Friday, October 13, 2017

Brainwashing Myself: Candy Is Poison, Cookies are Poison!

Best #cookimonster #meme #ever
 For the last few weeks I have been baking cookies for my son, because this kid LOVES cookies, and it turns out that fresh-baked cookies are more delicious than store-bought cookies, and baking them is cheaper than buying them!  

And that's even true when you use the Nestle's Toll House ready to bake trays from the refrigerated section, which is what I did.  (No this is not a sponsored post, but Nestle's, if you are listening, I'm happy to talk! Although I have a feeling that if you read the title of this post, we are probably NOT ready to make a deal!)

Anyway, the biggest problem with baking these cookies is that they are delicious, and I want to eat them. And I really shouldn't.    I could literally scarf down half the cookies if I set my mind to it, and the last 3 times I've made the cookies, I've probably eaten about half of them.

This time, I'm trying a new tact.  I've put the cookies in a plastic tupperware, but I've added a little creative sign that will hopefully remind me not to dip my hand in the cookie jar. (See below)

I'm not saying that all candy is poison, or that cookies are poison.  I clearly don't think so as
a) I love candy and cookies
b) I'm feeding them to my kid

The new cookie sign I made for myself.
I think that cookies and candy and soda and bacon and everything else that is sinfully delicious is good in moderation.  But my problem is that moderation is not an easy word for me to stick to.  I'm more of an over the limits kind of guy. And it's taken me a good long time to accept that about myself.

And the truth is that candy is like a poison for me.

  Yes it tastes good, but it doesn't do me any health favors, and is probably doing me harm.  (fatter/shorter/lifespan/etc.)

I think I do get some emotional sustenance from biting into the cookie, but it's definitely contributing to my  mass. Caloric overload.

 I'm overweight, and I need to stop eating sugar.

 When/If I ever get to my goal weight (some 80 lbs from now) we can talk.  And Nestle's, I'm happy to entertain an ambassadorship anytime. 

What creative ways are you using to stop yourself from eating unhealthy things?  Put them in the comments, please!

Thursday, October 12, 2017

It's my birthday, and I'll shave if I want to!

It was my birthday a couple of days ago.  I'm 53 years old.   (I know, I know, I don't look a day over 52!)

I always get a little depressed around my birthday.  Not exactly sure why, but it's a fact of life.  I start questioning what I've done over the last year, over the last ten years, why I haven't been able to make the changes I want in my life, I start to blame myself a little, I feel a little out of control.

I shouldn't be too upset.  I have a pretty good life over all.  I love being a dad.  My career as a clown/performer isn't where I want it to be, but I still do shows on occasion.  I've had some great successes in my career, and who knows maybe I will again.  I love writing, and being part of the dad blogger community and occasionally getting paid to write.  (Of course, would love to have more of that!) I mostly have my health, although I could stand to lose a bunch of weight and not eat sugar.   I volunteer for my son's school, I love my wife, I've got all kinds of electronic gizmos, and I'm caught up on Curb Your Enthusiasm AND Game of Thrones. I have a good relationship with my brothers and my wife's family. What do I REALLY  have to complain about?

Yet for some reason, I despair.  It usually goes away about a week after my birthday.

Something that does buoy me up is my facebook messages.  This year I received over 250 well-wishes for my birthday on the facebook.  I'm proud to say that although my fingers are a little sore, I managed to personally respond to each and every well-wisher!  I make it a point of personal pride to do so.  I feel like if they took the time to wish me happy birthday, I can take the time to thank them.

Here's a cool little video that Facebook made about those well-wishes.

It's cheering just to revisit that!  Thanks Facebook!

Onto the title of this post.

On my birthday I looked like this:

I'd been growing this beard since about May or June. I had a vague thought that I'd try to find some Santa gigs, although I hadn't done anything concrete with that (you know, like buy a Santa costume or make a brochure or make some phone calls.  It was a vague plan.)

I'd also been thinking about shaving my beard, and there must have been half a dozen days in the first 10 days of October that I resolved to shave my beard, but I didn't do it.

The day after my birthday, I decided to take action.  Turn over a new leaf, start fresh, get a new me!  I took some before pictures, and then a midway point.  (You've seen the before picture above)

In this one I look like a combination of Albert Einstein, Gene Shalit, and Gabe Kaplan. Not a particularly good look, unless they make a remake of Welcome Back, Mr. Kotter.  (Come on Big Numbers!)  And for those of you not familiar with that fine fine show, it was the launch of John Travolta's career!

Here's a little video sample of it (with a couple of good shots of Gabe Kaplan for good measure)

And finally here's my new look.

I have a chin!

I still need a haircut, but hey, one step at a time!

What changes big or small are you making in your life?  Feel free to respond in the comments.

Tuesday, October 3, 2017

Las Vegas Shooting, American Gun Culture, and Australia.

I'm feeling very depressed about the state of the American gun lobby, and the seemingly senseless way we handle guns and access to guns in our country.

I'm devastated by Las Vegas, yes because of the violence, and the senseless death, but mostly because it's too damned easy for this to happen. I'm afraid it could happen at the coffee shop tomorrow, or at the supermarket, or at the shows I'm performing in.  This is actual terrorism at work.

It's not a surprise that stuff like Sandy Hook or Las Vegas happens.  The only real surprise is it doesn't happen more often.

 Just about anybody with some money or a credit card and a grudge and the willingness to die in the attempt can get a few guns, hole themselves in a highrise (or a clock tower) and go to town.

 That it doesn't happen more often is the terrifying part of it, because it doesn't seem like there's much to stop it from happening.

I'm not saying that we could totally prevent stuff like this happening, but at the very least we could do some stuff to prevent it.  I'm not talking about hard stuff.  I'm talking about the easy pickings, the low-hanging fruit. For example banning semi-automatic guns.

This book doesn't have anything
to do with gun control.  But I
found the article while perusing
the author's website.
In 1996, after a massacre about half as bad as Las Vegas (35 people killed) Australia banned automatic and semi-automatic weapons.  The guns weren't confiscated, they were bought back by the government and then destroyed.  The politicians who did it suffered a minor setback, but have now recovered.  And they haven't had a mass shooting of the same scale since.

Read about that in a recent article in the Washington Post.

The following article Thank you, Australia, for making us safe from gun crimes was printed in the Sydney Morning Herald (June 16, 2016).  It was written by Aubrey Perry, a Melbourne-based writer and artist who is originally from the United States.  She argues far better than I can the positives of living in a less gun activated culture.

She also has an interesting story about finding out that her parents were Trump supporters and confronting them about it.

I found this article while I was perusing the website of children's author Steve Cotler.  He wrote the Cheesie Mack series, which is pretty entertaining and appropriate for 9 year olds.  I have only read one so far but plan on reading the rest!

Thank you, Australia, for making us safe from gun crimes
by Aubrey Perry
original posting:

art by Steve Greenberg

Thank you, Australia. Thank you for making me feel safe when I walk out my front door.

Thank you for not making me wonder if some enraged lunatic is going to shoot up the post office while I wait in line to mail a package back home to the States.

Thank you for not making me worry that my daughter will be slaughtered in a bloody shooting-spree at school, or that my husband might be shot in a restaurant while he has lunch, or that my gay and lesbian friends will be mowed down by a madman with a machine gun at a nightclub.

Thank you for honouring and protecting the good of the whole and not the selfishness of the individual.

Thank you, Australia, for recognising that guns are not toys. That they shouldn’t be used for entertainment purposes and that they don’t imbue a person with power, nor do they command respect.

Thank you for not celebrating them as extensions of masculinity.

Thank you for not living in a false reality, on an imagined frontier, where everyday people think they’re super-hero cowboys and that God guaranteed them a gun.

Thank you, Australia, for changing a law when the law wasn’t protecting the people it was meant to serve.

Thank you for putting the protection of your people above the protection of a doctrine.

Thank you for not being fossilised by your constitution.

Thank you, Australia, for not accepting the excuses for owning a gun.

Thank you for understanding that wanting to have a gun to play with at the shooting range on the weekend is a selfish indulgence, not an inalienable right.

Thank you for caring about your fellow man more than your gun.

Thank you for being intelligent enough to know that more guns don’t make people safer.

Thank you for not capitalising on your citizens’ fear while you arm their enemies and make $36.2 billion selling weapons to other countries.

Thank you, Australia, for doing the job my country can’t: making its people safe.

I realise that there are still occurrences of gun violence in Australia, but nothing like there is in America.

When we first moved to Australia, my husband and I lived in Fitzroy for three years. Friends questioned our safety there. We usually laughed in response.

In a gun culture, there never really is peace. There is a constant, heightened state of alert. In crowded places, the shopping centre, the cinema, school campuses, sporting events, in places where we should feel safe, there is the nagging fear of gun violence always present.

You don’t realise the weight of the fear of living in a gunned-up society until you don’t live there anymore.

Living here, I am less afraid, less suspicious of my fellow man as well. When everyone has a gun, anyone can be the one who’s going to shoot you.

America’s gun laws foster an unhealthy suspicion of its citizens and turn people against each other. An “I’ll shoot you first” mentality is not one of camaraderie and unity.

But, fed by fear, it’s the false sense of power and control that a gun provides that does the most damage to a society.

Instead of being frightened of the next random act of terrorism, people are afraid of each other.

So what do they do to control that fear? They buy a gun to defend themselves. Yet not one of the 62 mass shootings in the United States over the last 30 years has been stopped by an armed civilian.

So I watch all of this from a safe distance, in a safe country, and I feel almost guilty for my gratitude. I’m an American. I’m proud of my country for so many things, but for this, for these countless acts of preventable violence, I am terribly, terribly ashamed.

When the Sandy Hook Elementary school shooting happened, I watched from my sunny living room while my almost one-year-old daughter crawled around the Christmas tree. It was summer here, Australia at its best. A warm breeze, sun glinting off the pool in the backyard.

But on the television screen was the worst horror I could ever imagine. So many dead children. So many unopened packages beneath so many trees. So many cold little beds. So many birthday parties that would never come, graduations, weddings, families that would never be and so many families that would never be the same. My body ached for them as though those children and those families were my own.

I could never imagine something so horrible happening to my child, a man-made bullet tearing through her tiny body, stealing her future from her and that love from my life. I sat there and watched the parents scream. I watched the tears. I watched the friends and family try to console. I was angry. I was sad.

And when I picked up my daughter and squeezed her and held her to me and kissed her baby-fat cheeks, I was grateful. I was grateful to live here in a country that does more than say gun violence should be stopped. It’s done something about it. Thank you, Australia.

Friday, September 29, 2017

JUF- Right Start Program!

I was researching some upcoming events sponsored by JUF  (Jewish United Fund of Chicago) and PJ Library when I discovered this kind of amazing program.

JUF has something they call the Right Start Program, which is a voucher/grant of $1000/$2000 dollars for first time enrollees in a Jewish early education program.

Here are the caveats:

To be eligible for the JUF Right Start Signature Voucher, a child must be:
  • Enrolling in a Jewish early childhood program for the first time.
  • The first child in the family to attend a Jewish early childhood program.
  • A member of a family where at least one parent identifies as Jewish.
  • Enrolling in a JUF Right Start-affiliated program (click here for complete list.)
  • Enrolling in a class where the child attends independently* and meets at least 2 times/week
  • Starting a program on or after January 1, 2016.**
If you don't meet all these criteria, you may still be eligible for a smaller sibling grant from them. Only one voucher per child may be used.

I think this is a great way to get kids into Judaism at an early age, and a great incentive for parents to use a Jewish pre-school vs. some other program.  It's win/win all the way around!

 Visit their website to find out more!

JUF Right Start™ is a gift to families from the Jewish United Fund of Metropolitan Chicago thanks to the generosity of the Harvey L. Miller Supporting Foundation, The Crown Family, The Shraiberg Family in Memory of Miriam Shraiberg, Steven B. Nasatir New Directions Fund and other local donors.

This post is NOT a sponsored post.  I just found out about it and wanted to share.

Thursday, September 28, 2017

Banned Books Week

This display was in the lobby of the Conrad Sulzer Regional Library in Chicago.
It's Banned Books Week this week, which is a celebration of intellectual freedom and the freedom of the press.

Banned Book Week is sponsored by the ALA (American Library Association) and libraries all around the country are celebrating books that have either been "Challenged" or outright banned.  Challenged books are books that have been attempted to be removed or restricted by a group.

A hit list of banned and challenged
children's books. Available via Amazon.
The ALA has been standing up for Banned and Challenged Books for over 30 years!

The freedom to choose what we read (and what we write) is firmly rooted in the First Amendment. Would-be censors can come from all quarters and all political persuasions and threaten our right to choose knowledge and entertainment for ourselves.

Here's last year's list of challenged books. It's worth noting that each year hundreds of books are challenged, but only a small fraction of those books are ever in danger of being removed or restricted.  That's because librarians (and teachers, and parents, and students, and regular people) all stand up and fight for the ability of ideas and ideals to be shared.

One of the things that I think is really interesting is that sometimes these books aren't being challenged because of content, but because of context .  A great example is Bill Cosby, whose children's books and television shows were revered.  Serious allegations of sexual misconduct are now endangering his books, many of which had been written years before these allegations.  The books haven't changed, but our reaction to them has. (Or at least some people's reactions.  I think that what Bill Cosby did to those women was heinous, but his childhood was still pretty funny and great and has meaning to me, and has such his books still have merit.)

Some of the challenges have some merit, especially within a school or classroom setting.  As the father of a nine-year-old, I definitely think there are books that I don't want my son to be reading.  Mostly it's not for the ideas in them, but for the prurient content, the language, or the violence. None of them should be off-limits forever.  (A great question though, is knowing when he is ready to start reading some of the more controversial books. My personal feeling is that every kid is different, and managing their information/reading diet is something that parents have to tailor to their children.  Raising your kids is not the prerogative of the government but of you.  )

I don't remember which
book I was reading.
It kind of looked like this.
Available via Amazon.

When I was in fourth grade, I started reading a lot of books about the Mafia and about Voodoo.  I was interested, I bought the books at the dime store, and I was a voracious reader. My teachers were quite concerned, apparently that I was planning on becoming a magical criminal.

Long story short, I was banned from reading those books.  At the time, I was furious, but over time, I found other books to read, and I have not lost my taste for true crime. Or books about forbidden subjects.

At the Sulzer Library, in honor of Banned Book Week, the teen program is putting together a zine. (For those of you not steeped in 1990's culture, a zine is a handmade magazine)    They were asking people to respond to the following prompts.  And then they are going to publish the zine.  Find out more about the Sulzer Teen Zine Club.

These are great questions, and worth answering.

I have read many banned or challenged books, including Go Ask Alice, all of the Harry Potter books, Huckleberry Finn, Beloved, The Curious Incident of the Dog In The Nighttime, The Joy of Sex, and many many others.  I would definitely recommend that people read books that interest them, regardless of whether other people think it's right.

Knowledge, Power, History, and Entertainment.  For me, books open up new worlds, worlds that I haven't been a part of, could never be a part of, and they give me insight into them.  I think it was Franz Kafka who said "A book should be an axe for the frozen sea inside us."

Here's a great article from the National Post about just that (along with the Kafka quote)

I would guess and say fear of the unknown is the primary reason.  As I've researched banned books for this article, many times, the people who are challenging the books are challenging them but they haven't read them.  They've read about them, and have concluded they are immoral, and therefore challenge them.  As stated above, I'm not against limiting books (or television, or videogames) for kids based on content, but I think it is the parent's job to do that, not the governments (or the libraries)

So what about you?  How would you answer these questions?  And how are you celebrating Banned Books Week?

Find out more about Banned Book week here:

Sunday, September 24, 2017

More Religious Dischord: L'Shana Tovah, Everybody.

Image of the Torah, the ancient Jewish scroll, from
Wikimedia Commons.
Back in April, I wrote a kind of personal blog post about my feelings towards religion.

In that blog post I talked about the fact that I have conflicting desires in terms of religion.  On one hand, as a parent, I want my son to be knowledgeable about religion, to find spirituality, to find a purpose in the world, a place in the world, and religion is supposed to be the thing that helps you do that.  I also want him to be connected to Judaism, and the struggle of our ancestors, handed down over 5000 years to live in God's good graces.

On the other hand, I personally haven't been able to get any of those things from organized religion.  I don't really believe, and I find it an imposition and a lie to go and do stuff I don't believe in.  I feel like I am trying to please my dead mother, who in turn was trying to please her dead mother.  I want to get off the dead-mother-pleasing train.

Well, it's now the High Holy Days (where four big religious holidays happen in quick succession- Rosh Hashanah (the Jewish New Year), Yom Kippur (the Day of Atonement), Sukkot (the Harvest Festival) and Simchat Torah, a celebration of the Torah.   (And the fact that I know this is proof of my Jewish education)

"Two paths diverged in a wood."  Of course, there are always more than two paths. Photo from Wikimedia
Meanwhile, over in Adam's emotionland, nothing has resolved itself, and I am back at square one of feeling like a liar and a failure as a religious parent.

I have a fair amount of internal turmoil about this, and it has become external as well.  My disdain for synagogue earned me a fairly angry tongue lashing from my wife who essentially told me "suck it up cupcake. "  "He takes his cues from you, and if you are disdainful, then so will he be."  (She didn't exactly say that, but close enough.)

I can't deny that it isn't true, but at the same time, I'm in a moral quandary.  Fake it til you make it means me rotely going to synagogue and practicing Judaism that I don't feel so that my son can be force fed information and a worldview that is both his heritage and something I don't wholeheartedly embrace on the off chance that it is his worldview. And he'd be going to please me and his mom, something I don't see as a good parenting tactic.

On the other hand, like it or not, it is our heritage, and he needs to know something about it, and maybe if I struggle with it, then he will think about it.  And what's more Jewish than anguishing over moral quandaries for days?  The Talmud, which is a centuries old interpretation of the Torah, says, "If there are two Jews, there are three opinions."  (Well, I'm not sure if it actually says that, but it ought to.)
The Talmud.  It's all in Hebrew, if you want some English, check out Amazon's The Essential Talmud

At any rate-- my son's Hebrew school has an open house this week, and we are going, whether he likes it or not.  It's about as non-religious as one can get (It's the Workman's Circle school, which is kind of secular Judaism. ) Meanwhile, I'm reluctantly going to synagogue, because I don't want to shut that door.

Got any thoughts or wisdom to lay down on me?  Would love to hear it.

Wishing you all a happy Jewish New Year, an easy fast,  or just a happy day if you are a believer not so much.

Thursday, September 14, 2017

Chicago Fringe Festival Day 3: That's Weird Grandma, Murmurations, Melody

Last Saturday, my son and I spent about 5 hours on a beautiful Saturday afternoon watching shows at the Chicago Fringe Festival.

It was the last weekend of the Fringe, and it was a lot of fun.  It was (I think) my son's first Fringe festival, and I don't think he'd been to 3 shows in one day.

Overall, he had a pretty great time!

(If you want to read some of my other reviews of the Fringe, here they are:)

Preview of Chicago Fringe 2017

Chicago Fringe Day 1:  Just Add Gravity, Underneath the Lintel, Mark Toland Mind reader.

Chicago Fringe Day 2:  Mistero Buffo, Dandy Darkly's Myth Mouth, LoFi Dance Records

Chicago Fringe Day 3: That's Weird Grandma, Murmurations, Melody Superhero Ballet

PLEASE NOTE: As with many of the theatre shows I review on this site, I did receive free entry to the shows with the hope that I would write about them.  My opinions remain my own, uninfluenced by the price.  I take my integrity seriously, and so should you.

While the shows are now over, many of these companies are Chicago based and continue to run programs that it is possible to see.   I also think it's good to give artists a review of their work.

All told I saw 9 shows at the Fringe this year, and had a great time doing it.  I hope to go to at least as many shows next year!

Here are the reviews of the shows we saw on the last Saturday of the Fringe.

That's Weird Grandma by Barrel of Monkeys

That's Weird Grandma is a show by Chicago group Barrel of Monkeys.  They do something smart and pretty interesting.  They go into schools and work with kids on storytelling.  The kids write the stories, and then the improv troupe acts them out, the best of the stories they collect and put together into their shows, which appear regularly on Chicago stages (after the Fringe festival, they are starting another open-ended run at the NeoFuturarium.) In this way, they are getting paid by the schools to work together to develop material, and at the end, the student writers get to see their work put on by a professional company rather than just sit on a refrigerator somewhere. It's Win, Win, Win!

The show was a lot of fun, mostly because the stories all featured amazing kid logic.  One of the stories was about a pie that doesn't want to be a cannibal and refuses to eat other pies.  Another one featured a kid who wished for wizarding powers and what happened once she got them.  A third story was a monologue by the monster that lives under the bed.  The stories were all printed in the program, so you could compare the source material with the adaptation.

The 55 minute show had 15 stories in it, performed by a cast of 7 or so plus a musician who provided musical sound effects for all the shows. The costumes and props are relatively minimal (although there was a unicorn head that was fantastic as a mask.  The acting was fine and entirely servicable, although perhaps a touch too broad all the time.  It would have been nice to see on occasion, a lighter touch.  Perhaps the best thing that can be said about the acting is that it never makes fun of the subject matter.  The actors are there to serve the story, and they do.

This was an enjoyable show, and I'd highly recommend seeing a version of it if you get a chance.
(as I mentioned they will be doing an open ended run at the Neo Futurarium in the fall)

Find out more about Barrel of Monkeys and That's Weird Grandma

See a video about the process behind That's Weird Grandma

Semi- Circus  Murmurations

The next show we saw was a circus from new circus group Semi Circus.  Semi-Circus started in 2016 as a circus collective.  They use circus skills, physical theater, improv and other skills to create plays.  Murmurations is their first show.

The show starts off as a kind of therapy session.  A therapist comes in and asks an audience member if they have been working on what they talked about last week.  She then asks other audience members.  Slowly the company comes in, and each of them has a quirk.  Throughout the course of the show, each person stands forward to do their act as a way of dealing with/ expressing their quirk.

By the way, a murmuration is a formation of starlings that make complex and interesting formations as they fly.  This is a good word for this kind of work, as the actors murmurate (assuming it's a verb) as they display their skills and their foibles.

The show was a very lovely mix of circus and theatre.  There was a lot of comedy, some very impressive skills, and a lot of heart to the show.  One particularly moving part for me was when the therapist does her bit, which involved a talking belly (her own).  It was funny, brave, hilarious, and moving all at once.

The company is directed by local circus writer Kimzyn Campbell, and two of her children are in the show as well.  It reminded me a lot of the Montreal circus company Sept Droits de la Main (7 Fingers of the Hand), a group of young circus artists who have now built seven or eight shows that tour worldwide with a similar aesthetic.  The 7 Fingers are more virtuosic in their circus skills, but the ability to really share stories while in a handstand, or while juggling, or by doing barrel rolls is in some ways more important, and these young performers have that.

 I look forward to seeing the next iteration of either this show or a new one.
Find out more about Semi Circus on their facebook page.

Melody by Tiffany Lawson Dance

The last show we saw of the Chicago Fringe was Melody by Tiffany Lawson Dance.  Billed as an original superhero ballet, the show follows young dancer Melody, who has super powerful feet, and uses her dancing to vanquish bad guys.  Her friends include Hoops, Hugs, and Courage, and they help her to get through to defeat her evil twin Dissonance.  There is a live band, including a trombone player that was a lot of fun to watch and listen to.

Looking at their website, this looks like a show that they toured to Chicago libraries this summer. It seems like a great fit for a library's young audiences program.

However, my son is 9, and we were hoping for an actually choreographed superhero ballet, complete with lots of athletic moves and powers.  This was more like a way to get kids to see their first dance show.

Don't get me wrong, the show was great for the 3-5-year-old set, who got to dance, and sing, and see live music and dance being played out.  There were a lot of interactive little pieces, including a pre-show by one of the performers who is apparently also a kid's music singer, and he played some nice interactive songs (and plugged his CD!) During the show, director Tiffany was very proactive in making sure that kids would be included, would get up and dance, and helped encourage them.

This was listed as an all ages show, but without the participation element, I think the story, the performance, and the dancing were all too simplistic to be of much interest to non-parents or older kids.  If you have younger kids, though, I think this would be a lot of fun.  (My son would have loved it 6 years ago!)

Find out more about Tiffany-Lawson Dance on their website.

Apparently, they do a lot of stuff that is not kid oriented, and I'd be interested to see that sometime!

Well, that wraps up my Fringe reviewing this season (unless some of the later Fringe's in the season want to fly me out to their Fringe to do more reviews, put me up, pay my per diem, and a small stipend! (I am open for suggestions!)