National Museum of Mexican Art: Pilson, Chicago

Special thanks to the seventh grade kids who acted up on Henna’s school field trip to Springfield. Without them Henna’s class trip to the Mexican Art Museum would not have been cancelled making it doubtful we would have traveled to the Pilsen neighborhood last weekend. But children will be children and their loss was our family’s gain.


One of many pieces focused on the Day of the Dead

The Pilsen neighborhood was given its name in the late 19th century by the large Czech population living there at the time. For those not familiar with Chicago neighborhoods, they often exist as a carousel for large ethnic groups migrating together. Before the Czech’s lived in Pilson and claimed it as their own, the neighborhood was primarily German and Irish. And then sometime in the 1960s Pilson became known for its large Hispanic population which is now being edged out ever so slightly by the hipsters.

A true anchor to the community is The National Museum of Mexican Art which presents Mexican culture as being “sin fronteras” (without borders). In that spirit the museum displays everything from ancient Mesoamerican pottery to modern folk art. A popular attraction is their seasonal Day of the Dead exhibit which we were lucky enough to catch on the very last day it was displayed. The admission, by the way, is 100% free. We like free.


Scott and one very hip cat at Pinwheel Records (1722 W. 18th Street)

Besides the art we also enjoyed eating at  El Milagro Tortilla (1923 S Blue Island Ave) and shopping along 18th street. Our favorite store was easily Pinwheel Records (1722 W 18th St.) where we raided their 10 cent record bin.






Hennacornoeliday’s Family Theater Pick: Connected

This is really one trippy piece of family theater. Although at times it is a bit preachy (and I’m not so sure about the extended audience participation bit), Connected is a very creative visualization of time from the Big Bang to the present and then on to the terrifying future. Henna loved it. Corey really like it. I liked it. Hey if nothing else, it’s a good excuse to visit the hippie commune like Flat Iron Arts Building (1579 North Milwaukee Avenue). Also check out the awesome used book store across the street. Be warned, young minds might find the closing scenes a bit too intense.  

SpaceLaunch(L-R LuisCrespo,MaryMikva,AntonioBrunetti,StellaMoseley,JustinMichaelDietzel,AmberHugee,WarrenLevon,RasikaRanganathan)

L-R Luis Crespo, Mary Mikva, Antonio Brunetti, Stella Moseley (center), Justin Michael Dietzel, Amber Hugee, Warren Levon and Rasika Ranganathan/ Photo by Joel Maisonet

SolarSystem(L-R LuisCrespo,AnniePrichard,StellaMoseley,JustinMichaelDietzel,RasikaRanganathan,MaryMikva,AntonioBrunetti

L-R Luis Crespo, Annie Prichard, Stella Moseley, Justin Michael Dietzel, Rasika Ranganathan, Mary Mikva, and Antonio Brunetti/ Photo by Joel Maisonet

Tickets are $15-$30 with Sundays cheaper for families. Running through May 29. To purchase tickets go here. For my full review click here.


Bronzeville, Chicago

We took advantage of Open House Chicago by doing a quick exploration of Bronzeville.  Bronzeville spills east and west of Martin Luther King Drive from approximately 47th to 20th Street.

meyers mural

In the early 20th century Chicago was even more segregated than it is today (and that is truly saying something).  For thousands of African Americans journeying north for a better life, Bronzeville was one of the few welcoming places in Chicago.  And Chicago is a heck of lot better for their very impressive contributions such as gospel, jazz, and open heart surgery (by an African American cardiologist named Daniel Hale Williams in 1893).


Our all too brief tour of Bronzeville began at the Myers Ace Hardware (315 E. 35th Street).  From mechanic shop to swank night club (The Sunset Café) to an even swankier night club (The Golden Terrace) to an Ace Hardware store, this space has seen a lot.  And kind of like when we redid the basement in our 1920s house, a little peeling back reveals quite a lot of history.  In the case here it is a 1920s era mural that once decorated an incredibly small stage that featured musicians like Benny Goodman and Louis Armstrong (with our house it was mostly water stains and a few match books).

exterior shot of the forum

Next up was the elegantly decayed/hopefully someday restored Forum (328 E. 43rd Street) which at 115+ years old is likely the oldest surviving hardwood ball room in Chicago.  Outside the forum we met a woman whose former high school music teacher was featured on one of the large panels that gave a chronology of the music hall.  Inside the unheated place oozes the ghosts of debutantes, musicians, members of the Black Elks, and high school graduations.  Man it would be awesome to come back someday to see this place fully alive once more.

inside the forum

Our final stop was the Ebenezer Baptist Church (4501 S. Vincennes).  Built in 1899 as a Synagogue it was designed by Dankmar Adler to hold a glorious tune.  In 1921 the temple converted to its present church and a short while later it helped birth gospel music.   Smaller inside than the outside would suggest, this church practically glows with positive energy.  Maybe it was the Stars of David on the original stained glass windows, but I could not help but see this as a perfect blend of two beautiful cultures.  We left wishing to come back some day for the Sunday service.

ebeneezer church

stained glass windows

And then we were gone, headed further south for Mor Mor’s potato sausage and another Bears loss.  We enjoyed one of the two.

The Pied Piper by The Forks and Hope Ensemble

In between packing our bags and surfing airbnb we took in a bit of theater.  Got to say, this one is a winner.

Photo by Tom McGrath: (L to R) Andrew Bailes, Christian Stokes, Julia Meese, Amber Robinson, Casey Pilkenton and Nikki R. Veit

Photo by Tom McGrath: (L to R) Andrew Bailes, Christian Stokes, Julia Meese, Amber Robinson, Casey Pilkenton and Nikki R. Veit

Coming in at a mere forty minutes, The Pied Piper is a rather intense, dark, and altogether brilliant performance.  It is also recommended for children ten and up for a reason (spoiler alert, it does not end well for the children).  But even with a not so perfect ending, it still ends on a relatively hopeful note (the children live on, just in a strange land away from their greedy parents).  The pop music is loud, the dancing good and you will be entertained.

Photo by Tom McGrath: Suzanna Ziko

Photo by Tom McGrath: Suzanna Ziko

I think though what I liked most about this play is that there is no filler.  At forty minutes Pied Piper is a clever and thoughtful piece of entertainment.  Expanding this to the standard kid’s show length of seventy-five minutes with fart jokes and innuendos would risk dulling the pipers tune. As it is now, the pipers tale is worth a listen to.

The Pied Piper is playing at the Strawdog Theatre (3829 N. Broadway) through June 30th. For more information or to purchase tickets ($15), go to  For my full review in Newcity, click here.

Oh I Wish I Were….


There are almost as many ways to travel as there are travelers but few as odd as this one. Over the part year Alex has driven over 40,000 miles over 25 states all in the name of a little marketing. No, the mobile does not serve up hotdogs (Alex gets that a lot). But they do give away whistles and this makes a lot of people smile.

imageThere are actually six Weiner Mobiles traveling the U.S.  They are driven mostly by recent college grads who do it for a year.  They are but a select few who, per Alex, number less than the total amount of people who have visited space (if you include Cosmonauts in the total).  And lucky for us Alex is our neighbor’s and good friends niece, thus the surprise celebrity visit. For just one magical night a childhood wish came true. 


Shakespeare in Chicago

We wanted to take a moment on this snow bound Super Bowl Sunday to plug two Hennacornoeliday recommended shows.  Both are Shakespeare fueled creations with one (Lions in Illyria) an original adaptation and the other (Short Shakespeare! Macbeth) an abridged production.  Both are also incredibly well done and cost just a bit more than going to the movies.

Kate McDermott (L) and Brandi Lee (R)   Photo by Suzanne Plunkett

Kate McDermott (L) and Brandi Lee (R) Photo by Suzanne Plunkett

Robert Kauzlaric’s “Lions in Illyria” is a very clever, very well thought out adaptation of Twelfth Night.  The animal characters, colorful costumes, and silly dance moves were enough to entertain our five year old niece/cousin.  Her seven year old sister also had a good time and was, per her father, able to follow at least 50% of the action.  Henna simply loved this show.  She loved its Shakespearian roots.  She also loved the basic story line with its emphasis on love and friendship.  Mostly though she loved hanging out with her cousins.  The production is intelligent enough to engage adults and is probably best appreciated by children aged 7 to 12 although I think younger kids will still have a good time.  For an extra $5 a kid Lifeline Theatre offers a fun drama workshop in between the 11 A.M. and 1 P.M. performances and everyone is encouraged to meet with the actors after the show is over.

Andrea San Miguel, Tiffany Yvonee Cox, Kevin Cox  Photo by Liz Lauren

Andrea San Miguel, Tiffany Yvonee Cox, Kevin Cox Photo by Liz Lauren

Henna also loved Short Shakespeare! Macbeth.  Macbeth is bloody good fun and features the coolest witches this side of Oz (if you are ever in a bad mood, try saying “Double double toil and trouble; fire burn and cauldron bubble” a few times; trust me it will put you in a better place).  Be warned though that is not for everyone.  Besides the usual murder and mayhem, there is also a touch of infanticide (done off stage but this still might be a bit shocking to your kid).  This is the Chicago Shakespeare Theater so the overall production values and the level of talent on stage is pretty amazing.  The fight choreography (Matt Hawkins) and make up/wig design (Melissa Veal) are especially well done. There is a question and answer session after the show with the actors mingling in the lobby afterwards.  Probably best for persons ten and older (and by older I mean up to 110).
Chris Genebach  Photo by Liz Lauren

Chris Genebach Photo by Liz Lauren

Macbeth is playing at Navy Pier from now through February 14 on Saturdays at 11 A.M. or 2 P.M.  Tickets are $16 to $20 with group discounts available.  To purchase tickets, call (312) 595-5600 or go to  Parking is validated, but it is still going to cost you about $15.

Lions in Illyria is in the heart of Rogers Park (Lifeline Theatre at 6912 N. Glenwood).  Tickets are $15 with performances every Saturday and Sunday at 11 A.M. and 1 P.M. through February 15th.  For more information or to purchase tickets click here or call (773) 761-4477.  Street parking is usually not a problem.

For a more detailed review of both shows click here for Lions in Illyria and here for Macbeth.

Staycation Idea: Polar Peak at Rosemont’s MB Financial Park

Henna and friends approve!

Henna and friends approve!

Corey wanted nothing to do with this (and had to cover her eyes whenever Henna or one of her friends went down the man-made hill) but Rosemont’s Polar Peak is a pretty good time. At four stories high, it delivers some serious speed to you and your inner tube. You will go airborne. If you are looking for something a little less thrilling, there is also a pint size option at half the height. At $20/hour per person it is not cheap, but I found a Groupon that knocked the price down to $16/hour (and also includes a skate rental for the free outdoor ice skating rink next door). Also making this a bit more affordable is the validated free parking. Besides ice skating, the area offers several restaurants, bars, a comedy club, Muvico, and a bowling alley. Not sure if this beats out Aspen, but for Rosemont it’s pretty cool.
Ice Skating in Rosemont

Ice Skating in Rosemont

Museum of Contemporary Art (Chicago) Family Day

At the MCA

They had me at free. Free is a good thing. Free means that we are willing to take chances and brave lousy traffic and worse weather just so that we can hang out somewhere different. The Museum of Contemporary Art is different and almost always overlooked by the casual tourist. Although wedged inbetween Lake Shore Drive and Michigan Avenue, it does not draw the same interest as the Shed or Field Museum or the Art Institute. The latter of those has that famous dot painting (which Seurat actually first titled “That Painting in Ferris Buellers Day Off”) and a whole bunch of other vintage classics from the world’s golden era of art (lets say a few hundreds years B.C. to 1960). The MCA, as it is called by those in the know is a lot more modern, more risk taking, more….. out there.

OK, I am not the biggest fan of modern art. Henna loves it. Corey is somewhere in-between. But every second Saturday of the month, the place is free just as long as you come with at least one kid or, at the very least, a tiny adult dressed as a kid. And on Family Day, the museum provides way cool hands on art exhibits led by resident artists who are all approachable, patient, and good with kids.

Amazingly they do it completely different each month. The theme yesterday was “drawing” and they offered a chance to contribute to a post-it note mural, had a team of poets armed with typewriters who punched out poems based on whatever your kid presented to them (we actually missed out on that one thanks to our typical late start to the day), and a whole lot of yarn and some temporary fence posts. Weaving was never so much fun and the only negative was some crazy out of control boy with a pair of safety scissors. How bad of a parent do you have to be to let your kid run crazy through a field of art yarn with a pair of scissors?

Caught up in yarn

Another fan favorite on Family Day are the projected trippy short videos and free snacks in the basement viewing area. Last month we spent close to an hour vegged out on their comfy chairs, sipping on boxes of apple juice and munching away on some Pirate Booty. Families came and went and we stayed memorized by the stop motion photography and cool beats. No segment lasted more than five minutes so even if we did not always get it, there was always the chance we would enjoy the next offering. As a wise poet once said, “Life moves pretty fast. If you don’t stop and look around once in a while, you could miss it.” Noel

Not quite Spring

Polar Plunge 2014: Chicago

Last weekend for kicks I jumped into Lake Michigan. Actually, I did it because someone at work asked me to and because it benefitted a good cause (Special Olympics). Jimmy Fallon and Lord Voldemort (my nickname for our mayor or “He-Who-Should-Not-Be-Re-elected”) were there along with Corey and Henna (who took all the photos you see below). Not sure if I would exactly call it a fun time, but it was a bonding experience. I am lucky to work with some of the best people on the planet and that includes the parents who motivate me to do my best. To paraphrase one of those parents, it is great that once a year people are willing to jump into a frozen lake to raise money for the Special Olympics. It would be even better though if they insisted on superior or just adequate public services for children with special needs the other 364 days of the year. Next year I am going to the Key West Polar Plunge. Noel

Noel in cold water

A little Polar Vortex fun

A little Polar Vortex fun

Clowning around

Clowning around

My Crazy Work Buddies

My Crazy Work Buddies

Shakespeare in The Frozen City

Photo: Michael Brosilow/ A Midsummer Night's Dream at Chicago Shakespeare Theater

Photo: Michael Brosilow/ A Midsummer Night’s Dream at Chicago Shakespeare Theater

A couple of days ago Corey showed me an article dissing Navy Pier for being slightly less than the authentic Chicago experience. While most people I know do not spend their summer days spinning away on the Ferris Wheel (although the Ferris Wheel did debut less than a mile away at the World’s Columbian Exposition in 1893), Navy Pier actually has a lot to offer to the hardened Chicago citizen (the views alone are almost worth the $20 parking fee). And although I am not a big fan of the place in summer (when tourists from Ohio outnumber Chicagoans at least 80 to 1), on a cold Polar Vortex day in March it felt good looking across the frozen ice to downtown.

The reason we ventured out of our snug little cave was to review Chicago Shakespeare’s “A Midsummer Night’s Dream”. Part of the Short Shakespeare! series, the play comes in at 75 minutes and costs $16 -$20 a ticket. For those two things alone (the cost and brevity) I would recommend you exposing the kiddies to some Shakespeare. But the truth of the matter is that this production is actually quite funny. Not “funny for a kid’s rendition of Shakespeare” but funny in the “I forgot I was reviewing the play and laughed harder than I have in some time” way (the review I wrote for Splash is here).

Another reason to recommend this play is the cast. They rock. They don’t just do Shakespeare, they do it well. And the family friendly format, where the cast remains on stage for an extended time after the performance to answer questions, fits them well as they obviously enjoyed being in this production.
Which brings to me back to something that Corey wrote about last week; art needs roots in order to blossom. Sometimes art flourishes in the hard-to-get-to obscure sections of the city or is partially buried amongst the warehouses. Other times it is right under your darn nose in one of the busiest tourist traps known outside of Chicago. Both flowers are worth your time. Noel

Photo by Michael Brosilow. Actor: Alex Wiseman

Photo by Michael Brosilow. Actor: Alex Wiseman

For tickets or other information go to