Children’s Play Review: The Selfish Giant at The Chicago Children’s Theatre

Review originally posted on ChicagoParent.com:

Based on a short story from Oscar Wilde, The Selfish Giant – the latest production from Chicago Children’s Theatre – features music by Chicago folk legend Michael Smith and production by Blair Thomas & Company.

The show, which runs a short and sweet 50 minutes, tells the story of a grumpy giant who restricts children from playing in his garden. He locks the children out and winter descends on the garden for eternity. Winter continues until a hole is found through a wall around the giant’s garden and the kids sneak back in. You can guess the rest.

The songs describing the plot are downright funny, enough to get full belly laughs from the audience. The puppets, created specifically for this performance, carry expressiveness and whimsy. (The humorous music and lyrics make an otherwise gruff giant less stern looking.)

Speaking of the puppets, the puppeteer, Sam Deutsch, does a masterful job of orchestrating solo through a variety of set and puppet changes.

I took my two sons, ages eight and five, to see the show on opening night, and the performance is suitable for kids in this age range. My eldest son, mesmerized by the engineering of how the puppets work, had this to say about the play:

“The Selfish Giant is a very fun play to watch. The artwork is outstanding. It is amazing to see how the puppets work on stage. The background music fits right into the play, with no speaking.”

The performance runs through Feb, 22, 2015 at the Ruth Page Center for Arts, 1016 N. Dearborn Street.

 

3 Things to Do Before Summer’s End

I can’t believe it’s August. It just seems like yesterday I wrote my last blog post talking about how summer break was off to an auspicious start. And now! It’s almost over. Isn’t that how it always goes?

Lucky for you, there is still time left to pack in all my favorite summer activities so far. Herewith, my favorite things to do before summer ends.

1) Sailing on Lake Michigan with Chicago Sailing

I cannot say enough good things about the sailing trip we were offered by Chicago Sail — a sailboat rental, charter, and lesson facility that runs out of Belmont Harbor. I never even knew the outfit existed, and only minutes from my house. We all had a blast with our captain Ben, and he showed us the ropes, literally of how to sail our sturdy Hunter 32 boat. Chicago Sailing has many ways to enjoy the city views from the water with lessons, (kids’ lessons, too… that’s next summer), charters, private instruction, certification and a guarantee of fun! A snapshot of our experience:

sailing

2) Canoeing on the North Branch from the WMS Boathouse

I’ve already spilled the beans on this one on Facebook and no less than 5 friends have already tried it out. It’s THAT fun. That’s right, canoeing on the North Branch of the Chicago River. I can’t recommend actually touching the water, but I can recommend cruising along with your family or friends for a relaxing, entertaining and nature-dense ride. Just in one afternoon we saw an otter (scared me), turtles, a heron, a kingfisher and myriad ducks and geese. I can canoe, can you?

canoe

3) Water Taxiing

Every summer (see how these all have to do with water?) I try to take my kids on the most cost-effective entertainment in the city: the $2 water taxi rides from downtown. You can cruise, for almost pennies, downtown on the river and hop on and off as you please. Some of my friends have had the brilliant idea to take the taxi all the way to Chinatown to eat. I’ll have to try that next time.

What is on your summer list? Maybe I will have time to try it next summer…

 

Summer Break Day 1 Recap By the Numbers

First day of summer break recap:
Miles driven within city limits for day camp drop off: 15
Time spent in car (inclusive of forgetting baseball hat at home and going back for it): 1.5 hours
Snacks packed: 3 per kid
Times kids said “I’m bored”: 5 each
Punches thrown: 3.5 (I caught one mid-strike)
Tears shed: countless
Times I threatened summer school: a dozen

Off to a spectacular start, aren’t we?

Just say “no” to these 90s comeback spring trends

Seems like the fashion world is getting nostalgic for a bygone era of bad fashion, i.e, the 1990s. Known for Nirvana and Soundgarden, the 90s can also be identified with the grunge trend — cool on Chris Cornell or Kate Moss, but catastrophic for the rest of us mere mortals.

Yet, somehow designers think that we want to see remnants of the 90s again because across the fashion mags all I’m seeing are overalls.

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OVERALLS!!! Because somehow, somewhere some fancy designer actually thought these are attractive and that we’ll want to pay top dollar for them. All the celebrities are. But mere mortals cannot pull such things off such as overalls. Mere mortals have FUPAs and Jewish thighs and sorts of things that prevent overalls from LOOKING GOOD. So please, do not wear this spring trend.

Also, crop tops seem to have been making some sort of reappearance in the fashion world. Because all aging mothers want is to SHOW OFF THEIR TUMMIES. They all seem to only be sold at Forever 21 however, so shame on us for even thinking of wearing them. Leave the crop tops to the kiddos, ok?

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Here’s one trend you might be able to get behind — literally ONLY IF YOU WANT TO COVER YOUR BEHIND. It’s the I-never-want-to-see-again flannel shirt tied around the waist. Again, Chris Cornell. Need I say more? Yes, I do, because one of my go-to shopping sites, Shopbop is now featuring the never-to-be-worn-again trend of tied flannels. It just cannot be. Please people, just wear a longer shirt if ya wanna cover your backside.

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This is your spring fashion public service announcement. You’re welcome. What spring trend are you going to avoid like a bad Tiffany song?

Best Books for Preschoolers According to Follett’s at Opening Minds Conference

swimLast week I got the chance to attend the Opening Minds Conference in Chicago. Opening Minds is the largest early-education conference in the U.S. that brings together the latest in trends and innovation in early childhood education. They had some amazing workshops and education seminars and I wish I could have attended them all, but one that I wanted to share with you all was Follett’s List of recommended books for preschoolers. Here’s what they are recommending – let me know if you have your favorites for your young ones!

 

Best New Workouts for Busy Moms 2014

Every year for Chicago Parent I have the fun assignment of testing out the newest workouts that moms can do efficiently and effectively. These classes are typically cutting edge and put me to the test. This year I checked out a bootcamp, yoga, cheerleading (yes I know) and a really oddly-named but effective class called Animal Flow. You can read the whole story on Chicago Parent’s website.

Happy New Year and happy working out for 2014!

My holiday gift picks featured on Groupon Chicago Guide!

Oh my poor neglected blog. Can you tell it was a busy fall? It was indeed because I haven’t posted here since September. I can tell you since my last post I’ve racked up 5 new clients for work, attended two bat/ bar mitzvahs, have been to 20+ hockey practices, swim lessons, soccer classes and Chanukah parties/ holiday dinners/ friend and family obligations.

We’ve all been busy and such is this freaky holiday fall life. But I did get to do something cool. Get interviewed by Groupon Chicago on my picks for kids’ gifts (and a couple for the parents) this holiday season. Still on the hunt for something cool, unique and useful? Here are my thoughts. Would love to hear what’s on your list, too! You can see the original article here.

Kids Hate Cheese Boards. Gift Them These Toys Instead.

 

Determined to buy the best holiday gifts of their lives, Groupon’s Style & Beauty writers sought shopping advice from local experts. Click here for guides to buying presents for the fitness lover, foodie, or coffee addict in your life.

For many people, being a parent is a full-time job with no paid overtime. But for Sara Fisher, co-founder of 2 Moms Media, parenthood has become a fruitful career. She shares the challenges and triumphs of raising kids on her blog, Self-Made Mom, and as a contributing writer for Chicago Parent magazine.

Naturally, when pressed for holiday gift advice, the busy mom was quick to recommend items that would benefit overworked parents. To be sure everyone’s getting enough sleep, she suggests this stoplight alarm clock with red, yellow, and green lights that let kids know when it’s an appropriate time to get out of bed. To spare parents hectic trips to the grocery store, she likes gift cards for Artizone, a grocery delivery service that specializes in artisanal and organic foods.

My own family has grown exponentially each year, and this holiday season I was staring down a list that included more than 30 children. Luckily, Sara wasn’t short on gift recommendations for the pickiest of all giftees.

Where to Shop

If you prefer small businesses to chains: One of Sara’s favorite kids’ boutiques is Twinkle Twinkle Little One (2007 W. Belmont), which she likes for its extensive selection of furniture, gifts, and accessories for children and babies. For toys (and great customer service—a bonus for frazzled shoppers) she recommends Building Blocks Toy Store (3306 N. Lincoln) “hands down,” and she swears by the boys’ clothing at Little Threads (2033 W. Roscoe), where parents will find cute graphic tees and sturdy playwear.

If you don’t have time to canvass the whole city: Sara likes the mix of stores in the Gold Coast, which is convenient for when you’re shopping for an entire family. “I can get toys from Galt, baby gifts at Preggers (both at 900 N. Michigan), and lots of shopping for the adults in my family around Oak Street and beyond.”

For great consignment pieces: If you need to buy practical items like winter coats and holiday outfits, but want to reserve most of your budget for toy shopping, Sara recommends hitting up secondhand stores such as The Second Child (954 W. Armitage) and Moxie Jean, an Arlington, Illinois–based company whose online shop has been featured on Today.

Once you realize a pony doesn’t fit in a stocking: Sara finds Matchbox cars and rubber-band bracelets to be classic stocking stuffers, and also likes the s’mores flavor of Jolly Oak Granola(available throughout the city) as “a fun treat for kids to open up in the morning and snack on while opening gifts.”

What to Buy for…

Family game night: A gift centered on an activity is a great way to cross a whole brood off the list in one fell swoop. Puzzle games such as Korner’D entertain different ages and, in Sara’s experience, “are good for special needs kids, too.” Sara’s kids love the magnet-based gameAttrAction, and she loves the Xbox with Kinect “because it gets the whole family playing and moving at the same time.”

Tots who are more interested in the wrapping than the gift: Sara suggests Baby Paper, a toy that looks and feels like a piece of cloth but sounds like paper. Babies are fascinated by the sound, and when they invariably put it in their mouth, parents can relax—it’s machine washable.

Kids too old for toys but too young to be into clothes: “I’m still a fan of Legos for any age kid,” Sara says, particularly the new Chima Lego sets for their alternative worlds and buildable figures. For a more action-packed gift, she recommends the battery-powered Ground Force go-cart by Razor.

Future Picassos, J.K. Rowlings, and Katy Perrys: When it comes to artsy kids, Sara says she loves giving experiences such as classes at the Art Institute. For something more tangible, she recommends the popular book series Diary of a Wimpy Kid, and says “you can’t beat those coolheadphones by Pottery Barn Kids.”

Those days it’s too cold to play outside: To help kids burn off some energy, Sara likes indoor Nerf hoops and these football action-figure toys by Kaskey Kids.

Kids who have nailed the whole sharing thing: Sara’s crazy about Magna-Tiles, which she says “are hands down my favorite gift for the 6-and-under set…really durable. Plus so many come in one set it’s easy to share.” The specially engineered design of Citiblocs makes it easy to build tall, sturdy designs, even if there’s a clumsy kid in the group.

Groupon’s Gift Shop has toys and other gift ideas for kids.

Photo: left, Heather Kingensmith; right,  courtesy of Twinkle Twinkle Little One.

Hey, hey, you, you, get off of my iCloud!

two_glossy_cloudsI’ve been the sole Apple iTunes account holder in our household for some time now. I got the iPod, the iPad and iPhone before my significant other did. When he got an iPod finally maybe somewhere around 2005 (I swear), I would just upload his music until he understood the world of the iTunes library.

He’s now quite proficient in the world of music uploads, music library creation and the general good mix playlist.

But until yesterday, when my beloved acquired an iPhone, we never had to worry about the ubiquitous cloud. The master of the Apple universe where fortunes are made (for Apple) and functional explanation is questionable.

And so it begins:

Him: “What is the username and password to the iTunes account” 

Me: “username/ password of the moment”

Him: “not working”

Me: “Oh yeah, I had to change it yesterday.”

Him: “That’s annoying.”

Me: “Deal. Oh by the way… [insert forwarded email from  iTunes  noting that someone had logged into the account.]”

Him: “Why are you getting those emails?”

Me: “Because that’s the email associated with the account.”

Him: “But it’s not the same email on the iTunes account.”

Me: “Because that email hasn’t been used since Napster ended.”

Him: “Oh. Ok, fine, but why are your photos now being uploaded to my phone? “

And then the “A Ha” moment. The cloud had hit us. With the factory presets of iOS 7 in place, our phones were inextricably bound by Camera Rolls, Photo Streams and images of all the things I sell on eBay.

I gotta get him off of my cloud.

The cloud can prove useful to a marriage, say, now we can share the Starbucks app and earn rewards faster, faster. (Yes, I’m a junkie.) But it can also come at a huge price: I had to change my Uber app password because I didn’t know it when he wanted to log in from his device.

Oh yes, we could have created two separate accounts, but what’s the fun in that?

I’d rather cloud share than go at it alone. All while drinking my reward-earned with hard working dollars free soy chai tea latte. 

 

 

A Vegan Rosh Hashanah Courtesy of Mariano’s

 

 

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Every day eating is hard for me, let alone Jewish holidays like Rosh Hashanah. Being vegan has its pluses and minuses. The vegan chopped liver my friend’s aunt makes every year is a joy and aside from missing out on the brisket and honey cake, I usually make do. This year I was asked by Mariano’s, (#MyMarianos) Roscoe Village’s most popular joint, to create and blog about a Rosh Hashanah dish that I could make using only the store’s ingredients.

I’m not the greatest cook, but I was up for the task. Because Mariano’s is in my ‘hood, and because I was making a vegan-friendly salad for my friend’s dinner this Thursday I wanted to try and practice a few sweet salad recipes I read about on Pinterest. Because Rosh Hashanah is all about sweet food.

I have shopped at Mariano’s before and I have always been impressed by their selection and service, even for a picky vegan eater like me. And as I set out to make a salad worthy of the holiday I was a little worried about finding all the specialized ingredients I would need:

  • Baby lettuce such as kale and arugula
  • Pomegranate seeds from half a pomegranate
  • Figs (2-3)
  • Pecans (about a cup)
  • Orange (1)
  • Red Onion (1)
  • Olive oil, red wine vinegar and dijon mustard for the dressing

I’ve shopped Mariano’s on price and convenience (I’m a rewards card member — it’s worth it), but not on specialty ingredients.

Good thing I was pleasantly surprised. I was welcomed by mountains of fresh produce and helpful staff members who even pointed out where to find ripened pomegranates. (Little did I know there is a big difference- the skin starts to crack at the top of ripe ones.)

And I found lots of other goodies including yellow figs. Who knew figs could be yellow…

 

fresh lettuce #shopMariano's produce #shopPomegranate #shop

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The beauty of Mariano’s produce is apparent!

Then I got started with the salad prep:

I caramelized the red onions:

onions #shop

I candied the pecans:

pecans #shop

And I figured out how to get pomegranate seeds out of a pomegranate. It’s not for the faint of heart, and do not wear a t-shirt you like. Just sayin’.

pomegranate seeds #shop

My salad required dressing, and I made some by squeezing half an orange into a bowl, adding 1/3 cup oil, 1/4 vinegar, tsp of dijon mustard and salt and pepper and whisking it with a fork until it got a little creamy. Yum…

dressing #shop

 

I cut the figs (had to read a tutorial on that), and spread the greens into a big bowl. Best part about the greens I got from Mariano’s is that they were pre-washed. Love that. I put the dressing on the salad and voila, my Rosh Hashanah Sweet Vegan Salad was done!

vegan rosh hashanah salad #shop

 

A big thank you to my local Chicago Mariano’s (#MyMarianos) and Collective Bias (#cbias) for this shoppertunity. I really enjoyed the process and found Mariano’s selection for my Rosh Hashanah dish to be superb. I encourage you all to Like Mariano’s on Facebook, Twitter or both!

And here’s a link to the recent Mariano’s Opera Flash Mob (did you know that Mariano’s has a piano player in the Roscoe Village store? Made waiting in the check out line a little more tolerable 🙂

Tips for Back-to-School Shopping – As seen on ABC 7 News + more!

I was so flattered when ABC 7 Chicago asked me to come back to their studio bright and early today to talk again about savings on back to school shopping. This year I was really focused on gear versus supplies; for some reason the supply list is very short. Plus, I love to shop and bargain shop. And shop some more.

So here are my tips and tricks for saving on back to school gear, supplies, tech and more for kids of all ages and stages.

backpackScreen Shot 2013-08-09 at 11.12.44 AM1)   Backpacks: Backpacks are a must to buy FIRST! Seems like they are always out of stock and usually they are on sale so you can get the best price on the styles you want. Target.com has a slew of backpacks on sale currently at about 20% off plus free shipping – you can avoid the lines!

Also, it is smart to buy a higher quality backpack – this year I found a past-season Patagonia one on sale for my little guy for under $40 and free shipping. I’ve gotten lots of tips that Lands End has a guarantee on its backpacks – that it will replace broken zippers and the like – prices starting at around $39, plus you can monogram it so that your child theoretically doesn’t lose it.

2)   Utilize your network and others to find deals: Friends aren’t just good for going to the movies or lunch – they also usually have kids your kids’ age. So why not get a group together for a clothing swap? I’ve given plenty of good barely-worn baby clothes to my neighbor.  You can find some local clothing swaps by searching Meetup.com. In addition, you can find really key school clothing pieces at secondhand shops in your local neighborhood or on a site like http://www.thredup.com/  – an online consignment shop specializing in providing high-quality like-new clothes at reliably low prices.

3)   It might be hot out but buy your winter gear now! By the time it is cold out, you’ll never find long underwear, snow pants, mittens, hats and gloves. Plus now there are major past-season sales going on where you can save up to 40% off winter gear. I love www.backcountry.com, rei.com and sierratradingpost.com.

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4)   Utilize coupons or discount codes- According to National Retail Federation, 36% of parents will do more online comparison shopping to find the best back-to-school deals. I never shop online without looking for a coupon code first. I use retailmenot or coupon cabin to score the most recent codes, or you can use a site like www.cardpool.com to score discounted gift cards to over hundreds of retailers.  (I saw discounts for LL Bean). Other good sites are pricegrabber.com, the ShopGenius App, RedLaser App and Decide.com.
5)   Buying for college? Your college-bound kiddos may be craving some brand name labels to take to college and you’re in luck with the opening of the Fashion Outlets of Chicago – http://www.fashionoutletsofchicago.com/ – they just opened ten days ago and are having lots of special sales and offerings for their grand opening – check their offers page for the latest. Bloomingdales Outlet there has a great sale going on through today – up to 60% off discounted prices – it’s a great place to get brand name coats, polo shirts, and denim for your high school grad.

shoes16) Tips for shoe buying: Kids grow out of shoes fast. And shoes are expensive. Famous Footwear has some good tips for shoe shopping – buy versatile shoes that you can wear with many occasions and that have a little extra wiggle room in the toe area. Famous Footwear is also offering a BOGO offer for buy one, get one half off at all Famous Footwear locations and also online at famous.com.