Friday, May 18, 2018

My Mom would have been 80 today.*

*Had she lived.

Today is/was my mom's birthday.  She would have been 80 today. *

This asterisk is the sad reality that I am still facing. My mom died 10 1/2 years ago, but I'm still wondering what my life, what our life would be like now with that asterisk.

I have been thinking a lot about that asterisk.  Over the last few years, there's been a lot of death of friends, and acquaintances.  My wife's uncle very recently died suddenly.  We saw him on Friday and on Sunday he was in a coma, and on Thursday he passed away.  Three or four friends around my age- died suddenly.  It's starting to be an occupational hazard.

I think about this with my dad too (who died at age 49 in a car accident.)  What would my life be like if he was still alive?  There are endless what-ifs of course, and ultimately there are no answers.  Because the fact is, you move on.  Even when it seems impossible.  You move on because you have to.  Life doesn't stop when somebody close to you dies.  It might seem that way, or even that you want it to stop, but it just doesn't.  You shoulder your burden, you shift your load, you cry your tears, and you keep on walking.  The river doesn't stop, your bills don't stop needing to be paid, your library books don't get infinitely extended.  Life goes on, and it's just that much harder.  As the French might say "C'est la Guerre de vie."  (It's the war of life.)

There's part of me that still grieves, and still wonders these unknowable questions. Questions that have an asterisk at the end. Questions like these:

My mom at my brother's wedding.
Would I be happier?*  It's hard to know. Certainly, a lot of the blunt force trauma that life has dealt me so far is about the death of my parents.  But I also feel it's made me a better person.  I remember that after my father died (when I was in acting school) my acting teachers and friends said that my acting and my attitude changed dramatically.  I wasn't suddenly a know it all. I was vulnerable, and I was able to show it.  And I don't feel tremendously unhappy.  But I do bear the emotional scars of life, and for better or for worse, they've made me the person I am today.

Would we be living in Chicago?*  We moved here to be closer to my wife's family. Would I have agreed so readily if my mom were still around?  I am really happy with our move, but could I have taken that step if my mom were still on the east coast.  I think so, and hopefully, she would have traveled to see us (or us, her.)

Would she have gotten sicker, and lost her joie d'vivre?*  My mom was relatively lucky.  She'd been told multiple times she had 6 months to live, and she beat the odds again and again and again.  When she finally did get sick, it happened suddenly.  She was ill and woozy and unresponsive. I happened to be staying with her for the evening, I called the ambulance, and they brought her into the hospital.  An hour or so later she was in a coma, and about 7 days later she died in her sleep.  She was deathly afraid of being a burden to us kids, and to being forced to live out a miserable existence in a hospital, or kept alive by machines.  It's not what she wanted, and fortunately, she got mostly what she wanted.  She loved to travel and to enjoy life.

Would she have been proud of my work?*  Almost certainly, yes, as she was proud of just about everything I ever did.  She would also be nagging me to do more, to teach at a university, to do something else.  Because she was never quite satisfied with what I did either.  She always wanted a little more. I'm ok with that.  She's probably right.  I could probably be more productive.  (a whole 'nother set of asterisk questions)

The one I ask myself the most is
One of the last pictures I have of my mom and me together.

Would she love my son? *
And this is the one that I know the answer to.  She never got to meet him (we got pregnant about 10 days before she died, but we weren't telling anybody.  And I was (I think) an unlikely father before that.  I think had she found out I was having a baby, she may well have had a heart attack!)  But the answer plain and simple is she would have adored him.  She would have doted on him, and bought him ice cream, and teach him to do crazy arts and crafts, and revel in his exuberance, and constantly marvel at how similar (and how different) he is to me when I was at that age.  My mom loved creativity and thinking different, and I know she would have loved my boy, who is now age 9 going on 16.

Most importantly she'd be listening to him, and challenging him, and helping to mold him into a better human being. Because that's who my mom was.  That's what she did.

My mom would have been 80 today*.  But she's still alive in my memories, and probably the memories of all who knew her and loved her.

Thursday, May 10, 2018

Uncle Fun- Film Premiere on June 10

One of my favorite museums in the world is the Museum of Visionary Art in Baltimore, which is a museum dedicated to crazy art and art that is fantastic.  I don't get there very often, but it's one of my favorite places.  Their giftshop is also pretty amazing, full of crazy stuff, wondrous artifacts, and treasures you can't find anywhere else.  What's interesting is that I didn't know that the gift shop had a Chicago connection.
A photo of Ted Frankel, aka Uncle Fun

The gift shop (whose name is Sideshow) is the brainchild of Ted Frankel, who longtime Chicago residents will know as Uncle Fun.  It closed down in 2014 (read article in Tribune about it) Ted had a crazy novelty and toy store in Chicago for a very long time.  And, coming up on June 10, a documentary about Uncle Fun will be presented at the new Edgewater building of the Chicago Filmmakers Center.

Uncle Fun: You're The One is a loving and nostalgia-filled documentary about the late iconic Chicago novelty and toy store Uncle Fun and the man behind it, Ted Frankel. Made by first-time filmmaker Laura Scruggs, the film explores how the store began (as well as the store before it, Goodies); what the Uncle Fun store and Frankel have meant over the years to many devoted customers; Ted's unexpected tragedy; the closing of the store; other fun stores around the country that Uncle Fun inspired; and Frankel's current life as founder and operator of Sideshow, the gift shop at The American Visionary Art Museum in Baltimore. Uncle Fun is a story about being happy, being yourself, following your heart, and having hope. (2018, 60 min, Digital Projection)

It sounds great, and I am looking forward to seeing it.

Tickets are $8

6/10 - Uncle Fun: You're the One Chicago Premiere
Date: Sunday, June 10, 2018
Time: 7:00 PM

Chicago Filmmakers Firehouse
5720 N Ridge Ave, Chicago

Saturday, May 5, 2018

Mini Northside Maker Faire is today!

The Mini Maker Faire on Chicago's North side is today from 10am-4pm!  Yes, Cinco de Mayo is also synonymous with crazy technological fun!

If you've never been to Maker Faire before you are in for a treat.  

The Schurz High School at 3601 N. Milwaukee Avenue (Milwaukee and Addison) gets taken over by Makers- craftsmen, artists, engineers, scientists, and hobbyists that have been creating cool things all year, and here's your chance to see what they do, how they do it, and how you can do it. You can ask questions, try stuff out, poke, prod, and share tips.

We've been to the big one in NY a few times, and the one here (while obviously not as big in scope) is in someways better.  They don't have as many cool bells and whistles (Have I told you about the Giant Life Sized Game of MouseTrap?)  but BECAUSE the scale is smaller, you get more time to ask questions and look around.  And the people who are exhibiting have been waiting for this all year, and can't wait to share their passion and knowledge with you.

You can learn to make ice cream, fly a drone, learn to pick locks, check out the latest in 3-D printing, and see all kinds of cool hacks, old-school technology, and just plain weird fun stuff.  

It's STEM and STEAM on Steroids.

It's free to attend (although there is a suggested donation of $10 for adults and $5 for kids to keep the thing going) 

To see a complete list of exhibitors, see here:

To find out more in general.  Visit their website: 

See you at the Maker Faire!

Friday, May 4, 2018

Teens For Social Justice - Or Tzedek Summer Program

A local organization has a really interesting program this summer for teens that are interested in Social Justice.

The organization is the JCUA (Jewish Council On Urban Affairs) which has for 50 years been fighting racism, poverty, and anti-semitism in Chicago in partnership with many diverse communities. JCUA is one of the leaders in the Police Accountability movement here in Chicago, they are leaders in immigrant justice, and were instrumental in getting a level 1 trauma center re-opened on Chicago's South Side.

Photo courtesy of JCUA website.
The program they are running for teens is called Or Tzedek, The Teen Social Justice Institute. They are gathering teens from around the country to participate in active social justice programs that will help give teens experiences, tools, and inspiration to build a better world.

I met the woman who runs the program at a recent event, and it sounds like a great program, especially for kids who want to make a difference.  Each program allows teens to learn from leaders who are on the forefront of activism, contribute to creating positive change in Chicago's diverse communities, and gain critical leadership and problem-solving skills.

The program also builds a national community of like-minded teens who are passionate about social justice.  And in their off time they explore all the great things that Chicago has to offer, including beaches, bike paths, and cultural activities.

The program is very inclusive, but definitely Jewish-identified, with two Shabbat services, discussions with rabbis and scholars, and all kosher ingredients for food. They also don't work or drive on Shabbat.  They are very LGBTQIA friendly, and are committed to creating thoughtful, respectful and inclusive pluralistic Jewish communities.  I'm not even sure you'd have to be Jewish to attend, although there are some parts where it would probably help.

The program runs from Wednesday, July 25 – Sunday, August 5, 2018, and is a live-in program with qualified counselors and staff members. Tuition is $1,600 for the program, and they have full and partial scholarships available for those that need them.

If you've got a teen from 9th-12th grade, you should have them check out this program on the Or Tzedek website.  Registration is still available!

Wednesday, May 2, 2018

REVIEW: The Rosenkranz Mysteries: MAGICIAN/PHYSICIAN

A couple of weeks ago, we had the pleasure of attending a magic show at the Royal George Theatre.

Titled The Rosenkranz Mysteries, the show features physician turned magician Ricardo Rosenkranz as a magician/philosopher.  Interspersed between tricks of mentalism, magic, and historic spiritualism, Dr. Rosenkranz expounds on ideas of magic, health, and healing.

There's nothing earth shattering about what he does but he does it well, and it was pretty fun.  We went with a friend of mine who is also a physician and his son, and we all were very entertained.

 Rosenkranz has been a doctor for over 20 years and has been practicing magic at least that long.  He's achieved some pretty good accomplishments in both fields, currently serving as a faculty member at Northwestern's Feinberg School of Medicine.  In the magic field, he has performed on Penn and Teller's television show Fool Us, as well as performed a run at the Magic Castle in Los Angeles.

Rosenkranz is very professional, and his routines are well thought out and mystifying.  They all go very smoothly.  Most of the tricks seem to be classic tricks that one would expect in a parlor show. drawing from different branches of magic, including card magic, spiritualism, mentalism, and other disciplines. There's a bit with a skull that's a lot of fun, and he does use some audience members as volunteers, so beware.

The program shows that he has studied with and consulted with a couple of the top magicians in the world about these tricks, including Eugene Burger, Jeff McBridge, and Johnny Thompson, and their tutelage shows.  The magic is all superbly performed and well thought out.

I also really love the idea of magic and science (or medicine) being linked.  Arthur C. Clarke once wrote "Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic to the uninitiated." And one of Rosenkranz's heroes once squelched a revolt by passing off electromagnetism as magic.

And I really like what Rosenkranz wrote on his website talking about the intertwined nature of medicine and magic, being like the caduceus (the image of two snakes around a rod that now symbolizes medicine in the United States.)

Some photos from the show: (provided by the Rosenkranz Mysteries website)

 If I were being asked about his show, my only real suggestion from a theatrical point of view is that the pace and rhythm of the whole show are very similar. 

Rosenkranz is level-headed, good-natured, soft-spoken, and quite reasonable-- all befitting a doctor of his level. 

I'd like to see some changes to his speaking rhythm and to the rhythm/pace of the show, so that not every trick was punctuated by talking, and that Rosenkranz veers away from "I will show you something amazing" to his actually being amazed.

 He talks about amazement and wonder a lot in his show, but I would like to see him being amazed as well.

It's a small criticism, and I don't think that most people would notice, but I think that it could take the show from being an 8.5 to a 9.3.

The show has been selling quite well, and in fact, has now been extended through May 27.  To get your tickets,  Click here for or call The Royal George Ticket Office (312) 988-9000.  Tickets for the show are $50-$75 at the Royal George Theatre Cabaret, and discounts can be had often on

Find out more about the show at

Tuesday, May 1, 2018

Rube Goldberg Machine Contest-Wrapup

We attended the Rube Goldberg Machine Contest at The Museum of Science and Industry on April 22 and it was amazing!    I previewed the goings on earlier on the blog, and it was every bit as magical and wonderful as I expected it to be.

In case you've forgotten, the Rube Goldberg Machine Contest has been challenging students for over 30 years to devise and build their own convoluted contraptions to solve a simple “problem.” This year’s competition challenge: Pour a Bowl of Cereal.  (sponsored by, of course General Mills!)

The devices are based on the work of Rube Goldberg, a prolific 20nth century cartoonist.  In fact, his grand daughter was on hand, and gave a talk about her grandfather that was pretty interesting!

Here's an example of just one of the many teams and their inventive contraptions.

What was great about going to the event and talking to all of the makers was how committed these young people were to the idea of invention and all of that entails, including experimentation, iteration, and failure.  I got a chance to talk to a bunch of the teams (including one of the elementary teams from Schaumburg as well as a perennial favorite college team from Purdue, who seemed to have two teams fielded in the finals) and all of them told me how much fun it was, and how much fun figuring out the problem was, and then trying to figure out the solution.

The winning team from Chino California
I was particularly impressed with the zeal of the team from Chino California, whose Rube Goldberg machine started their cereal journey in the farms of Chino, and then followed the life-cycle of the cereal and milk until it made its way into the bowl (which in their zany case, ended up being a giant toilet bowl, reminding us of the FULL cycle of food.

The students were all dressed in costume as various inhabitants of the different stages represented, including a giant cow and a pig costume.  They were fully committed to their roles, and they were so articulate about what they got out of it, that I was not surprised to hear that they took first place in their division

There were also a few other activities, including one sponsored by local group BitSpace Chicago, that taught kids how to saw, clamp, and even use power tools, and then interface them to the computer.  My son had a lot of fun at that event also.  And we really enjoyed the lecture by YouTube Rube Goldberg maker Joseph Herscher, who gave a talk on what inspires him to create, and how he goes about it.  That was a great inside look at the work of a pretty brilliant inventor.

Learning to use tools with BitSpaceChicago at the Rube Goldberg Machine Contest Finals at MSI
 Even those kids that didn't win did a great job and showed tremendous amounts of inventiveness and creativity.  However, there must be winners, and in this case, there were a bunch.  Congrats to all of the winners, but also congrats to all of the participants!

Here's a video montage of our day at the event.  This includes some pictures and some video and a whole lot of fun.


There were four divisions, and here are the winners (for the first time this year, there was an apprentice division, and the three top winners all came from Illinois!  I hope that the finals are somewhere close by next year!  (And I am definitely bringing this up to our PTA to see if my son's school (The Walt Disney Magnet School, which focuses on arts and technology) can field a team next year.  It seems like a natural fit! )

Apprentice (Elementary School)
Professor Butt’s Creative Sparks: St. Hubert Catholic School, Hoffman Estates, IL
Apprentice Spirit of Hilarious Invention: Hoover Math and Science Academy, Schaumburg, IL
Apprentice Helping Hand: Collins Elementary School, Schaumburg, IL

Division I (Middle School)
Lyle S Briggs School, Chino, CA

Division II (High School)
Rho Gamma Phi from Chatfield High School, Chatfield, MN

Division III (University)
Purdue PSPE, West Lafayette, IN

To find out more about competing, visit

Wednesday, April 25, 2018

Speedskating at Robert Crown Center is back!

As many of you might know, my son is a speedskater.

Last year he was based in Evanston at the Robert Crown Center.  (1701 Main Street, Evanston, IL)

This year, because of some issues with timing and personnel, there was no speedskating program in Evanston.  As a result, he's been speedskating at Park Ridge. 

The speedskating season at Park Ridge is over, but right now, Evanston has brought back speedskating on Monday nights!   There's no direct website to get the information from (you have to sign in to the Evanston Recreation Department to get the info, so I'm replicating the info here.)


 This is unofficial information.  I'm not connected to the Evanston program except as a user.  I'm posting this as a public service, and the information is subject to change.  Please consult the Evanston Recreation Department for the latest details.


They are offering a class on Monday Nights from 6-7 to learn how to speed skate.  That class runs from April 23-June 4.  Cost is $62 for Evanston residents, and $82 for non-Evanston residents. For those that are beyond the beginner phase, they offer a drop-in free skate at the same time.  Cost for the drop-in program is $10 per session.   Some speedskates in some sizes are available, but you can also bring in whatever skates you have to learn on to start.

To register, visit and sign in. (You may need to register for an account first)  Once you've done that, search Keyword "speed" and you should find the appropriate offerings.
The info about speedskating class from the Evanston Rec website.


There will also be a summer Learn To Speed Skate camp August 13-17 of this year.  It remains to be seen what the level will be.  I assume that there will be some facility/coaching for non-beginning speedskaters, but that as of yet remains to be seen.  Last year, the camp had a couple of different coaches and a couple of different levels.  However, it is being operated by different people this year, so it's not yet clear.

To register, visit and sign in. (You may need to register for an account first)  Once you've done that, search Keyword "speed" and you should find the appropriate offerings.

The camp will go from 9 am-5pm, and will cost $252 for Evanston residents and $272 for non-Evanston residents.

The info about speedskating camp from the Evanston rec website.

We've been attending the Monday night open speedskate, and it's a lot of fun, with a lot of good skaters in attendance.

Hope to see you out there!