Disney’s Fantasia and Fantasia 2000                                       
Beethoven:Movement 1 from Symphony No. 5 in C Minor, Op. 67  
Movements 3–5 from Symphony No. 6 in F Major, Op. 68

Tchaikovsky:The Nutcracker Suite, Op. 71a

Debussy (orch. Stokowski):Clair de lune from Suite bergamasque

Stravinsky:Suite from The Firebird (1919 version)

Ponchielli:“Dance of the Hours” from La Gioconda

Dukas:The Sorcerer’s Apprentice

Elgar (adapt. Schickele):Marches Nos. 1–4 from Pomp and Circumstance, Op. 39

Respighi:Pines of Rome, P. 141

To find out more and purchase tickets for Fantasia, visit the Ravinia site online.

Ravinia has a number of other upcoming concerts suitable for families, including Laurie Berkner, the Ko-Thi Dance Company, and a production of  Beauty and the Beast.  See their kid's concert page.

Tuesday, July 7, 2015

Free Performances of the Flea Circus in Chicago July 16 & 18

If you are looking for something to do this summer, let me plug my own show!

I am performing my world famous Flea Circus at two Chicago Parks this summer!

July 16 6:30 pm  Paschen Park (1932 W. Lunt St)

July 18 2 pm Pulaski Park
(1419 W. Blackhawk St)

COST: Free (seating limited, please arrive early)

Find out more!

Would love to see you at one of the two performances.

Please let your friends know, I'm hoping to have the parks bring me out for more performances, and it will help if I can get a big turnout at these two.


Friday, July 3, 2015

Medieval Times:- Dinner Jousting in Schaumburg.

Disclosure: I and my party were given a meal and free admission to this event.  As always, my opinions and critical view are all my own. 

Last weekend our family and some friends went to Medieval Times, a medieval dinner/jousting experience in Schaumburg.   It was a lot of fun!

The experience brings you back to an eleventh-century king's feast and tournament.  You get served a four course meal by a wench (well, in our case we had a self-proclaimed mensch- a male wench!) You eat with your hands.  You wear a crown.  And you watch knights ride around on horses, jousting and fighting for the championship.

When you go, you should go a little bit early to take in all of the pageantry.  As you enter, you are given a crown, and then  have your picture taken with a princess or a lord, for possible purchasing afterwards.  You are also assigned to a color (the color of your knight, who you will be cheering for)  You then enter a great ante-room, which is also the gift shop, bar, dance floor, and fun area.  (Yes, they make no bones about it-- here you ENTER through the gift shop.)

Before too long the king's minister came out to make some announcements, sounding like a medieval flight attendant.  Finally, you get to enter the arena,  which is approximately the size of a football field.  The arena is in the round, with tables and seats flanking the playing area, and go up probably 6 or 7 rows.  Every seat has a very good view.  I estimated that the arena can seat around 1000 people, maybe even more.

The food is served in between portions of the show.  The menu is the same for everyone-- chicken, corn, roasted potato, tomato soup, garlic bread, and a pastry.  No silverware, you eat with your hands just like eleventh-century nobility did.  My wife has some dietary issues, and they were pretty accomodating, with  gluten free and vegetarian options.  The food was quite good, especially considering that they were turning out about 1000 meals per show.  You can also get served libations, including ale, mead, wine, and soft drinks.  I am pretty sure Ye Olde Pepsi is not a medieval drink, but what the heck!

The show was fun, with lots of swashbuckling, horsemanship, and a falconry exhibition.  I joked to my wife afterwards that it was like a circus, but without the clowns.  (There was some chatter/repartee between the king and the princess as a lead in to some of the competitions, but it wasn't comedy.)  In fact, now that I think about it, it's a little surprising there was not a comedy element to this.  A jester lampooning  the jousting, or a comedy fire juggling act with a pre-renaissance feel would go over quite well.  (Shades of Game of Thrones!)

The stage combat was pretty good, and thrilling to see.  

Here's a 30 second video of the end of one of the swashbuckling fights:

And here's a video I took of 2 and half minutes of fighting, including some jousting!

As you can see, the fighting is pretty entertaining.

Over all, this is a great event for families, and group gatherings (work buddies, etc) My kid and his friends had a wonderful time.  (And so did we parents!)

There are nine castles throughout the United States, and my guess is that they will build a few more over the next couple of years.

To find out more about Medieval Times in your area, go to